Thursday, October 25, 2007

Presidential Candidate, The Fourth (Part 2)

More thoughts on Hillary:
  • One of the women in the audience asked the question that's been asked of every politician I've come to see,"what will you do to help legal immigrants on H1-Bs". Most other speakers have just answered, "we'll raise the number of visas we grant" and left it at that. Instead Clinton took the opportunity to discuss her policy for illegal and legal immigration. You can read about her thoughts on her website, but what I thought was really interesting was that she pointed out that 10 years ago, people weren't freaking out about illegal immigrants. They were too busy going to work and living their lives. It's now, when the economy isn't doing well, and healthcare is not affordable, and it costs enormous amounts to send your kid to college, that people are concerned, and she says that it's because certain politicians took advantage of this to say, "pay no attention to the poor government policies that got us here, blame the immigrants instead!" Clinton says that what we have to do is work on policies that make people feel secure about their lives, and then the politicizing of the immigration debate minimize and we'll be able to concentrate on helping the illegal immigrants and enticing educated legal immigrants to our country.
  • At one point she spoke about our budget deficits, and she made a great point about how owing enormous amounts of money is not only bad from a basic budget perspective, but from a foreign policy perspective. She said that when her husband was president, China massed on the border of Taiwan. Bill sent in a fleet to the South China Sea and China pulled back. Today if the same thing were to happen, China could simply say, "if you don't remove your fleet we'll start dumping dollars". It was one of the first concrete examples I've seen of problems caused by our government's over-extended finances (aside from the prices J and I had to deal with in London!)
  • Someone asked her how she'd win in Middle America, which is a fair question. She talked about what she'd done when running for Senator in New York. Rather than focusing on areas that were highly Democratic already, she went to very Republican areas to work on reducing her margin of loss. She talked about talking to craftspeople in upstate NY who lived in towns too small to support a marketplace for their goods, and how she worked with EBay to put together an online marketplace for them. Of the 20 people in that town, 5 couldn't figure out how to make it work and gave up, but 5 did extremely well...and those people were more liable to vote for her. She said efforts like that are the reason she won by 55% her first election but by 67% the second time around. And she also said that's what Kerry did wrong - he focused on places like Reno and Las Vegas in Nevada where he already had huge support and could hold rallies that looked good on TV, but he lost in the rural areas that Bush and Cheney visited regularly.
  • Finally, I was also impressed by all her local references. She must give multiple speeches a day all around the country, but she included multiple references to the Seattle area, and did it in a really natural way that made it clear that she'd just absorbed the information rather than having some staff member add bits to specific areas of her speech. She mentioned a book our local congressman had written on the environment, the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation on healthcare, and even mentioned a recent product our company had released (actually the product on which my friend B's husband has been working his butt off!). I appreciated the amount of preparation she must have done.

Overall, it was an inspiring hour, and I just wish I could remember all the details. Between the gorgeous changing leaves outside and the candidates coming just to see us, I can pretty much pretend I'm in New Hampshire!

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Presidential Candidate, The Fourth (Part 1)

Yesterday I was extremely excited, and a bit apprehensive, because Hillary Clinton came to town. Excited because at the moment she's the person I'm most likely to vote for and I was looking forward to seeing her in person, and apprehensive because after Bill Richardson's abysmal visit, I was worried that Senator Clinton would also crash and burn.

Luckily, I was very pleasantly surprised and impressed. I thought Senator Clinton came off as professional, intelligent, powerful, and even charismatic. She projected just the image I would want for the president of the United States. I took a bunch of notes about what she said on my laptop, but due I managed to lose them somehow (I can only imagine it must have been a secret service mission in which they replaced my laptop with one that was identical except for the deletion of the mail I sent to myself with my notes!). So unfortunately, you'll have to be content with a few thoughts about what I remember:
  • Clinton's speech was the first one of all the politicians I've heard that was organized and logical. She laid out her four issues and throughout her speech you could see she was going through them in a methodical way. It seems like a small thing, but it really made what she said hang together. So what were her 4 issues? Well due to my email screw-up and pathetic short-term memory, I can only remember the last three:
    2. Strengthening the Middle Class - basically improving on health care, infrastructure, and economics
    3. Comprehensive government reform - specifically getting competent people back in government
    4. Restoring America’s standing in the world - can't really argue with that, can you?
  • She told a charming personal story about Sputnik (and no, it wasn't quite as moving as Elaine's). She did say that at the time, everyone felt like the US was in charge and going strong - we'd won the war, we were the only real superpower, etc, and that when the Russians launched this "piece of junk" into space, the Republican president called in the best scientists of the time, created agencies that became DARPA and NASA, and pushed young people into math and science. She said that she was in 5th grade at the time and her teacher told her that President Eisenhower wanted her to learn math and science, and she believed that the President had actually called up her teacher to talk to her personally. Her point, of course, was that at some point in the past Republicans actually listened to scientists, and she took the opportunity to talk about her science agenda, which involves bringing politics out of science while raising the federal funding levels for science organizations.

More tomorrow...

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Mr. Kassel's Message

As I was listening to Wait Wait, Don't Tell Me yesterday while driving over to meet up with E for a fun day at Turkfest, it occurred to me that I have no idea what I would have him say if I won Karl Kassel's voice on my answering machine. So I thought I'd do some research. First, I found out this Karl Kassel is yet another NPR reporter who spells their name in an unexpected way. I'd always thought that Castle was a great last name for a guy with such a solid and commanding voice.

After I got over that disappointment, I found out that there's a Facebook group called "All I Want for Christmas is Karl Kassel's Voice On My Answering Machine". Of course, I had to join. Karl Kassel is actually on Facebook himself, but I didn't want to be presumptuous and ask him to be my friend.

Finally, I looked for examples of messages and found out that Mr. Kassel himself has collected some of his favorite messages and posted them here (requires RealPlayer). They seem to break down into a few different categories:
  • People who are trying to get Carl to do something embarrassing
  • People who make fun of NPR geeks who might be calling just to check out his voice (that would so be me!)
  • People who are really impressed with themselves for winning
  • People who write jingles or news articles for Carl to narrate
  • My personal favorite, people who claim they've just run off and eloped with Carl. (J - please don't be sad when you read this, I know we're already married but come on...Carl Kassel!)
So now that I've got some info, I'm waiting to (a) be inspired and (b) actually get on the show and win! But I'm curious about all of you - what would I hear if I called your answering machines after you'd won?

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Sponsor Trouble

On All Things Considered today, Cheryl Corley reported on a brouhaha going on at an NPR station in Pittsburgh, WDUQ. WDUQ recently decided to return money to Planned Parenthood and decline to have them sponsor a show. I got the impression that they had purchased something a bit more ad-like than the normal NPR "this show brought to you by " because the Planned Parent representative specifically said that they were advertising some of their non-abortion services like birth control and gynecological care, but regardless, it was an NPR ad so I'm sure it was still pretty low-key.

Now, I suppose NPR should be able to accept or reject any sponsor they choose. For instance, according to Ms. Corley, there was a lawsuit that NPR won a while back where the Ku Klux Klan was trying to force an NPR station to let them be sponsors; obviously I'd prefer that NPR would be able to avoid that sort of thing. However, NPR is a publicly funded radio station, on airwaves that are specially set aside for non-commercial/educational stations (actually KUOW, our local station, is an exception to this last part but in general it's true). In my head that puts them in a similar class to a school or library, where you'd expect that they'd have to be pretty open to any sponsor unless they were doing something illegal (I wouldn't expect a crack dealer to be able to sponsor a show, for instance, and the Ku Klux Klan falls somewhat into this bucket since they get persecuted for hate crimes quite regularly). Frankly, if they don't get their money from Planned Parenthood, they'll have to get it from their listeners or the government, aka us.

Even more disturbing, though, is the reason behind this decision. WDUQ resides on the campus of Dunsque University, a Catholic School. From their website:
Duquesne University holds the broadcast license for DUQ's 25,000-watt broadcast signal. The station is a non-academic unit reporting to the Provost and Academic Vice President. Duquesne University provides DUQ with annual in-kind support (facilities and services) and 6% of cash funding. DUQ is considered self-sustaining. This means that DUQ must raise its direct cash operating support from sources outside of the University, such as membership and program underwriting.
Dunsque University was apparently offended by the Planned Parenthood ads and asked that they be discontinued, and the station complied. I can't really blame WDUQ; moving the station would be extremely expensive and the University provides 6% of their cash funding as mentioned above. However, there's no doubt that there's a short and slippery slope between removing a sponsor and editing a story. The University representative interviewed for the story denied that the school would ever make such a ludicrous request, but I have to say I'm extremely skeptical. I thought the whole purpose of NPR being government and listener funded was that public radio didn't have to kowtow to special interests so it could be as fair as possible. Isn't that hard enough these days? It's disappointing that a school that clearly values public radio like Dunsque University would choose to mess with one of its fundamental characteristics.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Mini-ode to Sputnik (and Elaine)

As I was driving home from B's house last Thursday night, I heard a re-broadcast of The Conversation in which Steven J. Dick, a NASA historian, was being interviewed about the history and attitudes 50 years ago when Sputnik launched. It was interesting to hear about the fear that many Americans felt because of the cold war, and to get the perspective of people who were excited about it from an evolution of science perspective. But my favorite was a caller named Elaine who said that she and her husband were camping at Mt. Rainier a month after the launch and they saw Sputnik travelling across the sky at night. She said they were amazed that, "something from our planet was up there in the sky so far away, like a star in the night." She also said that they didn't see it as a threat, but instead, "as a huge expansion for mankind, to have a whole other aspect of life, and life beyond our own boundaries."

I thought she expressed the emotion beautifully - to me that's what space exploration is about - it's a way to reach beyond ourselves, a way to connect with all people on Earth in a quest to put a part of ourselves out among the stars. Maybe I spent a little too much of my childhood watching Star Trek, but to me the thought of space is uplifting, and both I and the host (he actually said "well done Elaine") thought she captured that feeling, and I got home feeling like a better person for it.

So happy 50th birthday, Sputnik, and thanks Elaine.