Archive for August, 2012
Posted by Scott Erb in 2012 Election, Barack Obama, Democrats, Mitt Romney, Paul Ryan, Republicans, US Politics on August 31, 2012
It wasn’t as bad as the Democratic Convention of 1972 which saw George McGovern give his acceptance speech at 2:00 AM, but given how conventions have become well planned and choreographed propaganda events for each party, I was shocked by how bad the GOP convention was.
Symbolic of the fiasco that blew Mitt Romney’s best chance to introduce himself anew to the American people was Clint Eastwood’s bizarre, rambling speech given at the height of prime time when everyone was tuning in. This prime time slot is precious, and anyone planning the evening should know pretty much how every minute will unfold – nothing should be a surprise.
Now, the idea of having Clint Eastwood address the convention at this time is questionable in and of itself. Eastwood’s appeal is mainly to older white males, a demographic already pretty much in Romney’s camp. When an old, rich white guy says to a stadium of Republicans “we own this country,” it’s got to cause discomfort. Some thought this move would be powerful because Eastwood had been in the GM super bowl commercial many thought friendly to Obama. But that’s only something political junkies notice. Eastwood earlier in the evening perhaps, but not at the height of prime time.
But its political malpractice to put him out there without a script! He was off message about Afghanistan, his discussion of Guantanamo Bay had no real point. His manner was, well, doddering. At times he verged on incoherence, with jokes that veered from lame to borderline offensive. It was a train wreck. Whoever thought it was a good idea to put him out there to try a bit of comedy without a pre-approved script and rehearsal should be fired.
Marco Rubio, despite taking a sip of Clint’s water, helped reclaim the momentum with a very well delivered, compelling speech. It was, in fact, the best speech of the convention (at least that was covered in prime time) and it set Rubio up for 2016 much like Obama’s 2004 Democratic keynote set him up for his 2008 run. Rubio can still be criticized. While he did have the most effective criticism of Obama, for a nomination speech he could have talked more about Romney’s accomplishments and vision. But vague seemed to be the theme of the convention.
The fiasco started on the first night. Ann Romney gave a decent speech trying a bit too hard to claim that she and Mitt were “just like any other family with problems.” Yeah, but you also had a lot of money — that helps! Still, she gave a good “first lady like” speech. Then Chris Christie’s keynote, designed to make him the 2016 favorite (or for optimistic Republicans, 2020), was a belly flop. Given Christie’s belly, that’s gotta hurt!
Christie did launch some good hits on Obama, but otherwise failed to give an overall vision of what was different about Mitt Romney’s Republican party. Much of what he said could have been said in 2004 about what Republicans stand for. Given that Romney’s chances to beat Obama are best if he stakes out new territory for the GOP – we’re not going to repeat the mistakes that created the collapse in 2008 – it isn’t that effective. Moreover there was again little talk about Romney, and lots of red meat for the audience. Conventions should motivate the true believers, but prime time is also when you have to reach out to the undecideds.
So what about Romney and Ryan? Paul Ryan gave a moderately good speech, though not as powerful as Palin’s 2008 effort. He inspired the base, but the discussion the next day was mostly about fact checkers and Republican claims that they don’t want to be limited by fact checkers. The trouble with that is that it sounds like they’re saying they don’t want to be limited by facts. Given that Ryan’s appeal has been that he is smart and honest, his foray into rhetoric stretches (to be favorable — others would say lies) damages his brand. It also was formulaic and again seemed aimed more at the base than independents.
The big disappointment, however, was Mitt Romney’s much anticipated effort to re-introduce himself to the voting public. First of all, he delivery was poor. He spoke too fast, swallowed some syllables, and his intonation was robotic and nervous. He’s no Ronald Reagan obviously. But of all the prime time speeches, his delivery was the least effective and engaging. Clearly, Romney is who is his, he was never about to become a silver tongued orator. But he’s good enough that he should have been able to have precise intonations, speak slower and with purpose, and try to connect. It felt like he was simply trying to get through it. He didn’t connect.
His content was vague — again, a theme of the convention. He launched attacks on Obama, but the attacks were generic. Any President in power during a global economic crisis could have been hit with the same charges. Unemployment is high, are you better off than you were four years ago, he’s not done enough, etc. He mentioned health care only twice, and vaguely – ‘we will repeal and replace Obamacare’. OK, how? He hardly mentioned foreign policy, and when he did it was vague, or in code.
For instance, there was an open mike incident over a year ago when President Obama told then Russian President Medvedev that he’d have more flexibility after the election. Romney last night said (I’m paraphrasing) that unlike being flexible with President Putin after the election he’d be tough from the start. First, open mike incidents are only really noticed by political junkies, that reference went way over most peoples’ heads. Second, what exactly does he mean? Is Russia our enemy now?
He didn’t mention Afghanistan and his promise for a tough foreign policy was reminiscent of the kind of talk we used to hear from Vice President Cheney — though to his credit, Cheney tended to give details. Romney finally got to his five point plan, but…it wasn’t a plan. It was a list of promises – create new jobs, become energy independent, etc. No plan, no policies, no hint of what he’d actually do, just a promise that he’d fix things. His conclusion was a tad surreal: “President Obama promised to slow the rise of the oceans and to heal the planet. My promise is to help you and your family.”
He said that with a mocking tone. That sounds good to the base, but it seemed an odd way to try to seal the deal with independents — mock concern about global warming and claim concern about our families. Huh?
The vague content, poor delivery, and general weakness of most of the rest of the speakers means that the GOP squandered its opportunity to define a new Republican party, one ready to avoid the mistakes of the Bush era and instead prepared to implement an effective pragmatic economic policy to do the job Obama failed to accomplish.
Romney still has the debates, and hundreds of millions of dollars to spend on the campaign. Given the state of the economy the convention woes aren’t fatal to his candidacy. However, given what was at stake, it must be worrisome for Republicans just how poorly team Romney planned and executed this convention.
UPDATE: In judging from other critiques of the convention I may have seen it with a bit too much bias. No one gives it glowing reviews, but most seem to think Romney did good enough. In trying to judge political efficacy one is always biased to think others see something in the same way oneself does – the art of political analysis is to try to recognize it and adapt.
The Value of College
This is my favorite time of the year. New classes! New students! The energy on campus! There is a kind of excitement to the start of a new school year that I find invigorating.
Lately, however, many people have been questioning the value of higher education. The complaints vary. Some think that colleges are offering too many courses and degrees that don’t translate directly into a better job or an improved economy. Others say that college is so expensive that students are better off skipping the debt and going to work on their own. Mitt Romney tells young people to borrow money from their parents and just start a business! And cued from that comment, some complain that liberal professors “indoctrinate” students.
College is often a time when students change their views about the world. All of us go through life hypnotized in a way. Suggestions seep into our minds and shape how we think. Suggestions come from parents, advertisers, the television, peers, teachers and permeate our culture. Over time these suggestions cause people to see the world in which they find themselves as ‘natural’ and ‘normal’ and shut out other ways of seeing things.
In college those beliefs are challenged, students are encouraged to think for themselves, question what they’ve been taught and develop a critical, discerning and independent mind. In a sense students are challenged to question their programming, to liberate their minds from being slave to suggestions planted subconsciously by others. Students learn to view the world from different perspectives, understanding the limits of any one perspective, even their own. That gives people the power to go through life “awake” rather than hypnotized.
That to me is the most important benefit of college. Too many people, including those with a college education, go through life simply reproducing the beliefs and ideas that they hold due to the power of cultural suggestion. This is normal, that’s strange. This is how WE do things, those people who do things differently are odd, even dangerous. Eating dog is disgusting, eating cow is normal!
Another criticism involves the cost and benefits of college. To be sure, if you go to college you almost certainly will earn more in your life, even if you major in something with few jobs and earn only mediocre grades. While there are many who do great in life (in material terms) without higher education, they are a minority. Avoiding college limits career options in a fundamental way. Most professional positions are simply unobtainable without a college degree. Unless you can start your own business and have the natural talents to make it work, you’ll be competing with college grads for jobs — and potential employers will probably choose them over someone with just a high school degree.
There are exceptions. If you learn a key skill like plumbing, welding, masonry, or something in demand, you may end up earning more than many college grads. But you need to work hard and take pride in your skill — and anyway, I’d still recommend not skipping college!
The key fallacy in the argument about jobs is its implicit assumption that the primary value of education is to enhance earning power and get a particular job. That should be and is a by product, but the goal is to enrich and enhance life. For over 300 years the focus of western thought has been about liberation. The idea of freedom and liberty drove the colonists to rebel against England in 1776. It’s motivated the growth of science, philosophy, and rational thought. The idea is that individuals should use reason and evidence rather than mindlessly reproduce traditions and customs. This is true even for conservative thinkers like Edmund Burke who recognized the danger of taking that too far and appreciated the need for custom — for him it was the pace of change that mattered. Liberation too quickly is very dangerous.
A human who can experience the world with a clear mind, analyzing the suggestions that culture and tradition give, rejecting what doesn’t make sense and holding what does, lives life more awake than someone who simply goes with the flow and accepts the world as he or she finds it. Even someone who embraces the faith and tradition he or she was brought up with is richer if they choose their beliefs via careful reflection rather than simply reproducing what was taught to them. Not only will their faith be deeper, but they’ll also be less likely to fear different religions, cultures, and ideas — they understand rather than fear difference.
And what about those who don’t go to college? Are they all doomed to live ‘hypnotized’ by their culture? No – just as many with education don’t use it fully, many without it learn and find insight through other paths. College helps, but it is only one possible path towards liberating the mind. Chris Hedges told the story of how in Bosnia, when Serb and Muslim intellectuals rationalized violence and conflict between their groups, one uneducated Muslim farmer broke through the hypnosis and took milk every night for over a year to a Serb baby who would have otherwise died. Anything that pushes one to try to understand what they don’t know and entertain new perspectives and ideas can ‘wake up’ and move beyond cultural programming.
But as a college Professor I dedicate myself to trying to help students learn to think for themselves and question everything. A friend of mine jokes that I always say “…on the other hand,” but that’s an outgrowth of how I teach – there are always different perspectives to understand and incorporate. I do not want to indoctrinate or hold students to any standard of political correctness. I do not want to show disrespect for any religion or belief system, though I do want students to have the courage to make ethical calls about what some beliefs entail or some religious folk do. I want to help students learn to distrust pre-packaged ideologies and not be afraid of paradox. I believe its important not to be seduced by the power of logic (logic and reason can be used to prove almost anything you want them to in an uncertain world), but appreciate sentiment and intuition.
I’m excited, ready and looking forward to welcoming new students, reconnecting with old ones, and missing those who graduated. Bring on the new semester!
You Seek Yoda!
Posted by Scott Erb in Entertainment, Film, Star Wars, Values on August 27, 2012
About a year and a half ago I had a number of Star Wars themed posts, thanks to my kids becoming totally immersed in the story, playing Wii Lego Star Wars, learning the characters (even minor ones I’d never heard of like Bobo Fett or Captain Rex) and building ships with Legos. Alas, their video interests shifted. Ryan got into a video game which had him becoming a mercenary battling Universal Petroleum in Venezuela, both became engulfed in the world of Pokemon, and Star Wars was forgotten. I got Blu Ray discs of the entire movie series for Christmas which remained unwatched as the kids dominated the television watching “The Regular Show,” “Pheneas and Ferb,” and “Good Luck Charlie.”
But this week for some reason Star Wars returned, and in fact we’ve been going through the series from episode 1 to episode 6. I’ve never actually watched them in that order before. The last time I watched all six within a period of a week or two it was 4, 5 and 6 followed by 1, 2 and 3 – the order in which they were released. After all, that’s how fans experienced them. Yet for the boys that order made no sense — and it’s been a pleasure (even if it meant that a couple of beautiful afternoons were spent indoors – Star Wars is worth sacrificing an afternoon of outdoor play).
First, when watched in the “proper” order, it is very clearly the story of the redemption of Anakin Skywalker. When the first trilogy came out it was not; Luke was the hero and Darth Vader was his nemesis. Only in episode five (“The Empire Strikes Back”) did it get revealed that Vader was Luke’s father, with Yoda only hinting that he might have a twin (“There is another,” he replies to Obi Wan’s spirit after Obi Wan says Luke is their last hope.)
Some of George Lucas’ colleagues were upset with all this in episode five, especially bringing in the Emperor as the master of evil, thereby diminishing Vader in the Vader vs. Luke dynamic. Episode Six was about Luke becoming a Jedi, saving his father’s soul and learning he had a sister. But Anakin Skywalker was important only in a symbolic way, we connected with the son finding closure over not growing up with a father. How Anakin fell or why was unknown. In fact, Leia even vaguely remembered her mom — which now has to be seen as either an error or a sign that the force can cause even newborns to commit a scene to memory.
But watching episodes four through six right after the first three caused me to see the originals in a new way — a way one could not have seen them thirty years ago. I could imagine Anakin’s voice behind Vader’s supposedly synthesized voice. I could see Anakin’s personality in Episode V as he tries to convince Luke to join him and rule the galaxy as father and son. Anakin’s break from the dark side to betray the Emperor was not just about a father seeing his son being killed, but a recapturing of the good that Padme and Luke knew was still in him.
Watching this, I had to marvel at the story telling power that George Lucas commands. In his prequels he put together a stand alone story with power. The last thirty minutes of Episode 3 are riveting. But for fans willing to think about the original series with an open mind, he created a new, deeper and more meaningful experience. From the city planet of Coruscant there is the feel of shifting from political intrigue to a raw feel of the rebellion in the original films. Their lower tech effects don’t stand out as the story is put in a simpler setting.
George Lucas also added bits and made improvements in the originals. Some fans thought that was sacrilege, messing with a classic product. But Lucas is an artist who wants to improve and perfect his work. I respect that.
And ultimately what makes this more than just another action series is not only the cultural impact it had when released, but depth of thought in the story line. It’s fast paced and action packed with a subtle philosophy of the force and the power of calm courage against fear and hatred. Where Batman might just be a vigilante against villains, Star Wars represents the power of patience, ethics and a sense of unity against fear, anger and greed. Star Wars is good vs. evil both in terms of the people and their values. The message touches something inside.
After all, what other movies from the 70s generate such interest and passion, even among six year olds? And maybe as we head into our daily routines we can think about Yoda’s message. Be patient and calm, avoid fear and anger, focus on one’s higher self and deal with the problems as they arise, living in the present and not fretting about past or future. Perhaps most important is to seek the good in others, understanding and forgiving their failures. After all, if Anakin Skywalker/Darth Vader can be redeemed, couldn’t anyone? May the Force Be With You.
Four Years In
Posted by Scott Erb in 2012 Election, Economic crisis, Economy, Energy, Environment, European Union, Political Economy on August 26, 2012
Although in retrospect the economic slowdown that continues across the globe to this day started sometime in 2007, the realization that we were entering a period of intense economic crisis became undeniable back in September 2008. The world stood at the brink of a collapse of credit and a spiral into severe depression. Various fiscal and monetary stimuli helped ward that off, but many of the core problems remain:
1. High debt levels in the advanced industrialized states from both government and private sector actors. US total debt is near 340% of GDP, about $50 trillion. In comparison total global government debt is just under $50 trillion. Total global debt is at $190 trillion, or about three times the global GDP. So this is a global problem, and it’s not primarily government debt that’s to blame.
2. Shifting demographics in the advanced industrialized states which will require a modification of retirement pension schemes and other reforms in order to stay solvent.
3. An imbalance between consumption and production, with the former focused on the advanced industrialized states of Europe, the US and Japan, and the latter in emerging markets such as China, Brazil, and India.
4. Environmental factors involving global warming, over population, chemical poisons and other results from over a century of unprecedented material economic growth. We don’t know how bad all this will be, but those who dismiss or minimize the danger are living in a fools’ paradise.
5. Potential problems with natural resources, particularly oil, water, and minerals needed in order to maintain economic growth. Energy shortages are the most visible (and have been experienced in small doses), but crises involving water and in the near future other valuable minerals may define the next century.
Political leaders are still trying to grapple with how to handle this transition. There are no easy solutions. Despite the election year rhetoric, no President would have fared any better than Obama on the economy – this is a global, structural crisis that defies quick policy fixes. The two favorite solutions are dubious. From the left you get the Krugman School that points to the need for a massive stimulus of trillions of dollars to retool the economy and get the country moving. On the right there is a call for less government regulation and less spending.
Less government spending will slow the economy, and in fact slows it faster than tax hikes would. Less regulation might be good in many sectors, but in some such as the financial sector it was the cause of allowing things to get so bad. The housing bubble (which helped fuel the growth of private debt) is directly attributable to lack of regulation of derivative markets and the collapse of effective financial regulation in general. Government regulations on small business may choke innovation, but lack of regulation of big corporate actors that buy government favors and transcend borders has been fatal.
Government stimulus would cause a short term spurt, but the evidence is strong that once you reach about a 100% debt to GDP ratio the increased debt does more harm than the good done by the stimulus. In Japan goverment debt soared to 200% of GDP without stimulating growth. Moreover, unless its directed in a manner that is assured to improve productive capacity and build the economy the money could end up going into consumption of foreign produced goods or risky financial speculation. In short, if not done right a stimulus would leave us no better off but with much more debt and a deeper structural crisis.
So four years in, here’s my assessment of where we are – an ambiguous assessment, I admit!
1. Gloom and doom has been overstated. This is a long term crisis, but not the collapse of western or global civilization. We have fiscal and monetary tools to avoid collapse or depression era numbers.
2. Debt levels in the private sector are down significantly (total US debt has gone from about 375% of GDP to 340%). That paying down of debt is a big deal — and is also one reason the stimulus from more government debt didn’t do more. In a best case scenario this will continue and level out and over time economic conditions will improve. However, the old “normal” of very low unemployment, easy credit and consumerism was built on sand – we won’t go back to 2006.
3. Big structural issues – especially demographics, energy, water and global warming — remain unknowns. Demographic change is less dangerous than global warming. Demographic problems can be solved through reform of pension systems and a growing economy with more reliance on technology. Ultimately too many people is more dangerous than too few. We are seeing a start of a transition from fossil fuels to alternatives, and relatively large natural gas supplies suggest this could be a stable rather than sudden transition. Global warming can make all these problems worse, however, and very little has been done on that front. That remains the gravest threat facing humanity.
4. Inflation is coming. An odd aspect of this whole crisis is the way deflationary fears have overshadowed inflation fears despite weaknesses in major global currencies. On the plus side, the ability to pay down (private) debt despite low inflation rates is a very good sign that we don’t need to inflate our way out of this crisis. However, to keep the Euro viable loose monetary policy will be embraced by the ECB to handle Spanish, Italian and Greek debt. The Federal Reserve may engage in another bout of “quantitative easing” (akin to printing money). This shouldn’t yield a currency collapse or hyper-inflation, but robust inflation rates of 5 to 10% probably will occur and create new difficulties.
5. The weatlhy are not always job creators. The growth of debt in the last ten years have yielded a growth of wealth for the investor class. This has not been earned through job creation but easy money schemes built on debt – the very thing that threatens the global economy. It was built on bubble money that yielded no productive gains; this kind of easy money at low tax rates is part of the problem, not the solution.
All told, I’m more optimistic now than I’ve been any time in the last decade about the future of the economy. I think we’re still five years away from emerging into a new kind of global economy and there are still difficulties and pain to endure. We’re four years in, and at least four years from the conclusion. But there is some light at the end of the tunnel.
Posted by Scott Erb in 2010 Elections, 2012 Election, Barack Obama, Democrats, Republicans on August 24, 2012
Most Republicans I know are reasonable, intelligent and thoughtful people. We can disagree and have good intense discussions, and often find that we agree on more than we realize. Not being a straight ticket voter, I vote for Republicans in a variety of races and have always admired Senator Olympia Snowe. So my heart goes out to all the reasonable Republicans out there who are finding their party being hijacked by the crazies.
The most recent example is Todd Akin from Missouri who is defying pressure from within his own party to drop out of the race. While a lot is being made about his comment that a woman who suffers “legitimate rape” will have their body shut down and thus not become pregnant, his view represents a strain of thought that is rather common amongst the anti-abortion activists.
Here’s the deal: the hard core anti-abortion folk (who also wrote the anti-abortion plank of the Republican platform this year) believe abortion is wrong in all circumstances, including incest and rape. OK, there is a logical consistency to that. If it’s murder to kill a fetus conceived by a loving couple, it’s no less murder if the fetus was conceived via rape. If you think the fetus is a full human, then it’s just as wrong to abort it at three weeks as it is to kill it 23 years after birth.
But that creates an ethical quandry. Women who have been traumatized and now are pregnant with a baby conceived by rape often lack love for the potential child and have no desire to change their whole life in order to bring a child into the world. Most people — a vast majority — think abortion is OK in cases of rape and incest, or when the mother’s health is endangered. More importantly, this quandry convinces a lot of conservatives to make exceptions in their anti-abortion stance, something the extremists can’t stand.
So they make up a pseudo-factoid. Women who are victims of forcible rape (which Akin in his apology said he meant to say) have their bodies shut down and thus do not become pregnant. Rep. Steve King of Iowa said that he’s never heard of a pregnancy resulting from forcible rape or even statutory rape (huh?). This is very convenient, especially for male anti-abortion activists. There is no more ethical quandry — if a woman gets pregnant from rape, it wasn’t really rape. It was either consensual or, at the very least, she must have enjoyed it. Convince other activists to believe this, and pretty soon you have a neat, convenient world view that doesn’t require taking a harsh, unpopular ethical stand.
One can respect yet fiercely disagree with the principled pro-life stance. But efforts to evade unpopular moral dilemmas by essentially blaming pregnant rape victims for their plight must be condemned. Yet such views are common; Paul Ryan’s “pro life” rating is 100%, while Akin’s is only 90%!
There have been other examples of crazy. Michelle Bachmann and her gang of bigots tried to claim that Muslims were infiltrating government and affecting US policy. Hey, it worked for Joe McCarthy! Republican party leaders were aghast, rejected the claims, and yet realized that this blemished the GOP brand. John McCain launched a blistering attack on Bachmann’s allegations on the Senate floor, but the damage was done. And then you get the minor crazies, like Texas Judge Tom Head who claims that we could have civil war if Obama is re-elected because — get this — Obama wants to hand US sovereignty over to the UN and invite the UN army into the country (never mind the fact that the UN doesn’t have an army).
So far Mitt Romney has hurt himself by trying to appease the extremists. He’ll lose the Latino vote thanks to his claim that illegals should “self-deport,” alongside his promise to oppose immigration reform. Yeah, he can back track — shake the etch-a-sketch and try again — but the clip is out there and certain to be part of more than a few Latino-focused campaign ads.
For the Republicans, this is mess they brought on themselves. Since Reagan was elected in 1980 the formula has been the same: give voice to some of the radical fundamentalist positions to get support, and then ignore them when governing. Reagan could wax poetic on his pro-life stance, but never made it a priority in his Administration. Karl Rove wooed the religious right to support George W. Bush because they provided high voter turnout, enthusiasm and money. Yet their influenced declined after the election.
But in 2010 the crazies started to take over the asylum. The GOP calculus went awry. Candidates like Sharon Angle, Christine O’Donnell and Ken Buck assured that the GOP couldn’t win the Senate in their big 2010 landslide, and they barely escaped disaster in Alaska with Lisa Murkowski’s write in campaign. High profile “tea party” candidates bring with them the baggage of extreme and unpopular views. This year the damage continues. The GOP has to win four seats from the Democrats to gain control of the Senate. Yet two sure seats — Lugar in Indiana and Snowe in Maine — are in jeopardy because of the extremists. Mourdock beat Lugar in the primary, and Snowe retired.
Tea party victories in 2010 also keeps the House in play — the Democrats would have to win a lot of seats, but due to the extreme positions of many freshman, it’s possible. If the GOP were seen as a pragmatic party focused on improving the economy and reducing government, Romney would probably easily defeat President Obama and the Republicans might have another landslide. As it is their positions on social issues and the crazy soundbites coming from the wings create distractions and provide energy for the left.
Yet party leaders fear alienating their so-called “base.” Even Romney’s refusal to endorse Akin has led to a backlash from anti-abortion activists. The result is likely to be vast majorities for Obama amongst both women and Latinos. Romney will get a smaller percentage of the black vote than McCain received in 2008. This means that Romney’s path to victory is very difficult thanks to how he and his party have tolerated/embraced whacky ideas.
Yet again, most Republicans I know don’t hold such crazy ideas. Many of them have strong arguments about limited government and the need to reform social welfare programs. Yet that gets drowned out by the crazy talk from people like Akin.
Mitt Romney needs to take a stand. He needs to call out the crazies for what they are, embrace the moderation he showed as Governor of Massachusetts and save his party from the extremists. If he does he’ll win over a lot of independents and counter the image that he’s a wimp willing to say or do whatever it takes to win. In this case it appears he has no core and is weak, trapped by the fringe. Leaders don’t get trapped, they lead. Mitt, take on the fringes of your party in order to save it — otherwise, prepare for defeat.
(By the way, did anyone catch my rock and roll pun?)
Vacation: San Juan, Puerto Rico!
Usually when we’ve thought about trips to the Caribbean we’ve hit a price barrier. It’s too expensive, or the inexpensive places are not necessarily best with kids. This year, we finally figured out what to do: go during hurricane season. That’s the “low season,” and many wonder why anyone would want a tropical get away in mid-August? That’s for the middle of winter, isn’t it?
Not at all. At least not in the case of San Juan, Puerto Rico. Not only is the tropical paradise just as enjoyable and real in August as it would be in February, but the place has so much to offer that we only got a taste in our five days there. I definitely want to go back.
First, the hotel. We stayed at the Caribe Hilton (pictured in the previous post ‘Back Next Week’), located on the shore with both an ocean beach and the series of pools pictured above. The deepest pool is only about 4 feet, another is 3 1/2, and then there’s a toddler pool. There is also a bar pool, serving drinks. We ran up a bar tab of about $70 in five days. That was a total of five drinks…averaging half a drink per person, per day. But they were delicious!
The way to book this is to go to http://www.cheapcaribbean.com/ and book something for Mid-August probably into September. That’s the hurricane season, but most hurricanes go around Puerto Rico. Statistically, it’s a risk worth the very good deal you’ll get. They’ll find cheap plane tickets and offer a rate that was 33% less than what Orbitz or Expedia were asking. If you’re really worried about hurricanes they had an option for a 75% “cancel for any reason” insurance. This makes a top class resort affordable, as long as you don’t go crazy buying drinks or eating at their on premises restaurants.
In five days we managed to fit in three distinct themes. With kids aged 6 and 9 we spent a lot of time swimming on the beach and in the pools (which the kids absolutely loved — they would have been satisfied spending the day swimming at the hotel if we’d let them). We also avoided late nights and didn’t over schedule.
The first theme was Old San Juan. The city is remarkable. We went three three of the five days, exploring, eating, and visiting the favorite square of the kids: plaza de armas.
At Plaza de Armas the boys loved feeding the pigeons. The pigeons would perch on their arms, sit on their head, and they’d have fun with a bunch of other kids throwing seeds out to the birds. San Juan locals sold seed for $1 a bag. The same folke were at the square all three times we visited, hanging out and selling seeds. I admit I was a bit discomforted by the enthusiasm the kids showed for these “flying rats.” But a promise of going to where the pigeons are got them out of the pool and willing to venture into the city!
Old San Juan had charm, two amazing fortresses, beautiful streets and homes, and delicious food. We stopped at tacky souvenir shops as well, but it was fun to explore.
We also booked a half day tour of the rain forest, El Yunque. It was good in that it gave us a real taste of what the rain forest has to offer. We stopped at the Visitor Center, Cola Falls, Yokahu Tower for some distance views, and took a short hike. Alas, it was quick — next time (and there WILL be a next time) we’ll rent a car and explore it further. We didn’t get to the falls you can swim in because it was too long of a hike or this tour.
On our last full day there we went snorkeling. We used East Island excursions, which picked us up at the hotel with a van and took us to the coast near Fajardo. There we boarded a catamaran for a 45 minute jaunt first to an island with a beautiful sandy shore. We learned to snorkel there, saw a small reef, and had fun swimming and eating lunch on the boat. 15 minutes away was a larger coral reef which was beautiful. Between it, schools of fish, and about an hour of swimming in the beautiful ocean, the trip was well worth its while!
The boat itself – East Wind – was an experience. They had free drinks (weak ones), food, and made the voyage seem like a party. The kids could order pina coladas as well, albeit sans alcohol. There was a water slide, and the crew kept things fun. It was a worthwhile excursion – I’d recommend East Island Excursions to anyone traveling there. We wanted to go on their bioluminescent bay tour, which would have been great given we were there at a new moon. But it was from 3:30 to 1:00 AM, and ultimately we decided it would be a bit much for the kids. Next time.
In all, it was a relaxing and enjoyable trip. It gave us a taste of what Puerto Rico has to offer, and allowed us to enjoy a resort experience for a very reasonable cost — our room at the hotel at the Bangor airport was more for one night than the Caribe Hilton! (We needed that because we took off at 7:00 AM, and had to leave our car there for the duration of the trip).
We didn’t experience all the rain forest has to offer, the San Juan night life, or as much of Puerto Rican cuisine and culture as we’d have liked. We almost rented a car to explore the island, but decided not to. With kids and a lack of knowlege of what the place has to offer we weren’t overly adventurous. Yet we gathered info that we can use for our next trip. Ahhh, now I have to get ready for the new semester, feeling refreshed, revived and well tanned!
Back Next Week
Posted by Scott Erb in Uncategorized on August 16, 2012
Tonight I’m in Bangor Maine, at the airport hotel, able to look out the window from the 8th floor and get a clear view of the terminal and runways. I can picture scenes from the Langoliers (which was, indeed, shot mostly here).
Thursday AM we head out for San Juan Puerto Rico, a place I’ve never been to before. It may seem an odd destination in the middle of August — Maine is beautiful this time of year, Puerto Rico is in its hurricane season. But the deals are great — it’s off season for travel there — and the weather report is no hurricanes and warm tropical weather there, but rain in Maine.
I do not plan to blog, this is time for us to have a vacation. If people know Puerto Rico and want to give me tips, I will check the comments. Anyway, there’s little new to blog about now in politics — it’s silly season where Sarah Palin says a metaphor used by Biden should “drive a nail in his coffin.” (Hmmm, one could read into that metaphor too…)
When metaphors are treated as gaffes, you know nothing serious is happening. I’ll try to think of some interesting blog topics while on the beach (preferably not focused on politics — there will be enough of that between now and November).
One story I will be following are the protests world wide in support of the Russian provocateur band “Pussy Riot.” I blogged about them last week. They made the cover story of Germany’s Der Spiegel (English language story), and global protests are planned for Friday. I’m also integrating this episode into my research, it’s fascinating.
I should be back by the middle of next week. Thanks for reading!
Twins Win! 25 Years Ago
Posted by Scott Erb in History, Minnesota Twins, Sports on August 15, 2012
Can it really be 25 years since that magical 1987 victory of the Twins over the St. Louis Cardinals? Going through some old material I found a Twins Yearbook from 1987, and paged through it. A number of that year’s championship team were born the same year I was: Frank Viola, Kent Hrbek, Steve Lambordozzi, Al Newman and Tom Brunansky. Over half the team was born within two years of me — that team was my generation of Twins!
It was an amazing year. Along with a bunch of others at the University of Minnesota I attended home opener and followed the Twins through the year. On rainy days I’d often buy $3 bleacher seats, sometimes going to the game alone just to watch. The Twins went 85 – 77 that year, barely enough to win the division championship. I don’t think I saw them lose a game when I attended; their home record was 66-25 (road: 29 – 52). Luckily they had home field advantage in the series, which they won 4-3, losing the three games at St. Louis. I’m tempted to go watch the tapes I made of the series, but I no longer have a Beta-max to play them on.
What a team! Gary Gaetti, the efficient third base slugger, Greg Gagne at short stop, Steve Lombardozzi at 2nd and Kent Hrbek at first. Superb defense! The outfield was Brunansky in right, Gladden in left and Kirby Puckett in center. Viola and Bert Blyleven lead the pitching staff, with Jeff Reardon closing out games with brutal efficiency, usually set up by Juan Berenguer. It’s like it was yesterday.
Alas, time may heal all wounds but it also dampens all worldly joy. As I googled the names of the players it was clear that their glory days are behind them. One of the brighter stories belongs to Frank Viola. Viola, nicknamed “Sweet Music” was one of the most amazing pitchers to watch back in his heyday with the Twins.
Viola left the Twins before their 1991 World Series season, and had a few good years (and a few mediocre) before he retired with a 176 – 150 lifetime record, with 1844 K’s. Since then he’s had a nondescript career coaching baseball, currently a pitching coach for the Met’s A team, the Savannah Sand Gnats. He’s still with the game he loves, but it’s a far cry from winning Game 7 of the World Series. Still, his daughter Brittany competed in the 2012 London Olympics as a diver. Though she didn’t win a metal, seeing his daughter perform at that level must be as thrilling as it was for him to pitch in the big leagues.
But some stories are sad. One that brought tears to my eyes on many levels is that of “The Terminator,” Twins closer Jeff Reardon. Reardon was rock solid to shut down the opposition when called from the bull pen with a save opportunity. He is second on the all time save list. Yet Reardon lost his son Shane to drugs in 2004. Shane was 20 – my ’87 Twins Yearbook has a picture of the Reardon family with a young Shane.
That is sad in and of itself. But Reardon could not take the death of his son, he fell into depression, was heavily medicated, and then needed heart surgery. After that he had a urinary tract infection, and apparently the mix of prescriptions left him out of control. He tried to rob a store and was arrested. He had also attempted suicide.
Ultimately he was found not guilty by reason of drug induced insanity, his medications were cut down and from what I can tell he’s doing better. Still, as a father myself, I really felt for him and what it must have been like losing his son. Add the psychological issues, medications, and torture he went through, and the glory days were far gone.
Perhaps the worst story is that of the all around “good guy” and hero of the Twins, Kirby Puckett. Nobody was more loved than Puckett who drove in the winning run in game seven of the World Series, and four years later would hit a home run to win game six of the 1991 World Series. He was generous and well liked, but his career was tragically shortened by contracting glaucoma in 1996 and being forced to retire at age 35. Later he was arrested amid scandals of his affairs and treatment of women, and he died in 2006 of a brain hemorrhage.
In my 1987 Yearbook Reardon and Puckett’s pages are side by side.
Most stories are anti-climatic. Steve Lombardozzi has a son who is also a second baseman, playing for the Washington Nationals. He was born in 1988, a year after the Twins won their first series. Many are still in the Twins Cities area, including Kent Hrbek. Hrbek could have been one of the biggest stars of all time, when he came up he was slender, strong, agile and literally ‘a natural.’ No one could play first base defensively like Herbie. But he didn’t take care of himself, gained extra weight, had nagging injuries and never dedicated himself to being the best he could be. But he had fun — and I still remember witnessing some awesome homeruns from him at the Dome.
Tom Kelly, who became the youngest manager to win a World Series, currently works for the Twins, though he resigned as manager in 2001. His number 10 uniform will be retired on September 8th this year. I taped Kelly’s only major league homerun back in 1975, putting my cassette tape recorder up next to the radio speaker as Herb Carneal gave the play by play (I did that with every at bat of every player, then taped over the at bat if he didn’t hit a home run — that gave me a nice ‘home run tape’).
Using Google to find “where are they now,” it was odd to think how fleeting the glory from that World Series was. As a fan the team is forever young in my mind, the 1987 season and series stands as unchangable event. In reality, the players moved on, and glory faded. It’s a reminder that life is more like a marathon than a sprint.
And somehow as I close this post I think it’s fitting to remember Tom Kelly’s baseball philosophy: stay even, don’t get too high, don’t get too down, just go from one game to the next. Wise words.
Team Obama: Ruthless
Posted by Scott Erb in 2012 Election, Barack Obama, Democrats, Mitt Romney, Paul Ryan, Republicans, US Politics on August 12, 2012
Democrats remember Michael Dukakis complaining about the Willie Horton ads, or John Kerry indignant about the swift boaters. Each called out the other campaign for going too far, and each pleaded for more civility. The result: Dukakis and Kerry were both seen as weak and whiney. The attacks against them, whether fair or not, worked.
The Democrats learned the lesson. In politics you do not want to be the one whining about the tactics the other side uses, you want to be the one using those tactics. When the other side hits you unfairly, you don’t just complain, you punch back.
Take the recent flap about President Obama supposedly saying “you didn’t do that” about successful business owners. Romney’s team jumped on that with a vengeance, snipping the sound bite to change the President’s meaning. A lesser President might go out and say “they’re being unfair, they’re taking my words out of context.” Instead, Obama and his campaign let pundits analyze. They also hit back with ads attacking Romney’s tax plan and philosophy of government.
Mitt Romney, on the other hand, is clearly rattled by the constant pressure to release his taxes and explain the tactics used by Bain Capital when he was at the helm. He doesn’t want to talk about those things, he wants to talk about the economy. More specifically, he wants to talk about how Obama hasn’t fixed the economy, and how he should be given a shot given his pragmatic business experience.
But his record? His personal affairs? Off limits. The election should be about whether or not we’re satisfied with President Obama. He went public to say he wants a truce, he wants only talk about the issues, not about personal affairs, his business career or his taxes. Romney entered Dukakis territory, whining that the other campaign was being too personal.
What Team Obama realizes — just as Atwater did for George H.W. Bush back in 1988 — is that Americans don’t elect a list of policy positions. Americans elect a man (or hopefully someday soon a woman) to lead the country. They will vote for someone whose positions they don’t agree with if they trust the leader. In 1984 poll after poll showed that Americans sided with Walter Mondale on the issues. Yet Ronald Reagan won in a landslide. Romney pleading to be left alone feeds into the “wimp” meme and creates that sense that he is secretive and probably disingenuous.
Lest one feel any sympathy for Romney, he was equally ruthless in dispensing with Newt Gingrich, Rick Perry and Herman Cain in the GOP primaries. He spent massive amounts of money on extremely negative campaigns to demolish his opposition. When they whined (or in the case of Gingrich, screeched and howled), Romney and his team showed no remorse. This is hardball politics.
That’s what makes their incompetence in handling team Obama so far all the more hard to fathom. They are no less ruthless than Obama — indeed, their attacks and rhetoric against the President are just as intense.
Having mowed over a weak set of Republican opponents, they bought their own wishful thinking that Obama would be easy to defeat due to the economy. Just as they defined Gingrich and Perry in the primaries, they sent media surrogates out to talk about how “desperate” Obama was and how his Presidency was failing. The Washington Times led this effort to emasculate Obama, with Joseph Curl winning the award for “most over the top” propagandizing. This image of Obama as a weak failure was to be contrasted with the successful and trustworthy Mitt Romney: He can fix what Obama could not.
On paper it sounds good – assuming Obama would be like Gingrich and Perry, unable to mount a strong counter offensive. But not only could Obama hit back with Bain and tax attacks (which Romney should have expected) but the Supreme Court health care ruling undercut the GOP claim that Obama had pushed an unconstitutional plan on America. He looked strong, like a winner.
On top of that, Romney had hoped to stay vague. Yet every time he veered a bit to the center the right wing was on his case. He became trapped by his base, unable to stray far from his primary red meat rhetoric. This allowed a dual narrative to emerge – Romney is a dangerous elitist who cares for the rich more than the middle class and would embrace a radical right wing agenda…OR…Romney is a flip flopper who will change positions if it helps him win. Either narrative is unflattering.
The only way for Romney to overcome that is to become a strong candidate. He has to go out and convince the American people he’s sincere, principled and trustworthy. But gaffe after gaffe, talks where he sounds robotic and out of touch, and a thin skin when criticized, make him seem small and even whiney. Again, Romney joins his fellow former Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis in that territory. If the economy was purring nicely Obama would be in a commanding lead. As it is, a weak economy keeps Romney in the race.
Can he overcome these problems? Picking Paul Ryan was probably the best Veep move he could have made, but it alone won’t change the campaign. If Romney is to have a chance his campaign team needs to completely retool their strategy and show that they are ready for the big leagues. They have time to do this, and Team Obama could still stumble. Most importantly, Mitt Romney has to find a way to connect with the American people. He needs to convince the public that he has what it takes to lead. He can’t hide behind advertising and vanilla bland rhetoric. He can’t count on votes simply going against Obama. He has to become a stronger candidate.
Can he? I don’t know. Dukakis and Kerry couldn’t turn things around after they looked weak early in the campaign. Early mistakes are hard to overcome (Dean’s scream, or way back to Muskie’s tears, looking even at primary season). And ultimately a person can’t become something he is not; Romney just isn’t a natural politician. So my guess is he can’t – Team Obama is just too good at campaigning, and Romney isn’t charismatic or especially engaging.
But it’s a campaign – and in campaigns anything can happen.
Romney-Ryan – RYN
Posted by Scott Erb in 2012 Election, Barack Obama, Democrats, Mitt Romney, Paul Ryan, Republicans, US Politics on August 11, 2012
Ever hear the theory that books are magic? If you ask a question and have faith that you are guided, supposedly you can open a book to any page and it will have an answer for you (albeit one you need to interpret, especially if the book is about something very different than the question).
Being a good Political Scientist I decided to test the theory. While sitting atop my porcelain reading chair I grabbed Bill Bryson’s “Notes from a Big Country,” which happened to be in the little reading basket next to the reading chair. “OK,” I said to the book and the spirits at large, “guide me, tell me, who will win the Presidential election, will Obama get re-elected?” I thought about the question, put my faith in the universe and opened the book.
Right away, I saw a big “O” standing alone on the sixth line. How many solitary O’s are in the book? The page number was 200 — second term. Then on the first two lines he describes calling the social security office and having the phone answered after 270 rings. Get that – 270 is the number of electoral votes needed, and Paul Ryan’s views on social security are likely to be driving Obama to victory.
Well, who can argue with a book that opens itself to a page so obviously predicting an Obama victory? At this point I can stop following the horse race, rest assured that the spirits of the netherworld have given me inside knowledge on the result, and focus on other things.
Seriously though, here are my initial reactions. One caution — in 2008 after McCain chose Palin I wrote a post gushing about how she was a smart choice, published August 30. At that time I knew about as much about her as John McCain did when he chose her. A couple days later on September 2 I labeled her a dumb pick. Initial reactions can be wrong.
1. Romney’s campaign is in trouble. Rasmussen daily tracking notwithstanding, most non-partisan polls show Obama with a clear lead, both overall and in the swing states. Romney’s strategy to try to make the election a referendum on Obama failed; by defining Romney through attacks concerning taxes and Bain, Obama has made the election a choice. Romney is ditching his original strategy.
2. Romney’s campaign is in BIG trouble. Choosing Ryan is not just a rejection of his old strategy, but an embrace of a dangerous new approach. Ryan’s budget is full of political vulnerabilities — the Obama team already was going to try to hitch Romney to that budget, now it’ll be easier.
That is red meat stuff to conservatives, but until now the Romney camp figured conservatives would vote for him because, well, what choice do they have? Independents and swing voters would be the target, and the plan was to take out the Etch a Sketch and paint a centrist, pragmatic picture. They would make it vague enough not to piss off the base, but credible enough to convince those not happy with the direction the country was going.
That meshed with the rest of their original strategy – attack Obama, and then make Romney seem like a credible, safe, alternative with knowledge of economics. In dumping that first strategy they’ve also chosen to make this a campaign about ideas and ideology, something Romney has been loathe to do up until now.
3. Romney won’t be releasing his taxes. This isn’t a surprise, but think of what this means. Given how the Bain and tax issues have hurt Romney, the only reason NOT to release his tax returns is if he felt they’d be deadly to his campaign. Perhaps Harry Reid is right (after all, Romney’s denials are always ‘I paid a lot of taxes’ not ‘I paid a lot of federal income taxes’). Perhaps there are nefarious things involving off shore accounts that would damage him. In any event, he needs a major change of focus, and the only way to do that is to offer the Democrats a more lucrative target — ‘don’t go after me on taxes, go after Ryan’s budget.’ At least they can respond on that – the tax issue leaves them flat footed.
4. Romney needs a game change, not just help in Ohio or Virginia. If he thought it were close and he needed one of those states to improve his odds, he’d have safer picks with Portman or McDonnell. Ryan is a high risk/high reward type pick. Romney needs to change the conversation and the tone of the campaign.
5. Team Obama will try to link the two at the hip – Romney and Ryan represent the same values. That’s why I have RYN there, taking the letters common to their last names. This will be meant to diminish Romney (have him either overshadowed by or on a par with his young VP pick) and link Ryan’s very controversial budget and medicare positions to Romney’s campaign.
Will it work? Was this a smart pick? My first instinct is yes, it was a smart pick. Romney’s campaign has been a fiasco so far, his assumptions about what it would take to beat Obama have proven false — and team Obama has been ruthless and effective against him. This gives the country a real debate about the future and how to respond to the economic crisis. Rather than a vague “he had his chance, now give me mine,” the Romney campaign will defend their vision.
This will definitely NOT be a Palin like disaster. Ryan is already tested; he was at the President’s health care round table, he’s defended his budget and he’s been on stage at the national level, impressive and at ease. There is no chance he’ll bomb like Palin did — Romney isn’t impulsive like McCain, he thought through this choice. This adds youth and energy to the ticket.
On the other hand, Ryan’s a big target, and Team Obama isn’t about to change the conversation just because Ryan’s there. I suspect, however, it won’t make much of a difference. Intrade still has Obama’s chances at 59%, and usually the choice for number 2 doesn’t alter the fundamental dynamics of the race. While Palin was a negative pull on McCain, it’s hard to remember when a VP choice really made a difference in a positive direction. One reason this could be different is because it’s more than a change in personnel, it’s a change in strategy. The campaign just got more interesting.
So, we have our tickets: Obama-Biden vs. Romney-Ryan.