Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Propaganda War

Propaganda is: Material disseminated by the advocates or opponents of a doctrine or cause.

I remember the first time I watched the movie Black Hawk Down. It was quite a popular movie and when it opened with the setting of Somalia I vaguely tied to to Bosnia, Chechnya, and other war torn areas in the news and ending with -ia. I remember thinking how valiant the soldiers looked in the middle of horrific battle. These 19 men died for freedom, for helping others.

Now I watch the move (as I did this morning) and wonder at what a masterful job the creators did of shaping a piece of propaganda meant to shape the way we see a certain event in history.

Two times in the beginning monologue they refer to the U.S. troops "restoring order" in Somalia with their presence. Or as this order restoring was earlier called in Africa - pacification. The killing of whoever represented a threat to 'security'. And casualties be damned. An American sense of security must be restored to a vital region. Vital to American security concerns. Anything so we can be 'secure'.

The events of Black Hawk Down are inextricably tied to the following Rwandan genocide. Due to the loss of life during operations in Somalia the U.S. was understandably a little more reticent to send in troops to another African country intent on self-imploding. So they sat back and watched the genocide happen, all the while refusing to call it a genocide, because if it was indeed a genocide they would be required by UN sanctions to intercede. They did not call it a genocide and did not intervene.

So at the beginning of this movie one of the Somali's tells an American, "It's a civil war, there is no place for you here." And all self-righteously the American responds, "No, it's a genocide."

It was not a genocide, it was indeed a civil war and remains so to this day. And yet the movie makers needed, in light of Rwanda, to insert this comment to show that Americans take this oh so seriously. That they're not afraid to intervene in a genocide. Somalia and Rwanda are tied together by these events and you, in your Hollywood movie, toss around genocide in attempt to ease your national conscience and to get people to believe that you actually care about what happens in Africa.

Alright, so maybe I'm a little tight about the whole thing. I actually found the movie a little hard to watch this time around. I had to stop part way through, give myself a break, and then keep going. The war in Somalia still rages. Mogadishu is still a ghost town torn apart by daily violence. And now the U.S. is involved again... in a safer way. They don't want to lose more American boys so they arm Ethiopians to go in and 'defend democracy'.

I remember talking to a Somali man I met in Ethiopia (there are many who have fled the country) and he talked about his family, his life there. Nothing profound. Except that this man now had no country to return to, no place for his family to be safe. This was real. It was not just the rabid crowds you see in the movie, attacking the soldiers who are there to help them. It is the pent up anger of decades of American interference, of civil war, of the inability to escape violence. All this, affecting real lives like yours and mine.

And yet, for all that most people know, it's just like they show it in Black Hawk Down. US Boys dying for human rights, fighting against the barbarian horde.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Beautiful Belly

Just wanted to share some shots of my beautiful wife with you all. Stand in awe and amazement (or sit if you prefer).
You can also wonder in amazement at the photographer which is my little sis Lori. She's pretty good.

'Bout 10 weeks left for us before we meet baby.

Belly Dancing and Other Miscellaneous Updates

Blogging continues to be far down on the list of things that are getting done, but I guess that's just life. So here's some updates on the coolest arm of the Ritskes clan.

The kid inside my wife is going to either be a rhythmic dancer or a soccer player with the way it flops around. We'll be just sitting there and Nolana's tummy will do the wave then the Gyrating Monkey. Pretty cool.

I am typing this with a slightly puffy face due to the extraction of two of my wisdom teeth. This unfortunate event required the use of two of my least favorite things: dentists and needles. Oh yeah, and I am now quite tired of smoothies.

Someone called my blog a "left-wing" blog. All Right!! No seriously, why does everything have to be left or right or Commie or Liberal...

I have got tickets to go see Fleet Foxes in a month. Stoked.

I am totally digging some great music from the African continent. As well as Fleet Foxes. And if you also like Fleet Foxes I would encourage you to check out the Ottawa based band The Acorn and their latest release "Glory Hope Mountain".

I have been able to get out this month and get back into golfing with some of the guys here. Nothing more frustrating than a bad round of golf but I'm getting the kinks worked out.

Not much else is new. The summer has flown by and all of a sudden I am ordering textbooks for the fall. Not much of a real summer due to classes but I feel like I have accomplished what I set out to do and now am anxiously working on Master's work, making sure I get what I want.

Friday, August 15, 2008

From the Books: On Olympic Protests, Oil, and America

I have been watching as much of the Olympics as I can, simply because CBC.ca is streaming a ton of it online. Not having cable means I don't get to watch too many sports so this is a glorious opportunity. Seriously, go check out CBC.ca, 9 channels of streamed Olympics.... though some of the channels the video quality is so-so.

Leading up to the Olympics there was a lot of talk about boycotting the Opening Ceremonies due to China's lack of human rights in 2 areas (primarily): Darfur, Sudan and in Nepal. George Lucas pulled out of aiding production due to Darfur connections that China had. Bush condemned China on his way to attending. And all this made me think...

How many times has the USA been involved with or had business dealings with corrupt, human rights smashing governments in Africa? The answer is: too many to count. From the DRC to Angola to Equatorial Guinea to Nigeria to Congo/Brazzaville to Ethiopia.... the list goes on. What a double standard! They are just upset that someone else has figured out their tricks and is using them to battle them for power! (also see: Georgian conflict)

The Chinese in Sudan have invested large sums in drilling for oil and this money goes to fund the militias, etc... that perpetrate the killings. The US has done similar, or just plain gave the money, to more than a handful of equally dastardly governments in Africa. And often for the same reason: oil. I just finished reading Untapped: The Scramble for Africa's Oil and I highly reccomend it, even if you aren't into current events reading it is a highly enjoyable, easy reading. My From the Books doesn't actually come from this book but from one by the great Orientalist Edward Said. It's rather lengthy, so now that you've ready my rant, you can safely scroll through without hurting my feelings.

"The United States is in fact repeating the practices employed by the British and the French in the nineteenth century. The big differences are, first, that today we [the US] are capable of much greater destruction than they were, and, second, they we are unable to state openly and candidly our engagement in the business of empire, and damn the results. The counter to this anachronistic and dishonest line is.... starting immediately to dismantle the imperialist mission that the United States has set itself from the beginning as a nation....

The first step is to remove the taboo that forbids Americans to regard their country's actions as imperialist. Then what we must do is learn to live like other people.... since ours is a precariously balanced world, with ecological, economic, and social pressures that are barely containable,

it is sheer folly to suggest that we are naturally entitled to cheap oil or to a
better way of life than anyone else. Or that we can survey the world and
decide whom "we" regard as punishable or not.

That we have military power to enforce these often petulant, not to say narcissistic, desires makes things a great deal worse. The Gulf [or Africa] is not merely an empty desert with a large pool of "our" oil underneath and a whole bunch of sheiks, terrorists, or Hitlers on top, but a place with living people, traditions, and societies whose aspirations and values have to be viewed as having merit independent of our needs and attitudes.

The history of American interventions over the years has not been salutary, to say the least.... We are insulated by our wealth and our immense power."

Edward Said - "Politics of Dispossession"

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

A Week of Crazies

This week has been super busy so here's a random update of things that have been been more important than blogging.

I got a job. Starting September I will be an Education Consultant (aka Tutor) for Korean high school kids coming over here and jumping into high school here. Pays pretty well, seems pretty flexible, so hopefully it works out while I am in school.

Lori stayed the week with us and Jani came over from Vancouver to visit. She brought her beaux. We had some fun.
They're pretty crazy kids but we enjoyed having them here.

We went up island this weekend to see our good friend Jeff marry the woman of his dreams, which was pretty much a woman who would put up with crazy ways. It was a gorgeous outdoor wedding, the bride and the groom were giddy with joy, they picked the perfect MC for the wedding (me), and we walked away thinking what a good thing God had brought together. It was a great day of celebration.

We were also recently up at Nolana's parent's place to celebrate John's birthday. I got to see my favorite niece . I usually get the first hug (when Uncle Kyle's not around) and we played bocce and picked berries together. Can't wait to have my own!

It was an insane week but we get a few days to collect our wits and get a few things done around the house before Nolana heads back to work. She's got about a month left and then she's done work to prepare for baby who is around 12 weeks away. Almost there!

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Jesus Camp

Forget the Blair Witch project, you want scary? Watch the documentary, "Jesus Camp"... that's scary.

Scary because it shows a part of Christianity that is anti-Bible and anti-Christ.

Scary because it shows this as the sum and whole of Christianity.

Scary because it shows the abuse of childhood innocence.

I was really torn by watching this movie. The movie shows my two largest pet-peeves with the American brand of Christianity: the reliance on war metaphors and the twinning of Church and State.

And yet the film makes go out of their way to say that this is a accurate, unbiased representation of Evangelical Christianity. This is ONE arm of it and the ugliest arm. Why not make this distinction in the movie? This is unbiased like Michael Moore is unbiased. And yet like Moore it seems to have hit something on the head.

The parents and pastors in the movie make it very clear: children shouldn't learn, they should be indoctrinated with the truth. If we, as Christians, have the truth... should it not stand up to scrutiny? Should we not allow children to 'test and approve' what they parents tell them? Will they not find it good and pure and right?

This movie just brings up bile on every level for me. The god of the film is not the God I worship. And yet I know that this is an accurate picture of some Christians. And I know that they are deadly serious about their beliefs. And it makes me sad.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

From the Books: On Vows

One of my absolute favorite writers of all time has to be G.K. Chesterton. He writes stories, poetry, essays and even a touch of theology. He's been compared to C.S. Lewis, but as the pastor at my church said this Sunday, if you look closely Lewis simply plagiarized most of his good ideas from Chesterton. Ol' GK is not nearly as dry as Lewis sometimes is, I think he has an impish sense of humor and he's writing with a slight tongue in cheek as he turns ideas on their heads.

So today's quote is from his essay, "A Defence of Rash Vows". He says that we view people who make crazy vows, such as chaining two mountains together or counting every leaf on every third tree, we view them as insane. When really a vow is the purest form of rationality for it gives us limits and allows us to accomplish things.

"The revolt against vows has been carried in our day [and he's writing in the early 1900's] even to the extent of a revolt against the typical vow of marriage. It is most amusing to listen to the opponents of marriage on this subject. They appear to imagine that the ideal of constancy was a yoke mysteriously imposed on mankind by the devil [or by God, or by society], instead of being as it is, a yoke consistently imposed by all lovers on themselves. They have invented a phrase, a phrase that is a black-and-white contradiction in two words - 'free love' - as if a lover ever had been, or ever could be, free. It is the nature of love to bind itself, and the institution of marriage merely paid the average man the compliment of taking him at his word. Modern sages offer to the lover, with an ill-flavoured grin, the largest liberties and the fullest irresponsibility; but they do not respect him as the old Church respected him; they do not write his oath upon the heavens, as the record of his highest moment.... But what have lovers to do with ridiculous affectations of fearing no man or woman? They know that in the turning of a hand the whole cosmic engine to the remotest star may become an instrument of music or an instrument of torture.... As we have said, it is exactly this back-door, this sense of having a retreat behind us, that is, to our minds, the sterilizing spirit in modern pleasure. Everywhere there is the persistent and insane attempt to obtain pleasure without paying for it."

His essays are these short gems that begin with a tree or a ceiling and impishly move to tying it in to some bigger idea. And usually I find him dab on. The very nature of love cannot be free but must be sacrificial. This any married person knows... or quickly finds out!

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Missionaries or Tourists?

Where to start...

Short-term missions to developing countries are simply church-paid vacations. There, I said it. Now that's out of the way and you are appropriately warned, let me look at why I think this.

The way I see it, there are two reasons people choose to go on short-term missions.

a) To help the local people.
b) To gain valuable personal, life-changing experience.

Both seem to be valuable reasons for missions. As Christians we are called to help others less fortunate than ourselves. And many of us have such an insular view of our little bubbles that a lesson in poverty would do us good. And yet, I don't think short-term missions accomplish their goals, or at least not as efficiently as they could.

My biggest problem is with reason A. If you really want to help the people there... send the money you fund-raised, not yourself. Say you spend $1500 on flights, tack on accommodations, food, souvenirs for the family back home and then, as most groups do, the cursory day or two off to go see the local tourist sights. Most groups want to maintain their standard of living in their host country. Let's say $3000 a person, which is a low average I would say. You arrive, you build a new house for an orphanage, you play with the kids, you hand out balloons, you see what your $35 a month is accomplishing, whatever you do. Yes, you have helped and you can go home happy with what you have accomplished for those less fortunate people. That's not missions. That's Volunteer-Tourism. Look it up, you can pay that same amount to a company to do the exact same thing. It's tourism, plain and simple.

You really want to help? Send those thousands of dollars to the local missionaries and organizations. They can hire local help at fair rates to build that extra house or clinic, which injects money into the families and local economy. They can buy local goods to give out to kids and families. And they've still only spent 10% of that money. $3000 goes a LONG way in most of these countries. So say you have a team of 10 people come, that's $30,000. That'll buy more than a new church building. It'll buy the building, all the furnishings, a local minister's salary and start a new feeding program. Do you really want to help or do you just want to go visit PeruZambiaNicaraguaIndonesia?

Now to reason B. Sure, visiting places like PeruZambiaNicaraguaIndonesia gives you a new perspective on poverty, life, etc... Most people come back shocked at what they have comparatively and complain at least a little less. I firmly believe in world travel as a valuable experience (I just don't believe in the Church paying for it, I mean - that's a sweet gig!) The thing is that there is lots of poverty and life changing experiences to be had a lot closer to home. You want to see poverty and desperation, go visit your local First Nations reserve. You want to help the helpless, go visit downtown VancouverCalgaryToronto. Helping in places like this will change your perspective just as quickly as a visit to the other side of the world... and for a whole lot cheaper. And guess what you can do with that extra money? Send it somewhere! Or go travel, just don't pass it off as helping others.

I add a caveat to all this. Some people have extraordinary skills that are not readily available in the developing world, such as Doctors, Economists... you know the kind. These skills are needed in Africa as it tries to play catch-up in a developing world they've been thrust into. If you have these skills, go teach them. And if you have these skills, you likely have the money to pay your way and don't need to rely on fund-raising or your local church. All the power to you.

Now I know this goes against all the Church has built up in the past decades. We have pushed short-term missions and business such as YWAM have become famous in evangelical circles. Again, I have nothing against you doing YWAM, just don't ask me to pay your way and don't pass it off as doing your best to help others. It's volunteer-tourism, plain and simple. Nothing wrong with that and it might even change your life. But my question is, how many more lives could you change with that money?