Wednesday, September 30, 2009

I'm concerned that conspiracy is becoming a political movement

In 2001 sometime, I experienced a guy on the uptown 4,5,6 platform in Manhattan shouting, "Do you understand that if you have a square R with a 5-R configuration, flickering back and forth, you will be shot dead by federal agents. You understand that, right?" (I mentioned this here too.) Right! It was kind of an amusing moment in subway-nut conspiracy think. And I kept an eye out for that 5-R configuration for years, to no avail.

Then a few weeks ago I came across this Xerox of a Wall Street Journal article, scotch-taped to a lamppost in Santa Monica:

Conspiracy jibberish I found taped to a lamppost in Santa Monica
This little clipping of colored-pen conspiracy scratch rivals the subway caveat above, in that none of it makes a shred of sense. The underlined text makes no sense; the circled words around it make no sense; and the thread of logic from "Catholic Church" to "Roman Monster" to "chess" to "Berlin Nazi" also, makes no sense. Though I must give this conspiracist props for his flags: they're quite compelling.

I'd typically write this off as another bit of isolated lunacy, but there's a disturbing context for this disjointed bit of crazy. Thomas Friedman might've put it best in an editorial today, in which he opines the "poisonous political environment" being created by conservatives, who seek to delegitimize the president by any means possible. The wanton Hitler comparisons, the interchangeable cries of fascist/communist/socialist, the shouting of "you lie" by a congressman during a presidential address — it was just this kind of environment that emboldened a right-wing Jewish nationalist to assassinate Yitzhak Rabin.

For RNC chairman Michael Steel to call Friedman a "nut job" reveals that conservative leadership is in denial of the toxic stew they're fomenting. "[They're] saying, because you disagree with the president on policy," Steel said, "that all of the sudden we're going to make this leap into, you know, assassinations and all this other stuff." No, Mr. Steel — what Friedman is saying that your rhetoric is whipping up an uninformed fringe to take that action. And the facts point to that possibility.

A credible white supremacist assassination plot was already foiled last year; death threats against the president are up 400% this year; Fox-inspired protesters proudly carry signs saying, "We came unarmed — this time." Just yesterday, a conservative editor wrote an article outlining the possibility of a military coup to dethrone the president, suggesting it was better than letting the president achieve his goals: "A coup is not an ideal option," the editor wrote, "but Obama’s radical ideal is not acceptable."

If these aren't signs that the heated rhetoric is having a dangerous influence, I don't know what would be. It's well time the conservative movement — Fox and all — dissociated itself from this lunatic fringe. If they want to lead this democracy in a different direction, they need to assume a responsible leadership role that doesn't score points by slurs, smears, and disinformation. Until then, they are stoking the indiscriminate anger of a volatile minority, and their base will continue to evolve into something like this guy:

And yikes! — who knows what he's capable of?

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Is Ralph Nader the anti-Ayn Rand?

If Ayn Rand's life thesis is Atlas Shrugged, I think I just found its antithesis in this week's New Yorker. Raffi Khatchadourian writes that Ralph Nader "has been secretly working on his first novel":
...The book, called "Only the Super-Rich Can Save Us!," is seven hundred and thirty-six pages long, and it contains dozens of characters, many of them real people... who act out Nader's political fantasies. By the last page, most of the reforms that Nader has been arguing for all these years end up being enacted. Corporations are neutered. Third parties win. America is reborn."
So where Rand argued that only the super-rich can save us by following selfish aims, championing the dollar and driving the bloodsucking government into the ground, Nader will argue that only the super-rich can save us by thinking of the greater good, enacting wise regulation and driving corporate greed into the ground. How's that for a philosophical grudge match?

It sounds like Nader's even aiming for a Rand-sized tome, though he's got a few hundred pages to go if he wants to match Atlas Shrugged. That shouldn't be too hard if he follows Rand's formula: just have his protagonist outline his philosophical worldview in a climactic courtroom scene or rogue takeover of the nation's media. No problem! Rand's digressions are always cut and paste; they could be in any book, anywhere. Maybe Nader could just make his final chapter be In Pursuit of Justice — just drop that puppy right in there, and he'd satisfy the perfect Ayn Rand template. What a masterstroke of poli-sci-fi agit-prop that could be.

I'm intrigued to read Only the Super-Rich Can Save Us!, if only to see it go eye-for-eye and tooth-for-tooth with Atlas Shrugged. That pairing of fictional ambitions is definitely unsafe at any speed.

Ayn Rand / Ralph Nader (thesis / antithesis?)

Monday, September 14, 2009

Daniel Libeskind: Van Halen homage?

Check out this new development south of the Staples Center in LA: apparently it was designed by Daniel Libeskind, best known for his World Trade Center redux. One might describe the architecture as "early Van Halen," with a fretboard and headstock rising gracefully from a laser-striped solid-body. I'd call it homage. Or is it infringement? I believe Eddie copyrighted the mad laser-striping look, if his action against Nike is any indication.

Either way, I'm sure they'll call it something preposterous like The Residencies at LA Live, but considering China's CCTV building is known as "big pants," I'm gonna say Libeskind's latest will be more affectionately known as the "Hot for Teacher" building.

Daniel Libeskind building / Van Halen guitar

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

The perils of frames: hey, toolbar

Earlier today, I experienced my first toolbar-upon-toolbar, when LinkedIn's ActionBar doubled down on Alltop's toolbar. So I did the only logical thing and submitted it to StumbleUpon to see if I could get three times my toolbar pleasure.! It worked. Then I got all ahead of myself and submitted it to Digg, to see if I could get the Digg Toolbar all up ins for a four-plex of barspam, but every time it went to load, it looked like StumbleUpon's toolbar canceled out Digg's toolbar. Which seems uncool, considering.

Finally I tried to see if I could get Facebook's frame to party down, but I discovered that Facebook's frame doesn't seem to pop up anymore. I checked a bunch of my friends' links to see if any prompted the Facebook frame, and it still wouldn't come out to play. Which got me wondering: has Facebook become the moral leader in the toolbar frame space?

The perils of frames

I challenge the Internets to a reach a non-Photoshopped toolbar sextacular (no, as in, six toolbars): game the system to throw on a Digg toolbar, maybe a Twig AdBar, and any other third-party framers on top of the three above. I got you halfway there; the emotional investment is too much for me to take it to the next level. The second half of the challenge would be X'ing out all the frames and successfully navigating back to the original article, which, ironically, is about good social media design.