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On Cooking That Turkey, Or, What To Do After The Sarah Palin Press Conference November 26, 2008

So it’s more or less 30 hours until Americans enjoy Thanksgiving dinner, and you’re asking yourself the annual question: “Isn’t there a simple way to cook a turkey?”

Well, America, there is…and it does not involve bags, or injections, or even stuffing. No fancy preparations and no fancy equipment are required (with the exception of a large flat pan with metal handles, a carving fork or large tongs, and a food thermometer).

Here’s the cool part: this method for cooking turkeys isn’t just a method for cooking turkeys…and if you follow the directions, you’ll soon discover that not only have you learned a new way to cook a turkey, you’ve learned a new way to cook almost anything that can walk or fly.

We only have 30 hours, so we better get right to it…

Now before we go any farther, let’s relieve some of the Thanksgiving cooking stress with a video that is as topical as it gets.

Some of you may not know about the most unfortunate aftermath of Sarah Palin’s recent effort to pardon a Thanksgiving turkey…and I won’t spoil the fun if you have not yet seen it…but I will tell you that what is attached to the next link may the single funniest—and most disturbing—piece of political video I have ever seen; and somehow Palin remains blithely unaware of the events occurring just over her shoulder the entire time.

Take three minutes, watch the video, have a sip of the first glass of wine of the day…and when that’s done, we’ll get back to work.

So, are you laughing now?
OK then, let’s have some fun.

You may recall my telling you that what we are about to do can be used to cook any number of things; and to make for a better explanation I’m actually going to discuss cooking a boneless chicken breast first, and then we’ll move up to turkeys, using essentially the same technique.

So here’s what we do: turn the oven to 375 F. (190 C.), and turn the stove to either medium high (electric stoves) or nearly as big a flame as the burner will make, if you’re using a gas stove.

Grab the pan and toss it in the oven to heat.

Now what we are going to do is brown the chicken breast on top of the stove, flip it, and then cook it the rest of the way in the oven. The reason we are going to do this is because when you cook on top of the stove, you cook from bottom to top, creating a breast that’s “done” at the bottom but still “rare” at the top (you compensate for this by flipping the breast in the pan, but I have a better plan).

Cooking in the oven exposes the chicken to heat from all sides, creating an item that’s cooked on the outside and into the middle evenly (for a steak: done on the outside, perfectly pink in the middle…yummm).

So now that the pan’s hot, let’s try it: pull out the pan, put it on the hot burner, pour in just a bit of oil…and lay the breast in the pan by putting it in the part of the pan that’s closest to you first, then letting it fall away from you. (This prevents the hot oil from spattering on you…which is always a good thing.)

After a minute or so, you should see the breast browning, and that’s when we flip it over and then just put the pan right in the oven, then shut off the stove.

If you are a fancy high-falutin’ cook, you can tell when it’s done because it will feel like a well-done steak—and if you are a cooking mortal, it’s done when the thermometer tells you the temperature at the thickest part of the breast is 165 F. (75 C.).

The reward for your experimental effort should be an especially juicy breast that is not dried-out and tough. Pretty cool, eh?

“My cooking is so bad my kids thought Thanksgiving was to commemorate Pearl Harbor”

Phyllis Diller

So how do we scale this process up to a turkey?

It’s actually really simple.

We need a substantially larger pan (I have a 14” restaurant-style sauté pan that I use for this application), and any metal pan with a reasonably thick bottom, relatively shallow sides (no saucepans or kettles), and heat-resistant handle(s) should do just nicely.

We also need to make a temperature adjustment.

As we move into larger items, we lower the oven’s temperature. We do this because we don’t want to overcook the outside before the inside is done. Instead of 375 F. (which is great for chicken breasts and steaks), we would lower the oven to 350 F. (175 C.) for something like a boneless pork loin or a small roast of beef or a whole chicken, and we would go down to 325 F. (165 C.) for something as large as our turkey.

For food safety reasons, we don’t want to use lower temperatures.

It is imperative that you raise the internal temperature of anything you cook from 40 F. (4 C.) to 140 F. (60 C.) in under two hours to avoid foodborne illness…and cooking turkeys at 275 F. (135 C.), as some suggest, is just a bit too risky for my taste.

Now a few words about measuring temperature in a bird.

Unlike “walking” meats, birds have hollow bones that do not transmit heat well. Therefore you do not want the tip of your thermometer touching—or very close to—bone when checking your turkey. (Beef, and the other “walking” animals, are the exact opposite. Their heavier bones transmit heat quite well, and the meat closest to the bone will often be the first meat below the surface to be fully cooked on a large roast of beef.)

Instead, use a location deep into the breast, away from bones…and as with all birds, a 165 F. (75 C.) internal temperature is the goal. And as with all birds, that temperature will give you a juicy, not-dried-out, result.

We are not going to stuff our bird.

This is also for food safety reasons.
The stuffing makes it take even longer to raise that turkey’s internal temperature (not to mention the stuffing’s)…and that’s a bad thing.

Bake the stuffing in its own pan…do not cook it in the bird.
Trust me on this.

There is no need to “prepare” the turkey—no rubs, no flouring the skin, nothing.
As an experiment I did a sea salt “rub” about 10 days ago on a turkey breast…and to be honest, all it did was make the skin salty.

OK, so our big pan is in the oven, getting hot…and the stove is on that same setting we used for the chicken breast…and now we take the pan, put it on the stove—and in goes the turkey, breast side down (remember, place it in the pan moving away from you to avoid splashing oil, just as with anything else you put in a pan with oil…).

You’ll have to brown one side at a time…and your fork or tongs (BBQ tools work if you don’t have big kitchen tongs or a carving fork…) can support the turkey so you don’t have to hold on to it.

It’s gonna splatter a bit (the less water, the better), but don’t be scared…and after a minute or so one side will be nicely browning, so do the other side next, and then flip the whole thing breast side up, and put the pan in the oven.

Except for taking the bird’s temperature from time to time (again, 165 F., or 75 C. internal temperature) and taking it out when it’s done, you are completely finished with the work on this project.

In fact, it’s probably about time for that second glass of wine.

So let’s take a moment and summarize.

Hot oven, hot stove, hot pan, put object to be cooked face down in pan on the stove, don’t splatter yourself, get it brown, flip it, put it in the oven, have a second glass of wine, remove from oven when done.

And just like they always tell you at the Fair: “It’s just that easy”.

So have a great day, don’t stress over the cooking…and remember, this technique works great on anything from a partridge to a steamship round.

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On The Need To Clear The Musical Desk, Or, Are You In New York This Sunday? November 21, 2008

The past six weeks have seen a narrowing of focus here at the blog as we concentrated first on the election, and more recently on the events unfolding in Egyptian politics.

As often happens when covering these major events, we have an abundance of stories that are piling up…and deserve our attention…and in this case, it’s a story that will take us far from the usual political real estate upon which we would normally slog.

It’s my happy duty, instead, to point you toward one of my favorite musicians…and in the course of doing that, to an event series that is also well worth your time…and in the course of doing that, to a bar that is working hard, every day, to fulfill your live music needs—and by an even happier coincidence, the three intersect this Sunday.

I’m a sucker for a chanteuse, I admit, be it Billie Holiday, or k.d. lang, or even Grace Jones…and I’m even more of a sucker for that Ralph Sharon sound—the stand-up bass, the piano, brushes, a nice sax solo…with a strong voice out front.

The two meet in Madeleine Peyroux.

She’s a bit of an odd duck—she’s born in Georgia, but she moved to Paris as a teenager (with her mother the French teacher) and took to the streets…literally…to find her musical fortune, which led to her playing with bands such as the Riverboat Shufflers and the Lost Wandering Blues and Jazz Band, as NPR tells us.

She has a bit of an odd style as well: she strays from French-language classics such as “La Vie En Rose” or “J’ai Deux Amours” to “street jazz” songs like “Was I?” to unexpected “lounge jazz” remakes of songs like “Walkin’ After Midnight” (with James Carter on the saxophone…and thanks to ksingh for the correction) or Harry Nilsson’s “Everybody’s Talkin’” or “Smile” to the Ralph Sharon/Tony Bennett style in, for example, “Muddy Water” or “The Summer Wind”, a song made famous by Frank Sinatra almost half a century ago.

She also has a pop flavor to her music, with songs like “Lonesome Road” (which, I swear, has a bit of Bob Wills-like Texas swing guitar embedded in there…) or “I’m All Right” or “California Rain” being perfect examples of that pop sound.

(She has a great Web site as well, and these songs can all be heard there…and more besides…so go and enjoy, Musical Travelers…)

Over the course of the past dozen years she has released three of her own albums: “Dreamland”, “Careless Love” and, most recently, “Half the Perfect World”…but there is a really, really nice “hidden” album as well…a project she did with William Galison and Carly Simon—Got You On My Mind.

This is the stuff you listen to on a rainy afternoon…or sitting by the fireplace…or in the car, when it’s all over and you have had just about enough for one day.

Music was my refuge. I could crawl into the space between the notes and curl my back to loneliness.

–Maya Angelou, Gather Together in My Name

So let’s say, just for the heck of it, that you’ve been hanging around Tompkins Square Park (“Come for Charlie Parker’s House…stay for the dime bags!”), and it’s getting dark…and, just like Homer Simpson, you’re afraid of the C.H.U.Ds.

What’s a music lover to do?

Well, as it happens, you’re only about 10 blocks from a refuge: the Rockwood Music Hall, which offers somewhere between six and eight bands every night for your dining and dancing pleasure. (In truth, that’s a stretch. It’s not a restaurant…and it’s way too small for a Conga line…but in a hunger emergency, the Sugar Café is just a few steps away…or you could really go nuts and hit Russ & Daughters, which is just around the corner.)

Now if the timing was just right, like, every second Sunday of the month at 6:00 PM (ish), you would see Danielle Gasparro taking the stage to interview another musician for her “Second Sundays at Rockwood Music Hall” series.

The shows combine a lengthy conversation with live performance (not unlike Piano Jazz), and have recently included appearances by Casey Shea, Paul Brill, and, by way of Denmark, Greenland, Nashville…and Washington State, Simon Lynge.

You can get a feel for the thing by visiting Gasparro’s MySpace blog and listening to all the archived events…and for an extra treat, each artist has a playlist of what music interests them.

So here’s the part where the whole story comes together: this Sunday (doors open at 6:00, but get there early!) Madeleine Peyroux and Second Sundays collide at the Rockwood—and it should be awfully good.

“There are two kinds of music; German music and bad music.”

H.L. Mencken

And here’s the best part: there’s no cover.
Ok, that’s not actually the best part. The really best part is that, depending on who you ask, the capacity of the room is somewhere between 30 and 75 people.

The tip bucket will be passed, with the money going to right to Peyroux, so you can see a great show, learn about music and a great musician—and directly support that musician without the filters of a record company or promoters. (All the details can be found at the Second Sundays site.)

So that’s today’s story: this Sunday the most excellent Madeleine Peyroux will be at the most excellent Rockwood Music Hall for another installment of Danielle Gasparro’s most excellent “Second Sundays” series….and you can go see the show for the same price you paid to go see Tropic Thunder with the obligatory popcorn tub and tankard of Coke.

Trust me, it will be money better spent.

AUTHOR’S NOTE: I’m not connected with any of this personally or financially; and no music industry representatives have been hanging around doing lines with me or taking me to VIP rooms or anything like that….mostly because I’m nowhere near that cool or interesting. Instead, this is an actual unsolicited endorsement. So there you go.

 

On The View From Egypt, Part Three, Or, Could Big Trouble Create A “Biden Challenge” ? November 17, 2008

I have been telling a serialized story about Egyptian politics recently, and my friend noemie maxwell, over at the Washblog, left a comment that suggested to me that I had “buried the lead” during the Part One and Part Two conversations.

We’ve been hinting at Joe Biden’s comments about inevitable challenges to the incoming Obama Administration, as well as describing political repression and the Constitutionalization of a “forever” political majority…but what we haven’t been talking about is why all of this, specifically, is important to US interests—and what a problem Big Trouble in Egypt could be for a new Administration.

Today, that’s an oversight we’re going to fix….and as a result, we won’t be resolving the cliffhanger that ended Part Two until Part Four.

So hop in the car, Gentle Reader, because we have a long ride ahead.

Let’s get this conversation started by answering the title question…why does Egypt pose such a significant potential challenge for US foreign policy?

The Middle East and its neighbors, we all know, represent the greatest foreign policy challenge we face today—and Egypt is not only adjacent to everything in the Middle East, they’re the first Arab country to have made a kind of peace with Israel.

The Gaza Strip is one half of what could eventually become Palestine…and it is surrounded on three sides by Israel—and on the other by Egypt.

The Suez Canal is entirely within Egypt. If access to the Canal were impeded, oil shipments from Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Iraq would have to travel entirely around Africa…as well as trade from places such as Indonesia, India, and China heading to the Mediterranean and beyond that, to Northern Europe and the East Coast of North America. The Canal, and the trade it supports, has been so important for so long that the British considered it the “jugular vein” of their Empire—in 1892.

(Here’s a fun fact: it is estimated that 120,000 Egyptian forced laborers died during the construction of the Canal.)

We have an extremely close relationship with Egypt as it relates to our “War on Terror”…and they are very important to our very ugly “rendition” program:

“”If you want a serious interrogation, you send a prisoner to Jordan. If you want them to be tortured, you send them to Syria. If you want someone to disappear-never to see them again-you send them to Egypt.”

–Ex-CIA agent Bob Baer, quoted in Stephen Gray’sThe New Statesman” article “America’s Gulag”

We send lots of people to be interrogated, tortured, and disappeared all over the world—and lots of them end up in Egypt; delivered by our CIA to their SSI (State Security Investigations). How many exactly? No one is telling—and it’s possible that no one actually knows.

One thing we do know: we have been following our longtime pattern of supporting a “repressive strongman” in Egypt, just as we have in so many other countries—and that often comes back to bite us very hard (see: Iran).

Lazoghli Square.

The name conjures up such happy memories…if you were one of those who were married at the Notary Public’s Office down at the ol’ Ministry of Justice offices located on the Square.

If you were one of those who were tortured to death by SSI, in the very same building…well, those memories aren’t so happy.

And it is those memories that we will have to deal with should President Hosni Mubarak and his National Democratic Party lose their hold on power suddenly—and it is those memories that have the potential to make things very bad for the US, not just for bilateral relations, but for our relations across the Islamic world.

How bad might it get?

You may recall from our last conversation that essentially the only political opposition that is not the Muslim Brotherhood is the Al-Ghad Party…and you may recall from our last conversation that Ayman Nour, Al-Ghad’s 2005 and 2008 Presidential candidate (and the subject of the cliffhanger from the last story), has been in and out of prison lately.

The de facto current leader of the Al-Ghad Party, Wa’el Nawara, offered this assessment of the potential problems ahead in an email I received just last evening:

Egypt is key to the region’s stability and development … the situation is even more critical than Iran …

If Egypt falls … the entire Middle East and North Africa fall – from Pakistan to Morocco – into chaos, or into the hands of extremists or back to the extremists or back to the age of one-military-coup-every-six-months.

With the eradication of all moderate opposition and the elimination of any real political process, the political situation in Egypt is so uncertain and fragile to the extent that no one knows what happens when Mubarak leaves. Building a political process and tolerating real secular opposition is an insurance policy for stability which the Egyptian regime has persistently failed to subscribe to.

And therein lies the answer to today’s question.

Two things are required to turn Egypt into a foreign policy challenge for the new Administration: there has to be the potential for great damage to peace and stability if Big Trouble should come…and there should be some indication that Big Trouble might be on the way, sooner rather than later.

If Wa’el Nawara is to be believed, the potential for great damage is definitely there…so now what we need to know is whether Big Trouble might really be on the way, sooner rather than later.

Well, folks, I believe it may be…but that will be the second cliffhanger we will resolve in Part Four of this story.

Since we’re running a bit long, and I’m trying to avoid 4,000 word stories, we’ll end today’s conversation with a final thought from Wa’el Nawara:

I just hope that the new US Administration will be able to develop rapport and in fact build some leverage … in the relationship with Egypt … soft leverage … based on partnership and mutual interests … such that this leverage can be used to talk the regime into affecting much-needed political reform and democratic transformation. This is the only way to insure long-term stability in Egypt and the Region.

 

On The View From Egypt, Part Two, Or, If You Can’t Beat ‘Em, Lock ‘Em  Up   November 15, 2008

Joe the Biden famously warned us that the new President will be tested by a foreign policy challenge–and most of us assumed that challenge would come from somewhere like Pakistan, Afghanistan…or Russia.

New developments in the Middle East are suggesting that the challenge might come from an entirely different direction.

It’s quite a story we’ve been telling–and today’s installment involves massive electoral manipulation, intimidation, imprisonment… and a recanting witness who dies in his jail cell.

Hop on board the international train, Gentle Reader, and we’ll see what we can learn about a country that is hardly an enemy…that is, in fact, such an ally that they have been willing to torture for us.

As the title notes, this is Part Two of a larger story, so let’s recap:

The Arab Republic of Egypt has been ruled by various versions of one political party more or less forever. That political party is today known as the National Democratic Party (NDP); and at its head is Egypt’s President (since 1981), Hosni Mubarak.

Egypt’s Constitution is written so as to ensure the perpetual dominance of the NDP. For example, the Government is allowed to license political parties…and may revoke that license if a Party violates the law.

Egypt’s Constitution says that “national unity” is the principle to which politics in the Republic shall adhere, which means any political party that advocates any change in the way the NDP is running things is potentially guilty of a violation of law.

The recap complete, let’s move on to new business.

There are other political groups in Egypt besides the NDP, but the opposition is kept very tightly controlled.

One opposition group that exists, but really doesn’t is Al-Ikhwan Al-Muslimeen (in English, the Muslim Brotherhood).

The group has been officially banned in Egypt, but individuals “unofficially” supporting the Brotherhood have run successfully for Parliament. (In 2005, the unofficial Brotherhood candidates won 20% of Parliamentary seats.)

It is said that Mr. Mubarak allows the presence of the Brotherhood, partly to convince Americans that he and the NDP represent the only option other than Radical Islamism…and partly because his own citizens support elements of the Brotherhood’s platform.

Not unlike other Islamist political organizations, the Brotherhood also provides social services in ways the Government does not, which has also strongly connected the group to Egyptian citizens.

Some report that the Brotherhood is associated with extremists, others report that the Brotherhood has in recent decades chosen a moderate path, seeking to impose Shari’a Law through elections and other political means. It is likely that both statements are, to some degree, correct.

Partly because the Government has tolerated the Brotherhood–and partly because the Brotherhood has become powerful enough to demand it–Islamists have gained authority as de facto cultural rulemakers; which, ironically, has led to the Brotherhood acquiring the very political influence Mr. Mubarak’s Government had hoped to avoid giving away.

In an attempt to reduce that influence, there have been various crackdowns on the group….meaning that from time to time the Mubahath el-Dawla (Egyptian State Security) “rounds up the usual suspects” for a bit of intimidation, beating, and torture…with jail time applied as needed.

Other means are also used: as an example, virtually the entire slate of candidates that hoped to run as “Independent” candidates (but were widely perceived as being associated with the Brotherhood) were disqualified by the Government, with only 20 being allowed to run for the 52,000 positions available in the April 2008 elections. (These were the same candidates that had won 20% of the seats in Parliament, and it was expected that they would also do well in the local elections.)

The Brotherhood, despite the best efforts of the Government, is not the only opposition.

There have been a variety of efforts over the years to mount other “reform” candidacies; and today Egypt’s most successful reformer outside the Brotherhood is Ayman Nour.

Of course, in Egyptian politics, success is relative.

Nour, an attorney by trade, was elected to Parliament, but his first major success came just three months after he formed the El-Ghad (Tomorrow) Party in an effort to put himself in contention for Mr. Mubarak’s job in the 2005 Presidential election…when he was stripped of his Parliamentary immunity, arrested, tossed into prison, and charged with conspiring to forge some of the signatures that were on his nominating petitions.

Additional success came in the form of the Party’s newspaper being banned the day before it was scheduled to hit the newsstands.

In the subsequent trial, monitored by Human Rights Watch, the State was able to present co-defendants who admitted their own culpability in the forging of signatures, and who then named Nour as the group’s ringleader. Nour denied having ever met five of his six alleged co-conspirators.

It was alleged by Nour’s defense that Egyptian State Security had “assisted” the co-defendants with their recollection of events—and in fact, one of the co-defendants, Ayman Isma’il Hassan, recanted his testimony in open court, claiming that he was coerced into his confession.

The State Department offered this comment on December 24, 2005:

The United States is troubled by the Egyptian court decision convicting civil reformer and former presidential candidate Ayman Nour. Mr. Nour’s trial has been marred by irregularities and inconsistencies, and has failed to meet the international standards of transparency and respect for rule of law that the Egyptian Government has publicly espoused.

Mr. Nour’s detention and sentencing raise serious concerns about the path of political reform and democracy in Egypt, and is inconsistent with the Egyptian Government’s professed commitment to increased political openness and dialogue within Egyptian society.

We note reports that Ayman Nour’s health appears to be deteriorating, and we urge the Egyptian Government to consider his humanitarian release.

The United States and the international community have been following with concern the Government of Egypt’s handling of Ayman Nour’s case. We will continue to press for his release.

Nour received a five year sentence and was sent to the Mazra’at Tura Prison.

As it turns out, Hassan, the recanting witness, did not survive the events of the trial and his own five year sentence that followed: it is reported that he was found by his three cellmates hanged in his prison cell when they awoke one morning in September 2007.

I love a good cliffhanger…especially when they are real.

With that in mind, this is where we stop for today—but here’s what you need to know:

Nour’s story, despite the intimidation and imprisonment, is far from over.
The intimidation and imprisonment (courtesy of a Government we strongly support) isn’t over, either.

The next time we meet, there’s a lot more story to tell: the Internet becomes the opposition’s most dangerous weapon, the Government responds with “spontaneous demonstrations” and arson…and we discover that in Mr. Mubarak’s Egypt, bloggers are such a threat to public order that they are now themselves targets for torture.

 

On The New President, Or, The World Doesn’t Change All In One Day November 12, 2008

Filed under: Uncategorized — fakeconsultant @ 7:43 am
Tags: , , ,

Those who follow this space closely will know that we, from time to time, scout around and see what the other members of my blogging community are up to.

The “Blogpower” bloggers are primarily based in the UK, but others are located in the US, Canada, Australia, Italy…and even the Sudan.

We’ll see how they reacted to the US elections—and we’ll discover that while many are happy, it’s not all strawberries and cream out there.

We’ll meet the happy, we’ll meet the silly—and we’ll meet the not-so-very-happy as well.

So with that said, let’s head over to the UK, shall we?

“When as the rye reach to the chin,
And chopcherry, chopcherry, ripe within,
Strawberties swimming in the cream,
And schoolboys playing in the stream…”

–George Peele, “The Old Wives Tale

Not quite 100 miles north of London, and roughly 100 miles west of Amsterdam lies a whole bunch of lovely farm country, which includes Norfolk, where the “Norfolk Blogger” is one of the happy. No longer will the USA seem as though we are “putting two fingers up to the world”, we are told (for the benefit of Americans, the “peace sign” is not always seen as peaceful…); and in fact, it’s “Now for America to become the “good guys” again”, as the blog’s title reminds us.

Our friend Ellee Seymour, besides being one of the happy, is also the one who is checking up on her fellow bloggers’ predictive skills, as she reviews who was more right about the outcome, and those who were, shall we say, not exactly right at all.

There is advice to be had, as well. Matt Wardman, over at the “Wardman Wire” cautions us that “landslide” talk is helping no one. (Be sure to follow the comment thread for a most informative list that shows the margins of victory for every Presidential election since 1900.)

Thunder Dragon notes the problem of Presidential lame dickitude and the apparent pointlessness of the G20 economic summit–unless Obama attends.

Some offered advice just before the election, as well. Our friend Hercules presented cautions that seem to have also been well represented in the official John McCain message…and Ruthie Zaftig suggested people like Hercules should basically get over it.

And on a completely different subject “The Tangled Rope” blog reminds us that the Fifth Annual Worldwide Admire Your Genitals Day was celebrated November 6th…

More analysis: “A Conservative’s Blog” is worried about possible protectionist tendencies from an Obama Administration, “The People’s Republic of Birmingham” hopes that expectations are not impossibly high, and Andrew Allison reminds us that voting against Obama is not a sign of racism…even as he expresses his appreciation that the US has elected a President “…who can string a few words together in grammatical English…”

Analysis of the day: the “Capitalists @ Work” blog compares the 2008 and the 1860 Presidential election maps, creating some serious electoral déjà vu…and suggesting the possibility of “Republican dreams gone with the wind”.

“It must be some measure of the catastrophic decline in Australian cricket that there are blokes in the squad these days who have not even published an autobiography, let alone a barbecue cookbook.”

John Huxley, “The Sydney Morning Herald”, Nov 10, 2008

Australia’s “Adelaide Green Porridge Cafe” offers Obama two llamas and three bananas, along with the observation that Obama wasn’t the only world leader who acceded to power this past week.

Vancouver, BC’s “The Conscious Earth” reminds us that political apathy is often related to the question of who’s running…

Returning to the UK…the Emperor Camillus, the conquest of the Etruscans, and the never-ending question of how a Senate deals with a fiscal windfall are questions addressed by the most excellent “Westminster Wisdom” blog.

Tuscan Tony, the master of mixing the moderately naughty with Conservative politics, brings us the truly important electoral results: Whirl of Change has defeated Straight Talk Crunch in the Baskin-Robbins “Flavor Debate ’08!”, marking the sixth and seventh times politically inspired flavors have been tried at the ol’ 31 Flavors.

There is nothing more dreadful than the habit of doubt. Doubt separates people. It is a poison that disintegrates friendships and breaks up pleasant relations. It is a thorn that irritates and hurts; it is a sword that kills.

Gautam Buddha

I am myself forever guilty of this habit…and it is fair to say that I would not be here today if it were not for my habit of doubt—and there are two members of my community who have substantial doubts about this new President.

From “The Two Wolves” come concerns that the US has become a nation that votes based on race…and from the “Pub Philosopher” we are asked, basically, just how happy should liberals really feel if Obama is elected and California passes Proposition 8 on the same day?

We’re almost at the end, and since we are talking about doubt I wanted to bring to your attention a blog from the Sudan that is not a part of our Blogpower community, “Soul Searching”; who sees the election’s demonizing of “Muslim” Obama as a setback for Arab-Americans.

The final blog: my own. I challenged myself to dress Sarah Palin in the finest of clothes, from Saks’ and Neiman’s no less; and to do it for a mere $43,000—2/3 off the Republican National Committee’s expenses.

The point: could you trust an Administration to spend $150 billion if they couldn’t handle $150,000? Two stories full of Oscar de la Renta and Miu Miu later, not only did we do it, we did it under budget.

So there you go…we learn a bit about what folks are thinking, we get a few cautions, and we are reminded that this is our chance to redeem ourselves…if we don’t screw it up.

 

On The New President, Or, The World Doesn’t Change All In One Day

Filed under: Blogpower,World Reaction — fakeconsultant @ 7:26 am
Tags: , , ,

Those who follow this space closely will know that we, from time to time, scout around and see what the other members of my blogging community are up to.

The “Blogpower” bloggers are primarily based in the UK, but others are located in the US, Canada, Australia, Italy…and even the Sudan.

We’ll see how they reacted to the US elections—and we’ll discover that while many are happy, it’s not all strawberries and cream out there.

We’ll meet the happy, we’ll meet the silly—and we’ll meet the not-so-very-happy as well.

So with that said, let’s head over to the UK, shall we?

<blockquote>”When as the rye reach to the chin,
And chopcherry, chopcherry, ripe within,
Strawberties swimming in the cream,
And schoolboys playing in the stream…”

–George Peele, “<a href=”http://books.google.com/books?id=EF8LAAAAIAAJ&dq=peele,+The+Old+Wives+Tale&printsec=frontcover&source=bl&ots=Wi6Y4s7K4p&sig=WdxxpFQbCHf6hB2HavvrmCuO_SQ&hl=en&sa=X&oi=book_result&resnum=3&ct=result”><em>The Old Wives Tale</em></a>” </blockquote>

Not quite 100 miles north of London, and roughly 100 miles west of Amsterdam lies a whole bunch of lovely farm country, which includes Norfolk, where the <a href=”http://norfolkblogger.blogspot.com/2008/11/now-for-america-to-beccome-good-guys.html”><em>”Norfolk Blogger”</em></a> is one of the happy. No longer will the USA seem as though we are “putting two fingers up to the world”, we are told (for the benefit of Americans, the “peace sign” is not always seen as peaceful…); and in fact, it’s “Now for America to become the “good guys” again”, as the blog’s title reminds us.

Our friend Ellee Seymour, besides being one of the happy, is also the one who is checking up on her fellow bloggers’ <a href=”http://elleeseymour.com/2008/10/31/will-obama-be-americas-first-black-president/”>predictive skills</a>, as she reviews who was more right about the outcome, and those who were, shall we say, not exactly right at all.

There is advice to be had, as well. Matt Wardman, over at the <a href=”http://www.mattwardman.com/blog/2008/11/06/us-presidential-election-talk-about-landslides-does-not-help-anyone-2/”><em>“Wardman Wire”</em></a> cautions us that “landslide” talk is helping no one. (Be sure to follow the comment thread for a most informative list that shows the margins of victory for every Presidential election since 1900.)

Thunder Dragon <a href=”http://thethunderdragon.co.uk/2008/11/g20-obama.html”>notes</a&gt; the problem of Presidential lame dickitude and the apparent pointlessness of the G20 <a href=”http://www.guardian.co.uk/business/feedarticle/8004989″>economic summit</a>–unless Obama attends.

Some offered advice just before the election, as well. Our friend <a href=”http://hercules-28704.blogspot.com/2008/11/for-all-undecideds-out-there.html”>Hercules</a&gt; presented cautions that seem to have also been well represented in the official John McCain message…and Ruthie Zaftig <a href=”http://ruthie-zaftig.blogspot.com/2008/10/come-on-now.html”>suggested</a&gt; people like Hercules should basically get over it.

And on a completely different subject <em>“The Tangled Rope”</em> blog reminds us that the Fifth Annual Worldwide Admire Your Genitals Day was <a href=”http://atangledrope.blogspot.com/2008/11/from-archive-worldwide-admire-your-own.html”>celebrated</a&gt; November 6th…

More analysis: <em>“A Conservative’s Blog”</em> is worried about possible <a href=”http://aconservatives.blogspot.com/2008/11/congratulations-to-senator-barack-obama.html”>protectionist</a&gt; tendencies from an Obama Administration, <em>“The People’s Republic of Birmingham”</em> hopes that expectations are not <a href=”http://brummierepublic.blogspot.com/2008/11/yes-we-can.html”>impossibly high</a>, and Andrew Allison reminds us that voting against Obama is not a sign of racism…even as he expresses his <a href=”http://andrew-allison.blogspot.com/2008/11/president-elect-barack-obama-some.html”>appreciation</a&gt; that the US has elected a President “…who can string a few words together in grammatical English…”

Analysis of the day: the <em>“Capitalists @ Work”</em> blog <a href=”http://cityunslicker.blogspot.com/2008/11/republican-dreams-gone-with-wind.html”>compares </a>the 2008 and the 1860 Presidential election maps, creating some serious electoral <em>déjà vu</em>…and suggesting the possibility of “Republican dreams gone with the wind”.

<blockquote>”It must be some measure of the catastrophic decline in Australian cricket that there are blokes in the squad these days who have not even published an autobiography, let alone a barbecue cookbook.”

–<a href=”http://www.baskinrobbins.com/Spotlight/Elections.aspx”>John Huxley</a>, <em>“The Sydney Morning Herald”</em>, Nov 10, 2008</blockquote>

Australia’s <em>“Adelaide Green Porridge Cafe”</em> <a href=”http://adelaidegreenporridgecafe.blogspot.com/2008/11/two-llamas-and-three-bananas-for-obama.html”>offers</a&gt; Obama two llamas and three bananas, along with the observation that Obama wasn’t the <a href=”http://adelaidegreenporridgecafe.blogspot.com/2008/11/newest-world-leader-young-handsome.html”>only</a&gt; world leader who acceded to power this past week.

Vancouver, BC’s <em>“The Conscious Earth”</em> <a href=”http://consciousearth.blogspot.com/2008/11/us-election-day.html”>reminds</a&gt; us that political apathy is often related to the question of who’s running…

Returning to the UK…the Emperor Camillus, the conquest of the Etruscans, and the never-ending question of how a Senate deals with a fiscal windfall are questions addressed by the most excellent <em><a href=”http://gracchii.blogspot.com/2008/11/uses-of-fiscal-bonus.html”>“Westminster Wisdom”</a></em> blog.

Tuscan Tony, the master of <a href=”http://tuscantony.blogspot.com/2008/11/obama-declared-winner.html”>mixing</a&gt; the moderately naughty with Conservative politics, brings us the truly important electoral results: Whirl of Change has defeated Straight Talk Crunch in the Baskin-Robbins “Flavor Debate ’08!”, marking the sixth and seventh times politically inspired flavors have been <a href=”http://www.baskinrobbins.com/IceCream/thedeepfreeze.aspx”>tried</a&gt; at the ol’ 31 Flavors.

<blockquote>There is nothing more dreadful than the habit of doubt. Doubt separates people. It is a poison that disintegrates friendships and breaks up pleasant relations. It is a thorn that irritates and hurts; it is a sword that kills.

–<a href=”http://www.nepalitimes.com.np/issue/2006/05/12/Culture/11814″>Gautam Buddha</a> </blockquote>

I am myself forever guilty of this habit…and it is fair to say that I would not be here today if it were not for my habit of doubt—and there are two members of my community who have substantial doubts about this new President.

From <a href=”http://blog.twowolves.co.uk/2008/11/05/a-depressing-election/”><em>“The Two Wolves”</em></a> come concerns that the US has become a nation that votes based on race…and from the <em><a href=”http://pubphilosopher.blogs.com/pub_philosopher/2008/11/is-obamas-victory-a-false-dawn-for-american-liberals.html?cid=138605638#comments”>“Pub Philosopher”</a></em> we are asked, basically, just how happy should liberals really feel if Obama is elected and California passes Proposition 8 on the same day?

We’re almost at the end, and since we are talking about doubt I wanted to bring to your attention a blog from the Sudan that is not a part of our Blogpower community, <em>“Soul Searching”</em>; who <a href=”http://africansoulsearcher.blogspot.com/2008/11/arab-and-muslim-americans.html”>sees </a>the election’s demonizing of “Muslim” Obama as a setback for Arab-Americans.

The final blog: my own. I challenged myself to dress Sarah Palin in the finest of clothes, from Saks’ and Neiman’s no less; and to do it for a mere $43,000—2/3 off the Republican National Committee’s expenses.

The point: could you trust an Administration to spend $150 billion if they couldn’t handle $150,000? Two stories full of <a href=”http://fakeconsultant.blogspot.com/2008/10/on-dressing-for-success-part-one-or-how.html”>Oscar de la Renta</a> and <a href=”http://fakeconsultant.blogspot.com/2008/10/on-dressing-for-success-part-two-or-we.html”>Miu Miu</a> later, not only did we do it, we did it <em>under budget</em>.

So there you go…we learn a bit about what folks are thinking, we get a few cautions, and we are reminded that this is our chance to redeem ourselves…if we don’t screw it up.

 

It’s All Over, And Just Beginning, Or, Why The Campaign Never Ends November 4, 2008

It is once again time to play “piano bar” here at the ole’ blog and turn a reader question into a story…and our “request” today comes from our friend <a href=”http://nobodyimportant-jmb.blogspot.com/”>jmb</a&gt; who is lucky enough to be living in Vancouver, British Columbia.

She wonders why American politics is now in permanent campaign mode. She comes from a Canadian tradition of limited campaign periods, and it seems awfully strange to her that we are already thinking about 2010, 2012, and 2016 before 2008 is even decided.

Matter of fact, it seems strange to a lot of us in the US as well.

Why does it happen?
Can it be fixed?
What can we learn from 2008?

Those are the questions we’ll take on today…and with time especially short today, we need to get right to work.

In order to really get at the answers to these questions, we need to consider some of the fundamental differences between the political system in the US and Parliamentary systems, such as the one in place in Canada.

Right off the bat, Canadian Federal elections have not occurred on a regular schedule, as they do in the US (although that is <a href=”http://www.cbc.ca/canada/story/2007/05/02/fixed-elections.html”>about to change</a>). Beyond that, <a href=”http://www.parl.gc.ca/information/library/prbpubs/bp437-e.htm#candidacy”>Canadian law</a> limits access to airtime for political campaign advertising, including advertising by third parties. Canadian law also creates defined campaign “seasons” during which electioneering can occur.

In the US, all Members of the House of Representatives are elected every two years; Senators, every six years (one-third are elected every two years). The President and State Governors are elected to four-year terms.

As a result, elections will occur at least every two years in the US.

Because the Canadian Prime Minister is not chosen by public vote, and Canadian Senators are appointed, there is only one federally elected position, the Member of Parliament.

The very essence of what we’re campaigning for is much different as well.

In Canada, and other similar countries, the goal of the Liberal Party at election time is to elect a majority of the members of Parliament from their Party (or to become the plurality, and then form a coalition Government), who will then choose a Prime Minister from among their Members. The Prime Minister runs the Executive functions of these Governments.

Every other Party in the country is trying to do the same thing at the same time.

In the US the goal of the Parties is to elect enough Members of Congress to have majorities in both Houses, so as to advance legislation…but they cannot choose who will run the Executive Branch. In some election cycles, the People also have to elect a President—and as the Obama versus Clinton battle demonstrates, the winner of that contest might not be the Party Establishment’s choice.

In the US it is common for the Presidency and the Congress to be controlled by different Parties (as it is today)—and it is also possible for the House to be controlled by one Party, and the Senate another. These situations would not occur in a Parliamentary system like Canada’s.

In some US States (California, Oregon, and Washington are three quick examples), the People may bypass the Legislature and enact <a href=”http://www.secstate.wa.gov/elections/initiatives/text/i1000.pdf”>laws</a&gt; upon their own authority through the initiative process—but doing that requires elections, as we have to vote on the various proposals. (Voters in the Canadian Province of British Columbia <a href=”http://www.elections.bc.ca/index.php/referenda-recall-initiative/”>also</a&gt; have access to the initiative process.)

All that having been said, let’s start answering some questions:

<blockquote>Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

–The <a href=”http://www.law.cornell.edu/constitution/constitution.billofrights.html#amendmenti”>First Amendment</a> to the US Constitution</blockquote>

Part of the reason the US has moved into a permanent campaign mode is because the First Amendment absolutely prevents any effort to limit campaign periods.

Political speech, particularly that offered to advance or oppose a candidacy or issue, is the <a href=”http://www.law.duke.edu/journals/dltr/articles/2003dltr0001.html”>freest</a&gt; of speech, and offered the greatest degree of protection under First Amendment doctrine as applied by the United States Supreme Court over the years.

<blockquote>Indeed, the speech in which Mrs. McIntyre engaged–handing out leaflets in the advocacy of a politically controversial viewpoint–is the essence of First Amendment expression… No form of speech is entitled to greater constitutional protection than Mrs. McIntyre’s.

–<em><a href=”http://supct.law.cornell.edu/supct/html/93-986.ZO.html”>McIntyre v. Ohio Elections Commission</a></em>, 514 U.S. 334 (1995)</blockquote>

The Supreme Court has ruled that restricting the amount that may be raised and spent by a campaign is unconstitutional (see <a href=”http://supreme.justia.com/us/424/1/case.html”><em>Buckley v. Valeo</em></a>, 424 U. S. 1 (1976) for more details); this is because spending to advance a candidacy or issue by a campaign is considered protected political speech.

Spending your own money to advance <a href=”http://www.gothamgazette.com/article/Voting/20010401/17/737″>your own</a> candidacy is offered the same protections—but limiting the amount of money that can be contributed by an individual to the campaign of another is permitted on the theory that reducing the corruptive effect of large donations on the political process is a government interest that outweighs the liberty interest of allowing those large donations.

(“Corporate persons” do not have the same First Amendment protections as actual people, and there are what appear to be constitutionally acceptable limits on their political activities.)

This legal theory is controversial in some circles, and you should expect the doctrine to be challenged in the future.

The <a href=”http://www.fec.gov/pages/brochures/citizens.shtml#how_much”>current</a&gt; donation limits are $2300 per donor per candidate per two-year electoral cycle; and $108,200 in total contributions by one donor to all Federal candidates and PACs per biennium.

<blockquote>Our Constitution protects aliens, drunks and U.S. Senators.

–Will Rogers, in <a href=”http://www.willrogers.com/papers/daily/DT_Vol-1-2-3-4_Complete.pdf”><em>“Daily Telegram 2678”</em></a>, March 6, 1935</blockquote>

It’s time to talk about campaigning for President.

Win or lose, there are a few things that can already be said about the Obama campaign:

Obama came from absolute obscurity in 2004 to where he is today—and he did much of it by “going around” the Democratic Party establishment, which was very much under Hillary’s control.

That meant, in four years, he had to make himself seem like a serious candidate to a public who had never heard of him; which means he had to develop a “Presidential Brand Identity” for himself despite potentially ferocious, potentially Clinton-led, resistance.

In that time he needed to create an entirely independent campaign infrastructure that was able to <a href=”http://www.barackobama.com/2008/01/26/obama_campaign_to_open_five_mo.php”>operate</a&gt; in all 50-odd primaries (every state plus the several Territories and the District of Columbia), he needed to attract influential donors and advisors…and he needed to “make the rounds”–to attend the innumerable “rubber chicken” Rotary Club and Chamber of Commerce and County and State Party lunches and dinners that you have to attend in order to shake the hands of the locally important and demonstrate your Presidential <em>“gravitas”</em>.

When thinking about infrastructure and relationship-building, consider that Canada is a nation of roughly 30 million (a population similar to California’s), spread across 13 Provinces and Territories; and the US is a nation of 300 million, with a total of 57 States, Territories, and the Federal District. That means it takes longer to get your face out there in the US if you’re a new national candidate than it would in Canada.

To accomplish all of this took Obama the better part of four years…and in Canada, there’s a permanent Party structure that manages those relationships for the candidates they select to run—and to become Prime Minister, you really only need to persuade your own Party members and Members of Parliament to support you, making things much easier for the candidates seeking that position than it is for US Presidential candidates.

Another issue is getting on all those 50-odd ballots in the first place. A candidate has to physically file in every jurisdiction in which they wish to run—and part of the filing process is the gathering of signatures from residents of all of those locations by the candidate in order to qualify. Again, that takes time.

(For the foreign reader, the Parties cannot do this work because they do not yet know which candidate will be their nominee, and they won’t know that until the primaries actually begin later on in the process.)

Running for Congress, for a new candidate, is a similar process—you need to create your own “power base” without a Party to advance you along the way (unless you’re the incumbent or well connected in the opposition Party’s establishment), you need to find ways to finance a campaign—and to get well enough known to have a chance to win, you likely need to shake a lot of hands and do some favors, which takes time.

Meanwhile, the two Parties are trying to improve their relative positions in each House of Congress, which means even as the polls are closing each Party is thinking about how to advantage itself in the next election, which will never be more than two years away.

<blockquote>America… just a nation of two hundred million used car salesmen with all the money we need to buy guns and no qualms about killing anybody else in the world who tries to make us uncomfortable.

–<a href=”http://books.google.com/books?id=VHxgGvF9ugAC&dq=Hunter+S+Thompson&pg=PP1&ots=SaZOLtwn0N&source=an&sig=BpBHctvTUWOgEoC-tVRT4i6uOUE&hl=en&sa=X&oi=book_result&resnum=10&ct=result”>Dr. Hunter S. Thompson</a></blockquote>

So how can this “condition” be changed?

It probably can’t.

The most likely reform that would pass Constitutional muster would be an arrangement that required broadcasters to offer discounted or free airtime for political purposes—but it should be noted that this could only be mandated because the airwaves are publicly owned. It is unlikely cable operators could be held to the same kind of requirements, unless the contracts they operate under were to be modified from today’s norms.

Limiting access to that airtime would be much more problematic (airtime is akin to a modern “Speaker’s Corner” for Constitutional purposes), and I would not expect to see that sort of reform anytime soon.

Limiting the period of campaigning will also be exceptionally unlikely to pass Constitutional muster…and limiting campaign speech, in any other manner, will be equally tough.

Some of the same problems, ironically, might be coming to Canada. There are recommendations to move to “<a href=”http://www.elections.ca/eca/eim/article_search/article.asp?id=129&lang=e&textonly=false”>Mixed Proportional Representation</a>”, which is a system where some Parliamentary candidates run “to the public” while others are selected by each Party to run on a “Party Slate”, if you will. The goal is to award seats more or less proportionately with the actual ballots cast (if your party gets 20% of the vote, for example, you should end up with roughly 20% of the seats).

We assume the “public” candidates will have to expand their “non-campaign” political activities to create interest in that Party among the larger voting public…this, because the “public” candidates are now essentially “running for two”. You might see a lot of “ribbon-cutting” appearances (“I’m proud to appear with the Mayor at the opening of this lovely new park…”) and seminars and “discussion groups” to raise public awareness and create more political “buzz”…without, of course, any actual “campaigning” taking place.

We also suspect putting elections on a schedule will increase these tendencies.

And with all that said, we have arrived at our lessons for the day: the “eternal campaign” is probably here to stay, there are Constitutional reasons that Canadian-style restrictions cannot be applied to US elections…the goals of Parties and candidates in the US and Canada are fundamentally different…and because the nominating process in the US allows anyone to win the nomination of a Party—sometimes against that party’s will—the “eternal campaign” sometimes creates a President Clinton, who appears seemingly out of nowhere.

And sometimes…a President Bush.

And what we get today…well, I guess we just wait and see…