An hour with Barack Obama

As an Obama supporter this is just about the best thing I have read. For people who are not sure what to make of him this blog post by the guy who founded Netscape, Marc Andreessen (who also happens to appear quite moderate) lets us in on the fact that Obama is a normal guy, who also happens to be very smart and also understands technology.

Here are some excerpts for the laziest of my readers:

Senator Obama’s political opponents tend to try to paint him as some kind of lightweight, which he most definitely is not. Two, I think he’s at or near the top of the scale of intelligence of anyone in political life today.

You can see how smart he is in his background — for example, lecturer in constitutional law at University of Chicago; before that, president of the Harvard Law Review.

But it’s also apparent when you interact with him that you’re dealing with one of the intellectually smartest national politicians in recent times, at least since Bill Clinton. He’s crisp, lucid, analytical, and clearly assimilates and synthesizes a very large amount of information — smart.

Then when asked if voters should be concerned that Obama hasn’t had a lot of experience as a manager or leader, he said this:

Watch how I run my campaign — you’ll see my leadership skills in action.
At the time, I wasn’t sure what to make of his answer — political campaigns are often very messy and chaotic, with a lot of turnover and flux; what conclusions could we possibly draw from one of those?

Well, as any political expert will tell you, it turns out that the Obama campaign has been one of the best organized and executed presidential campaigns in memory. Even Obama’s opponents concede that his campaign has been disciplined, methodical, and effective across the full spectrum of activities required to win — and with a minimum of the negative campaigning and attack ads that normally characterize a race like this, and with almost no staff turnover. By almost any measure, the Obama campaign has simply out-executed both the Clinton and McCain campaigns.

Finally, when asked about his foreign policy experience – on whether voters should be concerned he said this (paraphrasings of poster):

First, I’m on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, where I serve with a number of Senators who are widely regarded as leading experts on foreign policy — and I can tell you that I know as much about foreign policy at this point as most of them.

Think about who I am — my father was Kenyan; I have close relatives in a small rural village in Kenya to this day; and I spent several years of my childhood living in Jakarta, Indonesia. Think about what it’s going to mean in many parts of the world — parts of the world that we really care about — when I show up as the President of the United States. I’ll be fundamentally changing the world’s perception of what the United States is all about.

One of the biggest legacies Bush Jr. leaves behind is one of distrust and dislike of Americans by other countries. Even in places where we have traditionally been viewed well, our image is tarnished. Pre-emptive wars, ignoring diplomacy, and overbearing trading rules will do that. I hadn’t thought mush of it before but, Obama has a better chance than anyone to mend those relationships simply by being who he is. That is a powerful idea for me.

We need security, not free food

This Salon recap of an Op-Ed originally published in the NY Times on Aug. 19 by seven active-duty U.S. soldiers. Two of its authors have since died and one was shot in the head and wounded. Besides being written by active duty soldiers in Iraq, the piece is also noteworthy for how it cuts to the core of the issues the campaign in that country has faced for the past five years and offers solemn conclusions for the future.

Among the “highlights” are:

  • Reports that Iraq police and military details have, in many cases, been corrupted, and either allow acts of violence occur against U.S. personnel, or even actively support those actions.
  • We are arming Sunni militias who, it is feared, will challenge the Shiite-dominated government for control, in the vacuum that will be the U.S. pull-out.
  • Recent assessments of improved conditions in Iraq have been made by the mis-informed and do not represent reality for most Iraq’s who have been living in constant chaos and fear for 5 years now.

The biggest failing of our “leaders”, however, remains the fact that they looked at the invasion of Iraq and deposing of Saddam Hussein’s as the end state of this mission without having any plan in place for what happens next. Several costly mistakes pointed out in the article need to be reversed but the largest error, hearkens to my last post – but requires actual action:

At the same time, the most important front in the counterinsurgency, improving basic social and economic conditions, is the one on which we have failed most miserably. Two million Iraqis are in refugee camps in bordering countries. Close to two million more are internally displaced and now fill many urban slums. Cities lack regular electricity, telephone services and sanitation. “Lucky” Iraqis live in gated communities barricaded with concrete blast walls that provide them with a sense of communal claustrophobia rather than any sense of security we would consider normal.

Marketing ideas as a means of social change

For whatever reason I was not motivated to post yesterday. I wanted to post, but I couldn’t get myself to do it. What I wanted to do was to post a positive story about Arabs and/or Arab Americans and make that sort of a tradition on this anniversary, here at Alt Text.

When this idea was conceived I was thinking in these specific terms but wanted to change the way people thought of this day – a day now linked to a war that had nothing to do with Al Qaeda or making us safer. I wasn’t looking to start a meme or actively market my idea, just post some positive news.

Reading Seth Godin’s site today I came across his post about how we can market our way closer to an end to terrorism. In the post Seth writes how you cannot beat terrorism with guns and prisons – those consequences do little to affect the terrorist’s mind and could do even more to fuel the creation of new terrorists. After all, terrorists are just people who subscribe to a particular idea – an idea that America and the West are immoral – heathens that are bent on destroying their culture and robbing them with the resources.

For all I know, we may never be able to eliminate terrorism and animosity towards us (especially as we are sitting atop the world in terms of wealth and consumption). But what we can do is try to create another idea that can combat those to which the terrorists subscribe.

We have not been very successful invading and bombing our way to changing minds but we do know how to market our ideas. The problem right now is that somewhere along the line, our leaders decided that the time for crafting this sort of idea, had passed and they have been busy reinforcing the old ideas that terrorists have of us.

We are already at a place in time where many people are fearful of expressing racist thoughts and that may eventually give way to the idea of racism finally disappearing. In the same way, maybe some day, the idea of attacking innocents as a means of affecting change an the idea that the Western countries only want to hold down and plunder the rest of the world may seem crazy. Unfortunately, for now, there are far too many people willing to do participate in the former and far too much truth to the latter. Even powerfully crafted and marketed ideas need to eventually mirror reality.

New bridge need not be ugly

I attended the MnDOT open house at Roseville High School last night, or I should say I walked through the job-fair like gym full of MnDOT employees. I was pleased to see that there were folks asking all sorts of questions, but disappointed that it wasn’t a town hall style meeting, however, that is only because I like arguments. The format used was likely a much better way for “nice” Minnesotans to engage in dialog.

As I was walking out, a reporter stopped me and I gave him this, more or less, paraphrased statement:

“Ben Edwards, an Arden Hills resident who crossed the 35W bridge every day on his way to work in Eden Prairie, said he didn’t want Minnesota “to miss an opportunity to do something special with this bridge,” including a unique design and transit options. He said that his commute was no picnic before the collapse and isn’t much different now, and that he’d be willing to wait for a bridge that did more than increase vehicle capacity.”

You can read the full article at the Star Tribune site.

It sounds as though, there are at least some signs of compromise showing up from the Governor’s camp regarding future support for light rail lines over the new bridge. It sounds a little bit like parents telling their kids that they can stop at the go-cart track “on the way back”, hoping they shut up and forget about it.

I, for one, believe the $400,000 daily cost of not having the bridge is a bit of a farce. I travel this way often and my commute has not really been affected. We are very lucky that Highway 280 is there, and it’s conversion to a temporary freeway has gone rather seamlessly. Pawlenty warns that allowing for future light rail lines on the bridge would increase the cost:

“It will be a fair amount of additional money” that would not be reimbursed by federal dollars”

Minnesotans have had some aversion to new taxes lately due to the nice propaganda machine that is the GOP, but if you step back and look at the planned transportation projects and the new bridge project, the big picture becomes clearer.

The anticipated Central Corridor project which will link downtown Minneapolis with downtown Saint Paul by way of the University of Minnesota campus and University Avenue includes plans to have light rail trains travel over the Washington Avenue bridge. This is a bridge I walked over many times in my days and “the U” and it will need significant work to be able to handle the additional weight of light rail trains. In fact when you compare my estimate of $150 million (out of my ass) with another $170 million to build a tunnel near Coffman Union on campus (that figure is not out of my ass but I cannot find where I read it just now) you are looking at over $300 million in additional spending on light rail. The extra half year and $100 million on this new bridge, that we have to build anyway, starts to look like a bargain for the tax payer. Don’t you think that if we are really building a bridge that has a 100-year lifespan, we should spend 100 days considering our options and what we can anticipate for transportation needs for the next century?

OK, the last thing I want to address is the idea that this is just a highway bridge and it should rebuilt without thought to aesthetics. Our state could certainly use another icon, and a bridge over the countries largest river seems like a good place to start – especially when you consider that (for better, or for worse, we will soon lose the loved/hated Metrodome from the Minneapolis skyline. I don’t think we need the Golden Gate Bridge or anything, but something with some character that can be identified in a photo shouldn’t be too hard to ask. Hey, true visionaries can even find ways to make manhole covers things of beauty

Active Nonconformists Together Insisting on Free Association and Speech to Confront Injustice and State Tyranny

This is the best name/acronym for a group, ever. ANTI-FASCIST. (the blurb about this Minneapolis-based group is just “below the fold” on the linked page. And this is possibly one of the *best* quotes from a government official ever:

“What the ANTI-FASCISTs don’t understand is that free speech is fine as long as you don’t do it in public,” said a representative of Homeland Security. “We’re waging a War on Terror, and freedom of speech just isn’t what it used to be. Fences, tear gas, and paddy wagons are important tools for preventing terrorism. Show me a picture of protesters with access to convention delegates and the media, and I’ll show you free speech that’s completely out of control.”

Sorry, I meant one of the saddest.

FNB Politics

FNB politics can be tricky to write about, and to pin down, because it relies on surfacing deep-seated anxieties and archetypes that, when revealed to the light of day, appear ridiculous.

To a large extent my perceptions of public figures is based only upon how the news media (a term used very loosely here) chooses to present them. I have been too naive to realize or too stubborn to admit it, but I just have not known the extent to which political parties use back-channels and media-types to conduct swift-boat style attacks on the character of their “enemies” and just how effective such attacks have been. While I admit to being oblivious to Edwards’ manhood being called into question (for the most-part), I have known about the attacks on Hillary as far back as before she was first lady. The attacks on Barrack are a little more covert, but comments by Rush Limbaugh (shown below), while appearing humorous at first, are no doubt attempting to bring up (in some people) antiquated fears of black men “stealing” “our” white women. It is outrageous!

One of Limbaugh’s ongoing jabs is that white female reporters find him sexually irresistible. “Snerdley is convinced Maureen [Dowd] wants Barack Obama,” he sighs. “I don’t even want to go there.” He depicted Time’s Ana Marie Cox as helpless before Obama’s overpowering sexuality, putting the following thoughts into her head: “Well, there’s no question the power is crackling through his jeans!”

The Onion interviews Win Butler of Arcade Fire

In the interview Butler addresses why he smashed his guitar on Saturday Night Live a couple weeks ago (it was cutting him and he hated it) and speaks about society and religion today (not to mention how much being a kid sucks). He sounds smart and thoughtful and it goes a long way to helping me forget the smashing of the guitar – plus I really love their new album Neon Bible and their show a couple years ago was among the top 2 or 3 concert experiences of my life.

Here is something he told the interviewer at the very end of the interview that strikes a chord with me because it captures a big part of why I am so angry with the way things are going in our country and in me.

When you read Martin Luther King’s speeches about Vietnam, it could be today. Just change the word, and you’re talking about the exact same situation. We’re basically causing spiritual death in our country by doing what we’re doing. At a certain point, you become morally unable to do good in the world, because the country gets so cynical and depressed, there isn’t the force of will to try and change things. I definitely feel that in my generation, this kind of fatigue. And I feel that myself. You’ve got to fight it.