2.02.2008

Super Tuesday Drinking Game

So while helping my roommate get rid of his beer supply on Thursday, we came up with this game for the whole family to enjoy while watching Super Tuesday coverage. Enjoy.


Right-click on the picture and save it, then you can print it out and share it with all your friends!




(note: GERMS is the Georgetown EMS. Substitute your local emergency medical services in the event that Ron Paul wins a state.)

8.11.2007

The Case for Compulsory Voting

I don't have many opinions. Well, I should rephrase. I don't hold many convictions. I'm perfectly happy to have arguments about almost anything long into the night, but there are few occasions when I can claim to be absolutely bent in one direction or another. By conviction, I mean that I am right, and you are wrong.


This is one of those occasions.

Specifically, I'm referring to a fundemental pillar of our (or any) democratic system: the ability for the masses to directly or indirectly select those who govern them, generally known as voting. However, voting in a democratic system extends beyond merely the right to vote. Calling it a "right" to vote is too narrow of an interpretation. On the one hand, voting is a democratic right because one is entitled to do so, but the concept of entitlement arose because democracies were themselves spawned from governments where such a right did NOT exist. In other words, democracies have arisen as a critique of the relationship between the government and the governed, specifically what obligations the government has toward the governed. Largely ignored is the other half of the social contract: what obligations the governed have toward the government. Mostly, when people think of obligations toward the government, taxes exclusively spring to mind. But voting is just as critical as tax dollars, if not more so: without tax dollars, government cannot function; without votes, there is no government to function. Though one could question our duty to pay taxes, it is unquestionably our duty as participants of a democratic process to actually participate in the process. Whether there are 10 people in the process or 10 million is immaterial; voting is an integral part of a democratic social contract, and failing to fulfill that contract is as morally dubious as a government sleeping on the job, so to speak.


So, fine. Voting is a moral duty in a democracy, and it is something we ought to do, for the sake of maintaining the system. Is that enough to mandate it by law? In short, yes. Laws are made on far less justification than that. More importantly, compulsory voting effectively eliminates the significant number of shady 'Get Out The Vote'-type organizations, as well as neutralizing the effect of manipulating voter turnout via referendums on 'hot button' issues (See: 2004 gay marriage/civil union referendums). Elections will cease being battles to bus, distract, and bully voters into the voting booth, and instead (ideally) will move to persuading the American public. A better way to analyze this, I think, is to look at three likely objections to this idea and address them in turn.


Objection #1: Some people cannot make time to vote
This one's pretty simple. Make Election Day a national holiday. Give people the day off. Really this is something that should be done anyway, along with standardizing election procedures across the country. The election process is currently a disaster (See this map for a small illustration), but that is a matter for another post. But standardizing Election Day as a holiday would help consolidate voting to just that day. And for the sake of argument, compulsory voting should start just for major national elections. Say, presidential, gubernatorial, and U.S. Congress.


Objection #2: People should be allowed to not vote if they do not prefer either candidate
This could maybe be accepted as a legitimate argument if that was the overwhelming reason for people not voting, rather than just apathy or plain laziness. Smarmy remarks on the voting public's condition aside, it seems important for voters to express that they find all of the candidates truly distasteful. However, this can merely be solved by adding a "None of the Above" or similarly worded option on every ballot. This solves the important differentiation between universal dislike and simple laziness, and clarifies the political statement one hopes to make by rejecting all candidates. If everyone who normally wouldn't show up votes "None of the Above"--about 100 million or so potential voters stayed home in 2004--it would send a more powerful message that politicians are not engaging the American people (Bush and Kerry each got about 50 million votes, give or take). In the current system people may not vote. But we have already shown why people ought vote. This is an additional step to ensure that compulsory voting does not reduce political options.


Objection #3: Compulsory voting will enable America's "idiotic masses" to vote for a candidate for "stupid reasons" such as hair color, height, personality, instead of "policy reasons".
On face, this is basically an ad hominem attack, and it is the most popular objection from the post-Watergate generation. There are two false assumptions that this objection makes. First is that there are 100+ million simple-minded morons who don't vote because they are too busy drooling on their couches to get up and go to the voting booth. Honestly, this is pretty mean-spirited, but on a more basic level it implies that everyone voting now is voting 'intelligently', a concept which I'll get to soon. Likely the stupidity demographics are similar between voters and non-voters. Second, it assumes that there are 'right' and 'wrong' reasons to vote for a candidate. Often personality and character judgements are erroneously labeled as 'wrong' reasons or 'worse' reasons for voting for a candidate, as opposed to something such as economic policy. In reality, it is impossible to make that distinction. If the fairly accepted practice of dramatic policy changes between campaign promises and actual policy implementation continues, it could concievably be argued that character is the only reliable voting metric. Even beyond that, voting on policy is still making the subjective judgement that Policy X is going to be more beneficial for the country--or just as likely, for the voter--than Policy Y. This judgement could be just as 'wrong' as a character judgement. Arguing that some people will have different and therefore incorrect criteria for judging candidates is not sufficient reason against legislating compulsory voting.

It is no secret that the American political system is imperfect. Compulsory voting is not a panacea. But it is (I believe) a needed improvement over what we have now. I feel quite strongly about it, though I have difficulty believing it will ever see reality, because it flies in the face of political inertia. And "if we don't have to do it...why bother?" Think it over. Myself, I'm tired of the song and dance every election to dazzle me into voting. I am, however, ready to argue the point. Hit me with it.

7.25.2007

Outsourcing Sheep

I can’t sleep. Again.

Approaching the problem logically, this doesn’t make any sense. I’m not under a great deal of stress. I lack a relationship to have issues with. I haven’t burned a village, forgotten to feed my fish, or committed any other moral wrongs that might hold me from enjoying a good night’s rest. My neighbors no longer fuck noisily at all hours of the night---and morning too, now that I think about it. She was a screamer. Anyway, the point is that I am free of outside distractions. But still I don’t sleep.

Well, I should clarify: I sleep fine. Better than fine, most nights I sleep like I’ve been put under, and it takes a minor Act of God to wake me. It’s getting to sleep that is the troublesome part.

Insomnia is a funny thing.

I can be tired until the moment that I lay prone in bed. Minor sensations become major events. Or maybe my ankle. A small itch is suddenly cause for concern. My sheets are suddenly uncomfortable; stretched too tight, bunched too loose. It’s too hot here, it’s too cold there. I try to clear my mind, thinking ‘sleep’ over and over. The day’s events drift forward for review, my mind haphazardly making any associations that it can. Regrets, hopes, people, crude jokes. Anything is fair game this late at night. I turn once, twice. Adjust my pillow. Maybe punch the pillow in frustration a few times. Eventually, my exhaustion vanishes. Nothing left to do but get up again. Meanwhile that stupid clock keeps ticking. If it were possible, I'd say it was mocking me.

I've tried counting sheep. Boring myself to sleep doesn't work. So, the question I then pose is: How do you get to sleep at night?

6.13.2007

Sins of an Electronic Empire

Destino is an animated short that was created by the Walt Disney Company in collaboration with Spanish painter Salvador Dali. It is a mostly wordless 6-minute film that follows a dancer as she wanders through Dali's paintings. The project was revived and completed in 2003 after being put on hiatus for more than 50 years due to the Disney Company's WWII-era financial woes. It premiered in 2003 at the Annecy International Film Festival, was nominated for an Academy Award, and promptly vanished into thin air. It is not available on any video format, nor it is available online. As of now, there are no plans to make the short available, which is really a shame. Two of the greatest artistic minds of their generation, and the collaborative result is stashed away in a vault, so to speak. These are the kind of movies that you hope something like the Internet would make available. I'd gladly pay a few bucks to buy this. But that seems highly unlikely now.
If such a work became available through say, download on a peer-to-peer (P2P) site, but still wasn't available via any legitimate distribution, and would never be released as such, what then does downloading it entail? In other words, the moral (and legal) argument against pirating music and movies is that you are obtaining a product without appropriately compensating its creator or owner. This argument has undeniable merit, so long as appropriate avenues of compensation exist. There isn't really a solid argument for downloading the new album by Linkin Park or something when I could have just bought it, other than the fact that it's free, but that isn't so much a moral argument. But, let's say there is an album that is no longer available in stores, and only 10,000 copies were pressed when it was released in 1950, of which 8,000 got mailed to an incinerator by accident. The only way I could theoretically obtain this album is by throwing down an obscene amount of cash in the direction of a shady ebay seller. But in this scenario, the amount of compensation to the owner is the same as if I downloaded the movie: zero. So if we're making a value judgment, the damage done by each action in this scenario is more or less equal.
What about music and movies that are available by some legitimate means? Besides buying a movie from a store who bought it directly from the distributor (in other words, a revenue stream from consumer to artist. More or less.), I could also buy it used, or new from my friend down the street. Or off of ebay, or any one of innumerable methods. But, technically, any of those latter methods still offers the same amount of compensation to the artist as in the first scenario: zero. So if we're still making the judgment based on who's fairly getting compensated, it has to still weigh the same, right? But there's another facet here. Someone who downloads an album still might not pay for it if downloading wasn't an option. They might just choose not to buy it. However, someone who's buying that same album off ebay IS clearly willing and able to purchase the album, but the artist is still not being compensated due to the means of purchase by the consumer. So in both cases we have the artist not getting compensated for his/her work (because it is their work, after all), but on the one hand potentially no compensation is gained from eliminating downloading, and on the other fair compensation for artists would be increased by eliminating resellers. What kind of value judgment should we make there? And I wonder, should the RIAA be suing resellers instead?

4.10.2007

Instead of going to bed early, I decided to change my roommate's boot screen from the default (the one that says "Windows XP" when you start up) to one that says "My hand smells like poo" in big, garish font.

That seems to me like the very definition of 'mature use of time'. That's what I get for not having class tomorrow.

Mix tomorrow, in other news.

And press run (oh no!)

4.09.2007

Sound bites for the MTV generation

Fact:
I should be asleep right now.

Opinion:
I could use another day of break.

Reason for fretting:
A New Brain (the show I'm producing) opens Thursday

Open threat/plea:
If you are in the area, you have no choice but to come see the show.

Cheap plug:
Tickets are available at http://performingarts.georgetown.edu/BOXOFFICE/maskandbauble.htm#brain

Questionable forecast:
A full blog post (and another mix, or two, or three) will be here shortly.

Sign off:
Goodnight moon. Goodnight bowl of mush.

3.18.2007

Signs of premature aging

A few weeks ago, I noticed a small white hair on the top of my head. Thinking nothing of it, I pulled it out. Over break, I noticed another one, and pulled it out again. Now, I've got at least half a dozen, and I've given up trying to pull them out. A high school English class would no doubt describe that as a sign of 'succumbing to stress', but in reality that couldn't be farther from the truth. I mean, there's lots of stuff going on, but I'm not on the verge of freaking out. Life is actually pretty good right now. Allow me to elaborate:

I might have the best class schedule ever conceived. All of my classes are concentrated on Monday and Wednesday, with the exception of a discussion section on Thursday afternoon. So since I've been back, I've had 3 stretches of a week or more where I've had no class. Which is kind of cool, but I like being able to have Tuesdays and Fridays available to do things like schedule 3 meetings for my show, or having a language partner, which is tentatively going well. I'm paired with an awkward Chinese physics grad student, who has been in the country for all of 8 months. I feel only slightly bad saying that he fulfills almost every nerdy Asian stereotype you could imagine. But he's a good guy, and it helps my Chinese, so hopefully I won't fail my proficiency exam later this month (assuming of course the Chinese department tells me when this exam is actually going to occur), which is a source of minor worry. In any case, I enjoy having time to breathe during the week. I gladly exchange it the occasional nights of work freakouts.

I'm going to spend the summer in D.C., living on the Georgetown Housing Department's dime, as well as finding another job. The only problem is that it kind of limits my vacation time. So Goal #2 for the summer is to find small (less than a week) excursions to go on. Goal #1 being to find a job. But not having class will be completely awesome. DC - Class = Everlasting fun.

Finally, what's really been taking up most my time is the play I'm producing. A musical, to be specific (even though I have the musical skill of a paralyzed turtle). On paper, producing consists of hiring people, managing a budget, scheduling stuff, and being a general overseer. In practice, it really consists of sending out lots of e-mails, making overriding decisions, and preventing everyone else's nerve endings from fraying. Essentially, I have to know when to push/bother people and when to calm them. It's an interesting balance, and if anything a study in how people react to pressure. I guess I should plug the show. It's titled A New Brain, by William Finn, and it goes up in Poulton Hall from April 12-20. Get tickets at http://performingarts.georgetown.edu.

Producing has generally been pretty enjoyable, but I'm still ambivalent if I want to do it again next year, when I'm not sure about making such a huge time commitment to this little shin dig. That decision is really hard to make when I'm right at the peak of a show's craziness, but the goal is to think on it this weekend and make a decision. So that's really been my life in a nutshell.


In miscellany, I've got a side project trying to redesign the logo for the radio station on campus. Back when I was web director, I was essentially art director as well, and the concept I came up with was a red-on-white scheme that focused around this logo:



The webpage was based on a red and white scheme of icons similar to the one above, kind of a "Peace-Love-Radio" sort of thing.. It's kind of a simplified guy on headphones, and I like it because it's simplistic and can easily be adapted by just focusing on the arcs, like for the banner that we had printed:



But when I quit my position under a mountain of incompetence and a readjusting of priorities toward theatre, they reverted the webpage to a bloggy format, and unfortunately also abandoned all the art design too. So now they're left with a logo that looks like crap, or at least ready for an upgrade.

My first runthrough is kind of a more obnoxious layout from a white on black color scheme.


Because our call sign is kind of...non-existent...emphasis of the website is crucial. So that's something to play with in my spare time.

I've also completely killed word games. Between Scrabble and Text Twist (hi score: 98,340), it is a complete and total addiction. More on that in the next post. Which hopefully will be sooner than 3 months from now. And I'll also talk about music. Yay music.

Questions to leave you with: A song to dance to? To study by?

12.21.2006

[Music] Scribble

So I'm back from China, which is cool. More on that later. For now I wanted to turn my attention to music, to which I listen to way too much of, but don't talk about that much. Ripping off a friend, I'm going to post a quasi-"best of 2006", but this time only covering non-rock. This doesn't necessarily represent my favorite songs or albums of the year, but I feel like this mix picks up a lot of the highlights in what is a pretty wide category. This might also prompt me to post random mixes of stuff I like at later points. Without further ado, here is the obligatory cover art and tracklist, followed by a download link.





1. J Dilla - Lightworks
2. Clipse ft. Bilal - Nightmares
3. Herbert ft. Roisin Murphy - Movie Star
4. Lupe Fiasco ft. Jonah Montranga - The Instrumental
5. K-Os - flyPaper
6. dj BC - Boxing Fats Domino
7. UNK ft. Outkast & Jim Jones - Walk It Out (Remix)
8. Ratatat - Lex
9. Saigon - 2 Hour Banger
10. Killer Life - That's Life
11. Rhymefest ft. O.D.B. - Build Me Up
12. Soil and Pimp Sessions - Satsuriku New Wave
13. Basement Jaxx - Take Me Back To Your House
14. Nelly Furtado ft. Lil Wayne - Maneater (Remix)
15. Justin Timberlake ft. T.I. - My Love

Download

That's all I got. More to come now that I'm in the developed world.

10.19.2006

[Life] Must be something in the air

The more time I spend in China, the more I am convinced that the most noticeable difference here is the smell. I haven't spent too much time in a lot of American cities, but my impression is that for the most part, places that I've been are pretty smell neutral for the most part. I'm not really sure of a better way to describe it. In Harbin, on the other hand, I can hardly walk to class without my nose being put to the test. That is not to say that Harbin reeks of dead animal all the time, but when I'm outside, I can't help but be subjected to smells of dust, soot, gasoline, compost, or whatever else happens to be around. None of it is particularly different from smells one would experience in the States, but for some reason I find it more noticeable or more prevalent here.

You never really give much pause toward the environment, I think, until you live in or visit a place that is significantly more polluted than where you live. I can (and do) rag on Cary every chance I get, but really it's pretty clean. Even Georgetown/DC could be a lot worse in terms of pollution. It's only autumn in Harbin, but the relationship between Chinese society and its waste is striking. I get the sense that the Chinese know they have a problem (as evidenced by maybe one in five people I see walking around with their noses and mouths covered), but they can't do anything about it. I can see the compost from the cafeterias unloaded from the compost tanks next to the building every day at 1:00. It's ladeled from the tank into oil drums, and then the drums are carted away to parts unknown in a pickup truck. Smoking is completely ubiquitous, as is spitting. My one-on-one teacher told me that in the winter, due to the massive coal use, you can see the snowfall on the ground get blacker and blacker. I find this fascinating in a macabre sort of way, and I'll definitely get pictures when that rolls around. The temperature is fast dropping, so I imagine in November we'll get some snow.

I feel like I've finally settled in, but I'm still in disbelief at 1) how fast the semester has gone by and 2) how much I miss being at Georgetown. I also miss english books. I only brought Catch-22 with me, and I'm kind of itching to find a copy of Only Revolutions by Mark Z. Danielewski, but I'm not really holding my breath at being able to. Luckily I've been able to feed my appetite for music here, but I'll save that commentary for a year-end retrospective.

I've also been trying to write a little bit more when I have the free time, just to kind of exercise my brain. Nothing groundbreaking, just anything creative. I think I finished a short story yesterday, but I'm not really sure what to do it with it, if I want to clutter up this blog with writings, or if I'll just make a new blog for it. We'll see.

In terms of assorted stuff for China, I'm in the second day of midterms. On Friday I leave for a week to go to Kunming, a city in the south of China. I'll be unwired for the week, but it should replenish my stock of nutty stories. Also, in November we're going to camp on the Great Wall for a weekend. Which should be insane. And cold. Really, really cold.

And that about sums it up. See you next week (or tonight, if I get bored)

10.18.2006

[Rant] I want to talk about politics

So if that isn't your bag, wait for the next post, which should be coming soon. By the way, I've opened up the commenting so that anyone can comment, not just people registered on blogspot. Not that anyone really reads this.

The midterm elections are coming up in a couple weeks. I'm half a world away, and to be honest I haven't been following things too closely. I still think the Democrats are going to find a way to blow it and not gain control of either side of Capitol Hill (the House has been locked down via gerrymandering, and I just don't see them taking the Senate), but that isn't what this post is about.

I want to talk about campaign finance. Money is the engine of the political machine in America. And the gears. And the oil. We're just along for the ride. When most people hear the words 'campaign finance', the immediate reaction is usually a groan or a bewildered look, followed by a snide comment about greedy politicians. And why not? The campaign finance law in the U.S. are is as complicated as it is long. And it is very, very, long. It is long and complicated because having Congress draft campaign finance law is a little like having prisoners design their own cells. Congress may not be a bunch of crooks (mostly), but you'd have to be blind to not see the conflict of interest. After all, Washington D.C. has lobbyists by the truckful, who funnel enormous amounts of money to political parties and causes in order to influence the actions of government. For the corporations, unions, trade associations, etc. who make up these lobbies, lobbying is strategically worthwhile, as the pursuit of their extremely focused policy goals are considered unlikely to ruffle large waves of dissent among the disorganized masses. What has ruffled feathers, unsurprisingly, are the waves of corruption scandals that are being revealed, the most prominent name-drop being lobbyist Jack Abramoff. This shouldn't have come as a surprise to anyone: pork has long been part of the political vocabulary as a way to describe (essentially) legalized bribery or corruption.

The question then, is how do we fix it? One step toward a solution is simple, but implausible.

Outlaw all political contributions by non-voting entities.

I think the definitions of most of the terms are pretty clear. Non-voting entities means if this entitity (lobbyist organization, corporation, foriegner) is not able to register to vote within the United States, they are barred from making any sort of contributions (monetary donations, free services, etc etc etc.) to political parties, political candidates, or any organizations that they may own. Oh by the way, that kills anonymous political donating too. Since when are anonymous political donations conducive to transparency? Answer: they aren't.

It's simple, straightforward, and will never, ever get passed. But let's ignore that point for a minute. Let's look at what it could do.

  1. Take the money out of politics
    Okay. It won't completely take the money out. But it will slash the hell out of campaign budgets, hopefully allowing politicans to have platform statements that don't look like lobbyist press releases. The double whammy would be completed by putting a cap on individual political donations (remember, the only ones that would be allowed). Something nice and low, like $10,000 a year. Sure, campaign budgets will be smaller, but if you think that political campaigns are models of efficiency now, you're probably delusional.

  2. Foster genuine political campaigns
    For politicans, ascertaining the wants and needs of an unfocused population is an unquestionably difficult task. But by having to pander to the masses to fuel a campaign, and without a guiding lobbyist influence, one would hope political platforms would evolve to reflect more sincerely the candidate's policy visions. This not only returns more control of the campaign back to the candidate, but one would think that the majority of campaign time would now be spent trying to convince voters about the importance of issues. Also, if the amount of money required to run a campaign diminishes by a factor of 3 or 5, that would increase the amount of people able to run. Who knows, out of that talent pool might emerge better leaders than the ones we have now. It couldn't hurt.

  3. Diffuse political influence
    As trite as this may sound, the point of a democracy (or a republic, whatever) is to put the government at the service of the people. Not one person. People. So campaign finance laws on principle ought to ensure that political influence is not concentrated away from the people. So far they have failed in that respect. Shutting off the valve of undemocratic political influence is the first step in remedying the situation.

This is not meant to address every problem with the American political system, but it is meant to address what I think is the most serious one: money. It is meant to be a starting point from which the current campaign finance tangle can be blown up and start anew. Quite frankly, I have a hard time seeing how anyone can disagree with the basic principle. But I'm sure someone will find a way.


That's all I got. Regularly scheduled incoherency will return later this week. The month has been kind of out of control, so this blog has been neglected. Oops.