Friday, October 31, 2008

On the American fork in the road.

After eight years of misrule, we know a few things: that our government spies on us, that it tortures people from other countries, that Americans feel worse about their country than they have in a long time, that hard working people have watched their retirements trickle away, that we are less secure and less safe internationally, that we have given up liberty for a false sense of security, that we have squandered scientific research, that our infrastructure is crumbling around us, and that we have let the foxes run loose in the financial hen house.

These things we know. Back in 2000, as hard as it is to remember the world as it was then, none of this was probable, or even seemed possible. But here we are.

Now we find ourselves at a spiritual fork in the road. Either we choose to, more or less, continue down the path we've been heading these past eight years, thanks to the man above; or we choose to try out something different, something new, and something - admittedly - untested.

If anything, America has been a giant experiment. Thomas Jefferson thought the experiment should be tweaked every generation - that multiple Constitutional Conventions should take place every 20 years just to make sure the United States was on the right track. He, and the other Founding Fathers, knew America was a delicate experiment, ripe with the possibility of misuse and abuse. But they saw change as a good thing; in fact, our whole country is founded on the idea of change when it's needed most. If you doubt me, take 10 minutes and read the Declaration of Independence some time.

Luckily, we get to shake things up every four years or so, when some poor fool decides he wants to be the Head Executive of one of the branches of government. It's in view of this idea, and the radical idea of an experiment called the United States of America, that we can look at our present situation and parse the correct course of action.

Where do we go from here? Which choice, given two (or more, depending on your independent leanings), is the one our country needs?

When we buy a car, or choose which toothbrush would best fit our purposes, we have to look at the evidence. Here's what the evidence has shown us so far from John McCain:
  • He's a senator who has broke with his own party on the big issues of the day
  • Since becoming a presidential candidate, he has remade many of these positions into standard GOP positions (an exception: the environment), like torture and immigration
  • McCain is a war veteran who suffered for his country
  • McCain is known for a hot temper, shoot-from-the-hip decision making, but he can work well with others
  • McCain is mostly a hawk on national defense issues
  • McCain has chosen a running mate who is divisive, incurious, and has a disdain for the media and questioning that rivals George W. Bush's
What do we know about Obama?
  • He's a senator who has just a few years of experience on the national and international stage
  • Obama supports many of the main Democratic ideals, like health care for all, protection of the environment, progressive taxation, diplomacy abroad, etc.
  • Obama has a multi-cultural background, has lived in many states and a few countries, and is versed in Constitutional law
  • Obama is known for his cool head, methodical decision making process, and the ability to take in many points of view
  • Obama has inspired "generation Y," a generation who values multiculturalism, bullshit-free communication, and the Internet
  • Obama picked a senior senator for his Vice Presidential running-mate, a man who has a lot of experience in the international stage and a big mouth

Those are the facts, with a few thoughts thrown in. But underneath the presentation of the two candidates runs a river of inuendo, political attacks, and voter sniping that has only now gained national attention. I speak, mostly, of the caliber of people who attend Obama and McCain political rallies and stump speeches. Obama tends to draw people in the tens, sometimes hundreds, of thousands - packing arenas and stadiums and, most recently, the St. Louis/Mississippi River capital lawn. Attendees are young and old, black, white and otherwise.

McCain's rallies? Smaller, but probably equally as passionate. But lately, those passionate supporters have shown the ugly side of American life. Shouts of "terrorist," "ni**er," and "kill him!" can be heard on video feeds from these live events, and sometimes both McCain and Sarah Palin can hear them. Do they chide their supporters for expressing thoughts dating back to the Sixteenth Century? No, they do not. In fact, they encourage misrepresentations by spreading fear and division among the electorate. Using smears and attacks against the "Other" has become a campaign strategy.

That, and many local Republican headquarters, stationed around the country, have gone even further, comparing Obama with Osama bin Laden, questioning his national origin, and spreading lies about taking the oath of office on the Koran.

Other things being equal, the decision on who to vote for president could be made based on the supporters each candidate attracts. If racists and fear-mongerers support McCain so openly, what does that say of McCain, Palin, and their tactics? Nothing good or decent, in my mind.

Because voting for president should be based on what each man or woman can do to move our country forward. Do they have the experience and temperment to lead a nation of 330 million? Or should they do as George W. Bush has done and only govern for half of that 330 million?

What I want is the exact opposite of George W. Bush.

My main factors in deciding any presidential election are as follows:
  1. Does this person respect science, the environment, and our Constitutional rights?
  2. Does this person believe in an open, communicative government of the people, by the people, and for the people?
  3. Will the person's policies support everyday Americans, or do they heap benefits on corporations and the already-blessed wealthy?
  4. Does the person have an open mind, respect disagreement, and have mediocum of curiosity and intelligence?
  5. Does the person see war as a last resort?
  6. Does this person recognize their own limitations?
These ideas seems pretty simple and straightforward, but looking back at the past eight years, every one of them have failed to be realized.

Others have their own priorities - some very specific, like abortion or universal health care. But in the end, I'll vote for the person whose philosophy about government, America, and its people align with others who I would call Great Americans. People like Ben Franklin, and Harry Truman, and Car Sagan, and Martin Luther King, Jr., and Thomas Jefferson. We remember these people because of the good things they accomplished in their lifetimes, their open frame of mind, and their ability to unite people - not because of lies, fear, and hatred.

It's for this reason that I will vote for Barack Obama this Tuesday, Nov. 4. When I cast my vote, I know it will be in support of a man who exemplifies the good things about our wonderful country. Having traveled our land from shore to shore (multiple times), I've come to respect the dignity and resourcefulness and divirsity of this beautiful land. And everything I love about America seems to me to be embodied in people like Barack Obama. He gets it, I think. He doesn't see our country as some divided territory, as it was in the Civil War, shattered and broken and ugly. There is no "real" America and "false" America. As he said in his famous 2004 Democratic National Convention speech, there is only the UNITED States of America. Who can argue with that? Or, who can argue with that ideal?

The details of governing always get figured out. If John McCain becomes president, the country will survive and limp on and be here in another 100 years. It has survived worse.

But is surviving enough? Will limping on - our economy broken, our armed forces stretched to the max - realize the American ideal?

Not to me. So I will vote for someone who hopes for better, believes in better, and sees us - all of us - as practitioners of our own destiny.

Friday, October 17, 2008

On backing up.

The collapse of Washington Mutual was called the "biggest bank failure of all time," meaning that - in today's times - no one is "too big to fail."

So it's good to have a backup plan. That's what blogger Khoi Vinh recommends, especially when it comes to anything you have stored online.

This advice is applicable to most areas of our lives: fire escape plans, fire-proof lock boxes for valuables, generators for power outages, etc. Planning, "just in case," can be a real lifesaver.

Just this week, I had an instance at work where I'm glad we made a backup plan. Our marketing department stores our files (ads, newsletters, web site graphics, etc.) on a network disk. That network disk has failed before, and the first time we had no backup plan. We lost all our files in an instant. Then we started to store our files on our work computers, and copy them to the network disk. But that didn't always happen, so when our network drive went down again, Marketing had a big scare. Luckily, we were able to recover most (but still not all) of our files.

After that crash, we bought an external hard drive to backup all of our files. I do this personally every other day or so: move files from the network disk to the external disk. So when we lost our network drive again this week (thankfully, only briefly), I didn't freak out. We had a backup plan.

Do you? If you store files online, like I do all over the place on Flickr or in my Gmail account, do you have them stored somewhere physical? What about your money? Do you have a few dollars of spare cash hidden somewhere, just in case? Maybe a spare gas can for those "uh oh" moments?

My brain seems to be in constant survival mode. I'm constantly backing up my Mac files, regularly buying canned goods, having my trusty sword available for intruders, and keeping food on me at all times. But there's always more I can do.

Vinh's bigger point is that, anymore, no one is "too big to fail":
The size of a company is certainly not a reliable shield against failure, but being small doesn't necessarily guarantee a company will be around in the long term, either. I just don't think that it's realistic to assume that all of the data we're storing online is safe. So a friendly reminder: back up.
He makes the point about online items (Facebook profiles, e-mail messages, banking information), but the point can go further to life in general. Anything can fail.

Things can easily get out of hand. Guys building bunkers in their backyard during the Y2K scare (remember that?) took things a little far. But hey, as long as you've got the storage shelter there, it's one less thing to worry about.

You know, just in case.

You don't have to be a paranoid person to realize that unexpected things happen. A wise person will set time aside to think about the "what ifs" life throws at us, and plan for them as much as possible.