Archive for September, 2008

Presidential Debate #1

Sunday, September 28th, 2008

Preface: I watched the debate on CNN, and listened to the post-commentary on CNN, MSNBC, and FOX News, consider them my sources if you want.

So last night was the first Presidential debate, moderated by Jim Lehrer (who has has moderated 11 presidential debates counting last night, over 5 elections… 20 years of this stuff) on the topic of Foreign Policy. With the current economic crisis America finds itself in, he included topics on the economy. The debate was almost over before it began, with McCain claiming he wasn’t going to be at the debate in lieu of his having suspended his campaign because of the financial crisis. Then yesterday morning the McCain camp declared victory on the debate, before he even confirmed his attendance. All this led to the thought that McCain’s claims of putting aside his campaign because of his mantra “Country First” while searching for a solution to the economic crisis was nothing more then a dirty political tactic. Of course, you then have to consider that before McCain landed in DC, Democrats and the GOP had come to a fundamental agreement on the nature of the bailout. Then a few hours after McCain landed, the GOP pulled out. And reports leaked yesterday said members of the GOP bailed to make sure McCain would have time to be a part of the solution. That seems like a bit extreme to me though.

But the debate itself. Foreign policy is supposed to McCain’s expertise. His life experiences plus his general experience in Congress, and then his general mocking of Obama’s lack of experience specifically in foreign policy should have given McCain a clear lead in this debate. It was known economic questions were going to be added, and it was believed that Obama would have the advantage there. The McCain camp also berated Obama’s debating ability, in that he could read speeches with great eloquence when he had time to prepare, but slipped up when he had to think on his feet. Mind you, I agreed with that statement, until the debate. In the past, Obama’s ability to debate, think on his feed, were limited. His ability to give a speech has always been phenomenal. My opinion of this changed Friday night.

The debate started with the question on everyone’s mind: the economy. The candidates were given two minutes per topic, then five minutes to talk face to face. I heard two comments here from the various channels: Obama called McCain John through the night, and McCain never so much as looked at Obama. Both were called slights to the other side, though I must say it was Fox News that called Obama’s action of calling McCain by his first name a slight, and all three news stations commented that McCain never looked at Obama. Personally, I think Obama calling McCain by his first name put them on even grounds, and dropped any atmosphere of superiority or elitism. McCain never once looking at Obama or commenting directly to Obama (as Lehrer asked them to do) I thought was a slight. An interesting addendum, CNN just pointed out, when the two men walked on stage and shook hands, McCain barely gave Obama a glance there, quickly turning to the crowd. Does he not like looking at Obama?

The debate itself was interesting, and brought out more then a few thoughts about both candidates. Interesting statements included. McCain kept saying how Obama doesn’t understand, and Obama kept saying, “When I’m president…”. It makes me laugh a bit, because while they were discussion whether they’d meet with certain foreign leaders, McCain commented that he isn’t going to setup a visitors schedule for the White House yet, and yet he’s the person who says as President he’s ready to hit the ground running. He “doesn’t need any on-the-job training.” Are you telling me that the job of President of the United State of America is a straight forward job, that requires no more information then you have picked up as a POW and a senator? He says he’s ready to go on day one, and yet I feel like its Obama who feels confident in the job.

Both sides got their jabs in. But again, I really think Obama did better. Neither side really answered when they were asked if they’d support the bailout bill as is (fairly obviously, I think, why tie down their responses?) but Obama did do better in the beginning of the debate. McCain started out shaky, and improved as time went on. Obama was cool and confident through the whole thing. For someone with little foreign policy experience, Obama kept saying what he’d do, and McCain just seemed to show his age by talking about the past. He spoke about the bracelet he got from the mother of a KIA soldier, and how the mother didn’t want her son to have died in vain, which McCain translated as winning the war. Obama came back quickly by responding decisively: “Jim, let me just make a point. I’ve got a bracelet, too…”; Obama’s bracelet was received by a mother who didn’t want any other mother to go through what she went through. Sorry McCain, but just because you got a bracelet and one viewpoint doesn’t mean that’s justification for your ideology. Obama got more jabs in by coming back at McCain’s observance that Obama agreed the surge was working. I will admit, Obama should openly admit the surge has worked. Not the surge as in troop numbers, but the strategy behind the surge. It has done what it meant to accomplish. Obama responded by stating that McCain seems to think the war started in 2007 (the surge), when really, it started 4 years prior. But if the surge worked seems moot to me. Its as if you have an infected leg then pass out, and someone else has the choice of disinfecting it and cleaning the leg, cutting the dead tissue, leading to a longer, possibly more difficult recovery, but keeping the leg, or the choice of cutting off the leg, swift response that will lead to more precarious situations later on. If the person chooses to cut off your leg and you recover, I’m sure you’ll agree you recovered, but that doesn’t mean you think its the right choice.

One thing that really hit home with me was the question about if either candidate would sit down with the Iranian leaders. McCain’s stance was a stout no, that the President meeting with Iranian leaders would be paramount to justifying their actions. Obama said he would meet without precondition. Now Obama did screw up here a bit, switching his wording around between the President directly, and underlings then the President, and I’m not sure if he meant it the first time or if he wanted to correct himself to look better. But what I do know is Obama claimed that McCain may not even meet with the Prime Minster of Spain because they may not be aligned with us, and McCain had nothing to say about that. Whether it was because it wasn’t true or because it was, that’s a loss for McCain. The idea of speaking to someone with preconditions immediately means you think you are better then they are. If you want to lead the country, and the world, I believe you have to be willing to place yourself at their level. Or them at yours. Talking to someone does not mean you are vindicating their actions. It could quite well mean you want them to stop.

Overall, I think this debate hurt for McCain. He just came from a fiasco over the economic policy in DC (his suspension, threatening to not attend the debate, an early declaration of victory before even attending?), and was nearly even with Obama in the polls, with a slight lead. Foreign policy was his home term, his experience should have won him out. But instead, I think he was flustered through the event, didn’t show Obama the decency of speaking directly to him, put on a smug, “I’m better then you” attitude, and in the end lost the debate. From my viewpoint, he was acting like the adult speaking to the youthful counterpart, always saying, well you don’t understand, you don’t know, you aren’t ready. And even if he did just as well, tied for all intents and purposes, it was a loss for him. He needed a win to pick up and show the people of this country that his actions over the last few days weren’t him playing politics, but seriously working. He needed to wow the nation.

And instead, the news analysis after the show showed that more people were impressed with Obama then McCain. According to a CNN poll, 51% of people polled by telephone thought Obama did better on Friday, while 38% thought McCain did better. This poll was biased, with 41% of the respondents identifying themselves as Democrats, 27% as Republicans and 30% as independents. But even Fox News, a definitely Right news group, had a poll of 30 independents. Seventeen sided with Obama, and ten with McCain. The newscaster then had the audacity to say, “Were they watching the same debate we were?” I agree that left and right news groups spin media for their view points, but that was ridiculous. While CNN had a panel of nearly 10 evenly split between Republican analysts and Democratic analysts, Fox News was shooting down the idea that Obama did better. And in my opinion, he did.

If anyone out there is Republican and thinks McCain did better, please comment and tell me where. I’ve said it before: if I’m placed in a party, I’d be a Democrat, so my views probably hid some of what McCain said, so enlighten me.

Cracked Software, the 2008 Speakeasy?

Friday, September 26th, 2008

If only software pirates were really pirates. Think about it. How cool would it be if we could pull out cyberswords, swing on a digital rope to a passing software merchant software ship, loot the hold filled with previous DVD gems and golden movies? Then escape with the winds of T1 at your back and share a digiale back at the coding tavern.

Software pirates are thieves. I won’t deny it. Companies produce software to make profit, and software pirates are stealing profit. I’m not trying to justify stealing. I do mock the fact that they’re called pirates; I think its silly. But in a way, its also sort of accurate. The twentieth century had its shares of people standing up for change. The 1920′s had the Speakeasies. The 1960′s had Hippies. The 1990′s and beyond have Webosos.

The Internet is part of new generation of people, Millennials as we have been dubbed. I’ve heard of kids who are still in single digit years who apparently know more about computers then I do. When I say Webosos, I’m not talking about Millennials, surrounded by technology, electronics, robotics, and a invention market where stuff is outdated as soon as you take it home from the store. I’m talking about bloggers, web developers, and wikipediaites. People who believe that information is not for a privileged few, and that information should not be controlled. Not everyone wants everything available, but more often then not, Webosos believe in a new level of freedom. Critics have referred to the Internet as Pandora’s Box, opened releasing who knows what into the world. Webosos think of it as the Apple of Knowledge, and that everyone should be allowed a bite.

Recent discussions with my dad and other people from older generations have shown me the difference in values. My dad sees information to be coveted and valued. I see information as no one’s property. I’m not saying there’s no room for profit and industry when it comes to information, but information is something everyone has the right to.

The recent rise in infamy of software piracy comes from the unforgettable release of Spore. One of the most anticipated games of the year, with players waiting for over a year. It was supposed to be revolutionary, in game play and genre. It was also given the most hated of piracy prevention methods in a long time: an antiquated DRM (Digital Rights Management). The original Spore DRM was something out of a horror book, requiring activation every ten days through the Internet. The original outrage forced Electronic Arts to scale back, and instead created a DRM that is essentially a rental system: a total of 3 activations. Once three activations has expired, an owner must call up EA Technical Support (renown for terrible service), and convince them that they are in fact a legitimate owner and deserve another activation. This all supplements the fact that DRMs are well known for causing problems on computers. DRMs install without permission, track information on computers on which they are installed, and are extremely difficult to eliminate. Someone remind me, how do we define spyware?

To me, the most amusing part of all this is the Spore DRM was supposed to be unbeatable, uncrackable, and the best deterrent for all software pirates. Yet Spore was released online, cracked, days before it was even available to paying customers. It also quickly became one of the most downloaded games online, and received over 2,500 one star reviews on Amazon. The unbeatable Spore DRM was decimated. And all because of the mentality of the new generation.

There are software pirates and hackers (not synonymous terms) who do it because they don’t want to pay for anything and feel they are entitled to more. But I’d wager most of them do it for the challenge. Every new security measure on software is deemed to be unbeatable. And software pirates want to prove them wrong. They showcase their talents by proving they can do what others claim can’t be done. Then EA boasted about the best DRM yet, simultaneously creating the worst piracy prevention methods yet, and basically asked top crackers and hackers to find a way to beat it. The combination of something just short of spyware, plus the metaphorical waving of a chunk of meat in the face of the lion led to EAs (not so great) Spore to becoming one of the most popular cracked games of all time.

And so I ask honestly, why do people look down on software pirates and hackers? They’re considered no better then Speakeasy bartenders in the 20′s and Hippies in the 60′s. They’re the corruption of society, and the downfall of mankind. Yet they’re also the first steps in a new generation, a new mindset of humanity. The idea that everyone is equal and that information is not currency to be traded, but is as water, for all to have. They’re not out for fame or for credit; they’re out for equality. Webosos, those of us who don’t have quite the skill, or the gaul, are out there as infantry support; to step up when a corporation has the nerve to consider everyone a thief, because they think it will stop the real thieves. But the real thieves always have a way out, and sometimes its the people at the bottom of the moral ladder that lead to cultural revolutions that reshape how we all see the world.

American Politics… About the Best Man (or Woman)?

Monday, September 22nd, 2008

This is the first time I’ve been engrossed and interested in politics, probably in part because I have a stake in the outcome and in part because political discussion is fun. Like religious discussion is fun. But with everything I hear on the news, read in the paper, and learn from discussions I have with people passionate about politics, I only seem to come to one conclusion: politics in America is no longer about who is the best person to lead the country, if that was ever the reasoning.

I thought politics was about the best candidate trying to prove to the people that they are the best choice to run the country. I always knew there were people on both the left and right who were “groupies” to their side, regardless of the candidate’s strength. But I thought most people were open to reason, and that candidates’ goals were to convince the public that they were the right choice.

Now I watch which candidate convinces the American public that the other candidate is less worthy. Its not about the best man, but the worse. In this election, both candidates are attacking each other. I will openly admit, if I were to be placed into a party, I’d be a Democrat. And while it is mostly because I believe that its government’s job to help those who can’t help themselves, its also because on the whole, while both sides are slinging mud, I tend to notice that Republicans sling a lot. Now, I’m not saying that all Republicans are like that, but for the constant claim that Democrats are elitist, Republicans sure do act high and mighty.

Now, I’m not saying Democrats are without fault. I specifically said that if i were to be placed into a party because in truth, I wouldn’t claim to be a part of an organization who’d drop to revenge tactics. At the same time, I say unfortunately the tactic is needed. Who knows who threw the first drop of mud in this campaign (I’m sure someone does, but I sure don’t), but unfortunately its been shown that negative images stick in peoples’ heads.

And so it’s ended up, there really isn’t an issue of who’s the better candidate anymore. All I can think of about the candidates off the top of my head is that McCain switches sides to meet the current need, and Obama lacks executive experience. Does this tell me who’s the better President? No. But it does tell me who’s worse.

My “Why?”

Friday, September 19th, 2008

No easy answers you say? But 2+2 has a very easy answer you say? 4 huh?

Not a synergy person I see. But regardless, there are basics answers to basic questions, and its always been easy to pose a question, thinking you’ve gotten the best of someone, but its often the hardest thing to come up with an answer that’s satisfactory to more then just you. Then I think about Anekantavada. And I think about how everyone thinks they have the right answer. Even I always seem to. But maybe a little less as of late.

Sunday was the last day of Das Lukshan, the Jain (Digambar) holy days to reflect on the past year, and clear the body, mind, and soul. I’m not really a spiritual person, but I do partake in Das Lukshan. I see a lot of sense in taking some time to reflect on the previous year. Christians have Thanksgiving (how in the world did that become known as a religious holiday? But I digress, that’s a different argument), and Digambar Jains have Das Luckshan.

I like debates. Ask people I interact with and they’ll tell you how often I play devil’s advocate just to get a debate. I also believe debate is essential to a complete decision. But I I have a strong habit of arguing. Not debating, but arguing. I like to be right; who doesn’t? But I start with debates then tend to get into aggressive, adversarial, and it tends to go in the exact opposite direction of where convincing debate should go. This doesn’t happen often; mostly with my dad. And given I’m home all the time now, I’m around my dad all the time, for better or worse.

And so we’re in the middle of Das Lukshan, and one morning I find for some reason, someone’s put a tube of empty toothpaste back into the drawer. I’ve already started brushing my teeth, and I’m thinking, I have to find out which of my parents did this. They’re always on my case to clean up, throw out the trash, etc, yet here is a perfectly worthless tube of toothpaste. I took it out to throw out, forgot, but they still put it back?

Then all of a sudden, something of an epiphany. What would be the point in arguing why they put back the toothpaste? I didn’t throw it out, and whatever their reason, did it matter? It was a tube of toothpaste. And there are bigger issues. We’ve got immigration troubles. My parents have to get my brother through college. Gas prices are through the roof. Countless problems across the world. Does a tube of not-yet-thrown out toothpaste matter that much?

Mind you, my dad is a self-righteous know it all. It doesn’t matter if he has no experience or study in a field, if he’s heard of it, or forbid read a book on it, he’s a master of a subject. Just yesterday I had to prove to him how poll statistics work (that’s an interesting story for another time). But we started with a discussion, and it became an argument. And as we argued, I would say some statements then immediately realize, Holy crap, how full of it am I for saying that? It’s like I just wanted to be right. And that’s where a lot of my arguments did come from. I had to leave the room and calm down a bit, and prove it a bit later (his acceptance of proof is most often simply asserting how that’s what he meant the whole time).

It doesn’t sound like such an epiphany, does it? But really think about it, how often do you make a proverbial mountain out of a toothpaste tube-sized molehill?

And so maybe this Das Lukshan was good for something more then just fasting to appease my parents, and pretending I believe in perfect souls. I thought about it and learned a bit about arguing and I learned arguing isn’t worth it.

Debating helps you see another view point, shed light on the darker regions of an idea. A nice debate, structured or not, even if its just in your own head, helps look for the cracks, and potential filler. And even if you can’t find a filler, you are aware the cracks are there and can work on it. To be effective in a debate, you have to be aware of the opposition, listen to the opposition, and use the opposition’s arguments against them. You have to understand someone to actually convince them of something they don’t currently believe in.

Arguing helps raise some blood pressure, and really blocks you from seeing another view point. In an argument, you get so absorbed in making sure you’re right, that it doesn’t matter what the other person says. Think about it. When you’re arguing, somehow even the other person’s statements are proof to your viewpoint. It becomes so easy to bend everything they say to prove your point, through your own eyes. But normally what you’re saying is gibberish.

And that’s really what pushed me to start this blog. There are so many ideas out there, so many topics, and everyone seems to have the answer. It seems so simple. The answer seems so easy. But looking at what you believe to be the truth is what’s truely easy. The hard part is getting past that self-centered notion, considering the oppositions viewpoint as potentially possible, even if you know its not. And I’m fortunate: thats the environment I was raised in, even if thats not what my parents intended on doing. In fact, I’m pretty sure they didn’t see it coming. In all situations, I can’t help but think, What does the other guy think about this?