Monday, June 23, 2008

The Last Conversation with my Dad

My father died in 1995. I didn't hear about his death for at least a week after it happened. My oldest brother - half brother actually, his first son - found my mom's phone number, called her, and she called me with the news.

A week after he died, I learned that he had succumbed to TB. This was his second battle with TB in a few years. He was 68.

At that point, I hadn't talked to him for at least 2 years. So I guess the extra week that it took for me to find out that I would never actually be able to hear his voice again, didn't really matter. I mean it was just a week, right.

That voice. My dad was a singer. He never really made a living at it, but that was what he was. Anything else he did, was just to pay the bills. He sounded almost exactly like Billy Eckstine, but he always maintained that it was Eckstine who sounded like him. I'm not sure why he said that, since Eckstine was born in 1914 and my dad was born in 1927. But that's what he said, and I think he was serious about that. He was a very serious guy.

After my parents split up, he'd call and ask to talk to me. My mom would hand me the phone, and he'd say "Brian, it's me . . . your father." Every time he said that, I'd think how clueless he must have been, how could I not recognize him and that voice.

He was little, 5'6" and no more than 150 lbs. But he had this intensity that was genuinely scary. He didn't smile often, and he wasn't quick to give praise. He was liable to explode at you for some infraction that seemed pretty minor, but which he took very seriously. He was not an easy person to live with. Looking back, I'd guess that he was very hard on himself about not feeling that he had reached his potential.

Three months after he died, I was sitting in a restaurant in Johannesburg. It was kind of an odd restaurant - a bohemian hangout that served Thai food and played American Blues records - loudly. The owner seemed to be enjoying himself, but he clearly had no patience for anyone telling him how to "improve" the place. If you didn't like to food, or the music, or the waitresses or the service, well you could just go eat somewhere else. That is exactly how my dad ran his restaurant. And the rest of his life as well.

I was sitting there at that restaurant by myself, eating my dinner and enjoying the music, and all of a sudden he was there. Sitting across from me, with his legs crossed, enjoying one of his signature unfiltered Pall Malls. He didn't say anything, so I couldn't hear his voice. But I felt it. He was smiling. He was proud of me. He was at peace. Finally.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

No Country For Old Man

I LOVE this video. And all of the others from PSA.

But before you watch - know that the worst word in the ENTIRE english language is said repeatedly. But it's bleeped. Still - not really safe for work. Or for kids who are gonna say to you in public - "mommy, what's a ..."


The truest moment starts at 1:44.

The not safe for work version is here

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Raising Money

It seems that first thing that the Obama campaign did well was to raise money. But that won't stop me from piling on and trying to raise more. So to my massive readership, I'd ask you both to go to my personal Obama campaign fundraising site, and give a little more.

I'm also putting it into the headline of the blog as well, just in case you forget :-)


Monday, June 16, 2008

It's Going to Be Cold This Winter!

The price of Diesel and the price of home heating oil (HHO) track very closely to each other. The reason is that home heating oil and Diesel are very similar products, such that to make more of one means making less of the other (from a given barrel of oil).

The price of Diesel has risen significantly faster than the price of gasoline, most likely due to the increase in Diesel cars being built and sold around the world.

In the winters of 2005 - 2006, and 2006 - 2007, Diesel and HHO cost about $2.50 per gallon. Last winter, they cost about $3.50 per gallon. Diesel is currently going for about $4.75 and rising.

This is going to be a big deal this winter. If Diesel hits $5.00 per gallon and stays there over the winter, there are going to be people freezing to death all over the Northeast and Midwest (where HHO is commonly used).

I don't have any answers to this problem. But I will say that if I lived in a home that used HHO, I'd spend my summer insulating. If I ran a local government in an area with lots of HHO heated homes, I'd be scrambling to find funds to do whatever could be done to mitigate this problem NOW.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Makes you go hmmm...

Reading right wing blog postings usually makes me scream at my computer. Reading the comments, usually makes me sad that there are so many people in this country who are just so ... wrong.

But the other day, when reading one of Bay Buchanan's columns, I saw this comment (posted here in its entirety):

You have hit the Democracy problem on the head. We no longer live in a Democratic Republic. The liberal MSM and hardcore liberal politicians and their backers like Soros are trying to turn this country into a Democracy. Now that the citizenry knows they can vote themselves freebies from the government they will always vote for the candidate that promises them the most. This results in the country being dependent upon the government for everything. Liberals are tearing the fabric of this nation apart. It is now OK to be irresponsible and unaccountable. Responsibility and accountability are what made this nation strong. Now we have a bunch of spineless wonders running things. They do what works for them not what is right for the country. Democracies always fail and always follow the same pattern:

From bondage to spiritual faith;
From spiritual faith to great courage;
From courage to liberty;
From liberty to abundance;
From abundance to complacency;
From complacency to apathy;
From apathy to dependence;
From dependency back into bondage

We are currently in the apathy to dependence stage of the cycle. Without true conservatives in elected office we may soon fall into the final stage. If Obama is elected we will surely open that door. As others have said a vote for McCain is a vote against Obama. We are truly in trouble.

There are two thing about this that I find really intriguing. First is the question of whether we live in a Democracy or a Republic. The answer is pretty straight forward from the perspective of the constitution - we live in a Republic. But I would bet that if you ask 100 Americans, no more than would 10 would be able to answer correctly.

I agree with the constitution in that states should have as much power as possible. States should not be able to restrict the constitutional rights of any citizen, but other than that, they should be able to do what they want to do. Legalize drugs - sure. Allow people to drive 100 mph on certain highways - why not? Legalize marriage between two men - sure. Tax gas so that it costs $10 per gallon - hell yeah! I don't even think that the federal government should be able to tax individuals - the state should collect the taxes and submit a payment for federal services to the federal government. (but that's just another one of my nutty ideas)

And then again, I live in California, and I think that we left coasters will get it right if the feds get off of our backs.

The other point that the comment makes is that people will always vote themselves benefits but will not usually vote to pay for em. I agree that this is the case. I disagree that this is a liberal thing. There's not a whole lot of liberals who are getting farm subsidies, or oil company subsidies, or any other type of corporate welfare for that matter.

It seems to me that what is really happening is that people are voting for benefits first, and then arguing over who has to pay for em. And as long as big money controls the political process, the people will big money will always come out on the sweet smelling side of that argument. The rest of us will be left in the shit.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Are you the mother?

I've been thinking lately about how I wanted to get some of my thoughts on race and racism out of my head and onto the page. My problem is that every time something comes up, I feel like I have to tell the whole story or it won't make sense.

And since I'm 42, it's a pretty long story.

So I'm gonna take a different path, I'll just talk about stuff as it comes up. Here's what's come up recently.

I live in Piedmont, a little town of about 15,000 people. Our little town has just a handful of black folks, so even though the Oakland (which is five minutes away by foot) is the most diverse big city in the country, Piedmont is very white and pretty darn wealthy.

Yesterday, one of my daughter's school friends and her father dropped by unannounced to see if my daughter was available for a play date. My wife (who is medium brown) and daughter (who is my complexion - uh... almost transparent) were outside in the yard. The girls excitedly agreed that they wanted to have their play together, so the dad looks at my wife and says:

"Are you the mother?"

Really?!? Not "hi, I'm Susie's dad," or "are you Ella's mom?"

"Are you the mother?"

My wife was, understandably, offended by this, as she has spent the last eight years being assumed, by white people, to be our children's nanny.

On the other hand, how do you politely ask an adult you have never met if they are the responsible guardian?

I wonder if white parents every experience this sorta thing? If so, under what circumstances. I know other black women get it. I was reminded of this by the title of a blog that I saw the other day - "Not the nanny."

Because we won..

Watch Sen Obama thank his HQ staffers, then turn the conversation and get em ready for what's next.

What I love about this is that he makes this OUR victory, not his. Obama turns this primary victory from a self congratulatory party celebrating how wonderful and smart we all are, into a moment of reflection. A moment that says now that voters have trusted us, we cannot fail. We MUST win the Presidency. That thing we just did, that was unimportant. But this thing, this general election, this is critical, this is must win.

This is a warm up for his inauguration speech, where he will tell all of us "now that WE have won back the white house, it's time for US to get to work. I am but your humble servant, sent here to help you take your country back, sent here to help YOU make YOUR country great again."

He's right of course. His job as president will not be to have all of the answers or to be able to fix all of the problems. His job will be to motivate US to put our shoulders to the grindstone and work hard to fix things. His job will be to lead the effort to make sure that we all benefit from our shared citizenship and residency. his job will be to lead us.

And we all know that he's extremely well qualified to do that.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

A Gas Price Fix That (maybe) Makes Some Sense

I've said that I want gas prices to stay high to give us motivation to change our habits. The problem with the current situation is that we are sending lots of extra money to oil producing countries via the high price of oil, rather than keeping it here via an increased gas tax.

Here's an idea that I'm not sure is a good one: eliminate the tariff on ethanol imports. Currently, we impose a tariff of 54 cents per gallon and 2.5% on imported ethanol. Unlike domestic ethanol, the stuff from overseas, especially Brazil, is made from sugar and its byproducts. The difference is critical, because ethanol made in Brazil is both economically and environmentally sustainable. (well at least more environmentally sustainable than corn ethanol or crude oil)

By contrast, ethanol made here gets a 51 cent per gallon subsidy. In other words, all things being equal, imported ethanol costs about $1 per gallon less than domestic ethanol. And since ethanol makes up about 10% of our gasoline, that is significant.

On the other hand, that would likely lower the price of gas at the pump, which, as you know, I think is a bad idea.

So here's an idea, kill the tariff, but enact a tax increase on gas that will be phased in. The idea would be to temporarily reduce the price of gas by doing away with a stupid tariff, but increase the price at the pump more gradually and predictably.

Gas Price Blues

As gas has topped $4 per gallon around the country, it seems that we have reached a tipping point - a point where the price is really starting to be be meaningful to normal people. The Times has an article about how the effect is being felt disproportionately by rural working class people.

The article talks a lot about how the high price of gas has caused lots of pain for people who are in the situation of being far from work and driving older larger vehicles. The article implies that the best thing for those folks would be if gas were to drop in price.

I couldn't disagree more. The best thing for all of us, including the rural folks mentioned in the article is for them to have both the incentive and the means to use less gas. It's not that they are paying too much for gas, but rather that they are paying too much to get to work, to church and to do all of the things that they want and need to do.

Some will decide to work longer hours over fewer days. Some may move. Some will decide to car pool. Some will decide to ride bicycles, motorcycles or even to work from home. Some will use their resourcefulness to come up with ideas that I haven't thought of. Some of those folks will find ways to make this economic change become a money maker. That's the American way. And it's good.

The problem for those with few resources is that they don't have the ready means to make the necessary changes. So, let's fix that. Send out more stimulus checks. Change the way social security taxes are collected so that working people keep more of their income. Do anything EXCEPT artificially reduce the price of gas at the pump.

We are at an inflection point in our economy. We understand that we are addicted to oil and we need to fix it. Making oil (gasoline) cheaper will not fix the problem. It will prolong the addiction and make the recovery harder.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Bay Buchanan - yuck

It is important to know what the enemy is thinking. Otherwise, you don't know where they are going to attack you. That the reason why it's important to read what some of the right wing nut jobs have to say.

To that end, I read an piece by Bay Buchanan that was pretty instructive. To save you some pain, I'll paste some of it here:

John McCain is relevant only in so far as he is not Barack Obama. The Senator from Arizona is incapable of energizing his party, brings no new people to the polls, and has a personality that is best kept under wraps. And while his strong suite is experience, especially on military matters, it was gained almost entirely in Washington, a city that 80% of Americans now believe has miserably misled and mismanaged the nation.

Since McCain has become the presumptive nominee, I have spoken at more than two dozen Republican gatherings. The sentiment everywhere can best be summarized in the words of one of the activists, “No matter who wins in November, we lose.”

That's nice. Let's have another:

As for the Reagan Democrats they tend to be socially conservative, economically nationalist, working class white voters. McCain, on the other hand, continues to defend the very trade policies that have sent their jobs overseas. And he further alienated these Americans with his open border immigration policies that depressed their wages with cheap labor and ignored their plight while catering to the 20 million living here illegally. So if he isn’t going to attract these voters with the issues and we know it won’t be with his charm, how does he do it? He doesn’t. Obama does.

And one more please:

As a candidate Obama is bigger than life. Die-hard liberals are euphoric over his nomination. He is seen as the real thing -- a man who believes what he says and says what he believes. His candidacy has mobilized millions of new voters, held massive rallies, and raised money faster than Federal Reserve can print it. Obama is a gifted candidate who has that intangible quality most candidates only dream about -- he moves voters -- which gives his campaign enormous energy and excitement.

So, according to Bay Buchanan, McCain sucks and Obama is great. Wow. How cool is that, even the opposition thinks that our guy is "the real thing." So what's the bad news? How are they gonna fight that, when even they think their candidate "has a personality that is best kept under wraps?" Bay let's the cat out of the bag in the last few paragraphs of her commentary:

But can he unite the Democrats? Hillary’s women are furious; they shared their candidate’s sense of entitlement and believe she was cheated out of the nomination. Also within the party there is so much tension between the blacks and the Hispanics that there is a rising concern the Hispanics may not vote for Obama because of the color of his skin.


The most serious of these (problems) is the issue of Obama’s patriotism. Middle America will not vote -- nor should they -- for anyone who is not deeply and unequivocally proud to be an American. And the evidence needed to make this case against Obama keeps getting stronger -- whether it is the video of his minister trashing this country; or the faces in the congregation clapping their approval; or the photo of Obama’s hand at his side during the national anthem; or his weak and foolish explanation for not wearing the flag pin. Presented together it is not an unfair jump to conclude Obama has a problem with patriotism. Then add that middle name. Point-Set-Match.

By November there will be two Obamas. The articulate, attractive, dynamic candidate who inspired the nation with his message of hope and would be the first African American President and the anti-war, left-wing, inexperienced black candidate with a patriotism problem.

It’s all up to Obama now -- and a few 527s.

Are you fucking kidding me? Flag pins? His middle name. Really?

So there it is, the Republican strategy. Make Obama look like a sexist, anti-Hispanic racist who hate America. But since McCain has promised to run a clean campaign, how is he going to do those things, which, after all will require that he be dishonest and negative.

He won't.

He'll have his 527's do it for him.

More Healing

It is always difficult for me to listen to what the right wing media has to say about anything. I find their commentary to be full of such ridiculous nonsense, that I get angry and change the channel.

Ditto for reading comments in response to articles or YouTube vids. If the comment it too racist or too negative, I just ignore it.

But after Hillary's concession speech, I noticed that lots of Barack supports were still arguing the logic of HRC supporters who don't yet want to support our guy. So I posted the following in the middle of one of those exchanges:

I'm an Obama supporter. But I need to say, thank you Senator Clinton. You fought a hard fight. You did so with grit and determination and at significant personal financial cost. You brought millions of people to the party who did not previously care about politics.

I am very happy to see you support our party's nominee. It shows that your love of country trumps personal ambition. That is the mark of being a true patriot.

And you ma'am, are a true patriot.

Thank You!

Yeah, it's a little mushy. It ignores alot of the bad things that came from the campaign. But if we want to see Barack in the White House, we need those 18 million people who voted for Hillary to come back out in November and vote for Obama. We already know all he reasons why we think that they should, but some of them don't. It's our job to teach em.

As the old saying goes, it's easier to attract flies with honey than with vinegar. So be nice to Hillary and her supporters. Explain, gently, why Obama is so much better than whatever the Republicans can come up with (and certainly better than McCain). Together, we're gonna make history.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Infinite Possibilities

This morning my son was cuddling next to me while I ate my cereal and listened to NPR. The radio mentioned something about Senator Obama, and I just smiled and shook my head. I keep having these little moments where his win in the primary just makes me smile.

My eight year old son asked me why I was smiling.

I told him that I was just so happy that he and his sister would grow up in a world where it was completely reasonable that they could be whatever they wanted to be, doctors, lawyers, CEOs, President of the United States.

He looked at me like what I was saying didn't make any sense.

I explained that when I was a kid, it didn't feel that way.

He still didn't understand.

And that made me smile even more.

Let the Healing Begin


I admit that a large portion of the news that I get comes from The Daily Show. I'll pause for a minute while you laugh at me for that. But at least I know that my fake news is fake.

Even though the news is fake, and the interviews are edited for comedy rather than enlightenment, I saw one yesterday that really hit the nail on the head. There was a Hillary supporter who self described as "gay as the day is long." He looked to be under 30 and said he is New York City resident. He claimed that if Hillary didn't get the nomination he'd vote for McCain. He even pointed out the issues where that was against his personal bet interest (gay marriage for one).

Now that's just silly. But it's easy for me to say that because my candidate won. So even though I think that the other candidate used dirty tricks and did things contrary to the rules, my candidate won. So I'm not bitter.

If the shoe where on the other foot though, how would I feel? If, inside the bubble of my own beliefs, it seemed that Hillary had stolen the election, how would I react. Would I, just hours after Hillary had claimed her stolen prize, be able to walk away from my anger and say, OK, now I'll support her?


In fact, Hell NO! I'd be up in arms. If it felt to me that the election had been stolen, that rules had been broken or changed after the contest began, that my candidate had been unfairly denied his rights and my vote hadn't been counted, I'd be hopping mad. I'd be ready to start a 3rd party and say "to hell with the Democrats."

But that didn't happen. So far, it seems to me that in spite of some efforts to the contrary, my candidate won fair and square, and is going to get the nomination. My only point is that I understand that anger. I understand that when you're inside the echo chamber of supporters, your views get amplified, and information contrary to your view getrs minimized.

So give Hillary's supporters a little time. Give them a few days to grieve the fact that all of the work that they did, and the money that they contribute, went to an end result that is not the one that they had wanted. That effort and energy was not in vain mind you, but the outcome was not what had originally been desired.

So Hillary supporters, take some time. Have a break from the media. Take a deep breath.

But know this, the Democratic party needs you. We need your energy. We need votes. We need your

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

The Money Shot

This is crude. But it was too funny to pass up.

I was watching CNN this afternoon and saw something really weird. I looked for it on YouTube and didn't find it, so I'll just describe it instead.

One of the commentators, Gloria Borger, in a conversation about campaign fundraising, suggested that what we all want is to see "the money shot" with Obama and Clinton.

Jack McCafferty (who fits the description "grizzled reporter") looked over at Jeffrey Toobin in amazement, suppressed a laugh for a few beats while Borger kept talking. When she paused, he asked: "did you just say 'the money shot'?"

Borger looked puzzled and said - "yeah, you know, where they hold up their hands together in victory."

McCafferty: "ooohhhhhhh"

I don't know what's funnier, her comment, or McCafferty acting like a 2nd grader who heard is teacher say "nuts."

If you don't know what I'm talking about, look it up in the urban dictionary.


I can't improve on this with my words

Obama McCain 10 City Tour

I am following my future president's lead and pivoting to the general election. No more talk about Hillary, at least for now.

In that light, I want to address McCain's latest proposal for debates.

The McCain camp has proposed that he and Obama go on a 10 city tour and do town hall events in front of 200 to 400 people in each city. These 200 to 400 people would be picked by a neutral party. He even proposed that he and Obama travel on the same plane to save expenses.

His proposal plays to his strengths and away from his weaknesses. In other words, it would be a stupid proposal for Obama to accept. of course, Obama would need a counter proposal or it would look like he's "afraid" of such a tour. Here's my suggestion for a counter proposal:

The candidates do a 10 city tour stopping at each city and speaking in an arena. The attendees would be whoever pays to attend (I propose $25 ticket price, with tickets sold via the candidates web sites, and each campaign keeping the proceeds from their ticket sales). The candidates share the expenses of the tour equally. The structure of each event will be the same - each candidate gets 20 minutes to speak. The order of the speeches will be preset, each candidate gets 5 cities where they are first.

Both proposals are silly in how skewed they are to the candidates strengths. Can you imagine how many more Obama supporters there will be at each event? Can you imagine having to sit through 20 minutes of McCain after hearing 20 minutes of Obama? With the structure that I proposed, McCain might even have to come out of pocket to participate in such a tour, while Obama's campaign would almost certainly make money on the deal.

Getting the candidates together to debate is of course a good idea. IMHO, Obama comes out well in such a contest. The trick is to make sure to not agree to something that hands the opponent an unreasonable advantage. Letting McCain get loads of free media and the advantage of limited and handpicked audiences seems to be giving away too much. Since McCain is has more to gain from face to face debates, all that has to be done at this point is to make a reasonable (e.g. not the one above) proposal and wait for him to agree to it.

This is gonna be good.

Obama Wins Nomination, Clinton Concedes?

I watched the Obama victory speech last night with tears in my eyes. I am finally going to have a president that I can be proud of. My children will grow up in a world where there is nothing to which they can't aspire.

I'm still geeking out about it!

But before Obama's acceptance speech, I, we, had to sit through the non-concession speech from Clinton.

But since Obama was so gracious in his acceptance, and did not trash HRC, or her campaign, I feel that I should follow his lead. At least for today.

So I'll say something nice - she ran a campaign that got lots of people very energized. She raised a huge amount of money. She demonstrated that she is tireless and pitbull-like in her tenacity. If it had been her instead of Al Gore in 2000, I have no doubt that she would have fought harder, longer and more ferociously to get the Presidency.

See. I could find nice things to say about her.

But then I got to listen to Barack's speech. It was worth the wait! I feel that my description is not good enough to describe it, so you're gonna have to watch it here yourself. Enjoy.