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The Necropolitan Times
Just in case you had somehow gotten the impression that Mitt Romney, having lost and no longer being under obligation to pander to the maniac right, might now be classy in defeat, perhaps worthy of a shred or two of sympathy: This will set you straight.

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I think it's a rule that on the day you leave your job of almost nine years, you have to spend a while listening to Tom Petty.

It's time to move on
Time to get going
What lies ahead, I have no way of knowing
But under my feet, baby, grass is growing
It's time to move on,
Time to get going.

Yes, I've left BWB. I had some longstanding issues, and then we got a new department head who added a bunch of new ones. Half the IT staff had already left by the time I turned in my resignation, including most of the developers. I got a job offer from Notre Dame University to work in their IT department, and gave my two weeks' notice the same afternoon.

But you know, when you've had that awkward conversation with the boss and spent two weeks documenting all the gadgets you built and the systems you set up, when you've said your goodbyes and handed in your keycard and your laptop... you get a different perspective. I've spent a quarter of my life working for this company, helping it grow and growing with it. I found excuses to stay at my desk until after 6 PM, and then I spent half an hour wandering around the deserted warehouse. I looked at all the bookshelves with their wooden bracing, and remembered how we set up that bracing after a whole room full of shelves went over like dominoes. I stopped in at the supply order station and thought about the monster Excel macro I created to manage our supply orders, the first piece of software I ever built for pay. I wandered over to the receiving docks, where a web app I wrote has for years been registering and processing every pallet and carton of books that comes in the door.

It was very hard to go out that door, and I had tears in my eyes as I drove away.

I'm sure I'll have more to say soon about the new job, but tonight I'm still thinking about the old one.
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Two thoughts on this last debate:

First, Obama spent most of the debate looking at Romney like a cat looking at a fat mouse. And Romney looked like the mouse hoping the cat wouldn't notice him. I kept waiting for Obama to pounce on Romney and eat him.

Second, is it just me, or did Romney just try to do hope-and-change in his closing statement? He doesn't do it nearly as well as Obama did four years ago.
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I have this to say about the VP debate: The moderator loses. OMFG. That was freaking awful. She lets them both talk and talk and then right when one of them is about to come to a point, she starts arguing with him! I swear, we should just replace the moderators with machines. Pop the questions up on a screen. When a candidate runs out of time, an automatic switch cuts the mike. No human intervention necessary.

(I also thought her questions were ridiculously slanted to favor Ryan, but perhaps I'm biased.)

As far as the debate itself, setting aside the part where Ryan was lying through his teeth for most of it, things looked pretty even to me. Ryan was very polished, to the point of being slick. Biden was a lot rougher around the edges, but clearly passionate, and his closing statement absolutely blew Ryan away.
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So, the political world seems to be in unanimous agreement that Romney crushed Obama in the debate last night.

I don't get it.

Yes, Romney delivered a very strong performance, and Obama could have been better. But Obama got in some good shots about Romney's inconsistencies and lack of detail, and Romney had a couple of weird moments (most notably when he got in an argument with Jim Lehrer about getting the last word--that came across as just petty). Overall, I thought Romney came out a bit ahead, but it was far from a blowout. Maybe I'm just prejudiced.

And the thing is, Romney needed a blowout. He's way behind in the polls.
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So, a couple days ago I wrote about how I used to think Mitt Romney was competent but soulless, and lately I've been re-evaluating "competent." How he was all offense but his defense was very weak.

Today, Romney picked Paul "Privatize Medicare" Ryan for veep.

I'm currently hunting around my apartment for my jaw, which landed on the floor and rolled away someplace. Once I find it, I may have to go see if I can find somebody with leftover fireworks from July. This is a godsend. How can anyone as hypothetically smart as Romney be so fucking dumb?

(David Frum, a conservative whose feet remain planted on solid earth rather than floating up in Randian cuckoo-land, has some guesses. I'm betting on a mix of 3 and 5, myself. Whatever. A campaign already stumbling under a barrage of incoming fire has just handed its opponent a fucking Death Star.)
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Apparently Mitt Romney's campaign thinks that 2012 will play out like 1980, with Obama leading the polls up till the last few days, and then a sudden break for the Republican.

All I have to say is... wow. Wishful thinking much? I remember, as a Democrat, buying into the "undecideds break for the challenger" logic back in 2004. Didn't work out for us then, and I really doubt it's going to work out for Romney now, for all the reasons Chait cites, plus this: "Undecideds break for the challenger" is what losing campaigns and partisans tell themselves to avoid facing the fact that they're losing. There could always be a game-changing October surprise, but that's not something that can be controlled or predicted. Absent that, right now the trend is toward a narrow Obama win.

If I were backing Romney for some reason, what I would want to hear out of his campaign right now would be, "We know we've got a tough fight ahead, but we have a plan to turn things around over the next couple of months. We think that with X, Y, and Z, we can bring this race up to even or a slight lead for Mitt." At that point, "undecideds break for the challenger" is a legitimate argument. But this... this is head-in-the-sand thinking. How can you tell the difference between a race where the challenger is losing but will get a big break in the final days, and a race where the challenger is just losing? You can't. But examples of the latter vastly outnumber the former.

I used to think Romney was competent but soulless. Lately I've been re-evaluating the "competent" part. His campaign wasn't prepared for the attacks on Bain, even though Romney has been attacked on Bain in literally every campaign he's ever run. The trip he took to burnish his foreign policy cred was a comical disaster. And based on this rather interesting article, Romney's main political asset is his ability to unleash a vicious and well-funded offense. That can be effective against foes who can't hit back in kind, as in the Massachusetts governor's race and the Republican primary. But as Ted Kennedy demonstrated in '94 and Obama is demonstrating now, Mitt's defense is very weak. His responses on Bain are incredibly feeble. Hint: The correct counter-message to "Bain Capital did awful stuff" is not "Oh, I wasn't in charge then." You built the company, dude. You better be able to stand up and defend it if you expect Americans to trust you to defend them. And that's not even touching the weasel factor of claiming to not have been in charge when you were listed as CEO and sole stockholder. The buck stops where, again?

All that is not to say this race is over. The Romney camp could well turn things around--but not with that kind of thinking.
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Went to see "The Dark Knight Rises" last night. Summation: It wanted to be Frank Miller's "The Dark Knight Returns," and most of the good stuff came directly from there, but the scriptwriters never got what made the graphic novel tick, and they threw in a bunch of lame background material that didn't need to be there while neglecting to have a plot that made sense. Catwoman was hot though.

(Spoilers follow.)

For those who haven't read it, "The Dark Knight Returns" (published in 1986) was one of the seminal works that started the modern graphic novel, as distinct from the comic books of yore. It's a grim tale set against a backdrop of urban decay and societal collapse. It shows the two most famous American superheroes (Batman and Superman) struggling to sustain their ideals in a world that doesn't offer black-and-white answers, facing the very real possibility that Batman is just a deranged vigilante, and Superman a brute enforcer for a corrupt establishment.

You can see echoes of "Returns" throughout "Rises." An aging, damaged Batman is putting on the cape again after years of retirement, in a city that is not at all sure it wants him back, and he skirmishes with the cops as well as the villains. Bane bears more than a passing resemblance to the nihilistic leader of the Mutant gang, complete with hulking physique, bald head, and bizarre headgear, and Batman's two showdowns with Bane mirror his two fights with the Mutant leader, including their respective outcomes. The nuclear threat to Gotham, and the city's plunge into wintry anarchy as a result, are reminiscent of the Soviet EMP missile in "Returns." Bane even uses Communist rhetoric. And the film ends in pretty much the same way the graphic novel did.

But for all the echoes, the core of "Returns" is missing. The graphic novel takes its theme of societal collapse very, very seriously. The world of "Returns" is not a shiny happy place that is occasionally menaced by some villain; it's deeply and fundamentally rotten. While Batman spends the first half of the book facing off against his traditional nemeses, we come to see that all this is very much a sideshow, distracting us from the fact that World War Three is being fought in the background! "Returns" challenges the whole idea of the lone hero saving the day by defeating a lone villain. The world is messier than that, and redemption not as easily come by.

"Rises," however, buys into that myth wholesale. Gotham's collapse is not the result of decades of decay, but a crude imposition by Bane and his goons. Before Bane came along, everything seems to have been copacetic, and after he leaves, everything will be copacetic again. There's some people-versus-the-powerful talk, but it never goes anywhere or connects to anything. Some people seem to think this movie is espousing a conservative philosophy, but I disagree. If it were, it would deliver some kind of answer to Catwoman's redistributionism and Bane's false populism. Instead, all that stuff just falls into a void and vanishes. To the extent the movie has a theme, it appears to be that sometimes Batman has to get the living shit beat out of him. Repeatedly. A lot.

Moreover, "Rises" strains mightily to explain why, exactly, Bane is plunging the city into a months-long nightmare. Actually, that's not true. It makes hardly any effort at all to explain it. The plot borders on nonsense, and it's not helped by the way everybody turns out to be everybody else's secret son, or daughter, or lover, or fellow cultist, or father's brother's nephew's cousin's former roommate. There is a ridiculous amount of exposition on these relationships. You'd think they'd have learned from the second movie: You don't need a complicated backstory for your villain. The Joker didn't have any backstory, except for the tale of how he got those scars, which was totally different every time he told it, and he was one of the most compelling villains I've seen in ages. But we get beat over the head with Bane's backstory, and I just. Don't. Fucking. Care. The action sequences were good, and lots of shit exploded, but "Rises" has too many pretensions to be a simple action flick and too few coherent ideas to be a serious movie.

Catwoman was good though. Her people-versus-the-powerful shtick was much more believable than Bane's, even if she chucked it overboard for no apparent reason toward the end. Plus, y'know, Anne Hathaway in a cat suit. Win.

My recommendation: Instead of watching this movie, read "The Dark Knight Returns" to get your dark gritty Batman fix, and then go see "Avengers" again for your summer superhero blockbuster fix. Or just see "Avengers" twice.
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(Spoilers for Doctor Who's sixth season--but not the season finale, which airs tonight and I have not yet seen--behind the cut.)

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...than to read Maureen Dowd. I really should. And mostly I do. But every once in a while morbid curiosity gets the better of me. (I should also know better than to read David Brooks, but at least with Brooks, I can amuse myself afterward by visiting Paul Krugman's blog. I'm almost positive that's David Brooks's car right there.)

Aside from a general feeling of being covered in sneer, and a note that the actual story is somewhat more nuanced, I don't have a lot to say about today's Dowd column. But I did want to add this:

Ms. Dowd, are you sure you meant to imply that, for a female White House staffer, it was better to work for Bill Clinton than Barack Obama?
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...well, the sky has yet to fall. Possibly I overreacted last weekend.

It's a well-known principle in economics that whatever can't go on forever, will stop. It's also worth noting, though, that before it stops it will generally go on longer than anyone thinks it can. Longer than I thought it could, certainly.

So, backing off my sky-is-falling mood, but still deeply unnerved.
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So, after posting the above, I went to bed. I woke up a couple hours later from nightmares where I was responsible for several cats and hadn't fed them in weeks and they were hideously thin and mewing for food; and then I was lying in bed, unable to move or speak, while a dark intruder prowled through my apartment bent on mayhem.

Et tu, subconscious?
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No... this whole debt ceiling business is beyond insanity. It's monstrous. That we should be on the edge of default--that Republicans in the House have pushed us to this brink, where the entire world economy is at risk, where eleven days stand between us and a new Great Depression and a simple Congressional vote is all it would take to stop it and it's not clear we're going to take that vote--all this in service to Grover Norquist's anti-tax absolutism and Tea Party politics, that is a combination of evil and lunacy that can only be called monstrous.

Up until today, I guess I didn't really think a failure to raise the debt ceiling could happen. If you'd asked me, I would have said yeah, sure, it's a possibility, and I spent a while batting around ideas like the Constitutional option, but deep down in my gut I was sure there would be a deal eventually. It would probably be horribly slanted toward the Republican side and I would kvetch and gripe about it, and so would every liberal pundit from Paul Krugman on down, but a deal would get done. Enough important people understood that default was not an option.

Now I think it can happen. Now I really, all the way think it can happen. There's a difference between intellectually acknowledging the existence of the abyss and standing on the edge, staring into the howling black with the ground crumbling under your feet.

August 2nd is the official deadline, but we're already up against it. There's a reason Obama and Boehner waited to announce the collapse of negotiations until after the stock markets closed for the weekend. If we don't have a deal announced by Monday, there will be chaos when the markets re-open. At this point I think there is a very strong chance that Obama will be forced to fall back on the Constitutional option or something similar, which would avert default but would still mean market chaos and probably a downgrade in our credit rating. Estimates are that a downgrade of our credit would, by itself, cost 650,000 jobs. That's horrific.

I'm not a praying man, but right now I am praying that Obama can find some way to peel off a handful of House Republicans, just enough to get the debt ceiling raised. If not, it will mean economic disaster. And if we really do default on August 2nd, I suspect future historians will mark this summer as the end of the "American century."
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So, I was thinking about characters and character development this morning. All the writing guides tell you to have interesting characters who develop over the course of the story, but this advice can be hard to translate into an operating model. Contemplating the subject on my drive in to work, I hit upon the following idea:

What is your character's mistake?

What is the mistake that your character makes, over and over again, in her life? We should see the character make this mistake in different contexts and different circumstances, and the story should challenge her to stop making this mistake. At the climax, the character will be faced with a situation where she can make either make the mistake, or not. If she does, the outcome is a tragic ending. If she doesn't, the outcome is a happy (or at least semi-happy) ending.

This is not the only way to define character development, but it has the great virtue of being operationally useful. You can decide that your character's mistake is "Looking to authority figures to tell her what to do," and go into your manuscript and have the character repeatedly look to authority figures to tell her what to do, and put the character up against an authority figure in the climax where she has to either do what she's told or make her own decision.

Not only that, but as I look back over my own manuscripts, I see opportunities to retrofit character development using this technique. For instance, in my most recently finished piece, I can see that the protagonist's defining mistake is cynicism--assuming that anybody who claims to be working for the good of others is a liar out to seize power, and the best way to live is to grab what you want for yourself and the people you care about and fuck everyone else. Based on that, I can see a lot of places in the manuscript where I could refine that characteristic and bring it into sharper focus.

Finally, this approach gives you a nice hook to define the character's personal arc when pitching to agents and the like.

This is probably not an original insight. I'm sure plenty of other folks have come up with it and written about it. And it may not turn out to be as hugely helpful as it seems at first blush. But hey, it seems like a good idea...
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Vermont has passed single-payer health care.

Did I mention I freaking love my home state? California may have the most Democrats, but Vermont has the best Democrats.
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An article from "The Onion," from a few days ago:

Despite being constantly tempted by the seductive power of having an apocalyptic arsenal at his fingertips, President Barack Obama somehow made it through another day Tuesday without unlocking the box on his desk that houses "the button" and launching all 5,113 U.S. nuclear warheads. ...

"Apropos of nothing, the president approached me one day and said, 'Think about it: There is a button 3 feet away from me, that I, a human being, could press and virtually end the human race. Tell me you wouldn't be slightly tempted to push it,'" Sen. Kent Conrad (D-ND) said.

Reading this, I found myself remembering a Slate article back in February:

... [Y]ou've probably read about Richard Nixon acting erratically, drinking heavily as Watergate closed in on him. You may not have read about the time he told a dinner party at the White House, "I could leave this room, and in 25 minutes, 70 million people would be dead." ...

Here's what Cheney told Fox News: "The president of the United State is now, for 50 years, is followed at all times, 24 hours a day, by a military aide carrying a 'football' that contains the nuclear codes that he would use and be authorized to use in the event of a nuclear attack on the United States. He could launch a kind of devastating attack the world's never seen. He doesn't have to check with anybody. He doesn't have to call the Congress. He doesn't have to check with the courts. He has that authority because of the nature of the world we live in."

Just wanted to pass that along, in case anyone was sleeping well at night.
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So. He's dead. Not gonna bother with a hyperlink, go to any news site you like and it'll be splashed in huge bold letters across the front page.

I'm glad it happened. It's not an earthshaking triumph, but it's a blow to Al Qaeda and terrorism generally, it may diminish the anti-terrorist mania in the U.S. a little, and it'll help Obama politically. At the same time, I'm a little bothered by the level of celebration. Apparently there are cheering crowds outside the White House. Why? Because we shot some dude. When Egypt, a nation of 80 million people, ousts the brutal dictator of 30 years and starts on a path (however uncertain) toward democracy, we say, "Good for them, way to go, guys." When we shoot some dude, we party.

Anyone else find this disturbing?
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This has me worried.

Most of the candidates now running for the Republican nomination are a joke. Barbour? Gingrich? Bachmann? Trump? Please. Obama would wipe the floor with them. But Pawlenty makes me nervous, and Romney makes me sweat. Especially now that he appears to be showing a laser focus on economic issues. It's the economy, stupid--it's always the economy when unemployment is in the 8%+ range, and Obama keeps going off into the weeds. Maybe he'll tighten up his message in the coming year, but I'm afraid it may be too late.
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My dad was always a big Charles Dickens fan, and one book he loved was "David Copperfield." I admit to not understanding why--I finally mustered the energy to read all the way through it a few years ago, and was bored stiff--but I was reminded of it this morning when reading this profile of John Boehner.

"I am very umble to the present moment, Master Copperfield, but I've got a little power!"
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The right wing appears to have begun another stage of rewriting history.

So, for the record: It's 2010, two years after the financial meltdown of 2008. Large banking institutions and unregulated trade in derivatives were at the heart of this meltdown. Many of these banking institutions required taxpayer bailouts to keep working, and the bailed-out companies went right back to paying enormous bonuses as soon as the free-fall was stopped.

We are not at war with Eastasia. Spread the word, because a few years down the road, you'll hear that we always were.
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The gentleman from Vermont took to the Senate floor today for a filibuster against continuing the Bush tax cuts for the rich. And not a wussy filibuster like Republicans do. I mean a real, honest-to-God, I'm-gonna-stand-up-here-and-talk-for-eight-fucking-hours-because-I-am-serious-about-this-shit filibuster. Did I mention I love Bernie Sanders?

I still want filibuster reform in the 112th Congress, but goddamn, it feels good to see someone on my side do it and do it right, in a good cause.
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Saw the new Harry Potter movie last night. Thoughts:
  • The movie suffers from an ailment that has beset many of the HP movies to date: No sense of pacing. In this case, it's exacerbated by the fact that the book also has no sense of pacing (lots and lots of time wandering about in forests and accomplishing nothing) and the movie is very faithful. There were probably supposed to be some dramatic peaks, but you sure couldn't prove it by me.
  • Rupert Grint and Emma Watson (the actors playing Ron and Hermione respectively) continue to have zero chemistry. Meanwhile, sparks fly every time Emma Watson and Daniel Radcliffe (Harry) so much as look at each other. This does not help set up the idea that Ron and Hermione are supposed to walk into the sunset holding hands. The spirit of the Horcrux asks Ron, "Why on earth would Hermione choose you with Harry around*?" and I found myself wondering the same thing, not to mention why Harry would choose Ginny.
  • OMFG, the dark. Everything is washed-out and gloomy and hard to see. Coupled with the low energy level throughout... let's just say you shouldn't go watch this movie if you're short on sleep. Or, well, you could, but you could get the same result by sitting in a dark quiet room for 2 hours and then you wouldn't have to pay $7.
  • The retelling of the story of the Deathly Hallows--the three brothers meeting Death--was seriously awesome.
  • Many people yelled and swore when it ended on a cliffhanger. Uh, people? Did you not see the "Part I" in the title shot? How did you think it was going to end?

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I walked into a local restaurant today to get lunch. It's a nice place, with nice people and good food. Plus they have newspapers lying about, which provide reading material for a solitary eater, which I frequently (by choice) am. I like eating there.

They were playing some kind of bouncy, poppy, breathless Christmas music. I stood there for a few moments, then turned around and walked out again. Got lunch at Subway instead. The music at Subway was mediocre generic rock, which I could deal with.

I hate Christmas pop. I'm fine with traditional carols sung in the traditional way; it's not my cup of tea, musically speaking, but I don't mind it and enjoy it on occasion (though not, I say, for a month and a half; can't we at least get through Thanksgiving first?). But Christmas pop songs drive. Me. Fucking. Insane. If there is a more grating, soulless, thin-layer-of-saccharine-syrup-over-an-existential-abyss-of-meaningless-despair genre out there, I don't know what it is. And of course, that's the stuff that gets played every-damn-where you go.

I think I need to listen to some Bad Religion now.
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Apparently Republicans are considering holding the debt ceiling hostage in exchange for spending cuts, and Boehner plans to schedule a vote on the debt ceiling as an up-or-down measure with no amendments attached.

I'm not clear how these two things are supposed to go together.

I mean, here's how I see it playing out:

1. Republicans schedule House vote to increase debt ceiling as a solo measure, no amendments. (As I understand it, legislation of this sort must originate in the House.)
2. Democrats vote in favor. Republicans vote against. Republicans win, measure does not pass.
3. Government shuts down and global economy implodes.

How does this lead to good things for Republicans? I grant that Republicans are masters of spin, but do they really think they can spin #3 as "not our fault?" Surely the thing to do, if they want to hold the global economy hostage via the debt ceiling, is to pass a measure that combines increasing the debt ceiling with a bunch of other stuff Republicans like, and then blame Democrats if it gets filibustered or vetoed.

I can only assume that Boehner is playing to the tea gallery and intends to weasel out of this when push comes to shove.
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I have to say, of the many things I am bitter about with respect to last Tuesday, one of the top items on my list is that Nancy Pelosi is going to have to give up the Speaker's gavel, while Harry Reid in all likelihood stays on as Senate Majority Leader. Pelosi is awesome. Reid is weaksauce. Over and over, Pelosi pushed strong, aggressive bills through the House, which then died or got watered down to nothing in the Senate because Reid wouldn't or couldn't play hardball. End result: Pelosi and House Democrats were left twisting in the wind, having taken politically risky votes with nothing to show for them. And they paid a steep price for that on Tuesday.

(Obama also gets some of the blame for these failures, but wrangling Senators isn't really the President's job.)

I hope she stays on as Minority Leader and reclaims the Speakership someday, but I'm not too hopeful. More likely she'll get blamed for being polarizing and divisive (as if the Republicans wouldn't have heaped toxic rhetoric on any effective Democratic leader), and pushed out.

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A couple of years ago, I posted the following:

There has been much bloviating of late on why Democrats have swept the last two national elections. I've seen people like Paul Krugman saying it was because the American people have embraced a progressive political philosophy. I've seen people like Grover Norquist saying it was because Republicans abandoned their conservative philosophy and the American people are punishing them for it.

To them I say: Hogwash.

The centrist voters who decide elections, by and large, do not give a damn about political philosophies. They are neither politicians nor philosophers. They have some disagreements about exactly what they want government to do and how they want it done, but the majority agree on the essential functions - national and personal security, keeping the economy running tolerably well, public services such as education, providing a basic safety net. And pretty much everyone agrees that whatever government does, it ought to do well: Efficiently and effectively.

Now Krugman is saying Democrats abandoned their liberal principles and Boehner is saying Americans have embraced conservatism. And once more, to them I say: Hogwash. Talk to me when the unemployment rate isn't 9.2%.

(For what it's worth, Krugman is very likely right on what ought to be done to fix the economy. The facts have a well-known liberal bias, and Krugman is a Nobel laureate economist for a reason. But what the U.S. electorate sees is massive unemployment and Wall Street continuing to make out like bandits. The Democrats failed to fix it in their two years. Now the Republicans get a crack at it. Is it fair? Of course not, but that's how it is.)
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Y'know, I'd pretty well resigned myself to losing the House. But losing Russ Feingold... man, that fucking hurts. And I'm not even from Wisconsin. My deepest condolences to ltwelve2.

I can't make up my mind who I want to win in Nevada. I mean, Angle is fucking insane. But if Reid loses, we might get a Senate Majority Leader who can bill-wrangle his way out of a wet paper bag. Not that it'll help much with the House gone... and if we end up with a 50-50 Senate split, as we very well may, the new Senate Majority Leader won't last long enough to draw a deep breath, because Joe Lieberman will switch sides faster than a really fast thing. Aaagh.

Coming up next, two years of gridlock, finger-pointing, and witch hunts. Expect to see Barack Obama weighed against a duck at least once.
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Vote tomorrow, if you haven't already.

That is all.
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So, I was reading the comments on this article by Ta-Nehisi Coates (which is quite good, incidentally, and I love the D&D references)... and it occurred to me that, at least since I was old enough to remember, I have never been in a fight in my life. Ever.

(The closest I can remember is a guy in high school pushing me against a locker, more or less in passing. I didn't react. The same guy later grabbed my time-card in the woodworking shop and waved it around, saying something along the lines of, "You gonna cry?" I looked at him like he was a space alien. I couldn't comprehend what the purpose of this was, or what sort of reaction was appropriate. After a few moments I concluded it wasn't worth bothering with and went on about whatever project I was working on at the time, and eventually he put the card down and went away.)

What was your experience, or lack thereof, with fights as a kid?
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Non-optimal situations:

Standing over one's bathroom sink, holding a spray can of matte lacquer whose nozzle has broken and which is consequently erupting in volcanic fashion, desperately trying to keep the eruption confined to the sink (and one's hands) and thinking "What the hell do I do now?"
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There are certain phrases that, though innocuous in themselves, are big flashing red lights saying "This person is doing or saying something offensive." In almost any context, if you hear somebody say one of these, it's a good sign that some bullshit is about to or has already gone down.

The two that come to mind offhand (prompted by a post in a gaming forum, sad to say) are:

"I'm not racist, but..."
"You need to lighten up."

I'm sure there are others that I'm not thinking of. Suggestions?
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From the introduction of the new Republican "Pledge to America":

“An unchecked executive, a compliant legislature, and an overreaching judiciary have combined to thwart the will of the people."

Yup. Good thing we threw those bastards out back in 2006.
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Rodents Of Unusual Size? I don't think they exist.
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Here's a thought experiment next time somebody trots out the canard that "Government can't create jobs."

Suppose the government goes to a bunch of the long-term unemployed and says, "Okay. Here's the deal. We're going to hire some of you to grow food, some of you to build houses, some to cook, some to clean, et cetera. In short, we are going to use you guys to construct an entire mini-economy on a subsistence level. We will pay you in special blue money that we're printing just for you; blue money can only be spent on goods and services produced within this mini-economy, and such goods and services can only be sold for blue money. Also, any of you who gets a job offer from the private sector is fired."

Presto, the government has just created jobs at no loss to the private sector.

Obviously, this only works when you're at less than full employment. An economy running at capacity won't have any long-term unemployed, so the government won't be able to build this mini-economy without taking workers away from the private sector. I defy anyone, however, to claim that we are currently at full employment.

Also obviously, people aren't actually proposing to create jobs this way. Real-life job-creation plans use regular green money and so forth. The point is, there is no mystical curse upon the government that makes it incapable of job creation.
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It appears that the Republicans are talking about shutting down the government if they take back the House and/or Senate.

I wish I could say I'm shocked and stunned at this revelation, but y'know what? I'm not. Not even a little bit. It's exactly what I would have expected, and in fact I have a hard time seeing how it would not happen. The Republican Party has gone all-in on total obstruction and opposition to Obama; its base will demand no less.

What I do wonder is how it will play out when it happens. Health care reform is the clear flashpoint; Republicans will try to defund it and Obama will veto. First question is, will Obama cave? Second question, if he doesn't, what's the outcome?

The answer to the first question, I think, is that Obama won't cave. Everything I've read indicates that he sees health care reform as his signature achievement. And if he surrenders here, he might as well give up and go home because he'll get nothing else done until 2012 and in 2012 he will get voted out of office.

So, there will be a standoff like there was in '95.

To the second question... well, it depends on how things play out, but I believe two things happen. Number one, Obama gets reelected and the Democrats make substantial gains in 2012. And number two, the crisis devastates our already-ruinous economy. It's 2008 all over again. Life is gonna suck for everybody, for a long time.

The optimist in me hopes the Democrats will then retake Congress in 2012 and proceed to get rid of the filibuster, enact a second stimulus bill on a sufficient scale to revive the economy, and generally get shit done for a change. The cynic in me says they'll continue to dither about, fail to accomplish anything, and get rolled again in 2014, while the country continues down the road to hell.

The optimist's political logic seems strong to me, but the cynic's got a lot of history on his side.
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Poking around the politically minded corners of the Internet as I am wont to do, I've been hearing some stuff about Social Security and the trust fund and impending disaster or possibly non-disaster. I realized I didn't really understand how the whole Social Security thing works, so I went and found out. As a public service, I thought I'd pass the information along.

We'll start with how Social Security really works. It's pretty simple. We all pay a tax, and the gummint mails out checks to old people and folks with disabilities.

Now, the taxes and the checks are not generally going to be equal. In years when the taxes are bigger than the checks, the overall federal deficit gets a little smaller. In years when the checks are bigger than the taxes, the overall deficit gets a little bigger. But either way, we keep paying the taxes and the gummint keeps sending the checks.

And that's all there is to it.

"But wait!" I hear you cry. "What about this trust fund thing? I swear I heard something about a trust fund."

Ah, yes. That.

The trust fund is a bit of political wankery to make Social Security look less like Big Government Tax'n'Spend. Social Security can't receive any money from the rest of the government. It has to be funded entirely by the Social Security tax. When Social Security runs a surplus, that surplus is saved in a trust fund, which is invested in Treasury bonds. When Social Security runs a deficit, some of those Treasury bonds get redeemed for cash to make up the difference.

Of course, when Social Security buys Treasury bonds, it's buying them from the rest of the government--in effect, handing over its surplus to be part of government revenue. And when it redeems those bonds, it's redeeming them from the rest of the government--in effect, taking a chunk of government revenue to pay its bills. Like I said, it's wankery, and analysts don't pay much attention to it. The Office of Management and Budget includes both the Social Security tax and Social Security payments in the federal budget (technically it's considered "off-budget," but nobody cares and OMB reports it anyway). The result is pretty much the same as if Social Security were a regular government program.

...Mostly. There's one place where the wankery makes a difference. If this fictional "trust fund" is emptied--if Social Security runs out of Treasury bonds and still has a deficit--then bad stuff happens. Social Security won't just stop, because it's still got money coming in via the tax, but it will no longer be able to spend more than it brings in, which means benefits will have to be cut until the program's outlays equal its revenues.

So, is the trust fund going to run out? And if so, when? Current estimates say the trust fund will run out sometime around 2037. This situation can be averted if we either increase the tax or cut benefits sometime between now and then. If we do nothing, then sometime around 2037, Social Security benefits will be cut to around 77% of their current levels. (All of these numbers are very fuzzy--the uncertainties involved are huge.)

Until 2037, however, Social Security is fine. It's important to remember that nothing special happens if Social Security runs a deficit. The government's debt burden gets a little bigger, and the wankers in charge of the trust fund have to switch hands and wank the other way, but that's it. Only when the wankers can wank no more do we have to worry, and we've got a good twenty-seven years before that happens.

Not that we should disregard the problem entirely, but we have more pressing matters to deal with just now, like the wankers on Wall Street spooging all over our economy.

And now you know. (And probably want to take a shower.)
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Dick Cheney's heart stopped beating long ago*.

This is supposed to be news?

*Well, a month ago, at any rate.
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So, it looks as if the appeal on California's Prop 8 lawsuit (Prop 8 being the amendment outlawing gay marriage that was passed by referendum, and the lawsuit being the one that got Prop 8 declared unconstitutional not long ago, and the appeal being the one to overturn the judge's ruling and reinstate Prop 8) might get thrown out of court. Because the State of California has declined to pursue the appeal, so the citizens' groups who passed Prop 8 are doing the appealing... and it's not clear they have standing to do so.

In other words, for these groups to get their appeal heard, they must prove that gay marriage harms them somehow.

Sometimes the legal system, through no fault of its own, is a thing of beauty.
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On a gaming site I frequent, I posted a poll the other day. The question the poll asked was, "When do you find PC death most unpleasant? As the player whose PC died, as a different player, or as the GM?"

The answers I got were rather illuminating. The responses, as of this posting:

24% said "As the player whose PC died."
3% said "As a different player."
57% said "As the GM."

(For those adding up the numbers and scratching their heads, there was also an "Other" option which got 15%, and some rounded-off fractions which account for the last 1%.)

This squares with my own experience. When my PC dies, I may be a little disappointed if it was a character I was into, but I almost always have a new idea lined up--especially in complex systems like the recent editions of D&D. When I'm the GM, though, not only do I feel bad about offing somebody's character, but now I have the headache of figuring out how to work the new PC into the campaign. It strains disbelief and disrupts plot arcs. It's a pain in the ass.

However, most game systems address the issues of PC death as if the player were the only one affected. There's a fair bit of effort put into making sure the player is done right by (new character starts out at or near the old one's level, with level-appropriate gear, and so forth), but not a lot into helping the GM patch over the hole in the fabric of the campaign.

This bears thinking about.
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From California Republicans, in response to criticism from a bunch of economists that would-be governor Meg Whitman's plan will worsen California's budget and economic woes:

"Whitman's supporters said the report was tainted by partisanship. 'The same people who are engineering our nation's blundering economic recovery are now criticizing candidates who are committed to balancing budgets through spending cuts, targeted tax relief and job creation,' said Crystal Feldman, spokeswoman for the California Republican Party. 'If these guys were so smart, maybe unemployment wouldn't be at 9.5% and our national deficit wouldn't have ballooned to over $13.3 trillion.'"

So, to avoid the mistakes of the people engineering our nation's blundering economic recovery, we should turn to the people who engineered its economic collapse?

How quickly they would like us to forget.
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One of the webcomics I read updates Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.

Another updates Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday.

There ought to be a date-sensitive bookmark that changes URLs depending on the day of the week.

(It's not just me. I'm sure lots of people would use this for... uh... hey, look over there!)
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To me, anyway.

Article here. Basically, it's a whole bunch of preventive services that will be provided to consumers free of charge starting September 23 of this year*. Among those preventive services are "cancer screenings, including mammograms and colonoscopies."

For those who don't know, my dad's family has an extensive history of cancer, caused by a genetic defect known as Lynch Syndrome. My dad died of colon cancer and my uncle survived it. Those who have the genetic defect have an 80% chance to develop cancer at some point in their lives, and often quite young (age 40 or so).

So, in all likelihood, I am going to need regular cancer screenings. And I can tell you those things are not cheap. Nor does insurance necessarily cover them for people as young as I am. So... yeah. Health care reform looks like making a difference in my life quite a bit earlier than I expected it to.

(Unfortunately, birth control is not among the things covered by this rule. That may change, though; Planned Parenthood is lobbying to get it added to the list. Going to send them some money this evening.)

*Caveat: Only to those who start new health plans. I'll have to check and see what that entails.
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A couple months ago, Carly Fiorina ran this bizarre ad in a bid to win the Republican primary for Barbara Boxer's Senate seat:

Demon Sheep

Now, the Democrats have put out an ad of their own:

Demon Sheep II

And of course the newly-formed People Against Carly Fiorina Making Political Ads Society:

Demon Sheep Rock

California's government may be gridlocked, gerrymandered, and utterly dysfunctional, but it sure is entertaining.
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If you can't muster the gumption (or the PG-13 rating) to say the word "fuck," then just don't fucking refer to it. Do you have any fucking idea how fucking stupid you sound when you call it a fucking "F-bomb?" What are you, fucking twelve?

Get a spine, motherfuckers.
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Goldman Sachs has a nice little list of the services it provides to its clients:

Among the roles we play for our largely institutional client base are advisor, financier, market maker, asset manager and co-investor.

Evidently this needs to be updated. Among the roles Goldman plays for its client base are advisor, financier, market maker, asset manager, co-investor, and fraudster.

Nice to see that at least one of the big financial players responsible for the crisis is (hopefully) going to be punished for at least some of its contributions. Here's hoping this article has it right and this is just an opening volley from the SEC, with lots more to come.
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Also, I would just like to take this opportunity to point at Fred Barnes and channel my inner Nelson Muntz:

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Health care reform has passed.


(You may summarily ignore the stories about how the Republicans can still derail the bill in the Senate. That's baloney. They can, possibly, derail the reconciliation bill which amends the law to be more to the House's liking, but all that happens if they do is that the Senate version of health care reform becomes law as it stands, instead of the House-amended version. Which is not that big a difference, honestly. It'll have political repercussions, but it won't have a tremendous impact on the legislation.)

In the end, I still think Obama took too long to really roll up his sleeves and jump into the fray, but I gotta give him credit for pulling it out when it counted.
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The total accumulated wisdom of my thirty-three years, regarding being a white male dealing with issues of race and gender and privilege and discrimination, can be summed up in two sentences:

1. Stop feeling guilty about every damn thing.
2. Shut up and listen.

That second one is the hard part.
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It's the Ides of March. Do you know where your Senators are?
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