Politics and the Internet: It’s Time to Hold Our Leaders Accountable

Earlier this month, Republican Presidential candidate John McCain made an admission I feel should be a nail in the coffin for his run for the presidency.  McCain stated “I’m illiterate when it comes to the internet.  I have to rely on my wife to go on for me.  But I will have that down fairly soon, getting on myself.”  I understand that McCain is 71 years old and from a very different generation then the plugged-in, wired one of today.  I also understand that as a wealthy, educated man with access to plenty of resources, he should have taken a course or two in computer literacy before deciding to run for the position of the leader of the free world.  While I don’t expect McCain to be designing Facebook widgets or mapping his fellow Senators using Google Earth layers (above), I would hope that in the year 2008, where technology rules, he would at least make an attempt to fire up his modem and log on to the internet.  The fact that he hasn’t- in my opinion- shows how disconnected and out-of-touch he is with the world of today.

Am I saying that he should be more concerned with tech policy than the War in Iraq, or the “looming” recession?  No- but as I’ve posted before the internet and Web 2.0 has certainly influenced the way Americans view the war, and allows for an interactive platform for information and conversations about the current economy.  McCain should do himself a favor and fire up that dial-up connection- he could learn a thing or two.

If the above isn’t a sign of the times, check out techPresident‘s Politickr.  It offers a statistical round-up of blog posts, Facebook, MySpace and other social media supporters, and YouTube views for both Obama and McCain. Currently, Obama has McCain beat by a staggering margin of nearly 1.1 million supporters on Facebook, and just under 400,000 on MySpace.  I think this shows that those that support Obama are generally of a younger generation that’s plugged-in.  And that those who are technology literate are beginning to demand the same in a presidential candidate.  Obama has developed a technology platform while McCain doesn’t even list technology as one of his issues.

It’s time we demand our candidates become tech-literate enough  to represent the literacy of rest of the country on a basic level.  How can we expect our leader to be effective if he can’t relate to those he’s leading?

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CNN’s Black In America: What Does Your Race Really Say About You?

Last night I watched part two of CNN’s new documentary series “Black in America.”  The series sets out to explore the racial identity of African Americans today- and attempts to answer the question “What does it  mean to be black in America?”  Last night the hour was dedicated to “The Black Man,” and the show followed several black men from different walks of life, and analyzed the outcomes of the different lifestyles of each.

One man was living in the Queensbridge projects of New York and is struggling against employment discrimination as he tries to find a job to support his family.  He attended college for a few semesters but had to drop out when his girlfriend became pregnant.  His life is in stark contrast to another, an assitant superintendent of a school district in Arkansas, with a large family of successful professionals, who encounters racism in his wealthy neighborhood (cops were once called on him while walking along the street because other members of the community didn’t realize he lived there).  In addition to examining adult males, the show also interviewed several high-school-age children, asking them questions about struggles, stereotypes, and discrimination they had encountered from friends, classmates and teachers in the school system.

This is the portion of the program that struck me, and prompted me to write this post.  Before going any further, for those of you who don’t know me I am a white woman.  My boyfriend of nearly 5 years is black.  This is relevant to my perspective and the context of this post.  A majority of the high school children interviewed said their main struggle was not racism, but the need to act “black enough,” to show legitimacy in the eyes of their peers.  Students interviewed said they were made fun of if they didn’t wear “urban” clothes, listen to rap music, and were criticized for having too many white friends.  This idea is always something that has upset me.  It’s hard to break stereotypes and racial divides when members of any race- black, white, asian, latino- feel they need to play into stereotypes for acceptance.

I’ve dealt with this on a different level- which is probably why I get frustrated so easily with racial labels.  My boyfriend- who listens to rock music, wears khakis and was in a white fraternity in college- constantly hears “you’re the whitest black person I know.”  What does this even mean?  I know plenty of white people who listen to rap music and have black friends- so does this make them “black white people?”

Similarly, one Friday at work I was listening to Nas at my desk, when one of my African-American co-workers walked by and said “is that Nas playing?  Why are you listening to that?”  Does it mean that because I’m white I’m not expected to listen to hip-hop music?  I’ve been a fan of hip-hop since I was a child, I like the vibe of hip-hop, the movement it represents- it has nothing to do with the color of my skin.

No one should ever have to prove who they are on the basis of color.  We are who we are because of our life experiences, our family, our friends, our interests.  All these aspects comprise an identity.  Our race- in terms of culture and customs- definitely shapes who we are.  Our race also lends us to have different life experiences from one another- both good and bad.  But race should never be the sole reason for our identity.  Until we learn to ignore labels, and who we think we should be, we’ll never fully be who we are.

If you’re interested, check out the next installment of CNN’s documentary on Black in America, “The Black Woman,” which airs Saturday night at 8PM.

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It’s Time to Tell on “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell”

This week in Washington, the House Armed Services Personnel subcommittee met to discuss and debate the relevance of the “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” policy in the military.  It was the first time the policy as been discussed in nearly fifteen years.  There were several people there to speak on both sides of the debate, including gay veterans, and perhaps most notable (not in a good way) Elaine Donnelly, a proponent for continuing the policy in the military.

I oppose the policy.  I think it’s ridiculous- and agree with retired Marine Sgt. Eric Alva when he said “he nearly died to secure right for others that [he himself] was not free to enjoy.”  Others who disagree with this policy feel the same way- that mainly, sexual orientation shouldn’t, and doesn’t affect the ability to serve one’s country.

Donnelly and her supporters have a long list of reasons why the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy should be upheld.  All of her reasons are unfounded, discriminatory and insulting.  She believes that forced intimacy, unwanted advances, exotic sexual practices, and that allowing gays to serve openly in the military would be “devastating due to the increased sexual atmosphere.”  One person who spoke in Donnelly’s defense suggested that soldiers often have to huddle together for safety or warmth, and that doing so with openly gay soldiers would make for an uncomfortable situation.

Does anyone else find similarities with this and the segregation that occurred in the 60s?  Those that choose to serve and protect our country should not fear for their well-being and livelihood due to a lifestyle choice that has no effect on their career.  Allegations such as the above suggest paint gay men and women in the military as rabidly sexualized human beings.  The idea that a gay man would hit on another man just because he happens to be at the same place at the same time is antiquated.  Picture it this way.  Do heterosexual men hit on every woman in the military, just out of convenience?  No.  Let’s please give those in the gay community more respect than this.  And as for “forcible intimacy?”  I see no difference in the risk factors of forced intimacy between gay soldiers than what already exists among heterosexual soldiers.

We should give those that give their lives for our country the utmost respect.  It’s offensive that our country leaders still support a policy that alienates so many.  The fact that the policy is being called into question for its relevancy is reassuring- its time the military moves into the the 21st century and supports ALL of those who in turn support us.

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Quit It Already: Bad Music!

This morning on my way to work I was listening to the Kane Show on Hot 99.5, a DC-based radio station. I should preface this entire post by saying that I listen to Hot 99.5 in the morning, because I think the Kane Show is hilarious, not because of the music they play. In fact, “hot” top-40 music is precisely the reason for this post- that, and the topic that was being discussed on the Kane Show this morning. Kane and his counterparts were discussing music artists that should retire. Their main reasons were that either half the band is dead or disbanded, the band itself is getting too old to tour or record music, or their new music just plain sucks. They gave examples of The Who, The Rolling Stones, Bryan Adams and Carly Simon- in that order pertaining to the reasons to retire.

This got me thinking. Why focus on artists that are past their prime? There’s plenty of “musicians” that are big now that I wish would retire already. For some of them, I feel their 15 minutes of fame expired about a year ago, and others, well, probably never should have had a shot in the first place. To keep this post under novel length, I’ll list only a few I wish would just throw in the towel already and go back to working at the mall.

#1 Soulja Boy

Is this kid really still selling records and getting radio play? It’s hard to believe that someone who’s break out hit was built around the phrase “Superman that ho,” and “Crank that” is making more money than, oh, let’s say a doctor, a lawyer, or anyone that actually contributes something to society. His skills as a hip-hop lyricist are terrible- terrible enough that I feel guilty using the name Soulja Boy and hip-hop in the same paragraph, and the majority of his songs sound the same. Don’t believe me? Listen to the two videos below. Moving on…

Pussycat Dolls

I’m still confused as to why the word Doll has an “s.” It seems to me that the only person in the group is the lead singer, Nicole Scherzinger. While she does have a decent voice, most of the girls behind her just dance around- sometimes I don’t even think they sing! Scherzinger should do herself a favor and make like Gwen Stefani and go solo permanently.

Any Actress That Thinks She Can Also Be a Singer

I’m sorry, but just because you can act doesn’t mean that you can sing as well. Heck, some of these actress attempting to have a music career can’t even act. Stick to your day jobs. Just because you have the money and backing to launch an album doesn’t mean you should. This means you, Heidi Montag, Lindsay Lohan, Scarlett Johansson, and Hayden Panettiere.

I’ll continue on with a short list: Britney Spears, Paris Hilton, Miley Cyrus, T-Pain, Daughtry- the list goes on and on. You’re reached your expiration date…hey, not everyone can live to be legends. It’s time to move along and make way for the real musicians out there.

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Milblogging: Spreading Patriotism or Glorifying the War?

Web 2.0 has revolutionized the way America sees war- specifically, the War on Iraq.  By “seeing” I’m not referring to your opinion on the war itself, rather our ability to now visualize what it’s like for our soldiers overseas.  Soldier’s blogs (or milblogs), YouTube, Flickr- all of these have allowed us to view videos, pictures and read first-hand accounts of what it’s really like to be at war.  This week I took some time to survey what’s out there- and it’s amazing the sheer amount of media that’s available to us about the war.  One particular blog I found interesting- Thunder Run– has been up and running since July 2005.  This blog offers news round-ups on the war, links to other milblogs, links to media sites dedicated to the military, and lots of war footage videos.  Other blogs, such as Another Adventure, offer more personal accounts of the war, such as relationships fostered with other soliders, the food in their camps, and packages sent from home.  There’s thousands of others, all compiled at Milblogging.com, and sorted by topic and country.

On the visual side, YouTube has so many videos of soldier’s accounts of the war.  What is interesting about a lot of the war footage on YouTube is that’s its of course shot by soldier’s themselves, but a lot are “produced” in that there’s music dubbed over the video, phrases flashing across the screen, almost meant to look like a tough music video.  You can see some examples below- but I warn you, some of it is very graphic.

I think the accessibility to the reality of war has changed the way we view what’s really going on in Iraq.  There are two sides of course.  On one hand, when I view war footage, or read soldier’s blogs I feel extremely grateful that these people are fighting for our freedom and the freedom of our country.  My heart goes out to all those who are separated from their loved ones.  What we see on the web allows us to view the war as those who are fighting for us do.  This being said, Milblogs are key to spreading a feeling of patriotism throughout the country.

On the other hand, I can’t help but wonder if many of the footage that I viewed glorifies the violence and brutality of the war.  We can’t assume everyone is both media literate and politically educated.  I wonder if teenagers sit at home and watch footage from Iraq and think that war is “cool,” or that blowing things up or shooting machine guns is fun- as it is often portrayed in some of the videos.  Does all this coverage glorify war?

I’m not quite decided on the message that Milblogging is spreading around the country.  It’s already had influence to re-shape American opinion, the question is do we as Americans know what to do with what we are now exposed to?

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The Packing and Purging of My Life: It’s Moving Time

Tomorrow marks the conclusion of an era.  It’s been an all-consuming 6 months of apartment searching, apartment touring, more searching and touring, and finally- after we found the perfect building- packing to move.  I’m moving from a 4 bedroom townhouse into a 700 square foot apartment with my boyfriend. The process of packing up a large house has been a long and painful one.  We’ve found that the curse of too much space is finding the constant excuse to find things to fill it with.  After three years of living here, we’ve done a good job of filling the space.  Now, we have to get rid of over half of what we’ve accumulated.

In this time I’ve become a Craigslist pro.  I listed the majority of my furniture on there and made enough money to furnish the new place with new (smaller) things.  A lot of what was left over we’ve been able to donate or throw away.  No more old college papers and notebooks stored away in boxes, tacky holiday decorations that have never made it out of the box, and clothing from 10 years ago that no matter how out of style it was- I was never able to part with it.  I must admit, there’s something freeing about ridding yourself of excess stuff- it’s like purging all the clutter out of your life and starting over new.

So tomorrow we move.  It’s going to be a long day.  I’m excited to be in a new space and explore a new neighborhood.  I’m also excited about the amount of money I’ll save on gas from being able to walk everywhere from my new pad.  Most of all, I’m excited that I will never have to sit on the DC Beltway in rush hour traffic again.  My relocation makes for an easier, faster commute to my job- one that should prove to be gridlock free!

Perhaps another post tomorrow, when I’m happily in my new place, surrounded by boxes and a bottle of red wine.

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Global Blog Round-Up: Brazil

Today I visited Global Voices, a website that dedicates itself to the curation and promotion of global blogs.  The thing that’s so interesting about this site, is that you really get an idea of what is going on in other countries through the people that actually live there.  Issues and stories that are often ignored by global media outlets are amplified here, for the purpose of a global discussion and awareness.

I chose to examine recent blogs from the past 2 months from Brazil- for no apparent reason.  I was shocked at what I found for 2 reasons- first, as I mentioned above, many of the “hot” issues in Brazil I was not aware of as they aren’t covered by media here in the U.S; and second, the majority of concerns of Brazilians are identical to the U.S., but with very stark nuances.  Below I’ve rounded-up the main blog topics I found in the Brazilian blogosphere, and offered general comparisons to what’s going on here in the U.S.

The Environment

There’s a newcomer to Brazil’s environmental ministry- Carlos Minc– who has recently replaced Marina Silva, world renowned for her crusades to preserve the Amazon rainforest.  The blogosphere shows concern from Brazilians, who hope that Minc will continue to retain continuity in environmental policies.  Mainly, bloggers seem to concern themselves with a single aspect of Brazil’s environmental policiy- one that I’ve noticed trickles down into other issues through other blog readings- and that is holding business responsible by environmental regulations BEFORE banks loan money or issue credit for development in rural areas of the Amazon.  Most bloggers believe that the key to further advancement for Brazil is by developing the Amazon, but there needs to be a planned relationship between preservation and development.   This is evident in recent riots between rural Amazon indian tribes and electric companies building dams along in Xingu River in the Amazon.

Energy

While energy is on the minds of bloggers in Brazil, the issues offer a stark contrast to energy issues here in the U.S.  While we are concerned with energy conservation and the rising costs of oil, Brazilians are concerned with the management of big-oil companies, most notably how they dispose of their waste.  Chevron-Texaco is under fire for improperly disposing of waste at the Amazon basin in Ecuador, a nearby neighbor of Brazil.  Inhabitants of that area are reporting health problems- including cancer- are calling on tougher accountability and restrictions of the big oil companies in that region.  You can read more about it here, and watch more about it here.

Cyber Politics

New cyber regulations were announced by the Brazilian Justice for the 2008 local elections, and they affect the blogging community in Brazil greatly.  The new regulations forbid campaigning through social media sites such as Twitter, You Tube and Orkut 2 days before through 1 day after the elections.  During this time, bloggers must delete all banners on their blogs that endorse a specific candidate, or that person’s candidacy could be banned.  What I found in reading the blogs is that Brazilians seem less concerned about how this affects their freedom of speech, and more confused about the details of the regulations themselves.  Bloggers are angry that the Justice has very limited knowledge of the internet and its workings, especially from a social media sense, and are angry that many of the regulations imposed upon them simply make no sense.  An entire post dedicated to this can be found here.  It will be interesting to see how these new laws play out later this year during Brazil’s elections.  It’s also interesting to compare this to the election campaigns that are currently playing out in the U.S., where entire staffs are appointed to run social media campaigns.

Social Media and Business

Here in the U.S. we know that a bad company blog can often be the kiss of death, isolating customers and angering the blogosphere.  Look to Mazda, and McDonald’s Lincoln Fry blog for examples, or read Scoble and Israel’s “Naked Conversations” for more info.  In Brazil, rather than trying to blog themselves, a popular beverage company decided to invest in 13 already popular bloggers in the country and pay them to blog about their thoughts on a new beverage the company was launching.  Other members of the blogosphere, began to point fingers, referring to these paid bloggers and their sites as “rent-a-blogs.”  This has led to a major debate between those paid to blog for a company, and those who criticize them.  It seems that Brazilian businesses are aware of how social media can be used as an advertising tool, but the blogosphere is still unsure of how to deal with it.

Obama

Yes, Obama and the “Yes We Can” phenomena has spread all over the world.  The upcoming election for the next President has the potential to be a historical event if Barack Obama is elected.  The potential of the first black President is something that has given many Americans hope for change, and unified different groups of people together like never before.  This election is just as exciting for people in Brazil as it is to us.  Brazil has the largest population of African descendants, generally “mixed” into the demographics of the country, while the U.S. remains segregated as far as unified political views and issues across races.  The election here is causing many Brazilians to question how its possible that the U.S. may have a black President, while the same situation there seems as if its something they may never see in their lifetime.  Our upcoming election seems to be adding to an ongoing dialog of race debates and debates over affirmative action in Brazil, a situation not so different than what’s going on in our backyards.

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