Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Waterston on Unity08

In today's Politico, Sam Waterston has another very good essay on Unity08 and its potential.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Another Two Cents' Worth on Pennies

I've expounded at some length before on the state of coinage in America, but will comment again using David Margolick's intersting NYT op/ed from yesterday as a starting point (I thought it appropriate to wait until today, Lincoln's birthday, to weigh in).

Margolick's piece begins as quite an interesting brief history of the Lincoln penny, discussing well the great clamor its introduction caused back in 1909. "Only when you consider the Lincoln penny’s glorious origins," he writes, "can you see how far it has fallen; long after it earned a decent and respectful retirement it must soldier on - burials it’s had aplenty, as a dip into any landfill shows - victim of inflation and inertia, political maneuvering and national vanity."

After pointing out the utter worthlessness (figurative and literal) of today's penny, Margolick notes "there are periodic attempts to eliminate the Lincoln cent, which now costs more to make than it’s worth, but they’re always beaten back by an odd coalition of zinc manufacturers, Illinois politicians, rank sentimentalists and charities running penny drives. Here there are also efforts to restore the coin to at least some of its former glory. For the Lincoln bicentennial two years from now, the reverse side of the coin will sport four new designs, each commemorating a place where Lincoln lived. Then, in 2010, the back of the coin will be used to represent Lincoln saving the union. On any other object, these would be worthwhile, even noble, goals. But on the penny, they simply mean five new versions of something to step on, toss out and pave over. It hardly sounds like an honor ... To hold Abraham Lincoln hostage to an object of such universal contempt is a disgrace."

The author's suggestion is to move Lincoln to a new coin, either $2 or $5, "so that our greatest president can be on the country’s most valuable coin instead of its most reviled one." Like me, Margolick favors a simple abolition of the outmoded and obnoxious penny; he adds "if, for reasons of habit or political expedience, we foolishly keep it around, then perhaps it should commemorate some president appropriate to its lowly station, perhaps James J. Buchanan or Andrew Johnson." Presumably tongue-in-cheek, that last bit, but on the whole I agree with what he's getting at. If we are to honor Lincoln (and we should), then let us do it in a more meaningful way than on the penny.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

"Barack the Vote"

In case you missed it, Senator Barack Obama officially announced his candidacy for president this morning from Springfield. It was a good speech; he did himself proud, and he got the crowd fired up on what looked like an awfully cold day out there. The line I liked best, and one I hadn't heard before, was about how it might seem rather presumptuous of him to announce for president after only having been in the Senate for two years, "I've been there long enough to know that the ways of Washington must change!"

He's right, of course, and that's what I think is very attractive about Obama to many, many people (myself included). It was what attracted me to John McCain eight years ago (gosh that seems so long ago now), and it's something that I think is hard to capture in any sustained way. If anyone can do it this time around, I think it's Obama. It's the challenge he issues to our generation that we can be better, that if we can get over our petty partisanship and work together to get things done, they can happen. True, it's a little idealistic, but frankly a little idealism wouldn't be a bad thing in this country right now. Who knows how this campaign's going to work itself out - it's going to be a long, hard slog - but I think given the choices out there, Obama's message is the one that's going to be the most different and the one that's going to be the most inspiring to people across the ideological spectrum.

After the speech C-SPAN took a few calls - usually I don't listen to the calls since they scare me to death for the state of this country, but today I paid attention for a few minutes. One person asked if Obama was Irish (after hearing Ted Kennedy make a joke about it and apparently taking him seriously). Another asked if Americans had considered the repercussions of electing a Muslim president - when the host informed her that Obama was a member of the United Church of Christ, she said she'd heard that he'd changed his middle name to Mohammed and embraced Islam. The host then told her his actual name, and she said "oh, thanks" and hung up. Of about the ten calls I heard, however, most were strongly supportive. Clearly Obama's got some name recognition issues to work on and some misperceptions to overcome ... I suppose one advantage of the incredibly long campaign season might be that these things will fade in time.

It's certainly going to be an interesting year and a half.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

In Boston's Defense

It's now been almost a week since these guys caused a very edgy few hours in the city I'm currently calling home. Almost all day Wednesday we in Boston got updates of new suspicious devices being discovered at various locations around the city; traffic was snarled; the status of public transportation was unclear - it was a little nerve-wracking. Once it became clear that nothing was actually going to explode, we all breathed a sigh of relief. Come to find out, of course, the whole thing was caused by nothing more than an obnoxiously-placed and ill-conceived "marketing campaign" for a cable cartoon show (which I freely confess I'd never even heard of until that evening).

As Boston Globe writer Lisa Wangsness reported on Monday, the official reaction to the "Mooninite Invasion" has prompted some not-so-good-natured ribbing from comedians, bloggers, and others from Boston and beyond (including, I must note, the two men arrested for placing the devices, who held a bizarre press conference following their first court appearance at which they would answer questions about nothing except hairstyles). Many people seem to be finding it amusing (and even surprising) that a major coastal city would take serious action after odd-looking devices with battery packs were discovered on bridges, underpasses and various other infrastructural locations.

The reaction, in my view and in the view of many others I've spoken with this week, was both efficient and effective. Boston, Cambridge and Somerville officials took the necessary steps to keep people safe from what appeared for a time to be a serious threat. The only thing that ended up bothering me about how this event was handled is the fact that the devices had been up for more than a week before being discovered! That's the troubling part, and is clearly something that needs to be/is being addressed. As for their handling of the response, however, I think the city managed it fairly well. It all ended up being a needless disruption - but frankly I'd much rather have a needless disruption than the alternative.

Yes, in hindsight the whole thing is slightly amusing. But last Wednesday, it wasn't funny. Seeing bomb squad trucks outside, hearing news helicopters overhead for hours on end, not knowing whether your friends and coworkers had made it across the river from Cambridge or would be able to get home easily that night - that wasn't funny. Getting more and more reports of "strange devices" found all over the city all day long - that wasn't funny. Not being sure that there wasn't going to be a massive explosion somewhere nearby - that wasn't funny. We weren't laughing. That's not overreaction, that's just the world we live in.