Friday, November 9, 2012

Election Wrapup

My blogging has been light lately, what with the new job, but the big recent news is the election.  To the surprise of anyone who is in the Fox News bubble--and therefore dismissive of the polls--Barack Obama won re-election, albeit by a narrower margin than in his election four years ago.  (The last time a president was re-elected by a narrower margin than his first election was Woodrow Wilson).  A few stray observations:

1) Some Republicans--let's call them "idiots"--are going to claim that Mitt Romney lost because he wasn't a "true conservative" and that this is what happens when the party picks moderates.  This is complete bull.  Romney certainly had his flaws as a candidate, but if anything it was due to his perceived need to appeal to the most hard core elements of his party that he had a hard time attracting the votes of moderates and racial minorities.  48% of the vote may have been all Romney could pull down, but anyone thinking any of his primary opponents could have even cracked 40% is kidding themselves.

2) Obama's vaunted "ground game" lived up to its hype.  Years of data mining and organizing meant turning out the base in a big way, and getting what they needed where they needed it to win most of the tossup states.  Thus, even with a 2% popular vote margin he was able to get enough swing states that even if among Colorado, Virginia, Ohio and Florida he could only win one of them, he'd still have an electoral victory.  As it happened, he grabbed all four, dooming the GOP's chances.

3) Romney's major damage actually happened during the primaries, when cannibalistic attacks from the smarmy likes of Gingrich and Santorum ended up driving the eventual nominee's negatives up to unprecedented levels for a major party nominee.  The GOP tends to "eat their own" in these primaries, leaving their nominee broke and unpopular and in need of wasting precious time trying to bring their party together.  Even the Democrats' 2008 primary didn't mortally wound their nominee.  What is it about the Republicans? 

4) As I'd suggested earlier, Romney missed key opportunities back in the spring to shift to the center, perhaps with a "Sister Souljah" moment by telling off Rush Limbaugh over his Sandra Fluke comments, or embracing Marco Rubio's "mini-DREAM Act" or shifting to the center on gay rights.  For whatever reason--most likely a fear of being abandoned by his party's base--Romney didn't do this, and allowed himself to be defined by his party's most unsavory elements--those that are crude towards women they disagree with, those that disdain Latino immigrants, and those that are bigoted towards gays. 

5) By embracing the far right, Romney enabled Obama to mimic a strategy similar to Bush's 2004 strategy--turn out his own base, strong ground game, and define the rich, stiff, Masshole flipflopper he was running against in such a way that even a public that was lukewarm towards the president would still give him four more years rather than risk it with an unacceptable alternative.  Obama's margin was similar to Bush's.

6) Also similar to 2004 was the reactions of each side to the election's results.  Insufferable smugness from the winners (who have taken to posting photos of glum Romney supporters for laughs) and incredible derpy vitriol from the losers.  There's been very little grace here, as there was little of that eight years ago.  Considering the race was between a moderate Republican (albeit one that masqueraded unconvincingly as a tent-revivalist right winger) and a centrist Democrat (albeit one that pretended to be an anti-Wall Street crusader when he wasn't continuing Bush's TARP bailouts or pushing a health care plan that was first implemented by, you guessed it, that same Republican moderate), it's amusing to see Republicans act as thought William Jennings Bryan just won the White House and is planning to seize everyone's property tomorrow.  Likewise, Democrats acting as though we just dodged the likelihood of this country turning into Thunderdome is also a bit much.  Can we all just accept that we have our preferred candidates, and that even if the other guy wins, life will go on and we still need to work together to deal with the problems this country faces such as a sluggish economy and trillion dollar deficits?  And maybe stop acting as though everyone in the roughly other half of the country who didn't vote the way you did is some sort of freeloading idiot or sociopathic theocrat?

7) As they lick their wounds, I'm hoping the GOP, faced with a loss that can't really be spun away (losing seats in both Houses of Congress, as well as the White House) starts to see that it needs to adjust to a future where ideological rigidity and narrow appeal has burdened it.  Since 1988, the Republicans have been trounced in much of the country--the Northeast, Great Lakes and West Coast, and have only been able to win the White House by very tight margins under George W Bush.  Loss of urban and suburban moderates--once the party's backbone--and losing 2/3 of the Latino vote (and almost all the black vote) will soon turn states like Texas and Arizona purple, if not blue.  Romney's biggest problem was in the electoral college, where he needed to be lucky with several states, and Obama only needed to be lucky with a couple, as the GOP vote ceiling is lower than the Democrats'.  The hold that the hard core tent revivalists and Tea Partiers have on the party is dangerous--look no further than Todd "Let's Talk Rape!" Akin or Richard "Hey I Don't Think Todd Talked Enough About Rape!" Mourdock to see what the uncompromising activist base will do for you.

8) And the power that that base--with its Grover Norquist style "no tax increases, ever, no matter the circumstances" pledges--holds over the congressional GOP certainly loses moderates.  Most moderates don't want to see endless taxes and spending to swamp our free market economy, this is true--but a party that says they'd rather gut federal services and significantly reduce Medicare payments before they'd even ask a millionaire to pay one extra dollar in taxes will alienate all but the most fevered Republicans, let alone independents.  A party whose leaders are so afraid of Rush Limbaugh that they have to apologize to him if they criticize him for the intentionally polarizing things he says is going to win no moderates over.  This is a formula for long term irrelevance.

All that said, let's put the ugliness of this past election behind us--it was fun while it lasted.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

My Father-in-Law's Passing

Last Monday, my father-in-law passed away after a bout with congestive heart failure.  He'd been suffering heart trouble for a long time--my wife tells me his doctors gave him six months to live back in 1994.  Clearly, he mis-heard them and thought they'd given him 18 years.

There's a lot about his passing that is sad--he was always very nice to me and had all kinds of crazy stories.  He'd known Bill Cosby when Cos' was a young up-and-coming comedian, and he'd had a cameo in the Vincent Price film "Doctor Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine" (amazingly, my wife and I had actually seen that before we learned he had his cameo in it).  He'd also served in the Navy, started a successful business and lived just about everywhere (which is why my wife was born in Australia).  Fairly impressive for a man born on the Cherokee reservation in North Carolina.  And he looked exactly like "Waldorf" from the Muppet Show.  I know I'll miss him.

It was also unfortunate that we missed his final moments--we got the news that he didn't make it while we were driving from D.C. to see him.  However, I am glad we had a chance to visit him last Father's Day and spend some quality time with him in the town where he'd grown up.  He'd also had his chance to attend his daughter's second wedding, and regale the guests with plans to start a Costa Rican emerald mine.  (I still wonder how that one might have turned out)

Our trip to see him last week sadly became a trip to mourn him and handle all the unpleasant aspects of disposing of his possessions and body.  As he'd requested, we had him cremated so we could scatter the ashes in a creek he'd played in as a boy.  Determined to not let the cremator think we were simplistic rubes, I insisted we would not be paying for rust-proof undercoating or extended warranties, and that if the price wasn't right we'd take the body and do everything ourselves.  (This was a bluff, of course.  I've never cremated anyone before, despite my time in Cub Scouts).  My wife also had to spend time on the phone with the organ donation people, which involves a lot of embarrassing questions that they have to ask you.

The ceremony was very nice--considering the short notice, there was a good turnout, with friends and family speaking about him and a military honors ceremony (we still have the flag).  Then, a short walk to the creek and the ashes were strewn.

My wife has handled the loss fairly well--considering his long declining health, she'd been prepared for a while for something like this.  But death can be cruel in its finality, even when it means an end to suffering.

RIP, Dad-in-Law. 

Friday, September 28, 2012

The Rise of Chaos

I remember being a teenager--often trying to be a good kid, but from time to time having a fit of dumbassery like tossing apple cores at cars from a highway bridge, which fortunately never caused an accident (though I'm sure some BMW drivers got pissed about bits of apple on their windshields).  But I never managed to cross the line of stealing, vandalizing, or worse, violent crimes.  The dumbassery never boiled over, in other words.

That's why it still baffles me to see a story like this one--a bunch of teenaged girls in Philly decide to take and post a video of themselves beating a mentally challenged woman just for fun.  Laughing the whole time, as one would expect from some rapscallions setting off fireworks or cliff-diving into a pond, because of course what could be more charming and carefree than brutally punching and kicking a defenseless woman with diminished capacity?

I suppose we should be thankful that we live in an age where it is very easy to take and post videos, and also that these animals are so incredibly stupid that they chose to record and post the evidence of their crime.  When they end up in prison--and they will, if not now, soon because these are not the hijinks of people with any worth to society--it's a sure bet they're not going to be smart enough to avoid the abuse of the Queen Bee on Cell Block C.  This country is producing dumber and dumber criminals every year.  Yet another sign of civilizational decline.

Hell, I say bring back child labor.  Maybe if these wastes of flesh were spending their after hours working the loom at a textile mill, there wouldn't be enough time left over for beating the handicapped.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Someone Needs to Rent "Death Wish"

I consider myself a moderate on gun control, in that I wish to put only a moderate amount of lead into the torso of some lowlife thug that thinks it is his right to commit violent assault on a law abiding citizen in this fair city of ours.  As far as I'm concerned, prospective muggers should be having a conversation like this before they go out on a mugging spree:

Mugger 1: Hey, sport, what do you say we go hit the streets and attack some citizenry with fisticuffs and whatnot?

Mugger 2: I think not, dear chap!  Recall what happened to our mutual acquaintance, Former Mugger 3, just last evening.  He mistakenly picked a tourist from Texas who was unaware of the District of Columbia's stringent gun laws, and happened to be armed with a rather large blunderbuss, which the tourist used to separate our friend's upper torso from his lower torso. 

Mugger 1: Ah, that's right--perhaps our cunning plans are not so cunning after all!  As I am fond of my body parts all remaining attached, what do you say we go bowling instead?

Now, I'm not one of those gun proponents who thinks every crime can be averted by armed citizens, and of course I'm aware that guns in the hands of idiots usually means a lot of unintentional shootings.  I'm not opposed to ALL restrictions on gun ownership and use--registration, background checks, safe storage, transport and carry and the like.  And meaningful safety courses and tests are fine too--we require it for drivers' licenses after all. 

But D.C.--like a lot of big cities--has some stupidly absolutist restrictions on gun ownership, making legal concealed carry impossible and basically forcing any otherwise law-abiding person to break the law if they want to keep themself safe.  In a city where a bunch of thugs can pistol-whip a man at 8PM right smack in downtown D.C. or thugs hospitalize and possibly permanently disable some guy for his cell phone, it's clear who has free rein in this town.  The police can't possibly be everywhere they need to be, and it makes little sense to keep citizens from having a fighting chance against the urban predators we have to contend with.  Train the prospective gun-owners in proper safety, run the background checks, but for God's sake let them own and carry safely.

That's not to say that every street crime could be prevented if the victim were armed and trained properly--in one of the linked cases above, the victim was likely somewhat intoxicated and therefore wouldn't legally be able to carry a weapon even under liberal concealed carry laws--but there would be many cases where a victim would have a fighting chance.  Just like any predator in the wild, an urban thug is less likely to strike when there's a chance that their prey can do damage--and enough well-publicized incidents of a mugging victim shooting or warning off an attacker would discourage what seems to be an all-too-common occurrence. 

Besides, I'm sure society isn't going to miss a few of these cretins if they should happen to assault the wrong person.  It'd be nice if big city governments would give the rest of us a fighting chance against the predators.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

How the GOP Will React After Romney's Defeat

When Barack Obama wins re-election this November, a lot of news stories will focus on the obvious questions--what will be accomplished in a second term, how will we meet the budget crisis looming, will gridlock be even worse than it already is--and one of them will be the direction the GOP will take after licking its wounds. 

The Republicans will have to face a dire reality--they have been at an electoral disadvantage for presidential elections since the 1980s.  There was a time when the party's dominance in the west and midwest, coupled with competitiveness in the northeast and the gradual shift of the south meant the ability to completely trounce the Democrats every four years.  California went Republican in every presidential election from 1968 to 1988, and New York was actually a swing state.  Today, however, the GOP holds out a futile hope that they MIGHT win New Hampshire, and that's it for anything north of Virginia and east of Ohio.  Alaska is the only state touching the Pacific that the Republicans can win anymore, and most of the Great Lakes states are also out of reach.  This is now a party that can only count on the south, and most of the (sparsely populated) plains and mountain states.  And within all states, the GOP is hopelessly out of the game in urban areas.  It has become a strictly rural party on the presidential level at least.

The reason for this is pretty clear--to win the party's nomination and fire up the base for the general election, a Republican who wants to be president must cater to the party's most zealous wing in a way that the Democrats have not had to do for decades.  Democrats since the time of Clinton have been able to give the cold shoulder to their party's racial activist wing, environmentalist wing, and organized labor wing in a way that the Republicans simply cannot with regard to their anti-illegal-immigrant wing, or Christian wing, anti-tax wing or neoconservative interventionist wing.  Part of the reason for this is self-fulfilling--as the GOP shed many of its moderates since the 1980s (in part due to the rise of the religious right in that party), the Democrats took them in and their own party became less dependent on its left-most supporters.  That, and the string of losses at the presidential level--losing every election from 1968 through 1988 except a close one for Jimmy Carter in 1976, and mostly by landslides--made even the Democratic base more willing to be pragmatic and accept a center-drift by its nominees from 1992 onward.

Can the GOP base become more pragmatic as well?  After all, the only popular majority they won since 1988 was the 2004 election, and that one was very close as well.  However, denial is a powerful thing--many conservatives truly believe that Bill Clinton never would have won in the first place without Ross Perot taking conservative votes away from Bush Sr. (though this is simply not the case), and they note that only Obama in 2008 won an actual majority (rather than a plurality) since that time.  The "closeness" of these elections makes it easier for GOP activists to believe that what they're doing will work, whereas a few landslide losses might have splashed some cold water on this way of thinking.

What is likely is that we'll hear the excuse from the activist base that the Republicans lost--again--because they didn't nominate someone sufficiently conservative to "activate the base" which apparently is all that's needed to win big on the presidential level.  The thought here is that the country leans right, and a "solid conservative" who can "make the case"--like Ronald Reagan!--could awaken this otherwise subdued mass and win the day.  After all, look at the string of Republicans who lost since 1992--Bush Sr., a moderate who raised taxes; Bob Dole, a moderate dealmaker Senator; John McCain, a Teddy Roosevelt-admiring Senator known for crossing the aisle and breaking with the right on many occasions; Mitt Romney, the "Massachusetts Moderate". 

There is something to this, of course--each of those also-rans had moderate credentials, and due to this they had to drift right during their campaigns in a way that made them lose independents.  None of these guys could really afford a "Sister Souljah Moment" where they broke from the party's right wing, as they were already mistrusted by that wing.  In a weird way, a "true" right winger--a politically nimble version of Rick Perry--could win, because such a candidate could afford to tack to the center in the general election.  It's no accident that the one Republican to win in this period was George W Bush--a Texas governor with Christian cred--who ran on his ability to reach across the aisle and be a "compassionate" conservative.  And whatever you think of his presidency, Bush's best-known accomplishments--the prescription drug benefit, No Child Left Behind, the Iraq Invasion, the PATRIOT Act--and to a lesser degree his tax cuts--managed to get bipartisan support, and those first two measures were not exactly red meat for the right wing.

In my ideal world, the coming Romney loss will be a chance for the GOP to begin an adjustment that would enable it to start attracting moderates again and give less weight to its most extreme wing.  It just may take more time in the wilderness for that to happen.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Walk-a-Thon Recap

This past Saturday I walked much farther than I've ever walked in one stretch--26 miles, in my solo Walk-a-Thon to raise money for the National Foundation for Cancer Research.  The route--going through Capitol Hill, Eastern Market, Union Station, Columbia Heights, Friendship Heights, Dupont Circle, Woodley and Cleveland Parks, Georgetown and Downtown D.C.--took a little over 8 hours, and fortunately the weather was terrific for the walk.  A few observations about this:

1) Though I didn't stop for food, I did have to twice stop to get iced tea and Gatorade.  While these drinks each cost about $2, when you're as dry-mouthed as I was when I purchased them, you'd happily pay five times that if that's what they were charging.  Nothing feels quite as good as a beverage after the 20th mile.

2) I often walk a lot--several miles a day most days--but this really pushed some limits.  About halfway through you can feel yourself hit a bit of a wall, and your normal gait turns into a stagger.  Though this was less due to muscles or joints and more to do with the powerful blisters forming on my heels.

3) Speaking of blisters--they still hurt today.  My heels are more blister than non-blister. 

4) I can now say I've walked from my home to Maryland--and without taking the most direct or shortest route to get there.  The route passed through all four quadrants (though stayed on the west of the Anacostia river) and hit a variety of neighborhoods.  It looks like some pleasant brunch places in Adams Morgan and up Connecticut as well.

5) Tourists who think it's a good idea to walk abreast and block the sidewalk are mildly annoying on normal days.  Ten miles into your walk they induce extreme stabbishness.

6) By the final miles of the walk it occurred to me that if someone tried snatching my iPhone I would have had to just let them go. 

7) Next year this might be more fun in a group.  Eight hours is a lot of time to go without talking to anyone.

8) Fortunately, with pledges totalling $52.50 per mile, I managed to raise $1,365.00 from my donors.  Well worth the long trek.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Friday Thoughts

1) If I were a dictator and was privately thinking of retiring, I'd stage one of my usual sham elections and have the numbers work out so that my chosen successor beats me by a few points.  Then international observers will all be like "hey, maybe all those elections where he got 100% of the vote were real, too!"

2) Cars and trucks with bad blind spots should have signs on the back that say "bad blind spot, watch it".

3) City bike lanes should be on the sidewalks instead of the roads.  An accident involving a car and a bike is usually a lot worse than one involving a pedestrian.  Although it should be pointed out that pedestrians don't have the benefit of side view mirrors.

4) Pedestrians should have side view mirrors.  You'd not only be able to spot bicyclists coming behind you, but you'd be able to catch bike gropers more quickly, and toss a stick in their spokes so they can't escape to do more groping.

5) Speaking of bike gropers, I love how people say the alleged groper was "not who you'd expect" because his Facebook page makes it look like he's a normal guy.  Is a perpetrator ever "who you'd expect"?  Like they catch some hunchbacked, googly-eyed monster-ape-person, and then the papers can say "perpetrator pretty much who you'd expect".

6) Why is it that the political correctness that pushed us to say "chairperson" and "layperson" has not changed the word "gunman" to "gunperson"?  You gotta take the good with the bad, persons!

7) They say "the worst day fishing beats the best day at the office."  This is completely stupid.  The worst day fishing involves getting eaten by sharks.  The best day at the office is when your office is a brewery and you spend the whole day testing new batches and need to take a cab home.  Maybe it's just me, but I'd choose that over being eaten by sharks.