This election season has been a very long one. There is no arguing that. For those of us working in the campaign business, it’s been a lifetime and a half. On Tuesday, though, it all comes to a climax when the American people (or at least a portion of them) will go out and vote for many offices, ballot questions and referendums, upholding a 200+ year old tradition of democratic process in this country. It’s been a long process, for sure, one that in many ways is far too long, and so much effort is being put into making it even longer, with the way primaries are being pushed earlier and earlier. People are tired of it, tired of the ads, tired of the posturing on the news, tired of the name-calling, tired of the process as a whole, and are burnt out.
Last night a bunch of us sat around the table with snacks, laptops and a couple of beers and watched the final night of the Republican National Convention. I got my Twitter on, poking fun at various things, getting into arguments with strangers who liked to just call me names, and several times just getting angry. Angry at the things being said, the way they were said, and the outright lies that had been already called out and disproven in the media but repeated ad nauseum during the speeches.
But I was also saddened by the speech given by Clint Eastwood.
When I was a kid, I spent a lot of time at my grandparents' house, often watching sports or movies with my grandfather. He loved adventure movies, westerns in particular. One winter afternoon I remember very clearly, my aunt had recorded a bunch of movies off of HBO and since the weather sucked, we popped in the tape and watched a John Wayne movie, The Dirty Dozen, and The Outlaw Josey Wales. That stuck with me, because it became one of my all-time favorite movies. But we would watch A Fistful Of Dollars, The Good The Bad And The Ugly, and a lot of other westerns, as well as the Dirty Harry movies (when my grandmother wasn't around and I was a bit older).
I have always been a Clint Eastwood fan, the movies he was in, the movies he directed, even liked his being interviewed. I would not often agree with him, but always got a feeling of direct honesty and no bullshit attitude from him that I respected. Then last night happened. Watching him talk to an empty chair in what could have been a powerful bit of satire but ended up being a rambling semi-coherent series of odd ad hominem statements and vaguely depressing attempts to frame the president as a swearing moron, I wanted to be sarcastic and mocking, but instead just got sad.
It made me very sad to see Josey Wales appear to ramble, and act like this confused old man who fortunately had a crowd-pleasing catch-phrase to end with. I couldn't really make fun, but I did at least like the Twitter account that popped up, Invisible Obama.
What really made me both sad and angry, though, was not the repeated lies told by the various speakers trying to portray the President as a malevolent dictator, not the racist/birther comments in Romney's speech, but rather the attempt to humanize Romney by having people come out and tell stories of their suffering, dying children wracked with disease and how the Romneys visited them and helped them. I will assume the stories are true, and credit the Romneys for showing basic human compassion that their politics and party refuse to show, but the act of politicizing and using the stories of suffering, dying sons of these parents for emotional leverage and political gain royally pissed me off.
In 1998, I spent two weeks after my first son was born at 26 weeks gestational wondering which side of the 50/50 survival chance he would end up on, while my wife spent those thirteen days also in the hospital with a very serious infection that at one point nearly became life-threatening. I remember sitting on the floor of the room in our apartment that was to become the baby's room, alone in the dark, completely losing my shit and crying for an hour. It may have been one of the darkest times of my life, with a couple possible exceptions.
So I felt for those people. I might not have shared their pain, but I could identify with the mother sitting in the ICU next to her son, and to see them being exploited by the GOP for political gain made me furious. It wasn't just one story, that's all they had was dying children stories to show how the Romneys really care about people or some such. I felt like it was someone using my painful memories to persuade me that the elitist, out-of-touch child of privilege was just like me, and that is one sure-fire way to get me angry.
Pile that on top of the repeated effort to dehumanized the President, blatantly lie about him, and blame him for the direct results of the actions of the very people doing the talking (I am looking at you Paul Ryan) and its no wonder that looking at my Twitter feed last night you can see how it want from light-hearted poking fun to a bit angrier and caustic as the night went on.
Meanwhile an old man whose accomplishments and body of work I still respect, yelled at a chair and claimed it told him to tell Romney to go fuck himself while people cheered.
(This one is long, you may want to go make a sandwich or something before settling in to this)
In June of 1987, I received the highest rank in Boy Scouts, the Eagle. I worked very hard to get there, and it has always been one of the proudest moments of my life. Much of the person I am today is due to the experiences I had in Scouting, and my oldest and truest friend was a guy I met in Scouts. I went from a shy, nerdy kid to a more confident leader, one who became more aware of the world around him, and more sensitive to those who are less fortunate than I am. Between Scouting and my experiences in high school, I learned to live more as “a man for others”, the motto of my high school.
Lately, however, I have been bitterly disappointed in the direction Scouting has taken. Their reactionary stance against gays, lesbians, and atheists has caused me to question the benefits of the organization, and my son's involvement in it. I find the discriminatory stance that the national BSA organization has taken to be repugnant, and against everything I learned in Scouting. As a parent and an adult leader in Scouting, I teach the exact opposite, that to be a good citizen and decent man, a young boy needs to learn that each of us as individuals have strengths and values no matter who or what they are, and that it is the differences between us and tolerance of them that makes us a better society.
Recently there has been a movement amongst Eagle Scouts to return their Eagle badges, in protest of the policies adopted by the National organization. There is a Tumblr, in fact, featuring Eagles returning their badges in protest. I wholeheartedly support this movement, and the stand that these men are taking. It's a very brave, and meaningful act that I am not sure that non-Eagles truly appreciate. It's also a step I will not take. Not because I do not support the protest, but BECAUSE I do support it, because I want to make my protest and my statement as an Eagle Scout, and as a youth leader.
My friends and I worked very hard on our Eagles, and became thoughtful, careful leaders and participating in the community as tolerant, upstanding, patriotic men. Eagle is not an easy rank to achieve, it's a lot of hard work, you have to lead a community service project, and be recommended by others and accepted by a committee who believes you live up to the ideals of the Scout Law and Oath. Only about 2% of young men who join Scouting will ever earn the rank. It has actually gotten me in the door to jobs I might not have gotten, such is the meaningfulness of the rank.
My family moved the summer between my third and fourth grade year. It was a bigger house, and a nicer neighborhood, closer to my school and right across the street from the town’s country club. The downside, though, not many kids near my age, and the few that were, well, they didn’t particularly care for me. New kid, went to the parochial school, a bit on the socially awkward side, all added up to no real friends in the neighborhood. All this after moving out of a neighborhood with a bunch of kids all around my age, with side streets instead of main roads.
Fortunately, though, I had an outlet. My dad worked in computers, and there were always some in the house. So I tinkered. I messed around with modems, terminals, tried to learn BASIC, but frankly my brain never could quite get the hang of programming. I also suck at foreign languages, so it’s not really surprising. But I really liked connecting to BBS systems and communicating with people around the country, and eventually the world. I also got into it a little too seriously at one time, and started doing some things that could be considered outside the realm of legality to be able to make the long-distance phone calls to connect to those BBS systems.
In the early 90s I also started ripping CDs and swapping the mp3 files with some of the people I worked with, including some guys who showed me a network at Northeastern that one of their fellow students set up for music file-swapping. (As it turns out I ended up meeting that student later, since he was related by marriage to an old friend of mine, small world.)
I also have worked in television production, in software development, and in music groups. While I never registered them, I have copywritten content that I am somewhat proud of. So really, I can see both sides of this ongoing copyright debate, but I really have a problem with this idea that the rights of a copyright holder can supercede due process. That’s the crux of the acts going through Congress, giving companies like Sony Universal Entertainment the power to shut down a website simply for having what they claim to be copywritten content, or even a link to content. So if I posted a link to a video that contained music that the site owner did not have license to use, *my* website can be just shut down, and not by me or my ISP, but rather by making it unreachable. No process, no hearing, it just gets done. Then I have to prove my case, or remove the link, and then *I* have to go through a process to get back on the grid.
Also, some provisions call for making copyright infringement a felony, making it a jailable offense, forfeiting the right to vote, and making it a worse crime than Driving Under The Influence, prostitution, and simple assault. Really? Yes, it may be illegal to post a pirated copy of “Dude, Where’s My Car?” but a felony? Really? When the producers of that movie go unpunished for their assault on our culture?
So please, contact your Congressman, Senator, and anyone else you would think would listen, and tell them to not support SOPA and PIPA, because the acts go too far, and do nothing to stop the copyright infringement that goes on across the internet. Remember that bit earlier about my finding ways to sidestep the long-distance phone system? I was in seventh grade, and it wasn’t too hard to do when I really wanted to. If people really want to distribute content, they are going to do it, and not be stopped by the tricks that SOPA and PIPA are using. Hell, your nine-year-old can find ways around it. What it is going to do, though, is punish people and companies that don’t mean to infringe, or do so after a hacking. It’s a lazy proposal, and one that gives corporations more power than they deserve, and frankly they already have far too much power than they should anyhow.
Oh, and that Northeastern student? His name is Shawn Fanning, and his network for his friends at Northeastern became the game-changing peer-to-peer network called Napster. While Napster as it was is long gone, it’s still very easy to find music sharing on the internet, and I know several people who have not bought a CD in years. So really, the legal approaches haven’t worked. The only way to really fight it is to work to change business models, like iTunes or other music services, and Hulu and Netflix for other entertainment. Change thinking, don’t stifle the innovations through ham-fisted legal means that do nothing to solve the problem anyhow.