Just a brief note to report that we have escaped from Yearly Kos unscathed. The science panel was a great success; Chris Mooney and Ed Brayton gave sparkling talks, Tara Smith moderated with aplomb, Lindsay Beyerstein snapped pictures, and the whole thing went smoothly due to the organizational skills of Stephen DarkSyde and Jennifer “Unstable Isotope” Thompson. The hot lights of CNN and C-SPAN glared down upon us, but we refused to wilt. Ed has a brief report here, and Chris describes the session in detail at the Huffington Post.
The conference highlight was the Democratic Presidential candidates’ forum, featuring all of the major candidates not from Delaware. (See reports on the forum here, here, here, and a convention overview by Ezra Klein here.) It was a sprightly debate, ably moderated by Matt Bai. Despite (or perhaps because of) the restriction to very brief answers, real distinctions between the candidates did shine through. Bill Richardson, for example, actually volunteered his support for a balanced-budget amendment, essentially removing himself from consideration as a serious candidate. John Edwards was slick and said good things, but that was in part because he ignored all of the questions. Hillary Clinton was, predictably, strong and well-informed, but this wasn’t her crowd. She bobbled a question about accepting donations from lobbyists, claiming that just because she took money doesn’t mean she would be influenced by the lobbying. My own biggest problem with Hillary is that she’s too willing to buy into a dramatically reductive view of how the world works, whether in all sincerity or just as a political stance. She dismissed the importance of anti-American sentiment in the world, claiming it was just anti-Bush sentiment, and claimed that we were now safer because we have to take our shoes off before passing through airport security.
I’m a longtime Barack Obama supporter, and the convention reinforced my feeling. His performance at the forum was careful and specific, not letting his charisma shine through, but he was enormously compelling in a breakout session afterward. Obama gets what it’s like to live in a complicated world, because he encapsulates a complicated world all by himself: American mother, Kenyan father, born in Hawaii, lived for four years in Indonesia as a child, educated at Harvard, trained as a street organizer in Chicago. He has an incremental but ambitious health care plan, and was anti-war from the start. Still, I’d be absolutely thrilled to support any of Obama/Clinton/Edwards against any of the embarrassments currently in contention for the Republican nomination. It’s an incredibly strong Democratic field, which is something I never thought I’d see.
But the really interesting news (to me) at the conference was that Bill Foster is running for Congress. Bill’s name might not be familiar to you unless you’re a particle physicist — he’s played a major role in a number of particle-physics experiments, including Fermilab’s antiproton Recycler Ring. Before becoming a physicist, he became independently wealthy when he and his brother founded a company (while at college) that has become the world’s leading provider of lighting systems for theaters. He’s running in Dennis Hastert’s district, although it’s not yet clear whether Hastert himself will be standing for re-election. It’s a Republican district, but not so much so that we couldn’t imagine taking it in a year when Republicans are as unpopular as they’ve been in recent memory. You can donate here to Bill’s campaign.
Wearing the little blue tag that identified me as a speaker at Yearly Kos, I was warned on multiple occasions to be on the lookout for Fox News and other nefarious media outlets, who were said to be lying in wait to ambush the innocent Kossacks, hoping to record them saying outrageous things for later broadcast. I was really looking forward to being thus ambushed, but it never happened. I spent hours lurking in the public areas, doing my best to look vulnerable and yet potentially outrageous, but no luck. My inevitable on-air showdown with Bill O’Reilly will have to wait for some other day.
p.s. It’s true, we did have non-YK fun while in Chicago. I’ll report later on our restaurant exploits, but I’d be remiss not to mention the trouncing at poker that was administered by Jeff Harvey on Friday night, thus falsifying (or at least offering one data point against) my conjecture about string theorists. Jeff had been dominating the local game since I left for California, and he proved on Friday that his success was no fluke. Or maybe it has been a fluke, but it’s a consistent one. Until next time, anyway.