Archive for May 2009

The City of Federal Way: War is Peace, Freedom is Slavery, Ignorance is Strength, 1984=2009?

May 28, 2009
Is the city of Federal Way an Orwellian state?

Is the city of Federal Way an Orwellian state?

Of all places in America, Federal Way, Washington can now add itself to an increasingly growing list of scary places to live. Scary in what sense? Crime is not that high. Traffic accidents happen here no less frequently than anywhere else. The murder rate seems comparable to other cities in Western Washington. What can be so scary?

How about “Safe City,” a program conducted by the Federal Way Police Department where 27 remote controlled are installed in trouble spots around the city to catch criminals in action? This is a fairly new program where every second of the day is recorded and monitored by volunteers who are trained to spot suspicious activity. Wait, volunteers? You mean my grandmother could be the one catching bad guys in the middle of committing a crime? That’s right, Virginia.

These cameras keep records of what it sees for up to seven days, until it is erased permanently. The police department claims the cameras are located in spots where the public eye can see. Just imagine there being 27 vigilant police officers present at these spots at all times. The police made sure no private property or businesses are being spied upon, just public areas where crimes are usually committed. It is assumed that private businesses have their own security systems, so using public ones should not be necessary.

The idea behind “Safe City” is to reduce crime by making the cameras a deterrent. No criminal would dare rob a person or assault them when they know Johnny Law (or at the very least, a surrogate for Johnny Law) is watching them ever so closely. One of the places where a camera is located is Federal Way Transit Center, where people are constantly hanging out. Apparently, it is a breeding ground for criminal behavior, which explains why the city invested approximately $285,000 (some money coming a grant by the Target Corporation) to install these cameras all around the city.

Civil liberties organizations, including the Washington chapter of the ACLU, are furious about these new developments. Supporters claim more than 20 communities across the country (though Federal Way is the first in the Pacific Northwest) use this system and they have had no problems. In fact, the benefits reaped by this new system should outweigh any “Big Brother” worries people might have. After all, what’s the point of worrying about people spying on you when they’re really looking out for your best interests? Sounds logical to the people in the police department.

But not to me. I am not alone in looking at this “Safe City” program as one step toward creating a “surveillance society” where the government can see every action we make outside our homes. The government cannot peer into our private lives, thank God. Oh wait, they can. Recall Bush’s illegal wiretapping program he authorized shortly after 9/11. Big Brother is listening to our phone conversations in order to protect us from the terrorists. Don’t you love the Patriot Act?

In this case, while Federal Way is definitely smaller than the entire United States, the situation is no different. Whether it be terrorism or petty crime, the excuses are the same. The scapegoats for increasing government/police surveillance all have to do with making us safer. Safer from al Qaeda, safer from crooks. Same thing. Security is a great way to get people to agree to more governmental intervention in our lives. To a lesser extent, we are now seeing President Obama continuing many of the Bush “War on Terror” policies in the name of not looking wimpy on national security. Change we can believe in? Maybe not. Perhaps we should blame those pesky Republicans. But really, that is a whole other can of worms.

For now, it is disturbing to see the changes the city of Federal Way is making to deter crime. What proof do we have that this expensive system will catch more bad guys? I guess we will have to wait and see. I do not like the implications and precedents that “Safe City” sets. George Orwell’s famous 1949 novel “1984” tells of a futuristic society where the government, dubbed “Big Brother,” has completely taken control of every facet of people’s lives. They tell people how to think, how to act, and how to feel. Conspiracy theorists throughout the ages have referenced Orwell’s classic work whenever they speak out against any government regulations that resemble the policies carried out in the book. I am unapologetically doing likewise.

How far must authorities go to protect us from crime? What people in Federal Way should be concerned about is not this particular program per se, but the implications of such a system. In England and Scotland, almost every public street corner is under the careful surveillance of a camera device. The police in England don’t carry firearms because they are so confident that criminals will be deterred not to commit crimes in public. Supporters say this system works and proves to reduce the crime rate. Critics like myself don’t argue against the practicality of the system, but the legal and social precedents it sets.

What other measures can the police take to reduce crime? Can they wiretap our phones without a judge’s permission? Can they keep track of every credit card purchase we make and every book we check out at the library? The possibilities are endless.

Maybe I’m being paranoid. I probably am. But even deeper is the issue of morality: is it right to scare people into following the law? Deterrents are meant to stop people from doing bad things. But is such a system really getting to the root of a problem?

Americans use and abuse illegal drugs more than anyone else on earth. Despite harsh legal punishments for dealing, possessing, and using illegal narcotics, people still use them nevertheless. Drug users don’t always consider the legal consequences before deciding to use. Likewise, who is to say that criminals will stop mugging and robbing people just because a few cameras are set up that can capture their faces on film? One can assume this system will work, but are you really solving the cause of the problem, or the symptom?

That $285,000 can be spent on other endeavors, like addressing homelessness, poverty, and unemployment. It’s not enough money to fully address those problems, but it’s a start. Besides, how should we feel about ordinary citizens being the ones monitoring these cameras instead of trained police officers? When citizens are the ones distributing justice, how far down this dangerous slippery slope can we go before matters get out of hand?

Maybe this system will be nothing but another way for cops to monitor crime. If this is the case and the buck stops here, fine. I see no problem with a few cameras being put up in places where statistically more crimes are committed. But if this sets a precedent that more places can be open to camera surveillance, regardless of its tendency toward crime, then Houston, we have a problem.

But that all remains to be seen. We are no where close to living in an Orwellian society, regardless of laws like the Patriot Act or technological systems like “Safe City.” Federal Way, of all places, is no where close to resembling current Big Brother societies like the People’s Republic of China or the Soviet Union during its past existence. What really needs to happen is for ordinary citizens like us to keep on the lookout for any future encroachments made by the government or law enforcement on privacy and civil liberties.

Nothing too dangerous is happening yet, but one can never know. In a democracy like ours, it is essential that the people be vigilant toward the government in order to prevent tyranny from oppressing our rights. People who do that for a living are called journalists. But in this age of the Internet, social networking, and mass media, we are all responsible. So, in short, do your duty and watch out. You may have to save yourself before anyone else will.

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North Korea’s Swan Song

May 27, 2009

North Korea’s recent underground nuclear test on Monday seems to be their swan song. It has to be. The repressive Communist regime doesn’t have much time left in their existence and they know it. Kim Jong-Il’s hold on power is slipping and so they pull off stunts like this to try and extend their existence as long as possible.

I say this because it makes no sense for the North Koreans to launch their second nuclear test in three years other than to ease their way into legitimacy. Becoming a nuclear power puts you into a very exclusive club. And with that membership comes respect. Nations will not necessarily respect your leadership or what you stand for, but they will definitely respect your technological ability to wipe a country off the face of the map. It makes you legitimate. And military legitimacy is what Kim Jong-Il is seeking at this moment.

North Korea’s government continues to hold its firm grasp on power only because they have successfully kept their people afraid of outside influences. Marxism’s suspicion of bourgeois elitism makes the entire global capitalist world seem like one giant threat to North Korea’s existence.

Everybody is out to get them, as Kim would like his people to think. Those vicious Americans, Japan: its mortal enemy, their unfortunate anti-proletariat South Korean brethren, and even China, a Communist nation in name only. Kim justifies spending more money on military and nuclear might than food, education, and infrastructure because what is the point of any of those things after the Americans obliterate them from the face of the planet?

Bush used tough language against the North Koreans after an unsuccessful nuclear test in 2006 and a long range missile test in 2007. Last April a supposed satellite launch was conducted in order to test the young Obama administration’s foreign policy savvy. The language used by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has been less harsh but stern nevertheless.

News has just come in that North Korea has launched an additional three missiles off their east coast on Tuesday, May 26. Japan has now talked about preparing for a pre-emptive attack against North Korea, despite a clause in their constitution prohibiting offensive military action. When a nation starts to prepare for a war that they are not allowed to conduct, that is when you know things are getting serious. As world leaders scramble to come up with a response to these disturbing developments, it is becoming evident that the global community will not stand idly by any longer.

North Korea owns more than 200 Nodong missiles that have the capability to strike either Japan or South Korea. The Japanese and the Americans fear Kim will use these missiles to transport a nuclear warhead someday. Though their ability to make a working nuclear missile is in doubt, there is obviously enough fear within U.S. intelligence to develop an anti-missile defense system in Japan with the purpose of shooting down any incoming aerial attack.

Which brings up the obvious question: why would North Korea pull such a stunt? A nuclear North Korea can only result in one thing: war. No matter how occupied the U.S. is in the Middle East, any kind of military action short of a full-out invasion is definitely on the table. And if a full-out invasion were to happen, one can assume it would consist of a coalition of nations other than the United States. A nuclear North Korea will not be tolerated by the global community.

Naval blockades, economic sanctions, and condemnation from the outside world is not enough to convince Kim to halt his nuclear proliferation program. He kicked out United Nations weapons inspectors and has made no effort to draw down anytime soon. The only logical explanation to explain Kim’s actions is that he wants to start a war.

Excuse me? He wants to start a war? How crazy is that? Who in their right mind would want the global community to start a war against you? I am no psychologist, but I think I know what is going through Kim Jong-Il’s insane mind. Just bear with me.

Kim knows his grip on power will not last forever. His own health is in question and no strong successor seems ready to take up his mantle. Communism as a system died out in 1991 and China is becoming more and more capitalistic. China will soon become one of the world’s largest economic powers, if they are not there already. Russia, one of North Korea’s strongest allies, has turned their back on them. The Kremlin wants to strengthen their hold on global power, so allying themselves with a poverty-stricken Communist nation would not be the way to do that.

Speaking of poverty, North Korea has one of the worst standards of living in the world. As I mentioned before, they spend more money on military and defense spending than anything else. The international community has to give them food in order to prevent a humanitarian crisis. How can you expect to protect your people when you can’t even adequately feed them?

A coup hasn’t happened yet because Kim has convinced the people that the current government is needed to protect them from dangerous outsiders. But I think people are seeing that the only thing that’s endangering North Korea’s national security is Kim Jong-Il, not the U.S., Japan, South Korea, or Europe. His reckless actions are making his enemies more likely to attack them than anything else.

That said, it makes sense that Kim would want an invasion, even if it’s small like a naval attack or an air strike, because it would convince his people that the current government is needed to protect the motherland. If Kim were to either successfully drive out a foreign invading force or survive an attack intact (similar to what Hezbollah achieved after Israel’s bombardment of them in the summer of 2006), it would strengthen their hold on power and further keep his people dependent on him. Kim is yet to show what his military can do. He needs a chance to prove to people that all his military spending is justified. A foreign invasion would do just the trick.

If the international community continues to take no action and North Korea’s economy continues to sink further into the toilet, the people will lose their confidence in the government and demand that something else take its place. Wait, a militaristic government’s reckless actions resulting in the people wanting change? Sounds familiar.

Thus explains why I believe this recent nuclear experiment is North Korea’s swan song. North Korea as we know it is coming to an end. Kim’s repressive regime will take either one of two directions: it will implode internally, resulting in a coup or an abdication of power, or a foreign invasion will come in and create a “regime change” similar to what happened in Iraq and Afghanistan. Either way, this small Communist country’s days are now numbered. And Kim knows it.

I predict North Korea will change governments, open up to the global community, and even consider reuniting with the South (though that is a very distant dream) within 15 to 20 years. Maybe that day will come even sooner. What happens as a result of this recent feat will determine what the future of Northeast Asia will look like. In other words, the Obama administration can single handedly affect what happens to the Korean peninsula in the next decade. Hillary Clinton should pick her battles wisely.

And so should Kim. If wants to prepare for a war, he should literally prepare for a war. Any additional nuclear proliferation in his country will not go on deaf ears. The United States may not have found weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) in Iraq, but they will definitely find some in Kim’s lap if he does anything else foolish.

And knowing his track record, that is not hard to imagine.

The Supreme Court “American Idol” style

May 24, 2009

Barack Obama’s nominee to fill the soon-to-be vacant seat on the Supreme Court should be chosen “American Idol” style. Disregard political views, academic law dissertations, job qualifications, or “liberal” or “conservative” biases. Don’t even consider gender, race, religion, or creed. Consider what Simon Cowell might think.

If democracy is a popularity contest, then let the most popular judge win. Or lawyer, or law professor, or politician. The Supreme Court is a really big deal, after all. Those nine robe-wearing justices decide what’s legal or illegal in this country. That is no small task.

Americans are divided about how they view issues like abortion, assisted suicide, presidential war powers, and free speech. Should a woman have the right to terminate the life of her unborn child? Should non-heterosexual people have the same rights to marry as their straight counterparts? How should the federal government handle gun rights? Did the Founding Fathers intend every American to own an M16 assault rifle that they can bring with them to school and public parks? People want answers to these questions.

If the law is supposed to protect the rights of the people, then it is logical that the people should be able to choose who writes these laws. And besides, who wouldn’t want to watch Clarence Thomas and Sandra Day O’Connor sing a duet from “Les Misérables?” Forget Kris Allen or even that underdog Brit Susan Boyle. The real surprise talent all come from the Judicial branch of the government.

People in the western world value their freedom. It is a hallmark of Americana. Our Constitution is imbedded with the assumption that all men (and women, as we have later discovered) are created equal and are endowed with certain inalienable rights that have been given to them by their Creator (or any other theistic or non-theistic deity of your choosing). When we value freedom, we value our lives. And this is why the next member of the Supreme Court should not be chosen by the president. It should be chosen by any Joe Six Pack in the good old U.S.A.

And already the names are pouring in. Advocacy groups want Obama to choose either a racial minority or a woman to replace the soon-to-retire David Souter. He can be fancy and choose a minority woman. That’s right. A “Two-fer” because that’s two for the price of one. We are living in more progressive, hope-filled times, are we not?

Former President George W. Bush was so lame to choose two middle aged white guys to the Court when he was in office. Chief Justice John Roberts looks like the guy next door whose hosting a barbeque that he’s invited your family to attend. Justice Samuel Alito looks like a guy you’d see teaching your daughter’s cello lessons or coaching your son’s soccer team. In other words, these guys so are boring! Obama, the hip young dude that he is, should know better.

Names being thrown around as possible replacements for Souter are U.S. Solicitor General Elena Kagan, federal appeals judges Diane Wood and Sonia Sotomayor, Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm, California Supreme Court Justice Carlos Moreno, and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano. Choosing either a woman or a Hispanic American seems to be the trend right now.

After all, this is America, right? If people want either a woman or a racial minority on the Court, they should get it. We should have a system where people can call in to choose who they want and have Ryan Seacrest announce it on television. That is reality TV that I’d be willing to watch.

But instead Obama is saying that he will not pay attention to demographics when making his choice. Oh great! The 44th President even had the nerve to say on a C-SPAN interview:

“I think in any given pick, my job is to just find somebody who I think is going to make a difference on the courts and look after the interest of the American people. And so, I don’t feel weighed down by having to choose a Supreme Court justice based on demographics. I certainly think that ultimately we want a Supreme Court that is reflective of the incredible variety of the American people.”

Wait a minute! Picking a Supreme Court justice who reflects the interests of the American people? You mean someone who’s actually qualified to look after the law? Someone who knows how legal decisions affect the lives of everyday people? Someone who isn’t tied down to a certain political ideology? What a concept. A justice whose views, values, and integrity are more important than their gender or skin color? How un-American. How weird. How unpatriotic.

Okay, now I’ll try to be serious for a moment.

I am all for having women and minorities in positions of political power in our country. I am a minority myself, in case you didn’t know that. But all the talk from advocacy groups commanding Obama who to pick harkens back to the days when Washington lobbyists owned U.S. senators in their pockets. Wait a minute, that’s still going on.

I think it is important that the Supreme Court have more gender and racial diversity. Justices Thomas and Ruth Bader Ginsburg seem awfully lonely up there. We need more diverse voices in order to make our laws truly reflect our country’s values. But more important than that is a judge who will uphold our constitutional laws and make sure our nations doesn’t condone horrendous actions like torture, waterboarding, and unwarranted domestic spying. Integrity is more important than the demographic one belongs to.

Advocacy groups pressuring Obama to be “progressive” and choose a woman or a minority disrespects the institution that is the U.S. Supreme Court. Our laws are more important than fulfilling white guilt (though Obama is black) obligations. Feminist or minority lobbyists making decisions of who should go on the Supreme Court is like “American Idol” viewers deciding who is talented enough to win a recording contract. These decisions should be made by people who are smart, deliberate, and wise, not those who are blind warriors for “equality.”

If Obama picks a woman, great. If he picks a Hispanic, African, or Asian American, great. But I hopes he picks someone who is intelligent, thoughtful, knowledgeable, and not ideologically driven. That is the direction our country needs to go in right now.

But seeing John Paul Stevens singing and dancing would be pretty funny.

Graduation: Part II

May 20, 2009

Graduating from college is like an Olympic athlete running a race. They sprint as fast as they can, they huff and puff and give it their all until they approach the finish line. And when they finally do, it’s all over.

All that hard work, all that blood, sweat, and tears, is over so quickly. You give 110% toward finals week only to have it all end in just a short while. That is how most of us college graduates feel at this moment. Unless we have a job lined up immediately, most of us have the luxury of sitting back and reflecting on all that has happened. It’s weird coming back home and being able to sleep in till noon. I had to wake up at 7:30 every day during finals week in order to cram for my next test. All that mental strain took its toll on morning Friday, when I was finally able to rest.

Thank God I will never have to worry about another finals week for at least a while. Graduation weekend was really tiring. Finishing up finals, senior reflections, Baccalaureate, Commencement, saying goodbye to good friends, packing up and moving out, and doing the long drive from Spokane to Federal Way is no small task. It might take me three years to fully recover. Hopefully not.

But now I get to wait for my summer job to start. I will be working for Stone Soup Theatre, a small Seattle theatre that specializes in producing one acts. They have a yearly summer theatre camp for kids that I assisted directed for last year. This year I get to be an actual director. I might not be working at a job that’s within my major (journalism and mass communications), but it’s something. In this economy, you have to take what you can get.

With graduation comes the fear of the unknown. Most of us don’t have jobs lined up, let alone long term career goals. Many people I talk to are spending the next couple of months job hunting or traveling. That sounds nice. I will be working a little and trying to figure out what I want to do with the rest of my life. For those of us fearing ambiguity, I have to say to them: “lighten up!”

Summer should be a more relaxing time, anyway. The sun is out, the weather is generally nicer, and the possibilities are endless. We can do anything at this point in our lives. We can work, travel, do both, or sit and think about our future. Sounds gloomy, right? Perhaps. But we have another option: we can do something that we would never have done before. Now is our chance to take a pro-active stance on our lives and live out our dreams.

Ever have the fantasy of sitting on the beach, listening to groovy music, and soaking up the rays? Now you can do that. Ever want to take a long road trip with your best buddies and create life-long memories? This is the best time to do it. Ever want to do something so epic and mind-blowing you could only dream about it? Now is the time to attempt that.

Think of college graduation as a beginning, not an ending. Yes, we are no longer college students, but what else has changed? We are still the same people that we were two months ago when we were thinking about classes, tests, and partying. Okay, maybe not partying if you go to Whitworth University. But you get the idea.

The race might be over, but now we are running a different track. A marathon is more like it than an actual sprint. There are no really significant benchmarks left in our lives, unless you count marriage and raising a family. Such thoughts have not occurred to me yet. It’s weird to think that friends of mine are getting married. Where did the time go?

This world isn’t as scary as we might think. Despite the depressing job market, we could not have graduated at a more creative-inducing time. Those of us who need to make a living need to be more creative than our predecessors. Should we pursue our dream jobs or drudge it out at some dead end job that pays the bills? Why not do both? If we can, we should.

For those of us starting this marathon, we have plenty of people who are running it with us. It’s more comforting to go into the unknown when you know you’re going to have friends coming with you. I have plenty of friends in the same boat as I. You don’t see me freaking out, do you? (I might be freaking out a little, but I’m good at hiding it)

For now, I can spend my time practicing theatre and watching the Seattle Mariners play baseball. They might not be playing too well now, but what do you expect? Life will go on. They’ll be back next year.

But you know what? All of us college graduates will be back next year, too. We may not be in a classroom per se, but we’ll be somewhere. Specifically where is now up to us. Scary thought, n’est-ce pas?

Graduation: Part I

May 17, 2009

On Sunday, May 17, 2009, I can officially call myself a graduate of Whitworth University. After four years of hard work, experiencing dorm life, eating campus food, and hanging out with the best of friends, everything will come to an end very shortly.

And what a ride it has been.

High school graduation was not very dramatic because I knew what was coming next: college. I knew I would be attending Whitworth in the fall while my fellow colleagues had similar fates. So why bother with the dramatics?

Granted, there were many people I would never see again. Some of them friends of mine, others people I am glad to never see again. By the time senior year in high school rolled around, I was ready to move on with my life. I was ready to live on my own and participate in higher education. Spokane may not be too far away from Federal Way, but it’s far enough. I couldn’t come home every weekend.

And why would I want to come home all the time? Everything I possibly need is here on campus: friends, a place to live, a place to learn, etc. My only regret was the fact that Whitworth is located in Spokane, Washington. Not everything can be perfect.

But what can be perfect is my experience here at Whitworth. Here is what I have accomplished from fall of 2005 to the spring of 2009:

I’ve roughed four long and snowy winters, endured eight finals weeks, eight midterm weeks, enjoyed three summers where I eagerly anticipated returning to school, and four very different Jan Terms. I’ve traveled to Washington D.C., South Africa, and New York City during my time here. I’ve actively participated in the theatre program; appearing in four mainstage productions, “frosh on stage” (the annual freshmen show), I’ve directed a one act, performed in five of them (one being a pre-recorded voice over), went to Broadway and saw eight wonderful shows there, participated in three different theatre projects (one for Core 350, one for World Vision, and the other for a Christian camp), and took several classes in the department. I’ve earned a theatre minor and an honorary theatre major in my four years here.

I’ve been on The Whitworthian staff for four years. Two years I wrote for News, one year I was the Circulation Manager, and this year I wrote for Opinions. I completed an internship at “Inland NW Homes & Lifestyles,” a magazine that covers arts, culture, and life in the Spokane and Coeur D’Alene area. I’ve earned a BA in Journalism and Mass Communications and minors in theatre and speech communication. The month I spent in South Africa was life-changing. The two weeks I spent in New York were some of the most fun I’ve had in my lifetime. I’ve made some life-long friends (Alex and Luis, you know who you are!) and have been dubbed the nick name “Tech Nine” by a certain Mr. Smith. That name has spread wider than I had ever expected.

I feel I have improved as a writer here at Whitworth and am now equipped to pursue a job in the journalism field. I also feel I have learned enough about the theatrical arts to at least be a part time actor/director/playwright/techie. My understanding of Christianity has also deepened and I feel I understand Jesus more than I ever have. I’ve had to endure Sodexo cooking for four years (though we Whitworth folk call it “Saga”) and working out at the ridiculously small gym called the Scotsford Fitness Center. I have never caught a virgin pinecone (defined as a pinecone that has fallen from a tree but never hit the ground), been hit by a Frisbee (though last week I was very bloody close), dropped a tray in Saga (back when we had trays) or got engaged to someone by spring. The thought of marrying someone scares me.

I’ve seen the election of America’s first African American president, witnessed a vicious hurricane that devastated the gulf coast, seen Iraq spin out of control, seen Afghanistan spin out of control, saw a bloodless coup in Thailand, two wars in Israel, rouge missile launches by North Korea, anti-Semitic remarks by an Iranian president, a devastating shooting at Virginia Tech University, the most unpopular American presidency since Richard Nixon, a Seattle Seahawks Super Bowl loss, allegations of torture at the hands of the CIA, a continuing genocide in Darfur, lawlessness in Somalia, terrorist attacks in London, Madrid, & Mumbai, the execution of Saddam Hussein, the deaths of Ken Lay, Slobodan Milosevic, & Augusto Pinochet, five states legalizing same-sex marriage, the closure of many newspapers across the country, a strong economy going down the drain at the hands of greedy Wall Street executives, a deep economic recession, television going digital, the swine flu, powerful automobile companies like Chrysler and GM bordering on bankruptcy, congressional and executive bailouts, two new Supreme Court justices, Facebook becoming mainstream, MySpace becoming outdated, YouTube rising to superpower status, Google expanding, Twitter tweeting, and the launch of the iPhone. This only scratches the surface of what has happened in America and around the world in the four years that I have been a student at Whitworth.

At school I have had one roommate, lived in a single for three years, taken a wide variety of classes from departments ranging from history to theology to theatre to natural sciences to political science to communications. I’ve attended lectures by Middle Eastern scholars, a South African preacher, and crazy speakers ranging from a hippie Presbyterian minister to a wacky socialist. I’ve taken classes from many brilliant professors and been in classes with countless brilliant young minds. I’ve spent countless numbers of hours in rehearsal, studying for tests, reading for class, doing homework, and goofing off. I’ve had lots of late night chats, pun offs (where you get a group of people together and all you do is tell random puns till you can’t think of any more), Safeway runs at midnight, random YouTube videos shown to me by friends, and coffee dates with friends. I’ve been asked out by a few young women over the years, and even rejected an offer to start a serious relationship with one. I won’t dare reveal who that is.

And what about those four mainstage theatre shows? “Our Town,” “Tartuffe,” “The Cradle Will Rock,” and “Museum” were all a blast. I would never trade a single hour of lost sleep for the world. The cast and crews of all those shows were ones of the best I’ve ever had the privilege to work with. And the directors of those shows were fantastic as well. I will most likely dedicate a whole blog post to my theatre experience at Whitworth.

Whitworth itself has changed a lot. We’ve expanded in student body size, torn down two Village buildings (the building I have lived in my junior and senior year, Keola, is next on the chopping block), seen the construction of Duvall Hall and the new East Residence Hall (lame name, huh?), saw the destruction and construction of a new fine arts building, said good bye to Beyond Hall, said hello to a new and improved Westminster Hall, and plenty of other changes that are two numerous to mention. The “small school” vibe I felt my freshmen year is slowly evolving into a “medium school” feeling. Also, our radio station, KWRS, went under this year. It is now known as “Whitworth FM.” Totally not the same.

Too much has happened in these four years. It boggles the mind to just think about it. But that’s what the future is for. You remember the past once you live in the present. And I plan to live in the present. I do not know what the future holds exactly, but I am sure it will be a happy one. But for now, I should really go to sleep because tomorrow is a big day.

Cheers.

Hollywood vs. The Vatican

May 15, 2009

Angels & Demons” opens in theaters everywhere today. Remember: it’s just a movie. Movies are released every week. Movies have been released every week for decades. This is nothing new. Yet, some people are freaking out. So what’s the big deal? The Vatican seems there’s something horrible going on.

The Catholic Church and its Protestant brethren have many differences, but they share one thing in common: their perpetual paranoia about being under attack. Three years ago the film version of Dan Brown’s “The Da Vinci Code” opened to controversy over accusations of attacking the Catholic Church and fabricating facts about the life of Jesus of Nazareth. The book garnered controversy of its own, but Ron Howard’s 2006 film made such criticism more centralized.

It’s true that the factual accuracy of Dan Brown’s novels should come into question. Leonardo Da Vinci’s paintings do not reveal secrets about Jesus’ past. Even if they do, there is little reason to believe the truthfulness behind any such thing. Brown is a novelist. He writes to entertain. He actually does not believe the things he writes about. He himself is a Christian who writes these books to stir public debate about religion. Guess what? It worked.

Yet the Vatican and Christians of all denominations everywhere are not so calm. Catholic leaders asked for Christians to boycott “The Da Vinci Code” and raise awareness about the truth of Jesus’ life. How many Christians actually took their advice is unknown to me. I would guess most believers brushed it off or even went as far as to see the movie.

I was one of them. I saw it and thought it was okay. The film opened to lukewarm reviews. Critics said it was entertaining but not great. I would agree. If a movie were to make people turn away from the church, it should be at least be a great film. Average movies don’t create large scale social change.

There were pastors who believed the release of the movie would turn Christians away from church. They feared people will start to doubt the truthfulness of the Gospels and become atheists over night. The pastor at the church I attend in Spokane was one of those pastors. He preached an entire sermon about how we need to brace ourselves for a massive exodus of the American church. That was three years ago. The church is still alive. Guess he was wrong.

But this is not a new phenomenon. Christians are always paranoid that their faith is being attacked. It must have all started with the rise of the “Christian Right” during the 1980s. Becoming a large political force makes you paranoid. Just ask Richard Nixon, Dick Cheney, and Karl Rove. Then talk to Bill O’Reilly, Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity, and Ann Coulter. They will all tell you their good old fashioned way of life is currently under attack from godless socialist atheistic pornographic heroin addicts. What about liberals? Same thing.

Face it: the church is not being under attack here. “Angels & Demons” will do no further damage to the Catholic Church than the pedophile priest scandals that have surfaced over the years. If anything makes the church look bad, it’s their protests and whining. Face reality and admit that movies are not going to destroy Christianity as we know it. If anything, just like what Dan Brown wants, these films will make people talk about religion instead of shunning it.

The Western church has not been openly persecuted since the European religious wars of the 17th century. Even then, it was the church persecuting the church. Remember the days of Emperor Nero and the Roman Empire? Oh wait, none of us were born yet. Regardless, that was true persecution. Apostle Paul might have been killed under Nero. Even Mary Tudor, the English monarch known in Protestant circles as “Bloody Mary,” killed an estimated 300 people. Relatively speaking, that’s not that much.

So what Christians need to realize is that a faith that is a little less than 2,000 years old should not worry about anything Hollywood will throw at them. They are small beans compared to other threats like Christian fundamentalism and religious-political ideology. Even radical Islam poses a greater threat to the global church than Tom Hanks.

Maybe Christians are working on the assumption that the world is against them. After all, the world was against Christ, weren’t they? They executed him and oppressed the early Christians, so that must spill over into the 21st century, right? To a certain degree it might, but let’s not jump to conclusions and say the church is on its deathbed right now. And if it is, just ask Congress for a bailout. They might get it.

Paranoia makes you forget about the things that we should really be afraid of. What about the increasingly militant political stance conservative American Christians are taking? Saying Jesus would support legalizing assault weapons and banning same-sex marriage should worry us more than anything else. Perhaps we have nothing to fear but fear itself.

Speaking of which, if I have read my Bible correctly, aren’t there always angels telling people to “not be afraid?” Do not be afraid. That’s a good piece of advice. Jesus was not afraid when he faced the Sanhedrin. Nor was he afraid when he faced the Roman soldiers who were about to flog him. He was a bit scared when he confronted God about his pending crucifixion, but being afraid of God is quite another thing. Fearing the things on earth is a choice.

So please, don’t go protesting “Angels & Demons.” There are better things to do with your time. Adopt a puppy. Stop and smell the roses. Sit outside and soak up the sun. Doodle. Play “Halo 3” with your drunk college friends. There are a million better things to do other than protesting a movie premier.

Besides, for all you know, the reviews might be lukewarm again. You might be protesting another stinker. How embarrassing would that be?

The Dog Days of Terrorism

May 9, 2009

Al Qaeda is like that annoying stray dog that pees on your lawn and you try to get rid of but keeps on coming back. No matter what you do to make sure the dog goes away for good, it always seems to find a way to survive and keep urinating on your grass. The Taliban, too.

President Obama met with President Asif Ali Zardari of Pakistan and President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan at the White House on Wednesday, May 6 to discuss the deteriorating situation in the region. Since the U.S.-led invasion in December 2001 to topple the Taliban regime in Afghanistan and root out the al Qaeda presence there, things have not significantly improved.

Women are still oppressed, tribal regions are still lawless, terrorists continue to thrive, and fear continues to drive Afghan and Pakistani politics. There seems to be no end in sight to the war and to bring home U.S. and coalition troops. The war Bush started might not end with Obama. It might take his successor to finally declare victory.

Obama’s promise to send 17,000 additional troops to Afghanistan sounded like a great idea to stop the bleeding. It still does. But now it has become evident that the war has shifted fronts. Sending troops to Afghanistan is not enough. Something has to be done in Pakistan. This is where the Taliban is strongest. This is where intelligence experts believe Osama bin Laden (remember that guy?) and his lieutenants are hiding.

A recent U.S. air strike inside Afghanistan killed dozens of civilians, a move that will further radicalize Islamic fundamentalists around the world. As American popularity in the region continues to decline, winning this “War on Terror” is becoming more difficult than previously imagined. This might truly be a multigenerational conflict. Remember when Bush declared “mission accomplished” in Iraq? That seems like ages ago.

Maybe a whole new strategy is necessary to stamp out terrorism for good. Maybe the stray dog chooses to come back because he has needs that need to be fulfilled. If you address the problem instead of the symptoms, we might actually get somewhere. Like what Obama promised during his presidential campaign, it might be time to forget the ways of old and embrace new ideas for the future.

Defeating Islamic terrorism and Jihad might require tactics outside the traditional realm of military force. One could even argue terrorism in this part of the world isn’t motivated by religious extremism. It could be argued that this war is more about power than pleasing Allah. Whether it’s political or social, holding and asserting power is what motivates these people to carry out suicide bombings and kill innocent civilians.

Power is the primary motivation behind all wars. Nations invade other nations in order to take control of something. It could be natural resources like oil, gold, or diamonds; control over land and territories; or control over a people group. Either way, wars are fought to restore some sort of balance of power. The Spanish conquistadors invaded the New World for “God, gold, and glory,” but not necessarily in that order. The Nazis invaded Europe because of a militant and racist “manifest destiny” agenda. The Allied Powers invaded the Nazis and Japanese to restore the balance of power away from fascism/national socialism. The entire Cold War was about power leverage. You get the idea.

The “War on Terror” is also about power. The U.S. doesn’t want violent radicals to gain control of Afghan and Pakistani politics. That would cause further destabilization in the area; especially given the fact that Pakistan is a nuclear power. India is watching this war with extreme interest.

Al Qaeda’s mission is to undermine American power in the Middle East. Osama bin Laden infamously said he carried out the 9/11 attacks to protest the U.S. military presence in Saudi Arabia. His other goal was to subvert America’s military support for Israel, a nation seemingly at war with everyone in the Arab world. In other words, America’s wars in the Middle East should be seen in terms of a struggle for political power instead of petty things like oil, religion, democracy, or “freedom.”

President Obama understands that losing the war in Afghanistan would destroy America’s military credibility across the world. A similar fear persisted during the latter years of the Vietnam War. President Nixon was afraid that losing both South Vietnam and Cambodia to Communism would lead to a domino effect of other countries falling to Marxism across Southeast Asia and Latin America. This explains how Henry Kissinger can convince Nixon to execute the controversial Christmas bombing of 1972 against the North Vietnamese. Kissinger escalated the war in order to end it. Obama is doing the same thing with his “surge.”

But that might not be enough. This is not a war of ideology, as has been discussed before. This is a war for power. And how is power gained or lost? Through political credibility. The U.S. needs to convince the people of Afghanistan and Pakistan that extremism is not the way to run a country in the 21st century. American capitalism may not be the best alternative, but it’s a start. This involves winning the “hearts and minds” of the people, as cliché as that sounds. But the difficulty of this is that it’s very difficult to win over people’s hearts and minds when you’re bombing them into submission. Once again, we need to think outside the box.

How do we do that, exactly? How do we convince skeptical Muslims to trust the West? That is a question that I might not be able to answer. That’s right. I don’t have all the answers. I wish I did, though. The debate between war and peace is a delicate one. It’s very nuanced and all theoretical. For now, it’s important to remember that kicking the dog off your lawn will not make it go away. Dogs are not robots (just don’t tell that to Michael Vick). They have needs and desires just like human beings. Once we figure out what those needs are, we might be able to make progress where we can all live happily.

And who doesn’t want that?