Thursday, February 28, 2008

Monday, February 25, 2008

Cheap snapshot

This picture was sent to the Drudge Report (Motto: "All our news isn't fit to print"), allegedly by the Hillary Clinton campaign. Assuming this is true, and there's little reason to suggest otherwise, it's such a pitiful act of desperation. So desperate, in fact, that it just might work.

Let's go to the tape: The Clinton campaign, faced with 11 straight state losses and a dangerously energetic base of Obama-supporting non-boomers, circulates passive-aggressive sentiments about Barack being not ready or not, ahem, acceptable enough to be president. To prove such a dubious point, they secretly leak a picture of Obama in dress that they know will inflame the passions of the ignorant, and then project such a negative perception on the Obama camp:

If Barack Obama's campaign wants to suggest that a photo of him wearing traditional Somali clothing is divisive, they should be ashamed," [Clinton campaign manager Maggie Williams] said.

Brilliant. Completely dirty and classless, but brilliant.

It seems to be working, too, because Obama has taken the bait:

Addressing the issue briefly in an interview with a Texas radio station, Mr Obama said: "I think the American people are saddened when they see these kind of politics."

On second thought, that's actually not a bad answer, in the sense that it rebuts the move without pinning it specifically on Clinton or sinking to the level of his rivals. Still, we know Obama can be a fighter when he needs to be. And now would be a good time to call Clinton et al. on their increasingly shady tactics. Here's what he should say:

"Yep, that's me, wearing traditional Kenyan garb. Busted! I apologize for going to Africa two years ago and donning appropriate attire. I obviously didn't think about how dressing like people from my father's home country would resonate two years later during my presidential bid. I guess I figured that if George W. Bush can dress up like a fighter pilot and routinely hold hands with Saudi sheiks, and if Hillary's people can readily admit that she has undertaken similar rituals, then I could at least be permitted to indulge in a nod to a country that's in my blood and, in 2006 at least, was on good terms with the U.S. My bad. I should have been as calculating then as my critics accuse me of being now. Alas, I was foolish enough to believe that we had long gotten past the shallow, desperate and racist American mentality that makes such a photo matter more than a molecule of roach turd to begin with. Of course, terrorists sort of dress in togas and turbans sometimes, so I'm obviously trying to destroy America. Because when I talk about 'change,' I'm referring to my command to get all Americans to 'change' into the right clothes so that when I bring the terrorists here, they can shoot the British Redcoat-looking people, thus sparking both World War III and American Revolution II. And if you believe any of the above, I've got a bridge to nowhere I'd like to sell you."

Except, you know, eloquently.

Unsound bite

Yesterday I heard part of a live Hillary Clinton speech on CNN. I guess it's wrong to compare her oratory to that of Barack Obama's, but I couldn't help myself when she said something to this effect: "I want you to hire me for this job."

Monotone, at that.

I like Hillary, but those words encapsulate everything I don't like about her. This election is the most pivotal in at least 28 years, and I'd prefer to think that those vying for it could muster up a little enthusiasm. Barack sure has. Speech-wise, Obama has given even political cynics like myself some optimism that the system is not utterly irredeemable. When Obama speaks, politics seems like a calling, something that people undertake, with great pride, as a civic duty. Hillary sees it as a job - a 9-to-5 notch on the resume to pay the bills.

And while speeches aren't everything, communication does count for a lot. Stump speeches such as the one Clinton gave yesterday are, by their nature, carefully crafted. If ever Hillary should drum up enthusiasm within herself, it should be these choreographed moments. If she can't even fake it then, why should anyone listen when it matters most?

Yes, she's right about the presidency being a job. But it's so much more than that. I once wrote in my college column that we shouldn't choose the president - or anyone else - based solely on beer-buddy charisma. This cycle, we should be mindful to avoid the opposite extreme as well. The next president is going to need to build consensus within Congress and undertake the Herculean task of beginning to repair U.S. relations with the rest of the world. This will take, among many other things, a balance of intellect and charisma. Both Hillary and Barack have plenty of intellect, but Barack pulls ahead in charisma. If the presidency is a job, then we must make sure our person meets all of the qualifications.

By seeing the presidency merely as a job, Hillary is blowing the interview.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Lots of exclamation points make for lucid points about sex

A friend of mine recently passed on an anti-abortion e-mail. Real graphic, late-term stuff too, presumably to dash pro-choicers' notions of abortion being appetizing and fun. I learn something new every day.

But I can take that. I am, after all, from ultra-conservative, ultra-Catholic south Louisiana. Frankly, I'm more surprised when I don't get stuff like this. Even so, the three tacked-on statements at the end gave me pause (faux grammar intact, obviously):

A baby is a living thing. thats like killing one of your friends!!!

I've never killed a baby (or a fetus) and I've only wounded a few of my friends, so I'll have to take your word on this one.

ITS A BABY, NOT A CHOICE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Shucks! Here I was about to choose life...

And finally, the jewel in this crown of thorny craponyms:

if you dont wanna baby dont have sex

Thanks, Dubya! Those millions sure were well-spent.

Telling anyone "if you don't wanna baby, don't have sex" is like saying, "if you don't wanna die in a collision, don't get in a car." Sometimes you just need a ride.

I used to understand the argument behind the abstinence-only attitude. But then I went through puberty, and came to realize (as we all do) that even the most principled abstintee will find themselves tempted in the right circumstances. And when that happens to one of our young people, shouldn't they be educated so that they can make the best decision? Who knows, that decision may even be not to have sex! When made on a firm foundation in reality, as opposed to 'Just Say No"-type designer morality, such a decision rings all the more solidly. And isn't that the real goal? On second thought, don't answer that.

Fear-based absolutisms don't stop sex. But they may just stop blood flow to the brain.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Waterboarding: Successful since Vietnam!

Waterboarding is a sick practice, and its endorsement by the Bush administration just goes to show how much contempt they hold for the rule of law and decency in the name of jingoistic machismo. But of course you expect me to say that. Would you rather hear it from an ex-military officer? Meet Larry Rottmann:

Contrary to what President George Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, CIA Director Michael Hayden, former White House Advisor Karl Rove, previous U.S. Attorney Generals John Ashcroft and Anthony Gonzales, and many media outlets claim, waterboarding is not "simulated drowning" and it is not "controlled drowning" and it is not "coercion by water" and it is not a "humane interrogation tactic." Waterboarding is brutal torture by water. Period.

How do I know this? Because when I was attending Infantry Officer Candidate School at Fort Benning, Ga., in 1966, all us young lieutenants-to-be were taught exactly what waterboarding was, and how to use it on the prisoners we were expected to capture in Vietnam. [...] "It's guaranteed to make'um tell you anything you want to know," bragged the vets. And when someone pointed out that these techniques seemed to be in direct contradiction to the Rules of War and the Geneva Convention which we were also learning, we were told that in Vietnam, we should just throw out all the rules.

Sounds like the actions of the world's greatest superpower and moral leader, eh? Well, it gets even better:

They introduced us to: "The Bell Telephone Hour" (wiring up prisoners' genitals to electric field phones); "Rice-a-Roni" (kneeling on grains of rice on hardwood floors); "The Bayer Aspirin Headache" (leaning against a concrete wall with only the forehead for hours at a time); "The Tin Drum" (being stuffed into a 55-gallon steel barrel, while people beat on it with baseball bats); "The Night of the Living Dead" (sleep deprivation for days at a time); "The Chilly Willie" (being stripped naked and locked in freezing cold cells) and "Baby Makes Three" (listening to a nonstop crying baby for days); and also "Waterboarding" (smothering a reclining prisoner's mouth and nose with a towel, while pouring water on his or her face).

And to prove the effectiveness of these interrogation methods, the instructors "volunteered" us officer candidates to play the part of POWs, and they showed us how the various torture techniques worked by demonstrating some of them directly on us. It was there that I experienced waterboarding firsthand, and I can verify that it is a horrifying and frightening experience. It is terrible torture, plain and simple, and if not administered correctly, it can — and has — led to death.

And who practiced said torture on these officers-in-training?

There, the enemy (played by angry, stressed-out Vietnam vets who had recently returned from the war) subjected us to extreme verbal abuse, pushed us around, physically assaulted us, and interrogated us individually and in groups for three days and nights, while subjecting us to the various torture techniques, including waterboarding. It was a pretty ugly scene. [Emphasis mine]

Wow. One can only wonder how else this rage has been channeled over the years...

I will happily return the favor by personally volunteering to vigorously waterboard each and every draft-dodging, right-wing chickenhawk in Washington, D.C.

And why not? It's not torture! It's "enhanced interrogation." Which should be kept in mind when our Iraq veterans come home, angry and stressed out, to their soon-to-be-thrown-out leadership who won't testify under oath. I'm not saying (nor is Rottmann really saying) that anyone deserves to be waterboarded, but the anger felt by Rottmann and his counterparts is only going to multiply as the secrets of this illegal war come to light. And if these legitimate complaints aren't given an audience, then that anger and stress will channel into hundred of thousands of homes, families, friends and employers. And that could do harm to all of us.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Appearing soon in the Obnoxford English Dictionary

Cult of personality (noun) -- 1. Any contingent of people who supports someone so ferociously that even cynicism and obvious falsehoods cannot dissuade such support; 2. The following that results from a presidential candidate's ability to speak eloquently and espouse appealing ideas; 3. Support of a candidate borne on anything other than inevitability or the idea that said person is "the lesser of two evils." [See Obama, Barack.]

Saturday, February 16, 2008

As if 'More Than a Feeling' and 'Amanda' weren't enough reasons to like the band Boston

Mike Huckabee has rocker feeling 'ripped off, dude'

In a letter to the Republican presidential hopeful, Tom Scholz complains that Huckabee is using his 1970s smash hit song "More Than a Feeling" without his permission. A former member of the band, Barry Goudreau, has appeared with Huckabee at campaign events, and they have played the song with Huckabee's band, Capitol Offense. [...]

"Boston has never endorsed a political candidate, and with all due respect, would not start by endorsing a candidate who is the polar opposite of most everything Boston stands for," wrote Scholz, adding that he is supporting Democratic Sen. Barack Obama. "By using my song, and my band's name Boston, you have taken something of mine and used it to promote ideas to which I am opposed. In other words, I think I've been ripped off, dude!"
[Emphasis mine.]

Ha ha, that's awesome! But not quite as awesome as the Huckabee camp's response:

Fred Bramante, who was chairman of Huckabee's New Hampshire campaign, called the allegations ridiculous. He said he attended dozens of Huckabee rallies in New Hampshire and other states and never heard Huckabee play "More Than a Feeling," other than when Goudreau campaigned with him in Iowa in October.

"Governor Huckabee plays 'Sweet Home Alabama.' Does that mean Lynyrd Skynyrd is endorsing him? He plays 'Louie Louie.' Does that mean The Kingsmen are endorsing him? To me, it's ridiculous," he said. "Never once has he said, 'The band Boston endorses me.'"

In response, the Kingsmen released the following statement: "Oh oh got go oh yeah yeah yeah oh oh oh dang ol dang ol Hucky Hucky."

Sarcastically awesome as Bramante's response is, it nevertheless raises a good point. After all, Ross Perot used Patsy Cline's "Crazy" as his theme song in 1992, without so much as a peep from her. And even if she was spinning in her grave - appropriate though the song was for the situation - does it matter? On one hand, there's the whole freedom-of-speech thing. But on the other side of that hand, candidates run the risk of pissing on everything the song - and its artist - stand for.

Quick! Can you spot these lyrics?

Got in a little hometown jam
So they put a rifle in my hand
Sent me off to a foreign land
To go and kill a yellow man

Came back home to the refinery
Hiring man said, "Son, if it were up to me."
Went down to see my V.A. man
He said, 'Son, don't you understand now..."

Why, it's everyone's favorite Reagan-era jingo anthem, "Born in the U.S.A.," a Bruce Springsteen classic that has come to forever represent the GOP's complete inability to dig deeper than the shallow end of the chorus pool.

A scene from the movie Canadian Bacon lampoons this to magnificent effect. While driving to Canada with the intent of invasion, John Candy, Steven Wright and Bill Nunn sing pro-American songs. Eventually they get to "Born in the U.S.A.," only to realize that they don't know any of the words: "Born in the U.S.A., I was, Born in the U.S.A. Born in the U.S.A.!" [Awkward silence] "Uh, Born in the U.S.A., I was, Born in the U.S.A.!" [Awkward silence.] "Uh, Born in the U.S.A., I was, Born in the U.S.A.!"

Don't feel bad, guys. I hear Reagan was terrible at karaoke too.

But back to Boston; Scholz isn't the only one to to get his strings out of tune in 2008. John Mellencamp recently objected to John McCain's use of "Our Country," given that the rocker was a tireless supporter of John Edwards. And who can blame Mellencamp? "Our Country" is an instant classic that shouldn't be spoiled by a Republican warmonger taking its chorus at face value, or by the imagery of gas-guzzling pickup trucks...wait, what?

Using music for political advertising can be a risky bet, especially for Republicans. The ability for songs to get stuck in the public's head is a double-edged sword; sure, they might inexorably link the song to you, but they also might hate you forever for it.

I once read that a fan likened "More Than a Feeling" as "the sound of your big brother washing his car in the driveway on a weekend afternoon." If that pastoral image ever gets replaced in my mind by the image of Mike Huckabee jamming on bass, not even Chuck Norris could contain that fury.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Now I know how Hillary's campaign feels

On Monday, we had an ice storm in Springfield. If you've never been through one of these things, imagine the most torrential downpour you've ever seen or heard, but with ice instead of rain. Walk outside, and you're moving like Michael Jackson playing hockey. "I'm dreaming of a White Christmas. Hee-hee!" Then you slip like Joe Pesci in Home Alone. "Aaow!" Either way, Macaulay Culkin should be hiding.

Ice storms are, to paraphrase George Carlin, very Republican. They destroy trees and leave property alone. Also, they put people at the mercy of energy companies. And even where property does get iced, such as with cars and roads, such measures hit the hardworking, non-garaged stiffs of America the hardest.

Man, I think too much.

Tuesday brought a much milder snowfall, but all that really did was make the ice prettier. Even as I write this on Wednesday, all of it is still on the ground. In the words of my friend, who was riding with me on Monday night as we headed for her house on a steep hill, "It sucks, but it's really beautiful!"

Foresight is key when dealing with an ice storm. It helps to live in an area with power and to not need to go anywhere, such as the store or a job. If you must go somewhere and aren't lucky enough to take the bus, allot at least two hours to melt the ice cube your car has become.

This picture does little justice to how frozen solid my car was on Monday afternoon (yes, afternoon!). You could not touch the actual car, only its 1/3-inch-thick icy sheath. It took all my effort, and all of my shovel's effort, for nearly half an hour just to access a door handle (on the rear passenger-side door, at that). Cracking that door's seams took more time.

Once I was able to get in, I cranked the engine and the defrost mechanisms. After an hour of that, the ice began to sort of budge. It came off in thick, huge shards suitable for skating. It also left perfect impressions of my car's logos, which would have made a sweet picture if my hands hadn't been numb at that point. After a lunch break (!), I came back and saw that some of my effort had already been canceled out by the evil forces of Mike and Mitt. People talk about hell freezing over, but fire can't possibly be a worse punishment than ice for all eternity...

Two days later, the ice that had a choke-hold over my side mirrors is finally trickling away:

Objects in mirror? What objects?

Still it's been fascinating to see, hear, feel, touch and inhale/cough a genuine winter storm. For a native Louisianian whose first two experiences with snow occurred in 1988 and 2007 respectively, I've got a newfound nostalgia for the tan I once had. And also, admiration for those who devote their lives to helping in times of disaster, no matter when, where or how difficult it is. Hats off.

As you can see from the above two pictures, trees hate winter. But ducks are apparently OK with it. Weird.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Things Republicans should never say in public

"There's a lot of lazy Missourians that don't want to do anything."
--Missouri Speaker of the House Rod Jetton, explaining why so many illegal immigrants reside in the state

"It's stunning to me that when (Bush) says he needs to monitor calls to terrorists territories (of) known geographic terrorist activities, some people see that as an infringement [of their civil liberties]." -- John Ashcroft

"I must tell you I reject the idea that freedom and security are items that should be balanced. I do not believe any value stands on the same level or has the same importance to the American culture than freedom. It stands alone." --Ashcroft again, balking at the idea that security can infringe upon freedom

"Missouri is an island of hope in an otherwise grim landscape."
--Sen. Christopher "Kit" Bond, R-Mo., referring to the GOP's chances in 2008

It gets better here and here.

On an even better note, kudos to Louisiana, Washington, Nebraska and the U.S. Virgin Islands for handing Democrat tallies to Barack Obama. And, as has mostly been the case, he won his races more handily than his Republican equivalents.

Could the pendulum finally be swinging away from crazy? Time is telling...

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Wow! My vote COUNTED for once!!!

Barack Obama wins nail-biter in Missouri!

All through the night, the major networks and even the Associated Press (the above link notwithstanding) had the Show-Me State called for Hillary. I had already sped through the five stages of grief before that call was reversed. A nifty rant had lined up in my mind within minutes.

Alas, I later heard the good news. And I groaned, because we had already devoted our front page to different results and I had to stay at work an extra half-hour to help revise.

Let it never be said that I vote strictly out of self-interest.

Oh, and "Uncommitted" came out on top among Greene County Libertarians. Buncha swingers, that group.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Hail primary, full of race...

Continuing Super Week (and, boy, has it been!), today is Super Tuesday. If you live in any of the 24 states holding primaries today, GET OUT AND VOTE! And, please, don't vote stupidly.

Today is a milestone for me; not only is this my first-ever Super Tuesday vote, it is my first primary vote ever. Having spent my first eight voting years in Louisiana, I was not eligible to vote in the state's closed primaries because I never registered for any party. Because Missouri does not register voters by party, however, I am free to choose any ballot I wish: Democrat, Republican or Libertarian. And while the prospect of splitting the GOP ballot with a vote for some long-gone candidate (or, even better, "Uncommitted") is tempting indeed, I will - as should others voting in open primaries - avoid such games and chalk one up for my chosen hopeful.

Typically, Super Tuesday is the time when people can vote most honestly, even if said choice is someone not likely to make it to the general election. This rings true for tomorrow's Republican race, where John McCain may (or may not) see any opposition from Mitt Romney, Mike Huckabee and THE RON PAUL REVOLUTION. After Tuesday's tally, several GOP camps may very well call it quits.

This is definitely not the case for Democrats, where Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama continue to duel furiously and may not slide to home plate anytime soon. If Super Tuesday looks to be as decisive as the 1984 election for Republicans, the Democrats' side will likely resemble that magic month of teeth-grinding at the end of 2000. Of course, I'll be doing my part to advance this decision by casting my vote for Barack Obama.

I realize that this could be the only chance I get to vote for Obama. But I hope it isn't. I refuse to believe, as an increasing number of people and pundits are concluding, that this race will inevitably come down to Clinton vs. McCain. Says who? Do you mean to tell me that this once-in-a-lifetime, wide-open race can yield no better result than two of our most established, opportunistic politicians?

In past cycles, Clinton vs. McCain might have been an exciting (or, at worst, inevitable) race. That was before both of them rented their souls to the Bush machine - Hillary with her unapologetic support of the Iraq war, and McCain by inexplicably cozying up to the very man who destroyed his 2000 bid with the dirtiest tricks in Karl Rove's book. This time is supposed to be different, a time when every citizen who has spent their entire adulthood complaining about "the establishment" on both sides finally has an opportunity to infuse fresh blood. Let's not waste it, please?

Perhaps most surprising of all is that anyone is still pondering candidates who have been major political players in the past seven years. How can Barack Obama's relative lack of senatorial experience possibly work against him, when the "experienced" senators have wrought some of the worst legislation in American history? How can anyone seriously consider McCain as he lusts for war in Iran, using most of the same wrong arguments used for the Iraq invasion? How can anyone bypass Obama amid concerns that he can't unify Americans, opting instead to vote for one of the most divisive Democrats in recent memory, Hillary Clinton? Yes, she would bring one of our best presidents with her, Bill Clinton. But that's a double-edged sword probably not worth unsheathing.

Barack Obama is a candidate for all the right reasons (if you lean GOP, much of these traits could also be said about Huckabee or PAUL). As an orator, he inspires his followers. Though he is far from perfect and plays the political game as all candidates must, there is an earnestness about him that resonates with myself and millions of other Americans. His life story is one of diversity, adversity, travel and fighting for the common man. He has openly admitted his mistakes in life ("I thought that was the point," he said of inhaling pot) and used them to his advantage. His idea of "change" is not about replacing one side with another, but about recreating an America of which those of all persuasions can be proud. His positions on defense, religion, health care and other substantial issues are progressive, without being reactionary or overly calculative.

Also telling is the right wing's reaction to Obama - the best they can do is circulate smear e-mails about how he is a closet smoker and a terrorist, and that (horrors!) his middle name is Hussein. I discredited the terrorist ties in two seconds. Even the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth propaganda took some effort to debunk.

But all of the above aside, the main reason I like Obama is because he is not inevitable. I am not supporting him - as I admit to doing with others in the past - because I think he has the best shot at winning; I do so because Obama represents the future, and the future can't come fast enough. (And no, Barack Obama did not approve this message. Which is precisely why you should heed it.)

Those of you reading this may think otherwise. You may think, as many do, that I am being overly naive and idealistic. Divorced from reality, as usual. That the system is stacked and I'm on the wrong side of it. That I should just accept the reality that Clinton and McCain are going to duel it out, because that's just the way it is, and that change will come only when it's damn well ready.

All I can say to the naysayers is this: My naive, idealistic self is heading to the polls today. Are you?

(Cross-posted at Daily Kos)

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Thank you, Plaxico Burress...

...for restoring balance to the universe.

Funniest Super Bowl analysis yet, from the BBC play-by-play: Eli Manning takes a knee and that's your lot. Tom Brady, Cliff Clavin, Wade Boggs, Mike Dukakis, your boys took one hell of a beating.