Sunday, August 31, 2008

What’s In A Name?

Watching a baseball game yesterday and a player’s name triggered a flood of memories. It was “Victorino” and it took me back to my years in Spain where I bucked the American trend and became an aficionado of bull-fighting.

Most Americans will visit Spain and their tour will include a bull fight. They see one and pronounce it primitive, brutal and “not a sport.” Their problem is that they fail to recognize that it is like any activity which is complex and historic. If you know nothing of what is happening you can’t appreciate what you see. It isn’t a bit like baseball or football they will tell you. The bull always loses. Yet, the fact is that the bull doesn’t always lose. There are provisions under which the bull wins although it seldom occurs.

It isn’t a sport, but is more accurately an art form. It is performance art written in those Hemingway-esque terms of blood and sand. Like art, it isn’t always good. But when it is great, it is sublime. One must view a hundred bull-fights not just one; and even then you might never encounter greatness.

I saw probably three hundred bull-fights during my four years in Spain. Among them I probably saw forty good ones and only half a dozen worthy of being called great. I saw some historic figures in the bull ring, classic names that dated back thirty years to when Hemingway wrote the best instruction manual on the bull fight that has ever been written in English, “Death In The Afternoon.”

The memory was of a particular day in Las Ventas Plaza de Toros during the Feria de San Isidro, the patron saint of Madrid. During the feria there were usually three weeks of bull-fights with a corrida every evening rather than simply on Sunday. During that period the best matadors in Spain appeared in the capitol to vie for recognition.

The day in question was an unusual format. A typical corrida has three matadors facing six bulls from a single ganaderia or ranch. Each of the three will fight a bull in turn in a formalized sequence based on seniority as a matador. On this day, however, the objective was to display the bulls of one of the most famous ganderias. Two matadors would each fight three bulls from the ranches with the goal being to display the strengths of that breeder.

The previous year the special bulls for the mano-a-mano were from Miura. By rule the bulls for a major bull-ring must be four years old and weigh more than 400 kilos. Miura bulls were bred for their size and typically entered the ring at over 600 kilos and occasionally reached 650. Big bulls, but not fat. Hemingway liked Miuras and Lamborghini named a car after them. Miura remains one of the most famous of the breeders and is the most common name mentioned by fans of the art.

This year the breeder was Victorino. These bulls were easily as large as the Miuras, but were building a reputation for their remarkable fighting spirit and courage. Not only would the matadors want to show the strength of the large animals, but if they did their job well they would also demonstrate the spirit of these animals which are bred for the ring.

One matador facing the Victorinos was Miguel Marquez. He was short and stocky, barely five foot four inches tall. When bulls of this size entered the ring they typically came up to his shoulder as he passed them. He placed his own banderillas and in doing so was practically required to vault over the horns to accomplish the feat. His passes required his arms to rise above the classic horizontal shoulder-level in order for the bull to pass clearly beneath. The kill placed him atop the head and shoulders of the bull in a position that few more mundane toreros ever even considered.

Miguel’s older brother was his personal selected picador, the man on horseback who is charged with proving that a bull has courage by enticing the bull to charge the horse and when contact is made lancing the bull at the top of the shoulders with the pic, a licensed and measured pyramid shaped probe at the end of a long pole. If the bull fails to charge or recoils from the contact with the pic, it indicates cowardice. Typically a bull will face the picador two times, occasionally three. Weak or cowardly matadors will encourage the picador to bear down on the pic and break down the shoulder muscles of the bull forcing his head to drop and making him more manageable for the third phase of the faena, the muleta passes which precede the moment of truth.

By rule there are two circles painted concentrically on the bull-ring floor. The outer, called tercio is about fifteen feet from the wall, the inner or medio is roughly six feet smaller. By rule the bull should be caped by the matador and placed within the medio circle at the minimum distance from the horse. The picador places himself outside the tercio in the bull’s field of view and urges the bull to cross the six foot interval, the tablas, to strike the horse. The bull makes contact, receives the pic and should press the attack regardless of the pain.

The first Victorino dwarfed Miguel. He caped him beautifully, demonstrating grace, style and control. He then placed the bull properly for his brother. The bull charged, the brother pic’ed and the bull maintained pressure. The picador leaned into the pic enough to show he was not being lenient, but not so much as to break down the animal.

Miguel returned, caped several fine passes and placed the bull again but this time he doubled the distance, now clearly several feet from the inner circle. The bull charged showing aggressiveness and strength against horse and pic.

The cycle was repeated. Now the brother was at least thirty feet from the bull. The bull charged and gained enough momentum to buckle the horse’s knees. Pressure against the lance, bull against the horse. No quarter given. Enough to show the courage of the bull and then a clear easing of the picador’s pressure, demonstrated by simply easing the shaft and relaxing his posture.

Again, and again the bull was positioned. Each time the matador doubled the distance of the charge for five then six engagements. By the sixth time he was starting from well across the mid-point of the arena with the bull charging at least fifty yards to take the lance and attack the horse. Miguel and his brother were demonstrating skills of their own but in the process showing the crowd the courage and breeding of a magnificent animal fulfilling his destiny.

Victorino. A name that caused me to reflect and once again enjoy the magnificence of man and beast in an art form that many do not experience or appreciate.

The bulls are not for many, but for those who value strength, grace and courage it can be insightful on life. Those who take the time to learn the meaning of what is on display will be rewarded. If you can refrain from interpreting it as savagery imposed on a dumb animal but rather as an exaltation of man and beast illustrative of life with its good and bad you can experience something special. When it is bad, it can be very bad. But, if you are fortunate enough to see it when it is great it can be sublime.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Got Your Change Right Here

I was shocked, but then in a matter of a few minutes, impressed with the choice. Here is a perfect foil for the tired arguments of the Democrats. Sarah Palin, governor of Alaska, makes an incredible amount of sense here. Just consider the arguments that her presence on the ticket takes off the table.

McCain isn’t socially conservative enough. OK, how about a staunchly pro-life individual who walks the walk to the point of being a mother of five children and resisting the easy out of abortion when her last was diagnosed before birth as Down Syndrome. Pretty hard to suggest that the social conservatives are being ignored by the McCain candidacy.

McCain is too old and out of touch. Then let’s contrast the age and in-command presence of a forty-four year old woman with Obama himself. Let’s chalk up a list of clear and visible life-time accomplishments between the governor and the Messiah. Remember he had a two year head start.

McCain is sexist. But, the women of the Democratic Party have been claiming that of Obama as well. Now, we’ve got the woman on the Republican ticket and a refuge for disaffected Clinton voters who first were victimized by Obama “stealing the nomination” and then dissed when Sen. Clinton didn’t even get rudimentary consideration for the VP slot. If they want a qualified, capable woman, they need look no further than the other side of the political fence.

McCain is a Beltway insider. You mean like Biden, who’s been there for thirteen years longer? I’d have to say that Juneau is about as far from Washington DC as you can get.

McCain lacks executive experience. That was Wes Clark’s attempt to belittle what a commissioned officer in the military is supposed to do for a living. Here we introduce a governor of a large, developing state. She has grappled with an entire executive branch, brought ethical reforms to the state, opposed the pork-barreling of her own party’s Senator Stevens who is now under indictment and built a major, environmentally prudent oil/gas pipeline to deliver Alaska’s energy to the consumers of the US. Et tu, Barack?

Not fit to be Commander-in-Chief? Palin’s oldest son joined the Army on September 11, 2007 and is due to deploy to Iraq shortly. She’s got credible insight into what it means to have your family involved in the War on Terror. Plus she’s the CINC of the Alaska State Guard, comprised of Army and AF operational units which have deployed in combat in the ongoing war. She’s visited the combat theater, and done so before Obama got there a few weeks ago.

McCain isn’t environmentally friendly enough? Palin has been governor of arguably the most environmentally sensitive state in the Union. She is knowledgeable of the issues of mining, resource exploitation, water, forests and climate. That sort of background doesn’t come from watching an Al Gore PowerPoint movie. She favors drilling in ANWR, creating the jobs there, exploiting the state’s natural wealth and knows that it can be done responsibly.

And, did I mention that the governor is a former beauty pageant winner and a life member of the National Rifle Association? Hunts moose too!

Another List of the Bonuses

But, there will be blood:

Beat'em To The Punch

This is a political home run—a personable, intelligent, ethical, conservative, beautiful, gun-loving, principled, accomplished, experienced, mature, youthful woman qualified to be vice president and maybe even a future chief executive that we could be proud of.

Like a Naughty Librarian

I’ll bet she wouldn’t sit through a Jeremiah Wright sermon.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Superficiality Redefined

I routinely tell my political science classes that America has become too stupid to be a democracy. We simply aren’t literate, analytical, discriminating enough or adequately rational to make intelligent choices regarding who should represent us in government. If you want verification of that thesis, simply look at the credibility which the American public ascribes to the movie stars and pop idols of Hollywood. They are clearly well-known and largely successful in an industry that profits only by appealing to the lowest common intellectual denominator in our country. That success does not, however, confer any expertise in economics, international relations or even management of a large enterprise. Why then do we listen when Crow, Baldwin, Affleck, Pitt, Penn or Darryl Hannah speak of endorsement of a candidate or are critical of a complex governmental policy?

Watching the extravaganza in Denver this week highlights the problem exquisitely. The action in the streets makes my point. The signs, the outfits, the gutter rhetoric, the resort to violent confrontation rather than reason all lead me to believe that we are too stupid to be a democracy. They are mindless drones indoctrinated in sound-bites and slogans without any concepts of reality.

Within the Pepsi Center, the speeches and the orchestration of emotion asks us to suspend disbelief, ignore what we know of facts, deny the language when it doesn’t agree with the dreams being woven before our eyes. When the speakers state unequivocally things which we know to be false, why do we accept them now as true? It reeks of 1984’s Ministry of Truth. I almost expect that Baghdad Bob, the Minister of Information for the former high-poobah of Iraq will make a guest appearance today to explain what we see isn’t really what is true. Ignore the man behind the curtain and listen to the Great Oz.

The WSJ asks why we keep getting (and accepting) unknowns from the Democrats:

Governors Are Chief Executives

I would respond that the answer is my basic premise; we are too stupid to demand anything else. We get inexperienced people as candidates because they can be packaged for us. They can be as malleable as they need to be in order to appeal to our populist instincts. We aren’t discerning enough to consider real-world qualifications if they are nebulous enough to satisfy our undeserving greed.

The advantages usually are considerable. While someone with thirty years of experience might be exceedingly well qualified, the probability is also that they have stepped on toes along the way. They’ve made enemies and even some wrong decisions that can be highlighted. Their policy positions might have evolved over time and it can be pointed out that they are flip-floppers. Give me someone who has done nothing and it will be difficult to find fault. Have them promise me everything and I’ll flock to their side. If my largess comes from the pockets of someone else, I’ll vote for them several times.

Let’s all ignore the inflammatory pastor, the unrepentant terrorist, the total lack of experience in governance, the dearth of executive background, the questionable real-estate deal with a convicted felon. Let’s simply feel good about America. Let’s hope and change and wish and smile and tax. Be proud of your stupidity, and despair if you don’t appreciate what will be done for you by the Messiah.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Worth Visiting

One of my daily blog spots because she's an incredible writer, fantastic cook, talented photographer and gun-toting, self-confidant woman is "Home on the Range" (AKA "Mausers and Muffins.")

She comments sagely on politics today which makes it more worthy still of your time.

Meet Dagny Taggart

When Reason Clashes With Emotion

America always seems to want to do the “right” thing, even when the methodology of doing that seems to obviously clash with the basic freedoms and liberties which we cherish. Possibly the most dramatic example of such governance is our experiment with prohibition of alcoholic beverages, the 18th Amendment to the Constitution. Certainly the freedom of adult Americans was infringed by governmental fiat. Yet, the emotional argument of ending drunkenness and preserving families was compelling. So, freedom be damned.

The repeal through the 21st Amendment had to be done by an alternative method of ratification. The 21st is the only amendment ratified, not by voting in the state legislatures, but by convening of state conventions for the purpose of voting on repeal of the 18th. That was the only time the option was used out of 27 amendments. The reason is that elected legislators who expected to be re-elected wouldn’t do what was reasonable based on the evidence, but could only vote for the emotional protection that the 18th was supposed to provide. Get some single purpose delegates together who won’t seek re-election after getting the repeal ratified was the route to necessary results.

“Blue laws” in the Bible Belt long attempted to fill the abolitionist void locally. The result was private clubs, brown-bagging in restaurants, locker facilities at the VFW and a need to finish up the last of that bottle before driving home at night. Unintended, but certainly predictable outcomes.

Now we’ve got this:

Let Them Drink

Drunk driving causes accidents, but responsible drinking leads to maturity and moderation, at least in the view of a coalition of college presidents. Of course the hysterical Mothers Against Drunk Driving (who have some justification for their hysteria), don’t see it that way at all. Raising the drinking age to 21 made sense to the moms. And lowering the threshold of what constitutes DUI makes sense as well. Pandering to similar hysteria as the Volstead Act did, the feds caved to MADD and now will be very reluctant to listen to the college presidents who are grappling with how to deal with reality.

Does it make sense to have the same federal government supporting voting at 18? How can they be mature enough to vote if they aren’t mature enough to have a beer? The same federal government lets the tots enlist in the military and defend their country with controlled violence at the age of 18, but no glass of wine with dinner until you’re older. Isn’t that a bit hypocritical?

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to note that dropping the BAI from 0.1 to 0.08 by fiat rather than some scientific rationale doesn’t make sense either. You should also note that the lower number is going to inevitably get you more, not fewer legally incapacitated drives. They might not be physically impaired, but the state gets to raise a lot more revenue.

Here’s a reasonable discussion of the debate:

Dangerously Logical

If anyone can make a rational argument to me with examples of actual successes of prohibition or restriction of drinking resulting in less drunkenness, less binge drinking, less rowdiness and fewer accidents, I’ll rethink the issue.

So far, whether it is college frats, Spring Break in Mexico, “Time, Gentlemen” in London pubs, or soccer hooligans in Wales, the only thing that I’ve seen limitations and restrictions gain is more inebriation. Conversely, when I lived in Spain (under a fascist dictator, Franco) there were no minimum age requirements, no limits to serving hours, and remarkably few examples of public drunkenness.

Moralistic restrictions on behavior enacted into law are futile. Abstinence from sex? Good but unlikely. War on drugs? About as effective as Prohibition. Eliminating vile language from hip-hop? Ain’t gonna happen. Stopping porn on the Internet? How’s that gonna work? As in almost all arenas of life, the less the government intervenes, the better the outcome.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Grab Some Bits of This

Monday came and went in Denver, loaded with emotion, pathos, schmaltz and simple feel-good speechifying. The touching, nay maudlin, homage to Ted Kennedy brought tears to the most politically hardened eyes. The great warrior of Chappaquiddick, the intrepid speed-racer of Oldsmobile submarines, the stalwart really-wanted-to-be-President-but-screwed-up, leader of the party facing his own mortality but soldiering on for the Messiah. Incredible theater that.

The moment we all waited for, however, was the oration of Mrs. Obama. Here’s a detailed commentary on it:

Michelle Loves Her Country

If only she could make us forget the last year on the stump when the fa├žade, like Hillary’s infamous glass ceiling, showed a lot of cracks. Shall we look at some tell-tale bits out of that script?

Michelle Obama declared "I love this country"

That should not be viewed as flip-flopping from her previous statement regarding never feeling proud of her country until her husband got some votes. Remember the nuance of “love”—I love you but I don’t like you. Recall the negligent mother of a murderer avowing how she loves her son, despite the fact that she otherwise has no use for the reprobate.

she and her husband feel an obligation to "fight for the world as it should be"

Excuse me? I like the world that I fought for as it is. I don’t feel qualified and for that matter nobody is qualified to impose on the rest of us what the world should be.

She intends to tell her children that this election “we listened to our hopes, instead of our fears. How this time, we decided to stop doubting and to start dreaming,"

While fear can be rational response to a threat and doubt can be appropriately skeptical evaluation of a thesis, neither hopes nor dreams are viable anchors for a policy. I don’t want a dreamer governing me. I want a pragmatist.

She also described her husband's upbringing by a single mother and grandparents who "scrimped and saved so that he could have opportunities they never had themselves."

While that history is sort of an Horatio Alger fairy tale, the part that is missing conspicuously is a bit of analysis regarding what sort of woman runs off with a foreign revolutionary Socialist, has a child and takes him off to a foreign country when the father abandons her and then hooks up with yet another international lothario until finally dumping the tadpole on the doorstep of the grand-parents in Kansas. Would middle-class America identify with that sort of globalist and unconventional behavior? The story is not so inspiring when viewed in those terms.

She said little about his policies beyond quickly mentioning his goal of ending the Iraq war, improving the economy and providing health care for those who need it.

Of course she said little. He has said little beyond platitudes, sound-bites and slogans. His goal to end the Iraq war by pulling the troops out despite progress, relocating them to Afghanistan which is much less strategically valuable and maybe doing a local invasion of Pakistan while they’re in the neighborhood isn’t worth mentioning. His improvement of the economy by rolling back tax cuts, imposing massive new taxes, adding layers of regulations, and redistributing wealth to the non-productive doesn’t seem very presentable to me. And, wait a minute—I thought his healthcare plan was universal, i.e. for everyone. Not “health care for those who need it.” What about those who don’t need it? Aren’t they part of universal?

The whole exercise reiterates the modern emphasis on feeling and emotion rather than fact and reality. It sucks.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Whose Coat-tails?

There is a new polling term-du-jour in the mouths of the punditry, “the Generic Ballot.” I’d not encountered it before yesterday, but then found it referenced again in this insightful piece:

What to Point At

The gist of Bill Kristol’s editorial is that the very words of Sen. Obama four years ago in illuminating why John Kerry was qualified to be the next President of the United States reveal quite precisely the Messiah’s own shortcomings. But notice the comments regarding the generic ballot and take a moment to consider the dynamics.

In a period during which the US has again demonstrated its total lack of enthusiasm for any level of discomfort whether personally experienced or only vicariously through the nightly coverage of combat operations, the desire for an ideological change (there’s that word again,) means that the Democrats will gain a lot of votes from those tired of Republicans. With the economy somewhat debatably in a form of recession, a shift in policy makers seems to be on the horizon. So that is where this generic ballot comes into play.

Voters who really aren’t all that clear about their personal ideology appear eager to punch the chad for “Anyone But Bush.” The Obama campaign has done a fantastic job of chanting the very questionable assumption that John McCain is a Bush sycophant and his election will be a continuation of the same policies. Objective analysis of that thesis will quickly demonstrate much more opposition to Bush policies and ideologically pure Republicans than agreement emanating from McCain. Yet, the message has been sold. That means that the perception has become one that supports voting for any Democrat in preference to any Republican.

But here is where the strange thing happens. The generic ballot, comparisons of unnamed Dems versus unnamed Reps, shows a double-digit preference for Democrats this election cycle. When the names are inserted for the Presidential race an unusual and atypical phenomenon is displayed. Rather than showing a much greater advantage for Dems, the margin contracts to within the margin of error. The coat-tails which a party always cling to in a landslide election are not only not there but the numbers indicate that the top of the ticket is worse off than the party itself.

Building the froth of campaign enthusiasm for the Messiah in the next couple of days is going to be a very entertaining display of packaging and script-writing. The Nuremberg…er, Invesco Field rally on Thursday is going to have to outdo the Beijing opening and closing ceremonies combined. Can we get a couple of battalions of those Chinese storm-troopers to march in and raise some flags or some acrobats or something? Hey Beck, can you do some lighting for this gig?

Monday, August 25, 2008

But Of Course

Remember how it was at the beginning, a year ago when the coming of the Messiah was barely on the horizon? The issue was change and hope and abandonment of the “old politics.” What was to be changed and what we were to hope for wasn’t quite clear, but most assuredly the young, the idealistic, the down-trodden, the “working poor,” the masses of folks needing a helping hand from government were certainly enamored by the simplicity of the message of hope and change. It really didn’t matter what would be changed, simply that it would be different which presupposes that things would be more beneficial to the individual receiving the message. The “Politics of Personal Destruction” was headed for the dustbin of history.

That was then and this is clearly now. The Messiah is at apogee and as we view him so far above us it becomes much easier to notice the feet of clay. The difference is that he somehow manages to portray himself as the victim any time anyone says anything the least bit critical. He tours Europe (a strange place to campaign for the Presidency;) he finally gets some firsthand experience meeting real combat troops in a real combat zone; he unabashedly stiffs the wife of the former President of the United States in her quest for glory; he basks in adoring coverage from the mainstream media; and when someone suggests that possibly the man who would be emperor has a decidedly transparent wardrobe he hauls out the most irrefutable of whines.

Get this editorial piece at Slate:

Feel Guilty About Yourself

OK, anyone who spends any time reading Slate knows that they are slightly to the left of Mao Tse Tung, but this is too outrageous to go without comment.

From the first sentence it reads like some sort of Psalm written to glorify the deity while offering hope for an afterlife removed from this vale of tears. It speaks of the Seventh Level of Dante’s Inferno to which we have now descended and promises pie, probably ala mode, in the sky of the next administration if only we see the light. We must accept the Messiah as our personal and national savior and eternal damnation will be inflicted on any who fail to recognize the core shortcoming of America.

We are racist. That’s it pure and disgustingly simple Slate accuses. Obama is going to lose this election because America is blatantly racist. We are still predominantly white and everyone must know that we therefore are indelibly racist. There is no way that we flawed Caucasians will vote for an individual so intelligent, so capable, so hopeful and promising, so necessary to save the country if he also happens to be fifty percent African-American. We simply can’t do it, so Obama will lose and we will be at fault because we are racist. Are you kidding me?

You mean it won’t be because he has virtually no experience? You’re telling me that it won’t be because there simply isn’t enough money to give everything to everyone that is being promised? You mean that the cause won’t be the vacuous speechifying without substance that we’ve been subjected to these many months? You’re saying it isn’t going to be because of the Messiah’s hubris? You want me to believe that it won’t flow from his inability to be encumbered by evidence of military success in Iraq? You demand that all successful people should welcome incredible taxation to support the welfare masses? None of that will be the cause? It will be because we are evil racists?

Sorry guys, but that isn’t it at all.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Taking Things Into My Own Hands

And, this just in:

Too Much History

Think back on vice-presidential candidates past. Some of them have been remarkably prominent individuals, even recent opponents of the ticket head-liner. Names like Lyndon Johnson come to mind or Hubert Humphrey. They sometimes win and sometimes lose disastrously. The real individual who is responsible for winning the election is the candidate himself.

More often the VP choice is someone decidedly unfamiliar on the national stage, someone innocuous and with implications of undiscovered talent that will be groomed for a possible future. Franklin D. Roosevelt had no qualms about changing Vice-Presidents even while encouraging the Abraham Lincoln caution regarding not changing horses in mid-stream. FDR went through three of them, none of whom were particularly remarkable prior to their selection. Harry Truman, turned out pretty good when thrust into the Oval Office.

Consider Dan Quayle, for example. The only thing they could pin on him was how he spelled his vegetables. Not really very damning. Or, for that matter, how about Dick Cheney? Certainly he’s been vilified in office, but the opposition simply couldn’t muster much in terms of really outrageous earlier scandal. He really became acceptable in his “gravitas” providing role because of his age and lack of presidential ambition.

That’s what makes the Biden choice so weird for me. The mantra has been about “change” but how can you suggest that you are going to clean house if you are joined at the hip with a guy who has been in the US Senate for the last 35 years. Is it “change” to move your office ten blocks down Pennsylvania Avenue?

Then there is the problem of Joe’s record. He’s got a long and rich history of inflammatory rhetoric. He’s been a favorite of talk shows and press conferences because the things he says are invariably going to make great sound-bites. He has always got something to say and it is always going to be sarcastic, demeaning, partisan, embarrassing and colorful. Watch him in a Senate committee hearing and you are certain to learn what he thinks and seldom what the expert giving testimony has to say. He’s a loose cannon, a train wreck in progress, an immature adolescent in sixty-five year-old’s clothing.

But maybe the most disturbing is this bit of memorabilia from the Biden files:

At Least They Found Some Writings He Would Claim

You might remember the question about ten days ago regarding where all of the writings of the former editor of the Harvard Law Review have gone. The conspicuous lack of a legacy documenting Sen. Obama’s legal thought is certainly not duplicated in the case of Sen. Biden. The problem, however, seems to be the opposite. It seems that almost anything written could be claimed at one time or another by Joe.

At least that’s what the New York Times was saying. Do you think they will revisit the topic? I doubt it.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Not Quite Total Withdrawal

Ohhh, YEAH!

Gotta stop that aggressive air ops that is running the genocide in Darfur:

Hoist on a Petard

This is going to be great fun!

Did Santa Come Last Night?

I don’t recall a collective national anticipation ever before to rival the lead-up to the Messiah’s announcement of his running mate. The main-stream media are simply beside themselves with handicapping the “Veepstakes” (ptui, gargle, spit…) Every pundit has pontificated and by the time I rise to post this the name will be on every newspage, all the blogs, incessant on the cable news outlets and running in a crawl on the kid’s Saturday morning cartoon-fest. Frankly, Scarlett…

The “short-list” may or may not have been predictive. I’m honestly thinking that the membership of that select club might really have spent the night burning incense and sacrificing the neighbor’s bull (after all, they are collectivists,) to the gods in the hope that they aren’t the Chosen One’s chosen one. The leaks in the would-be ship-of-state captained by the harpooner who would be Admiral of all he surveys mean that someone tacked to his shoulder for the next four months is going to be dragged through an awful lot of discomfort. “Call me Obama, and this is my first-mate, Joe/Evan/Chet/Kathleen but definitely not Hillary.”

Whether it is a White Whale or a Holy Grail, the poor second-not-in-command will be a yawner evermore. So, who is it this fine day?

I know in advance it isn’t Hillary. No way Barak is going to look at that pasted on malevolent smile across the conference table for the next four years. And, definitely no way he’s going to be ready to put out former-President and intern-chaser fires which would be sure to erupt regularly. Nope, she’s out of the question. Let’s watch on Wednesday and see how she handles the situation.

Joe Biden? I like Joe, but kind of doubt it. Gonna be very tough to point at McCain’s age while trying to sell Joe’s experience. Biden has a lot of history and some of it is with foot firmly in his mouth. The “clean, articulate, black man” comment of less than a year ago is only the tip of that sooty iceberg.

Evan Bayh? Zzzzzzz, snooze, yawn, what? Oh, about Bayh, well let me say this, zzzzzzzz. Ooops, excuse me, nodded off again. Distinguished former Senator and…what? Oh, he’s not “former” just very quiet in the Senate…and Governor of, where was that again? Oh, that’s right, Indiana…zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

Kathleen Sebelius? Well, she fills the woman square. And, she is adequately slender so General McPeak would like her. She’s been a Governor, and her father was a Governor, so that means she knows how to govern and stuff like that. Well, no she’s never had a real job, other than being a state legislator and, did I mention, a Governor?

The dark horse that popped up yesterday on the national scene, but which had been mentioned earlier here in Texas is Congressman Chet Edwards. I’m betting he’s the name on the mornings buzz. History? Not much. Been a congressional intern then a real estate agent. Spent some time in the Texas state senate (31 members) and been in the House of Representatives for nine terms now. I guess that makes him inoffensive and probably doesn’t show up the Messiah for inexperience too badly.

Better get a cup of coffee and turn on the boob plasma screen to see what the real answer is. I doubt I’ll be surprised, but for sure a couple of Democrat contenders are relieved this AM.

Ahhhhhh! It’s Joe! Let the dismantling by recapturing his history now commence.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Because We Can

If one needed a crash course in the realities of our dangerous world you couldn’t go far wrong with some serious study of the Russian invasion of Georgia. It very clearly demonstrates the critical difference between what we wish were so and what actually is. We like to view the world through Obama colored glasses, seeing a panorama of highly intellectual nations arrayed in diplomatic frock coats and pince-nez sipping tea and discussing the nuances of cleaning up poverty and disease while simultaneously equalizing income not only in the US but around the globe. It is the world of Woodrow Wilson and Neville Chamberlain displayed in broad pastel strokes.

We have treaties and alliances that have made war a thing of the past. That was a brutal, stone-age solution to issues of the Twentieth Century which we have grown beyond. We’ve got trans-national corporations influencing politics, not jingoistic dictators. We’ve built a network of non-governmental organizations which transcends nationalism and offers us politely discussed solutions when problems arise. As Lyndon Johnson might have said, “let us reason together,” and we’ll find a solution. Let’s simply sit down and talk our problems through. We have evolved to a state in which we can be civilized.

That isn’t the way it is yet. Someone tell the Eloi that the Morlocks are out of their hole. Russia knows that the best way to stabilize a domestic political situation is to turn the focus outward. Create an enemy and then vanquish him. It gives you global stature and patriotic fervor. It’s win-win for the guys in power. Hitler knew it, Mussolini knew it, Mao knew it, Hugo Chavez and Ahmadinejad know it. And, so does Putin/Medvedev know it.

Those nasty Georgians are ethnically cleansing the good Russians living in South Ossetia and Abkhazia so let’s go down there and teach them a lesson. They don’t stand a chance of beating back our forces with their puny military. We’ve got somebody close by that we can whip quickly and no one can do a thing about it. We re-establish Russian pride. We regain respect for Russian military might, rusty though it might be. We show the former Socialist Republics that this flirting with NATO is not in their best interests. Now, what can they do about it?

The fact is that we can’t do a damned thing. Our military has been cut to the bone to satisfy America’s demand for welfare. We’re involved in a necessary two-front war and scattered globally dealing with terrorists, defense pacts and training requirements. We don’t really want to go nose-to-nose with the Bear. It would be a meat-grinder and we lack the will to fight.

The United Nations isn’t going to do a damned thing. The Security Council is powerless, as it was designed to be, with Russia ready to veto any action. The General Assembly is largely third-world anti-Americans and/or Euro-Socialist dependents on Russian gas and oil. Even if they did become suitably indignant over Russian aggression, they are totally toothless in mustering any sort of military response.

NATO has divulged to the world—at least to that part of the world which hadn’t already realized it—that they are today an effete debating society with little spine for incurring actual casualties in a combat situation. The emergency meeting of NATO ministers resulted in release of prissy language regarding their displeasure and sincere intent to be affronted at some undisclosed time in the possibly near future. Chamberlain would seem downright belligerent compared to Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer.

Bottom line for the NATO countries is they get to play with the big boys, benefit from the historic US defense umbrella, and when push comes to shove they meet their obligations with a platoon of communication specialists or cooks. No trigger pullers or cannon-cockers available from most of them. It has worked for sixty years, but apparently the arrangement has eroded with US War on Terror involvement.

The core European powers, led by France and Germany would love to do more—or at least they publicly imply that they would. But, they depend for their economic survival on Russian energy sources and have developed a huge trade with the developing industrial giant to the East. Strong words regarding the invasion of Georgia, wink-wink, and we really are displeased Valerie. Stop it this instant…or when it suits you.

So, the Russians sign a cease-fire and promise to withdraw immediately. Or, maybe by Tuesday. Or they’ll get organized for an orderly withdrawal in about ten days or so. Or, maybe the techniques that kept Stalin in Eastern Europe after 1945 are still writ large in the play book.

The incontrovertible fact of international relations is that nations aren’t moral actors. They aren’t good guys and bad. They are amoral characters acting in their national self-interest. They do what they want to do if they can do it. They don’t do what they want to do if it is clear that someone else can stop them. In this situation, no one can stop them. They do it because they can.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Short Takes

Saw this item in the Dallas Morning Fishwrap.

Just Divvy It Up

Then it struck me. That final number in the story!

That figure of taxpayer dollars that has flown to New Orleans is $126,000,000,000.

Since the population of NO at the time of Katrina was a shade under 400,000 that means they could have simply dispensed $315,000.00 to every man, woman and child in town!

And, they keep saying the aid has been botched...

I know I could cope with relocation quite comfortably with that amount.


Once I was the sort of new computer pseudo-geek who foolishly enters every emerging bit of whiz-bang without a second thought. I was an unabashed “early adopter.” Show me a list of plug-ins, add-ons, extensions or utilities and I’d spend the rest of the week downloading them at 2400 bytes/sec over the hum, buzz, squeal, whistle, drone modem on my dedicated phone line. When a new version of an application came out I was first in line to install it. I went from Word 1.0 to 3.6 on forty-two sequential steps without hesitation.

Surprisingly it was then the right thing to do. The first generations of all of these goodies were both ground-breaking and unstable. They did things that hadn’t been done before, making them indispensable once you tried them. But, they crashed, stumbled and always seemed to lack some critical functionality that the next version update was addressing.

That’s all changed now. Reasonable stability has emerged and the improvements are so microscopically incremental that moving me to shift from a long established pattern takes a real break-through. Now, I will confess that I moved to Vista only six months after its release. But, my excuse was that I was upgrading to a new system with all of the horsepower to run it. I’ve not been disappointed in that choice. I also upgraded to Office 2007 and have finally gotten used to the cursed “Ribbon.”

It took some Vista incompatibility to wean me from Eudora as my email client. The fact that Qualcomm cut the program loose helped me make the transition to Outlook and while I don’t really like it, I’ve found that the integration of email, calendar, contacts and the rest of Office makes it functional for me.

My epiphany this time came with a new release item in a monthly computer mag I read about Firefox 3.0.1. I had used Netscape in the early days and was slow to accept Internet Explorer until around version 5.0. By then Netscape had gotten convoluted with plug-ins and integrated email which I didn’t like and Microsoft had undermined the display code to often leave Web pages unviewable in Netscape. I went to IE and stayed.

Doing software reviews, I had to look at Opera, Safari, Phoenix and others. Some were small and quick; some were large and unstable; all were marginal in comparison to IE for everyday use. I looked at Firefox when the buzz started. I tried it and didn’t like it.

Then Firefox offered tabbed browsing. I tried it again and thought maybe they had it right. The browser still seemed confusing to me with a need for an apparently endless search for “extensions” to do stuff that should have been in the application to begin with. After a two week test, I abandoned it.

But, I’m not close-minded. When the magazine said version 3.0 was great I tried it again. My conclusion is that this time they’ve got it right. And, it works in Vista!!!

The tabbed browsing options are faster and more stable than IE. I set up a half-dozen of my default work pages as my “home” and they are all there when I launch Firefox. The integrated password/username extension, called Sxipper, logs me in everywhere including an MS Exchange mail server and a college online course software as well as returning me with one click to any previously registered shopping site. New registrations are saved optionally by just clicking on a pop-up. Personal data (as much or as little as you choose to list) can be auto-filled on Web-page forms with just a click.

Shifting from IE is a no-brainer. When you install Firefox it will ask you if you want to import bookmarks or favorites from another browser. Click and it’s done. Adding and organizing nested bookmark folders is a giant step up from IE as well. Finding the sites you need really works easier with the “Awesome Bar”—the system takes “auto-fill” to an entirely new level.

Searches with Google or Yahoo are enhanced with a nifty extension called Surf Canyon. Get a Google hit list and choose a site as you normally would. When you return to the list, Surf Canyon will have added a sub-folder of additional sites supplemental to the one you just looked at. The drill-down research potential is incredible.

Previous iterations of Firefox exhibited some incompatibility with text manipulation on my blog host and college online instruction site, but the latest version has corrected that significant shortcoming for me. Opening of linked pages from a site can be done in a new browser window or a new tab by setting a default option, making a much cleaner and quicker multi-page viewing experience.

The “Links” toolbar from IE is called the “Bookmarks Toolbar” in Firefox and it works the same way, except that re-arranging along the bar and moving back and forth from bookmarks folders is a lot easier. Identifying icons for sites seem to be captured more quickly and retained more consistently than with IE. Handling of RSS feeds and updates are flawless.

In short, I’m now a Firefox convert. Unless something surprising occurs that hasn’t manifested itself in the last two weeks of testing, I think I’ll stay.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Not With a Bang But a Whimper

No, I’m not going all T.S. Eliot on you, nor even entering Nostradamus mode to predict the apocalypse. I’m talking about the implosion ongoing in the House of Representatives. Speaker Nancy Pelosi acknowledged that America seems somewhat upset that since her party wrested control of Congress two years ago not a damn thing has been done. Gas prices soared, the housing market crumbled, approval ratings for Congress set record lows, the damned President has somehow wrested success from the jaws of Middle-Eastern disaster, and strangely enough, America is beginning to awaken to awareness that doing nothing is not a policy. So, she coyly suggests that if she ever decides to return to Washington and do the job she was elected to do, she might allow (get that? ALLOW!) a vote in the legislature on becoming energy independent. She might allow limited, environmentally friendly, cautious, probably heavily regulated and definitely taxed drilling for America’s resources. How benevolent. How politically prudent. How pathetic that it has come to this.

Listen to the spin, the waffling, the stuttering, the simple BS as George Stephanopolous presses her. Is this leadership?

Sloganeering, “use it don’t lose it,” “a diversionary tactic,” “no reduction in price for ten years,” and simple stupidity. This isn’t about vilifying “Big Oil,” it is about wresting America’s wealth from the ground to let America succeed.

As she is saying this, has anyone noticed that simply because of the President’s suspension of the executive order against off-shore drilling and the gradual improvement of the situation in Iraq that the price of crude has dropped from $147/bbl to $113/bbl yesterday. The price of a gallon of regular gasoline has dropped from $4.20 to $3.49 and the dollar has risen against world currencies. In other words, the simple threat of drilling has impact. Imagine what actual drills in the ground might do.

I want the Speaker to tell me a few things. First, how will we achieve her goal of reducing dependence on foreign oil if we don’t increase production of domestic oil resources? We’ve got it. We know we’ve got it. The world knows we’ve got it. Who has more right to it than Americans?

Second, how will getting our own oil into pipelines fail to reduce costs to the consumer resultant from an increase in supply? Oil is a global commodity. Add to the global supply and the global price will come down. If we are part of the global community, Nancy darlin’, we come out ahead.

Third, what is wrong with making profit by companies that invest in production and delivery of a needed product? Remember that old capitalism business they used to teach in schools back in the days of Truman and Eisenhower?

Fourth, what would be the downside of putting thousands of Americans to work in exploration, transportation, refining, building new refineries and pipelines and then spending their wages in a bustling energy independent economy? You mean they wouldn’t be welfare (AKA Democratic Party) dependent any more?

Fifth, how will I power my car when you force a shift to wind and solar energy? Particularly, what will enable me to buy an electric car of dubious utility when I have no job because the economy has collapsed because of lack of fuel? Energy is not totally fungible.

Sixth, what makes you think that the miniscule population of the US can influence global climate change despite the flagrant pollution of Asia, Africa and Eastern Europe? Remember the significant difference between Chernobyl and Three-Mile Island?

Last, how does being the Speaker of the House allow you to circumvent the will of the people who have elected representatives to their government?

At least we have this to be thankful for:

First Do No Harm

If watching laws being made is as distasteful as seeing sausage produced, we aren’t going to be very offended by this Congress, but we might not have meat with our breakfast.

The whimper comes from folks like Pelosi. The bang that is missing so far is the slamming of voting booth doors by disgruntled Americans who want their voice to be heard in government. When the people wake up there will need to be some explosions under the butts of these politicians who are more involved with posturing than policy making.

Otherwise the world we know will be coming to a very quiet ending.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Above His Pay Grade

During one of my characteristically hubristic moments, I ran for City Council in Colorado Springs. I ran for a district seat, one of four in the city. In the process I routinely associated with candidates for the other district seats as well as those running for the four at-large council positions. I made friends with several of them and often met for breakfast or a cup of coffee with them throughout the campaign and later during their tenure.

In one particularly memorable meeting a more experienced political type counseled me on my straight-forwardness. He cautioned that there was nothing wrong with being principled but to win an election the goal is to “leave no votes on the table.” In other words, don’t give people a reason to not vote for you. They might be tough to convince to vote FOR you, but at least don’t confirm their choice to NOT vote for you.

What he was describing was our pluralistic society in which we all have different priorities and positions on major issues. If I lose 40% of the voters on the abortion issue and lose 40% of the voters on gun control and then lose 40% of the voters on tax policy, it won’t be the same 40%. In very short order I will have created a significant majority that is staunchly opposed to me.

The secret is not to say very much and even what you do say is not quite as adamant as it might be. Barak Obama is the reigning champion in that event. He has demonstrated the ability to say nothing at all very eloquently and convincingly. He seems to succeed in being all things to almost all people. But, Lincoln was right about not being able to attain the “all of the people, all of the time,” goal. That is becoming increasingly apparent.

I couldn’t bear watching the Saddleback Shootout live. I tried once during the first hour, but the quickest view of Sen. Obama with the clearly coached, hyper-sincere head cocked over his right shoulder posture was too much to allow me to continue so soon after dinner. I knew I could get it all later.

I read the news and the blogs the next day and then opened up the viddie in a tab so that I could listen as I worked elsewhere while not having to watch. Can I say that there were no surprises?

When faced with unscripted questions, an unstructured environment and a need to spontaneously respond to policy issues the poor Messiah is left adrift. If you needed a picture to illustrate the phrase, “there is no THERE, there” he would be it. He rambles, he stutters, he hems, haws and harrumphs. He strings together imagery and visions of sugar-plums while clearly attempting to leave no votes on the table. Without core values and driven by incredible ambition he condescendingly attempts to circumlocute the difficult into simplistic terms which the unwashed can grasp. Not surprisingly it doesn’t work very well.

The easily foreseeable question in a Christian forum is going to be regarding abortion. It wouldn’t take a campaign staff to predict that and forge a pithy, concise answer. When it came in the form of “when do you think life begins?” the answer from McCain was personal, unequivocal and to the point, “at conception.”

How did Sen. Obama deal with it? First he said:

”Whether you are looking at it from a theological perspective or a scientific perspective, answering that question with specificity is, you know, above my pay grade.”

And then he continued:

“But let me speak more generally about the issue of abortion. Because this is something, obviously, the country wrestles with. One thing that I’m absolutely convinced of is that there is a moral and ethical element to this issue. And so I think that anybody who tries to deny the moral difficulties and gravity of the abortion issue is not paying attention.”

Got that? He is a US Senator, one of the 100 most powerful people in the country and seeking to be the President. He is asked what his personal position is. Not what he wants, what he would legislate, what he would support or defend, but simply what he, as an individual, thinks. He defers his opinion to a higher power in an attempt to remain all things to all people. CNN likes to refer to that sort of perseveration as “nuanced.”

So, where is Harry S Truman and his desk plaque, “The Buck Stops Here”, now that we need him?

Monday, August 18, 2008

Learning the Lessons

Considering the past is a worthwhile exercise and quite often intensely illustrative of mistakes we might be about to make. Take for example that unpleasantness that swept across Europe from 1914 to 1919.

The dominoes that fell to ignite that conflagration were stacked by a system of alliances created to achieve the nebulous goal of balancing international power. When you’ve got a continent full of relatively small nations and a couple of the larger ones tend to oppose each other there’s got to be a way to stabilize the system the great diplomats thought. If you get a couple of friends to join with you in a common defense pact, you get some negotiating clout. If your opponent musters some allies as well, so much the better because you don’t have a lot of little rogue nations scurrying about independently. You’ve got a couple of mature players composed of wise and contemplative leaders who will negotiate you out of conflict.

Then along comes some anarchist with a pistol. He offs an archduke in the backwaters of undeveloped Europe. The next thing you know, the alliances are invoked, the armies march and you’ve got a meat grinder across France and Belgium that extends all the way to Gallipoli. The mature and contemplative thing would have been to ignore the incident. Send a diplomatic note to the grieving nobles pointing out that the arch-duking business is inherently fraught with peril. You have to expect some losses if you want to enjoy being a member of the nobility.

What’s the point? The alliance we’ve got in question is NATO. And the problem I’m talking about that benefits from an historical review is Georgia.

NATO was established in 1949 as the linchpin of a network of alliances that Truman forged to implement the Truman Doctrine. The greatest foreign policy problem ever encountered was the question of how to deal with communism in a bi-polar world with nuclear weapons. Truman’s policy wonk, George F. Kennan, had analyzed post War Europe focusing on the economics of the competing systems. He advised Truman that communism was not sustainable without conquest and expansion. If contained and allowed to demonstrate the inability of central planning to manage an economy, the system would collapse. The solution to prevailing without launching global nuclear war was a policy of containment. Don’t confront, simply contain.

Truman and then Eisenhower with John Foster Dulles embraced the principle of building alliances stressing anti-communist governments and shared defense burdens. NATO was the premiere example, but CENTO, SEATO and other regional pacts performed the same function.

The core of NATO is Article 5, which simply stated says, “an attack against one member is considered an attack on all.” Kick my little brother and the whole family will beat up on you.

Many of the alliances have collapsed, but NATO has persisted. Because of that persistence, the Soviet Union and its mirror-image alliance, the Warsaw Pact, eventually did as Kennan predicted they would.

Which brings us to Georgia. The trend since the fall of the Berlin Wall is expansion of the NATO alliance. Bring former eastern European adversaries into the fold of western democracy and in the process create a larger buffer against a resurgent Russia. We’ve added states to the pact and it seems to work well. Article 5 has only been invoked once, following 9/11 and it hasn’t created a major rift as the member states contribute a handful of forces to symbolically fulfill their obligation.

Georgia has sought membership in NATO. Georgia, however, is not a European nation. Far from it. They are well into Asia and a long way from England, Norway, Spain and Denmark. They are just barely adjacent to Turkey. They are a very primitive, not even adolescent democracy. Like most “democracies” in the region they possess questionable legitimacy. Georgia is a step up from a Soviet Socialist Republic, but they don’t yet have a George Washington, or even a Kemal Ataturk.

We should look back at Archduke Francis Ferdinand in Sarajevo and ponder the situation if Georgia had been a member of NATO these last two weeks.

Complying with the alliance would leave the US in a very undesirable situation. To fulfill Article 5, we would be seeking to oppose Russian aggression militarily in a ground combat situation. Something we are currently only marginally able to do. Or, we could renege on Article 5 and thereby demonstrate to the world that NATO is a hollow shell with no ability to defend its members.

Neither outcome is good. Until someone can show me a compelling benefit to the member states that would derive from Georgian membership in NATO, I will be unalterably opposed.

(And this item posted shortly after completing the above: Coincidentally

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Whatever, Whenever, Always Better Grading

A conversation recently overheard on the parking lot of a shopping mall beneath a dense cloud of pungent smoke:

It's Like So Cool, Dude!

The kids are talking about their future and how the Dallas schools are going to prepare them for adulthood and “real” life by helping them avoid failure.

Now take a moment to peruse this “defense” of the Dallas Independent School District’s new grading policy. This should take care of educational problems in Big D for the foreseeable future. Why didn’t someone think of this before?

Inmates Running the Asylum

Did you get that? Teachers are mandated to accept late assignments without penalty. That should instill a strong sense of responsibility among the students and reinforce lessons of consequences for their behavior. It will carry through and make them much better corporate citizens in the future. It’s the route to assured success for graduates. Due dates are simply suggestions and whenever you get around to it is all right.

Don’t bother to study. Take the exam and you might squeak through without doing any reading or review. No harm, no foul, however if you fail. You just get to take it again and the only thing that can result is your grade goes up. Scores can never go down and failure is not an option…for the teachers.

Think you might get a zero on an assignment? Don’t worry, that isn’t allowed. The teacher has to track down your meth-head parent at the honky-tonk and get their coordination to assist you in succeeding. Think that’s gonna happen?

Kids will have plenty of time for their friends at the mall, since the total of all homework from all teachers and all courses can’t exceed one hour. Imagine all of those teachers gathering to try to see who gets to assign more than ten minutes of work tomorrow.

Those nasty old serious teachers will have to adjust their standards since they can’t fail more than 10% of the kids regardless of how lazy or undisciplined or inattentive or truant they might be. So, let’s all get together gang and take a dive in algebra. If we all suck together we all pass. Mediocrity isn’t the goal anymore. Now we can be totally dissolute. Dallas already has more than 80% of their high school students reading at below the 40th percentile. That should take care of the problem quite nicely.

Somehow I don’t see Supt. Michael Hinojosa getting a huge pat on the back from any conscientious parents that might still reside in Dallas. This is clearly a socially misguided attempt to reduce failure rates for the pathetic DISD schools but without instilling any sense of responsibility. I sincerely hope that within a week there are crowds of thousands in the streets outside of his office demanding his head on a pike.

Over the long term such a policy will first generate a migration to available private and parochial schools in the community. In a slightly longer period there will be middle-class flight from Dallas neighborhoods to more rational suburban school systems. About the same time there will be an exodus of competent teachers to more rigorous educational systems, leaving DISD on a downhill slide to abject ignorance and bumbling incompetence.

This is so incompetent that even the Dallas City Council might notice.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Hobbesian Existence

There’s a flutter of discussion on jury nullification in the blogosphere. For those unfamiliar with the term, the idea is that an individual on a jury may apply his own personal view of what the law should be in determining his or her finding in a case. If you don’t think a law is right or just, you may then ignore the evidence presented as well as the instructions of the judge with regard to what the law demands. You don’t like the law, you simply and adamantly refuse to convict. It should be noted, early on, that the principle is most often linked to prosecutions for recreational drug use.

So, take a look at this well referenced summary of the issue and then take a moment to read some of the comments:

The Judge Reports, You Decide

Or read here and see if you agree that America isn’t a free country when laws are used to imprison those who break them:

Save the Unjustly Convicted

Notice that the general tenor of the comments is that, in the words of Charles Dicken’s character Mr. Bumble in Oliver Twist, “the law is a ass—a idiot. If that’s the eye of the law, the law is a bachelor; and the worst I wish the law is that his eye may be opened by experience—by experience.”

There are the usual appeals to glorious Constitutional principles being somehow assailed by enforcement of duly enacted legislation. They somehow forget, in advancing that argument, that the Constitution only offers the Supreme Court the privilege of declaring a law invalid and then only with respect to the Constitution itself. That power of “judicial review” is not even specifically expressed, but only implied and then asserted in 1803 by John Marshall in Marbury v Madison. We should not assume a right or privilege for each of us to determine what is and what is not the law.

The rhetorical distinction which is so often trotted out, regarding “rule of law rather than rule of man,” means that individuals, whether citizens, judges or prosecutors, don’t get to decide what law can be ignored. The clear authority to make laws is delegated to the elected legislative body. Admittedly they can be outrageously inept, but they still have the authority. Once enacted by the defined procedures spelled out in our federal and state constitutions, the laws must be complied with until they are revoked by further legislative act or overturned by judicial review. We as citizens only are involved in the process through our ability to elect those legislators and to influence their choices through political action.

Even when more democratic procedures are used to pass laws, the results still must be binding even when the law is ridiculous. Simply because most people want it, doesn’t make it good law. Witness the 18th Amendment. No legislative incompetence led to that foolishness. It was pure old-fashioned, democratic majority ruling. The correction was repeal of the amendment, not individual jury nullification.

When the law plainly sucks, we should do something about it. But, taking it into our own authority to ignore the existing laws because they don’t suit our convenience at the moment is a major part of that sacrifice of a segment of our liberty that is required if we are to live under the Social Contract. The Hobbesian world that would evolve without that sacrifice would be a natural state in which life would be even more nasty, brutish and short than it already is.

But a rational man will always view with respect the counter argument. If I were to change my mind it would be because of this excellent analysis. I lean toward order, but this is compelling:

Strongest Argument in Favor

Are you now confused or confirmed? My conclusion is that while a reasonable argument can be made for jury nullification of an unjust law specifically, the reasoning collapses when you extend the principle of jury nullification, as you inevitably must, to anyone with regard to any law. Then the result is chaos. You nullify for recreational drug use; I nullify for drinking and driving and Joe Bagadonutz nullifies for child pornography. That simply doesn’t work. The solution to the unjust law is not to ignore it, but to correct it within our Constitutional process.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Hitler Was a Piker

I grew up in Chicago, on the northwest side of the city, in a lower middle-class Polish, German, Irish neighborhood. I went to the neighborhood Catholic elementary school then St. Pat’s High at Belmont and Austin. When I wanted to go to college, a resident school was beyond our means, so I was a commuter student to Illinois Institute of Technology where I majored in first chemistry, then political science but always in Air Force. I minored in beer, girls, cars, and hanging around the back of the McDonald’s parking lot. When I was in high school and through college I listened to the radio in my bedroom as I fell asleep and almost always tuned to a jazz or Chicago blues station. One of my favorite disc jockeys was a guy named Jesse Owens.

He had a smooth, mellow voice that fit right into the breaks between record cuts. He knew his music and he educated me in Thelonius Monk, Charlie Mingus, Miles Davis and Oscar Peterson. I didn’t know that he was also the “fastest man alive” and the guy who upstaged Adolph Hitler on his home turf.

It had been 1936 and the XI Olympiad was held in Berlin. That simple fact should quickly be brought forth to illustrate the fallacy that the Olympic Games are about athletics and not politics. Hitler was at the peak of his utopian grandeur. He had total control of the resources of a mighty industrial nation that was peopled by his master race. He built spectacular venues and created incredible militaristic ceremonies to trumpet the Thousand Year Reich. His Aryans would sweep the events and the world would kneel before German superiority.

But, then this slender Black man from Ohio State came forward and in spectacular fashion ran away from the field in four premier track events capturing four gold medals and the focus of the world’s fickle media. Jesse was a long way from Aryan and there was nothing Hitler could do about it.

That was a simpler time, despite the machinations of Der Fuhrer. Today we know that you can manipulate judges. You can chemically enhance your performance potential. You can even ignore the rules and change the published data of the past. You can PhotoShop the display. You can make footprints walk across the night sky, even if the fireworks fizzle on the launch pad. You can delete entire chunks of your recent uncomplimentary history from the massive scroll of life. Today, Jesse would have been disqualified, discredited, or prohibited from winning on some technicality if the goals of the governing party weren’t met.

Each day now we find something new popping up about the Olympics and the host nation. Bob Costas will continue to fawn, but there is a seamy underside being revealed that should confirm the apprehensions that many of us recalcitrant Cold Warriors have harbored.

Take a look:

Walk This Way

Or sing-along here:


Year of the Dog Counts as Seven

Let’s acknowledge that the little girls were great. But no mature adult who doesn’t lean toward pedophilia would ever have thought they could pass for sixteen. The rules are to protect children from injury and exploitation, but I guess if the state needs you then you must take risks.

If Hitler had only known how it was done.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Spoiled Corporate Brat

Boeing built a flock of tankers for the USAF forty years ago. They performed incredibly and have lasted unbelievably long. They earned respect.

But respect don’t feed the bulldog. They are in the heavy hauling airplane business and their hard earned monopoly among the airlines as Lockheed and Douglas dropped out of airliner production has been very effectively eroded by the upstart international cooperative EADS. The once niche producer of the early Airbus has now grown to offer a full menu of very competitive people haulers in all sizes from two-engine short haulers to aerial behemoths like the A380.

The Boeing folks thought they had a lock on the AF next tanker deal and crafted a single-source lease arrangement to supply the aircraft and in the process keep the company’s 767 assembly line busy for many more years. The only problem was a sweetheart kick-back set-up with the DOD’s procurement director. A plum executive job after retirement from government service was in the works for Darleane Druyen. But alas, it was not to be. John McCain blew the whistle.

Next step was cancellation of the contract and a competitive rebid. Wink, wink, nudge, nudge. But something happened on the way to the big payoff. One of the survivors of the aerospace defense consolidation wars pulled a rabbit out of the hat. Northrop-Grumman cobbled together a proposal that took an EADS airframe, some US engines, an American boom system and lot of global sub-contractors and delivered a winning tanker. Throw in a new factory, 25,000 jobs in Alabama and you’ve got a great deal for the economy and the USAF.

Wailing and gnashing ensued from, of all places, the ultra-liberal Democratic congressional delegation of Washington state. Unfair, un-American, un-patriotic, un-reliable, dangerous and more. A publicity blitz of monumental proportions ensued banding together hundreds of pundits who collectively can’t tell where the hot air comes out of the jets to explain to the USAF what they really need. What we need is an investigation.

So they got one. The politically driven and demonstrably biased Government Accountability Office conducted an audit of the bid process. The conclusion was foregone. Bad AF—Good Boeing. Rebid.

So, a new RFP (Request For Proposal) is issued. Now we get this:

Take Your Bat and Ball and Go Home

This isn’t surrender. Don’t think that this means OK, we give up and Northrop/EADS wins. What it means is that they know they can’t compete fairly. They know that they must have the RFP shaped precisely to favor their airplane and disqualify the Northrop/EADS option. They further know that forcing the Pentagon into a single-source award is politically unacceptable. Let’s see, Obama sure to carry Washington; McCain a virtual lock in Alabama. Stretch to November and win the contract by default.

Whatever happened to the idea of doing what is best for your country?

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Loss of Leverage

I mentioned two days ago that I was, during one period of my career, on nuclear alert to attack Tbilisi in Georgia. At that time, it was a Soviet Socialist Republic and our posture was one of being prepared for all-out nuclear war. It seems long ago now, but it really wasn’t in the scope of the nuclear age. During the ’60, ‘70s and into the early ‘80s the tactical air force was as much involved in nuclear alert as the more publicized strategic bombers, ICBMs and nuclear submarines. There were fighter aircraft in hardened shelters throughout Europe and along the Pacific rim loaded with thermonuclear weapons and poised to launch against pre-planned targets.

This was a very complex and detailed plan that offered a wide range of options. From the daily alert posture it could be enhanced by the addition of more weapon-loaded systems and then enhanced again with forward deployment of more assets until it was many times the size of the standing start force. Mutually Assured Destruction meant that there were many more weapons than there were targets and you could tell where you were in the big picture by looking at the hyphenated suffix number on your target folder. If the last digit was “dash 4” that meant you were going to be the fourth weapon to strike that unfortunate location. Scary stuff to say the least.

Those days ended prematurely for my Georgian, Bulgarian, Romanian and Crimean targets when the nation that hosted our base went to war with a neighbor and we worried that our nuclear presence might create problems. Our alert operations were suspended and never resumed. Less than a decade later, almost the entire European tactical nuclear alert was suspended. SALT, START and nuclear non-proliferation agreements caused deactivation of a lot of nuclear systems. The collapse of the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact furthered the reduction.

But, take the current situation between Russia and Georgia into consideration. We aren’t happy with Russia’s actions. We have supported the democratization of Georgia. Georgia even wants to become a member of NATO. Russia, of course wants to reassert their military prominence which has been pretty well discredited since their Afghanistan debacle. (Note to Sen. Obama: read up on that and reconsider your war on terror plan.)

What leverage do we have today with our military heavily involved on two fronts in the war on terror that can be applied to compel Russia to accede to our wishes? We can complain to Putin’s puppet who sits in the chair of the Russian presidency. We can make a speech at the UN. We can threaten sanctions, but we have too much interest in Russian economic development and concurrent stability to really do anything. We can appeal to their humanity. Or we can wail and gnash our teeth. Maybe like policy wonkette Obama, we can urge “restraint by both parties.” Great solution to the problem, Barak!

Wouldn’t it be nice if we still had those jets with a big hammer sitting on alert? They certainly require that a potential aggressor take notice. If you then ask for reasonable behavior of Russia you are speaking from a position which possesses both carrot and stick. They know we wouldn’t use them, but can they really be sure?

The leverage offered by deployed nuclear weapons was considerable. The options for employment were very diverse. The simple fact of their existence meant that a potential adversary couldn’t just look at a map, count your deployed divisions, carriers and air wings then act with impunity.

Right now there is talking about enhancing Georgian defenses, maybe with air defense missiles or something like that. The problem is that the threat of the Russians isn’t from the air. It wasn’t during WW-Cold in the Fulda Gap and it isn’t in South Ossetia. It is armor. Tanks, personnel carriers, artillery, and boots on the ground rolling down the highway don’t much care about Patriot missiles. All deployment of advanced techno-weapons would do is Fedex them into Russian exploitation labs. It takes either a lot of bloody manpower to stop the horde, or one man in one airplane with the threat of one really nasty weapon. Quite economical, don’t you think?

We’ve lost that leverage. One could reasonably argue that the world is a much safer place because of that disarmament. But, one could also examine the current situation and make a good case for the reverse. Certainly we would be listened to a lot more seriously by Putin.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Must Read Item

I usually try to stick to just one posting per day. It leaves the main thought prominently on top so you are spared the search for what has happened. Occasionally, however, I encounter something which makes such a powerful point that it must be added immediately.

Please go and read this:

Where Are His Writings?

Inquiring minds will want to know.

Famous Last Words

Coming out of Independence Hall that muggy day in 1787, Benjamin Franklin was accosted by an elderly woman. Her question? “What kind of government have you given us, Mr. Franklin?”

“A republic, Madam; if you can keep it,” was his famous reply. One might have wondered then about his pessimism. Certainly the debate had been vigorous, but Madison had helped to hammer out a system of separate powers, checking and balancing each other which seemed to offer a brighter future than old Ben foresaw.

Had he been thinking about the inevitable result of expansion of the franchise to younger, less educated, more emotional demographic chunks of the nation? Was he worried that there would be drift from the slightly elitist republic which restricted the sway of the masses and offered guidance from the experienced and mature leadership of the country? Did he know that one day we would see this:

Too Dumb For Democracy

Sadly, I think he did. What might be viewed as even more sad is that even without the democratization of America, the experienced and mature leaders that Ben had been surrounded with have also been dissipated. One need only listen to the members of our Congress spout mindless talking points in front of any camera that points their way to know that the situation is approaching hopelessness.

Then I see this:

What Should I Do About Chavez, George?

I’ve lived through Fonda and Baldwin, Streisand and Penn and even Bono. They tower intellectually over the current generation that came with Paris and Britney, Hannah Montana and the Jonas Brothers sought out for their opinions. And, they were already scraping a pretty deep barrel’s bottom!

Will we elect a President of these United States who seeks foreign policy advice several times a week from movie stars and 300 advisors? Couldn’t we get a few PhDs and former governmental leaders with international relations experience in the mix? Probably not.

Ben, I’m deathly afraid that we won’t be able to keep it. Your pessimism was merited.

Monday, August 11, 2008

What's Going On

You won't find a coherent account in the main stream media, but since most folks don't know where Tbilisi is and never heard of S. Ossetia, you might take a look at this fairly comprehensive description of the events of the last couple of days:

Insight on the Situation

Be advised, however, that reading one perspective on a complex international situation is not decisive and only qualifies you to pursue further knowledge.

By the way, I know where Tbilisi is. I once slept with a nuclear weapon addressed to Tbilisi which I was to deliver on short notice if the President asked me. 345KT of instant sunshine--more than 15 times the size of the Nagasaki bomb. I know exactly where Tbilisi is.

Courtesy to the Host

I back-slid last night. I watched several hours of Olympic coverage. It was all that I had known it was going to be; and that isn’t a complimentary statement. It was over-blown. It was inane. It was politically correct. It was apologetic to dictatorial regimes and antagonistic to America. It was commercial. And, pervading the whole thing was a sense of surrealism.

There have been those incredibly maudlin puff-pieces about the overcoming of tragedy in the lives of athletes that participate in the Games ever since the Eighties and maybe before. We learn about their broken homes, their accidents, their poverty, their prevailing against incredible odds and hopefully we become more emotionally involved when they eventually take the world stage. We get reprises from games past of pre-pubescent female gymnasts breaking ankles, taping wrists, enduring pratfalls and living through embraces of sweaty European male coaches. We see the life story of Eddie “the Eagle” Edwards, a mis-guided Brit who gains his Warholian fifteen minutes of fame by hurling his body off a 90 meter ski jump despite never having done it before, having no chance at victory and only a slightly better chance for survival. Gag me again.

Then we watch the NBC announcers extolling the Chinese to the point of fawning adoration. The progress, the beauty, the history, the productivity, the courtesy, the far-reaching efforts of the host committee, the growth and progress of the nation are all subjects for comment by the talking heads. No mention during the techno-super opening ceremony that recaptured Chinese history of the twentieth century at all. Where was Mao? Where was Chaing Kai Shek? Where was the Cultural Revolution? What of the gray buildings and polluted skies and waterways? How about acknowledging that Chinas is where it is today because of the far-reaching political courage of that most maligned US President, Richard Nixon? Why not say that free market capitalism, even under a single party political dictatorship, can raise a people faster than the flooding Yangtze can raise a boat?

Nope, not a word of the dark side. Only praise for China, which is certainly good and proper with respect to your hosts. It is also reasonable to acknowledge the progress of the nation. But, why must every pat on the Asian back be followed by a slap to the face of the US? From Brokaw to Costas to Palmer and Lauer, they all snark their way through the evening and will do so for the next two weeks. Gag me once more.

Then there was the “sports” themselves. It makes me wonder what the Greeks would have made of it. There was badminton, a back-yard BBQ pastime elevated to Olympic competition. How about women’s beach volleyball? Sure, it’s athletic, but let’s admit that it’s really about watching semi-naked toned women leaping and stretching and looking really hot. It’s a sun-tan oil sponsored “event” not a sport.

Try a few minutes of watching that street developed gaggle called team handball. Take a softball, if you don’t have a bat and mitts, and toss it around from team mate to team mate to advance, limit the number of steps before you can throw it and then toss it at the kid from two blocks away on the other team who tries to keep it out of a goal, which is the space between two parked cars. Or something like that.

The real beauty was synchronized diving. We’ve had synchronized swimming for years, so why not have scientific proof of Galileo’s thesis that gravity effects all bodies at the same rate? You get more points for making a smaller splash! But it ain’t a sport. More gagging.

Remember Jim Thorpe? He was an incredible decathlete and pentathlete. Think about those combinations of sports and the amazing capability to be world class across that spectrum. The achievements were discredited, however, because he was tinged with accusations of professionalism. To be a proper Olympian, one must be a true amateur in every sense of the word.

Contrast that with today. Look at the millionaires taking the court in basketball, both men’s and women’s. Check out the rosters of the baseball squads. Dig back into the training facilities and support that these “amateurs” in all the sports today receive. Then, take a look at the teams of some of these smaller nations. Who are the representatives and where do they come from? Is there a bidding war going on for talent? Do potential stars that have a problem making the home team go on the global market for a slot? Where do they train? Who pays for it? There is something under the surface here and I wonder why the “journalists” at NBC don’t spend a lot of time on that issue.

I concluded last night that the Olympics aren’t about sport in the least. It’s just another reality show, scripted and not “real” in the slightest. It’s entertainment. I had enough.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Going Home

In August when many of the apartments of the older sections of Madrid, lacking air conditioning, become stiflingly hot, the Madrilenos flock to Casa de Campo on evenings and weekends. There they do what Spaniards have done for centuries. They create culinary magic in the broad grassy fields. They make paella.

They’ve packed the car with lawn chairs and tableware and the children. They’ve brought chilled wine and agua gaseoso to mix in when the kids get thirsty for a sip or two at dinner. The pantry has been raided for a bag of the fat, round arroz Valencia and a small jug has been filled out of the household olive oil supply. Maybe an onion gets thrown in as well. Most importantly, they’ve dug out the blackened round flat-bottomed paella itself. For years I called it a paella pan, not realizing that was classic redundancy. Before my time in Spain ended I’d been to the neighborhood ferreteria twice and the owner did not smile at my gaffe when I sought my own pans. I got the standard family size the first time that would feed eight reasonable people or four Americans. Then I had a squadron party and bought the 75 centimeter “grande” that nicely handles the job for two dozen of your closest associates provided you can find a fire large enough to set it over. An old Weber kettle does the job nicely.

The family has also stopped at the Mercado. That’s the important part because freshness is everything. There are as many paella as there are old Spanish grandmothers with a secret recipe. Depending upon what region of this diverse country you came from there will be different essentials. Mariscos prevail, but there is no standard shellfish. They might be any of a dozen different forms of shrimp, ranging from the tiny gambas to the crimson red carboneras or the lobster like cigalas and langoustinos. Mussels or clams appear often and sliced rings of calamari as well. A few from coastal regions will add rough fish. Chicken, with or without bone, and bits of pork are used if available as well as rabbit. Chorizo is favored by some southerners. The question of other vegetables in the dish is much like the debate in Texas regarding whether or not frijoles have any place in a proper chili con carne. If used, it will likely be peas and a few strips of red or green sweet bell pepper. Saffron threads, of course are absolutely essential.

At the park, they set a charcoal fire and feed it with bits of twigs and vines they find nearby. The kids play, the parents talk, the components are slowly added to the paella and when traditional dinner time arrives, the sun is on the western horizon and the temperatures have dropped in the dry high desert air. The table is set, the wine is opened and life doesn’t get much better.

I ate a lot of paella during my years in Spain, but never had one done this way:

Perfect Paella

I’d sure like to make the pilgrimage for some of that crusty rice. But even if I don’t, I’d like to thank the Journal for a flood of wonderful memories of paellas enjoyed at so many great places. My first and most regular paella stop was in the little village of Torrejon de Ardoz, just outside the base main gate. The Torrejon Hostal was a friendly whitewashed building with a patio dining area for al fresco meals through most of the year. The paella was tolerable, the summer sangria was too sugary, and the gravy spotted vest of the waiter who greeted us each visit and merrily tossed wine corks over his shoulder into the parking lot made it all a great memory. About half-way through my time in Spain, they tore down the rustic old hostel and built a six story hotel to replace it. The restaurant was still there and the recipes didn’t change, but an air conditioned dining room was never quite the same as the dirt floor patio.

Supposedly the best place in Madrid for paella was El Callejon. Made irretrievably famous by Hemingway, the name comes from the passage between the arena wall and the bull-ring barricade where the toreros seek shelter during the bullfights. Papa claimed it was the best paella in Madrid, but didn’t compare to the Mediterranean coast cities. Of course that was 1930 and much has changed since then.

There you could get a dozen variations, but all took at least half an hour to prepare. That allowed time for tapas and a few chatos of tinto before the feast. In the spring, when available, the angulas were an absolute requirement. A sizzling plate of hot olive oil spiced with some tiny deep red hot peppers and slices of garlic then mounded with a double handful of the inch long tiny eels that migrate each year from the Sargasso Sea to the north coast of Spain where they either breed another generation or appear at dinner tables for those who can find the delicacy. Flipped once or twice in the fiery hot oil and they are absolute heaven. For the main course, the Paella Valenciana was my usual default choice.

Just outside wall of Toledo, in the flood plain groves north of town beside the river Tagus, there was a beautiful country villa that welcomed on chilly winter nights with a roaring fireplace, good wine and a specialty of codornices or quail. Not bad paella either.

The most memorable paella was the one that my housekeeper made for me during the week before I departed Spain. She invited us to her tiny house and built a paella that exceeded anything we’d had before, while apologizing that it was missing the best ingredient—tiny “song birds,” plucked clean and roasted intact in the dish. When the meal finished, her husband sent their oldest son to the corner for puros de Habana for both of us and then invited us to pack up the cars and head to the Plaza de Toros Madrid for a bull fight. We did, but I couldn’t accept his hospitality to the point of letting him get the tickets. He had strained his meager resources way too much already. We sat sol y sombra in the contrabarrera (the second row in from the wall) and had a hell of a time. Even without the songbirds. They were luckier than the bulls that day.