rant


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.

Technology

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.

Just as hip hop (at least its prototypical form made popular by Grand Master Flash, Sugar Hill Gang, Run DMC, Kurtis Blow, LL Cool J and so many others) is getting some long overdue propers by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, it is suffering its worse slump of its 30 year existence. Hip Hop’s funk troubles me especially. I’m a life long fanatic of the music. As a kid I passed many a recess reciting the lyrics to the likes of Rapper’s Delight on the playground while my friend played the rhythm on the bars of the jungle gym. As a teenager, I relied on Chuck D to fuel my rebellion and instruct me on the injustice of the American Legal System and Selective Service. And as a fully grown (if not fully matured) man, I look to hip hop for inspiration, strength and an outlet for my un-subsided angst and legitimate frustrations with the world.

But lately I’m just not feeling it. It’s not the copious bad rap out there, as I’ve always been successful at filtering out the bullshit when it comes to hip hop. It’s not the vulgar language, although recently I had to flip past a song by self-proclaimed conscious rapper Common when he dropped a homophobic epithet one too many times. It’s this: with very little exception, everything I hear these days is derivative. Same story, same beat, similar sample. Blah, blah, blah. Plus, every clown I see limping down the street with an AI jersey, pants sagging and a hat on sideways makes me smirk with disdain. It’s all so tired.

Nas is right: Hip Hop is dead. Here’s how dead it is: It’s inducted into the Hall of Fame with Van Halen (also dead), and NPR did a story on how dead it is. Now that’s dead. Next it’ll be snubbed for an Oscar, just like Peter O’Toole. NPR’s story this past weekend was on  hip-hop’s slumping album sales. In an environment where music sales are slumping across the board, hip-hop sales have dropped precipitously, deeper than the industry as a whole. A CNN article I found while writing this piece puts the drop at 21% over the 2005-2006 period. That span also marked the first time in nearly a decade that hip-hop had no album in the top 10.

The avenues that have been explored in hip hop seem to have come to a dead end. The exceptions in my view are the routes explored by artists like The Roots and Andre 3000 – and their experiments seem to be taking them out of ‘traditional’ hip-hop and moving them into curious places, off the map and out of this world. In the case of The Roots, their latest album Game Theory, which I actually love, fuses hip hop with acid jazz, trip hop, and something not yet categorized. Black Thought still rhymes, but the rhymes flow in and out of the music with less structure, and the beats and tracks tend to morph and twist. The album as a whole is fluid and refreshingly unstructured. I’ve nothing to say about Andre, except to say that his long-standing inclination to innovate is leading him far astray – and far ahead – of the genre that made him famous.

At its core, hip hop has always been about innovation and ruthless, honest expression. Recently, with all the mainstreaming and major label fiddling, its lost its way. But the raison d’etre of hip hop, or at least the things that made it so revolutionary and provocative (when it was still revolutionary and provocative) are still with us, and hopefully will be forever. I look forward to something new and revolutionary out of Brooklyn, South Central, Atlanta, Oakland and all the other places where hip hop once lived, but until then I’ll be relying on throw backs to the days when hip-hop was still alive. Hip Hop is Dead, Long Live Hip Hop!

So sad! This morning I picked up the Times on the way to work and saw this article about CBGB closing its doors permanently. I remember reading a few articles about the problems between CBGB’s owner Hilly Kristal and the venue’s landlord, but the front page article in the Times this morning still surprised me, and made me get nostalgic for the punk rock 80’s and post-punk 90’s.

I’ve only been to CBGB a couple of times, but I still hold my attendance up as a badge of punk rock honor.  It was 1989, and me and my friend Byron Hipp drove up to New York in my dilapidated Dodge Coronet. I can’t even remember the headlining band, to be honest, but I’m pretty sure the opening act was 24-7 Spyz.

I remember how totally punk rock I felt, hanging out at CBGB. I knew I had to really enjoy it, since I was prohibited from going to New York by my mom, and when I returned to DC, it was a foregone conclusion that I’d be grounded and car-less for at least two weeks.

CBGB is gone, and its time had probably come. It is sad to see such a landmark, an historic icon of ‘underground rock,’ punk-rock and the New York music scene shut down. But I suppose I can take solace in what Patti Smith said during the closing show last night: “CBGB is a state of mind. There’s new kids with new ideas all over the world. They’ll make their own places.” The way things are going, the places those kids make might not even be physical places, but let’s hope she is right.  Out with the old, in with the new, I suppose.

Hack This!
Hack This!
Lerdorf
Lerdorf discusses PHP 5
License Plates
Only in the Valley (Plates read ‘Algortm’ and ‘Hack Me’).
Beck
Beck Rocks HackDay06
Sims Reunion
SIMS reunion at Hack Day ’06

I’ve never been that enamored of Yahoo!, to be honest. For starters, the name bothers me. Call me a purist, but I don’t think words should have extraneous punctuation. Secondly, I stopped using many of Yahoo!’s (see what I mean?) features years ago as Google’s services started to come online. I snickered when the Yahoo Music Engine came online. In brief I felt as though much of what Yahoo! was trying to do Google was doing better.

But they’ve been doing some really cool stuff for a year or two now. Last year they opened the Yahoo! Research Lab in Berkeley and hired a bunch of really smart SIMS kids (and poached a faculty member to found it). They’ve acquired some pretty cool companies. They hire really, really well. And this weekend they are having the coolest tech event I’ve ever attended to showcase their awesome employees and APIs and motivate the developer community to get involved.

Welcome to Yahoo! Open Hack Day ’06. I attended yesterday’s workshops and was really blown away. Yahoo! is the shit. Seriously, where else can you get the downlow on PHP from the guy who wrote it, sit next to the person who started Flickr as you learn how to hack the Flickr API, and get a tutorial on the Yahoo UI platform library from the people who designed them and then rock out to a private Beck concert, replete with a live puppet show? Punk. Rock.

This was a great idea from start to finish. Yahoo! gets lots of smart engineers playing around with their tools and services, possibly adds a few of them to their payroll, and spreads tremendous good will among the developer community. Attending engineers and researchers, in turn, get treated to a series of enlightening talks by the leading minds in the industry, sees the internal workings of a cutting-edge company, and get to network with like-minded people.

I’m looking forward to seeing all of the cool hacks that come out of this weekend. I’m also excited to start working with all of the APIs I was exposed to (ha ha) yesterday. Hopefully this is the first of many hack days at Yahoo!

I’ve had it up to here with the monthly Critical Mass ride in San Francisco. For those of you unaquainted with this ‘protest,’ it is a semi-organized bike ride through the streets of San Francisco. The ultimate statement, I suppose, is that bikes are better than cars, and if you drive to work instead of bike, you should be summarily shot, sliced into little tiny slivers, and stuck into the spokes of a higher being’s bike tires.

In a perfect world, we would have less cars and more bicyclists and pedestrians. And I appreciate what Critical Mass is intended to do: Raise the awareness of bicyclists in the city, and push for more bike lanes, etc. As someone who braved the streets of SF on his bike for a few years before forgoing wheels for feet and public transit (and cabs, of course), I fully empathize with the tribulations of the urban cyclist. Shit, I’ve even done a movie about it. I get it.

But these little protests are fucking annoying. Rather than make the intended point, they annoy motorists, infuriate the poor folks stuck on public buses who just want to go home but are instead stuck on a bus, unable to move because of a loud and self-serving demonstration. As a pedestrian, I find these protests totally offensive.

This afternoon I walked down to my corner store to grab a snack, only to find Geary Street, a major thoroughfare, totally jammed up with thousands of bicyclists towing loud speakers with annoying music, doing their monthly Critical Mass ride. Why they were on Geary instead of Market is beyond me, but I would speculate they lost their protest permit for Market Street, so they are getting pushed to the backwaters. Next, their annoying ass protest be ought to be pushed over to Treasure Island, and that would be a good thing.

One would think that protesters seeking to highlight the need for less cars and more bikes would be sympathetic to people *not* in cars. I mean, shouldn’t these people actually endorse people like me, people who are car-free citizens who traverse the city on foot, on public transport and in cabs? I mean, I’m “one less car” too, right?

Wrong. Evidently, pedestrians are just as much the enemy as cars. Rather than heed the red light and allow me to cross Geary when the little green man said I could, these whack ass motherfuckers just kept on rolling through. When I tried to traverse the intersection, I was hollered at and jeered at by the protesters. WTF? This isn’t the first time I’ve been scorned by Critical Mass for going about my business on foot in the city, and it won’t be the last. But I hope someone from CM reads this and tries to create a more agreeable and effective disposition amidst the CM riders.

After all, the goal is to raise awareness and sensitivity about bicycles in the city, isn’t it? Or is it just an annoying, prolonged, aggressive migrating rant from the soapbox? I’m beginning to think it’s the latter. These cats don’t give a shit about any one but themselves, and that makes them just as annoying as motorists with a similar sense of self-entitlement. So Critical Mass, you can kiss my pedestrian ass.