Archive for February, 2008

Hillary supporters to “Swift Boat” Obama

February 21st, 2008

This report by the Washington Post is disturbing. About 100 contributers have started a 527 PAC called “American Leadership Project” to air attack ads on Obama. At the moment that the Obama campaign has crossed 1 million contributors, 100 ultra-wealthy people are attempting to hijack the primary with $10mm of cynical attack ads.

Here is how the Obama campaign describes the group:

“Here we have a committee that springs up on the eve of an election, promotes a specific candidate, and has no history or apparent purpose of lobbying specific issues outside the benefit to the candidate of these communications,” the memo states. “Its ‘major purpose’ is no mystery.”

And here’s how the spokesperson for the American Leadership Project responds:

“We want to communicate to people where they’re paying the most attention right now. Right now, that’s Ohio and Texas,” he said. “Senator Clinton is a recognized champion of these issues, and we support her positions on health care, the mortgage crisis, the economy, and we say so in the spots. These are positive ads that serve to raise awareness about the issues.”

You can decide which explanation is more plausible for yourself. In my opinion, this proves beyond any doubt that team Clinton (1) is entrenched in money politics and (2) will do anything to get elected. I really hope this backfires.

Here’s a Swift Boat ad to remind you how shameless this tactic really is:

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Virtual Reality coming to my home

February 21st, 2008

I had overheard people talking about using Nintendo’s ‘Wii’ game controllers with their computer, but I had never seen it used before. This grad student at Carnegie Mellon is up to some really cool stuff, and it looks like something I might be able to do with home DVR. He has three projects that I might install in my own home: a “Minority Report”-style controller for the TV; an immersive scene (just for fun); and a digital whiteboard. All of these project can be done for under $100. He provides all the software for free. I just might have to give it a try here at home…

Here’s the stunning example from the head tracking video. Skip to 2:35 if you just want see the results without the explanation:

1. technology

Comparing the campaigns of Obama and Lessig

February 20th, 2008

Lawrence Lessig, a Stanford Law Professor, is considering a run for Congress in a special election in my neighboring Silicon Valley district. He has an interesting ten-minute video on his reasons for consider such a run on his new campaign web site, In a nutshell, his campaign platform involves three principles:

1. Accept no lobbyists/PAC money
2. Banning earmarks
3. Support public finance

He asserts that money in politics is the *cause* of the problems with our government, and that without these fundamental systematic changes we are doomed to fail at solving the political issues that most people care about (social security, health care, etc.) He wants to start a bipartisan movement to reform Congress.

His likely opponent for the Democratic nomination is a career politician who is good but trapped in the current system. For example, she has received $250,000 in contributions from insurance companies–and she is the state senator in charge of regulating insurance companies.

Lessig’s message appeals to me. However, I think that he’s going to have to quickly translate his overarching principles into something pragmatic. He’ll get trounced unless he can turn his high ideals into policy solutions to the real political problems we face.

In this way, I think it is instructive to compare Lessig to Obama. In a previous video, Lessig makes a compelling case to support Obama over Clinton for nearly the same reasons that Lessig himself is considering a Congressional run for office. Clinton, like Lessig’s opponent, is a good career politician who is too invested in the corrupt system to make fundamental change.

But now Obama is facing new choices: will he abandon the public financing system? It seems that he likely will, given his amazing fundraising prowess. To wit: he has 900,000 individual contributors and is shooting to reach 1 million by March 4. Should Obama risk losing the Presidency to support our current public financing scheme?

I imagine that Lessig would recommend staying within the public financing guidelines. But aren’t the current guidelines hopelessly out of date? And what about McCain-Finegold campaign legislation – doesn’t that well-intentioned law have more harmful unintended consequences than benefits? I worry that Lessig’s prescription is naive, because the details of the reform matter a lot.

So, to answer my original question: how do lessig and obama differ? I think Lessig is more idealistic than Obama, perhaps to a fault. And Lessig is less detailed about translating his ideals in pragmatic policy solutions than Obama. But Lessig is really smart, and he is running in a Congressional election not a Presidential one.

I am rooting for him. I will applaud him if he has the guts to test whether his high-minded principles can really work in practice. Go Lessig!

2. politics , ,


February 20th, 2008


I had the great pleasure of watching a screening of Frost-Nixon, a movie that Ron Howard is in the process of making. The movie, which is an adaptation of the play with the same title, is terrific. Frost’s story is incredibly engaging and Nixon is a fascinating character.

Ron Howard was impressive. He fielded a dozen questions from the audience, filling us in on historical accuracy of the film, how he adapted a play for the big screen and the political implications of the film. For example, he fought for and won the battle to have the stage actors play their own roles in the film. He asked us several questions about some final editing decisions (did we understand where Frost was coming from? did the ending work? did we like the choice of music in one scene? did we like the epilogue information at the end? Answers: yes, yes, 50/50 and yes with qualifications and suggestions.)

I recommend that you see it when it is released later this year. And I can’t wait to see if Ron Howard follows any of the advice that I and others in the audience gave him about the epilogue text!

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Debunking myths of global poverty

February 18th, 2008

This twenty minute lecture is a tour-de-force. It is a flashy example of data visualization, but more importantly, it provides important insights about global poverty. Worth your time (after the over-the-top intro), in my opinion.

1. technology, 2. politics , ,

Crazy downhill bike run

February 18th, 2008

I have to think this course looks even crazier in person than in this video. Holy cow. Posted for my cousin Nathan: is this kinda like what you do?

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Terrific web satire

February 15th, 2008

This brings me back to my days as a financial services consultant but it’s really marvelous satire:

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It’s better than voting with ‘invisible ink’

February 8th, 2008

invisible I had a minor voting problem on Super Tuesday in California. Unbeknownst to me, my precinct was turned into a “mail-only” precinct. According to the San Mateo County election department, our precinct was too small (less than 200 people) so we were giving the “opportunity to vote by mail.” I replied, “actually, everyone in California has the opportunity to vote by mail. My precinct is denied the opportunity to vote at a local polling place on election day that almost every other CA resident enjoys.” Two additional points: isn’t the silly election board that draws the precincts in the first place? And if we are so small, wouldn’t it be easy to accommodate the small number of us at our usual polling place, which by the way, is still open?

So, there was no information of what to do on the board of elections web site. I got conflicting advice from the poll workers. One said, go get your mail-in ballot. When I pointed out that it was non-partisan, and did not have the democratic presidential candidates, another worker helpfully suggested that I vote provisionally. I was annoyed at that decision, because it means that my vote will take up to 28 days to be counted.

But then I heard the poll worker say: hey, we are running out of provisional ballots. Steer people away from using them so that we don’t run out! I made the hasty decision to take one of the few remaining ballots (11am!!) so I could vote.

These problems are a BIG deal. More than 1 in 5 voters in the democratic primary in CA are like me as ‘Decline-to-state’ voters, and these voters split better than 2 to 1 in favor of Obama over Clinton. That’s hundreds of thousands of votes. Read this story about the “double bubble trouble” in LA county.

But here’s the worst story so far: Chicago voters were told that broken voting pens were actually ‘invisible ink.’ Wow. We’ve really taken to heart the lessons of the 2000 election, haven’t we?

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Awesome finishes

February 7th, 2008

For those who miss football, here is a video of perhaps the most amazing finish that I have ever seen. Sent to me by a buddy – I have no idea why this vintage footage is floating around at the present time. But a nice way to spend 4 minutes.

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Fired up?

February 4th, 2008

Well, I am ready to go for super tuesday. Please go vote, and vote for Obama!

If you want to help spread the love on facebook, please install this application that I’ve created:


1. technology, 2. politics

Yes, we can

February 4th, 2008

Inspirational video for obama…enjoy!

btw, Obama is up to 50/50 on today. We have a real race here, ladies and gentlemen!

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