The following may seem like an odd statement to begin a dissection of the reactions to Barack Obama's informercial/documentary from last night, but I assure you it's pertinent.

My mom loves science fiction.

I can remember tiptoeing through her office and staring in bewilderment at the vast assortment of books my mom kept there. From high fantasy to christian literature, biographies to mysteries, textbooks to historical novels my mom's voracious appetite for reading was enshrined on the walls and bookshelves of her ever-cluttered workspace.

At center stage in the impressive array of culture were the science fiction novels and VHSs of old tv shows. Doctor Who and Star Trek stood proudly alongside such works as Earthmen and Strangers or I, Robot. Of all of the seemingly infinite possibilities contained in the books and visual media the room represented, these held the greatest of mysteries.

One such mystery is that of the alien, the "other", the incomprehensible. In contrast to the Manichean settings of fantasy or the psychological obsession of detective cases, science fiction often delves into the uncomfortable realm of the unorthogonal. Human protagonists deal with creatures that have as many dissimilarities with our often ill-fated stand-ins as they do human characteristics.

It is in this mode of thought where we first experience the horrific idea of the alien culture and thought process. Many of the stories I found in my mother's treasure trove told of spacemen who were so unlike us that "culture shock" could not begin to describe the situation. Aliens who not only perceive the universe in a different way, but whose basic fundamental processes of thought are completely incompatible with our own reason and logic. It's not that they're irrational, it's that their definition, were there one, of rationality is completely foreign and beyond our ability to translate.

How does one begin to communicate with a race whose culture is based on, from our perspective, completely illogical and unreasonable tenets? Where does one begin when not only the basic assumptions that allow us to communicate are blown away, but the very concept of communication is something completely different to those on the other end? It's a challenge that many protagonists and ill-fated adventurers have accepted, their efforts the thrilling narrative of the novels I so enjoyed.

Which brings us back to politics. *rimshot*

Joking aside, there's a certain objectivity, self-awareness and rationality one expects from responses to something as important as Barack Obama's half hour infomercial. Whether your response is adulatory or vehemently opposed there is an underlying assumption that while one's gut instincts play into it so too does one's reason.

With that mindset, take a look at the following reaction from Craig Shirley:

On the Barackumentary: After watching The One last night, I weepingly came to the conclusion that our country should change the national pastime from baseball to breastfeeding. Let's all hold hands and sing "Michael Row the Boat Ashore," and have a national group encounter session where we can share our pain with The One.

I'm sure if I confess to being a white straight conservative male and thus by definition evil, we can start a national dialogue to help me see the error of my ways. If I try really, really hard and get in touch with my inner child that is.


Putting aside the ambiguity that this could just as easily be discussing the conclusion to the Matrix Trilogy, I must ask one question: "lolwut"

"Irrational" completely fails to describe this succinct diatribe. Rather than engage the infomercial on any intelligible level, he defaults to burning the most sissified strawman in history. Maybe the low price of gasoline was too great an opportunity to miss.

The web of assumptions, condescending notions and obsolete stereotypes is so thick and tangled that I can't even begin to unravel it. Where exactly did breastfeeding come, what does it have to do with baseball, and how did Obama inspire that completely irrelevant point (if there was one)?

Who is Craig Shirley? He is the alien, the other, the incomprehensible being. Our fundamental assumptions, even the concept of an assumption, can not be used to outline or fathom the processes by which this man functions. At best, we can figure out that putting anything remotely liberal in front of him will result in an odd collection of unrelated nonsense spewing out of his mouth.

Unlike the heroes of science fiction we don't have the driving force of narrative by which we can make slow progress. As we encounter these people we can only hope and pray that some potential bridge can be found or built. In the meantime, we must watch in awe and fear as people such as Shirley attempt to dictate the politics of the future.

It would be easier to ignore the existence of these aliens in our midst, but unfortunately they are here to stay, and they will have children who will think like them. The longer we wait in trying to break through to them the more of them there will be and the harder it will be to succeed. Hopefully whoever is president can fix the education system enough to facilitate the process at a young age.


In Sync

Hoorah for "debates".


Rant: A House Divided

You've seen it on the news, in the papers, across the internet and from the podium. Apparently John Edwards was only half right in talking about the "two Americas". There are two Americas divided by reality, not the poverty lines of Edwards' mantra.

According to Sarah Palin, Nancy Pfotenhauer and Michelle Bachmann America is divided into the Pro or "real" America and the Anti or "fake" America. If you're curious as to what exactly they said Jon Stewart can elaborate, though not without a few explicitives.

I am utterly beside myself in awe. It is beyond my understanding, my comprehension, my basic faith in the fundamental goodness imbued in us by God's own image that these kinds of sentiments can exist. Sparta? This is madness!

That precipitous insanity is the single most disturbing milestone of this election. The unruly and isolated extremists making a name for themselves at McCain rallies and on YouTube were stomach turning, Revered Wright was troubling, but this is above and beyond all other competitors. Unless McCain calls for his loyal supporters to rise up as an army against socialism, to bear their arms and strike out against the demonic liberals seeking to corrupt their nation, nothing can possibly dethrone this critical failure in rational thought.

There is no rational thought process to find here, no workable logic by which one can disqualify the very city that has defined America for decades. This crass and banal division of America is an unconscionable attack on the "other". "America" is now a buzzword for neoconservatives, not a country. Do not mistake their fervor for nationalism. What we see is entirely, and completely, about a national clique in its death throes.

The Republicans have an important choice, either toss the extremists off the ship or let the whole thing sink. It's a difficult choice because extremists are almost always activists, and activists are extremely important to running campaigns. Ceding such a significant amount of power is a painful suggestion, but it's the right thing to do. Ultimately, it's the best thing to do as anything else gravely risks complete self destruction.

Whatever happens, I'm still shocked and discouraged that these sentiments have been so boldly and carelessly thrown onto the airwaves by such important people. We have already eroded our foreign relations, must our internal ones suffer as well?


Non-Euclidean Logic

My father will quickly tell me that I'm abusing the notion of "non-euclidean", but that's currently how the following thought process looks to me. Quoth Rick Davis:

"Look, John McCain has told us a long time ago before this campaign ever got started, back in May, I think, that from his perspective, he was not going to have his campaign actively involved in using Jeremiah Wright as a wedge in this campaign.

Now since then, I must say, when Congressman Lewis calls John McCain and Sarah Palin and his entire group of supporters, fifty million people strong around this country, that we're all racists and we should be compared to George Wallace and the kind of horrible segregation and evil and horrible politics that was played at that time, you know, that you've got to rethink all these things. And so I think we're in the process of looking at how we're going to close this campaign. We've got 19 days, and we're taking serious all these issues."

The thought process displayed here is incredibly difficult to follow. In fact, it very much reminds me of the proofs I used to display to my father back when he was my math teacher. I jumped to conclusions spuriously based on misconceptions of the various laws I thought I was following, the results being obviously bad. I have to thank my Dad for the meticulousness he required; I'd be less aware of the egregious conclusion leaping without that standard.

We begin with two bad assumptions.

The first bad assumption is that Congressman Lewis' statements apply to all of McCain's supporters. The remarks the Congressman made are so clearly directed at McCain and Palin that there is little else to say. The leap here is equivalent to McCain's campaign self-righteously decrying the New York Times' recent report on his health as suggesting his fifty million supporters are all old.

The second bad assumption that Lewis is calling McCain and Palin racists. Lewis did not accuse them of being racist but of stoking the fires thereof. One does not have to be a racist to incite a racist to violence. It remains a strong and perhaps repugnant claim, but a different one nonetheless.

These two assumptions are but the first two steps in a triple jump of ludicrous proportions. Calling fifty million people racist is far more sensational than telling two people they're inciting racism. It's a lot harder to have a righteous tirade about the latter. Despite the factual nonsense, these statements lay the foundation for the third and final leap.

This last jump to the conclusion holds that because Lewis called McCain, Palin and fifty million supporters racists the door is now open to bring Reverend Wright back onto the stage. If this were the Olympics we'd be setting a world record. This is a non sequitur, or at least should be. It assumes that it is okay to return tit for tat, an eye for an eye, and end this election in a bloody fist fight to the finish. Somehow it's completely deplorable that Lewis has done this, but it won't be equally detestable to do the same in return.

Ridiculous doesn't begin to explain this logic. Here is McCain's big chance to put "Country First", to counter Obama's claim that nearly 100% of his tactics and ads are negative. Instead of seizing the opportunity his campaign is considering, publicly, bringing racism back into the election in force.

With this kind of thinking, is it any wonder McCain is losing? I can't help but think that from the moment he won the primary his party has been brow beating him into towing the weighty lines that have been failing these last few years. The McCain that many independents voted for in the primary is not the McCain who decried "the health of the mother" as a liberal wedge for killing babies. The McCain who now despises "spreading the wealth around" is not the same one who so rightly called Obama out on producing platitudes and rarely policy months ago. It's an unfortunate reversal I'd rather not have seen.

I wish I could fast forward to November 4th with all this nonsense is overwith.

Rant: Dollar Voting

Don't waste your vote by not voting.

You've heard it from the demographically obsessed media, X group is more important than Y group because they actually get up and vote. Politicians target people who vote or they lose. It's as simple as that. Not voting sends a clear message to them, "I'm not worth your time".

This is a clear and obvious aspect of politics from the local to the national level, those who participate get things done.

Corporate America is exactly the same. People often talk about "voting" with their money, but this is usually in the context of choosing between a purchase and saving rather than picking between a number of purchasing options. Companies don't track failed sales, they track the people who buy their products. They don't give any heed to people who just save their money, looking instead at who is going to their competitors and why.

Keep this in mind if you're avoiding a purchase or spurning a choice between two political candidates you hate. If you want to send a message, staying home and keeping your vote to yourself only leaves the decisions up to someone else. Even if you throw it at Joe's Custom Built Rickety Fridges/Political Candidates your vote is better used than if it isn't used at all.



The following YouTube video was cited as a reason Obama will lost the election.

I watched it, waiting for the "gotcha" moment that McCain has deplored and found nothing but one reasonable man talking specifics to another reasonable man talking specifics.

I'm sure Obama's plan seems like the end of times for some staunch Republicans, but I think it's safe to say that the candor shown in this video isn't surprising or catastrophic.



One thing that has struck me recently is the volatility of the McCain campaign. I'm not referencing Obama's attempts to paint McCain as "erratic" so much as the actions of McCain's own campaign which have contributed toward that perception.

The timeline here is of great importance. After the primaries ended both campaigns largely coasted with a few spikes of interest here and there. Both were roughly even, with a slight popular vote advantage to Obama. One can easily recall the subtle nervousness of the Democrats, and the tempered jubilation of the Republicans. Everyone had thought that Obama would be coasting to an easy win, but McCain was clearly challenging that assumption, particularly when, following the conventions, he took the lead over Obama.

The conventions were the most important events in this election, moreso than Reverend Wright, the debates or even the economic crisis. They set the stage for everything that was to follow, from message to methodology for each campaign.

Obama played safe with his running mate choice and has effectively been following that pattern ever since. Even when his party was in a state of panic following McCain's rise in the polls he held steady. Even in recent weeks when his party has seen opportunities for him to land crucial knockout punches, he abstains rather than risk losing balance. This strategy is unflinching in its disregard for criticism, although it's terribly boring and almost disappointing.

McCain took a large risk with his running mate, and has been taking big risks ever since. These gambles have often failed to pay off, resulting in the necessity to step back and thus create mixed messages. The obvious cases being the suspension of his campaign and subsequent showing up at the debate anyway, the Ayers attacks followed by stepping back from that rhetoric, and his recent back and forth as to whether he was actually going to make a statement of economic policy or not. This presents evidence for Obama's case that McCain is "erratic".

What many fail to recognize is that we've been here before; it was only earlier this year that Hillary Clinton experienced a similar period in her campaign. When her message of experience lost traction she began seeking a new track to follow. Unfortunately, she went through numerous messages trying to find one that would stick. The constantly changing messages on her podium drew a stark contrast to the ironically unchanging slogans of Obama. Even when she "found her voice" there were aftershocks of the "erratic" behavior, such as the comments about the potential for assassination.

The most striking part of the parallel is in the advice given to Clinton and McCain. Much as the Republicans are now for McCain, the Democrats and advisers at the time gave Clinton vastly disparate advice on how to take down Obama. It's an environment designed to foster disaster. Disaster is what we've seen. A well oiled campaign does not release a statement, double back on it, and then double back again. McCain's campaign has done this not just several times, but many times. More than anything else this hurts his campaign in the eyes of the most important voters at this stage, the undecided independents.

Clinton eventually grounded herself and moved on to thoroughly challenge Obama, but when she found her footing she had a good two months or more left to fight. McCain is down to three weeks with which to find balance, plant his feet and turn the election around. His last opportunity may be tomorrow's debate, after which it may be all but settled. A solid message to stand upon is required for McCain to win this election; If he fails to find consistency at the debate, his chances at establishing it thereafter are slim to none.



I just checked my 401k, and I've effectively broken even. I saw that because my employer generously matches my investment dollar for dollar to a point. Effectively they contribute 30% of what I do to my 401k.

Incidentally, with today's market drop I've just hit the 30% lost mark.

I've made the hard choice that I'm going to keep investing even in this time of crisis. I realize I'm just a drop in the pond, but if people like me who've invested so little pull out it won't help the people on the verge of retirement who just saw that dream fade.

I know I'd like to retire before I die, so I'd like to afford the same to those who've come before me. It's not much, perhaps a Pyrrhic gesture, but it's something I can do.


Pyramid Head

My first experience with the stock market was years ago in my father's "office". As I often did in fits of boredom I had invaded his space to see what he was doing. At the time he was looking at a web page with some measure of resignation. When I asked him what was up, he told me in his matter-of-fact, "life goes on" fashion that the other day he'd sold some stock he'd received as a bonus at work, but that the stock was up a dollar or so today which would have been another $500. Noticing my confusion, I got a brief lesson in the economics of the stock market.

In the following years I took an economics course, found out that my father's father had enjoyed investing in the market, and contemplated trying my hand at it. I was ultimately defeated by my lack of resources and fear. I watched the stock market go up and down without rhyme or reason, and that frightened me deeply. Matters which I don't understand do not scare me, but matters which I can't understand are outright terrifying. Trusting every dollar I had to such a beast was impossible.

Over the years I've picked up a better understanding of the system, but its fundamental principles bother me. It's obviously been on my mind a fair amount in recent days given the current economic crisis. The stock market is always topping the news, whether its about the latest drop on Wall Street or world markets, the presidential candidates stances on the issue, or the general knee jerk reactions people are having to the problems we face. EVer present are the tickers, the brokers and the news that yet another major bank is at risk.

So, as the Dow drops another 800 points, I pose the following question: What separates the stock market from your run of the mill pyramid scheme?

I'm not an economic powerhouse by any stretch of the imagination, but the fundamentals of how this works perplex and bother me. At the most basic level the stock goes up when people invest and goes down when people take back their investments. In principle this works fine so long as there's a constant increase in either the number of investors or the amount of money being invested. The obvious problem demonstrated by the Great Depression and perhaps the current situation is that once that assumption is broken the house of cards collapses.

This seems eerily reminiscent of the root cause of the credit crunch itself, where subprime mortgages were given out under the assumption that house prices would always go up. Once an assumption like that is broken the system breaks with it, taking down companies and victims in the process. We see this now as jittery investors begin to act in self-interest and pull their investments. I can't blame them for doing so, but it seems to illustrate perfectly the problem at hand; there's no benefit to being at the bottom of the pyramid.

So again, what separates the stock market from your standard pyramid scheme beyond its scope and reach? There is probably some fundamental mechanism I'm unaware of, some fact I'm ignorant of, but at face value It's difficult to see it as anything else.