Monday, December 22, 2008

Happy Holidays

As per tradition, this blog will shut down over the holidays, so I can shop, overeat, yell at children (who continue to poke each other in the eye with sticks), and otherwise enjoy the true meaning and spirit of the season.

My parting shot this year will be the classic "The Physics of Santa" said to be originally published in Spy Magazine in 1990 (according to Snopes, which never lies).

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays, everyone.

No known species of reindeer can fly. BUT there are 300,000 species of living organisms yet to be classified, and while most of these are insects and germs, this does not COMPLETELY rule out flying reindeer which only Santa has ever seen.

There are two billion children (persons under 18) in the world. BUT since Santa doesn't appear to handle the Muslim, Hindu, Jewish and Buddhist children, that reduces the workload to 15% of the total — 378 million according to Population Reference Bureau. At an average (census) rate of3.5 children per household, that's 91.8 million homes. One presumes there's at least one good child in each.

Santa has 31 hours of Christmas to work with, thanks to the different time zones and the rotation of the earth, assuming he travels east to west (which seems logical). This works out to 822.6 visits per second.

This is to say that for each Christian household with good children, Santa has 1/1000th of a second to park, hop out of the sleigh, jump down the chimney, fill the stockings, distribute the remaining presents under the tree, eat whatever snacks have been left, get back up the chimney, get back into the sleigh and move on to the next house. Assuming that each of these 91.8 million stops are evenly distributed around the earth (which, of course, we know to be false but for the purposes of our calculations we will accept), we are now talking about .78 miles per household, a total trip of 75½ million miles, not counting stops to do what most of us must do at least once every 31 hours, plus feeding and etc.

This means that Santa's sleigh is moving at 650 miles per second, 3,000 times the speed of sound. For purposes of comparison, the fastest man-made vehicle on earth, the Ulysses space probe, moves at a poky 27.4 miles per second — a conventional reindeer can run, tops, 15 miles per hour.

If every one of the 91.8 million homes with good children were to put out a single chocolate chip cookie and an 8 ounce glass of 2% milk, the total calories (needless to say other vitamins and minerals) would be approximately 225 calories (100 for the cookie, give or take, and 125 for the milk, give or take). Multiplying the number of calories per house by the number of homes (225 x 91.8 x 1000000), we get the total number of calories Santa consumes that night, which is 20,655,000,000 calories. To break it down further, 1 pound is equal to 3500 calories. Dividing our total number of calories by the number of calories in a pound (20655000000/3500) and we get the number of pounds Santa gains, 5901428.6, which is 2950.7 tons.

The payload on the sleigh adds another interesting element. Assuming that each child gets nothing more than a medium-sized lego set (two pounds), the sleigh is carrying 321,300 tons, not counting Santa, who is invariably described as overweight. On land, conventional reindeer can pull no more than 300pounds. Even granting that "flying reindeer" (see above) could pull TEN TIMES the normal amount, we cannot do the job with eight, or even nine. We need 214,200 reindeer. This increases the payload (not even counting the weight of the sleigh) to 353,430 tons. Again, for comparison, this is four times the weight of the Queen Elizabeth. 353,000 tons traveling at 650 miles per second creates enormous air resistance — this will heat the reindeer up in the same fashion as spacecraftre-entering the earth's atmosphere. The lead pair of reindeer will absorb 14.3 QUINTILLION joules of energy. Per second. Each.

In short, they will burst into flame almost instantaneously, exposing the reindeer behind them, and create deafening sonic booms in their wake. The entire reindeer team will be vaporized within 4.26 thousandths of a second. Santa, meanwhile, will be subjected to centrifugal forces 17,500.06 times greater than gravity. A 250-pound Santa (which seems ludicrously slim) would be pinned to the back of his sleigh by 4,315,015 pounds of force.

In conclusion: If Santa ever DID deliver presents on Christmas Eve, he's dead now.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Santa the Refugee

This week's Smile Politely column is about what happens when Santa's Secret Village sinks into the ocean after the icecaps melt: Santa the Refugee.

Update: I also posted this article to my Open Salon blog, and it made Editor's Pick for today! You'll need to scurry on over there if you want to see it before it rolls off the front page, but all in all, it makes for a rather nice Christmas present.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Dodging Shoes and Other Things

I actually felt bad for W when I saw that Iraqi journalist throw his shoes at him. It’s embarrassing not just for him, but for all of us.

Then I was impressed with W’s reaction time. He ducked those loafers like a stunt man. All that jogging and biking seems to have paid off.

Then I was impressed with his nonchalance about it. But, unfortunately, he continued talking, which caused my sympathy to wane:

"It is one way to gain attention. It’s like going to a political rally and having people yell at you. It’s like driving down the street and having people not gesture with all five fingers. It’s a way for people to draw attention, you know, I don’t know what the guy’s cause is. But one thing is certain — it caused you to ask me a question about it (smirk). I didn’t feel the least bit threatened by it. These journalists here were very apologetic; they said this doesn’t represent the Iraqi people. That’s what happens in free societies. People try to draw attention to themselves. "

It's all about someone else trying to get attention. He develops this theme in a later interview:

Here’s the reality: When the journalist threw the shoe, he yelled “This is for the widows and orphans and all those killed in Iraq." He is someone who was kidnapped last year as part of the general out-of-control lawlessness and violence in Iraq. He was not trying to draw attention to himself. He was trying to draw attention to the consequences of the policies of George Bush, albeit in the most disrespectful way he could think of.

I don’t understand W’s comment about free societies either. The guy is in jail. You are not free to throw anything you want at other people. That’s not part of being a free society. On the other hand, there are now reports of him being beaten in custody, with broken arms and ribs and eye injuries. I guess torture really is an integral part of freedom now.

So, is it asking too much that, despite the embarrassing nature of the event, that W actually learn something from it? Wouldn’t it be great if W had said something like this instead:

Yea, the guy was unhappy that I invaded his country and subsequently killed hundreds of thousands of people. I get it. I am sorry. I screwed up on a Biblical scale. I will commit the rest of my life to atoning for this sin.”

That’s all he needs to do — take responsibility for his actions, express regret for the general devastation he has caused, and give some indication that he will be working to correct what he can for the rest of this life.

Of course, maybe the first thing he could do is make sure this one guy is safe from any further physical abuse.

Monday, December 15, 2008

More Holiday Kitsch

Despite truly heroic efforts, Christians have not been able to corner the market on kitsch during the holiday shopping season. In fact, the term itself is Yiddish, so it shouldn't be surprising that this gem is available only at


Wooden Handpainted Plagues Bowling Set. Dick Weber never envisioned this. Have some special Passover fun when you bowl using this adoraable bowling set in which each pin represents one of the 10 plagues. Just try to pick up the Hail รข€“ Death of the Firstborn split. Fun for the whole family! Includes 2 colorful wooden balls. Suitable for ages 5 and up. (Each pin is 4½" - 5" tall)

Although it's a Passover thing rather than Chanukah thing, I must say I've never seen such adorable plagues.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Rick Warren, We Hardly Knew Ye

My Smile Politely column is up: Rick Warren Wants Dick Cheney Dead.

It expresses my disappointment with Rick Warren, mega-pastor and former reasonable voice of conservative Christianity.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Blago in Jail

Wow - Gov. Blagojevich is in jail this morning for attempting to sell Obama's senate seat to the highest bidder. What a scumbag.

Gov. Blagojevich considered the Senate seat vacated by Barack Obama “golden” and vowed he was “just not giving it up for [expletive] nothing. I’m not gonna do it,” according to federal charges unsealed today against the governor.

Blagojevich held the power to fill the vacancy and, he made clear, if he couldn’t find anyone willing to pay for it, “I can always use it. I can parachute me there,” a federal affidavit states.

Apparently, all Obama was willing to give Blago was "appreciation" in return for picking the senator he wanted, and that made Blago mad. Once again, Obama's judgement is right on. I would have hated to see him go down because of Blago.

This is good news, actually. Blago won't be smearing the name of Democrats for very much longer, and his political career is now over.

I just wish one of the requirements for holding office was random hidden microphone checks. Sunlight is the best disinfectant.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Proposition 8 The Musical

I'm late to the party on this one, but will include it for posterity:

See more Jack Black videos at Funny or Die

Jack Black sure does make a cheery Jesus. And I do believe this makes Neil Patrick Harris the official king of cameos.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Lazy Friday Video -- Who needs pockets?

Sent to me by my sister-in-law Tami:

There are certainly worse things kids can store in their diapers, without even getting gross about it.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

The War on Christmas, 2008

My regular column is up over at Smile Politely: The War on Tolerance, 2008 Update. And thanks to my friend Molly, who found the James Dobson list and the Advent Conspiracy links.

In addition, I'm trying something new as well: Salon's open forum. I created a blog there and pasted in the same column. Maybe it will get some attention, maybe it won't. There's a lot of good content there, and it will probably only be on the Most Recent front page for a half hour or so, but it's worth a shot.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Trickle Down Charity

Smile Politely is hurting for content this week, since a lot of our writers are university affiliated and therefore, crunched right now. So, I may do two columns this week.

Today's column is an expansion of a letter to the editor I did four years ago when Bush was re-elected and decided he had a mandate. It ridicules trickle-down economics, because in my world view, the idea that it is a social good to make rich people wealthier is a ridiculous one.

It's available here: Trickle Down Charity

Monday, December 01, 2008

Poe’s Law

During the recent, epic argument between PG and Bob, the likes of which have not been seen since Bob and I used to clear out the lunchroom at SourceGear, PG uncovered a disturbing Christian cartoon called The Last Generation, available here.

The worldview of this cartoon is one where:

  • In the near future, a world government will start executing people who claim Jesus in the only way to God.

  • Christians are excited about world misery and natural disasters, because it shows the end times are near.

  • School teachers are witches who teach kids to sacrifice puppies and kittens.

  • Children are indoctrinated by the state to turn in heretics (that is, Christians who believe in Jesus), who are then tortured to renounce their beliefs.

PG identified this as a perfect example of Poe’s Law, where one can’t distinguish between a fundamentalist’s actual beliefs and a parody of the same. This one seemed like a parody to me, if only because it would be impossible to make a parody of it, but it wasn't.

Bob brought up the idea that Poe’s Law should apply to wacky leftists too. I think there’s probably some truth to that (like blaming capitalism or the US for every problem in the world). I would guess it would be easier to identify wacky leftist ideology from parody, but that’s probably just my bias. If you find any, let me know.

Mostly, I take heart that, as of Jan 20th, Christians with persecution complexes and world death wishes will no longer have access to the guy with his finger on our nuclear arsenal.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Search Mania 6

It's been awhile since I've subjected everyone to searches that internet users have used to reach my blog. It's another good batch this time around.

My favorites this time around:

"did the mennonites ever fight among themselves" - Yes, in fact, that is one of the defining characteristics of Anabaptists in general -- disagree on some minor point of theology or behavior and then go start your own sect.

"i was wrong about the doctrine of pre-emptive" - I don't know if this person was asking for forgiveness from google or looking for gloating opportunities. Either way, there are not nearly enough places in world where "wrong" and "pre-emption" are used in the same sentence, so I'm glad my blog can contribute in some small way.

"mennonite year of doing what you want" - That is the best idea I have heard in a long time. It may be time to start a new sect.

"mennonite toddler blog" - strangely apt for this blog.

"what happens when you marry a Mennonite," "amish mennonite sexaul ritual" and "mennonite and unmarried and pregnant" - Nice little object lesson when used in combination, buried right there in the search terms.

Here are the ones I've found most interesting in the last six months:

mennonites and cult imprisonment
peeing standing up bible reference
mennonite year of doing what you want
mennonite mania
do mice stink when poisoned
people who think media pressure is good
mennonites looking in the eyes
nice rejection letter nice sample
i hate Mennonites
america the good neighbor
jesus pluck out eye
corny the mennonite
mennonite random name generator
i was wrong about the doctrine of pre-emptive
mennonite vagina pictures
percentage of american men who pee sitting down
encouraging letter of rejection
what happens when you marry a Mennonite
dead mice and a children
consumerism Eisenhower
mennonite indoctrination
punctuation is meaning
how mennonite avoid taxes
mennonites skin colour
mennonites justice hunger
mennonite toddler blog
after atonement
parade magazine computer menonnite
biblical peeing on the wall
god loves you. everybody else thinks you're an asshole
are mennonite men circumcised
did the mennonites ever fight among themselves
minor rejection
prohibiting standing to pee
projecting worship songs on the wall
mennonites rule shirts
smelly Mennonites
amish mennonite sexaul ritual
mennonite home brain injury children va
mennonites burn every seven years
my god can do anything
trick to remember the 7th amendment
the sinner minor wife and their people
meaning of you have ruined me for other men
cute overload antidote
is governor palin a Mennonite
mennonites against mccain
they just can’t keep their hands out of the cookie jar
peanut butter is spaghetti sauce
taxing a windfall homerun
why she left and why she died song
i eat pasta sauce from the jar
mennonite tractor backhoe
feeling manly
mennonite mind control
mennonite and unmarried and pregnant
how to annoy socialists
is character assassination a sin

Monday, November 24, 2008

Hillary as Secretary of State

It looks like Hillary as Secretary of State is going to happen. Everyone seems to have an opinion about it -- Crockhead had some pretty good thoughts last week. I've been trying to work up some emotion about it, but really, I don't care.

In fact, I guess it was the election I was addicted to, rather than the governance, because so far, I haven't really payed much attention to cabinet choices and such.

One thing that I must admit though: As mad as I was at Hillary last spring for throwing all that mud at Obama, it did seem to help him in the fall campaign. Rev. Wright was old news by the fall and the grilling he went through showed his moxy under pressure. When McCain tried to tie Obama to alleged scary people, it didn't work, because we'd heard it before, and the only people it mattered to were already going to vote for McCain.

I still don't trust Hillary much, but so far, I still do trust Obama to know what he's doing.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Shut Up and Salute

I’ve never heard of Mike Gallagher before, but he sounds like a low-rent Rush, if that is even possible. (Thanks to urbanmenno for the link on this.)

Gallagher has spent a few sessions of his radio show lambasting Goshen College for not playing the national anthem before their sporting events. Goshen, being a Mennonite college, doesn’t play the anthem because of their historical stance on the separation of church and state. Gallagher is angry that Goshen hates their country so much. He thinks they should lose any government funding they receive if they don’t play the anthem.

While Goshen isn’t terribly interested in conforming to Mike Gallagher's version of patriotism, they are very interested in the Constitution, especially what it says, and how it is used. Unlike most colleges, they take Constitution Day very seriously, by reading the Constitution and creating groups to discuss it. Surprisingly, you can love your country because of the values it upholds, rather than the flag it bears or the song about war set to the old English drinking tune it chooses as its sacred song.

Demanding that the flag and the anthem be part of your expression of gratitude for your country is silly. It borders on idol worship, which, you know, is kind of sacrilegious.

And yet, some conservative responses are so depressingly predictable: Wave your damn flag and play the damn anthem and shut up about that whole separation of church and state thing.

File under: Sure you have freedom of speech, as long as you don’t use it.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

How to Ruin Parody

I heard "Torn" on the radio this morning by Natalie Imbruglia. I always liked that song, but now every time I hear it I think of Johan Lippowitz's mime of it:

In searching for that video, I found that he and Natalie Imbruglia actually performed it together:

Too bad. Like Sarah Palin being on Saturday Night Live, it pretty much ruins parody to have the person you are parodying be right next to you.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Micro Mini Review: The Secret

My 6th grader Jasmine has this to report on The Secret:

Me: How was the movie?
Jasmine: It was like every other movie.
Me: How so?
Jasmine: There are a bunch of clues to figure out and they have to get to stuff before the bad guys do.

Depressingly, that is a pretty good description of every other movie.

Monday, November 17, 2008

The Chief's Next Dance

Chief Illiniwek danced again, unofficially, at Assembly Hall last Saturday. I was there, playing the part of a liberal, biased, commie media writer.

My liberal, biased, commie write up on it is available at Smile Politely: Dancing Privileges

Friday, November 14, 2008

Roger Ebert: Honorary Mennonite

Roger Ebert just did a good Howard Zehr impression on his blog with The third most important story of the year.

In a wide-ranging essay on religion, racism and violence, Ebert talks about the recent Muslim fatwa against terrorism, his firsthand impressions of Iran, and how South Africa managed a peaceful transition of power.

It made me think about how blacks in South Africa had to endure Nazi-like rule and would have been competely justified in violent overthrow of their government, according to the morality of Just War.

But not only did they manage a peaceful transition without resorting to violence, but they set up the Truth and Reconciliation Commission as a national theraputic forgiveness ritual. Here's Ebert:

After apartheid ended, decades of old wounds were open and bleeding. Still unpunished were whites who had engaged in the Sharpeville Massacre, the torture and murder of political prisoners, and the loosing of attack dogs against school children. And Africans who had engaged in terror bombings, assassinations, and the "necklacing" of fellow Africans suspected of cooperating with the whites. (A necklacing consists of chaining a tire around a victim's neck and setting it afire.)

There were very few violent reprisals, even though both sides had a very good idea of exactly who to target. Under the leadership of the heroic Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission was formed. It held hearings throughout the beloved country, and its rules were firm: Describe fully what you did, who your victims where, and where their bodies might be found, and then make an apology that the Commission members believed.

Then walk away. Your crimes and your sins are now between you and heaven. Think about that. It was successful. The stature of Tutu, de Clerk and Mandela helped make it so. South Africans of all races, weary onto death of decades of violence, greeted the Commission almost thankfully. It is one of the most extraordinary stories in human history.

Human Smoke Quotes

Someday, I'm going to write an essay titled "Why I am almost, very nearly a pacifist." I very much want to be 100% pacifist, and I always seem make the case for pacifism, but like anything else, I recognize it has it's problems. I'll say them out loud at some point, when my essay is done.

In the meantime, here's some more pacifism advocacy: Quotes from Human Smoke: The beginnings of WWII, the End of Civilization by Nicholson Baker, which PG suggested I read last summer.

Captain Philip S. Mumford, a former British officer in Iraq, joined the Peace Pledge Union. He gave a speech about why. “what is the difference between throwing 500 babies into a fire and throwing fire from aeroplanes on 500 babies? He asked.

“There is none.”
It was January 5, 1937

And one from Aldous Huxley:

Aldous Huxley was in Hollywood writing Ends and Means, an inquiry into the philosophy of nonviolence. It was 1937.

The international police force that people were clamoring for was a mistake and a misnomer, Huxley believed. “The police act with the maximum of precision; they go out and arrest the guilty person,” he wrote. “Nations and group of nations act through their armed forces, which can only act with the maximum of imprecision, killing, maiming, starving and ruining millions of human beings, the overwhelming majority of whom have committed no crime of any sort.”

An international police force was in actuality a force for international massacre. “If you approve of indiscriminate massacres, then you must say so,” he wrote. “You have no right to deceive the unwary by calling your massacre-force by the same name as the force which controls traffic and arrests burglars.”

Nonviolence was, Huxley thought, the only intergovernmental response to violence that had any practical chance of working. It worked with nations as it did with individuals:

"We have all seen how anger feeds upon answering anger, but is disarmed by gentleness and patience. We have all known what it is to have our meannesses shamed by somebody else’s magnanimity; what it is to have our dislikes melted away by an act of considerateness; what it is to have our coldness and harshnesses transformed into solicitude by the example of another’s unselfishness."

Violence made men worse, Huxley said; nonviolence made them better.

When I say war is evil, even when it's intentions seem to be good, what I'm saying is that violence makes people worse. War is indiscriminate, no matter who we are going after and what we are trying to accomplish.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

More with the Apocalypse

My Smile Politely column is up: Hoarding Food for the Apocalypse, where I reveal my general lack of faith in everything.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Don't Get Too Comfortable

With the election over, I can finally return to some long-awaited worrying about useful things -- like robots taking over the world.

Many thanks to John O'Neill, for tipping me off to this:

Apparently, one strategy the robots will employ is to dance for us and make us laugh, so we will feel comfortable around them. Sure. Right up to the appointed time when they block out the sun with cosmic sky-eating death rays.

Here's another strategy:

The first entirely artificial heart should be ready for human trials 'within two and a half years', it was claimed yesterday. The prosthetic replacement would be fully implantable and could solve the worldwide shortage of donor hearts – estimated at 20,000 each year.

Under the guise of "healthcare," up to 20,000 people a year will be walking around with robot hearts. Sure, it will keep them alive for awhile. Probably just long enough to become an army of human puppets, waiting to receive instructions from their robot master controller to turn the rest of us into energy pods.

I think profiling and wiretapping are in order. Also, some kind of Gitmo facility should be created for them, disguised as a hospital or something.

Obama may bring hope and unity to the humans of the world, but what is his plan to confront the threat of evil robot overlords?

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Happy Armistice Day

November eleventh, accidentally my birthday, was a sacred day called Armistice Day. When I was a boy and when Dwayne Hoover was a boy, all the people of all the nations which fought the First World War were silent during the eleventh minute of the eleventh hour of the Armistice Day, which was the eleventh day of the eleventh month.

It was during that minute in nineteen hundred and eighteen, that millions upon millions of human beings stopped butchering one another. I have talked to old men who were on battlefields during that minute. They have told me in one way or another that the sudden silence was the Voice of God. So we still have among us some men who can remember when God spoke clearly to mankind.

Armistice Day has become Veterans’ Day. Armistice Day was sacred. Veterans' Day is not.

So I will throw Veterans’ Day over my shoulder. Armistice Day I will keep. I don’t want to throw away any sacred things.

What else is sacred? Oh, Romeo and Juliet, for instance.

And all music is.

- Kurt Vonnegut, Breakfast of Champions
Vonnegut has a point, I think. Armistice Day was about peace. It was about no longer engaging in violence. Veterans' Day is about soldiers, and so ends up being about war. I recognize that many soldiers are brave and honor their country with their service. And yet many others shame their country with unnecessary acts of brutality. War itself is as often about conquest as about protection.

Sacred means Godly, being worthy of religious veneration. Neither war nor warriors are sacred, no more than community organizers or Christian Peacemakers are sacred. At best, war is a necessary evil. War does not stop being evil even when it seems necessary.

On the other hand, peace is sacred. God's will is for us to live peaceably with each other. And we used to have a holiday that was all about peace, not war.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Get Your War Off

This blog has been an election prisoner of war, since I've done nothing but obsess about it for 2 months now. But now that the campaign is over, paperwork is being filled out and an armistice appears near.

I can tell it's close, because I'm already ready to laugh at stuff like this:

Get the latest news satire and funny videos at

Friday, November 07, 2008

Democrats fail to blow election

This is hilarious, from Andy Borowitz:

Just minutes after their party's longstanding losing tradition lay in tatters on the ground, millions of shell-shocked Democrats stared at their television screens in disbelief, asking themselves what went right.

For Democrats, who have become accustomed to their party blowing an election even when it seemed like a sure thing, Tuesday night's results were a bitter pill to

More here.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

What Unity Feels Like

An interesting phenomenon happened yesterday. No less than four conservative friends and family contacted me, expressing either congratulations or satisfaction at how the election went, even though they voted for McCain.

First, my sister emailed me to say congratulations and that she wishes Obama good luck and blessings on the tough job ahead. Then my conservative neighbor, who believes wholeheartedly that Obama is a socialist, said he wasn’t too upset by it. He thought the financial crisis was going to make it tough for everyone, and he hopes Obama can find a way to address it. My brother-in-law, who is more libertarian than conservative, called and said how happy he was for us, especially for our kids. He is temporarily living in Boston, and I found out his congressional representatives are Ted Kennedy, John Kerry, and Barney Frank, so he's about as underrepresented in Congress as is mathematically possible. Finally, Jill’s conservative Christian cousin sent email to the whole family that said it brought tears to her eyes to see the “First” black family walk out on stage together, even though she voted for McCain.

Have other Obama supporters gotten this reaction from their conservative friends? Or am I just special because I’m such a vocal Obama supporter?

One possible explanation to this is that conservatives are just better sports than liberals. After all, liberals generally lambasted their conservative friends after Bush was re-elected. But I doubt we would have gotten those calls if Hillary Clinton had been elected, nor would liberals have been so upset if John McCain had beaten John Kerry in 2004. The anger after 2004 was specifically about handing power back over to Bush for four more years. There’s a difference between being a poor sport and being upset that the country is going down in flames. (Although I suppose it could be both -- country going down in flames and poor sportsmanship).

I think the difference this time around is the historic nature of electing an African American as president. I think we all shared a powerful and moving national experience when Barack, Michelle, Malia, and Sasha walked out onto that stage and Barack gracefully accepted the presidency.

“To those Americans whose support I have yet to earn, I may not have won your vote tonight, but I hear your voices. I need your help. And I will be your president, too.”
The images and the cathartic language combined to make a statement about what is possible in our country.

After all the mud slung at Obama during the election, I was worried that it would cause reasonable people to remain afraid of him as a ... well, pick one: dangerous radical, Muslim, terrorist-lover, socialist, unAmerican, yadda, yadda.

That so many people are embracing this event as an historic triumph for our country, regardless of support for or against Obama's potential policy direction, says something very positive about us as a people. We can come together and agree that it is good that a black man can be the image our country presents to the world. And it is good not just for African Americans, but for everyone. Every so often, when the conditions are just right, our ideals can outstrip our ideologies, and our collective post-election reaction appears to be one of those times.

No doubt all this unity will dissipate as policy decisions run into serious opposition. That’s to be expected. No doubt there are still plenty of outright racists seething about the election. They will always be among us. But it feels good to know that among mainstream Americans, there is still room in political discourse for us to be our best selves.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Post Election Wrapup

What impresses me most about Obama's victory is not that he won, but how he won it. He appealed to our better nature, with a message of hope and unity. He has consistently expected the best of Americans, and 52% of voting Americans responded.

One of the narratives from the commentariat last night was that there was nothing McCain could have done -- the conditions were simply too negative for any Republican to win. I'm not convinced that is true. The McCain campaign lost a lot of people by choosing an unqualified vice-president, and also by playing to the worst impulses of his base, in promoting the narrative of Obama as Scary Other.

However, I'm now going to differentiate "John McCain" from "the McCain campaign." I believe the McCain campaign acted shamelessly at times. But John McCain the man gave an incredibly great concession speech last night, essentially saying that all that mud was just campaigning. I hope the well isn't too poisoned from that campaigning, but McCain's shushing his supporters and offering to help out with the challenges ahead was vintage McCain 2000. I wish he had showed up more during the campaign. But, I'm grateful that he is now offereing to detox the well. Good for him.

Random observations:

  • The first sentence on the front page of the NY Times: "Barack Hussein Obama was elected the 44th president of the United States on Tuesday." I guess we can start using his middle name now. Hopefully, the stigma will wear off in the next four years.

  • It was truly touching to see so many African Americans shed tears of joy at the outcome. It was quite a shock to hear all the pundits suddenly talk about race, when it was such a verboten topic before he clinched it. My Smile Politely column is about this.

  • It was over when he won Ohio, but it was interesting to see the news media continue to play along for a full hour afterward. Of course, they didn't wait long until the polls closed in California -- I think they called it at 10:00:01 CST.

  • The challenge facing Republicans is pretty stark going forward, and it was all revealed at the two rallies last night. Like the conventions, McCain's gathering featured a small group of almost all white people, middle aged and older. The Obama gathering was hundreds of thousands of everyone - black, white, young, old, and everybody in between. As American demographics continue to change, Republicans are going to need to be more than the party of older white people.

  • My 9-year-old son has focused on the bodyguards of this election. He's been very interested in how many bodyguards Obama has and what kinds of things they might have to do to protect him. Note that this isn't because he's particularily concerned about Obama's security, but because he desires to have bodyguards of his own one day. When he saw Malia and Sasha on stage (Obama's kids), he asked whether they got bodyguards too, and was really jealous when we said that they did.

  • One casualty to this election is my belief that ordinary people could be president. Obviously, Sarah Palin plays into this, but really, it's more about Obama. I'm just egotistical enough to believe that I can do most things, and am as good as most people. But I've come to believe that Obama is extraordinary, in intelligence, in temperment, in judgement, you name it. He's the right man for these time, which would overwhelm an ordinary person. Of course, I'm assuming he will govern as brilliantly as he has campaigned. Let's hope that's true.

  • Remember last week when Bush invaded Syria? OK, technically it wasn't an invasion, but a bombing of a foreign, soveriegn country. Still, I was shocked not that it happened, but that there was so little outrage about it (except from the Syrians). What happens if you throw an October Surprise, but nobody comes? I guess no one expects much of anything anymore from Bush.

  • I quoted this from Obama's victory speech already, but it is just so exactly right: “Tonight we proved once more that the true strength of our nation comes not from the might of our arms or the scale of our wealth, but from the enduring power of our ideals: democracy, liberty, opportunity and unyielding hope.”

    This is what has been wrong the last eight years. We've thought we could intimidate the world with our weapons and our wealth, without paying much attention to our ideals. The first step in fixing it is being aware of it, and yesterday we took that first step. We have a long way to go to dig out.


Finally, hope and unity defeat fear and division.

I was doubtful, but am happy, and now very tired.

I put up quick column with a few election thoughts over at Smile Politely, scheduled to go up at 9:00AM. I'll link it here when it goes live, but after the victory party I'm supposed to go to.

Also, I'll post some other election musings later as well.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Make History

Well, the Steelers did their job by beating the Redskins, so now everything points to an Obama victory.

Of course, the big question is: Are the polls accurate? If they are, Obama will win easily. As many analysts have mentioned, it all depends on Pennsylvania and Virginia. McCain essentially can’t win without Pennsylvania, and if the polls are not accurate, they will show up in those two states, where Obama has been over 50% for quite some time. If the polls have misread those states, we could be in for a long, nerve-racking night. If Obama takes PA and Virginia, it’s over.

Why could the polls be so inaccurate? Lots of reasons, this time around. Obama’s race continues to be a huge question mark. Also, exit polls the last two elections have been unreliable (supposedly because Republicans don't want to talk to pollsters, but I don't know that I completely buy that). Voter turnout, voter suppression and intimidation, registration purges and polling machine malfunctions can all play a role in a close election. One things in Obama’s favor is that most polls don’t include cell phones, which means young people are undercounted, which would favor Democrats on election day.

So, we’ll see. I fretted before the 2006 mid-term elections, and everything worked out fine then. Still, take nothing for granted. Go vote. If the margin is high enough, inaccurate polls and polling place shenanigans will not matter.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Wassup '08

Remember the Wassup guys?

Well, they are back:

Friday, October 31, 2008

Global Warming in Champaign

It's Halloween today. The kids are out of school for fall holiday and are getting whipped up into a frenzy of antipication for all the candy they are going to get tonight. Well, I guess not all the kids - the 8th grader really hates all the ghoulish scariness of Halloween and just wants to express her inner princess by dressing up pretty. Good for her, I say.

Halloween is often a marking of the seasons. The time change from daylight to standard used to happen the weekend before, but now it happens the weekend after.

I've lived in Central Illinois for 18 years now, and October has always been the time for raking leaves. We have a lot of trees in and around our yard, so leaf raking usually takes three different sessions. Halloween is signifcant in that Oct. 31st usually marks the time when almost all the leaves are off the trees, and we have only one more leaf raking to do.

But not this year, and not so much for the past few years. This year, we have yet to do our first leaf raking. In fact, many trees have not even started turning color yet. This is looking east on University Ave:

This is looking west, towards Prospect Ave. Nice and colorful, but the trees are still full of leaves:

Here's my actual yard. The leaves are starting to accumulate, but nothing to worry about yet.

As a side note, you can just make out the C. Pius Wiebel for County Board sign. He's a great guy and good friend. I think I'm going to ask him what the County Board can do about climate change in Central Illinois. It's unnatural to start leaf raking in November.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Joe the Self-Defeater

My regular Smile Politely column is ready: Joe vs. The Socialists.

It's about how I don't understand why Joe the Plumber is so outraged on behalf of the top 5% of wage earners. After all, he is just making it harder on himself now, in the hopes that he will get to be 3% greedier if he ever gets to that top 5%.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The Backward B

I wrote a bonus Smile Politely column this week: The Symbol of the McCain Candidacy: The Backward B. It's a short piece on how John McCain has only hurt himself in his attempts to smear Obama.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Race Based Voting

Yesterday's post generated some interesting comments about who is voting based on race and who isn't. I want to weigh in, and have nothing else to blog about today, so will make it a blog post.

I think the question here is: Who casts votes solely based on race?

PG and I and others like that Obama is black. It's one of the things that makes us more enthusiastic about him, because he symbolizes a more tolerant America. But the thing is, we don't vote for someone only because of their race. For instance, I didn't vote for Alan Keyes. I highly suspect PG didn't either. Race is one factor among many.

On the other hand, there are plenty of reports out there that say that Obama is not getting votes from Democrats and union people simply because he is black. His policies reflect their positions on most things, but they are afraid to vote for a black person. And this doesn't even count all the Republicans who still cling to the belief that he is a Muslim. A friend of mine canvassed in Iowa and kept knocking on doors where people actually admitted they couldn't vote for a black person.

So, I think there is no question that Obama's race hurts his chances in general. Luckily, it looks like it might not hurt him enough to be defeated because of it.

Monday, October 27, 2008

The Ashley Todd Hoax

I think Obama just might win this thing.

I know he’s been up in the polls for a long time, but the polls also keep tightening and widening. Mostly, I kept expecting some huge October surprise or stunt from McCain that would re-align everything. I went to bed last Thursday night afraid that it had just happened.

A McCain campaign worker, Ashley Todd, was reported to have been mugged and then mutilated by a large black man who was angry that she had a McCain bumper sticker on her car. It was reported as a brutal attack, with a large B carved into the side of her face. If true, I was worried this would tap into deep-seated racial fears among whites, as the McCain campaign and conservative media outlets would play it for all its race-baiting glory.

The thing is, if the story were true, it would have been completely unfair to Obama. He’s not the one injecting hate and fear into this campaign. Once McCain got behind in the polls, he made this campaign about how scary Obama’s character is, and whipped up many of his supporters into a frenzy. Before McCain threw a small bucket of water on it by rebuking a supporter at a rally, I was afraid things were going to get out of hand and someone might get hurt.

Compare that to Obama’s message, whose negativity has always been about McCain's policies and actions, and never about McCain's character or shady associations of his own. Obama’s message and really, his whole life, has been about unity and hope and reconciliation and understanding among diverse peoples.

So, if violence were to happen, it would be a result of McCain stirring the pot, not Obama. But, it would not have mattered. A large black man mutilating a young white girl would just re-awaken racial animosity from whites, and who knows who deep the wound would have become.

So, I found myself hoping against hope that this did happen. I had solace in one fact last Thursday night – she did not seek medical attention after the attack. That just didn’t fit. Anyone who was brutally attacked would surely seek medical attention. So, I was hoping for a hoax. And yet, how do you root for something like this to be a partisan hoax? It’s like not quite believing a rape victim. If you get it wrong, you are a serious a-hole.

By Friday morning, the reports seemed more wary about the event. Even Michelle Malkin, not someone who is normally all that interested in the truth, publicly doubted it. After seeing the photo, it just looked wrong. Her face wasn’t carved up. There were scratch marks in the perfect shape of a backwards B. Why would a mugger do that? And there was no way a knife made those marks. It looked more like fingernails, done in a mirror. Her story had changed now too, adding both that she was sexually assaulted and was unconscious. The Pittsburgh police seemed very skeptical and were checking the tapes of the crime scene.

Finally, by Friday afternoon, she had recanted her story. The October surprise turned out to be nothing but a crazy campaign operative. It was then that I finally believed Obama was going to win.

One thing that has not panned out is that I thought the McCain campaign would be unfairly blamed for the hoax. If Obama was going to be unfairly blamed for the attack, I assumed media would unfairly go after McCain for it. But it hasn’t. While appropriate, I think it does underscore the basic differences in the campaign. Had the situation been reversed, we would now be subjected to McCain mailers, robocalls, and press conferences claiming Obama perpetuated a hoax and what that says about his character.

Nevertheless, this story softens any subsequent story that might develop, since everyone’s ear is now attuned to potential hoaxes. For example, over the weekend, some houses in Virginia were vandalized with anti-McCain messages. Could be Obama supporters. But, it could be McCain supporters perpetuating a hoax, as they are now known to do.

So, without a serious game-changing story that people believe, the current status quo in the polls with prevail, and Obama will win.

Friday, October 24, 2008

The Shopping Spree

The big story this week is about Sarah Palin buying 150K worth of fancy, schmancy designer clothes, and how that might undermine her regular gal cred.

I’m going against the grain on this one. I think this enhances her regular gal cred. After all, most people would enthusiastically lap up 150K worth of clothes if it were at the expense of campaign donors. Given the chance, most people are eager to be corrupted, whether it be clothes, cars, houses, whatever. All this proves is that Palin is really a very ordinary person, if perhaps a tiny bit on the leading edge.

However, there is one part of the story that does make her extraordinary. It is apparently pretty hard to spend 150K on clothes, even at designer stores. She's a natural, I guess.

And, no sarcasm on the subject would be complete without a link to the Daily Show segment about it:

In all seriousness though, it amazes me that McCain continues to want to make this election about character, when he and Palin are exhibiting so little of it. I mean, come on, the first thing she does once she has access to deep pockets is go on a 150K shopping spree? What does that say about how she might govern?

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Who Should Not Vote

My Smile Politely column is up: Who Should Not Vote.

It's an expansion of a blog post from last week, where I come up with my own test for who should not be qualified to vote.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

The Whys of Endorsement

So, shocker of shockers, that pinnacle of the liberal elite media, The New Yorker, endorsed Barack Obama last week.

Like the Colin Powell endorsement, this comes as no surprise. But also like the Powell endorsement, its power resides not in the fact of the endorsement, but in the whys of the endorsement.

The New Yorker delivers 4,201 words on a scathing recap of the Bush presidency and a comprehensive and airtight analysis of where and how Obama is better suited, in policy, persona and image, to lead the country. They cover everything from energy policy to tax policy to foreign policy to integrity to temperament. They end with this:

We cannot expect one man to heal every wound, to solve every major crisis of policy. So much of the Presidency, as they say, is a matter of waking up in the morning and trying to drink from a fire hydrant. In the quiet of the Oval Office, the noise of immediate demands can be deafening. And yet Obama has precisely the temperament to shut out the noise when necessary and concentrate on the essential. The election of Obama—a man of mixed ethnicity, at once comfortable in the world and utterly representative of twenty-first-century America—would, at a stroke, reverse our country’s image abroad and refresh its spirit at home. His ascendance to the Presidency would be a symbolic culmination of the civil- and voting-rights acts of the nineteen-sixties and the century-long struggles for equality that preceded them. It could not help but say something encouraging, even exhilarating, about the country, about its dedication to tolerance and inclusiveness, about its fidelity, after all, to the values it proclaims in its textbooks. At a moment of economic calamity, international perplexity, political failure, and battered morale, America needs both uplift and realism, both change and steadiness. It needs a leader temperamentally, intellectually, and emotionally attuned to the complexities of our troubled globe. That leader’s name is Barack Obama.

If you have the patience to read 4,201 words in a row, it is well worth the time, available here.

So, now I will shock you all, and declare that I am endorsing Barack Obama for President of the United States. My reasons are available at the New Yorker website.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Powell Says It Best

I've been unhappy with Colin Powell ever since he went to the UN and turned public opinion in favor of invading Iraq.

But, he is slowly redeeming himself in my eyes. Here he gives a devastating critique of McCain's campaign tactics, plus his enthusiasm for Obama is inspiring:

Monday, October 20, 2008

Again with the Character Assassination

If I hear one more Republican say that liberals are anti-American or that some parts of the country are the “pro-America” or "real America" parts, I'm going

I don’t know what. Explode into an ineffectual ball of fury? Scream at my computer screen? Make snarky comments to my conservatives friends? That’ll show ‘em.

For eight years now liberals have had to endure being called traitorous, cowardly, anti-American surrender monkeys. All for upholding the Constitution, rebuking idiotic war fever, and demanding that we not torture people.

I’ve had enough. Patriotism is not support for the far right-wing, militaristic Republican ideology that we’ve had to endure over the last eight years. It is not supporting your country “right or wrong.” Patriotism is demanding that your country live up to its highest ideals.

It’s obvious Republicans can’t win on the issues in these last two weeks. So, they’ve resorted to what they know best – character assassination. They realize that the people do not fear Obama's policies, so they have to make them fear the man. McCain himself doesn't even believe we should fear the man, so what does it say about his integrity that this is his campaign strategy?

And all of this is fine, as long as Obama wins. Let them crawl back to their caves and shout about evil liberals to the clouds in the sky, as long as they are no longer in power. But if the character assassination works in the end and Obama loses because of it, my head will indeed explode.

There. I feel better. Thanks for listening.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Obama Can Levitate Too

The debate messed up my posting schedule. My Smile Politely column went up yesterday, but I'm just now linking to it: Obama Doesn't Flinch. It's poorly titled, because it's mostly about how Obama seems to know more about things that I'm supposed to know about than I do.

I have to admit that after the last debate, the election fire in me is starting to run out of some fuel. Maybe it's because I do treat it more like a football game than a national discourse, and Obama is starting to pull away in the fourth quarter. Anything can still happen, of course, but if nothing does, perhaps I'll start to be interested in other things soon.

Until then, the Daily Show continues to shine. Here are my favorites from this week:


Thursday, October 16, 2008

Thoughts on Final Debate

So, I’m not too far off with my predictions:

  • Obama will remain cool and collected: check
  • Troopergate won’t come up unless the moderator brings it up: check
  • McCain will try some kind of stunt: bzzt
Instead, McCain totally fell for Obama’s hectoring him about negative attacks. Obama said earlier in the week that McCain wasn’t willing to confront him face to face with the allegations McCain has been making. McCain’s manhood and honor were on the line, so he had to answer that in the debate.

When he did, Obama coolly rebutted every charge, then turned it around and said “what is important is making sure that we disagree without being disagreeable. And it means that we can have tough, vigorous debates around issues. What we can't do, I think, is try to characterize each other as bad people. And that has been a culture in Washington that has been taking place for too long.”

Bam. He gets McCain to enthusiastically talk trash, then takes the high road. The guy is brilliant.

The format of the debate also worked to Obama’s favor. With time for long rebuttals and back and forth on the same issue, he was able to answer all the attacks with facts and well-reasoned positions without the subject changing every two minutes.

Some random thoughts:

  • McCain again claims he wouldn't have gone negative if Obama had agreed to town hall meetings. Does anyone believe that? McCain: Hey, there’s nothing I can do. Obama didn’t agree to my format, so I have to hurl hate bombs at him. I had no choice.

  • Obama had a couple great rejoinders when McCain said his feelings were hurt that John Lewis criticized him for whipping his supporters into a hate-filled froth. “I think the American people are less interested in our hurt feelings during the course of the campaign than addressing the issues that matter to them so deeply.” And later: “I don't mind being attacked for the next three weeks. What the American people can't afford, though, is four more years of failed economic policies. And what they deserve over the next four weeks is that we talk about what's most pressing to them: the economic crisis.” Bam.

  • Basic difference in philosophies - Obama (paraphrase): During tough economic times, I don’t mind paying higher taxes. The wealthy can afford to help out. It’s patriotic. McCain (paraphrase): me, me, me, me. me. Don't ever raise my taxes for any reason.

  • Does McCain really want his message to be “Don’t Spread the Wealth”? From a man with 12 houses? Good luck with that.

  • McCain: "If you wanted to run against President Bush, you should have run four years ago." That's a nice line. But it works both ways: If McCain wants to run against Bush, maybe he should have run four years ago too. Obama's response was typically even-handed: "If I occasionally have mistaken your policies for George Bush's policies, it's because on the core economic issues that matter to the American people, on tax policy, on energy policy, on spending priorities, you have been a vigorous supporter of President Bush."

  • Obama was unwilling to criticize Sarah Palin. Another smart move. People seem to have made up their minds already, and criticizing her will just look small at this point.

  • I was glad abortion came up. To be honest, I have not checked Obama’s record very closely on this, but I’ve heard the usual scary allegations that he wants to personally kill babies once he’s elected. I thought he had good reasons for his votes (late term procedure ban he voted “present” for did not have a clause that protected the life of the mother and he voted against a bill that required life saving treatment because there was already a law that required it, and the bill he voted on would have undermined Roe v Wade). McCain’s response: “He's health for the mother, you know, that's been stretched by the pro-abortion movement in America to mean almost anything. That's the extreme pro-abortion position, quote, 'health.'" Mmm. I wonder how well sneering at the health of mothers as an extreme position is going to play among women.

Overall, Obama again showed why he is ready to lead. McCain didn't have a game changing performance. He is quickly running out of options. I'm not even sure producing the dead carcass of Osama Bin Laden will help him now. At this point, he might need to produce photos of Obama doing unspeakable things.

    Wednesday, October 15, 2008


    I'm surprised Sarah Palin's troopergate scandal hasn't gotten much attention. I guess the news cycle is too focused on the economy right now. Or maybe the media feels like it would just be piling on at this point.

    Palin had a strange response to the report though. Basically, she is telling people that it doesn't say, what it, in fact, says:

    I thought for reports like this, the strategy is to merely acknowledge as little as you can and move on. This strategy of denying what it says seems risky, but I guess if people aren't paying attention to it, it doesn't much matter.

    I doubt it will get much play in the debate tonight either, unless the moderator asks a question about it. We'll see.

    Preacher Threatens God

    It's official - this blog has been abducted by the presidential race. I'm not necessarily happy about it, but I am expecting a ransom note soon. Unfortunately, I don't suspect the blog is worth much.

    So, here's a short break from politician-based politics in order to provide some preacher-based politics. Preachers for McCain have now sunk to threatening God with His or Her reputation:

    I can honestly say that if Obama wins the election and Rev. Conrad's faith is shaken as a result, that might be a good thing for Christianity.

    Tuesday, October 14, 2008

    You Shouldn't Vote

    John Stassel says young people shouldn't vote because they are too dumb:

    Trick or Vote and The Bus Project respond with parody, by saying, hey, old people are too dumb to vote too:

    So, the message of the day is: Regardless of whether you are young or old, serve your country by not voting. And, please, for the love of God, remain indoors at all times if you cannot even identify a picture of Ruth Bader Ginsberg or Mos Def.

    Monday, October 13, 2008

    Predicting the Future

    I am hit and miss with my political predictions. I used to think I was good at it, but everything went haywire the day we invaded Iraq, and then again the day we re-elected George W. Bush. Deep down, I guess I knew both were likely to happen. I just didn't want to face the depressing reflections of our country that they represented.

    Lately, I did manage to predict that Palin would exceed expectations in her debate, and that she would not be giving any more interviews. I was wrong about McCain completely putting her on ice though - she's remained very active, as she is very good at getting people working up into a frenzy about traitors and terrorist-lovers. On the other side, I knew Obama would do well in the debates - the guy seems completely unflappable.

    Predicting what McCain will do is a fool's errand, since McCain himself probably can't predict what McCain will do. Still, it was easy to see him going negative last week. What was not so predictable was how voters would react to it. Well, OK, the enthusiastic pitchforks and torches at his rallies were not hard to predict. But how would regular people react?

    Well, the results are in, and they have surprised me, in a pleasant way. I was nervous about it because I believed the conventional wisdom: Americans say they don't like negative campaigning, but then vote for whoever is most effective at it. That's certainly how it has worked the last two cycles.

    But it turns out that character assassination of your opponent during a financial crisis is a move that can backfire after all. Obama has now opened up a 10 point lead. Again, as a liberal used to sorrow and woe, this makes me nervous when there are still three weeks of mud-slinging to go.

    So, the question now is, as always: What will McCain do? He's already toning down his rhetoric, since he recognizes that hate-filled rallies do not play well on TV. But I'm betting he still has something up his sleeve. I just have no idea what. I wonder if he will reveal it during the final debate on Wednesday. The previous two debates have been steady, solid affairs. Now that McCain is so far down in the polls, I'm guessing he will feel the need say or do something big and outrageous to get his mojo back.

    So, my predication is that the next debate will not be boring. McCain will do something to shake things up. I just don't know what.

    Thursday, October 09, 2008

    Lazy Video - Premonition

    After the Dow lost another few hundred points today, it made me think of an SNL skit from 8 years ago, which was much more prophetic than I feared:

    Suggestions for McCain

    This week's Smile Politely column is available here, where I give John McCain suggestions on more stunts he could pull to get attention, including some David Blaine tricks, as well as acting more like Lloyd Dobler.

    Wednesday, October 08, 2008

    Blaming the Do-Gooders and the Poor

    Yes, the debate was last night, but I'm going to write about that tomorrow in my SP column. Instead, here's some more thoughts on the banking crisis.

    The narrative continues to grow that the financial crisis is the fault of Fannie Mae and the Community Reinvestment Act. The CRA was passed in 1977 to "help meet the credit needs of the communities in which they operate, including low- and moderate-income neighborhoods, consistent with safe and sound operations."

    The italics are mine, and are at the heart of the problems with this narrative. Loaning to low income folks is not as risky as you might think, assuming you do the work of identifying who is a credit risk and who isn't. It's why microloan programs all over the world are so successful, and why the Mennonite Economic Development Agency supports them.

    The problem isn't hapless do-gooders and intrusive government policy, or those with the least power in the system irresponsibly signing up for predatory loans. Here's a couple great articles that provide perspective on it:

    Daniel Gross at Slate:

    The Community Reinvestment Act applies to depository banks. But many of the institutions that spurred the massive growth of the subprime market weren't regulated banks. They were outfits such as Argent and American Home Mortgage, which were generally not regulated by the Federal Reserve or other entities that monitored compliance with CRA. These institutions worked hand in glove with Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers, entities to which the CRA likewise didn't apply.

    That article references some great questions by Barry Ritholtz:

    • Did the 1977 legislation, or any other legislation since, require banks to not verify income or payment history of mortgage applicants?

    • 50% of subprime loans were made by mortgage service companies not subject comprehensive federal supervision; another 30% were made by banks or thrifts which are not subject to routine supervision or examinations. How was this caused by either CRA or GSEs?

    • What about No Money Down Mortgages 0% down payments? Were they required by the CRA? Fannie? Freddie?

    • Did the CRA require banks to develop automated underwriting (AU) systems that emphasized speed rather than accuracy in order to process the greatest number of mortgage apps as quickly as possible?

    • How exactly did legislation force Moody's, S&Ps and Fitch to rate junk paper as Triple AAA?

    Plus too many other questions to print here. It's quite a list.

    Yes, there is plenty of blame to go around for this crisis, but most of it comes down to simple greed on the parts of many people who saw easy money to be made, and a lack of oversight over the ones chasing the money.

    Tuesday, October 07, 2008

    I Fail a Race Test

    So, it turns out that I am racially prejudiced. And not in a good way, either, like wanting to honor American Indians at football games.

    Nope, with all this scary talk about 60's radical terrorist William Ayers being the evil puppetmaster behind Barack Obama, I had in my mind's eye that Ayers was a black man.

    I'm trying to unravel it now. Did I hear at one point he was a Black Panther? No, he was a Weathermen, but maybe I heard it differently somewhere. I know I wasn't mistaking him for Rev. Wright, but that controversy may have played into as well.

    In any case, I'm very disappointed with myself for letting even a bit of racial prejudice seep into my own images of the controversy. It just shows how effective smears are, which is depressing.

    However, in a way, I'm glad this Ayers thing is seeing the light of day. As I learn more about it, the more it seems exactly like all the Obama-is-a-Muslim nonsense. Read the NY Times piece here.

    Here's what is comes down to: Ayers was a radical 60s protester who set bombs off to destroy property. He is now a professor and an education reformer. Obama was on the same board as Ayers of a non-political, non-profit that gave money to schools. They both live in the same neighborhood, and Obama once went to a neighborhood coffee at Ayers house at the beginning of Obama's political career (one of many Obama went to). There's no indication they know each other very well, or that Ayers has any kind of influence whatsoever on Obama.

    It is more likely that Sarah Palin will advocate that Alaska secede from the union than it is that Ayers will wield any kind of influence over Obama, or that Obama shares any radical goals with Ayers.

    Here's the last few paragraphs in the NY Times piece:

    Mr. Obama’s friends said that history was utterly irrelevant to judging the candidate, because Mr. Ayers was never a significant influence on him. Even some conservatives who know Mr. Obama said that if he was drawn to Ayers-style radicalism, he hid it well.

    “I saw no evidence of a radical streak, either overt or covert, when we were together at
    Harvard Law School,” said Bradford A. Berenson, who worked on the Harvard Law Review with Mr. Obama and who served as associate White House counsel under President Bush. Mr. Berenson, who is backing Mr. McCain, described his fellow student as “a pragmatic liberal” whose moderation frustrated others at the law review whose views were much farther to the left.

    Some 15 years later, left-leaning backers of Mr. Obama have the same complaint. “We’re fully for Obama, but we disagree with some of his stands,” said
    Tom Hayden, the 1960s activist and former California legislator, who helped organize Progressives for Obama. His group opposes the candidate’s call for sending more troops to Afghanistan, for instance, “because we think it’s a quagmire just like Iraq,” he said. “A lot of our work is trying to win over progressives who think Obama is too conservative.”

    Mr. Hayden, 68, said he has known Mr. Ayers for 45 years and was on the other side of the split in the radical antiwar movement that led Mr. Ayers and others to form the Weathermen.

    But Mr. Hayden said he saw attempts to link Mr. Obama with bombings and radicalism as “typical campaign shenanigans.”“If Barack Obama says he’s willing to talk to foreign leaders without preconditions,” Mr. Hayden said, “I can imagine he’d be willing to talk to Bill Ayers about schools. But I think that’s about as far as their relationship goes.”

    In the end, this is first of many swiftboatings of Obama. The only reason it is an issue is that McCain can't win this election based on policy, judgement or character. It's just one more way that McCain is following Bush's footsteps into the abyss.

    Monday, October 06, 2008

    Palin on Hell

    I keep deciding not to post anything more on Sarah Palin. And then, say it ain't so, Joe, she goes an keeps sayin stuff.

    Palin regaled the cheering crowd with a story about how she was reading her Starbucks mocha cup yesterday, which featured a quotation from former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.

    “Now she said it, I didn’t,” Palin said of Albright. “She said, ‘There’s a place in Hell reserved for women who don’t support other women.’”

    The crowd roared its approval, but according to several sources, Albright actually said, “there’s a place in Hell reserved for women who don’t help other women.”

    “OK, now thank you so much for receiving that well—I didn’t know how that was going to go over,” Palin told the southern California crowd. “And now California, let’s see what a comment that I just made how that is turned into whatever it’ll be turned into tomorrow in the newspaper.”

    Yea, that press sure does overact when you tell people they are going to hell if they don't vote for you. OK, OK, I admit, I'm exaggerating. It's only women that will be going to hell for not voting for her. And she was just joking, after all. Geez, lighten up, people.

    I wonder though, about Mayor Palin making women pay for their own rape kits in Wasilla. Do you think that special place in Hell might now be called The Sarah Palin Wing, given her lack of support for women?

    Oh lighten up, people. I'm just making a joke.

    Weekend Funnies

    As a liberal blogger, I am contractually bound to post the SNL debate parody, so let's get that out of the way:

    I'm actually surprised at how funny SNL's political content has been lately. Their news segments are usually just lame compared to The Daily Show. I'm impressed they can put so much meat into their political commentary so suddenly. They even made Biden funny.

    And speaking of The Daily Show, last Thursday's segment was especially good. Whoever thought up the Gollum bit deserves a raise:

    Finally, here is a picture that's been making its way across the internets. Funny or just mean? I report, you decide.

    The big question I have is this: Does any of this humor make a difference in how people vote, or is it just preaching to the choir? Yes, it makes conservatives angry to be called on their foibles, and probably doesn't convince them of anything. But I hold out the hope that humor can help frame what is going on in the world and that it does affect how people end up seeing things.

    Friday, October 03, 2008

    The Palin Show Finale

    Well, Sarah Palin did well enough last night. Had she repeated on stage the disaster of her Couric interview, I think the election would have been over. As it was, she played well to conservatives. One thing I’m pretty sure of is that McCain will now put her on ice for the rest of the campaign. I will be surprised if we see her again in an unscripted event, and I'm guessing she will be less of a news item going forward.

    This debate was a kind of a middle ground between a canned speech and an interview. Unlike an interview, where the reporter can keep asking a question until it is answered (or not answered, as we saw with her previous interviews), in a debate you can ignore a question and just shout out talking point words: (Maverick! McCain! Doggone it!).

    Some other observations:

    • Given the format of the debate, where follow-ups are discouraged, I thought Gwen Ifel did a decent job. I only wish she had asked a question about science. Given the current administration’s hostility to science, it would have been good for Palin to answer questions about creationism and abstinence programs.

    • Why do Mccain and Palin keep repeating that Obama voted not to support the troops with funding? It's such an outright distortion. Obama voted against a bill without a timeline, and McCain voted against a bill with a timeline. It had nothing to do with "supporting the troops." I guess when Palin says “the nice thing about running with John McCain is I can assure you he doesn't tell one thing to one group and then turns around and tells something else to another group,” what she means is that they are willing to mislead everybody.

    • Is anyone buying the line that “the fundamentals of the econmy are strong” = “our workforce is strong.” That’s just silly.

    • Palin kept saying we should look forward, and not back to the Bush administration. Also we don’t have to know what caused global warming. Yes, just like my broken down car. We don’t need to know why it broke. That’s just looking backward, gosh darnit. We need to face the future and just get that car running!

    • What’s with the winking thing? Is she running for vice president or prom queen?

    • Palin: “You're one who says, as so many politicians do, I was for it before I was against it or vice- versa. Americans are craving that straight talk” Hmm. Bridge to nowhere, anyone? Or, how about that troopergate investigation, that she was for before she was against? Also, has she met her running mate, John McCain, who was against drilling before he was for it, against agents of intolerance before seeking their endorsement, against torture before voting for it, and oh so many more flip flops?

    Biden did finally snap at the end, when Palin called McCain a maverick for the 800th time.

    Look, the maverick -- let's talk about the maverick John McCain is. And, again, I love him. He's been a maverick on some issues, but he has been no maverick on the things that matter to people's lives.

    He voted four out of five times for George Bush's budget, which put us a half a trillion dollars in debt this year and over $3 trillion in debt since he's got there.

    He has not been a maverick in providing health care for people. He has voted against -- he voted including another 3.6 million children in coverage of the existing health care plan, when he voted in the United States Senate.

    He's not been a maverick when it comes to education. He has not supported tax cuts and significant changes for people being able to send their kids to college.

    He's not been a maverick on the war. He's not been a maverick on virtually anything that genuinely affects the things that people really talk about around their kitchen table. Can we send -- can we get Mom's MRI? Can we send Mary back to school next semester? We can't -- we can't make it. How are we going to heat the -- heat the house this winter? He voted against even providing for what they call LIHEAP, for assistance to people, with oil prices going through the roof in the winter.

    So maverick he is not on the important, critical issues that affect people at that kitchen table.

    I agree with the analysis that Biden won the debate, and Palin exceeded expections. But, again, the only thing that matter’s is whether it caused any voters to change their minds and switch votes. We won’t know that for a few more days.