Tuesday, October 30, 2012

...and then came Sandy

Ramblings Post #205
Back in the day we used to say remark "you got me setup for failure" to indicate that one had been invited into a bad situation. It was kind of a cultural shorthand. These form over time and can be said to bind certain groups, almost unconsciously. I've recently heard a new phrase. This new saying signifies that the person being spoken of was true to the words of their exploits or did exactly what they said they did. It's usually used in the negative indicating  that the person in question lied. The common use, directed to towards someone who has been found to be false is "You ain't about that life." With that I mind, I think I can safely say, that Sandy IS about that life.

Times Square - Midday

I got people in Washington DC, and New Jersey. Sporty is up that way, as is Shade, and Singe is a Brooklyn girl as are few other folk I know. I haven't heard anything to get alarmed at yet, but I'm still concerned. And despite my general assessment from my time there that the whole city is a hype job, basically "a hicktown with more streets and less grass", there exists a psychological - cultural - iconic idea of New York City. It is the big apple. The city that never sleeps. If you can make it there you can make it anywhere.

And it's gone dark.

If you're not from America, you might not get it, and that's understandable. Or maybe you do. It is unsettling to us. 

The odd part is the storm didn't even directly hit NYC. Despite the flooding of Atlantic City, and extensive damage in lowing lying parts of New Jersey, where the storm actually did make landfall, it is the City that is the focus.  There is something about that place that holds our imagination, our hope. The power is out from Detroit to DC, and far north as Vermont, but we seem entranced by the vision of the NY metro now serving as waterlogged canals.  Our fascination is kinda hard to explain.

N-Line, completely flooded.
I'm not sure when we started calling them First Responders, but this is the time we should appreciate the dedication of the firemen, police officers, EMTs, and national guard willing to wade out into the darkness to help their fellow man. That takes courage in a sense that many of us only hope to have. To trundle off into the chaos, into the storm....well, damn.

I've heard from Sporty and Shade, a few others, my family is okay for now...but to everyone else out there my prayers go to you.

Barkeep. Water. But put a round for NYC on me.  Oh, and everybody else too. We still haven't gotten to the snowstorm part of this yet.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

James Bond (revisited)

Ramblings Post #204
I've come to the realization of a number of things of late. That I have a tendency to over-commit, that I like comfort and that ruts can get deep. And I have a thing for french fries. Not sure why that's relevant. I like what I like, and I don't particularly like when it changes. Unless it changes for the better, then cool. So my original premise that I don't like change makes no sense. I think I need a drink. 

 This is not a film review, sorry.

A few years ago I expressed my opinion about Daniel Craig as James Bond. Unlike his previous incarnations, this Bond was brooding and blunt force and I was little off-put by how he was much more phyiscal than cerebral.  This isn't an agent Ernest Starvos Blofeld would see as a worthy adversary.  This isn't an incarnation that could bluff Auric Goldfinger - a villain who not not only bolted Bond to a table so he could cut him in half with a laser, he didn't leave the hero to die, he hung out so he could watch! This was James Bond was somebody else.

And I  am kinda getting to like him now.

My affection for the film series was rekindled by Goldeneye, which was a return to the more lush idea of film making, one in which the story went on for long stretches without the central character inhabiting the frame. The script had teeth, and didn't appear to be just a series of stunts and set pieces with bits of conversation jammed in between. Craig's debut, Casino Royale, went deeper into that kind of dense storyline, harkening back to the character's original incarnation, where Bond had been a little rough around the edges. It grew on me.

A new kind of Bond built from the old, but with new the villains updated as well. SPECTRE probably isn't going to make into the new films, having been replaced by Quantum or whatever its called. Nor do I see SMERSH ever being used in film, originally shelved for political reasons even at the start of the film series. The old has had to fall away. And while it would be neat to have Blofeld turn out to be the real head of Quantum, I doubt that will happen. The previous connecting of the two films, the almost segue from the ending of one to the start of the other, and the smarter writing gives me hope that the story in this will just as dense in this next outing, something that doesn't happen often in film as of late. I just hope that we can get away from the grossly overused "rouge agent" storyline that has been plaguing the spy movie genre for the past decade or so.

The new pic, Skyfall may be the first film I go see in a theater in years. And understand the next two Bonds, which I believe Craig is signed on for will be done ala Kill Bill - as part of one larger meta story. It is a good time to be a Bond fan.

Barkeep. Three measures of Gordon's, one of vodka, half a measure of Kina Lillet. Shake it very well until it's ice-cold, then add a large thin slice of lemon peel. Got it?

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

And Obama lands an uppercut.... (Debate No. 3)

This is a political post

Mitt apparently had no binders on foreign policy
 ~ tweet from John Kerry

I watched the debate on CBS this time. I make it habit to watch it on different channels because the commentary at the end is different and you kind of get a sense of how different people react to different things. Of course, after Fox news reported that Romney had somehow beat the President in the coin toss backstage during the second debate, I realized I would have to temper my viewing a bit. To get a clear head, and stay outside the selective media bubble we've all decided to inhabit, I've taken to waiting a while then reading the commentary on BBC and Al-Jazzera to get a better picture of what actually happened. It's shame that it's come to this reality. 

But onto my view of the proceedings.

The difference in the moderator styles as we went through this whole series was palable. It was though we went from the replacement refs to the real refs, with Bob Schieffer at the helm for this last tiff. There was very little over talking, very little going long on answer. And when it was time to move on, dog gone it they moved on. And both men, perhaps because they respected Bob, perhaps at the insistence of their wives but more likely a political operative that informed them doing that was polling badly, followed instructions. Not as much political brawl, as choreographed duel.

Romney looked strong at first, but then I'm not sure if that's I've grown used to his face or because the words coming out of his mouth were actually those of the Obama.  It became evident quickly, as in the Biden/Ryan debate that the points of difference were missing. On the big issues, Iran and Syria, all Romney could do was agree with the current actions, only swear he'd have done them better. And his attempts to make seem like the President had tarnished America's good name around the world sounded hollow in the face of facts.

Then came these two telling items:

"Syria is Iran's only ally in the Arab world, its their route to the sea. "

At first I wanted to write this comment off, as a throwaway line. The candidates had really wanted to talk about the economy as it seemed like every other answer segued back to how a strong economy is necessary for foreign diplomacy to work, so I discounted this statement's importance. But the reality is this line says a lot. There are two issues, here. First, Iran sits on the Persian Gulf, which has it's own route through the Straits of Hormuz to the India Ocean which is a fairly large body of water, it being called an ocean an all. And that Syria is Iran's route to the sea only if Iran goes through Iraq. In fact the part they would have to go through, currently controlled by the Kurds is actually pretty well run and could be model for how the rest of the country could be run. But this may have been a brain freeze... so I'll pick that flag up.

But the second one basically is the Governor actively refusing to admit that the Obama Administration really is poised exert that strength Romney keeps claiming only he'd be able project. As we used to say as kids, "don't talk about it, be about it." As part of the efforts to put the stranglehold on Iran, the US Navy has placed multiple carrier groups in the Persian Gulf. Obama has effectively parked missiles in a "floating Cuba" off Iran's southern coast. It was the kinda of thing you try not to mention, or even pretend exists, if you're trying to make your opponent look weak.

"Well, governor, we also have fewer horses and bayonets"

In response to a claim the Navy was shrinking was the zinger of the night, the kind of shot that Romney had been hoping to score since he'd started practicing for the debates in August. You almost wanted Obama to lean over the desk and remind his opponent that the defense budget is part of the regular budget, that thing we're trying to cut. You can't expand one without expanding the other, and since we're trying to cut expenses, giving them more money won't add up. Dummy.

Our current defensive needs aren't more warships or tanks, we already spend more than the next ten countries combined on military expenditures and we have brand new tanks rusting in the desert now because the military doesn't need them. We're no longer fighting Russia, we actually need this former enemy to go along with our plan for Iran for the sanctions to work. Antagonizing them won't help us in the long run. Our new enemies are non-state actors and for that we need a different kind of military. Obama couldn't have made it clearer that Romney had other intentions with the need to expand the military, like adding to the bottom lines of military contractors.

Then there was the look the President was giving Romney during his answers.

I would think the look that Obama was giving Romney when he spoke was the same look he uses on the basketball court - a look of fierce determination, an almost "try me" look, daring the other person to do anything other than pass the ball. It was a marked difference from the almost loving stare both Romney and his running mate do when listening that comes off as practiced and a little creepy. You could almost see Obama waiting to pounce.

Then around 10pm something happened. I'm not sure if Romney had a sudden gas attack or suddenly realized he was merely repeating what Obama was saying. The loving gaze faded for a moment and a fine sheen of sweat appeared on his brow. This might have been a Nixon moment.

And just like that it was over. I thought Obama won and came through strong, roused up enough to even start cutting at Romney over his record - which suddenly Romney called personal attacks. If your state was at the bottom of job creation when you were in office, how is mentioning that out of line if you're using your job creation skills as a selling point? I'm also sure Fox news, Red State and other conservatives sites have it for Romney, despite him parroting the President most of the evening.

And now, we return to our regularly scheduled diatribes on love, relationships, places I've eaten and things I think about while waiting through the commercials. Wait, in two weeks, NO MORE POLITICAL COMMERCIALS. Even better.  

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Debates - Round 2. Better...but not best.

This is a political post. 

Romney don't look happy. Image via Tom Joad, Facebook.

I realize that I'm expecting way too much, but I don't think I'll be satisfied until in the middle of the debate, the President just does a Joe Biden and calls his opponent out. Or even better,  just leans back, throws his head to the sky and in the fashion of almost friendly arguments everywhere yells "You must be out your goddamn mind!"

Expecting. Way. Too. Much.

What I found most interesting about the debate this time wasn't actually in the debate, but that the moderators of late are exercising journalism, asking followups, correcting the speakers. In today's partisan news cycle, where the news acts more like propaganda to see journalism is refreshing...twice in one year.

I say that the journalism was interesting because the people in the arena calling themselves undecided are apparently the people in the country who don't do serious political analysis, or even simple political analysis. Those questions weren't hard questions, or questions that even made the candidates think. Despite claims that the two choices aren't really choices, the two candidates couldn't be more different. The idea that you're still weighing options mean the vast majority of the undecided have discarded everything but the one issue that affects them most - jobs, healthcare, abortion, whatever. They're essentially flipping a coin to say if they hold fast their convictions or drink the respective kool-aid, from the point of view of whichever direction it is that you are coming from.

I was also interested in that the candidates seems to rattled by a format they should be familiar with. Two minutes, that's it. Both Obama and Romney found reason to keep speaking past their time. I realize these were impromptu questions (kinda) but I still think the moderator should be able to turn off a microphone after two minutes and thirty seconds, but that's just me.

In reality Mitt has changed the entire concept of debating. Since truth, facts or explanations are no longer required, and everything is spin and self promotion, what does one do, short of kicking the opponent in the teeth? Because of this there were times when neither candidate engaged the crowd, to busy verbally kicking one another or promoting themselves. And that's bad for us all. That's not the purpose of a debate.

Does the President need a debate coach. I realize that the President isn't culturally allowed to do what Joe Biden did, or go HAM on him, or even play a smoothed out Katt Williams, but I think he can still do better than he did. Case in point: when he has to check Romney, he needs to state the man is wrong, state why is one or two sentences, and move on. He should know what Romney thinks are the pressure points by now...and his team should know which ones are lurking. Have the responses memorized. He also needs to work in a few key buzzwords and terms he can repeat over and over, like his opponent does. I mean his staff writes great speeches, do they need help for snappy answers? We're available.

Though this week, two questions presented themselves that make me wonder are any of us really listening?

First, Stephen Colbert asked the question (in a skit while debating himself) that if Romney is going to lower tax rates by twenty percent, then close loopholes and deductions to make the reduction revenue neutral, then why lower the tax rate? And second, if Romney claims the government doesn't create jobs, then why is he promising to create twelve million in four years if he's elected? And I'm not even a reporter, you would think more than just a TV comedian and myself would think of these questions.

Are we really this slow as a people?

Friday, October 12, 2012

Joe Biden. Well damn.

This is a political post.

Is she available for the next debate? My favorite line of moderator Martha Raddaz was after she asked Rep. Ryan if his plan had specifics. He'd launched into a short piece on bi-partisanship so she stopped him and repeated the question. When he started again with explanation she cut him off flatly : "So, No, no specifics then."


Although Red State disagrees, and for some reason saw Ryan as the winner, Joe Biden broke through the image of the politico always good for a verbal gaffe.  Can Biden give Obama the debate prep for next time, or maybe a blood transfusion or something? Given his foreign policy background and unpredictable mouth I actually expected Biden to do well, but his showing was so much better than I expected. He was Samuel L. Jackson in white face - electrifying, agitated, almost scary good. Now, I say that with the caveat that his debate performance was the equivalent of in game adjustments, that after seeing the chamelon-like Romney's performance last week, he prepared for more of the same from Ryan. And so prepared, Biden came out of locker room and brought the wood.

Newt Gingrich remarked that it's hard to debate a liar, and I guess that's because debates are usually a very polite and professional affair. But it's easy to debate someone who "massages the truth" if you call them out on it. Biden didn't hesitate to call out Ryan when he veered off the edge of the reality, alternately laughing at him and looking shocked at the younger man's comments.  I could almost see the glint in his eyes when he caught himself just before cussing on national TV, changing his sentiment to a more prime-time palatable "stuff." Where Ryan was cagey, Biden was direct. Libya? It was the Ryan's Republican House that cut the security budget for the embassy. Iran? Toughest sanctions ever. Syria? All that's left is to put troops on the ground. Budget? Yours is mathematically impossible. Medicare? Call it what you want but your plan is still a voucher program. What else ya got?

I half expected Biden to blurt during one of his "bet against America" comments that Ryan doesn't even believe in his own campaign - and point out he's still running ads for re-election in Wisconsin.

My spit-take moment however, was when asked what he could bring to the office of the vice president character wise, the first word out of Paul Ryan's mouth was "honesty." Does he not understand we can see him? What was his best marathon time again? He claimed he didn't ask for stimulus money right before we found out he did? Honesty? You keep using that word. I don't think it means what you think it means.

Bill Mahar summed it up the best in a tweet that should be on the news : Hello 9-1-1? There's an old man beating a child on my TV." 

Obama, I think Joe deserves one of those White House beers, ya think?

Thursday, October 11, 2012

The Cowboys plan to beat the Ravens (no really)

Thanks good folks at Wikipedia.
This is a sports post. 

Ramblings Post #204
You win a few, you lose a few. And then you lose a few more. And when you've lost a few, you go back, study the tape, figure out what you did wrong and then try and figure out why did that and what you can do to not do that again. It's kinda of a convoluted type of self torture. It is also a great way to effectuate self improvement away from the game. Might be kinda hard to get tape of yourself, but hey, you do what you can. 

I know you read the title and immediately assumed that my plan works like a Oceans 11 casino heist, involving split second timing, precision teamwork, Brad Pitt, George Clooney, a drop shipment from the ACME corporation and all of the Raven defensive players come down with the 24-hour flu on Saturday. This is not the case. I actually have.... a plan.

On any Given Sunday.

The full saying is that "on any given Sunday, any NFL team can beat any other NFL team". It's why we play the games. Surprises happen, people step up, it is a game of inches. Again, no, my plan does not call for any of the Raven defensive players to suddenly be moved by the spirit of good health and pacifism, renounce football and all it's violence for the less contact intensive croquet.  This is an actual game plan, well, game strategy, that if followed improves the Cowboys chances to say....maybe 50%. Which against the Ravens is way higher than it was.

1. Don't put it all on Tony Romo.

My Boys rank almost dead last in league rushing right now. The idea of smash mouth football or even grinding out the clock when leading seems to have been completely lost if not intentionally knocked out, bound hand to foot and tucked away in the trunk of someone's car.  But the truth of the matter it is nearly impossible to win if you don't have an effective running game. So I don't care of they come out in a Wishbone, Wildcat or a Wing-T, they need to stop throwing the ball so much.  Hell, take Tony off the field, direct snap and just 11 go on 11 for a while.

I blame this on Jerry Jones, who seems to have a fascination with big name receivers. The Cowboy teams of lore were built on a concept lost to the football ages - the good offensive line. It's a simple progression : Good offensive line means the team can run, which slows down the linebackers who have to read for the run first, which frees up the quarterback from immediate pressure, which gives him time to go through his progressions and if necessary check down and throw it to the open receiver who is a little bit freer... because the defense has had to be careful of the run. A average QB with time can make mediocre receivers into great players. But we haven't had a coach who focuses on the O-line in ages.

Tony may not be the greatest passer, but he's better than he's playing, because he's playing a system that seems singularly focused. I mean, you throw it 70% of the time and....well, here we are.

2. Go back to basics.

The old playbook of your old southern type university: Sweep left. Sweep right. Same play, different player. Repeat.

Wishbone people, wishbone!

Maybe that's an oversimplification, but you get my point. Let the offensive line hit some people. Wear the linebackers out by the middle of the second quarter. They need average only three and half yards per attempt. When the Ravens put eight in the box run a quick out or a hitch and go. March down the field. Go deep once or twice to keep them honest, but don't over do it.

3. Limit the blitzing to a minimum.

If a blitz is picked up, then the QB has the luxury of one on one coverage. Playing the percentages, blitzing is statiscally a bad play. Better to drop six into coverage and rush five pretty much every time. Decent coverage will make the QB hold the ball for six seconds, more than enough time for a sack. But don't tell a NFL defensive coordinator that. It's too vanilla.

Well I happen to like vanilla. And with six in coverage, you can run splits (zone with particular man coverage) and increase the time needed for a player to get open. Which results in coverage sacks...unless you have a scrambling QB, which the Ravens do not possess. I wouldn't run this against a Cam Newton or Mike Vick, but most of your pocket passers it would be most effective, even covering the check down reciever. Now the occasional blitz to slow down the double teams, and stunt or two to keep the back in worrying about a late comer rather than floating out into the flat. So no more than 10 blitz packages per game. AND especially not late or in two minute drills! And don't rush three and drop back eight. Run the basic package...offenses in two minute runs are looking for soft coverage and aren't ready for that.

4. Use the Illudium Pu-36 Explosive Space Modulator!

Okay, not really. But the 'Boys do need a spark. When you've been down for a minute, or have had troubling times, a little something unexpected can be a quick pick me up. Five yards when there shouldn't have been. A tipped passed for an interception. It's the idea in the player's mind that things are suddenly going their way. It can be a great motivating factor.

Unless of course you actually happen to have a Illudium Pu-36 Explosive Space Modulator?

Barkeep. This is gonna be a long Sunday. Make that drink a double.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Obama, you're taking too many punches kid!

This is a political post. 

I would like to believe that the President is employing some kind of political rope-a-dope in this situation, letting his opponent talk himself into a corner. But watching last night I think Obama got caught flat footed by Romney - who presented yet another version of himself that I don't think anyone saw coming.

Romney won. I think this despite the fact that there is something about his voice that I find generally annoying. I'm not sure if its his patter, his cadence, or what, but there is something there that I find unsettling. And despite that I still think he debated the President to a standstill. But then that maybe because Romney last night didn't sound anything like the Romney of the past few weeks as he denounced his own previous statements multiple times from the podium. Suddenly he's for regulation? When did this happen?

Jim Lehrer didn't help, letting both candidates go over time, talk over one another and dance around questions as though they trying out for the Russian ballet. I think the next moderator should have a little buzzer and if the candidate hasn't started actually answering the question in 30 seconds they get buzzed, the moderator repeats the question and says quite clearly "That's not an answer, try again." After their third try the moderator just turns their mic off.

But the first round is over, and Obama's corner men need to man up and tell him he sucked last night. He took a lot of jabs, didn’t move his feet. Obama is going to need to counter-punch, work the body and do all of the following:

1. Facts to back up facts.

Romney's budget plan, one which is too complicated to explain to anyone, does haves a five trillion dollar tax break. This figure comes from the estimated revenue loss created by making the current tax cuts permanent, Romney's proposed twenty percent additional reduction, and the elimination of the estate tax, all over a ten year period. It's not set in stone because Romney has been cagey with specifics. Obama should have known this is where the number comes from, who created the math, and been able to hold Romney to that figure. Or where any statement he was going to make is based on, so that when called on it he could easily respond. This is bad prep, plain and simple.    

2. Add Logic to the Discussion.

When Romney trotted out that old Republican chestnut that "profits create jobs", I wanted to cheer because this is the easiest of all topics go at with a logic weedwacker* in the past three years. Basic economics - markets create jobs, not profits. But the President didn't start educating, touting instead his own efforts to cut taxes. Because I doubt the next moderator will be as easy, he may have missed his chance, but whenever possible Obama needs to be able to in the Clinton-ian style walk people through the logical flaw (or question) in thirty seconds or less.

3. Employ Republican tactics.

The Republican party has for the past decade used the fairly simple idea of "if you repeat it often enough, then people will think it is true." In the debate, time and time again Romney repeated the idea that “he is for jobs” at least five times. Early on one phrase of the President's caught my ear - Economic Patriotism - but he never used it again. Obama is going to need two or three phrases which he can repeat over and over, that he segues to with ease to hammer home the idea he will be the better President. 

4. Let the Truth ring out.

When the President mentioned his use of Romneycare as a model for the Affordable Healthcare Act,  Romney turned it into a study of his own collaborative works. Obama should leapt on the chance to use this to delineate the difference that he's clearly received no support at all, if not outright hostile opposition from his Republican colleagues, since he's taken office. Idea put forth : Democrats work with you, Republicans don’t. Instead, we got nothing. Obama shouldn’t be afraid to state things that everyone can check for themselves.

5. Watch your language.

The President should be aware, as should his whole team, that any bad phrasing will be exploited by the opposition. After all, they made a bad juxtaposition of words into the theme of their convention. And Romney’s attempt at a "you are no JFK" moment in stating he doesn’t know of a tax break for taking jobs overseas should serve as a clear warning. I’m politically knowledgeable, and I realize the idea trying to be put forth is that we have granted to tax breaks to firms who then took jobs overseas anyways. Not stating it clearly is a gaffe. Language is very important. And not being able to correct him was just more of the previous bad prep work.                                       

In the future, Obama needs to prep not for Mitt Romney, but for the audience. Romney has demonstrated that he is not gonna be who any evidence has shown him to be. One can predict the usual questions, so prep to defend the administration's positions with short answers, and personal real people stories where appropriate.

Now, there are a lot people who think the race is already over, and that Obama has already won. Mathematically speaking, he should take the electoral college handily, but nothing is set in stone. There are still a few tricks left than be played that can make a difference, and a little difference is all that’s needed for the election to go into overtime. I realize Obama doesn’t have a lot free time here to get ready...what with running the country and all...but he’s gonna have to man up, down a few five hour energy drinks, burn the midnight oil and miss a few family dinners. I’m sorry his anniversary fell on debate night, but this is just too important. 

We don't necessarily need this guy to show next time. Okay maybe we do.

*The supposition is that businesses need profits so they will hire people. But corporations currently have high profits and they're not hiring. The response is that  the times are uncertain, and businesses need certainty. But I this conflicts with the idea of the job creator who gets the reward for taking the risk - if there is certainty, why is the reward for risk justified?  And this flies in the face of basic economics which says markets dictate business creation, not profit.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Not again: Cowboys edition

Ramblings Post #203
One has to have faith in those institutions you believe in. We cannot discard them simply because they have become inconvenient or uncomfortable for the moment. Loyalty. Or else you just look like a whiny little "they suck" band wagon jumping .....um, cough, er. Loyalty.

I like many other Cowboy fans always enter the season with high hopes. I have defended Tony Romo on many occasions, noting his effectiveness and ability to make plays, saying his mistakes mostly happen because he tries too hard. They had a good start this season, two promising wins, and so I watched the game last night feeling good.

I am currently looking into if it is possible to file charges against Jerry Jones and the Dallas Cowboy Organization for "intentional infliction of emotional distress."


We'll strap it back up. Get up, dust ourselves off. After all, Peyton Manning had a terrible game earlier this season, but nobody's written him off. Tony will will bounce back.

Cowboys, win lose or draw.