Thursday, November 30, 2006

One of the key elements common to modern journalism, blogging, and political activism is the need to maintain a state of perpetual outrage over trivial matters. Since the election, we liberals have let our outrage slip. Meanwhile, the conservatives are well into the war on Christmas season--the most outraged time of year for them. Those who aren't as deeply motivated by public symbols can still get outraged by a children's movie daring to support a well established scientific theory. We're falling behind. We cannot have an outrage gap.

On Tuesday's Rush Limbaugh Show, the loud-mouthed drug-addict's guest host Roger Hedgecock decided to become outraged over a news program daring to say what everyone already knows, NBC's decision to call the civil war in Iraq a "civil war".
It's now a civil war. Boy, I'm glad we've clarified that. Let's see. Did they call Bosnia and Kosovo a civil war? Huh?

Why, yes, I believe they did. I'm not sure what the point of that is supposed to be.
Did they -- did they call what's going on -- and by the way, the murder rate -- whatever you hear, whenever you hear a story about Baghdad about blowing up, about -- you know, today two car bombs went off in the entire country. The murder rate in Baghdad, the people being killed in Baghdad, is lower than the murder rate of Washington, D.C. Is Washington, D.C., in a civil war? NBC has not called it, so I dare not say.

Let's go back to that claim about the murder rate in Baghdad. According to "estimates from the Brookings Institution's Iraq Indexes from January 30 and November 27 indicate that about 13,300 Iraqi civilians were killed in Baghdad by violence in 2006 through October 15." According to the FBI, Washington, DC had 195 murders in 2005. The entire United States had 16,692 murders in 2005. That means there is a very good chance that the city of Baghdad will have slightly more violent killings this year than the total number of muders in the entire United States last year. Let clarify for those who are hopelessly innumerate, like Mr. Hedgecock (by unlike any of my readers). This does not mean living in Baghdad is just about as safe as the US. The population of Baghdad is around five and a half million and shrinking. The population of the US is around three hundred million and growing. If you live in Baghdad you are fifty-four times more likely to die a violent death this year than if you live in the United States, even if you live in Washington.

Hedgecock's misrepresentation of the facts (a nice way of saying "lying") is, well, outrageous.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

We knew it all along
The Bush base includes the certifiably insane. Really.
A collective “I told you so” will ripple through the world of Bush-bashers once news of Christopher Lohse’s study gets out.

Lohse, a social work master’s student at Southern Connecticut State University, says he has proven what many progressives have probably suspected for years: a direct link between mental illness and support for President Bush.

Lohse says his study is no joke. The thesis draws on a survey of 69 psychiatric outpatients in three Connecticut locations during the 2004 presidential election. Lohse’s study, backed by SCSU Psychology professor Jaak Rakfeldt and statistician Misty Ginacola, found a correlation between the severity of a person’s psychosis and their preferences for president: The more psychotic the voter, the more likely they were to vote for Bush.


“Our study shows that psychotic patients prefer an authoritative leader,” Lohse says. “If your world is very mixed up, there’s something very comforting about someone telling you, ‘This is how it’s going to be.’”

The study was an advocacy project of sorts, designed to register mentally ill voters and encourage them to go to the polls, Lohse explains. The Bush trend was revealed later on.


Lohse says the trend isn’t unique to Bush: A 1977 study by Frumkin & Ibrahim found psychiatric patients preferred Nixon over McGovern in the 1972 election.

There are some very legitimate points to be made about people whose worldviews make them more comfortable in a rigid hierarchy or with a strong leader. But mostly I offer this to make fun of Bush and Republicans. If, however, you want to display the maturity of your observational powers by making those points, I won't stop you.

Update: Orac explains why this might report be too good to be true. Although the data is genuine, Lohse failed to consider explanations other than the one that made us all go "whee."
Weather report (not the band)
There is still snow on the ground in Seattle and the schools are closed. Seattle gets a few days of snow each year and completely closes down when it does. Normally, the snow is big wet flakes and the temperature is barely freezing, so it melts off in a couple hours. Yesterday was a real snow storm. It snowed and the temperature kept dropping. After the front passed, the sky was clear and bright and the temperature was in the teens, which only happens few times in a decade. I love that kind of weather. I went into work for about three hours during the sunlight hours. By the end of the day, most of the main streets were dry, just from the traffic, but the neighborhoods were well polished ice.

Today is the same, with another front moving in. This one is supposed to start out snowy and then warm up, which will mean massive flooding in the county. November is turning out to be the wettest month on record for Seattle. There have been weekly flooding storms. In the county small bridges and culverts have washed out and washed out again. The power has been on and off. In the city, the main flooding is just in basements, the power mostly stays on, and the main traffic problem is the idiot SUV drivers who think they can macho their way through bad road conditions.

I love dramatic weather. If I didn't have to go driving in it, I would really be enjoying this month.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Snow day
It snowed yesterday and got cold enough to stick. Seattle is completely closed down. I once heard that the city only has four snowplows and a few more sanding trucks. That's probably an exaggeration, but not by much. The state takes care of the highways, so interstate commerce continues without a hitch as long as they don't have to enter the city. As an expat Alaskan, I sneer at my wimpy neighbors, but this really is a nasty place in the snow. Seattle is a very hilly town. Even if the city had enough snow-removal equipment and everyone was an experienced snow driver, you wouldn't want to go out in the snow if you could avoid it.

Meanwhile, many of the people who couldn't possibly make their commute can make the fifty mile drive to the ski slopes. I'm at work. My dedication to my employer knows no bounds. At least, that's what I hope everyone thinks. I'm only staying for about three hours to take care of a few tasks that absolutely had to be completed today.

How's the weather where you live?

Monday, November 27, 2006

I'm back
Like many bloggers, I vanished for the weekend to spend Thanksgiving with kin in another part of the country. In my case, Clever Wife and I went to visit my mother on the other side of the state. A nephew, niece, and their partners joined us. Like many Thanksgiving weekends around the country, ours, at least in part, revolved aroung family crises. Among them, my mother is back in chemotherapy. My father died not long before I began blogging and Mom got cancer soon after. My blogging has been interrupted about once a year for a new tumor and course of therapy. Every time it happens, I get more angry at life in general, and less tolerant of the silliness of our leaders and opinion makers. If I'm grumpier than usual for the next few weeks, that's why. At the same time, my job has gone into crazy overtime. If I write less than usual between now and Christmas, that's why. In any case, I might be around less for the next month, but I won't go away. If I give up on blogging about our leaders and stick to woolly mammoths and Nazi Yeti in flying saucers...well, you'll know why.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Carnival of Bad History, Issue 11
Natalie Bennett of Philobiblon has it. This issue covers a nice spread of topics from fossils, to Stonehenge, to mythology, to bad Hitler analogies (a perennial favorite), to the current war in Iraq.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Unfair to ducks
Every Year, Forbes magazine releases its list of the world's richest fictional characters and every year they underestimate the value of Scrooge McDuck. Forbes bases their ranking on changes in the values of stocks and commodities and their own estimate of the contents of each character's portfolio. While this method might create an accurate figure for Oliver Warbucks, Lara Croft, or Lex Luthor, it vastly underestimates the wealth of the richest duck in the world. As Carl Barks made clear decades ago, although McDuck owns most of the industries in Duckburg, the true measure of his wealth is the three cubic acres of cash that he stores in his Money Bin. Three cubic acres of cash amounts to five multiplujillion, nine impossibidillion, seven fantasticatrillion dollars and sixteen cents, and that's a lot more than "Daddy" Warbucks' paltry thirty six billion.
This is just embarrassing
I really hate sharing a nationality with easily panicked cry-babies and those who shame our national values to accommodate them.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations called Tuesday for an investigation into the behavior of airline staff and airport security in the removal of six Muslim scholars from a US Airways flight a day earlier.

A passenger raised concerns about the imams — three of whom said their normal evening prayers in the airport terminal before boarding the Phoenix-bound plane, according to one — through a note passed to a flight attendant, according to Andrea Rader, a spokeswoman for US Airways.


The six were returning from a conference in Minneapolis of the North American Imams Federation, said Omar Shahin of Phoenix, president of the group.


Police were called after the captain and airport security workers asked the men to leave the plane and the men refused, Rader said.

Shahin said no one asked the six to leave until police arrived, when the group complied.

The other passengers on the flight, which was carrying 141 passengers and five crew members, were re-screened for boarding, Rader said. The plane took off about three hours after the men were removed.

Shahin said the group spent the night at the home of a local imam.

When Shahin went back to the airport Tuesday morning, a ticketing agent told him his payment for Monday’s flight had been refunded and the airline wouldn’t sell more tickets to him or the other imams.

To sum up: one passenger saw a group of Muslim men praying before boarding the flight and went into a panic. In response, rather than offering to get that passenger a seat on another flight, US Airways ordered all Muslim men on the plane to leave, called the police when they objected, and banned them from flying on the airline again. The race or religion of the panicked passenger was not given in the story.

Is it the business policy of US Airways to let the most fearful passenger decide who gets to ride on a plane? If I saw three white men with crew cuts praying before boarding a plane and decided they must be insane militia members, would US Airways order all short-haired white men off the plane to make me more comfortable, or would they tell me to get over it or take a different flight? I'm sure the Michelle Malkins of the world will praise US Airways for their cautious and prudent action. After all, "those people" have a history of blowing up buildings full of people. But then so do white guys with crew cuts.

We have long since passed the point where our suspicion and fearfulness are a national embarrassment. We're driving away travelers, who don't want to deal with our rude and suspicious ways. We're driving away students, who find it harder to get a visa. We're building a wall on our border and banning all signs of foreignness. This can't go on. This sort of behavior is going to start seriously damaging our economy ass other countries find ways to do without the United States.

Xenophobia and cowardice are more than a financial liability; they're a blot on our national honor. This kind of behavior is something we should have outgrown generations ago. It's unworthy of us.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Flag foolishness
As a liberal intellectual living the fake America of the coast, I'm told that it's my job to make fun of the good folk living in small towns of the real America. I'm not sure if Nevada really counts as the Heartland, but the news out of Pahrump, Nevada is more than enough to inspire me to mock them.
A Nevada town passed a law this week making it illegal to fly a foreign nation's flag by itself, the latest swipe by a U.S. community at illegal immigrants.

The town council of Pahrump, which lies in the Mojave Desert west of Las Vegas, voted 3-2 on Tuesday to make flying any foreign flag above the U.S. flag or alone an offense punishable by a $50 fine and 30 hours' community service.

We all know that loving America requires one to hate all that is not America, but why have the good Pahrumpians chosen this particular moment to express their patriotic distaste for not-America?
Pahrump resident Michael Miraglia proposed the ban because, he said, he got upset when he saw immigrant activists marching through U.S. cities last spring, waving Mexican flags. Mr. Miraglia told USA Today that he was especially miffed that "we had Mexican restaurants closed that day."

So that's what started all this -- the fact that some guy couldn't get his burrito fix. It's our cultural schizophrenia. Americans love Mexican food, even if they don't always love Mexicans. They never ask themselves: If they succeed in getting rid of all the Mexicans -- as some would, no doubt, like to do -- who's going to make the food?

That last comment came from Ruben Navarrette Jr., an editorialist at CNN. As Mr. Navarrette both has a foreign sounding name and works for the liberal mainstream media, you know he must hate the good, patriotic values of Heartland Americans like the Pahrumpians. And, as a member of the sneering liberal elite, when he wants to sneer at real Americans, he sneers that they must be racist. Does he offer any proof that the Pahrumpians feel any special animosity toward Mexican foreigners? No. The new law makes no distinction between foreign flags; they are all forbidden. I'll bet they get just as upset when Irish foreigners wave their flag during St. Patrick's Day parades in other cities or when Scottish foreigners wave their flag at Highland Games in other cities. They just forgot to mention those outrages at their town council meeting.

So what kind of town is this glowing jewel of American Heartland patriotism? Doing a quick Google search for the latest news out of Pahrump, Nevada, I discovered that this was the big business announcement over the weekend:
Former heavyweight boxing champion Michael Gerard Tyson 'Mike Tyson' recently accepted an offer from Heidi Fleiss to be a male escort at her legalized brothel for women.

The Hollywood madam Heidi Fleiss "Los Feliz" who was convicted in connection with a prostitution ring which serviced famous and wealthy clients that included charges of pandering and tax evasion plans to open a 60 acre brothel for women in Pahrump, Nevada called "Heidi's Stud Farm" where the 40 year-old stud Mike Tyson will be one of the main courses.

One ex-felon has hired another ex-felon to be the star attraction in a business that is illegal in forty-nine states, but allowed in Nevada. At least all involved are Americans.

All sneering aside, isn't it time we did something about public servants who pass obviously unconstitutional laws just to pander to the electorate and make a point. It's a waste of everybody’s time and money. How much money did the Dover, PA school district spend because some fundamentalist board members wanted to make a religious statement? How much did it cost South Dakota to vote on their illegal abortion ban? How much will it cost Pahrump do defend themselves the fist time they try to enforce their flag law and someone decides to fight it up the appeal chain? Will even the tax revenue from Mike Tyson's stud services pay for a Supreme Court battle (not that I think it will get that far).

We will never stop our elected officials and wannabe elected officials from pandering. Okay, let them pass non-binding resolutions: "Be it resolved, we think our flag is best." This kind of nonsense only wastes a little time and doesn't incur enormous legal expenses on small towns that have better things on which spend their money. At the same time, let’s have a law that lets the taxpayers sue the legislators for the money that cost the town in defending their clearly unconstitutional laws. Or better yet, let’s have a law that removes from office and forever bans from office anyone who proposes or votes for this kind of expensive nonsense.

It would be the patriotic thing to do.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

The real race
Even though the presidential primary season is only a couple of days old, the outlines of the race are already emerging. For the forseeable future, the most excing race in town will be that between John "Straight Speaker" McCain and Rudy "America's Mayor" Giuliani as they see who can turn their back on long-held positions the fastest and whore themselves the most completely as they seek the approval of the most retrograde and contemptable elements in their party.

Friday, November 17, 2006

No bias here
Zuska and Dr. Free-Ride both have a few words to say about this rather silly article in the Cornell American. The article is a glib commentary on a recent report about gender bias in academic science and engineering published by the National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, and Institute of Medicine.

The article, written by a freshman, engineering student named Rachel Brenc, is pretty standard young conservative fare. Ms. Brenc claims that gender bias is a thing of the past, the memory of which is kept alive by a group of ugly, aging feminists with hairy legs. Her writing has the usual self-satisfied and mocking tone that young conservative newspapers always have and contains little real analysis. Life has been easy for Ms. Brenc and she has time to worry or care about those for whom it has been harder.

Brenc's mocking of feminism tips over into outright misogyny--again, as is typical for the genre--and Zuska very rightly takes her to task for it.
What is really sad, however, is the hatred of women and consequent self-loathing it implies that comes across so strongly in your article. You say that the women who wrote the report must hate young women like you, but you are the one who makes remarks like "it was reported that the lone man on the committee stumbled out of each meeting covered with whip marks and had to sprint to an emergency estrogen removal station to keep his testosterone level in check". It would take a week to explain to you all the woman-hating packed into that one sentence: that women are a threat to men, that too-many women will emasculate a man, that women want to keep men pussy-whipped, that women want to control men, that women are, in general, evil. Or how about "Maybe if there were more men on the committee the incorporated technology would actually work". Is that what you are going to tell your interviewers come job search time? That, in general, you can't trust technology designed by women to function properly? Do you really believe such nonsense? Do you really hate yourself and other women so much?

We don't need to go far to get a clue about the source of Brenc's self-loathing and insecurity.
I was encouraged to go into the field based on my abilities in math and science. And nobody has ever said, “You can’t do this because you’re female.”

Men, in fact, are probably at a disadvantage now through our ugly friend known as reverse discrimination, because every company has been getting the signal from headquarters to start hiring more females. In fact, I’ve got it made. As an attractive, professional female chemical engineer attempting to graduate a year early from Cornell, I find it hard to believe I couldn’t get a job or professor status before a good majority of males.

The fact that she needs to point out that she is, in her own completely unbiased (because bias no longer exists) opinion, "attractive" is the telling point. She may want to believe that her present good fortune is based on her "abilities in math and science" but she knows her future fortune might be based on something as random and passing as her pretty face, full hair, and perky breasts. These things are just good luck and not due to any particular virtue on her part. And, as attractiveness is something our culture ties directly to youth, it's all down hill from here.

This is mostly speculation on my part, but I hope it's true because it's the kindest interpretation I can give to her words. The harsher interpretation is that, like many privileged conservatives, she's got hers and she doesn't give a damn about anybody else. Dr. Free-Ride suggests that Brenc's attitude is that "since she hasn't noticed discrimination, it must not exist." I think she has noticed and experienced discrimination but, till now, it's been in Brenc's favor and, again, the hell with anybody who didn't share her luck. The less privileged and more empathetic are just here to be stepped on and mocked when they complain.

Maybe Rachel Brenc is just young and silly and will grow out of this someday, but I won't put money on that bet. Privilege and self-righteousness are powerful aphrodisiacs.
Evolution in action
It was either that headline or something about going off half cocked.
A botched kidnapping ended with one of the assailants shooting himself in the groin, police said.

The man had just stuck the gun in his waistband when it fired, shooting him in the left testicle, authorities said. He cringed, causing the gun to fire again and strike him in the left calf, they said.
Nature story with a bad ending
Shelley Batts over at Retrospectacle! points us to this unfolding tragedy in the far north.
Arctic hunters reluctantly gathered their harpoons and rifles Thursday to kill dozens of beluga whales that have been trapped for weeks in saltwater lakes and now have only one small air hole through the ice remaining.

Inuit living near Tuktoyaktuk, in Canada's far Northwest Territories, had hoped the belugas would find their way back to the Beaufort Sea before ice blocked the way out. Many did not make it and they are trapped, having to share a small hole in the ice.


About 200 beluga were first spotted in early August by hunters in the Husky Lakes area south of Tuktoyaktuk, a string of saltwater inlets north of the Arctic Circle that are linked to the ocean through a 300-meter-wide [980-foot-wide] channel.

There still were about 80 of the white mammals left in the lakes by late October, but the lakes and the channel are quickly freezing over and the whales' air hole shrinking.

Residents were cheering for the belugas to escape, even though each animal could provide enough meat and "muktuk" -- skin and blubber usually served raw -- to last a couple of large families through the winter.

But officials determined that escape was now impossible and the whales would suffocate or starve.

The beluga is nothing more than a big white dolphin. They are white and clean looking that they are quite stunning to see in the wild. My family's cabin in Alaska is at a place called Beluga and we can see dozens of them feeding during the salmon run each summer. Although we call them whales, belugas are small enough for orcas and even polar bears to kill and eat. There are about 35,000 belugas worldwide, but some individual populations, like those in the St. Lawrence River and Cook Inlet have declined to the point where they are considered endangered by biologists.

The article doesn't exactly make clear why the Tuktoyaktuk Inuit are reluctant to kill the belugas. After all, this is free food to them. Leaving aside the spiritual aspect, which is still very real for most Inuit, there is a tragic, practical aspect to this. Most native northern peoples are to some extent still subsistence hunters. They know that next year's food supply depends on enough belugas escaping to breed and return next year. There are fewer than a thousand people in Tuktoyaktuk. This number of whales is more than they can eat. At the most practical level, killing these whales is wasted food.

When I lived in Alaska, I would see this tragedy of a bunch of belugas getting caught in the ice happen every few years. It always made the news. In 1985, 3000 belugas were trapped off the coast of Siberia. Local hunters alerted Moscow and the Soviets dispatched one of their giant ice-breakers to open a path. The noise of the ship frightened the whales, but they were finally induced to follow the ship when the crew played classical music over the ship's loud speakers.

There is nothing unique to the north about that attention. Endangered animals bring out the empathy in people. Two weeks ago the attention of the Dutch was riveted on a group of horses trapped on a tiny island by a heavy winter storm. Animal abuse stories in the local news always generate enraged letters to the editor.

It looks like there will be no dramatic rescue for these belugas. The best that the hunters of Tuktoyaktuk can offer is to stop their suffering.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

No more hunger in the USA
"What?" you say. "When did that happen? I'm sure there are still hungry people in the USA." According to the US Department of Agriculture's annual report 35 million people could not provide food for themselves or their families for at least part of last year. In the past, the USDA described that condition as "hungry." This year those people are merely experiencing "low food security" or "very low food security."
Mark Nord, the lead author of the report, said "hungry" is "not a scientifically accurate term for the specific phenomenon being measured in the food security survey." Nord, a USDA sociologist, said, "We don't have a measure of that condition."

The USDA said that 12 percent of Americans -- 35 million people -- could not put food on the table at least part of last year. Eleven million of them reported going hungry at times. Beginning this year, the USDA has determined "very low food security" to be a more scientifically palatable description for that group.


Three years ago, the USDA asked the Committee on National Statistics of the National Academies "to ensure that the measurement methods USDA uses to assess households' access -- or lack of access -- to adequate food and the language used to describe those conditions are conceptually and operationally sound."

Among several recommendations, the panel suggested that the USDA scrap the word hunger, which "should refer to a potential consequence of food insecurity that, because of prolonged, involuntary lack of food, results in discomfort, illness, weakness, or pain that goes beyond the usual uneasy sensation."

I know that condition might sound like hunger to you or to me, but we lack the scientific and political sophistication that permeates the Bush administration. These are the same people who dealt with global warming by changing all of those alarming statements that melting ice caps "will" cause coastal flooding into much more comforting statements that melting ice caps "might" cause coastal flooding. These are the same people who make sure the Untied States isn't a torturing country by periodically redefining torture.

The USDA has a goal of cutting the number of people experiencing "low food security" (hunger to you and me) in half by the year 2010, despite the fact that the number has been rising since the Bush administration took over. Maybe they can meet that goal by redefining hunger to "pain equal to or greater than that experienced during major organ failure."

It's been said before, but it always bears repeating: 1984 was supposed to be a warning, not a how-to manual.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

I have a question
I was reading the New York Times this morning and noticed a story about the Florida prison system. It appears that the state courts have ordered the prisons to give better mental health care to the prisoners, but with the state mental health system overcrowded, the prisons have been slow to do so. Now the court has declared the prison system in contempt and has begun to levy fines.

Here's the question: when one branch of the government fines another, where does the money go? I've never thought about this before. Is there a special fund that fines go to? I now have my co-workers puzzling over this, so if you know the answer, please help us.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Olduvai George is back!
Olduvai George, AKA Carl Buell, is posting again after an eight month absence. It sounds as if his life isn't all beer and skittles yet, but it's in enough balance that he can give us some landscapes, fish, and, my favorite, some big quaternary mammals. Here's hoping things continue to get better and we hear more from him. Go say hi and welcome back.

Friday, November 10, 2006

What's next
I suppose most of us would like a respite from electoral politics for a moment. Unfortunately, nowadays elections never really stop. We have a few months before the serious campaigning begins, but here are a few questions we should keep in the back of our minds until we get sucked back into the maelstrom.

  • The Presidency. This one will be the first to shove it's way into our lives. Heck, the pros started handicapping possible contenders two years ago. Santorum and Allen have already been knocked out of the running by their disastrous Senate races. The press narrative is already portraying this as a Clinton and McCain race with the primary anti-Clinton and anti-McCain yet to emerge. When I look at the potential Democratic slate, I see a lot of great vice presidential candidates and no outstanding presidential candidates.
  • The House. I see two questions here. The first is what will the party do to protect its new members and help their re-election. This is highly dependent on what the final convention wisdom from the election is. If it's the victory of common-sense conservatism, expect a very cautious House and an agenda to the liking of the pundits and DLC. If the lesson is seen as the rejection of Bush and the far right, expect a little more liberal and adventurous House. The other House question is which seats will be the main targets of both parties in two years. We can expect a few Republicans, who don't want to be in the minority, to announce their retirement and we can expect a few more to resign in disgrace as some of the current scandals play out. Other than that, the House is way too early to predict.
  • The Senate. Since only a third of the Senate runs in each election, we will have a completely different slate next time and it's a small enough group that we can begin handicapping them now. One wild card is who might drop out to run for the Presidency. Kos has handicapped the seats already and I pretty much agree with his evaluation. A Franken / Coleman race in Minnesota is sure to be the most fun. Mary Landrieu of Louisiana is probably the most endangered Democrat, John Sununu in New Hampshire the Republican. The only thing that will remove Ted Stevens of Alaska would be retirement or death, and even the latter is iffy since Alaska is one of that select group of states that has elected a dead man to congress (Nick Beigich in 1972). Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma is the Republican I most want to see eliminated.
  • The States. This could be interesting. The Democrats picked up six governorships and a couple hundred state house seats this year. The governors elected in '08 will be the ones in office during the redistricting following the 2001 census. I think both parties are now forward-thinking enough to plan for that.

Besides picking our candidates and races, I think the most valuable thing most of could do is to help shape the conventional wisdom. We blog, we write letters to the editor, we talk up our relatives, neighbors, and co-workers. We should try to take down the straight talking St. McCain and the weak-on-defense Democrats narratives. It's never too soon to start casting doubt on the Republicans we plan to target; broken promises are the most effective critique. And, of course it's never too soon to start talking up the candidates we support.

Outside of actual election campaigns, the best thing any of us could do would be to work to clean up the whole election process and help restore confidence in the system. Get rid of touch-screen systems. Even if no one was cheating, the systems are still crap; they don't work as advertised. Get rid of partisan redistricting and off-decade redistricting in all states (it has to be all states, just reforming our states and letting them cheat in their states is suicide). Reform registration and voting processes to help the largest number of citizens vote, not to disenfranchise the "wrong" voters (according to the party in power).

There's lots to do, but first we need to take a few days off. I'm going to go read about mammoths and Nazi flying saucers.
Here's a ticket I can get behind
I just saw a "Stewart / Colbert '08" bumpersticker.
Fair is fair
If they're not winning, they're whining.
A Mississippi congressman says Rep. Charles Rangel of New York owes the Southern state an apology, and he asks if insults are what Mississippi should expect when Democrats take over leadership in Congress.

Rangel, a Democrat, was quoted in The New York Times on Thursday saying: "Mississippi gets more than their fair share back in federal money, but who the hell wants to live in Mississippi?"

Rangel said he didn't intend to insult the state, but Rep. Chip Pickering, R-Mississippi, issued a sharp statement criticizing the choice of words.

"I hope his remarks are not the kind of insults, slander and defamation that Mississippians will come to expect from the Democrat leadership in Washington, D.C.," Pickering said.

I think the Democrats in congress should give Mississippi the same respect that the Republicans in congress gave to Massachutsetts and San Francisco when they were in charge. It's all about mutual respect.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

The real Hindrocket
This just in from Sunderland Today:
AN idiotic prank backfired when a man tried to launch a firework from his bottom in a movie-style stunt.

The dangerous stunt mimicked a shocking scene from the controversial film Jackass: The Movie.

The 22-year-old is understood to be recovering at Sunderland Royal Hospital after sustaining horrific internal injuries.


A spokeswoman for the North East Ambulance Service (NEAS) said: "We received a call at 9.38pm and a crew from our Pallion station was sent out.

"The report stated there was a male who had a firework in his bottom and it was bleeding. He was attended to and taken to Sunderland Royal Hospital."

For more details (because inquiring minds need to know) we turn to The Times:
Witness Daniel Kassim, 16, said: "There were around 40 of us at a bonfire on Dundas Road.

"After the fire had finished we were hanging around setting off fireworks. The lad was saying, ‘This is boring, what can we do?’ He then decided to put a rocket up his backside and set it off.

"Everyone was just laughing and didn’t believe he would do it but he pulled his trousers down, placed the firework and someone lit it.

"It exploded within a few seconds and he fell to the ground. No one thought he was hurt, we all thought it was hilarious.

It's all fun and games until someone blows their ass off.
A spokesman for the North East Ambulance Service (NEAS) said the prank could have been fatal.

Douglas McDougal, from the NEAS, said: "We received a call stating there was a male who had a firework in his bottom and it was bleeding.

"He sustained fairly significant injuries in the fact that there's huge damage to that particular area."

Mr McDougal added: "Potentially it could have been a fatal incident.

"There's a lot of major blood vessels round that area, so infection would probably be a huge problem for him.

"And also the body naturally produces methane gas, so combine that with the firework and the exploding effect with methane's flammability - it certainly could have been a lot worse than it really was."

A spokesman for the Firework Association described the bizarre prank as "beyond belief".

Remember kids, Smokey's friends don't play with matches and there's a reason why they call that show Jackass.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Happy news
Rumsfeld has resigned and Bush has nominated Robert Gates to replace him. Gates was the head of the CIA in daddy’s administration. The best thing about this nomination is that he’s not Lieberman. I had feared that Bush might nominate Lieberman to the Defense Department. If Lieberman left the Senate for a cabinet position, the Republican governor of Connecticut would get to name his replacement, returning a seat to the Republicans. This would have given Lieberman the chance to support the war to his heart’s content and screw over the rest of the Democratic Party. But, since Bush nominated someone else, that bit of treachery won’t happen.
Worst case scenario
The election turned out better than I dared hope for, but I still have one little bit of pessimism to unload. Right now the news is calling the Senate a 49-49 split with two races undecided. Those two are Montana and Virginia. The count actually has the Democrats, Tester and Webb, narrowly ahead in both races. The Montana race appears to be beyond the range of a recount, but it might be possible for Allen to get a recount in Virginia. Virginia law states that the election has to be certified before they start any recounts. That takes us up to the beginning of December. If Allen decides to call for multiple recounts and lawsuits he could drag this into January and beyond.

If the new Senate is sworn in without the junior Senator from Virginia, it will only have 99 members. That would seem to give the Democrats a 50-49 majority for the leadership vote. But that's not actually the case. Those fifty Senators, who most pundits are counting as Democrats, actually include two Independents, Bernie Sanders and Joe Lieberman. Sanders is no problem; he will caucus with the Democrats. Lieberman is another matter. Although he has said he will caucus with the Democrats, he is a very bitter man. That means the actual vote will be 49-49 with Lieberman holding the tie-breaker vote. There is a very good chance that he would throw the Senate back to the Republicans out of spite toward his Democratic colleagues who had the gall to support the Democratic nominee in Connecticut.

Why, you might ask, is this worse than the Republicans keeping power through an out and out majority? The Lieberman case is worse than that because it means Lieberman will be in our face twenty-four hours a day for the next two years. Both sides will have to suck up to him over the leadership vote. We will be subjected to the news outlets reporting every syllable of his Hamlet-like anguishing over the leadership vote. Whatever he does, we can be sure it will result in his getting a very public position from which to continue in his role as the chief moral scold of Congress. We will have to listen to his self-righteous and whiny sermons every day for the next two years.

Wouldn't you rather have a plain old Republican majority than a Republican majority starring Joe Lieberman? Me too.

PS - I'm a little rusty on the exact details of Senate procedure. It might be that this scenario isn't possible for some reason. If I'm wrong, I'll welcome the correction. Meanwhile, that's enough election pessimism for now. I'm going to find some nice things to talk about.

Update - The news networks are all calling the Montana race for Tester. Now if someone can just get Allen to give up.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Doing our patriotic duty
Clever Wife and I both like voting at the polls. In the past we've had to wait over an hour to do so, but we like the patriotic experience. She comes from an old union family and I come from an old farming family and we both regard voting as both a duty and a social bonding experience.

Though we both now live in a precinct where our opinion is the majority, we both spent a large part of our grown-up lives as minority voters. That is, we both spent years going to the polls knowing we would lose, knowing that our votes wouldn't matter, yet feeling it was important to go to the polls and say, "we are here." This is the nature of democracy. In any mob ruled fascist state the majority can intimidate the majority into silence. Majority rule is not the key to a democracy; respect for the minority is. We have always known this and, thus, we have always enjoyed voting. Just as we have always enjoyed jury duty: yes we lose money, but we get to make our opinion part of our society. I suppose the rituals of democracy are less important to the rich because they have more effective ways of influencing society. To be crude, voting and serving on juries is our way of saying, "fuck you" to the rich. The populist in me likes that idea.

The polls just closed. Let's go see what happened.
Don't cry for me Pennsylvania*
Rick Santorum is on the tube right now making his concession speech. He started out classy and then got smarmy and then I left the room, so I can't say what the full effect of his speech will be. He was the one Republican everyone gave the worst odds of survival to. As a partisan Democrat and a godless secularist I'm happy to see him gone. But as a liberal, I find myself tempted to share his pain over this loss. We liberals are like that. If you are a sensitive liberal, let me say, don't cry for Rick Santorum. From a financial point of view, this will probably amount to a promotion for him. With his knowledge of K Street and his connections with the Republican Party, he will probably roll over into a high-paying lobbyist job long before you or I even roll over our mattresses. If the GOP and its business allies choose to be vindictive and punish those who lost power by representing them too accurately, then Rick might still find an obscenely prosperous career as a televangelist. He might need to invest in some hair mousse to really fill the role, but his white-bread good looks and big teeth give him a step up on most competitors. His options are many; don't cry for him Pennsylvania.

* I know I won't be the only blogger to use this joke (because it's pretty obvious) and I won't be the best-trafficked to use it, but I thought I'd take a shot at being the first to use it. Or at least the first in my time zone. The first in the 7th congressional district of Washington?
In case you needed a good reason
The nice folks over at Think Progress have provided us with 109 reasons to dump the 109th Congress. I'm sure you can think of a few more while you fill out your ballot.

1. Congress set a record for the fewest number of days worked — 218 between the House and Senate combined. [Link]

2. The Senate voted down a measure that urged the administration to start a phased redeployment of U.S. forces out of Iraq by the end of 2006. [Link]

3. Congress failed to raise the minimum wage, leaving it at its lowest inflation-adjusted level since 1955. [Link]

4. Congress gave itself a two percent pay raise. [Link]

5. There were 15,832 earmarks totaling $71 billion in 2006. (In 1994, there were 4,155 earmarks totaling $29 billion.) [Link]

6. Congress turned the tragic Terri Schiavo affair into a national spectacle because, according to one memo, it was “a great political issue” that got “the pro-life base…excited.” [Link]

7. The chairman of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works thinks global warming is the “greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people.” [Link]

8. The House leadership held open a vote for 50 minutes to twist arms and pass a bill that helped line the pockets of energy company executives. [Link]

9. Congress fired the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, the lone effective federal watchdog for Iraq spending, effective Oct. 1, 2007. [Link]

10. The Chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee thinks the Internet is “a series of tubes.” [Link]

11. Congress established the pay-to-play K Street corruption system which rewarded lobbyists who made campaign contributions in return for political favors doled out by conservatives. [Link]

12. The lobbying reform bill Congress passed was a total sham. [Link]

13. Rep. Jean Schmidt (R-OH) shamefully attacked Rep. John Murtha (D-PA) on the House floor, telling him that “cowards cut and run, Marines never do.” [Link]

14. Congress passed budgets that resulted in deficits of $318 billion and $250 billion. [Link]

15. House Majority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) said Donald Rumsfeld “is the best thing that’s happened to the Pentagon in 25 years.” [Link]

16. House Intelligence Committee Chairman Pete Hoekstra (R-MI) baselessly announced that “we have found the WMD in Iraq.” [Link]

17. Congress passed a special-interest, corporate-friendly Central American trade deal (CAFTA) after holding the vote open for one hour and 45 minutes to switch the vote of Rep. Robin Hayes (R-NC). [Link]

18. Senate conservatives threatened to use the “nuclear option” to block members of the Senate from filibustering President Bush’s judicial nominees. [Link]

19. Congress stuck in $750 million in appropriations bills “for projects championed by lobbyists whose relatives were involved in writing the spending bills.” [Link]

20. The typical Congressional work week is late Tuesday to noon on Thursday. [Link]

21. Congress has issued zero subpoenas to the Bush administration. [Link]

22. Congress eliminated the Perkins college loan program and cut Pell Grants by $4.6 billion. [Link]

23. Rep. Don Sherwood (R-PA) paid $500,000 to settle a lawsuit alleging that he stranged his 29-year-old mistress. [Link]

24. Congress decreased the number of cops on the streets by cutting nearly $300 million in funding for the Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) program. [Link]

25. In a debate last year over the reauthorization of the Patriot Act, the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee abruptly cut off the microphones when Democrats began discussing the treatment of detainees at Guantanamo Bay. [Link]

26. Just two out of 11 spending bills have made it out of Congress this year. [Link]

27. 1,502 U.S. troops have died in Iraq since Congress convened. [Link]

28. The House Ethics Committee is “broken,” according to the Justice Department. [Link]

29. The FBI continues to investigate Rep. Curt Weldon’s (R-PA) willingness to trade his political influence for lucrative lobbying and consulting contracts for his daughter. [Link]

30. Congress failed to protect 58.5 million acres of roadless areas to logging and road building by repealing the Roadless Rule. [Link]

31. Congress spent weeks debating a repeal of the estate tax (aka the Paris Hilton Tax), which affects a miniscule fraction of the wealthiest Americans. [Link]

32. The percentage of Americans without health insurance hit a record-high, as Congress did nothing to address the health care crisis. [Link]

33. Both the House and Senate voted to open up our coasts to more oil drilling, “by far the slowest, dirtiest, most expensive way to meet our energy needs.” [Link]

34. Congress stripped detainees of the right of habeas corpus. [Link]

35. The House fell 51 votes short of overriding President Bush’s veto on expanding federal funding of embryonic stem cell research. [Link]

36. Only 16 percent of Americans think Congress is doing a good job. [Link]

37. Congress confirmed far-right activist Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito. [Link]

38. Congress spent days debating a constitutional amendment that would criminalize desecration of the U.S. flag, the first time in 214 years that the Bill of Rights would have been restricted by a constitutional amendment. [Link]

39. Congress raised the debt limit by $800 billion, to $9 trillion. [Link]

40. Rep. Charles Taylor (R-NC) earmarked $11.4 million for a highway to increase the property values in a rural area where he owned land. [Link]

41. Congress passed an energy bill that showered $6 billion in subsidies on polluting oil and gas firms while doing little to curb energy demand or invest in renewable energy industries. [Link]

42. Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-CA) used his seat on the House Appropriations Committee to steer earmarks towards to one of his closest friends and major campaign contributor. [Link]

43. Congress passed a strict bankruptcy bill making it harder for average people to recover from financial misfortune by declaring bankruptcy, even if they are victims of identity theft, suffering from debilitating illness, or serving in the military. [Link]

44. The House passed a bill through committee that that would “essentially replace” the 1973 Endangered Species Act with something “far friendlier to mining, lumber and other big extraction interests that find the original act annoying.” [Link]

45. Rep. Ken Calvert (R-CA) earmarked funds to increase the property value of lands that he later sold for a profit. [Link]

46. House Majority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) distributed a memo urging colleagues to exploit 9/11 to defend Bush’s Iraq policy. [Link]

47. Congress repeatedly failed to pass port security provisions that would require 100 percent scanning of containers bound for the United States. [Link]

48. Ex-House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-TX) declared an “ongoing victory” in his effort to cut spending, and said “there is simply no fat left to cut in the federal budget.” [Link]

49. Congress allowed Rep. Bob Ney (R-OH) stay in Congress for a month after pleading guilty in the Jack Abramoff investigation. [Link]

50. Congress didn’t investigate Tom DeLay and let him stay in Congress as long as he wanted. [Link]

51. The Justice Department and the Securities and Exchange Commission are investigating the Senate Majority Leader’s sale of HCA stock a month before its value fell by nine percent. [Link]

52. Congressional conservatives pressured the Director of National Intelligence to make public documents found in Iraq that included instructions to build a nuclear bomb. [Link]

53. Conservatives repeatedly tried to privatize Social Security, a change that would lead to sharp cuts in guaranteed benefits. [Link]

54. Congress is trying to destroy net neutrality. [Link]

55. Rep. Katherine Harris (R-FL) accepted contributions from disgraced lobbyist Mitchell Wade and MZM, Inc., her largest campaign contributor, in return for a defense earmark. [Link]

56. Former Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham (R-CA) was sentenced to eight years federal prison for taking $2.4 million in bribes in exchange for lucrative defense contracts, among other crimes. [Link]

57. Congress passed a $286 billion highway bill in 2005 stuffed with 6,000 pork projects. [Link]

58. House Intelligence Committee Chairman Peter Hoekstra (R-MI) abused his power and suspended a Democratic staffer in an act of retribution. [Link]

59. Congress failed to offer legal protections to states that divest from the Sudan. [Link]

60. The Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Ted Stevens (R-AK) tried to earmark $223 million to build a bridge to nowhere. [Link]

61. Congress spent days debating an anti-gay constitutional ban on same-sex marriage. [Link]

62. Congress isn’t doing anything significant to reverse catastrophic climate change. [Link]

63. House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-IL) secured a federal earmark to increase the property value of his land and reap at least $1.5 million in profits. [Link]

64. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN) used a video tape “diagnosis” to declare that Terri Schiavo, who was later found to be blind, “certainly seems to respond to visual stimuli.” [Link]

65. Rep. Mark Foley (R-FL) resigned in disgrace after ABC News revealed explicit instant messages exchanges between Foley and former congressional pages. [Link]

66. Half of all Americans believe most members of Congress are corrupt. [Link]

67. Rep. Marilyn Musgrave (R-CO) said that gay marriage “is the most important issue that we face today.” [Link]

68. The House voted against issuing a subpoena seeking all reconstruction contract communications between Cheney’s office and Halliburton. [Link]

69. Sen. Conrad Burns (R-MT) told a Virginia-based volunteer firefighting team they had done a “piss-poor job” in fighting wildfires in Montana. [Link]

70. The House voted against amendments prohibiting monopoly contracts and requiring congressional notification for Department of Defense contracts worth more than $1 million. [Link]

71. Congress failed to pass comprehensive immigration reform. [Link]

72. During a floor debate on embryonic stem cell research, Sen. Sam Brownback (R-KS) held up a picture of an embryo drawn by a 7-year-old girl. Brownback explained that one of the embryos in the picture was asking, “Are you going to kill me?” [Link]

73. Sen. George Allen (R-VA) used the slur “macaca” to describe an opposing campaign staffer of Indian descent, and has been repeatedly accused by former associates of using racial epithets to refer to African-Americans. [Link]

74. Congress refused to swear in oil executives testifying about high prices. [Link]

75. Against congressional rules, ex-House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-TX) accepted expensive foreign trips funded by Jack Abramoff. [Link]

76. Rep. Steve King (R-IA) went on the House floor to unveil a fence that he “designed” for the southern border. King constructed a model of the fence as he said, “We do this with livestock all the time.” [Link]

77. Ex-House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-TX) threatened the judges who ruled in the Terri Schiavo case, saying the “time will come” for them “to answer for their behavior.” [Link]

78. Congressional conservatives wanted to investigate Sandy Berger, but not the Iraq war. [Link]

79. Rep. Gary Miller (R-CA) engaged in crooked land deals with campaign donors. [Link]

80. Not a single non-appropriations bill was open to amendment in the second session of the Congress. [Link]

81. House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-IL) claimed that supporters of Bush’s Iraq policy “show the same steely resolve” as did the passengers on United 93. [Link]

82. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN) appeared with prominent Christian conservatives in a telecast portraying opponents of Bush’s judicial nominees as “against people of faith.” [Link]

83. Under the guise of “tort reform,” Congress passed legislation that would “undermine incentives for safety” and make it “harder for some patients with legitimate but difficult claims to find legal representation.” [Link]

84. Despite multiple accidents in West Virginia and elsewhere, Congress passed legislation that failed to adequately protect mine workers. [Link]

85. House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-IL) said “if you earn $40,000 a year and have a family of two children, you don’t pay any taxes,” even though it isn’t true. [Link]

86. Monthly Medicare Part B premiums have almost doubled since 2000, from $45.50 in 2000 to $88.50 in 2006. [Link]

87. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN) and House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-IL) inserted a provision in the Defense Appropriations bill that granted vaccine manufactures near-total immunity for injuries or deaths, even in cases of “gross negligence.” [Link]

88. Congress appropriated $700 million for a “railroad to nowhere, but just $173 million to stop the genocide in Darfur. [Link]

89. Congress included a $500 million giveaway to defense giant Northup Grumman in a bill that was supposed to provide “emergency” funding for Iraq, even though the Navy opposed the payment. [Link]

90. Ex-Rep. Bob Ney (R-OH), who has since pled guilty to talking bribes, was put it charge briefing new lawmakers “on congressional ethics.” [Link]

91. Rep. Lynn Westmoreland (R-GA) can’t tell the difference between the Voting Rights Act and the Stamp Act. [Link]

92. Three days before Veterans Day — House Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Steve Buyer (R-IN) announced that for the first time in at least 55 years, “veterans service organizations will no longer have the opportunity to present testimony before a joint hearing of the House and Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committees.” [Link]

93. Members were caught pimping out their offices with $5,700 plasma-screen televisions, $823 ionic air fresheners, $975 window blinds, and $623 popcorn machines. [Link]

94. House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-IL) skipped a vote on Katrina relief to attend a fundraiser. [Link]

95. Congress made toughening horse slaughtering rules the centerpiece of its agenda after returning from summer recess this year. [Link]

96. Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) wants to send 20,000 more troops into the middle of a civil war in Iraq. [Link]

97. Katrina victims were forced to take out ad space to “plead[] with Congress to pay for stronger levees.” [Link]

98. Congress passed the REAL ID Act, “a national ID law that will drive immigrants underground, while imposing massive new burdens on everyone else.” [Link]

99. Congress extended tax cuts that provided an average of $20 relief but an average of nearly $42,000 to those earning over $1 million a year. [Link]

100. Congress received a “dismal” report card from the 9/11 Commission — five F’s, 12 D’s, nine C’s, and only one A-minus — for failing to enact the commission’s recommendations. [Link]

101. Congress won’t let the government negotiate lower prices for prescription drugs for people on Medicare. [Link]

102. Congress has left America’s chemical plants vulnerable to terrorist attack. [Link]

103. Sen. Ted Stevens (R-AK) “threw the senatorial version of a hissy fit” when he threatened to resign unless the Senate approved funding for his bridge to nowhere. [Link]

104. Congress didn’t simplify the tax code. [Link]

105. Seventy-five percent voters can’t name one thing Congress has accomplished. [Link]

106. House Majority Leader John Boehner (R-OH), has “raised campaign contributions at a rate of about $10,000 a day since February, surpassing the pace set by former Representative Tom DeLay.” [Link]

107. Congress failed to ensure Government Accountability Office oversight of Hurricane Katrina relief funds, resulting in high levels of waste, fraud, and abuse. [Link]

108. When a reporter asked Rep. Don Young (R-AK) if he would redirect spending on his bridge projects to Katrina victim housing, Young said, “They can kiss my ear!” [Link]

109. There were just 12 hours of hearings on Abu Ghraib. (There were more than 100 hours of hearings on alleged misuse of the Clinton Christmas card list.) [Link]

According to my clock, it is now election day.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Just another suppress the vote effort
For some reason the White House thought it was important to let us know that Cheney will spend Election Day on a hunting trip. I suppose they hope that the thought of Cheney lurking out there with a shotgun will be enough to keep the more timid Democrats home. If anyone is afraid Cheney might be hunting Democrats, they need not be. Cheney doesn't hunt--at least not in any meaningful sense of the way that word is used in places like Wyoming. Cheney just stands around with his business associates and friends waiting for the servants to herd or release tame target game in front of his gun. He's sort of like fellow red-stater Troy Gentry in that. The thing to remember is that Cheney can't hunt unless someone first ctaches the game for him. Whatever you do, don't get into a car with any strange Republicans tomorrow. Other than that, we have nothing to fear but Diebold itself.
Prediction with numbers
My last prediction was one of tone: I don't expect to win big and even if we win big, it won't bring about the millennium. I suppose it's not really fair to make a prediction that isn't specific. You folks deserve the opportunity to laugh at me when I get it completely wrong. So, here it is.

In the Senate, I think the Democrats have a better than fifty-fifty chance in three races: Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Rhode Island. That's a minimum of three that we gain. Three other races are at about fifty-fifty: Montana, Virginia, and Missouri. I think we'll take at least one of these and probably two. I see a big gap between those and the next level of pick-up possibilities which are places like Tennessee, Arizona, and Nevada. I don't actually see us gaining any of those. As for possible losses, the two most likely, New Jersey and Maryland, I rate below fifty-fifty. So, my prediction is that we will gain four or five. A good night might gain us six and a bad night could gain us as few as two. In any case I don't think it's possible for us to gain a Lieberman-proof seven seats (and I think we will still have Lieberman to kick around after this election). Nothing on the West Coast is in play, so we should know about the Senate fairly early in the night.

In the House, I'll say we pick up twenty seats and the Republicans won't pick up any. If it's a good night, we might pick up as many as thirty-five. I think claims of forty or more or way too optimistic. In a worst case, I think we will still take control of the House, but it could be by as small as a two seat majority (has that ever existed?). I suppose it's possible for the Republicans to gain a seat or two somewhere, but I honestly can't think of which seats those are.

I haven't been following the Governor's races very closely, but it looks like the Democrats will gain about a half dozen and the Republicans will gain none. It's not too soon to start thinking about the 2010 census reapportionment. Who holds the state houses and legislatures matters.

One thing that has made me unsure about predicting this election, beyond my native pessimism, has been the changing ways we vote. I'm not sure the pollsters have figured out how to deal with early voting. I expect the big polling firms to spend a lot of time and money working on their testing and methodology before the next election.

I'll also make the safe prediction that there will be massive voter disenfranchisement efforts, dirty tricks, and claims of dirty tricks tomorrow. Bring your cell phone and a camera to the polls with you when you vote.

Update: Interestingly enough, my prediction is about the same as the Republican view from The Hotline.
The psychos among us
If you want to view a truly sickening display of the kind of bloodthirsty degenerates who are among our fellow Americans, go read the comments that follow Dr. Charles post on hanging. A line of posturing and ignorant trolls try to out do each other in their demands for greater brutality in our executions. The current leader of the pack is a psycho called JamesR who says:
In my opinion a good executioner could make a hanging last a good day. By pulling him up and letting him rest on the tips of his toes. Add a band and some barbeque and we could make a day of it.

I'm surprised he forgot to mention the piano wire. Justice and death are nothing more than games of one-upmanship to these sociopathic children. How many of them really have the lack of conscience necessary to be "good executioners?" And if they did have what it takes to be cold-blooded torturers for the state, would you want them as your neighbors?

Of course, plenty of them at least have enough of a sense of shame over their blood-thirstiness that they feel the need to couple it with faux compassion and willful distortion of Dr. Charles' position. How can he show compassion for Saddam, they cry, even though he didn't, when Saddam was a bad man? What about Saddam's victims?

Indeed, what about them? How many of Saddam's victims will hanging him bring back? How many more will it bring back if we torture him first and televise it? The dead will remain dead, no matter what we do with Saddam. Killing him merely brings us one step closer to his level. Our torturing President and Vice President have already brought us to close to Saddam's level for my comfort.

The question is not whether or not Saddam is a bad man who did bad things. Dr. Charles didn't defend him. I haven't defended him. I know no one who has defended him. The question is whether or not we should be killers ourselves. The questions of whether he deserves death and whether we should become killers are two different questions.

The fake outrage on behalf of Saddam's victims has a second, sleazier, use of shifting the subject still further from Dr. Charles' point. How come he isn't writing about Saddam's victims, they demand. Well, how come he isn't writing about how to make our laundry lemon fresh? He chose a certain topic to write about. To criticize him for not writing about something else is simply not a valid criticism. I don't know if Dr. Charles ever objected to Saddam's crimes when Saddam committing them. I'm willing to bet money that none of his commenters know either.

We have to be better than those we condemn or we have no business condemning them.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Another death in Iraq
As expected, Saddam Hussein was found guilty in his crimes against humanity trial today and sentenced to death by hanging, along with two other members of his regime.

Hanging is one of the oldest-known methods of formal execution. Dr. Charles explains what happens in a typical hanging.
Physiologically speaking, the cause of death depends upon the mechanism. If the body is released from a high position then death usually occurs as a result of severing of the spinal cord between C1 and C2 at the base of the skull. This paralyzes the muscles of the diaphragm in addition to those of the body. If spinal cord injury is not the immediate cause then occlusion of the major blood vessels to the brain usually is. Both venous and arterial blockage contribute to death. When the internal jugular veins are collapsed the brain swells and and chokes off the small vessels feeding the substance of the brain. The carotid arteries, which deliver oxygen rich blood, take more force to collapse given their deeper position in the neck and the higher pressures of blood flowing within. When cerebral circulation is compromised in any event, death occurs within 4-5 minutes. The heart may continue to beat autonomously for up to 10-15 minutes (since it has its own pacemaker) after the brain is no longer resurrectable. The body and limbs may move after death because of nervous and muscular reflexes. The face becomes blue and engorged. A classic forensic sign of strangulation is petechiae, or small red dots, from burst blood capillaries of the face and eyes. The increase in arterial carbon dioxide triggers strong reactions in the body and mind that are among the most distressing possible.

To those who find this method barbaric, consider the "humane" alternative that we have created in this country.
Most states that execute use the lethal injection method because it has the appearance of being more humane than the old methods of hanging, firing squad, gas chamber, and electric chair. It is not more humane, but it is less messy, and that's what allows them to keep up the all important appearance of humaneness.

For lethal injection, the prisoner is set up with an IV and three chemicals are pumped into them in sequence. The first chemical is supposed to knock the prisoner unconscious. This is the first key to the illusion of humaneness: if the prisoner is asleep, we think they won't feel anything. The death is supposed to be like freezing to death: the victim grows tired and numb, falls asleep, and never wakes up. More importantly for the illusion, an unconscious victim doesn't make noise or show pain the way a conscious one would....

The second chemical induces paralysis in all the muscles of the body except the heart. If nothing else is done, the prisoner will slowly and painfully suffocate when their chest muscles stop working. If the prisoner is not completely asleep, they feel that pain. The main purpose of paralysis is to keep the condemned from flopping around and upsetting the witnesses. Many states have laws against using these drugs to kill unwanted animals, but we still use them to kill unwanted humans.

The third chemical induces a heart attack. Heart attacks can be very painful, but they are not always fatal. Once again, if the prisoner is not completely asleep, they feel that pain. And, if the first heart attack isn't fatal, they lie there suffocating while the medical technician prepares a second heart attack.

This is not the best place for a discussion of my philosophy of the death peanalty (I'm against it, period). I have no sympaty for Saddam; I wanted him to leave this planet long before he was our enemy, even before he was our friend. Back before Don Rumsfeld ran guns to Saddam I wanted him gone. But, I still think it's wrong to kill him. Make him harmless. Lock him up. Put him in a clean, sterile room and watch him twenty-four hours a day. Wish him a long miserable life, like Rudolph Hess had. That should be enough.

Killing him will not heal Iraq. Killing him will not bring about a national closure. Killing him will not cause the anti-American resistance to suddenly collapse. One more dead body will not help anything.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

The predictable predictions
I do not think I have ever been so eager for an election to hurry up and be over. Elections are my spectator sport. Normally, I enjoy the dirty tricks, the sudden revelations, obsessing over the numbers, and the suspense. Not this year. My team has an amazing ability to pull defeat from the jaws of victory. Each of the last two elections I have gone into election night thinking my team is set to gain at least two seats in the Senate and we have lost at least two seats in the Senate. I could go on about this scandal or that poll, but I just want it to be over.

I'm a Democrat. I'm a liberal Democrat. I'm a Western, liberal Democrat. The only way this could be worse was if I was a Western Alabama, liberal Democrat. I reached political maturity during the last gasp of Western progressivism. The most involved I ever was in an election was 1980. I was a paid staffer on a Senate campaign slated to go to Washington as a significant staffer. That was the year Western progressivism died. I spent election night at the headquarters watching every Western progressive Democrat in the Senate (except Alan Cranston) die. As the time zones rolled West, George McGovern was defeated, Mike Mansfield was defeated, Frank Church was defeated, and Warren Magnuson was defeated. As the tide continued westward, I sat on the phone trying to think of some good news to give Robert Byrd who was on the phone begging for a silver lining. And I had nothing to give. We were crushed that year.

Elections are no longer a game. Each of the last two elections has raised the stakes. The Bush camarilla and its rubber-stamp allies in both houses of Congress have been throwing away all the values that make America America. They have gutted the Bill of Rights and destroyed our image abroad.

So what happens after the election?

I predict that the Democrats will take control of the House and will end up within one vote one side or the other of a majority in the Senate. I would rather it was the other way around. Of course, I would really rather we get a Lieberman-proof majority in both houses.

I won't risk predicting numbers because A) I'm usually over-optimistic and B) I don't have a clear sense of what will happen even though I'm watching more individual races than I ever have before. The top contributor to my uncertainty is that too many elections are polling within the margin of error for the polls. That not only means the polls might be wrong; it means a small nudge, like the right lying, last minute ad, might shift the election. It means that a small demographic, like evangelicals who lie or opt out of the poll might give a false result. It means cheating might work. The only real defense against cheating is a landslide. Razor thin margins can be beaten by ruthless legal teams and the last few elections have shown the Republicans out-lawyering the Democrats.

What happens if we win, if we beat their last minute dirty-tricks, cheating, and lawyers?

Even if we gain a Lieberman-proof majority in both houses we haven't beat Bushism. The Republicans in both houses will engage in a scorched earth retreat on every point. They will block investigations. They will obstruct legislation. Most of all, they will engage in one of the most sophisticated propaganda campaigns this country has ever seen.

We will not pull the troops out of Iraq, because Bush will still run the Pentagon. Any reduction in the budget or attempt to lower or troop level, beyond what Gerorge Bush and his mouth-pieces want, will be met with accusations of not supporting the troops and cries that each new death is a result of that lack of support. Naturally, all further failures in Iraq and the greater Middle East will be blamed on Democrats not letting the genius of Bush, Cheny, and Rumsfeld have their way.

We will not restore constitutional rule, privacy, assumption of innocence, and respect for inalienable rights, because any attempt to do so will be met with cries that we are favoring terrorists over Americans.

We will not restore regulatory protections, environmental regulations, or patch the tattered social safety net because all of these laws are enforced by agencies under the direct control of the executive branch.

The best we can hope for will be that the worst crimes and failures of the Bush administration will finally be investigated. But expect every investigation to be accompanied by an expensive and expansive campaign claiming that this is just Democratic vindictiveness.

We might block some of the worst appointments of the Bush camarilla if we take control of the Senate, but expect the same expensive and expansive campaign claiming that this is Democratic obstructionism--that is if the Liebermans of the Senate even allow bad appointments to be blocked. At present, the administration can count on a large enough fifth column among Democratic Senators that they can push their reactionary nominations through for any position without a thought toward compromise.

My prediction for this election is that the best hope of liberal Democrats like myself will be that we slow the damage of the Bush administration. Turing the tide and restoring the moral greatness of America will be generation long effort, if it is possible to accomplish it at all.

No sports metaphor really suffices any more. At worst, the game has been destroyed and we should stop watching. At best, we might slow any further damage and start setting the conditions under which the game might be worth watching again someday. Is it any wonder that I just want this election to hurry up and be over?

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

I attempt a sports metaphor
The Air Force has had to request an emergency appropriation because they have used up their 2006 budget to transport coffins. Even though George Bush, Dick Cheney, and Don Rumsfeld are all tickled pink over how well the war is going and think they all deserve a vote of confidence, we have used up our budget for bringing dead Americans home in a respectful and honorable manner two months before the year is over. I can't think of any more potent symbol of how badly the war has failed to live up to even our worst expectations. Yet, I'm sure someone will manage to spin this as the fault of liberal Democrats, who are in the minority—if not completely absent—in every branch of the government.

I know most American voters want to believe that their team is the best and that all of the problems of the world are the fault of the other team. But, politics is not sports. In sports, there comes a time when even the most rabid fan must admit that there team is just bad. Why is it so much harder for voters to come to this realization about politics. However well the Republican Party might speak the language of a certain strata of American society, the simple truth is that their policies are killing Americans to no good purpose.

It's time to bench this group of players and send in a different group. Democrats are not the opposite team; they are the bench warmers of America's team and they deserve a chance to save this game before team America is driven from the field in disgrace.