Sunday, September 4, 2016

Colin Kaepernick's Pet Herring

Colin Kaepernick is either a hero or a jerk to either side of the political aisle at the moment. Many on the left love him; many on the right hate him.
And in all probability, he is trending as the quarterback the whole nation has eyes on for a moment. Both the right and the left (and the libertarians) are rushing to establish a narrative regarding free speech, police violence against minorities, and so on.  I can’t help but think that all of these groups are chasing a red herring and missing the point.
The red herring is the discussion that distracts from one very simple truth:
Colin Kaepernick sucks, and he wants to keep his job.

Pro Football Focus ranked all 32 teams for the coming year (2016-17 season) in terms of their quarterback situations. He and the 49ers were ranked dead last behind the Browns, the Raiders (it’s ok to laugh), the Texans, the Eagles and so on. This guy went from being in the Super Bowl to being backup QB and dead last on the list.
In another article, Pete Prisco at CBS ranked him 31st, above the unfortunate Jared Goff.  In May, Chris Chase from Fox Sports ranked Kaepernick and the hapless 49ers as the 4th worst in the NFL for the upcoming season. USA Today was also slightly more generous, ranking him 28 out of 32. Do you see a pattern? He's not doing well on the field. (All of these rankings were released long before his sit-out, so they were obviously not influenced by his actions socially but by his flagging performance).

Yet Kaepernick’s Google stock (as a search term) is suddenly through the roof. His name as a search term hasn’t been worth a damn in years, and suddenly all eyes (and the eyes of the Googles) are on him. He’s a hero, an activist, a talking point, a trending topic. And a poor quarterback.
I think there’s part of me that believes Kaepernick’s actions are sincere; maybe he is a true SJW (though his relationship with the notoriously poor-paying Nike raises a few questions).

The other part of me says maybe this is all BS. I do not mean pointless, meaningless, or reasonless. I mean that it may not be about social justice after all; it may be about football politics. His actions might be sincere, yes—just not sincere about social justice as much as he’s sincere about keeping his paycheck coming.
There have been multiple rumblings that perhaps the 49ers want to cut Kaepernick. What remains to be seen is can they? Sure they can cut an overpaid, crapped out player, but if Kaepernick is cut or traded will the conversation about why circle around his activism or his football skill? Are they cutting a quarterback because he's washed up or are they cutting an activist because he's controversial?

Kaepernick might suck, but I doubt he’s stupid. He went from a bottom-of-the-list QB that no one talked about to being front and center on the media stage—for now anyway. His sudden posturing doesn't sound like a true Social Justice Warrior as much as it sounds like a struggling quarterback on the bubble trying desperately to remain relevant and indispensable to the 49ers franchise. It's their move now, and their decision about Kaepernick is about more than stats now--it's also unfortunately about race.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

5 Thoughts on Iowa (in about 500 words)

1. The Polls Tell You Something…
Real Clear Politics has a current running aggregate of the most recent Iowa polls, showing Trump and Cruz on top, with Rubio and Carson far below, and the rest in a muddle below 5%. While Trump might be leading it would be foolish to call Iowa a slam dunk for him at this point because the polls tell you something…

2. …But Not Everything
Ben Shapiro wrote a great little piece recently where he reasonably questioned the Iowa polls. Often, candidates and supporters will denigrate polls because they don’t say candidate x is winning—but Shapiro questioned the polls for the following reasons: the Iowa Polls are historically inaccurate, the Polls are broad (i.e. possibly not screening their samples appropriately, and many Iowa voters make last second decisions), and the ground game in Iowa isn’t favoring Trump. Historically Santorum didn’t poll well and still "won" Iowa. What does this mean? It means that Trump and Cruz probably will do well in Iowa but it probably doesn’t mean a blowout, and it probably doesn’t mean something like a Christie win. It’s likely just a rough estimate at best. The sample sizes are small, and potentially the margins for error large. And a lot still hangs on…

3. The Donald-Free Debate
Donald Trump is skipping the debate. Admittedly this is odd for a perceived top-tier candidate—yes, Rand Paul did it recently but arguably he had nothing to lose, and Trump does—if the polls are even somewhat reasonably accurate. Trump’s perspective is likely this: he’s telling the media to go to hell, and telling them he doesn’t need them. It’s somewhat a given that every candidate worships at the Altar of the Media during election season but Trump is making a point not to. Or course this could backfire and Cruz’s observation that Trump is skipping out on answering the hard questions for Iowa voters might be the perception that takes hold among voting Iowans.

4. The Debate Must Go On
Chris Matthews thinks no one is going to watch a debate between two Cuban guys, but then again the closest Matthews has ever been close to a real Cuban is probably the last time he paraded himself past a janitor in the hall. The truth is that if Iowa voters notoriously decide last-second, they’re watching and pondering. Cruz will take shots at Trump, Rubio will target Cruz and try to generate more steam, and the rest are praying for a break through and a good performance.

5. Iowa Isn’t Everything…
The 2012 primary proved this brutally. Rick Santorum carried the popular vote in the early January caucus and had dropped out by early April. Mitt Romney came in a hotly contested second, but it was Ron Paul’s little delegate rebellion that ultimately gave him the win from 3rd place. In the end it didn’t matter; Barack Obama won the 6 electoral votes by nearly 6% over Mitt Romney. Do Iowa voters matter? Certainly, but historically they may not be a good predictor for the rest of the race.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Looking Past the Window on 9/11

On a crisp morning in September my father summoned my brother and I to join him in the room where the TV was. We were both fairly certain we were in trouble--though neither of us knew why. Looking back now, I wished we were in the worst kind of trouble as opposed to why we were actually called over. It was the eleventh of September.

That was the day the world burned, the day the world changed. 
Or did it?
We think the world changed but the truth is that it was our perception of the world that changed. Unfortunately it seems that our perception has reverted and regressed in many ways, to the pre-9/11 state, despite those horrific events giving us a window by which to see the world.

For the last 6,000-10,000 years, world history has been covered in bloodshed. The campaigns of Alexander the Great, Nebuchadnezzar, Napoleon and even the Second World War pale in comparison to many of the wars fought in Asia, where untold millions died in decades-long conflicts. The annihilation of towns, villages, peoples and cultures litters our text book pages now as it littered the fields with bodies and blood then. This is human history.
John Calvin thus argued that humans are depraved. Sigmund Freud quoted Plautus from centuries earlier when he said, "homo homini lupus est"--man is a wolf to man. Isaac Newton said chaos is the natural state of things. Plato said, "Only the dead have seen the end of war." 
Peace is unnatural, infrequent, and largely absent in the world. It's not because of arms trade, religion, government policy or greed. It's humans. That we blame inanimate objects or practices only reveals the furthest reaches of our evil--not only can we not face our evil, we must lie about it, even to ourselves.

The truth is, we've been lucky, or blessed if you will. America was started by a group of men who recognized human nature, and set up a system where men are free to work, deal and defend themselves from other men and governments, and they did so in what would prove to be the geographic cocoon of North America.
It's blessed us tremendously: there's been no state of true war on our continent our lifetime, nor in the lifetimes of our parents or grandparents. We live in a bubble, a bubble in time and a bubble of space in the world where we have enjoyed what most living humans would call a fantasy. 

The response to this truth should be then two fold: first to be thankful for the fantasy we live in, and second to recognize that for the rest of the world, September 11 is normal. Israel experiences events of proportional magnitude to 9/11 multiple times in every decade. It's citizens are experiencing the effects of PTSD on a daily basis, on all age and socio-economic levels.
For villages in Africa, Syria, and Iraq peace and safety are wild dreams that the scraps of humanity cling to, just to keep hope alive. These places are samples. They are indicative of the whole--the American sample is an anomaly the rest of the world envies.  9/11 gave us a glimpse into what humans do, what they are and what the rest of the world looks like--both bad and good.
We've forgotten that 9/11 wasn't a mural painted by radicals--it was a window opened by averages. Sooner or later the world's reality would find us, and in 2001 it did. 9/11 showed us a glimpse of the horror the world sees every day. But rather than gaze out the window of 9/11 and gain understanding, we've walked by that window and pretended there was nothing on the other side of the wall, a wall that is thin and crumbling. It's not that we forgot the event, it's that we missed the lesson. 9/11 is not so much the past as it is the present in a world we cannot bear to look upon. It is our world, and we must accept it. We are not in reality gazing through the window into an anomaly, we are in the anomaly and denying reality.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Politically Incorrect: The New Rape Culture

Rape Culture. Those delicious words tickling the tongue of the Tumblr generation who really have no idea what they mean outside of the context of a movement that rediscovered it’s purpose in demonization—as fart rape, and yes, that’s an accusation they’re making and taking seriously. But perhaps the phrase “rape culture” isn’t entirely useless.
What is it to rape? It’s to force oneself on another. It’s to place ones own needs for anger, rage, release, and catharsis above the needs of another human and to fulfill those needs by force. It’s to enslave a person for ones own use.
It is of note that when people talk about slavery that there are certain words that recur quite often: chains, capture, injustice, emancipation, freedom. There are also words much less used, and less associated with the idea of slavery than the aforementioned terms—wages, payment, money, compensation. Somehow it is understood quite clearly that the primary (not sole) issue with slavery is not whether or not one is paid, but whether or not one is free. Having control over one’s own self-determination trumps the wages of being an unwilling participant.
What then is the defense of a human against rape and slavery? It is the right of a human being to say one word: “no.” The Right to No is sacred. It dictates that every relationship (whether economic or personal) is voluntarily taken up and maintained. Ideally it is only forfeit when one violates another’s right to the same. “You must do this for me—you have no option” is the language of a slaver, and a rapist. If you want to see real rape culture, look around and see who forces whom, and who lacks the right to say “no”. Start with Aaron and Melissa Klein.

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. <

Scheidel, Walter. "Republics between Hegemony and Empire."
Princeton University, Feb. 2006. Web. 28 Feb. 2014.

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.