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September 2008

I am not an employee of Tor Books

Since I began recently blogging for Tor.com, I have discovered that out there in the world there are people who think I am an editor for Tor Books. I am not, nor have I ever been, an employee of Tor Books or Tom Doherty Associates. I have done a small amount of freelance work for Tor in the mid 80s and again in the mid-90s. My participation in the Tor blog is on essentially the same terms as people write for The New York Review of Science Fiction.


Using Mathematica to Analyze the US Election

Jeff Hamrick of the Wolfram Research Special Projects Group has done a blog post giving instructions for using Mathematica to analyze the US Presidential Election. He shows how to pull polling data into Mathematica and how to use some of the Mathematica 6 data libraries to create your own Red State/BlueState maps.

I think this is very interesting stuff because, for those of you with Mathematica out there, you don't have to rely on how other people choose to analyze and map this data. If you have questions of your own you can introduce your own data and draw your own maps. I will be very curious to see what people come up with.


McCain's State of Emergency

My first reaction to McCain's attempt to suspend the presidential campaign because of the urgency of the economic crisis was that he might have a point. But on further reflection, I realize that such suspension is a policy statement. And what that statement is is this: Act now. Debate the merits later. And I don't think that's acceptable. Seven hundred billion dollars is a truly huge amount of money. The issues involved should be discussed beforehand, not afterward. Wed in haste, repent in leisure.

I don't think McCain should be trying to get out of publicly debating whether current plans for this kind of expenditure are a good idea and what the alternatives are. He shouldn't be trying to sequester himself. If he thinks he ought to be president, then he should be out there talking and holding press conferences, and so should his VP, who is only slightly less sequestered, it seems, than the Princess of Japan.

What he should not be doing is using this as a further excuse to clam up, because the issues are too important to be decided in secret.


Henry Paulson proposal as Nigerian spam: This is a matter of great urgence. We need a immediate blank cheque.

Paulsonoffer_2

I was remarking to my husband over breakfast this morning how I regularly received junk mail and spam that was more credible that Paulson's proposal for our economic salvation. Well, this has occurred to others as well. Americablog has a really delicious  rendition of the Paulson proposal as Nigerian spam:

Please note that this transaction is 100% safe and we hope to commence the transfer latest seven (7) banking days from the date of the receipt of the following information: all of your bank account, IRA and college fund account numbers and those of your children and grandchildren to wallstreetbailout@treasury.gov so that we may transfer your commission for this transaction. This way we will use your country's name to apply for payment in your name. After I receive that information, I will respond with detailed information about safeguards that will be used to protect the funds.

As seen on TV! A deal like this does not come along every day! Act now without blinking!

See also Ariana Huffington: The Bailout Plan: Welcome to Economic Shock and Awe.

(Graphic © by Kathryn Cramer; Some rights reserved: Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.0 Generic.)


The Pinocchio Syndrome: McCain campaign can't break its bad habits

Stephenschmidt_3Oh, goodness. Sometimes politics is just embarrassing no matter who you plan to vote for. McCain, talking about Spain the other day, gave us one of those moments.

Well, apparently McCain's handlers decided enough was enough and that they were tired of him and his VP nominee and his campaign spokespeople being called liars. And so they got together the press on a conference call to discuss the matter to do what they do best — and to tell the press what strories about Barack Obama they ought to be covering. But the McCain staffers just couldn't help themselves. They . . . they . . . are alleged to have told the press many things that lack the virtue of being true. Embarrassing. Just embarassing. Ben Smith at Politico writes,

The errors in McCain strategist Steve Schmidt’s charges against Obama and Sen. Joe Biden were particularly notable because they seemed unnecessary. Schmidt repeatedly gilded the lily: He exaggerated the Biden family's already problematic ties to the credit card industry; Obama’s embarrassing relationship with a 1960s radical; and an Obama supporter’s over-the-top attack on Sarah Palin when — in each case — the truth would have been damaging enough.

“Any time the Obama campaign is criticized at any level, the critics are immediately derided as liars,” Schmidt told reporters.

But as he went on to list a series of stories he thought reporters should be writing about Obama and Biden, in almost every instance he got the details wrong. . . . .

Asked about the series of errors, McCain aides could not provide evidence to back up Schmidt’s assertions.

One McCain aide, Michael Goldfarb, said Politico was “quibbling with ridiculously small details when the basic things are completely right.”

Another, Brian Rogers, responded more directly:

You are in the tank,” he e-mailed.

(Do read the whole thing!)

Perhaps after this is all over, the McCain campaign staffers can be sold to a circus and is trained to do all kinds of tricks to help pay off campaign debts.

These folks don't just need to loose the election. They should be considering another line of work.

Or perhaps someone can concoct a happy ending whereby John McCain gets to be a Real Boy and not just the GOP's wooden toy. But it won't happen soon.

(Via Brad DeLong. Graphic © by Kathryn Cramer; Some rights reserved: Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.0 Generic.)


What are the three forms of a number?

3forms_of_a_number
The question "What are the three forms of a number?" came home on a worksheet in my son's homework. I have a math degree and work with real math in my daily life. I can think of lots of different forms a number can take, but was unable to come up with the trinity of number forms on my own.

I have a mind like a steel sieve, so I thought maybe I'd learned this but had forgotten. So I Googled it.

Google was no help. The only Google hit for "three forms of a number" is an oblique reference to a Powerpoint presentation for teachers.

And so I consulted a Prentice Hall book entitled Preparing for the New York State 6th Grade Math Test which my son had brought home from school, and in that book, there is an answer to this question.

Am I to conclude that the idea that there are "three forms of a number" is an invention either of the authors of the New York State 6th grade math test, or of text book writers? Or is there out there in the world, some other provenance for this coinage?

Help me out here. I want to know. Are they teaching to the test? Or what?

I am unsettled by the idea that a reason that it is necessary to teach to the test is that the test authors are making up new mathematical coinages of their own that students are responsible for regurgitating.



UPDATE 9/24: So I had a meeting with the teacher yesterday. In summary, the phrase I reacted to comes from the Everyday Math curriculum that was in use in the elementary school when Peter was there, and so there was an expectation that students would recognize it in that form. Other answers differing from the Everyday Mathematics formulation would have been acceptable and were accepted with full credit. (The district has since replaced the U. of Chicago's Everyday Mathematics with a different curriculum, at least for my daughter's first grade class.) Peter's teacher is not using that curriculum (thank God!) at this point. The use of NY State practice tests was as a tool to assess what gaps in knowledge were there to be addressed, but the day-to-day classroom curriculum is not particularly oriented toward the test except as necessary to meet state standards.

I'd say I over-reacted to the assignments given by the middle-school teacher based on experience with the attitudes of the more testing-oriented elementary school teachers. Based on our conference, I'd say that preliminarily, I think the situation with the math class is going to be at least fine, if not better.

So my reaction was not baseless, but my experience as a Chappaqua elementary school parent left me with enough post-traumatic stress that I can be a bit quick on the trigger to judge the middle school which is, in the words of a local pediatric psychiatrist, a good bit more "touchy feely" in its academic stances than our elementary school.


News from Westport, NY

I have a Google Alert for Westport, NY because we have a house there. Usually it just feeds me links to mention of the the history of the Adirondack chair.

Today, it actually turned up a few things: a bad multi-motorcycle accident north of town, and more details on the fire at the Westport Hotel which I'd first read about on the site of a Burlington, VT TV station yesterday.

The fire apparently started when a floodlight used as a lamp became too hot and ignited materials near it. The fire was confined to one room after being reported at 5:12 a.m. and quickly extinguished. Investigators were at the hotel until 10:20 a.m.

It was determined as "accidental," said Jack Hanby speaking for the Essex County Fire Investigation Unit after spending hours looking into the probable cause. They determined the guest had been using an outdoor floodlight in the room.

"He was extremely apologetic," Hanby said. "He thought he had unplugged it."

The guest, who was not identified by the Deswarts, reportedly was Dennis Jennings, formerly of New York City.

I think the hotel guest in question may actually be named "Davin Jenkins" who is a white-haired guy in his late 50s a guy whom I met on our front porch last weekend. He bought a few things from my kids who were having a toy sale. He showed my five-year-old daughter a hundred dollar bill, which made quite an impression on her.


Tax the Rich. Right Now.

Who is paying for these bailouts? Is anyone giving a good, coherent explanation of who is paying these boggling amounts of money for all of these US government bailouts of failing financial institutions?

"The taxpayer" is a convent cipher, but the tax payers of this household can't afford this. And we are what's usually referred to as "upper-middle class".

The AIG bailout was just the beginning. I have seen estimates that set the total bailout necessary to save us from this financial mess at between one and two trillion dollars. That comes to about $6,500 per person or about $26,000 for a family of four. (And aren't we already on the hook for about $32,000 a head for the national debt?)

"We," being that vast majority of the taxpayers who are not fabulously wealthy, cannot afford this. So who is paying for it?

Really, the only possibility is the rich; those people to whom the Bush administration gave huge tax cuts. It's time to give all that money back and then some. Does the Bush administration have the political guts to tax the rich right now to pay for the economy-saving maneuvers in which it is currently engaged?


John McCain & Chris Cox

The blog of The Wall Street Journal reports:

John McCain has two words for Securities and Exchange Commission Chairman Christopher Cox: You’re Fired.

“The chairman of the SEC serves at the appointment of the president and has betrayed the public’s trust. If I were president today, I would fire him,” McCain says, according to excerpts for a speech on reforming the ailing U.S. financial markets he will deliver today in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

Bill O'Reilly is also down on Cox:
The Securities and Exchange Commission is supposed to protect investors, the folks, from cheaters and irresponsible risk takers. Former California Congressman Chris Cox is the head of the SEC, and he issued no warning at all about the bad lending practices that have caused the U.S. economy to wilt. Mr. Cox did not look out for the folks.
The puzzling thing is that not long ago, back in March, Robert Novack reported that conservatives were pushing Cox as a possible running mate for McCain:
CHRIS Cox for VP?
Former conservative colleagues in the House of Representatives are boosting Christopher Cox, chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission since 2005, to be Sen. John McCain's vice presidential running mate.

A White House aide under President Reagan, Cox served 16 years as a congressman from Newport Beach and was chairman of the House Republican Policy Committee. He was named as a federal appeals court judge to begin President George W. Bush's administration, but withdrew after Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer of California announced her opposition.

Former Rep. Rob Portman of Ohio, who also was a member of the House leadership before joining the Bush Cabinet, is being promoted for vice president by Washington insiders. But Cox's backers in the House argue that Portman lacks Cox's stature in the conservative movement, which they say McCain needs.

The American Spectator, back on March 6th, pushed Cox as "The best choice, bar none" for a running mate for McCain:
Cox is well thought of by just about every conservative columnist around, and respected by the David Broder institutionalists for his brains, diligence, and decency. He could probably help at least a little in Minnesota, where he grew up, and of course he is a favorite of the Californians he represented in Congress. Of great significance, perhaps, McCain himself was asked two Fridays ago at a bloggers' briefing which states he thought he might be able to move from the Democratic to the Republican column, and his first answer, the one he focused most on, was California. And McCain is sure to appreciate Cox's grit in coming back from a horrendous off-road vehicle accident three decades ago that left him partially paralyzed for a while.
So what's up with McCain's pronouncement today? Looks like scapegoating to me. That and political cannibalism.

Reuters reports that Bush still supports Cox.

McCain is apparently unaware that Presidents cannot "fire" SEC chairs. John Nichols at The Nation remarks:

Someone on McCain's staff will have to inform him that president's cannot "fire" SEC chairs -- the heads of independent regulatory commissions, once their presidential nominations are confirmed by the Senate, serve terms that they are allowed to finish. At the most, McCain could merely pressure Cox to quit.


McCain falling falling falling

MccainspainWatching John McCain the past few days, I think he's just plain falling apart. It was bad enough that recently he and his campaign had slipped into a pattern of habitual lying as noted in a bunch of recent major newspaper editorials. (Never mind his impulsive choice of a very pretty but inappropriate running mate already embroiled in scandals in her home state.)

In the past few days, there was his twisting in the wind about whether the economy was strong or at risk and whether he was for or against the AIG bailout (read nationalization).

But now there are his remarks about Spain: At the point where he's EITHER saying he might decline to receive José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, the Spanish prime minister, at the White House because of the need to "stand up to those who want to harm the United States," OR forgetting where and what Spain is, he crosses the line into a national disgrace.

As a US citizen, I am deeply embarrassed to have John McCain in serious contention for the US Presidency.

Is McCain suffering some form of personality disintegration? Is the sensory overload of campaigning simply too much for him? Or are there undisclosed medical issues that would explain all this?

UPDATE: From the Washington Post:

McCain foreign policy adviser Randy Sheunemann said McCain's answer was intentional.

"The questioner asked several times about Senator McCain's willingness to meet Zapatero (and id'd him in the question so there is no doubt Senator McCain knew exactly to whom the question referred). Senator McCain refused to commit to a White House meeting with President Zapatero in this interview," he said in an e-mail.

Um. Really? (I find that explanation even less believable than McCain's claim that when he'd said previously that the fundamentals of our economy were strong, what he was talking about was the strength of the American Worker.

Let's put it this way: the McCain campaign would rather damage US relations with Spain than admit that their staggering candidate screwed up. How about McCain put Country ahead of Vanity and fess up?

Josh Marshall responds to Randy Sheunemann proposed alibi:

. . . nice try, Randy. I don't doubt that Scheunemann and his neocon pals still have it in for Zapatero for pulling his troops out of Iraq. I admit it is difficult to believe that McCain either doesn't know who Zapatero is or doesn't know which continent Spain is currently a part of. And we can question the wisdom of a major party presidential candidate suggesting that a major NATO ally might be part of his Axis of Evil -- along with Hugo Chavez. But Randy's attempted save here does not add up. If McCain knew who Zapatero was, why did he repeatedly refer to him as a Latin American leader? Spain is not in Latin America. I'm certain of it.

Who is Scheunemann? He's the McCain foreign policy adviser who back in June who accused Obama of a "policy of delusion" toward terrorism. It would seem that the shoe is on the other foot: Scheunemann is justifying McCain's policy of delusion.

Via TalkLeft, here is the interview in English. Listen for yourself. He sounds completely oblivious in several ways on the subject of Spain.

Josh Marshall's transcribed it:

After the interviewer presses him a couple times on the point and tries to focus him on the fact that Prime Minister Zapatero isn't from Mexico and isn't a drug lord either McCain comes back at her saying, "All I can tell you is that I have a clear record of working with leaders in the Hemisphere that are friends with us and standing up to those who are not. And that's judged on the basis of the importance of our relationship with Latin America and the entire region."

Then there's a moment of awkward pause before she says. "But what about Europe? I'm talking about the President of Spain."

McCain: "What about me, what?

Interviewer: "Are you willing to meet with him if you're elected president?"

McCain: "I am wiling to meet with any leader who is dedicated to the same principles and philosophy that we are for humans rights, democracy and freedom. And I will stand up to those who do not."

At this point, the interviewer gets tongue-tied presumably because she can't get over McCain not knowing what Spain is.


Unbelieveable.

My best guess is that McCain was recycling material from his May 20th Miami appearance of the anniversary of Cuban independence from Spain and that he is so much on autopilot these days, that he was unable to respond spontaneously or think clearly.

McCain should apologize and correct himself or drop out of the election.


Watching the market plunge

I spent way too much time today watching wiggly lines on stock market charts, which in the early afternoon resembled the path of a ball bouncing downstairs. I haven't watched it so closely in a long time, not since I was actively investing, I think. In the end, the Dow was down more than 4 points, bringing the 10,000 level within range in the next few days if this goes on. The NASDAQ looked to be down by about 4.5%. And this -- we're told -- is not as bad as it could have been without the AIG nationalization. The New York Times story on today's market opens: One of the most stunning government bailouts in American history failed on Wednesday to stem the runaway fears engulfing the global financial system. Indeed.

The specifics of the NYSE Most Actives list give a sense of things to come: That AIG is down 45.33% is no surprise. But it had a lot of company. (I don't know if I'm looking at the most final figures here.) Morgan Stanley down 24.22%; Citigroup down 10.92%; Wachovia down 20.76%; Lehman Brothers down 56.67%; Bank of America down 7.95%; Merrill Lynch down 12.71%; Goldman Sachs down 13.92%; Washington Mutual down 13.36%; JP Morgan Chase down 12.20%; Wells Fargo down 4.29% (which begins to look good in context); US Bankcorp of Delaware down 5.47%; American Express down 8.40%; Bank of New York Mellon Corp down 12.29%.

This is the financial industry disinvesting in itself, and instead plunging money into oil and gold: from CNN Money

"Oil jumped along with the gold market" prompted by the falling dollar and a flight to safer investments, said James Cordier, Portfolio manager of OptionSellers.com. "Right now it is market rotation - [money] coming out of the stock market and looking for a home. While oil has not been a good investment lately, some are willing to take a risk on it."

The other thing I watched today, which I at least think has an impact on all this, is the candidates reactions. Barack Obama's are pretty good, or at least reasonably credible. Obama has a new 2 minute ad directly addressing the issue of the economy. I also listened to a longer speech he gave this morning. McCain on the other hand seems completely at sea, seeming expecting that a reversal of his opinions on regulation will seem plausible at this juncture.

It looks to me like the market isn't buying it.

Meanwhile, Stephen Colbert's alien advisor Gorlock suggests we buy Washington Mutual. (It's 13% cheaper than it was last night. What a deal!)


GOP Vocabulary Word of the Day: to nationalize, "To convert from private to governmental ownership and control."

Providing further evidence that the Republicans have run out of the conservative solutions generally associated with their party and are now borrowing from the far left, the US government has nationalized AIG. From Floyd Norris, writing in the Business Section of The New York Times:

Socialism, 21st Century Style
The government tonight nationalized the American International Group, the financial giant that could not find anyone else willing to lend it the billions of dollars it needed to stay afloat.

That is not the official version. Fed staffers, who briefed reporters at 9:15 tonight, don’t even want us to say the government will control A.I.G. The government will name new management, and will have veto power over all important decisions. And it will have a warrant allowing it to take 79.9 percent of the stock whenever it wants. But they contend there is no control until the warrant is exercised.

President Truman once tried to nationalize the steel industry, arguing that a strike that halted production in wartime created a national emergency. The Supreme Court ruled that was illegal. This time, however, the company agreed to the nationalization. It was the only way to get the cash it desperately needs.

And from The Washington Post:

Invoking extraordinary powers granted after the 1929 stock market crash, the government seized control of the insurance giant American International Group to preserve a crucial bulwark of the global financial system.

The move to lend the Wall Street giant up to $85 billion in exchange for nearly 80 percent of its stock effectively nationalizes one of the central institutions in the crisis that has swept through markets this month.

Not long ago, the Republican party was associated with the notion of "privatization" and in the last eight years, many formerly governmental function were privatized.

Today's question for John McCain: what else would he nationalize if elected President? Or is he still in favor of privatization?

My reading of McCain's position in Social Security as described on his campaign website is that he still favors a partial privatization.

Reform Social Security: John McCain will fight to save the future of Social Security and believes that we may meet our obligations to the retirees of today and the future without raising taxes. John McCain supports supplementing the current Social Security system with personal accounts -- but not as a substitute for addressing benefit promises that cannot be kept. John McCain will reach across the aisle, but if the Democrats do not act, he will. No problem is in more need of honesty than the looming financial challenges of entitlement programs. Americans have the right to know the truth and John McCain will not leave office without fixing the problems that threatens our future prosperity and power.

A week or so ago after the government -- as Forbes put it -- "effectively nationalized Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac," DialyKos summed up the new GOP position as Privatize Profits, Socialize Losses.

See also CNNMoney's video Government's growth spurt.


New GOP Anthem!

I did this partly as an update to the previous entry, but really, for purely aesthetic reasons -- if your Internet connection can handle two YouTube videos at one -- you must absolutely must listen to this Talking Points Memo video of today's John McCain with Die Partei hat immer Recht (Lied der Partei) going in the background. (The McCain video is a little longer than the song, so let it start before starting Die Partei.) This makes a truly beautiful mashup.

Who knew that the GOP would converge with the East German Communists? The 21st century is a really wild place!

(Any minute now, the GOP talking points will converge with "Wir sind der Moor Soldaten" or perhaps "Die Internationale.")

McCain seems to have suddenly discovered the Base and the Superstructure and all that.


John McCain's Double-Talk Express: 9/15/08

Customize your September 15th John McCain experience!

Kccomic4

Choose your own adventure! What do YOU want John McCain to tell you about the state of the US ecomomy?

If you want him to tell you that our economy is STRONG, click HERE. If you want him to repeat over and over that our economy is AT RISK, click HERE.

(Via Daily Kos.)

DAS VOLK UPDATE: McCain "explains" this apparent flip-flop contradiction by repeating over and over on the 16th that the fundamentals of the American economy are the "American Worker". (So. Is The American Worker strong? Or at risk? If so, at risk for what? Losing his job, maybe?) McCain also says the workers are the victims of "greed, excess, and corruption." Why does he suddenly sound Marxist? Is the GOP now Communist? Or will McCain say anything at this point? Die Partei hat Immer Recht!


Northway Border Patrol Check

This weekend there was a Border Patrol checkpoint set up on southbound I-87 near North Hudson. While we did stop at the stop-sign, a Border Patrol officer waved us through over his shoulder, since they officers were busy searching the van of people more swarthy than ourselves. We've driven through there a couple of times in the past year when the checkpoint was in operation. At least once, I think I'd mistaken them for cops checking inspection stickers. According to the New York Times, this checkpoint is a post 9/11 innovation.

Being up in the Adirondacks is mostly a relief from the current Paranoia Economy in which being hassled on a daily basis is a bizarre amenity that we are all expected to pay extra and be grateful for. This kind Border Patrol of activity is one of the few signs of it up there.

After going through the check point, David and I had a long discussion of whether the Border Patrol check point was a good thing. He said it was good that they were watching for smugglers. I said border guards belong at borders, not 74 miles south. Last time I checked (and it was a couple of decades ago), border guards have additional powers that regular cops don't.

In the early 1980s, I took a Washington State Ferry to the San Juan Islands with my then-husband, a German citizen. We took a ferry back from Orcas Island that had a previous stop in Canada. When we disembarked at Anacortes, we had to go through customs even though we'd never left the US, which I found disconcerting, especially since the only ID I had on me was a Seattle Public Library card. I don't remember whether my husband had his passport on him, or just his driver's license.

My husband was a heavy smoker and so we had a very full ashtray. I remember looking on with some alarm as the Border Patrol officer leaned into our car and poked her gloved finger through the ashtray; lucky for us, there was nothing there but tobacco ashes and cigarette butts. I remember the cigarette butts recoiling like little springs and she pushed her finger though them; I'd never seen anyone stick their finger into a bunch of cigarette butts before. I also remember my horrified realization that if she weren't a customs officer, she would have needed a warrant for that. It would have been an illegal search except for those extra powers that the INS has.

So I wasn't giving David any ground: Customs should do its work at the border unless carrying out a specific inspection. If there is criminal activity on the Interstate Highways to be dealt with, regular highway patrol cops should be sufficient. You have fewer civil rights when dealing with the border patrol; and of course the Border Patrol have real cops on hand in case they happen across anything outside their jurisdiction.

So this morning, I Googled I-87 and Border Patrol, and I discovered a whole different reason to object to that check point: sometimes people get killed there. Apparently, there were a couple of really bad accidents there in 2004 because the lines got long and big semis weren't getting enough advance notice of the checkpoint, so great big trucks were occasionally rear-ending the line.

Four years ago, Senator Schumer's officer sent out a press release about fatalities at the check-point: SCHUMER: SECOND MAJOR ACCIDENT THIS YEAR WARRANTS FEDERAL INVESTIGATION OF I-87 CHECKPOINT:

US Senator Charles E. Schumer today said that Sunday night's fatal auto accident at the I-87 North Hudson Border Patrol checkpoint, the second major one at the checkpoint in seven months, should warrant a federal investigation to determine whether the checkpoint is safe as currently constituted. With some drivers saying that the checkpoint appears abruptly with too little warning, Schumer urged the federal Bureau of Border and Transportation Security to come to New York and examine the checkpoint.

"When you have not one but two major accidents at the same checkpoint in a span of seven months, it's a tragedy and a wakeup call," Schumer said. "The federal government needs to look at this checkpoint to make sure that it's as safe as it can be - and if there are changes that can be made to prevent future accidents from occurring, they need to be made without delay."

Four people were killed Sunday when a tractor-trailer truck slammed into vehicles waiting at the North Hudson checkpoint. A truck driver was approaching the checkpoint when he ran into a line of cars stopped on I-87 roughly a quarter mile before the stop. On impact, the first vehicle burst into flames and killed the three people inside. The truck then hit a pickup truck whose driver tried to maneuver out of the way and was released from the hospital with a ruptured eardrum. The truck also hit a pickup pulling a camper, which burst into flames and killed its driver.

The Border Patrol incidents make one blogger's list of 10 Deadliest Accidents in the Adirondack Mountain Region. Ouch. Never mind possible violations of our civil right, what I should have maybe been worrying about is that people get killed there. Better Living Through Paranoia. (Who knew that driving down I-87 past North Hudson was one of the most dangerous things one could do in the Adirondacks?)

After mostly not encountering the daily hassles of the Paranoia Economy this summer, going through the check point felt oddly like clearing customs back into my Westchester County life, in which paranoia is something I'm supposed to be thankful for.


What's wrong with this picture?

If there's one thing I learned from Hurricane Katrina, it is that unlabeled photos of wreckage following a major hurricane raise anxiety without contributing to understanding and that people concerned with the details of a major disaster really want to know what they're looking at when you show them major destruction.

I would have liked to think that CNN might have learned that, too.

For Heaven's sake, what bridge is that in the picture? Surely, the photographer knows!

Cnnnodescr_2

C'mmon guys!


Department of the Interior in Bed with the Oil Industry. Literally.

I heard this on NPR when I was picking up David from the train. Loathsome beyond belief.

From CNN: Sex, drugs, gifts uncovered in government oil probe:

U.S. government employees received improper gifts from energy industry representatives, and engaged with them in illegal drug use and inappropriate sexual relations, according to a report issued Wednesday.
Bush's political appointees MUST GO.


Going for the Fools' Vote

FoolreversedAs I read about the ongoing issue of whether Sarah Palin is lying about the infamous "Bridge to Nowhere" and other matters, I keep thinking about that quote famously attributed to Abraham Lincoln (though some doubt he actually uttered it):

You can fool all the people some of the time and some of the people all of the time, but you cannot fool all of the people all of the time.
Apparently some GOP strategists are seriously arguing that "these little facts don't really matter." And Palin and the McPalin campaign have as much as said she will deliver press access only to those who let her have her way.

So, if I am understanding this correctly, the voters the Republicans think they're talking to are that some of the people who can be fooled all of the time, which is to say the fools' vote.

What contempt they must have for their own political base.

(Via Josh Marshall & DailyKos.)

UPDATE: I see that the relevance of the Lincoln quote also occurred to Jerry Lanson at the Christian Science Monitor and Frank James of The Chicago Tribune.


Palin: " I think God's will has to be done, in unifying people and companies to get that gas line built, . . ."

From Richard Mauer's Anchorage Daily News story, State paid for trip when Palin told students to pray for pipeline , a lovely quote from our favorite Pitbull-in-Hiding,

"What I need to do is strike a deal with you guys as you go out throughout Alaska -- I can do my part in doing things like working really, really hard to get a natural gas pipeline." Palin said. "Pray about that also. I think God's will has to be done, in unifying people and companies to get that gas line built, so pray for that. But I can do my job there, in developing our natural resources, and doing things like getting the roads paved, making sure our troopers have their cop cars and their uniforms and their guns, and making sure our public schools are funded.

McCain campaign rep says "who cares" and "I'm going back to bed" when asked when and if Sarah Palin will respond to media questions

A must-watch moment:

From Jay Carney at TIME:

According to Nicole Wallace of the McCain campaign, the American people don't care whether Sarah Palin can answer specific questions about foreign and domestic policy. According to Wallace -- in an appearance I did with her this morning on Joe Scarborough's show -- the American people will learn all they need to know (and all they deserve to know) from Palin's scripted speeches and choreographed appearances on the campaign trail and in campaign ads.
Jay Carney is TIME's Washington bureau chief. Amazing, just amazing what these McCain people think the voters will swallow.

A commentor at YouTube responding to the video clip remarks, quite rightly:

She can't face the press, but if something happens to McCain, she'll be facing Putin.

Be afraid. Be very afraid.

(Via Mark Nickolas & DailyKos.)


Anchorage Daily News Palin coverage

There is an investigative reporter who works for the Anchorage Daily News named Lisa Demer whom I have a lot of respect for because of her coverage of the very weird Robert Kane/Security Aviation story. She and several other ADN reporters have been doing a series on Sarah Palin which I just came across.

This is a series to watch very closely. The emerging narrative seems to be about Palin wrestling to keep the Monegan firing investigation details out of the legislature and press and have the investigation of her behavior as governor instead subject to personnel laws and government regulations about handling of personnel matters.

Here is a bibliography:

* Palin aide bails on talking to Legislature     Thu Sep 4, 2008: JURISDICTION: Witness is key in inquiry into Walt Monegan's firing.

"I canceled that," Bailey's lawyer, Greg Grebe of Anchorage, said Wednesday. "I'd say about 6 o'clock last night I learned that the governor's office was contesting the jurisdiction of the Legislature to handle this matter. It's my understanding that they believe the jurisdiction is properly with the personnel department. I can't make a judgment or a call on that."

* Palin seeks review of Monegan firing case     Wed Sep 3, 2008: BOARD: Governor makes ethics complaint against herself to force action.

Her lawyer sent an "ethics disclosure" Monday night to Attorney General Talis Colberg. The governor asked that it go to the three-person Personnel Board as a complaint. While ethics complaints are usually confidential, Palin wants the matter open.

The lawyer, Thomas Van Flein, also asked the state Legislature to drop its own investigation into the Monegan matter. He says the Personnel Board has jurisdiction over ethics.

A senator running the investigation immediately refused.

* Palin wants investigation yanked from Legislature     Tue Sep 2, 2008 (seems to be an earlier version of the above piece)

* Attorney challenges Monegan firing inquiry     Tue Sep 2, 2008

"Governor Palin has repeatedly stated that she has nothing to hide and that she and her administration will cooperate fully with this investigation. Is your client aware that you seem to be challenging the Legislature's jurisdiction?" French wrote.

* Questions surround Palin's background check      Tue Sep 2, 2008: IN DEPTH? In Alaska, very few people were involved in the GOP vetting process.

Republican Gail Phillips, a former speaker of the Alaska House, said Friday that she was shocked by McCain's selection of Palin and told her husband, Walt, "This can't be happening because his advance team didn't come to Alaska to check her out." She said she would've heard had someone been poking around.

"We're not a very big state," Phillips said. "People I talk to would've heard something."

* Private lawyer hired to represent Palin in Monegan inquiry     Monday Sep 1, 2008

Van Flein said he wants the investigation handled by the state's three-member personnel board, not the Legislature. He also asked for all witness statements, documents and other materials collected in the course of the investigation . . . French said he had instructed Branchflower not to provide the letters or witness statements.

"I think you will agree that it would be highly unusual for an investigator to share information with one of the targets of the investigation," French wrote. "I am unaware of any precedent for such an arrangement."

* 'Troopergate' inquiry hangs over campaign     Saturday Aug 30, 2008

“The Governor did nothing wrong and has nothing to hide," the McCain/Palin campaign said in a statement, blaming the issue on the campaign of the Democratic nominee, U.S. Sen. Barack Obama. "It’s outrageous that the Obama campaign is trying to attack her over a family issue. As a reformer and a leader on ethics reform, she has been happy to help out in the investigation of this matter, because she was never directly involved."

* Choice stuns state politicians      Friday Aug 29, 2008

The early morning news of McCain's pick sent jaws dropping throughout Alaska, with friends waking up friends with "Oh my God, have you heard?" phone calls.

State House Speaker John Harris, a Republican from Valdez, was astonished at the news. He didn't want to get into the issue of her qualifications.

"She's old enough," Harris said. "She's a U.S. citizen."

* Is Wooten a good trooper? (7/27/08)    Sunday Jul 27, 2008: PALIN'S EX-BROTHER-IN-LAW: Union says yes, but investigation found serious concerns.

All that aside, what kind of trooper is Mike Wooten?

The picture painted by the Palins is pretty bad. The trooper brass isn't saying one way or another, citing personnel rules that protect his files. Union leaders defend him as a dedicated trooper who was already punished for his mistakes.

One can track further stories by Demer et. al.  HERE.

In addition to Lisa Demer's appetite the telling detail, she also has a real knack for wry characterization. I love her stuff.


McPalin Culture Wars Round-Up

A couple of favorite pieces:

First, there's the New York Times op-ed Running Against Themselves:

The difficulty for the Republican ticket in talking about change and reform and acting like insurgents is that they have been running Washington — the White House and Congress — for most of the last eight years.

Mike Littwin of the Rocky Mountain News: Palin isn't making this easy
I don't think John McCain understood exactly what he was doing picking Palin. He was looking for a new face in a party dominated by old faces, a Republican who wasn't tied to the rest of the Republicans (read: George W. Bush). But what he also got was another battle in the culture wars.

I leave it to Rudy Giuliani, of all people, to give us the lesson.

It's Giuliani - not your typical Republican on issues such as abortion and gay rights and wearing dresses at New York balls - who was Palin's warmup act. And in fact, he did about 20 minutes of standup, mostly mocking - and that's the right word - Barack Obama to the delight of the crowd, but in way that had to be cringe-making for much of the rest of America watching at home on TV.

Indeed, I don't think the political strategist who have brought us to this point understand how complex and unpredictable the politics of mommyhood are. (And no, Sarah, your family doesn't have "the same ups and downs as any other.") To work full or part time or to stay home with ones kids are complex decisions about which American women pronounce judgement upon each other every day. Every school PTA is split between the stay-at-home and part-timer moms who do most of the PTA work, and the full-time working moms who (despite Palin's PTA credentials) mostly don't.

Every employed mother has decisions to make about when to work and when to drop everything and take care of the needs of a child, and mothers pass judgement on each others' choices every day. New baby, special needs child, pregnant teenage daughter, five kids -- each of these individually might cause even a suburban upper-middle class mother in a left-leaning community to be subjected to peer pressure to surrender her ambitions in favor of taking care of her family. How can this fly?

Are questions about whether Sarah Palin should be spending more time taking care of her family fair? Perhaps not, but our culture isn't fair to mothers, and worse, mothers are not fair to other mothers.

Margaret Wente in The Globe and Mail has an interesting piece entitled The culture wars are baaack!:

For a while back there, I thought the culture wars would not be a big deal in this election. We had two serious men of substance who had vowed to grapple with the serious issues of the day - the staggering economy, America's shattered moral leadership in the world, the health-care mess, loose nukes, stuff like that. Silly me! It turns out the real issues are abortion, evolution v. creationism, the role of God in public life, why Sarah tried to get her no-good ex-brother-in-law fired, what's up with her mother-in-law, and whether she herself was pregnant when she got married.
In it she quotes a McCain adviser:
"Frankly, I can't imagine that question being asked of a man," snapped John McCain's campaign manager, Steve Schmidt. "A lot of women will find it offensive."
Oh, were Sisterhood that power! Wouldn't it be nice if women didn't say terrible things about other women's mothering choices all the time?

In his speech last night Rudy Guiliani asked, "How dare they question whether Sarah Palin has enough time to spend with her child and be vice president?" They dare, Rudy. They dare. They dare all the time.

She is apparently breastfeeding. Wouldn't it have been fascinating if Sarah Palin gave last night's speech while breastfeeding her infant? (I have nursed an infant from the podium, though out of necessity, not for fun; it's a good way to keep a baby quiet while mommy talks to the audience when the expected convention childcare does not materialize.) Having her pregnant daughter hold the baby doesn't deflect the scrutiny that a new mother out in the world is subject to. And Palin hasn't really explained who is taking care of the kids. The implication of what is left unsaid is partly that the kids will take care of themselves and each other, an impression I wouldn't dare give at the World Science Fiction Convention, let alone the national convention of a political party.

Jonathan Freeland, The Guardian also discusses the culture wars theme: Who knows if Palin will bring victory or defeat? But the culture wars are back

In his stirring speech last week, Obama urged America not to "make a big election about small things". Yet here we are, discussing not Sarah Palin's record or programme but Jesus, guns, and as one feminist blogger put it yesterday, "the uterine activity of her family". This is a setback for women, especially in a year that seemed to promise a breakthrough, but it is also a setback for America itself.
For obvious reasons, conservatives would like to see this mess in a different light. Janice Shaw Crouse of the conservative think-tank Concerened Women for America writes,
The media’s frenzy over the Palin nomination contrasts negatively with the positive way that the Palin family is coping with their daughter’s pregnancy; it shows how out-of-touch the media is with the rest of America and how distorted their view is of pro-life Americans who put feet on their policy stances. . . . The media frenzy also demonstrates a profound misunderstanding of social conservatives and the importance of the social issues for most Americans.
Is the fuss all about whether Palin is alienating the very conservative base she was supposed to lock in? I don't think so.

What Palin and her complications represent is a social conservative running against a broad personalized non-political type of social conservatism concerning childbearing and childrearing; she presents an entirely new model of conservative motherhood that bears a lot of explaining in order to seem like responsible behavior.

UPDATE: See also Nancyy Gibbs in TIME: Can Palin Escape the Parent Trap? and Teresa Nielsen Hayden on Making Light: Pay attention to the little man behind the curtain.


What Were McCain's Advisers Thinking? The Republican Party Just Gets Wilder!

When I was in elementary school (in maybe 1970?), my mother ran for the Washington State Legislature and I door-belled for her campaign. She would take one side of the street and I would take another. I remember distinctly being told by one lady on a front porch that I was a smart and beautiful little girl and that she wasn't going to vote for my mommy because my mommy should be at home with me and that I should tell her so. And so despite the strong odor of Reality Show that Sarah Palin brings to the presidential election, I am deeply uncomfortable with what I see being said about her.

I was particularly uncomfortable about Maureen Dowd's breast pump remark, because there is a significant minority in our country who feel that lactating women should be completely invisible. Women are such easy targets for vicious Internet memes.

Who knew that the news coverage of the Republican National Convention would be all about how McCain's Veep choice is HOT and her daughters are easy? Culminating in the oh-so-tasteful comparison between Britney Spears's little sister Jamie Lynn Spears and Bristol Palin?

TeenpregnancyI wonder how the editors of the Christian Science Monitor can with a straight face publish the headline McCain pick of Palin helps win over party's conservative base; it begins:

Moments after Senator John McCain announced his running mate - Governor Sarah Palin of Alaska, an outspoken abortion opponent - his campaign sprang into action to fan flames of enthusiasm among his party's demoralized conservative supporters.

At a lunch in Minneapolis, two of his top advisers - Charlie Black, a veteran political operative, and Dan Coates, a former senator from Indiana - were extolling Palin's virtues to about 150 influential evangelicals as evidence of McCain's ideological commitments.

Charlie Black, what were you thinking?

I have a really odd connection to Charlie Black, though we've never actually met or spoken: We were both conned by the professional con artist Joseph A. Cafasso during the same time period during the summer of 2005. There used to be more about this on my blog, but I took it down after legal threats seemingly made on his behalf by one of his close associates who is ironically a former CNN exec. On January 15, 2007, she wrote:

THIS IS ABSOLUTELY NON-NEGOTIABLE WITH ME OR CHARLIE OR ANYONE ELSE WHO IS AFFECTED! TAKE THAT STUFF DOWN NOW! . . . Cramer -Take this shit off the Internet! No one wants to have a conversation with you. We would rather you vanish as fast as you invaded our lives! Either take this crap down or you will be sued!

So. All right then. (Quoting from private email? Absolutely. Fair use? Yup.)

In any case, what I wonder -- as I see the Palin PR disaster unfold -- is whether Black was fooled again as he was fooled by Cafasso. Or whether he's just fooling himself.

PalinwatchthumbnailIn February, Firedog Lake's Christy Hardin Smith wrote an interesting profile of Black which mentions his association with international con man Ahmed Chalabi. Yesterday, Firedog Lake posted a "Sarah Palin Goodbye Watch."

Put down your best guesses for when, why, and how Sarah Palin will bail from the GOP ticket.

So far the blog entry has 360 comments. (Their server seems to be having some problems, so be patient if the links don't work.)

Meanwhile, the Financial Times editors, presumably also with a straight face, publish the following headline: McCain counts on character to clinch it while at the same time running an image of McCain with Bristol Palin and her boyfriend, Levi Johnston.

Looks like the Republican Party is in full swing, and the party is getting wilder and wilder. What's next? These are not your daddy's Republicans!

Fortune reports that there is an online prediction market on "whether Palin will be dropped from the ticket": Betting on a Palin withdrawal.

Intrade, an online prediction market based in Dublin, created a contract Tuesday morning on the likelihood that John McCain will drop Palin as his running mate. After opening at a probability of just 3%, the odds on Palin being cut from the ticket hovered around 14% yesterday. Predictions plateaued today at 10%, perhaps in response to yesterday's speeches by Fred Thompson and Joe Lieberman. Both praised the governor for her reformist qualities.

. . . Placing a Palin withdrawal at even 12% seems bullish; no presidential candidate has withdrawn his VP selection since Thomas Eagleton left Democratic candidate George McGovern's ticket in 1972.

See also The Wall Street Journal and Bloomberg.

I am not placing any bets. I am just rubbernecking at how fast Bristol Palin has become an instant Pop Tart and Sarah Palin the new Victoria Principal. One message for the rest of us is, Don't aim too high. Don't let this happen to you.

CNN's current at 7:52 PM 9/3/08: Palin to slam Obama in convention speech. What an awful political spectacle it will be to see if she can conceal her anger at what has happened to her over the past few days. Will she be saccharine or Janis Joplin? Or will she not be able to contain the anger? Can we look away? And don't you feel like a voyeur?

So. Sarah Palin: Victoria Principal, Harriet Miers, or Janis Joplin? What do you bet? Watching this shows just how tough Hillary is.