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!