Wednesday, May 13, 2015

The Marriage Melee

Marriage-equality proponents have finally had their day in front of the Supreme Court of the United States; we await a decision.

Before their decision, though, let's take a moment to examine why this is even an issue in the first place. It is a perhaps unfortunate situation that the word "marriage" is used for two entirely unrelated issues in the United States (and elsewhere): we use "marriage" for the religious commitment ceremony and also for the secular legal contract. Those arguing in favor of marriage equality are not attempting to somehow force the church to condone gay marriage; the church can believe whatever it wants, and given that the separation of the affairs of the church and the state is one of the principles this country was founded on, the opinion of the church should have no bearing here anyway. Rather, proponents of equality want simply for the government to be forced to treat heterosexual and homosexual unions equally, as guaranteed by the 14th Amendment to the Constitution.

That this is an issue at all is only because the government decided to get into the marriage business in the first place. By law, married couples enjoy all sorts of rights and benefits, such as tax benefits (the ability to file jointly, for example), medical benefits (a legal spouse is generally granted the power to make decisions given the incapacitation of the spouse), spouses not being compelled to testify against each other in court, and more. By refusing to view gay marriages as equal, all of these rights are denied to gay couples who wish to be married. Whether we turn to the 14th Amendment or simply to our own moral compass, this just isn't right.

There are two possible solutions: either affirm the right of gays to marry and have this marriage recognized in every state, with all of the benefits that entails, or completely eliminate the role of government in all marriage, returning the idea of marriage to a simple religious commitment. If we do not wish to be hypocrites in claiming America as one of the most free and equal places on the planet, these are the only options. Given these options, it is desirable to many, and frankly much easier, to take the first route.

Arguments that we should not be "redefining" marriage to "accommodate" the homosexual "lifestyle" fall flat. The church does not own the word marriage; allowing gays equality under federal law is not a redefinition of anything. Rather, for the first time in human history, science understands that homosexuality is not a choice, and more and more people are accepting this. I'd argue that all it takes is to ponder a simple question: whether you're straight or gay, is your attraction to a beautiful person automatic, or do you have to make a conscious decision every time you see one? If you answer the former, congratulations; you now understand why homosexuality is not a choice. It is, therefore, illogical to make any distinction in law between straight and gay relationships or marriages.

Religious people don't have to like it, but we do not govern this country based on religion. The equality movement takes exactly zero rights away from the religious; marriage equality does not affect a person's free practice of their religion, it does not harm the "institution of marriage", and it most certainly does not "destroy the fabric of morality of this country". It would be like a vegetarian claiming that other people eating meat in the same cafeteria as them somehow affects their ability to practice their choice of type of food to consume; the only difference is that one could make a logical argument that the smell of a delicious hamburger is tempting to a vegetarian, while marriage equality could not possibly tempt someone who isn't gay.

If you believe in the ideals on which the United States were founded, you must be for marriage equality. Love is love, and there is no rational reason to draw a distinction between heterosexuals and homosexuals on this issue.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Caution: World Imploding

Sometimes the correct answer is that there is no correct answer.

Republicans and even some Democrats are ratcheting up their criticisms of Obama's foreign policy. Of course, each side has political reason to do so: the Republicans obviously look better by making Obama look worse, and Democrats are nervous that Obama's low approval ratings will drag them down in midterm elections. With control of the Senate in the balance, both sides are going to try whatever it takes to come out on top.

But if we look a little deeper, we see... nothing. That is, for all the criticisms, I've yet to hear a legitimate solution to any of the world's problems. They want Obama to be more forceful in Syria, in Iraq, and in Ukraine/Russia. Have we learned nothing from moving too quickly to the drumbeats of war? I'm not a fortune teller, and I can't say for sure that the Middle East would be any different or better today had the US not invaded Iraq. It certainly seems to me, though, that it would be far less of a mess. We went in, toppled Hussein, hung around for a while providing "security and training", and then left... and we left a country with no way to combat the threat of terror groups such as ISIS. Is it really such a surprise what's happening over there today?

What I'd really love to hear is not what we should be doing in Iraq, Syria, and Ukraine, but rather what these politicians think the results of such action would be. They want us to begin airstrikes in Syria and to arm the "more moderate rebels". No one, of course, is willing to say publicly that conducting airstrikes in Syria against ISIS is equivalent to supporting the regime of Bashar al-Assad. No one is willing to say publicly that it's effectively impossible to identify moderate groups in Syria, and even if we could, it would be entirely impossible to ensure that our weapons don't end up in the hands of ISIS or Assad. We need only look to Iraq to see how easily our weapons can end up in the hands of ISIS. I'd be all for a solution, if only one person would propose an answer that seems feasible. Going in with guns blazing and American flags flying hasn't yet worked in the Middle East, and I don't see why it should be any different this time around.

As for Ukraine, again, what are we to do? I suppose helping to arm the Ukrainians makes more sense than does trying to do the same in Syria. At the same time, I don't know if any amount of weapons we give to Ukraine would be enough to overcome the power of the Russian army; I believe that if we wanted to turn the Russians back with force, it would require direct American military intervention. That may be in Ukraine's best interest, but is it in America's? At the beginning of the Obama presidency in 2009, he and Hillary Clinton spoke of a "Russian reset", trying to begin our relations with Russia anew. Was that such a crazy idea? In hindsight it's very easy to say "obviously it didn't work, therefore it was a bad idea." But what else could we have said? A new administration has two basic options for dealing with a contentious nation: either try to work with them or declare them an enemy. As far as I'm concerned, attempting diplomatic solutions to issues, attempting to work with Russia as a partner is preferable to declaring them an enemy and starting Cold War II with the beginning of the Obama administration. So we tried to work with Russia, and recently we've seen Russia has no interest in being an ally; their actions in Ukraine prove that beyond a shadow of a doubt. So I'd say the "reset" is less of a mistake and more of optimism that didn't turn out so well. In any case, the reset is in the past. We tried working with the Russians and it didn't work. So while it makes sense from a narrow point of view to support Ukraine against Russia, is that a situation we really want to step into? Anything the United States does, from arming the Ukrainians, to providing air support, to direct military involvement, will be clearly seen as an act of aggression of the US against Russia. Given Russia's actions, I believe our intervention would be wholly justified; the issue, however, is how Russia would perceive such actions. Vladimir Putin and the Russian people have a completely different view of their involvement in Ukraine, and I believe would likely take great offense at America "interfering" in their affairs. Any action the US takes would, in my opinion, sever the few remaining threads connecting the US to Russia, and officially begin Cold War II... and we could only hope Cold War II doesn't become Nuclear Apocalypse I.

We need to be fully prepared to deal with the consequences of our actions around the world, and this is something I think is lost on the politicians calling for immediate action. They accuse Obama of being too cautious, which in some cases is a legitimate criticism; my opinion is that Obama's caution has so far prevented a catastrophe on a scale most politicians can't fathom. Obama's policy of "don't do stupid stuff" has become a punching bag for many, but I believe those four words have stopped us from making a few grave mistakes. While it seems the time is coming for America to take some sort of action, I believe a policy of caution, patience, planning, and depth of strategy are vital to achieving our goals without causing even greater chaos in the world.

Let us learn from the lesson of the 2003 American invasion of Iraq that caution is required. Patience is needed. Just because America has the military power to go anywhere and crush any threat doesn't mean that that's always the best solution. Hopefully our politicians can realize this before we repeat the mistakes we've made so many times before.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

A Low Point For Bowe

There have been some low political moments recently in America, such as the Benghazi witch-hunt, the ongoing Obamacare war... but I think this may be the lowest I've ever seen.

As a result, or perhaps symptom, of the toxic atmosphere caused by the deal to free Bowe Bergdahl from Afghanistan, the Bergdahl family has been on the receiving end of death threats recently. Isn't it ironic that these people who sent these death threats, people who no would doubt self-identify on the high end of the "love America, hate the terrorists" scale, are themselves employing terroristic acts against the Bergdahl family?

These are also likely to be people who hold America's justice system and due process of law in the highest regard. Yet they've already convicted Bowe Bergdahl without even letting Bowe get well enough to tell his side of the story; the right to confront one's accuser is central to our justice system, but these people are ready to say Bowe's guilty (and threaten his family's lives!!) before even hearing him speak. So hypocritical.

If it turns out Bowe has committed some sort of crime, he should be punished. But if not? Who are we to assassinate his character at this point? I've seen people defend the rights of those Obama strikes with drones, saying we're "killing them without the due process of American law"... but somehow Bowe Bergdahl, a soldier and American, doesn't have that same right? It just doesn't make sense to me.

I've seen people say this will encourage terrorists to kidnap more people for ransom; however, isn't this already standard operating procedure for terrorists? They've always kidnapped Americans given the opportunity; this is (unfortunately) nothing new that will be caused by the Bergdahl deal.

It's been said that Bergdahl willingly provided information to the Taliban on how to more effectively attack Americans, and that the Taliban's attacks became more precise shortly following this. I don't claim to know exactly what happened, but do the people who argue this not realize that the Taliban would have gotten this information from Bergdahl whether he wanted to give it up or not? He was a prisoner of war; the Taliban would have gotten their information out of him one way or another. It being willing on Bowe's part is merely one plausible explanation, and doesn't really seem any more plausible than anything else at this this point.

I've seen people of the opinion that this deal is a slap in the face to the families of soldiers who died searching for Bergdahl after he disappeared. This is an absurd notion in at least two ways: First, the sad deaths of these soldiers happened long before any deal to free Bergdahl was even considered (and maybe it's just me, but isn't it possible that the fact that our men died trying to find him gave the option of negotiation a bit more merit compared to rescue?), and one can't possibly be linked to the other. Second, I would imagine that the soldiers that gave their lives trying to save Bergdahl would be happy to see their mission finally completed, regardless of what they think of Bowe personally. I honestly can't come up with a good rationalization for why finally securing Bowe's release should be in any way insulting to those who died; in fact, I'd say that leaving Bowe in Afghanistan forever would have been the real insult. It would have sent the message "Yeah, you died trying to save him, but he's actually not that important."

Finally, it's been argued that the five released men will return to the fight and attempt to kill Americans again. This unfortunately cannot be guaranteed against, but, I ask, forgetting the Bergdahl situation, what IS the ultimate plan for these people at Gitmo? Indefinite detention with no trial, again ignoring the due process of our justice system that is held so dear? Better would be an actual trial and conviction, but there seems to be no hurry for that (why would there be when we can just hold prisoners forever though). We parole murderers from regular American prisons every single day, and we KNOW there is a massive danger that they will reoffend. Yet we act like it's nothing; "well they did their time". But the men we released to Qatar likely won't have much chance to hurt many Americans, since we are supposed to be leaving Afghanistan soon; yes, the random murderer or rapist we parole from prison here has a higher chance of succeeding in hurting Americans than these 5 Taliban do, in my opinion. Again... hypocrisy.

I guess I just don't get the speed and contradictions of the judgment against Bergdahl... okay that's not totally true; I definitely understand that some of it is political, as far as anything involving Obama becomes immediately politicized. But that certainly cannot be the extent of it, because I've seen plenty of "average" people around the internet claiming that Bowe should have been left in Afghanistan, should be executed, or any other number of extreme punishments. Is it just that Obama made this deal? Is Bowe Bergdahl collateral damage of the partisan hatred toward Obama? Or is there a deeper reason that people are outraged?

Monday, July 15, 2013

Not Guilty

It seems that those two little words are only the beginning of the conversation.

It's a conversation our country needs to have. There are a lot of people saying that the jury has spoken and we should move on; however, I seem to recall many of these same people just being unable to get over the Casey Anthony verdict for a long time. Whether you agree or disagree with either verdict, there does seem to be a bit of hypocrisy here.

Why do we want to move on from this case so fact, but still dwell on Casey Anthony? I think that's a question people need to ask themselves. Some people seem to be obsessing over how the media, or the prosecution, or whatever didn't portray Martin "as the thug he was".

My question is, why does it matter? Youth of many races make many bad decisions involving crime, drugs, and fighting. But they don't get the death penalty for that.

Without getting into the verdict, what do we know 100% for sure about that night? That George Zimmerman killed Trayvon Martin. I think that's pretty much all we know for sure.

I ask you this: if you had a troubled teen who got killed (rightly or wrongly), would you feel better about it because he had problems? Would you say "well my kid smoked pot, so I'm okay with it"? Would you say "well he got in a lot of fights, so I expected him to get shot eventually"?

Again, I repeat that this particular post neither supports nor disagrees with the verdict. I'm just trying to understand why people are so obsessed with trying to say that "he's a thug so it's okay". I've heard bad things about both Zimmerman's and Martin's pasts on the same news networks, so I don't know that they've made some sort of attempt to show bias. However, I think it's a general thing to be respectful to the dead where possible. I'm sure if Martin killed Zimmerman that night, the media would dig less into his past than Martin's.

As much as some people wish to deny it, race is still very much a big deal in our country. Not everything is about race, but so much about this case certainly is. We as a country need to figure out how we can do better. This is one of many senseless killings in this country, and we need to look for ways to do stop them. It took a long series of events to lead up to the confrontation that ended with Trayvon Martin's life being taken; was every step in that process necessary? Maybe this is the question we should be considering most of all.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Obviousness is in the Eye of the Beholder

"It's obvious Zimmerman acted in self-defense."

"It's obvious Zimmerman hunted down and murdered Trayvon Martin."

There are many people who believe that each of the above statements is true (not both at the same time, of course).

I've been following the trial relatively closely, and one thing seems obvious to me: nothing is obvious here.

There were a very small number of eye-witnesses to the event. Even then, they were a good distance away, it was dark, and none can say for sure who was screaming for help.

The girl that was on the phone with Trayvon in the minutes leading up to the incident told the court what happened, but she may or may not be telling the truth, given that she has an obvious prior relationship with the deceased.

Did Zimmerman follow Martin after being told not to? Did Martin double-back and attack Zimmerman? There isn't clear evidence either way. It seems that people's bias has really got them to see things that aren't there, to make the unclear obvious.

In a normal trial, this would be good for the defense. It is generally the job of the prosecution to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the accused committed the crime. But Zimmerman is going with a self-defense claim. Self-defense is an affirmative defense. This means some of the burden of proof swings to their side. They must put forth convincing evidence to show that Zimmerman did not begin the confrontation that ended Trayvon Martin's life. And I'm just not sure that evidence is there. I don't think there's a witness (other than Zimmerman himself, who wouldn't be 100% reliable for obvious reasons) that can definitively say that Trayvon attacked Zimmerman while Zimmerman was walking away from Trayvon.

So what happened? Only one living person knows, and he may or may not tell us, depending on whether or not in incriminates him.

What else isn't obvious? What the jury will do. As murky as this case is, and as many variables as there are, the jury doesn't have an easy task ahead of them. I don't think they'll come back with a murder conviction. What I think will happen, and personally agree with, would be a manslaughter conviction. I don't know everything that happened that tragic night, but I think I can say that Zimmerman's actions led to the death of Martin.

Then again, as is the theme of this case, I'm not 100% sure of this. Anything from murder to acquittal is possible, and no one will know what will happen until it happens, regardless of what "experts" or random watches seem to "know".

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Between a Rock and a Racist Place

With the George Zimmerman murder trial kicking into high gear, discussion of racism and racist elements in American culture is at a high level.

Now, there are racist people, and there are people who aren't racist. Of course. This goes for people from all walks of life; liberals, conservatives, Democrats, Republicans. You'll find racists and non-racists in each group.

The problem I have is as follows: certain racist people think that they can be as racist as they want, and when they get called out for being racist, they come back acting the victim, claiming their accuser is "playing the race card". This reminds me very much of bullies in high school. They will bully you relentlessly, and the moment you try to talk or fight back, they run to the teacher and say "topspin1617 is being a bully to me!"

I've been spending some time reading through comments and analysis of testimony from the Zimmerman case, and it greatly saddens me. There are clearly people who are extremely racist who have taken a great interest in seeing Zimmerman acquitted. To be clear, I'm not talking about every Zimmerman supporter; I realize that there are many people who think Zimmerman is just not guilty based on the evidence, regardless of the fact that Trayvon Martin was black. That's perfectly fine; I may not share the opinion that Zimmerman is innocent, but I respect the fact that others may have a different viewpoint from my own.

Read the comment section on any article about the case on, for example, Yahoo! (yes, yes, I know I call Yahoo! out a lot) and you'll see what I'm talking about. Here's a link to one such article, this one specifically about the testimony from Rachel Jeantel. Browse through the comments and you'll find no shortage of people calling her "ghetto" among other insults, not that whether or not she is "ghetto" has any relevance to the trial. This is bad enough, but what annoys me even more are the comments made against people who call out these racist remarks. Apparently, it's okay to make racist remarks, but calling out a person who makes such a remark is unacceptable. It means you're being racist against whites. It means you want Zimmerman convicted simply because Martin was black.

This is the mentality that is driving a wedge right down the center of American culture. To many of us, it is not okay to be racist. To many others, however, it is not okay to call out someone else for overtly being racist. This is a divide that seems to have no easy solution, as the two positions are in such combative opposition to each other that even bringing the topic up lights the proverbial powder keg.

It saddens me that this is what America is today. I look at the Zimmerman trial and see a man on trial for gunning down an unarmed teenager walking to his father's house from the store. I won't pretend to know exactly what happened that tragic night, but in my opinion the evidence supports that Zimmerman was guilty of provoking the confrontation that led to the end of Martin's life, making him guilty of at least manslaughter. This does not make me racist against whites (even though Zimmerman isn't even really white), nor does it make me biased in favor of blacks. You may disagree with me on the evidence of the case, and think that Trayvon was the one that started the fight; again, this does not make you racist. This trial is extremely racially charged, but people need to realize that it is possible to have an opinion on the case without being racially biased one way or the other. Once people realize this, I think it may finally be possible to have a civil conversation about the trial, and maybe other matters facing our country as well.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Super Smash Bros: The Waiting Game

So, I'm a big gamer.

I'll play a little bit of everything, but Nintendo is by far my favorite video game company. It seems that being a Nintendo fan has some sort of stigma attached to it in the video game community; I don't think I'll ever fully understand that. For me, Nintendo has, by far, the most iconic characters and series in all of gaming: Mario, The Legend of Zelda, Pokemon, Donkey Kong, Kirby, Star Fox, Fire Emblem, Metroid, and more.

Sure, Nintendo doesn't own every iconic series ever made; there's Metal Gear, Call of Duty, Halo, and many more series that Nintendo does not own, and some of which have never even appeared on a Nintendo console. In my opinion, however, it is the unique and colorful characters that make Nintendo what it is. Sure, Nintendo is constantly trying new things, like introducing the thumb-controlled analog stick on the Nintendo 64, the motion controls of the Wii, and more recently the Wii U GamePad tablet controller. These innovations are always interesting, sometimes brilliant, and sometimes annoying. But it is the games themselves, the legendary series, that set Nintendo apart from its competitors.

This is the reason the Super Smash Bros. series is so insanely popular. What's better than a bunch of games featuring some of the best characters in gaming? Why, throwing all of those characters into one game, of course! Nowhere else can you find out if Mario can beat Link while dodging lightning jolts from Pikachu and lasers shot by Fox McCloud. The games are just fun, pure and simple.

Recently, Nintendo has announced the fourth iteration in the Super Smash Bros. series to be released on Wii U and the Nintendo 3DS in 2014. Obviously, speculation about features of the upcoming game is running rampant across internet, from the character roster to stages to music to the physics engine. Everyone has their own opinion on which characters they want in the game, and which characters they think are likely. Everyone including me.

Nintendo made a huge splash at E3 by announcing 9 returning characters (who were hardly a surprise) and three characters new to the series: Villager (from Animal Crossing), Wii Fit Trainer (it doesn't need to be said which game she's from), and Mega Man. All three of these characters were shocking in their own way. An Animal Crossing stage already appeared in Brawl without going along with a playable character, so many thought this meant Animal Crossing would never have a playable character. The developer of the series, Masahiro Sakurai, also once stated that Animal Crossing was a very peaceful game and its characters weren't suited to fighting. The inclusion of Wii Fit Trainer was absolutely insane (yet somehow perfect); it's fitting that her initials are an anagram of WTF. Finally, Mega Man, as with any third-party character, could hardly be expected. Brawl broke precedent by including two third-party characters (Sonic and Snake), but the standard for any non-Nintendo character getting into the series is still incredibly high. This is, after all, a Nintendo fighter. It must be said, however, that Mega Man's history with Nintendo makes him more deserving of a spot in the Smash Bros. series than any other third-party character (Sonic and Snake included).

Anyway, out of excitement waiting for the game (and some boredom on my part), I decided to make my own roster prediction. My roster contains 45 characters (not counting transformations); since Brawl had 35 (by the same standard), I think this is a reasonable number. Every character on my roster is either returning from a previous installment in the series, is already a confirmed newcomer, or else has (in my opinion) a very real shot of being playable in the upcoming game. My roster was made with part prediction, part logic, and, yes, part personal desire. Without further adieu, here it is:

(Note: The Z.S. Samus near the bottom left is supposed to represent Wii Fit Trainer; the program I used didn't have an icon for her and I was too lazy to make one.)

The red borders are supposed to represent that a character is unlockable rather than being a starting character, though that's not really the point.

I've cut 3 characters from Brawl: Toon Link, Ike, and Lucario. Toon Link, while fun, is hardly necessary, and was the easiest character to cut to make room for another (I mean come on... he's still Link). Lucario was replaced with Mewtwo, even though Lucario is actually my favorite character in Brawl. I felt that Mewtwo, together with some mechanic of transforming into Awakened Mewtwo, could satisfy those who were upset that he was cut from Melee and represent the newest generation of Pokemon at the same time. Finally, Ike was cut to make room for Chrom. Chrom is the main character of the newest (and very popular) entry in the Fire Emblem series. However, that is not to say that Chrom should be an Ike clone; in fact, I envision Shulk and his Monado taking over most of Ike's A-button moveset, while having new specials (admittedly, none of Ike's B-moves, other than maybe side-B, were very impressive anyway).

Other than the roster itself, my main desire is for Ganondorf to receive an entirely new moveset. Ganondorf has been a ripoff of Captain Falcon for way too long, and a character of his stature deserves better (not to mention that nothing in his current moveset represents anything he does in the entire Zelda series). I don't actually want him to use his sword; even though he uses it in some of his more recent appearances, I think Smash has enough sword users, and that Ganondorf is capable of a lot without a sword. He has projectiles, shockwave slams, and the ability to produce phantoms (Ocarina of Time) and ride a horse (Twilight Princess; hey, if Wario can pull a motorcycle out of nowhere, why not a horse? Though the ability to attack the horse like Wario's motorcycle may not be a good thing...). Ganondorf is the only character who I can't stand to be a semi-clone; Falco, Wolf, Luigi, etc. are understandable, though more separation wouldn't be a bad thing. Ganondorf, however, is intolerable.

What do you think of the roster? Like it? Hate it? Uncontrollably angry that I removed a few characters? Let me know in the comments!