Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Our Idiocracy

I am only half-way through reading the article on the Somali pirate that was recently brought to the US, but I have heard enough. All I can do is laugh at this unintentional joke, because to take it seriously is just impossible. I don’t even know where to begin… oh let me count the ways:

1) You can’t charge a pirate with treason: Similar to the Europeans who charged the pirates off their coast with Treason, the charges her are equally preposterous. A pirate has no loyalty, and no law… that’s why they call themselves pirates. So charging them with Treason is a farce, but that is not the point of the charge now is it. The point of the charge is to have an excuse to get rid of one more pirate.

2) Is your goal to reduce the number of pirates?: Assuming that the intent is to lessen the number of pirates, you have to ask if this is effective. Pirates most likely arise from desperation and a lack of oversight of a host nation. Occasionally there might be some pirates who just want to be pirates for the sake of being a badass. Whether its desperation or bloodlust, death or being flown to the US is not exactly a deterrent. In my books death by starvation is worse than death on the high seas in search of riches.

3) Isn’t he supposed to be punished? This kid (and we will get to his kid/adult status next) has just been flown to the US. I am sorry but this is a little bit like Elian Gonzales barrel ride to the US from Cuba. They both are here through a tragedy and they both find themselves in a situation much better than they left. The Somali kid is probably confused but also just as excited at this celebrity treatment he is receiving. I bet those prison overalls are a lot more comfy than his pirates outfit. Who knows, maybe if we tell every pirate in Somalia that “You had better stop misbehaving or we will fly you to the US and feed you three times a day!” we will have a lot less pirates, but I have my doubts.

4) What the hell are we going to do with him? So they already have this kids mother screaming to have him returned (understandably) because according to her he is just a sixteen year old who got wrapped up in the wrong crowd. Sixteen? I thought the news said he was “at least 18”, surely they must know right? Of course, the kid always travels with his birth certificate… of course they have no idea how old he is but they need him to be “at least 18” so they can legally fry (I mean try) his black a**. So we will bring this 16 year old kid (forgive me for believing the mother on this one) who speaks no English and has no legal representation to the US and we will make a show out of him for all of the Americans demanding revenge for this injustice in some part of the world they can’t even point out on a map.

I find this whole incident to be so upsetting. Is pirating wrong, yea. But I also think shooting three people who are drifting in the open sea with no food or water is also wrong. True these pirates had a hostage and guns, but they were on the verge of realizing their situation was hopeless. But they did not shoot these guys because it was right, they shot them because it was convenient… because they did not want to have to do what they have done now… bring a random Somali kid to the US for a farce trial. So Anthony, in all your wisdom, what should we have done? Well if you insist on doing something, reprimand him to his own Government. Wait, Somalia has no government? True but not true, they have no national government but there is local government and there are also neighbor states (Ethiopia, Eritrea) who could be coerced *cough* Cash *cough* into handling the case on behalf of the US since both of these governments have served as interim governments for Somalia. All I know is that I would have let the kid go before I stretch the law to extradite the guy. You must remember that we intervened in order to save an American life not punish or exterminate the life of the offenders.

Words of Wisdom: Pirates in Somalia will persist as long as it is beneficial for them to do so. Shooting them seems to be a reasonable deterrent, shipping them to the US, not so much. The real answer though is promoting a government in the country and alleviating some of the poverty that drives this desperation. If it was me, I would gladly hijack the oil tanker cruising off the coast of my country if the alternative was worrying about how I was going to eat for the rest of my life, and I think that until you change the options you are going to get people acting in the same way.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Somebody Help Me Out Here

“I do not ask for this support lightly. These are challenging times, and resources are stretched. But the American people must understand that this is a down payment on our own future.” - President Obama

When I first read this quote, I thought it a poignant reference to the bailout funds or to our investments in the stimulus packages, but I was surprised to learn the quote referred to President Obama’s decision to deploy 4,000 additional troops (and more money) into the war in Afghanistan. I must be missing something.

I have been iffy about some of our new-presidents policy but I really need some explanation about this. What exactly are we doing in Afghanistan? It took me a while to remember how all this started; 9/11 led to bombs in Afghanistan (because that’s where the terrorist were right?), then we moved on to Iraq (because that’s where the oil was… I mean money for the terrorist + WMD’s were right?). Pretty quickly the world realized that Iraq was, at best, based on false assumptions and, at worst, an elaborate grab for oil but no one really recanted on Afghanistan.

Have any of you been to Afghanistan? Well neither have I, but I have seen pictures… and movies… and let me tell you, it’s nothing worth fighting over. It is virtually a wasteland full of rock and opium, but its most abundant resource seems to be the pride in its fighting people. Since 1970 superpower’s have been treating them like punching bags. First Britain, then the Soviet Union and now the noble US have bombed and shot the living daylight out of these guys… and they don’t seem to give up. Reading the news the other day got me thinking about all this again. I had forgotten, and most of you have probably forgetten as well, that 13 of the 19 terrorists involved in the Twin Towers attack were residents of Saudi Arabia. It is obvious why we would not go bombing Saudi, but we should offer at least a similar hesitancy to the Afghans.

So Al-Qaeda trains in its mountains, are we willing to tear up the floorboards to find the mouse? Like Iraq, the number of civilian and previously un-involved (meaning non-terrorists prior to the invasion) citizen casualties vastly outnumber the number of ‘terrorist’ deaths. This whole thing is like the broomstick in Fantasia, while trying to destroy one deviant we spawn a million others. Focusing our efforts on destroying the group that we think wronged us (despite the fact that this group is much more complicated and diverse than we initially imagined) is simply making other groups pop up in response to our own ‘terror’-like behaviors.

I guess I am just a little flabbergasted that with all the other problems going on in the world we are still committing resources to a war that I have yet to see a point in. I really am hoping someone can explain this one to me, because I must have forgotten a long time ago why it is we went into that place.

Oh wait, now I remember, after an attack on American soil we could not just sit around twiddling our trigger fingers. We had to bomb SOMEONE, why not the Afghans.

Saturday, April 04, 2009

To Cream or Not To Cream

Well I am officially diseased. Technically it may not be a disease, but its something with a name and I’ve got (because a doctor told me so). I’ve got Vitiligo. Some of you have known that for years, but this was the first time it has been told to me by a professional. Here is some background for the rest of you.

Ever since I can remember, I have had a migrating white spot. The first place I remember seeing it was my palm. Since then it has moved from there to the back of my hand, to a spot on my jawline, to my nostril, to under my chin, then it disappeared, and then reappeared on my other nostril. There may have been some that I missed, but typically I have had a spot and it stays put for a year or two. At times there have been no spots, and at others there have been two spots, all the while I had been mildly comfortable with it. Then recently the spot formed a new place on my neck (joining the one that was already on my nostril). This one worried me a bit, both because it was bigger than the previous spots and because I was sort of hoping that the spots were finally going away. Then I was feeling a bit panicky when a THIRD spot showed up on my jawline. One spot, ok, two spots, so be it, but three spots… something’s up. Around this time I saw my parents and after their many questions, I told them I would finally go see a dermatologist.

So in Houston, I look up a dermatologist and I go see the guy. As I sat in the waiting room, it became obvious that dermatology is 90% cosmetics (i.e. botox, collagen injections, wrinkle removal) and 10% medicinal where you actually cure somebody for something. Nevertheless, I walk into the office and talk to the doctor. The conversation goes something like:

Me: I’ve got spots and they move.
Doc: Interesting
Me: See here are the ones that are here now.
Doc: Oh yes, I see.
Me: I have been paranoid and done some research on my own. I think its Vitiligo.
Doc: [Shines a light on my face] Yep, that’s exactly what you’ve got. A mild form of it.
Me: Alrighty.

So he prescribes me some creams and sends me on my way. He basically reaffirms what my research had already told me, that doctors have no idea why Vitiligo happens and that there is really no effective cure. The creams rarely help but they are worth a shot.

As I leave the office with my prescription and samples, I began to realize that I am unsure if I want to use the creams or not. Which brings us to the question: to cream or not to cream? Let’s begin.

To Cream:

This is the easy argument to make. People typically want their bodies to work normally, and having spots of depigmentation is just not the way the body is supposed to work. Although there are no health issues with pigmentation loss, there are certainly cosmetic issues. White spots on a black person is not exactly flattering. My spots now are small and mostly out of the way, but there is no telling whether they would stay that way. Basically, if I want to get rid of these spots (and look completely normal) I should try the cream.

Not to Cream:

Maybe I don’t want to get rid of the spots. Don’t get me wrong, the spots make me very self-conscious (seeing someone and waiting for the inevitable, “what happened to your neck”) and I particularly worry about the unpredictability of them (what if I turn into MJ who claims vitiligo turned him white? Or worse, what if I end up half and half?). But is being a little scared or self-conscious a bad thing? It could very well be an opportunity, both to become more at peace with who I am and to deal with adversity. To be honest, I have never really used my good looks to their full advantage (I never was much of a player and I usually dress so poorly that no one quite looks long enough to tell if I am attractive), so losing them would not be so bad. More importantly is the fact that the people that matter to me in life would not really care. My family, my good friends and potentially a wife (depending on why she is with me) would love me for me and not because I am of one solid color, so there would be no loss there. But so far, I have only described reasons why I would not be losing anything, now let me tell you what it is to gain. I would learn how to conquer a fear. I would learn to see the world in a different way, both by the new way I would be treated and in the way I would see imperfections in others. I would be forced to get over my vanity, because although I may not use my good looks I do take pride in them. Lastly, I would feel like I am not fighting fate. I was given this condition for a reason, so should I try and fight it? Though this argument falters when you remember that if it is meant to be, it will be (i.e. if I am supposed to have spots the cream will just not work). It boils down to this, can you go through life chasing perfection or an image of yourself that is only superficial? Does that not degrade the value of who you are on the inside, the part that really matters? I feel like a guy who is slowly going bald, or a girl who sees she is losing the battle against controlling her weight. At some point you have to accept that you are who you are, and you are beautiful despite whatever “condition” you are afflicted with. Learning to do that will let that balding man, or the fat girl, or the spotted man walk into any situation (high school reunions, beach parties, first dates) and feel good about themselves. Maybe this wishful thinking, but it’s definitely an experiment I would be willing to take.


I am actually writing this in retrospect. I had all the thoughts a week or two ago, and I am trying to recount them now. In that week or two I decided I would use the stupid medicine, and actually got myself to start it this morning. So now that I have creamed, do I think I am giving in to vanity or fear. Yes and no. In those weeks I definitely realized that I will be okay with whatever happens but that it was silly to try and remove that fear of uncertainty. I just have to work with the fear, accept it, and move on (see Dune’s Litany Against Fear). While I will be ok with whatever happens, I do have the selfish desire to remain the pretty person that I am.

When I looked in the mirror the other day, and fretted over these inconvenient spots, I had a small daydream. Some guardian angel appeared with a big red button in his hand. He says “Push this button, and I will cure you of these spots forever” and immediately my hand goes for the button. But at the last minute I pause, and that’s where the story ends.

PS: I only will accept positive comments as I am still sensitive about the subject. That includes not saying things like “bummer” (Chisom!).