Saturday, November 29, 2008


We spent Thanksgiving in Western Michigan, specifically in Ludington. Not for the first time, we had a real small town moment in Ludington. Friday morning we stopped by McDonald's because L wanted a hash brown and a coffee. The drive thru line was huge, so I walked in. My mistake:

"Are you guys still serving breakfast?"

Little did I realize what an error that was. The answer was a chuckling "no" even though it was only 10:30. So, I walked back out to the car and asked what L wanted instead. She said just coffee, so I walked back in and ordered the coffee. At this point the McDonald's kid asks the manager what they have in the sandwich bin. She proceeds to list just about every sandwich they sell for breakfast. I say, "I just needed a hash brown." The manager comes back with three (!) of them, and tells the kid to charge me for one (which he fails to do).

So, it turns out that when McDonald's in Ludington is not serving breakfast, what they really mean is that they have all of the breakfast food for free.

Saturday, November 22, 2008


In the United States the current recession has mostly caused people to worry about U.S. issues. For instance, how easy a ride can we give wealthy New York bankers out of the crisis, and how badly should we screw blue collar manufacturing workers in the Midwest. As if some of the banks that will get money from the Feds are "viable" without the FDIC insuring their deposits, and the Feds eventually taking some of their bad mortgages. Yes, we should definitely punish GM for selling cars to consumers that consumers wanted. No doubt about it.

Anyway, other countries, or maybe "regimes" is more appropriate, have much more riding on economic growth than the U.S. does. For instance, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait both essentially buy off domestic opposition with oil profits. If oil continues to drop, this becomes much more problematic (and expensive). And remember, at least one group of "opposition" in Saudi Arabia is very much in the flavor of bin Laden.

The poster child for legitimacy based soley on economic growth may be China. China's Communist Party is not Communist in anything but name, and has essentially made this deal with the Chinese people: we deliver economic opportunity, you don't rebel against our authoritarian regime. However, China's economy is slowing down, and unemployment in the southeast is rising. Just this week we have seen evidence of the breakdown of the social compact (although this specific event was not in the southeast). Meanwhile, Tibetans in India are debating whether they ought to be pushing to be independent of China, rather than pushing for special rights within China, which is the current appoach of the Dalai Lama. Big hitter, that Lama.

Mind you, I am not saying this is imminent, or even likely, but there have always been opportunities for people on the frings of China when there is chaos in the middle. This is especially (potentially) true for Tibet since the neighboring Uighars in Xinjiang province are Muslims, with access to outside help from Central Asia, and already have a history of terrorism within China. I believe that Xinjiang is also easier to operate in militarily than the Himilayas. Thus, if Xinjiang and Tibet both rebel, Xinjiang seems likely to have to fight first. As I said, nothing seems imminent, or even likely, but if the big cities on the coast blow up, it seems likely that Xinjiang and Tibet will too. That could be an opportunity for Tibet while Xinjiang fights.

P.S. If Congress is so clear now that SUVs were evil why didn't they disincentivize purchasing them in the past? Gas taxes would have done it. So would really meaningful green taxes on SUVs. Instead, what we saw was the market operating. It is why BMW, Volkswagen, Hyundai, Toyota, Honda, Mercedes, and everyone else built SUVs. I say this as an SUV-hater: there was a time for Congress to legislate against the SUV in the public interest. Failing to help the Big 2.5 retool is too little too late. Remember that GM still sold more vehicles worldwide than Toyota did in 2007, and LOTS of that production is in America. That ought not be given up lightly.

Thursday, November 20, 2008


I just got back from a three day visit to New York City. I will put my pictures of the Chrysler Building, Brooklyn Bridge, and South Seaport area on the fotoblog when I get a chance. Maybe tonight. However, I had some odd experiences flying.

Going to New York (really Newark, aka EWR) was uneventful. Good flight. Half empty plane. There was a woman with two kids across the aisle from me. She apologized BEFORE WE TOOK OFF, planning on her kids being hellions. In the event, they fell asleep over Indiana, and woke up over New Jersey. It was great.

Coming home the plane was much fuller. It was a 5:00 p.m. flight. They loaded us all on, and closed the door. They then announced that we were facing a delay of an hour and a half because of wind in the Chi. However, they needed the gate, so we were going to park and wait. DOH! We had been due in the Chi at 7:09 Chi time. Now we were not leaving until 6:30 Chi time plus one. Not good.

I did what any experienced flyer would do at that point. I went to sleep. When I awoke, it was about 6:00 and we were in the air, but not tooooo high. We had clearly taken just taken off. It seemed rational to expect that we would arrive at about 8:00 Chi time. After all, we were due in at 7:09, and we left an hour late, so we should arrive an hour (or so) late. Sometimes they make up some time, but I didn't want to expect too much.

We arrived at 6:40 Chi time. That's a half hour early EVEN IF WE LEFT ON TIME! I know this is not an original rant, but if we can make that flight go as fast as we just did, why don't you schedule it like that and let me get home faster? In short, what the hell?

P.S. I failed in my personal challenge while in New York. I always like to see if I can go to New York and NOT ride in a cab. I took a bus from the airport to my hotel, and a combination of PATH train and NJ Transit back to the airport, as well as walking several trips, but I was in two cabs while I was there. Oh well.

Friday, November 14, 2008


So, the Cubs decided that they will not be able to sign Kerry Wood after he had a reasonably successful season last season. They got Florida's closer, and they keep Carlos Marmol. Obviously they are assuming that one of them will take Woody's job as closer, and they don't want to give Woody a long contract.

Apparently Woody and the Cub's brass have been all-class. That is as it should be. Special-K ws injured often, but like Jim McMahon before him, his injuries were serious, and he never used them as an excuse. He was no Mark Prior. Kid K played in the most postseasons for the Cubs since Stan Hack (1932-1947 in the majors). I am afraid I might have to root for Kerry even if . . . he signs with the Cardinals, or God forbid, the Astros. Well, the Astros might be tough.

So, thanks for everything Woody. Now when we wear our "we got Wood" shirts, it won't be a double entendre. Via con Dios, buddy.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008


I put some new pics on the fotoblog. In case you are interested.

Saturday, November 08, 2008


The map of the northern world has become much more tidy in the last 60 or so years. Between the end of the Age of Empires in 1919 and the redistribution of populations to match borders undertaken by Stalin, the north has relatively few latent issues pending.

That being said, there are some historical oddities. For instance, Liechtenstein still exists. It was created so that the powerful Liechtenstein family could get a seat at the Reichstag under the Holy Roman Empire. While the rest of the Holy Roman Empire underwent one of two processes (consolidation into Germany under Prussia's leadership, or statehood after the fall of the Habsburgs in 1919), Liechtenstein just sort of . . . stayed where and what it was. It was never part of Austria, so it was not absorbed either by Austria or the Nazis during the Anschluss era. It was disconnected from Germany proper, so it was not corraled by the Prussians. It uses Swiss money, and speaks German, but its railroad is run by the Austrians, and it has no airport. It also has no military. It is an oddity.

I think of Iceland as an additional oddity in Europe. 300,000 Vikings living on a volcano in a place called "Iceland" even though the winters are quite temperate there. The Icelanders are the Europeans who first arrived in Greenland, which IS full of ice. What makes Iceland even more odd right now is that the tiny country, which was an original NATO member, and occupied by the Allies during World War II to keep the sealanes to Britain open, has been forced into bankruptcy by its old ally, England. Perfidious Albion indeed. How did that happen? Well, a few of the Icelandic banks had major exposure in the UK. When the banks failed, the British government used antiterrorism (!) laws to freeze Icelandic assets. The application of the antiterrorism laws, along with the fact of the bank collapses, led to a general crisis in confidence toward Iceland. Suddenly the value of the currency has fallen by half, and foreign denominated loans are twice as expensive as they were. To make matters worse, the outside workd is not trading currencies for krona, so there is no way to pay these debts. Inflation is at 16%, and unemployment is rapidly increasing. In short, Iceland is in trouble.

So, what is the "tidying up" referenced above? I say that we offer Iceland statehood. 300,000 people is nothing (roughly the population of Green Bay, WI, or Roanoke, VA), and we COULD use an island half way to Europe, right? The Icelanders already speak English, and they already have a functioning republic. We make the current Icelandic flag the flag of the 51st state, swap their krona for dollars, and zim-zam-zoom we have a new outpost in the Atlantic. Of course, the Brits will have a significantly harder time bullying Iceland as a U.S. state, but that is just a side benefit.

P.S. I would put Iceland in the First Circuit (if Puerto Rico can be, why not Iceland), and tell Puerto Rico, the U.S.V.I., Guam, Washington, DC and any other colonies still lurking out there that this is the time to get in or get out. Colonies are unamerican.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008


So, if you are more interested in the process of campaigns than in the speeches and all that stuff, you are about to enter a glorious phase. Now is when all of the insiders start spinning their stuff. On the Republican side everyone will explain how their ideas were good, and everyone else screwed up. On the Democratic side everyone will have had perfect knowledge at all times and make EXACTLY the right call.

The interesting thing about these tales is that you can often tell who did the leaking by how the story is told. In fact, the Wall Street Journal today had one of the first of these articles I have seen. Interestingly, it obviously had input from both camps. The title itself starts the blame avoidance game. The article is entitled "As Economic Crisis Peaked, Tide Turned Against McCain." I almost didn't read the article because I could not bear to read that there was nothing the campaign could have done to win . . . blah, blah, blah. However, this article is oh so much better than that. Towit:
. . . in a strategy session of five McCain advisers -- campaign manager Rick Davis, pollster Bill McInturff, strategist Steve Schmidt, ad-maker Fred Davis and strategist Greg Strimple -- the back and forth revealed a fundamental problem. Fred Davis posed a question designed to give the campaign a central focus: "Why should we elect John McCain?" Tellingly, after several hours of debate, the five couldn't reach a consensus.

"Without an overriding rationale, our campaign necessarily turned tactical rather than strategic," one adviser recalls. "We focused more on why Obama should not be president, but much less on why McCain should be."

That exactly sums up the campaign that we witnessed. "Nobama" was the dominant theme. Of course, the other telling thing is that the person NOT mentioned is the candidate himself. Apparently McCain also could not articulate a rationale to elect McCain. For what it's worth, this hatchet job by Rolling Stone set forth a rationale for the McCain campaign that makes as much sense as anything else. To summarize, McCain is trying to achieve the only goal within his grasp that his emotionally-distant father did not achieve. Probably B.S., but it isn't like the McCain campaign had a BETTER rationale.

In the meantime the Democrats knew and saw everything PERFECTLY in real time. Want proof? Here are a couple of quotes:

the next day, while conservative House Republicans maneuvered behind the scenes to block the bailout bill, Sen. McCain sat largely silent at a crisis summit at the White House. Afterward, Sen. Obama called his staff from his car: "I've never seen anything like this," he said, according to several aides. "Some of the Republicans are clueless. Bush and I were trying to convince them."

Indeed. As McCain sat silent, it was actually OBAMA and BUSH (!) who remained level-headed and pushed through the bailout. Later we learn that:

on his weekly strategy call with Democratic senators after the Republican convention in early September, Obama Chief of Staff Jim Messina began, "Let me walk you through this week's events." He was cut off by angry senators calling for a more aggressive response to the Republican running-mate pick: "Go after Palin." "Define Palin." "Make the race about Palin." Mr. Messina was startled by the new nervousness in the party ranks.

In a Sept. 11 meeting in Chicago, Mr. Axelrod addressed his staff. They were worrying about a budding "Palin phenomenon." They had downsized some scheduled events in reaction to her and to ads that painted Sen. Obama as a celebrity. But "this campaign gets in trouble when we do little things; we're better at big things," Mr. Axelrod said. "This race is about the economy and change. For everyone panicking, calm down."

So, even during the height of Palin mania, Axelrod (and Axelrod alone) understood that Palin was a passing fancy and that the economy and change were all that were needed to carry Obama to the White House. Perfect vision in the moment.

Of course, someone is looking out for Palin in this article. Why, even as she faltered, she and her husband could see the error of the (McCain) staff:

Behind the scenes, she and her husband weren't entirely happy on the campaign trail, according to Republican operatives. Todd Palin expressed concern that overpreparation forced on his wife was part of the reason she was underperforming. He called McCain headquarters in Arlington, Va., with pointed questions about how they were isolating Gov. Palin from her own advisers and friends.

They may not be able to effectively fire a state trooper, but they know politics. Unlike that a-hole Steve Schmidt, who resides directly under the bus after we discover that:

In New York, the Republican spent the afternoon huddled with advisers Rick Davis, Mr. Schmidt and Mr. Salter and headed to the Morgan Library in New York to prepare for the approaching debate. Weighing how Sen. McCain should address the financial turmoil, the advisers offered three options, according to Mr. Salter: Keep your distance but monitor developments; be against the federal bailout package "because voters are;" or jump in to work on a government solution.

Mr. Schmidt suggested that the crisis presented a potential "leadership moment" for Sen. McCain: He could suspend his campaign and go to Washington to help negotiate bailout legislation. "If Kansas City blew up, you'd stop doing everything else," Mr. Schmidt told Sen. McCain, according to one adviser. Such an out-of-the-box idea appealed to Sen. McCain, a man who likes to shake up the status quo, another aide says.

Notice how rarely people are named in the quotes I have? Notice how the single most disasterous decision in the McCain campaign, i.e. the erratic on-again, off-again campaign suspension, superman-to-the-rescue-of-the-economy routine, is blamed on Steve Schmidt? By name? Without anyone else being implicated by name? I guess ol' Steve wasn't available for attribution. As luck would have it though, Obama's 20/20 real time vision cut through the ruse:

Obama aides were apoplectic. "This is a gimmick," Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer told his staff. "It's tonally off. There's no outcry for the candidates to get involved. It reeks." He ordered a press release saying Sen. Obama had made the first move that morning by calling Sen. McCain for a joint statement.

When Sen. Obama arrived at his Florida hotel, his top advisers gave him the news. He kept his usual calm, though puzzled and incredulous. "One of us will win and have to deal with the economy -- and everything else," an aide recalls him saying. He wasn't budging on the debate.

Phew. His aides were "apoplectic" but Obama was calm, somewhat puzzled, and incredulous. He sounds like a puppy encountering snow for the first time.

The complete article is replete with this fascinating (to me) stuff, and worth a read if you like this sort of thing. If you really like this sort of gossipy trash, check out The Brethren by Armstrong and Woodward. It's like Perez Hilton for the legal set.

UPDATE: I won't be able to add every article like this, but the LA Times had a good McCain staff versus Palin staff article today. The emerging narrative seems to be that we are all going to blame everything on Steve Schmidt.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008


On June 9, 2005 I posted the below. My only regret now is that I did not act like an ass and get Obama to sign something for me. Well, that's the problem with being cosmopolitan (as I am).


If you fly from Washington to Chicago on Thursday nights, you have a decent chance of flying with politicians. I flew with pre-conviction Rostenkowski (he was in first class, I was in cattle class). I flew with Luis Gutierrez, who hung out in the back of the plane glad handing the poor folk. There were others, but I am too tired to think of them now.

Why do I bring this up. Because it's my blog. That's why.

Anyway, tonight I had to fly home from Washington. For the first time in my life, I flew ATA. I flew ATA because it was cheap and the time was good. I kept humming "with ATA, you're on vacation." I could use a vacation. Maybe flying would be a mini vacation. Maybe? Could be? Small chink in the armor when I could not get my boarding pass on-line before the flight. Bigger chink when I showed up and was assigned a WINDOW seat?!? Um, ma'am, I prefer the aisle. That's great sir. Every seat on that flight is booked. That's fine, but they're aren't here yet and I am, so why don't you give me an aisle? I can't do that sir. Uh-oh.

The armor was splitting when I arrived at Terminal A at Washington National Airport. I guess I had never been in Terminal A. Terminal A is, I believe, the original building from 1812. Terminal A is not as nice as Willard Airport in Champaign, Illinois. Terminal A is a teeming mass of humanity, with too few seats, too little space, and too many flights bording too close to each other. Uh-oh.

I had genuine concern when I saw a good 30 junior high thugs sitting around in my general gate area. On the other hand, Terminal A does not make it very clear who belongs where, so I hoped they were not on my flight. Fortunately, I was distracted from this worry by an announcement from the gate four feet to the west of us that "no flights west of Washington are being allowed to depart." Well, with limited exceptions, EVERYTHING is west of Washington. Uh-oh.

Nothwithstanding my concern about delay/cancellation, at 6:15 promptly we began bording for our 7:00 flight. Weather must have broken. Cool. Except those 30 kids are, of course, on my flight. They are randomly interspersed among the rest of us. They are like roaches. They are from Colorado. The kid behind me is in 7th grade. His hair is dyed that blond that turns green. He had two earrings in his ear. His haircut is essentially a mullet without the party side in back. He's bragging that his mom cleans airplanes for United. I realize that he is basically Kenny with his hood off. Uh-oh.

I am in seat 18A. Immediately before we close the doors to push back, Barack Obama rolls on to the plane. The man is a rock star. People stare at him. People get up to shake his hand. People ask for autographs. He is another level from Rosty and Gutierrez. He is SOMEBODY. He strolls down the aisle beaming. He stops, smiles, and sits down in 18C. The guy in 18B says "isn't that guy a Senator." Yes he is. And he's flying ATA. And he's in my aisle. And he's surrounded on three sides by half-witted 7th graders. Uh-oh.

The fasten-seat-belt light is on. We are cross checked (whatever that means). We have gotten the safety lecture. Electronic devices are off and have been stowed. We are just not pushing back from the gate. We just sit. For an hour. Finally, pilot comes on and informs us that for reasons not apparent to him, "they" are calculating a new flight plan for us. Just to be careful, they are going to do two. When they are done, we can go out to where airplanes actually LEAVE the airport. Uh-oh.

Meanwhile, the Senator is plowing through the New York Times, Washington Post, Roll Call, and the Atlantic Monthly. He is obviously trying to ignore the constant beating on the back of his chair. He is obviously trying to ignore pseudo-Kenny tell racist jokes to the black kid next to him. The man is good. I thought he had the patience of a saint when he debated Alan Keyes. Now I KNOW he does.We got to Chicago late. The Senator wanted to get home as badly as any of us. He stopped and spoke to nuns, moms, guys who yelled out "Yo! Obama!" He was gracious the whole time. He was on the same flight I was. I was ready to kill EVERYONE. He is a politician. I never will're on vacation...

Monday, November 03, 2008


This is the first year that the Bird went trick-or-treating. We made it to two houses. We went two doors west, and one door west, then he saw mommy on our porch and we were done. Of course, it takes him a while to get up a flight of steps, and I have to help down steps, so it was just as well.

What is really fun about Halloween in our neighborhood is all of the people who are experiencing it for the first time. We are across the street from a public grade school, and it draws a fair number of Latin and Central European immigrants. They don't have American Halloween in Latin America, Poland, or Romania. And you can tell. In addition, the school had some sort of event for the students that got out around seven, so lots of kids who didn't really live so close to our house trick-or-treated the block around school. Anyway, sights seen:
  • the kid who was wearing his Sunday best to trick-or-treat. I guess "you dress up for Halloween" is more ambiguous than we realize;
  • the parents who came up to the door with their kids and just stood there bemused as their kids got candy for nothing from complete strangers;
  • the kids who just stood there bemused as they were given candy for mumbling "trick . . ." under their breath in broken English;
  • the parents who had their own bags for candy; and my personal favorite
  • the parents who clearly had NO idea how much candy was involved, who did not have bags for them or their kids, and had shirtfuls of candy.
Honestly, it is a very sweet moment watching someone work out their firsts in America. It reminds me of when I lived in Germany and got up October 3, 1990 thinking it was a day like any other. By about 11:00 I realized that the entire city was shut down. No trams. No bars. No kiosks. No nothing. What the hell? It was Wednesday, for Chrissakes. Turns out that it was Tag der deutschen Einheit (Reunification Day), which was a new holiday for the Germans, but one they all stayed home for.

So, tomorrow is election day. It is the first presidential election in quite a while during which I will not have to hold my nose when I vote. I just missed the 1988 election, but sheesh, did Dukakis really inspire anyone? 1992 and 1996 were fun, but Gore/Lieberman were very, very hard to like. I mean, listening to the two of them speak back-to-back was like a scene from Solzhenitsyn. And John Kerry! John Kerry! Ugh.

Meanwhile, I was thinking the other day that Bob Dole and John McCain ended up having sort of similar presidential campaigns. Both were decorated veterans, and both were . . . elder statesmen. Each seemed to exude a sense of it being "his turn" at different times in their campaigns. Each ran against a dynamic, "new" Democrat. Each also had a very angry, nasty streak that came out at inopportune moments. For instance, McCain here probably should not have used air quotes with the term "health." It came off as very nasty and really discounting legitimate health issues. Surprisingly, I can't find a good youtube clip of Dole doing his trademark "where's the outrage" line about Clinton. That also came off as out of touch, and self-serving.

Of course, Clinton won 379 electoral votes in 1996, and Obama has not actually won ANYTHING as of this writing, so that could be a big difference between Dole and McCain. I actually don't think it will be though. When an old school Republican friend from Iowa told me that he had an Obama sign in his front yard (in Virginia), I realized that McCain/Palin were in deep, deep trouble. Maybe all of the polls are wrong, but when they lose the internationalist, business-first, Catholic convert from Iowa, they are in trouble.

So, to close, my prediction is that Obama will win 341 votes in the Electoral College. I predict he will lose Florida, Missouri, and Indiana, but win Ohio, Virginia, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, and Colorado (among others). Shocker? He will win Georgia. Black turnout has apparently already been tremendous, and Obama's get out the vote effort is going to surprise and overwhelm the Georgia Republicans. If Georgia, Virginia, Pennsylvania, and North Carolina all go for Obama it is almost impossible for McCain to win. We should know three of those well before bedtime here in the Midwest.

By the way, to be elected President it takes 270 votes in the Electoral College.