Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Sorry No Posty
I've been busy.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

'Tis the Season
Nice to see the Christmas spirit is inspiring some brotherly love between Israel and the Palestinians in Gaza.
Waves of Israeli airstrikes hit Hamas security facilities in Gaza on Saturday in a crushing response to the group’s rocket fire, killing more than 200 — the highest one-day toll in an Israeli military operation against Palestinians in decades.
Since Hamas took over Gaza, they've been launching rockets into southern Israel, and the Israelis have had enough. But not wanting to risk a repeat of the battle with Hezbelloh - when the survival of Lebanon's organization increased their stature - Israel is going with a Bush-style Shock and Awe approach. Of course, that means it's having Bush-style consequences: killing civilians (including children) and offending allies.
Governments that dislike Hamas, like Egypt’s, Jordan’s and the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, are in a delicate position. They blame Hamas for having taken over Gaza by force 18 months ago and oppose its rocket fire on Israeli towns and communities. But the sight of scores of Palestinians killed by Israeli warplanes outraged their citizens, and anti-Israel demonstrations broke out across the region.
I'm no expert, obviously. But I blame Bush-Cheney for this. If not for the Iraq War, and the policy of isolating Arafat, angering Arab citizens across the region, would Hamas have still re-surged, and won legislative elections in Palestine? (The democracy we demanded at work...)

For 8 years, American foreign policy has been designed to demand cooperation by compelling either submission or conflict. I don't begrudge Israel, I suppose, deciding to use force to stop rockets flying into their country. They're in a tough spot. With each side accusing the other of breaking the cease-fire, who knows how to place blame for this newest wave of violence. But it seems to me that in the bigger picture, the fact of the conflict reaching this level of escalation at this time is all part of the plan. It's the Bush Doctrine in action. (as well as, it's worth saying, the Bin Laden plan...)

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Rick Warren
Not that anyone's waiting for it, but I haven't weighed in yet on the controversy surrounding Obama's selection of Rick Warren to give an invocation at the inauguration. The simple reason is that I'm just not too worked up about it. I see the point the detractors make, and I see the point Obama makes in response. I find both to be kind of compelling and kind of irrelevant.

Everyone here knows I'm pro-gay-rights, and pro-gay-marriage, and I don't have lots of patience for the contrary view. It's worth noting that Obama himself claims to be against gay marriage, yet I still found a way to vote for him and support him strongly. So having Warren be one of 2 pastors chosen for the inauguration really doesn't bother me that much, at least not for his views on homosexuality. It's just a prayer, and the guy is no Pat Robertson, hate-wise. Choosing Robertson would have bothered me to no end. As I said at my other blog, if we must pray at inaugurations, I'm more concerned with what Warren says when he gets a chance to pray at a big, public, national event for all Americans.

You know what bugs me most about this? I think that for a pastor to pursue the kind of national notoriety and celebrity that Warren has achieved is unseemly, and demeaning to religion, given that it wasn't gained leading the fight for some just cause. The contrast between the careers of Rick Warren and Joseph Lowery (who's giving the benediction) is striking. It is the fact of his fame that unnerves me. That it obviously doesn't bother the President-elect is the part that I find unsettling about the selection. Either pick someone of personal significance, or someone whose overall career of public service in ministry is worth attention and support. Warren is neither.

Monday, December 22, 2008

What have you been watching, listening to, reading? I'm shopping, so not much time here. Hoping to get done in time to catch It's a Wonderful Life at the big screen before Thursday. Done any special xmas viewing? Or award-season moviegoing?

Sunday, December 21, 2008

December 21
Days start getting longer again tomorrow. Hang in there.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Ya Don't Say
During a discussion at the American Enterprise Institute today, Bush said that though he came into office “with the idea of changing the tone in Washington,” he “didn’t do a very good job of it.”
What was that other thing he said he would do when he first ran in 2000? That he would "bring honor and dignity back to the Oval Office"? At least he did that, right?

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Early Childhood Education Experts are Excited
Because of this:
[T]he $10 billion Mr. Obama has pledged for early childhood education would amount to the largest new federal initiative for young children since Head Start began in 1965. Now, Head Start is a $7 billion federal program serving about 900,000 preschoolers.
Asked if the financial troubles might force him to scale back, Jen Psaki, a spokeswoman for the transition, said, “We simply cannot afford to sideline key priorities like education.”
Driving the movement is research by a Nobel Prize-winning economist, James J. Heckman, and others showing that each dollar devoted to the nurturing of young children can eliminate the need for far greater government spending on remedial education, teenage pregnancy and prisons.
I am a big fan of early child spending. Of course, it takes more than dollars for the "nurturing of young children", and there will eventually be diminishing returns on money invested here, right? But I'll try not to quibble. I would prefer to see what happens with an administration that values these programs for a change.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Link of the Day
Zamzar. Converts files for free from the crap you can't open to the stuff you can, without having to download some new program. Upload your crap file to their site, and they will email a shiny openable version to you. Probably - not sure - you agree to have your email address sent all over the place, so give them a spare one you only use for junk like that.

I just found it, used it. It worked great.

Monday, December 15, 2008

What have you been watching, listening to, reading?

Book Bleg
For a fun class I'm teaching hopefully next fall (more on that later I'm sure), I'm in need of a good introductory text that covers modern British history through much of the 20th Century - especially post-war period, and something broader than just military/political history. Looking for economic, cultural, sociological framework as well. This would not be for students but to educate myself. Anybody know anything like that?

Aging Gracefully
If it wasn't for Paul, the Beatles would never have made a political statement for peace, and also, Bono and Bob Geldof would never have thought of being involved in combating world poverty. Or at least so he says.

Top 10 Books of the Year
The NYTimes has the list. I haven't read any of them of course, though I have started Julian Barnes' memoir on death and God and so far I hate it. Not sure why such a brilliant artist wants to use his beautiful sentences to reveal himself to be such an unattractive person. But I'm just 30 pages in. If I ever finish it (it's short), I'll get back to you.

AFI Top 10 Films of the Year
In alphabetical order: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, The Dark Knight, Frost/Nixon, Frozen River, Gran Torino, Iron Man, Milk, Wall-E, Wendy and Lucy, The Wrestler

Trailer of the Week: The Wrestler

Weekend Box Office

1. The Day the Earth Stood Still
2. Four Christmases
3. Twilight
4. Bolt
5. Australia

Sunday, December 14, 2008

By now, I'm assuming you've seen video of the Iraqi journalist who called President Bush a dog and threw his shoes at him during a press conference with Prime Minister Maliki (video at link below in case not). As you might suspect, this shoe-throwing is not a traditional Iraqi gesture of good will and respect between two men. I have to say that although I dislike the President, I disapprove of violent shoe-throwing no matter the situation. Bush has done the cause of global decorum no favors, but that doesn't mean we should just scrap it. Truth be told, I thought he handled it pretty gracefully.

Still, honestly, my first reaction was the same as Josh Marshall: where's the bleeping Secret Service? The guy had time to throw both shoes, one at a time, before anyone is even in the picture. What if his intentions had been more sinister?
Vote With Your Fork
I missed it at the time, but a few weeks ago, Michael Pollan was on Bill Moyers' Journal. Heard the podcast yesterday. You can listen, watch, or read the transcript here. This segment stuck out to me, a great, sensible, simple idea whose value is immediately apparent and will nonetheless, sadly, never happen.
MICHAEL POLLAN: Let's look at the school lunch program. This is where we're feeding a big part of our population. We are essentially feeding them fast food and teaching them how to eat it quickly. Well, let's look at school lunch. If we could spend a dollar or more per day per child and work on the nutritional quality of that food. And let's require that a certain percentage of that school lunch fund in every school district has to be spent within 100 miles to revive local agriculture, to create more jobs on farms, to, you know, rural redevelopment. You will achieve a great many goals through doing that. You will have a healthier population of kids who will perform better in the afternoon after that lunch. You will have, you know, the shot in the arm to local economies through helping local agriculture. And you will, you know, teach this generation habits that will last a lifetime about eating.

BILL MOYERS: But how do we do this when, as you said at the beginning of our conversation, the Agricultural Department is in the lock?

MICHAEL POLLAN: Well, the school lunch program probably has to get out of agriculture. Let's move it over to education. Lunch should be, lunch should be educational. Right now the school lunch program is a disposal scheme for surplus agricultural commodities. When they have too much meat, when they have too much cheese, they send it to the schools, and they dispose it through our kids' digestive systems. Let's look at it in a different way. This should be about improving the health of our children. So maybe it belongs in Health and Human Services. Maybe it belongs in Education. Don't, you know, get the Department of Agriculture's hands off of it.
The 100-mile idea especially is an elegant solution, but could we even get an entire state to implement this policy? Much less a federal law? Meanwhile, moving the program to the Education Department would take no consensus whatsoever, just reorganizing government with the stroke of a pen. And still I don't expect it to happen. The food industry won't let it. He offered some ideas for each of us to consider, ways to vote with the fork.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Franken Update
If you've been following the MN Senate recount at all, this may mean something to you; if not, move along...

The Canvassing Board met this morning and 2 things happened:

1) They voted to certify the election night count of the precinct that can no longer find its 133 votes and so can't be re-counted. Al won there, so it's good news for him by 46 votes.

2) They urged all counties to sort rejected absentee ballots and count any that do not fall under the 4 prescribed reasons under law for rejecting them. They said that so far more than 600 have been found that fall in this "5th pile". Their position is that it is unlawful to reject them and their message to the counties is: find them and count them. This *should* be good news for Franken as well, as he beat Coleman in absentee ballots. The only problem will be if counties don't take the advice. The Board doesn't have the authority to order them to do so, apparently. Their message is, essentially, if you don't, you will probably be sued and we think you will lose.

Estimates are that anywhere between 1,000 and 2,000 ballots will end up in this category and need to be counted and added to the total. In addition, some 6,000 ballots remain challenged and will have to be reviewed by the Board, starting Tuesday.

Things look better for a 59th Senator today than it did yesterday, but still never know how it will turn out.

I wonder how he would have voted on the auto bailout? Coleman voted No.
A Bad Plan Except for the Alternative
The NYTimes has it right I think: the auto bailout plan was a lousy deal, getting worse every day of negotiation. But all things considered, the only thing worse than passing it would be not passing it.
[A]llowing one or more of these companies to collapse into bankruptcy proceedings could potentially cause the loss of hundreds of thousands of jobs and even greater economic havoc.
The short-term bailout not only buys time, it uses the time to build a long-term restructuring plan. The incoming Obama administration can then decide whether to invest billions more to truly rebuild the industry.
Thank Republicans for killing it! And classy that the issue they were hung up on was insisting that car companies gut worker salaries, immediately.

Do Republicans actively seek the asshole position before taking it? Or are they just naturally drawn to it?

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

60th Anniversary
I almost let today get by without mentioning here that it is the 60th anniversary of the UN's Universal Declaration of Human Rights, not only - as Ban Ki-moon says - the "first global statement of the inherent dignity and equality of all human beings," but also importantly the namesake of this blog, as you have all surely figured out. Article 19 of the Declaration says:
Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.
Indeed. And for some reason I especially like the "regardless of frontiers" assurance at the end.

If you've never read the entire list of rights, you should. It's a powerful statement of what the world really should try hard to be.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Crazy Times
In Illinois.
Gov. Rod Blagojevich and his chief of staff John Harris were arrested today by FBI agents on federal corruption charges.

Blagojevich and Harris were accused of a wide-ranging criminal conspiracy that included Blagojevich conspiring to sell or trade the Senate seat left vacant by President-elect Barack Obama in exchange for financial benefits for the governor and his wife. The governor was also accused of obtaining campaign contributions in exchange for other official actions.
Also, the Tribune Company is bankrupt. What will happen to the Cubs?

Monday, December 08, 2008

What have you been listening to, reading, watching?

Weekend Box Office
1. Four Christmases
2. Twilight
3. Bolt
4. Australia
5. Quantum of Solace

Friday, December 05, 2008

Palin Pregnancy
Andrew Sullivan is not giving up. Points for persistence I guess, if a little bit of a strange obsession. The things we know for sure about her are scary enough for me.
The report today was not good. Unemployment is at 6.7% and 533,000 jobs were lost in November - that's the most in any month since 1974.
“We have gone from recession into something that looks more like collapse,” said Ian Shepherdson, chief domestic economist at High Frequency Economics, referring to the accelerating job losses in recent months.

The job losses in November far exceeded the 350,000 figure that was the consensus expectation of economists.
I drew up a quick chart to reflect our economic status, for you visual learners:
Seriously, how does Bush live with himself. Why would he not simply resign in disgrace?

Official Article 19 Advice to Readers: Don't quit your job and don't do anything that makes you look expendable. Be quick to claim your successes, but not in a way that alienates your colleagues and makes them want to get rid of you. Keep your head down amid any failures. And maybe don't look at the Internet so much while you're on the job.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Is Your Emergency Room Cool?
If you have a heart attack and go into cardiac arrest, you want to go to a hospital with a cooling treatment capability. If you suffer such a fate and are in New York, after Jan 1, ambulances will take you only to hospitals that can perform the relatively new and expensive procedure, even if another hospital is closer.
Most patients who suffer total cardiac arrest outside hospitals die because their brains have been starved of oxygen. But studies show that if the pulse of patients can be restarted and the body temperature cooled to about 8 degrees Fahrenheit below normal, brain damage can be reduced or minimized.
“It was a very slow process in terms of really getting it to take hold,” Dr. Mayer said of the cooling treatment. “One reason is that cardiac arrest patients have just been surrounded by this shroud of therapeutic nihilism. They come in after cardiac arrest, they’re intubated, in a coma, everybody’s reflex thought process in terms of caregivers is ‘Oh God, there’s nothing you can do for these people.’”
Read about the case of Dr. Naqvi. Pretty amazing. I wonder how to find out if any hospital in my town can do this?

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Nothing to it, Brother
This is a good story. In one of the Democratic debates, Bill Richardson and Obama were talking while the moderator interacted with another candidate. If you've ever been in a classroom and not paid attention, you can identify with Richardson as he describes what happened next:
"As I'm chatting with Obama, the moderator says, 'Governor Richardson, what do you think of that?' And I look at him like a deer in the headlights. I was about to say that I hadn't heard, when Obama puts his hand over his mouth and says, 'Katrina.' So I gave my four-point plan on Katrina. When I was done and the debate moved on, I looked over and said, 'Thanks, you're okay.' He said, 'Nothing to it, brother.'"
How Bombay Became Mumbai
Christopher Hitchens has become generally pretty loathsome, but this piece is a good read, and informative.
Michael Moore has a DKos diary up giving his thoughts on bailing out the auto companies. As usual he makes sense, and it's worth a read. He points something out I didn't know: though they are asking for tens of billions in loans, you could buy all the common stock of GM right now for just $3 billion. So, he says, we shouldn't give them the loans, the government should just buy the companies, and convert them to building for the public works projects we need to construct a green infrastructure.

This lets him oppose the loans and be for the auto workers and their millions of jobs. The problem of course is that back here on planet Earth we're not going to do that - buy the companies, no matter what we did with Amtrak in the 70s. So, the question remains: what to do about the loans for the auto industry?

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Continuity vs Change
Yeah, Republican Bob Gates is staying on as Secretary of Defense under Obama, but the good news is that many of those under him will be moving on.
Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England, Gates's right-hand man in running the Pentagon day to day, is widely expected to leave his post...
The anticipated turnover of many key positions suggests that although Gates will help provide some continuity, the status quo will not necessarily endure at the Pentagon.
The four undersecretaries of defense are also expected to leave, Pentagon and transition officials said.

Monday, December 01, 2008

What have you been watching, listening to, reading? (Keep refreshing. Post updated at the top through the day as I find arts-related items)

Because the People Yearn for More Yow
Jesus Lizard reunites.

Myoung Ho Lee doesn't place an object on a canvas, he puts a canvas behind an object, in this case, trees.

Synechdoche, New York
If you have been reading this blog long enough to follow my love of Charlie Kaufmann's last film - Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind - you will understand my anticipation of his newest has been intense, even knowing that I wouldn't (couldn't?) like it as much. I finally saw it last week. Without giving anything away plot-wise, here are my initial thoughts:

It is a much more difficult film to sit through than his others, for many reasons. Uncompromising is the word I would use. I don't know if any recommendation is warranted here or not - if you're a fan of his other work, you will already consider it essential viewing; if you're not, then you surely won't enjoy this one either. I'm still sifting through the process of watching, let alone dealing with the emotional issues it brings to the fore (which, thankfully for me, are more easily swept aside here than in Eternal Sunshine... maybe they're too big?)

At its core, Synechdoche is about the quest to live an authentic life, to be present - real, honest, in the moment, alive to the world. And, it's about art's capacity to both reveal and cover up the personal truths that goal requires. But which kind of events enable that discovery? The mundane or the momentous? Which are more real? In which are we truer to ourselves? In which just playing to type? What if there's no difference between being and acting? And what compels us to navigate these waters anyway? Is it death? is it love? Are we ever more alive than when aware that we're dying? More in love than when aware it is fading? Is a house most a home when it is on fire?

I will probably need to see it again.

The NYTimes seasonal blog devoted to the Oscars is back up and running. Early buzz? Slumdog Millionaire. I saw the trailer last week - looks fun. In a good way. Other recent trailers include...the new (old) Star Trek movie.

What's on your Christmas List and what should be on mine?
Let's hear it in the comments: books, CDs, DVDs. Also, bonus question: If you could give and receive one box set (either CDs or DVDs), what would it be?

Elvis Costello's new TV show debuts Wednesday on the Sundance Channel. Elton John is the first guest. Next week is Lou Reed. Bill Clinton is on Dec. 17. Rufus Wainright, Herbie Hancock, Smokey Robinson, The Police, among others, are on the calendar.

Weekend Box Office
1. Four Christmases
2. Bolt
3. Twilight
4. Quantum of Solace
5. Australia

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Friday, November 28, 2008

What's Wrong with People? [UPDATED]
At 5 this morning I'd have rather been in India than waiting to get into a Wal-Mart. Unfortunately, some poor souls are required to be there: the employees.
A Wal-Mart employee in suburban New York died after being trampled by a crush of shoppers who tore down the front doors and thronged into the store early Friday morning, turning the annual rite of post-Thanksgiving bargain hunting into a frenzy.

The 34-year-old employee, who was not identified, was knocked down by a crowd that broke down the doors of the Wal-Mart at the Green Acres Mall in Valley Stream, N.Y., and surged into the store. He was pronounced dead at a nearby hospital at 6 a.m.
Though they will probably be spared by a claim of something like "shoppers' derangement syndrome", I wish people would go to jail for this. And Wal-Mart should have to pay their statewide profits for the whole insane day to this man's family.

[UPDATE: CYA underway:
Wal-Mart Stores Inc., based in Bentonville, Ark., called the incident a "tragic situation" and said the employee came from a temporary agency and was doing maintenance work at the store. It said it tried to prepare for the crowd by adding staffers and outside security workers, putting up barricades and consulting police.

"Despite all of our precautions, this unfortunate event occurred," senior Vice President Hank Mullany said in a statement. "Our thoughts and prayers go out to the families of those impacted."
Also, apparently, police are looking at video surveillance to try and identify shoppers. You can imagine how well that might go.]

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving
But if you have a good day, remember to thank Chuck Norris, who is saving the holiday from the infidels.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Overall, rates of diagnosis, and death, are falling.
“Each year that you see these steady declines it gives you more confidence that we’re moving in the right direction,” said Dr. John E. Niederhuber, director of the National Cancer Institute, who is not an author of the report. “This is not just a blip on the screen.”
Of course, much of the decline is related to a precipitous drop in lung cancer rates among men - see the chart on the right. Breast cancer rates too have fallen, now that women have stopped cancer-linked hormone replacement therapy. But in fact, the NYTimes article makes clear, many, many forms of cancer are on the rise.
Among men, incidence rates increased for cancers of the liver, kidney and esophagus, and for melanoma and myeloma. Among women, incidence rates increased for cancers of the lung, thyroid, pancreas, brain and nervous system, bladder and kidney, and for melanoma. Rates of leukemia and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma increased in both sexes.
Still, the bottom line stat is good news and more evidence that banning public smoking is the right thing to do.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Losing the Millionaire Farmer Vote
The President-Elect had yet another press conference today, this to announce the leaders of his Budget Office and his plans to cut unnecessary government spending. You can read his prepared remarks here.
Not Me
Actually, no, I have not "always wondered what it would be like to live through...one of the greatest financial panics of all time." Also, was not curious about living through a bad war, or the worst President ever. Count me as equally unexcited over being able to watch mankind destabilize the world's ecology. Other things I do not await with a spectator's fascination: what it's like for my air bags to deploy in my car, or the oxygen masks to fall from the cabin ceiling during a flight, being diagnosed with a debilitating disease, or enduring the next great boy band.

We have our own civil rights cause (gay marriage), our own environmental catastrophe (global warming), or own foreign policy disaster (Iraq), and our own revolutionary technological development (the Internets). We really don't need an economic depression we can call our own to feel like we're living in interesting times. Thanks, anyway.

Monday, November 24, 2008

What have you been reading, watching, listening to?

Political Spectacle
Doug makes the very reasonable speculation that Sarah Palin may simply be an elaborate performance art piece. As such, she belongs in Media Monday. It's the best explanation I've heard yet. Andrew Sullivan has the latest installation.

Household Art
Some of these are really cool. I like the thumb tacks and the sponge picture. (via Andrew Sullivan)

Free Song For a Day

A new song from Bruce Springsteen is available for free download, but just today.
It's the first offering from Springsteen's upcoming album, also titled "Working on a Dream," which will be released January 27, five days before the rock star and the E Street Band perform at the Super Bowl halftime show in Tampa, Florida.
You can get the song via iTunes or his website.

The Pope and John Lennon Work it Out
Who says the Vatican doesn't engage in a little moral relativism? Exposed to contemporary rock music (the kids today...), the Pope's decided the Beatles weren't so bad after all.

The Fireman
In other Beatle-related news, Paul McCartney's alter ego has a new album:
So now, young freak-folk indie-rockers have serious competition from actual ’60s titans like Mr. McCartney. On this album he sets loose his inner hippie — playful, tuneful, enigmatic, benevolent — in songs like “Traveling Light,” a Celtic-mode waltz in which he plinks a thumb piano, sings a lot of high oohs and whispers, “I glide on the green leaf/not asking for more.”
Weekend Box Office
1. Twilight
2. Quantum of Solace
3. Bolt
4. Madagascar 2
5. Role Models

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Cabinet Speculation Deep Thought
Where's Wesley Clark? Weird that his name is not being even mentioned for anything, so far as I have heard.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Weekly Address
It's great that Obama is releasing the weekly address on video. Today's noticeably avoids mention of the auto industry bailout, but does give an idea of the shape of an enormous, job-creating, economic stimulus he's planning.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Challenged Ballots
This is pretty interesting. Minnesota Public Radio has posted pictures of a handful of challenged ballots in the Senate race. The recount has started (Coleman's lead is down to 168 with about 19% 143 with about 30% of the votes re-counted), but 200 500 or so ballots have been challenged so far - that is, not re-counted yet but sent on to a panel of judges to determine. Follow the link to have a look at the kind of thing they will be considering. Some are pretty simple, some maybe not so much.
I'm Warning You: Don't Do It
Thursday Time-Waster
Good News
There's not much of it these days. Economy continues to blow. But if you care about bold health care action without delay, apparently the selection of Daschle for HHS is a good sign. And if you care about a serious energy/environment policy, there's really good news.
Representative Henry A. Waxman of California ousted Representative John D. Dingell of Michigan from his post as chairman of the influential Committee on Energy and Commerce on Thursday, giving President-elect Barack Obama an advantage in his plans to promote efforts to combat global warming.

By a vote of 137 to 122, House Democrats ended Mr. Dingell’s nearly 28-year reign as his party’s top member on the committee. Besides installing a committed environmentalist as head of the energy committee, the outcome also removes one of the auto industry’s best friends from a key leadership post.
Change we can believe in.
Obama Cabinet
If the grapevine is correct, it's shaping up:
Secretary of State - Hillary Clinton
Secretary of Defense - Robert Gates (retained from Bush)
Attorney General - Eric Holder
Department of Homeland Security - Janet Napolitano
Secretary of Commerce - Penny Pritzker (oops, not her)
Secretary of Health and Human Services - Tom Daschle
9 10 more to go. Napolitano is the current Governor of Arizona. Pritzker is the billionaire founder of Hyatt Classic Residences, and was the head of Obama's Presidential finance committee.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Children and Obesity
They're not eating too much; they're eating the wrong things.
Our Life in the Ghosts of Bush
This is depressing. Are we ever going to get rid of the Bush-Cheney stink?
The transfer of political appointees into permanent federal positions, called "burrowing" by career officials, creates security for those employees, and at least initially will deprive the incoming Obama administration of the chance to install its preferred appointees in some key jobs.
Between March 1 and Nov. 3, according to the federal Office of Personnel Management, the Bush administration allowed 20 political appointees to become career civil servants. Six political appointees to the Senior Executive Service, the government's most prestigious and highly paid employees, have received approval to take career jobs at the same level. Fourteen other political, or "Schedule C," appointees have also been approved to take career jobs....

The personnel moves come as Bush administration officials are scrambling to cement in place policy and regulatory initiatives that touch on issues such as federal drinking-water standards, air quality at national parks, mountaintop mining and fisheries limits.
Myths About Detroit
If your impression of Detroit auto manufacturers, like mine, comes from the 80s and 90s, read "6 Myths About the Detroit Three", a column in yesterday's Free-Press.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Lieberman Deep Thought
Now that he's kept his chairmanship, don't you think that Senator Lieberman tonight is sharing a bit of a laugh with his friends over Democrats' unwillingness to send him packing? I mean...literally laughing at Senate Democrats? He must feel like the most powerful Senator on the Hill. And, it would seem, he's right, isn't he?
Auto Bailout?
A longtime reader asks why I haven't had anything to say on the proposed bailout of the auto industry. My first response is that I don't know the first thing about that stuff. But then, when has that ever stopped me from giving an opinion? So there must be some other reason I've been laying off. I think I know what it is: I'm genuinely conflicted.

Clearly, as corporations, the Big Three deserve to die. Their products have developed a well-earned reputation for being expensive, inefficient, unreliable and unattractive relative to their competitors. They have stubbornly refused to face the reality of the environmental concerns which now drive many of their would-be customers, and in fact would lobby the government to their dying breath to fight regulations (CAFE standards) and opportunities (the electric car) that may have saved their asses had they only embraced change instead of combating it.

On the other hand, we can't remove the cancer that is this corporate incompetence without doing great damage to workers and communities that don't deserve it, compounding the country's economic horror along the way. We would be sending the employees of these companies - and of the companies that depend on them for business, literally millions - to the unemployment line. And there is no booming manufacturing industry waiting to snap these people up, many of whom lack the education and training to quickly find another kind of work. We're talking about second and third generation factory workers, who traded in their chance at higher education for a union job that would help support a middle-class family. If we let these companies fall, the corporate executives who so miserably failed will be just fine. But we will be taking an entire region of the Midwest that is already struggling and decimate it, and send dependent pockets around the country crumbling.

Wesley Clark has another point as well. Suppose that during World War II, for example, we didn't have an auto manufacturing base in this country?

So, if it sounds like I'm leaning toward supporting a bailout I guess I am. But I do admit that I wonder if we wouldn't be better off in the long run re-building from scratch, investing in startup auto companies that emphasize electric and hybrid plug-ins and the chance to lead the global industry rather than always stumbling a few steps behind.

Of course, we should do both, right? Offer money to the Detroit auto industry but with significant strings attached. But how many times lately have we heard "No Blank Check" only to find out that's exactly what we've written. It's as if the government hasn't tied a regulatory knot in so long it just doesn't remember how to attach strings to corporate money.

So, if it sounds like I'm also leaning against a bailout, well sometimes I am. But in the end, I can't be one to support a plan that devastates that much of our economy. If I thought we could rebuild a manufacturing base from scratch in a few years, as opposed to the generation or 2 I suspect it would take, I would be more for letting GM get its comeuppance. Today, anyway, I'm hoping some middle road gets the job done more quickly and less painfully. But consider me persuadable.

Monday, November 17, 2008

What have you been reading, watching, listening to?

Why Have I Never Heard of This?
Who's read Lewis Hyde's The Gift? And would you recommend it? There's a big spread about the author in the latest NYTimes Magazine. It sure makes the book out to be essential.

Bang it, Shout it, Play it
Paul McCartney wants to release a 14-minute track of the Beatles that never made it into record bins. Normally, I would think....great, just in time for Christmas he's trying to milk us Beatles fans for even more. But this tune is maybe not the most likely moneymaker, as it sounds, from the description, like it was created in the spirit of Revolution No. 9.
McCartney, usually regarded as the most melodically minded Beatle, told the BBC he had a long-standing interest in avant-garde music. He said "Carnival of Light" was inspired by experimental composers John Cage and Karlheinz Stockhausen.

He said he had wanted to include the track on the Beatles' "Anthology" compilation, but was vetoed by his bandmates.

Weekend Box Office

1. Quantum of Solace
2. Madagascar 2
3. Role Models
4. High School Musical 3
5. Changeling

and coming in at 29? One I'd honestly like to see...Jean-Claude Van-Damme is....JCVD:

Sunday, November 16, 2008

In Case You Missed It
60 Minutes tonight was devoted to a post-election interview with the President-Elect (and Michelle for part of it). You've got to sit through commercials to watch the whole thing, but it's pretty good.

Watch CBS Videos Online

Friday, November 14, 2008

Would Hillary end up as Secretary of State? I keep thinking this rumor is just somebody's stupid speculation, yet it persists and nobody denies, and apparently she met up with Obama to talk about it. This doesn't make much sense.

First, is there any doubt that John Kerry would be a better SOS, if he wants it like he seems to? Second, why would she give up a lifetime job in the Senate (wasn't she going to be the next Ted Kennedy?) for at most a term serving Obama? She doesn't even break any gender ground here as we have had not 1, but 2 women serve as head of the State Dept.

All I can figure, cynically, is this - and it may go equally to John Kerry's plans as Hillary's. The scheme has 2 parts:

1. If, God forbid, something happens to Obama during the first term, heading up our foreign relations would give her a good platform from which to run against Biden in 2012.

2. Even if she has to wait until 2016, she has a couple of years out of the public eye, raising money, and most importantly, not having to go on record with votes in the Senate they can use against her in a presidential campaign.

And she would give up her dream of leading health care and other domestic legislation through the Senate, at a time when Democrats have a solid majority? For this political calculation? Is there some other reason?

Could it be - don't roll your eyes - that she really means this: "I want to be a good partner and I want to do everything I can to make sure his agenda is going to be successful"?

Last thought: Does this Hillary story indicate that one of President Obama's most influential advisers will turn out to be...Doris Kearns Goodwin?

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Breaking News
Dick Cheney just devoured Joe Biden's liver with some fava beans and a nice chianti.
Don't Blame Me... My Brain's the Asshole
Researchers from the University of Chicago...wanted to learn whether the brain of an aggressive youth responds differently to violence than the brain of someone who is not a bully. In a chilling finding, the researchers found aggressive youths appear to enjoy inflicting pain on others.
When the aggressive youths watched people intentionally inflicting pain on another, the scan showed a response in the part of the brain associated with reward and pleasure. The youths who were not aggressive didn’t show the same brain response. The study, published in the current issue of the journal Biological Psychology, suggests that the brain’s natural impulse for empathy may be disrupted in the brain of a bully, leading to increased aggression.
I wonder if there is some basis for the assumption that "the brain's natural impulse" is "for empathy". Doesn't it seem just as likely that the development of empathy disrupts the brain's natural impulse for aggression, instead of the other way around? (and which would be better news, by the way?) Is that just a telling bias here, or do we really have a reason to believe that empathy is the "natural" state?

Beyond that, is this even news? Did we really think the world's bullies are reluctant aggressors? Of course they enjoy it, and of course that enjoyment (like all emotional response) shows up somewhere in the brain. The bigger questions are: At what age does it first register as enjoyment? Did cultural/social behavior nurse the growth of this neural pathway (or whatever it is)? Behavior that could be avoided? How prevalent is this response? Do a high percentage of males share this reaction but have simply learned to curb their actions to suppress it?

If you're interested you can read the study here.(pdf) It might have the answers to some of my questions but it's written in science, so it's hard for me to make heads or tails of it, at least with just a scan.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Timewaster Alert
Seriously, do *not* try this, whatever you do. It's not quite as addictive as Trap the Cat, but it's twice as maddening. Somehow I got through the last level, but I think the game just pitied me in the end. The last couple of rounds I was no where close to solving it correctly.
November Question
Did the 8 years of Clinton seem as long to Republicans as these Bush years have felt? It's taking forever to get the guy out of there. Haven't we transitioned long enough?

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

With All Due Respect...
Via Steve Benen...With word that John Edwards is giving a speech at University of Indiana tonight, CNN asks, "can he make a comeback"?

Let's rewind the tape. John Edwards lost a bid for President in 2004, then lost as Vice Presidential nominee in a lackluster performance, before losing again a presidential run in 2008. So, am I the only one asking: a comeback to what, exactly?

Seems to me the room he has for a comeback is a little more close to home.
I Don't Have a Pet...
So, PediPaws, will you please stop sending me 20 emails a day?
Lieberman [UPDATED]
Why do DC Democrats insist on underestimating Lieberman's determination to kick them in the balls?

There's being magnanimous, and then there's being self-defeating. Obama's team is sending the message that they don't hold any grudges. Likewise, Senators are reminding everyone that he agrees with them on almost every issue. My question: if that's the case, why can't we make him chairman of a committee that deals with one of those issues then, and take him off of Homeland Security where his views are diametrically opposed to Obama's and the Democrats?

[UPDATE: Looks like Reid will have a caucus-wide vote next week to determine the fate of Joe's chairmanship. Not a bad way to go, I guess. Here's hoping it's a secret ballot.]

Monday, November 10, 2008

What have you been watching, listening to, reading?

Only 5?
Paste Magazine offers the "top 5 not-so-thinly-veiled references" to male genitalia in classic Blues and R & B.

The Indian of the group
Rest in Peace, Jimmy Carl Black

Weekend Box Office
1. Madagascar 2
2. Role Models
3. High School Musical 3
4. Changeling
5. Zack and Miri Make a Porno

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Energy Priorities
In the NYTimes, Al Gore lays out a 5-point plan for President Obama: 1) Offer economic incentives for companies to build solar, geo-thermal and wind-power plants; 2) Begin work on a new nationwide power grid; 3) Subsidize conversion of the auto industry to plug-in hybrids; 4) Initiate a projects to re-insulate buildings across the country, and replace windows and lighting with energy-efficient alternatives; and 5) Lead the world in crafting and supporting a new global treaty to replace Kyoto.

The whole thing is worth a read.

It's #2 that interests me most and seems the most essential. #1 and 3 would be useless without it, #4 would be insufficient to the problem, #5 would be rendered just talk with no grid to execute the next steps. If we can't pull that off - to literally unite the country with a next-generation infrastructure to handle delivery of new energy sources from the regions that can produce it to the regions that use it - then the dream of energy independence will remain distant. But it strikes me as an awesome undertaking, the importance and difficulty of which has not gotten enough attention.

Obama likens the goal of energy independence to JFK's call to put a man on the moon. But isn't it more like the creation of the federal highway system? It's not just the job of a small group of specialists in laboratory city, but a far-reaching job requiring the cooperation of federal, state and local government agencies from coast to coast.

Friday, November 07, 2008

First Obama Press Conference
You can read it here. Not much news in it, and not sure a joke about Nancy Reagan was the way to go, but still nice.
Don't Stretch
At least not the way you were taught when you were a kid. Clearly this is why I never developed into a world class athlete (or even a neighborhood class athlete): too much stretching ruined my chances.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Election Continues, Feeding Addiction
What are we supposed to do now that the campaign is over? I was confused when there were no new tracking polls this morning to investigate. Luckily, close and contested results, along with a runoff in Georgia, will help wean us off of election obsession.

It would seem there is actually hope that Franken can take the Minnesota seat after all the ballots are inspected in a mandatory statewide recount. Al trails by less than 500 250 votes. MN uses all opti-scan ballots. Those that may not have been counted by the machine but will be counted in a recount include those in which voters made a mark for a candidate but failed to fill in the oval properly. Apparently, this happens often enough.

In Alaska, there is also some slim hope that Begich can overome Stevens' 3,000-vote lead. 60,000 votes remain - some early and absentee votes, as well as their provisional ballots.

Oregon's Jeff Merkley won after all, so Democrats are up to 57 in the Senate, +6. Should Begich and Franken somehow win, the Georgia runoff would be for #60.

In WA-08, Darcy Burner trails by about 2,000, but lots still to count. [UPDATE: Burner lost.]

In Virginia, the awful incumbent Virgil Goode is behind by 31 votes, with provisionals still to come.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

The Future: Still Hard to Predict
My brief post below hints at something I've wondered today: what will be the Republican route back to power if an emerging Democratic stronghold in the West and a consolidation of the Northeast including PA, leaves even OH and FL not enough for the GOP to win the White House? Where do they try to chip away?

At the same time... I guess you never know what's going to happen. Talk of long-lasting majorities is pretty silly. Stealing from Atrios' post, think back to where you were on election night, Nov. 2000, specifically the exact moment Florida was called for Gore, and all assumed he would become President (including me who took that news as the cue to head downtown to the Gore acceptance speech). Now imagine someone from the future came to visit you just then, and this is what they told you:

"Don't be so excited. Gore isn't going to win because really Florida is tied, and the Supreme Court is going to hand the White House to Bush. And he's going to screw things up so badly that Americans are willing to elect a black man to replace him. No, really. He's this 39 year old guy you've never heard of who just earlier tonight got his butt kicked in a Democratic congressional primary. Oh yeah, and his middle name is Hussein."

Chances are you would discount this prediction. Hard to figure what's going to happen in future presidential elections, I guess.
Emerging Majority Deep Thought
Even if you had to win by 10 percentage points to get a state's electoral votes, Obama would have won 262.
The Good, the Bad, the Ugly
Obviously, it's a big night for the country and for Democrats and everyone who believes in calm leadership based on knowledge and reason.

It looks like we are falling a bit short of what could-have-been in the Senate. Al Franken trails by 500 votes after all precincts reported. There will be a recount, but not sure the chances that it will make any difference. Probably a runoff in GA which I expect the Democrat to lose handily (what's going to get all those young people and African-Americans to the polls for a Senate runoff?). Oregon is still counting, but Merkley is behind. If he doesn't make it, and the others stand, that will put Dems at 56 w/Lieberman, a gain of only 5 - what seemed like the very low end of possibility going in.

Disgustingly, Rep. Michele Bachmann won her re-election and can take her place at the head of HUAC, I suppose. I can only presume that if she can't be beaten in an atmosphere like this, she will be able to keep that seat forever. Shockingly, convicted felon Ted Stevens looks like he will be re-elected (still some absentee ballots to count). Everyone's calling on him to resign, he may face prison time and a censure, but hey let's re-elect him. Most disappointing outcome of the night, Prop 8 in CA successfully nullified state recognition of the beautiful marriages of gay couples. Progress comes slow, I suppose, but I think a better result there may have really been a leap forward.

Still hard not to feel good knowing President Barack H. Obama is on the way.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Prediction Thread
Bumped---Ok here is my prediction.
Obama - 53%
McCain - 46%
Obama wins 337 EVs with OH, PA, NC, VA and MO, falling just short in GA, IN and FL. We gain 7 Senate seats, and Al Franken loses a heartbreaker to Norm Coleman (I just don't like the way MN usually ends up more GOP than expected), but the GA race goes to a runoff for the 60th seat.

What say you?

By the way, get your handy election scorecard as described in the post below, in case you missed it.

Monday, November 03, 2008

(As Andrew Sullivan says..) Know Hope
51 years ago, on the 3-year anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education, Dr. King took to the steps of the Lincoln Memorial - 6 years before he would deliver his "I Have a Dream" speech there. Distressed by the lack of real progress, and feeling betrayed by both major political parties' failure to pass and enforce meaningful legislation based on that landmark ruling, he joined leaders of the NAACP and about 20,000 supporters to urge elected officials to act. Their request was simple. Speaking last, this is what he said:
[O]ur most urgent request to the president of the United States and every member of Congress is to give us the right to vote.

Give us the ballot, and we will no longer have to worry the federal government about our basic rights.

Give us the ballot, and we will no longer plead to the federal government for passage of an anti-lynching law; we will by the power of our vote write the law on the statute books of the South and bring an end to the dastardly acts of the hooded perpetrators of violence.

Give us the ballot, and we will transform the salient misdeeds of bloodthirsty mobs into the calculated good deeds of orderly citizens.

Give us the ballot, and we will fill our legislative halls with men of goodwill and send to the sacred halls of Congress men who will not sign a "Southern Manifesto" because of their devotion to the manifesto of justice.

Give us the ballot, and we will place judges on the benches of the South who will do justly and love mercy, and we will place at the head of the southern states governors who will, who have felt not only the tang of the human, but the glow of the Divine.

Give us the ballot, and we will quietly and nonviolently, without rancor or bitterness, implement the Supreme Court's decision of May seventeenth, 1954.
And then he turned to the frustrated crowd to exhort them as well, to promise them that these things they dreamed of would become reality so long as they continue to seek change in the name of love and not hatred, in the spirit of humility and not retribution, with faith in themselves and in the better nature of those who oppressed them.
Go out with that faith today. Go back to your homes in the Southland to that faith, with that faith today. Go back to Philadelphia, to New York, to Detroit and Chicago with that faith today: that the universe is on our side in the struggle. Stand up for justice. Sometimes it gets hard, but it is always difficult to get out of Egypt, for the Red Sea always stands before you with discouraging dimensions. And even after you've crossed the Red Sea, you have to move through a wilderness with prodigious hilltops of evil and gigantic mountains of opposition. But I say to you this afternoon: Keep moving. Let nothing slow you up. Move on with dignity and honor and respectability.

I realize that it will cause restless nights sometime. It might cause losing a job; it will cause suffering and sacrifice. It might even cause physical death for some. But if physical death is the price that some must pay to free their children from a permanent life of psychological death, then nothing can be more Christian. Keep going today. Keep moving amid every obstacle. Keep moving amid every mountain of opposition. If you will do that with dignity, when the history books are written in the future, the historians will have to look back and say, "There lived a great people. A people with 'fleecy locks and black complexion,' but a people who injected new meaning into the veins of civilization; a people which stood up with dignity and honor and saved Western civilization in her darkest hour; a people that gave new integrity and a new dimension of love to our civilization." When that happens, "the morning stars will sing together, and the sons of God will shout for joy."
50 years later, occasional Republican shenanigans notwithstanding, the ballot belongs to us all. And after all are counted tomorrow, chances are good that an African-American who was not yet born when that address was given will receive more votes than anyone ever has in this country. 20,000 had the nerve - the will, the fortitude, faith and courage - to demand the ballot. By 1963, they would become 200,000 and then more. A milestone that must have seemed a distant dream then is now on the verge of reality, just a half-century later. There lived a great people, indeed.
Election Night Survival Guide, Short Version [UPDATED x2]
By popular demand.

[UPDATE: I've prepared a one-sheet scorecard (pdf) that should be handy in following the presidential returns. It works like this: the states are divided between Obama and McCain in the way most likely to lead to a 269-269 tie. Once a candidate wins a state from the other guy's column, you subtract those electoral votes from the loser's total, and add them to the winner's. That should make it easy to look ahead and see what has to happen for either to hold on for the win.]

President: If it's close or McCain has an early lead, let's not panic (this is for me as much as anyone). If some of these so-called battleground states start to look like they are going McCain's way: GA, IN, NC, OH, FL, MO, NV, AZ, and even VA, we will not freak out, because Obama doesn't have to win any of them. His most narrow path only requires holding PA...then adding CO to his wins in IA and NM (which seem certain). Essentially, to beat Obama, McCain must run the table on those "battlegrounds" above and also win either CO or PA. Once any of them start falling for Obama instead, we can start to relax.

If McCain pulls the upset in CO, Obama can replace it with *any of those other battlegrounds* and still win. (though if he only wins NV out of that bunch, it will be a 269-269 tie and go to the House.)

If McCain pulls the upset in PA, but Obama wins as heavily expected in NH, NM, and IA, Obama can win with any combination of FL (27), OH (20), GA (15), NC (15), VA (13), MO (11), IN (11), AZ (10), CO (9) NV (5) that adds up to 27 Electoral votes.

Senate: Including Lieberman, Democrats have 51 Senators in its caucus. They look to add [GOP incumbent in parenthesis]: NH (Sununu), NC (Dole), VA (open), CO (open), NM (open), OR (Smith) and AK (Stevens) making 58. To get to 60, they need to win 2 more out of these 4: MN (Coleman), GA (Chambliss), MS (Wicker), KY (McConnell). [UPDATE 2: Just a note. If neither candidate in GA wins 50%+ of the vote, it will go to a runoff at a future date. Let's win outright so we don't have to worry about all that turnout again.]

House: Who knows? Predictions have ranged from a net gain of 20 to 35 for Democrats. I'm looking especially at Bachmann's seat in MN, Shadegg's seat in AZ and Musgrove's seat in CO, all loathsome Republicans in varying degrees of trouble.

Other: The night will be bittersweet if CA passes proposition 8. Let's hope reason prevails and discrimination against gay couples goes down to a big NO.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Was 2004 a Blessing in Disguise?
Kevin asks a decent question... I can't quite go there but interesting to think about. What would this election be like if Kerry had won? (on the other hand, what shape would the country be in?)
Election Night Survival Guide, Part V (final)
By 10 PM Eastern, barring a judge leaving polls open late, 11 states will be left to close. There could be lots of close states still not called. Iowa, Montana, Nevada and Utah will close the polls at 10. One hour later California, Oregon, Washington, Hawaii, Idaho, and North Dakota will stop, and 2 hours after that, at 1 AM, Alaska will close. Most of these will not be close. Obama should add 84 EVs after IA, CA, OR, WA, and HI. McCain will add 15 with AK, ND, ID, and UT. McCain is trying in IA, but I don't think he will be successful, polls have shown double-digit Obama leads - a key Democratic pickup from 2004. If we add those totals to the projections I've already made - giving GA, IN, NC, AZ and WV to McCain and NM, NH, MN to Obama - Obama will lead 243 - 186.

Other races to watch out West? I've got my eye on 3: California's Prop 8 which would overturn the court's gay marriage provision, if passed. Should be close and will be one of those disappointments to make the night less jubilant if it is successful. In Oregon, Democrats expect to pick up Jeff Smith's Senate seat, a necessary one for the fight for 60. And netroots favorite Darcy Burner is giving a second try to take Dave Reichert's House seat in WA-8.

As for Pres, this hour adds 2 states - MT and NV - to the waiting list.

Montana would be gravy, and with a popular Democratic Governor, it could go for Obama but is not necessary, or really expected. Let's assume McCain pulls it out eventually, making his total 189.

Nevada is becoming a key state to join CO and NM in a Western state strategy to overcome possible loss in PA. Obama seems to be ahead here and even if everything up in the air goes McCain's way all night, they are the last line of defense that would still send Obama to the White House.

At 243, that leaves Barack 27 short with FL (27), OH (20), MO (11), CO (9), VA (13), PA (21), NV (5) still to be determined. Let's take Ohio off the table, if only because I believe if he wins OH he will have won PA and the presidency right there. So give that to McCain to make it 243 - 206 with 6 states left. Even if OH goes down, here's how Obama wins - with any one of these scenarios:
1. Win Florida. Voila. 27. Lose all the rest including PA and he's still President.
2. Win PA plus any of the other 4: CO, VA, MO or NV (though NV would leave it at a 269-269 tie and send it to the House. Nightmare.)
3. Win VA + any 2 of NV, MO, CO.

Even if McCain is successful in PA (and OH and FL), he has to hold off Obama in VA to pull the upset.

Shorter late-night version: Assuming New Mexico comes through as indicated by polls, hold PA and only one other thing has to go our way, with many to choose from. Plus options remain even if PA falls.
Election Night Survival Guide, Part IV
(See Part I, Part II, Part III)

At 8:30 AR closes and is called quickly for McCain, making the count 82-75 for Obama with a handful of states still counting in which the outcome is not clear. Let's presume that with a strong close for the underdog, McCain gets IN and NC finally called for him putting him ahead 101-82. As the polls close at 9 Eastern in 14 more states, we're still waiting on VA, PA, FL, OH, MO. Those 14 will boost McCain's total to 161, after KS, LA, WY, TX, NE and SD, and Obama's to 154, after RI, NY, WI, MN and MI. Some of those may take longer to call than others (MN for Obama, SD for McCain), but I think not too long over the course of the hour once vote tallies start coming in.

Of these states there is one race to watch: Franken v. Coleman in MN. I am skeptical of Franken's chances, if only because MN always seems to close up in the GOP favor. But if there was no other election on Nov. 4, I'd still be glued to my TV for results in this one. It is key to the Dem chances of getting to 60 Senators. It's also a grudge match as Franken has always loathed Coleman for his treatment of the Wellstone tragedy 6 years ago.

Minnesota also holds one of the House races to watch, as Michele Bachmann tries to hold on to her seat after suggesting we should have investigations into whether members of Congress (and Barack Obama) are "anti-American". Until she said that on national TV, she was going to win easily. Now, she may not.

Back to President, that adds 3 more states to those we're waiting on for results, as it will be too tight for networks to make a call before they get significant actual vote totals: AZ, CO, and NM. I just can't believe AZ will go for Obama so let's suppose McCain holds his home state after an hour or 2 of worrying over the numbers, putting him ahead 171-154.

New Mexico: Obama should win. It could take a while. New Mexico was counting into the wee hours of the morning in 2004 and in 2000. Assuming some of those early close states start to tilt McCain (GA, IN, NC, FL, OH, even VA), then NM joins a group of Western states that should help Obama over the top at the end, along with especially...

Colorado: If McCain looks to be winning all of those big Bush '04 states like OH and FL, then CO becomes a key buffer. Obama is ahead there but not by much. If somehow McCain is toppling PA too, CO is one of the states we will be counting on to undo that.

Let's give NM to Obama - where his lead has been fairly strong, making the McCain lead 171-159 and leave CO in the tossup line with VA, PA, OH, MO and FL, heading into 10:00, and even though this looks to give the GOP an advantage a little too late into the night, I am breathing easy, so long as it looks like Obama is doing well in PA...and now watching CO. Those are 2 he *should win* and are the only 2 of those I would say he *needs to win* to keep me from entering a phase 1 panic.

Shorter Version of 9 PM Closing: After this hour, network calls may have the race looking pretty close, but it's really about only a couple states. Even if everything goes right for McCain, it's about PA and CO at this point. If Obama takes CO, he will be eating into the Bush map with a clear route to victory. If McCain takes PA, he will be undercutting that path on one of his only chances to win. Assuming Obama wins them both, he can lose VA, OH, MO and FL (along with all the other close ones I've given to McCain) and still be well-positioned to win.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Election Night Survival Guide, Part III
Part I took us through the first half-hour after the polls close at 7 Eastern, and Part II surveyed the second half as polls close at 7:30 in a few states.

Now, it's 8:00 Eastern time. Many states we are waiting on have yet to be called (in fact if turnout is heavy people could still be voting, poll hours may have been extended). The current electoral vote count is 21-3 in favor of McCain and we're waiting on a handful of states (IN, NC, GA, VA, OH) that would be nice but *not essential for an Obama victory*. Suppose Georgia - as I'm expecting - doesn't close the way we'd hoped and it's 15 EVs are called for McCain, making it 36-3. We are still well on the path to victory. Step away from the ledge.

At 8 Eastern, polls close in 15 states and the District of Columbia. Network calls should come right and left on several. McCain will claim TN, OK, MS, and AL quickly and raise his EV total to 69. Meanwhile Obama grabs CT, DE, IL, ME, MD, MA, NJ, DC and, after 20 mins or so of making sure, NH. That brings his total to 82. (See? Feel better?) New Hampshire is worth watching. Common sense says it should be close, but recent polls have had Obama winning by double digits. If it stays too close to call for a while, or looks like a McCain upset, it may be a sign of trouble.

There are still other important races to watch in these states, even though the Presidential contest shouldn't be close in them: MS offers the most longshot of the Senate races still considered possible. If incumbent Roger Wicker is not confirmed pretty quickly as the winner, it will be an exciting surprise. It is one of 3 races Democrats must win to have a shot at 60, along with McConnell's unlikely seat in KY. Democrat Ronnie Musgrove has fallen behind in polls, but who knows. For a longshot House race worth following, check on AL-03 where incumbent Mike Rogers is being challenged by friend-of-a-friend Democrat Josh Seagall. Josh has no business winning this race, but in a year like this who knows. Now, on to the close states in the presidential closing at 8.

Florida: For me, FL is like Ohio. Once it looks like McCain is pulling ahead there - very possible - his supporters will whoop and news anchors will fall over themselves building up McCain's chances, but once again this is really not the key state it was in 2000. At least not in Plan A or B. It could be a fail-safe in a Plan C, which I'll get to later and hopefully we won't have to think about. Anyway, I'm not worrying about FL for Pres. Watching to see if we can beat the Diaz-Balart brothers in FL-21 and FL-25.

Missouri: I love watching MO because it seems to undergo a big shift at the end. Remember Super Tuesday, some networks had called it for Clinton and Obama pulled in big numbers late to overtake her - really an essential moment in the primary. MO looks close in polls and won't be called anytime soon. Move along...

Pennsylvania: This is the big one so far in the night. McCain has been gaining and putting lots of resources here. The primary Obama routes to the presidency go through PA. Polls have been all over between a big Obama win and a slim lead. If PA is called before this half-hour is up - and I doubt it will be - we can really unclench one of our fists and know that McCain's options for winning just nearly vanished. If McCain pulls of a win here, he most certainly took OH as well as IN and if it happens we will pivot quickly to Virginia. Adding VA to some states out West, that will make up for PA. But here's why PA is so important. If Obama wins PA, he can lose all of the tossup states that have closed so far: OH, FL, MO, IN, NC, VA, GA and *still* be right on target to win. The path would be narrow, but still smooth.

Shorter Version: After the 8 PM Eastern poll closings, Obama will lead 82-69 (if we give McCain GA) and we will be still watching 6 states: PA, OH, FL, MO, IN, NC and VA. And the greatest of these is Pennsylvania. Win there and none of the others can stop him. Win there + one of the others? And we can start to relax and root for Musgrove (Sen) in MS.
Time Change Health Effects?
Don't forget, we move clocks back an hour this Sunday - an extra hour of sleep that may be good for you. This is fascinating, if true.
Heart attacks decrease by 5 percent the first Monday after the time change, and by 1.5 percent over that week, according to an analysis in this week's New England Journal of Medicine. The findings are based on 20 years of data from a Swedish registry of nine million residents.

The springtime transition to daylight saving time poses more of a health hazard: Heart attacks increase by 5 percent over the first week after clocks are pushed back an hour, spiking by 10 percent on that Tuesday, epidemiologists at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm found.
I have my doubts, no offense to Swedish scientists (or Swedish hearts). For one thing, if screwing with your sleep schedule that slightly was that bad for you, wouldn't we notice a similar heart attack increase among people going through jet lag after long flights? I dunno, maybe that does happen? I've certainly never heard of it though.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Election Night Survival Guide, Part II
In Part 1, I talked through the way I will be neurotically, nervously watching the returns on Tuesday at 7 pm Eastern when the first polls close in 6 states. A half-hour later, polls will close in Ohio, North Carolina and West Virginia. The key for this 30-minute stretch is to keep our eyes on the prize. These states don't necessarily matter. Follow me:

So, it's 7:30 and (I'm guessing) 3 states (VT, SC, KY) have been called giving McCain an electoral vote lead of 16-3. GA, IN and VA are still too close to call, and maybe Obama's behind in all three as the earliest votes are counted. Breathe. Remember, GA and IN are pile-on states. Indicators to be sure, but in no way necessary for Obama's electoral strategy. As West Virginia is called 10 minutes later, putting McCain up 21-3 and dashing hopes of a big upset there, we will not worry. This was all to be expected.

Ohio: I am not as optimistic about Ohio as others. But here's the thing: it's not that important. Winning OH (like winning FL) would just about assure an Obama win, but neither is necessary. I expect OH to be close and will not be called for the next hour at least. I'm going to try and just ignore it. In 2004, Ohio was everything for Kerry's chances. Not so this year. Barack's most fundamental route to 270 takes Kerry's result (including the losses in OH and FL and VA) and adds Iowa, Colorado and New Mexico.

Is Ohio important at least to insulate against a McCain upset in PA? I'd say no. If Obama wins OH, he will win PA, where he has consistently run 5 pts or so ahead of his Ohio numbers. It's hard to imagine him winning OH and losing PA. Every news anchor is going to go on and on about what a deciding state Ohio is. But this year, it is much less likely to be so.

No, if you want to watch Ohio closely, forget about President and pay attention to House races. In OH-15, Democrat Mary Jo Kilroy should pick up an empty seat, and in OH-2, Republican incumbent Jean Schmidt seems likely to hold on to her seat in this district Bush won by a huge margin, though it could be close. If either of those expectations are not met, it will be telling, about the Ohio vote generally, and Democratic House prospects. Also watch OH-01, where Steve Chabot (R) looks to be in one of his toughest re-election races. If this breaks strongly either way it will be an important indicator. Here's another reason to root hard in that one: Chabot was one of the 12 Clinton impeachment managers, one of only 3 who will still be in the House if he wins.

North Carolina: Obama doesn't need to win here, not at all. But it's been exciting to see the polls put him very close, or even ahead. The main thing here is for it to not be an early McCain call. If it is, that may not bode well for Obama in VA, and the map will tighten up, putting lots of pressure on PA and CO should VA not come through.

Shorter Version of 7:30 closing: Don't panic. These 3 states are not essential. WV should be an expected and substantial loss. OH and NC would virtually assure a win, but are not necessary, no matter what Wolf Blitzer tells you about how huge Ohio is. By the time the 30 minutes are up and we're ready for 8 pm closing, let's expect the count to still be 21-3. If GA, IN, OH, NC and VA are still too close to call, things are going according to plan, and if it looks like Obama is poised to win *any of them*, or any of them have been called in his favor, he will be well on his way to victory. The only bad news will be if he is losing them (especially VA where he looks to be well ahead in polls) decisively, as that would suggest the polls are off nation-wide.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

In Case You Missed It
Obama's prime-time half-hour. I hope it works. It worked on me, of course.
Election Night Survival Guide, Part I
At 7:00 Eastern time Tuesday night, polls will close in Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, South Carolina, Vermont and Virginia. Here's what I'll be looking for as I freak out during the first half-hour:

Indiana: No Early Call. In 2004, at 7:00:01, the networks called Indiana for Bush. This year, Obama is making a push and keeping it close in polls. Assuming it breaks for McCain in the end, the longer it takes to call this state, the better omen it is for Obama's chances across the country. The quicker it goes, the better sign for McCain. If, at any point, IN gets called for Obama, he will be President, and probably win in a landslide. Another important marker to watch for is the house race in IN's 3rd District. There Republican incumbent Mark Souder, in a district that went heavily for Bush, is receiving a stiff challenge from Democrat Mike Montagno. I always expect the incumbent to find a way to pull out these close ones, but it will be worth watching just how late in the night IN-03 goes.

Georgia: Basically the same as Indiana, but even more heavily assumed to go McCain. Heavy African-American turnout in early voting has some dreaming of a surprise here, but not me so much. This will be a real test of the turnout. A quick call in GA would not be as upsetting as IN, but would indicate that this will not be an Obama blowout nationwide. What I'm more interested in GA is:

Senate seat: Jim Martin has been closing on Saxby Chambliss, the despicable Republican incumbent. There are 3 close (hopefully) races, 2 of which will have to go blue for Democrats to reach 60 Senators. This is one. I'm hoping the first half-hour of coverage includes a Martin lead.

Kentucky: This will be called for McCain pretty early, I'm guessing the 3rd call of the night. But there is another reason to watch KY: to see if Republican Senator Mitch McConnell will get a close race or not. This is another of those 3 races (along with GA) that will decide the scope of Democratic victory in the Senate. If I had to choose, I'd rather pick this one up, if for no other reason than McConnell is such an ass. But he probably is the most likely to hold on.

South Carolina: Not much to see here. I'm expecting it to be the 2nd state called in the evening, going to McCain.

Vermont: Ditto. I expect it to be the 1st state called, for Obama of course.

Virginia: This is the most important of the early closing states. Indiana or Georgia would be gravy for Obama. Virginia has become a key player in Obama's electoral routes to 270. At 538.com, VA is now the #1 tipping-point state, meaning it is the one that, after all the blowout states are allotted, the state most likely to put Obama over the top. He can win without it, but - with a healthy lead in state polls - a loss here would indicate a substantial over-estimation of Obama's GOTV effort. It would mean there is no chance in NC, and PA might be in question. He could still win without those, but the margin suddenly becomes very small. In this early group, it is for Obama what GA is for McCain, in the sense that the longer it takes the favored candidate to be declared the winner, the bigger a boost the other guy will get.

Shorter Version of the 7 pm closing: By 7:30, I expect VT, SC and probably KY to already be in the bank. And hoping that Senate races in KY and GA have not been called. *Really* hoping that IN and GA look like they will take all night to sort out, and it will be telling to watch which state between VA and GA gets called first. It's hard to see how McCain wins without taking them both.
Tennessee Leads the Nation
No, not in kidney stones, though we are pretty high. According to this site tallying the early/absentee vote across the country, Tennessee is #1 so far in early voting turnout as a percentage of the total turnout in 2004. At just over 1 million through Monday, early and absentee votes number 45% of the 2.4 million total votes cast in 2004, that just beats out the 44% put up by Colorado. Not bad for a state that is not expected to be competitive.

Does this point to a huge boost in turnout this year here in the Volunteer State? Not necessarily. The early vote was nearly 50% of the turnout 4 years ago too. By the time the early vote ends after Thursday, we should be past that for sure. But, it remains to be seen whether Nov. 4 turnout will also exceed expectations, or if everyone is just voting early. My point is: a 50+% early vote turnout here is not as notable as it would seem to be in, say, GA, which lags behind TN but is far exceeding its early vote share from 2004.

Is there any good news for Obama in the TN turnout? A little. in 2004, John Kerry won 18 of TN's 95 counties in getting drubbed 57-43 by Bush. Those 18 counties (mostly Nashville and Memphis) made up 29% of the statewide turnout total back then. In the early vote so far this year, those same 18 - which should go for Obama - account for 32% of the statewide total. An increase in the share, modest as it may be...

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Errol Morris Films for Obama
One of my favorite filmmakers (as you know), Errol Morris has made some spots highlighting and targeting voters "in the middle". There are 7 of them - don't know if these are just web ads or will actually air on the teevee. Take a look.
Drink More Water
What's happening to the children?
To the great surprise of parents, kidney stones, once considered a disorder of middle age, are now showing up in children as young as 5 or 6.
[P]ediatric urologists and nephrologists across the country say they are seeing a steep rise in young patients. Some hospitals have opened pediatric kidney stone clinics.
Kidney stones are apparently really painful and generally result from a diet of either too much salt or too little fluids, or both. I'm wary of this danger because of calcium deposits in my kidneys that showed up on an x-ray several years ago. Until reading this, I had no idea that I live in the "stone belt" because of the high rate of kidney stones in the South (which has extended to children here as well).

The article makes the case that kids have much more salt in their diet these days, and are reluctant to drink fluids during the day to avoid using the restroom at school.

In general, intake of fluids helps, but the contributing factors in specific beverage consumption are confusing at best. While caffeine intake has been believed to increase risk of stone formation, this study found that in fact coffee and tea both have an inverse relationship to the recurrence of stones (as do beer and especially wine, though all of the other behaviors associated with significant alcohol consumption mitigate any benefit), where apple and grapefruit juice increase the risk. Go figure.

Monday, October 27, 2008

One Week to Go
Throughout the final week, I expect my poll and electoral college obsession to be in full bloom, sorry. I spared you for most of the general election at least... But continuing my weekly series, the number of electoral votes Obama would have if he won each state he currently leads by 3 or more in the pollster.com average is 314 (321, 333, 300), 44 more than he needs (previous weeks, from most recent, in parenthesis). Regaining Ohio into the +3 column and losing Florida accounts for the loss of 7 EVs.

If he wins all states he leads by any margin, he would have 367 (367, 353, 353), the same as last week.
What have you been reading, listening to, watching?

Synecdoche, New York
Looking forward to Charlie Kaufman's newest. This is his first screenplay since Eternal Sunshine, which longtime readers will remember me obsessing over a few years ago. I'm avoiding the reviews and trailers because what little I've heard sounds like it's better seen blind. But if you're not worried about getting spoiled, there is a preview here. You know this, but just to get the links in... Schenectady, by the way, is the town in New York. Synecdoche is something else.