Saturday, May 31, 2008

Why is Obama fighting so hard?

For a while, Obama was going to declare victory on May 20th...then he didn't. Now he's going to hold a rally in St. Paul (site of the upcoming GOP convention) next Tuesday when the last primaries are held. Presumably to declare victory. So, half the time Obama is superconfident he's going to win.

So, what I don't "get" is that the other half of the time, Obama is scrapping for every single delegate we can seize. Rather than allow Florida and Michigan to receive full votes, allow uncommitteds to fall into his column (as they would have, eventually), his proxies are the Rules Committee voted to halve Florida's and Michigan's impact. It is significant to note that some members -- possibly those that pushed the resolution to victory -- represent the DNC mandarins and Howard Dean more than Clinton or Obama. And Dean wanted to hold to the rules.

Even had Florida and Michigan been seated with a full vote, Obama would still be in the lead. With the Superdelegates he likely has in his pocket, Obama would have pushed to victory. He did not go from winner to loser, Obama did not rescue victory from defeat. He was going to win anyway, and in the process he's significantly aggrieved many Democrats, particularly in Florida. This isn't even "scorched Earth to win"'s "sore winner".

I just can't understand...why did Obama insist on winning such a Pyrrhic victory? Where's the magnaminity?

Obama's No Good Very Bad Day

Rather than allow a re-vote in Florida and Michigan at little cost to his campaign to go forward, Obama insisted that this mess be resolved by a public meeting of the Rule Committee. Senator Obama wanted to apportion these delegates through a bureaucracy rather than an the bureaucracy isn't cooperating. They've ducked behind closed doors for two hours today after some five hours of a private dinner last night. The only thing worse than back-room deals is back-room deals with television cameras trained on the doors of the back room. Now Obama's insistence on moving representation from the voters to party mandarins is killing the Democratic Party at all levels, live on national television.

Meanwhile, CNN is reporting that Obama is resigning/leaving the church to which he has belonged for years, after a a string of vituperative sermons laced with racism at his church (by two friends) have come to light. Makes clear why Obama was "disappointed" by those sermons...and it seems to have a lot more to do with Obama than the ideas coming from the pulpit.

Despite the snide, vicious attacks still coming from so many Obama supporters, I'm trying desperately to get to the point of supporting him -- hopefully volunteering for him -- in November. None of this makes it easy.

PS: Obama's loser surrogate, Ron Kirk (who got killed when he tried to run for Senate a few years ago), is still trying to make excuses for Obama. He "doesn't find any fault" for Obama's continuing involvement. Just more of Obama's helpers hurting, rather than helping the Senator. A little later, Kirk said that if Levin doesn't like New Hampshire and Iowa "running the show", he should just run for Chair of the DNC. I'm glad this guy never made it to the Senate.

PPS: As I will note later, this is at best a Pyrrhic victory for that he didn't need at the end.

PPPS: At the moment (Sunday morning), the fact that this deal was cut in the ultimate back-room style doesn't seem to be causing any waves. That may turn out well for Obama.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Lance Mannion strokes another one over the fence

Lance Mannion, a Hillary supporter, has been the clearest voice for true reconciliation between Hope Central and Clinton HQ that I've come across. I earlier referenced his reasoning for unity behind Obama, and today describes the blogosphere quite well:

We're a pack of zealots, fanatics, kooks, and weirdos. Mostly nice weirdos, but weirdos still. We are not representative of the rest of America. Making judgments about what Hillary's supporters or Obama's supporters are like based on what's being said on the blogs is like making judgments about what New York City is like based on the conversations in the psych ward at Bellevue...or in coffee shops in Greenwich Village.

And all we know beyond what we know from reading too much of each other's work is what we read in the newspapers...and watch on TV. We are dependent on the National Press Corps and too many of those people are crazier than we are and a whole lot dumber.

Not to mention corrupt.

The rest is just as good.

If only Obama could talk/act like that. However, in the wake of the most recent sermonizer at his church declaring that Hillary was upset at the idea of a president not being white, Obama released a statement that ends up as a drawn-out version of the sentiment "unity means never having to say you're sorry".


Wednesday, May 28, 2008


I've spent over five years teaching in some capacity or other at the Middle School level. At no time has any student ever given me an apple. Chances are, if s/he did, I wouldn't eat it.*

The closest was an apple pie a student bought me at McDonald's on the way back from a field trip. I never even suggested the idea, but the product was way better. The prevalence of polished apples in ads and campaigns about education just tend to deepen professionals' cynicism.

(I have gotten other food, particularly around the holidays. During student teaching, some students made me cookies. When giving them to me, one matter-of-factly explained "the recipe needed chocolate chips, and we didn't have any, so we used cocoa powder instead." They tasted about as good as one would expect.)

*The majority of teachers I know won't eat food coming from students. Of course, this isn't about your child....just what might happen to the food in transit.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Elohim and Aliens

Jeez, everyone really knows that this post should be properly entitled "God and ET", as was this somewhat diffidently written article that showed up in The Atlantic a few years ago. I'd like to examine questions raised in this article. Questions and problems surrounding organized religion in the event of discovering extraterrestrial sentience are a bit topical with this news (via Someday I Will):

VATICAN CITY - The Vatican’s chief astronomer says that believing in aliens does not contradict faith in God.

The Rev. Jose Gabriel Funes, the Jesuit director of the Vatican Observatory, says that the vastness of the universe means it is possible there could be other forms of life outside Earth, even intelligent ones.

In an interview published today by Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano, Funes says that such a notion "doesn’t contradict our faith" because aliens would still be God’s creatures.

The interview was headlined "The extraterrestrial is my brother." Funes said that ruling out the existence of aliens would be like "putting limits" on God’s creative freedom.

Less cocky was Arthur C Clarke, who opined that extraterrestrial sentient life would be a death knell for organized religion (incidentally, who knew they had an official astronomer? Naturally he's a Jesuit.)

I would like to mention three things up front before looking at some issues:
  • It's not a bad bet that sentient alien life exists. We can debate this point elsewhere, but there are just so many stars (100 billion billion) that I have to think there's self-aware life somewhere, even if we never meet. For the purposes of our discussion, it isn't important that they meet. Check out the famous "Drake Equation" for more.
  • I will be mainly speaking of Christianity, partially because this discussion is sparked by the Vatican's statement, and also because it is the dominant religion in spacefaring nations.
  • The single essential source from which to approach this topic is Varieties of Scientific Experience by Carl Sagan.

Sagan proceed through many arguments against and for the existence of a god/gods. He doesn't do it quite as clearly or efficiently as, say, Richard Dawkins, but he does a fairly good job.

Where Sagan excels, and something of which the Vatican seems unaware, is looking at the sheer myopia of a faith rooted in a time when only six planets were identified. A time when planets were suspended in crystal spheres. So much of Christian theology -- particularly fundamentalist dogma -- was written in a time where humans were the only conceivable mortal in town.

I see three equally unhappy possibilities facing Christians if sentient life is indeed detected another planet. I keep in mind important stories in "Christian salvation history":
God condemns humankind for eating an apple in the Garden of Eden, God takes a giant eraser to the Earth project in the form of a giant flood, and God invents polyglotism after crashing the Tower of Babel.

  • ET is throughout our spiritual past, constantly lurking out of eyesight. He was in Eden, aided in the construction of the Tower, and had his own Ark during the Flood. He's culpable in human misadventures, and is justly condemned. Jesus died for him as well as us...Jesus just never mentioned it, and never bothered going to their planet.
  • ET had a parallel set of experiences during which God condemned him for being human himself. Maybe Jesus was also killed there to achieve their salvation (so much for that "God's only son" business).
  • ET is hated by the universal God. He didn't screw up like humans did with suffering Original Sin and the killing of the Saviour, but isn't the recipient of God's largesse to the Chosen and Re-Chosen People. ET is ignored by God.

Oh, and they're not even made in God's image! God created ETs world during his down time, tossing it off incidentally in the creation of life, before he'd warmed up to the important act of creating Earth.

Living in Montreal, one was regularly exposed to one attempt to reconcile the Old Testament to the possibility of sentient life off-planet: the idea that the Hebrew word "Elohim" which is usually taken in English to mean "angels" actually means "aliens". A French journalist founded a sect/cult called Raelianism that basically offers aliens to take God's place. Being largely in the French language, it's notable in France, but was a presence in Montreal where somber-faced adherents silently offered a small pamphlet adorned with the classic alien visage.

As a matter of fact, Raelians tell us, aliens are waiting to help us out once we build them a suitable landing pad in the appropriate place -- a city that may just be the most inhospitable in the world for such a project. Want to guess? For a hint, look at the first letter of the initial three words of this post.

From fringe to over the edge

TBogg, who was once worth reading, has gone completely over the edge, declaring that he won't vote for Hillary Clinton if she's the nominee. He joins Oliver Willis, also once worth reading now not even worth a link, in babbling misogyny that he sees as Obama talking points.

Sad what David Axelrod can do to once-lucid progressives.

Explaining driving

"So you've never ridden in a car before, you say? How odd. But that's alright. I'm sure you'll want to know what's going to be happening, so I'll explain what's going to happen.

First of all, don't worry about me being rude. I'm ready to have a conversation with you while driving this car. My attention will be on what you are saying and thinking, even if I'm facing away from you. But I will delegate to the part of my brain that reminds me to inhale and blink the charge of controlling this vehicle, unless something horrible happens. This will free up my higher functions, my cerebellum to fiddle with the radio, check out female pedestrians, and converse with you. In any case, if something horrible does look like it may happen, I will likely swear. That swear indicates that my cerebellum is taking over, but in any event it will probably be too late. More on that later. Anyways, let me explain what I mean when I say 'controlling this vehicle.'

This vehicle is what I'll be in controlling. It's mainly plastic and lots of metal...some of it sharp. Some of it becomes dangerously hot. All together, it weighs about one ton, or the weight of two horses. Now, horses max out at 50 miles per hour for brief stretches...we'll be going almost twice that at times (don't tell the police). So, we'll be dealing with 4 times the vector force of an equestrian mode of transit. That's enough force to go through the sides of this building...or that building...anyway, you get the point.

Of course, a horse can sense danger while this machine cannot. It will attempt anything I command, even if it is clearly suicidal. If I'm not paying attention, the vehicle won't tell us anything. Incidentally, it's powered by a slow combustible process fed by inflammable liquid. If I threw a match into the tank that holds this liquid, the entire machine would go ka-boom.

I change direction be rotating this wheel, and hoping the dozen or so parts that translate this action convey it to the tires. We call that power steering and think it's a good thing. I change speed by relying on another dozen or so parts to do their job when I push these pedals with my feet. Of course, I can't see what I'm doing down there...I go by feel. And no, I've never met anybody involved with the assembly of this vehicle, which is made up of parts from probably dozens of countries that I've been assured work together.

During our trip, we'll at times be traveling parallel to other vehicles doing similar speeds with similar force. We've all earned the right to do this by talking the bank into buying one of these for us as long as we promise to pay them back. The government lets us 'drive' a car because it gave us a 10-question quiz and a 5-minute road test a couple decades ago. We got as many chances to pass it as we needed. I have these three mirrors to keep an eye on all of them, but oddly enough I still can't see a car if it's in just the right spot. So if I'm going to the left, you'll see me twist to look over my shoulder.

Oh, and don't forget to put that paper-thin piece of fabric around your waist and torso. That will save your life. Now, if you're ready, I'll be spending most of my time fiddling with the sound system to find a song that I like.

It's a wonder anyone ever gets into a car.

Really, driving is an amazing process. We are put in singular direct control of a greater amount of sheer impact force than Napoleon or Julius Caesar ever had, at speeds they never attained. People who can't read -- literally can't read -- command a machine that is a mistake or two away from a spectacular explosion. If aliens had landed in 1910, say, and rolled out a modern Ford or Mazda with 30mpg and a top speed of 120mph, do you think the government would have started producing factory copies accessible to most anyone? Heck no! They'd have hidden away copies to be driven only by lengthily trained pilots, the way space shuttles are today.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Arena golf

While waiting for the Celtics game, I'm watching a bit of Arena Football. What a strange, strange, game. Football is unsuitable for such a small playing surface, but equal parts desperation and imagination make it...almost work. Which makes me wonder why other sports don't follow this model. Perhaps cricket could work..I don't really know. Don't know anything about cricket except that it's weird and takes forever to play. I used to watch the BBC News, and I could never understood the cricket scores: "Wickedonshire has 130 in 15 with 12 overs and 4 runs, while Sheffordtindon has 170 in 8 with 5 and 10". I could never tell who was winning.

But what about Arena Golf?

Let me be clear: not mini golf. No windmills and bumpers (though nets could be necessary). There will be putters, but this is no putt-putt. Figure that an NHL rink is about 216 feet from corner to corner. So if we take down some front row seats, we can max out pin-to-hole distance to 220 feet or 73 yards. Work with me here...they said arena football wouldn't work either.

Rule one: Nothing above a nine iron.

This will have to be a finesse accuracy game. No driving for show's precision. Now, we'll have to put up nets to protect the shlubs, but let's penalize anybody for hitting them.

Rule two: The nets are out of bounds. No penalty per se, but hitting them will cause the ball to drop into a gutter-like trough that lines the play area. A de facto stroke penalty.

To continue maxing up the accuracy portion, we'll have lots of hazards. Water and sand, for sure. But here's my idea: bring piecemeal astroturf, water, and sand bunkers all mounted on lockable wheeled platforms, each a 20ft by 20ft area. For each round, every "arena golfer" plays the hole (or we could have team play), then workers maneuver the turf and bunkers into new configurations between holes -- similar to a block puzzle. The tee isn't on a platform, demanding a high arcing shot rather than a drive. During the re-configuration of the platforms, we can have putting contests off to the side or something.

The golfers don't know the configuration ahead of time, for more of a challenge. Play eight holes or nine holes per match, then off to the next city. Each city that provides a squad hosts two competitions.

Could make golf more popular in Alaska, and give the junkies a fix over the winter...

Sunday, May 25, 2008

The hatred of Hillary

Over on Blue Mass Group, a great website and community focused on Massachusetts politics, the primary has been...decently friendly. The Hillary haters took a while to get there, and it's a generally reasonable community, though many people are firmly committed to believing whatever David Axelrod tells them they believe.

That said, it's amazing that of the 15 most recent diaries, two are analyses of the Clinton-Obama situation, six are stories on Massachusetts politics, and six are open, loathing attacks on Clinton straight out of Free Republic. Not good odds.

Read this

Since Alexis de Tocqueville, some of the best writing on America has come from non-Americans. Here's Andrew Stephen from Britain's New Statesman

What other senator and serious White House contender would be likened by National Public Radio's political editor, Ken Rudin, to the demoniac, knife-wielding stalker played by Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction? Or described as "a fucking whore" by Randi Rhodes, one of the foremost personalities of the supposedly liberal Air America? Would Carl Bernstein (of Woodward and Bernstein fame) ever publicly declare his disgust about a male candidate's "thick ankles"?

Just 16 of America's 100 US senators are women and the ratio in the House (71 out of 435) is much the same. It is nonetheless pointless to argue whether sexism or racism is the greater evil: America has a peculiarly wicked record of racist subjugation, which has resulted in its racism being driven deep underground. It festers there, ready to explode again in some unpredictable way.

To compensate meantime, I suspect, sexism has been allowed to take its place as a form of discrimination that is now openly acceptable. "How do we beat the bitch?" a woman asked Senator John McCain, this year's Republican presidential nominee, at a Republican rally last November. To his shame, McCain did not rebuke the questioner but joined in the laughter. Had his supporter asked "How do we beat the nigger?" and McCain reacted in the same way, however, his presidential hopes would deservedly have gone up in smoke. "Iron my shirt," is considered amusing heckling of Clinton. "Shine my shoes," rightly, would be hideously unacceptable if yelled at Obama.

Read the rest here. Go read it now. H/T Linfar at MyDD.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Really fun hacking

I presume this is hacking. Or it's kinda funny. Pharyngula -- which you should be reading at least once a week -- pointed me to this site which is exclusively dedicated to asking respondents if they believe in God. Whatever God means to them.

Everything is broken down by country. Most of the statistics are vanilla if mildly interesting, but I like the following:

At least one vote from the Vatican City domain was recorded as a no.

Ghost of Most

Watching the Pistons' thuggishness on the court today, and the calls and non-calls they keep getting, I keep hearing Most's voice in my ear. Johnny Most, for young'uns, was a longtime radio broadcaster for the Celtics. He's the voice of "Havlicek stole the ball!" He was great at describing the scene, and had some nice phrases -- juking and faking was a player who "fiddled and diddled", for example. One great moment was when Most dropped a lit cigarette out of his mouth while calling a game...setting his pants on fire. Another great moment came when Most was confounded by the names of the players of the Yugoslavian National during the introductions he settled for describing them rather than pronouncing the names of the backups. When Most finished his career, they retired his mike. It's at the Gahden.

But above all Johnny was a homer. He makes Remy seem like a dispassionate voice on high. And if the Celtics were the good guys, anyone else was a bad guy. But especially -- especially -- the Detroit Pistons. The Pistons' star Isaiah Thomas was "Little Lord Fauntleroy". Their big man Bill Lammbeer...a horrid man who would "mug" Celtics players. Here's a clip from a Celtics-Pistons game, and the "disgusting" actions of one player:

What was Hillary thinking

In the wake of her inartful comments about RFK's assassination -- that Hope Central is using to attack her -- I've read a few variants on "what was she thinking?" How about this:

Jesus Christ, another one of these. Where the hell am I, anyway? McAuliffe promised me that Iowa, Nevada, a few other states, and it would be over. I never expected to be talking to every Pennysaver operation published on the Great Plains.

Another two-bit newspaper, asking questions I've answered thousands of times. Asking questions I answer seven times a day. But these self-important small-time journalists want to feel big just once in their lives, so here we go.

Do you think Shirley Chisholm went through this? She's lionized now as a groundbreaker, but I bet from day one the pundits were telling her to shut up and go home. Funny how we never hear about them anymore.

I suppose we could skip this "meeting" if we were in a state with a decent number of Democrats...or people. But noooo...the votes of the three Democrats of South Dakota count more than the votes of the Democrats of Florida. Still don't get that one. Well, I do get was a dumb move, and the people must be punished. Idiots.

What's after this? Some cattle ranch, and then talking to Stephanie Herseth's assistant fart catcher, while she hypes Obama. Obama. Jesus, Barack...get over yourself and stop refusing to put me on as VP. that's what most Democrats want...including the working class and Latino voters you just can't win. I can't win African-Americans and upper middle class. We can help each need me in North Carolina, Arkansas, Florida, Nevada...God knows where else. Edwards was right...Obama's a nice guy who doesn't have what it takes to win.

Edwards. Heh, another Richardson type...happy to play both sides of the street until they think it's safe to take a stand. And they talk about leadership.

Hell, I want this whole thing over, too. I haven't spent a week in the same place for months. I'm a multi-millionaire. I'm a respected and feared Senator, a mother with a classy daughter, and a husband who was the most successful president of our lifetimes (they've lied about him as much as about me). The media hates me -- what else is new -- and a loud sliver of the Democratic Party hates me. It's not enough for them to see Obama win, they want to see me lose. Christ, how long has it been since I wore shorts for a whole day? The pundits are bored now, and everyone wants it to be Obama v McCain and wants me to shut up. Why not give them what they want?

Because I did this shit for several years, and they want me to shut up two weeks from the finish line. Because they have no attention span, and it ticks them off that not everyone has signed on to their little program. It ticks them off that some people still like me. It ticks them off that I'm still here, and most people in Puerto Rico want to vote for me, and thousands of people in Montana and South Dakota do, too. It's gonna make them uncomfortable to see thousands of people still voicing their own opinion that maybe Obama isn't so great after all...even though they don't care that 1 out of 4 Republicans are still telling McCain to get stuffed. Even though this shit keeps McCain off the front page and holding sad little barbecues in Arizona.

Okay, speech is winding down and lo and behold he has a we go again. "Why am I in the race?" Why the hell not? This is the closest nomination race in decades, and I didn't come all this way to give up when Chris Matthews' leg gets tingly.

Cue answer: I'm the natural substitute in case something happens to Barack. Is anything going to happen? Of course not...but I'm not going to back out two weeks away from the finish line after two years of this crap.

Offer examples: how about 1980, when Ted Kennedy contested the nomination at the convention with a fraction of the odds that I have. Did the media try to push him back into the kitchen? Nooo...he was a Kennedy, even if he was undermining a sitting president in serious trouble, everyone ate it up. Ted...poor Ted. We can't lose him. These days we need every Kennedy in the Senate we can get. How many tragedies can they stand...

The presidential campaign is an exhausting, nearly endless exercise in superficiality that demands the tolerance and patience of a Paris Hilton while also the incisiveness and smarts of a James Wolcott. It's a testament to the professionalism of Obama, Clinton, and McCain that more of this stuff doesn't happen everyday.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

The new governor: mayor

I just want to mention that governors are no longer politically cool. For a while, governors were the new senators: political experience plus executive experience. No crippling, embarrassing votes forced upon you by chamber rules (remember "I voted for [it] before I voted against it"?). Of course, governors have to work with state legislatures, but they connect with people and can have programs to which they can point. Governors have a bully pulpit, and aren't stained with living and working in Washington DC, something that Republicans have fooled Democrats into disliking.

Turns out, mayors are all that governors are, without the downside. They manage programs, closely and effectively -- they can cut crime, deal with immigration on a ground level, step into the marriage equality debate...on a very personal level. Because they govern a smaller territory, they can connect regularly with people in a close way, even if it's by biking around early in the morning. Of course, a mayor in Massachusetts, say, doesn't have a high political ceiling. Sure, Boston is a big city, but plenty of Massachusetts isn't Boston...much of which is hostile to the capital city. As a matter of fact, same is true in places such as Florida and Texas.

But in other places...a big city mayor can be a big deal. This includes three rising Democratic stars in red states:
  • Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich is polling even in his run for the Alaska Senate. I like this guy, and I think he joins Jon Tester as offering a model for Democrats as how to win in the red state. Give him some money.
  • Los Angeles Mayor is most likely to challenge Schwarzeneggar for the governorship of California. Not quite as interesting a guy to me -- very machine -- but a rarity in a Democratic state that doesn't seem to produce high-quality Democrats.
  • Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson. Not everyone's cup of tea, but a major Democrat in Utah?? Anderson shares some of my sensibilities: impatient with Kerry, impressed with results, not words. Plus, he stood up to the ridiculous DARE program, and the ridiculous President we have.

Plus, one to watch: Mike Fahey. Given Nebraska's intelligent electoral rules, he may become a significant figure in the upcoming presidential election.

Perennial favorite: Thomas Menino of Boston. He's not a "visionary", doesn't talk pretty, doesn't turn his post into a podium for Democratic causes. He runs the city efficiently, avoiding crises or major problems...he does what a mayor does. As a matter of fact, he's the rare Massachusetts politician who seems to enjoy his job.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

If Dubya ran the local police...

From Croatia, by way of Australian news: the body of a woman who'd died 42 years ago was found in her apartment. Police had broken into the flat as part of the effort to determine its owner, and found the corpse, who'd sat down with a cup of tea to watch 1966. The best part, though:

A police spokesman said: "So far we have no idea how it is possible that someone officially reported missing so long ago was not found before in the same apartment she used to live in."

Inspector: Captain, should we search her home for clues about her sudden disappearance?
Captain: Nah...this is such a perfect crime, we'd never find anything useful there. Not worth the trouble.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Today's wacky VP pick: 10+ reasons for Wasserman Schultz


There's no fun in arguing for Clark, Clinton, or Webb for VP. It's like arguing for Citizen Kane as best movie ever. It's fun but not...intriguing. More interesting to argue for, I don't know, The Graduate.

I have what I think is an intriguing VP candidate for Obama: Florida Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz. Here's why:

  • She endorsed Hillary Clinton. If we're going for a VP pick that invites Clinton's hurting followers into the campaign with a sense of unity, Wasserman Schultz qualifies.
  • She's a Florida politician. The "swing state Clinton" argument that leads some to propose Ohio governor Ted Strickland for this post also applies to Wasserman Schultz. This puts Florida more in play. I believe that no matter what, Ohio is pretty much in play no matter what role Strickland has. The right VP pick expands the board even more, and starts the rehabilitation of Obama in Florida.
  • She is a great strategist. She's a leader in the effort to expand the Congressional map for Democrats in the red-to-blue program. She knows elections, to the point where she has a shot at leading the DCCC.
  • Did I mention that her district is in, Miami, Florida?
  • Her district is 20% Hispanic...another bloc with which Obama struggles. Wasserman Schultz doesn't.
  • She is a deputy House whip who knows the legislative process. Obama, like JFK, would be helped to have a VP who knows how to guide legislation to fruition. While Wasserman Schultz is no LBJ, well nobody is, she does have a rhythm of the process.
  • Speaking of blocs with which Obama has problems, Wasserman Shultz is Jewish.
  • She is also young...under 40. Folds in well with Obama's energy vibe.
  • She has some heft on foreign policy...a hawkish heft, balancing off Obama's negotiatory leanings.
  • Oh yeah, she's a woman. Another swing block for anyone playing "check the boxes".
  • Her district would likely return another Democrat, leading to no loss in that balance.

Granted, she's not a perfect VP candidate. She's not as well known or as photogenic. She did make some poor choices in deciding not to campaign against her Republican neighbors. Of course, outraging "liberal bloggers" isn't necessarily a negative in the general election campaign.

I have a lot of admiration for Kathleen Sebelius's ability to sweet-talk Republicans into the Democratic column in Kansas. I also realize that as a successful white woman in a rural area, she's seen as a balance to Obama. However, she's never impressed me the way that Wasserman Schultz has. I think Congresswoman Debbie offers all that Sebelius does, and so much more.

A journalist who "gets" Iran

A great story where McCain looks bad (as usual), and Joe Klein looks smart (quelle surprise!). I've vetched consistently about Bush's -- and America's fixation -- on glorified Iranian spokesman Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Seriously...the guy is pretty much the queen of England without the nice house.

McCain knows this...and he's clearly hoping that Americans don't.

The real voting bloc at play

Watching the CNN coverage tonight, the dominant theme about West Virginia seems to be those white, working class voters. The one that Clinton wins consistently against Obama, the one that puts her over the top in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and similar states...a swing bloc in swing states. I've seen some threads whereby Obama backers, assuming the race is run, are seeking advice on courting those voters.*

But to me, that overlooks the other major key to Hillary's past success, a bloc that the Washington Monthly calls the "real prize": Hispanic votes. Rove and Bush saw their criticality, and I agree that this is the major bloc up for grabs. Clinton won 2/3 of the Latino vote on Super Tuesday, for example. It's a consistent's what kept her close in Texas, California, and most any state with a Hispanic population.

Through it all, I'm more interested in the Latino vote. It's growing by election, not only as the Hispanic portion of the American population grows, but as does that proportion in the American electorate. Furthermore, I don't see a solid habit yet, a cultural alignment. I think it's more up for grabs, with less institutional, fiscal, and financial investment needed to shift it. I'm not sure how Obama looks to fare in the general with Latino votes, but that will make a difference in Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada, and possibly Florida. I wouldn't mind seeing a bit more on that...

*It's not entirely unreasonable to ask about these white, working class voters. They're the reason Hillary does 14 points better than Obama against McCain in North Carolina.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

"Anywhere, anytime" -- if you're Republican

Obama below promises to debate John McCain "anywhere, anytime" on foreign policy...

... while saying no to debating Hillary in Oregon and North Carolina. No "anytime, anywhere" for her.

Nice to see that he's treating McCain with more respect that Senator Clinton.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Obama and the eternal grey area

As Obama's camp believes firmly that the nomination race is over -- so they keep telling us -- they're planning for the general. So in between occasional shots at Hillary (unnecessary but done out of habit, apparently), there's ruminations of how to win votes in November that Hillary was won so far. Most of the furor so far seems to be over white, working-class voters. I'd like to think that somebody over at Hope Central is at least thinking about Latino voters. Bit of a blind spot in that campaign's eye, so far. One that worries me deeply. While commenting in this thread, I ruminated on the following I'd like to drop here.

Obama doesn't seem to believe in grey areas. On every issue, he's in-between. And many people see such absolutism as a mark of thoughtfulness and a good education -- which they should. A great deal of the time, things are relative, and it is poor planning and thinking to live in black and white. Most of the time. But there are exceptions. And Americans love a politician who doesn't make exceptions, who says things like "until the last dog dies". Here's a list of Obama's Greatest Hits of Greydom:

  • We need universal health care...but not really universal, sort of universal.
  • A nuclear attack by Iran is bad...but doesn't deserve a full response -- or even a foreign policy that includes that.
  • Kim Jong Il is a bad man...but not so bad as to preclude a meeting with no advance work or agenda.
  • No Child Left Behind is bad...but not bad enough to repeal.
  • We need to pull out of Iraq...but really slowly.
  • The foreclosure crisis is bad...but not bad enough to put a moratorium on it.
  • Social Security is actually doing well...but not so well as to preclude discussing privatization.
  • Separation of church and state is good...but not so good that the government should refrain from pushing Christianity into the public sphere.
  • Wright said some bad things...but not unacceptably bad.

While I agree that there are few absolutes in this world, I believe that there are some. When I listen to Obama, I don't hear any. This is where the patriotism thing ties in. So many Americans want to believe that some things -- motherhood, apple pie, America -- are good. Others -- oil companies, Osama bin Laden -- are bad. I don't get that sense with Obama.

To win working class voters, the ones who deal in black and white -- there's no "grey area" in being laid off or losing your house or having a bare cupboard -- show that you understand absolutes. Leave out the words "but" and "however" in some speeches. Say something is inherently good! Something else is bad and deserves nothing but bad! If Obama starts with the word "always" or "every single one", he wins those votes. He may make some cultured types squirm, but so be it.

Thursday, May 15, 2008


Per the news:

Republican John McCain declared for the first time Thursday he believes the Iraq war can be won by 2013, although he rejected suggestions that his talk of a timetable put him on the same side as Democrats clamoring for full-scale troop withdrawals.

Holy carp! And this is what a sane Republican looks like in public -- somebody who thinks the Iraq War will be over in "only" five years! During the campaign season, a time of optimistic, sunny promises, McCain hopes that we've hit the halfway point of this bloody, needless, expensive war. Privately, he's gotta be thinking, what, seven, eight years? Let's look at a couple metrics:

  • We're only halfway through the war at this point
  • If the rate of the conflict holds, we can expect a further 4,000 US deaths before the war is over.*
  • We can similarly expect 30,000 wounded
  • If the rate of the calmer last year continues, we're still facing 3,500 deaths and 22,000 wounded.
  • This presumes that Muqtada al-Sadr still finds it advantageous to maintain his unilateral cease-fire.
  • Oh, and the cost? Another $533 billion at this rate.

How long is McCain projecting to keep us in Iraq? Well, if we start tomorrow, we can complete the following before the Iraq debacle is over under a President McCain:
  • Re-stage the American Civil War
  • Or our involvement in World War One
  • Or our involvement in World War Two
  • Re-create the reign of Julius Ceasar
  • Run through just shy of two Kennedy Administrations
  • Complete more than five Berlin Airlifts

Republican crazy talk on Iraq is so normal, so expected, that it's no longer major news when McCain promises that it will take twice as much time to achieve our goals in Iraq than it did in Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan.

And heck, if we think that McCain's planning and knowledge of Iraq is as proportionately inaccurate as Donald Rumsfeld's (a safe bet), then he'll have us in there for 60 years.

* Data source

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Not much to say...

...well, stuff to say after Annual Town Meeting, but none of it very interesting or worthwhile. Not even interesting to write, much less read. I'll settle for grousing to fellow residents of the town.

But hey, this is a pretty good site, so, um, that's something....

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Next in line?

By all appearances, America will hit its 236th birthday without having had a woman president*. Hillary Clinton certainly came close, closer than any woman before. Many other states have had multiple woman leaders. For what it's worth, in that time the Philippines and New Zealand have had two heads of government (Aquino and Marcapagal, Shipley and Clark), Pakistan and Indonesia -- two Muslim nations -- one each (Bhutto and Sukarnoputri).

Below I've included five prominent women in American politics who may someday give the United States its first woman leader.

  • Condoleezza Rice (Former Secretary of State). Pros: Of recent and prominent vintage. As a minority and a woman, could chip away at some Democratic blocs while carrying much of the GOP vote. Cons: Closely identified with Iraq. No political experience, evidence that she can run for office.
    Elizabeth Dole (Senator of North Carolina). Pros: Well known last name. Cons: Scant electoral and policy record, possibly will not keep her Senate seat in 2008.
  • Janet Napolitano (Governor of Arizona). Pros: Popular in the Southwest and among Hispanics, two electoral keys. Smart on the immigration issue. Cons: Not well known outside of the region, strong personality and lack of a spouse foster rumors that she is homosexual.
  • Kathleen Sebelius (Governor of Kansas). Pros: A smart executive with much experience who can clearly reach out to the center -- half her cabinet seems to be former Republicans. Cons: Possibly too far to the right for the Dem primary, and her style may not carry well.
  • Hillary Clinton (Senator for New York). Pros: A deep understanding of policy and strong experience record. Tough campaign style and a proven ability to reach out to centrist voters. Cons: Loathed by the right, and the Democratic far left. Already has lost once.
  • Oprah Winfrey (TV host) Pros: Loved by a crowd of slavishly devoted Americans. Sassy. Cons: High-strung. Debate performance when dieting could be scary.

It's a scant list. I believe I've forgotten some people, but I've reviewed lists of women in Congress and statewide offices, and few people stand out for me. Some intriguing figures, such as Christine Gregoire, Sarah Palin, and Claire McCaskill still have some steps to walk before getting there.

* I remain convinced that at that point we will not have had our first president from an ethnic or racial minority.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Pointless musings

Now that it seems likely that Obama will be the nominee, what will guess about?

His VP? Boring.

His Cabinet? Yes!

  • Bill Richardson at State (term-limited as NM Guv, and wasted in any other position)
  • Wes Clark, or Jim Webb at Defense
  • SLC Mayor Rocky Anderson at Interior. (The guy is awesome)
  • Lee Hamilton at Homeland Security (wrote the book)
  • Maxine Waters at HUD. (Real compassion)
  • Evan Bayh at Agriculture (maybe)
  • Lincoln Chaffee at Commerce (this usually goes to a big party fundraiser, but I want Chaffee, maybe Whitman in this cabinet...suck on it, GOP!)
  • Ned Lamont at Labor (this is the usual post for a cross-party appointment, but I think Chaffee is better at Commerce, or heading the EPA)
  • Education (I got nothing. Clinton and Richardson are two leading Dem voices against No Child Left Behind. Granholm maybe?

Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano would make for an interesting and skilled Secretary of Education, but could we replace her with another Democrat?

White working-class voters

I laid down some text over on Blue Mass Group about the cyclical nature of Democrats' interactions with white, working-class voters. How Kerry derided Dean for courting them in the primary, then abased himself before them in the general. Now it looks like Obama is doing the same.

It doesn't help, though, that in their eagerness to attack Clinton, many of his supporters are using elitist and frankly racist language to deride her supporters. I'm sure they'll have a change of heart as soon as Axelrod/Obama tells them they have.

Anyway, the main point here is this: white, working-class voters are rational. Briefly put, they're taking Pascal's gamble. All the political solutions in the world, exercises in "framing", the books about Kansas aren't going to help, because the majority of people outside the traditional Democratic coalition believe the following:

  • Their life on this Earth will be about 80 years long;
  • Their afterlife will be potentially millions of years long;
  • The more you hew to traditional and evangelical Christianity during your Earthly life, the better that afterlife will be.

That include some sweeping generalizations, but it is at the core, true. So no matter how we phrase the message, hectoring Kansans and Texans that "Democrats will ensure that you have more money in your pocket" does not outweigh "Democrats do things that will make them burn in may as well if you support them". Heck, if I believed that claptrap, I'd never vote Democratic either.

The solution? Not political change, or framing...the best hope for the Democratic Party is movement away from these social/religious beliefs. A true Democratic program to win these voters will go beyond NASCAR and will take time and smarts. So when Obama merely plays along with Republican validation of this outlook, he's screwing himself and his party.

Of course, given the speed with which non-theism and atheism are spreading and deepening in this country, there's real hope for the future. But Democrats need to be vigilant on the score of keeping religion out of the publicly funded space of our country: schools to be sure, but also the military (the link is old, but issues still ongoing) and courts of law. We need to stop attacking unapologetic thinkers who disagree with religion.

This is the work of a generation, not a campaign of course. But it's work that needs to be done.

Friday, May 9, 2008

How to be a grown-up

Lance Mannion shows us how it's done:

You don't have to vote for Barack Obama anyway.

Go out and vote against John McCain.

Otherwise you're just punishing yourself...You'll be punishing Hillary Clinton too.

You want her to have to continue to work in a Senate where Joe Lieberman still matters and where all the Republicans who have been in lockstep behind George Bush are now in lockstep behind the Maverick and Commander?

Who do you think she's going to be voting for?

Unsurprisingly, most talk like this is from the Clinton camp.

It's funny, all along I thought we needed post-primary time for unity and healing so we Clinton folks would cool I'm realizing it's needed for the Obama folk to get over themselves.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Reaction from IN and NC

So Hillary got fairly pasted in North Carolina, where she'd hoped to narrow the lead. And she barely won in Indiana, a state that she was expected to win fairly well by many (including me). Granted, the shenanigans in Obama's home base of Gary were eyebrow-raising...heck, they were outright suspicious of a Daley-type flavor. But that doesn't change the net result of Tuesday.

I think that short of an Obama meltdown, the Senator from Illinois will become the Democratic nominee. While I have thoughts about the likely consequence for the party and country, I won't get into that here. But here are some simple thoughts for now:

  • Obama is most likely the nominee, as is apparent to most who follow politics closely. This includes superdelegates. I don't think anyone who can be convinced disagrees. Note that doesn't include Clinton die-hards.
  • There is frankly nothing that Clinton can do to change the dynamics of the race...nothing that will grievously drive his numbers below Clinton's. If there were, she'd have done it by now. All Clinton can do is remain alive in case Obama completely implodes.
  • Given that Obama will almost definitely win the nomination, and Clinton pretty much can't win, there's little point to destructive attacks. Peddling Jeremiah Wright, or Bill's marital infidelities, hurts the Democratic Party far more than it helps change anything. This wasn't true in March -- a fluid race meant a possible 5 point swing when the race could turn on that, which would mean many delegates. Plus, America would have 8 months to forget.
  • That said, authentic disagreements on policy issues -- such as education -- still belong in this discussion.
  • Also, over 40 states have participated in a meaningful primary season. It would be disastrous to cut short this process for the sake of some nebulous early start on McCain, especially when doing so would leave out swing states such as Oregon and West Virginia. At this point, it would seem grossly preferential to void the quality and gravity of the late voting states' choice for...what? "Healing"?

From now until June 4th, I would like to see a respectful policy-based campaign, mentioning differences yet aiming squarely at McCain where he stands against the Democratic Party and the American people.

And while that last statement may seem Pollyanish in the wake of this campaign season, the thing that I maintain is that at this point, there's nothing to be gained from anything else. Sure, in a fluid race there is something to be won from driving candidates up and down. But at this point, the numbers won't be moved enough to change much.

(Granted, where this turns into a grey area is a scenario where something bad does come out about Obama, and he truly struggles. How much does Hillary help? If her campaign has learned anything from the campaign so far, the answer is: don't bother.)

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

CNN graphic

An important CNN graphic flashed on the screen, during a break in the knives the anchors have been joyously thrusting into the Clinton campaign. Everyone except Suzanne Malveux was slavering at the thought of calling her death, declaring it's over, it's over, it's over!! One of them even said that Obama had the nomination (the same way that the West had then lost China in 1949, I guess). Anyway:

Does death make songs better?

Funny thing that two of the best songs ever recorded were released after the deaths of their main singers:

"Me and Bobby McGee" by Janis Joplin


"Sittin' on the Dock of the Bay" by Otis Redding

Any other examples come to mind?

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

The Democratic Party per the Obama campaign:

"Is there anybody here that believes that Hillary Clinton is going to win white, working class males in the general election? It's just not going to happen." -- Jamal Simmons, CNN

Shorter Obama campaign: Don't bother trying to win over Reagan Democrats. We'll get by with the Dukakis coalition.

PS: I wish Donna Brazile would declare for Obama and get it over with. It's embarrassing seeing her on CNN joining Bill Bennett to shout down anything positive about Clinton. Impartial newsies should be actually impartial.

Mr. Bookman

A new Holiday Inn spot has Philip Hall in a small scene, introducing "sportsman" Jeff Gordon, who has won devotion for being able to drive fast and turn left really good.

Anyway, Hall delivers my single favorite scene in the classic show Seinfeld...oddly enough, a scene that doesn't star one of the five lead characters. Sorry that the audio doesn't quite link up...

I just love the line "I got a flash for ya, joy boy"...

The Democratic Trial Separation...

One thing that I dislike about the ongoing primary season is that so much of the Democratic Establishment starts feeling like hostile territory. Politicians whose speeches I usually enjoy watching are now scanned for subtle biases and tip-offs. I'm a Hillary guy, and I find myself scanning the remarks of Ted Kennedy or Bill Richardson for subtle bumps for Obama. Keeps me from enjoying their thoughts. Obama-ites may feel similarly for folks such as Maxine Waters or Maria Cantwell (one of our least appreciated Senators).

And that's nothing compared to the "trial separation" with the top-line left-wing commentators. Keith Olbermann, Markos Moulitsas, and Jon Stewart have whole-heartedly thrown them on the Obama bandwagon, to the extent that I can barely put up with them -- at least when Rush Limbaugh speaks against Hillary, he doesn't pretend to share my values. I don't mind the occasional cheap shot at my candidate, but Olberman goes on extended rants that could be written in Obama HQ. Stewart does gentle comedy on Obama, and then turns on Hillary with a relish so typical of the traditional media.

This June, I look forward to being able to join in the fight with my Democratic brethren, and training our sights on our common targets.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Watch your step, humans...

In a stunning example of imitation of humans, an orangutan has been observed using a pole to catch fish. Courtesy of the inimitable Richard Dawkins, the Daily Mail reports:

A male orangutan, clinging precariously to overhanging branches, flails the water with a pole, trying desperately to spear a passing fish. It is the first time one has been seen using a tool to hunt.


This individual had seen locals fishing with spears on the Gohong River. Although the method required too much skill for him to master, he was later able to improvise by using the pole to catch fish already trapped in the locals' fishing lines.

The accompanying photo is amazing:

This is the sort of behavior that can be taught by one predator to another; new techniques have been observed spreading quickly within hunting populations of many kinds of animals. If humans exterminate their species without taking out the planet's ecosphere, it won't be long before another species fills our niche comfortably.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Minor concern about Obama's electoral map

It's clear that Obama and Clinton are looking at different strategies should they become the nominee. In a recent campaign memo, Obama HQ (aka Hope Central) declared that it would be looking to win using with swing states such as North Carolina, and "New States" such as Montana, Texas and North Dakota.

Leaving aside the hilarious notion of a Democratic candidate winning by way of Texas and North Dakota, the most remarked-upon piece in the memo is the absence of Ohio and Florida. Many people have been, to say the least, surprised, because these states have many electoral votes and are within the grasp of Democratic candidates. Granted, Obama runs far behind Clinton in head-to-head matchups against McCain in those two states...but that doesn't keep them from being important and obtainable states.

There's something I'd like to add however, particularly on the subject of Ohio. In the aftermath of the 2004 election, there was a great deal of anger at the machinations of Ohio electoral officials, particularly under Secretary of State Ken Blackwell and Governor Robert Taft, both Republicans. Attempts to stifle the votes of minority groups who traditionally vote Democratic certainly gave Bush an advantage in what would end up as the fulcrum of 2004. This was certainly a stain, especially in the wake of Florida Secretary Katherine Harris's antics on behalf of Bush in Florida, 2000.

It seemed that Ohio was trending slightly Democratic and would be a good "add" to the column (don't remember similar feelings about North Dakota back then...) So, as good Democrats, we all put some extra special effort into changing the situation in Ohio. More or less explicitly to end such shenanigans, Democrats put one of their own in the governor's office, and the secretary of state's office. If nothing else, we can be sure that the 2008 election will be held fairly in Ohio. We can expect that "vote caging" will not be happening, and we can expect and equitable distribution of voting machines. In Ohio, the votes will be counted and the voters will count.

So what does Obama propose to do, skip a state that is not only within Democratic reach, but will be governed fairly. Personally, I would rather compete on fair ground instead of states whose elections will likely be held under "Zimbabwe Rules". Wonder what gives Obama such confidence that they won't cheat him...

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Interesting Note

The blog "Mr. Super"* makes an interesting point: Senator John Edwards is currently in control of 19 delegates due to his performance in early states. The delegates should vote for whichever candidate Senator Edwards endorses. Nineteen is a hefty number these days; as the blog points out, that's worth more than some of the primaries coming down the road.

* The blog itself is run by an anonymous superdelegate with clear Obama sympathies. Most of it is the usual Obama stuff, but occasionally worth reading.

What's up with Nepal?

Just finished reading the fascinating book High Crimes: The Fate of Everest in an Age of Greed, an exploration of the madness that comes upon people determined to reach the summit of Chomolungma, as locals call Mount Everest. Greed, threats, prostitution, drugs -- it's all fomented in the region, swirling around indolent playboys seeking a quick and easy thrill and another checkmark on the "to do" list.

One interesting thing of the book is mention of the extensive network of sites and press that monitors all things Everest, including I check it from time to time, and was rather surprised to see this item which claims Nepalese complicity cracking down on China's latest paranoia.

The Olympic torch is on Mount Everest at the moment, and the torch relay for the 2008 Beijing Games has been a target for criticism from pro-democracy, pro-Tibet, pro-Korean, and other demonstrators. So the Chinese are trying to sweep criticism out of the way on the leg up Mount Everest. I was surprised at Nepal's complicity:

Nepalese soldiers and police on Mount Everest were authorized last week to shoot human rights sympathizers during China's Olympic torch run to the summit. This was shocking for several reasons, including the fact that the torch is not scheduled anywhere near Nepal. The Nepalese soldiers and climbers are on the lower elevations of the south side of the peak - with the steep and technical Lho La pass only one of the obstacles to the far away slopes of China.

I realize that Nepal is in an uncomfortable spot, especially this region on China's border. However, authorizing lethal force in an area with a large Western presence seems unwise. Nepal has a largely benign international reputation, often tinged with sorrow/pity over their long-running civil war involving Maoist terrorists. Now to find that Nepal is joining in the effort to shut people up whom China doesn't like...well, that's a bit disappointing.