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Monday, December 24, 2007
Nobody Knows
There is a story -- probably apocryphal -- about a well-known astronomer in the early 20th century who was contacted by a major newspaper via telegram. The newspaper invited him to send back 500 words, collect, to answer the question of whether there was life on the Red Planet.

The astronomer supposedly cabled back NOBODY KNOWS 250 times.

To me, Iowa has always closely resembled Mars. The nightlife, the natural beauty and the academic excellence of the two places are pretty much on a par.

But this week they have something else in common: both places are steeped in mystery. Nobody knows if there's life on Mars, and nobody knows who is going to win the Iowa caucus.

The race is so close on both sides that it might go any way, and strange perturbations are constantly shifting the political gravity across the early voting states.

The political media is pushing and pulling, trying to have an influence, and things are so tight at the moment that it just might work. The American Conservative published an unflattering appraisal of Rudy Giuliani, with a cover illustrations depicting him as a Blackshirt. The National Review endorsed Mitt Romney, and its team blog The Corner has been relentless in its criticism of Mike Huckabee. Meanwhile, the Concord Monitor has published a remarkable un-endorsement of Romney, quite openly calling him "a phony".

As if this weren't enough, the political machinations of second-tier candidates may have an impact on the first tier. Bob Novak is reporting in his column that the McCain forces are openly hoping that Mike Huckabee wins Iowa, because that will break the back of the Romney forces in New Hampshire, where McCain figures to do well and where he is in a death struggle with Romney for party moderates.

To the McCain camp, this strategy is probably more than just a forlorn hope. If I were a McCain operative in Iowa, I'd be talking supporters into seeing Huckabee as a handsome second choice if they find themselves standing in a non-viable caucus. That might be enough to push Huckabee over the top in Iowa, giving McCain the oxygen he needs to keep fighting as the Antihuck.

Things are just as murky on the Democratic side, where Hillary Clinton is suffering some blowback from her own advisor's ill-considered public statements about Obama, and her own husband's idiotic assertions that he was, essentially, against the Iraq war before he was for it.

Obama has crept up on Hillary, as her lead has eroded. She has lost her aura of invincibility and Bill isn't helping. But just as it started to look like Obama was becoming the front-runner, John Edwards crawled once again out of the political grave. Why anyone would support Edwards today (considering his moth-eaten "Two Americas" schtick and his lackluster performance as a veep candidate last time) is puzzling to me, but okay. But really, folks, just pick one.

No sensible polls will come out during the span between Christmas and New Year's. And by the time New Year's done, the caucuses begin. We're flying blind now. We just don't know which way the race is turning or what's going to happen; nobody knows.

Monday, December 17, 2007
When Overpaid Pundits Attack
Will somebody explain to me why Dana Milbank still has a job?

The guy is a walking disaster area. His articles not only make arguments that are demonstrably false, they often don't even make sense. They are the worst sort of big-media punditry: a lot of vapid, fact-free naval-gazing. This is his article on Friday began:

When a Boy Scout sees an older woman, he helps her cross the street. In the race for the Democratic presidential nomination, Barack Obama is no Boy Scout.

The 46-year-old freshman senator from Illinois, trying to topple the 60-year-old front-runner, never once utters the words "Hillary" or "Clinton." But the target of his stump speech is unmistakable -- and his derision is brutal.

"Triangulating the poll-driven positions because we're worried about what Mitt or what Rudy might say about us just won't do," he says.

Take that, ol' girl.

Yeah, what a brute this Obama fella is. Beating up on a helpless old lady like that.

There is, of course, a good deal of sexism in this. Milbank wouldn't bring up the issue of age if the 60-year-old candidate in question was a man (McCain is 71, and Milbank has yet to refer to him as "Grandpa"). And there is something unseemly in suggesting that Hillary should somehow be spared these "brutal" attacks because, well, nice guys don't say mean things about old ladies, even if they're both contenders for the Presidency.

Spare me. If Milbank thinks Obama is being brutal, wait until he gets a look at the RNC siege engine that will be rolled out in October 2008. It seems odd that a political reporter could be that condescending, or that naive. But maybe someone at the Post could let Milbank know that if Hillary can't take a few elbows thrown her way, she ought to just stay home.

Oh Mark Levin, You Crack Me Up
Mark Levin is one of my favorite wingnuts. I can always count on him for a spittle-flecked rant, free of any taint of logic or facts.

And he does not disappoint with this interesting blog post, where he laments the Manchester Union-Leader's endorsement of John McCain:

John McCain has been weak on homeland security, joining with numerous liberal Democrats to argue for closing Guantanamo Bay, applying the Geneva Conventions to unlawful enemy combatants, extending certain constitutional rights to detainees, limiting tried and true interrogation techniques, and conferring amnesty on illegal aliens (which would include OTMs; that fact that Bush supported the same thing is no defense).

Standing up for the Constitution and the rule of law? My God! Who the hell does this guy think he is?

He aggressively opposed the Bush tax cuts, even after they were scaled back. He is behind the McCain-Lieberman Stewardship Act, which is a Kyoto-like manifesto. His role in McCain-Feingold goes well beyond merely voting for it (he was its primary crusader). He organized the Gang of 14, which I contended at the time and still believe effectively killed Republican efforts to kill the Democrat filibustering of judicial nominees. And while he votes against unbalanced budgets, he has no problem with federal intervention in a wide range of matters that are outside the federal government's constitutional limits.

Hmm, maybe he's talking about the Terri Schiavo case.

Yes, McCain has been steadfast on the Battle of Iraq. And yes, that's important. But Rudy Giuliani's strength is said to be his understanding of the Islamo-fascist threat, and he would be no slouch; nor would Fred Thompson or Mitt Romney. But McCain has also been in the Senate for many years. And I don't recall prior to 9/11 that he was a leading voice warning against potential terrorist attacks, or al-Qaeda, or using his position to demand greater spending and preparedness for the U.S. military during Clinton's presidency (although I am open to evidence to the contrary).
Funny. Fred Thompson was in the Senate during the 1990s too; I don't recall hearing him talk about the Islamo-fascist threat either.

Although I am open to evidence to the contrary.

Sunday, December 09, 2007
The Lessons Of Watergate
Revelations that the CIA has destroyed videotapes of its interrogations of terrorist suspects is hardly surprising. Every day is Anything Can Happen Day in 21st-century America.

It put me in mind of a 1984 retrospective of Watergate that was (I believe) on PBS.

During the course of that program, someone asked former Nixon Chief of Staff Alexander Haig what the main lesson of Watergate was. Haig didn't hesitate. "We should have destroyed the tapes," he said -- as if it was the most obvious thing in the world.

Lesson learned. Now evading justice is easy. The rule of law is for suckers. The current regime in Washington is the Watergate crowd who've gotten a second bite at the apple -- led by Dick Cheney, whose secrecy fetish is clearly the lesson he learned from his days in Washington.

Today, of course, the Democrats are talking tough. Joe Biden, hoping to breathe life into his death spiral of a campaign, is shouting from the rooftops:

Sen. Joe Biden, D-Delaware, says the Justice Department needs to go further than it has, by calling for the appointment of Special Counsel to investigate the CIA's destruction of videotapes that included the interrogation of terrorism suspects.

“Under federal law, the Attorney General may appoint a Special Counsel to prosecute matters when he or she determines that an investigation by the Department itself would present a conflict of interest, or there are other extraordinary circumstances and it would be in the public interest to do so. I believe these conditions are met," the Democratic presidential hopeful said in a news release Sunday.

I don't believe a word of it. The Democrats are not known for their courage. My feeling is that the moment the first polls come out on this -- which will once again reflect the apathy of the American people on this issue -- Biden and the rest of Democrats in Washington will let the matter drop. And the bad guys will have gotten away with it again.

Just another day's work for all of them -- the mendacious Republicans, the spineless Democrats, and the credulous media.

Monday, December 03, 2007
What Shall We Have For Lunch, Little Brother?

So here's the lede of a Times of London story that really caught my attention.
The launch of the iPhone last month is likely to push demand for mobile phone software engineers even higher, according to William Webb, professor of communications at the University of Surrey and the author of Wireless Communications: The Future.

Professor Webb says that while there is demand for all types of engineers across the mobile phone industry, the greatest demand is likely to be for software engineers as we move towards more user-friendly intelligent phones.

He predicts that over the next 10 to 15 years our phones will become “indispensible personal butlers” that will wake us up, hold our diaries, navigate us to meetings, contain smart Oyster-type payment systems, hold our security details and be one of our main entertainment providers.

The future that Professor Webb is predicting struck me as being spookily similar to the future depicted in a short story by Tor Age Bringsvaerd, called "Codemus". (It was anthologized in David Hartwell's excellent anthology The World Treasury of Science Fiction).

"Codemus" imagines a future in which everyone carries a small personal computer -- each one about the size of a transistor radio -- or an iPhone, if you think about it.

People rely on these devices (which everyone refers to affectionately as "Little Brother") for everything -- they wake you up in the morning and tell you how to dress; they tell you what you should have for breakfast and where you should work; they tell you whom you should marry and what to do for the weekend.

Over time, people come to rely on their Little Brothers so much that humans are eventually drained of all initiative.

So one day a completely ordinary fellow named Codemus wakes up to find that his Little Brother has gotten some strange ideas during the night. Little Brother tells him not to go to work. Let's go hang out in the park instead, it tells him. See that woman over there? Go ask her to marry you! While Codemus is terrified of not doing what he knows he's supposed to do, he's more terrified of not doing as Little Brother directs him, because Little Brother is always right.

It soon becomes clear that Little Brother has become a crazed anarchist, determined to free Codemus from the shackles of his electronic servitude. Codemus, however, only wants to get the shackles back on as quickly as possible.

Now, "Codemus" was written in 1968, when everyone was worried about technology enslaving us. It's not a healthy thing to spend a lot of time worrying about.

But sometimes, when reading comments like those of Professor Webb, I kind of wish that we'd worry about it a little. Just a little. Just once in a while.

Sunday, December 02, 2007
Reversal Of Fortune


Holy Cow.

That's really all I can say.

The new Des Moines Register poll is out, and it's bound to turn the presidential primaries upside down.

It would appear that the landscape of the races -- for both Republicans and Democrats -- is shifting dramatically. It's anything-can-happen day out there.

On the Republican side, Giuliani and Thompson are evaporating. Romney has fallen to second place with 24 percent support of likely caucus-goers, and Mike Huckabee has jumped into the lead with 29.

Meanwhile, John Edwards has dropped to third in the Democratic polls with 23 percent support from likely caucus-goers, Hillary Clinton has fallen to second place with 25 percent, and Barack Obama has vaulted into the lead with 28.

Far from being a primary where we trudge dutifully toward a dull Giuliani-Clinton matchup, we're looking at an unusually dynamic race, where any number of scenarios could play out. And it just might prove to be a wild ride to February, when the bulk of the delegates will be won or lost.

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