Navy Uses Lasers

Watch: Navy Ship Uses Energy Weapon In Arabian Gulf

http://www.npr.org/blogs/thetwo-way/2014/12/10/369922915/watch-navy-ship-uses-energy-weapon-in-arabian-gulf

The best part of this is close to the end where you see the guy controlling the weapon using something that looks a lot like an Xbox controller.  We had a good run…

It is going to get a whole lot cheaper to kill people!  Unlike ridiculously expensive missles, this weapon only costs a dollar a laser. 

“Something is squeezing my skull / something I can barely describe / There is no hope in modern life…”

How Do We Form a More Perfect Union?

I am very disillusioned with the state of our country right now.  Ever since the election, I have been trying to figure out how people could elect those that don’t have the well being of the average citizen in mind.  Instead of stewing over the loss, I tried to educate myself.  My intuition told me to start with slavery and the Civil War, as this is a period of American history that is still affecting how we think today in terms of our regional and cultural divides.

While I was thinking about all of this I had the opportunity to go to Australia.  I want to share some facts with you about Australia:

1.  By law they get 28 days of paid time off each year.

2.  Healthcare, although it is slightly more complicated than this, is basically free.

3.  Minimum wage is 17 dollars an hour.

4.  If someone is without a job or homeless they get a stipend.  It’s like unemployment that never runs out.

5.  They have clean and plentiful public transportation.

Those are all facts.  However, here are some personal observations that I made:

1.  The cities that I was in were very clean.

2.  The people were almost all friendly and helpful.

3.  Most of the people looked in relatively good shape.

4.  I saw no large-scale poverty.  In fact, while walking many days through a city twice the size of Austin, I never saw one homeless person.  (I’m not saying that they don’t exist, only that they exist in much lower numbers than they do in American cities.)

5.  The cities that I saw were vibrant and modern.

I know that Australia has its problems.  Right now they are having immigration issues for instance.  However, they seem to do a much better job at taking care of their citizens than we do.  I can imagine that just having 28 paid days off each year while living in a nice climate would alone make life more livable.

So how is it that a country that was started partially by criminals can be doing things so much better than a so-called Christian nation?  To answer this would require a book.  Although I intend to come back to this question, I am not going to answer it here.

The whole time I was there I was again reading about slavery and the Civil War.  What I found troubling was that so many of the arguments that were used to protect slavery are still used today to protect powerful economic interests.  Often progress in this country is stopped by arguments over states rights, religion, and economics.  We can’t pass a certain law that would benefit people because it would:

A. Infringe upon states rights
B. Would force people to go against their religion
C. It would hurt the economy

These are the same kinds of things that again were used to protect slavery.  In cases A. and B. these are the exact same arguments.  Although there were many people that were anti-slavery from a religious standpoint, there were also many that used religion to justify slavery.

During slavery education on average in the South was far behind the North.  In the present economic power is doing what it can to strip critical thinking from education.  This is not a North/South thing, although there is some of that going on if you look at recent election results.  However, I can take you to places that are backwards in my home state of Pennsylvania, while my current home of Austin is quite progressive in a lot of ways.

It’s just that as I dig deeper and deeper into the well I find myself more discouraged at the state of our country, not less.  Especially when you look at someplace like Australia in comparison, you realize that there is no reason that we couldn’t be doing a better job of helping the less fortunate.  It’s out there in the world, being done, right now as we speak.

***

Often when I have looked at the war in Afghanistan I see it as almost science fiction.  It’s like people from the present are fighting people from the past.  That is not to say that I believe we are right to still be there, only that if you look at the technology and education of the United States against somewhere like the mountains of Afghanistan, which are still tribal, I think it is a fair way to look at things.

After visiting Australia and reading about our history I can’t wonder if our own country is still fighting culturally outside of space and time.  Are there not places that still have the mentality of the 1950’s arguing against people from the present?

All of this raises more questions than answers.  But that is where I’m at.  How did we get to where we are at and how can we make it better?  Can we make it better with entrenched economic powers that need to keep people ignorant to achieve their goals?

In one sense there has been a lot of progress in our country.  I don’t think anyone but the Ku Klux Klan wants to go back to the days of slavery or Reconstruction.  However, we are not where we need to be.  We need to stop thinking that we’re number one at everything and realize that there are other places out there that have some of the answers.  We have to confront our history so that we can recognize the problems of the present.  There is no shame in realizing you can do better then you are, getting up, and trying again.  Shame is only for those that quit.  When and where do we start?

The Civil War and Movies

As any of you that have been reading along know, the last two weeks I have been interested in the Civil War.  Last night I watched Lincoln.  It was the second time I have seen it and it is really an extraordinary film.  Although there are a few scenes that seem a little too symbolic, and because of this aren’t believable as reality, overall it is really well done.  Maybe its best attribute is it really makes one think about the nature of politics.

Anyway, I wanted to watch another movie on that time period tonight.  I was doing an internet search and the truth is there are very few excellent movies that deal in that historical period.  I find that very strange.  Is that because we are afraid of really exploring a war in which half of the country was on the wrong side of justice?  Is it just that it is too long ago and, unlike World War II and Vietnam, we are too far removed from it?

It is becoming clearer and clearer to me that in order to understand modern America, one must be able to have some understanding of what happened during that time period.  Works of drama are more accessible than most history.  Good dramatizations can also often bring out certain truths, even if they contains slight elements of fiction, in ways that documentaries or even history books cannot.  They can connect people emotionally to something they might not otherwise understand or be interested in.

Off to Australia and Other Thoughts

australia_map

Posting has been a little slow the last two days.  I’m heading out for Australia on Saturday morning and I have been busy trying to get my shit together.  I am meeting my parents there.  They have been there for about two weeks already and have told me some interesting things about Australia.  Australia has, like most of the modern western world, universal healthcare.  They also have a high minimum wage.  Every Australian must also, by law, vote.  If they don’t vote they either get a fine or must do community service.  Most of the people that they have talked to there seemed stunned by the poverty that exists in the US.  I’m interested in talking to people when I get there about this sort of thing.  When you travel abroad it is constantly amazing at how closely people follow US politics in other countries, especially when we often know so little about those countries in return.

When I fly I like to take one serious book and one for fun.  I will continue reading S.C. Gwynne’s biography of Stonewall Jackson, that I have talked about here.  I also am going to read a biography of AC/DC that got really good reviews.  (I am obsessed with The Civil War and AC/DC at the moment.  Don’t question how my mind works!)  That biography is called The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC.

I just finished watching Ken Burns’s The Civil War last night.  The last episode was about what happened after Lee surrendered.  I couldn’t help but wonder if all of the accolades we bestow upon warriors is actually harmful to the warriors themselves.  In heaping praise on the profession of being a soldier, in making what they do be seen as a lofty profession, do we not make it easier for ourselves to put them in harms way?  I’m not saying we shouldn’t value what they do, nor am I a utopian.  There are some really bad people in the world and we need soldiers to keep us safe from those people.  I simply mean in making monuments to them, especially to generals and the like, and creating a sort of cult of worship, do we allow ourselves some kind of remove from what they are doing and what we are making them do?  Just questions without answers.

Well I will have internet in Australia.  I also hope to be on here more before I leave, but no promises.  If I’m being honest I can’t tell if I knew I needed to update my blog, or if I just wanted to put off cleaning my house for 20 minutes!

W.A.R. (White Anglo-Saxon Republicans) What are They Good For?

Ever since the election I have been trying to think of one thing that Republicans do that is positive.  I am talking about the leaders and not about those that are in the party.  I grew up with Republicans, I have had Republican friends at all times in my life, and I know that many of them are kind, generous, fun people.

But most of the people that I am friends with would be moderate Republicans.  These are not the kind of Republicans that just won election.  Most moderate Republicans have been drummed out of positions of power.

I am dead serious.  I want any of you that are Republicans to email me positive policy positions that the Republicans have.  Things that you don’t agree with, but you think they would do better than Obama don’t count.  You also can’t say anything like I think they would be better at foreign policy because they would fight war more effectively.  I’m talking about things that would be put in place that would make the lives of everyday people better.

Most of the things I have heard during the election are things that would make someone’s life worse.  There seems to be anti-whatever in front of all of the Republican’s big issues.  They are anti-immigrant, anti-gay, anti-women, anti-environmental regulation, anti-affordable healthcare, etc.  I know that they want to take away women’s right to choose, immigrant rights in anyway possible, gay people’s right to marry, allow fossil fuel companies to operate with less restrictions, repeal Obamacare.  I don’t see how anyone but the extremely rich benefit from any of these ideas.

Those in the right that are in power seem to be either free-market utopians or the religiously insane.  Those in power are not conservatives with a small c.  So please, I really want to know.  What do those in power in this party stand for other than making sure that rich white people hold onto their money?  What are the leaders of this party good for?

Unless someone can make me aware of something that I’m not, I can’t help but feel that the answer is the same as to war in the Edwin Starr song:  Absolutely nothing!

Isis Using Video Games for Propaganda

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ISIS Using Video Games for Propaganda

The above link is to a Salon article about how ISIS and other jihadist groups are using video games for propaganda.  As someone that just got a video game console for my birthday from my girlfriend, video games are on my mind.  Over the years I have played video games on and off.  There are some like Final Fantasy X, one of my all time favorites, which are really incredible works of art.  If you haven’t played many games you would be surprised to know that there are some which are emotional experiences with stories rivaling good movies.  There are also some where the amount of artistry and creativity that goes into them has to be seen to be believed.  Some have so much detail that just looking at the background can be like looking at a fantastic landscape painting.

However, this Salon article got me thinking about how are own video games are subject to propaganda.  This is not a new subject, but simply one I have never addressed here.  If you read the article you will see that certain games are designed in conjunction with the US Military.  There is one game they provide a link to that even includes General Petraeus.  (seen above)  It’s probably not surprising to many of you, even those of you that don’t play games, that there are games where players portray soldiers fighting generic Middle Eastern bad guys.

Earlier this year I read a book which talked about how the the military and CIA manipulated Hollywood to put propaganda in movies and television.  It is no different in video games or really any form of entertainment.  Entertainment is one way in which the Military Industrial Complex can shape the views of citizens.

I am no fan of censorship of any kind.  I am also aware that violence in video games has been linked to all kinds of societal ills which are really more complex.  Often video games get scapegoated because we don’t want to look at how we treat the mentally ill in our country, among other things.  However, when someone is playing a game, just like if you are watching a movie or reading a book, one must ask oneself what message it is trying to get across.  Also, much more than just violence, I think parents should be concerned at the propaganda that their kids might be consuming.  We must always be taught to think and to question.

Iraq’s Abandoned Chemical Weapons

Iraq’s Abandoned Chemical Weapons

Another sad and completely mind boggling chapter from our War in Iraq.  Apparently we did find chemical weapons in Iraq, and we helped build them!  The weapons date from before 1991.  These are not the weapons we went looking for, but are old weapons from the Iraq/Iran War.  Our soldiers were put in harms way and it was kept secret, for several reasons, all of which are senselessly embarrassing.  A New York Times article that will leave you scratching your head to say the least.  I wanted to kind of give the short version, but really it is an article that should be read in full to be understood.