Thursday, January 31, 2008

Interesting People: Captain William Martin

In my "interesting people" series, I've tried to focus on notable individuals forgotten in history. This is not a hard and fast rule though: I've blogged about a sports team, which at best is a group of people, the Washington Generals. Now I'm going to mention an interesting guy who didn't really...what's the word...exist.

William Martin was a soldier born in the English region of Wales. He was a Captain in the British Royal Marines during World War II, had a girlfriend back home he hoped to marry, a father who wrote him long letters, and some spare change. Martin was an important man, carrying top-secret plans for an invasion of Nazi-controlled Italy, plans the Nazis were lucky to get their hands on. However, this full life was entirely false; "William Martin" was a story made up by British spies using the body of a criminal and lots of planning.

When the British and their allies got ready to invade Italy, it was pretty obvious where their first choice would be. As British Prime Minister Winston Churchill said, "everybody but a bloody fool would know it's Sicily." So two British secret agents of the XX Committee (not twenty...double cross) were told to make it less manifest. Their plan: "accidentally" give the Nazis "secret" plans to invade the island of Sardinia instead. They couldn't be too obvious about the adventure, so the English decided to give the plans to a man supposedly shot down over water.

The spy team did several things to make the story believable. A recently deceased man was selected. He was in good physical shape and in his early 30s – typical condition for the military. They even made sure that he had died of pneumonia, so he would the fluid in the lungs common to drowning victims. The body was dressed in a full uniform, given ticket stubs, some money, and even a receipt for an engagement ring. Most importantly, he was given a locked briefcase with the plans to invade Sicily.

In Spring 1943 local newspapers announced the recent death of a William Martin of the English Royal Marines. In a short time, a submarine quietly let the outfitted body float away near the coast of Spain, a Nazi ally. The Germans clearly went through the briefcase before returning it to the English and probably photocopied the plans. The body was given a funeral and burial in England, while the army of Britain and its allies prepared to invade Sicily. When they got there, most of the German weaponry was on the coast facing Sardinia. While southern Sicily wasn't exactly unprotected, there's reason to believe that Martin's presence had a slight impact on Nazi plans.

(As for the identity of the body himself, that has been closely guarded. British officials have said, though, that he was "a bit of a ne'er-do-well", strongly implying that his service in death was greater than service to follow man in life.)

The story is a delightfully odd one, inspiring a 1950s movie. My main source is the indefatigable Bathroom Reader, specifically the first "Plunge into History".

GOP race explained

This quote summarizes the GOP race better than anything I've read so far:

Anyway, the reason McCain is the GOP nominee is that they have no one else.

And the reason they have no one else? Because they got nothing.

The GOP is running on fumes, and not in their usual sense, where they're huffing straight from the propane tank.

By way of James Wolcott, who you really should be reading every two weeks or so.

A two-headed leader for America

From question one in Thursday's debate, it is obvious how uncomfortable Obama is with discussion of policy. He stutters, corrects himself, pauses, falls into cliché. Obama is a barn-burner of an inspiration, but clearly uneasy with the nitty-gritty of policy management. Meanwhile, Hillary opens with a methodical point-by-point summary bereft of soaring rhetoric or jazzy beats. One makes a delicious sandwich, the other makes it appetizing.

If we had a two-headed government, we'd have the two heads right here. Obama would be great as an American cognate of the Israeli, German, or Irish President -- a largely ceremonial head of state who embodies morality and pride. Clinton could be the Irish Taoiseach/Prime Minister or German Chancellor -- the nuts'n'bolts head of government who implements policy and manages the economy.

Sadly we gotta combine them.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Wolf on TV

I love watching CNN political coverage on election night for a few things:

  • Bill Bennett's slavering eagerness to push Obama to the lead of the nominee battle is a good reminder of what "uniting the country" would mean under his candidacy.
  • Although there's no Keith Olbermann, there's no Joe Scarborough either.
  • I would trust Anderson Cooper to make a bank deposit for me.
  • It's fun watching Donna Brazile try to balance her loyalties.
  • But most of all, it's great to watch Wolf Blitzer. He gets short of breath and starts speaking quickly. When the polls close, he kind of shudders a little bit for reasons I don't think I want to understand. I get the feeling that when the coverage goes off-air, Wolf lays down on a couch somewhere and says "ooh, that felt gooooood...."

How Obama will shape education...

(and yes, I know his platform talks big talk. Talk is never a problem for Obama. I said "will", not "says".)

Saturday, January 26, 2008

"Southern strategy"??

CNN's coverage of the South Carolina primary, and some talking head says that he "and folks in the media" are just starting to talk about Bill Clinton's behavior in the run-up to this primary as his "Southern strategy". Let's remember where that term comes from, as defined by the Republican lapdogs at the Washington Post:

It was called "the southern strategy," started under Richard M. Nixon in 1968, and described Republican efforts to use race as a wedge issue -- on matters such as desegregation and busing -- to appeal to white southern voters.

In 1968, Republicans began their ongoing effort to gain votes by signaling a willingness to accept or at least ignore seething racism among white Southerners. It was a political effort to win votes through exploiting racism.

Now, Bill Clinton has been aggressive in attacking Obama, and in attacking the poll-obsessed media over the last week. But I would love to find out how questioning the preparation and qualifications of an African-American candidate is appealing to racism. Pathetic.

Obama: The Kim Campbell of this race

How deep a conversation can you have in 20 minutes? Especially if you have an agenda that has "prepared the ground" for this conversation. Tongues are wagging after a 20-minute post-debate meeting between Hillary Clinton and John Edwards. Nobody really knows what they saw fit to discuss, but it probably wasn't to exchange pictures of their children. Of course, given the aggressive tone of the Clinton campaign leading up to South Carolina, feelings may have changed on Edwards' behalf since that meeting.

Obviously, Edwards isn't going to win the nomination. The indispensable delegate counter at shows Edwards at half the deleages of Hillary and Obama, after what will likely be his strongest state. It will take a near-even break between Obama and Hillary for such a small number of delegates to decide a convention. I'm not sure what Edwards is chasing after, but it's interesting to see that Hillary thought it worth the time to speak with him. And that she got the time from him.

As for the Kim Campbell reference, she was the only woman Prime Minister of Canada, and held the job for a whole five months. She was essentially left "holding the bag" in July 1993 after a disgraced Brian Mulroney resigned his prime ministership (Canadian Will Ferguson likened it to "taking over the controls of a 747 just before it plunges into the Rockies." Campbell then took over the leadership of their Conservative Party as they headed into possibly the greatest defeat of a government in Western democratic history. The Conservative Party headed into the election with 151 seats, the majority, and ended it with 2. Prime Minister Campbell lost in her own riding. (In fairness, the Conservative coalition had fractured, with leaders of the Quebec nationalist and Western alienation movements leaving to form their own parties).

Though assuredly screwed by Mulroney, Campbell also worsened things for herself. The reference is to a notorious G7 Summit, where the leaders of the Western world were gathered, and during break time had the (important) conversations, and Campbell was stuck talking to an ineffective functionary of the European Union. The Canadian media savaged her for being frozen out of the goings-on of the summit, though she was only two weeks into her brief tenure. Since then, whenever somebody (like Obama) is frozen out of the significant conversations due to their own incompetence, I think of Madam Campbell, Canada's only woman Prime Minister.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Blogging Project Runway #9: Blue jeans

Kit was the baby-sitter everyone wanted when they were kids because she'd let you watch movies your parents wouldn't. Victorya is the baby-sitter who nobody wanted because she'd yell at you for not using a coaster on an old credenza.

It would be cruel, yet funny, for a designer picking a model to go from "I love you, but I have to say no to..." or "Sorry, but I'm not going to pick..." to "I've been waiting for weeks to get rid of..."

I'm disappointed...I was hoping Tim Gunn was gonna drive the van.

I like this denim challenge. Creative, yet reasonable and attainable. Plus we get to see Chris run.

Nice to see the designers turn against Christian. Bout dang time.

I'm starting to think that Tim Gunn came out of the womb in a suit.

Hot damn -- a Levi's commercial starring two guys obviously attracted to each other. A classy ad that has two men, not a "gay ad". And also a reminder that there probably aren't too many other straight men watching this show.

Amazes me how humble Christian tries to be in front of the judges, and a prissy would-be diva away from them. But the telltales are there is you know how to look for them.

Redemption for Ricky, getting some props from the judges as a legit designer as they declare him the victory. And good-bye to Victorya, who had in survival skills what she lacked in personality.

Something I've always wondered...

Nearly every concession speech begins with "I just called [winner] and congratulated him/her for winning [state] and [meaningless drivel."

I've always wondered, who gets the job of finding out a way to contact the big rival quickly? And how do you do it? I imagine the phone call goes like this:

McCain staffer: Hello
Huck staffer: Hey, is this Mark?
M s :Yes it is...hey, is that you Dave?
H s :Yeah it is. So you're with the McCain campaign's it goin'?
M s :Great. All the polls show us leading...looking like we're gonna kick your a--! Hahah
H s :Well, our polls show different. Might not want to get too carried away"
M s :Yeah, we'll see. Why are you calling the enemy camp anyway?
H s :I was wondering, see....umm... Steve asked me to call your guys 'cuz just in case tonight things didn't go our way... I mean, if something crazy happens I need a phone number where I can reach McCain?
M s :Wow! You guys are in rough shape. You're already planning your concession speech?
H s :I said just in case, and you know it! So what's the number.
M s :You're never gonna survive if you plan like a loser, Dave. Anyway, he'll be at the Doubletree Hotel, and I'll give you the number of his aide. It's around here somewhere. Umm, it's xxx-xxxx
H s :Thanks Mark. So I guess...
M s :Yeah.
H s :Yeah. I should go...
M s :Wait!! Can I ask you something?
H s :Sure, what is it?
M s :Just in case. I mean, if something crazy happens. What's your guy's number?

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

South Carolina Democratic debate: my favorite line

Monday's Democratic Debate in South Carolina was by all accounts a humdinger. I'll admit to not having watched it, mainly because at this stage of the game it's similar to watching the eighth regular-season matchup between the same two playoff-bound NBA teams: they know each other very well so there's no surprise moves, they've put out everything worthwhile there is to put out, and they're saving their energy for more important moments.

That said, this line from Obama inspired a great deal of sympathy from me toward Edwards:

There's no doubt that in a race where you've got an African-American, and a woman, and — and, John — there's no doubt that that has piqued interest.

This contest has two persons breaking down doors and...John. Poor guy.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Interesting People: Louis Riel

"Is he crazy?" is such a common rhetorical crutch widely bandied about, but not in any serious way. It's just a way of questioning somebody's judgment. Once in a while, though, somebody comes along who does things in such a strange, such a spectacularly confusing fashion, that it's necessary to append "Seriously. I mean there any chance that he's actually, you know, nuts?" Louis Riel was such a man.

Part would-be Messiah, part criminal, part demagogue, Louis Riel was the greatest "troublemaker" of Canada's colonization of its West. Whereas the "Wild West" is enshrined in the United States as an often violent, anything-goes messy expansion, Canada's settlement is typified by the smiling Mountie keeping everything in order.

Louis Riel the exception. He was the leader of the Métis, the Canadian equivalent of Mexican Mestizo, individuals with a blended Native American and White background. In the case of Canada, the French had long held better, though stained, relations with Native Americans. Thus the Métis were Anglo-Canadians' worst nightmare: Native Americans who spoke French.

Riel (looking decidedly uncrazy at right) would wind up the spokesman and face of the many Native American grievances with Canada as it expanded. Though slightly more friendly than Americans at the time, the Canadians (particularly the English-speakers in Ontario) thought little of removing Native Americans from "their" land. Riel started in friendship, helping negotiate the Manitoba Act whereby the area acceded to the Canadian federation as a province (their equivalent of statehood).

However, Riel soon protested against the swift Anglicization of the area, as well as the near-automatic shafting of the land's first settlers. Native and White Manitobans alike loved the firebrand, voting him into Parliament three times, though hostility in the capital prevented him from ever taking his seat in Ottawa. Frontier-urban tensions boiled over as a small force led by Thomas Scott incursed into Manitoba to extend that benevolent Canadian supervision. Unhappy Métis surrounded and captured the force, eventually executing Scott. A warrant was duly issued for murder, and Mounties sent out to arrest Riel. Riel smartly skipped the border into what is now Montana.

He didn't stay in the US long, though, responding to requests from leaders of modern-day Saskatchewan to represent their concerns about the encroaching Canadian government. His entreaties utterly ignored, Riel chose direct action and employed his considerable charisma to gather a fighting force (One quote: "We are men, free and spirited men and we will not allow even the Dominion of Canada to trample on our rights"). This 1885 revolt, called the Northwest or Red River Rebellion failed, which ultimately failed as Native American rebellions tended to do. Riel surrendered to the Canadian forces and put on trial. Six white, Anglophone Protestants found him guilty but recommended mercy. The judge sentenced him to death, and Riel was hanged in November 16, 1885.

Riel's hanging was the match-strike of Quebec nationalism, which has mutated and evolved over time, but never truly gone away. The ever-sensitive Prime Minister of Canada John MacDonald announced "He shall hang, even though every dog in Quebec barks in his favour." Honoré Mercier, one the first Quebec leader to espouse nationalism, road this tide into office as Premier of Quebec shortly thereupon. Over a century later in 1995, sovereigntist member of Canadian Parliament Suzanne Tremblay (left) from Quebec sponsored a motion to repeal his conviction. The bill failed.

Oh, the crazy part? Well, Riel perceived himself increasingly in Messianic terms. Receiving an education from Jesuits, he began to identify himself with the travails of Jesus. He interrupted a sermon to begin issuing "divine pronouncements" and was eventually barred from the Catholic Church. This messages were key in gathering the troops for his failed rebellion. A jester would venture that Riel was truly the first Mormon, as he said at one point saying "Do you know these people of mine are just as were the children of Israel, a persecuted race deprived of their heritage. But I will wrest justice for them from the tyrant. I will be unto them a second David." Followers abandoned the Catholic Church widely and followed Riel into this fight in a parallel to the "Ghost Dance" movement among Lakota and other Native Americans.

What would a brokered convention look like? Part I

If there's any idea that can make a political analyst shudder with sinful pleasure (aside from a no-strings attached grant), it's the idea of a brokered political convention. Today I'm starting a 4-part series on what a brokered convention may look like in 2008:

Part I: What is a brokered convention? Past examples
Part II: A brokered national convention in action: December 2006
Part III: Possibilities for this year
Part IV: Denver Debacle: Democrats Divided

A "brokered" convention is one in which no candidate possesses a majority of delegates going into the convention, meaning that the candidate selection will not be automatic. Since the 1980s, the convention has been an elaborately staged coronation, with delegates voting in the winner through a largely pro forma exercise. Media folks, who always whine about how meaningless conventions are, openly pine for a convention with a "floor fight" wherein candidates attempt to assemble a majority through an orgy of deal-making, pressure, and all-out political hustling. We may see such a scene before us again.

The last time there was a convention with any sense of drama in the United States was in 1980, when Democrat Ted Kennedy was seeking to undermine incumbent President Jimmy Carter. Carter possessed a majority of delegates, but was clearly headed for a loss to Ronald Reagan. Attempts by the Kennedy foes to change the rules freeing all delegates to vote their conscience failed (excellent details here.)

One can also examine the Green Party convention of 2004 in Milwaukee. The result was unclear going in, because delegates could choose between eventual nominee David Cobb or "uncommitted", leaving the door open for Ralph Nader to run as their nominee. With Nader characteristically prevaricating on the question, Cobb won on the third ballot with 408 of 769 votes. Although a national convention, the low Green delegate count (held in a room that called to mind the regional awards of Amway) stripped out most of the theatrics that make a major brokered convention such a scene. For a vague idea, you can always check out the episode of The West Wing called "2162 votes" about a fictional brokered convention of the Democratic Party.

Before that, you have to go back to '52 when the Democrats needed three rounds of balloting to choose sacrificial lamb Adlai Stevenson over Estes Kefauver. Stevenson would go on to be slaughtered by General Eisenhower, and enjoy it so much that he repeated his massive loss four years later.

In recent times, a frontrunner has emerged in either party early on in the process. There have been early contests with more than one figure, though it winnows quickly. (Since the 1960s, Iowa and New Hampshire have picked the eventual winner less than half the time, and that streak will continue in 2008.) The money to keep going will often unite behind a particular candidate, especially as the game changes from retail politics in small states to relying on advertisements and message. Although Jesse Jackson in 1988 and John McCain in 2000 made decent runs at it, their campaigns eventually faded before Dukakis and Bush.

One reason for these failures was the extended nomination schedule. By the time the really big states such as California and New York had swung in, the party had generally united around one candidate over the course of the previous primaries and caucuses. Jackson won Michigan, but lost most everything else by the time the big states had their voice. These larger states -- with larger delegate counts -- put a rubber stamp on the choice, providing the delegates that gave candidates the majority.

However, this year the field remains divided on the Republican side and to an extent on the Democratic side. When the big states vote on "MegaTuesday", February 5th, there is an excellent chance that more than one candidate will emerge with many delegates. All the states in this map are voting on that day (purple indicates both parties vote that day). With enough money, they could push this thing all the way to the convention.

But more about that in Part III. Next part, I want to examine a national convention from just over a year ago. This convention was brokered, and a shrewd operator entered in third place, and left in first.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

An insult to our democracy

I think it was a great idea to give the Mountain West and the Latino vote more prominence in the nomination process in the Democratic Party. To do it this way is clearly a disaster:

  • The party is unprepared and overwhelmed by the turnout.
  • Inadequate training: the caucus chair on CNN asked for somebody who could speak Spanish. You're on the Vegas strip, and you didn't think that would come in handy? These structure was not ready.
  • The at-large caucuses designed to make the votes of some people "more equal" than others'.
  • Allegations of union intimidation and suppression concerning this public forum from mainstream media that won't go away, no matter what the attacks launched from Team Obama.
  • A schedule that excludes Nevada's observant Jews.
  • A fixed, inflexible time that doesn't work for many citizens.

These things are an abomination. And a "victory" in Nevada shouldn't count for much more than the one in Michigan.
(Please note that I wrote this just as the doors closed, before results came in.)

UPDATE: Hillary won the state 51-45%. But because rural voices count for more than urban voices (like in the Electoral College), Obama may possibly get 13 of the Nevada delegates up for grabs, to Hillary's 12. This is far from guaranteed, as is pointed out by the Chair of the Nevada Democratic Party. Either way, this system is broken.

Oh, and I'm watching CNN, and Conservative slanderer/commentator Bill Bennett is desperately pushing any attack angle on Hillary he can think of while ignoring Obama. Hm.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Blogging Project Runway #8: Hairstyles

They will be designing an "avant-garde" (fashionese for: laughably unwearable; a vanity project unsuited to real life) outfit matching each model's kooky hairstyle. It's gonna be an ugly show. I will note that I typed that definition before Tim said it.

I would say of the four crews, this bunch is the least loyal to their models. Shame.

On these team challenges, it's always a team leader that gets the ax. I would never, ever want to be a team leader on this show.

I think it was pretty wicked that they used one of my favorite instruments of all time -- the didgeridoo -- to underline the drama of the "special announcement" that the teams have to gin up a second look with no warning.

I'm starting to suspect that Christian just may be gay.

On the surface of it, this may sound unfair,
If I come right out and say I don't care,
I watch for fashion, sure,
Don't interest in coiffure
So amp up the fashion, forget about the hair.

Good judgment: "It's like Scarlett O'Hara, but it looks cheap."

...and Rami survives by the skin of his teeth. He still makes the best stuff of the group, but I can't say that I like him at all. I have Kevin's personality and Rami's talent.

"At-Large" Caucuses: Plenty of blame to go around

Well, Hillary stepped in it, didn't she. Or did she? And what did she step in?

Even though the Nevada caucuses are set for Saturday at noon, many workers in Las Vegas will be doing their jobs in the 24-hour casino strip. The Democratic Party kindly set up at-large caucus precincts for those workers. Not linked to residence, these caucus sites were explicitly set up to give these hard workers a way to participate without having to significantly choose between voting or working. Unlike the typical practice of assigning a voter to a caucus site by residence, voters from anywhere in the state can caucus at these places. Every single on is located on the casino-heavy "Strip" in Las Vegas. As news coverage can attest, this plan was approved by all parties months ago.

Then, the Culinary union that covers most of these workers endorsed Obama the morning after New Hampshire. Apparently this endorsement has real weight, unlike the types of endorsements that Edwards and Gephardt have collected in the past (union bosses that are ready to intimidate members probably makes the endorsement count for more, granted). And lo and behold, some directors of the Nevada State Education Association almost immediately felt moved to sue the party in order to stop this at-large facet of the Saturday caucuses. While the NSEA is neutral in the primary, many of its directors support Hillary -- this is the connection mention in the news. (The lawsuit failed by the way.)

Of course, Obama's people are flogging this without restraint or veracity, using a common spin of "Hillary sues to suppress votes". Obama got so mad about it that he inveighed against "lawyers [like him] getting involved". The Obama spin makes sense if you believe the following:

  • Hillary's campaign instigated the lawsuit. (Probably. I doubt her allies are going to do something her campaign sees as inimical to their interests, and the campaign did join the suit).
  • The lawsuit has no merit on its own, and is just a campaign tactic.

Frankly, this lawsuit was a campaign tactic and did have merit. Underreported is the fact that the Democratic National Committee, who had final approval of this plan has joined the suit, as did officials of Clark County, which include Las Vegas. Why do such a thing?

Well, if there's any possible way to make the anti-democratic institution of a caucus less democratic, it's to set up special sites for selected groups of voters. We're not talking about stripping people of their rightful chance to participate, we're talking about stripping people of a way to participate to which they don't have a right. Notice that nobody cares about observant Jews whose beliefs prevent them from taking part due to the scheduled hour of the event. Nobody cares about people in rural Nevada who face long-distance drives to get to their "local" caucus site. Plenty of folks work on Saturday afternoon, but they don't count, they're not special like the casino workers. The Culinary workers got special treatment, and that is something that everyone should find objectionable.

(Mind you, that doesn't change the fact that even were the lawsuit successful, it probably would have backfired on Hillary.)

Incidentally, Nevada is getting a strong message with an eye toward the general. The three leading Democrats are making several visits to Nevada and are on the air. Meanwhile, of the Republicans only Romney and Paul are actively contesting the state -- two of the three "front-runners" went directly from doesn't-count Michigan to South Carolina. Huckabee and McCain have shown little interest in Nevada. Good going guys -- ignore the rapidly growing swing state in favor of the go-nowhere solid red state that unfailingly votes Republican.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

If you want to be a dunce about education... Lou Dobbs. He's currently running a series on the topic, on Tuesday night claiming that "nobody has spent as much time on education as this program". Dobbs was worshipped by Bill Bennett and the old guy on CNN (no, the other old guy...not him either...looking...ah!) Bill Schneider. In all fairness the two of them -- like myself -- were killing time until the Michigan results came in.

Briefly, the Lou Dobbs recipe is to take money out of poorly performing schools. To show how it works, he shows a magnet school in Cincinnati. Mind you, he doesn't say that it's a magnet school, but case law is clear that public schools cannot put in a uniform as this school has. He then quotes a principal brought in after the punishment accountability law passed, who says nice things about the law.

Shockingly, Lou Dobbs, Caped Crusader for White Capitalism, found somebody praising the hiring policy that got them the job! I recorded Tuesday's program for a more meticulous picking-apart down the line.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Michigan for Mitt!

Here's hoping some shrewd Democrats forgo "uncommitted" and pull the ol' lever for Mitt Romney in Michigan tomorrow. For an explanation of how this helps the good guys, click here.

Anyway, this is a little Photoshopping I did...feel free to share:

Sunday, January 13, 2008

If nothing else...

This weekend means that I won't have to put up with Peyton Manning's mug on every other commercial aired during football games over the next year.

Hey, did you hear about that endorsement deal that Manning turned down? Me neither.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Have Corner Office, Will Travel

Boy oh boy was it sickening to have to put with seeing Mitt Romney running all over creation with an eye toward presidential politics. We had to deal with our governor ignoring problems at home to play at presidential politics -- on our dime.

Romney wisely chose not to run for re-election, and Deval Patrick has elected on a platform of "hope" and "change". We were going to have a full-time governor!

No we weren't. Every time Deval shows up on my television, he's in another state. He's been in Iowa for Barack Obama, he spent a long stretch in New Hampshire for Back Obama, and now he's going to South Carolina for Barack Obama. After a year of the ineffective, directionless governance of Massachusetts that one can imagine. I'm surprised that he hasn't been scheduled in for Nevada yet.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Blogging Project Runway #7: Prom dresses

This looks like a fun challenge...I really think we're in for some pissed-off teenaged girls by the end of the episode. That said, it isn't fair to send out a troupe of girls in private school uniforms to stand on a runway around Heidi Klum. If nothing else, the show has ample aesthetic beauty for all kinds of men at least: Klum is ravishing, and Tim Gunn is debonair and then some.

I didn't get Kevin's joke about the Flintstones, but I love Sweet P's declaration "I'm not going because I listened to some teenager. No, no."

That said, the episode is a reminder of how overblown "prom" has become. If nothing else, it's been declared a major enough event to forgo its definite article. There are prom expos, prom magazines, and a massive industry aimed at extracting enormous amounts of money from teenagers -- usually girls -- in return for an empty promise of "the best night of your life". One thing I remember from the proms I attended (four proms, oddly enough, with four different girls) is that the best time seemed to be had by the couples who went as friends, not the romantically involved ones who were desperate for memorable moments, half the time recasting it as a practice wedding.

Anyway, back to the episode. Is there a clause in Michael Kors' contract that prohibits him from wearing vivid or light colors on the show?

Kit's dress is very vibrant...class with color. And the judges are right about the red dress. I thought when she walked out that she looked old in that dress...turns out I was right. But I don't dig the sniping about Christian "blaming" his client, even though it was her fault.

Ooooh...Raumi is feeling cocky with his immunity, asking Nina "may I respond to that?" Walking the line there, boy.

The wrong guy lost. Kevin's more skilled than Christian, but the drama queen is kept around for the ratings.

The dream derailed

It was July 2007 (I believe) when I went to my first Richardson meeting -- the first one held in Massachusetts. I certainly wavered in my support of him as stupid things came out of his mouth -- Iowa has a "God-given right" to go first in the nation? What?

And maybe if there were another candidate without an obvious strike against him, I would have left for good. But there isn't. And at the end of the day, a lifetime of distinctive public service outweigh campaign gaffes in my book -- but few others'. For me, for my issues and my criteria, there wasn't anyone on the same level as him.

Richardson knew education like nobody else in either race, and with him goes our best hope of straightening out the public system for a while. Its laughable to compare the bromides of "making the system better" and "helping it achieve its promise" or "reform" or "change" to Richardson's off-the-cuff debate answer on No Child Left Behind:

I would scrap it. It doesn’t work. It is the law. It is not just an unfunded mandate, but the one- size-fits-all doesn’t work. It doesn’t emphasize teacher training. It doesn’t emphasize the disabled kids. It doesn’t -- English learning kids don’t get help.

The worst thing it does is it takes districts and schools that are not doing well, takes their funds away, penalizes them. If a school is not doing well, we help that school.

The last thing we need to do, relating to teachers, is the key to a good education in this country is a strong teacher. I would have a minimum wage for all our teachers, $40,000 per year.

And I would emphasize science and math. I would also bring, to make sure our kids that are not scoring well in science and math, 29th in the world, to unlock those minds in science and math, I would have a major federal program of art in the schools... music, dancing, sculpture, and the arts.

I had to cut out the five breaks for applause that are noted in the transcript.

Richardson also has visited more countries than half these candidates have heard of. There are people alive in the Sudan because Richardson brokered a fragile cease-fire there...and that's not the only place. North Korean negotiators made one stop from Pyongyang to Washington, DC for a meeting with the State Department -- they wanted to talk to Governor Richardson.

And dang it, Richardson as our nominee would have been the threshold to a comfortable and inviting home in the Democratic Party for Latino voters. How are you going to argue immigration with someone from New Mexico?

Oh well. It's over. It's obvious why he didn't make a splash, and I won't re-hash that here. It's just a sorry night in so many ways.

Nevada Caucus Rules, or bad idea, second edition

Take a complex system, the highest stakes in the world, a mob of media hacks, and thousands of rookies trying to hold it all together, add in some gambling, and what do you get? The Nevada caucuses. The rules (as best I can understand) are as follows, according to a quick read of the Official Rules (source: PDF) tells us much information. Differences with Iowa are underlined:

As in Iowa, caucusgoers must be physically present at a given time and place, though in this case the caucuses are held at noon on Saturday the 19th. The caucus is open to all voters who will be 18 on election day in November.

This is interesting: any person wishing to participate in the Republican caucus must have registered as a Republican at least 30 days ago. The Nevada secretary of state's website says of the Democratic caucus: "If you are not already registered but eligible to vote, you may complete a registration form and participate on the day of the caucus." At least on Hillary's website, that is presented as permitting caucusgoers to change their registration from Republican or independent as they arrive at the caucus.

Anyway, caucusgoers will form preference groups after hearing appeals from candidates' subordinates in their meeting spaces. When the chair declares time for the formation of preference groups, caucusgoers fill out a paper "pledge card" that indicates their preference that will eventually be turned over to the officials, that they take with them. They form said preference groups. Candidates who attract less than 15% of the total number present at the caucus are declared "non-viable" and have the option to change preferences. (In smaller precincts, the viability threshold can be a caucus sending 3 delegates, the threshold is 1/6, in a 2-delegate precinct, 25%.)

Supporters of non-viable candidates, and only supporters of non-viable candidates, can then give up their pledge card and move to another group. This bears repeating: if caucusing for a viable candidate, one must stay there, and cannot be talking into joining elsewhere.

There is a significant affirmative action plank to the rules, including gender equity. I don't know if that's the case in Iowa.

Compare/contrast with Iowa:

  • The viability threshold will not have the same distortive impact as it did in Iowa, where 5 candidates representing up to 15% of the initial vote were often affected, here it will only be two.
  • This is Nevada's first go at a large-scale caucus. We're talking thousands of rookie caucus chairs. Though Spanish is commonly spoken in Nevada, a rookie caucus chair with poor Spanish may be in for a hard time.
  • Many Nevadans will be working in the entertainment industry at caucus time. Casino management has been reluctant to make provisions for them in the schedule.
  • It's much harder to game the math as well, getting one more or less delegates. No longer can a viable candidate lift up another to viability in return for something.
  • These are also in some ways rookie organizations. Can the nascent Nevada campaigns handle it? (The ultimate insider's son -- Harry Reid's boy Rory is chairing her effort)

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Thank You New Hampshire!

Bill Richardson is still my first choice. Let me make that clear.

The voters of New Hampshire value content and substance. You don't survive those winters by being soft...or smarmy. Great credit to them.

Nice to see my governor on tv, too for the first time in a while. I thought we ditched Romney because we were sick of governors running around the country and ignoring the state. Now Deval's doing the same.

One reason to like Obama (kinda)

....he's dangerous as hell in the general. The Republican candidates didn't have an answer for him in the debate on Saturday night, Andrew Sullivan has quotes from nervous and nameless Republican operatives, and independents are asking for his ballot like crazy in Iowa and New Hampshire, two must-wins.

Obama looks good for the general election. I'd give him a 65% chance (50% if the California theft referendum goes through) because of what we're seeing so far. As a nominee, he'll probably have a good path to the nomination, maybe even better than Hillary. Mind you, Obama is a breath of fresh air, a great thing the 6 weeks he's received any real attention but perhaps growing stale over 10 months. And in any case, the modern Republican party has perfected race-baiting above all its other skills.

But of course, I have my idea about what would happen next. Obama will not and cannot deliver on his treacly puffery anymore than Deval Patrick has been able to. Shockingly, the debt will remain high, the Israelis and Palestinians will still be angry, and gas will still be expensive. Our problems won't be hoped away. The voters he brings in will walk away dillusioned and disappointed. They may not go back to the Republican Party, and a certain number will drop out of politics altogether.

So I guess in the long run, an Obama presidency would be good for the Democratic Party. And I firmly believe that it would be bad for the country. In that way, he's very much "our Ronald Reagan." Unlike many Republicans (and not a few Democrats), I don't want to make that trade.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Blogging Project Runway #6:

The show was on hiatus for so long (I hope there aren't professionals writing this stuff), I forgot about it until my DVR spat forth the most recent episode today. So without further ado...

What a weird field modeling is. Beautiful people are paid not to be beautiful (they must be, however), but are paid to walk nice.

I love how Tim shows up at the apartments at 6am, looking classy and pressed as if it were mid-cocktail party hour. (So then what...he sits downstairs in a suit for an hours while all the contestants shower, dress, and primp?)

Nice's the 5th day of the New Year and half the audience is trying to Project Runway features candy. Thanks a bunch!

Oooh...soft-focus human interest feature on a contestant set to soft guitar music.

I've noticed when designers tell each other what they're making, I don't understand the words they're using. A "bolero jacket"? A what interpretation of Gretel?

No (outright or subliminal) ads for Bluefly tonight. Did the contract run out?

Rami and Kevin are the most dependable, tasteful, and consistent designers in the thing. In this competition, that is the description of the person who comes in second (even though Rami won).

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Worth noting...

...the only candidate (for either party) that gives a crap about education in this race is Bill Richardson. He mentioned it three separate times tonight in the debate, whereas nobody else could be bothered to mention it at all. Richardson talked about teacher pay, No Child Left Behind, not just "making schools better". Even though he's not going anywhere, Governor Bill Richardson is my man for that reason.

Worse still, on the post-debate network/ Facebook poll asking "which topic do you wish had been discussed more in the debate", education wasn't even listed as an option. Why should the candidates care about education if the media won't challenge them on it.

The debate paraphrased

More efficient than a traditional transcript, beneath find what candidate wanted people to here while they were saying what they said. Actual statements are within quotation marks, and instant fact-checking is supplied in parentheses.

Charlie Gibson: Guys, don't be jerks, okay. So, let's begin. Bush once said that he was going for a humble foreign policy. Turns out he lied. What do you guys think of Bush's policy? Huckabee, you know the truth that Bush is acting arrogant...will you still admit it?

Huckabee: I'm now the front-runner. Do not expect an informative or useful answer out of me tonight. Granted, Rumsfeld was a jerk, but that's as far as I'll go. We needed more troops.

Thompson: Huckabee's a chicken. Bush is right..."do whatever is necessary to protect ourselves".

Giuliani: Bush was right to go "on offense" against Muslim terrorists by invading a bunch of places and putting all Americans under surveillance. Bush did make some mistakes, such as this one that Clinton made.

Gibson: Do you believe that we should shove foreign powers around whenever it tickles our fancy? We call that the "Bush Doctrine".

McCain: It's cool. I love me some Cowboy Dubya, and the fact that there hasn't been a post-9/11 attack on the US (except for the attacks on America that take place in Iraq, and the anthrax terror) is all cuz of him! Plus, I knew Rumsfeld was wrong when none of you all didn't. Giuliani did a good job as a lowly mayor.

Paul: I liked what Bush said, but not what he and Bill Clinton did. 9/11 "is an excuse" for something that is "not a minor change...this is huge".

Romney: You don't know beans, Paul. "The president is not arrogant" and "we owe him a debt of gratitude"...hey 30 percenters, I'm your man! Only problem is, we should send some flowers or something next time we invade so the dumb radicals think we're nice.

Thompson: This isn't the Cold War anymore. And also, it's tough to find good-quality cassette tapes.

Giuliani: I got good press last time I snarled at Ron Paul, so I'm going to do it again. These Muslim extremists hate free enterprise...(as evidenced by how often they sell us lots of oil at market prices.)

Paul: I'm going to say this really slowly. We'd hate it if we were invaded, so...

Romney/interrupting: I can't STAND Muslim leaders, and I love to say "jihad" because it makes it sound as if I have a clue.

Huckabee: Not so fast, Mitt. You said Iraq is a mess, and a bunch of other damning quotes. I have an amazing research staff, tremble before it. Worst of all, these radical Muslims want to do to us what I want to do to non-Christians!

Romney: You're ticking me off with your personal attacks, and don't you dare talk about what I've said. That's out of bounds.

(Crosstalk with Ron Paul & the truth on one side, Giuliani, McCain, Huckabee and Thompson on the other.)

Giuliani: 9/11

Gibson: Wow, is this debate far beyond my control. I suck as a moderator. Next question comes from Bush, here on videotape.

Bush: What are your principles that you will stand for?

Gibson: Romney and McCain have been attacking each other like dogs. What say you?

McCain: Thanks for the chance to make a speech. Protect the awesomeness of America which is under threat, something I've done nearly my whole life. The Democrats can't. Plus, something about equality.

Romney: I have a family, who made me run (probably to get him out of the house). America is indeed awesome, and its awesomeness is indeed under threat. Plus, kids are cute!

Gibson: Aww, I was hoping for some fireworks. What happened? C'monnnn...

Giuliani: I like Ronald Reagan. I don't like polls, the way Democrats do. Biggest deal "keep on offense on the Islamic Terrorist Global War against Us".

Gibson: Hold on, all of you have reputations as flip-floppers. I'm not buying this.

Giuliani: Ronald Reagan, and uhh, Ronald Reagan.

Huckabee: Let me obliquely bring in God by waggling my eyebrows while supposedly talking about equality. But we can still react to change.

Thompson: America peaked with the Founding Fathers (he may have been there), and has gone downhill since. Our best hope is some pale imitation.

Paul: You talk about all this crap, but geez from war to finance you Republicans have deviated from the Constitution. "It's bankrupting this country because we don't live up to the principles in the constitution."

Gibson: If we can afford an incredibly expensive war, why can't we join the rest of the world in providing health care?

Giuliani: Because the rest of the world is too stupid to realize how awesome our health care system is. That's why ultra-rich from other countries go to American clinics that you can't afford.

Gibson: Your plans will cost families lots of money.

McCain: The problem is not health care, it's inflation (huh? oh...cost inflation. McCain's having a senior moment). And sick people must be "more responsible". Diabetes is God's way of punishing the lazy.

Romney: I implemented an unfathomable system cut prices! I did it privately.

Paul: Cut Iraq funding and spend it on health care. Plus, our monetary policy is holding us hostage to China.

Thompson: Huh? Wha'? I wasn't really listening because I played golf today so I'm tired.

Huckabee: Check this out, I have an for people's health, not their sicknesses.

Romney: My plan in the unnamed state I governed is awesome.

(Seeing McCain and Thompson next to each other reminds me of Statler and Waldorf on The Muppet Show. Plus, it is incredibly endearing that Paul is swiveling back and forth on his chair when not speaking.)

McCain: Check out how smart the health care system is in Arizona (thanks to Democratic governor Janet Napolitano, most underestimated governor of the nation).

Romney: I like pharmaceutical companies. Plus Ticketmaster, Microsoft, and

Gibson: Well, that has been a disaster. Let's get this under control. Other moderator?
Other moderator: If your views on illegal immigration have changed, McCain, why hasn't your plan?

McCain: Let me tell you about my plan...

Romney: What a sucky plan. It is "inappropriate" to have 12 million here illegally. However, I'm not going to tell you what I want to do about it.

(When are Romney's gardeners going to come up?)

Other moderator: Deport the illegals?

Giuliani: Stop the illegals coming with all sorts of manly things. We can't deport all the illegals, but what we can do is treat them like criminals.

McCain: I'm not a supporter of amnesty. Two losers, Lieberman and Romney, agree with me.

Romney: Waaaaaaaaaaahhh!

McCain: "You can spend your entire fortune in attack ads, but that won't make them true."

(Candidate from either party I most want on my side in a bar fight? John McCain. He's kicking Romney's @$$ right now.)

Republicans: What is "amnesty"? (Hint: Ask Scooter Libby.)

Giuliani: Romney, you don't know what amnesty is. Shove it.

Thompson: Giuliani, you don't know what law enforcement is, shut it.

Gibson: Huckabee, I'll give you some time to get in trouble on immigration.

Huckabee: Rats. I was loving the sight of everyone's negatives going up. Umm...can I say that we should punish illegal immigrants while loving them? That should adequately tick off both sides.

Paul: I don't like tamperproof IDs. And illegal immigration is an issue "because people are hurting". Illegal immigration is a symptom of a much bigger problem, an economic issue. No amnesty.

Romney: I swear, us Republicans like legal immigrants!

Other moderator: You've been attacking Hillary for years. Obama is probably going to be the nominee...oops! So, how will you attack Barack?

Romney: He's a BIG SCARY DEMOCRAT who loves socialized health care...and other issues. Plus, America wants change, and heaven knows for change you need another Republican president.

Thompson: Obama is a liberal, as far as I can tell, and agrees with all sorts of scary groups like the NEA (completely wrong). I think America should be good, and they don't.

McCain: I am an accomplished politician, which Obama can't say.

Romney: That didn't seem to be a problem for him against Hillary. I'm a change candidate.

Giuliani: I agree with McCain. It better be about experience or I'm screwed.

Huckabee: Let's bring out the greatest hits -- taxes, gun control and abortion! But we need to be upbeat, and running by attacking will not help.

Paul: I'm like Obama in all the good ways -- young people, anti-war,

Gibson: What are you going to do about incredibly expensive oil prices?


Paul: The problem is our monetary policy.

McCain: High oil prices means money for terrorists. We need to cut consumption of energy, and consumption of foreign oil.

Other moderator: what about record high oil company profits?

Thompson: What about it? And energy independence isn't going to happen, and we're competing for consumption (Actually a very smart answer).

Huckabee: We need to promote innovation, with buhllions of dollars! Oil companies suck (wow!) and Chavez is a dictator (as evidenced by his acceptance of a close referendum vote that went against him.)

If I had to summarize, there were no real "momentum shifts". Paul and Thompson didn't do much to change any perceptions. Romney acted like someone stunned and on the ropes, McCain had the confidence of a man on the rise.

Most odd was Huckabee, who was like a ghost. Very light impact on the whole thing.

Finally, calling out the Democratic candidates to share the stage for a minute with the Republican candidates was simple symbolism, but I found it powerful. Good move on Gibson's part.

Obama on Obama

Barack knows better than his acolytes. From November 2004:

"I was elected yesterday. I have never set foot in the U.S. Senate. I've never worked in Washington. And the notion that somehow I'm immediately going to start running for higher office just doesn't make sense.

So look, I can unequivocally say I will not be running for national office in four years, and my entire focus is making sure that I'm the best possible senator on behalf of the people of Illinois."

Gee...what caused the "change"?

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Yo morons, it was a tie!

A quick note on how idiotic the media is. Can we clarify that nobody "came in third" in a meaningful sense at the Democratic Iowa caucuses? Wolf Blitzer's synapses were visibly firing off the charts at the idea of a "battle" amongst the Democrats (and the desperation from Edwards camp isn't much prettier). The CNN site tells us how the fight for "second is razor close". At least MSNBC had the class to call it a "virtual tie".

Listen, morons. There's no bonus for coming in second rather than third in Iowa. When you consider how messed up the system is, and the machinations ahead of us at the county and state level in Iowa, the difference of 14 delegates isn't much. The gap between Clinton and Edwards is a whopping .49% of the stake. FoxNews, this isn't a "slim lead". It's static. .49% of the stake is a flu outbreak at a nursing home, it's a couple families leaving the house late. It's a good movie on tv that night. But guaranteed, we'll hear ad nauseum about how "Edwards came in second" and "Hillary fell to third". Best of all, this completely ignores the once-vaunted entrance poll, which shows Hillary's clear hold on second place in the minds of Iowans, before the byzantine process got underway.

To all the hypercompetitive type A's in the media and pundit world, there was a tie for second. Clinton and Edwards tied. Deal with it.

PS: Any doubts about the surreality of CNN on politics were clarified by Bill Schneider -- the whitest guy outside a line dance -- telling us how African-Americans in the south will think.

The true, deep-down, real reason I hate the Iowa Caucuses

"The truth is, that the future of our country lies in your hands, not mine.

  • You have the power to reclaim our nation's destiny.
  • You have the power to rid Washington of the politics of money.
  • You have the power to make right just as important as might.
  • You have the power to give America a reason to vote again.
  • You have the power to restore our nation to fiscal sanity and bring jobs back to our people.
  • You have the power to take our country back.
  • You have the power."

The addled cow-herders heard this, and decided in favor of a statue. They'll probably get it wrong again.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Kucinich says "follow my words, not my ideals"

The Iowa caucuses held many shocks for the Dean campaign back in 2004, few more than the last-second decision of long-short (okay, no-shot) candidate Dennis Kucinich to tell his supporters to caucus for Edwards on the second ballot. Given how diffuse and low Kucinich's support was -- a respectable but ultimately useless good 2-3% -- he was rarely viable, but his support made a difference to the final totals for the Edwards campaign. Of course, at this time Edwards was firmly in support of the Iraq war (unlike Dean or Kucinich), was wishy-washy on health care reform (unlike Dean or Kucinich), and had no record to speak of supporting equal rights for gays or lesbians (unlike Dean or Kucinich). Although it was not a complete changeover, the body of Kucinich's supporters did go to Edwards as instructed. Now, I don't fully blame Kucinich's supporters, as they were told that doing so would help Kucinich. I do blame the man himself, though. Maybe being a big shot for a couple of hours helped his ego, but I didn't notice big changes in Edwards' speeches after the Kucinich thumbs up.

So now it's 2008. Edwards has moved much to the left, making progress on gay rights, apologizing for his war vote, and bringing back economic populism. He's not as extreme as lil' Dennis, but he's much closer to Kucinich's positions. And lo and behold, Dennis can't pass up the attention that comes with making another move. So he announces that...he will once again bypass an ideological confrere in favor of the flavor of the week, this time Obama. Obama, who is currently racking up a great record of attacking trial lawyers, rolling out a health care policy that (unlike Edwards and Kucinich) doesn't cover all, imitating Republican God-speak, touring with anti-gay performers in order to rack up votes, and promising a new age of consensus and agreement with this pack of torture-loving hyperpartisans.

I'd like to believe that Kucinich does this repeatedly because he's been given promises that we don't know about and never end up being kept. Heck, I'd be satisfied to learn that he just doesn't understand his rivals' positions. But it's hard to see this as anything other than an ego thing.

I'd gather that the idea of running a no-chance campaign for presidency, ignoring one's district for months, is to at least influence the conversation by injecting your ideas and issues into the conversation, as Tom Tancredo marginally did. Then, if you're going to make a move toward another candidate -- and this is the tricky part -- you usually pick somebody with whom you generally agree.

Now, I haven't heard much about cancelling NAFTA, banning handguns, or establishing a "Department of Peace" this year. I haven't heard a candidate consider, or even forcefully refute this idea. So much for moving the debate.

Frankly, Kucinich has lowered his credibility to Naderite levels by consistently using what little power he's built up to get in the way of achieving what he states are his goals. If you're tired of this routine, I'd point you to someone who agrees, and is ready to do something about it.