Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Debates and Mountainous Jellyfish

I watched a tape of the Monday night debate between James Webb and Senator George Allen first thing this morning, and I was mildly surprised at the two questions that Webb asked Allen toward the end of the debate.

First, Webb said that he’d repeat a question from an earlier debate—why did Allen vote to raise his own salary but not the minium wage?

Who on Webb’s staff thought this was a good idea? Webb even admitted that Allen had had time to think about it since the last debate. This meant that Allen had a nice answer (or an evasive one, depending on your leanings). And then they wrangled over, basically, what the definition of “vote” was before the moderator cut in.

Then Webb asked, “We have a situation in the Senkaku Islands that could blow up into an international incident, and I’m curious what you think about that, George.”

Webb didn’t look up when he read this question from his notecards; to me, he looked like he was about to laugh, like he couldn’t believe how well he’d set this trap. And it worked, for what it was.

Allen paused—the TV shot was great of the two of them across the stage just staring at each other for a moment. You could almost hear the gears in Allen’s head chunking out, “I’m going to fire the staffers who should have told me about this.”

Allen answered, “I’d have to study the issue more fully to give you a complete answer.”

“This is not Craney Island, this is Senkaku Islands,” Webb said.

“But Craney Island is important.”

“Yes, we did discuss that before,” Webb said. “This is important too.”

He went on to explain that the islands lay between Taiwan and Okinawa, that Japan administrates them, but China claims them, that they have oil, and that there have been two “incidences” there over the last two years. At that point, Allen snapped back into his best rhetoric and had a decent response about watching China and fixing trade deficits and such.

I hadn’t seen the debate in July when Allen had a similar “gotcha” moment over the Craney Island project in Virginia, and Allen didn’t make the same gaff as Webb (Webb asked where Craney was—rookie error. “It’s in Virginia,” Allen responded according to reports.) But I knew I was seeing something that was probably more rhetorical than leadership in nature.

That is, I’ll bet only a handful of people on the Hill could have said where those islands were and why they’re important (Japan and China are arguing/negotiating over the oil rights), though they’ve made it into the news in the past week or so, and people should have a decent understanding of this, I think.

It was odd, I watched the tape and then skimmed back through it on fast forward, and I could see just how uncomfortable Webb looked up there, and how he barely moved; his head tilted from one side to another, but that was about it. He barely let go of the podium. Allen looked relaxed, but perhaps smiled at a few odd times.

Still, the little Senkaku incident pointed out something important to me—Webb has a handle on foreign issues (or at least he’s better briefed). His most animated moment was when he spoke about foreign debt, especially related to China—he used both hands to gesticulate, like letting go of the handle bars.

The Senkakus have all but been forgotten, so predictably, the race is coming down to taxes and the economy.

The debate made me think of a column from the May issue of Newsweek in which George Will said this about the current Congress and their response to the president’s “emergency” supplemental spending for the Iraq war:

“Funding the war in dribs and drabs—as if the fact that the war costs money is a recurring surprise—spares Congress from confronting the huge cost and having to make room for it in the budget by shedding lower-priority spending.”

This was at the height of the conservatives’ hand-wringing over the national debt. I agree both with the conservatives and with George Will (who often drives me nuts), that the funding for the war should be a part of the actual budget, not supplemental/emergency spending.

We need to stop pretending like the war money doesn’t really come from taxpayers. This means to me that we need to look at the tax cuts Bush and the Congress enacted and whether all or parts should be permanent, which is what Webb has been saying.

I also wouldn’t mind having another person up on the Hill who knows international politics and who has been to war.

For that reason, I’m planning on voting for Webb.

Don’t call it an endorsement, but more of a shared opinion. I agree with Scott McCaffrey at the Sun Gazette. These candidates are lack-lustre. Scott thinks staying with the devil we know is the right way to go, but I’d rather take a chance with the one we don’t.

Mountainous Jelly-fish

As I drove by them earlier today, they floated like jellyfish a few feet above the green sea-floor. The gray scaffolding that held them aloft, nearly invisible from my car. Their bright bodies of white linen, about 20 of them in suspended animation, draped over the frames and spread like slips below the apexes.

When I stopped at the Arlington Arts Center on Wilson Boulevard, I saw that the frames were abstracts of mountains. The bamboo painted gray formed a string of large pyramids surrounded by smaller ones, and what I thought were jellies, were snow caps made of a water proof material.

Or, they’re “teepees,” as the AAC web site refers to them.

This inaugural exhibit “Sculpture on the Grounds” opens officially on Friday (reception, 6-9 p.m.), but I had the fun of walking through it today. (See “Insight Out” on the AAC web site).

Many of the trees on the grounds are wrapped in accordion-folded screen which mimics the trees’ own bark. But the piece that may stop you is in the back yard—a tree in a museum-quality vitrine. The AAC web site asks, “Can we value the three-dimensional objects of the natural world in the same way we value human-created (and therefore culturally vetted) objects?” It was an interesting piece that I must admit made me giggle. I thought of the Tom Tomorrow cartoon in which all nature is observable from a viewing deck that surrounds just one tree.

It’s open through March, but get there soon (especially before the birds doo anymore damage).

Police Notes for Buckingham
MALICIOUS WOUNDING, 10/8/2006, 300 blk N. Thomas St. At approximately 0303 hrs on 10/08/06, two male roommates got into a fight. During the struggle one of the roommates stabbed the other in the upper body with a broken beer bottle. The suspect fled the scene. The victim was transported to a local hospital for treatment. His current condition is not known. Detectives continue to investigate and will determine what charges will be filed against the suspect.


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