Learn Something New Every Day

Did you know that there are World Championships of Rock-Paper-Scissors? Now you do. My favorite part of the site is the section on trainers (because you really need a professional trainer to play RPS):

Some players choose to retain the services of a personal trainer. Experienced and talented trainers can be invaluable in building an RPS career, but beware of charlatans. There are many “trainers” available for hire who have never been either a competitor or referee and have no qualifications to speak of. Before you sign a contract, find out who you’re dealing with.

Consider yourself warned.

Categorizing Gerson

Josh Patashnik’s defense of Michael Gerson’s conservatism (or, at least, his lack of Great Society liberalism) is confounding:

[A]ll indications are that his actual agenda is hardly revolutionary. He likes S-CHIP, but not, in his words, “government-run universal health care”; he wants more racial reconciliation, but eschews grand ’70s-era social engineering schemes like forced busing. He has no apparent interest in Nixon-era wage and price controls. His favorite programs are ones like Bush’s 2003 AIDS initiative–whose price tag of $3 billion a year isn’t exactly busting the budget.

Is he serious? Gerson isn’t a liberal because he doesn’t support wage and price controls? I’m pretty sure no one supports wage and price controls. Or, for that matter, busing. All support for those policies was abandoned by the mid-1980s. If Patashnik can name anyone – left or right – within the US political mainstream today who has said anything remotely positive (or even anything period) about wage/price controls and busing, I’ll be impressed, because I’m fairly certain that the proponents of those policies lost the debate before I was born.
For what it’s worth, I think Gerson’s just a regular Christian Democrat, socially restrictionist and supportive of a limited welfare state; it’s the predominant conservative ideology in Europe and Latin America. It’s only considered weird because the US political spectrum is itself pretty out of synch with the rest of the world.

Lott Out

This is weird: Trent Lott is resigning little more than a year into his fourth term. He’s not retiring, mind you; he’s flat-out leaving his seat and, for that matter, his position as Senate Minority Whip (Lamar Alexander must be happy). Apparently, the reason is that the lobbying reforms Congress, led by Obama, passed this year require Senators to wait two years before lobbying Congress; the bill takes effect at the end of this year, so if Lott wants to lobby as soon as he leaves Congress, this is his only opportunity to do so. Stay classy, Trent.
Believe it or not, this could add Mississippi to the list of potential Democratic pick-ups in 2008. Haley Barbour, the Republican governor, will get to pick a candidate now, but there’ll be a special election next year. Both Attorney General Jim Hood and former AG Mike Moore are potential candidates; it’d be an uphill battle, closer to the current races in Kentucky and Oregon than to those in New Mexico or Virginia, but it’s possible. Given as there are four more or less guaranteed pick-ups (New Mexico, Virginia, New Hampshire, and Colorado), two toss-ups (Minnesota and Alaska if Begich runs), and five leaning Republican but possible (Kentucky, Maine, Mississippi Oklahoma, Oregon), it seems like a filibuster-proof majority may be within reach. It’ll be tough, but it’s possible.

Oh, Whacking Day


Richard Nixon was one of Eric Woolson’s more notable snake hunting instructors.

Mike Huckabee has some strange staffers:

Even Huckabee appears to have been caught unprepared by the sudden turn of events. His Iowa state director is in Costa Rica hunting snakes over the Thanksgiving weekend and won’t return to the state until tomorrow.

Um, right. This person appears to be Eric Woolson, who weirdly enough got his start in politics working as Joe Biden’s Iowa press secretary during his 1988 run. He then worked for Terry Branstad, the Republican governor there, in the mid-90s, and ran Bush’s communications operation in Iowa in 2000. And now he’s helping out Huckabee. And hunting snakes in Central America. Politics is a weird business.

Rudd Wins

The Australian Labor Party has won the 2007 federal elections there by a landslide margin, making leader Kevin Rudd the new Prime Minister; current PM (and key Bush ally) John Howard even lost his own seat in parliament. I’d like to say this is payback for Howard bashing Obama earlier this year, but it seems his opposition to Kyoto and unions were more critical. If only we had a political system where those were the issues that decided the Presidency.
Howard was PM for 11 years, during which time my former neighbor Bill Bryson wrote In a Sunburned Country. Here’s what Bryson had to say about Howard (pg. 60-61):

In 1996 the prime minister, John Howard, caused a stir after his election by declining to live in Canberra. He would, he announced, continue to reside in Sydney and commute to Canberra as duties required. As you can imagine, this caused an uproar among Canberra’s citizens, presumably because they hadn’t thought of that themselves. What made this particularly interesting is that John Howard is by far the dullest man in Australia. Imagine a very committed funeral home director – someone whose burning ambition from the age of eleven was to be a funeral home director, whose proudest achievement in adulthood was to be elected president of the Queanbeyan and District Funeral Home Directors Association – then halve his personality and halve it again, and you have pretty well got John Howard. When a man as outstandingly colorless as John Howard turns his nose up at a place, you know it must be worth a look.

We’ll miss you, Howie.

One More On Board

Mike Kinsley endorses Obama:

My candidate, at least at the moment, is Obama. When I hear him discussing issues, I hear intelligence and reflection and almost a joy in thinking it through. (Okay, not all issues. He obviously gets no joy over driver’s licenses for illegal immigrants.) That willingness, even eagerness, to figure things out seems to me more valuable than any amount of experience in allowing issues to wash over you as they do our incumbent president.

Kinsley’s easily my favorite op-ed columnist, and has been as long as I’ve read the Post and Slate, so this is pretty cool. And he makes a good point: as much credit as Hillary gets for being a wonk, Obama has a genuine curiosity about and interest in policy, something sorely lacking in the White House’s current resident.

His Dark Materials

Kevin Drum gets this about right:

I’m not in the habit of defending the Religious Right, but I have to say that [with regards to The Golden Compass] they have a point. I’m sure the movie itself will indeed be harmless, but the books are every conservative Christian’s nightmare of what the secular left’s real agenda is — assuming you get past the first two volumes, that is. Pullman’s attack on Christianity is foreshadowed in those books, but in the third it’s laid bare with no attempt at even unsubtle Narnia-esque analogies. The Amber Spyglass is the story of how God (yes, the God of Abraham, the one in the Bible) has ruled despotically and malevolently over the Earth for 30,000 years and the forces of good and decency are finally going to kill him. And they do.

I read the three His Dark Materials books when I was ten, and loved them. Not because of the fantasy – I hated the Narnia books, and the Harry Potter books, and Tolkein, and pretty much all other children’s fantasy books – but because they were overtly political, and their militant atheism was a large part of that. Compared to the other stuff I was reading as a fifth-grader, dramatic battle scenes pitting anti-theist armies against God were pretty potent. Reading about covert operatives swooping into Hell to free its denizens from God’s imperial grasp was pretty powerful. Where the themes of the early Harry Potter books and Lord of the Rings amounted to “evil bad!”, and the Narnia books read like Sunday school with swords, His Dark Materials was much more interesting. It was new. It was dangerous. And that’s why I liked it.
So Kevin’s right: the books should threaten the religious right, as kids reading them are likely to start questioning what they’ve been taught. And the religious right’s faith is sufficiently vulnerable that a handful of children’s books are enough to threaten it.

Matt Yglesias is Shrill

Anyone who cares about our relations with Iran owes it to themselves to read this Matt Yglesias post:

True, we’ve seen rational leadership even from vicious dictators like Josef Stalin and Mao Zedong, but the contemporary United States is led by religious fanatics, which introduces a new element into the equation. What’s more, the USA is the only country on earth to have ever actually deployed nuclear weapons. Indeed, current political elites are so war-crazed and bloodthirsty that they not only engineered the 2003 attack on Iraq — a country that tried to appease the Americans by eliminating its nuclear program and allowing IAEA inspectors to certify that it had done so — but they continue to deny regretting it to this day. And that includes not only radicals like George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, but so-called “moderates” like Hillary Clinton as well.
Key religious leaders like John Hagee explicitly argue that the United States should attack Iran in order to hasten the coming of Armageddon, and Hagee gets not only a respectful hearing at the White House, but also works closely with AIPAC giving him important entrée with many Democrats. All of the incumbent faction’s candidates from office have said they’d contemplate a nuclear first strike against Iran, media sources generally lambaste anyone who criticizes American moves to ratchet up conflict with Iran, and in general any responsible Iranian leaders needs to wonder if the USA is really a country that one can risk doing business with.

He’s not just being cute here. If one seriously considers the perspective of the average Iranian statesman, or even the average Iranian citizen, not only do the same aspersions the US casts upon Iran’s leadership fit, they fit better than when leveled against Iran. The bipartisan, media-enabled “all options on the table” posture is really dangerous. It isn’t a useful bargaining chip for negotiations; it just unsettles Iranian civil society and lowers the chances that they’ll risk an agreement with us. That helps no one.