Presidential Primer #3 – Candidate Selection

October 5, 2007


With a serious contender, Hillary Rodham Clinton, running for the presidential nomination of the Democratic Party in 2008, the photo above takes on a little more significance. It is the 1984 Democratic Party ticket of Walter Mondale and Geraldine Ferraro. They were soundly defeated by the Republican ticket of President Ronald Reagan and Vice president George H.W. Bush. How are these candidates selected by each party. Read on and find out. 

A good example of candidate selection for President of the United States is occurring right now. Hopefuls from both the major parties, Republican and Democratic, are announcing their runs and also touring States where Primary Elections will be held starting early in 2008.  The primary elections are used by each party to narrow the field of candidates prior to their conventions.  These conventions are usually held during the summer of election year. Before the primary system candidate selection took place entirely at the convention. Now by the time the convention arrives there is usually a candidate who already has enough delegate votes to win the nomination of the party.  Once he becomes the nominee he then selects a vice presidential running mate which the convention delegates then rubber stamp.

 The party conventions are used to set policy and to rally the party faithful for the election in the fall. The only real intrigue usually occurs when the presidential nominee picks his running mate, the vice presidential candidate.  This person is usually selected for his or her ability to get votes in certain key states or for their experience in areas that the presidential nominee may be lacking.


Above: Geraldine Ferraro, first female vice presidental nominee from a major party.

These “tickets” consisting of the presidential and vice presidential candidate from each party then campaign for votes in the general election held in November.  By law the general election is held the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November.

The president is not elected directly, but rather voters are actually voting for Electors.  These electors represent each party’s candidate. The winning candidate in each state then gets the Electoral votes for that State. Most states have a winner take all rule.  So if the Republicans win Iowa for example with the most Electoral votes, they get all of the votes. Maine and Nebraska are exceptions.  For more on the Electoral System see my earlier post “How is the President of the United States Elected” in the archives where I discuss this at length.

After election day the winning candidate is referred to as the “president-elect”.  In fact he is not officially the “president-elect” under the Constitution until the Electoral Vote is taken and ratified by Congress. The winning set of electors meets in each state capital on the first Monday after the second Wednesday in December, shortly after the general election. They cast their votes and they are sent under seal to the Congress which then counts and ratifies the vote. Once that has occurred the winner on the November election is now Constitutionally the “President-Elect” of the United States.

He is finally sworn in as President of the United States for a four year term at noon on January 20th of the year following the election.  That is also the exact time that the sitting President’s term comes to an end.

The next instalment will talk more about the term and perks of the office.

Quebec Bridge Collapse – August 29, 1907

September 17, 2007


With the recent Interstate Highway bridge collapse in Minneapolis, Minnesota I remembered another tragic one that occurred here in Canada.

The Quebec Bridge across the St. Lawrence River at Quebec City and Levis, Quebec was constructed from 1904 to its opening on December 3, 1919.  During this time it suffered two tragic collapses with the first one being the worst.

It is the world’s longest cantilever bridge span at 1800 feet (or 549 metres).


Construction had started in 1904 without the final drawings having been checked and signed off by an engineer. After almost four years of construction engineers suddenly realized that actual weight of the bridge was far in excess of its carrying capacity. An emergency meeting was held and the senior engineer agreed and told the construction engineer not add anymore load.  However, the message did not get passed on to the crew at Quebec.  On the afternoon of August 29, 1907 near quitting time, the south arm and part of the central section collapsed into the St. Lawrence River in just 15 seconds.  The height of the collapse was from 150 feet above the river.  At the time 86 workers were on the bridge, 76 were killed and the rest were injured.  The Kahnawake reserve near Montreal suffered the most. Of the victims, 33 were Mohawk steelworkers from the reserve.

A Royal Commission of Inquiry was held and then construction begun on a second bridge. The new design was the same except the cantilever span was more massive in design.  On September 11, 1916 the central span was being raised into position.  It fell into the river killing 13 workers.  This collapse was not engineering related, but rather a construction accident.  Still the builders must have started to wonder if the bridge was jinxed.

Finally construction was completed in August 1919 at a cost of $25 million dollars and 89 bridgeworkers lives.

This disaster spurred the formation of the modern associations of engineers that today licence and administer the certification of professional engineers. The government was getting ready to do this on their own, but the engineers to their credit took the initiative.

Today the bridge is still the world’s longest cantilever bridge and is considered a major engineering feat. On January 24, 1996 the bridge was declared a National Historic Site of Canada.  Also a ceremony was recently held in the Kahnwake reserve to honor the 33 Mohawk casualties of the collapse.

It seems that Theodore Cooper, a renowned bridge builder from New York, who was overseeing the bridge construction made several errors in judgement.  When he reviewed the final drawings he saw that there was a critical design error. He rationalized and told himself – no problem. This avoided the embarassing prospect of having to start construction all over again.  After all his reputation was a stake. By the time this error manifested at the construction site it was too late.  Below is a picture of the bridge when steam locomotives were the primary users.


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August 29, 2007

Compact Fluorescent Light Bulbs: One Consumer’s Viewpoint

June 7, 2007

The incandescent light bulb, you know the regular household bulb, has been in use for roughly 125 years. It appears that its demise as the predominant source of lighting is imminent. Replacing it is the compact fluorescent light bulb (CFL) which has been around for roughly 30 years. They were originally promoted as the solution to the energy crisis of the 1970s. Back then they were bulky, expensive and just plain ugly. Consumers just did not like them.

Compact Fluorescent Bulbs

Now in 2007 they are much smaller, reasonably attractive looking, and even more efficient. The reason for the renewed interest by governments and environmental groups is that very significant energy savings can be achieved with their use. A groundswell of support is gaining momentum in an effort to ban the regular (incandescent) light bulb and replace it with the CFL. Consumers need to assure themselves that these are safe and friendly to the environment. Governments must have thought this all through if they are implementing this compulsory change, or have they?The Government of Canada has decided to ban the common (incandescent) light bulb by the year 2012. Little thought has been given to the potential environmental and health risks associated with this change. Environmentalists are praising the step, but seem to have ignored a couple of key issues. With every change there is always a downside. Environmental groups tend to forget about the downside sometimes because it is convenient to do so, or because it doesn’t fit with their agenda.

I believe that there are definitely pros to this change, but also significant adverse impacts that cannot be ignored.

The big advantage of CFLs over incandescent bulbs is the major energy savings available. The basic difference between an incandescent bulb and a CFL is in the amount of light and heat generated. An incandescent bulb is not at all energy efficient. The good old everyday light bulb converts less than 10 percent of the energy it uses into light. The remaining 90 percent is wasted as heat. Where does most of the electricity come from to power these lights? Why usually from dirty, coal-fired generating plants that are one of the biggest sources of greenhouse gas emissions. No wonder the environmentalists and government want to get rid of them.

On the other hand a CFL puts out 95 percent light with only 5 percent wasted as heat. The CFLs also last roughly ten times longer than an incandescent light bulb. This longer life is reduced though it the bulb is turned on and off too often. They are actually more efficient and last longer if left on.

According to EnergyStar, an organization that promotes energy efficiency, if every household in the United States made the switch in just one socket, it would be the global warming equivalent of taking 800,000 cars off the road . This adds up to an environmentalist’s dream. The result is an apparently easy way to put a dent in the release of greenhouse gas emissions, the primary “cause” of global warming.

CFLs contain mercury. Mercury is a toxic substance that is extremely hazardous to the environment and to health. Proper disposal is imperative. The danger occurs when a CFL breaks. The mercury is then released to the atmosphere. It is harmful if inhaled.

However, the amount of mercury in a CFL is very small, about 10 milligrams. To put this in perspective, it is roughly the amount needed to cover the head of a ballpoint pen ball. The amount of mercury in a household thermometer is about 500 milligrams.

Mercury is very difficult to cleanup and does not breakdown over time. The impact of the mercury from one bulb is not significant, but if millions of these come into everyday use, the potential impact increases dramatically.

Governments, environmental groups, and consumers need to satisfy themselves that an efficient and safe cleanup of a broken bulb is possible. The cumulative effect of the disposal of millions of CFLs into landfills must also be considered. The escape of mercury from landfills to our groundwater aquifers could be catastrophic. Larger corporate users are working on disposal solutions. Hopefully the solutions of the larger users will be transferable to the everyday consumer who only needs to dispose of a few of these bulbs a year.

Based on my research, I have decided that I will use the technology, but with certain conditions. First I do not intend to convert my entire house to CFLs. However I will use them in locations where the lights are on almost constantly. For example, I have some high locations above my kitchen away from window light. These seem to be on all the time. I have converted to CFLs here and have been very satisfied with the quality of light. I will not be putting them in any of the children’s bedrooms or in any spots where a breakage would be more likely to occur. I did try putting a 100 watt equivalent in a ceiling pod above my desk. The light intensity was not adequate so I changed back. I recommend trying them out at various places. For anyone who is interested I also have a list of articles available for suggested reading. Just email me directly (see my profile for address) and I will be glad to send it to you.

D-Day 63rd Anniversary – Turning Point

June 6, 2007

I just have to post on this topic. World War II history is one of my passions. I am totally fascinated by all of it.

June 6, 1944 the so-called “Longest Day” was the Allied invasion of Nazi controlled Europe. If the war in Europe was ever to be won, Nazi Germany had to be invaded. D-Day was that invasion. British, Canadian, American and other Allied Forces landed on the coast of Normandy in France. The goal was to establish a beachhead and drive into the heart of Germany to end the war. It succeeded.

The war in Europe started in September 1939 and dragged on until May 8, 1945. For 3 years from 1939 until 1944, the Allies hadn’t really made a lot of progress towards attacking Germany directly. They had managed to defeat the German Luffwaffe and ensure air superiority for D-Day. Additionally, they had managed to built Britain into a fortress stocked with arms and troops in preparation for the day when Europe would be invaded. After D-Day, in fact less than one year later, Nazi Germany had been defeated and the European War ended. That was how important the invasion was!

If it had failed it might have been many more years before the Allies were able to try again. That is why D-Day is sometimes referred to as the “Turning Point” of the Second World War, at least in Europe.

War in the Pacific, well that is another story, it did not end until August 1945.

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