Wednesday, April 29, 2009

First 100 Days -- Updated [Bryan]

So, we have had 100 days with a new president. Fair or not, since FDR 100 days have been seen as the first time to realistically review a new president. So, here is my review.

Foreign Policy

Successes: One of the major reasons I supported Obama was to change the image of America in the world. It seems to me that, so far, this expectation has been fulfilled -- and then some! The most impressive symbolic acts so far have been the open town hall meetings, press conferences, and speeches he has given in Europe and Turkey. He has impressed foreign leaders, reporters, and citizens far and wide. This will all certainly pay off in the long run. He has already made important moves with Russia in the areas of nuclear non-proliferation and nuclear disarmament. His Cuba policy (easing travel restrictions and monetary transactions) is a welcome change, and relations appear to be greatly improving with Latin America. He seems eager to listen, rather than preach.

Failures: He has been unable to convince European countries to increase stimulus spending, which could prove to be very important in the economic recovery. I don't think this is as big a deal as some do, but it is still a failure.

Question marks: The Big Unknown right now is Afghanistan/Pakistan. Obama, as he promised, is sending more troops to the region. I am genuinely unsure of whether this is the best thing to do. The situation is both countries appears is worsening. It also remains to be seen whether Obama has the strength to stand up to the current far-right Israeli government and its odd supporters here at home, and put some real pressure on Israel to stop building illegal settlements in the West Bank (of course, he needs to continue to pressure Palestinians to stop rocket attacks, but that is a given).

Reading: "Signs of Spring: U.S.-Latin America Relations Thaw," Time.
Reading: "Obama in Europe: Overtures to Ovations," Financial times.
Reading: "9 Moments That Mattered," Atlantic
Reading: "Aided by Safety Nets, Europe Resists Stimulus Push," NY Times


Successes: The stimulus package was impressive. It was probably not big enough and too focused on less-stimulative tax cuts -- but the blame for that lies elsewhere. If anything, Obama might have made a mistake in trusting that Republicans would compromise in good faith. Obama's budget was a much more honest budget than we've had in the past (actually including the costs of war), and contains money for all the right priorities (energy, health care). Not bad at all -- good long, term investment.

Failures: Bailout money is still being spent in unseemly ways, thanks to incomprehensible behavior by Wall Street executives. Obama's response has been erratic and fairly weak.

Question marks: The big banks and the auto industry are still in big trouble. All of the options seem bad. Good luck with that, Mr. President. And, obviously, current deficits are not sustainable. Perhaps the big test of the Obama presidency will be, once the economy recovers, to bring these under control through a mixture of sensible spending reductions, tax hikes, and health care restructuring. He is already taking steps to do this, but we'll see.

Reading: "I give Obama an A, a B and an F," Rob Reich

Restoring the Rule of Law

Successes: Obama seems to have a plan in place to close Gitmo and he has slammed the door on torture practices. His decision to release the torture memos was brave and the right thing to do. Hooray!

Failures: His notions of the legal status of "enemy combatants" and of illegal wire tapping have been indistinguishable from Bush's. Boo! Boo! Boo!

Question marks: I am undecided whether prosecutions of the Bush wrongdoers should proceed in a vigorous way. I can see the need for it (we are a nation of laws, for heaven's sake), but I can also see it completely distracting from the rest of his important agenda.

Reading: "Report Card on Civil Liberties," American Prospect.

Overall, I think he has done a good job so far -- probably even an excellent job. Great challenges and questions remain.

Some other thoughtful reflections on the first 100 days:
Mike Tomasky: "100 days: Setting the tone for America"
Yglesias: "Obama is on track to accomplish major changes"
Daniel Gross: "The Patient is in Stable Condition"

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Jeni's Splendid Ice Cream

One of the best parts about Columbus, Ohio, is Jeni's Splendid Ice Cream. You will never taste such a creative, tasty ice cream menu. My top five flavors:

1. Goat Cheese with Roasted Red Cherries -- Blue Jacket Dairy goat cheese with roasted Michigan cherries.
2. Thai Chili -- Krema Peanut Butter (a Columbus company), with toasted coconut, cayenne and coconut milk.
3. Sea Salt and Olive Oil -- Salt, oil, and pumpkin seeds (no, really, it is great).
4. Pistachio and Honey -- Toasted pistachios with Ashland County honey.
5. Strawberry Rose Petal -- Fresh strawberries, with a hint of real rose.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Springtime on Campus [Bryan]

Spring is my favorite season on a university campus. The energy starts to increase as people sense that the end of the year is in sight. Students begin to emerge from their dormitories and can be seen frolicking, sunbathing, and studying in the sunshine, while a crazy fundamentalist preacher simultaneously calls these young sinners to repentance -- unsuccessfully. I just got back from the central oval, where I sat on the grass, prepared my lesson for Monday, read philosophy, and took it all in. And right now, my office window is open to a blossoming tree just outside. The wind is gently blowing the subtle fragrance inside, and I'm snorting it in like a drug. This is what I signed up for. Life is good.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

When it rains, it pours [Ellie]

Look at me posting twice in one day. . .

I've been thinking about nicknames lately. My theory is, either you're a nicknamer or you're not. I love nicknamers. There's something so chummy and at-home-with-the-world about them. If they don't like a person's name, well, they just come up with their own. They never question their right to do so. They are confident that people will answer to whatever they choose to call them. I've always had friends who were nicknamers, and while I've generally hated their nicknames, I've loved what I saw as the desire behind the nicknames--to express their affection in a comfortable shorthand. I wish I were a nicknamer.

I'm not. I've tried. I feel awkward and goofy. I'm pretty much unable to call anyone by anything but the name by which they were first introduced to me. My sons are Andrew and Stephen, not Andy or Steve (I don't mind if it happens some day, I just won't call them that). My nicknames for my kids are unimaginative and lame: two Buddies and a Sweet Pea. I can't even come up with a new nickname for Stephen--he just has to be "Little Buddy" to Andrew's "Big Buddy."

Stephen really ought to have his own nickname. He'll have enough hand-me-downs to deal with in his life. Suggestions, anyone?

A Riff on New Babies [Ellie]

Love it
-new baby smell
-his scrunchy face with its thoughtful expressions
-huge toothless smiles
-cuddling a sleeping baby on my chest
-tiny little shoes
-his chubby thighs and soft skin
-bath time
-knowing someone is so comforted by my presence

Could do without
-the feeling that I'm swimming in body fluids (One day recently I counted seven different body fluids--mine and others--that had been smeared on me during the day. Don't think about this too
closely. . .)
-smelling like sour milk all day every day
-changing shirts three times a day
-having my carefully constructed a wall of airy indifference ("It doesn't matter what happens at home while I'm out; I deserve some time off!"), crumbled by the guilt of opening the door to hear my baby screaming and see my husband looking weary
-the desperate feeling of really needing to nurse
-my incredibly limited attention span
-this terrible sugar craving which is sabotaging my efforts to lose the baby fat

Monday, April 06, 2009

Montreal [Bryan]

Last month was conference month for me. This year, my big conference was in Montreal, Canada. When I first went to these academic conferences, I felt very awkward. "Mingling" has never been an activity that I excel at, or even enjoy very much. Now, though, there is a critical mass of people that I know and like, and it always feels like a reunion to see them all again.

I liked Montreal, too. I spent an afternoon exploring the "old city," the highlight of which was a visit to the beautiful Basilique Notre-Dame de Montreal. It had a stunning interior -- perhaps the most beautiful church interior I've seen. I forgot my camera, but here is a nice shot I found elsewhere.

The next afternoon, I explored the Musée des beaux-arts de Montréal. They have a nice little representative collection -- Monet, Rembrandt, Picasso, Boucher, Renoir, Cezanne, etc.

I then hiked up the Royal Mountain (Mont Real in old French) -- the hill in the middle of the city from which it derives its name. Great view of the city (and my face, I might add).

360 Degrees

By the way, if you are ever in Quebec, be sure to order some Poutin -- french fries, cheese curd, and gravy. Yummy stuff -- "quintessential Canadian comfort food."