February 28, 2007

A Letter From Kabul

That is a picture of a refugee from Taliban warfare in Afghanistan. This is a letter from my friend who is on duty in Kabul. I normally would not include his name but he has offered this letter for publication in a variety of newspapers, so he has manifested a desire that the letter be circulated to the public.
Let’s Not Have Another Forgotten War.

I guess that it is more important to speculate as to whom the target might have been at the front gates of the Bagram Airport in Afghanistan versus what is really happening in this country. I am certainly happy that our Vice-President was not injured and of course it is always sad when so many are killed or injured.

The recent explosion on February 27 at the largest Afghanistan airport received an immense about of international press, due mostly because the Vice-President of the United States was in the vicinity. I am an Infantry Colonel serving in Afghanistan and I am disheartened to rarely hear in the news of the other plights befalling the peoples of Afghanistan. I understand why Iraq receives most of the news coverage. It has more political interest.

That fact of the matter is in Afghanistan the Taliban has the most presence of the two countries. If we keep saying that the good Muslims of the world are not our enemy, but the ‘militant’ Islamists are the true enemy, then who is more militant than the Taliban?

In Afghanistan the Coalition Forces are trying to rebuild a country that was totally devastated by years of invasions, wars, natural disasters and the Taliban rule. This country is land locked, has very little useful farm land and very limited natural resources. Almost everything used in this country must be imported.

Afghanistan, with its almost impassable mountains, was created many years ago to be a buffer state between Russia and the British ruled India. It was inhabited mostly by invaders who were crossing through it on their way to attack other countries. The peoples here are very tribal. Many of the daily activities look the same now as they did in the 14th Century. Afghans carry water from polluted rivers, ride horse drawn carts, and use crude tools with which to farm.

The children I see here are constantly covered in dirt. They cannot wash for weeks at a time. There is very little drinkable water, much less running water. When you look at the faces of teenagers you see the scares from bug bites and years of infected cuts. Added to that is the terrible cold wind at night and the brutal heat during the day. The unsanitary conditions here make the children look much older then actually they are. Their physical size is also deceiving. Because of the lack of good nutrition they are very much underdeveloped. And then there are the thousands of Russian landmines. They are everywhere. You see many Afghans who are mputees; victims of these landmines. Everyday we hear about explosions from either suicide bombers or landmines.

This is a country that has an average lifespan of only 43 years. That means that there are very few grandparents here. Can you imagine that when you graduated from college you parents would have already passed away? That is the situation here.

And now the Taliban is coming back and attempting to disrupt the reconstruction efforts provided by the international community. The Taliban knows, as did the Viet Cong, that you cannot defeat the American military on the battlefield. If you want the Americans to leave you must defeat them in the court of public opinion. The Taliban is attempting to just that by using suicide bombers. It is important to them to get as much publicity as possible.

For the uninformed, when violence occurs against the Coalition, the Taliban trumps it as a sign of weakness. When, in truth, the fact that a suicide bomber can come so close is actually a sign of compassion on the part of Coalition Forces. The Taliban uses all sorts of ruses to get close. They fake accidents, injuries, use children, and even animals. They play on the Western mentality towards helping their fellow man.

So violence gets the better press. A picture of a bunch of Afghanistan children reading for the first time won’t be on the front page of a newspaper. The press does not generally cover the literacy program conducted by the Coalition, the thousands of schools that have been built (although the Taliban has damaged over 400 of them already), the education of females and the generally improved health environment within this country.

If the security in Afghanistan was better then the reconstruction would go faster and the people would have a higher standard of living. And maybe the child in the refugee camp might actually live long enough to be able to learn to read or even be a grandparent.

This is my third war. Soldiers do not do this for the press coverage; we do it for that child. The public can forget about the war here, but do not forget the Afghan children.

Robert L. Klein
Colonel, Infantry
Kabul, Afghanistan
Feb 28, 2007

Come home soon, Klein.

February 27, 2007


Just saw this week's Battlestar Galactica.

Chief Tyrol will henceforce be called "Norma Rae."

That is all.

Another Leak

This time, the victim is Mitt Romney, and the leaked internal memo took the form of a 77-page powerpoint presentation concerning the former Massachusetts Governor's vulnerabilities. Most prominent among them is his record of flip-flopping on social issues, which have already earned him the distrust, if not antipathy, of some of the social conservatives whose support is thought of as critical to winning the nomination. Most amusing are the concerns that Romney's hair is too perfect.

Once again, no thoughtful person considering the advantages and disadvantages of a Romney candidacy would not have figured all of these things out on their own. I predict minimal harm to Romney's candidacy, although I think there's a fork in him as it is; some people just don't want to see it for what it is.

I notice that John McCain has not been the victim of such leaks yet. Hmm.

Left Behind

I've been talking about Rudy Giuliani's pitch to conservatives for some time now. The conundrum is how to reconcile a pro-choice, pro-gay-rights, pro-gun-control municipal leader to a religious right that has formed the backbone of the footsoldiers and mid- to low-level donors for the GOP for years.

As I've been noting, there are a significant number of values voters, religious conservatives, and the like who are reconciling themselves to Giuliani. But, as the Gray Lady reported recently, there are also those who are dissatisfied with their existing choices. The elite and influential among them gathered in Florida this weekend, including the likes of Tim LaHaye, Grover Norquist, James Dobson, Gary Bauer, Jerry Falwell, Wayne LaPierre, and Paul Weyrich.

There, they listened to speeches from the likes of Duncan Hunter, Sam Brownback, Mike Huckabee, and Rick Santorum. And the verdict of these luminaries of the "movement"?

Apparently, they were unimpressed with the lot. They tried to draft Mark Sanford, the Governor of South Carolina, who no one has heard of other than these guys. Governor Sanford replied not just "no" but "hell, no, and don't ask again!"

So this all leaves the right wing no better off this week than it was before all of this -- with no identifiable standard bearer, and a choice of either accepting that they won't be calling all the shots next time around (and will have to be good members of the coalition as they've urged other GOP factions to be in the past in the name of party unity) or opting out altogether. Sometimes there just aren't any good choices, fellas, and you have to make the best of a series of less-than-perfect options.

Suck it up. Libertarian-slanted Republicans like me have been doing that for years.

Vegas Wedding

Today's comic suggests that there's something tawdry and shotgunnish about a Vegas wedding, albeit also romantic in its desparation. I'm here to tell you it isn't so. (At least, not necessarily.)

The Wife and I got married in Vegas and I still think it was one of the best decisions we've made. We were married at the Luxor, and everything about our experience was good. So based on that, I'll give you ten good reasons to do what The Wife and I did.

1. Nice Chapel. The chapel was attractive, and elevated away from the noisy casino floor. Nothing tacky about it; there were no Elvises (Elvii?) or showgirls in sight; no tacky cupids or gaudy hearts anywhere.

2. Good Minister. The hotel provided a minister, who wisely ignored our request for a secular ceremony and made all our our families comfortable and at ease. He presided over a very nice, dignified, and brief ceremony, and gracefully guided nervous newlyweds through the proceedings.

3. Photographer Included. Indeed, the photographer was professional, quick about his business, and produced some really good-looking pictures.

4. Special Treatment for Guests. There was a special escalator from the chapel down to the reception area so again, our guests didn't have to wade through the casino floor to get from point A to point B.

5. One-Stop Shopping for Catering. The catering department took care of everything but the D.J., and they helped me find a good one in spite of that. What they did do was arrange for decorations, the cake, and the food. The prices for the meals for our guests were quite reasonable (but we're still grateful for the help, Mom and Dad!) and the food was of good quality, considering what most banquet halls put out. They were also accomodating with my desire to have special wine served (I bought it specially from my favorite winery) and pleasant to work with.

6. Accomodating to Family Requests. When my family put together some special decorations for the reception, they were quite happy to give them access to help set up for the event.

7. Free Jacuzzi Suite. In a corner of the pyramid to boot. You can't beat that with a stick.

8. Everyone Likes Vegas. Almost no one invited to the wedding declined the invitation, and almost no one who accepted the invitation flaked. There is always something for everyone to do in Las Vegas. Some people gambled, some people hung out at the pool, some people went to shows, some people played golf, some people drank too much, some people got to spend some quality time at the spa, some people just sat back and enjoyed the spectacle that is Las Vegas. Some people, like us, spent all their time doing stuff for the wedding, too. But no one was bored. They all could get flights in and out of Las Vegas easily; they could all find hotel rooms within their budgets. And no one had to crash in our house.

9. Affordable. The whole package -- wedding ceremony, honorarium for the minister, fee for the D.J., reception hall rental, and catering -- cost somewhere between one-half to one-third of what we would have paid for the same thing would have cost us in the Los Angeles area. And we didn't have to book the reception hall a year and a half in advance -- about three months' notice was quite sufficient for them. Of course, if you want to spend more money on your wedding, there's places in Vegas that will help you do that, too.

10. Low Stress. There was not a great deal of stress in putting it all together; yes, there was some planning and some decisions to be made, but nothing particularly onerous. Much less complicated than putting a trial presentation together, that's for sure. Our wedding, at least, had little tackiness and it was neither tawdry nor desparate. Hopefully it was romantic (The Wife and I were both pretty happy) and enjoyable for everyone.

So that's my advice to young couples looking to get hitched, despite the implied joke of the comic strip today. If E-L-O-P-E can't be in your vocabulary for family-political reasons, the next-best word is V-E-G-A-S. Vegas rocks, especially for weddings.

Spirit In The Sky

Driving back from lunch today, I noticed that a B-2 bomber was doing test flights. It's a damned impressive thing to see one of these things in the sky.

I first noticed the plane when it took off, since the office is literally in the flightpath for the aircraft assembly plant. It banked, revealing itself as a huge black chevron, surreal and intimidating, dominating the entire sky over my head. Then it levelled to the ground, and became nearly invisible to the human eye -- if you already know where it is, and it's in front of a cloud, you can see what looks like a black smudge that might be a bird or something. Against a clear blue sky, there's less of that to see. What's even more eerie is that it's silent. No sounds of jetwash or anything. When the pilot turned on his landing lights, it was easier to track, but the plane was in flight, it was close to impossible to track.

Maybe it's not quite the thing for quelling a religiously-motivated urban insurgency in Baghdad. But it certainly is the thing for taking out an enemy's infrastructure. And I'm really glad we have it instead of someone else.

Modern Phobias

There are long names for various kinds of unusually intense and specific fears or aversions to things and it’s an exercise in (generally) one’s subliminal knowledge of Greek to test what these things are. For instance, common sorts of fears – claustrophobia, acrophobia, and agoraphobia are well-known and derived from the Greek words for “room,” “height,” and “market.” Or triskaidekaphobia from the Greek word for the number 13, and its close cousin, paraskavedekatriaphobia, which is fear of Friday the 13th. More challenging are words like erythrophobia (a fear of red lights), kakorrhaphiophobia (a fear of being defeated), and hellenologophobia (a fear of complex words derived from Greek, like the word “hellenologophobia”).

But not all of these abnormal fears have names yet and the modern world has given people so many other things to be irrationally afraid of that language has not caught up. For instance, a theophobe is afraid of gods or religion, but what about someone who is irrationally afraid of atheists? Atheophobia would be a fear that there is no god, which is a different fear than the state of being fearful of people whose world view is that there is no god; in other words, even if god exists, one might still be irrationally afraid of those who deny that god’s existence, and I can’t figure out what word one would attach to it.

Xenophobia is a fear of foreigners, but modern political irrationalities are a bit more discriminating than against foreigners generally. People commonly disparaged as xenophobes typically exclude from their aversion sub-fears like canadiphobia, an irrational fear of Canada or Canadians, and probably also excludes or at least downplays europhobia for the same reason. The fear is generally not of affluent foreigners, those who speak English well, or those who have fair skin; the general phobia seems directed at Spanish-speaking immigrants from Mexico and points south. But a fear of immigrants from south of the border presents another lexicological problem: mexophobia refers to Mexicans only, but those suffering from this condition also would likely suffer from salvadoraphobia and honduraphobia and other related conditions as well as a result of being unable to mentally distinguish between Mexico and other Central and South American nations. So what about latinoamericophobia (fear of people from Latin America) or hispanololaphobia (fear of people who speak Spanish)? Or perhaps more accurately, peniahispanololaphobia (fear of poor people who speak Spanish)?

Cyberphobia describes be a fear of computers in a general sense, but what name would be given to the more specific kind of abnormal fear that an inexperienced computer user experiences when first using a mouse or a particular operating system? What word would one use to describe an abnormal fear of having one’s nose hairs visibly protrude from one’s nostrils during a critical meeting? What about an irrational fear that homosexuals will convert one’s children to homosexuality? A fear of losing one’s passport while traveling abroad (I suffer from this) or of being made the victim of identity theft? What is a fear that one’s alarm clock will fail in the middle of the night, or a fear that the cheese will have grown moldy or the milk soured before it can be used?

Now, it’s not like there aren’t examples of very specific, contemporary kinds of fears; opiophobia is the fear a doctor experiences when prescribing narcotics or other painkilling drugs that the patient will become addicted and it will be the doctor’s fault. But as dynamic and interesting as the English language is, it doesn’t seem to have caught up with these vexing issues. Apparently, I'm suffering from a touch of alogophobia here myself.

February 26, 2007

Fantasy Baseball

I'm so busy these days I think I won't have time for fantasy baseball this year. Too bad, it's fun, but my puny human brain can only handle so much.

A Signal?

I don't think so -- if it had been, Cheney would have been in more danger. But maybe it's a sign that the surge isn't working and the wheels are starting to come off. It's not good, that's for sure. Nineteen people died and eleven more were wounded, after all. Not all of them get to be Vice-President, but they all have families and people who love them. And they're all in danger of once again living under Taliban rule.

February 25, 2007

Wages of Writing

I've mused in the past about being a professional writer; the idea seems very attractive but I've no illusions it would be anything but hard work producing product and then peddling it. So it's interesting to see the finances of one writer from the inside. It seems that if you produce something of decent quality and keep at it for a long time, you can make a decent living even if you're not Michael Chricton or J.K. Rowling.

Me, I don't think I can afford to quit my day job.

February 23, 2007

How To Light £18,000 On Fire

Is it a relief to see that fuzzy thinking and antiscience are not confined to the United States? No. No, it turns out to be only moderately less infuriating because my tax dollars were not wasted on this boondoggle. (They couldn't even get "real" psychics to participate, if you notice in paragraphs 6 and 7 of the BBC report.) But our friends in the UK ought to be really pissed despite the relatively low amounts of money involved. (£18,000 is $(US) 35,324.94 using today's currency rates.) As for me? I get to use two subject tags for this post that I never thought I'd have a chance to put together.

Urgent News Flash!

Anna Nicole Smith is still dead. Watch elsewhere for further developments.

Vilsack Bites The Dust

The first dropout of the Presidential race has happened already. Tom Vilsack, the former Governor of Iowa, is dropping out of the race for the Democratic nomination for President.

Official duration of candidacy: November 30, 2006 - February 23, 2007 (2 months, 25 days).

Total funds raised: Unknown (no disclosures available on FEC website). But it can't have been much.

February 22, 2007

Internet Ads, Political Blogs, and the People Who Read Them

In an attempt to gather information about politics, I followed a link to an article on www.newsmax.com. I know that Newsmax is favored by some conservative readers for its red-meat-rich, right-wing slant on things. The article proved less informative than I had hoped, but I was really taken aback by the many colorful and flashing advertisements splashed all over the screen.

Now, normally, you can tell something about a website, television program, or magazine by looking at its advertisements. Usually, the content and the advertisements have some common theme that binds them together. Here were the ads that I saw on Newsmax:
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To be fair, I then decided to take a look at a left-wing site to see what kind of ads are offered there. Here’s what I found at www.DailyKos.com:

[Next to cartoon drawing of eight women talking to each other, some holding babies or playing with children] Mothertalkers: Visit a different kind of mom’s club – passion for politics – hope for social justice – disdain the mommy wars

HBO DOCUMENTARY FILMS PRESENTS “GHOSTS OF ABU GHRAIB” A film by Rory Kennedy "THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS A LITTLE BIT OF TORTURE" - Alfred McCoy, Author A Question of Torture. Ghosts of Abu Ghraib. Thursday, February 22. 9:30 p.m. ET/PT. Only on HBO. [Includes sepia-toned photograph of dreary hallway]

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The REAL State of the Union Address. Ever wonder what would happen if Bush wrote his own State of the Union address? WE HAVE THE VIDEO! "Absolutely wonderful!" --Helen Thomas [Includes picture of President Bush with oversized cartoon cowboy hat and thought balloon reading “If only I could write my own “State of Union Address…”]


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The Stump of Life. A personal blog wherein the truth is stated in the utmost terms.

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DailyKos Store. Shirts. Stickers. Bags. Etc….

Both sites have similar amounts of advertising; DailyKos has one more, but it is advertising itself, which is not quite the same thing. Both ads include demonization of the other side of the political spectrum (the DailyKos ads a little more so, I think) and both offer mate-finding services. The advertisements on DailyKos are longer in text and are more explicitly political in nature, mainly playing on liberal outrage that conservatives have been running the government for the past six years. The Newsmax advertisements are pretty much apolitical, except for the reference to the liberal media being somehow to blame for the readers’ lack of success with women, and focus mainly on money and physical fitness (which is a proxy for being sexually attractive to women).

Conclusion: Newsmax advertisers sell with greed and lust; DailyKos advertisers sell with flattery and outrage. Newsmax advertisers think that Newsmax readers are a bunch of greedy, overweight, paranoid, socially inept men. DailyKos advertisers think that DailyKos readers are a bunch of angry, self-righteous, and intellectually arrogant women with poor organizational skills, some of whom have trouble finding mates. Note that this is not necessary what the readers of these two sites really are, but it is an indication of what the people with advertising dollars think they are.

A Handsome Magnet

In a few months, a young man is going off to war. As a teenager, he got into the sorts of trouble that middle- and upper-class boys get in to, but he seems to have overcame his earlier troubles Pperhaps with some help from his family, he earned a spot in an military academy, from which he has recently graduated. All around, he seems like a pretty good guy. He's managed to become a junior officer in the military and has earned the respect of his superiors, if not necessary the men under his command yet -- they will likely wait and see how he does in the field before they form an opinion about him. Chances are, he'll do fine.

This is not an unusual story at all. But this young man is named Henry Charles Albert David Mountbatten-Windsor, and he is third in line to the throne of Great Britain. As a result, Prince Harry gets a good deal more publicity than the average junior officer or footsoldier and has lived nearly his entire life in the public eye. In either May or June of this year, he will be given command of a set of light reconnisance vehicles, what the U.S. military would call a Second Lieutenant in command of a cavalry unit. He will be stationed within the British zone of control, the southern provinces of Iraq, likely serving in and around the city of Basra.

Mostly but perhaps not entirely coincidentally, Prime Minister Blair is expected to soon announce a withdrawal timetable for the bulk of British troops in Iraq. Prince Harry will still rotate into service as the British draw down their presence, and I think that most Britons, including the Royals themselves, would agree that decisions about the deployment of the military should be made without regard to whether a member of the Royal family is slated to serve.

Unfortunately for him, Harry Windsor is a prominent and very publicly-visible symbol of his country, and that makes him a target. The British military will likely try to avoid putting him in a position where he might be, say, taken hostage. So that means he will get special treatment and probably kept out of harm's way to a greater degree than he would have been had he come from a less elite family back home. That's likely the last thing he wants and if so, that would be a sign of his good character. A soldier's job is to go where the bullets are, and while no one sane relishes the idea of being in combat, I've little doubt that if Sandhurst Academy made him into a real soldier, Prince Harry would want an opportunity to prove himself as well as to be treated just like any other grunt even though he is an officer and a Royal.

Can he really be like any other grunt, though? Of course not. All of the UK will feel like they are going to war along with him -- the uncertainty and fear, the pain of separation from his family and friends, the camraderie of his troops and fellow officers, and the relief at staying alive in a war zone. America felt similar things about Pat Tillman, the NFL player who became a Green Beret and was killed in Afghanistan. (Where there is still a pretty nasty war going on, it's surprisingly easy to forget.) One wonders how this will affect the already war-weary British population.

So good luck to you, Lieutenant Windsor, as we all would wish good luck to any other young man or woman headed off to war. In your case, though, the whole world is watching you and that's got to be some kind of pressure that hopefully you've learned to handle with some measure of grace. Serve your Queen and country well; the fact that the Queen in question is your own grandmother really isn't what it's all about.

February 21, 2007

National Primary

Thanks to Ovaloffice2008.com, it's very clear that by February 5, 2008, the Presidential primaries will be effectively over. On that day, it's very likely that Alabama (23), Arkansas (32), Arizona (16), California (1), Florida (4), Illinois (5), Missouri (18), North Carolina (10), New Jersey (11), New York (3), Texas (2), and Utah (34) will have primaries for both parties. Also, Republicans will also have primaries in North Dakota (48) and Oklahoma (28), and Democrats will have primaries in New Mexico (36) and Delaware (45).

The numbers are the ranks of population for each state. Thus, the first, second, third, fourth, and fifth most populous states in the nation will all have their primaries on the same day. The total number of people voting on February 5, 2008 will represent more than one-half of all Americans, and by extension, more than one-half of all the delegates needed for the successful candidates to earn their respective parties' nominations.

Also of interest is the fact that Iowa, jealous of its position as the first Presidential nomination contest of any consequence, is considering moving its caucuses back two or three weeks, which would mean that the first for-the-marbles contest of the 2008 election will take place in 2007, making the front-loading of the election season even greater and even sillier.

The effective national primary on February 5, 2008 will so powerfully dwarf the handful of delegates available in the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire and South Carolina primaries that they will lack much importance and the punditocracy will be unable to help getting around that. No disrespect to the good people of those states, but the new Super Tuesday is about the only contest that's going to really matter. This has made the primary season even more weighted to favor candidates with high name recognition, low negatives with party base voters, and the ability to raise big money, as if it weren't that way already.

Yet another reason why it's going to be Clinton versus Giuliani. Let the race to become their running mates begin!

Minority-Group Presidents

An interesting survey found via Instapundit: Given a choice between Presidential candidates from the following set of minority groups, which do you think fared best, and which fared worse: Catholics,* Mormons, atheists, people over the age of 72,† Latinos, Blacks, women,‡ or thrice-married people.

The result? At least according to this poll, Americans are most willing to accept a Catholic President, and least willing to accept an atheist. From that, it seems safe to conclude that a candidate's religious identity is of greater importance to the poll respondents than the candidate's race, gender, or personal history.

Somehow, the selection of seven ought of the eight polling criteria does not seem arbitrary. But is there an atheist running for President? If so, he (or she) is well-closeted. (I thought it might be Dennis Kucinich, but no, turns out that he identifies as a Catholic.) But, this supports last year's suggestion that atheists are the least-liked minority group in the U.S. these days. We're not bad people, really! We're just not willing to accept faith in God as a proxy for being morally good -- and for that matter, neither should religious people, but I digress.

The media has been focusing a lot on one candidate's religious identity recently. But while that particular identity is an issue for a lot of people, those people are hardly a majority -- and even they apparently consider it better to be in what they think of as a bizarre not-really-Christian cult than to have no religious identity at all. I'm reminded of that scene in Contact in which Jodie Foster is testifying before Congress, trying to become the person who gets to travel to meet the aliens whose message she was the first to discover, after being forced to reluctantly admit that she is an atheist. Congress decides to give that honor to the slimy, publicity-stealing media-whore instead because he sucks up to the public about believing in God and implying that he was willing to proselytize to aliens of awe-inspiring technological superiority to humanity (although we the audience get the idea that his profession of faith was quite insincere to boot).

Hypothesis: If you say you have faith, that's what seems to count to the American public as a whole. It seems to matter little whether your faith is exactly like the audience's. You can be Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, or Mormon. But you've got to be something, apparently; you can't opt out.

The test of this hypothesis would have been if Muslims had been included in the survey.

* Catholics are actually the plurality religious identity within the United States, but there are collectively more Protestants than Catholics. They're just split up amongst a variety of different sects.

† This "group" is not a minority so much as a demographic, drawn to address a potential problem with the candidacy and theoretical service of a specific Presidential candidate. As it turns out, the polling data reveals that this is a bigger problem for voters than a lot of media coverage would seem to indicate.

‡ Women are actually a slim majority of the American population, but they remain a distinct minority within the ranks of holders of substantial amounts of political power. This post is not intended to muse about the reasons why this is the case or to offer a normative evaluations of that state of affairs. Maybe another day.

February 20, 2007

A Proposal For Victory: The Giuliani Doctrine

And it was promising to get so interesting. But when RedState starts turning on you, that's a sign that maybe the steak has been cooked all the way through. Not keeping the crowds at home happy is a big problem for any politician. And that's not a problem that only Mitt Romney has. Social conservatives are reconciling themselves to Rudy Giuliani early -- and firmly.

In the meantime, the Democrats seem to have winnowed out everyone but Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama. Enough Democrats are still excited by Obama to make this race difficult to call (the election is more than eighteen months away, after all!) but John Edwards is falling by the wayside and no one else seems able to draw any air in a room with Clinton or Obama in it. Right now, I'd give the edge to Clinton; she seems to have more money, more machinery, and enough poise to be confident in her own record. We'll know for sure by April 1, when the first round of fund-raising reports must be filed with the FEC.

But right now it's looking a lot like Giuliani versus Clinton, and it's looking like a one-issue election.

That issue, of course, is the war. Thanks to the gross mismanagement of the war by a White House that seemed oblivious to the fact that there are intractable problems in Iraq until four months ago, the war is going to be a huge obstacle for whoever gets the GOP nomination (read: Giuliani). The Democrats' line (read: Clinton's): "There is no real good solution, so how many of our kids have to die before we accept the inevitable and bail out?"*

The present White House can cry about this sort of talk "emboldening our enemies" and being "defeatism" or "not supporting the troops." But that theme is resonating with the voters and so as a practical matter, the GOP nominee needs to figure out what else we might do aside from sending all the soldiers to the rooftops to wait for the helicopters. In other words, Giuliani needs a better comeback to that proposal than "Hey, quit demoralizing the troops!"

The answer, I think, is for the nominee to propose setting up permanent military bases in Iraq. Our strategy of invasion and setting up a friendly client democracy there would only ever have worked with our military support. Our only successful model for state-building, the Marshall Plan, required substantial U.S. military investment in the formerly hostile nations of Germany and Japan. And those nations, even today, depend on us for military protection (although much less so than even ten years ago).

Ah, but the Marshall Plan only worked because we also had a cold war going on with the Soviets, you say. Well, as it turns out, there is another mysterious, ideological, and dangerous enemy rising -- and right across the border from Iraq, as it turns out, making those permanent bases decidedly convenient and strategically useful. Since invading Iran or even any substantially aggressive military action against it are not practical possibilities for us (sure, let's polarize the Muslim world against us even more than it already is), a strategy of containment and encouraging internal liberalization may well prove better-suited to our long-term geopolitical needs.

And, it's not like Iran is exactly popular with its neighbors. Iran is ruled by a group of people who are considered ethnically different from the elites of every other Muslim nation in central and western Asia. It's well-known that Persians sneer at Arabs. Most of the Arabic nations in the area are Sunni; Iran is Shi'ite. I've long suspected that only the presence of common enemies (e.g., Israelis, Americans) prevents the ethnic and sectarian differences between Iran and its Arab neighbors from boiling over into war. I further suspect that I am far from alone in that suspicion.

A plan of permanent military engagement with Iraq, perhaps withdrawing from the urban chaos that is Baghdad but solidifying our military hold over the countryside and the oil-producing regions of the east and north of the country (as well as the vital port at UmmQasr) would be a prelude to a sort of smaller-scale cold war with Iran -- not a prospect to be met with joy but a geopolitical model from which success has sprung in the past.

So here's a proposal for the Giuliani Doctrine: The Iraqis need to start being responsible for their own internal police matters like quelling riots and preventing car bombs from exploding. That means that the bulk of our troops get out of the Baghdad area. But we will provide substantial strategic military assistance to the fledgling democracy against foreign threats like incursions from Iran, a soft border with Syria, and minimizing smuggling of contraband into Turkey. To do this, we move our troops to rural areas near the borders, oilfields, and strategic chokepoints. Any attempt by foreign powers to detract from the sovereignty of Iraq or any other nation with trade relations to the West will be met with stern reprisals backed up by overwhelming force. In the meantime, we encourage the development of liberal, secular democracy in Iraq and elsewhere through the availability of consumer goods and the proliferation of information via the Internet, radio, and other dimensions of a generally free press. This may not happen very quickly, I realize; it took more than a generation in Eastern Europe. But it did happen.

The Republican candidate (read: Giuliani) who can articulate a plan for success not only in Iraq but also the entire Gulf theater may well get a leg up on the Democratic candidate calling for us to cut our losses (read: Clinton) -- while still demonstrating that the future is not going to look like the present. The American people will accept sacrifices and losses if they believe it is for a good reason. Right now, there is no reason, there is no plan, there is no apparent route to (or even definition of) victory, and as a result there is a sense of despair. This plays into the hands of the party out of power, as was forcefully demonstrated in November. Senator Clinton's likely platform on this issue will not be a plan for winning in any sense of the word; it is a plan for mitigating the damage of another military loss.

Victory is good policy and it's good politics. A vision of getting our troops out of harm's way and into positions where they're going to do us some good could be sold with no small amount of domestic political success and who knows? It might actually be good for us on the international front, too.

* I assume here that the President's idea of a "surge" of 20,000 troops into the Baghdad area will not yield significant progress towards pacifying Iraq. There's no way to know for sure whether this strategy of "the same stuff we've been doing for the past year, only more of it" will produce any different result other than the steady stream of violence and death bringing home too many soldiers in caskets; we can only try it and see if it works. But as far as I can tell, there's no good reason to believe that it will. We've had this many troops in country very recently, and got no good results from it. But, of course, we can hope that there will be some different kinds of tactical operations going on, particularly with new commanders on the scene. Nothing would please me, and the rest of the country, more than seeing some calm descend on Baghdad. So while I really do hope the plan works, I'm still very doubtful about that proposition.

February 19, 2007


It was a day of extreme weather today in the desert. It's rare that the weather is so interesting here. Eight months out of the year, it's warm and dry in the morning, then hot and windy in the afternoon, and then warm and really windy in the evening. But not today.

In the morning, it was cold and cloudy. When the clouds burned off, they revealed snow on the mountains, down to about 4,000 feet -- some in the hills just above the floor of the Antelope Valley; even the tops of Tenhi Mountain and Mount Emma, which flank the freeway going to Los Angeles, were dusted. No snow reached down to the populated areas, but there was what seemed like an awful lot of rain and nearly every street was flooded out in the morning.

The temperature rose to the mid-fifties in the afternoon and my jacket felt uncomfortably warm when we came back from lunch. All the snow on the lower levels of the mountains was gone; the snowline had retreated back to something like 6,000 feet. Then the wind blew again. Now, it's down to 38 degrees again and will probably freeze overnight.

Celebrating George

The Wife and I watched a series of programs over the weekend about the Presidents on the History Channel. It went from Washington to FDR. Then today, I see a poll on CNN asking for the best President in history. These are the results:

Abraham Lincoln: 18%
Ronald Reagan: 16%
John Kennedy: 14%
Bill Clinton: 13%
Franklin Roosevelt: 9%
George Washington: 7%
Harry Truman: 3%
George W. Bush: 2%
Theodore Roosevelt: 2%
Dwight Eisenhower: 2%
Thomas Jefferson: 2%
Jimmy Carter: 2%
Gerald Ford: 1%
George Bush, Sr.: 1%

George W. Bush outpolls Thomas Jefferson and Teddy Roosevelt? As apt a demonstration as I can think of as proof that if George W. Bush slit some guy's throat on live television in the Rose Garden, he would still have uncritical supporters who would insist that he's the best leader humanity has known since Jesus himself. Pass the Kool-Aid!

But seriously, I’m wary of ranking post-war Presidents along with the more historical figures, because we lack sufficient historical perspective to really evaluate them. Still, I’m a fan of Reagan, for the same reason I’m a fan of James K. Polk and William Howard Taft – all approached their tasks with specific goals in mind and focused their energies on successfully accomplishing those goals. Polk and Taft? Yes. Even though both were one-termers, they made very significant contributions to America and demonstrated substantial leadership during their Presidencies.

James K. Polk fulfilled the promise of westward expansion, creating the modern boundaries of the United States (excepting Alaska and Hawaii) and had the grace to leave office after the conclusion of that mission – some say that the White House broke him; he died just over three months after leaving office. A flawed man, to be sure, particularly with regards to slavery. But he deserves as much mention for his expansion of the country as does his more public relations-friendly slaveholding predecessor, Thomas Jefferson. Trivia: Polk was the only Speaker of the House to ever become President.

William Howard Taft created the modern legal system that governs our country; he, more than anyone else, is responsible for the way law is practiced and organized today. The importance of those reforms echoes through almost every aspect of American society to this day. Taft considered being President less important than serving on the Supreme Court, and he was appointed Chief Justice by President Harding, serving with distinction until shortly before his death in 1930. Perhaps I admire Chief Justice Taft more than I do President Taft, but his leadership on legal reform was critical during his Presidency too.

But I’ve got to give the top nod to George Washington, who transformed himself from a revolutionary war hero into a statesman and the architect of government in a modern liberal democracy. This is not to diminish the achievements of James Madison or Thomas Jefferson or John Adams in creating the overall structure of our government – but the question is who was the best President, and Washington breathed life into the body that Madison and his colleagues created. Without Washington, Mr. Madison’s Constitution would have made a very interesting theoretical construct. With him, Americans bought in to the idea of a strong, central, divided, and federalized government.

We owe it all to George Washington. CNN readers only give him 7%? That’s a rip-off, big time.

Asses in Classes

A Gray Lady article about UoP reveals this criticism: "According to federal statistics and government audits, the university relies more on part-time instructors than all but a few other postsecondary institutions, and its accelerated academic schedule races students through course work in about half the time of traditional universities." This should come as a surprise to exactly no one. That is the University of Phoenix's explicitly-stated faculty model. I am one of those part-time instructors, but I have little doubt that I am well-qualified to teach a subject in which I hold an advanced degree and practice professionally every day.

The Times further reports that "The university says that its graduation rate, using the federal standard, is 16 percent, which is among the nation’s lowest, according to Department of Education data. But the university has dozens of campuses, and at many, the rate is even lower." In response, Phoenix's president writes "The federal standard used to calculate graduation rates is biased, requiring universities to report only on the students with no prior college experience. Such a standard excludes 93 percent of our student population." Certainly, anyone can lie with statistics, and it's usually a good idea to look at numbers like this from multiple angles.

The more valid complaint from the Times is my constant gripe: "instructional shortcuts, unqualified professors and recruiting abuses." I get too many students who are intellectually unprepared for collegiate-level work and who claim to have had instructors before me who let them get away with a lot of shoddy work. Half of them couldn't write their way out of a paper bag if I gave them scissors, and they resent being asked to produce high-quality writing in term papers.

It got so bad after my last class that I simply abandonded having papers at all; now all of my student evaluation is based on objective testing. I fret that I am guilty of committing what the Times called an "instructional shortcut" but the fact of the matter is that the school doesn't care. I use their selected textbook's bank of test questions and select the more difficult among the questions available. If this does not meet their criteria for rigor, they can tell me to change my instruction plan. But I've been audited by the administration twice in nearly three years of
teaching, so there does not seem to be any interest in committing resources to keeping academic standards high.

Nor are there incentives for me to do so; and substantial disincentives, in the form of extra hours of work for the same low pay if I take the time to educate my students about the importance of good writing and suggest ways that they can improve. If some of my fellow instructors do not provide high levels of service, this is not a surprise to me; there is no good reason for them to do so if they are not internally motivated to do a good job teaching anyway. From discussions on the online faculty lounge, I'm impressed that there are so many instructors who do care at all. Sure, I like the extra money I get when UoP pays me, but it's not enough for me to keep on doing this. I do it because it's supposed to be enjoyable, too. Sometimes it is, sometimes it isn't.

A significant reason that traditional four-year universities produce high graduation rates and (theoretically) higher-quality graduates is that a four-year university exercises competitive selection from amongst its applicant pool, and traditionally takes a young student with little non-academic experience. University of Phoenix exercises a single selection criteria, ability to pay, and then skews that criteria by offering financial aid to increase the number of people who can become students. The typical student is a working adult in mid-career, who needs a degree to advance. As a result, the amount of time and mental focus such a student can devote to the class, as well as the amount of intellectual resources available to devote in the first place, are both less than what you would find among undergraduate students at UCLA or Georgetown. That's the reality of it, whether the Times or UoP's president is offering the more accurate take on the statistics.

But, and here's the part where I sound tough and unsympathetic, not everyone should get a college degree. A college degree is supposed to represent a higher level of knowledge, education, and intellectual ability. It is supposed to be above average, and by definition, not everyone is above average. Not everyone is going to have the ability to complete a program or get all "A's." The marketing department of UoP is, in my opinion, guilty of overpromising academic success and the rewards that go along with it to students who have not demonstrated the potential to achieve that success. The result is that not all of my students get A's and many leave my classes mad at me, and at the school, as a result of it.

That's not to say that there is no hope for a working adult who needs to complete their degree to advance in their career. UoP can be a rigorous learning environment and its degree can be a meaningful reflection of knowledge and increased intellectual skills. It can also be a reflection of good attendance. It's really up to the student as to which it will be. I can't fault UoP for not providing a real educational opportunity for its students. The accelerated class format is not for everyone, but it can and will work for some students (the self-motivated ones who would find a way to make most formats work, mainly).

I can fault UoP for not selecting students who will take advantage of the opportunity provided. Simply put, UoP needs to start exercising a little bit of selectivity in its student selection process. There is more to education than putting asses in classes.

February 17, 2007

Playing Soldier

Young boys like to play soldier. I think that's a good thing, most of the time. It's a good thing when they get to hear about real war from real soldiers, too.

February 16, 2007

A Swing And A Miss

Contrary to some popular media conceptions, conservatives can be quite funny. Every issue of National Review includes a collection of assorted one-liners, quips, and anectodes, some of which are laugh-out-loud funny and most of the rest least invoke chuckles that fall somewhere in between "wry" and "witty."

Faux News' parody of the Daily Show, however, is not funny. Here's an example:

Deconstructing humor is also not funny, but useful to understand why something can miss so badly. A friend, who is both conservative and quite funny (he's done standup, with some success) had this to say in response to the clip: "This falls into my 'Funny [Fill In The Blank]' theory - that you aren't funny if the emphasis is on the noun rather than the adjective."

And lest you all think I would leave you without an example to prove my proposition that conservatives can indeed be funny, here's Senator John McCain, who is certainly a lot more right-wing than, say, Dennis Kucinich:

See, now that's funny. Funnier than contemplating the truth in Grover Norquist's condemnation of what's happened to the conservative movement.

Decidedly Confused Thinking

A lot of you Loyal Readers may question why I crusade against the contamination of science with befuddled religious thinking and intellectual laziness. This is a good example of how the confusion of science, religion, and prejudice can be dangerous -- the politicians who circulated these memos hold positions of some power within their Legislatures.

Particularly disturbing are the themes of anti-Semitism and deliberate ignorance of relatively basic scientific learning (like the idea that the Earth revolves around its axis) in favor of religious doctrine. If these guys had their way, they would be teaching schoolchildren that the international Zionist conspiracy created the lie of Copernican heliocentrism (the idea that the Earth revolves around the Sun rather than the Sun around the Earth) in order to subvert the teachings of the Old Testament. Absolute nonsense, of course, and rightly condemned by both advocates of science and clear-headed Christians.

Links by way of Rightwing Nuthouse and Talking Points Memo.

Elephants Getting In Line

The Giuliani campaign website made two significant announcements yesterday while I was at judge school downtown. First, a “Massachusetts Leadership Team” was announced with a bunch of prominent-seeming Republicans including a majority of the Republicans in the Massachusetts State Senate. This is a huge early swipe at Mitt Romney, since it reflects that he doesn’t even have the solid backing of fellow Republicans in his own state. Romney, seemingly anticipating both this defection from the Massachusetts GOP as well as an inability to carry the state in the general election, seems to have moved towards adopting Michigan as his “home” state despite his Massachusetts credentials.

Second, Rudy apparently earned a sterling endorsement from National Review, or at least one of the of Weekly Journal of Americans Who Wish They Could Vote Tory’s frequent correspondents. It’s not clear to me whether this is an NR endorsement or not. Nor am I entirely sure if NR remains the flagship publication of the conservative “movement,” or whether it has been supplanted in that role by the Weekly Standard or maybe even the American Spectator. It sure looks like NR is behind the endorsement.

It sure looks like the pitch of Giuliani to conservatives has been going very well, and even principled conservatives who may disagree with Giuliani on social issues are coming to intellectually accept that he’s their best shot at keeping the White House in GOP hands. This may well turn the Republican primary into a protracted and subtle dance of what kinds of concessions the Giuliani Administration will be willing to make to social conservatives. (I wonder if this was part of the plans in the playbook that went missing and got leaked; probably not, though.)

That this is happening now, twenty months before the general election, is a very good sign, because it demonstrates that the GOP is getting its house in order early. That is more than the Democrats can say – Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama seem to be gaining momentum, and their early jockeying for position between themselves has so far seemed ineffectual. John Edwards is looking like an also-ran at this point, which must be a great disappointment to him. But hey, it’s still early.

Given the strong initial showing that Giuliani is making, I’ll be surprised if Newt Gingrich gets involved at this point as a candidate. Maybe it ends with Newt as Rudy's running mate? That would certainly please social conservatives, and it lets Newt do what he did best, which is to serve as an attack dog. This might be more appealing than Elizabeth Dole as Rudy’s running mate. That’s just an idea thrown out for discussion, not a prediction or an endorsement. The point is, Gingrich would be well-advised to not get in the ring now, and it looks like Rudy pushed a reasonably impressive play yesterday to marginalize Romney. That leaves only two dogs in the fight of any magnitude, and Rudy seems to be betting that he can take McCain in the early primaries.

This is because McCain is distrusted by social conservatives. He may or may not be a good legislator, and I say that the fact that he makes deals at all with Democrats suggests that he at least has the skill set of a good legislator. Republicans’ evaluation of him in this respect should depend on the manner of the use of those skills; whether his history is of reaching acceptable compromises with Democrats or whether he has repeatedly given the farm away to the other side when it was unnecessary to do so. But, having the skill set of a good legislator, or even that of a good soldier, does not mean that he has the skill set of a good President. He’s led his fellow captive soldiers through an unimaginable ordeal, and he’s led his legislative staff through difficult political waters. But he has never governed anything; his political career consists of three terms in the House and three terms in the Senate.

Speaking of which, why haven’t any Democratic Governors caught fire like Obama yet? Bill Richardson has a damned impressive resume. Presidents are historically picked from the executive class of politicians, not the legislative class, as I demonstrated last September. So far, all the Democratic candidates have only legislative experience, unless you want to claim that being First Lady was executive experience for Hillary (which in her case might not be a weak case to make).

So think about it – the ticket could be Giuliani-Gingrich now, with the subtle promises of favoring social conservatives for judicial appointments that we began to hear this week (the subject of some comments I made a few days ago). Is that enough to get “values voters” and their dollars, volunteers, and church-centered social networks on board?

And is this how Presidential campaigns are going to be from now on – very early jockeying for position, even before any primaries are held, resulting in an effective anointment during the primary season? That seems to be what happened to John Kerry in 2004, and George W. Bush in 2000, Bob Dole in 1996, and even Bill Clinton in 1992 (although he lost the New Hampshire primary to Paul Tsongas, he swept everything after that). The last really strongly-contested primary season was 1988 for the Democrats.

Be Nice To Mother

An interesting conversation with another attorney at the firm. We mused that the weather is something that people are normally very cavalier about. We puny humans like to delude ourselves that we’re pretty much in control of what’s going on. Sure, there’s rainstorms and things like that, but people typically just go in their houses, or turn on their lights and windshield wipers, and go on about their business with only minor inconveniences.

Now, this other attorney grew up in Bishop, and notes that there has been very little snowfall in the eastern Sierras this year. That means not a lot of skiing going on at Mammoth or June Lakes, and that the streams will run dry and the lakes will lie low in the summer. Unless some more snow gets dumped up there in the next two weeks or so, this will have a devastating effect on the tourism-based economy of the region (there is some agriculture, too, which will also be hurting).

But from time to time, Mother Nature reminds us of who’s really in charge. We are so powerless against the forces of nature that it’s frightening to contemplate. We’ve been getting a lot of those reminders recently, and pretty close to home, too. The destruction of New Orleans. Three weeks of driving cold and feet of snow dumped on the Midwest and the Atlantic Seaboard. Droughts, like what the Eastern Sierra is getting right now. These things remind us that much of our pride and confidence is just so much hubris, and that we should remember to be more grateful when nature’s largesse is bestowed upon us. To really contemplate the power that nature has over us, rather than the other way around, is an awe-inspiring and terrifying exercise.

Today it’s seventy-two degrees and the sky is a brilliant, pale blue with no clouds at all and a mild, pleasant breeze. The eastern horizon is forty miles away, far enough that it’s literally the Earth curving away from my point of perspective that’s cutting off my view. This is wonderful weather, especially for the middle of February. And I feel fortunate to be in it.

Judge School, Part II

Last night I went to pro tem judge school again. This time, the subject was traffic. The amount of technical knowledge is quite intimidating. Photo red light enforcement, speeding, and sentencing all are very complicated and technical in nature. There is a lot less discretion than I would have thought, and the elements of the prosecution's case are significantly more elaborate than I would have thought.

I made an "airplane buddy" on the way in, a nice lawyer from Woodland Hills, who has sat pro tem in traffic court for a long time. Halfway through the class, he leaned over and said "This must seem overwhelming."

"Yeah. How do you keep it all straight?"

"I cheat off the benchbook. And I screw up sometimes. It's really okay if you do, everyone does. If you aren't sure about something, side with the defendant. So some guy who was speeding gets away with it. Big deal, the cops will get him next time."

That made me feel better. I was feeling overwhelmed with the long Vehicle Code citations being thrown around, concerns about the difference between bench warrants and civil assessments, and and the manner in which speed limits are determined. Now I'm more determined than ever to go ahead with my plan to pro tem judge.

An E-Mail From Kabul

Today, a friend of ours sent The Wife an e-mail from Kabul, where he is stationed. He's on an anti-drug patrol and conditions sound pretty grim. It's easy for us to forget that there is still a war going on in Afghanistan, that the bad guys are not destined to lose, and that a lot of people -- Afghans and Americans alike -- are dying.

The opium crop this year looks like it's going to be the biggest on record. Last year's attempts to get the farmers to convert from poppies to vegetables and wheat proved an economic failure, and now they're all planting poppies again, because they can get cash and buy food easier that way. Apparently, the manpower available to police against growing this nominally illegal crop is pathetically inadequate to the task. Perhaps our friend and his men can help, but he didn't sound very optimistic about that.

What we as a country ought to do is buy the opium ourselves. We can use it for medical supplies, but more important, we can get it out of the international narcotics channels where the proceeds from its sale can subsidize terrorism and other dangerous activity that we want to prevent. Oh, and by the way, stop some kids from getting hooked on smack. The farmers are going to grow it anyway. Then, maybe our friend could come home where he would be safer and with his friends and live in conditions a bit more comfortable than the inside of a leaky cargo container.

February 14, 2007

And Away We Go!

Rudy confirmed his candidacy on Larry King last night. He’s dead right about one thing: the country needs leadership. The interview makes clear that Rudy understands federalism (he should, after all, being a lawyer). The real question is, will the American body politic accept a Presidential candidate with nuanced views on issues like guns and abortion?

Stranger Things Have Happened

This seems unlikely to me. Minnesota is a liberal state, I know, and the 2008 cycle looks like it’s going to be trending liberal anyway. But I don’t think it will be this far to the left.

Needs To Happen

California should move its Presidential Primary to February 5, 2008. And it looks like that’s going to happen.

It might cost us some more money but it’s worth it to have a real voice in the candidate selection process. If other states follow suit to have their primaries on the same day, so much the better – I think there ought to be a national primary anyway.

A Lot On My Mind

Another insomniac episode last night, as my brain was overflowing with facts and information. Nothing awful or scary or even stressful, but just plain too much of it. So that was an hour awake at 3:00 in the morning, until I could find a cool room to be in. I had so much on my mind the other day that I forgot my own anniversary. That’s when you know you’re in Big Trouble. (I’ve since reminded myself of the happy date.) I’ve been in the field of law for fifteen years and I still haven’t figured out how to compartmentalize everything. And yet I continue to take on new projects, both in and out of the office.

At least my hearing this morning – one of the many things I was mentally reviewing so early in the morning – went as planned. My attempt to buy Valentine’s Day flowers from a judgment debtor of one of the firm’s clients was not so successful; turns out the firm evicted them from the location I knew of long ago and now I’ll need to go to their other location in a really bad part of town. But I’ll do it, of course, to show The Wife just how much I love her, especially after she made me a really nice card.

And now it’s back to putting out fires and getting new ones started. At least e-mail posting takes almost no time at all during the day.

February 13, 2007

Maybe Again In A Few Months

It itched too much. It was casting off dandruff. It grew in thicker on the left side than the right, and it showed off more gray than my vanity was strictly comfortable with. And most of all, The Wife didn't like it.

Taking it off was more work than I had remembered from the last time I had it, but the job got done. I wonder how long it will take people in the office to notice.

February 12, 2007

Dick Cheney's Notes From 1975

I smell a photoshop contest in the near future.

Ahead of the Curve

In a case of real life events mirroring the predictions and warnings found herein, the Los Angeles Fish Wrapper reports today that promoters of Blu-Ray technology are quietly courting pornographic movie producers to release their products in the Blu-Ray format. Of course, Loyal Readers got exposed to this issue three weeks ago.

That's why you keep coming back, Loyal Readers: this blog stays smugly ahead of the curve.

Then again, if you're reading about it in the Fish Wrapper and it's not also on the AP wire, chances are good that it's already old news. The "hip clubs" and "new restaurants" reported in the "Calendar" section all stopp being fashionable about two weeks before the articles run. But even so, you're still at least keeping current with the curve by reading here, even if you're not ahead of it every time. You're still way better off here than with the Fish Wrapper.

Please also note that I was ahead of Time magazine's analysis on Rudy Giuliani's subtle shifts of position to make himself more appealing to the right wing; Time reports that it's working, as Rush Limbaugh is warming up to Giuliani. The article is dated February 8, but will run in this week's edition of the magazine and I'd not noticed it available online until today.

February 11, 2007

Barack Obama's Unlikely Handicap

Yesterday, Illinois' junior Senator, Barack Obama, made it official: he will seek the Democratic Party's nomination for President in 2008. His campaign website is filled with only good things about himself, which would be a great problem for some people, if he were not a Democrat. But I predict that despite his great charisma, powerful rhetorical ability, and center-left positioning on the issues of the day, he will not succeed. Why?

Senator Obama gave the keynote speech at the 2004 Democratic National Convention. And it was a terrific speech. They almost all are. But no one who has given a keynote address at a party's national convention, in the modern era of politics, has gone on to earn that party's nomination for President. Here is the history:





Barack Obama

Zell Miller


Harold Ford, Jr.

Colin Powell & John McCain


Evan Bayh

Susan Molinari


George McGovern

Pat Buchanan


Ann Richards

Thomas Kean


Mario Cuomo

Katherine Ortega


Ted Kennedy

Guy Vander Jagt


Barbara Jordan

Howard Baker


(Cannot determine)

Anne Armstrong


Daniel Inouye

(None designated)

As you can see, there are some pretty significant names on those lists. Colin Powell. John McCain. Evan Bayh. Ann Richards. Mario Cuomo. Ted Kennedy. George McGovern gave the keynote speech only after he had run for President (and failed). Barack Obama would be the first keynote speaker to use that highly-visible platform to go on to become the party's nominee.

For whatever reason, the keynote speaker address seems to carry the Best New Artist curse. It's an honor and a tremendous opportunity, but for whatever reason, no one who's done it has gone on to play for all the marbles.

Humane Executions

An interesting thought from Mark Kleiman about capital punishment. I'm in favor of capital punishment, although I'm also in favor of making damn sure that the executed prisoner really was guilty, and too often our criminal justice system demonstrates more arrogance than confidence in the results of its process. Also on the subject of crime and punishment, Steve Martin offers his take on the "72 Virgins" myth of Muslim paradise -- predictably, it's not quite so pleasurable as first impressions might suggest.