08 January 2011

Instant Karma's Gonna Get You....

Thai Buddhist Council chides monks for BlackBerry chatting.

07 January 2011

Dead Birds, Dead Fish & Dead Minds

Breathless news reports about dead birds, dead fish, turtles and crabs seem to be popping up around the globe lately. When I saw the first report about thousands of red wing blackbirds dying Arkansas, my first response was to mutter "the 2012 crowd is going to love this." Sure enough, thanks to the immediacy of the Internet and its ability to allow know-nothing idiots (like me) to chime in with their opinions, I read everything from bible thumping believers that the end is near to conspiracy theorists blaming HAARP, the New World Order and every other nebulous explanation you can think of.

As I have stated in earlier posts, I really don't have much patience for eschatology. Trying to foresee the unforeseeable, rather than living in the here and now, seems like a tremendous waste of time to me. I also resent the fact that that many authors (just check out any book store shelf on 2012) are making a quick buck by capitalizing on public fear and ignorance. The recent reported animal deaths, coupled with a public primed to hear the message of doom, made for a powerful cocktail which was helpfully mixed by the world's media.

A step back from the story, and about 5 minutes worth of research, reveals that wildlife die offs such as these are not only common place but remarkably prevalent. In the U.S. alone, a quick examination of these incidents (see historical information from the USGS National Wildlife Health Center here) shows that many of our animal friends live lives that are nasty, brutish and short. This whole episode is a wonderful example of how the human mind will process and filter information to fit the belief system in which it operates and reject any explanation that offers an alternative.

06 January 2011

The Curious Case of Captain Honors

The recent revelations that Captain Owen Honors, Captain of the USS Enterprise, produced and starred in a series broadcast to the ship's crew has provoked a firestorm of press coverage. The vignettes which were shown while Captain Honors was Executive Officer of the ship, included female sailors showering together, foul language (gasp), masturbation and a great deal of homoeroticism- I will exercise great restraint from creating all of the easy Navy jokes that can be made from this episode, and will instead concentrate on the media coverage that it has produced.

Within days of the story breaking on the 24 hour news cycle, over 3,000 articles were written about Captain Honors and his escapades. How a Naval Academy graduate, trained fighter pilot and combat veteran would be stupid enough to think that he wouldn't be hoisted from the nearest yardarm in this age of political correctness is beyond me. I don't know if he should have lost his command for all of the reasons given by the Navy- conduct not conducive with command, etc. but I think he was definitely guilty of being a dumbass. The predictable press coverage included articles supporting his loss of command, while others included input from former Enterprise sailors supporting him (including one gay one.) In an odd twist to the story, actress Glenn Close piled on because some footage was used in one of the videos which she provided. (Note to Captain Honors- if you see any rabbits boiling on your stove, it might be best to un-ass the A.O.)

I think many military veterans such as myself would look at this story with a sense of bemusement. Sure, Captain Honors exhibited bad judgment in producing this sketches but I think that anyone who has served in the military can also see an officer trying to provide some entertainment to his crew- a crew comprised mainly of 18 and 19 year kids, far from home and alternately living in an existence of extreme boredom and absolute terror. It seems odd that the very people that want a military to protect them with acts of extreme violence would then seem confused that the people they employ to carry these acts out on their behalf do not conform to their own happy, quiet world back here in the states. At a time when the nation is at war, many seem to want their warriors to conform to the soccer mom ideal.

(Okay, I have to admit the urge to let go with a Navy joke. Anyways, on with the story.)

It also seems odd to me that this episode has produced so much press coverage and ignited a public debate which falls along predictable political lines- the right wing supports the Captain and wants him reinstated, the left wing says he needs to go and points to this an example of why gays should be allowed to serve in the military. As usual, I have a different view. Why isn't the debate about why we are spending $ 500,000 per year per Soldier, Sailor, Airman (excuse me, Airperson) and Marine deployed in Afghanistan and Iraq ? (figures from The Economist.) Why aren't the hard questions being asked- why, for instance, are the Pakistanis not being held accountable for their collusion and assistance (through their support of the Taliban) in the deaths of American servicemen ? Why is the U.S. supporting a corrupt regime in Kabul with little hope of ever governing the country ?

Why ? Because these are hard questions. For the life of me I can't see how Captain Honors' raunchy videos endangered American lives- unlike the actions of those elected to put them in harms way.