Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas!

We three kings of Orient are
Bearing gifts, we traverse afar.
Field and fountain, moor and mountain,
Following yonder star.

Oh, Star of Wonder, Star of Night,
Star with royal beauty bright.
Westward leading, still proceeding,
Guide us with Thy perfect light.

Born a King on Bethlehem's plain,
Gold I bring to crown Him again.
King forever, ceasing never
Over us all to reign.

Oh, Star of Wonder, Star of Night,
Star with royal beauty bright.
Westward leading, still proceeding,
Guide us with Thy perfect light.

Frankincense to offer have I,
Incense owns a Deity nigh.
Prayers and praising, we are raising,
Worshipping God Most High.

Oh, Star of Wonder, Star of Night,
Star with royal beauty bright.
Westward leading, still proceeding,
Guide us with Thy perfect light.

Myrrh is mine, its bitter perfume
Breathes a life of gathering gloom.
Sorrowing, sighing, bleeding, dying,
Sealed in a stone-cold tomb.

Oh, Star of Wonder, Star of Night,
Star with royal beauty bright.
Westward leading, still proceeding,
Guide us with Thy perfect light.

Glorious now, behold Him arise!
King, and God, and Sacrifice!
Alleluia! Alleluia!
Rings through the earth and skies!

Oh, Star of Wonder, Star of Night,
Star with royal beauty bright.
Westward leading, still proceeding,
Guide us with Thy perfect light.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Video Del Fuego, Part XV

This week on Video Del Fuego: Adventures in Mass Transit!

OK, boys and girls, take a note: You know that your rail system is fatally overcrowded when it takes four -- FOUR! -- policemen to shove the last few commuters into the car before heaving the doors shut. I pity the poor bastard whose job is opening the doors. He's gonna get an elbow in the head, or worse, as that mass of passengers blows out. It'll be like opening Fibber McGee's Closet of Commuters.

Mind you, each and every one of those folks getting shoehorned into the Railcar of Death paid for the privilege, and probably considered themselves lucky to get such a good seat.

And the nest time someone stops you from boarding a train or bus because there are too many already on board? Don't cuss him out. Thank him for being a pal, because this is what he's trying to prevent.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Video Del Fuego, Part XIV

Food safety tip: uncooked pork can be hazardous to your health. Especially if you try to chew on a quarter-ton of angry pig before it's actually stopped moving.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Who Writes This Stuff?

Whatever else the leaders of Al-Qaeda are, they're not stupid. Crazy? Yes. Murderous bastards? Absolutely. But not stupid. They have to realize the implications of the recent election, and they also have to realize the bind it puts them in. So they have to say something about it. The new tape comes as no surprise.

But while they're not stupid, their cultural blindness leads them to a certain ham-handed ineptitude when it comes to propaganda. Does anyone actually listen to this stuff before sending it out?

Al-Zawahiri's characterization of President-Elect Obama as a "house slave" is laughable. It's meant as an insult, but it's so hilariously off-base as to rob it of any possible sting. And like many insults, it also says far more about the insulter than about the insulted.

Numero Uno: What this says is that Al-Qaeda is keenly aware that they have to discredit Obama before he takes office. They have to get their spin out, that this new face at the helm is really no change at all. And as far as they're concerned, it's not. They dance on air just the same no matter who catches them. Bush, Obama, no matter; one party's English hempen necktie is as good as another. But they also know that, all across Africa and Asia, common folks are looking towards America with new eyes, seeing us as the real land of opportunity. And they know they've no answer to that. They're bluffing with a busted straight, and praying no one calls.

Numero Two-O: What this also says is that Al-Qaeda's well-known prejudice against all and sundry non-Arab is alive and well. They talk a good game in public about unity among Muslims, but some Muslims are rather more equal than others. Non-Arab Muslims are all right, provided that they show the proper deference to the Chosen. This is the main reason Al-Qaeda hasn't exactly caught on elsewhere. There are cells throughout Africa and Asia, true, but not many, and not exceptionally popular. Signing on for second-class citizenship is, for some reason, less popular than the Al-Qaeda leadership thinks it would be. Now, when the people stack that up against the fact that the son of an immigrant is about to assume the Presidency... The shoddy poverty of Al-Qaeda's ideology is thrown into sharp relief, for all to see.

Numero Three-O: There's something surreal about hearing the man who's just over two months from getting the keys to the world's biggest nuclear liquor cabinet described as a "house slave". It's like hearing a novice boxer saying that the world champion's just not that tough ... Are these guys for real? I mean, come on: Barack Obama's about to become the most powerful man in the world. He's no one's slave, house or otherwise. Granted, he's accountable to us, and will have to seek our approval come 2012 to stay in office, but that just means he works for us. These jokers just don't get it.

In the long run, that's why they'll lose. They just don't understand what they're up against. Then again, they never did understand, did they? Their aims would have been far better served had they let us alone, instead of goading us into wakeful vengeance in September of 2001.

But, as I said earlier, they may not be stupid ... but they are all-day crazy.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Video Del Fuego, Part XIII

Lateral/directional stability rarely gets the respect it truly deserves:

A personal observation is in order ... About thirty years ago, my oldest brother had made us a fiberglass sled. It was a piece of green fiberglass, oh, about five by three feet, curled over in front and turned up on the side. The bottom was nice and slick. On one of the infrequent times we actually get measurable snowfall here in Texas, it would be a fine sled. Or, so we thought. The sled had a grievous design flaw, one that wasn't immediately obvious to us.

We lined up on the sled in order of age, eldest up front, then another brother, then me. The older brothers claimed the privilege of going up front. They neglected to realize two important things. First, although I was the youngest, I was no longer the smallest brother. And second, in a runner-less sled, the heaviest rider always ends up in front, whether you intended to do it that way or not.

We set off down the hill, and everything went all right there for a second or so. Then, inertia took over, and flipped us around. I was now "in front", but we were going backwards. I had taken my glasses off before we started, so I couldn't see a blessed thing, and didn't realize what had gone wrong. The other two did, and bailed out, leaving me to ride to the bitter end. In this case, the bitter end was the trunk of a rather stout oak tree.

The next memory I can actually put in sequence had something to do with stumbling towards our house, and everything hurt. But nothing was actually broken, just bruised all to hell and gone. They tell me I was unconscious for a minute or two. I may or may not have been breathing.

Anyhow, the moral of this story is: STAY THE HELL AWAY from slidy things that don't have runners, or any other means of directional control. Some damn tree's always just itching to reach out and whack you one.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Election 2008 Post-Mortem

When it finally ended, it ended quickly. I knew once Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Virginia had been called that it was over for all practical intents and purposes. When the West Coast results came in shortly after their polls closed, that clinched it. When the dust settled, Barack Obama has passed the 270-vote threshold, and will become the 44th President of the United States.

There's an extent to which this changes nothing, of course. The economy's still in deep trouble. We're still involved in two simultaneous wars over in the Middle East. The easy part's over for President-Elect Obama: now, he has to govern. He may come to envy McCain ... or maybe not. Some people thrive on that kind of pressure.

A few day-after musings follow:

1) There are still a few states that haven't been called yet. But when it's all done, it sure looks like Intrade's electoral vote prediction will be absolutely spot-on. Polls be damned: if you want to track how a race is going, look at how the guys are betting on Intrade. This is going to be very, very useful going into the 2010 elections. The really interesting thing is that it settled on the final number 19 days prior to the election. You could have called this one almost three weeks out. Amazing, really. This "wisdom of crowds" stuff really does work, after all...

2) The new regionalism appears to be taking shape. The Republican Party is, for the most part, a party of the old Confederacy plus the rural West. The Democratic Party is the old Union plus the West Coast and the urban West. It's completely flipped from where it was fifty-odd years ago, when the South was solid Democrat, and the Northeast was old-line Republican. I'm not sure what this means yet, if it even means anything at all. I just find it curious.

3) John McCain made a wonderful concession speech. He took all the blame for the defeat, and accepted the will of the electorate. Concession speeches are really important. Government by majority rule works if and only if the minority consents to be governed. Conceding defeat when you've lost an election is how we establish that consent, here. John McCain took the high road in defeat. At the end of the day, he's still an honorable man, and a deeply patriotic American. If only he'd chosen his running mate more carefully ... but we'll never know, will we?

4) In a related point, even though some people think it makes no sense at all, I believe the Electoral College to be vitally important. It wasn't important yesterday, because the vote wasn't particularly close. It only matters when the vote is close, and then it's vital. As I just said above, government by majority vote only works if the minority goes along. They go along, because they know there are things in place to guarantee their rights, keeping the majority from running roughshod over them. If the election were strictly by national plebiscite, to all intents and purposes the election would take place in the twenty or so largest metropolitan areas. If you lived in a big city, your vote would count; if you lived out in the sticks, well, you're just out of luck. The Electoral College gives the residents of small, rural states a little more heft on the scales. Most of the time, that doesn't matter much. But when the election was close, as it was in 2000 and 2004, the Electoral College tends to make a "tie" go in favor of the smaller states. This safeguards the rights of the citizens who live away from the larger cities, especially since the demographics are changing such that most of us live in cities and/or suburbs of cities these days. Strictly speaking, it's not "one man one vote" democratic, but it offers some protection against the tyranny of the majority.

5) Are we a center-right nation, or are we a center-left nation? Depends on what period of our history you're talking about, if you ask me. I think we alternate between them on a 35-40 year cycle. If you look at the period between 1932 and 1968, Democrats occupied the White House all of those years except for Eisenhower's two terms in the 1950s. And if you look at the period between 1968 and 2008, Republicans occupied the White House all of those years except for Carter's term, and Clinton's two terms. And Carter's term was a post-Watergate aberration. As I've said earlier, the time is ripe for another turn of the wheel. It's far too early to say if we've turned that crank or not. We'll know more in 2012, and we'll probably be able to say for sure in 2016. But probably not before then.

6) Are the Republicans going to double-down on the crazy now that they've been turfed from the White House? Their last ouster was good for them in some ways. They were able to bounce back from their 1992 defeat to a 1994 victory in Congress. They were able to refine who they were, and what they stood for. If that's the route they choose, their time out of power can serve to hone and improve them. I really hope that's what happens, since the Democrats are going to need a real, vigorous, and intellectually honest opposition to keep them honest. But if the Republicans double-down on the crazy, and give the party to their most vocal extremists, their opposition will be neither principled nor intellectually honest. This does no one any good, least of all the Republicans. If they do that, they will continue their death spiral until they regain their senses.

7) Speaking of regaining your senses, tattoo this on the insides of your eyelids in fluorescent ink: primaries may be decided on the fringes, BUT GENERAL ELECTIONS ARE ALWAYS DECIDED IN THE CENTER! You appear to have forgotten that this time. Do try to remember this in the future.

8) There's also an extent to which our new President-Elect changes everything. For example: a lot of Al-Qaeda's propaganda keys off of our "strangeness" to them, how our leaders look like outsiders. Well, now, there's at least a quarter of the world that can look at our President and see someone that doesn't look that strange to them. That's powerful propaganda ju-jitsu, if Obama is clever enough to use it that way. Further, we have a President who's a walking billboard for the American Dream. People the world over can look at America, and know that if they come here, obey the laws and work hard, there's nothing their sons can't aspire to. Nothing's beyond reach. Race and country of origin don't matter so much, America's opportunities are open to all.

9) And finally, this election has made me proud to be an American. Not that I wasn't proud before. There are things we've done that swell my heart with pride every time I think about them. The bravery of our soldiers at Bastogne, and our sailors at Leyte Gulf, almost always move me to tears. The dogged determination of our airmen to keep Berlin supplied during the Berlin Airlift. The stubborn valor of our Marines as they fought that long, bitter withdrawal from Frozen Chosin. Six flags planted in the lunar dust, a quarter-million miles from the nearest human, not as tokens of conquest but as markers that man's most powerful machines had been put in service not of destruction, but of exploration. To those wonderful memories I can add the sight, forty years after an assassin had shot down an Atlanta preacher for the crime of acting as if he really did believe that all men were created equal, of a black man accepting his nation's call to become the leader of the free world. There's nowhere else on Earth that this could ever happen. I am proud -- proud! -- to be an American, a citizen of the greatest country on Earth. We really don't believe anything's impossible. And that, my friends, is why our best days are always ahead of us.

And with that, I'm done for a while. There's the long, slow death march that is the remainder of the Cowboys' season to watch, and Wrath of the Lich King comes out on November 13th. Between those two, and other odds and sods of Real Life, I expect to be socked in for a while. I'll check in if something piques my interest. See y'all then!

Monday, November 03, 2008

Who Should Win?

I've already said who I think will win, but I haven't yet said who I think should win. It's probably obvious from context, but I believe that Barack Obama is the candidate that should win the Presidency in tomorrow's general election. In this post, I will attempt to lay out my reasons for that decision. (For another take, you can see Andrew Sullivan's Obama endorsement here.)

Domestic Affairs: One of the key issues in this race is the economy, and the crisis that has seized our banking industry. John McCain lacks expertise in economic affairs, by his own admission. Granted, Barack Obama is not a noted economic expert either, but he has some pretty good advisors. Biden, as senior senator from Delaware, has represented banking interests for lo, these many years. I've not always liked him for it, but it's one of his areas of expertise. And Obama counts Warren Buffett amongst his supporters. John McCain's most famous economic advisor is none other than Carly Fiorina. As you will recall, she's the same one who took a top computer firm, Hewlett-Packard, and drove it into the ditch. Truly, there's no contest. Warren Buffett could make money selling ice to Eskimos. Carly Fiorina could lose money selling a cure for Death. Advantage: Obama.

Foreign Affairs: As far as preparation and experience goes, this is also no contest. While Obama is quite well-educated and well-read, that doesn't quite measure up to the experience in military affairs John McCain has received. Son and grandson of admirals, graduate of Annapolis, decorated Navy veteran, he spent a lifetime in his nation's service before he even set foot in the Senate. But preparation and experience aren't all that matter. McCain's main drawback in this arena is his propensity for rash action. Obama has the temperament advantage, there. And, he looks to be a pragmatic realist in foreign affairs, a welcome change from the last eight years of Wilsonian interventionism. This one's a wash.

Truly, up to the end of the Democratic convention, I would have been content to have either man as President. They both bring good things with them to the office. Both men are a credit to their nation. But, there's a crucial point where McCain lost me.

As I've said before, a candidate's selection of a running mate is the first Presidential decision that they ever make for real. It's all jawboning up to that point. And, that decision sets the template for the way most of their decisions will be made. Look back, if you will, at Bush's selection of a running mate, back in 2000. He appointed Dick Cheney to run the vetting committee. And then, hey presto! Cheney was the VP nominee. That was a foreshadowing, if you like. We know now that he's been the most powerful VP in modern times, virtually a shadow President.

Bearing that in mind, we can take the measure of the candidates based upon their picks for VP.

Barack Obama picked a colleague from the Senate, Joe Biden of Delaware. Not a man that I have endless love for, to be sure, but not a total dunce, either. He does tend to run his pie-hole when you'd rather he didn't, but if he's had a chance to study up on an issue, he knows his stuff. Obama picked a running mate that would make him a better President.

John McCain, on the other hand, picked ... Governor Barbie.

Say what?

I wanted to give her the benefit of the doubt. But it became painfully clear that she was terribly, terribly unqualified to be Vice President, to say nothing of President. Her sole qualification is that she shored up his credentials with the social conservatives. This was a profoundly unserious selection, one chosen on impulse, one chosen to win the news cycle that day.

In my mind, that pick disqualified McCain from holding the Presidency. We don't need another wild gambler in the Oval Office. And we sure as Hell don't need Governor Barbie one heartbeat away from the keys to the nuclear liquor cabinet.

There are also three other reasons why I think it's important for a Democrat to win the Presidency this year, entirely apart from the individual qualifications of the men involved.

The Drunkard's Walk: Although I'm a paid-up member of the Libertarian party, I'm not ideologically committed to any party in particular. I tend to call myself a long-period centrist. I think it's healthy to alternate the Presidency between the major parties every eight to twelve years. Eight years is long enough to get some serious policy done, but generally not long enough to do any serious damage. It's long enough to appoint a judge or two to the Supreme Court, which tends to keep the court within shouting distance of a 5-4 balance. Neither party has a lock on the truth. By alternating between them on a long-term basis, we move more or less in the right direction, albeit in a drunkard's walk: lurching now to the right, then to the left, but overall moving in the right direction. After eight years of Republican rule, it's time to alternate.

If You Make It Their Baby, They'll Have To Spank It: The Democrats will act like petulant children about the Global War on Terror unless and until they own the responsibility for prosecuting it. I tend to think that one of the most important events in the Cold War was after the 1952 elections, when Eisenhower basically signed on to Truman's policy of containment. That made containment of Communism itself a bipartisan consensus policy. Had that not been done ... well, I don't know how it would have turned out. But I doubt it would have been good. We're in the same kind of fix today. We need for the Democrats to be forced to own the GWOT so that they'll begin to talk like serious adults about it. Then, and only then, will we have a bipartisan consensus as to how we're going to fight this one out.

Goodbye, Jesse Jackson: The election of a black man as President of the United States turns an important page in the history of race relations. Among other things, it virtually makes the Jesse Jacksons and the Al Sharptons of the world irrelevant. No one's fool enough to believe that it's the end of racism, or of the end of the conversation we need to have between the races in this country. It's not even the beginning of the end. But to paraphrase Churchill after El Alamein, maybe it is the end of the beginning.

I may well be wrong. The one thing I know with the greatest certainty is that I don't know everything. And what the heck, the Republic won't collapse if McCain wins ... but given all that I've seen so far, I am convinced that Barack Obama is the man for the hour. He is qualified, by experience and temperament, to lead us as President.

Election Eve (E-1)

Tomorrow is the Day of Days, and it can't come soon enough for me. I am so ready for this one to be over. This, though, will serve as my final pre-election update, and I will make my semi-official prognostication as to how it will shake out tomorrow night. (I say semi-official, since the prognostication isn't actually mine...)

And now, for the last time, the numbers:

From Pollster:

DEM: 311 (+25)
REP: 142 (-15)
Toss-Up: 85 (-10)

From Intrade:

DEM: 364, 90.6% chance to win (+/- 0 EV, +5.9%)
REP: 174, 9.9% chance to win (+/- 0 EV, -5.4%)

And from FiveThirtyEight:

DEM: 346.5 (+1.7)
REP: 191.5 (-1.7)

I find it interesting that the Intrade numbers have held rock-steady at 364/174 for over two weeks, now. I will watch with interest tomorrow night, to see if the real result bears out the bettors' line. This is the first time that we've been able to watch a prediction market in action, live, all the way through an election cycle. If they prove to be as accurate as any major poll, this will become an even more important tool in elections to come.

And now, the semi-official TTS prediction ... I think I'll take the Intrade line, as it stands tonight. Which is to say, Barack Obama takes the Presidency with 364 Electoral Votes, to John McCain's 174 Electoral Votes. And I'll take FiveThirtyEight's prediction for the popular vote split, 52% to 46%. If I had any real money riding on it, I'd sandbag the spread and take Obama at 340, but I'm a bit of a sissy that way.

Election Day is tomorrow. Remember: even though it's too late to vote early, it's never too late to vote often!

Friday, October 31, 2008

Video Del Fuego, Part XII

Halloween Safety Tip #22: Under no circumstances should you scare a trained boxer unless you are wearing the proper protective headgear. And no, a full-face rubber mask doesn't count, even if it came with a top hat.

Friday, October 24, 2008

The Past Into Tomorrow

A few posts ago, I said that there's a rabbit I wanted to chase another day. There's an important internal conversation that the Democratic Party simply must have with themselves. They have to own up to the fact that an important fringe wing of their party from the '60s was at least a little disloyal. That fringe may not have colored the way the party looked at things like full-throated patriotism and the dignity of military service, but it created a credible perception that seriously hurt Democratic presidential candidates from 1980 through at least the early '90s.

Let's look back some fifty-sixty years, and take a 50,000 foot look at the Cold War, circa 1960. One of the strategies both sides used was the political destabilization of unfriendly governments. Both sides tried to plant operations within the other side's homeland, without much real success. For example, we know that the KGB had virtually no illegal residents within the USA after the discovery and capture of Rudolf Abel in 1957. So, while there wasn't any direct support from Moscow for groups like the New Left or the SDS, there were at least well-wishes and non-monetary support.

Mind you, opposition to the Vietnam War in and of itself wasn't disloyal. It certainly wasn't disloyal to believe that we had no business fooling around with their internal affairs. And I'm not sure that the question "What are we doing here?" ever got a coherent answer. I have heard it described as a campaign of attrition against the Soviet Union, and it's certainly true that we blew up tons and tons of Soviet-built vehicles and equipment in the jungles. The point is, it's not disloyal to question the justification of our involvement. I think it does become disloyal when you openly side with the enemy, and want your own nation to lose. There are fringes of the anti-war movement that did exactly that, and undertook criminal campaigns of robbery and bombings in support of those goals.

Fortunately, this fringe does not include most of the young activists that entered the Democratic Party in the late 1960's and early 1970's. But unfortunately, many of their attitudes informed how these activists thought. They spent the next thirty hears running like scalded dogs from anything in a uniform. They almost never saw a defense spending cut they didn't like. And in 1975, they got their fondest wish: North Vietnam invaded South Vietnam, and they had a sufficient congressional majority to ban any materiel or air support for the South Vietnamese government.

I have to wonder ... did they see the re-education camps as something of a triumph? Or did they honestly not see that coming? When they learned of Cambodia's killing fields, were they filled with pride or shame? They bear a measure of responsibility for both, as do we all. We had the power and ability to support the South against the invasion, but chose not to.

This, more than anything else, is why American voters were unable to trust another Democrat with the Sword of the State until 1992. This is why Ayers and his ilk are important, because hard-core fringe leftists of his generation are still knocking around in the party. With some Democrats of a certain age, it's always 1968. They're applying forty-year-old thinking to today's problems. They're mortally afraid of another Vietnam, so much so that they're totally incapable of rationally considering when the use of our military is not only possible, but the right thing to do.

Parts of that conversation have already happened. The Truman National Security Project was just getting off the ground when I started writing this weblog, and has attracted the attention of some of the Democratic Party's leading lights. And now, a new generation is coming of age, largely untainted by the bias of their elders. Barack Obama is a man of that new generation. While he's rubbed elbows from time to time with some people who are profoundly unserious about national security, to all appearances he's not one of them. He strikes me a someone who will fight when it's necessary, but only when it's necessary. I am guardedly optimistic that he will neither let the Sword of the State get rusty from neglect, nor dull the blade from over-use.

It's time to turn the page, guys. It's not 1968 anymore, nor is it 1975. It's 2008, and we've got a full plate of problems to deal with right now. Let's snap to it.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The Two-Week Warning (E-14)

The most interesting development since last we checked in was Colin Powell's announcement over the weekend that he was endorsing Barack Obama for the Presidency. Interesting, but not entirely unexpected. Bush used Powell like a baby would use a diaper. You think that's not gonna have repercussions? You think that will have no effect whatsoever on his views on the Republican party? An experience like that tends to burn out any party loyalty you may have ever had. Truth to tell, he was probably done with 'em in 2004. You may well ask, then, why didn't he endorse Kerry? Well, the answer's obvious. Kerry (aka Herman Munster) was a doofus. A well-connected, well-educated doofus, but a doofus nonetheless.

It's somewhere between hard and impossible to tell what effect that's going to have on the election going forward. The thing's got immense momentum and inertia at this point. It would take a truly earth-shattering event to push it off its trajectory. Powell's endorsement, while interesting, ain't exactly earth-shattering.

And now, the numbers:

From Pollster:

DEM: 286 (-27)
REP: 157 (+2)
Toss-Up: 95 (+25)

From Intrade:

DEM: 364, 84.7% chance to win (+/- 0 EV, +0.5%)
REP: 174, 15.3% chance to win (+/- 0 EV, +0.2%)

And a bonus,

DEM: 344.8
REP: 193.2

The thing I like about FiveThirtyEight is that they do something like a Monte Carlo simulation of possible results, and pick the expected result that way. If you're looking to bet the spread, this is what I'd use for a guide.

Notice that Pollster seems to be indicating a tightening race. That's to be expected, this close in. The polls almost always narrow in the last two weeks. Will they narrow enough to actually push enough votes McCain's way? Not unless he can pry some of Obama's softer support away ... and he's effectively conceded Colorado. It's hard for me to see where McCain gets enough pulled away to make a difference.

I'll forego the usual section on who needs to do what, the time for that has passed. Now, it's all about execution and follow-through. But, early voting began yesterday in Texas, and I have a few unscientific eyewitness reports, namely, my wife's and my own. I voted Monday, she voted today, and we both saw more or less the same thing. There were lines at the early voting places, both in the morning and at lunchtime. And everyone expects the lines to get longer the closer we get to November 4th.

This is gonna be a high-turnout year, folks. That's not good news for the Republicans. As Charles Dickens allegedly said once, "A contented, well-breakfasted juryman is a capital thing to get hold of. Discontented jurymen always find for the plaintiff."

The Way to Bet: I'm going to go out on a limb and say Obama takes it with about 340 electoral votes. McCain might be able to chisel that down some, but not enough to change the overall outcome.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Debate 3: The End Is Nigh (E-19)

McCain finally, finally, at long last brought his A-game to the debate. I think he stayed about even on points. But he lost out on style, I think. His testy, angry demeanor is a really hard sell. He closes out the debate season with, at best, three draws. The news is unlikely to get any better in the next two weeks.

And now, the numbers:

From Pollster:

DEM: 313 (-7)
REP: 155 (-8)
Toss-Up: 70 (+15)

And from Intrade:

DEM: 364, 84.2% chance to win (+26 EV, +12.1%)
REP: 174, 15.6% chance to win (-26 EV, -10.9%)

I am really, really wishing I'd bought in on Obama at 48% ... The guys who did are absolutely making a killing. On the flip side, the poor slobs who bought in on McCain at his 52% peak are losing their shirts. Hopefully only virtually speaking. I'm still not sure if any real money changes hands, here.

In any case, back to the debate. Which, strictly speaking, is less of a debate than it is a weird kind of dual press conference. But that's beside the point. John McCain really came out swinging last night, making one last valiant effort to land a knockout punch head-to-head on live TV. It would have put some life back into this race if he had. He never could close the deal, though. The closest he came was with his question about Obama's background with that William Ayers. But there's not much substance there, and besides, the economy is what has people sweating bullets today, not what some washed-up ex-hippie did with his summer vacation forty years ago. (Ayers, and people like him are important. There's an internal conversation the Democrats simply have to have amongst themselves, sooner or later. But that's a rabbit I want to chase another day.)

I've said it before: the extent to which this race turns on the economy is the margin of McCain's defeat. It may not be right or fair, but that issue is simply death for the Republicans this year, all up and down the ticket. All skill is in vain when an angel pees down your rifle barrel. And there's just not enough time left to reverse the slide.

Stick a fork in him, boys.

What John McCain Must Do: Go down swinging, for the honor of the Regiment. There's not much else to do at this point.

What Barack Obama Must Do: Don't do what this guy did:

It's never too late to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. Complacency kills.

The Way To Bet: If you can still find someone fool enough to take the bet, Intrade's giving an astonishing 5 to 1 in Obama's favor at this point. Barring something completely crazy happening, that's almost a sure thing.

Next update: Tuesday, October 21, the two-week mark.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Video Del Fuego, Part XI

When you take a fool on a roof, and add a trampoline, you just know it'll end in tears. Remember, kids, don't try this at home!

(Hat tip:, which has some seriously funny stuff.)

Video Del Fuego, Part X

This is why I don't honk:

Video Del Fuego, Part IX

Words fail me:

Granted, I've witnessed car-surfing before, though I've never participated. But in every instance I've seen to date, the surfer and the driver were always two different people. Now tell me: how does someone get so wasted that they would think that this could possibly end in anything other than twisted wreckage, searing pain, and abject humiliation, and still be conscious? Obviously, this is not possible. No, the only rational explanation is that this man is dumber than a sack of used diapers.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Video Del Fuego, Part VIII

More jet-powered steamy goodness!

Taking a break from the election, it's time to take another look at machines with far more horsepower than sense. Previously, we've seen jet packs, bicycles, Buzz Lightyear wings, and a Dodge Caravan. Now, prepare yourself for ... the jet-powered go-kart!

That one looks like it's got a gas turbine driving the axle. This one, though, is far closer to what I had in mind.

I guarantee, if you're behind the wheel of one of these suckers, tail-gaters will give your bumper a wide berth. That is, unless they like the idea of your jet-blast stripping their paint off...

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Debate 2: The Rematch (E-27)

Well, that was kinda pointless. McCain's punching for all he's worth, but can't seem to land any telling blows. Obama seems like he's running the clock down. And Brokaw, God bless him, tried to enforce the time limits, to little effect. They say the opera's not over until the fat lady sings. She's not onstage yet, but I think I can hear her warming up.

And now, the numbers.

First, from Pollster:

DEM: 320 (+70)
REP: 163 (+/- 0)
Toss-Up: 55 (-70)

(Caveat Emptor: these guys may well be snorting tequila by the bathtub while they're doing their numbers. You'd be well advised to check their math.)

And from Intrade:

Obama: 338, 72.1% chance to win (+0 EV, +5.7%)
McCain: 200, 26.5% chance to win (+0 EV, -7%)

The interesting thing is how closely the totals match. I expect the projections to converge on some "final" predicted value on November 4th, which may or may not be the final, real number. I expect it'll be close, but not exact. The other interesting thing is how little the Intrade numbers have moved, EV-wise. That projection looks fairly solid. The other telling thing is that the guys in Intrade are unloading their McCain futures for whatever price they can get for them.

This is where it gets ugly. McCain absolutely has to pull out all the stops. He has to go negative, way negative, and it probably won't work even if he does. But he has to try. I can't see how he gets out of this hole, though, I really can't. This election is going to turn on the economic crisis, and McCain isn't exactly renowned for his economic expertise. The really tragic thing about all of this is that McCain should have been the Republican nominee eight years ago. He'd have been a simply outstanding Commander-in-Chief for the period immediately after 9/11, and would have been singularly qualified to lead at the outset of that war. But he does not realize that his time has passed. He's a lion in winter: worthy of respect for what he's done and endured, but clearly fading. The answers he has are for questions that have already been and gone. He doesn't have any new ones.

What John McCain must do: He's got to carve 50-60 EVs out of what Obama's got in his column, otherwise, it's goodbye and good night. Since this won't happen barring unforeseen good fortune on his part, he's probably done.

What Barack Obama must do: Pretty much, just keep on doing what he's been doing. If it ain't broke, don't fix it. At this point, he's got to keep his lead, and not screw it up. He's ahead by two scores late in the 4th quarter. The clock is his friend.

The Way to Bet: Intrade's quoting 2.72 to 1 in Obama's favor, and I'm kicking myself for not putting money down when it was still 3-2 or, better still, even money. Expect the odds to climb higher as Election Day approaches.

Early voting in Texas starts on October 20th. Vote early, and vote often!

Friday, October 03, 2008

Post-VP Debate Update (E-32)

The horror. The horror.

This might not have been the most painful hour and a half of television that I've ever endured, but let me tell you, brothers and sisters, it was close. Damn close. Mind you, neither of the two things I was really expecting happened. I was expecting Biden to put his foot so far in his mouth that he'd be crapping shoe leather. And I was expecting Palin to get so tongue-tied after a question she didn't understand that her head would explode. But the surreal non-answers she started giving towards the end were beginning to make my ears bleed.

And now, the numbers:

From Pollster:

DEM: 250 (+21)
REP: 163 (+/- 0)
Toss-Up: 125 (+/- 0)

[I am beginning to wonder about Pollster's totals...]

From Intrade:

DEM: 338, 66.4% chance to win (+27 EV, +10.6%)
REP: 200, 33.5% chance to win (-27 EV, -9.9%)

As an aside -- what the hell is up with Pollster? When I compare the week-to-week numbers, the total of gains and losses ought to be zero, since the total of REP+DEM+Toss-Up ought to be the total number of electoral votes available. This does not appear to be the case. What are those dudes smoking? (Or, I suppose, I'm failing miserably at arithmetic. It wouldn't be a huge surprise.)

Anyway, back to the matter at hand. First, let's look at Biden's performance. He was pretty dull for the most part, with a few flashes of passion in the last half. Clearly, he knows his stuff. But he doesn't bring much fire to the table. It's fortunate for him that he didn't have to. A more alert, more knowledgeable opponent could easily have folded his mushy delivery 'till it was all corners and made him cry. But most of the time, he at least looked like he was answering the moderator's questions. He's got the experience to evade an uncomfortable answer deftly, without being too blatant about it. It's a skill most politicians learn, eventually.

But not all of them do. I still don't know whose questions Palin was answering last night. It wasn't the moderator's questions. I'm pretty sure Biden wasn't slipping her questions of his own. So, who? The Count of Monte Cristo? The King of the Potato People? Scott Adams has used the phrase "paradigm shifting without a clutch" before, but I didn't know what it felt like until last night: GGRRRREEEAAAAWWWWWRRRKKK! Where the hell did that answer come from? And then, a moment of panic: Maybe she really is answering the question, and I've gone stone barking mad... Then Biden starts talking, and he dances close enough to the question that I know that I haven't gone completely nuts. Maybe she didn't like the question put to her. Maybe she didn't understand the question put to her. No matter: she'd charge full speed ahead with that wide-eyed stare and manic she-Dobbs grin, selecting a neocon Zen koan at random from her notes, hammering away until her time ran out. It's almost like it wasn't a real person up there, but a life-size Talking Veep Barbie. Go ahead, pull the string! You'll get an answer. Probably not the answer to the question you just asked, but by God you'll get an answer! Surprise your friends, amuse your enemies, start your next debate with a bang!

It was the weirdest thing I've ever seen in politics, including the time Jerry Brown ran for President. Lloyd Bentsen once said, "If Jerry Brown is the answer, then it must be a damn peculiar question." Were he still alive, he might just owe Jerry Brown an apology. Governor Moonbeam? Meet Governor Barbie. The crazy baton has been passed to a new generation.

What John McCain must do: Beats the hell out of me. His campaign is in an inverted spin with all engines on fire. He's determined to ride this one out, though, so he'll probably go down swinging. But I think he's utterly screwed at this point.

What Barack Obama must do: From here on in, don't screw it up. Avoid unforced errors. Make no crucial mistakes in the two debates to come. Try to keep Biden from jamming his foot in his mouth. Aside from that, let McCain/Palin implode of its own accord.

The way to bet: Intrade's quoting 2-1 in Obama's favor, and I'd take that bet. I still wouldn't bet the mortgage on it, but it looks like safe money.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Post-Debate Update (E-38)

And now, we're into the stretch. The first of four debates is over, and the first debate was a draw. Both candidates got some digs in, but neither was able to clearly pull away with advantage. For McCain, that's probably as good as a loss, since the emphasis of this debate was foreign affairs, his particular domain of expertise. This was as friendly a topic list as he could ever expect. If he couldn't throw Obama to the mat and make him cry uncle last night, it probably ain't gonna happen in the two other debates to follow. And now, the numbers:

From Pollster:

DEM: 229 (-31)
REP: 174 (-15)
Toss-Up: 135 (+36)

From Intrade:

DEM: 311 (current price 55.8, -1.7%)
REP: 227 (current price 42.1, -0.3%)

Now, reading the numbers... There's a story that's not told. The Intrade prices about a week after the Republican convention were as near to even money as made no difference. The dynamic duo of McCain/Palin ran wild for about a week, breaking the race wide open, until she started talking to the press. You've seen the interviews, I presume? The phrase "duck's eye view of a shotgun blast" comes to mind.

If McCain loses, it's his disastrous choice of a running mate that will have sunk him. And this choice offers a window into McCain's thought processes that can be quite illuminating.

A fair number of people, some journalists included, tend to say that John McCain is a former fighter pilot. Strictly speaking, this isn't true. McCain is a former attack pilot. It's a different game entirely, played by a different set of rules. A fighter pilot is constantly engaged with the enemy or situation at hand, constantly trying to out-maneuver him to get a shot. An attack pilot's MO is different. They're just as engaged with the situation at hand, but their engagements with gunners on the ground is different. They aren't constantly engaged in a move/countermove cycle. They just have to juke a gunner on the ground once, and then they're long gone. The attack pilot constantly jukes, jinks, and pulls wild maneuvers to break contact and proceed to their target. It's no less demanding than being a fighter pilot, but the thought process is still different.

It certainly appears that his VP choice was an impulse buy. And it's a fair argument that there weren't many other good choices. I can almost see him leafing through potential VP dossiers: "Death. Death. Electric death. Painful salt-water-and-razor-blade-jacuzzi death ... oh, hey, no one's ever heard of this one before! She'll work!" And he was right, at least in the near term. The excitement over his new VP sent waves of energy through his base that weren't there before. He surged in the polls. Obama's odds went from 3-2 to even money in a matter of days. And then...

The ugly truth comes out. She's incapable of holding an intelligent, unscripted conversation on anything of real substance. If it hasn't been made plain already, it will become manifestly clear during the upcoming VP debate. Mind you, I still don't like Biden, for reasons I've mentioned earlier. And he's prone to sticking his foot in his mouth. But, he knows his stuff. If it's an issue he's had a chance to study up on, he'll know the particulars inside-out. Palin's going to wake up the morning after with a license plate number embossed into her skull, wondering where that Mack truck came from.

Now, you may ask, why does this even matter? It's not as if VP is a real job, anyway. You're doing two things: waiting for the opportunity to cast tie-breaking votes in the Senate, and waiting for the boss to keel over. Neither one happens all that often.

Well, here's why it matters. It's the first Presidential decision that a candidate makes. The care, deliberation, and process that they use form the template for all their decisions to follow. If that decision is quite plainly impulsive and tactical as opposed to considered and strategic, then it's reasonable to guess that the Presidency to follow would be one of management by damage control, lurching from one crisis to the next. And by this yardstick, McCain did not exactly cover himself with glory with his VP pick. It's deeply disappointing, and gives me grave concerns over his actual ability to govern.

What John McCain must do: John McCain has to win the center. He needs 96 of the 135 toss-up EVs on the table to win, Obama needs but 41. But he can't win the center by running to the right. It's not quite irretrievable, yet, but will be soon unless he pulls something spectacular out of his hat. Or, if something equally spectacular happens that he's able to capitalize on. And no matter what he does, if the election turns on economic issues, he's probably screwed.

What Barack Obama must do: Barack Obama must avoid unforced errors. He also has to win the center, but he's closer to accomplishing that goal than McCain is. The economic crisis plays to his strengths on domestic policy. As long as he stays calm, looks Presidential, and doesn't say anything stupid or crazy, he can keep his lead. At this point, he's not playing "catch-up", he's playing "stay-ahead", which is a far easier game.

The way to bet: Intrade isn't quoting odds quite so favorable anymore, but I'd still take 3-2 odds on Obama winning on November 4th. I don't think McCain's getting out of the hole he's dug for himself. For that matter, I'm not sure that he's even stopped digging.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

What the Heck?

If you'll glance over to the right, as of this writing, something important appears to have changed. The Earth Advisory Board has changed the status of our planet to Red, for Destroyed.

Dire news, if true. Is this any cause for concern?

Well, not really. I suspect the proprietor of the site that I get that tag from is having some fun at the expense of the fools who think that the Large Hadron Collider will actually destroy the world. Which, quite plainly, it won't.

So, despite what appears to be a false alarm, the world is still here. Yes, it's still messed up, but when hasn't it been?

Monday, September 08, 2008

The Return of the King!

If we can credit the rumors flying around at places like and VeloNews, it looks like Lance Armstrong is coming out of retirement to ride for Team Astana in 2009. This puts him back with Johan Bruyneel, his old Sporting Director from Discovery, and also with George Hincapie, who rode as his teammate through all seven Tour de France victories.

Looks like he wants to make it an even eight. I don't know of anyone who could stop him, were he so inclined. At the same time, he's not getting any younger. Time will catch up to him eventually. But, probably not this year, or next year, or maybe even the year after that.

Stand by for the Tour de Lance: coming to a television near you in July, 2009!

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Post-Convention Update (E-58)

Well, now both parties have official candidates, and we're at the sixty-day mark. Just under two months to go. Now, let's see how the numbers look. First, from Pollster:

Strong D: 231 (+17)
Lean D: 29 (-17)
Toss-Up: 99 (-3)
Lean R: 84 (+20)
Strong R: 115 (+3)

Total D: 260 (+0)
Total R: 179 (+3)

Now, some total EV estimates from Election Projection:

9/1/08 Estimate: Obama 278, McCain 260
9/5/08 Estimate: Obama 311, McCain 227

States Obama currently "winning" that Bush won in 2004 (also from EP):

Colorado (9), Nevada (5), Ohio (20), Virginia (13), Iowa (7), New Mexico (5)

And lastly, the betting man's predictions from Intrade: (chances of winning)

Obama 57.5%, McCain 42.4%.

The big news of the week is, of course, McCain's pick of Sarah Palin as his running mate. This is a problematic pick in my opinion. For starters, McCain has essentially conceded the experience argument. By picking a newcomer to national politics, he opens his campaign up to an immediate riposte if he should make a claim based on Obama's lack of experience. That's now a wash. Further, Palin has a few serious problems as a candidate. The one that really bothers me is the association her husband had with the Alaska Independence Party, and the fact that she actually spoke at one of their conventions. Granted, she was mayor of the town that was hosting said convention ... but if it had been my town, I wouldn't have given that lot the time of day. Also, there are two ongoing investigations into possible abuses of power. Either McCain's vetters never bothered to ask these questions, or they knew about them and decided it was a good pick anyway. Both are disturbing, if for slightly different reasons.

The pick says more about McCain, though, than it says about anything else. McCain is still a strike pilot at heart: aggressive and unpredictable. These are qualities that serve a strike pilot well. When you're scudding across the treetops at 500 knots, it's rather less important to make a perfect decision than it is to make a fast one. You only have to confuse a gunner for a second, then you're long gone. But are these qualities that will serve him well as a commander-in-chief? That remains to be seen.

Also: it does have to be said that both candidates picked their running mates for different reasons. Obama picked a running mate that would make him a better President. McCain picked a running mate that would make him a better candidate. The real story here, I think, is that McCain is still running for the whole-hearted support of the Republican base. That's a dangerous thing to do, especially this late in a race. Primaries may be decided on the fringe, but general elections are decided in the center. The candidate who speaks best to that center will win the election.

What John McCain must do: Now that he's finally tacked down his carpet, politically speaking, he must begin campaigning for the center. If he tries an old-school divisive campaign, he's liable to lose and lose big. Sure, he's got to bring conservatives to the polls. He still has to come out swinging. But if he tries riffs from 2000 or 2004, they won't play as well this year as they have in the past. He's got to win the independents, too. He's got to show where Obama's proposals won't work, and have some specific counter-proposals that will appeal to the center. If he stays smart, aggressive, and lucky, it's still doable. But it remains an uphill battle.

What Barack Obama must do: Attacking Palin is something that will have to be done carefully, if it is to be done at all. He cannot be seen to be attacking her for who she is. What she's said, and what she's done are all fair game, but be sure that the attacks are all about substance, and that all blows are above the belt. He's done better about engaging McCain's campaign head-to-head, and has some gains to show for it. But it's no coast or cake-walk, not by a long shot. He can still snatch defeat from the jaws of victory by complacency or foolishness. It's never too late. He has to maintain a vigorous engagement on the issues, while avoiding unforced errors. If he can pull that off, his chances of winning look pretty good.

The Way to Bet: Intrade's line was running 60-40 in Obama's favor for weeks, before shifting a little bit during/after the Republican convention. But the shift isn't much. I'd take 3-2 odds on Obama winning, though I wouldn't put the mortgage on it.

Fifty-eight days to go. Remember, vote early, and vote often!

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Pre-Convention Update (E-72)

Instead of waiting for the sixty-day mark, I decided to pull numbers right before and right after both parties' conventions. Without further ado, the numbers:

Strong D: 214 (-17)
Lead D: 46 (-7)
Toss-up: 102 (+5)
Lean R: 64 (+19)
Strong R: 112 (-10)

Total D: 260
Total R: 176

The major change from last time: McCain came out swinging. It was risky, inherently risky, but so far it looks like it's paying dividends. He's put Ohio back in the toss-up column, which makes it a real race again, at least potentially. He retains the problem that he absolutely has to run the table on the toss-ups to win, but it's mathematically possible now. It wasn't, before.

Now, the weekend's big news is that Barack Obama has picked Joe Biden as his running mate. The announcement has pretty much sucked all the oxygen out of the room, and no one on the news channels can talk about anything else. He's not my favorite guy in all the world, but was there another choice? Biden brings experience, and a bit of gravitas. He's got as much foreign policy experience as anyone in his party at this point. He's got some experience with economic issues as well. Mostly, this kicks off their convention spiel two days early. That puts some pressure on McCain's campaign to drop a bombshell late Friday or early Saturday.

Now, we're going to look at each of the toss-ups, and see who'd win if the election were today. Caveat Emptor: I'm awarding the votes to whoever has a plurality. Almost by definition, nobody has cleared 50% support in a toss-up state.

Alaska: D +3
Nevada: D +5
Montana: D +3
Colorado: D +9
Ohio: D +20
Virginia: D +13
New Hampshire: D +4

Total D: +57

North Dakota: R +3
North Carolina: R +15
Florida: R +27

Total R: +45

Projected D: 317
Projected R: 221

This projection is worth exactly as much as you have paid for it. But the polling data, in aggregate, tells a sad story for Republicans.

What John McCain must do: McCain is going to have to endure a week-long media blackout, unless something really interesting happens at the Democratic convention, and all Hell breaks loose. He's going to have to ruthlessly exploit any mistakes the Democrats make during their own convention, while simultaneously batting it out of the park during his own. He's had a good run these last few weeks, pulling 24 EVs from the Democrats while adding 9 net EVs to his own tally. He's got to keep that train rolling. He has to win all but eight of the EVs on the toss-up list. Which is to say, he can live without Nevada and Montana, but has to have all of the rest.

What Barack Obama must do: Obama has lost the initiative. This isn't an existential crisis for his campaign, not yet, given the size of his EV lead. He only needs to pull ten EVs from the toss-up list to win. That's Ohio or Virginia. But it's still troubling. He can't continue to sail above the fray. He's got to engage McCain's campaign head-to-head. He knows how -- anyone who matriculated through the Chicago school of politics knows every dirty trick ever invented, and then some -- but has chosen not to respond in kind so far. He, or someone from his campaign, has got to get in the pit and start swinging. Otherwise, they may yet snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

The Way to Bet: Obama still owns a substantial lead, but has lost the initiative. I'm hesitant to call it, but I still think Obama wins. It's not a landslide, but not a squeaker, either. And if McCain continues to chip away at the middle, it'll get tighter yet.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Thoughts on Miranda

Not too long ago, while convalescing from an illness, I found myself watching an episode of COPS. Why, I'm not entirely sure, since it's not something I ordinarily seek out. Near as I can tell, I fell asleep watching Ninja Warrior, and that happened to be the next thing on the schedule.

You learn all kinds of interesting things from COPS.

For instance, it always pays to stay sober and to keep your shirt on. The dudes on COPS that are drunk and shirtless almost always get a free ride downtown. "What'd this one do, Leroy?" "Dunno, Bob. But he was drunk, and wasn't wearing a shirt. Hadda be doin' something." "Works for me. Book 'em!"

What it really got me thinking about, though, was the Miranda warning. Based on what I saw, Miranda is in sore need of an update.

Here's a boilerplate version of the Miranda warning:

You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to have an attorney present during questioning. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed for you.

Now, here's my new and improved version:

You have the right to remain silent. Oh please, dear sweet Jesus, remain silent! But no. You'll rant, and rave, and make pronouncements. You'll make all kinds of bold statements that we'll record for the DA's amusement. He'll take those statements, fold them 'till they're all corners, and ram them home where the Sun don't shine. When they're replayed in court, your attorney -- and you can have an attorney whenever you want, whether you can afford it or not -- your attorney will groan, hide his face in his hands, and bitterly curse the day he gave up hanging sheet rock for the study of law. But for now, for right now, you have a golden opportunity to shut the hell up. Please, for all our sakes, take it!

I don't expect it to catch on. But it probably accurately reflects what a lot of officers really feel...

Monday, August 18, 2008

National Aviation Day

According to Wikipedia, August 19 is National Aviation Day. In honor of the event, I would like to present a few of my favorite "aviation oddity" photos.

(1) Adventures in Traffic Enforcement. Please, oh please, tell me this fool wasn't trying to pull a fighter jet over for speeding...

(2) Tail Number of the Beast. Apparently, Satan used to fly a Starfighter for the Japan Air Self-Defense Force. Who knew?

(3) The Things You Find on Google Earth. Methinks some poor Lieutenant got lost trying to park his Eagle at Elmendorf AFB in Alaska.


FROM: Gen. Anger
TO: Lt. Fumducker
RE: Parking at Elmendorf AFB

Be advised that you turn LEFT off the runway to get to USAF Base Ops, and RIGHT to get to General Aviation. LEFT, not RIGHT. LEFT. Next time you do this, your ass is PUSHING that damn jet back.

(Note: I actually met a Major Anger once, call sign "Rage". He's actually a really nice guy.)

(4) Learning to Fly. Learning to fly is good. Learning to land? Even better!

These are my current favorites. More to come, infrequently, as I find them.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Ninety Days and Counting

Ninety days from today, we go to the polls to elect the next President of the United States. While Wikipedia lists ten parties and two independent bids, for all practical intents and purposes we know that the two real contenders are the presumptive nominees for the Democratic and Republican parties, Barack Obama and John McCain, respectively. No one knows who's going to win yet. Three months is an eternity in national politics. But we can look at trends, and that's what I'm going to do in the first week of each month between now and November.

Data Source

I will be using the website for my data. Why this site? Simple. Polls can be misleading, sometimes deliberately so. What these guys do, they take all the polling data available, and and then do some statistical jiggery-pokery to arrive at a best estimate of what the data really say. Which is to say, an individual poll might be full of skew and spin, but taking all of them together averages out any polling bias there may be.

Electoral College Estimates as of 8/6/2008

Strong D: 231
Lean D: 53
Toss-up: 97
Lean R: 35
Strong R: 122

Total D: 284
Total R: 157

Bear in mind that the magic number is 270. The first man past that post on Election Night takes it all. Also, bear in mind that the national trend poll is virtually meaningless. We do not elect the President by national plebiscite, at least not yet. The real election for President still takes place when the Electoral College meets. With this in mind, and looking at the map, some obvious facts present themselves.

What John McCain must do: McCain must win every toss-up state, and also win one of Michigan or Ohio. Look for McCain's campaign to begin targeting one or both of those states, to try to calve it off of Obama's "lean"list. If he doesn't, he's toast; there just aren't enough toss-up states on the table to put him over the top.

What Barack Obama must do: Obama must hold on to all of his "lean" states, as well as all of the states where he enjoys a strong lead. Just that. If he can pull that off, he'll come away with 284 EC votes plus whatever of the toss-up states fall his way.

The way to bet: As of this writing, it's looking like Obama takes it in a not particularly close election. McCain will have to turn up the heat, big-time, and that's a risky thing to do; while Obama simply has to avoid unforced errors. If McCain can carve off either Michigan or Ohio, it's a real race again.

To be continued, sometime in early September...

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Christmas in July!

Truly, we live in an age of wonders.

A few months ago, I wrote about these news items, about a couple of (ahem) personal vehicles that I really, really want in my garage. Well, according to this article from the New York Times, I can add one more to my Christmas wish list.

A real, honest-to-God jet-pack that actually works!

Well, to be picky, it's not a jet-pack as much as it's a ducted-fan-pack, but I still want one.

(Hat tip: Instapundit)

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

NASA at 50

Fifty years ago today, President Dwight Eisenhower signed the National Aeronautics and Space Act into law, creating NASA. The agency thus created has led the American space effort, and has had its share of both triumph and tragedy. To mark the day, I'm hashing out a quick review of NASA's record: the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.

The Good

Without doubt, NASA's signature triumph was putting an American on the Moon, and bringing him back safely. I think a good argument could be made that this was our finest hour. We built the most powerful machines in history, not for conquest, not for destruction, but for exploration ... to go somewhere we'd never been, and to learn something we didn't know before. And they answered the challenge head-on: between the day Kennedy laid the challenge down on May 25, 1961 and the day Columbia splashed down in the Pacific on July 24, 1969 was a span of only 8 years, 1 month, and 29 days. (Fun trivia fact: both dates were Thursdays, so the span was exactly 426 weeks.) Only eight years to invent procedures and spacecraft that had never existed before, to accomplish a task they weren't sure was even possible when they started. And they haven't slacked off on the unmanned exploration front: NASA's robots have visited every planet in the Solar System, saving only Pluto (which was a planet, at the time of NASA's inception). To this we can add Hubble, which has revolutionized our understanding of astronomy. Neither has aeronautics been forgotten: the laboratories continue to forge ahead with propulsion research, test-flying a Mach 8 scramjet for the first time last year. We have much to be proud of, for our paltry expenditures.

The Bad

There have been a few miscues, some would even say more than a few. The Block I Apollo spacecraft was a total goat-rope that ended up costing the lives of three good men in the Apollo 1 fire. A stem-to-stern redesign resulted in a pretty good spacecraft, but still. Your design process really ought not involve smoking a crew if you can help it. This is a pattern that seems to repeat itself every 15-20 years. Good engineering practice gets overtaken by hasty dumb-ass, and the predictable thing happens. Mind you, flight test is a dangerous business. Back in the late 50s and early 60s, when the early astronauts were cutting their teeth in the flight test business, you'd expect to lose several pilots during a test program. Losses incurred while you're pressing the outside of the envelope are one thing. Losses incurred through complacent inattention are another thing entirely. The former is a cost of doing business, the latter is entirely avoidable. And we've lost seventeen good men and women to the latter, seventeen too many. Let's hope the lessons stay learned this time, and we don't have a repeat in the 2016-2020 time-frame.

The Ugly

When you compare the agency in its early years to what you see today, you wonder why it only took a little more than eight years to go from a President's say-so to landing on the Moon, and today we'll spin our wheels for at least ten more years and still be a year or two away. The answer is really quite simple. It's a fully-matured bureaucracy now, in a way that it wasn't, back in the day. Young organizations travel light and move fast, everyone's focused on the mission like a laser beam. Nothing else mattered. Today, it's very much a 9-to-5 outfit ... and really, is that such a bad thing? When I think of all the wrecked families that littered the roadside on the way to Tranquility Base, maybe not. That's a bit of history we need not repeat. Still, they've developed a very strict, very rigid way of doing business that they will not depart from. That makes it hard to innovate. It makes for a slow-moving organization, one that people will begin to lose patience with, by and by.

The Future

They will continue to do their work, be it good, bad, or indifferent. It's a Federal bureaucracy, and therefore very unlikely to be shut down anytime real soon. And their best work is quite good indeed, even today. But what I do see happening, is that they'll lose the initiative in the American space effort. Maybe in fifteen years, twenty at the most, the center of gravity of the American space effort will be firmly in private industry, in places like SpaceX and Virgin Galactic. They're stalking the wild greenback, and won't let ceremony stand in their way. Which is fine. It may even allow NASA to rediscover what I think is, at bottom, its real mission.

You see, in my opinion, NASA's job isn't really to put a person on Mars. NASA's real job is to figure out the technology to let the National Geographic Society put some people on Mars. Or how about Survivor: Olympus Mons? Now, wouldn't that be a sight to see?

Thursday, July 10, 2008

It's Always April Fool's Day...

It never ceases to amaze me what can arouse fear and trembling here in the Land of the Tiny-Brained Folk. Just when I thought we'd put millennial madness behind us with the non-event that was Y2K, Lo! it just begins again. Case in point: this piece from the world-famous AOL newsroom about a bunch of mystics that have their shorts in a wad over the Long Count.

I've had a long-standing interest in calendars of all kinds. I think they're cool. I came to the study of calendars from my long-time interest in astronomy, and eventually got interested in them in their own right. It's a fascinating business, how people choose to mark time. Do they mark the passing of the Sun, or the Moon, or some combination of the two? What do they use for their epoch date, and why? That choice alone tells you a lot about the mind-set of the calendar maker.

The modern Julian Day calendar, for example, is in broad use by those of us who study the motion of the planets for both fun and profit. Its epoch was chosen purely arbitrarily. The Julian Day is the number of days that have elapsed since January 1, 1950, UTC. It's not a whole number, but a decimal, so that you can get as precise as you need to. Interesting factoid, useless to most people. But I find it curious.

The Byzantine calendar, now... They date their calendar from when they believe the world was created in Genesis, some 7500-odd years ago. The year 2000 AD, for example, would have been
Etos Kosmou 7508 on January 1, rolling over to 7509 on September 1, which was their New Year. Neat, but again, mostly useless.

Our calendar dates from the estimated birth of Christ ... but they got the year wrong. Whoops. The really funny thing about people getting their shorts in a knot about the passing of the 2000th year since the birth of Christ? They were getting excited about four years late. Maybe. We just don't know for sure. (I suppose I could ask when I get there... Provided that I still give a rip.)

And then there's the Hebrew Calendar, a combination lunar/solar calendar that I've never entirely understood. Their epoch date is a year before Creation. I find that slightly nuts. What, it took the Almighty most of a year to get His blueprints past peer review? But it's best not to consider such things too deeply. That way lay madness.

The point is, all calendars are arbitrary. They're tools for marking the passing of years, no more, no less. By far, their most important role in ancient societies was telling people when they should plant crops. That's serious business, because if you plant too early or too late, you go hungry. But aside from that, their use is purely ceremonial, and the Universe at large simply does not care how we measure time, or for that matter, if we measure it at all.

Which brings us to this barge of fools crying "Doom! Doom!" for 2012, because the Mayan calendar is running out. Why, pray tell, do they think the Mayans have a unique groove? Personally, I find it hard to take their word on the date of Doomsday if they never got around to inventing the freaking wheel. The second simplest machine of all time, and it never once occurred to them? Not one of them looked at the round calendar carved into the side of a temple and mused to themselves that something roundish might make hauling fifty-ton stone blocks easier?

You have to admit, failing to invent the wheel kind of disqualifies you from the leader-board of History's Cleverest People.

Besides, it's not as if they have the only cyclical calendar. The Hindu calendar, for example, will trundle merrily along for another 420,000 years give or take before its current age ends. But we don't see anyone getting excited about that bit of prophecy, do we?

Well, that's partly because no one seriously expects to be around then. But that's beside the point.

Or is it? After all, 2012 is tantalizingly close. Most anyone alive today can seriously expect to be around then. Whatever happens then, they'll be here to see it. There are always people just chomping at the bit to see Armageddon in their time. Some of them, I expect, bounce from one round of "Doom!" to another like Tarzan swinging through the Jungle of Life. Y2K proved a bust, and this was the next one to come along.

Me, not so much. I take great confidence in the fact that mystics have predicted 10 of the last 0 ends of the world. I expect December 21, 2012 to come and go just like any other day. No one from Galactic Utilities is going to come by and tell us that we haven't paid our calendar bill.

You won't get off that easy, guys. You'll have to wake up the next morning and go to work, just like the rest of us. Get used to it.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Faster Than Light?

And now for something completely different ...

A long time ago, I read a compilation of Fred Saberhagen's Berserker short stories. The first one, I think, was a piece about the final battle between the Berserker fleet, and the humans that had united to resist them. One of the stranger things in the story was a weapon Saberhagen called the "C-Plus Cannon", a gun that launched its projectiles faster than light. There's an unfriendly weapon for you: first you get the kaboom that comes with getting hit, then you see a missile flying backwards to the ship that fired it. Weird.

But would it really work that way? Let's think about that for a moment.

Let's try a thought experiment. We're going to visit our experimental station on Eris, way the heck out in the Kuiper Belt. We're going to watch a demonstration flight of a prototype vessel capable of flying twice the speed of light. (Yes, this "experiment" contains a fatal flaw ... but bear with me, we'll come around to it presently.)

The flight plan is that it'll fly out twelve light-seconds, do a flip-turn, and fly back to base. At T=0, it begins to fly away. The image begins to fly off in the direction of the target, but not as fast as we'd expect. After three seconds, the image has only receded by two light-seconds. Huh? That doesn't seem right ... At six seconds, it's at the four light-second mark. It continues to crawl into the distance, reaching eight light-seconds away at the twelve-second mark. We're about ready to call it a bust, when BLAM! The vehicle suddenly re-appears at the dock! And, its image begins to shoot backwards at what appears to be twice the speed of light. We watch, boggled, as the two images converge on either side of the flip-turn, when they both vanish.

Weird enough for you? Except for one problem ... It could never actually happen that way. We'll show that by doing another thought-experiment. But we're going to lay down a few simple rules first. They're based on some simple principles that describe the way we think the world works.

One: It's a property of photons that they can only travel at one speed in a particular medium. That's to say, light always moves at the speed of light. It can't accelerate or decelerate, it can only gain or lose energy in frequency.

Two: There's no such thing as a universally-preferred frame of reference. Which is to say, there's no such thing as absolute motion. Motion is always relative to something else you can see.

Three: If you're way, way out in deep space, there's no way to tell if you're at rest, or if you're moving at a constant speed, in a straight line. That's a subset of the principle above. Absent a reference to the contrary, you may as well be standing still.

Four: The speed of light is the same in every inertial frame of reference. That means it doesn't matter who's looking at it, they all clock a beam of light at the same speed.

Bearing those four things in mind, let's imagine two ships out in deep space. Both are moving at a constant speed in straight lines. One of them is charged up to several million volts relative to the other, and they're going to pass very close to one another.

Let's look at the encounter from the first ship's point of view. Your instruments can't tell if you're moving or not, so you're perfectly justified in saying that you're sitting still while this other fool zips past you. At closest approach, a spark jumps between the ships, causing a flash. ZAP! You're now at the center of an expanding shell of photons, racing away at the speed of light in all directions.

The interesting thing is that we can make the exact same observation from the point of view of the second ship. You're minding your own business when this other guy flashes past, then ZAP! You're at the center of an expanding shell of photons.

Notice that we haven't said anything about the relative speed of the "moving" ship. It can be arbitrarily large, up to a point ... But do notice that from either point of view, both ships are within the expanding shell of photons!

Therefore, both ships must be traveling slower than the speed of light. However fast we imagine either ship moving, we cannot imagine a situation that places either ship outside of the flash zone, unless one of our four assumptions is incorrect.

Now, if we go back and look at our first experiment, we see that the way it's set up does violate the assumptions. It assumes a preferred, God's eye frame of reference that can't exist. And it ignores the fact that light always moves the same speed in every frame of reference. There are probably other problems too, but those are the major deal-breakers.

The sad and sorry fact is that faster-than-light travel does not appear to be possible within our space-time. There may be ways to cheat, by bending or folding space, but that's a story for another day.

Monday, June 30, 2008

It's Over (We Think)

The long and sometimes extremely bizarre travail of Floyd Landis appears to have come to an end, of sorts. The decision handed down by the CAS in Switzerland was much harsher in tone than the that from the Pepperdine proceedings, but the end result is much the same. The adverse decision has been upheld. (More discussion here, from TBV, elsewhere on Blogspot.)

Some observations follow:

One, I doubt that this is really and truly over. Legal matters are rarely over so long as there's a lawyer somewhere who hasn't got paid yet. Expect this to wend its way through someone's court system like a gut-shot mule for another year, at least. But at this point, Landis stands a better chance of drawing to an inside straight than winning vindication.

Two, the truly disappointing thing about this decision is its affirmation of the "competence" of the LNDD laboratory whose clown-tastic inability to follow procedures started this whole farce in the first place. Apparently, CAS looks at the officially-sanctioned labs and says, "Men of my stamp commit no crimes."

Mind you, I don't care enough to be really outraged. But it does stick in my craw to see shoddy work rewarded. What incentive does the Chatenay-Malabry lab have to improve its procedures, if even the most craptacular monkey-work passes international muster?

Maybe they've addressed their deficiencies, maybe not. Maybe the decision from Pepperdine was enough of a rap on the nose to set them straight, but I doubt it. No, the only rebuke strong enough is if a panel outright declares that their work isn't to be trusted, and overturns their result. That absolutely forces them to review how they keep records, run tests, and otherwise armor-plate their lab work with solid paperwork. As it stands, I wouldn't trust that lot to do a store-bought pregnancy test properly. I've seen no evidence that their standards have improved. I'm prepared to say otherwise, pending evidence to the contrary. I shan't hold my breath.

Meanwhile, it's almost time for the 2008 Tour to start ... and for the second year running, there's no returning champion riding to defend his title. And that's just sad. It's possibly the saddest thing about this entire sorry spectacle.

Maybe the worst is over, and we'll have a good, clean race this year. Maybe we'll see a race decided on the road, not in a test tube or a courtroom.

Wouldn't that be something?

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Primary 2008 Post-Mortem

"If God is merciful, we'll get to choose between John McCain and Barack Obama in November." -- Me, 27Jan08

Well, I got the match-up I wanted, but how the heck did we get here?

It's easy to forget the Republican race, since it ended so long ago. But it's especially hard to remember that only a year ago, John McCain was politically DOA. His campaign practically disintegrated last summer. He scraped through the fall on a shoestring budget. Here's the thing, though: John McCain didn't need to tell anyone who he was. They already knew that. He just had to hang around long enough to capitalize on an opportunity. That opportunity came with Mike Huckabee's surprise win in Iowa. I remarked at the time that this would cause the antibodies to come out with a vengeance ... The Republican electorate felt the blitz coming, and like a quarterback, ran through their check-down. Romney? No. Giuliani? No. Both looked OK earlier, but now? Well, looky here, guess who's still around? And lo, John McCain surged in the polls. Really, he was the only sane choice out of that lot.

Now we get to the interesting bit ... The Democratic Primary, which seemed to go on for-freaking-ever. And I do have to say that the campaign really highlighted Hillary Clinton's unfitness for the Presidency in a way that I didn't clearly understand before. Why do I say that? Because she failed spectacularly at a relatively simple exercise in contingency planning.

Looking back to the campaign's beginnings, she started with a massive lead in the polls, and a seemingly insurmountable lead in name recognition. She and her staff took one look at the calendar, much like I did, and made the mental calculation that it'd be in the bag after Super Tuesday. All she had to do was win the first primaries, carry the momentum into February, and there you are ...

To all appearances, the following question was never floated at a Clinton strategy meeting: "What if we're wrong? What if the race goes on into March and April?"

Barack Obama's campaign, on the other hand, had a full-court press planned from the beginning. Superior organization and fundraising gave him advantages in the early races that didn't show until it was go-time. This allowed him to build momentum going into February. A split decision on Super Tuesday didn't seal the deal for him, of course, but it gave him a springboard to launch into the March primaries, for which his team was already well-prepared.

Clinton's team, on the other hand, didn't even know how Texas' split election-caucus system worked. That hurt them in Texas. Clinton won the vote part, but lost so dramatically on the caucus side that Obama ended up winning a majority of Texas' delegates.

Clinton's campaign recovered better than I thought they would. They managed to scramble, and cobble up organizations in states they never expected to matter ... but too late, really, to do any good. The damage was done. Obama gained a lead in March that he never relinquished.

There were a lot of other factors at play, of course. But the lack of planning was the killer. Failing to plan is the same as planning to fail.

And now, it's time to start looking forward towards November. As I said earlier, this is the match-up I really wanted to see. Now, I'll tell you why I say that.

Each party rejected something nasty and caustic from its past. The Republicans had an opportunity to choose a candidate who was a lite theocrat (Huckabee) or a full-time security nut (Giuliani), and rejected both. They chose a candidate who understands morality, and understands national security, but blends both with a real respect for America's finest traditions. The Democrats had a chance to nominate a real class-warfare candidate (Edwards) or a divisive culture-warrior (Clinton), but again refused to do so. They've picked a candidate who represents what's still right about America: if you come here and play by the rules, there's no job your sons can't aspire to. That's as powerful an advertisement for the dream that is America as damn near anything else I can think of.

I think each man brings real strengths to the table, that could serve them well as President. Now, it's up to both men to sell themselves to the American electorate, and it's our responsibility to listen to them very carefully in the next few months. And maybe, just maybe, we can have an honest national discussion on where we really need to go from here.

Let's have a good, clean fight, gentlemen. Let the best man win!