The First Canadian President!

I bought into part of the birther narrative, and didn’t even realize it. You probably did too.

We all knew the birthers were crazy, because Obama wasn’t born in Kenya. But not one of us questioned the premise – that to be president, you need to be born on American soil. Now that the Canadian-born Ted Cruz announced his candidacy, legal scholars are saying the “natural-born citizen” requirement outlined in the constitution includes people born abroad to American parents. Legal scholars apparently aren’t particularly divided on this point.

This means that, even if Obama was born in Kenya, his American mother means he’s eligible for the presidency. This was true the entire time. In all the years of the bullshit birther narrative distracting us from actual issues, I don’t remember this coming up – not even once. We were all too busy being amused by the craziness to question the premise.

The web is a pinball machine of outrage, perpetually stuck in multiball mode. We do everything we can to juggle our silver balls of superiority, and the birther narrative stayed in play longer than most. It felt like the kind of thing that liberals would make up just to prove that conservatives are stupid and/or racist, but apparently some people actually did – and still do – think Obama was born outside the country. Hilarious! We kept a lot of bullshit in play for through the years – death panels, Benghazi, “Keep Your Goddamn Government Hands Off My Medicare” – but the birther movement is the one ball that just wouldn’t stop bouncing around, racking up more combos and missions than anyone thought possible (and making us feel oh-so-smug in the process).

There was never, so far as I knew, any reason to believe Obama was born in Kenya, but the sort of people who still read email forwards thought otherwise…because the Internet. And left-wing publications happily pointed this out, repeatedly, because aren’t those fucking right wingers just batshit crazy? Isn’t it funny?

And that whole time, not one person asked what in retrospect is the most obvious question: would Obama being born in Kenya make him ineligible for the presidency? Apparently not.

Of course, nonsensical focus on points that don’t matter is not unique to right-wingers. Lefties have been bitching about the Keystone pipeline for years. It’s as though Obama could convince the nation of Canada and every oil company on earth that the tar sands aren’t worth pursuing just by preventing a pipeline from being built. Apparently there’s no other way to move the oil, and everyone will just pack up shop if the pipeline is blocked, because the US President can control LITERALLY EVERYTHING regardless of what State Department reports say.

Seriously, following US politics in 2015 is like being a fan of a TV show that the writers stopped caring about ages ago. Nothing makes sense, no one is even trying to tie up the lose ends and the performers are just phoning it in at this point. Why not just introduce a bunch of irrelevant plot points (senators writing a letter to Iran) or re-hash old ideas (Bush versus Clinton). It’s just lazy at this point; no wonder fewer people are tuning in.

Oh well, whatever. There might be a Canadian president! That’s good news right? Peace, order, and good government would be a nice change of pace…

Oh. Never mind.

Why Louis C.K. doesn’t let fans take pictures of him.

Are you having actual experiences? Or do you do things simply for the sake of recording and sharing them? It may seem like a silly question, but it’s worth thinking about.

This week comedian Louis C.K. did an iama (“I Am A…”), which is essentialy an intrview with the Reddit hivemind. Reddit loves Louis, so the results were wonderful, but I want to talk about one comment in particular. Louis only recently rose to national prominence, and is now regularly recognized on the streets of New York City where he lives. When a Redditor asked Louis how he feels about this, Louis explained why fans wanting pictures with him made him enjoy meeting them less, at least until he stopped doing pictures with them.

“Every person on the planet now has a camera,” said Louis, “so it sometimes happens that up to 20 people in one day or more want me to pose with them for a picture that they can put it on Facebook. That’s a lot. Also I don’t like doing it. It makes me feel weird.”

He didn’t always mind connecting with fans. In fact, he used to love it: “I remembered that when it was earlier in my career, when someone would say something like, once or twice day, I really liked it and felt genuine interest in them and gratitude”.

So Louis adapted a new policy. “I refuse to ever take a picture with anyone,” he said. “I just say no. I don’t do that. But I shake their hand and I talk to them for a bit. Because I like that. I can tell this disappoints people for a second but as we talk they feel okay about it.”

An actual conversation. An actual experience. To me, that’s better than a photo.

Not so long ago, if you wanted to take pictures, you had to conciously decide to carry a camera with you. Not anymore. Everyone carries their cell phones everywhere, and all of them have built-in cameras.

So we take pictures constantly, creating an entire genre of photos we didn’t have a word for just ten years ago: the Facebook photo. It’s a quick snap of yourself and your friends, with a touch of where you are in the background, taken primarily to document the fact that you hung out with a given friend.

These photos can be fun, but they can also take away from actually enjoying a given moment.

In 2006 I wrote about how technology was starting to intrude on real moments, in real life. Some friends and I, during a trip to the St. Louis, stumbled upon a view of the World Series from the top story of a parking garage. It was amazing, but when I turned to my friends to talk to them about it I was interupted by cell phones. Everyone was on the phone, asking if their friends and famailes were watching the game and explaining that they were watching the game from a parking garage. I couldn’t share the moment with them, because they were sharing it with someone else.

People pay more attention to their phones now than I could have imagined way back in 2006. What you pay attention to matters, however, so I”m going to ask again: are you having actual experiences? Or do you do things simply for the sake of recording and sharing them?

Think about it. Sure: you can look at photos and videos whenever you want, but actual experiences only happen once.

Let Me Pay For TV Online – An Open Letter

Game of Thrones is quickly becoming the most pirated series of all time. I was contemplating why this might be, and ended up arranging my thoughts in the following open letter.

Hi. My name’s Justin Pot, and I’m one of those “young viewers” you talk about during your meetings. I know, I know: it’s hard to think of us as individual humans with freewill instead of as statistics that determine your corporate fate, but stick with me for a moment.

I like watching some of the shows you guys put out. Community, Parks and Rec, Mad Men and Game of Thrones are among my favorites, and all add something valuable to the Zeitgeist of popular culture and bring happiness into my life.

Here’s my point: I have never, and likely will never will, pay for a cable subscription. I might be willing to pay for a few TV channels or TV shows on an al le carte basis, but you are never going to persuade me to pay for a cable subscription that includes channels I’ll never watch. Put simply: I want to pay for the content I’ll actually watch and not subsidize crappy channels or reality shows.

I know what you’re thinking: “Well, you’d never be willing to pay for any content under any circumstance, you pirate.” To which I say: yarr. Also: you’re wrong. I donate hundreds to public radio every year, something I’m not even remotely required to do. And I’d be happy to pay for access to my favorite TV shows.

You make that hard. I can’t buy any episodes from season 2 of Game of Thrones in any form right now, and online streaming is limited to those who already pay for cable. HBO: you don’t even offer an online-only option.

So here’s the deal: offer your shows on an al le carte, subscription basis and I’ll happily pay to watch them, particularly if there are no commercials.

This is usually the point where people threaten to pirate the shows unless media companies give them the deal they’re looking for. Judging by how frequently shows like Mad Men and Game of Thrones are pirated, many people make this argument.

I don’t think I have to. The truth is, if I no longer had a way to access any of your shows, my life would go on. There is plenty of free, high-quality entertainment that is in all honesty probably better for me intellectually than your content. Public radio, high quality YouTube channels like Crash Course and Ze Frank, and Ted, just to name a few. Plus I can, you know, go outside, read a book or take part in an actual conversation.

My point is this: television used to demand most of the free time of Americans. It doesn’t any longer. Piracy isn’t the primary reason for that. Social networks, gaming and online video are all eating into the time we’d previously spend mindlessly watching your content. Last year millions decided cable was no longer worth paying for. Pulling your shows from the Internet is going to change that: it’s going to make your shows irrelevant.

Piracy is not your primary enemy: the shear amount of choice we all have is. If you’re not going to make it easy for me to access your content, I’m not going to bother. I love TV, but not enough to pay for a service I don’t need.

Wikileaks Is Inevitable. Is it Good?

Complete access to information isn’t always a good thing; just ask Valerie Plame.

Many of the same people defending WikiLeak’s latest actions, leaking classified US diplomatic cables, were up in arms during the Plame affair. Which is ironic, when you consider it: wasn’t outing Plame as a CIA agent an example of revealing the truth, regardless of consequence?

“But there was a political motivation for the Plame affair,” some might respond.

Wait: WikiLeaks doesn’t have a political motivation?

For a long time the site’s motivation was clear: leaking documents from totalitarian regimes around the world. Much of the media is failing to mention the fact that the intense focus on America is a very recent change for the site. For most of its history Wikileaks primarily strove to increase transparency in states with little to no press freedom at all. The site had no public face; it just made information public.

That changed in 2010, when Julian Assange become the organization’s talking head, and leaking American documents seemingly became the site’s entire purpose. Frustrated staff are leaving WikiLeaks for this very reason, starting their own site at OpenLeaks.org

All of this and more is documented in a recent in-depth report in Vanity Fair. This is a long read, but one with many revelations.

For example: WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange threatened to sue The Guardian should it publish cables leaked to it by a disgruntled Wikileaks staff member. That’s right: WikiLeaks, the organization dedicated to leaking protected information, tried to stop The Guardian from publishing information without its approval.

We can discuss the ironies here all we like, but one thing is for sure: secrets being made public in this manner is, so long as the Internet exists, inevitable.

Is it good? I’m not sure.

Diplomacy is certainly going to be tougher in the months ahead – not a comforting prospect in an era of climate change and Iranian mad men pursing the bomb. But, as Congressman Ron Paul points out, the US probably keeps more secrets than it needs to.

Time will reveal whether WikiLeaks results in a more open world, a less peaceful world or both. The web made these leaks inevitable; humanity decides their impact.

People Talking Without Speaking: The Ignored Disaster

Sitting in front a computer. That’s what I do lately.

It’s what most of us do lately.

Learn the conventions of the web. Tweet it. Like it. Digg it. Write a snappy headline or no one will read it. Stay on top of the trends. It doesn’t matter whether that’s true or not; give people the surface. Don’t confuse, engage.

Give the people what they want.

Meanwhile, in the real world, suffering exists for very complicated reasons. People in Pakistan continue to recover from the flood, but you wouldn’t know it from Digg or Twitter. It’s not as sexy a disaster as hurricane Katrina or the earthquake in Haiti, I suppose, so we don’t talk about it.

Maybe the problem is that Pakistan is too complicated. Right now a poor man is turning turning to Islamic extremists for help. Is that because his democratically elected government is corrupt, or because years of military rule means civic institutions lack the resources to properly care for people?

Or, considering what a mess much of New Orleans still is, does government really even matter in this context?

All questions worth asking, but regardless that man is going to find a way to feed himself and his family. That’s what people in hard situations do: they find a way. That’s the human spirit.

But from here I can’t understand that spirt. Sitting in front of a screen everything is blurry. To me, that person is an abstraction; another hypothetical chip I can throw at an argument no one is listening to.

People talking without speaking; people hearing without listening. And I’m a part of it.

I sincerely believe the world is becoming a better place for the web’s existence, but I fear we’re becoming too simple in the process. We need to find a way to bring complicated arguments to the web, or we’re going to drown in the sheer volume of our simplistic statements.

This isn’t some abstraction; real people are being overlooked because of our inability to process complex information. Let me know if you have any ideas, but I’ve got to get back to work now.

Donate to UNICEF’s efforts in Pakistan.

‘Digital Drugs’ and the sad state of TV journalism

Yep, this video is hilarious, and not only because it’s completely out of touch with reality. It’s hilarious because it parodies contemporary journalism better than The Onion or Stephen Colbert could hope to. Here’s why:

  • Several of the people interviewed hadn’t heard of the phenomenon before being interviewed, but got to talk about it on TV anyway.
  • Everyone interviewed came to the conclusion that this “drug” is harmful and will lead to real-world drug use.
  • No context whatsoever given to binaural beats, a technology that dates back to 1839.
  • No explanation about how binaural beats even work. Seriously, at least read the Wikipedia entry.
  • The sentence “I heard it was, like, some weird demons and stuff through a iPod or something” was filmed. At some point the producer decided to include this sentence in the story, and that producer wasn’t working for Comedy Central.

It’s pretty obvious the team behind this story has no idea how to use the Internet, but if you haven’t come to the conclusion check this out:

Yep, that’s right: they’re using IE 6. You can clearly see YouTube telling these people to upgrade or switch their browser, but they don’t know what that means…and are too busy using the amazing power of journalism to rid the web of virtual drugs.

Good job, News 9 Oklahoma City! You’ve demonstrated in three minutes just how close Idiot America‘s come to taking over our lives.

How to stop the internet from mocking your kid

The Internet can be a harsh place, particularly if you’re an eleven-year-old girl with a penchant for talking trash. So if – after your lovely offspring decided to spend 5 minutes of her time cussing out the entire Internet – your address and phone number are leaked onto the web, and you start receiving pizzas and prostitutes at your door, you might think the best thing you could do is wait for your daughter’s harassers to get bored.

You’re wrong. Here’s how to handle the situation:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mElLKZS7p0U

As you can see, there’s a number of things this father got right here. In summary:

  • Be angry. The only thing the web respects is anger, so it’s important that you not appear too level-headed.
  • Alert the culprits that the authorities are after them. The Internet being a well-regulated place, such threats are extremely credible and will be taken seriously.
  • While you’re at it, be sure to mention the “cyber police.”
  • Throw in some kind of nonsense sentence, such as “the consequences will never be the same.” This will show how angry, and thus how serious a potential threat, you are.

As you can imagine, Jessie’s problems with the Internet stopped after this video was released. Learn from these simple steps and the web will never tease your kid again!

Or you could, you know, make her stop saying stupid stuff on YouTube. If you want. Whatever.