Monday, June 11, 2012

Syrian War Live

Here is a live link to see the city of Homs burning due to attacks by the Assad regime.  Too bad the US doesn't care because there's no oil in Syria.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The Reality of Freedom: Part 1

Hey there folks.  Sorry it’s been a while since my last post.  I had my spring break and had quite a few things to take care of while I was waiting for inspiration.  Hopefully I can come back with something you all want to read.

Today I’m starting the first in a multiple part series entitled “The Reality of Freedom”, concerning “freedom” and what it really is and means in America.  What do people think it means?  What do people think it entails?  What is actually happening?  I mean to address a wide range of issues.  As always, I would appreciate comments and feedback, as I look to encourage discussion and want to hear things I may have overlooked or forgotten.

The US has made a point of promoting itself and the land of freedom.  We tell other countries around the world to be like us, we take action (sometimes) when we think they’re too far off, and even use it as a convenient excuse as to why a lot of people around the world hate us.  (Think George W. Bush “They hate us for our freedom”.)   But how free are we really?  I argue that the myth and, for lack of a better work, propaganda about our freedom has gone beyond the realities of life, and this is dangerous.  We are constantly told that this is a free country.  That we should be happy to we have the things we have.  We are also constantly bombarded with cries that the government is trying to take away this freedom, or protecting that freedom.  I’m going to take a look at the legal freedoms we have, along with implied and more intangible measures of freedom.

I’ll start where any discussion of freedom in the US should begin, with the Bill of Rights.  It is the foundational document for protecting the freedom of American citizens, and also the source of quite a lot of controversy.

The Reality of Freedom

Part 1: The Bill of Rights

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

The first amendment is probably the most often discussed, along with the second.  It creates the establishment clause, commonly understood as the separation of church and state, the free exercise clause (freedom of religion), the freedoms of speech, press, assembly, and the right to petition.  Although it seems pretty straight forward, there are multitudes of issues that arise in the application of these principles.  “How can you argue with these most basic American values?” you might wonder.  Honestly, I don’t have to.  The government and others do plenty for me.

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion

This line has been always been read as the separation of church and state.  Congress cannot dictate a religion to the citizens.  In its time, this was a direct reaction to the former mother country.  England had a colorful history of the state religion changing with every other monarch, and the people were always forced to change with them.  This line was meant directly to combat this changing and all the trouble that went with it.  It was been interpreted also to prevent the government from even favoring one religion over another.  Right off the bat we have a problem.  I touched on this in one of my earliest posts about Republican hypocrisy.  A large portion of the GOP directly argues against this value.  Politicians such as Rick Santorum openly base their careers and policies off of their religious values.  Now, I understand that your morals will be based in part off your belief system, and I’m not saying that is necessarily a bad thing.  The point is that they openly state that the US is a “Christian Nation” while passing legislation that forces their religious moral codes upon millions and millions people who don’t agree.  Republicans are waging a war on contraceptives and abortion because their religious codes don’t like it.  How is this different than a monarch forcing people to attend a certain church or dress a certain way because of their beliefs?  Answer: It isn’t.  True, they aren’t passing laws officially declaring a state religion, but their constant promoting of “Christian” values and attacks on Islam clearly show a bias or favoritism of one religion over another.  A politician’s religion shouldn’t matter in the job, but have you ever seen a president who didn’t say “God Bless America” at the end of every speech like a verbal tick?  Hell, Kennedy almost didn’t get elected because he was the wrong kind of Christian.  Two of the major mudslinging topics of the 2008 presidential campaign alternated between accusing Obama of being a Muslim and criticizing his beliefs because his church’s pastor said some inflammatory things.  Pick one people.  Is he Muslim or a crazy Christian?  Can you honestly imagine a non-Christian being elected president?

or prohibiting the free exercise thereof

On this issue, the US has done fairly well until recently.  Obviously, some people have always had prejudices against other religions, but recent waves of anti-Islamic sentiment have led to local governments barring the building of mosques in certain communities.  This is clearly the government prevent worship of a specific religion.  There was one case, I can’t remember exactly where, but the city was preventing a mosque from being built in a neighborhood because it was too close to an elementary school, while there was a Lutheran Church a block away.  Again, government interference.  Either allow any worship center near the school, or none.  You don’t get to pick and choose.  This is also tied in with my earlier point about politicians.  People are free to worship and believe whatever they want, until they want to get elected to office.  Good luck getting elected if you aren’t the right religion.

That’s it for today because my fingers are tired.  I’ll continue with the first amendment next time.
(oh, and answer my poll question to the right!)

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Kony 2012 and Wristband Activism

I have previously posted my live reaction to the Kony 2012 video, and as anyone who read it can see, I didn't really like it.  Now, I've had a day or two to think about it critically, and more eloquently explain what I'm thinking.  As I was watching, the whole thing just put me off, but at the time I couldn't quite determine what it was, but now I've put my finger on it.  It's arrogance.  The entire video reeks of arrogance.  Well, that and ignorance.

It starts with "Oh, look how adorable my son is", which has nothing to do with the issue at hand.  What it does do is try to get to the viewer at an emotional level.  He's trying to provoke emotional responses early, that way his following message will hit harder.  Then he transitions to his first videos from Africa.  As is typical of western portrayals of African, it’s all gloom and doom because, you know, nothing is ever good in Africa.  Now, I'm not saying there aren't a multitude of problems that need fixing, but all Americans ever hear is bad stuff.  In these opening shots, you can hear him say something like "if this ever happened in America, it would be on the cover of Newsweek".  My first reaction to that is "Well, no shit idiot".  This is such a typical American response to learning about something that's happening somewhere else in the world.  "OMG WHY DIDN'T I KNOW ABOUT THIS BEFORE WHY DOESN'T ANYONE ELSE KNOW????!!!?!?!?!?!!"  This is so incredibly ignorant and annoying because, surprise people, most of the rest of the world DOES already to know about these sorts of things.  You're the last one to know.  The LRA and Kony have been around for over 15 years.  This isn't new news.  The problem is you live in America, which would rather talk about Kim Kardashian's wedding than any issue going on in another country.

After he "realizes" that this sort of thing is occurring that he makes a promise that leads to this whole campaign.  He promises that he will fix this problem.  Now, activism is good.  Working to fix problems is a good thing.  My issue, and the issue that many people have with this, is not his end goal.  The end goal is good.  The problem is his method.  Instead of working to fix the problems that are creating a situation that allows a warlord like Kony to exist, he wants to get a bunch of teenage girls to like a post on Facebook and watch a Youtube video.  People like Kony can exist because the people of those areas are impoverished and uneducated.  Lacking in development, people in these states do whatever they can to survive, and lack the ability to bring themselves out of poverty.  In a situation such as this, a man like Kony can terrorize people.  The more affluent and developed a region is, the less likely it is that a warlord can gain control.

But this is not what Invisible Children wants to do.  Sure they have built a few schools and actually helpful things, but what they’re mostly doing is what my friend MG referred to as “Wristband Activism”.  This is where Americans learn about some cause, feel guilty, give money, receive some sort of merchandise, feel better.  This is great catharsis for American.  “We feel bad about something but have no idea what to do, so we’re just going to throw money at it and hope it gets fixed.  In the meantime We’ll just wear the shirts and wristbands that we got”.  So please tell me, how does someone wearing a Kony 2012 t-shirt help at all to stop him?  How does sharing a video on Facebook do anything to stop a Ugandan militia leader?

Answer, it doesn’t.

It’s as simple as that.  No matter how many people put “Kony 2012” as their Facebook banner, no matter how many people watch the video, no matter how many posters get put up in the US, it won’t change a damn thing.

This is where I see the arrogance.  This guy actually believes, or wants you to believe, that you giving him money will help catch Kony.  The Ugandan military and many other groups have been fighting the LRA and Kony for over 15 years, and have yet to catch him.  Now this guy wants the US to send over more military advisors to help the Ugandans catch Kony.  Why? Are American soldiers inherently better than Ugandans?  The Ugandans have been doing this for almost two decades, but he thinks American soldiers can get it done in one year.  Another complicating factor is that Kony hasn’t even been in Uganda for at least 6 years.  So you just want to send American and Ugandan soldiers tramping through another state’s sovereign territory?  The arrogance and superiority complex are astounding.

By their own admission, only 31% of money donated to Invisible Children actually goes to helping people.  The rest goes to administrative costs, travel costs, merchandise, and Youtube videos.  I’m sorry, 31% is pretty pathetic if your goal is to actually help someone accomplish something.

This wristband activism is the perfect product of American culture.  I didn’t know there was a problem, but now that I do, I’ll just donate some money and feel better about myself knowing I help. 

If you really want to help someone, donate something a lot more valuable, your time.  Take the time to actually educate yourself on an issue.  Then if you feel the need to do something, I encourage you to find one of the multiple organizations that address the root causes of atrocities, and give them your time, or if you are a typical American, your money.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Kony 2012 Reaction

Set up:
I have not yet actually seen the Kony 2012 video until tonight.  I tried to watch the first 5 minutes, but got annoyed and stopped.  I am now going to watch the entire thing in 10 minute installments, while simultaneously righting my immediate thoughts on the video here.  So my comments will be entirely reactionary.   This should be fun.  I'll post an actual in-depth reflection next.  So without further ado...

Installment one:
Its the earth at night.  woo.  I feel like thats a gross generalization of what all humans want.  So, we have internet now, and we can look at youtube.  I'm assuming that this is heading somewhere in the direction of how powerful internet activism is, but I'm yet failing to see who Kony is what the hell is supposed to be going on.  Yay birth video!  Except, not every human starts that way, a whole lot aren't born in first-world hospitals.  Yes, yes, your kid is adorable.  Where is this going?  That just sounded like the most guilty white liberal thing ever.  "I have a black friend".  Ok, to the meat of things, we're finally in Africa.  Enter depressing shots of Africa.  "if this happened in America it would be on the cover of Newsweek" No shit Sherlock.  That's because people like you don't care about the rest of the world til you're there.  But moving on....Yes, now that you finally realize there's a problem, it is now your personal mission to save Africa? right.   So your goal is to use your group to stop the LRA and Kony in one year, when multiple countries and armies have failed to do so over the last 15 or so years? Good luck with that Superman.  So now adorable shot of you explaining to your son who the "bad guys" are.  Really effect measuring stick, considering children pretty much automatically believe everything their parents tell them til they hit 11.

Part Two:
Pretty sure one of those messed up faces was just a cleft pallet (thanks go to Andie for that insight, I wouldn't have noticed, which I'm sure in the point).  So Kony is like every other power hungry guy.  Ooo the ICC.  Everyone's favorite court.  Unless you're African.  So we just have to stop him, then we can make everything ok?  I'm sure that'll work.  Oh, the US government won't get involved in an issue that really has nothing to do with it or its citizens?  We should actually be impressed at that instead of pissed.  Of course they won't do anything, its not really their problem.  People don't care what I have to say? To the internet then!  (to be fair though, that might be the reason I have this blog anyway, but moving on...).  I remember the first time I got likes on a facebook page. There, you've finally got to something useful.  Build schools, yes.  Create jobs, yes.  That's what you should be doing.  That actually helps people.  inspirational montage time!  John Kerry cameo!  So your activism got Obama to send military advisers to help Uganda stop the LRA, ok.  Because obviously American soldiers are going to be able to succeed where African soldiers have failed countless times.

Part Three:
OOO look, the white soldier is showing the black soldiers what to do!  Yes Hitler reference. In case anyone was wondering, everyone indicted ever by the ICC has been African.  In order for this to work, we all need to buy merchandise.  So for the Ugandan army to be successful, every 16 year old girl on facebook needs to know who Kony is.  cause that'll help.  Buy shit! buy shit! buy shit!  If you buy merchandise, you too can stop a bad guy.  This may be one of the most arrogant things I've ever heard in my entire life.  Oh, here's the 3 things I can do.  They are: 1) type my name. 2) give money. 3) give more money.  Now, I'm not an expert by any means, but somehow I don't think posters and bracelets are going to stop or save anyone.  Oh, its over.  good. On the overall, I have to say there were about 30 seconds of useful things in this video.  I'm done, and further ranting/actually factual and insightful analysis will come in the following post.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Gaming 201

As I posted on before, my friend Shogun and I have made it our mission (well, more his mission than mine as he is better than me and has a bit more time) to try and assert our dominance over the 12 year old boys that populate the internet through video games.  The current push is through NCAA Football '11.  Like I said before, Shogun has previously played and beaten the #2 player in the world on PSN.  They had a rematch recently, which Shogun was going to win until his opponent, Pr0fess0rSea6592, pulled a huge bitch move and cut his internet so he wouldn't get a loss on his record.  We know have the full condensed game online, so everyone interested in football play can watch and get a good idea how to win games through clock control and running the ball.  Far too many players feel the need to go 4 or 5 wide in the shotgun and run the hurry-up.  Why?  What is the point of getting down the field as fast as possible?  It seems they don't realize that the faster they score, the sooner their opponent gets the ball back.  My only guess is that their defense is so bad that they need to have as many possessions as possible, in the hopes that the opponent will throw more interceptions than they do.  With a powerful running game, you can limit your opponent to 3 or 4 possessions for the entire game.  You have full control of the pace of the game.  To watch the video and see lesson in clock control, follow the link below and follow shogunson's channel on youtube.

Again, for an explanation of what happens at the end of the game, shogunson explains it here:

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Romney the Inevitable

Sounds like the name for the most lame super hero ever, right?  "He'll bring you to justice...eventually".  It is these kind of things that have been running through my head since the beginning of this Republican Primary cycle.  As he was the runner-up in 2008, it had always made sense to me that Romney would be the favorite for this year's nomination.  Now, I understand that his previous showing had no real indicator on this year, but it was something solid for him to build off.  Once the field for the primary was set, it only further set me to believe that Romney was inevitable.  Herman Cain? Please.  A joke of a candidacy if there ever was one.  He accomplishments in life included opening pizza places in impoverished areas and sexually harassing employees.  Michele Bachmann? You're kidding me.  Her Sarah Palin-y attitude was old and unelectable when Sarah Palin started it in 2008.  Rick Perry actually had me convinced for a while that he had a shot as George Bush 2.0, but then he gave a drunk press conference and had the fastest crash of a political campaign since Howard Dean (Beeyaaawww!!).  So we were left with what are the "real" candidates.

Ron Paul--the most ideologically pure of the candidates, also the most unelectable by the base he is trying to appeal to.  He had several unsuccessful runs at the presidency as a third-party libertarian candidate in the past. Then the Tea Party happened and the GOP swallowed the libertarians, making him Republican by default.  But this is also why he could never win; he's not a Republican.  He appeals to large elements of the tea party, and almost nothing else.

Newt Gingrich--I think the phoenix is a more appropriate animal moniker for this guy.  His political career has risen and fallen a ridiculous number of times, as has his campaign.  I thought originally he might be able to   put a challenge to the Rominator, but the early desertion of his top aids had me convinced he was dead in the water.  However, he somehow managed to rally and won Georgia on Super Tuesday.  Unfortunately, almost nobody else likes him, and he was been in politics way too long and has way to much dirt.

Rick Santorum--I have a lot to say about this guy, so I'm going to save it for a later post in which I can go in-depth.  I'll leave it here to say that he is surviving by soaking up anti-Romney votes and Evangelical Christians.

Willard Mitt Romney--The only people that seem to like him are other big business types.  He is a well-oiled machine of money, Obama opposition, befuddling stage appearances, and comments that make you wonder if he has ever had to go to a store and buy anything himself.  No one has wanted to elect him, but almost everyone realizes that he will win.  His campaign has the heat, swiftness, and momentum of a glacier.  It may take way too long and destroy everything in the process, but damn it he'll get here eventually.  Willard has always been playing to the general election, trying his best to avoid discussing his competitors at all and focusing only on Obama, and it apparently works.  No one likes him, but he has the best shot.  To be fair, I think this is deceptive, because he'll get destroyed in a general election by a President who's healthcare legislation is actually less liberal than the one Romney passed in Massachusetts.  In any case, his hostile takeover of the Republican Party proceeds with all the haste of the weathering of the Pyramids.

political pictures - Super Tuesday: The Morning After

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Oh, the can of worms

I don't have the time or energy at the moment to get into my full-fledged opinion, but I'll just leave this here for now.