Friday, October 31, 2014

On Elections

It's reportedly the most boring midterm season the US has seen in a long time. 2010 had the Obamacare backlash and subsequent Tea Party insurrection. 2006 was the beginning of the Dem wave that swept Obama into office (the financial collapse didn't hurt) after everyone who was in favor of invading Iraq suddenly decided they never actually wanted to go to war, while 2002 was a Republican rock concert highlighting the drumbeat of that war. Even 1998 offered the opportunity for the public to respond to the government shutdown and provided referendum on the case against Bill Clinton's transgressions. I don't remember 1994, but I'm sure people wanted to vote on the Clinton ambitions of an energy tax and universal healthcare. In 2014, we're voting on whether nobody dying from the Ebola virus is considered failing the American people. Truly exciting times.

That's someone else's observation though; I'm just regurgitating what I hear on Grist with a bit of color. Here are my unplagiarized thoughts (which are brilliantly brought full-circle with this last sentence):

1. Interest and participation in elections is inversely proportional to how much voting matters. Everyone follows presidential elections and they enjoy the highest participation rates. What's the likelihood your determines the outcome? As x approaches zero...

Bump the office down a couple pegs now - how many follow the gubernatorial races? Fewer. Here your vote is still too marginal to matter, yet it climbs the ladder. State Senate? Even fewer people know what's going on here, but the NY Senate 46th was determined by 18 votes in 2012. And State Senators can pass real legislation that you feel the impact of; tax cuts and stimulus at the federal level have a nebulous effect as people credit the power of the presidency for way more power over the economy than is actually possesses.

Now drill down two more levels. City Council. Who knows who their city councilperson is? No one. We just vote party line. If we vote at all. Yet these are the people that have the most direct impact on our lives. Look at Albany's horrible zoning practices, carte blanche opposition to development, and other issues. These are things that limit my job prospects, make my city less safe, and drive people to live elsewhere because they can't afford their property taxes/rent. And the low overall number of voters in local elections exponentially increases the likelihood that a couple votes can swing an outcome. So there are direct impacts, there's a chance your vote counts, and no one pays attention. Over 50 percent of Americans take the time to vote for their preferred presidential candidate, and it really doesn't matter.

2. Books. All presidential candidates write a book. It's like a requirement for the office. It's obvious why they do it: there's always a nice cash advance tied to the release of 500 pages of self-adulation that was actually penned by a ghostwriter. Plus the media coverage enhances name recognition. But Cuomo's All Things Possible sold just 945 copies its first week and 535 the second week on the shelves. That's not a typo - the two-week numbers are under 1,500 copies. Amazon has already dropped the suggested price from $30 to $20. Yet Cuomo's book deal was worth over $700,000, with advance royalties of at least $150,000. Sounds like this should go in HarperCollins' "Bad Deals Hame of Fame," eh?

That's the prima facie reading of the situation, but there could be more at play. Sure, HarperCollins was probably banking on Cuomo enjoying greater popularity and better sales when this deal was originally done. But Cuomo is also a potential presidential candidate. And in this, he's an investment. I don't think HarperCollins makes this deal because Governor Cuomo's book is worth a $700,000 deal. But President Cuomo's book is. Yet President Cuomo needs, say, a cool five million for the book that will sell 500,000 copies (I'm making up numbers here. For reference, Bill Clinton's My Life incurred a $15 million advance and moved 2.3 million copies).

HarperCollins hopes to break even on All Things Possible under the status quo, but the real ambition is the gamble that Cuomo makes his way into the Oval Office and the publisher nets a brilliant return. So book deals with presidential candidates may be premised on the chance they go from state/regional personalities to national celebrities. This isn't to suggest HarperCollins believes in a Cuomo presidency - indeed, it likely hopes to sign a couple of likely prospects from both parties for the same purpose. Just maybe not Rand Paul.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Night of the Living Homeless

Watched a homeless man carried out of Grand Central during a trip to the City this weekend. Homeless policy in America is interesting.

We criminalize homelessness, ticketing those who dare panhandle or sleep in public places. We also underfund shelters; some combination of perverse thoughts on moral hazard and simply not giving a shit.

Heard a stat this week; more homeless kids in the City than there are people in Madison Square Garden  during a sellout crowd. Winners and losers and social opportunity. We can safely assume most of these kids experience a similar lifestyle in adulthood. We don't want to house them, but punish them for not being housed. I suppose the hope is that you make conditions so unbearable that they migrate. Because that classic homeless zombies episode of South Park said it could work. As much as we profess to care, it sure seems easy turning a blind eye.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Steps To Getting Back On Track

Reach down deep and pull your head out of the clouds. Daydreaming is only ok on a moonlighting basis.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

The City Is No Place To Retire

Your mind stays sharp through employment. There are daily tasks and challenges to maintain one's mental faculties. Aging deteriorates these faculties, and retirement often serves as a catalyst, removing workers from daily mental tasks.

Everyone should retire in a house they own, no matter how small. With a backyard. Gardening, woodworking, space to construct things, as well as just the ability to sit outside in the sun with a cup of coffee and cigarette to start the day. These aren't just hobbiest undertakings - they're vital to the physical and mental well-being of our elderly population. Space is key. Space allows you to move around. Makes you move. Space provides an area to do something other than waste away in front of the tv.

I should also get outside more.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

I Can't Right Good. Need School Help.

The further removed I become from college, the more inane I realize my experiences as a legal (albeit young) adult were. About eight years ago I failed Washburn's writing exam, which was an awful member of this collection of experiences.

A couple levels of context should be leveled here. First, Washburn University was an open admissions school - get your high school diploma and you get in. Or your GED. Whichever. Aside from community college (which no one attends out here on the East Coast), I'm not sure if my friends really grasp the idea of not having to 'get into' college. You just graduate from high school and you go. This is why jokes about seniors not being able to get into college perplex me.*

Don't think for two seconds I'm talking down on the students that attend Washburn. Some, yes - the campus is rolling (har har!) with nontrads at a level unknown to most college campuses. However, our mock trial team took 3rd nationally my freshman year. And there are no divisions in this activity - we weren't competing against comparable institutions. First place was Virginia and second was Harvard. We kicked the shit out of schools that have average ACT scores of 28-30. Georgia Tech and Yale. And  those bastards from Washington-St. Louis. There's no chip on my shoulder, just highlighting that despite its low floor Washburn still enjoyed a high ceiling. We had kids would (literally) nail 179 on the LSAT, but were too modest to choose a private school at the age of 17.

I've digressed masterfully here, which may be one of my principal problems. Circling back to the writing exam, this is a written test given to all students to determine whether they must take English 201. 201 is a remedial course that must be completed before taking the junior English course, which must be completed by all students. A bit under 10 percent of the student body must take EN201. These are the kids that can't right good. Each essay is individually graded on a scale of 1-5, and the recipients of ones must take EN201. Easy enough - don't get a one.

I got a one.

The average ACT score at Washburn is 21 (equivalent to a score of 980-1010 on the SAT), and the bottom decile hovers around 17-18 (820-890). There's nothing wrong with falling in that range - someone has to squish into that end of the bell curve - but I'm a damn elitist. The notion of falling here kills pieces of me. Large, kill the dinosaurs asteroid-sized pieces. I wrote papers for money my freshman year, and provided partial refunds for non-As. I killed the the GRE writing exam. My work has been featured on Yahoo! and Sports Illustrated (ok, maybe I do have a chip on my shoulder). Point is, I shouldn't have fallen into the one category. And worst of all, there's no way to protest your score - you simply get shepherded onto the dolt track and live the rest of your life in embarrassment. I did not know a single friend who took English 201.

And neither did I. Washburn requires a freshman and junior English course, at minimum, and a sophomore English course to boot for the dumb-dumbs. Yet I only sat in on one English class during four years there. Not a semester course, mind you, but one, single, 75-minute class. Never went back. Still got my BA (I'd share more, but you know how I hate divulging trade secrets). Every system can be hacked if you're determined enough.

*Fearful of appearing to lie by omission, there are admittedly prescribed actions an incoming student must take if they don't meet some sort of minimum ACT/GPA criterion. The degree process will take longer due to the necessity of remedial coursework by approximately a semester, but this does not preclude enrollment in and of itself. GED still gets you in.