kottke.org posts about Barack Obama

The benefits of having your head in the sandMay 19 2014

Ira Glass doesn't have any idea who Jill Abramson was or that she was fired.

Jill Abramson was fired.

I have no idea what you're talking about.

Jill Abramson got fired from the New York Times.

Okay. And she was who?

The executive editor.

Okay. I read the newspaper, but I live in my own little bubble. When did that happen?

Wednesday. And it's been a massive ... the blogosphere is going wild.

I hate reading media news so I actively sort of - I'm not interested in someone getting fired. No disrespect to people that are, but I literally had no idea who she was, or that she got fired until this moment.

I love this. Not like ironically or in the sense that I think Glass is a moron for being a media person who doesn't know what's going on with the media; I actually love it. There is very little about the Times' story that isn't just straight-up gossip. And for someone like Glass who traffics in ideas and is busy producing something of high quality like This American Life, media gossip just isn't that important.

And as @jess_mc reminded me, this Glass thing isn't nearly as entertaining as DMX not knowing who Barack Obama was in early 2008.

Wow, Barack! The nigga's name is Barack. Barack? Nigga named Barack Obama. What the fuck, man?! Is he serious? That ain't his fuckin' name. Ima tell this nigga when I see him, "Stop that bullshit. Stop that bullshit" [laughs] "That ain't your fuckin' name." Your momma ain't name you no damn Barack.

Remnick goes long on Obama againJan 19 2014

Some light weekend reading: the New Yorker's David Remnick checks in on how the Obama Presidency is going, five years in.

When Obama leaves the White House, on January 20, 2017, he will write a memoir. "Now, that's a slam dunk," the former Obama adviser David Axelrod told me. Andrew Wylie, a leading literary agent, said he thought that publishers would pay between seventeen and twenty million dollars for the book-the most ever for a work of nonfiction-and around twelve million for Michelle Obama's memoirs. (The First Lady has already started work on hers.) Obama's best friend, Marty Nesbitt, a Chicago businessman, told me that, important as the memoir might be to Obama's legacy and to his finances, "I don't see him locked up in a room writing all the time. His capacity to crank stuff out is amazing. When he was writing his second book, he would say, 'I'm gonna get up at seven and write this chapter-and at nine we'll play golf.' I would think no, it's going to be a lot later, but he would knock on my door at nine and say, 'Let's go.'" Nesbitt thinks that Obama will work on issues such as human rights, education, and "health and wellness." "He was a local community organizer when he was young," he said. "At the back end of his career, I see him as an international and national community organizer."

Remnick also wrote about Obama's first campaign back in 2008.

Barack Obama could not run his campaign for the Presidency based on political accomplishment or on the heroic service of his youth. His record was too slight. His Democratic and Republican opponents were right: he ran largely on language, on the expression of a country's potential and the self-expression of a complicated man who could reflect and lead that country. And a powerful thematic undercurrent of his oratory and prose was race. Not race as invoked by his predecessors in electoral politics or in the civil-rights movement, not race as an insistence on tribe or on redress; rather, Obama made his biracial ancestry a metaphor for his ambition to create a broad coalition of support, to rally Americans behind a narrative of moral and political progress. He was not its hero, but he just might be its culmination.

The Killing MachinesAug 16 2013

When you consider the alternatives -- even, and perhaps especially, if you are deeply concerned with sparing civilians -- you are led, as Obama was, to the logic of the drone.

The Atlantic's Mark Bowden provides his take on how to think about drones: The Killing Machines.

Obama as Daniel Day-Lewis as Obama in Spielberg's ObamaApr 29 2013

Steven Spielberg is doing a sequel to Lincoln called Obama and he got Daniel Day-Lewis to play the lead. I knew Day-Lewis was good, but this is bonkers.

Rand Paul eternal drone warfare filibusterMar 06 2013

Rand Paul has had the floor to the Senate for 10 hours now, filibustering against the nomination of John Brennan as CIA director. You can watch here. What's a filibuster?

A filibuster in the United States Senate usually refers to any dilatory or obstructive tactics used to prevent a measure from being brought to a vote. The most common form of filibuster occurs when a senator attempts to delay or entirely prevent a vote on a bill by extending the debate on the measure, but other dilatory tactics exist. The rules permit a senator, or a series of senators, to speak for as long as they wish and on any topic they choose, unless "three-fifths of the Senators duly chosen and sworn" (usually 60 out of 100 senators) brings debate to a close by invoking cloture under Senate Rule XXII.

What's Paul upset about? Drones:

Paul said that all presidents must honor the Fifth Amendment. "No American should ever be killed in their house without warrant and some kind of aggressive behavior by them," Paul said on the Senate floor. "To be bombed in your sleep? There's nothing American about that . . . [Obama] says trust him because he hasn't done it yet. He says he doesn't intend to do so, but he might. Mr. President, that's not good enough . . . so I've come here to speak for as long as I can to draw attention to something that I find to really be very disturbing."

"I will not sit quietly and let him shred the Constitution," Paul added."No person will be deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process," he said, quoting the Fifth Amendment.

I have written about Obama's continued use of drones before.

When it's OK for the US govt to kill citizensFeb 05 2013

This Justice Department memo about when the US government, without hearing or trial or due process or whatever other "rights" we as a country hold dear, can kill US citizens is fucking bullshit.

A confidential Justice Department memo concludes that the U.S. government can order the killing of American citizens if they are believed to be "senior operational leaders" of al-Qaida or "an associated force" -- even if there is no intelligence indicating they are engaged in an active plot to attack the U.S.

The 16-page memo, a copy of which was obtained by NBC News, provides new details about the legal reasoning behind one of the Obama administration's most secretive and controversial polices: its dramatically increased use of drone strikes against al-Qaida suspects abroad, including those aimed at American citizens, such as the September 2011 strike in Yemen that killed alleged al-Qaida operatives Anwar al-Awlaki and Samir Khan. Both were U.S. citizens who had never been indicted by the U.S. government nor charged with any crimes.

The whole memo is here. A staggering disappointment from a man many think is better than this. See also: Obama's lethal Presidency.

Obama's overlooked war and lethal PresidencyJan 22 2013

Tom Junod has been on the drone beat since writing The Lethal Presidency of Barack Obama in July.

Sure, we as a nation have always killed people. A lot of people. But no president has ever waged war by killing enemies one by one, targeting them individually for execution, wherever they are. The Obama administration has taken pains to tell us, over and over again, that they are careful, scrupulous of our laws, and determined to avoid the loss of collateral, innocent lives. They're careful because when it comes to waging war on individuals, the distinction between war and murder becomes a fine one. Especially when, on occasion, the individuals we target are Americans and when, in one instance, the collateral damage was an American boy.

Individual targetting isn't exclusively done by military drones, but they are the favored method. Junod notes that even as Obama said that "a decade of war is now ending" in his inauguration speech, a drone strike killed three suspected Al Qaeda members in Yemen.

President Obama's second inaugural was supposed to sound something like Lincoln's: the speech of a man tired of war, and eager to move the nation beyond its bloody reach. In truth, it was the speech of a man who has perfected a form of war that can be written off as a kind of peace. He was able to put the pain of war in the past because his efforts to expand painless war have come to fruition.

Here's the full report on the recent Yemeni strikes from the AP:

An American drone strike on Monday on a car east of Sana, the capital, killed three people suspected of being members of Al Qaeda, said Yemeni security officials. On Saturday, two American drone strikes killed eight people in Marib Province. Yemen, aided by the United States, has been battling the local branch of Al Qaeda. The United States rarely comments on its military role in Yemen but has acknowledged targeting Qaeda militants in the past.

Dangerous dangerous precedent here. If George W. Bush were doing this sort of thing, we'd be marching in the streets about it. Why does Obama get a free pass? (And on Bradley Manning? And on Guantanamo?) Anyone in the press want to ask the President about the legality & moral stickiness of drone strikes at his next press conference?

Obama announces plan to reduce gun violenceJan 16 2013

At a press conference today, Vice President Biden and President Obama introduced their plan to reduce the nation's gun violence. Here are main points:

Require criminal background checks for all gun sales.

Take four executive actions to ensure information on dangerous individuals is available to the background check system.

Reinstate and strengthen the assault weapons ban.

Restore the 10-round limit on ammunition magazines.

Protect police by finishing the job of getting rid of armor-piercing bullets.

Give law enforcement additional tools to prevent and prosecute gun crime.

End the freeze on gun violence research.

Make our schools safer with more school resource officers and school counselors, safer climates, and better emergency response plans.

Help ensure that young people get the mental health treatment they need.

Ensure health insurance plans cover mental health benefits.

Here's the press conference in its entirety:

The NY Times has an overview of their remarks.

Would you rather fight 100 duck-sized horses or one horse-sized duck?Jan 11 2013

When President Obama did an interview on Reddit in August, one of the questions he got was:

Would you rather fight 100 duck-sized horses or one horse-sized duck?

Obama declined to answer the question, but Conor Friedersdorf decided to ask a waterfowl expert what he thought and the answer involves an interesting mix of science:

With such a huge body, the problem of surface area to body volume comes into play. The terror-ducktyl would have a problem losing heat. Hence, a possible tactic would be to get it running around chasing me and it might overheat, stroke out, and die. Birds have higher body temperatures than mammals in any case (often very close to the 40 degrees Celsius upper lethal limit) so it might not take too much to push the duck over the metabolic cliff. Merits consideration.

and politics:

After engaging his graduate students in conversation, he came to realize that it would be politically disastrous for Obama to fight the duck-sized horses. Think about it. In America, the duck lobby is composed of duck hunters. The horse lobby is made up of horse lovers who succeeded in stopping Californians from buying horse meat. The young women voters essential to the Democratic coalition are far more sympathetic to veritable ponies than a giant, rape-obsessed mallard. Shooting the duck would be perfectly legal under existing law, or would at worst result in a citation for hunting without a license.

See also The Biology of B-Movie Monsters by Michael LaBarbera, a classic and one of my favorite internet things ever.

When the Incredible Shrinking Man stops shrinking, he is about an inch tall, down by a factor of about 70 in linear dimensions. Thus, the surface area of his body, through which he loses heat, has decreased by a factor of 70 x 70 or about 5,000 times, but the mass of his body, which generates the heat, has decreased by 70 x 70 x 70 or 350,000 times. He's clearly going to have a hard time maintaining his body temperature (even though his clothes are now conveniently shrinking with him) unless his metabolic rate increases drastically.

Luckily, his lung area has only decreased by 5,000-fold, so he can get the relatively larger supply of oxygen he needs, but he's going to have to supply his body with much more fuel; like a shrew, he'll probably have to eat his own weight daily just to stay alive. He'll also have to give up sleeping and eat 24 hours a day or risk starving before he wakes up in the morning (unless he can learn the trick used by hummingbirds of lowering their body temperatures while they sleep).

Obama's poor record on gun controlDec 17 2012

Despite promises leading up to the 2008 Presidential election of strengthening the nation's gun control laws, President Obama has done nothing but offer condolences to those affected by mass shootings.

There has been no shortage of sorrow-filled words from Barack Obama following each of the tragic mass killings that have afflicted his presidency.

Obama described the wounding of congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and deaths of six other people, including a young girl, in Tucson, Arizona, last year as a "tragedy for our entire country" and called for a "national dialogue" on how Americans treat each other.

He struck much the same theme in July following the killing of 12 people at a Colorado cinema. A month later, Obama called for "soul searching" on how to reduce violence after a white supremacist murdered six people at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin.

The searing awfulness of Newtown on Friday saw the president in tears, declaring: "We've endured too many of these tragedies in the past few years.

"We're going to have to come together and take meaningful action to prevent more tragedies like this, regardless of the politics," he said.

Although Obama didn't mention gun control, that is what he was widely assumed to be talking about.

But critics say that the president, for all his sorrowful words after each mass killing, has not only visibly failed to address gun control, he has quietly acquiesced in a slew of national, state and local laws in recent years that have generally made it easier to buy and carry weapons.

Obama's speech at Newtown prayer vigilDec 17 2012

President Obama pledged to use "whatever power this office holds to engage my fellow citizens, from law enforcement, to mental health professionals, to parents and educators, in an effort aimed at preventing more tragedies like this" in his speech last night at a prayer vigil in Newtown, CT.

A full transcript of the speech is available.

And then there were the scenes of the schoolchildren helping one another, holding each other, dutifully following instructions in the way that young children sometimes do, one child even trying to encourage a grownup by saying, "I know karate, so it's OK; I'll lead the way out."

As a community, you've inspired us, Newtown. In the face of indescribable violence, in the face of unconscionable evil, you've looked out for each other. You've cared for one another. And you've loved one another. This is how Newtown will be remembered, and with time and God's grace, that love will see you through.

But we as a nation, we are left with some hard questions. You know, someone once described the joy and anxiety of parenthood as the equivalent of having your heart outside of your body all the time, walking around.

With their very first cry, this most precious, vital part of ourselves, our child, is suddenly exposed to the world, to possible mishap or malice, and every parent knows there's nothing we will not do to shield our children from harm. And yet we also know that with that child's very first step and each step after that, they are separating from us, that we won't -- that we can't always be there for them.

They will suffer sickness and setbacks and broken hearts and disappointments, and we learn that our most important job is to give them what they need to become self-reliant and capable and resilient, ready to face the world without fear. And we know we can't do this by ourselves.

It comes as a shock at a certain point where you realize no matter how much you love these kids, you can't do it by yourself, that this job of keeping our children safe and teaching them well is something we can only do together, with the help of friends and neighbors, the help of a community and the help of a nation.

And in that way we come to realize that we bear responsibility for every child, because we're counting on everybody else to help look after ours, that we're all parents, that they are all our children.

This is our first task, caring for our children. It's our first job. If we don't get that right, we don't get anything right. That's how, as a society, we will be judged.

And by that measure, can we truly say, as a nation, that we're meeting our obligations?

Can we honestly say that we're doing enough to keep our children, all of them, safe from harm?

Can we claim, as a nation, that we're all together there, letting them know they are loved and teaching them to love in return?

Can we say that we're truly doing enough to give all the children of this country the chance they deserve to live out their lives in happiness and with purpose?

I've been reflecting on this the last few days, and if we're honest with ourselves, the answer's no. We're not doing enough. And we will have to change. Since I've been president, this is the fourth time we have come together to comfort a grieving community torn apart by mass shootings, fourth time we've hugged survivors, the fourth time we've consoled the families of victims.

Remnick to Obama: take action on gun controlDec 14 2012

The New Yorker's editor in chief David Remnick strongly urges President Obama to take decisive action on gun control.

Barack Obama has been in our field of vision for a long time now, and, more than any major politician of recent memory, he hides in plain sight. He is who he is. He may strike the unsympathetic as curiously remote or arrogant or removed; he certainly strikes his admirers as a man of real intelligence and dignity. But he is who he is. He is no phony. And so there is absolutely no reason to believe that his deep, raw emotion today following the horrific slaughter in Connecticut-his tears, the prolonged catch in his voice-was anything but genuine. But this was a slaughter-a slaughter like so many before it-and emotion is hardly all that is needed. What is needed is gun control-strict, comprehensive gun control that places the values of public safety and security before the values of deer hunting and a perverse ahistorical reading of the Second Amendment. Obama told the nation that he reacted to the shootings in Newtown "as a parent," and that is understandable, but what we need most is for him to act as a President, liberated at last from the constraints of elections and their dirty compromises-a President who dares to change the national debate and the legislative agenda on guns.

Remnick to Obama: focus on climate changeNov 12 2012

The New Yorker's David Remnick urges President Obama to address climate change during his second term in a Kennedy-esque "we choose to go to the Moon" fashion.

Barack Obama can take pride in having fought off a formidable array of deep-pocketed revanchists. As President, however, he is faced with an infinitely larger challenge, one that went unmentioned in the debates but that poses a graver threat than any "fiscal cliff." Ever since 1988, when NASA's James Hansen, a leading climate scientist, testified before the Senate, the public has been exposed to the issue of global warming. More recently, the consequences have come into painfully sharp focus. In 2010, the Pentagon declared, in its Quadrennial Defense Review, that changes in the global climate are increasing the frequency and the intensity of cyclones, droughts, floods, and other radical weather events, and that the effects may destabilize governments; spark mass migrations, famine, and pandemics; and prompt military conflict in particularly vulnerable areas of the world, including the Middle East, Southeast Asia, and sub-Saharan Africa. The Pentagon, that bastion of woolly radicals, did what the many denialists in the House of Representatives refuse to do: accept the basic science.

The economic impact of weather events that are almost certainly related to the warming of the earth -- the European heat wave of 2003 (which left fifty thousand people dead), the Russian heat waves and forest fires of 2010, the droughts last year in Texas and Oklahoma, and the preelection natural catastrophe known as Sandy -- has been immense. The German insurer Munich Re estimates that the cost of weather-related calamities in North America over the past three decades amounts to thirty-four billion dollars a year. Governor Andrew Cuomo, of New York, has said that Sandy will cost his state alone thirty-three billion. Harder to measure is the human toll around the world-the lives and communities disrupted and destroyed.

Is the US becoming an extractive state?Oct 22 2012

Following up on her piece in the New Yorker on how hedge fund billionaires have become disillusioned with President Obama, Chrystia Freeland says that the 1% are repeating a mistake made many times throughout history of moving from an inclusive economic system to an extractive one.

Extractive states are controlled by ruling elites whose objective is to extract as much wealth as they can from the rest of society. Inclusive states give everyone access to economic opportunity; often, greater inclusiveness creates more prosperity, which creates an incentive for ever greater inclusiveness.

Freeland is riffing on an argument forwarded by Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson in Why Nations Fail. Their chief example cited by Freeland is that of Venice:

In the early 14th century, Venice was one of the richest cities in Europe. At the heart of its economy was the colleganza, a basic form of joint-stock company created to finance a single trade expedition. The brilliance of the colleganza was that it opened the economy to new entrants, allowing risk-taking entrepreneurs to share in the financial upside with the established businessmen who financed their merchant voyages.

Venice's elites were the chief beneficiaries. Like all open economies, theirs was turbulent. Today, we think of social mobility as a good thing. But if you are on top, mobility also means competition. In 1315, when the Venetian city-state was at the height of its economic powers, the upper class acted to lock in its privileges, putting a formal stop to social mobility with the publication of the Libro d'Oro, or Book of Gold, an official register of the nobility. If you weren't on it, you couldn't join the ruling oligarchy.

The political shift, which had begun nearly two decades earlier, was so striking a change that the Venetians gave it a name: La Serrata, or the closure. It wasn't long before the political Serrata became an economic one, too. Under the control of the oligarchs, Venice gradually cut off commercial opportunities for new entrants. Eventually, the colleganza was banned. The reigning elites were acting in their immediate self-interest, but in the longer term, La Serrata was the beginning of the end for them, and for Venetian prosperity more generally. By 1500, Venice's population was smaller than it had been in 1330. In the 17th and 18th centuries, as the rest of Europe grew, the city continued to shrink.

BTW, Acemoglu and Robinson have been going back and forth with Jared Diamond about the latter's geographical hypothesis for national differences in prosperity forwarded in Guns, Germs, and Steel. I read 36% of Why Nations Fail earlier in the year...I should pick it back up again.

The New Yorker endorses Barack ObamaOct 22 2012

Not a surprise really, but the New Yorker's endorsement of Obama for President is a clear headed assessment of his first term and an effect critique against the "increasingly reactionary and rigid" Republican Party which Romney, to his discredit, has aligned himself with.

Perhaps inevitably, the President has disappointed some of his most ardent supporters. Part of their disappointment is a reflection of the fantastical expectations that attached to him. Some, quite reasonably, are disappointed in his policy failures (on Guantánamo, climate change, and gun control); others question the morality of the persistent use of predator drones. And, of course, 2012 offers nothing like the ecstasy of taking part in a historical advance: the reëlection of the first African-American President does not inspire the same level of communal pride. But the reëlection of a President who has been progressive, competent, rational, decent, and, at times, visionary is a serious matter. The President has achieved a run of ambitious legislative, social, and foreign-policy successes that relieved a large measure of the human suffering and national shame inflicted by the Bush Administration. Obama has renewed the honor of the office he holds.

This paragraph is terrifying:

In pursuit of swing voters, Romney and Ryan have sought to tamp down, and keep vague, the extremism of their economic and social commitments. But their signals to the Republican base and to the Tea Party are easily read: whatever was accomplished under Obama will be reversed or stifled. Bill Clinton has rightly pointed out that most Presidents set about fulfilling their campaign promises. Romney, despite his pose of chiselled equanimity, has pledged to ravage the safety net, oppose progress on marriage equality, ignore all warnings of ecological disaster, dismantle health-care reform, and appoint right-wing judges to the courts. Four of the nine Supreme Court Justices are in their seventies; a Romney Administration may well have a chance to replace two of the more liberal incumbents, and Romney's adviser in judicial affairs is the embittered far-right judge and legal scholar Robert Bork. The rightward drift of a court led by Justices Roberts, Scalia, Thomas, and Alito -- a drift marked by appalling decisions like Citizens United -- would only intensify during a Romney Presidency. The consolidation of a hard-right majority would be a mortal threat to the ability of women to make their own decisions about contraception and pregnancy, the ability of institutions to alleviate the baneful legacies of past oppression and present prejudice, and the ability of American democracy to insulate itself from the corrupt domination of unlimited, anonymous money. Romney has pronounced himself "severely conservative." There is every reason to believe him.

The endorsements of major newspapers can be tracked here.

Super-rich private equity crybabies vs. ObamaOct 01 2012

In this week's New Yorker, Chrystia Freeland writes about how the ultra-rich have taken a dislike to President Obama and his anti-business policy and rhetoric, even though the President "has served the rich quite well". This article is infuriating, a bunch of very powerful men (and they are all men) sitting around crying about their powerlessness. A few choice quotes:

Cooperman regarded the comments as a declaration of class warfare, and began to criticize Obama publicly. In September, at a CNBC conference in New York, he compared Hitler's rise to power with Obama's ascent to the Presidency, citing disaffected majorities in both countries who elected inexperienced leaders.

Strong argument there. Per Godwin, that should have been the end of it.

Evident throughout the letter is a sense of victimization prevalent among so many of America's wealthiest people. In an extreme version of this, the rich feel that they have become the new, vilified underclass.

Underclass! Boo hoo! Do you want some cheese with that 2005 Petrus?

T. J. Rodgers, a libertarian and a Silicon Valley entrepreneur, has taken to comparing Barack Obama's treatment of the rich to the oppression of ethnic minorities -- an approach, he says, that the President, as an African-American, should be particularly sensitive to.

Yes, I can imagine the President nodding, upset at missing the obvious parallel here. The police chasing hedge fund managers through the streets of lower Manhattan with firehoses is a scene that I will never forget.

[Founding partner of the hedge fund AQR Capital Management Clifford S. Asness] suggested that "hedge funds really need a community organizer," and accused the White House of "bullying" the financial sector.

Clifford S. Asness swinging from the bathroom door knob by his underwear. Clifford S. Asness called "Assness" in trigonometry class. Nude photos taken of Clifford S. Asness in the locker room and distributed to the freshman girls. Clifford S. Asness teased so mercilessly about his acne that he has to stay home from school throwing up from the emotional pain of being so thoroughly and callously rejected by one's peers.

In 2010, the private-equity billionaire Stephen Schwarzman, of the Blackstone Group, compared the President's as yet unsuccessful effort to eliminate some of the preferential tax treatment his sector receives to Hitler's invasion of Poland.

Hitler again! Obama is obviously a fascist communist.

"You know, the largest and greatest country in the free world put a forty-seven-year-old guy that never worked a day in his life and made him in charge of the free world," Cooperman said. "Not totally different from taking Adolf Hitler in Germany and making him in charge of Germany because people were economically dissatisfied.

Hitler, take three. Stick with what you know.

He was a seventy-two-year-old world-renowned cardiologist; his wife was one of the country's experts in women's medicine. Together, they had a net worth of around ten million dollars. "It was shocking how tight he was going to be in retirement," Cooperman said. "He needed four hundred thousand dollars a year to live on. He had a home in Florida, a home in New Jersey. He had certain habits he wanted to continue to pursue.

Shocking. Needed. Certain habits.

People don't realize how wealthy people self-tax. If you have a certain cause, an art museum or a symphony, and you want to support it, it would be nice if you had the choice.

We didn't realize that. And it's such an either-or thing too...can't pay your taxes *and* help the Met buy a Vermeer.

Michael Lewis profiles President ObamaSep 11 2012

Michael Lewis profiled Barack Obama for the October issue of Vanity Fair. The full version isn't available online yet (and I have a hunch they'll keep it that way) is here, but the excerpts might just compell me into a purchase.

At play, the president wears red-white-and-blue Under Armor high-tops, but at work it's strictly blue or gray suits. "I'm trying to pare down decisions. I don't want to make decisions about what I'm eating or wearing. Because I have too many other decisions to make," he tells Lewis. "You need to focus your decision-making energy. You need to routinize yourself. You can't be going through the day distracted by trivia." Lewis says that if he were president he might keep a list in his head. "I do," Obama adds. "That's my last piece of advice to you. Keep a list."

That bit reminds me of this piece on Roger Federer.

I got another sense, however: a sense that he was conserving focus. Fed went through all his subsidiary responsibilities as the President of Tennis (as Steve Tignor calls him) without concentrating on anything, or at least on as few things as possible.

Concentration takes mental energy, as anyone who has fought off five break points before shanking a ball on the sixth knows. And whenever I saw Federer on the grounds, he seemed to be using as little of it as possible. Practicing with Nicolas Kiefer on Ashe a few days before the tournament, he mostly just messed around. He would hit a few familiar Federer shots, the heavy forehand, the penetrating slice, then shank a ball and grin, or yell. Either way, he wasn't really concentrating all that hard.

And is it possible that Obama has read one of my favorite books about technology, Tom Standage's The Victorian Internet?

Obama points to the 1849 patent model of Samuel Morse's first telegraph: "This is the start of the Internet right here," he tells Lewis.

Update: Aha! It looks like Vanity Fair just posted the whole thing online. (via @wistdom)

Obama and Romney talk scienceSep 05 2012

In partnership with sciencedebate.org, Scientific American asked both major party candidates to answer questions about the important scientific questions of the day. Here are the results.

I am not a scientist myself, but my best assessment of the data is that the world is getting warmer, that human activity contributes to that warming, and that policymakers should therefore consider the risk of negative consequences. However, there remains a lack of scientific consensus on the issue -- on the extent of the warming, the extent of the human contribution, and the severity of the risk -- and I believe we must support continued debate and investigation within the scientific community.

Supreme Court upholds Obama's healthcare actJun 28 2012

I'm surprised and mostly pleased that the Supreme Court has upheld President Obama's Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

The Court's ruling means, that unless Congress acts, in 2014 all Americans will be required to purchase health insurance in the most sweeping overhaul of the nation's health care system since the Great Society. The Court, according to early analysis, redefined the mandate as a tax, skirting some Constitutional questions but offering a dramatic affirmation to Obama's key initiative.

Update: Josh Marshall speaks for me here.

This is an imperfect law. But what's most important is that it provides a structure under which the country can make a start not only on universal coverage -- as an ethical imperative -- but on doing away with the waste and inefficiencies created by the chronic market failure of the US health insurance system. Again, that matters. And I suspect that there's no going back.

Obama slow jams the newsApr 25 2012

This might be the coolest thing a sitting President has ever done. Aside from, maybe, freeing the slaves or The New Deal or winning WWII.

Update: And an amazingly depressing excerpt from a speech Obama gave earlier in the day:

But we only finished paying off our student loans -- check this out, all right, I'm the President of the United States -- we only finished paying off our student loans about eight years ago.

Barack Obama and sign languageMar 21 2012

Last week after an event at Prince Georges Community College in Maryland, a deaf audience member named Stephon used American Sign Language to tell President Obama, 'I am proud of you,' and as you can see in the video, President Obama signed back, 'Thank you'. Hearing the crowd's response to this was pretty neat, and imagine what it must have felt like to be the audience member. To be clear, this type of engagement/recognition would be cool from any president.

The moment I will never forget was when he looked at me. He gave me a chance to talk to him. It was like he was waiting for me to say something. I took the moment and signed "I am proud of you," and his response was "Thank u" in sign language back! Oh my gosh! I was like wow! He understood me after I said I was proud of him. It was so amazing...I was just speechless.

Turn the volume down. Signing is at about :30 seconds.

(Hat tip anildash)

Who is The Wire's greatest character?Mar 05 2012

That is the question that Grantland is attempting to answer with a NCAA-style tournament bracket.

The Wire Bracket

Did we mention that our esteemed editor-in-chief hung out with President Obama last week? Because that totally happened. Just two regular guys, discussing Linsanity, Blake Griffin's jump shot, what it's like to pitch a baseball while wearing a bulletproof vest, and -- as the conversation wound down -- The Wire. Asked to name the greatest Wire character of all time (let it never be said that Grantland does not ask the tough questions!), the Commander in Chief didn't hesitate: "It's gotta be Omar, right? I mean, that guy is unbelievable, right?"

With respect to the President, Omar is the most overrated character on The Wire. I mean, I love Omar. I do. He is everyone's favorite character and easy to love because he's one of the show's most manufactured characters. Gay, doesn't swear, strong sense of morals, robs drug dealers, respected/feared by all...come on, all that doesn't just get rolled up into one person like that. The Wire aspires to be more than just mere television, but when Omar is on the screen, it's difficult for me to take the show as seriously as it wants me to.

Obama/Clinton 2012Dec 28 2011

Writing on his Tumblr blog (!!), former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich makes the case for a Clinton/Biden swap that would lead to an unstoppable Obama/Clinton presidental ticket in 2012.

My political prediction for 2012 (based on absolutely no inside information): Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden swap places. Biden becomes Secretary of State - a position he's apparently coveted for years. And Hillary Clinton, Vice President.

So the Democratic ticket for 2012 is Obama-Clinton.

Why do I say this? Because Obama needs to stir the passions and enthusiasms of a Democratic base that's been disillusioned with his cave-ins to regressive Republicans. Hillary Clinton on the ticket can do that.

(via ★djacobs)

We are what we vote (eat)Aug 17 2011

This article on why Americans don't want to compromise was pretty dumb, but this is an interesting tidbit:

89 percent of the Whole Foods stores in the United States were in counties carried by Barack Obama in 2008, while 62 percent of Cracker Barrel restaurants were in counties carried by John McCain.

For what it's worth, I was seriously disappointed by the biscuits at Cracker Barrel when I had them the first time.

Obama, the Rolling Stone interviewSep 29 2010

Long interview with Barack Obama in Rolling Stone. Most of it is politics, but they also discussed music.

My iPod now has about 2,000 songs, and it is a source of great pleasure to me. I am probably still more heavily weighted toward the music of my childhood than I am the new stuff. There's still a lot of Stevie Wonder, a lot of Bob Dylan, a lot of Rolling Stones, a lot of R&B, a lot of Miles Davis and John Coltrane. Those are the old standards.

A lot of classical music. I'm not a big opera buff in terms of going to opera, but there are days where Maria Callas is exactly what I need.

Thanks to Reggie [Love, the president's personal aide], my rap palate has greatly improved. Jay-Z used to be sort of what predominated, but now I've got a little Nas and a little Lil Wayne and some other stuff, but I would not claim to be an expert. Malia and Sasha are now getting old enough to where they start hipping me to things. Music is still a great source of joy and occasional solace in the midst of what can be some difficult days.

A day in the life of Barack ObamaSep 01 2010

Vanity Fair has a really interesting but depressing look at how The President of the United States spends a typical day navigating the upfuckedness of national American politics and its capital, Washington DC -- which Rahm Emanuel calls Fucknutsville.

We think of the presidency as somehow eternal and unchanging, a straight-line progression from 1 to 44, from the first to the latest. And in some respects it is. Except for George Washington, all of the presidents have lived in the White House. They've all taken the same oath to uphold the same constitution. But the modern presidency -- Barack Obama's presidency -- has become a job of such gargantuan size, speed, and complexity as to be all but unrecognizable to most of the previous chief executives. The sheer growth of the federal government, the paralysis of Congress, the systemic corruption brought on by lobbying, the trivialization of the "news" by the media, the willful disregard for facts and truth -- these forces have made today's Washington a depressing and dysfunctional place. They have shaped and at times hobbled the presidency itself.

For much of the past half-century, the problems that have brought Washington to its current state have been concealed or made tolerable by other circumstances. The discipline of the Cold War kept certain kinds of debate within bounds. America's artificial "last one standing" postwar economy allowed the country to ignore obvious signs of political and social decay. Wars and other military interventions provided ample distraction from matters of substance at home. Like many changes that are revolutionary, none of Washington's problems happened overnight. But slow and steady change over many decades -- at a rate barely noticeable while it's happening -- produces change that is transformative. In this instance, it's the kind of evolution that happens inevitably to rich and powerful states, from imperial Rome to Victorian England. The neural network of money, politics, bureaucracy, and values becomes so tautly interconnected that no individual part can be touched or fixed without affecting the whole organism, which reacts defensively. And thus a new president, who was elected with 53 percent of the popular vote, and who began office with 80 percent public-approval ratings and large majorities in both houses of Congress, found himself for much of his first year in office in stalemate, pronounced an incipient failure, until the narrowest possible passage of a health-care bill made him a sudden success in the fickle view of the commentariat, whose opinion curdled again when Obama was unable, with a snap of the fingers or an outburst of anger, to stanch the BP oil spill overnight. And whose opinion spun around once more when he strong-armed BP into putting $20 billion aside to settle claims, and asserted presidential authority by replacing General Stanley McChrystal with General David Petraeus. The commentariat's opinion will keep spinning with the wind.

(via waxy)

Designing Obama online for freeAug 31 2010

Designing Obama, a book chronicling how the visual branding of the Obama campaign came about, is available in several formats, most notably in a completely free online version. Written by the campaign's design director, the making of the book was funded through the first big Kickstarter campaign.

Obama: Daddy of the United States of AmericaJan 20 2010

Tom Junod says that the key to understanding how Obama governs is to look at how you'd imagine he might raise Sasha and Malia. Specifically, Junod compares the President's community organization roots with the parenting technique of positive discipline.

You don't have to win, we were told at the positive-discipline workshop. Your child is not damaged, morally, if your child wins, if the battle is withdrawn, or, better yet, never joined. Our culture has viewed parenthood in terms of decisive moments, but it's better to view it in terms of development, as a continual process, and to be in it for the long haul. Nothing lies like the moment of truth, and if there's no powerlessness, then there are fewer power struggles. If your child has a problem with authority, it's likely that you have a problem with authority, or your lack of it. The answer is to return it to your child in the form of choices, while you set an example. Your example is your authority. Positive discipline does not mean no discipline; it means that discipline is a matter of teaching mutual respect, rather than making your child suffer. "Children do better when they feel better, not worse," is what it says on my kitchen cabinet, and so when faced with intransigence, parents have to respond by stating their expectations, repeating the rules, and then giving their children the love and support they need to follow them. Always try to include, rather than isolate; avoid labels; don't negotiate, but don't escalate, either. If your children are not doing well, either take them out of the situation or remove yourself. You -- and they -- can always try again.

It is a philosophy that could have been minted by Cass Sunstein, the White House advisor who is developing ways to "nudge" citizens to make the right choices without them being aware of the manipulation. It could serve as a precis for how Obama has dealt with Joe Wilson, not to mention Skip Gates and Sergeant Jim Crowley, not to mention Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who was never threatened but rather told to "think carefully" while answering the protests of the Iranian presidential election with the truncheon and the gallows. One could almost hear Obama saying, "Use your words, Mahmoud. Use your words."

The piece is interesting throughout, but I particularly liked this observation:

Barack Obama, then, is not the agent of change; he's the fulfillment of a change that is already occurring culture-wide, in every place but politics. That's why the Republicans fear him so much; why, while waiting for him to fail, they just come off as the political party for people who want to hit their kids.

Barack Obama's amazingly consistent smileSep 25 2009

When Obama poses for photos, he smiles in exactly the same way each time.

And I thought Paris was consistent.

Barack Obama, Jedi KnightSep 17 2009

The President recently hosted a rally at The White House in support of Chicago's bid to hold the 2016 Summer Olympics. Some members of the Olympic fencing team were there. Obama was given a plastic sword. Photos were taken. Photoshop (with an assist from me) did the rest.

Here's our President attacking an unseen Sith Lord or perhaps someone condemned by a death panel:

Obama Lightsaber 01

And having finished them off to the delight of the assembled, a victory pose.

Obama Lightsaber 02Update: See also the Japanese Obama action figures. (thx, myles)

Convincing computer generated voicesAug 14 2009

CereProc's computer generated voices are impressive...scroll down the page for a passable Obama and a downright convincing Schwarzenegger. (via ebert)

U.S. Attorney dismissed by Bush to get old job backAug 03 2009

Daniel Bogden, one of the seven US Attorneys dismissed by the Bush Administration in 2006, has been nominated by the Obama Administration to serve in his former capacity in Nevada. (thx, david)

Hodgman and Obama nerd it upJun 20 2009

Video of John Hodgman's speech at the Radio & TV Correspondents' Dinner.

With Obama in attendance, Hodgman wonders if our Commander in Chief is indeed as nerdy as we've hoped.

Atul Gawande has Obama's attention on healthcareJun 10 2009

Obama read Atul Gawande's article about the differences in healthcare costs in different parts of the US and was so taken by it that he had a meeting about it with his aides and mentioned the piece in a meeting with a group of Democratic senators.

As part of the larger effort to overhaul health care, lawmakers are trying to address the problem that intrigues Mr. Obama so much -- the huge geographic variations in Medicare spending per beneficiary. Two decades of research suggests that the higher spending does not produce better results for patients but may be evidence of inefficiency.

Obama is indeed reading this guy's stuff. (thx, cliff)

Letters to ObamaApr 20 2009

Early in Obama's presidency, one of the more encouraging signs that things were heading in a positive direction was that his daily briefing included ten letters that average Americans had sent to the White House. The NY Times has a special feature on these letters and how they reach Obama's desk. The President's director of correspondance chooses the letters carefully.

I send him letters that are uncomfortable messages.

But I wonder about the gatekeeper effect...Obama is really only reading what this guy wants him to read. To go further, I think Obama should wade through the pile himself once a month for an hour or so, if only to evaluate the caliber of the letters that he does see.

Update: The White House has posted a short documentary about these letters.

Obama: grammatically soundFeb 17 2009

Garth Risk Hallberg of The Millions diagrammed a sentence spoken by Obama last week:

My view is also that nobody's above the law, and, if there are clear instances of wrongdoing, that people should be prosecuted just like any ordinary citizen, but that, generally speaking, I'm more interested in looking forward than I am in looking backwards.

The analysis is full of nice little tidbits about how Obama communicates and why people respond to him.

This may be the essential Obama gift: making complexity and caution sound bold and active, even masculine... or rather, it may be one facet of a larger gift: what Zadie Smith calls "having more than one voice in your ear." Notice the canny way that the sentence above turns on the fulcrum of what may be Obama's favorite word: "but." What appears to be a hard line - "My view is... that nobody is above the law" - turns out to have been a qualifier for a vaguer but more inspiring motto: "I am more interested in looking forward than I am in looking back." The most controversial part of the sentence - "people should be prosecuted" - gets tucked away, almost parenthetically, in the middle.

Within Obama's speech patterns, Hallberg also detects a way out of the Obama Comedy Crisis. His sample joke:

"The beef, assuming it's in a port wine reduction, sounds, uh, amazing, but on the other hand, given that the chicken is, ah, locally grown, I'd be eager to try it."

Bill Cunningham's InaugurationJan 27 2009

Street photographer Bill Cunningham didn't have a ticket to the Inauguration nor did he have an assignment from the NY Times to cover it; he just bought a train ticket, went down on his own, and brought back these photos. Be sure to listen to Cunningham's wonderful narration; he even gets choked up when describing the moment of Obama's swearing-in. I wish all journalism were this professionally personal (if that makes any sense). (via greg.org)

Old whitehouse.gov down the memory holeJan 23 2009

Greg Allen raises a good point regarding the new White House web site: why did the old site get completely erased?

It seems problematic to me that the entire official web presence of the Bush administration, as tainted and manipulative or enraging as you may think it is, just gets wiped clean from the web like that. People need to remember, reference, discuss, and link to that publicly owned, previously published information; it shouldn't be tossed to the curb like a dead plant or buried in the National Archive backup tape repository.

Perhaps there needs to be a simple directory structure put in place, something like:

whitehouse.gov/42
whitehouse.gov/43
whitehouse.gov/44

The files for each President's site would live under the associated directory and would never need to be taken down to make room for new files. Of course, maintaining all that, and the different systems and platforms potentially used by each administration would be a total PITA.

Update: Here are the Clinton whitehouse.gov archive and the George W. Bush whitehouse.gov archive. Nice but they don't address the broken links issue and snapshots don't capture any dynamic functions (like search, for instance). Also, shouldn't every page on the site function like a wiki so you can go back and see the history at any time? Quite a few people suggested using subdomains (e.g. 43.whitehouse.gov) instead of directories to keep everything straight; I concur. (thx, arnold & kate)

The mystery of the Obama Hope photoJan 21 2009

For all of the talk that Shepard Fairey is just a plagiarist, I think that the clearest indication that his art is above board and adding something new to the world is that until a few days ago, no one knew who had taken the photo of Obama that became the basis of the iconic Hope poster, not even Fairey or the photographer who took it.

Reuters are understandably somewhat put out on their own and Young's behalf, but like it or not, Fairey's use of the picture are well within the parameters of "fair use". His transformative use of the image - both in flipping and re-orienting it, adding jacket and tie and the "O" Obama logo, and converting it to his block print style make it consistent with all legal precedents for use.

Update: But, but ,but, not so fast. It looks like Tom Gralish has found the actual photo that Fairey used; it was taken by AP's Mannie Garcia at a National Press Club event in April 2006. (thx, ryan)

McCain: Obama's newest advisor?Jan 20 2009

I love this...Barack Obama has been asking John McCain for his advice over the past few weeks.

Over the last three months, Mr. Obama has quietly consulted Mr. McCain about many of the new administration's potential nominees to top national security jobs and about other issues -- in one case relaying back a contender's answers to questions Mr. McCain had suggested.

McCain, though it was his own fault (or that of his handlers), didn't represent himself well during the presidential campaign and it's nice to see that the very able Senator isn't being sidelined because of it. Also, it's quite savvy of Obama to seek out his support. He's essentially buying McCain stock at a low point and will presumably leverage that purchase when that stock inevitably rises.

Update: A letter to the Times editor notes that there is a precedent for the Obama/McCain connection: FDR and Wendell Willkie after the 1940 election.

After Franklin D. Roosevelt won the 1940 election, he invited his opponent, the Republican Wendell L. Willkie, to meet with him in the White House. "You know, he is a very good fellow," F.D.R. said afterward to his secretary of labor, Frances Perkins. "He has lots of talent. I want to use him somehow."

(thx, phil)

The country's new robots.txt fileJan 20 2009

Here's a small and nerdy measure of the huge change in the executive branch of the US government today. Here's the robots.txt file from whitehouse.gov yesterday:

User-agent: *
Disallow: /cgi-bin
Disallow: /search
Disallow: /query.html
Disallow: /omb/search
Disallow: /omb/query.html
Disallow: /expectmore/search
Disallow: /expectmore/query.html
Disallow: /results/search
Disallow: /results/query.html
Disallow: /earmarks/search
Disallow: /earmarks/query.html
Disallow: /help
Disallow: /360pics/text
Disallow: /911/911day/text
Disallow: /911/heroes/text

And it goes on like that for almost 2400 lines! Here's the new Obamafied robots.txt file:

User-agent: *
Disallow: /includes/

That's it! BTW, the robots.txt file tells search engines what to include and not include in their indexes. (thx, ian)

Update: Nearly four months later, the White House's robots.txt file is still short...only four lines.

User-agent: *
Disallow: /includes/
Disallow: /search/
Disallow: /omb/search/

New White House siteJan 20 2009

Several readers have noted that The White House Site has already been refreshed to the now-familiar Obama look-and-feel. It's even got a blog on the front page. Will there be a Twitter account? The Wikipedians have been busy too: Obama is listed as the current President on the President of the United States page.

Update: Oh, and all of the third-party content on the WH site is licensed under Creative Commons. Wow.

Update: Oh, there's a Twitter account. Pair with THE_REAL_SHAQ for maximum fun! (thx, brian)

Update: This appears to be the official WH Twitter account, former updated by the Bush administration but now helmed by the Obama folks.

Obama off by oneJan 20 2009

Obama made a small error in the first part of his inaugural speech. He said:

Forty-four Americans have now taken the presidential oath.

Because of Grover Cleveland's two non-consecutive terms, there have been 44 Presidents but only 43 people have held the office and taken the oath. I'm surprised his speechwriters didn't catch that little detail. Of course, I think of Al Gore as an ex-President so maybe that's where it came from.

Watch the inauguration onlineJan 19 2009

Chances are that if you're not in Washington DC or staying home from work tomorrow, you're going to be at your desk or otherwise out and about for the inauguration of Barack Obama. Fear not, you'll have plenty of viewing options:

Official Presidential Inaugural site
Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies site
C-SPAN
Hulu
The networks: NBC, ABC, CBS.

Or watch right here on kottke.org, courtesy of Hulu. Or not. The Hulu video is on autoplay, which is *really* annoying. Sorry about that. What the hell, Hulu?!

Per the schedule, the swearing-in ceremony will start at 11:30 am ET, which will include Obama's inaugural address. After the address, Obama "will escort outgoing President George W. Bush to a departure ceremony", which ceremony I hope involves a kick in the ass and a slamming door. Then there's a luncheon at the Capitol and a parade to the White House that traditionally starts around 2:30 pm.

Obama's personal annual reportJan 15 2009

Dopplr is doing 2008 personal annual reports for all their users that shows "data, visualisations and factoids" about their 2008 travel. They've also done one for Barack Obama on his behalf that you can download for free. Obama took a whopping 234 trips in 2008 and traveled 92% of the distance to the moon!

1996 interview with the ObamasJan 12 2009

The New Yorker has a too-short excerpt of an interview with Barack and Michelle Obama done in 1996 as part of a "photography project on couples in America".

There is a strong possibility that Barack will pursue a political career, although it's unclear. There is a little tension with that. I'm very wary of politics. I think he's too much of a good guy for the kind of brutality, the skepticism.

Update: Le Monde ran a more extensive excerpt of this same interview in French...ABC News had it translated into English. (thx, marshall & stacy)

Obama campaign art exhibitionJan 08 2009

The Danziger Projects gallery in New York is running an exhibition called Can & Did, a collection of art, graphics, and photography from the Obama campaign. The opening party is on Inauguration night (Jan 20) and it runs through the end of February. All details in the press release.

Obama's speech writerDec 19 2008

Nice short profile of Jon Favreau, Obama's 27-year-old speechwriter, and his influences.

And Favreau is right, Gerson's speech for Bush that September 20 was one of the great speeches in American history. But it must be noted here that with that speech the discord between speech and speaker has never been more pronounced, for we have come to know that Gerson's boss never fully grasped the power of words. With an exalting script, Gerson could make George W. Bush sound like Winston Churchill for an hour. But it is Jon Favreau's task and his gift that he is able to make his boss -- a fellow who has been known to write a sentence or two on his own -- sound like Barack Obama.

What I don't understand is how Favreau finds the time to write Obama's speeches *and* direct Robert Downey Jr. in Iron Man. Time machine?

Obama, Time's Person of the Year for 2008Dec 17 2008

In an obvious move, Time named Barack Obama their Person of the Year for 2008. But give Time credit; they got Shepard Fairey to do the cover based on his iconic poster of Obama.

Update: They've also compiled some of the best photos of Obama from Flickr.

Update: Here's a video of Fairey talking about his work and how he created the Time cover.

Remnick writing Obama bookDec 17 2008

David Remnick, editor of The New Yorker, is writing a book about Barack Obama, race, and politics in America. The "germ of the book" is a great piece that ran in the magazine shortly after the election called The Joshua Generation.

Designing the Obama logoDec 11 2008

Great two-part video interview with Sol Sender about designing the logo for the Obama campaign. Includes some early design sketches and other designs that made it to the final phase. (via quips)

The Obama "O" designerNov 24 2008

Steven Heller spoke with the designer Sol Sender about his iconic Obama "O" logo.

Well, the "O" was the identity for the Obama '08 campaign and the campaign is over. That doesn't mean that the mark will be forgotten; I think the memorabilia from this campaign will have a long shelf life and will stand as a visible symbol of pride for people who supported the candidate and for those who see it as a representation of a watershed moment for our country. As far as having another life, I can't say. Perhaps the 2012 campaign will hark back to it in some way.

Sender's web site has a bit more info on the development of the Obama brand.

Obama elected by "rich loamy soils" of Cretaceous seasNov 20 2008

The 2008 election voting patterns in the southern United States followed the big cotton production areas in 1860 which in turn followed the shoreline of the shallow tropical seas that covered the southern part of the US 85 million years ago.

This is not a political blog. However, this is a story I couldn't pass up: the story of how voting patterns in the 2008 election were essentially determined 85 million years ago, in the Cretaceous Period. It's also a story about how soil science relates to political science, by way of historical chance.

Headline I'd like to see in 96 pt. type in the NY Times: Obama Elected By Rich Loamy Soils of Cretaceous Seas.

Five physics lessons for ObamaNov 19 2008

Five quick physics lessons for President-Elect Obama from the author of Physics for Future Presidents (@ Amazon). One of the lessons: nuclear power is the way to go.

It's true that after 300 years, nuclear waste is still about 100 times more radioactive than the original uranium that was removed from the earth. But even this isn't as scary as it sounds. If the waste is stored underground in such a way that there's only a 10 percent chance that 10 percent of it will leak -- which should be more than doable -- the risk will be no worse than if we had never mined the uranium in the first place.

Muller asserts that safe nuclear power is a solved technical problem and that the use of it is a political issue.

Obama's fireside chats on YouTubeNov 17 2008

Aha, Obama will be doing online fireside chats, but in video format on YouTube.

Online political observers say President-elect Obama's innovative, online-fueled campaign will likely evolve into a new level of online communication between the public and the White House -- the Internet-era version of President Franklin Roosevelt's famous "fireside chats" between 1933 and 1944.

Here's Obama's first video address as President-Elect. His transition team, potential cabinet members, and other experts will also be recording videos in the coming weeks.

A small audience at the Lincoln MemorialNov 07 2008

When it looked as though Obama was going to win the election, former photojournalist Matt Mendelsohn went to the Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC expecting to find a huge crowd of celebrants.

I'd spent most of election night in front of the TV in Arlington, Va. But around 11 p.m. I couldn't sit idle any longer, which is why I sped to the memorial. When I arrived, I found a TV crew sitting on the plaza above the Reflecting Pool, waiting, I assumed, for a mob to arrive. I approached with cameras in hand. One of them looked up and said with a slight roll of his eyes, "Nothing to see here."

Instead he found a small group of people listening to Obama's acceptance speech on a transistor radio and shot this wonderful picture of the scene. I can't think of an image that better characterizes the grass-roots, get-out-the-vote, small-donations-by-millions-of-people aspect of Obama's campaign. (via 3qd)

Update: Here's another view of the same scene. (thx, andy)

Obama bits and loose endsNov 07 2008

Flickr is getting slammed right now (I'm getting a lot of "hold your clicks" messages) because of the behind-the-scenes election night photos the Obama campaign put up yesterday. Maybe bookmark and come back in a few hours?

I've updated the post about the NY Times' use of 96-pt type for their Obama headline. They've used the big type at least one additional time, on 1/1/2000.

Kristen Borchardt made an awesome video that takes a number of Nov 5th newspaper front pages and animates through them using each papers' Obama photo as the focal point...very much like YTMND's Paris Hilton doesn't change facial expressions.

Obama photo mosaics.

I've also updated the election headlines post with a few more collections that popped up.

Hopefully I'll have some time this afternoon to update the 2008 Election Maps page; I've got lots of good submissions waiting in my inbox. Thanks to everyone who sent in links and screenshots.

Idea for the Obama administration: fireside chats. On the radio, on satellite radio, as a podcast, transcripts available online soon after airing. Done live if possible, a genuine lightly scripted chat. Maybe Obama could have special guests on to talk about different aspects of policy and government. Bush does weekly radio addresses but they're short, boring, and scripted.

Newsweek has posted the rest of their seven-part piece on the 2008 election: part four, part five, part six, part seven. I wrote about the first three installments yesterday.

More related stuff on kottke.org: the barackobama, 2008election, and politics tags.

And I gotta tell you, if change.gov is indicative of how the Obama administration is going to use the web to engage with Americans, this is going to be an interesting four years.

Ok, that's probably the last Obama post for a bit. Back to your irregularly unscheduled programming.

New Yorker profile of Obama from 2004Nov 07 2008

The New Yorker has posted an article written by William Finnegan about a young fellow from Illinois running for the US Senate in 2004. That young fellow's name was Barack Obama, profiled two months before he strode onto the national stage at the Democratic National Convention.

"Teaching keeps you sharp," Obama said. "The great thing about teaching constitutional law" -- his subject -- "is that all the tough questions land in your lap: abortion, gay rights, affirmative action. And you need to be able to argue both sides. I have to be able to argue the other side as well as Scalia does. I think that's good for one's politics."

In writing the article, Finnegan ran across some people who thought Obama could be President someday but chose not to include those quotes because it felt "not only absurdly premature but like bad juju".

Newsweek's in-depth report on the 2008 electionNov 06 2008

If you followed or were at all interested in the 2008 presidential election, this seven-part series by a group of Newsweek reporters is a must read. The reporters were granted exclusive access to the campaigns of Barack Obama, John McCain, and Hillary Clinton for a year on the condition that they wouldn't print anything until after the election was over. The series, of which the first three parts are currently up on the Newsweek site, is a fascinating look at how the political process works and contains all manner of salacious political gossip.

Part One: How Obama was persuaded to run and found his campaigning rhythm and his first scuffles with the Clinton campaign.

In some ways, running for president was a preposterous idea for someone who had served as a two-term state legislator and had spent only two years in the United States Senate. But Obama, a careful student of his own unique journey, could see the stars coming into alignment-the country was exhausted by the Iraq War (which he, alone among leading candidates, had opposed as "dumb" from the outset). As Obama saw it, the conservative tide in America was ebbing, and voters were turning away from the Republican Party. People were sick of politicians of the standard variety and yearned for someone new-truly new and different. Another politician with a superb sense of timing, Bill Clinton, perfectly understood why Obama saw a golden, possibly once-in-a-lifetime, opportunity. The former president believed that the mainstream press, whose liberal guilt Clinton understood and had exploited from time to time, would act as Obama's personal chauffeur on the long journey ahead. "If somebody pulled up a Rolls-Royce to me and said, 'Get in'," Clinton liked to say, with admiration and maybe a little envy, "I'd get in it, too."

Part Two: John McCain's campaign gets off to a terrible start and then suddenly recovers.

Along about Thanksgiving, reporters began to notice a change. The size of the crowds was increasing, and McCain began to creep up in the polls, especially in New Hampshire. He was blessed by the quality of his opponents. In the grim days of summer, when a NEWSWEEK reporter had asked why he shouldn't join the rest of the press corps in reading the last rites for McCain's presidential aspirations, Rick Davis had responded with an incongruously cheerful smile. Nothing personal, he said; our opponents are all good men, some of them are my friends-but politically speaking? "Look, at the end of the day," he said, "the rest of these guys suck." However crude, his judgment was not off base. Ex-businessman Mitt Romney seemed to treat the campaign as a management-consulting project, as if he were selling a product and trying to increase market share. He had no fingertips as a politician and came off as a phony, even when he was perfectly sincere. Rudy Giuliani seemed to be building a cult of Rudy, constantly talking about his performance on 9/11 to a nation that wanted to forget about the terrorist attacks, and he badly miscalculated by believing that he could wait until the Florida primary in late January to make his move. Former senator Fred Thompson seemed old and half asleep. Former governor Mike Huckabee of Arkansas was emerging as an engaging showman and a lively dark horse-but as an evangelical minister with no foreign-policy experience, he almost certainly could not win.

Part Three: The role of the candidates' spouses, the continuing clashes between the Obama and Clinton campaigns, and Obama's Star Trek joke.

Obama carefully conserved his energy. He was not a man of appetites, like Bill Clinton, who would grab whatever goodie passed by on the tray. Obama was abstemious. Indeed, to the reporters following him, he appeared very nearly anorexic. Most candidates gain the Campaign 10 (or 15). Hillary was struggling with her waistline, as she gamely knocked back shots and beers in working-class bars and gobbled the obligatory sausage sandwiches thrust at her in greasy spoons along the Trail of the White Working-Class Voter. Obama, by contrast, lost weight. He regularly ate the same dinner of salmon, rice and broccoli. At Schoop's Hamburgers, a diner in Portage, Ind., he munched a single french fry and ordered four hamburgers-to go. At the Copper Dome Restaurant, a pancake house in St. Paul, Minn., he ordered pancakes-to go. (An AP reporter wondered: who gets pancakes for the road?) A waiter reeled off a long list of richly topped flapjacks, but Obama went for the plain buttermilk, saying, "I'm kind of traditionalist." Reporters joked that if he ate a single bite of burger or pancake once the doors of his dark-tinted SUV closed, they'd eat their BlackBerrys. Frustrated by reporters fishing for trivial "gaffes," Obama did not like coming back to the plane to talk to the press. As he trudged back from time to time to deal with the reporters' incessant questions, he looked like a suburban dad, slump-shouldered after a long day at the office, taking out the trash.

The bit about Obama's conservation of energy reminded me of this article about Roger Federer's own conservation.

I got another sense, however: a sense that he was conserving focus. Fed went through all his subsidiary responsibilities as the President of Tennis (as Steve Tignor calls him) without concentrating on anything, or at least on as few things as possible.

Concentration takes mental energy, as anyone who has fought off five break points before shanking a ball on the sixth knows. And whenever I saw Federer on the grounds, he seemed to be using as little of it as possible. Practicing with Nicolas Kiefer on Ashe a few days before the tournament, he mostly just messed around. He would hit a few familiar Federer shots, the heavy forehand, the penetrating slice, then shank a ball and grin, or yell. Either way, he wasn't really concentrating all that hard.

Update: Part Four was just posted.

Obama is big news at the NY TimesNov 06 2008

Wednesday was the only the fourth time that the NY Times used 96 pt. type for the headline on the front page of the paper. In chronological order:

MEN WALK ON MOON
NIXON RESIGNS
U.S. ATTACKED
OBAMA

The Wednesday edition of the Times was very popular. It was sold out all over the city so people lined up outside the Times' building to buy copies. Copies are available on eBay for $100 or more.

Update: The Times used 96 pt. type for the front page headline on at least one other occasion: January 1, 2000. I wonder if there are others. (thx, jeff)

Update: The Times is selling copies of the Nov 5 paper on their site but it's currently being hammered by buyers so maybe try again in a few hours? (thx, matt)

Great photos of ObamaNov 05 2008

The Big Picture, the best new blog of the year, celebrates the victory of Barack Obama, no doubt Time's Man of the Year for 2008, with some of the best photos of the President-Elect taken over the past few months.

Election night sexNov 05 2008

Several folks on Twitter are talking about post-election sex and Obama babies (children conceived on election night...mark your calendars for late July 2009). The consensus seems to be that Barack got laid in a big way last night.

President Barack ObamaNov 05 2008

Hell Yeah Obama Won

There will be no t-shirts this time but all this other stuff will come to pass.

Dreaming of Honest AbeNov 04 2008

Someone keeps having dreams about Abraham Lincoln.

And then he hugs me and I think, 'Abe Lincoln hugged me. He smells like Old Spice.' I ask him who he supports in the election, and he smiles and says, "Believe it or not you're the first person who's asked me that this year; of course I support Barack. These so called Republicans remind me of Copperheads." And then he laughed sort of sad a deep ha ha ha laugh and I woke up.

The Copperheads were a group of Union Democrats who opposed the Civil War engineered by Lincoln's Republican administration. An anti-Lincoln pamphlet produced by the Copperheads -- titled Abraham Africanus I. His Secret Life as Revealed Under the Mesmeric Influence. Mysteries of the White House. -- brings to mind the ham-fisted attempt to characterize Barack Obama as a Muslim and terrorist.

Rough seas aheadNov 03 2008

This page on kottke.org is the #1 result when you Google "obama wins". Servers may get a little melty around here in the next couple of days. That's ok...this is what Twitter's servers are going to look like tomorrow night:

Fail bomb

Imagine this video, but with the fail whale instead of a real whale and a nuclear device instead of dynamite.

New Errol Morris political "switch" adsOct 30 2008

Errol Morris recently shot a new series of "switcher" ads regarding the 2008 presidential election. Only this time, he found people who are voting for a candidate who inspires them (Barack Obama) instead of against a candidate who let them down (George W Bush).

In introducing the site, Morris offers a taxonomy of what he calls "real people ads", political ads featuring the views of average everyday people.

And then there's the self-created interview ad that is a product of recent advances in technology. Camcorders that can be taken anywhere. We've seen self-reporting from the Iraq War and video diaries created by soldiers. The photographs and videos from Abu Ghraib are part of this phenomenon. Ultimately, video-blogging and self-reporting finds its expression in campaigns like the "Joe the Plumber." As I understand it, the McCain campaign has posted on its Web pages a request for people to film themselves and discuss why they are Joe the Plumber or Hank the Laminator or Frank the Painter. The intention is to collect these testimonials and then cut them together for a tax revolt television ad.

The Wire gets politicalOct 29 2008

Some of the cast of The Wire appeared in a "get involved" commercial for Barack Obama. Related: Carcetti for Mayor tshirts, re-elect Clay Davis shirts, and Pray for Clay campaign buttons. (thx, farhad)

John McCain vs Barack Obama dance-offOct 28 2008

I don't know if this has been linked around everywhere or not, but this surprisingly realistic video of a dance-off between Barack Obama and John McCain tickled every last bone in my body. I watched it at least four times.

Obama is up to speed on the Pollan DoctrineOct 28 2008

Senator Obama doesn't need to be paged...he's already read Michael Pollan's piece on US food policy.

I was just reading an article in the New York Times by Michael Pollen [sic] about food and the fact that our entire agricultural system is built on cheap oil. As a consequence, our agriculture sector actually is contributing more greenhouse gases than our transportation sector. And in the mean time, it's creating monocultures that are vulnerable to national security threats, are now vulnerable to sky-high food prices or crashes in food prices, huge swings in commodity prices, and are partly responsible for the explosion in our healthcare costs because they're contributing to type 2 diabetes, stroke and heart disease, obesity, all the things that are driving our huge explosion in healthcare costs. That's just one sector of the economy. You think about the same thing is true on transportation. The same thing is true on how we construct our buildings. The same is true across the board.

I wonder if McCain had a chance to read it. (thx, tim & jeremy)

NY Times endorses ObamaOct 24 2008

In a huge shocker, the NY Times has endorsed Barack Obama for President. They also have an interactive feature that shows the newspaper's past endorsements, from Lincoln in 1860 to the last Republican candidate endorsed, Dwight Eisenhower in 1956.

According to Editor and Publisher, Obama is leading McCain in newspaper endorsements by more than 2-to-1, including most of the major papers. Obama: LA Times, NY Times, Sacramento Bee, SF Chronicle, SJ Mercury, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, Chicago Sun-Times, Boston Globe, NY Daily News, The Houston Chronicle. McCain: San Diego Union-Tribune, Tampa Tribune, Boston Herald, New York Post, Dallas Morning News, The Detroit News.

An intimate look at ObamaOct 21 2008

A fantastic series of photos from Time photographer Callie Shell of Barack Obama. Shell has been photographing Obama since 2004.

Obama listens from a back stairwell as he is introduced in Muscatine, Iowa. It was his second or third speech of the day. Unlike many of the politicians I have photographed in the past, I find it is easy to get a photograph of Obama alone. He lets his staff do their jobs and not fuss over him.

I loved that he cleaned up after himself before leaving an ice cream shop in Wapello, Iowa. He didn't have to. The event was over and the press had left. He is used to taking care of things himself and I think this is one of the qualities that makes Obama different from so many other political candidates I've encountered.

Two staffers had just passed this site and done two pull-ups. Not to be outdone, Obama did three with ease, dropped and walked out to make a speech.

It's always the little things.

Obama is the new blackOct 21 2008

For some kids in the less diverse areas of the country, any black stranger is Obama.

I've heard from 2 different friends with very young children being raised in, ahem, more homogeneous areas of the country who have taken to calling any black strangers Obama.

Conspiracy theorists have no time for reasonOct 20 2008

I love this list of conditions that would have to be true if Obama really is a radical Marxist terrorist.

...and/or that those of his friends/colleagues/co-conspirators to whom he did reveal his true agenda, (William Ayers, et al) have also maintained absolute perfect silence/mendacity on the topic, forever, as no one who actually knows Obama has ever said, "You know, once he's got a couple of drinks in him, he starts going on about Che and finishing the Revolution;"

Obama is Marketer of the YearOct 20 2008

Barack Obama deservedly wins Advertising Age's Marketer of the Year for 2008.

When Obama wins...Oct 15 2008

According to the latest polls, we might be close to finding out what happens When Obama Wins...

Hitchens: vote for ObamaOct 14 2008

Christopher Hitchens endorses Obama for President.

To summarize what little I learned from all this: A candidate may well change his or her position on, say, universal health care or Bosnia. But he or she cannot change the fact -- if it happens to be a fact -- that he or she is a pathological liar, or a dimwit, or a proud ignoramus. And even in the short run, this must and will tell.

To hammer home his point, Hitchens compares McCain to Admiral James Stockdale, Ross Perot's running mate in 1992. Oh yes, he went there.

Kennedy's catchy jingleOct 13 2008

From The Living Room Candidate, a site which houses presidential campaign commercials from 1952-present, comes a 1960 commercial for John F. Kennedy. How the ad positions Kennedy reminds me of the delicate fusion that Barack Obama is attempting with his relative newness to politics and readiness for the job.

Do you want a man for President who's seasoned through and through but not so doggoned seasoned that he won't try something new? A man who's old enough to know and young enough to do...

What a great ad...I wish they still made 'em like this. You may remember seeing this on Mad Men.

The New Yorker endorses ObamaOct 06 2008

The New Yorker devotes the entire Talk of the Town section in their latest issue to their endorsement for President. As you might guess, Obama gets the endorsement and John McCain receives no quarter from the editors. The key part of the article concerns the candidates' possible appointments to the Supreme Court and their consequences. A more conservative court scares the shit out of me.

Watch politicians ageAug 29 2008

Video compilations of several months of photos of John McCain, Barack Obama, and George W. Bush. Completely mesmerizing, especially the Bush one. See also: Noah Kalina Everyday and Paris Hilton doesn't change facial expressions on YTMND.

Obama lapel pinsJul 17 2008

Steven Heller asked a bunch of designers and illustrators to re-imagine the lapel pin for Barack Obama.

Since Mr. Obama promotes himself as the candidate of change, maybe he should start wearing a different kind of lapel pin that signals his patriotism as well as other values he wants to communicate.

One fellow suggests ripping his lapels off and thereby skirting the whole pin issue. (via design observer)

When Obama winsJun 04 2008

We're one step closer to finding out what happens when Obama wins.

When Obama wins micrositeMay 09 2008

Last night, folks on Twitter began to contemplate what will happen if Barack Obama wins the nomination. The meme seems to have begun with Andrew Crow's vision for the future:

When Obama wins... unicorns will crap ice cream and pastries.

I collected a bunch of the best ones and made a page that cycles through them: When Obama wins.

DMX hasn't heard of Barack ObamaMar 18 2008

In the middle of this interview with rapper DMX, it becomes clear that he's never heard of Barack Obama before.

Q: Barack Obama, yeah.
A: Barack?!

Q: Barack.
A: What the fuck is a Barack?! Barack Obama. Where he from, Africa?

Q: Yeah, his dad is from Kenya.
A: Barack Obama?

Q: Yeah.
A: What the fuck?! That ain't no fuckin' name, yo. That ain't that nigga's name. You can't be serious. Barack Obama. Get the fuck outta here.

Q: You're telling me you haven't heard about him before.
A: I ain't really paying much attention.

Q: I mean, it's pretty big if a Black...
A: Wow, Barack! The nigga's name is Barack. Barack? Nigga named Barack Obama. What the fuck, man?! Is he serious? That ain't his fuckin' name. Ima tell this nigga when I see him, "Stop that bullshit. Stop that bullshit" [laughs] "That ain't your fuckin' name." Your momma ain't name you no damn Barack.

(via ah)

Do We Really Want Another Black PresidentFeb 13 2008

Do We Really Want Another Black President After The Events Of Deep Impact?

Related: the latest episode of This American Life leads with a fascinating piece about how the funny happens at The Onion. In a lovely paradox, it turns out that the process of making funny things isn't all that amusing...the sound of silence following the recitation of a funny possible headline in the writers' room is deep and unnerving. (thx, marshall)

Super Tuesday Surprise: Leading Minsk Newspaper EndorsesFeb 04 2008

Super Tuesday Surprise: Leading Minsk Newspaper Endorses Candidates in US Presidential Race.

The Democrats have now only two candidates who stand to chance against this powerful phalanx: Barack Obama, senator of City Chicago and nephew of Saddam Hussein; and Hillary Rodham Clinton, organizer of popular solidarity-building women's breakfasts for discussion of hair-hygiene and of place of woman in American politics, and only official wife of number-one enemy of Serbs and all Slavic peoples, Bill Clinton.

Also: "The Woman: it is also Person!"

Related to Jason Salavon's work from lastNov 19 2007

Related to Jason Salavon's work from last week is Brian Piana's work, the layouts and colors of web sites with all of the text and graphics stripped out. For instance, Barack Obama's Twitter page. The flowchart stuff is lovely...reminds me a bit of this page from Jimmy Corrigan. (thx, jonathan)

The Braindead MegaphoneSep 10 2007

The Braindead Megaphone

The title essay of George Saunders' The Braindead Megaphone invites the reader to imagine a person at a party with a megaphone. Megaphone Guy might not have much to say, but he's got a megaphone and so he is heard, his utterances setting the agenda for the entire party, the party's collective intelligence (its crowd-like wisdom if you want to put it that way) determined by the intelligence of Megaphone Guy. Before long, it ruins the party because the other guests will stop being guests and become passive "reactors-to-the-Guy".

Now imagine, metaphorically speaking, that the Megaphone Guy is the media and we, the audience of the media, are the party guests. Not all that hard to imagine because the following segment can be seen every hour on every TV news channel in the nation:

Last night on the local news I watched a young reporter standing in front of our mall, obviously freezing his ass off. The essence of his report was: Malls Tend to Get Busier at Christmas! Then he reported the local implications of his investigation: (1) This Also True At Our Mall! (2) When Our Mall More Busy, More Cars Present (3) The More Cars, the Longer it Takes Shoppers to Park! and (shockingly): (4) Yet People Still Are Shopping, Due to, it is Christmas!

It sounded like information, basically. He signed off crisply, nobody back at NewsCenter8 or wherever laughed at him. And across our fair city, people sat there and took it, and I believe that, generally, they weren't laughing at him either. They, like us in our house, were used to it, and consented to the idea that Informing had just occurred. Although what we had been told, we already knew, although it had been told in banal language, revved up with that strange TV news emphasis ("cold WEATHer leads SOME motorISTS to drive less, CARrie!"), we took it and, I would say, it did something to us: made us dumber and more accepting of slop.

Furthermore, I suspect, it subtly degraded our ability to make bold, meaningful sentences, or laugh at stupid, ill-considered ones. The next time we feel tempted to say something like, "Wow, at Christmas the malls sure do get busier due to more people shop at Christmas because at Christmas so many people go out to buy things at malls due to Christmas being a holiday on which gifts are given by some to others" -- we might actually say it, this sentiment having been elevated by our having seen it all dressed-up on television, in its fancy faux-informational clothing.

Sure, the details of the story change but the Braindead Megaphone drones on. The rest of Saunders' essay explores this idea further, keenly skewering the media *and* the people who listen to it. A fun and thought-provoking read.

Slightly related: Without exception, everytime I look at the book's cover photo -- an amalgam of three newsreaders (one black, one white, and one Asian) formed into one person -- I see Barack Obama.

I think it's perfectly OK for JohnMar 02 2007

I think it's perfectly OK for John McCain and Barack Obama to say that the US is wasting the lives of the American troops that have been killed in Iraq. In the ignoble pursuit of politics, people are penalized for telling the truth, or at least for telling their honest opinions. Words are twisted by the media and opponents to take on other meanings. In this case, we're supposed to be outraged for McCain and Obama suggesting that those who have chosen to serve in the armed forces are wasting their lives. Does anyone honestly believe that either of these two guys really meant to say that?

Transcript of a recent interview of BarackOct 30 2006

Transcript of a recent interview of Barack Obama by David Remnick. An 45-minute audio version is also available.

this is kottke.org

   Front page
   About + contact
   Site archives

You can follow kottke.org on Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, Feedly, or RSS.

Ad from The Deck

We Work Remotely

 

Enginehosting

Hosting provided EngineHosting