Of Politics, Facebook and Nong Khai, Thailand

I just wanted to weigh in on three seemingly unrelated topics, Facebook, politics and Nong Khai, Thailand — seemingly unrelated topics because they are, in point of fact, unrelated. So why include them in one post? I’m lazy.

First off, let me clarify my point on last week’s post. While l don’t care about politics anymore, I’m not saying anyone else should or should not care about it, either specifically or in general. That’s strictly up to you and you alone and no one else.

Same goes for Facebook and social networking. If you like it/care about it, more power to you; enjoy it with my blessing, for what little that is worth.

What prompted this was a young friend of mine with whom I was making small talk the other day. She was asking whom I might vote for in the upcoming election, Hillary or Trump — she who has a law degree and used to work for Hillary Clinton in the State Department. I hesitated for a moment, then explained briefly how and why that it ultimately matters not.

She immediately launched into the fact that Trump is a horrible racist, misogynist, etc., etc. — all of which I readily agreed to — and stated that if I were a woman, I might feel the same way — to which I also readily agreed.

But I’m not. If things had happened differently, I would be a different person, yes. But I’m the person I am now, for good or ill, and things happened the way that they did. This person just doesn’t give a damn about most things anymore — but that doesn’t mean that no one else should or should not care; it is up to you.

Of course she got me to thinking, though. Trump is an awful human being, or at least he presents himself that way in the media; in the end, who can really know? But I digress. Hillary is considerably less evil, but still, in the end, a politician, and all of them are indeed crooks (thanks, Dad); it’s just a matter of degree.

So, in the end, if I do vote — and it’s a small thing really, even for one who doesn’t care — I’ll probably vote my conscience. Or at least come as close to it as I possibly can. It’s still a political party — i.e., crooks — but the Green Party is in the ballpark when it comes to most issues that I used to care about.

But Don’t You Care About Nong Khai?

I was getting to that. My post a week or two ago about Kirk, Isara and Nong Khai has me feeling nostalgic for days gone by. So I’m going to start posting photos of my times spent in Asia. Some these are reposts; many are new. But even more than that, I think now that enough time has past that I can post about it without a jaundiced eye — or a rose-colored one.

Plus, I finally organized my photo archives, so I can find anything I want quickly. I’ve also got a new tool to work with, now that I more or less said goodbye to Windows and live with Linux: Darktable.

So yeah, I’m going to start of with Nong Khai, Thailand. Here’s one:

Sarnelli House, Nong Khai, Thailand. Jeff Chappell 04-10-2010While volunteering at Isara in Nong Khai, we had taken an afternoon to visit the kids at Sarnelli House: the wonderful, sweet, playful kids at Sarnelli House; these two are just two among many.

More to follow.

The Mundane At Best and the Inane at Worst

I’ve recently been making some changes around here, for the first time in a long, long time. Among the many changes was the following ‘graph, which I cut out of my “About Me” page:

I don’t social network much anymore; haven’t for some years. I know, I know — everybody and their grandma does it; you can’t fight city hall (which is now on Facebook). Whatever. Facebook, et al, cheapens the social discourse with the mundane at best and the inane at worst.

Gee, someone should write that down.

Facebook friends. I don't have them.I still don’t particularly like Facebook and all of its various incarnations and wanna-bes, etc. I still don’t know anyone who admits to actually liking Facebook, either  — at least to my face, anyway. Anyone who will say “Yeah, I like Facebook and I hangout on it everyday for several hours a day.” But I’m sure they must be out there, and their numbers are legion.

Of course I should append my statement to read “anyone in the Western world.”  I know plenty of people — nice ordinary people — in Thailand and Viet Nam, for example, who use Facebook and Whatsapp and whatnot all the time and do so happily; they don’t understand my reticence at all.

There’s a broader statement in there about East and West and their differences that I’ve remarked on before, but I digress.

The fact is most everyone, East or West, uses Facebook all the time, for ill or good — except me. I left it in 2011 and haven’t looked back. I think it was June, but I can’t be sure. But yeah, 2011. That was five years ago, so one reason I’m removing it is that I’ve made my point; it’s time to move on.

But there is a larger reason: I’m just not angry anymore. Looking back through the years on here, I realize that I was angry much of the time, and that was what drove much of my writing. Of course I was angry about lots of things —  politics, for example was a big one,  and emblematic of what’s changed about me; I find it’s difficult, if not impossible, to get worked up about the upcoming presidential election.

I just don’t care about it. Not faulting anyone who does; more power too you. But me? Don’t care. About any of it.

What’s more is, I don’t care about a lot of things that I used to care about, including a lot things I used to get angry about. It all changed when I had that stroke two-and-a-half years ago. It all sounds horribly cliché, I know. Forty-five, living abroad, seeking some meaning in life, has a life-changing event: he literally stares death in the face, descends into the belly of the beast and comes out on the other side a changed man, yadda yadda yadda.

Yuck. Double yuck. Yuck cubed. Yuck times infinity plus one.

Nevertheless, that’s what happened. I would just say I was getting older, and hence mellower, and that is certainly true at least — that I’m getting older. But I was still angry in 2013. Now, in 2016, most of those things I used to care about — politics, sports, popular culture — meh, as the kids say. Do they still? Probably not. Oh well.

But speaking of pop culture, that brings us back to Facebook. I used to get annoyed at Facebook pretty much all the time and angry much of the time. Now? If someone needs to ask me for my Facebook, as the modern vernacular goes, I’ll tell them I don’t have one; it they ask why, I’ll tell them that, too. if they want. If they don’t, that’s fine too. Either way — I don’t care.

(What’s So Funny About) Nick Lowe, Elvis Costello and ESL Anyway?

Elvis Costello and the Attractions, around the time Armed Forces came out in the U.S. I experienced one of those strange moments yesterday that I imagine is not uncommon to many American expats living in Viet Nam – well, the more thoughtful among us, anyway. It was one of those moments when you are suddenly reminded that just a few generations ago the United States and Viet Nam were embroiled in a bloody conflict as ideologically opposed foes.

So who would have thought when the last helicopter left Sai Gon in 1975, with communist tanks rumbling through the streets not far away, that 37 years later – just a few generations – I would not only be teaching English to Vietnamese students in Sai Gon, but would be using Elvis Costello’s cover of Nick Lowe’s “(What’s So Funny About) Peace, Love and Understanding?” as part of a listening exercise? Granted, it’s not Country Joe Mcdonald’s “Fixin’-to-Die Rag,” and not even a protest song, per se, but rather an existential paean to the lost ideals of the 1960s in the wake of the more cynical 1970s.

While certainly not impossible, I nevertheless didn’t try to explain to my students the context in which Lowe wrote his song without mentioning the America War (that’s how the Vietnamese refer to what we call in America the Vietnam War, naturally). The thing is – the thing that many of my country folk don’t realize – that for Vietnamese students, just like their American counterparts now, that war is a matter of history (and judging from my teenage students reactions, of only mild interest at best).

It is the stuff of dusty museums and history books and documentaries. Three quarters of Viet Nam’s population was born after the war, and here in Sai Gon – officially named Ho Chi Minh City in the wake of the Communist victory – foreigners are not uncommon and there are many of us Americans among them. The infamous tunnels the North Vietnamese used to such advantage are now popular tourist attractions, and one has to make it a point and look far and wide to find reminders of the war. Heck we’re even military allies now, our navies having gone on joint maneuvers in the South China Sea (given its history, one can hardly blame Viet Nam if even a hint of a Chinese expansionist policy make it nervous).

Having been born at the end of 1968, I only know the Vietnamese-American war as something from the television news reports of my childhood. But then I grew up with the aftermath and what it did to the American cultural zeitgeist. So while I could appreciate the irony of helping Vietnamese teenagers in Sai Gon practice their English listening skills by using “(What’s So Funny About) Peace, Love and Understanding,” I’m pretty sure it was lost on everyone else in the room.

Incidentally, just in case you were wondering: this song is actually part of the intermediate/advanced curriculum for this particular class that I’m teaching. Like many English as a second language (ESL) texts, the book we use has reading, writing, listening and grammar lessons that are centered around a particular topic in each chapter, relating each lesson and exercise back to the ones before it. This particular chapter happened to be about war and peace; the reading text that opened the chapter was about Alfred Nobel, the inventor of dynamite and the eponymous Peace Prize – Alfred having been appalled at how his invention had been put to use on the battlefields of World War I.

Musician, singer, songwriter and producer Nick Lowe (copyright, I assume, by the photogapher, Dan Burn-Forti)But then my school does permit us to use outside resources at our own discretion, so I could spring Country Joe on them if I wanted to. But somehow I don’t think it would interest them anymore than Elvis Costello’s Nick Lowe cover did. Keep in mind, these are teenagers who are reasonably well off (by Vietnamese standards and increasingly by American standards as well) who have never known war. When I asked what the students thought of the song after listening to it initially, one of the brighter girls in the class shook her head and said “It’s not K-pop!

No child, that is pub rock via punk, that. But then I suppose Nick Lowe has always been a pop-music bridesmaid and never a bride. That’s Mr. Lowe over there on the left, by the way. Below, thanks to the magic of VCRs, nostalgia and AV nerds, is the original video for Elvis Costello and the Attractions cover of the aforementioned tune.

Ceasing to Care (?) About Lance Armstrong

Where There’s Smoke, There’s …  Syringes?
Tyler’s, Floyd’s and now George’s? Is Lance Next?

And who in the world of cycling do these syringes belong to? I’ve done my best to ignore the latest doping scandal – or rather the latest episode in the ongoing scandal/soap opera that is professional drug use cycling; thank you 60 Minutes. In fact cycling was the last professional sport I actually followed to any degree or otherwise gave a damn about. But my love affair with the pro cycling tour and pro sports in general ended in 2007.

I don’t want entertainment. I want sport. Drugs and doping turn professional sports into a freakshow. I don’t want a superhuman circus. I want human athletes performing at the top of their game, not their drug dealer’s or doctor’s game. If you perform at a level you otherwise couldn’t perform by using performance enhancing drugs, well, that’s the drug, not you.

As for cycling, some people argue: why not let them all dope? Sanction it, institutionalize it and be done with it. If we’re going to go that route, maybe we should just pay chemists millions of dollars to see who can make the fastest, strongest lab rat, and call that professional sport. The pharmaceutical companies could even sponsor and field teams, and spectators could wager on the rats.

If you’re doping as a professional cyclist, what’s the difference between that and cheating by using a mechanized bicycle, for example? Either way your performance is artificially enhanced – it’s not you getting you up on the podium. I don’t want to watch the Wide World of Pharmaceuticals; I want to watch the Wide World of Sports. But if such a thing ever existed – and I’m not talking about the eponymous ABC Sports show – it is long gone.

Lance Armstrong in 2010 in Radioshack team kit. Photo courtesy Jan Jacob Mekes via Wikipedia.But What About Our Cycling Lord and Savior Lance Armstrong?

Consider that 41 out of 70 top-ten finishers in the record seven Tours de France that Lance Armstrong won have either been convicted of doping or otherwise confessed to it – more than half. If we look at those who placed second and third in each race for those years — the other podium finishers besides Lance — we see that all but one of them has been convicted or otherwise connected with doping. If we assume (and it is almost certainly true) that others doped and didn’t get caught … well, it makes the question of whether or not Armstrong doped seem academic, doesn’t it?

So I can’t get really worked up about it anymore; for me at this point it’s just mildly interesting interesting and entertaining as an  observer to watch how the story continues to unfold along with the public reactions. “Lance is a heroic saint who’s urine share’s the same chemical consistency of holy water. Of course he didn’t dope. A future saint would never dope.” verses “Lance is the spawn of Satan and a sign of the apocalypse and should be drawn and quartered at the top of L’Alpe de Huez by Eddy Merckx, Miguel Indurain and the ghosts of Bernard Hinault and Fausto Coppi!

Of course Lance is like … oh, I don’t know, the Jesus of the cycling world. Okay, maybe not Jesus, but certainly a hero, or at least an American one. Beats cancer, raises money and awareness to continue to fight cancer, and accomplishes what no one else has done in the world of professional cycling – a sport dominated by Europeans. In fact before Armstrong came to the fore, the only bragging rights we had in cycling was Greg LeMond.

While Armstrong divides the cycling world, he is practically next to Jesus after all in the cancer funding world, and for good reason. Not only has he raised millions for cancer research, but he has inspired a lot of cancer patients and filled them with hope. That’s no small legacy; no one can deny that.

But about this latest wrinkle in the ongoing saga that is doping and pro cycling. I refer of course to Tyler Hamilton’s appearance on 60 Minutes. I didn’t even pay attention to this at first, but since then there have been several tidbits of information that have come out of that interview or afterward that seem pretty damning to Lance Armstrong, and it seems like few outlets in either the mainstream media or the cycling press have picked up on them – some, but not as many as one would think.

The first of these is the revelation that George Hincapie testified in the U.S. federal grand jury investigation of Lance. Per the 60 Minutes voice over:

But now we’re told that Hincapie, for the first time, has told federal investigators that he and Armstrong supplied each other with the blood booster EPO and discussed having used testosterone, another banned substance, during their preparation for races.

Through his attorney, Hincapie declined to be interviewed, citing the ongoing investigation.

George_Hincapie at the Tour Of California Prologue, 2008. Photo courtesy Thomas Fanghaenel via Wikipedia.Hincapie was Armstrong’s teammate and lieutenant for all of his Tour de France assaults. Armstrong has called him a brother. Hincapie has never been tainted by scandal before and is, by all accounts, one of the nice guys in the pro peloton. He really has nothing to gain and a lot to loose, if this is true.

Tellingly, perhaps, Tyler Hamilton used to be one of those nice guys that no one ever had anything bad to say about.

Hincapie has been understandably tight-lipped since this came out. As he told the Associated Press (AP) on Sunday: “It’s just unfortunate that that’s all people want to talk about now. I’m not going to partake in any cycling-bashing. I have done everything to be the best I can be. … I want the focus on the future of the sport, what it’s done to clean itself up. I believe in cycling and want to support it.”

Then came a statement through Hincapie’s lawyer, also per the AP:

I can confirm to you that I never spoke with 60 Minutes. I have no idea where they got their information. As I’ve said in the past, I continue to be disappointed that people are talking about the past in cycling instead of the future. As for the substance of anything in the 60 Minutes story, I cannot comment on anything relating to the ongoing investigation.

Ouch. No denial of the substance or the facts regarding what 60 Minutes reported about him, merely that he didn’t talk to them himself. If it were completely false, he would have had no reason not to say otherwise, grand jury investigation or no.

As the 60 Minutes transcript states, “now we’re told” would imply a source who is obviously remaining anonymous; now we know that this wasn’t Hincapie itself. But Hincapie’s statement doesn’t give us any indication that it isn’t factually incorrect.

While this has been reported on considerably, where it’s been lacking has been in the analysis. If there was ever a time for an impassioned defense, this was it. Instead we have Hincapie hiding behind lawyerly skirts, and what he doesn’t say is truly damning; one can’t help but think that he got offered the same deal by federal prosecutors as that offered to Hamilton: agree to testify and get limited immunity from prosecution.

Of course Armstrong’s lawyers have tried to attack the credibility of 60 Minutes. “The only others with access to Hincapie’s testimony — government investigators and prosecutors — have likewise assured us that they are not the source of the information attributed by CBS to Hincapie,” Armstrong’s lawyer said in a prepared statement.

Here again, a lawyerly tactic: no one’s trying to actually deny the actual content of what 60 Minutes claims is Hincapie’s testimony to the federal grand jury, but rather cast doubt on the credibility of the reporting. It is perhaps telling, this.

And it’s a shame that nice-guy Hincapie is getting caught up in this, but then it may turn out to be a case of live by the syringe, die by the syringe. This can certainly be said of former nice-guy turned bad-guy Tyler Hamilton.

Speaking of (In) Credibility …

A notable and particularly damning fact that hasn’t been widely reported is that at one point Lance Armstrong’s lawyers approached Hamilton’s lawyer, Chris Manderson, about coordinating a mutual defense in the federal government’s ongoing investigation over doping and the federally funded U.S. Postal cycling team. As reported in VeloNews’ interveiw with Manderson today:

That spring, Manderson told VeloNews, he was approached by Armstrong’s legal team in an apparent effort to coordinate a response to the burgeoning investigation.

“Yes, I was contacted by attorneys representing Lance Armstrong,” Manderson said. “Keep in mind that everyone was being subpoenaed to appear before the grand jury, and it was public information that I was Tyler Hamilton’s lawyer.”

Federal authorities had offered Hamilton limited immunity from prosecution in exchange for his testimony, a deal that would be negated were he to be shown to have lied before the grand jury. Manderson said that at that point, there was little incentive to coordinate a defense with Armstrong’s legal team.

“Yes, they proposed a joint defense agreement, but I told them ‘I don’t think my client is going to be a defendant.'”

When contacted by VeloNews for a response to Manderson’s comments, Armstrong attorney and spokesman, Mark Fabiani, declined to comment.

Lance Armstrong lawyer and spokesman Mark FabianiThis is the same Fabiani that has derided Hamilton in the press since the 60 Minutes story broke, claiming that Hamilton isn’t credible. The Lance camp has even created a website, Facts4Lance.com, much of which is dedicated to discrediting Hamilton. But there is no new information here; nothing about Hamilton that erodes his credibility any further than it was back in 2009 when he got busted for doping a second time and handed an eight-year suspension from cycling.

So if Hamilton’s credibility was so awful, why approach him for a joint defense? It seems to me that someone with such injured credibility would be a liability to Lance’s defense, not an asset, if that were indeed the case.

Furthermore, Facts4Lance reads like it was written by an angry and indignant teenager. Rather than bring anything new to Lance’s defense, it just rehashes arguments that have been made before, in an angry, self indulgent tone. Even if Lance is completely innocent, this isn’t doing him any favors.

In fact, in the VeloNews article quoted above, Manderson refutes one claim cited on Facts4Lance regarding Hamilton’s credibility. As it states on Facts4Lance:


Despite his doping conviction, Hamilton retains his Olympic Gold Medal. We believe government investigators have promised Hamilton that he can keep his gold medal — even after he publicly admits to doping — as long as he implicates Lance Armstrong.

Manderson tells VeloNews this wasn’t the case, that in fact Hamilton had relinquished the medal last week.

Manderson said that no such deal existed, nor could it exist, since the federal government lacks any authority to take away an Olympic medal or to allow an athlete to keep it. Hamilton, said Manderson, had already decided to give up the medal before going public with his allegations. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) and USADA both confirmed last week that Hamilton had given the medal to a USADA official.

So this particular accusation is clearly silly, and in fact only serves to question the credibility of Lance Armstrong’s position, rather than further erode Hamilton’s. One can’t help but wonder what other facts on Facts4Lance are incorrect.

So who is lying? Which side is telling the truth? Who knows? I sure don’t. I’d like to believe Lance Armstrong. I also wanted to believe Tyler Hamilton. And Floyd Landis. And all the rest.

And What Was That about the $100,000 Donation?

And if we’re going to talk about credibility, doesn’t it seem rather astoundingly incredulous that the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI), the governing body of professional cycling, would accept a $100,000 donation from Lance Armstrong? It gets better: this donation was ostensibly for a drug testing machine, to help keep the sport clean.

This news actually broke a year ago but it seems relevant still – particularly since Armstrong’s camp wants to question everyone else’s credibility. Here is the professional body that oversees athletic competition and the people who tests its athletes, the body that is responsible for disciplining said athletes who get caught doping – here is the same professional body receiving a whopping huge donation from one of the athletes it is responsible for overseeing.

If that’s not outright illegal somehow, it is at the least a huge conflict of interest. It’s like a lobbyist making a campaign contribution to a politician. Even if it was all on the up and up – Lance is on the podium with Jesus and the Dalai Lama, after all – I find it hard to believe that neither side thought that others might find it the least bit suspicious, that no one could see the exchange of money as a conflict of interest – and yet this is exactly what UCI says. Here’s what UCI president Pat McQuaid told The (London) Telegraph newspaper last year:

“… there is no way that the UCI or its former president Hein Verbruggen could have accepted a bribe. It’s just not possible.”

“To the best of my knowledge,” continued McQuaid, “the UCI has not accepted other donations and I’d just like to clarify that there was only one donation from Lance Armstrong not two or three.

“You have to consider that at the time, in 2002, no accusations against Lance Armstrong had been made. They’ve all came up since then. We accepted the donation to help develop the sport. We didn’t think there’s a conflict of interest. It’s easy to say in hindsight what could or would have been done. You have to put yourself in the situation at the time.”

McQuaid has repeated this statement in the wake of Hamilton’s allegations. I must confess I can’t believe this for a second. I’m willing to concede that it’s entirely possible (although seemingly unlikely at this point) that the donation was made in good faith. But that it never occurred to either side, especially the UCI, that it could be viewed as a conflict of interest? I have to cry bullshit on that.

What makes it looks worse? This occurred not long after the 2001 Tour de Suisse in which Armstrong allegedly tested positive but then covered it up with the UCI’s help.

On the other hand, if the allegations that Armstrong tested positive are true and that a coverup ensued, I find it hard to believe that both sides would be dumb enough to pursue a $100,000 bribe as a “donation” to be used for drug testing equipment. No could be that dumb, surely? Regardless of whether or not Armstrong doped or even tested positive, people in the UCI and Armstrong camps were clearly naive and gullible at best and downright stupid at worst.

I Never Tested Positive: the Equivalent of Not Inhaling?

Tyler Hamilton on 60 Minutes. Photo copyright Associated Press/CBS News.Speaking of naiveté and gullibility (something I’m guilty of, for ever having believed Tyler Hamilton’s vanishing twin defense), another thing that has always troubled me about Lance Armstrong is his statement – more of a mantra, at this point – that he is the most tested athlete in the world, and that he’s never tested positive. Even if we take that at face value, at best it’s still not a denial of doping but merely a statement that no one has ever caught him. We’re supposed to then infer on our own that he doesn’t, in point of fact, dope.

Isn’t this what politicians do? This almost seems akin to Clinton saying he never inhaled when asked if he ever smoked marijuana; we’re supposed to infer then that he did not; that this doesn’t, in fact, count as smoking. Or better yet: when he said he didn’t have sex with Monica Lewinsky, because oral sex doesn’t count as sex sex, does it?

Right. Just like no one could ever possibly conceive that this might be perceived as a conflict of interest: the most tested athlete in the world giving the professional body that oversees his drug tests $100,000.

Maybe Lance has stated on the record unequivocally that he never has doped, but if he has, I missed it, and can’t find that statement now. It’s always the “I’ve never tested positive” refrain. I’d like to see that unequivocal public statement if it’s out there.

But I’m not sure that it would make any difference. Hincapie’s reported testimony is pretty damning if it’s true – and he’s not given us any reason to believe that it isn’t, at this point. Coupled with the fact that Lance Armstrong’s lawyers only recourse seems to be to get angry and try and destroy the credibility of everyone else … well, like stereotypes, clichés often have a grain of truth to them. And this whole situation suggests that where there is this much smoke (and possibly mirrors), there must be fire.

Sigh. For someone that doesn’t give a damn about cycling anymore, I still managed to write nearly 3,000 words. Screw it. I’m going to go ride my bike now.

Postcript: Incidentally, Mark Fabiani defended the Clintons during the Whitewater scandal in the 1990s. More recently he worked with Wall Street firm Goldman Sachs when the investment firm got put through the congressional ringer over the sub prime loan debacle and subsequent financial meltdown.

The Conspiracy of Radical English

The Timing of Osama bin Laden’s Death?
A Plot to Replace Your Budweiser with Earl Grey Tea!

The X-Files' Deepthroat isn't the man that told me the truth about bin Laden, the United States government and Radical English ... or was he?So, the capture and killing of Osama bin Laden begs the question, why now? I’m not normally a conspiracy theorist by nature. I’m even convinced there was a moon landing; those laser retroflectors on the moon that scientists around the world have used for the last several decades weren’t put there by aliens (or were they? Maybe every scientist in the world is in on it!).

But as a trained and practicing journalist – I went to a special school and everything – I’m prone to asking questions and finding answers.

So why has it taken a decade? Well, dear gentle ignorant reader, the U.S. government – the real one, the U.S. Shadow GovernmentTM, not the fake one in Washington D.C. – has known where Bin Laden was all along. It simply bided its time until it was most opportune politically to take out its former tool.

So why now? As always, it was the damn English (note I didn’t say British – the Scottish, Welsh, Irish, et. al. are just helpless pawns crushed under the heel of Downing Street’s British Isles hegemony). Sure, the English are supposed to be our pals, our bosom buddies against the bad guys, right – Churchill, WWII and all that? But Radical English has been the problem all along – our Founding Fathers knew this of course, which is why we fought the American Revolution. But we’ve lost our way over the years — the American WayTM.

See, the whole War on Terror is actually just a smokescreen for radical elements in the English government to cover up their attempts to reclaim the British Empire. With the fall of the Soviet Union, there was no unifying boogeyman to unify (read, distract) the other Western Powers, so Radical English had to invent one: enter one Osama bin Laden. Thus, with the fictitious spectre of violent terrorism distracting the East and the rest of the West, this left Radical English free to engage in their covert war to reclaim the Empire’s lost glory.

Cricket? Where the hell is first base? WTF? Before you know it, we’ll be drinking tea and crumpets instead of Budweiser, hot dogs and apple pie and singing God Save the Queen – the original version, not the ironic Sex Pistols one. One year it will be the World Series you’ll be watching on TV, the next it will be cricket. Did you really think you could trust a culture whose national past time is named after a noisy bug? Instead of going out for burritos from Taco Bell when you and your friends are knackered, you’ll be headed out for a curry and mushy peas.

The British are coming, again! Mushy freakin’ peas, America! Is that what you want? We’re Americans, we eat mashed potatoes, dammit (except when we’re drunk or stoned, then we eat fake Mexican food. But that’s beside my cloudy, nebulous point)!

When will this happen? Dear gentle ignorant reader, it’s already begun. It’s been going on for years. What do you think the Beatles were about … really? The British Invasion was more aptly named than we ever realized. Conspiracy theories? More distractions planted by the agents of Radical English to distract you, America!

So, now you’re asking yourself, what does this have to do with Osama bin Laden and the timing of his death? Just wait for it; as a noob conspiracy theorist I’m new at this, but it’s my understanding that I have to do a significant amount of incoherent ranting and raving that’s only tangentially related – at best – to the subject at hand before I draw a completely illogical and only remotely related conclusion.

Kate and William: bow to your Royal British Overlords as they serve you mushy peas, America!See, what has everyone – everyone in America – been talking about for the past week or so? What English cultural event? Even though we haven’t – supposedly – been part of the commonwealth (Radical English’s sly term for Empire) for a few centuries? That’s right, the British Royal Wedding. All week long, wherever you went – bars, restaurants, coffee shops, etc. – there were red-blooded (or were they stiff-upper lipped blue bloods?) Americans yammering on and on about Kate and some balding git (git – see, it’s already started) whose – supposedly (see what I’m doing there?) a licensed rescue pilot, or so the Radical English press keeps telling us, blithely skipping over the fact that he would ascend to the throne of the would-be-again British Empire.

See, unlike us, the Radical English know they don’t need troops to reclaim their Empire; they just need culture. If we were smart, we would have been dropping Playboys and Playstations on Afghanistan and Iraq, along with commemorative plates of Jenna Bush’s wedding, instead of predator drones and bombs. But no. While we’ve been distracted with a conventional war, Radical English has been busy planting reactionary seeds on U.S. soil.

WHAT DO YOU THINK THE QUOTE-UNQUOTE TEA PARTY IS REALLY ABOUT!? The U.S. Tea Party … the English drink tea … the original tea party started the American Revolution … do I need to draw you a map, people? The Tea Party is just another fake front to hide the machinations of Radical English! Wake up America! Mushy peas!

Finally Getting to the Point(y Head)

Kate and William's royal wedding: here is the insidious evidence of a covert culture war.Fortunately, I’m not the only one that sees what the wily Radical English are up to – the U.S. Shadow Government obviously monitors Google, and noticed that searches for “royal wedding” were getting abnormally high – spiking way beyond normal. Something had to be done before the Union Jack was flying over the White House and the Washington Monument was replaced by a replica of Big Ben.

Mushy peas! No!

See, most conspiracy theorists would say we “found” bin Laden “now” to distract from President Obama’s plummeting popularity, sky-rocketing gas prices, ecological/climate Armageddon etc. – those are all just clever parts of the actual Radical English conspiracy to reclaim the Empire – as is what you think of as the legitimate U.S. Government.

You’ve all been going on about Obama being Muslim … but he’s actually a Loyalist. A Tory! Benedict Obama!

Remember you heard it here first.

I want to believe the Nigels are coming! Beware the mushy peas!

Disclaimer to Teh Internets

This is obviously a work of parody. I don’t actually believe any of this; it’s all rubbish put here to amuse myself and my friends. Some of my friends are even English, and I actually like English beer – Sammy Smith’s Nut Brown Ale comes to mind, or Newcastle – although Irish beer, namely Guinness, is still the best (although the Scottish have the best whisky; it should always be spelled without the “e”). I even don’t mind mushy peas now and again, albeit with bountiful amounts of salt and pepper. And fish and chips with lots of vinegar? Yum.

Or was this disclaimer put here by Radical English? Maybe I’m just a pawn of the conspiracy.

Trust no one.

Pondering the Politicizing of Tucson

Walt Kelly's Pogo: "We have met the enemy, and he is us."Even before the dead are buried and the survivors have healed physically from their wounds – seemingly before the blood was washed from the sidewalk — the left and the right stepped in with pointed fingers, wielding the same tired old clichés of their respective rhetorics. The survivors – both the wounded and those who lost loved ones and friends – have barely begun to grieve, and yet the wounded and the dead have already become American political pawns.

I don’t believe for a moment that right-wing rhetoric caused Jared Loughner’s mental imbalance, but I think it’s undeniable that he was influenced by that rhetoric in his choice of victims and the way in which he chose to attack them. The strategic editing and sanitizing of Sarah Palin’s website and Twitter stream in the wake of the shooting is telling; the fact that right-wing mouthpieces immediately went on the defensive even more so.

It’s utterly reprehensible and disgusting.

What’s also equally utterly reprehensible and disgusting is the way the left immediately began pointing fingers and crying “See, see! Your fault!” From the mainstream media all the way down to my Facebook page, index fingers were flexed within hours.

The real shame of it is that there was opportunity in this tragedy – an opportunity to perhaps wrangle a bit of meaning out of otherwise senseless death. Both sides could have taken a thoughtful and nuanced approach and suggest that maybe we as an American culture should examine the nature of the current political discourse in the wake of this tragedy.

But no. The left resorted to the same tools that they claim to loathe when wielded by the right: rhetoric founded on baser emotions rather than logic, and finger pointing. And the right immediately began defending their own choice of rhetoric by spouting the same – an excellent opportunity for more of the same angry polemic pontification that they love so much.

Well played, left and right. You have met the enemy, and they are you. These days I fear we have already given up the ship.*

So many people lamented the right-wing politicizing of 9/11; here those same left-wing people are politicizing another tragedy, albeit a smaller one (at least to those of us who didn’t lose a loved one in Tucson). And here we have the right-wing polemicists refusing to even accept the possibility that they may have influenced Loughner’s choice of manifesting his insanity.

Have we learned nothing? Will we ever?

I’ve said it before; I’ve no doubt I’ll say it again. There is only one thing more disgusting than a Republican, and that’s a Democrat. But today I think it is the other way around. People on the right played to type. People on the left, however, for all their claimed enlightenment, should conceivably have known better, and conducted themselves accordingly; they did not.

I might say they chose not to, but I don’t think it was actually a matter of choice, unfortunately.

If we want to find someone to blame for this tragedy, as Americans, we should each of us look in the mirror.

*Apologies to Walt Kelly and Oliver Perry.

P.S.  Editorial cartoonist Matt Bors has an interesting take on the Tucson tragedy, most of which I happen to agree with. Plus this sadly amusing comic:

Matt Bors' take on the Tucson Tragedy and what's happening in its wake.

Farewell to Denis Dutton, Arts & Letters Daily Founder, Editor

author and Arts & Letters Daily founder and editor Denis DuttonI just learned today that the founder of Arts & Letters Daily, Denis Dutton, died December 28. I confess I didn’t know who he was until after I spied “Denis Dutton, founder of ‘Arts & Letters Daily,’ has died” on Boing Boing. But I have been a long-time reader of Arts & Letters Daily.

Until I moved abroad at the beginning of this year, I usually consumed A&L Daily just that, daily, along with my cubanos at my local coffee shop, after I had checked my email and the news headlines. I can’t remember how I discovered A&L at first, but was pleasantly surprised to find it: a website resembling a newspaper broadsheet from a couple centuries ago, with links to interesting, thought-provoking articles covering all aspects of art, culture and politics.

Something other than porn, Matt Drudge, Gawker, and Lolcats. No way!

I never really gave much thought to operated it. By the time I discovered it – apparently Dutton started it in 1998 – it was owned by the Chronicle of Higher Education; I always just assumed it was some eggheads there that operated A&L Daily. Dutton continued to run A&L Daily after the Chronicle purchased it in 2002, hand-picking all the linked content, and writing the headline links and blurbs that appeared on the site – apparently right on up to the moment he died of cancer a few days ago.

I was surprised to learn that A&L Daily – such an astute observer and aggregator of … well, arts and letters, of all things on the Internet, that I was surprised to learn that it was founded and run by a professor of philosophy at the University of Canterbury, New Zealand who is, or rather was, 24 years my senior. How cool is that? As I naturally ponder age and death at this time of year, it is comforting to learn that age doesn’t have to equal irrelevancy.

But then, as I’m learning from the New Yorker and other sources, Denis Dutton was a pretty hip old guy. As I ponder the future and what I want to do in it, I’ll take his life as an inspiration.

Just last year he published a book that attempts to elucidate a Darwinian theory of art – an apt subject for a professor of philosophy and the curator of Arts & Letters Daily. I think The Art Instinct will be the next book to be added to my Kindle.

Wherever you now dwell, Mr. Dutton, you have my thanks, for entertaining me with A&L Daily, and now for the inspiration. Godspeed.

As for Arts and Letters Daily, his Dutton’s colleagues at the Chronicle of Higher Education have pledged to carry on. While I have faith, of course it won’t be quite the same, I’m sure, without Dutton behind the keyboard.

May You Live in Interesting Times (in Thailand)

So things have a way of working out – for ill or naught – and often in ways we don’t anticipate. And I suppose life would be rather dull and boring if it were otherwise. With that in mind, I’m headed to Thailand to work – a country I’ve never been to, but always wanted to see. Now I’m going to get a good seven months or so of it, perhaps longer – if things work out that way.

So what happened to remaining in Viet Nam for a time? Well, long story short: when I started applying for jobs, I noticed that there were a lot more jobs listed in Thailand – this has to do with the time of year, more than anything else — so I dashed off a few resumes to places that had decent reputations. An agency that places native English speakers in Thai public schools was the first to get back to me; it is with this agency that I eventually accepted a position (and no, I don’t know where yet; the school year doesn’t start until mid May, and the agency is still parsing its schools and available teachers and whatnot).

Of course, after I accepted the position I got a couple of offers for part-time work in Viet Nam, including an opportunity that almost caused me to recant my acceptance of the Thai job. But I figured a) I have always wanted to go to Thailand; b) I had given them my word and vice versa (and knowing that I would want to go there someday anyway, if I stayed in Viet Nam, it might not be good to leave a flaky impression with this agency); c) I had already arranged to do some volunteer teaching at a non-profit in northeast Thailand; and finally, d) breaking my word twice just seems like bad ju-ju, or karma as it were, these being primarily Buddhist lands.

So it’s off to Thailand I go. Yes, I know I’m heading there at an interesting time. But, as a Thai person recently said to me, “Thais are a passionate people. That’s why it seems to outsiders that our politics are constantly in upheaval. But it rarely gets violent.” I would hasten to add that there was one notable exception in 1992, in which several hundred protesters were killed — but that does seem to be the exception rather than the rule. So there you go. And coming from a country that is supposedly the guiding light for democracy and freedom on earth, and having watched conservative elements literally steal the 2000 election out from under the rest of that country while it sat and watched and DID NOTHING — and we all know how that turned out for us — well, good on the Thais for taking their government seriously. But don’t get me wrong; I’m not taking sides here. While I’ve followed the story since Thaksin’s ouster in 2006, I don’t feel qualified to offer an opinion on who is right and who is wrong, not being Thai and not having ever lived there.

I do want to come back here to Viet Nam and live and work someday, and the contract is only for six months, or one school semester, with an option for a second if I’m so inclined at the end of six months (and a tidy little signing bonus if I do). So I figure if I don’t like where I end up – and never having been to Thailand, I really have no preference – it will only last six months. And I’m not too worried about it; everyone I’ve talked to who has actually spent a significant amount of time there tells me I will love it. The only placement request I made of the agency was that I didn’t want to be placed in an extremely small, rural village, as I’m a new teacher and I don’t speak a word of Thai yet (Rosetta Stone, here I come).

For a beginning teacher in Thailand, the contract is pretty reasonable. The biggest plus in my eyes is a regular schedule with weekends and evenings off, as well as all public holidays and the weeks between semesters (which comes to two-months a year – of course one isn’t paid when school isn’t in session). Considering most new teachers in Asia end up at private schools, which means working evenings, weekends and holidays, public school becomes attractive. Plus, the agency offers a housing stipend. I’ll still be making very modest money by western standards, and would be able to make a little more, relatively speaking, here in Viet Nam, most likely – but I think I’ll be able to live reasonably well in Thailand on what they are paying me, particularly if I’m outside of Bangkok (which I hope to be). This is provided all my research and what people who have taught there tell me proves accurate, but I have no reason to believe it isn’t.

I’m going to miss Vietnamese coffee and food, but then I’ll have the solace of Thai food, and I hear the Thai’s have their own coffee that’s pretty good. I’m sure I can find someone to put sweetened condensed milk in it for me – that is, If I can’t find Vietnamese coffee there; there are a lot of Vietnamese immigrants in Thailand, particularly in the eastern portion of the country, according to ye olde Lonely Planet.

But all this goes to show, one should always keep one’s plans malleable. One could argue this was fate or predestination (or karma); others could argue that I made my own future by applying for a job in Thailand in the first place, and accepting it in turn (or even getting on the plane from America with a one-way ticket in the first place). I’m enough of a pragmatist that I’m inclined to believe in the latter, but enough of a romantic to ponder the former. For one such as I, a stranger wondering at will in strange lands where kingdoms were rising and falling and empires waxing and waning while my my European ancestors were wallowing in the Dark Ages, where the predominant religion was already ancient when Christianity was born, I suppose it is easy to believe that is indeed a bit of both.

In any event, in a few days time I will be eating Thai food … in Thailand. And regardless of how or why I got there, this momentous occasion has been a long time coming, as far as my palate is concerned. After all, the palate and the stomach do not concern themselves with matters of the spirit, philosophy and the existential, but rather the immediate appetites and their fulfillment.

Which reminds me … ye gods, I still would kill for a burrito.

Of Winston Smith and the Ministry of Google

Among the [tag]geek[/tag] mainstream, if not the geek congnoscenti, it seems, if I may speak generally, (and it’s my blog, so I shall) Microsoft equals "bad." [tag]Google[/tag] equals "good." Yahoo? It probably equal’s "meh." I’m putting these terms in quotes, as I believe in this case, they are all relative terms.

Why? Google is a ginormous, for-profit, public corporation, and as such, it’s primary goal is to make money for its shareholders. Ditto Microsoft. So why is Google "cool" while other corporate entities are not, even labeled by some as "evil?" Particularly when it looks more and more like the Google technical hegemony is the one we should be worrying about.

Disclosure: I admit, Google has become one of my favorite punching bags, if for no other reason than I just tend to be suspicious of something that everyone else loves to the point of near lunacy. It is the default setting for the the relevant DIP switch in my brain.

And Google is to the Internet what Apple is to hardware. There are a number of rational arguments to be made against them or valid criticisms that can be made, but they have developed such a following among the fanboys and girls that any criticism of them seems to be the modern-day equivalent of heresy. One risks being labeled a witch and burned at the stake (no one expects the Sergey Inquistion!). It doesn’t matter what we’re talking about – Apple could put their logo on a piece of fecal matter – the iTurd – and people would line up the night before it went on sale down at the Apple Store to be the first to purchase one. Same with Google – as soon as it released the gTurd API, or browser plug-in or whatever, the tech blogs would be ablaze with delighted reviews and ensuing discussion.

I suppose I like to pick on Google in particular because a)it’s guaranteed to get a rise out of members of the fan culture, and b) I lived in Sillycon Valley at the peak of the dot-com boom, when the founders of Google were revered. Literally likened unto Gods. I’ve even been exposed to the fan-boy culture first-hand. I was at a party once in Mountain View, California – Google ground zero – shortly after I moved to the Bay Area, and [tag]Sergey Brin[/tag] showed up. A hush went over the party crowd, and it parted in deference as he walked in like Moses Parting the Waters. Okay, I’m exaggerating, but only slightly. It wasn’t as if Biblical figure had entered the room – but definitely like a rock star had. People were trying to be cool and nonchalant and failing miserably, hushed deference mingled with stifled squeals of delight.

Myself, I had just relocated from hell on Earth, a.k.a. Sedona, Ariz., having finally freed myself from hell’s many psychotic minions and my servitude at the Hell Red Rock News and narrowly averting self destruction. This would have been early 2000. I had been invited to this party by a friend who had already been living in the Bay Area for sometime, and she was hip to such things. She promptly wandered off as soon as we got there, leaving me to my own devices. I didn’t know a soul, but was doing my best to mingle (excuse me, I mean "network"). When Brin showed up, I asked who he was. "That’s Sergey Brin," whispered the marketing type person I had been talking with.

Who’s that?" I whispered back. She looked at me with a mixture of wonder, pity, and disgust, kind of like I imagine British explorers at the height of the Empire would look at so-called savages in their far-flung colonies. "The co-founder of Google," she whispered, in much the same exasperated tone of voice one might use to correct an idiot man-child who can’t grasp the concept of a toilet, no matter how many times you explain it (sorry, but I like this analogy better than the explorer/savage).

"Oh, the search engine on the Internet?" I replied. Of course I knew what Google was, but at this point I was stringing my conversation companion along, playing the role of ignorant red-neck small-town reporter she had created for me. One must derive amusement where one can. This question, of course, didn’t even merit a response beyond a roll of the eyes.

So yeah, there’s that. Then there is the fact that Google now frequently shows me pages without my actual search terms in it. Apparently these are pages that Google "thinks" I might want to see, based on my terms and likely colored by whatever data is in the profile associated with my IP address, and whatever its advertising-driven algorithms think I should see. That drives me nuckin’ futs. I want to see pages with my actual search terms in them; that’s why I used those terms. But then the same thing seems to happen with the other big search engines these days; all Google wanna-bes. I’ve been trying to use Wikia Search, but then I end up back at Google or Yahoo more often than not if I fail to find what I seek on Wikia.

Now, none of this would bother me nearly so much, even when the [tag]fan boy[/tag]s go on about how wonderful [tag]Android[/tag] or how [tag]Chrome[/tag] will change the browser game, or that Sergey and Larry Page’s farts smell like sandalwood and rose petals, if it weren’t for the fact that Google is a giant corporate behemoth. Sure, maybe back in the day the goal was to make the Internet easier for everyone to use – don’t forget the now famous part of the mission statement, "do no evil" – but once a company goes public, it’s primary goal is to make money for its stockholders. At this, Google excels. At some point, making money conflicts with the rest of the lah-de-dah, feel-good mission. I’m not saying that making money is inherently evil; I don’t believe it is. But the fact remains that making money is often odds with what might be ethically and morally the best choices.

An aside: I wanted to look up that "do no evil" part of the Google mission statement and quote it directly. I unwittingly typed in the term "google" and "do no evil" (in quotes, so I would get pages with that exact phrase, ostensibly) – in Google, naturally. And gosh, look what happened with the very first link. Gee whiz, who would have thought this would happen. Irony of ironies:

Anyway, turns out it is "don’t be evil," and is in the Google Code of Conduct.

So, the point of my meandering diatribe is the review of this book, [tag]Googling Security: How Much Does Google Know About You?[/tag] by one [tag]Greg Conti[/tag] (security tech geeks no doubt recongize this name), that I read on Slashdot (having seen a related post on ye olde Boing Boing). Actually, not so much the point as the kindling that sparked this flaming diatribe. Just the other day, I was arguing about the merits of Google’s mobile OS, Android, with my old friend and current house mate Vern, one of the few people I know who is geekier/nerdier than I. Naturally, I played the part of the Nattering Nabob of Negativity (stick with what yer good at). Vern thought it was cool that there was an "open" source mobile phone OS, and he just might have to upgrade if/when Sprint ever comes out with its version (currently slated for sometime in ’09). Vern already uses G-mail, of course, and is rocking the Chrome browser, having forsaken Opera (speaking of heresy). Being a curmudgeon, I had to point out that this is just one more step in Google’s march toward corporate hegemony of information technology, and thus, the verbal game was afoot.

Needless to say, I’m adding this book to my reading list. And will likely be revisiting this topic here on the mental masturbatory exercise that is this blog.

Shameless self promotion: this is not the first time I’ve poked fun at teh Google on the Intertubes. From the Jeff Chappell/Electronic News archives, I give you:

Google Gets Googled, Cows Get Cow Chips

Put that in a Chrome browser tab and smoke … er, Google it.

I’m not advocating necessarily that people shouldn’t use Google and its myriad services. Rather, just don’t be hypocritical and sing the praises of Google while slagging other corporate behemoths — say, Micro$oft (and this is not to say that my good pal Vern does this – he’s not a fan boy or a hypocrite by any stretch – he makes a good case for the use of Chrome purely on its technical merits, for example). It’s just another corporate Juggernaut out to make its shareholders rich – again not that there is anything inherently wrong with that, particularly if they do so by providing products and services that work as advertised. Heck, I use Yahoo for my e-mail and web host, after all.

I don’t even necessarily have an ethical problem with Google using the data it gathers on me and everyone else to try and sell us crap we don’t need, despite the obvious [tag]privacy[/tag] issues, as long as they are up front about it. Where it becomes a problem is when Big Brother at the Department of Justice comes knocking, looking for that information in the interest of "protecting" us. How soon until FISA and the "Patriot" Act extend to the Internet?

Oh that’s right, Obama will save us … speaking of fanboy culture … but that’s a (frequent) topic I’ve already beat to death, and on which corpse I will not doubt beat on some more over the course of the next four years, so I’ll let that go for now, and return to the topic at hand.

Just think of the book Orwell would write today had he been a member of Generation X, growing up with computers and the Internet. We would have 2024, instead of 1984, and Winston Smith would work at the Ministry of Google.

"Don’t be evil." I wonder if Google will remember what that means in the future.

Of Two Minds

It’s the mother of all ambivalence.

On the one hand, I readily admit, it’s really cool that we elected someone who is not an old white guy, or even a young white guy, to be president. Not that I have an innate problem with white guys, being one myself. But given all the racism that still pervades my country today, both overt and otherwise, I never would have thought I’d live to see this day, and I’m proud of my country that it proved me wrong. Seriously, up until Tuesday night, I really didn’t think it was possible, and I really am happy that it happened in my lifetime.

I think Tom Toles, the editorial cartoonist for the Washington Post, put it best, simply and eloquently:

The above is, of course, copyrighted material, but I think this constitutes fair use.

Furthermore, it was really, really awesome to see people celebrating the president-elect – black, white, straight, gay (my neighborhood tends to be pretty fabulous, as is my local; good thing I’m not homophobic – which his apparently more than we can say for a slim majority of California’s electorate). People excited and happy about the results of an election – that’s a pretty historic event as well. Not a first for America, but certainly never in my lifetime have we seen people carrying on in the streets in giddy happiness over presidential [tag]election[/tag] results.

Cool, that; very cool.

I’ll further admit, that despite my misgivings, despite the fact that I couldn’t bring myself to vote for either mainstream candidate, I’m relieved that [tag]Obama[/tag] won. I might have considered voting for [tag]McCain[/tag] back in 2000, but he’s pretty much sold out everything he ever stood for. In a way, I feel bad for him; he obviously went for broke to win the election. Case in point: hiring Dubya’s campaign director from 2004, Steve Schmidt, a Karl Rove protégé.

Old news, at this point, but it still astonishes me that he hired one of the despicable people that smeared him in the run-up to the Republican nomination four years ago, dredging up his wife’s drug addiction and spreading rumors that his adopted daughter from Bangladesh is actually his illegitimate daughter. In retrospect, it’s very hard to believe that the same McCain who delivered the eloquent and statesman-like concession speech Tuesday evening is the same one who would stoop to hiring Schmidt. We’ll put that little tidbit on top of the huge pile of reasons why a majority of Americans are glad he didn’t win.

Hell, I’m just glad we elected someone with more than half a brain, for once, unlike lame-duck Dubya (God, that really feels good to say)

On the other hand, as I found myself explaining more than once Tuesday night, after going out to the aforementioned local to observe the revelry, FISA was a deal-breaker for me. So was the bailout. And Obama voted for FISA, and encouraged the bailout. I might have been able to overlook the bailout, perhaps, but FISA? No way. I’m an American, dammit, and I’m pretty libertarian on this issue: civil rights are sacred. As far as I’m concerned, everyone that voted for FISA pretty much wiped their ass with the parchment the Bill of Rights – namely the Fourth Amendment – was printed on.

I’ll give Obama props; he acknowledged the fact that this would be a deal-breaker for some.

Democracy cannot exist without strong differences. And going forward, some of you may decide that my FISA position is a deal breaker. That’s ok.  But I think it is worth pointing out that our agreement on the vast majority of issues that matter outweighs the differences we may have.

Well, it was for me. Some people I had this conversation with Tuesday were aghast that I didn’t vote for Obama, even after acknowledging that his FISA cave-in was all but in-excusable (for them). Others said they totally understood why I voted for [tag]Cynthia McKinney[/tag], and respected that decision, which was cool. Then there was the dolt who suggested I was racist because I didn’t vote for Obama, until I explained that no, I voted for McKinney, not McCain, and that McKinney is a black woman and her running mate is a Latina (I’m assuming that Rosa Clemente is of Hispanic background, but I don’t really know for sure, and to be honest don’t care; I thinks she’s pretty rad and her genetics are immaterial). Lawlz, that shut him up in short order.

I realize that in a democracy everyone has to compromise. But some issues are black and white (no pun intended), and at some point you have to draw a line in the sand and say, no more. With our [tag]civil liberties[/tag] on a toilet-bound vector since 9/11, I drew that line at [tag]FISA[/tag]. I hope that all those who believe that trend will reverse under an Obama administration are right. But he’s a career politician, who does what is necessary to get power and then stay in power – how else did he raise record amounts of financing? What’s going to happen when all those special interests come knocking at the door of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.?

Will he be different? I have my doubts. Sure, he talks a good talk, but I trust politicians as far as I can throw them; Obama’s pretty slim, so I could throw him farther than most, maybe. But still, he’s a politician – on the take until he proves otherwise.

But again, having said that, and in spite of my abivalence, I’m glad he won. It’s not everyday you get to witness history, and it’s not everyday when your own culture and country suprises you in such a wonderful way. And it wasn’t like I thought McKinney had a chance, even as cast my vote for her. I honestly think she would have made a good president, though. And I am still, and always will be, a registered independent, but for all my Green brothers and sisters in arms this time around, the 120,389 others across the country (including 7,776 other people in Ohio) that voted for McKinney – 0.1 percent of the votes in the presidential election – thank you fighting the good fight. No one else I know personally feels the way I do, but obviously I’m not completely alone when it comes to these issues.

Oh, and someone asked me why I didn’t just vote Libertarian. Well, I agree with the Libertarians on a lot of things, but there are a few key deal-breakers, among them the belief that private ownership of public lands will better protect the environment. Another is the idea that there should be no government regulation of business – deregulation of business got us into our current economic mess, in no small part, obviously.

I’ve got problems with the Green Party, too, but I haven’t found any beyond-dispute deal breakers in that party’s platform. No plans to change my voter registration from “independent,” though. In fact, I might not have voted at all, but McKinney, a former member of the Georgia Congressional delegation, is on record as being against FISA and the bailout of Wall Street; that pushed me into the Green column this year.

Speaking of Libertarianism, civil rights, and fabulousness, we’ve still got a ways to go. We may have turned a page in living up to the ideas embodied in the founding documents of the United States with the election of Obama, but still not everyone enjoys the rights, protections and freedom the rest of us have.

The good fight continues.