Thursday, June 29, 2006

The Truth About the Lord’s Resistance Army

It was sickly funny to see that Joseph Kony, leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army in Uganda, insist that the LRA had committed no atrocities in their rebellion against Uganda’s government. In an abstract sense, I could smile and muster up a little laugh while I sat amazed at the bald faced lie. In the specific--when faced with the pictures and the stories of the people the LRA brutalized--there is nothing even vaguely humorous or worth smiling about.

This story from Ochola John is a good starting point for understanding the cruelty of the LRA.

I wish I could be born again. It hurts me to see my reflection because of the way I now look.

The memories of it all are so painful.

It was in the night when I saw a number of torches flash at me. I was commanded to lie down facing the ground. As I did so, the rebels began raiding other houses around me.

From there, the story dissolves into watching others being killed and having his own ears, nose, lips, and hands cut off. Being abducted, beaten, and starved until he was found by government troops and given hospital care, the man is lucky to be alive. But his life--his face deformed and his arms ending in useless lumps--isn’t what it could have been.

The LRA didn’t content itself with typical torture and random murders; the rebels made a habit throughout the long war of kidnapping children and forcing them to serve the cause. The girls were sex slaves to the commanders, the boys were trained to be soldiers (with ages documented as young as seven).

The post-colonial history of Africa has been written in blood and a savage inhumanity. In that sense, the LRA is hardly unique; in any sense, though, the leaders and perpetrators of the worst of these acts must be punished for their works. Joseph Kony is one of the bloodiest of the bunch.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

X-Men: Late to the Party

How was X-Men: The Last Stand? Simply put, it wasn’t nearly as enjoyable for me as the first two movies. That isn’t to say that it wasn’t horrible or that I hated every moment of it, just that the first two movies were exceptional for the genre while The Last Stand was something closer to typical.

The good: a few surprise twists and turns combined with captivating and cool special effects definitely kept it from being boring. It followed its plot more effectively than, say, the Matrix trilogy--as if the directors had intended to end up where the movie stopped instead of flailing around for something meaningful. The Wachowskis couldn’t quite pull off the trilogy (although The Matrix was brilliant).

Kelsey Grammar as Beast was more satisfying than I would have expected.

The bad: the new faces were a blur of unexplored personalities. The special effects, while top notch, also managed to be over much and distracting. Oddly, there have been movies that I will watch, willingly forgiving their flaws, if the visual effects and style are worth the attention. The Cell and Sky Captain... come to mind. Here, though, the effects were more of a barrier to enjoying the characters.

And was I the only one who thought that some of the lines were cheesy? Even for a comic book-based movie?

The pissy: that is, I’m pissy about a few things. First, how did Angel end up having such an inconsequential role in the movie? As one of the original X-Men (if memory serves, the originals were Iceman, Cyclops, Marvel Girl (Jean Grey), Beast, and Angel), it bothered me from the beginning that he wasn’t one of the characters in the film. Now, when they bring him in it’s just for a a few moments of screen time and no real character development. Secondly, where did Nightcrawler go? One of the best parts of X-2, I would loved to have seen him back.

It wasn’t a horrible movie, but it was the cinematic equivalent of going to see Return of the Jedi and finding yourself discovering Ewoks. It didn’t ruin The Trilogy, but it wasn’t a particularly good feeling. It could have been better--and, damnit, it should have been better--but it’s still not such a bad way to spend a few summer hours with mindless explosions, pretty blue women, and two of the best comic-to-film characters ever. Because even when everything else is only marginal, Professor X and Magneto remain the gravity that holds the center. 

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

That’s An Easy One

This is about all I have to say about Michele’s poll concerning the 100 greatest punk songs of all freakin’ time:

“Mommy’s Little Monster.”

Some will argue for SOD or Husker Du or The Damned. I can respect that. Some will instinctively reach for The Clash or MC5, which is fine. But they’re wrong. It’s definitely “Mommy’s Little Monster.”


While we’re at it, though, Clutch is overrated and I don’t understand how “Blitzkrieg Bop” failed to make the cut. Something from Killing Joke would have been nice, too. Although I suppose they aren’t really a punk band, I would put “Wardance” or even “This Tribal Antidote” up against the majority of songs on that list.

Damned, Evil Scientists

Okay, I’m not really back. Not that I’m really away, either, but just that the busy hasn’t really appreciably slowed down and the urge to write has declined tremendously. But surfing and reading earlier lead me to an article that needs to be spread far and wide to take the global warming debate somewhere with a little less insanity.

Appearing before the Commons Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development last year, Carleton University paleoclimatologist Professor Tim Patterson testified, “There is no meaningful correlation between CO2 levels and Earth’s temperature over this [geologic] time frame. In fact, when CO2 levels were over ten times higher than they are now, about 450 million years ago, the planet was in the depths of the absolute coldest period in the last half billion years.” Patterson asked the committee, “On the basis of this evidence, how could anyone still believe that the recent relatively small increase in CO2 levels would be the major cause of the past century’s modest warming?”

Patterson concluded his testimony by explaining what his research and “hundreds of other studies” reveal: on all time scales, there is very good correlation between Earth’s temperature and natural celestial phenomena such changes in the brightness of the Sun.
Dr. Wibjörn Karlén, emeritus professor, Dept. of Physical Geography and Quaternary Geology, Stockholm University, Sweden, admits, “Some small areas in the Antarctic Peninsula have broken up recently, just like it has done back in time. The temperature in this part of Antarctica has increased recently, probably because of a small change in the position of the low pressure systems.”

But Karlén clarifies that the ‘mass balance’ of Antarctica is positive - more snow is accumulating than melting off. As a result, Ball explains, there is an increase in the ‘calving’ of icebergs as the ice dome of Antarctica is growing and flowing to the oceans. When Greenland and Antarctica are assessed together, “their mass balance is considered to possibly increase the sea level by 0.03 mm/year - not much of an effect,” Karlén concludes.

The Antarctica has survived warm and cold events over millions of years. A meltdown is simply not a realistic scenario in the foreseeable future.

I happily concede that it is possible that human activities have had a powerful effect on the planet’s climate; what I don’t concede is that the neo-luddites and professional scaremongers have the correct solution to what may or may not be a problem.

The sum of my beliefs is pretty simple, in fact:

  1. We do not have a good understanding of why the planet has warmed somewhat in recent decades. We do not know whether it is related to human activity or can simply be attributed to normal variations in Earth’s climate.
  2. We do not know how to solve the “problem.” If warming is attributable to changes in the Sun, then even the most drastic, economy-killing reduction in “greenhouse emissions” will not bring about the desired cooling or stabilization of temperatures.
  3. We do not know that it actually is a problem. Relating global warming to natural disasters, an angry Mother Earth, and my own personal crankiness may all be emotionally satisfying, but hardly makes for good science. The debate is far from over about the causes and a race to predict effects is more like religious prophesy than reliable forecasting. 
  4. We do know that the planet has been both significantly hotter and colder in the past and that the expectation that the climate will not warm or cool over extended periods of time is infantile.

I won’t say that the scaremongers are liars: these people utterly believe the scary stuff that they are selling. But their passionate convictions shouldn’t be mistaken as a good reason to believe their stories, assumptions, or predictions.

Read the whole story.


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