Democrats and Rumsfeld

As a lifelong Democrat, today has been a rather exciting day, many years in the coming. It's been about ten years, I think, since I had an election day that I could really celebrate. So I have been savoring it since the wee hours of the morning when I practically wore the F5 button right off of my computer trying to refresh the election reuslts in Montana and Virginia. I think the Democrats ran a remarkably decent, civilized campaign overall and am heartened to see the gains they have made. Of course, every big change of power often has more to do with the failings of the party in control than the ideas of the challengers, but in a seat-by-seat analysis I think it undeniable that the Democrats fielded an unusually strong slate, particularly in the breadth of challenges into seats long thought safely Republican.

As a soldier, however, the changing of the guard at the Pentagon may be just as important. I think Secretary Rumsfeld's resignation was inevitable, though I am a bit surprised at the timing of it, which seems to have led the media to spin it as an additional spoil of the Democratic victory rather than as any kind of proactive, positive move by the White House. I have long thought that Secretary Rumsfeld would have been perfectly suited for his job, but for the Iraq war.

Much like Robert Duvall, he just was not best suited to be a wartime consigliere. Some of his biggest accomplishments came very early in his tenure with his focus on transforming the military, an obvious example being cancellation of the Crusader program. But many other expected cuts simply fell by the wayside with the wars in Afghanistan and especially Iraq. As the latter became more and more divisive, the qualities which enabled Rumsfeld to hold his own against an entrenched Pentagon (like his reportedly stubborn and abrasive management style) quickly became liabilities as he became the face for an increasingly unpopular war and incoherent strategy. Never quite able to just stick to the soundbite of the week like his more polished colleagues, he was alternately too opaque or too forthright in his attempts to parry an increasingly feisty press corps.

I don't know that Robert Gates is the answer, and I have no doubt too much blame has been placed on Rumsfeld and thus too much will be expected of his successor. At this point I think change was the most important thing, as Secretary Rumsfeld had become the story himself, a major distraction. A good day for Democrats, and as I am a firm believer in the benefits of divided government, I think it is a good day for America.

Gas Prices

Gas price fluctuations are as mysterious to me as most economic indicators in this country. But while I generally accept that there is some sense to economics, simply above my level of knowledge, I confess to being truly flummoxed by local anecdotal evidence on the gas price issue.

While I spend most of the week in and around a military post, I spend my weekends in Atlanta. For months and months, particularly when gas prices hit their peak in the summer, I always filled up my tank around the post, where gas prices were consistently 20-30 cents cheaper than in Atlanta. If it was $2.89 per gallon in Atlanta, it would be $2.69 around here. This remained so consistent that I thought it was as close to a rule as gas prices allow.

But come the fall, when the end of summer driving led to a sharp decline in gas prices, the gap began to narrow. All of a sudden, gas was only 10 cents cheaper here. If it was $2.29 in Atlanta, it was $2.19 here. Alright, I said, perhaps the gas stations in Atlanta had just been taking advantage of the high prices during the summer, while the competition posed by AAFES gas stations kept the prices relatively low around the base (AAFES does pay tax on gas, unlike most other products, so there is only so low they can go).

This weekend, the whole theory exploded in my face. While driving around the city with my wife, we were both excited to see gas prices below $2.00 for the first time in months. She was disappointed when we accidently took a different route home and thus could not stop for $1.97 gas. When I got ready to drive back here last night, I saw that my tank was more than half full. So I decided to wait until I got down here to fill up, assuming that I would be welcomed by gas prices around $1.87 or so. Imagine my surprise, then, when I pulled into my favorite gas station and was greeted by a price of $2.09 per gallon!

As far as I am concerned, this heralds the end of the world and I am going to enjoy a real Dr. Pepper instead of a Diet Dr. Pepper before all of us cease to exist.

Five Guys

5guysYou don't often hear vegetarians raving about burger joints, even if the burgers are made from "fresh ground beef that's never been frozen". But Five Guys Burgers and Fries holds an unusually special place in the hearts of my wife and I. And while we are not, of course, enamored with the burgers, we are in love with the fries.

A good french fry is just about my favorite food on the planet. I prefer a slightly chunky fry (boardwalk-style), and the potato skins must still be on the fry. A bit of salt (or some Old Bay) and some ketchup, and I'm living in luxury. Of course, Five Guys also makes a decent grilled cheese (and they'll add tomato and grilled onion at no extra charge), so it is easy to make a meal, even for vegetarians.

But as good as the fries are, that's not the reason that Five Guys holds such a unique position in our married life. You see, during our second year of law school at Virginia, a Five Guys restaurant opened up in the Barracks Road Shopping Center, which is just down the hill from the law school and is also where we did all of our grocery shopping. So a trip to Five Guys became a recurring treat for us.

We got engaged during the summer before our third year, and our wedding day was in the spring. That day, as per custom, my wife went off with her mother and maid of honor while my groomsmen and I relaxed. Unbeknownst to either one of us, we each had lunch at the same Five Guys that day, probably within an hour of each other. Even in our last meals of unmarried life, we were together.

It is only fitting then, that almost two years later and living in Atlanta, we find that Five Guys Burgers and Fries is expanding exponentially. A location has just opened in the Edgewood Shopping District, which is, of course, where we do most of our weekly shopping. So once again, a trip to Five Guys has become a recurring treat. Now, though, we always go together.