Monday, September 25, 2006

Broken Halo

If you've posted comments here before, you may have noticed that they periodically disappear. This is the fault of Haloscan, not me. So to counteract this annoyance, I've reset comments to be strictly Blogger-controlled. It doesn't make Trackback as simple, but I'd rather have that be a hassle than have the things everyone has written on my blog keep vanishing. That, and Blogger's comment system had a major upgrade since I started this two Octobers ago.

Friday, August 25, 2006

A Bulletin

In case you're wondering, I didn't disappear again.  I've been adjusting to another year in Morgantown, which has included fighting multiple computer crashes.  That's a big rarity for me, but everything seems to be working now.  I'll try to blog again within the next few days...there's certainly enough going on here and in the world to write about.  Bookmark my RSS feed if you have a reader and have not done so already; that way, you won't miss my posts when they come up.  I'm trying to keep the blog relevant to my fellow Mountaineers, so I will probably be focusing on local issues more than within the last year.  Don't worry if you're not from these parts, I'll still be sticking my nose in national business as well.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

The Day They Stopped The Sky From Falling

As probably everybody knows by now, a terrorist plot to destroy as many as 10 planes flying from England to the US on August 16th was foiled by British officials this week.  Dozens of suspects have been (and are still being) arrested, security has been seriously ramped up on both sides of the Atlantic, and the UK is at its highest terror alert level. (We are at Code Orange, thankfully, unless you count commercial flights.)

Aside from obviously preventing terror and death to thousands of innocent people, what did catching these guys accomplish?  For starters, it reminded everyone what we've been fighting against for the last five years.  I say "what" instead of "who" because Terror, though a great adversary indeed, lacks a singular face.  We have been fighting everyone, and yet no one, ever since the day the Twin Towers collapsed.  It's human nature to need more clear definitions of our foes, whether by marking boundaries on a map or by targeting specific people.  At this point, I believe this is the reason why we went to war in Iraq; we saw a suspicious character in charge of borders and a government, and we leapt at the chance to make a pre-emptive strike.  Saddam Hussein ended up not having the WMDs, despite his non-cooperation with UN weapons inspectors and persistent bluffing.  On the bright side, we toppled an incredibly corrupt dictator; on the darker side, we jumped the gun.  Many will cite oil, globalization, and personal vendettas as our reasons for going to Iraq, but not I.  For better or for worse, human nature was the cause.

We know that it's easy to target another country in a faceless war, but targeting other people may be a simpler task.  Osama bin Laden has topped the FBI's Most Wanted list for a very long time now.  That much makes sense; he's the head of Al-Qaeda and could only be more responsible for 9/11 if he had been flying one of the hijacked airliners himself.  However, the vast majority of our opponents are Arabic and Muslims, and that's led to a lot of questions about racial/religious profiling.  These questions were given new breath as arrest reports came in this week showing most suspects to be British citizens of Pakistani descent.  Is it right to tie a group of people together on any occasion?  If you've had enough "diversity training", the automatic answer is no.  But if you know that almost all of your opponents come out of a specific grouping, it's hard for you to totally resist when you consider the time (and potentially lives) saved looking for the enemy.  It's almost like hearing of an impending Viking attack and then not bothering to stop the bearded guy with the horned helmet that's hanging around near your village.  That said, I'm still disgusted when I hear about the innocent Arabs and Muslims attacked by their fellow Americans after 9/11 happened.  This is the darkest side of human nature, and when you stare it in the face, it's easy to understand why people still get upset over profiling regardless of who we're fighting.  Yet maybe, to the smallest extent humanly possible, such profiling helps keep us safe.

One unexpected positive to all of this is that all those hare-brained 9/11 conspiracy theories might finally kick the bucket.  Vanity Fair had just released an exclusive report detailing panicked reactions within NORAD as the 2001 attacks were happening, complete with voice recordings. Yet as recently as Monday, MSNBC was airing a Scripps Howard national survey in which 36 percent considered the possibility of a conspiracy "very" or "somewhat" likely.  Never mind that the figure was lower than those who believed in a Kennedy conspiracy (40 percent) and in withheld proof of alien life (38 percent), which is really kind of sad.  What got less press than the round number itself was who were more likely to believe in a 9/11 conspiracy: minorities, people with no college education, Democrats, and people who use the Internet but do not regularly read newspapers or listen to the radio.  And anyone is surprised?  To add to the irony, pro-conspiracy protesters from 911Courage.org were busily passing out leaflets at theatres when the Oliver Stone movie World Trade Center released on Wednesday.  Just afterwards, the British stopped the sky from falling.  For once, I think it's safe to say that this was entirely coincidental.

When it comes right down to it, the only drawback to being reminded that the threat is real - and that those seemingly superficial terror alert levels really do mean something - is the gravity of the reminder.  We are at war with an enemy without borders, without fear of death, and without remorse.  Al-Qaeda appears to be behind this latest effort, which recalls a name we had thought to be a shadow of its former self.  And judging from the simple efficiency of the liquid explosive-planting strategy the terrorists had concocted, they are more clever than any of us would have wanted to believe.  The phrase "fear-mongering" has previously been directed at those who would remind us of these simple facts.  May that phrase never be applied again except to our enemies, the real fear-mongers: the terrorists.

[A side note: If you didn't catch it, check the URL on the first link in this article.  Yes, that is the most bizarre location for a Seinfeld reference that I have ever seen...but it's great.  - Ed.]

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Because Your Baby Isn't Metal Enough

Just when you think you've seen every specialty version of a popular band's music, another always seems to turn up.  Many platinum-selling acts, including My Chemical Romance and Hawthorne Heights, already have string quartet tribute albums.  (I believe the Arctic Monkeys do as well, though they aren't as big Stateside as in Britain.)  But these acts all have a lot of catching up to do to Metallica, both in terms of sales and in bizarre tribute albums.

Let's see here: the public already has Fade to Bluegrass, a Metallica tribute recorded by, yes, you guessed it, bluegrass musicians.  The string quartet thing was already outdone by the full live band and orchestra of S&M, so there's no reason to go there at this point.  The only logical solution left to tribute hounds would be...a collection of lullabies?!?

No, I'm not making this up. There's even 30-second sample clips at the link. From what I've heard, the album will be very soothing; that is, it will be if you don't pay attention to how creepy it is. The idea of turning "Enter Sandman" into a lullaby is especially freakish when you consider the original's polar opposite lyrical content. "One" (about a landmine casualty robbed of his senses and limbs), "Fade to Black" (about suicide), and several other modern classics are featured here in a form your baby will love. In other news, I should never work in PR.

The CD, which releases August 29th, does have three major things going for it. For one, it theoretically could be used for its intended purpose. You shouldn't have to worry about creeping out your kids until they get older and hear the originals, because the lullabies are strictly instrumental. Secondly, it has the Metallica name and will therefore sell; even more traditional fans might be interested, as the samples I heard are musically identical to the source material. It actually sounds more like an ambient movie soundtrack than anything in this format, and the songs still sound just dissonant and minor-key enough to be worth a grown music fan's time. Admit it, you're curious to see if "Battery" could possibly be soothing to a small child. Finally, none of the album tracks were pulled from anything Metallica did after the zillion-selling Black Album, which the cover spoofs.

Only one problem with this whole thing, though: the metal-to-lullabye floodgates are wide open now. Yes, these bands have recorded songs that were supposed to be very surreal or horrific takes on lullabies (refer back to "Enter Sandman" again for the shining example), but this is a new frontier. I don't see it catching on, but it would be hilarious to see metal artists performing lullabies, as opposed to lullaby artists performing metal. Just try to imagine "Rock-A-Bye Baby" as recorded by Ronnie James Dio.

[By the way, if you don't know who Dio is, you're probably not a Black Sabbath/80's metal/Tenacious D fan. And if you're in college and not at least one of the three, you might want to take Bob Marley off repeat. -Ed.]

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Quick Info For Those Wondering

After a lot of debate with myself, I've decided that I will post roughly once a week. There may be a few more posts than that occasionally, but I expect this to become my new regular pace. I am more of a longform blogger anyway, and the quality always suffers when I post too much. I think this will keep me fresh. I'll still probably blog more frequently than most newspaper columnists would get printed, so it all works out. So if I go a little quiet for a few days...just check back the next week!

UPDATE (8/1/06): It appears that the site hosting my news submission script has been taken offline. I'll leave the submission box up for a little while in case it comes back again, but if it stays down, I'll reclaim the sidebar space for other purposes. In the meantime, send your tips to my e-mail address. I check out everything I get, believe me.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Why I Don't Like Politics

For a little while now, I have been debating whether to continue with my blogging. I only did any kind of truly regular (read: almost daily) posting during the spring of 2005, when the dialogue between the DA and myself was moving at its highest speed. I have found plenty of topics worth getting passionate about since then, but somewhere along the way, I fell into a trap that I now realize almost destroyed my blog.

Yes, I said “almost” – I’m going to continue as the Unknown Blogger, so this is certainly no goodbye. In fact, it may be a hello of sorts after a four-month hiatus plus intermittent posting beforehand. My leave from blogging was self-imposed, so that I could better see my way out of the rut I was stuck in. I can finally describe to you the trap that I was just talking about. It has two names: journalism and politics.

But especially politics.

As I continued studying politics with more than a passing interest, I became even more moderate than I was before. Don’t get me wrong, I still lean slightly conservative from a personal perspective; however, I have come to see politics as something not to be expressly defined as points between far-left and far-right on a line. Everyone would like me to take a side, and that’s fine during a political campaign, maybe even the best thing to do. But in daily life, being too strong a Republican or Democrat can hurt your ability to see the big picture. It’s not that I don’t like politics at all, because I clearly do; otherwise, I wouldn’t even bother to write this out. The kind of politics that I don’t like is modern American politics, which is founded on the most perfect of principles yet always seems to degenerate into some kind of overheated sports rivalry.

I’m sure you know what I’m talking about. I can set up the whole scene, and it’ll still play out like football.

Hardcore Democrat: “Bush lied!”
Hardcore Republican: “You crybaby liberals are ruining everything!”

Of course, they’re just trying to score points. It’s overtime now, and I get to flip the coin. But no matter who goes first, this will end in a tie.

The final score: 0-0. Both sides are wrong. Obviously, it should be clear at this point that Bush didn’t lie; he just didn’t know any better. Even the 9/11 Commission will tell you that much. But the other, equally-heard complaint is the kind I have discovered to be entirely wrong, no matter who says it or who it is directed towards. We need both sides, or the best policies – the ones most representative of and beneficial for the American people – will never be agreed upon.

In fact, our entire system of government requires the hidden checks and balances within the two-party system. You see, the United States government is based on federalism, which dictates a certain balance between national (federal) control and state control. That balance is set by the government, but can change over time. (Germany’s federalism, for example, is nationally-focused; on the other hand, Canada has a very state-centric form of federalism.) One of the absolute core issues between the parties involves where our balance falls, with Dems pushing for centralized control and Reps trying to spread the power out to the states. The golden secret of our political system is the end result of this constant struggle: Our balance never stays in exactly the same place for very long. It changes as needed and as the present state of our country dictates, which is why I call it “elastic” federalism. When the parties have equal input, elastic federalism allows the nation and its states to work together without trampling all over each other.

A good example of this is what happened with Hurricane Katrina. When New Orleans flooded and chaos ensued, liberals criticized FEMA (and eventually, President Bush by extension) for not acting quickly enough. Conservatives attacked the local government for not following evacuation procedures properly and put more responsibility on Louisiana’s shoulders. So how did it end? The national government provided aid, the states provided aid, and your grandma provided aid with a donation to the Red Cross. Everyone does their part in America, which is what gives us elastic federalism and what makes us truly great. Such is my small contribution to political theory, which dawned on me in part because I couldn’t accept that any one major political party (both subscribed to by about half of our population) could be consistently wrong about everything. To assume that one side is always right would be nothing short of ignorance, potentially arrogance.

So where does journalism factor into this? Well, when I started the (sadly neglected) College Blog Alliance, the blogs I added all dealt with the media in some way. But because I only included college students and professors, the opinions that I found and started paying more attention to were all coming from institutionalized journalism. As you may know, part of the reason blogging exploded was because dozens of perceptive citizens got tired of journalism as an institution, rather than as a craft. I began as an outsider like them, and was then pulled so far inside as to be rendered inconsequential. I am here before you again because I could never be a true insider; I am not liberal enough or politically correct enough to ever fit perfectly. The facts should always triumph over what might be popular thinking in the newsroom. My definition of speaking truth to power never has required the AP Stylebook-approved version of truth, and it never will.

I have learned that journalism is really more about a way of thinking than about a set of guidelines. If you’re a good driver, you can probably be a good journalist. Think about it: When you drive down a busy road, you’re looking for possible hazards, and you have to be able to pick up on them fast. It’s important to slow down for the kids playing on the sidewalk, but be ready to stop the minute their ball comes bouncing out onto the road. That’s the impulse moment. You have to look for that symbolically when you interview people, and when they drop the ball in conversation, that’s the moment where you put the brakes on and get the story. It’s not hard, so long as you’re not shy. The trap I fell into is what happens when you start thinking that it’s really that much more complex than that. You don’t need 300 books by journalists to do the job, nor do you need experience at seven different newspapers. You just do it.

So if you’re wondering where the blog is going from here, I would say it’s going towards something much more true to myself. If that includes oddball news reports and quirky little bits of info, so be it. If it includes music reviews (because I wouldn’t mind a little practice in case I have a shot at Blender), that’s okay too. I make no promises to post every single day, however, as I have a life and don't want to discourage myself. [Link Attacks are not coming back, sorry - Ed.]

But the media and politics still concern me, as they should everyone in this country, and so I’m definitely going to write about them. I don’t even have to like them much to do that.

Monday, March 27, 2006

The Scalia Chin Shuffle

Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia has been a major topic of discussion across the country today for reportedly flipping the bird at the media as he was leaving Sunday mass in Boston. Thoughts on this from bloggers and the MSM have been varied, ranging from amusement to admonishment. Some people don't even seem to think he should be a Supreme Court justice if he can't act in a more dignified manner. (Most of those people were also probably right behind Bill Clinton during the Lewinsky scandal, but that's to be expected.)

What you're not hearing very much about is the question that provoked Scalia's response, which the AP now reports was actually a dismissive Italian hand gesture. You've probably seen it before; the post title is a fairly accurate description of what it looks like. I have yet to find an exact quote of the question. However, according to the article above, a reporter from the Boston Herald asked Scalia, as he was leaving Catholic mass, if he "faces much questioning over impartiality when it comes to issues separating church and state." Scalia's response makes sense in that context:
You know what I say to those people? *makes hand gesture* That's Sicilian.

The implication here is subtle, but it reeks of anti-Catholicism. If you honestly believe that Catholics cannot think independently of the Pope (as people used to back when JFK ran for President, which is why it was such a huge deal that he won), then you might come up with a question like that. You would also have a response similar to Scalia's if you were used to hearing this kind of stuff all the time. It's also disturbing because a line of questions not far from this one was levied at Chief Justice John Roberts during his confirmation hearings. Roberts is also Catholic. Honestly, who has the nerve to ask him a question like that? It appears to have a logical basis at first, but ultimately it becomes a thinly-veiled attack on what someone stands for and assumes that their judgment would be somehow impaired.

The other point of contention for me is that the original Boston Herald report is not exactly impartial. An excerpt:
Although one of his sworn duties is to uphold the freedom of the press, a jocular Scalia told the shutterbug, “Don’t publish that.”

This may be one of the most loaded sentences that I have ever seen in a mainstream newspaper article. Though he really can't stop the photo from being printed [prior restraint - Ed.], attaching the qualifier "jocular" would imply that Scalia was joking anyway. So why come out and state the obvious...unless you're editorializing?