Monday, June 30, 2008

A gloomy summer day

Wind: NE at 0 mph
Humidity: 79%
Mostly Sunny
79°F | 54°F
Mostly Sunny
77°F | 52°F
Mostly Sunny
79°F | 54°F
Mostly Sunny
79°F | 54°F

Summer is a time of sun. As Californians, we take this for granted. Everyone else wants our sun. Sunny beaches, sunny pools, sunny houses - wherever you are, a few rays of heavenly light have always seemed to find you.

Until now.

This year, Northern California's weather seems to be operating several seasons ahead. In fall, we had rain. In winter, we had sun. In spring, we had sun and rain, and now we're stuck in dreary midwinter gloom.

The 1,000+ wildfires eating up Northern California's dry grasses aren't helping. Smoke clouds our precious sunlight, making the process of venturing outside the house downright depressing. In the past few days, several Palo Altans have been known to wear coats outside at 2 in the afternoon.

And conditions will not improve throughout the week; out highest high will be 77 degrees, and our lowest low is a shocking 54.

But why sit around and complain? Just because NorCal's weather is stuck in a time-warp doesn't mean you don't have to stay. If you like it hot, check into Bullhead City, Arizona. At 10AM, it was 107.6, and tomorrow's high is 115. (And according to the latest edition of Via magazine, hotels drop their prices during the hot summer months.)

Of course, with fuel prices at nearly $5 a gallon, a "Great American Road Trip" with air conditioning and a blasting iPod remains a dream for most of us.

So stay home and blame it on global warming, but hey! Now you can do all those fun winter activities you didn't have time to do last year because you were studying for finals. Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going ice skating.

*Thanks to for weather forecasts.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Racism '08...but against whom?

We all know that "race is a crucial factor in the 2008 Presidential election."

Barack Obama, as the first major party black presidential nominee in American history, has been said to "transcend" race and is hailed as "post-racial."

But not all prejudices are centered on African Americans.

On Monday, June 16th, Al Gore, in a speech endorsing Obama, said, "If you bought poisoned, lead-filled toys from China or adulterated medicine made in China, if you bought tainted pet food made in China, you know elections matter."

The blame was clearly intended to fall on the Bush administration for not pressuring the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to enforce food safety regulations, but the phrase came off somewhat like a dig at China.

Obama, in an April 14th speech on manufacturing and trade, recalled that "a few months ago, when I called for a ban on any toys that have more than a trace amount of lead, an official at China's foreign ministry said I was being 'unobjective, unreasonable, and unfair.' "

Obama criticized the Chinese government's conduct on multiple fronts, including violating intellectual property rights, unjustly valuing their currency at less than it's worth to boost their exchange rate, and flooding US markets without opening up their own.

John McCain, on the other hand, has in the past emphasized maintaining a good trade relationship with China and opposed sanctions on the country if they were found to be producing weapons of mass destruction. He explicitly asserted in 2000, "I would tell the Taiwanese that they should observe the one China policy which calls for peaceful reunification." 

However, as he emerged as the leading Republican presidential candidate, his positions have changed radically. In October 2007, McCain said, "If I were in Taiwan today, and I just saw what happened to Martin Lee in Hong Kong*, I would be very nervous about a peaceful integration into China. Remember the promises they made about what would happen in Hong Kong once they reintegrated back into China? None of those have come true."
*Martin Lee is a Chinese pro-democracy activist. His 2007 article about the Chinese government in the Wall Street Journal received harsh criticism from the government in Beijing.

In the election so far, there has not yet been one of those widely publicized political gaffes that requires an apology from a presidential candidate. However, there has been an undercurrent of resentment - conscious or not - toward China throughout the entire presidential campaign.

These seemingly innocuous comments are beginning to have an negative effect on Chinese-Americans' perceptions of presidential candidates as well.

One Chinese-American high school student said, "It always offends me a little if someone says something negative about China. It did take a while to sort of accept being Chinese [in America], because it always seemed to me like people looked down at us. I guess that feeling never really completely goes away."

Of course, it is unlikely that any one of the aforementioned comments in context would sway voters one way or the other. And there has been a lot of critical press focused on China because of the upcoming Olympics and tainted goods, so it's not surprising that politicians would pick up on that.

While there has been a lot of coverage of important voting demographics such as women, Jews, and the white working class, Chinese-Americans have not made the list. All the same,  if candidates want to secure every possible vote - and this fall, it will be especially important for Obama and McCain - they'll need to closely examine their positions and watch their words when making comments relating to Americans of Chinese descent.

As Mao Zedong said, "Politics is war without bloodshed. War is politics with bloodshed."

Saturday, June 7, 2008

TEAM Survey: Would You Do It Again?

A poolside party last night for all of Paly's freshman TEAM students provided a fitting end to a momentous first year of high school.

Right. Whatever. Not like we don't still have three more years to go before we take off. But anyway - the real question is whether TEAM is "so-cool-I'd-do-it-every-year-if-I-could!" or "lame."

TEAM (Together Everyone Achieves More) is a freshman-only program of 100 students that attempts to integrate the four core subjects and show how they are applicable in real life. In the past, the stereotype of TEAM has been that it is for kids who, socially or academically, would have trouble making the transition from middle school to high school.

However, this year, almost the majority of students who signed up were outstanding academically and could certainly have coped easily with mainstream high school. This has changed somewhat the overall image of TEAM - for the better.

This year, the majority of answers to the "hot-or-not" question showed that who else signed up for TEAM was the deciding factor in the choice of whether or not to participate.

"Basically, I signed up because my friends did," said one male TEAM student.

In the same vein, many incoming freshmen who chose not to participate in TEAM said it was because their friends were not planning on doing TEAM.

One other common concern - for parents at least - is that "my child's social circle will be limited." Most TEAM students clamor to refute this claim.

One TEAM student from Jordan said, "For me, TEAM is a place to make friends and hang out with them."

A student from the Peninsula school agreed that all the team-building activities featured throughout the year make it easier for those who don't know many people or are shy to get to know other students well.

And as one student said, "100 people is a lot of people to know."

Knowing approximately 1/4 of the freshman class well, some say, is better than knowing 3/4 a little or not at all. TEAM students have three out of seven classes daily (PE plus two electives) with students not from TEAM, so their social options are not as limited as parents may think.

Of course, as with all specialized programs, TEAM is certainly not for everyone. For those students who prefer to have each class with a different group of friends, TEAM may not be such a good match. And TEAM does ask parents to be active in their child's education by volunteering to help set up events, so parents whose professions require a large amount of travel may find it difficult to stay connected.

But then there are the field trips. TEAM students this year traveled to Foothills Park, Merced County, Monterey, Sunset Beach, and, of course, Yosemite. When asked whether or not she would do TEAM again, a students said immediately, "Yes! Because of the field trips."

This year has been a turning point for TEAM in terms of interest and demographics. The hope is that this "school within a school" will continue to change and grow. After all, TEAM is only as good as the teachers - and the students - make it.

It Happened!

Today, Saturday, June 7th, Senator Hillary Clinton conceded to Barack Obama, throwing her full support behind him and effectively launching the official start of the general election campaign.

Clinton's speech was well-written, but her delivery could have been more enthusiastic. She more or less read large sections of the half-hour speech, seeming tight and, and times, on the brink of tears. But the woman has just decided to end her historic campaign for President of the United States; of course she shows emotion.

Senator Clinton's website now asks visitors to sign up to support Barack Obama and, separately, to help her retire her campaign debt.

Senator Obama's website asks visitors to post comments thanking Senator Clinton for all she has done for the country.

The entire affair is slightly anticlimactic; Senator Clinton did what she had to do, and Senator Obama stayed largely out of it.

And so passes the campaign of the first major female candidate for President of the United States: in a quiet, sometimes painful concession.

This is what all the Democrats wanted, isn't it? To have Senator Clinton make way for the party hero, Barack Obama?

As George Bernard Shaw once said, "There are two tragedies in life. One is not to get your heart's desire. The other is to get it."

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

On the brink of nomination: Obama's victory

According to the press, Barack Obama has been "on the brink" of nomination for several weeks now. His website boasts his role as the leader of "the largest grassroots movement in the history of presidential politics." As you click onto his homepage, a splash greets you, reading "Barack Obama needs 10 delegates to clinch the Democratic nomination!"

So when's it gonna happen? When can the amazing phenomenon himself actually claim victory over Hillary Clinton?

Press and pundits alike give varied answers. "When Clinton concedes." "When he gets his 10 more delegates." "When it becomes clear that Clinton cannot win."
This last one expired several weeks ago, today the press said that Obama had "effectively sewed up the 2118 delegates needed for the nomination", and yet, Barack Obama has not officially declared himself the Democratic Party's nominee.

While his politeness in not edging out Ms. Clinton is certainly commendable, most Democrats agree that, as Obama himself said recently, "The sooner we bring the party together [presumably around him], the sooner we can start focusing on John McCain and the November election." A formal victory speech seems in order here.

But how much will the actual speech mean? It has been clear that Obama is the stronger candidate for a while now, and although the radio, the newspapers, and television all say that Obama will have clinched the nomination by tonight, the most the assertion can provide is, finally, a sense of satisfaction and stability for Democrats.

And, on a different note, what will Ms. Clinton's role be in the new administration? The media has delighted in publishing articles giving a plethora of reasons for stubbornly keeping her campaign alive.

"Ms. Clinton has privately consulted with Mr. Obama about his campaign helping her to retire her campaign's debt."

"Ms. Clinton is staying in the race to ensure that Obama will give her a prestigious place in his administration."

"Mr. Obama's campaign is working on recruiting Ms. Clinton's top fundraisers."

"Ms. Clinton said that she is open to being Barack Obama's running mate."

While few but Ms. Clinton herself could truthfully answer these questions, speculations will, no doubt, continue until she calls it quits.

And with John McCain not having had much to do in the past several months other than raise money and not spend it, there is certainly something to be said for the Democratic party finally coming together to support a candidate, not two.

But all three campaigns have certainly enlightened much of America, if not the world, to the inner workings of American presidential politics - whether we wanted to hear it or not.

And if all this talk of elections has got you down, laugh it off with the Capitol Steps' hilarious musical satire at!

Finally, in local news, go vote in Palo Alto's elections tonight!

Update: Barack Obama claimed the Democratic nomination tonight in St. Paul, Minnesota, becoming the first major party black candidate in American history.