Sunday, November 28, 2010

Regarding This Past Friday Night

Finishing work on Friday evening I was in high spirits- my tour had gone well, the weather was agreeable, and I was on my way to meet some friends for burgers and beer at one of Portland's local hipster holes. The streets of downtown were crowded with people who had showed up for the Christmas tree lighting in Pioneer Courthouse Square, and every third person seemed to have a green blinking light on their person. (They must have been handed out as a promotional item.) I passed the Square, took a look at the tree, and a huge crowd of people were still there singing carols. Jogging a few blocks over to Burnside, the newly-lit White Stag/Made in Oregon/ Portland, Oregon sign lit up the night. All was wonderfully festive.

And the next morning I opened my browser to discover that someone had tried to blow all of that up.

The facts of the case are widely reported, so I won't bother reiterating them here. I'm quite happy they got this guy, and all for stings, but there are two things that I can't stop thinking about:

Firstly: As a matter of personal policy, I refuse to be frightened by this. Like the poster says, I'm going to keep calm and carry on.

Secondly: Law enforcement (at least based on reported anecdotes) seems to be targeting foreign-born individuals who have become radicalized. Most of the time, it seems that these guys probably couldn't pull off their desired schemes themselves. The feds are with them every step of the way. Left to his own devices, I wonder Mohamud would have gotten the materials he needed.

Again, I like the idea of stings. It's a great thing to keep potential criminals off balance. Potential terrorists don't know if they're talking to an actual Jihadist or a federal agent. Sowing that kind of overcaution, confusion, and fear among these criminals is great, strategically.

And yet, I wonder how many unbalanced guys the FBI would catch if they targeted the militias in Montana, the self-appointed border guards in Texas, or the white supremacists in Idaho. How many other Tim McVeighs are out there that could be stung into arrest? How many native-born, equally bloodthirsty, equally unbalanced white Mohamuds are there?

I have no kind of sympathy for adherents to radical Islam. They are, at the very best, foolish. However, history tells us that they are not alone. Prior to September 11th, 2001, the largest terrorist act in American history had been carried out by a radical white Christian. McVeigh's kin, gun-toting religious radicals who are doubtless incensed by the very existence black president, are still out there.

What could we reap with a focused effort? Given the collaboration, encouragement, and resources of an undercover FBI agent, what kind of potential violence could we find welling from religious white America? I don't doubt that Mohamud (may he spend his remaining days ingloriously in prison) has an equal and opposite out there, a kind of inverse brother born not in Somalia but in Kansas, reading not a Quaran but a Bible, and just as filled with impotent unarticulated rage, and dreams of violence.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Why I Killed SonicLlama

This (wholly narcissistic) issue has been on my mind off and on for the past year or so. Quite some time ago, I ceased to use a screen name on this blog. Not only that, but I tweet using my real name as well, and when I comment on various forums I do so as "Joe Streckert" if I can use a space, and "JStreckert" if I can't.

Previously I'd gone by the nom de net "SonicLlama," a handle that I acquired in high school. It stuck the way nicknames usually do, lodging itself in my mind. I attempted to use a few others: "Cerberus," as I've always liked the big three-headed fellow, but ultimately that was too negative and possibly too pretentious to use on a regular basis. Sometimes, in FPSs, I went by "Mr. Mutilate," but the drawbacks of that one should be abundantly obvious. "Metis," was another attempt, a Greek term meaning "skill" or "wisdom." The main appeal was that it was invoked at length in Neal Stephenson's Cryptonomicon.

The trouble with "Metis" was that later I found out that it's both the name of a Native American group up in Canada, and the term for an inbred werewolf in the Werewolf: the Apocalypse RPG. Not wanting to have my meaning mistaken, I quickly ditched that and went back to using "SonicLlama," even though I'd long since grown tired of the moniker. The breaking point came, I think, when a then-girlfriend referred to me as "SonicLlama" on her blog. Seeing my high school screen name used in the context of something kind of sweet and romantical seemed highly weird, and I just ditched the thing altogether.

Being utterly unable to think up something meaningful or witty, I simply started blogging as "Joe" and then appended my last name to it. At times I wondered if this is something that's sort of foolish, given that anyone could Google me and find, for example, pictures of me with stupid hair. I've also wondered if my habit of appending my real name to things on the internet at all narcissistic. I do like attention, after all.

But... No. No, I don't think so. In fact, I wish that more people did what I did. Using my real name means that I don't say anything online that I wouldn't say in person. Being a troll lacks all appeal, and big part of that is that I don't take on too much of a persona while online. There still is a bit of one, but appending "Joe Streckert" to my blog and twitter feed prevents me from ever succumbing to the Greater Internet Fuckwad Theory, a process wherein normal people become insufferable while behind a scrim.

Screen names are fine, and it is fun to give yourself a nickname (I might think up something specifically for gaming) but for now whenever I see someone else posting under their real, actual name, it makes me smile a bit. Maybe, like me, they couldn't summon up a handle that fit them well. Or maybe they just don't want to be a fuckwad. Either way, I approve.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

An Incomplete List of Fifteen Books

Okay, I'm doing one of these chain Facebook note things. I never do these, but this one's about books. Apparently it has the following rules:

Rules: Don't take too long to think about it. Fifteen novels you've read that will always stick with you. First fifteen you can recall in no more than 15 minutes. Tag 15 friends, including me because I'm interested in seeing what books my friends chose. (To do this, go to your Notes tab on your profile page, paste rules in a new note, cast your 15 picks, and tag people in the note.)

Okay, that's nice. I guess the point is that you can't pick books that say "Hey! Look at how awesome I am because of my refined taste in wordy things!" Being genuine and honest seems to be the point. Oh, well.  Here's the (definitely incomplete) list:

1. Calvin and Hobbes by Bill Watterson
As a kid I identified tons with Calvin, with his endemic behavioral problems, overactive imagination, and love of very large words. I love comics to this day because of Calvin and Hobbes, and Watterson showed me from a very young age that there is no contradiction between being ironic and sincere, or both snarky and poignant. Calvin is a deeply realized character, and to this day I still see a lot of myself in him. He's also a guy who imagines killer snowmen and time travel, and there's no contradiction in that.

2. The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis
Were's in elementary school here. I was a little Catholic school kid in a dumb uniform and I was fully aware of the Christian allegorical elements of these things while I was reading them. Because, c'mon. Aslan is fucking Jesus. It's not subtle, people. By the time I got to The Last Battle, I was fully disgusted with Lewis' world-view, even at the young age. Lewis, in that book, is hugely judgmental of nonbelievers, casually racist, and generally thinks that dying is grand because that means you get to hang out with Jesus all the time.

This was my first inkling that religion was actually sort of fucked up. I think I was eight or something.

3. The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien
Yes, everyone and their dog is going to choose this. This is not original. Whatever. It really is quite good, despite being hugely popular, and blew my mind into approximately 12,586,327 individual pieces back when I was twelve. I loved every overwrought word of it, and got turned into a ginormous nerd because of it. I roll funny-sided dice on a regular basis because of this trilogy, just like every else.

4. Much Ado About Nothing by William Shakespeare.
This is the first Shakespeare play that I read, saw, and really understood. This was in middle school. Beatrice and Benedick's relationship is defined by unspoken attraction that they act out by making fun of each other. There was this girl I liked in eighth grade, and I let her know as much by writing nasty columns about her in the school newspaper. (She happened to be the student body president, so it was kind of relevant.) Anyway, the point is that there was this girl, and I really liked her so I totally insulted her because I didn't understand my feelings or girls or anything. Kind of like in Shakespeare.

5. 1984 by George Orwell
We're back in eighth grade again, and this is where I learned about political satire, dystopia, and hot, hot politicized sexuality. Winston and Julia totally did it and it was political and that was totally awesome because not only were they having tons of sex, they were also totally Sticking It To The Man by bumping uglies. Jesus Christ, that was sexy back when I was, like fourteen. Also there was some other stuff. Stuff about the nature of power and control and mind-warping people into subservience. That was creepy.

6. Everything Isaac Asimov Ever Wrote by Isaac Asimov
Along with Star Trek, Asimov turned me into a total technophile. His stuff seems sort of dated at this point, but he made me believe in The Future

7. Neuromancer by William Gibson
I'm pretty sure that reading this book is a step on the road to enlightenment. Also, this really hot smart girl lent it to me. That was awesome. According to Gibson, even if The Future (which really, is where we live now) turned out to be horrible, it would still be pretty interesting. On top of that, it would be a place where we'd all look awesome whilst wearing leather and sunglasses, and have sex with hot cyborgs.

9. The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco
If I were to explain why this book is truly awesome, it would give away the ending. It's neat, though, because it's a medieval Sherlock Holmes pastiche. Really! The book is totally Holmes and Watson as monks in the Middle Ages investigating murders in a monastery that have something to do with books. If you like this book, you are automatically a giant nerd.

10. The Myth of Sisyphus by Albert Camus
At this point I'm a college freshman and have a non-ironic Che Guevera poster on my wall. There was an unfortunate chin-beard in there somewhere. The Myth of Sisyphus is basically Existentialism 101, and I still regard it as great reading if you don't want to get depressed about how repetitive life is. Meaning in life is self-generated, and that's actually totally okay.

11. The Collected Stories of Ryunosuke Akutagawa
Whilst in Japan, I attempted to read Japanese literature. Granted, it was in English. Akutagawa stuck with me the most. He's quite witty, and almost cruel with how he deploys irony (though never in a way that comes off as cliched, at least not by Western standards). His story Green Onions is a great example of an author hating his characters, and loving every moment of it.

12. Siddhartha by Herman Hesse
I read this in Japan while thinking a lot about the direction my life was going and what sort of person I was. It was inspiring and thought provoking. I suppose that makes me a total cliche, utterly unoriginal, and something of a parody of the white-guy-in-foreign-country-finding-himself. Whatever. My experience was genuine and neato. Shut up!

13. Ulysses by James Joyce
For a long time I thought I hated Joyce because I thought he was impenetrable. He's not, though. I totally penetrated him, and found it a very rewarding experience. Ulysses is a puzzle box with all kinds of references, puns, jokes, and Easter eggs in it. It's not really about anything, but it's a totally cool aesthetic experience that stretches your brain-parts out.

14. Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
This book made me want to dig up Nabokov's corpse, eat his brain, and absorb his writing talents. While reading it I wrote an essay all Nabokov-like, and successfully pitched it to a literary event. It was the first time that I ever got paid for anything I wrote, and Nabokov helped me get there.

15. Consider the Lobster by David Foster Wallace
I've read a few other of DFW's books, but Consider the Lobster was the book that made me really love him, and sort of wish that I could be him (except without the depression part). There are very, very few authors whom I would call inspiring, but DFW is one of the most. He utterly charmed me with his wit, erudition, and utter genuine nature, and is one of the few writers whom I admire unreservedly.

Um, yes. there's probably some other stuff, too, that I forgot.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Aww! It thinks it's Oregon!

Washington is stealing our logo. It's kind of cute. Really, we should be flattered.