Category Archives: Social

Back From Africa

I’ve been out of the country for a while and busy for longer than that.
I deployed to Senegal Africa with the National Guard and had a grand old time.
Senegal was interesting. Among other things it was almost entirely populated with black people. Who knew? Coming from Utah, this was quite a difference. It wasn’t long though, before it became apparent that most things were still very much the same. The Senegalese seem to be primarily concerned with putting food on the table and generally making their way in the world.
Among other things, Senegal is very proud that their country has never had a military coup. Also, they have the largest Baobab forest in the world. This forest was, apparently, about 10 kilometers south of where we were in Thies. I wouldn’t know as we were too busy to make it there. I did get to go into downtown Thies on several occasions as well as see a bit of Dakar but raw tourism was pretty much off the table.
There were some trinket vendors just outside the section of the Senegalese military base we were on, well, not really trinkets, most of it was nicer than trinkets but you get the idea.
I determined that I wasn’t going to buy statues of any exotic animals unless I saw those animals during my stay. As it ended up, I could have bought a statue of a goat, a pig, a horse, or maybe a cow. The elephants, lions, giraffes and monkeys were not in evidence. Very exciting. So next I asked if I could get a wooden piece made from baobab wood. I was sternly informed by a women manning one of the tables that baobab wood was no good for carving. It’s really not even good for making fires. You can make rope or clothes out of it if you’re really desperate. Instead I wanted some nice teak pieces. Yes?
I don’t know if baobab wood got such a bad rep because the woman didn’t have any to sell me or if it’s really no good for carving.
Gris Gris were no good either. Gris Gris are charms, good luck charms in particular. I asked if they had a gris gris specifically for luck in battle. Nope, just luck in life in general. I went back and asked for a battle specific gris gris a couple of times until finally it became apparent that they would probably hand me one the next time I came back and tell me it was for battle just so I’d shut up.
I did see a nifty mask though. It’s an ugly little thing, totally unlike the other masks on the table. Upon questioning the woman told me that it was a bird mask of the Seti people in the old style. It was so ugly it kind of grew on me in only a few minutes so I bought it.

Christmas

Jesus and Santa tiedHad a good Christmas, I did.

Among other things, got a stationary bike on which to flay my cardiovascular system as well as a very nice weight bench for pushing and pulling various masses.

Gave Kris an iPod shuffle, which she had been coveting ever since we ordered one each for the boys.

The children made out quite well too.

Spent a lot of time with exended family both before during and after the day itself. More of that to come this weekend.

Pulled a joke on the wife by putting a crappy $1 dollar kitchen knife of the kind she had been pining for in her stocking. She was very gracious and did not complain at the quality but merely decided, internally, to go out and buy her own self a bloody good knife at the next opportunity. She later almost used the implements in question when she unwrapped the high-quality version of same that I had gifted her under the tree and realized what I had done.

She in turn, gave me a “gift from the heart” in the form of a bit of sappy doggerel verse in a very nicely wrapped box. I pretended to be touched though I know at one point as I read through it I had that ‘glazed’ look. Nevertheless I tried my best to spare her feelings. Later I learned she had done it on purpose and the poem was a thinly disguised list of clues as to what the real present was, the stationary bike aforementioned. It’s a quality stationary bike. I’m very pleased. Though I am, perhaps, more pleased that my wife did not produce that horrible poem in earnest.

Our second youngest daughter had the last laugh when my wife opened her final present and discovered that it was an old cutting board she’d been missing for a week or two. The daughter responsible dissolved in giggles. Well done, my offspring.

The New Racism

Idris Elba as HeimdalFor starters, racism is real in today’s America. It exists. I’ve seen it.

Now I’ll go on to point out something I’m finding endlessly amusing.

Background is required. Several months ago, centering around the release of Avatar: The Last Air Bender, there was a great deal of discussion concerning the whitewashing of that film and whitewashing in general. Folks were angry that the producers of Avatar had cast white actors to play characters that most people would imagine as asian from the TV show and story. Great anger and acid accusations of racism were leveled at said producers. Much of the attention, I suspect, was paid because of M. Night Shyamalan’s involvement with the film.

I only heard about the uproar over Avatar because a friend of mine jumped in with both feet and shrieked in outrage with the best of them. Personally, I thought it was a molehill, but my apathy doesn’t, or shouldn’t, take away from the feelings of others on the matter.

Now enter the Thor film from Marvel Studios, and Idris Elba cast as Heimdall, a Norse deity. Again we have some folks getting a little upset over the casting. You see, Idris Elba is black, and most people would assume that Heimdall would be white, being Norse and all.

So, in one case we have whites being cast in roles that people imagine, reasonably, as asian and in the other we have a black man being cast in a role that people imagine, reasonably, as white. Same exact disconnect in both cases. The studios are clearly GETTING THE RACE WRONG when they’re choosing the actors to play these imaginary characters.

Cue the same uproar. The same bitter sarcasm. The same rage. … The crickets.

No one seems to care that a black man is playing the part of a norse god. I certainly don’t and I think the few people that do are racist, a bit nuts, and perhaps dangerously so.

Yet now we see, a little uncomfortably, that those who objected so loudly to the casting of Avatar share a slice of their root philosophy on race with these people.

You’re both racist. Deal with that and let’s all move on.

Bonus link: My friend Dan Wells has posted on this same topic over on his blog. As always he is erudite and fascinating.

Fareed Zakaria

Fareed ZakariaJust found a guy named Fareed Zakaria.

I’m really impressed. This article, which he wrote for Newsweek in the aftermath of 9/11, was amazing. In its tone and basic ideas I feel vindicated that it says many of the same things I’ve been saying for years. And Mr. Zakaria has actual creds to his name, not just seat of the pants armchair theorizing like me.

While the fact that I agree with him is nice for me, more importantly he speaks to and integrates many of the root ideas that other people skate around in favor of rhetoric. He doesn’t gloss over anything that I could see. While not claiming to be perfectly unbiased (impossible) he does present a solid, clear look at both sides of the issues he’s discussing.

I’ll definitely be looking for and reading more of his stuff.

Wikileaks two

Lots of people out there on the web pooh poohing the idea that wikileaks is costing lives.  They don’t claim that wikileaks hasn’t cost lives. Most of them simply claim that it pales in comparison to the number of lives lost due to actions by the governments wikileaks targeted. A fair point. And, if you assume that the west, the United States and Britain in particular, is corrupt and murderous by nefarious design, you can stop thinking at that point and simply wave your placard. I don’t share that view and find those that do a little long on the yammer and short on the hammer. They speak, confidently, from under the umbrella of freedom, security and prosperity those very governments provide.

There’s another necessary half of the argument, usually left implicit by these rhetoricians. You must also believe that the threats of terrorism and rabid jihad the west is facing and fighting are largely nebulous and illusory. I direct your attention to the New York of nine years ago. You may then stepping stone your way to the present over countless incidents of violence and cruelty deliberately perpetrated against innocents by the very same individuals and their groups that are so necessarily (for this particular argument to hold water) illusory.

The west has not been perfect in its prosecution of the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan. There are plenty of examples of western soldiers and leaders doing wrong. Such incidents are few and far between, as evidenced by the attention they get when they do happen.

The massive and pungent irony of the whole wikileaks situation is that wikileaks targeted only the side it is safe to target. Exposing the inner workings of Al Quaeda and like groups is, after all, awfully difficult and dangerous.

As for wikileaks being treasonous, no. It’s only treasonous for Bradley Manning. For folks of other citizenships it’s called espionage.

wikileaks

wikileaks founder and head prima donna Julian Assange
wikileaks founder and head prima donna Julian Assange

I find this whole wikileaks phenomenon endlessly fascinating while at the same time a little pitiful.

In theory, I approve of the mission statement wikileaks touts. Government transparency is good in most cases. Protecting their sources, also excellent. Vetting of stories before publishing? Essential. But for all the bluster they’re surprisingly mercenary.

They claim to be a source for good in the world. Yet they’re constantly targetting the biggest sources of good in the world. It grabs them headlines to accuse the US and leak classified documents from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, it also has the advantage of being very safe for them. Though they make a show of ‘being afraid’ they know very well, as does the rest of the world, that the US and Western European countries don’t go in for the kind of extra-legal retaliation they claim to be afraid of.

Who does go in for that kind retaliaion? The kill your family and cut your head off on TV kind of retaliation? The very groups and countries wikileaks fails rather conspicuously to report on. The very groups the US and Western Europe (along with other notable allies) are in violent conflict with right now. Let’s see some juicy leakage of the operational details of AlQuaeda or Hamas or Sendero Luminoso. How about North Korea for heaven’s sake. China anyone?

If you want to be seen as a force for good in the world you ought to do something other than throw stones at the side that doesn’t deliberately kill women and children as a matter of policy.

As for protecting sources, perhaps you also ought to protect those innocents you put at risk with your leaks. Locals working for the US in Iraq and Afghanistan are doing nothing but what they think is right, yet you put their lives at risk by publishing their names where the jihadists can find them. There are good reasons to classify documents and protecting sources is one of them. Strange how that cuts both ways and how wikileaks doesn’t seem to care.

And vetting your stories before publishing? Please. How about Collateral Murder? What a joke.

Babykiller

That’s a new one on me, but not my father.

Although the actual word ‘babykiller’ was not used it was a sobering experience the other night when a ‘friend’ equated the current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to the murder of innocents. It was done offhandedly, as though it were a given. Having served in both theaters, I can assure you (as I tried to assure him, to no effect) that the comparison is ridiculous. Yet there are people out there who actually think that. Apparently, I know such a person. Not something I was expecting to discover among my circle of friends.

On a more palatable note, Brad Torgerson has a very nice blog post up today about some of the other kinds of experiences we who serve in the military have at home. Pleasanter ones.

Gays in the Military

Is ‘gay’ the right term nowadays? I can’t keep track of the changing currents of politically correct speech. We’ll go with it. If you’re offended, it’s your own fault for I mean none.

GayActivistFromWhitehouseFenceI was perusing Drudge when I came across this picture. I felt a flash of what can only be called malice and anger. I identify with my brother’s in uniform, and to see cops cuffing one raises my ire. What the hell? I think. Were I to see this on the street I’d immediately go find out what the heck was going on.

And I’d discover, no doubt, that the cops were perfectly justified in arresting this fellow for trespassing. Then we’d all get on with our jobs. It’s that initial reaction I’m interested in.

I’m assuming that guy has every right to wear the desert uniform he’s got on. I’m also assuming he’s gay.

There are huge problems associated with gays serving openly in the military. Problems that range from ‘what do you do about shower facilities’ to ‘sexual harassment anyone?’ to ‘there are a lot of ignorant people in the military who have a problem with gays’ and everything in between. Almost none of these are addressed by those who crusade for the cause of gays serving openly in the military. To even bring these concerns up gets you called a homophobe and/or a bigot as rational discussion is immediately, and often deliberately, shut down.

So, what about gays in the military?

I don’t have a solution to the logistical, ethical, or social objections raised by the idea. I do have my gut reaction to a fellow soldier being handled by the police though. That’s my brother, man, back off.

Postscript: It pains me to have to bring the question up but, if that dude getting cuffed did NOT earn that uniform (and the way he’s got that beret pulled down to his ears makes me question just a little) he can go fly a kite.