Archive for March, 2014

Global Politics Is Just Like High School

Sunday, March 30th, 2014

The world has watched with indifference over the past few months as the “crisis” in Ukraine has unfolded.  The situation came to a head several days ago when Russian forces took power in the Crimean peninsula and held a referendum to annex the region. For most of us, well actually all of us, the series of events taking place around the Black Sea has been difficult to discern with any certainty. At first, there were reports that Russia had in fact invaded Ukraine.  These reports were followed by corrective statements that Russia was actually amassing troops on the border of the country while deploying unidentified paramilitary units into Crimea. In the end, just as in the beginning, no one is positive what is going to happen with the most serious power-play of Vladimir Putin’s political career. The UN has declared the referendum to annex Crimea illegal, but the international response to the crisis is still uncertain. However, the ordeal has exposed global politics for the petulant, childishly vengeful game that it has become. While troops have been deployed, Russia has seized control, and the lives of thousands of people hang in the balance, world leaders have taken the opportunity to stick their hands down their pants and start flinging feces at one another.

 

 

In response to Putin’s insolence, the commercially united powers of the West have implemented half-assed sanctions on Russian businessmen (gangsters) and banks (rackets). This is a perfect example of world leaders doing something just so that they can look like they are doing something. The economic sanctions are nothing more than red tape that prevents Russian banks from conducting certain business and bans Putin’s wealthiest friends from traveling to cities like New York and London. I wonder how much grabassing went down after Barack Obama and David Cameron came up with that epic crackdown before everyone realized that they had accomplished nothing. To reiterate: the response to Putin invading and annexing sovereign territory was to try and piss him and his friends off a little bit. That seems way more like something that one of your shity high-school classmates would do than the unified response of the free-world. But hey, high school was ruined by douchebags and so is global politics.

 

 

In another ridiculous exercise in political futility the U.N. also recently took the time to fling some of its own high-minded European shit in the direction of America.  Hey it’s not like there is an economic crisis to focus on or anything! An Aljazeerah headline concerning the UN report reads: UN SLAMS US FOR TORTURE, NSA SPYING. With a tagline like that you could almost be tricked in thinking that something important had happened. You only need to read the first paragraph of the article before you realize that the U.N. “slams” should really be swapped out for “bitches at.” You can blame the sensationalism on the headline but the evidence indicates that the people at the U.N. actually believed that they have dug up some serious dirt on Washington, and not just filed another complaint into a suggestion box that no one gives a shit about. The UN report indicates that while the US has made significant headway on issues like human trafficking that  NSA spying and other human rights abuses are still serious issues which will not be tolerated. Of course these are problems that the entire educated world has known about and already condemned, but when it comes to the UN there have to be a minimum of 17 ordinance meetings and 32 different votes before they can decide to send an angry letter under the guise of doing real work.

 

This is the same sort of inane response that we are seeing to Putin’s hardlined military action. Instead of making any real statement the West is content to sit on their hands and whine about what has happened, simply so that they do not appear completely useless. In the end the world of modern politics is just like the one we all thought we left behind in high school, filled with assholes who think they are changing the world. Everyone is more concerned with saving face and getting good publicity that they prefer to yell at one another while parts of the world burn to ash.

 

-J.A. Young

GET THE FRACKS PART II – Local Action and Corporate Distraction

Sunday, March 23rd, 2014

As the national debate concerning horizontal hydro-fracking wells reaches a critical point, anyone living on gas rich shale needs to be concerned.  When Loren, Jay, and I attempted to attend a local forum on removing the moratorium of horizontal fracking we were greeted by a standing room only crowd.  The meeting hall was packed with local residents taking an active interest in the industrialization of their community.  Speculation circulated amongst the concerned citizens that the gas companies had actually paid their employees to flood the meeting and keep fracking naysayers away from the proceedings.  On March 19th, Chautauqua County legislators convened yet again to discuss the moratorium and what impact the arrival of big energy could have on our small lake community.

 

The most obvious concern of horizontal well hydro-fracking is not the drilling/extraction itself but rather the monumental task of managing the toxic wastewater produced.  The water, known as “flowback,” is a deadly mixture of chemicals pumped down the well to help extract the natural gas from shale.  The recipe for the flowback is a proprietary recipe, much like Coca-Cola or Kentucky Fried Chicken, that has its exact contents withheld from public knowledge.  Reports claim that many chemicals added to the once fresh water are carcinogens, mutagens, and endocrine disruptors that could seriously harm a human being if exposure occurs.  In addition to these types of chemicals, the flowback may also contain any of the gasses or particles that are present deep within the earth where the target gas is extracted from.  Naturally occurring but harmful substances like flammable benzene and radioactive radium have been reported to surface with the flowback.  These fluids are then pumped into countless tanker trucks and transported through the communities where mining is taking place.  Would you want thousands of gallons of an unknown toxic mixture being transported through your town?  Near your homes?  Or flying past your children?  I know I certainly don’t.

 

Our local paper, The Post-Journal, was in attendance for the March 19th meeting and reported the news in the following day’s morning edition.  In the article author Katie Atkins mentions that energy consultant Mike Hogan answered questions on the behalf of the ravenous gas companies with a stake in drilling local shale.  After researching his credentials, Mike Hogan is no stranger to big oil and has been involved in numerous projects around the globe.  As stated in the article, Hogan claims that the Marcellus shale in Chautauqua County is too thin to allow for hydro-fracking.  Fear not, the gas rich Utica shale underneath is not.  In addition to this, Hogan made a claim that contradicts some of my own research into the issue when he stated, “Several companies recycle their water [flowback] 100 percent.”  This is puzzling, as I have read in several sources that the flowback is so polluted with caustic elements and chemicals that it can never be recycled enough to be safely returned to the ecosystem.  In addition to that, we might not even possess the technology capable of performing the necessary tasks to come close to 100 percent recycle rate.  Along with Hogan was attorney Mary Hajdu, who is also quoted in The Post-Journal with a misleading claim.  Hajdu was asked what benefits Chautauqua would receive from allowing fracking to take place?  Her response, “If you had millions of dollars flowing into your community, it would help a lot of things.”  Gee, thanks Mary, couldn’t have summed it up better myself.  Corporations want to blind concerned citizens with the promise of money and jobs, when in reality there are much more harmful consequences to the presence of fracking.

 

From my own research I can say that money is not the only thing that will be “flowing” into our community.  Air, land, water, and noise pollution are all noted side effects of big mining operations.  Thousands of trucks clogging traffic, creating noise, and burning fossil fuels are not a benefit, even if you believe 100 percent of the propaganda coming from oil and gas companies.  Fracking is another step in the direction of anti-environmental energy production, and I for one do not want to see my community succumb to the promises of big gas companies.  We cannot take the risk of choosing cheap energy now, without knowing the extended consequences of our actions. There are safer, more efficient ways to harvest the energy we need without running the risk of further polluting our small bit of the world.

 

 

-Spencer James-

The Anti-Man Part IX: Day Late and A Dollar Short

Sunday, March 16th, 2014

student_debt

 

 

Three months ago I made the firm decision to turn down a significant job offer from a large multinational corporation in order to find something more personally fulfilling.  Instead of finding that alternative, I’m now stuck between a rock and a hard place, I’m locked up in a financial prison.  The reality is this: I’ve never had the same clearly defined vision of my path through life unlike many of my peers growing up did.  I never knew, and still don’t know, what exactly I wanted to do or who I wanted to be.  Now, instead of finding my own place in the world I’m stuck allocating the majority of my money to college loans and car repairs without the financial means to become an independent person. Obviously I’m not in the worst of situations, but I feel that this position is shared by thousands of recent graduates who now find themselves in a very similar situation.

 

 

Granted I am well aware that I’ve no room to bitch and moan about loans as MY DECISIONS alone have led me down this path. I am still better off than most college students when it comes to owing money.  Being crippled by college debt has provided me with serious insight on what could possibly help me, and countless others, out of this financial prison.   I owe upwards of one thousand dollars per month in student loans alone and making ends meet is exceedingly hard.   Instead of being able to repurpose my earned wages into housing, cars, groceries, or a small business, I’m forking almost all of it over to big banks and the federal government.  Meanwhile Congress approves $1 billion in “aid” to Ukraine and countless other foreign problems and I am getting a little pissed off because….

 

 

The US government should take an active interest in their own youth rather than the constant involvement in issues overseas.  Let’s wax philosophical here for a minute.  Say  instead of Congress handing money to foreign governments they  approved a bailout of sorts, which has been debated before.  This bailout could aim to relieve some student loan debt from graduates struggling to pay their bills.  An act that could help American graduates get out from the shadow of their educational debt and move on with their lives.

 

 

The conspiracy theorist in me might even think that the government wants us deep in debt because we’ll be powerless to fight the system.  After all how can I partake in protests or marches against corruption when I can’t risk defaulting on my loans and bills?  Yet politicians continue to side with giant corporations and big banks when it comes to financial relief.  When it seems my only chance to get out of this position is to sell out to the Man, I’m vexed as to what is the right thing for me to do.  In short, my future is tied to the fact that I’ll be paying most of my money to Chase and the government for an undeterminable amount of time.  Does that not inhibit growth and advancement of our youth through the economic food-chain?  People have preached to me for years to follow my dreams, but when you don’t know what that dream is all you end up with is a script for anti-depressants and a mountain of debt.

 

 

Now I completely understand that debt is part of the American life, and will probably exist until I’m dead.  I chose to go to college, and I am completely fine with my decision to do so.  However, had I known the financial hole it would have put me in before-hand, I would have likely made some different decisions.  I’ll keep plugging along to find gainful employment, and I will continue to find ways to pay my loans.  Yet without economic freedom I feel that my ability to be happy in this world is drastically reduced.  Loans or no loans, this is the position I’m in and I have no choice but to get myself out of it.  As the Anti-Man I made my choice to shirk the system in the pursuit of something better.  If life is a series of financial highs and lows, this is certainly a low.  However I cannot let the prospect of a shackling debt dictate my life.  If I do that, the Man wins.

 

-Spencer James-

HIV Breakthrough Puts Medicine In Perspective

Monday, March 10th, 2014
The HIV virus at work.

The HIV virus at work.

We live in a time when medical capabilities are advancing at an incredible pace. The cancer treatments of just ten years ago seem crude and outdated compared to how we combat the disease today. With every passing month there is a fantastic new discovery that has the potential to save thousands of lives, or greatly increase our quality of life.

 

In recent publication by Nature, scientists working at the Gladstone Institutes and the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) have successfully grown new human liver cells from normal skin, paving the way for future replacement organs. Twenty years from now there is a good chance that if you suffer from a defective organ that a laboratory will have the technology to simply grow you a new one, eliminating the ravages of dozens of common diseases and dealing with the immense problem of donor selection. Despite advancements like the one that has been achieved in California, there seems to be a great deal of pessimism about our overall progress in medicine. Often times these amazing achievements are really only experimental or theoretical game-changers when you actually read the fine print of what has been achieved. News headlines have an unfortunate knack for catching our interest with buzz-words like “cure” and “vaccine”, and typically misconstrue the facts in order to promote their own popularity.

 

 

 

For example, you may remember when manipulation of glucose receptors had promised us a worldwide reduction to Type-II diabetes and heart disease. Many people interpreted the breakthrough as a complete game-changer for nutrition and health, but in reality the procedure had only been successfully demonstrated in mice. We are still years away from any human trials with altering the genes that control how we burn sugar. Similar false-hopes are often cruelly announced about one of our most terrible diseases, AIDS. Every other week it seems like there is a new prospect of completely eradicating HIV, but the proposals seem to just tease us with the possibilities of practical solutions. The headlines fool us into thinking that a cure is right around the corner, when the data suggests something completely different.

 

Now it appears as though some of the theoretical breakthroughs and experimental achievements from headlines are becoming feasible.  The HIV virus is a pandemic that ravages millions of people every year, and now there is finally some hope for infants born with the virus. On March 5 it was announced that an infant born with the virus was HIV-negative after receiving special doses of drugs in the hours after birth. The case comes one year after the first successful treatment of a baby who was born with HIV in Mississippi, and sets a good precedent for future use of the technique in preventing new infections. Doctor Anthony S. Fauci, executive director of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has called the experiment a proof of concept for successfully challenging HIV transmission. Since receiving the new treatment neither child has any detectible HIV in their blood stream.

These cases may sound like epic accomplishments that are coming out of the blue, but they are the cumulative result of years of research and thousands of man-hours studying virology and genetics. Every time we see a news headline that promises something epic but does not actually deliver instant gratification we are still making progress in medicine. It took an immense number of different achievements by various people in order for this HIV treatment to be created, let alone tested on people. It is uncommon for a miracle cure or a new vaccine to come out of nowhere and change everything in medicine like the way people think about Jonas Salk’s solution for polio. Progress is almost always incremental, but headlines and media outlets don’t want people to understand this about medicine. It is boring and unfashionable, not good for ratings. The popular media want you to think that some obscure lab experiment has the ability to directly impact you today, but that is usually not the case. We are all waiting around for the pill that will solve all of our problems, but that is an uninformed way of thinking about the world. This is an unfortunate state of affairs because there are dozens of different medical technologies to get excited about; we just have to understand them better.

 

The day is fast approaching when complete cures for our most deadly diseases, syndromes, and maladies will be at our fingertips. But we as a society have to remember to read the fine print before telling the world a cure has been found. As with the HIV trials, many headlines have proclaimed the treatment as a cure, but that is incorrect. It is a massive footnote in AIDS medicine to be sure, but it is also yet another stepping-stone on the way to a elimination the problem.

-J.A. Young

What Happens When We Know Too Much?

Monday, March 3rd, 2014

-Alain de Botton asks us the difficult question: Does the news do us any good?

 

Here at Can the Man we do our best to provide our readership with a much-needed service: exposing many of the hard-to-swallow truths that the mainstream media either cannot, do not, or will not take the time to address.  We are an organization committed to doing something that, before the rise of the Internet, was almost impossible. In the 1980s and 90s there was no widely available alternative media resource for people to turn to for coverage of the news, and today the world is inundated with them. Before the web, media and information were vastly different commodities and there were far less of them to go around. Today people spend their entire waking lives constantly plugged into the massive global network of digital information that spans news, culture, entertainment, and as is becoming more and more apparent— a huge amount of bullshit.

 

For those of us who are identified as the millennials, the first generation of humans to live in this strange world of global media, no other way of perceiving the world makes sense. It is difficult for us to imagine a time when the only information on politics, economics, and culture came from major magazines, newspapers, and television programs. Our “Generation-Y,” as it is often called, is the patient zero for the modern digital era. Our generation is like the first person to contract an undiscovered disease that has never been observed before. We are the first to grow up hearing the squawking dial tones of Internet modems and to demand cell-phones before hitting puberty.  All of this great progress, the product of scientific achievement and our innate human desire for information, is unprecedented in our cultural history. Like all drastic changes, it is taking some time for the effects to be felt, and even now we are unsure of all the ways that this strange new world is changing people.

 

No one is really certain what our generation has become, and how this adolescent relationship with technology has changed the way we think about the world.  As the first test-subjects to undergo such an intense change, we are only now beginning to show the symptoms of this global perspective shift. Dictatorships are finding it more and more difficult to rule with impunity, governments are under duress from the massive proliferation of information on the web. There is no more room in the world for the cultural deception that has ruled since the first king crowned himself above the rest. People are now connected to one another constantly and can pursue their own avenues of interest; they understand that things can change on a massive scale.

 

The symptoms of this “digital pandemic” are manifesting in some intriguing ways, especially amongst people in the journalism community. Over and over again I witness people who use this power to better understand the world fatigued by the task and overwhelmed by the enormity of what there is to know. Every week there is a new atrocity, a health crisis, more terrorism, genocide, criminal capitalism, and a thousand other issues that can be uncovered and explored at the click of mouse. Dealing with this knowledge is too much for any one person to handle, more than any person was ever meant to handle. People have not been conditioned to live in a way where every social problem is exposed, condemned, re-hashed, and added to the top of an exponentially growing pile of travesties.

 

To live in today’s time and be acutely aware of everything that is wrong is a solemn and thankless endeavor, it is becoming as much of a burden as it is an enlightenment. Clearly we do not understand the way that this widespread information is changing our minds and our culture. For now the pocket of people who immerse themselves in this global mindset is still small, limited to those of us who are inherently curious and open-minded. But the time is coming when the average person will be exposed to the world with the unbiased clarity of online information, and I believe that we ought to consider the consequences of that shift: both good and bad.

 

-J.A. Young.