I have been critical of the US government's misguided views and policies regarding the Middle East and I have also been, maybe naively so, hopeful that President Obama will reach out diplomatically towards this region to bring about a new reconciliation that is so desperately needed in this post-9/11 world. Diplomacy, however, has its limits and if there is one group that is not misunderstood in the Middle East - it is the Taliban. Ideologically backwards and brutal in its methods, the Taliban is, without doubt, a dangerous threat to this world. I have been as critical as anyone else regarding former President Bush's inability to capture Osama Bin Laden during his term, but it would have been a mere symbolic victory of the 9/11 tragedy that still wouldn't absolve us of the frightening ambitions of the Taliban - our enemy in Afghanistan. The Taliban implements the strictest form of Sharia Law in the Muslim world which includes:
-complete ban of women's work outside the home
-ban on women appearing on the balconies of their apartments or houses
-ban on women's pictures appearing in newspapers and books, or hung on the walls of houses and shops
-music is banned for everyone, as well as movies, television, and videos
-anyone who converts from Islam to any other religion will be executed
-anyone carrying objectionable literature will be executed
-ban on women laughing loudly
-compulsory painting of all windows, so women cannot be seen from outside their homes
-complete ban of women's education
The Taliban has been slowly inching its way into Pakistan hoping to enforce this extreme brand of Islam into the country, going so far as to publicly behead those who do not adhere to their ways recently in the Swat District of Pakistan. Despite the fact that the Pakistani army has completely outnumbered the Taliban fighters in the battle over the Swat region, the Pakistani government this week declared that it was now willing to allow the Taliban to impose Islamic law there in exchange for a ceasefire. Does the Pakistani government honestly believe that the Taliban will stop there? This is the first step in a worse case scenario that becomes more and more plausible everyday - the Taliban overthrowing an already unstable Pakistani government that is armed with nuclear weapons.
I honestly believe that our war in Afghanistan is as complex a battle as Vietnam, where both enemy and civilian are hard to differentiate and victory seems unlikely. However, any notion of us leaving is now off the table with the recent events unfolding in Pakistan. Hopefully, foreign leaders will wake up and realize that the Taliban is a threat to the world and not just an isolated problem that the US should be left to deal with alone.
Saturday, February 14, 2009
Problem No. 1 - Ticketmaster:
On February 2, Bruce Springsteen fans got on Ticketmaster's website to buy tickets to see "The Boss" and were told, as usual, that the show was sold out, to which they were then directed to Live Nation(the company that Ticketmaster is merging with) only to find that tickets were now available, but at a much higher price. Scandalous. Ticketmaster has been screwing people for years by charging outrageous additional fees on top of the face value of the ticket. This pissed Springsteen off and even drew fire from Congress so much so that Ticketmaster apologized and said that there was a "glitch" in the system. Right. I hate Ticketmaster. I always have.
Problem No. 2 - Ticketbrokers:
Springsteen is coming to Austin. He is one of a handful of artists that I have been wanting to see for quite some time now. Tickets went on sale last Saturday at 10am. I was unable to buy them at that time, so I got a friend of mine to do it for me. He logged on at 9:50 and by the time he was able to get tickets, we were at the very top row of the Frank Erwin Center. Why? Ticketbrokers. I hate them more than Ticketmaster. They equip several of their employees with credit cards and tell them to buy the maximum number of tickets allowed and then they scalp those tickets at a higher price which is why we don't have better seats. On Stubhub.com, for example, a floor ticket to the concert in Austin is going for $510.00. How these companies are able to operate legally is beyond me.
Problem No. 3 - Springsteen:
Bruce, you are outraged by the gouging ways of Ticketmaster and, yet, you - the artist who writes amazing songs about the working class and downtrodden - charge a hundred bucks to sit in the top row of your show? You've already sold millions of records. Would it kill you to lower ticket prices? REGARDLESS, I'm pretty excited to see "The Boss" and I find that most people who say they aren't a fan haven't really listened to his records.
Bruce Springsteen - Atlantic City (Official Music Video) - Watch a funny movie here
Sunday, February 8, 2009
I've seen many animated films in my time, but I doubt that any of them will top Coraline - a dark fairy tale based on the novel by Neil Gaiman. Only a few select theaters in Austin are showing Coraline in 3D, but I honestly believe that 3D is the only way to go as it adds to the absolutely stunning visual aspect of this film. And though this is technically a kid's movie, I could see where it would give the youngins nightmares. The Wall Street Journal went even further adding that Coraline "is distinguished by a creepiness so deep that it seems perverse." I also envision this film becoming an acid-dropping cult classic in the future. The theaters charge you an extra $2.50 for the 3D glasses, but I assure you, it's worth every dime.
Saturday, February 7, 2009
Two hundred years ago next week will mark the birth of one of the most important figures in United States history - Abraham Lincoln - and, yet, his legacy remains a hot topic of controversy. Was the "Great Emancipator" a racist? Many scholars believe so and the evidence is certainly damning. In the legendary Lincoln-Douglas debates of 1858, Lincoln had this to say about race:
"I will say, then, that I am not nor have ever been in favor of bringing about in any way the social and political equality of the black and white races - that I am not, nor ever have been, in favor of making voters or jurors of negroes, nor of qualifying them to hold office, nor to intermarry with white people; and I will say in addition to this that there is a physical difference between the white and black races which will ever forbid the two races living together on terms of social and political equality. And inasmuch as they cannot so live, while they do remain together, there must be the position of superior and inferior, and I, as much as any other man, am in favor of having the superior position assigned to the white race."
Most Americans today would scoff at the notion of racial superiority. Is that because we are better than those who we believe to have held ignorant ideolologies in the 19th Century or are we merely the products of an integrationist society in which race is nothing more than an afterthought? Few would argue today that slavery was wrong, but it's a completely foolish notion to think that your ideals of today wouldn't have changed or been any different had you been born in those times. I, myself, was raised in a racist culture and my thoughts on race were clouded by prejudicial beliefs that surrounded my existance. When you are ignorant(as I was) and don't have opposing viewpoints in your formative years, you simply accept your environment as the norm. It wasn't until my acceptance into a black college - a black college, I might add, that would accept any fool off the street with any grade point average, which was the only way my dumb ass could have ever entered college in the first place - that my ways of thinking began to change. I was exposed to black history; black literature; as well as black professors who would have, in my opinion, blown any Ivy League professor away in debate. It was a life-changing experience.
Abraham Lincoln was born on February 12, 1809, to two uneducated farmers. What I was exposed to at Southern Universtiy wasn't available to Lincoln in his times. When I was in high school, the only thing I remember learning about black history(a topic which was slightly covered in the month of February during black history month) was that George Washington Carver invented a thousand different uses for the peanut. It was a joke. How progressive of a mind are we to expect out of Lincoln in his formative years?
Yes, you can find any number of references to racist remarks attributed to Lincoln and, yet, I assure you that had he spoke in favor of racial equality while running for office, he would have simply become a footnote in history. Throughout his campaigns, Lincoln's opponents tried to paint him as an abolitionist - which is the modern day equivalent of being branded a terrorist. Was Lincoln a completely open-minded individual in regards to race? Probably not. But, while the abolition of slavery seems logical to those of us in the modern age, Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation as well as his push to pass the Thirteenth Amendment, which completely outlawed slavery throughout the nation, was undoubtedly a radical move of that particular time period.
Pretty much everyone in my family, as most in the South were when I was younger, were Democrats - not because they were liberal-minded but, rather, because the Republican Party was seen as the party of Lincoln - the party that freed the slaves. He was a hated man even decades after his assassination.
Lincoln suffered from crippling bouts of depression and once commented to his colleague in the Illinois state legislature - Robert L. Wilson - "that although he appeared to enjoy life rapturously, still he was the victim of terrible melancholy." He also added that "he was so overcome with mental depression, that he never dare carry a pocketknife in his possession." It was that sort of depression combined with a sensitivity and intellectual curiosity that I'm sure enabled him to empathize with the plight of slaves during that era though his words, at times, could be interpreted otherwise. Lincoln is an enigma and I'm quite convinced that very few people of his era could have tiptoed his way through the highly charged issue of slavery the way he did and forge its demise and, for that, he deserves all the praise that history bestows upon him.
Wednesday, February 4, 2009
The economic stimulus plan that President Obama is pushing comes with a price tag of approximately $850 billion. The problem with government spending is much the same with giving a teenager(or companies asking for a bailout) money with no strings attached - it's a reckless adventure. When you actually have to earn money and pay your own way, you become much more frugal with your spending. This $850 billion will be thrown out with absolutely no oversight because it's not the government's money - it's taxpayers - and digging yourself a hole to get out of a hole may work in the short term, but it ultimately screws us in the end. When you spend more than you take in, you create debts that accumulate interest which ends up strangling the same economy that you say you are trying to fix. It doesn't work for us common individuals, therefore it shouldn't be the model for government. Every Republican in the House voted against the president's stimulus plan - all 177 of them - as well they should, but where were these same Republicans when W. was running up an $11.5 trillion tab during his eight years in office? When it comes to spending and partisanship, there's really not much difference between Democrats and Republicans and that's not very stimulating, to say the least.
Monday, February 2, 2009
A week from tomorrow, Israel will elect a new prime minister and it is highly likely that the winner will be Benjamin Netanyahu. Despite the fact that approximately 1,300 Palestinians were killed in Gaza by Israeli forces recently, Netanyahu criticized the current Israeli administration of ending the war prematurely and vowed to completely destroy Hamas once he was elected. This does not bode well for an already destroyed Gaza that is struggling to recover.
Also, the creation of a Palestinian state that includes Gaza and the West Bank would be impossible under Netanyahu as he has vowed not to give up territory in the West Bank, maintaining that Israel needs to control it for security. In addition, he has pledged to allow Israeli settlements on Palestinian land to continue despite the fact that those settlements are illegal and are seen as a major road block to the creation of a Palestinian state.
If that's not disturbing enough, Netanyahu said Saturday that "Iran will not be armed with a nuclear weapon." When asked if this meant a military strike on Iran, he responded: "It includes everything that is necessary to make this statement come true."
President Obama has called for pulling out of Iraq and concentrating more on Afghanistan, but these goals will take some time. For now, his first major foreign policy challenge will come next week if Netanyahu is elected prime minister and that is a headache I'm quite sure he's not looking forward to.