Thursday, July 30, 2009

Israel's Attack Dog

The NY Times had an interesting article today about Israeli outposts that have been erected in protests to the Obama Administration's demand that settlement building and expansion stopped. Never mind that these guys are crazy fundamentalists, this is extremely frustrating because we have, as a country, supported Israel more than virtually any other place, and now Israel refuses to help reach peace. They fail to recognize that the whole war on terror is based fundamentally on US support for Israel against the Palestinians and without paying attention to the Palestinians. The truth is that, while supporting Israel in many ways makes sense, we allow them to do things to the Palestinians that are truly inhumane. When Israel warns us not to pressure them, I get very frustrated because we subsidize the destruction of the lives of the Palestinians and have made it possible for them to continue to exist. In today's day and age of terror, we need to get this issue resolved. There needs to be a viable Palestinian State, and it is time that it occurs. Israel's position is a threat to our National Security, but they do not want to be pressured.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Routing by Cadillac - Environmental Injustice Lives On

There is a power line being built in Idaho and Wyoming. Building something that stretches over miles of land is always hugely controversial since it impacts all types of people. When routing in eastern Wyoming, the routers came into a problem. A major land-owner had property that was in the way. The Wyoming state official working with the routers paled and said that it was not possible to go through his property. There it is, Money IS Speech after all. This is infuriating since it represents the continued existence of the same environmental injustice that puts toxic waste dumps in poor areas and uses freeway building projects as slum clearance.

Routing by Cadillac is the idea that you look at the number of Cadillac cars in the driveway of a house and base your decision on whether to put the power line through there on that. This means, in other words, richer people do not have to pay their fair share of the cost of a public good of which they nevertheless derive benefit. While in my experience this is funnier when it happens under Republicans (since they believe that all people have equal access to power and the ability to better themselves) it is more ironic when it happens to Democrats (for obvious reasons). We are, overall, ok with this since we are a mostly middle-class country and even my family successfully fought off a cell-phone tower that was going to adversely effect us, largely from political connections.

I believe that we need people who are community organizers who explain how to organize, the time commitments, why the issue is important, etc. The person must be humble and clear and have only the goal of helping the community define its own fate. In my understanding, everyone who ever approaches an issue from a position of believing that they know more than the people with whom they are working, fails to cause any real change.

Russia vs. Georgia

VP Biden spent some time in Georgia recently telling the Georgians (this is the Eurasian country, not the state) that we would back them up. This was utterly stupid in my opinion, especially given the restraint that Obama had originally shown on the issue. The problem I have with this is that had we been in Russia's shoes, we would have attacked Georgia too.

Georgia is a conglomeration of ethnic states that was left in ruins of civil war after the break-up of the Soviet Union. The Abkhaz and the South Ossetians among others had been fighting for independence and found help in Russia-due in part to Georgia's seeking more assistance from the West. Well, good for us, bad for the Russians, it is another sphere of influence battle, no big deal, right? Well, it is not that simple.

Georgia lost control of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. The current president came to power vowing to get them back and bring Georgia closer to the US and Europe. This violates some major principles of the Russians, mainly, why does NATO-an alliance built to fight Russia-still have to expand on their borders? The US and Europe are taking a very cold-war based mentality in their deals with the Russians. Honestly, we are restarting the rivalry as much as they are. When the Georgian army began to shell South Ossetia, the Russians who were peace keepers there to prevent just such an eventuality, struck back. We all cried foul since the Russians hit with such unnecessary force. Why did we not tell the Georgians to stop being idiots? I do not know.

My point is this: Georgia is our ally, I understand, but get them to stop forcing us into confrontation with Russia. Also, try to recognize that Russia has some very legitimate claims there that the world ignored. This will never work diplomatically since it proves that we are still into the Cold War as much as Putin is.

When You See Wrong, Fight It for No One Else Will

Several years ago during my brother's Eagle Scout ceremony, I told my brother that his receipt of the honor was a badge that required him to be the Actor, the one at whom the buck stopped because no one else will. This is something to which I also aspire. I believe, in more concise terms, that if you see wrong, fight it, for no one else will. Fight it with humility, clarity, passion, persistence, sincerity, and a goal that all will understand why you fight.

This was challenged last night when I encountered the website This place is horrible and I would advise that no one explore it because it basically caters to the basest of human mentalities, with pornography everywhere. I was exploring the site because they have a reputation for being internet "bad-asses" and they cultivate this ideal by wrecking sites. They think they are cool. They are self-absorbed nihilists. I never thought I would find this combination since nihilism is supposedly a philosophy in which nothing matters. Nevertheless, these people cultivate truly awful sides of us all. Included on this site was a thread by a 22 year-old guy who was trying to get tips to have sex with a 15 year-old girl who he was virtually bribing with Nintendo DS games. Who these people are I do not know. I do, however, know that I should have spoken up against this. Which brings me back to my initial point-be the person at whom the buck stops. We live in an increasingly amoral and anonymous world. For this reason, we have to all play a role in stopping evil...and I mean evil. Nihilism was always in my opinion the most dangerous of philosophies until I found that people could be self-absorbed and nihilistic simultaneously. Destruction for the sake of destruction AND pleasure. Like snuff videos or super-villains.

4chan is a place where people can be what they want in a way, I guess. Also, we have given them their power by fearing them, hating them, and by Time Magazine and other periodicals doing stories on how much power they have when they really are nothings in a universe of people fighting off oblivion and anonymity. We are facing the absurd dichotomy of people desiring more privacy and yet also seeking to differentiate themselves from an anonymous world, made so by globalization. It is clear that most of human history has been in small groups or towns. Now we are just one more individual in a huge world in which millions die every day and year from hunger, malaria, etc. So places like 4chan become havens for those who are both connected and desire some destructive semblance of power...

And yet the State marches on. China can still oppress the Tibetans and the Uighers...they just cut the internet. Twitter feeds still come mostly from people in Western countries desiring some measure of influence in this whole Iranian mess which is truly a local fight. The internet may be digital space but it requires physical location, electricity, satellites and wires. So HA!

Back to my point. Be the person who is the light and change you wish to see in the world. Be the person who fights wrong when you confront it.

Monday, July 13, 2009

City Shrinking as Urban Planning

Flint, Michigan is conducting one of the most fascinating policies for Urban Renewal. Known as "city-shrinking," this policy is designed to destroy abandoned areas/neighborhoods in order to replace them with green space and reconcentrate the population in a more central area. I really like this idea, and I believe it could be a valuable tool for recreating a vibrant feeling in a dying city and, possibly, stop its death.

This policy is not without huge ethical issues as well. In practice, I would hope that all individuals would share equally in the costs of this policy. Invariably, those with houses in areas that are to be condemned will face the greatest challenges. They will lose their houses, memories, and be forced to uproot and move elsewhere. This is a huge cost that will never be fully mitigated, even by providing people a new house, moving their current house, etc.

Nevertheless, I feel that policies like this (or even policies that reconstitute towns around multiple "nodes" instead of in one big block) are necessary in areas like Flint, where they are dying and the process of dying causes them to collapse more quickly.

Inevitably, these projects are challanged by conservative people (people who benefit/desire the status quo-this has nothing to do with political affiliation at this time) who do not want to lose their roots and consider shrinking the city to be the same thing as surrender. While I sympathize with the first point, I consider the second to be a primary reason we are so bad at renewal. Our mentality in this country is to fight on until we win or are destroyed. This is powerful when we are winning, might win, could win, should win, etc, but it is foolishness when we fail to recognize that past times are past. The nostalgia in rust-belt America is similar to the nostalgia in post-Soviet Russia, both desire something that never truly existed and now exists only in their minds, and both ideas hold up progress and moving toward a different identity.

The reality is that places like Flint had as part of their identities things that are no longer true, things like BIG city and MANUFACTURING economy. A recognition of how to succeed and why there is failure is vital since a key goal is to move on from the past. When a current candidate for mayor of Flint this morning said on NPR that he did not like the plan since it was surrender (among other thigns), I was disappointed that a potentially influential individual would fail to see that the future is not found by looking at past glory and attempting to relive it.

Turkey and Genocide

Every year a bill comes up in the US Congress (and sometimes at the UN) to declare Turkey's World War I massacres of Armenians as genocide. This always fails because, simply put, Turkey is really, really, really important.

A interesting event occurred the other day when Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan called China's treatment of the Uighers as a "kind of genocide."

By acknowledging something like what China is doing as a type of genocide, I believe we will see some interesting moves to call Turkey's killings a century ago genocide as well (Turkey denies that they were extensive, unjustified, or genocide).

I am just saying this is something to watch.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Crisis Response

The outpouring of support, grief, money, etc at the Michael Jackson funeral really struck me as interesting. These were people committed to the point of spending thousands or more just to get into the funeral. I sincerely wish that the passion exhibited there was also present as our country attempts to resolve the current crisis. It does not have to be this way. During the Asian financial crisis, Koreans were donating everything from jewelry to cash to their government to help stave off a complete collapse. I often wish that we were the same.

All in all, I think that our real problem is that we do not like to sacrifice, want to sacrifice, and, in fact, avoid sacrifice. Spending less on credit, paying modestly higher taxes, supporting our communities, and participating in our government a bit more would go along way to rebuilding our rapidly falling tower of national wealth and power.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Supernews! Represents my Views

The Current TV show Supernews is awesome. It overwhelmingly represents my views on tons of things from Las Vegas, NV to social networking, so conservatives, to liberals, to Christmas (mostly). That is, it sees Las Vegas as the modern-day Sodom, it sees social networking sites as absurd-especially Twitter, it is mean to conservative Limbaugh supporters, while recognizing they have a role in society, it makes fun of crazy liberals, and it was generally mean to those people trying to take away the saying, Merry Christmas.

Everyone should watch this show.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Uigher Protests

I found this AP article a bit earlier. It argues that the internet is once again key to the protests going on right now in Urumqi, the capital of Xinxiang, the province currently restive in far western China. I felt the need, in light of my previous post, to underline that I agree the internet is important, but we need to be aware of who has access to the internet and how that may change the message coming out of these places. The reality is that who you are-the circumstances of where you were born, your ethnicity, your family, your schooling, eveything, impacts who you become, and therefore also your point of view. I am a firm believer in knowing the demographics of every survey so as to understand results better. What I believe is needed now is an honest accounting of exactly who the internet and mobile device users are so that we can understand why they believe what they believe.

Already in July...

July is barely a week old and already it is appearing interesting.

First is this stupid Seattle is currently about 50 degrees, cloudy, and rainy. In Texas I would be hot and unhappy, but at least it would be summer.

Sarah Palin decided to be a loose cannon again this week by randomly quitting the governor's post. She then went on to say that this was the "out of the box" thinking common among Alaskans and is an important part of who she is politically. Ted Stevens thought out of the box too when he made all those deals that got him convicted for ethics violations. Why she thinks her ability to "think out of the box" by quitting her post with 18 months still to serve is a quality necessary in presidents, baffles me.

Also this week, western media is chocking up the Uigher riots in China to Twitter...never mind that this is one of the poorest and least connected areas out there and is regularly ignored by western grouiops that happily protest over Tibet. The reality is that information has always spread and it just spreads more easily now. China is proving, however, that the state, while it cannot cut off the flow of information, can meddle enough to raise concerns about the quality of any reports coming from anywhere. In the battle between freedom of expression via the internet and the state, the state is still winning. The danger of this is that, in the absence of quality news, rumors abound. And rumors are dangerous.

Republicans are also having a hard time finding candidates for President in 2012. So far, let's look at how he potential candidates stand:

Tim Pawlenty: Looking strong...we'll see if he can ruin it for himself.
Bobby Jindel: Taking speaking classes (we assume since he really could not respond effectively to Obama in his response speech several months ago).
Sarah Palin: Riiiiiiggggghhhhhtttt
Mark Sanford: Rrrrrrrrrrrrriiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiggggggggggggggggg0hhhhhhhhhhhhhhhtttttttttttttttt

I am sure there are others. I do not know who they are. I would appreciate suggestions.

Other news includes the overthrow of a Honduran president and Chavez supporter (who we unfortunately now have to support, but must since coups set a bad precedence), stuff on health care, stuff on climate, stuff on Russia. All that stuff seems to be chugging along, more or less.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Why Do Conservatives Hate the Environment?

I am trying to figure this out. It seems that conservatives in general take the tack of "exploit, use-up, its your right to use your property as you wish regardless of consequences to others." Reading a recent article in the NY Times, I was struck that the conservative justices always side with the companies. Once of the greatest problems with the capitalist economic system is that it is virtually incapable of regulating externalities. Attempts to regulate these externalities end up much of the time being struck down by the courts or by conservative governments. They argue that it is bad for business and violates people's property rights. I fail to recognize how making people accountable for the damage they cause violates anyone's rights, and I think that the true cost of making any product should be charged to the business. If we need to make them competitive, charge environmental tariffs to environmentally damaging goods imported here. All in all, I believe that the environment is vital for our continued health as a society (and as a species) and the constant aversion to environmental regulation based on short-term complaints is absurd.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Global Racism

I just listened to a report on the BBC about how the European Football Federation gave referees the power to suspend matches and end matches for racist behavior. This comes on the heels of several incidents in Italy and elsewhere where African-descent players were harrassed by racists in the stands.

I am also reading a book about discrimination in post-war Detroit and the lengths that white and recently immigrated white ethnic home-owners went to to keep blacks out of their neighborhoods.

The past is filled with stories of the disadvantaged (usually, but not always) members of the advantaged majority fighting to maintain their privileges. Our favorite state of all, California, even passed a Constitutional Amendment to protect homeowners' "rights" to exclude people from neighborhoods based on race in the 1960s. Even today, the Europeans seem unable to cope with immigrants or even their own citizens with whom they have had close contacts for centuries ever since they were jerks during the colonial period. People's fight to maintain priviledge is indicative of the struggles we will face as the world changes and becomes more integrated. People will fight against a loss of their standing in the world. It is something of which we must be vigilent.

Also, people are not inherently democratic or even capable of democracy in this country. They are perfectly happy to exclude people and take other's rights to create new ones for themselves, and they are perfectly happy to create a tyranny of the majority, such as what happens with Ballot Initiatives in disfunctional places like California. I admire our Founding Fathers all the more for recognizing that we must create a system that does not leave questions of rights to the everyday citizen and understands that a republic is better suited for a diverse, complex, large country than a true democracy.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009