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Obama For Realists

Saturday, March 15, 2008 by Michael Reynolds

Rick Moran, a blogger I both enjoy, and enjoy irritating occasionally, asks in response to a comment I wrote, why I don't put some effort into convincing my fellow Obama supporters of what he sees as my more reasonable, less romantic appraisal of the man.

Okay.

Listen up, fellow Obama supporters. If you are under the impression that Mr. Obama is anything other than a politician, put down the bong. The papers, too. You don't get into the United States Senate without being a politician. In fact, if by some miracle you were not a politician on the morning you were sworn in as a United States Senator, you will sure as hell be one before your first full day at work comes to an end.

Further, Mr. Obama has just spent the better part of the last year bitch-slapping his party's pre-eminent political machine. From sea to shining sea, Mr. Obama and his people have outwitted, outplayed and outlasted not just Hillary Clinton, but the Big Dog. That's not evidence that Mr. Obama is Mister Rogers. It wasn't magic that made this triumphal procession possible. It wasn't supernatural. It didn't just happen. It wasn't because we all beamed happy thoughts at him. It happened because he put together one hell of a political machine which, again, argues that Mr. Obama may, just may, be a politician.

Will Mr. Obama lie to us? God yes. Will Mr. Obama manipulate us? Of course. Can we trust him? Absolutely. Absolutely. Trust is good. And by the way, my car is for sale, I . . . I only took it out on Sundays and then I never drove it over 45 miles an hour. Trust me.

I don't know that many Obama supporters personally because I don't know that many people personally. Because, as regular readers have noted, I don't actually like, um, humans. (Or dogs. Or cats. So don't take it personally.) So, I don't know for sure whether you folks are the credulous nitwits the Obamabashers seem to think you are, or if you're more like me: burned-out idealists throwing in one last time in the faint hope that we may elect a president who isn't a complete tool.

Are you like me? Are you just hoping for an incomplete tool? Or are you really so naive you think Barack Obama, of Chicago, of the Illinois State Senate, of the United States Senate, is the second coming of . . . of . . . okay, no presidential paragons come to mind. The second coming of, let's go with Fred Rogers. Again. (I'm sorry, a list of moral exemplars does not spring to mind.)

I support Obama for this reason: he promises to reach across the aisle, move away from idiot gotcha partisanship, and try to accomplish something useful. Emphasis on "promises." The fact that he promises this means he will at the very least have to go through the motions of non-partisanship. He will have been elected on that promise. Even if he doesn't mean it (always a distinct possibility) he'll have to at least make an attempt. That's more than we'll get from Hillary, who is ready from day one to start up the same tired old shit.

I am sick to death of the same tired old shit. I think the country is, too. We have three possible candidates at this point: John McCain who is, I'm sorry, the candidate of the past, representing a party in serious need of a long rest; Mrs. Clinton who embodies and defines the same tired old shit; and the new kid who promises it won't be the same old, same old.

Vote for Obama. Hope he's for real. (Hope won't kill you, though it will encourage you to drink.) But man, if you are somehow under the impression that Mr. Obama just came from a conversation with a burning bush and next week will begin curing lepers, (yeah, I know: I'm mixing testaments,) then you need to remind yourself that fulfillment does not come from politicians; it comes from fast cars, good booze, and women who can manage to tolerate you.

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The Efficiency of Italians

by Michael Reynolds

We applied for our "elective residency" visas at the Italian consulate in Philadelphia on Wednesday morning. We left them a FedEx envelope, not expecting to see it any time soon. It was waiting for us when we got home yesterday.

One day service. Say what you like about Italian bureaucracy, but don't diss the Philadelphia consulate: those folks are on their game.

In any event, as of April 1, I have a leased home in Tuscany. And as of April 15th, I can actually go and live there. Actual move date still to be determined.

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Why Obama Will Win - Part 2

by Michael Reynolds

Daniel Gross writes in Slate about the "Rise of American Incompetence."

The dollar plunged to new lows against foreign currencies this week. There are plenty of reasons for its plunge, but at the most basic level, the dollar's weakness reflects the world's collective, two-thumbs-down verdict about the ability of the United States—businesses, individuals, the government, the Federal Reserve—to manage the global financial system and the world's largest economy. Countries that outsourced their monetary policy by pegging domestic currencies to the dollar are having second thoughts. Kuwait last year detached the dinar from the dollar, and Qatar government officials last week said they were considering doing the same with their currency. International financiers are unnerved by the toxic combination of "misplaced assumptions about housing, a lack of necessary regulation and irresponsible use of debt with sophisticated financial instruments," said Ashraf Laidi, currency strategist at CMC Markets.

Predictions of America's fall are always exaggerated. We always bounce back. But our self-confidence is starting to seem a little strained this last decade. "We're number one!" used to be an irritating, but essentially accurate chant. No longer.

The truth is we have fallen off our pedestal. London is now a more important city than New York. Shanghai and Hong Kong may be as well. Delhi?

It's easy to draw up quite a long list of areas in which we are some distance away from the top spot. Health care? Infrastructure? Primary education? Thanks to Steve Jobs we still make the best laptops and peripheral toys, and thanks to Larry Page and Sergey Brin we still rule the internet. We still make the best movies and TV. We still run publishing for the world. We have far and away the best universities. Cars? No. Planes? Not according to the Pentagon. Financial services? That's a big no.

Interesting, isn't it, how many of the areas we still dominate are run by . . . dare I say it . . . liberals? Higher education and entertainment are two of our powerhouse industries. Banking? Hah! Google is a Democrat stronghold. In 2004, 98% of political contributions from Google employees went to Democrats. Bear Stearns? CEO James Cayne went 2.5 to one for Republicans.

We live in the age of the creatives in this country. The age of the manager, the MBA, the CEO, may be fading. I'll export several million dollars' worth of intellectual property in the next couple of years. Stuff I just make up while sitting on my front porch. A lot of American writers do the same. What's Countrywide Financial exported? Incompetence. All by my lonesome I contribute more to America's balance of trade than many major corporations do.

We're leaving the "Age Of The Guys In Suits," and are well into the "Age Of The Guys In Jeans." Our future as a world power is in the hands of nerds, techies, writers, cameramen, animators, genetic engineers, designers, actors, artists, scientists. It's all about human potential. As has been said, "the geek shall inherit the earth."

You know what just about none of those people are? Republicans. Conservatives.

Enron to Iraq to Countrywide. The arc of Republican incompetence. Hollywood to Apple to Google. The arc of the ascendant and reinvented Democrats. No longer the Democrats of NOW and the AFL-CIO. It's becoming the party of the Geekocracy.

And we of the jeans want very different things than the suits. We do want national health insurance. We want decent roads. We want bandwidth. We want parks and open spaces. We like a different sort of green. We like getting along with the rest of the world. We want equal treatment under the law for gays. We like that wall between Church and State. We don't like censorship. We don't own guns. We don't mind paying our fair share of taxes so long as we can be sure it's not being wasted.

We'll always respect John McCain. But we'll write checks to, and vote for, Barack Obama.

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What I See, And What I Miss

Thursday, March 13, 2008 by Michael Reynolds

My daughter is an American. Like I'm an American. Like my wife and son are Americans.

It doesn't matter to me if your mom and dad waded the Rio Grande eight seconds before you were born, or if your ancestors came over on the Mayflower: if you are an American citizen, then you are an American, and there are no classes, gradations, caveats or qualifiers.

I think that's an admirable ideological position.

That having been said, I'm white, my son is white and my wife is white. And my daughter is Asian.

So, we're visiting New York. We (not my wife, she was giving a speech,) go to the natural history museum. For the life of me I don't remember exactly what we're looking at, just that it's in the Asian People's portion of the museum. No doubt I was being pedantic, turning some damned thing or other into a "teachable moment," and all of a sudden I realize I'm having this conversation:

Me: Well, Asian people were . . . while white people were . . .
My daughter: I'm a white person . . .
My son: No, you're an Asian.

Heart comes to complete stop . . .

Sometimes, when you're a parent, you are just off your game. You have bad days. You walk right into it, eyes open and stupid.

Later, we're in Chinatown. We eat at a restaurant that is significantly more authentic than P.F. Chang's. My son and I are the only white people in the room. We're seated at a table with an ancient Chinese couple who stare at us as we eat duck soup. My daughter feels compelled to count to four in Mandarin. Out loud. It's all she remembers of her native tongue. "One, two, three, four," plus "Good," and "Hello."

She's trying to fit in with people she doesn't know, but that she knows look like her. Strangers. "One, two, three, four," I am one of you, somehow, in some way I can't explain or make sense of.

Set aside the black hair, the almond-shaped eyes, the dainty nose, the lingering accent, and there is nothing Chinese about her. Don't tell me about culture: her culture is Hannah Montana and High School Musical. And what the hell does "race" mean? I'm"white" and she's "Asian?" That means something? It means nothing.

Except that it means something to her.

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Michael Stearns

by Michael Reynolds

Goddammit.

It would be worse if my wife left me. That would be worse We've been together for 28 years, and I would give my life for her. So that would be worse.

But short of my wife leaving me, the abandonment I feel most keenly, is my fucking editor quitting. Goddammit! Do you have any idea how many editors I've dealt with either directly, or at second-hand through Katherine? This is the first guy with whom I have felt completely at ease. In synch. He got me, and I got him.

And the motherfucker is quitting.

Guy just handed me a rewrite that involves me throwing out about 100 pages. And yet, when he was telling me that, he was burying the lede, as the newspaper people would say. He's quitting to become an agent. Damn.

It will not shock regular readers when I say that I have a healthy ego. A certain degree of self-regard. I'm the author or co-author of 150 books for kids. No one alive has written more book series than Katherine and I have. And we have never written a series that didn't go well beyond the initial buy. We are, jointly and severally, the reigning world experts at YA and middle reader series. B*yfriends/Girlfriends, Ocean C*ty, Summ*r, Anim*rphs, Everw*rld, Remn*nts,*** not to mention a big chunk of Sweet V*lley Twins, Girl Talk, and all of Christy -- a Christian series, for God's sake, and we're both atheists -- Little Freaking Mermaid, Aladdin, and on and on and on. Under 11 different names. Crap we can't even remember. And occasionally some stuff that was actually good.

And yet, despite the fact that no one, anywhere, knows more about this particular niche skill than I do, I trust Michael Stearns' opinion more than my own.

Not just as much as my own. More. The way I trust my doctor more than myself when it comes to diagnosing my prostate. (See, there's an analogy Stearns will appreciate that 90% of editors would find offensive or unfunny or gross. He'll laugh and know I'm fucking with him.)

I know he's got to do what he's got to do. I imagine he wants to make some money. (Editors aspire to minimum wage.) I hope he succeeds. I hope he becomes the biggest, most important agent in New York.

The motherfucker.

***As always my lame attempt to keep the Google from associating this PG-13 political site to our PG books.

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Home School

by Michael Reynolds

Responding to a post at Pastor Jeff's I realized I had something to say on the subject of home schooling, and on the recent California decision to attack home schoolers.

First, as regular readers will have discerned by careful observation of subtle cues, I'm not a religious fanatic. In fact, I may represent the antipode of religious fanaticism, the farthest point away from true believerhood.

Second, and connected with the above, I am not a stern enforcer of 1950's era morality. (I got my kids interested in learning Italian by teaching them to say, "merda." (You should hear my daughter roll that "r.") Now they want to know more and more. "How do I say, 'you eat merda?'" "How do I say, 'you are a merda head?'"

Third, I don't have any particular hard-on against the teacher's union. I'm not crazy about teachers as a species, because when I was in school I was a maladjusted, defiant, arrogant young prick. (That of course has changed: I'm no longer young.)

Finally, while I am a tiresome pedant, I'm pedantic in areas of no use to small children: politics, TV comedy, the sins of airlines, the pleasures of hard liquour and cigars, the general decline of service in restaurants and retail, the inferiority of New York hotels (I'm sitting in one) as compared with Chicago hotels, the criminal over-use of goat cheese throughout the late 90's . . .

In any case, when pundits talk about the home school voting bloc, they aren't thinking about me or my wife. And yet.

Our daughter spent the first 3 plus years of her life in the rather less-than-enriching environment of a Chinese orphanage. In addition to that, she's dyslexic, like a lot of left-handers. Until last June she attended a very good private school. Really, a very good school. Very committed teachers.

They held her back for a year in kindergarten. But still she had not caught up. She was noticeably -- noticeable to her in particular -- behind kids who were a year, sometimes two years younger. She was coping by becoming a tough girl. We didn't like that path.

Her school is in session 180 days a year. On a very good day her teachers could give her half-an-hour of one-on-one teaching, in addition to the usual song singing, lining up, lunching, recessing, (she liked that part,) playing with blocks, and group lessons -- where she sat largely clueless.

Homeschool is in session approximately 300 days a year. We work with her about an hour a day, mostly on reading, some math, some miscellaneous (telling time, understanding money.) That means in homeschool she gets 300 hours a year of one-on-one teaching. Versus 90 hours in what was, again, a very good private school. 300 versus 90.

In the six months we've been homeschooling she's moved ahead by more than a year. In fact, while she's not up to her age level -- she'd been held back a year, remember -- we think she's about caught up with her grade level.

She used to say, "reading is my enemy." Funny, but depressing. She doesn't say that anymore. She's still quite the little tough girl, but the edge is blunted. She doesn't resist home school. She likes it. She knows the difference between a lower case "b" and a lower case "d."

There's a long way still to go. She will have to learn to be a grind if she's going to do college. And she'll probably go back to school, if not next year, then the year after. But when she does she'll be at grade level, not falling further and further behind.

Most people can't home school their kids. We can. And the advantages are obvious. Show me the school, public or private, that can manage 300 hours a year of one-on-one instruction geared for the specific needs of a student. I know there are a lot of potential minuses as well. I know that many people who home school aren't doing it so their dyslexic kids can play catch-up. Some are doing it because they think the Antichrist writes the Weekly Reader. But you shouldn't build all public policy around worst-case scenarios. And in the end, she's not her teacher's daughter, she's ours.

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McCain's Superpower: Invisibility.

Sunday, March 09, 2008 by Michael Reynolds

Won't someone, somewhere, please say something nice about John McCain? Someone? Anyone?

Out of his last 20 blog posts, conservative blogger Rick Moran at Rightwing Nuthouse, has used about a third to attack Barack Obama. A few to attack both Democrats. One to criticize McCain. And the number of pro-McCain posts? Zero.

Anyone who spends much time zipping around the blogosphere finds the same kind of thing at conservative and right-of-center blogs: all Obama, all the time. Any air time not filled by Obama is filled by Hillary.

And McCain? The GOP candidate? You remember, the war hero guy? Kind of short, like a lot of pilots? White hair? Can't raise his arms as a consequence of the torture he suffered? Remember?

Cue the crickets.

Roll that tumbleweed.

It's more than merely the fact that it's more fun to attack than defend. There's scarcely a word about McCain. It's a black hole out there. A void. A vacuum. A nullity.

You know why? The right wing hates McCain. Out of loyalty to their party they're trying hard not to talk much about how they hate McCain, but they hate him. In fact, I have a sneaking suspicion they hate him much more than they hate Obama. So we get these ludicrous attacks on Obama. These desperate nothingburger broadsides.

We're watching the right try to convince itself that it hates Obama more than it hates McCain. They have to psych themselves up, elevate the hate, in order to steel themselves for the sickening task of voting for the despised John McCain. So we get this eerie McCain blackout. And the anti-Obama frenzy.

Won't work. You can't win an election by pretending your own candidate doesn't exist. You can't win by trying to convince yourself you hate the other guy more.

But keep trying, guys. I enjoy the smell of desperation. Mmmm. Like perfume.

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