Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Hillary's other problem: her bio

"In a place called Hope"

An essential part of a candidate's campaign is his or her biography. The romanticization of how he or she got to the present, what had to be overcome, the "This is Your Life" quality of that story, has been used to woo voters, to frame the discussion about the personal qualities of a candidate.

Imagine Hillary Clinton at the Democratic Convention, the nominee of the party. Then the video montage of her life comes on. What is in it? Can you imagine a video montage which includes anything from the Bill Clinton White House?

Does she include that, although extraordinarily talented, she put much of her career on hold for her husband? Oops, back to the Bill Clinton White House.

The montage takes candidates to their roots. And Hillary's roots are ... in the state that Obama represents. Hillary is a Chicagoan. She pumped up the AFL-CIO members last August in the Chicago debate by saying, "My late father was a fanatic Bears fan, so the idea that any of his children would be on the 10 yard line at Soldier Field is a tremendous accomplishment." Being from a rust belt city is an asset to her.

If she had been elected to the Senate from a state other than New York, it might have been different. But she's had to take off her Cubs hat to don a Yankees hat because you have to be a Yankees fan to win New York. Undying loyalty to any other team means you're not a real New Yorker.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Hillary Clinton, Part 1: She can do it.

A proud confession: I am a Hillary Clinton supporter. Which doesn't mean I'm anti-Barack Obama: I adore him. But I think Hillary is an extraordinarily talented and admirable woman. I'm proud that she didn't sit down and shut up in this campaign. I think she would make an incredible president -- and I still think she would be a better one than Barack.

The reason I think this is not because of her campaign, which undeniably has had many flaws. Beginning not with anything that came out of her mouth (or out of Bill's) but with her assumption about how to manage a campaign: she was blindsided by the creativity of Obama, by how he reached out to new voters for votes and for funds. Get with the program, Hillary: (1) The internet is nothing new, and we are living in a digital world, and (2) We've lost the past two presidential elections doing things the old way and need to think out of the box, make the pie bigger, to win this one. And she hasn't -- she's tried campaign the old way, only more perfectly -- which I have found disappointing.

The reason I put campaign blunders aside and support Hillary is that she is a superb politician. "Politician" in its uncharged sense, as someone who is adept at navigating politics. She entered the Senate and immediately became effective. She overcame resistence based on the perceptions of her (just a wife, just a carpetbagger, pushy, frankly partisan) to become someone who could work collegially with anyone on either side of the aisle. She has in fact not been frankly partisan: she is someone who knows how to work relationships and how to compromise to get things done.

Barack may be able to free us from partisanship through his vision and how he expresses it, but Hillary has shown she can do it through her actions.

Which is, I think, one of the two major flaws in her ability to become president: you can't run for a party nomination by showing how effective you are at working with the other party. All the Republican Senators who appreciate and respect Hillary are campaigning for the other party. So she has had to draw on her experiences as a former First Lady. To me this is not as persuasive as what she's accomplished as an elected official.

The bipartisanship argument is something to observe with John McCain, who wants to convince Democratic voters that his bipartisanship earns him their vote. What if Clinton and McCain ran against each other: would they debate who was more bipartisan? That's where actual values come in.

The great Democratic plan

For everyone who is frustrated with the Democratic primaries, who is worried that the party is damaging itself by having two candidates to continue to duke it out, keep in mind the following:

  1. Americans love a competition. By taking the campaign to all 50 states, the Democrats are taking the motivation to participate to all 50 states. 
  2. If the Democrats get out the vote, they win. There are more Democrats in this country than Republicans. In Texas, on March 4, almost three million Democrats turned out to vote, to the Republicans' 1.4 million. And this was when it was still a race: Mike Huckabee did not drop out of the race until that evening. 
  3. The longer we have a Democratic competition, the more likely we are to have Democratic voter turnout in the red states of Mississippi, North Carolina, Indiana, West Virginia, Kentucky, Idaho, and, if this keeps going, Puerto Rico, Montana, South Dakota, and Nebraska; as well as in the perceived battleground states of Pennsylvania, Oregon, and New Mexico. 
  4. If people vote in primaries, they are more likely to vote in the general election.
  5. The rhetoric between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama reflects that they know this, and that in this home stretch they are going to work for party unity as they continue to compete.
  6. Airing Democratic candidates' dirty laundry early enables the clothesline to be clear in time to focus on McCain's dirty laundry in the general election.
  7. Enlisting new Democratic voters for this election could have effects that reach far beyond 2008.
I am very excited that the Democratic candidates continue to campaign, and I am optimistic about the process and the results.

Phoenix Mars redux

Back in college, I took planetary geology from Peter Schultz. Peter is a crater man. We spent something like the first three weeks (two or three days per week) talking about impact craters. He was also a researcher at JPL/Ames, and he told us all about all the things he would shoot through the Ames Gun into a special bowl of whatever at whatever angle at whatever speed. Like: shooting an egg into sand at a ninety-degree angle verses a forty-five degree angle and examining the splatter. At that stage of my life, empirical research meant nothing to me: I was a historian who looked at people and political theory to see how ideas connected, almost like the study of intellectual gossip, and I didn't yet look at tangible objects and wonder how they got that way. And certainly the nuances of crater splatter were boring to me. I wanted to study the volcanos on Io (and did). I was interested in Mars and the possibility of water and weather. I wanted to learn more about the present before asking how it got that way.

Now it all seems so obvious, and perhaps I needed three weeks of crater study to get it: planets are made of things mashed together, and craters are the evidence of that. Duh. Just as when you look at light that comes from very distant objects, which takes many millions of light years to get here, you are actually looking back in time, unpeeling impact craters is also a way to look back in time.

Peter also taught me to turn the picture upside down if a crater in a photo looked like a bump to me.

Much as I found all that crater stuff somewhat irrelevant, the time was exactly right to be studying it, and to be studying it with Peter, and I'd like to believe I knew that. In 1980, Alvarez and Alvarez published the theory that the extinction of the dinosaurs was caused by a meteor impact. So impact crater theory was really hot stuff in the scheme of things. And this theory was very much in play. I thought it was a good one (having been raised on the theory of Nuclear Winter) and decided for myself that the meteor was what created Hudson Bay. What a privilege, a unique life experience, to study a theory before it became widely accepted. (The search since 1990 has been for the crater or crater patterns which caused the K-T Event. Hudson Bay is not in consideration.)

How many people remember an exam question from 25 years ago? I think the only one I remember was on Peter's final exam. He asked us how we would determine if Mars has or had water on it. I'm sure there were people in the class who wanted to use mass spectrometry or something to determine this from a distance, but my solution was to send a probe to one of the poles and reach out an arm or something and poke it. I suggested there might not be surface water, but there might be evidence of water below the surface.

So the Phoenix Mars project is particularly exciting to me.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

A day at Tomales Bay

Today my favorite place in California is Tomales Bay.

A classmate has a long term rental of a great house there and invited a bunch of us to a day at the beach. Potluck. With a vague idea of when to show up, knowing this was potluck but not sure how many hours we'd be there, with a forecast of cold, overcast, and rainy, we left in a caravan, grumpy.

Instead, the day was sunny and warm. Duck Cove turned out to involve seven hours of hanging out, throwing rocks into the water, boating, hot tub, and lots of eating. J brought sangria, which we slurped and munched; I brought enough snacks to ruin our appetites for real food, which included tri tip, grilled asparagus and other vegetables, sausages, and hamburgers.

The boating was kicked off by seven children and three adults piling into our host's tiny Boston Whaler to go across the bay for oysters. As they returned, we on the shore thought they looked like refugees, absolutely packed into the boat.  Either that or the scene from "The Sound of Music" when the von Trapps kids joyfully swamp their boat as they greet their father.

Fresh oysters on the grill -- even the kids were eating them.

I have a thing about water.  Whenever I am near it, I must go in.  J and I were reminiscing about a trip we took up the coast years ago with a crowd of classmates.  We stopped at a rocky beach, the kind with huge eruptions of surf as the waves hit the rocks.  I got closer and closer, loving the smell and the spray.  Dragged J with me, and one of the waves totally soaked us.  (I really believe someone has a picture of this moment.  We must dig it up.)  I was wearing jeans and learned that getting wet in jeans is no fun; since that day, I bring a change of clothes if I think I will be anywhere near water.

Until today.  Today I sat by the picnic tables and hung out and had random sangria-filled conversations and took pictures, working up the nerve to ask our host if I could be next in the sea kayak.  I know how to canoe, but I'd never sea kayaked.  I'm a convert!  It's a hull of plastic like you'd buy at Toys R Us, and you just fly with little effort.  Much easier than a canoe.  I anticipated being so lame at kayaking that I said I'd just toodle around near the shore, but once I figured out how spectacularly simple it is to kayak I was off and running.  Not even noticing that I was dripping water all over myself as I paddled out into the bay.  It was like flying, like dancing.  Others of our party were out there in a pedal kayak, and I hung out with them on the water, sprinting off, moving in all directions, letting myself drift in the sun.

By the time I got out, which involved grounding the kayak on the shore and then kind of falling out into the water (not the most graceful landing), I was definitely soggy.  And in jeans.

Nothing drinking more sangria, sitting in a hot tub overlooking the bay (as the fog rolled in), and eating oysters off the grill (throwing the shells off the cliff), and having more great conversation can't fix.  Today we ate 100 oysters.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Why does everything taste better with yogurt?

Lentils. Chris has the greatest recipe, although it’s not really a recipe because he just made it up. Craving Chris' lentils, I bought the core ingredient: microwavable lentils from Trader Joe’s. Started with my automatic base of garlic and red pepper flakes. I didn’t have ham, which I know Chris used, so I used roasted turkey (with Italian spices), and I don’t like sundried tomatoes, which Chris used, so I used a fresh tomato.

It did not come out tasting like Chris’ lentils.

And then I thought of yogurt. I’m always looking for opportunities to use yogurt as a condiment. So I threw some on top. And it was great! Why is that? I could put yogurt on everything.

Then I realized I had tortilla chips. So I scooped the concoction up with that. How did I start with a ham and lentil recipe and end up with nachos?

Day two: I fully transformed the leftover lentils into Mexican food by putting them in a quesadilla.  The idea was great, and the flavor was great, but lentils don't stick to tortillas.  So when I went to flip the quesadilla it was like a lentil celebration: lentil confetti everywhere.

Couscous injury

I have had a band-aid on the ball of my right thumb for several days. You can kind of see the blood seeping through the gauze. I’ve been waiting for someone to ask me what I did. Then I can tell them that I injured it on couscous.

To my credit, it was Israeli couscous, which is bigger and more substantial than regular couscous.

I was trying to pop some dried couscous out of a bowl, and that last piece stuck. I raked my thumb across it, drawing blood. The world's first couscous injury.