Tuesday, October 31, 2006

In Abstentia

With the 2006 election approaching quickly and early voting ending today, it's time that Dear Mr. Supercomputer addresses a force more powerful than compound interest: voter apathy.

It's easy to see why there is such voter apathy in the U.S. The political system is messy and often corrupt. Couple that with how little a vote actually counts and voila! Why should anyone bother voting. Or sometimes none of the candidates are appealing.

All of these problems are valid. Corruption is rampant in politics. Lobbyists can buy many votes. It is messy. Yes, the candidates are flawed. And according to Steven Colbert, "Of course your vote counts! It counts .000000949%."

But surely you've heard the old adage, "if you don't vote, then you can't complain." There's truth to that, even if the phrase is located on the back of bumpers across America right next to "Support our troops!," a Jesus fish, and a KASE 101 sticker.

Mrs. Supercomputer was lamenting about how the Green Party (the Supercomputer party of choice) didn't have a candidate and didn't offer an endorsement of any of the five gubernatorial candidates. The Green Party views are very aligned with those of the Supercomputer household. But as I told her, you're never ever ever going to find a candidate that complies with every single one of your beliefs. I told her that even if I ran for office, she would not agree with everything I do. That's what politics are about: concession. That's when politics actually does work. I don't agree with Chris Bell about everything, but I agree with him about enough stuff, that I gave him my endorsement. I don't think he's a great politician in that every time I see him I want to take a nap, but I feel he'll do the best job of any of the five candidates (as he's the only one that even seems intelligent, but that's just me).

If someone wants to make an educated decision to abstain from voting, then that's their decision and I can stand by that (though I find it hard to believe one can make an educated decision about the hundreds of candidates that are vying for the less glamorous positions). But the problem is, people aren't educated about the candidates. The only time we get exposure to them is on either 30 second political ads, which are a waste of time and money, or during a ridiculous hour during which we hear that Carol Keeton Strayhorn wants to Shake Up Austin and doesn't know who the president elect of Mexico is.

My suggestion is this. Texas Monthly Talks has had each of the four candidates on for about an hour each and Evan Smith probes them. There's good information there. It's not a debate that has each candidate trying to just get a catch phrase, one liner, or name recognition out there. It's a lengthy and provocative discussion about the issues the candidates think are important. TMT has all four candidates' interviews archived online here. I've seen three of the four and will catch Kinky this week (though I've already voted).

Will it take time? Yes. Will you get outraged by some of the stuff you hear? I hope so. Will you agree with everything each candidate says? I hope not. I hope nothing more than it will educate you on your decision of who the best governor of Texas would be from 2007-2011, at a time when the state of Texas is at a real crossroads when it comes to immigration, education, and transportation.

The other little bonus of this election is that while your vote is statistically small in stature, because the votes will be divided among four major candidates, and it's an off-year election, it won't take many votes to skew this thing. Just think: if a few more people in Florida voted for Gore (or should I say "successfully voted for Gore") we wouldn't be in this horrendous mess in Iraq.

So go vote. I hope you registered. If you didn't, vote where you voted last time. And know that Democracy in the U.S. isn't perfect, but you can't change things if you don't vote. Hopefully, we'll get to see some great moments like this one in the coming weeks.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Cheaters never win. Unless of course, they win.

If this is dirt, then I'm a potted plant.

So Kenny Rogers of Detroit was cheating. And was apparently cheating in a similar manner throughout this postseason. The circumstantial evidence is damning to be sure. But my question is this:

Why did Tony LaRussa, manager of the Cardinals - and master of all things anal retentive - not challenge this? Why did he not ask the umpire to even inspect Rogers' hand? Apparently his players were telling him something was funny about the way the ball danced after Rogers released it.

Speculation is that LaRussa is an "Old Baseball Guy" and had enough respect for the ultimate Old Baseball Guy, Tigers manager Jim Leyland, that he let it go after Rogers washed his hand. I have another theory: he just didn't think about it. LaRussa is so anal retentive, he was probably checking the batting splits for his third bench hitter in months that start with an 'R' while all this was going on. LaRussa managed games are brutal to watch: endless pitching changes, talks to the ump, talks to the pitcher, it's killer. My guess is he was so enveloped in whatever miniscule bit of information he was trying to process, he missed the glaring problem right in front of him. He missed the forrest through the trees.

Had Rogers been caught officially, he would have been suspended immediately. That means the Tigers would have had to go to their bullpen immediately and Rogers would have been done for the season. As it stands, Rogers went on to pitch 8 shutout innings and evened the series at 1-1.

On the news of cheating, Deadspin.com - the reason internet was created, had an excellent observation on the recent news of NFL standout Shawne Merriman's recent steroids suspension and the media reaction compared to the reaction of the baseball steroids scandal. I'll let Deadspin take it from here.

If you will, a case study:

August 3, 2005: Baseball's Rafael Palmeiro is suspended after testing positive for steroids. From Michael Wilbon: "Oh yes, baseball is facing a crisis. In this current climate of suspicion, is it fair to start looking at any pitcher with biceps with increased skepticism, too? Well, maybe it isn't fair. But that won't stop anyone. And where, exactly, is the commissioner of baseball while such an obvious crisis breaks out? Apparently hiding under his desk."

October 23, 2006: The NFL's Shawne Merriman is suspended after testing positive for steroids. From John Clayton: "The four-game steroid suspension of Chargers linebacker Shawne Merriman really comes at a horrible time for the team. Linebacker Shaun Phillips is expected to be out four to six weeks with a calf injury. They've lost linebacker Steve Foley for the season. The only outside linebacker of note is Marques Harris or Nick Speegle, which might the Chargers move Tim Dobbins or Donnie Edwards to the outside."

Saturday, October 21, 2006


Perhaps it is ill fitting to include a play that went against the Cardinals, seeing as they were the ones to prevail in the National League Championship Series against the Mets, but this was one of the best plays you'll ever see. Nevermind the Mets lost the game. Endy Chavez made the most amazing catch any of us will probably ever see.

As a primer, there is only one thing you need to know about each team in the World Series.

St. Louis Cardinals - The worst team to ever get to the World Series? They won a grand total of 83 wins in the regular season. That means they had 81 losses. That means they were barely above average. And in fact, when you look at their strength of schedule, they were probably much worse than average. They played in by far the worst division in baseball. They backed into playoffs, including ending on a 3-9 run to enter the playoffs. They managed one run against the Mets' Oliver Perez in Game 7, even though Perez was one of the worst pitchers in baseball this year: he was given up on by the Pittsburgh Pirates.

If St. Louis wins the World Series, particularly after the Indians missing the playoffs with over 90 wins last year, I'll throw up.

Detroit Tigers - They used to suck really bad. Just a couple years ago, they lost 119 games, an American League record. Now this got them into the World Series:

(If you're not sure what you just saw, you can go here to check it out from the living room view.)

But lest you think this is a total Cinderella story, let's not forget that the Tigers got here in part by spending a lot of money. And there is only one player that remains from that 119 loss season.

Still though, I don't want to sound too cynical. These are two proud franchises with great fan bases who could use a good World Championship. Cards fans are extremely loyal and Tigers fans might stab you if you bad mouth their team. So good luck to both of them. I have no rooting interest as the Cards' victory ousted me from the Baseball Prospectus top 10.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Coaches' Post Game Press Conferences: A reason for living

The Cardinals' coach Dennis Green had a beautiful post game press conference after blowing a 20-0 lead at home against the Bears.

Other classic coach rants:

Extra points to Dennis for smacking the mic. Still, does anyone else think about how much better life would be if we had youtube + coaches' post game press-conferences when Vince Lombardi was still around?

Sunday, October 15, 2006

The Shame of a Nation, Jonathan Kozol

Several years ago, I read Jonathan Kozol's Savage Inequalities. While I wouldn't say that book is what made me go into teaching, it sure didn't hurt. Savage Inequalities chronicled the inequities that existed in the American public school system, particularly the contrast between urban and suburban districts. Often the discrepancy on spending on a per student per year basis exceeded $10,000, often more than the urban districts were spending in their entirety. It was an eye opening book to be sure. Students in urban district had to suffer through conditions that made it nearly impossible to succeed. Dilapidated buildings, inexperienced teachers, and lack of access to educational resources were just some of the problems urban students had to face. Any paraphrasing I do would only pale in comparison to the horrors these students were forced to endure. So I'll just leave it at that. But one thing has nagged at me all these years: the lack of a realistic solution.

Over time I was able to convince myself that, like Upton's The Jungle, a mere chronicling of the conditions could be enough to spark change.

Kozol's Shame of a Nation essentially describes the status of public education since then. We've seen sweeping education reform at the federal level in Bush's No Child Left Behind Act. The goal was to close the gap between rich and poor students by stringent standardized testing enforcement. There wasn't much of a road map, but the message was clear to troubled schools: perform poorly and we will shut you down. Kozol contends in Shame that opposite of the intended effect has taken place. Students in troubled schools are now forced to cancel art and music to ensure better test scores in Reading and Math.

Republicans in Texas, and I assume across the nation, contend that a slight uptick in test scores at the elementary level indicate real progress. While I do believe that even poor accountability is better than no accountability, Kozol is absolutely right in his assertion that the quality and breadth of education is suffering under NCLB. Teachers are handicapped and students in troubled and generally urban schools, aren't afforded the "extras" anymore.

The problem with Shame is essentially the same problem I had with Savage Inequalities: Kozol spends so much time telling the reader how awful things are, he rarely introduces a reasonable solution. Shame goes a bit farther in Kozol's editorializing however. Occasionally, he'll go on three or four page rants, posing hypothetical question after hypothetical question. And as a reader who agrees with him on probably every major issue, I find myself combative and defensive while reading it.

Kozol is skeptical of every means of education reform he puts forth: small schools, technical schools, charter schools, etc. His contention - and I wholeheartedly I agree mind you - is that schools are as segregated now as they were before Brown v. Board of Education. So his solution is to reinstate mandatory integration.

As simple as that sounds and as effective as it would be, I simply don't see how that could ever happen in today's political landscape. Kozol's solution is to attack the problem politically, restocking the federal courts with progressive judiciaries. That would be great mind you, but that will take years, and possibly generations to do. He contends that it's taken us 40 years to reverse the progress made by Brown and I intend it will take us at least 40 more to get us back on track.

Until then? I believe our only near term solutions are in these education reforms. Right now there's loads of money out there from the private sector (read: Bill and Melinda Gates) for schools willing to try something different. I am a part of the New Tech High network of schools, trying something different to make education more relevant to today's students. Much of the funding we're receiving is from the private sector, which Kozol seems wary of.

Don't get me wrong: Kozol's books are groundbreaking, eye-opening, and on rare occasions, life affirming and I respect and admire him more than maybe any author in America. I just wish he would not dump on education reform. And perhaps he did not intend to, but the fact is, he puts every implementation of reform in a negative light, while not presenting the reader with instances of success. While many of these innovations may not succeed, the alternative is to keep doing what we're doing. And Kozol has now written two books telling us how that's not working.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

St. Elmo is Lloyd Doggett Territory

We here at Dear Mr. Supercomputer just can't seem to get off of this redistricting thing. It's so two years ago, I know. But tonight, I promise that we intend to conclude it here and now. The reason for this last visitation is that as I'm looking through my voting information, I found out where exactly the line is for my Congressional district, 25. Here's the view of this geographical absurdity.

I'm in that sort of beige one. I recently heard it endearingly referred to as a "fajita strip." So at the Northern end is Austin, and at the Southern end is the Rio Grande. Meanwhile, district 28 also occupied part of Austin (as does 10, and 21, and... well, you see what was done to the only bastion of liberalism in Texas). But where exactly is the line that divides district 25? Here:

That red arrow represents our house. The division between the pink and the beige is less than 100 feet from where I live. So our neighbors just down the street, I do not vote with them. Instead I vote with citizens in Mission, TX, 300 miles away.

I do not feel as if I need to add any more commentary on this. On my district or any of the other Texas districts.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Gee, I Wonder If Carol Keeton Strayhorn Wants to "Shake Up Austin."

The fact that polls show that incumbent governor Rick Perry is only garnering about 35% of the vote shows how vulnerable he is. The fact that only 10-20% of eligible voters will probably vote this November shows how important your vote is.

Tonight was the only opportunity for Texans to watch all four major candidates (the Libertarian candidate is suing for not being invited) for Texas governor debate. Moreover, it was placed on a night where many Texans are watching High School football or gearing up for a college football game tomorrow. Even more silly, it's an hour long. Now, I'm no Math teacher but even if the moderators don't speak, that just 15 minutes per candidate. It's not ideal. I think I speak for everyone when I say that more debates should be mandated. Make it a law. Make it a real debate, not a narrow time frame where the candidates are just trying to get a neato catch phrase thrown in.

That said, it's all we have. So I watched it and was struck by a few things. And here they are.

  • Kinky Friedman. Surely, Kinky was the main attraction. Everyone wanted to see how he'd do. And sadly, he really wasn't really up to the task of a formal debate. Let's just say it's not his thing. In his defense, he spent half the time answering questions about his validity as a candidate. There he was, dressed in black with a cowboy hat and smoking a cigar (I guess they don't have a no-smoking ordinance in Dallas?). He had to answer questions such as, "How can you be governor while smoking that cigar?! Think of the children!" It's hard to take anyone seriously when he's asked questions like that. If Rick Perry had to answer questions along the lines of "C'mon, you're not seriously running for governor. Are you?" he would have looked flustered as well. As for Kinky, he did his best to present himself as an outsider, like voters need that reassurance. He eloquently noted that "poly" means "many" and "tics" are a parasite. His last statement seemed entirely unprepared like he didn't know it was coming. How do you not have a closing statement prepared! I should say, he did end it nicely, suggesting that "the difference between a politician and a statesman is that a politician is concerned about the next election, while a statesman is concerned about the next generation." Meanwhile, Rick Perry had the "I can't believe I'm sharing the same stage as him" look.
  • Carol Keeton Strayhorn wants to "Shake up Austin." I didn't count how many times she said that damn phrase. My estimate? Probably 12. That's impressive since she probably had only about 8 minutes to speak.
  • Chris Bell makes Al Gore look like the Rolling Stones. I cannot believe this is the most dynamic candidates Democrats could put forth. Remember that scene in the Simpsons where someone rushes in to tell Al Gore that someone purchased his book, followed by Al Gore saying monotonously, "this is cause for a celebration," followed by him sitting silently still while "Celebrate Good Times" is being played? If you gave Bell an electroshock he would have been that exciting. Don't get me wrong, I like him and thought he did well, and will probably vote for him at this point, but it's incredible how absent he's been throughout this campaign season and how droll he was on TV. He made several excellent points and honestly, looked more composed and gubernatorial than Rick Perry. If Democrats knew how to actually run a campaign, or be relatable, he could wind up winning this thing.
  • Rick Perry is a douchebag. I'm sorry he is. He got all indignant about how Kinky uses politically incorrect language and how he sets a bad example. I can't believe no one referred to "Adios, mofo."
  • The round of total bullshit Texas sociological questions. What the hell was this??! Each candidate had 15 seconds to respond to questions to questions such as these:

To Kinky Friedman: "What is the average tuition at the University of Texas?"

To Rick Perry: "What was the electric bill at the governor's mansion last month?"

To Chris Bell: "In what year was the battle of the Alamo?" What the fuck!!!! Is this a a debate or Texas History versus Who Wants to be a Millionare?! To Bell's credit, he got it right.

To Strayhorn: "Who was recently elected president of Mexico?" OK, maybe this round was enlightening: she didn't know!!! Strayhorn said something along the lines of "he narrowly won the election and ... umm... in a Strayhorn administration we would ... work together to combat illegal immigration." She didn't know!!! How could she be the governor of Texas if she doesn't know who the President of Mexico is?!?! Yikes. Probably the highlight of the evening.

  • Kinky Friedman agreeing with Chris Bell, to the point where I think he might vote for Bell. Two instances. First, there's a round where the candidates are supposed to ask questions to each other. It think it was naturally assumed that questions were supposed to be actually directed towards the candidates. However, Kinky's question to Chris Bell was, "What do you think of Rick Perry only agreeing to do one debate?" The other instance was a comment by Chris Bell regarding education to which Kinky replied, "I have nothing to rebut." At this point no one's taking him seriously.

At the end of the night, I don't think an hour debate is going to really change anyone's mind about anything. I think Strayhorn should get hammered for stumbling during the "trivia round" but in truth, the people voting for her probably don't care. Perry didn't really do a whole lot, not that he really could have I don't think. It's understandable why he doesn't want to debate any more. Chris Bell finally got face time, which he needs more than anything else. I still can't believe he's the Democratic candidate in a year when Perry is amazingly vulnerable. And Kinky, well, he's Kinky. I hope he does this again sometime.

At this point, my vote would look like this:

  1. Bell
  2. Friedman (he's not Rick Perry)
  3. Perry
  4. Grandma

If you have thoughts and opinions about the debate or the race in general, let's hear them. And register to vote! (Kinky is absolutely right that it's ridiculous we have to register a month before the election.)

Dear Mr. Supercomputer is now part of the Baseball Prospectus empire!

OK, not really. But we did manage to get some face time in the recent BP marathon chat-session hosted by Marc Normandin - roughly around hour three. Astute readers will be able to find two other Dear Mr. Supercomputer entries under alternate names. (This is in addition to being in BP's Predictatron Top 10 at present.)

Major props to Marc Normandin for going at it for over four hours (still going on as we speak). GK had to take the day off due to an Addy-sitting conflict and it really helped pass the time.

"I'm somebody now! Millions of people look at this book everyday! This is the kind of spontaneous publicity - your name in print - that makes people. I'm in print! Things are going to start happening to me now!"

Thursday, October 05, 2006

"Lord, let them see Jesus in me."

This is how Tom Delay explains his mug shot in an interview with Fox News' Brit Hume. And I think if we all look closely, we can see a little bit of Jesus in there.

Keeping with Dear Mr. Supercomputer's tradition of commenting on news two years after it breaks, last night I watched a PBS Bill Moyers examination of the Jack Abramoff scandal (Moyers on America: Capitol Crimes), which featured Congressman Tom Delay (R-Sugarland, TX) as a prominent player. While I knew that the scandal was bad, I didn't realize how blatant it was. I thought it was a "Whitewater" kind of scandal: so complicated I'd never understand the depths of it. While that still may be true, you don't have to know a lot to see how egregious Delay's offense was. Allow Dear Mr. Supercomputer to break it down for you.

Remember this monstrosity?

Well, it created all these strange new congressional districts that Republicans were supposed to (and did) win. Texas congressional candidates are by law, disallowed to accept money from corporate institutions. So, as if the genetically mutated gerrymandered districts weren't enough, Delay and Abramoff concocted a scheme in which corporations (Indian tribes, credit card companies, energy plants not in Texas, etc.) gave money to Texans for a Republican Majority Political Action committee. TRMPAC then gave the money to organizations established by Abramoff and others like U.S. Family Network, who, in turn, donated the money to the candidates created by these strange looking new districts. That, guys from Office Space, is what it means to launder money.

But you know what, I sort of knew the gist of that, and you probably did too (we at Dear Mr. Supercomputer have very educated readers, you know). But I found the following offense particularly egregious even though Tom isn't being indicted for it.

The marina Islands have been a U.S. territory wince World War II. However, it did not adhere to the same immigration policies, minimum wage, or other labor policies that we enjoy here in the U.S. Therefore, sweatshops opened up, and they began importing immigrant indentured servants. Neo-conservatives hailed the marina Islands as a laissez-faire paradise. Nevermind the 12-hour days by laborers who could print "Made in the USA" for the Gap. Abramoff had the government in Saipan pay for Delay and others to visit this tropical paradise. "You represent everything that is good about what we are trying to do in America," Delay said to the most prominent sweatshop owner, who had paid the largest labor-fine in U.S. history for working conditions. Workers were forced to have abortions, which is astounding when you consider Tom Delay's stance on abortion. So Delay and his friends had a nice all expense paid trip to the Pacific and toasted the owners of these sweatshops.

In 2000, the U.S. Senate unanimously passed a bill that would have extended labor and immigration policies to the Marianas. However, Tom Delay, majority whip of the House, never let the bill see the light of day, and there, it died, never voted on. DeLay later blocked a fact-finding mission planned by Peter Hoekstra by threatening Hoekstra with the loss of his subcommittee chairmanship.

So I guess my question is this: why did this person keep getting elected year after year? Are the people in Sugarland really that... uninformed? Could no Democratic or Independent challenger turn this into an issue? Are Dems and Inds that resigned?

It was a pretty disheartening program to watch as far as faith in politics goes. That money and trips could influence a politician's agenda so dramatically is beyond me. That Sugarland never gave Tom Delay the boot is also beyond me.

So let's all watch tomorrow's Texas gubernatorial debate and try to get the political process back on track. With four candidates though, an hour isn't going to give us a whole lot of insight.

More importantly, if you haven't done so, be sure to register to vote BY OCT. 10TH!!! You can print out your voter registration here and mail that to your Voter Registration Official.

Get out and vote! I don't want to have to see Jesus in any more mugshots.

(You can watch the Moyers program, in its entirity online from this link. The aforementioned Marianas section is "Chapter 2.")