Archive for February, 2014

11 Fascinating Book Suggestions

Sunday, February 23rd, 2014

Have some time on your hands, but not sure what to read?  Here is a list of eleven novels guaranteed to entertain and spark new ideas.

  1.  1984 by George Orwell:  This modern classic is a seminal work exploring the consequences of an out of control police state.  The quintessential dystopian novel.
  2. Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe:  The crown jewel of the storied career of the late, great Achebe is a powerful novel that reads like a Greek tragedy.  Never have the mysteries of African tribal culture been more beautifully captured in literary fiction.
  3. One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez:  This epic follows the lives of the members of the Buendia family through a century of trials and tribulations in a fictional rendering of the author’s native Colombia.  It breaks new ground, expanding the expectations of what a novel can be.
  4. Siddhartha by Herman Hesse:  East meets West in this slender volume.  Siddhartha is a young man who explores what it means to be alive and finds some astonishing answers.  The prose is as beautiful as breeze rippling a pond on a tranquil summer’s day.
  5. The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho:  This refreshing novella has been read by artists and leaders all over the world.  It is a refreshingly accessible work that asks the reader to consider the personal journeys that we all embark upon.
  6. The Savage Detectives by Roberto Bolano:  This romp through the reality of a group of poets takes the reader from the back alleys of Mexico City to the heart of Africa.  It is a trailblazing novel that is told in both first and third person.  After reading this book you will never view poetry, dare I say life, the same.
  7. On the Road by Jack Kerouac:  The book that is considered by many to have defined a generation is a treatise on a passion for life.  A band of friends traverse North America, searching for fun, adventure, love, and art; what they find is fascinating.
  8. Jitterbug Perfume by Tom Robbins:  In his inimitable way Tom Robbins ponders eternity with some of the most amusing and outlandish characters created in modern fiction.  Gods have sex with humans and the fountain of youth lives in a perfume bottle.  If you haven’t read Robbins, this is an excellent place to start.
  9. The War of the End of the World by Mario Vargas Llosa:  The Nobel Prize-winning author is quoted as saying that this book was his greatest achievement.  He transports the reader to the surreal setting of the backlands of Brazil in the 19th century during the Canudos Rebellion.
  10. Animal Farm by George Orwell:  Orwell is the only author who could show up twice on a Can the Man fiction list.  This fable tells the story of the ability of power to corrupt and addresses basic questions about political organization.  If you read it in school rereading it is guaranteed to challenge your ideas in a whole new way.
  11. The Pearl by John Steinbeck:  The exquisite simplicity of this novella makes for pleasurable reading.  Kino, a pearl-diver in Mexico thinks he has found the answer to all of his problems when he finds an extraordinary pearl.  The pearl transforms the destiny of Kino and his family in unforeseen ways as the author deftly explores the depths of greed and humanities penchant for evil.

The Slippery Slope Towards Digital Tyranny

Friday, February 21st, 2014

censorship-1

 

By: J.A. Young

 

 

In times like these, when citizens all over the globe are embattled in a constant struggle against the oppressive power of corporate interests and fettering government restriction, the Internet has become a tool of immense importance. In both practical and ideological applications, it is perhaps humanity’s greatest hope for a democratic system of free-expression, transaction, and distribution of information. Despite its faults the Web has doubtlessly changed the world for the better, and as a result it has recently come under intense fire from traditional political institutions and capitalist power structures. At its core the Internet is a finger in the eye of authoritarianism, but powerful measures are currently underway to change that.

 

 

The battle to control online information has manifested itself in many forms over the past several years, one of the most worrying ways occurred recently in the United Kingdom. David Cameron’s administration has publicly instituted a filter on Internet content that is intended to prevent the distribution of various types of pornography. The motivation behind this censorship has an important historical basis which we have to consider before looking into the actual intent of limiting internet availability. Over the past half century the British government has made a point of restricting different forms of extreme content in a variety of ways. This has of course perpetuated the stereotype of England as a country that is presided over by the nanny-state. Early obscenity laws were instituted during the early 1960s which banned the sale of hardcore pornography in Britain, one of few Western nations to do so. These restrictions were then reinforced with the passage of the Video Recordings Act of 1984,  and have laid a unique precedent of censorship within the country.

 

 

Considering this history it is not entirely surprising that Parliament has recently made efforts to keep people from viewing extreme content on the Internet, but the implications of the newest legislation are terrifying.  There is the obvious problem that the censorship is entirely ineffective against blocking the content that David Cameron intended to smother. The current filters prevent Internet users from visiting any number of non-pornographic sites that may be about rape, sexual abuse, or just have extensive amounts of orange on the page (the filter blocks content with extensive skin-tone). This level of embarrassing incompetency is only a small concern when viewed next to the intrusive precedent that this content filter is setting for the future of political oversight on the Internet. After being instituted solely to limit pornographic content, the British government is now charging forward to extend the reach of the program. It seems obvious in light of the new changes that Orwell’s 1984 has been taken as useful plan for government control instead of as a cautionary tale.

 

 

In response to the NSA revelations that have taken place in the United States we hear the argument that the problem of excessive government control exists independently of benevolent intentions. Even if Barack Obama and the demagogues that created the program did so with the hope of preventing terrorism and tragedy, they have  created a “dictator’s toolkit” for the next administration that comes along.  By compiling data on every person who uses a cell phone and computer, the NSA gains the ability to label anyone they choose as a radical, dissident, and a heretic. We are assured that this is not what is actually happening, but the evidence suggests otherwise. Recent reports indicate that NSA surveillance was used in order to target supporters of whistle-blowing organizations like Wikileaks. Even if this program was used solely for the preservation of national security, how will it be used by a future president? The answer is of course that we have no way of knowing.

 

This point also applies to the United Kingdom, which has recently extended the reach of the porn filter to various types of content that are both ambiguous and arbitrary. Internet filtering will now extend to pages that concern, according to the Huffington Post, “access to “violent material,” “extremist and terrorist related content,” “anorexia and eating disorder websites,” and “suicide related websites.” [1] Following the logic behind this extension of control, surely anyone who dissents against such censorship would become a victim of the program, along with anyone who promotes a “radical view” of politics—whatever that may be. Even when you consider Britain’s uniquely uptight history of censoring extreme content, this most recent step is clearly in the direction of authoritarianism. It represents not only the creation of the aforementioned “dictator’s toolkit,” but also the ideology supporting such dictators.  This bilateral shift towards a surveillance state that is taking place on both sides of the Atlantic is the most pressing issue of domestic politics.

In the United States personal digital information is also under attack from the commercial side as well as the political. Internet and cable supplier Comcast has recently purchased competitor Time Warner Cable for the price of 45 billion dollars, and now we find America one-step closer to a monopoly that would pave the way for censorship.  It is impossible to separate this new problem from the issue of capitalism as a whole. From the standpoint of economics, it makes perfect sense for Comcast to absorb its competitor and gain a larger share of the market, with uninhibited growth being the end product of all free-market enterprises. Of course for anyone who wishes to procure television and Internet access with impunity the merger is a serious problem, and will likely lead to even more usurious data bills and less privacy. With Comcast swallowing up the market, net neutrality becomes even more likely to disappear, and along with it many of the democratic features of the Internet that we all enjoy. The best part about the Internet is that it can offer the same information and capabilities to all people with access, but the strong corporate interests of the Man make that all go away. Once you have a single company controlling access to information, the Internet ceases to be free.

 

It seems that the great powers of the West which define themselves on emancipation from control and free-access to information are slowly but surely descending into the depths of techno-dictatorship. The British and American media make  a clear distinction between their own governments and  ruthless censorship that exists in places like China and Iran, but the gap separating the two is rapidly shrinking. It is our duty as free-citizens, voters, and taxpayers to stand up against this new push for digital tyranny.

 

 

[1] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/07/29/uk-internet-filter-block-more-than-porn_n_3670771.html

 

Get the Fracks

Sunday, February 16th, 2014

As time has progressed human civilization has continued to find ways to power technology.  There is no debate on the fact that, in our haste to develop and produce energy, the environment has taken a backseat.  Not too long ago I wrote about the nuclear degradation in Japan from the Fukushima reactor — and now another potentially dangerous situation is on the horizon.  Hydraulic Fracturing, or hydrofracking, is a gas extraction process that has become increasingly popular over the last ten years, and it is finding its way into every small community that resides on top of precious shale fields.  My own home town rests atop Marcellus Shale, and earlier this week Can the Man took a field trip to the town board meeting to decide the future of fracking in Chautauqua County.

 

 

The process of fracking revolves around what is known as a horizontal well.  Normal wells, like a water well, are vertical and merely tap into the aquifer below the soil.  Hydrofracking wells drill down into the gas-rich shale, and turn the well horizontal.  At this point explosions break apart the shale to release the gas, and then thousands of gallons of chemicals and ground water are pumped into the well.  The solutions used for extraction contain hundreds of dangerous chemicals that have a wide array of nasty side effects in extremely high doses.  Recent studies have shown that even radioactive material may be extracted from the shale after the process is complete.  Radium 226, uranium, and radon have all been found in tested waste water from fracking.

 

 

A proposed one-year fracking moratorium was voted down by the Chautauqua County board as many constituents believed that any hindrance of natural gas production in the area would result in job loss and a wasted opportunity for many local businesses to make money.  Opponents of the moratorium were quick to mention that limited natural gas drilling has been performed safely in Chautauqua County in the past.  In addition they stated that the differences between standard gas wells and hydrofracking wells were minimal at best.  Each well bores deep into the earth, but once the hydrofracking well reaches the gas rich shale the well turns horizontal instead of continuing deeper.    Both job loss and squandered profits are common arguments in the now worldwide argument for fracking.  There is no question that billions of dollars of untapped natural gas would bring in money, jobs, and business—but is it the kind of business this county should be partaking in?

 

 

Many people who have researched the issue may have seen the famed documentary Gasland, which attempted to expose the fracking industry as a looming environmental disaster.  Since the film was introduced, several claims made in the film have proven false or inaccurate.  As with many issues in the world today, we have to take radicalized viewpoints with a grain of salt.  Hydrofracking has several obvious dangers, however, the hysteria driven by Gasland has misled the public into misunderstanding the intricacies of the issue.  I am not claiming to be a fracking-supporter, that’d be fracking-stupid.   It is clear that we should not be pursuing energy technology that has huge potential for disaster. Moreover we cannot believe the claims that the short term risks will be overshadowed by massive financial gains and long-term energy surplus.

 

 

When it comes down to it, I do not want gas corporations to have access to my small community.  Even more so I do not want the land beneath my feet to be cracked and filled with dangerous chemicals.  Those very same, possibly radioactive chemicals, after extracted are shipped in large tanker trucks through the towns around the area and on our highways.  Living in a town that revolves around water, is it smart to bring in gas wells near an already polluted and dying lake?  The possibility of catastrophic accidents happening is not only possible but probable from the lessons of history, and we won’t that realize it until it is too late.  This is a typical example of corporations on the cutting edge of the process moving forward before the public can even begin to think about regulating it.  I would like to compare it to new to the market prescription drugs.  Sure they might list of several possible side effects, but no one can say what ten, fifteen, or twenty years of taking that drug might do on your body.

 

 

 

-Spencer James-

Eleven Documentary Films Worth Watching

Sunday, February 9th, 2014

 

 Here is a list of documentaries that are both entertaining and enriching.  We would love to hear your opinions.  If you are inspired to write a review, please submit to ctm@cantheman.com and it might get posted on the site.  Enjoy!

 

1.   God Grew Tired of Us (2006)  A heartrending account of how a group of young men in war-torn Sudan find a new life in the United States.

 

2.  The Corporation (2003)  A thought provoking expose on corporations and how they are changing our lives.

 

3.  Jesus Camp (2006)  This documentary is a stunning account of a Christian summer camp for children who are encouraged to “take America back for Christ.”

 

4.  Fuel (2008)  An eleven year project by Josh Tickell, a man who is possessed by his desire to understand the U.S. dependence of foreign oil.

 

5.  Balseros (2002)  This documentary follows a group of Cuban refugees who travel on homemade rafts to the United States in hopes of finding a better life.

 

6.  Born Into Brothels: Calcutta’s Red Light Kids (2004)  A serious look into the lives of children who grow up in the some of the most difficult situations imaginable.

 

7.  The Trials of Henry Kissinger (2002)  A look at the storied career of Henry Kissinger, which presents a unique view of a man who made some of the most controversial contributions to international relations.

 

8.  Why We Fight (2005)  A vital consideration of the U.S. military-industrial complex.

 

9.  The Fog of War (2003)  A telling retrospective account by a central architect of the U.S. military-industrial complex, Robert S. McNamara.

 

10.  Zeitgeist (2007)  The groundbreaking independent documentary on the status of a lost generation.

 

11.  Zeitgeist Addendum (2008)  An important adjunct to the original Zeitgeist, which breaks new ground.

 

 

CTM Reflections: State of the Union 2014

Sunday, February 2nd, 2014

It is that time of the year again when America’s politicians gather in Washington D.C. as Barack Obama once again addresses them and the country with the State of the Union.  A night of neatly pressed blazers, suits, and what I can only imagine is an uncontrollable wave of musty colognes and perfumes.  As the evening telecast began I saw familiar faces like the arguably criminal Eric Holder (not just for that measly mustache) and the comically deplorable Ted Cruz.  As the President entered the chamber, one commentator mentioned that this was his “favorite night” in Washington and was the benchmark for “political theater.”  As the ovations began, I sat back with a glass of bourbon and watched the performance unfold.

 

 

Many of the recent State of the Union addresses have been focused on our foreign wars, social tragedies, and economic misfortune.  This year, Obama went in an entirely different direction for the first half of his speech.  The President mentioned topics like immigration, environmental protection, education, and infrastructure upgrades.  Throughout the address Obama continued to mention buzzwords like “together” and “progress” while creating a tone of optimism.  Obama also repeatedly mentioned the inaction of Congress and called for them to act on several bills currently on hold that could spur employment, drive financial recovery, and get America back onto its feet.

 

 

It was clear that this was a cleverly written speech.  One that used humor and tactful organization to skirt the tough issues and address the things Obama believes he can change.  One bit of dark humor I did get a hearty laugh from when Obama remarked,  “Now the son of a barkeep is the Speaker of the House,” line referring to a glowingly orange John Boehner.  The entire nation knows of Boehner’s predilection for the bottle, and I think everyone got a good chuckle from the line.

 

 

Humor aside, I will admit that I did draw a good bit of skeptical optimism from this speech but it did not alleviate some of my bigger gripes with the President and his administration.  The speech only briefly mentioned NSA surveillance and briefly touched on our mess of foreign policy issues.  President Obama although continued to be defiant with regards to drone strikes when he said, “I will not hesitate to use force,” even when it endangers innocent civilians of other countries.  If this State of the Union creates some spurt of action in D.C. then I believe it was an excellent speech, but it does not come close to solving all of the problems this administration, or this country, have in front of them.

 

*Full transcript of the SOTU can be read here.

 

-Spencer James