Rochester Wackiness

3 faces of Rochester’s social media geekery.

Having spent the better part of three years actively participating in social networking in Rochester, I begin to see a pattern emerge whenever something really big happens. Whether it’s the Park Avenue Festival (big, but annual) or Barack Obama coming to town, we basically have three faces we like to show the public whenever Awesome Event X happens.

There are of course more faces than three. And no one person fits into one face all the time. But there is a consistent triumvirate, nevertheless, as predictable in its presence as it is in its temperament. I thought I’d outline them here for the sake of discussion.

The Sunny Optimist

Here’s an Instagram of a receipt for SPF1000 Rochester-approved sunscreen! Because it is #AwesomeToBeAlive when #EventX is happening! So cool, man.

This irrepressible soul wants to share their enthusiasm for all things Event X, no matter how trivial or meaningless. The Sunny Optimist knows that stuff like this doesn’t happen every day and you have to make the most of it. There is no countervailing fact or inconvenient truth that cannot be swept under the rug for the sake of enjoying ourselves in this, our most blessed moment. Cheer up, everybody! It’s Event X!!

The Chain-smoking Ennui-ite

For chrissakes, people. Its just the frickin’ #EventX. Who really cares? All this does is screw up traffic, and I’m late for a proctology exam.

Oh, this weary world of “special” events. Nothing ever changes for the CSE. Even when change happens, it happens exactly as they thought it would. Big deal. And anyway, the Ennui would like to point out that everything about this event is a sham in the first place. And all of the people gushing over it are just stupid. And they wish they could just ignore all this annoying Event X traffic, but how? Shut off Twitter and Facebook? That’s crazy talk. Oh, this awful world.

The Boy (or Girl) Who Lost Their Balloon

Why can’t anyone be happy that #EventX is happening? Why, oh, why, oh WHY??

This might be thought of as “the sweet spot” of Rochester social media event thinking. This person is 100% on-board with Event X. He or she truly wants to be part of the fun.

Sadly, they simply. can. not. It seems that others in the crowd, whom Lost Balloon deems insufficiently joyful, have prevented their happiness.

That there are people who disagree with or question their otherwise-boundless joy is so upsetting to them, that they feel the need to call out – usually in generic and unspecific terms – everyone who can’t seem to see how awesome Event X is. They have to take time out of their busy schedule of frolicking in the wonderfulness of Event X to get pissed off at everyone else ruining their good time.

If every staffer on Barack Obama’s bus tour opted to block the #roc and #POTUSroc hashtags, you could hardly blame them. But like it or not, Rochester’s gotta be what we are. And even when we’re bitching, we do with hysterical style. So, there’s that.

Politics Technology

PRISM: it’s not “just meta data”

Briefly, I wanted to touch on the President’s comments about the PRISM program that the FBI and NSA are using to monitor traffic on telephone and Internet networks. I am increasingly disappointed by President Obama’s cavalier attitude toward the program and the public’s objections to it. But in particular, I am disappointed in the way that he and others obfuscate around an important point.

Obama Dismisses ‘Hype’ Over NSA Reports: ‘Nobody Is Listening To Your Telephone Calls’

“When it comes to telephone calls, nobody is listening to your telephone calls. That’s not what this program’s about,” Obama said.

It’s just “meta data,” he and others want you to think. What’s really important about your phone calls is what you said, right? And nobody’s listening to that.

But keep in mind: if you’re not plotting a terrorist attack, the content of your phone conversations is probably completely banal horseshit in the first place. Not even really important enough, in most cases, for you to remember. It is not the valuable part.

Who you call and when – to say nothing of what you uploaded to YouTube, when you tweeted, etc – is far more important most of the time than what you said. That may be different for terrorists, but remember: the government says it’s not listening.


The second Presidential Debate was yet another fail for science

We have now had three hours of Presidential level debates and an hour and a half of Vice Presidential debates. And how much time was devoted to any serious discussion of any of the plethora of issues important to our nation and rooted in science have their been? By my estimation, diddly shit.

The closest we’ve gotten have been repeated, vague nods towards “green energy,” all of which were more concerned with the economy than with anything else. This, by the way, was only in the most recent debate. The first debate was devoted – to the extent that any particular focus could be considered present in the moderation – on economic issues. Most of which were so vague and wonky that I doubt anybody got much out of that debate besides the fact the Obama stunk the joint out.

We have one and a half hours of debating to go before America makes her decision. And that debate will focus on foreign policy. No where in this so far discussion has there been:

  • Climate change
  • STEM education funding
  • The space program
  • Our underfunded planetary science program
  • Technology, security and medical records
  • Cybercrime and terrorism
  • The Internet and Net Neutrality
  • Mobile bandwidth
  • The role of science and religion in public policy making
  • Vaccinations and public policy

What else have we missed out on? And for what? An hour and a half long, meandering debate primarily about the deficit neither man will realistically cut. And binders. Which, while nothing short of entertaining, aren’t exactly an exercise deep-delving public policy cogitation.

Hope you’ve all heard enough to make up your minds, people. Because this is pretty much all you get.


Obama campaign sues third party vendor. Should political campaigns be able to copyright?

Not sure how many of my readers are particularly interested in copyright law as it pertains to political campaigns, but I found this article from the First Amendment Center interesting:

A federal judge in Washington issued a preliminary injunction barring Washington-based from selling merchandise with the “O” logo. But the judge reserved judgment on whether the website should also be barred from selling merchandise with a logo that uses the distinctive “O” as part of the year 2012.

U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan said lawyers for the campaign had shown the campaign owns the trademark on the so-called “rising sun” logo, a blue “O” with red and white stripes at the bottom. The campaign has also applied for a trademark on the 2012 logo, but it has not been granted. Sullivan ordered both sides to provide more information.

This strikes me as odd for a couple of reasons, not the least of which is, as the article notes, that other Democratic campaigns have used the same company without incident. But the second reason is: why should a political campaign even be allowed to copyright its goods? Why should a group whose sole purpose is to elect a President of the United States even be allowed to have discrete intellectual property?

Imagine, for example, a White House that decided to file for intellectual property rights for some of the policies the Administration put into place? If the White House and the halls of Congress are (at least ceremonially) the property of our democracy, then surely so are our democratic processes and the tools that go into it?

Commie that I am, I’m not that big of a fan of intellectual property, of course. I’ve made that point clear enough. And commie that I am, I’m very-much in favour of publicly-funded elections. So, maybe this is just the confluence of those two beliefs. But why would an election campaign for office not for sale need intellectual property to sell? Does that not seem contradictory?


Debt Ceiling: The Best De-fense is Political Exped-ience

Catching hell from his Tea Party constituency over his debt ceiling plan, Senator Mitch McConnell goes about explaining his politically expedient escape hatch with more political expedience:

Mitch McConnell goes on offense with debt ceiling plan – Manu Raju –

To recap, Mitch McConnell yesterday suggested that the Republicans in the Senate would be willing to offer the President a debt ceiling raising unfettered by the massive spending cuts that have been the subject of such debate leading up to this point. The idea of course being that raising the debt ceiling is such an onerously bad political move that Obama would surely be destroyed politically for doing so.

Thing is: I’m having a hard time believing that something as esoteric as raising the debt ceiling – which is, after all, only an arbitrary rule imposed by the labyrinthine and painfully dull machinations of Congress – will excite the kind of popular outrage needed to elect one of the buffoons the Republican Party is currently hanging its hat on.

But there was no winning this fight on the Republican side without tax increases, and that was obvious. They couldn’t even come up with a list of politically-palatable cuts that would have gotten them where they initially insisted they wanted to go, fiscally speaking. So, if the choice is between an agreement that includes tax increases and a debt ceiling increase, or just the debt increase that the Republicans can attempt to wash their hands of, I guess the latter is the better choice.

This is a win-win for the President if he’s willing to take it. He doesn’t even have to try to explain why he cut Social Security, because he won’t have to.


Truth: The Second Term Challenger Trap

Mondale did it. Dole did it. Kerry did it. Tim Pawlenty is definitely doing it.

And it makes some degree of sense, after all: when running against an incumbent president, it is important to highlight both what you believe the mistakes of that administration were and what new things you bring to the table. Moreover, the insistence that the current administration is not being honest with the American public generally satisfies the work ethic of the base, who are generally convinced that everything they’ve been told by the opposition is a lie in the first place. You can get them out and waving flags for the next several months.

The trouble is: there are two rules of campaigning that I tend regard as being as immutable and basic as the boiling point of water, both of which are ignored at the peril of the challenger candidate. The first is: he who owns the optimistic future can win the presidency. The second, intimately tied to the first, is: don’t lecture the voter on how badly they screwed up the last election.

“Hope” and “Change” are good choices for an optimistic campaign. And they worked. Tim Pawlenty’s announcement advertisement chooses instead, “Truth.”

Well, we all prefer to be told the truth. But we’re less inclined to listen to a candidate who introduces themselves as the person who is going to tell you what a silly person you are for having believed the last guy. Voting is a thing two thirds of our population isn’t really into in the first place, but that last third puts a lot on the line when they step into the voting booth. And if things aren’t working out like we thought they would with our chosen president, we’re perfectly willing to make a change.

But we’ll make a change to the guy who looks like he can get the job done, not the guy who thinks he knows what we did wrong last time. Pawlenty says he, “could promise that we can eliminate a $14-trillion debt, create jobs for 10 million people, restructure Social Security and healthcare all without making any tough decisions,” but he doesn’t think such optimism has any place in a job interview. He knows exactly what’s wrong, but he can’t promise he’ll fix it. Rather, he thinks he, “could just tell you the truth.”

And with that, Tim Pawlenty makes a firm commitment to spend at least a couple million dollars of someone else’s money seeking at least the Republican nomination – though he’s not going to promise that he’ll win, naturally – and it will all be in vain. Seriously, if you were interviewing plumbers, doctors, accountants or seasonal help at Walmart, would this by the guy you would hire?

On eve of announcement, Tim Pawlenty promises to tell the truth –


If 100 Percent of Students Pass, 100 Percent Also Fail

Your kid is dumb. Sorry.

Well, maybe he’s not dumb. Maybe he learns differently or perhaps thinks differently. No, not learning disabled, though that’s a possibility, too: just maybe a writer or a musician, not a mathematician. Hey! Maybe they like fixing cars or working in machine shops.

But fuck all that: Kirstin Gillibrand needs to make you think she cares about education, and so like all politicians, she’s going to push the “Math, Science and Engineering” canard as our route to a better tomorrow. This according to an article by @innovationtrail :

Gillibrand: Math and science are key to the future of the workforce | Innovation Trail.

Remember when our economy was doing so much better? Yeah, that’s when we made stuff. We don’t make stuff anymore and the insistence that our future lies in lab coats and masters degrees has been part of the problem for lo this past forty years. But because there is a natural instinct for parents to want to see their kids do better than themselves, there is a natural tendency to vote for the person who makes you think that might happen. And every politician – from Gillibrand to Obama to Paul Ryan – plays that instinct for all its worth. In fact, its not even an instinct as much as it is a reflex.

And the NCLB insistence that *all* children pass math and science at a certain level is also part of this problem. Gillibrand is trying to repackage that turd as something more constructive, but we’re right back where we started. If your kid doesn’t pass the class by 2014, well, we’ll either have to kick him out of school or else lower the standards to match his dumb ass.

The truth is that education is not machining: you don’t get to set some tools, run a few test pieces, and then let the machine turn out perfectly-similar parts all day long. Education is an intensely personal and highly individualized pursuit that requires the kid to find their own path and the teacher to help them. No kid is ever the same, nor would we be anything less than horrified if our children were returned to us as automatons. Yet this is what is required.

Education is, in fact, a horrible political chess piece in that it is just barely quantifiable in the first place. What, exactly, qualifies as a success story? A better quality of life, perhaps? And what does that mean? No, better that we stick to proven-ineffective standardized testing that yields the statistics that look so good on a campaign flier.


No bin-Laden Pictures. Well, There Goes My Screensaver


Obama: I won’t release bin Laden death photos – Political Hotsheet – CBS News.

The only really rational argument for releasing these pictures was that in many parts of the world – I’m thinking Pakistan, Afghanistan and the mountains of West Virginia, in particular – DNA testing would not have sufficed as evidence of bin-Laden’s death. To the extent that releasing the images would have mollified such deniers, I would have been fine with releasing the images. I don’t have to look at them, after all.

But as Jon Stewart rightly pointed out last night, there really is no level of proof that will satisfy everybody. So cultural preferences aside, people will have to either take the president at his word – that, and the remarkable paucity of bin-Laden videos that is to come – or they won’t. There’s really no reason for the United States to cater to the rather barbaric ritual of bringing the head of our victims out for public display.

Economy Politics

Assessing the Obama Deficit Plan

In a very lengthy speech, filled with impassioned rhetoric about American values, President Obama laid out what the White House’s plan for reducing the deficit is. The passion, while appreciated, leaves me a little cold: he’s said all this stuff before, but will he fight for it? For now, I’d prefer to concentrate on the actual policy changes as outlined in the speech.

President Obama’s first point is, honestly, a bit of jargon-laden nonsense. He says we will “make the tough cuts that are necessary,” but that we will invest in, “new roads and airports and broadband access… education and job training.” While I can agree with the sentiment expressed in these words, this first point is basically just that: sentiment. To the extent that this is a statement of beliefs and an opening bid for negotiating with Republican leaders, it lays down the marker on these specific investments. Maybe I just want more detail than he can really give before a negotiation of that type. But we know what happens when this White House “negotiates” with Republicans, so this does not fill me with confidence.

The second part of President Obama’s plan is equally noncommittal and definitely a missed opportunity: he simply says we have to find savings in military spending. Great. But when he says that he will simply “work with Secretary Gates and the Joint Chiefs,” that’s effectively saying, “don’t worry. We got this.”

Where are the required cuts to military spending that have to be made by Congress? You know: the people he’s “negotiating” with? Where is the challenge to reduce spending by defunding useless military spending? Why is he taking all the responsibility for himself when Congress holds the purse strings?

His third point is on health care reform and its where he lays down the biggest and most important marker: allowing Medicare to negotiate the price of prescriptions for its patients. This is, really, a shot across the bow of Republicans that should have been made much more loudly: it is precisely because the Medicare “reform” measures of the Bush era eliminated this ability that the cost of Medicare has skyrocketed, adding to our deficit.

So, while Republicans aim to kill the Health Care Reform Act, President Obama looks to undo the damage of the Medicare Reform Act. I won’t say which is more “likely” a success owing to the fact that I’m getting a bit cynical. But I will say that undoing HCR is going to be hugely unpopular, whereas the MRA was a loser from the get-go. Hard to see how Republicans argue against this, except to bald-face lie. And they wouldn’t do that, would they?

The fourth point in the plan is a bit of finesse: he’s actually talking about raising a lot of people’s taxes, but doing so in a way that makes it seem like he’s talking about rich people. He says that, in order to reform the tax code, we should eliminate a lot of the write-offs that are in the system. Ones which, it is true, certainly benefit the rich in larger sums than the middle class; ones that affect the poor not a whit.

But to be clear: we’re talking about increasing the tax liability for most upper-middle income families by a significant amount. This, as a middle-income DINK, strikes me as just fine: my tax burden and that of most middle-income families has decreased by half over the last fifty years. We can probably afford a little less in tax returns, which most of us are just going to spend on a new television anyway.

So, the entire speech could probably have been pared down to the last two points, though I realize that’s not now it works in Washington. The question now becomes: what parts of this is Obama going to cave on? If he can manage to get even a little bit of those last two points into the final package, he will have done the country a world of good, but at what price?


Does Legality Even Matter?

What feels good and what is morally or legally defensible are often not quite the same things. For example, it is difficult to find any reason to have sympathy for Qadaffi in Libya and more than ample reason to be inspired by the struggle for democracy across the Middle East. So, seeing the European powers and America rush into Libya with guns blazing, playing calvalry to the beleaguered resistance has a certain movie hero appeal.

But here’s the thing: its grossly illegal for the President of the United States to do what Barack Obama has chosen to do in aiding Europe as he himself has previously acknowledged. Yet in the Survey USA poll released today, nowhere in the opinion questions is even the hint that what has transpired was at all illegal:

SurveyUSA News Poll #18057.

I’m sure that intervening in Libya is the right thing to do, both for moral and political reasons, as one commenter on Talking Points Memo recently pointed out. But in doing so, the President is violating the law. And nobody seems interested in that. Guess it must just be different with a Democratic president?


Libya: What an odd comparison…

Pew puts out polling data that says, I think quite predictably, that people are generally pretty wary of getting involved in #Libya. There’s really no reason to think they wouldn’t be:

Public Wary of Military Intervention in Libya: Overview – Pew Research Center for the People & the Press.

What is strange is: to contrast our current opinion polls with something in the recent past, Pew chooses to go with Kosovo and Darfur. Well, this isn’t really the same thing, is it? Both Kosovo and Darfur were ethnic cleansing situations, where a much more powerful group imposed brutal punishment on another simply for being different. Libya is a revolution, where a very organized opposition is making a stand against their nominal head of state. Why do those three belong in the same comparison in the first place?

I think its also worth pointing out that, unlike the international liberalism of the Clinton Administration and the international troublemaking of the Bush Administration, the general tone of respect and deference for the private affairs of other nations exhibited by the Obama Administration has made a positive impact in the sometimes nosy inclinations of the American polling public.


President Obama: “I’d Tap That!”

Every major spike in oil prices brings with it a major spike in bullshit discussions of the Strategic Petroleum Reserve. Right on queue, here’s President Obama:

Obama: Ready To Tap Oil Reserve If Needed : NPR.

Trouble is: there’s about 600 million barrels of oil in the SPR and we use about 20 million a day. So, that gives us about a month’s supply, after which time, we won’t have any more reserves. Filling it back up again will require us to – oh yeah! – buy more. So even if the cost of oil goes down slightly as a result of us relying on the SPR, it goes right back up again when we need to fill it up.. unless of course you’d like to go without?