Archive for June, 2011

29
Jun
11

The Progressive Problem With Race

Over the past several years, since Barack Obama was elected to the Presidency — and indeed even before that, during his candidacy — we have seen a lot of hand-wringing, particularly among progressives and in the press, about race. Early hopes of a fanciful and long-heralded “national conversation” about race quickly gave way to dark accusations that, in the words of former President Jimmy Carter himself, “… an overwhelming portion of the intensely demonstrated animosity toward President Barack Obama is based on the fact that he is a black man, that he’s African-American.

Continue reading ‘The Progressive Problem With Race’

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24
Jun
11

Is This What They’re Teaching Them Over in the Journalism School?

It’s been awhile since I’ve taken pot shots at the poor old Oregon Daily Emerald. Hell, it’s been awhile since I’ve even bothered to pick up an issue. Sitting in the storied old Cafe Siena this afternoon, however, I made the mistake of taking a glance at the “opinion” page for this week’s issue.

Now, it’s no secret that the quality of the ODE’s opinion writers, never stellar to begin with, has witnessed in the last half-decade or so a steady decline into what can only be called “pedestrian sub-mediocrity.” Each year, one subjects oneself to another round of banal “first post!” essays by the new pack of commentators in the vain hope that — just maybe! — one of them will claw their way out of the scum and the muck, take a few gasping breaths, and say something moderately interesting. Or at least hilariously stupid. Each year, alas, one is inevitably disappointed.

So it was today, reading Ian McKivor’s “inaugural column” — a rather lofty way of referring to what is is essence a fairly uninteresting blog post, which is ironic, since the gist of his piece is that blogs are like… bad, and stuff. And not just bad, but dangerous. No, really:

People are idiots, and people who read blogs and take their word for it are dangerous idiots. They aren’t just a danger to themselves, but to those around them and society at large. In fact, I’ll go as far as to say that they are a major source of societal regression.

“Societal regression.” Got that?

Unfortunately, after dropping that bombshell on his readers, the esteemed author has nowhere left to go but straight back to 1995, making the staggeringly fresh case that you can’t believe everything you read on the Internet:

Any schmuck with an opinion can get on the web, set up a WordPress account and go to town spewing out whatever vapid crap happens to get into his head. [“Vapid crap” you say? Perish the thought. -ed] A blogger doesn’t have to have any experience in the field in which they write, nor do they have to adhere to the most basic tenants [sic] of journalistic professionalism or integrity.

So, in effect, they can pass off filth as fact while remaining anonymous. And oh, by the way, people will believe them en masse for the same reasons people believe everything they see on TV. Brilliant.

“Brilliant.” Took the words right out of my mouth, he did. Ahem.

McKivor then launches into a clumsy philippic against Tom Macmaster, the cybernetic crossdresser who got his thrills masquerading as a Syrian lesbian on websites before it came out (no pun intended) that he was neither Syrian nor a woman, to say nothing of a lesbian. While it’s hard to take issue with the spirit of his condemnation of Macmaster, McKivor’s amateurish prose effectively blunts whatever power the one and only example backing up his thesis might’ve had. Example:

MacMaster never had to face the looming threat of imprisonment, intense torture and eventual death at the hands of some demented regime. He was safe in Scotland, probably writing at a Starbucks with an Exxon Valdez-sized Latte [sic] in hand without even contemplating the harm he was doing.

“Probably writing at a Starbucks with an Exxon Valdez-sized latte?” From whence does our intrepid reporter come by these details? Or maybe he’s just engaging in a sly performative joke intended to illustrate why we can’t believe everything we read. Yeah… maybe that’s it.

One could go on, of course — the expected, sneering reference to “blind sheep” (what, no “sheeple?”) comes in toward the end, as does an unintentionally funny suggestion to go watch a documentary called “Talhotblond” if you’re not already convinced by McKivor’s dazzling  rhetoric about how dangerous online anonymity can be. Finally, we’re assured that we can trust the things we read in the mainstream media — because it’s fact checked, you see.

The problem is that, as monumentally hollow and paralyzingly routine as McKivor’s piece is, it nevertheless serves as a powerful example of how far standards have fallen. Is the sort of err.. “incisive criticism” and “sterling prose” — to say nothing of the lunk-headed Luddism — that they’re peddling over in the University of Oregon’s School of Journalism these days? Why would anyone pay for such a self-evidently worthless degree? And is this drooling scribbler really the best the Emerald  could dredge up for next year?

Alas, McKivor himself gives away the answer in his very first sentence:

Because this is my inaugural column for the Oregon Daily Emerald, I feel I should start things off by making my stance clear, just so all of you know what to expect from my weekly opinion column.

Ah. So puerile rubbish, then. Wonderful.

Glad I won’t be around to read it.

19
Jun
11

A Sobering Map [Updated 06/21/11]

This image, courtesy of this website, is a visual representation of the roughly 40,000 people who have lost their lives as a result of drug-related violence in Mexico. According to the site,

The RED balloons are civilians. The RED balloons with a dot are politicians, and other high profile killings. The BLUE balloons are police officers and soldiers (and other law enforcement). The BLUE balloons with a dot are high ranking officers. The YELLOW suns represent car bombs while the 2 GREEN people represent mass graves.

There are a number of different views on the website itself, allowing you to select out certain time-frames, etc.

I think it’s important to note that the ongoing violence in Mexico is related in large part — though not exclusively —  to the American demand for cocaine and marijuana, as well as for other drugs such as methamphetamines, which are increasingly being produced and smuggled into the US from Mexico. Perhaps more important, however, are the effects of American government policies, such as the so-called “War on Drugs” that, just as during Prohibition in the United States, effectively cede control of lucrative markets to criminal organizations while simultaneously pouring tens of millions of dollars into the struggle against those selfsame criminal enterprises. Unless wasting millions of dollars, strengthening brutal paramilitary mafias, and filling American prisons with drug offenders is the desired result of these policies,  it is difficult to discern what the American people are supposed to be getting out of this “war,” which has already killed 40,000 people south of the border.

Moreover, it’s almost certain that many of the firearms that the Obama Justice Department allowed to be smuggled into Mexico were used in at least some of the murders depicted on this map, just as they were used to kill American Border Patrol agents. In case you’re interested, the Congressional report about the so-called “Gunwalker” scandal can be found here.

In any case, ending the “War on Drugs” makes sense not only from an economic perspective — legalization and regulation would provide both the American and Mexican governments with badly needed sources of revenue, and emptying prisons of thousands of harmless drug offenders would ease some of the pressure on already strained state budgets — but also from a humanitarian perspective. President Obama committed the American military in Libya ostensibly to prevent the senseless slaughter of innocent civilians. Would that the President — or any other politician in this country, of either party — had the courage to finally bring to an end government policies that have resulted in a civilian body count orders of magnitude greater than anything that has taken place in Libya.

Alas, it seems that we have no problem marching into Tripoli, but no one can be bothered to take seriously the humanitarian catastrophe playing out just across the Rio Grande.

UPDATE:

Surprising exactly no one, Congressional Democrats have used the “Gunwalker” scandal — which the government itself was responsible for, as a pretext to introduce new gun control laws:

While Republicans have focused on Fast and Furious, three Democrats in the Senate this week called on Congress to beef up gun laws to try to curb the violence.

“Congress has been virtually moribund while powerful Mexican drug trafficking organizations continue to gain unfettered access to military-style firearms coming from the United States,” Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California said in a statement.

The cynicism and opportunism of these people never fails to dismay.