I.C.E.

This is why we are not moving to LA:

Neutrality

One of my favorite law school classes this year does not teach any law.  It teaches public speaking.  In it, we give short speeches each week, and in return, receive feedback and advice.  This week, I defended net neutrality.  Overall, I did a decent job, but one problem was that the composition was too dense as a spoken message.  Fortunately, speeches that don’t work when read aloud, often make fine reading material.  So, Here is my take on Net Neutrality:

If you were in China, and googled “Tiananmen square massacre,” what would you find?  Nothing.  The Chinese government regularly screens the Internet, and prevents access to websites that provide objectionable content.  But this will never happen in America, right?  Hopefully not, but recent warning signs suggest that it might.

There is a principle in this country called Network Neutrality.  Net Neutrality dictates that Internet service providers do not discriminate between websites, regardless of source, ownership or content.  Basically, this means that everyone is entitled to an internet connection, and the same quality of connection.

But Net Neutrality is in danger.  Telecom lobbyists have prevented laws to enforce net neutrality, and major ISPs like AT&T and Comcast have indicated that they intend to breech the principle by providing different Internet services to different customers.

Net Neutrality’s critics argue that the government shouldn’t dictate how companies provide their service. This is a valid concern, but the Internet is not just another service: it is an entire communications platform.  Allowing ISPs to control Internet traffic would have serious ramifications to the free market and to free speech.  I will discuss each of these issues in turn.

First, Net Neutrality protects the free market.  One of the telecom industry’s stated goals is to provide a tiered Internet, where better service costs more money.  But if this were the case, small businesses would be pushed out of the Internet market.  Large companies would be able to provide fast, high quality websites, but small businesses that could not afford the best Internet service, could only create slow, uncompetitive sites.  Furthermore, ISPs could stifle competition between large companies.  ISPs could insure that one company’s website, operates faster than a competitor, or even block the competitor altogether.  For example, AT&T could cause iTunes to run slower then their own competing music store.  Without Net Neutrality, the ISPs will have great control over the Internet marketplace.

Second, Net Neutrality protects free speech.  The framers envisioned a marketplace of ideas, where information could flow freely.  The Internet has realized this vision to a greater degree than ever before.  With independent websites, YouTube videos and blogs, individuals are able to participate easily in the public discourse.  However, if ISPs became the gatekeepers to the Internet, they could slow down or block the access of websites they find objectionable, just as China does.  If you don’t think this could happen here, think again.  In 2005, a Canadian telecom giant, Telus, blocked hundreds of websites supporting its union during a labor dispute, and in 2006, AOL blocked all e-mails that mentioned an advocacy group that opposed the company.  Without net neutrality, ISPs have shown that they will suppress speech on the Internet.

Net Neutrality insures that the Internet remains free.  Barack Obama supports Net Neutrality; John McCain does not.

North and South

This weekend, Theresa and I had the great pleasure of participating in one of the South’s finest traditions: the Civil War Reenactment.  Specifically, we took in the sights and sounds of the Battle of Standardsville, which is close to C’ville.  And what a time it was.

It was clear from the outset which side we were meant to cheer for.  All of the public attractions – which included numerous demonstration tents, shops, musical performers, and food venders – were clustered around the massive confederate camp, while the union soldiers were headquartered in a few lonely tents in a grove a trees on the other side of the hill.  We spend a while checking out the displays, surrounded by our fellow patrons, many of whom were dressed for the period.  We even saw a little boy in nineteenth-century garb banging a toy snake on the ground – the event’s own Huckleberry Finn.

But then, with a thundering blast of cannon fire, the battle began.  I must say, even though I have read about historic war tactics in books, it was something else to see those armies simply line up 50 yards apart and shoot at each other.  After each round, a number of the soldiers in line would fall from the ranks, but their comrades would simple tighten the line, and continue the shooting.  This went back and forth for a while, with the armies marching to and fro almost aimlessness, only to stake out a new patch of ground to resume their deadly trading of barrages.  At one point the confederacy marched right up to the union battalion, as if to engage them in hand to hand combat, but the yankees simple stood their ground, and when their opponents were close enough to read their name-badges, simply shot them at point blank range.  Half of the advancing battalion promptly died, and the rest high-tailed it back to camp.

Another highlight was the calvary.  One group of horsemen would charge into another and they would bang their swords against the enemy’s for about 30 seconds before falling back, regrouping, and repeating the process.  Amazingly, this ritual took place right beside the infantry’s own structured killing, but never once did the calvary swerve into the footsoldiers and mow them down while they were calmly reloading their rifles, and never once did the infantry launch a round of bullets into the charging horsemen, who were often only mere feet from their weapons.  But who am I to question the strategies of war.

All and all, it was a great day.  With the crack of the cannons, the pervasive smell of gunpowder, and the bluff blanketed with smoke and dead bodies, I can easily see why the rich families in DC would want to go out and picnic on a hill overlooking the actual civil war battlefields.  The war certainly makes for spirited dining entertainment.  When we returned home, we joined some friends in watching college football, which is not quite as barbarous, but not for lack of trying.

Move over Superman

As anyone who watches local television would know: digital television is in the air.  Because over-the-air television is broadcasting digitally, we get more channels and a much sharper picture.  But the best part of the whole deal is that Theresa and I now receive three separate PBS channels!  This means that there is more opportunities to watch our favorite PBS shows, like Nova, Austin City Limits, and The Secret of the Sexes.  But I have recently discovered the absolute best show of them all: Wordgirl!  It is about a pre-teen superhero who, with the help of her monkey sidekick, Captain Huggyface, battle supervillains with the power of her vocabulary.  It may be aimed at children, but trust me – it’s hilarious.  Or better yet, don’t trust me – see for yourselves:

Day II: Memphis, TN

At long last, I am pleased to bring you part two of Daniel Harker, Pete and my adventures in Mexico.  (Maybe we’ll actually get to Mexico in this segment.)  If you haven’t read part one, check it out here.  And stay tuned for the continuing saga. 

As relaxing as you may think it is to nap on a narrow airport bench with no bedding and a rolled-up swimsuit for a pillow, my sleep was restless.  For a few hours before our flight, I drifted in and out of consciousness, waking to the sounds of the Great Falls Airport slowly coming to life.  Once, Daniel Harker got up and photographed us attempting to sleep on our benches to insure there is documented evidence to support our future tales temporary vagrancy.  When the hope of any additional rest became too remote to seriously entertain, I sat up and looked around.  The airport had sprung to life, with tens of patrons scurrying like groundhogs under the airport-cougar’s hungry gaze, buying coffee and removing their clothing in front of diligent security officers.  I stretched, re-packed, and, when Daniel Harker and Peter are ready, joined the throng.

Although a more talented storyteller would probably be up for the task, air travel is so incredibly boring that trying to make its description even remotely entertaining is beyond my modest capabilities.  So instead of taxing myself with the challenge of relating our flight in a way that won’t sour your opinion in my humor, I will fast forward a bit.  I assure you that you are not missing anything of any great significance – all three of us survived the journey, nobody was detained as suspected terrorists, and there were no celebrity sightings.

The day did not pass without any incident, however, and I resume the narrative at our layover in Memphis.  Our first order of business was to grab an evening meal that we purchased from a obese black lady who looked so displeased with her job at Wendy’s that I can only assume it was actually some kind of innovative judicial punishment.  The meal itself was unremarkable.

We next made our way to the terminal only to learn that our flight was, contrary to the widely held belief in airline punctuality, delayed.  Upon learning this, there were only two options available to us, and we availed ourselves of both: first we whined, and then we sat down to wait.  After a short time performing the latter, I began watching our fellow passengers, most of whom were busy doing the former.  I quickly realized that, despite Cancun’s supposed popularity among spring-breakers, Daniel Harker, Petey and I were part of a very small minority of passengers under the age of sixty-five, and certainly the only ones below thirty.  This fairly obvious dearth of youth was probably what prompted Bobby Boi to approach us.

Bobby Boi, as any reflection on his name would suggest, is about as sleazy a character as they come.  If you were to call a casting agency and tell them you need a shady used car salesmen, the actor they would send would not be half as sleazy as Bobby Boi.  He had slicked hair and alligator shoes, and wore a white suit with the requisite gold chain peeking out of his unbuttoned collar.  He slithered over to us and asked if we were headed to Cancun that fine evening.  I looked nervously at Daniel Harker; this is exactly the kind of person I’m sure all mothers have in mind when they instruct their children to never talk to strangers.  But Pete was braver than I and proudly answered in the affirmative.

“In that case, my friends, let me introduce myself,” he began, giving us his name. “I’ve got myself a nightclub right in the heart of Cancun called the Coco Bongo, have y’all heard of it?”

“No,” Pete replied, in an unfortunate tone that invited further conversation (although I’m sure Bobby Boi needed no such indication to proceed).  The Coco Bongo, by the way, is taken from the classic motion picture, ‘The Mask,’ which immediately suggests the club’s potential as a classy establishment.

“Well, I’m mighty surprised to hear that ‘cause my club’s the best in all ‘a Cancun.”  The best in all of Cancun?  Oh sure, I thought to myself.  Judging by its owner, I imagined the Coco Bongo to be a run down seventies-themed disco between Uncle Jim’s All-You-Can-Eat Shrimp Shack and a building whose only identifying mark is a neon sign reading “Girls Girls Girls’.  There was absolutely no way that this loser could own the best nightclub in Cancun.

“I’m sure you’d love it – we’ve got a huge show every night, It’s a big hit, you’ll love it, a huge show.” 

He paused to look us over, as if deciding whether we were worthy of hearing a deep secret. 

“Ya know what?  Y’all seem like mighty fine people, ya are.  Yep, it’s been very fine meetin’ ya’ll an’ everythin’, so I’d like to personally invite you to come by the Coco Bongo and check it out yerselves – my treat!”  With that he whipped out a business card and handed it to Petey, who took it less hesitatingly than I would have. 

“Just call that there number on there, and tell’m Bobby Boi sent ya.  They’ll hook you right up – all VIP an’ everythin’!  You’ll love it, I promise.  It’s the best club in all Cancun I tell ya – the best!”  And with that he took off, looking the other passengers over in order to find some other sap to invite to his club.

If that business card had been placed in my hand, it would have found itself promptly relocated to the trash where it would probably feel more at home.  But it was not in my hand, it was in Pete’s.  And for a reason that I cannot fathom, it shortly found itself inside Pete’s pocket.

Airport patrons continued coming and going, clutching fast food hamburgers and talking loudly into their cell phones.  The three of us took turns walking up to the counter for information, trying to maintain our excitement for this trip, which was then over 24 hours and completely devoid of the beaches and ruins we dreamed of back home.  Presently, a couple came over to rest in the seats across from ours.  The man, probably around thirty-five, was well groomed and dressed in kakis and one of those pastel colored button-down shirts that have become so popular among young professionals.  From his demeanor, it was easy to tell that his ego was of a size that would make anyone proud: he definitely thought he was hot stuff.  And so did his female companion, by the looks of it.  Her hands were all over the man, and her eyes gave off that gleam that suggested she would rather have him all too herself, rather than share him with the rest of us stranded passengers.

“Hey,” he said with a Hollywood smile “off to Cancun?”  Why, out of an entire plane-load of delayed passengers did this doofus choose us to converse with?  But he seemed harmless enough, and I figured he may help us pass the time, so we engaged the couple.  With this minimal show of attention, the man, Chuck, takes off.  As if we were college roommates reunited after years of separation, he cheerfully explained his profession – a real estate developer – and more importantly, the wealth it has afforded him.  In fact, he seemed almost desperate to impress upon us that he is quite rich.  At one point during the conversation, he even pulled a hundred-dollar bill out of his overstuffed wallet and claimed that he would be willing to give it to us right then without reservation.  He didn’t actually do it, mind you, but he certainly made it clear that he could have.  

By the time the conversation turned to the events that had led him to the chairs across from ours, I was actually starting to enjoy the company – if only for entertainment purposes.  In turned out, as the man recounted, that not only has he gathered wealth thorough industry, but also through chance, for his present trip to Mexico was to celebrate a recent lottery win, which earned him a few thousand dollars and the girl at his side. You see, the tale of his winning week included an explanation of how he had only met his present companion, Mindy, the day before (a fact he was extremely proud of) and how they had decided to run off for a weekend in Cancun that very morning.  Mindy was obviously a trophy and almost certainly a gold digger, although a slightly desperate one from the looks of it, considering the relatively meager winnings this guy was boasting and the slim chance that he is actually worth the amount he repeatedly insinuated.

Our rather one-sided conversation with Chuck and Mindy was periodically interrupted by their frequent trips to a nearby airport bar.  After each of these intoxicating recesses, the couple resumed their positions across from us to continue the discussion, although in progressively less congenial terms.  In Chuck’s increasingly drunken state, Daniel Harker, Pete and I progressed from good friends to curious onlookers to potentially hostile enemies.    More and more, he treated us with contempt and suspicion, and every so often became unexplainably angry, spitting out threats or other offensive outbursts.  Each time he did, the couple engaged in a slightly disturbing, yet hilarious routine, that went something like this:

Without any apparent cause, Chuck – who, may I remind you, was just over an hour ago offering us $100 – would suddenly become irritated and threaten something like: “What! Are you saying I’m Gay?!  I’ll show you whose gay, you little punk”  (but with a more colorful vocabulary than I care to employ here).  At this point, Mindy (the less intoxicated of the pair) would play the peacemaker and calm Chuck down by whispering something apparently quite erotic into his ear.  The tactic always worked: whatever it was she told Chuck was certainly explicit enough to take his mind off the imagined conflict.  His eyes would light up, his lips would curl into a disturbing smile, and he would say to us tauntingly, “Do you want to know what she said?”

We would vigorously shake our heads no.

“She told me what she is going to do when we get to our hotel. She said…”

“No don’t tell ‘em!” Mindy would interrupt, giggling.

“I’m gonna tell ‘em…”  He would playfully threaten.  The two would go back and forth like this for a while, using the possibility of her secret perversions being revealed to our innocent minds as potential weapons in this curious display of public foreplay.  Luckily, Mindy always prevailed and we were spared the details.  This bizarre ritual repeated itself with surprising consistency three or four times until, to no one’s relief more than ours, the plane began boarding.

Once again, the flight was uneventful.  We landed in Cancun well past midnight, and wearily made our way through the deserted airport to find transportation to the hostel where we had arranged to stay.  We passed Chuck curled up on a bench in a way that suggested his early evening drinking will leave Mindy’s whispered promises unfulfilled, at least for tonight.  We passed Bobby Boi, barking commands into his cell phoned.  And we passed a gang of obnoxious taxi drivers who loudly heckled us for politely declining their services and opting instead to use public transportation (after navigating the public transit in Mexico’s largest city for two years, I considered myself savvy enough for Cancun’s).  Then, after discovering first hand that the bus terminal had long since silenced for the night, we walked back to the taxi posse, endured their boisterous but admittedly well deserved we-told-you-so’s, and bought passage on an airport van from one of the less obnoxious drivers.

Out of curiosity, Daniel Harker asked the driver if he had ever heard of a nightclub called The Coco-Bongo.

“Oh yes,” he answered enthusiastically.  “It’s the best nightclub in all of Cancun.”  Pete’s hand moved instinctively to his pocket.

Decision ’08

Canada officially declared its own federal election today. Amazingly, with election day on October 14th, it will be over weeks before its American Counterpart. Now that’s and election I can get excited about.

Obama

Despite the general disutility of labels in general, I am prepared to finally find a name for my political inclinations: I am a liberal-leaning independent. As a liberal sympathizer, I generally prefer the democratic platform to the republican. But as an independent, I am part of that vigorously courted class of Americans who is not completely adverse to voting for the candidate it believes will better serve the country, regardless of his political allegiances. If McCain had convinced me that he would be a better president than Obama enough to override my general preference for the democrats, he would have won me over. However, watching both the Democratic and Republican Conventions, McCain and his party has only deepened my conviction that Obama should be the next American President. In fact, I have become so disillusioned of the Republicans over the past couple of weeks that I am writing this post to ask any of you who were planning on putting your check next to the little R in November to reconsider. Here’s why:

First of all, it is always a good idea to look seriously at your political alliances. After conversing with friends, I have realized it is not a simple matter to transfer Canadian political ideas into an American election, and that I need to consider my choice carefully. So, I encourage everyone to join me in my political introspection – are you political convictions merely a product of your surroundings, or have you come to them yourself?

Second, there are numerous reasons why Obama and the Democrats have appealed to me. For one thing, as I liberal, I like their policies. But I know that any attempt to convince most conservatives to alter their fundamental belief system will be futile. So instead, I will list a few reasons why Obama would be a better president than McCain, independent of their platforms.

1. Obama is a true agent of change. As a relative newcomer and Washington outsider, who has routinely disagreed with the Bush administration, he is in a much better position to alter the course of this country in a good way. He has spent his life serving the poor and needy and is more in touch with the rising generation, who has to deal with eight years worth of Bush’s influence. John McCain has attempted to paint himself as a maverick, but can an old white, rich man, entrenched in Washington politics and greatly supportive of Bush’s policies really bring about the change we need? He wants to be independent, but he is running with Bush’s old playbook and has shown that he is unable to truly stand up to his party in choosing a running mate – opting for a hard-core conservative instead of reaching across the isle to Lieberman, his first choice. And don’t try to tell me that Palin will bring about any real change: although most people have forgotten this, she is only running to be vice-president.

2. Obama has shown much more integrity than McCain. Throughout this campaign, Obama has shown great personal integrity. Although all politicians stretch the truth and attack their opponents, Obama has played petty politics to a much lesser degree than McCain and the Republicans. For one things, the Republicans are much more consistent and personal in their attacks on Obama; the tone of the entire Republican Convention was more about mocking Obama then on promoting their own party. And their attacks are often unfounded, personal, and demeaning. Mocking his service as a community organizer and then turning around and calling him an elitist, comparing him to Paris Hilton and even sarcastically calling him a self-proclaimed Messiah. Obama’s attacks on McCain, however, have been fewer and more appropriate. They mostly focus on issues, and never stoop to the lows that I’ve seen from the McCain camp. When asked about Palin’s daughter being pregnant, for example, Obama responded that family privacy should be respected; the Republicans don’t seem to agree, since they have took aim at Michelle on many occasions.

Also, Obama is more honest than McCain. Both have stretched the truth, but according to Politifact.com, a non-partisan fact-checking website, McCain’s statements are either barely true or outright false twice as often as Obama’s. UPDATE: this issue is becoming more and more troubling for me; it seems that the McCain camp has no problem with continuing its bold-faced lies, even after they have been discredited, since most voters don’t take enough time to discover their falsity. See this article.

3. Obama has shown himself to be very reasonable and intelligent. He has run his campaign amazingly: time and time again, he calmly and rationally deals with each problem and promptly brings the discussion back to the issues. And he has shown himself to be very intelligent and an extremely fast learner, which helps quell some concerns about his lack of experience. Isn’t it about time to get someone into the Whitehouse that will carefully and intelligently deliberate over our problems instead of adopting the “shoot first ask questions later” approach of George W? McCain, like Bush, seems much more prone to hasty and risky choices. The best example of this is how he handled the most important choice of his campaign: choosing a VP. Now, Sarah Palin may turn out to be a good choice, but even so, the way he selected her worries me. I mean, McCain has had months to carefully research and decide upon a running mate (especially while Obama and Hillary were still battling it out), and yet at the very last second he chooses someone he only met once and had barely vetted. To me, this just seems reckless, and is not the way I would like my president to make decisions.

4. Even as McCain announces his plans to “reach across the isle,” the Republicans are methodically tearing the country apart. Through Sarah Palin and many of the convention’s other speakers, the GOP have reignited the culture wars. More and more, they are shifting the focus of this election from important issues like the economy and the War to little things that are comparatively less important and yet extremely divisive: abortion, teen pregnancy, and the role of God in the public sphere. They are also actively attempting to pit the rural population against the urban elitists who don’t think Wasilla is “cosmopolitan enough.” (Which is quite ironic, considering that the GOP is filled with rich white men, while Obama grew up on food stamps, and got through school on student loans). A good indication of this division is the fact that after Palin’s speech was the largest fundraising day ever – for the Democrats (she really made some people upset). In the end, this country needs to work together, and fostering these kinds of divisions is not the way to do it.

5. Obama will be good for America. He is extremely popular internationally, and as president, he will do a lot to restore America’s status in the world and help us make the alliances we need to stay safe and compete in the global economy. Electing Obama will also show the world that we are an intelligent, progressive country that really believes in the equality we so often profess. Imagine the children who grow up under the first black president: what better lesson in civil rights could we give?

6. Do we really need more war? OK, this one is more of an ideological complaint, but I really don’t think we should elect someone who is as committed to the war and tied to the military as much as McCain is. And I don’t see the problem with meeting hostile world leaders? Is diplomacy dead? This is not giving in, but trying to resolve problems without killing.

In conclusion, I think McCain is national hero and fairly decent guy. I was impressed with his acceptance speech. It is more his party in general who I am opposed to, and I don’t think that he is maverick enough to separate himself to a degree that would win my vote.

And that is why I support Barack Obama.