Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Jeremiah Wright - not actually that popular

Yesterday I predicted that one of the ironic benefits of the Jeremiah Wright nonsense is that it will force many public African American figures, particularly pundits and pastors, to distance themselves from him. Looks like that is already happening. The LA Times contacted several black ministers in Los Angeles for their reaction. They were responsible and measured in their responses, exactly as you would expect:
"This didn't have anything to do with the black church -- it was basically an attack on the individual message he proclaimed, which hurt some individuals," said the Rev. K.W. Tulloss of Weller Street Missionary Baptist Church in Boyle Heights. "My own members were offended by Rev. Wright's words. His views have cast a wedge between people, and that's the exact opposite of the unity Jesus represented."

It's clear from this article that Jeremiah Wright is well outside the mainstream of black America:
But the biggest concern Tuesday among local black religious leaders -- and across a wide swath of black Los Angeles -- was not about Wright's words per se but about their impact on Obama's historic campaign. In barber shops and beauty salons, at church gatherings and on Internet blogs, African Americans said that Wright's remarks might be badly damaging the senator from Illinois.
Kudos to the LA Times for a solid piece of reporting, but, unfortunately, this was published on page A12. I'm not blaming the Times for burying it - Obama's response was on the front page. This isn't the main story. But it's also something that might be missed by most of white America. Fortunately there is more dialogue between black and white America than there used to be. I think the another hopefully positive outcome of this episode is that many, many African Americans will feel empowered by Obama to make it clear that the stereotype of the Angry Black Man does not apply to them.

Bush fires another incompetent crony

Finally, something to blog about besides Jeremiah Wright. Lurita Doan was fired. Not familiar with the name? Not many people are. She is (was) head of the General Services Administration, basically the head Office Manager for the federal government. She got in trouble, as Bush Administration officials are wont to do, because she had to testify before Congress about putting pressure on employees of the federal government to support Republican candidates. Of course, she denied it. I can't quite remember what the outcome was - it's probably one of those investigations that is probably still ongoing in the bowels of Congress.

Talking Points Memo has the story and video of her testimony before Congress. My favorite part of this story is that it is another example of something that seems to have gone unnoticed: George Bush is just a terrible politician. I don't mean in the sense that I disagree with him, although I do. And I don't mean in the sense that he has done substantial damage to the rule of law in this country, which I think he has.

I mean that he is a terrible politician in the sense of being able to work the levers of politics for his own advantage. Politics is a profession, just like law or medicine, and there are certain ways of getting things done. I don't mean lying or obfuscating or screwing people over. There are certain things that a politician has to be able to do well to be successful. They have to be competent at developing a strategic plan and executing it well; they have to anticipate crises and handle them well; they have to anticipate how their opposition will respond, and plan accordingly.

George Bush is terrible at all of this. And most of the people around him are terrible as well. TPM describes how Bush et al. handle personnel problems:
It's the Bush administration's special approach to accountability: stand
staunchly beside an administration official as the allegations pile up and his
or her credibility dwindles to nothing, and then months later -- long after the
administration could derive any credit for the deed, and it is widely assumed
that they are content to let the official fester in office for the duration --
the official abruptly and inexplicably resigns. So it was with Donald Rumsfeld
and Alberto Gonzales.

Bush apparently places loyalty so high on his list of values that he sacrifices his political capital for no reason. What's truly astonishing is that he gets nothing from waiting so long to fire controversial figures. He fired Rumsfeld the day after the 2006 elections, when it did him no good whatsoever, and in fact angered Congressional Republicans, who had been agitating for Rumsfeld to be fired.

Now that he has fired Doan, her name pops up in the press again, long after the initial controversy. And she was the head of the General Services Administration. Republicans have long claimed that, as the party of business, they are better managers than Democrats. But Bush just fired the person most directly responsible for actually managing most of the federal government's physical assets. So this is two strikes for Democrats on the issue of competence. Bush doesn't fire people when he should, and he hires incompetent cronies, even when their job has no (or isn't supposed to have) any ideological component.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Bob Herbert on Jeremiah Wright

I'm not a huge fan of Bob Herbert. I respect him for his passion and willingness to fight for what he believes in, but he's not the most interesting columnist around - too often I find myself reading his columns and knowing exactly what he's going to say. But sometimes I don't.

Today was one of those days. He has expressed some disappointment with Barack Obama, but would obviously be thrilled if Obama won the presidency. So his criticism is usually from the perspective of a concerned friend. Today, however, his target was Jeremiah Wright, and Herbert was not happy.
The question that cries out for an answer from Mr. Wright is why — if he is so passionately committed to liberating and empowering blacks — does he seem so insistent on wrecking the campaign of the only African-American ever to have had a legitimate shot at the presidency.

Herbert makes it crystal clear that he thinks Wright is acting like a narcissistic fool, preening for the cameras, all at Obama's expense.

This may be one of the benefits of this controversy for Obama - it is going to force African American moderates, like Herbert, to come out of the woodwork and denounce people like Wright. Not that Herbert would be coming out of the woodwork - he's got a fairly strong record to run on. But denouncing Wright will make it clear that Obama is right - it's time to move beyond the polarization left over from the 60's, and there are lots of people like Bob Herbert - deeply aware of and concerned about the legacy of racism in this country - who nonetheless will side with white people and "mainstream America" over a divisive figure like Jeremiah Wright.

Which disagreement might be a new experience for a lot of white people. Too many people see Jeremiah Wright and assume that he does, in fact, speak for the black church. This may be a great opportunity to Obama to make it clear that there are literally millions of people who agree with him, but not Jeremiah Wright, on some very important issues.

Obama reacts to Jeremiah Wright

Here's the video of Barack Obama reacting to Jeremiah Wright:

It's amazing to see the pain that he is trying hard to suppress, and the anger. One thing Bill Clinton and Barack Obama have in common is that neither of them grew up with their father. When Obama says that Wright was like a father to him, that means a great deal that most of us cannot understand. This is clearly very painful for him, and watching him, he is clearly very honestly expressing his real emotions. It's almost like Hillary crying in New Hampshire, except that it's much, much more important. Obama deserves points for being honest about this issue, which is unusual for a politician.

Obama and Rev. Wright - the saga continues

Obama responded forcefully to the latest Jeremiah Wright mess today. Good for him. Early this morning, I read some posts to the effect that Obama supporters were feeling demoralized. Andrew Sullivan felt it. Josh Marshall picked up on it.

Buck up, people. Did you think this was going to be easy? Do you subscribe to the magic wand theory of racial healing? Did you think the fact that Barack Obama gives great speeches was going to be enough? Did you think that Obama could snap his fingers, and anger would no longer vent from unexpected places, in unexpected ways, at inappropriate times?

If you thot any of that, then you deserve your fear and disillusionment. Obama consistently and constantly reminds us that change is not easy. Buck up. This will not be easy. Staying calm in the face of anger and cynicism is difficult. It's very hard. Sometimes it's almost impossible. But it is never less than crucial. This is the beginning of a very long and very hard road to travel. This is not the end of anything - not the end of the politics of fear or the politics of polarization. This is the middle of American history. There are many who have come before us who had much greater tasks and faced worse odds. We are extraordinarily fortunate to have a great leader who can meet difficult challenges with grace. This will not be the last time he faces dissension within the ranks and disappointment and crisis. We have not heard the end of this, and probably won't until the general election. Even then Jeremiah Wright and his asinine commentary will linger in the American consciousness. But it will fade, and more important ideas and issues will surface.

Have faith. Do not deny your fears, but deal with them. Stay calm. And don't even think about giving up.

Obama on Fox News

I didn't watch Obama on Fox News, but I caught excerpts on Talking Points Memo and Huffington Post. I've heard some people, notably Kos, complain that Obama is legitimizing Fox News by appearing on it, and that all they're going to do is spin his comments and make him look bad. So they see it as a net negative - Obama doesn't get anything out of it, and Fox has footage that they can manipulate for their own purposes.

Too bad. He did it, and I think he was fine. I like the fact that he started out joking with Chris Wallace, and the questions and answers that I saw were thoughtful on both sides. It highlights the fact that Obama is serious about this post-partisan new kind of politics. There is one thing about Obama that many people on the left don't appreciate: he isn't afraid of Republicans or conservatives, and he's confident in his ability to win some of them over. Going on to Fox News is a good way of doing that. Some of the people watching him will see a human being with a sense of humor that listens and thinks and doesn't fit the stereotype of the old-fashioned liberal. And then some of them will think he's trying to pull the wool over their eyes, and will find reasons not to like him. But if he didn't go on Fox, he wouldn't reach those people who are willing to listen to him.

And I think Obama understands something about Fox that many people don't. This is mostly conjecture on my part, but my guess is that Fox is not a monolithic corporation dedicated to one cause. Corporations, even ideologically defined and determined ones like Fox, have a lot of different people in them, and those people do not necessarily agree with each other, or even with the company they work for. And even the agenda of the organization as a whole can be fluid. If Obama actually does become president, Rupert Murdoch might want something from his administration. Murdoch is not Rush Limbaugh; he's conservative, but he's first and foremost a businessman, and a very good one. Pushing a conservative point of view has been a good way for Fox to make money, but if the agenda interferes with the money, Murdoch will go after the money first.

I think Obama probably won a few voters, and convinced a few more to at least consider listening to him. And he neutralized some of the attacks on him.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Jeremiah Wright and the Freedom to be Angry

A question simmering in the national debate, unconscionably but unforgettably asked by George Stephanopolous, is whether or not Jeremiah Wright loves America. I think it's a ridiculous question - the man served in the military. But whether or Wright loves or hates America, it is clear that the is angry at America. I think his anger is eminently justified, as an African-American who grew up in the era of segregation.

But more important than whether he loves or hates America, or whether or not his anger is justified, another thing is clear: he trusts America. Jeremiah Wright has made some incendiary comments about this country, comments that reasonable people, Barack Obama and myself included, find offensive.

But Jeremiah Wright has the freedom to be angry. He has the freedom to make a fool of himself. There are countries in this world where he could not make these kinds of comments without getting into serious trouble. There have been times in the history of this country when a black man who said the things that he has said would have been silenced, either by political means, financial means, or possibly even by violent means. But Jeremiah Wright, whether he is conscious of it or not, knows that he will not be silenced. And that is a good thing. It is a testament both to the freedom of speech we enjoy in this country, and to the progess that we have made towards achieving equal justice for all people, regardless of racial or ethnic background.

There are occasional debates in this country about the "intent" of the Founders. What exactly did they mean by various words and phrases that are used in the Constitution? Beyond any specifics, we know without a doubt that the Founders trusted us, their children and successors. They trusted us to find the right path, to make this democracy work. They did not make it easy - they intentionally made it hard. But they trusted us.

Jeremiah Wright, consciously or not, knows that the Founders trusted us. He understands, as most people do, that trust is difficult, and can be tested. He knows that trust can be gained and that it can be lost. But he has not lost his faith in America. He has not abandoned the trust that he has for this country. We know this because he trusts that he will not be silenced. He knows that, as much as he may anger his fellow Americans, he can trust them to respect his freedom of speech. He knows that, as an American, he shares a deep and abiding faith with other Americans in the importance of the freedom of speech. He knows that, much as they may not like what he says, other Americans will respect his right to say it. He trusts even those people he disagrees with, those people he does not like, those people he does not respect. He trusts them because he is American, and he trusts America. Which, in my mind, is about the best possible example of how to love America.

Kerkorian buys some Ford stock

From the NY Times we learn that Kirk Kerkorian, one of the more entertaining billionaire investors in this country, has decided to buy some Ford stock. I think this is a good idea. I think Ford will turn around faster than GM, because it has less baggage, particularly since it got rid of Jaguar. I think GM still has too many divisions and too many models. The Mercury division at Ford seems a little extraneous to me, but it's only one division. GM, meanwhile, still has GMC, for which there is only a corporate-politics rationale: having GMC means that Pontiac and other non-Chevy GM dealers can sell pickups and large SUVs, which are otherwise the provence of Chevy. GM eliminated Oldsmobile several years ago, but I think they need to trim a lot more before they can really be competitive. Ford doesn't have that burden. Good call on Kerkorian's part.

Pelosi will be delegate #2,025 for Obama

Talking Points Memo has a post about Howard Dean making it clear that he wants all of the superdelegates to make up their minds soon after the last primary on June 3. This makes perfect sense. The Democrats need time to unify the party before the convention and before the general election. And there's no point in waiting. Nothing of significance will change between the end of the primaries and the convention, so they should make their decisions sooner rather than later. And they're politicians - they have to make hard decisions all the time, usually with the threat of alienating a core constituency hanging over their heads.

My prediction is that Nancy Pelosi will be delegate #2,025 for Obama, the one that pushes him over the top and clinches the nomination. She's the most highly visible Democrat among the supers, so this would signal that it's time for the party to get behind Obama. More importantly, though, as the first woman Speaker of the House, she understands extremely well how important it would be to have a woman president. Absolutely no one could accuse her of being sexist or bowing to pressure from the old boy's network. There will be a lot of Hillary supporters who will be disappointed by this decision. And many of the women who support Hillary and who identify with her will be very tempted to claim that this is an example of a woman's ambition being thwarted by a man. They will want a target for their anger. But if Pelosi puts the last nail in the coffin of Hillary's campaign, they will not be able to direct their anger at her. And they will listen to her, as they would not listen to Howard Dean or Harry Reid or even Obama himself. And the healing will begin.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Meghan Daum on Obama art

A couple of weeks ago, Meghan Daum in the LA Times wondered about some postmodern concerns she has about some Obama posters. Specifically, the ones created by Shephard Fairey (he's the guy who made all those Andre the Giant stickers you used to see everywhere and wonder just what the heck they meant) drive her around the bend, or, as she puts it, "into an existential tailspin." Having been through more than a few of those myself, I can empathize. She compares the posters to various forms of agitprop and propaganda, and is a little worried about the effect that these posters might have on the campaign. I'm guessing she read a little too much Jacques Derrida somewhere along the way. It took me a bit of thinking to see where she is coming from, but I can visualize a vague connection between these posters and some kind of old-fashioned attempt to propel the masses forward.

But I diverge from her when it comes to impact on the campaign. First, I think she's reading a bit too much of her own perspective into these, and I don't think most people are as familiar with ironic commentary in visual media as she is. But I'm also not worried about it because I think the association that she makes is entirely stylistic, and, lacking a clear, specific reference in the content, I think the link between this poster and, say, the famous poster of Che Guevara is too obscure to be meaningful. If Obama were raising his fist, or maybe wearing a beret with a red star, then, yes, I would be worried. As for this, I just think it's a cool poster. Partially because I have one, and I don't want anyone to think I'm a Marxist. Been there, done that. Threw away the posters.

Obama and basketball - I (almost) nailed it!

A couple of days ago, I suggested that Barack Obama play basketball while campaigning in Indiana. Looks like he took me up on the suggestion! Or at least it looks like this is another example of great minds thinking alike. Or maybe it's just that I have a little bit of prescience. Let's go with that. But hey, I got most of the details right! I didn't think he would be in sweats, actually playing - I figured he would at most take a couple of shots. But he actually played and won! Go Barack!

Be a film star for a day

When you get to film school, you are immediately taught that making movies is a collaborative art. That lesson is constantly reinforced and repeated. It's a great lesson, not just for movies, but for life. The LA Times, in its almost-always interesting series about small businesses (I almost always end up reading these articles) profiles a company called "Lights, Camera, InterAction," a company that sets up corporate training events as short commercial shoots.

I think this is a great idea. I had a similar idea several years ago as a potential fundraiser for USC, but didn't go anywhere with it, and never even proposed it to anyone else or wrote it down. So now I have no proof that I had it. But trust me, I did! I didn't go anywhere with it because I have had lots of ideas that didn't go anywhere, so the whole dream-didn't-work-out thing is not that big of a deal for me.

In the business world, or just about any professional environment, you are held accountable by your colleagues. If a doctor screws up, it affects the nurses as well as the patients. If a teller at a bank screws up, it affects the manager. We all know this, but it's not always immediately obvious.

On a film set, it's immediately obvious. Every person on the shoot is intimately dependent on every other person, sometimes on a second-by-second basis. The sound guy isn't ready at the right time? That means the camera crew is waiting, wasting their time. An actress flubs her lines? Everyone has to reshoot. On a film shoot, you learn how very, very quickly who else is responsible and can be depended on. And you learn equally quickly to important it is to have your own act together.

If this whole blogging thing doesn't make me rich, I might apply for a job with this company.

Does poetry matter

The Atlantic recently opened up its archives, so readers can find anything that has been published (there is a fee, but I would consider paying if I found the right article). That's a rich trove, since it has been in existence since the mid-19th century. Andrew Sullivan dug up this gem by Dana Gioia. It's a superb treatise on the problem of why poetry seems to have left the public consciousness. It's the fault of the academy, according to Goia, and I wholeheartedly agree. There are now so many "poets in residence," that there is a glut of material. The problem is not just that glut, but the effect that it has on the poets themselves - they write for each other, they write ABOUT each other, and poetry becomes an ever-more self-contained subculture. I love this description of poetry:

Poetry is the art of using words charged with their utmost meaning.

What I find both tragic and funny about this essay is that I read quite a few paragraphs into it before I realized it was not contemporary. It was published in 1991, but still resonates perfectly. He proposes a few remedies, which I imagine had no impact whatsoever. This is because Goia misunderstands the purpose of the academy these days. The purpose of universities and colleges is allegedly to advance the cause of knowledge, and that is, for the most part, true of the people who work within them. But there is another purpose, and that is to give jobs to people who are brilliant, or at least smart, but otherwise wouldn't have solid employment options. There is, of course, a cost to paying these people to perform largely meaningless services, but it's cheaper than seeing them on the streets. If they are not necessarily productive, at least they do no harm. Our culture suffers for it in the form of too much bad poetry. Personally, I see no alternative.

This post would not be complete without Marianne Moore's famous poem, "Poetry:"

I, too, dislike it: there are things that are important beyond
all this fiddle.
Reading it, however, with a perfect contempt for it, one
discovers in
it after all, a place for the genuine.

Placido Domingo - 40 years in LA

This year is the 40th anniversary of Placido Domingo singing opera in Los Angeles. He doesn't just sing here - he is the General Director of Los Angeles Opera. Mark Swed, the LA Times' excellent classical music critic, writes about the man he says is Los Angleles opera and Los Angeles Opera.

Gail Collins on John McCain on Ledbetter

Gail Collins strikes me as a combination of Judi Dench and Tony Soprano. She comes across as this nice, sweet old lady, who is just the nicest neighbor you could possibly have, probably a perfect grandmother. Her columns are almost gentle, soothing odes to current events. And then, while she's smiling and pouring some tea, she quietly slips in a shiv and just devastates someone. Today her target is John McCain, as it probably will be, off and on, for several months. Specifically, it's his position on the Lilly Ledbetter legislation that failed to pass the Senate. Ledbetter is the woman who worked at Goodyear for 20 years, and discovered very late that she was being paid less than the men she worked with, even less than those with less seniority. She sued and won, but her case was turned down by the Supreme Court, 5-4. This legislation was designed to correct that. The Democrats failed to beat the Republicans. The Dems got 56 votes, but that wasn't enough to defeat a GOP filibuster. John McCain would have voted against it, but he was otherwise engaged:
John McCain — this is the guy, you may remember, who’s going to be the Republican presidential nominee — has been visiting the poor lately. Appalachia, New Orleans, Rust Belt factory towns. This is a good thing, and we applaud his efforts to show compassion and interest in people for whom his actual policies are of no use whatsoever.

I honestly think John McCain, unlike George Bush, wants to do good things for people less fortunate than himself. I just don't think he has any idea how, other than what every other Republican believes. And I think he sees national security as much more important. Collins is a little harsher:

McCain’s vote wouldn’t have made any difference. But his reaction does suggest that on his list of presidential priorities, the problems of working women come in somewhere behind the rising price of after-dinner mints.

McCain is going to end up looking like Scrooge in this campaign. But he's the one who decided to run for president in the shadow of George W. Bush.

Friday, April 25, 2008

FT Weekend #4 (a little late)

Several weeks ago I started a tradition for myself of posting the interesting articles from the Financial Times Weekend edition. I missed it a couple of weeks ago, and have been meaning to get that post up ever since. So, herewith is the good stuff from the FT for the weekend of April 12th and 13th.

I always like reading their series Expat Lives. It's sort of an interview/essay by someone who is living in a different country from the one they were born in. This week the subject is Richard Pontzious, an American who has lived in Asia for many years and founded the Asian Youth Orchestra.

On the back page of the House & Home section is Julie Myerson's column "Home Is Where. . ." This week, she describes doing research for a novel in a semi-abandoned old prison in London. She ended up wandering around subterranean passages that were supposed to constitute a museum, but were completely empty. She did not have a good time, and doesn't rule the possibility that it was haunted. The moral of the story is that if you're going to be wandering around a dark, dreary underground tunnel where thousands of people suffered horrible pain and many probably died, bring a friend.

The guest for Lunch with the FT is Sir Richard Cohen, founder of a private equity firm. The name suggests a good old-fashioned Brit, but he's actually an Egyptian-born Jew who didn't speak English until he was 11. He's a firm believer in bringing business and economics into play in any attempt to broker peace, and is attempting to do so in the West Bank.

Whitney Tilson examines the role of information in making investment decisions, and proposes the somewhat novel thesis that too much information is a bad thing, because people with too much information tend to overreact to bad news. Come to think of it, I think that phenomenon can be used to explain a fair amount of how people are dealing with this American presidential campaign. When you have constant access to information, every little bit affects you, and you feel compelled to digest and react to it. A good thing to keep in mind. When feeling inundated, have some tea and don't make a decision for a day. Really good thing to keep in mind.

Vanessa Friedman compares two Audreys famous for wearing the right clothes in their movies, Hepburn and Tautou, and notes that
The clothes give both Audreys credibility: they look so good in their expensive dresses that they somehow seem to deserve them, and not only them, but the life associated with them. These girls aren’t sleeping their way to the top; they’re simply claiming their rightful place, and we root for them to get there.

I will try to keep that in mind the next time I am talking to a costume designer.

That's a fair selection, and I feel much better. I doubt I will ever post about the FT Weekend within a day or two; usually I'll take several days to digest it and wander through the pages. But two weeks is too much. Not going to do that again

GOP in CA trying not to be losers

Two of the last five Republican presidents were from California. This state used to be fairly conservative. Someone once explained to me that Richard Nixon was very effective exploiting Communism in the 1950's because Californians were worried about being invaded by China. I thot that was ridiculous, until I realized the historical context. In the 1950's, America was just a few years away from fighting a war across the Pacific, with Japan, and across another ocean, the Atlantic. And communist China was a close ally with the Soviet Union. So worrying about fighting a war against the Russians in Europe and against the Chinese across the Pacific (and with the Russians across the Pacific) was a very real threat. I'm sure it's one reason there is a huge naval base in San Diego, and why there are still lots of aerospace and defense companies in LA.

Both of those threats, of course, are long gone, even though China is still technically communist. And California is now much less conservative. The Republican party in California has never really recovered - it's in pathetic shape. The only powerful Republican is the Governator, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and he's in office because of his personal star power, not because of the state GOP. Which he barely gets along with.

Some Republicans are trying to change this. George Skelton in the LA Times writes about a new group being formed, California Republicans Aligned for Tomorrow, or CRAFT. A number of prominent moderate Republicans in CA - yes, they exist - are finally unhappy enough with the right wing that they are doing something about it. How different are they? Try to imagine this coming out of Dick Cheney's mouth:

"We need to run more women, more Asians, more Latinos and other ethnic
candidates," [GOP consultant Kevin Spillane] says. "White men are a distinct minority in this state. Clearly, a conventional Republican -- a WASP male -- is at a serious disadvantage. The ideal candidate is someone Latino or Asian, someone different."

Wow. Multiculturalism finally gets to the Republican party.

Skelton doesn't go into the issue that this inevitably raises - how do the conservatives feel about this? Probably about the same way that Kos feels about the DNC - as if they are betraying the true faith. This is just the beginning of this phase of the cycle. Democrats are fighting amongst themselves, but the issue is not the issues - it's the personalities of the candidates. Democrats will resolve this peacefully and, hopefully, gracefully, soon. The conflict within the GOP is just beginning. This group will inevitably score its share of victories. But making Republicans electable in California? Good luck on that one, guys.

Taking a gap year - a good idea

The Today show (or MSNBC, or iVillage, or some combination of the three) looks at the issue of a teenager taking a "gap year" before college, i.e. heading off into the world to have some adventures and figure some things out before hitting the books.

I think it's a great idea. I took a year off in the middle of college. I'm glad I did, but I could have done a better job planning it. One reason I was gone for a year is that I was really confused in college about what to do with my life. I think if I had taken a year off beforehand, some of my confusion might have been alleviated. Which would have been a really, really good thing.

TPM on this Ayers nonsense

One of the more unfortunate aspects of this campaign is the focus on William Ayers, the one-time member of the Weather Underground. He's a casual acquaintance of Obama, but some people, including Hillary, have tried to tar Obama by associating the two of them, and therefore implying that Obama is less than trustworthy. I gave my opinion of it here.

Today, Josh Marshall lays out some more of the details. When Hillary mentioned this in their debate, Barack responded that Bill Clinton had pardoned two members of the Weather Underground when he was president, which, he pointed out, is a much more serious endorsement than merely being on the board with one guy. Hillary has said that she didn't know anything about it. As Josh points out, Newsday has a chronology that is not favorable to Hillary's claim - there was a lot of publicity about the cases in New York during the fall of 2000, when Hillary was running for Senate.

What Josh doesn't point out is that this goes against Hillary's claim that being First Lady is relevant experience for being president. When it's in her favor, she says that she was on the front lines of all kinds of policy debates and diplomatic initiatives. But when it's NOT in her favor, all of us a sudden she develops amnesia. Her claim of experience is very selective - she remembers the good, but not the bad.

Obama and the Senate Races

Kos looks at the races in the Senate and the effect that Obama and Clinton have on them:

Our top Senate contests, in rough order of competitiveness:

  1. Virginia
  2. New Mexico
  3. Colorado
  4. New Hampshire
  5. Minnesota
  6. Alaska
  7. Maine
  8. Oregon
  9. Mississippi
  10. Louisiana
  11. Texas
  12. Kentucky
  13. North Carolina
  14. Nebraska
  15. Idaho
  16. Oklahoma
  17. Kansas
    Per poll composites when available, Obama runs stronger than Clinton in Virginia (+13), Colorado (+12), New Hampshire (+9), Minnesota (+14), Alaska (+20), Maine (+7), Oregon (+7), Texas (+2), North Carolina (+13), and Kansas (+4, per SUSA). Clinton runs stronger in New Mexico (+4), Louisiana (+9, per Southern Media & Research), and Kentucky (+31).
    No polling is available in Mississippi, Nebraska, Idaho, and Oklahoma.

That's a lot of states and a lot of Senate races. Obama runs better than Clinton in 10, Clinton does better than Obama in only 3. That means the difference between the two of them could be 4 or 5 Senate seats. That's a huge difference. The Obama effect will have a significant impact on lots of races.

But it's not just Senate races. Obama's organizing prowess will have empower many people to run for local offices.

Say someone has been active in their local community for years, but hasn't run for anything. They get involved in this campaign, they learn a few things about running for office, they meet new people, some of whom can help them out, and suddenly, someone who has been complaining about the local school board for years is now running for a seat on it. And the same thing for city councils in small towns. Then in a year or two or three, those people move up. That's called a grassroots movement. In the future, many people will say "I got started in politics because of Barack Obama." I can sort of say that about Bill Clinton - I moved to Washington in anticipation of his electoral victory, and I did it in May of 1992, well before he won. But then I left, and am only now getting back. Hillary may have something of the same effect - I'm sure there are lots of people out there inspired by her. But not so many as Obama.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Fallen icons - De Niro and Pacino

Patrick Goldstein in the LA Times wrote an article that is painful to read, but had to be written. The title of the column is "How The Mighty Have Fallen," and by mighty, he means Robert De Niro and Al Pacino. The impetus for the critique is Pacino's latest, 88 Minutes, which scored a horribly miserable 7% on That puts it in the running for one of the worst movies of the year. Goldstein's sad thesis is that they've decided to run up their bank accounts while they still can, and that means they take just about whatever comes their way, quality be damned. I liked De Niro in Meet the Parents, but I can't remember the last Pacino performance that I cared for. Goldstein contrasts them with most of their compatriots, who have either gotten fairly selective (Jack Nicholson, Michael Caine), or have dropped out (Warren Beatty, Gene Hackman). And then there's Clint Eastwood, who is doing such great work as a director. He doesn't mention Morgan Freeman, but he could - his name attached to a movie is still a draw for me. It's sad to see great actors, who presumably don't need the money, selling themselves short.

It's also a strange contrast with the status of older actresses. Maybe women are weirdly lucky in this respect - there aren't that many roles for them, but the ones that are there can be memorable. Judi Dench could play M from a wheelchair in a nursing home and I would watch her. And Gloria Foster will always be The Oracle. I know she spent a lifetime preparing for that role and that 15 minutes of fame, but I am grateful. It's too bad De Niro and Pacino probably won't leave with that kind of role.

DJs in Syria

The LA Times ran a story on its front page on Tuesday about a trend I sure would not have heard about otherwise: American music on the radio in Syria. Not just music, but DJs speaking both Arabic and English.

despite the political and military tensions, the rhythms and textures of daily life here are increasingly meshing with those of Western nations. On the streets of Damascus, people breezily draw in American sounds, sights and icons, making them part of their own cultural DNA.

In a land viewed by the Bush administration as an associate member of the so-called axis of evil, 50 Cent floods the airwaves.
The focus of the article is a DJ named Honey Sayed, who has many counterparts in the West - cute and bubbly, and willing to talk about anything. Almost anything - politics and religion are no-gos, and the state monitors her to make sure of that.

She has an interesting perspective on the relationship between her country and mine:

In February, she spoke at a Washington think-tank forum sponsored by the Rand Corp. about media in the Middle East.

"What's not fair is that the flow of information is one-way," she says she told forum attendees. "You know Syria politically. But we know your music, we know your clothes, we know your movies, we know when Tom Cruise jumped on Oprah Winfrey's chair when he was in love with what's-her-name."
The article doesn't go into exactly how she thinks this is unfair, which is too bad - that's a rich topic. I think she's right, but I'm not sure exactly what she means. My guess is that because all we know is the politics, we end up afraid, whereas they get to enjoy our culture. Our government is restricting our freedom to engage Syrians culturally - which is unfair to Americans. Here's an argument against the Bush-Rove politics of fear - it's restricting our ability to enrich our own culture, to live as fully as possible. We should have the freedom to travel to Syria, to do business there, if we want. Isn't freedom what conservatives keep claiming is their raison d'etre?

Play some ball, Barack!

I wrote in an earlier post that one advantage Obama has in Indiana is that he can play basketball, which is a big deal in the Hoosier state. OK, it's not a huge advantage. And I don't think he wants to have a picture taken of him in sweats - not very presidential. But the candidates give lots of speeches in gyms. He could give a speech, fire up the crowd, and accept a pass from someone in the audience, turn around, and throw one in from where he'sjust given the speech. Of course, there's always the risk that he'll miss. But if takes more than one shot, he'll make several. And it would erase the image of him bowling a 37 in Pa.

Of course, there's an interesting racial dynamic. Basketball is dominated by black players, and while some have good images, the one with the best image, Magic Johnson, endorsed Hillary. On the other hand, Michael Jordan played his best ball in Chicago, and I'm pretty sure he endorsed Obama. So shooting some hoops might reinforce the image of Obama as a black candidate.

Except that basketball in Indiana has, as far as I know, been very much a white sport, and I'm assuming there are still a fair number of white guys jumping in high school and college. And one of the best white players of all time, Larry Bird, is from there. I wonder if he's endorsed anybody?

Final results from Pennsylvania

The final tally from the Pennsylvania primary:

Clinton: 1,245,911 54.6%
Obama: 1,037,953 45.4%

(hat tip: Andrew Sullivan)

I've heard some commentary about the exact percentage. Looks like it is 9.2%, although Andrew Sullivan calls it 9.1%. I'm not going to bother with the exact math. Some people think it's significant whether or not it's 10%, because that would be a double-digit victory.

Please. Calm down, people. Hillary won, and that's that. In two weeks, no one will remember the percentage. Eventually Obama will prevail, and Hillary will thank all of her supporters, inlcuding those in Pennsylvania. And all of the elected Democrats in PA will start rallying around Obama, and most, but not all, of the drama in this particular election will be forgotten. The particular dynamics that defined this primary cannot be ignored, but the important thing at this point is to move on.

Apart from that, there were these tidbits from this election. There was a Republican contest. McCain, of course, won that one. But he only got 72.8% of the vote. Mike Huckabee got 90,304 votes, or 11.4%, and Ron Paul got 126,265 votes, or 15.9%. I think Paul is technically still in the race, so that's not terribly surprising. And Huckabee, of course, has a strong connection with his constituency, and he's got stage presence to burn.

One thing I noticed is that not one of the other Republican nominees got a vote. None for Mitt Romney or Rudy. Or Fred Thompson or any of assorted other wannabes. Just Ron Paul and Mike Huckabee. Many Democrats are legitimately worried about an intra-party conflict. But the split within the Republican party is alive and well, just currently below the surface. McCain has nomination, but he still doesn't have the love from all of his fellow Republicans. More than a quarter spoke their minds and expressed their displeasure with the establishment candidate.

What's interesting about Paul and Huckabee is that they are both grass-roots phenomena. Romney, Rudy, and Thompson were all media darlings at some point during the campaign, garnering lots of attention. Now that they're gone, they have absolutely no constituency left. But Huckabee and Paul are still winning significant chunks of the population, long after either of them were the subject of any kind of media attention. The impact that each of them has had will last well past November.

Harry, Nancy, and Howard

HuffPost reports on some rumblings among the top three national Democrats (Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi, and Howard Dean) about bringing this primary to a close.

Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid took his comments about the state of the Democratic primary one step further today, suggesting that he and other prominent Democrats would intervene in the race if primary season concludes without a clear winner:

The dynamics here are interesting. Reid, as Senate Majority Leader, is technically the boss of both Hillary and Obama. He can't tell them what to do, obviously, but he is in a position to hear from around the country, and he is in a position to pressure some superdelegates. Dean, as chair of the DNC, is in an even better position to hear from people around the country, but he's also in a position where he CAN'T put pressure on the supers. What he can do is make it clear that the rules will stay as they are, and that Michigan and Florida will just have to deal with the fact that their gambles to try and win more influence did not pay off.

But Reid and Dean are both men, and, as such, will be perceived by some, particularly some of Hillary's women supporters, as members of the old-boy network squelching a woman's dreams.

Pelosi, on the other hand, is a woman, and if she brings the hammer down, she is not doing it for sexist reasons. Particularly as the first woman to ascend to a position very close to the president, she understands how important it is to women to have a woman president. And she has direct influence over even more superdelegates than Reid.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

TPM presents: Doug Feith's Greatest Hits

Talking Points Memo put together a clip package of Doug Feith on various news shows. He's one of the blithering idiots who justified the Iraq war. I can't believe the Republicans let this man see daylight - he just keeps making a fool of himself.

On a personal note, this is my 200th post.

A glimmer of hope in Zimbabwe

I've been following the crisis in Zimbabwe, but not with my full attention. I'm mostly aware of the issues, but there doesn't seem to be much progress. This, however, is a great sign. A Chinese ship full of ammunition, headed for Zimbabwe, can't deliver its goods, because normal, average people have blocked it from stopping at any port (Zimbabwe is landlocked). From the LA Times (great stuff in there today):

The loudest protest, however, has come from ordinary Africans, with trade unions, human rights groups, churches and local news media banding together to track the ship's travels.

Unions whose dockhands refused last week to unload the munitions in Durban, South Africa, are asking workers in other countries to do the same. A pro-democracy group in Angola is staking out the harbors of that country for any possible clandestine arrival. And human rights workers in South Africa are using a variety of information, including insurance company data and marine rescue agency reports, to keep tabs on the boat.
This reminds me of my days as a student activist for Amnesty International, when we used the simplest tools at our disposal - writing letters - to try and stop human rights abuses. Just when you least expect it - hope shows up.

Cell phones in Afghanistan

I'm one of those liberals who supported the war in Afghanistan. I thot that was a proper response to 9/11. I also have a second cousin in the Army who served there. Every now and then I am reminded of the fact that it is the forgotten war, the one that we should have won long ago, and one that we still might lose. But this is an encouraging sign: there is something of a backlash against the Taliban because they have recently been targeting cell phone towers. I had no idea there were even cell phone towers in Afghanistan. And they're wildly popular: 5.4 million people, one in six Afghans, has one. NATO forces have been targeting insurgents by tracking their cell phones, so the Taliban started taking down the towers. Which led to a backlash against the Taliban. How bizarre is this.

I am also one of those people who is sure that we will eventually win the war against Islamic terrorism, despite George Bush. The advance of civilization is just too powerful of a force. Francis Bacon realized centuries ago that knowledge is power. As is the ability to connect with other people. Once attained, certain freedoms are very, very hard to take away.

Shhhh! The stealth fighters are gone

The first stealth fighters, the F-117A Night Hawks, were just retired. Bet you didn't know that, did you? No, you probably didn't. And you know what? That's just the way they want it. Too bad for THEM the LA Times was on the case.

Whenever I think of stealth aircraft, I always remember someone's comment: on a radar, these planes show as the size of a bird. Of course, that's a bird flying at Mach 1.

Then again, I never saw one on a radar screen, so I don't really know if it was the size of a bird. And now we'll never know.

Steve Lopez goes to the Americana

Steve Lopez, the LA Times' local color columnist, visited Rick Caruso's new shopping center, the Americana at Brand, and didn't hate it. Caruso is famous for developing The Grove, which he claims attracts more visitors per year than Disneyland. I wouldn't doubt it. The place is usually packed. The Grove is straight across Third Street from me, less than five miles. It's great. I love it. It's easily the only mall that I ever go to without really needing a reason. It's next door to the old Farmer's Market, which doesn't actually have much great food shopping, but has wonderful restaurants. But if you need good produce, Whole Foods is across the street.

Lopez, who is something of an old-fashioned liberal (in a good way), resists the southern California urge to splurge, so he isn't a huge fan of this kind of temple to consumerism. I'm a little more comfortable with it, but I'm also not the kind of person who shops just to shop. What I like about The Grove is that it's actually a very efficient model of shopping. It has an eight-level parking garage, which is obviously an efficient use of space. And, because it's usually packed, the stores hold lots of people and move merchandise quickly, both of which contribute to the efficiency of the whole enterprise. And the movie theatre is new and well-done, which I like. And the whole thing is outside, which is generally good for people. The people-watching is great.

Obama-Clinton: a visual guide

I'm a big fan of using graphics to convey information. As a former philosophy major, I am aware of just how lost you can get in too many words. This is a great example, showing how Obama and Clinton have split the votes in the primaries so far.

hat tip: Andrew Sullivan

Star Wars according to a three year old

Don't talk back to Darth Vader!

Obama's one unique advantage in Indiana

He's a decent basketball player. That's going to come in handy in the Hoosier state.

Greener buildings coming in LA

Some very good news on the environmental front here in LA: the City Council just passed a law requiring that some new buildings meet tougher environmental standards. It's not perfect, and allegedly San Francisco has a better law, but it's a solid start. Good for Antonio V!

My only complaint is not with the law, but with the coverage from the LA Times. This covers real estate and environmentalism two topics that lots and lots and lots of Californians are very interested in, but they put it on the first page of the California section, B1, rather than on the front page, A1. Doesn't good news sell newspapers, too?

Commentary on Pennsylvania

So Hillary won the Pennsylvania Democratic primary. Congratulations to her. I am reminded, watching her win, that she is running as hard and as long as she is because she honestly believes that she is much better qualified to be President and change this country than Obama. It's not unreasonable on her part. She is smart, confident, competent, etc. And there is nothing that will convince her otherwise, until Obama wins. Lots of people are concerned that this race is causing rifts in the Democratic Party. I am somewhat concerned about that, but not so much that I would ask Hillary to quit. Staying in this race is a decision for her alone to make.

In the meantime, I can see some positives for her staying in the race. First, she is making Obama a better campaigner. Second, if and when Obama wins, he will be able to claim that he won the race fair and square. Hillary started out this race with every possible advantage. It was hers to lose, and it looks like she will. Obama has raised more money, but that's because more people want to give money to him. That's part of the democratic process. And the fact that the race is still competitive is inspiring lots and lots of people to get involved, not just by voting but by volunteering, which is all good. It's also keeping the conversation about the election going, and that's also good.

As for the meaning of this specific primary, I think Josh Marshall said it best:
I'd say the real story is that this leaves us basically where we were. It was a decisive win for Hillary but that was the expectation. Going into tonight I think the dividing line was about 8 points. Closer than that and the story would have been that Obama didn't win but closed the margin (which is how it looked early in the evening). A bigger margin than that and the story would be that Hillary got her big victory. So the 10 point spread is close to the dividing line but on Hillary's side of it. There's a lot of crowing from Hillary's campaign tonight about a shift in momentum and doubts about Obama. Tomorrow there will be a lot of chatter from Obama's campaign that none of that really matters because of the reality of the delegate numbers which won't change much.
Meanwhile, behind the numbers, there was some movement for Obama in some key demographic groups. Check out the numbers from the numbers from Kos. In just about every demographic, Obama made gains from Ohio, which is a very similar state. Kos also has a great breakdown of why, in terms of campaign strategies and tactics, Obama lost. Basically, it was inevitable, but he did as well as he could. The state political machine was against him. That's gonna hurt.

And I think the party will unite behind the nominee. Right now, a lot of Hillary supporters are unhappy that she is behind, and some of them are not happy about the attacks on her. But as soon as a nominee is chosen, and, assuming it's Obama, Hillary will start to campaign for him, and her supporters will follow her. And once they start listening to him as the Democratic candidate, rather than as an opponent in the Democratic primary, they will start to be inspired. And the depth of the anti-Republican furor cannot be underestimated. This is from yesterday's LA Times, about an elderly couple in rural Pennsylvania (the writer's parents). This is the husband:
In the 1980s, he was a Reagan Republican. Now, he told me, "I don't care if they nominate a one-armed orangutan, I'm voting for the Democrat."
Obama constantly reminds us that change is hard. It is also weird.

Obama's concession speech in PA

You would almost think he won last night. Notice how he doesn't let the crowd boo Hillary. That's part of the reason I support the man: he's gracious in defeat. Which makes the next victory all the more possible.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

More insecurity from Nora Ephron

Nora Ephron, who I am trying desperately to remember is a good screenwriter, rants again at HuffPost, apparently intent on reminding the world that Hollywood liberals can be flaky and narrowminded. Unlike her last post, which I at least enjoyed as somewhat amusing, this one is just ridiculous. Most Democrats are thrilled that this election presents a historic choice; the only downside is that we have too much historic choice. But Ephron sees the glass as not just half-empty, but probably filled with something poisonous:
This is an election about whether the people of Pennsylvania hate blacks
more than they hate women.
And Obama got slammed for being an elitist? But of course, there are many women and blacks in Pennsylvania, so who is going to decide this?

And when I say people, I don't mean people, I mean white men. . . To put it bluntly, the next president will be elected by them
At least she is completely upfront about her biases. She can't complain about white men being the only candidates, so she gives them credit for undue influence, just so she can complain about that influence. Just in case it's not clear how she feels about white guys and their voting patterns, here's a clue:

the outcome of the general election will depend on whether enough of [white men] vote for McCain. A lot of them will: white men cannot be relied on, as all of us know who have spent a lifetime dating them.
I was under the impression that the purpose of feminism was to move beyond gender stereotyping. Maybe the purpose was to move beyond stereotyping of women, but it's still perfectly acceptable to define men in terms of broad, negative generalizations. Want another example? How about this:

A lot of white men have terrible tempers, and what's more, they think it's normal.
And this is from the woman who directed that well-known font of white male bitterness and rage, Tom Hanks, in two romantic comedies.

It is not entirely Ephron's fault that she's throwing around these stereotypes. As a Hillary supporter, she's had to watch her heroine/candidate/walking Rorschach test try to build a case against the first African American candidate to have a reasonable chance at becoming president, and she has, I am sure, experienced a lot of the same frustrations. And so now she is giving in to the same temptations:

Hillary's case is not an attractive one, because what she'll essentially be saying (and has been saying, although very carefully) is that she can attract more racist white male voters than Obama can. Nonetheless, and as I said, she has a case.
So it's not Hillary's fault that she has been walking on thin ice regarding race in this country - it's what she has had to do keep hope alive. It's just politics, you know?

Which, unfortunately for both Hillary and Ephron, is exactly Obama's point - that's the politics of division that has kept us from making progress in this country on so many issues.

"When Harry Met Sally," "Sleepless In Seattle," and "You've Got Mail" are about basically decent white guys who get the girl. Didn't Nora Ephron learn anything from her own movies?

Obama gets critical

The Boston Globe highlights what I think many people had a feeling was inevitable: Obama is getting a little more critical of Hillary. The question: how does this play, given his claim to be embracing a new kind of political discourse, more enlightened, less confrontational?

Obama's appeal to voters to "declare independence" from a toxic political culture was suffused with its own fresh toxicity: his strongest indictment yet of Hillary Clinton as a practitioner of the vicious warfare that Republicans have long waged against her.
It's a difficult question, but I am not too worried about it. Barack Obama has set himself high standards for how he engages politics. But he has not set himself impossible standards. I think he knows his own limitations.

"I don't mind this kind of silly-season politics," Obama said in Harrisburg on Saturday. "Politics ain't beanbag, that's what they say in Chicago. We know how to throw some elbows. I'm skinny but I'm tough."

I've heard some people complain about "St. Obama," as if he was the new messiah. I've never thot that about him. Some of his more enthusiastic supporters have, I think, painted a too-rosy picture. But I think this is a picture that they have painted for themselves, if they have at all. Both Barack and Michelle have gone to some lengths to remind people that he is, after all, just a man. He has his flaws. He is not perfect. And he is, as he has to be if he is human, aware of that. And we forget that our favorite politicians of the past were not as wholesome as we remember them. We know that Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence and that Abraham Lincoln gave the Gettysburg Address; what we don't know is how they dealt with their own anger and frustrations. We've all heard Martin Luther King's I Have A Dream speech - we don't have videos on YouTube of him venting about the obstacles he faced fighting for civil rights.

Obama is critical, but he has not, at least for me, crossed the line that Hillary has, and that is into the territory of the vicious, the mendacious, and outright dishonesty. I think it's perfectly fair to criticize your opponent's policies and even their tactics, as long as that is relevant to the campaign. What I find problematic is Hillary's willingness to throw mud and bring up garbage like the William Ayers connection. And Obama is willing to accept responsibility for his mistakes, as he did after the "bitter" comment. Hillary pretty much had to have a gun put to her head to admit her Bosnia sniper-fire claim was a lie, and even then she tried to fudge it.

What's appealing for me about Obama is that he is willing to listen to his opponents, and he is willing to challenge his supporters. That, I think, is a qualitative difference in his leadership. He treats everyone with respect. That does not mean that he has to treat them with deference.

Monday, April 21, 2008

There is no primary

On the eve of the Pennsylvania primary, I thot it would be fun to post this video. Draw your own conclusions.

Michael Moore endorses Obama

I'm not a big fan of Michael Moore (I think he would be much more effective if he were more intellectually disciplined), but I think he tries hard to do good work, and I mostly agree with him on issues. He has endorsed Obama. He's one of more and more people ever-more disillusioned with Hillary:

[O]ver the past two months, the actions and words of Hillary Clinton have gone from being merely disappointing to downright disgusting. . .

But it's not just disillusionment with Hillary, and he's not just inspired by Obama.
What we are witnessing is not just a candidate but a profound, massive public movement for change. My endorsement is more for Obama The Movement than it is for Obama the candidate.

That is not to take anything away from this exceptional man. But what's going on is bigger than him at this point, and that's a good thing for the country. Because, when he wins in November, that Obama Movement is going to have to stay alert and active. Corporate America is not going to give up their hold on our government just because we say so. President Obama is going to need a nation of millions to stand behind him.
I have to give Michael Moore props for fighting the good fight when it really was not popular. He's made documentaries about things that he believes in, the political establishment be damned. I think he's sloppy and egotistical, and I think he would have a greater impact if he made more of an effort to get his facts right. But he does provide a unique service to liberals in this country, and the importance of that cannot be understated. There are lots of people who look to him for inspiration and guidance, and we could do worse than a big buy in a baseball cap. So it's great to hear Michael Moore being optimistic.

hat tip: my Aunt Jane.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

USC film school in the NY Times

There's one group of college students who have a unique perspective on guns and school: film school students. People in film school occasionally make movies about people with guns. That creates some interesting situations. What if you're filming somebody running down a dark alley holding a gun, a bystander walks by, doesn't realize it's a film set, and calls the cops? That's not a hypothetical for me - it has happened to me. It wasn't on a student film, it was an independent film (VERY independent), but the cops were called. We were warned to skedaddle, which we did. I wasn't producing or directing - I was basically the only crew member besides the director, who was shooting everything on a video camera, so I was gaffer, if that. The director had graduated from USC film school, but apparently hadn't learned the right lessons. Eventually he did.

This is relevant because this week there was an Op-Ed piece in the NY Times by a student at School of Cinematic Arts of the University Southern California, where I learned a few things, had some adventures, and made some great friends.

The topic of the Op-Ed is trying to find the balance between safety and freedom, which is a complicated, difficult topic that I don't want to address right now. I'm just thrilled that a really good guy that I know, Joe Wallenstein, got a mention on the Op-Ed page of The New York Times. Good for him.

"My fellow Americans, our long national nightmare is over"

That line is probably Gerald Ford's most famous quote. It referred, of course, to the fact that Nixon was no longer president. The guy who wrote it, Robert T. Hartmann, just died. His obituary was in the LA Times (he was originally a reporter for the Times). I found out one tidbit of political historical trivia in the obit: Ford was reluctant to use it, but Hartmann threatened to quit if he didn't.

"Junk all the rest of the speech if you want to, but not that. That is going to be the headline in every paper, the lead in every story. . . . This has been a national nightmare and it's got to be stopped. You're the only one who can" stop it, Hartmann said he told Ford.

That's a great example of an aide willing to tell a president a very uncomfortable truth.

Recycling energy

From The Atlantic, an article about recycling energy, particularly making all kinds of plants and factories more energy efficient. A much bigger deal than my last post, saving energy by using iPods rather than turntables. I haven't heard much about this, and the article crams a lot of information into a short piece, but at least now it's something I am aware of.

hat tip: Andrew Sullivan

Record Store Day

It's Record Store Day today! I bet you didn't know that. I didn't know it until yesterday, when I read it in the NY Times. I probably wasn't aware of it because I haven't been in a record store in months. But I think I just might go today.

But just exactly WHY is it Record Store Day? I don't think there has ever been a Record Store Day before. Has there ever been a Sporting Goods Store Day? Or Culinary Arts Supplies Day? I don't think so.

It's Record Store Day because record stores, where they sell actual, physical things like vinyl albums and CDs, and maybe cassettes and posters and t-shirts, are a dying breed. We all know why. Because no one listens to music anymore, we all just watch American Idol and let our brains rot. Ha! No, that's not it. Record stores are dying because of the iPod. And the Internet. And satellite radio. So record stores are trying to drum up some publicity before they all expire.

This means more to some people than it does to others. Obviously, it means a great deal to the people who work in record stores. And, obviously, to musicians. Here's Sir Paul McCartney:

There’s nothing as glamorous to me as a record store. When I recently played Amoeba in LA, I realised what fantastic memories such a collection of music brings back when you see it all in one place.

It doesn't mean that much to me, because I don't go to record stores that much. Still, I think it's great that people are trying to keep alive a dying tradition, even if it's one that I don't really care that much about myself.

But there's something that doesn't get mentioned in the debate, and that is that record stores are not just a victim of the Internet: they're also a victim of the fact that their business model is horrendously energy-inefficient compared to digital distribution of music. Consider how much energy and raw materials are required to produce and distribute a vinyl album, as opposed to doing it on iTunes. CDs are obviously better in this respect, but it still takes a certain amount of energy to make the CD and its packaging, ship it across the country, and sell it in a store, while it requires virtually no energy to do the same for a song that exists merely as bits and bytes. This sounds trivial until you multiply it by a couple billion albums a year. And even playing a song requires less energy on an MP3 player than it does on a CD player or on a turntable.

So, yes, it's unfortunate that the times, they are a changin', but that's the deal with living here on planet earth: things change. There are lots of great things about independent record stores - very knowledgeable staff, usually a funky decor, moments of serendipity when someone finds an unexpected gem. But all of that can be found on the Internet. Are you interested in gay Puerto Rican death metal? Do a google search. I just did, and got back 119,000 hits. Obviously there aren't that many web sites devoted to gay Puerto Rican death metal, but it's probably out there somewhere.

I don't think physical record stores will ever truly disappear. Sir Paul mentioned playing at Amoeba here in LA. That store only opened a few years ago. It's huge, like a Borders of used records. Which makes it more efficient than all those tiny places that are dying. It has better cash flow, which will help it survive. It can make better use of its floor space. For example, its cash registers are always going, which is very efficient. Same thing with the line for selling used CDs. So we will probably see more of these. And the size means lots of diversity. An uncle of mine once asked me to buy a CD of a Hawaiian artist I had never heard of, Israel "IZ" Kamakawiwo'ole. I went to Amoeba, and they had several of his CDs. Voila!

So yes, for a while we will all to have suffer as people with odd tattoos and lots of obscure musical knowledge in their brains try to find alternative means of supporting themselves. But they will survive. As will we all. And, at the end of the day, we still have High Fidelity.

Update: I would be a little more sympathetic to the cause of dying record stores if didn't take forever to load. Uh, guys? Waiting forever to navigate your site isn't great customer service. Also, I noticed something incongruous on the home page: it reads "RECORD STORE DAY IS ALMOST HERE!" But I'm typing this on Saturday, April 19, which is supposed to be THE DAY. So I just have to wonder about the technical sophistication of a group that can't update its Web site on the day that is supposed to be the reason for its very existence.

Jackie Walker

It's not all that often that you read stories about old wrongs being righted, but here's one. Jackie Walker was a great football player for Tennessee back in 1971, but was never elected to the Greater Knoxville Sports Hall of Fame, which apparently he richly deserved. He died of AIDS in 2002. That's right, he was gay, and some people think he's not in this Hall of Fame because of that. But apparently times are changing, and he's expected to be part of the next group of inductees, which will be announced tomorrow, Sunday.

Taking care of this William Ayers nonsense

One of the more trivial controversies in a campaign filled with them is the fact that Obama has some connection to a guy named William Ayers, who was a member of the Weather Underground back in the 60's. I'm not going to post a link, because I don't think it's worth my time to do the research. I do have a very minor connection with the bomb blast for which the group gained its notoriety - I lived a few blocks from the house in Greenwich Village where it went off.

All I want to point out is how utterly ridiculous it is to even bring this up. The guilt-by-association blame game at work here operates on the assumption that because Obama has this vague connection, he approves of Ayers' actions all those years ago, which means that he approves of using violence to achieve political ends in this country, and therefore approves of domestic terrorism. Which is, of course, completely ridiculous. He believes nothing of the kind, and has made that clear.

What's even more ridiculous is making guilty by association with a casual acquaintance. Obama has met easily thousands of people. And since all of those people have opinions that are different from one another, Obama himself cannot logically agree with all of them on everything. So to imply that he agrees with someone just because they lived in the same neighborhood or were on the same board of an organization is preposterous. I think it was legitimate to ask questions about Jeremiah Wright, because a person's relationship with their pastor is a significant signifier of their beliefs. But a casual acquaintance? Please.

There's a term that defines this perilous practice of encountering people with whom you disagree and potentially being infected by their nefarious ideas.

It's called "living in a democracy."

Friday, April 18, 2008

Sometimes it feels good to be bitter

Obama was at a rally in Erie, PA, today. 3,000 people crammed into an auditorium, and experienced the usual Obama-mania. The questions were substantive - NOT the kind on ABC! And then the issue of being bitter came up:

One man stood up and said, "We have lost a lot of jobs here in Erie, and it's quite all right with us if you tell people that we are bitter." That brought the whole crowd to their feet in applause once again, and Obama said, "That's the biggest response we've had all day!"

What few pundits these days seem to understand is that what most people want from politicians isn't feel-good platitudes, but honesty. It's why John McCain claims to be a practitioner of "straight talk." You don't want a doctor to lie to you about your condition. If you're feeling sick, you know it, and you want a cure, even if it hurts. If you're out of a job, you know life sucks. If a politician says "guess what, these people think life sucks when you don't have a job," then that's called empathy.

Endorsements from the left and right for Obama

Some obscure but good endorsements for Obama today. From the left, but the establishment left, Robert Reich endorsed Obama. He was Clinton's Labor Secretary, and an old friend of Clinton's from Oxford and Yale Law School. It's not unexpected - he hasn't been that close to the Clintons. As Josh Marshall puts it at Talking Points Memo, "since the late 90s [Reich] has been in what I would call polite opposition to the Clintons." That's the endorsement from the left, although Reich is more of an old-fashioned liberal than a real leftist. He's a regular commentator in various media, so he's more well-known than he would be on the basis of being Clinton's former Labor Secretary. So it's a bit of good news.

From slightly to the right, at least in the Democratic Party, Sam Nunn and David Boren, former senators from Georgia and Oklahoma, endorsed Obama today. Both of them have been out of office for a while, but for people who know them, these are significant. They're both somewhat, conservative, as Democratic senators go, but both also highly respected. I remember Nunn as one of the most serious politicians I've ever seen. He makes Carl Levin look like Santa Claus (and I say that as a huge fan of Carl Levin. And as a huge fan of Santa Claus).

What is significant is that they are not just endorsing Obama, they're joining his team as advisors. Nunn in particular has great foreign policy/national security credentials, as a former chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee. Any questions about Obama's appeal in the heartland will be somewhat alleviated by the presence of Boren, who is currently president of the University of Oklahoma.

A president is judged in part by the quality of the people that he attracts. Obama is attracting the best.

CMH Records - diversity on a small scale

The LA Weekly profiled CMH Records a couple of weeks ago (I'm a little late, but this is one of those issues that has been and will be around for years). It's a tiny little record company in Silver Lake, a very hip neighborhood in LA. I found this interesting because I had a temp job there several years ago. They release records (is that possible anymore? however it's done, they sell music) of obscure bands and genres that fall outside of the mainstream. I remember seeing several "Best Of" albums by bluegrass musicians that I had never of. They only sell a few thousand, but they do sell. And they've figured out how to do it and make money at it. They also come up with strange combinations - Radiohead songs done as lullabies, for example.

I love this kind of story because this is a great antidote to anyone's concerns about corporations controlling American society and homogenizing culture. Sure, there are lots of manufactured pop stars that sound alike. But if you want to buy an album of Springsteen or Dave Matthews songs covered by bluegrass musicians, here's where you go. Creativity isn't just what happens in the recording studio - it's also what defines the business strategy for this company.

And if you really want diversity and a wide range of music, Coachella is coming up.

Being mayor of LA is not for the weak of spirit

Tim Rutten, a great recent addition to the LA Times Op-Ed page, has an excellent piece on where Antonio Villaraigosa is at this stage of his first term as mayor of Los Angeles. He's doing well so far, hiring good people, but the jury is out because the job isn't done. It will never be done, of course, but Villaraigosa set for large goals for himself, and has not yet accomplished them. Rutten points out the contradiction of being mayor of LA:

Los Angeles is arguably more difficult to govern than any other major American city. Its mayor is elected by one city to govern another. The "city" that elects a chief executive is far older, more affluent and whiter than the real thing. The city that elects a mayor has interests; the city that the mayor governs has needs, and in that disjunction much of our civic discontent simmers.
I don't think it's entirely fair to describe LA as unique in this respect. New York certainly faces this conundrum, and Washington has the added burden of not really being in control of its fate. But the basics are right.

Rutten is not quite damning with faint praise, but neither is he slamming Antonio. He's reserving judgment, which, honestly, is refreshing for an Op-Ed piece. It's refreshing because it's an honest appraisal, and it's neither too cynical nor too optimistic. This is what "balanced" means.

Eating out or staying in - which is more expensive?

Do you like to eat out at restaurants? Of course you do. We all do. Do you worry about it being too expensive? Probably, unless you got lucky with some stock options at some point in your life. Do you think eating out is more expensive than eating at home? Probably, unless you grill yourself some filet mignon every night. But are you really sure of this? Joel Stein, the columnist who covers everything you never thot you would see on the Op-Ed page (he once reported on the making of a porn movie, and, when the director offered him a part, almost took it), performed an experiment, comparing eating out for a week with eating at home. It was not a particularly scientific experiment, because Joel Stein, as he will be the first to tell you, is not a particularly disciplined person. But he found out that what most people think should be blindingly obvious is, in fact, true. Despite the best efforts of his wife to skew the results (she wanted it to look like eating out is cheaper), it turns out that eating at restaurants is, in fact, more expensive than eating at home. Whew! Vital social science research performed just in time for the good of a country in the middle of a recession.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Obama's response to last night

Very classy. I think he's really hitting a home run by being very clear that this represents the politics of personal destruction. And never underestimate the power of a sense of humor when responding to vitriol.

No debate for me! Sounds like that was a good thing

I didn't watch the debate last night, but I've been following the reactions online. Or perhaps I should say I've been following the outpouring of vitriol directed at Charles Gibson, George Stephanopoulos and ABC News. Wow. Sounds like this was a real low point for television journalism. As of 2:45 PM Pacific time, there are 16,671 comments on the ABC News Web site, and pretty much all of them are slamming ABC for a disgraceful night of asking questions.

I admit that I like talking about the trivial issues, like whether or not Hillary lied about Tuzla, etc., but the point of these debates is supposed to be that they force us to break away from the gossip and trivialities and give us an opportunity to focus on the issues. I thot that was the point of debates. Honestly, asking whether or not Jeremiah Wright loves America? That sounds like a very inappropriate question for a journalist to be asking. First of all, it's pure opinion, and second, what right does a journalist have to question ANYONE'S patriotism, let alone that of a former Marine?

Most unfortunately, the "issue" for today is this debate itself. I just want to point out that the LA Times, to its credit, led this morning's issue with an article about the Supreme Court's decision upholding lethal injection as a method for execution. How bizarre that I'm happy that the main story is something I disagree with, but I'm just thrilled that it's a story about a substantive issue

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

A gaffe vs. a lie

One thing that I haven't heard in this minor "bitter" scandal, is that it was a gaffe by Obama. And not even really that - some people think it was a big deal, most people have shrugged it off. Regardless, it was a mistake, an offhand comment, that's it. Every campaign has those. Obama apologized to the extent that was necessary, and most people moved on.

But Hillary's last what-she-said scandal was about taking sniper fire in Bosnia. It was a lie, and she repeated it, and then fought against apologizing for it, for a long time. A gaffe vs. a lie. One's an innocent mistake, the other is a willingess to deceive.

Today's version of strange bedfellows - Obama and hunters

From the Dept. of Didn't See This One Coming, the American Hunters and Shooters Association has endorsed Barack Obama. So much for the black guy from Harvard not getting along with gun owners. I wonder what the reaction from the NRA is going to be. Maybe this is a group of leftist and liberal hunters and shooters? Regardless, they're enthusiastic:
Senator Obama will be a strong and authentic voice for America's hunters and shooters and it is with great pleasure that we endorse his candidacy.
Just when you thot this campaign couldn't get any weirder. So, in one day, that's Bruce Springsteen and hunters and shooters. And the Teamsters several months ago. I'm feeling ever more comfortable about being a straight white liberal American male supporting Barack Obama. Now we just need Brett Favre to make an Obama campaign commercial, and it will be game over.

Alan Keyes - still good for a laugh

Alan Keyes has left the Republican Party, according to the Top of the Ticket blog at the LA Times (which I should start reading more often).

Alan Keyes, the former Republican who came within about 1,200 convention delegates of thumping Sen. Bob Dole for the GOP presidential nomination in 1996 and then came just as close to dismantling Gov. George W. Bush in 2000 for the party's White House nod, is seriously considering trying to embarrass another political party.

Keyes announced Tuesday night that he was officially leaving the Republican Party, which was relieved to hear it.
It's a funny post, so if you need a bit of comic relief, read the whole thing.

hat tip: TPM

Obama gets some love from The Boss

Bruce Springsteen has endorsed Obama:

After the terrible damage done over the past eight years, a great American reclamation project needs to be undertaken. I believe that Senator Obama is the best candidate to lead that project and to lead us into the 21st Century with a renewed sense of moral purpose and of ourselves as Americans. Over here on E Street, we're proud to support Obama for President.

I think this will help with the working-class vote. That's just a guess.

Way to go, Bruce!

hat tip: Andrew Sullivan

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

So you CAN be too thin - at least in France

As long as I can remember, there has been a debate about the influence of the media on women's perceptions of their bodies. Now France is trying to make it a legal issue:

France's lower house of parliament adopted a groundbreaking bill Tuesday that would make it illegal for anyone — including fashion magazines, advertisers and Web sites — to incite extreme thinness.
Of course, the problem is how to assign blame. There are lots of fashion magazines with lots of pictures of thin women. That apparently has not been resolved, although this bill focuses on " "pro-anorexic" Web sites that, for instance, give advice on how to eat an apple a day — and nothing else." I am not familiar with those Web sites, but I'll assume that they do, in fact, exist. That sounds like a depressing approach to food.

There is one thing about this debate that has always confused me. Supposedly the point of starving yourself is to become more attractive. But I don't know any guy who thinks a woman that is too thin is attractive. And yet I've almost never heard that idea expressed in the multitude of times that I have heard it. If you're trying to make yourself more attractive to men, don't starve yourself. Have a cheeseburger every now and then.

And for goodness sake, don't complain about your weight. After being too thin, that has to be one of the least attractive things about a woman who is already thin. Being concerned about your weight if you actually do have to lose some pounds is healthy. But being neurotic about shaving off a couple of ounces, if you're either at a good weight or pretty close, does not make you a fun person to hang out with. Neuroses are not fun. Cindy Crawford, who seems to have a healthy body image, once said that the sexiest thing is self-confidence. She's right.

Fun with robo-calls

If you get one of these phone calls, contact the authorities immediately. Those authorities would be me, so I can figure out a way to have even more fun with them. Just to be clear, these have NOT BEEN AUTHORIZED by the respective campaigns. This is a good one:

Hello, I'm calling on behalf of Senator John McCain. Please don't hang up. Oh, God, please, don't hang up! He'll scream at us again. He gets that look, you can't talk to—OHMYGOD, HE'S COMING …

Obama on abortion

From the WaPo, specific evidence of Obama's ability to tone down inflammatory and polarizing rhetoric and bridge the divides that separate people on contentious issues. This time, the issue is abortion, and one of the people he is reaching out to is Bob Casey, the Senator from Pennsylvania. This is probably a big part of the reason why Casey endorsed him:

"He has the unique skills to try to lower the temperature and foster a sense of common ground, and try to figure out ways that people can agree," Casey said, although the freshman senator added, "On this issue, it's particularly hard."

Obama has the rare of gift of being able to not only see both sides of an argument, but also explain each side so that opponent's understand each other. There is one element of common ground on this issue: no one likes abortion, we all want to reduce the incidence of it. Bill Clinton actually put it well years ago: abortion should be safe, legal, and rare. Hillary says the same thing, and I think she handles it well. But because Obama listens so carefully, I think he'll be successful in bringing the two sides together. How successful remains to be seen, but I think he will at least shift the debate. I don't think he'll transform the debate; I don't think he will change it completely. He doesn't have a magic wand. But I think he might shift it.

Obama responds to Hillary re: bitterness

This is a video of Obama in Pennsylvania. I realized one thing about his campaign that I haven't thot of: because he has run such a great campaign, his volunteers have reason to be proud of their involvement. I think we will see the same thing when he becomes president: because he will make the government run better, he will give Americans a different reason to be proud of this country than what the current Administration provides.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Maybe that bitterness is justified

This is the best response I've read so far to Obama's comments about people in small towns being "bitter." From John Baer at the Philadelphia Daily News:

As a native-born, small-town Pennsylvanian, a son of native-born, small-town Pennsylvania parents - one from the coal region, one from Lancaster County - let me assure you that the so-called offensive, condescending things Barack Obama said about the people I come from are basically right on target. . .

So, despite carping from Hillary Clinton and annoying yapping from her surrogates (really, it's like turning on the lights at night in a puppy farm), I take no offense.

What's offensive to me is suggesting that small-town, working-class, gun-toting and/or religious Pennsylvanians are somehow injured by a politician's words.

I think Obama will end up scoring points for honesty.

Obama the fearless - breaking the addiction to anger

Andrew Sullivan writes something that I have been thinking:

I'm not betting against him. You know why? He's not afraid. And by jettisoning fear as the lodestar of liberalism, he is doing us all a favor, right and left.

I grew up afraid of a lot of things, politically. I was afraid of multinational corporations, the military-industrial complex, Ronald Reagan's bizarre (to me) confrontational attitude towards the Soviet Union. Lots of things freaked me out.

The one group of people that I was not afraid of, as a liberal, were fundamentalist Christians. I was not afraid of them for a very simple reason: my paternal grandparents were fundamentalists, particularly my grandmother. They fit the cliche perfectly: middle class Americans who had pulled themselves up by their bootstraps, sent their kids off to college, and were living comfortably into old age. But they also fit the negative sides of the cliche. Their perspectives on civil rights and feminism, not to mention sexual orientatin, were on the wrong side of enlightened.

But the fact that I disagreed with them on just about everything politically didn't stop them from loving me or me from loving them. They were good people. When my grandfather made some unfortunate remark, I tried to remember that he was born in 1905, which was only 40 years after the end of the Civil War.

So I was not afraid of my grandparents, and therefore I wasn't afraid of fundamentalist Christians. And I wasn't all that afraid of capitalists, because my Dad is a stockbroker, and I started reading the Wall Street Journal when I bought my first stock (Eastern Airlines), at 9. And I went out in the world, met lots of people who disagreed with me on politics but who were friendly otherwise. And I had a job at an investment bank that was one of the best experiences of my life, because they paid me well, respected me, and I got along with everybody really well.

And one thing I realized along the way is that fear can be addictive. It's a weird thing to consider. But fear and anger, in politics, are sometimes different manifestations of the same concern. And anger is like cocaine: it makes you paranoid and its addictive. Being angry at a political opponent can give you license to pass judgment on them, which makes you feel powerful. Which makes it an antidote to fear. But the anger sometimes has its origins in that fear. Demagogues implicitly understand this.

I slowly let go of my fear and anger. I haven't completely let go of them, and I doubt I ever will. But I hope I've made progress. Listening to Barack Obama and working on his campaign have helped.

But even before I became involved in this campaign, I made a decision that I was not going to be afraid of my political opponents. My standard is this: as long as someone doesn't have a gun to my head, I'm not afraid of them. It undoubtedly helps that I'm a white American male. But I've also realized that I'm responsible for my own fate, and that Republicans and conservatives do not have control over my life. Neither do Islamic terrorists. I might die in a terrorist attack. But I might also get hit by a truck. And the chances of that happening are actually much worse than getting killed by a terrorist. I take my chances walking out the door in the morning. But that's a condition of living.

And I am not afraid of what my political opponents can do to my country, or my state, or my city, because my city, my state, and especially my country are very resilient. We will recover and repair whatever damage has been inflicted. Of this I have faith.

Which finally brings me to Barack Obama and his impact on politics. Expanding on Sullivan's points that Obama is good for all of us, I think what Obama is doing is breaking the addiction to fear and anger, at least for some people. There will always be people who are motivated by fear and anger. But for a long time, we haven't had anyone on the left or in the Democrat party who simply was not afraid of Republicans or conservatives, and took that message to all of the American people. Obama is not afraid of Republicans because he is willing to listen to them, and he is willing to agree with them when he thinks that is appropriate. And that defuses a lot of tension, which diminshes their need to be angry, which ends up cooling things down for all concerned. We've all had this experience in our personal lives: an argument blows up, people overreact, which precipitates other overreactions, etc., but then eventually, hopefully, most of the time, things cool down. The anger dissipates.

But to get to that point requires an initial degree of trust. If that trust is broken, sometimes it's impossible to reach the point where things can cool down. Obama understands that Americans want to be able to trust each other. He also understands how hard it is to do that. He also understands how important it is. And how important it is to break the addiction to fear and anger.