Saturday, February 16, 2008

Ways to Piss Me Off

Imagine - Ezra Klein @ The American Prospect

Klein has an amazing ability to piss me off about just the wrong kind of things to piss me off about. What makes matters worse is that he pisses me off about things that Matt Yglesias would recognize in a different and generally more correct way. In this instance, Klein attempts to take Yglesias to task in the third paragraph for saying that one could imagine Sen. Obama's ability to persuade as a useful tool to pass legislation. This, coming after a paragraph where Klein once again knocks Sen. Obama for not having a mandated health-care plan. It's the same problem I have with some of Sen. Obama's more fanatical supporters and some of Sen. Clinton's more fanatical supporters. The constant citation of Sen. Obama's oratory skill, either as a way of dismissing what Sen. Obama has to say or to show that he is covering a timid kind of politics, misses the fact that Sen. Obama is still a politician. He's not the Messiah for Christ-sake so stop treating him like one. That he has garnered unheard-of support from the youth of the Democratic party is something that Democrats should shout from the roof-tops, not bash as some sort of bait-and-switch technique. Even so, he is a politician and a pragmatic one at that. What Klein calls timid is more of a sign of Sen. Obama's ability to make the first steps in a good direction without overreaching too early.
One of the main problems I have with a great deal of politician's promises is that they offer too much without talking about how they might get these proposals passed. Presidents have a great deal of power in terms of what the nation talks about but they cannot, unless they act like President Bush has, ramrod policies down the throats of Congress. That Sen. Obama is promoting himself as a different kind of politician doesn't deny him being a politician, just one that's not going to offer you the sky and the moon to get elected. His policy positions are starting points, not end point, which is where I get so infuriated with political promises because when these end-step kind of policies are bandied about no one talks about how the policy will make it through Congress in any form similar to the one originally offered. Sen. Obama instead, has the guts to actually make policy proposals that those of other parties can get behind without making it seem like they are betraying their party. To call it 'timid' is to misunderstand the appeal of Sen. Obama in terms of policy. He gets enough of the legislative process to know how laws are passed and knows not to offer something that has a good chance of crashing and burning on the floors of Congress.


I had a headache. It was cold, wet, a February day like the one my grandmother was buried on. Kit was waiting in the windows, in her normal spaced-out observation stance. The big cat loves to watch slowly. It felt like a fellow inmate waiting to announce the arrival of the priest. It was another forty minutes until the appointment. Forty minutes of existence. My headache was still there. Some sort of dull throbbing in the front of my skull. Amelia was hungry. She announced it loudly. Would you feed a condemned cat? But I fed her and she ate. I had sat with her for a while the night before. She crouched down and kept her eyes low, or rather, eye. Mishu waited on the bed, interested but amazingly restraining herself from investigating. I went back to my room and sat on the couch.
"Have you said goodbye yet?" Guilt and sadness was in my stomach. I couldn't think, let alone of anything to do, only about the time to come. Finally I went to find Amelia. She had crawled back to her spot on the cable box. My head still hurt. I sat and watched and gently scratched her head. I felt worse when the purr came out in a wheeze. Her eye was low again, her head floating from side to side. I shared ten minutes like this.
The box was full of old dvds meant for sale. No better dignity was available. The cat carrier had gone. It was in the hands of a friend for a cat Amelia was soon to meet. Her body was worn away. "Sweet thing, you've got nothing left." I left an old towel in the box. Nothing but the best for the old and sick. Gently picking her up I placed her in the box. Amelia looked around and then directly at me. That accusatory eye. The headache was there still. I carried the light box to my car and sat it in the front seat. It was raining again.
I sat down, started the engine and tried my best to ignore her looking at me. The yowling wasn't bad. I was used to it. The yowling came with the age. The quiet mews didn't. The quiet mews I wasn't used to. I drove slowly but not slow. Amelia was agitated. I drove part of the way to work, or the way I would have driven. Windshield wipers running, faster cars kicking up spray. I arrived at the appointed time. My head wouldn't stop hurting. I couldn't stop saying goodbye but the words never left my mouth.
Amelia took it well, the cold and the rain. A helpful woman opened the door for me. Her sad aw's were not helpful. I stood there, at the counter, Amelia resting beside me in the box, while papers were signed, information produced and recorded and twenty minutes of a cat's life was extended. Finally, I paid my money and signed away a cat I have known longer than any friend. Two women went to lunch. Another complained about the malfunctioning bulb. The woman helping me was too quiet to converse with. And then a woman I hadn't seen before came in and ask if this old lady of a cat was Amelia, information received. In the middle of taking the receipt and papers for records the informed woman asked, "Have you said goodbye yet?"
I did, laid my hand on the back of her head one last time and then walked away. Amelia never looked up, never knew what the signatures were for, or the box and towel, the cold and the rain. She never saw me leave. She's dead now, off to meet the friend's cat who got a more respectful trip to that building and those lands. I took my guilt and headache home, perfectly alive.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Texas Primary Primer, Pt. 2

One thing I forgot to mention when talking about primary elections in Texas. No one in Texas is registered as either a Democrat or a Republican. You are only affiliated with a party when you vote in a primary election and that affiliation only lasts for the rest of that year you voted. In other words, if you vote in the Republican Texas primary in 2008 then you are affiliated with the Republican party for the rest of 2008. That affiliation ends when the calendar year ends. What the affiliation means is that once you have declared your affiliation you cannot vote in another party's primary, run-off election or any other party-affiliated function. If you vote in the Democrat primary then you cannot vote in a Republican run-off contest later that year. In addition, you cannot sign a petition to put someone not of your affiliated party on the ballot.
Now for a general election, like the one this coming November, you can vote for whoever you choose, no matter the party. So what party affiliation means is that you can participate in your affiliated party's actions but not in another party's actions. This also means that even if you are a life-long Republican or Democrat you can decide to vote in another party's primary if you haven't already voted in your party's primary.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

A Moment of Zen

Frisbee Fail - the Fail Blog

I need to decompress more often.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

The Texas Primary Primer

The Texas Inferno--Why it Helps Obama - Publius @ Obsidian Wings
Everything You Needed to Know About the Texas Delegation Process, Pt. 1 - Philip Martin, Burnt Orange Report
There's No Such Thing as the Texas Primary, Part II: Delegate Projections - MattTX, Texans for Obama
Texas Hold'em - Christopher Orr, The Plank

Here I've collected a series of primers on the Texas primary election this coming March. The pundits have taken to calling it a 'primacaucus': one part primary and one part caucus. At stake are 193 pledged delegates along with another 35 super-delegates. The primary election itself--the normal, ballot casting part of the election--accounts for a 126 delegates. That part is simple enough. But the rest of the pledged delegates are decided by a caucus system that starts right after the primary polls are closed. Candidate loyalists are the ones who will typically stick it out to this point. Precinct caucuses are held and then the fun begins. From the precinct, delegates are sent to the county convention, from county convention to state convention and then finally to the national convention in Denver.
There are 67 of these caucus-decided delegates and that part of the system favors the candidate who has the best ground-game and grassroots organization. So, while there are 193 pledged delegates in total at play in Texas, only the 126 primary-elected delegates are decided on the night of March 4. The final tally doesn't occur until some time in June. So those who simply want to cast their ballot can do so throughout the day of March 4th but those who wish to participate in the caucus as well must cast a ballot in the primary and then wait until the polls close. The common wisdom currently being tossed about, as you can see in some of the sites I've linked to, is that the Texas primary, while thought of as a firewall state by the Clinton campaign, isn't a state one can lock up so easily. Convoluted it may be, but it seems to me that the Texas primary offers one of the better ways of granting a voice to the people in both a popular vote and a more elitist caucus vote.
I hope this helps to of you who are going to vote in the Texas primacaucus next month. I don't know if I will participate in the caucus part of the election but I certainly will cast a ballot in the primary. I have the feeling though that my whole family will be there for the caucus.

Obama Comes to Texas

Ha! Just saw an ad for Sen. Obama running during the commercials for the mid-day news. He's already advertising in this state and the primary is still weeks away.

Texas Primary Primer Coming Soon to a Blog Near You

I'm working on a primer for the Texas primary on March 4th. There have been some good posts up talking about it since the Clinton campaign has seemingly settled on the idea that Texas is a firewall state for them. The whole thing looks a mess but I'll have something up tonight with links for those here in the state who are interested.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Review: Made in the Dark

It's been about a week since Hot Chip dropped their new album Made in the Dark and I've had enough time to absorb the album for a proper review. The money shot on the album is that, while not like their previous effort this album lacks the truly amazing songs Hot Chip is capable of. On the other hand, it also lacks the songs that made it an album you had to occasionally skip tracks on. Instead, Made in the Dark is a solid album, playable from beginning to end. The album is front-loaded with the known songs with Shake a Fist and Ready for the Floor falling in the second and third spots respectively. Yet this is not necessarily a draw-back as you are left with another ten tracks of quality music that fit together like an album. In particular are the trio of tracks set in the middle of the album--Made in the Dark, One Pure Thought, Hold On--show the range of Hot Chips abilities. Even though Pitchfork wasn't enamored with the album for it's lack of distinctive hits and seeming continuation of their genre-splicing style without any forward movement.
Of course, I have to offer my disagreement. I don't believe in bands having some grand scheme in the way they release albums (except for Radiohead, who passed from this realm sometime in 1996 and came back superheroes). But I do believe that some albums are necessary in the career of a band. Where their slew of remixes and brilliant second album brought them hits and fame, this, their third album, shows the limits of their genre-jumping. The album the Pitchfork staff label as flawed but likable is probably the last of its kind for Hot Chip.
It goes without saying their production values are top-notch, but I think they will need in the future a producer who curtails some of their more self-conscious, fourth-wall breaking moments. The risk though, is that some of the fun will fall out of Hot Chip's style, but we won't know that until they ready their next album. I don't want them to become too serious. But considering their style thus far, I don't think that's too great of a risk. Either way, I do get the feeling that their next album will surpass The Warning in brilliance while maintain their album wide listenability.

The Waste Land

Ghostland Observatory @ MySpace

I've forgotten to do this enough so I'm posting about Austin act Ghostland Observatory. I've tried very hard not to like these guys, my natural tendency is to recoil from anything with any kind of hype. But their mix of glitchy electronics and spastic vocals have gotten to me, enough so that I'm actually anxious for their next album Robotique Magistique to drop at the end of the month. But for the moment I have to settle with three tracks from the forthcoming album. Check it.

Monday Roundup - Flailing Campaigns and Driven Individuals

The Big States - Matt Yglesias
Obama and the Details - Matt Yglesias
Quakes in Hillaryland - Marc Ambinder
More News About the Democrats - hilzoy @ Obsidian Wings
Stop the Thief! - Editorial Board, The New Republic

Rounding up the Monday morning posts on this past weekend's elections in the Democratic field we have Yglesias talking about Sen. Obama's policy substance and the reaction of the Clinton campaign to Sen. Obama's latest wins, also at the Atlantic is Marc Ambinder writing on the shake up in the Clinton campaign staff while Hilzoy at Obsidian Wings asks a few questions, and finally we have an editorial from the New Republic arguing against the seating of delegates from Michigan and Florida without going through a proper primary process.
First, the Yglesias posts. He tackles the anti-Obama meme that he lacks substance head on. Yglesias argues that, if anything, Sen. Obama has more legislative and policy experience than Sen. Clinton due in part to his time as an Illinois state senator and his stint as a professor at the University of Chicago's Law School. Moreover, Sen. Obama has filled his campaign staff with smart people, the kind of people who wouldn't put up with anything less than a great candidate. All of this is to say that the meme that somehow, since Sen. Obama is charismatic he must, ergo, lack policy substance while Sen. Clinton's lack of charisma equates to a serious degree of policy substance. Of course, Yglesias does point out that former President Clinton had both.
Also, Yglesias notes the habit of the Clinton campaign of dismissing any wins by Sen. Obama, finding fault with each of his wins thus claiming that Sen. Clinton has faced unfavorable odds in the states Sen. Obama won. Hilzoy echoes this idea in the first part of her post on the Democrats by pointing to the absurdly high turnout for a state that generally doesn't turn out. The point is that Democrats are turning out in unexpected numbers in unexpected states, or not so unexpected by the Obama campaign as both Hilzoy and Ambinder go on to discuss.
What both Ambinder and Hilzoy look at is the sudden fracturing of the Clinton campaign under the stress of a nomination of attrition. The self-loan of five million dollars to her campaign along with the sudden replacement of her campaign manager has people wondering what exactly is going on with Sen. Clinton. Hilzoy suspects that the campaign expected to have the nomination sewn up by Super Tuesday and were left scrambling when Super Tuesday ended the same way it started. Ambinder comes to the same conclusion that the Clinton campaign did not expect to have a continuing fight after Super Tuesday and credits that to the "superior effort" by the Obama campaign. Going through the points, Ambinder lists the failure of the Clinton campaign to meet its financing goals, its expected lead in the popular vote and its lack of substantial victories have exhausted the entire campaign staff.
What I think this points to is an inability of the Clinton campaign to adapt and adapt quickly to changing events on the groups. The more Sen. Obama speaks to more crowds, the better his numbers look, even if they don't push him past Sen. Clinton. Along with this is Sen. Obama's ground game of crafting motivated and knowledgeable campaigners in the states he needs votes. By working from the idea that he does not have a 'base' to rely on, Sen. Obama has repeatedly built grassroots state campaign staffs drawn from a wide range of voters and supporters. In assuming that he does not have a core base, Sen. Obama recognizes the need for such intensive and exhaustive grassroots efforts. While this may show in his speeches (particularly the Jefferson-Jackson dinner speech where he looked very tired) it creates that base he can rely on again when the general election comes.
Essentially, as Ambinder and Hilzoy have concluded, Sen. Obama planned for a long game while Sen. Clinton did not. That basic difference in campaign strategies shows in the delegate numbers and the voter turnouts. It also shows in campaign contributions and the strengths of their respective staffs. Sen. Obama has planned this to run all the way to the convention while Sen. Clinton must reorganize in the middle of her campaign to shift to a long game strategy. This will mean further losses for her for the next month and a potential big loss on March 4th when Ohio and Texas come up on the primary calendar. Hence the reason why Sen. Clinton is urging the DNC to seat the delegates from Florida and Michigan, something the staff at the New Republic view as an attempt to steal the campaign away from Sen. Obama through a very underhanded tactic. The TNR staff is right though in saying that the DNC needs to resolve this issue as soon as possible, either by restating their original position of not seating these delegates or holding new primaries that Sen. Obama can actually participate in.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Political Flame Wars

Hillary Top Staff Being Reshuffled - TPM

It's not the article itself that I'm directing you to so much as the comments section. It is but a mere drop in the bucket of the bickering going on between the Obama crowd and the Clinton crowd. What I find so interesting about these near-flame wars is that they are, on average, started by the Clinton supporters. For this comment thread in particular it's terribly amusing that some Clinton supporters have accused TPM of acting as a surrogate Obama campaign site when Josh Marshall has already stated his preference for Sen. Clinton. It's a strange that these supporters seem to strike their loyalty more for Sen. Clinton than for their party. They even have subsumed a phrase from the right-wing blogs, turning 'Bush Derangement Syndrome' into 'Hillary Derangement Syndrome.' So for those who show even a sign of support for Sen. Obama they are labeled as having HDS or some kind of misogynistic attitude toward Sen. Clinton. Even Sen. Obama himself has noted this resistance in his latest speech at the Jefferson-Jackson dinner on Saturday, noting that he was labeled as nothing more than a 'hopemonger'. While I do support Sen. Obama I have struggled to maintain a proper level of rationality about the campaign, particularly when he speaks. His rhetoric is excellent but at the same time I have to remember that not all of his policies I agree with, or at the very least the way he would go about enacting them. Even so, I still believe he has a better chance at changing things that any other candidate in the field. But all that aside, the sentiments of Sen. Clinton's supporters as represented by their online voice is actually a little frightening. I find it similar to the way many Bush supporters have acted to any criticism of him. That's what I find frightening.

Yelling "Fire!" in a Crowded Chat Room

First Amendment Ruling Protects Internet Trolls - Slashdot
Muslim Groups Attempt to Censor Wikipedia - Slashdot
Spies' Battleground Turns Virtual - Robert O'Harrow Jr., Washington Post

I've long held the belief that one should use their real name, or at least a consistent online name, when leaving comments on message boards or comment pages. I think if you are going to say something on the interwebs then you should stand behind it with the reputation of your name. At the same time though, I don't think forcing everyone to use a consistent name or their real name is right. Anonymity is a good thing, even if it is sometimes more of a necessary evil than a help in online discussions. So naturally I support the court ruling in favor of allowing comment trolls to maintain their anonymity. Message boards and comment threads need such openness. It allows the poster to speak their mind, or derail a thread, without fear or reprisal. More importantly, allowing anonymity as a general rule for message boards and comments allows the moderators of various boards to maintain their own set of rules for what is objectionable content. Some can use a scorched earth policy of no foul language or troll-like behavior, others can require that you use your real name or some can leave it open and intervene only when a certain thread becomes too heated.
The free-speech issue is important to online discussions. It's also important for sites like the Wikipedia as it prevents the exclusion of ideas or images that some may find objectionable. While the Wikipedia is prone to hit jobs by politicians, interest groups and corporations among others, it does a fairly decent job of maintaining a sense of neutrality in its articles and allows for discussion of what is acceptable in an article or not. The Muslim groups criticizing the Wikipedia for refusing to pull images of Muhammad do have a point from their perspective but the purpose of the Wikipedia is not to cater to anything but those in search of information and knowledge. It would not do well for Wikipedia's reputation to pull information due to one groups' complaints.
At the same time (and this is where the necessary evil part truly lives up to its name) the anonymity of the interwebs can aide criminals and terrorists in conducting their business. While the idea of terrorist groups using online sites likes Second Life as a means of planning and plotting seems far-fetched, it isn't inconceivable. But I continue to hold to the idea that anonymity and the use of online names or avatars is right and proper for any web site. Now of course, just as one cannot yell 'fire' in a crowded room, there are instances where speech is not protected. Criminals who use online anonymity to further their interests are obviously cases where breaching that anonymity is necessary. Even so, judicial oversight in those cases is necessary as well. We should all have the benefit of the doubt when it comes to our online identities. Free speech isn't free without that benefit. Thus, while law enforcement groups may contact web admins, board moderators and ISPs for information, these groups must have the recourse of the courts to preserve the rights of their users.
So, for a brief recap: online speech is free speech; I will use my real name when making comments; I will allow anonymous comments on my blog (although I will call you an Anonymous Coward, ala Slashdot); and, while a potential threat, admins and ISPs must maintain their customers' anonymity as much as possible.

Everything is a Story

Which Book Should Neil Gaiman Put Online for Free? - Cory Doctorow, BoingBoing
The Birthday Thing - Neil Gaiman

I love ideas like this, particularly when they come from excellent authors. Neil Gaiman (of The Sandman fame if you didn't know, you heathen) has gotten permission to put one of his novels online in its entirety. My preference is for American Gods but that might come off as a little too intense for some so I'm voting for Neverwhere, one of his early novels with all of the elements of a typical Gaiman story but nothing too overwhelming. If you haven't read anything by Gaiman yet then that's an excellent place to start. With American Gods one should really read The Sandman series first, but it's not an absolute necessity. Also, if you want a taste of Gaiman but are too lazy to read, then go rent Mirrormask. The movie was directed by Gaiman's friend and incredible artist Dave McKean and Gaiman provided the script. It has a kid's movie feel to it but enough adult themes and intelligence that you won't feel insulted by it. Besides, it's a great movie anyway.