Archive for January 2012

The Twisted Memory of Newt Gingrich

The campaign for the 2012 Republican Party nomination began the moment after Sen. John McCain’s concession speech. One of the benefits of writing a blog over 10 years, and being political sentient over an additional 30,  is memory. In many areas, personal relationships for example, memory is a curse. It is better to forget the stupid thing your brother said to you when you were a teenager or the faux pas your wife made at dinner with your parents before you married than to remember them. Relationships would last if memories were like the tapes (or now, computer chips) in black boxes that are 100% accurate for a given period of time and are completely erased as time progresses. But in politics a clear memory of events and statements in the past can help one judge politicians by their actions not their words.

Memory is one of the most important issues today in the contest for the GOP nomination. Was Romney a Democrat in 1992? Was Gingrich a Reaganite in the 1980s? These questions and many similar ones have been thrown like firecrackers at the feet of each candidate, forcing him to dodge or misstep, putting him off balance but not doing any irreparable harm. We have seen grainy analog video on our digital HD television and computer screens from a bygone era, thrown at the opposing candidates as if we were supposed to draw lessons about them today. But the only lesson I can draw is non-HD video really, truly stunk and I’m left wondering how we tolerated it without ruining our eyesight. My memories of that age are just as fuzzy but for a variety of different, biological reasons:  becoming a parent. That event degrades the memory quickly, turning bright past experiences into pale shadows just glimpsed when uttering phrases like, “When I was your age…”

Honestly, does it matter if Romney wasn’t a Republican in 1992? Not to me because I wasn’t a Republican in 1992 either. As for Newt Gingrich, I didn’t like him in 1996 and gee, here I am 16 years later and I still don’t like him – but for different reasons. Back then I thought it was a blowhard desperate for power and willing to do and say anything to achieve it. I still believe that, only now I’m a card-carrying Republican and conservative instead of the opposite back then. Yes, I changed but apparently Newt has not. Evidently I wasn’t alone in feeling that way. The fact that he lost his speakership after a GOP revolt by his own members says it all. They revolted against him because people didn’t like him even then, and looking at the recent polls, again, things haven’t changed that much.

Now don’t get me wrong. I love watching him debate. If we were voting for the head of the national debate team in November he would definitely get my vote. Newt knows rhetoric and has a solid grasp of ancient and modern history – just not his own or his party’s. But we aren’t voting for the head of a debate team; we are voting for president and most Americans don’t watch the debates, don’t care about them, and will not allow their votes to be swayed by them. They will instead vote for the guy they like best. If Gingrich is one of the pair of guys they have to choose, he will lose because people simply don’t like Newt Gingrich.

Even conservatives don’t like Newt Gingrich. I nearly choked last summer upon seeing Newt call Congressman Paul Ryan’s budget “right wing social engineering,” and I haven’t like his recent leftist-style attacks on Romney’s wealth and taxes either. Newt hijacked these leftist talking points because he’s an opportunist and didn’t mind using the enemy’s rhetorical guns to shoot at Romney. As a gun owner I won’t buy an AK-47 for the very reason I find owning one immoral because it has sent too many of my countrymen to early graves. Gingrich showed no such tact by grabbing the argumentative equivalent of the AK-47 and used it against his fellow Republican. As someone who remembers (and still admires) Lee Atwater, I realize Reagan’s 11th Commandment not to attack fellow Republicans was more of a guideline than a moral stricture back then, but seeing Newt attack Romney with the leftist logic just brought up all those old memories of the 1990s. I might not be the liberal I was back then, but I still know a weasel when I see one.

In his Commentary piece, Peter Wehner points out the red-on-red attacks the Gingrich candidacy has wrought. “If you’re for Gingrich, so goes this story line, you’re for “genuine” and “fundamental” change. If you oppose Gingrich, on the other hand, you’re for “managing the decay” of America,” Wehner writes. I like Sarah Palin, but seeing her back Newt makes me wonder if I have misjudged her. Watching Newt attempt to seduce the Tea Party with his small government rhetoric is downright embarrassing to those of us who remember the expansion of the federal government under his watch. Did we live in the same era as Newt? Are we talking about the same reality – or has the current Gingrich slipped from another dimension where the former house speaker really did fight to reduce the scope of the federal government? It is definitely not the one I remember from the 1990s.

I would love to see Gingrich as the Republican equivalent of Winston Churchill: erudite, witty, stoic and persevering. I would enjoy seeing Newt school Obama and his minions in the press from now until Election Day in debates as well as on the stump. But Gingrich isn’t Churchill, and he sure isn’t Ronald Reagan. He has shown an Obama-like willingness to use any weapon at his disposal against his potential allies, an insatiable desire to pal around with liberals (see his appearances with Pelosi, Sharpton, et al), and a callous disregard for conservative values and the party that strives to fulfill them.



The Council Has Spoken: January 27, 2012

Congratulations to this week’s winners.

Council: The Mellow JihadiLance Corporal Donald Hogan, Marine Hero

Noncouncil: Family Security Matters- Muslim Children in America are Being Taught to Hate

Full voting here.

A Tale of Two Disasters: The Titanic and the Costa Concordia

I am fascinated by disasters, whether it’s the Hindenburg, a $15 million failed software implementation that I helped clean up, or the possible nomination of Newt Gingrich to be the Republican Party candidate for the presidency in 2012. Disasters never result from a single failure. Instead they come about through a chain of failures that all lead up to the undesired outcome. Another useful analogy is that of a combination lock. The rarer the disaster, the more cylinders the lock has and all must be lined up perfectly for the disaster to occur. The two analogies have limitations. The chain implies inevitability, and the combination lock implies control. Both are extremes that fail to account for the role chance plays. Chance is an injection of randomness into the disaster scenario that can either stop a disaster in its tracks or push it along to success. It is a completely independent variable that can be diminished but never completely eliminated.

In 1912 the Titanic sailed into infamy, and although it isn’t the greatest shipwreck disaster in terms of loss of life (the MV Dona Paz, a ferry in the Philippines that sank in 1987 ranks as the worst maritime disaster with the loss of 4,375 lives – 3 1/2 times the loss of the Titanic) it has been thoroughly studied and remains a template for maritime disasters even a century later with the wreck of the cruise ship Costa Concordia.

In both cases there were heroes and villains. On the Titanic Second Officer Charles Lightoller took charge of the evacuation and stayed with the stricken vessel until it went down. After surviving the sinking, he found an overturned lifeboat with 30 survivors clinging to it. Swimming to it in ice cold water, he took charge of the craft and kept it from throwing off the survivors by distributing their weight and ordering them to move in rhythm with the ocean swells to keep them from all tumbling into the frigid sea.

While the story of the Costa Concordia is still taking shape, we are beginning to hear similar stories of heroism. British teen James Thomas used his 6’3” body as a ladder to allow passengers to scramble over him between decks to the lifeboats. There are also reports of bravery and acts of heroism by the Costa Concordia crew including Filipino waiters and cooks who stepped in to lead passengers to safety after the captain left the doomed ship.

Which brings us to the villains. In the Titanic disaster no one is more infamous than J. Bruce Ismay, head of the White Star Line who was on-board the ship and encouraged the captain to maintain speed even after receiving warning of icebergs on the route. Ismay survived the disaster by taking to a lifeboat early, earning him the sobriquet “Coward of the Titanic” in newspapers on both sides of the Atlantic. Today the same words are being used by in both the Italian and English press to describe Costa Concordia captain Francesco Schettino for abandoning the ship 4 hours before the last passengers had been rescued.

Even the companies that owned both ships are vilified. The White Star Line was criticized for failure to provide enough lifeboats in order to cut ship’s costs and expand the number of cabins. After the disaster White Star refused to pay the full wages of the surviving crew, prorating their pay according to the moment the ship sank below the waves. While it remains to be seen how Carnival, owner of the Costa lines, treats its crew, it has shown incredible stupidity by offering survivors 30% discounts on their next Carnival cruise. The Titanic didn’t destroy White Star Lines, but it did wound it. By 1934 it was forced to merge with its rival Cunard, and in one of History’s delicious ironies, Cunard was taken over in 2005 by Carnival. So in a sense the corporate villain of the Titanic is the same entity behind the Costa Concordia disaster.

While the broad themes of heroes and villains appeal to us, by focusing solely on them we lose sight of the elements that lead to the disaster. With the Titanic it turns out that the riveted joints of the steel and the quality of the steel itself, particularly its brittleness when exposed to extremely cold salt water, were the cylinders that turned and unlocked the disaster. Had the seams been welded (though in fairness welding was still in its infancy) they would have resisted the collision. Had the steel been of different alloy, it could have kept the ice from penetrating into the ship. The watertight compartments weren’t truly watertight, a decision made by engineers under the authority of White Star management to maximize paying space on the ship. These are the engineering failures that lead up to the Titanic disaster. It remains to be seen whether this type of failure contributed to the sinking of the Costa Concordia.

Then there were the human mistakes. The captain of the Titanic Edward John Smith was an extremely experienced sailor, yet he made several mistakes that doomed the ship. He ignored the iceberg warnings and kept the ship on its original northerly course instead of taking a safer, southerly route that would have cost time. Whether against his better judgement or not he kept the Titanic sailing at speed into danger in order to achieve the record-setting transatlantic crossing Ismay expected [see JJ comment below]. Other human mistakes creep in. The Californian was in sight of the distress signals from the Titanic as it sank, yet ignored them. It also missed the distress calls from the Titanic because the radio operator had turned off his set and went to bed. Had either of these two human errors not happened it is possible that the Californian would have saved many of the lives lost that night.

Similarly the Costa Concordia had a plethora of similar errors, the most obvious being the captain’s movement of the vessel too close to the island of Giglio. After running the ship aground, the captain disappeared as did most of the officers of the crew leaving the passengers and low-ranking crew members to their own devices. No one knew what to do, and language barriers hampered evacuation efforts. In the chaos passengers were given bad information (“it’s a problem with the generator”) and told to return to their cabins. Even the black boxes which would have detailed events leading up to the crash turn out to have failed two weeks before the disaster and weren’t repaired. These errors will be detailed in the inquests into the disaster sure to come.

In terms of the scale of loss of life the disasters are quite different, but the mechanics are eerily similar especially considering that both disasters are separated by 100 years. In the dark of night two ships experience a series of engineering failures and human errors that result in a disaster.

Contrast this with air travel. A century ago planes were notoriously dangerous and unreliable. Today flying is the safest form of transportation in the world. It has only become so through the study of each air crash. The factors that lead up to each disaster are determined and guidelines and changes to procedures or mechanical elements are made to prevent the accident from occurring again. Over time this has stopped air safety from being the oxymoron it had once been. It is important to understand how this process has occurred. Luck hasn’t made air travel safe – only the careful application of the tools of investigation and science has.

The similarities between the Titanic and the Costa Concordia prove that progress in maritime safety has a long way to go to match that of aviation safety. The true tragedy of the Costa Concordia is the loss of life without doubt, but also, that after a hundred years of technological progress, better steel, GPS systems, and engineering advancements an inattentive and risk-taking captain can still sink his ship.

The Council Has Spoken: January 20, 2012

Congratulations to this week’s winners.

Council: The Right Planet The Talking Points Meme

Noncouncil: Allen West - Mr. President, please don’t play the race card in 2012…

Full voting here.

In the Belly of the Swan

As we go about our daily lives we live an illusion called “normality.” Normality is the assumption that tomorrow will be little different than today. Perhaps the weather will be better or a little worse, or an event we attach importance to will have happened but won’t change our lives much – the way Houston Texans and Green Bay Packers fans feel today after their teams lost in the playoffs. Normality allows us to make predictions about the future but more importantly, it gives us control.

Unfortunately that control is also an illusion, and in the blink of an eye control evaporates. In my time I have undergone many extreme or unusual events, such as a drive during a tornado-spawning thunderstorm discussed in detail here. In that case I overruled my instincts and needlessly risked my life and that of my son. But often an extreme event comes out of the blue without any warning and is completely unpredictable. In the parlance of financial risk, these are true “black swan” events, a topic reviewed here. One could predict trouble driving under stormy skies. Black swan events are complete “bolts from the blue” and cannot be prepared for because they cannot be imagined.

These events usually begin in complete disbelief, as we grasp at straws in a vain attempt to maintain the illusion of normality. For example long ago when I was in college I was working at a video store. As closing time came a man approached the counter with two videos he wanted to rent. I turned my back to him and got the tapes from the long rack behind the counter and asked for his rental card. When I turned around he threw a small folded brown paper bag on the counter. I picked it up and opened it expecting to find the rental card.

At that moment an objective observer would have recognized that people who rent videos do not store their rental cards in folded brown paper bags, but the human mind will go to any lengths to construct a scenario no matter how elaborate in order to maintain a sense of normality. The illusion was completely shattered by the man flashing a chrome plated semi-automatic handgun in his belt and telling me to put the money from the register in the bag and to not try anything funny or he’d “blow (my) f***ing brains out.”

Although this event was technically not a black swan event because being robbed at gunpoint, even in the wealthy town of La Jolla California, could be imagined. Still it was an unlikely event (a “grey swan”), but one at the age of 22 I had not prepared for.

It seemed to me that time slowed down. I looked at my options. The only possible weapon at my disposal was one of those indestructible Ma Bell phones made in the 1970s. In this day of razor-thin cell phones and lightweight portable handsets, young people may not understand how well built and solid those old phones were; in the right hands the phone would have made a formidable weapon. But my hands were not the right ones; I was a 22 year old, 120 lb kid against a man who outweighed me by at least 40 lbs and had a gun. I knew there was nothing I could do except open the register and put the day’s takings – $500 or so if memory serves – into the bag. I handed the robber the bag.

He held it, and this was the moment I felt I was in the greatest danger. I felt him weighing his next moves: would he order me into the back of the store behind the X-rated video partition? In my teens I had worked in a pizza restaurant where it turns out three people had been ordered into the backroom of the restaurant and shot execution style by the robbers. I remembered that incident and drew a line in the sand. If he ordered me into the back, I wasn’t going. He’d have to shoot me in plain sight of the parking lot.

“Walk me to the door,” he said, “And lock the door behind me.” As I came around the counter, he started walking slightly behind me then stopped, reached behind the counter, and grabbed the videos he had me get for him: John Hughes’s Career Opportunities and Playboy Sexy Lingerie III. As we reached the door he said, “Now I want you to lock it then go back to the counter and stand where I can see you. If you so much as breathe I’m going to kill you.” Breathing wasn’t a problem at this point. If I was breathing at all it would surprise me.

I locked the door and he disappeared into the parking lot. I walked backwards to the counter, I couldn’t turn my back on him, and reached the phone. Putting it on speaker so that he couldn’t see me, I dialed the police. When they arrived, I breathed, and sobbed, and didn’t fall asleep for three days. I quit the job soon afterward because every time someone walked in I expected them to rob me.

That brings up a problem with normality: once it is broken, it takes a long time for it to reassert itself. The odds of me being robbed again at that store were astronomical at that point. I probably was safer there with the increased police presence in the mall than I had ever been. But the illusion had been broken and it would take a very long time for it to rebuild. In fact since I quit the job, it never had a chance to.

Fast forward two decades and a black swan crashes through the window of reality, but the process is the same. An objective observer would see that my initial response to preserve reality as almost pitiful. What is different this time is that I am not 22 years old anymore, and I have seen my share of swans during that time. After the call to 911 I have firepower. Even though I am scared, I have responsibilities now and no ugly bird is going to make me break them. I assess the situation quickly and realize that my memory is fallible, so I chuck it. I decide that I don’t need it; I’m not going to waste my time trying to remember anything. Looking back I now realize that remembering is an act for the future. Allowing myself to forget gave me the freedom to focus on the “now.” In the little I have read about traumatic events, focusing on the present is high up on the “to do” list.

Assess the situation. Keep calm. I tend to speak quickly and loudly when I’m nervous so I intentionally slow down the cadence of my words. Keep everyone calm. Crack a bad joke even though no one feels like laughing. Talk about the weather. Whatever it takes to keep everyone – including myself – from panicking. As a writer by instinct I feel myself observing myself, but that is also a task for the future; better to stay in the moment, the now. Time stretches, knees knock, keep scanning the darkness. “Safeties off?” “Yes,” I command. We are locked and loaded. The past is written, the future no longer exists. In the dense fog, in the belly of the swan, waiting for what must happen to happen.

Flakes in January

Trig Truther and gay narcissist Andrew Sullivan has the cover of Newsweek this week in which he describes Obama’s critics as “dumb.” Newsweek, for those of you unfamiliar with this cat-whisker thin magazine (to quote The Five’s Greg Gutfeld) was sold for a $1 in 2010, and was once was one of the top magazines Americans subscribed to, filled with well written articles and photographs found nowhere else. However it never managed to coexist with online news, and lost tons of money. After being sold it lost all semblance of balance in reporting and took to becoming yet another liberal magazine – a Mother Jones without the well-thought articles but with lots of pretty pictures for illiterate liberals.

Those who have followed news on the Internet and the development of the blogosphere since 9-11 are familiar with Sullivan. Sullivan started on the Left then moved hard-right soon after America was attacked. During the build up to the Iraq War, Sullivan was a hawk although his writings were often interspersed with personal drama. He often complained bitterly about finances and successfully raised money on the web in one of the first online fund raising drives. He also was prone to taking vacations from writing, disappearing for weeks on end only to reappear again after something appeared in the news that interested him. After then President Bush supported bans on gay marriage, Sullivan flipped positions. Instead of his support of the GWOT and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Sullivan returned to his leftist pacifism and turned on those of us continuing our support of the war on terror, calling us chicken hawks and other sundry names. Thankfully I never gave the man a dime and long ago consigned him to the mental bin inhabited by the likes of Michael Moore, Susan Sarandon, and Chris Matthews. The air is full of flakes, and he’s just one of many.

Andrew Sullivan Magazine

UPDATE: Here is Nile Gardener’s response to Sully’s piece:

In his Newsweek piece Sullivan points to the elimination of Osama bin Laden as evidence of Obama’s decisive leadership. The president certainly deserves credit for ordering a risky and successful operation, but so does the Bush administration for launching the global war on terror that ultimately led to bin Laden’s downfall.

As for the rest of Obama’s foreign policy however, it has largely been a disaster. The Obama administration’s strategy of engagement with Iran has only bought valuable time for Tehran to develop its nuclear weapons programme, and the Islamist regime is now close to possessing a nuclear bomb. In addition, Obama’s decision to withdraw US forces from Iraq has led to a wave of terrorist attacks there, and paves the way for Iranian domination of the south. Hillary Clinton’s “reset” with Russia has been another failure, with Moscow increasingly emboldened in the face of Washington’s weakness.

Read the entire thing...

The Council Has Spoken: January 13, 2012

Congratulations to this week’s winners.

Council: JoshuapunditThe Tale Of The Swine

Noncouncil: The City Journal- The New Authoritarianism

Full voting here.

Is the Republican Party Stupid?

We’re only one caucus into the election season with New Hampshire on deck, but political junkies like me have been following the GOP field for most of the past year. Intelligent, more balanced people won’t pay much attention to things until the conventions in the Summer. Most won’t until after Labor Day, the traditional start of the campaign season (a tradition that’s gone the way of the day after Thanksgiving being the start of the Christmas season).

But political junkies never quit following politics. Like football fans who begin to consider the off-season draft after their teams fail to make it to the playoffs, some people begin to consider prospects for the next election after the first one’s ballots await certification. Continuing the football analogy, pre-season play has just started with the Iowa Caucus and the New Hampshire primary. And there have already been injuries that will impact the season, and the crafting of offense plays that could take teams to the Super Bowl.

The Republican Party has already make enough mistakes that we GOP fans are concerned. First, who’s the genius who came up with the idea of holding a bazillion debates, most of which are hosted by key operatives of the opposite party? Take a look at the Debate Schedule. From May 5, 2011 to March 19, 2012 there are a total of 28 intramural debates scheduled. While I cannot find similar statistics for either party prior to this election, it strikes me as a bit much especially when the formats are variants of a question/answer session with the former posed by “moderators.”

Next, check out the sponsors. The majority of the debates were at least partially sponsored by the GOP, i.e. the September 12, 2011 debate sponsored by CNN and the Tea Party Express. But the problem is that these sponsorships consist of a news media organization or a group of them coupled with a political entity. While the political entity may support the GOP, the news media outlet it is paired with may not. Take for example the Sept 7, 2011 debate sponsored by the Reagan Library – a conservative supporting institution – paired with NBC and Politico. A UCLA study found that NBC News was biased to the Left. The website Politico, which in its infancy was accused by the Left for being biased against them has focused almost exclusively on the foibles of the GOP, playing a key role in publishing unsubstantiated rumors about Herman Cain that later led to his exit from the race.

Bias itself isn’t the problem. There is nothing wrong with ABC employing former Clinton strategist and Democratic operative George Stephanopoulos as a journalist. But just because he’s a “journalist” does not mean that his political instincts have been neutered and he lacks prejudices against the Republican Party he actively fought for the majority of his career.

These were displayed in their unalloyed grandeur at the Jan 7, 2012 debate in New Hampshire when he brought up the issue of state control over contraception. It is an issue that is irrelevant today after the 1965 Supreme Court ruling Griswold v. Connecticut which established a right to privacy, setting a precedent cited later by Roe v. Wade. Overturning Roe v. Wade is in the GOP platform, and unites the social conservative wing of the party. But contraception is not an issue. While the Roman Catholic church officially opposes it, various Protestant faiths have no problem with it. Romney’s Mormon faith officially allows contraception, but since having children is an important facet of being Mormon, it is unofficially discouraged.

So why did Stephanopoulos raise the topic? Since it isn’t an issue, he could be sure that whomever he asked the question to would be ill-prepared to answer it. Since Stephanopoulos knew Romney is a Mormon, the chances were good that Romney would respond in a way that damaged his standing with the other candidates (taking a liberal position on it) or more likely, expressed the unofficial Mormon position on the topic thereby painting him as an extremist who wanted to ban the Pill. Romney reacted honestly, thereby catching Stephanopoulos in his own trap. If anything unites conservatives, it is distrust of mainstream journalism.

Is the Republican Party stupid? Of the 28 debates only 8 of them are moderated by media outlets friendly to the GOP.

Main OrgPoliticsTotal
Grand Total28
Big 3 NetworksLiberal7
Other LiberalLiberal3
Bloomberg, WAPOLiberal1
Other ConservativeConservative2

Again, there is nothing wrong with bias. FoxNews’s “Fair and Balanced” mantra is annoying. It is impossible to be completely fair and balanced. Humans always have biases which is why double blind studies are considered the gold standard in scientific research. Better to recognize this fact and try to temper one’s biases rather then deny they exist altogether. Conservatives know the mainstream media, Hollywood and much of the non-mainstream outlets on the Internet are biased against them. So why are they allowing these outlets that have an agenda celebrating Democrats  as wise and caring people, and Republicans as hateful, frothing-at-the-mouth extremists to control the apparatus the GOP is using to vet their presidential candidate?

It reminds me of kids in a high school lunch room. The Democrats are the cool kids sitting at the “cool” table, and the Republicans are the frumpy-looking kids who are so desperate to appear cool that they will debase themselves in order to sit with the cool kids. Republicans will never be cool with an attitude like that.

The GOP doesn’t need the dinosaur media like the Big 3 Networks. These outfits are shutting down their news gathering operations because no one watches them anymore. Ratings-wise FoxNews crushes MSNBC, CNBC and CNN - so why did CNN get more debates (8) than FoxNews (6)? An argument can be made that exposing the candidates to aggressive questions from left wing journalists helps weed out those who perform poorly and prepares the eventual nominee for the hurricane-force attacks leveled by journalists on behalf of the Democrats. Yet one could counter that this benefit is lost when the candidates attack using themes such as Romney’s job destruction at Bain Capital. In six months or so Republicans will hear every line uttered by Perry, Huntsman and Gingrich criticizing Romney’s tenure at Bain this week.

So why did the GOP sign up with these liberal outlets? For the same reason that the uncool kids make fools of themselves to entertain the cool kids in high school. They think they’re going to be seen as hip.

Republicans will never be hip in the way they want to be. Conservatives by their very nature question Change, understanding that everything new or popular isn’t necessarily better and everything old or out of date isn’t necessarily worthless. What passes for conservatism today would have been considered liberal as recently as the Reagan Administration. In fact the Tea Party was founded as a reaction to this after conservative Republicans began invading countries and spending profligately like liberal Democrats.

28 debates is overkill. That is close to 3 debates a month, and so far it is questionable how much the party as a whole has benefited from this schedule. The next time we have an open field, one a month would suffice – especially if they were held in different formats (Town Halls, Lincoln-Douglas style) – anything except the question/answer/rebuttal style that only political junkies enjoy.

Also, stick to conservative-friendly sponsors. Fox News should host most of the debates, but how about Big Government, Pj Media, American Conservative or other conservative new media outlets? More people read these websites than watch MSNBC or CNBC. More importantly, these venues would handle questions asked by Republicans to help Republicans decide who their Republican presidential candidate will be. The GOP has smart people. It even has cool people. Nick Gillespie wears a leather jacket and has a tattoo! Such action would show that Republicans are confident, and that while we may not be cool, it doesn’t matter as long as we run the world.

The Council Has Spoken: January 6, 2012

Congratulations to this week’s winners.

Council: The Noisy Room2011 – Turning Our Backs on the Gods of the Copybook Headings

Noncouncil: Sultan Knish- The Year We Lost Afghanistan, Etc. submitted by The Political Commentator

Full voting here.

In Praise of a Chainsmoking Playwright: Vaclav Havel

The first post of a New Year, and I thought I’d take a moment to link to a post by the Economist about Vaclav Havel, a man who didn’t live to see the it. Havel has been one of my heroes since before he helped overthrow communism in Czechoslovakia, later becoming the first president of a free Czech Republic. When you hear Communist slogans, think of Havel’s green grocer in his play “The Power of the Powerless”:

“ day something in our greengrocer snaps and he stops putting up the slogans merely to ingratiate himself. He stops voting in elections he knows are a farce. He begins to say what he really thinks at political meetings. And he even finds the strength in himself to express solidarity with those whom his conscience commands him to support. In this revolt the greengrocer steps out of living within the lie. He rejects the ritual and breaks the rules of the game. He discovers once more his suppressed identity and dignity. He gives his freedom a concrete significance. His revolt is an attempt to live within the truth …”

It’s difficult to explain what life was like before 1989 for those who are too young to remember it. The Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact were facts of life as seemingly eternal as the changing seasons and as indestructible as the Ural Mountains. Men like Havel and Lech Walesa in Poland, as well as Soviet Premier Gorbachev proved that wrong. Within months the Soviet Empire collapsed upon itself like a papier-mâché covered balloon. Without question 1989 was a year unlike any other – perhaps one of the greatest in modern history. Vaclev Havel, a quiet man of immense intellect, fortitude and humility, helped change history and free not just his own people, but millions behind the Iron Curtain.

I doubt that Havel himself ever truly appreciated the role he played in overthrowing the murderous regime of the Soviets, nor would his humility allow him to accept his important place in the history books. But millions, including this half-Bohemian writer, owe him a debt of gratitude for freeing us from the lies of oppression, and helping us accept the truth of freedom.

After helping to free Czechoslovakia, people took to the streets demanding Havel be made the country’s first free president with cries of Havel na Hrad! – “Havel to the Castle!” referring to Prague Castle, the seat of Czechoslovakia’s government. Reluctantly he listened to the people and became the country’s president. It is a shout of freedom for a deserving people and praise for a truly great man.