Saturday, December 20, 2008

The Day After

click for a larger image
The Day After © 2008 John Clifford

In yet another sign of global warming (or is Al Gore visiting Seattle?), we here in the Pacific Northwest have been hit by more cold weather. A freakishly cold (for Seattle) wave has hit us, resulting in below-freezing temperatures and snow. We had about a foot of snow late Wednesday evening into Thursday, and according to the weatherman we'll get another foot or so dumped on us later today and tomorrow. Oh, joy.

I awoke early this morning, intending to go out to the Golf Course at Newcastle to try and get a winter version of a previous image, but it wasn't happening. There was a low layer of scud across the city and the Olympic Mountains were barely visible in the distance. I decided to try and get a good image of Bellevue, the largest suburb of Seattle and a major city in its own right. Not as easy as it seems, though, because although you can get glimpses of Bellevue's skyline from many different areas, it's difficult to find an unobstructed view. I even went by the local Lexus dealership, on a brand-new building just east of I-405, the north-south 'bypass' freeway that splits Bellevue down the middle, and managed to get access to their rooftop... but I couldn't get the image I wanted there. On the way home I happened across a spot behind some industrial buildings, and on an impulse decided to grab the camera and tripod. As you can see, it worked pretty well. Unfortunately, what you can't see is the full-sized image... it's almost 77 MP and a full-size print @ 240 dpi will be around 20" x 60" with great detail. Almost like being there....

The sub-freezing weather is supposed to stick around for most of next week, giving us a White Christmas. Thankfully, unlike the usual result of winter storms here in western Washington, we haven't lost power... yet. The approaching storm is forecast to have high winds, though, so we're not home-free. Time to get the axe sharpened!

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Mt St Helens, Post-Apocalypse

Click to see a larger viewApocalypse Now - 4-image panorama taken with a Fuji F30, stitched using Hugin/Pano Tools, post-processed in Adobe PS Elements

I took this picture in the fall of 2006, at an overlook on 504 just over a mile due west of Coldwater Lake. Here's where I took the photo (see the map centered on the overlook).

My first visit to Mt St Helens was in the late spring of 1992. I had purchased a '91 Corvette convertible earlier in the year and had driven around Mt Rainier, enjoying the day, when I came to the sign off of Hwy 12 that said "Mt St Helens" and decided to go take a look. I followed the road south through the trees as it rose above the valley floor, and then as I crossed a ridge the trees disappeared. To be more exact, I left the green forest and came to an area where there were trees... blown down like the hand of God had swept them away from the volcano. Of course, there was no sign of life, the ground was grey and desolate. I followed the road up to the Windy Ridge viewpoint, where the pavement ended, and got out to look at the open crater that gaped at me from less than four miles away. To say the sight was awful is to use 'awful' in its original sense... one is filled with a sense of absolute awe at the devastation. Looking left and right, there are tens upon tens of thousands of dead trees, stripped of their limbs by the blast, the fallen trunks pointing outward from the crater. Spirit Lake, below, has a raft of logs covering a large portion of the surface.

I went to Windy Ridge once more, back around 2003, and happened to get there near sunset on a summer day. It was just myself and my sister, visiting from London, and she was as awestruck as I was. Even though it had been more than a decade since my last visit, not much had changed, in terms of nature restoring itself.

The picture above was taken after an abortive trip to Castle Lake (you can see the lake to the left of the volcano). To get there, you have to drive 20 miles off of the nearest paved road, and that puts you on a ridge about 2,000 feet above the lake. Going straight down is very steep with knee-high scrub. I tried to go there on a Saturday afternoon, got down to the end of the pavement just before sunset, and ended up getting lost and turned around in the middle of the night so I slept in my truck. I woke up at dawn Sunday to hear the sound of bugling elk. With daylight the chance to actually see where I was, I was able to deal with locked gates and finally made it to the ridge above the lake around noon... too late to hike down and fish.

I haven't had the chance to go back, but plan to go back in 2009. It will be a 3-day trip, and I'll bring a friend and my tri-band HT (ham radio). Cell phones don't work out there, and it's big country... a broken leg without a way to call for help would most likely mean death.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Lessons Learned: Terrorists At The Train Station

Azam Amir Kasab, the only one of the ten terrorists to be taken alive, in the main Mumbai railway station (Sebastian D'souza/AP - fair use)

In an armed encounter, the opportunity to end things early and go home often occurs... but all too often isn't acted upon.

Take a look at the 1:30 video above, or right-click here for a separate window, taken by CCTV cameras at the Mumbai train station at the beginning of the terrorist attacks. Note the two Indian Police (IP)officers to the lower right of the screen, one with a Lee-Enfield battle rifle. The terrorists first appear around 11 seconds into the video, and the police duck into a hallway to the right. The police appear again around 18 seconds and the terrorists shoot at them, the shots going high (note the dust from bullet impacts in the window above the entranceway frame). Note how one policeman actually tries to shoot the terrorist but evidently misses! He ducks back into cover, where they stay while the terrorists shoot some more and then move off out of view of the camera. The rest of the video shows them moving on to a restaurant section and opening fire on unarmed people who flee in terror through the kitchen. Several dozen innocents were killed by the terrorists until they were taken out (one killed, one wounded and captured) by responding IP and Army personnel, after a considerable delay.

The IP shown in this video had a perfect opportunity to end this incident within the first 30 seconds... yet they failed to act. Why? The IP have complained about being outgunned, but as the video shows, firepower wasn't the issue, and neither was bravery (although common sense might have been lacking in that the IP in the video evidently were in a state of disbelief until they were shot at). Instead, as the video shows, the IP we see had absolutely no clue as to what to do.

I'm not faulting the individual IP here; panic and general cluelessness is the untrained person's natural reaction to a deadly force situation. The stress is tremendous, adrenaline is pumping and the fight or flight reflex is fully engaged... and flight is the rational choice as opposed to a futile effort of resistance that only results in one's death.

Why did this happen? I assume that because India has very low rates of gun-related crime, and because Mumbai is over a thousand miles from the Punjab, the threat of terrorism was seen as very low. Additionally, India has inherited its philosophy of law enforcement from its British colonizers, where the gun is seen as a symbol of the authority of the state to use force instead of as a tool to enforce compliance. Therefore, there is no perceived benefit to train the IP beyond a minimal competency to ensure there are no accidents. The IP plan was more along the lines of, "This is India where Hindus are non-violent. We don't need a plan." So, what you have is a police force that has all of the drawbacks of being armed, and none of the benefits. The result is shown on the video.

What the video also shows is the lack of training among the terrorists, and how aggressiveness and motivation count for a lot. Again, this is the same sort of recklessness we saw in Iraq, where several Fedayeen (literally, 'self-sacrificers') would cram into a Fiat and charge a US armored column... and get shredded. Brave, but suicidal, because prepared and planned aggressiveness beats reckless aggressiveness. Of course, if your opponent hasn't prepared or planned....

What if this had happened in America? In New York? We all know that the police would come running, guns out, and quickly (maybe a little messily) end this. The Transit Authority police would have handled the two shooters at the subway station, and the Emergency Services Unit (NYPD's SWAT team), joined by their federal counterparts (since terrorism is a federal crime), would have gone in and cleaned out the terrorists. Would innocents have died? Yes... because the attackers seize the initiative. But not as many.

What if this happened in your hometown?

Bad guys always have the initiative. The lesson learned here is, Have A Plan. In the video above, if the IP with the rifle had shown the initiative to merely aimed and fired it at a terrorist 50 feet away he would have killed the terrorist, and doubled his own odds of getting the next one. What if two IPs had worked together, from opposite sides of the station, communicating by radio, and caught the remaining terrorist between them? One of them would have gotten a shot, and the second terrorist would be down. End of story.

Here in America, many states have recognized our right to keep and bear arms by providing for hassle-free concealed carry. How many people reading this have a concealed-carry license? Of those, how many actually carry? Of those, how many practice with their carry weapon and have a minimal level of competency? Of those, how many have taken armed self-defense training? Of those, how many have actually thought about what they would do when confronted with a deadly force situation such as terrorists opening up in the local mall or subway station?

Have. A. Plan.

See earlier articles in this series under the 'Lessons Learned' topic...

Monday, November 24, 2008

Fall in Seattle

Enough about politics, the economy, etc. Time to enjoy the beauty of fall in Seattle.

These images are from the Fremont district, north of downtown Seattle, due west of the University district (and the University of Washington), and east of Ballard and the locks, along the Ship Canal.

It was a beautiful day, but the weather has turned colder although it is still surprisingly clear for Seattle in the fall. The leaves have mostly fallen, and winter is near.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

"I have fought a good fight. I have finished my course. I have kept the faith."
- Sen. Jon Kyl, quoting 2 Timothy 4:7

A very disappointing evening tonight to those of us who supported John McCain's presidential campaign. Obama has made history as the first American of African heritage to be elected president.

McCain's concession speech was as gracious as it was eloquent, and as touching. Unlike his Democrat predecessors in the '04 and '00 elections, McCain called for his supporters to stand behind Obama, to put partisanship behind them, and to work with the president-elect instead of working against him. It was a class act, yet another example of the patriotic selflessness typical of McCain, and perhaps the last major action of his political career. Certainly, at 72, this was McCain's last presidential campaign.

How did Obama do it? By persuading enough voters that he was the person they were looking for as president. I won't go into the merits of Obama's campaign, or his positions; this is his night and he has earned it. I do agree with McCain that the election of a Black man is clearly a sign that, in American, opportunity is not dependent upon one's race or economic background... and that is a good thing. In fact, I can't help but wonder if this spells the end of Affirmative Action; clearly no one can argue that minorities are unduly handicapped by the fact of their race.

Unlike the reaction of most Democrats eight years ago, who angrily proclaimed "Bush is not MY president!" Republicans must accept the will of the voters and our new president. It's the only way we can, hopefully, move beyond the partisan politics that have made honest discussion of serious issues impossible not only in Washington but throughout the country. Obama is our president, and America is our country. Yes, Republicans need to hold Obama accountable but they also need to work with Democrats.

At any rate, I know that Obama's treatment by his political opponents will be far more respectful and positive than Bush's treatment by the Democrats. And, as an American, I hope that Obama can be effective as president, and that he performs well in office. His biggest obstacle will not be the Republicans, it will be the extremists in his own party... and Obama, Pelosi, Reid, et al will not be able to blame Republicans for their failures. He certainly has his work cut out, what with the financial crisis, Iraq and Afghanistan, and the certain challenges that will be thrust upon him by our adversaries. As Biden pointed out, Obama will be tested, and for America's sake I hope he passes.

So, I wish you the best of luck and I wish America great success during your term, Mr. Obama. And, I hope you have the grace and humility to govern wisely and effectively, for our country's sake.

Monday, November 03, 2008

A McCain Rally...

I drove down with several other out-of-state volunteers to attend the last McCain rally in south Florida. Held at the BankUnited Center on the University of Miami campus in Coral Gables, the turnout was amazing for a midnight rally on a Sunday evening. The auditorium holds 8,000 in the seats, and by the time McCain arrived the seats were full and the floor was also packed. I believe there were at least 12,000 people there, and remember this was at midnight on a Sunday with only a day's notice.

The rally opened with several local Latin bands playing salsa and mambo music, and the crowd came alive with people dancing and singing and waving campaign signs. Obviously, in Miami, a disproportionate number of attendees at a Republican campaign rally are going to be Cuban-Americans, but there were numerous folks from many Latin American countries. I talked to a woman who expressed her love for Cuba to me, along with her love for America which she considered her "second mother, the one who embraced me when I fled Casto and everything I had." There was another, older man whom we met, who had been a political prisoner in Cuba for almost thirty years(!), and who had made it to America a few years ago who was as effusive in his praise for McCain as he was vehemently disdainful of Castro. The ache for Cuba that is still present among second- and even third-generation Cuban-Americans, along with their open love for America, convinces me that they would like nothing better than to return to Cuba... and quickly add it to the US as the fifty-first state. Alexandra, the Colombian-American woman who came to the rally with us, told me that the Cubans in many ways were blessed by their forced emigration to America; even though they came here with nothing they worked hard, helped each other to save and invest, and took full advantage of the opportunities here in America to prosper. Ironic, isn't it, that perhaps the people who really understand America and what makes this such an exceptional country are those who came here with nothing.

Another frequent comment by the many people who were originally from other countries was about how Americans really don't understand what socialism means, and what it will do to the US. Many Cubans remarked how the Cuban people originally supported Castro, believing him to be moderate and an improvement over the petty corruption of the Batista regime, and believing his promises only to realize what 'social justice' really meant. No Che Guevara fans here, that's for sure. I heard much the same from a Venezualan-American concerning Chavez. Our Colombian-American companion Alexandra remarked how Americans didn't understand what it was like in much of the world. Her stepmother was kidnapped and ransomed by the guerrillas in Colombia, and she remarked on the level of violence in that country for much of the past three decades. Bombings, assassinations, the kidnapping and murder of judges and other political figures, the rise of the paramilitaries (extra-legal groups of military and police) to combat the terrorists and drug lords who used bribes, extortion, and violence to evade judicial punishment.
Americans, she said, don't understand what it is like to live in such an environment. Perhaps maybe only our military, who have fought against much of this in Iraq, can fully appreciate how good we have it here in America.

After several hours of discussions, dancing, and great music (the above is the third band led by Albita Rodriguez who put on an incredible show), the McCain entourage finally arrived, to thunderous applause and cheering. As McCain has been quoted on television, "Maybe we should have all our rallies at midnight!" In addition to his wife Cindy and his daughter Megan, Kelsey Grammer and his wife Camille, and Joe Liebermann were present. (I have to ask, if Obama is the Great Uniter, why aren't Republican senators at his rallies?)

McCain delivered his rally speech, polished to the bare essentials, and hit his talking points. "Commander-in-Chief versus Redistributor-in-Chief." "If Barack Obama wanted to run against George Bush, he shoulda run four years ago!" He even tried an ad-lib, telling the crowd that, perhaps in Little Havana, "we would have a 'Pepe uno Plumbero'!" It was corny, but the crowd loved it. McCain was interrupted numerous time by thunderous applause, chanting of "John McCain!" and "USA" and clearly seemed to relish the warmth and enthusiasm. Not that I've been to a lot of campaign rallies, but I've been to a few, and this one was by far the most enthusiastic one... just look at the faces in the crowd to understand how strong McCain's support is in south Florida.

After about 20 minutes, McCain wrapped it up with his "Never give up! Fight!" closing, which brought the crowd to its feet throughout the auditorium. The applause and shouting went on for almost a minute, and it was deafening. McCain and his family then made a quick circuit near the stage to shake hands, and then exited stage right to thunderous applause and cheering. The whole experience beat any rock concert I've ever been to.

All in all, a very inspiring event, and one that gives me great hope for McCain to win Florida and then the election.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Idiotic Obama Supporter

So, there I was, taking Exit 104 off of I-95N in south Florida, on my way to the Martin County GOP headquarters to help get out the vote for the presidential election, when a sudden flicker of dark blue on the other side of the boulevard catches my eye. I look over to the other side of the road. There's a male cyclist, . dismounted, leaning over by a series of political signs. He didn't just pull out a McCain/Palin sign, did he?

On a whim, I pull a u-turn at the next break in the median and head back. The cyclist has ridden off before I get there, but I pull over anyway and walk over to the signs. Everyone but McCain/Palin... so I walk over into the weeds and there it is. I put the sign back up and then headed down the road after the cyclist. As I'm approaching him, he stops at another McCain/Palin sign and starts to tug on it. I blow my horn and he turns around, seeing me. I shake my head firmly, pointing to him to stop, but he pulls the sign out and tosses it. I hop out of my car as he rides away on the sidewalk, and put the sign back up, and then follow him again, my camera at the ready. I pull up beside him and take a couple of photos. He acts as if he doesn't see me at first, and then yells "Leave me alone!" After my second photo, he pulls over and stops... and so do I.

ME: Hey, what are you doing??!! You can't be damaging campaign signs!
IDIOT: Uh... a police car saw me and didn't do anything.
ME: That doesn't make it right! What is wrong with you? Don't you understand how unAmerican it is to interfere with a campaign? Don't you respect freedom of speech?
IDIOT: I'm really angry, man. You don't understand!
ME: Your anger doesn't make it right!
IDIOT: You don't understand!
ME: I understand that if someone who hasn't made up their mind sees you damaging McCain signs, that's likely to make them angry enough to vote for McCain. Is that what you want?
IDIOT: No, I don't want that. But I have to stop McCain. I hate him!
ME: What has John McCain ever done to you?
IDIOT: I need to get my wisdom teeth out and if Obama loses I can't afford it. I'm gonna die on the streets if McCain wins!

Now, this guy is riding on a new bike that is in excellent shape. His clothes are clean and fairly new, and he's listening to an iPod. He looks to be a teenager, so am I supposed to believe his parents can't afford $300 a tooth to get his wisdom teeth pulled? Give me a freakin' break! I'm even more convinced that this drama queen is just another immature asshole. So, I have two choices: be an asshole right back or try to get him to admit that what he was doing is wrong in the hope of changing his behavior.

ME: What does that have to do with freedom of speech? Do you think Obama would condone pulling signs out?
IDIOT: Well...
ME: How about Martin Luther King? Do you know why he was beaten and finally killed? Because people didn't like what he was saying and wanted to shut him up. Isn't that what you're doing?
IDIOT: (Crestfallen) I see what you're saying.

With that I let him go. He rode into a neighborhood and I rode on into Stuart. Turns out that the GOP office is constantly having McCain/Palin signs vandalized or stolen, and this costs a lot of money and time. They were interested in the pictures.

Do I think I made a difference? Probably not... but what are you going to do?

Sunday, October 19, 2008


While I've been creating panoramas by stitching multiple digital images together for several years now, I've always wanted a robotic panorama head to ease the workload. The image pictured above is actually comprised of 44 individual images, four rows of seven images. As you can imagine, moving a tripod head manually while ensuring that the spacing is correct and not missing a 'frame' is cumbersome, tedious, and very error-prone... and you don't realize you've made an error until later when processing the images. Don't ask me how I know this!, a spinoff from the Global Connection Project project from Carnegie-Mellon University, aims to provide a site where individuals can use high-resolution images from multi-row panoramas to explore distant parts of the world. The hope is to bring people together.

In order to facilitate creation of multi-row panoramas by the average photographer, CMU worked with an external company to create the Gigapan robotic panorama head. Thru the miracle of modern microprocessor technology, and a couple of stepper motors, this mount allows the user to use a small point-and-shoot digital camera, using the viewfinder to indicate the camera's field of view, identifying the upper-left and lower-right corners of the desired panorama. Once this is done, the user presses a button and the Gigapan robot head automatically starts taking pictures, continuing without human input until the job is done. also supplies a free panoramic stitching software package that automates the creation of a single, huge image from a series of individual images, and will also upload the resultant image to the website.

Now, the creation of a robotic panorama head isn't news; units like the Peace River Systems' PixOrb and the Rodeon VR have been around for years... but we're talking anywhere from $4000 for the Rodeon to over $11,000 for the PixOrb. Definitely out of the reach of the average photographer. The Gigapan head goes for under $300, but as the saying goes, you get what you pay for. Although it is a solidly build product, it is sized for point-and-shoot digital cameras. The unit is physically too small to handle a dSLR with a long telephoto lens (although the image show above, of Seattle, was taken on a Gigapan using my Sigma SD14 and 70-200/2.8 lens, a heavy combination that really overpowered the unit and required me to physically assist the head in order to prevent the stepper motors from 'slipping' due to the weight, missing 'steps' and thus getting out of sync). Gigasystems, the spinoff company that was formed to market the Gigapan robot head, is planning to eventually introduce a larger, more powerful head suitable for dSLRs and 'bridge' digital cameras.

However, all is not lost. I've picked up an Orion TeleTrack astronomical alt-azimuth robotic mount, designed to support computer control of a telescope, and am working on a control unit that will give this much more robust mount the same capabilities of the Gigapan, with dSLRs and long, heavy, powerful, sharp lenses. Some European hackers have adapted this head to work with homebrew software on mobile Linux devices, but I'm currently building a self-contained controller that will mimic the functionality of the Gigapan. The goal is to create a self-contained unit that has the same ease of use, while supporting a quality camera at an affordable price (well under $1,000).

I'll post more information as my project progresses. Until then, feel free to look at

Don't Know Who To Vote For? Look At Their Records!

In "Torn Between Obama and McCain" Dane Stangler, a senior research analyst at the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, writes on his dilemna in choosing which candidate deserves his vote.

If this article is an example of the caliber of analytical thought found in our nation's best and brightest, then no wonder this country is in the mess it's in... and may God help us.

Stangler's dilemna can be summed up thus: Although I disagree with most of Obama's policies and positions, and agree with most of McCain's, McCain's selection of Sarah Palin as his VP is so indefensible on the merits and such an egregious example of political pandering that it virtually compels me (and all intelligent people) towards Obama.

The sheer idiocy of such a statement astounds me.

First, despite all of the criticisms directed against Palin by the chattering classes, the woman is an elected governor of a state with approval ratings above 80%, and has a clear track record of confronting and cleaning up corruption in government even when she encounters it in her own party. Can any of these things be said about Obama, much less Joe "J-O-B-S is my favorite three-letter word" Biden?

If McCain's selection of Palin reflects badly on him (and I disagree), then what does Obama's selection of the gaffe-ridden incompetent Biden say about him? Biden is a man who has been wrong about almost every major foreign policy issue in the past two decades, from opposing the first Gulf War to suggesting giving Iran $200 million after 9/11 in order to get "Arabs" to like us to opposing the surge and proposing the breakup of Iraq into three separate countries in violation of the country's sovereignity. Yet Obama selected Biden specifically for his 'foreign policy expertise.'

Don't even get me started on the character issue. Biden had to drop out of the '88 presidential campaign because he lied about his background and his record. Here's a man who bragged about his IQ, his college "scholarship" (that he never received), his award as the outstanding Poli Sci student (that he never received), etc., and he still lies as evidenced by the astounding number of whoppers he uttered during the Biden-Palen VP debate. If the choice for VP is between a confirmed liar with a track record of bad judgment or an inexperienced governor with a decade of executive experience and who has risen to every challenge and succeeded against the odds, I'll take Palin any time.

Similarly, we have a charismatic candidate with an impressive resume and a solid record of accomplishment... and then there's Barack Obama. What has this man actually done? Yes, he worked with Bill Ayers and the Annenburg Challenge, spending over $150 million(!) on Chicago schools... and are the schools any better? Not according to the people who have to send their children to them, or standardized test results, etc. This is the sum total of Obama's executive experience: $150 million spent with nothing to show for it. Contrast that with the much-maligned Sarah Palin, who runs a state with a budget surplus, who negotiated additional royalties on oil from the oil companies and gave that cash back to the residents of her state. Or with John McCain, who capped his Navy career by commanding the largest squadron in the Navy, receiving an excellent fitness report (and the Navy isn't a forgiving grader... just ask John Kerry).

Here's a simple test for a president: would you hire this person to manage your business and give him access to the company checkbook? How would you answer this, Mr. Stangler?

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Joe Biden??!!

So, Obama has chosen his VP. What does his choice say about Obama and where the Obama campaign thinks it is stragegically?

First, choosing an 'Establishment' politician, a Senator who first went to Washington when Obama was just 11 years old, is a clear sign that Obama and his advisors believe they need to compensate for their weaknesses in terms of maturity and experience. McCain has been hammering Obama over his lack of foreign policy credentials, and picking Biden was clearly an attempt to counter this hole in the Obama resume. The only conclusion that can be drawn is that Team Obama thinks it is losing, and that it had to do something to regain credibility.

Second, all of the hype about 'Hope' and 'Change' has been shown to be just that... hype. Obama is 'in it to win it' and will do what he thinks he needs to do at any time to gain the presidency. Now, this is not necessarily a Bad Thing; successful politicians need to win, and recognizing a problem and correcting it are good qualities. However, when the pivot is seen to be on principle instead of on strategies or tactics, and the excuse of expediency won't cover pivots on ideals. How does Obama explain now that McCain's judgment to support the Iraq War disqualifies him from the presidency when his own VP voted alongside McCain?

What about Hillary? Turns out she wasn't even seriously considered. What does that say to the PUMAs... the die-hard Hillary supporters? Picking Biden is a clear shot across the Clinton bow, a statement that Biden is more qualified than Hillary. Do the Democrats really think this is true? Certainly Hillary's supporters don't... so much for party unity.

All in all, choosing Biden was a strategic mistake by Obama. The man has a deserved reputation for opening his mouth without thinking, and he has left considerable ammunition for the Republicans to use in the fall campaign. No one who was unsure about voting for Obama has their concerns addressed. And, Biden is at best an average debator.

Who should Obama have chosen? Well, certainly not Hillary... because of her baggage and her antipathy to Obama. Who'd want to be president with Bill and Hillary just down the hall waiting like vultures for misfortune to strike? Not Gore... ugh! Certainly not Biden, or Bill Richardson.

How about thinking outside the box? What about... Joe Lieberman? The people who like Hillary tend to like Lieberman, and certainly McCain can't go out and bash the candidate who has worked for him. Yes, it would have upset the netroots, but are they really going to vote for McCain? Especially after the Great Uniter explains that Lieberman on the ticket brings all of the Democrats under the Big Tent? The only question is, would Lieberman have accepted? Other good choices include Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius, certainly acceptable to most Democrats and a good way to bring the Hillary supporters back.

Either choice would have been better for Obama... if Obama thought he was perceived as being ready to assume the role of President. It's going to take more than Joe Biden to fix that.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

John Clifford For President

A friend sent me this...

Obama: In Need of a Game-Changer

The upcoming presidential election is getting more interesting by the day... depending upon who you want to see win and who you listen to among the punditocracy. This is supposed to be the Democrats' year, and by extension Obama is our next president. He's certainly been all-but-appointed to the office by a largely sympathetic media.

However, the McCain campaign isn't just sitting there. McCain and his staff have done a good job of analyzing Obama's weak points and hitting them, reducing Obama's large lead in June to either a statistical tie or an actual McCain advantage depending on which poll you look at. Historically, because of the polling methodology that is used, the Democrat has a statistically significant lead in the summer; both Kerry and Gore had double-digit leads at this time during their campaigns. Democrat spokespeople shrug off any concern, either denying or decrying the polling data. The Obama campaign is worried, though, and that is the best evidence of how effective the McCain strategy to define Obama has been.

Enter David Gergen, the onetime Bush Sr. and Clinton advisor, who has written a column today on what Obama needs to do to 'change the game.' Gergen's advice can be summed up as follows: pick Hillary for VP, or pick Gore, and then pick Clinton-era advisors. Huh?

Picking Hillary will be the kiss of death for Obama in '08. Is there any person who is more polarizing in politics today? Obama could get more votes by picking George Bush! If Hillary is Obama's VP, the 51% of the electorate who can't stand her will vote for McCain... and that includes many among the Obama supporters who will feel utterly betrayed if Hillary gets the nod. Strike one...

How about Gore? Yes, Democrats like Gore. Does anyone else? Will Obama get any more votes? Certainly not the PUMAs who are pissed about what they see as a total diss of Hillary by the Democratic leadership. How about Hillary herself? Does anyone with half a brain think that the Clintons will campaign more effectively for Obama/Gore this fall than they did for Gore/Lieberman in 2000? And, is Gore stupid enough to wear another 'Please kick me' sign for the next few months? I don't think so; his ego is way too fragile to chance losing yet again. What's in it for him, anyway? He's already been VP for 8 years! He'll get savaged over his ecohypocrisy... his huge house with the huge electric bill and the inadequate solar panels, his continual private jetting, his fleet of Suburbans, etc. He'll have to divest himself from all of those profitable investments. The chances of Gore being asked, and then accepting, the VP slot are nil. He and Obama know it, and that's why he's emphatically disavowed any interest in being selected. Strike two...

Okay, so Obama can't pick Hillary or Gore. What about the idea of announcing his Cabinet picks before the election? Not bad... unless he listens to Gergen and selects the same old retreads from the Carter and Clinton Administrations. Madeline freakin' Albright for SecState? I can see the campaign ads with Obama and Madeline... and then Madeline and her favorite party-boy Kim Jong-Il... and then images of North Korean missile launches, nuclear tests, etc. The McCain campaign just has to be praying for this like the dog in a Gary Larsen cartoon waiting for the cat to jump in the dryer... "Oh, please, oh, please, oh, please!"

That's three strikes, for three lousy ideas. If you want Obama to win, that is. Because nothing Gergen suggests addresses Obama's problem. (BTW, what is really amazing is how much people like Gergen can get paid for truly horrible advice. It's not like he helped out the Clintons, or Bush Sr. -- maybe Gergen clients didn't read the memo about doing the opposite of what he suggests -- ed)

Here's the game-changer that Obama really needs: how about realizing that your equivocating, evasion, and prevaricating is a real turn-off for people who were looking for something different from you. You promised a new type of politics, but your actions belie that. The Saddleback appearances by you and McCain were a real eye-opener, and if you don't change McCain is going to eat you for lunch during the upcoming debates. Yes, Clinton got away with it but that was 16 years ago, before the Internet and the rise of alternative media. We've seen that movie.

In all seriousness, I don't think Obama can 'change his game' at this point, because 'the game' is all he knows. The panic we're seeing in the media and among many on the Left is buyer's remorse. The netroots were able to 'game' the Democrat primary rules (the same way they beat Lieberman with Ned Lamont only to see Lieberman win as an independent) and put Obama ahead on Super Tuesday. The Idea of Obama was too seductive. Too late, they're starting to realize that there is no 'there' there. Every Democrat leader has to be agonizing about whether or not it's too late to pick Hillary... and about what will happen to the party if they do (convention chaos and a fragmented party), and if they do not (electoral disaster).

Look forward to a very contentious Democrat convention, and the very real possibility of a Republican landslide this fall. Far from being a Democrat year, this election is rapidly becoming McCain's to lose. Who would have thought?

Sunday, June 22, 2008

How to Solve the Energy Crisis: Part 1

I've been thinking about America's energy crisis for a while now, and believe I pretty much have it figured out. A post on solar power , about adding 3kW of solar panels to a house in order to move their net electricity usage down into the lowest price bracket, sparked the idea for a series of articles on how America can solve its energy crisis. It all comes down to one thing: cheap electricity. This is the first article, on how a lot of little things can add up. Facts were obtained by Googling appropriately.

A 3kW/h system should generate more than 15 kilowatts on a sunny day. The average house uses about 500 kilowatt/hours per month, meaning that this system would be able to replace most, if not all, of the energy used by the house it is installed on.

Interestingly, power is consumed at the highest rate during the day, especially on hot, sunny days. That's because, while household usage is down, business usage is at its highest. So... if every house in CA had just enough PV generation capacity to provide 10% of its daily use, or 1.5kW/h worth of generation, there would be no electricity crisis in California.

How much would this cost? Well, figure 8,000,000 homes, x 1500 watts x $4, or about $48 billion, for 12 gW of generating capacity. There's 30 million people in CA, so about $1500 per person, or $500 per family. Now, this would be a one-time investment that could be amortized over the life of the PV generation systems, or about 20 years... so figure $25/year per person.

I know, $48 billion is a lot of money... but how much will it cost to bring an extra 10% of power generation capacity online thru a generating plant (coil, gas, nuclear), and pay for 20 years of fuel, pay for the infrastructure (high power lines, towers, etc.) to support the new plant, and pay for the staff to run and maintain it?

For the sake of comparison, a 1.34 gW coal-powered generating plant, with a coal mine on-site(!) that provides 70% of the coal needed for the plant, was purchased in WA state for $554 million. So... you're looking at a little over $2 per watt for coal-fired generation, or about half that of PV. However, the $200 million required for new smoke scrubbers needs to be factored in, plus the cost of the 30% of coal needed daily to generate the power, plus the cost of the staff to operate the mine and power plant, plus the cost of the new transmission line infrastructure needed to support the plant and hook it to the grid, plus the cost of maintenance, etc., and what happens to the operating costs when the mine runs out of coal? By the way, this plant just added two natural gas-fired turbine generators, so perhaps they know more about coal costs and availability than we do.

The state of California takes in over $1 trillion of tax revenue each year. Surely it could offer a 3-year tax break (give people a tax credit for 1/3 of the cost each year for 3 years), and ensure this gets up by requiring every house to add this within a 5-year window.

I know, it's a great idea. Figure the odds of it ever happening.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

The Winning Hit

(May 18, 2008) - Jose Lopez connects with the ball to knock in two runs, putting the Seattle Mariners in the lead at the bottom of the 8th inning. The Mariners would hold that lead for the next half-inning, defeating the Padres 3-1.

How often does a photo catch the bat making contact with the ball, much less on the winning hit? This is the first time I've ever done it. Pretty neat!

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

'Thanks, Bro...'

Who would have thought that the Republicans had a chance of holding on to the White House in 2008 a few months ago? After the '06 Congressional election, the Conventional Wisdom held that the Democrats would win the White House in a walk. Hillary was the Heiress Apparent. Then, we saw the rise of Obama as the New Messiah, sent to assume the mantle of Leader of the Free World, an unstoppable force. Hillary or Obama? At any rate, most certainly not a Republican.

Things started to change after Super Tuesday. The Clinton campaign (I believe Bill gets the credit for this strategy) came to the sober realization that if Hillary was going to win, it could only be by dragging Obama down into the dirt and making him seem like just another politician. Better yet, by painting him as the stereotypical Black Candidate instead of the candidate who happened to be Black. There is a crucial difference here; a Black Candidate, such as Jesse Jackson or Al Sharpton, represents only Black Americans (and only the more radical ones), while a candidate who happens to be Black can legitimately claim to represent all Americans... and Americans of all ethnicities can identify with him. This was the Clinton strategy first used after the South Carolina primary, where Bill Clinton made an oblique reference to Obama's support from Black voters as to be expected, "like Jesse Jackson's support." Tie your opponent with someone who is highly unpopular, in the same way that "Dole-Gingrich" was used to tie Dole in with Newt Gingrich during the '96 presidential campaigns.

Obama's only hope for mass appeal was not to be identified as the Black Candidate. Mid-America might well vote for a candidate who happened to be Black, but a Black Candidate has no chance. He was very good at resisting this characterization... until the radical sermons of Jeremiah Wright, his pastor at his Chicago church, came to light. Obama's speech on race was more of an evasion than a response, but it was well-worded and accomplished his goal of receiving the benefit of the doubt from the majority of Democrat primary voters.

Then the 'bitter clingers' comment came to light, and the Clinton campaign waisted no time in using the comment to paint Obama as an out-of-touch elitist, again making it easier for White lower- and middle-class Democrat voters to view Obama as a 'Them' instead of an 'Us'. In my opinion these comments cost Obama his chance to put Hillary away in Pennsylvania.

The fatal wound, the stab in the back, came this previous Monday courtesy of Reverend Wright and his speeches to the NAACP and the National Press Club. Wright gleefully stripped his defenders of their claim that outrage towards him was due to taking his statements out of context, defied those who challenged him, and worst of all portrayed Obama as a liar who repudiated himself from Wright solely for reasons of political expediency. In other words, Obama's own minister publically declared him to be just another say-anything-to-get-elected politician. Imagine the political ads! This damning statement from his own pastor cost Obama any chance he has at the presidency, at least for this election. With friends like this, who needs enemies?

I don't know who will get the Democratic nomination. I think it will still be Obama; the nomination will be decided by the superdelegates before the convention and they have have no good choices. If they stick with Obama, they're going with a candidate who will not win against McCain, because he will not get the moderate white Democrat vote. If they switch to Hillary, Obama's young activist supports and especially his black supporters will be outraged, perhaps to the point of destroying the Democrat Party, and a mixed Clinton-Obama ticket with Obama as VP won't fly for the same reason. Their only choice is a different nominee, and who are they going to choose from? The primary losers who were eliminated early? McCain will cream them. Al Gore? Even Al isn't stupid enough to run against McCain? John Kerry? The fake war hero couldn't win against a reservist; does anyone think he'll do better against a real war hero, especially since he hasn't repudiated the SwiftVet charges because he can't? Joe Lieberman? A rational choice, yet unacceptable to the Progressive Kossacks, who will revolt. They have no bench.

Why did all this happen? Why did the glorious dream turn to ashes? Two words: the Clintons. The Clintons want back in the White House. No... make that the Clintons believe they are entitled to return, and they will do anything to win. Even if it means destroying the Democrat Party. Hillary's worst nightmare is for Obama to win in November; that will end her presidential aspirations. She knows that she can't win the nomination this year, and the superdelegates will not give it to her for fear of the consequences (blacks and progressives leaving the party in droves). Far better to destroy him now, to weaken him so that he can't win, and then run again in 2012, saying "You should have picked me in '08!" You just know Hillary's pissed at Obama for costing her a sure thing... "Damn him anyway for running!" (I'm sure that's the kindest thought she's had about Obama in a long time!)

The Democrat Party never forgives a loser. What Obama should do now is to realize that a Democrat can't win in '08! so let Hillary take the fall! My advice: bow out now! Hold a press conference saying something along the lines of "For the sake of party unity, and because this country that I love is greater than any one person, we have to end this fight in order to beat the Republicans. I am going to cede the nomination to my opponent Hillary, and I will work to get her elected." And then, work as hard for Hillary as she and Bill did for Al Gore and John Kerry (not very hard at all), while letting a few choice friends in the media know why you withdrew (because the water was poisoned by Hillary and Bill and their scorched-earth tactic of using race to divide the Democrat Party). Put a bug in Jeremiah Wright's ear about all this, and let him go forth and trumpet about the Clinton racist conspiracy to deprive a Black man of his legitimate chance. Suppress the black vote, and Hillary cannot win. Then, watch the Party turn on the Clintons after the loss in November, and drive them out.

The activists will love this noble self-sacrifice. The party leaders will shrink in fear and know they have to make a gesture to regain black support, and they'll do it. Obama will be lauded from every Democrat mountaintop. He will be a shoo-in for the 2012 nomination. He'll learn from his mistakes this year, and the public will largely forget those mistakes. If McCain is very popular, wait until 2016... Obama is still young. If not... the office is his. If he plays his cards right.

Obama's only chance to be president is if he gets out now while he is still relatively unscarred, letting Hillary get clobbered. It's nervy, though. Does he have the courage to do it? Most likely not.