01.22.09

Thank you, Barack Obama

Posted in Politics at 12:06 pm by ducky

From time to time since the election, I have burst into tears.  Oftentimes it hits me without warning.

Today, I burst into tears twice.  The first was at seeing a picture of Tommie Smith, John Carlos, and their wives in a group hug with Obama’s inauguration on the TV in the background.  Tommie Smith and John Carlos were the two who gave the “black power” salute on the podium at the 1968 Olympic Games.  That picture really gave me a sense that we have closed a chapter in our national history.  The story of racism in the United States has not ended, but a chapter has closed.  Slammed shut.

The second time, I could only eke out a “Honey!”  Jim asked what, but I couldn’t answer because I was convulsed with sobs.  Jim rushed to me, concerned.  All I could manage was, “He signed it!” and point at the article saying that Obama had signed an anti-torture executive order.    Thank you, Mr. President.  I have been waiting for this for a long time.

01.20.09

Two miles of cheers

Posted in Gay rights, Politics at 4:56 pm by ducky

Watching the inauguration today, I couldn’t help but be reminded of gay pride parades.

There are very few mass events where everybody is really happy.  Most large gatherings are sporting events, and there is almost always an undercurrent of hostility somewhere.  If nothing else, the losing team’s fans are unhappy — usually.  (I went to the 1994 Men’s World Cup match between the US and Brazil.  Everybody knew that the Brazilians were way better than the USA, so in this case, the losers didn’t care that they were losing.  Furthermore, it was the Brazilians!  Their spirit of joy and fun was infectious.)

Maybe rock concerts are also places of fun sometimes, but I never had much fun at rock concerts.   The band was always too far away to see and yet too loud.

The C-SPAN feed of the inauguration didn’t have any commentary, but instead just broadcast the ambient noise of the crowd.  For two miles, almost all you could hear was people screaming their heads off as the motorcade (and microphone) moved down the route.

Ten years ago, when I marched in the SF Pride Parade with PFLAG, I experienced two miles of people cheering their hearts out.  The straight public was not as accepting of gay and lesbian people back then, and thus (I guess) it meant a lot to see straight people standing up for gay rights.  So they cheered.

In recent years, the cheers for PFLAG have been polite, but not overwhelming like before.  That’s a good thing — that means that public acceptance is greater, so PFLAG isn’t as needed.  The cheers for PFLAG were a reflection of how bad things were elsewhere, and how PFLAG represented a beacon of hope.  It is a very good sign that the cheers for PFLAG are tamer now.

Similarly, the cheers for Obama reflected how bad things were.  It would not have been so moving for African-Americans if African-Americans had not faced such brutal ill-treatment in the US.  It would not have been so moving for me, a white person, if I had thought that G. W. Bush had done a competent job.

I hope that at the inauguration of the next non-white president, the crowds are much smaller and tamer.

Postscript: Apparently there were exactly zero arrests at the inauguration.  I once asked a cop at the SF Pride Parade what it was like to work the parade.  His answer: “Four hundred thousand people, no arrests, no injuries, what’s not to like?”  (I had just gotten off of my shift as a Safety Monitor, and had first-hand knowledge that “no injuries” was a sligh exaggeration, but the injuries were all very mild — e.g. people skinning their knees, not e.g. getting beaten, hit by cars, falling 30 feet, etc.)

No to Caroline Kennedy

Posted in Politics at 1:59 pm by ducky

Do not take my silence on Caroline Kennedy as an endorsement.  I’ve just been busy.

I am almost as offended that Caroline Kennedy is being considered for New York senator as I was when McCain picked Palin.  I say “almost” because Senators do not have authority to fire nuclear missles.  Selecting Caroline Kennedy is merely a bad idea, not scary.

I am dismayed with my own party that they are not raising a bigger stink about her.  Somehow the magic of the Kennedy name seems to be enough to quiet lots of people.  Huh?

Now, I am willing to believe that being part of a political family can be useful.  You do learn things at the dinner table.  (My father was a professor of Physics;  I was in college before I realized that not everybody drew free-body diagrams on napkins over dinner.)  So Caroline Kennedy might have learned something from her father.

Except that she stopped having dinner with her father when she was six.

Maybe her mother helped instill political savvy into Caroline.  I wasn’t there, I don’t know, but I never heard much about Jackie Kennedy Onassis being much into politics.

I think Sarah Palin would be much more credible as a senator.    Palin’s limitations — her lack of sophistication in both foreign and national-level — made her IMHO a poor choice to represent the U.S. to the world.   However, she’s held office, she understand politics, is a proven campaigner, and is strongly Alaskan.  She is certainly a legitimate choice to represent Alaska to the nation.  (I wouldn’t vote for her, but that’s because I don’t like her politics, not because I think she’s unqualified.)

Kennedy, sorry.  I don’t see how she qualifies.

12.09.08

Canadians worrying about US water appropriation, wtf?

Posted in Canadian life, Politics at 11:35 pm by ducky

I am baffled by a concern that seems endemic in Canada: that the US is going to steal Canadian water.  The way they talk about it, it’s almost like they think there are already secret contingency plans drawn up that one more dry season in California will trigger.

This seems totally preposterous to me:

  • I have never heard anyone in the US talk about routing Canadian water to the US.  I remember about ten or twenty years ago, hearing people talk about a canal to Oregon, to the Columbia river, but it wasn’t something that people were taking seriously.  It was sort of like how in the late seventies there were people talking about building space colonies.  There were a few people thinking about the theoretical possibility, but there wasn’t any real thought that they were practical.
  • Which states might run out of water?  Let’s suggest California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas.  States in the South.   Where is Canada?  Way way north.  Where is the closest water to California?  Oregon.  Don’t need to go any farther.  Where is the closest water to Texas?  The Mississippi.  Don’t need to go any farther.  What is the easiest water to get to from Arizona and New Mexico?  Probably the Mississippi again.  Maybe you’d object that the Mississippi water isn’t very nice by the time it gets to Louisiana.  Maybe it is, but if they are out of water, they can’t be that choosy.  The next place they could look would be Lake Michigan; you don’t have to go over any mountains and you don’t have to cross any international borders.
  • Why should the Canadians worry about water when they could worry about oil instead?  The US has a history of belligerency related to oil; I don’t know of any US belligerency related to water.
    • One Canadian, in response to that question, said “Yeah, but we already sell the oil.” Yeah, but Canada could sell the water, too. And Canada has a lot more water than it has oil.

So I find it a very odd concern. I am not suggesting that Canadians should think of the US as an entirely and always consistently benevolent country. I’m sure there are things Canadians should be nervous about. But water? That is so far down on the list of things that I would worry about that I find it very odd.

To be fair, I also have heard a man from Michigan be concerned about California stealing Michigan’s water.  (He went on an extended rant about how people shouldn’t live in places that required importing large quantities of natural resources.  I wonder how he would enjoy winter in Michigan without large imports of fossil fuels.)  Maybe they got this idea from the Canadians.

Wright ad that didn't play

Posted in Politics at 4:26 pm by ducky

An ad that the McCain team put together featuring Rev. Wright has surfaced, with some questioning why McCain didn’t run the ad.  Deep in the dusty corners of my mind, a bored little clot of neurons is sure she knows why McCain didn’t run the Wright ad.

In my scenario, at some point early in the campaign, Obama talks to McCain about running a honorable campaign.  “John”, says Obama, “let’s rise above the pettiness.  Let’s agree right now, before we get really started, that our private lives should stay private.  Let’s agree that our families are off-limits, and our religions are off-limits.”

In my imagination, McCain can’t believe his ears!  Obama is pretty much offering him a get-out-of-jail free card!  Obama is volunteering to not talk about McCain’s serial infidelity, Cindy’s drug addiction, or about how McCain’s religious intensity is um low.  What a cool deal!  In my head, McCain is having a hard time containing his glee as he agrees to the deal.

Later, when the Wright tapes surface, and Michelle makes a few missteps, McCain realizes that he’s been had.  He got suckered, big time.  In my story, he fell for it: hook, line, and sinker.  McCain’s a little peeved at himself for being such a fool, but it’s emotionally easier to put the blame on Obama than to place the blame on himself.  Thus McCain decides that this proves that Obama is nothing but a smooth-talking snake.  (This explains why McCain sure acted like he couldn’t stand Obama.)

He can’t actually say that Obama is a smooth-talking snake, without telling the story of how McCain had gotten suckered, and that doesn’t look good on McCain.  So instead he alludes to it with the “celebrity ad”: don’t trust this guy, he’s just a pretty face.  But because the populace didn’t know the back story, they don’t recognize that the ad is a story of Obama’s treachery.  So the ad fizzles.

And Wright is radioactive, but in my story, McCain can’t talk about Wright without going back on his word.  (And if he goes back on his word, then he has to admit to himself that he’s no better than that treacherous snake Obama, so he can’t do that.)  So instead, McCain uses Ayers as a proxy for Wright.  They talk about Ayers over and over again hoping that somebody will make the link between Ayers and Wright.  Unfortunately, when the McCain camp says, “Ayers, Ayers, Ayers, Ayers”, the populace hears, “Ayers, Ayers, Ayers, Ayers” instead of “Wright, Wright, Wright, Wright”.

Meanwhile, because I am an Obama supporter, I can paint Obama as completely innocent in this matter.  In my story, I can have Obama approaching McCain with complete sincerity and noble intent, and the story still hangs together.

Now, I have no hotline to Obama’s or McCain’s brain.  This is just a story that I made up to help me make sense of the world.  But I like the story.

12.08.08

times are a-changin'

Posted in Politics at 2:30 am by ducky

From James Fallow’s blog posting about Shinseki:

the first Asian-American in a military-related cabinet position

I love how we are starting to have to pile on the adjectives. It’s no longer enough to say, “the first Asian-American in a cabinet position”. (That would be Norm Mineta.)

I look forward to the day when I see something like:

the first left-handed Asian-American woman from a university in the Minnesota named to be the National Security Advisor under a Republican president

And what will be really cool is the day when they don’t even bother with any adjectives.

12.06.08

Digital public works

Posted in Politics at 10:33 am by ducky

Mitch Kapor suggests that some of Obama’s pledged massive public infrastructure project be digital.  While I would hesitate a little bit — I would want to make sure that it wouldn’t cannibalize projects to repair the decaying US physical infrastructure –  I think it’s a really intriguing idea.

For some projects, a lot of good could be done by setting up a structure to make it easy for volunteers to contribute to.  For an example near and dear to my heart, the government already provides a bunch of mapping data.  However, that mapping data is incomplete and erroneous. Fixing an erroneous data point requires very local knowledge, but not much effort.

Suppose there were an iPhone app that would alert when you came close to a questionable point, and ask you to check it out.  For example, if there was a street that had no name entered in the database, if you were close to/on that street, it could ping you and ask you what the name of the street was.  If earlier, it had had trouble finding the location of “234 West Wilpole St, Hoopston, IL” and you live in Wilpole, the app could ping you and ask you where it is.

This will only work if you have a lot of people signed up, and the app works well.  You would need some sort of public awareness campaign (which takes resources), some money to develop the application, and some money to do “customer support”.

I care a lot about map data, so naturally I think of that.  However, there is probably lots of other data that it would be useful to collect.

12.01.08

Times they are a-changing

Posted in Politics, Random thoughts at 2:58 pm by ducky

Wow.  Obama announced his six national security advisers today, and white men were in the minority.  Eric Holder and Susan Rice are not white; Hillary Clinton, Janet Napolitano, and Susan Rice are not men.

A few days ago, I read that Condoleeza Rice phoned Barak Obama twice during the Mumbai terrorist attacks and was profoundly moved by the mental image.  It’s not that there haven’t been black people in positions of power before.  I’m sure that Rice phoned General Powell more than once.  (While I dislike almost everything about G. W. Bush, I do have to give him props for not being afraid to appoint people of colour to high positions.)

What struck me was that it was a very powerful black person in one administration phoning a very important black person in the next administration.  This demonstrates that it is not tokenism, nor a fluke of one administration.  It says that having people of colour in positions of high responsibility is not odd or unusual.  And that’s the way it should be.

11.27.08

Obama's middle-class values

Posted in Politics at 9:27 am by ducky

One of the things I really like about Obama is what, for lack of a better term, I will call middle-class values.  He does things like clean up after himself at an ice cream shop, carry his own luggage (pictures here and here and here) and says he turns off lights and will make his kids do chores in the White House.  I don’t recall ever seeing any of the presidents in my adult lifetime — Reagan, Bush 41, Clinton, or Bush 43 — ever carrying anything, even when they were campaigning.  I suspect that Bush 41 never washed a dish or picked up dog poop — ever.  I can’t imagine that either of the Clintons would do so now.

People in power frequently have other people do mundane things for them.  There is a potential that, by doing things himself, Obama could make himself seem less powerful. Jimmy Carter once spent the night in a private home, and it was reported in all the newspapers that he made the bed himself.  My recollection of that is that people were kind of incredulous at him diminishing himself that way.  However, Jimmy Carter ran with a persona of folksiness.  (He was Jimmy Carter, not James Earl Carter, Jr.)  He had to struggle a little against being perceived as a rube, a southern bumpkin.

I don’t think Obama really risks debasing himself in the public eye by doing mundane things for himself.  In contrast to Jimmy Carter, Obama has a public persona that is a bit cold and standoffish.  He even got attacked for being elitist for a little while.  Doing mundane things for himself counters that perception.

Maybe he carefully does these mundane things for show.  Maybe he’s conscious of it and wants to “keep it real”.  But maybe it’s part of his value system that he is not inherently better than other people, and should play by the same rules as the rest of the world.  (Unlike, say, Arnold Schwarzenegger, who has demonstrated a pattern throughout his life of acting like rules were for other people.)  I hope so.

11.26.08

Cost of the bailout

Posted in Politics at 9:47 pm by ducky

There has been discussion about how the current financial system bailout is the most expensive government program ever, according to numbers from Jim Bianco (as I saw it reported by Barry Ritholtz).

Bianco’s numbers are adjusted for inflation, which is good, but that isn’t a complete picture.  There are an awful lot more Americans now than there used to be. If you look at the bailout in terms of per capita cost or as a percentage of GNP, you’ll see that there were a few other programs that were comparably expensive.  So yeah, it’s bad.  Yeah, it’s a big deal.  But we have seen worse.

Program Inflation-adjusted cost (billions) Cost per capita (thousands) % of GNP
Marshall Plan 115.3 0.78 4.7%
Savings and Loan crisis 256 0.95 1.7%
Moon shot 237 1.2 4.3%
Iraq war 587 2.0 4.4%
Korean war 454 2.9 15.0%
Vietnam war 698 3.4 11.2%
New Deal 500 4.0 55.1%
Current bailout 4616 15.3 33.2%
World War II 3600 26.3 150%
Louisiana Purchase 217 40.9 NA

Notes: It was surprisingly hard to find historical GNP figures. It only started being recorded in 1947, and the sources aren’t always clear if the figures are inflation-adjusted or not. Also, most of these things spanned several years; I picked a year near the middle for the calculations. Bottom line: take the % of GNP numbers with a grain of salt. They are close, but not exact.

I used the Flow of Funds Accounts of the United States for 1947-2007, and the a very poorly annotated list from Duke for the New Deal and WW2 numbers. Sorry, there are no GNP numbers from 1803.

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