Here is your country. Cherish these national wonders, cherish the natural resources, cherish the history and romance as a sacred heritage, for your children and your children’s children. Do not let selfish men or greedy interests skin your country of its beauty, its riches or its romance.~Theodore Roosevelt
Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.
~John F. Kennedy
Looking at video footage coming out of Ferguson, Missouri was like looking at a scene from the Gaza strip. Of course the journalists went right to reporting the burning buildings and the overturned cars and the looting. It would be hard not to, I imagine. Of course they reported on being tear gassed, harassed, pummeled with random objects, and some even looked down right afraid. Domestic journalists in a war zone on the home front.
As I watched the muted scenes on CNN, I also listened to the police scanner in Ferguson, Missouri. A police officer, identified only by his badge number, Trooper 987 went missing and didn’t respond as he tried to help firefighters put out the fire that eventually burned the Little Caesar’s to the ground. It took over an hour for him to be found, thankfully, unharmed. Someone got hurt in the Toys R Us and the EMTs refused to respond because they were afraid for their own safety. Firefighters abandoned buildings which would later turn to nothing but ash because there were shots being fired around them.
I sat awake until one in the morning watching the chaos, biting my nails, shaking my head and wondering how it was possible that this could be happening in our country.
It’s happening because our justice system is broken. And while I understand why so many people are enraged, the only thing I can find in myself is sadness. Sadness because I want to believe in the American myth that we are the greatest nation on earth and that things work in this country. Sadness because I feel like we’re falling off a cliff into darkness and it seems almost like I’m helpless. I felt sadness for Michael Brown’s family, who were so stricken with grief that they said some very inappropriate things. But how can you really talk about what is and is not appropriate for a family whose son has been shot dead by someone paid to protect him? I felt sadness for the business owners who lost everything they’d spent their lives building up. Mortgage payments, car loans, college educations for their children, poof, out like the fragile flicker of a candle. I felt sadness for their employees who would be out of a job in the morning. Meals for their family, rent payments, electricity, heat for the oncoming winter, gone. I even felt sadness for the looters, who were so filled with what they felt was the pain of injustice and likely so desperate, so poor, that the only way they could express their anger was to steal from their own community.
Everything, it seems, is broken.
And then, on the heels of Ferguson, comes another failure to indite. Another black man killed by a white police officer. Eric Garner, strangled to death on camera. I thought about the amount of rage it must take, to strangle someone to death. Normally, you hear of husbands killing adulterous wives by strangling, because it is a personal way to kill someone. Easier to shoot them dead than to literally choke the life out of someone, to hold them in your hands while you crush their trachea, while they struggle to get free. Just now, writing this, I took a deep breath and felt so grateful for the way my lungs work, for bringing me the oxygen my body needs to sustain itself. We take that for granted, every single second. And still, the thought of the rage. How could there not have been red, blinding rage, fueling the officer who strangled that man, a stranger, to death?
Where did the rage come from? And what, as a society, can we do to fix it?
I managed to find some hope in the protests that took place after the failure to indite in Eric Garner’s case. They were largely peaceful and deeply symbolic. They hearkened back to the 1960s protests led by the great Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. They have so far embodied what I find tragically beautiful in this country. And they’re being led by my generation, the millennials, a generation that has been largely dismissed as lazy, entitled children who have no desire to aspire to anything at all.
Well guess what America – we are aspiring. We are aspiring to make this country what it should be, what we’ve been saying it is but isn’t – color blind. And that’s a damn good start.
I will bite my thumb at them; which is a disgrace to them, if they bear it.
This #Youcannotmakethisshitup moment is brought to you by this guy:
Who is this guy you might ask? He is Igor Plotnitsky, the “president” of the Ukrainian separatists “Luhansk People’s Republic.” And he recently did something pretty interesting.
He challenged Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko to a duel. Yep, you heard me right. A duel.
As an American when I think of a duel, I automatically think of the Old West. Two cowboys, who are fighting over a woman, or who spilled beer on the other one, line up, then turn their backs to one another and take an allotted number of paces and on the count of three they turn around, shoot and see who dies. There are even specialized pistols for the event, called dueling pistols.
But duels actually go back way further than that. Dueling came to Europe during the late medieval period and was prevalent mainly among the higher classes. It was a call to honor for many aristocratic men. It was also widely believed that God would make sure the winner was the man in the right. (Note: see my recent post on crazy shit that happens in the Christian religion and add this thought to the list). Dueling was widely practiced in England, France, Germany, Ireland, Russia and other European nations. Many of these countries even recorded the rules of conduct during a duel in books. Oftentimes, these rules included a provision wherein the challenged party could choose the venue and/or the choice of weapon.
So is the case here. Igor Plotnitsky has told his rival, Petro Poroshenko, that Petro may pick the venue and the weapon to be used (I’m personally hoping he goes for the bow and arrow). And he’s issued a rather interesting statement regarding the whole thing:
If you want to spill the blood of your and our soldiers, their wives, mothers, old people, and children, then prove that you are prepared to spill your blood too – and take my challenge.
Very interesting. While this is most likely simple propaganda (I would like to hope that the man leading the separatists is smart enough to know that the president of Ukraine was not going to fight in a duel to the death or at the very least I hope that Putin would have advised him of this), it isn’t something we haven’t all thought about before. How many times during the conflicts in the Middle East have we heard politicians and regular people bemoaning the loss of life? How many times have you heard people shout at politicians that they should send their sons and daughters to war, or better yet, go themselves, before they commit us to another battle? How many times have we thought that maybe this would be an equitable solution to our wars? One dies to save the masses.
Of course it’s not so easy as all that because, unfortunately, it’s highly unlikely that God makes the right man in a duel a victor. Probably because God doesn’t condone killing. You know, Thou Shalt Not Kill and all that. Or, if you’re an atheist, because God doesn’t exist, whichever floats your boat.
If we resolved things by dueling, then we would all probably be just one giant Russia by now, because – have you seen Putin naked? Of course you have, the whole world has. Scratch that, we might not all be taken over by Russia because the Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott might give Putin a run for his money.
Seriously, if they did do a duel, do you think they would air it on live TV? Because Ukraine is really hurting for money from what I understand, and I think the Pay Per View subscriptions would skyrocket over this one. Maybe Poroshenko could choose an arena like in the Hunger Games even? But the best question is – why am I not an artist because I would so be cashing in on the comics for this right now.
Just imagine, you have Plotnitsky kicking Poroshenko into a pit and screaming, “THIS IS RUSSIA!” while Putin claps merrily on a throne behind him. Oh the possibilities.
My dream is for people around the world to look up and to see Canada like a little jewel sitting at the top of the continent
~ Tommy Douglas
November 17, 2014
When Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper “greeted” Russian President Vladimir Putin at the recent G20 he said the following words that made me want to give him a big ol’ bear hug:
I guess I’ll shake your hand but I’ll only have one thing to say to you – get out of Ukraine
Mr. Harper, I take my hat off to you.
Here in the U.S., I think we mostly think of Canada as our peaceful, northerly neighbors. They’re like our brother from another mother. We like to joke about them, and their love of hockey, eh? We think of the country mostly as an ice and snow-riddled northern wilderness full of jolly, happy-go-lucky pacifists who stay out of most everything. Up until 2009, U.S. citizens didn’t even need a passport to visit. In the Northeast U.S., where I live, most people don’t even consider Canada another country and if you ask someone if they’ve traveled to a foreign country and he/she says Canada the joke will be, “But that doesn’t count!”
We don’t think of Canada as a military power or a country that is all that involved in international politics or warmongering, which might be why we like them so much. We’re tired of war, and Canada doesn’t seem to have it. They’re like the Switzerland of North America. We think of their police as handsomely dressed forest rangers riding horses, and who are endearingly called the “Mounties” and we have a tendency to ask Canadians if they actually have real crime. Side note: They do, but much, much less than here in the U.S. Oddly though, they’re more afraid of crime (perhaps because they’re not as used to it).
So when I read this morning about what Mr. Harper had to say to Mr. Putin, I nearly squealed in joy. Not because I like the thought of another nation becoming involved in war, but because it was so unexpected and also was exactly what most westerners would love to say to the Russian President ourselves.
Mr. Putin, you’re not fooling anyone, you’ve obviously done something terribly, terribly wrong. So like you tucked tail and fled the G20, so too tuck tail and get the hell out of Ukraine.
And if you want, take your separatists with you. If they feel that they’re more Russian than Ukrainian, take them back to your own soil and protect them there. We’ll see how Russian they are then. Ukraine is a sovereign nation, which you have invaded. Turn around and go home now, because you’ve done something I didn’t even think possible – you pissed off Canada.
Your assumptions are your windows on the world. Scrub them off every once in awhile, or the light won’t come in
~ Isaac Asimov
November 12, 2014
While I was sitting at home, watching TLC’s My Five Wives (please, no judgment, I find it really fascinating), the thought floated into my mind that these people were bat-shit crazy. Cult crazy. For those who aren’t familiar with the show, it basically is a reality TV show that follows the lives of a man, Brady Williams, and his five wives, Paulie, Robyn, Rosemary, Nonie and Rhonda and their cumulative 24 children. It’s reported that the family came from a fundamentalist Mormon sect that believed in polygamy, but the family split with the sect over core principles. The family still prays and believes in God and continues their polygamist ways, but incorporates Buddhism into their prayer and tells their kids that they can marry and love whomever and however many people they want (including supporting gay marriage).
This all comes in correlation with a new posting from the Church of the Latter Day Saints (the official name for the Mormon church). According to the Church, Joseph Smith, the religion’s founder, had somewhere between 30-40 wives. In the essay, it’s stated that the belief of Mormons is that marriage is between one man and one woman, but sometime while studying the Old Testament, Joseph Smith prayed to know why some of the prophets in the Old Testament were permitted multiple wives. God responded to Joseph that He had instructed these men to take multiple wives. He later sent an angel instructing Joseph that he too, should bring back the old practice of plural marriage. Joseph allegedly struggled with the notion, because he knew that it would devastate his wife, Emma. However, God sent an angel again, commanding him to wed multiple women. Again, Joseph vacillated until an angel appeared a third time, wielding a sword. The angel threatened to kill Joseph unless he obeyed God’s commandment. Thereafter, Joseph began “sealing” women (i.e. wedding them) according to God’s command.
Yeah. I know. I thought it sounded crazy too. Cult crazy. But then, while watching My Five Wives and contemplating how one could believe this whole ridiculous scenario and how did these wives not just kick Brady in the dick every time he opened his mouth, I thought to myself – well, it’s not like my version of the Bible doesn’t have its crazy moments. Take Genesis, for example, you know, the whole, beginning of the world story. God creates man and rips out one of his ribs and creates woman. Woman eats some tasty fruit from the Tree of Knowledge (*gasp* a woman cannot have knowledge) because she was tempted by the Devil, who was dressed as a snake. Adam and Eve get kicked out of the Garden of Eden even though Adam’s all, “Well wait a second, I didn’t do anything, therefore I’m going to blame women for everything and strip her of all her power for the next bazillion years”, and the world is created through incest, basically. Massive, massive incest.
Because that’s not crazy right? And it’s not like the crazy is relegated only to the Old Testament – it’s not. In both the books of Matthew and Mark, there’s a story where Jesus is walking from Bethany, and he gets hungry. He sees a fig tree which unfortunately has no fruit. Despite the fact that it was not fig season (as noted in Mark), Jesus apparently gets angry and tells the tree it shall bear no more fruit and the tree withers away. Don’t believe me? Matthew 21:19 and Mark 11:13-14. A simple Google search for “crazy stuff that happens in the Bible” will give you plenty more fodder where that came from as well.
So what does any of this have to do with war and why am I ranting about the crazy stuff in religious texts?
Well, because as I contemplated how crazy it all seemed, I thought to myself: If I believe in something, I should be open-minded to everything. I can’t dismiss polygamy in Joseph Smith or an angel threatening his life and then say but it’s completely legitimate that the holiest person in my religion (Jesus) killed a tree, because he was pissed it didn’t have fruit during non-fruit season. That’s just not very fair.
Which somehow, because my thoughts always tend to spiral into this abyss, brought me to thinking about war. Specifically, the kind of war we have going on the most lately, religious based wars.
In Deuteronomy 13:12-18 there is a commandment from God that says that if you come upon a city where other people are worshiping another god, you should kill everyone (and all their cattle) in the city and burn it down so it can never be built again. That’s not in the Qur’an, that’s in the BIBLE. There are passages like this in the religious texts of Christianity, Judaism and Islam. These are the passages that most people pass over, and they’re also the ones that religious extremists latch onto as justification for their religious wars. It’s not just Islam that can be corrupted, it’s Christianity too.
It’s easy to live in a bubble of ignorance. It’s easy not to think too hard, but it also causes wars. People get tunnel-vision over the rightness of their religion or their interpretation of religion and the wrongness of everyone else’s. And it’s because the “other” is different. Like the polygamists. My gut instinct is to assume they’re crazy, but when I think about it, there’s a lot of crazy shit going on in my version of the Bible too. And it’s not like all the Catholic rituals are completely sane (think: exorcism).
If we believe in something, we have to be open-minded to everything. I’m not saying that we have to be open-minded to the extreme violence that is being perpetrated in the name of religion all over the world, or that we have to feel it’s right, but we should avoid gut reactions like labeling people “crazy” or the “other” or “right” or “wrong” or “just” or even saying that we have some kind of absolute “Truth” (and yes, that’s Truth with a capital “T”). Because we don’t . I don’t, you don’t, ISIS doesn’t, Hamas doesn’t, the Israeli government doesn’t, the Pope doesn’t. No one does. It’s the human condition.
I don’t look at the polygamists in My Five Wives under the same scope anymore. Who am I to judge? And I don’t look at religious wars under the same scope anymore either. Killing innocent people is wrong, but it is only by being open-minded to the reasons why it’s happening that we can find a real solution for it. And maybe that starts by taking a deeper look into our own religions and finding what violence could be done with them as well.
The pen is mightier than the sword
~ Edward Bulwer-Lytton
November 16, 2014
Palestine (the state consisting of both Gaza and the West Bank) is a country which is 6,020 square kilometers (about 2,324 square miles). It has a population of 3,761,646 people which means those 3,761,646 people live on approximately .0006 square miles of land per person (or about .38 acres). The country is slightly smaller than the state of Delaware which only has a population of 925,749. So about the only thing Palestine and Delaware have in common is that no one really wants to go to either one.
Within Palestine, there is the infamous Gaza strip, which is located in the southwest corner of Israel. The Gaza strip is completely and utterly isolated from the rest of Palestine, which is weird. But then again, Alaska and Hawaii are part of the United States. The Gaza strip is a measly 365 square kilometers (about 140.9 square miles) but has an overwhelming 1,416,539 person occupancy. This means that every person in the Gaza strip is living on approximately .00009 square miles of land (or about .05 acres). To put that into perspective, the Gaza strip is about the size of Mobile, Alabama which only has a population of 212,237 people.
Israel, on the other hand, is 20,770 square kilometers (about 8,019.34 square miles) which still isn’t huge by any means. It has a population of 6,426,679 people, which is less than double that of Palestine. Those people get to live on approximately .0012 square miles of land (or about .77 acres). Israel is slightly smaller than the state of New Jersey, which has a higher population (about 8.89 million). Unfortunately for New Jersey residents, they have less acreage than Israelis. Although they don’t have to deal with Delaware launching rockets into their beach homes, so New Jersey takes the win on that one, and not much else.
But what would it be like to live in a New Jersey where Delaware did launch rockets into beach homes for weeks or months at a time every few years? Or what would it be like to live in a massively overcrowded and underfunded Delaware where New Jersey was lobbing mortars into residents’ paltry little space? Personally, I think it would be pretty shitty, on both sides.
Now, add to the mix that New Jersey is way better funded than Delaware and has it all backed into a corner and poor little Mobile is all on its own, even more overcrowded and underfunded, cut off from the rest of its state. Really shitty.
These conditions are likely what caused so many more Palestinians to die in the latest round of conflicts between Gaza and Israel than did Israelis. Israelis have their massively effective (and hugely expensive) Iron Dome defense system and Palestinians living in Gaza have…hopes and prayers. You can also kind of see why the Palestinians living in Gaza are so hell-bent on hopes and prayers. When a rocket is coming at you, and God is pretty much all you have to hopefully save your home, your family, and your friends, you have to cling pretty damn hard to God. Like radical extremist hard, in some cases.
By the end of the summer this year, 1,915 people in Gaza had been killed by Israeli forces and 67 people had been killed in Israel. This count included hundreds of children on the Gaza side and only three total civilians on the Israeli side.
While the media debated about Israeli claims that Hamas was using women and children as “human shields” and people tried to debate the casualties on both sides, while politicians played the blame game and US and Egyptian negotiators likely beat their heads against the desk trying to get an end to the violence, the death tolls can be attributed to simple math.
There are too many people in Gaza and there is too little space. Israel is way bigger than Gaza and way better funded. Israel has a missile defense system that keeps them safe and Gaza does not. Israelis have places to hide, Palestinians living in Gaza barely have space to move.
It’s basically like shooting fish in a barrel. The Israelis can’t help but kill civilians. But that is not a justification for the violence. Or for the U.S. not only supporting it, but funding it. The United States of America gives Israel $8.5 million dollars in military aid EVERY.SINGLE.DAY. In addition, the US contributed $504 million to Israel’s missile defense system (the Iron Dome). We did not contribute anything toward keeping Palestinians safe. And that’s part of the reason that they’re dying. And it’s surely one of the many reasons they’re pissed and trying to run Israelis over with their cars and stabbing innocent people to death. Again, that is not justification for the violence on their part either.
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a whole cannot be summed up into simple economics, unfortunately. There’s a vast array of problems, ethnic, religious, social, which span back since the creation of Israel. But one thing is glaringly obvious – killing each other isn’t working. It’s just not. For the life of me I cannot understand how people in power (both in Israel and Palestine) cannot see that. Here you have Hamas saying it “blesses the action” of radicalized Muslims running over Jews with their cars and saying what is happening is “pushing us to prepare for war.” Fantastic. Because killing civilians and preparing for war are totally things you should want for your fish in the barrel. Except they’re not fish. They’re innocent people. And many, many children.
It’s not much more cheerful on the Israeli side either. 16-year old Mohammed was abducted and burned alive by Israelis in what was deemed a “revenge attack.” This happened in July of 2014. The US as a whole might not have its shit together, but at least we stopped burning people alive by the 1700s.
The violence in Israel and Palestine is not going to stop through violence. Violence begets violence. It’s a pattern in history we have seen time and time again. It’s time for Israel and Palestine to stop killing one another, come to the table, and get a two-state solution that works for everyone. It’s time for us to stop funding either side until they come to the table, once and for all, for a permanent solution, not just a temporary cease-fire. And if the people in power now won’t do it, it’s time for the Israeli and Palestinian people to find someone who can. Their children’s lives are literally on the line. And God isn’t going to save them. A truce will though. A truce for God to smile down on. Because I doubt He likes seeing the blood of His children spilled in the holiest of lands. He made that land sacred. It’s time to stop sullying it with the blood of innocents.
There is always one moment in childhood when the door opens and lets the future in
~ Graham Greene
November 6, 2014
On Tuesday night, the Empire State Building turned red to symbolize a midterm win for the Republican party.
On Thursday, thanks to US air strikes in Northern Syria, the desert turned red as well – with blood. More blood. This time, two children are expected to have died, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (a UK-based organization). You won’t read about the children on CNN, however. There, you’ll read about how the strikes probably, maybe, sorta, we think, killed a suspected French jihadist and bomb maker working for Khorasan, David Drugeon (who changed his name to Daoud after he converted to Islam at the age of 14).
You can learn all about his radicalization in the CNN article. The “key” jihadist bomb maker was born in 1989. He was a year younger than me. You can learn about his parents’ divorce and how he took odd jobs driving to pay for trips to Egypt to learn Arabic and then slipped off the radar when he went to Afghanistan to fight Americans there.
What you can’t learn about is the identity of the two children who died in pursuit of ending David/Daoud’s life.
Who were they? What did they want to be? Did they aspire to be bomb makers too, or were their childhood dreams for more peaceable things – a doctor, a teacher, a mother? What were their names and what were they doing there? Who were their parents and what choice did they have about where they lived or where they just happened to be passing through?
The more cynical among us may say that it is “collateral damage” and that if they were hanging out near a bomb maker they were likely already radicalized or well on their way and maybe we did the world a favor by snuffing their little lives out.
Innately, I believe that we are all children of God. We all deserve a chance to overcome the obstacles thrown in our way. None of us is perfect. We are all dealt a hand that we must play. It isn’t right to push the hand down and force a fold because someone else has played their cards wrong.
Although I doubt 25 year old Daoud thought he had played his cards wrong. He obviously thought we, the United States, are wrong.
And maybe we are. It’s not like our society couldn’t take a good, hard, long look at itself and find some room for improvement. As a whole, we’re material, we’re selfish, we’re vain, we don’t listen, we’re arrogant, egotistical, divisive, combative, and not always bright. Of course there are some gems among us, a lot of them, shining brightly and hopefully they will eventually outshine the lot of carbon beneath, but every society is the same at its core in this fact. Every society has its problems but there are always, always gems. That’s what makes humanity so beautiful. And those two children that were murdered – were they gems? Could they have been? Does anyone care about them or to even ask who they were or what they wanted out of their lives? Could they have grown to be a better person than any of us?
I guess we’ll never know. That’s the real tragedy. The true red.