The Obama West Wing


This is the end of the series. Thanks again to Facilities for the images.

Why I blog

I don't think that what I have to say is important, always right, or even of moderate worth, but the space is here, and the hosting is free.... I think I write today more for my future self, as a chronicle of what has happened and will happen. We'll see what direction this takes in the new year.

My College EC Experience

Let's hope I don't need to use this list.

Elected To:
Honor Committee: 2007 - Present, Class Representative
Honorary Degrees Committee: 2009 - Present, Class Representative

Appointed To:
Stetson-Sawyer Project Committee: 2008 - Present, currently Student Chair
Committee on Undergraduate Life (CUL): 2008-2009
Political Economy Major Advisory Committee: Fall 2009
Committee on Educational Policy: 2009 - Present, currently Student Chair

Williams Job Experience:
Soccer Commentator (2007 - Present)
Carillonneur (2007-Present; currently Lead Ringer)
Goodrich A/V Technician (2008 - Present; currently A/V Manager)
Paresky Student Assistant (2009-Present)
Peer Tutor (2009 - Present)

Performance Groups:
Chamber Choir (2009 - Present)
Concert Choir (2009 - Present)
All Acoustic Alliance (2008 - Present)
Handbell Choir (2007)

Other Campus Groups: 
The Feast: 2007-Present
Gaudino Fund: 2009 - Present, Trustee
People Who Give a S***: 2010 - Present, Founder and Coordinator
Rape and Sexual Assault Network: 2008 - Present
Roosevelt Institution: 2007 - 2009, former Chapter President
Stand With Us: 2008, former Subgroup Leader
Stanley Kaplan Council on American Foreign Policy: 2008 - Present, currently on Leadership Board

Additional Appointments that don't mean much of anything:
Advisory Group on Admissions and Financial Aid (AGAFA): Appointed 2008, never met
Committee on Campus Spaces: Nominated & Appointed 2008, met only once or twice
Facilities Committee: Appointed 2008, never met
Grievance Commitee: Appointed 2008 and 2009, never met (no formal discrimination cases)
Winter Study Committee: Appointed 2009, resigned (over-committed)

Krauthammer on Language

The op-ed is available here:
Obama may have declared the war over. Unfortunately, al-Qaeda has not. Which gives new meaning to the term “asymmetric warfare.” [...]

More jarring still were Obama’s references to the terrorist as a “suspect” who “allegedly tried to ignite an explosive device.” You can hear the echo of FDR: “Yesterday, Dec. 7, 1941 — a date which will live in infamy — Japanese naval and air force suspects allegedly bombed Pearl Harbor.” [...]

This is all quite mad even in Obama’s terms. He sends 30,000 troops to fight terror overseas, yet if any terrorists come to attack us here, they are magically transformed from enemy into defendant.

The logic is perverse. If we find Abdulmutallab in an al-Qaeda training camp in Yemen, where he is merely preparing for a terror attack, we snuff him out with a Predator — no judge, no jury, no qualms. But if we catch him in the United States in the very act of mass murder, he instantly acquires protection not just from execution by drone but even from interrogation. [...]

Any government can through laxity let someone slip through the cracks. But a government that refuses to admit that we are at war, indeed, refuses even to name the enemy — jihadist is a word banished from the Obama lexicon — turns laxity into a governing philosophy.

The whole article is worth a read, but I've only quoted sections I wanted to directly respond to. In the first excerpt, Krauthammer is committing a very interesting comparison. Obama's words and descriptions are, to him, part of the actual warfare we have against terrorists. That's very interesting, because if words have that power, then we should be using them to weaken and marginalize our opponents. Which is exactly what Obama is doing. Krauthammer seems to be saying that our enemies are so undeniably strong and powerful that we have to treat this as a real war, and that is ludicrous. The threshold to commit terror is not high - just ask the DC snipers. All you need is a gun, a silencer, and a car with a small hole in the trunk. We don't need to elevate these idiots.

His second point is entirely on target, and his third is also a good point, though it ignores the fact that a guy in our custody is much less dangerous than a guy on the outside. For the columnist, the moral attitudes of the administration are at play, but for me, is about the threat and danger presented.

The last excerpt is the worst. It seems to say that Obama's rhetoric means lax policy, and this is ENTIRELY UNTRUE. Rhetoric and policy do not have to be connected, and coming down with strong policies without harsh rhetoric is wise.

Sun Shade

Opinion Polls and Policy

First, an necessary disclaimer: any opinion poll is only as good as its questions and its statistical methodology, and even then, intrinsic sampling errors can give rise to legitimate concerns about accuracy. We don't have an easy way to reach a truly random group of people for polling (some people don't have addresses, others have multiple telephones, etc.), and even if we were to find that group, the people who respond would likely not represent the overall group. For example, a poll about politicians will probably have a lower response rate from people who hate politics. Other times, results may be falsified.

BUT, that doesn't mean they aren't useful, especially in finding trends in public opinion. We've seen that public attitudes towards homosexuality have changed radically since 1989, and the daily tracking polls from the 2009 presidential race provided great daily material for writers. Such polls can also be helpful when an elected official wants to gauge general public opinion as part of policy considerations. This means it's also fair for others to use public polling when opposing policies.

That argument should fall out of the window when considering issues of human rights. Racism was widely accepted and endorsed in the American South, but such numbers were and are irrelevant to policy. I don't care how many people endorse evil actions; that does not excuse me from committing them. A official is personally responsible for her or his own actions, period, and racism is wrong.

Just as torture is wrong. We know that waterboarding is torture. Christopher Hitchens tried it and said as such, and Sean Hannity said he'd do the same (and has not). I have no patience for torture, and the fact that people would embrace it is extremely concerning. We are better than that.

So when I read posts like this and this, I sigh:
Really, what must the average American think of an administration that facilitates non-collection of information? When the Obama administration lashes out at a former VP or insists that they are being true to our “values,” it is entirely at odds with the American people. The voters are coming to the realization that their government isn’t doing what is needed to keep us safe. And they seem to value their own safety above some distorted notion that enemy combatants are entitled to be treated like common criminals.
It's not about the information, though whatever we get will have accuracy issues because how its obtained. It's also not about being "tough," since WW2 and current interrogators have gotten more through being smart, such as "Matthew Alexander." It's that TORTURE DOES NOT MAKE US SAFER. It cannot make us safer. If the President feels someone has to be tortured because of an imminent attack, then the President should be willing to unergo a possible impeachment. If not, there is no immediate threat and no need. Besides, this logic throws the Geneva convention out the window.


How Israel does Airport Security

Despite facing dozens of potential threats each day, the security set-up at Israel's largest hub, Tel Aviv's Ben Gurion Airport, has not been breached since 2002, when a passenger mistakenly carried a handgun onto a flight. How do they manage that?

"The first thing you do is to look at who is coming into your airport," said Sela.

The first layer of actual security that greets travellers at Tel Aviv's Ben Gurion International Airport is a roadside check. All drivers are stopped and asked two questions: How are you? Where are you coming from?

"Two benign questions. The questions aren't important. The way people act when they answer them is," Sela said.

I wonder if the TSA is up to this sort of work.

Happy New one minute.

Yes, this post is pre-scheduled. :D

My Ancestors were Racists

I don't know exactly how to relate the feeling, but there occasionally comes a moment when I realize something to be true. It's different than reading a factoid in a book, or seeing a picture; in these cases, I learn a concept or gain some new knowledge of the world. I can learn what the Eiffel tower looks like, read of its history, and know that there's a massive girth of girders next to the Seine in Paris, but I cannot realize the Eiffel Tower's size and scope until I see it in the flesh.

Until then, it's a mental concept, instead of an emotional reality. It's like the feeling I had as a child when I broke something: I knew I was going to be in trouble, but there was still some other feeling when the parent discovered the damage. My apprehension would give way to sadness or sorrow, just as my eyes widened upon first approaching the Tour Eiffel. I knew I had won a scholarship competition when they announced the 2nd place winner, leaving me in front by the process of elimination, but I still had to have my named called.

In any case, I had another of those moments a few days ago while reading my paternal family's history. I was fortunate enough to have a great-great uncle, or something like that, who wrote up all of the Slack trees back in the early 1900s, and I occasionally looked at the book while growing up. Now, with my super college reading speeds, I gave it another glance and found a passage that had previously escaped my eyes. I don't recall the specifics, but it was something about the family wisdom and the obvious foolishness behind ideas of racial equality.

At that moment, my knowledge that my ancestors were racists was realized. I couldn't emotionally deny it (I think I had been doing that, at least a little), because the words were on the page, and it sent a little shudder through my core. In retrospect, such a feeling seems foolish - our family owns a bit of old silver that was polished by slaves, and I knew my ancestors had made their living off of plantations, but it wasn't quite real until that moment.

To be honest, I don't know how to react, or if this post is itself an overreaction. But something in me says that this knowledge of legacy matters - I don't think I'll read about slaveowners quite the same anymore, or so easily dismiss legal racism as a thing of the past: the genes that enabled it so long ago live in me, and I cannot escape my history. It doesn't make me feel guilty, wrong, or culpable, but it makes that legacy mine. I can no longer draw upon my family's traditions of education and service without passively acknowledging their foolishness. I think it's a part of growing up - I have long since realized that my parents are people like the rest of us, and I think my ancestors just joined the club. I would condemn them if I felt it could help anything, but to be honest, I think mass generalization is possible for each of us, no matter our race, and in condemning them, I condemn my own human condition.

The cliche is that we are all imperfect, but I like to say that we are all broken. Everyone has burdens that make our joys a little bit heavier, goals that we never satisfied, and dreams that we cannot attain - the great gift of our society is that we have the freedom to reach for at least one of those dreams, but there will always be pain, if only because we will not always remember everyone's birthday, no matter how much Facebook reminds us. My ancestors were racists, and I cannot escape that, but I can live with it. Our legacies are resources, sometimes subject to legitimate praise or scorn, but they are mine, and they are yours. You have a legacy, and you will leave a legacy. History is happening today.

Books to read

An old article from the Guardian:
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
The Bible
The Lord of the Rings Trilogy by JRR Tolkien
1984 by George Orwell
A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

It's a good list, and may the basis for further "serious" reading of mine. My primary reason to trust it: every book on that list that I've read has been fantastic, especially The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, by Mark Haddon.

Thompson Chapel

Settlement Freeze = segregation?

I'm confused:
The freeze is an edict that the public cannot tolerate. It is not democratic, nor is it humane. It hits hard at the pockets of law-abiding citizens and embitters their lives. But at its foundation, either intentionally or by accident, is pure and basic apartheid - it is forbidden for Jews to live in certain places. It is forbidden to build. It is forbidden to develop. And it doesn't matter what the reasons are.
Riiiiiiiiight. Show me a Right of Return, and then I'll listen to you about not being able to build settlements. No, thank you? Can't say I'm surprised.

You can't claim that a settlement freeze is apartheid when you block the people on the other side from living in your land. I hope I'm missing something obvious, because this op-ed rationale makes no sense to me.

Stupid: That stupid bomber man is Obama's fault

From Politico:

Republicans have wasted no time in attacking Democrats on intelligence and screening failures leading up to the failed Christmas Day bombing of Flight 253 — a significant departure from the calibrated, less partisan responses that have followed other recent terrorist activity. [..]
“In the past six weeks, you’ve had the Fort Hood attack, the D.C. Five and now the attempted attack on the plane in Detroit … and they all underscored the clear philosophical difference between the administration and us,” said Rep. Pete Hoekstra (R-Mich.), the ranking Republican on the House Intelligence Committee.
Talk about nonsense. 9/11 wasn't Bush's "fault," and it wasn't Clinton's "fault," just as these attacks (or attempts) aren't Obama's fault. The executive still bears responsibility, but to suggest any sort of culpability is just dumb. When we politicize terror, and turn such incidents into political footballs, we bring the ignorant terrorists exactly what they seek: attention. Secure against them and then, ignore them.

From Class, to Television

The Advocate has the story:
Williams students get real with new TV show - By REBECCA DRAVIS
"The Mountains" premiered Dec. 17 at the college before beginning a six-week run on WilliNet on Jan. 4 (check for show times). And indeed, the students appeared to be having fun making the show, even though it wasn't what Lane had in mind when she first created the film class.

Lane said she thought the class would focus more on traditional live television, utilizing the equipment and studio the college already had, but the students changed direction.

"It became really obvious they were more interested in a reality TV format," she said. "Television is changing, and they wanted to represent what contemporary television is all about."

FiveThirtyEight on the Internets

From the talented Nate Silver:
Let me advance a proposition for you. It's going to be a controversial one. Ready?

The proposition is this: the Internet is really important!

OK, so I'm joking -- sort of. That tagline sounds so ... 2006. But I think people may nevertheless be overlooking the importance of the Internet in shaping the political landscape that we have today. In other words, a lot of the things that feel "new" about politics circa 2009 are in fact new, but have a lot more to do with information technology than is generally acknowledged.
Rest the rest. I think Silver's right, but I take issue with his conclusion that politics isn't changed in anything but appearance. I think the media has changed politics and polarization - the past partnership won't work now that media is so changed, and that it's time to update the politics to take advantage of new media.

Free Speech, Jack Bauer style

This makes me proud of my country:
The genre of the right-wing pro-torture thriller is on a roll, propelled by Beck and Limbaugh. Jason Zengerle has a terrific piece in the new TNR on the phenomenon:

With Chapter 50 of Pursuit of Honor, Flynn appears to be angling for a new level of conservative street cred. The chapter finds Rapp sitting in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which has asked him to explain his torture of a Saudi terrorism suspect. After being scolded for his “immoral techniques” by Carol Ogden--a California Democrat (and thinly veiled send-up of Barbara Boxer) who “moved in the elite circles of her party, listening to the trial lawyers, academics, and the nuttiest of the crazy special-interest groups”--it’s Rapp’s turn to address the committee. “[W]hat do you think is more morally reprehensible,” he asks, “dislocating the arm of a terrorist … or sticking a steel spike into the brain of an eight-and-a-half-month-old fetus and then sucking his brains out[?]”
As much as I don't care for the polarizing, ridiculous commentary, I'm glad to live in a country that tolerates its own citizens calling each other evil. I will continue to work against such calls and feelings, but it will be with a smile on my face, and thankfulness that even the most crazy must be convinced (or ignored) and not arrested.

Thompson House

Settlers in Israel

Something to remember, in reference to this:

There are a LOT of Israelis and Palestinians living in the Middle East, and despite the high number of publicized attacks, life is still possible and regular for many of them. That's not to say that there aren't constant injustices, like rocket attacks or discrimination at checkpoints (which aren't equivalent), but for the most part, the people are normal. They aren't all bombing or displacing or war-making; that's just all we hear about.

New Posts Below!

I screwed up, and published some posts for tomorrow under today's date. Therefore, look below to see them.


Why we need process reform:

The TSA's screening system is not and, under current conditions, cannot be completely effective. The "bomber" who got some explosives aboard was blocked by one of two factors that have made us safer in the air (not my list:

1. Reinforced cockpit doors and pilots who won't open them.
2. Aware and vigilant passengers.

Granted, some level of screening makes sense, if only to keep idiots from bringing a gun aboard, and in that sense, I think our screenings are appropriate. The idea, though, that we should put laptops away in the last hour of flight, and whatever else, is absurd, as if the idea that the TSA should prevent anyone from secreting explosive in their rectum, or in our shoes.

See Brian Williams:
On other flights, no luggage is allowed beneath the seat in front of you.  On still others, no one is allowed to have any reading material for the last hour of the flight.  Blankets and pillows?  If you can find one, just don't keep it in your lap.  All of this is in response to an incompetent would-be terrorist who lit portions of his private parts on fire while on final approach to Detroit on Christmas day.
That these ridiculous rules could attain power is my first presentation of why we need process reform.


Rove's Divorce

This is needless and foolish.
Yet, like so many of his like-minded pious comrades, Rove seems far better at preaching the virtues of "traditional marriage" to others and exploiting them for political gain than he does adhering to those principles in his own life:
The logical outcome of such articles is going to be forcing prominent social conservatives to stay in unhappy marriages, and that's just dumb. If someone feels that they should limit someone else's civil rights, then you push that argument back in the civil arena. If they believe something as a part of their religion, it should, generally, stay out of the public sphere. There's no need for such personal attacks - they may feel good, but they accomplish nothing.

Furthermore, its just mean. Does anyone think Rove would prefer to divorce? Goodness, indeed.

The Media and Palin

Ezra Klein:
One of the jobs the media does is deciding what true things count as news and what true things do not count as news. That should be easy, but since newspapers need to sell copies and cable programs need to secure viewers, there's a tension with the fact that some news is boring, while some not-news is really interesting. Palin sneaks onto the front page because she seems to square that circle: Her utterances seem like news (former vice presidential candidate and 2012 hopeful Sarah Palin says ...) but actually aren't. The continuing irony of all this is that for all the enmity between Palin and the press, no one has a closer and more mutually beneficial relationship than Palin has with the media, and no equivalently powerless political figure receives anything near the free coverage that the media lavishes on her.

No Internet!

Christmas Day brought a different sort of gift: a tree fell down the block, pulling over a few utility poles and some cables out of homes, along with parts of the walls. Whoops. No one was hurt, but AT&T is taking is sweet time getting everything restored, so I sit at the Coffeeshop, catching up with Facebook messages, notifications, wall posts, and Twitter feeds, as well as 109 blog posts on Google Reader.

I'll be drafting more in the future, but these three days have been a reminder: as much as I value my online activities, life can go one without them, and is often simpler for it.