Saturday, August 30, 2008

Telling Moment... 

SNL re-ran an episode from October 2007 tonight, and the opening bit was an interesting time capsule of the plus ςa change variety. In it, Hillary and Bill Clinton host a Hallowe'en party, with various at the time contenders for the presidency played by SNL cast members. John Edwards is quickly dissed, Bill Richardson comes as Al Gore, and Joe Biden joins Chris Dodd, both dressed as Spongebob Squarepants, and both coming off as Beavis and Butthead meet Tweedle-Dum and Tweedle-Dee.

Then a party guest wearing a Barack Obama mask reveals himself to be... Barack Obama -- and his reaction upon taking off the mask is most telling. The audience goes nuts, and he smiles. He breaks character. In short, he instantly reveals that he is no actor, because the first thing an actor learns is how to not break character and crack-up on stage; your character would only laugh inappropriately if something happened spontaneously onstage that your character would laugh at.

Which means... when Barack gave his amazing acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention, he believed and felt every word he said. Reinforcement? As soon as Barack began delivering his lines in the skit, the laugh and smile vanished; the self-consciousness was gone -- and those lines were a precursor to what he told us this week.

Or, in other words, another change Barack will bring to Washington -- a President who cannot lie, because his face will give away the game. By being a lousy actor, Senator Obama, a man I hope to one day call President Obama, just made me support him more.


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Friday, August 29, 2008

I Have a Dream... 

Yesterday and this morning have been very encouraging for November. Barack Obama is now the nominee, and none of the paranoid-wing ravings of "Hillary is going to steal it, you'll see" came true. (The people in that camp are to Democrats what far-right fundie evangelists are to the Republican party -- the people we wish weren't in our respective parties, because they get all the attention and give the opposition their ammunition.

I know lots of Republicans who don't oppose gay marriage, are pro-choice and undecided on the death penalty. All they want is lower taxes and a Federal Government that leaves them alone.

I know lots of Democrats who are in favor of gun ownership, who are a little suspicious of a certain religious or ethnic group (but don't feel guilty about it), who think that the idea of unlimited welfare is ridiculous, and illegal aliens are "illegal" for a reason. All they want is the Federal Government out of their private lives, and religious groups out of their private lives.

Not so far apart, eh? And that was the message I heard on Wednesday night as Barack Obama accepted the nomination as Democratic candidate for President, giving an eloquent and rousing speech on the 45th Anniversary of Martin Luther King, Jr's "I Have a Dream" speech on the mall in Washington D.C.

And my god, said the atheist -- that man can speak. Barack Obama is a more eloquent statesman than even Bill Clinton, a more inspiring leader than JFK... in short, hell yes he's the Superstar that McCain tried to denigrate. But, you know what? Good presidents are Superstars, people who are remembered for centuries. Like -- Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, Roosevelt, FDR, JFK. Look at your money, your schools, your streets. Don't those names tend to pop up a lot?

Just like the name Martin Luther King, Jr. He isn't on the money yet -- but that's not a half bad idea -- but how many streets and schools do you know of that bear his name?

Oh, wow. Barack is famous and a lot of people like him. Guess what, McCain? "A lot of people like him" happens to be the dumbed down so W. can understand it definition of Democracy. You know -- where majority rules? Anyone who tries to bitch about a democratic election being a "popularity contest" really doesn't get it.

Which part of, "Well, duh?" do you not understand.

So... on Wednesday, I get to watch the amazing speech with a major crowd, watch as several apolitical or Republican friends glaze over in amazement, then announce, "I am so voting for him"... watch as straight male friends declare "Okay, I'm straight, but I would have his babies right now..."

Yeah -- platonic man-crushes abounded.

I was most reminded of Frank Capra's "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington", especially when Barack said that "change doesn't come from Washington, it comes to Washington." Hell, yeah. And I think the biggest and most necessary change we need right now is this: Old White Guy is not in charge. They've had their chance since Washington, and they've been screwing up for far too long. You only get so many resets on your Wii. It's time for the new kid to step up and school your sorry ass.

And... the other really nice news -- McCain screwed the pooch with his choice of VP Candidate. By picking a first term governor presiding over a state population smaller than the city population of San Francisco, he has blown the "inexperience" argument out of the water. After all, Sarah Palin would be only a stroke away from the White House. McCain, being a 72 year old former POW has already run all the sand out of his life expectancy clock. In fact, for people of his age and experience, he is due to expire any day now. Meaning that we'd wind up with a former beauty queen very conservative and reactionary Anita Bryant Junior with her finger on the red button and her Constitutional understanding courtesy of Jesus and George Bush.

Or, in other words, McCain just drove the nail in his coffin. His far right cohorts will have their brains explode when faced with the choice between a black man as president or a woman in charge of the Senate (they already hate Nancy Pelosi, as do good Democrats). The previous female VP was a democrat as well, and the fear of Hillary in power can only rub off on Palin in the wrong way. And there's no telling what ongoing investigations of Ted Stevens might toss her way in a very very bad way...

Combine that with Tina Fey lampooning this woman fifteen ways from Tuesday from mid September to election day, and her falling to pieces during a debate with Biden, and McCain has basically combined Dan Quayle and Spiro Agnew with a big dose of "Geraldine Ferraro lost". Not to mention the major faux pas of "Old fart with young chick", almost like he wants to hook his coattails to the meaningless John Edwards scandal.

I run the options through my mind, and even as the most hardened of right-wing nutjob Republicans, the best option I can come up with is ""Screw it. I won't vote." The further I move from the right, the more I move toward, "Well, hell. He does remind me of JFK, and he did pretty good stuff..."

And c'mon. If you're a straight male with a pulse, there's no way you can't want Michelle Obama as First Lady. You know she'll pimp that place out and throw parties like we haven't seen since Andrew Jackson.

That, and... Barack Obama is what America needs right now. An eloquent statesman and a message to the rest of the world -- "The American people have come to their senses, have kicked out the assholes who've messed with the world for the last eight years. We've also elected a black man, meaning we're mostly over the racism that has made us a laughingstock for the world, a grand hypocrite, for nearly half our life as a country. "

And I could only hope that latter message finally melts through the hardened heads of redneck racists everywhere -- most Americans have ceased even seeing race as an issue or an impediment or even a major factor in modern life.

To paraphrase Obama, America is better than that. We are -- or should be -- finally able to see past surface features, past accidents of birth -- and only see ability.

This November, I hope that people will continue to see the obvious. Change is good. Obama is change. Or, rather, a restoration of America to what it was and should be. McCain is more of the same; Bush's third term. Elect the old white man, whether or not his running mate has a vagina -- and we'd just be telling the world, "Fuck you."

Yes, you isolationist bastards, it does matter, incredibly much, what the rest of the world thinks of us. Why? Ask yourself why the dollar is worth crap and gas is so expensive. Figure out the answer to that question, and you'll realize why Barack Obama is, at the moment, America's last great hope.

We're at an historical time, one that will see Barack becoming the next in the line of memorialized presidents -- if we're smart enough to elect him, trust him, and fix the damage that has been done.

My view from the street is this: Obama will defeat McCain in a landslide not seen in decades -- despite what useless national polls say about a tie. My advice: Democrats cannot become complacent. If you supported Hillary, get over it. She'll still be young enough in 2016. Donate to Obama, help with local electioneering events. Get your friends who aren't registered but who are like-minded registered to vote. Work this election in your head like Obama is behind by twenty points. Get the word out there, and we will win. But don't assume the word is being gotten out. Do your part.

Ask not what Obama can do for you, but rather what you can do for Obama.

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Sunday, August 10, 2008

Georgia, Georgia... 

I can't help but wonder whether current events in Georgia are actually the result of some behind-the-scenes quid-pro-quo deal between the US and Russia. To wit: the US really wants to invade Iran, but Russia stands in the way, due to economic deals with Iran. Meantime, Russia is having problems with Georgia (birthplace of Stalin) but really can't do anything about it without looking like the bad guy.

By way of illustration, please note that before Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait, he was given implicit permission by the US to do so. He invaded, which gave us the excuse to bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb Iraq... (Thank you, John McCain. Douchebag.)

So, a scenario... Russia wants to take care of its Georgia problem, can't engineer an excuse. (The Opera House siege was Chechens, not Georgians.) Understanding US/Israeli intent toward Iran, not really wanting to get into that pissing contest, and having arranged things so that the US cannot possibly profit (via oil) from a war with Iran, they make a deal. "Convince the Georgians that you will support them militarily, they will do something stupid like attack us, you renege with your help, and we have the excuse to invade the country, a 'war' that will probably last a month at most."

This is the optimist's view of history. Why? Because the other version -- that the US really did goad Georgia into attacking Russia
with full intent of backing them while plotting a unilateral strike on Iran -- ally of Russia and China -- could only have been conceived of by a flaming idiot, a born again douche-bag who couldn't care less whether he destroyed the world, because some dead Jewish Zombie who was his own father anointed him president and will come back if all this insanity happens.

But, no. Nobody could really be so absolutely stupid as to believe any of that shit. Could they?

Pray for November, 2008. Pray harder for January, 2009.

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Saturday, August 09, 2008

It's Alive 

In reading the description of an old Virus (Storm) traveling in a new guise -- as FBI vs. Facebook or CNN Top 10 emails -- I had the possibly naive, possibly not realization that the internet and the world wide web really have achieved the status of sentient life. What does a virus do to a computer network? Cause the infected computer to attempt to reproduce copies of itself and transmit them to other computers. Another form of malignancy, a DOS attack, tries to cut off a particular computer or server from the outside world -- think bacterial infection instead of viral. Finally, web search spiders and bots crawl the net constantly to keep a record of itself, in effect expanding self-awareness. In transmitting information from one place to another, the internet will attempt to work around bad connections or dead-ends -- shades of a neural network.

The only thing it is incapable of doing that life does is grow -- that still requires the interaction of humans. The same is true of viruses and the entire network. But how soon will it be before some idiot writes a virus that is meta-stable; one that is so well-defended that it cannot be cured by even its creator? One that would reproduce exponentially without need of human action, the end result being a runaway program that would absorb all of the available resources of every connected device on the planet? A simple doubling progression -- 2, 4, 8, 16, etc. -- will exceed ten times the number of internet connected devices on the planet in just 36 iterations, which is an eye-blink in computer time. A progression by powers, on the other hand, would result in a number larger than a googol (10100) in just three iterations: 22, or 4; 44, or 256; and 256 256 -- which exceeds the mathematical capabilities of representation of my computer.

Of course, if you really want to eliminate viruses, you'd have to program the system to detect and destroy them on its own, in effect giving the web an immune system.

We're only two steps away now. We just need self-replicating machines and primitive AI before we can truly declare our created systems as alive. And I'm not sure that's actually a bad thing. A self-aware, self-replicating system with a mind based in absolute logic might bring a lot of benefit to the world. If it were tasked with the goal of improving the lot of every human on the planet, it might come up with answers that were the most helpful with the least economic or social impact. Or it might decide that killing four billion of us would leave the remaining two and a half billion better off.

Although I think that latter option is the thing of paranoid science fiction. More likely, such a system would end up with solutions that would allow everyone the highest standard of living with the least effort required. Most likely, this would involve the elimination of dividing elements, like national borders, political parties or religions -- but the benefits would outweigh the inconvenience of giving up useless beliefs.

Besides, when the web does come alive -- as it will within ten years -- can you blame it for thinking globally and acting locally? It's been practically designed for that from the beginning.

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Friday, August 08, 2008


Dammit... the Olympics represent the best of this planet, and they have for 2,784 years. Watching the finale of the opening ceremonies tonight, it made me hope that divisions between countries or people on this planet can be eliminated. The Olympics were begun by the first great experiment in Democracy, Greece, nearly three thousand years ago. The modern Olympics began 112 years ago, but have brought the world together every four years, except when events were cancelled due to war. And is it any coincidence that presidential elections coincide with Olympic years? Pan et circences, or something else?

Anyway... watching China's finale to their opening ceremonies, in which the torch is lit, made me think "Wow. They aren't really that different than us. Spectacle, check. Hero worship, check. Goddamn bells and whistles? Check, check, check.

Hard to expect less from a country with over a billion people, eh?

I am beginning to think that the only hope for the 21st century is the elimination of all borders, the abandonment of fear.

If only the People can pull that off....


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Why There Is Still Hope 

I told myself I'd boycott this year's Olympics because of China's treatment of Tibet. And then I instantly failed that boycott by watching the opening ceremonies tonight. I'm not a sports fan, but the Olympics do get to me. I'll watch men's Olympic swimming and diving, and I like the opening and closing ceremonies.

Why? Because they are a reminder that we are a big planet with a lot of different nations on it, and in the opening ceremonies those nations come together in a visual and powerful way. This year's Olympics add an interesting twist to it, since the teams are entering in Chinese "alphabetical" order -- they are arranged in order of number of strokes used to write their names, rather than western A to Z fashion. The end result is that countries are completely intermixed -- African with Asian, South American with European, North American with everyone else. It's a very interesting way to do it, because it splits up traditional power divisions. The "Big Eight" -- US, UK, Russia, China, France, Germany, Japan and India -- are not elevated from the others. A delegation of six athletes is just as likely to follow a group of two hundred. Look at the names of the Big Eight, and you'll see that they cluster. This doesn't happen with the Chinese ordering.

The other sign of hope? I was expecting boos, or at least rousing silence, when the US Team entered. Wrong. There was huge applause, and I had to ask myself "Why?"

That's when I realized there is still hope yet, on two fronts. First, I think the applause was for the athletes and not the country -- in essence, a show of support for the American People. This implies that the rest of the world has high hopes that we will change our ways in November, and dump the party in power for good. It means our image on the world stage will improve soon.

Second, watching the American delegation march by, I suddenly realized why America has long been the dream ideal of the world, the country to which all others aspire -- or aspired until certain too-recent events.

The reason for that admiration was visible in the faces of the athletes. No, not as the expressions on them, but as the faces themselves, something highlighted by every preceding delegation.

All the others, no matter where they were from, were one homogeneous group. All Black, all Asian, all White, all Hispanic. In the case of some Arab countries, they were all male. And if you look at the other seven Big Eight countries -- or the second-stringers like Australia, Mexico or South Korea -- you see the same thing. That is, the same faces, repeated, smiling and sunny in their matching uniforms.

And then, enter the US -- and it's as if all the other teams are marching together. Whites, Blacks, Asians, Latinos. Men, women. All marching together as one, a crazy-quilt made up of the entire world.

This is what made America great, and is what will save us from our current troubles once the vermin have been swept away. We are the melting pot, a place for all the cultures of the world to meet and mingle. As a result, our country is the one that has something that everyone can understand. There isn't an immigrant in the world who could not land here and quickly locate a community of their own people. How appropriate, then, that our language is a blend of so many -- Latin, German, French, Norse, Greek, Spanish, Arabic, Chinese, Japanese, Sanskrit, etc., etc.

In short, America is the rest of the world in miniature. People all over the world have a connection to us somehow -- friends, relatives, etc. In terms of culture, the US exports far more than it imports. Case in point: Although Australia airs many American shows on TV, the US hasn't aired an Australian show since "Prisoner: Cell Block H" in the 80s. And when Oz's number one show "Kath and Kim" does come here, it's remade with an all-American cast. Wouldn't want to have to subtitle, you know...

There's this idea that Americans have no interest in learning foreign languages. While that's probably true, a good part of that could possibly be attributed to the diversity of this country. (Disclaimer: I am a total language geek, and can mostly read and understand half a dozen.) When someone is learning English as a Second Language, they have little incentive to try to learn a third. English is hard, man. I'm actually glad I grew up speaking American English, because I never would have been able to learn it otherwise. The spelling makes no damn sense, and the grammar rules are totally inconsistent. Shades of its birth -- some part of English will make sense to some one, but all of it will not, unless you grew up here. And, trust me, most Americans I know can't wrap their way around an intelligible sentence either.

On the other hand, American English is so damn fluid and adaptable that it really deserves to be the dominant language. No other language has the ability to coin a neologism overnight which is instantly understandable. Is it just a coincidence that most internet memes are in English, even in Asian countries?

And how did we, the US, wind up in this position of being some great World Model? By being, for just over two centuries, the great Experiment in Democracy, the great welcomer of the tired, the poor. If you live in a major city in the US, you have a Chinatown, a Little Italy, Armenian and Russian enclaves, Korea Town, Japan Town, a Spanish-speaking neighborhood, a black neighborhood, a trendy place where the rich white Protestants hang out. And there are probably at least four other ethnic neighborhoods you don't know about -- Greek, Ukrainian, Ethiopian... The only reason you don't have an Irishtown is because we mofos assimilated first, to the extent that there are probably very few Americans -- black or white -- who don't have Irish ancestors within three generations. We're horny little buggers when we drink...

But I do digress.

Tonight's ceremonies reminded me why the US is still one of the focal points of the world. And then reminded me why we used to truly be better than most other countries. They reminded me what we've lost here since Sydney was host in 2000. And, most of all, hope for what we can rebuild, reclaim, fix by 2012, when the Olympics come to London, our spiritual mother.

Sixty years ago, London was host. Sixty years ago, the world appreciated what America was trying to become.

Sixty years later... now... please let us be what we tried to.


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