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Flash Fiction II: Like Old Horror

May 1, 2011

James clasped Lucy’s hand as she lay on the bed, body and, mostly, head linked to minute machines beyond counting. It didn’t matter, really– the machines weren’t doing a damn thing to keep her alive, and they both knew it.
“We– we had a good time, didn’t we?” He squeezed the words out as tears squeezed themselves from between his eyelids and captured the glow of the many displays.
She smiled weakly up at James and nodded. Her condition had crippled not only the ability to dance, run, and hike in the outdoors, but had removed her most precious possession in losing the use of her vocal cords.
He knew it was a torment for others to speak around her, and usually he refrained from doing so, but it was the end, and they both knew she couldn’t last much longer.
“When you go, if they ask me to move… I just can’t do it. I can’t. Don’t ask me to do it.” Nearing frantic, his eyes searched her face for disapproval.
Gently, she shook her head, then placed her hand on his face. He smiled and bent to kiss her forehead, still smooth with the last vestiges of youth as yet untouched by the oncoming middle age.
Her hand fell away. The machines beeped in simultaneity. A clear, electronic voice said “Distribution complete”.
He left the room and called for the mortician. Mid-call he sank to the couch to continue the conversation; it molded exactly to him and supported just the right amount.
Perhaps it was his imagination, but the house and everything in it felt more alive.
The distribution was complete– she was around. It was like an old horror movie, but… she was here.

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Flash Fiction I: BAC

April 28, 2011

John picked up the heavy stein and once again set to pulling the dark amber beer faster than his father alongside him. It was a rich brew, and the aftertaste was just as pleasant as the first sampling, but he could feel himself starting to fail. Taking a moment to breathe, he ran a hand through his dark, sweaty hair, and glanced to the side. Shaun was still draining his alcohol with the same alarmingly quick regularity with which he began the match. He noticed John’s attention, and winked at him over the glass rim.

Once more steeling himself, John reached for his tenth stein and discovered his hand had acquired an alarming inaccuracy. Finally, he made contact and pulled it toward him for the next effort. A portion slopped off onto his shirt, but the majority made the journey and began to follow its brethren. It went down as smoothly as the rest, but seemed to sit uneasily, a dissenter in John’s gastrointestinal system.

All at once, John found himself staring up, from the depths of the floor and his alcohol daze, at his still-composed and now grinning father’s face. Very shortly, though, reality dissolved and faded to black.

Unjacking the neural feed from the port in the back of his head, John removed his hand from the blood sampling device in front of him.
“Told you I could outdrink you!”, Shaun was gleeful in his victory.
“Yeah yeah, dad, we found that out pretty well.” Despite the impartiality of the test, or perhaps because of it, John’s pride was stung.
“I tell you buddy,” his father continued, “Someday you’ll be able to beat me, and that was a pretty good drinking match, but for now, that machine there will tell you it’s all in the blood.”

Be Safe– Please: The Top 4 Computer and Internet Security Flaws

April 2, 2011

I’ve been working in the IT Desktop Support department at my university. What the mainly means is that we troubleshoot all of the campus-owned computers, all of the campus-related internet issues, and basically maintain the technology that flows in and out of the school.

Now, I’m definitely an above-average technology user. I’ve known this for some time, because I’ve spent quite a bit of time around technology in general and computers in specific. I know that my troubleshooting skills and my general knowledge of technology are greater than your average Joe user.

But it wasn’t until I started working in IT that I really began to comprehend what a difference there is.

Setting aside the advanced technical knowledge that only comes from computer maintenance (read: poking around in a computer’s guts 🙂 ), there are a number of things many users simply do not know which are fundamental to maintaining a secure technological experience. So these are a few things you can do to keep your computer happy.

1. Set a strong, secure password.
This is the number 1 security tip for a reason. Just recently I was performing maintenance on the computer of a friend’s sister. After restarting, I was about to ask for the password with which to log onto the computer again, when I realized that there was no password! When I asked about it, she said, “Well, I figured that if anyone really wants to get onto the computer, a password isn’t going to stop them.” That’s only partially true.

A password serves two purposes. The first purpose is the one that people usually think of: if I have a password, then others can’t access my data and files. It’s true that there are ways in which a person can crack a computer with a certain program or security vulnerability which make a password useless. However, that kind of cracking takes at the very least a program on a CD, which implies malice and forethought, as well as possession of the computer for a certain length of time in which the security is cracked. If the person can get a hold of your computer for that long, then you need to take a look more at the physical security of your desktop or laptop.

The second purpose is what can be said of flimsy locks: they keep honest people honest. Perhaps a nosy family member or co-worker finds your laptop sitting unused. The temptation to look at your pictures, word documents, and other files is easily stymied if they see a password and know they can’t log onto the machine.

So, the best way to keep your machine secure with a password is two-fold. First, the password has to be strong. Think of it as the possibility of guessing your password. Obviously, a one-character password has 26 possibilities in terms of letters, 10 in terms of numbers, and less than a dozen other possibilities in terms of other allowed characters in passwords. In turn, then, increasing the amount of characters will exponentially increase the amount of possibilities which someone would have to guess in order to crack the password. This possibility decreases even more if the password combines letters, number digits, and symbols if possible.

The second aspect of a strong password is that it should be memorable to you, but not so much that it is obvious to another– especially if you use a password hint. Regardless of how strong a password might be by combining the numbers and letters of a street address, it becomes instantly nullified by anyone guessing phrases which would have significance to the user. The other caution is that it should be a password which is memorable enough in that you do not have to write it down, or can keep the written copy safe and secure as well. The greatest password is easily foiled if discovered in some other fashion, in which case the data is compromised if not protected by other measures.

Additionally, it should be noted that even one extremely strong password can fail, and it is advisable to have multiple strong passwords to be exchanged at least every few months. Even if one is compromised, you always have backups upon which to fall in times of need.

2. Install and maintain security programs.

This is another extremely important aspect of computer security, and possibly the most often neglected by basic users. What probably causes this neglect is the fact that many systems come with an anti-virus program, such as McAfee Security or Norton Anti-Virus, pre-installed. With this installation comes something like a 3-month trial subscription. For a program such as McAfee or Norton, this subscription isn’t necessary to be run, but is no less necessary to have, as without a subscription the virus definitions will go out of date. Very soon afterward, the program protects against only outdated threats, and will allow in any threat that wasn’t included in a previous definition. Users will continually hit the “Remind me later” button, when the program asks for an extension of the subscription, and the program quickly becomes not only useless, but a useless program which continues to use resources– which, in the case of most anti-virus programs, is a large amount of resources.

The best course in maintaining security programs is to find a free program which will automatically update itself without requiring a paid subscription. As well, it used to be the case that different programs would protect against viruses, while other protected against spyware threats, and others would be needed for trojans, worms, and other miscellaneous threats. Now, it is usually the case that programs will protect against multiple threats, but this is not necessarily true. Having two main programs which deal with threats is usually the best defense setup, though there are some known interactions between defense programs which cause errors. For example, having Norton Anti-Virus as well as Microsoft Security Essentials will cause errors, one of which is in infinitely loading web-page in any browser, an error which can be solved by uninstalling Norton Anti-Virus.

The recommendation of this article, at this time, is to download the free program Microsoft Security Essentials at http://www.microsoft.com/security/pc-security/mse.aspx . This program protects against a variety of malicious programs, provides real-time scanning (evaluating files as they are accessed by other programs), and is a small program which uses far less in the way of resources than other programs. If you feel that you need additional security, or wish to have another program as a back-up, Malwarebytes’ Anti-Malware program, which can be downloaded for free from a variety of websites, such as this one: http://majorgeeks.com/download.php?det=5756 .

Many programs have automatic updating of their definitions– however, users should also make a habit out of checking the program for updates, additional security options, and features such as automatic scanning of the full system hard drive(s).

For more internet-related security, there is a specific program by AVG called LinkScanner. In conducting Google, Yahoo!, or Bing search engine searches, there will be either a green star or a red X next to the links provided, which tells you whether the site is trusted or not. Though I don’t know much about the reliability of the scanner and how many sites it currently has listed, it’s a generally used IT tool which can give some guidance on website trustworthiness. You can download it for free at http://linkscanner.avg.com/

3. Updates to the system are critical

Regardless of the type of system, the operating system (so long as it’s still supported *cough*Windows95*cough*), and the other programs installed on the machine, a computer needs updates. It’s a fact of life. New interactions with other programs, old vulnerabilities finally discovered; there are a myriad of reasons to release a patch or an update, and operating systems are notorious for constantly receiving updates. A staple of computer culture is the “Updates are needed” message in the Windows system tray (the lower-right corner of the screen).

It’s true that updates come frequently and in large batches, and it can be annoying to continually download and install packages for software you had hoped would work in the first place. However, that annoyance makes the updates no less necessary for the well-being of your machine.

4. Internet Use

The majority of time on personal computers these days is spent on the internet in one form or another. Other than certain games and applications which connect to the internet for interaction between multiple people, we access the internet as directly as possible; that is, through our web browsers. Of course, there are a variety of web browsers, and new and innovative browsers are being released at a furious pace. The Mozilla Foundation’s opensource web browser Firefox is a popular choice, while Windows comes bundled with some version of Internet Explorer, and Apple of course supports their own Safari browser, while Google has released Google Chrome as a stand-alone precursor to its upcoming Google Chrome OS. Opera Software has also released the Opera Browser, which is quite customizable and standardized towards minimalism.

Now, much of what its good about these browsers is shared. No browser will be without a tab allowing you to review and erase your browsing history, and of course none will block you from viewing things (other than malicious sites, as per above) that others won’t. However, there are some important differences.

Microsoft’s Internet Explorer has a fairly bad reputation, and in this case it’s for a reason. Whether the company was slipshod in its programming, or the team working on it ran out of time and budgetary allowances, the many versions of the program have been plagued with security vulnerabilities, bad user interface choices, and a lack of many features which were only provided long after other browsers had found them. Some of these problems have been alleviated in the latest release of IE, and i’m sure they will continue to be worked on, but I would recommend this browser only as a last resort or as the browser which allows you to download something else when you first purchase a new or refurbished Windows computer.

In terms of functionality, Opera, Google Chrome, Firefox, and Safari are all roughly equal in that they are far more secure than IE and will allow a smooth web-browsing experience. My personal preference at this time is Google Chrome, but the Mozilla Foundation has just released Firefox 4, which looks to be promising. As well, I don’t have much personal experience with the Opera browser, but by all indications it is a solid choice. If it comes to making this type of decision about your web browser, the choice is contingent on your preference in aesthetics and small user interface differences which speak to your personal browsing experience.

However, internet security in terms of browsing does not end at the choice of a secure browser. Those seeking to obtain more complete security need to also deal with a service called the Tor network, and anyone with a wireless network at home should have some form of security on their router.

The Tor network is an onion routing network– in essence, a user within the Tor network is much harder to trace back to their location and particular IP address. The advantages of this should be apparent, especially when dealing with sensitive information and websites. The most convenient use of the Tor network is the Vidalia Bundle, which installs both the Tor software and the Vidalia management software. The Vidalia Bundle can be found at https://www.torproject.org/projects/vidalia.html.en

As for home networks, the common mistake that many users make is to simply set the router up and go. Having internet access means it works, right? Well, yes, but there’s a bit more to it than that. On an out-of-the-box network such as that, it’s going to be unsecured– anyone can access your router’s wireless signal. Beyond the obvious use of your internet connection, an experienced user can find a way into a router, allowing them to access the data which you and other members of your home input and output on the network. With information such as bank account numbers and passwords to different websites, that can easily lead to a downward spiral towards identity theft.

With these types of careful browsing and use of computers, it is easy to keep free from the majority of threats. By observing these practices, the main body of mistakes can be avoided and a safe and interesting time can be had.

Questions, comments, concerns? Leave a comment below, and have a great day!

Overwhelming Force, Courtesy of Steve Pavlina

March 29, 2011

I know it’s been some time since I posted, and I’m sorry about that. Technical difficulties and time constraints have weighed heavily on me lately, but I hope that I can remedy that with some posts in the near future.

This could be called the counter-post to “The Benefits of Being Balanced”. While in that post I argued for balance and moderation in the different areas of one’s life, the larger point was to advocate against extremism in any form: religious, political, educational (though that is hard to avoid), physical, and other aspects.

However, I am taking a cue from Mr. Steve Pavlina here in talking on the concept of overwhelming force.

As stated in his 2005 article at http://www.stevepavlina.com/blog/2005/09/overwhelming-force/ , the term is of obvious military origin. In the face of resistance, such resistance is rendered powerless by an overcommitment of force.

Overwhelming force isn’t a technique that applies to any specific area of life. Any endeavor you undertake, anything which you attempt to do, can be aided by taking this alternative approach. It’s simply the willingness for a person to not only prioritize, but to expend sufficient effort in attaining his or her priorities.

The logic of overwhelming force is rather easy to understand. By attempting to attain a goal and failing, one expends an initial investment of energy and must therefore make a choice: to continue expenditure of energy, or to give up pursuit of the goal. The problem inherent in this is that most people will undercommit their resources in attaining a goal. Too often, pursuing a goal is “too time-consuming”, or “I just didn’t feel like it”, or “I had other things to do.”
And so, in continuing to pursue the goal with an initial undercommitment, one continues expending energy. However, this small incrementation of commitment is almost always ineffective, and in the end is extremely time-consuming as one goes through the repeated process of attempt, failure, attempt, failure, attempt.

Overwhelming force, then, seeks to save both time and energy by using a massive initial investment of energy to attain the best results on the first attempt. By committing this massive amount of effort initially, one serves to use a fraction of the unsuccessful energy and time which would be spent long-term in the more traditional approach.

An excellent example of a situation in which overwhelming force is useful is in the category of exercise. In seeking to lose weight, it is more effective to spend a large amount of time each day exercising for a long period of time. Not only will this large investment each day give a more pronounced effect in weight loss, but exercise becomes an integral part of one’s day. Exercise is no longer a chore, it’s a habit. Then it’s no longer a habit, but a lifestyle. In this way, the person makes the intended change, achieves the desired results, and had a minimal waste of time and effort. It’s the stand-by advertisement in commercials, “Real results, fast!”

The problem with overwhelming force is that most people aren’t willing to make an overcommitment of resources. This isn’t so much due to a problem with the strategy as it is with prioritization. When a person judges a goal of significant importance, they assign a high priority to that goal. The higher the priority, the higher the maximum effort a person will expend. In this way, it’s necessary to correctly recognize the value of a goal and where it should lie among others.

Overwhelming force isn’t always the best strategy. Sometimes it’s more important for a person to be meta-cognitive– that is, to be able to think about their own thought processes. At other times, the more important factor is to rely on the experience of others. In many situations, though, it is beneficial to create a massive response and attempt to render resistance meaningless. In these cases, use overwhelming force, and enjoy the swift efficiency it brings.

If you have questions, comments, complaints, or concerns, I would love to have you leave a message in the comments section below. Thanks for reading, and have a great day.

Guest Post: Affirmative Action in Vermont– Little Friends

February 9, 2011

Today, I have the great pleasure of giving you a guest post from the amazingly talented Taryn Tilton. I’ve known Taryn since I was quite small, and I am well aware of her capabilities in regards to both scholarly interest and writing. Do please leave some comments below to show your appreciation for her as I sort out my technical difficulties. Thanks! MG

As you probably know, Miles has been having computer problems. He asked me to write a guest post while things get sorted out, and I was more than happy to oblige.

After reading his post on Amy Chua and Why Chinese Mothers are Superior, I decided I, too, would write about the parenting of Chinese children — but in a completely different context: I want to write about the parenting of children adopted from China. This is not going to be a critique on parenting styles or on the ethics of adopting children from developing countries or anything of that sort, but the briefest of glimpses into how it is to be a child adopted from China now living in rural America.

As it is, I am white and currently a senior Chinese major at Middlebury College in Middlebury, Vermont, in Addison County. Middlebury’s population is a little over 8,000, which includes about 2,500 college students. The towns around Middlebury are not much bigger. In fact, the biggest “city” in Vermont is Burlington, which is about an hour away from Middlebury and still only has a little under 40,000 people.

Addison County — and especially Middlebury — is interesting in that there are two distinct populations: one of academics and organic farmers and the like, usually marked by their high education or well-balanced lifestyles, and the other of working-class or unemployed individuals, some of whom are in extreme poverty. The latter seems to outweigh the former. Excluding the huge range of people of different backgrounds at the college, there is not much diversity in rural areas like this, especially not racially. There is also a trend – trend in the sense of a pattern, not in the sense of a passing fad – in which a significant number of the people here with higher education adopt children internationally, usually from China. Chalk it up to Vermont’s supposed tolerance for unconventional lifestyles and patchwork families, if you will; I’m not sure exactly why but, relatively speaking of course, there are a good number of them.

Now, why China? There are plenty of reasons and they vary, of course, according to family, but I’ll try to go over a few here. First of all, international adoption is a great option for those looking to adopt because there are more babies available and the process, if not necessarily faster, at least tends to be more definite. Unlike domestic adoptions, there are no open adoption policies or birth mothers who may or may not change their minds. Also, speaking more specifically to China now, the children up for adoption there tend to be very healthy given their circumstances. For instance, there are far fewer cases of Chinese orphans with fetal alcohol syndrome then, say, there are in Russia and other countries in the former Soviet Union. Perhaps most importantly, however, is that thanks to the Chinese one-child policy, China now has at least 50,000 orphans, not including those who do not live in orphanages.

The nuances and loop-holes of the one-child policy are enough to write at least three more posts so I won’t get into it here – for instance, rules can be bent if you live in the countryside or if you are willing to pay crazy taxes, etc. – but I will talk briefly of its consequences.

Traditionally, when people get married in China, the woman moves in with the man and they, as a couple, are responsible for taking care of his parents as they age. This leaves the woman’s parents without a caretaker – unless, of course, they have another child who is a son. The one-child policy, then, has made couples desperate for sons, even if that means abandoning any daughters they might have.

This policy – while an incredibly effective means of population control, which was the purpose of its creation – has had severe repercussions. This goes beyond just the “surplus” of baby girls in China. This also means that there is an imbalance in gender as these children age, and that now, many men are having trouble finding wives or partners. This also means that whole generations of children have grown up as only children, every single child coddled and spoiled rotten by four grandparents and two parents. (The Chinese call these children “little emperors.”) This also means that these children are not used to sharing – toys, living space, what have you – and that there has been a recent rash of “shotgun divorces” as pairs of these only children struggle to live under the same roof, confined by marriage and all the sharing that entails.

In any case, this has been great news for many American parents looking to adopt, benefitting from the “surplus” of these beautiful little girls. Indeed, more and more families have been adopting girls from China with each passing year.

Now on to my central point: how do children adopted from China, sometimes as late as four years old, cope with moving to rural Vermont without even an Asian family upon which they can rely? The answer is: they don’t. Not on their own, anyway.

My good friend and I have heard plenty of horror stories, if you will, of boys bullying other boys, saying things like, “We don’t like your yellow sisters. People like that don’t belong here,” etc. Perhaps most striking, however, is that time and time again, the parents’ pleas for disciplinary action fall on deaf ears; the schools in this area have little to no experience with diversity and thus have no measures in place for dealing with these types of issues.

We have heard stories, too, of young girls adopted from China saying that when they grow up, they want to run away with a “white, Christian family” and dye their hair blonde. One girl even expressed to her mother that Chinese people are ugly and stupid. When her mother said the contrary was true and that her daughter was neither ugly nor stupid – to the contrary, in fact – the daughter exclaimed that of course she knew she wasn’t, but Chinese people are.

These adopted children don’t identify as Chinese, and how could they? They are surrounded by white people all day every day, and their understanding of China is only through whatever stereotypical lenses the media presents or the prejudices set against them by their ignorant peers at school. What is to be done, then?

Last January, my (aforementioned) friend decided to take action. She suggested forming a mentoring group catered directly to these children adopted from China, and I hopped on board, glad to help in any way.

The program is called 小朋友 (Xiao Pengyou, or Little Friends), and its aim is to match children adopted in China with either international students or Chinese Americans here at Middlebury College. The kids grow to love their Chinese mentors – because they are really cool, old college students! – and thus form a positive racial identity with a role model who looks just like them. The mentor-mentee matches have one-on-one get-togethers about once every two weeks, and then a giant program-wide get-together about once a semester, in which all the coordinators, parents, mentors, mentees, and mentee siblings get together to learn about Chinese traditions, eat good food, and run around acting ridiculous.

Luckily, parents of children adopted from China tend to be very involved and eager to give their children the best, so I have heard enough praise to know how much this program means to those who participate in it. I don’t need to hear the praise, though; I would still know. One little girl, when planning her birthday party, asked to only invite her Xiao Pengyou friends. Her mom asked why, as these children only see each other at our program-wide meetings twice a year, and she said plainly, “Because those are my real friends.”

Since its inception, the program has grown to include a little over 20 matches. While I cannot be a mentor because I am white and that defeats the purpose, I have seen the worth in this program more than I ever could have expected; I am more than happy to serve as a coordinator between the mentee families and the mentors, as well as plan the big biannual get-togethers. It is important that while these children grow up in beautiful, rural Vermont, they are still at least partially surrounded by people who look like them, knowing where they came from and, in a sense, who they are.

Absence and Guest Posts

February 7, 2011

Hi everyone.

I have to give a bit of a cop-out for my absence of late.

My laptop actually was just broken recently, and it looks like it won’t be repaired for at least a week or two.

Fortunately, I’ve already had a guest post from Dr. Laundra to cover the weekend, and hopefully I can wrangle up a few more to cover me.

Anyone who would be interested in writing a post of any kind (subject to my editing and approval) should contact me at mgrimes@millikin.edu, or leave a comment on this post.

You’re all fantastic. Have a great day.

Guest Post: Dr. Ken Laundra’s “Facing the Storm: The Egyptian Whiteout”

February 6, 2011

This weekend, I have the honor of hosting a post from Dr. Ken Laundra regarding the political uprising in Egypt, as well as the ensuing media coverage of the uprising. Dr. Laundra is a sociologist specializing in social problems, deviance, criminology, juvenile delinquency, popular culture and environmental sociology. Originally from Michigan(B.S. Psychology, Michigan State University; M.A. Sociology, Central Michigan University), Ken received his Ph.D. in Sociology from Utah State University in 1999 and has taught at universities across the country since then. He has worked professionally in the field of juvenile delinquency and mental health. His primary field of research is in rural deviance and delinquency and he has published a book on the subject of rural delinquency entitled, Freeland: Delinquency in Rural America.

Facing the Storm: The Egyptian Whiteout

In Chicago last week, there were reports of thundersnow – thunder and lighting during a snowstorm that brought the city to a screeching halt. During the height of the blizzard, many were forced to stop their cars in the middle of the street, get out, and walk. Imagine how it must have felt to step out of your warm, dry car, face first into the ripping winds of a huge blizzard, your face pelted by stinging ice pebbles as you stride down Lakeshore Drive, with crashing thunder all around you! It must have felt somewhat apocalyptic. I mean, really, a thunderstorm within a snowstorm!?!

Many have commented on these rare, but increasingly common weather events, suggesting that this extreme weather may signal a new era of global unpredictability, instability, and uncertainty. But does it? Should we see any single storm, drought, mudslide, or crashing iceburg as a curious but isolated event, or as emblematic of larger, more consequential sea changes in the global ecosystem? As a prelude to annihilation?

While we may not always know how to interpret these extreme events, we should at least be paying more attention to them. Viewing these events as the culmination of complex, interrelated forces, whether they manifest as natural or man-made catastrophes, is crucial to seeing our way through the blizzard of disinformation and political hype that blows around us. Regardless of its form, an extreme event serves as a warning beacon, illuminated to get our attention. During these moments, we need to pause from our daily lives and take stock of these events because they often represent the balancing of an extreme imbalance, and too often we fail to see it coming.

Whether it takes the form of thundersnow in Chicago, a tsunami in Indonesia, rampant unemployment in an economic crisis, or a mass revolt in Egypt, extremities in the world tend to represent uneven forces leveling out. When the seas rise and a levee breaks, the turbulent water razes everything in its path, but it will eventually flow into equilibrium, a state of harmony with its surroundings. The same might be said of social unrest, likened to a cracked wall holding back an ocean of oppression. When the force of inequality grows into a hurricane of upheaval, there will naturally be chaos as the wall of injustice breaks and as the liberated masses flow into the streets. Eventually, though, it flows into reform, a balancing of the social seas.

This ebb and flow of societies can have a numbing effect, though, much like watching the rhythmic pattern of snow passing through dim headlights while driving through a snowstorm. We have been trained to focus on the road and not the storm. Don’t panic. Stay in the car. Just stay calm, look forward, and keep driving until the storm passes. As such, it is easy to think of a public protest or even a massive political revolution as a singular and temporary state of imbalance – a seemingly natural cycle of action and reaction. Stability, then increasing instability, extreme event, and then balance. The storm grows, the energy is released, then the calm. One by one they come and go, flowing across our TV screens and over our heads. Stay in the car and keep driving forward, knowing that this too shall pass. So it goes.

So, as we watch events unfolding in Egypt, it is easy to dismiss this most recent political upheaval as just that – another political upheaval in the Middle East, the latest storm to pass by. A real yawner this one is too – they don’t even have guns in Egypt, just some rocks and a few Molotov cocktails! No need to crane-neck on this one. Keep driving. Turn up the volume and tune out the struggle. Besides, American Idol is on tonight and CNN has just broken coverage of the revolution for breaking news – Lindsay Lohan is under investigation for theft.*

But stop your car for a minute and consider what we are witnessing in Egypt today. For those tuning in, what we are witness to is something new to the landscape of revolt, a mass protest unlike any other in history, and one that signals a new path through the extreme storm that encompasses all of humanity today. To really see the storm, though, you have to get out of your car and look outside for yourself. Look past the media blizzard.

A famous lyric from a 60’s song says, “The revolution will not be televised“. At first glance, the classic quote has seemingly lost its prophecy, as evidenced by the Egyptian revolt which has garnered almost round-the-clock coverage on 24-hour news stations. In fact, since the first Gulf War, every American has enjoyed the option of watching bombs fall and buildings burn, all live in HD on a 52” plasma TV screen. But are we truly embedded, or just in bed with these images? For the most part, we are watching a studio version of the truth, a larger truth that has been shrunk down to fit our TV screens – and our worldviews.

Consider how Fox News narrates the Egyptian uprising as a story of chaos between opposing, morally neutral, but equally threatening forces, rather than describing what is actually happening in Egypt – a full blown peaceful uprising by a wide cross-section of educated, moderate people who have been at the hands of an oppressive dictatorial regime for generations. Facing a hardened dictator, a daunting police presence prone to violence, and a military power with questionable intent, hundreds of thousands of people – entire families in fact – poured out in solidarity into the streets, knowing they would have to endure for days on end. These people stopped what they were doing, walked out of comfortable homes and into chaotic streets, and faced the storm – a storm not made of ice pellets but of rocks, tear gas, Molotov cocktails, and global criticism. Incredibly, they stand victorious! Their obvious thirst for freedom overpowered their exhaustion and, coupled with savvy use of social media and some good ol’ fashioned non-violent civil disobedience, they have proven themselves to be formidable. In fact, they have demonstrated a new model for future revolutions in the region. Powerful dictatorial regimes can be toppled with just collective will, Facebook, and a few rocks. And it can be done with relative peace!

We should remember our own country’s origins and stand in solidarity with them, because their struggle is also ours – a fight for equal rights and a participatory democracy. The democracy they want might not look just like ours, but so what? What gives us the right to dictate how democracy looks in every other country around the globe? Democracy as a strategic model for freedom is not a one-size-fits-all program. Thus, we should stand against totalitarianism wherever it exists and worry less about how more easily our American interests are furthered under more easily controllable dictatorships. The true ideals of freedom, the very revolutionary ideals our own country was founded on, are expressed in the struggle for equality. It is a struggle for balance.

These ideals seem obvious, really, when you stop to look at what’s really going on over there. But the truth is obscured by Fox’s corporate camera lens, refracting truth and adjusted to the narrow worldview of the conservative mainstream – middle-aged, white, conservative Christians who assume most Muslims are terrorists anyway. The narrative put forth is this: Some radical Muslims, spearheaded by a dangerously radical group known as the Muslim Brotherhood, are attempting to overthrow our political ally and benevolent dictator, Hosni Mubarak, so that they might institute Islamo-fascism and another political safe haven for Al-Quaeda. Fox News has even taken false consciousness to a new level by suggesting that, in the likely event all Egyptian antiquities are looted and lost, that our American economy will suffer immensely as tourism ceases in this part of the world. One has to wonder if the Muslim Brotherhood might also steal the Sphinx and pyramids as well? Hard to say. It’s like reading hieroglyphics.

In a real sense, then, the revolution is NOT being televised, in that a truly democratic uprising has been obfuscated by corporate media with a profit-driven shock doctrine that requires fear and political propaganda to fuel it. This is why we get the fictional narrative instead of the truth. This is why Fox News chose to break away from live coverage of the uprising, during a critical conflict between pro and anti-Mubarak forces, for what was essentially an infomercial for Rupert Murdock to sell his interest in the new Apple/iphone news application. This is also why, when coverage returned to Fox News, the “breaking news” was that the Egyptian Museum had been set on fire by protesters (which it had not), and why the running narrative that afternoon was fear of chaos, fear of radicalism, fear of protesters. And this is why Lindsay Lohan remains front page news.

It is hard to see truth clearly in such a whiteout. Like driving in Chicago during a blizzard, you have to squint to see the road. You hear booming thunder in the distance but at that moment you can only focus on the vanishing yellow line just beyond the hood of your car. What was that over there? A protest in Egypt? Scary terrorists taking over another country? It’s hard to be certain, so many distractions.

To see clearly you have to stop. Pull your car over to the shoulder and turn it off. Wipe away the fog from your window and squint through the faint light. Remember your destination. Then, step outside your warm, dry vehicle and take a look around. Face the storm. What do you see? See your destination and the road that leads you there. Start walking. Keep walking. Walk straight through the corporate media blizzard, into its pelting ice and wind. Walk in full stride toward more truth and justice in the world. Walk like an Egyptian.**

Ken Laundra
2/06/2011
*occurred on CNN while I was writing this essay.
**yeah, I know it was a long way to go to get to this; no the link does not go to the Bangles homepage.