Oct 18 2012

Preface: Frustration, Change, and Beauty in West Virginia

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been dwelling on an article I read about Charleston, West Virginia on Joe Baur’s travel blog. When my fellow West Virginian and friend Douglas Imbrogno (of WestVirginiaVille.com and The Web Theater fame) first posted a link to the article on Facebook, I was immediately captivated by the title -

 

West Virginia Could (Should) Be Amazing

 

Although West Virginia often draws praise for being gorgeous — as it certainly is — we are occasionally though of as a blight on the Union, a literal black hole, and a place where dreams go to die. By his article’s own admission, Joe Baur bases his opinion on Charleston, West Virginia on one brief trip through our state’s capital. Despite the brevity of his encounter, many of his observations about West Virginia reflect my own views. From his article -

 

Charleston, surrounded on all sides by mountains with the Kanawha and Elk Rivers crossing through, puts the city of 51,400 in the best position to be a mecca of recreation, creativity and adventure. Hopefully residents and regional leaders agree, solving the surrounding area’s struggles with poverty and obesity in one — admittedly grandiose — blow.

On the Kanawha
What Baur describes in his article is a kind of frustration shared by the four humble writers of Meanwhile in West Virginia. Just as the title of his article states, West Virginia should be amazing. As a state, we continue to blow many of our chances at being special (many of which are admittedly out of our reach) for easier, shorter-term “gains”. As I replied in a comment to his article,

 

As a 20 year old West Virginian, you’ve just perfectly described the predicament of the West Virginian condition. Although there’s a good amount of what you’re after (and what I’ve spent most of the last few years pushing for) in this beautiful state, there’s an oppressive amount of bad, too.

The root of the problem has always been exploitation. When we split from Virginia during the Civil War, we did so after years and years of being ignored and under-represented in their government. Forming our own state did little to help us though; the exploitation had only begun.

First by the timber industry, then the railroad, and finally (and currently) the coal industry, we were tempted into using our natural resources for a quick profit. West Virginia became a monocrop economy (in a way of thinking), dependent on the industry of the day to survive. Unfortunately for us, all of this industry giving us jobs was based outside the state; we became a dependent economy.

We’re basically stuck in this system right now. We’re underdeveloped. Our cities are little more than support centers for dying industries based outside WV.

In Huntington, right on the Ohio River at the junction of KY, OH, and WV, the situation is similar to the one in Charleston minus the (relative) influx of cash from the state government. The only real industry are the hospitals which specialize in fighting heart disease and the other diseases that plague our region — byproducts of underdevelopment and overdependence on relatively nasty industry.

The future of West Virginia is tied to how well we can learn to diversify our economy, our people, and our infrastructure.

Thanks for coming to West Virginia. Although this state is a mixed bag of good and bad, I hope you’ll come back and find something worth seeing.

 

While I stand by my comment there, I believe much more can be said about the future of this great state. Just in my lifetime, Huntington and Charleston have started in the direction of becoming lively, productive communities, correcting decisions that lead to their decline decades ago. Although state government continues to support a monocrop economy, there is an increasing focus on the development of industry and commerce that can secure our stability and even help to grow our state.

For my part, it has been far too long since I traveled across the state to collect, gather, and share. This weekend Bishop and I hope to change the drought of sharing about West Virginia as we set out to see as much as we can in two days. We’re going to see what’s out there that we haven’t seen before, and then we’re going to try to figure out how to make more good happen.

As we prepare for our journey, think about ways you can get out into West Virginia and help change our future. And be sure to check back over the next few weeks to see what we learned (and photographed!) while we were out there.


Sep 30 2012

God is Not One – A Lecture (Part 1)

“We cannot make sense of the world without making sense of religion,” Dr. Stephen Prothero said during his lecture Friday evening at Marshall University. Dr. Prothero is a professor in the department of Religion at Boston University and the author of numerous books on religion.  His recent book, God is Not One (2010), was the subject of the evening’s lecture, brought to us by the Marshall University Honors College with their 3rd annual Da Vinci lecture. More information about Dr. Prothero is available on his website, which can be found here.

While I fundamentally disagree with the many of the points raised by Dr. Prothero, his lecture was fantastic and I would encourage everyone to take advantage of any opportunity one may get to attend another such lecture. He is a very entertaining speaker who’s ideas are very thoughtful and thought-provoking which, if you are at all familiar with us here at Meanwhile in West Virginia, is what we are all about.

Dr. Prothero spoke about the issue of religious literacy, the subject of his book Religious Literacy, and “the eight rival religions” which is the subject of his book, God is Not One. Of the two issues, the matter of religious literacy is the one that rang the true to me. “Are you really educated if you don’t know the difference between a Sunni Islam and Shia Islam?” he asked.

Dr. Prothero advocated for mandatory religious education at the public school level, beyond the 2 weeks dedicated to it during World History classes. He pointed out that one area in which people in the United States are most ignorant, is the principle of Separation of Church and State. “Three quarters of the people surveyed in a Pew Forum study”, which he cited throughout his lecture, “incorrectly believed that religion cannot be taught in public schools.” It is against the law to exclusively preach or promote specific religions, but merely discussing and educating on the history of them is in no way against the law, something the Supreme Court has upheld time and again. He explained that in his classes at Boston University, he tests all of his students at the beginning of the course on basic religious history questions, such as “Who built the ark in the Bible?” “The average score on such tests,” he said, “is 50%.”

Which, if the reaction in the room is anything to go on, was surprising to many people who attended the lecture. This wasn’t that surprising to me, however to actually have my suspicions empirically confirmed was a bit saddening. As someone who enjoys learning about, discussing, and debating religion, I know very well how illiterate the majority of people are about the history of their own religion. Dr. Prothero discussed that, as one of the world’s most religious countries, we are the most ignorant country insofar as the history of those religions.

Which, when you think about it, is frightening.

Turn on Fox News, at some point during the next half-hour period, I can promise you that you will hear at least one person citing their religious beliefs or their religious scripture as the basis of their stance on some issue. From abortion to taxes, from healthcare to capital punishment, people are making the most important decisions affecting the lives of the average US citizen based on their understanding of their religious beliefs. (I am not picking on Fox News or Republicans, because this is in no way exclusive to the right. I merely selected Fox News because the usually devote majority of their coverage to the elections.)

Six out of 535 people in Congress “Don’t Know/Refused” in answer to their religious beliefs. If Dr. Prothero’s classes are a standard which we can extrapolate out to the rest of America, the average score on a religious literacy test in Congress would be around 50%. These people publicly cite religious beliefs as their major measuring stick in their decision-making, and they probably couldn’t pass a test about the very essence of their religion.

That is terrifying.

Of course, how many of them actually do that instead of just saying they do that is a little iffy. Dr. Prothero noted that political strategists have learned that there is a great deal to be gained by citing religion, but almost nothing to lose. This is because the media and the American public simply does not know enough about religion to question these politicians when they say something of this nature.

Therein lies the problem. Regardless of your religious affiliation or beliefs, these people in the highest offices in the world are either lying to all of us because we do not know enough to question or refute them, or are making decisions based on a statistically questionable understanding of their religious beliefs.

The majority of Americans derive their religious faith from that of their parents. This is a fact. From the day we are born we are taken to our parent’s church, where we usually remain. From the day we learn to understand language we are placed in Sunday schools or other faith’s equivalents. We often do not have a choice in what religion we follow, we have been brought up in it during the most crucial stages of our development. (Often, teenagers and young adults will rebel against this at some point and leave the church, but statistically they will almost always return or attend a similar church elsewhere). There is nothing wrong with this, because within just about every religion, there are crucial moral and ethical lessons that then become ingrained in our nature.

However, the problem is that in this system, we breed out any questioning. We believe this and follow this because it has become our reality. Simple as that. There is no more desire to question or research origins, because we would be questioning our very reality. Which is a terrifying prospect to just about anyone, an uncomfortable situation to find ourselves in. So we don’t. And in doing so, we do not learn the facts and the history which leads to these beliefs. It is no longer important to us. This is the way things are because this is the way they are.

Decipher from that what you will, but consider it food for thought.

(I’ll be writing another post on the other half of his lecture dealing with this later.)

 


Sep 27 2012

Exercising Your Right

Citizen Change is a political service group founded by American Rapper Sean Combs aimed at getting young people involved in the political process. Vote or Die is their famous slogan.

Here at Meanwhile in West Virginia, we have no desire to endorse one candidate over the other. The four of us come from very different backgrounds, with the only common trait being our secondary and post-secondary education and sharing a home state. We disagree internally on a number of issues and we both feel different ways about different candidates.

What we do seek to accomplish though, is to make our audience THINK. We write these blog entries, and we put our own opinions and our hearts and soul into these posts. We present facts, but often these facts are cherry-picked to support what we are writing. This makes us no different from any other writers anywhere, however, at least we have the decency not to pretend that we are presenting you with facts. We write posts, we present information, and we try to plant the seeds of thought in the minds of our readers. If a reader sees something that they dislike or do not agree with, we encourage dissent!

Disagreement leads to counterarguments, counterarguments lead to the production of thought, from both parties. Personally there is nothing I love more than a good-natured argument (Argument here meaning a civil, logical, informed discourse). We do not know everything, most of us make no such claim. I love being presented with information counter to my own mindset, it forces me to delve deeper into the subject and find information to support my argument, or to inform myself about another. It stimulates learning for me as well.

But one thing we can all agree on here at Meanwhile in West Virginia, and the one thing that we do wholeheartedly endorse, is making your voice heard. We live in a great country, a country founded on the principles that the individual citizens deserve a voice in the course of events that impact us all. How do we accomplish this?

By voting!

Now “Vote or Die” is a little extreme, as are most of the claims by the plethora of pundits screaming apocalyptic warnings over the airwaves. However, they sure do have one thing right; this is going to be one of the most important and influential elections in recent history. It is not only your right, but your duty to get out there and use your voice, your vote.

Take this time to get out there and get registered to vote. Take this time to become informed on the issues (and avoid all the partisan BS). Find verifiable information from unbiased sources and educate yourself. Make sure those close to you do the same.

Please, you live in a country that has blessed you with the right to make your voice heard. For all the people out there in the world who do not have that right, please, go vote.

 


Sep 13 2012

A Treatise on Honor

Bushidō, the way of the warrior, the code of the samurai, was born out of Confucianism, with influences of Buddhism and Shinto, in Japan between the 9th and 20th centuries. The key principle of which was “Honor Unto Death.” Anecdotes throughout history have told of the samurai performing seppuku, or ritual suicide, the only way for a samurai to regain their lost honor.

The Samurai would plunge a short blade into the abdomen making a left to right cut, effectively disemboweling himself. During a traditional seppuku, the samurai would be accompanied by a second, who would decapitate him after the ritual disemboweling.

A similar practiced existed in feudal western societies, when it was not uncommon for a disgraced knight to fall on his sword to regain his honor through a “noble” death.

Ajax, an important character in Homer’s Iliad, fell on his sword “killed by his sorrow” and his desire to die “unconquered.”

What is it about “honor” that drove these men to take their own lives in such gruesome fashion in order to regain it? What does it say about society today that such a thing would be unimaginable, especially for something as fanciful as one’s honor?

Honor is, in itself, a curious word. If you Google honor, and click on dictionary.com, you’ll see five different definitions for the noun “honor.” These definitions range from having integrity in your own beliefs, to something that is bestowed upon you reverently. So what is “honor,” because these wide-ranging definitions seem to have little to do with anything that would drive someone to kill themselves today.

There is one key word in those definitions: integrity.

1. adherence to moral and ethical principles; soundness of moral character.
2. the state of being whole, entire, or undiminished.
Herein lies the crux of this subject, as these two definitions are inseparable and combine to form the true definition of the word “Honor.”

The United States Medal of Honor is the highest attainable military award. It is awarded for “conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his or her life above and beyond the call of duty while engaged in an action against an enemy of the United States.”

The state of being whole and undiminished in regards to your adherence to your moral and ethical principles, that is the true definition of honor. If that is not worth dying for, then one needs to question what is.

The purpose of this is not to promote ritual suicide in the name of one’s honor, but instead to promote a discussion in regards to the modern concept of honor. Specifically into the idea that honor is an archaic ideal, divorced from reality, and obsolete in modern society.

If morality and ethics are truly obsolete in this time, then what does that truly say about this time? Maybe Bushido and Feudal Chivalry are not necessarily applicable to modern-day society, but do we truly hold no interest in having our ethics unconquered?

Sorry guys, this has absolutely nothing to do with chivalry. Women just like to invoke it to keep this around. However, if this is the best you can do… Then it’s a start I suppose.

We have already conceded the fact that honor has no place in the world’s highest and most important offices. We have already conceded that honor is something that is sacrificial in the name of achievement. We have accepted the fact that honor does and should not play a part of our every day lives, we are willing to accept the narrative that we do what we have to in order to succeed.

Why should this be?

Aside from the completely rational belief that there is really no place for ritual suicide, what is it about honor unto death and unwavering morality that is so distasteful?

I believe this is largely due to the bastardization of such beliefs by many in the 20th and 21st centuries in order to provide a shield for others to commit horrendous acts.

In the 1940′s, Bushido was pressed into the psyche of the Japanese military. Not in the name of honor, but to provide a spiritual and moral shield by which leaders could press their soldiers to fight to the death. The most widely noted instance of this was the Japanese Kamikaze.

Kamikaze squadrons consisted of Japanese fighter pilots who knowingly participated in one-way trips. They were to embark into battle against the enemy, inflict the maximum damage possible, and then steer their wounded or fuel-less planes into the American ships. They usually did not carry enough fuel for a return trip to discourage the pilots from being able to change their minds

Further bastardization of the ideal of honor has occurred through the recent change in military and terrorist strategy, that is, suicide as a form of warfare. The most notable instance of this to any reader would be the tragedy that occurred on September 11, 2001.

On September 11, 2001 a group of Al Qaeda operatives hijacked four American airliners and crashed them into three buildings; the Twin Towers, and the Pentagon. The fourth plane (United 93) was planned to hit the White House, but upon learning of events, the passengers fought back. The plane went down in a field near Somerset, Pennsylvania. It is the most devastating suicide attack to date.

These cowards sent young, ideologically crazed men to their deaths under the guise of honor and religious martyrdom. Such has the bastardization of “honor” reached its peak. There is no honor in this, no honor in this suicide, ritual or not. There is no honor in taking innocent life, regardless of the reason.

Is this the sole reason why honor is relegated to the realms of ideologues?

Unfortunately, this is not the case. As we are all too familiar with here in America, it is the most recent incarnation of the Presidential election season. And whilst one would expect that candidates would be expected to have the highest level of honor, this is simply not the case. In fact, acting honorably, we have come to equate with conceding defeat. A friend on my football team years ago said it best, “If ya ain’t cheatin’ ya ain’t tryin’.”

Again we experienced probably one of the most egregious example of this yesterday, as the country was remembering the devastation of the September 11th attacks, we were attacked again. Not at home, but in the form of an attack on the US consulate in Libya, where an American ambassador was killed along with three other Americans.

Mitt Romney’s campaign immediately and without knowing any facts attempted to turn this tragic event into political points for themselves. Honor truly had no place here.

If we don’t hold those seeking our highest office’s to a standard of honor worthy of holding such office, then how can we hold anyone else to this standard? Yes, I am liberal. This is no surprise to anyone who’s familiar with my work. I don’t particularly care for the “man” pictured above. So, naturally, I am going to point something such as this out. This is not to say that President Obama always behaves honorably. And honestly, the only reason I included the above is due to the timeliness factor of it. If President Obama had behaved similarly, I assure you it would be his picture up there, regardless of my ideology.

Honor is a matter of remaining loyal to your morals. It’s a way of life. It’s not something that we can let people off on based on any societal ideas or bastardizations.

Its time for honor to become a part of what it is to be human again. Honor should be interlinked with who we are at a core, fundamental level. Everyone’s ethical and moral system differs, so it’s not to say that everyone’s sense of honor should be the same. But we cannot simply let honor die by the wayside in the name of progress.


Sep 8 2012

West Virginia Stereotypes and Diversity Analysis

Before I begin the main topic of this article, I would like to thank James Nowlin for waking me up and motivating me. I apologize that I have not been doing what this group and website was designed to do; instead of treating it as a voice for a people who sometimes lack one, I used it to represent my own motives and ideals. Of course, I am not apologizing for voicing my ideas nor will I stop voicing them, but the motive will be different. I will write to represent this area. I will write for this area. I will write for the future of my part of West Virginia.

The stereotype of Appalachian people and particularly West Virginians is, like all stereotypes, never true in all but the extreme cases and largely built my various media. Immediately, movies like Deliverance and Beverly Hill Billies come to mind; though the two are quite different, they lead to the same conclusion concerning rural individuals from mountainous areas: Appalachian people are abnormal, ignorant, intolerant, and weird with barbarianism being the center of their culture.

Deliverance Poster Child

Four of those five characteristics can be eliminated immediately through logical analysis. Normal is a discriminatory illusion, and abnormal is an illusion of an illusion; so that characteristic can be eliminated. This same logic can be applied to weirdness being that differences in culture does not justify calling a group of people weird. Though West Virginia and neighboring areas may not rank as high in education nationally, the state is still a state of the United States of America, and therefore, it will minimally meet the standards of this nation. Therefore, it is absurd to believe Appalachian people are significantly less educated than any other area as a whole; thus, lack of intelligence can be removed. Barbarianism is a difficult concept to classify. I will admit there are some people who sound like they are just saying “bar bar bar” when they talk (if you did not get that, then research the origin of the word barbarian). Bar a few wild exceptions, the language spoken in West Virginia is a legitimate, understandable form of English with the deviation from “proper English” being no more than any other area. Furthermore, as a culture, West Virginians, particularly in the more urban areas, are as “refined” as any other American area as a whole. Thus, barbarianism is no more a trait of Appalachia as social refinement is a characteristic of New York City (consider all of the homeless, poor, and lower middle class individuals).

Four myths have been debunked, but the fifth is a more complicated issue. Understanding intolerance in Appalachia requires analyzing intolerance through demographic diversity and personal interactions. I’m going to exclude extremely rural areas for two reason: (1) most people live in urban, suburban, or exurban areas and (2) these individuals are outliers in terms of behavior and therefore statistically are insignificant when viewing Appalachia and particularly West Virginia as a whole. My argument will focus on statistics in West Virginia since it is my area of expertise and experience.

Diversity in West Virginia in terms of race is statistically non-existant. According to the U.S. Census, only 5.9% of West Virginians are non-white compared to the nation’s 21.9%. This number is probably a little skewed because it only considers residents. For instance, Marshall University and West Virginia University draw a students of various races and ethnicities nationally and internationally. However, the increase would not be significant. Only 1.3% of West Virginia residents are foreign-born compared to the 12.7% national percent, and 2.3% of West Virginia households speak a language other than English compared to the 20.1% nationally. In terms of religion, 77.3% is Christian and the rest being everything from no religion to far eastern religions; this value is very similar to the national value. Furthermore, when taken into consideration the multiple denominations within Christianity, the state fairs decently well in terms of religious diversity. However, people have taken these numbers and construed them to reflect a negativity regarding West Virginians. To an educated and analytical individual, these numbers merely reflect geographic location and economic history. West Virginia historically has not had the job market to attract a migration of blacks or Asians as the North and West respectively had. Furthermore, it is not geographically located in an area that would be a traffic point for immigrants. Consider the high immigrant or ethnically diverse populations in places such as Washington D.C. or Texas. These places are either major legal or illegal obstacles that an immigrant must cross. Once crossed, the immigrant will settle in that area. Thus, Dulles International Airport brings people into the D.C. area, and those people settle in that area. West Virginia has no international connection whether it be through borders or transportation. Thus, West Virginians are not by nature against diversity, but simply have not had the series of events or opportunities essential for it.

Racial Diversity in D.C.

Racial Diversity in WV

 

Therefore, to truly gauge the tolerance or intolerance of West Virginians, an analysis of how the majority of West Virginians interact with the diversity that is available is necessary. But this is difficult if not impossible to statistically calculate, no matter what approach one might take. For instance, politically one might assume that the more liberal a state, the more accepting of different groups of people. However, besides this being a very closed-minded view of politics, the definition of liberalism differs from state to state. Liberalism in West Virginia is very different from liberalism in Arizona or California, and the differences tend to be caused by the environmental conditions of that state. Liberalism in West Virginia is largely shaped by the economic problems while liberalism in Arizona and California is dominated by immigration and social rights respectively. Hate crime statistics are commonly used to attempt to measure tolerance, but this data is often unreliable and misleading due to the methodology and is better used as a rough national statistic than as area specific comparison data. Even from a legal perspective, West Virginia is average in terms of legislation that defends minorities and provides equal opportunities, and according to the Anti-Defamation League, West Virginia even exceeds states such as Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Virginia in terms of legislation geared towards aiding minorities. However, legislation does not necessarily indicate people’s attitudes towards diversity and interactions with minorities, and the sample size of minority to majority interactions is so small that trends are almost impossible to calculate. Effectively, there is no way of measuring tolerance or intolerance in West Virginia.

The lack of a sufficient methodology is enough to refute the supposed conclusion that West Virginians are intolerant. However, I would like to make a personal statement that I actually find West Virginians and by association other Appalachian areas very tolerant. I have never been faced by the community as a whole with any type of intolerant behavior. I am a twenty year old Muslim Arab who has lived in Barboursville, West Virginia since I was four. Not once have I felt excluded due to the actions of the community, and in the rare instances where I know someone has been faced with intolerance, the community has stepped up to support that individual. This may just be my personal limited experience, but I would wager that if you asked other minorities in West Virginia, they would generally respond with the same sentiment. Minorities may complain about injustices and what not, but I would believe these to be more due to the ungratefulness of people rather than the inhospitality of the community. I am very grateful to this area for not just tolerating myself and other minorities but embracing us by showing interest and interacting in the typical West Virginian friendliness. West Virginia Wild and Wonderful is a great motto, but perhaps we can put a spin on an abhorrent slogan to create a new more socially beautiful one: West Virginia, Open for Diversity.


Sep 7 2012

The Revival of Meanwhile in WV

It has been nearly two years since the creation of Meanwhile in West Virginia, an entity which sprang forth out of the minds of four very different West Virginia youths, who united for one common purpose: giving a voice to a demographic which rarely has one. We all have very different beliefs, very different lives, very different experience, very different expertise and very different ideas. What was (and still is) often chaotic and adversarial, left an indelible mark on all of our individual lives. We spoke and people, quite to all of our amazement, listened.

People from all over the world, who had no link to us (and plenty of spam bots), took notice of four West Virginia teenagers who just wanted to be heard, who had ideas that would otherwise have fallen by the wayside.

What Meanwhile in West Virginia was, however, had nothing to do with the four of us on an individual level. None of us aspired to achieve any great social change out of the site, but to encourage creativity and provoke thought amongst individuals such as ourselves and to give a voice to all of those with ideas which would otherwise have no outlet outside their own immediate community.

In referring to Meanwhile in West Virginia in the past tense, it is by no means meant to suggest that it is dead. For, as we all know, nothing on the internet ever truly dies. But Meanwhile in West Virginia in the sense described above did, in fact, die. We grew too sure of ourselves, both as a group and as individuals, we moved to fast, and we lost sight of what was Meanwhile in West Virginia. It became about us on a micro level, us as individuals, and ceased to be about all of US, which is everyone who believed in us and in the ideal, everyone who never thought they could have a voice based on their origins or their humble beginnings.

We sought to advance ourselves, individually, using this as a stepping stone to greater things. We used this platform to show everyone how intelligent we thought ourselves to be, how clever we were. It became about the comments and the views instead of the content and the meaning. We grew disheartened at our inability to turn all of our success into “Profit,” a word so vile in the sense of our ideal and everything we stood for that it is almost poisonous as it falls from our lips. We traded a silly idea of becoming internet superstars for the principles on which this website and community were founded.

We allowed our product to become a second-hand dumping ground for material we produced for other purposes, content and lazy in our success. We tailored our content to fit what attracted the most views, and our conversations on the merits of our work were judged solely by the number of views attracted to that particular piece. We fell into the pattern that we so readily ridiculed in the media that we were attempting to provide a contrast too; we dumbed down our standards to raise our ratings, instead of meeting those standards we rallied for in mainstream media.

I cannot speak for the rest of the group, but I can speak for myself. I would like to sincerely apologize to all of our readers, all of our fans, and all of our supporters. I am not degrading any content found on this site, 99.5% of it is actually quality material that we all can be proud of, and we should be for that matter. However, we became so caught up in ourselves, especially me, that we let all of you and everything that Meanwhile in West Virginia stood for become irrelevant.

We put a great deal of work into the entity that was Meanwhile in West Virginia, and we were damn proud of it. I still am for that matter. Looking back over the span of this website’s existence, I am able to track my personal progression as both a writer and a thinker. I am able to watch myself grow as both a person and a scholar, and once again, I am damn proud.

As the title suggests, I am reviving this dormant website. I am getting back to the basics of what we created this site to be, and the principles on which it was founded. I am going to begin producing content which I can be proud of; content that is well thought out and thoroughly researched. Content which inspires thought in others.

I do not have all of the answers, nor will I pretend that I do. But I do have ideas, and despite what we are all led to believe, I have a voice. So do you, each and every one of you has a voice and ideas. So join me, if you will.


Apr 6 2012

Spongebob: A lesson on Narratives, Politics, and Religion

Captain: Are you ready kids?
Kids: Aye-aye Captain.
Captain: I can’t hear you…
Kids: Aye-Aye Captain!!
Captain: Oh! Who lives in a pineapple under the sea?
Kids: SpongeBob SquarePants!
Captain: Absorbent and yellow and porous is he!
Kids: SpongeBob SquarePants!
Captain: If nautical nonsense be something you wish…
Kids: SpongeBob SquarePants!
Captain: Then drop on the deck and flop like a fish!
Kids: SpongeBob SquarePants!
Captain: Ready?
EveryBody: SpongeBob SquarePants! SpongeBob SquarePants! SpongeBob SquarePants!
Captain: SpongeBob…. SquarePants! Haha.

(Lyrics courtesy of http://www.spongebobworld.com)

If you were born in the during or after the 1990′s, have a younger sibling, or if you are a parent or grandparent of a child under 20, you probably don’t need any music to know the tune to which the above song is placed. In fact, I could have just used the first three words and you probably would have  belted out the rest, in tune, without even thinking about it. It is SEARED into your mind, I guarantee it. Along with this creepy picture…

"Captain"

I am twenty years old. I was born in 1991. And I have never enjoyed an episode of Spongebob Squarepants more than I do at this moment. The sheer mastery of what is the Spongebob empire is second to none. Children’s first words around the globe? Spongebob. Want to know how to dress your kids for school so they will be “cool”? Spongebob. Throwing a birthday party for a child? Spongebob theme.

Want your child to just CHILL out and watch television so that you can actually get something done? SPONGEBOB SQUARE PANTS, SPONGEBOB SQUAREPANTS, SPONGEBOOOOOOOOB SQUAREEEEEPANTS! AHAHAHA!!

But next time your child down in front of Spongebob and sit down to “watch” it with him/her (while you sit and “work” on your computer or whatever), pay attention to something. Watch your child. Are they laughing at the jokes you find yourself snickering at? Or do they only laugh when there is a slow motion scene where someone is injured or when they see and hear you cracking up?

If you’re my age, think back to when you first watched Spongebob. Did you laugh at all the jokes back then? Or do you find yourself laughing and marveling at all the things you missed as a child?

I know, right? The simple fact of the matter is that most children under about the age of eight or so, don’t understand anything going on in Spongebob. They don’t get the jokes, many of which are quite subtly very adult jokes, and the action and scenes move much too fast for a small child to comprehend. For them? its colorful, loud, the characters are easily recognizable, and most importantly, they see YOU laughing and enjoying it, so they know it must be good.

In fact, recent studies have shown that children under about 5 are more likely to have some form of Attention Deficit Disorder when exposed to massive amounts of Spongebob and other similar shows. They simply lose the ability to concentrate, hours of their daily lives are spent watching a yellow square flash by at high-speed, how could they concentrate?

So, why is Spongebob so popular? Because WE love it!!! By “we” I mean adults, the “mature” crowd. We tried the whole slow-moving, dull, mind-numbing Barney and Teletubbies and whatever has come out since then. Its EXCRUCIATING to sit and just listen to it when our children are watching it. But Spongebob? We can plop our kids down in front of Spongebob and not only do they enjoy it and “learn” some moral lessons (the 13 bad words anyone?) but we can enjoy it too. We laugh at the jokes, we get the humor, WE GET THE NARRATIVE!! Want to know why? Because it’s aimed at US. Not children.

Think about it. Who picks the television that an adolescent watches? Their parents. So, if we can market a show for kids, but TARGET their parents, it’s going to be HUGE!

So what does all of this have to do with my usual political and philosophical writings? The issue of a Narrative, and the recognition of who the target audience is for that narrative.

This is a little outdated now, but I’ll use Rush Limbaugh’s recent gaff as my primary example here. Most of us know which one I’m talking about, but for those who don’t:

Rush Limbaugh, right-wing radio host and “commentator” recently called a Georgetown University Law student a “slut” after she appeared before Congress to discuss the issue of health insurance insofar as contraception is concerned.

Almost immediately, outrage began to pour in. Limbaugh’s show lost advertiser after advertiser and he was slammed by people on both sides of the aisle. And, much to the surprise of many rational people, it took Rush COMPLETELY by surprise. How could the fact that people got mad over something so egregious surprise him?

Because we weren’t the target audience of his narrative. He makes it sound like he’s going after this young lady and all women, but he really wasn’t. Rush Limbaugh is smart. He knows what he’s saying. He wasn’t attacking women. He was simply stroking the egos of his audience. His audience? They already think like this. But telling them “Hey, you’re right” does nothing for them. But by seeming to attack this woman, all Rush was doing was subtly targeting his audience. Making them feel smart, making himself more popular amongst them, drawing them in.

Another example: Republican Presidential Candidate Mitt Romney has been on the campaign trail blasting “Obamacare” and “attacking” those on the left for supporting it. Or at least that’s how it seems. Does he really expect to win-over or change the minds of any of these people? Does he really expect President Obama to say, “Hmmm… Mitt is making some really good points, he just changed my mind.”?

NO!

The people on the left, even though they are they one’s Mr. Romney is addressing, is not the target audience for his narrative. His target audience is the people who already think like he does. He’s not impacting the mind’s of anyone on the left, but by addressing “them” his narrative is actually subtly targeted at the people on the right.

Perhaps my favorite example is the continual stream of “Like this image if you love Jesus” posts on Facebook. We’ve all seen them. What is the purpose of these images? What purpose does having people “like” the image serve? Is the narrative really for all of the non-believers out there? Are they supposed to see these images and the sheer number of people who “like” them and instantly convert? Is that the purpose of these images?

No.

Outwardly, maybe that’s what we think. That’s what we tell ourselves when we “like” or redistribute that image. But what is the target audience for the narrative? People who already think similarly. You’re not going to convert a non-believer by redistributing that image. BUT! When you see that 50,000 other people have liked that image, you feel great about yourself. “Look at all of these great people who believe exactly like I do.”

Is there anything wrong with this kind of action? No. Is it wrong to sit your kid down in front of Spongebob because YOU are the one who likes it? Is it wrong to distribute and image “Thinking” that you’re going to bring someone to Jesus when it’s really just about making yourself feel better?? No on both counts.

None of this stuff is overtly “BAD.” I’m not slamming parents who watch Spongebob or people who “like” the Jesus pictures on Facebook. But we live in a world where we are literally bombarded on a daily basis by information. We hear a “narrative” every second of every day. Let’s just take some time to look and see who’s the ACTUAL target of that comment. Instead of cheering someone for “scolding” or telling “those” people how it is, stop and think. Is that what they are really doing? Or are they just saying, to someone else, what they know YOU already want to hear? Quit taking things at face value. Its an exercise that will benefit everyone.

Think Freely My Friends.


Apr 3 2012

The Lack of Faith in Interfaith

Never before has man relied more on communication and tolerance to ensure survival. Never before has man had the means for virtually infinite communication. Never before has man been so close to peace on Earth, which seemed to only be a myth in years past.  Yet…

Never before have we more foolishly ignored the signs and squandered the vast potential that lies before us. Never before have we imprisoned our minds within walls of fear and ignorance of such strength. Never before has humanity been so close to losing the very definition of their being.

Never before has humanity’s course been more ambiguous. Such is the state of this world. We are at a point where insolence and suppression of humane qualities can no longer be tolerated, for they will surely speak our doom. Advancements in technology have drastically reduced the size of the Earth. Every human being now has over 7 billion neighbors. The words local, national, and international have become synonymous. And yet… the barriers between us persist. Not only do they persist but they are stronger than ever, fortified by hate, ignorance, and fear to resist the immense force surrounding it. The immense force of unity, peace, and understanding.

I was recently confronted with these walls of seeming indestructibility. I am part of an Interfaith Group where we seek to help increase understanding and tolerance of other ideologies. Fortunately, there have been a small number of individuals who have embraced this and for that, I am truly grateful. However, what surprised me is the large number of people who are against interfaith dialogues. They are not indifferent of it; they are truly against and believe it unethical to be a part of it or for it to even exist. As if by participating, they are weakening their own ideology. As if by its existence, they are accepting others’ perspectives.

So, these individuals erect intangible mental barriers that prove to withstand the most powerful of forces. But these barriers serve to be more like cages for the mind; like a prisoner in a cell, the mind seeks freedom. It needs light. It needs nourishment. The nourishment is knowledge and the light is truth. As our physical body needs certain materials to function, so does our spirit and mind need certain intangibles to function. Without them, weakness and deterioration are sure to follow.

If we, as humans, are unable to tolerate other ideas, learn to live with these conflicting ideologies, and free our minds from the self made constraints, then despair will truly follow in the years to come. Ideology tolerance is the toughest of these barriers to break because it is at the center of our identity. We fear that to break those barriers will thus break ourselves. This fear prevents us from realizing that only after the barriers have fallen can true mental and spiritual peace occur. And then, and only then, can humanity reach worldly peace. Interfaith is not a new initiative; it is a concept written in our very essence. It should not be confided within the limits of a meeting, group, or time period. We have before us every tool necessary to effectively communicate and understand each other and yet, we seek to ignore it. We ignore it because we do not believe in it. We lack the faith.


Mar 30 2012

There’s a story behind every food stamp: Why welfare is a human problem

There is nothing more blasphemous in my eyes than a human forgetting their humanity. To the religiously-minded, we are the greatest and most intricate of God’s creations. To those of a more skeptical nature, we’re blessed to have formed into beings capable of this much feeling. Whether the latter, the former, or otherwise, you can’t look at this with clear eyes and not see the beauty of who you are.

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You’ve got some of the most complex tools on the planet at your disposal right now. I’ve got ten fingers to bang this out on simulated glowing paper and eyes to watch the letters grow line by line down my laptop screen. I’ve got a mind that can translate my brain’s dialogue into written words, so that you can take this and read it in your own voice, or mine if you’ve heard it. Doesn’t matter to me or you really, we’ve got the power to do both if we like.

Do you really understand how lucky you are to be alive and human? You’re the most dominant of mammals and the only creature capable of processing these very words. 

Who are we as individuals to not preserve and take care of such equally marvelous creations; our fellow man?

You’ve probably got food in your belly, or are not far from it. This is the first civilization in history where starvation isn’t even a minor issue. Whether you like it or not, your taxes are going to feed your fellow man through our welfare programs. Forced charity is heartless, but food gets put on the table all the same.

We shouldn’t have to count on the government to feed the poor, and I truly believe most of them aren’t lazy. My parents were on welfare when my little sister was born in 1993, when Dad was working doubles left-and-right waiting tables and Mom was busy handling baby Bishop in a house with no heating, cooling, or city water. 18 years later, two kids were well-fed, taken on vacation yearly, given braces and Christmas presents, put into college and handed cars to get them there. My 10-year old brother will get the same, if not better.

Don’t tell me welfare is for the lazy.

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Yeah, I’ve seen the lazy. I’ve also seen the tired, the despairing, the wanton whores, and those just happy to have a fake prescription for something nice and numbing. I may have grown up and lived in Cabell County, but not in Huntington. I’m from “the bad parts”. The backwoods. The meths labs and the stray dogs. Where deer are kings of the road. Derelict trailers sit next to the nicely kept houses of shut-in geriatrics. The newblood rots while the old withers. I’ve seen the crack whores sitting in thresholds with no doors, cigarette in hand, watching their shirtless, shoeless toddlers run in the yard in the middle of October. I’ve seen men with teeth that looked worse than mine when the Tooth Fairy was slipping me dollars at night. I’ve seen women standing behind gas station counters with voices smoked to sound like Tom Waits and faces as leathery as my beloved baseball glove.

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I’m surrounded by those who need help.

Either way you look at it, humanity could be God’s greatest creation or the most spectacular cosmic accident ever. The fact that you’re reading this is a miracle. If you could look past the politics of the welfare question while tossing out the predisposed notion of your tax dollars going to crackheads, you might catch your heart breaking a bit. It’s not an issue of numbers or spreadsheets, it’s about people and the faces you meet everyday, especially in West Virginia. The bitter idea of the welfare system handing money to the lazy and drug-addicted has to go. Our lives are worth too damn much to let others live in misery while those who can afford it sit with poison in their hearts.

If you’re going to be a human, be a good one. 


Mar 13 2012

Internal corruption, PR moves, and blind urges to help: the Kony 2012 mess

 

I’m willing to bet a great deal that the vast majority of young American adults had no idea who Joseph Kony, or the Lord’s Resistance, Army was until roughly a week ago. Unless you’ve got a background understanding of the internal struggles of central Africa, it’s just not something people discussed with any discernable amount of voracity.

Call me a realist, a pessimist or whatever, but something here does not seem as it should.

I’ve seen tons upon tons of videos and call-to-arms over every issue under the sun, and most as virtuous and noble as the proposed disposal of Joseph Kony and the LRA. So when I finally watched the now famous “Kony 2012″ video after it was relentlessly tossed around Facebook and Twitter, I began to wonder what in particular got the masses so excited about this movement when similar causes have fell by the wayside.

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For one, Kony is literally the manifestation of the Boogeyman right down to kidnapping children. That’s what I feel is the keyword to this movement’s popularity: Children. Whenever kids are involved in human tragedy, people tend to run to help with warmer hearts. The use of child soldiers is among the greatest of sins. War is the greatest perversion of humanity; literal Hell on Earth. To rape away the innocence of a child through the horrors of warfare is disgusting to the point of making me want to physically puke my guts out.

For years, been a hallmark of idealistic American youths to want to reach out and help African nations in need; the epitome of targets for aid being Uganda. Just say it: yew-GAHN-duh. The name itself sounds like it fits its own stereotype the tumultuously exotic central African nation that middle-class American kids would love to reach out and rescue.

This whole situation fits the bill of what young, energetic Americans want to step into for a humanitarian cause. Liberals, conservatives, Christians, Muslims, non-religious folk everyone can agree that this issue needs to be dutifully resolved.  It’s a power-hungry and all-around evil African warlord and his roving band of thugs scooping up helpless children by the thousands in a distant and exotic land. You couldn’t  have handcrafted a situation that would better light the fire inside thousands of American teens and young adults looking to change the world for good.

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But here’s where I start to think.

As mentioned in the famous “Kony 2012″ video which ignited most of the momentum, the anti-LRA movement’s the great victory thus far was President Barack Obama’s signing of the LRA’s Disarmament and Northern Uganda Recovery Act of 2009. This piece of legislature “crystallizes the commitment of the United States to help bring an end to the brutality and the hallmark of the LRA,” according to President Obama. As a result, the U.S. has sent 100 special forces members to act in advisory and technical roles in central Africa as the Ugandan Army pursues Kony and the LRA.

A hundred troops without a permission to fire is nothing. It’s literally not even a  crumb falling off the table of the U.S. annual foreign aid budget. If I was an activist seeking U.S. support against Kony and saw this as the final response given, I’d be furious. A hundred troops training Ugandans isn’t U.S. intervention, it’s a public relations move. This is nothing. I’d want a team of SEALS tracking Kony down and kicking in his door bin Laden-style.

And now skepticism is starting to fly around in my head.

A part of me doesn’t believe the U.S. government would send troops into a country because it’s the will of a grass roots organization full of college students. As far as U.S. involvement in central Africa goes, there is no precedent for this type of operation. We’ve never seen the government behave like this, and they’re seemingly letting grassroots operations dictate foreign policy. What I’m wondering is whether or not U.S. officials have any ulterior motives for establishing a presence in central Africa. Uganda has a copious amount of resources, including literally underground lakes of oil. That untamed area of the world also has the potential to become a bastion for terrorist organizations that would seek to harm the U.S., as we’ve seen with Boko Haram in Nigeria and al-Shaabab in Somalia.

Whatever the case, I really, really hope killing Kony and dismantling the LRA is all we want in Uganda, or else the fervency of thousands of young Americans could be hijacked for not-so-noble causes.

There are so many moving parts that the United States and the Western World cannot possibly control no matter how much money or manpower is thrown at the issue. According the US Africa Command, Joseph Kony is likely not even in Uganda but rather the Democratic Republic of Congo. Sending US troops to train the Ugandan military is pointless if Uganda can’t even cross into the DRC without cutting through a ton of political red tape. As corrupt and weak as Congo’s government is, no country would allow foreign forces to pursue anyone within their sovereign bounds without being a little skiddish about soldiers running around their country.http://www.globalhealthhub.org/wp-content/uploads/2010/10/CPI_map-1024x509.jpg

And let’s not forget Uganda’s stance on this. Although it’s comparatively the strongest military in the region (not saying much), Uganda has the tendency to play both sides of the ball in situations like this. Although President Yoweri Museveni is widely considered an ally of the West, Uganda is still not exactly a bastion of stability in the region. Corruption, factionalism, and otherwise disregard for details often highlight dealing in the region, and countries similar to and including Uganda create such complex internal conflicts within their government at all layers. Issues such as the destruction of the LRA and bringing justice to men like Joseph Kony are often acknowledged, but frequently not acted upon.

The only certain way that Uganda would take decisive steps toward defeating Kony’s forces is if they threatened their national security. If the LRA is really laying low in the bush and in countries in dissary like the DRC, attempts to bring down Kony will likely take awhile no matter how many times that video is shared.