Thursday, September 30, 2004

This land is your land

If you haven't seen this yet, go see it now... Just click on "This land" to play...

Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Bar Exam Results

I'm pleased to announce that the Pennsylvania Bar Exam results were released this morning. I passed the bar! I was actually pretty worried about whether or not I would pass and was dreading the possibility of having to retake the bar again in February. You can see the officials lists at

I was amused that my neighbors congratulated me this afternoon... They had looked me up at work!

Thursday, September 16, 2004

Ivan Part II

Hurricane Ivan has finally come ashore in the United States with a direct hit on Gulf Shores, Alabama. I know that area very well as my family vacations there frequently and my sister owns a condo in Orange Beach, Alabama, a few miles away. They have "storm shutters" installed on their condo unit and it is well above the storm surge line, but judging from some of the damage on other buildings, it's possible they suffered severe damage. They won't know for some time how their unit fared as the roads into Gulf Shores are closed for at least 48 hours.

Nearby Pensacola appears to have suffered extensive damage as well. Probably the most impressive is a section of the interstate over the water way which has collapsed from the storm damage. That's some pretty powerful stuff!

There's been some discussion in the media as to whether or not these people deserve to receive federal disaster relief; they keep building in the same locations after each storm. My argument in response is whether or not we should offer relief to California after earthquakes or Oklahoma after tornados. Each region of the country has its own inherant natural risks involved with living there. It's up to those people to decide whether or not they want to put up with the risks. The deciding factor for most is whether or not they can get insurance for their property. If they can, they'll live there. If not, they probably won't. I realize that this is probably over simplified, but I guess people should just be allowed to live where they want to. Can you imagine visiting Florida without any residences or hotels near the coasts?

I'm glad that New Orleans was spared though... There was a worry that if it had been hit directly by the storm, the resulting flooding of the city would have taken three to six months to drain out...

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

Maglev and the expansion of the T-line

Pittsburgh is faced with two different projects. One, the Maglev project, is supposed to run from the airport, through downtown, out to Monroeville and Greensburg using a maglev train. A different project is an extension of the T line under the Allegheny River to connect with the two stadiums.

Which one to do? Probably neither. There is definitely not the demand for a high speed Maglev here in Pittsburgh, especially considering that USAir may be gone by the time groundbreaking occurs. A better option there would probably be to build a Las Vegas/Los Angeles line. You'd actually have demand on both ends of the line; ultimately it'd probably end up paying for itself.

Digging a tunnel under the Allegheny River? Not really necessary either. Who's going to take it? It's pretty easy to walk to the stadiums from downtown on game days, so it's not going to service downtown traffic. People who park at station square are probably going to continue to take the ferry boats across the river on game days. That leaves everyone south of town with access to the T who is willing to take the T to the game, not very many people.

If the money's going to be spent to dig something, a better use would definitely be to run a line out to Oakland, allowing commuters who ride the T to be able to take it all the way to Oakland without having to get out and take the bus. Students would also be able to take the T to Station Square, a popular destination. In essence, build a line that will be used daily, not a line that will only be used during game days in the summer and fall and not at all in the winter and spring.

Ideally, the money should be used to support the above ground services of the Port Authority (the bus system) which continually raises prices and cuts back on services. When will the government learn that the more people take the bus, the less problems they have with traffic congestion and pollution?

This really should be a moot point. Does the city government not realize that Pittsburgh is almost bankrupt as it is? Do we really need to be spending any more money expanding the T or building a maglev when we can barely cover police and fire services?

Saturday, September 11, 2004

Hurricane Ivan

It was with a heavy heart that I searched the internet for news on the devistation that Hurricane Ivan wrought on Grenada in recent days. As you may know from our website, Heather and I went to Grenada last March to sail on the Yankee Clipper, a Windjammer boat. We spent our first day and a half in Grenada, touring around and becoming familiar with St. George's, the capital of Grenada.

This from the CDERA news report was particularly disturbing:
"Nine of every ten buildings are damaged or destroyed. Virtually every school and church in the Capital St Georges as well as the police headquarters has been destroyed. The only two buildings in reasonable condition are the Grenada General Hospital and Government Headquarters."
We visited the Anglican church while in St. George's and took several pictures. Now, the roof is missing and the church is gutted. Also, the soccer stadium outside of the capital was heavily damaged (see for a picture.)

The ship that we were on took refuge in Trinidad. The crew appears to be ok, but at least one crew member's house is completely destroyed, although his family is safe. With 90% of the buildings destroyed, well over 80% of the islands 100,000 population are assumed to be homeless. Electricity isn't expected to be restored for three to six months. The prison was destroyed and all of the prisoners escaped. There was looting in the streets. There no food and no fresh water, not to mention no shelter. The islands two largest industries, tourism and nutmeg production are gone. These people are in desparate need of help and the situation is likely to be bad for quite some time.

Although I feel bad for the Floridians who lost property during their recent hurricanes, at least most of them had insurance. They have food to eat and a place to sleep, even if it is in a temporary shelter. I think the worst thing I saw was a lady the day after Hurricane Frances struck standing outside some store. She was pointing at the store complaining that it wasn't open for business. I wanted to yell "They evacuated, you idiot! You should have too! Why are you still here?" Even though Florida is a mess, it's nothing compared to the devistation that Ivan inflicted on Grenada.

Thursday, September 09, 2004

Thoughts on the election

Wow! It's been a long time sense I've posted anything. I guess It's not exactly the first thing to cross my mind every day. I'm sure that you, the faithful reader, would prefer I post more often. We'll see how things go.

So my wife and I have been having an ongoing discussion on who we think will win the election. She's already made up her mind and I'm considered one of those rare undecided votes that they keep trying to persuade. Anyway, I've found that your location reflects a lot on who you think will win. For example, when I was in Mississippi for the 1996 election, it seemed like Dole would simply overwhelm Clinton. Reality was far from it. In 2000 in Pennsylvania, it felt like Gore was going to win. This year, here in Pennsylvania it seems like Kerry will win also, but all of the national polls appear to be going the other direction. I'm sure some of this is a function of one state leaning the opposite direction then the rest of the nation. Pennsylvania is definitely more of a swing state then Mississippi was. However, to me, it just makes it more difficult for me to objectively predict the outcome of the election.

Some people have said that it would be poetic justice for Kerry to lose the popular election and win the electoral college. I'd have to agree. I'd also argue, however, that if this happens, then it's obvious that the electoral college system should be scrapped. I'm not exactly sure why it wasn't last time, but I think a second "special" election would do the trick.

While I'm on it, there has been some commentary about the unfairness of the candidate selection process. A good article on the subject is from BusinessWeek's June 14, 2004 article titled "No Way to Pick a Nominee". Each state's primaries are getting earlier and earlier in an attempt to out-do each other and actually have an input in who the candidate is. However, in this years election, Kerry was selected in 29 days by states with just 22% of the total population. Kerry effectively won with the February 17th Wisconsin primary, after only 16 states had held their primary elections. The four most populated states, California, New York, Texas, and Florida has no say at all, even though they had pushed their primaries up to March 2nd (for CA and NY) and March 9th (for TX and FL). To see the dates for various states, here is a list.

To this end, I've never had a vote which mattered in the nomination process. In Alabama in 1996 and 2000, we didn't hold the primary until June, one of the last of the states. In Pennsylvania this year, the primary was in late April, after everything was said and done. I imagine that there is a large percentage of the voting population who have never had a vote that mattered in regards to the presidential nomination process.

I see three possible solutions to this. The first two were suggested by the BusinessWeek article. The first proposed that the calendar start with the 13 smallest states in March, the next 12 largest in April and the 12 largest in June. With 60% of the delegates available in the final round, a candidate couldn't get a lock on the election until Memorial Day.

The next, also suggested by BusinessWeek is to use a lottery to assign dates. The 25 smallest states would be allowed to draw for 10 slots in March. All other states would draw for a primary date in April, May, and June. The goal of this would be to return to the pattern of 1960 through 1976, when states accounting for half of the population held their contests in mid-May or later.

My idea is to have ten dates set, two a month for five months. States in groups of five, in contiguous areas would vote on the same day. Then, another region of the country would vote on the next primary date. The nation would proceed though the ten different days giving the candidates two weeks to visit five states. States in each region would be close together to allow the candidates to travel easily among the states. Thus, the first group could be ME, NH, VT, MA, RI, the next group could be CT, NY, PA, NJ, DE, the next group could be MD, VA, NC, SC, GA and so on... There are two keys to this plan... The first is that the state grouping should be relatively stable and not change this is important because the second key is to rotate the dates among all of the states. Thus, in 2004, the first set of states would vote on the first primary date. In 2008, the first set has to vote last in June and everyone else gets bumped up a slot so that the previous second set would get to vote first. This system allows that no state continually dominates the nomination process. New Hampshire? You have to vote last the next time. Virginia? Michigan? Pennsylvania? Your day will come. Every 40 years or so, a state would get a chance to vote first. That translates to an average person will get to have a vote which counts to the nomination process at least once in their life (unless they move at the wrong time). Considering that it's quite possible that some people have never had a counting vote in the nomination process, I think once in a lifetime is a definite improvement.

This plan would also work with one date per month and ten states on each election date. This would allow the rotation to come around every 20 years or so and an average citizen would get to vote first three or four times in his lifetime. However, the point remains the same; every state should get a chance to have its citizens' votes count.

What do you think? Should the system be changed? Are there obvious flaws in any of these three methods? Are any of these methods workable? Do you prefer one over the other, or do you prefer that things remain the way they are? Post a comment and let everyone know!