Thursday, June 03, 2010

Massacre in Great Britain

Yesterday, in the Cumbria secion of Great Britain, mass shooter Derrick Bird killed twelve people and injured twenty-five more. As the BBC reports,authorities have yet to be able to determine a motive, though reports indicate the shooter had been having familial problems.

My Gut Reaction: Am I the only one who's noticed that Great Britain experiences these events every five or ten years or so, while the United States seems to experience them every few months.

Analysis: It has pretty much been established to everyone who wants to think about it that the wide availability of guns in the United States contributes to the high number of mass shootings and gun violence in our country. The thing that strikes me most about what happened in Britain is how rare these events are over there, particularly as compared to here.

I am not arguing that we immediately implement British style laws banning hand guns. As desirable as ridding America of hand guns may be, that cat is already well out of the bag. It would require massive infringements on civil liberties to confiscate every hand gun in America, such that the cure would in many respects be worse than the disease. Nevertheless, the contrast of the two countries should be spur enough to lead us to consider far tighter regulation of fire arms and enforcement of fire arm laws in this country.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

M.I.A. Hits Back

New York Times journalist Lynn Hirschberg published an inflammatory piece in the NYT Weekend Magazine last week on the Tamil pop star M.I.A. Hirschberg, in a piece largely derivative of Tom Wolfe, condemns M.I.A.'s support for armed resistance by oppressed minorities, obsessing at rather boring length over the fact that M.I.A. isn't poor herself.

M.I.A., for her part, has struck back in quite amusing fashion by posting Hirschberg's phone number on her Twitter account, so that Lynn is now spending much of her time fielding requests from M.I.A. fans for the star's phone number.

My Gut Reaction: If Ms. Hirschberg is the best the NYT can do, it is no wonder journalism is on the rocks. The article is basically an overwritten rip-off of Tom Wolfe.

Analysis: When one gets down to it, what really seems to bother Lynn Hirschberg is that M.I.A. retains class loyalties despite now being wealthy. One cannot help but think that Hirschberg, who one cannot help but suspect is at least moderately well to do, is basically pissed off that someone from the upper reaches of her own class might actually ally with the poor. How pathetic.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Misplaced Priorities

A recent blog post by the animal rights group In Defense of Animals (IDA) complains that the nation of Zimbabwe is planning to sell baby elephants to North Korea. In the face of two countries that continually engage in human rights abuses, the most this group can find to complain about is an elephant.

My Gut Reaction: One cannot help but wonder whether IDA, upon learning that Nazi Germany was using the skins of Jewish people to make lamp shades, would not congratulate the Germans for no longer using animal leather.

Analysis: It is worth remembering that Zimbabwe and North Korea are two of the worst human rights offenders in the world today, as can be demonstrated by looking at the 2009 Amnesty International Annual Report. In its section on Zimbabwe, the report characterizes the country as having undergone "an unprecedented wave of state-sponsored human rights violations," pointing to post-election violence and the disappearances of dissidents. Similarly, North Korea faced issues such as executions, prison abuse, and widespread food shortages.

In the face of such atrocities, to focus attention on animals seems short sighted, misguided, even warped. Although one does not want to see animals suffer, in the end the interests of humans must trump those of animals. To do otherwise risks devaluing the lives of humans, rather than advancing the interests of animals.

What is particularly disturbing in this case is that the countries in question are both populated by non-white people. One cannot help but wonder whether the group in question would be so quick to focus on the interests of elephants if the populations of Zimbabwe and North Korea were largely Caucasian. Indeed, many people in Africa have come to have unflattering opinions of the environmental movement, as they believe that many white environmentalists value the life of one elephant over those of one hundred Africans, as Barack Obama reported in his memoir Dreams of My Father.

This is not to claim that the animal rights movement is composed of conscious racists. Most would be horrified at such an accusation, and would never think of themselves in such a way. However, it is worth wondering whether the hidden structures of societal racism could be, however subconsciously, affecting their attitudes, with results they never intended.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Jamaica in Flames

According to BBC News, Jamaican authorities are trying to restore order in the capital city of Kingston after bloody clashes with forces loyal to drug lord Christopher "Dudus" Coke. Among the inhabitants of Kingston slums such as the Tivoli Gardens area, Coke is seen as a Robin Hood figure and defender of the people.

My Gut Reaction: When will we ever learn?

Analysis: This round of violence started when the Prime Minister of Jamaica, Bruce Golding, agreed to extradite Coke to the United States, where he is wanted on charges of running a drug trafficking network. As with Mexico, our attempts to enforce our draconian drug laws have spilled over into outright violence in another country. As the BBC reports, thirty-one people have died in Kingston.

What is it going to take for our government, and the American people in general, to realize that trying to legislate what people put in their bodies only leads to shattered lives? In the United States, this manifests itself in terms of a massive incarceration rate. In the third world, however, blood flows as governments seek to appease the American government and come across as allies in the War on Drugs.

To be fair, not all of the blame lies with the United States government. As Jamaican expatriate blogger The Field Negro points out, Dudus had amassed a great deal of support from the Jamaican government before the extradition order went out by renting out his gang, the Shower Posse, as political hired guns. The ruling party found the guns they used for political enforcement turned against them.

Nevertheless, the American government requested the extradition, and bears a certain level of responsibility for what has happened in Kingston.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

The Texas Re-education System

This past week, the education board down in Texas decided to revise their text books in order to make them better reflect their conservative values. These revisions included the dropping of certain historical topics and the substitutions of others. According to an article in the Seattle Times, some choice changes included limiting discussion of Thomas Jefferson because of his secular views and giving greater attention to the views of the Confederacy. Other revisions include replacing the Martin Luther King holiday with Veterans' Day in terms of holidays first graders are taught about. The board rejected suggestions to include mention of Hispanics who died fighting Texas at the Alamo.

My Gut Reaction: Universities are going to have to start requiring remedial courses for any students coming from Texas public schools.

Analysis: The driving figure behind these changes is Don McLeroy, a Christian conservative who wants to edit learning materials to reflect his own Judeo-Christian vision. His goal is to teach students that America was founded on Christian values, ignoring the deistic and secular values of many founding father such as Jefferson. As part of this approach, textbooks will be required to play up clashes between the United States and Islamic countries, depicting these conflicts as battles between Christianity and Islam. McLeroy-a dentist with no educational experience-proudly states he bases his textbook choices on how they discuss Christianity and Israel. One of his most famous quotes is "Someone needs to stand up to these experts!"

Part of this effort will include increased emphasis on conservative figures such as Phyllis Schlafly, the Heritage Foundation, and Ronald Reagan. While historians such as Eric Foner agree that students should be taught about the conservative movement as one of the major influences on modern history, one wonders whether such a biased curriculum will be accurate. For example, can someone like Don McLeroy be expected to approve textbooks that mention Reagan's role in supporting death squads in Central America, his support of the Afghan groups that grew into the Taliban, the increased rates of homelessness under his government, and the role of economic deregulation started under Reagan that culminated in our current economic crisis?

The effects of this decision are not limited to Texas. Because it is such a large state and market for textbooks, future textbook revisions for the entire nation will inevitably reflect Texas's rules. To make matters worse, California, which usually acts as a counterbalance to Texas due to its more liberal requirements, has put off all new textbook orders until 2014 due to its financial crisis.

Given that the effects of this decision could extend well past the borders of Texas, it is only appropriate that it should be met with a national response. First and foremost, this decision makes a case for national standards for textbooks, in order to prevent fanatics in one state from derailing the educational system. The interaction of different states in determining what goes into text books would prevent one ideology from totally dominating.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Atheists and Agnostics in the White House!

Representatives from the Center for Inquiry and the Council for Secular Humanism participated today in a conference at the White House. As the Center for Inquiry reports, the topics that were discussed with White House officials included preventing religiously motivated abuse of children and ending the preaching of evangelical Christianity in the military, including discrimination against non-Evangelicals.

My Take: It's about frakking time!

Analysis: For too long, secular humanists of all stripes have been denied a prominent place in the American public sphere. Even though some of the Founding Fathers were deists rather than Christians, Christians of various stripes have tried to assume a monopoly on American public discourse. Christians have portrayed arguments and lines of thinking that challenge or reject the commonly held Christian views as a threat to American society.

Luckily, under the Obama administration, there seems to be at least a willingness to listen to explicitly secular viewpoints. Although President Obama has continued some policies that secularists disapprove of, such as the funding of church organizations by the government, there is a greater openness to secularism on the whole. Progess comes in slow steps.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

The Future of Republicanism

Andrew Sullivan has a post about a particularly comic young Republican named Ryan Sorba. Sorba's specialty is mixing psuedo-intellectual blather with threats of physical violence against those who disagree with him. He apparently made a big splash at CPAC. Read more here.