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.