Archive for October, 2008

25
Oct
08

Rocky Mountain Honesty

Since my recent move to everyone’s favorite square state (sorry Wyoming), people often ask me what I think is the biggest difference between my new home and my previous home of southern California.  The answer is this:

Yesterday, when I was working at the ol’ bookstore, my manager got on the P.A. system and made this announcement to the entire store:

“Attention Barnes & Noble customers, there is a black Nissan Altima, license plate number JBY402 parked in the handicap spot out front, and it is currently running.  If the owner of that car is in the store, please be informed that your car is running.  Thank you.”

Here’s the difference: in my old neck of the woods, that announcement would translate thusly:

“Attention, potential car thieves: put down that copy of DUB Magazine you’re currently leafing through, ’cause I got a gimme for you.  There’s a black Nissan in the parking lot, and it’s up for grabs.  I repeat: FREE CAR.  The keys are in the ignition, and there ain’t nobody in it.  Blue book value on this one’s probably around seven or eight thou, minimum.  Plus it’s in a handicap spot, so if you’ve got two decent legs, chances are you can beat out whoever it is that actually owns it.  So ready, set, have at it.

…and thanks for shopping at Barnes & Noble.”

14
Oct
08

Facewhiners

Watch closely, because this weekend, something terrifically insignificant is going to happen.

If you’re currently breathing, I probably don’t have to tell you what Facebook is.  And if you’re in between the ages of twelve and thirty, I probably don’t have to tell you that recently, the management at Facebook made some changes to their site, and it pissed some folks off.  Royally.  A number of people are downright livid about the changes that have been made, and this weekend, they’re doing something about it.

According to this article, as well as the Facebook group “1,000,000 Against the New Facebook Layout,” a weekend-long boycott will be taking place from the 17th to the 20th of this month among those who most passionately despise this new layout.

If you’re not currently a member of Facebook, you’re probably wondering what could possibly cause such an uproar.  What is it that the Facebook people did?  Litter their site with racial slurs?  Replace everyone’s profile picture with this?

Hardly.  They moved some stuff around.  They reorganized.  It’s the equivalent of signing the site up for an episode of Trading Spaces.  It looks different, and maybe it’s not what you would’ve chosen, but once you get over the initial impact of the change, it’s still the same thing, and it’s completely tolerable.  It’s certainly not harsh enough to illicit the kind of response of the impassioned millions who joined the Facebook groups in protest of the change.  And there are dozens of those groups that have been formed with the express intention of protesting this minor modification.  The largest of those groups has nearly 2.8 million members.  That’s two-point-eight million.  For some perspective, 2.8 million people is nearly the population of the entire city of Chicago.

So this must mean that with all those people boycotting, Facebook is going to lose millions in ad revenue this weekend, right?  Is this the end of Facebook as we know it?

Again, hardly.  As of this posting, even though all of those 2.8 million members were invited to join the weekend boycott, only 2,513 of them have agreed to abstain the three days.  With Facebook membership at over 100 million worldwide, that’s two-thousandths of a percent (0.002%) of the entire Facebook community that’s participating in the holdout, hoping their defiance will inspire the bigwigs to finally hear their demands.  It’s like Newsies, but with less choreography, and far less people.

So if you’re one of those who longs for Facebook to return to its old ways, well… tough break.  You lose.  And honestly, what are you complaining about?  The miniscule amount of people participating in this supposedly headline-worthy boycott just goes to show that it’s not that big of a deal in the first place.  Now it takes three clicks instead of two to SuperPoke your cousin in Nebraska.  Tough shit.  We’re in the middle of perhaps the most important decade in American history, and what really gets our attention is an imaginary computer realm of fake versions of ourselves?

Do you know what people are talking about in these Facebook groups?  Each one has its own discussion board, and here’s a couple sample subject lines from those discussion boards:

“Why new Facebook is a copout”

“When will you leave Facebook, and where will you go?”

“This weird new facebook is ruining my life!!!”

Simply unbelievable.  You know what people aren’t talking about in these Facebook groups?  ANYTHING THAT ACTUALLY MATTERS. Also, isn’t it interesting that despite the fact that these people supposedly hate this new Facebook, they’re still using it to communicate their hatred? It’s like someone skywriting messages about how bad it is to waste airplane fuel.  If Facebook is so awful, then do what you did back in 2004:

Live without it.

But there’s no way that’s going to happen, and I’ll tell you why.  Those people probably couldn’t admit it, but what Facebook allows them is the ability to portray a version of themselves that is vastly more intriguing than the real thing.  Someone who isn’t willing to drop their Facebook or MySpace account at any moment’s notice is essentially saying that without the help of those sites, they don’t consider themselves very interesting.  Facebook allows us to define ourselves not by the person that we are, but rather by everything but— on Facebook, we define ourselves by photographs, by the friends we have and what they say to us, by our favorite music and movies, or by the number of fiery dinosaur flowers we have growing in our magic wizard garden.  In truth, who we are is the person left when all of that is stripped away, and if you’re afraid of stripping away all that fluff, perhaps what you’re really afraid of is what might be left when you do.

I’m not saying Facebook is completely useless for the average person.  I personally have a Facebook account, and while I’ve never joined anyone’s Oregon Trail bandwagon, or picked sides in the epic battle of Pirates vs. Ninjas, I’m still an active member of the community, if you can call it a community.  But the reason I have a Facebook account has nothing to do with the person that I am.  For me, Facebook is a number of things conveniently assembled in one place— a social calendar, an address book, a photo album, a birthday reminder, and an easy way to keep in touch with friends all across the world.  But the point is that you can have all these things outside of Facebook, Facebook just puts them in one location, and that’s why I’m a member.  Should I wake up tomorrow morning to find Facebook and other social network sites obliterated from the face of the earth, the only things I would no longer have access to are that façade Facebook creates for me, and the ability to be a member of the unwilling paparazzi within my own social circle, and those are two things I can most certainly live without.

In all reality, your opinion of Facebook is likely similar to mine, and you’d have no problem leaving it, either.  The people I’m talking about, those who say they can’t live without this alternate reality, are a significant minority.  In thirty years, we’re not going to be a nation of people sitting on couches, living life through Facebook profiles.  There might be a few people like that, and there certainly will be more of them in five years than there were five years ago, but it’s no threat to our culture or livelihood.  Heck, today there’s only 2,513 of them, and they’re easy enough to ignore.  Just ask the people in charge of Facebook.

07
Oct
08

answers.

Since my last post suggested that it’s difficult to wade through the fluff of politicians and the media to get real information, I’ve decided to link to some information that really will help you understand what’s going on in the world today.  If you’d really like to understand our current financial situation, the mortgage crisis, and the bailout plan, there is, as far as I’m concerned, only one place to go.  The radio show This American Life has produced two incredibly informative shows specifically designed to explain (in words the average person can actually understand) what’s going on with all this financial stuff.

So go here and download two episodes: “The Giant Pool of Money,” aired back in May, explains the mortgage crisis, and “Another Frightening Show About the Economy,” last week’s episode, goes further in depth about the financial crisis, how we got where we are, and answers most questions you may have about the economy and the bailout plan.  They’re about an hour each, but if you’re interested in really, really understanding what’s going on, then it’s completely worth your time.  Do it.

05
Oct
08

Don’t Vote.

Yeah, I said it.  Don’t vote.  Come November 4th, stay home.  Take that half-hour or so, and play some video games, read a book, or watch VH1.  But whatever you do, don’t vote.

I’m not being sarcastic.  Not entirely, anyway.  Perhaps you’ve seen this video.  That’s not what I mean.  In fact, it’s part of what I have an issue with.  The message is great, but it’s incomplete.  Voting isn’t just taking action, it’s taking responsibility.  The last thing I want is for somebody to vote just because Jennifer Aniston told them to, and not have any idea as to what it is they’re voting for.  Now don’t get me wrong, I’m all for participation, I’m just hoping it’s informed participation.  Consider this conversation I had with a co-worker the day after the first presidential debate:

ME: Hey man, what’s up?  Did you watch the debate last night?

JOE CO-WORKER*: No.

ME: Why not?  Were you working?

JOE CO-WORKER: No, I had last night off.

ME: So why didn’t you watch it?

JOE CO-WORKER: Um… because I have cable, I guess.  I was watching Comedy Central.

*not his real name

Come November, Joe may vote.  Do I have a problem with that?  Not entirely, I suppose.  Joe’s not alone, only 17% of all Americans watched that first debate.  I’m not about to judge what Joe thinks or knows based on him not watching one debate.  I’m saying in general, we are a completely uniformed populous, and I use the term ‘we’ deliberately.  The fact that Joe is uninformed, or the fact that I am uninformed, whether or not either of us is making a direct attempt to stay involved, is not entirely our fault, and that’s my problem.

Through the course of the last handful of months, I can feel something inside me growing more and more disenfranchised with the whole political campaign process.  I watched the debate, but I don’t think I came out of it knowing much more than I did going in, (which wasn’t all that much to begin with) and if you ask me, I suspect that was exactly what both candidates wanted to happen.  Politics has become so much about image that candidates refuse to talk point-blank about the issues for fear of not looking good.  Let me rephrase that: the candidates don’t say what they think because they’re afraid that if they do, people won’t vote for them.

Isn’t that what the election is about, what the candidates think?  Granted, the fact that they don’t speak with 100% candor isn’t entirely their fault.  It’s at least partially their fault, and it’s probably mostly their fault, but it’s not entirely their fault.  Think about things in the news that have garnered the most attention over the past ten months or so: American flag pins, pant suits, the phrase “lipstick on a pig”, the cover of “The New Yorker”, crying, the word “maverick”, the fact that Senator Obama is black, the fact that Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin are not men, and this.

Now whether it’s the media’s fault for reporting that or the American people’s fault for paying attention to it isn’t the point.  The point is that for anyone looking for legitimate information, that’s the kind of forest they have to forge through to get it.

So let’s say you do watch the debates like I did, with every intention of seeing live, unedited responses from the candidates on the actual issues that matter.  You still don’t get that.  What you get is two grown-ass men dodging questions like a six-year-old in trouble.  Take this actual* exchange from the first presidential debate:

*not really

MODERATOR: Senator Obama, in March, the senior senator from Kentucky brought a package of Oreos onto the Senate floor and left them there while the senate was in recess, coming back fifteen minutes later to find three of his Oreos missing.  The record shows that during the recess there were only two senators who remained in the building, yourself and senator McCain.  The American public would like to know: did you eat those cookies?

OBAMA: You know Jim, before I get to that, let me point out that under John McCain’s tax plan, only the wealthiest 10% of Americans would retain the financial means to afford cookies.  My tax cuts would allow the middle class the financial reprieve necessary to purchase all the cookies they could ever want.

MODERATOR: Senator Obama, may I redirect you to the original question: did you eat those cookies?

OBAMA: Senator McCain’s record with respect to cookies is suspect at best.  During 2002, Senator McCain voted twenty-six times to deny the American people the right to cookies.  Twenty-six!  If voted president, I promise to veto any bill that comes across my desk that limits Americans’ access to cookies.

MODERATOR: Senator Obama.  Please, for the love of all that is good and holy, DID YOU EAT THOSE COOKIES?!?!

OBAMA: (looking downward) …yes.

It’s childish, really, and it happens on both sides.  They’re content to let the American people categorize them by the stereotypes of their political parties, rather than tell us themselves.  One of the things I want from a president is somebody who’s going to get stuff done, not somebody who’s going to dodge questions and hide from the truth.  I want the candidates to look straight into the camera and say, “Hey America, this is what I think, take it or leave it.”  If either candidate would be willing to do that, my respect would grow for them tenfold, regardless of whether I agreed with them or not.

The Vice Presidential situation isn’t that much better.  I will admit they did a better job answering questions during their debate, but prior to that debate, they were grossly underexposed for being someone who could potentially be one too-large-bite of sandwich away from the presidency.  Sarah Palin would only talk to Katie Couric, and Joe Biden was nowhere to be found.  I saw more of Tina Fey’s version of Sarah Palin than I did of Palin herself.  Before the vice presidential debate, I actually sat down to try and make a list of all the things I knew 100% to be true about the two VP candidates from watching the news, and it wasn’t pretty.

SARAH PALIN:

a) is Governor of Alaska

b) is a ‘hockey mom’

c) opposes abortion and has a pregnant teenage daughter

d) chooses weird names for her kids

e) is a lady

JOE BIDEN:

a) is a Senator from Connecticut*

b) said that thing about FDR going on TV after the stock market crashed

c) is older than Obama

*Actually Delaware, but you might not have known that, either.

Depressing, isn’t it?  Now, maybe I hadn’t actively sought out information as best I could, but this is the single most important thing happening in our country right now (or maybe second-most, and there’s 700 billion reasons why that might be the case), and you would think that by being a part of the country, I’d at least gain some sort of knowledge by osmosis or something.

The problem here is that running mates have become nothing more than accessories.  VP candidates are picked with the express purpose of either counteracting the presidential candidate’s weakness, or appealing to a hard-to-reach demographic.  They’re not partners, they’re handbags.  It’s the idea of “maybe if I add this person to the picture, it’d soften my image a bit where such-and-such is concerned, and draw attention away from this ugly feature.”  This is a total cop-out.  Pick somebody you trust, somebody who you genuinely think will help you should you become president.  Pick the person you’d call first if your spouse came to you and said they wanted a divorce, not somebody who merely represents what you’re not.

But that doesn’t happen.  And because that doesn’t happen, presidential candidates hide their running mates from the public eye, afraid that they’ll say something harmful because they didn’t really know the person in the first place.  If you trust someone to take over your job, you should trust them to speak candidly, as well.  But they don’t, and that’s why my two lists were so short.

In conclusion, it’s probably safe to say that despite the title of this post, the solution is not to abstain from voting.  That’s probably more of a cop-out than anything else.  I think what it all comes down to is that it’s just going to take more effort than should be necessary to actually get to the candidates’ views, and we’re just going to have to deal with it.  I know I’m going to have to deal with it, because there’s no way I’m walking into a voting booth on November 4th without being absolutely certain what it is I’m voting for.  Maybe that means reading more, maybe that means taking a deeper look at the candidates’ websites, or maybe it means getting my news from somebody other than Jon Stewart.

Let’s hope it’s not that last one.