Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Earth Cookie

My friends and I pick on a certain member of our little group about having her "word for the week." Well I have one for this week. It's actually a phrase. My 'phrase for the week:' "Earth Cookie."

This wonderful word was given to me today by the recently-named "Distinguished Professor of History at Shepherd University" Dr. John E. Stealey, Ph. D. He explained, "Earth Cookie is the Morgan County [WV] name given to people who leave the DC suburbs and move into the region to 'live off the land.' They look and act like they have no money, but they end up owning half the town they live in. Also, they smoke a lot of marijuana." He continued (now I'll paraphrase, ' I guess it's a pretty lucrative business if you don't get caught. It lets you get what you want while looking like you live from the land.'

I thought it was probably the most hilarious thing the man has ever said, and also the most truthful. That is my new favorite word. It describes so accurately these weirdos who live in the 'cutsie-pie' (to use another Stealey term) villages of Northern Virginia and parts of the Panhandle of WV (especially Jefferson County, though also Berkeley, Morgan and to some extent Hampshire).

I had long been searching for a term to describe the transformed yuppie who moves from the Leesburg, Loudoun County area into the 'quaint villages' of western Virginia and eastern WV thereby abandoning (though they rarely do) the materialistic dog-eat-dog world of Northern Virginia in favor of earthly wonders of West Virginia. Earth Cookies come to West Virginia to get away from the pressure of the big city, but instead of doing that, they just bring the big city with them. They cause increase in housing prices. They open up little shops in Shepherdstown where they charge way to much for a cup of coffee and a cheese danish. They buy up all the land so no locals can afford anything. They dress in clothes that should have been discarded in 1972. They smell like they should have been disposed of 1972. These people are not West Virginians. Thank you, Dr. Stealey, for giving me this great word to describe the scourge of Jefferson County.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Being Troubled Is Not Enough...

...we must be outraged instead. The recent trial of the Christian Afghani man forces me to think that maybe we're not doing such a good job in truly conveying to our friends in Afghanistan exactly what a free society is all about. Here's my column (from the Picket about the situation:

An Afghani man is reportedly facing the death penalty for rejecting Islam and embracing Christianity over 16 years ago. State department officials have played down the situation as a situation a matter for Afghan authorities, despite a firmer stance from some European nations. Prosecutors say the case could be dropped if the man converts back to Islam. Other Afghan officials seem to be concerned about the fallout from the touchy situation and are now saying that the trial should be dropped because the man may be “mad.”

The Washington Times reports that Bush has taken a somewhat harsher stance. “It is deeply troubling,” Bush said, “that a country we helped liberate would hold a person to account because they chose a particular religion over another.” Mr. Bush is troubled over the case and I am troubled over US response.

The unwillingness of a democracy to accept difference in religious belief is in and of itself antidemocratic. It cannot be written off as needing to be “left to Afghan authorities” or as being part of the “Afghani-style democracy.” Instead it must be promptly, accurately and, if need be, bluntly called what it is: unacceptable.

The idea that the United States, a historically and predominately Christian nation, liberated an entire country only to have that nation turn around and practice persecution of those who do not walk lock-step with what the government dictates can only be described as disheartening. This daunting reality will, without a doubt, call into question the broader success of our mission: though we ousted a terrorist regime in the Taliban, did we assure that a functioning democracy which is tolerant of diverse ideas and beliefs has been successfully installed? Have we won the “war of ideas” or, at the very least, even a single battle?

The free world must speak swiftly and act patiently, and the United States must champion this cause. It is the responsibility of US leaders to call on nations such as Afghanistan and the emerging Iraq to be open for difference in thought and belief. While calling on Afghani leaders to seek justice in this case, it is more critical that it be clearly conveyed that this must be a wide-spread ideology of acceptance. Freeing this man on account of him being mentally unfit is not enough, regardless of his mental capacity. It must be noted that this is not proper behavior for the treatment of anyone with differing thought.

While we must speak swiftly, we must also remain patient. It is of vital importance that our leaders are vocal yet understanding in dealing with this important matter. Sanctions or other actions that may be viewed as too harsh could bring a bitter backlash from the Muslim world and crush the shaky alliances we have built with leaders of nations such as Afghanistan. Any action taken must be done so in a manner that clearly demonstrates a willingness to work with developing democracies while also maintaining our belief that such intolerance must be rejected for acceptance.

It is tempting to condemn Afghanistan and other developing democracies for crushing the freedoms which we often take for granted. Yet in our haste, we must also be patient. It is imperative that we be vocal about pointing out mistakes and that we help to arrive at a conclusion which advances basic freedoms and protects those who are must vulnerable, all the while remembering that new nations are on a learning curve. With patience and resolve, the United States will win the ‘war of ideas’ and guide these nations to become leaders of freedom, democracy and understanding.
This man is amazing. As a Christian, I dont' know how anybody could not be inspired by this man. He challenges me to wonder if I'd be half as strong as he has been. He's also a reminder to the world that all the pre-9/11 troubles in Afghanistan have not been resolved: this is intolerance is exactly what led to the rise of a regime such as the Taliban. And that's simply not acceptable.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

REPORT it don't MAKE it!

Thank you PRESIDENT BUSH for speaking yesterday with the passion and zeal that I know you have. Thank you for showing the emotion that has been lacking in your speeches for the past couple of months. Thank you most of all for being tough with that wrinkly bag-of-sass Helen Thomas; she really needs to retire!

It's been roughly 18 days since my last post; for that, I am sorry. There were midterms, followed by a stressful week of hoping and waiting for grades, followed by good news about said grades, followed by a death in the family, then spring break. Now I have today off for a city-wide water main break and that's ok with me. (Just as a side note, I said last night that Shepherd University was making a mistake by closing the University at about 9pm last night in anticipation of the water not being back on until sometime this after noon--water has been on since at least 5 am this morning...)

Anyway, I have been looking for a few days for a way to jump back in, but nothing has really caught my attention as being something which I had not covered yet. Last night I found something. Helen Thomas and that damn know-it-all White House Press Corps have to be some of the most obnoxious human beings on the planet. While this is not news to most people, I still want to address it.

My 'beef' with Thomas and the rest of the Corps does not lie solely in their treatment of Bush. If we remember back to a few weeks ago to a time when some important events were beginning (such as the Ports deal, the release of tapes of Saddam Hussein discussing WMD's [which I still haven't heard much about] and other issues of distinction) were overshadowed by VP Cheney's hunting accident, we can examine the Press Corps a little bit. Their reaction to Cheney's accident lie not in what he did--awkward and bizarre as it may have been--but in the fact that he did not call them before he even called 911 to get emergency help for the wounded man. The snobbery that they practice is astounding. God knows that they are the best and most important group of journalists ever to walk the earth, thus they needed to be contacted immediately. Here's a news flash: You (Press Corps dummies) are NOT more important than that man's life. You are journalists, people!

These folks offer us a snapshot of the wider problem with journalists: Nobody wants to do a little investigative reporting. If THEY wanted to know what happened on DICK CHENEY'S hunting trip then THEY should have been there, not waiting for him to call and give them an update.

This sickening behavior seems to be a trend. The school newspaper on campus his horrific about it. Interview a few friends or acquaintances and there's the story! If a more serious story is at hand, simply give the information that everybody already knows anyway and say "more information will be available at a later date." Why at a later date? Because the journalist was too lazy to make a phone call to obtain all the needed facts. This laziness is not limited to small news papers. The White House Press Corps thought Cheney should call them about it--tell them everything they needed to write a full report on an ACCIDENT. And who could forget RatherGate (or whatever goofy name was given to it)? Rather, one of the all-time leading journalists, couldn't even bring himself to do a little investigation. He just made the facts up. We need the return of the investigative reporter. And we need it badly.

My second 'beef' with Thomas and the rest of those hoodlums is their complete and total lack of respect for the Presidency. I did not (and do not) like Bill Clinton--neither his politics, nor his private life. I do not like him with a fox. I do not like him in a box. I do not like him Sam-I-Am. I don't like his wife either, but if she were to win in '08, I will respect her as the President of the United States. Make no mistake about it, the US President is the most powerful individual in the world and deserves some respect. If there is a future President Hillary, I will listen to what she has to say without booing her (like Ted "Jabba" Kennedy did to Bush); I might not believe everything she has to say, but I will listen and I will think and research what she presents us and then make my decision.

The respect for the presidency has been lost. O'Reilly touched on it last night. He hypothesized that members of the press have an agenda--derail Bush's plan. This is unacceptable. The lack of respect that they show the President in order that they might advance their own agenda's is beyond belief. They need to remember that they report news, not make it.

TODAY'S MORAL: REPORT IT don't MAKE IT!!! I am calling on the three people (ok maybe it's more, maybe it's less) who read this blog to push for more JOURNALISTIC and INVESTIGATIVE reporting by the press--whether it be a high school or college paper, or it is the (self proclaimed) Creme'-de la Creme of the press at the White House Press Corps. Members of the press must be held accountable. They must be pushed back into line. They must be reminded to "report news" rather than "make news."

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Freedom of Speech

This week's Picket column was on freedom of speech and how the reaction to Turkish film The Valley of the Wolves can be compared to the reaction to the political cartoons to show us a little bit of the difference between the understanding of freedom of speech in the Muslim world versus the understanding in the non-Muslim/Western world...

Turkish Movie and Danish Cartoon Offer Opportunity for Learning

There is little doubt that Americans hold the freedom of speech to be one of (probably the most) important rights guaranteed to us in our Bill of Rights. Through this freedom, Americans seemingly believe that anything can be accomplished. Inequalities can be revealed. Evils can be exposed. Healthy discussion can be initiated. And if the problem is bad or pressing enough, changes can be initiated. So it should be no wonder that such an premium is put on spreading this freedom in our quest for ‘democratizing’ the Middle Eastern world.

I have written before about the good that we have done in spreading freedom and democracy; I honestly believe that we have done good. However, if there is one freedom that we have failed to properly educate those in the Middle East about, it is freedom of speech. This right works in a back-and-forth manner. It is one in which we must be willing to read things or hear thing with which we may not agree in just the same manner that we say or write things which others will not be supportive of.

The recent release of and anti-American, Turkish film called “Valley of the Wolves” can be compared with the controversy over the Danish cartoons--which depicted Muhammad sporting a bomb in his turban-- to provide a good opportunity to some-what examine the difference in the understanding of free speech.

In the case of the cartoons, a series of cartoons sparked weeks of violent and destructive protests. Muslims around the world stormed embassies of ‘guilty nations,’ burning them down or inflicting other danger. Leaders through the Middle East proclaimed that the Jews were to blame for the cartoons. Several Islamic clerics called for beheading the illustrators responsible for the cartoons and proclaimed (to paraphrase) that ‘apology is not enough.’

One the other side of the same coin, “The Valley of the Wolves” depicts Jews and Americans as murderous villains. The Turkish film shows American soldiers murdering innocent civilians in a wedding ceremony in Iraq. In another scene which as been described as chilling, Jews are depicted as Nazi-like surgeons, removing organs from Muslims. Europeans have responded by encouraging cinema owners/managers not to show the film. No burning of Turkish embassies, no calling for cutting off of heads or hands, no murders—no violence. None.

So from these two brief analyses it would seem as if it is simply free speech for a Muslim production to put down Christians, Americans and Jews, but it is slanderous and punishable by death for anyone to speak unfavorably of Muhammad. Why the difference?

I propose that the difference lies in the fact that Americans have enjoyed freedom of speech for 200+ years; the Muslim world has lived in a completely controlled environment, where every word has been met by censorship and published only after approval of ‘the powers that be.’ We can only hope that the progress we make in Iraq will spread a sense of freedom throughout the Muslim world. In the mean time—while we must meet violence and destruction with strict punishment—we must also be mindful that the Muslim world is in a period of transition. We must, to some degree, judge illogical and unacceptable response, such as that which emerged in the wake of the cartoon publication, on a learning curve. With patience, support, hope and faith, we will help to change the hearts and minds of the people.
Midterms are over. With luck, I should be able to get back on track with posting...