Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Time Keeps on Ticking

Turning 36 is a celebration of sorts, managing to make it another year in good health and still not squashed flat by one of the terrible northern Virginia drivers in massive vehicles who have no respect for anything. Having been born at a time when television was a wasteland (and not the center of cultural fulfillment that it is today) and music was mindless disco beats rather than the scientifically advanced brilliance we see now--in '74 they didn't even have auto-tune!--I'm glad to be living in a time when we've come so very far. At the time I was born, this country was in a never-ending recession and still not fully disengaged from a drawn out foreign war. Good thing that's not the case today!

Sadly, I also reflect that I've never flown a plane, ridden a horse, been on the ballot, or visited Asia or South America. But on the other hand, I've also never declared bankruptcy, served a day in jail, or broken a bone. I call that a wash!

I often use Winston Churchill's life as a guide for my own, since he was born on the exact same day as me but one hundred years earlier. By this time, he'd been a popular hero in the Boer War, a published correspondent, and a member of Parliament. There's still time to catch up, if I get appointed First Lord of the Admiralty in time for our next World War (which, by that logic, should start in four years when Germany invades France again. It could happen!). As long as I avoid the mistake of attacking the Turkish straits, I should even be ahead!

Monday, November 29, 2010

Black Friday is Black Like Your Heart

One bit of Thanksgiving related news that I found a bit jarring was the news that Black Friday is no longer an accurate term for the madness of bargain hunting that is now beginning on Thanksgiving Day itself, or even earlier. Yes, cheap classless people are now camping out for hours to crush helpless Wal Mart employees in their quest to get a good deal on electronics rather than spend some quality time with their loved ones.

Here's the thing about these wonderful deals--there is no amount one can save on any number of consumer goods that can justify camping out in the cold and waiting on long lines to shove other people to grab and buy. Can't afford nice gifts for the fambly? Then make a macaroni drawing or write them a poem about the value of not getting gifts. Sure, they'll hate you on December 25th, but they'd hate you anyway for better reasons than not getting them a cool gift.

A better solution? Start celebrating Christmas a couple weeks later, with the Orthodox Christians. Then you can do your holiday shopping in early January, after everyone's made their gift returns, and enjoy some hassle-free shopping.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010


With Thanksgiving coming tomorrow, I'm gearing up for the usual delicious delectables: turkey leg, mashed taters, stuffing, gravy, cranberry sauce (from a can, the best way), antipasta platter, homemade bread, apple pie, and beaujulais nouveau. It's an interesting combination, in that it is the same combination every year and everything seems to go together in complementary fashion. The cranberry offers sweetness to balance the saltiness of the turkey and gravy, the carb effect of the taters balance the cheese, meats and veggies of the antipasta, and the beauj helps bring everything down. Throw that combo off balance, and you need to take other action.

If the turkey gets taken out of the equation, for example, you can't just substitute steak. You'd need to toss in some salad (preferably Caesar, the Emperor of Salads), in place of the antipasta, and of course the homemade bread would need to be replaced with a baguette. With that, the cranberry wouldn't really go, so you'd need to replace it with applesauce (I suppose). Before long, the stuffing is all that's left of the original meal, but that can never stand alone--stuffing without taters, turkey and cranberry is sort of like going to a Doors concert and seeing only Ray Manzarek showed up.

Here's wishing all a happy Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Goddam Delaware

Some people wonder why Delaware, a small intrusive state, earns so much bile from me that I have re-named it "New Jersey's Ugly Brother". Sure, they produce luminaries such as Christine "I Know All Sixteen Amendments By Heart" O'Donnell and Joe "Has Anyone Seen My Underwear?" Biden. Sure, they put a massive toll on a very short stretch of Interstate 95 to fleece travellers between NY and DC. Sure, they call themselves "The First State" even though they only ratified the Constitution first because there's literally nothing else going on in that stupid state.

But now, they decided to close off a bunch of lanes on I-95 on Thanksgiving weekend for construction. Great idea, jerks! Just because you're staying in your stupid Wilmington and Dover homes eating turkey doesn't mean you should screw over those of us who have to drive that day! Keep pushing us and we'll find a way to sever you off from the mainland, never to be seen again, just like we did to East Virginia.

And the best part? The construction in question is being paid for by federal stimulus funds. So we'll be paying taxes down the road for Delaware to do repairs on a 20 mile stretch of highway that they already make big toll money on. Next time you see Joe Biden give him the finger.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Greatest American City, Round Six!

As we move along in our "Greatest American City" tournament, a lot of people (mostly from cities that suck) have complained about the methodology used in selecting winners. Here are some FAQs:

Q: What makes you an authority on American cities when you've never even been to Seattle?

A: I've seen the movie Singles. Okay, heard the soundtrack.

Q: Do you use a special methodology to decide which cities face off against one another?

A: Yes, assuming you have no followup questions.

Q: It seems pretty arbitrary to base points on whether a song includes the city in its lyrics, or whether you had a good meal there. Millions of people are being judged!

A: That's not really a question.

So, today we have a face-off between perennial favorite, New Orleans, and up and coming Indianapolis. Indy did well in the regionals against Cleveland and Cincinnati but it remains to be seen whether they can fight off the infamous Crescent City!

1) Indy: was featured as the setting for TV's "One Day at a Time". Since that show really sucked (sorry Valerie Bertinelli fans!) Indy loses points to N.O.

2) New Orleans has a colorful pronunciation from its locals, who call it "Nawlins". How quaint and charming! Indy natives mispronounce their city "Andyapolis". Or at least some guy named Andy did that, and it really was lame. Points for Nawlins!

3) New Orleans is often called the Big Easy because it's easy to live there if you're big. (This is because it has so many great buffets). Indy is nicknamed "The City You Stay in When You Run Out of Gas On Your Way To Chicago'. Points for N.O.!

4) New Orleans residents have created muffaletta sandwiches, beignets, po-boys, and numerous Creole dishes. Indy is best known for being close enough to Chicago to drive for a nice meal. Points to N.O. again! Indy better catch up!

5) Indy is home to the Colts, a franchise that was really excellent back in the '50s and '60s....when it was in Baltimore. Okay, I'll give them credit for a Peyton Manning too....though the Saints won the last Superbowl, playing against....eek, that was Indy! Slight edge to N.O.

So it looks like New Orleans survived Katrina and roared back to a resounding victory against Indy.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Food, Glorious Food

One of the great things about America is our abundance with food and our ability to flaunt that abundance in ways that can only make less fortunate peoples learn to hate us. Now, before you say "other countries only hate us for our freedoms!" think for a minute how ridiculous that is. Remember that kid in high school who had no curfew and no obligations and had all the freedom in the world? You didn't hate him because of his freedom. You hated him because he was a douchebag about it and wasn't cool about selling you weed.

How are we flaunting our abundance for all the world to see?

1) Stuffed crust pizza. At some point, someone said "this pizza doesn't have enough calories and fat. There's got to be a better way!" and their assistant said "but boss! We put cheese and meat and veggies on every square inch of surface! Where else can we put extra food on this thing??" And voila, the stuffed crust pizza was born.

2) Turkey. We have never accepted turkey on its own. Nope, we've managed to stuff it with stuffing (which is where stuffing gets its name!), and even other meats (duck, chicken, beef, spare ribs) because there's a part of Thanksgiving dinner where Uncle Joe says "whew, that wasn't bad turkey, but I'm STILL STARVING!" And baking the turkey isn't enough, no sir! We've found ways to deep fry and smoke turkeys for extra fattening goodness.

3) Hamburgers. Ah, the simple days when a McDonalds small hamburger was what an adult got with their fries and Coke. Then, this wasn't enough, and they created the "Big Mac"--a double decker burger! This was the greatest thing to come out of 1968, with the possible exception of the White Album. Wait, I take that back, the Big Mac is way better than the White Album. (Ducks as pairs of Beatle Boots are tossed at me). But then, that wasn't enough and the "Quarter Pounder With Cheese" came about. Now, we have the Angus Third Pounders, and we all know that it's only a matter of time before the "Pounder" becomes standard. Sadly, the Big Mac looks positively small on the menu these days.

4) State Fairs. They have now deep fried everything, including Coke and Bourbon. At least a deep fried potato could provide you essential starch--but now, it's all about that crazed sugar rush. My prediction for the next state fair entry? Deep fried deep fry. Yes, that's no typo--they will find a way to deep fry the batter with nothing else, since that's what we're getting to next.

5) Bacon bacon bacon! Yes, this brilliant bit of meat can serve as a topping (in "bit" form), a main course (as the meat for a BLT sammich), and even casing for any other food (bacon-wrapped anything). The Canadians have tried to keep up with us but their bacon is basically ham. Bacon also probably makes a good stuffing, but the folks don't let me do that for Thanksgiving.

So, we're a land of plenty, due in part to a massive farm belt, the best of farming techniques and generous federal subsidies that keep the prices low. If anything, our problem is how to cut back on fat, a problem that anyone who had to scrounge for a meal would consider a good problem to have. I guess I really shouldn't complain.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Airport Security Madness

Air travel sucks. Airports are always located way too far from anything, unless you're some sad sack living in outer Queens or Dulles, so it always takes forever to get there. Planes are overly fragile, so flights often get delayed or cancelled due to rain (though most pilots will tell you that a plan can get struck by lightning repeatedly and still fly just fine). And now airport security has reached new levels of ridiculous crapulence so you have a great combination of having to leave early to drive extra far to get to the airport extra early to get through security just in time to wait extra hours for your delayed flight. Add flight time and travel from your destination airport to your destination--providing you don't prefer to just hang out near the airport at your destination!--and you basically save no time flying instead of driving for any flight that isn't cross-country.

Some of these problems can't be solved--airports always have to be far out from cities, since they take up too much land, and flights will always be delayed until some airline establishes "do you feel lucky" flights where people can knowingly accept a riskier flight if it means taking off on time. But airport security--what can possibly be done to make us safe from all those terrorists trying to set their shoes or underwear on fire on our planes?

To that I'd say--what really needs to be done there? Both of those plots were foiled easily, because last I checked you're not even allowed to smoke on the plane so surely anyone whipping out a lighter and trying to have a go at their clothing is going to attract immediate suspicion. It seems anyone wanting to blow up a plane would have an easier time bribing an underpaid baggage handler to let a suitcase full of bombs get past the metal detectors and detonate in the hold. In this day and age there's pretty much no way to get up to no good in the cabin.

Of course, some incompetents like Richard Reid will try to sneak a shoe bomb onto the plane from time to time. In which case I think an adequate punishment would be forcing him to spend the rest of his life inspecting passengers' smelly shoes at the security checkpoint, followed by a flight wedged in between two obese passengers with a screaming baby in front and behind. Film it for a reality show, and you'll have all the deterrant you need for any future bombers.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

City Nicknames

A lot of people wonder how certain cities get their nicknames. New York is famously known as "the Big Apple", because of its legendary pie-bakeoffs, and Chicago is known as "the Windy City" because it was named after a woman named Wendy who was notorious for misspelling her name. It's sort of sad when a city has no cool nickname of its own, because a nickname can really put it on the cultural map. I've suggested a few names based on cities I'm familiar with:

1) Washington, D.C.--the Big Swampy. You don't venture into the Big Swampy during July without a sweat-rag, y'hear???

2) Portland, ME--the Big Frosty. The best wintertime souvenir a Mainer can give you is a case of the shivers, courtesy of the Big Frosty!

3) Sarasota, FL--Retirement Alley. Self explanatory.

4) Baltimore--Crabtown, U.S.A. Not to be mistaken for Bangkok, which is a different sort of Crabtown.

5) Philadelphia--the City Where Directions Won't Help You. Update your maps, people!

6) Syracuse, NY--Pity City. You pity those who live here, and they pity you for having to visit.

7) Boston, MA--Meathead Alley. How a city that boasts some top notch colleges and an economy that attracts such high intelligence can be also a haven for low functioning townies is truly a testament to the duality of man.

8) Los Angeles--New Jersey With Palm Trees.

Any city chamber of commerce that uses those terms will owe me big money.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Greatest American City, Round Five!

There's been a lot of regional acrimony over which city will eventually win the Greatest City in America Tournament. It's a little-known fact that a dispute back in the 1861 tournament between Charleston, South Carolina and Boston, Massachusetts led to the respective states going to war and bringing their fellow states in with them. Such disputes are impossible in this modern day of civility and intelligent debate.

Today's matchup--Philadelphia, Pennsylvania versus Atlanta, Georgia!

1) Philly has a good deal of history, being the place that the Declaration of Independence was signed, and where Rocky ran up a flight of steps. Atlanta on the other hand was razed to the ground by cruel General Sherman, and to my knowledge Rocky never even visited the city. Sadness, and points for Philly.

2) Philly has the cheesesteak. Unfortunately, they often put squeeze cheese on it, which is just nasty. Points for Atlanta, yech!

3) Atlanta was originally named Marthasville, and then Terminus, and finally got its name from the Ocean on which it sits. Except that it's pretty far inland. Oops! Philadelphia on the other hand has not been named after anyone named Philip, or Delph. So what we have is a couple of liars! Push!

4) Philly is host to the great TV show, "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia." Atlanta, however, was host of "Designing Women." So take that, er, um, oh . . . points for Philly.

5) Atlanta was where Hank Aaron broke Babe Ruth's lifetime home run record, and also hosted the '96 Olympics. Philadelphia, on the other hand, was where Eagles fans tossed snowballs at Santa Claus. What the hell, Philly???? Points for Atlanta!

6) Atlanta is the capital of its state, and the largest city and cultural center of the Deep South. Philly is the most desirable city in its region, unless you're able to get into NYC or Washington easily. But, Philly also has a lot of Jersey commuters, so . . . hmm. Atlanta with more points.

Looks like an upset win for Atlanta, which is a bit odd since I generally prefer visiting Philly for its good restaurants, walkable neighborhoods, and easy proximity to DC. Unfortunately I hadn't thought of those elements in making point scores. Who designs these contests, anyway?

Monday, November 15, 2010

Greatest American City, Round Four!

Boy, is this City vs. City tournament getting heated! Kansas City-ites throwing bottles at Seattlers, Boise Folk hollering curses at Miliwaukeeans--hopefully they can all work out their differences in a civil manner, sort of like the States did last time they had a conflict. (They didn't call it the "Civil" war for nothing) In this round we have Portland Maine duking it out with Washington, DC. Full disclosure--these are the two cities I've lived in longer than any other, so my affinity for both is well established. Let's go to the battle:

1) Portland boasts a sizable Somali population, while Washington has a large number of Ethiopians. While the latter have established a number of good ethnic restaurants, the Portland area has no Somalian restaurants to speak of. Boo! What's up with that, Portland? Would Somalian food be a little too "real" for you? Point to DC!

2) Portland has a number of quality restaurants and dive bars--in fact, most of the bars are of the dive quality. DC does have a number of bars, but in terms of restaurants it falls about equal to Portland (despite the latter's tiny size--DC has about ten times the population of Portland). Points to Portland for batting above its weight.

3) Portland is absolutely horrendous in the winter, with extreme darkness (due to its far north and far east location), extreme cold, and enough snow to make Jack Frost go batshit. DC is a fetid swamp during the summer. Breaking the tie is the long, temperate fall and spring in DC. Points to DC on weather.

4) Both towns have cheap baseball, since Portland has only a double-A team (the SeaDogs) and DC has a team that may as well be double-A (the hapless Nationals!). Push.

5) DC has a fairly extensive and state of the art metro system, connecting most of its neighborhoods and key urban points. Portland's most worthwhile points are all in walking distance from one another. Point to Portland.

6) Portland is definitely cheaper in terms of housing, but the pitifully low salaries are so far below the cost of living that many white collar workers are forced to work extra jobs. Boo! Points to DC.

7) When you have out of town guests in DC, you can send (or take) them to see monuments, free museums, open air markets, events, etc. When you have out of town guests in Portland, you can . . . hope the weather is nice enough to do something outside. (It won't be.) Points to DC.

8) Portland has a scenic location right on the Atlantic, with a rocky cove and many barrier islands nearby. DC is just sort of in the middle of a swamp. Points to Portland.

Looks like DC edges out my former home of Portland--though, Portland should be proud to put up a good fight against a heavyweight like that. It should also be noted that both towns blew the doors off Boston in the Northeast Regionals, because any town producing "Good Will Hunting" deserves to lose.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Greatest American City, Round Three!

Next up in our City vs. City, This Time It's Personal tournament is old scrapper Sarasota, Florida against Houston, Texas. Let's go to the videotape!

1) Houston is named after Sam Houston, one of the leaders in the Texas Republic and an ardent foe of secession (from the U.S.--he didn't mind seceding from Mexico, obviously). Sarasota was named after Floyd Sarasota, a brilliant politician and landowner who convinced General Andrew Jackson to let him open up beachfront condos after the Seminole War. Houston is definitely better known--points to Houston!

2) Sarasota has beaches. Points to Sarasota.

3) Houston boasts some great sports franchises, including NBA's Rockets, Baseball's Astros, and NFL's Texans. Er....okay, Houston somehow loses points here....

4) Houston is the fourth largest city in the country. Sarasota is so small that when Houston eats lunch, it flosses afterwards and little Sarasotas pop out of Houston's teeth. Points to big ole Houston.

5) Houston is the center of the American oil business. Sarasota is the center of the American retirement community business. More points for Houston.

6) People often say "I'm taking a pleasure trip to Sarasota." Conversely, anyone going to Houston puts it this way: "I have to go to Houston. Sigh." Points to Sarasota.

7) Looks like a close one, and these very different cities are going to need some sort of tiebreaker. Let's go with this one: Houston's town motto is "At least we're not El Paso." Sarasota's motto is "Wait, you're not my regular valet guy." Points and match to Sarasota!

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Greatest American City, Round Two!

In Round Two, we have longtime contenders Detroit and Memphis. Detroit made it through the regionals, beating upstart Saginaw, while Memphis managed to pull off an upset against Gary, Indiana. (Sorry to all residents of Gary--but you can't rest on your laurels just because you're the origin city of the Jackson Five. You gotta fight on in all categories!)

1) Musical Influence: Memphis has produced a lot of blues music, and some terrific R&B under the Stax label. Detroit, of course, brought us the Motown sound of the sixties. This will have to be a push.

2) Food: Memphis is well known for its barbecue, particularly its ribs. Detroit is also well known for its ribs, particularly the ribs of a tourist who had his inisdes gutted while mistakenly walking into the wrong neighborhood. Points go to Memphis.

3) View: people in Memphis get a nice view of the Mississippi River, the longest river in North America. Detroiters get a view of Canada, the most wannabe-U.S. country in North America. (Mexico is too busy trying to be Argentina to waste its time trying to be us). Much as I like Canada, I have to give points to Memphis. Better catch up, Detroit!

4) Memphis has no NFL franchise, while Detroit has the Lions. I have to give points to Memphis here, since the Lions are so bad the city would be better off with no team at all. Not looking good, Detroit!

5) Famous Natives: Memphis is home to Nathan Bedford Forrest, the Confederate cavalry commander and founding member of the KKK. Ok, Detroit HAS to be able to top that! Detroit has produced Eminem. It's hard to say which guy white people should be more ashamed of, so this will also be a push.

6) Great Companies: Memphis has FedEx, which was featured with excellent product placement in the movie Cast Away, starring Tom Hanks. Ok, let's see what Detroit has--General Motors. Featured in that Michael Moore film, "Roger and Me". (Which I thought would have been about the director's brother, Roger, who played James Bond. Boy was I disappointed!) Points go to Memphis, since Moore's film hardly made anyone want to buy a GM.

Well, looks like Memphis took this one pretty handily. Sorry Michiganders!

Monday, November 8, 2010

Greatest American City, Round One!

In today's first round of the "Greatest American City" tournament, we have the contenders Chicago, weighing in as the country's third largest city, with broad shoulders and thick midwestern accents, and New York--slick and fast paced! Let's begin the battle:

1) Nickname: Chicago takes "The Windy City" and New York takes "The Big Apple". Frankly, the apple thing makes no sense, especially since apple country is much further upstate. Point goes to Chicago.

2) Pizza style: Chicago basically serves a pot pie that's pizza-flavored. New York pizza is incomparable. Many points to NY!

3) Director who bases all their films there: Chicago has John Hughes. Those films don't age so well! New York has Martin Scorcese, whose films are excellent. But wait! Scorcese's Oscar-winning epic, "The Departed", actually took place in Boston. Disqualification! Point to Chicago.

4) Sports: Chicago has exactly one football team, with a storied history and greats such as George Halas, Walter Payton, and those guys from "Brian's Song". (No, I'm not crying, it's just dusty in here!) New York has, count 'em, TWO football teams! Except they both share a stadium....in Jersey. I cry for real now, as I give points to Chicago.

5) Buildings: New York has the Empire State Building, which beats Chicago's Sears Tower. (Fun fact--as a native New Yorker, I've never climbed the ESB, but did climb the Sears when I was a tourist in Chicago.) Granted, Sears is taller, but the ESB is instantly recognizable with its art-deco style, and attraction for large apes. Point to NYC.

6) Famous criminals: Chicago has Al Capone, Sam Giancana and that Dr. Holmes guy who murdered all those people at the 1893 Worlds Fair. NYC has Son of Sam, John Gotti, and Elliot Spitzer. Ugh, points to Chicago!

7) Presidents: Chicago produced Barack Obama, which is very impressive until you remember that NYC produced Teddy Roosevelt who shot so many animals he became a conservationist just so he could save a few animals to shoot for later. NYC has to get the point on this one.

8) Songs Referencing the City: Chicago has Elvis' "In the Ghetto". New York has Sinatra's "New York, New York." Points to NYC--unless you want to be "face down with a gun in [your] hand" like the subject of Elvis' ballad.

Hmm, tie score! We'll have to see both NYC and Chicago advance to the next round. Stay tuned for more...

Friday, November 5, 2010

Rat Pack Party

Today marks the birthday of my fiancee/roommate/enabler Shannon, and among the big plans for her special occasion is a party tomorrow with a '60s "Rat Pack" theme. For those of you who don't know, the Rat Pack was a gang of celebrities from the early '60s who hung around in a close knit group, doing Vegas shows together, television specials, and even a few movies--the best known being 1960's "Oceans Eleven". These celebrities--singer/actors Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., and Peter Lawford and Joey Bishop--epitomized the idea of early '60s coolness and "classy" partying.

So how to do a perfect Rat Pack party? First, make sure you have plenty of martini glasses, olives, and booze. Make sure there's plenty of whiskey. Jazzy tunes on the sound system add a nice touch, and guests should be decked out in their coolest suits and dresses. And cigarettes, oh the cigarettes. It should also be noted that the Rat Packers participated in some great celebrity roasts later on, hosted by Dean Martin and featuring everyone from John Wayne to Muhammad Ali. Croon out a few songs, do a bit of tap dance and standup, and you're all there daddy-o.

So here's to some great Rat Packin' times with good friends, and a celebration of a special day for a special lady.

Happy Birthday, Shannon!

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Happy Thoughts

Whatever your political leanings, you can appreciate some of the silver linings about yesterday's election results:

1) After two years of my liberal friends being insufferably smug and my conservative friends being completely insane, it'll be nice to see my conservative friends become insufferably smug and my liberal friends become completely insane.

2) The color barrier will be broken with our first ever orange-colored Speaker of the House, John Boehner. If he and Snooki had a child it would be an Oompa Loompa.

3) Since the Democrats were able to successfully smear the GOP for trying to touch Social Security in 2006, and the GOP was able to successfully smear the Democrats for trying to touch Medicare in 2010, I can look forward to growing old with both programs completely untouched. Of course, those programs will swamp the federal budget and the economy and we'll have to sell our children to China to pay off our debts, but at least I can retire in unearned luxury.

4) Democrats and Republicans can fight back and forth over which group of gerrymandered incompetents gets to run this country into the ground, but at least we D.C. residents don't have to worry about that because we don't get a vote. Fun fact--eleven states actually seceded from the country and took up arms against the U.S. Army from 1861-65, and all of those states had full autonomy and representation in Congress within a decade after that. D.C., which never seceded from anything, still gets nothing. Sounds pretty fair!

5) California had to decide whether to elect as governor a woman who thinks the job is worth over $150 million of her own money, or a washed up moonbeam who drove the state into a ditch back in the '70s when he was governor. And at the same time, they decided not to legalize pot. For that, I take back all the jokes I made about Florida.

6) 99% of New York voters have decided that their Rent is NOT Too Damn High. Sounds good!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010


My predictions from yesterday came out pretty close in the Senate (with Democrats keeping 51 seats to the GOP's 46, and 3 undecided so far) and I'd underestimated the GOP House total by 11 seats. The spin has begun already--Tea Partiers are going to take credit for providing the enthusiasm and energy for the GOP pickups, and some of their annointed candidates have won (Toomey in PA, Rubio in FL). They will try and downplay the fact that they also gave up at least two easy Senate pickups in Nevada and Delaware.

Sarah Palin will try and take credit for much of this, because that is the sort of person she is. Will she be dumb enough to run for President? I doubt it, since it's much easier to sit on the sidelines and get paid a lot of money and not have to answer pesky reporters' questions about whether she reads. But there will surely be a "Tea Party" contender for the nomination and likely that insurgent group will influence the 2012 primary.

Also, the legislative gridlock will ensure that the only things that can get passed in the next two years will require an overwhelming lack of controversy. No hard decisions will be made on cutting federal spending or reforming the tax system--the Bush tax cuts will likely expire at the end of this year (little chance of a lame duck session doing anything about that) meaning every taxpayer will be hit by some form of increase during a recession. The regulatory burdens on businesses are likely to remain. The GOP will have to contend with Tea Party pressure in a way that they didn't have to when they were in the distinct minority. And Obama is going to have to learn to deal with these people.

What did we learn from this election season?

1) Crazy works in crazy times, but sometimes there's such a thing as "too crazy". Sharron Angle ran against perhaps the most vulnerable incumbent in the country--Harry Reid--in a state that has a 14% unemployment rate and is itching to throw out the bum. But she consistently came across as a fundamentalist nut, and crossed the line with racially incendiary ads aimed at Hispanics. She turned out to be just too much for Nevada's voters.

2) Party switching comes back to bite you. Pennsylvania's Arlen Spector switched to the Democrats last year and ended up losing the primary to a more liberal candidate--Joe Sestak--who in turn went on to lose against the Tea Party favorite, Pat Toomey. Charlie Crist in Florida went from being a potential GOP running mate for John McCain (before McCain went and picked the most unqualified person in the country) to dropping out of his own party's primary for the U.S. Senate to run as an independent. He was then blown out of the water by the eventual GOP nominee, Marco Rubio.

3) Proudly embracing Obama's agenda won't help in swing districts. Leading up to the campaign, liberals argued that the most endangered Democrats would be those who ran away from the party's agenda and tried to triangulate. To be sure, a number of those "blue dogs" did lose, as the independents and GOP voters were energized and eager to "dump Pelosi" and replace their moderate Democrats with conservative Republicans. But Democrats in swing districts who tried the alternate approach--embracing Obama and his record--found themselves defeated as well, such as Tom Perriello and Gerry Connolly of Virginia. It's damned if you do, damned if you don't, this year in swing districts.

4) It's a 50-50 nation. That is, this country is about evenly divided among those leaning liberal and those leaning conservative. So when one party takes power, they'd be well advised to consider that if they try and push an agenda that leans too far towards their own base, they're going to (a) energize the opposing base and (b) alienate moderates/independents. The GOP learned this in the past decade, when they had the White House and all of Congress. Obama and Pelosi made the same mistake this time around. And politics being what it is, the GOP is likely to do the same thing yet again. Governing from the center is really the only way to hold power for a long time. (Of course, one could also argue that there is no point in having power if you don't use it--but just don't expect to hold power for much longer than that if you have that attitude). It is overreach that explains why Americans usually prefer divided government.

5) The economy is still the defining issue here. With official unemployment at 9.6% (and if having been over 9% for almost two years), housing values still in the toilet, and sluggish GDP growth, the mood in this country is still grim. Could Obama and company have had better results if they'd spent more time working out a more effective and perhaps popular stimulus plan (such as my plan--just write checks directly to the taxpayers, no strings attached, to pump money into the economy)? Would it have helped if the health care reform plan were put on the backburner, while direct attention to economic growth was focused? It's hard to say, even with hindsight. But the same issue that burned the GOP two years ago remains to burn the in-party.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Election Day Predictions

Today being election day, it's time for my predictions! Let's see how many of these I get right:

1) House of Representatives: the final count will be GOP with 229 seats, Democrats with 206 seats. Nancy Pelosi will step down as caucus leader and be replaced by Steny Hoyer.

2) Senate: the final count will be GOP with 47 seats, Democrats with 50 seats (plus two Independents that caucus with the Democrats, and one (Lisa Murkowski in Alaska) that caucuses with the GOP). Christine O'Donnell will lose with a percentage around 40% of the Delaware vote, and any Republican with a brain will curse Sarah Palin for helping turn a sure winner in Delaware (with Mike Castle) to a sure loser by meddling. Thanks Sarah!

3) In key Governor races, the GOP will win in Texas, Florida, and Illinois. Meg Whitman will lose in California, after having spent over $150 million of her own money, proving you just can't buy an election if you aren't a good politician. In NY, Cuomo will win, but there's going to be a surprisingly strong showing for the Rent is Too High party, as a protest vote.

4) In Maine, Independent Elliott Cutler will make a strong showing and keep it remarkably close, but (sorry to my friends who are backing him) it's been too little too late in getting the Democrats' votes to break for him, and that split plus an electorate that is furious with the "in-party" will give the edge to GOPer Paul LePage.

5) The GOP will have the distinction of having two governors of Indian (of the subcontinent) ancestry in Deep South states--Bobby Jindal in Louisiana and Nikki Haley in South Carolina. Also, Tim Scott is poised to be the first black Republican to represent a district in South Carolina since Reconstruction, and I understand his district is majority white. If you were to tell an 1860s South Carolinian that white South Carolinians would some day elect a black man--of the GOP no less--to represent them in Congress he'd probably spit up his mint julep.

6) The big challenge over the next two years will not be just Obama trying to deal with a resurgent GOP in Congress--it'll be a GOP establishment trying to deal with Palin-Americans trying to "purify" their party and insist on somehow cutting taxes and the deficit without any meaningful spending cuts, using magic. Hold on, it'll be a bumpy ride....

Monday, November 1, 2010

Sanity or Insanity

Taking my pleasant weekend stroll is one of the things I enjoy most about fall--the charming neighborhoods, parks, and city folk who populate the sidewalk seating at the bars and cafes. Saturday was to be like any other. Of course, I knew a rally was going on at the Mall, but figured I'd cut through the crowd, see some clever signs and costumes, and be on my way.

Alas, the Mall was packed to the gills! And people were not moving out of the way. Hipsters, hipsters everywhere! And more than a few yuppies. Trying to navigate a crowd is hard enough, but a crowd carrying big signs is even worse. And if some clod decided to get there super early and lay out a blanket so they could sit on the Mall all day, and you needed to walk past and had no choice but to step on their blanket, you were going to get a "hipster scolding".

("Hipster scolding" is defined by a remark laden with such an overdose of sarcasm that you aren't even sure if it's sarcastic. It's like a black hole of sarcasm.)

I did manage to use fancy footwork to wheedle through the crowd and finally get to the other side of the Mall, and continue my walk, and at every Metro stop more rallygoers streamed in. I made a mental note to give the Mall a wide berth on my walk back later, and figured that'd be the end of that.

But then, later needed to go to the store for groceries. As our Safeway is the closest one to the Mall, well, you guessed it--packed with hipsters yet again! Which would be fine if they didn't keep running into you on their way to use the bathrooms and buy up as much PBR as the store would keep in stock. I wish I were making up that tired stereotype, but seriously, they took ALL the PBR. (Fortunately, I'm a Dos Equis sort of guy).

Did they restore sanity, you ask? Well, not to my neighborhood they didn't!