Archive for the 'Personal' Category

The inauguration of Obama – you had to be there

Wednesday, January 21st, 2009

Today was a long yet exhilarating day. It started at around 7:00am when we woke up and boarded the Metro downtown to catch the inauguration. We had purple tickets allowing us onto the Capitol grounds, but alas, the purple line was mishandled horribly, and we didn’t actually get in. Frustration was running high in the crowd, but when noon came around, the mood quickly improved, and when the oath was said and the cannon fire commenced, a cry of jubilation emerged from the crowd. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t doing my part with that.

Up next was the inaugural speech, and luckily, my dad brought a portable RadioShack radio. An impromptu group of listeners surrounded us as Obama gave his inauguration speech, eager for any sort of live broadcast in the land-of-no-Jumbotrons. Our small huddled mass, and the others just like it around similar devices, was a microcosm of the Obama movement itself. We had people of all ages and colors: two white teen-aged girls, some middle-aged African-American women, an older ex-hippie couple, and others. At least of the listeners were crying at some point in the speech. After it was over, several people profusely thanked my dad for sharing the experience.

That’s the memory I’m always going to keep from this event. Yes, we didn’t get to use our tickets, but it was amazing all the same. I would not have had the same shared experience sitting at home watching it on the television. Afterward, we headed over to the parade route and stood in the freezing cold until Obama and Biden drove by. Then we departed, navigating the mess of a city completely swamped by its most massive event ever.

There was one particular point in Obama’s speech that really surprised and impressed me. When I heard it, I almost thought I had misheard it, and I looked at my dad for confirmation. He seemed genuinely surprised as well. Yet here it is in the transcript:

We will not apologize for our way of life, nor will we waver in its defense, and for those who seek to advance their aims by inducing terror and slaughtering innocents, we say to you now that our spirit is stronger and cannot be broken; you cannot outlast us, and we will defeat you.

For we know that our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness. We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus – and non-believers. We are shaped by every language and culture, drawn from every end of this Earth; and because we have tasted the bitter swill of civil war and segregation, and emerged from that dark chapter stronger and more united, we cannot help but believe that the old hatreds shall someday pass; that the lines of tribe shall soon dissolve; that as the world grows smaller, our common humanity shall reveal itself; and that America must play its role in ushering in a new era of peace.

How far we’ve come in these two short decades since George Bush Sr. uttered this infamous statement: “No, I don’t know that atheists should be considered as citizens, nor should they be considered patriots. This is one nation under God.”

Now that’s change we non-believers can believe in.

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?

The guilty pleasures of Ikea

Wednesday, November 19th, 2008

I can’t help it. Ikea is one of my guilty pleasures. I don’t particularly like shopping, and I would never consider shopping a leisurely activity. So while I do go to grocery stores and other places where I purchase essentials, I very rarely go to shopping just for the fun of it. Yet I absolutely love shopping at Ikea.

Maybe it’s the mix of awesome and useful things that are available for such cheap prices. Or maybe it’s the awesome but completely useless things that get me, like the poseable wooden doll sculptures and mass-produced oil paintings (made using actual paint). With the exception of stores catering exclusively to my hobbies (electronics stores, hobby gaming shops, Ham Radio Outlet, etc.), Ikea is the only store that leaves me with a feeling of wanting to buy a lot more than what I end up walking out with. I could easily furnish a whole house with goods from Ikea, and eat lunch and dinner there to boot.

I suppose what I like most at Ikea is the furniture. Furniture inhabits a very interesting realm in the kingdom of “things you need to buy”. Furniture is expensive, but things are really going to suck for you if you don’t have it — for instance, the most recent reason I went to Ikea is because I didn’t have a nightstand in my new place, and for someone who likes reading before going to bed, that is a big problem. And because furniture is big, heavy, and bulky, it’s not exactly something you want to buy online.

But the best aspect of Ikea furniture is that it comes in many precisely cut pieces of wood in a flatpack box along with a plastic baggie full of tools and fasteners. My greatest joy with Ikea is not in selecting the furniture in the store, but, perversely, in assembling it when I get home. I suppose to some boring people the fact that Ikea’s furniture doesn’t come assembled simply increases its cost by whatever one considers one’s time worth, but to me, putting together the furniture provides significant added value. I would, and this is not an exaggeration, gladly put together Ikea furniture for someone else, for free.

When I was a kid, I would spend uncountable hours sitting in front of a pile of Legos on the family room floor building all manner of creative objects. As I grew older I stopped playing with Legos because it was no longer an “age-appropriate activity”, but trust me when I say that one of the best parts of having children has to be having an excuse to play with Legos again. In this context, my love of Ikea furniture begins to make sense. It’s like a Lego set for grown-ups, only better, because the material is real, the end result is useful, and it will last for many years. And the assembly instructions, with their parts lists, numbered steps, schematic symbols, and lack of written language, are eerily similar.

So don’t think I’m exaggerating when I say that the hour and a half I spent putting together that $50 3-drawer nightstand was the most fun I had that entire week. I really got into it, improving the plans in several regards by using better fasteners and applying wood glue to all wood-on-wood joints (would you believe the plans only used wooden pegs in such situations?!). I’d gladly buy a lot more furniture from Ikea, but alas, I don’t have any more space to put it in. So for now I’m in a holding pattern, anxiously looking forward to the next time I have a need to buy furniture. At least I already know where I’m going to get it.

Today is a momentous day

Wednesday, November 5th, 2008

Today is a momentous day.

I can finally truthfully say again that I am proud of my country.

It’s an incredible feeling.

Introducing PC Game Fun Time, my new blog focused on PC gaming

Monday, October 20th, 2008

I’ve just started up a new blog with my current housemate and former college roommate, Grokmoo. It’s something we’ve talked about doing for awhile but finally got around to. The new blog is called PC Game Fun Time, and somewhat obviously, it’s focused on PC gaming. Check out the introductory post for a look at what we’re trying to accomplish. If you or someone you know might be interested, check it out! We’re going to start it up the same way we did with Supreme Commander Talk, which is to say, a massive blitz of posting.

And if the new site looks a little bit familiar at the moment, then yes, it’s because I completely ripped off this site’s theme. We’re still thinking about a good long-term solution on that front.

Why the William Ayers “controversy” keeps failing to gain traction

Sunday, October 12th, 2008

Pardon my dumb-foundedness, but I just don’t understand why the McCain/Palin campaign and other Republicans keep on pushing the “he associates with former terrorist William Ayers” attack line against Barack Obama. Okay, that’s not quite true; I understand why they’re pushing this line of attack — they’re out of any good ideas for America’s future, and it does work on their rather ignorant base — but what I don’t understand is how they think this line of attack will be successful in the greater scheme of bringing more undecided voters into the fold and win the election. Let’s look at the charge objectively, okay?

William Ayers committed his terrorist attacks when Obama was eight years old and living in Indonesia. Obama hadn’t even heard of him at that point, let alone supported his philosophies. They wouldn’t go on to meet for another twenty-seven years, by which point William Ayers had long since stopped being a terrorist and had become a respected university professor. The two met when they served on the board of a non-profit education-focused community group. And as a potentially mitigating factor in defense of Ayers, the US government wasn’t exactly on a hot streak during the Vietnam War; the Weather Underground has to be understood in the context of the larger anti-war movement that rose up to oppose it. Yes, the Weather Underground used tactics that are never acceptable — but so did the government at the time. No ones hands are clean in this.

The American public overall isn’t being persuaded by this line of attack. Calling Obama a terrorist sympathizer as an attempt to paint him as un-American (how McCarthyist!) is too sleazy for all but the most rabid conservative. It simply isn’t gaining any traction; when McCain started pushing this narrative, Obama started gaining in the polls. But the silliest part of this line of attack is that, if it actually held any merit, it could just as easily be used against me, to disqualify me from ever holding any elected office. What’s that? I’m connected with a former terrorist? You betcha!

I went to Montgomery Blair High School in Silver Spring, Maryland, a notoriously liberal area. One of my best and most memorable teachers was my eleventh grade history teacher. She would frequently get distracted during lessons and start recounting stories of her anti-war activities during the Vietnam era, and we all loved her for it. We learned more from her than from any textbook. And her life story was amazing, leaving her with a wealth of personal stories that never left us bored: after her anti-war activism, she became a Catholic nun, then ended up leaving religion altogether, married a black man in a time when that was very uncommon and looked down upon, had a mixed-race child, ended up getting divorced, then ultimately became a teacher. We all respected her greatly because, unlike most other teachers, she treated us like adults and told us the unfiltered truth. At one point when she was telling us a story of how her, her husband, and their child were racially discriminated against, she and half the class were crying. But it was her activities during the Vietnam War that I’d like to focus on now.

My teacher was involved in a radical anti-war group. The very pinnacle of her activism occurred when she, along with a group of college students, broke into an Agent Orange munitions factory at night and destroyed a lot of the manufacturing equipment. Attacking the machineries of war during wartime? That easily qualifies as terrorism, probably even treason. They were caught on their way out and spent awhile in jail. Finally, thanks to an amazing bout of luck and a sympathetic judge, my teacher got off with a misdemeanor charge instead of a felony (her co-conspirators weren’t so lucky), which was very fortuitous because a felony would’ve precluded her from ever becoming a teacher.

So, yes, I personally knew a “terrorist”, and what’s worse, unlike Obama with Ayers, I don’t even disagree with her actions. Unlike the Weather Underground, which targeted and killed people, my teacher targeted the equipment involved in making a chemical of war that was used in extremely unethical ways by our military against a civilian population. I can’t really fault her for that. So you can excuse me for not feeling sympathetic for McCain’s line of attack on Obama, not even by one whit.

How quickly life paths diverge

Friday, September 19th, 2008

This past weekend I went to the grocery store with my college friend and current roommate Grokmoo. It was the same grocery store I used to go to with my parents every weekend over a decade ago when we lived in the area. I hadn’t been back since until this weekend, and it was exactly as I remembered it. It seems kind of silly to feel nostalgic about a grocery store, but there it was.

As I was idly walking through the fresh fruit aisle, pondering whether I wanted some apples, I happened to catch a glimpse across the store of a girl I knew from high school. It was one of those fleeting glances followed by instant recognition — I was sure it was her. Let’s just say I spent a lot of time in high school looking at her in French class (more on that later).

She didn’t appear to recognize me, so I just observed from afar. I don’t know if she even would’ve recognized me one year out of high school; high school is just full of asymmetric relationships where a few popular people are known by everyone, but not vice-versa. I was blanking on her name, so I didn’t think going up and saying hi would be a good idea (of course, I remembered her full name as soon I got home). As I kept on crossing paths with her in the grocery store, a realization slowly dawned on me — our life paths have diverged a lot since high school.

She was one of the popular girls in the school. I distinctly remember on one occasion when she won a school-wide give-away simply because she had some friends interning in the office and they managed to fix it for her. Oh, and she was very hot, though, sadly, she doesn’t look quite as good now. My friend remarked that she had “a really nice rack” (ladies, don’t attack the messenger). But I’d still say she peaked in high school.

I couldn’t help help staring at her in the supermarket because she was with a tough-looking African-American man a decade her senior and three young children. Judging by the way they interacted, I would say those were their kids. This was definitely the strangest part of seeing her. After high school, I went on to college then got a good job. I’m nowhere near settled down on anything in particular. But she must’ve gotten with this much older man right out of high school and immediately started having babies. Here she is, the same age as me — 23 — but the things she’s worrying about in life are completely different.

And she didn’t look happy; that’s what really left me feeling cold. If she at least seemed happy I would be able to get over it, but she didn’t. The only time I heard the man speak to her was when she was inadvertently backing into another customer, and he said, kind of gruffly, “Get out the way”. Perhaps it’s not fair to judge their whole life together from one minor incident at a grocery store, but I have nothing else to go on. She was being submissive and he was being rude, dismissive, and controlling, while the three kids just kind of played with each other a couple dozen feet away without getting in anyone’s way. I just wonder how it could have ended up this way; she was such a different person in high school, which must now feel like decades ago to her. I had a silly, fleeting thought that perhaps things could’ve ended up differently — but such thoughts are naught but fantasy.

I haven’t gone to a high school reunion yet, but doing so will likely be a huge shock. People my age, who I only knew as immature high schoolers, are going to be married with kids. That’s a shock. Neither I nor any of my close friends have even gotten anywhere close to anything like that, but expand the circle a bit, and there it is: real life staring me in the face.

Maybe I shouldn’t go to that supermarket anymore.

Finally back from a long week

Monday, September 1st, 2008

I’m finally back from my ten-day “vacation”. Although I did take vacation days from work to attend the Democratic National Convention, it didn’t really feel like a vacation. Conventions are, by their very nature, thoroughly hectic. At least the two days in Breckenridge and one day in Boulder helped me unwind a little bit. One negative of the trip was that I hardly ever had Internet access (would you believe I don’t even own a laptop?), so I only had time to blog some initial impressions of Denver, thoughts on the musical talent, and those ridiculous abortion protesters. I suppose I’ll try to flesh out the rest of the experience now.

As expected, I saw all sorts of celebrities at the convention, including nearly every talking head from the news shows. I also saw every correspondent from The Daily Show with Jon Stewart at one point or another. And I mention it as an after-thought because it’s a given, but I saw pretty much every famous Democratic politician. And just in the hotel lobby I ran into James Carville, Howard Dean, and Jimmy Carter. In terms of non-politician celebrities, Anne Hathaway was there, and my mom’s lawyer’s son even got a picture with her, but I didn’t see her. Drat.

The convention itself was really good, and everyone was impressed with pretty much all aspects of it. Hillary and Bill Clinton did what they had to do with aplomb, and there was very little lingering resentment from the Obama crowd. I was on the convention floor when Hillary put Obama’s nomination up for acclamation and the roar coming from the delegates was tremendous. Biden’s speech was very heart-touching and had everyone in our sky box crying. Then, of course, Obama’s speech on Thursday, in front of some 80,000 supporters, was amazing. The fireworks capped it off less subtly in case anyone watching it at home didn’t get it. Some Republicans prayed for rain but obviously God is feeling kind of spiteful at them right now, because He delivered unto them instead a hurricane during their own convention. Hehe. Payback’s a bitch.

The worst of the protesting that I saw was nevertheless still peaceful, and consisted of a big stand-off between protesters and riot police. The police won. From the limited amount of news coverage I was able to see, there were some arrests at other protests, but nothing too serious. I gather the protesting at the Republican convention (or what’s left of it, anyway) is going to be a bit more emphatic.

Everyone agreed with Obama’s choice of Biden as VP, while everyone was simply left in shock at the choice of Sarah Palin as McCain’s VP. The most common sentiment was “What in the hell was he thinking?!” Amongst other problems, she’s connected to the crooked Ted “Tubes” Stevens, is staunchly anti-abortion even in cases of incestuous rape, supports teaching creationism in schools, has no experience to speak of, and only met McCain once before he chose her. And this latest revelation, that her unmarried teen daughter is pregnant, won’t exactly have conservatives rushing to the polls to vote for her. If McCain really thinks that nominating a staunchly anti-abortion woman will woo over the rabid feminists that mainly make up the Hillary Clinton hold-outs, he’s even stupider than we thought.

Then, after the convention, our brief sojourn to Breckenridge was nice, relaxing, and scenic. We happened to be in town during their annual Rubber Ducky Race, which is actually slightly more amusing than it sounds. They have a stream running through the entire town, the bottom of which is fenced off for the event. Then, people buy or sponsor ducks and they are floated down the river in heats of many dozen each. The first duck that makes it to the fence wins. Granted, the event is kind of aimed at kids, but seeing those duckies getting caught in the eddies behind rocks as eager little kids look on is hysterical.

Oh yeah, and Boulder was very hippie. We went to the Pearl Street Mall, which was full of all sorts of interesting characters, attended a local fair which had some great local musicians, and ate dinner at an amazing teahouse that was imported piece-by-piece from Tajikistan of all places. I’ve never been to a Tajikistani teahouse before, but let me announce here and now that they are amazing.

So that about covers it. A good time was had by all. The convention went off smoothly, the parties were fun, and I got to see all sorts of famous people (again). Hell, I even got into the CNN Grill on Wednesday night, which was proclaimed to be the most exclusive ticket in all of the western hemisphere on that night. Here’s to the 2012 convention, and may we be nominating Barack Obama again then!

Musical talent comes out to Colorado to support Democrats

Monday, August 25th, 2008

I saw Sheryl Crow, Sugarland, and Dave Matthews and Tim Reynolds in concert last night. The venue was Red Rocks Ampitheatre, a gorgeous natural ampitheatre surrounded by red sandstone peaks on multiple sides with a beautiful view of nighttime Denver. It was probably the best concert venue I’ve ever been to. The only disadvantage was having to climb 200 steps just to go to the restroom.

The theme of the concert was the environment, with talks by various famous people including Colorado governor Bill Ritter, Colorado congressman John Salazar, Virginia governor Tim Kaine, and Robert F. Kennedy Jr. Ironically, my dad is currently suing one of the sponsors of the concert for polluting the environment, so perhaps it’s best to remember the distinction between what one says and how one acts.

Sheryl Crow and Sugarland were good, if not really my kind of thing. Dave Matthews and Tim Reynolds, on the other hand, were great. I’d never heard of Tim Reynolds before, but he’s an amazing guitarist, and he stole the show. He played the really intricate parts while Dave Matthews played the rhythm parts (and, of course, sang). Dave Matthews came off as being really high, or at the very least, “quirky”. Ignoring the weird stuff he was saying between songs was probably the best course of action. They played a lot of Dave Matthews’ biggest hits, most of which I was able to sing along with, and I was surprised by the richness of sound just two acoustic-electric guitars with no other musical backing were able to put out. A lot of that was thanks to Tim’s skill (and of course his large set of effects pedals, which had his guitar sounding like a Chinese mandolin in a couple of songs).

Tonight we’re seeing Crosby and Nash in concert, along with some others I haven’t really heard of before. If nothing else, at least the Democratic National Convention has attracted some good musical talent. I don’t think the Republicans quite get this caliber of musical talent at their events. In fact, I think they mostly just get sued for ripping off popular music by musicians who most definitely do not agree with their views.

Initial impressions of Denver

Sunday, August 24th, 2008

Here are some of my impressions of Denver so far, in no particular order (you may recall I’m here for the Democratic National Convention).

The teenagers here suck. Talk about midwest suburban angst. I’ve seen so many piercings, bad haircuts, and outright horrible emo-style outfits. Columbine actually makes some sense to me now. The teenagers that weren’t busy pissing me off with their stupid appearances were busy pissing me off by begging for money. I’ve never seen so many young beggars before (some of whom appeared homeless and baked out of their mind). Seriously, get a goddamn job. Maybe dropping out of high school wasn’t the smartest decision you ever made. One group of hoodlums begged my parents for money, saying “I’ll be honest, I just want a beer” (that might work when begging from college students, but not from Baby Boomers). And then as we passed them for a second time in the night they got all hostile, hurling insults at us. I don’t think they quite get the idea of begging.

The Hyatt Convention Center Hotel is nice. The Colorado Convention Center itself is huge, and it’s just being used as a staging ground for the actual Convention, which will take place at a basketball stadium and then a football stadium. There’s a good pizza place a block away from the hotel.

I ran into James Carville in our hotel two nights ago (this was either my second or third time meeting him, I can’t remember). He’s still as freaky looking as ever.

The Media Party last night at Elitch Gardens (which is actually a Six Flags) was fun. Imagine going to a normal amusement park, except the lines are a lot shorter and everything — food, games, alcohol — is free. The games of chance become frankly unbalanced when one has unlimited free tries at winning them. I saw so many people struggling around with huge stuffed animals. I hope they’re not trying to bring them back on planes anywhere. Also, Flobots performed at Elitch Gardens, which was fun to see, because their single Handlebars has been getting a lot of play time on the local radio stations in Washington D.C. Their bassist was good, but to me the star of the show was their female vocalist/electric violinist who was hot as all hell and good at both of her roles. It’s too bad she doesn’t feature in their breakout single at all.

There are so many police officers in and around the convention center. They’re really taking things seriously. They meander around in groups of four to over a dozen, and travel on foot, in patrol cars, in armored convoys, on bicycles, and I even saw a squad of them hanging on to the outside of a police pick-up truck, garbage-man style. Most of the police officers I’ve seen are equipped with heavy riot load-outs, including fully-shielded helmets, bargain-sized canisters of mace, taser guns, three-foot-batons, and bunches of plastic riot handcuffs. There are parts of the convention center that have more police officers in them than staffers actually going about their convention duties.

So, that’s about it for the first two days. The convention officially kicks off tomorrow, so things will be getting really busy. I’ll bring my camera with me and hopefully I’ll find some interesting people to take pictures of.