Wednesday, October 29, 2008

On the 7th debate

We in the newspaper industry are constantly hampered by space. For any given story, there's a general rule of 12-14 inches, at 40 words per inch. At the outside, we can go to 15.
I have routinely broken that rule during coverage of the 7th Congressional District race between incumbent Democrat Joe Sestak and Republican challenger Craig Williams, because many of the issues the two clash on are enormously complex (I defy anyone to explain FISA in 600 words or less).
I broke it again Wednesday, much to the chagrin of editors, I'm sure, in covering the single debate between the candidates at Swarthmore College. But I barely scratched the surface of the topics covered in the two-hour event, choosing to balance at least some of what was discussed with a nearly equal amount of crowd reaction.
People said they were impressed by both candidates Wednesday, even if their stances on the issues differed ideologically from the person telling me so, and it really was an interesting and highly substantive debate, if a little too long.
Williams, I thought, came off very well. He had the dual advantage of a simplified message in terms of what he would do differently as well as being able to criticize his opponent's record, which is the staple for any challenger.
Sestak was therefor often forced to defend that record, also the norm for the incumbent, which I think he pulled off equally well. But explaining why you did or did not do something is almost always more complicated than explaining why you would or would not do something, and I thought at times he was bogged down with that task.
Sestak is incredibly well versed on the issues and there can be little doubt he is a work horse. Even staunch Republicans will admit this.
He is also, I think, more or less universally liked (or at least respected for his record of constituent service) while Williams has had to combat the disadvantage of zero name recognition and far less funding in a political atmosphere already unfriendly to the Republican Party due to problems at the national level.
But Sestak can be hard to follow at times because he gets mired in the details of the bills he's voted on or helped craft, and his sentence structure too often implodes upon itself as the pitch of his voice ebbs and flows. Williams, using short declaratives and a smooth cadence, could easily be seen as the victor here as far as message delivery, which was really what he needed.
All in all a solid debate, I thought, and I highly recommend interested readers watch the full tape on Comcast Channel 76. I haven't received word yet exactly when it will air, but we should know by Friday, at which point I'll let you know.
Peace, and good luck to both the candidates.

On Kirkland

All apologies to state Rep. Thaddeus Kirkland, D-159, of Chester, whom I unintentionally snubbed in my Barack Obama rally story today.
Kirkland was reportedly instrumental in bringing Sen. Obama, D-Ill. to Widener University Tuesday, and I certainly meant no disrespect in failing to mention his presence on stage, but I couldn't see the damn thing from where I was huddling for shelter (see previous post) and if he identified himself, I didn't hear it.
U.S. Rep. Bob Brady, D-1, of Philadelphia, said who he was, or I wouldn't have known who was speaking, as did U.S. Rep. Joe Sestak, D-7, of Edgemont. Ed Rendell didn't, as far as I remember, but his voice is unmistakable. I probably should know Kirkland's voice by now, having spoken to him countless times, but apparently I don't.
At any rate, sorry Thaddeus. I don't know if there will be a correction, but at least there's this.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

On advance teams

Barack Obama needs to shore up his campaign workers. Fo' reals.
Tuesday's rally at Widener University was already going to be unpleasant enough for those simply watching from the crowd, but for the local press, it quickly turned into an exercise in frustration.
See, local press is usually told to be at these things about two hours early. Democrat, Republican, doesn't matter. All advance teams basically have the same marching orders.
Including that the traveling press, which normally arrives about 20 minutes ahead of the candidate, is given preferential treatment.
Now, they do pay for a good deal of this stuff (well, not them, but their news organizations) including food, coffee and tents for outdoor events like Tuesday's.
But when the local press is told to show up two hours early to an outdoor rally when it's freezing and raining outside, wouldn't you think the advance people would let them wait inside the sizable and nearly empty tent set up for the traveling press corps?
Yeah, so would I. Which is why, when I was kicked out of the tent at 8:30 a.m. for being the lowly local press - unclean and unfit to huddle for warmth in their shelter - I quickly assessed the situation in words unfit to print here, but which rhyme with "mucking mule spit."
Dan Hanson, Widener's head of PR, unfortunately caught the brunt of the grumblings from the local press, despite it not actually being his fault. To his credit, Hanson was out in the rain with us, for the most part, and he helped me get space for my laptop bag in the tent so my computer wouldn't be ruined by the rain.
I suppose I could have set the thing up on one of the two dozen or so folding tables that had power-strips running to them - outside, in the rain - but for some reason the idea didn't thrill me.
(And while I'm on the subject, who the hell set up those tables and what were they thinking - that we'd actually plug in, with our equipment rotting in the puddles quickly forming on the warped, uneven tabletops?)
So we huddled. Under smaller portable pavilions without sides, from which you couldn't see a damn thing. For two hours.
By the time Obama came on, my feet felt like marble and I could barely force my claw-like hands to take more than a few feeble notes, but at least by that point the traveling press had showed up and - surprise! - didn't give a damn if we shared their tent. They probably would've told the Obama advance crew to pound sand if they had been there earlier.
Sean Smith, one of the local Obama contacts, later told me he agreed with my original assessment and gave the advance crew a tongue-lashing as well. Not that it made a lick of difference, but it was nice to hear he went to bat for us.
Meanwhile, it looks like Obama's election night preparations in Chicago's Grant Park aren't going to be too favorable to the press, either.
According to Lynn Sweet at the Chicago Sun-Times, the campaign is charging usury amounts for access - $935 to get into a file center, where the Obama spokesmen will be hanging out, and $880 at the minimum for riser space to get a view of the action for broadcast.
McCain's prices for his election night headquarters at the Arizona Biltmore Hotel ballroom aren't much better, at an estimated $695 per-person. Like Obama's package, that covers space, power, Internet, TV and food.
Sweet isn't looking for a hand-out on this one, but she rightly calls the Obama camp's steep prices "an outrageous pay to play plan that caters to national elite outlets with deep pockets."
She does note an Obama spokesman told her the file center charge "just covers costs and they are not turning a profit on this," but unless they're throwing in a bottle of Dom and a pure-bred Schnauzer, I highly doubt that's right. As in correct or morally justifiable, your choice.
Unlike McCain's coverage plan, there will at least be a free space for reporters at the Obama HQ who don't want (or can't pony up for) the goodies included in the filing center package, but it will be "outdoors, unassigned and may have obstructed views."
Sounds familiar.
Meanwhile, I'm wondering who to send my doctor's bills to when the pneumonia kicks in.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

On musical accompaniment

Gibberish - The Musical!

Monday, October 20, 2008

On the race

Barack Obama has killed a man!
Is what I imagine GOP robo-calls in Nevada will soon say about 64-year-old Edmond Dewey Swensen, who dropped dead of a massive heart attack Oct. 18 while campaigning for the Illinois Senator and Democratic presidential candidate, according to the AP.
You can’t say it’s outside the realm of possibility, considering some of the ridiculous things people are saying in this election.
We actually just got a statement – and good laugh – from Springfield Republican Leader Michael Puppio today criticizing a visit to Chester by "this Marxist candidate" Tuesday, as it forced the Chester Upland School District to cancel school.
"It is not really surprising that this Marxist candidate who states that he wants to redistribute wealth would stoop to an all time low and allow the children in an underperforming school district to be used for his personal gain."
Yes. Shocking, I say, shocking that anyone would use the children of the Chester Upland School District as political pawns. The ultimate irony here being that that is what Republicans in the county have been doing forever.
(I cannot recall, by the way, Puppio ever publicly having said anything at all about CUSD until now. There’s certainly no record of it in our files.)
But here’s the thing: When you get a visit from a presidential candidate, there’s a lot of security involved. When that candidate has also been called a "traitor" (and worse) at rallies for his opponent – with, by the way, absolutely no control from that opponent over the frothing masses calling for Obama's death until chastised by the press – things get a wee bit heavy.
We’re talking Secret Service. Closed roads. Snipers. And probably Ashley Todd.
It wasn’t Obama’s choice to close the district for the day, either. That was left to Superintendent Gregory Thornton, who wasn’t about to send a bunch of kids into that maelstrom.
"Is this an example of the redistribution of wealth that Obama is talking about?" asked Puppio about the costs associated with closing a school district for a single day.
No, but thank God Obama said ‘redistribution of wealth’ rather than ‘shifting the tax burden,’ eh? Gives John McCain one last button to push on his Titanic of a campaign. With any luck, he’ll be able to tie ACORN into this somehow.

Speaking of which, I got an email the other day from a GOP operative that a former ACORN employee would soon be testifying as to the organization’s lackluster quality control.
Which presents something of a disconnect for the Republican party looking to invalidate all of ACORN’s registrations.
See, if ACORN is engaged in rampant voter registration fraud, that implies a purpose to entering fraudulent voter registration applications. But if they’re simply doing shoddy work, that implies they’re just, well, doing shoddy work.
It’s like the left-wingers who decry Bush as village idiot and, at the same time, an evil mastermind; or conservative crazies denouncing Obama’s spiritual upbringing under the inflammatory Rev. Wright while at the same time fearing he is a "secret Muslim."
Anyway, the whole thing is very confusing, but we can all pretty well assume that Pennsylvania is about to become the Florida of 2000 as far as court challenges, and if John McCain loses this one – that is, if the jackasses on the Supreme Court don’t hand it to him after a protracted legal battle – the drumbeat from the Right following this election will be an ACORN-orchestrated stolen election.

On a few unrelated but equally hilarious topics, the AP reported last week that a bank robber Friday made a getaway in high fashion: via limousine.
Yes, apparently a man in Texas held up a Comerica Bank – which, like Barack Obama, sounds dangerously ethnic and should probably therefore be feared – before jumping into the passenger side of a black limo, which sped away, according to the Associated Press. Police say they are looking for the suspect … and the limo.
Meanwhile, in Pontiac, Michigan, the dead were evicted following foreclosure on a funeral home. Five bodies and the cremated remains of 22 people were sent packing Friday from the House of Burns Memorial Chapel, according to the AP, which shows even death is no escape from the crisis on Wall Street.
And in Cleveland, a 56-year-old woman serving as her daughter’s surrogate delivered her own grandchildren!
And then I vomited!
According to a spokesman for the Cleveland Clinic's Hillcrest Hospital in Mayfield Heights, Ohio, Jaci Dalenberg, of Wooster, offered herself as a surrogate when daughter Kim Coseno and her husband were waiting to adopt, the AP reported. The couple used invitro fertilization and embryos were implanted in Dalenberg's uterus. She then spewed forth preemie triplets (triplets!) upon the face of the Earth, none of which, I'm sure, will have any severe psychological problems from being birthed by their grandmother.
And then there's Sony, who recently had to pull first-cut versions of its highly-anticipated Little Big World game, due to background music featuring Diabate's Symmetric Orchestra.
The reason? A track for the music on the "Swinging Safari" stage includes direct quotes from the Quran, which is a big no-no in the Muslim world. I never heard a thing about the track until now, but there was apparently enough backlash when it was incorporated into the game to get the thing recalled.
This isn't the first time this has happened, either. Apparently, bits of the Quran have been finding their way into videogames since the 1990s. Which made me wonder what the hell videogame developers are trying to accomplish until I remembered that an animator I met in L.A. said one of the main tenets of doing background work on Futurama was seeing how many penises he could stick in there, so maybe it's the same sort of joke.
If you're curious, the quotes were "kollo nafsin tha'iqatol mawt," which literally means, “Every soul shall have the taste of death” and "kollo man alaiha fan," which translates to, “All that is on earth will perish.”
Which is disappointing. I always hoped souls would taste like 72 virgins rather than death (which I hear tastes a lot like Sierra Mist).
And finally, Ted Stevens of Alaska, the longest-serving Republican in the Senate, was convicted Monday on seven counts of felony corruption charges. A 12-member federal jury unanimously found Stevens, 84, guilty of lying about home renovations and other gifts he received from an oil contractor valued at up to $250,000. He faces up to five years in prison on each count.
When told of the verdict, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin said she was glad to hear the jury had cleared Stevens of any wrong-doing.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

On odd things

Alright people, gonna be some changes around here.
In an effort to add some structure to this thing, I've decided to do a weekly round-up of interesting pieces in the news, or at least anything I can get a joke out of. Starting now.
First up, Ringo Starr asked people to stop sending him things. No more singing stuff, no more autographs, no more nothing.
Guess he couldn't handle the three insane people that still write to him anymore. Or he finally received a human head in the mail. Either way, where am I going to send my hair clippings now?!
Also, a judge in Lincoln, Neb. threw out a legislator’s lawsuit against god because the almighty "wasn’t properly served due to his unlisted home address."
Apparently, state Sen. Ernie Chambers had filed a suit last year seeking a permanent injunction against god, claiming the deity had made terroristic threats against Chamber and his constituents, inspired fear and caused “widespread death, destruction and terrorization of millions upon millions of the Earth’s inhabitants.”
Which, when you think back to the causes of every major war (including the war on terror) isn't that far off. I'd go so far as to say it's dead on.
My friend Charlie used to say Jesus is like The Dave Matthews Band - it isn't really the name on the bill that's the problem. It's the followers.
Chambers said he filed the lawsuit to make the point that everyone should have access to the courts, regardless of whether they are rich or poor.
I have no idea how that translates to a lawsuit against god, and apparently the AP didn't think to ask, but whatever.
Despite losing, Chambers, in what I call a stroke of legal genius, decided the judge's ruling was actually in his favor.
“The court itself acknowledges the existence of God,” he said. “A consequence of that acknowledgment is a recognition of God’s omniscience.”
And since god is omniscient, he knows about the lawsuit.
Pretty sneaky, sis.
Chambers has 30 days to file an appeal, but he said Wednesday he hasn’t decided yet. I hope he does. I'd loooove to see this one play out. I honestly can't think of a better way to waste the taxpayers dollars. Iraq, maybe. But that's old hat.
And finally, the Sacramento, California Republican Party has cleared up any question that Democratic Illinois Sen. Barack Obama is, in fact, a terrorist in league with Osama bin Laden.
Yes, in a fair and balanced Web site, Obama and bin Laden were pictured next to one another with the caption: "The difference between Osama and Obama is just a little B.S."
Hahaha! Get it? The only difference between their names is a letter! Also, did you know Obama's middle name is "Hussein?" Just like that guy that was gonna flood with the world with toxic WMDs! The link is so obvious!
See, this is why people just plain don't like the Grand Ol' Party anymore. It's not the fiscal conservatism down the drain, or the disconnect between policy and people, or even the rampant cronyism and disavowal of responsibility - it's the needless demonizing.
Even when faced with a Web site encouraging people to "Waterboard Barack Obama," you know what the Sacramento County Republican leader had to say?
"Some people find it offensive, others do not. I cannot comment on how people interpret things."
That's Craig MacGlashan, husband of Sacramento County Supervisor Roberta MacGlashan, in a story for the Sacramento Bee.
Sure, because who could possibly find the idea of torturing a U.S. Senator and presidential candidate offensive?
MacGlashan, by the way, had one day earlier called messages like "KKK," "white power," and other such crap scrawled on Obama displays "vandalism."
He said the party did not condone such actions (nor did it apparently condemn them)and did not consider it free speech.
Like Dave Barry used to say, I cannot make this stuff up.

Friday, October 10, 2008

On the quick fix

Those of you who know me might be surprised by my heartfelt endorsement of John McCain for President of the United States.
Whoa! Please! My friends, put down the tomatoes and hear me out on this.
John McCain says he knows how to fix the economy, and he does. The thing is, he doesn't know that it's not his economic policy that will do it.
It's his foreign policy.
I think most of us can agree John McCain is an insanely temperamental bastard hellbent on wiping out roughly 1/3 of the world's inhabitants through ill-conceived wars against "rogue nations" in the name of American-style democracy and freedom (see also: "wiretaps, illegal" and "voters, disenfranchised").
He is admittedly wholly unfit to lead this or any other nation to peace. But prosperity? Well now, that's another matter.

Let's look back to Great Depression I, as I have just dubbed it, and the circumstances that got us out of it. It weren't no sissy New Deal crap, I can tell ya that. Dig a ditch/fill a hole? Get the hell outta here.
No, it was the industrial strength of a nation with Japanese spit in its eye lookin' to pay the insult back tenfold. It put us back on the map, baby! And that was war with just three major world powers - imagine the endless manufacturing that would result (and be at least 50 percent outsourced overseas) if we went against Iran, Syria, Pakistan, North Korea, Iraq and Afghanistan at the same time! Hell, let's throw in Turkey, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Vietnam, Des Moines, Iowa and Cuba for good measure.
In fact, why don't we just say "Asia." Now you're thinking like a maverick! Who in history has ever declared war on an entire continent before? I mean, besides oil barons on the arctic circle. We're making history here! McCain's kind of history - revisionist!
And remember how after Dubya Dubya Eye Eye, the military industrial complex didn't stop? How it just went on and on for decades throughout the Cold War and the arms race, the espionage and secret murders, the puppet governments and groovy spy tech?
Good times. Real Ian Flemming stuff, it was great.
Now imagine those halcyon days of yore set against desert backdrops instead of frosty Minsk.

I put the question to you, my friends: Do you want a guy who's gonna defuse global tensions with rational conversation like Barack Secret-Muslim Obama, or the kinda guy who would call his wife rhymes-with-bunt in front of three reporters and then have the huevos to deny it ever happened?
A guy promoting an economically bankrupt "peace," or the kinda guy who can push a $2 billion aircraft carrier through Congress that no one actually wants/needs?
The kind of cautious analytical mind that knew enough not to leap headlong into a half-baked bailout plan for Wall Street, or the kind of devil-may-care, button-pressin' maverick who routinely crashes million-dollar air crafts on a whim?
Look, we can get out of this economic mess. We can. We're America, dammit! We got independent entrepreneurs and helicopter wolf-sharpshooters out the wazoo!
But it's gonna take some sacrifices on our part to do it. And that means putting a guy in that big white house on Pennsylvania Avenue who can get us into as many wars with as many lipstick-smeared pit bulls as he can, as fast as humanly possible.
So are ya with me, 'Merica?
Or do I have to sick Palin on your asses?

Friday, October 3, 2008

On nailing it