Sense from Seattle

Common sense thoughts on life and current affairs by a Seattle area sexagenarian, drawing on personal experience, years of learning as a counselor to thousands of families and an innate passion for informed knowledge, to uniquely express sensible, thoughtful, honest and independent views.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

President Obama Addresses Congress and the Nation

Once again Barack Obama brought tears to my eyes as I listened to him speak. This time he was addressing the Congress and the nation, explaining what he is proposing to do to handle the current financial shambles and how he intends to work with Congress and the American people to lead us back to economic growth and into a better future. From the Republican created ash pile the Democrats now have the best chance in decades of taking us where we need to go in regards to health care, energy usage, educational needs, updates to infrastructure and revising our overall domestic and foreign policies.

As the President spoke, it was interesting to watch the Congressional Republicans. They have become such knee jerk reactionaries, opposing anything that does not especially benefit the rich and lambasting everything our government does that is not fully in line with their narrow minded ideology. So their initial reaction to the speech was to sit on their hands. But gradually, as the common sense inevitability, wisdom and traditional American spirit of what the President was envisioning became clear, more and more Republicans had to join in the applause, at first because they remembered that this is what got Obama so convincingly elected, and then because they started to realize they actually do agree with a lot of what he is saying, once they stop their knees from jerking.

My tears were of joy and appreciation. The President himself wrote what he said, which is why he delivers it with such honest conviction. He is so comfortable with his role and so good at it that it is inspiring to watch him, especially after the monumental embarrassment that was George W. Bush. Obama is wise beyond his years. He has the long range vision not only to see where his programs will lead us, but also to combine wisdom with patience in reaching out to Republicans to start to create a long term sense of civil bi-partisanship. Some groups are organizing to put pressure on Obama and the Democrats to move to the left, and I agree with them that is where we ultimately belong. But for now, I believe the Obama approach of some moderation and effort to consider Republican viewpoints is more worthwhile.

Part of my tears for Obama come from my roots in the African-American neighborhoods of Seattle. When I see him, I think of kids I knew growing up and how if they had come along twenty years later, they might be President. Watching the President enthusiastically greet the members of Congress as he entered the chamber was joyous. When he kissed the cheeks of white women, the part of me that goes back to the days before civil rights was saying that was a no-no back then, but the part of me that read his autobiographical "Dreams from My Father" knew that kissing white women is what Barack did every time he kissed the women who raised him, his mother and grandmother.

The Republican response was given by Governor Jindal of Louisiana, and was my first viewing of him. This "fresh face" may be a different colored Republican, but the talk he gave was the same old pablum. While Obama seemed to strike the perfect balance between not talking down to Congress and not talking over the head of the average American, Jindal seemed to be talking down to everyone with more than a second grade education. His story about the redneck Sheriff rescuing Louisiana from the flood, in spite of the government bureaucrat was ironically irrelevant and misguided. The Government failure in Katrina was largely due to the Bush Administration philosophy of keeping the government out of the way. And as David Gergen pointed out, it is hard to say the government has not been involved in Katrina recovery efforts when it has spent about 175 billion dollars so far.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Notes on Economics - Corporations

Per reader suggestion, from the unwritten Sense note folder I have gathered some thoughts and observations on economic matters, divided into nine subcategories, one of which I will publish every day or so. Remember, these are not developed or researched ideas, just notes for something to consider developing.

The Federal Pension Guaranty Fund is actually welfare for incompetently managed corporations and their shareholders, the cost of which, when it tumbles, will fall on ordinary taxpayers, including the workers. Workers who accept 401k plans instead of guaranteed benefit plans better negotiate higher wages for giving up the guarantee, and better put some of that extra pay aside to cover future taxes.

An established company with high rated products and services should have no problem maintaining it's employee pension plan in the face of low price competition.

Proxy voting in corporate elections seems unamerican. Imagine if we allowed incumbent candidates to use taxpayer money to solicit voter proxies for re-election.

Corporate officers are not the only ones who should be held accountable for corporate failures. The Boards of Directors should also be held to task. Boards are usually dominated by insiders with interlocking connections, and padded by a few look good political appointees and civic arts types. Not welcome to membership, but definitely needed, are consumer and labor representatives.

At least some of the money being used for enabling corporate financial giants to survive and consolidate their dominance should have been given to local community banks to loan to small businesses in their own communities to help those businesses with payrolls, inventory financing and debt servicing.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Best of What I Read in 2008

My reading list is harder to compile than my movie list, partly because I did not read that many non-political books, and partly because I just activated the feature at my library account that maintains my checkout history (though the FBI probably has full checkout histories on everyone).

Much of what I read was political, mentioned here at Sense, and no longer of as much interest. The LBJ tape transcription book, "Taking Charge", was interesting for its hair down capture of the man and how he dealt with people and the issues of his time - civil rights, re-election, the Kenndy people and Vietnam. The second volume of transcriptions should be worth a read. After Watergate, Presidents supposedly stopped making tapes, which is a real loss to history. "Nixon and Mao" which I am just finishing, is well written by Margaret MacMillan, whose prize winning "1919" about the post WWI treaties is on my future list.

I have been picking up library sale books and spot reading them, which I have also been doing with some others I own, in diverse categories such as politics, zen, simple living. As a change, I enjoyed "The World in a Phrase", a short history of the aphorism, which was really a good short history of philosophy, "That Devil Forrest" an account of the Confederate Cavalry General whose battles I was studying because an ancestor fought in some, and "Truck: a Love Story", a memoir in which I read of the rare eye occlusion experience of the author just one week after I had the same misfortune.

My 2009 resolutions include, "Do more relaxing reading and less political." I am open to suggestions.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

Best of What I Watched in 2008

Part of my ode to retirement is to report that I watched over 400 movies and TV shows on DVD in 2008, 60% from our King County Library and 40% from Netflix. My viewing choices were determined by mood, availability, variety and curiosity.

I keep a personal rating system for what I watch, which I use for rating every movie, regardless of source. Netflix uses a 5 star rating system, with 3 or more stars being considered positive ratings. This is good for their marketing, because it skews users toward more favorable ratings, and hence more recommendations from Netflix. Netflix does not let users rate with half stars or decimals. But Netflix does report the results of their recommendation algorithm as a decimal, and my personal rating system also uses a decimal. What is frustrating is that a movie I might personally rate 2.6, marginal, I have to give either 2 stars for "dislike" or 3 stars for "like" at Netflix, and so I incline to give it 3 stars. And a movie that I personally rate 3.4, I cannot bring myself to give a Netflix 4 star rating of "really liked", so it also gets 3 stars. Thus both 2.6 and a 3.4 movies, though almost one full star apart, are rated the same by me at Netflix. But happily, the Netflix algorithm seems to be able to figure me out, because the decimal recommendations Netflix reports as their best guess for how I will like a video are very close to my own decimal ratings.

My personal rating system is actually more like a four star one, with only a handful of movies earning a four and rarely one getting a five (usually when I rate it based on memory of having seen it in the past). I try not to pick movies to watch unless I think I might actually like them, but a few clinkers still slip in. Overall though, most of what I watch falls in the 2.8 to 3.4 range. Bear in mind that I am rating movies for my own taste, not as a critic advising a wider audience. I gave 34 videos 3.5 stars or more in 2008, 9 from the library and 25 from Netflix. Below is a breakdown of the 34.

Only 2 were from 2008, because the newest ones are harder to get sometimes, so I usually wait to see them later. From 2007 came 12, from 2000 to 2006 came 10, from the 1990s came 5, one each from the 80s, 60s and 40s, and 2 from the 1930s. Dramas accounted for 15, documentaries 8, romance and musicals 3 each, and one each animated, western and what Netflix calls gay. There are only 4 foreign films, 2 French, a German and a Zulu.

Top rated for me was Anne of Green Gables: the Sequel; I just really like the characters and subject matter, the portrayal by the cast and especially by the lead, and the overall production look. Runners up were three of different genres from 2007, the musical Across the Universe, the documentary Body of War, and the TV drama Brothers & Sisters. The follow up group includes: Spitfire Grill, 1996 drama; Return to Lonesome Dove, 1993 western; Cranford, 2007 PBS drama; Alive Day Memories, 2007 documentary; The Jane Austen Book Club, 2007 drama; Warm Springs, 2005 drama; and Sense and Sensibility, from 2008.

Rounding out my list are: the partially animated Enchanted from 2007; French comedy The Closet from 2000; political comedy Bill Maher: the Decider from 2007; six documentaries, For the Bible Tells Me So, No End in Sight and Taxi to the Dark Side, all from 2007, After Innocence from 2006, The God Who Wasn't There from 2005 and Memphis Belle from 1944; eight dramas, Recount from 2008, Mom at Sixteen from 2005, Gracie's Choice and the Zulu film Yesterday from 2004, The German film The Tunnel from 2001, the French Le Haine from 1995, Nothing But a Man from 1964 and Dead End from 1937; gay film And the Band Played On from 2001; the musical documentary Broadway the Golden Age from 2000 and the Astaire and Rogers Swing Time from 1936; and three romances, August Rush from 2007, the French film Nellie & Monsieur Arnaud from 1995, and the dancing film Strictly Ballroom from 1992.

I like character driven dramas, some period pieces and road quests, message pictures and political documentaries. I avoid horror, thriller, sci-fi and most action films. I expect to follow the same general approach to movie viewing for 2009, though political documentaries may be fewer. As for recommendations beyond the above listings, I would tailor them to the individual, based on their personal genre and sub-genre preferences.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Sleeping Better

In a recent conversation, daughter Anna and I agreed that it was really nice now going to bed and waking up knowing that Barack Obama and not George Bush is the President. Under Bush we constantly fumed over what the scoundrel had done today and fretted over what he might do tomorrow. Hardly a day went by without some disclosure of another horror, and the realization that there were probably other terrors not yet disclosed.

With Obama in the White House, we are confident that he is acting openly and honestly in our best interest. I do not feel the need to monitor the news as closely now. I still follow political developments, most of which are much improved, with good legislation now being passed by Congress and signed by the President. There are still Republican obstructionists, but their numbers have shrunk and their influence is quite diminished. There have been snags in a few confirmation hearings, but they have either been overcome, as with the new Attorney General, or the nominee has quickly withdrawn, as with Tom Daschle.

I have folders full of notes for possible Sense articles, which will probably now never be written, though I may go through them once more before discarding. As with recent postings, Sense articles for a while will probably focus more on personal memories, with some tie in to current events. In another blog change, the visit count meter at Sense has been eliminated. It always recorded ever single page visit, rather than just each overall new visit to the site, so when it started acting up, I scrapped it.