Category: musings

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Election 2016: Some Thoughts

In November, for the first time, I will cast a vote for the head of state! Exciting! I’ve voted in every election I could since becoming a U.S. citizen in 2013 and the election of this year will be the first with one for POTUS. (Non-presidential years are important as well, particularly those involved in state, county, and local governments!)

Having grown up in the United States, and being one that’s long been a fan of US History, it’s impossible to ignore the weight of history evident in the long road it’s taken for citizens to fight and win the right to vote and participate in their governments. The history leading up to the independence of the 13 colonies, to the twisting tortured road within American history itself of  the slow spreading over two centuries of the right to vote across to more and more of the living human beings of this country, all of it is powerfully in memory as I think about the upcoming decisions for November.

But what an election season…

After the past two years of ever-increasing media blitzing, election fatigue finally hit me earlier this month, and it’s clear that it’s not just me. Though to take a optimistic note, I note that democracy is messy and I think this election will teach us to treat our republic with a little more care.

We’re finally coming down to the last few weeks of this election cycle, and while I await the first the sigh of relief after election day (when normal media life, which seems so far away, may resume), this being such a significant election in the terms of my life and America’s future, I feel more like a marathoner at the end of a long race, and in a way, I think we’ll all remember it for the rest of our lives. Maybe we’ll even miss it when it’s over. Not necessarily in the nice kind of way, but more like a shell-shocked flashback to an alternate universe, where a ridiculous caricature of America almost became president. (And ridiculous is being nice!)!

I take the responsibility very seriously. Many have asked me who I intend to vote for and while the right decision seems ever so clear on every possible measure, I’m going to take in all the information I can until election day before I mail in my ballot (also while I try to decipher California’s 17 statewide measures).

But let me take a break and look back at these past eight years. I’ve had my own criticisms, but I’m going to miss Obama as president after he’s gone. While not perfect, I think he’s done a great job as anyone could as president in a challenging time. But democracies and presidents are human, and I’ve considered him authentic to critical values that represent a more inclusive America. Obama represents more than just the first black president; his upbringing and activist empathy is critical in how he accepted the responsibility and of the presidency; I feel that for the first time, we’ve had a president that was able to understand cross-racial issues in a way that shows the true power of American diversity.

This is cool too:

Can’t believe it’s (only+already) been three years! #usa🇺🇸

A photo posted by Alexander (@skyrien) on

The mid-21st century is going to be a very interesting time, and with the rise of the right in Europe, I can see that part of the world turning inward; it seems inevitable, as social media and populism combine to form coalitions on “making xyz great” again, which in code terms mean going back to nationalism and a tribal mindset about the world. This has other consequences, which I mentally associate with a devaluation of the individual and a reinforcement of in/out markers such as race, creed, color of one’s skin, or life choices.

It may not be the America that everyone wanted, or one that was going to wait until everyone was on board. But without a doubt, despite the problems, old and new, that have come up through these past eight years, as a society, as a people, as a world, we have moved forward. This is in stark contrast to the darker elements of society that have risen during this time; starkly evident in the coarsening political discourse in America and across the world.

It almost seems inevitable that diversity (in Europe) will take blow in this shift to the right, as the center of gravity in Europe certainly seems to tend toward less diversity, even in the 21st century after decades of European Union:

Americans more likely to say growing diversity makes their country a better place to live
Rather than be depressed by this, I consider it an even stronger mandate for those of us in the New World to reject these Old World notions of racial nationalism and fight for a more inclusive society. We say today that to become American is to accept a set of values (and of course, meet plenty of legal criteria). Of those values, many of which were taught, generally include a validation of intrinsic value of the individual; enshrined in the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights, and reinforced through the American story over the past two centuries. I love great stories and the America that I’m proud of, the America that I feel compelled to help move forward is the one of freedoms and citizenship to one’s community and fellow neighbor, a respect for the strength of our diversity, and the innovative drive that I still see all over the country.

We have many challenges that we’ll need to overcome in the next eight years and we need a president, party, and political platform that has a rational eye toward the real world and what can be accomplished via the limited levers of the presidency; one that believes in the strength of the individuals and welcome all to better the American spirit.

 

 

AND GO VOTE!!! =)

1995: 20 years ago, I joined the Internet

Twenty years ago today (roughly), I joined the internet. It wasn’t a particularly glamorous affair, but was necessitated by MSN (not the website, the original ISP service that debuted with Windows 95) having shut down its service in Korea, forcing me to find a local ISP (and convincing my parents that 7,000 won a month (about $6) was worth connecting to this nascent world wide web. For that, you’d get access to Chollian’s ISP, and 15 hours of access to the “internet” via PPP dial-up.

I was 10 years old and my family had just moved to Seoul from the United States for reasons that I still am not quite sure of, and in the demise of MSN, the ISP, I had just lost a major connection to the English speaking world that I had left behind. Quite sad, I know, but all that was about to change. I chose a Korean ISP called “Chollian”–which literally meant “vision of a thousand li” (li was a unit of distance in old Korea). No reason why i picked it other than that I got a CD with a trial; think of those old AOL CDs.

I spent a while trying to pick a screenname and email address, and ended up with: aer95@chollian.net. It was 1995 and ISP emails were the only way you’d get reasonable email. (Go ahead, spam it all you want. I doubt it even exists anymore. Oh where oh where do the lost emails go?) Anyone who asks about the origins of the name will be regaled with a rather hilarious story of the hours I took to come up with it. (Okay fine: one involves my name Alexander {obviously}, the E. and the R. stand for “Enforcer” a screenname I used frequently in Duke Nukem 3d multiplayer matches, and “Riker” as I believed the good TNG number one was a badass, esp as Admiral). Need I remind you, dear reader, I was 10 in ’95 and personal identity was an important thing to a kid.

It’s hard to recall what my first experience online was like; certainly I had an awareness that “holy shit, I’m connected to the world!”. But in 1995, (especially in Korea where most families didn’t even have a computer), with barely 0.4% of the world on the internet, there really wasn’t much to do other than, well browse here and there and try to find interesting things. I had already been online over the past year on closed-ISPs which made it quite easy to have a curated, though highly limited, online experience (recall AOL, Prodigy, and MSN, which kept their own little communities? Lest we forget, this was a big part of the “online” world in the 1990s. I was involved with a Doom map making community rather early, and I was blown away by how much interesting stuff I could find and explore.). By comparison, the discovery experience for new world wide web user was quite brutally obtuse. Imagine you have never heard of the internet and you open a browser for the first time (one without a decent portal); without knowing that a search engine exists, how would you even know what to enter into the blank URL bar? I remember being confused even at the syntax of a URL: http://www.chollian.net <- a web URL is second-nature to us now in 2015, but in 1995, at first glance, it was quite foreign.

(On a side note, when my family moved to Korea one of my chief concerns was falling behind in my learning, and not being able to keep up if/when I returned to the US. My early use of the internet absolutely turned that around, and I was able to learn at my own pace, to my own interests. The internet absolutely was a formative experience of my childhood.)

But the “Internet” was quite different back then. I didn’t even know what a search engine was, let alone what to do if i didn’t have one of those mysterious “URLs” to go somewhere interesting. The blank page and address bar were like big question marks. It seemed like the only way I could find anything was via links from other pages; which turned my internet activity into some sort of scavenger hunt. I’m telling you, you kids today don’t know what it was like back then. My first modem was 14.4 kbps. That’s KILOBITs per second. I developed mental math to convert megabytes into time, (turned out to be roughly 10 minutes per megabyte, which is still ten times faster than New Horizons is sending data to NASA right now…), which was an important conversion when using the internet meant nobody could use the home telephone line. Trust me, however old you are, it is not easy convincing your parents that it’s ok that their phones aren’t working, and having them plan out their calls… lol.

But what was I doing back then? Most of the time, I was reading the news about what’s happening in the world (in English, before the internet it was quite difficult to find content in the language of my choosing), finding new shareware games to download and play, and/or picking up random fun things to do. I learned both Doom map making and Photoshop at around the same time.

By 1996, I was 11 and had at least one other friend from school that would explore the internet with. Yahoo chatrooms were particularly memorable. He would enjoy trolling people, whereas I’d find the most interesting person in each room to figure out/learn something new. We’d coordinate using an ancient IM platform called ICQ. I don’t even remember my ICQ ID. I was also an avid PC gamer at the time, and I’d frequent many tech sites oriented towards games and the PCs needed to run them.

Still, it was a very impersonal affair, and while the internet always was about connecting people, back then, it was certainly not easy, and most definitely not “encouraged” by the media, which seemed oddly terrified at the idea of a computer that was connected to gasp other people. I recall at least a few random people chatting and making sorta/kinda friends that existed somewhere in the world. It was like pen-pal discovery for the digital age. “a/s/l?” Do people still do that?

(Aside: I feel like the real-name orientation of Facebook has taken away some of the fun and mystery of discovering the human behind a screenname. “Add Friend” is just not nearly as intriguing as “a/s/l”, even if most of those interactions were rather silly and pointless.)

That’s how I recall the internet back in the mid 1990s, a curiosity for most people, at least for me, with hardly any means for connecting with anyone. But by my local standards, I was already exposed to a small but growing population of internet users, barely 0.4% of the world population, and a phenomenon that would be hugely upend everything. It was pretty obvious by the late 1990s, especially in Korea, which like a crazy stampede, everyone suddenly decided that mobile infrastructure and the broadband internet were top national priorities. Hot damn. A bet well played.

All that changed with the emergence of social media, and real-time communication media; which turned the web from static place, into the living, breathing, web that connects a growing majority of the world’s people and information. Half of the entire planet’s population, three and a half BILLION people, are just an IM/SMS away.

How amazing is that! We’ve come a long way in 20 years, and the march goes on. Let’s connect everyone!

The Long Road to Election 2016

I met Kentucky Senator Rand Paul at his campaign event in Seattle this earlier today. The first thing I’d note was that he seemed really tired, not that it had any diminishing effect on his speech, but it’s clear that running for president isn’t for the faint of heart. But then again, neither is occupying the highest office of the land, so I consider this a fair test.

Rand Paul (R-KY) appealed to me initially early last year with what appeared to be an unparalleled authenticity and devotion to the Constitution, and a logical message on pragmatic limited government that had the potential for broad appeal. He may have had it easier since he was one of the first to announce his candidacy because as we all know now, the primary season that was about to unfold was anything but predictable.

In trying to appeal to the conservative base that was turning toward Trump, Paul started airing more ridiculous ads–clearly designed to appeal to the Tea Party/Freedom Caucus that brought him to the Senate to begin with (and probably driving away everyone else). These efforts did not help his poll numbers and by the fall, he had fallen to the bottom of a too-big poll. At the same time, he started to become more visibly annoyed.

Videos like this, while understandable given the state of the race, cast him as both amateurish and a sore loser:

I suppose with the first primaries/caucuses yet to come, he may still have a shot at a reset of his image, but my guess is that he just doesn’t have the right appeal given the mood of the (Republican primary) voters right now.

Which is too bad, because he was the one leading Republican candidate who appeared to really have his message together in the beginning. I suppose that goes to show how the American political process is anything but predictable.

Maybe in 2024, Rand.