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On My Approaching Gay Anniversary, Or, I Break The Fourth Wall May 28, 2010

Filed under: Bilerico Project,Culture,LGBT,Uncategorized — fakeconsultant @ 7:52 am
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So once again my writing schedule is going to be turned upside down by unforeseen events—but it’s going to be worth it, as I have one of the funnier stories to tell you that I’ve brought to these pages for some time.

It’s a tale of catering and rejection and redemption, all in one, along with a bit of the Harlem Renaissance thrown in for good measure, and the big circle that was created was officially closed last Saturday night.

So come along, Gentle Reader, and I’ll tell you the story of how I was officially notified that I’m a member of the gay community—by email.

“Did you know that dolphins were just gay sharks?”

–Heather Morris, as Brittany, from the television show “Glee”

So it all started with Groucho Marx.

I’m a huge fan of the Marx Brothers, and I had the chance to borrow the DVD set of his 1950s game show, “You Bet Your Life”. The very first episode of the series featured Gladys Bentley, who proceeded to pound out some of the best boogie-woogie piano I’ve ever heard; investigation revealed that the same person who was living as a woman in the 1950s was living, under the same name, as one of America’s best-known male celebrities in 1929.

A story emerged, a couple of thousand words later, of a person who had been a central part of the Harlem Renaissance, who had married a woman in a big public ceremony—again, in 1929—and who, by the time she made that “You Bet Your Life” appearance, had rejected it all in an effort of return to the “straight life” she had never really known in the first place.

So I posted the story, as I normally do, across a number of websites…and then I got the email.

The message was from the Bilerico Project website, who wondered if I might be interested in becoming a contributor. As they noted in the email, Bilerico is one of the premiere sites on the Web serving the LBGTQ community, and, as a member of that community, they knew I’d be glad to have the opportunity to associate myself with the site.

I immediately ran off to inform The Girlfriend of my new status—and I almost as immediately sent a message back, telling the folks there that I’d be thrilled…with one caveat.

I felt that they had to be informed that I’m a male who’s been with the same woman for 28 years…which, if you know anything about long-term relationships, pretty much makes me asexual.

We all had a good laugh over that, and despite the fact that I had “come out” to them, they were still willing to accept me as I am, and as a result I happily contribute to Bilerico to this very day.

Because I post to so many sites, I’m always trying to catch up with what’s going on everywhere, and just in time I happened to notice the story from one of the proprietors of the Bilerico Project, Bil Browning, who wanted us to know that he’d be in town over the weekend, and that a meetup was planned for Saturday night.

Off I went, and a great time was had by all, so far as I could tell, anyway, but we decided to go to a second bar…and that’s where the story gets good—at least for me.

So in a previous life I was a caterer, and if you’ve ever worked with a group of “food people”, you’re probably associated with the gay community on a daily basis. On our job it was not unusual to go into Seattle after work and hang out, and because one of our little group was gay, we would go to gay bars from time to time.

Now our gay friend was obviously there to hook up, and he would, but the two of us…well, not so much.

Nonetheless, my other friend (who we’ll call Dave, to protect the innocent), who was, to be honest, a better looking guy than me, would have men approach him, from time to time, to say hi.

It was never an issue, and we would explain…but you know, after a while I found myself wondering…”hey, what’s wrong with me?”

Even after Dave moved to the Portland, Oregon area we would still hang out, and one night we hit the downtown bars—including two gay bars that are immediately next door to one another.

Sure as day follows night, Dave gets hit on by all sorts of men…in fact, folks who were expressing a variety of gender presentations came by to say hello to Dave during the course of the evening—and me…nothing.

Even The Girlfriend, who had watched all this happen in Portland with her own two eyes, began to give me a bad time about it…and she’s still giving me a bad time about it, even after a decade or so has gone by.

OK, so it’s last Saturday night, and we’re standing around in the second bar, in our little group…and somebody walked past and randomly groped me!

Oh, I was dying.

I tried to explain to the group what had just happened, but as you might imagine, they were just looking at me all kind of confused (and probably thinking…”what a dweeb”).

I had to leave fairly early, as I had another event to attend the next day, so after I finished my beer I left, and almost as quickly as I could get out of the bar I had The Girlfriend on the phone to tell her the good news.

So there you go: after years of “what’s wrong with me”, I’ve finally achieved validation, in my own weird way, The Girlfriend can no longer give me a bad time…about this, anyway…and I got to meet up with online friends that, if I hadn’t of been paying attention at just the right time, I would have missed.

Not bad for a Saturday night, if I say so myself—and I have a Sunday story, too, starring the inimitable Red Green, but we’ll save that for another time.

 

A Few Quick Words About Small Government May 22, 2010

We don’t have a lot of time for a big discussion today, but I wanted to take a second and talk about basic Federal Government economics as they apply to Rand Paul.

It is his stated vision to reduce the size of Government…and it is an undeniable reality that the vast majority of the Federal Budget is focused on only a few areas of spending.

Today, we’ll quickly run through that economic reality, and we’ll challenge Dr. Paul to tell us where he stands.

So it’s about as basic as this: the four biggest items in the budget are Medicare/Medicaid, Social Security, the Department of Defense budget, and interest on the Federal debt.

Those four items are 80% of the total 2011 budget.

What does that mean?

That means you can get rid of every other thing that Government does–no more people overseeing oil drilling, no food inspections, or border security, no FBI or ATF or DEA or CIA, or OSHA or MSHA, no National Guard or air traffic control or Coast Guard or NASA…or Department of Agriculture or food stamps, either–you can get rid of all of it, and government will still be 80% of what it is today.

And that means that the only way you can really make the Federal Government smaller…is to cut one or more of those four core activities that Government is performing.

So which one will it be, Dr. Paul?

Are you against Medicare and Medicaid?
Should it be ended today?

What about Social Security?
Are you ready to tell Kentucky voters that Social Security should end, today?

Are you ready to tell Kentucky voters that you do not believe that the US should be the world leader in military technologies?

Do you think China should be the preeminent military power?

Let’s get these questions in front of Dr. Paul, and even as he tries to dodge questions about the right of Woolworth’s to keep its lunch counter white, let’s make him face these questions as well…which are neither abstract nor obscure.

 

To Attract Tourists, Louisiana Governor Announces Free Oil Giveaway May 1, 2010

Baton Rouge (FNS)—Facing both a massive oil slick from a sunken offshore drilling platform and a second year of declining tourism revenues along the Louisiana Gulf Coast caused by high gas prices, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal today introduced a new tourism promotion that he reports is going to “…make lemons into lemonade”.

Jindal, flanked by British Petroleum’s Director of Marketing Dick Timoneous and the Executive Director of the Louisiana State Tourism Board, Jenna Talia, announced that the “All The Oil You Can Carry Festival” would officially commence today just east of New Orleans, and last at least through the month of May.

According to Jindal, “Louisiana produces 30 percent to 40 percent of the nation’s oil and gas off our coast. It is certainly good for our economy…It is also good for the nation…We’re sending tens of billions of dollars overseas, often to countries who are not friendly to us…this is one of the reasons we’ve got such a large trade deficit…and today, we’re doing something about it.”

Executive Director Talia told the assembled journalists that Louisiana Highway 90 will be closed at Fort Macomb for the weekend so that families can fan out across The Rigolets and gather their own free samples of BP oil.

“It’s going to be a great event” Talia said, “we have vendors and craftspeople setting up on the bridge who will be selling lots of gear so that families can scoop the oil up and take it home. We’ll also be selling lots of local food, there‘s local music…and of course, the bar will be open.”

Members of the public will be able to rent boats or launch their own from any of several convenient locations nearby.

“In this time of economic challenges, we here at BP are happy to provide free samples of our product to the public” Timoneous was quoted as saying. “This oil is perfectly suitable for home heating use, and we would encourage members of the public to gather just as much as they can carry and take it with them.”

BP is promoting the event as the largest giveaway of free product in the company’s history; the current estimate is that more than 11 million free gallons of oil will be distributed by the end of next month.

Boaters are encouraged to participate, and the Alligator Bend coastline, just to the southeast of the Fort, promises particularly rich opportunities for “gathering samples”, as Mr. Timoneous put it.

CSX Railroad is also involved in the festivities, and they promise to close their track across The Rigolets so that those without boats can hike in and gather oil directly from the water at the Rigolets Pass Bridge.

“As a Member of Congress I introduced the Deep Ocean Energy Resources Act of 2006, which was intended to provide more opportunities for Americans to access the oil off our Continental Shelf”, Governor Jindal told the reporters, “and with this cooperative effort in direct-to-consumer distribution between BP and the State of Louisiana that vision has finally been realized. Laissez les bon temps roulez!

Ms. Talia continued the press availability by reminding members of the public that “Although there are no hotels in the immediate area, there is lots of new open land made available since Hurricane Katrina that can be used for camping…and if you’re driving a diesel rig, you can probably grab a shovel and fill up right here at the Fort….and even take some home besides.”

She also noted that the opportunities to celebrate weren’t limited to just this one area: “It’s entirely possible that the Festival will be expanded to include much of Louisiana’s coastline before the month is out, and we would encourage tourists to follow our website for additional announcements.”

She ended the event by asking what is probably going to be the question of the year for Louisianans: “What could possibly be better for this State’s tourism industry than millions of gallons of free oil laying around, just waiting to be picked up by anyone who wants it?”

 

On Winning The Mexican Drug War, Or, “Fighting For Peace Is Like…” March 28, 2009

The AIG Bonus Scandal having been disposed of for the moment, Congress is all a-flitter, all of a sudden, about the new “Greatest Threat To The American Way Of Life In All Of World History Of The Week”…and this week the threat is The Mexican Drug War.

The Mexican Drug Cartels, Senator Joe Lieberman told us in a March 25th hearing, are the number one organized crime threat we face in America today.

The violence, we are told, is beginning to affect America’s National Security…and unless I’m mistaken, Congress is looking to spin up for some sort of action that might range from sending thousands of troops to the US Southwest—and beyond—to going after users in the US “by any means necessary” to perhaps even getting all “Jack Bauer” on some Mexicans who would, presumably, have some useful information.

Although no one’s discussed it yet, we will probably hear someone even propose sending cartel leaders to Guantanamo (Michelle Bachman…I’m thinking of you…).

However, there is another way to disarm these dangerous cartels…and history tells us it works.

So Congress, before you go passing some “warrantless wiretapping for drugs” 4th Amendment exception, allow me to suggest that instead of a drug war, what we really need…is a drug peace.

I certainly do not drink all the time.
I have to sleep you know.

W.C. Fields

If you really want to understand today’s War On Drugs from the mind of a Mexican Drug Cartel “senior manager”, imagine the America of about 1929.

Alcohol was only available from you and your friends—or it was available from your enemies, who you were trying to kill with all the ingenuity you could muster.

Your enemies were, of course, also trying to kill you; so every day at work you needed to be looking over your shoulder…and to be willing to shoot first and ask questions later.

The police, the Courts, and the various elected officials were, at worst, a “business expense”.

Corporate America had embraced the concept of “vertical integration”; and in Detroit Henry Ford’s River Rouge Complex combined all of the elements of car manufacture, all in one place: a steel mill, a glass factory, a tire plant…and all of it ending in an assembly line.

Criminal America had seen the same light, which was why The Purple Gang, also based in Detroit, was engaged in liquor smuggling, liquor distribution (they were reported to be Al Capone’s largest supplier), and, naturally, the extortion of money from the speakeasies—not to mention robbing or kidnapping the occasional high-roller speakeasy customer.

The Purple Gang even allied themselves with the Sugar House Gang to ensure vertical integration was more efficient. Because of Prohibition, the availability of products used to make alcohol was suddenly restricted; meaning whoever controlled the distribution of corn sugar controlled who would be manufacturing liquor.

The Sugar House Gang (named after the product they controlled and the place they sold it) would tell The Purple Gang who had been buying corn syrup. Once the customer had distilled the liquor, The Purple Gang would rob them…and then sell the goods to Capone, or another customer…and then vertical integration was complete!

The Purple Gang was so tied in to the bootlegger-on-bootlegger violence of the era that they even have a tangential connection with the Valentine’s Day Massacre; which seems to have been related to a dispute among rival liquor distributors “Bugs” Moran and Al Capone (who, as everyone knows, was in Florida at the time…so he couldn’t possibly have anything to do with it).

It was estimated The Purple Gang might have been responsible for as many as 500 murders before they were targeted by Federal officials.

Murders, kidnapping, bootlegging, extortion, public corruption, rotgut liquor that could cause blindness–or even death–the invention of the “drive-by” shooting…all of it was part and parcel of daily life in 1920s Prohibition America.

In fact, Prohibition had created “drug cartels” so dangerous to National Security that President Herbert Hoover had named Al Capone “Public Enemy Number One”.

(Of course, some might argue that Hoover’s real Public Enemy Number One was the Great Depression…but we’ll address that question another day.)

Under great public pressure, Prohibition ended in 1933, having lasted roughly 14 years.

This discussion began with an examination of the question of how you might reduce the power of the Mexican Drug Cartels, you’ll recall; so let’s end this conversation by posing some questions that tie the whole thing together:

–When’s the last time you heard of three carfuls of guys from Jack Daniels using their Tommy guns to first shoot up, and then burn, Jim Beam’s distillery so that they could take over their turf?

–Mexican Drug Cartels make billions of dollars annually importing virtually every drug you might want: they import the reefer, I’m told, and the cocaine, the heroin, the meth, the ecstasy…and probably Viagra, to boot.

You know what the one drug is that Mexican Drug Cartels don’t import?

Tequila.

–So if liquor has become a legal business…and Jack Daniel’s sees no business imperative in a raid on Jim Beam…and Mexican Drug Cartels aren’t making money smuggling tequila (at least not since the 1930s, anyway)…and the last drive-by shooting that involved the liquor business was sometime in 1932 or early 1933…and every single “Mafia Liquor Cartel” was basically out of business the moment Prohibition ended…you think maybe it’s time that we thought about making some of the other drugs a legal business, too?

I’m pretty sure I know who won’t like the idea…and I’m pretty sure it’s going to be the suddenly much less powerful Mexican Drug Cartels.

 

On The View From Egypt, Part Four, Or, Gaza, We Have A Problem December 31, 2008

Filed under: Uncategorized — fakeconsultant @ 10:35 am
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What had been a truce between Israel and the Palestinians of the Gaza Strip seems to have abruptly come to a halt; with the Israelis blaming Hamas and Hamas blaming Israeli oppression of the displaced Palestinians for the simmering hostilities that are now boiling over into military-scale violence.

Before the recent holidays and an immoderate amount of snow buried me in things that could not be done on the computer we had been having a conversation about the strategic importance of our relationship with Egypt. Within that series of discussions we explored the influence of the political opposition, and we considered the fragility of President Mubarak’s hold on power.

We also noted the immediate proximity of Egypt to the Gaza Strip.

Today we’re going to tie all of that together—and the end result of all that tying is that we better keep a close eye on Egypt, because trouble in Gaza has spilled over into trouble in Cairo….and that’s one more Middle Eastern problem we don’t need.

If you’re looking for more details as to why Egyptian politics have been a one-party affair since the Republic’s founding, information about the opposition, or a consideration of the country’s strategic importance, have a look at Parts One, Two, or Three of this series.

So that we might put some of the background in place, here are some of the salient facts surrounding the events of the past few days:

A ceasefire that had existed between Hamas and the Israeli Government has expired. That ceasefire, however, had been a bit of an imperfect exercise.

Some attacks from Gaza into Israel have been self-attributed by Hamas (actions that they have described as responses to Israeli aggressions); and there are suggestions that forces loyal to the rival Fatah movement have also been involved in attacks. The Israeli Foreign Ministry reported 2502 rockets or mortars were fired from Gaza in the first 11 months of 2008, resulting in 17 Israeli deaths. (The ceasefire began in June of 2008.)

Over the four days since the ceasefire’s expiration at least 1100 Palestinians have been killed or wounded by Israeli airstrikes, with some airstrikes targeting tunnels that connect the Gaza Strip to Egypt.

The tunnels are important because they are used to import supplies to the region when normal commercial crossings are restricted or closed by the Israeli Defense Forces. (Truck crossings into Gaza have been reduced from 475 daily before Hamas took control of the region to 123 daily in October 2008 to none for the past eight days.)

The IDF reports that the tunnels are used to import weapons as well.

It is also reported that IDF troops are massing near the Gaza border. It is possible that an entry into Gaza by the IDF is imminent, but as of this writing that has not yet occurred…or it may have already occurred, as reported by the sometimes reliable Debka.com.

And it’s the tunnels that connect this story to Egypt.

As you may recall from our earlier conversations, there are many Egyptians who support the Muslim Brotherhood’s Islamist views, and there are also many Egyptians, unassociated with Islamism, who feel a sense of solidarity with Gazans and their struggles with Israel. Add to that the fact that President Mubarak’s secular but increasingly unpopular Government has been cooperative with Israel as they have worked to isolate Gaza and you have the makings of some serious trouble in the Egyptian street.

And as of today, the trouble seems to have started.

In a country with a Government that attempts to deter undesired street demonstrations with an extremely hostile internal security response, El Badeel of Cairo reports as many as 200.000 of the undeterred may have taken to the streets in demonstrations against the Government in cities such as Cairo, Alexandria, Tanta, and even down the Nile in the farm country of Minya and Asyut.

The Egyptian Foreign Minister, Ahmed Abul-Gheit, and the leader of Hezbollah, Hassan Nasrallah, are trading words—and Egyptian police and military border guard units are firing on Palestinians who attempt to enter Egypt through holes blown in the wall (by the bombing raids…) that would normally prevent such entries.

Now here is where it gets tricky.

Hamas, the ruling party in Gaza, is essentially descended from the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood—and the last thing Mr. Mubarak wants is hundreds of thousands of Hamas supporters taking up permanent residence in his country, especially if they end up forming fairly insular communities out in the Sinai Desert where the Egyptian internal security apparatus is at it’s weakest.

On the other hand, being perceived as supporting Israel is fraught with 200,000 or so of its own perils—and if the internal security apparatus can’t control the demonstrations, or uses unusually harsh methods to regain control, the internal security threat to Mr. Mubarak’s control from his own citizens will also rise dramatically.

There are those in Israel who want Egypt to take control of Gaza…and it is possible that Israel will use the blockade to create an atmosphere that will “require” Egypt to take “humanitarian” steps—something that might be popular in the Egyptian street…but something that Mr. Mubarak, as we have noted, has no desire to accept.

There are also those who would like to see the Fatah Party take over again in Gaza, removing Hamas from power—but you may recall that Hamas was able to come to power in Gaza because many ordinary Gazans perceived Fatah and Yasser Arafat to be extraordinarily corrupt and ineffectual during their time in power.

The bad news for the US?

We are perceived throughout the Arab and Islamic worlds as the blindly supportive enablers of what Israel is doing in Gaza…and we are perceived in Egypt as the country that enables Mr. Mubarak’s often highly oppressive rule.

As things go badly for the Palestinians, ironically, they get bad for us—and probably for the Israelis as well.

Why? Well, as I often say to my friends, we are making enemies faster than we can kill them. This blind support of Israel against the Gazans isn’t helping matters…but Johann Hari tells the story much better than I:

The world isn’t just watching the Israeli government commit a crime in Gaza; we are watching it self-harm. This morning, and tomorrow morning, and every morning until this punishment beating ends, the young people of the Gaza Strip are going to be more filled with hate, and more determined to fight back, with stones or suicide vests or rockets. Israeli leaders have convinced themselves that the harder you beat the Palestinians, the softer they will become. But when this is over, the rage against Israelis will have hardened, and the same old compromises will still be waiting by the roadside of history, untended and unmade.

To understand how frightening it is to be a Gazan this morning, you need to have stood in that small slab of concrete by the Mediterranean and smelled the claustrophobia. The Gaza Strip is smaller than the Isle of Wight but it is crammed with 1.5 million people who can never leave. They live out their lives on top of each other, jobless and hungry, in vast, sagging tower blocks. From the top floor, you can often see the borders of their world: the Mediterranean, and Israeli barbed wire. When bombs begin to fall – as they are doing now with more deadly force than at any time since 1967 – there is nowhere to hide.

–From an editorial in The Independent, December 29, 2008

There is one bit of good news: if Hillary Clinton can find a way to be seen as an “honest broker”, instead of just a supporter of Israel, the incoming Obama Administration could change the atmosphere enough to allow Gazans and Israelis to again return to negotiations. Can the Obama Administration change the atmosphere enough to induce Israel to adopt a less hard-line anti-Palestinian stance? That may be the biggest question the new Secretary of State finds on her plate next month.

Another possible bit of good news: a rapid settlement and return to a semi-ceasefire status could reduce the long-term political damage. In the unfortunate event of a large-scale ground action by the IDF, it is likely the long-term damage increases. (Some suggest the Israelis chose this moment because they feel the Obama Administration will be less supportive of a hard-line policy than the Bush Administration. If this is true, the window for aggressive action may be closing sooner rather than later.)

So here we are: The Israeli actions against Gaza, intended to end the desire of Gazans to attack Israel, are likely to have exactly the opposite effect…which is spilling over the border to create all kinds of problems for the Mubarak Government in Egypt…all of which means all kinds of new bad news for us.

Hillary Clinton might have problems negotiating with all the players…but if she can overcome that obstacle, there could be a better outcome down the road than we have today.

If Israel cannot be convinced to find a way to develop a different relationship with their Palestinian neighbors—and vice versa—eight years from now President Obama will find himself just as vexed as Mr. Bush is today with his giant Middle Eastern failure…and if events cause Egypt, Pakistan, and maybe even Morocco to slide over to the Iran end of the “scale of hostile nations”, he may find himself quite a bit more vexed than he ever expected.

 

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

Filed under: Uncategorized — fakeconsultant @ 7:43 am
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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 Dressing For Success, Part Two, Or, We Costume Palin…For 2/3 Off! October 27, 2008

When last we met, Gentle Reader, we were talking about more or less $150,000 in clothing and beauty services that had been purchased mostly for Sarah Palin’s use by the Republican National Committee.

Since then, we have learned that John McCain himself once tried to outlaw the very type of contribution that led to this situation, we’ve heard McCain’s campaign offer a very non-maverick-y denial…and we’ve learned that the highest paid member of the McCain campaign staff—the person who presumably has the magic touch needed to turn this thing around—will be working her magic with a makeup brush.

As we discussed yesterday, I think I could have dressed Palin for 1/3 of what the RNC paid. Yesterday we “purchased” five of the outfits I think she needs…and with half the shopping done, we’re $670 over budget.

Can she be dressed for a mere $43,000?
Let’s see if we can pull it off…

Just so you know…the McCain campaign claims most of the clothing in question has never left the campaign plane…and they want us to know the expensive clothes they just bought but never used will be eventually donated to charity… and they still claim they are the ones who can best manage the Federal budget.

If you missed Part One…here are the rules: we are trying to find for Sarah a total of ten outfits. Seven of these outfits will be for “business” use and three are intended for evening wear.

The business outfits are budgeted at $4000 each; the evening wear’s budgeted at $5000 per ensemble. The total cost for all of this: $43,000.

We have identified four of the business choices, and a gorgeous blue metallic evening dress so far; leaving three more business and two more evening costumes to assemble.

And with all that said…may I direct your attention to the runway, for today’s first selection…

This is a truly understated, but nonetheless truly elegant silver wool and cashmere design, the “Wrap Bust Chevron Dress” by Alexander McQueen ($1670, Saks). The banded Empire waist is virtually the only ornamentation on the dress…but that allows us to be a bit flashy with the accessories.

We can be flashy and still save a ton of money by “recycling” the black Jimmy Choo “Patent Pumps” and the silver “Python Original Clutch” by Jalda from yesterday…and with the money we save we can afford to finish the look by picking up the “Punjab Waist Belt”, also by Alexander McQueen, thereby trickling an additional $625 down to the coffers of Saks Fifth Avenue.

Total cost: $2295—and that’s $1705 under budget for this item, $1035 under budget for the entire exercise to this point.

Mr. Blackwell died at the age of 86 this week.
It turns out he really was caught dead in that outfit…

–Seth Meyers, on “Weekend Update”, October 26, 2008

This next selection is entirely taken from a single page at the Saks website…which is kind of cheating, but the combination could not be better.

From Akris Punto, we present the “Wool Jacket” (which, for my money, could use a less utilitarian name), the “Silk Jersey Boatneck Top”, and the “New Carla Wool Pants” ($1290, $295, and $395 each). The pumpkin colored three button cropped jacket and toffee pants (both made of Swiss wool) are comfortably accented by the chestnut colored boatneck top, which mixes silk and wool.

This is another relatively inexpensive set, so let’s splurge a bit on accoutrement.

Something we can’t afford for this story, but the RNC could: the Dior “Beaded Jacket & Duchess Satin Skirt”, an $8095 vision in peacock green satin.

We need a brown bag…and what could be nicer than Fendi’s “Vintage Leather Baguette” in chocolate brown with lots of detail stitching and interchangeable long and short shoulder straps. From Saks, once again…and considering what we saved on the Akris Punto set and the Alexander McQueen dress, the $1950 price is easily justified.

Shoes? How about these dark brown “Patent Leather Mary Janes” from Manolo Blahnik, courtesy of Neiman’s. Simple, elegant, and at $625, surprisingly affordable.

The total: $4555. We ran a bit over on this one…but for the entire project we are still $480 under budget.

Since we already have the brown accessories, let’s really put them to use: check out this spectacular “Brocade Jacket” by Piazza Sempione ($1400, Neiman’s) in cotton, linen, silk, and…polyester. It’s a cropped length, but it has a traditional blazer style with a notched collar and three button front—and it is the perfect match for the “Belted Pant” from Pringle of Scotland (cotton/linen blend, $595, Neiman’s) and Eskandar’s cotton “Revere Blouse” (Bergdorf-Goodman, $370).

The total: $2365…which is $1635 under for the outfit, and $2115 total under budget.

Another item we can’t afford: the amazing silk and viscose “Stained Glass Gown” by Christian Lacroix…$6760, at Neiman’s.

It is entirely possible that Sarah The Vice Presidential Candidate might find herself giving a speech on a warm and rainy day in New Orleans—so to protect that lovely brocade jacket, we need Proenza Schouler’s “Trench Dress”.

Try to picture a lightweight viscose and linen trench coat, cut just above the knee, and you have the idea exactly. We had $2115 available, the jacket is $1975, leaving us still $140 under budget.

“That whole thing is just, bad!
Oh, if people only knew how frugal we are.”

Sarah Palin

The most courageous act is still to think for yourself.
Aloud.

Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel

We are almost there, with only the final two evening ensembles remaining to select…and we will finish in fine style, I promise.

One of the most complicated mechanical processes I’m aware of is the weaving of jacquard fabrics; and we can observe the amazing results of that process in Caroline Herrera’s wool, silk, and polyester “Floral-Jacquard Jacket & Sheath Dress”. It is a simple bit of construction that uses its long, flat blue surfaces to perfectly show off the elaborate silver weaving.

As with the other outfits, the elegant design and rich fabrics of this jacket and dress make their own statements, which is actually allowing us to save money on jewelry—although, to be fair, that lack of external “bling” requires even more attention to hair styling than most of us often provide.

It is a bit pricey, ($4880, Neiman’s) but this set perfectly mates to the Python clutch from above…and the black Jimmy Choo Patent Pumps also work perfectly for this look…so we are still under budget, the total now being $260 below target.

Ombré is the process of weaving graduated color changes into a fabric, and this effect is presented spectacularly by Herve Leger’s “Allover Sequin Dress”: the navy bodice fades through purple and cranberry and fuscia and pastels, finally finishing in a silver band at the hem. The “allover sequins” make this the perfect dinner dress for a formal State dinner, a fundraising reception at the Washington Hilton…or any time Our Dear Sarah wants to remind Ann Coulter that she’s probably been…replaced…in the hearts of the Conservative community.

It’s $2800 at Saks…but if it gives her a chance to have a cocktail dress smackdown with Coulter, it might be well-spent money…especially if, somehow, they could be convinced to appear on ”The Jerry Springer Show” to fight it out, in evening wear, for our amusement.

Obviously the sparkling silver Python clutch is again going to be the perfect choice…and I even found the perfect shoes: from Miu Miu, the “Sequin Pump”. They’re purple, the shimmer like the afternoon sky at “Burning Man”…and at $650, they allow us to finish this project $1810 under budget—which we can use to bolster Palin’s “foreign policy experience” by picking up the tab at the Russian Tea Room.

And with all that said, we come to the end.

And what have we learned?

We have been reminded, once again, that fashion is indeed an art…we have seen the intersection of highly specialized manufacturing techniques and the products they create…but most importantly of all, we were reminded that it is possible to present a candidate in the finest of clothes and accoutrement for roughly $100,000 less than what McCain’s putative minions at the RNC spent—and we were also reminded that you and I are not the ones running around the countryside claiming we know how to balance a budget in our first term while simultaneously claiming most of the clothes were never used and will be donated at a loss.

Which means the biggest lesson we learned today might be this: if you can’t be counted on to handle the purchase of $150,000 worth of clothing, how are we supposed to trust you to manage the purchase of $150 billion worth of currently dead mortgage securities…or military equipment…or prescription drugs for Medicare?

If this big ol’ pile of fashion foolishness is any indication, I’d say we can’t.

 

On Grasping At Straws, Or, We’ve Got Biden Right Where We Want Him October 21, 2008

Filed under: Uncategorized — fakeconsultant @ 8:54 pm
Tags: , , , , ,

John McCain is all excited today, because, in his mind, Joe Biden has really Screwed It Up This Time by claiming that Obama will be tested by a foreign policy challenge, that Obama will act in a way we might not immediately trust, and that we should stand by him if it happens.

Oh My God You Have To Vote For Me, is the McCain response, because we can’t afford someone who will be tested in office.

As it turns out, Joe Biden is the smarter guy in this argument, a few calm words are in order…and I’m here today to offer a response that will set McCain’s foolishness right back on its heels.

So let’s get to it.

Let’s begin with the basics: what, exactly, did Biden say?

“Mark my words,” the Democratic vice presidential nominee warned at the second of his two Seattle fundraisers Sunday. “It will not be six months before the world tests Barack Obama like they did John Kennedy. The world is looking. We’re about to elect a brilliant 47-year-old senator president of the United States of America. Remember I said it standing here if you don’t remember anything else I said. Watch, we’re gonna have an international crisis, a generated crisis, to test the mettle of this guy.”

“I can give you at least four or five scenarios from where it might originate,” Biden said to Emerald City supporters, mentioning the Middle East and Russia as possibilities. “And he’s gonna need help. And the kind of help he’s gonna need is, he’s gonna need you – not financially to help him – we’re gonna need you to use your influence, your influence within the community, to stand with him. Because it’s not gonna be apparent initially, it’s not gonna be apparent that we’re right.”

Biden goes on to suggest Obama’s “steel spine” will come through, to America’s advantage, as the challenge plays out.

These words, as we mentioned above, have set the Palin-McCain ticket into a momentary frenzy

“Just last night, Senator Biden guaranteed that if Senator Obama is elected, we will have an international crisis to test America’s new president,” reads a memo from the McCain campaign. “We don’t want a president who invites testing from the world at a time when our economy is in crisis and Americans are already fighting in two wars. …

“Senator Obama wont have the right response, and we know that because we’ve seen the wrong response from him over and over during this campaign. … We cannot spend the next four years as we have spent much of the last eight: hoping for our luck to change at home and abroad. We have to act. We need a new direction, and we have to fight for it,” the statement said.

The background having been set, let’s offer a bit of recent history.

In the run up to the end of the Democratic primaries and just around the time of the Republican convention there was a great clamor, in Democratic circles, for Obama to become more confrontational…to toss a lot more “red meat” to the electorate

Many may recall that Pat Buchanan was an especially aggressive proponent of this point of view—and with all due respect to Buchanan, Hillary is not the nominee…and McCain is playing from well behind.

Many will also recall that the pages of “Daily Kos” were full of the same advice…and many will recall that Democrats were among the toughest on Obama in this regard.

I would suggest Obama did not choose the red meat approach, on the one hand, because he sees that the voting public is looking for a different, less “Rovian” form of politics…and on the other hand, because he is positioning himself not just to win the election—but to govern afterwards.

As it turns out, Obama is, at the moment, ahead…and it is starting to look as though his decision to be less aggressive was the right one—even though many of his own supporters did not think it was at the time.

And that’s what Biden is trying to tell us: Obama will make decisions that will seem unusual compared to what we have been used to these past several years, those who are still used to doing things as they have been recently will think the new approach is strange…and maybe even dangerous…we need to take the lessons of the Presidential elections and apply them to how Obama would govern…and we need to actively support smart thinking, even if it is unexpected, coming from a President.

Obama seems to rely upon Lincoln’s model of winning elections (the “out of nowhere” choice competing against far more likely choices, lots of organization, lots of “intelligence”, a restrained personal approach, and assertive surrogates); and I would encourage observers to read Doris Kearns Goodwin’s “Team of Rivals” for insight on how Obama might actually solve problems, should he take office.

Should Obama face such a test, by the way, he has Joe Biden right there, who personally knows the leaders of Pakistan, and Russia…and Palestine and Iran, to boot.

And who thinks McCain won’t also be tested early in his Administration?

Should McCain face such a test, Sarah Palin will have to move to India…because that way, she can see Pakistan from her house.

So let’s wrap all this up for today: Biden has uttered Truth, the McCain folks are again acting tactically by creating the “Outrage Du Jour”, an Obama Administration will act in ways that are unusual—especially compared to Mr. Bush’s—we should look to the primaries and this Presidential campaign for an example of how unusual thinking makes good sense…and we may have to actively remind voters of all these facts.

And of course, if McCain wins, we have to ask ourselves: in a time where we need to control Government spending, can we really afford a Vice Presidential residence in Kashmir?

 

On Mr. Bush, Or, Does “Stay The Course” Work In Baseball? September 25, 2007

Filed under: Uncategorized — fakeconsultant @ 5:14 am
Tags: , , ,

Mr. Bush has officially informed us that recent success in Al-Anbar Province should convince us to “stay the course” in Iraq, despite the failure of every other aspect of his Iraq/Afghanistan/foreign policy initiatives-and the shifting nature of the definition of success.

Even more ironically, Mr. Bush now plans to become a crusader for fiscal responsibility, despite his failure to take this issue seriously in the past.

All of this has lead to a huge back and forth between those who claim this bit of recent overseas success and the current “strong economy” justify more of the same, as success is finally “just around the corner”, and those who see this President’s Iraq policy as essentially passing the problem on to the next President.

It’s always tough to judge a President during his term, considering the lack of a peer group to use for comparison. But what if Mr. Bush had the same won/loss record in a different job?

That question is the point of today’s conversation.

“You’ve got to be very careful if you don’t know where you’re going, because you might not get there.”
Yogi Berra, former baseball manager

The crunching of the leaves below your feet tells us that the baseball playoffs have arrived-so let’s talk managers.

Not unlike a President, baseball managers are required to endure the blame and accept the credit for the fortunes of the teams they lead, making them an excellent subject for comparison.

Imagine a manager after a run of seasons in which his team was accused of being unprepared and undermanaged. Imagine if season after season they posted a mediocre to poor record.

Now imagine the press conference in which that manager told the team’s owners and fans to “stay the course”.

How might the upper management of such a team react?

Coincidentally, Mr. Bush was himself an owner and managing general partner of the Texas Rangers baseball club; which means we can actually perform a direct examination of how Mr. Bush himself would react when faced with the same issues of judging success and failure.

So in a question which will sound familiar to my Texas friends-what would the Rangers do if a 6-13 Mr. Bush was their manager?

They would have fired him, that’s what.

Look at the history of the Rangers’ managers:

The Ranger’s first manager, Ted Williams, retired following his first season after posting a 54-100 record.

There was Frank Lucchesi; who was fired after a 4th place finish in 1976, and a .500 record in ’77; and having his second baseman arrested after he was physically attacked by the player.

Billy Martin was fired even though he led the team to its best record until that point in Ranger history. (Of course, the Yankees were also unwilling to “stay the course” with Martin despite his exceptional success there.)

Buck Showalter; fired last year after 4 years with a .492 average winning percentage. (Ironically, the photo in the link shows Showalter losing to the Cleveland Indians. Here’s a link suggesting Showalter could have actually ended up working for the Indians.)

Then there’s Bobby Valentine and Kevin Kennedy-the two managers who led the team at the time Mr. Bush was the managing general partner.

So how tolerant was Mr. Bush of the failure of leaders under his baseball watch?

Valentine spent seven years with the team-and his exactly mediocre .501 average winning percentage got him canned.

So Kennedy was brought in (after a 76 game Toby Harrah era)-and he led the team to a second place finish in the Division (with an 86-76 record), which he followed with a 1st place Divisional finish the next year.

Mr. Bush oversaw his firing, too.

But my favorite managerial example: Johnny Oates. After amassing a 495-459 record with the Rangers over six years, he resigned in 2001 after beginning the season with an 11-17 record-and the most expensive player contract in baseball history, in the form of Alex Rodriguez.

And maybe that’s our real story for today: a leader who understood that failure upon expensive failure can lead you to no other decision but the right one-resigning for the good of the team.

Mr. Bush, if you really care as much about America as you do baseball…do a Johnny Oates. Admit to your losing record, accept some accountability for the first time in your life, and then we can make the moves that can get this team back on track to win the World Series.

Don’t drag it out until the end of a losing season-resign now.
Take Cheney, your general manager, with you.

And maybe for the first time since Green Bay’s residents bought the Packers, the fans will again control the game-at least for a moment.

 

On Term Limits, Or, Rove Needs A New Puppet August 13, 2007

Filed under: Uncategorized — fakeconsultant @ 10:57 pm

Seasoned audiences of presidential scandal know that there’s only one certainty ahead: the timing of a Karl Rove resignation. As always in this genre, the knight takes the fall at exactly that moment when it’s essential to protect the king.
–Frank Rich, via the New York Times, July 17th, 2005

Karl Rove, in a move Sir Lancelot would be proud of, has announced that he will “leave the building” August 31st.

Does this mean Mr. Bush’s recent “colonoscopy” was merely a cover story for a procedure more closely resembling the removal of a hand from a puppet?

Don’t bet on it.

Consider it instead an evolutionary step in Rove’s career-and a chance to shut off some of the controversy created by his use of Republican National Committee email accounts.

Here’s what I mean:

Mr. Bush and Rove have been essentially “joined at the hip” since Texas days, but that’s now over, because of term limits.

Mr. Bush has reached the end of his political career (unless Laura decides to run), but Rove has no reason to retire-after all, why give up the power he worked so hard to get?

So where is Rove to go? He either has to “hitch his wagon” to a new Presidential contender, take over the Republican Congressional political command, or become an independent voice, much as Gingrich is today.

Despite today’s announcements that Rove would like to help get Congressional candidates elected, my suspicion is that he wants another Presidential candidate.

After all, who wants the irritation of trying to control the Republican National Congressional (RNCC) or Senatorial (RNSC) Committees? Those jobs have too much of a “frogs in a wheelbarrow” aspect to them-and why would a “unitary executive” guy take up with legislators?

And then there’s the money. Why would the current “commanders” of the RNCC or RNSC let Rove take over the distribution all those PAC donations? Those donations today are one of the major levers the Party uses to enforce discipline, and giving control to Rove would severely upset the Congressional apple cart.

On the other hand, a Presidential candidate-especially in this year’s Republican field-is much more easily drawn into the Rovian orbit. The message management and coordination issues are simpler as well-and the infighting is more readily controlled than in a Congressional environment. Not to mention the advantages of having to massage only one ego, rather than 535.

A reasonable person can imagine that Rove will be raising and spending most of the money for such a candidate; and by extension, directing that candidate’s message and image. This would seem much more attractive for a manager than the Congressional environment we just examined, and my guess is Rove feels the same way. Rove’s likely calculus reveals an additional advantage: the President’s political coordinator would be a likely head of the RNC, if Rove chose to accept the gig.

To me the real question is: has Rove selected his new pony-and has that pony yet made it to the starting gate?

It would be possible to lay out any number of scenarios, but here’s a quick five:

Rove rescues McCain.
Rove and the RNC have anointed Romney.
Giuliani has made an offer that has caught Rove’s interest.
Rove is the “missing link” that Thompson has been waiting for.
Gingrich thinks Rove can get him “over the hump”.

I’ll leave all this to the community to evaluate, so that we might take a minute to discuss Rove and his Blackberry.

Although Mr. Bush reports he never uses a computer and does not send emails, Rove Blackberries like crazy. An unknown number of those messages were related to White House business, and some were of a political nature. It is now known that many of those communications were made through an account operated by the Republican National Committee, and as we mentioned above there is considerable controversy as to the applicability of the Presidential Records Act and the Hatch Act over the contents of those accounts.

But much of that controversy disappears if Rove is no longer a White House employee. The legal issues remain, of course, but going forward the damage can be minimized, especially if the RNC servers have “accidentally” or “as a routine maintenance procedure” had the account records removed (“we’re shocked, shocked to discover the servers with those records had a catastrophic failure…we’re so disappointed we can’t prove Rove’s innocence”…). If this occurs, you can expect any investigation will be stonewalled beyond November 2008, with the hope no conclusion is issued in time to hurt the RNC, the Candidate, or Rove.

My impression is that this process is already underway.

Rove can’t be afraid of criminal sanctions, after the Scooter Libby “pardon”, suggesting, stealing from Shakespeare: “the stonewall’s the thing”.

Finally, a quick word about that “joined at the hip” thing: there’s no reason why Rove has to end his relationship with Mr. Bush’s Administration-all he has to do is place a “consigliere” in the White House to pass the messages back and forth, and the connection stays in place. And Mr. Bush still doesn’t have to use email.

I do expect an effort to create a new extension of “Executive Privilege” applicable to “non-employee advisors” of the Executive Branch.

All that being said, it’s time to get to the summary:

I suspect Rove feels he can simultaneously run a campaign and an Administration, and my guess is he’ll be trying to do just that-much to Cheney’s disappointment.

I further suspect a lot of today’s news is also based on a desire to contain the controversy over Rove’s emails-both their contents and actual existence-and that can be easily stonewalled from outside the White House.

And finally, I suspect that Rove will continue to be Mr. Bush’s close and trusted advisor-and that his freedom to act will be enhanced based on his new status.