Holy Crap

By Sean Carroll | December 14, 2007 1:02 pm

I promise I didn’t rig our informal poll, but I won’t pretend that I didn’t like the results. I would have guessed ahead of time that most of the votes would go to Democrats, and most of those would go to Barack Obama, but the margins in both cases were larger than I had anticipated.

The most amazing thing is that Obama actually has a chance of winning this thing. While Hillary Clinton still has a substantial lead in meaningless national polls, Obama is leading in Iowa among likely caucus-goers, 35% to 29%; he is surging ahead in New Hampshire; tied in South Carolina; and could sweep all four early early contests.

There’s still a lot of time (although Iowa is only three weeks away), many chickens remain unhatched, etc. — standard disclaimers apply. And there is that little thing called the general election (where Obama is handily ahead of the Republican field). Still: there is a realistic chance that Barack Obama could be our next President.

But I don’t think that possibility has quite sunk into the national consciousness just yet. In particular, I think there is a moment yet to come when America sits up and says: “Holy crap, we could have a black person as the President of the United States!” For better or for worse — some people will be exhilarated, some will be appalled, some will be scared, some will cry tears of joy. Many pundits will say stupid things, many nasty smears will characterize the campaign. But regardless, it’s hard to exaggerate how extraordinary such an event would be — twenty years ago, a small percentage of political observers would have suggested there was a realistic possibility for an African-American to be elected President by 2050, much less 2008. The history of blacks in the U.S., with the legacy of slavery and the ubiquity of racism and the persistence of poverty, is almost too sprawling and complicated and emotional for any person to really grasp. It would not be hyperbole to describe the election of an African-American President as one of the most significant events in the history of the country.

There are plenty of valid criticisms to make about Obama, he’s certainly not perfect. It would be nice to have a real mandate for universal health care, for example. And, as historic as it would be, the fact that he is black is by itself not a very good reason to support him — having the first black President be a disaster could set the cause of racial justice back many decades. But even if he were a more typical Democratic presidential nominee — you know, a bumbling white Northeastern male who doesn’t use contractions — he would still be a great choice for President. He combines unusual clarity of vision with impressive legislative chops. The major Democratic candidates are not really that different in terms of policy platforms, so the question rightly becomes one of attitude and judgment — who do you want in charge the next time some completely unanticipated event affects the country? I don’t think I’ve ever been so happy to support a candidate.

Who knows? Obama’s campaign could suddenly go up in flames. Or he could get elected President and be terrible; these things are hard to predict. But if he does get elected, the magnitude of the event and what it means for America is difficult to overstate. We’ll have to see what happens.

  • Jason M. Hendler

    Yeesh, an informal poll on a site for sequestored academics should have produced even larger numbers for Obama. If this sort of thing makes you sleep better at night, then enjoy it for the next 3 weeks.

  • Ahmed

    Obama spoke quite openly about what he says to people who ask him about religious influence in governance. I don’t have his quote verbatim (saw him on channel 9 a week ago), but his response was as appalling as any republican candidate, probably even worse. He used the word “everything” as part of his rant. Are you pleased that the favorite candidate among your readers believes that religion should affect “everything”?

    There is not one candidate worthy of running this country. Edwards comes closest. Also, he has a presidential face, which is very important. Please keep that in mind.

  • Z

    Edwards or Clinton are the rational person’s best candidate, not Obama, for reasons #2 pointed out. As a liberal, this defaults me to Edwards because Clinton’s positions are too right of me.

  • Kevin Runnels

    Cut him some slack on his position on religion. He’s simply unelectable without being pro-religion. He’s not perfect, but from the pool of viable candidates, he’s the most compatible. If you can’t be with the one you love then love the one you’re with. Or something like that.

  • http://tyrannogenius.blogspot.com Neil B.

    Jason, I’m just wondering why such a poll would produce like high scores for Obama. Why him? What about him recommends him to “sequestered academics” (and many of us are not “academics” or lab scientists – I am a “cocktail-party physics” (better actually, but admittedly shaky at the rigorous level) gadfly who does support work for tech companies and even the great Jefferson Lab (but I do talk to the real ones!), we have a science fiction writer who does indeed know a lot about the subject, as my torment of him has revealed (sorry Greg E., really, I have been somewhat of an ass), and various other types.) I don’t know that he would treat science in some obviously better way than the other candidates, but anyone please let us know. Or maybe it’s just that certain something that appeals to intellectuals?

    Ahmed, I would want to look at what Obama said about religion, but: I suspect it’s fluff about his personal experience and values in the “liberal-Christian-Democat” tradition as we might hear from Jesse Jackson et al. IOW, not actual government involvement and support of the sort Huckabee would promote. If not, we need to know. I may support non-sectarian metaphysical concepts of First Cause, and even the relevance of personal mystical experiences, but I don’t want any theocrat taking the reigns.

    I think much of Obama and am starting to hope he wins the nomination and Presidency, and he does have talent. Yet much of my attraction is worry over how much of “what they say about Hillary” is true. Otherwise she is the most qualified of the front runners I suppose (but how come the *really* qualified runners like Dodd and Biden don’t get ahead – what does that say about the electorate/media etc?) I have some concern that the oft-flaky Oprah, who promoted a book saying that everything you wish for will come true (The Secret) is now his main celebrity backer. Most important, if Obama wins, I think the salutary effect of having a black president really would transform the country in positive ways. Sean did a good little piece about Obama’s attractiveness what his election would means, and I recommend having the meat of it published elsewhere.

  • http://www.allysonbeatrice.com/blog Allyson

    I think the next poll should ask how many people read Cosmic Variance and aren’t sequestored academics.

  • http://tyrannogenius.blogspot.com Neil B.

    Allyson, good call. I think there was a poll sometime here about the commenters, but I’m not sure. It would be fun to see a breakdown.

  • http://blueollie.wordpress.com/ ollie

    Just one note about Obama and healthcare: there are those who think that his plan would be more effective than Clinton’s (e. g., cover more people):

    Example: Robert Reich, Bill Clinton’s Labor Secretary:

    I’m equally concerned about her attack on his health care plan. She says his would insure fewer people than hers. I’ve compared the two plans in detail. Both of them are big advances over what we have now. But in my view Obama’s would insure more people, not fewer, than HRC’s. That’s because Obama’s puts more money up front and contains sufficient subsidies to insure everyone who’s likely to need help – including all children and young adults up to 25 years old. Hers requires that everyone insure themselves. Yet we know from experience with mandated auto insurance – and we’re learning from what’s happening in Massachusetts where health insurance is now being mandated – that mandates still leave out a lot of people at the lower end who can’t afford to insure themselves even when they’re required to do so. HRC doesn’t indicate how she’d enforce her mandate, and I can’t find enough money in HRC’s plan to help all those who won’t be able to afford to buy it. I’m also impressed by the up-front investments in information technology in O’s plan, and the reinsurance mechanism for coping with the costs of catastrophic illness. HRC is far less specific on both counts. In short: They’re both advances, but O’s is the better of the two. HRC has no grounds for alleging that O’s would leave out 15 million people.

    No, I don’t work for Obama. :)

  • Anonymous

    I’m surprised more people (especially on a science/physics blog) haven’t pointed out Obama’s atrocious plans for NASA. I like Obama a lot, but as far as science policy is concerned, Hillary is running circles around him.

    He’s proposing to cut hundreds of millions of dollars each year from NASA’s budget to give to the Department of Education instead.

    I’m all for more and better education, but I think this decision really reveals his inexperience: Why is he making this an either/or equation? Why is he pitting space exploration against education? Why not take the money from, oh I dunno, the hundreds of billions of dollars in bloated defense spending?

    As a consequence of his proposed NASA budget reductions, the US could experience a gap of 10+ years where it will have no regular, reliable means to get astronauts into orbit. There are “stopgap” measures that may arise from private industry, but these are far from guaranteed. We’d most likely end up relying on the Russian Soyuz program, but unfortunately it appears that US/Russian relations are likely to become increasingly chilly in coming years — do we really want to bet on a sunny relationship and rely on them to provide us with manned orbital capabilities?

    I question the judgment of anyone who thinks this is a smart move. And don’t try to argue that by cutting all that money from NASA, Obama will be doing unmanned exploration any favors. The fact is it’s a very poor and unwise decision. My vote’s with Hillary (though really Biden’s my favorite).

  • tacitus

    Regarding the NASA issue, yes it would be bad to see those cuts happen. So I guess one has to ask whether Obama would be the sort of President would would listen to the arguments both for and against such a move and then be depended upon to make the correct decision in the face of the facts.

    That is what has been so sorely lacking in Washington these past seven years. We’ve had an ideologically run, faith-based executive that has got us into some terrible messes. Sure, Obama would be informed by his left-of-center ideological foundation, but the question is, will it drive him to bad decisions in the face of the facts? I guess one can never be sure until someone actually becomes President, but I have much higher hopes for Obama than I do for any of the Republican field.

  • http://orgprepdaily.wordpress.com milkshake

    NASA maned space program is terrible, I would much prefer the money to be spent to actual research or education. JPL engineers are first rate and by scrapping ISS/shuttle/moon base/man-on-Mars would produce plenty of funds for them.

    Simmons pointed out, for 2 billions a year it would be possible to fix the lousy elementary and high school education, by making teachers job attractive to smart and motivated and charismatic people again. Compare this amount with the current war expenditures.

    As for Obama – he comes acros as the only inteligent candidate who is not completely phoney. A healthcare proposal: it is not his area of expertise and maybe Clinton can hire more policy-advice people now, and so on. A churchgoing prez is a no big deal if he can avoid the God-told-me-so based military decisions.

  • http://disorderedcosmos.blogspot.com Chanda

    Sean, would you mind clarifying why you were surprised by the margin that went toward non-Obama candidates?

    I have, literally, put my money on Edwards. I’m not sure I believe he has much of a chance, but if I have to pick one of the set, he’s my first choice. (After Kucinich, of course.) I just don’t want to go through what I went through last round, which was standing in the voting booth, thinking about writing McCain’s name in because at least I knew he would be honest, unlike the completely tasteless Kerry.

    As you know, I’m a fan of Black and female achievement, but I think people who are letting the symbolism dominate their choice are fools. (Not you Sean — I can see that you have thought more deeply about your choice.) I also think that the gay community should step back before choosing not to embrace Edwards simply because he’s been honest about his religious convictions. I love Lucy, and I’m glad that Edwards would support her right to immigrate to the US as my legal partner. That’s enough for me.

    Skin color, gender issues and gay rights all come secondary to the day to day issues at hand with poverty, and Edwards is the only one who has consistently spoken out and actually been clear about what he will do to confront it. His populism trumps any symbolism about progress in integration, in my opinion. I won’t sacrifice the working poor of any colour or gender on the altar of my gay marriage or my need to see a woman or a Black man in a place of power. Frankly, I don’t care if it is a white man. I care if it is a leader I trust to enact the policies I care about. When a Black man stands up and truly represents what I believe in, I will be the first in line to donate money to, campaign for, and vote for him. (Unfortunately MLK is dead …)

    I will vote for whomever gets the nomination next year, but if it’s for Clinton, I am fully expecting a repeat of my ballot box experience of 04. If it’s for Obama, I’m not walking out feeling terribly hopeful.

    On the other hand, if he does what one UC Physics professor (that we both know) did, which is have enough faith in and a willingness to work with the Chicago Public School system to allow it to be charged with the education of his children, I might start to feel better about it.

  • rob

    Why do so many people around here seem to be such big fans of manned space exploration? Manned space exploration is not science. Worse yet, it’s a serious distraction from the real space science that NASA should be doing.

    We’re all aware, I hope, of what’s happened to NASA science over the last few years as Mr Bush has become so interested in a Mars mission.

  • http://judithweingarten.blogspot.com judith weingarten

    Tacitus wrote : >one has to ask whether Obama would be the sort of President who would listen to the arguments both for and against such a movebefore he becomes president. We don’t, really, because he hasn’t been in any big job long enough.

    And Neil B: >I think the salutary effect of having a black president really would transform the country in positive ways.

  • http://judithweingarten.blogspot.com judith weingarten

    Sorry, my last line dropped off:

    If we’re voting for symbols, what’s wrong with the ‘salutary effect’ of having a female president? Just as good, I would think; or not?

  • King Cynic

    Not this crap again.

    Listen, everyone … OBAMA IS AN ATHEIST.

    Think about it … he was raised by a secular humanist, and did not join any religion until he began running for public office and discovered that he needed a church affiliation to make inroads in the black community in Chicago.

    Does anyone really believe that Obama actually believes any of the religious tripe he sometimes spouts?

    I won’t vote for Obama myself in the primary (too inexperienced, too short on policy details, so I’m going for Richardson), but a vote for him is a vote for an atheist.

  • fh

    Holy Crap watching this videos I see what a friend meant when he said that Americans treat their Politicians like Popstars….

  • fh

    On another issue, why the fuck should his personal religion matter?

    Not voting for people because they are religious is no better then not voting for them because they are atheists!

    The question is what is their stance on seperation of state and religion for example.

  • Adam

    @King Cynic:
    I don’t think it should matter one way or the other, but to claim that he joined a church for pure political expediency is harsh. It’s possible he did, but I don’t believe he was running for office when he decided to join. It happened during his days as a community organizer.

    @Chanda: Obama has spent most of his working life advocating for the poor. It was, you know, his job as a community organizer. I find it highly unlikely that Obama cares about poverty less than Edwards, and Obama has actually spent time trying to deal with the problem in practical ways.

    It not the fact that Obama is black that makes him compelling. Previous black candidates have not been nearly as compelling. The fact is that Obama is not the black candidate, he is a candidate who happens to be black. Beyond his race, his life story is extremely compelling. He has seen life and taken his share of knocks. He’s developed a compassionate and nuanced politics because of it. He’s not beholden to an us vs. them mentality; however, despite being able to word his policy ideas in ways that republicans and independents find palatable, he doesn’t betray his fundamental liberal core.

    While I’m sure I would be ok with the other democratic candidates, I believe that Obama could really be one of the greats. The others I would trust not to make our country worse than it currently is.

  • http://msm.grumpybumpers.com Coin

    [Obama] did not join any religion until he began running for public office and discovered that he needed a church affiliation to make inroads in the black community in Chicago.

    According to a NYT article cited by wikipedia, Obama converted to Christianity in 1988. Obama was first elected to public office in 1996, and as far as I know did not make any attempts to run for office before this; in any case he wouldn’t have been running for anything in 1988 because (also according to Wikipedia) that was the year he entered Harvard.

  • http://mengbomin.wordpress.com/ Meng Bomin

    Ahmed, it’s hard to know what Obama said if you don’t even remember the quote. There are many possible statements he could have made regarding religion and “everything” and certainly not all of them are terrible statements and some of them may be very true. So, if you can’t remember the quote well enough to even paraphrase it, it’s not worth trying to discuss rationally.

    Z, I can’t see how Edwards or Clinton would be any better (or worse) than Obama on religion. All three of them unequivocally support the separation of church and state and all three of them are religious and “spiritual”. None of them is directly gunning for the “rational” vote.

    Personally, one of the things I like most about Obama is that he does tend to speak and act rationally, tending to give more nuanced answers, as opposed to other candidates like John Edwards, who at times just breathes partisanship and pander. It’s sometimes difficult to count the number of times he says “Bush, Cheney, and the Neocons” in his stump speeches. I’m not fond of the Bush administration by any stretch of the imagination but the seething partisan rhetoric coming from Edwards is grating nonetheless.

    One of the great things about Obama’s war opposition wasn’t just that he opposed it when it was politically risky, but that he opposed it on very well thought-out terms. He’s the kind of guy I would be comfortable with making the decisions about our nation’s foreign policy, and he’s certainly got a good line up of advisors, which is a very good indicator.

    While I tend to avoid supporting politicians simply because I “feel” they’re genuine, he does have a record to match his rhetoric and he does often avoid easy panders to give more truthful answers and I think that’s a desirable quality in a President, especially following the current administration.

  • Matt

    I regularly read your blog via google reader, so I’m not an “invading” supporter here to stir up controversy.

    But you DID rig the poll.

    By selectively excluding candidates which you do not want to take seriously (aka Ron Paul and Kucinich).

    There is exactly ONE person on your poll who has been against the war in Iraq since it began, and I’m glad he got the most votes. I suppose that makes Obama the best “choice”, but you didn’t really give us one.

    I suppose in that way it’s very much like the elections we will have in 2008.

  • Jason M. Hendler

    Neil B.,

    Having no federal record on which to run, Obama is your default, fill-in your wildest dreams, liberal candidate. Hill’reh is a Republican in disguise, and Edwards has the stink of failure on him from 2004, so Obama is merely next in line. It is sad that there is nothing more sophisticated than that causing “progressives” to flock to his candidacy.

  • http://msm.grumpybumpers.com Coin

    you DID rig the poll… By selectively excluding candidates which you do not want to take seriously (aka Ron Paul and Kucinich).

    Couldn’t supporters of those candidates just vote for “other”? I note a lot of people did, enough to put “Other” in second place…

  • No.9

    I should point out that the second question in the poll, “Do you like my new haircut?” has a clear-cut 98% for “Other”.

    Allyson, none of the voters were “sequestored” academics, at least not at any currently known or suspected sequestorianable academic site. All had read Cosmic Variance at least once. No poll was necessary to ascertain these data.

    Judith, Oprah isn’t really running–at least, not yet. There are apparently no other possible female presidents for this election, though various commentators have indicated there is a two-headed baby-eating monster capable of turning Lot’s wife into a pillar of salt masquerading as one.

    King Cynic, the Washington Post pretty much convinced me he’s a Muslim, trained in a madrassa, and likely a terrrist wannabe:


    Did you get your “Obama an atheist” concept from Rush Limbaugh? Rush is so 2nd millenium…

  • http://tyrannogenius.blogspot.com Neil B.

    Say, you folks (we really need a 2nd person plural in English!) will be interested in the following link about Hillary Clinton and religion (“HILLARY CLINTON HEAVY INTO RIGHTWING RELIGIOUS POWER CULT” ultimately sourced from Mother Jones, not a rightie rag.) The subsequent one is also interesting about election politics and candidates including Obama:



  • http://www.davidnataf.com David Nataf

    Overall, a very decent candidate, but his attitudes to NASA are disturbing, I hope they shift around. I don’t think Bush’s Mars plan is the greatest plan in the world, but manned colonization needs to be done eventually, so why not now? There was a huge loss when Bush cancelled the focus on JIMO, and if this happens with every presidential change there will never be any long-term major accomplishments.

    To he who said Manned exploration isn’t science, it might not be. It’s actually engineering. It’s also good PR.

    Overall though, his judgment is pretty good, and he’d help restore America’s image.

  • Ahmed

    Meng – please go and research his various troubling statements yourself, I just did not want to put words in his mouth and I am very careful about that sort of thing. His statement was very clear and it was part of the little documentary channel 9 news was running on the religion being a startling point of focus this election, with all candidates doing some bizarre preaching. He obviously does not understand the separation of church and state, and that is more dangerous to science than it is to personal freedoms (because everybody in our individualist society defends their freedoms fervently, while science is left to the whims of legislation).

    The people saying here that candidates “have to” show their religious belonging in the name of practicality (’cause they won’t be electe otherwise) are missing an important point: your candidate is either lying or really is a nutjob. When some rumor about him being a muslim “plant” who is “planted” to take over the US surfaced on the internet, he was quick as hell to give a speech about his church and his pastor, and how his heart belonged to Jesus. He didn’t bother – as a true president of the free world’s beacon would – to mention that nobody should be asking about his faith to begin with, because we live in a free country where church and state don’t mix. He never bothered to mention that stupid, racist comments about muslims being naturally inclined to “take over” the country were insulting to the millions of mulisms living, studying, and doing science in America. It was all about jesus.

    Both the voters and the candidate need to understand that the candidate’s faith does not have any authority whatsoever over anybody else in this country, or the country will come to ruins. This is America, not the friggin Taleban. I will not accept a liar or an idiot as my president. The world, and science, have suffered enough.

  • http://disorderedcosmos.blogspot.com Chanda

    @Adam: I am completely aware that Obama has redeeming qualities besides being Black and looking good for diversity. I’m also aware, as you are, that plenty of people are letting the diversity card cloud their judgement wrt who is the best person for the job, getting stuck on the fantasticness of the symbolism. This, I have a tremendous problem with. It’s tokenization at its worst! This is like saying we should all be glad Condoleeza Rice is Secretary of State because she’s a Black woman in a position of power. To her I say, thanks but no thanks. Give me the old white guy who isn’t bff with Bush, and he has her job.

    As for evaluating who cares more about the people at the bottom, I have no idea. But I think Edwards has better plans. And I think he is more honest about where he stands as a man with money in relation to confronting poverty. This is clearly a subjective evaluation and without an infusion of data that I was unaware of or that you were unaware of, we are unlikely to change each other’s minds on this point.

    I will add, though, that Edwards has been a lot more honest about how money that was spent on these outrageous wars should have stayed home and supported Americans who needed it. You can call it name-calling or whatever, but Edwards is right — the Democrats currently in office have done an absolutely pathetic job defending civil liberties, the veterans (yeah! let’s send them to war and cut their benefits!!! good going, ), and blue-collar workers.

    Btw, I am totally with everyone who thinks we should dump all of this manned missions to mars and the moon stuff, so to whomever worried that s/he was alone in that sentiment, you’re not! I also really hope that if Obama is the next president, he works out his incredibly foolish idea that cutting the science budget will actually help education. Someone needs to bring him up to speed on the tragic state of science education in the US.

  • Adam

    @Chanda :

    My reaction comes primarily because I’m sick of reading in comments across the web that if Obama weren’t black, he wouldn’t be a big deal. You obviously didn’t say that, and you’re right, that sort of tokenization does devalue the debate. While it would be very cool to have a woman or a black person as President, the first concern is whether or not the person is a good candidate. For me, Obama is who I want to see as president, all the way. For you, not so much. That’s cool. Maybe I should stop reading the comments in CNNs ticker – I’d probably have a much cooler head if I did so.

    For the nasa thing… While the space program was one of the hooks that got me interested in science as a kid, if we can manage to have schools that don’t suck, I could probably live with a decrease in the space program. That being said, I would much prefer the money being recovered from the war machine.

  • tyler

    I find it very interesting that, just in the last week or so, I have seen a very sudden upsurge in (relatively) serious political debate across a large variety of venues – my work, friends, very diverse online communities etc. I am very, very pleased that much of this debate (including that I see here) is, largely, focused on issues rather than the tedious “inside baseball” meta-commentary that passes for election coverage in most of the media, including most online sources.

    While there is some snarkiness afoot in this thread and the other discussions, and unsupported statements and allegations concerning various candidates, there aren’t a bunch of flamey, trollericious ad hominem attacks on other posters. One could actually read and learn things if one wished to do so.

    I find this very encouraging. People are really thinking about who to vote for this time.

    I am as far from a sequestered anything as can be imagined, btw. I come from a serious progressive organizing background: friends of my family were murdered by the Klan in the 70s for their political activities. I have a cushy hi tech job now but have worked everything from construction to bartending.

    I won’t vote based on symbolism. I love the idea of an african-american or woman president, but only if they’re the best possible candidate.

  • http://mengbomin.wordpress.com/ Meng Bomin

    Ahmed, why should I put the effort into finding your poorly described statement when it was you who was trying to make the point? I can’t just take your word that he said something bad if I can’t evaluate it myself and given the vagueness of your description of the quote, it would be nearly impossible for me to find it among the multitudes of statements made by the candidates.

    Now, on the Muslim issue, I agree that that shouldn’t be an issue, but in all seriousness, it is. There has been an active rumor campaign that purports that Obama is a Muslim, which he is not. Personally, I would not mind if he were a Muslim, because I don’t believe that that should be a criterion for the Presidency, nor do I believe that race or gender should be criteria. However, that does not mean that the American people as a whole do not treat it as a criterion, because while separation of church and state is inscribed in American law, there is no prohibition of individuals using it as criteria.

    Given the nature of elections, it is important to respond to false statements as forcefully as possible to silence rumors. That is all Obama was doing.

  • joem

    If, in your penultimate sentence, the “he” were changed to a “she” ( I’m thinking Hillary), what effect does that have on the “magnitude” of the event?

  • foldedpath

    @judith weingarten:
    If we’re voting for symbols, what’s wrong with the ’salutary effect’ of having a female president? Just as good, I would think; or not?

    If only it weren’t that particular female, riding that particular legacy into power.

    Anyway, forget Obama’s skin color for a minute. Look at his background and the effect it would have on how the world sees the U.S. power structure. Obama’s father is Kenyan. He spent his childhood in multi-ethnic Hawaii, and spent his pre-teen years in Jakarta, Indonesia. IIRC, his grandmother still lives in a small village in Kenya. Electing Obama is the strongest possible message we could send that we’re no longer an insular, cowboy superpower… that we actually understand there’s a wider world out there, that we have to get along with.

    I’ll vote for Hillary if that’s the way it goes, but this isn’t just about electing a black man. It’s about electing someone who actually knows something about life outside the U.S. borders. He can probably even correctly say the word “nuclear.”

  • http://judithweingarten.blogspot.com judith weingarten

    folded path says : “ït’s about electing someone who actually knows something about life outside the US borders.”

    Child’s play!

    And isn’t he the guy who wanted to invade Pakistan. Um, pre-Musharraf coup! Maybe now it’d be a good idea :-)

    some more good readons to slow down : http://noquarterusa.net/blog/2007/12/14/barack-obamas-apologies-for-punjab-gate-but-blamed-his-staff-homophobia-gate-wasted-lives-gate-but-hes-refused-to-apologize-for-other-gates/#more-1158


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  • Ijon Tichy

    Who cares about his positions on religion and NASA funding? Will he support impeachment of Bush and Cheney for presiding over horrible things like this? No? Then vote for someone who will, because the gravity of the situation demands it.

  • Sid

    Why should we have to guess regarding the Democratic candidates’ views on religion? Why aren’t these candidates asked direct questions regarding religion, the bible, evolution, etc.? I understand that they are likely to give us answers that are politically expedient (as do the Repubicans, of course) but at least we would hear what each candidate would like us hear.

  • http://disorderedcosmos.blogspot.com Chanda

    I voted for Kucinich in the last primary, and I wish I could vote for him again. But it happens to be that a vote for Kucinich is actually a vote against a candidate, John Edwards, who is struggling to win but might have a fighting chance if people make the effort to go out and vote for him. I’d rather try to help someone who isn’t a total disaster has a fighting chance and needs the help than send a symbolic message in the ballot box. On the other hand, there isn’t a rule that says I have to donate to only one candidate :)

    Generally speaking though, I think you’re right. Cheney and Bush deserve not just impeachment but also jail time for what they’ve done. It’s unfortunate that the chances of the next president taking them to task for it are pretty much nil because I think an example should be set: abuse your power, kill lots of people, and it will be punished.

    But they haven’t even thrown Alberto Gonzales in jail yet! Sigh.

  • Belizean


    I’m a Republican, so naturally I view Obama as a total loon politically.

    Putting politics aside, however, I still have — as a black man myself — a bit of a problem with Obama. Admittedly it’s somewhat irrational. And it’s not Obama’s fault. But my problem is that he is half white.

    It would be most unfortunate from my vantage point for the first “black” President of the United States to be 50% white. It would seem to reinforce racist theories of black inferiority that argue that individual black achievement is proportional to the fraction white blood possessed. [And a cursory scan of history makes this theory harder to dismiss than you might at first expect.]

    Having a light-skinned black man like Colin Powell as Secretary of State didn’t make much of an impression on me emotionally. But (I am embarrassed to reveal) I actually tear up, when I dwell on the current reality of the dark-skinned Condoleeza Rice holding that office.

    These feeling probably won’t make sense to anyone who didn’t grow up black. My point, though, is that while whites view Obama as black, many of us blacks don’t see him that way. To us, he is at least as white as he is black. His election would not, therefore, be as emotionally satisfying as it would be to the typical white liberal. And to a certain extent it would be a kick in the teeth.


    [P.S. Please refrain from the obvious joke that you, too, tear up at the thought of Condi as Secretary of State.]

  • Brian Mingus

    Obama plans to cut NASA funding in favor of education, meaning this blog is going to have less to talk about.

  • http://www.gregegan.net/ Greg Egan

    [P.S. Please refrain from the obvious joke that you, too, tear up at the thought of Condi as Secretary of State.]

    OK, so long as we’re still allowed to dry retch every time we remember Henry Kissinger.

  • spyder

    “Holy crap, we could have a black person as the President of the United States!” For better or for worse — some people will be exhilarated, some will be appalled, some will be scared, some will cry tears of joy. Many pundits will say stupid things, many nasty smears will characterize the campaign. But regardless, it’s hard to exaggerate how extraordinary such an event would be–

    If nothing else, electing Barack Obama would be seen by the rest of the world as a huge shift in the attitude and quality of people of the United States. With just one such election, the rest of the world would perceive a US willing to admit its faults, redirect its focus, recommit itself to human rights, draw down its military presence, and so forth– simply because we had the temerity to elect an African American.

  • NoJoy

    Neil B.,

    we really need a 2nd person plural in English!

    We have one:

  • Nicole

    It doesn’t surprise me at all that Obama is leading by such a large margin in this poll of almost all Democrats, who are mostly male. That’s what nationwide polls are saying, Clinton’s lead is due to her support from female voters.

  • http://tyrannogenius.blogspot.com Neil B.

    NoJoy – OK, sure, I mean it (or something) should be “accepted” English, whatever that means (Yankee-style academic recognition I guess.) Hey, how can anyone associated with the South go by “NoJoy”? – just teasing…

    Nicole – ” …this poll of almost all Democrats, who are mostly male.” Huh?

  • The Almighty Bob

    If nothing else, electing Barack Obama would be seen by the rest of the world as a huge shift in the attitude and quality of people of the United States. With just one such election, the rest of the world would perceive a US willing to admit its faults, redirect its focus, recommit itself to human rights, draw down its military presence, and so forth– simply because we had the temerity to elect an African American.

    Um… No, it wouldn’t . We would, I believe, breathe a huge sigh of relief. And then go back to waiting to see who gets fucked next.
    To show us you’re willing to admit your faults, redirect focus, recommit, etc, etc, your next President will have to DO something. Your current government has spent the last of our political goodwill.

    (Irish, by the way).

  • http://disorderedcosmos.blogspot.com Chanda

    Almighty Bob, just wanted to say thanks for keeping it real and reminding everyone that more than symbolism is required to convince people that America isn’t out to screw them 😉 Hell, I think a lot of Americans need more than that to be convinced America isn’t out to screw them …

  • Diocletian

    “We’re all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.” — Oscar Wilde

    That list of candidates was selected by the corporate plutocracy, the same gangsters who profit from the endless state of warfare and who finance the individual campaigns. If you want to know who the real terrorists are, look at the campaign donor lists.

    The fact that unnamed candidates can command a quarter of the vote testifies to the illegitimacy of the candidate list in a democracy and gives the lie to the idea that Kucinich is unelectable. If Kucinich or Paul were allowed just half the tv coverage that other corporate they’d be leading the polls. Their ideas are truly more in the mainstream than any of the right winger lists, but the voters don’t know it. Of course iff an elected candidate does not toe the line, he’ll be killed, the same as Carnahan and Wellstone. It’s a question of survivability, not electability.

    IF you accept the corporate proffered candidates as comprising a legitimate election, then you are propping up a Potemkin democracy; you’re playing the role of those whom Joseph Stalin called useful idiots.


    “If nothing else, electing Barack Obama would be seen by the rest of the world as a huge shift in the attitude and quality of people of the United States.” -spyder

    Nuh, uh, spyder. Only impeachment can begin to restore the U,S, to a respected role in world affairs. After supporting both sides of the Iran-Iraq war for a decade during which millions were killed, then inflicting the hundreds of thousands of deaths of which Madeline Albright was so sanguine, and finally killing another 1.2 million and destroying the infrastructure and the institutions of a society – only impeachment and a total repudiation of the Republican Party will make any impression at all on a disgusted and angry world.

    Impeachment is also essential for restoring decency in the U.S. Impeachment and the subsequent trial make a story that cannot be ignored or spun by corporate media, It’s essential that the story of how Americans were deceived and emotionally manipulated into acquiescing monstrous crimes must be discussed daily on television for a long time in order educate Americans and to inform the world that there are decent people in the U.S. still.

    Impeach. Convict. Punish.

  • The Almighty Bob

    Thanks, Chanda.
    In relation to your first point, Diocletian; are you familiar with the work of a Mr. Bill Hicks?

    I’ll show you politics in America. Here it is, right here: I think the puppet on the right shares my beliefs. I think the puppet on the left is more to my liking. Hey wait a minute, there’s one guy holding up both puppets!

    On your second point: ‘only’ nothing will convince us of your good faith. Impeaching Bush and Cheney would be a start. Repealing all of the laws passed gathering power to the President would be a start. Rebuilding New Orleans or otherwise taking care of the refugees would be a start. Ratifying the Kyoto Protocol would be a start. Reining in the CIA would be a start. Getting your troops home would be a start. Opening the records of the rendition flights and the secret torture bases would be a start. Closing Guantanamo would be a start.
    There are more important and more urgent things on that list than impeaching the previous administration. Impeaching the current administration would be good, as it’s about the only thing on that list Congress can actually do at the moment, but once Bush and the rest are out of office there’s a lot more needs doing faster.

  • http://disorderedcosmos.blogspot.com Chanda

    just a quick note to point out that I’m not the one who thinks impeachment is the answer! I think Bush should be thrown in jail, but I agree that there are other, crucial things that need to be dealt with. In the end, jail for Bush may add up to just symbolism too.

  • The Almighty Bob

    Sorry, Chanda. I knew I was responding to Diocletian; I should have made that explicit. Too used to arguing face-to-face and making it clear which argument I’m in by yelling, finger-wagging etc, I suppose… (“,)

  • Diocletian

    As I said, Almighty, impeachment is essential to the political education of the American people. I am in favor of all your ideas for change, but unless Americans can understand how they were fooled then they will only be misled again. GWB himself said, “You can fool some of the people all of the time – and those are the ones you want to focus on.”

    Having said that, I appreciate that impeachment is a near impossibility. The prosecuting entities are complicit in the crimes of Bush. Further, the media that would report on impeachment proceedings iare also complicit in Bush’s crimes by supporting the blatant lies about WMDs and by failure to investigate and report on dozens of other Bush lies that daily lead us closer to our destruction.

    There is hope though that Bush et al. will be prosecuted sometime after they leave office. If so, I hope they will be tried in the U.S. rather than in the International Criminal Court. I would like to see death penalties imposed on the principals.

  • The Almighty Bob

    Ah. We were talking at cross-purposes. Impeachment may well be absolutely necessary to the continued health of American democracy; I feel unqualified to comment authoritatively. I was saying that, outside the US, its impact would be marginal.

    I am in favor of all your ideas for change.

    You know the really sad part? The only ‘change’ in that list is Kyoto. Everything else is attempting to put the situation back the way Clinton left it.
    (Mentioning him… HOW did you impeach him for a blowjob when the current monkey seems untouchable?)

  • Kluge

    Neil B. (#26)

    We have one; it’s y’all…

  • Kluge

    Ah, I see I was beaten to the punch with y’all.

    Anyway, Obama seems far too inexperienced (as his relatively meager record and campaign missteps show) to be President at this point in his career.

    I’m also disturbed by how much his campaign is about how wonderful and “different” he is personally, rather than about his policies. IMO, a candidate’s policies are the best guide to their character.

    While there are things I don’t like about Hillary, I think we need someone who will be able to deal with the firestorm of criticism that will come from the right, and who knows how to get things done in the Washington we have, not the one we wished we had.

  • http://tyrannogenius.blogspot.com Neil B.

    Kluge, you have a point even though I still like Obama. He talks a lot about change and where we need to go, but I want to be sure he has worked all that out well enough.

    (Hey, are you a computer type? People pick on Microsoft for this and that, and me too for e.g. not even having a good way to print lists of files from directories, but how can Google get away with not having, IIUC, a case-sensitive search? (And direct character string search) It is often so inconvenient.

  • The Almighty Bob

    Google does lower-case only due to the fun and games that differentiating would cause. How would you like having to re-search your query with all the different possible capitalisations? That’s what we’d have to do to get current functionality if there was no “don’t differentiate” option. If there was an option, they would have to search generate all possible capitalisations, search them all, then return the union of the results. By the time you’ve scaled this up to millions of searches daily, then start doing it in different languages, you can understand why they decided not to bother.

    Have you tried searching your phrase, then running the results through a regex? (the link is Wikipedia – I know, but sometimes there just isn’t a better reference to hand).

  • The Almighty Bob

    #55 Kluge; YOU (or y’all, if you prefer) have one. Unfortunately, even if you do it by percentage of speakers you’d be outvoted on making it official (check “population of India” if you feel I’m wrong :-)

  • http://tyrannogenius.blogspot.com Neil B.

    Bob, I think you misframed the issue and the supposed problems thereof. As it stands, I type in “NeXttG” and it just looks for “nexttg” by ignoring capitalization, which is no extra work because either case is just accepted for each character. OTOH, if I could ask for case-sensitive, it would search for that particular ASCII character string, which is no extra work either, it’s just a matchup task. They have no excuse IMHO for not having direct ASCII search per se (which includes case-sensitive as a subset.) Now, I do know that Google knows to look for the “CIA” if I type in “cia”, but that is about recognizing important names in the world and not character recognition as such.

    I will look into regex but don’t think that vitiates my complaint.

    What were you thinking? I know there’s a temptation to say to yourself, “But *they* couldn’t really be that stupid/lazy/unconcerned, so” … and then you contrive a kludgey rationalization for what the big boys do. They count on people doing that, just so they can get away with often being stupid/lazy/unconcerned.

  • The Almighty Bob

    I was being too clever by half; I was thinking of the complexity that would be engendered in indexing by differentiation, rather than doing the heavy lifting in the application. Dumb of me. That’ll teach me not to post before coffee.

    The complexity of taking a page of Google results and running a character match on it ranges from using your browser’s ‘find’ function with “match case” on, to writing your own search that uses Google for its first-order results…

    (PS: anyone interested in websearching should know about Fravia – so now you you do “,)

  • http://tyrannogenius.blogspot.com Neil B.

    Sean was prescient. Here are the latest historic results, close to being final figures:

    Obama 37.53; Edwards 29.88; Clinton 29.41
    Huckabee 34; Romney 25; Thompson 14; McCain 13%; Paul 10%

    I wish Obama the best of luck from now on, but I am still not sure who is best. He will need to stand up under closer scrutiny now, and must show more defining substance. Winning this means being more than boy wonder now.

    As for Huckabee, how interesting. See what Andrew Sullivan has to say about all that, at http://andrewsullivan.theatlantic.com/.


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Cosmic Variance

Random samplings from a universe of ideas.

About Sean Carroll

Sean Carroll is a Senior Research Associate in the Department of Physics at the California Institute of Technology. His research interests include theoretical aspects of cosmology, field theory, and gravitation. His most recent book is The Particle at the End of the Universe, about the Large Hadron Collider and the search for the Higgs boson. Here are some of his favorite blog posts, home page, and email: carroll [at] cosmicvariance.com .


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