Friday, February 19, 2010

Domestic abuse

Yesterday an American software engineer named Joseph Andrew Stack flew a plane into a government building in Austin, Texas after leaving his personal and political manifesto/suicide note on his company's website for the world to read. What are we to make of this news? His rantings against the government, against health care reform and the IRS? This boiling anger and hatred that ultimately lead him to have no other choice but to do something that "has been coming for a long time"?

If you're the newest United States Senator out of Massachusetts, Republican Scott Brown, you shake your head sadly and say it's a real shame. He was just frustrated with our government--how can we blame him? "No one likes paying taxes obviously," said Senator Brown on Fox News following the tragedy. It is sad. It's a real shame that someone felt that this was the only thing they could do, to kill themselves in the process of attempting to kill other people that they did not even personally know, to send a message to the United States of America. But you know what else it is? It's fucking terrorism.

Before 9/11, the largest terrorist attack against the United States came in the form of one Timothy McVeigh when he bombed the Alfred P. Murrah Building in Oklahoma City on April 19, 1995, killing 168 people. Timothy McVeigh was a terrorist, and at the time, everyone pretty much agreed. A domestic terrorist; one of our own, gone rogue. Hmm... I wonder where I've heard that word a lot lately? At these Tea Party rallies I've been seeing on the news, the sorts of sentiments the protesters are voicing are scarily close to what McVeigh acted upon. In fact, at more than one rally, I've seen people toting signs with the Thomas Jefferson quote that was printed on McVeigh's t-shirt in his mugshot after the bombing.

Like McVeigh before him, Stack is a terrorist. He isn't wearing a keffiyeh and he spoke no Arabic, and that's where Senator Brown seems to be getting confused. And confused is hardly even a strong enough word after Brown called his former Senatorial opponent, Martha Coakley, “na├»ve” on terrorism, saying she possessed a “deeply troubling lack of awareness and understanding of the threats facing our troops and on our national security.” A lack of awareness and understanding, indeed. For the last eight years, we've been able to point at dark-skinned people with turbans and scream, "TERRORIST!" And it's felt pretty good for those who have to be able to classify what is going on at all times--we've got a "war" on "terror" now, a ridiculous classification for what we are attempting to quell: a series of unconnected-but-similarly-minded gangs the world over. Terrorism doesn't have a face, it is not easily recognized and fought by the very nature of what it is. It can be executed by anyone--that's why it's not a war at all. There aren't organized fronts.

But the Tea Party movement, or at least parts of it, will no doubt herald Joseph Stack as a hero, proud that someone had the guts to tell it like it is. To show the government that we're in charge, not them. And other assorted catchphrases that have made it onto their t-shirts and signs. They want our government to fight the threat of terror, while at the exact same time condoning terrorist actions of their own. And they still can't see the irony in that.

And with their newly crowned king, Scott Brown, weaseling out of using the T-word for what had happened--despite the scene looking eerily familiar to events from less than a decade ago--mark my words, the more extreme of the Teabaggers are going to take this as a call to action. They've got more in common with the "enemy" than they'd like to admit. Both groups want to destroy America as we know it, have an affinity for airplane attacks, and make shitty videos for the internet. The only difference is their names and skin color. If Stack's last name had been al-Habib, Ahmad or bin Kasim, we'd be playing a very ballgame right now. And that ballgame would be called "torture"--consequently, another thing that isn't what it really is when white Americans are the ones doing it. Funny how that works.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

ChatRoulette: Welcome to the End of the Internet

Last spring I discovered and blogged about a website called Omegle (Parts I and II) that was still relatively new to the internet. On it, you are randomly connected to a stranger somewhere in the world and invited to chat with them. At the time, I thought it was one of the most novel and brilliant ideas that had hit the web in years--a place for bored (and more often than not, horny) people to go and find someone just as bored (though unlikely as horny) to entertain themselves with. But as great as the site still remains for what it's worth, we have officially reached the end of the internet.

Enter: ChatRoulette. I found out about this site last night, and a subsequent article from New York Magazine (that managed to move seamlessly from talking about porn to referencing Walt Whitman--impressive) hot on its heels. It seems the site has only been around for a few months, launching just earlier this winter. But last night when I logged on around midnight, there were over sixteen thousand other users--more than triple what Omegle averaged at any given moment. But why? What could possibly bring people in the droves to this brand-new site (that translates, accidentally of course, to "CatWheel" in French)?

Much like Omegle, it randomly connects the user to a stranger somewhere around the world. Completely unlike Omegle, it engages your computer's microphone. And webcam. As you cycle through random people all around the world, you find yourself staring right at them. In their rooms. Often without pants. That part I can't exactly figure out. See, the users of ChatRoulette are overwhelmingly male, and there is a cross-section of them who are eternally whackin' it on screen, showing off their man-meat to anyone cycling through. I just don't understand their approach. Just like in Omegle, this service can easily be used for pornin'--but guys, if you wanna get your jollies with some sexy lady from across the sea, you might not want to introduce yourself with a paw around your yogurt-slinger. You gotta schmooze! This is like a virtual bar! Buy her a drink, don't just saunter up to her and unzip!

ChatRoulette is the most surreal experience on the internet--quite possibly in my entire life--that I have ever had. I only lasted fractions of a second with most other users, owing to the fact that I am not a girl, but on the ones where I'd last longer, and actually start talking to the people on the other end, it was almost more weird. I quickly became desensitized to the hundreds of penises and tens of frat guys flipping the bird that populated the site, and my brain all but turned off as I was cycled through by bored looking guys and the occasional junior high-aged girls who had nothing to say to me. But when I lasted more than the typical half-second with a couple of hipsters from Alabama, I wasn't even sure what to do. My parents were asleep, so I had my microphone off and I typed with them for a little bit. But it all felt so intrusive that I finally hit the "NEXT" button myself, sending me back into the maelstrom of dicks, sad-faced college kids and giggling girls who just weren't that into my face. Apparently.

Of course, there are some normals on there. I talked to a guy who was originally from Pittsburgh who thought I looked like Matthew Broderick. And a girl from Australia who was in college and liked Air and might even be reading this blog right now. They might be few and far between, but they make it all worth it. To connect with people like that. It's amazing. It's everything the internet is and should be, and at the same time, everything we've been warned about the internet becoming. The NY Mag article asks if this is "the future of the internet, or its distant past." I think neither. This is the end. This has achieved all that the internet has ever hoped for, but done so in the most frighteningly intriguing way possible. I am only glad that I got to witness this kind of thing in my lifetime. It's brilliant and horrifying, and one of the best things I've ever seen.

Maybe I'll see you on there. Don't worry, even if you don't know me, you'll recognize me. I'll be the guy with his pants on.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Charles Templeton - Farewell to God **

My father is always buying religious literature, littering our bathroom and dining room with it, trying to get me to read it, to just "understand where he's coming from." So I picked up Charles Templeton's Farewell to God in retaliation, more for him than for me. I was hoping to pass it along to him after I finished it, to finally see "where I was coming from." Of course, my dad isn't much of a reader, and is already steeped in his own library of works, so it might be a while until he gets around to this one.

As for my own read of the book, as much as I agree with each and every of Templeton's points, I can't help but think I could have argued them more convincingly, given the chance. Templeton is a former minister, and a famous one at that, old friends with Billy Graham. He worked in the ministry for quite a few years, but the glaring disparities he saw between what Christianity was and what it loved to say it was ate away at him slowly until he could no longer bring himself to say the words he was being paid (on television by that point, no less) to say.

Templeton attacks Christianity from a stance inside the religion, a different approach than famed atheists like Dawkins and Hitchens who come from scientific and philosophical backgrounds. What Templeton's book does is pick apart the Bible and the greater doctrine of the church, piece by piece, holding each story and each consequent inconsistency up to the light of an inquiring mind. He does not claim to know more or be smarter than others, just to have come to understand the horrors in the faith he'd dedicated his life to. It's really a rather sad tale when you step back from it, and I applaud the man for finding the strength enough to write such a book.

But as it goes, the writing is pretty pedestrian. It's hardly even a book for the Beginning Atheist; it's much better suited for someone who is finding themselves confused about the religion they've been raised in, looking for answers to why things just don't quite make sense. Farewell to God a simply written book, and it gets its point across expertly, so I can't knock it for that. But for someone as angry as me, it comes off a little soft. Templeton doesn't even classify himself as an unbeliever--he's a vague agnostic who insists that he still believes in "something." Perhaps he is referring to the god of Einstein, the ultimate power of the universe. Or of the aether, in its ever-flowing, almighty ambivalence to mankind. Or so I can hope, because to look for more would unhinge his entire argument, whether it came through a church, a mosque or a synagogue.