Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Must-read: Pointy the Pointsettia

The man closed the door to the truck. Soon, the truck was moving again. Pointy imagined being carried into an office where all the people would smile and say, "What a beautiful poinsettia! How pretty it is, with its big red and green leaves! Merry Christmas!"

While Pointy was imagining this, the truck stopped in front of another building. The back door to the truck was opened, and suddenly Pointy was in the man’s hands, being carried outside.

"This is it," thought Pointy, "I’m about to make many people happy! I can’t wait to see their smiles, and hear them say ‘Merry Christmas!’"

The man brought Pointy up some stairs and then through a glass door. There was a woman at a desk just inside the door. Pointy tried to make his big, red leaves stand up as straight and proud as possible. As he did so, he heard the woman say:

"What the hell is that?..."

Read the whole delightful tale, and forward to everyone. Make sure SulDog gets credit.

Then, listen to "The Littlest Christmas Tree", and your Christmas vegetation media consumption quota will have been filled.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Another Happy Rebirth

If you're reading this post, our world has survived yet another Winter Solstice. You may say "piffle, of course" perhaps, of "the winter sol-what?" Well, in what would have once been seen as a near miracle, the sun was struggled to rebirth, unaided by large numbers of people letting their own blood, sacrificing animals, executing intricate dances, sacrificing other people, tying the sun to a rock by means of invisible rope, or simply casting old materials on the ground (as have been done in the past). Untroubled for our lacking devotion, the sun returns Unconquered.

It still awes me to look back on the thousands of generations of humankind, huddled around fire, devising any mad scheme to keep the embers of the dying sun burning. I can picture the lines of concern on the face of the shaman, debating that morning if the horizon was lightening...did the rites work this time? A woman straining to feel if the morning breeze was beginning to stir, watching the bare branches for telltale movement. The solemnity and unity worldwide* of this day, the unbearable concern of not knowing. Followed by a wondrous affirmation that death had not won total victory, that indeed life would not falter, the Earth would not sleep, and things would go as before. A Happy Solstice to all, however you celebrate it.

*Okay, I imagine people in the southern hemisphere felt quite the opposite on the winter solstice. You get my point.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

The overwrought Hawkeye

This post isn't about Obama, who's governing no better or worse than Hillary Clinton would have. It's not about David Plouffe, either. It's about Iowa.

My current read is The Audacity to Win, the campaign trail memoir by David Plouffe, manager of Barack Obama's winning presidential campaign. My interest in this book is threefold: simple curiosity for an insider's view of this novel campaign, piqued interest on the basis of Jerome Armstrong's posts over at MyDD, and the knowledge that the author is today directing the re-election campaign of Deval Patrick.

As with many victory lap memoirs, there are a few interesting but ultimately unshocking tidbits mixed in with loving recounting of victories and rationalizaton of mistakes. There is a three-page extended excuse about Obama's (correct) decision to back out of public financing for his campaign. Why not admit that Obama's promise to follow the regime was made when the money wasn't there, and now that it was, the federal campaign would hamper it? Bill Richardson is ignored save for a cheap shot about his weight, John Edwards ignored aside from the revelation that Obama's people pushed the expensive haircut story. Hilary Clinton and Ted Kennedy are the only Democrats for whom David Plouffe demonstrates anything resembling respect. John McCain receives more praise (I haven't gotten to the part about Sarah Palin yet).

However, the most overwhelming aspect of the book is the careful, loving, almost obsessive attention given by Barack Obama and his campaign to Iowa. This obsession is reflected in an exhaustive and exhausting recounting of the Iowa adventures and strategy, which outweighs attention given to Super Tuesday. I am unaware of any electoral system in the world that places such a pivotal role on such an idiosyncratic, unrepresentative, and small population that Iowa enjoys in the American system. The culmination of this courting period is the caucus process, an exercise that is self-limiting and violates the fundamental democratic principle of the secret ballot. After the primary process faded, the spitefully undemocratic nature and overall enormous suckitude of caucuses and baffling centrality of Iowa were forgotten.

Reading this book has reminded me. It reminded me that individual, smaller counties in Iowa were the subject of more discussion, candidate time, infrastructure, focus, and planning in the primary campaign than the entire state of Massachusetts was. Linn County, Iowa was a more important audience for the Obama campaign that was California, in all probability. The crafting of message, and quite arguably policy, balanced on the point of Iowa. (Parallel statements could be made about the Edwards and Hillary Clinton campaigns, as well.)

Sadly, the entitlement of this state will go unchallenged, as the Democratic Rules Committee is seeking to further enshrine the inexplicable privilege of Iowa in their upcoming recommendations. As a time when this reform process would be as apolitical as it would ever get, inertia has apparently taken over, untroubled by the lack of leadership that has been the hallmark of Tim Kaine's tenure as chairman of the Democratic National Committee.

Four or eight years from now, we're going to witness this all over again, as millions of dollars and hours are spent on every nook and cranny of the Hawkeye State, while Massachusetts receives about as much primary attention as Manitoba.

Friday, December 18, 2009

A year ago

It was about a year ago that I bought the Melissa Etheridge Christmas album, "A New thought for Christmas". I enjoy exploring more recent Christmas music, and I've liked Etheridge for years now. There are many good tracks on the album, but one of the most powerful was definitely "Christmas in America", which contains these lines:

The girls are down at Ruby's
trying to find some Christmas cheer
There's not much to do but drink too much
When every day is unclear

So here I am on Christmas Eve
This silent holy night
And I reach up to the stars for you
and I pray that you're all right

Hey mister, send my baby home
This December, don't wanna be all alone
It's Christmas in America, I need you in my arms
Far away from harm
Mister, send my baby home

I bought this album in late November, when the glow of Obama's victory was still fresh. I'd listen to this song, thinking next year, it will be different! President Obama, well into the flow of his presidency, will have pulled us out of these thankless occupations -- occupations with too little investment to result in nation-building, yet too much to avoid real damage. Obama is going to end the madness. I got to the point where I would heartily sing along, replacing the word "mis-ter" with a rather bunched up "Oba-ma, send my baby home." Because I knew he'd do that for all those with a part of their soul wearing a uniform in Asia.

But no, how wrong I was. Obama is going to double down on the madness, thinking that we can pacify Afghanistan in a way the Russian and British couldn't if we just send more people and money there. Thirty thousand more kids, trained to kill, instead forced to act as community organizers/cops/civil corps in an alien culture. The same crap that we got with Bush -- the same mission creep, the same vague goals, the same implausible exit strategy. It's been batted around to death for a couple weeks now, but in the end this is exactly the move I would have expected McCain, or Bush himself, to make.

Last year in 2008, I'd listen to "Christmas in America", eyes watering, thinking that in 2009 that song would be losing relevance. Instead, it will be every bit as meaningful in 2009...and 2010...and 2011...and...

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

What a train wreck...

"They can’t mess with our religion," Mr. Johnson told The Boston Globe. "They owe us a small lump sum for this."

This statement encapsulates the current brouhaha in Taunton. In sum:

[A student's] father, Charles Johnson, stirred up controversy when he told reporters of various newspapers this week that his son was suspended for drawing a picture of the crucifixion as part of a class project to draw a picture about the holidays.

... District officials say the boy told his teacher that it was himself on the cross, not Jesus. The drawing was not part of a school project. The boy was not suspended from school, but rather given a psychological evaluation out of concern that the picture was a cry for help. The picture circulated by the media is not the same one that prompted teachers to report the boy.

The town’s mayor called for [the superintendent] to apologize to the boy and his family. But he has since decided to back the school’s decisions.

The Christian Science Monitor, there. Area columnists such as this dingbat, this fool, and that moron are trying to feel outraged, not even mentioning the lack of factual clarity in this situation. It's reminiscent of the Gates Arrest affair, where we had a he-said/he-said disagreement about basic facts that occluded any chance of seeing what really happened. Some people remain determined not to learn their lesson, but would rather implicate one side based on no real knowledge whatsoever. Thus the media stampedes to finger-pointing, oblivious of their own obliviousness.

I find it suspicious that a teacher could, or would, single-handedly order a psychological evaluation of a child. I find it odd that the aggrieved party starts demanding monetary compensation from Minute One. I find it curious that the mayor changed positions quickly, even at the cost of opening himself up. I find it disturbing that some people just love the idea of being persecuted. I wouldn't be the faintest bit surprised to learn that this father has what the media likes to call a "colorful history". You don't convert that fast from victimization to extortion without lots of practice.

Now, the school did make a mistake in presuming that this young child knew the true nature of a cross. Apparently, he had recently visited a large, religious seasonal lighting display, where I'm sure Jesus on the cross was visible. However, a young mind may not realize that the cross was an instrument of torture, pain, and execution...he may well think that's just "where Jesus is", just as Santa is in a sleigh. The connection adults create between a cross and pain is not necessarily in the mind of a child, where the cross is mainly a symbol of some ideas he is told to believe. Without clarifying that issue (which the school apparently failed to do), there resulted a rush to judgment. As usual the purported victim, the child, is quickly becoming rather ignored.

The same sort of rush to judgment that is happening now in the media. In their eagerness to drive the bandwagon, they haven't checked for its integrity. I would suggest cooling down, waiting for the facts or even reconciling oneself to the idea that the facts may never be known, instead of a starting a new Christmas Persecution.

Not that that's going to happen.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

What's next for Khazei?

Well, Tuesday came and went, surprising nobody who could read a poll. With a strong start, Coakley never looked back, had a tightly controlled campaign and cruised to the win for the Democratic Senate nomination by almost 20 points over a strong field. Although I supported Capuano, I've no doubt that Coakley would make an excellent Senator -- heck, it wasn't too long ago that I wanted her to run for governor.

Capuano will remain in the House, where he'll continue to be an unapologetic voice for liberalism, shouting into the wind of Republicans, and at times Democrats. It's kind of a win-win.

Pagliuca can just go back to doing whatever the idle rich do. Hopefully Rondo's jumper keeps improving.

I'm most interested in Alan Khazei's future. I won't hide that I found him rather under-qualified for the Senate job. At the same time, he did show a willingness to go through the painful campaign process, and eventually tamed his instinct to look down upon everyone else. He has many supporters, and with some more campaign seasoning, I think Khazei could have a great impact on the political life of this state. Although one has to take it with a grain of salt a week after the election, Khazei seems open to the idea, recently saying:

Would I rule out a future in politics? No. I was honored by it and I think I learned a lot.

Fortunately, opportunities abound. The attorney general is resigning to run for senate, DeNucci will not run for re-election as auditor, Tim Cahill will leave as treasurer to run for governor, and rumors abound that Bill Galvin is quitting his post as secretary in order to run for Attorney General. This is a real logjam-break in the Bay State, opening up four elected offices for the first time in years...

Of those four offices, I think Khazei would be a particularly good fit in the post of Secretary. "Big Citizenship" seemed to be about involvement with the community, and political engagement is a focus of that job. He's got the right, strong instincts to push for maximal involvement in the process, starting with voting and moving beyond. Khazei certainly doesn't strike me as a numbers guy, and doesn't have the legal experience for AG. (Plus, we already have a good candidate in Steve Grossman for the treasurer's post.) I strongly hope that upon reflection, Khazei announces a run for the slot of secretary, giving Bill Galvin a primary if necessary.

All that said... there have been many progressives who enter a high-profile primary, lose, and then disappear. It's frankly quite disappointing, especially given that it's a common dictum that one has to run twice in politics to run once. I hope Khazei doesn't join that list of progressives in Massachusetts who run in a glamorous primary, only to abandon the process (and their apparent commitment to it) after losing once. He seems like too sincere a guy to do that. If Khazei runs in 2010 my vote will be his to lose. If he doesn't, it will just confirm my less positive suspicions that kept my vote from him in the first place.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Western Iowa loves the Falcons, and other thoughts...

At times when I'm really, really bored, I head over to Awful Announcing, a great blog on sports media, and stare at the broadcast maps, and ask pointless questions. These are maps that show which NFL games are broadcast by a particular network at a particular time...and they lead to strange thoughts. I'll borrow one to demonstrate:

RED: Washington Redskins @ Philadelphia Eagles (FOX, 1pm)
BLUE: Tampa Bay Bucs @ Atlanta Falcons (FOX, 1pm)
GREEN: Carolina Panthers @ NY Jets (FOX, 1pm)
YELLOW: Seattle Seahawks @ St. Louis Rams (FOX, 1pm)

Most of this makes sense...each team's metro area sees their game. There's a top-line match-up for most uninvolved media markets. This particular Sunday afternoon, it was Washington-Philadelphia.

But it's the weird little parts that confuse me. Why is a small chunk of New York prevented from seeing the Jets? Blackout rules can't really apply . Does Western Iowa really love the Falcons or Bucs that much, or is a local on one of the teams? Is there a knot of enthusiastic Panthers fans in Louisiana? Why can't Miami watch their division rivals, the Jets?

I'm sure there are perfectly good reasons for all these strange little oddities. I just have no idea what they are.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Globe staff has fun?

I am given to understand that some of the greatest fun that can be had by newspaper staffers is the juxtaposition of different items for humor's sake. Unlike those in the rarified air of opinion-making, these folks carry out subtle digs for the benefit of alert readers.

Hence I wonder if it's a coincidence that we see this article in today's Globe:

It looks as if five questions will be on next year’s statewide ballot in Massachusetts...a third would lift the cap on the number of charter schools from its current 120.

About two inches away from that article comes this:

A Springfield charter school placed under investigation by state education officials after its test scores spiked dramatically is now being run by a convicted felon....Swan pleaded guilty in 2007 to a $900,000 bid-rigging scheme at the Southwest Community Health Center where he was director. He was sentenced to two years of probation, including a year of house arrest.

On the other hand, an expert in bid-fixing is completely at home in Paul Reville's world of education.

I could go much more in-depth about this on the utter lack of democratic control or accountability for charter schools, but I'm just not in that kind of mood today. But I can't stop wondering how aggressively charter schools sought signatures from students' families on their ballot question -- using school resources for such politicking is par for the course for these non-public institutions.

However, I would refer you to this piece about changing school start times, something I brought up earlier in my occasional series on cheap and easy ways to improve public education.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Mike Capuano: A Sure Bet, A Liberal Lion

The primary of the decade shook out to an embarrassment of riches before us in Massachusetts: three unabashed liberals are running for the Senate. Attorney General Martha Coakley, Alan Khazei, and Congressman Mike Capuano are united in holding mature, articulated liberal policies and a record of public involvement. Democrats in many states would love to have any one of these as a serious candidate for a Senate seat. In Massachusetts, we have the luxury of knowing that two of them will continue to live out their values in creating policy as public officials, and the hope that the third will join them. This wonderful choice has led to indecision -- how to pick between so many great choices? Many well-informed voters still shift between these choices because they're so good.

I can only speak for myself. I'm the type of guy who, on "Let's Make A Deal", will take the luxury automobile on offer, rather than the off chance that there may be two luxury automobiles behind curtain number two. I like a sure bet. I'll gamble when I must, and I'll pick the most likely of two unsure bets. I was willing when I supported Ed O'Reilly over John Kerry. But this time, I don't have to gamble. I'll have a sure thing on the ballot next Tuesday. A lock.

If there is a sure bet in politics, it's that Mike Capuano will stand up for liberal, progressive values. Why is this a sure bet? Because he already has, even when such a stand stood to cost him. Capuano stood for civil liberties against a full-court bullying for the Patriot Act. A hysterical media and Beltway screamed that the Constitution had to be shredded and anyone who disagreed was not really American. Capuano stood for smart and successful public education against a full-court bullying for the No Child Left Behind Act. A President Bush desperate for a domestic policy achievement threw the kitchen sink at it and anyone who disagreed hated children. Capuano stood for our values. Capuano stood for our values. Capuano stood for a wise foreign policy against a full-court bullying for the Authorization for Use of Military Force. We were told to trust the president and anyone who disagreed loved terrorists. Capuano stood for our values.

Capuano was the rare leader who lifted the flame of liberalism when the media and the GOP wielded an extinguisher and most Democrats dove for the shadows. He stood for Democratic values when so few would. Capuano didn't do this at dinner parties or private conversations away from sight, but in the unblinking eye of the media. Over this campaign, Capuano hasn't had to explain what he woulda done...he merely has to point to what he did. He's a sure bet.

Capuano roared loud for the beliefs of Massachusetts progressives in the bleakest times. He still does. As did Ted Kennedy, Capuano is immovable for what is right, unbending on what is wise, and forthright -- too forthright for Lieberman delicates -- for the values we have as Democrats.

A liberal vote in the Senate? We have three decent choices. But another liberal lion in the Senate? Mike Capuano's a sure bet.

Capuano is a liberal lion. He has earned the lion's seat.