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November 2008

John Flinn: Do Travel Writers Fudge the Truth?



Pacifican John Flinn, executive editor of the San Francisco Chronicle travel section, reviews Rolf Potts' new book, Marco Polo Didn't Go There, and interviews the travel writer about the difference (if any) between tourists and travelers, the true meaning (if any) of "authentic," and why Potts included a "special commentary track" (essentially outtakes) at the end of each chapter, confessing all the ugly little secrets about the writing process: the exaggerations, the omissions, the poetic license, the creative stretches. "I wanted to show how the laws of nature and the laws of storytelling are separate entities," Potts told Flinn. This book sounds like an adventure in travel writing, with a detour into philosophy and ethics, just the thing for lovers of side trips.




Obama: "Fresh Thinking"

Obama: 'Change comes . . . from me'

November 26, 2008

Obama referred to his team of advisers as "fresh thinking," adding that the “vision for change comes first and foremost…from me.”

President-elect Barack Obama pushed back at a press conference in Chicago today when asked how he would respond to supporters "who were looking for change," given how many of his announced and rumored appointments thus far are Clinton administration veterans.

“When it comes to the people that we've pulled together -- because I know this has been sort of conventional wisdom floating around Washington -- that, well, you know, there's a recycling of people who were in the Clinton administration,” Obama replied, referring specifically to the economic team he introduced on Monday. “And so it would be surprising if I selected a Treasury secretary who had had no connection with the last Democratic administration because that would mean that the person had no experience in Washington whatsoever.”

He added that it would be troubling had he made appointments with no government experience given the severity of the market meltdown.

In terms of breaking from the past, his team of advisers combine experience with fresh thinking, Obama said, adding that the “vision for change comes first and foremost…from me.”

“That's my job, is to provide a vision in terms of where we are going and to make sure, then, that my team is implementing it,” he said. “I think that when you ultimately look at what this advisory board looks like, you'll say this is a cross-section of opinion that in some ways reinforces conventional wisdom, in some ways breaks with orthodoxy in all sorts of ways.”

MoveOn: Fan Club or Force?

Published on Wednesday, November 26, 2008 by
MoveOn: Fan Club or Force?
By Tom Gallagher

I'd gone to a couple of MoveOn anti-Iraq War events in the past, but it wasn't until last week that I actually attended my first MoveOn meeting. The past events seemed modestly successful, but left me unsure of the organization's capacity outside of cyberspace. This meeting, on the other hand, was downright impressive. There were about a hundred people gathered at a downtown San Francisco restaurant. The group was mostly young, probably to be expected since the event was initially organized by the Young Democrats and only opened to oldsters when other meetings rapidly filled up. And, according to MoveOn, it was just one of more than 1,000 events around the country that night. If only the content had matched the organization.

The event ran according to a tight script, a recorded MoveOn introduction and instructions, with interruptions for conversation on directed topics. And while this highly structured format did not allow for real breadth of expression of opinion, it did serve the purpose of keeping the event on course and on a neat hour-and-a-half schedule. No one was likely to walk away swearing off MoveOn meetings because they didn't get to the point. The point was a "Real Voices for Change" campaign that would involve taking thousands of pictures of people holding signs that, in the words of a MoveOn fund appeal, would "put Congress on notice that we expect them to help pass Obama's bold agenda.

"All of Obama's agenda?" I wondered. Including his proposal to send 7,000 additional troops to Afghanistan? Or the "plans to increase the size of the Army by 65,000 troops and the Marines by 27,000 troops" in the words of his website?  And which bold agenda? The pre-election plan to repeal the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy or the post election economic plan that reportedly no longer includes their repeal, despite the arguably greater current need for the revenue?

Well, probably those parts of the agenda won't make it into the photos on the website, but even the ones that have cry out for more. Like the signs that say "I stand with Obama for an end to the war in Iraq" ˆ do the MoveOn membbers holding them really want sixteen to eighteen more months of combat troops followed by an American military presence continuing indefinitely, as his current plan calls for? I'm guessing a lot of people attending the meetings and getting the e-mail were a lot closer to the more get-out-ASAP positions that Kucinich, Gravel, Richardson, or even Edwards were arguing way back when. Have they really changed their minds on that?  No one's asked.

Or the pictures with the "I stand with Obama for Health Care" signs. I'm guessing there's a lot of people out there who helped put Obama over the top who think his health care plan could use some improving. The smart betting money may not be on passing a single payer plan right away, but don't we still need to remind Congress that in these economic times, we can't afford to be diverting our health care dollars into the redundant and wasteful private health insurance industry boondoggle? And the "I stand with Obama for Clean Energy" sign holders—might they not want to get a clearer idea where the President-elect stands on nuclear power before writing him a blank check? 

The real question is who's supporting whose agenda? MoveOn is an organization of potentially immense influence. the "Real Voices for Change" meetings alone demonstrated that. And were they to poll their members on what they wanted to see in an Iraq withdrawal plan, a health care plan, or a clean energy plan, the organization might be able to throw valuable ideas into the mix that would be quite different from the advice Obama will get from the centrist Cabinet he is in the process of assembling. 

Whether you think Obama's the second coming of FDR or Abraham Lincoln, or whether you consider him comfortably within the Carter-Mondale-Clinton-Gore-Kerry tradition, we should be able to agree that he needs agitators, not cheerleaders. Let's not allow all the deals to be sealed between the Democratic Wall Street types and the Republican Wall Street types. If MoveOn really wants to make something happen, it should make Obama look moderate (which shouldn't be awfully hard) by letting Congress know that there are millions of us out there who want far more than he's talking about. And who knows, if there's enough of us, maybe he will too.

Besides, we should be a bit embarrassed by this kind of thing. If we could just step out of our shoes long enough to imagine how we would view Bush or Reagan supporters cheering their man on to do whatever was on his agenda—no questions asked—we might get an idea of how fooolish this blind boosterism looks to the non-believers.

MoveOn has an impressive decade under its belt. It could have an even more important one in front of it, but not if it resigns itself to handing out pom-poms.


Styrofoam Ban & Petition Download

PACIFICA- North 2 south

Please take a look at our petition to ban the use of styrofoam in Pacifica. This petition includes both solid and foam polystyrene. Solid polystyrene  is as harmful to the environment as the foam in the manufacturing process and in the landfills. It includes all #6 items such as plastic clamshells, cups, and eating utensils. An ever-growing selection of biodegradable/recyclable alternatives are available. As these alternatives become more mainstream, the pricing differential will become insignificant. Our mission is to get 500 or more signatures from Pacifica residents before the styrofoam ban comes up at a future City Council meeting. Help spread the word and get signatures. Ideally, this petition would be for Pacifica residents and perhaps visitors who eat at our restaurants. I already have received signatures from people outside Pacifica. They will not count for the Pacifica presentation, but it is nice to see that people everywhere care! Sign the online here: PETITION

Download polystyrene_petitionhard_copy.pdf is a PDF file (hard copy) of the petition you can download and print out if you prefer to use it to talk with people locally and gather more signatures. It would be nice to have signatures for businesses, too. Please get these signed petitions to me or Ian Butler as soon as possible so that we can tally them and bring them to a future City Council meeting when it comes onto the agenda. We already have at least 190 signatures, mostly Pacifica residents. The City of Pacifica is working with the Pacifica Chamber of Commerce and Pacifica Beach Coalition to hold an educational discussion with local businesses about moving an ordinance forward. How will it affect them? How can the city assist them in changing from styrofoam products to greener alternatives? What concerns do they have? Interested business people can contact Don at the Chamber 355-4122 or Lynn at 355-1668.



First President Who Looks Really Good Making a Jump Shot

Be happy, dear hearts, and allow yourselves a few more weeks of quiet exultation. It isn't gloating, it's satisfaction at a job well done. He was a superb candidate, serious, professorial, but with a flashing grin and a buoyancy that comes from working out in the gym every morning. He spoke in a genuine voice, not senatorial at all.

He relished campaigning. He accepted adulation gracefully. He brandished his sword against his opponents without mocking or belittling them. He was elegant, unaffected, utterly American, and now (Wow) suddenly America is cool. Chicago is cool. Chicago!!!

We threw the dice and we won the jackpot and elected a black guy with a Harvard degree, the middle name Hussein, and a sense of humor. He said, "I've got relatives who look like Bernie Mac, and I've got relatives who look like Margaret Thatcher." The French junior minister for human rights said, "On this morning, we all want to be American so we can take a bite of this dream unfolding before our eyes." When was the last time you heard someone from France say they wanted to be American and take a bite of something of ours? Ponder that for a moment.

The world expects us to elect pompous yahoos and instead we have us a 47-year-old prince from the prairie who cheerfully ran the race, and when his opponents threw sand at him, he just smiled back. He'll be the first president in history to look really good making a jump shot. He loves his classy wife and his sweet little daughters. He looks good in the kitchen. He can cook Indian or Chinese, but for his girls he will do mac and cheese. At the same time, he knows pop music, American lit, and constitutional law. I just can't imagine anybody cooler. Look at a photo of the latest pooh-bah conference—the hausfrau Merkel, the big glum  Scotsman, that goofball Berlusconi, Putin with his B-movie bad-boy scowl, and Sarkozy, who looks like a district manager for Avis—you put Barack in that bunch and he will shine.

It feels good to be cool and all of us can share in that, even sour old right-wingers and embittered blottoheads. Next time you fly to Heathrow and hand your passport to the man with the badge, he's going to see "United States of America" and look up and grin. Even if you worship in the church of Fox, everyone you meet overseas is going to ask you about Obama and you may as well say you voted for him because, my friends, he is your line of credit over there. No need anymore to try to look Canadian.

And the coolest thing about him is the fact that back in the early '90s, given a book contract after the hoo-ha about his becoming the First Black Editor of the Harvard Law Review (FBEHLR), instead of writing the basic exploitation book he could've written, he put his head down and worked hard for a few years and wrote a good book, an honest one, which, since his rise in politics, has earned the Obamas enough to buy a very nice house and put money in the bank. A successful American entrepreneur.

The last American president to write a book all by his lonesome self, I believe, was Theodore Roosevelt, who, on graduation from Harvard, wrote "The Naval War of 1812," and in my humble opinion, Obama's is the better book for the general reader, but you be the judge.

Our hero who galloped to victory has inherited a gigantic mess. The country is sunk in debt. The Treasury announced it must borrow $550 billion to get the government through the fourth quarter, more than the entire deficit for 2008, so he will have to raise taxes and not only on bankers and lumber barons. His promise never to raise the retirement age is not a good idea. Whatever he promised the Iowa farmers about subsidizing ethanol is best forgotten at this point. We may not be getting our National Health Service cards anytime soon. And so on and so on. 

So enjoy the afterglow of the election a while longer. We all walk taller this fall. People in Copenhagen and Stockholm are sending congratulatory e-mails—imagine! We are being admired by Danes and Swedes! And Chicago becomes the First City. Step aside, San Francisco. Shut up, New York. The Midwest is cool now. The mind reels. Have a good day.

November 12, 2008