The Current Situation

Pete Hoekstra’s Racist Superbowl Ad

by Joey deVilla on February 7, 2012

I hadn’t paid a visit to Phil Yu’s blog, Angry Asian Man – which the Washington Post called “a daily must-read for the media-savvy, socially conscious, pop-cultured Asian American” – in some time. In a recent post titled This Hoekstra Campaign Ad is Racist Bullshit, he points to this video:

Michigan viewers were “treated” to this ad run by Pete Hoekstra’s campaign to unseat Debbie Stabenow as United States Senator for the state during the Super Bowl.

The ad’s straight out of the old Charlie Chan serials, from the pentatonic “ching-chong” music (which has every stereotypical element except for the “Oriental Riff” and closing gong) to the rice paddy to the young woman speaking fake broken English. I’m surprised she doesn’t say “Me so horny for Amellika to fail! …and oh yeah, me put pee-pee in your Coke, too!

The rice paddy is one image of China, but it’s no more representative of the country than say, a Nebraska cornfield is of the United States. Equally representative is this picture, which is of a city you might not have heard of, despite its being one of the five major cities – Chongqing:

chongqing

If you go to the website that accompanies the ad, you’ll see the stereotypes continue with its graphic design, which apes the best fakety-fake Chinese restaurant aesthetic. Reading it, it’s 1985 and I’m eating at Ruby Foo’s in Montreal again:

debbie spenditnow screencaps

Here’s FOX News’ “analysis” of the ad and the response to it. The “expert opinion” they bring is none other than Lou Dobbs, whose mantra is “a racist is a conservative who’s winning the argument”, and he rolls his eyes so hard that he’s almost risking injury by doing so:

Here’s what other, more legitimate, news outlets have to say:

One of the questions that should be asked is “Can you make a political ad where there theme is competing with China without resorting to stereotypes and racism?” The answer is “Yes…and it’s been done!” It’s called the “Chinese Professor Ad”, and I show it below:

I’m impressed with this one: well done, it gets the message across and it doesn’t do any of the “ching chong wing wong” stuff that Hoekstra’s ad does. The ad would’ve been made the same way if the competitors were blonde and blue-eyed.

The only thing wrong is its premise that the U.S. is falling behind China because of stimulus spending; China’s is a big central planning-style government that pretty much stimulus spends all the time (when it’s not covering up its shoddy human rights record).

For a better picture on why a lot of money’s going to China, see the New York Times article How the U.S. Lost Out on iPhone Work. Hey, America – you want to win, bro? Don’t hate; innovate!

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Seen at the Tim Hortons in Kandahar Airfield

by Joey deVilla on May 13, 2011

Tim hortons in kandahar

A rocket attack is pretty much the only thing that would keep Canadians away from Tim Hortons. I once walked through a blizzard because I had an insatiable craving for the sausage/egg breakfast sandwich on a biscuit and a double-double and nothing else would do.

Photo courtesy of Vidiot.

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Mission Accomplished

by Joey deVilla on May 4, 2011

This made me laugh:

Barack Obama photobombing the George Bush phot in which he declared

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Iran is Taking Marc Stiegler’s Final Exam

by Joey deVilla on June 25, 2009

Here’s another article that would normally just stay in my tech blog, Global Nerdy. However, it covers the intersection of life, politics and technology, which I think would also appeal to non-techies, which is why I’ve reposted it here. Enjoy!

Marc Stiegler

earthweb I met science fiction author, software developer and computer security guy Marc Stiegler at the first incarnation of O’Reilly’s Emerging Technology Conference in 2002, but I’d been acquainted with his work prior to that. I’d heard of his programming language called E and had read his science fiction novel Earthweb, whose plot could be grossly oversimplified down to the summary “Twitter saves the world” (it’s a little bit more than that, but I think it conveys the idea nicely).

Marc’s Final Exam

However, when I think of Marc, what comes to mind first is the final exam that he gave to students at his “Future of Computing” course and published online in 1999. In it, he posed a set of problems and asked them how a specific set of proposed web technologies could be used to solve them. The course and exam have a very strong sense of “technology trumps legislation”, an idea that was surfacing in the late 1990s.

In the exam, students had to pick 5 out of 11 problems that Marc posed and then explain how any combination of the following technologies could be used to solve them:

  • Unforgeable pseudonymous identities
  • Bidirectional, typed, filterable links
  • Arbitration agents
  • Bonding agents
  • Escrow agents
  • Digital Cash
  • Capability Based Security with Strong Encryption

(If some of these ideas are unfamiliar to you, don’t worry. They’re not important in the context of this article, and you can always Bing them.)

Here’s a selection of the problems posed in the exam. Remember, this exam is from ten years ago!

1) Searching for a decision analysis tool on the Web, you find a review in which the reviewer raves about a particular product. You buy the product and discover it just doesn’t work. You desire to prevent this person’s ravings from harming anyone else–and you desire to prevent the product from disappointing anyone else.

4) You start receiving thousands of emails from organizations you don’t know, all hawking their wares. You want it to stop, just stop!

5) You wish to play poker with your friends. They live in Tampa Florida, you live in Kingman. This is illegal in the nation where you happen to be a citizen. You want to do it anyway.

6) You hear a joke that someone, somewhere, would probably find offensive. You wish to tell your precocious 17-year-old daughter, who is a student at Yale. The Common Decency Act Version 2 has just passed; it is a $100,000 offense to send such material electronically to a minor. You want to send it anyway–it is a very funny joke.

7) Someone claiming to be you starts roaming the Web making wild claims. You want to make sure people know it isn’t really you.

The Final Question

The most compelling question on the exam is the final one. It required a far more extensive answer than the other ten – so much more extensive that Marc actually suggested that it might be better not to answer the question in the exam, but to at least think about it:

But…if you can answer Question 11 in your own mind, even though you choose not to write up that answer for this examination, then a most remarkable thing will happen: you will walk out of this class with something profoundly worth knowing.

Here’s that final question:

11) You live in North Korea. Three days ago the soldiers came to your tiny patch of farmland and took the few scraps of food they hadn’t taken the week before. You have just boiled the last of your shoes and fed the softened leather to your 3-year-old child. She coughs, a sickly sound that cannot last much longer. Overhead you hear the drone of massive engines. You look into the sky, and thousands of tiny packages float down. You pick one up. It is made of plastic; you cannot feed it to your daughter. But the device talks to you, is solar powered, and teaches you how to use it to link to the Web. You have all the knowledge of the world at your fingertips; you can talk to thousands of others who share your desperate fate. The time has come to solve your problem in the most fundamental sense, and save the life of your daughter.

The final question really stands out. Unlike the other questions in the exam, this one really pulls at the heartstrings, and it sparked a lot of discussion among geeks back around 1999 and 2000, in settings both online and real-life.

Iran and the Final Question

If you follow the American news cycle, the mental distance between North Korea and Iran is a short one; both are countries in the “Axis of Evil” (a term invented by a Toronto guy, by the way) run by repressive regimes and working on their nuclear weapons capabilities. What if we changed the final question’s setting from North Korea to Iran?

Unlike North Korea, Iran’s people have access to technology and communications with the outside world (there’s a recent Daily Show segment in which Jason Jones finds people in Iran who know Jon Stewart’s George Bush “I’m the decider” schtick). They don’t need to have Marc’s hypothetical iPhones delivered to them in care packages; they have things like Twitter and YouTube at their disposal. So I propose another slight modification to the final question: What if we changed the hypothetical hardware into actual working software like Twitter and YouTube?

(It’s another “software, not hardware, is really the trick” situation. Just as we found out in Terminator 3 that SkyNet was really software, it turns out that what might save Iran was social networking software, not portable internet-accessing hardware dropped by parachute.)

With my two suggested changes, it becomes very apparent that we’ve moved from theory to practice. The people of Iran are taking Marc Stiegler’s final exam, and they’ve picked its most difficult question.

Let’s hope they pass.

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