Friday, April 29, 2011

Change - Too Fantastic to Be True

I have never been convinced by Obama's vaguely defined, hallucinating and fantastic change mantra during his campaign, therefore, was spared of the rude shock of his two and a quarter year's unsatisfactory presidency, which if has not awakened his eager followers from their collective rose-hued dreams, this new blow reported by Associated Press below, hopefully, would open their eyes, and push them to demand what they want to see.
White House, newspaper clash over protest video

The White House says a San Francisco Chronicle reporter broke the rules when she put down her pen and picked up a video camera to film a protest. The newspaper says the Obama administration needs to join the 21st century.

The conflict hit the newspaper's front page Friday with a story about coverage of the protest during President Barack Obama's speech last week at a private fundraiser.

Reporter Carla Marinucci had White House permission to cover the fundraiser as a so-called "pool" reporter, meaning she could attend as long as she shared her notes with the White House to distribute to other reporters.

Marinucci was covering the event when about a half-dozen protesters who paid a combined $76,000 to attend the breakfast broke into a song chastising Obama for the government's treatment of Pfc. Bradley Manning, an Army intelligence analyst suspected of illegally passing government secrets to the WikiLeaks website.

"We paid our dues, where's our change?" the protesters sang.

Although a print reporter, Marinucci is seldom seen without a small video recorder while covering politicians. She captured video of the protest, which was posted with her written story in the online edition of the Chronicle and on its politics blog.

White House officials say that breached the terms of her access, which stated Marinucci was to provide a print-only report.

Editor Ward Bushee said in the Chronicle's story Friday that the paper acted within its rights to cover the newsworthy incident.

He also said White House officials in off-the-record conversations Thursday threatened to bar Marinucci from pool coverage of future presidential appearances. He added that the officials, whom Bushee did not name, threatened to freeze out Chronicle and other Hearst Newspaper chain reporters if they reported on the threat against Marinucci.

"We expect our reporters to use the reporting tools they have to cover the news, and Carla did," Bushee said in the Chronicle story. The White House rule against print reporters shooting and posting video is "objectionable and just is not in sync with how reporters are doing their jobs these days." he said.

After Josh Earnest, another White House spokesman, told the Politico website that officials had not made such threats, Carney said in a statement Friday that "no reporters have been banned from covering future presidential events."

The protesters' own footage ended up appearing on "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart."

The fundraiser came a day after Obama appeared at the Palo Alto headquarters of Facebook, praising the social media giant for enabling a more open, two-way conversation between citizens and politicians. The president said he was interested in holding the event, billed as a social media town hall, because young people especially were now getting their information through a range of different media.

San Francisco Chronicle's Editorials summarized it eloquently and I'm going to quote it in its entirety:
Administration exercises its control freak streak

The White House that fancies itself as the most transparent in history is not without its control-freak instincts when it comes to media access.

It seems that Team Obama was none too pleased that veteran Chronicle political reporter Carla Marinucci posted a 40-second video of a group of supporters-turned-protesters serenading the president a cappella - "We paid our dues ... where's our change" - at a recent fundraising breakfast at San Francisco's St. Regis Hotel. The protesters' objection: the treatment of Wikileaks source Pfc. Bradley Manning.

The White House threatened that Marinucci would no longer be allowed to serve as a pool reporter during future Obama swings west. Marinucci's apparent offense was shooting video during an event that was closed to broadcast journalism.

Last we checked, this was the 21st century, and Obama was the politician with the comfortable mastery of social networking - at least when it serves his purposes, as in having a cozy town hall at Facebook or soliciting donations for what is expected to be a $1 billion re-election campaign.

The White House appeared to be backing off from its banishment of Marinucci late Thursday. Still, the fact that television and radio reporters are not allowed into most fund-raising events is unacceptable. We also find ourselves disturbed that some print journalists would go along with the administration's attempt to pull an audio and video curtain at fund-raising events.

It seems the White House was reserving amateur broadcast rights for the 200 guests who paid between $5,000 and $38,500 to help re-elect a president who so reveres semi-transparency. Perhaps Obama trusted that his admission-paying admirers would not upload any off-message clips recorded on their cell-phone cameras. Unfortunately for the White House, it didn't work in this case. The protesters who paid $76,000 for their breakfast table also shot video - and it ended up on Jon Stewart's Daily Show.

The administration's overreaction to the protest-song video seems way out of scale with its embarrassment factor. It's hardly on par with candidate Obama's April 2008 remarks about bitter small town folks who cling to "guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't like them" that was captured by a blogger.

News happens at fund-raisers. Journalists should be there, with the modern tools of the trade, free to make their own judgments about what is newsworthy.

An administration truly dedicated to transparency would not require journalists to be "in the tank" as a condition of being in the pool.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Logic Be Damned - on California's Proposition 8

Logic has never been a strong suit for Republicans and their complaint on the trial judge, U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker, who ruled last year that the California's Proposition 8 ballot initiative denying marriage rights to same-sex couples was unconstitutional.

They claimed that Judge Walker should have disqualified himself to preside the trial because he was gay and have been in a long term relationship and his unconstitutional finding of Proposition 8, which stripped away the same-sex couples' constitutional rights to marry legally in California, would benefit Judge himself.

If Judge Walker did disqualify himself for being gay, then who could step in? A heterosexual individual? Then that person might be benefit from upholding the Proposition, therefore he/she should be disqualified as well, if the Proposition 8's supporters logic stands.

That leaves us only avowed asexual individuals. But even asexual persons are mostly not avert from forming a long-lasting relationship, therefore, they are suspicious as well.

If we replace Judge Walker with a heterosexual person, on the assumption that heterosexuals would not benefit from the Proposition, then what was the purpose of the Proposition? It would not benefit any group of people, and only harm another, the minority. There you go, it sounds discriminatory to me.

Companion / 夥伴 / Begleiter

Companion © Matthew Felix Sun

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Brewing "Three Cups of Tea"

I was surprised that I not only read an article by the ultra-conservative Debra J. Saunders, and even agreed with most what she said on the "Cult of 'Three Cups of Tea'": 
The first tip-off that Greg Mortenson's memoir "Three Cups of Tea" has some credibility issues comes in the book's introduction. Co-author David Olivier Relin writes that as Mortenson is flying over Pakistan, the helicopter pilot marvels to Mortenson, "I've been flying in northern Pakistan for 40 years. How is it you know the terrain better than me?"

The pilot also confides, "Flying with President Musharraf, I've become acquainted with many world leaders, many outstanding gentlemen and ladies. But I think Greg Mortenson is the most remarkable person I've ever met."

People don't talk like that. Books don't lead with that level of self-aggrandizement. Unless they want to induct you into a cult.

One main departure from her assertion on the phenomena is liberalism. She said "Instead he sold 3 million books. Why? Through the pouring of "Three Cups," Mortenson came to personify every liberal conceit."

I think the brewing of such "Three Cups of Tea" rooted deeply in the American Exceptionalism. It was the deeply misguided and self-congratulatory habits of Americans who still imagine themselves as the savior to rescue others from barbarism. 

The world has always been vastly different from that concept and with the waning influence of the U.S. power, many Americans are clinging to that concept as life boat.  Too bad.   That concept would prevent us from understanding and improving our positions in the world.

I'll quote Saunder again to finish this blog:
A caller asked: How are we supposed to know a book is a phony?

Hmmmm. If the cash-giving girls-school-loving Taliban tale doesn't ring a bell, if the constant reminders of Mortenson's greatness - and modesty - don't do the trick, maybe there is another warning sign. Global Fund for Women Vice President Shalini Nataraj warned about any memoir that hails "the white savior who's going to come in and save the local people."
3/365: Three cups of tea
Flickr Image By Elle-Epp

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Homemaking as a Profession

San Francisco Chronicle likes to publish opinions on certain issues from local people.  One of such I read several days ago, featured a woman who identified her profession as a homemaker.  That particular piece of information amply demonstrated why the U.S. is to lose its leading position in the world.

I have no problem with people chose not to work if they can afford it.  However, calling staying home and taking care of family a profession is downright silly.

Today, again, on Chronicle, I read a letter to the editor on taxes for schools.  The author commented that "we need good schools if we want to continue our standing in the world.  The taxes necessary to support our schools are needed right now to support our world standing."

I wholehearted agree with his assertion.  However, the example he gave as what mounted to good education, again, proved outdated and lacking competitive edge.  He stated that he "went through the grades K-12 during the Depression years.  During that time we enjoyed elective courses like shop, music, cooking and others."

Very interesting fact.  Schools are educational institutions and the primary goal there is teaching students knowledge and the methods on how to acquire knowledge and critical thinking.  Other benefits, are side benefits.  I am not saying schools should only teach courses strictly related to the student's future path.  As a matter of fact, I graduated from a great high school in China, while other schools stopped teaching science track students of liberal art in high school, in order to prepared students for college entrance exams, mine continued to teach us history, geography, music, fine art, and physical education, till one year before the exams, and that had indeed enriched me tremendously.  However, schools cannot teach everything.  Cooking and shopping should be taught by parents and guardians not the resources of teachers.  Making time available for those light courses, also reduces time for students to learn in-depth knowledge.  Therefore, I see partial reasons the failure of our K-12 educational system.  When the schools and universities continue to treat Home Economics, Cheering Leading as a part of the serious education, we are doomed to such failure.

I am appalled by the inhumane methods of a "tiger mother", but the ever lowering expectation in this country is the demise of us.  We need to demand more from our students. 

Funding for schools needs to be sufficient but it is not the only problem.

Entering into a great college in China, I met fellow students came from countryside, who had never had chance to see a test tube let alone conducting an chemical, biological or physical experiments.  They memorized procedures and imaged how things were done.   They prevailed in tough college entrance exams and went to be become wonderful engineers, researchers and professors.

Schools should be well-funded.  However, failing of that, should not prevent us from succeeding.  The only obstacle to present that is our lacking the will to succeed.

Ask many immigrants and they'll tell you so.

Domesticity / 家居 / Häuslichkeit

Thursday, April 21, 2011

High Gas Price - Reckoning Time?

There were many complains about the rising gas price and some same ideas were recycled again such as tapping into strategic oil reserves, giving gas tax vacation, etc.

None of these did not dress the fundamental issue that our car culture and way of life is not sustainable and must be changed.

Working people need to abandon their faraway suburban homes and move to where jobs are and rely on public transits.

At the same time, high speed rail became controversy again, mostly about the cost-efficiency and the usage projections.  Legitimate questions for sure.  However, some of the arguments the opponents put forth didn't make sense.  One of the op-ed pieces in San Francisco Chronicle calculated with the air traffic between San Francisco and Los Angeles to project the potential users of the proposed high speed rail.  However, the rail has been planned with the goal to replace not only many air traffic but also automobile traffic.  Ignoring that large portion of the targeted audience is unscientific and dishonest.

What we should have done but failed miserably was following through President Carter's strategy and become less dependent on fossil fuel.  For years, Americans have enjoyed the artificial cheap gasoline and now it's reckoning time.  It's painful but we must meet this issue head on.

Republicans love to talk about taking personal responsibilities and I hope they would come out of their comfort zone and be a true champion of real personal responsibility.  Is there any true Republican out there?

Kampf / 抗爭 / Kampf

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

President, Constitutional Monarch, Saint

The federal government shutdown was averted at the last moment, after the poor and the middle class paid heavily to make room for tax cut for the rich.  After that, a most amazing event took place - President Obama came out of his hideout and proclaimed victory.

This president's reluctance to fight for any principle is highly unacceptable, considering after George W. Bush's reign, it was a perfect storm for correcting the wrongs.  Obama wrestled the opportunity from his competitors and opponents then squandered it on his vain hope to unite the deeply polarized nation.

His determination to stay above the nitty-gritty politics suits a constitutional monarch well.  For a political leader a president supposed to be, his such effort resulted in the disarming of his own party.

His such effort also rendered a present missing in action.  His opponent liked to call the biggest achievement in his troubled presidency Obamacare.  However, to be fair for those who drafted and fought for the bill, it really should have been called Pelosicare.  What achievement can we really attribute to his most intelligent president?

At the eve of the government shutdown, Obama announced his plan to run for re-election, with a goal of raising $1 billion obscene amount of money.  Why would we want to have a president we might be able to fight for the right direction of the country but refuse to?

Paul Krugman in his article The President Is Missing

During the fight over extending tax cuts for the rich, Obama compromised early and tried to mollify his disgruntled supporters that he would fight it in the future, implying after hie re-election.  However, his track record is a poor advertisement for such hope.  It's too big to be true.

Some Republicans have made defeating Obama their top priorities.  It seems to me that Obama has made his re-election the top priority.  It might be the top priority of his, but by no means the rest of the nation, or the left half of the nation.

We need to yank this country to the right track.  With an aloof, hands off constitutional monarch, such effort is doomed to fail, particularly after he'd surrendered his narrative and ability to define the political debate in the nation.

Paul Krugaman said this in his article The President Is Missing:
His remarks after last week’s budget deal were a case in point.
Maybe that terrible deal, in which Republicans ended up getting more than their opening bid, was the best he could achieve — although it looks from here as if the president’s idea of how to bargain is to start by negotiating with himself, making pre-emptive concessions, then pursue a second round of negotiation with the G.O.P., leading to further concessions.

What’s going on here? Despite the ferocious opposition he has faced since the day he took office, Mr. Obama is clearly still clinging to his vision of himself as a figure who can transcend America’s partisan differences. And his political strategists seem to believe that he can win re-election by positioning himself as being conciliatory and reasonable, by always being willing to compromise.

But if you ask me, I’d say that the nation wants — and more important, the nation needs — a president who believes in something, and is willing to take a stand. And that’s not what we’re seeing. 

If you still believe in his promise to fight the tax cuts, it's time for reality check.  Obama now jumped into Republican's bandwagon and wants to cut more federal spending in the future.  Now you see, that the political debate in the next general election is about spending cut, not tax cut repeal. 

Krugman continued:
I realize that with hostile Republicans controlling the House, there’s not much Mr. Obama can get done in the way of concrete policy. Arguably, all he has left is the bully pulpit. But he isn’t even using that — or, rather, he’s using it to reinforce his enemies’ narrative.
It seems to me that being a constitutional monarch is not really Obama's goal.  He actually is running for sainthood.  However, I prefer a fresh and blood president who fight for the right principles.

Let's not kid ourselves.  Obama has failed to do what the majority elected him to do.  And if he had refused to act in his honey moon, under best circumstance, would you please he would act after being neutered repeatedly?  More important, would you hire someone for another four years after four years' failure?

Even if hope lingers, can he prevail?  When he claims that the ideas of his opponents are good but he can do better, he sets himself up for a defeat, and consequently another four or eight dismal years for American and the world people.

Dirge / 輓歌 / Elegy
Dirge © Matthew Felix Sun

Friday, April 8, 2011

American Consumerism

Last weekend, I stopped by Sur la table in Berkeley and was entertained mightily by the various fanciful gadgets, till I saw something called "Corn De-Silking Brush".

I was speechless and then was seething with anger.   Why on earth such a tool needs to be created?  How much resources - materials, energy, human labor, etc. used to create this utterly replaceable gadget can be used for better, more urgent purposes?

Read this from another online retailer for this brush:
Corn-on-the-Cob just out of the garden is one of the sweetest treats on earth, but cleaning those cobs can be a tiresome chore. With the Clipper Mill Corn De-Silking Brush, you can take the pain out of that chore!
What can be a better example tho show that how utterly careless and thoughtless Americans collectively are and what a consumer nation we are!  When American consumerism becomes so irksome in the world, shouldn't we have some self-inspection?  When people in many countries perhaps would be happy to eat some corn "silk" to fill their bellies, we are too lazy to de-silk with our hands and someone in China many manufacture them for us. 

I often wonder what a factory worker there would think about the purpose of their products and how they'd imagine the buyers of those products.

Corn De-Silking Brush

Friday, April 1, 2011

BP to TEPCO, Lessons Not Learned

A disturbing news from ABC News: Japan Nuclear Crisis: Radiation In Water Reaches New Levels.

However, Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO)'s response to the disaster following earthquake and tsunami were often slow, opaque and reluctant. It rejected aggressive proposals to combat the crisis repeatedly and only had to adopt them later on, much too late. It was a re-run of BP oil spill in Gulf of Mexico, only to even large scale of devastation.

In responding to crises, both companies tried hard to reduce the impacts of disasters for sure; however, it seems to me that if most effective solutions would render their equipments inoperable, they'd cast their eyes to other directions and only after alternatives failed, they'd move back to the more drastic options they rejected at first.

American and Japanese governments are not blame-free here either. They relied on the expertise of the companies and many times, and too eager to trust the guarantees put forth by those companies and had to humiliated themselves along with those companies' retreats.

By nature, commercial entities worry about bottom-line above anything else and those else things often are much more essential for the well beings of the community and sometimes, national securities, as in the case of those investing banks who brought down the world-wide economy with their unchecked but hardly unexpected insatiable greed.

People might argue that market can correct itself and commercial companies will do the right thing, given time.

Well. a seemingly far-fetched analogy might be a perfect one. Chinese Communist Party, had admitted that in the past, it had made grade mistakes. Even so, it insists its legitimacy at all time to rule over Chinese people. Its argument - even though grave mistakes were made by the Party, it was none other the Party who corrected the mistakes.

There you go. We can always trust those corrections, which sure to come, given time.

How long did we wait for BP to seal off the oil spill and how much longer do we have to wait for TEPCO to seal off the radiation?