mad anthony

Rants, politics, and thoughts on politics, technology, life,
and stuff from a generally politically conservative Baltimoron.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

The big 100k, or how long should you keep a car...

So most likely the Danger Ranger, my bright yellow 2006 Ford Ranger XLT extended cab 4wd pickup, will be hitting 100,000 miles this Sunday, when I drive it back from my parent's house in NJ, where I'm spending Thanksgiving, to my house in Baltimore. It's currently sitting at 99,930 or so, so I'm guessing somewhere in central PA it will hit the big one quintuple zero.

Growing up in the 80's, 100,000 miles was pretty much considered the end of the road for my parent's cars, the time where repairs would certainly make it not worth keeping. But that math seems to have changed, and the expectation is that cars will last a lot longer.

And the Danger Ranger has been solid, knock on wood. I bought it new, with 42 miles on the clock, and in the six and a half years I've been driving it, the only non-wear repair I've had to have done was a temperature sensor that was lighting up my check engine light and making my temp gauge permanently read cold. That's not to say that I haven't replaced a lot of wear items - I've gone through a bunch of brakes and tires, but that probably has more to do with the fact that I drive like a combination of a NYC cab driver and Jeff Gordon than with anything actually wrong with the truck.

Now that it's about to hit the sixth digit, I'm starting to think about replacing it. I'm torn about that - it's been solid, and I hate to replace it with something unknown. I'm also notoriously frugal, and the thought of spending half a year's salary on a new vehicle isn't really something I want to do. On the other hand, I've always liked cars, so the thought of something new and shiny is appealing. I also like the idea of getting a few features that my previous vehicle had and the Ranger doesn't - heated leather seats, a sunroof, and an actual backseat with doors - my Ranger lacks swing-out back doors, which makes things like grocery shopping a hassle, since I usually end up balancing my frozen chicken tenders and cases of diet Mountain Dew on the passenger seat.

But I could live without those things. From a cost perspective, obviously keeping my current, paid-off ride is the best move. Even if I had to make a substantial repair, like replacing the transmission, it's still going to be considerably cheaper than a new ride. But the main way I would justify buying something new is security. I'm not mechanically inclined, so I don't fix my own vehicle. I live alone, several hundred miles from my family, so I can't easily get a ride or borrow a vehicle if my truck is out of commission for a while. And I do a fair amount of long distance driving - I have a hobby/side business of going to auctions and hamfests (electronic and ham radio flea markets), and selling on eBay, so it's not unusual for me to drive a few hours to the middle of nowhere at odd hours of the day. I also drive up to NJ a few times a year (or more) to the parents, and I eternally say I'm going to take a long road trip some day. I really don't want to find myself stranded in the middle of nowhere with a dead vehicle - last year I had the misfortune of having a battery die on me in rural Western Maryland, and it wasn't fun. I'd also prefer not to be unable to get to work due to a dead vehicle.

So what will I get to replace it? Right now, my thought is a Nissan Frontier, because it's one of the few "compact" pickups on the market. If Ford still made the Ranger or the Explorer Sport Trac I'd buy one in a heartbeat, because the Ranger has been the most reliable vehicle I've ever owned (granted, it's also only the third vehicle, and only non-Chrysler, I've owned). I plan on buying new, because prices on used vehicles still seem to be high, and I like the idea of getting several years of warranty and of not having to replace anything.

My thought is that I'll probably start looking for a new vehicle in March or April - I can't see buying a new truck right before winter, when it will get snowed on and road-salted and exposed to roads full of bad drivers who don't understand how ice works.

So we'll see if I can actually pull the trigger then, or if frugality will win over a desire for security.

Thursday, November 08, 2012

Where does the right go from here?

I swore I wasn't going to make another political post, but I can't help myself.

So, obviously, I was pretty disappointed by the results of Tuesday night, presidential-wise. But life will go on, and the sun will still rise in the morning. Besides, with a Republican-controlled house, I expect that there will be quite a bit of gridlock, and since I tend to lean libertarian I like gridlock, because the government not doing anything beats the government doing things I don't like.

But I've been reading quite a few blogs and articles and doing quite a bit of thinking about what the Republican party did wrong and how it could have won.

First of all, I think it's way too early to argue that the Republican party is forever doomed. Second-term elections are difficult to challengers, even when there are a lot of people who really don't like the incumbent - just ask John Kerry.

I've read a few commentators who have made the argument that "we nominated the moderate and he still lost, just like in '08, we should nominate a real conservative next time" or that Mitt was the wrong guy or that the Republicans should embrace social conservatism more. I don't agree with any of that. Like a lot of people, I wasn't a huge Mitt fan at first, but I voted for him in the R primary because I thought he was the most electable of the people who were in the field. And I stil think that's true.

I think the problem for Mitt wasn't that he was a moderate but that he was a moderate who let himself get painted as an extremist. From reading left-leaning social media or watching the DNC, you would think that if Mitt was elected, his first act was going to storm into women's homes and personally flush their pills, when in reality the platform's stance on contraception was limited to not requiring religious institutions who feel contraception is immoral to pay for it, because of that whole freedom of religion thing in the 1st Amendment. If Mitt - an actual moderate - got painted as an extremist, why would anyone think Rick Santorum or Newt would have somehow done better?

The other big hole in the "MOR CONSERVATIVE!!!" argument is the electoral college. Winning an election means winning swing voters in swing states - people who are by definition in the middle. These people are not going to vote for an extreme candidate, and while motivating your base is important, you need at least some of these people to win. To win in 2016, the right will need to get the votes of people in Ohio and Florida and VA who most likely voted for Obama, possibly twice. I can guarantee that aren't going to vote for Santorum after that.

Another thing i've concluded is that this election suggests that a business person can't become president, because running a business sometimes involves making hard choices - firing people, closing plants, sourcing products from other countries - in order to preserve what is left of the business. And any of those things will get demonized in a teary ad. I love the idea of a businessperson in the oval office, because I think they understand that regulations have costs, and those costs can mean fewer jobs. But it looks like we're probably going to have to stick with career politicians and lawyers and the like, because if you've never actually done anything you can never be criticized for it.

Another thing I've realized is how important personality is. Mitt was routinely joked about as robotic, and it's fair to say he's not the most exciting person. I thought that didn't matter, but it clearly does. I remember hearing one exit poll where the majority of participants stated that the economy was the most important thing, and gave Romney slightly higher points as better on the economy and a few issues. The one thing he lost on was "cares about people like me", and evidently that was how they voted. Feeling one's pain is clearly more important than anything else.

Pre-election, I laughed when Fox's The Five made fun of Obama for skipping White House press conferences while appearing on The View and late night talk shows and doing interviews for Rolling Stone and US Weekly. I'm not laughing now. This was a brilliant strategy - there are a lot of "low information voters" - especially young ones - who get their news from The Daily Show and Reddit and Facebook. Obama was there, and whatever Republican runs in 2016 needs to be there too if they want to win. They need for people who don't watch the news or follow politics to realize that they aren't as far out as they get portrayed.

Obviously, there were a lot of tactical mistakes - Republicans need a better ground game. They need to start running ads early. They need to never, ever, ever bring up rape. But I think there are also a few other things they can focus on. Now, granted, I think whenever people offer suggestions of what they should have done, they usually sum to "they should have taken my position on everything", and this is probably no different.

I'd love to see more of an emphasis on state's rights - on doing things at a state level - and I think the success of certain ballot initiatives is a great opportunity for that. Maine and Maryland legalized gay marriage, and Colorado and Washington legalized pot. The right has always promoted state rights, and here's a great way to put it into action - by not going after states that legalized weed, and by declaring that states should decide the gender rules for marriage, the same way they decide things like age and if cousins can marry. I realize social conservatives don't like gay marriage, but when you look at the demographics it's inevitable - support by people under 30 is around 70%. The sooner we accept that, the sooner we can focus on things we actually can change.

Another area I think the right is on the right side of is education reform. The Chicago teacher's strike was interesting, because it pitted a former Obama chief of staff against one of their most reliable constituencies, the teacher's union. Governors like Bobby Jindal and, well, Jeb Bush, have done some really good things with charter schools. Maybe Republicans can propose something like Race to the Top, but promoting charter schools. It promotes free market solutions, and it puts Republicans on the side of poor kids. It's an area where the right can actually make a difference, politically and by doing good.

And then there is immigration reform. I've read some people who argue that it would help Republicans, because a lot of Hispanics share the same values as others on the right, and some who argue that they don't so it won't help. Will it help politically? I think so - sure, it won't get all the voters, but it will help move a few over, and that may be enough to win an election. More importantly, it's an important issue that needs to be solved. Plus, it will prevent another primary debate exchange like the one where Rick Perry and Mitt argued about the immigration status of Mitt's landscapers, or something.

So those are my most likely incoherent thoughts. We'll see if I can hold off on posting any more for the next few years.

Monday, November 05, 2012

One quick political and prediction post

When I first started blogging nearly a decade ago, I wrote heavily about politics. I've pretty much stopped writing about politics, even though I'm at least as interested as I used to be. I figured that there are a lot of people who do this for a living and can write about it better than me, and I also figured that most of my readers are people I know who are unlikely to be swayed - those who agree with me will nod in agreement, those who don't will still be convinced that I'm dumb/racist/whatever, and those who don't really care still won't care.

But with the polls for the presidential election opening in 10 hours, I figured I'd put up one post, with my predictions and thoughts.

Right now, I'd say there is probably a slightly higher chance Obama will win rather - probably 60/40. The polls, especially in the swing states, are certainly leaning Obama. At the same time, I think there are legitimate questions about the polls - many seem to oversample Democrats, they assume turnout will be the same as '08, which was unusually high for D's and low for R's. Keep in mind that in '04, the exit polls were way off, and exit polls are considered more reliable than pre-election phone polls since they sample people who actually voted, not people who may not vote or may change their mind.

I think it's going to be close - I would not be surprised if I go to sleep tomorrow night not knowing who won. It also wouldn't surprise me if Obama wins but loses the popular vote.

I'd love to see Romney lose Ohio and still win, because it would get the focus off Ohio, which I'm tired of hearing about, and which I think has too much political weight. I know every Republican in decades hasn't won without winning Ohio, but until this year's primary no Republican had won the primary after losing New Hampshire and Iowa.

As most people know, I'm a faithful Republican, so it's no secret I'm hoping Romney wins, for a lot of reasons. But there are two main reasons for it. The first is the economy, and specifically the current administration's attitude towards business. I know it's trendy to hate business, but the reality is they create jobs and provide employment - and pay the taxes and donations that pay the salaries of those who work for government or non-profits. I think Obama believes that you can continue to increase taxes and regulations on business with no negative effects, and I disagree. When you create regulations like Obamacare that impose high costs for businesses that employ over 50 people, you provide a pretty strong incentive for businesses to stay at 49 employees. I can't imagine a President Romney feeling the need to make a speech (to use the most charitable interpretation) declaring that businesses that are successful got that way not through intelligence or hard work, but rather because the government provides roads and bridges and teachers - all of which are funded by taxes paid for by those businesses and their employees.

The second reason is entitlement reform. Sure, it would be great if we could leave Medicare and Social Security the way they are, but the reality is that the math doesn't work - you can't keep a system that mostly keeps the same assumptions of lifespan and health care cost from the 30's and 60's when you have fewer people to pay for it and longer lifespans and higher medical care costs to pay for in 2012. I'm not sure the Romney/Ryan plan goes far enough, but at least it's a start, and at least it puts on the table a problem that's been going on for decades but that nobody has had the nerve to address. For a party that considers themselves progressive, the left sure seems reluctant to make any changes to entitlements despite the fact that the world and numbers around them have changed.

If Obama wins, I'll be disappointed, and I think our economy in the short term and long term will be worse off than under a Romney win. But life will go on, the sun will continue to rise, and we'll still live in the best country in the world, with a standard of living that the richest person couldn't imagine a few decades ago.

Sunday, November 04, 2012

Fine, I guess I am a crazy cat guy...

At least once a week, I find myself having this conversation with my coworkers:

coworker: You are a cat guy, aren't you? I mean, you've got cats?

mad anthony: I have one cat. Geez. Why does everyone think I'm some kind of crazy cat person.

But maybe I'm just trying to escape reality. Last weekend, I walked out my front door to a distressing sight - a cat hiding in my bushes that had been hit by a car. Twenty three hours, $960, and a lot of crying later, I ended up having to have him put to sleep.

When I've told this to people, or blogged about, most people tell me that I'm a good person, that I did the right thing, that most people wouldn't have done as much. But a few people look at me with a kind of puzzled expression. Not coincidently, everyone in that second group doesn't have a cat, or in many cases any pets.

I never planned on getting a cat. But about 5 years ago, one of the student employees at the college I work out found some kittens behind one of the dorms, and needed a home for one of them quickly. I somehow got talked into seeing the kitten, who promptly fell asleep on my lap. Every time I picked her up to get up she would instantly get back up and fall back asleep on my lap. I took it as a sign, took her home, and named her Nibbler, after Leela's pet/superintellegent alien in the show Futurama.

And as I write this, she's still napping on my lap, perched between my chest and my Macbook Pro. She's quite a bit bigger now, though.

And in those years she's become a huge part of my life. She's the first living thing i see in the morning- and I usually feel her before I see her, because she's often curled up against my legs in bed, or occasionally on top of them. She comes running to the door when I come home. When I'm home she's often curled up on my lap, or running around whatever room I'm in.

And yet, she asks for so little. A half-cup of kibble that I suspect is made from meat-factory floor sweepings every night, some water, and a place to poop. I can leave her at home while I'm at work or the gym or out looking for eBay inventory, and she doesn't mind. I leave her at home for days while I'm visiting the parents out of state or taking the occasional work training trip, with a friend who lives nearby checking on her a few times, and she's fine.

Dog people often don't understand cat people, because cats don't exhibit the same eager affection as dogs. But they are a lot lower maintenance, and when they are affectionate you feel like you've earned it. I figure if my cat is spending time with me, it's because she wants to.

I don't always do well with people. I'm an introvert, I'm a bit socially awkward. I'm 32 and still single, and while I still hope at some point to meet someone, start a family, ect, for now my cat fills at least part of that hole in my life. She doesn't care if I'm short or have bad posture or don't always know the right thing to say.

And that's why I hoped that I could save the cat I found on my front lawn last weekend - because I knew how much better my cat has made my life, and wanted to do the same for another cat.

It's also why I think I might actively look into getting a second cat. My general thought has been that if another cat came into my life and didn't have another option, I'd adopt it. I came close once, with a kitten that showed up on a friend's porch, but he found another home. It's not something I would do until at least January - since I'll be out of town for Thanksgiving and Christmas - but maybe it's finally time to embrace my crazy cat guy ness and have cats instead of a cat.