Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Happy Endings

I like this headline from The Huffington Post: "Obama Responds To Gay Anger: You'll Be Happy In The End." Haha. Happy Endings.

However, I don't really like what President Obama is saying: "Obama added that he was working with the Pentagon, as well as Congress, to end "Don't Ask Don't Tell." He called this period a "transition" toward that end but said it had to be done pragmatically, so the new policy works in the long-term."

Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke of "the tranquilizing drug of gradualism." In the 1960's, many felt that the belief that blacks and whites should be gradually integrated was just a way for the government to put off doing anything substantial.

Now is always the time. If the commander-in-chief really wants to end the military policy of "don't ask don't tell," why doesn't he issue an executive order? (MSNBC video link)

Monday, June 29, 2009

Filtering the Revolution

In the aftermath of the election in Iran, Twitter emerged as the most powerful way for Iranians to disseminate information and organize protests. The Iranian government has been censoring the Internet for years, but of course -- as the Cute Cat Theory explains -- firewalls don't stop anybody for long.

But don't expect our own government to understand technology, firewalls, or cute cats. Sens. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., plan to introduce a bill that would bar foreign companies that sell technology to Iran from receiving federal contracts.

My first thought -- have these senators heard of China? China's net censorship is well documented. American companies like Cisco, Microsoft, Google and Yahoo have all been complicit in China's human rights abuses. Heck, you might even say they were enthusiastic.

But why do these companies make technologies with wiretapping features built in anyway? Our lawmakers should know the answer to this simple question. In the EU and the US, telecommunications networks are legally required to have those capabilities for Lawful Intercept. Unfortunately, the exact same network hardware that is sold over here is also sold over there.

This fact shouldn't give the above mentioned companies a free pass for supporting oppressive regimes. However, our own government has to see the bigger picture. We want our law enforcement agencies to be able to wiretap (with a court order -- wink wink), but these Lawful Intercept requirements have consequences far outside our own borders.

Oh, and this leads me to my second thought -- why the hell aren't we punishing the companies who enabled warrantless wiretapping within the US? Schumer and Graham ought to work on that one for a while.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Michael Jackson, 1958-2009

Michael Jackson died today. A lot will be said about his unusual life and transformations, but all I want to replay right now is this little message he sang as a teenager: "You don't have to change at all."

(YouTube video)

You didn't have to change, Michael. Rest in peace.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

In Search of Stimulus

First he was lost and now he is found. This new Mark Sanford show is better than that old Jon & Kate crap.

When the South Carolina governor went incommunicado for a seven days, his staff happily told us he was vacationing out in the wilderness... probably praying and possibly naked. If it turned out this upright Republican was a weekend nudist then the story would have been interesting enough.

Ends up the governor was in Argentina breaking up with his mistress.

His confession and tears are a little insincere. He was caught by a reporter at Hartsfield-Jackson Airport in Atlanta after changing his flight plans in order to avoid the press. If he could have gotten away with this liaison, he would have.

Hypocrisy and sex scandals are nothing new of course, but let's see how FOX News tries to spin this one:

There must be some kind of neocon defense mechanism at work here when they label an affirmed Republican adulterer as a Democrat.

Anyway, some legislators are talking about impeaching Mark Sanford. I'm hoping they do it for the right reasons -- not because of his affair, but because he shirked his duties as governor by being out of contact with his office.

And if they can't impeach the guy, well maybe Mr. Conservative can run for president in 2012?

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Another Post on Pot

I'm gonna smoke you out of existence! Twice a day, Steve joins the war on drugs.

Well, the above comic shows one way to join the war on drugs. I wonder if it would work as a defense in court? "I was just smoking it out of existence, your honor." Okay, probably a bad idea. But here is a better idea...

Congressman Barney Frank has introduced a new bill to decriminalize marijuana use. He introduced a similar bill last year which failed. Political momentum is a funny thing. Politicians have capitalized on this war for decades, and in the process, spent billions of our tax dollars. It must be very painful for them to change direction now, but public opinion has changed and momentum is building for a broad debate.

Legalizing drugs would weaken the Mexican drug cartels, save billions on law enforcement, and ease the budget problems in states that can grow marijuana. I think we've moved way beyond those simplistic fried egg PSA's from the 1980's. Also, I'm getting really sick of hearing tragic stories like this one and this one.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Death to Potatoes

In case you haven't heard, there was a disputed election in Iran. I won't pretend to be an expert because that's just stupid.

But I do try to understand what I don't understand. Last year, during our own long and heated election debates, I blogged about McCain and Clinton's cavalier attitude towards war with Iran. The candidates' flippant remarks played to the public belief which, for as long as I can remember, is that the people of Iran hate America.

Oh, where did we get that idea? In recent memory, we got the fear-mongering from Bush who put Iran in an "axis of evil" even though there was no axis. But even long before that, we heard the Iranian chants of "Death to America." I always wondered exactly what the people meant by that.

Hooman Madj, author of The Ayatollah Begs to Differ: The Paradox of Modern Iran, says it doesn't mean they want to kill us. In fact, during the recent campaign, Iranians also shouted "death to potatoes":

(YouTube video)

So the phrase really kind of means "down with America" which doesn't sound nearly as threatening. Sometimes history is shaped by things lost in translation.

But right now, I don't think much is being lost in translation. It's very clear that Iranians are willing to die for freedom and democracy. And people who share our basic values probably don't want to kill us.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Faking Fundamentalism

Religious extremism and parody -- I've previously commented how I can't tell the two apart. Between Pterosaur Hunting, funny museums and video game protests, I don't know whether to laugh or cry. At work here is a little known law called Poe's Law, and it suggests the following:
...it is hard to tell fake fundamentalism from the real thing, since they may both espouse equally extreme beliefs. Poe's law also works in reverse: real fundamentalism can also be indistinguishable from parody fundamentalism. For example, some conservatives consider noted homophobe Fred Phelps to be so over-the-top that they think he's a "deep cover liberal" trying to discredit more mainstream homophobes.
If you want additional evidence just look at the Ohio study that found that conservatives believe that Stephen Colbert dislikes liberalism. The study raises legitimate questions about the influence of shows that parody and satirize politics and belief systems. The conclusion is that political satire may not affect people in the way that it has historically been assumed.

So while I understand the satire of Colbert and other late night shows, I still struggle to identify religious parody... probably because all religious views are a little bit nutty. However, I'm still positive that Pat Robertson hasn't entered the world of comedy.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

The Frightened Fringe

So this is where we're at. An 88-year-old white supremacist with a rifle walked into the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum today and opened fire killing a security guard. The gunman, identified as James Von Brunn, unsurprisingly had a web site which was one hell of a rambling manifesto full of the extremist rhetoric we've been warned about. This shooting is our second domestic terrorist attack in less than a month.

Why? The extremists can certainly hookup online now and feed each other a steady diet of lies and hate, and FOX has graciously provided them a place to call home. But even FOX is starting to realize their audience is looking more and more like the lunatic fringe:

(YouTube video)

The kind of people who leave comments on FOX Nation are a very frightened bunch. They feel like they're losing, and they are. They're losing the last battles of the so-called culture war. We'll legalize gay marriage sooner or later. Maybe even marijuana. Abortion will probably remain legal. Stem cell research is moving forward. Oh, and we also have a black president who isn't afraid to speak with the Muslim world.

Maybe even more frightening to their ilk is that one day the politicians will stop pandering to them. They're a dying breed after all.

Monday, June 08, 2009

You're So Vain, You Probably Think This Post Is About You

I'm reading this NY Times article on blogging and finding myself getting more and more irritated. Their premise is that bloggers expect instant fame and fortune and when it doesn't come, they abandon their blogs:
According to a 2008 survey by Technorati, which runs a search engine for blogs, only 7.4 million out of the 133 million blogs the company tracks had been updated in the past 120 days. That translates to 95 percent of blogs being essentially abandoned, left to lie fallow on the Web, where they become public remnants of a dream — or at least an ambition — unfulfilled.
Dreams? Ambitions? Are we climbing to the top of Mount Everest or writing a blog? They certainly manage to quote a bunch of dimwits who fit their profile of the discouraged blogger with an audience of one. The Internet does not mourn their retirement. But do I believe the stats that say 95% give up?

I'm positive that narcissism is alive and well. The people who think the world is interested in what they ate for breakfast probably abandoned public blogs for a good reason -- it's too easy for your friends to "forget" to check your blog. Instead those types opted for a more captured audience -- like on Facebook, where your friends, family, and distant acquaintances will at least skim your daily minutia and angst every time they login.

But my main gripe is the NY Times portraying that exact caricature of self-absorbed opportunistic bloggers. There are other reasons to blog like sharing what you've learned, pointing out interesting news items, and adding your own commentary... which is, of course, also narcissistic.

I guess you need a little bit of arrogance to be a good writer, but then I see this article about J.D. Salinger. It's a mystery if he's still writing or not. He's certainly not publishing. The article posits "perhaps he's writing not for publication but for God, which would mean there'd be no need to preserve any material traces of his work."

Well, I'm satisfied with a happy medium. Try not to be vain, but don't keep it to myself. Don't dream of fame and fortune, but think about the therapeutic benefits of writing.

Friday, June 05, 2009

Not Dead

Hello, Me Not Dead(Image from Spamusement!)

I'm not dead. Let's just say it's been a good week for video games and a bad week for blogging. But I warned you this week was coming. I'll be back.