Archive for January, 2015

Leadership Changes In Saudi Arabia and Yemen Pose New Questions

Sunday, January 25th, 2015

New Saudi King Salman bin Abdull Aziz

-Pictured above is newly crowned Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud

 

News reports emerged on Thursday from inside the Saudi Arabian royal family as well as Western sources confirming the death of reigning Saudi monarch King Abdullah, who had ruled over the Kingdom since his ascension to the throne in August of 2005. Following the death of Abdullah at age 90, the throne of the wealthiest  power in the Middle East will now pass to his half-brother King Salman, who is one of over 40 sons of the original ruler of the Kingdom, Ibn Saud. The change in authoritarian leadership comes at a time when the Kingdom is under increasing scrutiny from the democratic world, following the imprisonment of blogger Raif Badawi.

 

Badawi was convicted of crimes against the Saudi state after criticizing religious clerics on his blog, and was sentenced to 1,000 public lashes as well as fines and a lengthy prison term. The death of Abdullah and Badawi’s highly publicized case raise some very important questions about the Kingdom and its relationship with liberal Western governments. Since it was founded in 1932 by Ibn Saud the country has developed an economically prosperous and politically uncertain relationship with oil-consuming Western nations. As a result of this mutualism the Saudi government has often escaped criticisms over its harsh punishments and religious intolerance. A recent article published by the Middle East Eye compared the judicial system of the Saudi state closely with that of the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL), which has become the ire of Western democracies for its gruesome implementation of Sharia Law. Many of the same punishments for blasphemy, theft, and secularism that are enforced by ISIS have been, and still are, commonplace in Saudi Arabia such as beheadings and amputations.

 

The question that many are now asking is of course: how does the new King Salman fit into all of this? The simple answer is that the change will not mean much for the course of the Saudi government. Because Ibn Saud’s legendary loins were so voluminous, there is a long line of aging, misogynistic, greedy, religious nutters that are all waiting for their turn to rule over the Kingdom. I am of course generalizing here. There very well may be one soon-to-be Saudi King who is not quite so old as Salman, who now has his spritely 79-year-old ass wedged into the most powerful chair in the Middle East.

 

In addition to the recent dictatorial changeover in the Kingdom, recent political changes have also taken place in Yemen, where President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi resigned his office on Friday. Much like Saudi Arabia, Yemen has a complex and uncertain relationship with the West, and has also come under fire for its association to terrorist organizations and religious extremism. Hali’s resignation comes as a result of an ongoing takeover of Yemen by Houthi rebels, a group that has ties to nearby Iran and was recently described by political pundits as the “Hamas of Yemen.” While the changes in Saudi Arabia seem to be largely ceremonial, Yemen’s political situation is far different. The country is the site of many anti-terrorist drone warfare campaigns currently underway by the Unites States military, and has become a hotbed for Islamist extremism in recent years. With the abdication of Hadi, there is now a power vacuum in Yemen that has the potential to be filled by hardline Islamic extremists or worse. These changes in leadership mandate a re-evaluation of United States foreign policy in the Middle East, particularly countries where we have historic geopolitical and economic agendas.

-J.A. Young

Under the Gun Part II – The Electric Experience

Sunday, January 18th, 2015

Last week I published a brief blog detailing my history of tobacco usage but strategically left out my experimentation with electronic cigarettes. As a way to conclude our four part series, this blog will revolve around my personal use and thoughts concerning various forms of electronic cigarettes. For a while I used these devices to help the quitting process, then I used them for fun, and now that I don’t use them at all I’m able to really examine the implications these new devices.

 

 

The first “e-cig” I saw was one of my college buddy’s Blus, and being naïve and inexperienced I thought this neat little glowing device was the bee’s knee’s. That was eighteen months ago, and over that time I’ve tried several variations of these devices with mixed results. After fooling around with the costly and rather poor disposable Blu e-cigarettes I graduated to the starter pack. This too, quenched my nicotine thirst for some time – but I still wasn’t solely using electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS) to meet my needs. At that point I was still using Blu as a novelty and a neat way to smoke in bars and indoors without the smell and stigma brought on with smoking regular cigarettes. After doing more research I graduated to a Halo Triton system that uses a larger (600maH) battery and a refillable tank to create vapor. My initial fascination with this device was because it came with a wide array of flavors like Santa’s Sleigh (An Icy Peppermint) or HX3 (An Exotic Tobacco Blend).The sheer “trendiness” of the device itself was enough to excite me. My Halo device was great, for a period of time, and then I began experiencing problems such as leaks, improper charging, the need for new wicks, new juices.  The overall poor vapor production led me back to the soothing embrace of Marlboro. Instead of looking to fix my existing device, I again turned to another vaping option – a Kanger Mini Tank Pro II and an even larger battery. This was by far my favorite and the most effective vapor device I have owned. I could purchase parts and juice for this device locally instead of solely online and for a month long period in February 2014 I gave up cigarettes entirely. Then, like all others, this device began to give me fits and I smoked a pack a week until this past August.

 

 

Now, here I sit, five months from my calendar “quit date” and I’m not using any kind of electronic device to curb my waning desire to smoke. Part of this is due to a prescribed medication, and the other part is sheer frustration. Electronic cigarettes are, in theory, a revolutionary way to provide the same nicotine fix without all the bodily harm that comes from inhaling the smoke of burning organic materials and chemicals. Notice I said in theory. In reality, electronic cigarettes are a gaudy novelty that are garnering a plaid clothed hipster following and may just be changing the way we ingest nicotine instead of stifling the addiction as a whole. Neither side of the fence on this issue can lay absolute claim that ENDS are either less or more harmful than real tobacco products – and that is why this is such an important issue in society today. Americans have a habit of jumping onto a product in droves before they might have been successfully and thoroughly tested. Electronic cigarettes, no matter the shape or size, may be an intriguing way to combat Big Tobacco and curb smoking but we need to seriously vet the possible long term effects of this device before we start touting the benefits.

 

 

 

-Spencer James

 

Under the Gun Part I – Cigarette Comfort

Sunday, January 11th, 2015

I can still feel the choking cough of my first pull of a cigarette on the back porch of a high school friend. It was spring break and I was experiencing the unforeseen crisis of having a new girlfriend involved in a serious car accident – eighteen year old me was looking for an escape, and Parliament Lights seemed to willingly fill that void for me. From that point forward, smoking dovetailed with any stressful event in my life. Whether it was school, girls, traffic, or merely my existence – I always had my trusty cigarettes there to help me through it.

 

 

 

 

When I got to college, smoking was an easy way for me to socialize without having to really initiate a conversation. Numerous friends, acquaintances, and friendly strangers passed into my life simply because we shared the chemical bond of nicotine addiction. I was a Marlboro Red smoker all through college, alternating packs of Marlboro 27’s (My forever favorite), Parliaments, Camels, and cheap Indian Reservation Seneca’s in between. Still, to this day, one of my favorite sensations is packing a new box of cigarettes against the flat palm of my hand and pulling out that first “cancer stick.” Instant calm and sanity seemed to wash over my body as the initial drag of deadly bluish smoke coursed in and out of my lungs – if cigarettes made the unbearable, bearable, why would I ever give it up?

 

 

 

 

Then one day this August, after toying with the idea of quitting for well over a year, I awoke with tremendous chest pain and difficulty breathing ; this was when I knew it was time to seriously consider quitting once and for all. I had a talk with my doctor and he prescribed a medication that aided in the process of quitting cigarettes. Within two weeks of not having a single puff of a cigarette, my chest felt better, I was breathing easier, and I began to find alternate means for handling my stress levels. I’m now five months from the day I quit smoking and for the first time since I was 18. I don’t feel controlled by nicotine and I am functioning socially at a higher level without the crutch of smoking to fall back on.

 

 

 

 

It hasn’t been easy, and I’ve had my fair share of screw-ups along the way. But going from two packs a week, down to two packs MAYBE in five months is an unbelievable transition. I’m proud of myself, but have not forgotten that this has become a lifelong battle – I know how easy it would be to slip back into smoking regularly. That is, however, exactly what these companies want me to do. So every time I’m in a gas station and see the racks of cigarettes calling out to me, I have to fight off that urge to make a purchase – and every time I do, I add another few weeks back onto my life expectancy.

 

 

-Spencer James

2014 Trends in Review

Sunday, January 4th, 2015

As yet another year fades into the past, it is always important to reflect on the important events of the last fifty-two weeks. At the end of 2013 I wrote a lengthy article that was overwhelmingly optimistic, uplifting, and energetic – the same mentality most people wish to start any new year with. Out with the bad and in with the good. In the year 2014, our collective world took numerous hits to optimism and routinely turned towards pessimism and doubt. As always, we can’t let ourselves be weighed down by the dismal state of affairs but instead must learn from these events and hope to move beyond them in 2015.

 

A great way to calculate the scope of the past year is to look at the top ten United States Twitter trends of 2014. According to this short posting on ZeroHedge.com there were no shortage of highly controversial events that transpired last year. For example, the country – and the world – was captivated by the controversial events in Ferguson that led to widespread protests. We were also transfixed by the ever-increasing hostility taking place in Ukraine, Crimea, Russia, and the Middle East.

 

For large portions of the summer and into the fall – everyone seemed to be increasingly concerned about the rampant outbreak of the deadly Ebola virus in western Africa. Americans were even more worried when cases began to arise within the U.S., however, this fervor quickly subsided as more “concerning” issues arose in our short-attention span media. Along with these other popular trends was the American fascination with guns, pot, and sports controversies. NFL players seemed to be beating anything that moved, Colorado started selling marijuana for recreational purposes, and gun related deaths were all too common.

 

Sure, we might have had “public discussion” of these hugely important issues through social media but rarely did the conversation escalate to a tangible one that resulted in some kind of positive change. Yes, I praise anyone who is involved, interested, and intrigued by worldwide events – but interest has to go beyond Twitter heroism. As a society we were more outraged at the fact Sony wouldn’t release a two-star comedy instead of the scathing, disgusting, and revolting CIA Torture Report was made public. I’m hoping that in 2015 Can the Man, as well as the general interested public, can take a more active role in resolving the problems our world faces instead of casually discussing them with hashtags and witty opinions limited to 140 characters.

 

-Spencer James