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.