Monday, February 25, 2008

On Being A Good Passenger

Last Friday, my wife drove me for the very first time. As in, drove me in a car. I was pretty heavily sedated, having woken up from general anaesthesia (endoscopies go better that way) mere minutes before, and despite what I believe was a minimum of weaving, a nurse was assigned to help me outside and into our vehicle.

A child of Manhattan, Lord Wife had little need for cars in a town where owning one is an illogical, almost fetishistic exercise in sadomasochism. Living across from the World Trade Center 20 years ago, renting a spot in the building's parking garage was $450 a month; as my Brooklyn-born mentor coolly observed, "you can take alotta cabs for four-fifty a month." And that's not counting extras. After my WRX was mistakenly towed on a Friday night in 2002, racking up over $1,000 in fees by Monday morning when it could first be recovered, a sympathetic magistrate told me: "Years ago I used to drive down here. But the parking tickets just got too crazy." This, coming from the traffic court judge himself. Mass transit in Seattle not being the pervasive commodity it was in Manhattan, Lord Wife has been taking driving lessons. She has not put a scratch on her vehicle or any others, and you might say I had an open mind, even a confidence about her driving, with a cocktail of reasons for placid docility.

I did worry about our vehicle, a Mercedes she had never driven before and which can best be described as a failed bio-diesel experiment. Once it gets up to ten miles per hour, it's not so bad, but getting there can be a mite suspenseful especially if, say, you've just pulled out in front of an injudiciously speeding delivery truck. Then you have plenty of time to meditate on Mercedes safety testing, the nice amount of crush space in back, structural integrity, the cushioning air bags. I had previously warned my cheery chauffeurette of the vehicle's stodgy performance from rest, and not to expect friskiness or spontaneity. There's little margin for error once you commit, but when you're cruising, the sterling brakes, the superbly balanced and weighted steering, the advanced suspension geometry little improved upon in the intervening years, they all impart a sense of splendid and well-controlled isolation. Somewhat like good vehicular narcotics, in fact.

Speaking of which, my memory of the trip home is foggy, but now that it has been related to me in some detail, I am able to recall portions. It may possibly be that I was saying things like:
"Get over into that lane NOW!"

"Turn there! I said turn right there! Turn! Turn!!!"

"Why are you stopping back here? Jesus, haven't you ever seen a stop sign before?"

"The road's not getting any wider. Go! Get your foot off the brake! Gas, gas, gaaassss!"
Well. I've not been all-under since an ill-fated tonsillectomy at age 3, when upon waking I became a trifle tyrannical and had to be restrained by hospital staff. ("Ice cream! Where's my ice cream? My throat hurts like hell and you promised me ice cream, you dirty sons of bitches!") In this case as then, my somewhat inelegant, impatient expressions must simply be blamed on the effects of drugs. And now, having gained a peek at invalidity, I must strive to be a better more forbearing passenger, particularly for my wife.

Incidentally, I later asked her how she liked driving the car, as an experience abstracted from hectoring. "I hated it," was her reply. heck with the planet. We'll be getting another, funner one soon.

President Chelsea Clinton

Yep, it's finally happened. New York Magazine poses the question, "Is Chelsea the Clinton Dynasty's backup plan?" The chattering class is looking down the road, feeding my gluttonous appetite for satire, helping me imagine a future that just keeps passing the Presidency back and forth. A two-family system! Time to roll out 2007's Blog Comment of the Year, by Jon:
Dateline October 14, 2032
Washington, D.C.

The Ministry of Truth today announced that a review of intelligence from 2003 reveals that then-Vice President Cheney's office falsified intelligence that was used to justify the occupation of Iraq.

President Chelsea Clinton had no comment, although her opponent in her re-election campaign, Sen. Jenna Bush (R-Anbar), used the opportunity to bash the President for not responding more forcefully to the imminent threat posed by Oceania.

Lifting The Veil With "Charming Burka"

A Berlin-based artist, Markus Kison, has developed functional fashion for the modern muslim woman who wants the best of both worlds--outward tradition, inner high tech. The woman in blue above is beaming her photo to a young man's cell phone:
Nearby mobile phones that also use Bluetooth will light up with any small file a woman chooses to broadcast as her identity -- a photo, a cartoon, a text file or even a sound clip.
This is one product that should make it to market, since it debuted at the MIT Fashion Show.

The Cavalry's A-Comin: Nader 2008

Ralph Nader is raw.
Rough. Ready for action, running for President. His solution for America is brilliant, yet simple. When he wins the Presidency in November, all Americans will receive lifetime subscriptions to Consumer Reports, freeing us from corporate greed, corporate power, corporate control.

(I wish we had a system where we had more than two choices, where the Green Party could hold seats in Parliament next to the Unsafe At Any Speed Party. But we don't.)

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Kosovo: Independent State, Or Mephitic Gas?

On the surface, what with all the favorable press coverage and foreign endorsements, you'd think Kosovars did a good thing by declaring independence from Serbia. Nobody really knows where Kosovo, Serbia, and Albania are, because they're next to Macedonia and Montenegro, and nobody knows where they are either. Sure, Alexander the Great was born in Macedonia, but that was a long quaint time ago, and few people have recently been blessed with any idea why they should care about Serbia and Kosovo.

So here goes. This is how crashingly, igneously ignorant the erupting situation is, and how cold-blooded its planned containment: Kosovo declaring independence from Serbia is like the Alamo declaring independence from Texas, only worse. The brief aggregation called Yugoslavia (or "south of Slavland") was once formed from a chunky stew of violent religious migrations and wars. In their fundamental concept of nationhood, the Serbians (Greek Orthodox) persevered over persecution, holding fast against all comers. They still see themselves fighting off Muslims (Bosnians), regular Catholics (Croats), teeming Albanians (Various Bastards), al-Qaeda (Saudi Foreign Legion), and the Nazis (formerly played by themselves, now by NATO). I'm greatly simplifying the area's bloody, complex history, and skipping over an unsavory present. The point is, Serbians see themselves doing all this fighting across ancient and recent history, right from the heart of Kosovo, and they
make Texans look like Comanche-cuddling candy-asses.

The US embassy in Belgrade was burned as a declaration of war. Most US diplomats and Foreign Service staffers have been sent home. The burning isn't going to stop, and it isn't going to "cool down" with a little diplomacy and PR. Serbians could care less if a tidy Western oil pipeline should cut through Kosovo, they understand they will get bombed with US warplanes once more, and they are turning to the Russians for more and better weapons. If NATO plans to go in there to protect Kosovo's independence, it will face a vicious insurgency it's not prepared for, one it can't quell without serial-killer determination.

Yet US and NATO support for Kosovan independence is an entirely logical extension of what was started in Clinton's 1998 intervention. Then as now, it isn't about freedom, self-determination, or halting ethnic genocide. Kosovo is a pawn in a cavalier, supercalifragilistic game in which our players acknowledge neither the limits of their intellects nor their powers. The reason we should care now? It's not just about them. The protectorate is perched on Russia's southern doorstep, and this time, Serbia is set to serve as a proxy, if not more, in an energy war widening from the Mid-east to the Caspian to the Balkans. Western oil companies have been unsuccessfully seeking a transport route into the Bosphorus and the Dardanelles since 1994, and they want to build one through an expanded and secured Albania. Enter Russian premier Vlad Putin from stage left:

"Those who do this, subjugating their allies to their will and by force of arms, are not thinking about the consequences of what they are doing. This is a double-edged sword, one whose second edge will snap back into their gobs sooner or later."

The best diplomatic outcome in Kosovo is to not take our players seriously, and cajole the opposition into treading water for a year. Many see BushCo as simply a continuation of US aggression, and true enough. But it's also an apotheosis, one overstretching everywhere. We've arrived at the confused, panicked, unjust cave in A Passage To India, and every noise yelled into the cave returns an unwelcome 'Boum!' The menu for the next US leader will be where to retreat, how to consolidate, how far and and how fast. As for friendship, may well we come to it, but even the earth and sky seem to say, 'Not yet.'

Comedy Learns From Tragedy

To all the people I know Back East tunneling under 12 feet of snow and who are now getting snowed on, again.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Women's Rights: Grand Ayatollah Approves Pro-Choice

A new abortion policy ruling, one of two major women's rights advances recently reported from Iran, provides an interesting contrast to other less flexible doctrines, including those common amongst Christian fundamentalists. Naj at Iran Facts reported this news recently, and while wet T-shirt contests are probably still way off, it does indicate a major religion's rather profound concessions towards greater equality:

According to Parsine News Agency, Grand Ayatollah Mazaheri, one of the more renowned religious scholars based in Isfahan, has issued a Fatwa allowing unwed mothers to obtain abortions.

According to the report published on the site of Parsine a religious question was posed for the Grand Ayatollah as follows: "given the fact that pregnancy out of wedlock is extremely difficult for an unwed mother and will in all likelihood bring shame to her and her family, would she under these circumstances be allowed to obtain an abortion?" To this question, the Grand Ayatollah replied as follows: "given these circumstances, [an abortion] is permissible."

The interesting point regarding the response provided by this religious scholar is the fact that he does not address the age of the fetus. Other Shiite religious scholars have emphasized the age of the fetus and have in the past viewed the abortion of a fetus over 4 months as a murderous act for which full blood money (monetary compensation paid for bodily injury or death) must be provided to kin and in some instances have called for abortion to dealt with through Qesas (retribution).

The University of Al-Azhar which is believed to be the highest reference for Sunni Muslims on religious matters has recently announced that abortion for women who have become pregnant as a result of rape is permissible. The Islamic Research Committee of Al-Azhar University in Egypt published a statement in this regard, which reads: "women who have suffered rape, can obtain a doctors permission as soon as they become aware of their pregnancy, after which they will be allowed to quickly obtain an abortion." This statement has gone further to explain that such an abortion will allow for the stability of society. This statement was issued by Al-Azhar despite the fact that Egyptian law bans abortion, except under special circumstances when the health of the mother is in danger or the fetus has serious health problems.

Another ayatollah also ruled on a liberalization of inheritance laws, which previously gave widows a smaller share of a deceased husband's inheritance than his surviving relatives, explained more fully via the Parsine News link above. Property rights are fundamental to equality before the law, so this also must be interpreted as a significant development in favor of muslim women.

(Picture is of award-winning Iranian actress Golshifteh Farahani.)

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Change You Can Google!

I thought Hillary really helped herself in tonight's debate, even after a mid-debate negative jab: "you know, lifting whole passages from someone else's speeches is not change you can believe in, it's change you can Xerox." The audience booed. She made a nice recovery and kept improving on to her effective closing remarks, which show-cased some honesty, as Peggy Noonan suggested. She was so disarming at one point it almost sounded like a concession ("no matter what happens in this contest -- and I am honored, I am honored to be here with Barack Obama. I am absolutely honored.").

Yet afterwards, something kept tapping on my shoulder about her closing few lines, so I used what the internet gods gave me.
I've never before known plagiarism to be leavened by irony:
Hillary Clinton: “You know, whatever happens, we’re going to be fine. You know, we have strong support from our families and our friends. I just hope that we’ll be able to say the same thing about the American people. And that’s what this election should be about.”
Democratic Debate, 2-21-08

John Edwards: “What’s not at stake are any of us. All of us are going to be just fine no matter what happens in this election. But what’s at stake is whether America is going to be fine.”
Democratic Debate, 12-13-07

John Edwards: “I want to say this to everyone: with Elizabeth, with my family, with my friends, with all of you and all of your support, this son of a millworker’s gonna be just fine. Our job now is to make certain that America will be fine.”
Campaign Speech, 1-30-08
An added bonus:
Hillary Clinton: “You know, the hits I’ve taken in life are nothing compared to what goes on every single day in the lives of people across our country.”
Democratic Debate, 02-21-08

Bill Clinton: “The hits that I took in this election are nothing compared to the hits the people of this state and this country have been taking for a long time."
Speech, 1992
What were her speech writers thinking?


Psyche's News Roundup

The Raw Story | New York Times editors deliberately held McCain lobbyist story

Kucinich to Investigate 9/11 Insider Trading

January yields debt for HRC, cash for Obama -

Anti-Kosovo protesters set US embassy ablaze in Belgrade | World news |

King County could lose millions from investments

Update on Wikileaks censorship. Costly mistake for bank?

ARG: Bush at 19% !

NPR: Forfeited Delegates May Get Second Look (listen to Hillary spin)

Rigged Trials at Gitmo (BushAmerica)

Clinton supporters raising "at least" $10 million for anti-Obama Swift Boat campaign - AMERICAblog

I Want my Money Back! One smirks, the other sneers

Annals of American History: The Water Cure: Reporting & Essays: The New Yorker

PopMatters Culture Feature | Move Over Alpha Geeks, Here Come the Fangrrls

Undersea saboteurs may have been responsible for cable cuts

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

The Joy Of VBFS

No matter the outcome, this campaign cycle has already produced one hallmark in American politics that will be long scrutinized, particularly by the political operatives who didn't see it coming, i.e., all of them. The hallmark is a break with tradition, and regardless of campaign spectacles sure to yet devolve into jello-wrestling, it's enormously positive, even ground-breaking. Voter-based financial support means you can win without taking money from lobbyists.

Had you asked me if that was possible two years ago, I would have simply chortled. Yet it's happening, and it's keeping the cynicism tied to well-entrenched conventions at bay. One campaign is out-thinking, out-funding, out-working, and out-flying its opposition with a broad-based solution both daring and prescient. By March, it will have over one million donors, most of whom have given less than one hundred dollars. This is no trivial accomplishment. It's unprecedented, indicates a knack for knowing what it takes to win from the ground up, and demonstrates a startling level of faith in a citizenry's ability to rally behind progressive politics. Even further, it provides a new model for how to lead a country, and hints at a deep understanding of how to tap, organize, and channel voter involvement.

Given the last 30 or 40 years of politics in the US, creating a coalition to solve the biggest issues facing the country sounds completely crazy. Yet the enthusiasm is real, the huge rallies are significant, and the coalition approach won every caucus state. It's nothing fancy. To get more supporters, you have to energize the supporters you've got and get the radical middle off the fence. Then post-election you point the coalition at carefully chosen reforms to start off with, the ones you can win, and loop back to boost what the grass roots have already devised. Example: Inner-city children in Baltimore are getting good grades because they're being paid fast-food wages to study, with bonuses for becoming scholars. A more winning, more far-sighted, wiser investment of public funds is hard to imagine, and it should be done state- and nation-wide. Connecting leadership from the top to people at the bottom to support an issue like that will work.

In a democracy, all reform should theoretically be brought about by constituent pressure. That's how it's supposed to happen; we all know that the process has been suborned by lobbyists who buy votes (sometimes with more than money, as the McCain "liberal smear" seems to illustrate). Those lobbyists aren't going away. Effectively handcuffing them means building a strong organization in all 50 states, linked by a web-based community which doesn't stop keeping people involved after an election. An electronic commons is technically possible, even easy to set in motion, and the seeds for it are already laid. If you were a politician, having a web-based voter commons in your district would probably be the #1 pain in your ass.

There is no sugar-coating our mendacity-based political system, but the fact is, voter-based financial support has allowed one candidate to say and do things others couldn't, not and have a shot at winning. It may be hard to see a broader meaning, harder still to engage in the vulnerability of belief. But whether through this particular vessel or another, we're starting to win. The approach will reward great candidates of whatever political leaning, and freethem from having to treat lobbyists as cash cows. Lobbyists whose interests are not the citizens' interest, and whose money is not as good as citizen money.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Mental Notes, Come The Revolution

1) Scalia is a troll. 2) Another federal court Bush appointee has allowed a money-laundering Swiss bank to shut down the site.

Scalia ignores the Constitution and stare decisis to impose his support for cruel and unusual punishment:
The National Lawyers Guild calls on Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia to recuse himself from any case coming before the Supreme Court involving the constitutionality of torture as an interrogation technique. In a BBC interview that aired on Tuesday, Scalia defended the use of torture to extract information from persons in custody by law enforcement officials in some cases.

Although no case involving the use of torture is currently before the Court, recent events suggest that such a case may be forthcoming.

Guild President Marjorie Cohn said: “The Guild is appalled that a sitting Justice of the United States Supreme Court has ventured in a public forum his belief that it is justifiable to attempt to extract information from persons in custody by the use of torture. A justice of the highest court in the land, sworn to uphold the Constitution, whose views so undermine the fundamental right of security of the person guaranteed by the Bill of Rights, is unfit to sit on that Court.”…read on
California District Court Judge Jeffrey White denied, without recourse or notice, a popular whistleblower site on the behalf of a foreign bank. This means war in Web-Land:
In a pretty extraordinary ex-parte move, the Julius Baer Bank and Trust got Dynadot, the U.S. hosting company and domain registrar for Wikileaks, to agree not only to take down the Wikileaks site but also to "lock the domain name to prevent transfer of the domain name to a different domain registrar." Judge Jeffrey White in the U.S. District Court for Northern California signed off on the stipulation between the two parties last week without giving Wikileaks a chance to address the issue in court. on
This is pure First Amendment violation, not even involving security. No different from blocking a newspaper or magazine from publishing on its web site.

(via Crooks & Liars, from Common Dreams, by way of Cat in the Bag)

Monday, February 18, 2008

Peggy Noonan Gives Hillary Clinton The Key To Winning

It's not just tactics, it's something deeper. From last week's WSJ article:
...imagine if she tried honesty and humility. When everyone in America knows you're in a dreadful position, admit you're in a dreadful position. Don't lie about it and make them roll their eyes, tell the truth and make them blink.

As in: "Look, let's be frank. A lot of politics is spin, for reasons we can all write books about. I'm as guilty as anyone else. But right now I'm in the fight of my life, and right now I'm not winning. I'm up against an opponent who's classy and accomplished and who has captured the public imagination. I've had some trouble doing that. I'm not one of those people you think of when you hear a phrase like 'the romance of history.' But I think I bring some things to the table that I haven't quite managed to explain. I think I've got a case to be made that I haven't quite succeeded in making. And I'm going to ask you for one more try. Will you listen? And if I convince you, will you help me? Because I need your help."

Could Mrs. Clinton do something like this? I doubt it. She'd think it concedes too much and would look weak. But maybe it would show an emotional suppleness, and a characterological ability to see things as they are, which is always nice in a president.

Pakistan's Dictator Urges Acceptance Of Election Results

Musharraf's party (the PML, or Pakistan Muslim League) took a beating at the polls today, and both the results and his response may serve to loosen the lid on Pakistan's pressure cooker. It appears he's going to peacefully hand over power, a decidedly rare event for a dictator. The Pakistan People's Party (PPP) appears set to take a majority in the National Assembly, making this a martyr's victory for the slain Benazir Bhutto. Despite fears of terrorist attacks at the polls, there was no major violence, and turnout was 42 percent. via Sify News:
"Instead of crying foul, we should all show magnanimity," he said during a programme on state-run TV. All parties "must accept the results gracefully", he said.

In the face of challenges like extremism and terrorism confronting the country, it is important for Pakistan to stand united and exhibit reconciliation instead of confrontation.

"The election is the voice of the nation and we all, including myself, should accept these results," he said, adding there is a need for political reconciliation to ensure a secure and stable democracy in the country.

He lauded the law enforcement agencies, Election Commission and other authorities for providing effective security to ensure that the elections were free, fair, transparent and peaceful.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

The Mac Air Song: Yael Naim, New Soul

Yael Naim is a Sephardic singer-songwriter whose Parisian parents moved when she was a child to Tel Aviv, and so it came to pass that she became a soloist in the Israeli Defense Forces Orchestra. Following that, she soon moved back to Paris, found a little place in an arrondissement and began working up a secret triple-distillery for beauty. Like her fellow new Parisienne Leslie Feist, she rocket-blossomed and is now powering an Apple commercial. Yael recorded an elemental ditty in her studio apartment, called it New Soul and published it in an anthology titled Yael Naim, an album with almost no backing when it was released in late 2007. Yet the collection was savored and devoured by the muses and the furies, and it didn't take Apple long to find the track, which has shot up to #9 on this week's US Billboard chart.

The song lyrics are below, but a note about Apple, which is playing a big part in making it a hit.
People have asked me to describe the difference between Apple and Microsoft, since I've worked with and against both. "Apple is Hitler, Microsoft is Stalin," is one short way to explain, and sometimes against my bashful discretion I've gone with that. (What would seem to be the most facetious or sarcastic of descriptors can be metaphorically apt, spiritually spot-on.) We all come into this world as new users do into unknown operating systems, we're forced to make a choice; between the two, I'd have to go for a world designed by Apple.

It may at times seem peevish, small, paranoid, and subject to the snobbish whims of a martinet who has the airs of a French runway designer--because it is. That's why it hires people for their aesthetic passions, people who love beauty. That's why a Yael Naim song is backing its ads; an Apple product exec was in France chilling out on vacation before the launch last Fall, heard New Soul play at a friend's apartment (probably ganja-steeped) near the Champs d'Elysees, and said, "That totally captures what we're trying with the Air. We need it!" And so they went and got it, fast. (By comparison, Microsoft is ill-equipped to do lifestyle. Hearing the same thing, a Microsoft exec would've probably said, "Wow. Great song. I should go to the effort to send it to Steve Ballmer so he can send it on to marketing.") Apple fully understands how the currents of music connect through the deepest waters, and how the currents have to be just right.

The air of the artistic, that belief in the power of beauty is why, instead of my former component-by-component assembled PCs, we have 7 Apple devices of various size and shape in the house. They may be less than fully inter-operable, they may have made me give up games, and they may be the hardware equivalent of Italian suede shoes...but they do strive to be great. Not just good enough for everybody. They want to deliver all the dashingly effortless points of interface and style. And more often than not, they deliver, just like now. Here are the lyrics to New Soul (and you'll have to click on the vid to catch the full effect, the lyrics alone don't do it):

I'm a new soul, I came to this strange world
hoping I could learn a bit 'bout how to give and take.
But since I came here, felt the joy and the fear,
finding my self making every possible mistake!


I'm a young soul, in this very strange world
hoping I could learn a bit 'bout what is true and fake.
But why all this hate, try to com-mune-iii-cate--
Finding trust and love is not always easy to make!


This is a happy end, 'cause you don't understand
everything you have done, why's everything so wrong?
This is a happy end, come and give me your hand
I'll take you far away...!

I'm a new soul, I came to this strange world
hoping I could learn a bit 'bout how to give and take.
But since I came here, felt the joy and the fear
finding my self making every possible mistake!


Friday, February 15, 2008

Engagement Iran

The above synopsis of Iran is excellent, but extremely disorienting at first because the people in it, like Barbara Slavin, Steven Kinzer (author of 'All the Shah's Men') and Trita Parsi, all actually know what they're talking about. They openly mention the Algiers Accord, and I'm so used to viewing propaganda that I got motion sickness and had to dig through cupboards for the dramamine.

Iran lies between Russia, Pakistan, India, China, and the Arabian oil fields. It's going to be self-determined, and it wants democracy. Militarily, this should be a no-brainer: wooing Iran is the only thing that makes sense. The US will open negotiations with Iran as soon as the B.A. is out of the way.

Biggest Bank Blocks Hedge Fund Withdrawals

Pretty significant development. There was a run on a couple of Citigroup hedge funds, and they closed the teller windows. Via CNBC:
Citigroup has barred investors in one of its hedge funds from withdrawing their money, and a new leveraged fund lost 52 percent in its first three months, the Wall Street Journal reported Friday.

The largest U.S. bank suspended redemptions in CSO Partners, a fund specializing in corporate debt, after investors tried to pull more than 30 percent of its roughly $500 million of assets, the newspaper said. Citigroup injected $100 million to stabilize the fund, which lost 10.9 percent last year, the newspaper said.

The fund's manager, John Pickett, left following a dispute with Citigroup executives and complaints from investors after he tried to back out from committing more than half the fund's assets to buy leveraged loans tied to a German media company, the newspaper said. That matter was settled when CSO agreed to buy $746 million of the loans at face value, though they were trading at 86 percent to 93 percent of face value, it said.

Meanwhile, Falcon Plus Strategies, launched Sept. 30, lost 52 percent in the fourth quarter, after betting on mortgage-backed and preferred securities and making trades based on the relative values of municipal bonds and U.S. Treasuries. Some collateralized debt obligations in the fund trade at 25 percent of their original worth, the newspaper said.

Both funds are run in Citigroup's alternative investments unit. That unit was briefly headed last year by Vikram Pandit, who in December replaced Charles Prince as Citigroup's chief executive. Old Lane Partners, a hedge fund that Pandit founded and sold to Citigroup last year, has also had weak performance, falling 1.8 percent in January, the newspaper said.

Since June, Citigroup has disclosed some $30 billion of write-downs and losses tied to subprime mortgages, complex debt and deteriorating credit. The problems contributed to a record 9.83 billion fourth-quarter loss. Profit that quarter in the alternative investments unit fell 89 percent to $61 million.

Citigroup was not immediately available for comment. A spokesman told the newspaper that CSO and similar hedge funds are subject to comprehensive risk oversight, and that Falcon Plus's returns suffered from volatile fixed-income markets.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Catching The Political Trade Winds

We The People don't get to decide who will be President on our own, and in truth the Founders never meant us to. The system was designed by elites, first and foremost for elites, and the people usually only get to have a provisional say. Often the choice is not much different than our children being able to decide which hat they wear to one of two Day Cares. I'm not a big fan of Day Care in general, but it's raining outside, so a hat makes sense, and looking forward to switching providers is not to "kid" ourselves. We'll still be forcibly compelled to attend. We'll still be controlled by strangers paid to feed, watch, and discipline us from afar. Most of us aren't rich enough to have our own nannies, tutors, and servants, and do we not know from experience how vastly different Montessori, Catholic, and Evangelical pre-schools can be?

David Wilhelm is a bellwether. Interviewed in the video above, he's a former Democratic National Committee (DNC) chairman and Clinton I national campaign manager. He is currently an Ohio super-delegate, a director of the Environmental Law and Policy Center, and the head of a venture capital fund focused on developing alternative energy in the Midwest. His endorsement of Barack Obama likely marks the first swell of Party super-delegates, at least half of whom remain uncommitted, to the Change camp. His defection is a signal to other supers like New Mexico's governor Bill Richardson, who has refused to endorse Hillary Clinton after intense pressure from her husband. (Who reportedly remarked, "weren't two Cabinet appointments enough for you?!") Wilhelm's endorsement and Richardson's non-endorsement resonate as a cumbrous Democratic Party creaks and hauls, not yet certain if it can catch the wind, heel over, and sail large on a new tack.

This election is not just one Party or another, even though most or all in our lifetimes have been; these atmospherics are stirring up more profound effects. The Obama religion is propelled less by soaring rhetoric than by circumstances and decisions made years ago, combining to provoke desire and a path for a dramatically different direction. Ships of state have tremendous inertia, it is very difficult to turn them more than a few degrees, and most elections are struggles over partial control of the rudder. But in this cycle, something remarkably rare has occurred: the other side took complete control of the steering, so both the proles and the elites have begun doing the same dance. Such has happened only three times before in this country: before the American Revolution, the Civil War, and after the Great Crash of '29. Each of these epochal events was defined by an "Enough!" moment which turned into a movement. Each movement was primarily motivated against a specific abuse which had gone too far, each was still opposed by a die-hard 30% of the domestic populace, and each defined its philosophical justification well after its formation.

By 2002, a significant minority of the financial aristocracy had become decidedly uncomfortable over blatant, big-thinking BushCo corruptions, ones which practically guaranteed fiascoes the like to dwarf Vietnam. By 2003, many doubted Kerry's capacities to win the ship, or steer it, so they unveiled a charismatic orator at the 2004 Democratic Convention who could be relied upon to electrify and perhaps resuscitate a Party with little remaining pulse. He was being groomed and financed, just as Bill Clinton once was, as heir apparent, as backup plan, and perhaps as something more over the horizon. People in Chicago knew he was dynamite, and given the condition of the Party and country, they pushed him onto a bigger stage.

Post-Kerry, a consensus began to spread and concretize. Not only were elites and proles alike deeply cynical over the stolen elections, finances, and freedoms, but a realization built that a Great Game itself was drawing to a close. The Bush Doctrine would have to be scuttled, exorcised, and entombed; with acknowledgments to how difficult achieving even one of the three would be, arguments raged over what should be done next, and how. They boiled down to a lower-risk Clinton approach (If I Could Turn Back Time) vs. a higher-risk Obama approach (We'll Invest In You, If You Invest In Us). With an incumbent and a challenger, a certain "let the best man win" dynamic remained in place. As a hint at the aristocracy's desire for change, the two approaches were heavily financed by elites in nearly equal measure, despite the higher-risk option trailing distantly in the polls, by 25+ points as little as three months ago.

For all practical purposes, winning high-margin popular victories and gaining traction in the Party Establishment both require steady backing by favorable media (which live to "get religion") and by the super-well-offegates such as Rupert Murdoch who own them. The news is primarily written for and about the elites, so as a group they're even more consensus-driven and media-influenced than regular janes and joes. The media has gravitated into Obama's orbit like particles orienting themselves around a strange attractor, amplifying his charisma, recently starting to air much more unflattering angles on the Clinton campaign. Even Murdoch's NY Post endorsed Obama, and the Wall Street Journal released a damning story this morning detailing the turmoil among Hillary staffers. It went out on Page One, and if the Clintons enjoyed the pull they had last year on Wall Street, the story wouldn't have run, not with its brass knuckles on.

Many observers take it as given that elites control how proles vote, and while that is more true than not, in this case the nomination's outcome is taking its cues from the popular votes. 500,000 people have also given money to Obama's campaign. Super-delegates have been talking amongst themselves for months, waiting for a chance to break from the Clintons; they feel the barometer falling, too. As for elites, they're sensitized to money-making opportunities, looking to maintain or increase their own (and to some extent America's) wealth and leverage. They have much more than a vote or campaign contributions to lose--if they nod the wrong way, they lose not only influence, but may face active years of retribution.

The next White House is going to be hit with a huge crisis, three heads of the same monster; debt, dollar revaluation, and foreign policy overshoot. To move forward, we're going have to find a bigger, better, more convincing bubble. Alternative energy is the only bubble big enough to float the ones which came before it. As it happens, an American consensus is gathering, one which believes we should craft a world which does not see fossil fuels as a primary energy source. Which is also getting serious about energy independence as a goal. I see it in my neighborhood, the bikes and scooters, the diesels, the subcompacts, the electric cars, the bios, the hybrids are all over the place. I'm starting to see solar panels in Seattle. The popular will is there, and so is the gasoline price.

Freeing our culture's soul from fossils isn't going to be easy. It will mean fights with oil companies who cannot be kept out of buying into a new energy grid, fights with NIMBYs, it will mean short-term compromises on coal-burning power plants--but it will also mean job creation, an ability to steadily de-escalate our foreign occupations, and a new domestic industry unleashing tremendous innovation. Once America's imagination, its most precious resource, is focused on a clear objective--beat the rest of the world on alternative energy production--we can go ahead and do it. The initiatives will extend right down to the municipal and household levels. That will mean not only choices, it will mean betting the farm because we're already in the hole, and it'll probably be seen by many as fascism. But facism's de facto right now--the next government will be involved in energy production, sure, but it already is involved in a spectacularly dysfunctional way. Fascist or not, our resources will be better allocated.

We've bet the farm before to invest against rampant abuse, and even if it wasn't always pretty, we always emerged as a nation, and one greater. Any sensible person would doubt after the past two terms, after the past 50 years, that we are about to change. Particularly on a week in which the Pentagon got another 7.5% budget increase for next year, not including supplementals. Just watch David Wilhelm's interview, and consider his motivations on alternative energy. He knows we've got plenty of lemons, and wants to make a fortune making lemonade. This is where the wind is starting to blow, and it's going to be blowing in a new direction for a long time.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Happy Valentine's Day: This Is Your Brain On Orgasm

Short summary of the latest research on the complex physiology of what I will euphemistically term Pleasurable Reproductive Responses (PRRs): "Birds do it. Bees do it. Even epileptic seizures do it." From the LA Times:
In an orgasm orchestra, the genitalia may be the instruments, but the central nervous system is the conductor.

Armed with new lab tools and fearless volunteers, scientists are getting first-ever glimpses of how the brain lights up (and, in places, shuts down) when the orgasmic fireworks go off. They're tracing nerves and finding new pathways for pleasure that help explain how people with shattered spinal cords can defy sexual expectations.
Cultivating PRRs has a lot to do with having an undamaged vagus nerve, a sleepy lateral orbitofrontal cortex, and getting the hots for a certain someone helps immensely. Most surprisingly, a precise location in the spinal cord has recently been discovered, which, when shocked, triggers full female responses in the absence of other stimuli. The spines seem to have it, and attendant parasympathetic pattern responses are dazzlingly complex, neurologically resembling an epileptic seizure. A fact with which most of you are thoroughly aware.

To deepen the complexity, even people with severed spinal cords can experience full-on PRRs, and those no-doubt-welcome phenomena flummox the sum total of four thousand years of Western medicinal anatomy: it was considered theoretically impossible, yet it appears to happen via the vagus nerve. That's the longest nerve, which does not travel down the spine but rather along the neck, beside the heart down to below the stomach. The symbol for Valentine's Day, the heart with an arrow through it, was chosen in wisdom, and the archaic "the way to a man's heart is through his stomach" is newly apropos. In toto, PRRs seem to be more peripherally distributed around the body than previously realized, and presumably coordinate via processes which, although now being mapped as enthusiastically as treasure trails, are not yet understood.

Flowers and chocolates are stimulants by their own rights, proxies to enliven some of the same pleasure centers, dimming the lights on the same frontal areas of reasoning. But the Orgasmatron is coming, having already been successfully used in applied research. So, a terms of etiquette, are electronic gifts OK on Valentine's Day?

(Thanks, SLL, for the articles.)

The Brighter Side Of Waterboarding

The original headline said, "Senate votes to ban waterboarding," but is a Congressional bill ever that simple?
The prohibition was contained in a bill authorizing intelligence activities for the current year, which the Senate approved on a 51-45 vote. It would restrict the CIA to the 19 interrogation techniques outlined in the Army field manual. That manual prohibits waterboarding, a method that makes an interrogation subject feel he is drowning.
So the clause was nestled into a much larger bill. Bush may veto it, given that he has sworn not to constrain intelligence from the full array of techniques. Twenty or so years ago, waterboarding didn't exist (to my knowledge) as a term of art. It was accurately enough called "water torture" since you actually drown or suffocate to death when it's done to you.

Torture has been used by everybody, including the United States, even when it was officially banned. It's not something that needs any encouragement, and people who decide to employ it should at least be desperate enough to put themselves on the wrong side of the law. It'll be really cool for a lot of people when this finally does get banned again, and it'll benefit all of us regular Amis, especially those of us who travel overseas.

Bush Signs Economic Stimulus Plan

Jon sent this cartoon along awhile back, and now the bill has been signed into law. I feel so...stimulated. Being a great American, I'm going to take our $1,200 check right on out and buy something, like maybe a new SUV!

(Or maybe gold.)

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Geothermal Breakthrough: Distributed Energy Source

Highly interesting technology, via Popular Mechanics:

The whine of the power plant sounds like a jet engine as refrigerant blasts through the turbine at 1000 mph. Though the equipment is compact, the din fills the vast hangar, and mechanical engineer Gwen Holdmann has to shout to be heard: “What you see here is very Alaskan. It’s not painted. It’s not pretty. But it’s real.” I place my hand on the steel door capping the plant’s evaporator; it’s warm to the touch, filled with Alaska’s most promising new energy source—plain water.

It’s midnight at Chena Hot Springs Resort, 56 miles northeast of Fairbanks, and outside, the July sun has only just slipped below the horizon. Holdmann’s blond hair escapes a loose ponytail as she climbs onto a metal walkway to point out the heat exchanger. A black-eared husky named Amberlynn watches her every move from below. “The cool thing about this ... ,” she begins, as she does most sentences, and it occurs to me that it’s appropriate every time: This is cool. It is Alaska’s first geothermal plant, and it’s producing electricity from lower temperature water than any plant in the world.

Heat stored beneath the Earth’s surface holds 50,000 times the energy of all the oil and gas in the worl combined. If it could be harnessed, it would be an ideal source of base-load power: Geothermal is cleaner than fossil fuels, and more reliable than alternative sources like tidal, wind, wave and solar. Today, geothermal plants in the United States generate nearly 3000 megawatts of electricity—enough to power South Dakota. Almost all of it comes from reservoirs that are at least 300 F.

The water rising through a fracture in the granite pluton under Chena is only 165 F. Experts didn’t think it was hot enough to produce serious power. But with the nearest electrical grid 32 miles away and generators burning through $1000 worth of diesel fuel daily, Chena had the incentive to prove the experts wrong. Now, its tepid water not only generates electricity, it heats the resort’s buildings, maintains a greenhouse and keeps an ice museum frozen year-round. There are thousands of such low- to moderate-temperature geothermal systems scattered throughout Alaska and the rest of the country. Power plants like the one at Chena could tap them to produce tens of thousands of megawatts of electricity.

“I think we have an opportunity here in Alaska to be leaders in moving toward a more renewable energy economy,” Holdmann says, her voice an equal mix of practical and impassioned. “The cost of power can be exorbitant in our villages—as high as a dollar a kilowatt-hour. It’s a real bummer for a lot of these communities, but it can also be a real motivating factor.” She pauses at the door of the hangar. “We’re an oil-producing state and we’re worried about our energy costs. It’s just a matter of time before the rest of the country catches up to where we are.”

Chena Hot Springs is the kind of resort one would expect to find on an episode of Northern Exposure. Nestled deep in a valley of birch and aspen, it has a comfortable, well-appointed lodge, an activities center, indoor plumbing and a resident masseuse. It also has a team of sled dogs, a 3500-ft. dirt runway, outhouses and, at this moment, a moose nonchalantly grazing near a geothermal production well.

Holdmann is well-cast for the setting. A professional dog musher, she lives off the grid with her husband and 80 huskies and commutes to work in a Jeep Liberty that runs on vegetable oil. She came to Chena four years ago as a hydropower consultant, but quickly determined that the water flowing under the resort was more valuable than the water flowing past it.

The only hitch: “Some of the reports I read from research on Chena concluded there was no way you could ever generate power out of this resource,” Holdmann says. “I started to look into why, and began to realize it was a bit of a misconception.”

When water cooler than 350 F is released from the pressure of a geothermal reservoir, it doesn’t convert to steam efficiently enough to drive a turbine directly. Anything less than 230 F was considered too marginal for the alternative: a binary system that uses water to heat a fluid with a lower boiling point. But that threshold was a product of geography, not technical feasibility, Holdmann realized. A binary system just requires a heat source and sink: 165 F water can produce electricity if the ambient air or surface water temperature is at least 100 degrees lower. While that may be tough to find in the deserts of Nevada, in Alaska cold air and water are abundant resources.

Now all she needed was a plant, built to one important spec: “We need things that work up here,” Holdmann says. “We don’t need a bunch of things that, yeah, you can do in a lab. We need something we can take to a village and use normal people to run it. And run it every day, because we don’t need it only half the time.”

Fortunately, United Technologies Corp. was looking for a partner to collaborate on a pilot project: an air-conditioning unit that had been reverse-engineered to run off geothermal water. Instead of putting in electric power to create areas of high and low temperature, Chena provides the heat differential and the plant puts out electric power.

The technology has the added benefit of solving two remaining hurdles to low-temperature power generation. First, air-conditioning refrigerant operates more efficiently at low temperatures than isopentane and other fluids typically used in power plants. Second, the components are already mass produced, which cuts the cost of a small, modular plant in half.

Chena’s two 200-kilowatt modules provide more than enough power for the entire resort and have reduced the cost of electricity from 30 cents a kwh to only 5 cents. With a capital cost of $2.2 million, including exploration and drilling, the project is expected to pay for itself in four to five years.

Monday, February 11, 2008

The Finest Kiss

I just learned this weekend that a real-world friend links here, and that he also happens to run the best Seattle music blog in the known universe, small as mine is on the subject. Toby's a lover of indie music to the extent he can accurately be called an expert, and his local reportage of bands is even better than the professional efforts around the Sound.

It wasn't the music that got me out here, but I grew to appreciate it fast. Since the late 80s the Pac Northwest has continued to grow into one of the most vibrant and nurturing emerging music scenes, the birthplace of the grungy "garage band" sound. It was a sarcastic revolt against the glammy, over-produced metal, pop, and alternative stuff that dominated the late 70s and 80s, so it was by definition anti-corporate. It was edgy and dangerous as a snakebite, dangerous as an OD, revelling in its alienation and managed to retain that feel even after bands like Nirvana, Alice In Chains, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, and a score of lesser-known bands like Gruntruck were hitting it big world-wide and it attracted the trust-fund babies, who could actually afford heroin.

The originators were gone or cooled down, bands such as Green River, Mudhoney, and the Melvins (Kurt Cobain was a devoted fan and helped them out as a stage hand) were starting to pass the torch, but Seattle was as music-mad as Liverpool in the 1960s. Even my button-down friends and I in MBA School went down to the Off-Ramp every Tuesday for open mike night. We saw the worst band in history (Zeke) there. The lead singer came out wearing nothing except a gold lame' G-string, and it got worse when they started to play. Funny enough, they're a local-venue band stalwart 16 years later.

The Northwest was a perfect incubator for garage bands, and still is. You sure as hell can't play much music outside, and most parents would've rather parked their cars out on the street than have proto-punk metal/Iggy Pop fusion playing in the house. So grunge happened. Lord Running Boy had his first experience with Ozzy Osbourne and Black Sabbath last night, which he immediately went wild over: "No, no, turn it up, it's gotta be louder," he cried, grabbing the volume knob and turning it up to Eleven, whirly-gigging and turning his cousin's living room into a mosh pit for the balance of the album. (Yes. Yes, I am terrified.)

The Finest Kiss is named for a song by the Boo Radleys, a UK group Toby heard when he was living in Caen. They have a website up now, and you can listen to the song here. By going to Toby's site, I also learned that Australian legend Paul Kelly, the greatest singer-songwriter you've never heard of, will be playing at the Triple Door in March, right where I first ran into him. We're going. And I'll be enjoying the future of music via the Finest Kiss.

I'm Glad This Exists, Because I Have Nothing To Hide!

The FBI Deputizes Coroporations, via the Progressive:

Today, more than 23,000 representatives of private industry are working quietly with the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security. The members of this rapidly growing group, called InfraGard, receive secret warnings of terrorist threats before the public does—and, at least on one occasion, before elected officials. In return, they provide information to the government, which alarms the ACLU. But there may be more to it than that. One business executive, who showed me his InfraGard card, told me they have permission to “shoot to kill” in the event of martial law.
InfraGard is “a child of the FBI,” says Michael Hershman, the chairman of the advisory board of the InfraGard National Members Alliance and CEO of the Fairfax Group, an international consulting firm.

InfraGard started in Cleveland back in 1996, when the private sector there cooperated with the FBI to investigate cyber threats.

“Then the FBI cloned it,” says Phyllis Schneck, chairman of the board of directors of the InfraGard National Members Alliance, and the prime mover behind the growth of InfraGard over the last several years.

InfraGard itself is still an FBI operation, with FBI agents in each state overseeing the local InfraGard chapters. (There are now eighty-six of them.) The alliance is a nonprofit organization of private sector InfraGard members.

“We are the owners, operators, and experts of our critical infrastructure, from the CEO of a large company in agriculture or high finance to the guy who turns the valve at the water utility,” says Schneck, who by day is the vice president of research integration at Secure Computing.

“At its most basic level, InfraGard is a partnership between the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the private sector,” the InfraGard website states. “InfraGard chapters are geographically linked with FBI Field Office territories.”

In November 2001, InfraGard had around 1,700 members. As of late January, InfraGard had 23,682 members, according to its website,, which adds that “350 of our nation’s Fortune 500 have a representative in InfraGard.”

To join, each person must be sponsored by “an existing InfraGard member, chapter, or partner organization.” The FBI then vets the applicant. On the application form, prospective members are asked which aspect of the critical infrastructure their organization deals with. These include: agriculture, banking and finance, the chemical industry, defense, energy, food, information and telecommunications, law enforcement, public health, and transportation.

FBI Director Robert Mueller addressed an InfraGard convention on August 9, 2005. At that time, the group had less than half as many members as it does today. “To date, there are more than 11,000 members of InfraGard,” he said. “From our perspective that amounts to 11,000 contacts . . . and 11,000 partners in our mission to protect America.” He added a little later, “Those of you in the private sector are the first line of defense.”

He urged InfraGard members to contact the FBI if they “note suspicious activity or an unusual event.” And he said they could sic the FBI on “disgruntled employees who will use knowledge gained on the job against their employers.”

In an interview with InfraGard after the conference, which is featured prominently on the InfraGard members’ website, Mueller says: “It’s a great program.”

The ACLU is not so sanguine.

“There is evidence that InfraGard may be closer to a corporate TIPS program, turning private-sector corporations—some of which may be in a position to observe the activities of millions of individual customers—into surrogate eyes and ears for the FBI,” the ACLU warned in its August 2004 report The Surveillance-Industrial Complex: How the American Government Is Conscripting Businesses and Individuals in the Construction of a Surveillance Society.

German World Record

The world’s largest wind turbine is now the E-126. This turbine has a rotor blade length of 126 meters (413 feet). The E-126 is a more sophisticated version of the E-112, formerly the world’s largest wind turbine and rated at 6 megawatts.

The windmill is officially rated at 6 megawatts, but will most likely produce 7+ megawatts, or roughly 20 million kilowatt hours per year. That’s enough to power about 5,000 households of four in Europe. In the US, the calculation would be 938 kwh per home per month, multiplied by 12 months, or 11,256 kwh per year per house. Good for a very patriotic 1,776 American homes on one wind turbine. The turbine is being erected in Emden, Germany by Enercon.

A few days ago a friend and I were discussing how to improve another record, the world's longest floating bridge, which extends across Lake Washington. The pontoon portion of the bridge (which has capsized and sunk twice, and closed for extended times) has an inconvenient tendency to buckle northwards as water piles up on its southern-facing side due to a strongly prevailing wind direction. You can often see whitecaps on its southern side, while just across the four lane of the bridge, the waters are as smooth as glass. Breakers will splash across the lanes, and the bridge usually must be closed during periods of high winds.

We thought, "Why not turn the 520 floating point bridge into a wind generation platform?" Each wind turbine platform, probably up to ten of them, could be linked with a short bridge section, the route could be stabilized and generate electricity for up to 20,000 homes. It would be a worthy place to spend my state's tax dollars, improve a route that is the bane of many a commuter's existence, and might even be enough to make the Germans envious.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Tom Waits: Downtown Train

The above song was a #1 hit for Rod Stewart, and my grandmother worked overtime, supervising the night shift making cassettes along with the last vinyl cut records ever mass-produced. At Decca Records, just as she was about to retire. Somewhat surprisingly to me, she became a big fan of Rod Stewart. I was fondly bemused, and had hopes she was recovering from the death of my grandfather. But she never did, and Rod Stewart didn't write that song. We all thought he did at the time but he just sang it like so many others. Nobody saw the man behind the lyrical curtain, a misshapen unforgiven dwarf who whittled patterns many other voices would take into fashion.

The dwarf's voice is a rock crusher. It makes gravel out of washboards, asphalt, and car parts floating in on tides of bourbon. As a child, he taught himself to play on a neighbor's piano, where he took refuge while his schoolteacher parents were acrimoniously divorcing in Pomona, California when he was 8 and 9. His father was named Frank, his mother Alma, and it was 1958 or '57, depending on how you calculate prodigy. He later played in an R&B band in high school, but his heart wasn't in it. You can almost hear a music teacher saying, "Class...please pay attention, and excuse Tom."

While the 60s revolutions raged, he listened to Bing Crosby to figure out his timing. He studied Frank Sinatra, Bob Dylan, Lord Buckley, Hoagy Carmichael, Marty Robbins, and Raymond Chandler. He started playing lounges and strip clubs in San Diego when he was 18, and he was so good that word got out--Martha and the Vandellas, Charlie Rich, and Frank Zappa asked him to tour with them. He strove to make art with words and eventually mused a magnum opus on his father's absence in an album called Frank's Wild Years. While he steadily closed in on genius as a pauper, the Eagles, Rod Stewart, and Bruce Springsteen made millions of dollars singing his songs as their own.

When I heard Rod Stewart singing Downtown Train, I heard a tom-cat reasonably asking for free sex. Later, when I first heard Tom Waits singing his own creation, I heard someone describing people traveling into Manhattan, girls who hung from the straps on the downtown lines, also the people who came in preserved from New Jersey, people I worked alongside with thick accents and frank assessments. So I knew how fully he shook their essence down like a perfumer who bottled souls. Once an old guard on the exchange laughed long at me one morning when I first wore a new blue Italian silk pinstripe suit my mentor had given me, and I asked what was the matter. He said--"You look like a million bucks," and I said right back to him, his name was Jesse, "I'm shinin' like a new dime!"

Once you hear Tom Waits sing his own creations, Rod Stewart and everybody else scatters like crows.

The lyrics to Downtown Train:

Outside another yellow moon
punched a hole in the nighttime, yes
I climb through the window and down the street
I'm shining like a new dime
the downtown trains are full--with all those Brooklyn girls
they try so hard to break out of their little worlds

You wave your hand, and they scatter like crows
they have nothing that will ever capture your heart
they're just thorns without the rose
be careful of them in the dark
oh if I was the one!
you chose to be your only one
oh baby, can't you hear me now

Will I see you tonight?
on a downtown train
every night, every night is just the same
you leave me lonely now

I know your window, and I know it's late
I know your stairs and your doorway
I walk down your street and past your gate
I stand by the light at the four way

You watch them as they fall
and baby they all have heart attacks
they stay at the carnival,
but they'll never win you back!


Will I see you tonight?
On a downtown train...
where every night is just the same
(you leave me lonely)
will I see you tonight?
On a downtown train...
all of my dreams just fall like rain
ooh baby on a downtown train

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Washington State Caucus: My First Politics

Just back from the Washington state caucus. The key swing issue there was electability–the Clintons enrage and mobilize the conservatives, giving McCain a chance in red states, and in states where he shouldn’t have one at all. Even the most eloquent and/or impassioned advocates (points were experience, Bill backs her up, health care, pro-choice, experience) couldn’t defend that point. About 3/4s of the undecideds in my caucus went to Obama, and 75% of caucus-goers in the most democratic, highest-turnout district in all of Washington state voted for him.

The debate was quite high-quality went from positive to invigorating and then it started to devolve into Not Pretty. The Obama campaign had sent out emails this morning urging everybody to dwell on the positives, and to not attack. At precisely twenty minutes into debate, the Clinton supporters started becoming more vocal, then comparatively acrimonious, hogging the chair, finally going negative, and at the end at least 5 of them (females) shot my loved one extended dirty looks while she was speaking, and after. Then the Undecideds got to confer, ask questions for 10 minutes, and choose a candidate. All but one did.

Of course, due to local circumstances, our anecdotes and results may not indicate much nationally due to the last race for Governor here. A Pug candidate with no political experience (Dino Rossi) came within about 40 votes in a bitterly re-counted election of taking the governorship on little more than a commercial of holding up a baby, smiling like a state patrol officer, and saying he was strong on family values. A few votes in Seattle were the only reason our governor (Christine Gregoire, Obama endorser) is a Democrat. She's a fine governor, but many feel a much stronger candidate should've been allowed to run, and there seems to be little remaining trust in the Democratic party in a state that went 70% for Gore in 2000. A taste for new ways of doing things is in the air here, and today's turnout was brim-full-to-overflowing.

Easily the most popular caucus attendee was an older man squarely in the Clinton demographic group who stood up and said, “Our generation brought in the most divisive politics in the 20th century. Hillary Clinton only brings more divisiveness, and our time has passed. The currency of the 21st century will be diversity, and no one has more appreciation of diversity, from where and how he grew up and what he's done thus far, than Barack Obama.”

Lord Wife bravely volunteered to take notes, brave because the high school gymnasiums and classrooms were all mobbed and quite noisy, but she did a professional job. She was then encouraged to run as a delegate by a couple 23-year old supporters who liked what she had to say.

I suspect they may have also been supporting the MILF ticket, but as the debate was drawing to a close, my better half made a very effective rebuttal to a claim that Clinton's public health plan is superior to Obama's. Shorter Lord Wife: "I work in public health research, so I've compared the two plans very carefully. The Clinton health care plan is mandated, mandated plans in California and Massachusetts have already failed, and it further sucks on vectors x, y, and z." She was subsequently elected to be a delegate to the state convention, as was the aging boomer, an 18-year old of Pakistani descent, a young executive of Indian descent, and a woman who works with special needs kids. My wife was tickled pink. (And she wants to write a post comparing health care plans soon.)

The Clinton supporters were barely able to eke out 2 delegates out of seven. I wondered how they did it, given the shrinking numbers of undecideds. Then I realized they had persuaded one last person to stay undecided, so that the Clinton delegate share went up mathematically from 1.488 to 1.5, thus allowing it to be rounded up to 2. Otherwise it would've been 6-1.

Overall it was quite an experience to caucus, that is, to participate in politics for the very first time. We live in one of the most impregnable of Democratic strongholds, probably one of the most Democratic neighborhoods in the country. Our House rep is that lightning rod of conservatives Jim McDermott, our state rep is a single-issue candidate (gay marriage), and everybody seems to be driving bio-diesels, Priuses, Honda Fits, scooters, and bikes. We're safe territory that wasn't even supposed to have mattered in the primary, and the Clinton campaign didn't even have an office here until this week. I'm not sure how far away this can be extrapolated, but we went in a landslide for Obama.

Linking To Squirmelicious

I was introduced to Squirmelicious a few days back by my news filter, Psyche. He correctly, correctly so far at least, sensed the 'Gang of Four' (Gore, Dean, Kerry, Kennedy) support for Obama. He runs an astute, objective political blog mixed with some current affairs. As he describes it:
Squirmelicious is a daily jam on politics, culture, technology, sports, or whatever the hell is clogging my noodle.
After waiting a decent interval and reading more of his excellent posts, I decided to link away. Welcome, Mr. Squirmel! I'll try to come up with a more flattering yet evocative cephalopod image.