Archive | May, 2011

The military and its relation to civilians

30 May

This is a really touchy subject. It’s one of the few subjects I feel uncomfortable discussing. I feel like there is an unspoken sentiment that if you have not served in the military, then you have no grounds to voice your opinion. But I do have grounds to voice my opinion. I am a citizen. I am paying the bill. I have a right to voice my opinion on how my money is spent.

What is the most fundamental reason for the existence of an army in a democratic nation? To protect civilians.

Growing up right next to the largest naval base in the world, and now living right next to a large army base, I’ve always felt a subtle tension between civilians and military personnel. The power dynamic between civilians and the military leads to an air of superiority on the part of the military.

“You depend on us for your protection, for your very lives, for the freedoms you enjoy…” While this is true, the military depends on civilians for their very existence, their purpose in life. What is a military without a civilian population to protect? If not to protect, what purpose do they have? To rove around like marauders, pillaging and conquering as their commanders wish? What kind of existence is that? What kind of society is that?

General and president Dwight D. Eisenhower, the man who led us to victory in WWII, the man who saw first hand the dawn of the American Empire, left a dire warning about the military industrial complex.

In 2010, the United States spent $687,105,000,000 on defense. Our country’s infrastructure is falling apart, our education system is collapsing, our health system is a train wreck, we lost a major city in hurricane Katrina and yet we’re spending almost 5% of our GDP rebuilding other country’s infrastructures and cities after we carpet bombed them. Priorities? It’s clear that Eisenhower’s dire prediction came true and we’ve lost control to the military industrial complex.

But that’s not the focus of this post. Last night I had a small party at my house. Of the friends I invited, two of them were Iraq war veterans. It was interesting because they came from opposite sides of the political spectrum. (I was the mutual friend, they had never met before last night) My best friend’s boyfriend was the conservative vet, and my other friend was the liberal vet. They didn’t really discuss politics, but a large argument broke out after my liberal veteran friend left for the night.

This being one of the few subjects I’m uncomfortable with (as mentioned earlier), and the fact that I’ve given up on attempting rational discussion, led me to just sit there and try to ignore them.

The main point of contention revolved around how much a democratic civilian population has a right to know what their military is doing in their name, with their money. There was a lot of arguing about wikileaks and the press releasing the name of the seal team that killed Osama, along with pictures of the helicopter.

While there was a general consensus that the civilian population does not need to know in detail the location of the troops, the size of their fighting force, or their plans of attack, there was disagreement as to how much the population should know about the motives for a war.

What stood out the most was just how emotionally driven my friend’s arguments were as to why the civilian population should not need to know the causes for a war being fought in their name on their dime. It boiled down to “just trust us” that we with the ultimate power have your best interests in mind, and that telling civilians the motive for going to war would endanger the soldiers. The chief evidence being my best friend’s story about how her father (a high ranking marine core officer with security clearance) told her that there were ten good reasons why we were invading Iraq, but that he wasn’t allowed to tell her three of them; and that she could hold her head up high while she got teased at her very liberal school for supporting the decision to invade.

The problem is, “just trust us” has always been the response given by people who do not have your best interests in mind. The powerful have always abused their power. The US military is the most powerful fighting force this planet has ever seen, and yet we’re supposed to just trust out leaders that they are going to justly exercise this ultimate power without any oversight from the people that entrust them with that power. That is beyond absurd. This is not an issue I can discuss with my best friend because our priorities are fundamentally different.

I will get straight to the heart of the issue and put this very bluntly:

If knowing the cause of a war costs a few lives, so be it.

I understand and appreciate that I am talking about people’s family members, but you’re missing the forest for the trees and it’s rather selfish. When we go to war it affects the lives of millions of people, directly and indirectly. We have a duty to make damn sure that when we do decide to go to war, that it is for the right reasons and that the destruction and death are limited to only what is necessary to achieve those aims. If we try to hide the reasons for such grave an enterprise as war from the people who are ultimately responsible, for the sake of protecting a handful of lives, we invite disaster and death on a much grander scale.

To put it simply: risking the lives of your family members in order to make sure the reasons for war are know is the lesser of two evils. If we don’t risk it, then we almost guarantee that an exponentially greater number of people will die. What about their families?

The other thing that bothers me, though this didn’t come up between my two veteran friends, is the idea that the worst your experience in the war, the more qualified you are to talk about the war in general. My best friend’s boyfriend (the conservative one) had a worse time in the war than my liberal veteran friend. He got shot at numerous times and almost died on several occasions. Now he suffers from PTSD. My more liberal friend was in artillery. I never asked, but the sense I get is that he fired shells from a safe location to locations where my other vet friend was fighting.

Since when does suffering equate to being factually correct on an issue? It doesn’t.

Let me be clear, I am in no way trying to diminish the sacrifices made by my friend in Iraq. When he talks about his experiences, I sit and listen quietly. I would never try to devalue his experience with the war, but he has only his experience. A neighborhood electrician cannot run a nuclear power plant. There are plenty of other people who went through the same types of experiences, but who have different views on the issue. When discussing the war in general, my friend won’t hesitate to pull the “well I’m a veteran” card and stop the discussion. It was interesting to have another friend there who also had that card up his sleeve but with a different view point.

A few weeks ago my best friend said something that really scared me. She said that she feels the president of the United States needs to be military. This goes back to the whole, “what’s a military without a civilian populace?” issue. Their is a very good reason why the head of the military (the president) is a civilian. The military is fundamentally undemocratic. A democratic military wouldn’t survive. In order to fight it needs to act as one body with one mind. However, a country that has but one body and one mind, is the antithesis of democracy.

Weight loss

28 May

I’ve always struggled with being heavy. It started in the 5th grade. I had to get allergy shots every Wednesday for 2 years, they did nothing, but as a reward I got a candy bar. I also started eating the cafeteria food at school. Fries, pizza, and those nutty bars. I started to pack on the pounds and they never went away. In high school I remember going from a size 34, to a 36, then I left for college at around 200lbs and a size 38. At college I really started to put it on. Freshman year I hit 210. With all the available food and no real structure (outside of class), it only got worse. Food was a communal thing. My friends and I were always eating together. We’d have study breaks and eat, we’d watch movies and eat, we’d play video games and eat. I got a part time job at a pizza place and would bring home pizzas every night to eat. By the time I graduated, I peaked at 260lbs and a size 42 waist. It was disgusting. I’ve always viewed my weight as my deepest personal failing.

When we moved down to South Carolina and I was suddenly without friends to eat with, or copious amounts of food, the weight started to slowly come down, but not by much. I would still drive out 15-20 minutes in the middle of the night to buy chocolate bars from the grocery store and eat them in front of my computer. I had no friends, no job, and nothing to do but sit, eat, and play video games all day and night.

I lost 20 pounds when my family moved across town. Carrying load after load of heavy boxes in the scorching SC summer really helped shed the pounds. Still, I was 240lbs. When we finally got settled in the new house, nothing changed. I went back to video games and candy. I managed to keep it level by driving to the gym and running for an hour, but other than that I made no progress.

My big break came when I got a job and an apartment. Again I had to move heavy boxes, this time up three flights of stairs. That helped me lose 10lbs and brought me down to 230lbs. When I started work I suddenly had structure to my life. I would get up everyday at 8, be at work by 9, and home by 5. I didn’t have time or money to eat a lot. The best part was that now that I was in my own apartment, buying my own food, I was the master of what I ate and what food I kept in the house.

I couldn’t get fat off of it if I didn’t buy it.

I started a regiment. 2 packs of oatmeal in the morning (210 calories) a snack bar around 10:30 (90 calories), a can of light soup for lunch (200 calories), and a snack bar around 2:30 (90 calories). This would keep me relatively full throughout the day, and by the time dinner came around, I had eaten under 600 calories. I could then eat whatever I wanted for dinner and have a beer and still be under 2000 calories. I tried to stay away from baked goods and chocolate. After a while I lost the urge to have them. I added going to the gym for half an hour or so to my routine and this brought my weight down to around 225-220lbs.

I was thrilled when I tried on a pair of size 38 pants and found they fit, though snuggly.

A week ago I decided to change up my diet and dump the massive amount of carbs I had been eating with my oatmeal and snack bar routine, and I’m now down to 215lbs. I’m only 5 pounds away from what I was 5 years ago. I’m starting to see results and this only spurs me on further. I went out and got some exercise equipment to start trying the p90x workout routine and was further thrilled when I found I could actually do chin-ups for the first time in years! I’m now sore all over, but I love it.

I have already lost 45lbs since when I graduated a year ago. Ideally I want to get down to 170. I’ve just got another 45lbs to go. My short term goal is 200lbs. I think that will be easier to manage for now.

It’s true when people say losing weight is one of the hardest things you’ll ever do. Just look around. Cheap trash food is everywhere. How many commercials a day do you see for crap food? How many hours a day do you spend sitting on your butt? For me it really did take a life style change. If you think to yourself “oh, I’m just exercising to lose weight, or I’m going on this temporary diet to lose weight” it won’t happen. I had to forget about losing weight and just changed how I lived. The weight loss just happened to be a side effect of that lifestyle change. (That way I also don’t focus on it all the time or obsess about it; it’s just something in the background)

So here’s to losing my next 15lbs, and then my next 30. I’m only 23 and I’m tired of waisting the best years of my life being fat.

How do you know when you’re slipping into fascism?

28 May

I was never really a WWII nut. Growing up with living history/reenactment groups and then going to college for history, I was surrounded by people obsessed with WWII. There is something about that war and the American civil war that just seem to bring out the armchair generals in older white guys. The one thing, however, that has always fascinated me about the war is fascism and how it took over Germany like a virus takes over the brain.

How did a democratic nation (albeit a very young democracy)  go from that to fascism, secret police, war, and the systematic murder of over six million men, women, and children?

Answer? Slowly.

Hitler was democratically elected to power in Germany. He was able to very gently and carefully nudge the country into fascism by exploiting the fact that the country was going through hard times and by masterful manipulation of base human instincts. Sitting atop a sky scraper or watching the space shuttle launch, you may thing that we’re an advanced species, but we’re still beholden to barbaric instincts. These instincts best come out when we’re gathered in a crowd. The hive mind takes over; we revert back to panicky, superstitious, violent animals.

So how does a people know when fascism is taking over a country? In Germany there was never a big announcement declaring: “Attention! We are all now fascist!” No, it happened gradually and before they knew it they were murdering people in gas chambers. Nazi Germany is the perfect embodiment of the boiling frog metaphor. In case you haven’t heard of it, the metaphor is thus: If you throw a frog in boiling water, he’ll jump out; yet if you place the frog in normal water and slowly continue to raise the temperature, the frog will be cooked.

Moral of the story: people won’t be aware of slow change until it is too late.

There was a now famous experiment back in 1967 in a California high school. The Third Wave was an experiment where a history teacher successfully turned his entire class of students into fascists. The experiment took on a life of its own and had to be stopped, but it went to show just how vulnerable democratic societies are to the appeal of fascism.

Unfortunately, I don’t believe we have the ability to defend ourselves against a gradual erosion of our rights. The “patriot act” for example strips us of many of our constitutional freedoms in the name of “protection.” It passed after 9/11, when all the panicky animals were desperate to be protected. It has passed again every time since. The problem with trying to stop such an erosion is that when you cry out that things are wrong, people look at you like you’re insane. They’re all on guard for a lion, when the true threat is a mouse. “Relax! We’re not fascist, nothing much has changed!” By the time it does become noticeable, it’s too late for anyone to do anything.

There is nothing Obama can do right…

5 May

In the eyes of republicans, there is NOTHING Obama can do right. They refuse to give him credit for anything, no matter how much they might like it. It’s like an abusive relationship and Obama’s a hurt dog that keeps coming back to its master, begging to please, only to get beaten senseless at every trick preformed perfectly for the master’s amusement. I’m starting to think the president is somehow is mentally unstable.

Osama bin Laden is dead. Hunting him was one of the primary reasons (at least, officially) for why we invaded Afghanistan a DECADE ago. We hunted him down and killed him under Obama’s administration. But instead of making this an American victory, some conservatives are hell bent on making this a republican victory. (After all republicans = America and thus anything not republican ≠ America)

Lately I’ve heard a lot of talk along the lines of “Well, Obama’s not really responsible for killing Osama bin Laden since he wasn’t the one who pulled the trigger….”

You know what? If you follow that “logic” Osama bin Laden wasn’t really responsible for 9/11 because he didn’t fly the planes into the buildings… (But what am I say? Screw logic)

But now a lot of republicans are attacking Obama because apparently Osama was unarmed when we killed him. “How horrible was it that we killed an unarmed Osama bin Laden?!?!? The president is an evil evil man!”

I dare you, I fucking dare you to tell me republicans would be saying the same thing if Bush was the one who had an unarmed Osama bin Laden shot. There is no fucking way in hell republicans would be giving Bush shit for shooting Osama. They’d all be like “AMERICA!!!!! FUCK YEAH!!!!!!!111”

But no, the president is evil for killing the most evil man in the world simply because he puts a D by his name.

“You know, this really isn’t Obama’s victory because Bush was the one who started this whole thing. It’s really because of Bush’s policies that we’ve caught and killed Osama….”

I wish I was kidding, but that’s seriously what some of them are saying….

First off, Clinton (D) started the hunt for Obama before Bush ever took office, before 9/11. (But conviently ignore that unless you want to try and blame 9/11 on Clinton’s failed attempts to find Osama, at which point you’d also be ignoring the fact that the worst terrorist attack in US history happened on a republican’s watch)

Secondly, you’ll try to take credit for killing Osama because of policies enacted by Bush, but you won’t take credit for the economy crashing because of policies made by the exact same president?!?!?!

(Are you beginning to see how their minds work?)

Republicans do everything perfectly, democrats do everything horribly. Whenever something bad happens while a republican is in power, it’s the democrat’s fault. Whenever something good happens, it’s to the republican’s credit.

It’s the exact same “logic” they apply to god. God is on our side. Whenever something good happens, god did it. Whenever something bad happens, it’s because of our sinfulness and not following god. Everything happens for a reason. A tornado hits a house and kills an entire family except for one small child, “It was a miracle that the child lived! Isn’t god amazing?!” (Nevermind the fact that god allowed the tornado that just killed everyone else in the family) The game is rigged so god can never be put in a position of blame. Same is true for the republicans.

Not surprisingly, I’ve heard a lot of people attribute our killing Osama to god’s divine help. Yes laddies and gentlemen, the very same god who stood there and watched as 3,000 men,women, and children were butchered has finally decided to help us find and kill the man responsible after 10 years, $1,500,000,000,000, and 1,000,000 war dead. God works in mysterious ways eh?

Why does it matter where you were born?

2 May

Last week Obama caved to the pressure of a growing number of wingnut conspiracy theorists who firmly believed his pregnant mother flew from the US to Kenya to give birth to him, and then immediately to Hawaii (the farthest state from Kenya, seriously! Florida was only a couple thousand miles closer) in order that her child could one day be president of the United States.

The fact is, this whole “birther” movement isn’t about Obama’s birth certificate. It never has been. If you read between the lines you’ll see that all this talk about where he was born is just thinly veiled racism. “Obama is a nigger, and niggers aren’t Americans.” It’s sad, but not surprising, that such a large chunk of conservatives have subscribed to this view. They, and they alone, are the true Americans, surrounded in a land of savages and heathens who would destroy their America.

But the fact that Obama isn’t white, and thus will never be a “real” American, aside, why does it matter where you are born? I’ve never understood people’s preoccupation with this. I feel like it’s some pseudo-spiritual bullshit like the idea that the stars you were born under dictate your personality. (Horoscopes)

It does not matter where your mother squeezed you out of her vagina.

Back in World War Two, Nazi propaganda encouraged young couples to have sex in particular cemeteries. The idea was that if the woman conceived a child from the encounter, the spirits of the ancient German folk heroes buried there would enter the womb and thus be given a new body when born.

Believing that where you are born matters is no more bat-shit crazy than believing ancient ghosts will enter your baby if you fuck in a cemetery. The whole notion of “where you’re born matters” revolves around this idea that some “spirit” or quality of the place imprinting itself on you at birth.

I was born in Texas. Therefore I must be a real Texan right? Hell no. I was there for about a year, all of which I don’t remember. I don’t hunt, I don’t drive a truck, I’m not religious, I don’t have a cowboy hat or boots, I don’t have a Texas accent, I don’t like spicy food, and I’m not a republican. Nothing about me is Texan.

Land is land is land. There is no mystical qualities about one place that makes it different from another. The only difference is in weather and vegetation. Last time I checked, the 5 day forecast and what types of berries grow outside don’t effect a person’s personality.

What matters more than where you entered the world is where you spend time growing up. The culture you’re raised has a large impact on your personality and world view. Someone raised in Saudi Arabian culture is going to be molded by that culture. The physical land surrounding that culture doesn’t do the molding, the people living there do. Yes, geography impacts culture, but none the less, you’re not being raised by the rivers and the trees.

A perfect example would be the children of immigrants. They may be born in another country, but their parents are still the ones who raise them. Depending on how strict the parents are about keeping the traditions and culture from their homeland, the child may or may not grow up to resemble that culture.

So in essence, it doesn’t matter where you’re born. Obama could have been born in Japan, it wouldn’t make a lick of difference. He was raised in the US and thus he is American. Oh, and little know fact: John McCain was born in Panama, which is now not part of America.

The language barrier

1 May

Lately I’ve been realizing just how much of a problem the language barrier is when it comes to just about everything. We use language all the time to communicate. Verbal language, written language, body language, computer language, etc. So many of the difficulties we have are caused by the language barrier.

In order for a language to work, everyone communicating must use the same definition. If I say “boat” and you think of what I would call a “horse”, then the language doesn’t work. The whole point is to communicate an idea by evoking in you the same mental image/concept I’m picturing. (Denotation)

But perhaps the most complex and problem causing aspect of language is connotation. Denotation refers to the literal object/concept, but connotation deals with how people interpret/feel about that object/concept. Everyone has their own personal experiences, preferences, and biases. Whenever I write, one of the most difficult tasks is trying to choose words that will convey the same emotions and flavor for a concept that I feel, but to my audience.

So we have two aspects of language that affect how we communicate ideas: denotation and connotation. In order for us to communicate effectively, both must line up. Lately I feel like this is an almost impossible task.

Take politics and religion. Two extremely important topics that impact the lives of billions of people everyday. They are also two of the most emotionally charged topics given how they are fundamental to how many people think about themselves, their identity, the world, their place in it, and how things ought to be. Given the extreme personal nature of these topics, any given concept’s connotation might vary widely from person to person. Same can be said of denotations.

For example, it is almost impossible to have a discussion about religion. In order to have good communication and a rational discussion, both parties must agree on the definition of terms. What is religion? What qualifies as a “religion”, what doesn’t? What is a god? What are the qualities associated with this concept? What is a Christian? What qualities/beliefs are associated with that concept? The answers to all of these will vary from person to person. (This is why I get some much crap when I generalize because what might apply to someone else might not apply to you, and vice versa.) You could spend hours debating these concepts alone before you even got to actually discussing what you wanted to discuss.

Instead, most people skip this phase and go straight into firing off their memorized lines at the other person. Nothing gets conveyed, nobody’s mind gets changed, they might as well be speaking in foreign languages; in fact, they pretty much are.

While I’ve noticed denotation problems seem to populate the realm of religious discussion, problems of connotation are particularly rampant when it comes to political discussion. A perfect example is the term “liberal.” Conservatives are masters of language manipulation. They can take a word, shift its connotation, and thus frame and entire issue in their favor. For decades they did (and still do) this with the word “liberal.” By repeating the word with an ugly connotation, as if it was an epithet, they shifted the flavor and emotions surrounding that concept to something ugly. “Liberal” became something disgusting, something to hide from, something un-American. Today’s hot button word is “socialism.” Conservatives are pushing to shift the connotation of that word to something akin to communism.

So how is a rational discussion of ideas and concepts possible when, at the word “liberal”, you think “un-American, big government, communist, elitist”, and at the word “conservative”, I think “fascist, bigoted, greedy theocratic American Taliban”? Short answer: it isn’t.

The sad fact of life is that rational discussion of the issues is no longer possible. The idea of having a “debate” is a complete farce. In order to actually have these discussions we would need to first agree on the denotations and then connotations, otherwise we’re speaking different languages. Quite simply, we don’t have the attention span for that. Instead, all of our issues are decided by who has more babies, which demographic is dying out, and who gets their voters to the polls. That’s it. Reality be damned.