Sunday, June 28, 2009

OMG, Twitter is Useful

Although I still haven't "got a Twitter", and have no plans for "tweeting" in the very near future, I have come to the conclusion that the entire enterprise is not an utter waste of time. I remain sensitive to the prospect that serial texting isn't necessarily the best thing that has ever happened to literacy, or socialization, or motor safety, but the evidence to date pulls in both directions, and often defies intuition.

What's obvious is that there's no amount of language policing or Luddism that can hold back the tide of communicators going about communicating their various communications however they damned well please to communicate them. One of the reasons for the "micro-blogging" portal's seeming overnight success is the very immediacy of it. Giants like Google that were able to organize the pandemonium of such widely dispersed web content that fills the intertubes into easily referenced chunks did so by extracting relevance from search patterns that take at least some appreciable time to develop. Twitter, with its constant flow of real-time updates on all matters large and small, has managed to become as much of "the pulse of the internet" as we've yet seen.

Forget Ashton Kutcher and Demi Moore. (Seriously, try.) Never mind the ceaseless waves of narcissism that crash upon the weathered beach of basic human dignity daily. The purest expression of Twitter's potential as a medium in its own right with any redeeming value must be when the State Department prevailed on the San Francisco-based social networking site to delay a scheduled update that would have thrown a wet blanket on thousands of brave Iranian protestors just as their arsenal of cell phone cameras and texting pads were landing some blows on the hirsute chins of the Islamic Republic's ruling elite.

It's a perfect demonstration of the futility any fascist regime must face when matching 20th Century tecniques for suppression against more nimble 21st century technology. Worse still, for an outfit dedicated to the prospect of arresting or even reversing cultural evolution in a landscape so fecund for just that. Clearly, this generation of young Persians won't be flinging themselves into Iraqi landmines.

The Reason I Didn't Vote

My state has just completed its first-ever gubernatorial primary for a Democrat to become Virginia's highest elected official. Republicans, committed to breaking a string of electoral defeats that have seen popular, progressive figures occupying the governor's mansion and other high offices in this traditionally conservative state, united early behind former state Attorney General Bob McDonnell. So there was no Republican primary.

But this is not the reason that I didn't vote.

Terry McAuliffe (right) as Dracula. Fail.

The reason for my not voting had nothing at all to do with a lack of enthusiasm for the process, or any candidate. I was full of enthusiasm last year, to the point of knocking on doors and making phone calls in support of one particular candidate, who nonetheless was able to win without my support at the ballot box.

To explain what kept me from the polls will require a little backstory, and a suspension of the general rule that I don't drag my personal life onto this page.

About ten years ago, a man from Tennessee named John McGaha came across a well-expired learner's permit, featuring a photo of Yours Truly at age fifteen. McGaha, who was a heroin addict in his twenties, tried using it to pass a bad check at Safeway. This landed him in the county jail. But there was a silver lining. While even the lowly grocer was able to spot a bogus ID when he saw one, the genius booking officer on duty that day took it for granted and processed the grizzled McGaha based on my very clean criminal record. A trial was conducted, guilty plea entered, and a short sentence served.

They only held him for three months, and he wasted no time on being released to head for hippie meccas like Eugene, Oregon and San Francisco's Haight-Ashbury District. I know this because these are two more places where he was able to duck charges by placing my good name into the line of fire.

There would be others. Thanks to the tireless efforts of my doppelganger, and the tiresome prevarications of a pitiless and wholly inert bureaucracy, I now have a rap sheet a mile long. It should only shrink, considering that he is no longer active. Whatsoever. The leech died a rapturous death at the end of a needle inside of two years from striking gold with his handy little get-out-of-jail-free card. But there is nothing free in this life. Someone, somewhere, must pay. The County of Henrico has made it very clear that it will not be them.

And there is a cost. Some of it can be measured in dollars. Some of it, loosely, in diminished career opportunities, and time lost that can never be recovered. This is not to mention the general existential problem that the very essence of my moral identity has been forever comprimised---as far as posterity is concerned---outside of a vanishingly small number of people familiar with the details. Being able to publish this account may help in some small measure, though you are obliged to take my word for it.

Now, I've had a good decade to reconcile myself with the fact that none of this is likely to change, ever. Of course there are many possible futures, even ones in which the precise set of conditions are met to make up the difference and compensate for these losses. It could happen. I am hopeful. But at the end of the day, I find it necessary to prepare for the possibility that nothing will improve. Experience has taught me that there's no special reason to believe otherwise.

However. One area into which this fatalism does not extend is that of my civil rights. Here is at least one protection under the law that (you'd think) authorities have no choice but to honor.

But I tell you it don't come easy. A special injuction was required, for instance, in order to restore my voting privileges in the 2000 election, allowing me to vote for George Bush. You're welcome. The same privilege was upheld four years later when I voted in Fort Myers, Florida without incident. Not until Virginia came into play last year as somewhat of a battleground state in its own right did I experience any trouble. It was at this time that several key interest groups, vying for every advantage, placed intense pressure upon the state registrar to comb through the voting rolls with the aim of bringing them up-to-date.

Setting aside the likely ulterior political motives of those involved, the ostensible reason was making sure that any warm bodies which might be bothered to exercise their civic duty wouldn't be unnecessarily disenfranchised come Election Day. Although Virginia's constitution makes it one of only two states that indefinitely bar convicted felons from the vote, there is a process for offenders to get permission from the governor's office to have their rights reinstated. Step one of working within existing state law to empower as many of these individuals as possible was to find out who has been convicted of a felony. To do this, the commonwealth consulted not just the traditional State Police record, but also Federal District Court databases---in which case I was fucked.

So in the effort to extend the vote to as many Virginians as possible, I lost the right. I believe this meets the technical definition of irony.

More on this to come.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Break Out the Waterboard

A Christian terrorist says that he has personal knowledge of terrorist plots being planned around the country, but he's not giving details.

Would Torture, Inc be inclined to extend their enhanced interrogation techniques to a guy who targets an American citizen because abortions make baby Jesus cry?

Just asking.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Ich Bin Ein Camel Jockey

Our president, Mr. Barack Hussein Obama, has made his most impassioned plea yet to the broader Muslim world with a landmark speech in Cairo yesterday, urging open dialogue about the relationship between the West, its allies, and the interests of the entire global community, Muslim and non-Muslim alike. Moderate supporters of the Israeli state will find comfort in the president's evocation of an "unbreakable" bond between the United States and the Jewish homeland. At the same time, Mr. Obama takes pains to affirm his opposition to continued settlements in Palestinian territory, which according to his formulation make a peaceful resolution to the Arab/Israeli conflict all the more remote.

The president's words resonate with Arab audiences but also rise beyond the level of mere rhetoric as the administration has openly signaled that US aid to Israel may be conditioned upon settlement reform. The new Israeli government is left to whine that the previous American administration had made off-the-record assurances to the effect that making swiss cheese out of occupied territories would remain kosher for the foreseeable future. But the Zionist dream of "Greater Israel" has been repudiated by a new president who appears unwilling to allow religious zealots on either side to dictate the terms of the peace process.

None of which, of course, is enough for grief merchants, autocrats, and holy warriors of all stripes whose stock and trade relies almost exclusively on redirecting the shame and humiliation of being history's bitch onto external boogeymen like the United States and Israel. Media mouthpieces in the region had already sounded loud, advanced warnings not to be taken in by the charms of a charismatic, new world leader who at least doesn't look like the sort of guy to start passing out Bible tracts or making arrangements to have Pat Robertson rape your daughter with a crucifix.

Turkish protestor and remarkably sophisticated signage.

Back home, a blathering contingent just as endangered and paranoid was caterwauling about the shrewd leverage of his Muslim roots to appeal to a prideful, wounded, yet crucial demographic. According to these morons, anything approaching a conciliatory gesture is just further proof that Obama is a big, dumb pussy who probably beats off to pictures of Khalid Shiek Mohammed. But this is a group that will be satisfied by nothing less than bombing the sand niggers into oblivion.

The epic struggle in which we find ourselves with millions upon millions of disaffected and radicalized Muslims cannot be won by force of arms alone, though it can be lost on solely communicative grounds. The president's unique personal profile and oratorical brilliance are two of the chief reasons for my early support of his candidacy, which predates his actual run. It's the same powerful possibility that led Al Qaida's top leiutenant to release an awkward statement shortly after Mr. Obama's historic victory in which he accused the press corps of "deliberately confusing" his message by getting in the tank for a black guy with some semblance of a Muslim background.

There is no man alive as capable to do what this president is and must be doing. As the emo kid said to his girlfriend as they gobbled a handful of ecstasy pills: Let's roll.