Yes we can. Yes we did.


In spite of some early worries, we did not end up in a situation like we had in 2000 last night.  The margin of victory for Barack Obama was small – a half million votes across Florida, Ohio, Virginia and Nevada separated the candidates – but it was sufficient.  Celebration is in order.

As mentioned in my ‘endorsement’ on Monday, I’ve found president Obama to be a mixed bag when it comes to policy.  He has been behind several indefensible decisions, i.e. the ongoing bombardment of northwest Pakistan and the watering down of financial regulation bills.  On the flip side, he has pushed through numerous important bills like healthcare reform and the end of DADT, and he has prevented even more bad laws from taking place simply by keeping Republicans out of the White House.

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Presidential Endorsements

Obama Biden 2012

After nearly two decades of campaigning (only a slight exaggeration), the end of the 2012 presidential campaign is finally within sight.  Hopefully that means an end to idiotic horserace news coverage, at least for a few weeks until the 2016 presidential campaign gets underway.

A good many people I know have been expressing disgust or disappointment over the options, particularly at the presidential level.  I’m sympathetic – there hasn’t been a genuine social democrat with a shot at the presidency since George McGovern ran in 1972, and we all remember how that turned out.

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‘You are here because of them’

Cory Booker, mayor of Newark, New Jersey, gave the commencement speech at Stanford University yesterday.  His was the 4th commencement speech I’ve heard there, and I daresay it was the best by a fair margin, though I suspect more than a few in the audience were disappointed.

The traditional commencement speech is a tricky affair: balancing out the expectations of graduates, their families, and the university worthies organizing the show.  Comedy, advice and a certain amount of praise is the norm, although the formula varies widely.

What mayor Booker offered however was a series of life lessons, wrapped in a compelling personal narrative and leavened with more than a touch of humor.  This he did without sounding particularly preachy, speaking smoothly and steadily for more than half an hour with no discernible prompting or notes.  I found it a compelling performance.

I guess if I were to summarize his message in a sentence, it would be that all of us are where we are thanks to a whole community of people, and that it is by working together in such communities that worthwhile things are achieved.  But really, it is worth reading in full**.

I’m not terribly up-to-date on how Newark is doing these days, but if Cory Booker is half as effective at governing as he is at delivering speeches, the city is definitely on the right track.

Meanwhile I still can’t believe the best my graduating class (2006) could get was Tom Brokaw.  Inspiring he was not…

** Stanford has now posted a full transcript of Cory Booker’s speech.  Video of the event is available on Youtube.

They Deserve to Lose

I try to avoid saying too much about politics.  This is partly because most of the time others have already said what I would have said, and said it better than I could have.  In truth though, I steer clear of political posts because I really have nothing nice to say, and who wants to be Cassandra anyway?

Still, given that the 2012 ‘election-cycle’ is almost upon us, and given the absurd spectacle we are now greeted with, now seems as good a time as any to say what I think, and what I think (writ large) is:

The Democrats deserve to lose this election.


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Air Travel

It’s no big secret that air travel in general has become a lot less fun than it used to be.  Shrinking seats, escalating fees, and of course the ever-increasing list of ‘security’ procedures foisted upon us by the good folks of the TSA and the Department of Hopeless Stupidity.

The whole situation seems to have disintegrated long past the point of parody, with disabled toddlers being groped by TSA agents and holiday cupcakes being confiscated as contraband, but there we are.

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I’d rather not be the product

Google adwords

Google is one of the great success stories of the last decade.  The explosion of the internet has left them at the center of the one sector of the economy that seems to have a future.  In addition to producing Google search, they are one of the companies that is putting significant resources into research that may not have immediate applications.  They’re also from what my friends tell me a fun and exciting place to work.

The thing that surprised most people about Google’s services early on is that they’re free.  Or rather, that’s how it seems to us.  We get to access great resources day in and day out without spending a penny.  Seems like a good deal.

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Reevaluating the ‘Reconfiguration’ of the Economy

iwantoutLast week driving back from one of my morning walks in northern Westchester I ended up listening to a radio program discussing the potential long-term changes that the current unwravelling economy is likely to bring about. I wasn’t terribly impressed at first, because the program’s main guest (A University of Toronto economist whose name escapes me) seemed to be rather too ready to exercise magic thinking and assume away some of the darker long-term scenarios.

Still, despite the relentless (and in my view unwarranted) optimism of the guest, one of his points did make sense: describing this mess as a (potential) ‘depression’, while historically accurate, is unhelpfully reductive. Major changes, even the bad sort, can lay the groundwork for a new order. Or put more simply, when things can’t go on, they don’t, and something else replaces them.

The major thrust of the program was the affect of this economic ‘reconfiguration’ on population. The speaker pointed at length to the devastation wrought first by the subprime collapse then by the severe disruption of the service economy on boomtowns and exurbs of the sort that comprise much of the sunbelt. His essential claim was that the suburbanization of American society which has been going on since the 1940s has reached its peak. Resource constraints (energy, water, etc.) and financial realities make sprawl not merely unsustainable, but increasingly unaffordable and impractical.

To me, this would be welcome news indeed. Suburbia is perhaps the most pernicious example of the current consumption-oriented American dream. From citizens, we became consumers. Now suddenly, economic realities may render defunct the dream of the 5 bedroom 4 bath McMansion with the 2 SUVs in the driveway, or at least force its reevaluation.

And indeed ‘reevaluation’ is the appropriate sentiment. The old modus operandi has led Americans down a blind alley. Economists now tell us that not only did the economic ‘gains’ of the last decade accrue almost exclusively to a privileged few, but that most of those ‘gains’ were only on paper anyway. Now that the debts are being settled, folk find that they are neither as secure nor as prosperous as they had believed. What next?

Being in the position of having no real bearings so far as my next step is concerned, I’m not so much reevaluating as simply trying to articulate some vision for a desirable future. And perhaps it’s simply my natural laziness kicking in, but the model of slaving away to get ahead is really unappealing. Ahead doesn’t interest me. If there’s a choice (and I guess usually there isn’t), why not cover the basics and leave it at that? Enough sounds drastically more pleasant than more, and there are more interesting things in life than progress.

On a macro level, the current mess does suggest to me that maybe, just maybe, there will be some larger societal adjustment to the fact the producing and consuming ourselves into oblivion is not merely stupid and inefficient, but undesirable as well. Or maybe not. Human capacity for stupidity and self-destruction is notoriously unlimited. Time will tell. Still, as long as the opportunity remains, I plan to do as much non-consumption and non-progressing as I can reasonably manage.

Bashir waltzes away

waltz_with_bashirI saw ‘Waltz With Bashir’ this afternoon, Israeli director Ari Folman’s animated documentary of his attempt to recover his ‘lost’ memories as a soldier in the 1982 invasion of Lebanon, and ascertain his own role in the war and the events leading up to the Sabra and Shatila massacre.

It’s a film well worth seeing. Aesthetically and technically brilliant, it offers an often jarring look into the experiences of half a dozen Israeli young men thrust into the midst of a situation for which they were wholly unprepared. The visuals (and the soundtrack) give ample play to the frequent brutality and insanity of the events recalled. Finally, uncomfortable questions about ultimate responsibility for failing to stop the massacre are not unvoiced.

As good cinema, documentation of the ‘fog of war’ and an exercise in Israeli soul-searching and collective therapy, the film works well. Unfortunately, that’s as far as it goes. It concerns itself only with Israeli experience and memory. Individual Arabs have no voice. As undifferentiated collective or silent adversary, the Arab occupies the margin throughout, without ever having the chance to speak. The war itself is not questioned, save perhaps implicitly. Public support for the war is not interrogated.

Given Folman’s project, these omissions are not wholly unexpected or unjustified. After all, a documentary is not a soapbox and 90 minutes is scarcely enough time to lay out the issues, let alone explore them in depth. But ‘Waltz’ does suggest an uncomfortable reality: while liberal Israelis are willing to revisit the traumas and darker moments of their past, they are far less interested in examining the lives which that past so irrevocably altered. And a war in which only one side fights is just another name for a massacre.

The Politics Post

bitternessSince the American people, in their infinite wisdom, have decided to postpone for at least a month or two, the final decision on which two crooks we get to choose from in November, I think a few comments are in order.

First, our wonderful Democratic prospects. If you want a summary, just look at the war in Iraq:

Hillary Clinton supported the war in 2003, and still thinks it was a good idea. So good in fact that she’s itching for action against Iran, backing a bill labeling that country’s military a ‘terrorist organization.’ We’ve seen this movie before.

The alternative? Barack Obama. A man who will explain how he opposed the war from the start and believes we should leave. By 2010. Assuming the conditions are right. And by ‘leave’ he means there’d still be up to 50,000 troops there. Amazing how flexible the definition of ‘anti-war’ is, isn’t it?

Admittedly, neither of these fine folks quite measures up to John McCain whose proposal for a 100-year occupation suggests that aggressive militarism and near-senility is perhaps not the best combination for our next ‘Commander-in-Chief’

Still, there is something strange about this game of ‘let’s pretend’ that the media has been conducting around the Democratic primary contest. Barack Obama is not the second coming of Jesus Christ (or if he is, that suggests nothing much positive about Christ). He’s got a good biography, and he gives a decent speech. That’s it. Hillary Clinton is no more manipulative and calculating than most of her senate colleagues. Both in the end are establishment candidates – a fact that their fundraising attests to. Both offer the possibility of competent but not transformative administrations. Nothing more.

In the end, neither Clinton nor Obama sees anything fundamentally wrong with the current state of affairs. Obama wants nicer rhetoric (technically, ‘a less divisive politics’). Clinton wants a few nicer laws (healthcare, etc.). Laudable goals, all. But something is missing.


Well… For seven years, we’ve been ruled by a gang of thugs who have repeatedly insisted that they are above the law. And they’ve been proven right. Key provisions of the US Constitution are trampled upon. Rules are ignored. Treaties violated. Century-old precedents upended. Much of the federal government today operate as a rogue organization whose secret activities lie solely under the watch and control of one man.

At a time when anybody, even an American citizen, can be locked up indefinitely on the say so of the president, we need a candidate who will say: “Enough!” We need a candidate who remembers that government exists to serve its citizens, not to be served by them. We need a candidate who understands that secrecy and democracy are incompatible, that government operating in a constant state of emergency is anathema, and that freedom is more than a slick slogan to be trotted out on national holidays and at campaign rallies: it is a lived reality that cannot survive in a fear-ridden police-state where a few hold near-absolute power.

Of course, we need other things too. A candidate who recognizes the twin threats of economic and environmental catastrophe. A candidate willing to tackle the deep inequities rampant in society today. A candidate who sees poor education and concentrated power for what they are – the sure enemies of stable democracy.

To be sure, one can’t have everything. Most of the disastrous changes of the last seven years were prefigured by actions under earlier presidents. The concentration of presidential power has been a long process, spanning decades if not centuries. Advances in technology have only made new mechanisms of surveillance and control cheaper and easier to implement. If the Bush administration have done one good thing, it is to demonstrate precisely where our current path leads.

Against this backdrop, the current presidential contest is an obscene joke, a pathetic mockery of the idea of democratic self-government. While Rome burns, these would-be Neros quarrel over where the next palace is to be built, and how many gladiators will be needed for the next spectacle. We’re presented the exciting choice between those who see no flames, and those who wish to add fuel to the fire: between the dangerously incompetent and the simply dangerous.

There is of course a simpler alternate explanation: the candidates know their true constituents (contributors) and don’t really give a damn about what happens to the rest of us, so long as their bottom line stays in the black. Certainly, a good chunk of the political establishment does a nice business lining its pockets.

To be clear, I don’t expect anybody to emerge who offers to deal meaningfully with any of these issues. The political system isn’t designed to produce such candidates. Come November, I’ll probably vote resignedly for the lesser evil, and hope thing don’t get too much worse, too fast. But I’ll also remember the bastards who lead us down this road to perdition, and if the opportunity arises, I’ll be happy to slip them a knife in the ribs should the opportunity arise (metaphorically speaking of course – political criminals deserve long slow humiliation and punishment – nothing quick or mostly painless).

And that, hopefully, is all that need be said on the topics of politics. Back to more rewarding pursuits…