Location: Indianapolis, Indiana, United States

I'm just trying to develop an online body of work (even if the work is throwaway nonsense) to advance my writing career.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

You Down With MCC?

British Petroleum's efforts to stop the massive oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico have thus far come up short. The economic recovery is threatened by Europe's financial problems. And doggone it if the Celitcs and the Lakers aren't in the NBA Finals again! If I have to relive the 1980s, can't I at least have my youth back? I mention all this to demonstrate I am not blind to current realities, but not all news is bad news.

Late last week Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf came to Washington for a meeting with President Obama. Sirleaf, who was jailed and exiled at various times during Liberia's various crises of dictatorship and civil war, painted an optimistic picture of improvements in the West African country, though she admitted the recovery remained fragile. President Obama lauded Sirleaf for her courage and pledged continued support for Liberia, a nation founded in 1822 by former slaves of the United States of America.

The Millennium Challenge Corporation also announced a $15 million grant to bolster the nation's reform. Never heard of the Millennium Challenge Corporation? It's little wonder. Created in 2004 under President Bush, it seems so far to be one of the best things to emerge from his administration and one of the least talked about. The general idea is to support developing nations with sound principles but few resources. Thus far, more than 25 countries have received aid from MCC and feedback--both from recipients and the donor--has been pretty positive.

Daniel Yohannes, an Ethiopian-American, acts as the current CEO of the organization and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is a member of the Board of Directors. In February, President Obama requested a $1.28 billion budget for the Millennium Challenge Corporation in 2011.

So if you're beleaguered by all the negativity, think about the fact that, despite the oil spill, the price of fuel has recently dropped. And think about the MCC.

Center for Global Development

Monday, May 17, 2010

Not Buying It

I won’t go so far as to suggest the political division in this country is purely a media fabrication because it’s not, but I do think its severity is greatly exaggerated. We have our differences and will—in fact, should—continue to, but it’s not as bad as some of us think. And the number of people who really are as bad as some of us think is pretty small.

Make no mistake, the United States of America does have extremists; from Communists (real ones, not faux ones labeled as such by talking heads) to Klansmen, anarchists and separatists, religious zealots of Muslim, Christian, Jewish and many other varieties, rabid environmentalists, rabid anti-environmentalists, gun nuts, gun-control nuts, and single issue-obsessed fire breathers on either side of hot button issues like abortion and immigration. And that’s all right. These people have their place, if for no other reason than to serve as a cautionary example for the rest of us.

But most individuals simply don’t fall comfortably into a category. California, perceived as one of the most “liberal”—whatever that means—states in the country, has a Republican governor, albeit a very moderate one. Oklahoma, considered a “conservative”—whatever that means—state, has a Democratic governor, but voted overwhelmingly for John McCain in 2008. Indiana, a state carried by every GOP presidential candidate since 1968, voted for Barack Obama in 2008 even as incumbent Republican governor Mitch Daniels prevailed handily. And dare I mention that the largest city in Texas recently elected a lesbian Democrat as mayor?

What does it mean? It means we don’t know what it means. It means people don’t have to make sense, according to rather artificial standards of “making sense.” It means you can be anti-abortion and pro-immigration or pro-health care reform and pro-Second Amendment. More than that, it means there’s nothing wrong with you if those are your positions.

“The Media” is, of course, a favorite punching bag, but criticism of “the Media” often originates from, curiously enough, “the Media”. There is no Media, not in capital letters, not as a unified conglomerate of radio, television, internet, newspapers and magazines. While it may be true that particular large organizations—Fox, TimeWarner, Gannett, Clear Channel—control a large number of media outlets, this does not ensure unity of thought and purpose even within those organizations. Indeed, The Simpsons, a program carried by Fox, relentlessly parodies Fox News. If anything, we are “the Media” because consumers drive the markets.

On a day to day basis, Americans do pretty well. There are lots of reasons for this, but perhaps I can best sum it up this way: we want to be here. Most people living in the United States today are there because either they themselves or someone in a previous generation chose to be. And even the largest group of people who didn’t travel to the USA by choice—African Americans—is now heavily invested in its past, present, and future. Not only were they slaves in this country for over two hundred years, they subsequently helped build it, fought for it, died for it, the same as all other Americans whether their ancestral heritage lies in Europe, Asia, South and Central America, or elsewhere.

I don’t want to take the “we are all one” rhetoric too far. The tragic legacy of Native Americans is enough to blunt anyone’s enthusiasm for this talk of unity and harmony. But even in that sad example, their blood runs through our veins. How many among us can identify no Native American connections whatsoever? Very few, and those who do, such as, perhaps, recent arrivals from Burma, have a different, but no less valid, claim on the nebulous, elusive, but far from imaginary American Dream.

So what if we don’t always get along? Sure, there’s too much violence. There are too many drugs, too many people out of work, and way, way too many procedural police shows. And sure, a crazy person gets more attention than any ten sane folks. But before you go assuming things are worse now than they’ve ever been, think about the things you hardly have to worry about anymore that previous generations obsessed over: polio, chicken pox, mumps, measles, small pox, Hitler, Stalin, the Soviet Union, Yellow Fever, malaria (severe outbreaks of the last two were recorded in the United States as late as the early 20th Century), whooping cough, infant mortality, maternal mortality. No, not every item on this list is extinct, but in the United States and most of the developed world they no longer pose significant threats.

Even some of the nation’s, and the world’s, darkest forces that aren’t completely dead sure ain’t what they used to be: breast cancer, the Ku Klux Klan, the Irish Republican Army, leukemia, AIDS, the threat of all out nuclear war (replaced, regrettably, by the threat of rogue nuclear attacks).

I’m not saying stop complaining. By all means, keep complaining. Keep drawing attention to anything you perceive as unjust, unfair, unethical. But all this melodramatic chatter about division and tension is almost certainly overblown. I’m just not buying it. Before you get carried away with the idea that humanity is currently caught in an irreversible downward spiral, come on and checkity check yourself before you wreckity wreck yourself. It’s probably not as bad as you think.

Thanks for reading.

Ice Cube and Das Efx

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Gaygin Short

There's no way this can be true but a Google search and a quick query among acquaintances indicates no one yet has stooped to calling the most recent Supreme Court nominee "Elena Gaygin." Is this even possible? I would have thought some second rate comedians would have it written as soon as Kagin's name hit the media just for the sake of the rhyme, even before speculation about her sexuality began. It seems inconceivable that I am simultaneously the most tasteless and most innovative individual within the blogosphere, but perhaps this is my moment in whatever the Internet equivalent is to the sun.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Somebody Else's Blog

For The Birds: In a way, I want to condemn and ridicule Twitter. Seriously, how many avenues of expression do people really need? Still, its usefulness during emergencies, like the California wildfires of 2007, is difficult to deny.

Most conspiracy theories aren't theories, at least not if the dictionary definition of the word applies; defines theory as:

A set of statements or principles devised to explain a group of facts or phenomena, especially one that has been repeatedly tested or is widely accepted and can be used to make predictions about natural phenomena.

Conspiracy theories remain difficult to disprove due in part to the tenacity of their adherents. This comes as no surprise because anyone who can devise such wild, incredulous tales is bound to be unmoved by rational evidence. And of course, a lot of the most popular conspiracy "theories" fall within the realm of possibility--in, ahem, theory--even if there are no, or very few, facts to support them.

In the case of 9/11 Conspiracies, I can't prove all, or any, of them false, but I do wonder about the motives of whomever the 9/11 conspirators are meant to be. If the September 11 attacks were devised as a ruse to implement the War on Terror, well... where do we start? If these sinister, devious elites are so skilled at creating elaborate hoaxes, why were the participants--or those identified as such--from Saudi Arabia? If it was all a sham to build up public support for attacking either Afghanistan or Iraq, why weren't any of the attackers Iraqi or Afghani? Why didn't they frame Saddam Hussein?

And why, if the government knew about the attacks ahead of time, didn't they allow one of the Twin Towers to be destroyed and shoot down the second plane? That would have made them look far more competent, riding in on their F-16s --white horses-- t0 thwart the terrorists. In such a scenario, they could have gotten the body count they presumably needed to justify war while still salvaging some heroic and telegenic moments.

Some supporters of the 9/11 Conspiracy claim that the collapse of WTC 7 establishes there was something suspicious about the whole affair. Popular Mechanics has already done an excellent job of demonstrating how each of the structures fell, but I think Building 7's destruction hurts more than helps the idea of government collusion. By the time it crashed to the ground, the damage was done. Nothing was to be gained by razing it. A 9/11 conspiracy/cover up is not impossible, but it doesn't make a lot of sense.

The Kennedy Assassination Conspiracies are simply too numerous, varied, and head-spinning to take seriously. President Kennedy's murder was almost undoubtedly a conspiracy--defined as two or more people attempting to execute a criminal act--but besides the obvious, Lee Harvey Oswald, and the nearly as obvious, Jack Ruby, its tentacles are tough to trace. All the chatter about the CIA, the FBI, the KGB, Fidel Castro, and Lyndon Johnson makes for fascinating speculation but it's too unwieldy to unravel in a way that assembles all the strands logically.

As for Barack Obama's birth certificate, this is the realm of the truly desperate. I, for one, would like to know the cost of an airplane ticket from Honolulu to Nairobi circa 1961. How long did the journey take and how many connecting flights were there? What kind of telephone system was in place in Kenya--or for that matter, Hawaii--in the early 1960s? With all this in mind, what are the odds President Obama's mother happened to be in Kenya at the time of his birth while somehow hoodwinking Hawaiian authorities and newspapers into believing she was actually still in Honolulu? Sorry, but no.

The moon landing was genuine too. Claims to the contrary are not theories, they are speculation. Stop hijacking the word "theory" to use as a cover for your absurd ramblings.

I didn't really write this.

Thursday, May 06, 2010

He'll Need It (Get It?)

Of course I am concerned about the Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill, the Times Square Bomber, and the Economy That Is Sort Of Recovering But Not Very Fast and there is no doubt I am (marginally) interested in US Primary results, the general election in the United Kingdom, and the financial crisis in Greece, but the really important news today originated in Nigeria.

That's because, following the unfortunate death of Umaru Yar'Adua, the President of Nigeria is Goodluck Jonathon. It's not a joke or a hoax or a typo, it's his real name. Actually, he's been acting President for months, ever since Yar'Adua's debilitating illness forced him to seek treatment outside the country, but now it's official.

If you were not already aware of this news, what you're almost certainly doing now is Googling the name "Goodluck Jonathon" to discover if your leg is being pulled, your chain yanked, your beard tweaked. Knock yourself out.

Convinced yet? Well, all reet. It can't be real, but it is. We are treated to seemingly unreal reality often enough, but typically in unpleasant guises. The September 11 attacks didn't seem real at first, nor did video footage of the Tiananmen Square Protests, nor, I suspect, did the televised murder of Lee Harvey Oswald. Okay, so this isn't exactly the Fall of the Berlin Wall in terms of Pleasant Surprises That Seem Fake But Aren't, but we have to take what we can get.

The bad news is, Goodluck Jonathon probably can't live up to his own name. Who could? And Nigeria remains a troubled, violent, and corrupt country. It is also West Africa's greatest economic power. President Jonathon has vowed to fight corruption and promises election reform. If he delivers, he can become more than a historical punchline. But even if that is his legacy, it could be worse. He has almost indisputably the best name of any global leader in history, and that includes Dag Hammarskjold and Boutros Boutros-Ghali.

So let me be neither the first nor the last to say to Nigeria's new leader... well, no. But the sentiment is there, my man.