Friday, March 30, 2007

Hello to Gilly's readers!

And, lest I forget, fuck the fucking Yankees.

(Note: that's not my kid.)

Hi to everyone who came over here from Steve and Jen's blog. Like most - maybe all - of you, I've been anxiously watching Jen's posts and monitoring Gilly's health. I don't know Steve. I've never met him. But he's someone I feel connected to, through the voice on his blog. I know that some people have worried about him losing readers if he spends months rehabbing, but I'll be there. Hope you will, too.

So the story of this blog is pretty simple. I'm a former community organizer for the local affiliate of a national organization (you'd recognize the name), former stay-at-home dad, and I spout here occasionally about politics, the world of non-profits, parenting, and whatever hits my radar.

I have an intense interest in grassroots politics and tend to see a lot of things through that filter. Politics is better when more people are involved, plain and simple. The best thing happening in the Democratic party is that more rank-and-file members are getting involved. John Edwards and Barack Obama impress me because they're really working on motivating their supporters - and not just motivating them to work for their candidacies. They want people to be involved, to give a damn, to pay attention.

I liked this exchange from the Couric interview:

Katie Couric:
Some people watching this would say, "I would put my family first always, and my job second." And you're doing the exact opposite. You're putting your work first, and your family second.

John Edwards:
But this is not work. Work is what I did as a lawyer. This is service. This is... this is a country that I love – both of us love, as much as we love our lives.

Politics should be about serving the country and the greater good, not about craven seeking of power. I haven't decided who I'm supporting for the Dem nomination - it's still very early in the race - but I'm going to go with the candidate who looks most like he's working to make us all better, not just him or herself.

So anyway, welcome to my corner of the blogosphere. Hang around. My little boy is named Oliver, and I talk a fair amount about him. I've railed about ACORN. I live in Seattle, so I occasionally talk about what's going on here (read: the bullshit viaduct debate.) Occasionally, I'll talk music. Look around. Welcome.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Bad Interviewing 101

The interviewer: Katie Couric.

Interviewees: John and Elizabeth Edwards.

First question: establish the terms of the discussion.

Elizabeth, first and foremost, how are you feeling?

Translation: we're not going to talk about anything except for your cancer.

Next, keep the interview focused on the single area that you've selected.

Have you found that people are relating to you a bit differently with this news?

Have you received any additional information the last couple of days about where the cancer might have spread other than this area of your ribs?

Tell me about that roller coaster.

Tell me what went through your mind when you looked at that bone scan?

Were you terrified you might lose your wife?
Note: use loaded, subjective words whenever possible. If you can, tell the interviewee what to think.

That must have been hard once again to have to face your kids and to talk to Emma Claire and Jack who are 8 and 6. That is tough.
Make sure to remind your interviewee about their children and their ages. They may have forgotten.
Can you describe the decision making process for me in terms of what should we do now? Do we stay in? Do we suspend it temporarily? Do I call the whole thing off? Do we call the whole thing off? How did that unfold?
If you ask about another subject, make sure it's in the frame of your chosen subject. In the case, ask about the presidential race in terms of the cancer. Don't ask any questions about why the interviewee might actually want to run for president.

At your press conference, you were both extremely confident, very upbeat.

Elizabeth said, “Right now we feel incredibly optimistic. I don’t expect my life to be significantly different.”

And I think some people wondered if you were in denial, if you were being realistic about what you were going to be facing here.
"Some people" is a good way to avoid saying "cynical right-wing commentators."

Your decision to stay in this race has been analyzed, and quite frankly judged by a lot of people. And some say, what you're doing is courageous, others say it's callous. Some say, "Isn't it wonderful they care for something greater than themselves?" And others say, "It's a case of insatiable ambition." You say?
Again, use the pronoun "some" to cover up that you're pulling questions from right-wing blogs and commentators.

Here you're staring at possible death...

And you're thinking, "I don't want to deprive the country of having my husband lead us."
Politics, as you know, can be a cynical business. You didn't know that? Glad I... (laughter) I’m glad I could teach you something today.

It's a clever strategy to make jokes about cynicism while you're asking cynical questions of the interviewee. It throws them off.

Some have suggested that you're capitalizing on this.

See how helpful the "some would say" construction is? This is a great way to call someone a goddamn liar without actually putting yourself on the spot.

Some people watching this would say, "I would put my family first always, and my job second." And you're doing the exact opposite. You're putting your work first, and your family second.

I guess some people would say that there's some middle ground. You don't have to necessarily stay at home and feel sorry for yourself, and do nothing. But, if given a finite – a possibly finite period of time on the planet – being on the campaign trail, away from my children, a lot of time, and sort of pursuing this goal, is not, necessarily, what I'd do.
They're 6 and 8. They're still baby birds.
Again, they may have forgotten how young their children are. If you can, bring photos so they remember what their children look like.

Even those who may be very empathetic to what you all are facing might question your ability to run the country at the same time you're dealing with a major health crisis in your family.

Can you understand their concern, though, Senator Edwards, that gosh, at a time when we're living in a world that is so complicated and so dangerous that the president cannot be distracted by, rightly so, caring about his wife's situation?
If you talk politics at all, make it as vague and meaningless as possible. Extra points if you can subtle refer to terrorist threats without using the word "terrorism."
You said, this weekend, "I am definitely in the race for the duration." If you want to give the honest answer, how can you say that, Senator Edwards, with such certainty? If, God forbid, Elizabeth doesn't respond to whatever treatment is recommended, if her health deteriorates, would you really say that?
Some people would say that Katie Couric should lose her job. Others have suggested that Couric should be kept on light-hearted stories: interviewing musicians, actors, and Muppets. You say?

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

ParkSlope47 - the Mystery is Revealed

So the guy who created the Obama/Hillary 1984 ad has revealed himself to the world. His name is Phil deVellis. And he works for a technology company that provides support to several campaigns, including - in some capacity - the Obama campaign.

Now, some people are going to come out with guns blazing, charging that he did this on behalf of the campaign. I don't believe that for a second. I don't think the story about this ad is even about Obama or about Hillary Clinton. Read his manifesto/announcement, and tell me what you think.

Hi. I'm Phil. I did it. And I'm proud of it.

I made the "Vote Different" ad because I wanted to express my feelings about the Democratic primary, and because I wanted to show that an individual citizen can affect the process. There are thousands of other people who could have made this ad, and I guarantee that more ads like it--by people of all political persuasions--will follow.

This shows that the future of American politics rests in the hands of ordinary citizens.

The campaigns had no idea who made it--not the Obama campaign, not the Clinton campaign, nor any other campaign. I made the ad on a Sunday afternoon in my apartment using my personal equipment (a Mac and some software), uploaded it to YouTube, and sent links around to blogs.

The specific point of the ad was that Obama represents a new kind of politics, and that Senator Clinton's "conversation" is disingenuous. And the underlying point was that the old political machine no longer holds all the power.

Let me be clear: I am a proud Democrat, and I always have been. I support Senator Obama. I hope he wins the primary. (I recognize that this ad is not his style of politics.) I also believe that Senator Clinton is a great public servant, and if she should win the nomination, I would support her and wish her all the best.

I've resigned from my employer, Blue State Digital, an internet company that provides technology to several presidential campaigns, including Richardson's, Vilsack's, and -- full disclosure -- Obama's. The company had no idea that I'd created the ad, and neither did any of our clients. But I've decided to resign anyway so as not to harm them, even by implication.

This ad was not the first citizen ad, and it will not be the last. The game has changed.

I don't think he did this to support Obama so much as he did this in order to prove a point. It'll get blamed on Obama, and the people who blame him will be missing the entire point.

The last sentence of his post says it all. "The game has changed." Suddenly, it's not just campaigns and shady 527s who can make attack ads or support ads. It's everybody. The democratization of technology means that we can all make our voices heard, all at the same time.

Will there be more ads? Sure.

Will some of them be ugly? Sure.

But ultimately, this is good for democracy. Howard Dean changed the rules of fundraising when he started soliciting small donations - $10, $20, $50 - off the web. This one ad has changed the rules of who has a voice in the national elections. And, as it turns out, we all do.

So, this will surely cause some consternation amongst the Obama campaign, and it's possible (but it wouldn't be smart) if Clinton said some things about the ad's creator. But the legacy of this ad and ParkSlope47 is going to last much longer than the fight between those two candidates. This was a cultural watershed. The future just happened.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Vote Different

Everybody else is talking about this ad, so I thought I'd add my two cents. I think the ad is as interesting as a cultural signifier as it is a political comment. Many of the typing class and the talking heads seem most interested in who created it, what it says about Hillary, whether or not it's violent, whether it was made by a Republican. These are classic old world political analyses.

This is a political statement, obviously. But it's also a way of individuals interacting with politics in a way we haven't seen before. Someone (or several someones) spent a tremendous amount of their personal time to put this together. They had an idea - a new way of looking at the Clinton/Obama paradigm - and painstakingly crafted this ad together. This is much more than just a prank or throwing spitballs at a poster of a candidate. Someone worked hard to get this exactly right.

The original 1984 ad was based on Orwell's dystopian book, of course. The symbols in both ads are stark and horrifying: faceless crowds, blankly staring at their Big Brother in blind obedience. The original ad's comment was on the world of computers: things are boring and predictable, and we're going to shake things up. We're going to change the way the world of computers works.

The new 1984 ad suggests a similar paradigm shift. The message is that we (the "rebels" signified by the woman) are not going to mindlessly follow someone anymore. Is she Big Brother or Big Sister? No. Does she deserve to be crushed by sledge hammers? Of course not. The focus of the new ad, in my opinion, is the runner, not the face on the screen. The message is that we - the rebels - are not going to act like automatons for the leader we've been told to follow. I've been hearing for over a year that Hillary Clinton was the inevitable nominee for the Dems. She has more money than anyone, she has deeper connections, she has big Bill in her corner. She is the establishment candidate, if you will.

The message of the ad is anti-establishment. That's why the slogan "vote different" seems an appropriate one for this spot. It's about thinking for yourself and not following the conventional wisdom. Don't just support the frontrunner because they are the frontrunner.

And there is the basic statement. It's about old, establishment politics - the old way - vs. the new generation's politics. So it's about more than just Clinton and Obama. The spot is not called "The Obama 1984 ad" or "the Clinton 1984 ad." It's called "vote different." Don't just do things because it's the way things have always been done. It seems an entirely typical statement by this generation - the generation that includes both myself and Barack Obama.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

My Brightest Diamond - you're freaking kidding me.

So My Brightest Diamond has blown my mind.

Her first album is stunning and amazing. Operatic, powerful vocals, weird songs, great and unusual structures. Brilliant stuff. Shara Worden (who is My Brightest Diamond) spent time in Sufjan Stevens' band, so she knows a thing or two about creative song structures.

So what does she do then? She releases Tear It Down, which is a remix album. Yeah - remixes of every song of her album, with multiple remixes of a couple of songs.

I don't have to tell you this, but it's incredible.

So I'm poking around YouTube, and I find videos of her performing the following songs live in concert:

"Use Me" - Bill Withers
"No Quarter" - Led Zeppelin
"It's Over" - Roy Orbison
"Joy in Repetition" - Prince (it's from Graffiti Bridge)
"Be My Husband" - Nina Simone (I'm not sure if she wrote it, but she did the definitive version)
"Youkali" - Kurt Weill

ETA: I've added links to the YouTube videos, because it was cheap and lazy of me not to do that. Some of the videos (Youkali, Be My Husband) are crap, but it's worth it just to hear her.

So yeah, it's possible she's a goddess. It's a possibility. Anyway, go check her out if you've never heard her name before. My. Brightest. Diamond.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

No and no.

Seattle has been facing a quandary since the Nisqually earthquake in 2001. There is a large (ugly) viaduct that carries a major highway right through the heart of downtown and someday, when the right combination of tectonic plate movement strikes, it will fall down. We need something new in its place.

But what, then, to replace the viaduct? The governor of the state has endorsed a new viaduct - bigger, more stable and earthquake-proof, and allowing more and easier flow of traffic. Our stubborn mayor, Greg Nickels, has endorsed a fanciful tunnel set below sea level, which he claims would open up the entire waterfront to tourism (because that's the answer to everything, isn't it? More tourism!) and eliminate the eyesore of the viaduct.

After the governor explained (repeatedly, with use of sledge hammer to drive the point home) that funding was not available for a goddamn tunnel, the mayor suggested a smaller tunnel. A four-lane tunnel. With narrow 11-foot lanes. That would only run for eleven blocks (requiring an elevated road of some sort to connect the new tunnel to our existing Battery Street tunnel.)

After much political facing off and gnashing of teeth, they decided to have a public vote. Ah, but the results would be non-binding. In effect, Seattle voters were being asked what they think without it having any impact or meaning whatsoever. Except that it would demonstrate our intent.

The all-mail vote concluded yesterday. The questions were simple and straightforward. Yes or no, do we want a new viaduct? And yes or no, do we want a new tunnel to replace the viaduct?

Many advocates, including outgoing City Councilmember Peter Steinbreuck, have expressed outrage that a third option - removing the viaduct and not replacing it with anything - wasn't on the ballot. The third option would involve using existing surface streets - expanding some, rerouting and reassigning others - and expanding public transit to replace the viaduct. So many people were suggesting that the best thing for voters to do is to reject both options - in effect, saying that they wanted nothing to replace the viaduct.

Yesterday, voters did just that. No, we don't want a damned tunnel. No, we don't want a viaduct.

I have been lamenting for months that politicians in Seattle and Olympia (the state capitol) wouldn't just take action and do something. They punted again and again, and the final punt was when they insisted on going ahead with the advisory vote yesterday. Finally, the voters have done the same thing - handed the ball back to the politicians. The vote yesterday was a declaration - we're not going to make your decisions for you, and we don't like the options you're trying to force down our throats.

Finally, after the humiliating vote yesterday, the politicians seem to be listening.

"We're going to find that common ground. We're going to put aside the old answers and find some new answers," said Nickels, who declined interview requests.

And Peter Steinbreuck, the politician who has decided to leave politics (for the moment) to work on the surface/transit option, seems to recognize that the politicians needed a wake-up call.

"I can't say that the voters have the precise answer," he said Tuesday night. "That's what they look to electeds for. I'm very excited. I think it's a new day."

Yeah, I'll go along with this. I'm relieved and impressed at the vote last night. And we might just get the surface/mass transit option after all - meaning one less obnoxious construction project downtown, and quite possibly, we'll get the transit upgrades that this city has needed for decades.

It's a new day for Seattle.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

" I cough. I cry."

Point 1: Oliver's learning to communicate with short sentences - "I do it," "I get," "I drink." Or possession: "my ball," "my milk," "my blankie." (Of course, his pronunciation is still a work in progress, so most of these words sound remarkably similar to anyone but us.) And he mimics me and R all the time. I sat down cross-legged last night (what we used to call Indian style) and he tried to fold up his legs so he could sit like daddy. He drinks water during meals when we drink water. He takes every opportunity to do what mommy and daddy are doing, and takes no small amount of pride in it.

Point 2: He also is fighting a nasty cold that's crept into his lungs. The doctor listened to him breathing on Monday and heard some wheezing. He suggested that it might be an early indicator of asthma. As you can imagine, I freaked out.

Point 3: I have asthma. I've had it most of my life. My father tells me that they found me gasping for air at least once, face blue from the effort, when I was young. When I was older, in grammar school,I remember catching colds and laying in bed, listening to myself wheeze. Wheezing myself to sleep.

I wasn't diagnosed until my mid-20s. I had resigned myself long ago to just having bad lungs, and it was a relief to find out there was medication that could help me through the worse patches. But it's controlled, not gone. I still wheeze when I get sick, as I did last week. On Saturday and Sunday, I was wheezing loud enough to keep myself awake, and I was gasping for air all day. I was taking shots from my albuterol inhaler, along with draining the steroid inhaler that the doctor had given me for emergencies.

So Monday I went to see my doctor. He decided to treat me for bronchitis, even though it's difficult to diagnose in someone with my conditions. He prescribed Advair, which is another steroid inhaler, and azithromycin to kill the infection that was creeping into my lungs.

Meanwhile, Oliver was gasping for air himself and waking himself up with coughing spasms in the middle of the night. He was worrying us enough to take him to the doctor on Tuesday morning, where the doctor heard the wheezing in his tiny lungs. He also discovered an ear infection. He diagnosed liquid albuterol and azithromycin for the infection. So we have father-and-son courses of antibiotics.

We've kept him home from daycare for the past couple of days, and R and I have been switching off to watch him. One of us goes to work in the morning while the other stays home, and then we switch off in the afternoon. I was home with him on Tuesday afternoon, and I had a small coughing fit. As with everything, I talked about it with Oliver. I told him I was sick and that I had a cough that made my lungs hurt.

A light of recognition went off in his eyes. He pointed to himself. "I cough!"

Yes, I explained, he did cough. But it wasn't good that he was coughing - he was sick like daddy. And we both needed to get better so he didn't cough anymore. I didn't tell him that he wheezed like daddy, too. I haven't heard it for myself, and I don't want him to share this particular trait with daddy.

Later that night we were reading one of his (million-and-fifty) board books. A little gosling gets upset in the book and sheds a tear, and I pointed it out to Oliver. "Look, Ollie, he's crying because he's so sad."

Oliver pointed to himself again, that same light in his eyes. "I cry!"

Yes, kid, you do cry. You cry when you cough. You've been crying a lot in the last few days because you've been so sick. No more crying, okay? No more coughing. No more sick. There's some things that your daddy doesn't want to share with you, and asthma is high on that list.

Friday, March 02, 2007

A month?

Actually, it's been more than a month. I've got some 'splaining to do. I have no actual excuse. I haven't been sick, I haven't lost my job or my mind. I just haven't been doing it. It's kinda like your laundry when you were in college. You ignore it and ignore it until it's piled so high that you can't begin to figure out how to even sort it, much less where to get started.

So I'm just going to get started without an apology or anything so sappy. So, hi. I'm back.

It's not as if life has stood still for the last month. Things have been happening. We moved into a house - an honest-to-Pete house with four bedrooms and a back yard. Hardwood floors. A dignified kitchen. A basement. (It's about thirty blocks south of our previous apartment, right on the border of White Center and south West Seattle.)

Oliver's thrilled to have his own playroom, and we're just as happy to have a living room that's not covered with his toys.

Now, it's only sprinkled with his toys. It's an improvement.

Ollie spent the last ten days recovering from a combo eye/ear infection. He came home a couple of Fridays ago with mucus dripping from the corners of both eyes. The next morning, his eyes were nearly glued shut from mucus. He was diagnosed with a mild eye infection (I think it was officially conjunctivitis, but his eyes were only barely pink) and not coincidentally, a minor ear infection on one side. He got a course of antibiotics, and it's our good fortune that he loves, loves, loves the taste of whatever sweet stuff they put in that medicine. He was thrilled every morning and night to get his dose. He never got sick besides the occasional gunk caked on his eye, so that was a relief.

He's trying out new words every day. Unusual words, too: cracker, cookie, granola, orange. "Kitty" comes out like "diddy," so he sounds like he's chasing Puffy Combs around the house all day. "Diddy, diddy, diddy."

He's recently learned the deadly combination of shaking his head "no" and nodding his head "yes." He also says the word "no" with great gusto. It's a useful word for communication, but sometimes he seems to get the mistaken impression that he can change things by expressing a negative opinion. Like, if he says no, he won't have to get his diaper changed. Or go to bed. Or put down daddy's phone. Or get pajamas put on him. It's a sad sequence: he learns yes, he learns no, and then he learns how insignificant his opinion really is.

I kid.

(But not really.)

Anyway, I'm going to do my best to post more often here. There's lots going on, and I just need to be more faithful about running this blog. I want to make sure you're getting your money's worth. Anyone who's disappointed can email me to have their subscription fees refunded.

So, anyway, here's one more gratuitous picture:

We bought the kid an easel with a roll of paper attached, so he can color and draw with abandon without running out of his chosen medium. He loves having so much space to color now, and it's a much better option than sitting down on his teeny tiny table with a couple of sheets of paper. It's much better on my knees, anyway.