Archive for August 2008

Media Follies

I am sitting here on the front porch thinking back on the coverage of the Democratic Convention and the announcement of the Vice President choice by John McCain and the same thought keeps running through my mind.  Is the 24/7 television media superfluous and are there any journalists left out there?  Are they just total buffoons?

Let’s just start with the Democratic Convention.  There were some wonderful speeches, but if you watched MSNBC or CNN (Only a moron would watch FOX news) what you got were interviews on the floor of the convention trying to find some disunity among the delegates.  As Media Matters so well documented, the “journalists” were searching for a controversy that did not exist, while there were major issues being presented from the podium.  Oh would it not have been nice if these “journalists” would have spent some time looking at what the Democrats were proposing and educating the viewer on the pros and cons of each issue.  What I thought was the biggest missed opportunity were the speeches given by “just regular Americans”, many of which had voted Republican up till now, but are switching their votes.  If the press would have interviewed these people, checked out their stories, and presented how the last eight years have destroyed their economic security, it could have been quite enlightening.  No, what we got was questions about Hillary’s sincerity, whether Bill will really support Barack, and never ending cocktail party chitchat about a soap opera that has nothing to do with the political ideas that are being put on display.  This election is about a new way of governing and finally throwing off conservative ideals that have hamstrung us for the last eight years and media was focused on trivia of personality.  It was Entertainment Tonight celebrity worship, not journalism.

But it gets worse.  Friday John McCain announces his selection for Vice President, conveniently timed to distract from the after glow of Barack’s speech and the criticisms he made of the John McCain’s policies.  The nominee is Sarah Palin, Governor of Alaska.  Now what we really need to know is who this woman is, other than a woman, and why she is qualified to be Vice President.  What we got was mind numbing political strategy discussions which is nothing but opinion and has nothing to do with the issues.   The Washington Post on Saturday tells us the John McCain shows what a maverick he is with this pick.  Reallly?  If he were a maverick, he would have picked Joe Lieberman who he really wanted but the Republican hierarchy would not accept.  Instead he appoints a woman who appeals to the extreme right.  Some Maverick.  They can’t run on the issues because their policies have dismally failed.  So they are going to run on personality and hope the press takes the bait.  They did.

What we really need is an examination of this woman’s views and qualification to step into the presidency if John McCain falters.  For me it is simple.  She thinks evolution and creationism should be taught side by side.  Apparently she neither understands science or the court ruling that have said this violates the Constitution.  I would refer her to the Pennsylvania case, Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District to understand the legal findings of the court that intelligent design is just creationism and it is against the Constitution to teach as science.  When asked about Iraq and our policies there last year, she deferred saying she didn’t know much about that situation as she focuses on Alaska politics.  Great.  That is about the same level of understanding that the Neocons had when they got us into that war.  She believes that life begins at day one and that all abortions should be banned.  If you believe that, then you must believe God is the greatest aborter because the number of miscarriages far exceeds the number of abortions.  I wonder where she thinks all those souls go?  Oh, I forgot, we have faith.  Faith based thinking has got us where we are today.  We need someone who is rational and experienced, which she is neither.

Finally she is being touted as the “new” conservative, that is pragmatic.  The proof of this was in a story that she vetoed legislation that would deny same sex partners benefits.  So the story line is she is against same sex marriages, but pragmatically believes they should have benefits.  The reality as documented by Media Matters is that she vetoed it because her Attorney General advised her it was an unconstitutional law that would not stand up in court.  So here we have it:  A woman who has been mayor of a 6000 person town and Governor for less than 18 months, knows little to nothing about international affairs, represents all the social conservative issues that have kept this country bogged down in religious issues, and is a heart beat away from the presidency if John McCain falters?  It is a desperate attempt by the Republicans to rally the base and take the focus off of failed policies with this erratic pick.  Will our media start to focus on her qualifications and ask substantial questions about her policies?  Not likely as we will get 24/7 discussions of political strategy instead of an honest look at facts and policies.

I fear for this country and the state of its journalism.  We have endless discussion of the politics of an issue instead of real reporting of the impacts or potential impacts of policies.  We have journalists whose access to information is dependent on their ability to carry water for the politically powerful.  We have journalists who are too close to the subjects they are reporting, letting their feelings for their subject get in the way of objective observation.  We have journalists who by the nature of the 24/7 television news have become celebrities and egos who must conduct all the important interviews even when they are poorly prepared to ask intelligent questions or challenge claims of their subject.  We have partisan “political analysts” who discuss an issue that is really nothing more than promoting the talking points of each Party.  And finally we have journalists who feed on each other’s narrative until the press is creating the story, not objective reality.  They are not reporting on what is happening, but their opinion about what it means politically.  On the other hand, if you agree with me, then we don’t have journalists anymore, just personalities with opinions.  This country is in a great deal of trouble if this passes as journalism and with the declining ability of print journalism to survive, real reporting may be dying and with our ability to discern fact from allegation.

One note:  Some think that the internet and blogs will take the place of the print media.  But blogs like mine depend upon real reporters doing real research so we can actually intelligently discuss an issue.  Real journalism requires in depth research and reporting, and a standard of ethics that ensures that the facts are facts substantiated by more than one source.  Every important story we have had in the last eight years has come from reporters doing detailed interviews and research.  That includes the false justification for the War in Iraq, rendition of suspected terrorists, the spying on our citizens by our own government, torture, the lying and misleading of the press in the yellow cake uranium story, the firing of Attorney Generals for political reasons, and it goes on and on.  People like me depend upon real journalist doing their job to get to the facts so we can have a factual basis for challenging the noise machine.  If we loose that resource, we are done as a country.

Vine/Wine Friday

Candace's Flowers at 'Chateau Lightner'

Candace's Flowers at 'Chateau Lightner'

Vine:   Well finally I have gone through the last two rows in the upper block of Syrah and thinned the excess shoots and dropped quite a bit of fruit.  With some time off from consulting and a laser enhancement on my right eye last week left me with some free time to get things tidied up in the Vineyard.

Roses at the End of Each Row

Roses at the End of Each Row

I also cut some shoots that were over running the roses and pruned them for another round of flowering.  What does this have to do with growing great grapes?  Nothing, it is just peace of mind.  There is really very little to do now but let them ripen and wait for harvest.  It will be about 100° today and then we will hit a cooling off period where the highs will be in the low 80s.  This is the time of year when you want things to slow down so that the sugar can increase at a rate that allows the tannins to mature also without too much loss of acid.  It is all up to Mother Nature now.

Speaking of Mother Nature, the hoards of birds are now gathering to feast upon my hard work.  I put out my Kite-Birds this week in hopes that they will scare off the free loaders. I put four in the lower vineyard and one in the upper vineyard, strategically placed near the edge of the vineyard where the birds like to sit in the trees before making their foray into the smorgy board.

One of My Fearless Kite-Birds Protecting the Vineyard

One of My Fearless Kite-Birds Protecting the Vineyard

Kite-Birds are a kites shaped like Ospreys tethered to a 20′ pole by about a 10’ string.  When the wind blows, which is all afternoon up here, they fly much like the real thing, hovering over a possible meal on the ground.  I have tried just about everything to keep the birds out of my vineyard except load noises and netting.  I can’t imagine using netting on my steep slopes and have this image of myself tangled up in the netting and waiting for someone to come free me.  If the Kite-Birds are not effective I may be forced to resort to loud noises although I don’t think that will work since the birds seem to be oblivious to my loud shouting of obscenities when they are feeding.

Anyway, if things continue to progress as they have been, I would expect to harvest the Syrah about mid-September.  The Mourvedre and Grenache will probably not happen until October.  I will start measuring (other than taste) sugars next week and start tracking the data next week.

Wine:  Wineries have been busy bottling what they put up last year so that they will have capacity for the harvest that is going to start shortly.  For those of you that have visions of owning a winery and sipping your wine while overlooking your vineyards, I would like to remind you of the hard work and constant attention that goes on every day.  It is a 24/7 job and not quite as romantic as one would think.  You have to love the life and the work.  It is also very expensive and you must do most of your own marketing.  As my friend Tom Cooper, owner of Holly’s Hill, once said, “If you want to be a millionaire in this business, start with about five million.”  On the plus side, if you make fine wine’s like they do, eventually it starts to come together.

Last week Candace and I ate out several times because we were having our wood cabinets refinished.  Up here where I live, eating out is always an adventure.  My general rule of thumb is that I want something I can’t cook at home or if I could cook it at home, I couldn’t do it that well.  So one evening we went to the Redbud Café down in Cameron Park.  It has a good reputation and one of my friends raves about it.  I found it disappointing.  My friend is known there and I think she gets special attention that sets the tone for the meal.  Now I am a snob about service.  When we walked in the staff was very friendly, but there is something about “Hi, how are you guys tonight?”  that sets my teeth on edge.  I don’t like to be called “guys”.  The menu was adequate with some good choices but what I had was only okay and I could have fixed it better at home.  I think if you stuck with the simple stuff like a burger with frites you would have been happy.  What really got me going was that I had ordered a beer before dinner to quench my thirst (the high point of the meal) and when my meal arrived, I asked for the wine list.  Then our waitress got busy chatting up another couple and I was half way through my meal before she came back to enquire on what I might like to order.  Candace had ordered a mushroom dish and a green salad.  It turned out that the mushroom dish came with fresh greens.  Shouldn’t the waitress have known that and advised her of that when she ordered her salad?  That is fairly common up here where the wait staff is a little too folksy, too friendly, not that knowledgeable about the menu, and service suffers as a result.  Anyway Redbud is off my list.

Saturday we were sitting around outside because everything in the house was tarped over, so we decided to go down to El Dorado Hills Town Center and maybe catch a movie and a light dinner.  Well, after perusing the movie list, we decided on just getting dinner.  My first choice was a Grill (I don’t remember the name), but the wait was about 45 minutes so we went to a little place called the Wine Konnection.  We secured seating outside overlooking the little lake and fountain and proceeded to have just a wonderful dining experience. The waiter was extremely knowledgeable about the wine list and I had a flight of Pinots and Candace had a flight of Red Blends which of course we shared.  We split a wonderful cheese and sliced heirloom tomato salad.  Candace had a perfectly prepared Kobe steak and I had a vanilla braised beef short ribs.  Both entrees were about $15, were perfectly prepared, and just delicious.  I ordered a bottle on Novy Syrah and it was just perfect.  So I guess beauty really is in the eye of the beholder.  If you want a folksy experience where everybody knows your name (but they aren’t paying attention to the details) Redbud is your choice.  If you want exquisitely prepared food, where the waiter is spot on his knowleged of the menu and the wine list, the Wine Konnection is your choice.  I will be returning there.  Carpe Diem.

Narratives

There are going to be three narratives coming out of the Democratic Convention, the one by the media, the one by the Republicans, and the one by the Democrats.  Which one you think reflects reality is probably a function of your political persuasion.  The media usually comes up with a narrative feed by the Republicans, because the Republicans are better at framing an issue than the Democrats, which will emphasize high drama and conflict.  In a perfect world the media would simply reflect events as they happen, but they are so infused with “the best political team on television”, that their coverage pings back and forth from one biased political philosophy to the other.  John Stewart did the nation a great service by showing the narrative of Democratic dissent the media has set up, and then made fun of how, when they couldn’t find it, tried to create it.

MSNBC, which of the three Media News outlets is my favorite, was showing the strain of dissent.  Joe Scarborough, who thinks he is an unbiased Republican, was waxing elegant on how the Republican political machine was staying on message, and Keith Olbermann who thought he was off mike was heard mumbling, “Why don’t you get a shovel Joe.”  Keith himself can be over the top in his liberal beliefs, but he is a breath of fresh air in that he is not a tool of Republican talking points.  Chris Mathews showed some anger at Keith for suggesting maybe he had talked on too long, which of course is what Chris Mathews does as the master of blovation.   Meanwhile David Gregory, he who still claims they asked all the right questions before the invasion of Iraq (to all the wrong people), was showing his distain as he questioned Democrats on the floor of the convention and could not shake them from their message of unity.  They just were not cooperating with his narrative of internecine strife.  Too bad he couldn’t have shown the same distain when he asked “all the right questions” before we invaded Iraq. Meanwhile over at FOX news they were busy reinterpreting reality to fit their own narrative and I felt like I was in the Twilight Zone.  These people did not listen to the same speeches the rest of us did.  The problem here is that we now have a media that is too tied into the process and its entertainment value. Except in the print media, we have lost an independent media.  Thank goodness for CSPAN so I could just hear the speeches and judge for myself what the meaning was.

Now the Republican narrative is going to be very simple.  Barack Obama does not have the experience to be President.  The world is a scary place with bad guys waiting to blow us up so you need an experienced warrior like John McCain to protect us from all the evil doers out there.  They will use both Hillary’s and Joe Biden’s primary statements about the young upstart Obama.  They will hammer home that the world is a scary place (be afraid, be afraid) and we need experience in the White House to face down these threats.  They will leverage the Russian threat to Georgia as the 3 am call that Hillary made so famous.   There are some major flaws in this narrative, but it will appeal to those who hold their “guns and religion close”.  First question the Demos might ask is just what experience does John McCain have that applies to the 21st century and do old approaches really work.  The Republicans have this huge problem in that they have had total unfettered control of the government for the last eight years controlling both the Congress and the White House and the mess we are living in is the result.  They will claim that Ron Reagan defeated the Russians and now John McCain will do the same.  The problem is that this is not 1980 and the only country going broke is us.  But their narrative must keep the focus off the economy or the disasters they have created elsewhere and keep the focus personal.  The media will love this because they won’t have to talk about real issues and can focus once again on the soap opera.

Finally we have the Democrat’s narrative.  This one is also quite simple.  We have been under Republican Control for eight years and it hasn’t worked.  We need to change directions and restore America’s leadership in the world.  As the Republican narrative is based on fear, the Democratic narrative is based on hope and optimism for the future.  There is a wonderful strength in this argument in that the litany of Republican failures from Enron to Katrina goes on forever so there is a wealth of data to show their failures.  The weakness is that people are resistant and fearful of change.  It scares them and that feeds into the Republican narrative of be afraid.  But I think enough things have gone wrong that most people see we must change.  You know, it is that old saw, you must be face down in the gutter before you recognize you have a problem.  The Democrats leveraged that idea when many of the speakers in Wednesday’s convention were ex-Republicans.  They also utilized quite a few military personnel to counter the “warrior” image of John McCain.  If they can keep the focus on the failures of the Republicans and that John McCain just brings the same old people back into power, they may be able to overcome the fear of a young Obama leading this country.

The Democrats have gotten smarter than they use to be and they are ready for a fight.  The media will be putty in the Republican’s hands because they will want to focus on the personal mud slinging, not the crux of the issues or the validity of the arguments.  As long as we have two shouting partisans, the advantage is to the status quo.  But I think this time the Democrats are ready.  I think Americans may really understand that it is now or never.  We are face down in the gutter.  I know I am ready for a new approach to our future and our only hope is Barack Obama.

What I saw in the Democratic Convention was a true cross section of America with hope for the future, an America I want to be part of.  What we will see next week in the Republican Convention is a bunch of fat old white men (don’t worry they will strategically place the eight people of color they could find in camera range) whose whole existence is based on cronyism, fight for the status quo with fear.  They will do everything they can to distract Americans from their failures.  Which America do you want to belong to?

The Democrats Made Me Proud Today

I watched on television as the Democrats nominated the first black American to represent their party for President of the United States and I shed many tears of pride.  It was a great moment in the evolution of this country.  Of course there was the mainstream media trying to find a soap opera and create some dissent that just isn’t there anymore.  They have their own narrative and have been pursuing it as events have evolved to make that narrative obsolete.  Is Hillary really going to support Barack?  Will Bill come through?  Will Hillary’s supporters deliver?  It was a non-issue.  Hillary showed what she can do in her speech and in asking for unanimous consent in nominating Barack.  The Democrats did something they have never done before:  they were all running plays out of the same playbook.  It must be terribly disappointing for the 24/7 media personalities not to find someone out of step.  But they kept trying, because it is in their mind these guys aren’t following the narrative they wrote for this event.  What could happen next? Might we actually have to report what is going on instead of picking our stories to support the narrative we are selling?  Some of the most interesting speeches were ignored while they conducted inane interviews trying to generate some dissention.  Thank goodness for CSPAN which allowed me to hear some of the amazing stories these speakers told without the interference from the 24/7 talkaholics.

But forget all that.  I watched the nomination process with deep upwelling of pride.  I know, it was a choreographed vote, kind of, sort of.  Some States surprisingly threw all their votes to Barack in a show of unity.  But more importantly as I watched each State announce their state and take their 30 seconds (some went on much longer than that) of fame in the spotlight, I saw a cross section of America.  I saw Blacks and Latinos, Asians and Native Americans, and a very large contingent of women of all hues.  What I saw was a party made up of what makes America great and strong, our diversity.

It was the same when I watched the Olympics.  Teams from Africa looked, well African.  Teams from China looked Asian. And so it went till you got to the United States and the strength we showed was our diversity.  We looked like the whole world and it is a metaphor for what our nation is all about.  We bring the best out of the best regardless of nation of origin.  It is what makes us strong and different from any other country in the world.

In this mass of diversity I saw unity.  I saw States that were extremely proud of their accomplishments to unifying this country and give their citizens the best possible chance at succeeding.  They spoke of their pride in their access to schools and their school’s achievements.  Some States touted their ability to provide healthcare for the majority of their citizens.  The exhibited extreme pride in their past contributions to equality for all.  Massachusetts stood up and took great pride in being the first State to provide equality in marriage.  It was a great joyous moment about all that is right with America.  And I was so proud to be an American and part of that amalgamation of people and cultures with a common hope:  That America is still a place where hard work and discipline still pays off.  Where a black kid in a single parent home can be nominated for President of the United States.

And most of all I was proud of the message the Democrats have put on display:  Family matters and whether it is Barack, Michelle, or Joe Biden, it was their parents or parent pushing and supporting their kids that helped make the difference.  And in this country of equality, they got a chance and through their god given talents have achieved what they have achieved.  They talked about the importance of helping others.  That just making money is not enough.  We are all in this together.  That America is great as long as we continue the tradition of empowering our people to do what they can with their god given skills.  That in the Republican era we have just suffered through, that dream is fading and it needs restoring.

Now it is time to start to start taking direct aim at John McCain.  It is time to remind American what the Republicans have wrought and who John McCain really is.  It will hard because we all like John much as we love a family member who just doesn’t get it.  But for the good of the country it is important to show that John is in the last century and we really need to move on.  Bring on the Republican Convention or as I like to call it, the gathering of old fat white men who measure their success by their bank accounts.  The contrast will be sharp.  So which America do you belong to?

How Progressive Think was On Display Last Night

It was an interesting day for those of us who think like Democrats as we watched the opening of the Democratic Convention.  Ted Kennedy and Michelle Obama gave us a window into how people in Blue States think.  For those of us that think this way, the opening was a no-duh approach to our future.  But Red Staters don’t think like Blue Staters.  So I thought I would try to highlight what was the underlying message and the thinking patterns.

George Lakoff  (“The Political Mind”) has written extensively about the two thinking patterns that separate conservatives from progressives.  He has pointed out that we all use both patterns depending on how the issue is framed emotionally.  I will focus on the progressives since that was what was on display last night.

Progressives use empathy and responsibility in viewing most political ideas.  Empathy in that they see others and can feel their suffering.  More importantly they are driven to act on that empathy because they feel they have a responsibility for doing something about it.  The expression, “there for the grace of God, go I”, captures the empathy.  Michelle Obama in her speech emphasized the responsibility portion of this equation when she described how she had been motivated by Barack to quit her law firm job and get active in helping her community.

Here is where progressives differ from conservatives.  When progressives see misfortune or suffering, they know that even if you do work hard, sometimes it is not enough.  Conservatives see the helping hand as a free ride to scofflaws who have not towed the line and are abusing the system, but more about that next week during the Republican Convention.

Progressives see government as having two roles:  Protection, and empowerment.  Both conservatives and progressive would agree with the protection part.  Government’s have a responsibility to protect their citizens from harm through both a strong military and police force.  But here is where they part ways:  Progressives see government’s role as empowering people to be able to get ahead.  Conservatives see government as getting out of the way of those who can get ahead.  One sees government as leveling the playing field, and the other as a hindrance to those who work hard.  Progressives last night were calling for affordable healthcare for all, opportunity for all to get a world-class education,  protecting the environment, and economic opportunity in the form of a livable wage for all.  They see government’s role as the major force to providing these empowerments so that people who really do work hard, can get ahead.

Progressives believe in cooperation and nurturing.  We work together to solve our problems.  Conservatives object to this because they see this role of government as making people dependent.  They see it as a free ride instead of leveling the playing field and pulling us all up in the process.  Progressive see people suffering or poor and disadvantaged and want to help.  Conservatives see people suffering or poor and disadvantaged and see people who did not follow the rules and work hard.  That is why they equate wealth with morality and success.

But the biggest difference that was on display was in the framing of the arguments.  Michelle Obama framed the argument in terms of hope, dreams, and hard work.  And the framing here is the key.  If you have hope and optimism, then you can see our problems as challenges that we can all work on together, energizing our government to work for us to be the catalyst for solving these problems.  As Michelle Obama said, “They’ll tell them (our future childeren) how this time, we listened to our hopes, instead of our fears. How this time, we decided to stop doubting and to start dreaming.”

And that is the key difference in framing.  The Progressive want you focused on what we can do, and the Conservatives want you to be afraid.  Cindy McCain is off to Georgia to access the civilian casualties.  Now one has to asked how a little rich girl is better equipped to do this than the ton of journalists on the ground that have been kicking dirt down there for months.  But that is not the point.  She is going to come back to the convention and tell you that her husband, John McMean, is the only one who can protect us from the big bad Russians.  The world is a dangerous place.  Be afraid America, don’t dream, put big daddy John in charge and he will protect you.

The two different framings elicit two different emotional responses to the path that is being laid out by both parties.  I can only hope that the fear card has finally been overplayed.

Bits and Pieces

Sometimes when we are focused on other things, there are stories that tell us a great deal about the current state of affairs and where we are headed.  Sometimes they are seemly irrelevant, but are windows into the heart of many issues.  Here are this weeks tidbits:

➢    The Justice Department’s Inspector General released a couple of reports confirming that for the last couple of years the Justice Department used a litmus test for religious and political beliefs to hire administrative judges in violation of federal law.  Note that the Attorney General felt there was nothing criminal here and a spokesperson for the Justice Department said, “The fact that the process was flawed does not mean that the immigration judges selected through that process are unfit to serve.”  Oh really?  When immigrants applied for asylum, these judges disproportionately rejected these claims.  Let’s see, judges appointed illegally are caring out an immigration policy that raises question about the legality of the whole system.  No, there is no problem here Attorney General Mulcasey.  So these people were hired illegally, others were denied jobs because of their political or eligious affiliation, and looking at the disproportionality or asylum decisions, 157 immigrants who would have been granted asylum were sent home.  No, you are absolutely right, correcting these injustices would open up too many wounds, especially on your Republican brethren.

➢    In the little town of Derby Line, Vermont, they used to mark off the border between Canada and the United States with a painted line on the pavement. Now they have border police trying to watch every crossing and soon there will be a fence.  I wonder if Oklahoma considered a fence on their border to keep Timothy McVey out?  Is this getting stupid or what?  It really is a case of barbarians at the gate

➢    The Pentagon’s intelligence agencies are relying more on polygraph tests and contractors to screen its 5700 prospective and current employees each year.  Maybe there is a role here for Blackwater.  How do you fight a polygraph interpretation?  I would never get hired because they would find out about that stapler I took home in 1982 and forgot to return.

➢    The US continues to show how effective air power is as we employ it against the Taliban in Afghanistan.  In one air strike against the enemy we got 95 of…. well, that’s the question.  The Afghans tells us we got over 50 children.  Collateral damage is a bitch isn’t it?  Is this a great way to fight a war or what? I am sure the Afghans are lining up behind us in droves now

➢    Remember the ugly American.  Well we are losing our lead as Brits and Germans surpass us as our economic and world leadership decline.  In Malia, Greece, as the mayor describes them, “They scream, they sing they fall, down, they take their clothes off, they cross-dress, they vomit.”  In San Francisco, German politicos came on a junket and instead of meeting with their counterparts, shopped, played, drank, and in one case, broke an angle and told the local German Consul, to get them a wheel chair and a n*&^r to push them around.  What is this world coming to when we can’t even be the ugliest tourists anymore?

➢     Al-Qaida (You are right, I spell it different every time I write it, but have no idea which is right) has not focused on expensive terrorist attacks which might mean that our focus on cutting off their funding didn’t stop any attacks.  It appears that most were raising plenty of cash for their activities through common criminal rackets such as drug dealing and credit card theft.  Maybe this whole this is really mostly a police action after all.

➢    In Georgia thousands took to the street in Poti, Georgia to tell the Russians to get out.  It is a new day and the Russians may find that their strongarm tactics may backfire just as the South’s attempt to deny integration marchers back in the 60’s did.  The whole world can see what and who they are as we saw who the segregationists were.  They may find that their tactics will backfire big time in the future.

➢    For those of you that think the war is won in Iraq, out of 151,000 families that had fled their houses in Baghdad, just 7112 had return by mid July according to the Iraqi Ministry of Migration.  If things are so peachy there I wonder why that is?  The sectarian war gets closer and closer.  Tick, tick, tick.

➢    Meanwhile back at the ranch, the citizens of New Orleans are expressing great confidence in the Army Corps of Engineers new flood walls by rebuilding in flood prone areas while experts point out that the protection is less than what they had before Katrina.  It says all you need to know about what short memories we have and how repeating our stupid errors is a habit of choice.

So just a little insight into how well things are going and how little we really understand cause and effect.  That is the only way I make sense out of people who want to continue the Bush legacy with John McMean.

Ticking Time Bombs

There are three major stories that have our attention from American’s point of view in the realm of foreign affairs:  They are the war in Iraq, the war in Afghanistan, and the Russian invasion of Georgia.  The conventional wisdom on this (Republican and Media) is that the surge is working in Iraq, Afghanistan needs more troops to quell the Taliban uprising, and Russia may be reverting to Cold War behavior and must be stopped.  All of these are wrong.

First let’s take Iraq:  John McMean has been saying that he will win that war and bring our troops home victorious.  Political implication is Barack wants to lose it by bringing our troops home early and in defeat.  It’s bogus, but that is for another day.  Iraq is a ticking time bomb.  Nothing has been resolved and the Sunnis are being denied any real role in the military and police forces, much less government.  We are simply paying them off, hence the decrease in violence, but the promised inclusiveness into the ruling Shiite government has not occurred.  I would recommend you read Leila Fadel”s of McClatchy News story, “Former Sunni militants find job door closed” that appeared in the Sacramento Bee (sorry I can’t find a link).  The war is about power jockeying among Shiites, and the sectarian conflict and disenfranchisement of the Sunnis.  Nothing has changed and time is running out for reconciliation.  As one Sunni put it, “If they disband us now, I will tell you that history will show we will go back to zero.  I will not give up my weapons.  I will never give them up, and I will carry my weapon again.  If it is useless to talk to the government, I will be forced to carry my weapons and my pistol.”  So as John McMean promises you victory and stay the course, all I hear is “tick, tick, tick”.  Ask yourself why we remain embroiled in an 8th century cultural war?

Afghanistan, by all measures, is degenerating as the violence increases.  Both candidates are promising to increase our troop presence there.  Here is my question:  More troops to do what?  We have already been occupying the country for seven years.  What is the long term strategy for once again taming an 8th century culture?  If the strategy is more troops, for how long, to do what, and what is the end game?  Somewhere in all of this we need to step back and re-evaluate our strategic priorities.  Whether Afghanistan is a democracy or a theist state is really irrelevant.  Whether they produce poppies for income is irrelevant.  What is important is that it is not a beachhead for al-Qaeda and attacks on the rest of the civilized world.  Once again we are bogged down in the wars of a very backward people that is going to go on for a very long time.  Our strategic goal should be to make sure that they are not a threat to the world and move on to more important conflicts and issues and not be tied down there.  Ask yourself this:  If we could attack, mostly with air power and route the Taliban in a very few days back in 2001, why isn’t that a good strategy forward instead of a 50 or 100 year commitment to nation building?  If we put more troops in there without a long-term plan, what I hear is “tick, tick, tick”.

Finally we have Russia and what to do about their belligerent behavior.  Well what I see is the same arrogance that we exhibited when we invaded Iraq.  There is a silver lining is this thing.  First and foremost, America and Europe have finally come to their senses about who Putin is.  Second, right now Russia is rich in oil money and thinks it can afford to try to reestablish its old Soviet Union influence.  They learned nothing from their incursion into Afghanistan, as we didn’t in our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Now they think they can project their power through brute force in other countries.  These countries are not going to sit idly by while their nationalism is tramped upon.  Resistances will arise, and the cost to Russia will become immense to maintain this level of control.  Like us, they will find that it saps their power and their wealth to invade and occupy another country.  We don’t need to start another cold war and we certainly cannot afford an armed conflict.  So John McMean, sit down and shut up.  We need to take prudent diplomatic actions in unison with the European Union that makes Russia pay a price in the Western world for their actions.  I wonder if there are any assets we could seize through the World Court (of course we would have to recognize it) to cover the cost of the humanitarian aid?  We need to support the break-away countries to stand tall and join the West in developing strong economies.  This doesn’t mean encourage belligerent action like that of Georgia that set off this whole thing.  I wonder if John McMean has a conscious or feels any responsibility for any of this?  Sooner or later Russia will start to feel the pain and relent as its people start to grumble. On the other hand if we start another cold war it will mobilize the Russian people behind Putin.   It is not the 80’s and the world has tasted freedom and nationalism.  You can’t put the genie back in the bottle.  In this case, the short term victory in Georgia is the ticking time bomb for Russia.

So we have a choice, we can continue what we have been doing, as John McMean proposes, or we can recognize what our real interests are and quit fighting battles from the last century.  It is the difference in whether you think experience is looking backwards and applying old solutions to old problems, or is it learning from our mistakes and looking forward for new solutions.

Vine/Wine Friday

Vine:   Remember when I told you we would “drop” some fruit.  Well it’s time and it is always painful.  The picture below gives you an idea of some of the damage.

Dropped Fruit

Dropped Fruit

Why do we drop fruit?  Well you have to understand that grapes and humans have two different goals.  Grapes want to be as prolific as possible because each grape contains the seeds of its progeny.  Grapes get red and start pushing their sugar, not because they love us and want to give us the best wines possible, but to attract those winged devils that eat the grapes, fly off and leave deposits here and there with the seeds of the grape’s progeny.  Now birds have the taste buds similar to those who think who think food is grub and wine is red.  They don’t care just give me some.  So the obliging grape pushes out as many grapes as possible.  The fact that all the flavoids have been diluted to grow so many grapes is lost on the dumb birds, but not on the discerning humanoid.  So we go through this time of year and drop fruit to focus the plants efforts on the crop that is left to provide the best possible and tasty grapes.  What you are looking for is two bunches per shoot, assuming the shoot is well developed and well leaved.  Additionally there is a lot of “secondary” growth which are grapes that developed later and are never going to get fully ripe.  So, snip, snip, snip.

Now you think the birds would eat the grapes on the ground, but oh no, let’s focus on the money crop.  Maybe they can discern the good grapes because they know when the brix is about 24° (indication of sugar, we usually pick around 24-28).

Tasty Syrah Just Begging For Bird Attacks

Tasty Syrah Just Begging For Bird Attacks

The bastards wait until you have this beautiful crop and then it is binge time.  I will be putting out my Kite-Birds next week. These are kites that fly in the vineyard and look like hawks.  I will post pictures when I get them up.  I have tried streamers and other devices, but the kite-birds seem to do about the best.  The point is that we are in that time of year when you have selected who the crop is going to be and you are left with sitting back and letting nature take its course.  It is an exciting time because the harvest is not far off and the crop is beginning to look really good.  I won’t know for a few more weeks as I taste through the vineyard and see what the sun, the wind, the water, and this wonderful soil have wrought.  Nature is a wondrous thing.

Upper Vineyard from the Front Yard

Upper Vineyard from the Front Yard

Wine:   This last weekend I was having a real hankering for roast beast.  I also needed some social interaction.  I have been working on another consulting job and siting up here in a beautiful vineyard, but I needed social contact.  So I got a really good looking rack of pork ribs and an organic chicken.  I called my good friends the Wards and said I am cooking roast beast, come on over.  The Wards are wonderful people to be around and they are one of those rare couples that don’t require high maintenance.  Either they can be there or they can’t, no complications.  They always ask one question:  What can I bring, and I always say nothing, and they always bring a special bottle of wine.

Now cooking both is fairly simple.  I prepared a rub the night before.  You know, the usual suspects, paprika, thyme, cayenne, garlic, salt, pepper, sugar, etc.  Throw in what ever hits your fantasy at the time, rub both the ribs and chicken, wrap well in aluminum foil and put in the refrigerator over night.   I have a deep barrel barbeque so I get the charcoal going, with some mesquite mixed in, with the coals piled up in one end.  Then I put the ribs in about 3 hours before we are going to eat, all the way on the other end where the draft will pull the smoke across as it finds its way out the barrel chimney.  Then about two hours before you are going to eat, put in the chicken on one of those vertical roasters.  I used to use a beer can, but technology has caught up with me, and now there are plenty of stainless steel roasters available.  Fill the cup shoved in the chicken breast with about half a bottle of a good ale (drink the rest to make sure it is not gone bad and then get another just to make sure), add a little rub and put it with the ribs off the direct heat.  Then just take them off at eating time.  People will think you are a genius.

This was a simple dinner with sliced tomatoes and cucumbers out of the garden, some good bread dipped in olive oil, and some saffron rice.  For wine I chose a nice (turned out to be fabulous)  pinot because it goes good with meat and chicken.  It was a  2006 Migration (Anderson Valley).  It had complexity and depth that was stunning.  For dessert Mike and Fran brought a wonderful 1999 Boeger Pettite Syrah that was served with sliced peaches fresh from the orchard, and double chocolate brownies.  As a finisher we opened a bottle of 2006 Holly’s Hill Tranquille,  So we sat on the patio overlooking the vineyard ate this wonderful food and drank this wonderful wine, watched the sun go down, and laughed the night away.  As Mike always toasts, “It is a good day to be alive” and he ought to know.  Carpe Diem

One for the Road

I am sure most of you have seen that 100 college presidents have banned together to start a dialogue about what the legal drinking age ought to be.  I find this discussion long overdue.  In my mind if you are legally an adult at 18, how is it that you are not fully entitled to all rights until you are 21?  Of course the argument is not that simple as those who want to keep the drinking age 21 cite statistics that show that when the law was changed to 21, driving deaths went down.

I would argue very vigorously that this is a bogus argument but let’s start with the rational since this is usually an irrational argument.  Kids drink and they do it poorly.  The educators are just facing reality that laws do little or nothing to prevent this and in fact may encourage binge drinking.  If you are an educator and the law says you can’t drink till your 21, how can you have a discussion with your students about responsible drinking when more  than half of them are not legally able to drink?  You would simply get trashed for encouraging underage drinking by talking to them about how to do it responsibly.  It is the same moron argument about birth control and the use of prophylactics.  The “just say no” idiots ignore that almost all of them say yes and think educating them to take precautions encourages sexual behavior when it is already occurring.  But educators are public officials and they have to be careful in a world full of ignorant people who could cost them their jobs.

My own experience tells me that the educators are raising a very valid issue.  When I went to college (University of Maryland) drinking on campus was banned.  So we all drove off campus and got bombed.  Universities and colleges are in a real bind here because if they allow legal drinking on campus, half or more of the population are not 21 and they will imbibe (as they do now).  Then they have an enforcement problem and are seen as encouraging underage drinking even though they have got most of them off the road.

My own fraternity, Phi Delta Theta, banned all drinking in the fraternity house in later years in a misguided attempt to handle binge drinking.  Once again, it was hit the road.  I find it most interesting that conservatives seem to take the law and order approach to things they don’t like.  Just as the war on drugs has just filled our prisons with non-violent drug offenders and the bill for this type of enforcement is just coming due, prohibition on drinking does nothing to stop the behavior.  I read an interesting interview with a young professor who remembered when students were invited to social gatherings where they could drink in a controlled and cordial adult environment.  His take was that it taught many young people about responsible drinking.  I couldn’t agree more.

There will always be people who abuse alcohol and then get in a vehicle.  But calling a person an adult at 18 and then telling them they are still not grown up enough to drink is counterproductive.  They simply break the law and learn to ignore laws they think are stupid.  The message we send in both our adult behavior and in our media is drinking is cool.  So why don’t we welcome them as adults and try to set an example for responsible drinking?  The earlier they learn this behavior (instead of a trip to the woods with illicit alcohol to get blasted), the earlier they will learn responsibility.

There may be a rise in deaths on the road if this is done.  There may not be.  It depends on how we teach our children responsibility.  But if your focus is on preventing deaths on the highway, I suggest you ban driving.  It would save a whole bunch more lives than trying to ban alcohol from kids who are drinking it anyway.  It would be nice if we as a society could just grow up ourselves and instead of dogma (restrictive laws) we just held people accountable when they abused social norms.  Why do social conservatives preach personal responsibility and then are so quick to enact laws that impact all of us?

It’s Not True, But It Works

I was watching John McCain (McMean) last night out at some drilling site promoting his drill, drill, drill  message.  It was a great political theater and all the media outlets covered it, John with his yellow hardhat lecturing, “Barack Obama is against drilling, but the American people know better.”  Great political theater, but a totally bogus message.  But did the media present any of the data showing that drilling would have no impact?  Did they investigate what are the risks to the environment that the Republicans say are non-existent?  No, like mission accomplished, they are no longer about information and truth, only political theater.  Sadly it works.

What really brought this to my attention was watching MSNBC’s Hardball, hosted by David Shuster.  He and his guest were discussing the totally bogus book, “Obama Nation” by Jerome Corsi.  They all agreed that it was a total fabrication, but then David asked if it mattered.  That is the question of the hour.  How is it in this day and age that a book that is lie and fabrication gets so much media coverage and because of that, makes an impact on the voters who hear it enough and start to believe it?

So there are two questions here and I will start with the first.  The 24/7 news monster needs to be fed, so even lies make good filler.  Then if the lie is sensational, it makes even a better story so it gets a lead.  When the lies get better ratings than the truth, focus on the lie.  Corsi, in the media’s view, is interesting because he is saying outrageous things about Barack.   So they keep emphasizing his message even though they add little footnotes about the outrageousness of the claims.  If you don’t believe me log into Media Matters each day and look at the press’s unchallenged claims by both sides.  The Republican’s have learned this lesson well and they don’t care about the truth anymore, because lies play well if not better than truth.  The question you have to ask is why a media would cover these stories.  The answer is its entertainment value and ratings.  Money dumbs us all down.

The second question is why do lies that are obvious and have been debunked live on?  If you didn’t read my blog, “Stupid is as Stupid Does”, I suggest you go back and read it now.  At least 50% of my fellow Americans are stupid.  They chose what they want to believe and they don’t listen to anything else.  That’s why repeating an untruth enough times make it believable to this sad 50%.  But now I have the more important question for you.  If it doesn’t matter if your claims are true because the media plays into your game, and a goodly portion of the population are easily manipulated by these lies, does running an “above board” campaign make sense?

McCain has been out making untrue statements about Barack Obama, questioning his patriotism, and mischaracterizing his stand on Iraq, and the media is lapping it up because it plays well and is entertaining.  And what they are doing is reinforcing his message and lending it credibility.  So can Barack stay above this kind of name calling and character assassination?   The answer in the real world is no.  He has to go on the attack.  But he doesn’t need fiction to fuel his attack.  He wanted to have an adult conversation about the issues.  The problem is the majority of Americans are not adults and the media is still in kindergarten, unable to tell the difference between entertaining distraction and important issues.  So he is going to have to get confrontational.  (As a side note, isn’t it sad that the media doesn’t attack these misinformation campaigns and shame them?  It would end them, but they think it is just part of the game and it is funny.)

That does not mean he has to become John McMean.  But it does mean that he has to get passionate about John McMean’s prevarications and get the media to focus on his counterattacks, albeit, counterattacks backed up by fact.  Even better he needs to go on the offensive and attack John McMean’s false image identified in yesterday’s  blog.  If Barack wants this thing, he has to show the world who John McMean really is.  He has to show them that he is passionate about the truth and willing to fight for it.  It might not hurt to also start counter attacking the media and their coverage of these missrepresentations. Instead of tolerating their inane questions, go after them for distracting the American public.