Sunday, February 24, 2008


The man who deserves more credit for electing Bush than anyone other than Karl Rove...

... enters this year's presidential race. Can he succeed in getting McCain elected this time?

Wednesday, February 13, 2008


McCain's combover and "reverse Swift-boating"

I have a mental image of John McCain as a basically bald guy who keeps his remaining hair in a crew cut, which is what I had in mind when writing yesterday's post. Apparently I projected the crew cut onto his head -- maybe because of his military background -- but checking old photos, it looks like he's done the combover since at least as far back as 2000.

DBP's comment in yesterday's post is worth deconstructing:
Actually Oscar, he doesn't do it. He lost the ability to raise his arms to head-height at some point in N. Vietnam. His hair gets combed by someone else. I suppose he directs how they do it, but maybe he either doesn't care or just trusts the judgement of the comber--or comboverer, if you will.
I haven't bothered to fact-check DBP's assertion about the arm-raising thing, but either way, the comment -- a ploy to trick me into believing I'd made fun of someone's disability --succeeds only in exposing DBP's ignorance of the problems of male baldness. A combover is not a question of how you choose to comb your hair. It's a question of how you choose to grow your hair. You have to decide to grow those strands out long enough to cover all that bare scalp. (For mysef, I've already decided that if and when I have as little hair as McCain -- which I consider to be likely in my future -- I'm going crew cut or shaved head.) Few of us cut our own hair, so an arm-raising disability has nothing to do with it.

Nice try, DBP. To paraphrase Larry David: you sir are obviously not a member of the bald community.

But the more bothersome aspect of DBP's comment is its subtext of "reverse Swift-boating." Republicans like DBP are already girding their loins for the argument: "how dare you take potshots at John McCain, who suffered in a POW camp while serving his country and now carries the scars!"

Of course, Republicans are no great respecters of war records of wounded Vietnam vets. It's not just their all too recent and unbearably cynical hyping of Bush's Air National Guard "service," or even the disgusting "Swift Boat" campaign from 2004. Another one of Rove's triumphs was his successful Swift-boating of Max Cleland, defeating the Georgia Senator's re-election bid. Cleland had lost both his legs in combat in Vietnam, but that didn't stop the Republican sleaze machine from raising phony questions suggesting that Cleland's injuries were somehow ignominiously received.

So let's not here more of this "how dare you" nonsense from the GOP.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008


How does McCain do it?

He's, like, totally bald, and yet has a combover at the same time!

Wednesday, February 06, 2008


Foreign TV

We haven't turned on the TV in our rented Paris apartment until tonight. As much as I've enjoyed a week-long break from TV, I have to say it's fascinating to watch TV in Europe.

Tonight I'm struck by the extensive news coverage of Super Tuesday. The French news broadcast (my understanding of which was, admittedly, very sketchy) went into considerable detail, including an explanation of the difference between Republican "winner-take-all" primaries and Democratic proportional delegate distribution.

I'm guessing that a higher proportion of French people could name the 3rd place Republican presidential hopeful than of American people who could name the current president of France. (Hint: his name sounds like the symptom for certain forms of cancer.)

Switching over to Aljazeera's English-language broadcast, we see a news feature looking at the U.S. presidential primaries from the perspective of China. Desperate for interviews, the Chinese correspondent interviews a Chinese man who took a course with Obama while attending the University of Chicago Law School.

Aljazeera's teaser for its coverage of the U.S. presidential primaries says, "It's the most important job in the world. Who will fill it?" And now I'm watching the Riz Khan Show, a talking-head "news analysis" of Super Tuesday with Donna Shalala (former HHS secretary, and an Arab American, by the way) and two other American pundits fielding perceptive call in questions from viewers in places like Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Dubai. Questions such as: "Would John McCain and Hillary Clinton offer the American voters a real choice, or are their moderate-to-conservative views too similar?" and "Are Americans ready for a black president?"

Aljazeera has a program called "Frontline America" which runs features on aspects of American society that don't make the mainstream American media -- like 200,000 "medical tourists" who travel to Mexico each year for medications and treatment.

I know this is a lot of "enough about us Americans... what do you think of us?" But I feel like I could learn a lot.


McCain Fails to Clinch Nomination

No Longer "Candidate of Certainty"

Romney, Huckabee both declare victory

Arizona Senator John McCain's campaign suffered a major setback yesterday as he failed to deliver the expected knockout blow to the insurgencies of Massachusetts Governer Mitt Romney and that guy Huckabee from one of the southern states.

Although garnering several hundred more delegates than his two rivals, McCain let the nomination slip through his grasp as Huckabee and Romney scored surprise victories in several states.

"The image of McCain as the annointed favorite has been badly tarnished," according to Republican strategist Lawrence Flunch. "The McCain juggernaut has been knocked off course, showing a lack of sufficient punching power to 'close the deal' that could prove a fatal weakness."
Just spinning.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008


Just another Mardi here in Paris...

Still awaiting primary results here at expat central.

On the streets of Paris, we have seen no sign that Mardi Gras is anything special here. Just business as usual. Other than a guy in a French sailor suit, who could have been in costume. Of course, he could have been a sailor.


Cry at me once, shame on you; cry at me twice... we won't be fooled again

I'm not in the least surprised she cried again. It must have tested well with focus groups...


Paris, 11:45 a.m., Super Tuesday

We await the Super Tuesday results with great anticipation. (In case you were wondering, one of the following is true: either (a) My Home Town is located in a state that is not holding a primary today or (b) I voted absentee. I wouldn't sit this one out for anything.)

The French understand who's in this race: "Obama against The Clintons."

Here's a little extra political plug I meant to put in my extremely influential endorsement of Obama the other day. Hilary Clinton's experience isn't particularly good experience because, I suspect, she was very wrapped up in the Clinton Administration's knack for learning the wrong lessons from political setbacks.

The lesson? I oversimplify a bit, but not much. It's this: never attempt anything that appears to be unpopular at the moment, no matter how good it is for the country in the medium or long run. Clinton was like a fairy-tale miser, forever accumulating and hoarding his political capital. And for what? So he could leave office with approval ratings over 60% in spite of his sex scandal and impeachment. That's why I say Clinton was such a disappointing president. Political capital is supposed to be spent -- on far-sighted policies, judicial appointments, and the like, that meet momentary resistance.

Bill Clinton was the biggest slave to the polls of any president in modern memory. And he's Hilary's political mentor, no matter how many pantsuits she wears in the White House.

So, 11:45 a.m. in Paris. At this very moment, millions of American voters are...

...still asleep, I guess.

Monday, February 04, 2008


In Paris, whatever you do, don't break stride!

Street safety. Parisian drivers are notorious for ignoring pedestrians.... Don't assume you have the right of way, even in a crosswalk. When crossing a street, keep your pace constant and don't stop suddenly. By law, drivers must miss pedestrians by only a meter -- a little more than three feet. Drivers carefully calculate your speed and won't hit you, provided you don't alter your route or pace.

---Rick Steves, Paris 2008

I never knew this before. In former trips to Paris, I proceeded only with a generalized sense that you take your life in your hands when crossing the street.

It turns out the Rick Steves is right... and it's not only the drivers. Basically, every resident of Paris carefully calculates your speed and won't hit you, provided that you don't alter your route or pace. This includes motorcyclists, bicyclists and even other pedestrians.

"Smart car" for sure! A Parisian driver prepares to miss the pedestrian by one meter.

I found this out the hard way, on successive days, when I broke stride to avoid, first, a cyclist, and later, a pedestrian. Both were coming straight at me, having apparently done a thorough analysis of my vector and triangulated their personal solution for avoiding me but then -- whammo -- I stopped, thereby screwing up the whole system.

The problem is that, as an American, I find it very counterintuitive not to alter my pace to avoid other people in motion. I'm used to stopping for other people, whether they're on foot or in vehicles, to let them pass. But the French person will not pass harmlessly in front of me, since they'll have carefully calculated their own route and speed to pass one meter behind where I'm supposed to be. Only, having stopped, I'm in their spot.

We've all had the experience of walking head on toward another person, coming to a dead halt face-to-face, saying "excuse me," stepping to the side to get out of the other person's way only to find that they've stepped to the side, mirroring your move and continuing the impasse. And this impasse can continue for a few moves, as one or both parties chuckle in nervous embarrassment.

Two Parisian motorcyclists carefully miss me by one meter
on the sidewalk near the Hotel de Ville.

It happens -- but not that often -- and we Americans live with that and move on. But the French totally melt down in that situation. I looked into the eyes of this French bicyclist and pedestrian and on both occasions, what I saw there was sheer, uncomprehending terror -- followed quickly by a barrage of epithets.

Don't try to avoid pedestrians like these -- the safest thing for all involved
is to walk straight at them.

So my advice for dealing with a pedestrian walking right toward you is the same as Admiral Lord Nelson's advice to his captains for dealing with French ships: "never mind maneuvers, always go straight at 'em."

Sunday, February 03, 2008


"For us its Mardi Gras, but for you it's 'Super Tuesday'"

This is what the cab driver said to us on the way into Paris from Charles deGaulle Airport. Which candidate does he like?

"Obama," he said. "He represents something new, something different."

A nice way to boil it down. One of our friends, who we're traveling with, put it this way: "Voting for Hilary is like feeding the dog that bit you. You don't really know whether Obama is a dog that's going to bite you are not. But with Hilary, you know."

I found it inexpressibly irritating the way the New York Times kept running those profiles of the young Hilary Clinton featuring cute-as-a-button photos of her from her idealistic college and law school days. The idealistic Hilary is long gone. All she has to offer now is another round of cynical, centrist Democratic Leadership Council centrism. Dick Morris all over again. It's so '90s.

Of course, is doesn't matter, because, get this: Hilary can't win. The Democratic Party is self-destructive enough to hand her the nomination, and she may well win it with her sub-50% support among registered Democrats. But she has prohibitively high, intractible negatives, even among Democrats. And this country can afford another Republican administration even less than another Clinton administration.

Obama offers at least the possibility of vision and inspiring leadership. Obama for President.

Saturday, February 02, 2008


The tricoleur has this certain je ne sais quoi

The French flag -- the "tricolor" -- is so simple in design that it can hardly be called a design, yet for some reason I find it to be a really good-looking flag. I'm not quite sure why. Maybe it's from the overwhelmingly cute illustrations in the Madeleine books I read as a child.

Or maybe the French, in their genius for design, figured out that the tricolor just looks good in front of the sandstone building facades of Paris -- a small but striking patch of color in a sea of beige, buff and gray.

The Musee d'Orsay.

Whatever the reason, it seems inevitable that Major League Baseball, with its almost bloody-minded obsession with protecting its various logos, will one day soon try to sue the French Republic for trademark infringement.

Major LeagueBaseball logo DSCN9984
How long before I receive a cease and desist letter demanding the removal
of the MLB logo, above left?

Friday, February 01, 2008


What's wrong with this picture?


No, I'm not inviting you to comment on my meager photography skills. The theme for today is: how is Paris different from just a few years ago (the last time I was here).

1. Where are the cigarettes?

Paris has instituted a smoking ban. I don't know the details, but cafes disallow smoking indoors at cafes, restaurants, etc. I'd heard about this before our arrival, but we'd assumed that the ban would be as strictly enforced as the requirement to pick up dog poop. But so far, we haven't encountered any scofflaw-ism. It's incredible to linger over your amazing French coffee without the acrid smell of cigarette smoke wafting into your face. Maybe Parisians are even discovering that their food tastes better! Smokers are relegated to the outdoor seating -- they have to be pretty intrepid to smoke in this cold, rainy winter weather.

DSCN9865 DSCN9863
Get your butts outside! Paris smoking ban seems to be working.

Unfortunately, there is still dog crap all over the sidewalks, as usual. But one victory at a time -- today, public indoor smoking, tomorrow dog poop!

2. Les velos publiques

Paris now sports 20,000 community mopeds. Apparently, you rent one at these stands located all over the city, ride it around, and leave it at an open stall in the stand nearest your destination. Quelle bonne idee!

3. Where's the attitude?

As incredible as the smoking ban is, I'm at least equally struck by the consistent friendliness and politeness we've encountered from Parisians. The legendary Parisian brusqueness toward American tourists isn't merely a myth -- it's what I've always encountered, in 5 prior trips to Paris. But not this time.

This morning, B and I entered a coffee store to by some ground coffee for our apartment. And while I have no trouble ordering a cup of coffee, I suddenly realized I lacked the vocabulary to buy bulk coffee. How do you say "beans"? How do you discuss which degree of grind you want? I said to the proprieter (in my high school French), "I believe that I don't speak coffee" -- and he actually laughed!

Taxi drivers, proprieters, people on the street... they've mostly displayed patience with our lousy French, a willingness to help, a general benevolence, even a willingness to smile.

What's the difference? Could it be that they like Americans at this particular moment because of our Democratic primaries -- enchanted by the potentiality that the Americans may replace the internationally despised Bush with a woman or a black man?

Could it be that we're here in the dead of winter, rather than -- as in my past visits -- during spring or summer when there were heaps of tourists?

Who can tell? I'm just going to ride this velo of good will as long as it lasts.

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