Life is no brief candle to me. It is a sort of splendid torch which I have got a hold of for the moment, and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible before handing it onto future generations. George Bernard Shaw

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

America Renewed

Wow. What a day to be a parent in America. I have a ten month old son, who will grow up only knowing a world where this is possible, where we can collectively author our better futures. Last night's dominant performance by President-Elect Obama shattered the blue-state/red-state myth as he promised he would four years ago. We are a purple nation today. Greeting Obama in Washington will be a substantial majority in both houses of Congress. The Republican junta of 1994 is now officially over, as is the conservative movement of 1964/1980, driven into the gutter by Karl Rove and Dick Cheney. What the Republican Party will do to rebuild is scarcely my first concern this morning! I am thinking about these things:

1. This Democratic majority bears no resemblance to the one that Bill Clinton enjoyed in 1992. The bulk of those Senators and Congressmen were fixtures who owed little or nothing to the new President. This caucus knows the reality of their President's coattails. Also, I firmly believe there is a real desire to accomplish without overreaching, and that matters.

2. Executive Orders. Wiretapping is over. Torture is over. On January 21 (day one!) much of the machinery of evil of the Bush/Cheney years can be dragged out into the yard and left on the curb. I suspect the shredders have been operating for some time now throughout Washington, and unlike many of my moderate to liberal friends, prosecuting Bush officials is not something I'm in a froth over. If we have clear evidence of some wrongdoing it should be punished, but I would hate to see the energy and momentum of this shiny new era tarnished by a partisan with hunt that would immediately divide America again.

3. Health Care. We have a real chance to fix it now.

4. Foreign Policy. Iraq will now have to stand up. Afghanistan, get ready, because we're about to get focused on the real deal.

5. Financial Crisis. This is likely what will keep P-E Obama up nights between now and Jan 20, and beyond for some time. Unlike the current administration, I am sure he has and will have the best minds in the country working on this, and with an eye toward all Americans, not just Fortune 100 CEOs.

6. As an aside: how good has the quality polling industry become in this country? The national race was called very accurately, from the overall number to the state numbers. Oh, and that Bradley effect so cherished by the hate-talk radio set and so feared by Democrats? Let's put that one next to the Curse of the Bambino, shall we?

7. Cabinet. We can turn our attention to a second New Frontier, staffing Washington with the best and the brightest to tackle the issues of America and the world. We don't have to assuage electoral bruises or repay Daddy's henchmen.
Ladies and Gentlemen, government is about to become adult again.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Chill Out

A message to all Democrats, Independents and Obama-hopeful Republicans - relax. I haven't seen collective angst this high since the last four games of the 2004 ALCS against the Yankees. There is an anxious sense among the legion of Obama supporters that somehow a referee will throw a flag on this thing and take it away. How?

The Bradley Effect

This is a once little-known axiom of politics that says people will tell a pollster they're voting for the black fella and then pull a switcheroo in the booth because they're really a Klansman. Study after study has shown that if there ever was such a thing as a Bradley Effect, it is long gone. Consider as exhibit one that Obama outperformed his polling in all but three of the Democratic primaries. If anything, I suspect a reverse effect in this race, where people can't bring themselves to tell someone they're voting for Obama, but in the privacy of the booth vote their interests.

Democratic Overconfidence
Yeah, that's like the old baseball saw they've got too much pitching. Never happen.

Low Turnout
Have you seen the early voting numbers?

Voting Machine Irregularities
OK, this is for the tin-foil hat set. What Dean and Obama have done with the 50-state strategy is build up enough of an electoral vote cushion that shenanigans in Ohio or Florida can't steal this thing. The apparatus of elections are now controlled by Dems in these states, with governorships and secretaries of state under control. Also, if Obama goes into Tuesday with RCP polling numbers anywhere like what they are now and somehow voting data is 8-10% off that in multiple states, there's going to be some 'splainin' to do.

OMG!! Pennsylvania!!
Yeah, Obama's PA lead is down from double digits to 7.5%. That's what happens when every ounce of GOP resources are poured into one state. Suppose the sky falls and McCain wins here? And the dam breaks and McCain wins Ohio, Florida, North Carolina, Indiana, Missouri, Georgia, South Dakota, Arizona, Montana and North Dakota? Obama still gets to 270. Remember, even in the bizzaro no-PA world for the Democrats, they still just need to hold the other Kerry states (none of which are polling under 10% leads), then win Colorado (+6.2%), Nevada (+6.5%), Virginia (+6%), New Mexico (+7.3%) and Iowa (+10.6%).

Kerry/Edwards and Gore/Whasisname were ahead like this too!!
No, they weren't.

So chill out. The best-organized, best-funded Democratic national campaign in history is underway against the worst-run, most toxic Republican campaign in history. If we can't win this one going away, then time to open a vineyard north of Christchurch on the south island of New Zealand and write romance novels. I for one will keep my day job.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Six Days to Four Years

I must admit that I was skeptical about the Obama infomercial, hoping for substance over schmaltz, and his team delivered. One thing that cannot be disputed is that the Obama campaign has perhaps been one of the most surefooted in modern American political history. Very few mistakes, brilliant usage of mass-communication technology, message discipline, resource management, all of it. Hard to tell if that will translate into success in the Oval Office (assuming a win next week!), but leadership of a huge, complex organization for nearly two years has to count for something. That, and he's taken down the Clinton and Rove machines back-to-back, which is akin to Rockefeller somehow taking Nixon down in 1960 and then defeating the Kennedys. Stuff like this doesn't just happen, it's a result of excellence.

I like where we are. Hold the Kerry states, none of which appears to be in any real trouble (not even PA), score Iowa, Colorado and Virginia, and that's your ballgame. Every state after that is gravy, including some like Ohio where Obama has a clear lead, and many others where he has a slight lead or is polling even, such as Florida, Missouri, Nevada, etc.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

The Ten Coolest Sci-Fi Characters

I kind of thought Burns would get on me about the absence of a Babylon 5 representative, and he knows I liked Londo, so we'll expand the list to 12. Why 12? I realized there was no Star Trek: Next Generation character here either. So #11 and #12, below.

12. Worf

I was never a Picard guy. Captain of the Love Boat maybe, but the Enterprise? I was a Kirk guy. This bias was so pronounced that my brother and I openly rooted for the Borg when they captured Picard, and held out hope that Riker's command decision to attack the Borg cube with Picard aboard would end the chrome-dome experiment. Anyway, no Picard. I liked Data, but he tread too much where Bishop (see #8 below) and Asimov had already been. Riker had promise, but kept turning down command assignments to the point where I worried about his guts. Anyway, there was always one character who stood out to me, who was the biggest badass, even with that weird bandolier. Worf. Hey, a Klingon on the bridge! Wow! Once the novelty wore off and we got to explore Klingon culture through the prism of Worf, some of the best Trek episodes of any generation were the result.

11. Londo Mollari

Yeah, I watched Babylon 5. As turned off as I was initially by the crude effects and less seamless vision of the future, I stuck with it at the urgings of a friend. As will happen, I got hooked on the story, which was slow to reveal secrets and quick to endear characters. My favorite of these was bombastic Londo Mollari, ambassador from the Centari. Dissipated relic of a once-great people, Mollari had a tightly circumscribed set of ethics that allowed most anything in the interests of his homeworld, and his personal morality was depraved and hedonistic. What's not to like, right? There was, however, an inner compass that at times enabled him to approach nobility, though in the end he was a conflicted and terribly flawed person.


So, a bit of a departure from the usual content here. Let's take a look at the ten characters from science fiction that are undeniably the coolest cats to walk whatever planet they're from. Some of you will complain the list is too Star Wars or Star Trek heavy. Yeah? It's my list, ain't it? Make your own.

10. The Terminator

What was more fun back in the day than watching the future Governor of California struggle through basic dialogue while sporting enormous shades? "I'll be back" was right, and T2 was one of the most anticipated films I remember from high school. Of course, since Ahhnold was a big star with a future in politics he couldn't be the villain anymore, but he still got to shoot a lot of people, and hey, isn't that really the point? As an aside, I have to admit that everyone in the theater wanted to kill Sarah Connor.

9. Dr. Who

We watched a lot of PBS as a kid, in part for the great BBC programming like Monty Python and Fawlty Towers. But the best were the bizarre Dr. Who episodes, with time-travelling phone booths and talking robot dogs and all manner of foolishness. The drawback here was that the scantily-clad babes were British, with all the attendant pitfalls there. Our hands-down favorite was the Tom Baker iteration of the Doctor, with his long scarf and man-fro. The guy with the question marks on his collar didn't quite measure up.

8. Diana
Ah, V. We used to rush home to watch it. V is what Independence Day would have been if Jeff Goldblum and Will Smith hadn't been up to implanting the virus. The aliens win, and take over Earth. They look like us, but wait! Lizards with skin-masks! The worst of these was Diana, the sultry, Dynasty-era brunette who put the itch in bitch when it was revealed she was one of the lizard-types. She was no-holds-barred, hell-on-wheels, and the little-known inspiration for the Sarah Palin character now running for Vice President. The $150,000 clothing allowance must be for the plastic skin masks!

7. Obi-Wan Kenobi

Obi-Wan was on screen in Star Wars for about twenty minutes, and he owned all of them. He is the daddy-mac of Jedi, with mad skills. "These aren't the droids you're looking for". It sucks when he dies, but that's the space opera arc, old guy mentor has to go so young hero can spread his wings (see Half-Blood Prince, Harry Potter and the). Of course, "strike me down now, and I shall become more powerful than you can ever imagine" are pretty awesome last words. Alec Guiness was awesome as old-dude Kenobi, but Ewan McGregor does an unbelievable job in channeling the young Jedi Master. His Revenge of the Sith performance is masterful, torn between duty and love and grief. A great tragic figure in American pop culture, Kenobi is the glue to the Star Wars story, and gets far too little credit.

6. James T. Kirk

Kirk is rather uniformly treated as a caricature, a halting-speech cardboard cutout of a starship lothario. This unfortunately misses the complexity and emotional depth of the character. Captain Kirk had the misfortune of having to carry a prime-time TV series in the late 1960's which meant he spent an inordinate amount of time kissing tin-foil draped hotties and punching a variety of ill-intentioned aliens. Roddenberry intended far more. Kirk was everyman, an Iowa farmboy who chased the stars and was always pushing the horizon. City on the Edge of Forever is the ultimate Kirk episode - he finds an enemy he cannot fight and falls in love with a woman he cannot have. To truly understand the depth of James T. Kirk, see the last ten minutes of that episode. "He knows, Doctor. He knows."
5. Bishop

The Aliens franchise has some very strong suits to recommend it (not including Paul Reiser). Sigourney Weaver's Ripley kicks ass, and the monsters themselves were very scary and ahead of their time from an effects standpoint. For me the coolest player is Lance Henriksen's eerie, discomfiting Bishop. An android, Bishop has one of the best scenes in the whole series when he places his hand atop a human crewmate's and moves a knife between their fingers with blinding speed, horrifying and delighting the crew. The point here is that androids are infallible, though Bishop has nicked one of his own fingers, and the viewer is left to wonder...of course, Bishop manages to save the day in the end despite having been torn in half by a pissed-off alien. Weyland Industries made their androids tough.

4. Han Solo

No one ever wanted to be Luke. Everyone wanted to be Han Solo. Heck, there's a Youtube video of a spoof of Counting Crows' "Mr. Jones" called "Dr. Jones" about everybody's favorite archaeologist, and one of the lyrics is "I want to be Han Solo". Everybody wanted to be Han. Cool, reckless, a crack laser shot and smuggler, everything about Han was awesome. He even speaks Wookiee. Even if Luke hadn't been Leia's brother, Han still would have beat out the whiny kid for her heart. Which, given the steel bikini in Return of the Jedi, is no booby prize. (You see what I did there?)

3. Yoda

Put simply, who doesn't like Yoda? The freakish little toad confused all of us when he poked his head out of the swamps of Dagobah to taunt Luke and R2D2 in Empire Strikes Back. What the hell is this little muppet? But the Jedi guru had us with his syntactically-challenged fortune-cookie snippets of wisdom, his gurgling, inebriated cackle, and his satellite-dish ears. Even now we all know that "there is no try, only do". Of course, his epic lightsaber performance against Palpatine in Revenge of the Sith is one of those MVP-for-a-losing-team moments. And yeah, back in the 80's I had a Yoda magic 8 ball, with answers like "cloudly, your future is". You can't beat that.

2. Spock

Conceived in a time when aliens were always evil, the representation of the cultural other that was to be rejected, when American jingoism and xenophobia was at a zenith it would not reach again until the current neoconservative movement, Spock was a bolt from the blue. Nevermind that he doesn't seem very alien with just some pointed ears and a bad brow job. Nimoy's understated depiction and Roddenberry's splendid vision met at precisely the right moment to create an indelibly cool and relevant character. His death scene with Kirk at the conclusion of Wrath of Khan remains one of the all-time heartrending scenes in the genre. Yeah, Trek was about Kirk and "wagon train to the stars" and all that, but Spock was (and is!) its beating heart.

1. Darth Vader

Without a doubt the pinnacle. For anyone around my age, born in the mid-70s, we can actually recall when Darth Vader was the baddest mo-fo to strut around the galaxy, crushing people's throats with his mind and generally being the boss you didn't want to spill your coffee on. It's hard to imagine now, but we actually were surprised when he turned out to be Luke's dad, and we sat stunned as his redemption came full circle in Return of the Jedi. Most people think the title refers to Luke's resumption of the mantle of Jedi, but I think it means Vader's return from the Sith to the Jedi, as evinced by his appearance at the celebratory fire on Endor's moon that night alongside Yoda and Obi Wan. Undeniably the most complex, epic character the genre has ever seen.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

The Keystone

All right Pennsylvania - I guess it's all up to you. Maintain that double-digit lead for Obama and everybody goes home happy.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008


I've given up trying to understand it.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Don't Vote For Obama

This was posted by a fellow with the screen name of kentuckyscott on DailyKos. I cut and paste it in full here because it so aptly sums up what the entire Obama candidacy represents:

I didn't vote for Obama.
I voted for my ancestors, who believed in the promise of this country and came with with nothing as immigrants.
I voted for my parents, who taught in the public schools for decades.
I voted for Steve, an acquaintance of mine from Kentucky. (Killed by an IED two years ago in Iraq).
I voted for Shawn, another who's been to Iraq twice, and Afghanistan once, and who'll be going back to Afghanistan again soon -- and whose family earned eleven bucks a month too much to qualify for food stamps when the war started.
I voted for April, the only African-American girl in my high school -- it was years before it occurred to me how different her experience of our school must have been.
I voted for my college friends who are Christian, Jewish, Mormon, and yes -- Muslim.
I voted for my grandfathers, who worked hard in factories and died too young.
I voted for the plumber who worked on my house, because I want him to get a REAL tax break.
I voted for four little angels from Birmingham.
I voted for a bunch of dead white men who, although personally flawed, were willing to pledge their lives, fortunes, and sacred honor, and used a time of great crisis to expand freedom rather than suspend it.
I voted for all those people and more, and I voted for all of you, too. But mostly, I voted selfishly. I vote for two little kids, one who has ballet in an hour, and once who has baseball practice at the same time. I voted for a world where they can be confident that their government will represent the best that is in this country, and that will in turn demand the best of them. I voted for a government that will be respected in the world. I voted for an economy that will reward work above guile. I voted for everything I believe in.
Sure, I filled in the circle next to the name Obama, but it wasn't him I was voting for -- it was every single one of us, and those I love most of all.
Who else is there to vote for?