Star Trek: Trekking uncertainly between utopia and twentieth century earth

27 Aug

Star Trek (and its spin offs) are justly applauded for including socially progressive ideas in both, the themes of their stories, and the cultural fabric of the counterfactual imagination of the future. For instance, women and minorities command positions of responsibility, those working for the ‘Federation’ take ethical questions seriously, both ‘Data’ (an android) and empathy (via a ‘Betazoid counselor’) play a central role in making command decisions (at least in one of the series), etc.

There are some other pleasant aspects of the show. Background hum of a ship replaces cacophonous noise that passes for as background score on many shows; order prevails; professionalism and intelligence are shown as being rewarded; backroom machinations are absent; and thrill of exploration and discovery is elevated to virtue.

However, there are a variety of places where either insufficient thought, or distinctly twentieth century considerations intrude. For one, the central protagonists belong to ‘Star Fleet’, a military (and peacekeeping) arm of the ‘Federation.’ More distressingly, this military arm seems to be run internally on many of the same time-worn principles as on earth in the twentieth century including, an extremely hierarchical code, uniform clothing, etc. The saving grace is that most members of the Star Fleet are technical personnel. Still the choice of conceptualizing the protagonists as belonging to the military wing (of arguably a peaceful organization) is somewhat troubling.

There are other ‘backward’ aspects. Inter-species stereotyping is common. For instance, Ferengis are mostly shown as irredeemably greedy, the Romulans and Klignons as devoted to war, and the Borg and the Dominion as simply evil. While some shows make some attempts at dealing with the issue, attributing psychological traits to entire cultures and worlds is relatively common. Further, regrettably, uniforms of women in some of the series are noticeably tighter.

More forgivably perhaps, there is an almost exclusive focus on people in command. This is perhaps necessitated by demands of creating non inter-personal drama, most easily achieved by focusing on important situations that affect the fate of many – the kinds of situations mostly people in command confront (in the hierarchical institutional format shown). The hierarchical structure and need for drama often create some absurdity. Since those in command have to be shown ‘commanding’, the captain of the ship is shown giving the largely superfluous order of ‘engage’ (akin to asking the driver to ‘drive’ when he knows he has to drive you to the destination) in a theatrical fashion. Similarly, given the level of automation and technological sophistication shown, opportunities for showing heroism have to be many a time contrived. Hence many of the ‘missions’ are tremendously low tech.

Where does this leave us? Nowhere in particular but perhaps with just a slightly better appreciation of some of the ‘tensions’ between how the show is often imagined by ‘nerds’ (as a vision of utopia) and what the show is really about.

Bringing order to suffering: Laws of suffering

10 Feb
  • All around us, people are ‘suffering’, and making others suffer.
  • Immaturity causes a great deal of suffering. Rest is caused by lack of scruples.
  • Immaturity is almost as hard to cure as lack of scruples.
  • Few people are interested in anything other than their own troubles.
  • Hierarchy of suffering is decided mostly by the importance one places on it; it is uncorrelated with actual suffering.
  • More mature shoulder the burdens of the less mature, sometimes willingly.
  • Absolute levels of well-being [or ability, looks, resources] have less to do with happiness than comparative levels
  • Comparison mostly reduces happiness, rarely does it increase it, even when positive.
  • People are inadequately motivated to be happy.
  • A great many people have the dough for happiness, but never bake the cake.

Delay shooting the help

25 Dec

Procrastination

Procrastination, delaying without reason doing something that one has to do, makes little sense. If the voluntary delay also causes anxiety, which in most cases it does, it may be particularly pointless. Yet a lot of people procrastinate at least some of the times. Why?

One can make a case for postponing unpleasant things that are avoidable – in fact why bother doing those things at all – but not things that are unavoidable, or things that a person intends to do.

Desirability of a task influences the decision to procrastinate or not. Rationally, it should not matter but the fact that it does provides a possible toehold into ‘why’ we procrastinate –

  1. Sometimes problems don’t appear to have a good solution right away and one hopes that a solution would appear over time even though one may not have good reasons to think that such good fortune would strike.
  2. For example, one hopes that the ‘unavoidable’ task would become avoidable? Or – we wait till the point “it is clear” that the problem cannot be avoided?

Procrastination is understood exclusively as a problem about ordering, and assumes that the net amount of time expended on task remains constant, irrespective of order. Perhaps that is a problematic assumption. Starting things later may just mean that we spend less time on the task than we otherwise would. However, one can easily reframe the issue as one about when to spend the reduced time, than one where we must delay to achieve the aim of spending less time on the task.

Shooting the help

At times when people are worried, and when well-intentioned people try to help them, they simply become annoyed, or even mildly angry at them. Why is it that ‘we’ refuse help, or more puzzlingly become angry or annoyed with people who are trying in good faith to be of help.

When people offer advice, they often use munitions from similar events and incidents they have encountered. This can be a bit galling as it undermines the “uniqueness” of our problems. This ‘feeling’ is further compounded by the fact that many a times people are also over-eager and often too quick to offer solutions without a more patient listening of the individuating data. And then arguably many people while eager to help don’t do much thinking (either through incapacity, lack of motivation, or on the assumption that no thought is needed) about the problem itself, and offer comments that are not particularly insightful. And then many a times all people want is a sympathetic ear or a pat on the back. In other words, sometimes ‘public’ self-pity is all we want. This is typically so when either the solutions are obvious or non-existent.

Outside of this, it is also the case that high achievers are less likely to seek help, and bristle when offered help, for seeking help forces them to face their own vulnerability (Source: colleague).

On Love

25 Nov

Mothers spend a great deal of their time and energy on their kids, especially newborns. They spend far more time thinking, and working to ensure welfare of another human being (their kid), than most humans will spend on any other human being, say their romantic partner or sibling. Add to this that till the child reaches adulthood, often till much later, the relationship is overwhelmingly one-way – with children thinking little about their parent’s welfare. Still, most mothers find the experience, and the work that goes with it, greatly rewarding.

Joy despite this sizable disparity has been explained by cynics, but only poorly. While parents proclaim that children bring “joy” to their lives, it doesn’t cause parents to invest time and money for often similar joy can be had at much lower rates of work. And financial investments, investments of time, toll on the mother’s body, and inconvenience suffered – lack of sleep, problems traveling, etc. – likely outweigh potential financial benefits, which are likely either way away from most parents’ minds.

In this puzzle there are perhaps a couple of lessons about love – one is that relationships that are overwhelmingly one-way, say in resources like time and money, can still be basis for mutual joy; second perhaps is that spending more time on people we love can make those relationships more fulfilling, and us happier.

Measuring Love

Love and to love are vague conceptually, and in minds of people who use these terms. The concepts have evolved such that attempts to define or deliberate these concepts rile sensibilities – offend the notion that love is really the domain of emotion, not thought. Such thoughtlessness has meant that nearly everyone can get away with claiming love, even when the overall impact on the quality of life they have on their loved one is a deeply negative one.

One way to think about how much we love each other is to take in account how much time we spend actively thinking about the welfare of those we love. Such exercise when done without deliberation elicits an emotionally biased line up of instances where we were thoughtful. To move beyond such selective counting, for what matters are averages, with penalty for egregious negatives, one ought to think carefully and honestly, and perhaps base assessments on testimony of the loved one. Intentionality ought to play a part in calculations but not as a blanket defense – I truly want your welfare but there is nothing in the record that backs up the claim – but to down-weight some instances of sub-optimal decision making under pressure, and limited resources.

Complimentary spam

5 Aug

Those who don’t read this blog are its biggest fans. No surprise there. Here below is a selection of comments left by spam-bots. Spelling and grammatical ‘errors’, likely deliberately put in by spammers, have been left untouched. The word ‘errors’ has bunny ears because you can’t really call a deliberate strategy an error. These ‘errors’ also bring up the question that in the era of computers, perhaps errors will be the one indication that the work is produced by a human (directly or indirectly).

Good job!

I love your site. Logan.

Pretty good post. I just stumbled upon your blog and wanted to say that I have really enjoyed reading your blog posts. Any way I’ll be subscribing to your feed and I hope you post again soon.

I was actually looking for this resource a few weeks back. Thanks for sharing with us your wisdom.This will absolutely going to help me in my projects.

Extremely helpful. I love the way you write. Do you provide an RSS feed?

What theme are you utilizing here ? I like the layout. Many thanks for this posting.

This is all very new to me and this article really opened my eyes.Thanks for sharing with us your wisdom.

I’m impressed!! Really informative blog post here my friend. I just wanted to comment & say keep up the quality work. I’ve bookmarked your blog just now and I’ll be back to read more in the future my friend! Also nice colors on the layout, it’s really easy on the eyes.

Took me time to read all the comments, but I really enjoyed the article. It proved to be Very helpful to me and I am sure to all the commenters here! It’s always nice when you can not only be informed, but also entertained! I’m sure you had fun writing this article. Thank you

Wow I have read your article and by the way I found you website on AOL and I think after I read particularpost on you website especially this one I have my own opinion about what should I say on the next hang out with my boy friend, maybe today I will tell my familyabout this one and get debate.

Super-Duper web site! I’m loving it!! Will come back again – taking you feeds also, Thanks.

thanks for the inspiration I was stressed by work but i learnt that life is about living to the fullest and enjoying every moment.Thanks a million

Hello. Undoubtedly good job. I did not expect this on a Wednesday. This is a very good story. Thanks!

Great information! I’ve been looking for something like this for a while now. Thanks!

Really great informative blog post here and I just wanted to comment & thank you for posting this. I’ve bookmarked youi blog and I’ll be back to read more in the future my friend! Also nice colors on the layout, it’s really easy on the eyes.

nice site thanks for the link, nice monitor :) great design, well not bad service will take a look closer, well not bad site, not so many programs listed but looks quite great.

Lifting the veil on some issues in the ‘Burka debate’

30 Mar

For the unfamiliar, the BBC guide to Muslim veils.

The somewhat polemical:
Assuming that God has recommended that women wear the burka, assuming that burka has no impact on a woman’s ability to communicate or quality of life, as has been suggested by its supporters, then here’s a suggestion—to all men, who haven’t been ordered by God to wear burka, and who don’t see a downside to wearing it—why not voluntarily commit to wearing the burka, since no law opposes such a voluntary act, to show solidarity with the women. My sense is that even the French would come to support the burka if Muslim men en masse chose to wear it.

More considered:
‘The interior ministry says only 1,900 women wear full veils in France, home to Europe’s biggest Muslim minority’ (BBC). If the problem is interpreted solely in terms of women wearing the veil, then it is much smaller than the dust in its wake.

There are three competing concerns at the heart of the debate: Protecting rights of women who voluntarily want to wear it, protecting rights of women who are forced to wear it, and protecting (French) ‘culture.’ Setting aside cultural concerns for the moment, let’s focus on the first two claims.

People are incredulous of the claim that women will voluntarily choose to wear something so straightforwardly unpleasant. Even when confronted with a woman who claims to comply voluntarily, they fear coercion, or something akin to brainwashing at play. There is merit to the thought. However, there is much evidence that women subject themselves to many unpleasant things voluntarily, such as wearing high heels (which I understand are uncomfortable to wear). So it is very likely indeed that there is ‘voluntary compliance’ by some women.

Assuming there exist both, voluntary compliers, and those forced to wear the niqab, wouldn’t it be pleasant if we could ensure the rights of both? In fact, doesn’t the extant legal framework provide for such a privilege already? Yes and no, mostly no. While it is true that women forced to wear the niqab can petition the police, it is unlikely to happen for a variety of reasons. Going to the police would mean going against the family, which may mean doing something painful, and risking financial and physical well-being. Additionally, the laws governing such ‘coercion’ are likely to carry modest penalties, and unlikely to redress the numerous correlated issues including inadequate financial, and educational opportunities. Many of the issues raised here would seem familiar to people working with domestic abuse, and they are, and the modern state hasn’t (tried to) found a good solution.

Perhaps both camps will agree that wearing a niqab does dramatically limit the career opportunities for women. Of course people in one of the camps may be happy that there are limits to such opportunities but let’s assume that they would be happy if the women had the same opportunities. Part of the problem here then is the norms of dressing in business environments in the West. Entrepreneurs in Saudi Arabia recently brought to air a television talk show in which both of the hosts wore the niqab. The entire effect was disturbing. However, that isn’t the point. The point is that there may be ways to not reduce career opportunities for women based on the dress code, which after all seems ‘coercive.’

Time considerations mean a fuller consideration on the issue will have to wait. One last point – One of the problems cited about the burka is that it poses a security threat, which has some merit, given its long history in being used a method of escape, including by militant clerics.

You got (fraudulent) mail and email

22 Jan

Republican ‘Con-census’

The party that dislikes the census, put a hold on the nominee for census bureau, is now sending out fraudulent mail surveys that seem as if they were from the census bureau. Read here, here, and here. Accusation for being ‘fraudulent’ stems, not only from the use of `census’, but also from it being an attempt at “frugging”, the practice of cloaking a fund raising appeal in what appears to be a research. (“Suggers” sell using surveys.)

Who Knew
One of the people who has benefited the most from Macaulay’s reforms recently sent an email, part of a larger email chain that now generally implies some travesty, which quoted Macaulay as having spoken the following (on Feb 2nd, 1835 in India, the same day his gave his Minute on Education in Britain) –

I have traveled across the length and breadth of India and I have not seen one person who is a beggar, who is a thief. Such wealth I have seen in this country, such high moral values, people of such caliber, that I do not think we would ever conquer this country, unless we break the very backbone of this nation, which is her spiritual and cultural heritage, and, therefore, I propose that we replace her old and ancient education system, her culture, for if the Indians think that all that is foreign and English is good and greater than their own, they will lose their self-esteem, their native self-culture and they will become what we want them, a truly dominated nation?

Of course, Lord Macaulay, never said such a thing. He said many other tawdry things but never did he eulogize the absolutely hokum positive images of India. While we all want glorious histories, past isn’t as glorious. Neither are confessions of colonial rapacity generally so naked.

Suggestion: For greater imagined glories one most go further back than just 1835, when the ‘Muggles’ had had their way (as Hindu may point out), writing had been invented, into the mists of more obscure pre-history where one can have his way with truth. How about the crowning glories of Lord Rama and his return on airplane like ‘pushpak’ vahan?

‘Disproving’ God

24 Jan

A tribute to Charles Darwin on his 200th birth anniversary

Why science can talk about God

Some say that science should be absent from discussions about God is because while science concerns itself with the material, God concerns himself with the ‘spiritual’ ‘nonmaterial’ realm. But there are a number of theories of God that explicitly deal with the material realm. To that extent science has standing.

One prominent theory of the divine made with ungodly frequency is that God has a direct impact on the material well-being of humans. Here’s why the claim falls short:

Given systematic temporal and geographic variance exists in poverty, life-expectancy, etc. and given we have been able to attribute a majority of the causes for such to human action, it appears God plays only a peripheral part in the destiny of man, albeit a larger role in the destiny of women (mostly through the hands of believers). Mortality rates differ by geography. For example, US versus Africa, Northeast US versus Southern US (maybe god likes ‘godless NE liberals’). And morality rates vary by time — we live longer today than we did 200 years ago. The variance in mortality and life-expectancy also seems to respond to human intervention – discovering new technologies, medicines, to committing war. So unless we believe God systematically dislikes Africans, or liked people born 200 years ago less, when arguably people were more moral on some variables favored by the current fundamentalists, we have little reason to believe that God is a large force in determining life-expectancy, or mortality.

Let’s assume for devil’s sake that God is a confounding variable (which is true in at least one way – he is alleged to work in mysterious ways), i.e. God determines both temporal, geographic, racial and other kinds of variance in distribution of poverty, the human action to which it is causally attributed, and life-expectancy. But that version of God conflicts with our theories about human action (say greed) and our theories about God, who ought not to reward people motivated by such things as greed. But then punishment can come in the afterlife – via hell, where an ever larger number of people are being systematically tortured through great expense of energy, and in a manner that will leave the Bush administration officials chagrined. Even if we imagine that theories of after-life action are true, their impact on the material world is limited to the extent people believe in the threat of punishment. To that extent, God is an instrumental identity for achieving some version of morality.

Another challenge to the presence of God comes from the probabilistic nature of our causal models. Theories about God ought to be perfect (explain about 100% of the variance) while theories of social action can be probabilistic. To ascribe probabilistic thinking and action to God would significantly conflict with theories of God, though one can imagine that he sets the mean, and will causes the error term. A starker version of the same would be that God allows free will, and to that degree that he allows for it and the world is shaped by free will, and God is immaterial to bettering social condition. Another reason to discount challenge to God theory can be the following – we just don’t know the generating mechanism (or life/death) and probabilistic conditioning seems to come from fitting known world models onto data generated by God model, which is by the way synergestic enough with the world model (more poverty = earlier death) to be disturbing.

One way to look at the argument presented here is that God may exist, but s/he/it isn’t particularly strong. And if strength/omnipotence is taken to be a fundamental descriptive attitude of the object (God), it is likely that the object doesn’t exist as well. The counterargument to the above would perhaps need to factor in differing conceptions about the object and its power. For example, one may say that s/he/it is doing all it can to reduce evil to its lowest form – and that is indeed the present condition. Perhaps then more minimally – since he is already doing all he can and rest depends on us – we can argue that God isn’t a particularly useful intervention for changing one’s situation in the world.

What is so middle about the middle class?

12 Sep

Defining the middle

Given that wealth is hard to measure, middle class has often been defined in terms of income. Gary Burtless defines it as families earning anywhere between half of median income ($24,000) to twice as much ($96,000). Frank Levy, based on Census data for families in their prime earning years, pegs that range between $30,000 and $90,000. This seems much too wide a ‘middle’ to be meaningful. These incomes likely reflect very different life styles and options. But the definition is slippier still. The World Bank defines the middle class as people making between $10 and $20 a day — adjusted for local prices — which is roughly the range of average incomes between Brazil ($10) and Italy ($20).

In the middle of nowhere

Middle class has been described as a rentier class with no social basis but one with a specific function. Benefits are distributed asymmetrically in a Capitalist system, with the top .01% gaining significantly more than the next .09%, who in turn gain significantly more than the next 1%, and so on. This pyramid is held in place by the inclusive meritocratic rhetoric, and by the aspirants (middle class) in whose hands success seems the nearest. More broadly, each economic system has a legitimizing (sense making) discourse for its winners and losers, and in Capitalism — it is the inclusive, achievable, democratic discourse about merit and hard work. The successful are caught in the need for ascribing their success to their own ingenuity and hard work.

The moralism of middle class can be better understood if we look to its historical roots in Victorian England. One of the defining features of the middle-class in Victorian era was its extreme moralism — railing against the corrupt degenerate aristocracy, and the equally corrupt breeding-like-rabbits poor — and trying to define meritocracy as the only ethical framework. Hence meritocracy has become the defining ethos of the society — inclusive yet elusive — inclusive enough to keep the bottom salivating, and yet elusive enough to keep it nearly always out of reach of the lower classes.

Media and the Middle Class: Example of India

The timing of India’s liberalization was fortuitous in a way – especially as we trace the story of the ascent of the middle class in the past decade – as it coincided with the advent of transnational satellite broadcasting in Asia. In 1991, Hong Kong based (Murdoch owned) Star TV started broadcasting to several Asian countries from a clutch of transponders aboard Asiasat 1. Its mainstay was recycled American programming. Star TV found instant reception due to Gulf War which had revolutionized cable. The satellite dishes/and cable/ operators showed images from gulf war and then showed Hindi movies at the end of the war. Overnight, video parlor owners changed to cable operators offering Star TV’s five channels — including BBC and MTV. BBC was later dropped.

The government took a lax view of the mushrooming illegal cable industry, and didn’t take steps to regularize it until 1995, and even then enforcement was lax, if not non-existent. The rise of cable was significant in shaping the middle class, and how it chose to see itself – at once liberal, and aware of global trends in fashion and entertainment.

But if it were not for further liberalization of media, and new generation that took reigns of that media – the story may still have been different.

The narrative around media’s role in the construction of the new middle class is more completely understood if we move beyond analyzing the product or the stated strategic intensions of the actors, and instead look at the people running media today.

Till early nineties, the only game town used to be the state media. Even the newspapers treaded lightly, if progressively, under threat of government boycott of ads. The dominant ethos in reporting and programming on the state media were the liberalist bureaucratic ethos and on radio dominated by people likely to be friends with university professors. Doordarshan ran public service ads, and social cohesion promoting dramas.

This all changed, first with the introduction of cable, which initially featured foreign channels carrying a sprinkling of preppy foreign bred hyphenated Indians, and then with the rise of native media led by clawing young brigade. The new recruits to the media industry – young, turgid with ambition, aiming to please, and imbibed in business ethos- were key in hastening the spread of middle class discourse. A similar process is underway in American journalism with shift in technology necessitating a significant generational shift. It is patently clear reading Times of India with its Leisure sections (something which was started by Washington Post Style Section in the 1980s) that newspaper today looks like a vastly different animal than a decade and a half ago. One can argue that some of the change in media was a result of the change in economy, and not a cause of some of the changes but the alacrity with which media changed, the speed with which it contorted, and the multiple places in which it behaved as the vanguard speaks of fundamental change in ethos that could only have happened with the active participation of the eager to be indoctrinated/ or already indoctrinated.

Spincycle supports Obama

17 Jan

Chaste, a contributor to the site, has crafted a persuasive argument – with a little help from me – as to why Obama is the better candidate in the Democratic primary. Read more –

Why Obama?
The system of democracy that we have been assigned to only allows us to make comparative judgments between candidates standing for election. We do not get to vote for “ideal” candidates but merely the best among the ones who are running. At this stage, Democratic partisans and independents (in some states) get to choose between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. One of these candidates will eventually represent the Democratic Party in November against a Republican candidate.

The past eight years in this country have been an unmitigated disaster – they have not only been financially ruinous (an average of about $12,000 of debt has been added to the already burdened back of an average American, the dollar has plummeted), they have also proven to be catastrophic for America’s reputation and caused grievous harm on vitally important issues like climate change. All of the major Republican candidates running today – while careful in distancing themselves from Bush – espouse positions that are virtually indistinguishable from that of Bush. There is little doubt in my mind that if we elect another Republican to the White House, we are going to see a rehash of the policies that have proven to be so ruinous. So for all who are concerned about having another Republican in White House come January 2008, it is important to pay attention to electability.

As Frank Rich points out in his column for the NY Times, Republicans are all set to dig up the unending mounds of dirt that emerged from the White House under Clinton Era. The Clinton closet hides more than Lewinsky’s stained blue dress; it also contains sodden episodes like the Whitewater kickbacks, the White House as guest house for donors, pardoning of Marc Rich, the Clinton library donation from the Saudis, among many others. More than that, Hillary is widely seen (justly or unjustly) as a “divisive” candidate unlikely to win any converts among independents. There is now empirical evidence –from the four contests and national opinion polls – that that is indeed true, as Obama has handily won amongst independents in each of the contests and leads amongst independents nation wide.

Let me move next to discussing their stances on the Iraq war –a core issue for a lot of Americans not only for its price tag, estimated at over $2 trillion by Columbia and Harvard professors, but also for the active disinformation campaign by the administration and the complicity of press and “opposition” leaders.

Senator Obama had the judgment and the courage to call the Iraq war correctly from the beginning. This was no happenstance or knee-jerk response. “I am not opposed to all wars. I’m opposed to dumb wars,” he had said in 2002. His argument was based not only on the insultingly egregious evidence presented for going to war but also steeped in pragmatism – he accurately predicted that American troops won’t be greeted with flowers in Iraq. His sound judgment is in part the product of his abiding interest in foreign policy: his major at Columbia was International Relations. It is also due in part to his life experiences: as a boy with a Kenyan father—and later an Indonesian stepfather—who spent four years growing up in Indonesia, and who lived in the multicultural swirl of Hawaii. Fareed Zakaria, a former managing editor of Foreign Affairs Magazine and currently Editor of Newsweek International, said that Senator Obama is the only candidate who knows “what it means not to be an American”, an understanding critical to a successful foreign policy in our time. Senator Obama is an admirer of the foreign policy of President Truman who combined the establishment of NATO with the Marshall Plan, and of President Kennedy who combined a military build up with the establishment of the Peace Corps. He wants to make Foreign Aid a strong component of American foreign policy to establish American military and moral leadership. He is currently the only candidate running for office who is open to talking to Iran without any preconditions.

Senator Obama also has a clear grasp of economic policies. Recently, a Washington Post writer decided to grade all the candidates based on the stimulus packages they proposed to address the recent economic downturn. As the candidates put together these responses relatively quickly, they accurately indicate the quality of the candidates’ understanding of the economy. Senator Obama topped with an A-, Senator Edwards and President Bush had a B-, and Senator Clinton had a C+; the best grade for a Republican candidate was a D+. The article is a very good read so I would recommend that you read it in full.

Senator Obama gives us grounds for trusting his integrity because of his record of putting his money where his mouth is. After graduating from Columbia, he worked for several years as a community organizer on the south side of Chicago, not the regulation one year that most law school applicants work to beef up their resume. After graduating Magna cum Laude from Harvard law, he chose to be a civil rights lawyer rather than making millions as a corporate lawyer.

Senator Obama also has a record of bringing people together to get things done. He has done this at least since his days at Harvard Law when he emerged as the consensus candidate as the president of the Harvard Law Review after bitter acrimony between ideological factions (no mean feat as law students like their own opinions very much, and have nothing to lose from being obdurate). In the U.S. senate, he has worked with respected Republicans like Senator Lugar over the control of conventional weapons like hand-held anti-aircraft missiles and land mines, as well as with Republican ideologues like Senator Coburn over corporate transparency legislation.

Senator Obama’s main opponent, Senator Clinton often offers up her experience as the reason for preferring her. While Senator Clinton was very competent and successful in her long career as a corporate lawyer, her career in public life has unfortunately been marked by incompetence. Her mishandling of Health care reform not only resulted in the Republican landslide of 1994 that swept away strong Democratic majorities in Congress; it put off any serious consideration of Health care reform for more than a decade.

If part of the debacle of her Health care effort may be attributed to political inexperience, no such excuse exists for her vote to authorize the war on Iraq in 2002. At the same time, Senator Clinton also voted against the Levin amendment, which would have required Mr. Bush to come to Congress for war authorization if he failed to obtain a U.N. resolution. The two votes combined make it clear that Senator Clinton’s authorization for the war on Iraq was unequivocal, and not conditional on exhaustive diplomacy as she would have us believe. Senator Clinton had access to the entire National Intelligence Estimate. The full report had considerable reservations about the WMD claims spun by the Bush administration. To date, she has consistently refused to say whether she did or did not red the full report, instead maintaining only that she was briefed on the report. Failure to read the report in an important matter like war would suggest incompetence and a lack of seriousness; her vote after reading the report would suggest that she attached more importance to the spin of the Bush administration and TV Pundits than to the assessments of career civil servants even in important matters like war. (NY Times, Hillary on War)

To err may be human, but not to learn from one’s mistakes is incompetence. Senator Clinton has refused to acknowledge that she even made a mistake in her war authorization vote, which suggests a temperament on which experience is wasted. An instance of this was her vote for the Kyl-Lieberman resolution in 2007, which urged the Bush administration to declare Iran’s Revolutionary Guards (numbering about 120,000) a “terrorist” entity. Many saw this resolution as the basis for a possible invasion of Iran in the future. Senator Clinton claimed that her vote would help negotiations with Iran. Yet calling a major state agency “terrorist,” will only make it difficult for the Iranians to compromise, and the “terrorist” label would increase domestic U.S. pressure against meaningful negotiations with Iran. Senator Clinton’s use of such flawed logic as the basis for a possible war creates grave doubts about the quality of her thinking. Fortunately, The Bush administration adopted a much more judicious and restrained approach than that advocated by Senator Clinton, and declared only a small subset of the Revolutionary Guards as a “terrorist” entity. The tension was further defused recently when the National Intelligence Estimate concluded that Iran has had no nuclear weapons program for the past few years. It however very powerfully brings into question Senator Clinton’s judgment.

Senator Clinton has chosen to run a divisive campaign making liberal use of the gender and race cards. She has recruited surrogates including her own husband to launch a vitriolic campaign, which has only divided the Democratic Party. These are the actions of a candidate who is in ONLY to win. Senator Clinton was already a polarizing influence in the nation as a whole (though this is not entirely her fault). Her calculated dividing of the Democratic Party bodes ill for her chances in November if she is the candidate, and for passing her agenda if she becomes President.

The foregoing shows that when it comes to the qualities we seek in a president, such as soundness of judgment, clarity of understanding, quality of thought, and integrity, Senator Obama is by far the better candidate. He has a much clearer understanding of both foreign policy and of the economy. The domestic programs of all three Democratic candidates are substantially comparable. Senator Obama’s proven record of uniting people and working across the isle gives him a much better chance of turning his program into legislation.

For all these reasons, I urge you to vote for Senator Obama in the primary on Feb 5.

Links:

Get Involved

On February 5th 22 states go head to head in contests that will essentially decide the Democratic candidate. If you support Obama’s candidacy, and would like to get involved, please go to Barackobama.com to learn more about how you can contribute. You can donate towards the campaign by clicking here.