9 August 2007

Republican Luddites

The 21st century has already ushered in a Republican culture of corruption, an illegal immoral invasion of a country that posed no threat to the United States, shredding of the Bill of Rights, the plucking of individuals all around the globe including those in the "homeland" for the purpose of extraordinary rendition, unprecedented executive branch usurpation of the rule of law, a government intent on operating with no transparency while invasively probing into the lives of private citizens without probable cause, and other high crimes committed against Americans to which they are chartered to serve. Recent outrages include subcontracting slave labor to build an Iraqi embassy, the Pat Tillman coverup, and the nation's leading law officer, Alberto Gonzalez, who can't seem to utter a truthful word.

But, the topic today is centered on how Republicans are intent on capturing another title, pridefully hoisting a banner to signify their "internet Luddite" status. It must be part of the Karl Rove/Roger Ailes talking points, because there's been full frontal assault of late, by the dinosaur media defenders, on internet speech. Fox News Channel Bill O'Reilly has played his part, calling out Democratic blogger Daily Kos, labeling it a bastion of hate. All, from what I can tell, based on a few stray comments posted in a public forum or a user diary. Comparing those remarks, which incidentally, are tame and timid compared to comment blasts on some popular right wing sites, particularly those championed by white supremacists and/or the anti-immigration crowd (though, certainly not all, and I will not impugn all), to Nazis, in effect invoking Godwin's Law. Meanwhile, O'Reilly makes no mention of conservative radio hosts, granted large blocks of radio air time, who are on record for making racist slurs. Seems to be a bit hypocritical to equate a web site publisher who has questionable reader comments with declared xenophobia. Somehow, I think it was an orchestrated ploy, whether by Republican media managers or perhaps it was Fox News Channel brain child, to coincide with the yearly Kos convention.

Then, there is the Republican presidential candidates snubbing of youtube.com debates. Now, I can see why Giuliani would cower and flee, as an open public forum might enable NY firefighters to take their displeasure with the ex-mayor to the TV realm. The others, however, seem to be reading from the latest Republican playbook, except for Mitt Romney, who seems to have youTube.com confused with myspace. Not a peep from McCain either, who was crowing earlier about how he wanted to be the youTube presidential candidate, though he's been buried by the outlier Ron Paul, who enjoys solid net support.

Sampling conservative talk radio, the meme being transmitted is that internet debates debase the whole presidential affair. That bloggers, posting away in their anonymous cubbyholes are just a vile cauldron of hate propagators. Republican loyalists stop short of totally tarnishing the medium as a unredeemable sewer, but earnestly maintain that the professional caste of which they are members of, are perched above the general rabble. And one can discern this trend further in lefty vs. right wing blogs, where in the heavily traffic conservative online locales, comments are not permitted, or heavily censored. The same cannot be said for online communities left of center, that seem to relish doing verbal battle with conservative posters who dive in against the tide.

While personally, I believe the whole idea of a 2008 presidential campaign being waged in year 2007 is absolutely insane, it is striking to see Republicans attack the open forum. I suppose there is a two pronged attack, to eventually shepherd loyalists to preferred, controlled and neutered online sandboxes, while tarring political opponents as agents of hate.

These recent political developments are illustrative of how many still don't get the internet. How they are blind to the "many to many" feature of it, an unprecedented development in media that enables instant global dialog, given the financial blessing to be able to afford the prerequisite technology. Or, in more sinister fashion, and as some have speculated, a concerted rebellion by elites to thwart an open democratic forum, to instead, channel people back to official channels only. Either way, it's an affront to any free thinking person.

14 April 2007

Have cease and desist letters also been delivered to any of the other similar sites offering automated valuations that are scattered all over the Internet?

Zillow.com is a neat tool, that allows one to punch in a home address, and get a map that shows home estimates plus flag indicators of recent sale prices. Granted, there is an algorithm employed that by no means is 100% accurate, but it's a ballpark figure that's closer to the mark than a random wild ass guest-imate would be. However some individuals are incensed over its existence and want to ban it.
An Arizona regulatory board has ordered Zillow.com to stop offering its online estimates of home values.

The Arizona Board of Appraisal has issued two cease-and-desist letters to the popular real estate Web site, claiming Zillow needs an appraiser license to offer its "zestimates" in Arizona.

"It is the board's feeling that (Zillow) is providing an appraisal," said Deborah Pearson, Board of Appraisal executive director.

Seattle-based Zillow cautions users that its information is a starting point for consumers, not a definitive value. It has been popular since its launch in February 2006. It claims 4 million users a month, including those curious about their home's value, and the value of friends' and neighbors' residences.

Let me get this straight — somebody creates an algorithm to calculate market worth for a home is an act heinous enough to be referred to the Arizona Attorney General's office for criminal violations.

As this guy puts it, this is just plain idiotic and asinine.

8 January 2007

Is it morally superior to enlist?

Culled from my email inbox, the daily Andrew Tallman Show newsletter puts forth the question:
I heard a soldier recently talking about his experiences in the military and how beneficial it has been to him both personally and professionally, and then he made a comment about how he sort of looks down on other men his age who don’t enlist. It wasn’t a major point to him, but he just thought that if you love your country and you’re a young man, you would enlist. As someone who’s never served and was a bit concerned about the possibility of a draft, this made me think. Is it morally superior to enlist? Is it practically better? If so, and given the fact that someone needs to do this or else there’s going to be problems, shouldn’t all young men do so? After all, if enough people didn’t do so voluntarily, we’d have a draft. And that would presuppose some sort of general moral duty to perform military service. Also, about half the countries in the world have compulsory service. Clearly, they think it’s a duty.

I believe this to be an absolutely absurd assertion, that an American has an obligation to serve themselves up as fodder for foolhardy corporatists who line their pockets on the sacrifice of spilt blood from fallen young Americans. And our nation's founding fathers had a deep antipathy against the existence of standing armies. James Madison, known as the "father of the Constitution" wrote these words:

Of all the enemies to public liberty war is, perhaps, the most to be dreaded, because it comprises and develops the germ of every other. War is the parent of armies; from these proceed debts and taxes; and armies, and debts, and taxes are the known instruments for bringing the many under the domination of the few. In war, too, the discretionary power of the Executive is extended; its influence in dealing out offices, honors, and emoluments is multiplied; and all the means of seducing the minds, are added to those of subduing the force, of the people.... [There is also an] inequality of fortunes, and the opportunities of fraud, growing out of a state of war, and ... degeneracy of manners and of morals.... No nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare.

A standing military force, with an overgrown Executive will not long be safe companions to liberty. The means of defence agst. foreign danger, have been always the instruments of tyranny at home. Among the Romans it was a standing maxim to excite a war, whenever a revolt was apprehended. Throughout all Europe, the armies kept up under the pretext of defending, have enslaved the people.

True, there is moral foundation in military service. It can instill discipline and put young people on a straight path, sparing them from an otherwise destructive route. On the flip side, and life in the military can be far from an enclave of virtue.

I do love my country and if we were attacked, I would eagerly volunteer for the campaign to repel the invaders and/or enthusiastically enlist in any resistance effort. But I think that's the part of the Constitution about a well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State. Not for illegal, immoral invasion of a nation that did attack nor threaten to attack the United States, with the ever shifting justification based on equivocation and outright deception. And once one volunteers to be a party that enforces state edicts, there's no opting out. A majority of the war waged in our nation's recent history (last 100 years or so) has all been the "elective" sort, with our leaders brazenly lying to the public, to escalate hostilities. Once engaged, it's even more difficult to cease the campaign, as no politician wants to give credence to the charges of cowardice. Charges, I may add, that are boasted and brought forward by chickenhawks.

As far as what other countries do regarding compulsive military service, I could give a rat's petunia. I've always considered this debate from the vantage point that if conditions of national defense warranted it, there would be an ample supply of those signing up to fight. When it comes to elective wars, waged to enrich the coffers of the corporatists and globalists, the state must then resort to alternative means — i.e., conscription, highly paid mercenaries, expedited immigration to reward foreigners enlisting, or employing killing machines instead.

13 September 2006

10 reasons to boycott the 2008 Olympic Games in communist China

From Lesh Donlup, a human rights volunteer in the UK
  1. Human rights are practically non-existent in Communist China Religious persecution, imprisonment and murder of non-violent political dissidents, torture, organ harvesting and sentences to hard labour are widespread.

  2. The lack of freedom of the press and safety risks for foreign reporters Many foreign websites are banned from being visited within China, foreign reporters are prohibited from interviewing anyone without previous permission from the government, and the content of all broadcasting is severely restricted. Foreign news media reporters have been arrested and sentenced to prison under vague and wide-reaching security laws.

  3. The 1980 Olympic Games in Communist Russia were boycotted by 64 states, under the leadership of the U.S. Beijing is not any different from Moscow in 1980, which was also the capital of a Communist police state.

  4. Communist China constantly threatens to attack Taiwan China's government passed a law that explicitly calls for military intervention in response to any intention by the democratic government of Taiwan to declare independence. Military manoeuvres indicate that the Communists' military is preparing to enforce this law.

  5. Beijing has the most polluted air in the world Studies and satellites photos have proven that Beijing suffers from extremely high nitrogen dioxide levels, vitally dangerous to the health of the athletes.

  6. China is plagued by widespread social, political, and economic unrest A surge in huge land grabs and forced evictions by the Chinese government for reasons of economic expansion and Olympic Games preparations have sparked thousands of protests. The government has murdered hundreds of protesters.

  7. The Chinese have been bribing and threatening large numbers of members of the International Olympic Committee A number of U.S. Representatives, for example, Congressman Tom Lantos, have stated this on national television.

  8. A boycott has some potential to serve as a strategy to encourage human rights in China Only the greedy and foolish global elite think this is true the other way around.

  9. Holding the Olympic Games in Communist China contradicts the Olympic Charter The Olympic Charter defines the philosophy of Olympism as the "respect for universal fundamental ethical principles" and its goal of promoting "a peaceful society concerned with the preservation of human dignity."

  10. Don't repeat the errors of 1936 when Nazi Germany was allowed to host the Olympic Games The Olympic Games will give Communist China the same propaganda tool Nazi Germany enjoyed. Not since 1936 have the ideals of Olympics been so trampled upon.

25 August 2006

iPods on a Plane

Enough is enough! I have had it with these mother%*#*ing iPods on this mother$&#*ing plane!

Don't drop your iPod in the airplane bathroom. And don't tell the authorities you play massively multiplayer online role playing games and that you're headed to visit with one of your online game chums.

It all started when I got out of my seat to go to the bathroom. I went to the bathroom, washed my hands, and returned to my seat. A little while later the two stewardesses on the flight crossed each other in the aisle. They had a quick conversation that I was in earshot of.

"I locked off the front lav. There's something in the toilet that's preventing it from flushing. Run some water and see if you can clear it." My face immediately turned red. The seat cover! I thought. It must have been too big to flush! I should have thrown it out!

I was so embarrassed. I tried to act normal ... I took a sudden interest in the contents of the seat pocket in front of me, acted nonchalant and all. I watched as the stewardess got on her hands and knees in the lavatory and did unfathomable dirty work.

Sometime later, I decided it would be best if I forgot the whole thing happened, so I went to put on my headphones and drown myself in iPod music. But ... no iPod. I panicked, checked my other pockets. Where was it? Not under the seat, not in the pockets, not ... anywhere. I looked up to the stewardesses. One of them had run past me in a decent clip. She was carrying a green handbook. She brought it to the other stewardess. They flipped through the handbook, read a page, then made a call. The other stewardess had retrieved a blue metal box and was removing some equipment from it.

I put two and two together. I knew what had happened.

What a story!

Here is another perspective of another passenger on the plane along with a mainstream newspaper story of the incident.

It seems to me that all this overreaction and waste of resources is a giant victory for the terrorists. 52 people detained for over 5 hours, involvement of 4 government agencies including 15+ officials all on the public dime, etc... — what a waste. This isn't the price of vigilance, it's the price of extreme paranoia.

2 August 2006

If the authorities insist on the right to spy on our every move in public — they should not be immune from reverse surveillance

Criminalizing photography in the wake of a recent arrest of a Philadelphia man for using his cell phone camera to snap a picture of the police arresting an individual.
The people who would rule our lives in the most minute ways are now trying to stop picture-taking in public places. They are the ones who should be stopped.

Citizen media tools are in the hands of just about everyone these days. If the authorities insist on the right to spy on our every move in public — witness the spread of video cameras operated by police agencies and private citizens alike — they should not be immune from reverse surveillance.

18 July 2006

May your life be a message of love, joy and peace

An incredible commencement speech by high school math teacher Rob Cornell that implores graduating students to open their minds to questions about what defines a "good America".
Consider if you will the following points: Would a good America have a policy of pre-emptive war? War is a brutal and barbaric way to solve a problem. Unprovoked, we attacked a sovereign country with the headline "shock and awe." That headline should have read "death and destruction."

One of the latest justifications of the war is "We are fighting terrorists there so we don't have to fight them here." That means we Americans are using Iraqis as human shields. Conservative estimates put the Iraqi civilian death toll at about 40,000 for our war.

Would a good America have policies that ignore longstanding international laws such as the Geneva Conventions - policies that condone torture and extraordinary rendition and allow lengthy imprisonment without rights? Would a good America, the land of freedom and equality, deny that freedom based on race, gender or sexual preference? Would a good America allow wealth to accumulate in the hands of a few while many go hungry - and then pass tax cuts and laws that strengthen this disturbing trend?

Controversial, yes. But Cornell, who was selected by a majority of students to give the speech, challenges his students to go beyond the talking points.

Many agencies, created to protect public interests, are now headed by former industry lobbyists. Has America ceased to be great? It's a question worth asking and a discussion that needs to take place. Alexis de Tocqueville also observed that it is easier for people to accept a simple lie than a complex truth. In this day of the 30-second sound bite, you are fed many simple statements. You must decide their degrees of truth.

Quite often, these statements take the form of "talking points" repeated over and over and over and over — most minds like these short, often repeated phrases. They require little effort and often reinforce our belief that America is good.

What are the complex truths? I am not telling.

Finding them is your last homework assignment, and it is not an easy one.

The media, by all accounts, is controlled by four or five major corporations. The next battle - one that is currently being fought - is over the freedom and flow of information on the Internet. I hope you will seek an in-depth source of news that pursues truth and presents all sides of any issue. Only then can you decide for yourself - and this will take much longer than 30 seconds - what parts of America are good and what parts need to be fixed.

I've always told my students that the most important thing they can take from my class is confidence in their ability to solve problems. The solution to any problem, regardless of how insurmountable it may seem, begins with the smallest step, the smallest of beginnings. Take that step and see where it leads.

I have painted for you a world in crisis, but it is not a world without hope. Crisis is opportunity. Even the smallest moment of your lives is an opportunity for you to shape the world around you. In the words of Margaret Mead, "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has."

The way in which you live your lives impacts the world every day. You must make conscious, informed and healthy choices with an awareness of how those choices affect the people and environment that surrounds you. Be an educated consumer.

Cornell's speech incited a flurry of reaction, but I believe it to be a great one, stressing the importance of an "open mind".