Saturday, August 12, 2017

About goals and failing them.

Earlier this year I made a few goals for myself.  One was to run.  A lot.  The other was to write, a lot more than I have.  Sorry to say I haven’t kept either of these really well.  Sometimes life get in the way, sometimes things don’t work out the way you hoped, sometimes you set the wrong goals and sometimes you just plain fail.  I’d like to say life got in the way and things just happened, but I have to be honest.


Running


Major failures in the running department.  As you can see from the graph below, things were going pretty well for a time.  Right on track.  However, around the 30k per week mark I started to have nagging shin splints.  Not so bad that I was ready to give up running (the proper cure for shin splints) but bad enough I knew I should back off.  So I did, only to later end up with shin splints before during and after every running session.  It was finally bad enough for me to realize I needed to lay it off completely, like you are supposed to.  This resulted in about one 5k run per week.  Now I don’t have a problem with shin splints but I do have this random knee pain which makes me question lacing up my shoes.  That knee pain is still a problem.  Considering it is in only one of two knees and only really flairs up after a run, I’m fairly certain it is a legitimate injury of some sort and needs rest.

Displaying Photo note

Needless to say that my running goals are all on hold for the time being.  My pride is not worth a permanently damaged left knee.  I also won’t be doing a triathlon or any other races this summer for that matter for the vary same reason.   But did I have the right goals in the first place?  

A better goal for a non-competitive “athlete” like myself would be to simply participate in some events and to maintain a healthy lifestyle while doing so.  Pushing yourself to the point of injury is no smart goal, even if it is S.M.A.R.T.  Sure I ran a lot this spring, but I also let myself eat junk and gain weight.  Mix those together and you have a formula for injury.

Writing

If you’ve been following along with blog you'd notice I haven’t posted to this thing in several months (not counting last week' post).  That’s below my minimum goal of one blog post a month and way below my goal of one a week.   

While my excuse here is that I really don’t have time to commit to writing, the truth is that no one has time to commit to writing.  As many people say you have to make time for writing or for any of your other goals for that matter.

I did write a few short stories, rough drafts at least. Writing fiction sounds like a lot of fun to me if not a little challenging.  The actual process of creating characters, plots, scenes and putting words down on paper is a lot of work.  Like most things though, I understand this takes time to learn and to feel comfortable and gain confidence.

I've read quite a few books (which I plan to write about) in the last few months, more than I normally would in a few month span.  I've also been journaling, which I can't say I've ever done with any regularity.  So this goal hasn't been a complete wash.  However, my main, most publicly visible goal of posting to this blog has been an utter failure.

All in all I’ve failed at the goals I set out.  However, I’ve made progress on writing and had some PRs with running.  That’s the beauty of making goals I suppose.  They still add value even if you don’t (or can’t) reach them.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Book report: A People's History of the United States

A People's History of the United States by Howard Zinn is probably one of the most cynical takes on American history ever written.  It is blatantly and openly biased, intentionally seeking to tell the stories that the author feels aren't told through the traditional narrative of US history.  Despite being openly antagonistic A People's History is full of citations from first hand and second hand sources as well as quotes from other published history texts.  In other words it takes many of the bleakest points in American History (chattel slavery, native genocide, worker suppression) and does a great job proving that, yes, things really were "as bad as all that."  

On the whole I'm happy to read a starkly different telling of US history, especially in relation to our foreign policy.  Zinn leaves little doubt around the imperialistic ambitions of many of the United States military conflicts (especially the  Mexican American and Vietnam Wars).  He implies that every armed conflict the US has engaged in, including the revolutionary war and WWII had imperialistic motivations.  I find this a bit of a stretch but the arguments are compelling nonetheless.

The one major problem I have however is that A People's History delves to deeply into a mentality of class warfare.  I don't think it too outlandish to say this book is read a bit pro-communist.   Too much of this classist snobbery, "us v. them" mentality has polluted our national dialogue with its false dichotomy.  It’s stink of what Lord Baden-Powell would call cuckooism.  It may be naive, but I can’t help but think pitting the proletariat squarely against the bourgeoisie is a recipe for violence and disaster.  In a happy society mutual respect should flow freely between classes.  This sort of idealistic outlook seems impossible in the US, but I won’t be party to fanning the flames of class warfare.  

This being said, the book tells a heroic tale of the labor movement in the US.  When you read about ladies working with toxic material, working 60+ hour weeks and being paid in company scrip (imagine working at Walmart and being paid in store credit), a system that resembles slavery much more than a free market exchange, the problem is clear.  The unionizing and strikes that took place around the turn of the century were clearly necessary.  You have to be some kind of special plutocratic libertarian to be ok with that level of mistreatment.

Ultimately A People’s History attempts and is successful in portraying the overall story of US history from a different perspective, one with fewer heroic and altruistic characters.  With something as complex as the history of our country it is important for citizens to know every fact available, shaded in every hue.  This book is biased, but its bias is so clear that the message and the history both are not lost.  

As my kids get older and are ready to intellectually and emotionally understand the darker parts of our past (beyond the simple “people did some bad things”) I’d likely use parts of this book as supplemental readying for homeschooling.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Redistricting Oregon.

 Earlier last month Oregon Secretary of State Dennis Richardson announced his plans for a constructional amendment to place the task of redistricting into the hands of an independent commission.  Currently Oregon is one of the many states in which redistricting is handled by the legislature themselves.  Democrats in the state were quick to reject the plan as a Republican power grab, an attempt to gerrymander the state.  


 In 2011 something that hadn't happened for several decades occurred in Oregon.  The legislature was able to pass a redistricting plan without challenge from the Supreme Court or the Governor.  This is especially surprising because the House of Representatives at the time was evenly split between Democrats and Republicans.  The redistricting bill passed with a wide margin.  You could say that the redistricting plan of 2011 was bipartisan, but were districts still gerrymandered?


Gerrymandering in Oregon?



 By many metrics used to estimate gerrymandering in a state, Oregon ranks near the top of the list.  Many conservatives and other observers believe that gerrymandering is already the norm in Oregon.  If you take a look at the districts I live in, senate district 30, divided into house district 59 and 60, the borders don’t exactly make much logical sense.  Half of Wasco County makes up an odd shaped pan handle on a large blob.


 
 Below is a map of how house districts looked before the last round of redistricting.  




 As you can see overall things are similar.  However, by the criteria that districts should be as compact/circular as possible, a few districts certainly look a bit more gerrymandered.  Districts 59 and 57 specifically had been significantly redrawn, with Wasco County and the City of The Dalles split in half.  What was the effects of this redistricting?  I’ve pulled some data from the Oregon Secretary of State’s records available online to find out.


In both of these districts Republicans gained a slightly larger voter registration advantage over Democrats after redistricting.  How much of an advantage did incumbent Republican gain?   The effects of the 2011 redistricting can most clearly be seen through election results.  Senator Ted Ferrioli has only ran opposed twice in the last decade in 2016 when he did have a competitor he won by a 40% advantage.  Senate District 30 is so uncompetitive and has been for so long it is not even worth considering the effects of redistricting.  So, we will focus on Rep John Huffman in House District 59.
 When we take a look at the results for elections before 2010 we see that Huffman enjoyed a fairly wide margin in most elections with one very competitive election in 2006.  In 2010 (the election before redistricting) Huffman saw a huge advantage winning by at least 30%, and has every election since redistricting cracked the surprisingly left leaning Wasco County in half.


 Some of the advantage in both the senate and house districts may simply be the result of long incumbency but it is clear to see that Republicans in these districts enjoyed an advantage before redistricting and that advantage has increased since then.  Similarly in senate district 29 and house district 57 have similarly enjoyed very safe election in house district 57 Greg Smith had several contested races before 2011 in which he won by a large margin, since redistricting he has not seen a challenger on the ballot.  Bill Hansell, in senate district 29, has won every election by a wide margin (once by 37%, later by 61%) since his district was redrawn.


 I’d argue that the redistricting plan of 2011 was a bipartisan bill mutually beneficial for incumbents of both parties.  All representatives mentioned above in office at the time voted for the bill.  2012 the Democratic Party saw gains in both state houses.  Since then incumbents have enjoyed a 100% re-election rate with most districts without incumbent candidates being held by the same party as before.  As a whole districts in Oregon were not competitive before the 2011 redistricting and are even less so now.  Gerrymandering is clearly a problem though perhaps not in the partisan sense we typically consider it.


A balance of power



 With Democrats now in firm control of both legislative houses, Dennis Richardson is not the only Republican looking to change the way Oregon redistricts.  Senate Minority Leader Ted Ferrioli has proposed several constitutional amendments to establish an “independent” redistricting commission.  The problem with the senator's many proposals is that none of them establish a commission free of influence from the legislature, in them members are selected by legislative leadership.  


 The Secretary of State’s proposed amendment has been criticized for being complicated.  Perhaps it is a little convoluted.  However, the overly complicated method for selecting committee members is clearly designed to prevent undue influence from the legislature or any political party.  This complexity also limits any direct influence the Secretary of State would have over the process, less power than the office has historically experienced.

 Legislators should have no part in the creation of legislative districts.  An independent redistricting commission will be a new and needed check the legislature to solidify members or parties in positions of power.