Warm November

78F today, in the middle of November. It is midnight, and the temperature is 64F.

There was a soft occasional breeze, the moon was still nearly full, a clear and starry sky. Came back from dinner and movie with friends, I didn’t want the night to end. Lingered on the balcony for a long while, admiring the stars, the evening lights of glen park, blinking lights on the tv tower atop twin peaks, the moonlight shone on the blossom lemon tree in the yard, a distant wind chime sang a few reluctant notes, cats poked their heads out of the door and checking up on us.

A lovely night that i don’t want to forget…

“One Cool Fighter”

The Joshua Generation
Race and the campaign of Barack Obama.
by David Remnick
November 17, 2008
The New Yorker

Just noticed that November 17th issue of the New Yorker is all about this election! “The Joshua Generation” is the featured article. It is a profile of Obama and his political life combined into one, waved between Obama’s first book “Dreams From My Father”, and defining incidents throughout the campaign.

I like the following couple of paragraphs the best:

Just as important as the message was the tone of the messenger. Obama’s distinctively cool personality continued to serve him and his candidacy. The civil-rights-era activist Bob Moses told me, “His confidence in himself—and his peacefulness with himself—came through in a way that can’t be faked. You are under too much pressure to actually adopt a persona. You can’t do it under that pressure and not have it blown away. People said he couldn’t afford to be the angry black candidate, but the point is that he is not angry. If he were angry, it would have come out.” Indeed, in the sixties, Moses, as he led voter-registration drives in Mississippi, was himself known for those same qualities—his intelligence and even temper.

“The speech helped stanch a real frenzy,” Axelrod said. “Barack turned a moment of great vulnerability into a moment of triumph. He said, ‘I may lose, but I will have done something valuable.’ He was utterly calm while everyone was freaking out. He said, ‘Either they will accept it or they won’t and I won’t be President.’ It was probably the most important moment of the whole campaign.”

Studs Terkel, who compiled oral histories about race and the Depression and was, at ninety-six, a Chicago institution, spoke to me a week before his death. Terkel said that Obama’s political guile under pressure reminded him of Gene Tunney, the heavyweight champion of the mid-nineteen-twenties, who used craft, more than brawn, to defeat Jack Dempsey twice. “The guys on the street, the mechanics and shoe clerks, saw Tunney as an intellectual, but he won,” Terkel said. “Obama is like that. He’s one cool fighter.”

The New Yorker: Battle Plans

Battle Plans
— How Obama Won
by Ryan Lizza.
Via The New Yorker, November 17, 2008

Was reading this in bed on Sunday morning.
Was excitedly peddling many finer points mentioned by the article to ZM, then to Gui.

Then was overwhelmed by the surreal looking thick foam at Fort Funston, by the time i was done processing photos and finished a blog on the foam in Chinese, the morning excitement had worn off.

Now come the next morning, and I feel obliged to at least link to this great article and maybe just note down a few peddling points for the record.

1. people
The catchphrase inside the campaign was “No drama with Obama,” and Plouffe channelled the low-key temperament of the candidate himself. “Barack went out and sought people who had a certain personality type,” …When, in January, 2007, Pfeiffer interviewed for his job, Obama told him, “What I want around me are people who are calm, who don’t get too high and don’t get too low, because that’s how I am.”

2. ego
Obama, who is not without an ego, regarded himself as just as gifted as his top strategists in the art and practice of politics….Obama said that he liked being surrounded by people who expressed strong opinions, but he also said, “I think that I’m a better speechwriter than my speechwriters. I know more about policies on any particular issue than my policy directors. And I’ll tell you right now that I’m gonna think I’m a better political director than my political director.”

3. An Independent Thinker
During July 2007 YouTube Democrat debate, Obama said he would meet with leaders of Iran, Syria, Venezuela, Cuba, and North Korea without precondition. Afterwards, Obama’s staff thought that’s a mistake and needs clarification and defending. But Obama said something to the effect of “This is ridiculous. We met with Stalin. We met with Mao. The idea that we can’t meet with Ahmadinejad is ridiculous. This is a bunch of Washington-insider conventional wisdom that makes no sense. We should not run from this debate. We should have it.”

4. the moment where he began looking like a President…
The Obama campaign was organized around a series of conference calls, the most important of which was a nightly call involving Obama and some dozen senior advisers….On these calls, Obama’s advisers had a chance to watch their candidate grapple with complex economic problems. During one, Obama laid out the steps in negotiating the bailout package: he would call the Treasury Secretary, Henry Paulson, and the Federal Reserve chairman, Ben Bernanke, and consult with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. Pfeiffer said, “We all got off the phone and I was, like, ‘You know what? That was the first call that felt like that’s what it’s going to be like if he’s President.’ That was the moment where he began looking like a President and not a Presidential candidate.”

6. to emerge intact
Axelrod said to me that, early in the process, Obama told aides, “I’m in this to win, I want to win, and I think we will win. But I’m also going to emerge intact. I’m going to be Barack Obama and not some parody.” At another point, in early 2007, Obama returned from a forum about health care knowing that he had not done well against Hillary Clinton. “She was very good, and I need to meet that standard, meet that test,” he told Axelrod. “I am not a great candidate now, but I am going to figure out how to be a great candidate.” One of Obama’s achievements as a politician is that he somehow managed to emerge intact, after navigating two years of a modern and occasionally absurd Presidential race, while also becoming a great candidate. On Election Night, as he once again invoked the words of Lincoln, he seemed to be saying that he was going to figure out how to be a great President.

Obama, The Great Orator

Update (11/10/2008): New Yorker’s Close Reading of Obama’s Victory Speech, by James Wood.

A theatre critic once memorably complained of a bad play that it had not been a good night out for the English language. Among other triumphs, last Tuesday night was a very good night for the English language. A movement in American politics hostile to the possession and the possibility of words—it had repeatedly disparaged Barack Obama as “just a person of words” —was not only defeated but embarrassed by a victory speech eloquent in echo, allusion, and counterpoint.

=================

As if being brought back to the birth place of democracy: Ancient Greece, or the Roman Republic. So this must be how Cicero has addressed Romans.
So classic,
So grand,
So beautiful…

I feel so fortunate to be alive in such interesting times, to be so close to greatness, and to witness history being made.

ABC News
FULL TRANSCRIPT: Sen. Barack Obama’s Victory Speech
Sen. Barack Obama Delivers Victory Speech from Grant Park in Chicago

Nov. 4, 2008

Hello, Chicago,

If there is anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible; who still wonders if the dream of our founders is alive in our time; who still questions the power of our democracy, tonight is your answer.

It’s the answer told by lines that stretched around schools and churches in numbers this nation has never seen; by people who waited three hours and four hours, many for the very first time in their lives, because they believed that this time must be different; that their voice could be that difference.

It’s the answer spoken by young and old, rich and poor, Democrat and Republican, black, white, Latino, Asian, Native American, gay, straight, disabled and not disabled – Americans who sent a message to the world that we have never been a collection of Red States and Blue States: we are, and always will be, the United States of America.

It’s the answer that led those who have been told for so long by so many to be cynical, and fearful, and doubtful of what we can achieve to put their hands on the arc of history and bend it once more toward the hope of a better day.

It’s been a long time coming, but tonight, because of what we did on this day, in this election, at this defining moment, change has come to America.

I just received a very gracious call from Senator McCain. He fought long and hard in this campaign, and he’s fought even longer and harder for the country he loves. He has endured sacrifices for America that most of us cannot begin to imagine, and we are better off for the service rendered by this brave and selfless leader. I congratulate him and Governor Palin for all they have achieved, and I look forward to working with them to renew this nation’s promise in the months ahead.

I want to thank my partner in this journey, a man who campaigned from his heart and spoke for the men and women he grew up with on the streets of Scranton and rode with on that train home to Delaware, the Vice President-elect of the United States, Joe Biden.

I would not be standing here tonight without the unyielding support of my best friend for the last sixteen years, the rock of our family and the love of my life, our nation’s next First Lady, Michelle Obama. Sasha and Malia, I love you both so much, and you have earned the new puppy that’s coming with us to the White House. And while she’s no longer with us, I know my grandmother is watching, along with the family that made me who I am. I miss them tonight, and know that my debt to them is beyond measure.

To my campaign manager David Plouffe, my chief strategist David Axelrod, and the best campaign team ever assembled in the history of politics – you made this happen, and I am forever grateful for what you’ve sacrificed to get it done.

But above all, I will never forget who this victory truly belongs to – it belongs to you.

I was never the likeliest candidate for this office. We didn’t start with much money or many endorsements. Our campaign was not hatched in the halls of Washington – it began in the backyards of Des Moines and the living rooms of Concord and the front porches of Charleston.

It was built by working men and women who dug into what little savings they had to give five dollars and ten dollars and twenty dollars to this cause. It grew strength from the young people who rejected the myth of their generation’s apathy; who left their homes and their families for jobs that offered little pay and less sleep; from the not-so-young people who braved the bitter cold and scorching heat to knock on the doors of perfect strangers; from the millions of Americans who volunteered, and organized, and proved that more than two centuries later, a government of the people, by the people and for the people has not perished from this Earth. This is your victory.

I know you didn’t do this just to win an election and I know you didn’t do it for me. You did it because you understand the enormity of the task that lies ahead. For even as we celebrate tonight, we know the challenges that tomorrow will bring are the greatest of our lifetime – two wars, a planet in peril, the worst financial crisis in a century. Even as we stand here tonight, we know there are brave Americans waking up in the deserts of Iraq and the mountains of Afghanistan to risk their lives for us. There are mothers and fathers who will lie awake after their children fall asleep and wonder how they’ll make the mortgage, or pay their doctor’s bills, or save enough for college. There is new energy to harness and new jobs to be created; new schools to build and threats to meet and alliances to repair.

The road ahead will be long. Our climb will be steep. We may not get there in one year or even one term, but America – I have never been more hopeful than I am tonight that we will get there. I promise you – we as a people will get there.

There will be setbacks and false starts. There are many who won’t agree with every decision or policy I make as President, and we know that government can’t solve every problem. But I will always be honest with you about the challenges we face. I will listen to you, especially when we disagree. And above all, I will ask you join in the work of remaking this nation the only way it’s been done in America for two-hundred and twenty-one years – block by block, brick by brick, calloused hand by calloused hand.

What began twenty-one months ago in the depths of winter must not end on this autumn night. This victory alone is not the change we seek – it is only the chance for us to make that change. And that cannot happen if we go back to the way things were. It cannot happen without you.

So let us summon a new spirit of patriotism; of service and responsibility where each of us resolves to pitch in and work harder and look after not only ourselves, but each other. Let us remember that if this financial crisis taught us anything, it’s that we cannot have a thriving Wall Street while Main Street suffers – in this country, we rise or fall as one nation; as one people.

Let us resist the temptation to fall back on the same partisanship and pettiness and immaturity that has poisoned our politics for so long. Let us remember that it was a man from this state who first carried the banner of the Republican Party to the White House – a party founded on the values of self-reliance, individual liberty, and national unity. Those are values we all share, and while the Democratic Party has won a great victory tonight, we do so with a measure of humility and determination to heal the divides that have held back our progress. As Lincoln said to a nation far more divided than ours, “We are not enemies, but friends&though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection.” And to those Americans whose support I have yet to earn – I may not have won your vote, but I hear your voices, I need your help, and I will be your President too.

And to all those watching tonight from beyond our shores, from parliaments and palaces to those who are huddled around radios in the forgotten corners of our world – our stories are singular, but our destiny is shared, and a new dawn of American leadership is at hand. To those who would tear this world down – we will defeat you. To those who seek peace and security – we support you. And to all those who have wondered if America’s beacon still burns as bright – tonight we proved once more that the true strength of our nation comes not from the might of our arms or the scale of our wealth, but from the enduring power of our ideals: democracy, liberty, opportunity, and unyielding hope.

For that is the true genius of America – that America can change. Our union can be perfected. And what we have already achieved gives us hope for what we can and must achieve tomorrow.

This election had many firsts and many stories that will be told for generations. But one that’s on my mind tonight is about a woman who cast her ballot in Atlanta. She’s a lot like the millions of others who stood in line to make their voice heard in this election except for one thing – Ann Nixon Cooper is 106 years old.

She was born just a generation past slavery; a time when there were no cars on the road or planes in the sky; when someone like her couldn’t vote for two reasons – because she was a woman and because of the color of her skin.

And tonight, I think about all that she’s seen throughout her century in America – the heartache and the hope; the struggle and the progress; the times we were told that we can’t, and the people who pressed on with that American creed: Yes we can.

At a time when women’s voices were silenced and their hopes dismissed, she lived to see them stand up and speak out and reach for the ballot. Yes we can.

When there was despair in the dust bowl and depression across the land, she saw a nation conquer fear itself with a New Deal, new jobs and a new sense of common purpose. Yes we can.

When the bombs fell on our harbor and tyranny threatened the world, she was there to witness a generation rise to greatness and a democracy was saved. Yes we can.

She was there for the buses in Montgomery, the hoses in Birmingham, a bridge in Selma, and a preacher from Atlanta who told a people that “We Shall Overcome.” Yes we can.

A man touched down on the moon, a wall came down in Berlin, a world was connected by our own science and imagination. And this year, in this election, she touched her finger to a screen, and cast her vote, because after 106 years in America, through the best of times and the darkest of hours, she knows how America can change. Yes we can.

America, we have come so far. We have seen so much. But there is so much more to do. So tonight, let us ask ourselves – if our children should live to see the next century; if my daughters should be so lucky to live as long as Ann Nixon Cooper, what change will they see? What progress will we have made?

This is our chance to answer that call. This is our moment. This is our time – to put our people back to work and open doors of opportunity for our kids; to restore prosperity and promote the cause of peace; to reclaim the American Dream and reaffirm that fundamental truth – that out of many, we are one; that while we breathe, we hope, and where we are met with cynicism, and doubt, and those who tell us that we can’t, we will respond with that timeless creed that sums up the spirit of a people:

Yes We Can. Thank you, God bless you, and may God Bless the United States of America.

Copyright © 2008 ABC News Internet Ventures

Cities and Ambition by Paul Graham

I first read Paul Graham’s essay “Cities and Ambition” a while ago. I loved it so much I remembered distributing to all my friends and got into a high energy discussion with my sister, both violently agreeing with Paul Graham’s assessment of many cities in his essay.

Today the link showed up again on douban.com, and I read it again. Still love it. Can’t believe i didn’t blog about it the first time around.

Great cities attract ambitious people. You can sense it when you walk around one. In a hundred subtle ways, the city sends you a message: you could do more; you should try harder.

The surprising thing is how different these messages can be. New York tells you, above all: you should make more money. There are other messages too, of course. You should be hipper. You should be better looking. But the clearest message is that you should be richer.

What I like about Boston (or rather Cambridge) is that the message there is: you should be smarter. You really should get around to reading all those books you’ve been meaning to.

When you ask what message a city sends, you sometimes get surprising answers. As much as they respect brains in Silicon Valley, the message the Valley sends is: you should be more powerful.

That’s not quite the same message New York sends. Power matters in New York too of course, but New York is pretty impressed by a billion dollars even if you merely inherited it. In Silicon Valley no one would care except a few real estate agents. What matters in Silicon Valley is how much effect you have on the world. The reason people there care about Larry and Sergey is not their wealth but the fact that they control Google, which affects practically everyone.

Here is one where my sister couldn’t agree more about berkeley. She should know, she lived there for 10 years.

I’d always imagined Berkeley would be the ideal place—that it would basically be Cambridge with good weather. But when I finally tried living there a couple years ago, it turned out not to be. The message Berkeley sends is: you should live better. Life in Berkeley is very civilized. It’s probably the place in America where someone from Northern Europe would feel most at home. But it’s not humming with ambition.

even though sis is thoroughly disappointed at Berkeley being so lack of ambition, it actually sounds like the ideal city for me. In my mind, San Francisco/Bay Area is largely that way too. At least the part of the bay area that matters to me, they are all sending me the same message “live better.” yay!

I found the following couple of paragraph intriguing.

A city speaks to you mostly by accident—in things you see through windows, in conversations you overhear. It’s not something you have to seek out, but something you can’t turn off. One of the occupational hazards of living in Cambridge is overhearing the conversations of people who use interrogative intonation in declarative sentences. But on average I’ll take Cambridge conversations over New York or Silicon Valley ones.

A friend who moved to Silicon Valley in the late 90s said the worst thing about living there was the low quality of the eavesdropping. At the time I thought she was being deliberately eccentric. Sure, it can be interesting to eavesdrop on people, but is good quality eavesdropping so important that it would affect where you chose to live? Now I understand what she meant. The conversations you overhear tell you what sort of people you’re among.

Although in real life, I don’t have much dependency on eavesdropping. Maybe cuz i’m a rather anti-social person, i find interesting/passionate conversation with a couple of close friends a lot more satisfying, which is more essential to me.

Here is the message from LA.

The big thing in LA seems to be fame. There’s an A List of people who are most in demand right now, and what’s most admired is to be on it, or friends with those who are. Beneath that the message is much like New York’s, though perhaps with more emphasis on physical attractiveness.

Last but not the least, Paris and London. I’ve actually seen more bookshelves (full of books) in Paris than in any other city (granted, i’ve never really visited anyone in Boston, so i don’t know what the bookshelves density is like there.)

Paris was once a great intellectual center. If you went there in 1300, it might have sent the message Cambridge does now. But I tried living there for a bit last year, and the ambitions of the inhabitants are not intellectual ones. The message Paris sends now is: do things with style. I liked that, actually. Paris is the only city I’ve lived in where people genuinely cared about art. In America only a few rich people buy original art, and even the more sophisticated ones rarely get past judging it by the brand name of the artist. But looking through windows at dusk in Paris you can see that people there actually care what paintings look like. Visually, Paris has the best eavesdropping I know.

There’s one more message I’ve heard from cities: in London you can still (barely) hear the message that one should be more aristocratic. If you listen for it you can also hear it in Paris, New York, and Boston. But this message is everywhere very faint. It would have been strong 100 years ago, but now I probably wouldn’t have picked it up at all if I hadn’t deliberately tuned in to that wavelength to see if there was any signal left.