Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Race Not So Close

Over the past couple of days a series of national polls have shown the presidential race as either a dead heat or Obama with a tenuous lead. The Real Clear politics poll of polls shows Obama with a 4-point lead, a lead that has been eroding since he clinched the democratic nomination.

The perceived closeness of current polls should not be a comfort to the Republicans, yes the race continues to be very close on the national scale, but when one looks at the state polls, a different story emerges. As noted above to the RCP aggregation of polls, the national race shows a 4-point advantage for Obama, many have taken this (especially considering McCain’s stumbles) as a sign that McCain remains competitive. But the national polls tell but one story, currently according to the RCP aggregate of state polls, Obama has a 255 to 163 (no toss ups) lead in the electoral-college map. (It is 304 – 234, with toss up states).

According to recent states, and based of the 2004 election, Obama is currently in the lead in the following Republican states: Montana, Wyoming, Iowa, New Mexico, Indiana, Colorado and Iowa. McCain takes nothing from the Democratic column. A similar trend is seen in those states considered “toss ups”: Missouri, Virginia, Michigan, and Minnesota. The states are where this election will be won, and at this juncture, Obama seems to have a decisive lead.

It is still early in the game, and the current state polls may reflect the bounce Obama got after beating Clinton, and it quite possible that some of states above will move to the McCain column (Montana, Wyoming, Indiana), but McCain has a lot of work to do, and if Obama forces to defend his own backyard in stead of attacking the toss up states, this might not be a close race after all.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Off Bizzare Foods with No Reservations

It must not be easy to travel around the world eating all manner of "exotic" fare. From warthog rectum in Namibia, to fermented shark in Iceland, or chicken uterus in Taiwan and stuffed cows pancreas in Morocco. Anthony Bourdain and Andrew Zimmern are two celebrity chefs who traverse the globe looking for such fare. Bourdain hosts Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations and Zimmern: Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern, both shows are on the Travel network.

It is quite amazing how the two manage to put a positive on even the most weird culinary concoctions, may it be frozen sheep testicles or stomped fermented potatoes. They never seem disappointed, or "grossed out", they use terms like "savory", "light on the palate" etc. Terms that are undoubtedly supposed to ease the viewers gagging reflex, but they hardly do. Zimmern seems to be the most positive of the two, so willing to prove his open mindedness, that at times his cloying praise of bizarre foods get so annoying that one wishes he'd chock on that goeduck, Bourdain is a cantankerous, cigarette huffing, hard knock drunk, who will on occasion give you his real opinion (like calling the warthog rectum and fermented shark his worst meals ever).

Bourdain's somewhat dark and brooding persona makes his show more entertaining, as is his constant cursing and jabs at other celebrity chefs. But both show do serve to widen the viewers culinary and cultural perspective.

Friday, July 04, 2008


Two events in the past two weeks have brought to light problems that exist with America’s current designation of states and individuals as supporters of terror, or terrorists. The first was the removal of North Korea from the state sponsors of terror list, the second being the removal of Nelson Mandela (and other ANC members) from the terror watch-list.

The state sponsors of terror list, is a rather exclusive club: Cuba, Iran, North Korea, (soon to be removed): Sudan and Syria. Libya and Iraq both left the club in the past few years. Iraq after the overthrow of Saddam, and Libya after the country gave up its nuclear program. With their support of Hezbollah, Hamas and other groups of their ilk, it is possible to see why Iran, and Syria are on the list. But Cuba and North Korea baffle the mind, the “country reports” on the State Departments website are remarkable for the paucity of information on North Korean and Cuban sponsorship of terror. Cuba’s report is mainly a recitation of things that Cuba hasn’t done to aid the U.S. in the war against terror, and the North Korean report begins with: “The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) is not known to have sponsored any terrorist acts since the bombing of a Korean Airlines flight in 1987.”

According the State Departments definition of a state sponsor of terror: State sponsors of terrorism provide critical support to non-state terrorist groups. Without state sponsors, terrorist groups would have much more difficulty obtaining the funds, weapons, materials, and secure areas they require to plan and conduct operations. Most worrisome is that some of these countries also have the capability to manufacture WMD and other destabilizing technologies that can get into the hands of terrorists. The United States will continue to insist that these countries end the support they give to terrorist groups.” Cuba does not belong in this list, and the ease with which Libya and North Korea were able to get off it (after acquiescing to U.S. demands in unrelated matters) shows that the list has little to do with states that actually sponsor terror.

According to the American Civil Liberties Union – nearly 1 million names, of individuals who are considered by the various government organs to be potential terrorists. Since the 1970’s the African National Congress (ANC) and its leaders – most notably Nelson Mandela – have been part of this list (at the urging of the then Apartheid government). And have been required to get special waivers in order to travel in to the U.S. What is most embarrassing about this situation is that, even after the Apartheid government removed the ANC’s designation as a terrorist organization in 1990, and the ANC took the reigns of power in South Africa, the U.S. still had the ANC under its terror list. If this most visible of icons can – years after being the legitimate leader of another nation – continue to be on that list, what about Tom, Dick and Hussein, who were illegitimately on the list to begin with, continue to be on the list, are constantly harassed by U.S. authorities, but have no advocates in high places to rectify the “bureaucratic snafu” (as Senator Judd Gregg described the Mandela situation) that kept them on the list?

It is great that Mandela and the ANC will no longer have to go through extra hurdles to get in to the U.S. But one cannot help but commiserate with those on the list, who may have never done anything, but have no powerful advocates to get them of the list. As the ACLU puts it:

“Terrorist watch lists must be tightly focused on true terrorists who pose a genuine threat. Bloated lists are bad because

The terror lists need to be particular, constantly reviewed and updated, as well as, reflective of reality, not politics.