Friday, October 31, 2008

Strange Times

I went to an Of Montreal show here in Copenhagen last week. While there were some technical difficulties and the band was clearly tired, they put on a great show. I had never seen them before, and it was a pretty interesting experience. After the show ended, I got to meet a couple of the guys out front. They were just hanging out among the crowd as people exited the (shitty) venue, smoking cigs and talking to each other. Strangely, almost nobody from the audience approached them. I went up to them and chatted for a bit. They told me about their long European tour (that night was apparently their last) and gave me a setlist. Nice guys. I asked them if they thought Obama had a chance of carrying Georgia, where the band is from. They didn't think so.

Since then I had been studying for an exam that took place yesterday. I've been taking a class on plant genomics (fascinating, I know), and it has now ended. Exams in Denmark are remarkably less stressful than back home. This is mostly because they are open book, open notes. I couldn't believe it when they told us that, but apparently that's the norm here. No wonder everyone is so happy.

This weekend I am going to Amsterdam to visit some friends and attend a hip-hop festival called Rock the Bells. This usually only happens in California, but it has gotten so popular in the last couple of years that they added a European segment to it. Last year I saw Rage Against the Machine, Wu Tang Clan, Public Enemy, and many others at this festival in San Fransisco, and this year's lineup is just as good. The main acts that played in the states were A Tribe Called Quest, De La Soul, Nas, Mos Def, and The Pharcyde. Tons of other acts played too, including a new favorite of mine, The Cool Kids. Unfortunately, the European tour is a lot smaller. Tribe isn't going to be there on Saturday, but De La, Mos Def, Nas, and Pharcyde will.

I've been looking forward to this for months and months, but a couple of days ago it was announced that Sterling, the cheapo Danish airline, was declaring bankruptcy. Apparently the largest investor was some Icelandic guy, and the financial crisis forced him to pull out. My ride to Amsterdam suddenly didn't exist anymore, and I thought I was SOL. I went as far as to tell my friend in the Dam to return my ticket or try to sell it. Luckily for me, some last-minute heroics by my little sister saved my weekend. She bought me a plane ticket on a much more stable airline, which will count for my birthday present (and Christmas, and my next birthday...). Thanks sis. In return she will be getting an awesome hockey-related birthday present very soon.

As for the election, I am getting quite giddy. With mere days left, things couldn't be looking better for my guy. The tightening in the polls that happens nearly every election during the last few weeks doesn't seem to be happening, and Obama is widening the battlefield every day. McCain is playing defense in places no self-respecting Republican should be playing defense. Even Arizona might be up for grabs. Talk about an embarassment. The McCain campaign is more uncoordinated than ever, and many people on both sides of the spectrum are already looking at 2012. My focus as of late has been on the Congressional races. Top dog conservatives are in serious trouble all over the place. This could be the end of the Republican era for decades to come. Good riddence. Maybe this will help the Republicans understand that having a party where almost all of the leadership consists of old white men isn't the best way to appeal to an increasing-diverse America. Maybe people like Bobby Jindal will step up and transform them. Or they will hand the keys to Sarah Palin and we can all sit back and watch the party self destruct. We can only hope.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Too Good

There's nothing like some politcal comedy from the right as they watch their party collapse to cheer me up. Ben Smith over at Politico is batting 1.000 today on the "watch everyone remotely connected to the McCain campaign disintigrate" angle.

Politico is reporting what Ben astutely calls a "vivisection" (as opposed to a post-election autospy) of the McCain campaign, with all their internal fingerpointing, jumping ship, and dispair. He also picked up on this bar of solid comedic gold: "Joe McCain Allegedly Calls 911 to Complain About Traffic." No, this isn't an SNL skit or an Onion piece, this is 100% Grade A fact. Here's the transcript from the call on October 21:
Operator: 911 state your emergency

Caller: It's not an emergency, but do you know why on one side at the damn drawbridge of 95 traffic is stopped for 15 minutes and yet traffic's coming the other way?

Operator: Sir, are you calling 911 to complain about traffic? (pause)

Caller: Fuck you. (caller hangs up)
The operator called back to admonish him for abusing the 911 system, and was greeted with a voicemail message:
"Hi this is Joe McCain. I can't take this message now because I'm involved in a very (inaudible) important political project. I hope on November 4th we have elected John."
Bravo, sir. Joe is John's brother, and this isn't the first time he has gotten some unwanted attention in the last couple of weeks. On October 4, while warming up a crowd in Virginia, he referred to the D.C. suburbs of Arlington and Alexandria as "communist country." If I thought McCain had more than a 3.7% chance of winning this election, I would say that he should put his brother in whatever bunker they hid Palin in.

You couldn't make this stuff up.

Oh, and by the way, Nate Silver reckons yesterday was McCain's worst polling day of the year.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Woe Is Me

My wonderful week of vacation was capped off with a rather crappy ending. After visiting London and Stockholm, seeing friends and family along way, I was robbed on the train home to Copenhagen. Due to some kind of accident in the Swedish rail system, my scheduled afternoon ride home was delayed for many hours. After blowing the little that was left of my Swedish cash in the train station bar, I was ready to check into a hotel for the night and try again in the morning. At the last second they announced a night train to Malmo, a city just across the water from Copenhagen. I went to the ticket office and was given a ticket for a bed on the train.

I threw my clothing bag into the luggage room, but kept my backpack with me. I tucked into bed after chatting with a couple of really anti-Semitic Pakistani guys who shared my room (did you know that the Jews manufactured this financial crisis to solidify their already-firm grip on the world economy? Me either!) with my backpack on my bed furthest from the door. I slept really well and woke up around 5:30 am, around an hour before my train was due to arrive in Malmo. It took me a second to realize it in the darkness of the room, but my backpack was gone. Panic set in really quickly - everything was in that bag: my passport, wallet, keys to my apartment, as well as my digital camera, brand-new laptop, iPod, and school stuff. I freaked out.

I tore all the sheets off the bed, frantically looking for the bag I knew had been taken. I quickly realized that I was wasting time, and perhaps whoever did this was still in the hallway. I ran out and looked everywhere in the immediate vicinity, but to no avail. It was quiet and empty. My next thought was to find some train personnel. I didn't know what else to do. I found someone rather quickly and explained what happened, and was met with an empathetic shrug and a suggestion to talk to the police. The train had made several stops already, and the theft could have happened at any point after I fell asleep. Someone overheard us and walked up to me. He told me that he had just seen a black backpack in the bathroom. I have never run so fast in my life. I burst into the bathroom, the closest one to my room, and there was my backpack by the trashcan. By the time it was in my hands I knew the laptop was gone by the weight of the thing. You know how they say there aren't any atheists in a foxhole? I have never agreed with that statement so strongly. As I went through the various pockets, I prayed I would find something.

And I did. Whoever this jerk was, they had the decency (or stupidity, take your pick) to leave my passport, keys, wallet with all my credit cards, and my iPod. Gone were my laptop, digital camera, sunglasses, and a bit of cash. I was as relieved as someone can be after having thousands of dollars in stuff vanish. If the whole bag had gone missing, I would have been totally and utterly screwed. I would have had no way to get to Copenhagen, and even if I could I would have way to get into my apartment. Nevermind the passport situation. I shuffled back to my room and surveyed the scene of the crime. The Pakistani guys in the top bunks were up at this point, and after I told them what happened they immediately offered to show me their stuff so I wouldn't suspect them. Suffocating regret set in as I took measure of what I had lost. Aside from the monetary value of the stuff, I lost schoolwork, my access to the Internet, and hundreds of pictures that I had taken on the trip thus far. I thought about what I should have done differently, and there wasn't too much I could think of. I guess I could have worn the backpack or tied it to me or something.

I was complacent because I was in Sweden. I didn't expect, for whatever reason, that theft of this kind would go down in such a supposedly advanced country. I was wrong, and won't ever forget the lesson. It's been a few days now and I have settled down a bit, but I am still pretty upset. I have reported this to the Swedish police, but I don't expect anything to come of it. There is some software on the laptop designed to trace it down in events like these, but it isn't likely to help either. In a twisted catch-22 of sorts, this software only works when someone logs into the computer and connects to the internet. By having a strong password on my account, and thereby protecting my data from people who try to use but not steal my computer, I have rendered my computer untraceable. Whoever this thief is, they can just wipe the hard disk and that's that.

Stealing sucks, don't do it.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

That's All, Folks

Little update, I am about to get on a train back to Copenhagen.

Colin Powell just endorsed Obama. I know I have said previously that it is over for McCain, but now it is really over.

Video below. Buy champagne, people.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Dear Old Stockholm

Hello from Stockholm. I am in the middle of a birthday trip around Europe, and I have to say that this is by far the coolest city I have visited. There is just a feeling I get walking around the streets here that I have felt nowhere else. The ride on the train through Sweden from Denmark was absolutely breathtaking, reminding me a lot of the northeast of the US. Fall is in full swing, and the colors can't be beat. For a guy from LA where we have 1.5 seasons, it's quite something. Not to mention that I have never seen more gorgeous women in my life, both in quality and quantity. I never thought I'd say this, but going back to California is going to be difficult in some ways.

I have just read that Obama picked up endorsements from the LA Times, the Chicago Tribune, the Washington Post, and rumor has it that the New York Times will endorse on Sunday. These papers don't endorse every year. In fact, the LA Times hasn't endorsed since 1972, and the Tribune hasn't ever endorsed a Democrat. As if he needed more nails in his campaign's coffin. This is not an indictment of John McCain per se; I see it as more of a testament to how sincere and thoughtful Obama has shown himself to be. People are looking for stability and a clear focus on actual issues. Schmidt, McCain's Rove/Atwater clone, has shown that he can follow the smear playbook fairly closely, but the American people have grown smarter thanks to Bush. The McCain campaign has made some serious errors this year that eliminated any (small) chance he had in the first place. Ignoring the men completely, this election was strongly favored towards a generic Democrat. Had McCain run a different campaign (i.e. hired more honorable people to run his campaign), he would have had much more of a fighting chance. I will be writing a thorough obit in the next week or so detailing all of the things McCain's campaign did over the last year to ensure his loss.

I have a strong feeling that this campaign will be historical for more reasons than are readily apparent at the moment. Yes, the election of a black President less than 50 years after Dr. King is groundbreaking on one thousand different levels. But race was at most a very minor player in this campaign. Obama's campaign will be remembered for its incredible organization, its ability to mobilize thousands of volunteers using the latest technology, and for his adept use of the internet as a means of astronomical fundraising. It will be a role model for decades to come, and hopefully permanently raise the level of discourse in our presidential races. One thing I have heard consistently from the European friends I have made when we talk about the election, a topic nearly everyone here is eager to discuss, is that American elections are typically so personal. As much as the McCain campaign has tried in recent weeks to inject personal attacks, they have fallen flat. Times are too scary, this election is too important. People have realized that this is much more than American Idol.

I have a lot more of this city to see, so it's off to bed for me.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Grand Old Panic

It can't possibly get any worse for the McCain campaign. Makes you almost want to feel bad for them. Almost. I was in London visiting some friends over the weekend and fell out of touch with the news for a little while. Now that I am back, I can't believe what I am reading.

I felt pretty sure that Obama couldn't do better than the 5-6% average advantage he had in the national polls up to last week. That fraction represents a lot of people, and I thought this country was so partisan that it was something of a ceiling for any candidate, of either party. Well, the Times and CBS just released a poll showing Obama with a fourteen-point lead. That represents nearly 48 million people if applied to the country at large. What is McCain to do? William Kristol, one of the conservative columnists for the Times, opened his piece this week with, "It’s time for John McCain to fire his campaign." Christopher Buckley, son of William F. Buckley Jr., whose writings are the intellectual foundation of the modern conservative movement, has endorsed Obama. He has never voted for a Democrat in his life. EV now has Obama with 357 votes, with 361.4, and a share worth $100 if McCain wins can be bought for $21.10 at If you really think McCain will win, you could quintuple your money.

Meanwhile, the RNC might borrow $5 million to try and save some Senate seats. The idea of 60 seats for Democrats is getting less far fetched every day. This may be the last straw before they have to pull resources from McCain, rendering him even more unable to compete with Obama's astronomical fund raising. Aides hinted that September's haul was bigger than the record $66 million in August, which would make sense considering the fusion of Clinton supporters. Politico says Obama is outspending McCain 8-1 in some places. And yet for some reason Steve Schmidt thinks character assassination is the way to succeed? As the last week has shown, the rhetoric about Ayres has only frothed up the hardliners, and has driven independents away and McCain's unfavorable ratings up. Don't they get it that getting nutjobs excited at staged events and getting average voters excited in their living rooms aren't the same thing?

I can't remember the last time I was this excited, and I haven't even mentioned Sarah Palin.

Monday, October 06, 2008

The Home Stretch

The election is now less than a month away, and I couldn't be happier. Barring some major development, the race is in the bag for Obama. Every possible indicator out there, from electoral college predictions to Intrade to national polls, puts Obama ahead by a significant margin. has Obama with 329 votes as of yesterday. has him at 339.7, the highest level of the campaign. Intrade's electoral prediction puts Obama at 338. The consistency among these numbers is especially encouraging. The Gallup daily tracking poll has had Obama leading with statistically-significant lead for nine days straight, currently at 50% to McCain's 43%. With mere weeks until November 4th, what is the McCain campaign to do? Limited by public financing and having to play defense in places the GOP has taken for granted for years (Indiana, Virginia, North Carolina, etc.), he's between a rock and a hard place. So, of course, McCain is going to let Steve Schmidt take this campaign into the mud.

The McCain campaign has now devoted nearly all of its advertising resources to negative ads. TPM is reporting that "nearly 100 percent" of their weekly budget is devoted to a slew of ads that attack Obama by name on a variety of issues. The veracity of the ads aside, this is not an indication of a confident campaign. This past weekend, the campaign announced that it will be going more on the attack, seeking to divert the nation's attention away from the economy and towards what they perceive to be flaws in Obama's character. They let slip that attacks linking Obama to former Weathermen leader Bill Ayers, whom Obama has met professionally on several occasions, and real estate developer Tony Rezko are on the way. Unfortunately for the McCain campaign, both ties to Obama were thoroughly fleshed out by the media during the primary season. Unless they are sitting on some new stuff, these attacks will likely fall flat.

The problems with this strategy don't end there. I assume that both campaigns have prepared in advance for the possibility that everything goes totally negative. By announcing their strategy for the remainder of the election, the McCain campaign gave the Obama camp some time to dust off their ads and make media buys. In fact, Obama is pre-empting the attacks. Until now, even for the mainstream media, McCain's involvement in the savings and loan scandal of the late 1980s as one of the "Keating Five" has been largely off the table. Consider that over and done with. Politico is reporting that the Obama campaign is launching a "multimedia" push today to remind voters everywhere about McCain's involvement in the last financial crisis this country experienced. Expect the McCain camp to respond with their usual "Obama said he would rise above this kind of politics, but look at him now!" Blah blah blah. The central difference between the two styles of attack is that McCain is attacking Obama's character through linking him to people who most would consider to be unsavory. Obama, on the other hand, is bringing up McCain's connection to a crisis that is eerily similar to what we are currently going through. The savings and loan collapse resulted directly from a lack of regulation, corporate greed, and influence peddling in Washington. Remind you of anything? Which line of attack do you think will resonate more strongly with blue collar workers worried about their jobs? You tell me.

The weirdest thing about this whole situation for me is McCain's personal experience with dishonorable campaigning. During the 2000 Republican primaries, McCain was the target of one of the most despicable kinds of political tactics I have ever heard of. In a Boston Globe piece from 2004, Rick Davis (McCain's current campaign manager in name only) describes how Bush supporters used something called 'push-polling' to destroy McCain's lead in South Carolina. McCain has an adopted Bangladeshi daughter named Bridget, and these people used the fact to implant vicious lies in voters' heads. It would happen something like this: you'd get a call from someone saying they were conducting a poll. After a few innocuous questions designed to determine whether you were supporting McCain or Bush, the 'pollster' would ask a hypothetical question along the lines of, "If you knew that John McCain fathered an illegitimate black child out of wedlock, would you be more likely or less likely to vote for him?" Presumably, racist voters who had seen Bridget with McCain on TV would make the intended connection themselves. Davis attributes McCain's loss of South Carolina, and thus likely the primary, to this type of attack. Having been on the receiving end of that kind of insanity, how can McCain do essentially the same thing to Obama? It must be because Steve Schmidt has been given complete control of the campaign, and has promised John a win at all costs.

I used to like McCain because I used to believe him. He stood out from and stood up to the rest of his party. He has completely tarnished that image during this election, and his loss will be well deserved come November 4th.