Robert's Random Ravings

Presidential Elections

The process of electing a President in the United States has really gotten out of hand. I think that it is high time that we make some changes to the process. There are so many areas of the whole system that are out of hand, including, but not limited to:

  • The amount of money it takes to get elected
  • The amount of money it takes to even be a candidate
  • The amount of time spent on the campaign trail
  • The lack of real choice due to the duopoly of the Republican and Democratic Parties
  • The lack of involvement on the part of the general population of the country
  • The Electoral College
  • The Primary System
  • The toll that the election takes on the positions that the people running for office already hold (especially Senators, Governors and Representatives)

I invite and welcome any and all constructive comments on the topic.

So, let’s get started. One of the biggest problems that I see with our current systems is that it takes so much money to get elected. It is estimated that the cost of the Presidential Campaign in 2008 was around $1.6 billion. Wow! There are so many better uses for that kind of money. In a period of time where every state is having to cut its budgets due to deficits, and where the federal government is running obscene deficits of over $1 trillion a year, just think about having to spend $1.6 billion on electing 1 person to office. And then, with all of that money floating around, how is it possible for the candidate not to owe something to someone? I love President Obama, but I am not naïve enough to think that he is above that kind of control. When the big pockets are open to someone, one day they will come asking for a favor. That is a problem.

Another aspect of the money issue is that only wealthy people (or those that know a lot of wealthy people) can actually get elected. Again, this is plain wrong. This weeds out so many legitimate candidates and We, the People, are the ones that end up paying. Think back to the last 4 or 5 presidential elections. Did we really have the best candidates? In 1992, it was a choice between Bill Clinton and George Bush. At the time, neither one was a good choice, in my opinion. Bill Clinton did turn out to be a great President, so at least we had that surprise.

After Clinton, the choice was Gore and George W. Bush. This choice was so bad that the election was not even decided by the people. It ended up being decided by the Supreme Court (this is a whole other issue that I will not even get into here). Then in 2004, the choice was to re-elect an incompetent George Bush or another Democrat automoton – John Kerry. I know that I was never able to get excited about John Kerry as President. Was anyone? It still ended up being a close election (tribute to just how bad of a President W was more than how good of a candidate Kerry was).

In this past election cycle, I think we got the right person elected, but it still boggles the mind to think of the amount of money that he was able to raise (and spend) to get elected.

In a future post, I will discuss some of the other problems that I see with our current Election system.


06/02/2009 Posted by | Politics | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Best US Cities to Live In

I see a lot of polls online and in magazines that discuss the Best City in the United States to live in. Some lists are based on cities with the most job opportunities. Some are based on affordability of housing as compared to the typical salary in that city. Some are based on school systems, or quality of life, or many other things.

I am going to talk about the cities that I think are the best cities in the US to live in and why. In a future post, I will be discussing the best foreign cities to live in, as well as the worst US cities to live in. I also plan on doing a post about the best cities in the US to visit.

For me, the best city in the US to live in (without regard to cost of living) is New York City. New York offers the best opportunities for anything you could want. If you are a foodie, it has pretty much the widest selection of restaurants anywhere in the US. If you are into culture, New York offers dozens of world class museums, literally hundreds of theaters (Broadway, Off-Broadway, way off Broadway, etc). It offers Opera and Ballet. If you are into sports, there are typically two professional teams in every major sport, and sometimes even three (if you include nearby North Jersey).

New York has beaches and parks. It is the financial center of the world (though you might not want to say that too loudly right now).

It has history. There were battles fought here in the Revolutionary War. The first President of the United States was inaugurated in a building on Wall Street. Ellis Island is here.

It has easy transportation access in and out, whether by car, train, bus or plane. It has a mass transit system that can fairly comfortably take you just about anywhere you want to go in the city, at practically any time.

I could go on and on about all of the things that New York offers, but I will stop there. All of the things I mentioned (and more) are the reason that I think it is the best place in the US to live.

After New York, I am going to mention a number of other cities, but the order is arbitrary. I am not going to try to rank the rest because I think that would be pretty difficult to do.

Chicago is another great city to live in. Again, it has plenty of restaurants of pretty much every kind. It is considered by many to be the #1 food city in the country. It has some of the best museums this country has to offer, including the Art Institute of Chicago (which is my favorite museum of all), the Field Museum of Natural History and the Museum of Industry and Science. It also has a phenomenal mass transit system. Unlike New York, though, it does not reach out into all of the suburbs. Once you pass a certain point west (near Oak Park) or north (just past Evansville), you cannot rely on the trains and the buses don’t cover every area nearly as well. One advantage it does have over New York is that it is much cheaper to live in Chicago. Of course, this is offset by the brutal weather that Chicago experiences for at least 3 months of the year (not that New York is without its bad weather).

Another great city to live in is Seattle. The natural setting for the city of Seattle is virtually unmatched in the US (except for maybe San Francisco). Seattle is a young, vibrant town that is full of energy (possibly due to the unnaturally high per capita consumption of coffee). Seattle is a great gateway to the West Coast of the United States and Canada, as well as Alaska. One of the things I like to look for in a city is what opportunities it offers for weekend getaways and quick trips. Seattle’s plate is full in this category – whether it be a trip to Mount Rainier, or to the Straits of Juan de Fuca; to Vancouver or Portland; to the Cascades or the fantastic ski resorts of British Columbia. It will take a long time to run out of things to do in and around Seattle.

Let’s move on to Philadelphia. This is not a city that would be on a lot of people’s list for top US cities. It is on mine, though. It is a great hub for the Mid-Atlantic and the Northeastern United States. Within a 6 hour drive, you can be in any of the major cities along the Eastern Seaboard of the US, from Boston all the way down to Richmond, VA. That encompasses most of the original 13 colonies, so you would have fairly quick access to some of the best historical sites in the US. Philadelphia itself offers tons of options for investigating US history. In addition, of all of the major cities of the Northeast, it is the cheapest city to live in. It’s also a great sports town (though its fans are not known as the most polite fans in the country).

I will finish off with the city that I actually live in – Austin, TX. Austin is very different from the rest of Texas. It is a college town and it is a capitol city. It is growing much too quickly. But in spite of all of that, it is a charming and beautiful place. The hill country immediately to the west of the city has become a major tourist destination. Austin is a big city now, but it has not completely lost its small town charm (unlike Dallas and Houston, which I would dare say would not be considered “charming” by most people). It is also a major center of live music due to its hundreds of venues downtown for live musicians. It hosts several very large, well attended festivals, including SXSW (South By Southwest) and the Austin City Limits Festival. I really love living in Austin especially because of the friendly people. In spite of its rapid growth, the people still treat others in a kindly and welcoming manner.

I would love to hear comments from any of my readers about your favorite cities to live in (and why they are your favorite).

03/17/2009 Posted by | General | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Hillary Clinton – What could have been

Hillary Clinton

Hillary Clinton

I am very happy so far with President Obama. I did vote for him in November, but he was not my first choice for President. That would be Hillary Clinton. It is a shame in a way that she did not get the chance to be the Democratic Candidate for President. She kind of got caught up in the sea of change that swept the United States; at least the desire for change. After 8 years of her husband and 8 years of George Bush, I can understand that many people wanted something new – someone whose name did not end with Bush or Clinton. But I think that, in a way, this is a real shame for our country, as well as a lost opportunity.

Barack Obama will probably be much better than George Bush was, but that is not very high of a bar, in my opinion. I disagree with almost every major decision that Bush made over the last 8 years and am very happy to see him gone.

However, I think that Hillary might have been the best candidate for the job. She has much more experience than Obama. She is familiar with life in the White House. She also knows what it is like to be on Capitol Hill. She is a brilliant woman who has lots of good ideas.

Hopefully she will be able to contribute to the Presidency of Obama as our Secretary of State. It probably will end up being a good fit for her, as her area of most expertise is foreign affairs.

What’s done is done – I am not complaining about the election of President Obama. I am actually fairly happy so far with him. I just wonder if it might not have been better for him to grow his experience in the Senate another 4 or 8 years and then make his run for President. We shall see!

02/22/2009 Posted by | Politics | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Reach For The Sky

I am not an architect (perhaps I should have been), but I am a big fan of architecture. The styles of buildings that I like run the whole gamut of architecture. From Gothic to Modern; Neo-Classical to Federalist; Arts & Crafts to Frank Lloyd Wright. Frankly, there are probably few styles of building that I would say to you that I don’t like (though I am not the biggest fan of the modern style of housing that came around towards the end of the 20th century).

One particular type of building that has always fascinated me is the skyscraper. They are wonders in engineering and I often wonder what keeps them standing – why don’t they fall over? I am often amazed and awed by a beautiful building that reaches up into the sky and I think of the story in the Bible of the Tower of Babel. The people wanted to build a building that would reach the heavens. Of course, the Biblical account ends with them all suddenly speaking different languages and thus being unable to communicate with each other and finish the tower.

Fortunately, that has not been the case in the Modern World.

When I visit a city that has skyscrapers (and I have of course been to many such cities), I like to find out if the tallest of those buildings has an observatory. Many of them do, and going to these observatories usually provides an unparalleled, panoramic view of the city.

As such, I have been on top of 4 of the five tallest buildings in the US (as of the time of the 9/11 attacks):

    World Trade Center - NY

    World Trade Center - NY

  • The Twin Towers of the World Trade Center – New York. I went to the observatory at the top every time I was in New York up until the terrorists knocked them down. These towers were always a treat. On a clear day, you would be able to see from lower Manhattan into New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Connecticut. The Towers provided an absolutely gorgeous view of the Manhattan skyline from a perspective that is so unlike seeing the same skyline from street level.
  • Sears Tower - Chicago

    Sears Tower - Chicago

  • The Sears Tower – Chicago. This is another real treat. Located in the Southern part of the Loop, this tower also gives you a view into a number of states on a clear day, including Illinois, Wisconsin and Indiana. Also, there used to be a wonderful Mexican Restaurant here called Su Casa. I don’t know if it is still there. Their food was really good.
  • Empire State Building

    Empire State Building

  • The Empire State Building – New York. I never started going there until the Twin Towers were no longer an option. The view is similar to that of the Twin Towers, but in my opinion, it is not quite as nice. Now, though, it is probably the best skyscraper view of New York. (The Top of the Rock recently opened at the Rockefeller Center. I have not yet had the opportunity to go to this observation deck, so I do not yet know how it compares.)
  • John Hancock Tower - Chicago

    John Hancock Tower - Chicago

  • The John Hancock Tower – Chicago. I have seen fireworks go off underneath me from Navy Pier while at the observation deck, and I have eaten at the restaurant on the 95th floor, called, appropriately enough, the 95th. From here, you get an exquisite view of all of downtown Chicago and Lake Michigan. It is my favorite observation deck in Chicago.

Chicago is a very important city in terms of the development of the skyscraper. The Chicago Architectural Foundation has several very interesting skyscraper tours, which makes sense because Chicago was basically the birthplace of the skyscraper.

The first one I would do is the Historic Skyscrapers Tour. This tour gives you a background on the development of the Skyscraper and the innovations that made them possible (such as elevators).

Then you could try the Modern Skyscrapers Tour, which shows you about later developments and styles in skyscraper construction.

They are both fascinating tours that I would highly recommend!

Of course, the United States is no longer a world leader when it comes to the tallest buildings in the world. There are cities that I want to visit just so that I can go see some of the wonders.

Petronas Towers - Kuala Lumpur

Petronas Towers - Kuala Lumpur

For example:

Skyscrapers of the World

Skyscrapers of the World

To see a list of the currently built tallest buildings, click here.

Chicago Spire

Chicago Spire

There are some pretty amazing buildings going up around the world, as well. At the site of the World Trade Center is the Freedom Tower, which is supposed to be 1776 feet tall when completed (the old towers were 1350 feet tall). In Chicago, Donald Trump is finishing up a tower which will be about 1170 feet, making it the second tallest building in Chicago. Another building going up in Chicago is the Chicago Spire (also known as the Fordham Spire). The original plan by Santiago Calatrava (who is an AMAZING architect) called for it to be 2000 feet tall, which would make it the tallest building in the US, and one of the tallest in the world. Construction has begun, but the economic downturn in the US is affecting getting the building finished. In fact, it apparently has been halted for now.

In China, several buildings are being built or are just about finished (such as the Shanghai World Financial Center in Shanghai and the International Commerce Center in Hong Kong). A mega-tower is being built in Moscow as well (called Federation Tower).

Finally, two immense projects are underway on the Arabian Peninsula. One of them is the Burj Dubai in Dubai, UAE. Noone knows for sure how tall this building will be. They want to keep it secret so someone else does not beat them out right away. For now, it is planned to be 818 meters, or over 2650 feet tall. That is just incredible.

Another project being built is in Mecca in Saudi Arabia. It is called the Abraj Al Bait Towers . It is slated to be finished in 2010 and will be 595 meters tall (around 1950 feet). It will be the biggest building by mass in the world. It is located across the street from the holiest site in Islam. I am amazed that the Saudis built this in that spot. Oh well.

That is a short tour of some of the most spectacular skyscrapers in the US and the rest of the world.

02/18/2009 Posted by | General | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments