Saturday, March 03, 2007

Anarchist Publications and Rick Steves

It may sound pathetic, but Rick Steves first sparked my interest in Europe, and my own personal background. Even though both sides of my family have their roots in the European continent, it was not till I watched his travel programs that I truly gained a respect and interest in the region. According to Steves’ website:

Rick Steves advocates smart independent travel. As host, writer and producer of the popular television series Rick Steves' Europe, 70 half-hour episodes of which have been made so far, and through his travel books, he encourages Americans to delve deep into Europe and become "temporary locals". His readers and viewers not only discover major cities, but also cozy villages away from tourist-trampled routes. He helps American travelers connect much more intimately and authentically with Europe — and Europeans — for a fraction of what mainstream tourists pay.”

Along with the book Evasion published by CrimeThinc, it defined my outlook on life in my early 20’s. It helped me desire a reconnecting with my European roots and to explore that world with less than 10 dollars a day.

The stories I could tell concerning my European travels are extensive: the time I was almost beaten in Dresden. Or the time I watched a man get stabbed and die in the streets in Prague. All the while, I was sleeping on rooftops throughout Eastern Europe, and taking in the kindness of American and Israeli soldiers. It almost seems like another life, but I am thankful I did it when I was still emotionally able to do so. Good times...

So thank you Rick Steves and Anarchist publishers: you made my early 20s an enjoyable experience!

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Pray for the Red Shirts

I have been watching a lot of Classic Star Trek late at night, and I have developed a profound respect for all those Red Shirts what unknowingly walk into death in nearly every episode.

In the episode last night, “The Devil in the Dark”, an unnamed Red Shirt gets cooked by the Horta (some silicon based alien, or something). It didn’t seem like a nice way to go, I will tell you that much. And it all got me thinking about the cosmic forces working within the Star Trek Universe.

Star Trek takes place in a utopian future where racism, sexism, and class divisions have all but disappeared on Earth and throughout most of the galaxy. It is a beautiful picture of what human beings could accomplish if they dropped all the bullshit we have carried with us through the ages.

And yet, anyone who works on the Security Team (the Red Shirts), inevitably end up worm food; while all members of the bridge live on to take part in other adventures. So what’s up Star Trek God; why do you hate the working man?

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

On Lines and Litmus Tests

In our small little corner of the internet, blog spats and disputes come up every now and then and are commented on by other bloggers but avoided by just about everyone else. These fights end up feeling bigger than they really are to people like me who write about them, but these disputes can represent a microcosm of the world at large, and that is why they have some importance in the grand scheme of things. Ok, maybe I am just rationalizing this blog’s existence, but hear me out.

This week, a line in the sand and a subsequent revolt occurred at the rather popular Dean’s World. One of my first posts here was a link to Dean’s piece on liberalism, and I frequent the site regularly. It was through Dean’s World that I stumbled upon Likelihood for Confusion, a blog concerning copyright law by a Ron Coleman. Ron has been a steady contributor to Dean’s World for quite some time.

Dean has posted an ideological litmus test concerning Islam that went like this:

Simply put, you must agree to all of the following assumptions:

1) Islam does not represent the forces of Satan or the Anti-Christ bent on destruction of the Christian world.

2) There is no 1,400 year old "war with the West/Christianity" being waged by Muslims or anyone else.

3) Islam as a religion is no more inherently incompatible with modernity, minority rights, women's rights, or democratic pluralism than most religions.

4) Medieval, anachronistic, obscure terms like "dhimmitude" or "taqiyya" are suitable for polite intellectual discussion. They are not and never will be appropriate to slap in the face of everyday Muslims or their friends.

5) Muslims have no more need to prove that they can be good Americans, loyal citizens, decent people, or enemies of terrorism than anyone else does.

Is this a test of "ideological purity?"

Why yes. Yes it is.

Ron has decided that he can no longer contribute to the blog based on this litmus test. He explained why here.

It is point 3 that has generated the most discussion and dissent, and I must say, I am a bit unsure how I feel about it. Every assumption listed other than 3 are easy to dismiss and I would argue, pretty easy to dismiss outright. But that 3…there are so many factors involved.

Most major religions have had to undergo changes to make them acceptable to our modern liberal and democratic society. There are still aspects and groups within Judaism and Christianity that don’t quite fit; you can hear them on AM radio every now and then and can sometimes turn violent. But do these fringes represent something inherently anti-modern about their core religions, or are they just wackos?

I have absolutely no doubt that many Muslims have no problem with the West and “modern values”. The folks who are killing in the name of their God are a fringe. But that is not what issue 3 is assuming: it is assuming all major religions allow for individual rights and decisions in their core beliefs. Not what people do in the name of their God, but what a religious text demands of its followers. I honestly don’t know enough about the core beliefs of Muslims to really speak on the issue. What I can say however, is that the Muslim world has a lot of growing up to do before it can be on-par with the West in the core principles that we expect from a modern society. Not because I think they are not as “smart” or “cultured” as we are, just that things like democracy and individual freedom has not taken root in the Muslin world as it has in the West. Why that is, well there are individuals far more qualified than I to duke that one out.

A question I often ask myself, was whether the Renaissance and Enlightenment were a rebellion against the Christian and Jewish traditions, or an outgrowth of them? A good chunk of my Bible is pretty violent, and sometimes preaches violence and oppression. But do those quotes outshine the portions that highlight the rights of man and the individual? Do all three religions come to the table with the same morals and cultural outlooks?

Obviously bigger questions than I can give definitive answers too. I even read somewhere that folks have been arguing about all of this for hundreds of years! Fancy that!

But I digress. I agree that a blog (especially one that shares your name) should reflect your core beliefs. I wouldn’t host articles by folks I didn’t have a basic philosophical connection to, and to Dean, these ideological points were black and white. I just think point 3 is too complicated to put in such a narrow confine.

The truth is Dean is right in that the right needs to purge itself of those who scapegoat and stereotype Muslims for the entire world’s wrong doing, the same way the Left needs to rid its ranks of communists and Jew haters if it hopes to make a difference. But to disagree with 3 does not make someone a radical nut job. Heck, I would love to read more about the specific subject, and it is a shame that such a thing can not occur at Dean’s blog anymore. (Ironically enough, in the Amazon advertisement at Dean’s World, there is a link to Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s book “Infidel”, which is a pretty scathing attack on core tenets in Islam)

I will definitely continue to read Ron’s blog, and I will likely drop in to Dean’s World every now and then to see how things are going. Perhaps I am oversimplifying the entire argument, or perhaps I am blowing it all out of proportion. But it is surely an essential issue that needs to be discussed by moderates of all stripes and creeds.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

All is not Well at 4o’clock

(Picture from the monthly newsletter of Docencia Participativa, the government-affiliated educational institute in Venezuela)

So how is Venezuelan socialism working out? About as well as socialism did last century.

"Chavez is committing the same mistakes as his predecessors,'' said Medina-Smith, whose work on capital flight won him the central bank's top economic study award in 2004. ``These policies never have worked. Why should they work this time?''

If you believe that socialism has simply never been “applied properly”, then I guess you can feel somewhat hopeful looking at Venezuela today, but the rest of the world (and the nation’s economic figures) tell a different story.

And like any dictator-to-be, Chavez will need plenty of scapegoats to blame for his government’s failure. Obviously, America will be at the top of the list, but supporters of his regime have brought back history’s favorite whipping boy: the Jews.

Chavez in a Christmas Eve speech last month said: "The world has enough for all. But it turned out that some minorities, descendants of those who crucified Christ, descendants of those who threw Bolivar out of here and also crucified him in their own way in Santa Marta, there in Colombia, a minority took the world's riches for themselves.

Historian Manuel Caballero, one of the promoters of Saturday's condemnation, said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press that he was worried about a possible "radicalization" of Chavez's government.

He called the remarks a "fairly clear allusion" against Jews and said the same tendency was seen in Chavez's former adviser, Argentine Norberto Ceresole, who was known for his openly anti-Semitic views. Chavez maintained close ties with Ceresole before his election to the presidency in 1998 but later distanced himself."

While any movement is going to have racists and anti-Semites, this type of scapegoating perpetuated by Chavez and some of his supporters is illusory of totalitarian regimes throughout time. Dictators can not admire wrong doing or defeat, and thus, create or find people to blame their shortcomings upon.

I also don’t buy the argument that Chavez has aligned himself with groups like Hezbollah and Ahmadenejad’s government in Iran simply because they also appose the United States. If that was his intention, he could easily align with folks like North Korea. But the fact is they share a common bond: a need to control their nation’s oil reserves to fuel their campaigns, and a need to hate someone when it inevitably fails.

(Heads up to Dean’s World and Harry’s Place)

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Marvel’s Civil War, and Why I Didn’t Hate it

So this year’s Marvel event has ended. Civil War, which was advertised as a pivotal event that would “change the Marvel landscape forever”, came to what many consider, a lackluster end. After reading the final issue a few times, I feel it wasn’t as terrible as I had expected it to be. These are my thoughts on the entire event.

First, the bad: this crossover was far too long for the story it intended to tell. Not only was the central arc (published in the Civil War #1-7 mini) almost unnecessary (man of the major plot lines were dealt with in other comics published by Marvel), but its schedule and massive delays forced Marvel’s entire publishing line to be delayed so that plot points were not revealed and spoiled. The story that was originally intended to be published in a 7 month period, dragged on for 11+ months.

And the truth is there wasn’t enough going on to warrant 11 months, let alone 7. Sure, we had the big Spiderman unmasking in issue 2, but other than that, we had a lot of characters talking about how bad this war was for 6 issues, all of it leading up to the inevitable showdown between the opposing sides of the Registration Act. Rather than having a Civil War mini that all books have to wait upon, it would have been smarter to have two one shots that could act as end caps to the series. They could have solved their publishing problems and not stretched out the event unnecessarily.

Second: I understand that Marvel has to hype their events to sell books, but they really need to find a more creative way to advertise then they have been for the last 20 years. Every event can not “shake the Marvel Universe to its core”. I mean, let’s be honest; most of these massive events are forgotten and washed away less than a year after their inception. I don’t necessarily fault Marvel for this, I would just like to see them find a more creative way in promoting their books.

But the point of this review is not to condemn Civil War outright; I felt the ending was suitable if not a bit anticlimactic. For those of you who didn’t pick it up (and there are spoilers ahead folks), Captain America and his team of anti-registration super heroes surrender when Cap realize that the public is overwhelmingly in support of the law that forces all super folks to register and train under the federal government. Cap sees that even though he does not agree with the ruling, it is what the Common Joe wants to see done, and he allows the police to take him to jail for his physical resistance to it. Iron Man takes over S.H.E.I.L.D (the big military group in the Marvel Universe), and the government takes over the training of any individual who wants to become a super hero. A bit of an odd ending (if you can really call it an ending, because this just sets up a number of future arcs. I would seriously doubt Marvel will maintain this Registration Act longer than a few years, and everything will likely return to the status quo it was before Civil War), but the ending was as good a one as they could pull out of this whole event.

Let’s be honest here: no one would have believed for a minute that Captain America, Iron Man, or Reed Richards would have stayed dead if they were killed at the end of the crossover. Those characters are all icons, and icons can’t stay dead for long (especially if Marvel plans to make movies and cross promote using their trademarks). The ending of Civil War will likely not become the new status quo, but it does make for an interesting landscape for a bunch of super heroes to run around in for a few years. They didn’t insult us with an unbelievable ending, and for that I have to thank Marvel. As for their poor understand of the serial format and holding to a publishing schedule, well that’s another story…