Friday, October 31, 2008

Would You Like a Vice President With that 72-Year-Old Shake?

NEW YORK, NY -- Two Republican Party elders voiced support for Barack Obama today, part of a torrent of Republicans jumping ship.

Ken Duberstein, Reagan's chief of staff, endorsed Obama today, saying the following:

"I think it has very much undermined the whole question of John McCain’s judgment. You know what most Americans I think realized is that you don’t offer a job, let alone the vice presidency, to a person after one job interview. Even at McDonald’s, you’re interviewed three times before you get a job."

And Lawrence Eagleburger, secretary of state under Bush Sr. and a man whose support McCain has often touted, brought further pain today on NPR, where he said Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin was "of course" not ready to be vice president.

It seems unprecedented that so many grandees from one party should voice support for the other party's nominee. If McCain wins, it won't just be a rejection of Obama or the Democrats, but even of thinking Republicans including writers and party elders. It will be the true ascendancy of the idiocracy.

House Minority Leader John Boehner. What a boner.

From the Miami University (Ohio) Miami Student newspaper: "Now, listen, I've voted 'present' two or three times in my entire 25-year political career, where there might have been a conflict of interest and I didn't feel like I should vote," Boehner said.

"In Congress, we have a red button, a green button and a yellow button, alright. Green means 'yes,' red means 'no,' and yellow means you're a chicken shit. And the last thing we need in the White House, in the oval office, behind that big desk, is some chicken who wants to push this yellow button."

Is this the first sign of the idiocracy?

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Mexicans Discover the Fortress of Solitude

BOULDER, Colorado -- It's not at the North Pole; it's 1,000 feet below the Chihuahua Desert. Check out this article from the Daily Mail, or just look at the pictures.

[Daily Mail: The Cave of Crystals discovered 1,000ft below Mexican desert]

John McCain Doesn't Understand How Taxes Work

BOULDER, Colorado -- I first want to thank Itchy for his impassioned comments. I will be interested to hear what he thought about Barack's infomercial on Wednesday night. I was just a bit disappointed that it did not involve a voodoo stick and lots and lots of pie charts, like Ross "Now, lookee here ..." Perot back in 1992.

The more I think back to that campaign, the more staggering some of the similarities appear (minus the semi-viable, wing-nut, third-party candidate, of course). A critical difference, however, was that the Republican candidate who was running back then was actually a pretty competent steward of the economy. Though America was in the depths of a recession in the early 1990's, the Financial Institutions Reform, Recovery, and Enforcement Act of 1989 that George H.W. Bush signed into law is widely credited with staving off a much a longer and deeper financial crisis, and it set in place important regulations that allowed for the economic expansion of the Clinton years. The regulation came at a steep price, of course, in the form of new taxes, taxes which would ultimately cost Bush re-election after his famous "read my lips" pledge in 1988.

The differences between father and son are quite striking, and they should be pretty obvious to everyone. When it comes to competent management of the economy, the choice in this election should be abundantly clear - McCain wants to continue the bumbling, ideologically-driven, irresponsible policies of George W. Bush, and he would rather rely on poisonous populist rhetoric than put forward any concrete proposals. If you doubted the sheer depths of McCain's economic ignorance, read this quote from his interview on CNN's Larry King Live last night:

KING: You don't believe Barack Obama is a socialist, do you?

MCCAIN: No. But, I do believe -- I do believe that he's been in the far left of American politics. He has stated time after time that he believes in "spreading the wealth around." He's talked about courts that would redistribute the wealth.


KING: Concerning spreading the wealth, isn't the graduated income tax spreading the wealth? If you and I paid more so that Jimmy can get some for him, or pay for a welfare recipient, that's spreading the wealth.

MCCAIN: Well, that's spreading the wealth in the respect that we do have a graduated income tax. That's a far cry from taking from one group of Americans and giving to another. I mean, that's dramatically different.

Sen. Obama clearly has talked about for years, redistributive policies. And that's not the way we create wealth in America. That's not the way we grow our economy. That's not the way we create jobs.

Imagine that - a sensible question from Larry King. John McCain said outright that he does not really believe that Barack Obama is a socialist, but he is going to continue with this yarn regardless. The fact of the matter is that John McCain seems to reject the very notion of the graduated income tax, which is a position far more radical than returning to the tax rates of Clinton, H.W. Bush, and Reagan, as Obama proposes. There will always be some people who pay more into the system than they get out in the form of services from the government, and everybody accepts that. People's wealth is not entirely derived from the sweat of their brow; everybody reaps some benefits from society in the form of opportunities or collective services or common infrastructure, and we all agree that the people that take more out of the common stock should probably put a bit more in. Similarly, the people who have not benefited so much should probably pay a bit less. This is not socialism - it is called tax brackets, and no sensible person thinks that it is subversive or radical.

Instead, McCain implies that to be poor is to be lazy. He does not actually believe that we should eliminate the income tax, but he is using this rhetoric to appeal to the extreme right wing, people that subscribe to an ideology founded on irrational defense of the free market and perverse interpretation of individual freedom - I am referring to people who support ideas like libertarianism and the flat tax. These are radical ideas, and they should be rejected as readily as revolutionary communism.

So, John McCain is not a sensible person, and he should shut his damn mouth about socialism before he whips this country into another Red Scare. Hopefully the latest poll numbers indicate that his attacks are ringing more hollow by the day.

[Transcript of interview]

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Is Obama a Marxist? Just Ask Old Himmler McCain

The "socialist" tack of the McCain campaign has really been annoying me, both because of its potential to seriously harm the hopes of either party normalizing its relationship with the other (can you, a red-blooded American congressman, really co-sponsor legislation with the Commies?) and because it is another step down the path of McCain/Rovian prevarication that cynically assumes voters are half-wit slobs to be lied to and manipulated (WHAT, WHAT, Leo Strauss!).

Its upshot is that McCain has somehow managed to link white American men's fears of black people (not to mention terrorists, both of the "washed-up" and homebred sort as well as of the more exotic Arab sort) with their fears of Communism, nothing to sniff at nearly 17 years after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Obama has done too little to counter this claim, probably because he is too smart to take it seriously. However, I think any voter who can still be undecided at this point probably isn't quite as swift. Obama does need to get out his economic message more clearly tonight, to finally put the nail in McCain's coffin (before a heart attack does it a year into office), by forcefully making the following points:

1. Fully rebut the "Socialist" label: Obama needs to put this thing to rest already. Firstly, he should mention that the richest 2% would still be paying fewer taxes than under Reagan or Clinton and that government revenues from taxes as a percentage of GDP would be lower than under either of those presidents -- or under any president but Bush for that matter. He should most certainly not imply that anything even vaguely socialist is OK.

Obama needs to rebut clearly that he is a socialist and remind people with a bright yellow highlighter that taxes for the richest under Obama would be lower even than under Reagan or any other president besides Bush. If he's a socialist, so is Reagan, GHW Bush, Teddy Roosevelt and Eisenhower.

2. Explain fiscal responsibility and the irresponsibility (and break from American tradition) that Bush's tax cuts have represented. I think a large number of our countrymen no longer have any idea why taxes are necessary at all. This is a huge cognitive disconnect on the part of Americans springing from the fact that Bushian anti-government ideology has, I think, instilled in many a sense that government can just cut taxes ad infinitum and that history has a teleological purpose in getting taxes eventually down to zero, which would've happened years ago if it weren't for Communists masquerading as congressmen.

Obama needs to set out:

a) why government is at all necessary and why it has always been involved in certain aspects of American life (roads, schools, military) -- and why it has retreated from some of these in recent years with dire consequences (as in Katrina);

b) that taxes are therefore needed to restore the traditional place of government;

and that c) huge deficits and fiscal irresponsibility were fine for Bush when he squandered Clinton's surpluses but if the government isn't able to climb out of debt it'll raise interest rates for everyone and really hurt businesses (unlike marginal tax increases). Given that the Republicans have given up fiscal responsibility for those Pillars of Human Learning -- the issues of Creationism, Gun Control, Abortion and Sex Ed -- maybe the Democrats will take up the banner of fiscal prudence.

3. Name the people likely to be on his economic team: Although anyone who's concerned about Ayers or Wright is probably just using those arguments as a cover for racism, these absurd rumors persist, thanks to the Old Man and Twit who circulate them every day. Obama needs to show people that he is the centrist in this election, that any change he represents would act to restore -- not remake -- America, and he needs to do this by saying who his advisers are. When people see that familiar, trusted faces like Larry Summers, Paul Volcker, Robert Rubin and Warren Buffett are the crux of his team, it becomes harder to hold on to fantasies that he's an America-hating Muslim terrorist socialist.

A nice dig at McCain, whose economic advisers are a bunch of partisan hacks (Douglas Holtz-Eakin seems to be a political talking-head bulldog more than an economist); failed business leaders (Carly Fiorina was as apt an exec at H-P as Palin was an interviewee with Katie Couric, only Palin didn't cut 20,000+ US jobs or take a $21 million golden parachute after the interview; Meg Whitman's EBay has never even been profitable); and ideologues (the likes of Phil Gramm and Jack Kemp are Reagan political toadies with no claim to any experience or knowledge about economics at all), would be entirely appropriate here.

4. Give concrete details about job creation plans. Not only is job creation a huge worry for most voters (and rightly so), it's also an Obama strong suit. His job-creation strategies, admirably, are a mix of ideas from some of the world's smartest people. The creation of a $60 billion National Infrastructure Development Bank -- as conceived by Felix Rohatyn to oversee projects of federal, not local, importance -- and focusing on "rebuilding America" will be a huge source of jobs to do long-overdue work and avoid the local, "Bridge to Nowhere"-type projects Palin is fond of.

Obama already mentions his $150 billion "Manhattan Project" for energy independence and the greentech jobs it would bring -- 5 million jobs in building solar panels and turbines, and overhauling the nation's electrical grid -- in his stump, but he needs to do it even better.

His plans for public-private partnerships and investment funds to identify and develop advanced manufacturing techniques that would bring back production jobs to the US are hardly ever mentioned. Neither are the $80 billion in tax credits that would go to small/new businesses or R&D positions. Longer-term goals of worker-retraining, education and healthcare also play a part here...

McCain's plans, really, boil down to nothing more than giving the richest more tax breaks and increasing the house-of-cards aspects of our economy by further puffing up indecorous levels of consumer spending that far outpace production via tax cuts and low interest rates. This is called a consumer bubble; being the world's shopper of last resort, spending credit fueled by the Chinese Communist Party's investment in US bonds and not producing anything, will leave us in a hole much bigger than our current over-leveraged mess, given that real estate spending is a small fraction of overall consumer spending.

BONUS: Call McCain a racist Nazi slut. Conceding that the twin horrors of the 20th century were fascism and communism, if McCain's proxies can call Obama a "Marxist," the equivalent would be to call McCain a "Nazi." Of course, McCain's no Nazi, and Obama's no Marxist. But just as Obama wants to empower the middle class and bridge the wealth gap that is swallowing the country, so are McCain and Palin running a racially charged campaign about which candidate is true to "American culture" and "traditional American values" or, more simply put, is "American." That's as Nazi as Obama is Marxist, if not more so.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

People Who Should Have Been Fired, But Haven't: Tucker Bounds

BOULDER, Colorado -- I had not seen this bobble-headed nitwit in weeks, so I had just assumed that McCain spokesman Tucker Bounds had been cut loose by the campaign. But he is still around, defending untrue robocalls and Reaganomics and repeating the Animal Farm-like argument that a vote for Obama is the equivalent to a "double down" on George W. Bush's economic and fiscal policies.

At least he said today that you probably should not vote for Ted Stevens (the same 200-year-old, massively corrupt senator who had endorsed Sarah Palin in the Alaska governor's race).

Ugh, I cannot wait for this election to be over so that I can get back to writing about bad journalism in Russia. It is not quite so depressing when the terrible, incompetent journalism isn't coming from your own country and doesn't have an impact on the most monumental election of a generation. But my friend gave me a few words of solace: "But I'll find the strength, and the darnkess shall not comprehend it."

In the meantime, go and cast your vote for Osama bin Lohan.

Notes from a Swing State: Obama and Guns

BOULDER, Colorado -- I have mentioned before the appalling tenor and sheer volume of political attack ads in Colorado. Last night, one of the local channels felt it necessary to run a 15 second spot called a "political ad break," in which they just showed a shot of a pristine Colorado mountain landscape, to give people a brief reprieve from the insanity.

Colorado has been a heavy target of the National Rifle Association's "Defend Freedom - Defeat Obama" campaign. Many of the ads are run through the NRA's PAC, NRA Political Victory Committee, and they claim that as president, Barack Obama will severely curb the rights of gun owners. Here is one example of the ads that is currently running in the state:

This campaign may be having an effect, as there is a troubling trend emerging. The Washington Post reported yesterday that sales of guns and ammunition have increased 8-10% nationwide this year, and there is evidence that the rise is connected to anxieties over the potential election of Sen. Obama.

I know someone that works in an outfitting store here in Colorado, and he reports that they have recently been selling anywhere from two to eight assault rifles per day. Handguns are even worse; their stock is basically empty. Customers are apparently terrified that on November 5, President-Elect Obama will order the National Guard to seize everyone's assault rifles, hunting rifles, handguns, water pistols, and all other vaguely gun-shaped objects from their homes. More troubling, he says, the store rejects at least one applicant per day because they're a felon, they try to buy the gun with a fake ID, or they stupidly admit that they're buying the gun for someone else, which is illegal (though Colorado does not require any sort of registration or permitting for the transfer of ownership of a gun; they don't even require licensing of any kind).

As a gun owner myself, I support the right to own guns for legitimate purposes, like hunting or self-defense, but within reasonable limits. Colorado's gun regulations remain incredibly lax, and even if someone is of age and has a clean record, it is quite troubling to me that they can walk into a store, and five minutes later walk out with an AR-15 or an AK-47.

[Washington Post: Gun Sales Thriving In Uncertain Times]

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Oui, On Peut - Sauver Notre Pays!

BOULDER, Colorado -- As per my previous post about the absurdity of seeing the country in terms of red and blue, even down in deep-red Louisiana, you can find your fair share of Obama supporters. This has got to be my favorite campaign video (and song) of this whole mad season:

By the way, the red=Republican, blue=Democrat is an artefact of the 2000 presidential election. Before that time, there was no set color scheme, and in fact, the colors were often reversed (as you can see on this map from the 1976 Carter-Ford race). Yet this paradigm has become so ingrained, it is hard to imagine it will ever go away. I think the two parties may be stuck with these colors for a long time to come. Perhaps it will be replaced by this notion of "real" and "fake," or "pro-" and "anti-American" America. I wonder what would be a good graphic representation for those concepts? Perhaps the Republicans would best be served by ceding red back to the Democrats so that they can frame those socialist-terrorists as the new "red menace."

Map of Newspaper Endorsements of Presidential Candidates

BOULDER, Colorado -- The folks over at have put together this data set of newspaper endorsements from the upcoming presidential election. The data is presented in an interactive map, which also displays the endorsements from the 2004 election.

However, I do see a problem with one of their conclusions. They attribute the presence of papers supporting Republican candidates in traditionally liberal areas, and vice versa, to a market effect. Papers like the Boston Herald and the New York Post are appealing to a sizable conservative niche in their respective markets, while the major papers of record - in this case the Globe and the Times - are liberal.

This fails to acknowledge the importance of history. Market forces may certainly be responsible for the fact that some large cities have two major papers, and these tend to have opposing editorial stances. However, many cities have only one daily, and that paper's leanings may be difficult to predict based on regional voting patterns. Smaller markets tend to have only one paper - for example, the Hartford Courant has traditionally endorsed Republicans, despite Connecticut's overwhelming support for Democrats. In the past, cities supported many more daily papers. They disappeared for a variety of reasons, but with circulation dwindling everywhere, other market forces besides a paper's political slant will likely determine which survive and which do not.

They do make a good point that the party split falls largely along the rural/urban divide; major newspapers are by design an urban phenomenon, which may explain some of the lopsided support for Obama, even in safe Republican states. So, a paper's endorsement may not at all reflect the political posture of the region that it serves. What this map should show you is that newspaper endorsements are not a reliable indicator of election success, either within a particular state or nationwide. But it does serve to illustrate the absurdity of the red state/blue state paradigm, which seeks to create reified political divisions between people and regions where none really exist. It is still a pretty interesting map that can also tell you a lot about the perhaps-soon-to-be-extinct newspaper industry.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Facebook Is in the Tank for Barack Obama

BOULDER, Colorado -- I have noticed that a lot of people on Facebook have been adding the middle name "Hussein," ostensibly to show moral support for Barack Obama and his oft-mocked name. I thought I would show some solidarity myself with a beleaguered public figure, a man who has been the victim of racist attacks and vicious smears, a man who has fought hard to overcome the obstacles of our bigoted and unfair society.

I was very, very disappointed when Facebook's automated name-change approval system rejected my request, thereby denying my attempt to make a powerful political statement through my profile.

If I want to change my middle name to "O.J. Simpson," I should be allowed to do so.

Because today, we are all O.J. Simpson, aren't we?

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Russian Court Slaps Moscow Times With Fine

BOULDER, Colorado -- I wonder how the Moscow Times will cope with this fine handed down from a Russian Court. From Bloomberg:

Billionaire Prokhorov Wins Case Against Former Partner Potanin

By Torrey Clark

Oct. 22 (Bloomberg) -- Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov won a defamation case against his former business partner Vladimir Potanin, as the two men split up their assets this year,
the Moscow Arbitration Court said.

"I'm satisfied with the decision,'' Prokhorov said on his personal blog today. "I consider the issue closed.''

The court ruled that comments made by Potanin in an interview published by The Moscow Times on June 11 were damaging to Prokhorov's reputation, spokeswoman Maria Raben said in an e- mailed response to questions today.

The judge fined Potanin and The Moscow Times, an English-language daily newspaper, 1,000 rubles ($37.15) each, and ordered OOO United Press, the newspaper's publishing house, to print a retraction of the comments, RIA Novosti said. Raben didn't immediately comment on the report.

Potanin plans to challenge the ruling within the allotted five days, Nina Dementsova, a spokeswoman for the businessman's Interros Holding Co., said by telephone today.

"We don't understand why the court refused to review our evidence about agreements on the division of assets and how they were carried out, or hear our witnesses,'' Dementsova said.

The Moscow Times will decide whether to appeal after receiving a copy of the court's decision, Ekaterina Son, the newspaper's publisher, said by mobile telephone today.

In the interview published by The Moscow Times, Potanin accused Prokhorov of ``breaking agreements'' about selling a blocking stake in GMK Norilsk Nickel, the world's biggest producer of the metal, Onexim Group, Prokhorov's investment company, said June 16.

Prokhorov sold his 25 percent plus one share in Norilsk to United Co. Rusal in April for 14 percent of Rusal and a cash sum supported by a $4.5 billion loan arranged by the aluminum company.

Thanks to Will for this story.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Canadian Classic Rockers Linked to Crazy Woman

BOULDER, Colorado -- Gawker ran a nice collage this morning of all the headlines and captions used by the news media for the comments made by Minnesota Republican Congresswoman Michele Bachmann.

The first-term representative accused Barack Obama of having "anti-American views" on Chris Matthews' Hardball on Friday. Now she is claiming that there was a "misreading of what I said."

Bachmann is truly certifiable, and this is just the latest in a long list of crazy, offensive views that she holds dear, from believing the pope to be the Antichrist to hating flourescent lightbulbs. Unfortunately, there appears to be little chance that she'll be unseated in Minnesota's 6th district - she is currently running 11 points ahead of Democratic challenger El Tinklenberg (I can't imagine he gets much traction with a name like that in pretty staunch Lutheran country). This despite the fact that there is another conservative in the race, independent Bob Anderson, who should be drawing more support away from Bachmann.

The real point here, however, is that Rep. Bachmann should not be mentioned in the same breath as Canada's greatest Mormon rock band, Bachman-Turner Overdrive. Instead, whenever you hear mention of BTO, you should think of The Alligator. What is that, you ask? It is a dance known only to residents of the Saginaw Valley of Michigan - Flint, more specifically - that is performed to the hit song "Takin' Care of Business." So the next time you're in a bar or at a wedding, and this comes on, get down on the floor and start dancing.

UPDATE: I guess I spoke too soon about Bachmann. It appears that since Friday, her Democratic challenger has raised over $1 million in campaign donations, and the Republican National Committee has pulled all of its money from Bachmann's campaign for media buys. I guess McCarthyism doesn't work!

[Gawker: We Get the BTO Joke Already, Thanks]
[Youtube: Dancing the Alligator to BTO's "Takin' Care of Business"]

Monday, October 20, 2008

America's Worst Reporter Gets a Job - At Fox News!

BOULDER, Colorado -- Iraq War cheerleader, fake martyr and actual liar Judith Miller, was recently hired by Fox News to be an on-air personality. The disgraced former New York Times national security correspondent had been bouncing around from conservative think tank to awful rag since her departure from the Times in 2005, but now, I guess she has found some good company over at MurdochTV.

She has claimed that she is a "political independent," and her hiring was not motivated by any political or ideological leanings. This excerpt from a recent article she wrote for the Reader's Digest (I know) - about how awesome Abu Ghraib is now - might suggest otherwise:
"Rather, thousands of once illiterate detainees have learned how to read and write. Hundreds more are now studying math, science, geography, civics, Arabic, and English and learning carpentry, bricklaying, and other skills that may enable them to feed their families after their release. They play soccer and Ping-Pong, visit their families, pray, and debate how to accurately interpret the Koran they can now read for themselves."

[Gawker: Hero Jurno Joins Fox]
[Washington Post: Howard Kurtz]

Kremlin Mouthpiece Russia Today Is Pretty Dumb

BOULDER, Colorado -- A friend of mine from college recently posted this awesome music video in which he plays the part of a lonely Russian pining for Sarah Palin from across the Bering Strait:

What I like most about this video are the little details - the mullet, the heinous sweater, the poor spelling - that make it look like it might have been made by actual Russians. The song itself is hilarious, too, but it's an obvious parody. Well, the people at the Kremlin propaganda station (and my former employer) Russia Today were duped pretty easily. This is what they wrote in response to the video:

Отличное видео, хотелось бы получить разрешение на его использование
Добрый день, коллеги.

Вам пишет англоязычный телеканал Russia Today. Нам бы хотелось получить разрешение на использование вашей песни у себя на сайте, а также услышать небольшой рассказ о том, кто вы такие есть, почему решили написать песню про Сару Пэлин, планируете ли дальше использовать тему выборов в США и тд.

Если вы не против, ждем ваш ответ на это сообщение или на адрес:

Если есть возможность прислать ролик в лучшем качестве, чем на Ю-тьюбе, мы будем обязаны.

С уважением,
А. Антонов

[Translation: Excellent video. We would like to get your permission to use it.

Good day, colleagues,

We are writing you from the English-language television station Russia Today. We would like to receive your permission to use the song you have posted, and we would also like to get a brief description of who you are, and why you decided to write a song about Sarah Palin, whether you plan to do more about the American election, etc.

If you're willing, we await your reply at the following address:

If it's possible to send us a high-quality copy of the video, instead of just the Youtube clip, it would be greatly appreciated.


A. Antonov

[From Boxing Metropolis]

Yes, they wrote the letter in Russian, believing the creators to be their countrymen. I have encouraged them to string these fools along for as long as possible - maybe finagle a free trip to Moscow out of it. Keep up the good work, propagandists!

UPDATE: Russia Today has posted this story about the "musical video" on their website, under the title "thrilling videos."

Friday, October 17, 2008

Oliver Stone's Weird Geography

BOULDER, Colorado -- On Friday night, I went to go see the new Oliver Stone picture, "W." I would not recommend it to anyone. Some of the performances were notable (Josh Brolin as George W. Bush, Richard Dreyfus as Dick Cheney), but the plot was weak, the dialogue was atrocious, and the overall execution of the movie was slapdash and amateurish (perhaps this has something to do with the fact that they rushed to release to precede Election Day). George W. Bush is an incredibly tedious personality, and it is difficult to watch someone imitate him - even brilliantly - for two hours. The President is the only real character in the movie - everyone else is just props with weird affectations more suitable for Saturday Night Live impersonations than dramatic roles - but even his depiction comes across as superficial and trite.

But I digress. In one particularly tedious scene, the "principals" of the Bush administration are meeting in the situation room to plan out their Iraq strategy. Dick Cheney lays out his grand vision of the world - encircle Iran, control the choke points, drain the swamp, forge an eternal American empire, etc. - in front of series of crappy maps. In one of them, a map of the world showing the Axis of Evil, there is a rather odd representation of China, which is partly visible in this screenshot in the top right corner (sorry, this shot from the Youtube trailer was the best that I could do):

Tibet is shown as an independent country. This map is only on the screen for a few seconds, but it's a rather strange choice to make. This is probably just the result of the terribly sloppy filmmaking that characterized the whole film. It is riddled with little mistakes and inconsistencies that nag the overly-attentive viewer (like me); it is attention to detail that makes a good film. But there is a possibility that this is a political statement on the part of Oliver Stone, known for embracing political causes all over the world, some more reputable than others. If it was a statement, well, one person noticed it, and it was dumb and uninspired. The last place I would imagine a free Tibet on a map - other than Beijing - is in a White House conference room.

Okay, I promise that this will be the last post about barely visible maps in the background that are slightly inaccurate.

Worst Obituary Ever

BOULDER, Colorado -- Perhaps the Denver Post should have thought a little bit more about this headline before they ran it on their website:

Man who said he was glued to toilet found dead

It should be noted that the toilet-gluing incident and his death were completely unconnected. In 2003, he sued The Home Depot, claiming that he was the victim of a prank in one of their stores when he had his behind glued to a restroom toilet. He also claimed that employees ignored his cries for help for 15 whole minutes, which was the foundation of his claim for $3 million in damages.

The case was thrown out of court, but this was, apparently, the most noteworthy thing he ever did in life. The man's name was Robert Dougherty, 60, and he died in his home in Nederland, Colorado. Police said he had suffered from a variety of medical conditions, and they don't suspect foul play (in his death, not in the butt-gluing).

Mr. Dougherty did manage to stay in the news for quite some time after this initial incident, and every headline seems to reference the toilet; for example, when he slipped into a diabetic coma. Perhaps his general ill health was linked to that terrible day in Home Depot, as he claimed to have developed PTSD as a result. According to his attorney Mark Cohen, in 2007:

"Our contention has been that his post-traumatic stress disorder brought about his diabetic condition," he said. "So you can say, 'Well, this would not have occurred but for (the toilet-seat incident.)'"

He has also managed to inspire some copycats. Earlier this year a St. Louis man fell victim to similar prank, also in a Home Depot. His lawsuit claims that the company should have been aware that
"there would be a strong possibility that instances of copycat behavior would occur."

I hope when I pass on, the headlines don't read something like, "Area man who threw up at middle school dance found dead." It's one thing to die an embarrassing death; it's another to die an inconspicuous death at home, yet still be remembered for a preposterous incident involving a toilet and some epoxy.

[The Denver Post: Man who said he was glued to toilet found dead]

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Vladimir Putin Hates the Boardgame "Clue"

BOULDER, Colorado -- Only in Russia could a stupid magic show be turned into a preposterous piece of political theater.

Okay, for those of you that don't speak Russian, here's what happened.

The magician is doing a trick in which he locks in a safe a piece of paper with a description of a crime written on it. He then asks different members of the audience to guess the instrument used, the city in which the crime took place, and the name of the guilty party; the first two people offer suggestions of a knife and the city of Munich.

The trouble starts with the third audience member, who struggles to come up with a name, and finally blurts out "Putin." After the volunteer from the audience writes these three things on the board, the show's host - who looks and speaks like a total skinhead thug - intervenes.

"We have to change that name. They're telling me you have to change that. Try again. That simply isn't right," he says.

They even begin arguing about whether they can leave the name of the prime minister up on the board and just write the compromise suggestion - "Vladimir" - below it, or whether they need to get a new piece of paper entirely.

Apparently, the name "Putin" is like "Jehovah," not to pass the lips of man. This is a truly terrifying piece of self-censorship, but is commonplace in Russia. The cult of personality of now-Prime Minister Putin is well-established and nearly unassailable. That is, until the country's economy goes in the tank completely, and people start figuring out that he has unabashedly raided the treasury more than any of the oligarchs. Putin will go down as the worst kleptocrat the world has ever know, putting Suharto and Mobutu to shame.

Thanks to Itchy for this video.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Boulder County is the Red Menace, Bob Schaffer is a Terrible Geographer

BOULDER, Colorado -- For those of you that don't know, Colorado is host to one of the most hotly contested Senate races this November. The seat of retiring Republican Senator Wayne Allard is up for grabs, and sitting Democratic Congressman Mark Udall is running against former Republican Congressman Bob Schaffer.

Colorado is rightly identified as one of the key "battleground" states, and this race, like the presidential contest, remains close. The state is known for having a rather nasty campaign season, and this year is no different. We've had the privilege of watching some of the most disgraceful national ads, from John McCain's Paris Hilton spot to this Obama ad attacking McCain for owning a foreign car.

Schaffer and Udall have also been less than cordial with one another on the airwaves, and this recent Schaffer spot has been pretty par for the course.

I'm hoping the term "Boulder Liberal" will become part of the political name-calling lexicon, just like the tried and true "Tax and Spend Liberal." Wonderful turns of phrase.

But my concern here is more cartographic than political. If you look closely at the red menace of Boulder County, ready to take over the small town heartland of Colorado with its communist/terrorist/totally gay agenda, you will notice something in the southeast corner of the county; or rather, you won't notice something.

Now compare that to this county map of Colorado:

Broomfield County, which was incorporated in 2001 from pieces of Boulder, Adams, Jefferson and Weld Counties, is completely absent from the map. Apparently, while making their Cold War propaganda-style map, the Shaffer campaign didn't see the need to use a map that was less than seven years old. The funniest part is that George W. Bush won Broomfield County by 4.5 points, about the same margin by which he carried the entire state in 2004. If Schaffer (or McCain, for that matter) want a chance of winning Colorado in November, they will have to clean up in the affluent - and mostly Republican - suburbs of Denver. Leaving them off the map is not helping their cause.

Udall himself has been guilty of disrespecting the poor citizens of Broomfield. If you go to his campaign website, you will find a calendar listing for an event on October 5th, an "Ice Cream Social with Mark Udall" - the problem is that it is in "Broomfield, CT." Well, there is no Broomfield in Connecticut (there is a Bloomfield - what up, Margie), and we can assume he meant the much-maligned Colorado town.

Sorry, Broomfield. I guess no one in this race really gives a damn about your town.

UPDATE: The Udall campaign did finally fix their ice cream social mistake (though perhaps the biggest mistake was hosting an "ice cream social"), but they haven't been willing to make any political hay out of Schaffer's gaffe. It's probably for the best; Udall is ahead in the polls, and it's probably best just to ignore these attacks.