Friday, February 29, 2008

Responding to Gloria Steinem

I've been meaning to respond to Gloria Steinem's column in the NYT for a while now. She wrote:

men especially tend to feel they are regressing to childhood when dealing with a powerful woman

She implies that men are afraid of powerful women.

Memo to Ms. Steinem: Yes, Ms. Steinem there are men who are afraid of powerful women. We have a name for those men.

We call them "wimps."

William F. Buckley

So William F. Buckley has entered the church triumphant, where he is presumably arguing with archangels and chatting with cherubim and enjoying very long siestas with seraphim. George Will and David Brooks have both, as have many others, written eulogies. Will's is exactly what you expect, gracious, eloquent, and filled with interesting facts and quotes. But David Brooks' piece pays homage to Buckley's great gift to political discourse, his sense of humor, by remembering his own youthful parody of Buckley - which Buckley himself appreciated so much he hired Brooks. David Brooks starts out his eulogy of William F. Buckley patting himself on the back - something Buckley himself would have heartily approved of.

I only saw Firing Line once, when I was spending the summer in Washington with a lesbian friend. The subject was homosexuality, and Buckley was being attacked by a priest for not being conservative enough on the subject. I was fascinated because I had no idea this kind of dispute was possible - William F. Buckley, not conservative enough? The priest at one point asked Buckley, "What right does a sodomite have?" To which Buckley, with that droll, tilted-head expression, replied, casually withering his guest, "He has a right not to be run over by a tank from you."

The New York Times, in its obituary, noted something I have always thot was deliciously ironic: The National Review, paragon of capitalism, is not profitable and never has been: it depends on donations from readers to stay afloat. The great advocate of ambition and rugged individualism is a long-term charity case.

I will miss Buckley because his extraordinary self-confidence came not from an ironclad and rigid belief in the superiority of his ideas, although that clearly played a part, but from his belief that he could listen well to his opponents, understand their perspective, and then convince them that they were wrong. He understood that if you want your opponents to listen to you, it is immensely helpful if you begin by listening to them. He also seems to have understood that if you really do want to prove your opponents wrong, you have to understand their arguments as well as possible, because if you make a mistake in your opposition, they will dismiss you.

And of course he understood how important it is to have fun in politics. He reminds me - how ironic is this - of Emma Goldman, the early 20th century radical, who said "If I can't dance, I don't want to be part of your revolution." Buckley invited as many people as possible to the dance.

Angelina Jolie in the WaPo

Angelina Jolie wrote an Op-Ed piece in the Washington Post. Very cool! I knew there was a reason I liked her. It's an interesting piece, because she calls for more humanitarian aid, specifically so Iraqis can come home. She's undecided about the surge, noting that the soldiers she talked to "miss home but feel invested in Iraq." I think she's expressing the ambivalence that a lot of us feel - we desperately want to get out, but we don't want to abandon the Iraqi people. In this respect, her focus on supporting the UN High Commissioner for Refugees is appropriate. It would be great to see the US working closely with the UN.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Nader for President?

Ralph Nader has announced that he is running for President. I'm not going to bother to link to a story, because it's everywhere.

And yet, a couple of days later, it's nowhere. Talk about 15 minutes - I think most people are already bored. So I just have one comment.

Ralph Nader is a great activist. But he is a terrible politician. He's great at motivating people to work with him, but only as long as they already agree with him.

OK, that's enough.


So I finally saw Juno. What a sweet movie. First of all, great names. "Juno MacGuff." Her dad is "Mac MacGuff." The boyfriend's name is Paulie Bleeker. How cool is that - naming a character after a street in Greenwich Village? It's a slightly dangerous name, suggesting that he's depressed and bland. Which gives the actor something to work against.

And ooh the dialogue - just cracklin'. No wonder Diablo Cody won the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay. Of course, someone who comes up with the name "Diablo Cody" for herself clearly has a great sense of style. This was one of my favorite quotes, Juno explaining that her Dad named her after Zeus' wife:

Yeah and I mean Zeus had tons of ladys but I'm pretty sure Juno was his main girl. And apparently she was supposed to be super beautiful but really mean, kind of like Diana Ross.

Oooh, snap!

I liked that the plot was relatively straightforward but not obvious. There aren't any oddball twists or surprises, but you don't know what's going to happen. Solid performances all the way around. Jennifer Garner had one of the toughest jobs, playing an uptight yuppie who could also be a very nurturing Mom. I loved that she was so desperate to be a mother - that really gives the movie some soul.

One thing I didn't realize until after I had left the theater is that J.K. Simmons was in Jason Reitman's last movie, "Thank You For Smoking." Completely different characters - in Smoking, he's a tobacco lobbyist and a real jerk, yelling and screaming for most of the movie. Here, he's a solid, working class guy, not the most sophisticated man in the world, but a damn good father. That's always a good sign - if an actor of his stature works with the same director on a different movie, he obviously enjoys working with this director. Allison Janney, always a solid presence, is very good as Juno's stepmom. It's great watching her, because although, like her husband Mac she's not the smartest woman around, she's tough and competent, with buried depths of wisdom.

I have to admit, tho, as much as I liked Juno, I didn't love it as much as I loved Thank You For Smoking. Although, to be fair, I LOVE Smoking - that's one of my all-time favorite movies. I do think the script for Juno is slightly better - the ending of Smoking is a little problematic for me. I think Nick Naylor needed to enjoy his victory a little more. But Juno is a much sweeter movie. Of course, Thank You For Smoking is Exhibit A of dark comedy, so that's not saying much.

Jason Reitman is the son of Ivan Reitman, who directed Ghostbusters. Ivan's last movie was "My Super Ex-Girlfriend," a waste of celluloid (although there is a bizarre B-movie charm to parts of it). To judge from that Uma Thurman misfire, Ivan isn't the director he once was. But the son has clearly learned great things from the father. The torch has been passed.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

The Oscars

The Oscars were a few days ago, but I still feel the urge to comment. I liked Jon Stewart, I thot he was good, if a little subdued. Somehow that felt appropriate. I haven't seen Enchanted, but someone who has said that the musical numbers just couldn't come close to the movie. I'm glad Diably Cody won. There seemed to be something of a generational divide in the Best Picture race. There were four nominees aimed at older voters; Atonement, Michael Clayton, No Country for Old Men, and There Will Be Blood. All very serious, somber movies. And mostly about men. And then there was Juno, written by a woman, about a teenage girl. I think the generation coming up will be more open to movies by and about women.

Patrick Goldstein in the LA Times has a great piece about how to improve the Oscars. I really hope someone takes his advice. He's got some very good ideas.

There was also a plethora of awards for people who are not American. The LA Times:

"There Will Be Blood's" best actor Daniel Day-Lewis lives in Ireland, while "La Vie en Rose" surprise best actress winner Marion Cotillard makes her home in Paris. Spain's Javier Bardem was named best supporting actor for "No Country for Old Men," and Scotland's Tilda Swinton won best supporting actress for "Michael Clayton." Many of the evening's lower-profile awards -- for art direction, makeup, costume design and animated short among them -- went to non-American filmmakers and designers.

But this is now a new phenomenon. Tilda Swinton, who is from England, pointed out:

"Hollywood is built on Europeans! Go back and look"

She's right, of course. Some of the best directors were from Europe: Charlie Chaplin, Hitchcock, Billy Wilder. Lots of movie stars have come from other countries. Three of the four stars of Gone With The Wind were from other countries. Vivien Leigh was born in India.

But even most "American" movies have a strong interntational flavor. "Titanic" is a classic American blockbuster. But the HMS Titanic was a British ship, and it sank in the North Atlantic. The movie starred an English woman (Kate Winslet), was directed by a Canadian (James Cameron), and was mostly shot in Mexico.

Or another classic Best Picture blockbuster, Gladiator. A throwback to the old swords-and-sandals epics. But other than its cinematic origins, it's not very "American." It takes place in ancient Rome and was shot mostly in Europe and North Africa. It's directed by an Englishman, Ridley Scott, and stars an Australian, Russell Crowe, a Dane, Connie Nielsen, another Englishman, Oliver Reed, an Irishman, Richard Harris, and the only movie star from Benin, Djimon Hounsou.

Harrison Ford is famous for starring in two great series: Star Wars and the Indiana Jones movies. Neither really takes place in America. And not much of either series was shot in the US; both series were shot all over the world.

Even the great fantasy series of the recent past were barely "American." The Lord of the Rings movies are based on books written by an Englishman who was born in South Africa, and they were shot in New Zealand, directed by a Kiwi. Harry Potter is almost entirely English. The Pirates of the Caribbean movies take place mostly in, well, the Caribbean, and star a couple of Brits, Keira Knightley and Orlando Bloom, and an Australian, Geoffrey Rush.

So the fact that all of the Best Actors and Actresses were "foreign" should not be a surprise, but a sign of how strong Hollywood's connections to the rest of the world are. And a testament to how well America, at its best, engages the rest of the world.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Dodd Endorses Obama

This is good news: Chris Dodd has endorsed Obama. Way to go, Dodd! I think his timing is good, endorsing him just before March 4, when it will generate a spot of news for a day, but long enough before the primaries in Texas and Ohio to possibly really make a difference.
I think Dodd would make an excellent choice for vice president. He has lots of experience in the Senate. He's a very solid, almost Establishment figure, but he's also earned a fair amount of street cred by fighting the Bush administration on warrantless wiretapping. So he would be a VP candidate progressives and moderates could get behind. Also, he's a white guy who is fluent in Spanish (he was in the Dominican Republic in the Peace Corps), so he could rally Hispanic voters without alienating white voters. Not a lot of downsides. Except that, according to Wikipedia, he's not interested in being Veep. So maybe I'm wrong.
And here's an interesting bit of trivia: his father, Thomas Dodd, was also a Senator from Connecticut, but, before that, served as the number two prosecutor at Nuremberg.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Bush's Budget

I got this from an aunt. It's a rather amazing and damning analysis of Bush's budget.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Socially Responsible Business Plan Competition

I just served as a judge for the William James Foundation's 2007-08 Socially Responsible Business Plan Competition. The Executive Director, Ian Fisk, is an old friend of mine. It's a lot of fun, because I get to read about very cool change-the-world-and-make-money new companies. Sometimes the plans are a little too starry-eyed, and I am reminded of my own rather underdeveloped (and hence unsuccessful) attempts to start new businesses. But a lot of them are really, really interesting, and very inspiring. It always takes guts to start a new business, but to do that and try to do it in a way that is socially responsible takes a special talent.

This isn't my first encounter with a group dedicated to spreading the idea that is is possible to run a business in a way that is socially responsible. Way back in the early '90's, just as I was getting to Washington (literally on the first day I got there), a group called Businesses for Social Responsibility launched. Back then it was companies with a reputation for being very socially responsible, like Body Shop or Ben and Jerry's. Good companies, but not the biggest. Sort of hippie-ish. Today Ford and GE are members. They obviously don't have the most socially responsible histories, but hey, at least they're showing up today.

So much for that whole plagiarism thing

It's obvious by now that Hillary's whole "plagiarism" charge was not only a spectacular failure but a serious miscalculation that backfired on her rather badly. Kos makes it clear just how bad. Nail, meet coffin:
"Worst. Political. Attack. Ever."

And as for that whole "change you can Xerox " line, a comment at Talking Points Memo reframes it rather well:
"FYI, we at Xerox make mostly printers and multi-function devices, not copiers. So yes, Obama, like Xerox offers 21st century color multi-function devices."

Hillary is a smart, competent woman. She is not doing herself any favors with this kind of attack. For her sake, I really hope she stops.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Making it official

I think the time has come for me to make an official commitment. I've given this a great deal of thot. I've consulted my friends, family, and constituents.

I am officially endorsing Barack Obama for President.

Just in case there was any doubt.

My reasons are many, including the fact that I've already given him money and spent several months campaigning for him. I think that, while Hillary would be a good President, Barack would be a great one. He brings people together. I went to an Obama rally at UCLA - that's quite a commitment for me. I'm not worried about any kind of backlash. I'm not worried that he will get into office and millions of people will discover that he's human, that he can't wave a magic wand and solve all of our problems overnight.

As Fareed Zakaria wrote in Newsweek, we are at the end of the conservative era. Conservatives are out of ideas. Hillary might win the election if she's the nominee, but I think Obama can put it away. I think conservatives will be recovering from this election for a long, long time.

I think Obama can break our collective addiction to anger.

I strongly encourage my readers to support Barack Obama for President.

On strategy: Chess v. Boxing

Dylan Loewe has a great post at The Huffington Post about the differences in strategy between the Obama and Clinton campaigns. His thesis is that while the Clinton campaigning was boxing, throwing jabs, the Obama campaign was playing chess, plotting several moves ahead. Good analysis.

That satellite we shot down

So the Navy shot down a satellite as it was plummeting to earth. Good for them! I'm sure they enjoyed the target practice.

But there are some concerns. An Op-ed piece in the LA Times explains just why this wasn't a good idea from a diplomatic perspective. Because, after all, we are proving to the rest of the world that we can shoot down satellites, which means that we might shoot down a satellite that is not one of ours. Personally, I don't think the militarization of space is a good idea.

And then there are some issues about just exactly why we did this. Supposedly it was a threat. Gail Collins, in her wonderfully dry way, asks the right question. According to Gen. James Cartwright of the Marines,

“It affects your tissues and your lungs. You know — it has a burning sensation,” General Cartwright said. “If you stay very close to it and inhale a lot of it, it could in fact be deadly.”

But Collins considers the hypothetical in a little more detail:

Let’s think about this for a minute. If you were, say, sitting on the porch reading the newspaper when a satellite plummeted into the backyard, emitting foul-smelling fumes, what are the chances you’d decide to stay very close to it and inhale a lot of it?

I'm sure I would. How often does a satellite fall in your backyard? Me, I'd be snapping pictures like crazy and then selling them to the National Enquirer. But I'd probably be taking the pictures with a telephoto lens.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Dear Senator Obama: Please Plagiarize THIS!

Dear Senator Obama:

I noticed that you and your good friend Deval Patrick have been comparing notes and sharing ideas. I take this as another sign or your excellent collaborative skills. I'd like to offer another line you can use:

"We must never again allow deregulation to become a lowering of standards."

But I wouldn't mind getting the credit. Thanks, and good luck!


Saturday, February 16, 2008

Substance, Substance, Substance

Hilzoy, an excellent blogger at Obsidian Wings, has a great article about all of the obscure but important legislation that Barack Obama has sponsored in the Senate. I have to note one caveat about Hilzoy's analysis. She posted this a while ago. It's from October. October 2006. That was before the Democrats took back the Senate, and before Obama decided to run for President. She makes this point:

I have been surprised by how often Senator Obama turns up, sponsoring or co-sponsoring really good legislation on some topic that isn't wildly sexy, but does matter. His bills tend to have the following features: they are good and thoughtful bills that try to solve real problems; they are in general not terribly flashy; and they tend to focus on achieving solutions acceptable to all concerned, not by compromising on principle, but by genuinely trying to craft a solution that everyone can get behind.
And this is something that I hadn't thot of:

a lot of people are going on about how Obama has not sponsored legislation on any of the Vital Issues Of The Day. Personally, I think that he'd have to be delusional to introduce, say, his own solution to the health insurance crisis: no bill on such a topic introduced by a freshman senator from the minority party would have a snowball's chance in hell of succeeding, and the only reason to introduce one would be to grandstand. For that reason, I think that his failure to do so tends to speak well of him.
So in his first year and a half in the Senate, Obama had already found a number things that he wanted to change. Most of them are the kind of issues that don't affect a lot of people, at least not at first, but are actually very important, and could become life-altering. Like Nonproliferation, which Hilzoy describes as "the poster child for issues that people ought to care about, but don't." Or avian flu. Or helping hospitals to develop programs for disclosure of medical errors.

This may be part of why people don't realize that Obama is actually a very substantive kind of guy. He is, in part, a policy wonk. But you don't get crowds riled up talking about regulating genetic testing. That stuff is really boring for about 99.9% of Americans. But that is the nuts and bolts of democracy.
I've read Hilzoy every now and then, but I am going to pay more attention to her blog from now on. Particularly since I just discovered that she is a professor of philosophy.

Hat tip: Andrew Sullivan

Friday, February 15, 2008

On Nader

A friend asked me what I thot of Ralph Nader's exploratory committee. My first reaction is that I look back on his run for President in 2000 from the perspective of 8 years' distance. Nader made the argument that there was no difference between the Republicans and Democrats, between Gore and Bush. After 7 years of Bush, that argument is hard to take seriously. Bush leads a party that tries to deny the existence of global warming - Gore has made that his raison d'etre. I think we can safely assume that Al Gore would not have invaded Iraq or used torture.

But, again from the perspective of 8 years away, I can better appreciate Nader's position. To me, the argument that there was no appreciable difference between Dems and Republicans was hard to understand - I can see lots of profound differences. But I'm a total political junkie, and I pay very close attention to politics, so my perspective is different from a lot of people's.

But the key point that I think Nader missed is that Clinton had to deal with a Republican Congress. The President does not propose legislation - he takes what Congress sends him. In his first term, Clinton fought Republicans successfully on some key issues, particularly on the budget. He raised taxes to balance the budget, and did so despite fierce opposition from the GOP.

In 1994, the Republicans took back Congress. They had not been in control of the House for 40 years. The Democrats were completely blindsided - they had no idea what hit them. Clinton had no plan on how to deal with a Republican Congress. He had to fight them, and did, sometimes successfully - he won the showdown over shutting down the government. But Newt Gingrich set the agenda for a large chunk of Clinton's presidency.

So when Nader claimed that there was no significant difference between the Democrats and Republicans in 2000, I think he was ignoring the fact that the Republicans were setting the agenda. If one party controls one house of Congress and the other party controls the other, each party has a chance to pass their own legislation and force the other to deal with it. A Democratic House can force a Republican Senate to compromise. The Republicans controlled both - Democrats could do nothing but fight back. Sometimes they fought back successfully, sometimes they lost, sometimes they gave in.

Nader is right about one thing: sometimes the Democrats caved because they were just scared of Republicans, and were unwilling to fight on principle. A great example is the Defense of Marriage Act, which was an anti-gay piece of legislation. Clinton signed it because he didn't want to be defined as "anti-family." Politically, it was expedient. But as a matter of principle, it was horrendous.

Ralph Nader's campaign for President in 2000 fits into one of the basic templates that define American democracy: the eternal conflict between compromise and principle. There will always be people who prize ideological purity above compromise, and there will always be people who compromise too easily. Nader does not believe in compromise. But he has the luxury of not being an elected official. Clinton compromised because he had little choice. But Clinton also had to compromise, in part, because of his personal failings. He never had a strong mandate. He never won a majority of the popular vote (Ross Perot helped him out there in both elections). And, particularly after Monica Lewinsky, he did not have much moral authority.

I didn't agree with Ralph Nader's decision to run for President in 2000, and I still think it was a mistake, although now I have a better understanding of why he did, of why he was frustrated with Democrats. I think he took away enough votes from Gore to make Bush President, which has been an unmitigated disaster. This time around, I think he has even less justification for running, essentially because Obama has two qualities that Clinton lacked. First, Obama has the moral authority that Clinton lacked. Second, Obama is not afraid of Republicans. Obama understands that if he is not afraid of Republicans, that he can set the agenda, and force Republicans to react to him. Hillary does not understand that. She still reacts, often out of fear, to Republicans, and does not try to set the agenda on her own terms. Obama claims that he can change the terms of the game. I get the impression Hillary isn't even sure what he's talking about.

Finally, I have one particular issue with Ralph Nader. As I said above, I think he has some responsibility for Gore losing. Not complete responsibility - Gore did not run a particularly good campaign, and, let's face it, the man is not a great politician. What bothers me about Nader is that he refuses to take responsibility for Bush being President. Doesn't even seem interested in discussing the possibility. This strikes me as arrogant and self-righteous. I have a great deal of respect for Ralph Nader's career - he's done a lot of good for the world. But taking a position of ideological purity carries its own risks. That kind of position gives someone like Nader a license to pass judgment on other people. Passing judgment on others is an exercise of power. As such, it is subject to the laws of power. Specifically, it can corrupt. Ralph Nader has a great deal of moral authority as a result of his long career. He deserves it. What he doesn't seem to appreciate is that that moral authority, like any kind of power, carries with it a certain amount of responsibility. I think his ego has gotten in the way of his ability to affect real and substantive change.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Conservatives and Obama

There's a meme floating around that Obama is nothing but a great talker. He gives great speeches, but how much content is there? I see the word "vague" attached to him. This is particularly true of conservatives. A conservative film blog that some friends of mine run, Libertas, had a post about this.

I think this is great. Why? Because they are underestimating him. Conservatives are making the same mistake about Obama that liberals made about Reagan. For years, I had no idea why people voted for Reagan. The man was a B-movie actor who could barely remember his own name. Why was this man President? I once saw an old clip of him, from the 60's, talking about defending America against communism. It was amazing - he was very articulate and passionate. I realized that he actually had thought about the issues and cared about them very deeply. By the time I heard him, he had his message down pat, and he was an old man, so I never saw the passion that had inspired so many people. But a couple of minutes of black and white footage changed an opinion that I had had for over 20 years.

This is the same mistake that conservatives are making now: they assume that Obama is just the same old liberal, with better speaking ability. What they don't appreciate is that behind the flowery rhetoric is years of thinking. Behind the passion on display is years of walking the streets, working hard, asking questions, debating. Why was Martin Luther King so effective when he said that he had a dream? Because he had it for his whole life. Why could Abraham Lincoln express the sorrow of a nation in a few sentences at Gettyburg? Because what he cared about was holding the country together, which he knew was worthwhile because he had spent so long thinking about it. And because he had spent so long working on it.

So I am happy to see conservatives dismiss Obama as an empty suit. Keep on underestimating him, folks! We'll see you in November.

Hillary and 9/11

There is one thing that I thot of recently that particularly bothers me about Hillary. She claims that she can stand up to Republicans. Of course, she didn't do that when Bush was pushing to go to war with Iraq - she voted for it.

But what particularly bothers me about this is that Hillary is a Senator from New York, and she is on the Armed Services Committee. As a Senator from New York, she represents the victims of 9/11. As a member of the Armed Services Committee, she is supposed to have added credibility on military matters - that, after all, is presumably why she is on the committee.

So she was in a unique position to oppose the war in Iraq. She could have claimed the moral authority of being a representative of the victims of 9/11. Rudy Giuliani certainly claimed a certain kind of moral authority by virtue of his position as mayor of New York.

But she didn't. Chuck Schumer didn't either, but he's not running for President.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

50 Cent in the FT

There's a fascinating interview with 50 Cent in the Financial Times. Yes, the rapper 50 Cent, in the Financial Times, the English equivalent of the Wall Street Journal. This seems somewhat incongruous - doesn't the Financial Times cover things like bonds and tax policy debates? Yes, but it's also broadened its perspective quite a bit, particularly in the weekend edition. The FT is becoming what I call a "world newspaper." In America, the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal are effectively local newspapers that have gone national, both in terms of their reporting and availability - they cover stories well outside of New York, and can be bought just about anywhere.

The Financial Times has taken this to the next level. They routinely cover stories from all parts of the world, and not just from a financial perspective. Culturally, their reporting is particularly wide-ranging. It's a strange blessing of globalization. On the one hand, it allows readers from all over the world to experience different cultures just by reading a newspaper. On the other hand, all of those different cultures are covered from the perspective of a former imperial power. On the whole, I think it's a net positive. Bankers in Geneva will presumably benefit from a positive appraisal of the business acumen of 50 Cent.

Monday, February 11, 2008


Before it gets too old, I have one comment on Giuliani's attempt to win the Republican nomination. A friend of mine in New York had this comment:

Rudy's loss and blow out = proof that God exists.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

It's Almost Over

So Obama won Nebraska, Washington State, Louisiana, and Maine. That's a pretty broad cross-section of the country. And he won by large margins. 68% in Nebraska.

I think it's just about over. I think we will look back at this weekend when it became clear that Obama was on his way to winning the Democratic nomination for President.

The revolution that was started in the '60's was kept alive in the '90's by Bill Clinton. And it will be finished by Barack Obama in the 21st century.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Inspiration into Action

Andrew Sullivan picks up on a theme that has been floating around for a couple of days: that support for Obama has become a self-reinforcing orgy of wish fulfillment, all hype and wonderful feelings. His response is to note that Obama is no dreamer, but a "coolly rational" pragmatist. I agree, would add that Obama doesn't just give a great speech; he knows how to turn the inspiration into action. The great oratory is the icing on the cake, but there's a solid foundation underneath it. Obama didn't win Iowa because he can get a crowd fired up; he won Iowa because, once he got the crowd fired up, he had an organization in place to focus the energy of the people. This was very much my experience in California. We had a huge grassroots operation that made hundreds of thousands of phone calls. The man did extremely well on Super Tuesday in places like Idaho and Alaska. Why? Because he had people there months ago. This is the benefit of being a community organizer: you understand the importance of building an organization. It's not just enough to energize people; you have to have a structure to channel that energy. And it becomes a self-referential experience: you generate some energy, which gets harnessed by your organization. That makes the organization stronger, which allows it to harness and focus ever more energy. The energy from the reaction creates the vessel that contains it.

Thus is the world changed.

Ruth Stafford Peale

Sometimes I like to read obituaries, because the people profiled are invariably interesting, and I usually learn something about history. Today, there was a profile of Ruth Stafford Peale in the LA Times. She was the widow of Norman Vincent Peale (who died in 1993), who wrote The Power of Positive Thinking. Apparently he had some frustration when he tried to get it published. However, she wouldn't give up:

"She encouraged her husband when his manuscript for "The Power of Positive Thinking" was rejected by publishers, and once pulled it out of the garbage can when he had given up on it. It went on to sell more than 21 million copies."

Wow, there's a chunk of irony for ya. The author of The Power of Positive Thinking didn't believe his own message, but his wife did! I guess the message got through to her! Reminds me of my grandmother.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Post Super Tuesday

So Super Tuesday has come and gone. It was strangely anticlimatic - a day that was supposed to decide everything only clouded things up even more. This confirms something that I have been suspecting - moving primaries up in the calendar is not necessarily such a good idea. We had Super Tuesday because so many states wanted to be part of the process of deciding early on who the nominees would be. They wanted to be in that position because they wanted to get attention from the nominees. They saw politicians pandering to Iowa and New Hampshire, and they wanted a piece of that. But now the states that come later will be the ones that decide the nominee. As I've always said, irony is 9/10 of the law.

But I think this is reason to celebrate, because democracy is working. The process of nominating a candidate for president has changed in the past, and will change in the future. This is not because the process was flawed in the past or is flawed in the present, but because society is changing. Some states hold caucuses for reasons that I personally don't understand, but probably made sense way back when. But, as we saw in Nevada and Iowa, there are problems with those procedures now that we are in the 21st century. Some states holds caucuses on Saturdays presumably because, for many years, most people didn't work on Saturdays. But now many people do. Will those states change their procedures? Possibly. As I wrote about in my last post, there were problems for independent voters in California, and particularly in LA County. But we are now very aware of those problems - the LA Times had an article and an Op-Ed piece about that issue. People are not going to forget not being able to vote, or voting and then realizing that their votes won't count. They will demand change. My brother called me from Colorado to tell me that the lines to vote in their caucus were incredibly long. I'm guessing that whether or not to hold caucuses or primaries is now a topic of many discussions in Colorado.

One of the contradictions of democracy is that chaos is not fun. At least not this kind of chaos. But we should remember that we can notice these problems because they contrast with so much success. Millions of people did vote for their candidate for their party's nomination with no problems. I am aware of my precinct captain's problems with voting because she called me on my cell phone immediately after she voted, and she realized fairly quickly that there was a problem. We have the technology to allow millions of people to vote across the country, and be aware of the results very quickly. We also have the technology to solve the problems that we have encountered. But we must also have the will and the resolve to follow through and actually solve them. And then be prepared to solve the problems that show up next time. Because they will show up. Not because our democracy is flawed, but because we are human.

Troubles with bubbles

One lesson that I have learned from this campaign so far is that democracy is very much a work in progress. Maybe I should say that I relearned it all over again. We all learned in 2000, from the debacle in Florida, that actually casting a vote can be a complicated process, potentially fraught with error. We have now seen this in California. The LA Times reports today that there were substantial problems with independent voters casting votes in the Democratic primary. This was true across California, but particularly true in LA County, where "non-partisan," i.e. "independent" voters, had to mark a special bubble to indicate that they were voting in the Democratic primary. This was confusing, and NOT at all clear. Nor was it explained by poll workers.
Even people who were involved in campaigns didn't know what was going on. I got a phone call from a precinct captain who had been completely on top of everything for weeks, but who didn't realize that she had to mark this bubble. That meant that her vote didn't count. According to the article in the Times, the LA County Registrar is going to look into this issue and see if those uncounted votes would make a difference. If so, he's going to try to solve the problem. That's a good sign.
Still, it would have been nice not to have the problem at all. Just make ballots that are perfectly clear! Or post big signs at the voting booths explaining exactly how to cast a ballot. How hard would that be? I agree with this column in the Times today: "Running elections is a tough business, but it is not rocket science."

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Report from UCLA

This is a couple of days old, and a tad outdated, now that California has had its primary, but I am still inspired by this.

I went to UCLA on Sunday to hear Michelle Obama speak. The first thing I would like to point out is that this is an example of the power of Barack Obama's message of unity: he doesn't just bring people of different races, classes and backgrounds together. He brings USC people to UCLA. That's powerful.

But about Michelle. Very impressive. You can see why they're married - she's just about as good of a speaker as he is. The other speakers were Caroline Kennedy, who was solid, and Elena Maria Druza, head of the LA County Federation of Labor, who was good, and then Oprah, was superb. No wonder that woman is a billionaire because of her ability to talk. I have seen few people as comfortable with a microphone as that woman - it's like the black plastic becomes an extension of her arm. Turn the thing on, and boom! she's off.

But as good as Oprah was, Michelle was even better. Tough, competent, and yet classy. A man married to this woman is a man who is not afraid of powerful women. A man married to this woman is a man who enjoys being in the presence of a powerful, brilliant woman. You can see why, when they met, she was his boss. In a close race to the Democratic nomination, Michelle Obama will make a difference. I can almost imagine her following Hillary's example and, in 2016, running as the Senator from Illinois (or whenever that opens up).

And then, as a surprise, Maria Shriver showed up. I've never heard her speak, but damn if she wasn't impressive too. She had decided to come to this event, she told us, just that morning. So she hadn't spent any time preparing. She hadn't, she also told us, even brushed her hair or put any makeup on (you could've fooled me, I thot she looked great). But, speaking without any preparation or any notes, she spoke as if she had been preparing for weeks. As if she had been on the campaign trail for months. She knew exactly what she wanted to say. She had the applause lines down. She didn't pause. And, interestingly, she had a good personal relationship with all of the other women: she is Caroline Kennedy's cousin, and she started out her work life at the same station as Oprah, so they have known each other for something like 30 years. And she knows Maria Elena Druza from being in politics in California. And she knows Michelle Obama from being involved in Democratic politics. It was one big party.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

LA Times endorses Obama

For the first time since 1972, the LA Times has endorsed a Presidential candidate. Good for them!

I particularly like this line:

In the language of metaphor, Clinton is an essay, solid and reasoned; Obama is a poem, lyric and filled with possibility.

There's also a great essay by a thirtysomething Latina about the Obama-Clinton divide between her and her mother. Very topical. I'm happy when the LA Times gets something right, particularly in the editorials or the Op-Ed page. This is a great piece for this moment in history. Of course, the fact that I agree with it doesn't hurt.

The LA Times is getting better all the time. In the last couple of years, they have drastically changed their Op-Ed page, almost entirely for the good. I particularly like Joel Stein and Meghan Daum. Joel Stein is one of the funniest writers in America, easily the funniest Op-Ed columnist, and Meghan Daum writes about stuff that is always timely, but that no one else is writing about on an Op-Ed page. Also, she occasionally responds to my emails, which is really cool of her. I'm also happy to see Tim Rutten newly added to the Op-Ed page.

One of the best things about the LA Times is Dan Neil's weekly column Rumble Seat, where he reviews cars with some of the best writing this side of The New Yorker.

Lakers get Gasol

This sounds like good news: the Lakers made a deal for Pau Gasol. I had never heard of him before, but Kobe seems to be happy, which is good. It's been entirely too long since the Lakers have won a championship.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Reaction to the debate

I was at the debate last night, watching from outside the Kodak Theater. There was a rally outside, in the central courtyard of Hollywood and Highland (the mall where the Kodak is located).

There were Obama and Hillary people. I'm obviously biased, but I thot there were a lot more Obama people than Hillary people. It really felt like a movement, which was great. And there was one lonely woman with an Edwards sign. She had painted on it, "Thank You." I'm glad Edwards ran, I think he raised some great issues.

I have to say that I think Hillary did very well. She didn't come across as cold or calculating. I remembered why I was a Clinton fan way back when. When all is said and done, I am very glad that she is running. One thing that has been refreshingly absent from the campaign is any question of whether or not she is capable of actually doing the job of President. No one has questioned whether or not a woman can be President. For me, there's no question that she could handle the job. She's one of those rare people who is competent as she is smart, and compassionate.

Her problem, unfortunately, is that Barack Obama is one of those even rarer people who is as competent as he is smart, deeply compassionate, and a brilliant orator. Watching Obama last night, I was struck by how carefully he listened to her when she was talking. He made a real effort to hear her and understand where she was coming from, even though he has been doing exactly that - trying to understand where she is coming from - for months.

Hillary inspires by virtue of her status as the first woman to have a serious chance of being President. But watching last night, I finally understood why she has some devoted fans - she clearly communicates the sense, at least to some people, that she can, by virtue of sheer competence, take care of them. That is a fine quality for a politician to have. But I don't think enough people feel that. And lots of people feel the opposite.

There were a couple of shots of Chelsea watching her Mom on stage, and the pride that Chelsea felt in her mother was inspiring.