Thursday, October 30, 2008

"We're not racists" for Obama

Before the first Spring buds opened the campaign signs and bumper stickers started blooming all over Portland. I thought they were related to Snowdrop or Winter Aconite, but they last well into November and sprout like crazy. The Obama-Biden variety propagates best in the mild, wet climate of Oregon West of the Cascades. There's just a few lonely McCain-Palin blossoms.

Our nearest Post Office is on Northeast Killingsworth Street, just above Martin Luther King Boulevard. It isn't as bad as the Chris Rock routine about Martin Luther King Street, but it's in the heart of the historic Red Line district. Ever since the first blooms there's been a table selling the the political version of cut flowers - Obama posters, t-shirts and bumper stickers.

The guy running the stall told me about what sells and what doesn't. In areas where Black people live anything with Senator Obama's picture sells. Downtown, at Saturday Market and out West he moves a lot of merchandise. But the (White) people there won't buy anything with the candidate's face on it. Not one single "Hope" t-shirt. They're happy to have bumper stickers and "Change We Can Believe In" memorabilia or Obama-Biden. But not the image.

He's a businessman talking about his business. He knows what sells and what doesn't. We've made a lot of progress in the last few decades. Forty years ago nobody would have believed a hapa kid who grew up in Honolulu would be the Presidential frontrunner. I suppose we'll have come further when people who will vote for a Black guy won't be afraid to have a picture of him.
Update: Thanks to Keef of the K Chronicles for letting me use the whole picture, not just the offensive parts

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Hail Kitty! You Have the Sieg!

Lions count not sheep when the go into the fold.

I don't usually blog about other bloggers' blogs. But some stories just beg to be told. Salon Blogger Gwen Cooper tells about her tiny completely blind cat. Her tiny completely blind cat who defeated a home invasion burglar.

Right there is every single important lesson in martial arts. The rest is just technique.

Friday, October 17, 2008

It's All About the Sign

I like my city. I really do. One of the things nicest things is how bike-friendly it is. The people who study these things say that only Davis, CA does better.

Sure, there are stupid motorists. And when you're driving a couple tons of Detroit or Osaka iron stupidity can be fatal. About half a dozen bicylcists die every year in traffic accidents, especially when they are in the bike lane while a clueless motorist decides to turn right.

Some are due to the price of fuel. Every hike in the price of gas puts scores of newbies on the road.

But a lot are just plain irritiating. There's a special breed of Portland cyclist who feels smug in his (usually his) moral superiority and decides that the rules of the road don't apply to him. Or maybe the combination of testosterone and True Goo affects brain chemistry in mysterious non-linear ways. Every day I see people on two-wheelers going the wrong way down one-way streets, riding fast on sidewalks, running stop signs or red lights, turning left across four lanes of traffic in busy intersections or otherwise getting membership points in Future Hood Ornaments of America. They seem to have a special aversion to reflective tape, bright colored clothing and lights and save their most erratic riding for nights.

I used to get mad. But then I remembered the traffic sign. I come from Eastern Washington where they grow a lot of wheat and a lot of beef. The government puts up road signs. You can't predict where the cow is going to be or what it's about to do. The cow doesn't know any more than you do.

Life gets less stressful once you realize that a lot of bicyclists are pretty much the same.

Cards and Dice

If a stopped clock is right twice a day news magazines can tell you something useful once in a while. And if you catch it at just the right time a human interest story can be interesting.

Earlier this Summer Time Magazine published Candidates' Vices: Craps and Poker. It seems that both Senators are gamblers. John McCain enjoys shooting craps. The thrill of rolling the dice and taking whatever Lady Luck hands out has worked its magic on him since his Navy days. Barrack Obama is a cuthroat poker player and made a lot of his early contacts in games with politicians on both sides of the aisle. Every pot was important even in $1 ante/$3 limit games.

It's things like this that give real insight into a person's character, and I thought it would play out in the campaign.

Well, it certainly has.

Senator McCain's campaign has been marked by unexpected gestures that have come out of nowhere. He's comfortable with risk and uncertainty. If something works or his gut tells him it will he'll keep trying to make the point. If it doesn't he's not afraid to go with something completely random or ride a hunch.

I think that's why he's been willing to change positions to fit his base or run the same sort of campaign in 2008 that was run against him in 2000. It certainly explains the choice of Sarah Palin. Another candidate would have gone with a safe choice. John McCain was risk-tolerant enough to make a quick decision with unpredictable consequences and bet almost everything on the outcome. If the gamble pays off, it's all good. If it doesn't you don't curse the laws of chance. You make another bet and win, crap out or get another point to make.

It also shows up in Senator McCain's personal style in the general election. His strategy is sound, or it will need to be changed. He's passionate about the campaign and has a lot riding on the outcome. The emotional ups and downs are part of the process. He goes with them. When things are going well, he's happy and shows it. When they're not he doesn't bother to hide his frustration or try to lie with his body language. The dice have already been thrown, so the real John Sidney McCain is on display until he passes them to the next shooter.

Senator Obama's style, well, let's say I wouldn't want to be sitting across the card table from him. The campaign has been very carefully run. Caucuses favored the outsider with a strong grass-roots organization, so he folded in some of the primaries. He guessed that the Clinton campaign wouldn't be flexible enough to get past early disappointments, so he raised the stakes in the early contests. A number of his strategic moves like rejecting the 527s or going for points instead of a knockout in the debates aren't emotionally satisfying. But they bespeak a man who wants to win the pot more than he wants to beat the other guys at the table.

Most of all he's kept everything cool. He hardly ever raises his voice. His body language is very self-contained, and he gives nothing away. That's a poker player at work. If you lose your temper or other players can see your "tells" they'll eat you alive. Lady Luck is a bitch, and over a long game you can't trust her. It all comes down to skill and knowing more about the other players than they know about you. Or more than they know about themselves if you're a real pro.

Which approach is better? That really depends on the deep structures of your character. Do you prefer certainty or clarity? Trust to luck or play the odds? Wear your heart on your sleeve or play them close to the vest? Which vices and basic values make a better President?

Risk and the chaos of the universe are always with us. Only a blind fool would deny it. But me? I think lottery tickets are a tax on people who can't do arithmetic. So let's give W. C. Fields the last word.

Is this a game of chance?
Not the way I play it.