December 31, 2007

Auguri Per 2008

It's going to be a big year coming up.

Obviously, the big story will be the election. The primaries might be all over five weeks from now -- but I suspect that the Republicans will not have sorted things out all the way by then. It's still a four-way game right now, and anyone could win. Here's hoping it's McCain or Giuliani rather than Flip Romney or the Huckster. (That's the cue for you to take a drink, by the way.) And while I'm intrigued by what Barack Obama is offering the Democrats, I think he won't be able to go over the top and 2008 will see the first woman nominated by a major party rather than the first African-American. Which is a little too bad, but that's how it goes.

There is reason for guarded optimism in Iraq. Violence is down (not gone) and our tactical and strategic vision has improved there. Too little, too late? Let's hope not. (Take another sip there, cowboys and cowgirls.)

The Packers are in the playoffs, with a first-round bye. So that's exciting. (Drink again.) We have no idea if Favre will play in the 2008 season, though. But for now, we can hope that we'll get by Dallas in the NFC Championship game, assuming Terrell Owens is still suffering from his high-ankle strain, and take a shot at bringing Lombardi back to Green Bay. (Toast!)

For me, 2008 starts off with a trial, Wednesday, in Stinking Bakersfield of all places. Well, it may look like a short hearing, but there's short hearings and then there's hearings that are tantamount to a trial, and this one is the second variety. Thanks to a lot of help from the office staff, who stayed late to re-create my trial books, and a fortuitous set of rulings from the court, I can have a lot of confidence in the result. (I could use a little love here, Readers; drink up.)

The Wife and I will continue plugging away out here in the desert -- incrementally improving Soffit House and enjoying our critters and our time together. We're talking about trips to Tennessee, Wisconsin, and Yosemite. I hope to work on that judicial application, and will continue writing here. But for now, to all my Loyal Readers, my traditional wish in Italiano. (If there's anything left in your glass by now, here's your cue to drain it.)


Drive safe, everyone.

Why I Don't Mind Not Having A TV So Much


Actually, the comic isn't fair -- I sometimes like cooking shows.

December 30, 2007

Eat Your Crow Warm

I wrote, on December 3, 2007:
The AFC's wild card spots will be given to Jacksonville and Cleveland. Period. Full stop. There is no reasonably foreseeable way that can't happen. The only real issue left to work out in the AFC is how to seed them against San Diego and Pittsburgh.
Somehow, though, the Browns found a way to lose, and the Flaming Thumbtacks of Nashville are taking their place as the #6 seed in the AFC after beating the Colts' second string tonight.

Green Bay has a bye until at least January 12, when they will play one of Seattle (if the Seahawks beat the Redskins), or in the unlikely event that if Washington wins on Saturday and earns the right to play Dallas twice in three weeks, the winner of next week's wild-card matchup of the New York Football Giants at the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Stay tuned, sports fans; it promises to be a good game.

December 29, 2007

Summary of Candidates

I've looked in depth at four Republican and two Democratic candidates for President, all of whom are polling higher than 10% in national polls and any of whom is poised to potentially take the White House. Here is a short table summarizing my policy ratings for each candidate's platform, and listing some positives, some negatives, and something about each candidate that surprised me.

Candidate Policy Favorable Unfavorable Surprising
Rudy Giuliani 65 Strong executive and leadership skills; best overall blend of policies Autocratic governing style and disregard for individual rights; possible corruption Once considered becoming a priest
John McCain 62 Good grasp of military and foreign policy issues; committed to balanced budget; genuine hero
Arrogant personality and overreaching vision of governmental power; past corruption Messy personal life stalled privileged and promising military career
Mitt Romney 41 Shrewd and competent; likely will listen carefully to competent advisors Malleable beliefs; veracity deficiency; moves problems around rather than solving them; possible corruption Both parents ran for high political office
Mike Huckabee 34 Strong moral compass; surprisingly charismatic Big-government conservative and possibly corrupt; would continue trend towards theocracy Environmental preservation a significant policy concern
Hillary Clinton 52 Personal White House and national political experience; strong grasp of military and foreign policy issues Imperious and calculating personality; advocate of big government solutions to most issues; corruption Republican party activist through her mid-20's
Barack Obama 47 Youth and charisma; good understanding of Constitution; not an idealogue Careless and inchoate policy proposals; short resume; possible corruption Tort reformer

My policy rubric was pretty heavy on foreign policy and military issues, and I do ask the candidates to confront the basic conundrum of both balancing the budget and at least keeping taxes at their current level -- which may be an impossibility.

None of them offers a policy platform with which I am completely happy. None of them presents a personality and background that would lead me to think that this person would be a President worthy of admiration. All have done some interesting things with their lives and most bring talents and experiences to the table which are worthy of consideration. All of them are really smart.

No one has really exciting or promising ideas about either Social Security reform or North Korea. That's because there probably are no really good solutions to those problems -- just hard work and mitigating the damage in the short run, and hoping that smaller, incremental improvements and changes in other economic and geopolitical conditions will produce opportunities in the future before things get out of hand.

And with one exception, all of the provide cold comfort to me in my concern about the consolidation of power in a unitary executive.

For my Democrat and Democratic-leaning friends, I'm surprised at the toughness of the decision with which you are faced. Hillary Clinton has transformed herself into a technocrat and the "safe" choice, but she also seems nearly as likely as any of the Republicans to continue the trend towards consolidating all effective governmental power in the Presidency. Democrats, you've seen for the past seven years how much you would dislike that; while Clinton might be more palatable to you holding those reins of power than Bush, remember that one day she'll have to hand those reins to someone else.

If I were a Democrat, I would like Barack Obama better than Clinton. He presents the promise of innovation, energy, and charisma, but I have to wonder if he's really the promise of something new or just another empty suit. For the time being, I'm thinking no, because even if he makes a few missteps early in his Administration (as seems likely), it seems to me that he would learn from them and eventually we'd get a pretty good Presidency. But I still have doubts and concerns about what form those missteps would take. Obama is about the only one of those six whose policies, personality, and personal history give me confidence that he has the potential to be a good leader while still respecting the Constitution.

Now, one thing I can't say is "Well, we surely can't do any worse than what we've got." But that's not true at all. We can, at minimum, continue doing as well as we have, if we pick Mike Huckabee. With only minor differences, Huckabee promises to basically continue the policies of the incumbent Bush White House. The difference between the Huckster and the incumbent is that Huckabee's grasp of foreign policy is not merely arrogant and misguided, but also naive and unimportant to the candidate.

Mitt Romney, however smart he may be, is simply untrustworthy. He is an empty suit. I'm particularly disappointed to find Romney reversing what had been a promising set of principles on the separation of church and state in his desperation to appeal to Christian Right voters in the GOP primaries. It's hard to find a position he took in his political career in Massachusetts that he hasn't reversed in order to seek the Republican nomination. While he may not be corruptible in the sense that he has way too much personal wealth to need more by way of bribery, he may well be corruptible in the sense that his craven need for political support and absence of any kind of core beliefs or principles would lead him to bargain away anything in his policy agenda that one might otherwise consider attractive. Like the businessman that he fundamentally is, everything is negotiable with Romney, which means that for the right price, anything is for sale in a Romney White House.

I find myself faced with a conundrum -- if one of these guys gets the nomination, would I have to vote for the Democrat? Fortunately, there are other options; I can always vote Libertarian.

But there are other groups within the Republican party than the theocrats. For a while, I had been an energetic advocate of Rudy Giuliani based on his strong foreign and military policy platform and his considerable charisma. But after some careful thought and research, I found some things about him, and looked closer at some other things I already knew about him, and discovered cause for serious misgivings. While there are significant policy differences between him and John McCain, overall I like their platforms about the same and they ultimately are more similar than they are different.

So a policy analysis confirms that the less-theocratic side of the GOP still has the most appeal for me. What I would like to see is that less-theocratic and more economic and military-minded side of the party steering the boat. This may mean that some elements of the Republican coalition have to be reshuffled and some of the more extreme religious types discarded. A pro-choice candidate seems more likely to be able to reach out to voters (particularly women voters) who currently identify as independent and moderate Democrats and bring them into the new party. Lots of those voters are pro-choice enough that they would not consider voting for a Republican, ever -- but a pro-choice Republican would make them have to set that single issue aside and look at the rest of the package. There are political gains to be made there.

So I'm sticking with Rudy Giuliani as my most-favored candidate and hoping that the Supreme Court, at least, will be able to assert itself as the "goalie" against what will likely be attempts by the Giuliani Administration to aggrandize executive power. Congress sure won't do it. But on balance, Giuliani presents the best opportunity to both reform the GOP into a party able to address the challenges of the future, and to respond to the international challenges faced by the country today.

December 28, 2007

You Don't Often Get Big Laughs In Traffic Court

I was doing arraignments this morning. The defendant, let's call him "Mr. Ramos" (even though that's not his real name), was charged with two counts: speeding, and driving without insurance. He appeared before me wearing a Dallas Cowboys sweatshirt and a blue beanie with a blue-and-silver star on it. He handed his paperwork to the bailiff.

"Mr. Ramos, you're before me today on two counts, speeding and driving without insurance, on a ticket issued by the California Highway Patrol on July 27, 2007. How do you plead?"

"Your honor," the bailiff said, "the defendant has presented the court with a certificate of insurance that was in effect from July 1, 2007 through July 1, 2008."

"Okay," I said. "It appearing that you had insurance in effect on the date of the violation, Mr. Ramos, I'll dismiss the second count against you. This despite the fact that you are obviously a Cowboys fan, and the Court happens to favor the Green Bay Packers." Even Mr. Ramos laughed at that.

He pled "no contest" to the speeding charge.

Pope Demands More Exorcisms, Satan Vows To Take More Shots On Goal

Avowed enemy of "godlessness" Pope Benedict XVI has announced that there need to be more exorcisms. Seems that more priests need to be trained in directly fighting the Devil, a prayer needs to be added to the end of the Mass to invoke God's protection from diabolical influence, and parish priests need to be trained to fight the interest of young people in the occult being distributed by the Internets and that damn rock music.

I'm not making any of this up. RTFA and see for yourself.

Satan himself appears unconcerned as you can see at right. As of Wednesday, Satan's career points total was exactly 666. So is it a coincidence that the Pope makes this announcement now?

The unretouched photograph of His Holiness to the left demonstrates to my satisfaction that if anyone is possessed, it may well be His Holiness himself. Creepy. A guy who looks like that should get lines like: "Senator, just one more thing... love your suit!" And here you thought he was just some German dude in a funny hat.

Maybe the fact that Satan is playing against the Devils tomorrow after all but singlehandedly defeating them six weeks ago means that maybe it's the Pope who is rooting for the Devils (I thought he played defense for St. Louis, actually), and Satan who truly opposes them... Oh, this hurts my head.

Candidate Analysis of John McCain

Biography

John Sidney McCain III will be 72 years old on the next Inauguration Day.

McCain was born in 1936 in the Panama Canal Zone, which at the time was a United States possession. Both his father and grandfather were four-star Admirals in the U.S. Navy, both of whom distinguished themselves in World War II. He attended the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis, where despite middling grades and some disciplinary problems, he was recognized as a leader by his fellow midshipmen (as well as a hellraiser; one described being at liberty with McCain as like being in a "train wreck"). He crashed a plane after graduation, and ran a second plane through power lines, and continued a hard-partying lifestyle as a junior officer.

He began to adopt a more serious approach to life and his career after deployment on the USS Enterprise in the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962. In 1965, he married his first wife and adopted her two children (her first husband had been one of his classmates at Annapolis) and they had a daughter. Growing dissatisfied with his role as a trainer, he requested and was granted a combat assignment in 1966, being reassigned to the USS Forrestal on duty in the Vietnam war. There, he flew high-risk missions intended to destroy Soviet-built anti-aircraft installations, and grew frustrated with micromanagement of Operation Rolling Thunder.

He was twice almost killed in action. In the first incident, ordinance exploded before he could launch his A-4 Skyhawk. McCain was able to escape the cockpit of the plane by crawling forward on the fuselage, and had to jump onto a deck covered with burning napalm. He later stated that seeing the napalm up close gave him grave moral misgivings about using it as a weapon. Film of this incident is still used in the Navy for safety training.

The second and more famous incident was on his twenty-third bombing run, when his A-2 was shot down, and he crash-landed in a lake near Saigon. He spent six weeks in a Viet Cong hospital and then was taken a prisoner of war. The Viet Cong understood his high value as a prisoner since his capture made the front page of the New York Times; several months after he was shot down, his father was made commander-in-chief of the Pacific theater of naval operations, meaning that the Viet Cong had as its prisoner the son of the overall commander of military operations against it. The Viet Cong offered to release McCain early, but McCain refused release so that other POW's who had been imprisoned longer than him could be released first. McCain did not know it at the time, but this denied the Viet Cong a substantial propaganda victory; Vietnamese leaders later admitted that they intended to use McCain's early release to tell other American POW's that only privilege mattered to demoralize them.

Disappointed that this demoralizing public relations tactic had failed due to McCain's refusal to cooperate, the Viet Cong began to torture McCain daily with rope bindings, daily beatings, and withholding treatment for dysentery. After breaking several bones and several teeth, he signed a forced confession with obviously bad grammar indicating its forced nature. When someone in the VC who knew English well caught on to this, he refused to sign a second confession, earning more beatings. When asked to give the names of other men in his unit, recited the names of the Green Bay Packers' offensive line.

After being transferred to somewhat less horrific conditions in Hanoi, he was given the opportunity to meet with American anti-war activists visiting there, and again refused to do so. He was not released until after the Paris Peace Accords were signed, having spent five and a half years as a prisoner of war -- five more than he would have, had he agreed to the early release that was offered to him. For this, he earns this blog's Big Brass Ones Award. To this day, he cannot raise his arms above his head; a wave at or just above ear level is about all he can manage without excruciating pain.

After his return to the U.S., he rehabilitated from his injuries, and then served as executive officer of a naval air squadron based in Jacksonville, Florida, and turned around its performance to the point that the squadron won a Meritorious Service Award. However, his marriage fell apart and he had several extramarital affairs; he divorced his first wife in 1980, after a four-year separation in which McCain fell in love with his second wife, the daughter of a wealthy Phoenix beer distributor. McCain came to believe that he would not make Admiral (a messy personal life can sometimes do that to an officer's career), and so he resigned from the Navy, having obtained the rank of Captain (the equivalent of a full-bird Colonel in the Army or Marines) in 1981. For his service, mainly in Vietnam, he had earned a Bronze Star, Silver Star, Distinguished Flying Cross, the Order of Merit, and a Purple Heart.

With his second wife, he went on to have a daughter and two sons, and they adopted a daughter from an orphanage operated by Mother Teresa in Bangladesh. McCain's oldest son (from his first marriage) is an Annapolis graduate and was a Navy pilot like his dad; his middle son (from his second marriage) is is in the U.S. Marine Corps and currently deployed in Iraq; his youngest son is in Annapolis right now. In all, he has seven children born over a thirty-five year stretch of time; by all accounts the various children are all on good terms with one another and their father, and McCain now has four grandchildren to add to the mix. McCain called himself an Episcopalian until only a few months ago, but has attended services at a Baptist megachurch in suburban Phoenix for many years. He has a penchant for carrying lucky charms like rabbit's feet and feathers with him and has had several treatments for skin cancer and melanoma and caused him to joke "I'm older than dirt and have more scars than Frankenstein."

Political Experience

In 1977, McCain became the Navy's liaison to the U.S. Senate, where he worked for three years. McCain left the Navy in 1981 and briefly worked for his father-in-law in Phoenix; he used the opportunity to make powerful and wealthy friends in Arizona including banker Charles Keating and the editor-in-chief of the Arizona Republic. In 1982, he ran for Arizona's First Congressional District and faced charges of being a carpetbagger. At a candidate forum, he responded to a citizen challenge that he wasn't a "real" Arizonan with this retort:
Listen, pal. I spent 22 years in the Navy. My grandfather was in the Navy. We in the military service tend to move a lot. We have to live in all parts of the country, all parts of the world. I wish I could have had the luxury, like you, of growing up and living and spending my entire life in a nice place like the first district of Arizona, but I was doing other things. As a matter of fact, when I think about it now, the place I lived longest in my life was Hanoi.
Between the fame gained for that quip, a healthy campaign loan from his wealthy wife, and the enthusiastic support of the Arizona Republic, McCain went on to get the nomination to the safely Republican seat by a healthy margin, which he held for two terms. He generally followed the Reagan Administration's agenda as a Congressman. However, McCain's famous retort to the voter also reveals a bitter, short-tempered side of his personality which has haunted him for his entire political career.

In 1986, he ran for the U.S. Senate seat to be vacated by the retiring Barry Goldwater, and found himself unopposed for the Republican nomination. Bruce Babbitt, the former Governor of Arizona, decided not to run against him, and since then the Arizona Democratic Party has never been able to find anyone of any stature or note to challenge McCain for the Senate seat for McCain's re-election bids in 1992, 1998, and 2004; it would appear that unless he is elected President, the Senate seat will be McCain's for as long as he wants it (only four men have ever held that seat before him).

Almost immediately upon entering the Senate, McCain began to stand out from the crowd. He became enmeshed in a political influence scandal involving his friend and campaign donor Charles Keating, whose banking business was going belly-up and who sought the influence of officeholders to whom he had made campaign donations to prevent the government from seizing his business. McCain was one of those five Senators and it seems that McCain did speak with banking regulators on Keating's behalf -- unsuccessfully, as it turned out. The Senate investigated the conduct of McCain and the other four Senators (all of whom were Democrats) and determined that while they broke no laws, they had exercised poor judgment in acting as they had.

McCain also stuck his neck out early and far to spearhead the efforts of his former Senate mentor, John Tower, to become the Secretary of Defense of President George H.W. Bush in 1989. The primary obstacle to Tower's nomination was not opposition from Senate Democrats but a lack of support from the social right; in particular the Moral Majority, under the direction of Paul Weyrich, believed that Tower's reputation for binge drinking and extramarital affairs rendered him unacceptable for that office. (Dick Cheney was eventually confirmed to that position.) McCain later wrote that Weyrich was a "pompous, self-serving son of a bitch" because of the intramural squabble over Tower, and thus began McCain's rift with the Christian Right.

This rift plagued McCain as sought the Republican Presidential nomination in 2000, and was the only significant challenger to George W. Bush's eventual nomination. Capitalizing upon the open and friendly relationship with the mainstream media he formed in the wake of the Keating scandal, McCain made campaign finance reform a centerpiece issue of his campaign and had long bull sessions with reporters on his campaign bus, which he nicknamed the "Straight Talk Express." McCain skipped the Iowa caucuses completely, and won the New Hampshire primary by a margin of 19%. It was widely thought that if McCain would win the next primary in South Carolina, his momentum would render him unstoppable and defeat Bush. However, that did not happen and to this day it is not clear whether the Bush or McCain campaigns "went negative" first in South Carolina. It is clear that Bush overtly and successfully appealed to evangelical voters in South Carolina, and that McCain was unable to recover from having that bloc of voters consolidate against him. Stinging from the defeat, McCain publicly blamed leaders of the Christian Right including Jerry Falwell, and he lost most of the primaries after that.

In the Senate, he has carefully crafted a reputation as a "maverick" Republican, willing to stand in defiance of his party when his beliefs call for it. In practice, these kinds of go-against-the-party stances are actually about as frequent as they are for most other legislators, in either party. McCain and John Kerry were instrumental in prodding the Clinton Administration to normalize diplomatic relations with Vietnam, and he was a critical sponsor of the Line Item Veto law of 1996 (which was found to be unconstitutional two years later, in a challenge led, in no small part, by New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani).

Most prominent among his legislative efforts, however, has been his pursuit of campaign finance reform, which resulted in his collaboration with liberal Wisconsin Senator Russ Feingold in a very controversial donor-limitation and issue-advertisement limitation law. Its most obvious effect has been its "stand-by-your-ad" provision, which requires the personal endorsement of a candidate to any paid advertisement authorized by or issued under the control of the campaign. Less obvious to the public is the way in which individuals and corporations may make campaign donations, either directly to the individual candidates' campaigns, to political parties, or to issue groups; the kinds of advertisements that each can sponsor; and when the advertisements can run. After several unsuccessful attempts, the law was passed in 2002, and has mostly, but not completely, been upheld by the Supreme Court.

On The Issues

Abortion: Pro-life. Would permit abortions in case of rape, incest and serious health risk. Favors repeal of Roe v. Wade (in reversal of statement he made in 1999 suggesting overturn would be a bad thing despite affirming personal opposition to most abortions). Rating: 0 of 1 points.

Amending the Constitution: Previously advocated a balanced-budget amendment. Voted for amendment authorizing criminalization of flag burning. Opposed to constitutional same-sex marriage ban. Rating: 3 of 6 points.

Anti-Terrorism Policy: Voted in favor of lavish budget for anti-terrorism activities and additional spending for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Believes spies are better than soldiers to find Osama bin Laden; adamant that doing so will not end threat of al Qaeda or the "hydra" of Islamic terrorism. Believes that inducing overthrow of rogue states will deny terrorists safe harbors and work to the long-term security of the West. Believes that there is a great deal of waste in defense spending and many programs that can be cut without reducing effectiveness of military, including the B-2 and C-130 aircraft programs and the Seawolf submarine. Rating: 4 of 7 points.

Balanced Budget: Frequently castigates his colleagues in Congress for pork barrel spending, although he does bring home some pork for Arizona himself. Has pushed hard for spending cap legislation and line item veto law (ultimately proven unconstitutional but it shows where his sentiments are). Opposed to agricultural subsidies even when campaigning in states like Iowa and Florida, where subsidies are popular. However, health care and military/anti-terrorism proposals are all expensive and tax cut platform appears to suggest possibility of irreconcilable tension between stated goals of more spending and balanced budget; cutting subsidies and waste do not by themselves appear enough to realize all three goals. Rating: 6 of 8 points.

Civil Liberties: Favors "don't ask, don't tell" policy. Against including sexual orientation in civil rights legislation. Favors USA PATRIOT Act and warrantless wiretap provisions of same. Sponsored legislation restricting ability of people to donate money to support political speech. Would favor Clinton proposal to require media products like movies and video games to bear detailed warnings about violent and sexual content. Favors gun ownership rights; voted against the Brady Bill. Rating: 1 of 9 points.

Education: Favors parental choice, home-schooling, and school vouchers. Favors merit pay for teachers. Rating: 1 of 5 points.

Environment: Opposed to drilling in ANWR. Voted against raising mandatory mileage standards for passenger vehicles, but also voted to preserve existing standards. In favor of anti-whaling legislation and voted for "brownfield remediation" funding. Rating: 3 of 4 points.

Free Trade: Favored NAFTA, CAFTA, all rounds of GATT. Opposed to fast-track authority for President. Favors normalization of trade with China and including Chile in NAFTA. Rating: 5 of 5 points.

Generalized Foreign Policy: Favors maintaining embargo with Cuba and keeping dialogue and trade with China flowing freely. Points to Libyan disarmament as a success story for the CIA and robust U.S. foreign policy. Advocates overthrow of "rogue" governments to protect U.S. security interests. Favored moderate trade sanctions against Russia for human rights violations in Chechnya; currently favors stricter trade sanctions on Burma to encourage democratization and end of human rights violations there. Critical of Bill Clinton for adopting less aggressive stance in multilateral world. Rating: 4 of 6 points.

Health Care Reform: Proposes $2,500 per-individual refundable tax credit for healthcare spending and, before creation of Medicare part "D," proposed tax credits to subsidize senior citizens' prescription medicine spending. Opposed to employer mandates or universal coverage. Rating: 2 of 3 points.

Immigration Policy: Sponsored the recent immigration reform bill which would have created a guest worker program and streamlined both naturalization and temporary work visas. Rating: 5 of 5 points.

Iraq: Favored invasion of Iraq. Very critical of war's early phases of conduct; believes that an open-ended military and civil affairs commitment combined with sustained counter-insurgency strategy as led by Gen. Patraeus is the only way forward. Rating: 6 of 6 points.

Korea: Backs sending humanitarian food aid to North Korea to alleviate the human disaster caused by the death throes of the repressive government there; does not seem to acknowledge that the government there is still quite strong but does acknowledge that it is quite dangerous. Supported multi-party talks. Rating: 4 of 5 points.

Middle East Peace Process: Calls Iran and Syria sponsors of terrorism and vows strikes against them if they get nuclear weapons to prevent the use of those weapons against Israel. Does not believe diplomatic discussions with Iran would be productive. Would move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem. Rating: 3 of 4 points.

Science and Technology: Believes in global climate change. Advocate of more nuclear power plants. Voted against human cloning but favored some embryonic stem cell research programs. Rating: 3 of 4 points.

Separation of Church and State: Mistakenly stated that the Constitution establishes the United States as a "Christian nation." Favors school vouchers and home-schooling, school prayer time, and posting of the Ten Commandments in public schools. Would permit teaching of creationism in schools. Rating: 0 of 5 points.

Social Security Reform: Advocate of privatized savings accounts for up to 20% of SSI withholding. Willing to consider adjustment of entitlement caps, Favored using majority of Clinton budget surpluses to buttress Social Security. Opposed to new taxes to fund system in the future. Rating: 4 of 5 points.

Taxes: Wants lower tax rate with simpler tax scheme and flirted with the idea of a flat tax during 2000 Presidential campaign, but presently opposed to FairTax. Instead proposes a bipartisan commission to reform the Internal Revenue Code and putting the report of the commission to a yes or no vote in Congress. Suggested expanding range of 15% tax bracket. Voted to repeal AMT. Refuses to sign pledge against raising taxes. Initially opposed Bush tax cuts in 2001 and 2003, but was in favor of extending them earlier this year. Rating: 3 of 5 points.

Tort Reform: Voted in favor of limiting punitive damages and class action limitations. Recently spoke in favor of "loser pays" regime for medical malpractice lawsuits, and calls medical malpractice reform the "second highest priority" of his health care reform policy. Rating: 0 of 3 points.

Torture of U.S. Prisoners: Unequivocally and absolutely opposed to torture of U.S. prisoners, including waterboarding, under any circumstances. No other candidate for President has actually been tortured personally. Rating: 4 of 4 points.

Overall Impression: I've agonized over McCain's candidacy for a while. McCain is a genuine American hero who has led a remarkable and quintessentially American life; it would be impossible for me to not be impressed with his story. He should be remembered as one of the significant public figures of the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, whether or not he ever attains the highest political office in the land. Despite a privileged and politically-connected background that he could have used to avoid dangerous assignments while in the Navy, he volunteered for combat duty. Even after he was captured, he refused to take the easy way out. He has also, in his political career, not taken the easy way out of problems; he faced up to his mistakes in the Keating affair and has repeatedly attempted to reconcile himself to the Christian right, with what still seems to be only lukewarm success.

In terms of policy, he is the most black-and-white candidate I have analyzed.* He is absolutely right about needing to keep a military commitment to Iraq, the way immigration policy should be reformed, free trade, and not torturing our prisoners. He is the only candidate who has demonstrated a reliable commitment to the idea of a balanced budget; whether such a goal is achievable or not, it seems he would work hard towards it. But he is also dead wrong on abortion, civil liberties and church-and-state issues. In short, within the scope of legitimate policymaking, he seems to have really good ideas; but he is in serious needs of education in Constitutional Law. Consequently, he scores either near the maximum or the minimum of nearly every policy category in my rubric.

Sadly, he is not free from the taint of corruption and he has, at best, a mixed reputation on Capitol Hill for being tempramental and difficult to work with despite his careful cultivation of an image of being a master of compromise and bipartisanship. He was voted the second-biggest "hothead" in the Senate (Kennedy took top honors). It is unclear at best how well he could leverage his considerable legislative experience to his advantage from the Oval Office, particularly given a personality that has consistently shown a disregard for norms of behavior, and seemingly uncontrollable flashes of arrogance and intemperance when challenged.

I want to like McCain because he is a hero, because he seems to have a strong moral sense, and he does seem to stand up for what he believes in (even though in many cases he is dead wrong). But he also seems to have a serious mean streak that he cannot always keep under control and sometimes does not seem to even try, and he has made some poor political judgments. It's difficult to say whether his arrogance, corruptibility, or past mistakes are any more pronounced than similar traits held by his adversaries for the Presidency (they all have some of those traits) but they are very much on exhibit in McCain's case.

This suggests that he would ultimately come to see Congress as an obstacle to his administration rather than as an equal partner in the enterprise of government -- which is precisely the same concern that I have about Rudy Giuliani, the candidate who I have scored closest to McCain in terms of ovarall policy approval, as well as Hillary Clinton. McCain's executive experience, though, consists of getting a naval aviation squadron squared away and a quarter century of directing legislative staff. Running the White House will be a management challenge unlike any he has taken on in his life and I question whether he has been well-prepared for this job.

Total score: 62 of 100.

* This ends my series of in-depth candidate analyses. Fred Thompson and John Edwards are both currently polling at or near 10%, the threshold I previously set for making this sort of analysis, and they are trending downward as the other candidates eclipse them. These anlayses also take quite a bit of time to research. If either of them perform well in Iowa and New Hampshire or otherwise surge in the polls, I will revisit that editorial decision.

December 27, 2007

Bob Dole Slams Mike Huckabee

In the Des Moines Register, no less. Ouch.

Huckabee should really remember Ronald Reagan’s Eleventh Commandment. It’s one thing to distance yourself from an unpopular President, but it’s a fine line between “distancing yourself” and “openly attacking.” (But then again, Rudy Giuliani and John McCain certainly can't throw that stone and I suspect if I looked hard enough I could find reasons why Mitt Romney and Fred Thompson can't, either. Just that kind of year, I guess.)

Anyway, I’m guessing that the Huckster’s short list for potential running mates is now one name shorter. Then again, if the Huckster has started to put together a short list, he’s getting ahead of himself by at least six weeks. No Republican should be putting together a short list – at least, not just yet.

No NFL Network

The NFL agreed today to allow the Patriots-Giants game to be broadcast on network TV instead of on its own NFL Network. (Ah, if only they’d done that for the Packers-Cowboys game.) The NFL Network is a bad idea because, as it is currently structured (with the NFL demanding high fees from cable companies to broadcast it), it takes football away from its fans, and results in a net decrease in revenues to the league. Sure, if the NFL can pull off getting its own network on virtually every basic cable package in the country it will work, but that means that it may have to accept less revenue from it than its models anticipated. Meanwhile, there’s a bunch of fifty- to sixty-year old guys with perpetually achy knees in Miami who will quietly be rooting for the Giants as they watch the game on regular network TV.

Bob Dole Slams Mike Huckabee

In the Des Moines Register, no less.  Ouch.  Huckabee should really remember Ronald Reagan’s Eleventh Commandment; it’s one thing to distance yourself from an unpopular President, but it’s a fine line between “distancing yourself” and “openly attacking.”  I’m guessing that the Huckster’s short list for potential running mates is now one name shorter.  Then again, if the Huckster has started to put together a short list, he’s getting ahead of himself by at least six weeks.  No Republican should be putting together a short list – at least, not just yet.

A Challenge: Define "A"


Assassination In Pakistan

I'm unnerved to learn that earlier this morning, Benazir Bhutto was assassinated near her home in Pakistan. It's seemed to me for a long time that Pakistan has a critical role to play in the ongoing geopolitical struggle which we have come to call the war on terror. Bhutto was not without her flaws -- she led a government that was corrupt and may well have been corrupt herself -- but at the same time she represented a truly moderating force in Muslim politics and social life. Her corruption was not significantly worse than that which is tolerated in many other places; good for the Pakistanis that they found it offensive.

This is a picture of the scene of the attack that ran on French media.
While I think it's within the scope of what to expect when reading about this kind of violence, it may nevertheless disturb some readers, so I've linked it instead of posting it.

Now, Pakistan is left without one of its significant leaders. Its people must choose between the secular military (almost) dictatorship of Pervez Musharraf, or a path leading towards fundamentalist theocracy. The third way of liberal democracy that Bhutto represented has lost its best leader in that nation.

I've come to realize that democracy is not always what's best, at least in the short run, for particular nations. But I'm still enough of an idealist to think that it's something that a nation should strive towards. As far as I know, there are no other political figures in Pakistan that stand clearly for the rule of law and obedience to the popular will. Musharraf pays lip service to those ideas to keep in the good graces of the West, but he is, functionally, the military dictator of a country which has aspirations towards being a Western-style democracy. Perhaps some figure will emerge to step into her shoes. Perhaps whoever sent in the suicide bomber to kill her will find that people will forget her flaws and that they have instead created a martyr for the cause of liberal democracy.

We can only hope. And here's hoping that anyone who does step into her shoes doesn't meet with her fate. Quite a lot depends on it.

December 26, 2007

Owning A Dog Is A Responsibility

This sort of thing drives me up a wall.

It's a shame and a waste. In nearby Barstow, a woman died because some assholes were irresponsible pet owners. The dogs that killed her did what they had been taught to do by the owners, or maybe the breeders who cater to such owners by raising the dogs in an abusive environment.

This pisses me off like a responsible gun owner is pissed off when a kid accidentally shoots a friend or sibling while playing with a loaded weapon. Obviously, the huge, overwhelming sadness comes from the meaningless loss of human life. The anger comes from knowing how easy it would have been to have prevented it had someone taken seriously the responsibility of what they were doing.

And just like it's wrong to blame the gun for the child's death, it's wrong to blame the dog for the woman's death. The blame rests, for both the gun and the dog deaths, with the owner. You're responsible to store your gun in a way that your kids won't find it and play with it. You're responsible to control your dog and train it to not bite humans. That's what it is to own a dog.

A pit bull can be a sweet, loving dog; a loyal companion and a pleasure to be with. I've known some very nice pit bulls who I would happily play with -- even play a little bit rough, like tug-of-war -- because I knew they were brought up right, in a loving home, and trained to respect the dominance of a human (as any domesticated dog must, whether it's a pit bull or a poodle). The biggest danger I was ever in around those dogs was of being licked.

But the breed is, no doubt, powerful and aggressive, and it has some of the strongest jaw strength out there. So that's why pit bulls are bred as guard dogs. Some people think they want the aggression and strength, and the easy way to get a dog to behave aggressively is to mistreat it. This destroys the dog, whose only fault is being the breed it was born as, and makes it a very dangerous creature to be around.

I don't know if it's just this little corner of the world where breeding pit bulls to be aggressive is popular. Somehow I doubt it. But it needs to stop. It gets people suggesting that the breed should be eradicated, that people should need special permits or have to pay special taxes to own a dog like this. And that's really unnecessary -- because any dog will behave aggressively if it's taught to do so or if it's taught to fear humans. And eventually, after the dog really does hurt someone, or someone else's dog or cat (I've heard rumors of a pack of wild pitties taking down a horse, but I must allow for the possibility that's an urban legend) then the dog will eventually be caught and literally destroyed, like some of the dogs in the linked story.

This is one of the reasons why we should care about animal abuse. Abused animals can be dangerous. And dogs get out. They find a way. (Mine did.) Animal abusers are unlikely to take the kind of care that responsible animal owners do to secure their pets and keep them where they belong. And those abused animals have been made to be dangerous to people.

The owners of these pit bulls -- I'm pretty sure the cops in Barstow will have a good idea of who they are -- need to be tracked down and charged with manslaughter, and then this woman's family needs to sue them into bankruptcy. I wouldn't mind if these people lost their rights to own animals ever again, as they've demonstrated they cannot be trusted with them. Sadly, the animals themselves will need to be destroyed; they probably cannot be rehabilitated to the point that they could be trusted again.

The Biggest Issue

More Tory Pornography

In a single column, right-wing columnist and author Dinesh D’Souza manages to smugly attack atheists and libertarians; apparently we’re all juvenile alcoholics who hypocritically sing carols (dovetailing into the utterly false “there are no atheists” meme). After the primaries are over, I’m supposed to be able to make common political cause with this guy and his sycophants?

To answer D’Souza’s question: how do atheists celebrate Christmas? We certainly can’t ignore it, so instead we bow to the overwhelming socio-economic pressure and go along with it. Sure, to us it’s just another day in December, but it’s an extra day off work, provided courtesy of the country’s dominant religion. Thanks, Christians! Now, we don’t decorate our houses or put up trees, but we do exchange gifts with their Christian friends and family members, send out appropriate (but non-theistic) cards, we go to parties where yes, maybe some of us sometimes have a little bit too much to drink. All of which D’Souza would have known, if he hadn’t been so taken with making fun of his frenemy Christopher Hitchens and calling libertarians names.

That’s going to help out politically. The Republicans need more guys like D’Souza running around. Because folks like him, and his fellow pornographer Ann Coulter, are really going to help “hold the coalition together.” Just like they did in 2006.

UPDATE: I briefly considered changing my online name to "Gay Libertarian Atheist Druggie" after reading the column. But I'm only about one and a half of those things; I don't consider myself 100% libertarian.

How Much News Do You Get?

To the left is an analysis of a thirty-minute broadcast cycle on CNN Headline News. As you can see, you get about six minutes of actual news. What you get instead would be most charitably described as "soft news" or "human interest" stuff -- and commercials, either for products or for the channel itself. The author of the analysis does not like sports, and I would agree that sports is not "news" even though I enjoy sports.

And ten minutes of commercials in a half-hour broadcast that costs next to nothing to air. The stories themselves are clips from regular CNN segments, condensed in the editing room with faster edits. CNN may spend a few million dollars a year on editors, crew, newsreaders, and sales for Headline News, but I'll bet that after about twenty days of broadcast a year, it's pure profit from there on out. Not that profit is a bad thing, but it makes you understand why the content is what it is -- it attracts eyeballs, which is what counts to the sales department. Hard news content is harder to sell than Kylie Minogue returning to her concert tour, shaking her ass for the camera.

I suppose I should bear in mind that journalists work hard on even those kinds of stories and they get their assignments from editors. I'm sure that they all want to do things like cover the Senate and foreign relations and do serious news. (Well, a lot of them do, anyway.) They hope to graduate from this stuff to "real" news. Few will, unfortunately. There is only so much political activity, only so many natural disasters, to cover. And there's a lot more air time than that to fill. So, here, go get some film of the water-skiing squirrel!

I didn't find a similar graph for Fox News' equivalent of CNN Headline News, which also purports to give the viewer a complete news cycle in thirty minutes. But I would expect that Fox would be at least as heavy on the sports and celebrity reporting as CNN. One thing to say in defense of both Fox and CNN, though, is that a broadcast schedule like this means that at least 80% of their broadcasts are free from any discernable political slant.

December 22, 2007

Pennies From The Internet

The first pennies were made from silver, not copper. Charlemange ordered that 240 pfenning would be made from a pound of pure silver. This is the root of the British pound sterling, although in the postwar era, the British switched to a decimal system in which 100 pence, not 240, made up a pound.

It costs 1.23 cents for the U.S. Mint to manufacture a penny.

Knowing that fact, there are a lot of people who have suggested we'd be better off without pennies. Not A Potted Plant readers were asked whether pennies should be abolished in the U.S. This week's poll results: 5 votes in favor of abolishing the penny, 5 votes against. 2 votes for "don't care." That's a pretty even split on the proposal.

I figured the way to answer that question would be to ask yourself "when you see a penny on the ground, do you stop and pick it up? Is it worth your time to do something like that?" Personally, I frequently do, but not always. When I'm paying cash for something (which isn't often, but happens often enough) I like to give exact change, and pennies are necessary to do that. But if the penny were abolished, that would probably be more of a convenience than not. In fact, I would kind of like it if currency was abolished altogether. It would certainly put a crimp in drug dealers' ability to exchange value for their product.

Candidate Analysis of Barack Obama

Biography

Barack Obama will be 47 years old on the next Inauguration Day.

Obama's father was a Kenyan exchange student at the University of Hawaii when he met Obama's mother, a student from Kansas. When Obama was two years old, his father separated from his mother; they later divorced as his father obtained a Ph.D. at Harvard and moved back to Kenya. He was raised by his mother, who later married an Indonesian man who worked as a diplomat for the U.S. State Department. Obama lived for five years in Jakarta, Indonesia until he was ten years old, and then moved back to Honolulu, where his family lived with his maternal grandparents, who had also moved to Honolulu. Obama's father was killed in an auto accident when Obama was twenty-one years old; Obama's mother died of ovarian cancer in 1995. He has one half-sister from his mother's second marriage. His memoir describes being barely aware of his multiracial heritage while growing up, but seeking to dodge those issues as an adolescent and young adult through drug and alcohol abuse.

He originally attended Occidental College in Los Angeles, and later transferred from Oxy to Columbia University, where he was awarded a Bachelor's Degree in political science with an emphasis in international relations. He worked for a year after getting his bachelor's degree as an editor of an international finance publication, and then worked for five years as a community organizer in Chicago's south side. He then went to Harvard Law School, where he was the first African-American editor-in-chief of the Harvard Law Review. While clerking at a large law firm in Chicago, he was mentored by a fellow Harvard Law graduate named Michelle Robinson; the two fell in love and were married.

Obama graduated from Harvard Law magna cum laude in 1991 and returned to Chicago. After graduating, he did civil rights and voting rights cases, and represented community activists while working for a fifteen-lawyer plaintiff's law firm specializing in employment discrimination, civil rights, and personal injury law cases. At the same time, he lectured in Constitutional Law at the University of Chicago Law School.

He is one of the few candidates who admits to smoking cigarettes. I suspect quite a few of them do, from the stress of the campaign trial, but you'll have to look long and hard for a photograph of them doing it. Well, he wouldn't be the first.

Political Experience

Obama won his first election, gaining a seat in the Illinois State Senate representing the south side neighborhood of Hyde Park in a special election in 1996; he won re-election to a full term in 1998. In 2000, he unsuccessfully challenged an incumbent U.S. Congressman for the seat representing that area, but again won re-election to the state legislature in 2002. During this time, he appears to have kept his employment at the law firm in Chicago active and continued to lecture in Constitutional Law at the University of Chicago.

He did not complete his term, however, earning the Democratic nomination for U.S. Senate in 2004 after coming from behind in a three-way primary race in which he was dogged by rumors of domestic abuse. His anticipated Republican opponent, financier John Ryan, was forced to withdraw from the race about three months before the election after salacious details from his divorce from television actress Jeri Ryan became public; Ryan was replaced by Alan Keyes, whom Obama defeated handily. A significant boost to his campaign came from his selection as the keynote speaker at the 2004 Democratic National Convention, which he handled with extraordinary skill and charisma. After winning election, he resigned his academic and other professional positions. He was mentored for his first year in the U.S. Senate by Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton.

On The Issues

Abortion: Pro-choice. Has earned some flak for voting "present" in the Illinois Legislature on certain voting rights cases, but this seems to have been by arrangement and does not credibly diminish his pro-choice credential. Rating: 1 of 1 points.

Amending the Constitution: Opposed to amendments permitting criminalization of flag-burning and to permit states to prohibit same-sex marriage. Favors including sexual orientation as protected class for federal anti-discrimination legislation, and broadening scope of Americans with Disabilities Act. Rating: 6 of 6 points.

Anti-Terrorism Policy: Demands greater accountability for foreign aid and anti-terrorism money going to Pakistan. Would require inspection of significantly greater cargo coming in from overseas. Voted to implement recommendations of 9/11 Committee. Would make keeping nuclear weapons out of the hands of Iran a high priority, but stops short of saying he would use military force to effect that policy. Rating: 3 of 7 points.

Balanced Budget: Imaginative government policies, particularly in the areas of education and health care, would be very expensive. Does suggests that taxes should be "as low as we can afford them to be" consistent with government spending, suggesting that he would ask for tax increases to pay for his ambitious programs -- but it does not seem that he has thought through just how much more spending he has suggested, and how to pay for it all. Does not seem to consider a balanced budget to be a high priority. Rating: 2 of 8 points.

Civil Liberties: Believes that human rights and national security are not mutually inconsistent but instead complement one another, and in cases where intelligence gathering potentially impacts individual rights, would seek a "balance." (For instance, he would significantly limit but not flatly prohibit scope of governmental use of data miners and other automated search mechanisms because of privacy concerns.) Voted against warrantless wiretap provisions of PATRIOT Act and in favor of habeas corpus rights for Guantanamo detainees. Personally opposed to same-sex marriage but advocates civil unions. Strong professional history of anti-discrimination activism. Would increase distribution and application of parental-control technology to combat distribution of objectionable content while permitting access for those opting to see it. Favors gun control, particularly for automatic and semi-automatic weapons and in urban areas; voted "no" on legislation providing immunity for gun manufacturers for certain kinds of tort claims. Willing to consider national smoking ban to promote national health. Favors repeal of "Don't Ask-Don't Tell" policy and service of open gays and lesbians in the military. Rating: 7 of 9 points.

Education: Favors paying "master teachers" extra. Consistent advocate of greater spending at elementary and high school levels; wants to expand charter schools. Opposed to school vouchers. Voted to increase amounts of Pell Grants for college and graduate education, and in 1998 campaigned on platform of providing free college education to any high school student with a grade point average of "B"or better. Rating: 2 of 5 points.

Environment: Wants 20% of U.S. fuel to come from renewable resources by 2020; wants increased use of nuclear power. Advocate increasing Federal mileage mandates to average of 40 mpg by 2020. Sponsored legislation advocating development of liquefied coal as an alternative fuel. Rating: 3 of 4 points.

Free Trade: Strongly opposed to CAFTA. Critical of farm subsidies for large corporations but not for "family farmers." Recent rhetoric ("People don't want a cheaper T-shirt if they're losing a job in the process") suggests a strong protectionist streak, and insists that Doha Round of GATT negotiations must produce "tangible benefits" for U.S. workers, but also claims loyalty to existing trade agreements. Would amend NAFTA to allow for labor agreements, and would advocate for greater human rights and opening of trade in China -- but shrinks from a trade war with the PRC. Rating: 1 of 5 points.

Generalized Foreign Policy: Intemperately suggested that he would order unilateral military action in Pakistan if necessary to advance important terrorism goals. Has served on Senate Foreign Relations Committee since 2004. Willing to have face-to-face meeting with rival national leaders like Presidents of Iran and Venezuela, without preconditions to meetings. Advocates international efforts to limit manufacture and distribution of military weapons. Would give President $50 billion a year to prop up failing states. Views China as a "competitor" but not an enemy. Would impose no-fly zone in Darfur. Views many problems in Sub-Saharan Africa as resulting from internal racial tensions and political corruption. Favors expanding the military's size. Rating: 2 of 6 points.

Health Care Reform: Would mandate employer health care coverage and has proposed a "national insurance pool" as alternative for those without employer coverage. Believe it is "immoral" to consider cost of health care when patient's life is at stake. Stops short of advocacy of "universal health care," but significantly expanded governmental coverage is obviously an indispensible part of his proposed reform package. Rating: 1 of 3 points.

Immigration Policy: Sponsored, with John McCain, legislation intended to streamline immigration and naturalization process. Advocates ocean-to-ocean fence along Mexican border. Rating: 4 of 5 points.

Iraq: Opposed to "open-ended" commitment in Iraq. Presently favors immediate troop drawdown but opposes complete withdrawal. Hopes to have all troops home by 2013, but unsure if that goal can be fulfilled. Does not believe the "surge" of troops has worked. Inconsistently wants more ground troops and fewer troop rotations; previously has said that complete withdrawal should have begun in May of 2007 and set to be completed by March of 2008. Rating: 0 of 6 points.

Korea: In 2004, bucked John Kerry's Presidential platform to favor maintaining 6-party talks with North Korea. Rating: 4 of 5 points.

Middle East Peace Process: Has vowed that the U.S. will never recognize Palestinian elected officials from Hamas until Hamas disavows advocacy of destruction of Israel. Finds fault with unflinching support of Israel. Rating: 2 of 4 points.

Science and Technology: Would increase grants for research into engineering, mathematics, and science education; suggests an additional $42 billion in university-level research grants with emphasis on "basic areas" of research. Believes deregulation was bad for airline industry. Favors upgrade of communication infrastructure, opposed to internet taxes and consolidation of service providers. Rating: 3 of 4 points.

Separation of Church and State: Has had moving personal religious experiences and thinks that asking individuals to set aside morals taught by their religion when contemplating issues of public concern is neither possible nor desirable. However, would ask that religious people translate their religions into statements of more universal application rather than framing their statements in religion-specific manners. Opposed bill permitted teacher-led prayer in schools in Illinois. Opposed to Rating: of 5 points.

Social Security Reform: Opposed to changing age or benefit amounts. Opposed to privatization, but would allow those earning over $97,500 to opt out. Would increase taxes on incomes over $97,500 per year (presumably, if they do not opt out of system). Rating: 0 of 5 points.

Taxes: Aside from social security tax increase, also advocates expanding Earned Income Tax Credit (which benefits low-income Americans). Did not vote on recent bill to prevent implementation of Alternative Minimum Tax for 2007 tax year (neither did Senators Clinton, McCain, Dodd, or Biden; the bill passed the Senate by a vote of 88-5). Believes that estate tax affects fewer than 2% of Americans, would make income tax "more progressive" and structure taxes to penalize companies that move jobs offshore. Opposed to internet taxation and communications taxes affecting internet access, including for broadband. Rating: 0 of 5 points.

Tort Reform: Voted in favor of Class Action Reform Act. When initially running for Senate, claimed there was a "crisis" in medical malpractice litigation caused by trial lawyers. Rating: 0 of 3 points.

Torture of U.S. Prisoners: "No torture, no exceptions, no loopholes." Rating: 4 of 4 points.

Overall Impression: Obama is easily the most charismatic candidate in the race, for either party (IMHO, only Rudy Giuliani even comes close to Obama's extraordinary magnetism). He projects a personality of youth, energy, and newness, which contrasts with his policy platform, which is pretty much the cookie-cutter mixture of policy positions designed to appeal to the Democratic party's coalition of interest groups. Obama also does not appear to have as many contradictions and policy reversals in his background; however, his resume is somewhat less extensive than that of nearly any of his rivals for the Oval Office, so he has had less time over his career to accumulate such positions. Obama tries to project an image on the campaign trail as being somewhat to the left of Clinton, but an analysis of his platform does not support this.

Although he has taken some lumps on his relative inexperience, particularly with foreign policy, it does not appear that an Obama White House would push for policies significantly different than that of one headed by Hillary Clinton. The "inexperienced" label also does not fit well upon close analysis; his experience on the Foreign Relations Committee does seem to have informed his analysis of both anti-terrorism and diplomatic policy, although I do not agree with all of the directions he thinks are good ideas, particularly with respect to a number of inconsistent positions on Iraq apparently crafted to curry short-term political favor, which seem to have nothing to do with the situation on the ground there.

Where Clinton offers technocratic expertise, Obama offers charisma and relative youth -- and his view of civil liberties is the healthiest, and most intellectually and morally sound, of any candidate in either party. If the next President must be a Democrat, I have a very mild preference for Clinton over Obama, but he offers some high points that have a strong allure.

Total score: 47 of 100.

December 21, 2007

Morning Mucilage

When I get up in the morning, I’m not at my best. I wander about like a zombie, slur my words, and generally my motor skills are not at 100%. Kind of like I’m drunk, only I’m not drunk, I’m just uncoordinated.

Combine this temporary setback in anti-struggling skills with the fact that cereal manufacturers like to use about two hundred and seventy-six ounces of glue to secure box tops which are made out of cardboard whose thickness could be measured in microns.

Now you know why I can never put the tab in the slot to secure the cereal box after I first open it.

December 20, 2007

Is Your Boss A Drunken Lemur?

Even if he is, you may not want to post a sarcastic Dilbert comic strip that accuses him of it. This guy's bosses got so mad at being impliedly called drunken lemurs that they reveiwed surveillance tapes to figure out who put up the strip on an office bulliten board. That's a fair amount of effort to determine who's guilty of a little sarcasm -- especially when it happened the day after the same drunken lemurs had announced that half the workforce was about to be laid off. But no, instead of writing it off as a sign of poor morale -- and gee, what could have caused poor morale at a workplace like this? -- management instead disputed the guy's application for unemployment insurance benefits! They lost, by the way; the author of the comic strip in question is no doubt correct to note that this is kind of a Phyrric victory for the terminated worker. Still, the whole thing smacks of a fair amount of malice on the part of the employer here. All the same, this is why I like employment law so much -- you see stuff like this all the time.

Wisconsin Has No More Pressing Problems Than This, Apparently

The nativity scene wars in Wisconsin are heating up. Prepare for the Battle of Racine. In a nutshell: Racine permits a Christian nativity scene on a public park in its downtown area. So atheists decided to erect a pyramid with various anti-religious quotes on it right next to the creche scene. At least these atheists didn't use the World Trade Center as imagery on it.

I have to take issue with a line in the reporting of the story:
There are, as any cursory drive around town will prove, scores of beautiful churches in Racine. The phone book lists more than 150. [¶] The seasonal symbol of their belief sitting in Monument Square for a week now -- the Nativity scene recalling the birth of Christ more than 2,000 years ago -- has been joined by an 8-ft. tall, white-painted plywood pyramid, the work of fewer than a dozen Racine atheists.
This implies that 150 churches built the nativity scene, and that there are fewer than a dozen atheists in the city. Think about it -- how many people built that nativity scene? Probably about a dozen. How many Christian churches contributed money to have the scene there? Likely not all 150 in the community.

Note, also, that some Christian denominations are squeamish about artistic representations of God and about the emphasis on Jesus' family, particularly Mary, as part of worship activities. So it's also not fair to say that all Christians necessarily like a nativity scene or that the display represents all 150 churches.

And not all atheists like the idea of a public display during the holiday season. I don't. If I'd lived in Racine and the guy had approached me with the pyramid idea, I'd have not contributed or helped put it up. My reasoning would have been "two wrongs don't make a right." Yes, that nativity scene belongs on a church's lawn, not the public park. But if the city of Racine should not be endorsing Christianity by allowing a nativity scene in a park, then it should also not be endorsing atheism. This is one of those times that atheism has to be treated as if it were a religion* and asking for further violations of the Constitution does not fix the first ones.

I could add that the article refers to the "birth of Christ" rather than the "birth of Jesus," but that's a quibble. I could add that the article refers to the atheist pyramid being made out of plywood, as if the nativity scene had been carved from rare mahogany and high-grade oak or something. But the real point is not that there is biased reporting.** The real point is that the Nativity Scene Wars are spreading throughout the Badger State. And Bucky and his buddies say, "You all really have better things to do this time of year than worry about pyramids and creches and menorahs and who knows what else."

Besides, the high holiday of the real state religion of Wisconsin are not yet upon us. That celebration will begin on either January 12 or January 13 and hopefully last until February 3.


* As a commenter to the linked article says, "Atheism is a religion in the same way that not collecting stamps is a hobby." I wish I'd thought of that.

** I'm well aware that this blog is biased, by the way. I make no bones about that and I don't think I ever have; when you come here, you get my take on things.

December 19, 2007

Shoe Shopping

Women, as a rule, seem to enjoy shopping for shoes. The Wife certainly seems to like that, and she has quite a few shoes. I dislike shopping for shoes. Truth is, I dislike the necessity for shoes at all. Shoes are expensive, uncomfortable, and they have disproportionate importance to an outfit. But, the fact that I dislike these truths does not make them any less true. And doing what I do for a living means having presentable shoes as part of professional dress.

Despite this, I've managed to avoid buying wingtips. Until now, I've always worn black loafers or tassled moccasins with my suits. Alas, that has come to an end. After The Wife announced that she thought wingtips were "sexy," I knew I had to get a pair to replace my worn-out loafers (which had been leaking in water from tears in the sole in our recent rains). Interestingly, when I went shopping for them, though, she spent all her time urging me to buy another pair of slip-on loafers identical to the pair I was replacing, except for the squared-off toe -- a look which I dislike in men's shoes.
So I got the wingtips and they're a little bit tough on my feet today, but after they break in it should be okay.
I think men should have one pair each of the following shoes in their wardrobe:

1. Good black shoes to wear with suits and other formal wear.
2. Presentable brown shoes, compatible with tan khaki pants, for outfits in the "casual Friday" stratum.
3. Athletic shoes for normal informal use.
Optional additions include, as appropriate to the man's professional and recreational activities:
4. Tuxedo shoes, better than the regular black shoes.
5. Hiking boots, preferably with Gore-tex to keep out water.
6. Specialized athletic shoes, like golf cleats or hightops for basketball.
7. Sandals.
But generally, men don't seem to have many shoes and that makes me happy. Too many shoes is too complex; too many choices for shoes would exhaust my puny male brain.

Iconography Issue

Let’s say I were to project into the future a quintipolar world – one in which there were five primary centers of military and economic power (what we today call “superpowers”). Those powers would be the United States of America, the European Union, China, Russia, and India.

In drawing an iconographic image of that world, I could represent the USA with an eagle. Russia is a bear, of course, and China is a dragon. It's an easy call to go along with this theme by representing India with an elephant. But what animal (either mythical or real) would I use to represent Europe?

A boring ring of twelve gold stars isn't the same kind of icon as the other four, which are animal figures. It's not nearly as interesting, and it breaks up the animal-icon theme.

My first thought is a lion. England’s traditional animal icon is King Richard’s gold lion. The Czech Republic is a white lion with two tails. Lions are associated with Sweden, Finland, Bulgaria, Denmark, and Norway, too. Problem is, there haven’t been lions in Europe for more than two thousand years since the Romans hunted European lions to extinction.
Eagles are popular, too, especially east of the Rhine and north of the Danube; you find eagles symbolizing or appearing on coats of arms for Germany, Poland, Czech, Austria, and Hungary. But I can't use an eagle, because I've already used it for the USA.

So now I’m guessing the right symbol could be a griffin – a mythical beast that is half lion, half eagle. Of course, that's too similar to St. Mark's lion, the symbol of Venice, so anyone who has a rivalry with Italy – and lots of Italians who might prefer, say, the Roman she-wolf – will also not like this.

Now, there’s a whole host of other national symbols – animal and otherwise – that compete with the various lions and eagles. There are bulls, roosters, horses, owls, and rams all over Europe. Other countries are a little bit more challenging. Ireland’s symbols are a cloverleaf and a harp. France is either the fleur-de-lis or MarianneMarianne may be the sexiest national symbol on the Continent, but she's not an animal and she certainly doesn't represent all of Europe. And because the theme is animals, Europa herself is not a good choice. Neither is Europa's lover Zeus, disguised as a white bull, since Zeus himself is not the symbol of Europe.

The real problem is that the EU is so modern, technocratic, new, and dull that it simply hasn't yet evolved its own set of symbols. So maybe the only really accurate symbol is that boring circle of stars.

So, is Europe a lion, a griffin, or what?

December 18, 2007

The Nativity Scene Can Stay, Of Course, While We Figure Out What To Do Next

A follow-up on the Green Bay, Wisconsin nativity scene story from Sunday -- last night, someone described as "a white male, 5-foot-10 to 6 feet tall, weighing between 150 and 170 pounds, and wearing a gray parka-type jacket and gray hat with earflaps" apparently vandalized the pagan symbol on the Christian-and-pagan nativity scene, leaving the Christian elements of the scene intact. In response, the Mayor of Green Bay has imposed a moratorium on any new religious symbols being added to the holiday display, leaving only the Christian symbols in place.

By the way, a word of praise to Green Bay's Finest is in order. The perp was a white male, of average height and average build, wearing... a parka! In Wisconsin, in the winter, at night, you say? Well, that should narrow down the list of suspects considerably. That's some nice detective work there, boys!

Hillary Not At Her Best

A question making the rounds on the internets: does this photograph make you more or less likely to vote for Hillary Clinton? The photographer captured her not looking anything close to her best; she looks older and her hair is not dealing with the weather very well. She's looked better, even recently.

Fact is, people wouldn't be asking this question of a male candidate. We like wrinkles and gray hair on our male politicians. Hillary Clinton, like any other politician, shouldn't have to look perfect at all times to earn either your respect or your vote.

I think she looks more or less like a lot of professional women in their late fifties or early sixties. Maybe I'm just used to seeing professional women; I'm a professional myself and I've never functioned in a professional world without interacting with an appreciable number of professional women who look more or less like that. Yes, the law is still a male-dominated profession, but I can't think of a time since I got my license that a woman in her early sixties serving as a lawyer (or a judge) was particularly remarkable. I look at that picture and I see a lawyer who, as opposing counsel, could probably make my life pretty difficult if she wanted to. Hillary Clinton is 60 years old; her adult daughter old enough to be having children herself if she wanted to be, so if she looks a little bit grandmotherly, that's why.

And there's nothing wrong with that. I will be that age myself one day. Hopefully, we all live at least long enough to have days when we look like that. Now, to be sure, politicians are in the business of projecting a particular public image. But part of the image they should project is one of experience, seriousness, and knowledge. Had she gotten a face lift, or been out in the weather in Iowa or New Hampshire with hair so elaborately coiffed that it looked perfect, or enough makeup on to conceal all the wrinkles, I might be more inclined to think she was presenting herself as something that she really isn't.

I also came across a meme last night that leaders of other nations, particularly Muslim countries, might not take her seriously as President because she is female. This is an implied argument that even if we Americans take her seriously, other nations might not, so we should pick a man. That's stupid. Besides, anyone remember Margaret Thatcher? Lady Thatcher is living proof you trifle with the female head of state of a powerful nation at your own risk. How about Indira Gandhi? Benazir Bhutto? Golda Mier? No one would suggest that any of these women were weak, wilting violets on the world stage. Thatcher was ready to nuke Argentina. Mier would have nuked Syria if she'd had nukes at all.

My concerns about Hillary Clinton as President have nothing to do with her having a few wrinkles around the mouth and eyes, and certainly nothing to do with the strange idea that because some unnnamed, unspecified foreigner doesn't think women should hold political power, that should influence America's collective decision about our next leader even a tiny bit. My concerns about a Hillary Clinton White House have to do with the kinds of policies she'd advocate and implement as President.