Monday, May 26, 2008

Mars Phoenix Probe Sees Permafrost Pattern


The Mars Phoenix probe has just landed safely on the polar region of Mars.  The terrain exhibits "polygonal cracking"—it looks like it has been shaped by repeated melting and freezing of ice below the surface.  If Phoenix's digging arm can detect that ice, it would be the first contact with alien water.

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Thursday, May 22, 2008

Men for Clinton Supporters to Blame

In the hotly contested Democratic primary for US President, many supporters on both sides have focused on things they see as unfair.  Inevitably, issues of race and gender arise.  Some people have voted for Senator Obama because he is black and some for Senator Clinton because she is female.  In both cases these voters hope their candidates will break through a glass ceiling and provide a role model for those to come.  I think this is fine.  Others vote against Obama because he is black or against Clinton because she is female.  This is of course terribly wrong, and supporters of both candidates should decry both sins.   But I think that the vast majority of people, such as myself, voted for who they thought was the best candidate, not for issues of race or gender.  Obama has won a good fraction of the white vote and Clinton has won a good fraction of the male vote.


Some Clinton supporters have blamed her apparent loss on sexism.  While I think it is true that some, particularly in the cable media, have made some misogynist comments, they are but a drop in the bucket of verbiage that has been spewed ad nauseam in this long contest.  No, I think there are four main reasons that Barack Obama is now within reach of the nomination:
  • Senator Obama is a thoughtful, talented candidate with a powerful message of change.
  • The Obama campaign has excelled strategically at the large (50 state strategy) and the small (cool website).
  • There are millions of voters who were waiting for a candidate like Barack.  We existed before his campaign, he just energized us.
  • Senator Clinton's campaign made two key strategic blunders.
It is the last point to which I devote the rest of the post.
Senator Clinton's campaign was run mostly by two men, Mark Penn and Howard Wolfson.  Mark Penn has since stepped down from the top job.  The two key mistakes they made were not campaigning in the caucus states on Super Tuesday, and not having a strategy for after Super Tuesday.   They assumed that winning big states like NY, NJ, CA, as well as Clinton's home state of Arkansas, would seal the deal.  But the Obama campaign cobbled together enough pledged delegates from IL and some smaller states to make the day nearly a tie.  When the Clinton campaign did not achieve a blowout, they had no strategy to compete in the next set of states, and they lost a dozen in a row. These were fatal blows to the Clinton campaign.

I think this was a matter of hubris.  Now maybe it is unfair, but hubris does tend to be associated with men.  And the men that displayed that hubris, the men that destroyed Hillary Clinton's chances, were Mark Penn and Howard Wolfson.  So Clinton supporters, please, if you want to blame men for Senator Clinton's impending loss, you need look no further than her own cocky campaign strategists.

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Sunday, May 11, 2008

Obama on Trade and Investing in Science


Senator Obama answers a question about trade. He makes clear that he is not opposed to trade, but he wants trade deals with much stricter labor, safety, and environmental standards. He also talks about the need to support innovation, such as by doubling the research and development budget. Let me say a few words about that.

Much of the world economy is based on science and technology. While there is a lot of appreciation for the latter--just look at the computer you read this on--the role of basic scientific research in creating that technology is often overlooked. Without research over the previous decades, current technology could not continue advancing at the same rate. Without basic research today, future technological innovation would be starved.

Sometimes the payoff is fairly quick. For example, something called giant magnetoresistance was discovered 20 years ago, and now it is used in most computer hard drives.  (The 2007 Nobel Prize in Physics was awarded to Albert Fert and Peter Gr├╝nberg for their discovery of giant magnetoresistance.)

Sometimes the payoff takes a long time. For example, the arcane theory of quantum mechanics was developed in the 1920's. Few would have predicted a theory needed only at the atomic scale would end up being important to the world economy.  But most of our understanding of electronics, lasers, nuclear technology, and chemistry depends on an understanding of quantum mechanics.  In fact, it has been estimated that 1/3 of the  can be traced back to quantum mechanics.

The point is, we do not know which avenues of scientific research will lead to future technological breakthroughs.  Currently, the US government spends about 0.3% of the US GNP on basic research.  The report Rising Above the Gathering Storm calls for doubling that number--this is probably what motivated Senator Obama's comment.  That report also calls for improving math and science education--which I think is crucial for our future success.

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Friday, May 9, 2008

Obama Takes the Lead in Superdelegates

Since early February, Barack Obama has been chipping away at Hillary Clinton's lead in Superdelegates.  The 2008 Democratic Convention Watch Superdelegate Endorsement List has chronicled her fall from a lead of around 100  on Super Tuesday, to 7.5 today. But this tally excludes an important category of superdelegates called the Pelosi Club, which I explain below.  When the Pelosi Club superdelegates are included in the tally, her 'lead' is reduced by 8, which means that

Barack Obama Now LEADS in superdelegates

Those familiar with this blog have heard about the Pelosi Club in several posts, including The Cantwell Club, my Running List of Obama Endorsements, and of course, Former President Jimmy Carter Joins the Pelosi Club.  In brief, any superdelegate who has committed to voting for the winner of the pledged delegates (those elected by the voters) is in the Pelosi Club.  The group is named after US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who has repeatedly said she would cast her vote for the winner of the pledged delegates.

At this point, all experts agree that Clinton cannot overtake Obama in pledged delegates.  She would need to get more than 80% of all remaining votes to do so--a larger margin than any state so far for either side.  So, for the purposes of tabulating the number of superdelegates who have said how they will cast votes at the Convention, it makes sense to add the Pelosi Club superdelegates into Obama's column.

What is the effect of that?  Well, there are two Pelosi Club members who have endorsed Obama (Zoe Lofgren and Tom Daschle).  They are already being counted in the Obama column, so there is no effect on the tally.  There are 6 uncommitted Pelosi Club superdelegates (Speaker Nancy Pelosi, President Jimmy Carter, Governor Roy Romer, Christine Pelosi, Betty Richie, and Denise Johnson).  Adding them reduces Clinton's superdelegate lead by 6.  Finally, there is 1 Pelosi Club superdelegate who has endorsed Clinton: Maria Cantwell.   Her commitment to cast her vote for the pledged delegate winner means we should move her from the Clinton to the Obama column, which reduces Clinton's superdelegate lead by 2.  

The combined effect of counting these Pelosi Club members is to reduces Clinton's superdelegate lead by 8, from 7.5 to -0.5.  Thus Obama now has a lead in superdelegates (as well as a huge lead in pledged delegates).

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Monday, May 5, 2008

Obama Will Help Our Image Around the World


Ordinarily, I would say that the opinions of people around the world should not matter much in a US election.  But after 8 years of George W. Bush's policies destroying our image, it is relevant that there is only one candidate who has a great chance to restore that image, Barack Obama.  In recognition of that, here is a video endorsement of Obama from an Italian who is married to an American.

"I love the US very much... we live in a globalized world... when I am outside the US, I always want to defend it... It is time for America to restore its moral standing in the world... Barack Obama is the only one who can bring about that change"
Many people around the world had pictures of JFK on their walls.  It would be wonderful to have another American president inspire that kind of global good will. 

[Thanks to Miriam for that meme.]

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Saturday, May 3, 2008

Former President Jimmy Carter Joins the Pelosi Club

Former President Jimmy Carter previously strongly hinted that he supported Senator Obama.  Since he did not officially endorse him, I did not add him to my Running List of Obama Endorsements.  But now President Carter has said he that as a superdelegate he would not go against the will of the people--he would vote for the winner of the pledged delegates, who is all but certain to be Barack Obama.  In short, President Carter has joined the Pelosi Club.  

“It would be undemocratic if the superdelegates blatantly went against the decision of Democratic voters across the nation... Whoever gets the most [pledged] delegates ought to be the nominee.”
 --Former President Jimmy Carter [source]
There are now 9 Pelosi Club members: 2 Obama supporters, 6 uncommitted, and 1 Clinton supporter (Maria Cantwell).   For the purposes of adjusting the superdelegate difference between Clinton and Obama, one should add the uncommitted SDs and twice the Clinton SDs in the club (because the latter will leave the Clinton column and move to the Obama column when the pledged delegate total is finalized)--i.e. one should adjust Obama's numbers up by 8 (=6+2*1).

For example, as of today, the Superdelegate Endorsement List has Clinton leading Obama 267 to 244, i.e. by 23 superdelegates.  But at the end of the primaries, the 6 uncommitted Pelosi Club members (Speaker Nancy Pelosi, President Jimmy Carter, Governor Roy Romer, Christine Pelosi, Betty Richie, and Denise Johnson) will enter the Obama column, and the Clinton SD in the Pelosi Club, Maria Cantwell, will switch from Clinton to Obama, so the total really is 266 to 251, only a 15 SD lead for Clinton.  Many are watching for when Obama overtakes Clinton in superdelegates.  If one counts the Pelosi club members, it will happen perhaps a week earlier. 

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