18 April, 2006

Vague-a-ries: A Committee of Members

Ah, the Democratic process. I recently celebrated the arrival of my absentee ballot, and speculated in this forum as to whether to vote stategically, or obviously in my choice for Democratic Senator candidate to oppose Republican Rick Santorum in the Fall. I had thought that was the biggest choice on offer on the ballot.

Many of the other posts were unopposed within the party, Rendell, Sestak, Farrell, Lentz (Gov, US House Rep, PA Gen Assembly Senator and Rep). Lieutenant Gov Cath Baker Knoll is the incumbent and has three well meaning but as far as I could tell from their websites somewhat ineffectual challengers. Gene Stilp in particular seemed to me to be a malcontent with a web log, this could make a kindred spirit but despite his humor and self deprecating tone, I'm not won over. On the other hand I'd be hard pressed to tell you what the Lieutenant Gov does, at least until my ignorance evaporates, or they do a West Wing style series about Gubernatorial politics (I think I watched the first season of Robert Guillame's Soap spin-off Benson, beyond which my knowledge of the Governor's office fades as well).

For all these posts there is a reasonable level of info on the web, although I found that Google failed me in the specifics, but did lead me to:


which gave me links to all the relevant candidates down to General Assembly level. I was particularly pleased to read about Joe Sestak, who seems to be a strong contender to oppose US House Rep Curt Weldon, who I have detested ever since he took over Bob Edgar's seat when Edgar took a quixotic run at Arlen Specter's Senate seat. Weldon has frequently used the extreme Republican majority in his district as a mandate to push much of his agenda (example, anti-abortion in a more than marginally pro-choice constituency). Don't get me started on Weldon, I've considered him a slime from the first debate in his first race many many moons ago. Anyway, Joe Sestak, a retired admiral, defense policy aide in the Clinton White House, is just the ticket to knock Weldon, and perhaps regain the legacy of Bob Edgar who had a strong career as a Democrat in the House representing a Republican majority district.

Then I came to the list for members of the Democratic State Commitee. Fifteen candidates from my relevant districts, I can choose 4 men and 4 women. This seems strange off the bat. I'm all for equal representation, but there are no other minority or interest group criteria. And equal representation doesn't necessarily demand precisely proportional one for one as demanded here. I know this is just for the State Committee, purely the state level organization of the Democratic party, but it's as if they have a nuclear bunker to repopulate the world from when they have to start pairing off like that.

Unlike the actual public offices, for which there were reasonable sources of information, I could barely find out any info about these candidates. I thought at very least they'd have a class president style "why you should vote for me" blurb on a website somewhere.

You may ask why I should care so much. I've had much experience in the last few months of local politics surrounding the newly created New Forest National Park. This has been both a crash course in civics and recent history. Apart from the insights it has given me into issues which will be valuable in my writing, it has also given me more respect for the less glamorous, low level workings of local activism and representation.

However, with the lack of info my choices here are sadly reduced to the most spurious criteria. Five out of the fifteen are in Upper Darby, I resist their sub-Philadelphian power block, and so have eliminated them from my list (also, apart from identifying one or two of them as lawyers, and one as a delegate at the last Dem national convention, there's nothing about them on the web). Of those left I've identified one as the mayor of Lansdowne, one works for Swarthmore College, two possibly on the county council. None of them have a web-site, apart from one who writes for a blog for PA Progressives web site (PA Progressive Blog).

My only really positive choice here is to give the blog-guy some credit. I also give the Swarthmore person an up based tenously on my respect for academia, and my nostalgia for my childhood home. Beyond that I've used a combination of location and the mere info I have on the remaining candidates. I might as well vote based on tea leaves, or perhaps grass roots.

Well, at least I've made my primary bed and will lie in it until November when my choices will be so oversimplified, and dilemma free, assuming I get the ballot in time. My misgivings about Bob Casey Jr. have increased when I recently read that he would support the Alito nomination, despite many in the party against. From an ill-informed but blind choice, to a well-informed blind choice. Democracy, but perhaps not how it should be at any end of the spectrum.


Smile of the Day meets Art Irritates Life: Kublai Kane Universally Challenged

On tonight's episode of University Challenge, a Cambridge student incorrectly answered a question about the name of Charles Foster Kane's reclusive ginormous mansion in the film Citizen Kane, i.e. Xanadu.

The incorrect answer was San Simeon.

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07 April, 2006

Smile of the Day: Ipod Security Check

LONDON, England (Reuters) -- British anti-terrorism detectives escorted a man from a plane after a taxi driver had earlier become suspicious when he started singing along to a track by punk band The Clash, police said on Wednesday.

Full story at CNN.com

"Sir, have you downloaded onto that Ipod yourself, or left your MP3 Player unattended at any time?"


06 April, 2006

Smile of the Day: You are hereeeeeeeaaaaaghhhhh

"Drivers following satellite navigation systems through a village [in the Yorkshire Dales] have been directed along a track at the edge of a 100ft cliff. "

When I heard this story on BBC radio, I thought it might be a delayed April Fool's story mistaken by the wire services a few days later as genuine. But, it's true. My chief cause for suspicion was the name of the village:


as reported yesterday by the BBC:



05 April, 2006

Smile of the Day: Real Italian Pizza

I've been meaning to mention this for some time, one of those jump the shark TV ads that dropped briefly from our British airwaves, but which is now back with a vengeance. Very simple, innocuous ad for frozen pizza, branded Pizza Ristorante. Set up, just a couple apparently eating pizza in an italian restaurant, clearly shot for the Euro market, no dialogue, a supposed kicker when they pullback at the end to show that the couple are sitting at a table on a bridge (to emphasize having a pizza any time any place, erm assuming you have means of heating same, or like your ice lollies pepperoni flavored). But that's just poorly judged supposedly amusing ad-stuff.

Over this, as in most Euro ads is a voice over talking about the convenience of the pizza, just like eating in an Italian Ristorante, as it finishes describing the Real Italian Pizza....

Another voice over intones the ad tag "By Dr. Oetker!!"

Germany's Birdseye, Dr. Oetker, is pretty much unknown to me, and I suspect many of you. Not to Hun bash, but perhaps we can next expect the taste of Real Brazilian Pizza... by Dr. Mengele.


Vague-a-ries: A Run Through My Grey Areas

Well, my mailbag is less than full, but it would appear the consensus is that the numbers game wins. Along with this several contentions such as R Santorum is "the biggest empty head" in DC and I should "hold my nose" and go with Casey. Holding my nose is no mean feat, I could argue that my weight gain over the last fifteen years has been merely to counterbalance this top heavy feature.

One correspondent accused me of being a single issue voter. Stem cells and reproductive rights not being precisely one issue, its unlikely you will find a set of people not in one of two camps on both issues (although I can't see why those who believe in life starts at sperm meets egg don't revile IV in the first place, as it inevitably destroys potential voters). The thing for me is that it is the kind of litmus test (no wonder we're doing poorly in science ed., we're teaching people to be afraid of these), that indicates a large amount of how someone interprets either specifically church v. state, or more generally individual liberty v. personal ethics. I'd like to think that part of the raison d'etre (are we allowed to use French?) for the U.S. was to establish a place where we can't impose our beliefs on each other. Of course, this is my firmly held belief, which I'd like imposed on y'all. Oh well. I think we can agree violence and mayhem are a bad thing, beyond that I guess I don't have that much of a rigid plan (if I blather on I tend to sound less anarchist, more libertarian).

I do think that we must govern our own lives with our own ethics and beliefs. I respect people who guide their choices about their own lives this way, but I shrink from those who would impose their ethics on the choices of others. At best, well meaning, at worst, an arrogance the presumes a lack of any ethical system in others if it doesn't match their own.

Perhaps in the instance of Mr. Casey I should be grateful that he seems agreeable to me on many other issues, but I shouldn't completely ignore the parts that stick in my craw. Some of the places he draws the line, such as allowing for some form of public funding for "contraceptive services", are respectable, but perhaps entirely political, others, like taking the stance for Pharmacists who want to selectively ply their trade as healthcare workers, give me pause. What's the difference in letting people make "faith based" decisions in providing essential services, to letting racists with their firmly held beliefs make similar decisions? Or what about other professions, suppose an electricity company with fundamentalist stockholders decides not to give juice to abortion clinics?

I'm worried that the more we play this numbers game, the more we cede our own beliefs to others. We can't complain about the slippery slope, if we keep greasing it ourselves.


03 April, 2006

Vague-a-ries: A Walk Through My Grey Areas

For the first time in my expatriot life (16+ years) I have received my absentee ballot in a timely fashion (usually arrives beyond any hope of returning ). As it's for the Pennsylvania primary, and I'm a lifelong Dem (sorry to you friends in the once Grand old Party), there's really only one possibly tricky choice to make. Who to pick to bring down Senator Rick Santorum?

Now this seems like a bit of a walk. Bob Casey Jr. seems to be the pick of the party machine, current State Treas. former State Auditor General (nice boy for the fiscally conservative), son of former PA Gov Bob Sr, hell, he's supposedly ahead of Santorum already (if surveys this early mean anything). But after a morning research on the web, I have a mild quandary, Bob is anti-choice (I don't like the term pro-l... as it leaves the definition of life, when it begins etc. up to anyone with the most extreme opinion), and more importantly he is anti-embryonic stem cell research.

This stance is fairly consistent with his Catholicism, and given that he seems OK on many other issues, and most importantly he is not Rick Santorum, I should be able to stomach this. Even within his C'ness, he does walk the line, he's OK with Rape/Incest/Life-Saving abortion (or at least he'd support an anti-abortion bill with these exceptions), just as long as we don't pay for it, and he seems happy to pay for contraceptive "services".

It's really the stem cell thing that bugs me, now granted, my little research turned up Bob's quote supporting the current status quo and rejecting the Castle bill to expand stem cell funding, was on one of his Dem opponents sites (which also tries to infer that he wants to overturn R v W,
in a slightly specious manner). If he is willing to split the hairs that a bunch of cells that are the result of rape or incest can be removed without a stain on the conscience of the physician, how about using a similar bunch of cells, that will never be viable or implanted, to help solve our worst health problems?

I can see that the other Dems in the primary are pretty lightweight, and probably can't take the primary anyway. I'm tempted to give a token primary vote to Chuck Pennachio who seems to represent my dyed in the wool lefty liberal side.

And so dear friends, I solicit any opinions or info you may have to contribute to my possibly spurious exercise of democratic political perogative. Many of you are in PA or have the contact or political nouse to know what's happening. Are there any other things I should be considering?
Is it worth trying to get a candidate that can't win, but represents the historical stance of the party better than one who might drag things further right (oh, if only more GOP's had asked that about ten years ago)? I'm also posting this sucker up on to my blog just in case anyone other than spammers selling pharmaceuticals reads it (OK it's nearly a year since I posted to it, but I will be returning to regular publication this week).

Thanks for any help on this. I'd like to make that more informed choice by the weekend so I can get this ballot back in time, for at least this once, I can.