Friday, August 17, 2007

Don't Ask, Don't Tell: we need change

Don't Ask, Don't Tell is a policy spawned from ignorance and discrimination. This military law, implemented in 1993 by Former President Bill Clinton in an attempt to be fair to homosexuals, is one of the most despicable and nonsensical policies ever created by the US Military.  It mandates in
10 U.S.C. § 654 that "Sexual orientation will not be a bar to service unless manifested by homosexual conduct. The military will discharge members who engage in homosexual conduct, which is defined as a homosexual act, a statement that the member is homosexual or bisexual, or a marriage or attempted marriage to someone of the same gender." As you can see, they tried to put a positive spin on it, but it's clearly a negative.

To reiterate in layman's terms, homosexuals are prohibited from telling anyone that they're gay, telling stories about homosexuality, or performing any act that could possibly serve as evidence to prove that they're homosexual. Wow. Seems fair, doesn't it?

Some politicians have claimed that "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" is an important code because it prevents distraction. Well, that seems logical enough. Basically, they are saying that if a homosexual man serving in the army were to be sexually attracted to another member of his unit, this may be distracting to both of them. Makes perfect sense. Then, I guess we'll just have to get rid of all the women in the army then, too. The United States Military never thought that just maybe a man serving in the army that's attracted to a woman in his unit could be distracted by her presence during important, and possibly life-threatening situations? Hmm. Now, we are presented with a choice. We can either take a step back 200 years and get rid of most of our dedicated servicemen and women and have the armed services be open only to white, heterosexual men. Or we can be reasonable and let everyone who chooses to serve our country do so, regardless of sex, race, sexual orientation, religion, or condition of servitude.

If you honestly think that the relation between opposite-sex couples and same-sex couples is so utterly different and if you have some odd thought in your mind that because a person is gay, they'll be more likely to commit rape, you need help. Please, do us all a favor and educate yourself. Get out of your bubble of ignorance and into the real world.

Because of this discriminatory and degrading policy, we are loosing dedicated and talented service-members everyday because they feel wronged. They are forbidden from expressing their true selves and are forced to be a person they are not. Below, I've included a video of a retired military officer who's  job it was do disarm IEDs (improvised explosive devices). IEDs are the cause of the majority of American deaths in Iraq. Because of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell", he left the army and our country lost a dedicated officer, someone who could've saved many more lives.

I urge you all to write to your congressmen and representatives, and more importantly, think about the issue of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" when you step up to the polls to vote in the 2008 Presidential Election. We certainly don't need (another) ignorant leader. Thank you.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

The Water Bottle Dilemna

My name's Jeff and I am addicted to bottled water. While I'll admit that I love bottled water, possibly for no reason, it sure does seem that most of America does too. Water bottles. Americans are obsessed with them. In a world where 1,000,000,000 people do not have access to safe drinking water and where 3,000 children die every year from drinking tainted water, Americans still spent $15,000,000,000 on water bottles in 2006. We import water from places like Fiji; a small island country in which 50% of the population does not have access to safe drinking water. On the other hand, as the popularity of bottled water increases, the popularity of soft drinks such as Coca-Cola and Pepsi is decreasing (or at least their growth is lsowing as more consumers switch from soda to water). Thus, the American public is being slightly healthier, albeit wasteful.
We've got a lot to cover, so I'd like to take just a second to apologize for my posting hiatus. I was on vacation but plan to jump right back into things.
Let's take a second to address authenticity. Now, many people who drink bottled water on a regular basis do so because they have the notion that for some reason, it is healthier than tap water. Just a little tidbit: 24% of the bottled water that Americans buy is simply tap water repackaged by Coke and Pepsi. Dasani (owned by Coca-Cola) and Aquafina (owned by Pepsi Co.) are nothing more than bottled, purified tap water. If you look at their respective labels, you'll clearly see that no where does it indicate that it's "Spring Water;" simply purified. Companies like Fiji, Evian, and Zephyrhills (subsidiary of Nestle), however, do provide genuine spring water.
Waste. It's a huge problem. First, just think about all the resources that are wasted just to transport bottles of water. It's almost unfathomable. Further, as stated in Message in a Bottle by Charles Fishman, we, as a country put 38 billion water bottles per year into landfills. That's over $1 billion worth of plastic -- simply discarded. How about fuel? As we all know, crude oil prices are constantly increasing and gasoline is becoming more expensive by the day. It's not as affordable to get around by automobile as it used to be. With that it mind, at the demand of US consumers, 1,000,000,000 bottles of water are transported weekly by ships, trains, and trucks. That's equivalent to around 37,800 full 18-wheeler truck loads of bottled water. Incase you're bad at math, that'd be approximately 1,965,600 full truck loads per year. Physical waste, unfortunately, is not all. How about monetary waste? Let's put the amount of money that's being wasted in perspective. If regular home tap water cost as much as a cheap bottle of water, the average home water bill would be $9,000 per month. Wow.
Let's take a quick look at the psychology behind this all. There is undoubtedly a human motivation to indulge. Whether it's on some expensive caviar at the finest restaurant in France or simply a bottle of Poland Springs water, the human mind is certainly the culprit. Myths, tall tales, and urban legends are simply tools that our minds use as an excuse or justification for this indulgence. Think about how much easier it is to spend money if I "think" it's the right thing to do. If I am convinced that even though this bottle of water will cost me $1.35, it will be healthier for me, my mind immediately has a justification to spend more money. Then, I don't have to feel guilty about spending money for something that I could've gotten for free, because...I have a reason. Advertising ploys help give our minds' these reasons, and thus provoke the purchase of more bottled water. If you recall the Dasani commercial with the bear in the forest drinking Dasani, maybe you'll be able to look back on it and think about what that ad was trying to do. If a bear, a product of nature, can drink the water, then surely I can do so as well, without harming the environment. Convenience is being sold to us, not water. As I mentioned before, the plastic that is dumped into landfills annually totals up to $1 billion; obviously that's the predominant cost, not the water. 

As a nation, myself included, we must reduce our dependence on bottled water. We need to ensure that we're not taking safe water from developing countries and not contributing to a significant environmental problem. I urge you time you're in the grocery store and are about to put a case of bottled waters in your cart, think again. Use tap and you really can make a difference. If it's water quality that's truly important to you, invest in a simple faucet water filter like those offered by Brita or Pur for your home or a high-tech "water cooler" filtration system by PureBev or FreshWaterSystems for your office. Remember, once you go tap, you never go back.
Links:   Fast Company: Message in a Bottle

9news: Pepsi says Aquafina is tap water

BBC: Soft Drink is purified tap water


Sunday, August 5, 2007

Nature vs. Nurture

Environment can have both negative and positive affects on a person. It is clear  to me, however, that the environment that a person grows up in plays a major role in the kind of person that they'll be, the decisions that they will make, the opinions they'll have, and the stance that they'll take on major issues. I'm not saying that because someone grew up in a stereotypically conservative town, that they'll take a conservative stance on issues and continue to think like that for their whole lives. No, I don't believe that conclusion is necessary to jump to. I do, however, know that until someone can really break out of their shell and begin to think for themselves, the opinions of others in their immediate area will be impressed upon them and will play a major role in their lives.

Let me give you an example. The town that I live in is predominately liberal. While I don't typically like to politically classify entire geographic areas, please bare with me; it's needed to make this point. I have some relatives who live in a significantly more rural, conservative town. Their pre-pubescent child approached me with a mildly disgusted tone after he'd glanced over at the TV screen which was re-playing the CNN/YouTube Democratic Debates.  He said something along the lines of, "Can you believe [that candidate] wants to let gay people get married?" I thoughtfully, yet nonchalantly, shrugged off the question as my mind delved deep into thought. Accustomed to being surrounded by people who support gay marriage or simply don't mind it, I was slightly phased by the question. Thus, I rapidly decided not to take him seriously. Knowing that he was about eleven years old, I said to myself, "That can't possibly be his real opinion, it must've been impressed upon him by the society in which he lives." While I have strong faith in the minds of young people, I simply knew that he was not old enough to think for himself on this issue. Therefore, it was done and I didn't bring it up again.

This incident brings to light the fact, if not the issue, that the environment in which one is raised proves paramount to the development of that person's ideas. If one is raised with the ideals of hatred and bigotry constantly brought up and eventually made part of daily life, they will, more than likely grow up to be a person who hates. I am not in any way saying that people can not change; this negative "nurturing" simply doesn't help create a positive foundation for future development, though. On the contrary, environment can play a very positive role in the life of an individual. If one is brought up in a place where good morals, ethics, and generally kind behavior and ideals are practiced and taught often, there's a good chance that they'll become a good, upstanding citizen. 

Hopefully this article has taught everyone something; it certainly has made me think. If you're a parent or plan to be one in the future, you need to understand that all of your actions will contribute to the kind of person that your child becomes. The environment that you create for your child to live in will play a major role in his life and therefore will influence the future of American society.

Friday, August 3, 2007

700 MHz Spectrum: freedom at last

Finally...freedom! The FCC agrees with Google and will make the 700 MHz wireless spectrum open. In case this means absolutely nothing to you, let me explain. Currently, cell phone providers maintain complete control over their wireless spectrums. For example, if you want to use AT&T's cell phone network, you have to pay them for access. While we have grown accustomed to this, it does not have to be this way. Google has confirmed multiple times that if their terms are met, they will start the auction off with a bid of $4.6 billion dollars for the wireless spectrum. 

Now, this doesn't only apply to cell phones. I simply used that as an example of the current structure of the industry and the opportunity for change. This also relates to Internet. If Google (GOOG) wins the auction, a variety of free, ad-supported Internet options will most likely be introduced to the public.

Grasping the impact that this could potentially have is difficult. Just think about how the outcome of this auction could alter the entire economy. Suddenly, the bar would be raised and other companies would be forced to reform as well. Internet access could be absolutely free. This would not only be beneficial to the millions of existing Internet users; it would bring many millions more. If anyone could simply turn on their WiFi card and search for the Google network from anywhere in the country, it would be amazing. Commerce on the Internet would flourish as the millions of new users entered this virtual world for their first time. Hundreds of thousands of new websites would be created, the need for more jobs would be introduced, and overall this single auction would have a profound impact on the country, and even the world as a whole. Now that we've addressed the real-world effect that the 700 MHz spectrum could have on Internet, let's take a look at cell phones.

Imagine being able to purchase any 700 MHz-compatible cell phone that you wish, bringing it home, and being able to use it with the provider of your choice. This will inspire a great amount of pricing competition between companies like Verizon, Sprint, AT&T, and AllTel. Instead of having the ability to lock you in, wireless providers will actually have to offer good services at decent prices. That would explain why Verizon is openly against this plan. The FCC's guidelines stipulate that the winner of this auction must allow any device onto it.

Let's all keep up to date on this auction and thank the FCC for finally giving us, the consumers, a truly open and free wireless spectrum. As for Google's bid on it: let's, ad-supported Internet and a completely open cell phone spectrum. Sounds good to me.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Politics and The Bible

Politics and The Bible. They shouldn't mix, it's very simple. However, people will always mix them for one reason. Religion, and therefore the holy scripture (Bible, Tanakh, Qua'ran, etc.) is close to peoples' hearts. So, let's address this. 
Although it's certainly not what I look for in a political candidate, quoting of the bible to justify certain policies is not what bothers me so much. It is those who decide to quote only the parts of the bible that
work for them. For example, many people say that homosexuality is condemned and prohibited in The Bible. It isn't. But if you'd like to take The Bible literally, fine, then you must also accept the fact that you're instructed to stone blasphemes and adulturers. If you go around preaching against homosexuality and your only justification for your claims is that "The Bible says so", then you must also take the rest of the bible literally. Thus, when your neighbor takes the name of the Lord in vein, you have to gather the neighborhood and stone them as it says in Leviticus 24:10-16. And, of course, if you know of someone who's committed adultery, you better follow the Lord's law and hastily put them to death as is mandated in Deuteronomy 22, Leviticus 20:10, Leviticus 21:9, and Proverbs 6:32. See...anyone can quote The Bible.  
I urge you to make a decision right now. Everyone must make this decision, whether you're a politician or just an average person like me. Do you want to be the kind of person who takes The Bible literally and quotes it word for word? Or would you prefer to take The Bible for what it really is, an ever-changing document that was divinely-inspired yet intended to be interpreted? Think about it. Why would G-d have given us brains if he didn't want us to interpret?  
Separation of church and state is an absolute necessity. When people like George W. Bush
say that they were told by the Lord to invade Iraq, we are reminded what is wrong with this world. It is wrong on so many different levels. If Bush really does talk to G-d, good for him. That really is great and must be a powerful experience. However, he has no right to use this as an excuse, yes that's what it is, to invade a country, wreak havoc upon its citizens, and spend hundreds of billions of dollars. A war motivated and justified solely by a feeling? Because we didn't find any weapons of mass destruction, did we? Wow, that's great.  
  It sure gives me a warm, fuzzy feeling of confidence in the future of this country knowing that we can get into any war or international conflict or spend any amount of money solely because our wonderfully-educated leader thinks that G-d wants us to. I do need to send a message out to those people who do quote The Bible word for word on the issues that they choose but are able to look past the Bible quotes that they disagree with. Please, consider the common sense that is absent in your decision to do this. You don't get to pick and choose. You agree that it's up for interpretation or you take it all, just as it is.  
Thanks for reading and I look forward to seeing your comments. If any active or past politicians happen to come across this, I'd love to see your opinions on the issue as well. I'd recommend that everyone read the opinion article Blastocysts, Bush, and the Bible which was unfortunately removed from the PalmBeachPost website because it had been up too long, but I've posted a copy
here. I know this is a heated issue and I do hope that it provokes debate. Also, please remember that while I have my opinions on religion and politics, I am fully aware that you have yours too. I am, by writing this, in no way undermining your ideals; simply expressing mine. 

Sunday, July 29, 2007

YouTube and Copyrights

We all know that YouTube, the world's most popular video sharing website, has copyrighted content on it. In fact, it has countless numbers of videos that have been recorded from radio, TV, and other mediums and posted on YouTube without the content owner's permission. That, however, is not all. They have hundreds of millions of creative, original, and unique videos that have been posted by up-and-coming directors, indie producers, and just average people. YouTube certainly is a great tool; however, it's coming under fire.

Content creators and copyright holders (*cough* *cough* Viacom) have begun to demand that YouTube remove their content that has been posted without their permission. While Google, YouTube's parent company insists that it immediately complies with these requests, it simply isn't enough for the TV networks. They have proceeded to sue YouTube and critisize it in public forums.

So, having been pressured by many a content creator, they've finally decided to take a real step towards eliminating this copyrighted content. This article, written by The Associated Press and displayed in The New York Times, explains how the California-based comapny is working on high-tech, sophisticated software that will eliminate these copyrighted videos within minutes by using a detection method entitled, "video fingerprinting."

As much as I'm compelled to respond to this atrosity brought on by the TV networks, another part of me tells me simply to sit back and watch. As soon as this software is activated (around September), the TV companies will feel it. They'll taste the fruits of the labors: failure. When these copyrighted videos are taken off YouTube, the popularity of TV shows as well as the enthusiasm of the viewers will rapidly decrease. Eventually, I predict that the TV networks will end up posting shows and parodies up on YouTube and other popular video sharing sites themselves in order to regain their once-enjoyed popularity.

Some TV networks have started to move forward by allowing free access to viewing their TV shows online. This access, however, is not unfettered and usually does not allow the user to download the TV show to their own computer. As an example, FOX has set up a Myspace page for themselves (Link) where they display links to the respective Myspace pages for many of their popular shows. On these profiles, nearly every episode of these select shows can be viewed at any time. Don't get me wrong, this situation isn't perfect, considering FOX and Myspace are owned by the same company and therefore FOX maintains control of their videos. However, it is a step in the right direction. Companies like Viacom will eventually learn from their own mistakes and from the success of others and will change their ways to become a more open, viewer-friendly network.

Friday, July 27, 2007

A Privatized Army: soldiers or civilians?

A privatized military. It's happening. Companies like Blackwater USA provide "independent contracted soldiers" to the US government.

Let me go on a tangent for just a second to address the use of the word "mercenary." Blackwater employees are mercenaries. Regardless of the fact that the word mercenary has a negative connotation, they are. I'll support this assertion with several definitions: "a soldier hired into foreign service" (MW), "any hireling" (Randomhouse), or simply a "soldier fighting for money" (Encarta). Many Blackwater soldiers are recruited from foreign countries, predominantly those in Latin America; thus validating the first definition. Clearly, these soldiers are being hired by a company, which confirms the second definition. Lastly, I'm sure that there's no objection to the fact that Blackwater soldiers are paid (some more than the US Secretary of Defense). Now that I've justified my vernacular for this article, let's get to the actual story.

Approximately 150,000 United States soldiers are currently stationed in Iraq. Guess how many privately contracted soldiers are in Iraq. Around 130,000 mercenaries, dispatched by security companies who are usually controlled by a sole individual, are in Iraq right now. So far, there's not much of a problem, but this statistic may prove useful to you soon. Here's the problem: they are exempt from any law that might ensure that they are doing good. They operate, in whatever country they may have been dispatched to, with complete impunity. They were granted exemption from the court process in Iraq and immunity to all of their laws. The mercenaries can not technically be court mashalled, because they claim they're not really part of the US Military. But, they can't be sued or arrested either, because they claim they're part of the Military and exempt from the tether of civilian law. Wow. Did anyone just catch that? They bend the law to make it convinient for themselves.

All of this so far is bad, don't get me wrong, but it may not be reason enough to take action against these activities. Thus far, we understand that the mercenaries are operating overseas with immunity to domestic and international laws, conventions, and standards. However, here's when the serious problem comes up.

The mercenaries supplied by Blackwater USA and other independent contracting companies are operating here, in the USA. They've been seen in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, wielding high-powered assault rifles and tooling around in unmarked cars to "confront looters." So, now these mercenaries are operating with impunity within our borders. This, my fellow citizens, is not a good thing.

The wonderful leadsership of Blackwater is displayed through the eloquent quotes of it's second-in-command man, Cofer Black. An order he gave to a field-team while he worked for the CIA sounded something like this, "When you find Osama, hack his head off with a machete, put it in a cardboard box on dry ice and send it back to me so I can present it to President Bush."

The negative implications of having a "shadow army" like this are quite obvious. First and foremost, the mercenaries' allegiance and loyalty is to the money, not to the country. Theoretically, if a foreign country offered to pay these fighters more, they would switch sides. This having proven the fact that they're not trsutworthy, we are led to the second negative aspect of this army. Immunity and Exemption. The fact that the security companies twist the laws around to work for them in the situation they're in is simply wrong. They're immune from foreign as well as domestic laws and court procedures and therefore have nearly no motivation to do good. Finally, our own Congress does not even know what these mercenaries are doing. They have been stonewalled and have no access to crucial information such as death tolls, number of mercenaries wounded, or even their current missions. This needs to be stopped.

Why don’t more Americans know about this? Well, that's pretty easy to answer. Think about it. Honestly, what kind of "shadow" army would want their personal affairs broadcasted on the news? They wouldn't. Unfortnately, they have enough connections and lobbyists to ensure that. Because of this, it is your duty to educate yourself on this matter. I encourage you to look into this issue further by purchasing books such as Blackwater by Jeremy Schaill, watch his speech about this issue on YouTube (Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4), check out documentaries like Shadow Company, and write to your congressmen and representatives.

Thanks for reading. Below I've included a video of Jeremy Scahill's testimony in Congress. Feel free to watch it.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Search Privacy

Google knows who you are; so does Yahoo, Microsoft, and even Ask. Almost every search engine you've ever used has been logging data, collecting information, and building up a repertoire of your online activity. Your IP Address along with all your search queries and which results you clicked on are all saved and stored on the search engine's servers.

Although this may seem to be only little information, it does add up and can contribute to an extensive collection of information about you. Think about it. If someone had access to every search query you've made in the past few years, it would be like a window into your private life, almost like a view of your mind. Search queries are really more private than most people think. They represent the thoughts going through your mind and what's going on in your life at the time.

Do you really want all this information in the hands of the Internet's search giants?

Hate to answer for you, but no. You don't. The only entity this can benefit is the search engines that are holding the information. They can analyze the information, look for search trends, and ultimately find better advertisers and profit more. And of course in a worst case scenario, collected information could be sold or given to other peoples or companies. They claim that they use this information to "improve" their search functions and make their sites a better experience for the consumer. Yes, they can make little tweaks based on the logged information; however, the sacrifice is not worth it. I, personally, would rather have a tiny bit less pleasant search experience and know that my personal information is not being logged and stored. 

The reform. Yes, it may be on its way. Microsoft, Ask, and Google have agreed to make search data anonymous after eighteen months unless otherwise demanded by law. Unfortunately, this doesn't do too much for us, the users. They can still do whatever they wish with the data for that eighteen months and we have now way to verify that it is actually being made anonymous after that time.

I encourage you to take action, in whichever way you may feel necessary. Whether that means writing to local government representatives in order to encourage the creation of a law to stop these activities, boycotting certain search engines, or writing to the search engines yourself. Good luck and I thank you in advance for standing up for what you believe in.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Donations, Comments, and Diggs, Oh My.

Hey everyone,
I just wanted to take a second to alert you to some new opportunities that are available to you. I've added the ability to make donations which will go towards my domain renewal fee. I'm not going to solicit the donation box all over the site, I'll just put it in this post, and if you have the will do so, feel free to choose your amount and go for it. All transactions are processed securely through Google Checkout.

Second, if you're really feeling in a generous mood, don't forget to Digg each blog post (click on the bookmark button on the side of the site or the digg button in the rss feed) and leave comments on the ones that interest you.

Thanks so much!