Thursday, March 27, 2008

Call it, Friendo

Paul Krugman, who I have been eyeing ever since his bludgeoning support of Hillary's healthcare mandates, issued a pretty bold challenge on Monday:

Now, I don’t expect presidential campaigns to have all the answers to our current crisis — even financial experts are scrambling to keep up with events. But I do think we’re entitled to more answers, and in particular a clearer commitment to financial reform, than we’re getting so far.

And, more specifically:

On the Democratic side, it’s somewhat disappointing that Barack Obama, whose campaign has understandably made a point of contrasting his early opposition to the Iraq war with Hillary Clinton’s initial support, has tried to score a twofer by suggesting that the war, in addition to all its other costs, is responsible for our economic troubles....Hillary Clinton has not, as far as I can tell, made any comparably problematic economic claims. But she, like Mr. Obama, has been disappointingly quiet about the key issue: the need to reform our out-of-control financial system.

When I read that, I put down my guns a little--because I agreed with him. And today, not three days later, Obama let loose with what in my eyes went above and beyond the call of duty in responding to the challenge. I read his entire speech on renewing the American economy, and it took me almost two hours because I read each paragraph like, three times, and had to look up all these words I didn't know. But there it was: not only a commitment to reform, but a clear demonstration that he has the necessary understanding and judgment required in order to follow through with that commitment. Clinton, too made a speech (on Monday), which consisted of her reciting everything that she has already proposed--i.e. proposed prior to Krugman's assertion that she has not proposed enough. And, frankly, she hasn't proposed enough. Her plan amounts to little more than a bail-out combined with punishment for those that exploit the system--not a reform of the system itself.

I'm waiting, now, eager to see how Krugman fields this. His refusal to acknowledge that there was any value in Obama's healthcare plan without once even mentioning the portion of the plan that sought to reform our healthcare economic system made me very suspicious--he's supposed to be fucking economist, after all. So here we are: the moment of truth. I can't wait to see what he says.

UPDATE: Here it is... BLAH

New Study

Shannon: 1 in 100 U.S. Adults Behind Bars, New Study Says
Shannon: it always annoys me
Shannon: when they call that a study
Shannon: "study"
Shannon: like
Shannon: oh really
Shannon: so you took the total prison population and divided it by the total US population
Shannon: that's a study?
Shannon: because it sounds like fourth-grade math
Roy: hahaha
Shannon: it's called a ratio
Shannon: i should start doing "studies"
Shannon: like...
Roy: according this STUDY i just did, 4 plus 5 equals 9
Shannon: right?
Shannon: now give me one million dollars.
Roy: hahaah

Suffocation Roulette

I was reading this NYT blog post about a dangerous choking game that kids play to get 'high' (the sweet, sweet euphoria of brain cell death is apparently such a staple of teenage entertainment as to be sought well outside the trusted illicit sources of drugs and alcohol). The post is intended to educate parents about this game, as may kids don't realize that it could kill them. Quote:

In addition to discussing the dangers of the game with their children, parents should look for signs that kids may be playing. The game has several aliases. Parents should listen for names like Blackout, Flatliner, Fainting Game, California Choke, Dream Game, Airplaning, Suffocation Roulette, Space Cowboy and the Pass-Out Game.

I'm not trying to make fun of the post, because I agree that this is an important thing for parents to be aware of. But I just thought it was funny. Hey Mom, hey Dad...we're going to go play suffocation roulette. Okay, honey--WAIT. IS THAT A DANGEROUS GAME? I THINK I READ ABOUT IT IN THE NEW YORK TIMES.

No, but seriously parents. Suffocation Roulette is not a shitty Ozzy rip-off band. It is a dangerous game that could kill your child.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Intelligence in America

My favorite thing about Barack Obama is how smart he is. Honestly, I think that he's great because of the hope and the integrity and all that, but I really do believe that all that stuff is really just a function of his intelligence. People keep talking about how his speech was risky and brave...I don't agree. I think that once that speech began to form in his mind he lost all fear of how it would 'play out,' because he knew that he could write a speech that was exactly what the country needed to hear. Not many people can do that.

I've been scanning the news and the blogs for reactions to his speech, and I kept stumbling across some really kooky shit. We've got the people who got it. But, then, you've got people who say unintentionally ironic things like "He avoided the real issue, which is the comments of Rev. Wright" (paraphrasing an NPR commentator my boss told me about today). Or the people who continue to try to make an issue of Rev. Wright, by saying things like:

"The more I think about what was actually said in Obama's speech, the more infuriated I am. As if I, as a white person, have something to answer for when it is OBAMA that's been mentored by a hate mongering racist!"

Okay, that was a little unfair. Who knows who that fucking guy was, I found that in the comments section of some random thing. BUT it illustrates my point, which is that when you have someone making speeches this intelligent (more importantly, when the President of the country makes all his speeches and decisions with this level of intelligence), it casts a much-needed light on the intelligence of everyone else. Valuing ideas for their intelligence has become pretty rare in our public discourse--or, if not rare, warped beyond recognition.

So when I hear people talk about Obama, it's amazing. It's like I've got a heat-seeking radar for intelligence: Wow, she's smart. Wow, he's a moron. Smart. Moron. Moron. Smart. And to be honest, I'm a bit surprised at times. Like Huckabee, who I had assumed (due primarily to my own bias towards the religious community, it's worth noting) was a complete idiot, had some pretty intelligent and open-minded things to say on the issue of Rev. Wright.

Valuing intelligence is very important. I'm not saying that stupid people should be deported or anything like that--most of these people are not even really stupid, they're just saying stupid things (and who can blame them? Saying stupid things has made many a lucrative career in this country). Many (MANY) of the things that are wrong with the country and furthermore with the world can be attributed to people just not thinking. If we put people's ability to think intelligently back in the spotlight, not only will those ideas with the most merit rise to the top, but those aspects of our collective stupidity that are largely self-imposed (choosing not to think as opposed to not being able to) will begin to right themselves. That makes me excited, for sure.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

The Speech

If you haven't seen the speech yet, watch it. And read it. Really, I think you should both watch it AND read it. It is easily the best speech by a public figure I have ever heard in my lifetime. I'm pretty sure I could still say that if I was twenty years older. I don't know, whatever, this speech has completely transcended anything that I have ever witnessed in American politics.

I'm not even going to link to it. Seriously, it's the fucking internet, it's not that hard. Google "best speech ever, period."

Oh, and one more thing, prompted not by the speech itself but by all this white-person rage over Jeremiah Wright's comments: If I ever hear another white person complain about 'reverse racism,' I am going to punch them in the face. Seriously. Get the fuck over yourselves. "Black people blaming stuff on white people is racist." Really? Do you even fucking KNOW what racism is? No, you fucking don't. Racism as a concept (oooh, it seems like the opposite, but really it's the same thing!) and racism as something that you fucking experience as a limiting and oppressive force throughout your entire life are two totally different things. So shut. The fuck. Up.

Sunday, March 16, 2008


Obviously a presidential nomination contest that pits the first viable woman candidate against the first viable black candidate will shake things up a little bit in the standard discourse about race and gender. We've seen questionable comments slip from the mouths of supporters of both sides, and we've seen quite the media stampede to denounce them time and time again.

I think it's important, though, to note a pattern. From Joe Biden's slip over a year ago to the "pimping Chelsea out" comment on MSNBC and now to Geraldine Ferraro's "lucky to be black" shitstorm, we've seen some pretty ridiculous comments that have aggravated already sensitive relations. Let's look at Ferraro. She said that if Barack Obama were not black, that he would not be where he is today. Then, defending herself later, she said that of course this is the truth. If she hadn't been a woman, she wouldn't have been selected as Mondale's running mate. Likewise, if Obama weren't black, he wouldn't be where he is now. It's the truth! She said. Then she spun reverse-racism, and the feeding frenzy began again.

As much as Ferraro's comments irritate me, I think there is a critical distinction here that a lot of people are missing. Her comments are being touted as racist. I don't think they're racist--I think they're just plain stupid. I don't mean stupid as an empty insult--I mean literally stupid; unintelligent. If Obama weren't black, she's right, he may not be where he is now. If he had stayed in NYC when he was young instead of moving to Chicago, he may not be where he is now. If he had not slept in one morning and missed the train on his way to class, he may not be where he is now. All of these comments are potentially true and simultaneously completely worthless. So I agree with Ferraro's defense of herself that she was not being racist. I think that there is a difference between a person making racist comments and a stupid person making stupid comments that have to do with race. These people are not trying to demean others because of their skin color or gender--they are trying to show off their logical reasoning skills (however flawed they may be). The fact is that race is a hot issue right now, as is gender. ("Pimping Chelsea out"--sexist? Really? Or just idiotic, like something a drunk frat boy might say if he were allowed an appearance on national television.) And that means that a lot of people are going to be speaking up with their original position on the matter--and a lot of these people are going to be stupid, and their positions will follow.

The reason I think this is important is because there IS some major, widespread "-ism" going on with this election. And it's happening everywhere--the mainstream media, in private conversations, in mass e-mails, in blogs. People are saying that Barack Obama is a muslim, and people are defending him by saying THAT'S NOT TRUE!!! I can count the number of times I've heard the response "no, actually he's not, but so what if he was?" on one hand. The muslim label is being invoked and rejected as though it categorically defines a person's fitness for office. That, my friends, is what we need to be fighting. That is what the dissolution of racism and sexism in this country has revealed as the next frontier of bigotry--bias that nobody is fighting, that both sides reinforce, as though it were an aspect of reality rather than our own minds. Check this video where they get Barack's reflection on an Ohio voter's mispronouncement of his faith:

The worst part of this video is not the sad, sad ignorance of the voter they interviewed, but rather where it ends: Cutting Barack off in mid-sentence as he tries to explain how this rumor is offensive not only to him, but to muslims as well. I guess that's not part of the story of bigotry in America today.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Mixed Reality

Scientists have finally grabbed their balls and done something to blur the line between reality and virtual reality. This is the kind of science that it's really beneficial to know about because you sound really cool at parties when you casually say things like "mixed-reality state" and "bidirectional instantaneous coupling":

Using a virtual pendulum and its real-world counterpart, scientists at the University of Illinois have created the first mixed reality state in a physical system. Through bidirectional instantaneous coupling, each pendulum "sensed" the other, their motions became correlated, and the two began swinging as one.

Awesome! Right? Uh....

From flight simulators to video games, virtual worlds are becoming more and more accurate depictions of the real world. There could come a point, a phase transition, where the boundary between reality and virtual reality disappears, Hubler said. And that could present problems.

As cool as that sounds (note: it sounds really fucking cool) I think that anyone who understands science knows what the most probable outcome of this type of experimentation is:

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Oh, Ohio

So according to MSNBC:

In Ohio, 1-in-5 Democratic voters said race was an important factor in making their decision. In that group, 8-in-10 voted for Hillary Clinton.

So, that's sixteen percent of Ohio Democratic voters that are racist. Democrats. The non-racist party. Not only are they racist, but they are SO racist that they will flat-out state that they are racist--no subconscious shit bubbling to the surface, no latent shit emerging, they flat out stated their preference for white people in an exit poll. Hillary won by ten percent of the popular vote, as of this morning's count. Congratulations, Hillary! You won Ohio because you're white.

So I was talking to Dan and Roy about this last night, as ichatting on primary/caucus nights is my new preferred social activity, and I was thinking if I was interviewing someone for a job, and I didn't hire the person, and then I told the labor department or whatever that race was an "important factor" in making my decision, I'd get fucking sued. Why? Because it's illegal.

Last night I told Roy:

I think seriously on the ballot
they should put questions like
"do you think that black people should be allowed to marry white people?"
"do you think that women should be legally allowed to hold a job?"
"do you think it's acceptable for a black person to make as much money as a white person for doing the same job?"
if you cant agree with the current laws
you shouldn't be allowed to vote on new ones

and then it could make a noise
when you put your ballot in to be counted
like the noise on game shows when you lose
and it could say

But now, looking back, I'm realizing how much more complicated it is. If you don't agree with the current laws OF COURSE YOU SHOULD be able to vote on new laws! That's precisely how we got civil rights in the first place, and that's how we will continue to secure civil rights for those that need them. But in that gut-instinct place of my stomach that cries unfairness first and loudest, I feel like there should be a certain cutting-off point with regards to the progressiveness of our society. We ARE moving forward, aren't we? Can't we all agree that this is forward? I mean, "all men are created equal" DOES actually have a concrete meaning in the world.

If this race was closer, I'd be beside myself, afraid that racists would decide the future of this country--as though they didn't already do that, when we invaded Iraq. Please, please please racist voters. This country is growing up, please come with us.

UPDATE: I have been scolded by a coworker who says that the above MSNBC quote does not automatically equate to 16% of Ohio voters being racist. She points out that someone could both consider race to be important for civil rights reasons and have voted for Hillary. I think she's right, and happily conceded the point to her. However, some of those motherfuckers are racist, I'm sure of it.