Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Palin & Couric

I just watched a few of these on youtube.com. They're all pretty pathetic, but this one really stood out:

This is the Republican candidate for vice president, one month away from the election. The Republican Party is broken.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Obama vs McCain, first debate

After watching the debate last night and reading some blog reactions today, my thoughts:

McCain seemed vigorous enough, I didn't get a sense that he's too old for the job (he seemed rather docile to me in the primaries).

But he sure seemed bitter and insecure, and he showed nothing but contempt for Obama. He began several statements with "what Senator Obama doesn't understand", and called him naive at least once. He just seemed annoyed with sharing stage with his opponent. Much has been made of his lack of eye contact (even when shaking hands) and refusal to follow Jim Lehrer's pleads for the candidates to engage one another directly.

Obama didn't much follow Lehrer's nudges for direct engagement either, but he did address McCain directly at least once, and he made clear eye contact. He mentioned several times that he agreed with McCain on a certain point, then pivoted to draw a distinction on their stances.

He was perhaps too deferential. I would have liked to have seen him react more strongly to some of McCain's accusations, but he did point out times when he felt McCain has been wrong ("dead wrong", was Biden's main post-debate talking point).

Overall, Obama liked talking about the last 8 years, McCain liked talking about the last 30. And Obama seemed slightly more focused on the future. Obama frequently distinguished between 20th century and 21st century problems and solutions.

McCain clearly wants to paint himself as the more bipartisan candidate. He gave several examples of his successes working with senate democrats. I thought his best line of the night was "It's hard to reach across the aisle from that far to the left," calling out Obama for his very liberal voting record. This might have resonated with me, except, if he's showing no respect face to face with the democrats' choice for president, how am I supposed to buy that he'll work well with them as president?

I did like Obama's response to the "reach across the aisle" jab: "John mentioned me being wildly liberal. Mostly, that's just me opposing George Bush's wrongheaded policies since I've been in Congress."

Domestic affairs ...

I got very little out of the first 40 minutes when they focused on the economic crisis. I liked that Obama was more willing to look at the problem from a wider lens, looking back over several years, to see where mistakes were made. McCain claimed he would place a freeze on spending except for military, veteran's benefits, and entitlements.

I like the idea of smaller government, but I have trouble trusting anything McCain says, and it seemed like a simplistic reaction he pulled out of his ass. I don't think Obama's going to do everything he claims either, but at least his proposals seem believable.

Foreign affairs ...

McCain tried to paint himself as the more experienced candidate, especially on foreign affairs. He highlighted his more extensive travels, familiarity with foreign leaders, and direct experience with every foreign conflict since Vietnam. Much was made of Henry Kissinger being on his staff.

This was another example of something that almost resonated with me. I just can't get his idiot running mate choice out of my head. He's clearly got all kinds of knowledgeable contacts and political allies, and he's put Iraq front and center in this campaign. It just really hit home with me - he's got Henry friggin' Kissinger on his staff, and he's placed Sarah Palin a heartbeat away from the presidency. If he were really serious about doing his best to lead this country against terrorism and nuclear proliferation, he would have made a different choice.

Post-debate ...

Just before or after Joe Biden's response, I saw at least 2 different networks make it very clear that Sarah Palin declined the opportunity to appear. One network had Giuliani giving the response - not bad. But another had some unknown campaign staffer. C'mon guys, act like a serious political party, will you?

Summary ...

Overall, I'd say Obama won. I was pretty squarely in his camp (at least, squarely in the anti-McCain/Palin camp) already, and this debate solidified my position. Despite McCain's vast advantage in years of experience, Obama seems like he would handle the presidency better.

Until this year I've always favored the socially liberal part of the democrats and the fiscally conservative part of the republicans. Right now, the democrats actually seem like the more fiscally responsible party, so my choice is easy.

Next debate ...

I can't wait to see Biden tear into Palin. I'll be sorely disappointed if he doesn't offer at least three jabs that have me saying "oh, snap!" (in my head - I know I can't pull off saying that out loud). You know, something like, "I can see the moon from my house, but that doesn't make me an astronaut."

Monday, September 22, 2008

Mixed messages from The West Wing

I'm a big fan of Aaron Sorkin. At least I was before Studio 60. Sports Night and his years on The West Wing are some of my favorite TV ever.

I've been re-watching the first season of The West Wing on DVD lately. I just watched a season 1 episode titled "Take This Sabbath Day", which is basically Sorkin's take on the death penalty and the relationship of religion and politics. Most of the episode involves the president and other White House staffers having deep philosophical discussions with each other and their religious leaders about capital punishment.

The end of the episode has the president speaking with his childhood priest, Father Cavanaugh (the president is Catholic). He offers the president two nuggets of advice:
“‘Vengeance is mine,’ sayeth the Lord.” You know what that means? God is the only one who gets to kill people.

A few minutes later, the president says he has prayed for wisdom but none has come. In response to that, Cavanaugh replies:
You know, you remind me of the man that lived by the river. He heard a radio report that the river was going to rush up and flood the town. And that all the residents should evacuate their homes. But the man said, “I’m religious. I pray. God loves me. God will save me.” The waters rose up. A guy in a row boat came along and he shouted, “Hey, hey you! You in there. The town is flooding. Let me take you to safety.” But the man shouted back, “I’m religious. I pray. God loves me. God will save me.” A helicopter was hovering overhead. And a guy with a megaphone shouted, “Hey you, you down there. The town is flooding. Let me drop this ladder and I’ll take you to safety.” But the man shouted back that he was religious, that he prayed, that God loved him and that God will take him to safety. Well... the man drowned. And standing at the gates of St. Peter, he demanded an audience with God. “Lord,” he said, “I’m a religious man, I pray. I thought you loved me. Why did this happen?” God said, “I sent you a radio report, a helicopter, and a guy in a rowboat. What the hell are you doing here?

Both are examples of standard folksy wisdom I heard a hundred times growing up in church. God is the sole arbiter of justice, and "the Lord helps those who help themselves". I doubt very many Christians, or other theists for that matter, would disagree with either sentiment.

But it wasn't until this last viewing that I realized how completely contradictory they are.

The first says, let God decide who lives or dies. Don't interfere, he can handle it. The second says, God is active in your life, but he often works through others. A man in a rowboat is as much the hand of God as an angel swooping to your rescue.

So, if God does want to kill someone, why wouldn't he work in the same way? Why would he not use, for example, the U.S. judicial system?

Of course, when any people of faith decide to kill, whether it's capital punishment, or war, or ethnic cleansing, they always think they're doing God's will. So, "vengeance is mine, sayeth the Lord" is catchy, but it's a lame argument against anything.

In the end, the president chose to put his own feelings on captial punishment aside and not interfere with the legislative and judicial branches. Not a bad episode, but not one of Sorkin's strongest. Still, the 1st 4 seasons of The West Wing rock - you should watch them if you haven't.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Gibson Palin interview

From Andrew Sullivan:
Gibson: Do you agree with the Bush Doctrine?

Palin: In what respect, Charlie?

Gibson: What do you interpret it to be?

Palin: His worldview.

This is from the actual interview, not the Tina Fey skit

She is threatening to surpass Dan Quayle as the most entertaining VP candidate to lampoon.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Sad story from India

Via Discover, this shit depresses the hell out of me.
A teenage girl in central India killed herself on Wednesday after being traumatized by media reports that a "Big Bang" experiment in Europe could bring about the end of the world, her father said.

It would have been a funny story to laugh at the silly culture that takes unfounded doomsayers too literally, or a media outlet over selling the credibility of kooks for better ratings, except for the fact that a teenage girl is dead.

Now, the fact that she did this obviously shows she had some mental health issues to start with, so I'm not blaming others for her death. But I was particularly bothered by this quote from her father:
"We tried to divert her attention and told her she should not worry about such things, but to no avail," he said.

Divert her attention? I could maybe buy that as reasonable parenting if there were a real threat that they simply couldn't do anything about, like a tsunami or something. But in this case, we have a world of credible, demonstrable evidence available that there was absolutely nothing to worry about. All he had to do was treat his daughter like an adult, which is, unfortunately, about the last resort many parents will take.

He wasn't the only idiot around though:
But in deeply religious and superstitious India, fears about the experiment and the minor risks associated with it spread rapidly through the media.

In east India, thousands of people rushed to temples to pray and fast while others savored their favorite foods in anticipation of the world's end.

I don't know how much MSNBC is over selling this point. I'd be interested what percentage of Indian citizens really took the threat seriously.

Giant Basalt Crystals

These are pretty cool. If I ever make it Ireland or Iceland, I want to check these out.


Wednesday, September 10, 2008

I learned something yesterday ...

Traveling in automobile exhaust actually feels pretty good when biking on a cold evening in a t-shirt and shorts.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Sarah Palin and the Republican Party

I already had a strong preference for Obama over McCain, but the choice of Sarah Palin for VP and ensuing comments from Republican supporters has me questioning whether the Republican Party has any integrity at all.
McCain's VP choice has some do do with Palin's youth (in contrast to the ancient McCain) and her charisma (former beauty pageant contestants always play well on TV), and the fact she is female seems an attempt to go after disgruntled Hillary supporters (although I can't see how her staunchly pro-life stance will play well with any of them).

But I think the real truth lies in her ties to the religious right (including her belief that God - that's the Christian God, mind you - wants us in Iraq). I'm guessing that's the main reason she was chosen. The religious right continues to exert more and more power over the Republican Party (and the Democrats too - I still can't believe the first televised presidential debate this year was in a friggin' church).

Which is why I will not vote for that party any time soon.