I may sound like a broken record but I am going to say it again, “news is crap.” Most news is just gossip that does nothing for our life except waste our time or make us more depressed. For example, I turned the nightly news on and it was all about a murder that had taken place the previous night. How do I benefit from knowing about this murder? Am I going to change my habits? Should I buy a gun? Should I refrain from drug deals at 3:00 AM? The only thing that will change is my equanimity – from peaceful to paranoid. I don’t listen to the news and I know very little about current events. Does this make me ignorant? Yes and No. I am oblivious to trivial matters but if the news is important enough – the word will eventually reach me; but when I do hear about it, I have a breadth of knowledge to contribute which the news could never provide. I am ignorant about Donald Trump’s myriad mishaps but I am not ignorant about the mishaps of the French Revolution. I am ignorant of the most recent natural disaster but I am not ignorant about Plato’s philosophy on human suffering. It is better to study the past so that you have a foundation to understand the present. This point is best illustrated by a toddler who is told by an older brother that an evil clown lives in his closet. With no background information or knowledge of clown behavior, the kid pees himself for the next month.

I bring this topic up because my 5th classic, Scoop by Evelyn Waugh, is a satire on the news business and how the news “supposedly” educates the public. Scoop was written in 1938 and is acclaimed for its portrayal of the Fleet Street culture in London. Fleet Street was the mecca of England newspapers and there was a lot of money to be made from constant news. The problem in Scoop is that there is a lack of stories happening in the world and the bigwigs are anxious to keep the printing press hot. They end up sending, by mistake, a part-time columnist to an obscure country to report on a potential war; the dilemma is that there is no real turmoil to report on. Journalists keep flooding the small nation in search of a “scoop” – in the end a story has to be partly falsified and exaggerated in order to sell papers. Scoop is actually pretty funny and is a critique on the deplorable state of new’s media and their incessant need for sensationalism – seemingly stamping “news” on everything. This book parallels our current media’s incessant need for material and the subsequent decline in reporting. Not even speaking of “fake” news, the “real” news is rarely ever worth a second glance; like a Shepard eternally crying wolf! Waugh could never have imagined the internet age but his novel is more applicable today than when it was published. Instead of chasing our tails, let’s spend more time in well researched books and periodicals which are respected. Don’t take the bait and believe your brother – “Breaking News: Killer Clown Discovered to be Vacuum Cleaner!”

“‘You know, you’ve got a lot to learn about journalism. Look at it this way. News is what a chap who doesn’t care much about anything wants to read. And it’s only news until he’s read it. After that it’s dead. We’re paid to supply news. If someone else has sent a story before us, our story isn’t news. Of course there’s colour. Colour is just a lot of bulls’-eyes about nothing.'”
-Evelyn Waugh Scoop




The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria-Part 3 of 3

How can we defeat ISIS? With what we know about ISIS and their beliefs there are a few things that we should definitely not attempt. The biggest mistake the United States could do is to reoccupy Iraq/Syria with a large ground force. The invasion of Iraq in 2003 and subsequent occupation thereafter, was a well-spring for jihadists and terrorist attacks. Don’t repeat those mistakes again! Occupying Iraq would increase ISIS’s recruits and may even cause a new terrorist group to materialize. President Obama realizes this and has said that the proposed strategy to fight ISIS should entail increased air strikes, increased special force missions, and increased training for the Iraqi military. Remember, ISIS wants a US occupation in the Middle East because their apocalyptic prophecies predict battles in certain areas. A major strategy we should implement is facilitating the Muslim community to fight ISIS and its ideology. Let’s ask Muslim countries what they need from us instead of us telling them what to do. ISIS is not just a problem for the “West” but all of Islamdom because they want to create sectarian war and kill Muslims who do not believe their twisted theology. A second major strategy is to target ISIS’s means of sending propaganda through the internet. Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube should create algorithms and search mechanisms that flag all terrorist oriented information. These sites already do this with pornography and certain graphic material so it would be technological feasible.  Social media is closing ISIS accounts but I believe all media sources need to step up their monitoring. Through decreasing ISIS’s propaganda, there will be much fewer “lone wolves” who commit individual acts of terror.

These strategies are the immediate ways to fight ISIS but we need to think about the big picture. How is ISIS primarily funded? To put simply, they are funded by oil (which provides them with 1.5 million dollars a day) that is purchased by developed countries. Let’s cut off their funding by decreasing our dependence on oil. How can we do this? Increase subsidies for renewable energy and invest in American infrastructure like we did during the New Deal. Where are we going to get the money for that? Stop subsidizing coal and decrease our military budget (which is the largest in the world by far) since we don’t need to fund expensive ground invasions. If we do this, terrorist groups like ISIS will have far less money and be greatly handicapped in their organizational capabilities. With the funding taken away all ISIS would have left is their radical ideology. How can we prevent people from being radicalized? The best way to do this is by giving them jobs. A young man who believes he can provide for himself and his family will be much less likely to join a radical gang. ISIS’s main recruitment tool is the promise of a well-functioning society for all its members-complete with hospitals, entertainment, libraries, and “jobs.” Of course, to give people jobs there needs to be a non-corrupt government, outside investment, infrastructure, and many other complex variables. These things take time to develop but the US can assist with this through investment (private/public), education, and domestic polices that support income equality. Lastly, what can you do as an individual to fight ISIS? Educate yourself about ISIS, Islam, and the history of the Middle East. Study history and realize how many times we repeat the same mistakes. Don’t group all Muslims as terrorists and think they shouldn’t live in the US. Oddly enough, ignorance is the hotbed that fuels the misinformed policy’s of both ISIS and America-be different…use your brain.


Celebrity Obsession and Kim Kardashian’s Butt

This morning I made a pancake for my Grandma. She is 91 years old and her taste buds reflect her personality-extremely sweet. She has lived through the Great Depression, World War II, Vietnam, Reagan, and yes even the reign of Kim Kardashian. It is odd to put Kim Kardashian in a sentence with major historical events but sadly enough there are several parallels between them. These parallels surround how our society perceives what is and isn’t important-essentially what is newsworthy. It seems like my everyday life is saturated by the Kardashians or some sort of celebrity news that concerns cosmetic procedures, divorces, products, real-estate purchases, and general gossip. Our society is obsessed with celebrities and to better understand this obsession I read Is Gwyneth Paltrow Wrong About Everything? How the Famous Sell Us Elixirs of Health, Beauty and Happiness by Timothy Caulfield. Caulfield wrote this book for two reasons: firstly to point out the falsehoods in celebrity endorsements and secondly to point out the falsehoods that celebrity life is an attainable/desirable goal to pursue. Let’s first talk about the illusions of celebrity authority. Everyone has seen those commercials where (insert sexy female celebrity) tries to sell (insert product) which will make you (insert life-altering result). My favorite advertisements are the ones with middle-aged celebrity women who sell anti-aging wrinkle cream. Caulfield systemically looked at the beauty industry and their pseudo-scientific claims that their products can prevent aging, skin damage, etc. In short, it is all BS and women/men are wasting their money on the health products toted by celebrities to make you younger and more beautiful. There is almost no scientific evidence that you can improve your skin outside the big six: don’t smoke/alcohol in moderation, exercise regularly, eat a healthy diet, maintain a healthy weight, wear sunscreen, and sleep between 7-9 hours a night. Everything else is just a waste of time so don’t go out and buy these products. We are in an arms race of outward comparisons that has gotten so intense that the human body is no longer good enough for magazine covers-photoshopping and computer enhancement is now the norm. This obsession with advancing beauty is so great that people opt for permanent beauty alterations through plastic surgery . One of those trends, set by Kim Kardashian, is a big butt. Butt implant procedures increased 98 percent between 2013-2014. Thanks Kim. Of course these trends are only temporary and now women who got over sized breast augmentations in the 80’s (think Pamela Anderson) are getting reductions. Sadly though, not all procedures are reversible and people are many times stuck with their celebrity-body modifications.

Yes we are obsessed with beauty but we are also obsessed with becoming famous. The likelihood of becoming a famous athlete, musician, actor, singer, or writer is essentially zero. You are more likely to be simultaneously struck by lightning while dying of a flesh eating disease than you are of becoming famous. The statistics are dismal but that doesn’t stop millions of people each year in their attempts to reach “stardom.” When children are polled on what they want to be when they grow up the answers are almost always some variation of celebrity. Parents, in many cases, push their children to pursue these desires-many living vicariously through them. We are told to “shoot for the stars” and “never give up on our dreams” but is being famous a good thing for any person to pursue. Study after study shows that the famous are more prone to depression, suicide, unhappiness, stress, and discontentment compared to their non-famous counterparts. When we think of being famous we think of the positives: being popular, living in fancy houses, travelling to exotic locals, mingling with important people, etc. However we fail to recognize all the negatives: limited privacy, constant pressure to perform, unrealistic expectations of beauty, constant hedonism. etc. All in all, the pursuit of celebrity is not only statistically impossible but in most cases guarantees an unhappy existence. If you are passionate about something, pursue that passion for its own sake and not for the sake of fame. Happiness is cultivated internally and contentment will never be reached by comparing yourself to others. If you are content you will never envy Kim’s butt and your butt will never go out of fashion 🙂