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.

The death of the Bradley Effect

Thursday, November 6th, 2008

The results of Tuesday’s election give us reason enough to declare the Bradley Effect as outdated, wrong, and finally, dead and buried. The “Bradley Effect”, named after black California 1982 gubernatorial candidate Tom Bradley, posits that a significant number of whites are secret racists, who will tell pollsters they’re willing to vote for a non-white candidate, but when they actually get into a ballot box, the lurking racism shines bubbles up and they’re unable to do so. Never mind that supposed instances of it occurring in the past are marred with bad polling; we couldn’t stop hearing about it during this past election. So I’m very thankful that it’s finally discredited once and for all.

The Bradley Effect is demeaning to everyone involved. It demeans whites because it asserts two negative things: that they are racists, and that they are ashamed racists who won’t admit it to anyone but an anonymous ballot. It is demeaning to non-whites because it asserts that there is some reason they should under-perform any other candidate solely on the basis of the saturation of their skin.

But the worst part of the Bradley Effect was that it enabled meta-racism: It allowed people who aren’t racist themselves to oppose candidacies of non-whites on the basis that others are racist and would never vote for said candidate. I heard this reasoning from a surprising number of Democrats in the early days of the Democratic primaries in reference to Barack Obama, but thankfully, they all got over it. And now that we have elected a non-white (well, non-half-white, anyway) to the highest position in the land, no one can possibly cite the Bradley Effect in good faith as a reasoning for not preferring a non-white candidate.

The next time anyone even so much as mentions the Bradley Effect, tell them to stop going on about discredited theories. Or, if you aren’t feeling quite so charitable, tell them to shut the eff up. The Bradley Effect belongs in the dustbin of history, next to trickle-down economics and National Socialism. This country will be a better place if I never so much as hear the phrase “Bradley Effect” even mentioned ever again. And I’m not the only one who thinks that.

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.

Fixing ordering bias of U.S. presidential election candidates on Wikipedia

Monday, November 3rd, 2008

Today, upon getting home from work, one of the first things I did was check the Main Page of the English Wikipedia. It always has interesting content on there, and today was no exception. For the first time ever, two articles were featured on the front page: those of John McCain and Barack Obama. Except there was one little niggling problem: John McCain was listed first. Granted, his last name does come first alphabetically … but still. This is the Internet. We don’t have the limitations of printed paper ballots; there’s no reason the candidates have to be displayed in a static order. And I happen to be an administrator on the English Wikipedia, so I can edit any page on the site, including the main page and the site-wide JavaScript. So I fixed the ordering, presumably much to the delight of all of the people who had been complaining about bias on the talk page.

I took some JavaScript that was previously used in the Wikimedia Foundation Board elections, where ordering of the several dozen candidates had proved to be a huge bias in previous elections, and added it to the English Wikipedia. Then I modified the main page slightly to use the JavaScript and, boom, the candidates now appear in a random order upon each page load. I figure if this solution was good enough for WMF Board elections then it ought to be good enough for the United States presidential election, right?

So if you go to the main page of Wikipedia now, you should see either Barack Obama or John McCain on top, with a 50% probability of each (if you’re not seeing this behavior, flush your browser’s cache). Considering how many people view Wikipedia each day, I like to think this will make some kind of difference.

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.

Just say no (to the financial sector bailout)

Monday, September 29th, 2008

I’m conflicted about the collapse of the financial bailout package. On the one hand, I’m losing a lot of money on the stock market and in my 401K. Losing money never made anyone happy. But hey, I’m young (just one year out of college), so my risk tolerance only draws the line at loss of limb or life. On the other hand, I really do think this is in the nation’s collective best long term interests, including my own. Here’s why.

We don’t need our money going toward a bailout of the failing industries of the past. We need it to foster the groundbreaking companies of the future. I’m talking about a New Deal-style investment in carbon-free renewable energy and energy independence. Why waste this $700 billion on companies that royally screwed up, companies that don’t actually create any tangible products I might add? They’re real good at printing paper, sure, but this latest economic collapse shows how successful of a strategy that is. The problem is that when you’re printing your own paper (CDOs, derivatives, etc.), the industry as a whole is effectively able to decide how large of a number they want to write on each piece of paper, regardless of any intrinsic value. And then when the house of cards inevitably comes falling down, hey, they’re all “too big to fail”, so the government has to bail them out! What a great scam.

I’m really hoping that Barack Obama is elected president, because he’s the only major party candidate (i.e. has a shot in hell at getting elected) proposing a massive investment in energy independence. He has a plan to get America off foreign oil in ten years, and along the way we’d significantly reduce our carbon emissions as well. Saving the planet is something we can all agree on. John McCain, on the other hand, is more of the same. His campaign is run by lobbyists. He’s consistently been on the dead wrong side of economic issues (when he understands them anyway), supporting the massive deregulation that got us into all of this mess. He has no real plan for America’s energy independence, only lip service. After eight years of Bush, another four years in the same style with McCain (or God forbid, Sarah Palin) would be an absolute disaster.

America is experiencing a class war of sorts: the massive looting of the lower and middle class by the ultra-wealthy. During Bush’s two terms, the median household income decreased by $2,000, while the ultra-rich got much much richer in comparison to the rest of us. This proposed $700 billion bailout of the ultra-wealthy from the tax revenues of the rest of us would only be the latest and most flagrant attack in the ongoing war. The most amazing thing about the Republican machine over these past decades is how they’ve consistently abused moral/cultural wedge issues (such as abortion, religion, and gay marriage) to distract people into voting against their economic self-interest by the tens of millions. Only people making $250,000 per year and up will save money by voting for a John McCain presidency — that is a really small percentage of the populace.

So say no to the bailout. Let the companies that screwed up to the combined tune of over a trillion dollars crumble as they so richly deserve. And instead of giving them one more cent, put that money to work in renewable energy. Injecting that amount of money will have the same stimulative effect on the economy whether it’s spent on the finance industry or on the green industry, except spending it on the former is rewarding the failures of the past while spending it on the latter is building the path to the future. The correct choice for America’s future is obvious.

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!

McCain is coming off the rails, ball bearings flying everywhere

Monday, July 28th, 2008

New McCain Ad Bashes Obama for Not Visiting Troops Using Footage of Obama Visiting Troops.

There’s not much I can really add to that. If John McCain was running this campaign any more incompetently, he’d be better off handing the reins to a chimpanzee. Maybe he already should.

The past few days have seen so many dishonest attacks by McCain against Barack Obama — not visiting the troops, wanting to end the war for purely political reasons — that it really tarnishes that whole “Straight Talk Express” sheen he had going for him. Without that, what else can he possibly sell the American people on? The huge similarities between his positions and George W. Bush’s?

Obama opens up 15 point lead over McCain

Sunday, June 22nd, 2008

Hell yeah! Obama has opened up a 15 point lead over McCain. And hopefully, the lead will only grow larger over time. After eight disastrous years under George W. Bush, and now one candidate who represents a continuation of those policies versus one who does not, it’s pretty obvious what the American people prefer. We don’t want war against Iraq, we don’t want war against Iran, we don’t want continued violation of our civil liberties — we want change. Change that John McCain couldn’t possibly deliver.

Barack Obama, our Democratic nominee!

Tuesday, June 3rd, 2008

Whew, it’s finally official*. Even though it’s long been inevitable, it’s a relief to know that Barack Obama has finally secured the number of delegates necessary to clinch the Democratic nomination. I haven’t really made it a secret that I support Barack Obama, though I haven’t particularly talked about it on here often because political analysis isn’t exactly my thing. For political analysis, I would refer you to DailyKos.

So how am I feeling right now? Ecstatic! It’s time to take down John McCain now! On nearly every issue, he’s wrong when Obama is right. It’s a no-brainer to me, and to most of my peers as well. Of course, others will differ, and that’s their right, but I’m hoping there are more people who agree with me than agree with McCain, and so far that’s looking about right.

I also wouldn’t want to miss this opportunity to talk about how historical Barack Obama’s nomination is. No other western nation has ever had a minority as a nominee of a major political party for the top position (be it president, premier, prime minister, whatever). It’s historical. Many have beaten us in having women leaders, but we’ve beaten them to this. Only in America. It’s one of the few things that’s happened in the past eight years that makes me say I’m genuinely proud of my country.

*Technically it’s not finally official until the Democratic National Convention, of course.