Monday, June 30, 2008

Vietnam jailer endorses McCain

Remember when a spokesman for Hamas said Barack Obama was "like John Kennedy," and John McCain's campaign spun it as proof Obama couldn't be trusted as president?

Well, it turns out that McCain has his own skeleton in the endorsement closet. Only this one is far more explicit in his words:

HAIPHONG, Vietnam (AP) — John McCain has an unusual endorsement — from the Vietnamese jailer who says he held him captive for about five years as a POW and now considers him a friend.

"If I were an American voter, I would vote for Mr. John McCain," Tran Trong Duyet said Friday, sitting in his living room in the northern city of Haiphong. [...]

Duyet said he often met the young Navy pilot when off duty, that McCain would correct his English, and that he had a great sense of humor. And although they never saw eye-to-eye on the war that killed some 58,000 Americans and up to 3 million Vietnamese, he said, they listened to each others' views.

"He's tough, has extreme political views and is very conservative," Duyet said. "He's very loyal to the U.S. military, to his beliefs and to his country. In all of our debates, he never admitted that the war was a mistake."

The article goes on to mention Duyet's testy and repeated denials that torture ever happened under his watch in the 1960s and 1970s:

"They are liars. What they said is not true," said Duyet, who was a jailer at Hoa Lo from 1968 until the POW release in 1973, serving as prison chief the last three years.

Duyet claimed McCain "invented that story that he was tortured and beaten to win votes."

I suppose there's an irony in a presumably Communist official endorsing his former captive - an anti-torture one, at that - specifically on the basis of McCain's conservatism and loyalty to the U.S. Then he accuses McCain of exploiting his relationship with him to win votes. OK, make that about five ironies. Six, if you throw in the possibility that Duyet's just being subversive.

McCain's camp has sensibly distanced itself from said endorsement:

Asked for a response, the McCain campaign referred questions to Orson Swindle, a retired Marine lieutenant colonel who was imprisoned with McCain. Swindle said Duyet "has no credibility on every utterance he makes."

Fair enough. I would argue that such an endorsement doesn't make McCain a Communist sympathizer or a textbook case of Stockholm syndrome. And, fortunately, I have yet to see anyone spin it this way. No one can be judged entirely by the company that admires them from afar.

But riddle me this: if critics are quiet over such an explicit McCain endorsement, then shouldn't they take Hamas' state-the-obvious words on Obama with a grain of salt as well? (By the way, I know the answer to this. I just wish I didn't.)

Interesting postscript: Just to show you the inevitable nature of newspaper editing, here's a quote from the first wire version of that story I came across (see sidebar):

McCain's wife, Cindy, was in southern Vietnam last week doing charity work. She said if her husband wins the election, the couple would delight in paying a presidential visit to the country.

It was followed in the original copy by a quote from Cindy that suggested the two remained on good terms. The contradicting campaign-response quote above was buried much further down the raw article, which ran to almost magazine length. Neither article is wrong, yet both omit certain angles due to space constraints. Yet another reason it's good to diversify your sources.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Oh, those Republicans! Always looking ahead

No, this is not a vintage Internet banner ad from 1984, though I can completely understand why you would think so. This shirt, somehow for sale on a site other than eBay, appeals to Republicans' three favorite things ever: Reagan, Bush and 1984. Also, beautiful but non-threatening women.

I tracked down this model for an interview, only to be rebuffed numerous times. Then I told her I was with Reagan's press team and I really needed something to do because Reagan's dead and I have to earn my income somehow. She consented with considerable sympathy. Here's the transcript:

Not Right: "What's your name?"

Model: "Reagan! How cool is that?"

NR: "So, you're actually named after the former president?"

Model: "Yeppers!"

NR: "So I take it you were a little young to vote for him in 1984."

Model: "Um, yeah. I was only four at the time. But if they let 4-year-olds vote back then, I totally would've voted for him!"

NR: "So you're my age, then? Born in 1980?"

Model: "Yep, in November. A Reagan baby all the way! WOO-HOO!"

NR: "Actually, Ronald Reagan wasn't president in 1980. He was inaugurated in 1981."

Model: "Wha?"

NR: "Jimmy Carter was president when we were born."

Model: "You mean --?"

NR: "Yep. You're a Commie."

Model: "WAAAAA!!!" [Retch]

NR: "Gross." [Flicks vomit off shoes] "So who are you supporting in 2008?"

Model: "John McCain all the way! He's way more Reaganesque than Obama. Also, he's the candidate with fresh ideas."

NR: "So you like McCain because he has fresh ideas AND ideas from 1984?"

Model: "No, silly! I meant Obama. Obama's the one with fresh ideas. That's why I can't vote for him."

NR: "So you're in favor of continuing the same policies that have so far led us to seven years of economic disaster, a reduced standing in the international community and a scarier world than ever before?"

Model: "At least it's familiar! Change is scary."

NR: "That's kind of a reckless way of looking at it, don't you think?"

Model: "Let me put it this way: What kind of music do you like?"

NR: "I like a lot of classic rock and '80s New Wave. Why?"

Model: "And why do you like it so much?"

NR: "Because I grew up listening to it, and I've developed an attachment to a lot of it. It's a soundtrack for my life."

Model: "Aha! So you admit to clinging to the past! I'd think an Obama supporter like you would only have songs from 2008 on your iPod! Maybe even from 2009, hmmm, changeling?"

NR: "You got me there."

Model: "And that's all we're doing with these Reagan-Bush '84 t-shirts. You see, it's comforting for us Republicans to go back to an era when everything seemed perfect. When our president was The Great Communicator and could dominate an election with genuine wit. Or at all."

NR: "There does seem to be a certain hold-your-nose attitude toward McCain by many Republicans. I think I've seen more Reagan-Bush '84 shirts in 2008 than McCain '08 shirts. And you're the only one I've seen wearing that one. You wear it well, I will concede that."

Model: "Thank you! But yes, McCain has a reputation for being a maverick, which is why the lock-step segment of our party doesn't trust him."

NR: "My great aunt drove a Maverick. In 1984, in fact."

Model: "Cool! So she likes McCain then?"

NR: "No, she's been dead since 1992."

Model: "Did Bill Clinton have her killed?"

NR: "No. He wasn't president until 1993. Remember?"

Model: "Oh, my bad! That wouldn't make any sense at all, then."

NR: "One last question. As a conservative, a model and a woman, do you feel that people like yourself have a duty to shut up, look pretty and wash the dishes?"

Model: "...."

NR: "Thank you for your time."

Monday, June 23, 2008

Fun with press releases

Last week, as most of you know, the Midwest was absolutely blasted with floods and storms and tornadoes and whatever else makes tests of the Emergency Broadcast System redundant around here.

Having lived in Missouri for nearly a year and a half, I now understand what the late, great George Carlin meant when he said that the Midwest was "where an open window can cause death."

After about the third time in seven days that the beginning of an epic, raging thunderstorm coincided exactly with my commute to work, I began to wonder what Missouri did to deserve such violent wrath. Well, now I know the answer:

Ah, thank you, Westboro Baptist Church! I'll bet you just have a template for these things that you just fill in as the need arises, huh? Kind of like Mad Libs. How convenient!

"Hey, guys! Adjective that should be a noun!"
"Vague noun, preferably a clove-looking cigarette?"
"All right. Check this out: Worse and more is coming!"
"Ha ha ha!"
"OK, derogatory slur!"
"We're done with the press release, Fred."
"And your point is...?"

Not just worse, but "Worse and more is coming." That's pretty bad. Bad grammar, that is.

God may or may not hate Missouri, but I doubt this is why.

George Carlin dead at 71

Wow. I just sat down to do a completely different post, and I see this obit. George Carlin was in the news just four or five days ago, when the Kennedy Center announced that he was this year's recipient of the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor. Now he'll never receive it in person. It's a weird and sad thing to contemplate.

I had an eerily prescient dream last night, as I often do, that someone famous had died. I don't remember who it was, but I remember that his passing gave me unimaginable ecstasy. That sounds horrible, I know, but I've been sleep-deprived lately. And that certainly isn't to suggest that the loss of George Carlin conjures up any feeling remotely resembling ecstasy. But again, a weird and sad thing to contemplate.

On Dec. 9, 2007, my friend and I saw Carlin live at the Juanita K. Hammons Center in Springfield, Missouri. Even then, I knew this would be a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Seeing him live, I was struck by how short and hunched-over he was. He really did look like a 70-year-old man, which he (of course) made light of. Other than that, though, his energy remained as high as it ever was. His comedy was as acerbic as ever, but with slightly less grumpiness than he'd exhibited in the recent past. And, needless to say, drop-dead hilarious.

I've been a fan since long before I probably should have been, and will continue to be. Odd as it may seem to say, the world needs more people like George Carlin.

But just like that, he's gone. He is already missed.

It's enough to make you want to scream the Seven Dirty Words.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Wasn't this the plot of Naked Gun 2 1/2?

Yesterday, John McCain and I were within a few miles of each other, as he came to Springfield to a 350-seat-strong throng of supporters and protesters and whatnot. It didn't quite bring the chill that Dick Cheney would when he would speak at the City Club five blocks from my house in Louisiana, but the air was a little cooler yesterday. Made for a nice, brisk walk with the iPod.

Speech-wise, McCain fared much better than he did back in Kenner on Barack Obama's big night. Not that that's saying much - or anything at all, really - but McCain seemed more at ease among friends in a county likely to go for him in November. If nothing else, he at least figured out that an American flag makes a much more flattering background than radioactive green.

As for the substance of McCain's speech, well, see the title of this post. In a nutshell, he made a very Obama-esque call for a clean, independent energy policy - naturally, by upping our domestic production of "clean coal" and going nuts with nuclear power plants. It's refreshing to hear a Republican presidential candidate pronounce "nuclear" with the correct vowels for once; however, McCain's emphasis on fossil fuels and potential Chernobyl franchises shows a certain disregard for the realities of renewable resources and environmental impact. And how convenient is it that his energy plan would be a huge boon for power companies? After all, Big Oil and Big Nuke aren't exactly interested in considering thinking about the possibility that the sun and wind could help in any capacity. Nah, solar energy was Jimmy Carter's pipe dream, but he had a hostage crisis, so obviously he was wrong about saving the planet.

All lobbying aside, McCain's energy policy ignores a basic geologic consensus: that drilling every inch of North American soil would still not nearly equate to the vast petroleum resources in the Middle East. And even if it did, such a policy does nothing to address alarming environmental concerns and essentially punts the problem to future generations, for whom it may be too late to make a smooth transition.

As for building more nuclear power plants, I'm reminded of the current prescription for crime: build more prisons. It might help in the short run, but really it only shows how widespread our problems are and how reluctant we are to face them with innovative solutions. Meanwhile, the danger increases because of the spread of these toxic, concentrated environments.

McCain deserves credit for being consistent in his approach to issues. Unfortunately, that approach is consistently from the 1970s. It's not the 20th century anymore, Gray Fox. As the Clintons reminded us (on purpose in 1992 and accidentally in 2008), yesterday's gone. Don't stop thinking about tomorrow.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Things I miss #1

You know what was a good video game? Math Gran Prix. Or, as I called it as a child, "Math Grand Pricks."

As you can tell by the label, Math Gran Prix is a engaging blend of racing, 'reckin' and 'rithmetic that's challenging fun for ALL the remedial Griswold kids in your family!

The game takes place on what has to be the most dangerous racetrack on the Formula 1 circuit (and judging by its shape, probably in south Louisiana).

Assuming the race cars are to scale - and why wouldn't they be in a game like this? - this track is about 400 meters long. That's a quarter of a mile, which makes this not even worth the gas. Hell, I live farther than this from my neighborhood movie theater, and I've sprinted there full-throttle. In jeans. Without breaking a sweat. Of course, if I had to do math every two or three steps, I wouldn't even make the midnight feature on my way to the matinee.

Math, of course, is exactly how to stretch the world's shortest and least-fuel-efficient race into, well, a race that lasts a few minutes. Players have to decide whether to go two or three spaces before the math problem appears on the screen. Your decision can be driven by such elements as strategy (landing on certain symbols grants you extra spaces, immunity from a crash, etc.) or not being sure you'll be able to solve the problem (in which case you're either five, into English or George W. Bush). If you solve the problem, you move. If not, you don't.

The problems themselves increase in difficulty, so to speak, depending on which of nine game levels you select. The toughest level is "hard multiplication and division," which I believe is where I learned that "9 x 9 = 81." That might sound like I'm ridiculing the game, but I'm not. To this day, I visualize "7 x 7 = 49" in the computer font for this game. I also hear the ominous Pong-like tone that plays when you get the answer wrong. With more sophisticated circuitry, this tone would have sounded like the Peanuts teacher muttering an approximation of, "wroooooong!"

Anytime two cars occupy the same space (and not on a sinker), a crash results. An appropriately crunchy buzz plays, and your now-mangled car looks like this:

Pretty graphic for a 1982 game aimed at 6- to 10-year-olds. But then again, E.T. involved machine guns. It was an innocent time.

A player who wrecks must answer a math problem correctly on their next turn to fix their car. Just like real life! On their next turn, they're back in action. Which brings us to the biggest flaw in this game: the computer's ability to answer virtually all problems with impunity, given that it's a computer and all. When a computer car crashes, it bypasses the problem-solving charade altogether and immediately fixes the car. What kind of lesson is that to teach our children? Besides the rich kids, I mean?

In any case, the winner gets rewarded with a flag, a 16-bar tone and...well...assurance that they can do child-level math. Which is its own reward, I guess. Like virtue, which doesn't buy much these days.

Lest you accuse me of attacking the complexity of a game aimed at 6- to 10-year-olds, you should know that I bought this game when I was eight years old. And I was a huge fan. Though even then, with my Cs in math, I still thought the game was a tad simple. I'll never forget my dad's reaction in the mall that day: "That game's too easy! TWO PLUS TWO! That's what that is!" I immediately proved him wrong by not knowing how to manipulate the joystick, thus making it look like I didn't know any of the answers. I never moved a single space until my younger cousin came over a while later and discovered by accident how to move the numbers. Which, come to think of it, is how I learned real math in the first place.

Math Gran Prix is considered by many to be one of the best of the early educational games. I definitely agree. Thanks to this game, I can do fourth-grade math to this very day. And I never drive short distances until I know exactly how much it's going to cost. You know, long division.

If I ever fulfill my dream of being a filmmaker, I promise you Math Gran Prix: The Movix. Picture it: Speed Racer meets A Beautiful Mind! Any takers? Have your people call my people.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

The innocent smartass

While reading a Daily Advertiser letter today, I suddenly had a flashback to an exchange I hadn't thought of in almost 19 years. It happened at school in third grade.

For most of my childhood, despite my mom's best efforts, I had very waxy ears. I was also slow to pick up on snide comments, particularly by irritated teachers accusing me of not listening. Hence, the following:

Teacher: "Ian, do you have wax in your ears?"
Me: "Do you see any?"

I got written up a lot that year.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Yeah, just keep talking

h/t The Daily Kingfish

Awesome. Because everyone knows there's a parallel between a bloody, imperialist occupation and 50 years of patrolling a demilitarized fence in Korea. As if the U.S. has business doing either one.

Even Michael Dukakis knew not to say, "What's important is the casualties of Willie Horton. People stay for years in abusive relationships and that's OK. What's important is his ability to withdraw."

John McCain's a maverick. A Ford Maverick. Get it? I'm here all week.

(Apologies to both Gerald Ford and Ford Mavericks. My aunt drove one, and it was a solid car. Sorry, my great aunt. Wouldn't want to be branded a liar by really trivial folks.)

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Their company car's license plate reads, "DESPER8"

The Republican National Committee has started a site called "Meet Barack Obama." As one Young Republican (who misspelled his hyperlink on Facebook) describes it,

" features a compilation of research, videos, and criticisms from Democrat Party [sic] leaders in order to educate voters about Obama’s poor judgment and misguided vision for America."

The site is a portal of all things anti-Obama, with most links going straight to John McCain's official site or other Republican-sanctioned Obama-looking ripoff sites. True to GOP form, "Meet Barack Obama" alternates between classic forms of deliberate misinformation:

1) Saying one thing when you mean the complete opposite - The only Barack Obama you're going to meet here is the one who exists only in the paranoid dystopia where Muslim Christians hate America and sending pictures through MySpace bulletins five times makes Obama a hater of the Pledge of Allegiance.

2) Snide, borderline-libelous commentary thinly disguised as news - Sample headline from the Barack Obama Newsfeed (heh): "In Case You Missed It: Eat Crow, Iraq War Skeptics." I guess in this case, RSS stands for Really Simplistic Syndication.

3) Sinister subtexts - One square on this very square site invites you to "Compare the Candidates," which naturally links to John McCain's Decision Center. So you know it's fair and balanced. But before you even get that far, you know who's better because Barack's vaguely menacing face has been artificially darkened, while McCain's mug has that stately smirk Republicans have long confused with looking leaderly.

4) Push-polling - "What do you believe to be Barack Obama's greatest weakness as a Presidential Candidate?" I think it's that he fathered two legitimate black children.

5) Enough wink-winks to give your eyelids a six-pack - "Out of law school, he becomes a street organizer in Chicago," crows the smug female narrator who argues that Obama is unfit to be commander-in-chief (interesting emphasis). Another video talks about Tony Rezko, and why he's bad, without mentioning any Obama role in the scandal, and concluding with a completely unrelated talking point. Indeed, the whole purpose of this site isn't to make real connections, but to plaster faces, names and insults that immediately grab attention. It allows Obamaphobes to justify their fears while allowing the site to deny that it is making these connections. Beats using actual facts, I guess.

There's other stuff there too, but I've made my point. Just like the GOP has made theirs: "We don't have a candidate we like or a foot to stand on ideologically, so here's some pablum our Young Republicans dreamed up. They have that completely unhip, overly compensative bully mentality that the party needs to get us through this time of karma."

So Meet Barack Obama. Then go meet the real one.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Certainly easier than the issues, hey?

"One strategy for McCain is to make the race about Obama - to make it not about micro-policy but about ideological differences. Given Obama's record, this will be easy."

--Tony Fabrizio, Republican strategist, quoted by BBC

Bring it on!

Friday, June 06, 2008

A quick request for Barack Obama

Please don't pick Hillary Clinton as your running mate. It would be a move worthy of Hillary herself, and would bring you closer to the innate cynicism that we've all appreciated you for not exhibiting. Also, Republicans would just love it.

When considering the "Dream Ticket," please stop to ponder just whose dream it is.


Thursday, June 05, 2008

Get on with it!

Now that even Hillary Clinton has seen the math on the chalkboard and plans to concede, uh, a few days from now, what better time to assess how this race has helped/devastated the Democrats?

First off, it's important to acknowledge one basic truth - this supposed photo finish has been in Barack Obama's favor for awhile. It's been at least a month, and possibly two, since Hillary's chances of winning didn't rely entirely on wooing superdelegates. In recent days, she had to resort to fudging vote totals (Caucuses, schmaucuses!) and inflating the Magic Number needed to win by 200 or so, just to seem a little less eliminated. Clinton's fundraising hole is also common knowledge. Understanding that the candidates were not actually neck-and-neck makes all the difference in analyzing the effects of their duel.

The good news is that Clinton has vowed to support Obama and is actively encouraging her supporters to do the same. She largely ceased speaking ill of Obama in recent weeks, possibly aware of the frighteningly large percentage of the Hillary camp who said they'd vote for John McCain over Barack. In a campaign so largely defined by emotions on both sides, Clinton is doing the right thing by urging principles over vindictiveness. Obama's camp would have undeniably taken the same tack if the situation were reversed. For this reason, the Democrats are shaping up to be a formidable force come November.

That is, if the party can overcome what has so far been its Achilles heel - identity politics. By enveloping so many diverse constituencies, and in turn nurturing two historic candidates, the Democrats oftentimes veered into a caricature of inclusion. Granted, this wasn't equal across the board - critics tended to fault Obama more for inexperience and seductive rhetoric than being a magnet for white-liberal guilt. On the other hand, Hillary's most stalwart supporters essentially admitted to wanting a woman and/or a Clinton in the White House.

And this ultimately, is what caused her downfall. Wanting someone as president mainly because their gender or last name is no different than wanting someone simply because they are black. Had Obama run as "the black candidate," he likely would have clocked less time on the campaign trail than Al Sharpton or Alan Keyes. But instead, Obama deftly - and admirably - declared that his struggles were everyone's struggles, and that finding common ground is the key to restoring America to its ideals and respectability. That message, combined with a confident and inspiring delivery thereof, is what has enraptured voters. It's what has tripled voting rolls in many states. It's what inspired one Texas Democrat, whose campaign work dates to the early 1960s, to say Obama was "the best damn one we've had since Jack Kennedy." It's why Obama can pack 20,000 roaring seats at the future site of the GOP convention and give a speech of historic proportions - and make it seem like just another day in America.

If logic and intelligence rule the day, the protracted battle between Obama and Clinton will prove to be the most exciting matchup of this cycle (Obama vs. McCain, by comparison, is apples to penicillin-crusted oranges). But that's a big if. Enough emotion in November could still drive a wedge that would keep the general election closer than it deserves to be.

The biggest test to the Democrats right now isn't John McCain; it's the ability of the Clinton and Obama camps to unite, regardless of lingering grudges, which may or not may not have origins in the campaign. Hopefully, the common beliefs shared by each group won't tear them apart.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008