Virtual reality

Had a dream that I was late for my monthly infusion by 3 hours. The clinic was actually closing and my nurse was totally wiped out. As I was trying to figure out what to do, I noticed she had fallen asleep in one of the chairs. Seemed like a good idea, so I dozed off too.

Then I woke up. Slowly, I realized I didn’t know where I was. My brother, father, and my stepmother were there and they were treating me as if I had come out of a coma or something. That was worrying but it did go a ways towards explaining why I didn’t recognize where I was.

As they showed me around I was amazed at the sheer size of the place. It was palatial. It probably had 40 or 50 rooms, crazy big place. The view was stunning too. We were high up on a cliff overlooking a rocky view of the ocean crashing against the rocks. “Where am I?” This is our house in Nova Scotia is what I was told. “But how could you afford a place like this, did you win the lottery or something?” That’s when my stepmother gave me an exasperated look and said, “Isaac, you’re sleepwalking.”

Of course! I had heard that Ambien can make people start sleepwalking. My cousins and uncle used to do it and I always wondered what it was like. Me sleepwalking explained everything and was plausible, I was actually pleased that I had finally done it.

My stepmother led me back to my room so I could go back to sleep. She was having trouble with the door, then I woke up.

At least I think I did. Now I’m typing this blog post while getting my infusion. It looks like it was just a regular dream, not sleepwalking but man, what a dream! Ambien is also known for giving you vivid dreams. This was the most lifelike, the most convincing dream I had ever had. I can do without the nested dreaming/waking thing though. I’m not the best thinker when I wake up anyway, making me wonder if I’m actually awake might make me a little paranoid after a while.

Not sure if having those kinds of dreams are a good or bad thing. I guess having them is good as it means I’m sleeping. I’ll go with that.

Surprise in PT today

Went to PT for the first time in two weeks and had a bit of a surprise. She tested my hip strength and they tested out as normal. We’ve been working on those for the past 5 months and the improvement seemed to come once I stopped doing PT for a bit. Hmmm.

My therapist told me that there wasn’t really anything left we could do in hour long sessions. So that’s pretty much it, I won’t be going back if all goes well.

That’s not to say everything’s good unfortunately. I need to work only stamina. Right now I can stand up for 20 minutes, maybe 30 before getting run down. That’s better than I was 5 months ago, but it’s a long ways from doing an 8 hour day.

So no more PT for the time being. I’m going to start trying to stand around and walk more. Hopefully I’ll be back at work in the near future.

I’m going to scream…

So many of my FaceBook friends are telling me that they are voting for Obama because of Rommney’s stance on abortion or Obama’s stance on gay marriage. Most of the advertising for the candidates has been about the economy or social outlook/issues. Was no one paying attention in civics class? Big rant ahead…

 

It’s important to vote for the president for what the president actually can do. He does nominate Supreme court justices, but doesn’t confirm them. The reproductive rights stuff confuses me as it isn’t clear to me what the President’s stance on abortion has to do with what he can do. The same with marriage stuff.

Drone strikes on the other hand, he has total control over. It frustrates me to no end that the president actually killing people, sometimes Americans, is ignored but stuff that congress is responsible for is what is promoted for electing the president. Laws that affect social and economic issues are all on congress yet that’s all we’ve heard about this election. Kill lists? Fighting the courts for indefinite detention ? Ramped up warrentless wire tapping and expanding domestic surveillance? Record numbers of deportations? Cracking down on medical marijuana dispensaries that comply with state law? Unilateral action in Libya? Messing with the bankruptcy process to help out friends of the administration? All directly under the president’s control. Apparently everyone is OK not only with Obama doing that stuff but is also OK with a Republican getting those powers some day.

In an ideal world, we would hold an administration accountable for those actions and vote them out. Instead, we are told to hold our nose and vote for someone that has already done these things because of the fear that his opponent might do some bad things in the future. All the while being bombarded with causes that the president only has indirect influence on as the primary reason to vote for them. Mood affiliation rules the day, “Don’t vote for that asshole” is the sum of the campaigns’ and supporters’ efforts.

Sorry for ranting, but I’ve had it. I’m sick of being held hostage to the two main parties that not only embrace the executive branch power grab, but actively promote it being the determining factor across a wide range of things that the president does not control. We are not electing a king. 

Why I feel trapped this election

Our current president has escalated drone attacks (especially in non combat areas), is actively pursuing the ability to indefinitely detain anyone, took unilateral action in Libya, doubled down in Afghanistan, has a kill list without any oversight, has assassinated at least one American without a trial, has deported more people in 4 years than Bush did in 8, has started to crack down on medical marijuana dispensaries even when he said he wouldn’t, screwed the only profitable fully owned American car company along with various pensioners and bond holders in bailing out GM and Chrysler, has ramped up the use of warrentless wire tapping, secret FBI letters, and other nasty provisions of the Patriot Act, etc. etc. etc. In short, he has been a civil rights and foreign policy disaster. Compare the Democratic National Party platforms from 2008 and 2012. Not that anyone seems to have noticed or cared mind you… Since war and civil liberties are the most important things to me, I have been very frustrated this election cycle.

In an ideal world, an administration that does those sorts of things gets booted out of office and we start again. In the real world, once he gets the boot those powers get handed to a Republican administration. Imagine what Rove, Cheney, et al would have done if they were given those powers! What are the chances of Obama backing off of those powers? Slim to none. 

 

So, Obama or Romney? Oi, we are so screwed…

 

 

Don’t blame a video for foreign policy shortcomings

Widespread anti-US protests have broken out all across the muslim world, with fatal consequences in Libya. Check out this Google Maps page to see how wide the protests are. If you believe the press reports, a video on youtube is the reason. That in turn has brought out bizarre responses from all over the political spectrum. Some are claiming this just proves that we need to increase our presence in the War on Terror. Others are lambasting the video makers and treating them as if they are the ones that killed the ambassador in Libya.

All of that is missing the underlying reality. If the US were seen as a benevolent, freedom loving, peaceful nation, a video on youtube would have little effect. That video is a rallying point for a sentiment that keeps growing across the muslim world, it isn’t the cause of the sentiment. It isn’t as though this hatred has come out of nowhere, that everything was fine until that video was made. Yes, protesting and killing people over a shoddy youtube video is stupid but that is the point. The video was simply the match that started the fire. The conditions have been ripe for a conflagration for a while.

The violence should be a wakeup call. Our war on terror has not made us a lot of friends. Nor has our current and former support of terrible rulers been forgotten. It’s rare that people from all political stripes misjudge an event like this. Our ever expanding war on what amounts to Afghan, Pakistani, Yemeni, and Somali rednecks keeps upping the anger. Between our now 11 year(!) war in Afghanistan and our ever increasing drone strikes in the hinterlands of distant countries, outrage is easy to come by.

There was a time when Americans were upset by war enough to take to the streets. The Yemenis I knew took comfort in knowing that a lot of Americans didn’t like what the government was doing. Now nobody seems to care over here. What used to be considered evil is now tolerated. Why? 

We crossed a line a long time ago between “defending the US” and killing people that don’t like us. I never once worried about being an American in Yemen, I would now. Not only has the US government gone on a killing spree, there is no longer any hint of Americans caring. I wasn’t surprised at the violence and and protesting, only that it has taken this long to happen.

Citizens United paranoia

Just saw that the Democrats have put overturning the Citizens United ruling, by constitutional amendment if necessary, into their party plank. I’m sure that’s going to rouse a lot of support among the Democrat rank and file. I hope that enthusiasm is due to not thinking things through carefully instead of knowing and supporting the results of that position. 

It’s important to remember what the Citizens United group did and why it got them in trouble. That organization made a video that was critical of Hillary Clinton and released it fairly close to an election. It wasn’t an ad, it was a 90 minute “documentary” available on video on demand cable channels. I’m sure that it was as unbiased as any Michael Moore documentary (eye roll) but the veracity of the critique isn’t what got them in trouble, it was the timing. The laws at the time had an exclusion zone around elections when it came to political speech by groups.

So keep that in mind, a group was stopped from distributing a film because it was critical of a politician near an election. Doesn’t that strike you as… unAmerican? I mean, we usually associate illegal critiques of politicians with places like China, the middle east, Mymmar, etc. Speaking out against politicians is pretty much what the 1st amendment is about.

“But corporations aren’t people!” I still don’t know what that phrase is trying to argue. Corporations are made up of people and in the case of advocacy groups, they are made up of people that want to share a viewpoint. Is there really a good reason they shouldn’t be heard? Is there a good way for ideas to get out into the mainstream press without people forming into groups? Should we only hear messages from the political parties? Should single issue groups really be marginalized?

But let’s say you’re OK with that. The important thing is that we keep corporations from spending money on political advocacy. I’m going to skip the “why” question and ask if that applies to all corporations. If a constitutional amendment passes, how do we distinguish the New York Times corporation from any other? What would stop a group like Citizens United from claiming to be “the press?” Would these rules apply to the DNC and RNC? The other question is do we try to stop corporations from political advocacy in general or just from advocating candidates? Is there a difference? Groups (and they are mostly corporations) do political advocacy all the time. Is there a practical difference between saying “Vote for a candidate that supports unions” vs. “The AFLCIO endorses Obama because he supports unions”? At what point would we tell groups like the ACLU, NAACP, Teamsters, NEA, that they can’t advocate for candidates? Do we really want that? The bottom line is that any law or amendment that tries to address these questions will most likely be too broad and limit too much speech. If it isn’t it will be too easily circumvented.

The big thing to remember is that whenever a right is infringed upon, it is always the smaller, more vulnerable group that is at the most risk. Laws that restrict political speech will always disproportionally affect minority opinions, opinions from more vulnerable populations. Yes, powerful groups will use it for their own agendas, but we have to keep open the possibility for all groups to have their say. If you worry about the powerful swamping the little guy with their messages, think about how much worse it would be if the little guy isn’t allowed to speak at all. If you want groups like the ACLU, NAACP, or any other advocacy groups to have a voice in elections, you should be happy with the Citizens United decision.

"He saved the American auto industry"

I keep hearing about how Obama saved the US auto industry and I don’t understand why this is going unchallenged. FIrst off, by “US auto industry” they must not mean Ford, and it does include a majority foreign owned company. And by “saved” they mean that GM and Chrysler were prevented from going through the regular bankruptcy process. This companies were never in danger of disappearing altogether. How many airlines have gone through bankruptcy? Answer: all of them save Southwest. There isn’t any reason to think that GM would have gone away. What happened instead was that the Obama administration jumped in and did things their way. What happened? Bondholders like pensions, mutual funds (which are common 401k investments) hedge funds, and any other retail investor got 5 cents on the dollar despite the fact that they should have been first in line for compensation. The government ended up getting around 87 cents on the dollar and the UAW got about 76 cents on the dollar.

This was a pure political play. Right now the government is sitting on 10 billion dollars of GM stock and is currently sitting on a stock loss of about 16 billion. That’s a cool $26 billion all in order to secure UAW, and by extension unions in general, votes. That’s just at GM. Any job can be saved if you through enough money at it. It would have been far cheaper to simply mail a check to the people that lost their jobs via regular bankruptcy hearings and much more equitable.

Funnily enough, I don’t like the fact that taxpayers are out 26 billion and Obama spinning it as a success. The fact that it is trumpeted as a reason to vote for him makes my head spin.

Splits inside both parties, a wish

Both the democrats and republicans are starting to feel pressure from divided constituencies  inside their own tent. The split seems to be along moral/money lines. Conservative/liberal is a pretty good label for social values, but a pretty terrible one for fiscal ones. When you call someone liberal or conservative, what does that mean? Are gay members of the military conservative or liberal? What about a pro-life democrat? Should black millionaires vote for Obama or Romney? Clearly, the liberal/conservative label is almost as useless as the republican/democrat label. Practically speaking, those are the only two parties we have though. What if that changed?

For a  while now, democrats have generally been for broader use of government power in social programs than republicans. More recently, both parties have been hijacked by moral platforms that significant parts of the party do not approve of. Conservative Christians have a lot of control over the republican party moral platform and this makes a lot of the more tolerant/liberal people inside the party uneasy (see Ron Paul and his supporters). In the same vein, the democratic party is also the party of minorities. Black and Latino voters tend to be more socially conservative than the typical white democrat. Close to 40% of democrats don’t approve of Obama’s support for gay marriage.

Clearly, as long as the government is in charge of both money matters as well as values, both the democratic and republican parties are going to confuse and come up short for a lot of people. If parties have to align along two axes (only… I’ll get to a third one in a bit), 2 isn’t going to cut it, we need four. Here’s how I’d break the current parties down:

1) A group that wants less government money spent on social programs and is socially conservative. This is the current popular view of republicans.

2) A group that wants less government money spent on social programs and is socially liberal. This includes gay republicans and republicans that are just tolerant of different kinds of people.

3) A group that wants a lot of money to be spent on government programs and is socially liberal. This is the stereotypical white democrat. 

4) A group that wants a lot of money to be spent on government programs and is socially conservative. This is going to include a lot of religious democrats and that includes a large number of blacks and latinos. 

 

You’ll notice that I didn’t mention the military or foreign policy. That’s because both parties are so similar in that regard that I have trouble telling them apart nowadays. There are of course more than two axes, things like abortion, immigration, and the drug war are all possible single issue voter concerns. Currently, groups 1,2 and 3,4 are supposed to come together at their conventions and hammer out platforms that they will agree to. We then have two parties in DC that do battle. I don’t think I’m alone in thinking that a lot gets lost in that process. I would much rather have all 4 groups present in DC. It can be argued that they already are, different states, and different congressional districts have different breakdowns on the social/liberal continuum. The problem is that all of them are still beholden to the machinations of the main parties political influence. The RNC and DNC hold big purse strings and make people they support toe the company line. I think it would be much more useful and representative if these groups could be on their own and form floating coalitions on  a bill by bill basis. The current atmosphere of having to score points against the other team is marginalizing too many people’s interests.

 

There is another axis that isn’t discussed nearly as much as it should be and that is the idea of how much control you are comfortable giving the government. This is the axis that libertarians get screwed on. While self described libertarians obsess over this, republicans take it as ancillary to how much they get taxed and democrats typically don’t notice until it gets to a ridiculous point. Many libertarians point out that a lot of the culture wars would go away if the government didn’t try to legislate morals or be involved in people’s personal affairs. The two core things about libertarians that are routinely glossed over are peace and tolerance. Tolerance doesn’t mean you have to approve of what other people do in their own lives, but it does mean that you allow them to do it. If the parties adopted a live and let live attitude instead of legislating values, we could then concentrate on money matters.

All of this is pie in the sky thinking of course. I do think that if this split came about and caused distinct parties that more or less shared power, we would have a much more representative government. The two party system tends to flatten differences out between people that happen to have a loose connection on fiscal matters. My more libertarian suggestion is to simply remove the moral aspect out of laws, but the 4 party system would be a step in the right direction.

How much would you pay for Facebook? (app.net)

We all know that Facebook is free. I mean, it is free, right? On the other hand, we all also have that kind of unsettling feeling that they are doing something with our online identities. Facebook is what made the question, “Why are they showing me this ad?” a common one. We never thought about it on TV or radio but we all have a sense that they are looking at us and targeting specific ads towards us. They’re sometimes way off of course but that is their game plan. There is also the worry about what other companies they are allowing to look at us.

It’s a tradeoff. Facebook has to be paid for somehow. All of the programmers, the servers, the IT guys, the bandwidth, none of it comes for free. Just like radio and TV before it, Facebook decided to go with ads to support the site. TV and radio ads are annoying, but they don’t have the creepy factor that social media sites do. The TV can’t know who your friends are and what all of you like.

So if you don’t like the way Facebook uses our information, would you be willing to pay them directly instead?

I routinely pay for content so that I don’t get ads. It helps that I really only follow one tv show, Dr. Who. I don’t watch it on TV anymore, BBC America is just brutal with the ads. The show is chopped up enough to make it annoying. Instead, I watch it a day later when I can download it from iTunes. No ads, no interruptions. 

I also subscribe to several music services. Slacker Radio, LastFM, Spotify, and Amazon Play all cost me money, but it also means that I get to listen to the music I want, when I want it, the way I want it, without ads. Nowadays, I can’t sit through FM radio and network TV. I do the same for apps, I buy them whenever I can to avoid the ads. 

App.net is an attempt to bring a paid experience to social networking. You pay them directly and you get the service with no ads and no usage of your information. Almost everything I’ve read says that it is trying to be Twitter so it is bound to fail because it doesn’t have the numbers that Twitter has to make it a viable service. It’s true that the current Alpha release (a release that is not meant for general use, it is for demonstration only. Traditionally software goes through an additional Beta phase before being deemed fit for end users) looks like Twitter but as GigaOm has pointed out, the goal is to be a platform and not just a Twitter competitor. As a platform, app.net could then be used by other application writers to access it and do some amazing things with it including expanding the social aspect of it. 

The minimum buy in fee was $50. That would allow you to secure your desired user name plus give you a year’s worth of time on it. Some of my friends have balked at the price and I had to think about it. I realized that I pay that (and more) to other services without even thinking about it. If this takes off, would you be willing to pay 4.25 a month for a social experience that isn’t interested in selling you? That made my decision for me. My handle is IsaacC.

There are plenty of other types of paid vs. free experiences on the web and on our devices. Apps, web development sites, photo galleries, even blogs! Not sure why something like social networking couldn’t be the same. Has anyone else ever tried this? I know of services that are private social sites, but app.net is trying to scale to allow anyone to interact with anyone else if they wanted. I wish them luck and I’m excited to see what developers can do with this platform.

Another month

It’s official, I’ll be doing at least another month of physical therapy. I finally feel some muscles where I didn’t have any before, but my stamina just isn’t there. Certainly not enough for a whole day’s worth. It could be worse really. I am seeing some improvement, now we just need to speed that up.