Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Dumb And Dumberer

I had a feeling this might happen:
Weeks before President-elect Barack Obama chose New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson to head the Commerce Department, a small group of volunteers with ethics, tax and investigative expertise -- most of them lawyers -- scoured his background looking for embarrassing facts or political problems.

[...]Sources within the transition and the Justice Department said that Richardson had played down the importance of the probe and did not reveal that his office and staff could be at risk. The seriousness of the matter became apparent after the FBI began its own background check on Dec. 2. But Richardson's longtime aides defended his disclosures, noting that subjects under examination by a grand jury are rarely aware of its secret deliberations.

[...]But a source with the Obama transition said Richardson's disclosures to the team were incomplete.
My first reaction when I heard the BillR was considering taking the Commerce job was "WTF?"

Not that he's a bad choice, but as career moves go, this was a no-brainer: stay governor of New Mexico or go be a minor Cabinet official in the Obama administration, when you had already been UN Ambassador and Energy Secretary.

I'd pick governor in a heartbeat, screw the "pleasure of the President" service stuff.

Too, he would have had to deal with Hillary, whom he knifed in the back at the earliest opportunity. Imagine trying to keep her in front of you for two or four years.

If you're going to accept a plum for beating up your old boss' wife, I would think an assignment as ambassador to a nice tropical island nation that has no extradition treaty with the US would be in order. You're 60. You deserve it. You've earned it.

But Commerce Secretary?

And to think, I gave this moron a contribution for governor!

Vote for Simply Left Behind in the Weblog Awards

(showing Memeorandum da luv)

The Sins Of Wages

Four weeks ago, I developed a really nasty sinus infection. The mother of all sinus infections, if you will.

For the past month or so, I've suffered from insomnia of the worst kind, the kind where you are fast and deeply asleep, only to be roused by a coughing jag. Kind of like electing a Bush after eight years of peace and prosperity.

I finally went to a doctor last week ahead of a trip I am taking at the end of this week (which is why I haven't been lobbying hard for the Weblog Awards for Simply Left Behind, but please do vote!), was given antibiotics and sent home to heal.

Heal I have, to a degree. And yet, here I am this morning, awake at 2:30 after three hours of sleep. My thoughts are racing, flitting like fireflies about me. This thought lights up, dims, and another flashes off in the corner of my other eye.

I hate nature.

I woke to a vague recollection of a dream about this contest. At first, I thought I was disturbed by my casual attitude towards it. I cannot deny there is a hypercompetitive part of me that simply will not allow me to fail. This being the slack time in between the election and the inauguration, I thought I'd explore this a little.

As I lay there in the dark, the cat watching me through one eyelid, I let my mind wander. This was not about the contest, to be sure, although I did manage to stroke that part of my id into relaxation.

There's something more. I'm disturbed by what I have allowed myself, and by extension this blog, to become.

Each morning, I sit at a PC, either in my office or at home, and I search for a story to write about. Recklessly disregarding the fact that I really don't care about half the stuff I read online, I choose a topic.

Usually, I search Memeorandum and see what other bloggers are talking about. I admit to a frisson of excitement and satisfaction when I see my name, with SLB attached to it, listed as commenting on a story. If an orgasm is la petite morte in French, then this is the cigarette afterwards.

Bollocks. That's what's pissing me off about life. I'm tying myself to what other people think and see. I'm letting the world set my agenda for me. I'm taking myself way too fucking seriously.

Now, the practice of writing a blog every day has its charm and its advantages. For one, by forcing myself to write daily, I'm forcing myself to be a better writer, to learn what mistakes I'm capable of and to prevent them. For another, it usually kills about 30 minutes at work, and probably stops me from playing FreeCell.

In 2008, it was too easy to write a blog, and I suspect that by the end of this year, an awful lot of blogs that popped up during the Bush administration will close down. And why not? People aren't as angry. Obama seems to be a decent sort who is committed to turning America around again. It's going to be hard to find something to take umbrage at and write a 3,000 word screed, mixing humour and anger, rage and fear.

Fear. Yes, that's what I want to talk about today. It's odd, but each year around this time, sins and emotions seem to be the backdrop to our lives.

Most sins can be understood in context of satisfying a need: envy, for example, keeps us up to date with what people around us have, and so we increase our odds of breeding by "keeping up with the Joneses," lust provides us with a motivation to collect genetic material from as many mates as possible, and so on.

Underlying all these, I think, is fear. Fear is the mind-killer, as Frank Herbert put it, by way of Huxley.

Fear is, I believe the yan to the yin of love, which I think is the underlying emotion behind all happiness. Blend fear and love, and you pretty cover the emotional gamut of humanity.

Anger, jealousy, hatred, all involve some element of love, even if that element is self-love and not the love for another person. We can delude and rationalize our anger at our spouse or child as "being good for them," but in reality, it's more about us taking care of ourselves than caring for someone else.

But notice also there's an element of fear to that love: by lashing out at those around you, you are warning them that they are scaring you, threatening you in some way. And it doesn't even have to manifest in rage: anger expressed in the most gentle way is still anger and still about fear.

On the flipside, you see joy, openess, and giving, which while all perfectly self-loving, involve far greater blends of love for someone else, and much less fear.

Even in these emotions, there's some fear involved. When you first tell someone you love them, there's always the chance they'll reject you.

Which brings me back to my original message, my original thought, my insomniatic stream of consciousness: what do I fear, by manipulating my energies and thoughts so they conform with what the rest of Blogtopia (© Skippy) is talking about?

Does it really matter to me that my hit counter is ringing every day? Does it make a difference in my life, apart from making me feel a little better about myself?

No, not really. So the question becomes, is that feeling worth it? Is the self-esteem tied up in that stupid little ticker worth the effort of being topical?

I'm not earning a single dime off this thing, yet I write more here in a week than I have in a month in the book I'm supposedly working on to sell.

I'm communicating and yes, that's important to me. I have thoughts and ideas and they need to be expressed, but not on the world's terms.

On my terms.

Vote for Simply Left Behind in the Weblog Awards

Monday, January 05, 2009

Weblog Awards Voting Begins Today

I'll have a separate post that will allow you to vote from here at SLB, rather than shlepping over to the Awards page up on Monday, when voting is scheduled to begin.

I'm asking for your vote. Vote daily (cookies are recorded and IPs logged, so you can't vote twice in a 24 hour period), and vote from as many computers as you can. No reason you can't vote from home, work and a laptop or two. If you can access a computer, you can vote once more. And of course, please lobby your friends to vote, as well.

Also, I'd ask you to take a moment and vote in the other categories listed below. These are my recommendations:

Best Blog - Huffington Post, altho they really don't need the support, I suspect.

Best New Blog - Uppity Woman

Best Humour Blog - Jon Swift, who fashions the single funniest posts in the entire of Blogtopia (© Skippy), who's writing, infrequent tho it may be, is of the highest quality and caliber always.

Best Individual Blogger - Lindsay Beyerstein/Majikthise

Best Liberal Blog - Blue Gal. I had a hard time in this category. I love Sadly, No! and Wonkette as well, but I feel they are more humour than political, even if their humour IS political.

Best Political Coverage - FiveThirtyEight. They turned out to be the place to go for polling info during the election cycle.

Best Technology Blog - Geeks Are Sexy. MissCellania blogs here, along with many other places, and this is sort of a sop to her in case I decide....well, you'll see.

Best Diarist - Blue Girl In A Red Blue State. It's the closest I'm going to get to voting for my friend, Lance Mannion. This is a vote I strongly urge.

Best Major Blog - The Moderate Voice

Best Very Large Blog - Jesus' General

Best Large Blog -OK...this category has me hurting. One the one hand, MissCellania is one of my close blogging friends. On the other hand, Skippy, The Bush Kangaroo is also one of my close blogging friends. You're on your own on this one. As for me, well, that's the beauty of the secret ballot, isn't it? Fortunately, I can vote more than once, so....

Best Hidden Gem - Pajama Pundit. The name might remind you of Pajamas Media and Instapundit, two obnoxious and odious foully stenched blogs, but the politics will not.

My opponents in this contest are as follows:

If Mom Says OK
The Stupid Shall Be Punished (this is a rematch, I think)
Daled Amos
McClatchy Watch
Savage Politics
The Sundries Shack
The Colossus of Rhodey
Connecting the Dots (sorry, Bob!)
Phoenix Arizona East Valley Living

Visit them all. Play nice! You'll disagree with at least two of these folks and Connecting The Dots' Bob Stein is a friend, so throw him a visit or a dozen and check out his place. His writing makes mine look like, well, a right-winger's!

Silence Is Golden?

Maybe. And maybe not:

"If I were Obama, I wouldn't want to talk about it either. Frankly, it's a lot more comfortable to let this one hang on the president," said Edward Walker Jr., who served as U.S. ambassador to Israel from 1997 to 1999.

"I don't think he wants to be tagged at this point with either advocating the Israeli response or condemning it because our (U.S.) interests are sort of torn on this one," added Walker, an analyst with the Middle East Institute think tank.

Pro-Israeli comments by Obama risk upsetting the Arab world even before he takes office. Comments that seem critical of Israel would anger its American supporters.

Rock, meet hard place. It's not that Obama doesn't care about what's going on in the region, or that he doesn't have an opinion. Indeed, he's voiced foreign policy opinions before this (specifically on the Mumbai attacks) but these have hardly been statements of ongoing policy or binding opinions. In Israel, he would be held accountable after he takes office. Silence seems to be golden.
 
Presumably, the uptick in violence in the Gaza region is deliberate. Israelis and Palestinians both have a reason to test Obama's foreign policy from day one, given the crazy rumours that abounded when Obama was a candidate: Obama is secretly Muslim, will take the oath on the Koran, that sort of stuff.
 
You see, the problem with the Big Lie (via Goebbels) is that someone will believe it, no matter how insane the rumour is, and usually that someone is insane enough to take innocent people with him. In a situation as incendiary as Israel and Palestine, it only takes one crackpot to set off the entire region. Ask Ariel Sharon.
 
Right now, on this issue as on so many issues that Obama is faced with, his demeanor must be that of the horseshoe crab: apparent immobility from above, but if you flip one over the feet are scurrying like mad. My guess is Obama has people in the Middle East on fact-finding missions to try to determine the extent of the problem and that he is receiving the same daily briefings that Commanderguy is getting.
 
Which leads to silence NOT being golden. I also get the sense, given Obama's desire to hit the ground running, that he has people not only finding fact, but expressing reassurances and leaving impressions of precisely what he plans to do. I would not want to start my Presidency with this hanging over my head and have to play catch up with the Israeli and Palestinian governments, such as it is.
 
One can only guess at what Obama's thoughts are, and he's been shrewd to show his hand only to those who really need to see it.
 
Personally, my solution would probably be as simple as the following: Reassure Israel that America stands ready to defend her interests, however, make it perfectly clear that readiness is predicated on Israel finding the strength within her to begin negotiations in earnest with the Palestinians and other antagonistic parties. I would suggest this was precisely the stance that Bill Clinton took and he came as close to finding peace in the Middle East as any president.
 
You see, it's been decades since American interests were aligned completely with Israeli interests. Indeed, the OPEC embargoes of 1973 and 1979 were in large part retaliations against America for her support of Israel. The Arabic world couldn't beat Israel on the field of battle, so the battle was bought into the oilfields.
 
That America resisted the urge to jump ship and take our economic interests with us has never really been properly appreciated by Israel or her champions here in America, I think. Nonetheless, as it turns out, support for Israel has other facets to it, from a strategic point of view, that make having Israel a firm ally important. One very important reason is stability. Imagine if we had jumped ship and sided with Egypt under Nasser, or Syria. Or Iran. Or Iraq, for that matter.
 
The violence must stop. The slaughters on both sides of civilians must end. Now. One can only hope that Barack Obama will be the President to do just this.

Friday, January 02, 2009

Nobody Asked Me, But...

Special 2009 Prediction Edition



This was so successful last year...I guess I got lucky...that I thought I'd do it again this year.

1) India/Pakistan - This I think will be the most important story of 2009, what happens on the subcontinent. We saw the beginnings of a serious conflict starting with the assassination of Bhutto in December 2007, and moving right through the Mumbai attacks last year. Already today, India is accusing Pakistan of a soft touch in dealing with terrorists. This could be a horrendous situation and if I had to pick the flash point of the next world war, this is it. Remember, they are both nuclear powers. Pakistan is bordered by China and Iran, as well, so not good.

2) Israel/Palestine - Sort of a no-brainer, to be sure, but a challenge to President Obama, nonetheless and likely to be dominating the news this winter and the end of the year, I think.

3) The Economy - Again, a no-brainer. What hasn't been talked about much in this country is how global this downturn truly is. China has already enlisted the aide of several western economic consultants to guide it through this recession, but as the Bush administration has shown, there's a flu in the economy that swamps even seasoned policymakers. China becomes the linchpin of the global economy, because while America is still the strongest economic force, much of that is due to China's willingness to do just about anything to make a buck.

4) Energy - I'm going out on a limb here, but my guess is Barack Obama will deal with two birds using his stone of economic recovery: the bad economy and US energy policy. Universally, it is agreed that the US has to shed its dependence on foreign fossil energy sources, and while there is a strong dispute coming from the neaderthals still, over global warming, it seems pretty clear that renewable energy will play a much bigger role in our policy than ever before.

5) Obesity - With a healthy (if smoking) President in office who has the attention and respect of the country, and can shed his shirt without embarrassing himself, I think the country will finally begin a serious dialogue regarding obesity. That the recession will have people reconsidering their food choices to begin with will help, altho fast food is cheap and easy to get and that will hamper efforts to deal with this problem head-on. Governor Patterson of New York state is already calling for an "obesity tax" tax on sugared soft drinks. I expect this will be expanded to include fatty foods.

6) Africa - I dropped this from number one to number six this year, because I think things have stabilized a bit, with the Zimbabwean elections now passed, even if the results are muddled. The impact of the economic downturn on the Horn of Africa and sub-Saharan nations like Somalia will play a big role in whether things heat up again or not. I don't think the effects of the downturn filter to Africa until 2010.

7) Weather - Calling nature twelve months out is always risky, and I was tempted to moderate this topic by calling it "Global Warming", but the fact is, I think we're in for a helluva ride from Mother Nature this year. When you have tornadoes at Christmas in Alabama (not exactly in Tornado Alley), you have the set-up for a horrendous early Spring.

8) Terrorism - I agree with Joe Biden. I think Barack Obama will be challenged early in his term, just as both Bush and Clinton were, by a terrorist attack, possibly on US soil. Now, this does not mean the attack will be successful, just that there will be an attempt. I think Obama one-ups Bush and Clinton and foils it.

9) Afghanistan - The winding down of the US presence in Iraq will bring renewed attention to the tenuous situation in Afghanistan, particularly now that Pakistan has re-opened the Khyber Pass. Taliban forces are already making a mockery of the US efforts there, with Kabul being one of the few places where people can go about their business freely. Obama has already stated his intent to increase his focus on that situation.

10) Cuba - This one will create some waves, but I predict the US will finally end its ridiculous embargo on Cuba. In terms of the side effects of this policy, as the BBC article I've linked to points out, it is a symbolic gesture, largely (I regularly bring Cuban cigars and rum into the US and Customs doesn't even blink an eye, altho if they read this, I expect I'll be strip-searched in two weeks when I return from my trip), but the signals that it sends will be massive.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

*AHEM*

The 2008 Weblog Awards

Best Up And Coming Blog

Look who is a finalist, again!

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

In The Rearview Mirror

The year is ending today. Please accept my best and fondest wishes for a healthy, and happy New Year. May your best day of 2008 be your worst day of 2009.
 
I think I suffer from Bush Fatigue. Eight years of a good President is wearing. Eight years of a bad President is exhausting. Knowing full well that he's leaving at the end January, one is tempted to ask if there's anyway he can hurry along.
 
I have hopes for Obama's presidency. They used to be high hopes, until the markets melted away and the economy went in the pan. Now, I just hope he can stop the bleeding and sew up a few of the bigger wounds. He should win a second term (it's hard to unelect a President. Just look at 2004.), by which we will have been firmly on the road to recovery.
 
I think. I hope. It would be hard to imagine a crisis so severe that it would outlast a President's term but there you have it.
 
Barring a major outbreak of amazing news-- it could happen!-- I should end 2009 about as well as 2008 ends. 2008 saw the collapse of several things in my life, from my health to some family issues that really need to be taken care of. The shocks are over, the regrouping has begun. I figure it will take about a year to recover. This is my time to praise my Jesus for keeping an eye on me, and giving me good friends who have not been afraid to stand up to me and question what I'm all about.
 
I've made it hard on a lot of you this year, and for that, I am sorry. I've purposely distanced myself in order to give myself some breathing room to examine all that's gone on in the world and in my world. I hope you'll understand. If our friendships cannot survive that, then perhaps we were not meant to be friends in the first place.
 
I started the year with some goals, and I think I've achieved a few of them. One was to make this blog a voice in Blogtopia (© Skippy, the Bush Kangaroo). I've added fifty new names to the mailing list (you can click the little button in the upper right hand corner if you want to join).
 
More important, I won the Weblog Award. I'm nominated again (I'll link the pages and such later this week). I hope to work my magic one more time.
 
I guest-blogged at Crooks and Liars for a week.
 
More important to me is not to watch my hit counter rack up points every day, but to see my ideas echo along the corridors of Blogtopia and the blogosphere from time to time. Every so often, I'll see someone quote a piece of mine (I can see the incoming links) and read a discussion about the idea. This is good. This is why I blog. I got this massive brain, the size of a planet, and it would be a damned shame to keep all of the thoughts inside. And for convincing me to do this, I have to thank Katrina. Again.  
 
I promise to work harder on this, to hone my writing and critical thinking (and to perfect my grammar and spelling) and make it easier to coalesce the way I see this world into things that can be talked about. I don't have the time, like a lot of the furry mammalian bloggers, to sit and think and read and edit. I write these posts sitting at my desk at work, and even MIS is getting antsy about that much time spent. It means I will have to work harder at making myself clear.
 
I want to do this without losing sight of something valuable to be: the transparent thought process. A careful reader of my work will notice every once in a while I'll post something disjointed. This simply means I haven't considered everything yet, but that I feel strongly one way already. I don't want to lose that, because in sharing my thoughts, I share a bit of myself with you.
 
Too, it gives my reader the opportunity to take his or her own journey with me. It's been fun sometimes to correspond, in comments or email, about a nugget of information and see where things go.
 
2009 projects to be a quiet year, from a blog standpoint. I don't see where Obama has many choices about what he can and cannot do, so I can't imagine he'll make any significantly controversial decisions. We've pretty much hashed out his policies for the first half ot the year, and I don't see him as having the courage to take a real risk with the economy as tattered as it is.
 
I hope I'm wrong, of course. I like watching my hit counter soar!