October 31, 2006

The Tao of Halloween

I am a veteran of many Halloween costume parties. From this experience, I have distilled the essence of what makes a good -- or a bad -- Halloween costume. It comes down to just three simple guidelines:

1. Be Cheap -- Anyone can spend hundreds on a costume at a rental shop. It's more of a challenge to put something together on a shoestring. Check out your closet -- you'd be surprised at what disparate items are in there that, together, can make for an interesting costume. Maybe you can even use the skeletons.

2. Be Comfortable -- gorilla suits and George Bush masks are fun, until you get overheated inside them and start sweating like Dennis Hastert before the Ethics Committee. That box of detergent costume you were just dying to construct sounds like fun, until you try to dance in it and knock three people over every time you turn around.

3. Be Attractive -- most women seem to get this. They don't dress like witches, they dress like sexy witches. They don't dress like cats, they dress like sexy cats. They don't dress like nurses ... well, you get the idea. They realize that Halloween gives one license to cut loose in public for a night, with few boundaries. However, some women, and many guys, just don't get it. The zombie with meat cleaver in skull costume may be the product of creative genius, but you're going to scare away kids, adults and, most importantly, prospective Halloween hookups. That porcupine costume that took you days to put together may be a work of art, but try asking that Sexy Cat for a slow dance and watch her reaction.

Follow these guidelines, and your Halloween will be filled with treats rather than tricks.

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October 30, 2006

Timing is Everything

News reports indicate that the House Ethics Committee will not issue its findings, or even an interim memo, on the Foley scandal until after the November 7 election.
Likewise, James "I stole Florida for George Bush" Baker's Iraq Study Group will not announce its Iraq War recommendations, which are expected to contain significant strategic changes, until after the elections, even though those recommendations, if implemented now, could save American soldiers' lives.

Meanwhile, the verdicts against Saddam Hussein, which are expected to be "guilty" on some if not all charges, are to be announced two days before the election.

Hmm, bad news for Bush and the Republicans gets held until after Election Day, and good news is released just prior to Election Day. Aren't October and pre-election November just full of amazing coincidences?

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October 25, 2006

Vote Early and Often

I voted yesterday. No, I didn't get an early opportunity to stuff the ballot box. I voted by absentee ballot, since I will be traveling on Election Day.

Absentee voting was surprisingly easy. All I did was pull up the web site for my county and follow the link to download the application. I received the absentee ballot within about a week. In Maryland at least, I was not even asked the reason for voting absentee. Presumably, voters can stay home or at work on Election Day, vote absentee, and avoid the lines at the voting location.

In fact, I might vote by absentee ballot in future elections as well. Absentee voting has the added benefit of having an actual paper ballot. One day, electronic voting machines may be reliable. However, that day has not yet arrived. Most electronic voting machines do not yield a paper record, which is absurd given that bank atm machines have done so for more than 20 years. Electronic voting machines are also subject to tampering and hacking, as evidenced by numerous experiments.

So vote by absentee ballot. There is probably still time. Or vote in person. Just vote. No excuses. It's easy and empowering.

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October 23, 2006

In Good Company

A few days ago, I published a post entitled "The Only Thing We Have to Sell is Fear Itself." My post critiqued a new Republican National Committee television commercial featuring Osama Bin Laden, and made the point that the ad could blow back on the GOP this year, because scaring the American people about terrorism only works if the fearmonger can be trusted to keep us safe, and George Bush and his Republican-led Congress have lost our trust in this regard. The title of my post was a reference to President Franklin D. Roosevelt's rallying call during his inaugural address in March 1933, during the depths of the Great Depression, that "the only thing we have to fear is fear itself."

After I published my post, Wonkette featured the post in last Friday's "Metro Section." And they didn't even use the term "schtup" this time, as they did last time they featured one of my posts.

Then, last night on MSNBC's "Countdown With Keith Olbermann," Keith delivered a hard-hitting "special comment" regarding the RNC commercial. Keith made the point that the Republican party, in creating and running the tawdry ad, was engaging in the very terrorism of the American people that Bush and the Republicans claim to be fighting. Then Keith ran footage of FDR while making the exact same point that my title had made:

"Eleven Presidents ago, a chief executive reassured us that 'we have nothing to fear but fear itself.'
His distant successor has wasted his administration insisting that there is nothing we can have but fear itself."

I feel like I'm in good company.

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October 20, 2006

The Only Thing We Have to Sell is Fear Itself

The Republican Party is unveiling a new campaign ad this weekend that features -- surprise surprise -- Osama Bin Laden. The ad features a ticking time bomb, footage of terrorists training, Osama's image and quotes of Osama's threats. It's the same shopworn fear tactic the GOP utilized in 2002 and 2004. This time, however, its effectiveness is highly questionable.

The logic behind the Republicans' scare campaigns goes as follows: Boogie Man Osama is out to get us. You can trust George Bush and the Republicans to keep us safe. You can't trust the Democrats to keep us safe.

However, that logic falls flat in 2006. We now know the following: President Bush received a Presidential Daily Briefing on August 6, 2001 entitled "Bin Laden Determined to Strike In U.S." The PDB specifically mentioned hijacking threats, and "recent surveillance of federal buildings in New York." Bush and his National Security Adviser, Condoleeza Rice, ignored these warnings. Then, when Osama Bin Laden was pinned down in Tora Bora, Afghanistan, the Bush Administration let Bin Laden escape and instead began its historic folly in Iraq. Then, Bush said of Bin Laden in a March 13, 2002 press conference, "I truly am not that concerned about him." Then, in April 2006, the latest National Intelligence Estimate, which is assembled by the 16 intelligence agencies in Bush's own administration, stated that the Iraq War had become the "cause celebre" for jihadists, serving as a recruiting tool for new terrorists.

Likewise, while recruiting new terrorists by invading and occupying Iraq, Bush and the Republicans have done nothing to shore up homeland security. They have not provided for inspection of cargo coming to our shores. They have not protected vulnerable nuclear and chemical facilities. They have not instituted inspection of the commercial cargo that sits next to our checked luggage on airplanes. They have cut funds for emergency first responders.

In other words, we are less, not more, safe since Bush and his rubber stamp Republican Congress began running things. So now the only logic left behind the latest GOP ad is: we have not caught Osama Bin Laden, we are less safe since we invaded Iraq, and we are doing a terrible job in the war on terror. But the Democrats would be even worse.

According to the latest opinion polls, the public no longer buys this logic. At some point, even among Republicans and frightened independents, those famous "security moms," the Democrats couldn't do a worse job than the Republicans. That point has been reached and, in fact, voters have developed faith in the Democratic Party. As the polls indicate, Democrats by a significant margin are now more trusted than Republicans to fight the war on terror, and two thirds of Americans believe that, as the NIE indicates, the Iraq War has made us less safe from terrorism.

In short, the Republicans' ad campaign could backfire big time, feeding into Americans' fears about the Republicans' incompetence in fighting the War on Terror. This may be one ad the GOP wished it had never run.

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October 11, 2006

My Odometer Must Be One Zero Short of a Thousand

A strange thing happened while biking on the Capital Crescent Trail the other day. I was riding upright, with no hands on my handlebars. I do that a lot, because I find it more comfortable than the hands-on position. Sometimes I keep my arms and hands tucked in close to my body, resting my hands on my thighs, both for variety and to be more aerodynamic. In this position, as I passed by a couple of women walkers, it occured to me that, both coming and going, I might look like I have no arms. It's the kind of thought one has when one gets into the rhythm of the ride and the mind begins to drift. That, and songs like "Hotel California" that keep repeating in my head.

Not 2 minutes later, I saw a biker approaching me from a distance. He had one hand on the handlebar. I didn't see his other hand or arm. I figured, he's doing the one-handed tuck, I need to try that some time. Then he got closer. I saw that, in fact, he had only one arm. How often does one see a one-armed biker? How often does one see a one-armed biker less than two minutes after thinking about bikers with no arms?

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October 09, 2006

Koreans Don't Just Eat Dogs, they Wag them Too

George Bush, Karl Rove, House Speaker Dennis Hastert and Sen. George "Macaca" Allen are breathing a sigh of relief today. We all woke up to the news today that North Korea claims to have tested a nuclear weapon. It's a complete foreign policy failure for George Bush, but Bush and Rove have a knack for turning foreign policy failures into political successes.

The reason why North Korea's nuclear test is a foreign policy failure is simple: Bush sat back for five and a half years while North Korea developed nuclear weapons. Bush refused to have U.S. diplomats engage in one-on-one talks with North Korea about its nuclear program. The theory of the Bushies was that such talks are a sign of weakness. I don't understand why. If you sit down with your opponents, and tell them, "you must stop your nuclear program or there will be dire consequences for you," that seems to be a sign of strength, not weakness. The U.S. goal was not to have a nuclear North Korea. That goal, and the tactics, or lack thereof, implemented to achieve it, has failed.

Ah, but the politics. First, the North Korean nuclear test story knocks the Mark Foley sex scandal from the top of the headlines. The Foley scandal has rapidly become a scandal about the Republican coverup of Foley's behavior in order to stay in power. The North Korean nuclear test also overshadows other news stories, such as the rapid deterioration of conditions in Iraq, the Jack Abramoff Scandal, and Senator George Allen's racist and ethical troubles, all of which hurt the Republicans. Instead, George Bush gets to make speeches and appear Presidential. You can be sure that he'll try to take some kind of military action, such as a naval blockade of North Korea.

Most importantly, Bush and Rove will be able to sell us more fear. Since 9/11, they have benefitted from international crises, even those that are largely the fault of Bush's inaction and blundering. They must believe that Americans, frozen in fear, will be too scared to hold Republicans accountable for their foreign policy failures across the board, and to make any changes at the voting booth in the upcoming election. In 2002 and 2004, their belief was correct. The 2006 election is less than one month away.

It's nearly enough to turn a thoughtful person into a conspiracy theorist.

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October 08, 2006

Measuring Your Life By Stuff

In preparation for my move to California, I have gong through my entire home and everything in it. I have found many surprising items. Here is a partial inventory of what I found:

6 unopened packages of cocktail napkins
2 guitars
25 boxes of matches
1 mask made of junk mail (that's no typo)
1 roll of hockey tape
2 pairs of Smith "blade" sunglasses (90's style)
1 Duncan Imperial yo-yo
1 gas can
hundreds of screws, washers and nuts
Numerous framed prints, photos and posters, many in bubble wrap
1 giant package of industrial steel wool
2 unopened dead bolt locks
3 wool overcoats
2 water pistols
2 identical blue fleeces, in addition to 3 others
1 unopened light dimmer switch
1 cowboy hat
1 antique English pickle jar

Where did this stuff come from? Why do I have it? What did it it do for me? The answer is, I don't know, I don't know, and nothing. Over the years, I must have simply seen things I liked and acquired them. I must have thought that each thing would accomplish something or make me feel a certain way. That rarely happened. At the same time, I hung on to things I already had, unless they broke, shrunk or wore out. Thus, I became caught in the materialism squeeze.

Coincidentally, over the past year or so, I have been rejecting materialism right and left. It has dawned on me that things only have value if they are truly utilitarian, truly asthetic or truly sentimental. What's funny is the defensive reaction I get from some people when I share my thoughts on materialism. This is similar to the reaction I received when I told people some years ago that I had quit drinking. These are things that I have done simply to feel more healthy all around, without planning them in advance. I have not told anyone that they should follow my lead.

The next time I see something I like, I will think twice about purchasing it. More importantly, the next time I reject something, I will think three times about telling others.

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October 03, 2006

Get Ready For the October Surprise

Today's headlines were an astounding amalgam of adversity for Republicans. They include the Republican coverup of Congressman Mark Foley's sex scandal with minors, including calls for House Speaker Dennis Hastert's resignation;51 dead in new Iraq violence; the State Department confirming the meeting between CIA Director George Tenet and Secretary of State (then National Security Adviser) Condoleeza Rice three months before 9/11, which Rice conveniently forgot, where Tenet warned Rice about the impending threat of terrorist attacks; and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist stating that the war against the Taliban terrorists in Afghanistan is not winnable, and that the Taliban should be admitted back into the Afghan government.

Whew! Look for George Bush to take some big military "anti-terror" action this month to try and knock these stories off the headlines just before the November election. My first choice is still action against Iran. My second choice is what I call Operation Trot Out Osama. If Operation TOO takes place, I hope people will ask Bush about the timing, and especially, what has he been doing to get Osama Bin Laden and Al Quaeda for the past five years.

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October 01, 2006

Magic Mountain Roller Coaster

That's what I feel like I'm riding right now. My planned move to California may not happen just yet. As I wrote in my post last month entitled "When Real Life Intrudes Upon Blogging," I have a "planned move to California." I also wrote that "the move may not occur." Likewise, I have been careful to tell my friends the same thing. Some of them have become amused at my qualifiers. They say that I am in denial, and that the move is a sure thing.

Not quite. A major glitch arose yesterday. The place in California is still undergoing renovation. It was supposed to be ready November 1. I knew the date could slip by as much as a couple of months, and had no problem with that. What is a problem is that the owners of the new place won't tell me, just 30 days beforehand, how it is looking. We had an email exchange yesterday, in which I gave them plenty of leeway. I told them:

"You can give any qualifications you like so that whatever you tell me isn't binding, just your best guess at this time."

However, they refuse to say anything, and instead keep repeating the straw man that they cannot give me a "firm date" at this time. I have told them at least twice that I wasn't looking for a "firm date" right now. I think it is unreasonable for them to have a gag rule on any information just 30 days before the 11/1 date that they, not I, chose in the first place. I also told them that having a guess or snapshot as to how things are looking at this late date is important because, practically speaking,

[I] "cannot wait until just a few days or a week or 2 beforehand to make arrangements for this long-distance move."

As you can imagine, my place is in shambles. I have been acquiring boxes, going to Goodwill, throwing away tons of stuff, calling movers, posting Craigs List ads to sell things, etc. This has been to the exclusion of almost everything else, including my beloved blogging. If I don't move, what I am supposed to do now that I no longer have any corduroy pants? I have also made formal arrangements to leave my place. Given all this, I don't think it is unreasonable to get an honest yet informal view from the new building owners, who, after all, are the ones on the site in California, of how things currently look.

Their response:

"Unfortunately, you may have to wait perhaps the length of time you mentioned before we can give you a firm date."

I think not. Right now, I'd say there's a good chance that I will have to pull the plug on these bozos and start all over again.

I think the reason why I was so cautious in characterizing the "planned move" in the first place is that, after practicing law for a number of years, writing and reviewing hundreds of contracts, I know that things can go wrong. Lawyers are professional worriers, and contracts are really just a set of worries that both sides bring to the table. So I guess I am trained to think that it ain't over til it's over, and sometimes not even then.

Oh well, at least the roller coaster is more exciting than the Ferris wheel.

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