Monthly Archives: July 2008

Fight the sleaze

I gave money to Barack Obama in January and, as much as I’d like to give his campaign more, I thought I’d reached my personal limit. But so repellent has the McCain campaign been – and I’m sure it will get worse – that I clicked on my latest email from Obama to give more money. Not a lot, but doing my part.

Donate now.

Offbase offshore

I’m mystified by the growing public support for offshore oil drilling. I know it’s been a Republican talking point for weeks, and seems to be just about the only policy John McCain has on anything. But even the most rudimentary calculation reveals that opening up US coastal waters to more drilling will do nothing to gas prices – the hot issue of the moment – and will do remarkably little to supply many years down the road. As Andrew Leonard points out, it might juice Exxon’s share price a bit. Does a majority of Americans want to abandon any environmental sense for such a meaningless policy?

European diversity

One fact from a column by Richard Milne in yesterday’s Financial Times really shocked me:

The situation [on female directors] is even worse in Germany, which shamefully only has one female management board member from the 200 or so executives in Dax-30 companies, Bettina von Oesterreich at Hypo Real Estate.

Milne’s starting point for his column was the recent comment by Siemens’ CEO Peter Lõscher that his own group was “too German, too white and too male”. Germany has a female chancellor, which seems to me (and I imagine most Germans) unremarkable at this point. It seems extraordinary that large corporations haven’t moved with the times. What a neglect of half the country’s talent.

Milne points out the a survey of the UK’s FTSE-100 companies in 2006 found only 11 per cent of directors were female. That’s bad, but it looks wonderful compared to Germany.

Lo sciopero

When we were in Italy earlier this month, my children had a chance to learn something essential about Italian life: lo sciopero. Our plan was to travel from Venice to Rome by train on Monday afternoon, so we could catch our early morning flight back to the US on Tuesday. When we walked into our hotel on Sunday evening, the pleasant concierge asked me if we knew about the transport strike.

No, I didn’t. What was going on? It turned out that from 9pm on Sunday until 9pm on Monday, all public transport in Italy was out on strike. Some trains might run, she said, but she couldn’t get through to the information line that supposedly listed the uncanceled trains. Incidentally, the vaporetti, Venice’s water buses, were also going to be out on strike (so much for our expensive 24-hour vaporetto tickets).

My older son and I set off for the train station in the hope we could find out anything about our train there. The still-running vaporetti took us there reasonably swiftly, where we discovered a long line for the information office. I’ll hazard a guess that the information office employees are used to harassment: they only allow one person at a time into the office, through a locked door. The train station schedule board painted a grim picture. After 9pm, there were no trains listed at all.

When we eventually made it into the information office, I asked about our reservations for Monday’s 16:42 train to Rome. The man looked through a computer print out and declared, “It’s running.” Phew. I decided to press my luck. “Does that mean it will certainly be running? Are there situations when listed trains don’t run?” He looked at me like I was a cretin. “I said it’s running.” “Certainly?” “Are you certain the world will exist tomorrow?” he replied. Everyone’s a philosopher.

In any case, we walked the next afternoon to the train station (as expensive as vaporetti are, you don’t want to even know how extortionate water taxis are in Venice). Lo and behold, our train was there. It was the only train that day running from Venice to Rome. Extraordinary luck, especially since I had tried and failed to get reservations for earlier trains.

So now my children know what a strike is.

Translation of image above: I’m on strike. I don’t want to write anything. Write something yourself.

A new stop for Obama in London: what Hadrian did

I loved this Martin Kettle suggestion:

However, senator, we also now advise a late change to your London schedule. The truth is that you have a lot more to offer the UK politicians than they have to offer you. So we propose cutting back your facetime with Brown and the rest in favour of something much more photogenic that we think would benefit you more. That something is a visit to the British Museum’s brand new exhibition about the Emperor Hadrian. This may seem a bit left-field but here’s the reason why it couldn’t be more relevant to you today.

You see, senator, Hadrian’s predecessor Trajan had staked everything on conquering Mesopotamia, which of course is the modern Iraq. At first Trajan successfully persuaded Romans that the war was going well, but in fact the mission was overstretched and gradually his campaign was undermined by a widespread local insurgency. So when Hadrian became emperor of Rome in 117 AD, just about the first thing he did after his inauguration was to withdraw the Roman legions from Mesopotamia, Assyria and Greater Armenia. All this came as a shock to the Roman psyche, which had been nurtured on endless tales of triumph, but in the end it made much better sense to bring the boys home. It meant Hadrian was able to consolidate Rome’s boundaries and concentrate on the military campaigns that truly threatened Rome’s security.

Senator, you should know that not everything about Hadrian was as inspired and successful as the withdrawal from Mesopotamia. There are some sections of the British Museum exhibition that you should definitely avoid visiting until after election day. In particular there is a searing section which describes how he was responsible for killing hundreds of thousands of Jews during a revolt against Roman rule starting in 132 AD. So be certain to say very publicly that Hadrian offers eternal lessons both for good and for evil. Apart from that, the Hadrian visit will be all gain. It will show you understand the world better than President Bush. And in the end, that’s what this campaign is all about anyway, senator.

It's worse than you think

Charles Arthur passes along the word that US television news is absolutely appalling. That’s not a novel idea in my household, but my wife and I were literally open-mouthed the other evening when we made the mistake of watching the first minutes of CNN Newsroom. On the CNN site, Newsroom is described as “the place to be when breaking news happens”. I just wanted to see the coverage of Obama’s trip and it was the only news program I could find on Saturday night. Instead the anchor was shouting tabloid headlines at us. I reached the power off button before our brains were permanently affected.

I agree with Arthur’s conclusion:

Anyhow, the US TV media’s surely looming death is thus caused by being too shallow; the print media’s impending doom (though not death) by being too dull.

Turning the tide

I was able to spend part of this morning at the Tides Foundation’s Momentum conference, where a room was filled with enthusiastic, energetic progressives, mostly engaged directly in issues of social justice, green politics, diversity and other inspiring causes. Together with a great weekend for Obama, it contributed to my increasing optimism about my country and the wider world.

The first morning session at Momentum was on democracy and there were a number of outstanding speakers. First Alex Gibney, director, writer and producer of the Oscar-winning “Taxi to the Dark Side” spoke about his film and the rather chilling understanding it gave him about the US and torture. “We’re all complicit. We let it happen.” Fortunately, Gibney was able to end on a more uplifting note. “Taxi to the Dark Side” has been embraced by the US military and it is now required viewing at the Army Judge Advocate General school. So we can hope that when we get rid of the Bush administration, the bulk of the military will back away from the dark side.

Drew Westen, the Emory University psychologist who published The Political Brain last year, followed Gibney. He talked about the importance of framing — à la Lakoff — with wit and intelligence. In discussing the failure to override Bush’s veto of the S-CHIP health program, despite polls indicating 80 per cent of the country supported it, Westen cautioned, “Do not take your acronymns out in public.” There isn’t support, he said, for S-CHIP, there’s support for making sure all working parents can get healthcare for their children.

Eboo Patel, founder of the Interfaith Youth Core, is as eloquent, moving and fluent a speaker as I can recall. I don’t agree with Patel’s belief that religious division is the key issue in today’s world, and I thought he twisted history to fit every 20th century hero into his advocacy of religious pluralism. But there is no denying that Patel is an extraordinary young leader. One to watch.

Finally, the session was closed by Larry Lessig. Lessig’s switch from information politics to corruption had been widely covered, so I was interested to see what he had to say. His unique presentation style is highly effective, and his drumbeat of evidence on the corrosive effects of money on our legislators is unarguable. I didn’t, however, think he was yet bringing any particularly novel insights to the issue. I trust that will come.

Good and lucky

From RBC:

Obama is either very good or very lucky. Somehow “troops out of Iraq to add to Afghanistan” and “go after al-Qaeda in Pakistan without asking Musharraf’s permission” and “negotiate with Iran” have all become not just mainstream views but Administration policy. And now this [al-Maliki's support for Obama's timetable].

You’d think it couldn’t get any better, but then I saw this clip (watch particularly from the one-minute mark):

[youtube 1icHG0x0Am8]

Sleep on it

Mike Arrington reports that a number of idiots entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley are taking the drug Provigil so they can work more hours. Working more hours doesn’t necessarily create better businesses. As Garr Reynolds notes in an unrelated post, there is an increasing amount of research that emphasizes the importance of getting adequate sleep. Reynolds snips this telling quote by sleep expert Neil Stanley from a BBC article:

Sleep is not just a waste of time, it is a very active time and we need it for things like memory and learning. During the day we acquire information, but at night we sort that information. People complain about sleep deprivation, but now with the 24/7 society and information overload we need our sleep more than ever.