Friday, October 31, 2008

Don't blame me, I voted (early) for Kodos

I'm back from early voting and I feel great! So far I've read that 2,078,050 other North Carolinians have already voted too. That is 58.5% of the 2004 total. I can't wait to see the total voter turn out nationwide.

My wife and I got to the polling place at noon and were done at 1. We voted at the Cliffdale Recreation Center. The wait was worth it though. While waiting in line I got to meet Lou Olivera, a local candidate for district court judge. Only a handful of people were handing out campaign materials though. There was also a lady there getting people to sign a petition to the next governor requesting more effort to expand green energy in the state and stop building new coal power plants. I wish I remembered what group it was for. I even asked explicitly. Grr. There were people from the Honey Baked Ham store selling ham and turkey sandwiches for $5 too. Clever.

This was the first time I have voted on electronic equipment and I have to say I didn't much care for it. The machine was an ES&S iVotronic machine. I've always voted with the bubble sheet optical scan ballots in the past and I think I can vote that way faster. I don't know all the advantages of these electronic voting machines but they did all have a scrolling paper trail so as I was voting I could see it print out the candidate I voted for. That was a little reassuring. At the end it printed several 3D bar codes. There was also a little sticker that said it was purchased with funds from HAVA (Help America Vote Act). The election official who got me setup to vote didn't give me any instructions on how to use the machine because she figured I knew what I was doing thanks to my age. I thought that was funny. I wish I remembered exactly what she said. (She did mention several times that if I need any help to ask. Several people were getting help. I am not implying they were not on top of things there.)

Oh, and I got my "I Voted" sticker. Now I can dress up as a "slutty voter" for Halloween!

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

John McCain Rally - Fayetteville, NC - October 28, 2008 (with pictures and video)

This year North Carolina is a swing state and it is really exciting! A few weekends ago I got to see Barack Obama in Fayetteville and yesterday John McCain was here too! Both campaigns have been making frequent stops all over the state.

Yesterday's Road to Victory Rally was at the Crown Center Coliseum, the same location as the Obama rally was held on the 19th. There were a lot less people at this rally than the Obama rally but that was expected. This rally was held on a Tuesday afternoon instead of a Sunday afternoon. The coliseum was setup with that in mind too as the seats in the very top sections were all covered. I knew as soon as I drove up when there weren't cars parked all along the street that there would be less people there.

Getting in the rally today was much more organized than the Obama rally. There was actually a line and we were sent to several temporary areas before going through security. There were a lot of school groups here today. At least 2 of those groups were from Christian schools as indicated by their shirts/coats. In all it took me about 30 minutes to get inside. There were also a handful of judges and politicians greeting voters and passing out campaign materials.

Once inside, I tried to get on the floor but they weren't letting any more people on the floor. From what I could tell anyone was allowed down there before they reached capacity. Instead I walked around to the other side of the stadium to get a front row seat in the nearly empty section. By the time the rally actually started most every seat was full though.

The rally got going at 4:30 with an opening by Mike Surles of VFW post 670 here in Fayetteville. After that there were a handful of speakers (many more than the Obama rally) and then Hank Williams, Jr.

After the mini Hank concert McCain made his entrance.

And what an entrance it was! They drove the Straight Talk Express bus right onto the coliseum floor. Cindy McCain, Tom Ridge and Lindsay Graham all spoke before McCain.

I'm not going to give any more play by play details. Read the live blogging posts from the Fayetteville Observer at the bottom for that. My overall impressions of the event were this: This rally was exiting and much more so than the Obama rally. We had Hank Williams Jr. and a bus driven straight into the building. There were bang sticks and it was loud. But there was also more talk about why Obama is bad than why McCain is good. Most of the event speeches were very economic focused but some of the Ayers/ACORN distraction still got through. McCain's speech was mostly something I could get behind and support but many of the speakers went to far for my politics.

All of my pictures of the event are here and I took more videos this time which can be found here.

Live Blogging of the event by the Fayetteville Observer

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Reuben Cashwell or D. H. Vinson for Soil and Water Conservation Supervisor?

I've been seeing a lot of traffic to my Cumberland County Voter Guide post with the keyword "Reuben Cashwell" lately. Unfortunately though, there is little information to be found about the Cumberland County Soil and Water Conservation Supervisor candidates Reuben Cashwell or D. H. Vinson. I don't even know what the job entails. So here is my research about the job and the candidates (I will update it if and as I know more):

First, the job. The mission of the SWCD is:
The mission of Cumberland Soil and Water Conservation District is to take available technical, financial, and educational resources and administer programs designed to encourage individual responsibility to conserve, improve, and sustain our soil and water resources for future generations.

Cumberland Soil and Water Conservation District offers free technical assistance to landowners in the county with land management, drainage, wetlands, soils information, best management practices and other land resource problems.
The positions on the SWCD are mostly elected (emphasis added by me):
A five-member Board of Supervisors governs the Cumberland Soil and Water Conservation District. Three are elected in the general election; two are appointed by the North Carolina Soil and Water Conservation Commission.

Their terms of office are for four years and are staggered. The terms of office begin on the first Monday in December following election or appointment. They receive no salary.
Now, the candidates:.

Reuben Cashwell is a farmer from Autryville. Mr. Cashwell planted a wheat variety test in the Beaverdam Community (link as Word doc). Out of Cumberland County farmers who received farm subsidies from the 5-year Extension of the 2002 Farm Bill, he was 83rd with $12,960. He ran for a position in the Local Administrative Area of the USDA Farm Service Agency in 2005 and came in 3rd for Cumberland County (pdf link). He also helped with the Edna W. Jones Memorial Garden at the J.W. Seabrook Elementary School.

D. H. Vinson is the current Soil and Water Conservation Supervisor. He lives in Autryville. From the 2007 SWCD Annual Report (pdf):
Mr. D. H. Vinson is a farmer and resident of the Beaver Dam community. He is serving his second term on the Board. Mr. Vinson is currently serving as Chairman of the Board of Supervisors.

So far this is all I have found about both candidates and none of it is very helpful for deciding who to vote for. If you are so inclined, call them up and ask them yourselves. From their candidate filing, Reuben Cashwell's number is (910) 531-3859 and D. H. Vinson's number is (910) 531-3284. That is all I've got. I wish someone would interview these guys or at lest provide a little more information on them beyond the mostly trivial and stupid stuff I was able to find with Google.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Rep. Robin Hayes (NC-8) says "liberals hate real Americans that work and accomplish and achieve and believe in God"

At a campaign rally for John McCain in Concord, NC on October 16th, Representative Robin Hayes said "liberals hate real Americans that work and accomplish and achieve and believe in God". People like Sarah Palin he says. Ouch. This was also after he started off by saying “make sure we don’t say something stupid, make sure we don’t say something we don’t mean." Double ouch. Listen to it for yourself.

This Real/Pro American path the McCain campaign is taking us down is ridiculous. There is no American participating in this election as a voter or a candidate that is not pro American. We all want to make our country better which is why we are participating. The sad part is this real/pro American talk has already become such an ingrained talking point that people like Representative Hayes say it without even thinking about what they are saying.

Mr. Hayes, just so you know, I live in North Carolina's 8th district.

Post election healing?

What worries me the most now is what happens after the election? If Obama wins, are a significant population of the country going to belive their president is an Arab Muslim Socialist Communist Anti-American terrorist who stole the election? If McCain wins, will there be a large group of people who think their president used fear, gross mistruths and innuendo to win? The McCain campaign is using a stragegy of division to win this election with a country that is already strongly divided. How will we heal? I know we have in the past and I think Obama is well situated for the task but it isn't getting easier for him.

I think what we need most is a great concession speech and a great acceptance speech like Gore and Bush gave in 2000 (just with more follow through from the one accepting). But that is just a start...

And because I have had fun with word clouds lately, here are the acceptance and concession speeches from December 13, 2000.



Sunday, October 19, 2008

Barack Obama Rally - Fayetteville, NC - October 19, 2008 (with pictures and video)

I was pretty excited last week to learn that Barack Obama was coming to Fayetteville, NC today. Obama has a good chance of winning NC. If he does, he would be the first Democratic Presidential candidate since Jimmy Carter in 1976 to win the state. (That was the election after Nixon. That is an interesting comparison to Bush's popularity.)

The event today took place at the Crown Center Coliseum which holds about 8,500. Not everyone who showed up was able to get in though. Barack said at the beginning of his speech that about a thousand people had to wait outside to listen. (All of my pictures of the event are on Flickr and all my event videos are on YouTube.) Chuck Tryon was also there and blogged about the event and Melissa Garcia has posted pictures too.

I arrived at 10:30am and doors opened at 11. The event started at 1:30. I was glad I didn't come any later because it took me just under 2 hours to get inside. I was at the back of the huge crowd waiting to get in but by the time I got to the front of the crowd, there were just as many people behind me as when I first arrived. There really were not any lines which made the whole process a little chaotic but overall everything went smoothly. (I heard from some campaign staff that they did have ropes set up for lines but the Secret Service changed things.) Security was moving really slowly, which is very understandable, but that was the hold up. People in TSA uniforms were searching coats and looking at electronics while secret service (not the cool looking ones in suits with ear pieces) were manning the metal detectors. Fortunately my little Swiss Army pocket knife was ok to bring in. I think that is a little funny because I couldn't bring it on a plane but I could bring it a few feet from the potentially next US President.

After I got inside I wasn't sure where I wanted to sit. There weren't many seats open and the lower section was for VIPs. I am not sure what made you a VIP but I wasn't one. I was allowed to go down to the floor though which surprised me because it was fairly empty there. I don't know if everyone wanted to sit after waiting 2 hours standing up or if they thought you had to be someone special like I did to get on the floor. Either way, I was excited to be there and I got a big grin on my face walking around there looking for a good spot to stand and watch.

While waiting for everything to start people were passing out mini American flags and signs. Someone brought a sign that said "Plumbers 4 Obama". Haha! Many were singing to the music playing over the loudspeakers and at one point participating in a very respectable wave. I also overheard a guy who said he had breakfast at Hardees and there were some secret service agents eating there too. About 1:20 there was an opening prayer followed by the pledge of allegiance and national anthem. I haven't said the pledge of allegiance in a while and forgot how short it was! There were only a few opening speakers and then Obama showed up and the crowd went WILD!!

The speech was good. It was not terribly different from anything else I have heard so far but that was expected. My favorite parts though were his story about pie at a restaurant owned by a staunch Republican (they didn't have sweet potato pie btw), his rebuttal to John McCain claiming he is a socialist by pointing out that Warren Buffett supports him (no one around me laughed like I did at that one), the fact that this morning Colin Powell endorsed him and the strong and moving closing about the opportunity America provides and how he wants to make it better with our help.

After the speech he walked around the floor. I didn't get to shake his hand but I did get just 2 people away from doing so. Everyone was going crazy and pushing trying to get to him. It was great. After Obama left, the crowd dispersed fairly quickly. Maybe they all went out to go vote early which was one of the main goals of the rally today.

It was surreal being there today. I went with some friends to see Kerry/Edwards at NC State in 2004 but this was a lot more exciting (and I got a million times closer to the candidate). Also, I was very much a minority at this event and I thought that was a very encouraging sign about this election. Oh, and I bought a shirt.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Understanding ACORN Voter Registration Fraud

I'm rather disgusted over fraudulent voter registrations by ACORN this election. I don't like that so many fraudulent registrations have been submitted and think ACORN needs to work to reduce those registration cards from ever being filled out. Unfortunately though, most news articles so far have been sticking with the sensationalism "voter fraud" part of this story and aren't telling some very important facts that have caused this. I think it is explained best by in an article by Tom Matzzie (though the article overall is a bit too conspiracy theory for me, the normally overlooked points on ACORN are dead on):
The facts about ACORN are worth getting out. ACORN is an organization that, among other things, registers low-income people to vote. One of the ways they do this is to hire door-to-door canvassers from the neighborhoods they are working in. This sort of work is tightly regulated. So, when one of the thousands of people they give jobs to doesn't do their work right and brings back bogus or phony voter registration cards, the law REQUIRES that ACORN turn the forms in to the voter registration office. The law, rightly, doesn't want anybody throwing out voter registration forms for any reason.

But ACORN goes a step farther. They have people assigned to do quality control on all the cards--calling people on the forms after they fill them out. When they find bad information on the cards they attach a cover sheet to the card but, as mentioned above, they turn in the cards as required by law. The effect is that a few bad canvassers or a poorly run office will mean that bad cards are submitted as part of the normal process. But ACORN has done everything possible to make sure voting officials know to check the forms.

The sad fact is that in at least one state--Nevada--the voting officials disregarded ACORN's cover sheets flagging the voter registration forms. That should have never happened. The resulting blowup was a scandal in search of a scandal.

The stunning con of this whole thing is the assumption that bad voter registration cards being submitted will lead to vote fraud. If somebody submits a card for Mickey Mouse it isn't like Mr. Mouse is going to show up to vote. There is no voter fraud if nobody votes.

ACORN is not trying to commit voter fraud. They are legitimately trying to get people signed up to vote who generally don't. What needs to be fixed are the incentives for people collecting registrations that sacrifice quality for quantity. In the mean time, the ACORN organization should not be demonized for making our democracy better by involving more citizens in the process. Helping to give a voice to those who normally don't make themselves heard is a good thing.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Representative Robin Hayes (NC-8) Response on the Emergency Economic Stimulus Act

I contacted my congressional representatives a few weeks ago about my concerns over the economic stimulus act. I really just wanted them to slow down to let everyone digest the problems and the potential solutions. Today, Representative Robin Hayes sent me an email response:

Dear Forrest,

Thank you for contacting me regarding the Emergency Economic Stimulus Act. I appreciate you taking the time to express your views.

I am extremely concerned about a credit crisis in our economy. Today, America is facing serious economic turmoil that is directly threatening our economic future. Many have said that we need action, and I agree. However, we need to be sure we respond the right way, in a way that protects taxpayer interests and provides stability for the financial markets.

As you know, the proposed legislation passed the House and was signed into law on Friday, October 3, 2008. I voted against this legislation because of the risks placed on taxpayers. In particular this bill contains a troubling provision that allows foreign-based banks or investment firms to have just as much access to US tax dollars as American companies. Ultimately I voted no out of concern that US tax money in this program would be diverted from the intended goal of strengthening our economy.

Since the legislation passed, it's now up to Congress and the Administration to make sure the program works to help our economy and protects taxpayers. Rest assured, as the program moves forward I will do everything in my power to ensure there is proper oversight and bad actors are not rewarded for their misdeeds and poor financial decisions with taxpayer money.

Again, thank you for sharing your thoughts with me and please do not hesitate to contact me again in the future. You can contact us by mail, email or phone, and our contact information can be found on our website,

Robin Hayes
Member of Congress

Thanks for the response. You are the first.

Word Clouds of the State of the Union Addresses from President George W. Bush

I've noticed a lot of word clouds from the presidential debates lately (first debate, VP debate, second debate) and it got me to wondering what other speeches look like. Word clouds show the frequency of words used based on size and can give you some idea what the important themes of the text is. The more times a word is used the larger (and often darker color) it is in the cloud. This should be very familiar to anyone who uses sites like with their tag clouds. In addition to the information shown graphically, word clouds are just cool as art.

I really wondered, what would the State of the Union address look like over time? As Article II, Section 3 of the US Constitution says: He shall from time to time give to Congress information of the State of the Union and recommend to their Consideration such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient.

Comparing each year would show a glimpse of what important happened in the previous year and what the future holds as seen through the eyes of the President. To do this I found the text of all past State of the Union speeches at The images were then generated using Wordle and are all under a creative commons license.

For each images, I used the same settings so they could be compared more easily. I also went with an easy to read font, made all text horizontal and only used black text to make the comparisons easier. I could have made them a lot better looking with colors and different alignment of the text (look at some of the debate examples) but that would have made comparing each one more difficult.

I hope to do this for other presidents too. It would be interesting to see the evolution of the State of the Union from its beginnings with George Washington.

The things I notice most about these images are
  1. President Bush uses the word "must" a lot in these speeches.
  2. As everyone knows, the world changed after September 11th, 2001. This first address was in February 2001 so the 2002 address and later are post 9/11. 









What are your thoughts? I want to make a word cloud t-shirt now!

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Fayetteville, NC gets a Dog Park!

Today my dog Phoebe and I went to the dog park in Fayetteville. We found out about it through the mailing list of the Fayetteville Area Active Dogs Meetup Group. It has only been open since September 30th so I was worried there might not by anyone there but there were about a half dozen dogs there when we arrived. By the time we left after 45 minutes (as the sun was setting) we saw about a dozen different dogs.

We were really disappointed that there was not a dog park when we first moved to Fayetteville a few months ago. We moved from Durham where we lived in walking distance of the dog park in Pineywood Park. Phoebe went at least 3 times a week and some weeks in the Summer we went every day.

Finding the Fayetteville dog park is easy if you have the correct address. Most of the press releases had the address number as 355 but I think it was a typo as the address should really be 535 N. Eastern Blvd (directions) which is on a side road right in front of the wastewater treatment plant and across highway 301 from the Cape Fear Botanical Garden. I used Google Maps to make a map of the park.

The park is mostly grass which is nice. The man dog area is about 1.4 acres and has 4 or 5 benches and a fire hydrant doggie water fountain. The small dog area also has its own water fountain. There is another area connected to the large dog area with more benches and more room for your dog to run an play but that area was closed (with a lock even) when we were there. I am not sure why.

Just outside of the fenced in area there are also some tables and benches for those who don't want to venture into the dog area. That is a good idea if you bring your baby and your dog.

We really love the park and wish we had gone earlier (and that it was a little closer to us). My only complaint is there aren't enough poop clean up bags. There was only one trash can by the entrance and a roll of bags sitting on the top of it. People need not have any excuse not to pick up after their pets but with a park that has been open for less than a week there are already some places owners haven't cleaned up after there pets. I even stepped in one when walking to the trash can after cleaning up after my pet. Argh!

(I have also been told there is a dog park on Fort Bragg. The address I found for that is 40 Bastogne Dr but since my wife and I aren't in the military, I don't think we can go on base to use this one.)

And now for some pictures:

The entrance near the botanical gardens

Entrance to the park from the parking lot

The sally port entrance to keep those sneaky dogs from getting out

The fire hydrant watering hole for your thirsty dog

There is lots of seating

And don't forget the rules... especially the one about picking up after your dog!

Other Links

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Only 10 Days Left to Register in North Carolina for 2008 Presidential Election

North Carolina residents, we only have 10 more days to register to vote in the November 4th elections. You must be registered 25 days before the election in NC which for this next election is October 10th. If you aren't registered yet, head over to the board of elections site to register by printing out the form or pick up a registration form at your local library, post office or any number of other places that have them. Registration forms should be mailed to your local county board of elections office. If you are already registered, it wouldn't be a bad idea to verify your registration too. Now would also be a good time to find your polling place.

As of today in North Carolina, there are over 6 million registered voters (6,018,702). Of those, 2,730,195 are registered as Democrats, 1,957,912 as Republicans, 1,506 as Libertarians and 1,329,089 unaffiliated. Out of an estimated 9 million residents (2007 estimated population) and considering a good percentage of those are under 18 and ineligible to vote, that is a great percentage of registered voters. Now lets just hope all those people actually vote. Voter turnout is so sadly low across the country. Just compare the US voter turn out to some other democracies.

With all that done, now would also be a good time start your research to figure out who to vote for. For those who live in Cumberland County, let me get you started.