Saturday, October 04, 2008

Saturday in San Francisco (Mine).1

(Updated Sunday morning.)

Being a soccer mom (without lipstick) requires a lot of driving and a lot of standing and yelling. You get hoarse, sunburned, and experience periods of tension.

This is a shot of a corner house in Silver Terrace, overlooking a soccer field, where yesterday, our boys won a thriller, 1-0, the third straight game they've won by that slender margin.

This time, the winning goal came in the final 2 minutes or so.

Our girls didn't fare so well but they played a good game in the early morning fog out at Lowell High School.

Julia actually had a breakaway late in her game and a shot on goal. She didn't score but she came very close.

Both of my players had strong games. Aidan seemed to be everywhere at once, using his height and speed to great advantage.

In the end, it's a game, they're kids, and there's always something worth dancing for. By nightfall, however, this soccer parent had enough energy to upload these photos, but not for adding the words. Thus, this morning's update.


Thursday, October 02, 2008

The Debate in St. Louis.1

(This post has been updated. Please see comments below.)

After battling severe traffic that caused me to listen to the first half hour of this debate on my car radio, I'll try to catch up.

The difference between listening and seeing is the ability to pick up their body language. More on that in a minute.

The candidates are on climate change now. Palin did a good job of avoiding the red herring of whether she thinks climate change is man-made. But Biden has proved to be far more articulate and effective during the extended conversation.

Oops. On to same-sex relationships, hopefully this one will not become a major issue in the campaign. Basically, the candidates tied.

Now, they are on to the Iraq War. Palin, first, is flat-lining this one, no points scored whatsoever. Whereas Biden is hitting a double by using the old tactic of Iraqi-bashing. Wow! Now he has escalated a home run on the issue.

Palin is blowing it. She pandered, calling the Obama plan a "white flag."

Now on to Iran and Pakistan, and which is more dangerous. Biden is hitting a grand slam home run. How can Palin possibly respond? Palin is arguing that the "central war" on terror is in Iraq. That is her second huge error.

So here she is playing the anti-terror card and not scoring any points. Biden is delivering a sound spanking to Palin on an issue that he is so much more informed that she looks like a naughty schoolgirl. (Sorry to sound condescending.)

Now we are on to Israel and Palestine. Palin is doing a credible job. Biden panders in response, claiming he is Israel's best friend in the Senate, he bunted a foul ball. In style and substance he smacked her down. Now Palin is a great lover of Jews! Wow! Somehow I do not think it is resonating among any of the Jewish constituencies that I am personally in touch with.

So, both tickets are pandering to AIPAC. Disgusting.

Now we are on to nuclear weapons. My sense is that Palin is reaching the end of her pre-debate preparation limits. I worry that she may start deconstructing from here on out, which would be sad, because, even though to my eyes she is clearly losing this debate, I feel she has done a creditable job, given her lack of experience.

Now, they have entered the doldrums of any 90-minute debate, where they are trading jabs over obscure fine-sliced lunchmeats, and neither one of them is gaining anything right now.

Now, Darfur, an issue that is probably far from the minds of most American voters. Biden is again nailing the issue. Palin is playing the old "I'm so cute, I do not know what to say..." which does not work. After that, she is mumbling...

Biden is demonstrating, in a respectful and intelligent manner, that he has been deeply engaged in foreign policy for a long time.
Palin fumbled.

Now, onto the main question. "What if you become V-P?"

Biden has consistently succeeded in this debate.

Now, Palin. She is scoring her main points right now by claiming that she would improve the lives of regular folks once John McCain died.

But, of course, this is not a good line of reasoning for her to pursue. She's hitting her first double, by talking, eloquently, about her views of education. I think she is doing a good job on this.

Biden is doing a big service to himself and his ticket with a very strong answer about what kind of VP the would be.

Meanwhile, Palin just voiced support for V-P Cheney. An error.

Biden is slamming an easy dunk that the inexperienced Palin didn't see coming.

Ending statements: Palin bats 50%

Ending statements: Biden hit 75%.

It's all over. Palin did a good job, but Biden won the debate.

The final round:

Palin gave her best shot. Very emotional and pretty effective.

Biden has beat her logically but only tied her emotionally.

I give Palin a B- and Biden a B, which will probably not change any polls whatsoever. But there is one final caveat and it's back to that intangible -- body english. Palin looked great on camera -- energetic, smiling a lot, seemingly having fun. This will have helped her connect well to everyday people, who often act as if they do not listen when they "watch" TV. Biden, by contrast, conveyed gravitas.

If I am right about this difference, then it will be Palin who gets the bounce in the polls. If that happens, it is style over substance; perception ovr reality. We've lived it before. It was called Reagan and the Age of Know-Nothing, part 2. For the good of America, we can only hope this is not another case of image over content, because the country faces far too serious problems in 2008 to go backwards, once again, to the idiocy of transferring more wealth upward than in any era ever before seen.

The'80s sucked. Palin represents the '80s on steroids.


Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The Three "E's" in This Election -- Part 10

(This is the final in a series of ten.)

During the period when I was working from Washington, D.C., I picked up on the local lingo for the difference between the House of Representatives (which yesterday shot down the Paulsen bailout plan, sending the stock market to historic losses) and the Senate.

Suffice it to say that the Senators were known simply as the "Grown-ups." This was during the absurd impeachment drama that precluded any kind of meaningful government policies from being achieved during the second Clinton administration.

The House impeached. The Senate acquitted. The whole drama was political, from start to finish. Americans may have been mesmerized, but the outcome was never in doubt, thanks to the adults in the Senate.

Fast forward to today's news. The Senate has quietly but effectively stepped into the leadership void created by yesterday's fiasco by launching a new initiative that will provide the Treasury will the authority and the funds to manage the financial and credit crises effectively by adding a series of tax cuts that will provide the necessary political cover for enough House Republicans to switch sides and add their support to a bill they should have voted for in the first place.

House leaders, including Speaker Nancy Pelosi, are angry. The adults have trumped them. Pelosi, in particular, failed miserably in the most important political moment of her career by delivering a partisan speech when bipartisanship was what was needed. She squandered her opportunity to emerge as a true leader. Therefore, she will not receive my vote this November.

By contrast, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., appear to be poised to emerge as the kinds of leaders hard times demand.

None of this has much to do with Presidential politics, except for one important footnote. Sen. Barack Obama was the first to call for what is now a consensus upgrade, increasing the FDIC insured limit on any one bank account from $100,000 to $250,000. This is a long overdue reform, reflecting the inflationary change in dollar values from when the old guarantee was created.

As with many economic issues, Obama continues to be quietly but creatively effective. Maybe enough Americans are beginning to catch on? McCain is the kind of guy who always tries to exploit a crisis by "suspending" his campaign, convention, debate, or any other form of business as usual.

The effect is to raise anxiety, create a false sense of drama, and expose all of us to danger, rather like the rash actions of a fighter pilot in war. My own Dad qualified as a fighter pilot in WW2, but he flunked out on the psychological test of whether he was crazy enough to die without concern for his family back home.

He cared too much for my Mother and my big sister to pass that test. So he didn't fly warplanes into Germany or Japan. He was every bit as loyal an American as those who did, but he was not as rash, stupid, or young.

John McCain passed the psychological rashness test. He didn't care about anybody back home. He just wanted to be a hero. His behavior during the Presidential campaign confirms that he is, at heart, still a fighter pilot.

Thanks, but no thanks, I don't want that kind of person as my President. The contrast between the candidates has become so stark that I have to question the motive of any voter who would choose McCain over Obama. Are you asleep? Drugged? Stupid? Or racist? I am very sorry to say I see no other explanation for anybody who would vote for a crazed ex-warrior who needs the help of V.A. psychiatrists over a soft-spoken, steady, intelligent man who knows math, science, economics, and what it means to consider the future before making gut-wrenching decisions.

Luckily, the polls give me hope. Obama is now 5-6 points ahead in the popular vote, and appears poised to win somewhere between 301-331 electoral votes. One fact that gives me great joy is that Obama has pulled way ahead in my native Michigan.

Another is that he will win Iowa, the state that saw all of the candidates up close in a way most of us will never experience.

As goes Michigan and Iowa will go our nation. President Barack Obama!



Sometimes, even an incurable optimist like me, a news junkie and a data-head who never seems to acquire enough information, and an emotional being who never seems to get enough hugs, starts feeling (1) overwhelmed, and (2) depressed.

I am not quite sure what is causing my current tailspin, but some combination of the political, economic, and the personal has turned toxic lately. Yesterday, as the House rejected the bailout plan and the markets crashed, my sense of being disoriented intensified in a way I've seldom felt since 9/11, or even after my various breakups with the women I've loved.

Now, when a woman gets a food craving, she has plenty of potential excuses. Maybe she's pregnant or maybe it's that time of the month, or maybe even it's menopause.

Why does a man get such cravings? Specifically, why can I not seem to get enough edamame? I've been buying the stuff in bulk lately, heating it, salting it, and consuming it as if there might be no tomorrow.

Why is this happening to me now? Is it the "referred pain" of never seeing Junko, who's on another long trip to Japan, and, even when here, is usually across town in her beloved Castro neighborhood?

Or, more likely, have I suddenly become dehydrated, sort of a desiccated old chunk of leather better suited as beef jerky than living, breathing manhood. Or, even worse, am I going through man-o-pause? That, of course, is the dreaded state where a hard-driving, professionally successful writer suddenly starts losing his voice.

Think of it as a potentially fatal form of laryngitis emanating from the fingertips, wired directly from the frontal lobe. If I suddenly have nothing to say, why am I still alive? Perhaps that is what Lucretius asked himself after imbibing that awful love potion. I bet so.

Where I am headed here. Let's back up, slow down time, and consider some fundamentals. Some years ago, several rather wise therapists pointed out to me that a person who is not getting hugged enough each day is a person depressed. Well, at least on days when I see my children or close friends, I get lots of hugs, so that is not likely to be my problem.

So, then there are the facts. The melting of the ice caps. The dire state of animal species, like polar bears, now resorting to cannibalism. The shifting currents and temperature patterns, creating monster storms like Katrina that destroy everything in their wake. Red tides and "dead zones," and the ever-advancing Earth Overshoot date -- all indicators that something ain't right in Brooklyn, not to mention the rest of this planet.

Earlier this year, I was privileged to work with activists on a plan to alleviate world hunger through serious eco-agricultural reform -- a plan that was tepidly embraced by the world's governments.

Now, I am witnessing a political campaign that frightens me to my core. Palin is the scariest candidate of my lifetime -- at least since Barry Goldwater (who I also supported -- so much for my judgment!) I don't care that Palin couldn't handle softball questions from Katie Couric or that she flubs other fine points of policy.

I fear her emotional appeal to all of us Americans. Of course, we all secretly wish to return to a simpler time, a time when we thought we knew what the right course to pursue when we heard it. Today, in a complicated global political economy that overwhelms even the most sophisticated computer models run by macro-economists, no one truly knows what we should do next.

No one. To me, that is truly scary. Perhaps I have a right to be depressed?


Monday, September 29, 2008

Back to the Land?

Every now and again, our national economy appears to be on the verge of collapse, which allows a special kind of fantasy to sprout in the minds of urbanites and suburbanites. It goes like this -- let's find an under-priced piece of land somewhere, just big enough to support ourselves with the food we can grow there -- buy it, and remove ourselves from the ugliness sure to engulf the overpopulated places as resources become ever more scarce.

I've read some great first-person accounts of couples who actually did this as the Great Depression struck, and some rather more idealistic (as opposed to pragmatic) narratives of what hippies tried to do in the '70s.

Bottom line is that a small community of people can definitely still survive off of the land, if they find the right soil in the right climate for the right price. And -- if they are committed to really working together to create enough food to support themselves after living the life of relative luxury in places where you don't really need to know how to grow food, fix machinery, or hoard seed stock for tomorrow.

Thus, I doubt it. We are a people way too far removed from our grandparents' world to survive on our own. Better to print more money, bailout more crooks, elect more demagogues, and console ourselves that none of this is our fault after all. It isn't, right?

If you buy that, I've got a political ticket to sell you. It's called McCain-Palin, and it will certainly take you exactly where you deserve to go!



Sunday, September 28, 2008

Knock, knock knockin' on Heaven's Door

A baker's dozen of the greatest performances of all time...

George Harrison & Bob Dylan

Eric Clapton

Paul McCartney

Bob Dylan

Mick Jagger & friends

Leon Russell

Robert Zimmerman

The Byrds

Bobby, again, in London

Others, with Bob


Everything is Broken

Title Song

The Very Best...and Counting

I've refrained from posting about baseball this season, because I know that few of my regular readers care for the game, but today, on the last day of this season, I feel compelled to write about the most exciting young pitcher in decades -- Tim Lincecum. He has lots of nicknames -- "The Freak," "The Kid," "The Franchise." What he is in reality is a little guy in a game of giants.

Many pitchers are built like quarterbacks, tall and strong and intimidating. Tim Lincecum is a little guy, with a baby face and a crooked smile. But this pitcher has the kind of whip in his arm that you can't teach (as a former little league pitching coach, trust me on this one).

However today's game turns out, which is a Giants vs. Dodgers classic, Lincecum will lead the major leagues in strikeouts. He already has eclipsed every other pitcher, even Juan Marichal in that category since the Giants moved to San Francisco 50 years ago, in 1958.

Anyway, so far, after two innings, Timmy has struck out six Dodgers in the first two innings -- BTW that is exactly how many outs are had in two innings of baseball. Timmy now has 258 "K"'s -- and we won't know for a while how many he can achieve today.

What a fantastic performance! Even the Dodgers are all on the top step of their dugout watching this phenomenal young talent, who has a very low ERA and a record of 17-5 on a team that has only won 71 and lost 90.

From here, I will issue updates: 7th strikeout in the top of the 3rd. But he also is walking batters, giving up some hits, and racking up a high pitch count. So, Timmy's chances for a Cy Young Award probably now are dissipating before our eyes.

Yep. A big double, and the Giants trail 1-0. Two runners in scoring position with one out. Timmy needs to get guys out with something other than strikeout stuff. OK, K#8. Wow, there is #9! The Giants are behind 1-0, but Timmy has struck out 9 in 3 innings! Could this be an all-time performance in the making?

BTW, his Dad is in the stands, apparently for the first time ever since Timmy became a big-leaguer. He now has 11 strikeouts in 5 innings but the Giants are trailing 1-0. Will they lose this for him? I hope not...But he has already thrown 78 pitches in 5 innings, which means he may only have about two innings left.

A big fan favorite, Omar Vizquel, left the game just now, which is probably his exit from baseball, at least here in San Francisco, after a Hall of Fame career, but only a .222 season, and a hit in his last at bat. Nobody has ever played more games at shortstop than Omar. But now that is over.

That's what baseball is all about, for those of you who have not tasted its sweetness. Stars come and stars go. Life can be pretty cool when you are young. Timmy just struck out #12 after six innings.

But the only way Timmy can win the Cy Young Award is if the Giants come back in this game. But fate seems squarely against them, and him. No matter what they do, offensively, they cannot score. How much longer can this kid pitch?

Wow. Bottom of the 7th now, and he has 13 K's! He has thrown 103 pitches. The Dodgers still lead, 1-0. Lincecum is out of the game and the Giants tie the game, 1-1! Timmy finishes the season with 265 K's and a 2.62 ERA. Whether he also ends up at 18-5 hangs in the balance. It is the last of the 7th, and the score is 1-1. Only if the Giants win it right now will he get that coveted 18th win...

Wow, the Giants just took the lead, 2-1!

Two innings left, and if SF prevails, the kid should win the trophy. And the vets are coming through. Two on, no one out in the bottom of the 8th. Let's do this for the kid! Randy Winn, a .300 hitter, just drove in the run. SF 3-1!

beat LA...Beat LA...BEAT LA!!!

Now it is the 9th inning. Can this disappointing team win its final game, and deliver the Cy Young Award to Timmy?

Stay tuned...

Oh oh. The closer, Brian Wilson has allowed the first two batters to get on base. Bang! Line drive. One out. Strikeout! Two outs.

Strike one. Ball one. I feel that the Giants will win this game. Ball two. Ball three. Ugh. Strike two.

Ground out! Timmy finishes 18-5! Congratulations, Tim Lincecum!


Barack Obama: The Way Ahead

There are 11 states left up for grabs, and Obama is ahead in six of them. His leads are in Wisconsin, Minnesota, North Carolina, New Hampshire, Virginia, and Pennsylvania for a total of 73 electoral votes. He is close to closing the deal in Pennsylvania and Wisconsin (31 e-votes).

McCain has a slender edge in five states -- Ohio, Nevada, Florida, Missouri, and Indiana -- for a total of 74 e-votes. Only in Missouri (11) is he ahead by more than the margin of error.

My journalist source in Florida has been telling me the race is close there, and I see now that she is right -- under two percentage points. Both candidates are pulling away in all the other 40 states (plus D.C.) Here is the breakdown: Obama has 228 solid e-votes and McCain has 147. Award both candidates the close states they currently lead in and Obama wins the election, 301-237.

Take away the three states where Obama's lead is the smallest and you end up with a tie, 269-269.

In the popular vote, Obama is 4.8 points ahead according to the definitive RCP average. The Democrats are also well positioned to pick up Congressional seats, so that they will hold at least a 55-45 advantage in the Senate. I do not yet have a solid prediction for the House, but suffice it to say, Nancy Pelosi's position as Speaker is not in danger.

This country needs a new direction, a new leader and a newly united government. The Democrats are poised for an historic triumph. The next day, they wake up to the fact that they will have inherited a bankrupt economy, an over-extended military, and the lowest world esteem America has ever experienced.

As exciting as an election may seem, the real work is after it's over. You couldn't pay me enough to be President. Besides, it is not a job for an old man. It's a job that turns you into an old man.

Obama's brilliant speech of March 27th shows clearly that he is the man for the job. With him in charge, the country will be in good hands.


Harvest Time

It's been the longest political campaign in U.S. history, and it appears to have more deeply involved and excited the population than any in recent history. Despite the fierce partisanship that the party bases adhere to, the choice, as I've often said, is between two moderate centrists, at least at the Presidential level.

Last night, I posted Obama's speech, rather than continue with my tedious "3 E's" series of essays. My intent was to point out that fully six months before the meltdown on Wall Street, Obama was warning that it could happen, and recommending a series of regulatory initiatives that might have prevented it.

Few paid any attention to this speech. Cable TV was too transfixed between the horse race between Clinton and Obama to recognize a brilliant example of statesmanship even when it occurred right before their eyes. Of course, there were no sexy soundbites, no political attacks, no rhetorical excesses.

Rather, the speech is one only a deeply intelligent, thoughtful person could write and deliver. Reading Obama's book, "The Audacity of Hope," is something every citizen should do -- before deciding how to cast your vote. The speech and the book do a better job of capturing this man and how he thinks than all the TV coverage you may have gotten in the past year.

Leadership requires not only a vast knowledge about the revolutionary ways the world has been changing the past decade, it takes some serious intellectual heft. We could do far worse than listen to some of our wisest professors on many, many issues that seem confusing and contradictory.

Why is our economy teetering on the brink of disaster? But it is, as President Bush made clear last week, in what was by far his best speech since 9/11.

Why are gasoline prices so high?

Why are the polar ice caps melting and what does that mean?

Why is there a global food shortage?

Why is a worldwide water shortage developing?

Why is the U.S. so deeply in debt to China?

This list could go on and on, but my point is that this isn't your Grandpa's world any more, and he wouldn't have known what to do about it, even if he was still here. The old ways are outdated, at least most of them.

When virtually everything is changing, simply chanting cliches and chants and no-nothing politics isn't good enough any more. Maybe you would feel safer with a rash "man of action" who more resembles a bull in a China shop at the controls; a man likely to lead us into additional pointless wars, and bankrupt our economy -- just has been done the past eight years.

I suspect a majority of Americans want someone better than that -- calmer, more observant, less impulsive, and much, much more intelligent. What we need is a professor who finished at the head of his class, not yet another playboy loser who finished at the bottom of his class.

If Bush and McCain remind you of your fraternity brothers, that's because that is who they are. Do you really want a frat boy holding your family's fate in his hands, whooping it up, drunk, celebrating a football victory driving down the wrong side of the road?

Think about it. This election is about moving beyond your comfort level -- and by that I mean all of us. We need decisive, moderate, centrist, persuasive leadership. We do not need more pandering, or Dick Cheney-Karl Rove dirt ball criminality at the top. It's time, finally, to put a professor at the head of state.

Our children and their children will thank us, sooner than you might imagine.