Hey Joe & Palin, my dog has written a book too – but then, she’s cute and knows English!


Here’s Palin’s response, after Matt Lauer asked her when she knew the election was lost:

“I had great faith that, you know, perhaps when that voter entered that voting booth and closed that curtain that what would kick in for them was, perhaps, a bold step that would have to be taken in casting a vote for us, but having to put a lot of faith in that commitment we tried to articulate that we were the true change agent that would progress this nation.”

I missed that one. Discovered it in this wonderful update by Timothy Egan – Typing Without a Clue – in the NYT today on Joe the non-plumber and Sarah the PalinDrone and their publishing venture. It begins:

The unlicensed pipe fitter known as Joe the Plumber is out with a book this month, just as the last seconds on his 15 minutes are slipping away. I have a question for Joe: Do you want me to fix your leaky toilet?

I didn’t think so. And I don’t want you writing books. Not when too many good novelists remain unpublished. Not when too many extraordinary histories remain unread. Not when too many riveting memoirs are kicked back at authors after 10 years of toil. Not when voices in Iran, North Korea or China struggle to get past a censor’s gate.

Bravo! Well put! And there’s more, much more.

i like this, but . . .

Most of the writers I know work every day, in obscurity and close to poverty, trying to say one thing well and true. Day in, day out, they labor to find their voice, to learn their trade, to understand nuance and pace. And then, facing a sea of rejections, they hear about something like Barbara Bush’s dog getting a book deal.

Writing is hard, even for the best wordsmiths. Ernest Hemingway said the most frightening thing he ever encountered was “a blank sheet of paper.” And Winston Churchill called the act of writing a book “a horrible, exhaustive struggle, like a long bout of painful illness.”

. . . well, it’s not that hard! I found writing a novel great fun. (Yeah, I know, I didn’t publish it and it probably isn’t publishable, but I did write it and I did have fun and some of my family seemed to like it. 😉 Oh yes, and for 10 years I did write every day for a living and after that I published many articles in high-circulation magazines, so I think I can call myself a writer. But I do share Egan’s frustration with how notoriety seems to be the main credential for too many non-writing “authors” today. One big exception is Obama, as he notes, and one of my other heroes, Teddy Roosevelt. (BTW – I voted for Obama because he can think – not because he is black and not because he is a liberal.)

The idea that someone who stumbled into a sound bite can be published, and charge $24.95 for said words, makes so many real writers think the world is unfair.

Our next president is a writer, which may do something to elevate standards in the book industry. The last time a true writer occupied the White House was a hundred years ago, with Teddy Roosevelt, who wrote 13 books before his 40th birthday.

Oh yes – about the headline – Eliza has written a book on her experiences as a pet therapy dog and she writes very well – though she gets some help from Bren – and a few people actually asked for – and bought – copies of it. But she hasn’t gotten a big advance from a publisher yet, though Bren is still trying to give her some help on that task as well. Anyway, I get the feeling she contributes more to our society than Joe or that Alaskan mangler of the English language.

Bill Ayers speaks – and very effectively

I’m glad we won – but just reading what Bill Ayers has to say in today’s New York Times reminds me of how hate-filled, how totally anti-life, the forces were that we defeated. And yes, I know they are still out there today – ignorance isn’t going to vanish with just one election. And yes, I know there is an intelligent and legitimate opposition to my point of view, but it’s difficult to hear with the pervasive demagogery still spewing out of Alaska.

First – the essence of what Ayers has to say:

Now that the election is over, I want to say as plainly as I can that the character invented to serve this drama wasn’t me, not even close. Here are the facts:

I never killed or injured anyone. I did join the civil rights movement in the mid-1960s, and later resisted the draft and was arrested in nonviolent demonstrations. I became a full-time antiwar organizer for Students for a Democratic Society. In 1970, I co-founded the Weather Underground, an organization that was created after an accidental explosion that claimed the lives of three of our comrades in Greenwich Village. The Weather Underground went on to take responsibility for placing several small bombs in empty offices — the ones at the Pentagon and the United States Capitol were the most notorious — as an illegal and unpopular war consumed the nation.

The Weather Underground crossed lines of legality, of propriety and perhaps even of common sense. Our effectiveness can be — and still is being — debated. We did carry out symbolic acts of extreme vandalism directed at monuments to war and racism, and the attacks on property, never on people, were meant to respect human life and convey outrage and determination to end the Vietnam war.

Peaceful protests had failed to stop the war. So we issued a screaming response. But it was not terrorism; we were not engaged in a campaign to kill and injure people indiscriminately, spreading fear and suffering for political ends.

I was an editorial writer in those days, and I wrote editorials opposing both the War in Vietnam and the extreme actions of people such as Ayers who also opposed that war. I felt they confused the issue and appealed largely to emotion in much the same way that Sarah Palin – a symbol of all that’s sick with the conservative movement today – does. In those days it drove me crazy when radicals would shout down the opposition on college campuses. It was contrary then to the sort of respect different viewpoints deserve and it’s contrary now. The Vietnam War, like the Iraq War, was a horrible mistake. But our soldiers weren’t to blame for either of those mistakes. In both cases it was our political leaders. And I don’t believe for a minute that in either case these leaders did what they did for “evil” motives.

As with Ayers, they were doing what they thought was right for the country and the world. I believe they were wrong in what they did – and Ayers was wrong in how he expressed his opposition. But I don’t question their motives. I may ave doubts in some cases, but that is almost always a dead end street. No one can prove to me what is in another person’s heart. We need to oppose what people do, we need to oppose what they say – but we can do both without insulting their essential humanity – without villifying them. Life is not a comic book and politicians have to stop treating the American people as if all they understand is comic books.

Bill Ayers makes a very rational, calm case for a man who was dismissed over and over again as a “terrorist.” In fact, his approach is the best argument against his critics who I doubt had any real knowledge of who he was before they branded him and used him to promote themselves. It’s interesting. There were several points during the campaign where I think John McCain could have won if he had stuck to the rational arguments he occasionally mustered. But he didn’t. H e made sense one day, then dragged out Joe-the-plumber the next two. And I never saw any evidence that Sarah Palin had any plans to present to the American people. She was defined by how she opposed everything. And in the end her actions and words brought her down – a simple fact that gives me some confidence that ultimately we live in a rational and just world – that people sowing hate reap the same.

Who’s black? Who’s white? Who cares?

Bren’s been saying this all along. I’ve wondered about it from time to time. So it’s nice to see Marie Arana taking it on in the Washington Post – President-elect Obama is neither black nor white and by calling him black we’re perpetuating racism. He calls himself black, but it was interesting that in one recent public statement about the White House puppy quest he referred to himself as a “mutt.” I like that – especially when you consider that a lot of folks these days are not at all happy with the problems you can have with pure bred dogs and are either opting for mutts, or opting, as we did, for intentional cross breeding – ehh . . . intentional mutts. (Ours are cockapoos.) There is a richness in genetic diversity that we tend to play down because we’re still so damned tribal by instinct.

Anyways, Arana writes:

He is also half white.

Unless the one-drop rule still applies, our president-elect is not black.

We call him that — he calls himself that — because we use dated language and logic. After more than 300 years and much difficult history, we hew to the old racist rule: Part-black is all black. Fifty percent equals a hundred. There’s no in-between.

That was my reaction when I read these words on the front page of this newspaper the day after the election: “Obama Makes History: U.S. Decisively Elects First Black President.”

The phrase was repeated in much the same form by one media organization after another. It’s as if we have one foot in the future and another still mired in the Old South. We are racially sophisticated enough to elect a non-white president, and we are so racially backward that we insist on calling him black. Progress has outpaced vocabulary.

I could’t find the orignal WaPoarticle on their site, but it was republished by the New Bedford Standard-Times today and can be read in full here.

This is too good! Robin Williams on politicians ;-)

Don F. sent this to me with the brief notation:

Robin Williams, always good

Wow! You got that right, Don. (Interesting though. I found the beginning Obama material so-so. Is it just me? Or are even the best comedians going to struggle for the next four – let’s hope 8 – years? They must really be hoping Sarah Palin stays in the spotlight!)

Hearing dissent – the Obama strength

Strong leaders not only tolerate dissent – they crave it. They know good decisions come from listening to people who are telling them what they think, not those who are currying favor by telling them what they think theleader wants to hear. I learned that from my first mentor, Dr. Donald E. Walker, who at the time was president of Southeastern Massachusetts University – now the University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth.

One of Don’s favorite sayings was “all of us are smarter than any of us.” He knew good ideas “bubbled up” from the bottom – they weren’t imposed from the top. He also knew that listening to someone doesn’t mean you agree with them, although this is one of the pitfalls of that approach. I can remember many times when faculty came to his office, Don lsitened quietly to what they had to say, and the very act of listening was assumed to mean he agreed with them. When he did something different than what they had advised they would call him a liar because they thought they had convinced him of their point of view. No – he was simply lsitening and weighing everyone’s point of view.

Does this guarantee good decisions? Of course not. No one’s going to bat 1,000. But it does mean you have a good chance of making good decisions more often than not and that’s really the most we can hope for from any leader. What we have had is a person similar to the person who preceded Don as president – a person who was “a decider” and who ruled with a iron hand, isolating himself from differing opinions. On the small scale of a single university this person acted just as Presidnt Bush has acted. He was a “bubble boy,” living inside an artificial world with a few trusted, like-thinking advisors. He loved the appearance of being strong and decisive, when really he was weak and incapable of weighing complex, conflicting ideas. And in both cases these leaders had no choice: They did not have the habit of listening to others and if they had listened they did not have the foundational tools to sort through multiple viewpoints and make good decisions.

Obama has both the habit and the tools. And as the New York Times pointed out in its editorial this morning, he is surrounding himself with bright, strong, dissenting voices – because he is a bright, self-confident voice himself who is not afraid to let others speak and has developed the habit not of simply tolerating dissent, but of hearing it and incorporating it in his decision making. The Times summed it up nicely in their opening paragraphs.

After years of watching American leadership crumble under the weight of bad decisions made in a White House shuttered to all debate, President-elect Barack Obama’s national security team is a relief.

Starting with the selection of Hillary Rodham Clinton, his former rival, as secretary of state, the president-elect has displayed his usual self-confidence. Declaring that he prizes “strong personalities and strong opinions,” Mr. Obama, who has limited foreign-policy experience, showed that he wants advisers with real authority who will not be afraid to disagree with him — two traits disastrously lacking in President Bush’s team.

Bush frequently indicated that he listened to his generals in the field. What he was doing is passing the buck downwards – saying, in effect, that he simply followed the orders he got from his generals. Last summer Obama met with General David Petraeus in Iraq. He lsitened and heard a lot of things that didn’t fit his preconceptions. In the end he thanked him for the frank presentation of his ideas, but made it clear that while he felt Petraeus was advising exactly as he should from his perspective and his position of leadership, the president would have a different task. The president would have to consider things that the general in the field – whoever it was – did not and should not consider. The president, therefore, would make his decision based on several opinions from different sources with different – legitimate – goals.

Obama’s selection of his cabinet indicates he is continuing to think and act this way. He doesn’t have to strut to the mcirophone and tell the world “I’m the decider.” He knows it. Any child should know it. But before he decides he has to be the listener, a role Bush never understood, bragging baout hiw his decisions were made from his gut and how he didn’t read the papers.

Obama’s ‘secret’ weapon – try it!

I was a bit surprised when a New York Times news analysis on Friday began:

WASHINGTON — President-elect Barack Obama won the Democratic nomination with the enthusiastic support of the left wing of his party, fueled by his vehement opposition to the decision to invade Iraq and by one of the most liberal voting records in the Senate.

Now, his reported selections for two of the major positions in his cabinet — Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton as secretary of state and Timothy F. Geithner as secretary of the Treasury — suggest that Mr. Obama is planning to govern from the center-right of his party, surrounding himself with pragmatists rather than ideologues.

Mind you, I was not surprised that Obama was surrounding himself with thinking people who might think differently than he does – and I certainly wasn’t surprised that he was taking a pragmatic approach – these are both reasons why I voted for him – big reasons. Especially the pragmatism. I was just surprised that the NYT seemed surprised. But in any event, let’s hear it for pragmatism – it’s high on my list of – well, of what works 😉

And I’m not talking just about politics. I’m talking about paper airplanes, crystal radios, astronomy and much more. Hell, having tried for decades to teach people how to use computers I can’t tell you how many times – sometimes in exasperation – I’ve said “just try it. You’re not going to break anything and you’re not going to learn any more by reading about it, or listening to me. Yap the keyboard, click the mouse, go there. Try it. See what happens.” This is a wonderful environment to explore and give you really quick feedback. So you feel like a rat in a maze sometimes – try it. If you don’t , you’ll never find the cheese.

But beyond my love for what I grandly thnk of as experiential learning, I’m just plain leary of the abstract. I love the concrete. Sure I read a lot – an awful lot. But I frequently put the book down and do it. Which is probably why it takes me so long to finish a book.

In these times the last thing I want is another ideologue as president who surrounds himself – or herself – which a bunch of ideologues who think the same way. What’s wrong with ideologues? They want everything to follow a preconceived set of rules – their set. Life doesn’t work that way and I simply don’t believe that anyone has discovered the complete set of rules – and those who think they have quickly turn into snakeoil salesmen. Look, listen, think – yes. And when you’ve done that, try it. And when it doesn’t work, stop doing it and try something else. Please spare me from a gutless president who can’t make – and admit he’s made – mistakes.

But as I said, this isn’t just good sense for politics, it works in many disparate fields.

I just stumbled across this in the latest issue of Air & Space from the Smithsonian:

From his paper airplane tinkering, Blackburn learned to avoid preconceptions about fuselage and wing performance. “Sometimes the shapes surprise me,” he says of his hand-folded airplanes.”I think ‘Well, this shape should do really well,’ and sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes I come up with a shape that I think,”well, it looks good but it won’t fly well,’ and then it does fly well. You learn by doing. more than anything else, this has made me appreciate having an open mind.”


Now before you start thinking “why the heck should I take lessons from a guy building paper airplanes,” consider that Ken Blackwell is an aerospace engineer who set the world record for the longest flight of a paper airplane, wrote a very successful book – “The world Record paper Airplane Book” – and currently designs little radio controlled planes that fold to fit in a soldier’s backpack, carry a couple of tv cameras plus a gps system, and can scout ahead behind a hill and yes – they actually have saved lives in combat. (looking at his website – link above – he also likes small dogs, so that’s reason enough to respect the guy. 😉

Moving on . . .

As to astronomy, I don’t think you get close to grasping the wonders of the distant universe without getting out there on a cold, clear night and letting the aged light from some distant galaxies enter your eyes and ping your brain. Stop looking at pictures – they’re two dimensional representations of what is a three-dimensional (at least) living, evolving reality so far beyond their images it’s ludicrous to consider. (OK, they help a little – but . . . they are their own reality and only a shadow of the reality that’s out there, waiting to connect with you directly.)

And simple as a crystal radio is – and it can be very simple – I am amazed at how little we really know about how these few parts interact – take a look here for 70-plus examples – and those who are devoted to them continuously experiment. Do they think first? Of course. So will Obama.

Thinking is good. Having some guiding principles that give you a sense of direction is good. Being wedded to one ideology or the other – being afraid to listen to conflicting ideas from people who think quite differently than you do – and being afraid to try something that your preconceptions say “won’t fly” – that’s not going to get us anywhere.

I firmly believe that President Obama is going to make mistakes. What’s more, he’s going to do some things that sound appalling to liberals such as myself. But I’m all for it. Listen. Consider. Try. And know when to let go when your favored idea fails. Sounds refreshing to me – even hopeful.

The high – email – price of success!

This will be interesting to watch:

WASHINGTON — Sorry, Mr. President. Please surrender your BlackBerry.

Those are seven words President-elect Barack Obama is dreading but expecting to hear, friends and advisers say, when he takes office in 65 days.

For years, like legions of other professionals, Mr. Obama has been all but addicted to his BlackBerry. The device has rarely been far from his side — on most days, it was fastened to his belt — to provide a singular conduit to the outside world as the bubble around him grew tighter and tighter throughout his campaign.

See here for complete story.

It’s not absolute. He could stay on email. But it raises serious security questions. It also raises issues of efficiency. But then, isn’t this a formula for becoming bubble boy? As noted below, the being plugged n gives him a source of unfiltered information. No matter how trusted your various aides are, they create a bubble around you that includes no disinterested parties. OK – everyone is an”interested” party – but if they’re in your employ the dynamic – the level of interest – changes. I vote for him keeping the Blackberry.

His messages to advisers and friends, they say, are generally crisp, properly spelled and free of symbols or emoticons. The time stamps provided a window into how much he was sleeping on a given night, with messages often being sent to staff members at 1 a.m. or as late as 3 a.m. if he was working on an important speech.

He received a scaled-down list of news clippings, with his advisers wanting to keep him from reading blogs and news updates all day long, yet aides said he still seemed to hear about nearly everything in real time. A network of friends — some from college, others from Chicago and various chapters in his life — promised to keep him plugged in.

Not having such a ready line to that network, staff members who spent countless hours with him say, is likely to be a challenge.

“Given how important it is for him to get unfiltered information from as many sources as possible, I can imagine he will miss that freedom,” said Linda Douglass, a senior adviser who traveled with the campaign.