Archive for August 2008

“We Are Off Message, People!”

August 29, 2008

McCain’s a Thunder Thief

Ed G at DKos:

I apologize for this amazingly short diary. But there are 234 diaries up about the Palin pick and what it means. Game change this, game change that.

Okay – talking politics gets pretty boring pretty fast, especially when the talk is merely the unfocused speculations of an uninformed spectator. And I promise to get off it, and stay off it, as best I can. But Sen. McCain’s choice of Alaskan Governor Sarah Palin is about as interesting a move I’ve seen since – well, ever. Personally, I’m thrilled that a woman who rejected the choice of abortion for herself is in such a public position. Intellectually, her publicly stated ANWR and energy policy is the perfect counterpoint to McCain’s less than stellar history of statements on the topic. She may have already influenced him in a more positive direction in that regard.

I don’t exactly perceive her lack of experience to be a severe problem, because she has infinitely more executive experience than Sen. Obama AND Sen. Biden, for that matter. She has exactly the same experience level as Va. Gov. Tim Kaine. I’ll readily admit that, except for the fact that her state “boarders” on Russia, her foreign policy experience is non-existent. But she has no less experience than Sen. Obama, and he’s the one running for President.

Campaign Competence

The way Sarah Palin’s name has been rolled out today, hours after Sen. Obama’s acceptance speech, was a master stroke. What this says about the McCain Campaign is enlightening.

The contrast between the tight, focused operation at Team McCain and the botched announcement from Barack Obama could not be more dramatic, and it points to a competence gap between the two candidates.

Last week, Barack Obama promised an announcement of the most important decision of his campaign, but how did he do it? He relied on a gimmick designed to capture phone and e-mail information from a wide number of interested parties, instead of working it in relation to maximum media impact. He then delayed the announcement all week long, wasting days of earned media while needing it more than ever to boost his flagging poll numbers. When did he finally make the announcement? In the middle of the night, when most of the people who offered their personal information were asleep.

John McCain planned this with care and precision.

It worked, too. The posts at DKos and Eschaton/Atrios are almost entirely about McCain/Palin as I type this. And as you can see, Ed. G’s bleg for progressives to get back on message was not the only one.

Delaware, We Have A Problem

Sen. Biden has a problem, of course, and a bigger one than the denizens of the Daily Kos realize. It’s his smirk. If once – just once – he comes out the way he did during the Clarence Thomas hearings, makes a statement perceived as patronizing to anyone in the presence of Sarah Palin – and he will – he’s lost the debate and damaged the Democrats chances. Look for him to say something like “Sarah Palin is no Hillary Clinton.”, to which the response will be “Nope!”

Hillary! Sarah!

Gov. Palin’s conservative, pro-life credentials, strong as they are, are no stronger than Louisiana Gov. Jindal’s. So why not him? Well then, why not her? Attracting at least part of the disaffected Hillary! vote is a pretty good move, politically. Even Geraldine Ferraro likes this pick, and that will count for something. Alot, I’ll wager.


Driving Badly

August 27, 2008

We All Do It. No Exceptions.

Better Than Nothing?

Better Than Nothing?

Michael Agger at Slate reviews Tom Vanderbilt’s new book Traffic.

[L]ook at the chimsil, the name for that third rear brake light that suddenly appeared on cars in the 1980s. Do they help? Hard to say. Initial hopes were high, but recent studies have concluded that the chimsil prevents only a small amount of rear-end accidents. The reason might be the Peltzman effect, which argues that drivers offset safety improvements such as seat belts and anti-lock brakes by driving more dangerously. Wait, does that mean it would be better not to wear seat belts, to keep ourselves more acutely aware of our mortality? And what about helmets?

Emphasis mine – and I always thought so. At least, I have ever since I learned that driver’s side air bags kill people who sit too close to the steering column (and since I have very short legs, I certainly do).

And I’ll go him one better.

Only two months ago we experienced a short but very intense storm in the suburban areas north of DC. It happened right before the evening rush hour, and, of course the lights went out. Traffic lights not exempted.

In this, the second most traffic-congested area of the country (after L.A.), during the most congested part of the day, tens of thousands of drivers were forced to take their lives into their own hands and brave intersections without the benefit of technology.

Seldom have I seen moving so smoothly in my 29 years here. Of course not. It had to, because drivers were not only extra cautious at the intersections, they were on their best behavior, too. The outage lasted for three days in some areas. The impact to the commute for the duration was not zero – it was positive.

“In traffic,” writes Vanderbilt, “we struggle to stay human.” He approaches traffic as a collective human act, with all the complexity that entails. Our driving is fraught with paradoxes, unintended consequences, and inexplicable behaviors.

I’ll say!


August 26, 2008

One of the less enjoyable aspects of the various projects that I’ve otherwise had the pleasure to work on is the boondoggle known as ITAR, which stands for International Traffic in Arms Regulation. It’s the compendium of rules, regulation and agreements that control the relationships between countries, companies and individuals when dealing with armaments. Pretty important stuff these days.

Not surprisingly, satellites and their parts fall under this category of munitions.  So do processors.  And circuit boards wires and nuts and bolts and darn near anything that touches a given satellite.  This has caused some confusion.  And Problems.  And wailing and gnashing of teeth.

[T]he wording of the legislation is open to broader interpretation than Congress intended. An international GPS ground station may have to get export approval to buy a new screen for its Dell laptop, because it is part of a system that is controlled. Pierre Chao, a senior associate at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), a think-tank in Washington, DC, says that as soon as satellites were put on the munitions list “the little screw and the commodity wiring became a munition”. Furthermore, anything modified for a munition is a munition. This clause, he says, captures all the little “doodads”.

Before 1999, when the State Department took over the export regulation of satellites, America dominated commercial satellite-making with an average market share of 83%. Since then, this share has declined to 50%, according to Space Review. ITAR’s critics blame the change in export controls. As bidding opened in July this year for the 3.4 billion ($5 billion) of contracts for Galileo, a constellation of 30 positioning satellites being built by the European Union and the European Space Agency, European officials cited export controls as a reason for avoiding anything to do with America wherever possible.

At the start of the decade, Alcatel Alenia Space (now Thales Alenia) announced that it would create an “ITAR-free” spacecraft, purged of all American components. Between 1998 and 2004 the company doubled its market share to over 20%, becoming perhaps the greatest beneficiary of export policies. Export controls also prompted the European Space Agency to pay to develop a European supplier of solenoid valves, so that European space-propulsion systems do not depend on this American part. Similarly, Telesat, Canada’s satellite-fleet operator, has said that ITAR is one of the reasons it has selected European satellite builders in recent competitions. And in 2005 EADS Sodern, a French maker of satellites’ control and positioning systems and subsidiary of the Franco-German company EADS, said it would start to phase out its American supplier base.

In other words, it’s been a costly policy that adversely impacts small and medium size companies severely, threatens their employees and yearly subjects them to insulting (and sexist) “training” videos.

Other than that, it’s a good program.

H/T Rand Simberg.


August 26, 2008

All’s Not Quiet On The Eastern Front

At Hot Air, Ed Morrissey writes that we’ve mis-understood (or were duped about) the origins of the conflict in Georgia, ostensibly over South Ossetia. He quotes Michael Totten at Pajamas Media.

Virtually everyone believes Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili foolishly provoked a Russian invasion on August 7, 2008, when he sent troops into the breakaway district of South Ossetia. “The warfare began Aug. 7 when Georgia launched a barrage targeting South Ossetia,” the Associated Press reported over the weekend in typical fashion.

Virtually everyone is wrong. Georgia didn’t start it on August 7, nor on any other date. The South Ossetian militia started it on August 6 when its fighters fired on Georgian peacekeepers and Georgian villages with weapons banned by the agreement hammered out between the two sides in 1994. At the same time, the Russian military sent its invasion force bearing down on Georgia from the north side of the Caucasus Mountains on the Russian side of the border through the Roki tunnel and into Georgia. This happened before Saakashvili sent additional troops to South Ossetia and allegedly started the war.

We should not be surprised that the conflict has roots that go back decades (conflicts between nations usually do). But we should always we cautious about the reports that emphasize an immediate spark without mentioning the arsonist.

How did the Russians provoke this latest conflict? In April, they began issuing Russian passports to residents of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. This gave them a legal status as Russian citizens, and gave Moscow a pretense for protecting them with military force. It resembles nothing more than Hitler’s efforts in the Sudetenland in 1938, which ended in the collapse in Munich of the West. With this kind of backing, the separatists felt free to launch attacks on Georgian forces, and as early as May Saakashvili warned that Russia wanted a war in the Caucasus.

This deserves all the attention we can give it.

Catholics and Politics

August 26, 2008

My Front Porch – Where Religion and Politics Collide

Speaker Nancy Polosi stepped in it on the Sunday Talk show circuit – I’m sure you’ve heard. It appears that she’s not exactly up on some of the historical and theological details of her Catholic faith. That’s pretty common. I can’t – and won’t – claim to be anything close to perfectly knowledgeable myself. The problem is, of course, that she displayed her ignorance (or delusion) not only as Speaker of the House and party leader, but as a Catholic as well. And this about an issue that (I paraphrase) she claims to have studied for quite some time.

From the biographer of John Paul The Great, and of Benedict XVI, George Wingel:

In her “Meet the Press” appearance Aug. 24, Pelosi was asked by Tom Brokaw whether she agreed with Senator Obama’s statements on abortion at Saddleback. Pelosi, declaring herself an “ardent, practicing Catholic,” told Brokaw that “this is an issue that I have studied for a long time” – and then got herself into a deep muddle, in which she seemed to confuse St. Augustine with St. Thomas Aquinas (neither of whom, in any case, knew anything about modern embryology); misrepresented the settled (and scientifically informed) judgment of the Catholic Church on when life begins by declaring it an open question, and concluded by suggesting that none of this really makes a difference, because what the scientists, theologians, and philosophers say “… shouldn’t have an impact on a the woman’s right to choose.” The Speaker then misrepresented the legal impact of Roe v. Wade, arguing that the Supreme Court hadn’t created a right to “abortion on demand” – which will come as news to those on both sides of the ongoing debates over partial-birth abortion and other late-term abortion procedures, parental- and spousal-notifications laws and regulatory oversight of abortion clinics.

Hugh Hewitt follows up with an excellent question.

Pelosi’s Meet the Press deception has triggered unprecedented, forceful responses from the American Roman Catholic hierarchy.

Has even one member of the MSM asked the Speaker for a response, a clarification, or an apology?

Perhaps not. But much to my surprise, the American Catholic Hierarchy certainly has. Kathryn Jean Lopez quotes Edward Cardinal Egan at the Corner:

Like many other citizens of this nation, I was shocked to learn that the Speaker of the House of Representatives of the United States of America would make the kind of statements that were made to Mr. Tom Brokaw of NBC-TV on Sunday, August 24, 2008. What the Speaker had to say about theologians and their positions regarding abortion was not only misinformed; it was also, and especially, utterly incredible in this day and age.

We are blessed in the 21st century with crystal-clear photographs and action films of the living realities within their pregnant mothers. No one with the slightest measure of integrity or honor could fail to know what these marvelous beings manifestly, clearly, and obviously are, as they smile and wave into the world outside the womb. In simplest terms, they are human beings with an inalienable right to live, a right that the Speaker of the House of Representatives is bound to defend at all costs for the most basic of ethical reasons. They are not parts of their mothers, and what they are depends not at all upon the opinions of theologians of any faith. Anyone who dares to defend that they may be legitimately killed because another human being ‘chooses’ to do so or for any other equally ridiculous reason should not be providing leadership in a civilized democracy worthy of the name.

Even my own Archbishop in Washington DC, Donald Wuerl, has spoken up.

“We respect the right of elected officials such as Speaker Pelosi to address matters of public policy that are before them, but the interpretation of Catholic faith has rightfully been entrusted to the Catholic bishops. Given this responsibility to teach, it is important to make this correction for the record.”

Wuerl pointed out that the Catechism of the Catholic Church is clear, and has been clear for 2,000 years.

Nancy Pelosi is not the only Catholic politician to be “called on the carpet” this week. Sen. Joe Biden is also in the process of calling attention to the fact that his faith and his politics are not exactly in alignment. Here K Lo quotes Denver’s Archbishop Chaput.

Archbishop Chaput, who was scheduled to lead a pro-life candlelight vigil Monday night here in front of Planned Parenthood, called Mr. Biden’s support for abortion rights “seriously wrong,” said archdiocese spokeswoman Jeanette De Melo.

“I certainly presume his good will and integrity,” said the archbishop, “and I presume that his integrity will lead him to refrain from presenting himself for Communion if he supports a false ‘right’ to abortion.”

Somewhere in the ’90s I’d gotten used to a much less vocal, much more mealymouthed temperate statements from American Bishops. Compare this to the tiff that occurred in 2004 with Sen. Kerry over the exact same issue. You can see how it ended from Kerry’s remarks then.

“Abortion should be rare, but it should be safe and legal, and the government should stay out of the bedroom,” Kerry, the presumptive Democratic nominee, said to chants and whoops of approval during an abortion-rights rally.

Kerry, a senator from Massachusetts, made his remarks Friday as he accepted the endorsement of one of the nation’s largest abortion-rights organizations, the Planned Parenthood Action Fund.

He told a crowd outside the City Museum that he would stake out a position on the issue much like that of former President Bill Clinton.

Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), Rep. Nick Lampson (D-Texas) and other Catholic lawmakers around the country said they had no intention of changing their views – or their identity as Catholics – now that a cardinal from Rome had suggested that their support for legalized abortion should preclude them from Communion.

A single cardinal. It seems different now. More unified.

This Is Not 1968

August 25, 2008

The Revolution Is Inside This Time

Unity?The Democrat National Convention is not an “insider” vs. “outsider” contest this time, as it was in Chicago, 1968. Then, it was the politicians (particularly King Maker Richard Daley) against Tom Hayden, Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin, Bobby Seal et. al. This is Nancy Pelosi (and to a slightly lesser extent, Harry Reid), against Bill and Hillary Clinton. This revolution is being televised, but the surrogates are the faces you see in HiDef; Sen. and Michelle Obama, Jimmy Carter, and Chelsea Clinton.

The flavor of the fight shows up in the little things, like the details of former Pres. Clinton’s speech. Marc Ambinder reports in The Atlantic:

It’s not surprising that a former president thinks he ought to be able to talk about what he wants. And President Clinton wants to talk about the economy as much as the theme of the night, which is national security. The Obama campaign has asked Clinton to stick to his theme. This dispute played out a bit ago, but frustration lingers.

Another point of tension, sources say, is that the Obama campaign is aware that Mark Penn is advising Bill Clinton on the speech. Obama’s campaign doesn’t like Mark Penn.

So, yes, they’re fighting over the “director” of the speech (Mark Penn, in this case), and so long as no issues are discussed, everything’s hunky-dory.

It’s almost a shame that the conventions have become so politically meaningless, consigned to impotency by the early primaries. They were so much more fun when they meant something.

Update: How did we to this point from the events of 1968? The path is elegantly marked out here by Scott Johnson.

Quoted by Horowitz and Johnson, Democrat Daniel Patrick Moynihan provided the most trenchant critique of Jimmy Carter’s foreign policy. Moynihan said of Carter in 1980: “Unable to distinguish between our friends and our enemies, he has essentially adopted our enemies’ view of the world.”

Worst. Sportsman. Ever.

August 23, 2008

You Just Don’t Do That

I won’t say that he wasn’t wronged – he may have been.  But you don’t go kicking the ref in the head, even with an Olympic medal on the line, particularly if you’re a martial artist.

Matos was winning 3-2, with 1:02 in the second round, when he fell to the mat after being hit by his opponent, Kazakhstan’s Arman Chilmanov. He was sitting there, awaiting medical attention, when he was disqualified for taking too much injury time. Fighters get one minute, and Matos was disqualified when his time ran out.

Matos angrily questioned the call, pushed a judge, then pushed and kicked referee Chakir Chelbat of Sweden. Matos then spat on the floor and was escorted out.

“He was too strict,” Gonzalez said, referring to the decision to disqualify Matos. Afterward, he charged the match was fixed, accusing the Kazakhs of offering him money.

“This is a strong violation of the spirit of taekwondo and the Olympic Games.

I’ll say. Angel Matos and his coach, Leudis Gonzalez, have been banned from the sport for life.

That seems about right.