Friday, September 28, 2007

There They Go Again!

I read that in the runup to our Iraq invasion in '03, the President met with France's then head of state, Mr. Chirac. Pulling out all the stops to persuade the French to join us, Mr. Bush referred to obscure biblical passages in the Book of Ezekiel, where one can read about Gog and Magog, Armageddon and the Second Coming of the Messiah. Chirac didn't understand a word of all this and decided to contact a French theologian for a better understanding. We know the results. The French never did buy in to the Bush case for war. Still, there's a question left hanging: Did Bush himself believe the Bible esoterica? Or was this just a desperate play for support, hoping the "Christian" French would decide that they, too, had heard biblical voices from the dust?

I throw out a question, hoping everybody answers "sure": Does everyone understand how the Electoral College works? I was surprised to learn recently that not all states treat their electoral votes in exactly the same way. In 48 states, the "winner take all" principle applies. All electoral votes go to the greatest vote getter, even if that candidate fails to get a majority of all votes.
But two states do it differently, though darned if I can recall WHICH two. In this other arrangement candidates can get electoral votes by being top dog in a Congressional (House)district within the state even if the rest of the state is lost. Under this system, a state with an even number of votes could even have the electoral be divided equally.
With me so far? Here's what's happening now. The largest pot of electoral votes is found, no surprise, in California, for some time a "Blue" (Democratic) state. The Golden State is not one of the two mentioned above, being a "winner take all" state for presidential elections. But the Republican Party is proposing to change California to a state with the other system described above.
Can you see the net effect here? Without a "Red" (GOP leaning) state or combination of states to make a similar change at the same time, this amounts to simply grabbing electoral votes by changing the rules for a SINGLE state, since there are likely to be several of California's 50 plus congressional districts that vote Republican for president even if the majority is still Democratic.
That's wrong. Changing the Electoral College from state-based to congressional district based should be done for the entire country, or for none of it. I wouldn't start to sweat about this just yet, though.California is notorious for sending tough issues directly to the voters to decide, and every election features a number of direct vote proposals that can get pretty complicated. But this proposal, I have to say, is not even CLOSE to being either complex, or fair. You CA voters should vote "NO" when and if this proposal comes around.

Friday, September 21, 2007

The Museum Trip

Our president is a patient man. It's only now and then that he breaks the cowboy code of "no griping", at least in public. But something happened this week that just stuck in his craw. He said he was disgusted. The reason, though, wasn't that some "shoot-for-pay" yahoos, I mean, contractors, had murdered several Iraqi civilians. No, the thing that got the President riled was an anti-General Petraeus ad in a paper paid for by those dirty Democrat snakes at Move On. No one died from the ad, but it's not known whether Petraeus lost any sleep over it.

I'm on a trip inspecting grandchildren. As some of you know, they are a handsome group, but since the oldest around here is still only three, they can be a handful when together. Nevertheless, we (oldest son and I) took two of these little diaper fillers to the local Air Force base museum just to see all the aircraft on display and learn some things about operating in the wild blue yonder.
It was very impressive. On display were aircraft dating from the early days of aviation all the way to today's sky-based weaponry. There were even parts of nuclear warheads to be seen. You could learn some of the data that flying buffs find useful: weight, engine thrust, payload, top speed and wartime assignments of each of a few dozen specimens. And that was just inside the huge museum. There were even more, bigger aircraft kept outside, including the largest of all our strategic bombers, the B-52, and one B-29, the model used to drop atomic weapons on Japan at the end of World War II.
The intended message of the display was something like this: Through sacrifice, bravery and good old American know-how, we have kept you safe to live you lives pretty freely. A little thanks would be appropriate. All right. That's perfectly fair. My thanks to the US Air Force for doing their duty so well for so long. We, the usually ignorant civilians, salute you.
But there was another message there as well, unintended, but unmistakable if considered: We used your tax dollars to create mighty machines of war capable of destruction almost beyond your power to grasp. What you see is just a tiny speck in the vast military power that is ours. We will spend a million times more than what we have already devoted to war if you, through your legally elected leaders, ask us to. And we will stand down too, if asked. But when you ask us to withdraw or redeploy, remember whom you are addressing, and please display some respect.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

The Happy Science

So, what's new this week as we slide from late summer into the early fall? General Petraeus, author of "Surge" strategy, decides to no one's surprise that he likes the strategy and manages to turn regularly scheduled troop rotations next year (locked in because of the lack of replacements) into a 30,000 "troop reduction". Nice piece of spin, even for a general. Senator Craig says he's innocent, especially of being gay. Internal consultations within the Bush administration force the odds of war with Iran up to 2-1, so it may be time to buy stock in bomb makers again.

Let's go elsewhere. A small town that bills itself as "A Victorian Village" had a town yard sale last weekend. The turnout was huge. Some places were selling to raise funds, others just seemed to have extra things. No doubt a few businesses were trying to cut losses on slow-selling stuff. The prices were ridiculously low. I got abalone shells for $.25, and a VHS tape starring Leonardo DiCaprio for a buck. I was tempted by a paperback full of sex advice for a quarter, but didn't buy.
It all got me wondering: Has there ever been a master's thesis written about garage/yard sales? We used to call economics "The Dismal Science", and not much has changed to make it anything else. Lots of graphs with intersecting curves that measure just about anything that has a value. But what about things with little or NO value? We noticed a device meant to be used in the microwave called the "Chip-O-Matic" that makes.....potato chips. Are they better that way? We passed at $1 when we recalled that perfectly good potato chips could be had straight out of the bag for a modest price, with no more labor involved than opening it.
But I'm serious about the question, sort of. Do other countries have yard sales? If the revenue from such sales is so little, why bother with the sale at all? If we're trying to free up storage space, why not just throw out the old exercise bikes, vinyl records, plastic dinnerware, nameless paintings, kitschy toys, outdated golf clubs, paperbacks by the pound, stained coffee makers, Christmas gizmos, seed company hats, long-empty bottles, candles and candle holders and puke-stained baby clothes?
Maybe we're a little more attached to our things than we realize, trying to put a value on something, even if the value is tiny, because we just can't think of it as worth nothing. After all this is our lives we're talking about here, or at least its little non-decaying leftovers. I admit it. I love these events, including finding old political stuff and pop psychology books, so I'll keep stopping regardless, but will someone please get busy and come up with a theory as to why this is so much fun? In your honor we'll put your name on it and call it "The Happy Science".

Thursday, September 06, 2007

More Summer Bits

I didn't have a chance to watch the EWG from New Hampshire last night. From now on I guess the term should be the NWG. As someone once said, they ran the range all the way from "A" to "B". What am I referring to? Republican candidates for president. The Eight White Guys in their last co-appearance before becoming Nine with the addition of Fred "I Make More Money PLAYING A Prosecutor" Thompson. Too bad. I kind of liked the guy's "Law and Order" character. Any nominees for his replacement? I'm torn between Tony Danza and Paul Reubens.
Mitt Romney was there too. He was pitching the "whatever you guys want" solution which lets each state decide how it will handle abortions. Besides creating state line clinics for that very purpose, does this solution seem familiar? Bingo if you thought "Wasn't that the Stephen A. Douglas solution for how to handle slavery back when he and Lincoln were matched up in a Senate campaign?" Seems like the Little Giant won that one, but then lost the Big one later.

The NFL season begins tonight. Should we give them the title "World's Richest and Most Successful Pro Sports Association"? It certainly has its ugly underside, but lots of people just can't seem to live without it. Even around here, where local football barely makes the top 20 of things to talk about, you see plenty of decals for the Forty Niners and Raiders, two down-in-the-mouth franchises, at least for the present. I even caught a semi-sick joke: Michael Vick (the quarterback) is going to serve two years in jail. If that doesn't seem very long, you have to remember that it's 14 dog years. Are you ready for some f'ball?

I have an extended family relative, a fine woman with a big heart, who somehow got it into her head that she had to have opinions about things she knows almost nothing about. It would be as if I had to make sure everyone knew how I feel about bedroom color coordination and holiday recipes. She believes that all pro sports are rigged, and nothing I say has any impact. Next time I see her I think I'll ask why "they" would want to fix tennis in such a way that the word's top player is a guy from ...Switzerland? And why the world's top female player hails from ...Belgium? You can judge for yourself whether they are good people (in the event that you would care), but you can't argue much against all those "W"'s rung up by Federer and Henin, respectively. The US Open concludes this weekend.

Finally, Luciano Pavarotti passed away. He was one of those people who could be described as "larger than life", and not just because he was a big guy. Lots of things in the world of opera are big, but he was one of the few opera stars known the world over - a little like Arnold S. being famous even before he took up acting. Anyway, the Three Tenors are down to Two or maybe just two. Good thing we have him recorded, because he really earned all those "bravos".