Archive for February, 2012|Monthly archive page

Your Final Chance to Understand These Men (and me)

In General Principles on February 24, 2012 at 8:42 pm

I was late tuning into the debate tonight because (a) I was busy reading Clifford and the Grouchy Neighbors to my kid for his pretend-to-go-to-bedtime story, and (b) I forgot all about it. I’ve got a lot on my plate these days, and unless one of these presidential hopefuls stands up and says he’s ready to sign seal and deliver my wife’s green card before the weekend they have nothing I care to hear.

The digital clock on my laptop from Japan read 10:20, which meant it was 8:20 here when CNN’s live feed finally came stuttering onto my screen. Romney was talking – no surprise – and in the first 45 seconds covered balancing the budget, cutting taxes, English immersion schools, life begins at conception, an embryo farming veto, balancing the Salt Lake City Olympic budget and, as a successful businessman, understanding the crucial importance of fiscal conservatism. Nothing, nada, zilch about speeding up the green card process for pregnant wives of US citizens. Strike One Mitt. You are out of touch with my needs.

Moderator John King, who I mistook at first for Anderson Cooper after an extended Valentine’s Day chocolate binge, asked Newt Gingrich a question with more modified phrases than Arizona’s border has snipers. Newt looked as bored as I feel when Sam Harris is trying to make another one of his non-points, but he took advantage of the probability that no one else in America knew what the question was either and proceeded with what would become the theme for the night: support what the last guy said, but then add a caveat of booger-flicking. ‘I agree with Mitt,’ an oddly fresh-looking Newt said, not detailing which of the fifteen points Mitt just raised he agreed with. ‘But a $200,000 capital gains tax cut-off is lower than Obama’s limit by $50K and I don’t like class warfare.’

Yes, Newt, we know what you like. Which brings me to something I’ve been thinking: If you take a good look into Callista Gingrich’s eyes, does the word ‘predatory’ come to mind?

All of a sudden Newt is on the subject of a border fence. I guess that could have been part of John King’s question. I don’t know if Newt realizes it, but he basically just outlined how far one would have to walk into the desert to get around the wall he said he helped build along the California border. The only thing Newt didn’t do is say it in Spanish.

Next up, a slap-fight between Mitt and Rick about earmarks. Mitt: I’m going to call for a ban on all earmarks. Rick: But you asked Congress for X million dollars to help fund the Salt Lake Olympics. Mitt: Well you supported it. Rick: Because you asked for it, and I only supported half of what you wanted. Mitt: You supported the Bridge to Nowhere. Rick: Yes because you can’t veto an earmark, you can only veto the bill it’s tacked onto. So let me say that as President I’ll vote for a line-item veto. And anyway (he says after Mitt gets him with a wet willy), Ron over there is the biggest earmarker…

Newt jumps in with two slick remarks: ‘With Obama you need a Republican House imposing certain things on the President’ followed by ‘I wanted money for Salt Lake (schmoozing Romney again) but then to run an ad against someone doing the same thing?’ (Newt has interesting boogers.)

Ron Paul finally gets a scrap of time, which he uses to throw up his hands in histrionic disgust. ‘The problem is Congress doesn’t know what they’re doing.’ I can’t decide if such vague, over-reaching statements are more or less convincing coming from Ron Paul. He then makes the point about money being taken from the highway fund going to fund our wars, then when it’s time to fix our roads we have to scrape up money from somewhere. Okay, excellent point. So why isn’t Mr. Paul leading in all the polls with statements like this? Because deep down, Americans, I believe, would rather see news of troops in the desert than tar spreaders in the Midwest.

A question from the gallery about bailouts. Santorum is in principal opposed to government intervening and manipulating the market, and (note the set-up here) opposed the Wall Street bailout. Rick asserts that the government redirecting how an industry works is destructive, and oh by the way Mitt voted bailout for Wall Street but not for the auto industry. Mitt: ‘After 3 auto industry CEOs flew their private jets to Washington to ask for $50B I wrote an op-ed calling for a managed bankruptcy, then if they need help out of bankruptcy I said okay then maybe we could help them.’

Okay, sounds fair I suppose, but how many in that Arizona audience of hundreds of people – and my cyber-audience of four – has any idea what Multi-Million Mitt might mean by ‘okay let’s help them’?

Regarding the Wall Street bailout, Mitt explains, ‘I don’t want to save any Wall Street bank, but I didn’t want all the banks to fail.’ Why not? Now that would be a news segment the entire country could enjoy. Minus the banks of course but who cares about them? … Oh yeah. The guys in charge of the country – including the news.

Newt, refreshingly short and sweet tonight, notes that BMW, Mercedes, Honda and Toyota are all doing fine running their American factories, so why should we enable our own car companies when they refuse to change? Seriously, the guy makes sense more often than I care to admit.

Ron Paul throws his hands up again. ‘Free market in defense of liberty, that’s what we need!’ Then he flashes a grin like Grandma just cut the apple pie into too few slices for everyone at the table.

I think Obama’s got Detroit pretty much wrapped up.

A commercial break, during which my laptop screen displays tweets by three people CNN thinks are worth paying attention to, plus Piers Morgan to draw in the American Idol crowd.

A question from the audience about birth control. Why is this a federal issue? Washington has much more pressing concerns – like getting my pregnant wife her green card.

Newt: Obama voted to allow doctors to kill babies who survive abortions. (This is simply not funny.)

Mitt: Obama said the government should be able to tell the church who their leaders should be and was shot down by the Supreme Court 9-0. (This, Obama claims, was payback for his 9-0 win over the Supreme Court in a recent free throw contest.)

Rick: My opinion regarding the dangers of contraception are based on a problem in our culture; teens getting pregnant, children raising children, children born out of wedlock…

While I can agree these are problems in our culture, I’m a bit lost as to why, at least in the short term, contraception is a danger and not, call this wild speculation, a possible remedy. Then he adds something about drug use, leaving us to figure out why.

Ron Paul, left again to bring up the rear, seems exasperated that the government hasn’t extracted itself from these issues already. ‘Like gun control,’ he says. ‘Guns don’t kill people, people kill people.’ Which is to say pills don’t make people have sex, people make people have sex? Alcohol, on the other hand, might be a significant culprit but we already tried putting the lid on that one.

After some proselytizing by Mitt and Newt, Ron Paul (I don’t know why, I have a hard time calling him just Ron) says Planned Parenthood should get no funding whatsoever.  Now this…this is a guy who truly stands by his beliefs. Because regardless of your personal position, with stances like this it shouldn’t be too hard to imagine Ron Paul and Susan Komen in the near future commiserating on a park bench somewhere drinking bottom shelf booze out of brown paper bags.

Next Rick and Mitt start kicking each other under the table as they squabble about RomneyCare and ObamaCare and Arlen Specter. Meanwhile Newt is staring at the floor to his left, avoiding Callista’s stare in all likelihood.

A man from Kingman, Arizona stands up and asks: ‘What will you do to secure our border?’

Ron Paul gets a rare first shot at an issue. He says we need to forget about the Afghan-Pakistan border and take care of ours. Helping illegals is only hurting our schools, our hospitals…  You know, after ten years in Japan my credit report here in the US is blank and now I can’t even get a Target card, how do these people get to go to school?

Mr. Paul winds up his minute by asserting that by subsidizing something you only get more of it. (Living here at Mom’s I would tend to agree.) Thus his call for ending benefits and welfare for illegals. Fortunately the others are itching to speak and Ron Paul doesn’t have to suggest what to do with all those illegals on the streets. Maybe he’d round them up with the money saved from ending all foreign wars and put them on the work crews rebuilding the highways. Alternatively, we could send them to the Middle East to fight for us.

Now Newt is telling anyone who cares that they can sneak into California easily enough using two 35-foot ladders. Again he stops short of saying this in Spanish but CNN runs a translation on the ticker at the bottom of the screen.

On the question of whether to seek out and arrest illegals, Mitt endorses the practice of using E-Verify, which, he points out, has helped Arizona reduce the number of working illegals by 14% – whereas the national average is 7%. Hey, can anyone out there verify these numbers?

By the way, did you read the first line on the E-Verify page? ‘U.S. law requires companies to employ only individuals who may legally work in the U.S.’ So Mitt is endorsing following the law. He adds companies should have to pay fines if they hire illegals. I said this years ago, in an email to my family. I’m sure they all deleted it by now, likely without having read it. And without my family’s support how can I ever hope to get into one of these debates?

Rick Santorum gets into the issue of homeowners who have illegals working for them, but suddenly my wife comes down and sits at the table and immediately I can’t concentrate. A pregnant woman has this sort of power. She doesn’t even have to say anything. In fact, it’s worse when she doesn’t and just sits there. Staring. As I try to pretend I’m doing something important.

Imagine Callista pregnant. Newt would probably forget he was President.

No commentary on my chat with the wife.

Back to Mesa, Arizona, and Mitt is commenting on education in America. (I think I heard something about the No Child Left Behind Act a moment ago.) Mitt argues that in America, kids don’t learn, they simply learn how to learn, so they have self-esteem, even if they can’t read ‘self-esteem’.

I agree with the part I understand.

Our moderator is winding up this last debate before Super Tuesday by asking each of our four contestants what they think is America’s biggest misconception about them.

Ron Paul says the biggest misconception Americans have about him is the idea – perpetuated by the media – that he can’t win. In Iowa, he notes, he did the best out of everyone when pitted against Obama in a voting poll. He’s also currently in second place in terms of delegates won. Maybe he should let this myth continue until Mitt and Rick slap and kick each other to death.

Newt says the American people are seeking someone who can solve problems, and wishes the American people knew how much work it took to accomplish what “we” did. So what is the misconception, Newt? That you got a lot done over the course of your career?

Mitt says we need to restore the American dream and we thus need big change in DC. John King interrupts and asks Mitt to stick to the misconception idea. Mitt fires back by saying ‘You can ask what you want, I can give any answer I want.’ Wow. In other words, ‘Stick your question where the sun don’t shine so I can beat my dying horse.’

Santorum: ‘Obama has the media behind him and lots of money he doesn’t have to spend campaigning. But we have vision, we have principles, the people are looking for someone running a campaign on a shoestring and doing a lot with a little.’ These guys don’t have a lot of money. I don’t think this is a widely-permeating misconception.

And with this ends the GOP Debate season. I hope my fellow Americans have been paying attention.

Particularly to me. This election, and the future of our country, are hanging in the imbalance.


Going For Brokered

In General Principles on February 18, 2012 at 5:56 am

JournalistBack on January 15th I groaned in vague disappointment at the news that Jon Huntsman was leaving the race for the GOP presidential nomination. I say disappointment because after extensive research consisting of skimming a BBC News summary of the then-remaining hopefuls and my own analysis of the New Hampshire debate a week earlier, I had come to the conclusion that the former US Ambassador to China was by far our best hope for a sane and at least moderately-reliable President.

I say vague because something told me he would be back.

Well now, today, that very possibility seems to be materializing.

Mr. Huntsman is not actually mentioned in this article by Steve Holland, Journalist, but the mere specter of a brokered convention this August gives me hope that the door is still open for him to step up and lead our great country. (I understand that history does not paint a rosy picture for me here but I’m not one to base my political insights on things like reason and considered thought.)

The piece began with the helpful (for me) note that a brokered convention ‘could result in Republicans ditching their current crop of candidates and turning to someone else who they feel would have a better chance of defeating Democratic President Barack Obama in the November 6 election.’ Immediately I thought of this Bugs Bunny cartoon.

A month ago Romney seemed to be cruising above the rest of the field, his fellow combatants either dropping out (too little support, too much ass-grabbing) or simply rising and falling too easily with the demographic tides. Now, almost inexplicably, the staunchly staunch conservative who couldn’t even get re-elected in the Amish State has suddenly become the fly in Romney’s snake ointment, leading the Equitymeister in his own home state of Michigan. But, as the article states, ‘many senior Republicans do not think Santorum has a chance to beat Obama if he wins the party’s presidential nomination.

This is where Steve Holland, Journalist should start peppering the conversation with names like Jon, Huntsman, and Jon Huntsman. Instead (sigh) he brings up ‘two popular governors, Mitch Daniels of Indiana and Chris Christie of New Jersey’ – as if Steve Holland, Journalist knows something just because he ‘has worked for Reuters in Washington for 20 years, and spent 16 of those years at the White House covering Presidents Bush, Clinton and Bush. He covered the 2008 presidential campaign.’ (Source: Reuters) Furthering his anti-credentials, he then goes on to mention Jeb Bush. Seriously? Are things really that bad around the GOP campfire? Honestly, I don’t know a thing about Jeb except for the fact that his last name is Bush – which is enough for me to hope they keep looking. Congressman Paul Ryan’s name comes up next; I hear he spends as much time in the gym as Obama spends on the links, which may be a good campaigning point for both sides.

From here Steve Holland, Word Counter slips in two quick paragraphs headed by three words sure to start the Dems trembling in their PETA-approved wingtips: Palin Offers Help. On Fox Pravda, Steve Holland, Regurgitator reports, Palin said that if it comes down to a brokered convention she will do whatever she can to help fix it.

Finally we are offered an explanation as to how, since candidates win delegates based on the number of votes they receive in each state, the delegate count could be split among the candidates to the point where no one reaches the ‘magic number of 1,144’ needed to clinch the party nomination. What is not explained is why they don’t just count up the votes.

Steve Holland, Political Genius, then posits the advantages of an outsider winning a brokered convention nomination. This guy’s rundown of the brokered convention of 1880, however, might be a tad more useful for a guy like Chris Christie.

Summing up the situation, Steve Holland, Seer, says this: ‘A staggered Romney could trigger a move to find a fresh face to run in a way that would avoid a brokered convention. There is still time for a candidate to get his or her name on the ballot for nominating contests in big states like California, New York and New Jersey.

Mr. Huntsman?

“If you see Romney lose Michigan, I think there is just going to be a cry for another candidate who is not Mitt Romney or Rick Santorum,” said Jennifer Duffy, a political analyst at the non-partisan Cook Political Report.

Mr. Huntsman!!

Convenience, Coffee & How We Use Our Time

In General Principles on February 12, 2012 at 2:27 pm

My New Year’s Resolution – the one about time-management – is slowly taking hold. (Thank you, I know, it’s a tough one.) After washing today’s lunch dishes in record time (only one thing broken) I jumped onto the pc, leaving the wife to play zookeeper with the boys since that is her job. Then I started plowing through a dozen critical, mindless tasks: checking my e-mail for that inevitable offer of employment (if they want me bad enough then yes, they will contact me on a Saturday); promoting the Staten Island Film Festival on facebook (if Broccoli can get 16,000 fans, this shouldn’t be that hard); and shamelessly throwing my work at the latest ‘Look at what a great writer I am!’ website, among other things.

My powers of concentration, or maybe denial, are strong enough to get all this done even as the boys are shoving plastic train tracks in each others’ ear canals. When the bigger one sticks his thumbs in his little brother’s eye sockets, however, it’s time for me to take a break from my assault on the world and give my wife a break from the world’s assault on her.

She came back an hour later, the blood vessels in her forehead having receded. I told her to relax for a while longer, setting the stage for my permissioned escape to Dunkin Donuts.

Honestly, I was going to go to the library. I did go; rolled right up to the front door. But by now it was 3:30, and the laminated sheet on the door with their hours told me I’d have barely enough time to get settled at one of the desks, warm up my laptop and arrange my pile of notebooks (yes the paper kind) before I’d have to pack it all up again. Waste of time, that would be, so without hesitation or a trace of compunction I headed up the street to the only other place nearby where I knew I could sit down and plug in and work on my next novel.

Dunkin Donuts, bless their accommodating souls, is the subtle epitome of excess and waste. To wit: a few weeks ago I went out for doughnuts donuts with a bunch of family, and, one by one, everyone ordered – and everyone got his or her own donut in his or her own private brown paper bag. (This, perhaps, the result of an old woman who sued Dunkin Donuts for $15 million for allowing some of her husband’s Boston crème to get on her toasted coconut?) So we pushed two tables together and sat down and ate and ended up tossing eleven virtually unused brown paper bags in the trash. Or we would have if my wife hadn’t rescued most of them from the landfills of Rutherford so she could use them for snacks or hand puppets later on.

I hate waste. Whenever I go to the supermarket I try to remember to bring used plastic bags with me. Of course then they end up at the bottom of the cart under $113.45 worth of groceries, and by the time I’ve dug them out the cashier has rung up and bagged the first $80. But I try. At Dunkin Donuts their manic efficiency trumps my intentions, and barely before I’m done giving the 6’4” teenage man-boy my order a 5’4” teenage girl has appeared out of nowhere and is already slipping my custard-filled friend into a brown paper bag. Then I get my 20 oz. coffee – which I am going to drink right there in the same room – in a sturdy paper cup with a plastic lid that I swear was designed by NASA. Seriously, if an astronaut dropped this coffee it would likely make it through re-entry. Think I’m exaggerating? Maybe, but this plastic lid has a patent pending. It even says so – it’s molded right into the underside, beneath the cap’s removable accessory, which I will get to in a moment.

Ingenuity and invention made this country great; I am not knocking the power of creativity. And the features of this hyperbaric coffee cup top are undeniably handy. The flexible plastic arm is molded just right to snap into and out of the tiny oval through which your caffeine jolt flows. Not ready for a sip? Not to worry, not a drop of coffee nor a molecule of steam shall escape until your seatbelt is fastened and you are backing out of your parking space with one hand and one eye, your other eye and hand making sure your coffee is safe in its holder. For the less than plastic lid savvy, the word LIFT is molded into the tab at the end of this little plastic arm, form-fitting and snug to the contours of the lid so no one cuts a lip on any stray corners or edges and sues for $15 million.

Flip this arm up to drink your coffee and it totally gets in the way; you have to push it away with your nose (one hand is on the wheel, remember?) while trying to purse your lips over that tiny oval so you don’t spill on yourself, and if you hit a bump that arm can shoot right up a nostril ($10 million, easy). NASA’s coffee lid division has this covered though – you simply bend the arm back and snap the end onto the perfectly-shaped and sized convex knob at the far edge of the lid. You can find it in between the two molded arrows flanked by the molded, easy-to-follow instructions: ‘LOCK’.

I can hear the physics nerds grumbling. If that lid is on so tight, how do you account for the problem of air pressure-liquid displacement (or whatever the terms) when you drink? Good question, geeks, but your geeky compadres at NASA have it covered (that was a pun you geeks). Check the picture up there, you’ll notice that flexible arm has an extension, a larger interlocking modification to the original, simple round and flat coffee cup lid of yore. I couldn’t understand why that flexible arm had to be attached to the mother ship by this huge subliminally Batman-shaped clamp that takes up most of the lid space between the twin LOCK warnings and the all-American requisite ‘Caution Hot’ disclaimer (and a mysterious ‘16RCL’ – an alien-landing reference code maybe). Then I saw them: two microscopic chevron-shaped cuts in the plastic, one to let air into the core of the bat chamber, the other – located clear across on the opposite wing – to allow for air flow into the cup itself. If you ignore the ‘Caution Hot’ and suck your coffee down too fast the speed of the air entering and exiting the bat cave will create a whistling sound, eerily similar to the sound of a faraway police siren, which very effectively encourages you to find a place for your coffee other than in front of your eyes. And if you’re spooked enough to chuck your coffee onto the floor, no worries. That lid will hold long after you’ve gotten your license and registration back. (This assuming NASA has received the appropriate funding to develop a nano-gyroscope that will alert that robotic arm to snap itself shut.)

What a wonderful resume of technological achievement and lawsuit prevention we have.

To top it all off (another play on words you humorless geeks) Dunkin Donuts coffee cups sport a list of all the things that the efficient, tree-slaughtering folks behind the counter can put in that cup for you – sweeteners, among other things. Next to each possibility is an oval, to be filled in with a number two pencil so Joe’s coffee with Splenda doesn’t get mixed up with the coffee with Equal John asked for, or the coffee with Sweet ‘n Low Jane ordered. Fortunately none of them will end up with Jean’s coffee with sugar, those extra calories are killer.

It is 11pm, February 11. I am renewing my resolve to manage my time better. Tomorrow I am going to intervene in the basement before my wife starts screaming for an exorcist. Next trip to the Food King I’m going to throw my plastic bags at the cashier before she puts that first box of cereal through that beeping scanner thing. And on Monday, or whenever I can escape and get back to my novel, I’m going to intercept that stealthy little girl behind the counter before she wastes another brown paper bag or smartlid on me.

Or maybe I should really go nuts with the discipline and get to the library earlier.


Featured Find: Lake Vostok!

In Empires of the Mind on February 9, 2012 at 2:25 am

Russian scientists have acheived what’s being called the moon landing of our generation:

MOSCOW — In the coldest spot on the earth’s coldest continent, Russian scientists have reached a freshwater lake the size of Lake Ontario after spending a decade drilling through more than two miles of solid ice, the scientists said Wednesday.

A statement by the chief of the Vostok Research Station, A. M. Yelagin, released by the director of the Russian Antarctic Expedition, Valery Lukin, said the drill made contact with the lake water at a depth of 12,366 feet. As planned, lake water under pressure rushed up the bore hole 100 to 130 feet pushing drilling fluid up and away from the pristine water, Mr. Yelagin said, and forming a frozen plug that will prevent contamination. Next Antarctic season, the scientists will return to take samples of the water.

The first hint of contact with the lake was on Saturday, but it was not until Sunday that pressure sensors showed that the drill had fully entered the lake. Lake Vostok, named after the Russian research station above it, is the largest of more than 280 lakes under the miles-thick ice that covers most of the Antarctic continent, and the first one to have a drill bit break through to liquid water from the ice that has kept it sealed off from light and air for somewhere between 15 million and 34 million years.