Road Food

So spent the weekend being a Good Corporate Spouse ™ in Monterey where we go for TG’s big conference every other year.

She doesn’t usually ride, and so when we leave Sunday, she usually drives down with a Trustee, and I get to spend the afternoon swooping over the great curvy roads (Carmel Valley, Highway 25, Jolon, Peachtree Valley, etc. etc.) between Monterey and home. This year she managed to wangle it so she rode, too, and we had a great trip up, leaving Thursday evening and arriving at the Treebones Resort in Gorda, at the south end of Big Sur, then leaving there early in the morning and arriving midmorning in Monterey so she could conference and I could do a little work sitting in the hotel patio.

The plan was to head back as I usually do Sunday at noon – but she was running a fever and was obviously sick and/or exhausted, so I made the (yes, overbearing; yes, control-freakish; yes overprotective) call that we’d stay the night and see how she felt this morning. I just wasn’t comfy with her doing a hard, dangerous day’s ride feeling as ‘off’ as she obviously did.

She slept all afternoon, I woke her to take her to dinner, then we got up this morning and had a very leisurely trip straight down the 101. Kind of a bummer, right?

Well, no. She slept all afternoon, then I took her out to a well-known place that turned out to be a seriously great restaurant – PassionFish – in Pacific Grove. Let’s just say ‘wow’. Absolutely someplace you ought to go if you’re in the Monterey area.

Then today, among the several stops we made to relax was ‘Chef Rick’s‘ restaurant in Santa Maria, a not so well-known place.

It’s kind of unprepossessing – sitting in a midmarket mall on the south edge of town. But damn – I said, damn – it was good. I’m glad it isn’t close to home, because I’d want to eat there every day. Garlic soup I’d kill to get the recipe for, an oyster po’ boy that Grace devoured, and shrimp, mushrooms, and angelhair pasta that was the furthest thing from the bland dish you so often get.

If you’re ever in Central California – or even if you’re kind of close to Central California (like, say, in Arizona) – you ought to go to this place.

So if she hadn’t gotten a little sick, we would have had a great ride, been home a day earlier, but would have missed out on two great meals…a tradeoff that might be well worth making.

The Debate

So I watched most of the debate at the hotel bar – with about 100 other people (it was a full house and I was sitting on the floor with a few dozen others).

Overall, meh. My comment to TG was that neither of the candidates melted into green goo on camera, meaning that each of them managed not to screw up badly enough to cost them the election.

And I realized that that’s kind of a metaphor for how this election is running – each candidate desperate not to screw the pooch, playing defensively and probing for weaknesses rather than making full-throated claims about what they are, believe in, and where they want to take the country. That’s massively depressing to me, because it seems like we’ve lost what each of them brought to the table that made them good candidates in the first place.My support for Obama is still strongly there, if eroded (more by his issues with free speech and my disdain for many of his supporters than anything else). I’ll do a post this week explaining why, and explaining why the audience of a hawkish blog like this ought to reconsider their kneejerk support for McCain.

But searching deep in my reactions to Obama’s performance last night, I didn’t remotely see anything in his performance that could make me – or anyone who’s not already drunk his Kool-Aid – an enthusiast.

McCain’s opportunity here was to knock Obama out of the game, to make him “um” and “uh” and show that his smooth, intelligent, oratory isn’t matched by an ability to think in real time. Didn’t happen. McCain also need to come across as more appealing – to be the warm, funny, self-depricating retired fighter jock that is the core of his attractive self. Instead we got the moralizing, self-righteous scold who is much less likely to connect with voters in a personal way.

I have other problems with this election right now; we’re descending into a real 19th century kind of blind partisanship, and the odds that we’ll be able to unite the country behind either candidate seem lower every day. Whoever wins, the partisans on the other side will be enraged and uncooperative – with the right blaming (justifiably, I think) the Obama-swooning press, and the left blaming vague Rovian conspiracies (a lawyer at dinner last night explained to me – in all seriousness – that Rove has ‘anointed’ Palin, and that the whole point of this election is to get her in position to take over from McCain next year. I’m afraid that I giggled a bit in response, but he liked sailing so we managed to have a civil conversation anyway).

We deserve better. To be honest, these two candidates are better men than they are showing us in this campaign. What’s wrong with them, with us, with our politics?

Thunderbirds are GO! …For Sure…

So I’m at the Hyatt in Monterey being a supportive corporate spouse and working on the wi-fi out on the patio.

I’m on the patio because the USAF Thunderbirds (warning: heavy FLASH site) are in town for an airshow and are doing flybys onto Monterey Airport which is just up the road, and I’m getting an impromptu airshow as the planes circle 200 feet over my head individually and in small groups.

I didn’t bring a camera, but trust me – it’s ridiculously cool.

Sorry, This Was Just Dumb

McCain’s see Jeff G’s great post on this at Protein Wisdom – and I need to do a post on the likely [bad] consequences of this) and he should press on and try and make McCain’s campaign crumble right now.That’s more likely because of the logical perception that McCain’s offer was a ‘stunt’.

Practically, it was dumb because the place to work on the economy for both Obama and McCain is in the public eye, as a part of the campaign, not in the halls of the Senate where everything they do will inevitably be colored by association with their campaign.

It’s been a bad week for McCain and Palin (to top it off, the Enquirer is doubling down on their charges of an affair), but it’s not the final week and they can still get their feet under them. A strong performance at the debates – focusing closely on the economy – is a necessary first step.

Have I Mentioned How Little I Love Verizon These Days? And Don’t Even Get Me Started On Palm…

So we’re a mega-Verizon customer, with three home phone lines, FIOS, three cell phones and a cell modem in my laptop. Our monthly bill is – well, it’s large – and has been for some time.

Here’s what this month has brought us.We realize that we really don’t need three home lines any more – in fact, we could probably just do with the home fax line. So I call to drop the least-used of the lines, my home office line, and discover that the FIOS account is linked to it. But they can’t change the database and just relink the FIOS account to another line – they have to disconnect our FIOS – meaning no phone and no Internet – for potentially three days. I’ve escalated this, and been waiting for a call back for – almost three weeks now. I’ll go chase them some more next week.

Now I use (and am addicted) to a smartphone – have had one since the old Kyocera/Palm bricks. I updated six months ago to a Palm 755p. Running the absolutely stock configuration, except for Chattermail (an email app I bought from the Palm site), my third handset has now failed on me. It’s locked in perpetual reboot mode. I managed to get it to stop by doing a hard reset…the other ones displayed a variety of problems; random lockups, failure to hang up and end calls, etc.

So first of all, bad for Palm for putting the things out in the first place.

Today, I called Verizon, and asked for a different handset. After much calm discussion, they are willing to give me a Windows Palm handset if I’ll re-up for two full years (extend my account by six months). I demurred; we’re traveling to Monterey this weekend and I don’t want to be switching phones over the weekend. Plus, to be blunt, I just don’t want anything else by Palm.

So here’s the debate – do I give up and join the Borg and get an iPhone, paying the $150 to drop my contract? I’ve been reluctant to – I like Verizon coverage, and I dislike Apple on a kind of visceral level…I’ve been waiting for the Android phones, and may switch to a Blackberry until next year when they are mature.

Whether I do it with Verizon remains to be seen.

But as an early Palm user and longtime Palm customer, I can say with some confidence that I’ve bought my last Palm device.

We Get Stuff (1)

One of them is requests to link to worthy projects; one is a charity that aids malnourished kids around the world – the International Medical Corps.

Chosen out of 1,190 projects, “Saving the Lives of Malnourished Children” is now eligible to receive up to $1.5 million in funding. The project with the most votes receives $1.5 million, 2nd receives $500,000, 3rd $300,000, and 4th and 5th $100,000. The funding – made possible by your votes – would bring a vital lifeline to hungry and malnourished children around the world.

[If you have an AmEx card,] All you have to do is click here to vote for them, and email five or ten friends and ask them to do the same.

Take a minute, do some good.

The Progressive Noise Machine

It’s funny, but for all the talk about the ‘Right Wing Noise machine’ on the ‘net, the reality is that the left has far out organized and outplayed the right in the political uses of new media.

Much of that is genuine, a slice of it is deranged, and now we have some evidence that at least a little bit is Astroturf.

Over at the Jawa Report, Rusty Shackleford backtraced an anti-McCain Youtube video and – I think pretty conclusively – linked it to Obama’s campaign. I’d love to see the left doing this kind of research as well – I think these kind of actions are questionably illegal and certainly undermine the authenticity of the dialog on the blogs. I’m amused but not surprised that no left-wing blogs are showing up on the Memeorandum cloud around this post.

In 2004, I wrote about the increasing and hidden ‘professionalization’ of the left-wing blogs, and how for a few hundred grand a year folks like Media Matters managed to have a meaningful impact on our political dialog.

Lights In The Sky And Facts On The Ground In Iraq

So I’ve been following the “the Surge was a fraud” lines of argument on sites like Democracyarsenal, and meaning to reply when I got a moment when this NY Times article popped up on Memeorandum: “Back in Iraq, Jarred by the Calm“. Amusingly, so far this morning, the only sites to have linked to it are warblogs – Hot Air, Neptunus Lex, The Astute Bloggers. In a world where I had more time, I’d do some digging into the insularity of the blogs right now, as left and right blogs increasingly ignore stories that don’t support their narrative.

Here’s the lede from the NY Times article:

At first, I didn’t recognize the place.

On Karada Mariam, a street that runs over the Tigris River toward the Green Zone, the Serwan and the Zamboor, two kebab places blown up by suicide bombers in 2006, were crammed with customers. Farther up the street was Pizza Napoli, the Italian place shut down in 2006; it, too, was open for business. And I’d forgotten altogether about Abu Nashwan’s Wine Shop, boarded up when the black-suited militiamen of the Mahdi Army had threatened to kill its owners. There it was, flung open to the world.

Two years ago, when I last stayed in Baghdad, Karada Mariam was like the whole of the city: shuttered, shattered, broken and dead.

Abu Nawas Park – I didn’t recognize that, either. By the time I had left the country in August 2006, the two-mile stretch of riverside park was a grim, spooky, deserted place, a symbol for the dying city that Baghdad had become.

These days, the same park is filled with people: families with children, women in jeans, women walking alone. Even the nighttime, when Iraqis used to cower inside their homes, no longer scares them. I can hear their laughter wafting from the park. At sundown the other day, I had to weave my way through perhaps 2,000 people. It was an astonishing, beautiful scene – impossible, incomprehensible, only months ago.

Go read the whole thing.

Now, it’s been interesting following the path of the story – based on aerial imagery – that suggested that ethnic cleansing was what really drive down the violence in Iraq – before the Surge started.

It was for some reason a debatable point whether the sectarian cleansing of mixed neighborhoods contributed to the decline in violence. Reuters now confirms – and has visual evidence – to prove that the decline in violence in Iraq, specifically in Baghdad, was caused in no small measure by the massive sectarian cleansing that preceded the surge. The sectarian violence essentially cleansed neighborhoods of their minority populations, reducing opportunities for violence. Maggie Fox from Reuters explains:

Satellite images taken at night show heavily Sunni Arab neighborhoods of Baghdad began emptying before a U.S. troop surge in 2007, graphic evidence of ethnic cleansing that preceded a drop in violence, according to a report published on Friday. The images support the view of international refugee organizations and Iraq experts that a major population shift was a key factor in the decline in sectarian violence, particularly in the Iraqi capital, the epicenter of the bloodletting in which hundreds of thousands were killed…”By the launch of the surge, many of the targets of conflict had either been killed or fled the country, and they turned off the lights when they left,” geography professor John Agnew of the University of California Los Angeles, who led the study, said in a statement. “Essentially, our interpretation is that violence has declined in Baghdad because of intercommunal violence that reached a climax as the surge was beginning,” said Agnew, who studies ethnic conflict.

I haven’t had time to read the whole study, but let me suggest two things to think about before I editorialize:

First, that it seems odd to me that the decline in attacks on Coalition troops – along with the intercommunal violence – would be somehow contingent on ‘clearing’ certain neighborhoods. And such a decline clearly took place in parallel; so unless the analysts want to propose that there were two completely unrelated sets of violent activity – one aimed at sectarian violence and one aimed at Coalition troops – it seems like there was an overall pattern of change which reduced both the sectarian and anti-Coalition violence over the course of the year.

Second, I’ll freely acknowledge that population movement had some impact on the levels of violence. But it seems unlikely – given the level of violence – that simply moving from partially Sunni neighborhoods to consolidated Sunni neighborhoods would have had a lot of impact – it’s not like the Sunni were chased out of Iraq.

A deeper pattern of social change has resulted in the Iraq described by Filkins in the Times today, and he talks about two indicators which he saw:

Everything here seems to be standing on its head. Propaganda posters, which used to celebrate the deaths of American soldiers, now call on Iraqis to turn over the triggermen of Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia and the Mahdi Army. “THERE IS NOWHERE FOR YOU TO HIDE,” a billboard warns in Arabic, displaying a set of peering, knowing eyes. I saw one such poster in Adamiyah, a Sunni neighborhood that two years ago was under the complete control of Al Qaeda. Sunni insurgents – guys who were willing to take on the Qaeda gunmen – are now on the American payroll, keeping the peace at ragtag little checkpoints for $300 a month.


In the crowd, I saw a face I recognized. It was Mowaffak al-Rubaie, Iraq’s national security advisor. It had been a long time since I’d seen him. Mr. Rubaie is a warm, garrulous man, a neurologist who spent years in London before returning to Iraq. But he is also a Shiite, and a member of Iraq’s Shiite-led government, which, in 2005 and 2006, was accused of carrying out widespread atrocities against Iraq’s Sunnis. Anbar Province is almost entirely Sunni.

As Mr. Rubaie made his way through the crowd, I noticed he was holding hands with another Iraqi man, a traditional Arab gesture of friendship and trust. It was Brig. Gen. Murdi Moshhen al-Dulaimi, the Iraqi Army officer taking control of the province – a Sunni. The sun was blinding, but Mr. Rubaie was wearing sunglasses, and finally he spotted me.

“What on earth are you doing here?” he asked over the crowd.

I might have asked him the same thing.

Read the whole thing, as they say.

And then go back and read the mendacious post at Democracyarsenal, where they say:

So when John McCain declares “victory” in Iraq and states that the increase of just 30,000 troops was the fundamental reason for the decline in violence, he once again proves that he has no idea what he is talking about.

So who doesn’t know what they are talking about in this case? My money is on Max Bergmann, who – like many of the antiwar analysts who are frustrated by the outcome that appears to be solidifying in Iraq – will stretch any idea possible to suggest that our actions had nothing to do with them.

And, more important, who would pull the plug on an emerging but fragile Iraq just as things are starting to heal.

Because that’s the issue above all. If the Surge was ineffective, our presence is unsupportable, and we just need to get out. We need to stop supporting the Iraqi government, stop paying the Sunni insurgents, just stop! stop! stop! whatever we are doing. So that a political movement here in the US can feel vindicated.

No matter what hell may get unleashed on a newly hopeful Iraq.

More Movies – Tuesday Night

There’s a new documentary on voting integrity – ‘Uncounted‘ – that will be showing Tuesday here in Los Angeles.

It’s showing at the Fairfax theater at 7:30pm, and if you say “No Diebold” (a sentiment left and right should both share) at the box office, you’ll get a discount.

I’m going to see if I can take LG and go see it…