Oct 29, 2008

On Professor Rashid Khalidi, Dangerous Radicals, and Xenophobia

AP photo of Governor Sarah Palin by Kichiro Sato

The mindless mantra of knuckle-dragging, fear-based rhetorical idiocy from the McCain presidential camp sank to an even lower level today with Governor Sarah Palin's assertion that "there is yet another radical professor from the neighborhood who spent a lot of time with Barack Obama."

The "radical" scholar in question is Professor Rashid Khalidi, who is the Edward Said Professor of Arab Studies at Columbia University. Professor Khalidi is the author of seven books and dozens of academic articles on the Middle East, and is a frequent commentator on national and international news programs.

Oh - and he has a funny-sounding name, the kind of suspicious Arabic name that sends shivers down the spines of Neanderthalic xenophobes like Governor Sarah Palin.

Over the past three weeks I have observed the McCain campaign descend into an ever-deeper chasm of malicious fear-mongering, and what respect I once had for John McCain has evaporated. Yet today's episode into the realm of doltish elocution shocked even me, a jaded and cynical observer of American politics who has witnessed many a brutal political campaign.

But at what point will thinking people stand up and denounce these asinine, divisive, and McCarthy-esque tactics? Are we so afraid of repercussions that we will sit idly by and permit this sort of know-nothing thuggery to go unanswered? Professor Rashid is an American citizen, a person born in the state of New York, and a respected scholar. Yet because he has the audacity to speak his mind about the Palestinian people, he is somehow a dangerous radical?

Of course, given that this is a campaign that utilizes Joe the Plumber as a foreign policy expert, nothing should surprise me any longer.

By the way, here are some facts Governor Palin should know about me, should she wish to continue in her list-making of possible terrorists and radicals. I put the dangerous-sounding words in boldface to assist those who are on the lookout for dangerous radicals:

1. I once had a childhood friend named Mohammed, a Lebanese kid in my neighborhood who was a practicing Muslim.

2. Every evening during Ramadan my neighbors, who are practicing Muslims, bring my family the food that they prepared for the twilight feast. And - get this - I enjoyed every meal cooked by these practicing Muslims.

3. I own copies of the Qu'ran (English and Arabic). Of course, I cannot read enough Arabic to save my own life, but one of these days I will tackle this language.

4. I own dozens of books on the history and politics of the Middle East.

5. I have taught world history, devoting entire lectures to discussions about the Muslim world, and I am teaching a course this fall on the history of the Middle East. And check this out: I often draw historical parallels between the concept of jihad and the Crusades, a sure sign that I am filling the heads of the next generation of with radical ideas about the nexus of religion and violence.

6. Coincidentally, I will be appearing on the Al Jazeera network this weekend, discussing the American election with their news correspondents. Al Jazeera is based in the Arabic-speaking nation of Qatar, which probably has a few radical Muslims. Truth be told: I might have turned down the gig were it not for the fact that today's attack on American citizens of Middle Eastern ethnicity so nauseated me that I felt compelled to present to the world an American face that was not spouting calculated ignorance (Buckeye Cablevision channel 220 carries Al Jazeera English, and I will be on some time between 12 noon and five o'clock, should you be bored and surfing cable).

So, with all of these mounting pieces of suspicious evidence, I nominate myself to this emerging list of "dangerous radicals" who "pal around with" people with Arabic names and who have a fondness for tabbouli and hummus. I suggest that Governor Palin immediately contact every federal agency to keep an eye on "dangerous radicals" like me, lest we join up with such security threats as Professor Rashid Khalidi and start - I dunno - doin' weird stuff, you betcha.

Silliness aside: I am an independent voter who has pulled the lever for a number of Republican candidates in the past, and I even donated money to local Republican politicians in the 1990s. These moronic attacks only serve to drive me even further away from the GOP, a party that once seemed to speak for me.

Not any more.

Oct 28, 2008

Amusing Student Excuse with Documentation

Missed exam saddens student

As a college instructor, I run into quite a variety of excuses from students as to the reasons for a late assignment, or why they might have missed class. Most are legitimate, a few are patently prevaricative, and others are so bizarre that they could not possibly be made up. I'm thinking of one student years ago who faced the simultaneous problems of an unplanned pregnancy, adverse drug reactions, and a newly-incarcerated significant other.

Yikes, that.

Advances in technology, though, have added a new dimension to student excuses, like the case of a student who missed a recent midterm exam due to a flat tire. With the help of a cell phone camera, she took photographs of the tire in question and emailed the evidence to me before class even ended.

Additional evidence of the unfortunate vehicular event

Then, after the tow truck arrived to replace the blown tire, she photographed the tow truck invoice and emailed THAT to me as well. This was documentation far beyond the generic doctor's notes that can be obtained with little effort from a family physician when a person is under the weather: "So-and-so has been under my care since..."

I chuckled at the creative solution to the dilemma, and I readily acquiesced to the student's request to make up the exam. After all, in the face of such incontrovertible evidence - and the pouty face to boot, one that looked like it could bring forth faucets
of tears - how could I be so cold hearted as to deny the obvious?

And for you skeptical cynics who are thinking this could be a case of blatant Photo-Shoopery, I wag my finger and say: "Meh." The laugh from the email was worth the infinitesimally small chance I was being hosed by a techno-savvy exam-shirker.

Oct 26, 2008

Fall Chill, Colors Above

A trip to an apple orchard is not the same without millions of yellow jackets buzzing around, though I can't say that I missed the annoying pests. Still, the cold winds blowing from the northwest reminded me that winter is not far, and I was glad I decided to wear a fleece jacket on our journey in search of pumpkins and cider.

The storm clouds that intermittently passed overhead provided a few minutes of colorful skies around 7:00 pm, and my dying camera battery permitted me a few last photographs of the hues on the celestial canvas. The rest of the family stayed inside, away from the chill and close to the doughnuts and cider, but I was drawn instead to the skies above.

Gloves would have been useful tonight, though using my passport to travel to a distant Mediterranean coast sounded more captivating.

Oct 24, 2008

On the Overlooked Joys of Simple Food

I arrived home to a nearly empty house, as my wife and most of my children ventured out on Friday evening in pursuit of a variety of activities. My one remaining daughter informed me that there was meatloaf and red skinned potatoes in the refrigerator.

Now, as a child I grew weary of everyday dinners like meatloaf, as this was a meal my cost-conscious mother often used to stretch the food budget. While I grudgingly ate most of the food placed in front of me (at least that which did not get smuggled to our Labrador retriever), I pined away for those meals that were the exclusive province of holidays or the rare visit to a restaurant.

Yet I have grown to appreciate the taste of a simple home-cooked meal, and I microwaved the still-warm leftovers. Though not much of a ketchup fan, I once learned working for a restaurant chain that this plain condiment adds a quite bit of zest to meatloaf.

As I ate this delicious-but-humble meal, I considered the meal choices I could have made instead. These ranged from fast food to a meal at an inexpensive diner, but these options lacked an important ingredient: home. Even though my only companions were my canine friends (plus a daughter watching television in another room), this unadorned meal easily surpassed any food I might have ordered at a restaurant, and the meal at home siphoned no additional cash from my wallet.

Best of all, I did not have to wait for a table, listen to screaming babies, hear an obnoxious person at the next table debating the virtues of video cards, or deal with an indifferent server. The lowly slice of meatloaf brought me a level of satisfaction far above its simple ingredients, a synergistic combination of food, atmosphere, and love.

Oct 22, 2008

On Patriotism, Real Americans, and the Reactionary Right

A current theme among some members of the Republican Party in the past few weeks is the issue of patriotism, or at least the question of whether Americans whose views are to the left of, say, Pat Buchanan are somehow less-than-patriotic. A number of prominent GOP candidates are suggesting that non-conservatives are somehow less loyal, or that their true allegiances are to nefarious foreign nations hell-bent on harm.

Republican representative Robin Hayes of North Carolina spoke at a McCain rally Saturday and announced that "liberals hate real Americans that work and achieve and believe in God." Governor Sarah Palin last week suggested that small town folks represent the "real America," while Minnesota GOP representative Michelle Bachmann told MSNBC's Chris Matthews that the "leftist, liberal" members of Congress are "anti-American," adding that she wants the mainstream media to investigate Barack Obama's supposed "anti-American views."

I engage in discussions that could easily be construed as "liberal," "leftist," or even "communist" in nature. As a political independent, my practical politics tend toward fiscal conservatism and social liberalism, which is to say that I prefer the government not to waste money, to stay out of my life, and to protect the freedoms of every citizen. Over the years I have voted for Republican, Democratic, Green, and Reform Party independent candidates, and I will continue to pull the lever for those candidates whose stated policies most closely mirror my current views.

However, in my theoretical politics, all ideas are fair game for debate, and I enjoy exploring such "radical" topics as slavery reparations, the possibilities of a world after capitalism, and - a dead giveaway for those who hunt dirty Commies - the concept of living simply. In the constricted and jaundiced patriotism of Palin, Bachmann, and Hayes, such writing must seem positively treasonous, and I have little doubt that the "investigations" demanded by the likes of Bachmann would be rather like those of a certain beady-eyed and hepatitic U.S. Senator from the state of Wisconsin.

So, to these illiberal and paranoid Americans who parade themselves as paragons of patriotism due to their political ideology, I say this: there are few dangers greater to the extraordinary political experiment that is the United States than the type of blind partisanship and mindless conformity you espouse.

In short, kiss my free-thinking ass, you ignorant buffoons.

Oh, and by the way? Your tireless efforts to demonize your political opponents only serve to drive away potential voters. I found John McCain to be an intriguing candidate in 2000, a man who seemed to better represent my thinking than most of the other candidates, but the McCain camp's relentlessly idiotic accusations insinuations of Barack Obama being a "terrorist," a "socialist," and an "un-American" person have eroded what respect I once held for the Arizona senator. Good luck trying to resuscitate your party after the apparent drubbing that you will be bringing upon yourselves in two weeks.

Oct 20, 2008

The Quote Shelf

Medieval text with Latin script A frequent feature on this site; feel free to comment on the quote or to supply a competing quote.

My favorite thing about the Internet is that you get to go into the private world of real creeps without having to smell them. -- Penn Jillett

Oct 19, 2008

On Colin Powell, Barack Obama, and Endorsements

Former Secretary of State Colin Powell endorsed Barack Obama for president on this morning, calling the Illinois senator a “transformational figure” whose campaign is one of inclusion and representative of "a new generation coming onto the world stage."

Powell's endorsement certainly does not hurt Obama, and should bring him a few undecideds and centrist Republicans. Powell is one of the few Bush Cabinet members who still retains a significant amount of credibility (Gates - and to a lesser extent, the post-warhawk Rice - I also include in this short list). While it would be an overstatement to suggest that millions of voters will change sides, I think that Powell's comments will sway a meaningful number of independents, perhaps even several hundred to a thousand in some key electoral districts.

This endorsement also might signal a trend among moderate Republicans to position themselves for an Obama victory, or it might just be Colin being Colin. We'll have to wait and see what Powell's true motivations are: understanding this political enigma has been a source of much punditry the last 15 years, and Powell defies simple analysis.

But for the latest news cycle, the Powell endorsement is sure to keep the pundits and bloggers busy, and this campaign moment will completely defuse any stumping Senator John McCain and Alaska Governor Sarah Palin accomplish today. Moreover, as an important figure in national security and international diplomacy the past two decades, Colin Powell carries a great deal of authority even years after leaving the Bush cabinet. McCain will be hard pressed to top this endorsement, and the current strategy of repeating the epithets "terrorist" and "socialist" will not work to undo this PR coup that Obama just scored.

Oct 18, 2008

Rapid Rhetoric: HAMMAM

Raphael's depiction of Plato defining the difference between true and false rhetoric This is an irregular feature - both in frequency and oddness - dedicated to a word I came across that I have never previously used.

hammam (huh-MAHM) n. a traditional Turkish steam bath.

I came across the term hammam during some readings on the late Ottoman Empire, and - being the word geek that I am - I felt the compulsion to learn more about this ancient art.

While there are a number of variations - such as steps that include clay mud packs and the use of expensive oils - there are a number of common principles to the hammam. The bather first relaxes in a room that is heated by a steady stream of hot air allowing perspiration to flow. Bathers may then move to an even hotter room to increase perspiration before cooling themselves with cold water. Participants typically then enjoy a full body wash and a massage, and then retire to a cooler room in which they can relax and enjoy conversation.

Andrea Sachs of the Washington Post visited a Moroccan hammam and shared her thoughts in a humorous 2006 article in which she recounted her experiences.

My 8-minute solitary morning showers seem, well, a bit rushed and lonely in comparison, though admittedly my Western neuroses would likely get in the way of any immediate plunges into the world of the hammam. If I found myself in a hammam, though, I suspect it would be my luck to be seated next to an auto insurance salesperson, and that the conversation would devolve to actuarial tables and risk assessment.

Oct 15, 2008

The Onion and the Economic Meltdown

Like many folks, I have been in a funk about the future of my family's financial health in these uncertain economic times. The veritable avalanche of poor economic indicators, imploding stock markets, and unprecedented efforts to stave off what might be a major depression have, frankly, taken their toll on my sense of humor.

Thus it was with a hearty-but-hollow laugh that I came across The Onion's satirical take on President Bush's response to the economy. I don't want to give away the entire article, but one of my favorite passages was this one:
The plan—which many are calling Bush's most well-thought-out proposal to date—calls for citizens to abandon their daily routines entirely, and engage in a weeklong period of bloodcurdling screaming, arm flailing, dry heaving, and gnawing on one's fingers while rocking back and forth in alternating bouts of maniacal laughter and gentle sobbing.
Click and chuckle, giving yourself a brief humor break from the looming economic catastrophe that the global economy seems to be hurtling toward.

Oct 14, 2008

On the Therapeutic Power of Sunsets

As I drove west along a deserted highway in southern Michigan last night, the sun emerged from the clouds and created some magnificent colors. I must admit, though, that my first thoughts were to connect the colorful sunset to a cynical metaphor about the American economy, especially in light of my recent dour mood about the likelihood that we are entering a major economic depression.

Yet this thought quickly passed, and instead I parked the car on the side of the road to watch the atmospheric display. I've learned that intense sunsets rapidly fade, and that you only have a few minutes to enjoy the dazzling blend of orange, pink, and purple hues before darkness arrives.

This was not exactly the profound state on being that Zen Buddhists call satori, nor was it even one of those elusive "perfect moments" in which all is right with the world. Yet my time spent staring at the beauty above was well spent, and I climbed back into my car a bit more... peaceful.

I drove on with a full moon in my rear view mirror and in front of me - streaking through my eyeglasses - the last streaks of color receding into the night like wisps of smoke from a dying campfire.

I vow to watch more sunsets.

Oct 12, 2008

On Capitalism and the Cult of the Invisible Hand

Wealth of Nations: revealed truth, or superstitious mystery?

Like many folks, I have spent quite a bit of time the last few weeks fretting about the possibility of a global economic collapse. My wife and I have likely seen $50K of our net worth evaporate in the last year between losses in our home equity and our 401-K and 403(b) accounts, and lately the churning of my stomach over the uncertainty of the future has been the source of sleepless nights. My thoughts, though, turn away from the simple matter of my lost wealth and instead turn toward the question of the nature of political economy and the ideal methods of socioeconomic organization.

At the end of the trading day, even the values of the strongest blue-chip stocks are nothing more than a sort of agreed-upon fiction. So long as there is a consensus on fictional value, the economy hums along, but when people begin to doubt the high priests of the Cult of the Invisible Hand, the result is an uncontrolled implosion, as investors rush to protect as much of their mythical wealth as possible, something that stock market analysts like to call a secular bear market. Such a "secular" downturn is a sustained decline in the major stock indices of at least 40 percent (coupled with even more losses in secondary investments) and where the period of decline lasts a minimum of three to five years.


Now, this is not a call to some specious, doe-eyed, neo-Marxist utopian scheme, but rather a critique of the irrationality of those who implore us to "have faith" in the markets and to "believe" that prosperity will return. It is no accident that such religious rhetoric is used - the devotees of the free market believe in The Invisible Hand just as fervently as the most devout Christian or Muslim. When skeptical people begin to question the tenets of the faith of the followers of the Cult of the Invisible Hand, they react in the same fashion as do zealots to heretics.

There is an opportunity here in the current economic crisis for people to set aside their acquired and reinforced beliefs about the ideals of capitalism, and to open frank dialogue about how best to allocate resources in a world of increasing scarcity. Will we honestly question the irrationalities inherent to capitalism - daring to question the revealed truths and underlying myths of the system - or will we continue to muddle along the path that we have been groomed to follow?

I do not have any influence over those who try to solve the current economic woes, and I can do little more than post on a few Internet boards or compose an essay for a few hundred people who might stumble across such thoughts on my blog. Yet to sit back and do nothing is much more frustrating than my relative insignificance as a writer, so I will trudge on.

Yet as a historian I know this much: the likelihood is quite slim that American-style capitalism is indeed the Alpha and Omega of socioeconomic organization, despite the concerted efforts of the neoconservatives to indoctrinate us about its supremacy over the last few decades. Like empires, economic systems rise and fall over time, and only fools believe in the presentist fallacy that Western liberal capitalism is the the end of history.

Oct 9, 2008

How Low Can it Go? DJIA Tanks Again

Despite the pumping of $700 billion to bail out U.S. financial institutions and the Fed's coordinated half-point discount rate cut, investors went on another selling spree late this afternoon, and the Dow Jones industrial average closed down 679 points, or approximately seven percent.

The DJIA has lost 5,585 points, or almost 40 percent, since its last high of 14,198 on Oct. 9, 2007.

Some analysts blame today's losses on the return of short selling after a three-week ban that the US Securities and Exchange Commission lifted late on Wednesday night. While this might tempt some skeptical investors from the sidelines and add liquidity to the markets, I have my doubts about the level to which we can attribute today's losses largely to short-sell speculators.

Besides - if there is a rush of short-sellers, this also means that there is a great deal of investors expecting that conditions will continue to get worse, not better. If investors believe that the stock market is approaching its nadir, we would have seen a flurry of speculators going long and betting that stock prices will soon rise.

Personally, I am not moving from the market - we have already lost the better part of $30K in retirement savings (not to mention about $20K in home equity), and I see one of two scenarios happening: a) the current implosion runs its course and the market begins to creep back upward; or b) the entire economy is headed down the proverbial toilet, and any dollars I managed to extract would be as worthless as the 1923 Papiermark of Weimar Germany.

Of course, I might need those worthless dollars to start a fire and cook my dinner of canned beans - or to stuff in the cracks of my makeshift Hooverville shanty to keep out the winter's cold - if the economy keeps heading in its current direction. Of course, at least I would not be concerned about term life insurance if I were a hobo.

Think not? There is already a Seattle version of this Depression-era phenomenon: the so-called "Nickelsville", named after Mayor Greg Nickels by critics of his administration.

Hollow Laugh of the Day: The New Dollar Bill

Laughs have been few and far between for me of late, but this 'shooped image of a panicky George Washington brought a smile to my face. My sister - the witty and mirthful Paula Brooks - sent this along to me.

This was much better than the hokey George Washington crying on the front of the dollar bill that is also making its way around the Internet.

Oct 8, 2008

McCain-Palin Ad: "Invest in Victory"

I do not mean to kick a candidate when he is already down in the polls, but perhaps the marketing folks working the John McCain campaign might want to reconsider his "Invest in Victory" slogan in light of the economic collapse we are in.

After all, voters tend to blame the party in power when the economy goes south, and the word "invest" is quite a loaded term at the moment. McCain's electoral road is already perilous enough without the added baggage of additional linkage to the $2.5 trillion in market value that has evaporated recently.

Oct 7, 2008

Presidential Debate - Live Blog Post

Having a few hours tonight that I can perform my civic duties and also knock out a blog post, I decided to start a continuous post on tonight's presidential debate between Senator John McCain from Arizona and Senator Barack Obama of Illinois.

As I see or hear anything worth commenting about, I'll update the thread.

9:01 pm: CNN is using that Voter-O-Meter device again, where remote uncommitted viewers in Ohio push buttons like Pavlovian dogs every time they hear something they like.

9:04 pm: Obama initially dodges the question about specific policies to improve conditions for people on fixed incomes. He then offers some feel-good, non-specific policies like "tax cuts for the middle class" and "fix our health care system."

9:07 pm: McCain is equally vague about details, and oddly ties energy independence into the mix about his plans to address the financial crisis. McCain did break with his earlier dismissals about renegotiating mortgages of those in foreclosure.

9:09 pm: McCain sounded a little terse in his attempt at humor when telling Tom Brokaw: "Not you, Tom," in response to a question about who he might name as Treasury secretary.

9:11 pm: Both Obama and McCain suggested that Warren Buffet might make a good Treasury secretary, though I doubt Buffet would take such a job.

9:12 pm: McCain wasted a minute patting himself on the back for his botched "suspension" of his campaign during the bailout bill, evading the question by the audience member, and then launched into a rambling tirade about "Obama and his cronies." Ineffective response.

9:14 pm: Obama directly addressed the audience member, Oliver Clark, and explained why he voted the way he did on the bailout bill, which was to address the frozen credit markets. Much better at answering this question, though the ending of his answer wasted time on defending McCain's accusations about Obama and connections to Fannie Mae.

9:17 pm: Obama was much smoother and more analytical than McCain on the response to the question about whether the economy will get worse.

9:20 pm: The audience member Teresa Finch asked a pointed question about how either candidate could be trusted with taxpayers' money, since both parties got the country into the mess. Obama mostly stuck to his talking points, while pointing out that President Bush inherited a budget surplus and taking Bush to task for a lack of leadership. McCain pushed his reformer and maverick image, while also describing himself as someone who has a record of working in a bipartisan fashion. McCain was effective early in the response, but got bogged down in statistics, and listing a bunch of organizations people should go to in order to see the voting records of both candidates.

9:24 pm: McCain keeps referencing energy independence, which is odd given the fact that gas prices have been falling. I think he is trying to move the discussion away from the sputtering US and global economies, which of course have been working against him.

9:26: pm Obama is doing a much better job of time management than McCain. He has finished almost every answer with time to spare for a succinct and catchy closing remark. McCain keeps running over the answer time, and has ended a few answers sounding incomplete.

9:30 pm: McCain - in response to a question about sacrifices - keeps hammering home his fights against earmarks and waste, which did not seem to resonate well with those remote uncommitted Ohio voters. Obama, however, did worse with his Rudy Giuliani impersonation in channeling 9/11 to response to this question. His worst answer yet.

9:33 pm:Whoa - Obama's calls for a Peace Corps-style approach to America's problems spiked high on the Vote-O-Meter. I thought this was a snoozer, but it seemed to do well with the button-clickers. Another big spike when Obama said that the wealthy should not get tax cuts, while McCain's snarky comment that pinning down Obama on policies is like "nailing Jello to the wall" caused a large dropoff in approval. In short - it seems like when McCain goes on the attack, people get turned off, because his comments about specific tax cuts brought a spike for him.

9:38 pm: Obama and McCain trade lies and half-truths about each other's tax policies, and neither really scored any points. McCain promised to answer the question about Social Security and Medicare, but spent most of his time claiming he is the king of bipartisanship, that Obama has never been one who worked in a bipartisan fashion, and that Obama voted 94 times to raise taxes. Snoooooze - McCain's worst answer so far.

9:44 pm:Even a likely McCain voter in my house is getting tired of McCain's overuse of the phrase: "My friends."

9:47 pm: Obama's calls for investment in energy research seemed to resonate well with the remote viewers, while McCain's answers were a near-constant flat-line of neutral responses.

9:48 pm: Tom Brokaw is really getting pissy about the candidates not sticking to the time limits. McCain told Brokaw to wave his arm when time was getting low.

9:50 pm: McCain referred to Obama as "that one," which sounded weird. There may be some backlash on that, which could be seen as disrespectful.

9:53 pm: Audience member Linda Trella asked a terrific question about whether health care should be a commodity - I almost cannot believe this question was allowed on the air. Obama stuck to his talking points and never answered this critical question, focusing instead on systemic efficiency, pre-existing conditions, and the problems with McCain's tax-credit plan for health care. McCain also dodged the answer, and discussed some arcane specifics about efficiency, while blasting Obama for promoting "government getting involved" in health care. Too bad - this important question needs to be front-and-center: should health care really be a profit-based commodity?

9:58 pm: Whoa, pinch me - Brokaw asked them the health care question again, pointedly: "Is health care a privilege, a right, or a responsibility?" McCain dodged the question again, suggesting it should be a "responsibility" but that there should be no government mandates. Obama came out and said health care should be a right, and his answer really caused a favorable spike with the remote viewers.

10:01 pm: McCain is finally getting some positive response from Ohio voters in talking about the US as a peacemaker, and that his judgment on national security has been strong. His numbers dropped when he started attacking Obama's credentials on national security. Strangely, when Obama attacked McCain's votes on Iraq, the Ohio voters were highly positive. McCain seems to be in a real bind here: he needs to attack Obama's credibility in order to defuse the effects of the economic crises - which favor Obama - but when he does attack Obama, his support falls.

10:05 pm: Obama made some sensible points about the limits of US peacekeeping abilities and working with allies. McCain spent the first half of his answer defending his Iraq vote, which was a mistake - he would have been better off ignoring Obama's barbs - which came two questions ago - and instead focusing on his own credibility.

10:10 pm: On the question of Pakistani sovereignty and the war on terror, Obama laid out the terms by which he would "kill bin Laden and crush al-Qaeda" by breaking Pakistani sovereignty. McCain instead spent most of his time attacking Obama for "announcing an invasion" before essentially saying the same thing as Obama.

10:14 pm: Obama gets in a zinger about McCain's recklessness with "bomb-bomb-bomb Iran" and "annihilating North Korea" and "Next: Baghdad." McCain had to go on the defensive and explain these goofy comments, and this was a flat-out smackdown by Obama.

10:17 pm: On Afghanistan, Obama set out high expectations about holding Karzai and the Afghanis accountable. McCain instead used most of his time to attack Obama for not supporting the surge, and again this attack failed to resonate with the remote viewers.

10:21 pm: McCain's answers on the situation with the Russians was one of his strongest. Obama wisely deferred to McCain on this one, and just offered a few modifications on McCain's rather hawkish skepticism about Putin and Russia. Unfortunately, Obama was too wordy on this answer, and his tie-in of energy to Russia was probably too complicated for most viewers to follow.

10:25 pm: On the prospect of committing US troops to defend Israel if attacked by Iran: McCain said that he would not wait for UN Security Council before he acted,and then spent time attacking Obama "sitting down with Iran." Just like before, his positive ratings with the viewers evaporated once he started attacking Obama. Obama's response initially ignored McCain's barb, and he focused on geopolitical specifics. When he finally made his case for diplomacy, Obama's numbers were quite positive.

10:32 pm: "What don't you know and how will you learn it?" Obama largely avoided this question, except for a self-deprecating comment about how Michelle Obama would have a "longer list." McCain answered the question directly, focusing on the uncertainties of the modern world. I thought this was McCain's most heartfelt answer, and he received high marks on the Vote-O-Meter.

Final analysis: Neither candidate made any major gaffes, and voters got a better idea of the policy differences between the two candidates. The remote viewers seemed to provide more favorable responses for Obama than McCain, and McCain will have to figure out how to attack Obama without facing voter backlash. I give a slight edge to Obama in the debate over McCain, especially since Obama's few direct attacks on McCain were bullseyes, while McCain attacked Obama so much that any direct hits he made got obscured in rhetorical overkill.

Oct 6, 2008

Down, Down, Down: Global Markets in Full Panic Mode

World stock markets are currently in a freefall, as panicky investors seem to be doubtful that a Wall Street bailout package will be effective in placing a tourniquet on flow of red ink in the the global financial crisis. Markets in London, Paris, and Frankfurt have already nosedived more than six percent today, and the 15-percent drop in the Russian Trading System(RTS) forced officials to declare a suspension of Russian trading. In Asia, the Japanese Nikkei index fell to a four-year low and Hong Kong's Hang Seng Index declined by almost five percent.

In the US, the Dow Jones Industrial Average just fell below 10,000 for the first time in nearly four years, losing 400 points or 4% of value in the 90 minutes of trading. The commodity-heavy S&P/TSX index dropped nearly 850 points – the third straight 800-plus point loss in the past six trading sessions.

I'm watching with anxiety as our 401-k and 403-B funds continue to shrink before our eyes. I'm not ready to cash-and-dash to gold, but I'm getting more than a little antsy.

But I am still chuckling at the dark humor of the angry protester last week who unveiled the cardboard sign on the left. While I do not wish ill will on any fellow human beings, I appreciate the rage of American taxpayers, who see the Treasury bailout package as a transfer of more wealth from the middle class to wealthy bankers and opportunistic stockbrokers.

But if things get worse, the protester might just get his wish. The more this financial implosion continues, the more events in 2008 begin to resemble those of 1929.

Oct 4, 2008

Digital TV Converter Boxes - Las Cajas Convertidoras de Televisor

Just a quick plug for my neighbor, who this week unveiled a company that offers low-cost digital TV converter boxes over the Internet. Television viewers with analog sets need to upgrade with a converter box to continue using their analog TVs after February 17, 2009, as the Digital Television Transition and Public Safety Act of 2005 requires all broadcasters to broadcast in digital after that date.

Velocity Technologies is an Ohio-based company that is one of a select few providers who have been certified by the National Telecommunication and Information Administration (NTIA) as official sales representatives for the program. Other conversion options - such as connecting to a cable, satellite or other pay service, or purchasing a television with a digital tuner - can be cost-prohibitive to many people.

Los empleados de la compañía se hablan español, y qusieran ayudarse con la caja convertidora de televisor. ¡Llama para más detalles de las ofertas y visítalos hoy!

Oct 2, 2008

Vice-Presidential Debate Observations: Live Blog Post

Having a few hours with which I can perform my civic duties and knock out a blog post, I decided to start a continuous post on tonight's vice presidential debate between Senator Joe Biden from Delaware and Governor Sarah Palin of Alaska.

As I see or hear anything worth commenting about, I'll update the thread.

9:04 pm:Biden ignores Ifill's question about Congress to launch into an indictment of George W. Bush and to promote Barack Obama.

9:06 pm:Palin's first comments are pro-McCain, punctuated with folksy touches like her references to soccer games and her use of the phrase "I Betcha."

9:08 pm:Biden brings up McCain's "the fundamentals of the economy are sound" gaffe, and Palin takes the bait. On the defensive, she spends a portion of the time having to explain McCain's statement.

9:10 pm:Palin, in a question about the housing and credit crises, said that predatory lenders are partly to blame for people who bought "$300,000 houses when they could only afford $100,000 houses." I wonder how this will play with millions of voters for whom a $300K house must seem like a mansion, and that Palin is out of touch with housing costs.

9:13 pm:Uh-oh...Palin's response on the economy were a bit on the rambling side; not as bad as the infamous Katie Couric interview, but unpolished and unsure.

9:15 pm:Biden is doing a much better job with time management - he has ended each question so far with a polished statement, while Palin has been caught twice so far being cut off before finishing her answers.

9:17 pm:Palin has been addressing Biden directly more than the Senator has been addressing the Governor. I think Biden must be avoiding creating the appearance that he is being condescending or mean-spirited to Palin.

9:20 pm:Biden - who has a reputation as a more polished debater - is doing a better job of helping viewers follow his arguments with phrases like "Number one: I think that..." and "number two: John McCain said..."

9:23 pm: Palin seems unsure of herself duing the question about energy - a lot of pauses, convoluted phrasing, and difficult-to-follow arguments.

9:26 pm:Biden gets in a back-handed zinger, praising Palin for supporting a windfall profits tax on oil companies and simultaneously slamming McCain's support of tax breaks for oil companies.

9:29 pm: Biden's delivery is relaxed, smoother, and easier to follow than Palin's forced and tense answers. Still, Palin has held her own to this point, and there have been few moose-in-the-headlights moments.

9:31 pm:Hmmmm...maybe I spoke too soon. Palin's mangled answer on energy independence and global warming was her worst performance so far, like a Ju Ju Be stuck in the braces of a fourteen-year-old in gym class.

9:38 pm: Palin seemed awkward in the answer of same-sex benefits to couples, trying to switch the topic to gay marriage.

9:40 pm:Did Palin just say that al-Qaeda factions in Iraq are "Shi'a extremists," or did she just lump Shi'a extremists and al-Qaeda factions together as enemies of U.S. forces? BTW - I know it's just me, but Palin's pronounciation of Iraq as "eye-RACK" drives me batty. Palin did get in a good shot in about differences between Biden and Obama on troop funding.

9:46 pm: "Nookular," says Palin. Is this a conscious inflection, or has Palin always pronounced nuclear this way?

9:50 pm: Biden's rebuttal on the Iran-Pakistan question was very strong, and his attacks on McCain's refusal to sit down with Iranian or Spanish leaders was a bullseye.

9:54 pm: "Building our embassy in Jerusalem," said Palin. Odd statement - is this meant to provoke Iran?

9:55 pm:Biden: "the country to the north of Israel." Uh, Joe? That would be Lebanon. Still, an otherwise solid answer about the failures of the Bush administration on Hamas and Hezbollah.

9:56 pm: Palin's Middle East answer was too filled with "change is a-comin'" and "never again" fluff. Her "nookular" question was a meandering, choppy chuck of rhetoric that said nothing beyond the equivalent of "nukes are bad."

10:02 pm: Palin looks like she is smirking as Biden answers the question about interventionism. Is she planning something, or is that just a forced smile that just looks strange?

10:04 pm: Yes, it was an attack smirk. Palin gives Biden a sort of passive-aggressive, smiling-dagger haymaker about Biden changing positions on the war. However, her "I must not be a Washington insider" was too transparent. She would have been better off being folksy, but not being so obvious.

10:08 pm:The "hearbeat away" question was a little creepy, but it needed to be asked. Biden tossed off the perfunctory "tragedy of historic proportions" comment, and then moved to the talking points. Palin was much more polished on this answer, and she gave a coy wink during the "we're a team of mavericks" that did not seem rehearsed.

10:14 pm: An exchange during the education question in which Biden and Palin tried to out-middle class each other, with Joe thumping his chest about his Scranton roots and Sarah mixing in "gosh darns" and "near and dear to my heart." A draw.

10:16 pm: Palin's answer on the question of the constitutional duties of the vice president was rambling, while Biden went on the attack against Dick Cheney.

10:19 pm: On the Achilles heel question, Palin's answer was a bit strange, and she never answered what her "true" Achilles heel is. Lots of "this is a great country" and "John McCain and I are a great team" yawners. Biden came across as self-deprecating and human, and his oratorical skills far outclassed Palin. Whoa - Biden looked like he was going to bawl, and it looked, well, kind of real. Ed Muskie flashbacks for a millisecond.

10:27 pm: On the question asked about a time that the candidates have changed their positions, Biden spoke about judicial hearings, while Palin spoke about the Wasilla city council and the city budget. Unsure how this will play out - does she seem insignificant, or does she paint a real contrast between DC and Alaska?

10:30 pm: The closing statements of Biden and Palin were filled with down-home, folksy colloquialisms, and Biden edged out Palin in this last exchange.

Final assessment: No knockout punches or major gaffes by either candidate. Palin avoided making any of the sorts of groaners as in the earlier interviews, so she met party expectations. However, I doubt that Palin won over many undecided voters tonight, while Biden's polished presentation was more effective in reaching out to independents and soft Republicans.

The Quote Shelf

Medieval text with Latin script A frequent feature on this site; feel free to comment on the quote or to supply a competing quote.

So I hollered up to God: 'Why is my life so jacked up? Why has all this pain and misery come to me? What did I ever do to deserve all these burdens?' Then I figured it out - God knew that when all I cared about was pimping my ride, chasing women, and getting drunk, I was unteachable and I was unreachable. -- Anonymous street preacher near Cass and Forest in Detroit, MI