12/17/12

Big Tuna

Even if for only the major motion picture about it, Hotel Rwanda, you probably recall the unspeakable genocide of well over a half a million people, in 1994, perpetrated by the majority Hutu people against the minority, but ruling power, Tutsi. When the Tutsi finally regained control of Rwanda, the Hutu fled, many to Zaire, or modern day Congo. Ironically, the Tutsi, in a sense, assumed a more permanent control and power over Rwanda (which they had ruled for centuries before the genocide anyway).

But, as a result, there remains significant conflict between Rwanda and the East Congo, where many Hutu live. A solar flare of conflict through the years and, for the first time since a 2009 peace agreement, recently re-ignited in violent conflict, M23 rebels (for March 23, 2009, the ratification date of the peace agreement) have brought war to the Congolese government.

In Africa, ethnicity is often employed as a pretext to exercise other and underlying political motives. It’s reductionist, therefore, to blame simply historical ethnic strife or colonialism or any other singular cause. For example, local landowners in the Congo, indigenous to that area, have community grievances distinct from the Rwandan genocide or other macro-regional tensions, which nevertheless Rwanda exploits to its advantage. Apparently experts believe that Rwanda uses these localized interests to perpetuate its own agenda. In fact, in the case of M23, it would voice various local governance and human rights claims against the Congolese government, in some part, to give itself cover in its continuing fight with the remnant Hutu army in the East Congo, the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR). It’s a conflict for which not even regular observers to it can perfectly tease out the many and entangled causes.

To that end, and endemic to African governance, generally, not just the Congo, there also exists historical weakness in many state institutions which additionally contributes to the civil and violent discord. Sadly, this infastructural inadequacy is intentional. In the colonial aftermath, certain tribal and African dictators purposefully kept state instutions weak to insulate their own power. Chaos among those who might threaten their authority kept opposition diffuse and weak.

Like a big fish in a small dysfunctional pond. Power of this kind is really a form of cannibalism — at the expense of your own. We all despise a bully. And, even as I believe that confidence can grow in a manageable environment, this sort of small-minded leadership has stagnated peoples in this region for decades.

Don Cheadle needs to EMP the whole thing, Ocean’s Eleven style, and not reprise any role in a Hotel Rwanda Part Deux, heaven forbid.

Performed by ipoetlaureate. Music produced by Sundance.

Today’s blong here:

Small Man

11/26/12

Penmanship Wrecked

As I mentioned, we were in Colonial Williamsburg for Thanksgiving. It was a really, really special trip with our extended family.

We saw a LOT of old things.

Quills, wood burning stoves, carriages, hatchets, brick oven fires. Bed pans.

You know what the colonialists might have preferred? I don’t know. Microsoft Word; a 2500 watt, self-cleaning, freestanding GE range top; central heating. Maybe a magic bowl that whisks away your bowel movements.

I’ve barked about this before but old things aren’t better. They’re just old. And, first.

A friend of this site sent this article about how some schools are ensuring that penmanship endures, even in the face of digital technology’s inevitable march. I’m generally in favor of this. At my son’s school the parents could elect whether or not to have our children taught script. We did. I like the arguments that cursive enhances coordination and motor skills and that it might still be valuable for speed in certain testing environs, essay, Advanced Placement, etc.

But, do you know why handwriting exists? Because the Egyptians didn’t have a Dell. And, do you know why script and other decorative calligraphy exists? Because the Saxons didn’t have Snell Roundhand Black typeface in their font library. As soon as Guttenberg found a shortcut, you didn’t see monks still romantically hand scribing books for the fun of it. Well maybe some. But that’s just because they had taken a vow of celibacy. They had some energy to burn, so to speak.

So as to old stuff you should feel free to take it or leave it. If you like old technology and vestige, cool. Read by oil lamp. Wear a neck cravat. Harass a wench. But, if you value things like illumination and automatic drive and remote controls and your news even, let’s say, a day less than a week old when you receive it, then don’t feel bullied by other people’s nostalgia.

I wrestled with my own sentiments walking around this city dedicated to freezing in suspended animation the way things were. In fairness, Colonial Williamsburg, itself, doesn’t advertise as some “better time.” In fact, it tried to be frank about the burden antiquated technology placed on the lives of the people that used it and confessed all that it got wrong with respect to blacks and women and religion.

But, Williamsburg at its finest is not about old things. Rather, it stands as a monument to the value of certain old ideas that we’d be good not to forget. Virtues and principles and philosophies. Hard work and ingenuity and community and the idea that government corrupts true religion. Or maybe the idea that not all power should be invested in one person or body politic but should be separated among diffuse individuals and branches.

The Middle East, and frankly much of the world, has long struggled with this last point where I think America has greatly succeeded. Many governments prefer to consolidate rather than separate power. It’s wildly more efficient.

Just this weekend, Egypt’s President Mohammed Morsi issued a series of measures preventing Egypt’s courts from challenging any laws or decrees passed since he assumed office in June. Apparently Morsi is attempting to prevent the courts from dissolving Egypt’s legislative body which is in the process of drafting a new Constitution. The courts in Egypt are traditionally responsible for running the country’s parliamentary and presidential elections.

Considering Egypt’s recent political unrest, such suspension of power might be justified. I’m not informed enough to know. But anytime checks on executive power, like the judicial system, are diminished, the risk of abuse abounds.

So when our government is slow or when the sovereign branches fight or when the state and national governments seem irretrievably at odds, be thankful. It’s for our own good.

We are free to be sentimental about toys or songs or handwriting from a bygone era. Some of us will more relish the advantages of our present progress. Either way, the “stuff” of our past and present will all pass. But, ideas, whether poorly judged or wise, should never be forgotten.

The opening two lines of today’s blong are a tribute to the greatest emcee that ever was.

Written and performed by theipoetlaureate. Music produced dj transform. Concepted by Conduct Lionhardt.

Today’s blong here:

Old One

11/20/12

The Fourth Front

So the cyber terrorist organization, Anonymous, has been participating in the Israel/Gaza conflagration by defacing some 700+ Israeli websites. As it turns out, their typical method is just to flood the sites with data until they crash the domain. Most of the websites, however, have nothing to do with the Israeli government, military, or infrastructure. Anonymous has apparently and mostly just hit randomized Israeli domains, which are just as likely to be a local pediatric dentist or soccer mom blog as it is a serious intelligence breach. In fact, it is really much, much more likely to be the former. There have been some serious dumps of personnel information apparently. Anyway, some have scoffed at the relative ineffectiveness and amateurishness of the campaign equating it to the cyber-attack equivalence of “egging someone’s house and then smoking weed behind a Denny’s.

Even as Anonymous may be failing to make a serious security impact this sort of dismissiveness overlooks the point. The future is now. And as unsophisticated as these first pioneering efforts are, they are mere prelude to the war. Cyber terrorism is sort of in this cute, petulant stage right now. Like how brattiness can look sort of adorable in a two year old. In fact, I recently read an article about the famed revolutionary hacker, Jeremy Hammond, aka, sup_g. The glorification of his passion for the cause and clandestine, digital heroism had me for a brief moment even hoping one of my children might catch a wild hair and pursue a life of cyber radicalism in the name of a more free and just world. Problem is, just like terrible twos, bumbling and well-intentioned hackers grow up mostly to be — well, convicts.

Anonymous may never amount to much more than a pain in our neck. But, if not that organization, something in its legacy will one day be all grown up. And, that thing, trust me, will not be something that merely tee-pees our house. You’ve been warned.

Anon’, anon’, an on we go.

Written and performed by theipoetlaureate. Music produced pumpkinFoot.

Today’s blong here:

All Grown Up

11/18/12

One Stone

So apparently Iran has been supplying Hamas with disassembled Fajr-5 missles, which can potentially reach Jerusalem and Tel-Aviv. The rocket pieces are smuggled through an underground tunnel system and then reassembled in Palestine. It seems that this is a good portion of the provocation for last week’s exchange of fire between Gaza and Israel.

I have always had a lot of sympathy for both causes. If I’m Palestinian, I’m throwing rocks at the Iron Dome, no question. And, if I’m Israeli, I’m like, “What are the chances that we would reoccupy Israel during the very first century in all of human history where blowing the indigenous people off the map isn’t an acceptable strategy??!” I mean, if Zionism occurs 75 years earlier, nobody cares if Israel wipes the Palestinians out. But, instead, Israel and Palestine have been asked to accept the least natural arrangement — to live occupier and occupied as some kind of political equals.

Continued good luck, really.

Written and performed by theipoetlaureate. Music produced pumpkinFoot.

Today’s blong here:

Iron Dome

11/16/12

Breaking Red Dawn

So much I’d like to cover but I’m slammed. Preparing for a huge mediation. Bunch of travel. Oh and, of course, tonight’s Twilight premiere, Breaking Dawn Part 2. Team Edward, here.

Israel and Gaza have been trading rockets. A real UFO over Denver. The, what I like to call, “Jill Kelley Experience.” Too many choices.

But, in the roughly 45 minutes I have tonight before I go “imprint” on a bucket of popcorn, I want to tackle this little thing called China’s Central Politburo Standing Committee of the Communist Party (PSC). And, if you’re brain just retranslated the last sentence “Rope ’em Gangnam style”? — well, then you’re a racist.

Anyway, pretty sexy stuff. The PSC is apparently the primary decision making body of the Communist party. It’s the holy of holies so to speak. It represents essentially the leadership of China. The new committee members were announced today. The whole process is fairly secretive and so little is known about the committee or the method by which it is formed. But, hey, that didn’t stop me from writing a whole news rap about it, like an expert.

Plus, the committee members were again drawn principally from a group with maybe the coolest name ever: “the princelings,” or Crown Prince Party. The name refers to the offspring of certain famous and wealthy revolutionary leaders. But, don’t let the title fool you. They’re all over 65 and accompished. This isn’t some Tommy Boy family business style inheritance. Still their continued presence is an obstacle apparently to real reform and policy balance in the Chinese government.

Really, I just wanted to say “Xi” in a rap.

By the way, it’s 2:21 am and I’m recording this, with the worst mic I have, in the front seat of my Volvo (in honor of the Cullens of course). My mother-in-law is here and for some reason my wife doesn’t prefer that I record in our room in the middle of the night. She’s cooky, that one.

Written and performed by theipoetlaureate. Music produced Sundance.

Today’s blong here:

Crown Prince Party

09/23/12

Don’t Drop the Soap

There is a lot of hidden tragedy. So to get too dogmatic about one seems a high horse amongst Clydesdales. One in a crowd.

But prison rape to me has long been infuriating. (Not where you thought I was headed?) It’s just totally unacceptable, with any regularity, in a civilized criminal justice system.

It’s like fighting in hockey. Punching your opponent in the face isn’t “part of the game.” It’s called battery.

Rape isn’t “part of jail.” It’s torture.

And notwithstanding some alleged and unofficial policy of the US Government for a better part of the last decade concerning enemy combatants, torture remains illegal.

And yet, in this particular form it continues as an incident of serious prison life that we seem fine to ignore.

Just this week horrific videotape surfaced concerning the unspeakable mistreatment of prisoners in a Georgia detention center. (Georgia as in the East European country, not the United State, although that tape is probably coming soon — for the Georgia Bulldog football team, certainly, if not the State. Got ’em.) It apparently includes footage of a man being sodomized with a broom. But prison rape and humiliation aren’t unique to faraway and emerging countries or some exception to the rule. It happens miles from your home. You just don’t have to give it much thought.

In some ways, the statistical occurrence of prison rape is probably inflated for its coverage in pop culture. But, it just has never struck me as something to be shrugged at over an incidence rate.

“Eh. My stogy in the bed only burned down the house once.”

And even where most prison assault is inmate on inmate, as we turn collectively from the truth about it or, worse, make it a part of our culture of irreverence in comedy or cinema, we abet.

Prisoners have recourse and access to courts. But, the constitutional burden to recover for injury suffered while you are incarcerated is fairly high. Prison officials typically cannot be liable in simple negligence. The standard applied usually requires some showing of deliberate indifference, in safety or medical attention or some other constitutionally significant interest, before liability will lie against them.

But even more than the fairly stacked deck of substantive law against them, there exist innumerable systemic obstacles to the inmate’s ability to fight for their own protection. No counsel. Uneducated in the law. Illiteracy. Limited access to legal materials. Bad handwriting. That whole toilet in the cell thing. Even their own apparent and, often, actual, untrustworthiness makes their claims hard to adjudicate fairly.

So the chances of them mounting any suit against a prison official, for deliberately ignoring their welfare in this respect, is dubious.

Although not similarly situated, it seems right that we ought to one day view this inhumane incident of prison life with the same horror that we now would the living conditions and arcane practices of orphanages and mental hospitals in the early and middle parts of the last century.

So, if you’ve been waiting for a prison rape blong, you’re welcome.

By the way, Patriots v. Ravens?? Hands down the worst officiated game ever. To the very last and deciding play.

Okay. Here we go. Prison rape time.

Performed by theipoetlaureate. Music produced by Dave Santos.

Today’s song blog here:

How Come

09/14/12

Righteous Indignation

We all do it. It’s not just muslims.

But, it’s the weakest sort of faith practice to take offense at offenses against your faith.

First, don’t be so sure of yourself.

Second, if what you believe is true, then things like critique of, or jokes about or irreverence for, it, won’t make any substantive difference.

It’s called Gamaliel’s Advice. Look it up.

It is my normal practice to try and appreciate the many factors that might contribute to the protestors’ inability to understand this basic point. In fact, it’s not uncommon at all for people of faith to play lawyer for God. Defend the divine honor. Demand the reverence of others. Albeit mostly for the insecurity over our own convictions.

But, this is insane. Region wide protests and the assassination of a diplomat over what, by all accounts, appears to be a half-baked movie that may or may not have even been made by an American, much less endorsed by, or made aware to, more than 5 or 6 people across the country somehow now responsible for it?

It would be like protesting the sun for the invention of tanning salons. The indignation is false. Contrived.

My deepest, deepest condolences to the victims and their families.

I don’t mean to be so hawkish. But we need to declare martial law in Benghazi and greater Libya. Avoid as much collateral damage as is reasonable and run down the assailants. It’s just unacceptable. In the same way this movie doesn’t speak for all Americans, these acts of violence do not speak for all Libyans. But, I don’t have a lot of reservation about them now having to bear the weight of an invasive military action until we find those for whom the attacks most certainly do speak. I know that’s inviting another Black Hawk Down. But, we cannot continue to allow insurgents, without state, to hide behind state. We should have been in Pakistan years ago to find Bin Laden. We don’t raze the country to the ground, we just politely help ourselves. I probably don’t really mean that.

Just remember. The devil might need an advocate. But God doesn’t.

Written and performed by theipoetlaureate.  Music produced by the one Dave Santos.

Today’s song blog here:

Devil's Advocate

07/31/12

Electric Bill

In honor of NBC’s coverage of the London Games, I recorded this entry yesterday but am offering it on tape delay only now.

So, anytime that something happens to “half” of India, it’s a pretty big deal. Same with populations of “all the ocean creatures;” “all the women who watch ‘Chelsea Lately’;” and “all the people that saw this video.”

But, when that something also includes the loss of electrical power, it’s even more serious.

I know, right. Who knew half of India had electricity to lose?

After claiming that more than 600 million people were left without power for the failed grids, this Guardian article sheepishly ends:

But any connection to the grid remains a luxury for many. One-third of India’s households do not have enough electricity to power a light bulb, according to last year’s census.

So which it is it? A lot of people without electricity or a theoretical lot of people that could have been without electricity had they had electricity to start with?

It’s like some sick blackout of a blackout. Zero times zero.

Unfortunately for a population as subjugated as certain elements of India’s has been for millennia, even a half a billion times zero is still roughly zero. Just mostly what they had. Or I guess didn’t have. The essentials.

Humble-brag time. We support a boy in Sri Lanka named Aniket, who is almost, to the day, the same age as my son. We can’t even send him simple pictures of our home for the massive relative wealth it represents. And, trust me my crib is jumping.

There’s a fine line between the modern conveniences we swear “we could never live without” and the threshold accoutrements of life that all peoples in the 21st Century should expect to have, if they so choose. I’m beginning to count electricity among them.

So, the irony is that there is a power failure in India of critical human proportions. It just has nothing to do with this week’s grid failures.

I won’t link to it for the language, but the Onion.com has a pretty pitch perfect piece that nails the absurdist nature of the power going out on a country already, in so many ways, suffering a suffocating darkness.

[Olympic Note: What the heck happened to the Russian women’s gymnastics team?! What’s with all this crying and moping around. I want my soulless, killer-commie, soviet block, android gymnasts back. If Nadia Comenici had screwed up a floor routine, she would have done an Ivan Drago, raised her fist, and yelled at the fake Mikhail Gorbechev in the box seats, Ивана Драго я победа для меня!!!!” (Roughly translated, “I win for me! For me!!) I’m just saying. Russians don’t cry. Come on. These Olympics stink.]

Performed by ipoetlaureate. Music produced by Sundance.

Today’s song blog here:

Times Zero

07/19/12

Drawn and Quartered

On the road tonight. Pretty exhausted. Wanted to say something about Syria before I crashed.

I’ve been reading Steven Pinker’s new book, The Better Angels of our Nature: Why Violence has Declined. It makes the claim that we live in an evolutionarily less violent time than any other before it. To me, this seems a point that required something significantly less than the 832 pages he wrote to establish. A second or two’s thought about Mel Gibson’s disembowelment in the closing scene of Braveheart, mimicked by puppets in effigy, has long persuaded me. But, in conversations with others, the position is not as self-evidenct as I assumed. And, I think that’s largely attributable to the dynamic and 24-hour coverage that violence receives today and the general horribleness of violent acts relative to our increasingly heightened sensibilities against it. In other words, precisely because most of us don’t encounter medieval violence as a regular incident of living our lives, it is that much more grotesque when Al-Queda beheads an engineer — even though, comparatively so, such mutilation is in fact much less frequent.

But, I think these kinds of reports out of Syria make you wonder:

The top official said Iraqi border guards had witnessed the Free Syrian Army take control of a border outpost, detain a Syrian army lieutenant colonel, and then cut off his arms and legs. Then they executed 22 Syrian soldiers in front of the eyes of Iraqi soldiers.

And, I think FSA are the “good guys.” Syria has fallen into civil war and the Al-Assad regime, worthy of our disdain, is near to fall. Whether we really want what rises up in its place, like with the whole of the Arab Spring, is yet to be determined.

My wife and I just finished watching the first season of Walking Dead. I can’t imagine sawing through someone’s leg. I can barely watch costume blood and prosthetic sci-fi. One of the characters saws his own hand off to be freed of a handcuff. Sort of like the hiker in 127 hours. I literally don’t know what order of magnitude rage or desperation I would need to sever mine or your limb, alive.

Whatever war we still perform, whether more or less than our ancestors, still remains horribly uncivil.

Performed by ipoetlaureate. Music produced by Sundance.

Today’s song blog here:

Civil War

06/20/12

Fast and Furious

We live in a world of necessary evil. We would have no policy in national security but for it. In almost every such act, we trade life for lives and choose less worse over worst of all. So it’s no surprise that an ATF operation like “Fast and Furious,” intended to trace gun trafficking by Mexican cartels winds up unable to account for 1000 handguns and that some of those unaccounted for weapons kills, in the hands of an unintended owner, one of our own, a US Border and Patrol agent, Brian Terry.

I’m fine with the accountability Congress is currently demanding of DOJ and Attorney General Eric Holder. But, lets not act like this wasn’t a reasonably anticipated consequence. What do you think perennially happens in the Mid East? We routinely get shot by our own weapons. Anytime you’re running in guns, whether for good or bad, some are going to walk.

In local news, one of our own, House Rep. Trey Gowdy is getting some of his first real national exposure arguing over the applicability of the executive privilege now asserted by Attorney General Holder. Gowdy was an attorney here in SC before the House. The applicability of the executive privilege, unfortunately, is precisely the sort of thing I can’t comment on for the nature of my work.

But, drug cartels?? All day e’r day, playa.

Performed by ipoet. Music produced by Jordan Santana.

Today’s song blog here:

Gunwalk