February 2008

The Owl Tree

This is kind of cool. I took the picture to the right on my Blackberry some time ago. It’s the sign that used to hang above a funky old bar in my neighborhood, called The Owl Tree (as you may have guessed). The bar was right down the street from my house, and I used to pass by it every day on my way to work or Bart or pretty much anywhere east of my apartment. As you may have also guessed by the name of the bar, there was a not-so-subtle Owl theme going on in The Owl Tree. Everything was owls. There were stuffed owls, carved owls, paper owls, stone owls, owl dolls, owl clothes. The menus were in the shape of owls, as were the napkins. Owls everywhere! It was overwhelming at times, but also so cooky as to make it interesting.

The owner was this old cantankerous guy named Bobby C. (the full name of the bar was Bobby C.’s Owl Tree), and he had owned and operated The Owl Tree just so for about 25 years. He played like he was mean, but he was really a softy. I used to wave to him every time I passed by, and I would frequently pop in for a drink. I loved going in there with people he didn’t recognize, because he would put on a show for everyone. He was that old school type of bartender; he’d put down a napkin, give you a bowl of that pretzel/nuts/wheat chex snack stuff, a packet of moist handy wipes and take your order. If you came in regularly, he remembered you and you’d usually get a drink on the house.

Anyway, old Bobby C. died of cancer several months ago. In his last few months, Bobby seemed to want to pour all his customers a final drink on the house before he died. I remember him encouraging me to come by for a drink. “Stop in, I’ll buy you a drink,” he insisted. Eventually I did, maybe a month before he died, and indeed he poured me a couple of drinks and wouldn’t let me pay for them. That’s the last time I saw him.

Bobby worked his last day on earth (so the story goes), and while I wasn’t there that night, my money says he was up to his old tricks that night. After Bobby died, the Owl Tree shut its doors for good. It’s now being renovated, and if the trend in the rest of the neighborhood carries, it will be home to some suave, pricey, uber-swank hipster bar. So it goes in the TL.

But the point of my post isn’t to talk about the Owl Tree and all the great stories that came out of there, but rather to talk about how cool I am. The photo I took was selected to be used in the Schmap San Francisco 2007 Guide. As far as I can tell, Schmap is a mash-up application that uses flickr, Yahoo’s geocoding API, Yahoo Maps and some venue review data to provide a map-based photo review of various venues in the city. It’s pretty cool (although not that smart since it doesn’t know that The Owl Tree is no more). They provide a widget (at right) that people like me can post on their blogs. Somewhere in there is my photo of the Owl Tree. I will probably add this widget to the side bar at some point.

Anyway, I’m proud of my stunning, thought provoking photographic work. I’m blessed, really. It’s a gift. Some say I’m channeling Ansel Adams, but I say he should be so lucky.

“There is a moment in the life of every generation if it’s to make its mark on history, when that spirit — spirit — has to shine through, spirit that says we are casting aside our fears, and our doubts and our cynicism… when we embrace the difficult, daunting task of remaking a nation…” – Barack Obama 2007

I am your basic dyed in the wool Democrat when it comes to National politics. I voted for Clinton in ’92 & ’96, Gore in ’00, Kerry in ’04. I will vote for the Democratic nominee in 2008. But I am actively promoting and working for the Obama campaign, because I believe he is a historic figure that can make real change happen for this country. I’ve never opined on my political disposition in this space before, but today, I’m making an exception; first because tomorrow and the following Tuesday are critical days for Obama and I want any one reading this consider voting for him and to ask their friends to to do the same. Secondly, I want to respond to a friend’s blog posting about the merits of voting for Obama over Clinton.

Joe thinks Clinton will make a better president, plain and simple. Here is my case for why Obama is the best candidate in the field, and has been for 40 years. This is a rough sketch, because I don’t have a lot of time, but my basic argument for Obama is based on his inspirational leadership, his domestic policies, his potential to repair the US reputation abroad and improve relations with our ‘enemies,’ his policies on campaign and political reform (including transparency), his solid voting record, and finally his special characteristic as an historical political figure, not necessarily in that order. I address them below.

Inspirational Leadership

Voting for Obama represents a vote for changing the way politics is done in this country. I’m considerably more cynical than most people I know, but I am still stirred by Obama’s message of hope and change. His inspirational leadership, fresh perspective and persuasive, consensus-driven leadership style are all compelling reasons to vote for him. Inspiration leadership matters. Obama’s pitch to young people to get involved, and his believe that change happens from the ground up, shows that he wants this democracy to fulfill its potential and not be a farce, as it has become. This is an opportunity that as my father (a congressional and presidential historian) describes , hasn’t happened in this country since since RFK’s assassination. It’s easy to dismiss all of this as rhetorical trickery, but I don’t believe that. Barack is the real deal.

Healthcare/Domestic Policies

Obama’s health plan, while not as aggressive as Clinton’s, is very well informed and pragmatic, which demonstrates his understanding of complicated domestic policy issues. I’m not schooled enough in the details of their respective plans, but from what I understand, the differences are nuanced, and Obama’s position seems to be more incremental while still protecting all children and the vast majority of adults.

Obama’s position on immigration reform is enlightened, far more so than Clinton or his republican counterparts. I travel extensively, and the draconian immigration/visa rules in this country are having a negative effect on America. An American can travel virtually anywhere with very limited hassle, yet many people trying to travel in the US are faced with stiff fees and stringent visa requirements, not to mention immoral treatment by customs officials. Obama is much stronger here.

Neither of these candidates have done enough to support gay rights and gay marriage. This is a serious problem with both candidates. But in speeches recently, Barack has acknowledged that gay rights is a fundamental civil rights issue, which I believe paves the way to more aggressive action in this arena.

Foreign Affairs

Beyond what Obama represents as a leader and a voice for a new kind of politics domestically, I think he will bring a new face to the U.S. in foreign affairs, something that we desperately need. The U.S. international reputation is shot. If Obama steps in, he brings a promise to work with leaders peacefully, to use diplomacy, and to do away with the hardline tactics of the Bush/Cheney administration. Moreover, he has a track record of standing up against the Iraq war, which demonstrates a willingness to do what is right. I hope and believe that Obama is more inclined to stand up in the face of genocide, famine and ethnic conflict in far flung lands, because he has family that live in areas afflicted by such problems.

While Clinton will no doubt be effective in this area as well, Clintonion diplomacy failed on several fronts under Bill Clinton (and yes, I think they share a diplomatic perspective). Bill Clinton’s lack of action in Rwanda and other parts of Africa, and to dampen the spread of AIDS in Africa were total foreign policy disasters. Clinton sidestepped those issues in the 90s because they weren’t politically popular. Hillary Clinton, while certainly different from her husband in many respects, still shares his views on effective governing – that is, compromise first, as questions later. What the Clintons do offer in this regard is goodwill and older friendships abroad, and I hope that will be leveraged regardless of the new president.

Ending Dirty Politics / Republicans HATE Hillary

Politics is inherently dirty, and I don’t expect my politicians to have clean hands. But Obama’s campaign reform proposals are clean, way cleaner than Clinton’s. He supports getting rid of lobbying, capping donations, etc. While he’s brought in a lot of money, it’s all coming from small donations. That says something.

But the Clintons aren’t just dirty, they are cut throat. Their first inclination is to sling mud, and they do it on a moment’s notice as evidenced by the S.C. race. More importantly, Republicans hate Hillary. My favorite quote on this is from my friend Dave Only Hillary can unite the Republican Party in 2008″

If Hillary wins (assuming she can beat McCain in a national election, which she might not) as soon as Hillary is sworn in, the partisanship battle will commence, and her presidency will be consumed with the same kind of childish, ugly bickering that consumed much of her husbands presidency. Make no mistake about it. No bills will pass, no troops will leave Iraq, nothing. We’ll be back to Washington gridlock. Clinton said as much – she believes the goal isn’t to end partisanship it’s ‘to fulfill it.’

As for Hillary’s much touted experience, Obama actually has more legislative experience than does Hillary. Moreover, as Obama pointed out early in the campaign, if this were all about experience, why not just appoint Joe Biden, Dick Cheney or Donny Rumsfeld as president?

Voting Records

Barack is a solid, consistent voter, more so than Hillary.


I don’t know much about Obama’s positions on technology, but I will say that I believe he’ll be a much stronger advocate for technology policy than Clinton, because so many of his supporters are young and technologically savvy. In the last few weeks, I’ve worked with techies from Google, Yahoo, Facebook, UC Berkeley, Harvard, Stanford and elsewhere, all working feverishly on his California campaign. I’m sure some of them will work for an Obama administration, and I’m sure they will be advocates for technology. Moreover, given Obama’s aversion to lobbying, he’s not likely to be persuaded to support legislation that was pushed through to support big company interests.

An Historical Moment

I’ll leave with this:

“There is a moment in the life of every generation if it’s to make its mark on history, when that spirit — spirit — has to shine through, spirit that says we are casting aside our fears, and our doubts and our cynicism… when we embrace the difficult, daunting task of remaking a nation…” – Barack Obama 2007

As a candidate, Barack Obama is neither “paper-thin” nor “over-idealistic.” Quite the contrary. He has stirred the young, apathetic people, and even the old guard Democrats to rally for him. This is a historic moment, one that we might not see again for another 40 years. I say we take it and run with it.