Sunday, February 24, 2008

Nadir of Ego Politics

Ralph Nader has apparently declared for president as a third party candidate again. On the Green Party, no less.

Asked for a reaction, Hillary Clinton reminded us: “Well, you know his being on the Green Party [in 2000] prevented Al Gore from being the greenest president we’ve ever had,” Mrs. Clinton said. “And I think that’s really unfortunate.”
Quote and photo from

I could not agree more. What if Nader's irresponsibility manages to elect John McCain and keep the country from having its first African American or female president?

There was a brilliant blog on this at DailyKos, which looked at the role of responsibility in politics, referring back to Max Weber on "Politics as a Vocation," (which John Downing and I co-taught in my first graduate theory course at UT in 1998--so I am impressed at how this blogger applies it to the nadir of Nader). In a nutshell, good politics requires both passion and responsibility, which Nader seems to have lost sight of, but check out the blog at

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Yes, You Can

Last night Sandy and I went with some of our kids and kids in law to the big Obama rally in Austin. In the picture you can see Sam, me, Sandy, Rolf, Kristy. (Julia is taking the picture.)

To be fair, here is a picture of Sam and Julia in front of a huge Texas flag that flanked the stage.

We went early to get a decent place to stand and ended up about 40 feet from him when he spoke. This is a view of him from where we were standing. You can see the top of my rather curly head in the lower front.

It was an amazing speech, which I may have more to say about later. He is certainly long on both inspiring rhetoric and policy specifics. Almost an hour went by while he spoke and I scarcely noticed.

I will admit I really hope he becomes president. What intrigued me most, though, was what he has already done just by being who he is. We were flanked on one side by an middle aged working class African American man and his son, and on the other by a young African American couple. Both young men were hard for Obama to win over. They both looked pretty hardened by life. Neither of them ever started cheering the way one's father and the other's girl friend did. But it was interesting to watch Obama slowly break through and get them to smile a bit and clap a few times for things like getting out of Iraq.

Almost nine years ago I started doing interviews in schools and community centers of the formerly segregated African American area of East Austin. I was interested in the digital divide, what was keeping African Americans and Latinos away from the Internet in very disproportionate numbers. One of the Latino boys I interviewed in a focus group literally referred to computers as "women's work." Which was stunning at the time, given how most people then thought the technology biased toward men. I came to understand that few of the boys I talked to knew any adult man (particularly in their ethnic group and social class) who had the kind of job that used a computer (which already included almost all professional level jobs by 2000).

I began to realize that most effective thing I could have done about the digital divide was introduce these kids to adult men that they could identify with, who used computers, had been to college, and had professional level jobs that required computer use. I worked with one tall, athletic looking African American man named Leroy on one of those projects. His presence was magic in opening kids up to seeing the computers as something that guys like them could use. If we could have cloned Leroy to work in all the schools in East Austin, we would really have opened up a lot of eyes, and a lot of hopes, much faster.

I read a similar example from a story about Michelle Obama in the February 25 Newsweek, "of a 10-year-old girl she met in a beauty parlor in South Carolina who told her that if Barak wins the White House, 'it means I can imagine anything for myself''."

So in many ways, I am ecstatic that Obama has gotten this far, presenting the example, or role model, he does. But it sure would be nice, if those same kids got to see an African American man be president of the USA.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

The Helsinki Complaints Choir

We spent three weeks in Finland in August last year and a week there again in November. It is a beautiful place, particularly in summer, a little grimmer in November with falling hours of daylight and increasing amounts of snow.

So Finns tend to be a stoic, tough group, but they have been known to complain a bit about the weather. Here is a classic performance piece by the Helsinki Complaints Choir. It starts in the Helsinki train station and moves around town a bit. Keep your ears attuned for the Nokia ring tone.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Fe De Rico

One of my favorite things about Austin is its growing collection of murals, graffiti and wall art. There is a lot of variety around town, which I will probably come back to now and then.

One of my favorites is the growing set of wall paintings on various stores by Fe De Rico, who does murals like this one of Johnny Cash on the front of a bookstore near my office. I have liked Johnny Cash a lot ever since I heard "Ring of Fire" on a tinny AM radio a long time ago. This mural captures him, his inspirations and demons, vividly.

To quote a flickr series on Fe De Rico's work, "This is part of series of musical murals by local Austin artist Fe De Rico, aka Federico Archuleta, on the outside of Intellectual Property books on Guadalupe in Austin. Formerly Tower Records, the new owners invited Achuleta to revamp his old designs. The artist is now in great demand from businesses wanting his trademark 'graffiti western' style on their walls."

Another personal favorite of mine by Fe De Rico is this one of Bob Dylan, on the alley side of the Hole in the Wall bar across from my building.

When I was interviewing for my job at University of Texas, I noticed that one of my all time favorite country/rock/ tejano/blues musicians, Doug Sahm, was playing the Hole in the Wall soon. I thought that any town where Doug Sahm played 50 yards from my office might be my kind of place.

And as the loyal reader will remember, I am a pretty big Dylan fan, but I also agree wholeheartedly with the slightly ironic twist of this mural. Best not to take wee Bob too seriously.

And for one last sample of Fe De Rico, consider Our Lady on Guadalupe, his image of the Virgin Mary on the bookstore mentioned above, located--where else--on Guadalupe.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Texans for Obama!

I went downtown in the cold rain today to get trained to be a precinct captain for the Obama campaign for the Texas primary, which seems likely to be a defining event for the nomination for president. That means knocking on doors, handing out pamphlets, and calling strangers on the phone. Ordinarily that appeals to me about as much as a colonoscopy, but I find myself pretty fired up about it.

It seems many are. There were many more people at Obama headquarters to volunteer than the campaign had expected. They were frantically setting up extra rooms but had big smiles on while they did it.

A lot of people seem to feel pretty strongly about Obama. They were encouraging people to talk about their reasons, to practice for talking to people in their neighborhoods.

There are many reasons people seemed to like him. One of my main ones turns out to be common: a desire to get beyond the extreme partisan polarization that we have been increasing for the last 28 years. Part of that seems to be getting the partisans of my generation, the Boomers, like the Clintons and Bushes, out of power and letting someone try a new approach. Obama seems to focus on and promise just that. (And I don't buy the Clinton argument that he is weak on the details -- his are just as well organized, indeed really pretty similar to hers, but he has a vision and a largeness of spirit that she just does not have. Or the Clinton argument about her preparation to lead--an interesting column recently noted that if you take the organization of their campaigns as an indicator of management skill, Obama is better prepared than either Clinton or McCain.)

Another one of my main reasons was less commonly expressed. I worked for four years (1979-83) researching what people in other countries think of the U.S. I still follow it pretty closely and other people, like the Pew Charitable Trust are doing good research on it now. If you look at world opinion from the early 2000s compared to now, George Bush has so completely destroyed the image of the U.S. in the rest of the world that we need someone very different to show us internally and the rest of the world externally a very different face for the USA.

A number of people have observed that abroad, even more than at home, Obama, simply by being who he is, a part black, part white guy who grew up in several cultures, is the perfect example of what is still pretty good about America, our strength in letting immigrants from lots of places achieve better lives.

There is a very articulate essay on exactly that point by Andrew Sullivan, in the Atlantic Monthly last year, Goodbye to All That: Why Obama Matters.

I recommend it.

Valentine's Day

Thursday was Valentine's Day. Of all our commodi- fied holidays, it is one of my favorites. Maybe it is because I like romance better than hobgoblins, but this holiday has always seemed like more fun than, say, Halloween.

One of our own Valentine's Day traditions is going out for dinner--along with chocolate, flowers and all the other fun. I usually think first of Italian food for Valentine's Day. It turns out many people do. (There was a long line outside Romeo's Italian restaurant that night.) So I asked several of the graduate students in my department, Radio-TV-Film, why they thought that was.

Opinion was almost unanimous: Lady and the Tramp. Here you can see a still from the memorable scene where the two dogs go out for a romantic Italian dinner. I fought the idea in my head for a bit. I hate giving Disney that much credit for setting our mental agenda and images. But I think the grad students were right. Disney got us again.

I still like Italian food anyway. But last Thursday Sandy and I went past Romeo's to have barbecue at the Green Mesquite. Strike a blow for barbecue and against Disney!

BTW, here is my valentine and her Valentine's Day flowers. A nice smile to brighten a gray Texas day.