Monday, December 31, 2007

Whose Second Favorite?
By all accounts, the Iowa presidential preference on the Democratic side is pretty close between the top 3 - maybe Clinton has a slight lead. 2nd choice might make the difference. In Iowa's caucus system, voters can re-align with a different candidate if - in the first count - some don't make the cut of 15% in a precinct.

Recent polls have followed the popular belief, that the most popular choice for 2nd among Democrats in Iowa is John Edwards, followed by Obama. But, if you ask me, there's a further catch. Not everyone's second choice matters equally, only those whose first choice doesn't reach the 15% threshold. I have to believe that Clinton, Obama and Edwards will meet it in virtually every caucus site - only some tomfoolery would have their supporters switching after already viable. The caucus-goers whose 2nd choice matters most are those behind Biden and Richardson, who seem to have consequential support levels, but also seem unlikely to crack 15%. It might matter little that Edwards is the overall second choice. What will matter is if Biden and Richardson (and I suppose Dodd and Kucinich) supporters break significantly one way over the others, and what the supporters of the other 2 do to counter that. Also, will there be any last-minute deals? Remember in 2004, Kucinich and Edwards asked their supporters to switch to the other if they didn't meet 15%.

Even beyond 2nd preference, strategy can play a part. Read this MyDD post from a veteran Iowa caucus-goer to see how sometimes in a precinct you may even leave your candidate to help make another viable and decrease the number of delegates of your rival. A Clinton supporter could end up caucusing with Edwards to put him just high enough to qualify for one more delegate at the expense of Obama, for example, or vice-versa. At the end of the day, raw votes aren't important. Each precinct will be awarded so many delegates ahead of time. The job of the caucus-goers is to divide those delegates among the candidates that receive 15% or more of the support.

Most precincts award between 1 and 9 delegates. For those with 3, 6 or 9, differences in raw vote totals between Edwards, Clinton and Obama will likely be erased and they will get an equal number of delegates. But in precincts with, say, 7, small differences between the 3 will be magnified as the plurality winner - no matter how slight the margin - will likely receive 3 and the others 2. The totals we hear at the end of the night will be the count of these precinct delegates. That number may not bear resemblance to the percentage of support a candidate has, depending on how the math and the haggling shake out. I assume each of the 3 campaigns has an overall strategy - passed down through captains - of doing what it takes to minimize the delegates of one of their rivals. I believe Obama's problem in Iowa is that, I assume, he is the target of both of the others. Clinton sees him as her only real rival, while Edwards wants to become the anti-Hillary candidate. Each could send supporters to caucus with the others - or to make Richardson or Biden viable in a precinct at Obama's expense.

If you're especially interested in this, you may like playing with this caucus calculator.

On the GOP side, it's even more fascinating - and luckily I could care less who they come up with. Only 2 candidates look to get 15% in most all precincts: Huckabee and Romney. Maybe as many as 1/3 of the caucus-goers will have to choose a second after their first choice is knocked out. Will they flock to one of the 2 front-runners? Or will they coalesce around, say McCain or Thompson or Giuliani to reach the mark? And where will the loyal Ron Paul crowd go? Will be interesting to see what the gap is between 2nd and 3rd. I don't know much, but I would guess the tendency would be to pick from among the 2 contenders, as opposed to moving to another underperforming candidate, or to stay undecided. There could be some low numbers for some big name candidates. Remember that polling at 14% might get you third in one of today's Iowa Republican polls, but you can't come out of a caucus precinct with 14% Only 15% registers. It's looking like McCain is on the move and could take 3rd there - if I had to guess I'd say he will get the independent-minded Paul supporters (the ones that don't want to remain undecided anyway) if they can make him 15%+ viable. If I was Thompson or Giuliani, I'd be working a Kucinich-Edwards-like deal. Neither of them can afford to have McCain running away with a strong 3rd heading to New Hampshire, where he looks to do very well now. [Nevermind. The GOP process is very different from the Democrats, I've learned. They - more sanely, shockingly - use a secret ballot with no re-alignment. The results are tabulated, delegates are awarded and the results are announced. Imagine that.]

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Fire in the Belly
Fred Thompson said today he does not much like the modern form of presidential campaigning and that he "will not be devastated" if he doesn't win the election.

"I'm not particularly interested in running for president," Thompson said, but rather he feels called to serve his country.
Health Roundup
What we learned in 2007.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Bhutto Assassinated
I don't claim to be expert in the innerworkings of Pakistani politics, but in the last few months, as Musharraf looked to be establishing more dictatorial rule, I was moved by Benazir Bhutto's decision to return for next month's election. From interviews anyway, she was quite impressive and obviously willing to sacrifice her safety in pursuit of bettering her country. Doesn't mean she should have had to die, though, just because she was willing to take that risk. I think sometimes we get caught up in the romanticism of martyrdom. Not me. I would rather have Martin Luther King, Bobby Kennedy, JFK, Malcolm X living to a ripe old age, thank you very much. As for Bhutto, it's a sad ending to a confusing story in a frightening place. (Or, maybe, a tragic beginning to a horrifying story somewhere near the end of civilization, depending on how you look at it.)

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Merry Christmas!
Hope everyone has a fun day, and gets to see all the family and friends you can over the next week. Will be back tomorrow.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Festivus Today
Let the Airing of Grievances begin!

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Great Moments in News
May your holiday be free of any incident that includes a sentence like this:
The man suddenly appeared at the door, naked, holding a double-bitted ax.
Unless, I guess, you're into that.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Update: Eric On His Way Home
American Eric Volz was freed by a judge on Friday despite an uproar in Nicaragua after an appeals court overturned his conviction and 30-year-sentence in the slaying of his Nicaraguan girlfriend.

The 28-year-old from Nashville, Tenn., accompanied by his mother, planned to immediately catch a flight to Atlanta. U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper's office confirmed that Volz's plane left Nicaragua this afternoon.
Merry Christmas!

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Makes Sense
So why did Bush decide to support the Energy bill, despite its increasing the fuel efficiency standards slightly? So that the next day, his administration could announce it is - for the first time ever - rejecting state applications to set their own higher standards.
The Bush administration sided with automakers yesterday, thwarting a California law to regulate tailpipe emissions as part of an aggressive campaign to slow global warming.

The ruling by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is a setback for California and more than a dozen other states planning to limit greenhouse gas emissions from vehicles.

The federal government had never before blocked California's efforts to enact tougher air quality rules.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Good Luck and Be Safe Maggie [UPDATED]
Off to Nicaraugua. Hopefully the State Dept. is putting lots of pressure on behind the scenes.

[UPDATE: a 12/20 update is here.]
My Bush Countdown Clock is finally under 400 days, which seems like an awful lot of days to still endure. Really, was Bill Clinton President this long?

Watch the seconds tick by at
Ha Ha
Waivers are silly. Just because you convinced someone to sign something doesn't mean you can turn around and kick them in the nuts, or whatever.
Ski resorts took a nasty fall Tuesday when the Utah Supreme Court ruled waivers can't prevent injured skiers from suing the resorts for negligence. Barring those suits is not in the best interests of society, the court said.
In its 3-2 opinion, the Supreme Court noted that the Utah Inherent Risks of Skiing Act was meant to protect ski resorts from being sued over dangers routinely involved in the sport - thus making insurance affordable. However, the legislation still holds them accountable for negligent acts, the majority of justices said.
The opinion marked the second time in recent years the high court has ruled against the enforceability of waivers. In 2001, the justices ruled parents do not have an inherent right to sign away a minor child's right to sue for damages.
We Got An Energy Bill
It's not perfect, but it's a start, and the President is signing it, because with some exceptions, only House members as nutty as mine voted against it.
The bill's centerpiece is the boost in the minimum fuel-efficiency standard for passenger vehicles, the first to be passed by Congress since 1975. It requires new auto fleets to average 35 miles a gallon by 2020, a 40 percent increase from today's 25-mile average. By 2020, the measure could reduce U.S. oil use by 1.1 million barrels a day, more than half the oil exported by Kuwait or Venezuela and equivalent of taking 28 million of today's vehicles off the road.
One portion of the bill sets new efficiency standards for appliances and will make the incandescent bulb -- invented two centuries ago and improved and commercialized by Edison in the 1880s -- virtually extinct by the middle of the next decade. The bill will phase out conventional incandescents, starting in 2012, with 100-watt bulbs, ultimately ceding the lighting market to more efficient compact fluorescent bulbs and light-emitting diodes (LEDs).

The commercial building industry could also be transformed by new incentives for energy-efficient windows, equipment and design. The federal government is supposed to make all of its buildings carbon-neutral through energy efficiency and clean energy use by 2030.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Ok I'll Say It
Good idea: The President would rather protect the phone companies than the American people.

Monday, December 17, 2007

What have you been watching, reading, listening to?

David Byrne Reviews...
A Caetano Veloso concert. Caetano is at the top of my list of artists I hope to see in concert before I die (or, I guess, before they do). He's been at the top for a long time. Now that I've seen Tom Waits a couple of times, I'm not even sure who is #2. Who's on your list?

Oh yeah, here's some of what DB had to say about the show:
They changed some of the older songs, giving them spikier and more fractured textures, but it worked. Lyrically, the differences may be more radical; the older stuff is generally sweeter than this new batch of songs, more often filled with turmoil and testiness. But this initial feeling of disquiet leads inevitably to captivation — even the cries of “I hate you” were somehow beautiful. They weren’t snarled as a punk or Emo band would do, but sung almost sweetly, and with a bewildered sadness that somehow those heavily charged words and feelings are bursting forth — the sadness of watching yourself say you hate someone.

The New Batman Trailer

Best of 2007?
Metacritics gauges the critical reaction to films and has this list of the best-reviewed of the year:
1. Ratatouille
2. Killer of Sheep
3. No Country for Old Men
4. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
5. No End in Sight
Any best-of list that includes both an animated film about a rodent chef and a documentary about the execution of the Iraq War is bound to have some apple-and-orange issues, but hey, wise guy, you try making a list.

The best-reviewed albums are here. As a sign of the times...Metacritics stopped compiling book review scores with the last installment of Harry Potter.

Weekend Box Office

1. I am Legend
2. Alvin and the Chipmunks
3. The Golden Compass
4. Enchanted
5. No Country for Old Men

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Flip-Flop Makes "Breakthrough" in Bali?
Did the US do an about-face to suddenly support moving forward on climate change talks? There are plenty of ways to be pessimistic about this one, but hey it's Christmas. I say we just take it as good news for now.
Paula Dobriansky, leader of the US delegation, and her colleague James Connaughton found themselves the targets of naked animosity. When Dobriansky announced that the US would not sign up for the Bali roadmap, boos echoed through the room. The Americans were sharply attacked by several delegations. "If you're not willing to lead, please get out of the way," said a US environmental activist representing Papua New Guinea.

Other opponents of binding targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, such as Japan or Russia, failed to come to the US delegation's defense. Left isolated, the American delegation gave in and agreed to the roadmap. "We will go forward and join consensus," said Dobriansky. This time the delegation was rewarded with a standing ovation from some participants.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Classy Has a New Name
Fred Thompson. When asked by the AP about his most prized possession, Fred responded: "My trophy wife."

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Stand With Al
Sign the petition.
"The One That Got Away"
An interesting article on Obama in the Legal Times, about how he could have named his clerkship - the envy of his fellow law students - but said no thanks.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Mitchell Report [UPDATED]
I'll be on the lookout for George Mitchell's press conference and report tomorrow. He has been investigating steroid use in baseball and is widely expected to name 75-80 players, including some big names. The former Senator is holding a press conference at 2 ET.

[UPDATE: Roger Clemens named - can't say I'm surprised. Andy Pettitte too.]
Not a Crook, a Mormon or a Weirdo
Found this at DKos - very funny. Press play:

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Average of Iowa Polls
Things are tightening. I'm still not sure which way I will go. This may be the first election in memory in which I decide at the last minute, and only then will be able to because I have to. I am working on a disturbed flowchart to demonstrate the difficulty of this decision-making process, but it's not yet ready for posting.

Monday, December 10, 2007

What have you been reading, listening to, watching?

Lots to go over today - I saw No Country for Old Men (wow), caught up in Dexter watching (eh), film awards are starting to come out, and as Lewberry reminded me a couple nights ago, DVD box sets are coming out now for the holiday season. So come back often today for the updates and have at it in comments. Lewberry, which DVDs most interest you? And to the rest of you, are DVD sets something you buy and/or watch?

Radio, Radio
Doug's got a great post over at his place about new music and the radio, and a lively discussion too - though it will fill your head with all kinds of unpleasantries. Actually, lots of the great music he talks about I heard for the first time not on SNL and not on college radio but just overheard, while hanging out at his house playing Stratego (or The Stock Market Game, or Gary Carter or whatever) with Stevie T and Kenny B. So, here's to the positive influence of older brothers - even when they're not your own.

No Country...
The Coen Brothers' newest leaves a stinging impression. Much more Blood Simple than Big Lebowski, and more Fargo than Raising Arizona, it's frightening and only the darkest of dark humor. I don't know if it's a great film, but it has the most harrowing villain I can remember. Still, in Coen fashion, the antagonist seems to be more about the universal place of injustice and misfortune in the world, beyond the particulars of this specific texas town and community of folks trying to escape its wrath. I recommend it heartily, but if Arizona and Lebowski are you primary associations with the Coen Brothers, prepare for a shock...

Film Awards
The LA Film Critics have given out the earliest 2007 film awards, and the big winner was PT Anderson's There Will Be Blood, starring the amazing Daniel Day-Lewis, based on Upton Sinclair's novel "Oil." I saw the very intense preview before No Country for Old Men, which won the NY Film Critics Awards. You can see the "Blood" preview below:

Weekend Box Office
1. The Golden Compass
2. Enchanted
3. This Christmas
4. Fred Claus
5. Beowulf

Sunday, December 09, 2007

My Feelings Wouldn't Be Hurt...
...if Republicans just couldn't pick a nominee. Seriously, Mike Huckabee is going to win it? No. And yet he's up 19 in Iowa according to the latest poll, and he's now leading even in South Carolina. Rudy Giuliani - a pro-choice, pro-gay-rights angry former Mayor who made his police force walk the dog of his mistress and taxi her around - is going to win the nomination of today's GOP? Of course not. And yet he leads the national polls. Mitt Romney is going to win? He's stale enough to be their champion, for sure. But his whole plan is about winning Iowa and New Hampshire, and now Huckabee is screwing that all up. What happens to him if he finishes in second in both? McCain's gonna win? After getting trounced in Iowa can a second place finish in NH even keep him in the race? Then there's Thompson who seems to be going nowhere fast. And moneybags Ron Paul who can buy enough commercials to ridicule that sorry cast of characters through February. How could any of them win? Yet why would any of them get out? After the big national primary day, the democratic race will be sewn up one way or another. But here's hoping the GOP is not done yet. What are the chances that after Feb. 5, no candidate has managed more than 33% or so in any single state? I've never seen a brokered convention before. Looks like as good a time as any to watch the fun.

Who can win, and how?

Friday, December 07, 2007

And Then There Were Nine
What do these nine celebrities/artists have in common: Bob Dylan, Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, Larry Bell, Dion DiMucci, Shirley Temple, Tony Curtis, Richard Merkin and Bobby Breen?

They are all on the cover of the Beatles' Sgt. Pepper album, and the only ones still living (according to my highly scientific research formula). That number was 10 until Wednesday, I've just learned, when composer Karlheinz Stockhausen passed away at age 79.

Stockhausen would likely want to be known for his Klavierstucke, or electronic pieces like Gesang der Junglinge (probably my own favorite), and Hymnen (which might be my favorite if it wasn't so damned long). Maybe he would want to be remembered for his more recent and quite, um, unusual Helicopter String Quartet. Or for helping to make Marcus. But, he might ultimately be best known for being in the back row, on the left, between W.C. Fields and Lenny Bruce.

Rest in peace, Karlheinz. My students never liked you (except maybe one), but I'm sure yours did. Anyway, it wasn't personal.
After Kennedy's Speech
Because of all the attention given to Mitt Romney's speech yesterday about religion, then-candidate John F. Kennedy's 1960 speech on a similar (I suppose) issue has come up as well. That was given to the Houston Ministers Association in an attempt to allay fears that as President he would secretly defer to the Catholic Church if the Vatican so directed him. If you haven't seen it, you can watch it (or read it) here. But my friend Melissa Rogers (who will coincidentally be on Bill Moyers Journal tonight discussing Romney) points to an even more compelling moment in that whole episode. If you have any time (it's about 30 minutes), watch the q & a with Kennedy that followed his speech. There, Protestant ministers who clearly were concerned about him asked him their questions, live and televised, face-to-face. And he answered them.

Sounds simple enough, but it's the last thing that would happen today. These days if someone that disagrees during a campaign asks a question on TV, handlers cry that their candidate is being ambushed and that the network should have controlled the environment. Anyway, it's really worth watching, just to imagine what that kind of political environment might be like. Also, if you want to know what the real story-driven hubbub of the day was, that led to him wanting to give that kind of speech to begin with, you get a better idea of it listening to their questions than you do listening to his speech.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Exam-time Links
Not a lot of time, but here are some things of note:

For those of you that know him or care, the NY Observer has a piece, about Hillary spokesman and former naked chain-saw artist Jay Carson.

My Talk2Action post today, with a decidedly unoriginal, Captain Obvious headline (I've just realized), is up.

The House passed an energy bill that requires increased fuel efficiency standards. There is at least a 25% chance that this bill would be slighty better than doing nothing at all. Woohoo.

What else is out there?

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Don't Sign Up For Free Money This Christmas
There are lots of things I don't understand about credit cards or the credit industry. That's by mutual design. I don't care to understand them, and they try to hide the way they operate, so it's an arrangement that works. I am anti-credit card use for myself because the fees and interest rates are ridiculous, and because it's an evil industry that preys on the last dollars (both today's and tomorrow's) of the working poor with the false promise of near-zero interest and the allure of an extravagant life beyond one's means spending money we can't afford. I don't have to understand the details of how they work to understand that it's a business that is just wrong troubling. [See update/backtrack below]

But the more I learn the more horrified I am. In a Senate hearing today - liveblogged by The Consumerist - I found this out: when you sign up for those free-money deals at the checkout counter to get a brand-name card (10% off today's purchase!) at, say, Amazon or Target or whatever, it lowers your FICO score - the same as applying for a new credit card, which likely will increase your interest rates on other credit cards - if not immediately, then as soon as they are able. And rate increases apply of course not just to new purchases but previous purchases still on your balance. Your credit card rate might go up if you are late on your electric bill, if you pay only the minimum payment, if you *use the credit card and move toward your limit.* Each of those apparently raises your risk profile.

So, they agree to loan you up to 5,000 or whatever at 8%. Then if you actually use much of that and approach your limit - in the way they would like and in accordance with your agreement - that becomes evidence that you are a riskier customer and they raise the rate. I mean, anyone who would borrow 5,000 at 8% can't possibly be trusted with borrowing 5,000 at 8%, right?

The bottom line: get rid of your credit card debt, don't ask for new cards, and don't fall for free money schemes. If you have to use a card, pay off the entire balance each month. And don't be late. You have to pay interest on late fees as well, of course. I would say cancel your account...but you don't think they will let you do that do you? Anyone ever had any luck actually canceling a card?

[Update/Backtrack: some caveats, with 24 hours removed from watching some of that emotional hearing. Yeah I've used credit cards in the past and it's not always a bad thing, and of course the entire credit industry is not evil. Without such a mechanism, we'd never be able to afford homes, cars or education, for starters. I've made larger purchases - furniture and the like - and was able to get higher quality items that will last longer and save me money in the long run, because I could pay gradually through my credit card. Now that my interest rate is 24.98%'s not quite the good deal. But, my objections are really to the unfair practices, the really predatory marketing, and the outrageous retroactive penalties on those who can least afford it. And that's just their business model...]
Trouble for Huckabee?
Clinton-hating sure has made people do - and argue for - funny things. Looks like Huck was not immune.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

On Another Note
This is yesterday's news, but didn't want to step on Media Monday. Still, it's nearly as maddening today as it was yesterday. *Our intelligence agencies agree*: Iran stopped their nuclear weapons program 4 years ago and as of earlier this year had not resumed it. Bush and Cheney have known this to be true, all the while rattling sabres (or is it rattling sabers?) and fear-mongering over the supposed Iranian nuclear threat, thinking - I suppose - that the NIE report would stay classified.

This is not some renegade intelligence officer interpreting the evidence differently; it's not a Democrat with an axe to grind. This is the consensus of the intelligence community, an opinion with "high confidence" as to its conclusions. And while we're just now getting to see the report, Bush and Cheney knew about it - at least a moderately confident version - some time ago.

All kinds of speculation today on why this is coming out now (after we were told it would stay classified) and what it all means. Starting here and then here is not a bad route if you want to follow that train.

Monday, December 03, 2007

What have you been watching, listening to, reading?

Christmas TV Schedule here. Looks like you can catch Rudolph's Shiny New Year, The Year Without A Santa Claus, and Rudolph & The Island of Misfit Toys tonight on ABCFamily starting at 7 Eastern. Check in for the time and channel for your favorites.

Weekend Box Office
1. Enchanted
2. This Christmas
3. Beowulf
4. Awake
5. Hitman

Sunday, December 02, 2007

New Iowa Polls
Changes in both parties. Huckabee's ahead of Romney now. It's all about second choice. What if Huckabee wins Iowa just ahead of Romney and Romney wins NH just ahead of McCain? Will Giuliani be toast if he finishes in 3rd in both?