27 February 2008

Recapturing My Childhood

Over the summer, my parents moved to Korea. I ended up in my own apartment with my own car and the family dog. I ended up forwarding mail and having to take care of a lot of things that most college kids don't even think about. And I really enjoy the responsibility. It's stressful at times, but I like it.

But every once in a while, I need to relax. And every once in a while, I wish I could go back to sitting on my grandfather's bed watching Fox Kids on a lazy summer afternoon. Summers in Georgia bring back memories of vacations and time being spoiled by my grandparents, and everyone needs that.

So, over the summer, I bought Malt-O-Meal-brand bags of kid's cereals (off-brand Cinnamon Toast Crunch, Fruity Pebbles, and Lucky Charms - the stuff that was reserved for summers and Saturdays) and found an online version of Batman: Mask of the Phantasm. And then, the next day (well, I still had cereal and milk left...), I tracked down Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker - which reunited the voice talents from the original show. And, though it shouldn't be possible, it was as disturbing as MotP.

I grew up watching Batman. My generation is perhaps the most loyal to the series. We grew up with Batman: The Animated Series, the ground-breaking cartoon version. It was dark, it was edgy, it was as close to film-noir as a cartoon will ever get. It combined this 1930s detective feel with a pulp serial futuristic tone. Most people call it "art deco". I just know that I like it. It is the first American cartoon to have pistols instead of laser guns. It came to define many of the Batman villains - they're over-the-top, like all comic book villains, but they maintain their humanity, both in mind and body, making them the most believable cartoon villains of the past few years. I like Tim Burton, but I don't think he had any business directing Batman, and most kids my age agree. Mark Hamill is the Joker. And when he gave Heath Ledger's portrayal his blessing, there was a great sigh of relief let out on college campuses everywhere. Batman Begins is probably so popular in my age group because of how close it comes to being Batman: TAS. The music is inspiring - dark, moody, dramatic - it defined the series almost as much as the art style. It's music that has themes and builds off of them - the type of stuff lost on anyone who grew up after the introduction of the new Robin (yes, I occasionally classify age groups by the Batman they grew up with).

So, anyway, Batman is my childhood. So as I get ready for a final tomorrow and face the end of my second year of college (where did the past two months go, anyway?), I feel old. People born in a different decade from me are in college now. People who were born while I were in middle school are starting elementary school. I'm still a teenager...for a few months. And those months are flying by.

Now imagine my glee when, just as I need a break, even for an evening, I find six episodes of Batman - and the first few episodes - on DVD at Kroger for only $10. So, being a rational college student, I bought some pizza and the DVD. And so, if you'll excuse me, I've got some memories to live in and a pizza that's getting cold.

Rock on.

24 February 2008

Peace Within Reach In Northern Uganda

While the Balkans may once again be walking down the long, dark path to war and the future of Cuba is on unsure footing, there is good news coming out of Africa.

The Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) and Ugandan government have signed a permanent ceasefire in the longest-lasting civil war on the African continent. The war is not over yet, but this offers great hope.

Here's the text of the letter sent out by Resolve Uganda:
I know it's a Saturday, but I thought you would want to hear the news coming out of the Juba peace process as soon as we did. Today, the Ugandan government and LRA negotiators signed yet another landmark agreement, establishing a permanent ceasefire!

Since resuming last Monday, the peace talks have made rapid progress. Now that the ceasefire has been established, only one item remains to be discussed in the negotiations. We could see a final peace agreement between the warring parties as early as next week.

We can all celebrate this historic step toward ending this 22-year war. Our minds and spirits are with the people of northern Uganda, as we hope together that this may truly be the beginning of the end.

However, significant challenges do remain, and we can't get ahead of ourselves. There is no guarantee that rebel leader Joseph Kony will abide by the agreement and come out of the bush. Without Kony’s compliance, peace will remain a dream deferred for northern Ugandans.

Strong public pressure will also be needed to make sure the Government of Uganda lives up to its promises, and invests in the rehabilitation and development of war-affected areas. Communities displaced by this war need water, schools, and jobs.

That means our task is clear. To encourage implementation of any agreement signed, the U.S. and international community need to commit political support and financial resources toward implementing a signed peace agreement, including assistance in the task of rebuilding areas devastated by the war. That's the message 1,000 of us are will take to Congress as part of the Lobby Days for Northern Uganda on Tuesday. Even if you won’t be with us, you can join our lobbying push by calling your Senators that day.

We'll keep you up to date if more breaking developments come out of the talks. As today’s news attests, we are making a difference and change is happening!

Peter Quaranto
Resolve Uganda Senior Researcher

Of course, there is much to be done. Schools and towns need to be rebuilt, there must be some reconciliation between the government, the rebels, and the people, and services must be improved - health care, housing, water, you name it - go to the Invisible Children website for ways to be a part of the rebuilding process.

Rock on.

21 February 2008

Serbia Must Reign in Their Citizens

The US embassy is on fire in Belgrade. After Serbia sponsored a rally against Kosovo. After Serbia brought Serbs in from all over the country - literally paid for their transit to this rally.

Now call me biased. In fact, I wager that several of my readers are thinking that very thing just now. I don't care - I'll even admit that I'm sympathizing with the Albanians. But despite any prejudice I have against Serbia or any prejudice that some of my readers have against Albanians, Serbia must do something to keep the order. They can disagree with Kosovan independence all they want, but inciting their people to riot is something entirely different. At this rally, pictures of Ratko Mladic were displayed. There is no reason other than hatred to glorify a fugitive and murderer. If there is to be an end to this debate, there must be reconciliation between the two states.

This smacks of the period leading to the genocide in Bosnia (once again, Serbian Christians butchering and raping non-Serbian Muslims - of course, after our interference, they turned their anger towards Albanian separatists in Kosovo).

Milosevic may be gone, but his influence is unfortunately still in power.

Pray for peace.

18 February 2008

Applauds for Kosova Independence

Last semester, I had an amazing opportunity to hear the Serbian ambassador to the US speak here at UGA. This was a man who had fought to overthrow Milosevic - a worth goal to be sure. But as his lecture concluded, I was quite disappointed about his statements regarding the independence of the Kosovo region. His argument was mostly that the area was important to Serbs as it housed many medieval Orthodox monasteries and that the Serbs in Kosovo would be in danger. And I'll agree that protecting historic buildings and people are both laudable goals. But he offered no evidence that the Albanian majority in Kosovo (Kosovo is actually Kosova, an Albanian term for the same region - Serbs call it Metohia, which means "church-owned land") would try to destroy the monasteries or butcher the Serbs.

There is a young Serb woman in my International Relations class who has, for two semesters now, used the argument that Kosovo is in Serbia and is important to Serbs, no matter if it is also the homeland of Albanians as well - and more recently, at that (in essence, the Serbian government is trying to undo the actions of the Ottoman Empire by keeping the region under Serb control).

I'm usually cautious of nationalism - it has this nasty habit of leading to genocide, such as in Turkey, Germany, Rwanda, and Serbia. And it would be really easy for the Albanian majority (90% of the Kosovan population) to take revenge on the Serbian minority (about 5%) for the genocide of the 1990s. But for perhaps the first time in history, a nationalist movement has lead to a new state and included other ethnicity/cultures on the flag (for those who don't know, the Kosovan flag is a blue field with a gold outline of Kosova and six gold stars, one for each of the six main ethnicities). In times past, the flags of nationalist movements have been nothing more than images of ethnic superiority (the "Aryan" swastika serves as a pretty good example of this). As small of a gesture as this may be, I have great hope that the Kosovan government will do all in its power to ensure human rights are protected. I wish I could say the same for the Serbian government.

Let us pray that Serbia does not take military action.

On the US side of the event,we are recognizing the new nation. But more interesting, especially, in an election year, Obama and McCain have yet to comment (at least, on their website) about the new state. Clinton (First Lady during the Serbian genocide - though, allegedly, she encouraged Mr. Clinton to not act, and he didn't, or at least until we found out about his cigar) has not only given the new state her blessing, but taken up her husband's tradition of referring to the region as Kosova. Although, the last part of her statement is mostly about how the Bush Administration has failed to keep the Balkans on the top of his priority list. But enough politics.

Congratulations, Kosova!

Rock on.

15 February 2008

Spielberg, China, and the Olympics

I know that I'm pretty much alone in my protest of the Chinese Olympics. And I must admit that I am appreciative of China's support, limited though it may be, of peacekeeping operations in the Darfur region of the Sudan.

But I point your attention towards this.

Defenders of the Beijing Olympics state that we must be careful to place a divide between sports and politics, that the Olympic games are about competition, not international relations. Which is why the US and the USSR took turns boycotting games. And why the 1980 Miracle on Ice was such a big deal. And why nations and regimes use the Olympics as a display of their power. Because above all, we are very careful to separate our national teams from politics.

This quote, in particular, disgusts me: "'Sports is too important. It is too important to use it as a political instrument,' said Milan Zver, the sports minister of Slovenia, which holds the EU presidency."

Sports are too important - more important than human lives. More important than making a point about natural rights. More important than those ideals which we in the West hold so dear?

Mr. Zver also said that the Olympics are not a good place to discuss politics - and under Olympic rules, it is true that athletes aren't allowed to discuss politics within within "Olympic zones." But I want to know, if the Olympics are all about coming together and putting differences aside, if the Olympics are signs of hope and reconciliation, then shouldn't they be the perfect place lobby for human rights?

China is using the Beijing Olympics as a tool to elevate its status as a world power. And after all, who can blame them? Hosting an international competition is a great way to get publicity. But why do we not play the same game? Large nations boycotting the games (or individuals boycotting the corporations that sponsor the games) would send a clear message to China: if you want to be an international superpower, than it's time to clean up your act.

Rock on.

14 February 2008

Happy Birthday Emo!

Today is the day when millions of dollars are being spent on "loved" ones and those who don't get anything spend twenty-four consecutive hours listening to emo music.

Yes, it's true - my MP3 players is filled to the brim with depressing songs about being alone.

And what's with all of the pink????

Ahem. Moving on.

I really don't like this day. I'm sure if it wasn't my nineteenth consecutive Valentine's Day single, I might have a slightly different view, but I still want to vomit at the sight of commercialized romance.

So in honor of this horrendous event, I offer up a theory on why so many of my friends/classmates/kids-my-age are getting married. While still in college. And I say kid because most of them are under the age of twenty-five. Those of them in college haven't graduated yet.

As a single male in this age group, I ask myself – rather, I look at my other single friends and I shout - “What in the world is wrong with modern relationships?

And now I have an answer.

Modern Westernism and especially that in America preach a form of rugged individualism - we have to depend on ourselves even though God created us to exist in community. Kids are taught that we have to be able to make it on our own, that having to rely on others is a sign of weakness. You can look at most athletes and tell that they would rather, if they could, go it without a team. Our friendships are superficial, based around musical tastes, fashion sense, and socio-economic status. White middle class kids hang out with middle class kids. Our conversations circle around the arbitrary - weather, grades, teachers, sports, concerts, and movies - and the slightly-less-than-arbitrary - who's sleeping with whom, who's dating whom, who knows how to correctly use the word "whom" - ok, that last one's really just my group of language-geek-friends (yes, they do exist).

So by the time we get to a point where we're dating, we're so starved for a connection that we're willing to date anyone who so much as says hello - assuming that they are also of the same socio-economic status. Now, at this point, I should say that we like to say that race, class, and the like don't matter - but rarely will this ever be acted upon. And when we find it, we are willing to go all in, because we have tricked ourselves into thinking that saying "I love you" makes it true. We see it as the easiest way to cement the relationship. And we see marriage as that final step that we are oh so eager to take. Marriage is something official - sealed with a kiss and a piece of paper that we have to go to court to undo.

And then the awful, hideous truth sinks in - we don't actually love this person - we just like the idea of loving them enough to fool ourselves into this vain game of deceit. So, we go to court. We undo the marriage. And then we go back to step one, looking for a new relationship to help us get over the old one.

And the Church isn't helping with this - we tell ourselves that God has blessed marriage and that it's good. Oddly enough, we listen to Josh Harris and tell ourselves that dating is bad - so instead of having an actual relationship, we have this stiff, awkward period of more than friends, but not married. And we rush into marriage thinking that it's ordained by God and that we followed all of these neatly-defined rules. Because we as Christians have taken such an emphasis off of community that we only talk about what Jesus said about self. We all know it's easier to love God and ourselves if we don't have to worry about those pesky neighbors.

Let us not forget the Church's love-hate relationship with sex. We love to talk about how it's God's gift to married people. But anything outside of that, we hate. So we dangle it like a string in front of our youth groups, saying, "See how great this is? But not until you're married." It's like baking a sheet of warm brownies only to tell the child waiting expectantly that he can't have any until after dinner. Don't get me wrong - you there, with the copy of I Kissed Dating Good-Bye, pay attention. I'm not saying I support sex outside of marriage. I'm just saying that if we want kids to not have sex before marriage, we should probably be a little more open about it. Until then, kids are going to have premarital sex. And worse than that, they are going to get married just to have guilt-free sex. And they'll enjoy their honeymoons a lot. And then they'll get home and realize that their marriage is based purely around a teenage infatuation and the desire to have sex.

Studies have shown that teenage Christians (active-tense, as in they are Christians when they do this) lose their virginities sooner than non-Christian teens. And the Christian divorce rate is as high as the national average. And we wonder why.

Now for the "But of course, there are obvious exceptions..." - yes, yes there are. My friends are getting married this summer - he's a college grad working on a second degree and his fiance is an undergrad. And I highly expect them to have a strong, healthy marriage. I wish them God's blessings. But they are the exception, not the rule.

I wish I could end this on a hopeful note, I really do. But I don't see any hope outside of a major change in our culture. And if all of the pink candy in Kroger is a sign, it's not going to happen very soon.

Rock on.

05 February 2008

Drew has: Voted. Plus one: Sticker

For the weird title, blame...most of my video game geek friends. I call them such with love.

Anyway, I am pleased to announce that Georgia has open primaries. Which means that, as an independent, I got to vote. Cool.

When you don't live on campus, it's a lot easier to get to your polling place, mostly because it's closer to campus (for some people) than the polling place for those who do live on campus. I sense a bit of a disconnect somewhere...

Anyway, in light of the fact that so many state elections have major flaws, I thought I'd make a few observations and suggestions.

1. Get rid of the caucus system. Getting to your polling place is hard enough. You shouldn't have to devote an entire night to it. This set-up almost inherently rules out poor single parents, a lot of shift workers, and quite a few subgroups. What if you can't find a sitter for your three year old? What if you've got a shift during the caucus? People may have prepared responses for these objections - in fact, I'm sure of it - but the incredibly low voter turn out in states that rely on caucuses supports the claims taught in every high school civics class. Everywhere.

2. Get rid of closed primaries. Yes, I know that primaries pick party candidates. But we live in a two-party system (in fact, not in theory - along the same lines, screw you, Duverger). There is a much easier way to do this - you get to vote in one primary. Just one. You get to support one candidate. The end. Some use the argument that a person from Party A could vote for a candidate in Party B that they think is less likely to win in a national election. Like, if a Republican voted for Lieberman in the 2004 Democratic primaries. However, this argument holds very little water because in a closed primary system, the same person is still capable of the same thing, they would merely have to change their party affiliation on paper. To go back to the example, said Republican would only have to change his status to Democrat, then vote for Lieberman in the primary and Bush in the election. And under the current closed primary system, if a member of Party A is fed up with his party, he can't vote for a candidate from another party without filling out useless paperwork. Some of my Libertarian friends (the ones who are actually registered Libertarians, not the ones who complain about drugs not being legal) can't vote for Ron Paul in the primaries because they're not Republicans. Don't get me wrong, I don't like Paul, but his supporters should be able to support him.

3. Move all of the primaries to one day. This back-and-forth crap is annoying. We focus more on where the candidates stand in comparison to their fellow party members and not focusing on where they stand to their real opponents. We spend too much time talking about how important the first states are when, in reality, they aren't. Even pundits admit to this. Save time. Save money.

4. Make election day a state/national holiday. I voted between classes. I know people who aren't voting because they don't have a break in classes long enough to get to their polling places. Enough said.

5. Give people, especially university students, the option of an alternative polling place. Granted: I was incredibly happy to find out that my polling place is on the university bus line. But then again, it used to be on my way to class. Last year, it was out of walking distance and not on a bus line. If students, faculty, and staff of a college/university could vote on campus, we would notice a tremendous rise. And guess what? It could be easy. Step 1: Fill out registration card. Step 2: Check box requesting Application for Alternative Polling Place. There's no reason a campus of 35,000 students (not to mention faculty and staff) shouldn't have a polling place. Most students I know aren't voting because it's too much of a hassle to get an absentee ballot. We can change that.

6. Get rid of super-delegates/electoral college. Let the voters pick the candidates/presidents. Hillary is leading Obama by a tremendous amount just because most of the party leadership likes her. President Bush beat Al Gore because the electoral college isn't bound by the way the state votes. We call ourselves a democracy, but we have these huge structures getting in the way of it.

End rant.

We complain about low voter turnouts, but do nothing to fix it.

Mostly because if we did, people would start paying attention. And then they would realize that the two parties in power aren't that different and do very little and get paid way to much. And that would be bad for the two parties in power who, well, who make the election rules.

Rock on.