Archive for December, 2008

Parody is not license to be racist

Sunday, December 28th, 2008

Recently, some Republicans thought it would be a brilliant idea to distribute a CD to members of the Republican National Convention containing a song titled “Barack the Magic Negro”. The general response was about as predictable as the sunset, and rightly consisted of outright condemnation over such disgusting and overt racism. But get this: the excuse of the Republican who distributed the song was that it was a parody.

Really? A song sung to the same tune as the pop hit “Puff the Magic Dragon” is parody? Anyone with two neurons to rub together can figure that out. Yes, “Barack the Magic Negro” is parody. Racist parody. Racism and parody are not mutually exclusive, so asserting that it’s parody isn’t a defense against the actual charge. The rebuttal thus rings completely hollow. The idiot should’ve just apologized instead of offering this pathetic attempt at an excuse, thus digging the hole even deeper.

If the Republican Party wants to recover from the doldrums they’re currently languishing in, they might want to stop being openly racist. Most people don’t like that. Just saying.

How browser security exploits hinder exploration of the web

Monday, December 22nd, 2008

It’s important to be able to feel safe while browsing the web, both in terms of what your software protects you against and what your own “web street smarts” protect you against. Users who don’t feel safe will restrict themselves to big sites by recognizable companies and other sites that they already visit regularly — still a useful use of the web, sure, but one of the quirky charms of the web is all of that weird stuff that can exist only in this medium, and if you aren’t browsing them, you’re missing out. An even worse category of user is one who feels safe but isn’t, thus exposing themselves to viruses, malware, and even identity theft. Unfortunately, it appears that everyone who uses Internet Explorer is in this category.

In the latest in a long line of Microsoft failings, another Internet Explorer bug has been discovered that pretty much allows arbitrary malicious control over your computer simply by viewing an infecting website. This critical vulnerability was patched recently, but keep in mind that millions of computer users patch their software on an irregular basis, and further millions never patch at all. The number of computer users vulnerable to this one exploit thus remains in the tens of millions, at least. Using Internet Explorer simply isn’t safe, and the majority of people know this. The worse knock-on effect of this is that it causes people to adjust their browsing accordingly, treating the web as a shady inner city neighborhood to be avoided rather than a beautiful vista that demands exploration.

Switching to Mozilla Firefox is a no-brainer. But even with Firefox, as long as you’re still running Windows, you’re still quite vulnerable. It’s possible for even the experienced web user to get caught by what appears to be a trial download of a legitimate piece of software that is actually a virus. This is one of the many reasons why I choose GNU/Linux as my operating system. I browse the web with impunity, journeying where most others dare not, because I have taken the necessary steps to truly protect myself. And the view from way up here is amazing.

Tanks in rush hour

Wednesday, December 10th, 2008

This makes twice in one year that my commute home from work has been slowed by rubbernecking delays thanks to tanks being in the pull-over lane just south of the American Legion Bridge crossing the Potomac River along the Capital Beltway in Virginia.

The tanks are always on semi-trailers traveling in convoys. It’s been too dark for me to make a positive identification both times, but they were not inconsistent with being M1 Abrams tanks. I don’t know why the United States Army feels that it’s necessary to move its tanks around during rush hour, nor do I know why they seem so hesitant to cross the bridge (weight concerns maybe?).

I’ve come to accept long delays on my commute home due to accidents. I’ve even begrudgingly come to accept long delays on my commute home for no apparent reason at all. But I’m never going to accept a convoy of fricking tanks on the side of the highway causing lollygagging rubberneckers to grind traffic to a halt. Have you really never seen a tank before? Did all of you somehow manage to miss the television news coverage of Desert Storm?

Batman Minus Batman

Monday, December 8th, 2008

You may or may not be aware of Garfield Minus Garfield, a mash-up of the comic strip Garfield that simply removes Garfield from all frames, leaving John Arbuckle as a lonely, psychotic man. I bring it up because it serves as a useful analogy to discuss the film The Dark Knight, which I finally saw last week after friends’ insistence. While I did enjoy the film, I felt that it would’ve been better as Batman Minus Batman.

Yes, I found Batman himself to be completely superfluous to the better themes of the movie. Apparently that’s the secret to making a good Batman movie: make him irrelevant. The Joker was the most interesting character in the movie (a tip of my hate to Heath Ledger for that), followed closely by Arthur Dent and the police commissioner. Batman and his to-be girlfriend were unconvincing, uncompelling, and, dare I say, out of place.

The story of the Joker as anarchist terrorizing a large city is what made the film good. It would have been better if it had just focused on this subplot, especially the civilian and police response to a city under siege by a non-rational villain. Instead, a significant amount of screen time is devoted to a billionaire moonlighting as a crime fighter with incredibly high-tech gear who nevertheless beats up his opponents with ham-fisted punches. It’s hard to fathom, but Batman really was the worst part of this Batman movie. Without him, the city would’ve had to deal with the threat from the Joker on its own (perhaps with some highly risky SWAT missions), instead of the deus ex machina solution provided by Batman.

The Batman series seems to have evolved beyond the need for its title character. It’s an unusual position for a film series to find itself in, but there it is.