Obama recognizes a meme

As part of his campaign to motivate disillusioned young people into voting for him again, Barack Obama did a reddit interview. Reddit users posted questions, other reddit users voted up questions, and Obama answered the questions that bubbled up to the top.  The interview was so popular that it essentially crashed Reddit.

There was nothing much to see in the interview itself. Nothing, that is, but a talented politician using words to avoid actually answering any of the questions.   Take for example, this question/answer pair:
Are you considering increasing funds to the space program?
Making sure we stay at the forefront of space exploration is a big priority for my administration. The passing of Neil Armstrong this week is a reminder of the inspiration and wonder that our space program has provided in the past; the curiosity probe on mars is a reminder of what remains to be discovered. The key is to make sure that we invest in cutting edge research that can take us to the next level - so even as we continue work with the international space station, we are focused on a potential mission to a asteroid as a prelude to a manned Mars flight.
Notice that he doesn't actually say whether he is considering increasing funds to the space program.  A lot of words on a related topic, but not directly to the question at hand.
Wait, there is something worth noting: Obama's answers contained no outright lies -- these days, it appears that every speech by every Republican is full of lies, so perhaps it is worth noting that Barack Obama was saying only true things.  He was ducking questions, but he was not actively lying.

So, anyway, the interview ended with Obama's take on the whole Reddit interview process: "NOT BAD". This is a reference to a wildly popular meme that dates back to a year ago, when the Obamas visited Britain and were caught in this pose.

See more on Know Your Meme

I suppose that some young staffer would have pointed out to Obama that there was an internet meme centered about a candid photo of him.  Still, it was quite clever of Obama to reference it in a situation.  So much so that one of the Reddit posters was prompted to remark:

Not really, let's be real here.
Although it's funny to imagine President Obama sitting in the oval office giggling and looking at photos of cats.
EDIT: I'm enjoying the fact that for the forseeable future my comment with the most upvotes will be one about President Obama looking at cat photos on reddit.

This easy empathy with an audience is what makes Obama the talented politician he is.

Innocence Lost

Sunday school for the kids started today.  As we turned into the temple parking lot, we saw a police car at the entrance. Apparently, the temple board was jittery enough after the Wisconsin shootings that they asked for the police presence. They didn't ask for the police presence round the clock, mind you. Only for a couple of hours a week -- times that the building would be full of children.

The stimulus worked

A must-read interview.  If you have been watching Fox News, you may not recognize the picture it draws:

When will Americans be able to look out and recognize measurable, wonderful gains from the stimulus?

Well, we’re already able. For example, 95 percent of us received Making Work Pay tax cuts of up to $800 a year for a family. But they were dribbled out through reduced withholding, because behavioral economics suggests that we’re less likely to spend money when it arrives in a big chunk, so fewer than 10 percent of us noticed them. The backstory of that decision will make Obama supporters cringe.

Similarly, anyone who received expanded unemployment benefits or food stamps or Cobra subsidies or Pell Grants in 2009 or 2010 benefited from the stimulus. The stimulus saved more than 300,000 education jobs, and preserved over $100 billion worth of health services for the poor. We’re already using more clean energy and less energy overall because of the stimulus; the electric vehicle industry is here because of the stimulus; the domestically manufactured content of U.S. wind turbines has increased from 20 percent to 60 percent because of the stimulus. There are over 100,000 stimulus projects that have upgraded our parks, subways, hospitals, food pantries, and so forth. On our last vacation my family visited Ketchikan, Alaska, where the stimulus upgraded the nature center. It was a very nice nature center.

Also: The stimulus helped prevent a depression, and as Romer says in the book, depressions really, really suck. They create horrible human suffering, and horrible deficits, too. The economy is quite lousy, but it really could’ve been a lot lousier.

The stimulus will produce more good stuff in the future. By 2015, almost all of us will have an electronic medical record because of the stimulus. The stimulus is also pouring $1 billion into desperately needed “comparative effectiveness research” that will help doctors and patients learn what kind of treatments actually work. There’s billions more for data-driven education reforms—Investments in Innovation and School Improvement Grants as well as Race to the Top—that will seek to scale up promising approaches in public schools. And the most exciting changes will transform the way we generate and consume energy. For example, a company called Envia Systems that got a grant from ARPA-E—a modern version of the Manhattan Project—has already developed the world’s most powerful lithium-ion battery, which could slice $5,000 off the price of the next Chevy Volt.

Will Americans associate any of this change with the 2009 stimulus? I doubt it. Maybe they will if my book becomes a runaway best-seller.


I don't know how many of my book suggestions get acted upon. I know for sure that this particular one will fall on mostly deaf ears. Most of you lead busy lives, and a 900+ page novel translated from the Japanese will probably not get on your short list any time soon.

Still, 1Q84 is a smart and genre-defying book -- it's part science fiction, part metaphysics, part love story and part thriller.  Haruku Murakami, the author, sure knows how to drive a narrative and the translators (it was published as three volumes and different translators worked on different volumes) have done an excellent job of getting out of the way.  In a little while, you'll forget the length and you'll forget the original language. You'll be in the alternate reality of 1Q84.

The title is a play on 1984, and there are traces of Orwell's anti-authoritarian screed in this book, but here, it is conformity that Murakami skewers.  Every character, even those who are introduced as thugs or villains, turn out to be quite rational and sympathetic.

Chekhov is famous for saying that if you introduce a gun into a play, it had better be fired. Murakami is of the same ilk -- there is no prop or subplot that is introduced that doesn't circle its way into the plot. No prop, that is, but for one ironic item. I will let you read the book to figure that out.

Where's the outrage?

I was travelling to the US from India around the time of the Wisconsin shooting, and because that journey takes up 24 hours, I heard about the incident only after I arrived here.  What can I say?

(1) As a country, we seem to have decided that occasional bouts of senseless slaughter are the price we pay in order to keep guns readily available.  Unlike the Colorado shooting, it was clear that the shooter this time was a ticking time bomb, but he still had no problems getting a gun.  Yet, neither Romney nor Obama, Republicans nor Democrats, in their boilerplate statements would mention the problem of guns.  That issue, it appears, is settled.

(2) It is ironic that Sikhs, of all people, should bear the brunt of terrorism in the United States. They are a monotheistic religion, and the closest that one can come in the Indian subcontinent to a Christian faith.  The religion was founded, in part, to resist Islam and the first few gurus of the new faith were martyred by Moslem monarchs.

(3) The police officer, Brian Murphy, who was first on the scene, was ambushed by the killer and who waved off help in favor of the other victims shows what is great about America. Worldwide, such quick reaction by authorities to protect a minority community is rare. Instead, an attack on minorities is usually occasion for police to foment even more violence: take recent incidents in India or Pakistan for example.

(4) The forgiveness, and the lack of anger, espoused by the Sikh community after this slaughter is remarkable. It reminds me of the reaction of the Amish after a gunman massacred their community.

They may not be outraged, but we should be.  How many more such "incidents" before we reconsider the ready availability of guns?  Australia revisited its gun laws after a massacre in Tasmania, and the results have been predictable -- no large-scale killings have happened after that.

The attempted shooting of a Congresswoman didn't prompt any examination of our gun laws; neither did the shooting at a theatre, nor did this shooting at a gurudhwara. What will it take?