Archive for the ‘Government’ Category

Animal Cruelty vs. Gambling: Which Do I Give Less of a Shit About?

August 15, 2007

Professional sports are going through a rough patch. Tim Donaghy, an NBA referee, just pleaded guilty to felony charges of conspiracy and gambling. He gave inside information to bettors and went so far as to bet on games he was reffing. Donaghy faces up to 25 years in prison. Meanwhile, Michael Vick, the immensely talented but underperforming quarterback for the Atlanta Falcons, has been charged with sponsoring dog fights. He’s currently working on a plea bargain that will land him no more than a year in jail, but if it falls through he could face up to 6 years. We’ll see what kind of punishment Barry Bonds gets for using HGH and then lying to a jury about it.

Pumping steroids, dogfighting, illegal gambling — these sound like the national pastimes of most countries in the EU. So I don’t get why the US is so infatuated with dishing out immensely harsh penalties for them.

Let’s be honest: our government is hypocritical when it comes to gambling. It’s illegal, unless you’re an American Indian. Or you’re on a boat. Or you live in any of 15 states that allow it. Or, as is the case with the Lotto, the government is taking advantage of you directly. Then it’s fine.

As for dogfighting, it’s like the poor black urban version of Dungeons & Dragons. You give your dog all sorts of potions (read: cocaine) to enhance its performance. If you win, your dog gets (along with crazy XP) to rape the other dog’s bitches. If you lose, you have to drown your dog or something. I dunno, maybe it’s nothing like D&D. But I bet it’s pretty sweet. Besides, there’s no scientific literature showing that dogs are happier sitting around getting obese than they are tearing the shit out of each other.

But in the end, it’s not about condoning gambling or dogfighting. It’s not about showing how ridiculous the national attitude toward gambling is (really ridiculous) or about how lame groups like PETA are (really lame). It’s about looking at those crimes and realizing they’re way too petty to get the jail sentences — and the media coverage — that they do.

Sure, these guys have damaged the reputation of the NBA and the NFL, so if you want them out of those sports, fine. But sports should exist outside and beneath the “real world.” The fact that even now the Senate is conducting an investigation on steroids in baseball is the perfect symbol for our distorted national priorites are.

As a side note, when is this guy going to die?:

Advertisements

Harry Potter, Oppressed Peoples, and Claus Schenk Graf von Stauffenberg

July 23, 2007

It’s easy to get lost in Harry Potter’s egocentric war. J.K. Rowling has created a world in which anyone who is not lucky enough to be the-boy-who-lived is either dead or completely inept. In the final installment of the series, Deathly Hallows, the tyrant Voldemort, even though he claims otherwise, has risen to power mostly due to the sheepish acquiescence of the wizarding community to the newly occupied Ministry of Magic.

Voldemort’s political puppets send out a plain summons to members of the public who don’t come from wizarding families, requesting that they appear for “questioning” – those who do, i.e. the majority of the addressed, are subjected to a kangaroo court and unceremoniously locked away.

Rowling is clearly attempting to draw parallels between her world and other regimes which came to power on a platform of supporting the interests of a pure race or people. Rowling fails miserably – whether due to a poor understanding of history or a lack of storytelling ability I cannot say. History has taught Rowling that any group of people who is singled out and lied to by a government they trust will easily submit themselves to whatever injustices are immediately laid before them, happy to live in the illusion that some part of the government will come to its senses soon enough. This is a fallacy.

What history has taught the rest of us is that whenever governments were successful in subduing and controlling a portion of their constituents, along with convincing the population that the double standards they are witnessing are justified by law or reason, it took a lot of time.

Rowling historical recreation of race-based regimes fails to grasp even the most basic concepts of groundwork or cultural foundations. The propaganda issued by the Ministry of Magic, a token afterthought which appears in the form of pamphlets expounding the dangers posed by those who are not of pure-blooded families, pales in comparison to the cultural upheavals undertaken by regimes who succeeded in isolating and imprisoning people they considered inferior.

In a way, one can almost take offence in Rowling’s borrowing from the darkest times of 20th century history. I have no personal connection to the race-related tragedies of our time, but even I cannot help but cringe when Rowling presents us with a parade of easily manipulable victims, completely convinced that their government knows what is best. I blame Rowling, and not some latent hypersensitivity on my side, since to me the connection was immediately apparent after I had read a few chapters of the new book. I’m sure others have felt it as well, although whether they consider it offensive or not will be determined more by their own understanding of the nature of the historical examples and not on the objective fact that Rowling is a bad writer and a terrible reader of history.

This brings me to my next point. Since Harry Potter is surrounded by a nation consisted of thousands of plot devices, unable to help themselves and completely dependent on a 17 year-old boy to save them from Voldemort’s well-organised and resourceful institution, my failed suspension of disbelief prodded me to find historical examples where this might have been the case. If Rowling is going to fail at accurately constructing a mass cultural and political personality for its people, then the least I can do is help her by finding her a factual crutch on which to stand.

All I could come up with was Claus Schenk, Graf von Stauffenberg. Stauffenberg is perhaps the most well-known member of the failed German Resistance during World War II – he was the one attempted to assassinate Hitler with a briefcase bomb. Stauffenberg’s life was sometimes parallel with Potter’s – he came from a well respected noble family, was educated in literature and the arts (Hogwarts), but decided to pursue a military career instead (Harry’s inclination towards destroying Voldemort). A cavalry officer during Hitler’s rise to power and WWII, Stauffenberg found most of Nazism’s ideals either ridiculous or disgusting, but he seems to have been supportive of its Nationalist aspects. Stauffenberg also bore scars, but to a much larger degree than Potter, having been strafed in his car by a British plane and losing an eye, his right hand, and two fingers off his left.

The parallels between Stauffenberg and Potter are forced at best (and non-existent at worst), but it is one of only a handful of times when history lay in the hands of one well-intentioned individual. The attempt occurred on July 20th, 1944, and it was completely the opposite of what Stauffenberg had envisioned. A year before he had planned to kill Adolf Hitler in Berlin and immediately get on the phone with high-ranking Nazi officials around the country in an attempt to convince them to join the coup before they decided otherwise. Due to a series of mishaps and unfortunate coincidences, Stauffenberg was compelled to execute the attempt in Hitler’s fortified command center in Poland – by July 1944, the plot had become almost entirely motivated by ideology, justified by the fact that the world needed to see that not all of Germany agreed with the horrific policies of Nazism.

Stauffenberg succeeded in sneaking the bomb into a meeting with Hitler and other high-ranking staffers. The bomb detonated and killed four of those present, but Hitler was saved by the legs of the heavy oak table at which he sat. Stauffenberg was later arrested and sentenced to death by strangling, which occurred in the courtyard at the Ministry of Defence (known as the Bendlerblock, which I visited last year).

Stauffenberg failed, and if Rowling wants to redeem my opinion of her understanding of history, so should Harry. I purposefully wrote this before finishing the book, so my writing wouldn’t be skewed by how the book ends. Harry Potter, much like Stauffenberg, has absolutely nothing in his favor except for poorly-directed good-will. He receives no support from the population at large, who are content to witness their community falling apart like the crappy characters they are. Were fact and not fiction, it would not be 12 hours before Harry and his co-conspirators would be caught, executed, and cremated. Whether he survives or not, in my mind Rowling has already killed him.

(Afterthought: If Stauffenberg had a grave, he would be rolling in it as I write this, since Tom Cruise is slated to carry his legacy in the upcoming movie Valkyrie. Several high-profile Germans have issued statements disapproving of the producers casting decision, but it looks like he remains the one. Their motivation seems to be that Cruise is associated with the Church of Scientology, whose policy of deception and forceful influence is a dishonor to Stauffenberg’s courage and accomplishments. Mine would be that he is a terrible actor.)

Government Culture at Fault in TAM Linhas Aéreas Disaster

July 18, 2007

Congonhas Airport

(Img Source: Flight Global)

Among pilots, it was known as the “aircraft carrier”. To passengers, it was just another airport.

Congonhas – São Paulo International Airport serves the São Paulo metropolitan area as its main hub for domestic and short international flights. Having flown into this airport several times, I can say that the proximity of the airport to urban developments was more of a novelty than a source of fear. Having something to look at makes the frustrating and boring process of landing go by faster. Much like Rockaway Beach for passengers flying into JFK, the residential and commercial neighborhoods that surround Congonhas Airport were a welcome distraction.

The only reason I could indulge in being distracted was because I felt safe. I knew this airport was an anomaly when compared to others, which for the most part are withdrawn from the cities they serve and in sparsely populated areas, but I was sure the necessary precautions had been taken. I was wrong.

Two things were wrong about my assumption: that the government would have understood that Congonhas is a unique airport and taken the necessary measures to ensure that planes would not over shoot the runway (including in an attempt to abort landing and take off), and that they would not allow planes to land on any runway which had previously been the center of controversy regarding the ability to receive them. The former I had thought of and dismissed, the latter I did not know of until today.

For years airline pilots have been calling for an extended safety zone, or at the very least a concrete arrester bed, to be installed. Nothing was done.

This tragic disaster can serve as a metaphor for the current government of Brazil. Slowly the country has slid into an epoch of political complacency and cronyism. The Nomenklatura of the Soviet Union, which became an elite cadre of government administrators embedded in an impenetrable web of patron-client relationships, seems commendable and efficient when compared to Brazil. In the Soviet Union at least the rigidity of the system, where one had to enact the policies of one’s patron or lose a job or a chance of promotion, was preserved, understood, and even sometimes respected. In Brazil, a political free-for-all has developed where the only metric for success is money and sloth.

Brazilian political integrity has languished to the point of becoming pathetic. It is not a surprise, since this is depressingly parallel to our stagnated growth rate which, at 4%, is doing nothing but surfing on a wave of global expansion. During the next international recession (like 1997), Brazil will collapse into a pile of underdeveloped industry and commodities which no longer sell for what they used to.

In Brazil, civil servants build policies not around the needs of the population or even common sense, but around that which will most benefit their own motives. Expecting a government to be exempt of self-interest or corruption is a high standard to set, but expecting constant shift in the right direction is not. Take, for example, this quote from a BBC News article regarding the banning of larger aircraft from the airport in Congonhas in February.

“The safety conditions of the runway and the airport as a whole are adequate,” a spokeswoman from Brazil’s National Agency of Civil Aviation said.


She added the judge’s ruling could end up affecting 10,000 passengers per day.


“If the injunction stands, it will cause total chaos,” a spokesman for TAM Linhas Aereas, SA, the nation’s biggest carrier, said.”

I’m glad they avoided chaos. 200 people are dead, the stock prices and reputations of Brazil’s 2 largest airlines are crumbling, and the tourism industry can expect a heavy blow – but at least everyone at the office got to go home early for a couple of months.