Victory, Not Vengeance

The meaning behind the name of the industrial/ebm band VNV Nation seemed fitting for today.

“Victory Not Vengeance”

The concept that we should achieve victory, but not for the sake of revenge. Justice, not a thirst for blood. Justice, of course, is not a damnable thing when it is carried out responsibly. When crimes are committed repercussions are natural and necessary to achieve a honorable society.

For a decade we’ve been chasing the mastermind behind the September 11th attacks, desperately pouring money and lives into a search — presumably for justice. Yesterday, justice was served and Osama Bin Laden was killed at the hands of a US military team. The death of Osama is a symbolic statement more than anything else. A symbol for justice, for the intolerance of hatred and senseless violence.

Of course, that is what it should have meant.

The news has sparked a wave of jingoistic flag-waving unlike any other. People have literally taken to the streets, celebrating the death of another human being. While I understand why this is happening, I can’t feel comfortable with it. Almost as immediately as the news hit the masses, a sense of justice was morphed into a sense of vengeance. It was surreal to watch Phillies fans jump into chants of “U-S-A” at Citizen’s Bank Park. Seeing clips of it, I can’t help but feel as if I don’t recognize these people. Yes, Osama’s death is ultimately a positive — but to embrace it with pure celebration as if the death of a man is equal to winning the World Series? Does that not continue the hatred? This was not a sense of relief — that an enemy had fallen and a symbol of hatred had been buried. It was a zealous, cheerful exuberance.

As a country we have always tried to claim that we are “better than that.” That we are above the enemy. We are a land of justice, a land of freedom and prosperity, not savagery. When videos circulated around the media after 9/11 of people cheering, we judged them as lesser. This, of course, wasn’t because of the hate directed at us (or so we claimed) — it was because of the lack of respect shown to the dead. It was because it was zealotry and intolerance. It was a celebration of the death, something that has no place in a civilized society.

The difference here, is that we see one group as innocent and one group as the enemy. While there is no doubt truth to that statement, the hatred it has the potential to breed is dangerous — if not precisely the goal of Osama in the first place.

A quote from Salon’s David Sirota sums it up best:

This is bin Laden’s lamentable victory: He has changed America’s psyche from one that saw violence as a regrettable-if-sometimes-necessary act into one that finds orgasmic euphoria in news of bloodshed. In other words, he’s helped drag us down into his sick nihilism by making us like too many other bellicose societies in history — the ones that aggressively cheer on killing, as long as it is the Bad Guy that is being killed.

We shouldn’t roll over — and the fight against hatred (and terrorism) is a just one. However, we shouldn’t be consumed by it. We shouldn’t forget that we are fighting to end hatred, not to perpetuate it. The death of Osama should signal images of 9/11 in our minds. We should remember that this man was responsible for killing thousands, yet we should also remember that his death does not bring them back, nor does his death signal the end of terrorism.

In the end, the cycle continues. One man was not terrorism. One man was not an ideal.

I’ll add more to this later. Just wanted to scribble some thoughts down before class.

Why we need WikiLeaks (The NQL version)

The media has been buzzing lately with talk of WikiLeaks and it’s founder, Julian Assange. While the website has been mentioned by the media before with previous releases, it hasn’t been until the recent “Cablegate” leak that they’ve really seen any major attention. With this current leak, they’ve published roughly 500 US diplomatic cables so far, although they have plans to publish many more.

The media jumped on the story immediately — not reported what was actually in the cables, of course, but instead choosing to focus on a very different question: Is Julian Assange a terrorist?

Sound bites have been played on most of the major networks from various personalities. Some quotes focus around Assange being captured, assassinated or otherwise killed.

Yet very few seem to be focusing on the wires themselves. What do they contain? For starters:

Here’s a story about one that reveals the US was behind an airstrike that killed 21 children in Yemen.

Secret deal let Americans sidestep cluster bomb ban (specifically, on British soil)

“…the Saudis always want to ‘fight the Iranians to the last American…’”

Ambassador reports Sri Lanken President responsible for ‘alleged war crimes’”

…and this is just from me quickly browsing them (basically, surfing their facebook page — not even going to the direct site and sifting through them myself, one by one). Considering an extremely limited amount has been shared with us so far, I’d say that this is pretty significant news, especially to US citizens. Yet most of the “sources” I find regarding the leaks are outside of the border.

Shouldn’t things like an air strike that killed civilians be major news? Shouldn’t the way our diplomats over seas do their job be news?

Instead, we are being “asked” if WikiLeaks is a terrorist organization.

I wonder of the people that say “yes” would’ve said the same about the New York Times? Or if they would’ve considered Daniel Ellsberg and Anthony Russo criminals?

It’s impossible not to draw a comparison between the Pentagon Papers and this leak. While the situations are different, both seemed to highlight government secrets, especially ones that were damning to those with something to lose. The Pentagon Papers pointed out civilian tragedies that were unknown to the American people, along with government dealings that were previously unknown. Cablegate does the same thing — though most of the papers do not directly contain information related to the Iraq or Afghanistan wars.

As anyone who has taken a class in journalism knows, the Supreme Court stood up for Ellsberg, stating that the freedom of the press trumps the secrecy of information when it is relevant. Does the information leaked here not have the same relevance? How about information leaked by WikiLeaks in the past, such as the infamous “collateral murder” video?

We need WikiLeaks because the government sometimes needs a watchdog. I understand the need for secrecy within the military and the government. Lives can be put at risk by some information. In WikiLeaks’ case, though, the information is not threatening lives. I honestly question if it is harming our diplomatic standing in the world. I doubt any other governments thought Americans looked up to them, and I certainly don’t think they expected any of it to be secret.

As citizens, we need to be informed of what is going on within our country. The sort of discourse that has sprung up from these documents certainly makes me wonder. I can’t honestly say that we would have gone to Iraq if an organization like WikiLeaks let loose that the CIA thought Saddam had no weapons of mass destruction.

The fact is, quite simply, that information has the ability to make us more informed about the world around us. I would much rather live in a world of free data than one that is suffocated and censored. WikiLeaks is simply a publisher. A tool for the world to better understand itself.

Relevant links:

http://cablegate.wikileaks.org/

Julian Assange: Why the world needs WikiLeaks

Oslo Freedom Forum: Julian Assange speaks

Note: I just sort of wanted to get my opinion out there. I’ll probably add to this soon.

Gag yourself and pay attention…

Isn’t it amazing what gets media attention and what doesn’t — and when?

You might have noticed that the terrible, terrible “Ground Zero Mosque” is no longer in the news. I guess all of that stirred up intolerance and hate is no longer necessary after an election passes… but I digress.

You see, I noticed that another really big story has completely evaded the major news networks recently.

Considering I saw a story yesterday on the local news about turkeys crossing the road, it is sort of surprising to me that this isn’t deemed important enough to reach the general public. The internet is currently the biggest source of free, unchained information on the planet. It is possible to find everything from literary research to recipes and absolutely everything in between. One of the reasons for this is that anyone can upload to the internet and no one can claim control over it. Everything exists on the internet because it is allowed to. There is no censorship here, at least not at the mechanical level.

For that, the internet is great. While it has only been around in its modern form for two decades now, it has impacted our culture immensely. It gives freedom to anyone who has a connection to it. This vast global network has even aided in political elections and revolutions. Would the green revolution in Iran have been noticed if the internet wasn’t there? Would we be informed about what our military is doing in the middle east?

So then, how does a small bill to prevent copyright infringement threaten that?

Imagine for a second that a blog with political content, such as mine, posts a video of the government doing something wrong. It doesn’t matter what really, use your imagination — the point is that it upsets someone with power. Theoretically, it would be possible (using the powers within this bill) to completely shut my site down if any unchecked “copyrighted content” was anywhere on my site. It may seem illogical for me to have such things on my site in the first place, but consider that technically a song used in the background of a YouTube video is copyrighted content. It can only exist in the movies due to technical loopholes in the law. With enough legal fire-power, an argument against specific content could be made in court.

We don’t even have to go that far to see the possible impact of the bill, however.

YouTube, Soundcloud, Vimeo, Dropbox, Mediafire, Rapidshare and any other content sharing sites would either be shut down or censored strongly. Given the main proponents behind the bill, any websites dealing with torrents or file sharing in general would be completely decimated. What gives the United States government the authority to censor the internet — a global thing that connects hundreds of millions outside the US? What about the many legitimate uses for these services?

Let’s face it: Legislature like this is terrifying. Regardless of the wording, it forces ISPs to comply with the government in censorship. There is no sugar coating it.

The ACLU, Center for Democracy & Technology, EFF, Human Rights Watch, and Reporters Without Borders have all expressed serious concern over this piece of legislation. Is it not telling to anyone else that this bill is being pushed through under our noses? Or that the original bill was supposed to sneak through in just 10 days?

Get the word out.

If this passes, we all lose.

Read more here.

Why do we have any tolerance for hate?

I enjoy being able to comment on local (or relatively local) stories that get national talk. I don’t, however, enjoy talking about stories like this.

Last week a student at Rutgers named Tyler Clementi killed himself after being recorded (streamed, technically) having sex with another man by his roommate. This story has been covered pretty much everywhere by now and many different points of view have been shown. It is a tragedy that the only option this guy thought he had after being outed was to kill himself.

I’ve read many articles looking at the situation and I keep noticing that few people are mentioning the atmosphere of the society we live in. While everyone is very much in a state of shock and question now, they certainly weren’t a day before.

You see, I think the real tragedy here is that our society tolerates hate more than it does anyone who is “different” in any way. If you don’t fit into the majority, you are often seen as an alien — as someone strange, regardless of what your personal “difference” really is. Despite being in a country that is considered a “melting pot” we are damned slow to accept anyone new into our mix — and it’s always been like that. It doesn’t matter if it is religion or race or sexuality — if you aren’t the majority, you are often nothing.

On the other hand, if you are a group who speaks out against another group of human beings, we tolerate you just fine. We give you airtime on television, even. Just don’t be trying to stick up for those being attacked — if you point out that Muslims are unfairly being grouped in with terrorists, you’re un-American and ridiculous. If you feel uncomfortable when someone makes a racial generalization you are called “sensitive.” Oh, and of course — if you stand up for anyone with a sexuality that isn’t “straight” you are somehow politicized as an “extreme liberal” — because sexuality is such a political issue, right?

And yet, when a tragedy happens we all turn our heads and act like today is the day when everything will change. On this very day, people will begin to act civil with one another, we will hold vigils and protests. We will hold hands and sing, hold concerts and benefits and act like tomorrow the world will be a better place. Then when the emotional high runs out and the initial shock dies… we tolerate hate once again.

I’m not jaded enough (yet, at least) to generalize that “we” as everyone in this country. There are good people out there who don’t tolerate this sort of thing — and never have. People exist that understand hate destroys us and that ultimately, people deserve to be treated equally no matter who they are. Those people exist. I know they do.

But they are an unfortunate minority in today’s society.

You see, Dharun Ravi and Molly Wei — the pair that recorded Tyler — thought that what they were doing was okay. Nothing seems to paint the pair as malicious or vindictive. They weren’t trying to get this kid they barely knew to kill himself, they were just having fun. A prank. They never saw it as wrong. They never considered it as big of an offense as it was. At least that is what their tweets tell us.

And that is the exact reason why it is so disturbing.

The image that was imprinted on these teens by our society was that this was perfectly fine and acceptable behavior. Once Ravi found out his roommate was gay, he thought it was great entertainment. Now he had a reason to keep streaming, to keep embarrassing this poor kid. He never considered if the kid had come out before, or if his parents knew, or his friends — or anyone, for that matter. He never thought about how tough it is for any sort of kid with sexuality or gender issues in society. He never considered any of that. He was never taught any of that.

And so a tragedy happened, ultimately because someone was different and someone else just couldn’t understand.

Sure, right now we are pissed, furious over how something like this could happen — but we will continue to tolerate the root of the problem.

We’ll tolerate hate.

We will tolerate laws that prevent one group from marrying the other

We will tolerate (and give plenty of airtime!) to those who preach hate…

We will tolerate blatant religious hate and try to call it everything but what it is…

We will tolerate identical cases to this Rutgers student…

And then we will act surprised when some kid does something like this. We will all gasp and shake our heads, wondering how such a thing could happen in -this- country.

But it isn’t very hard to understand.

Celebrating banned books

September 25th to October 2nd is banned books week — a campaign that primarily celebrates banned books in America.

I’m sure such things seem silly to a lot of people. Why celebrate banned books?

Well, because the censorship of information is something that despite our jingoistic cries of freedom, we still live with. Every year a list is compiled of the top 10 most contested books in America — and while many more are challenged, the top of the pack gives us a cross-section of what we (as a culture) refuse to accept. Unsurprisingly, homosexuality and sexuality in general are at the top of this list.

Of course, this topic also has local ties as this past year a book was contested (and banned) in a local school system as well as the county library chain. The book in contention? Revolutionary Voices, by Amy Sonnie — an award winning anthology of stories focusing on gay, bisexual and transgendered youth. While the book had been in the system for a number of years, it was banned after complaints were filed against it by members of Glenn Beck’s 9.12 project, a conservative-leaning activist group.

The book was apparently targeted for being “pornographic” and “pervasively vulgar, obscene, and inappropriate” by members of the group, and thus they wanted it to be removed from Rancocas Valley’s High School library. This eventually chained into the book being complained about (and subsequently removed) from the Burlington County library system.

While this all happened a few months ago, I feel like it deserves to be pulled back into the light, given the “celebratory” week.

First off, my support of the book (or of any books being censored) is not just to be controversial. We live in a country that praises freedom (or at least claims to) and thus no book should ever be banned in my view, for any reason. Great works of literature and culture have been attempted to be censured in the past often because a vocal minority cannot accept the content with the book. Lolita, Huckleberry Finn, Lord of the Rings, Catcher in the Rye — and we aren’t even going back very far in our history.

In the case of Revolutionary Voices, the book was censured for a very obvious reason — because it depicted homosexuality. Sexuality in general is a firecracker in America because of how incredibly uncomfortable we are with the subject. Add in any “different” sort of sexual or gender issue and people panic and run to the streets. A woman was quoted as (I’m really not making this up, seriously) saying “We did it for the children.” Yes, these people wanted to ban this book to protect the children. Your children.

I want you to remember something. Glenn Beck — the leader of the 9.12 group — describes himself as a libertarian.

A libertarian.

Someone who wants the government out of your life, someone who thinks everyone needs to mind their own business and that we should adhere to a strict interpretation of the constitution.

From the 9.12 project’s very website: “My spouse and I are the ultimate authority, not the government.”

So they apparently want to make you — the parents — the ultimate authority in your child’s life, but they want to do it by choosing what books your child will and will not read in the public classroom.

This isn’t a blog based around comedy, but that has to be one of the most humorous things I’ve seen in the past year.

Coming back to my original point however, it is clear that some Americans are not comfortable with the idea of sexuality in their child’s books — and while I don’t think that is very productive, that is perfectly okay. That is their choice — not the government’s and it also should not be the choice of a public library, especially when they are under the influence of a group that can’t even figure out its own principles.

You see, the problem with banning a book like this isn’t just that it violates someones personal liberties — but it also violates their psychological health, in my personal opinion. When a child who is struggling with gender or sexuality issues sees a book that was created for them banned due to “questionable” content, how do you think they will feel about their internal struggles? When the content is called “pornographic,” how do you think they will feel? Warm and fuzzy that some grandmother decided they don’t deserve the same shelf-space that the other kids do?

Of course, that issue was never even brought up or considered. For now, Revolutionary Voices is banned and it most likely will remain that way. Perhaps one day we will look back on it much like the other books we cherish today and realize how silly we were as a country.

Until then, check out Banned Books Week here and celebrate by cracking open your favorite censured novel.

Don’t have news? Manufacture your own.

I’m a little behind on both of these “stories” as really they were news last week, though I think they will continue to be issues for a few months, unfortunately.

So, the stories in question:
http://edition.cnn.com/2010/POLITICS/08/13/obama.islamic.center.support/index.html?hpt=T2#fbid=Grj1eAqv16X&wom=true

http://gawker.com/5611846/anderson-cooper-gets-testy-over-crazy-representatives-terror-babies-theory

I know these aren’t links to the original “stories” but they should get you caught up to what I am talking about. So, onward.

Let’s start with the “issue” of building a mosque near ground zero. First of all, why is this an issue? Second of all, why in the hell is this even an issue? To say that it makes me almost foam at the mouth is putting it lightly. The audacity of anyone manufacturing such a psuedo-controversy absolutely drives me up the wall. It’s offensive, hateful and downright disgusting.

How can the same people that claim that September 11th was an attack on our freedom make such a blatant attack on the religious freedoms of others?

Anyone parroting claims that this is “offensive” to the victims is downright silly and blind. Saying a mosque shouldn’t be built near ground zero because the terrorists were of the Islamic faith is like saying you shouldn’t build a church in Pensacola because it might offend the victims of the abortion clinic that was bombed by Christians “as a gift to Jesus.” The logic is irrational. The actions of one small group of fundamentalists do not dictate an entire religion nor do they give anyone an excuse to spread ignorant hate.

Even worse is the logic some are using to defend this “protest.”

This is a direct quote from my local paper’s editorial section:

“Those who support building a mosque near Ground Zero should try building a church near mecca.”

My head slammed into the table so hard I probably left a small crater. I guess we should mirror our religious freedoms off of Saudi Arabia?

But, alas. All of this is irrelevant discussion… because they don’t want to even build a mosque. They want to build a Muslim community center, sort of like a YMCA. Sure, a small center akin to a mosque will exist for praying, but that’s it. Who has the authority to prevent anyone from praying to whom they please? Certainly not a group of bigots who claim to be patriotic as they stomp on the very fabric the country was built on.

Let’s be serious here — strip joints are closer to this “holy ground” than this “mosque” will be. We all know that the only reason this is an issue to begin with is because Americans (specifically Christian ones) are afraid of Muslims. End the issue there and let it die. Of course though, fake controversy brews unstoppable traffic and attention, so the show will go on.

The second story follows another non-issue. According to a few Texas representatives a plot is currently in motion by terrorists to bring pregnant women into the country and then have babies who would become US citizens. The children would then be raised outside of America and trained as terrorists. Eventually they would return to the United States to bomb us or otherwise attack us.

Now, if you frequent conspiracy theories and believe that Rube Goldberg machines are the best way to accomplish just about anything, then perhaps this seems quite plausible.

For the rest of us though, it isn’t. Luckily Anderson Cooper is one of those “sound of mind” people that believe evidence is, you know, necessary for this sort of thing. Alas, none was provided. Still, according to these representatives we should be overtaken by terror.

There is one glaring hole in this whole theory though… it’s pointless. Why would terrorists bother waiting 15-20 years for a terrorist-kid to mature enough to be trained and used against us? They’ve had no problems getting people past our borders before and they’ve also had no problem convincing current American citizens to join their fight.

But alas, election time is coming and NATIONAL SECURITY is a pretty huge flag to wave when you need to pick up votes. Not to mention certain networks enjoy running stories like this.

Always be on the look-out for manufactured stories that are passed off as critical bits of information. Chances are if the words “panic” or “fear” are involved… it might be suspicious.

(Also linking this because it seems funny and relevant.)

Sensationalism: The Real Mind Killer

Sensationalism is nothing new. It has existed since the dawn of news and has thrived simply because it often sells. Nothing gets people paying attention like fear, tragedy and the fall of the “big guy.” For those reasons we are often barraged by local and national news about things that are likely to kill us, maim us, poison us, steal our jobs, hate our country, ruin our way of life or generally just anger us. In between stories about murders, rapes and Paris Hilton (or Chelsea Clinton, if you prefer) we are barraged with advertising that we often have no choice but to pay attention to, and thus the cycle repeats.

Yet while sensationalism typically sits in the isle of entertainment, sometimes it crosses over to the serious side, attempting to secretly jettison dangerous “facts” into the territory of legitimacy. Fear is an easy motivator and when used to political ends it can be devastating to the truth, despite who it tramples in the process. Take the recent case of Shirley Sherrod.

I’ll save you a deep explanation, but here is the short version: Sherrod was the Georgia state director for the US Department of Agriculture. She was forced to resign after clips of an address she gave at an NAACP event made her to look “racist” in the eyes of conservative bloggers. This information was parroted by smaller news organizations until major ones started picking it up and running with it. It was a golden goose — everyone was suddenly paying attention to it and simply saying the name brought in plenty of traffic (or viewers, if you prefer). The only problem? It was all bogus. The video was edited to show a certain point of view. Despite this, the circus ran for weeks.

Still — mistakes sometime happen, right? No big deal?

The problem here lies with the fact that no one decided to sit down and check the source, something that every journalism student learns to do in a 101 class. Not doing such things and taking things for granted simply blows all ethics out of the water — as well as all trust for the “journalists” for running such a story without doing the research for themselves. Don’t be fooled, though — the motivation here wasn’t simply laziness — it was advertising dollars. In order to keep viewers glued to their televisions networks (and their journalists) had to run the same story as their peers as fast as possible, as to not look “slow” in this age of instant journalism. Not only that, but the story had to be sensationalized in order to sell — it was tagged with words like racism, hate and hypocrisy. There was no accountability. There was no “fact checking.” There was only the dollar and the possibility of losing it, so everyone looked the other way.

Truth be damned. The story of nothing was lit on fire and paraded through the streets — and a new generation got a front row seat to yellow journalism in its purest form.

The story isn’t always political, though. Sometimes it is just a love for the big guy to fall. It’s some secret human desire we all seem to have — we all love to see the big -whatever- fall and crumble at our feet. It doesn’t matter if it is a Hollywood star, a major corporation or any sort of public figure whatsoever. We are aware that everyone makes mistakes and everyone is human — but when someone who isn’t us trips up, we can’t wait to sit and feast like vultures. Enter Google.

This morning the giant was picked at by the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and others.

Google, with their motto of “don’t be evil” have always been a favorite of internet and technology geeks everywhere. We love their search engine, their browser, their phone OS and pretty much everything that they put out. They seem to be a legitimate company who is honest, something rare in today’s age. In addition, they stand behind one of the biggest pillars of the internet generation — net neutrality. They have always been an adamant supporter of the concept. They aren’t exactly secret about it either — they have a whole category for it right on their blog!

Yet according to the previous articles by the NYT and WSJ, everything crumbled this morning. The hero was in contract with the corporate villain of Verizon! They were in talks to apparently push net neutrality to the side, to sign a contract ignoring their own principles. Or… were they?

Google immediately issued a tweet against the NYT:

@NYTimes is wrong. We’ve not had any convos with VZN about paying for carriage of our traffic. We remain committed to an open internet.

Gizmodo, the technology blog, also managed to receive communication from VZW stating that the articles released by the NYT and WSJ were false. So where is the truth here? Apparently the story was so flimsy that Gizmodo removed their own article on the subject after only a few hours. Now tech news sites such as PC Mag are questioning the validity of the root articles. How is it that technology magazines and their readership — arguably the ones who brought in (and embraced) digital, fast news — are the ones being patient and picking stories apart rather than their major news counterparts who are supposed to be the experts at this sort of thing?

Did the NYT or WSJ even consider the impact of their articles? Or did they just know how much traffic and interest they would pull in and knew that they weren’t reporting the facts 100%?

Even though the Google news “slip” is far cry from the media circus caused by Shirley Sharrod, they certainty have some things in common. The focus on “breaking the story” for the sake of traffic, readership and viewer-ship is for sure a dangerous one — and as consumers of news, we all need to be aware of it, or else we will fall for the sensationalism and have our minds melt into the proverbial soup of junk journalism.

Still, this sort of thing really isn’t anything new — it is just becoming more obvious now-a-days. Luckily enough for us we live in a digital age were information is everywhere. While the truth is sometimes buried deep within that information, scattered about and covered in muck, it is apparent that we stand a much better chance of finding it with our own hands instead of waiting on the news conglomerate to find it for us.

edit:

The Gizmodo article is back up (http://gizmodo.com/5605310/google-just-killed-net-neutrality) and seems to have another couple comments. With more details coming out the story seems less nefarious, as I anticipated. It seems like the NYT and WSJ are also updating their articles as well — which is great, except it is hours after the rebuttal. Wouldn’t have been smarter to report the story as “talks” between both companies and then expand on that later?

Oh, of course. That isn’t interesting enough.