Saturday, June 03, 2006

BE Interactive Radio Tonight at 8:00 PM EST

Saturday night again, folks, and time for me to do my radio show. I want to say thanks to the people who have tuned in for the first two shows, and welcome anyone who would like to join in for the third show tonight!

If you would like to make a request, host a contest to attract some viewers, have a post read over the air, or make a dedication, here would be the place to do it. You can also register for contests on this post, and earn credits just for listening to the show. People have made as many as 150 credits in an evening just checking out the show.

But most important, click here to access BE Radio, and listen in for our third broadcast tonight at 8:00 pm. And let me know if you liked it, or what we can do to make it better for you. This show is for you, and we want to make it as fun as can be. And thanks, for listening to BE Interactive Radio.

BE Radio: Radio for bloggers, by bloggers, and yes, even about bloggers.


Posted by Scottage at 5:11 PM / | |  

Friday, June 02, 2006

Israel: Many Different People, One Nation

I am in the process of writing essays to get into graduate school, and this particular essay will not be able to be used, so I thought I would post it here. The essay is on my most significant cross-cultural experience, and of course the amount of words I could use was limited, or else I could speak on my Israel experience for pages and pages. I hope you enjoy it.

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In late 1995, I had my most memorable cross-cultural experience when I moved to Israel and became a citizen.  I had visited the country many times before this, but only upon immersing myself in the culture, did I really begin to understand the wide variety of cultures that comprised the Israeli community, and to question my own culture, values, and the preconceived notions instilled in me.

It is a common notion that Israel is home to two separate and completely distinct people, but this isn’t the case. In reality, people from a wide variety of backgrounds have moved to the country in hope of sharing some of the rich history that accompanies the Holy Land.  The two dominant entities, the Palestinians and Israelis, are each comprised of a wide variety of sub-cultures, each with their own issues, challenges, history and needs. However, the cultures have shared their history to such an extent as to make their futures intertwined, and bringing these diverse groups together to make one country.

When I first moved to Israel, I lived on a kibbutz, a communal living environment housing many distinct communities, most but not all Jewish, from a variety of locales around the world.  These groups of people had abandoned inter-cultural conflicts, such as Russian vs. American or Orthodox vs. Secular, and pooled their resources to create a better life.  This better life focused on living off of the land and creating a more beautiful place to live, but still centered on peaceful living in the Middle East.

This was vastly different than life in Tel Aviv, a commercial center like so many big cities I had lived in.  Jews, Muslims, Christians and others worked side by side, and met after work in the tea houses to discuss the most pressing political issues of the day.  Israelis are forced to be cognizant of current events, and knowledge and understanding of these events comes not only from reading the papers and watching the news, but from communication with all people, regardless of religion, and hearing the different views on the events of the day that make up the complete picture.

The fundamentalist Orthodox Jewish community I found in Jerusalem was far more insular than other communities I experienced in Israeli, but maintained similar goals as their more secular counterparts.  They too strove for a better life based on a more peaceful and moral coexistence with their neighbors, and the morals they worship are identical to the morals valued in Islam and Christianity. Unfortunately, the Orthodox Jewish community focused so heavily on the steps necessary to attain this better society that they are unwilling to entertain the idea that others could take different steps to reach the same goal, and fear all outsiders.  I suspect the same is true of the fundamentalist Muslim society, which I was unable to experience first hand.
In the West Bank, I found the Palestinian communities to be warm and inviting, and never felt the danger that most Jews assume would be ever-present in the territories.  The territories have been hit hard by the wars they’ve faced, and even the West Bank’s infrastructure has been reduced to rubble during Israeli occupation. But the Palestinian people are filled with hope, more so for their children than for themselves.  They know that a better life is possible, and that it revolves around creating a peaceful coexistence with their neighbors, the Israelis.  However, many Palestinians still feel the bitterness of Israeli occupation, and are unable to get past the disappointment of their broken dreams.

I was not able to experience all the different communities found in Israel, but it is clear to me from my seven years in Israel that a similar set of goals and values are shared by a variety of different communities there.  The tumultuous history between the Palestinians and Israelis have masked these similarities, and caused a bitter rivalry, but the vast majority of people on both sides of this conflict want a peaceful coexistence based on a common morality. If only these cultures can get past the grievances of the past sixty years and begin communicating, both may find that a common goal of a peaceful coexistence is within reach, and Israeli society can once again be a religious country for people of all faiths.

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Posted by Scottage at 12:25 PM / | |  

Fun with Search Engines

Sometimes humor comes at you from the strangest places. Today, it came from the search engines.

I was looking through the various hits on my site today, and someone had found my site using WebCrawler, entering the search expression “Batwoman a Lesbian”. This linked to my post from Tuesday on the revamping of the DC Comics Superhero team to be more diverse, including the remake of Batwoman as a lipstick lesbian.

The funny aspect was to be found in the “Did you mean?” section of the search results, which asks if the submitter really mean to submit: “Batman a Lesbian”. Now, I’m as open to new ideas as the next guy, but is it really possible that Batman could be a lesbian? I mean, hey, Bruce Wayne, Batman’s alter ego is a man so can he possibly be a lesbian?

Perhaps Aquaman could be a lesbian, since I don’t remember him every having a male alter-ego. In fact, did he even have legs, or just a fin, I can’t really remember, but besides his name he could be a female disguised as a male. And the Wonder Twins, who knows which is a guy and which is a gal. But Bruce Wayne is definitely a man, and thus, I believe, prohibits any possibility of him being a lesbian.

I was recanting this story to my friend, npanth, and he pointed out another little search engine abnormality. If you go over to Google, enter the search term “failure”, and instead of hitting the “Google Search” button hit the “I’m Feeling Lucky” button, you arrive at none other than President Bush’s home page!

I have no idea how the “I’m Feeling Lucky” button works, but I’m not sure if this would be funnier if it was determined by some sort of computer algorithm or if some programmer in Google set this up as a subtle jab at our commander in chief. But any way you look at it, you gotta love it!

Anyway, this just goes to show that sometimes you have to notice the little things, because they’re just too funny to let pass you by.

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Posted by Scottage at 2:19 AM / | |  

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Rape of the Congolese Women – A Tragedy of Epic Proportions

I was horrified at a report on CNN today talking about the systematic rape and mutilation of the women and girls of the Congo, and really horrified is way too weak a word. This is appalling. After reading it I almost wished I hadn’t, but I know the world only gets better if we learn about these things, and try to right them.  But WOW! This is just too horrible to even comprehend.

I know very little about the Congo, though I suspect that’s in the process of changing. Apparently the country is about the size of all of Western Europe and has been engaged in a bloody war that has already taken 3.9 million lives.  A peace accord was signed two years ago, but the fighting has not really stopped. And now the soldiers who were involved in the conflict are attacking women to destroy their ability to reproduce.

In one small province, already 4,000 rape and mutilation cases have been reported, and who knows how many others have not been reported. The stories are so heartbreaking I can’t bear to reprint them, involving girls as young as 8 to women throughout child-rearing ages. Men or boys found in the same household as these women are either killed or raped and mutilated themselves.

Aid money for the victims will run out in June, and little if anything is being done to stop the violence. The country is expecting their first democratic election in August, but most expect that their current president, Joseph Kabila, will remain in power, leaving serious questions as to whether anything will be done to protect these innocent victims.

And what are we doing?  What is the world’s only remaining superpower doing to protect these women?  Nothing!

As a superpower, I believe we have an obligation to stand up for those who are too weak to defend themselves.  I am a huge fan of Harry S. Truman, and visited the Truman Library last year. But Truman did not bomb the tracks leading to the concentration camps during World War II, and millions of lives would have been spared if he had. This is one example of the US shirking their duties as a superpower.  

Our present inaction in Congo is another example of our shirking our duties.  What makes these women any less worthy of our protection than the women of the Middle East, whom we have pointed to time and again as a major reason why we take such an active role in the region? Why are these women less valuable than the ethnic Albanians in Serbia, who merited our protection in 1999 in the Kosovo War?

Oddly enough, I don’t think we can go in and protect the Congolese women today, because our military is spread so thin.  But perhaps if we worried more about protecting human rights than about protecting our oil interests, the world would be a better and safer place to live in.

At the least, I hope President Bush realizes that this tragedy occurred on his watch, and that in this case he has failed to fulfill his obligation as the leader of the only superpower left in the world.  And meanwhile, I’ll pray for the women in Congo, and hope the sun rises on a better tomorrow for these victims of such terrible crimes.

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Posted by Scottage at 12:16 PM / | |  

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

ShoutBox SuperVillains

Yesterday, I made a post of ShoutBox SuperHeroes, and immediately got people asking if they could be Super Villains. Well, without further ado, the ShoutBox Super Villains!


Posted by Scottage at 9:54 PM / | |  

Sign Petition to Stop ExxonMobil from Drilling in Alaska!

Last week the House of Reps passed a bill allowing ExxonMobil to drill for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. In actuality, the bill allows all companies to drill there, but only ExxonMobil is morally repugnant enough that they want to drill in this beautiful and precious Wildlife Refuge. They are the only company left in Arctic Power, a group that lobbies for drilling in ANWR, and perhaps they are the root of all evil!

I spent part of a summer in Alaska, and found the ANWR about the most beautiful place on earth.  It is truly a magnificent area, with abundant wildlife and an untouched charm that will leave you breathless.  If you haven’t been there, I urge you to make it one place you visit.  It will leave a lasting impression on you, I guarantee it. Even if you’re not an outdoors person, it’s just spectacular, and you’ll be blown away.

The thought of destroying this region is more than horrible!

But beyond the considerations for the beauty of the area, and the spectacular wildlife that would be killed, this endangers mankind as well. The Artic Refuge acts as a buffer for global warming, keeping the air and environment cold, and protecting the glaciers and glacial tills in Greenland from the effects of our own industrialization.  Many predict that destroying ANWR would greatly increase global warming.

The very concept of drilling in Northern Alaska for the fossil fuels that jeopardize our environment is short cited and dangerous, on so many levels. Thus, I urge everyone to sign this petition, and to boycott ExxonMobil until they stop pushing to drill for oil in Alaska.  After all, this company has made billions of dollars from us over the years, while wantonly destroying our environment. Let’s try to prevent them doing the same this time.

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Posted by Scottage at 8:16 PM / | |  

Rice Offers Talks over Iranian Nuclear Program, but with Conditions

Earlier this week I reported that Condoleezza Rice was considering negotiations with Iran over their nuclear program, a step which I feel is important, though I doubt it will slow their nuclear program at all. Still, I felt (and feel) that resuming negotiations with Iran after 25+ years of silence is important since they are quickly becoming our chief adversary, and we have far too little knowledge of Iran and what they’re capable of.

Today Rice did put forth an offer for talks with Iran, but in a format which Iran will be unable to accept. The offer basically says that Rice will join multilateral talks with Iran and the EU3 provided that I Iran suspend their nuclear enrichment and reprocessing program, and that they do so in a verifiable manner.  

"As soon as Iran fully and verifiably suspends its enrichment and reprocessing activities, the United States will come to the table with our EU colleagues [France, Germany and Britain] and meet with Iran's representative," Rice said.

The message sent by Rice also included a backhanded slap of the present Iranian leadership:

Although it offered the diplomatic opening, Rice's speech also contained strong rhetoric. "Iran can and should be a responsible state, not the leading state sponsor of terror," Rice said.

Based on Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s multiple declarations that Iran will not be deterred in enriching Uranium in their quest to create an energy source for the country, accepting these terms would be represent a major loss of face in the Middle East for Iran. What’s more, Iran has already disabled all of the cameras and IAEA equipment in their nuclear facilities, meaning verification would be nearly impossible today.

Perhaps this is the perfect move. It puts the US in a position where we can say that we wanted to talk with Iran and they were unwilling to meet the conditions we set forth, giving the United States leverage with China and Russia, as well as with the EU3. But it also means that we lose an opportunity to open a dialogue with Iran, an opportunity that may not exist in a short amount of time.

Only time will tell if we made the correct move here.  Certainly, this approach helps ease the fears of Bush and Cheney that Iran will publicly reject their offers of talks.  Our President and VP fear that this would be seen as a snub of the administration both at home and abroad, since there is no way Iran will take this offer.

But it also eliminates the possibility of sitting across the table from our adversaries, and learning more about them.  If we do engaged in an armed conflict with Iran, I’m afraid that we will see this as a lost opportunity, and a valuable one at that, to determine what Iran’s present regime really values, how far they would go to attain it, and where they are most vulnerable. Only time will tell, but I think the ultimatums will not benefit us in the long run!

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Posted by Scottage at 11:53 AM / | |  

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

New Batwoman a Lesbian, and the ShoutBox Superhero Team

Cool news out of the UK, where DC Comics is trying to diversify their team of Superheroes both with regards to ethnicity and sexual orientation.  Perhaps the most appealing change will be Batwoman, who is coming back as a rich socialite “lipstick lesbian” with an ex-police detective, named Renee Montoya, as a lover.

Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman will no longer be a part of the superhero lineup. Additions will be Mexican teenager Blue Beetle, and the Great Ten, a group of Chinese superheroes. Firestorm and the Atom have been recreated as black and Asian, respectively, to add to the diversity of the team.

Meanwhile, I figured as long as DC can recreate their team of superheroes, I can create my own team of superheroes. So I am pleased to introduce to you the Shoutbox Superheroes team, pictured below!  Thanks again to Cat for applying her amazing creative skills.  If you have a superhero to add to the team, submit the picture, and I’ll post it here. In the mean time, we will fight for truth, justice, and the blogging way!

Update: We are looking for Super Villains! I will be the first, and already ANO has agreed to join me. Wanna be a Super Villain? Let me know, we'll include you in the follow-up post!

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Posted by Scottage at 7:47 PM / | |  

Ohio Man Tells US to Kiss His Ass over Immigration with Thonged Lady Liberty

In Toledo, Ohio, Art Bollinger has been following the growing controversy over immigration rights in this country with a great deal of passion.  He strongly objects to the possibility of giving illegal immigrants the ability to earn their citizenship, and says that having broken the law by sneaking in, the immigrants should now be shown the door out.

Then Bollinger received one of the many emails we all receive with joke cartoons about our present political dilemmas, and found an appropriate way to express his frustration. He created his own statue or liberty, with a few accoutrements. His statue features a thong and a nice big banner telling immigrants to “Kiss my American Ass”.

The larger-than-life lady liberty stands outside his home in peaceful (and very conservative) Toledo, leaving no uncertainty on Bollinger’s views on the immigration bill that recently passed the house.

"You don't have rights. You are here illegally," said Bollinger of the people who cross the border without permission.  "If I break the law, I go to prison. You break the law and the American government says they'll kiss your behind.  No.  That's ridiculous."

Bollinger’s wife is from Russia (can you say mail order bride?), and in order to marry her and bring her into the country, Bollinger had to pay a great deal of money and go through many procedures.  Evidently this crystallized his thinking on the immigration bill, and on the issue which has moved to the forefront of many minds in this country.

Personally, I don’t agree with Bollinger’s take on immigration.  But I can’t help but admire his creativity, and I celebrate his exercising his rights to free speech.  Not to mention, the statue’s pretty funny, don’t you think? Perhaps I can get one for my front yard!  

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Posted by Scottage at 11:09 AM / | |  

Monday, May 29, 2006

Four More Years of a Bush White House? Gingrich Plants Seeds

I’m a man’s man, but I nearly broke into tears when I heard last week that Jeb Bush was being asked to take over as Commissioner of the NFL.  I was relieved to see he turned down the job.  But relief has turned to shock and, yes, horror as it becomes apparent that he turned down the job because he has a better job in mind: President of the United States!

Newt Gingrich’s comments yesterday represents the typical test balloon politicians float to determine if their candidacy is even a mere possibility. "I just think his natural, personal ability is so great that people are going to realize he is not his father and he's not his brother. He's a very unique, charismatic leader with extraordinary capabilities. ... Jeb Bush may well be the most innovative (governor) in the entire country."

Gingrich stated that he thinks Jeb will run in 2012 or 2016, yet he already compares Bush to Hillary Clinton, and weighs the possibility of wining such an election. This more than anything shows that Gingrich sees Jeb as a candidate now, and not 6 or 10 years from now. And in portraying Bush as so different from his brother and father, he hopes to avoid the biggest fear of Jeb in the White House: 4 more years of the same!

But wouldn’t that be exactly what we’re talking about?  4 more years of the interests of big oil over the interests of drivers and small business owners, 4 more years of big business over small business, and 4 more years of ignoring the rights of anyone without the last name of Bush or Cheney. To me, there are few bigger nightmares than Jeb Bush becoming the next president of the United States.

Some readers may think that this was just a minor segment of a television interview, and that it has no significance, but this is how candidacies begin. A person with political muscle but little to lose, such as ex-House Speaker Gingrich, says a speech in a swing state, like Florida, and reaction is gauged.  Believe me, someone had a poll in the field getting ready for Newt’s comments. Now they go back and analyze the results.

If opinion polls show even the slightest willingness to consider Jeb Bush as a candidate for president in 2008, start looking for other political figures, these people with allegiance or favors owed to the Bush family, to start making similar remarks.  And don’t be shocked when, in 7 months, Jeb Bush announces his candidacy for president.  Get ready, folks, we may be looking at 4 more years of a Bush White House!

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Posted by Scottage at 1:51 PM / | |  

Know Thy Enemy: US Considering Talks with Iran

The United States, including Condoleezza Rice, is considering resuming talks with Iran after over 25 years of silence between the two nations. The goal would be to enter into meaningful dialogue over the Iranian nuclear program, and the possibility that the Muslim nation is developing nuclear weapons.  However, top members of the administration, including the President and VP, are resisting the temptation to negotiate.

Since Iran seized American hostages in 1979, the United States has refused dialogue with the country, save some indirect talks at times of extreme crisis. But European leaders, including Germany’s Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, EU Foreign Policy Chief Javier Solana, and German chancellor Agela Merkel, are pushing for the US to join talks and hopefully avert a military conflict over Tehran’s nuclear enrichment program.

The US is concerned that Iran will rebuff any efforts at negotiations, which would hurt the administration politically, although it is unclear if the ramifications would be felt internationally or only on the home political front. The administration is also concerned that negotiations would anger various groups in Iraq, especially the Sunni’s responsible for much of the chaos in Iraq today.

On the flip side, other people in-the-know are coming out in favor of talks.  Former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger indicated in a Washington Post column that the recent letter from Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to President Bush could and should be used as an opening to negotiations with Iran.  And Richard Armitage, former deputy Secretary of State under Colin Powell, also came out in favor of talks.

"Diplomacy is much more than just talking to your friends," Mr. Armitage said in a telephone interview. "You've got to talk to people who aren't our friends, and even people you dislike. Some people in the administration think that diplomacy is a sign of weakness. In fact, it can show that you're strong."

Personally, I’m in favor of negotiations.  I do believe there’s a real chance of being rebuffed by Iran, and an even greater possibility that negotiations will have no effect.  But Iran very well may be our primary adversary for many years to come, and as such a channel of dialogue presents some real value for our administration.

First, as Sun Tzu says, know thy enemy. Right now, I believe the Bush administration maintains a certain ignorance about Iran, Ahmadinejad, and radical fundamentalism that can be very dangerous.  Any efforts to know the motivations and maneuvers of Iran could have serious long-term benefits.

Second, both while working for the Israeli government and while in small business, I followed a very simple ritual for every meeting I attended: I created two lists, one list of things I wanted to learn from the meeting, one list of things I wanted to learn from the people at the meeting.

You see, there is a great deal to learn from a meeting that has nothing to do with the answers of the participants.  Even if a meeting doesn’t take place, if the invitation isn’t accepted, if connections are missed, there are still things to learn, if you’re open to learning them.  

Relations between countries in the Middle East, and certain states of warfare, are very complex, and it’s time the US begins to know its enemy.  Attempting to engage Iran in negotiations over their nuclear program is as good an excuse as any to begin this process.

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Posted by Scottage at 2:33 AM / | |