Monday, December 29, 2008

2009 Global Wish List

I'm trying very hard to pare this down to some stuff that is at least plausible:

Israeli Prime Minister Tzipi Livni. It's tough to campaign as the candidate of a party that was built as the vehicle for another man (Sharon), but I think Livni is tough and shrewd, just what Israel needs. Plus, Netanyahu is a little over the top for my liking -- he's been foaming at the mouth about Gaza.

Some sort of stabilization of the blood-drenched Mexican borderlands, where mayhem fueled by drug money is leading to increasingly bold assassinations and kidnappings. The violence enters schools, prisons, and hospitals. One possible solution would be a thoughtful drug policy here in the United States...remember, all the violence is over who gets to feed Americans' drug habits.

Put up or shut up, Canada. I'm tired of your weak minority governments and half-baked coalitions. The most mature and patient federal politician is the leader of the party that wants to break up the country. You're looking ridiculous, careening around like 1980s Italy.

For the Irish to continue to tell the EU bullies where to stick it. This approach of bypassing national parliaments and electorates to implement new European structures is astoundingly anti-democratic; it is only because the Irish constitution mandates referendums to align with any EU treaties that the Irish (or pretty much anyone) get a voice at all. Maybe if the treaties were more intelligently written, implemented, and explained -- and maybe if they were written for citizens and not consumers, there wouldn't be this desperate intimidation every time an electorate questions them.

A peaceful Indian federal election that does not result in a BJP victory.

The road to reunification of Cyprus.

The expiration of the Zimbabwean kakistocracy. By means necessary.

(Partially domestic as well) The eventual realization by reactionaries around the world and in the Republican Party that the President of Iran is basically a buffoonish spokesman, and isn't even a head of government (a pet peeve of mine).

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Quick thought on Warren

Well, many people seem quite reasonably upset that Obama would select a man saddled with heavy bigotry to give an invocation at his inauguration. Warren is as prejudiced as he is bigoted, and I'm glad people (except Obama) seem upset.. Check out AmericaBlog if you don't know what is going on because you've been busy doing Christmas shopping.

The awesome part of this, of course, is that many of this erstwhile crusaders for social justice wouldn't give a figgy pudding had two different, pro-equality ministers been selected. Nevermind that these ministers will be kicking off Obama's leadership of this nation with an appeal to "God" or the spineless stand-in "our Creator". Obama, like most every modern president, reserves part of his ceremony for a clarification that those of us who are not monotheists (most Hindus, Buddhists, secularists, many Universalists, for starters) aren't really welcome.

I guess I just find it ironic that injustice is only a problem when it's certain groups that are on the receiving end of the injustice. Par for the course on issues of church/state separation for most of the left, but hardly thrilling either.

Monday, December 22, 2008

A belated happy rebirth to all

Well, the good news is that we're all still here. After the longest night, the sun was reborn this morning, and all appears well with the universe. Happily, the sun was reborn on its own without needing bloodletting or human sacrifice, animal offerings, or even the casting of old materials on the ground. All is not lost, however -- I am given to believe that many others have properly installed a decorated tree in their homes as befits celebrating the Winter Solstice. Oddly, they somehow believe this to be connected to a desert legend in Southwest Asia. Although this day is no longer a rite of near-universal observation as it once was, at least many people continue to inadvertently celebrate what the Romans lyrically named Sol Invictus, or the Feast of the Unconquered Sun.

If nothing else, we can have a further spring in our step as the days grow incrementally longer. Also, all those johnny-come-lately holidays -- Saturnalia, Hanukkah, Christmas, and Kwanzaa -- that try to piggyback on the solemnity and widespread observation of this first true holiday can go on apace. Happy Rebirth, everyone.

Last-second shopping tips

I went through a phase where I was working in the Braintree mall, at a somewhat upscale store. I saw and learned a few things, so I humbly offer my readers some lessons learned from working over the sound of three years' worth of Christmas music. Frankly, I should have posted this two weeks ago, but it didn't dawn on me:

  • Just park already You can park a little further away from the mall and walk for 10 minutes, or you can circle the lot for 20 minutes, getting frustrated as you just miss this space and that space.

  • Park behind the mall The anchor stores and food court operators want you to park right in front so you have to be tempted by their wares. Don't fall for it. Circle behind the mall -- many places have back entrances that most shoppers don't see. Or, park near the exterior entrance of a less popular store.

  • Know what you're getting into before requesting gift wrap Gift wrappers in stores aren't necessarily particulalry qualified, and the waiting time is hardly worth it. I'm one of the last people who should be wrapping gifts, and even I was commissioned from time to time.

  • Look on lower shelves Of course, retail outlets put all their big-ticket or desperate-to-move items at eye level. The better deals are further down. Places such as Brookstone hide some of the most interesting stuff out of the way.

  • Look near the register at upscale places A lot of upscale stocking stuffers" make great gifts for humble folks such as you or I, and an impulse purchase for the rich at Restoration Hardware or Pier 21 makes for a great deliberate buy for the rest of us. As stocking stuffers are placed near the registers for impulse buys, check out the registers of upscale places; or put together a couple of finds from other stores.

  • Go tonight The Monday night before Christmas is shockingly dead in malls. Dead. Tuesday night is often decent as well; throughout the holiday season, you will pretty much have the mall to yourself on Monday nights. That's when I go. If you go during the weekend, you just deserve what happens to you.

I don't know if this helps, but there you go.

Friday, December 19, 2008

His Noodly Appendage Shall Care for Our Soil...

I have to admit that the ongoing sturm und drung (a phrase that Firefox won't recognize) about the Minnesota recount is completely boring to me. I almost want to let Coleman win just to stop hearing about it. If you must follow it, I guess The Uptake is the place to do it. The main reason I can't be bothered frankly is that the whole thing is just going to end up in the courts anyway, regardless of what the canvassers think right now. Let me know when the judges start ruling.

Anyway, it has been amusing to see what other people do to their ballots. It frankly surprises me that people who apparently don't care for any candidates in a race write in silly votes, rather than leaving it blank. My favorite until today was the infamous "lizard people" voter. This person may be trying to be funny and failing, or may be a believer in David Icke's wacky theories that a cabal of shadowy reptilians control our planet.

However, "Lizard People" was recently bested by a vote cast in an unaffiliated race:

I would point out that this voter correctly filled out the ballot, and with all due respect to Wade Bastian, I can hardly imagine a better candidate to care for Minnesota's soil than the Flying Spaghetti Monster. May His Noodly Appendage Keep It Clean.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Two Christmas classics

Noternie links to the eternal "Littlest Christmas Tree".

Suldog weighs in with the gorgeous "Pointy the Poinsettia".

Both worth reading.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Good News on the Cabinet Front

Sorry, noternie, but I'm not done with this. Nice to see Congressman Xavier Becerra choosing to stay in Congress rather than at the negotiations table as US Trade Representative (which I mentioned here). Meanwhile, Tom Vilsack will be making himself useful by using his expertise as former Iowa governor in his new role of Secretary of Agriculture. In a particularly inspired move, Obama is getting somewhat-DINO roadblock Ken Salazar out of the Senate as Secretary of the Interior.

All in all, a good day in Cabinet news.

Okay, I have to confess something horrible. I want David Paterson to appoint Elliot Spitzer as New York's Senator as Hillary Clinton's 2-year replacement. I can't help myself. I don't like that Caroline Kennedy wants the job on the basis of her last name. And I understand that she is well-qualified with valuable life experience. She's not a clod, but she's not that special, either. New York has no shortage of well-qualified Democrats with valuable life experience. What makes Kennedy special is, well, her last name.

It's not just about Kennedy, though. I want a seat-filler. Somebody who can't and won't run again, because any way you slice it, whomever Paterson appoints is a de facto incumbent running for re-election. I don't like this short-circuiting of democracy. My ideal candidate has a set of skills that are needed at a moment like this, and will not attempt to leverage his seat into a re-election. I've been trying to think of prominent retired New York Democrats, but can't come up with anything else.

I can't imagine Spitzer would have the guts to try to win over New Yorkers by November 2009, especially as he'd be a wounded duck from day one. But boy would he be a valuable voice in discussing bailouts and corporate fraud on the Hill. He's a bloody smart guy when he's thinking with his brain. And let's face it, with the high number of Republican adulterers running around the Senate, what's another one?

I know this is morally wrong in so many ways, but I can't help thinking it's a good idea on balance.

PS: I finally rented The Dark Knight. Yeah, Heath Ledger was pretty good as The Joker, but as much different from Jack Nicholson as better. However, my favorite acting performance in the movie was by Senator Pat Leahy. Tchotchkes such as a free deck, a new wardrobe, a private subway or free trips are all fine Senate perks, but a speaking role in a Batman movie -- that's how to use your power!

PPS: Turns out that Kansas City Mayor Mark Funkhouser is mired in some pretty bad scandal. On the other hand, the fact that a man with the last name Funkhouser made it so far into public service is pretty admirable, too.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Shoes n food

Sorry, but been too busy wrapping, singing, baking, decorating, and whatnot else to blog. I will take a second to note how disturbing it is that this Iraqi journalist managed to throw two shoes at President Bush (here's a great summary of the incident). While I admit that I find the episode funny on one hand, there's truth to the fact that this guy shouldn't have gotten a second shot. If you're trying to inflict physical harm on the heads of two governments, it's tough to stop you from getting a try. But there's no way anyone should get a second chance. Why Bush and Bush's Puppet were still frozen at their podiums by the first attack, and not covered by security as they should be. The journalist doffed his second shoe, wound up and tossed it, not being temporarily removed from the theatre as he should have been.

Conspiracy theory possibilities include that this was a plot to make Bush more sympathetic, or that the Secret Service reviles him as much as the rest of the country.

Anyways, to make up for my blogging absence:

White Blondie Brownies
8 oz White baking chocolate
½ cup Unsalted butter
2 Eggs
1/3 cup Sugar
1 tbsp Vanilla
1¼ cups Flour
¼ tsp Salt
1 cup White chocolate chips

  1. Preheat oven to 350 F
  2. Line 9 X 9 pan with wax paper. Grease it.
  3. Melt choclate and butter until smooth.
  4. In large mixing bowl, beat eggs until foamy.
  5. With mixer running, add sugar, then vanilla.
  6. Gently pour in butter and chocolate.
  7. Fold in other ingredients by hand.
  8. Make 25 minutes at 350 F

Monday, December 8, 2008

Goodbye "Super" Mario

The first candidate for whom I ever campaigned, gave money, supported, and believed in as an adult retired tonight after a disappointing electoral result. He was re-elected a 4th time but his party stumbled badly. No, you probably didn't hear about it, because he's not a Democrat. Or even an American.

My first candidate was Mario Dumont, the leader of the Action démocratique du Québec, in English the "Democratic Action of Quebec". During the mid-90s and afterward, the debate in Quebec had calcified between sovereigntists (the PQ) who wanted to leave Canada no matter what, to raise taxes and to spend millions on one side, and federalist Liberals who wanted to stay in Canada no matter what, to raise taxes, and to spend millions. I liked Dumont for offering ideas of fiscal responsibility for the province of Quebec and the people of Quebec. He wasn't afraid to stand on his beliefs (he was a major presence for sovereignty in 1995), but he wasn't bound to the debates of the past. While the Liberals and Parti Quebecois seemed happy to have the same arguments every time, Mario Dumont was one of the few ready to move on. He created the ADQ as his rather small vehicle to advance his point of view, though it took quite some time to grow. I was in Montreal for the Quebec campaign of 1998, a campaign where the ADQ won one seat of 129 -- that of Mario Dumont. You can read his biography ici/ here.

The ADQ grew since then, and may well have faded since then, and the light may have gone out tonight. In 2007, the ADQ won 41 seats, vaulting into second place, and just seven seats out of government. It also has lost its way. The other parties stole the ADQ's platform of clear debate and calm approach to Quebec's relations with the rest of Canada, and both major parties moved to the idea of fiscal responsibility, and away from socialism. In effect, the ADQ found its ideological turf overcrowded. Between presenting an unprepared team in opposition, and losing its place in the conversation, the ADQ was reduced to 7 seats tonight.

The ADQ and Dumont lost their way, turning too much to religion and "identity" in what seemed uncomfortably close to an appeal to nativism. In fact, had I the vote this past election, I'd have not voted for Dumont's party.

The party proved unready and unable to govern and offer an alternative. The fresh wind that Dumont represented in the late 90s has become stale. Seeing the writing on the wall, Dumont announced his retirement tonight, and his party may not last too long afterward. Despite my misgivings about his most recent choices, I will miss the man affably called "Super Mario" by the Québécois.

Merci, Mario, le premier chef dans lequel j'ai pu croire. Comme on dit au Québec, à la prochain.

(updated: head of the Opposition "Thank you for your dedication to the people of Quebec. History will recognize you for it.")

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Nutso Democracy, Canadian Style

Remember how much 2000 sucked? Our system anointed a leader who didn't win the most votes. This quirky Electoral College thing invalidated so many votes, and boiled it down to the unelected maneuverings of a few unelected people.

The same thing is happening right now in Canada - a strongly divided nation elected a strongly divided Parliament, and maneuvering is going on at a furious pace. Basically, this group of about 300 Canadian politicians is seeking to undermine and/or obviate the election results. The balance of power appears to be held by a party that wants to carve Quebec out of Canada, and the referee is a former TV reporter who is now the head of state -- Michaelle Jean. Jean's job is to represent the freakin' Queen of England as the final authority in the country. A diarist over at MyDD writes a pretty good precis of the situation, which I strongly encourage you to read. If, like me, you're an enthusiastic follower of politics regardless of origin, you'd want to keep an eye on this.

I may have more thoughts on this as it develops...


Or, you can't keep a good man down.

The Globe has a good take on the re-appearance of Lawrence Summers, lately President of Harvard University. Of course, his tenure famously ended in a rebellion that arose after Summers declared that women "did not have the intuition" to be scientists. A slightly antediluvian declaration for a university president, and so it went with him turfed out in Cambridge. Anyway, that dumb remark didn't stop Summers from being a bright guy in general, and a series of newspaper columns in the Financial Times was instrumental in rebuilding his respect in financial circles. Summers will be Obama's National Economic Council Chair.

Yeah, so, turns out that Elliot Spitzer is will soon be starting a weekly column at the Washington Post [corrected from original]. His sin was more revolting that a poorly chosen remark, but one could argue that the times also demand men and women of his mettle more than ever. On what side does the balance rest?

Top Christmas Carols

I will admit, that Christmas gets me giddy. I love the spirit, the decorations, the food, and yes the music. Not only the traditional carols, but modern interpretations and additions. After all, one can only take so much Bing Crosby in the malls. Below is my top list of admittedly standard and schmaltzy New Christmas Carols -- some well-publicized, and others not so much:

"Santa Claus is Coming to Town" by Bruce Springsteen
"Little Saint Nick" by The Beach Boys
"Twelve Days of Christmas" by Bob and Doug McKenzie
"Christmas in Hollis" by RUN DMC
"Mad Russian's Tale" and "The Three Kings and I (What Really Happened) by Trans-Siberian Orchestra
"Sleigh Ride" and "Mary's Boy Child" and most anything by The Boston Pops
"Baby It's Cold Outside" by Tom Jones and Cerys
"Happy Xmas (War is Over)" by Melissa Etheridge
"Cantique de Noel" by Mannheim Steamroller
"Blue Christmas" by Elvis Presley
"Joy to the World" by Diana Ross and the Supremes
"Go Tell it On the Mountain" and "Do you See What I See?" by Vanessa Williams
"You're a Mean One Mister Grinch" by Boris Karloff
"Christmas Auld Lang Syne" by Gloria Estefan

What about you?

PS: I will be disappointed if some music snob blog doesn't link to this post as an example of the pedestrian tastes of the hoi polloi who can't appreciate the cacophonous attempts at Christmas ennui by better artists.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Rice pursues Al-Qaeda boogeyman

As I mused on Monday, "I'm wondering how long it is until somebody says that the attackers in Mumbai are somehow "al-Qaeda linked"."

Turns out it was two days, and the "somebody" was the empty pantsuit masquerading as our Secretary of State:

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice says the attacks in Mumbai are "the kind of terror in which al-Qaeda participates."

Rice arrived in New Delhi on Wednesday as part of a US effort to ease tensions in the region after a three-day terrorist attack killed 171 people in India's financial capital.

"Whether there is a direct al-Qaeda hand or not, this is clearly the kind of terror in which al-Qaeda participates," she said during a press conference.

She's since climbed down from those remarks, but typical of this bunch that any swarthy person blowing stuff up is al-Qaeda to them. I can't wait for these people to leave our government.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Wasting your party III: now he's got Xander!

Will it ever stop?

Rep. Xavier Becerra , D-Calif., has been offered the post of U.S. Trade Representative in the incoming administration of President-elect Barack Obama , according to Democratic sources.

Becerra is the fifth-ranking Democrat in the House, and the senior Hispanic in either party. And now Obama wants him for trade representative...Obama is using up one of the faces of the Democratic future on a freakin' tariffs negotiator. What's next: Claire McCaskill for Ambassador to Mauritania?

Maybe I haven't been stark enough on this, so here goes: the executive branch is where political careers go to die. Outside of a shot at the Oval Office by the vice president, you aren't going anywhere from the executive branch.

Hillary Clinton, a brilliant mind in health care and women's issues: finished.
Janet Napolitano, the standard-bearer for southwestern Democrats and our leader on immigration: finished.
Xavir Becerra, energetic leader of Hispanic Democrats and future face of our party: finished.

Meanwhile, people like Howard Dean, Tim Johnson, Wesley Clark, John Kitzhaber, and Bill Nelson languish in never-land, hardwon experience wasted due to personal grudges or ignorance or whatever. Obama is stocking his talk-shop with the type of people we need representing the Democratic Party. This is wasting our future successes in order to hyper-guarantee the present one, and I maintain that it's short-sighted. This is like the Red Sox team trading away its entire slate of AAA prospects for a no. 4 pitcher in the playoff rotation.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Random thoughts

Not much to say, some random thoughts instead:

I'd be shocked if anybody who helped murder that worker in Walmart ever faces justice. These people were doing what they'd been taught to do -- abandon all dignity in the race of commercial hype. I'm no hippie (been to the mall already once this season) but I can't stand the thought of wandering in the wee hours to buy something at a price similar to what it was in August. That said, the shoppers are responsible, but Walmart is much, much more responsible. All the focus on this guy is keeping us from hearing about the copious non-lethal injuries sustained in other Black Friday theatres.

For all I know, Chuck Turner could be the victim of a broad racist media-based campaign to entrap officials for taking bribes (as he was caught doing on video). However, given Turner's long race-baiting history, even if it were true I'd probably not believe it. Live by the race card, die by the race card.

I'm wondering how long it is until somebody says that the attackers in Mumbai are somehow "al-Qaeda linked". No duh -- if I were some two-bit terrorist, I'd call myself al-Qaeda for the free press, too.

Quebec is gearing up for an election. Funny, after Quebec Liberal leader Jean Charest spent weeks telling Quebecers to vote Liberal in the federal election because one party shouldn't have majority government because it would be too powerful...he's now telling Quebecers to vote Liberal in the provincial election because one party should have a majority government because it needs more power. Heh.

I still think Napolitano is wasted in Homeland Security.