Sunday, May 11, 2014

What the Nigerian Girls’ Crisis says About Our Own Tragedy


I’d like to start this off with a bit of truth (albeit somewhat crassly put).
I’ve censored and paraphrased this quote as the original is attributed to someone from the US Special Forces community and not a Sunday School Teacher. Here it is:

            “Hashtags, like buttons, and retweets aren’t going to do @#%$ to get those missing Nigerian girls back. It’s just a way for lazy westerners to feel good about themselves without having to sacrifice any of their time, money, or physical safety. This internet heroism is as fake as Chaz Bono’s *^$#. Dudes with guns started this mess. Dudes with guns are going to end it.”

In our western world of celeb worship, we forget that the rest of the world (terrorists in particular) don't really care about sad duck-faces and Hashtag Diplomacy. Over here a trending topic can get you fired and publically shamed for life. In Africa they use AK47s for firings, and machetes for public shaming. Such is the case with Boko Haram. The mere name of this terror group indicates their cause, as the BBC reports that the group “promotes a version of Islam which makes it 'haram', or forbidden, for Muslims to take part in any political or social activity associated with Western society.” If this group militantly hates western influence on these girls, how are they going to feel about a jet-setting 1%er like the First Lady with a hashtag? This group hates the idea of western education. Are they suddenly intimidated by western entertainment and pop culture? Not likely.

If anything, this campaign of internet heroism may serve opposite the purposes of its participants. The Boko Haram group is vehemently anti-western—so if the West disapproves of their actions, they have succeeded. In fact, the publicity is likely welcome for them: the purist group that defied the west and showed the world that they could do whatever they wanted with no more resistance than a formidable twitter campaign. Their name is getting repeated over, and over again. Boko Haram. The little Islamists that could. Every outraged cry against them is a mark of approval in their minds. Peer pressure sucks, and it sucks more against an assault rifle.

“Well,” some might say, “It’s to raise awareness.” Ok. Awareness is cool. But let’s take a trip back in time…to the year 2012. And let’s take a look at a trending topic that might be slightly embarrassing. I’m talking of course about the Invisible Children Project. You might better know it as a 29-minute video called KONY 2012.
            Joseph Kony is a cult leader, warlord, and human rights violator in Africa. His big claim to fame is of course the child-soldiers phenomena, which he propagated till the child combatants numbered in the tens of thousands. Kony found himself targeted by western Hashtag Diplomacy in 2012 when the KONY 2012 video was released. The video garnered 99 million views. The Invisible Children project reportedly raised over $8 million dollars. What happened? Exactly nothing. Today Kony is as free today as he was back then. He is supposedly considering surrendering to face the ICC and a host of other consequences. Why? Because of a few million hashtags? Because of vast financial resources marshaled against him? Because of international pressure? No. Because he’s reported to be “in poor health”, he’s 52 now, and he’s tired to being sick out in the jungle and on the run. So what did 99 million views and millions of dollars raised actually buy? Perhaps nothing more than to serve as salve for guilty consciences.
            The tragedy of these girls isn’t that this is a first time event. Islamic militants actively use kidnappings and much worse to advance their agenda—and on a weekly basis. The tragedy here is that this is what we’ve been reduced to. Hashtags. Videos. Trending topics, tweets, glib demagoguery, and little else. And somehow, we’re “helping.” The opening quote comes to mind again: “It’s just a way for lazy westerners to feel good about themselves without having to sacrifice any of their time, money, or physical safety.” This is our tragedy: not that such events happened on our watch, but that internet heroism and hashtag diplomacy was the best response we could come up with, and worse, that we thought much of ourselves for our “bravery”. How grateful we are that such “bravery” costs us nothing more than 30 seconds and 140 characters. Tragic, isn’t it?

Monday, March 31, 2014

World Vision's True Failure: Playing with Political Fire


World Vision recently started yet another fracas in the Christian community by allowing homosexuals to serve in their organization. As one might imagine, the backlash was strong with this one. And, if I’m honest, the political side of me fully believes that World Vision deserves the full sting of this backlash. The other side of me mourns that their work has been hindered by their own shortsightedness. The truth is, they made two mistakes that hurt them, and hurt their ministry to impoverished children…and their backpedalling may or may not help.

            First, World Vision dictated terms of sexual purity and fidelity explicitly in their employee conduct codes. As the WV-friendly blog Rage Against the Minivan put it, World Vision, “has always held a pretty rigid code of morality for employees. Specifically, employees are not to engage in sex outside of marriage”. Rather than make a blanket statement that covers the bases of general Christian morality, they got too nitty gritty. They went a legalese route, which gets complicated. Can their employees drink beer or wine? If so, how many? See the problem? There’s no stopping point for rule making—and no backing out. This isn’t saying that WV should have been open to hiring a bunch of folks with loose morals, but rather that getting too specific was a mistake—their first.

            Their second mistake was that they then took their too-detailed legalese and created a position regarding gay marriage. They swear up and down they have no stance, but to acknowledge an issue (and then create a policy about it) is to take a stance—and the very real backlash proves my point. This is a highly divisive and political issue. But it shouldn’t have been their issue. My question to them would be, “what does gay marriage have to do with feeding hungry kids?” Nothing. By way of policy World Vision got into de facto politics. It’s a losing game 100% of the time; there is no coming out ahead. Brian Broderson made a good case for this recently when he said, “…some of the things…like immigration reform—these are not things that I am going to address from the pulpit… I feel like the church sometimes has too much to say.” Bingo.

            Unfortunately the board and the president or World Vison failed to see this beforehand. Is it right for a Christian organization to want its employees to be morally pure and Biblically consistent? Yes! On the other hand, you can’t go around installing CCTV systems in everyone’s house to make sure they are morally pure. In lieu of that, I suspect they went with more rules, and more detailed rules at that—and detailed rules mean two things: legalism and amendments. And amendments mean more details—the very location the devil seems to be found in. And so here we are: on the devil’s playground playing politics (for where else is it played?)

            In short, the overly aggressive morality codes had unintended consequences: they dragged the organization into nitty-gritty discussions of moral politik (and those always end well, right?). Gay marriage and gays in the church is perhaps the most polarizing debate in Christianity, and World Vision should have known better than to get anywhere near such an issue. It’s not in their interest and they foolishly meddled to their own hurt—again, backpedalling not withstanding. Now some third world children might lose their sponsorships over this. It’s not fair, but it’s reality. It’s the price of politics. It’s possible that the last second reversal might help, but now they’ve pissed off the gays too. Rather than stay away from it all, they made a choice to build a fence, ride it, pick one side, and then pick the other. And now? Everyone is mad. The best thing they could have said (to any political or social issue) is, “That’s not our area of theology, expertise, or ministry… but let me show you what is.” That answer would have acceptable to anyone.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Empiricism: The Dark Reward of Hegemony



A. I. McIntire


             One definition of power might be “how much an actor, be it person or state can forward their will and/or act either without significant opposition or with the ability to disregard opposition.” This power can be expressed through “hard” or “soft” means, “hard” being militaristic or forceful, and “soft” being the idea of cultural and diplomatic cooperation (Agnew 875).  This loosely (perhaps too loosely) invites the idea that hegemony is soft power control of markets and ideas, and empire is hard power control of territory and nations. This of course begs the question as to whether hegemony is achieved by empire, and at least to an extent it would seem so. However, there may be another way of looking at the relationship of empire and hegemony—not as opposing ideas, but instead as consecutive ideas. While creation of empire is arguably also to create hegemony, modern events might well suggest that hegemony creation has rewards of its own: increased power allowing for unhindered empirical actions.
Immanuel Wallerstein argues that hegemony is “one state . . . able to impose its set of rules on the interstate system, and thereby creates temporarily a new political order” (Scheidel 4). This implies that this sort of soft power reorganizes an existing economical or political structure of a region or group of states to favor the one state’s agenda. In this case, holding the high cards (e.g. natural resources) is nice, but making the rules on how, when, and where the cards can be played is a far more preferable and superior position. By this a hegemon, through soft power can arrange a system that narrows the options for opposing agendas set forth by other states or non-state actors. If this is the case, then hegemony helps dictate future responses, and sets a precedent for future actions by those under the umbrella of its own authority and influence.
This level of hegemonic influence isn’t necessarily a moral force in and of itself, but rather a stage for the actions and values of the hegemon. It’s possible to argue over whether or not states should possess such power and influence, but the focus here is instead to ask what states can do with said power. Agnew divides this expression of power into two themes, “involving either relatively benign (or even sacrificial) ‘leadership’ or profoundly exploitative relationships based on steep power gradients between a hegemon and its subordinates in a hierarchy of power” (Agnew 876). One expression of “benign” leadership might be seen in “Operation Unified Response”, the US humanitarian mission to Haiti after the 2010 earthquake near Port-au-Prince. The hegemonic power of the US in the region allowed for the greatest organization of aid, and the US worked to ensure that although troops were on the ground, they did not interfere with Haitian politics, nor did they stay long. It would be naïve to assume that this was entirely based on good will; merely being the hegemon in the region dictates a certain necessity and expectation of humanitarian response. Likewise being the recipient of such a benefit implies the need of the beneficiary to remember the hegemon’s interests and preferences in the future. Even so, this sort of qui pro quo arrangement (though unspoken) is a reflection of benign, soft power.
On the other hand, Agnew calls negative expression of this power “profoundly exploitative” as hegemonies engage in practices that have little semblance of concern for states under the umbrella of the hegemon. Worse, in such a situation the dominant power often has relatively little commitment to the weaker states. However, this approach seems to rest on the idea of hegemony as the end goal. There may be another approach to consider, one with far more serious consequences: not empiricism to gain hegemony, or even exploitative hegemony, but rather hegemony being used as a means to control the game to the point where all options are viable options—including those that abuse power and state sovereignty. One such example of this might be seen in modern events: Russia as a hegemonic power and its current relationship to Ukraine.
In recent years Russia has emerged as a renewed hegemonic power. Vladimir Putin’s brokering of the Syrian quasi-disarmament deal certainly lent credence to the idea of his extensive regional authority. However, this authority has been expressed more recently and extensively in Ukraine itself. In December 2013, the Kremlin bought $15 billion in Ukrainian bonds, and cut natural gas prices by a third for Ukraine according to EUbusiness. The move was to save Ukraine $7 billion alone on the natural gas purchases, arguably a good deal for the struggling nation. However, this move was at the very least somewhat exploitative, or possibly even predatory. Maria Lipman expressed no doubts as to the motives when she said, “This is not done out of the kindness of Putin's heart. This is to strengthen Russian influence over Ukraine and make the country more dependent on Russia" (“Putin . . . ”). EUbusiness also affirmed this idea by stating, “Putin will above all gain a new economic foothold in Ukraine” further reinforcing the idea that at the very least Russia, and Putin in particular, hold to an idea of hegemony that is even stronger than Wallerstein’s (“Putin . . .”).
Just how much stronger has been revealed in the last month, and in particular the 48 hours. As protestors opposing the pro-Russia regime gained the upper hand the president of the country fled, and the opposition installed a new, more pro-EU, pro-western government after the state failure of February 2014.
On Friday, February 28, US President Barack Obama warned Russia against violating Ukraine’s state sovereignty, but by Saturday night the Crimea region was in Russian control (Smale). Obama made a 90-minute call to Putin on Saturday, March 1 opposing Russian troop presence and control of the Crimea region and government buildings (Smale). Thus far Russian forces and leadership have not yielded on any front.
            This then is where the idea of hegemony leading to empiricism takes shape. Russia acted in a hegemonic manner with the last Ukrainian regime that was loyal to the Kremlin, but the ousting of this regime has forced their hand.  When Ukrainian leadership was allied with Moscow the norm of was for Moscow to use economics as the means of control. Now that power has shifted to a party that seeks membership at the EU table, Putin seems determined to bring Ukraine back to his own table. Carnegie analyst Maria Lipman foreshadowed this with her prerevolutionary statement, “from Putin's point of view, it is absolutely unacceptable to lose control over Ukraine" (“Putin . . .”). At the time this could only be read as an indicator of strong hegemony politics, but time iteself has revealed a deeper meaning. Russia may have established itself as a hegemonic power in the region, but it revealed empirical motives and methods when soft-power politics failed. Russia’s military presence in Ukraine is vastly different from the US military in Haiti in the aforementioned example. The US presence was finite in Haiti from the beginning and exclusively for humanitarian aid, whereas Russian forces have no withdrawal date and their mission is to secure control for pro-Russian factions in Ukraine. By doing so, Russia has moved from merely hegemonic maneuvering to empirical action in Ukraine.
            In conclusion, hegemony is soft power control and influence that can be used for positive and negative purposes. Russia engaged in the more powerful methods of hegemonic influence with Ukraine, but switched to empiricism once soft power was no longer expedient. Arguably Putin has taken Russia to a place of powerful hegemony, where others may oppose or speak out against his actions, but the true show of his hegemonic power is revealed when he can ignore the outcry of the international community and advance an agenda of empiricism. Russian hegemony has allowed the country to write the rules of the regional game; with the final rule changing exactly which game is being played. Perhaps traditional wisdom suggests that empires are built to gain hegemony, but it may well be that Russia has attained hegemony to build its empire. How far this power goes will be revealed in the backlash, or lack thereof from the international community as time unfolds.



Works Cited



"Putin Bails out Ukraine to Assert Kremlin Power." EUbusiness. EUbusiness Ltd, 18
Dec. 2013. Web. 01 Mar. 2014. <http://www.eubusiness.com/news-
eu/ukraine-unrest-debt.sbq>.

Scheidel, Walter. "Republics between Hegemony and Empire." Princeton.edu.
Princeton University, Feb. 2006. Web. 28 Feb. 2014.
<http://www.princeton.edu/~pswpc/pdfs/scheidel/020601.pdf>.

Smale, Alison, and David M. Herszenhorn. "Kremlin Clears Way for Force in Ukraine;
Separatist Split Feared." The New York Times. The New York Times, 01 Mar.
2014. Web. 01 Mar. 2014.
<http://www.nytimes.com/2014/03/02/world/europe/ukraine.html?hp>.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

What is Post-Rock? Defining the Elusive Cult Genre

(By A. I. McIntire)
         
    In a world of fast-and-dirty pop songs that give up their secrets in the first ten seconds of play, fusion genres and new ideas are emerging in the back room studios of Europe and the US. Artists with long names, and longer song titles are finding an underground niche of expressiveness with audiophiles the world over. Many are unsigned, and some publish their music straight to YouTube as a free yet effective means of delivery and distribution. So what are these musicians up to in the back rooms and alley studios of Europe, the US, and around the globe? They’re forging a cult genre known as post-rock.

            Post-rock is what could be called a response, a backlash against oversimplified pop movements and clichés in traditional rock and alternative styles. It’s a deviation from modern music in many ways, not the least of which is the usual absence of vocals, the slower development times, the atmospheric and ambient qualities, and the highly intention composition of music motifs and riffs. The melody lines are highly lyrical--only without words mucking things up. This article is one definition of the genre and the bands...it's not the "right" definition or the "only" definition. There's many ways to categorize music depending on the listener. That said, for this writer, Post-Rock is a genre of largely instrumental music that takes traditional rock instrumentation, and fuses it with other musical ideas which results in an ambient, expression, subtle, understated yet powerful musicality. It's a broad definition, but we'll narrow it down a tad as we go. One way to do this is to talk about the band instruments themselves and how they usually work in post-rock.
           
            Post-rock bands are quite often built upon a 4 or 5-piece rock ensemble idea. Most often present are electric guitars and synthesizers, followed by bass, drums, and more rarely, vocals. Samples, sections of speech, and nature audio are also used by some groups.

Guitars are often warm, dirty and wet, that is with an overdriven or distorted sound into a tube amp, and a healthy amount of reverb and delay added. Volume swells, or use of an “e-Bow” a device that acts like an electronic violin bow are also common. Guitars are regularly layered, with two or three layers being common, but up to five or even seven layers have been used by bands like Mogwai. Slides, octave units, and synth units are also common. Guitars are used in post-rock to generate riffs, and long fill lines by means of triplets, 1/16 notes, or 1/32 notes. They also serve as the “lead vocal” of the song many times, “singing” passages with repeated motifs and planned deviations off of a riff idea. Rather than improvise lengthy passages played at high speeds, the guitars often play carefully composed melody lines and arpeggios that layer with the synths and other guitars.
 Synthesizers often conjure images of 80s metal bands, hairspray overdoses, and polyester poisoning. Audiophiles shudder at the thought of the quintessential nauseous sounds of a Casio keyboard retching out a “saw-synth” tone that is akin to fingernails on a chalkboard. Yet post-rock’s second most common ingredient is a synthesizer. The secret is in the synth itself. Often the synth is a true synthesizer, not a keyboard loaded with presets. The Nord synth is one common and well loved example because it generates ambient tones and pads that add spaciousness to the music. Often it is difficult for an unfamiliar listener to hear a synth in post-rock with any distinctiveness. Instead, a wash of ambient “air”, “cloud like” or “ocean-esque” tones are heard. This is probably one of the reasons post-rock is also sometimes referred to as ambient rock.

The bass is also a key and common instrument in post-rock. Occasionally an overdrive is added to the bass, but usually the bass is a warm, filling, rumbling instrument in post-rock, with full and quarter notes holding a steady rhythm together. The bass often meshes with the synth to create a smooth and well-rounded sound to the music.

Drums in post-rock are also a defining instrument. Some bands use them extensively; such as God is an Astronaut. Some bands hardly use them at all, like Hammock. Others are in the middle—Explosions in the Sky for example, or This Will Destroy You. Drums can vary widely in playing style and approach. Double kick drums and rapid playing can help create a “wall of sound”, though a subtle approach is used as much as an aggressive style. Out of all of the instruments in post-rock, drums are one of the most widely varied, showcasing a good deal of unique approaches and styles.

Vocals are highly uncommon in the post-rock world. In this writer’s opinion this is because post-rock is supposed to put sound to feelings, and allows a listener to create personal meaning behind each song. Vocals—lyrics, more specifically, tell the listener the meaning rather than let the listeners interpret and create meaning for themselves. This is possibly the appeal and driving force behind post-rock: the ability to create a journey, to evoke emotion, and images without using words. Modern music often focuses on fusing lyrics with music to create a message that generates emotion in the listener. Post-rock creates music that draws out emotion from the listener, and lets the listener’s mind go where it will. Simply put, post-rock is music to dream and feel by.
However, there are always exceptions, perhaps most notably Sigur Ros. The band creatively circumvents the “meaning” problem of lyrics by simply having vocals with lyrics. This Enya-like approach creates an incredible amount of emotion to their music, albeit with a far different tone and timbre compared to Enya. The wordless lyrics have a distinct sound, almost like a foreign language—small wonder given that Sigur Rós is composed of band members from Reykjavik, Iceland. Sigur Rós front man Jónsi Birgisson has a tenor voice that often strays into gentle falsettos, and conveys both gentle and intense emotions.
Ambient powerhouse Hammock recently released “Oblivion Hymns” which featured limited vocal work much to the shock of the listeners. As the album title might suggest, the band used boys’ choirs for some of the “hymnal” like interludes with great effectiveness. As a final stunner the last song on the album, Tres Domine featured lyrics sung in English with a strong hymn-like motif. Despite the deviation from the normal the album has proven to be well loved.

Other sounds are often used as well: Sigur Rós has incorporated nature sound effects as well as many other bands, Collapse Under the Empire used breaking glass sounds in one track, and Hammock has several tracks that feature speech, often in an obfuscated or highly effects laden manner. Many other bands have used strings, horns, piano, and so on to help create their signature sound.

Now that we have our band, the question arises, “yes, but what does it sound like?” This is a bit like trying to explain what a painting or a stunning photo looks like without actually looking at it. Nevertheless, we’ll give it a go.
The songs are often somewhat longer than pop songs, ranging from around three and a half minutes to upwards of seven minutes. In that time, the songs often evolve in a very composed manner. A good post-rock song is like a good wine. One sip will not give you all the flavors. Instead, flavor, character, and nature are revealed over time. If you listen to a pop song, you know the nature, character, and feel of the entire song usually by the end of the first chorus, 45 seconds in. In post-rock it will take longer for the song to develop. In short, post-rock is not for the impetuous or impatient listener.
Some songs are highly aggressive, with snappy drums, catchy riffs, and a louder feel. The latest God is an Astronaut album, Origins features a number of songs in this category, such as Spiral Code, The Last March (a personal favorite), and especially, Transmissions. Generally, God is an Astronaut (often abbreviated GIAA for obvious reasons) has a more aggressive, tight, loud, rock feel with a strong synth presence. If we say they are a post-rock band, they are on definitely the post-ROCK side of things. Likewise, some post-rock tracks dive into chaotic (yet composed and defined) dissonant explosions of sound, as GIAA and If These Trees Could Talk demonstrate.
Conversely Hammock is possibly on the opposite end of the spectrum. Long, slow intros with smooth swells, and a far “spacier” feel. If you were flying through a nebula, odds are you’d want to listen to Hammock. The synth-dominated sound is anything but aggressive, and has a very soft, subtle quality to it. Strings often accompany their pads and ambient swells, giving the music a dreamy, atmospheric quality. Dissonance is rarely something Hammock uses, instead relying on clearly defined notes at the right time, like water drops on a glassy smooth pool.
GIAA may make you want to drive somewhere in a fast car on a lovely highway, but Hammock makes you want to close your eyes and dream. And then there’s everything in the middle.

In the middle is Explosions in the Sky, a band that takes a “drier” approach to guitar work, with extensive finger picking, and slower tempos, and a notable general lack of synthesizers. 
This Will Destroy You relies on powerful lyrical-like melodies played on guitar, strong crescendos, and wall-of-sound climaxes that are incredibly emotional and effective. Listen to Quiet, A Three Legged Workhorse, and They Travel on Tracks of Never Ending Light for a sampling of This Will Destroy You. 
Collapse Under the Empire is also a strong synth band, but is more aggressive than Hammock. Their style is perhaps heard best in the layered slow building track The Reminder, and their track Shoulders features a great approach to the dark, swell-driven side of post-rock. 
If These Trees Could Talk showcases the idea of a minimalist lead guitar in the slow tempo piece Deus Ex Machina, but also delivers a great example of a more controlled chaos sound in the track, From Roots to Needles
I am the Architect demonstrates a more epic composition with guitars as integrated lead instruments double-picking the melody line in the track Walk in Regret.
Want more without having to dig and sort through songs? Perhaps the best way is to find one or two songs or artists that you like, and plug the song or the artist name into Pandora and let Pandora find similar music. This will help bring the post-rock genre into your earbuds continually without having to do another search at the end of every song.

Hopefully this has created an idea in your mind of what post-rock is, and where you might start listening. Need a list to get you started? You’re in luck!
Below is a list of artists and YouTube links to full albums to listen to online. Keep in mind that style will vary from album to album! Be sure to check out the video descriptions for links to each song within the video so you can skip around.

Artist                     Album
God Is An Astronaut – Origins
Mogwai – Les Revants
This Will Destroy You – This Will Destroy You
Explosions in the Sky – The Earth is not a Cold Dead Place 
Sigur Rós – Takk…
Hammock – Oblivion Hymns 
Collapse Under the Empire – Shoulders and Giants Playlist
Sleep Dealer – Imminence
If These Trees Could Talk – Above the Earth, Below the Sky
Long Distance Calling – Avoid The Light

Random Samplings (single tracks) from the Post-Rock Facebook group
…Of Sinking Ships – I set Sail on Winds of Renewal 
Litro – Nera 
La Mar – Anchors
Terronaut – Return to Reality
I am the Architect – Walk in Regret

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

What Saeed Adedini's case says about US Legitimacy


            One of the roles of the State Department is the protection of Americans living and traveling abroad. John Kerry, as Secretary of State is the head of this agency.
            Yet in September of 2012 the State Department failed to accomplish this protection as Ambassador Chris Stevens, and four other Americans were gunned down in Benghazi under the watch of then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Unfortunately again the Department and John Kerry are again failing to protect Americans abroad as the plight of Saeed Adedini, an imprisoned American in Iran, goes unheeded. As nuclear negotiations with Iran are set to move forward, Saeed has been left behind in a dangerous third world prison. Saeed's imprisonment and treatment (including torture) are violations of human rights--and he is not the only one in this situation as several other Americans are also imprisoned.
            If the current negotiations with Iran (headed by Mr. Kerry) cannot include the release of one or two American prisoners then one must wonder just how effect those negotiations are. John Kerry believes he can negotiate the cessation of Iran’s illicit nuclear activities. If he cannot, or will not advocate for the release of at least one American what makes the world believe he can negotiate a nuclear treaty? What is easier to accomplish: the negotiation of the release of a few Americans, or the negotiation of the cessation and dismantlement of an entire secretive and illegal nuclear program?
            Conversely, if Iran continues to refuse Saeed’s release and humane treatment then this suggests there is little reason to trust that they will do something that demands more effort--as in the wholesale disassembly of their uranium centrifuges. Again, what is easier to do? Release a few political dissidents, or shut down an entire uranium enrichment program?
            This suggests that neither John Kerry nor the Iranians have any legitimacy at the negotiating table. It is likely Kerry either  will not or cannot accomplish the release of Saeed. He is either powerless to do so, or willfully weak on the issue. There will likely be no consequences for Iran’s illegal detention and torture of Saeed, yet Kerry would have the world believe that he bears the power to coerce a jihadist and terrorist sponsoring state to bend its nuclear will to the international community. Yet all the while Kerry has been part of an administration that is rolling back sanctions on Iran in exchange for nothing at all. In light of this and recent events in Syria, the idea of enforceable consequences is somewhat laughable.
            Likewise, Iran itself is also lacking in legitimacy with its human rights failures, and willful violations of Saeed’s human rights. Iran’s suppression of its own people and press, anti-Semitic rhetoric, Holocaust denial, and carte blanche funding of terrorism in Syria and Lebanon utterly shred any semblance of a notion that the nation would comply to a nuclear standard. There have been increasingly few consequences for their other sins. In the face of a weak and compromising administration, what have they to fear for their current sins?
Iran’s leadership already believes it is more powerful than the United States leadership, and has said as much. Given the recent method of “red lines without consequences” as embraced by the US, their bravado is somewhat warranted. As Saeed is still imprisoned and the uranium centrifuges keep spinning, the United States is woefully (and perhaps willfully) powerless to stop either evil from continuing on its merry way.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Quick Hits on the Duck Dynasty Fiasco


Quick Hits

“A&E has free speech rights too, and they exercised those rights.”
Certainly. And they lost an enormous chunk of business. There’s no law against stupidity—mainly because it would be too hard to prosecute every politician in D.C.
Second thought: Was it really an exercise of free speech by A&E? Or was it caving to GLAAD’s demands for punishment?
Third thought: A&E is a business—a business that sacked its top tier moneymaker, and intentionally jeopardized it’s best show. Someone online asked: “does GLAAD pay A&E’s bills?” Probably not. It’s the people that watch A&E? …err…used to watch A&E.
Fourth thought: A&E’s business is to make money via network television. Delving into matters of belief and morality was obviously beyond the scope of their best interests. But they feared GLAAD more than their customers and now the rest is history. This is the same reason that singers and bands should stay out of politics. I don’t care what their politics are…I’m just here for the music. I’ve got an internet full of punditry if I need it.

“Was firing/suspending Phil Robertson wrong?”
Ethically: Probably borderline. There’s a good case for “the boss does what he wants” but also a good case for being fired for irrelevant off-the-clock opinions.

Morally: Dicey. An external group pressured Phil’s bosses to pull him. That’s like me talking your boss into firing you because I don’t agree with your belief. Sketchy.

Business: Yes. A&E just shot their cash cow on their little duck hunt. Dick Cheney now takes Second Place for the “Dumbest Thing Someone Shot While Duck Hunting” award. It was the wrong business decision. Pissing your customers off is always the wrong decision. (Hey at least Cracker Barrel got the memo).

“A&E just wanted to distance themselves and disassociate from Robertson’s remarks.”
That’s a weak argument for two reasons.
First, it requires the faith of a canonized saint to really believe that in 4 years of filming this family’s everyday lives that A&E did not ever find out the Robertson’s beliefs on homosexuality. This then reveals a viable theory: A&E knew their beliefs and ran the show anyway. In other words, Phil could believe it, but the moment he expressed that belief they caved to GLAAD and canned him. That would make the suspension about nothing other than speech.
Second, as the Twitterverse (@AceofSpadesHQ) pointed out, A&E is still running the Duck Dynasty Marathon and presumably reruns—all with Phil in them. They’re actively running new content from Phil. If they REALLY wanted true separation they’d stop running all Duck Dynasty content with Phil in it. Oh wait. They need the money.

“This whole thing is a ploy, a fabrication, a conspiracy.”
If so, by whom?
The Ducks? Canning themselves? Why? Just quit…they didn’t need a scandal for that.
GQ? Possibly, but only in the sense of “hey let’s get a Christian conservative traditionalist in for an interview and ask him about gays.” That’s journalism? That would make GQ the most predictably boring magazine in the world. Seriously…what did they THINK he was going to say?
A&E? On the one hand, it makes sense. Get someone to bait Phil into something controversial, make a stink, get attention, and then watch the ratings soar. Not a bad plan…if not for the (now very real) backlash risk involved. Kind of a long shot for that to be true. It’s a multi-million dollar gamble on A&E’s part—with a lot to lose. 


“This is dumb…while everyone was griping about Phil, Congress passed XYZ.”
On the one hand, yes, people pay too much attention to entertainment figures instead of rotten politicians.
On the other hand, I’d argue that this incident generated steam because it was about freedom of expression, and it brought people into the fray who don’t even watch Duck Dynasty. In other words the issue was bigger than the entertainment factor. Being able to speak your mind without fear is a universally desired standard.
Also, Congress would have done business as usual, Phil or no. The Phil-Incident happening did not distract the people from D.C. long enough to sneak something through. Congress would ram anything through, whether anyone is watching or not. Proof? ObamaCare. It’s never enjoyed majority support, and probably never will. If the American people had voted on it, it would never have passed. Congress passed it anyway, in full view of the public.



Gay writers

A few homosexuals have actually sided with Robertson. Yes, you read that right. What’s interesting is that they see this as a freedom of expression issues first and foremost. Gay CNN Anchor Don Lemon said, “I always err on the side of free speech. Just because I’m offended — as I said, people can say whatever they want to say. I don’t think people should be fired. I think the marketplace should decide.”1 In short, Don Lemon handled this way better than A&E did—and note his stance: it’s based on free speech.



Camille Paglia, a lesbian author, teacher, and social critic wasn’t so passive in her remarks. She called the action against Robertson, “punitive” and “Stalinist”. “People have the right to free thought and free speech. In a democratic country, people have the right to be homophobic as they have the right to support homosexuality -- as I 100% do. If people are basing their views against gays on the Bible, again they have a right to religious freedom,” she said on a radio interview.2 Paglia seems to understand something about free speech: you can’t be choosy about what’s “ok” and what’s not. Perhaps it’s because she’s been on the “wrong” side of the line everyone is so fond of drawing.



Tammy Bruce is the former head of NOW, a feminist activist group, and a lesbian. She tweeted, “The gay civil rights effort was about making sure we weren't punished for being who we are. [It's] Time the left applies that same value to others.”4



But perhaps the most poignant quote comes from Brandon Abrosino, a gay writer at Time magazine’s online site. He wrote that, “I’m undecided on whether or not I think Phil actually is homophobic, although I certainly think his statement was offensive . . . But I also think that if I were to spend a day calling ducks with Phil, I’d probably end up liking him — even in spite of his position on gay men. It’s quite possible to throw one’s political support behind traditional, heterosexual marriage, and yet not be bigoted.”3 That’s profound. Brandon’s punch line, as a leftie is: “Why is our go-to political strategy for beating our opponents to silence them?” It’s a great question, and one that I don’t expect the political left to want to answer.







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Why the Phil Robertson Incident is Important


Some thoughts on the Great Duck Hunt of 2013:
            First, I’d like to start off by saying that the remarks made by this man are disgusting, heinous, and intolerant. No mere apology will suffice as his statement reveals that he believes a large portion of this country to be evil, deficient, inferior, and it leaves little doubt that he wants to tolerate them, work with them, or ever validate their point of view. It shows his self-serving arrogance, and his prejudiced view of those who think and believe differently than he does. It is my firm belief that he should retire to private life where his beliefs cannot cause further damage. This man, John Podesta should step down, and leave his position of leadership. Podesta is an advisor for Mr. Obama, and thus can directly impact the country. That’s a much bigger story than Phil Robertson.

            Secondly, the United States government abandoned this citizen in his hour of need. All he was guilty of was expressing views that weren’t popular. In their efforts to negotiate a deal, and make peace the US left their own citizen in prison and never lifted a finger to help this peaceful man whose daily existence is one of fear, torture, and constant threat of death. It’s a shame John Kerry was too busy reveling in the moment of now-worthless negotiations to help an American Citizen who is the victim of multiple human rights violations. This imprisoned American citizen is Saeed Adedini, a victim of Iran’s human rights policy and American bureaucratic ineptitude. Saeed, along with Ambassador Stevens, and a good number of other dead, injured, and forgotten are the living (or dead) proof of an incompetent foreign policy strategy. He too is a much bigger story than Phil Robertson. But onward. You came here for ducks and I won’t disappoint you.

            What Phil expressed was his personal belief in a GQ interview and following this the GLAAD organization pressured the A&E channel to “do something” about Phil’s remarks. More or less, they wanted Robertson punished for his statement—they wanted him punished for speaking about his beliefs. Unfortunately, A&E did just that. What they had not anticipated was the criticism, backlash, and the probable loss of a lucrative show from their network. If you think Phil Robertson suffered something for his freedom of speech, you should calculate the financial impact A&E is suffering for their own freedom to fire him—it’s probably significant.

             There is one simple fact that illustrates this is more about freedom of speech and then it is about homosexuality. That fact is that no less then three different and gay authors and thinkers have sided with the idea of keeping Phil Robertson on the air, and supported his right to express himself without fear of repercussions. Camille Paglia a feminist lesbian author and critic, Don Lemon, a gay CNN anchor, and Brandon Ambrosino, a gay writer for Time magazine online have all voiced their opinions on the matter. While they don’t appreciate his remarks each of these three people understands something the rest of the frenzied world does not: Phil Robertson’s views are protected just as much as their own views are protected. Tammy Bruce, the former head of the feminist organization NOW, and self-described lesbian said, The gay civil rights effort was about making sure we weren't punished for being who we are. Time the left applies that same value to others.” Our beliefs define who we are—should people be punished for that? Doesn’t this principle go both ways then? In other words isn’t being fired for being pro-gay the same thing as being fired for not being pro-gay?
            This is why the Phil Robertson issue really applies to everyone. Everyone enjoys freedom of expression; that they can say things, have unique thoughts and embrace beliefs without the fear of being oppressed or targeted.
“Well I don’t watch Duck Dynasty, I’m not gay, and I don’t care.” You should. You have beliefs and opinions: do you like the idea of being targeted for having them?

            This entire issue boils down to the idea of precedent. Phil Robertson’s private beliefs cost him one of his jobs. What A&E has done is set a precedent and that precedent is this: your irrelevant private beliefs can get you fired. Let’s personalize that idea. What if your boss looked at your Facebook “About” page and summarily fired you for your “Like” of some page? What if you were fired for liking the works of Karl Marx? Or Ayn Rand? What if your boss found out you voted Democrat, or registered Libertarian and fired you? What if your boss found out you were pro-Israel and fired you? What if your boss found out that you gave money to a certain organization, a certain political figure, or a certain charity, and fired you? Then what? Do you still have “freedom of expression”? When you have something to fear for your stance or beliefs are you really free? It certainly doesn’t sound like it. While there may not be the proverbial “duck-tape over the mouth” there certainly is the proverbial “gun to the head.”

This is what even these gay writers understand—especially Camille Paglia, because she’s been on the wrong side of “the line”. Setting this precedent means that in the right situation someone could be targeted, harassed, or pressured because of what they believe. It’s easy to draw a line, and declare that Phil Robertson was on the wrong side of it. But aren’t “line drawers” always on the safe side of the lines they draw? Drawing lines is all well and good, but those lines can be moved…and sooner or later you find yourself on the wrong side of a line. It’s easy to ignore injustice if you’re on the safe side of the line. But what if you are not? (Extra credit: read Martin Niemöller’s famous statement on the subject).

This is why I wouldn’t vote to outlaw homosexuality, socialism, etc, if given the choice—because it sets a precedent that allows us to outlaw beliefs. Outlawing beliefs sounds great if you are thinking about your political enemies, but it sounds awful when the law gets around to one’s own beliefs. That Duck Dynasty is probably over doesn’t bother me…I never watched it. What does bother me is that our culture is setting a new norm: being yourself can cost you something, stating your views, or even having certain views can make you a target for more than just disagreement. It can make you a target for negative action because you are “different”. Isn’t that what intolerance is anyways? And isn’t it ironic that GLAAD stands behind that norm?