Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Slipping Stances on World Oppressors

"The survival of liberty in our land increasingly depends on the success of liberty in other lands. The best hope for peace in our world is the expansion of freedom in all the world. ... All who live in tyranny and hopelessness can know: the United States will not ignore your oppression, or excuse your oppressors. When you stand for your liberty, we will stand with you." - GW Bush, 2nd inaugural address, Jan 2005
What words of hope he spoke back then. Standing with the oppressed. Of course, he was referring to our imminent success in Iraq, our "mission accomplished" in helping the Iraqis stand against their oppressor Saddam Hussein. However, these days our stance seems more like the Texas two-step than a strong mission statement.

A lot of words has been exchanged about the recent turmoil in Pakistan. For those who might not know yet what is going on, I'll give you a quick recap: Faced with a promise he made of giving up his military post, and of Presidential elections in which most polls declared he'd be wiped out by opposition parties, "President" Pervez Musharraf has couped against his own presidency, declaring marshal law, dissolving the Constitution, placing several members of the Supreme Court under house arrest when they refused to go along with him, and jailing thousands of lawyers and other protesters for demonstrating against him. Oh, and he is silencing major independent news organizations.

The worst part of all this is the international community is doing nothing than muttering under its breath about the situation. Especially in the United States, where this administration has made a world-wide campaign against those who might use tyranny to further injustice and terror. We have invoked sanctions or traded harsh words with several nations who we consider to be conducting activities we deem anti-democratic. For examples, see Venezuela, Cuba, Myanmar, North Korea, and Iran. In all those places, we have tried to bring our pro-democracy rhetoric to bear with some force, usually economic, to try and effect changes in how they do business with their own people.

However, now, when one of our "most important non-NATO" allies goes and shreds any hope of democratic reform, we sit idly by. We have even made excuses for General Musharraf's actions (as he is acting more a general than a president). "Oh, he has the bomb... we don't want to antagonize him" ... "Well, he's still fighting the war on terror for us, we don't want to disrupt him" ... "if he goes, Pakistan will only have anarchy and could fall into the hands of extremists." All of these are practically bullshit.

** Bomb - yes, Pakistan has the bomb. However, we have not shrunk from admonishing other nations with fully-fledged nuclear capabilities (China, North Korea). It is even more dangerous because Pakistan's nuclear engineers were responsible for helping North Korea develop it's own arsenal. This should be even more of a reason why the army should not be in control all the time ... they clearly do not have the mental or moral capacity to determine when to hold onto to their state secrets.
**Terror - Pakistan has made few contributions to the war on terror recently, and indeed seems to be taking some steps backwards. The same day he swept democratic precepts aside, Musharraf also released 28 Taliban prisoners in a prisoner-soldier swap with militants on his border. Some of those included bomb makers and transporters. Where are they headed now? Not to protest with the lawyers; they're most likely headed over the border into Afghanistan, where the Taliban is on a rebound and has posted several new leads this year, pushing close to Khandahar and other cities as they struggle to regain their grip on the country. And Pakistan's army is not fighting them. Not to mention how thousands have been called from the front line to fight and arrest the protesters, as if these people are the most dangerous threat to the country's future.
**Anarchy - This whole charade was well-timed to offset the elections and Supreme Court decisions, all of which were suspected to go against Musharraf. In a poll by Terror Free Tomorrow, Musharraf has a lower approval rating than recently-returned oppsition leader Benazir Bhutto (38% to 63%). It is widely believed that her party would sweep Musharraf from office in the elections (which have now been postponed indefinitely), and she has signaled support for the United States as a part of her moderate stance.

None of the arguments hold water.
The end result is that we are supporting some modicum of short-term stability for democracy, lending credence to a dictator who is actively oppressing his people rather than step in and try to aid the people of Pakistan, in some way, with their struggle. It seems strange, as we have taken much effort to try to establish democracy in other portions of the world. Indeed, with hundreds of billions of dollars flowing into Iraq, trying to prop up a democracy and create a "model state" in the Middle East. If we value stability over democracy, why depose Saddam in the first place? He was very stable, we were keeping an eye on him so he was pretty pinned down (still no WMDs found), and was not in league with the Taliban, Iran, or other terrorist groups. Yet we brought him down to promote democracy. Cuba has been stable to the rest of the world for decades. Yet just last month President Bush stood beside Cuban exiles and railed against Cuba's denying of freedom to its people.

I am not urging we march into Pakistan as we did Baghdad. For one, we do not have the military means or public support to initiate such an endeavor. Also, perhaps Iraq has taught us that military force is not always the best way to effect "regime change" in a country. However, to let Pakistan stumble down this road without demonstrating that we will not stand for this type of behavior, even from our allies, is unconscionable. When 53% of Pakistanis believe that one of their top priorities as a nation is "Free elections, free press, and an independent judiciary" we should pay attention. When only 18% approve of suicide bombings, we should realize this is a society not filled with radicals, yet, but rational people who desire the means and ways to make their life better in the future, for them and their children. However, our image is tarnished there, whether beyond hope is debatable. How might things change if we were to help promote democracy in a peaceful way? One that is not seen as militaristic, or anti-Islamic, but moderate, accepting, progressive yet understanding? It is a tall order, but don't we owe it to our credibility in the region, nay across the world as a country whose defining purpose is to promote democracy, as it is the surest way to repeal terror and oppression around the world?

Consider also this hypothetical future: 53% of people disapproved of Musharraf even before this weekend's shenanigans. If he retains power, under the auspices of fighting terror and keeping stability, it is altogether possible that those young people who he claims to be protecting will only be further marginalized by his draconian measures. When free press and free courts do not offer people a legitimate avenue to redress their concerns with the government and each other, where will they turn? Madrassas, sharia law, militants, tribal organizations that can help give them what the "stable" government of Pakistan can not. Do you doubt this? Consider what happened when the Shah of Iran lost touch with his people, and used all means necessary to stay in power after he was returned to office in 1953. Where did the people turn, but to a small religious leader named Ruhulla Khomeini? And how did that example turn out, and how did it effect our world in terms of security, human rights, terrorism? Would we really want to sandwich Afghanistan between two of the same? Do we really want another Iran, this time with already developed nuclear capabilities?

To end this, I'll leave with another quote, used by GW Bush in his inaugural address, but also resonating into this conflict:
"Those who deny freedom to others, deserve it not for themselves; and, under a just God, can not long retain it." --Abraham Lincoln, from the April 6, 1859 letter to Henry Pierce
After those who deny freedom are no longer in power, how will what we have done (or not done) while they were in control affect what happens when they no longer retain it?

Friday, October 26, 2007

Wow, what a great thing sanctions are

I'm so glad that we have perfected the use of sanctions to help further democracy in the world. It really has worked out so well for us so far. We were able to put the squeeze on the communist regime in Cuba, forcing them to overthrow their government and become a truly democratic society. We are well on our way to pressure Iran to stop enriching Uranium and being a jerk to the rest of the region. This is quite a useful tool, we should think of deploying it more often.

In reality though, I can't believe what I am reading about everything these days. Sanctions, especially the unilateral sanctions that we tend to prefer, have proven over the last five decades to do nothing in terms of actually forcing change. And yet our government, whether Republican or Democrat, seems oblivious to that fact.

Two recent examples from the news further this reality. Recently, President Bush met with a room half of Latin American diplomats, and half Cuban exiles. His speech was directed at the transfer of power in Cuba, and the President expressed concern that the people take this opportunity to shed the government that has controlled their destinies for the last half century. Mr. Bush also took the time to re-iterate the U.S.'s stance that the travel and trade embargoes on the island nation will continue until such a time as the country returns to a democratic state. These embargoes have worked wonderfully so far, haven't they? Really brought Cuba to see the error of their ways, didn't it?

Actually, the United States is a victim of its own policy, making us impotent as well as a hypocrite to boot. Since 2001, after a visit to the island nation by Hurricane Michelle, the United States authorized the sale of food and medical supplies to Cuba, in the pretense of humanitarian relief. The supplies could only be purchased "cash-only," as if that made a difference. Since then, the US has become one of Cuba's top 10 trading partners, racking up millions of dollars in trade with the verboden country. This has also aroused the ire of our allies, especially Canada, in relation to free trade, but that is a topic for another time.

Of course, the Cuban exile portion of the room leapt into an ovation, according to the New York Times. The diplomats remained silent, probably thinking of the rhetoric that was spewing forth and how they've heard this sort of speech before, only with regard to the leaders of the Middle East. It wasn't going to fly.

Indeed, this administration has stepped up the "sanction and embargo" theme in the volatile Middle East, this week condemning Iran and levying sanctions against the Qud Guards and several Iranian banking institutions, which Mr. Bush designated as sponsors of terrorism. Despite the fact that there have been sanctions imposed on the region since the 1979 uprising. Despite the fact that the Guards, and Iran, still does major business daily across the globe, in full flaunt of whatever we say against it.

The message we should be learning from all this is that unilateral sanctions do nothing anymore. Iran is in business with countries who will gladly fill any void left by the United States, especially considering Iran's vast petrochemical wealth. China, Russia, and the EU are just some of the international groups willing to deal with Iran in order to continue global economic growth. Nothing the US can say or threaten will cease that. Globalism has undermined these sorts of efforts before. Cuba did business with Russia, Canada, and the EU (and now the US as well, behind our own backs) for decades under a US "embargo". The Sudan, another black-listed country, has also turned elsewhere for economic investment, finding plenty of suitors who want to work with their own oil reserves. The list goes on.

The only way sanctions can work is if it is a concerted effort by the major economic powers of the world (the US, EU, China, India, Russia, and Canada) to really bring the pressure to bear on these nations. Unilateralism went out the window when globalism opened the floodgates. We no longer control the majority of trade and money flow in the world; if a country cannot do business with us, it can find other lucrative partners more than willing to turn a blind eye to whatever humanitarian, environmental, or political atrocity might be going on inside in order to further their own domestic economic agenda. If we continue to go it alone in this effort, we only end up looking ineffective and out of touch with reality, as the rest of the world sits silently during out tirade, then cleans up financially in the aftermath. Better international diplomacy, and a good dose of the real world and its new global structure, would greatly be
nefit any pipe dreams we may harbor to affect real change in the world via economic pressures. Until then, the audience is holding its breath.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Major Mayer Muddle

John Mayer, the singer-songwriter who is improbably famous, released a song last year which, upon my hearing (I don't keep up 100% with recent pop music), strikes me as horribly wrong for someone with so much influence on the general public. His song is "Waiting on the world to change," and has lyrics that advocate, in my mind, lazing around and idly hoping that everything will get better.

Now we see everything that's going wrong
With the world and those who lead it
We just feel like we don't have the means
To rise above and beat it
It's not that we don't care,
We just know that the fight ain't fair
So we keep on waiting
Waiting on the world to change

These lyrics are ridiculous. It will never be easy to change the world. Change is hard, it is difficult. It comes in small leaps and bounds, often with gross steps backwards. All good fights have been like that. The fight for racial equality, which is still going on, has been a veritable roller coaster of achievements and setbacks. The environment, poverty, Vietnam war protests ... nearly every progressive movement in society is on the backs of the hard working people making minuscule additions to the fight.

To say that it is too hard, or that that fight isn't fair, is simply preposterous. No fight is fair, nothing is easy if you want it done right and are fighting against a tide, which every good innovation in our society has done or is trying to do.

And for Mayer to claim that is too easy is bullshit. For him to be a role model for the younger segments of our population, and to tell them just to sit back and wait until things change, is ludicrous. Then it'll never happen! If everyone simply "waits for the world to change" then the world will never change! What if Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had said, "well, we'd like equality, but it's really an uphill battle, so I'm gonna sit back and wait for the world to change." Where would we be?

It's repugnant that Mayer would put this song into circulation.
When you're a celebrity you have a responsibility to inspire, to challenge, to move forward. Not to advocate apathy and stagnation.

[Thanks to Anne for bringing this song to my attention]

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Food for thought

I have recently had the opportunity to read the new book by Alan Weisman, entitled The World Without Us. The book is both an intriguing thought-exercise as well as a subtle warning, and is definitely worth the read.

Weisman ponders the question of what the world would do, would look like, if humans magically disappeared tomorrow? Everything left intact as it stands right now (no nuclear holocaust or such removal) and no more degradation of the environment than we've already started (so not in 100 years with rampant global warming). He just examines how the natural world would respond to our absence. From flooding of New York subways to the destruction of our cherished monuments (and the perseverance of some others), he looks at the world in our wake.

It is at times hopeful as to the restorative nature of, well, nature. Looking analytically at how nature responds to shifts beyond equilibrium (and the amount of human effort used in combating the encroaching wilderness on what we've already built). He seems to indicate that mother nature would eventually bulldoze our creations, even our great skyscrapers, and lay it all down in verdant growth.

He goes on to discuss some of our creations which stand to remain the longest, and these stand as potent reminders of how our evolving technology can impact the environment long after it has left our conscious thought. Plastics, chemicals, radioactive waste, and global warming are all touched on in this human-less future.

It is an engaging book, one that deserves mention for attention to readers. It's conflicting messages, of the resilience of nature, compounded with our own technological advances that nature has no answer to, leave you a bit flustered, but definitely thinking in new directions. I found myself wondering, as I drove past them on the way for some hiking, how long these farms, these car lots, these houses would last under the strain of nature. And also it helps to re-evaluate your impact on the planet. Weisman writes with a dis-arming natural flow, an inviting approach to the subject that is technical without being intimidating, informative without being boring. An enlightening and entertaining read, for sure.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Finally, Someone's Thinking

It was slow in coming, very slow. The solution to the Iraq, problem, as I have stated previously, was in the partition of the country into various slices, mostly likely upon ethnic/sectarian lines. It is unfortunate that it should come to this, but keep in mind that the country borders of Iraq and much of the Middle East was constructed not by their own people, but by the colonial powers that contained power over the area at the early point of the 20th century. France and England were the principal participants, and when they were forced to give up power and return the land to the people of the region after WWI, they drew arbitrary lines and left it at that. They have a reputation of this, for the colonial powers did the same thing in Africa, which was one reason that led to the genocide in Rwanda so recently.

And, as it has been proven time and time again in the news and reports on the ground, the majority of the violence has been intra-sect homicide. These are three sets of people, with apparent intractable differences which prohibits them living together in one nation. There is nothing wrong with that; there are incompatible people all across the world. However, when forced to live under one flag, one border, conflicts can arise quickly. Can they ever get over this hatred? The optimist in me wants to say yes, but that is not easy or quick to achieve, and cannot be looked upon as a solution in the near future.

So, why divvy up the country? Well, the partition method also has some historical success. In Bosnia, when faced with factions that were at constant war and genocide, was broken into partitions in the 1990s, and has had considerable success since then. It may not be the popular thing to do right away, but it certainly can separate the factions into their respective corners, so to speak.

With the U.S. so bogged down here, with the troop surge generating mild if any successes, it is wise to look to a new direction. Senator Joseph Biden, D-Del, has been the chief sponsor of a plan to start a power-sharing partition plan in Iraq. It would de-centralize the government, putting more power in regional centers controlled by Sunni, Shiite, and Kurd forces. What is even more impressive is that the U.S. Senate approved the non-binding resolution. This is a powerful statement that the direction must change with respect to our plan in Iraq, even more than just removing troops, as senators have repeatedly suggested. I'm glad that someone is finally looking forward and in a "outside-the-box" fashion. Well done Senator Biden.

Of course, there are those who oppose it. The Iraqi central government condemned the resolution, with prominent Iraqis calling it a "
flagrant interference in Iraq's internal affairs." This is to be expected; even though historical inequalities led to the government being formed, the people at its stead have the desire to keep the status quo going, even if it is not the best thing for its people. They do not want to see their own power diminished, so they will fight this plan however they can. The United States Embassy, which is beholden to the executive branch, also decried the resolution. However, partition for them, and our President, would only look like some sort of "defeat" in their eyes, even if it might be a more proactive, stabilizing direction to move. They also have things to lose: prestige, votes, finances, party loyalty. All that petty politics seems to drive men to do great or horrid things.

I urge you all to read that resolution, and think honestly about the implications it has for the country, for our country, and for the future of stability in the Middle East. For isn't it better to have three smaller, stable countries operating and peaceful, than one larger quagmire of destruction and misery?

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Blackwater finding itself in hot waters

There are always re-curing stories and anecdotes to demonstrate how the US government did not fully plan or execute the war in Iraq. From the blossoming of sectarian violence, to the sluggish pace of reconstruction, over and over it has been shown that we were woefully under prepared for what was to transpire in the region after we declared “Mission Accomplished” and fell Baghdad (as if that was really going to be a challenge).

Now, a multitude of accusations have surfaced around the US security firm Blackwater. At first, it was “just” the shooting of Iraqi civilians in a roadside dispute last weekend. This was telling in itself, as the Iraqi government was at last able to form consensus … over how they wanted the firm stripped of its privileges and duties in the region and shipped home. With the public opinion swaying against these guns-for-hire, it is no surprise that the government focused its ire against them. It is easy to rid itself of a private firm, and score some badly needed points with the Iraqi people, than trying to but the US out of the country. However, the United States was unmoved by the pleas of injustice and multiple murder. Just a few days of suspension, and the firm was back in the streets, shuttling diplomats and other “important” persons across the region.

However, the dirt doesn’t stop there. Now, according to the Associated Press (AP), the firm has been accused in dealing arms on a black market to terrorist groups. There is sufficient evidence, the prosecutors’ estimate, for indictments to be handed down in connection with this.

This is atrocious. We are represented by whom we hire to do our work for us. Ask any contractor and he’ll tell you that their reputation is on the line when they hire a sub-contractor do to work; should that person/group mess up, it reflects negatively on the main contractor, and the business as a whole. These security groups are, in effect, the employees of the US government. As such, we should hold them to a very strict standard, for their actions are a direct representation of our own beliefs and opinions on the matters at hand. If we allow them to get away with such activities, which clearly undermine our own objectives in the region (whatever those might be), then we send a clear message that we don’t’ care how we treat their people, their country, nor do we really care about their goals of reform and growth into a stable democracy.

It is fairly clear to me what should happen with these firms. With the amount of shoddy work and questionable conduct that has been lined up, there should be an immediate suspension of their contract and duties in Iraq. But what of their jobs? You might ask, what will happen to the emissaries and ambassadors and other VIPs that need to be escorted around the country like blushing prom dates? Well, we recently added some 30,000 plus soldiers to the area… and it is widely known that we pay less for soldier’s wages than for these security personnel. I think we can handle that. It is our job as employer to make sure our employees are not sabotaging the company behind our backs. That wouldn’t stand in corporate America, and it shouldn’t stand with our government either.

Friday, September 21, 2007

I'm Back ... for now

Yet again, another pause in the uploading of articles and idle pondering about the world around us. I have begun graduate school at the University of Illinois, pursuing a degree in ethnobotany (at least an MS, very likely a PhD). I also disappeared from the country for three weeks into Central America, having a lot of fun and exploring the Mayan Ruins there.

But I'm back, and looking forward to perusing the universal load of bullcrap that is paraded out for the public all the time. With the changing nature of grad school, I cannot promise these reports will come out with a regimented schedule, but I'll try to get something out when I can. And as always, feel free to read, make comments, and enjoy.

My blogs up until now have ranged over a broad range of topics... environmental issues are very prevalent, with politics, the war (what blog doesn't deal with the war), education, and social issues coming in as well. I think the general format will continue for now at least. I might tighten it up in the future, but not right now.

I want to thank my dear friend Ansley Weller, for reminding me about how and why I write, and for bringing me back into the blogging world. Thank you Ansley.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Kudos to Perry

Finally, somebody has the right idea, and the balls to follow through with it. Texas Governor Rick Perry has issued an executive order mandating the use of the new human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine for all 6th grade girls in the state of Texas. In doing so, he sidesteps the conservative Texas legislature (who the late, great Molly Ivins called "The Ledge") and enters it directly into law.

Of course, this has conservatives howling about how the vaccine promotes premarital sex and also interfering with how they desire to raise their children.

Um... excuse me? This is a great breakthrough here. In a very rare case, we are able to provide a vaccine that can stop a form of cancer. CANCER. One of the top killers in this country right now. And we can stop it. This is the same as vaccinating against tetanus, polio, or smallpox. It has nothing to do with sex, and it certainly does not promote it to young girls. It is about saving lives.

And as far as legislating how parents raise their kids, the same vaccine argument holds true. It is standard that children get a battery of disease-preventing innoculations. Hep B is required for many college entrances. Why should this one be any different?

It galls me when these high-minded people are putting their own children at risk to cancer. Thank you Perry for taking the insightful step and bypassing all the hot air that blows around this subject.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

New Year, Same Words

Let's take a look at the President's speech last night, shall we?

"Extending hope and opportunity depends on a stable supply of energy that keeps America's economy running and America's environment clean. For too long our nation has been dependent on foreign oil. And this dependence leaves us more vulnerable to hostile regimes, and to terrorists -- who could cause huge disruptions of oil shipments, and raise the price of oil, and do great harm to our economy.

President George W. Bush delivers his State of the Union Address Tuesday, Jan. 23, 2007, at the U.S. Capitol. "For all of us in this room, there is no higher responsibility than to protect the people of this country from danger," said President George W. Bush. "Five years have come and gone since we saw the scenes and felt the sorrow that the terrorists can cause. We've had time to take stock of our situation. We've added many critical protections to guard the homeland. We know with certainty that the horrors of that September morning were just a glimpse of what the terrorists intend for us -- unless we stop them."  White House photo by Eric Draper
It's in our vital interest to diversify America's energy supply -- the way forward is through technology. We must continue changing the way America generates electric power, by even greater use of clean coal technology, solar and wind energy, and clean, safe nuclear power. (Applause.) We need to press on with battery research for plug-in and hybrid vehicles, and expand the use of clean diesel vehicles and biodiesel fuel. (Applause.) We must continue investing in new methods of producing ethanol -- (applause) -- using everything from wood chips to grasses, to agricultural wastes.

We made a lot of progress, thanks to good policies here in Washington and the strong response of the market. And now even more dramatic advances are within reach. Tonight, I ask Congress to join me in pursuing a great goal. Let us build on the work we've done and reduce gasoline usage in the United States by 20 percent in the next 10 years. (Applause.) When we do that we will have cut our total imports by the equivalent of three-quarters of all the oil we now import from the Middle East.

To reach this goal, we must increase the supply of alternative fuels, by setting a mandatory fuels standard to require 35 billion gallons of renewable and alternative fuels in 2017 -- and that is nearly five times the current target. (Applause.) At the same time, we need to reform and modernize fuel economy standards for cars the way we did for light trucks -- and conserve up to 8.5 billion more gallons of gasoline by 2017."Laudable statements. Certainly noble causes, for the pursuit of a cleaner environment and an independent energy source."

But wait! What did our forward thinking
President say last year?

"Keeping America competitive requires affordable energy. And here we have a serious problem: America is addicted to oil, which is often imported from unstable parts of the world. The best way to break this addiction is through technology. Since 2001, we have spent nearly $10 billion to develop cleaner, cheaper, and more reliable alternative energy sources -- and we are on the threshold of incredible advances.

So tonight, I announce the Advanced Energy Initiative -- a 22-percent increase in clean-energy research -- at the Department of Energy, to push for breakthroughs in two vital areas. To change how we power our homes and offices, we will invest more in zero-emission coal-fired plants, revolutionary solar and wind technologies, and clean, safe nuclear energy. (Applause.)

We must also change how we power our automobiles. We will increase our research in better batteries for hybrid and electric cars, and in pollution-free cars that run on hydrogen. We'll also fund additional research in cutting-edge methods of producing ethanol, not just from corn, but from wood chips and stalks, or switch grass. Our goal is to make this new kind of ethanol practical and competitive within six years. (Applause.)

Breakthroughs on this and other new technologies will help us reach another great goal: to replace more than 75 percent of our oil imports from the Middle East by 2025. (Applause.) By applying the talent and technology of America, this country can dramatically improve our environment, move beyond a petroleum-based economy, and make our dependence on Middle Eastern oil a thing of the past. (Applause.)"

It is good to pay lip service to these goals, and to mention them certainly brings about awareness, which can help jump start the whole process. But merely stating them year after year is not enough; the President needs to back up his words with powerful legislation, bringin oil and car companies to heel as he moves forward in strengthening fuel economy standards, dramatically increasing funding into new research, as well as bringing more incentives to the table for commercial and residential units to move with new alternative fuel options, such as solar, wind, water, or other methods. He would do well to look to California, for their Million Solar initiative, and the new restrictions placed on automobiles' emissions. Only by actions can the words he speak come true, so he doesn't need to repeat himself ad naseum.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Surging Stupidity

I do not usually post twice in one day, not even twice in one week, but this caught my attention and I had to dig into it. I have not been terribly vocal on this site about the war in Iraq; those of you who know me know of my opinions of it, and that is fine.

However, today we get a new chapter in the troop "surge" planned by POTUS Bush and his new Secretary of Defense pal Gates. General George Casey claims that "I think it's probably going to be the summer, late summer, before you get to the point where people in Baghdad feel safe in their neighborhoods." Overall, there is the belief that the "surge" troops could be home by summertime.

Ahem, excuse me? Did you say that these ~20,000 troops would be sticking around for only 5 or 6 months? And then magically everything winds up alright and they get to return to their homes? This smells similarly of former declarations of quick-fix, easy-winnable military operations. We're still in Afghanistan, we're still in Iraq, and I don't see those surging numbers coming home anytime soon. I hope they do, but I feel the administration has tried to give an artificial boost of hope into a situation where it would have been prudent to be pragmatic and realistic.

Please Protect Me Myspace!!

There never seems to be a lack of articles proudly announcing that we are the most uncommonsensical people ever. It staggers me sometimes how people manage to function on a day to day basis without major help. Then again, I read the "Caution: the beverage you're about to enjoy is hot" warning on my hot chocolate, and I begin to understand.

Today's consternation arrives in the form of a lawsuit. The obscenely popular website is facing several lawsuits from parents of the site's users. They are alleging that the website is not adequately protecting their kids from online predators. Why do they make these stunning allegations? According to one report on, "The lawyers who filed the latest lawsuits said the plaintiffs include a 15-year-old girl from Texas who was lured to a meeting, drugged and assaulted in 2006 by an adult MySpace user, who is currently serving a 10-year sentence in Texas after pleading guilty to sexual assault."

Now hold on a damn minute. I agree that the Internet can be a vulnerable place, and it certainly has its share of perverts cruising sites looking for teens to chat with, look at, and think hideous thoughts about (though, it sounds like Congress is that sort of place too). And there should be some modicum of protection afforded younger members of the Internet, as they can be more vulnerable to that sort of online harassment. But teens who met and were drugged and raped by people they found at myspace? We're not talking about 7-year-olds who don't know any better. If you're 15, you're in high school by that point, and have almost certainly come in contact with various forms of harassment and entreaties. What the hell were they thinking? Who in their right minds agrees to meet someone privately first off after an Internet conversation? Meet at a coffee shop, meet at a bookstore, meet at a mall. Don't meet privately. Hello, is there no remains of common sense?

And where in God's name were the parents during all this? I don't agree that parents should hover over their children's every move online, but some idle questions wouldn't hurt. And certainly if they were going to meet someone, questions should be posed to figure out who, when, where, and why.

I cannot imagine that the fault for this lies with the Internet company. Hemanshu Nigam, MySpace's chief security officer, said in a statement that Internet safety is a shared responsibility, requiring users to "apply common sense offline safety lessons in their online experiences and engage in open family dialogue." This hits it right on the head. All the new technology in the world these days works as a double-edged sword. It gives you more networking opportunities, ways of communicating with people you thought long gone. But at the same time it also opens you up to a new front of scrutiny, some of which may be unwelcome. What is the solution? Not to force a free company to over amp on their security measures. Instead, it should be an emphasis on personal responsibility and parental guidance that dictates how people act and react to a cyber social life. This is absurd people: take some responsibility for your dumb actions, don't pass the buck onto other people.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

How Long can Hatred Last?

If a corporation starts to make a change in a positive direction, is it possible to still loath them? For years, I was one of the many who championed the anti-Wal-Mart cause. I decried their taking over of the traditional family run stores across small-town America. I seethed when I read some of their less than fair labor practices. I cheered when a town near me successfully blocked their insertion into the town lifestyle.

However, Wal-Mart has made some encouraging signs to rectify those stigmas. And one of the best ones I have seen so far is this: Wal-Mart is looking to jump into solar power in a big way. According to the article on ZDnet, if completed as planned Wal-Mart will be generating 100MW of power in the next five years. To put that into perspective, Google's much heralded facility installation is supplying 1.6MW - smaller than 1/60th of the proposed Wal-Mart plan. I am a big fan of solar power. I think that, with all the rooftop acrage in this country (and world), there is enough space to harness vast amounts of energy. It is just sitting there, waiting to be tapped. And for Wal-Mart, a former hated enemy, to take up the forefront of this cause, is good news, but a bit puzzling as well.

These people had been the object of so much vitriol from environmentalists, urban planners, labor groups, and consumer groups, that perhaps now they are trying to turn the tide. Are they doing it to lessen the negative publicity that always surrounds them? That's part of it, no doubt. But that cannot be all of it. In October of last year, Wal-Mart president and CEO Lee Scott spoke on Wal-Mart's short-term goals, including a commitment to invest $500 million a year in energy efficiency and technologies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Has Wal-Mart been the enemy? Yes. But is it more important that they are starting to change and do the right thing? Absolutely.