Saturday, January 5, 2008

Odds and Ends from a Political Saturday

I spent the day working at the county Democratic headquarters. I was scheduled to help set up a computer bank, made up of leftovers from richer counties. But we also had a voter registration table. Both were fun.
On the computer front, the state party bought us a nice, new server. They also sent a dozen old computers. Some really old. A guy named "Ian" and I got to play "make a working computer" out of these parts. "I've got a working hard drive here" and "this processor is workable" were common comments. Ian had the best line: "If we were Republicans, we'd just buy new ones", but we're not. We got 8 operational systems out of them.
On the voter registration front, I found a lot of reason to be optimistic. We registered 30 people to vote, on a snowy, cold Saturday, and 18 of those were under 30 years of age. While I've grown skeptical of the "youth vote", I'm seeing more young people getting involved.

Friday, January 4, 2008

A Picture

Still my best photo.

The Friday Boobie (but not an award)

Here's a masked boobie for Friday. I've been too distracted to make it an award yet, but I'm still planning to create one in the future.

Analyzing the First Inning

In keeping with my baseball analogy below, here are a few of my thoughts on the Iowa results.
The high Democratic turnout is a very positive sign. Compared to the relatively sluggish turnout on the Republican side, this is evidence that the motivation for change is real.
When I picked Obama to win Iowa, my hunch was that Obama would win by picking up the majority of "second choice" votes, in a "stop Clinton" move. That was wrong. Edwards got the majority of the "seconds." Which makes Obama's victory more interesting. In Iowa, at least, Obama succeeded in turning out the youth vote, something Democrats have been trying and failing to do ever since JFK. If he can continue to get the youth turnout in other states, it will have a major impact and could carry him to the nomination (emphasis on "if" and "could"). The first inning has shown us that Obama's team knows how to play the game, but scoring first doesn't guarantee victory.
Edwards had a solid showing, but was certainly hoping for better. In a long, three way race, momentum is important. For Edwards, South Carolina and the southern states on super-duper Tuesday become "make or break" time. He needs to be strong in the middle innings, or he'll be crowded out as the three-way turns into a two-way.
Clinton didn't need to win in Iowa. Like the teams of the Yankees dynasties, her political machine is built for the long season. But she did lose some of the aura of inevitability. Given her insider support, money, and name recognition, she's still the one to beat. California and New York on super-duper Tuesday will reveal whether her team is as strong as advertised.
Joe Biden and Chris Dodd have dropped out, which is sad but not surprising. With the current media circus that dominates elections, neither stood a chance of winning. Both are very qualified, but lacked the charisma that modern politics require. Image trumps substance in the era of the 30 second sound bite. Bill Richardson will hang on for a while longer, but the same dynamic will end his campaign fairly soon.
Looking forward, the question becomes "can Obama continue to motivate the youth vote?" If he can, he'll be tough to beat. If not, Edwards will benefit as the "not Hillary" candidate. And if the Democrats can continue to motivate high turnouts, it could be enough to overcome the right-wing media spin machine that has barely begun to attack. The "umpires" aren't done yet.
(BTW, can I be a pundit now?)

Thursday, January 3, 2008

The Iowa Game

Dems win 3-1. I made a prediction at skippy the bush kangaroo, and it looks good.

these are the players and their top three picks:

pygalgia: obama, edwards, clinton.
reader frankdawg81: clinton, obama, edwards.
fouro: clinton, edwards, obama (and a side of onion rings).
reader kulkuri: edwards, obama, clinton.
chuck the moderate man*: clinton, obama, edwards.
frederick*: edwards, obama, clinton.
the cultureghost*: clinton, obama, edwards.
dr. dbk*: clinton, edwards, obama.
and my own picks: clinton, edwards, obama.

as for the republican side... who cares?

may the best handicapper(s) win...

I really was trying to guess the "second vote", but not bad. Current results:

Senator Barack Obama : 36.68%
Senator John Edwards : 30.24%
Senator Hillary Clinton : 29.99%
Governor Bill Richardson : 2.01%
Senator Joe Biden : 0.94%
Uncommitted : 0.11%
Senator Chris Dodd : 0.03%
Precincts Reporting: 1487 of 1781

Damn, I might know this game.

Opening Day

Today's the official opening day of the 2008 election season, with the first game being played in Iowa. I confess to being a political junkie, and I'll be taking a hit off of the "caucus" tonight. But it really is a silly game that's being played. First, the "rules" for a caucus are completely different from the "rules" for the rest of the "season". Second, the "game" will be played in Iowa, which is really a minor league state at best. Third, the "umpires" in the media have already decided what the final score should be, and they will spin the numbers to fit their narrative.
The population of Iowa is a small percentage of the country, and only a small percentage of them go to the caucus. Then, there are the arcane rules which are different for Democrats than they are for Republicans. The Democrats have the equivalent of the "designated hitter" rule, where if your candidate does poorly, you get to substitute a more successful one.
For sheer entertainment value, you can't beat the "umpires". Those "unbiased" media pundits who will be keeping score and declaring the "winners". They've already decided who will be the "stars", and what constitutes a "good game" or "bad game" for those chosen stars. The players who are not chosen "stars" will be ignored, no matter how well they play the game.
Most of the audience will only see the box score and hear the pundits reports of who had a good game. Only the political junkies will dig deeper into the play-by-play. The pundits will do their best to claim that this is "the most meaningful game of the season", but as I wrote a few days ago in "On A Limb", I have a feeling that this season could be much longer.
It is a ridiculous system, but as a junkie, I'll say "play ball."

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Sula, Sula, whoa, whoa....

....we gotta go now? (Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah)

Sorry, but the "Louie, Louie" soundtrack has played in my mind ever since I read the board at the booby park and found out the Latin name of these birds.

Of course, finding the true actual lyrics to "Louie, Louie" is about as easy as spotting a damn booby, even if you're crawling through their nesting grounds.

I recently spent a week on Little Cayman island; mostly for the undersea attractions, but when you're above-ground, on a small sliver of land, you look for other things to do. In my case, there were fabulous beaches...

an amazing tropical trail, complete with cacti in the jungle...

and wonderful sea life.

But no boobies. Well, of the flying, squawking sort.

Little Cayman has the largest known breeding colony of the Red Footed Booby (5000 pairs) in the Caribbean, a breeding colony of Magnificent Frigate Birds and several species of heron, and is the country's first RAMSAR site. The 203 acre Booby Pond Nature Reserve, is the place to visit if you're looking for these birds.

However, the frigates, the snowy egrets and the great blue heron are all more easily observed while on the island. Herons, because they are somewhat solitary and stand out, snowy egrets because they are crazy and fly all over the island, and frigates, because in their soaring they reminded me of our local California Condors in the way they rode the air currents over the ponds. But the booby? Here's probably your best glimpse, unless you spent a few days floating in the sanctuary...

Ooops! I meant this is probably your best pic

Yeah, that's they guy, in the upper right corner through the telescope. Those ruby red feet practically burn out your retinas in a view like this, don't they?

So, the expedition, if it can be called that, was less than a success, at least from the avian point of view. However, a calendar was purchased, whose proceeds will benefit the preserve, and, if I'm ever in the neighborhood again, perhaps I'll be lucky enough to spy a booby or two, close up.

Brain Function Null

Woke up with a bad head cold. Nasal discharge is not a good blog topic, and my brain refuses to focus on anything else. Where are my guest bloggers when I need them?

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Starting the Year With Positive News

In a minor attempt to cast out the 'demons' of '07, I want to post something positive to start the year: The nation of Bhutan is moving to democracy without violence or outside intervention:

DEOTHANG, Bhutan (Reuters) - Bhutanese voted on Monday to elect members to a new upper house of parliament for the first time, a step towards democracy after a century of absolute monarchy.

The tiny, conservative Himalayan kingdom has been preparing for democracy since former monarch Jigme Singye Wangchuck decided to hand power to an elected government, even as many of his citizens said they were quite happy with the way things were.

I realize that this is not going to have any major global impact, but it is unusual. I'm wracking my memory of history to think of another example of a monarch voluntarily stepping down to allow an elected government to assume power. I can't think of one, but if any historians can show me one, please do.

Another Trip Around the Sun

I like to think of birthdays as marking the completion of a trip around the sun, and the start of a new one. Today, I start a new trip.

I came to be born on New Year's Day in an unplanned fashion, and in a city almost 100 miles away from where my parents lived, on this day in 1959. Back in the '50's it was still safe to drink while pregnant (a lot of things were still safe back then), so my parents went to a friends New Year's party in Santa Rosa, CA. I wasn't due until January 10th, so Mom was rather surprised when, after her 3rd glass of champagne, she went into labor. I was born at 6:45am.

Mom likes to remind me how bad my sense of timing is. Not only did I force her to leave a really good party before midnight (something my Mom would never do by choice), and give birth in a city far from home, but if I was going to show up early, I should have at least showed up earlier. If I'd been born before midnight, my parents could have claimed me as a tax deduction for 1958. Mom still thinks I owe her the money. (yeah, mom, if your reading this, I know your kidding).

My early birth was a portent for my life. I'm the guy who is always early to everything. I wake up early, and if I'm supposed to be at work at 7:00, I'll be there at 6:30. Want to meet me for a beer at 5:00? I'll be there at 4:30, waiting for you.

So now I've completed 49 trips around the sun, and am beginning a 50th. I'd love to tell you that I'm wiser and more mature, but I'd be lying. I'd give you some resolutions, but I don't make resolutions. I do have some hopes and plans though. Along with getting a decent job, I plan to spend a goodly part of 2008 working to elect better politicians to our government. Hope springs eternal.

And more blogging. I've had this thing almost a year now, and I've grown to enjoy it. I like communicating with all you people, and I really like the sense of another community sharing ideas and ideals. Also, it's nice to have someplace to rant, vent, and bitch about the various things that are wrong with the world.

So, welcome to 2008, and another trip around the sun. Thanks for stopping by, and sharing a little part of the journey with me.

Monday, December 31, 2007

New Years

Most everybody has a favorite holiday. My personal favorite is New Years Eve into New Years Day (yes, I celebrate both as one), for a couple of reasons. First, I like the natural dividing line in the annual cycle of life. There is a sense of rebirth in starting a new year (or at least a new calendar). The hope that the next year will be better than the last. And I love the parties.
I've always considered New Year's parties to be partly personal because New Year's Day is my birthday. I'll tell the story of how I came to be born on January 1st tomorrow, but tonight is my favorite celebration. Having a New Year's birthday guarantees that there will be a party.
For many years, I celebrated at the Grateful Dead's New Year's Eve shows (14 of them), and I wish I still could. Unfortunately, Jerry Garcia doesn't play them anymore. But I have some fantastic memories and bootlegs to remind me of my younger years. Good times!
This year, my celebration will be more low key for two reasons. One, I'm broke, but two, there is a lack of music I want to hear playing tonight. Both my favorite local band are out of town. My local micro brewery has a really annoying hip-hop DJ band playing (I'm lukewarm on hip-hop to begin with, but these guys really get on my nerves), so I wont be staying out late. I'll have a few early beers and then spend the evening with friends.
So, Happy New Year, everybody! Lets hope for a better 2008, the last year of the shrub. Live, laugh, and love. Kiss anybody you reasonably can at midnight. And, above all else, don't drink and drive!

The Troubles of 2007

If this year were a fish, I'd throw it back. It's been a really rotten sort of year (as have all the shrub years), and I'm glad to see it end. Not that 2008 holds a lot of promise; the garbage of '07 is going to stink up '08.
I'm not going to attempt a "year in review", but instead look at a few of the years "events" that will haunt the new year.
Iraq, the mess that keeps on messing, is still with us. While the right wing is ending the year crowing "Iraq is getting better", the question is "better than what?". Saddam was hung, and there was a lot more crowing. And bombing. And shooting. 2.5 million people have been displaced, and roughly a million killed. True, car bombings dropped to an average of around 10 a day, compared to an average of 30 a day earlier in the year, but "less deadly" is still deadly. And more American troops died in Iraq in 2007 than in any previous year. Shrub's cheerleaders started the year with the mantra "Iraq is worse, so we must stay" and ended the year with "Iraq is better, so we must stay". My profound prediction for 2008: a lot of people are going to die in Iraq for no good reason.
Another feature of 2007 was the mass marketing of the new threat, Iran. "Iran is getting nukes", "Iran is behind the violence in Iraq", and "Iran's president wants to destroy Israel" were all parts of the media narrative. Never mind the facts, just know that Iran is really, really bad. By the end of the year, we learned that Iran has no nuke program. Iran's involvement in Iraq is fairly complex, but the reality is they're next door neighbors, the Prime Minister of Iraq has close ties with Iran, and the Iranians really want a stable Iraq on their border. But you'll never hear that from the American media. Most Americans don't have a clue about life in Iran. A few months ago, when the "Iranian threat" rhetoric was at its highest, I was in a discussion with some folks about Iran. None knew what language was spoken in Iran. All were amazed that there was the internet in Iran. One person told me "they all live in tents in the desert" and "their all primitives". He was truly amazed when I showed him pictures of Tehran and a wide variety of Iranian web sites. Most Americans would be surprised to learn that there are Christians and Jews in the Iranian parliament (and my Christmas Eve post of Christmas in Iran blew a few right wing minds). On a positive note, the rhetoric on Iran has toned down as the year comes to an end. For 2008, I don't think that America will attack Iran. This isn't because shrub and the Cheney don't want to, but because both Russia and China have quietly offered to aid Iran, and America can't afford to cross Russia and China.
2007 saw the return from hiatus of Osama bin Laden, and his tapes continue to be international hits (to shrubs credibility). Conspiracy theories abound, but the simple fact that he still exists proves that shrubs "war on terror" is a lie. He's winning his war.
On a related note, Afghanistan is still a disaster and Pakistan is deteriorating into chaos. In Afghanistan, our man Hamid Karzai is barely the mayor of Kabul while the rest of the country is under the control of warlords and opium cartels. America failed to learn the lessons from the Soviet occupation, and without a major change of plan will continue to slowly bleed away. Far more troubling for the long term is the chaos in Pakistan. The big news was the assassination of Benazir Bhutto, a courageous but flawed women who America hoped would be our savior. But Pakistan has been a powder keg awaiting a spark. When Pervez Musharraf cracked down on judges and lawyers, the fuse was lit. Pakistan is a complex country, with an industrial based middle class, lawless mountain regions controlled by warlords, a Taliban Islamic fundamentalist faction, and real, live nuclear weapons. The military and the ISI may currently be under Musharraf's tentative control, but that could change in a heartbeat. Because Pakistan is an "ally in the war on terror", we've given them billions of dollars in military aid, which they promptly pointed at India. Oh, and they may have Osama (I'm not 100% convinced; there are reasons to suspect he may have moved to Tajikistan). No prediction here, but watch Pakistan closely; this could end up the worst failure of shrub's international fiasco's.
On the domestic front, 2007 will be the year where the American economy became untenable. The news focused on the sub-prime mortgage debacle, but the roots of the problem are much deeper. Years of deficit spending by the government and the populace have been propped up by falsely inflating the value of the dollar beyond its intrinsic worth. Throw in rising oil prices and corrupt corporate practices, a lack of investment in infrastructure, and an increased dependence on foreign investment, and a lot of very big chickens are coming home to roost. Prediction: we're in for a very bad year. The only question is how bad.
2007 also began with the new hope of a Democratic led congress. That hope faded quickly, as a combination of Republican obstructionism and Democratic capitulation resulted in a continuation of "business as usual". While a few positive steps were attempted, not much was accomplished.
But in my mind, one bad thing in 2007 eclipsed them all. In 2007, America tacitly embraced torture. Shrub destroyed our international moral standing in one move. For the first time in my lifetime, America no longer strived to be "the shining beacon on the hill". While it's true that "American exceptianalism" was more of an ideal than a reality (we're far from perfect), every prior administration could exercise the moral authority to stand up to atrocities in the world. By admitting that America will engage in torture, shrub has debased everything that America used to stand for. I'm not sure that I can find the words to express my outrage, but it breaks my heart every time I think "we used to be better than this. We tried to be the good guys". I will never forgive shrub for destroying the American ideal.
Well, that's a depressing end of the year note. I'll try to make my next post more positive, with hope for the New Year.
Added: I wrote this before I read todays New York Times. Lead editorial:

"There are too many moments these days when we cannot recognize our country."
The New York Times lead editorial today echoes what millions of Americans must be
feeling as this awful year comes to a close. It was a year of self recognition, when Americans finally realized America can no longer pretend to be a moral beacon. It is a sickening discovery.

I guess I'm not the only one.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

On A Limb

With the Iowa caucus coming this week, all the political pundits are busy explaining "if X wins, Y is out" and pointing to various past elections as examples of why their "wisdom" is so "wise". There are a brazillion different polls the pundits point to, to "prove" that their "wisdom" is truly "wise."
I think they're wrong.
This election cycle has a very different dynamic that the traditional blowhards appear to be ignoring: the schedule.
In previous election cycles, the primaries and caucuses stretch out over months, and early momentum was the deciding factor. But the schedule has changed, with 20 primaries on February 5th. This creates a very different dynamic, where any lead from Iowa or New Hampshire can be overcome (this is true for both parties). The "main" candidates merely need to survive the early states with a semblence of credibility to focus on the larger states of their choice on "mega-super-Tuesday", where the nominations are truly at stake. Money will certainly be a factor, but the application choices of that money could be a deciding factor. The candidates who do the best job of targeting their strong states could end up in the lead.
I'm not going to attempt to predict who the new dynamic favors, but I'm tired of the beltway pundits trying to declare the winner after the first inning (or quarter, depending on your choice of sports metaphor). Looking at all the polls, what stands out to me is not who leads which poll, but that in each party no candidate has a clear lead. Which means that a majority of voters in each party will be making a second choice as the field narrows. That is where it will get interesting. The delegate split after Feb. 5th will either reveal a clear nominee for each party, or if it's still close a scramble during the later primaries.
As I said, I'm not going to predict who this favors. But I will predict that the vast majority of beltway pundits will be proven wrong. Not that they'll admit it.
Added: Andy Borowitz has written the best line I've read on Iowa:

With less than a week to go before the Iowa caucuses, 61% of likely voters agreed with the statement, “If one more stupid pollster asks me one more retarded question I swear I will go postal on his ass, I am not kidding.”