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January 31, 2006

state of the union - live blogging - done

9:00 PM Even through the television, you can sense a real nervousness in the air as we all await the president’s entrance. The question on everyone’s mind? What is the state of the union? Is it “strong?” Is it “confident?” We just don’t know, and really, can’t know until the president reveals it in his address. A quick historical review thus far under the Bush Administration:

2002: “the state of our union has never been stronger.”
2003: “our union is strong.”
2004: “the state of our union is confident and strong."
2005: “the state of our union is confident and strong.”

Will the President be able to make it five in a row? Forced to hazard a guess, we'd say that the President will announce tonight that the state of our union is “stronger than ever.” Also, “more confidenter.”

9:04 PM Lovable Stalinist-Peace Mother, Cindy Sheehan, apparently confusing the State of the Union speech with a hockey game, has been arrested trying to unfurl a banner on the balcony of the congressional chamber. (It was later reported that she unveiled a T-shirt with an anti-war slogan which is apparently frowned upon by the Capitol Police.)

9:09 PM Samuel Alito is in attendance having been sworn in after his Senate confirmation today with the kind of urgency usually reserved for cashing a check some guy just gave you for a used car.

9:14 PM NEWS ALERT: The state of the union is indeed “strong.” We repeat, the state of the union is “strong.”

9:17 PM I'm not 100% sure, but I think he just said we're going to invade Burma.

9:22 PM My wife just said, "this is boring, it's the same old thing he's said before."  This, from the woman who's seen every episode of Law & Order 37 times.

9:28 PM He just did his first balcony reference. Many mistakenly believe it was Ronald Reagan who began the tradition of placing people in the balcony and pointing them out during his speech. In fact, it was George Washington, at his very first State of the Union address in 1790, who invited the mother of Nathan Hale and, pointing to her, uttered those immortal words: “Mad props, yo.”

9:34 PM  John Kerry appears to be taking a lot of notes.  Possibly writing down his concise laser-like focus on the 137 reasons he should be the Democratic presidential nominee.

9: 38 PM  The president is making a strong case for spreading Democracy.  Did I just hear Harry Reid in the background?  <cough> Hamas <cough>

9:50 PM Oil from switchgrass!  Yes!  Switchgrass!  What's switchgrass?

9:55 PM The president has announced a series of spending initiatives and a continuing expansion of the powers of the federal government and its role in private industry. It will be interesting to see who is chosen to give the Republican response to these proposals.

9:56 PM CORRECTION: We have been informed that the Democrats are providing the response. Sorry, our bad.

10:01 PM He’s now getting into vitally important matters of national and global health and the essential measures being taken to... hey, have you seen what Superbowl tickets are going for on eBay? Holy cow.

10:08 PM  The president's speech is over.  However, word is coming out that the Capitol Police who carried off Cindy Sheehan earlier are demanding the release of Scooter Libby in exchange for her safe return.

10:18 PM You are probably wondering why Timothy Kaine, the new governor of Virginia who has been in office barely a month, was chosen to deliver the Democrat’s response. That’s easy, he’s one of a “new” breed of Democrat the party wants to showcase. You can tell he’s new because he wants to raise taxes even though he is facing a projected budget surplus. “Old” Democrats used to wait until there was a deficit.

10:44 PM Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa of Los Angeles gave the Democratic response en español. It is not well known, but responses to the President’s State of the Union speech were often provided in the native tongues of the predominant immigrant groups of the time, with a German-American representative responding in German, an Italian-American representative responding in Italian, and an Irish-American representative responding by downing a fifth of Jameson’s and picking a fight with the chairman of the Ways and Means committee for being “a right eejit.”

11:00 PM The talking heads have started examining the many important issues and ramifications surrounding Hillary's gum chewing during the president's speech.  This suggests two things:

  1. There's nothing left to talk about.
  2. Hillary has been in New York too long.

And my fingers are getting tired. Goodnight everybody!

J.

January 31, 2006 at 06:01 PM in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (6) | TrackBack

January 30, 2006

peace with honor. or maybe an exclusive.

The attack on ABC Nightly News anchor Bob Woodruff and his cameraman Doug Vogt has brought to light serious issues regarding the current state of the news media’s operations in Iraq with some calling into question much of the early planning that went into covering the war.

Although loath to admit it, some members of the media have begun to concede the possibility that they went into the conflict with too few journalists, a notion that is still strongly resisted by industry executives. “Look, we sent as many reporters as our bureau chiefs asked for,” insisted a network news head who asked to remain anonymous, “and I wasn’t about to second-guess them. If they needed more segment producers, they got them, if they needed more correspondents, they got those too."

As the casualties escalate, criticism has also mounted regarding the seemingly slow and laborious process of training Iraqi journalists to help take up some of the burden. But here, too, opinions differ. “We have whole groups up in the northern provinces operating independently of any American support, and are particularly proud of the progress made by the Kirkuk Action 4 news team and their advanced level of friendly banter,” noted a highly placed source at CNN. “Now, it is true that in hot spots like Fallujah, we still need to fill in the critical positions with our own people such as at the anchor desk and for the interview segments but we’ve got Iraqis backing us up at sports and weather and they’re doing a real bang up job there.”

Calls are also growing for some kind of timetable for a pullout of American journalists, a position that is rejected outright by most in the media who note that you “can’t tell when the news will end ahead of time.”

Perhaps of greatest concern is the stress being placed on media resources already stretched by prolonged engagements. 

“I have to admit to you,” said one cable news correspondent, “We’re maybe one Panda birth and a missing pretty white girl away from complete meltdown. We've become a ‘thin khaki line.’”

J.

January 30, 2006 at 06:56 PM in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

January 29, 2006

2006 washington dc auto show – part 2

The Washington DC Auto Show had for years taken place between Christmas and New Year’s. Unfortunately the only people available to attend the show during that period were Washington residents and their children most of whom were off from work or out of school. These people are referred to in automobile industry jargon as “customers.”

Merely having customers didn’t provide the Washington Auto Show with the kind of elevated status necessary if it was going to attract people who would make DC Mayor Anthony Williams look good having their picture taken with him. To accomplish that, you’d want to have it at a time when Congress was in session.

 

In fact, Auto Show Chairman George Doetsch announced the show’s new identity as “The Congressional Auto Show” however as far as I could tell (from the web site, newspaper ads, written literature and signage), the only person who knows this is George Doetsch and possibly members of his immediate family.

Auto_show_2006_0011

Eliminating customers did thin the mid-week crowds out a bit as you can tell from the picture although standing around alone was probably good for the GM dealers unaccustomed as they are to large crowds. I would have taken more pictures from this vantage point as it afforded a great view of the lower level but was told that was prohibited and shooed away by guards. This no doubt was a security precaution lest our advanced auto show layout expertise fall into the hands of  the Chinese thus allowing them to capture the one area we still dominate: The hospitality and convention industry.

Among some of the vehicles I looked at:

The new Dodge Caliber incorporated what the spokesmodel called a “chill zone." This is basically a mini refrigerator in the glove box to keep your “beverages” cold. The growing popularity of this feature may result in police officers wanting to search them for beer.  This should only be a worry if you drink imported beer as you would then subject yourself to perfectly legal warrantless searches.

The Honda Ridgeline pickup truck is perfect for people who don’t like pickup trucks, kind of the way American Idol is perfect for people who don’t like quality entertainment. It has been very well received by the automotive press which, by law, must love all Honda products.

Auto_show_2006_006_1Jeep brought along its indoor obstacle course so as to showcase their product’s rugged off-road capabilities. It might have been more useful to set up an urban obstacle course reflecting the genuine hazards faced by Washington residents such as potholes, red light cameras and unemployed K-street lobbyists looking to “peddle influence for food.”

On display was the new Jeep Compass that was introduced to address the troubling lack of a Subaru in Jeep's lineup.  Also there was the new Commander which, with its brick-like shape and 5.7 liter Hemi, says to the driver “Aerodynamics? We don’t need no steenking aerodynamics!”

Auto_show_2006_021_2

The military was there with a Stryker troop carrier. If you’re going to engage in excessive government spending, this is definitely the way to go. (Let’s just say no one ever wanted to take a picture of a sorghum subsidy.)

Unfortunately I can’t say much about the Lexus and Infiniti displays having temporarily lapsed into a boredom-induced coma while making my through them except to note that they had thoughtfully put up signs notifying you when you’d passed from one to the other as there would otherwise have been no way to tell.

How do you know the Hummer H3 is a manly truck? By its big manly steering wheel, big manly automatic shifter and big manly climate control knobs. It’s as if the interior had been lifted from The Land of the Giants.

Finally, there was the Dodge Challenger concept, a modern reinterpretation of the original, and by “modern reinterpretation” I mean, “they added airbags.” The car is very nearly the spitting image of the original.

Auto_show_2006_015

Nothing wrong with that!

J.

January 29, 2006 at 01:55 PM in Weekend Leisure | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

January 28, 2006

2006 washington dc auto show - part 1

It was about halfway through this year’s Washington Auto Show that I realized that automobile designers hate us. Either that or they’re fanatical patrons of mass transit and have never actually been inside of a car. Some examples:

  • The BMW 330i has a manual stick with throws longer than Ben Roethlisberger and located in such a manner that shifting into even-numbered gears results in your jamming your elbow into the center console armrest in what must have been intended as some kind of ritualistic penance for historical Teutonic wrongs.
  • The Pontiac Solstice shifter was even worse, being so short and deeply set into the console that unless you used the “eagle claw” style of grasping the knob you would find yourself bruising your fingers in shifts to first and third and breaking them in fifth, making driving the Solstice not unlike the plot line of a Quentin Tarantino movie.
  • The Solstice designers weren’t finished with us yet, having located the cup holders in a spot ideal for passengers sitting in the rear seats. The only problem is the Solstice doesn’t have rear seats. The only way for the driver to safely reach the holders is to pull off to the side of the road. It’s probably best to consider them less as cup holders and more as cup transporters.
  • The Acura RSX also had a cup holder problem but in its case the holders were located down deep in the console in a dark area underneath part of the dash. This made putting your Grande Latte down a kind of spelunking expedition. (Venti sizes or similar need not apply unless you drink half of it down first so you can angle the thing into the slot.)
  • The parking brake in the Chevy Cobalt is hidden underneath the center console arm rest meaning that in order to engage it, you have to first move the arm rest up and out of the way suggesting that the following conversation took place about five days before the vehicle was to go into production:
  • Plant Foreman: “Hey, shouldn’t this thing have a parking brake?”
    Engineer: “Sure, it’s right over… it’s right, um… oh, crap.”

Another trend I discovered is the growing use of electronically actuated door handles. Yes, we’re talking power door latches. Now, rather than have to contend with the convenience and efficiency of simply pulling on a door handle, we now have to press a button, wait a second for it to unlatch, and then pull the door open. This is a vastly superior approach in that it is complex and makes whirring noises. The system on the new Corvette includes a dainty little button on the inside for getting out. Imagine explaining to your auto club that your battery went dead and you need a jump just to get out of your car. You SUV lovers will find a similar system on the rear hatches of the Range Rover and new Chevy Tahoe. This feature will surely be a top contender for the Extended Warranty Association of America’s “Top Sales Tool of 2006.”

Hybrid vehicles were also heavily promoted at the show as an ecologically sound alternative to the internal combustion engine. Sure, Hybrids use internal combustion engines too but they also use large batteries which have been a real boon to traditionally eco-friendly nickel mines and the equally green-minded potassium hydroxide industry.

Part 2 tomorrow!

J.

January 28, 2006 at 02:39 PM in Weekend Leisure | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

January 27, 2006

the problem with allowing people to vote for whom they want to? they do.

Establishing a clear parliamentary majority in a landslide victory in Palestinian elections, the terrorist group Hamas is finding the transition to the responsibilities of democratic civilian leadership to be a rocky one. This was clearly illustrated when an early attempt to hire professional media consultants promptly met with tragedy when they were all killed as infidels.

“Yes, that was regrettable,” lamented Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh, “We had a bit of a disconnect there.”

Early Hamas organizational meetings have had their own challenges as every time a quorum was achieved, someone would blow himself up. However, the provision of a suicide vest check at the door has greatly reduced the problem.

Relations with Israel are also expected to face some difficulties as the Hamas party platform calls for that country’s complete destruction. However Hamas has signaled some flexibility, suggesting it might be willing to modify its position and call only for the “nearly complete destruction” of Israel. As one Hamas ambassador/explosives expert put it, “They have to be willing to meet us halfway. This can’t be a one-way street where we just give and give and give.”

While the Hamas victory was disturbing, Israeli leaders believe they have a strategy to address it. “Just three words,” said one Knesset member, “Indian. Casino. Lobbyists. That should tie them up for a while,” he chuckled.

The Hamas victory resulted from widespread dissatisfaction with the waste and corruption that was rampant in the Fatah party which had ruled the area for decades. “We needed someone like your Newt Gingrich to come in and clean things up,” commented one Palestinian businessman, “you know a real bomb thrower.”

Early signs are promising if not conclusive. Hamas leaders are already proposing broad safety regulations governing the importation and transportation of RPGs and standardized testing of all martyrs. “There was just a terrible disparity among our students,” noted one Parliament member/massacre specialist. “In a Hamas administration, we want to make sure that no terrorist is left behind.

J.

January 27, 2006 at 02:28 PM in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

January 25, 2006

what if you eat swedish meatballs?

Concerned that people may believe that the White House had engaged in domestic spying based only on the fact that half the people being spied upon were, in the strictest technical sense of the word, domestic, the Bush Administration issued a clarification today noting that they only conducted this warrantless eavesdropping on “international” phone calls. A phone call is designated as being “international” if at least one party is speaking from another country.

This revelation that merely calling someone overseas internationalizes the entire conversation has opened up many intriguing possibilities. Make a quick call to a colleague in the UK while you’re at the liquor store and you’ve turned yourself into an instant duty-free zone. And if your parents catch you running up the phone bill talking to your friend in Venezuela, well that’s just too bad for them isn’t it as you’ve now got diplomatic immunity. (Whatever you do, don’t hang up until they’ve gone to bed.)

The White House statement included a number of additional examples of this quirky phenomenon noting that flights between the US and foreign countries are also considered to be “international” as is mail. Those love letters you’ve been sending to Maria Sharapova? Yep, they’re international too. (But still pathetic.)

There are downsides to all this. Bring home Mexican food and your house can be thoroughly searched as can your car if you’re caught driving a Hyundai. And have you checked the tag on your underwear lately?

As General Michael Hayden noted, what might have happened if this program had been in place in July 2001 and a phone call had been intercepted between Mohammed Atta and an al Qaeda operative overseas? It raises the intriguing possibility that this conversation could very well have been added to the backlog of untranslated intelligence material.

Kind of makes you think.

J.

January 25, 2006 at 11:39 PM in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

January 24, 2006

warrants are, like, so eighties

Dropping its “we’d tell you, but then we’d have to kill you” stance, President Bush and his allies have begun openly speaking out in support of the administration’s policy of warrantless eavesdropping on conversations American citizens have with overseas residents.

Prior to President Bush, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) allowed the government to eavesdrop on these communications only if a secret judge sitting on a secret court issued a secret warrant. This level of openness and accountability is a luxury we just can’t afford anymore.

And so the President has done away with the whole “court order” thing and gone straight to the eavesdropping. While this has raised some eyebrows, a careful system of checks and balances has been maintained ensuring that no such eavesdropping may take place until approved by not only the President, but by the people who work for him. Kind of like in an Enron audit.

The President also loosened the standards under which the National Security Agency may conduct the eavesdropping. Under FISA, they had to establish “probable cause.” Now they only have to show a “reason to believe” (which is just one step above “What the heck, why not?”). Among the acceptable “reasons to believe” would be “having an Arab name,” “sounding Arab,” and “enjoying falafel.”

Although these actions may appear to be illegal, the President claims that Congress gave him tacit approval when it passed the “Authorization for Use of Military Force” legislation shortly after 9/11. Sure, it doesn’t explicitly authorize his actions, but the President tends to take a more activist, expansive view of the text, believing the legislation to be more of a “living document” in which his authority resides within a penumbra or if not that, then almost certainly an emanation. Surely the wise men who put finger to keyboard one-fifth of a score ago didn’t mean for us to take the words literally, frozen in place for all time.

Regardless, the president remains confident that the American people support his efforts.

How he knows this remains classified.

J.

January 24, 2006 at 11:35 PM in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

January 23, 2006

fashionable fitness

With a new year comes a renewed commitment to get in shape and the fitness industry stands ready to accommodate you with a variety of new and exciting programs. As reported by Forbes magazine, there are such examples as “Gyrotonics” which combines principles from yoga, dance, gymnastics, swimming and tai chi. (Wow!) Also, “Stiletto Strength” which combines 4” heels and Pilates which sounds less like an exercise class and more like a federal subpoena of Google. 

But even these aren’t the most cutting-edge programs available and so as a public service, we present the very latest in fitness trends:

Burmese Intensity Weight Lifting: Combining traditional western “Weight Lifting” with the words “Burmese Intensity” results in a fitness program with an exotic-sounding name!

Eskimo Speed Running: This latest craze takes traditional running and gives it an “arctic twist” by having you run outside in the winter. You want to increase your speed? Run in 20-degree weather in tights and you’ll get speed!

"Core Focus You" Aerobics: There’s nothing quite like the personal touch to specifically address your unique needs and goals. With its custom-tailored programs individually optimized for your own distinctive species, and only your species, Core Focus You makes sure you don’t have to make any compromises. (Homo sapiens only available.)

Foreign-Sounding Exhalation: 35-minute fitness sessions will have you yelling out “moborda-chu!” in unison with your classmates recreating the joyous atmosphere of the harvest celebration of the Chnitna tribe of Africa that, while not an actual tribe, is a realistic and faithful composite of other tribes that also don't exist.

Meat Packing Samurai: Classes are held in the meat-packing district where a combination of cutting implements, cattle cars from Omaha, and eight-hour classes gives you a workout you’ll never forget. (Union card required.)

Cowboy Cross-Training: In this combination of ranch chores and ladies dresses, you will find that… wait, did we say cross-training? Sorry, never mind.

Contraption-O-Cizer: Don’t have time to go to a health club or take classes? Try the Contraption-O-Cizer 1500 ZXT, combining the very latest in rubber bands, springs, pneumatics and advanced hydraulic systems it’s guaranteed to give you a workout you’ll never forget. Ever. Bush administration black-ops interrogators give it “two thumbs up, way up.” (May not be in compliance with Geneva Convention.)

Joe Biden “Super-Lung” Program: Ever wonder how Joe Biden can speak non-stop for 47 minutes without taking a breath? Well now you can too! Program consists of a three-hour video tape of Samuel Alito staring at you silently. You do the rest! (Order in the next 30 days and get complimentary Crest Whitestrips, SprayTan in a Can, and a handheld mirror.)

J.

January 23, 2006 at 10:36 AM in Health & Fitness | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

January 21, 2006

closing the “surplus gap”

Addressing its biennial budget, the commonwealth of Virginia is facing its second fiscal crisis in a row, a looming calamity of epic proportions that must be addressed with courage and resolve. We speak of course, of a projected $1 billion budget surplus. Again. There is only one clear course of action available to state leaders: Raise taxes.

We are told that without at least $1 billion in new taxes (over and above the $1 billion surplus), the state will be forced to make other cuts, such as tossing old folks out of nursing homes and using them for garden mulch or razing the University of Virginia to make way for the first “adults only” Wal-Mart Supercenter specializing in erotica (but at low, low prices).

This is because essential transportation initiatives are in dire need of that additional $1 billion. This would be a different $1 billion than the one added from 2004 to 2006. THAT $1 billion will stay in place (and is the only reason Virginians aren’t already using granny in their zucchini beds). That would bring total spending on transportation to over $5.5 billion, or enough to allow every adult in Virginia to ride the Metro to work for free. Or, put another way, were you to lay that out in single one-dollar bills end to end, it would stretch from here to a place really, really far from here. (Okay, so the calculator’s broken.)

The proposal for $1 billion in new taxes was introduced by Governor Timothy Kaine, who, like his immediate predecessor Mark Warner, is part of a breed of “New Democrats.” New Democrats are like old Democrats except they call themselves “New Democrats.” Kaine’s proposal is supported by the “New Republicans” in the state Senate who are like old Republicans except they’re not.

Some Northern Virginia lawmakers, such as the Chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Gerald E. Connolly, oppose the Governor’s proposal believing that increases in the sales tax on automobiles would hit their constituents the hardest. (Have you seen what they want for a 750i these days? How’s a family supposed to get by?) His alternative: Just borrow the money.

Which is odd for a Democrat.  That’s supposed to be the “New New Republican” view.

J.

January 21, 2006 at 06:53 PM in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

January 20, 2006

these crazy kids, i tell ya…

Frank Lindh is calling for clemency for his son, the infamous “American Taliban,” John Walker Lindh, noting how this whole matter of his being a traitor is all just a crazy misunderstanding kind of like that time when George thought he was in the ticket buyer’s line until Kramer and Elaine arrived to point out he was really in the ticket holder’s line. It’s like that, only with guns and death and killing.

It is important to remember that John Lindh decided to join the Taliban in the spring of 2001, months before 9/11. Oh sure, there was the 1993 World Trade Center faux pas, the 1996 Khobar Towers indiscretion and the 2000 USS Cole contretemps but hey, who has time to read the paper these days, right?

His father pointed out that "It's a wonderful thing for an American kid to go overseas and study, to learn another language, to learn another religion," not to mention how to break down, clean, and reassemble an AK-47 making this really more of a coming-of-age story than anything else.

"I feel very proud of my son. He acted with great integrity throughout this entire ordeal,” his father told reporters. Indeed, there is no evidence that he ever meant to take up arms against the US. Rather, he meant to take up arms in support of a regime where it was illegal for women to attend school, work outside the home or laugh “loudly.” Think of it as just a phase he was going through, like that time you were going to quit school and become a truck driver. Until you realized that would suck. John Walker Lindh came to that very same conclusion around the time he was captured by American soldiers and duct-taped naked to a stretcher calling into question the whole Taliban Islam-conversion thing.

Talk about 20-20 hindsight!

Barring clemency, John Lindh will continue to serve his 20-year prison term which will give him ample time to work on his new children’s book: “Osama and Me.” A touching tale of a man, a boy, and the dream they shared that maybe, just maybe, what this crazy mixed-up world needs is a dose of good old-fashioned fanatical totalitarian theocracy.

It has Pixar written all over it.

J.

January 20, 2006 at 12:58 PM in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack