Friday, January 04, 2008

Son of the Future

Senator Barack Obama, historic winner
in Iowa.
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The Dreaming Up Daily Quote

"Hope is not blind optimism. It’s not ignoring the enormity of the task ahead or the roadblocks that stand in our path. It’s not sitting on the sidelines or shrinking from a fight. Hope is that thing inside us that insists, despite all evidence to the contrary, that something better awaits us if we have the courage to reach for it, and work for it, and fight for it."

Barack Obama
Iowa Caucus victory speech

Son of the Future

It's a phrase that popped out of the mouth of Chris Matthews, of all people, but if Iowa is any indication, it fits Barack Obama.

First the numbers: Obama won a decisive victory with 38%, 8 points better than John Edwards, 9 better than Hillary Clinton.

According to entrance and exit polling, his victory was pretty much total: He won the highest proportion of men and women, of Democrats, Independents and Republicans; those making more than $50,000 a year and those making less. The only major divided category was age: Hillary won 65 and older, Edwards won 45-64, and Obama won everyone younger, including a majority of voters 17-29. He won on all the choices for top issue (Iraq, the economy, health care) and he won the liberals and moderates. Oddly, John Edwards won the self-described conservatives.

But the most obvious statistic in Obama's win was this: 52% of these voters named "can bring change" as the most important candidate quality, and 51% of them voted for Obama.

The most sensational number was turnout. Something like 113,000 Dems voted in the caucuses in 2004. An optimistic projection for this year was about 150,000. At last count, this year there were some 238,000. About twice as many voters caucused for the Democrats as for the Republicans.

And as Obama pointed out in his victory speech, he and his campaign accomplished exactly what he set out to do: bring people together, bring people in, change the dynamic. And he did so by never compromising on principle.

He sure changed the dynamic of the 2008 election campaign. He's now going to be the favorite in the first two primaries: New Hampshire and South Carolina. Hillary and Edwards will contest them, and everything up to and including February 5, but there's no minimizing the momentum this victory gives Obama. By the end of the evening, candidates Chris Dodd and Joe Biden officially ended their candidacies.

While Edward's "concession" speech was a solid but graceless rendition of his incisive stump speech (he failed to even mention Obama, let alone congratulate him, and barely acknowledged his wife Elizabeth, the hero of his campaign), and Hillary gave a graceful but slightly dazed concession, Obama's victory speech was remarkable. He had the MSNBC commentators falling over each other praising it, with Eugene Robinson nearly in tears, and comparing him to Bobby Kennedy. In fact, both the speech and the victory seemed to bring out the best in almost everyone on TV, at least for awhile.

I've only listened to excerpts from Obama's speeches of the past few days, but I heard the same mastery of cadence tonight. He has this little hand gesture with which he seems to be conducting his own sentences--his speech was so musical, that he had that largely white audience doing a little call and response. And he repeated not only some of the resonant lines from his latest stump speech, but a sentence from his 04 Dem Convention address that got him so much attention in the first place: "we are not a collection of Red States and Blue States, we are the United States of America."

He spoke finally about hope, and this summarized everything that made this such an historic moment. The first (literally) African American candidate to win such a victory (I say literally because, as he said, he has a father from Kenya and a mother from Kansas), and in a state that is 95% white; a person whose victory is going to be heralded around the world and especially in the Third World--the first step to bringing this country back into the world community. A person of practical vision: serious, humane and confident.

It looks like a "change" moment, as the commentators said, and I guess some of us got a glimpse of what we've waited for decades to see again, at least that possibility. This son of the future might be the leader we need but we thought we'd never see again. And those of us of an age hope that our hopes are not dashed in the same catastrophic way as they were before, in 1963, and 1968. We have to hope that in 2008, we're given this last chance.

(As promised, I've sent most of the analysis over to American Dash.)

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Awaiting Iowa

The Iowa caucuses are later today, at last. And then the first real primary in New Hampshire on Tuesday. Right now the buzz is about Barack. Coming in first in the Des Moines Register poll by the biggest margin anyone's had is providing a lot of that buzz, which could easily be translating into momentum.

Then Kucinich asked his supporters to support Obama as their second choice, if (or rather when) he doesn't get the required 15% of caucus attendees and is disqualified. Wednesday there was reporting--or rumors--that the Biden people and the Richardson people may also be steering their supporters towards Obama. (Chris Dodd announced that he's not sending his supporters to anyone.) And the Biden story (by Beverly Davis) says nobody is suggesting John Edwards, which would be a blow to his chances--until now, the polls and the buzz had him benefitting from second choice votes.

So what will happen? It still depends on who shows up. But the night before the evening that the caucuses commence, the signs point to Obama, then Edwards, then Hillary. The story will be (as I suggested before) that the young voters gave Obama the victory, or the tried and true older voters plus women came through for Hillary, or John Edwards' tireless campaigning inspired working people to go to the caucuses in droves and send a message.

As for immediate consequences, if Obama wins, he's going to surge in New Hampshire and could win there, and then it will be a matter of whether Hillary or Edwards can stop him in the super primaries. Of the three, he is likely to benefit most from a victory longterm, especially if it is as solid as the Register poll suggests.

If Edwards wins, it's big for him, because it's now unexpected. But he still has a big mountain to climb, beginning with New Hampshire.

If Hillary wins, it's very big for her, because it reinstates her as the favorite. It's all about momentum going into New Hampshire. Obama is still going to be strong in New Hampshire, but if she wins there, it will really look like she's back.

There are a couple of other elements to look for. If Obama wins, it very well could mean voters want a new face. If it's Hillary, then it could be that the reassurance of experience trumps all--or that women are still behind her, and could carry her to ultimate victory. If Edwards wins, then his take no prisoners, populist/progressive Democratic message may be resonating with voters who are feeling economically insecure, and angry.

On the Republican side I'm sticking with my original prediction: Romney, Huckabee, McCain. If McCain places, he'll hold on to his New Hampshire lead. If Romney wins, he might be able to catch up to McCain in New Hampshire, and if not, he's got the bucks to keep going for Tsunami Tuesday in February. If Huckabee wins, that's expected right now, and it won't do him much good in New Hampshire, where he's still a long shot. He could win in the South, though, and stay alive for February. If he loses, he's in trouble, and he's got no money or organization or apparently staff to campaign in other states.

If this isn't complicated enough for you, here's a piece that speculates that an Obama victory in Iowa could lead to a long fight for delegates which would eventually mean the nominee will be...Al Gore.

As for me, I'll live with whoever wins in the long run. But I hope Obama wins in Iowa. Right now it's very likely I'll vote for him in California. I've seen the progressive blog spin (spinning wildly towards Edwards and even back to Hillary) but I've seen excerpts of his speeches of the last few days in Iowa, and if anyone currently in the race can bring the kind of change this nation and this world desperately need, it's Barack Obama. I don't expect to agree with his every position or comment. I mean, the only health care plan that makes any sense to me is Kucinich's. But there are tides in the affairs of humans, and this time they affect the planet. Obama looks like the man of the hour to me.

On a site/personal note, I had hoped that this obsession/addiction with presidential electoral politics would be gone by now, but in fact it seems to have gotten worse. I paid little attention to Iowa in 2004; I was just waiting to see who emerged. But I don't want to clutter this site with too much of this inside politics stuff. So when I need to work off my obsession, I'll post at my recently revived American Dash site. That was my first blog (called several different things over the years) and it's got quite an archive of posts, going back to 2002. I'm still working on tagging them all with "labels" so they can be searched according to topic. But if you're interested in my blatherings on this kind of thing, bookmark that site and check there. Although I'm sure I'll bring up the subject again around here from time to time.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

The Dreaming Up Daily Image

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Hope, Despair and the Climate Crisis

A version of this New Year's pep talk is "rescued" at Daily Kos. And frontpaged at Docudharma.

This is about how we respond to the Climate Crisis and the relentless bad news about it--with despair, or with hope. I'll tip my hand and say it is really about how to fight off despair and find hope for the future.

It's not easy to find hope. For thanks to the climate crisis, the prospects for a livable future just keep getting worse.

I've written many times about the Climate Crisis over the past several years on various community blogs, and I notice several repeated reactions in comments. Some offer their favorite solutions, or write about what they are doing personally to limit their carbon footprint. But many responses are more emotional.

There is fear, partly the product of quite natural denial--not denying the reality of global heating, but staying in denial about it as much as possible, while obsessing on much smaller issues. There is anger, about how we allowed this to happen, etc. And there is despair: the world is coming to an end, and there's really nothing we can do about it.

Despair, like anger, is another expression of fear. But it is not entirely irrational. How can it be, when we do face the real possibility of catastrophe?


People have basically two reasons for despair: they believe that in its present state, humanity won't meet this challenge. There are too many political, economic and cultural barriers. Humanity isn't smart enough yet, mature enough, enlightened enough. And then there's human nature: greed and fear will overcome.

The second reason for despair is that resistance is futile: that the tipping points have all been passed, and there's nothing humanity can do anyway to prevent catastrophe.

It's hard to argue with either of these reasons. They may prove to be true. But there are also counterarguments to each of them.

Humanity may not be smart enough to handle this, to even understand the problems. There may not be enough humans who can hold back panic and despair itself, or control selfishness on an individual, family, community or national level.

But there is precedent for societies that acted with courage, and understood that in a crisis, we are all in this together. Even in the midst of confusion and apparent incompetence. Read about London in the Blitz and you can see the elements of it: self-respect, fellow feeling, cultural identity and pride, good example and leadership.

In terms of smarts, beginning about four score and ten years ago, we began to develop one important conceptual tool: the ability to imagine the future: to use scientific facts and human insights to imagine future events and conditions (as the IPPC reports do), and how people will react to them (as this "Age of Consequences" report does.) And if they are bad outcomes, how people can cope with them, or even better, how we might prevent them from ever happening.

Since then, we've gotten more sophisticated and more subtle in using this tool. We've developed working theories of ecology (how life works together) and complexity (how everything depends on everything else.) It turns out we've got many of the tools to confront this crisis, to guide us to what we need to develop technologically, what we need to anticipate and do. And even how we might feel along the way.

It's true that how or whether we use these tools will be the test of our civilization. If we do it right, we go on and get better, building on the best of what we've done for the past ten thousand, and even hundred thousand years. If we don't, then we may very well fail as a civilization, and even as a species.

We may fail. But we do have choices, collectively and individually. People who talk about human nature-or who make relentless movies and video games about violence and revenge as the default human responses-tend to stress the negative. Even the "survival of the fittest"/"selfish gene" evolutionists emphasize these impulses and strategies.


But not everyone--not even every evolutionist---believes violence and selfishness are good survival strategies, especially in social species, and now especially in one that controls the destiny of a lot of the life on the planet. There are plenty of examples of unselfishness as survival strategies in animals and humans.

Even early evolutionists, like Darwin's close friend Thomas Henry Huxley knew that humanity had the capacity and the choice to transcend certain instincts -and he believed humanity would only survive if it acted (as he said) "ethically."

That we have these capacities and these choices has been known for much longer. There's a story that appears in many versions, appearing most often these days as a Cherokee tale. The briefest version might go like this:

Grandfather told his grandchildren: " Sometimes it is as though there is a terrible fight going on inside me, between two wolves. One wolf is full of anger, he fights for no reason, he is selfish, full of arrogance, resentment and despair. The other wolf lives in harmony and hope, he is giving and compassionate, and only fights when it is right to do so, and in the right way. It is hard to live with these two wolves inside me, for both of them try to dominate my spirit. You may have these two wolves inside you, too."

They thought about it for a minute, and then one child asked, "Which wolf will win, Grandfather?"

Grandfather smiled and said quietly, "The one you feed."

So it is reasonable to say that humanity can make such choices in time? This brings up the question of how much time we have--and the second reason for despair: that time has already run out.

In a sense this is certainly true. That is, the climate crisis is not a prediction-it is a reality. Its consequences are being felt today, almost everywhere. And the consequences are bound to be larger in the next ten, 20, 30 years than they are now. We are reasonably sure of this because the greenhouse gases that will cause those consequences have already been spewed into the atmosphere. There's just a length of time between cause and effect, and the time for effect is still in our near future.

Though the emphasis has been on preventing even worse consequences farther in the future by stopping greenhouse gas pollution, the warnings about preparing for the near future have been stated, though not exactly shouted. Most recently it was half buried in the IPPC report.

The reason these warnings have been relatively quiet, and not heard clearly anyway, is that we're used to thinking in either/or terms, but this isn't an either/or situation.

It isn't that we either have a Climate Crisis if we keep on spewing CO2 or if we stop spewing it, we don't have a Climate Crisis. As I've been saying for months, we have to understand this crisis requires two sets of actions. We have to prepare for inevitable effects in the near future-everything from seawalls and emergency response to public health and plans to deal with changes in food and water supplies and impacts on local economies, to animal and human migrations, to conflict resolution on a big scale. This is what I've been calling the "fix it" aspect, and others are beginning to call "adaptation," which I think is a very bad word choice (but that's for another time.)

And we have to end greenhouse pollution, find alternative energy and other solutions in order to save the farther future, and ultimately, our civilization and as much of our planet's life as we can. That's the "stop it" aspect. (Which those same tin-earred technocrats call "mitigation.")

If we pick just one, we fail. And the particular danger for progressives/Democrats is to continue to ignore the "fix it" aspect until something really bad happens for which we are unprepared, and the political shit hits the fan. And the despair becomes more than theoretical--because unless people know to expect some effects, any effects could make them believe that it's all over, we've failed, we're all doomed.

At the same time--literally at the same time--if we devote all our attention to "fixing it" (as some GOPers and corporations would gladly have us do)and none to "stopping it", we condemn the far future and quite possibly the human race to massive suffering and eventual oblivion. We must do both.

The future

Are we all doomed anyway? Individually, of course, we all are, eventually. We're mortal. But is this civilization doomed? Is the future of our grandchildren all but gone?

It's important to understand what we're talking about when we talk about the future. For despite what we project and imagine, and regardless of whether we regard the future with despair or not, there is one unassailable fact about it: the future hasn't happened yet.

We can imagine future scenarios, but those scenarios are in the present. The future is in that sense a fiction.

Of course it is responsible to develop and use the best information, to prepare for dire possibilities and probabilities, and try to prevent them if possible. To do so, we have to think of these future scenarios as real. But really, they aren't.

We cannot say for certain what will happen. Our actions may change the future, and they may not. But our responsibility to the future is what we do in the present. We will not even know if what we are doing is futile or not. And in a real sense, it doesn't matter.

We live in the present, and what do we live with here? Despair. And/or hope. They aren't in the future either. Hope and despair are conditions of our present.

There are reasons to hope. Progressives like Howard Zinn, Rebecca Solnit and Naomi Klein can give you inspiring examples from history and in the present. Environmental and spiritual activists talk about The Great Turning, and some New Agers still herald the Age of Aquarius.

But in the end, past and present examples and future scenarios can only be encouraging or discouraging, guides and good examples, or warnings and cautionary tales. They can't tell you that hopefulness or despair turn out to be correct. For neither despair nor hope are conditions of the future. They are conditions of the present. They motivate us or prevent us from acting. They help give our lives meaning or sour our living moments. They prompt us to give, or they urge us towards selfishness.

And in the final analysis neither is reasonable nor unreasonable. They are choices, and commitments.

The single person who started us imagining the future in the ways we imagine it these days was H.G. Wells. He did it with a little-known speech ("The Discovery of the Future") and a best-selling book (Anticipations) that is now forgotten, but it started the scientific approach to the future. And a few years earlier he'd done it with his famous novel, The Time Machine, which started a particular way that science fiction imagines the future.

In that story, the time Traveller visits the future, where he finds the human race divided into two species, destroying each other's humanity. He goes briefly into the farther future, and sees the planet fade to its end. He returns to late 19th century London and tells his story. No one believes him, but one friend, named Hillyer, listens to him. Hillyer (who is actually the narrator of the novel) acknowledges that the Traveller "thought but cheerlessly of the Advancement of Mankind and saw in the growing pile of civilization only a foolish heaping that must inevitably fall back upon and destroy its makers in the end."

A sobered Hillyer himself concludes: "If that is so, it remains for us to live as though it were not so."

I don't think Hillyer meant that the dire possibilities of the future if humankind remains on its destructive course should just be ignored in daily life. Certainly Wells did not feel that way. Wells told an interviewer that The Time Machine was about "the responsibility of men to mankind. Unless humanity hangs together, unless all strive for the species as a whole, we shall end in disaster." Today he might also emphasize that humanity's survival depends on the environment that sustains it.

To live as though it were not so is to enact hope. To work towards a future in which humanity flourishes, body and soul, can be a joy of the present.

F. Scott Fitzgerald, who certainly read H.G. Wells in college, wrote a widely quoted statement: "... the test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function."

We might read this today as a warning against either/or thinking. But that's only one part of Fitzgerald's statement. The part that is usually forgotten--and which sounds very much like Hillyer in The Time Machine, goes like this:

"One should, for example, be able to see that things are hopeless and yet be determined to make them otherwise."

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

The Dreaming Up Daily Image

Happy New Year!
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The Dreaming Up Daily Quote

"I have heard all you have to say about your problems. It is my view that your real problem is that you are a member of the human race. Face that one first."

Idries Shah

Monday, December 31, 2007

R.I.P. 2007

Posted by Picasaclick on this to see the full-sized collage

Some of those we lost this year

Filmmaker Michelangelo Antonioni; filmmaker, stage director and writer Ingmar Bergman; political leader Benazir Bhutto; actor Roscoe Lee Brown; filmmaker Frank Capra, Jr.; singer Denny Doherty (the Mamas and the Papas); author David Halberstam; critic Elizabeth Hardwick; singer, actor and arts advocate Kitty Carlisle Hart; TV performer Don Herbert ("Mr. Wizard") journalist Molly Ivins; nature preservation advocate Lady Bird Johnson; actor Deborah Kerr; cinematographer Laszlo Kovacs; mime Marcel Marceau; novelist, author, filmmaker Norman Mailer; writer Grace Paley; singer Luciano Pavarotti; jazz musician Oscar Peterson; actor Anne Pitoniak; actor Tom Poston; jazz musician Max Roach; classical musician and conductor Mstislav Rostropovich; author and JFK advisor Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.; singer and arts advocate Beverly Sills; TV talk show host Tom Snyder; novelist and author Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.; actor Jane Wyman, political leader Boris Yeltsin---and 899 American soldiers killed in Iraq, plus an unknown number of Iraqis.

There's a little more on some of these and their legacies at Boomer Hall of Fame, and Books in Heat. I met several of these people, and most of them touched my life in some way. I am grateful for their presence, which will live beyond their absence.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Iowa Polls

This is about when the polls start to matter--three or four days before the voting. It's more of a mess this year because of the New Year's Eve/New Year's Day interval. But here's the latest:

The McClatchy poll shows the Dems still virtually tied, but the trend line has Edwards moving up, and Obama and Hillary down. It also suggests that the Huckabee bubble has burst, and Romney's trend is up.

The Reuters/C-SPAN/Zogby poll has the Dem finish as Hillary, Obama, Edwards, and the GOPers as a virtual tie between Romney and Huckabee. The GOP finding is consistent with McClatchy; however the Zogby poll is not considered as reliable as most others. The poll to watch will be the Des Moines Register, which has been the most accurate.

A couple of other findings from the Zogby that supports the Hillary lead--she's still strong among older voters, who are (based on historical precedent) the most likely to caucus. (McClatchy agrees.) Zogby also found Hillary's supporters are the most firm in their support. Both of these bode well for Hillary, if they prove out.

McClatchy found that events in Pakistan have not changed preferences, and that Edwards would get the most "second choice" votes. My initial guess a month ago of Edwards and Romney is looking pretty good, but these two polls suggest Obama could finish third. On the other hand, the Washington Post touts the Obama Internet-savvy organization and get out the vote effort, which could provide an unprecedented counterbalance of younger voters. His crowds are reported to be younger. Young voters are probably the wild card in the caucuses.

Meanwhile, the American Research poll in New Hampshire also shows an upward trend for Edwards in that state, a lesser upward trend for Obama, and a large downward (9 points) for Hillary. But as in Iowa, it's essentially a statistical three-way tie. Romney and McCain are vying for top spot among the GOPers, both trending upward at the expense of Rudy. Huckabee apparently has no bubble to burst in NH--he holds steady at 11%, which thanks to Rudy's fall, places him third.

As the polls come in, I think I'll update this thread rather than start new ones, so if you're interested, you might revisit here.

UPDATE 12/31/07: This is the one I was waiting for: the Des Moines Register poll 3 days before the voting--which was just about the only poll that got the finish order right in 2004: it shows an upward trend line for Obama, who comes in first with 32% (up from 28% in November) while both Hillary (25%) and Edwards (24%) were flat: no change. Obama's lead now is the largest any candidate has had. There is some fluidity: 6% are undecided (the same percentage as in other polls) and up to a third could change their minds. The poll is of voters who are likely to attend the caucuses, and a great many of them are first-timers and even not registered (although they can register "on the way to the caucus"). A bright spot for Edwards: there was an uptick in his support during the four days of the polling, but there was also for Obama. Not good news for Edwards: the union household is split pretty evenly among the three candidates.

This poll also show GOPer Huckabee maintaining his lead, 32% to 28% for Romney. That's not a safe lead.

So three polls, three different Democratic leaders. The only commonality is that Hillary's support has remained firm--the question being how big it is. One thing does seem very likely: while the race between the top three Dems is very close, it is a three person race: no other candidate looks likely to get the 15% for viability in most caucuses. Perhaps for that reason, the Register poll shows that, contrary to McClatchy, the "second choice" votes aren't likely to change the outcome.

Update 1/1/08: To further muddy the waters, the CNN/Opinion Research poll (conducted Dec. 26- 30) shows a two-way tie on both sides. The GOPers are the same--Huckabee and Romney, with Romney showing the upward momentum and Huck downward. On the Dem side, though, the tie is between Hillary and Obama, with Hillary slightly ahead. This one shows momentum for both Hillary and Obama but not for John Edwards, who is a relatively distant third. Meanwhile, the Register poll may itself have given Obama new momentum. The other candidates attacked its new turnout model. It does seem that the outcome hinges on how many young voters actually caucus.

Also, Dennis Kucinich--who is polling at around 1 or 2%--has asked his supporters to give their second choice votes to Obama. He did this in 2004 as well, although then he steered his supporters to Edwards. The other candidates haven't weighed in, but observers believe that Dodd, Biden and perhaps even Richardson voters are more likely to back Hillary as second choice, but precedent indicates they are more likely to remain uncommitted, or in particular instances, to see if they can't get 15% for one of these second tier candidates by combining their votes. The Biden campaign is saying straight out that they're running for fourth.