Friday, August 29, 2008

The Right Speech at the Right Time

At first I wasn't sure what I thought about Barack Obama's acceptance speech last night. But as I've considered it more, I've decided that I think it was exactly the right speech to give.

While I've seen tons of Obama speeches, for many people this was going to be the first real introduction to him. This is where they would get to see the candidate himself rather than read what other people say about him. I think that he seized that opportunity as best as was possible.

True, there were no "Yes We Can!" moments or "Fire it up! Ready to go!" chants, but that wasn't really what this speech was about. The crowd was already fired up and ready to go and the yes we can chants started right when he walked on stage. So all that stagecraft stuff was taken care of. This was Obama's chance to draw the line in the sand and define what this election was going to be about.

He talked about the promise of America and what it means to be American. He did his usual spiel about being united for change. All of this I've come to expect from Obama's speeches and he didn't fail to deliver.

What Obama also did in his speech is take on John McCain as directly as I've ever heard him. Obama spelled out what his vision for the next four years looks like and what his plans are for getting us there. Someone coming to the speech last night only knowing what they'd read about - that Obama was a foreign-seeming elitist who gives light airy speeches light on substance - was going to get a surprise. Clearly, this man is ready to be president.

Of course, it didn't hurt also that I agreed with pretty much everything in the speech. I don't know that our country is in as dire of shape as some of the convention speakers indicated it was. But we aren't in great shape either. After 8 years of George W. Bush, I'm ready for change. Last night, as much as any other night of this campaign, showed me that Barack Obama is the one to give that change. I'm fired up and ready to go.

Yes we can.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Thoughts on the Democratic Convention

First of all, how awesome was John Kerry last night. I know that I may be about the first person ever to use the words "awesome" and "John Kerry" in the same sentence and really mean it, but his speech last night was just fantastic. He especially must have loved giving that speech and getting to go after John McCain for switching positions on so many issues. The sweet irony of it all. I only caught the end of Bill Clinton's speech, but from where I was sitting, John Kerry was the highlight of the night. Too bad it wasn't his convention this time around.

I thought Biden did a good solid job, but didn't turn in anything especially memorable or wonderful. I woke up this morning with some of the phrases from John Kerry's speech still in my head. I don't really remember anything that Biden said. Now, as I've written before, Biden doesn't have to be a charismatic master orator. The ticket already has that slot covered. So maybe it's not a bad thing that Biden didn't do much in the way of getting people all fired up.

Nancy Pelosi kind of scares me. I'm sure she's much better in one on one interactions, but watching her up at the podium last night was just awkward.

Now that Obama is officially the nominee, we'll see what happens to the PUMAs. I really hope that they do the right thing on this one.

Looking forward to Obama's speech tonight. I'll have more thoughts tomorrow.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Catching Up

I've been without internet for the past couple of days and (as always seems to be the case) they were some big ones. So here's a quick rundown on my thoughts over the last few days.

1. Biden. Though I wish the pick had been made sooner (the waiting and teasing with the whole thing was just getting silly) I think he's a good pick. Not a particularly bold or inspired choice, but a solid one. He certainly brings the foreign policy experience that Obama lacks. Plus, the ticket doesn't really need any more excitement. Obama has that. So I'm giving this one a thumbs up.

2. Republicans trying to stir up Hillary supporters. Just after Obama announced his VP pick as Biden, McCain ran an ad from a Hillary supporter who now says that she's going to be voting for McCain. Last night, Rudy Giuliani outright said that Obama should have picked Clinton. Talk about a transparent strategy. It is slightly more subtle than the original ad, which reportedly featured a close up of John McCain saying, "Democrats. Fight with each other so I can become president."

3. Michelle Obama's speech. Great. Yes, it was kind of boring and straight ahead with nothing fancy. That was exactly the point. Her speech was designed to say, "Look how normal my family is. We're just a good old normal average American family." In that sense, she nailed it.

4. Hillary Clinton's speech. Another excellent speech. She did a good job celebrating herself while also supporting Obama. It was a tough line to walk, I'm sure, but she handled it well. Maybe she's not so bad after all.

5. This video. I love this video. It makes me laugh every time.

And I think that gets me up to speed.

Friday, August 22, 2008

I'll Get Back to You

I'm a big fan of telling details and small ironies. The telling detail is a moment that illuminates a larger situation. Irony you probably already get. It's especially nice when the two combine into one moment. That's why I loved it yesterday when McCain's attempts to paint Obama as the out of touch elitist ran into what should be a brick wall.

When McCain was asked how many houses he owns. His response? "I think -- I'll have my staff get to you. It's condominiums where -- I'll have them get to you."

Wow. This is the guy who's supposed to be in touch with the American people? He's not even in touch with himself or the fact that he owns seven houses valued at more than $13 million.

So here's the situation as I see it (or at least as it could be spun). McCain is so rich and/or addled that he's lost track of how many homes he actually owns. Either way, that can't be good for him. It either speaks to his out-of-touchness with the plight of the people or his out of touchness with his own life. I'd argue that the second scenario is probably worse than the first.

Not surprisingly, Obama is hitting this one hard in speeches and in an ad. What kills me is that it's not going to work. The narratives have been set and Obama is the elitist. McCain gets people. So even as McCain has more money, more homes, and can't even keep track of how many houses he owns, his staff is hitting at Obama for being elitist. Just ridiculous.

(Full disclosure: I had my staff check for me and I officially don't own a single home.)

Thursday, August 21, 2008

It Takes Everyone

It drives me crazy that so much of our efforts to reform education don't do anything to make schools better. Worse still, so many of them don't even try to make schools better. Rather we talk about things like adding choice, competition, accountability, and incentives. I'm not automatically opposed to any of these things necessarily. I do think, however, that they need to be part of a plan to improve schools that need to be improved. They can't be part of some scheme to help some kids and leave the rest to fend for themselves.

One scheme that always struck me as dangerously close to that line of help a few and abandon the rest was the New York City Department of Education's plan to offer cash incentives to students who scored well on tests.

The plan has a certain surface appeal. I mean, for a few hundred bucks, wouldn't kids work a little bit harder to succeed. And if they started working harder for the extra money and started to get proficient, maybe that would give them a boost of confidence and skill so that they wouldn't need the cash incentive. And then the achievement gap would be closed and everyone could live happily ever after.

The flip side of the argument is that it turns educational achievement into a commodity that isn't valued unless it's paid for. It cheapens the thrill of learning for the sake of learning.

I could go around and around with these arguments, but all the philosophy is ultimately cut short by one simple fact: the program didn't work. That's a pretty tough argument to get around.

According to the New York Times story yesterday, AP test scores actually declined on the whole among the students who were part of the program during the last school year. Fewer kids passed the test when they were getting paid. So much for that program.

One interesting anomaly in the data is that the number of students scoring a 5 (the best score) increased last year, even as the numbers of 3's and 4's declined. What that tells me (and I'm saying this without even glancing at the raw data) is that the program was successful among students who were already motivated and on the track toward success. Those students were able to take it one notch higher with the extra incentive. For kids far below the standards, it didn't make a difference.

So where does that leave us? Pretty much back where we started. If we want our kids to learn, we need to provide good schools. Offering up extra "motivation" for the students doesn't make a difference if the schools can't take advantage of it. We can't count on an individualized, each-student-pulls-themselves-up-by-their-bootstraps approach to reforming a dysfunctioning system.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Stay Away from Harrold

The New York Times was reporting yesterday that today might be the day that Obama announces his pick for vice president. Of course, other papers were saying Friday and everyone is looking for something to talk about whether it's true or not. It's just the way the 24 hour news cycle goes during the dead month of August. So we'll see what happens. I'm not exactly holding my breath on this one.

Also, is anyone else ready for August to be over? It's like a news wasteland. Bring on the action.

In the meantime, I have to point your attention to the small town of Harrold, Texas, which, starting this month, will allow their teachers to bring concealed firearms to school. That's right. Guns and schools, together at last. After all, nothing limits violence quite like having more guns around.

Maybe I'm getting used to the liberal, eastern, latte-sipping lifestyle but that's just nuts. Admittedly, there were more than a few points during my career as a middle school teacher that I can't say I really would have minded having a concealed firearm handy, but that's probably an argument against letting me have one.

I mean, here in New York there are people upset because the NYPD runs the school safety officers and they worry about that.

According to school superintendent David Thweatt, "When the federal government started making schools gun-free zones, that's when all of these shootings started."

Wait. When were schools not gun-free? I love these lone ranger types who stand up to the federal government for freedom and safety by doing things like putting guns in classrooms with children.

Anyway, the takeaway from all this is that August is boring and don't send your kids to school in Harrold, Texas.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Try a Little Thoughtfulness

Here's a pretty good column breaking down what exactly we saw at the candidate forum with Rick Warren over the weekend. Most of the professional pundits (and a good portion of the amateurs) seem to be saying that McCain came out on top of that one. While Obama wandered, McCain focused and gave personal, gut-feeling answers.

In one sense, that's exactly what happened. McCain's answers were significantly punchier than Obama's more professorial ruminations on the questions posed to him. The pundits all took that to mean that Obama lost and McCain won. I'm not so sure. At least, I'm not so sure that's the way things should be.

The fact is, we live in a very complicated world. Complex questions don't always have simple answers. Sometimes, in fact, giving simple answers is a disservice to the issue at hand. Take the war in Iraq. There are a variety of reasons - both good and bad - for our entering into the war and there are a variety of reasons - again, both good and bad - for getting out now. When looking at all of the different factors in play, I'm not sure if I want someone who offers a four word response to that issue. I think I would much prefer to have someone who has shown that they've thought through the issues and understand the nuances.

We've had eight years of gut feeling leadership. Maybe now it's time to try thoughtfulness.

Monday, August 18, 2008

The News in Pakistan

Barring some major development in the presidential race or another Brittney Spears sighting, it's likely that the big news of the day (and maybe even tomorrow) is going to be the resignation of Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf. This didn't exactly come out of the blue. The opposition party in the Parliment has been working to impeach him and his popularity in his country has dropped dramatically. Still, it's a pretty big deal.

I don't know much about Pakistan or what the real conditions/possibilities/opportunities there are at this point. I do know that it's a country pretty important to our interests and that it's very much in our interests to have that country as stable as possible. The last thing we need is another Muslim country in the region becoming unstable and have it turn into a breeding ground for still more terrorists.

One thing that struck me as interesting is how democratic the whole thing is taking place, especially given that Musharraf took power in a military coup. True, it was a bloodless coup (as the press keeps pointing out), but a coup is a coup. Now under pressure from the popularly elected parliment, the president is resigning in an orderly way, apparently without using the military for some sort of desperation power play. The next few days and weeks will make things more clear, but I think that's an encouraging sign.

Friday, August 15, 2008

The State of Affairs

Barack Obama has a new ad out that seems to be responding to McCain's celebrity ads. The gist of the ad is the old childhood retort: "I know you are, but what am I?" The ad shows clips of McCain on David Letterman, the View, SNL, and other shows. There's also clips of him being hugged by George Bush (which I think should appear in every Obama ad). It's not a bad ad in that it points out the hypocrisy of McCain's campaign, but I don't think it's a very good ad either. The problem with it is that it cedes the terms of the debate to McCain. Now the ad wars are about who's the bigger celebrity. That's ridiculous. It was silly when McCain did it and it's just as silly now that Obama's doing it.

As Joe Klein points out in this excellent column, there is a very real choice before voters this year that has nothing to do with who has been on TV more. McCain and Obama offer starkly contrasting views on foreign policy, domestic policy, economic policy, and any other kind of policy that there is. This is a real election about where we want to go as a country. At least, it could be a real election about where we want to go as a country. We just aren't getting that right now. Instead we're getting a comprehensive debate that boils down to "You're a celebrity!" "No, you're a celebrity!" "No, you're a celebrity!" "No, you are!" It makes me sad.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Tom Cruise at the Olympics

I've got the Olympic fever. You know, the kind where you find yourself sitting in front of the TV shouting things at athletes competing in sports you didn't actually know existed. At least, that's how I've been spending my evenings.

It was while I was watching swimming coverage last night that a slightly more political thought occurred to me. Namely, that the Tom Cruise Effect was in full force. I've written about this a couple of times before. The gist of the effect is that no matter what happens, the media will fit it into a particular established narrative (e.g. Tom Cruise is crazy). No matter what happens, the event will get shoehorned into whatever narrative the media is telling at the time.

That's what brings me to the Olympics. I'm not sure if you've noticed, but Michael Phelps is kind of a big deal. He already has more gold medals than anyone else in history and he's shooting to break the record for most gold medals at a single Olympic games. This is undeniably a historic undertaking and in responses, the press has made pretty much the whole Olympics (at least in the Cube) about Phelps.

So last night I was watching an interview with Jason Lezak. A few days ago he swam the anchor leg in the 4x100 freestyle relay. (Michael Phelps was also on that team.) Behind by nearly an entire body length with only about 25 meters to go, Lezak caught up to the French anchor and out touched him at the wall to win the race. It was an incredible feat of swimming, it set the world record, the drama was incredible, and all the press could talk about is how it relates to Michael Phelps. During the interview I saw last night the reporter was talking about how Lezak's swim helped Phelps. Lezak took it in stride, but also very clearly wanted to make it known that he was a swimmer too who'd just earned a gold medal. Not that it mattered for much in the eyes of the media.

Also, check out this story. It's a story about a French swimmer winning a gold medal, but by the end it's turned to Michael Phelps.

Don't get me wrong, I like Michael Phelps a lot and I'm glad he's on our side. I think he's also a great example of how the press always falls victim to the Tom Cruise Effect, no matter what's being covered.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

All Sizzle, No Steak

I think that for the most part Obama has been unfairly painted as being flush with style but short on substance. From issue to issue he has well considered positions and - if the latest round of ads is any indication - seems to have a much better focus on issues that McCain does.

That being said, the Obama campaign's announcement that they will be notifying supporters directly about Obama's choice for VP struck me as all steak and no sizzle. It seems like an awful lot of hype for something that isn't all that noteworthy.

I get that the intention is to show that the people are directly the ones who matter in this race. It's not about the press or the elite. It's about the regular folks who've been giving their $25 dollars. Okay, I see that. What I don't see is how much of a difference this makes. CNN will have the news on the air about 30 seconds after the e-mail goes out. All the papers will have it in their online editions about two minutes after that. So what's really the point?

I guess the point is that it makes a statement. It's a symbol. I get that. I do. I just don't think it matters that much.

P.S. I think he's going to pick Bayh.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

The Contrast

Whatever you were planning on doing right now, you should stop and watch this video. Seriously. The music and some of the visuals are a little overdone/melodramatic, but it's scary. It's called Republicans and Military Men on John McCain. The gist is that McCain's first instinct is always to rely on force. He's beligerent. In the words of Pat Buchanan in the video, "There's no doubt John McCain is going to be a war president. Can anybody see John McCain as kind of a peace time, Calvin Coolidge president?"

The answer is no. I can't see that. And that scares me a lot. So watch this video. After you see it, you may find yourself wanting to visit this site too.

In the interests of bringing balance to this post, here's the latest anti-Obama ad. How's that for a contrast?

Monday, August 11, 2008

Stupid People

Though I hate to do it, I feel like I should probably throw in my two cents on the whole Edwards affair thing. I can sum it up in one word: stupid. It was stupid to do, it was stupid how the thing got covered, and it's stupid how the media is now talking about it like it may make or break the election. But mainly it was stupid to do. Really stupid.

First of all, the rounds of media covereage now of how this affects Obama's chances or McCain's chances in the general election are pretty silly. I mean, neither of them had an affair. Democrats aren't going to bring this up against Republicans because it was a Democrat who did it. Republicans won't bring it up against Democrats because you know that the Dems would shoot back with Larry Craig/Mark Foley and they were worse. So that's all pretty much a moot point.

And no, it's not covering for a person not to report in the mainstream press everything the National Enquirer prints. So let's get over that right now.

Mainly though, I'm stunned at how stupid Edwards turned out to be. He was generally thought by people (including me) to be a good, decent person. A nice guy. He'd suffered tragedy, but was working to move on. He had two adorable kids and a wife with cancer. He just seemed decent. At least when the Spitzer thing broke we already knew he was kind of a jerk. That helped deal with the shock a little bit. This time, Edwards came out of left field and ruined the reputation and image he'd spent a lifetime building.

Edwards is a smart guy, I'm sure. He's also really dumb.

Friday, August 8, 2008

The Friday Funnies

Say what you will about the campaign this year, but funny is not an adjective that's been coming up a lot. Sure, some things have been fairly comical, but those are mostly unintentional. We haven't really seen anything that's outright funny.

Maybe the tide is shifting on that, or maybe I'm just catching up, but there's two web videos you should definitely watch if you haven't already.

First, Paris Hilton released a video response to John McCain's celebrity ad. It's not exactly biting satire or anything (I mean, what do you really expect from her), but you've got to love a video with the line, "Thanks for the endorsement white haired dude."

Then, there's Jib Jab's video, Time for Some Campaignin'. The highlight here is Obama in a Disney-fied forest surrounded by rainbows and singing animals as he rides a unicorn and sings "The change we must change is the change we hold dear. I really like change. Have I made myself clear?"

As the campaigns themselves get more and more ridiculous, it's nice to know that not everyone is taking it so seriously.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

The Case Against School Choice

I wrote a few days ago about John McCain's education plan, which puts emphasis on allowing "school choice for all who want it." I wrote at the time, that the plan simply doesn't work, but I want to get a little more into that today. On the surface, school choice - especially for kids in underperforming schools - seems like such a saving grace. But once you look at it, it becomes clear that it's not the education panacea it's often portrayed as.

First of all, there's the obvious problem that there simply aren't enough top notch schools around to offer "school choice for all who want it." In New York City, for instance, there's barely enough school space in the good schools for the kids who live in the area. How are you then going to bring in other kids who want to attend those schools? We can't really rely on a system that has the built-in limitation of space to address all of the problems facing schools. There isn't enough space in the high performing schools to bring in all the students from the low performing schools.

Advocates for choice will counter this by saying that school choice provides market incentives for all schools to do better. Under this thinking, if the schools have to essentially compete for students, the low performing schools will get their acts together and actually start teaching (or something like that). Then, the argument goes, all schools will get better. The only problem is that the facts don't support this argument. As Sol Stern (a one-time school choice advocate) wrote in this article for City Journal, the facts of vouchers don't support the hype. Stern looked at the case of Milwaukee, a city that had instituted a fairly comprehensive voucher-type program. What he found was that the schools did not get better. Competition did not breed better schools. The facts don't support the voucher argument. John Adams was right when he said, "Facts are stubborn things."

Choice advocates will then come back and say that while it may not improve the whole school system, vouchers or similar programs at least help the kids who get to go to better schools. But again, facts are stubborn things and they don't support this argument either. Washington D.C. implemented a voucher program for poor kids to allow them to attend better schools. Vouchers were assigned by random lottery from among the kids whose parents had applied to be part of the lottery. A study conducted two years after the lottery found no significant difference in student achievement between the kids who were selected by the lottery and went to the better schools and those students who applied but were not selected and stayed where they were. That's an incredible finding because it means that not only do voucher programs not help the entire system, they don't even really help the kids they're supposedly targeting.

There's no question that school choice is an appealing theory on how to improve schools. Intuitively it seems to make sense. Reality is more intractable. We need to recognize that education reform can't be a matter of pulling kids up one at a time. It just doesn't work. We need to recognize that if we want to improve the school system, we need to work to improve all schools. This is harder to do. But greater than the difficulty is the imperative for getting it done.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

They Have HOW Much?

Every so often, usually just when I think things have gotten as ridiculous as they can get, something comes along that's so forehand smackingly ridiculous that I need to actually smack my own forehead.

The last thwack comes courtesy of the situation in Iraq (of course) where the United States has spent about $48 billion on reconstruction since 2003. Meanwhile, over that same time period, Iraq was running up a budget surplus of $80 billion!


Don't get me wrong, I'm all for helping to create a stable Iraq, but if they've got the money, shouldn't they be paying for it? I mean, I guess we're paying anyway given that 94% of Iraq's revenue comes from oil and we're paying such high prices for it. But shouldn't we only be paying that country once? I mean, after liberating them and helping them create a democracy and having freedom ring and all that, shouldn't they be chipping in a little of that $80 billion toward building their own country? They could pay off all of our investment there and still have a budget surplus of $32 billion.

Oh, and did I mention that we're running a deficit in this country?

But don't worry, U.S. officials are working with the Iraqis and "progress is being made." Oh good. Can I have my money back now?

It kills me to read stuff like this. I mean, isn't anybody at the top paying attention and saying, "Hey, before we write another huge multi-billion dollar check, should we see if the Iraqis have any money they can chip in?" I can't believe this guy got re-elected.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Right Issue, Wrong Position

After months of sentence parsing minutiae and rounds of fervent media coverage of every utterance by the candidates, it's looking like someone in this campaign is finally going to talk about education - arguably the most important domestic issue we face today. Too bad it's the Republican who brought it up.

Sunday's New York Daily News featured an op-ed commentary from John McCain explaining his plan for education. Unsurprisingly, he's in favor of good schools and against bad schools. Given how often he's been changing positions in this campaign, it's not a given that things will stay that way, but it's where we are now. Anyway, give him credit for at least taking on the issue.

Pledging to be on the side of "major reform" of the education system, McCain offers the standard Republican Party line on education. Vouchers, more choice, accountability, and reducing the influence of the teachers' unions. Again, give him credit for being willing to take on the issue, but this is not the way to go about it.

I've written over and over again on this page about my deep reservations regarding vouchers and school choice models. In addition to weakening the foundations of public education (themselves the foundations of an integrated democracy) they simply don't work. Study after study has demonstrated no significant benefit to school choice or voucher programs. Sure, everyone can cite a story about some poor kid whose life was turned around, but ultimately we have to be bound by evdence, not anecdotes. And the evidence is not on the side of school vouchers.

Also, McCain's line "school choice for all who want it" simply isn't going to be workable. We simply don't have enough good schools to house all the kids who would choose to be leaving bad schools. If we had enough good schools we wouldn't have kids trying to leave their schools. They'd already be at the good schools.

McCain also writes that, "We will award bonuses as well to our highest-achieving teachers. And instead of measuring teacher achievement by conformity to process, we will measure it by the success of their students." Presumably this means that we'll be measuring teacher achievement by conformity to the testing process. I've said this over and over again: Accountability is not an educational philosophy! Testing does not help kids learn! Tests measure, they don't teach.

The larger truth that McCain misses in addressing education reform is that it can't be focused entirely on the schools. Yes, schools need to be a large part of the equation, but that alone isn't enough. As David Brooks wrote just last week, family environments have a huge impact on educational achievement. That's why Obama's plans for increased early education and after school program funding (dismissed early on by McCain) are so essential.

McCain is talking about the right issue, he's just addressing it in the wrong way. Hopefully he's opened the door and the issue actually becomes an issue in this campaign.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Swifter Boats and the Ad I'd Like to See

I don't know if you've seen John McCain's latest ad - called "The One" - but it's worth checking out. It takes the whole Obama-is-popular/too-arrogant theme to a near messianic level. Well, maybe not near messianic. I think that line gets crossed. After shot after shot of Obama saying things like "we are the change we have been waiting for" and "this was the moment the rise of the oceans began to cease" the music stops and the narrator intones, "Barack Obama may be the one, but is he ready to lead?"

Never mind that McCain is hardly free of accusations of hubris himself, this ad struck me as amazing for out swifting the previous swift boatings. The commonly used definition of swift boating is turning your opponent's strength into a weakness. In 2004, this meant turning John Kerry's war record into a negative. This was done (and pay attention here) by painting Kerry as having lied about his war record and exaggerated his claims to medals, etc.

That's different from what's being done here. What's being done now by McCain is painting Obama's popularity (one of his strengths) as a negative in itself. He's not saying that Obama is lying about being well-liked (as the original swift boaters did), he's suggesting that Obama is popular and that's a bad thing. The 2004 equivalent would be people saying "Do we really want a war hero in the Oval Office? Is that what we want?"

It's a remarkable bit of campaign chutzpah to take a lot of smiling photos of Obama being cheered by crowds and put it in an ad for his opponent. It seems like the risk of backfiring on that is going to be pretty strong. But I suppose that's just one of the risks of running a respectful campaign.

Anyway, now that McCain is obviously on offense, I think it's time for Obama to start shooting back. So here's the ad I'd like to see.

Open with this shot and then maybe this one. Narrator ominously reads some figures about the worsening economy. Cut to shot of McCain saying he doesn't really know anything about the economy. Narrator says something about the dangerous world we live in. Cut to McCain singing "Bomb bomb Iran." Cut to McCain confusing Shiites and Sunnis. Cut to McCain saying he's fine leaving U.S. troops in Iraq for 100 years. Narrator says that people are looking for change. Cut to shot of McCain saying he doesn't really know how to use a laptop computer. Narrator says, "Is he ready to lead?" And fade to black.

McCain says his ads are designed to show the differences between the two candidates. Let's see how he does once those differences really are made clear.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Fat and Stupid

I usually hate the phrase "nanny state" because it's often used to deride policies that I at least sort of agree with. But every so often I come across something that makes me want to thwack my forehead and ask what people are thinking.

I mention this because the Los Angeles City Council has just passed a law that places a one year moratorium on building new fast food places in South Central L.A. Apparently the New York City Council is considering a similar bill.

I get the thinking here. There's no question that childhood obesity is a problem and that fast food is not helping to solve the problem. However, banning the restaurants from certain areas seems like crossing a line from helpful government policy into needless interference with how people live (and eat) in their own lives.

Of course, there's also the fact that this bill WON'T WORK! As Reuters notes, there are already over 400 fast food restaurants in the area affected by the ban. That's 400 restaurants that people can continue to eat at because there's nothing in the bill to close those places down. (I hope I didn't just give L.A. an idea for a companion piece of legislation.) The point is, those 400 eateries have done a fine job getting people fat without the help of any more. For some reason, I don't envision anyone saying, "Well, I was going to eat McDonald's like I always do, but since there are only 400 in this neighborhood and they aren't allowed to open another one for a year, I guess I'll have a garden salad and go exercise instead." Maybe I'm wrong.

In the final reading, this law upsets me for two reasons. First, it needlessly meddles in how people choose to live their lives. Second, it doesn't even do that effectively. Let's hope New York decides it has better things to do.