Author Archives: Christopher Bowen

While We Were Pretending To Be Charlie, Boko Haram Killed 2,000 Nigerians

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The Charlie Hebdo attacks have derived almost universal scorn, rightly so. But in the end, twelve people died, with more killed the next day in the ensuing manhunt. At the end of the day, that’s a drop in the bucket compared to what extremist Muslim group Boko Haram has been doing in northern Nigeria since the beginning of the year.

The attackers sped into a Nigerian town with grenade launchers — their gunfire and explosions shattering the early morning calm.

As terrified residents scattered into bushes in Baga town and surrounding villages, the gunmen unloaded motorcycles from their trucks and followed in hot pursuit.

Residents hid under scant brush. Bullets pierced through them.

Some sought refuge in their homes. They were burned alive.

Many who tried to cross into neighboring Chad drowned while trying to swim through Lake Chad.

By the time the weapons went quiet, local officials reported death tolls ranging from hundreds to as many as 2,000 people.

That was January 3, nine days ago.

On Monday, bodies still littered the bushes in the area.

Official estimates vary, but at the very least, a few hundred people are confirmed dead, with local estimates being higher. This does not count the people who drowned on their way to Chad.

The group commonly known as Boko Haram – which translates to “Western Education is Forbidden” – has been around since 2002, but started radicalizing around 2009, when Nigerian police started to arrest members of the group. During this time, the group’s founder, Mohammed Yusuf, was killed under circumstances still in doubt, and was replaced by their current leader, Abubakar Shekau. Since then, the group has been carrying out attacks in northern Nigeria, including targeted assassinations of police and political personnel, which have worked to weaken the almost four year reign of President Goodluck Jonathan. The group came to infamy in the West in April of 2014 when they kidnapped 276 schoolgirls from the state of Borno. The kidnappings led to a hashtag campaign called #BringBackOurGirls by U.S. First Lady Michelle Obama, but outside of the 50 girls who initially escaped, none of the girls have been recovered and have been rumored to have been sold into slavery or forced marriages.

As of this writing, Boko Haram effectively controls northern Nigeria, as well as parts of Cameroon and Niger. This is in the face of Goodluck Jonathan’s 2015 Presidential campaign.

Boko Haram was initially founded as a means of rejecting Western “influences”, but since 2009, they have largely been a network of Al-Qaeda and most recently, the Islamist State. I fail to see the point of the wanton murder of 2,000 people, however. Looking purely from a tactical perspective, what does it accomplish? Is this a “Final Solution” of sorts to what they deem the evils of Western influence? I wish I had these answers.

Nigeria, of course, is a fertile breeding ground for a group like Boko Haram to ferment. They have a weak central government along with few employment opportunities, mass malnutrition, and rampant corruption at all levels of government. One of the points I made in my Charlie Hebdo piece was that people will turn to extremes to survive, and this is a case study in that regard.

However, scholarship only takes us so far. The goal is to find out how to engage this kind of evil. Declaring war isn’t that easy; it’s been demonstrated both that the enemy has literally no regard for civilians, and that civilian death – an inevitability with this choice – makes the enemy – a fluid enemy that cannot be broken down into old-fashioned armies – stronger. We’ve been using this choice since 9/11, and it’s been a failure.

Then again, we’ve seen how passively watching and waiting for things to magically get better works, too. That’s a more historical perspective, but in the case of England’s Neville Chamberlain, it led to the rise of the Nazi empire, and almost led to the fall of Britain.

The difference between Nazi Germany and the current Islamic State – I am shoehorning Boko Haram in with ISIL, as they have done at times – is that the Germans were married to an ideology, whereas the Islamic State is married to a religion, and an ideal that life is better after Earth. As Goldwater pointed out regarding Christians, it’s hard to have a conversation with people who are playing at a life beyond Earth; they’re too deranged. So any hopes at politics, at discussion, and at coming to a peaceful solution might be moot. Even if jihadis are learning a perverted form of Islam, perception is reality.

In the end, it doesn’t matter to the roughly 2,000 Nigerians murdered in January, the 5,000 or so that have been killed since 2009, and the scores more that have been displaced fleeing the violence in that time span. It also doesn’t matter to the thousands upon thousands killed in other areas under pressure from extremist Islam. In his book The Stranger, Chuck Todd notes that Barack Obama viewed Syria as a collection of nothing but “shitty” choices. That could be extended to the whole of the war with Al-Qaeda, ISIL, and other networked jihadi groups. Whatever shitty choice we make, we have to make it fast, or headlines like this are going to become more common. ??Then again, if I had the answers, I’d be telling them in front of the UN and not in a blog.

Christopher Bowen covered the video games industry for eight years before moving onto politics and general interest. He is the Editor in Chief of Gaming Bus, and has worked for Diehard GameFan, Daily Games News, TalkingAboutGames.com and has freelanced elsewhere. He is a “liberaltarian” – a liberal libertarian. A network engineer by trade, he lives in Derby CT.

Connecticut Supreme Court: Tying a 17 Year Old To a Bed And Injecting “Poison” Into Her Body Against Her Will Is A-OK

Image credit: Hartford Courant

Image credit: Hartford Courant

In a stunning, tyrannical ruling, the Supreme Court of Connecticut has ruled that the Department of Children and Families has acted correctly in ruling that a 17 year old girl from Windsor Locks, identified in court documents as “Cassandra C”, was right in taking her from her home and forcing her to undergo chemotherapy for Hodgkin’s Lymphoma:

A 17-year-old Connecticut girl with a highly curable cancer is not mentally competent to make her own medical decisions and will continue to receive the chemotherapy treatments she’s battled to halt, the Connecticut Supreme Court ordered Thursday.

Chief Justice Chase T. Rogers ruled that the teen — listed only as Cassandra C. in legal records — is not mature by any standard.

That means Cassandra will remain at a Hartford hospital, in the temporary custody of child-welfare workers, and will receive her full course of chemotherapy to treat Hodgkin lymphoma. Doctors have said her odds at recovery are 80 to 85 percent with chemo, but that she will die without it.

(…)

In an interview Wednesday with NBC News, (Mother Jackie) Fortin denied pressuring her daughter into her decision to forgo chemo.

“I am not coercing her at all and that is what this is about, what they think I am doing,” Fortin said.

Cassandra simply does not want to be infused with “toxic” chemicals, Fortin added.

“My daughter does not want poison in her body. This is her constitutional right as a human being,” Fortin told NBC News. “She is almost 18. [Her birthday is nine months away]. If she was 18, I don’t think this would be an issue. She is not 10. She is over 17. She is very bright, very smart.”

In a Hartford Courant editorial, Cassandra told her own side of the story. Her description of what she went through when DCF got involved is surreal and gut-wrenching:

In December, a decision was made to hospitalize me. I didn’t know what was going to happen, but I did know I wasn’t going down without a fight.

I was admitted to the same room I’m in now, with someone sitting by my door 24/7. I could walk down the hallway as long as security was with me, but otherwise I couldn’t leave my room. I felt trapped.

After a week, they decided to force chemotherapy on me. I should have had the right to say no, but I didn’t. I was strapped to a bed by my wrists and ankles and sedated. I woke up in the recovery room with a port surgically placed in my chest. I was outraged and felt completely violated. My phone was taken away, the hospital phone was removed from my room and even the scissors I used for art were taken.

I have been locked in this hospital for a month, missing time from work, not being able to pay my bills. I couldn’t celebrate Christmas and New Year’s with my friends and family. I miss my cat and I miss fresh air. Having visitors is complicated, seeing my mom is limited, and I’ve not been able to see all of the people I’d like to. My friends are a major support; I need them. Finally, I was given an iPad. I can message my friends on Facebook, but it is nowhere near like calling a friend at night when I can’t sleep or hearing someone’s voice to cheer me up.

This experience has been a continuous nightmare. I want the right to make my medical decisions. It’s disgusting that I’m fighting for a right that I and anyone in my situation should already have. This is my life and my body, not DCF’s and not the state’s. I am a human — I should be able to decide if I do or don’t want chemotherapy. Whether I live 17 years or 100 years should not be anyone’s choice but mine.

Hodgkin’s Lymphoma is 80-85% curable with chemotherapy, but likely fatal without it.

I need to put forth some of my own perspective on Connecticut’s Department of Children and Families. Growing up poor in Connecticut, DCF was never, EVER the “good” guy. Even in cases where intervention to protect a child was warranted, DCF was viewed by everyone I knew as nothing short of terrorists. They were often called in by people who did not have a child’s best interests in mind – often by a former boyfriend/girlfriend of a single parent to “get back” at their ex – and were known to forcefully remove children from their houses and homes, putting them in a foster care environment that is comparable to prison, with all of the social issues (read: constant larceny, constant beatings, and constant sexual abuse by both peers and superiors) that entailed. The threat of DCF coming into my life was a constant for the child of a single mother that worked full time, and led to other consequences in my life that I will tell publicly at a later time. To put it bluntly: DCF was basically the Ministry of Love in our eyes, and rightly so.

Their actions in this case justify that mindset. They took a 17 year old girl out of her house – someone who can legally enlist to fight in a war – and blew away any idea of a mature minor1, judging her too immature – in a state where the sexual age of consent is sixteen – to reject medication that they are forcing her to take by strapping her wrists and ankles to a bed, drugging her, and sticking a pipe in her chest to inject, while removing any form of communication with her family and friends. You know, for her own good. Just One Child™, and all that.

So she can enlist to get shot at in our (illegal) wars, she can have sex with whoever she wants, and she can work. But she can’t say that she doesn’t want something she’s called “poison” to be forcefully injected into her body by a state that is keeping her prisoner and abusing her Constitutional rights.

The mindset of the state – assuming anyone has any good intentions beyond simply exerting their authority – is likely that she will thank them in twenty to thirty years. This assumes that her fears of not being able to give birth, or that her fears of other side effects, do not come true. The quality of Cassandra’s medical care has been atrocious. Now, she would be right to distrust the state for any reason. She was terrorized by people who ostensibly have her best interests in mind, and has been routinely degraded in demeaned in the one way no one should be: by losing total bodily autonomy. She has had her dignity permanently destroyed, and I would not blame her, or her mother, for leaving the state of Connecticut forever, if they haven’t been put on some No Fly List for daring to cross a few bureaucrats.

This is pure fascism. Hateful, evil fascism. There is no other way to put it. And I am ashamed to say I live here right now.

1 – From a legal perspective, Cassandra, her mother, and her lawyers did not assert the mature minor doctrine, which asserts that minors as young as 15 can make their own medical choices without authorization or knowledge of their parents, though the American Civil Liberties Union of Connecticut mentioned it in their amicus brief (PDF). Connecticut is not one of the states that has codified a mature minor doctrine into law. DISCLOSURE: I am a member of the Connecticut ACLU.

Christopher Bowen covered the video games industry for eight years before moving onto politics and general interest. He is the Editor in Chief of Gaming Bus, and has worked for Diehard GameFan, Daily Games News, TalkingAboutGames.com and has freelanced elsewhere. He is a “liberaltarian” – a liberal libertarian. A network engineer by trade, he lives in Derby CT.

Charlie Hebdo Offices Attacked In France By Islamic Terrorists

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On Wednesday morning at about 11:30am local time, militants stating they were from Al-Qaeda in Yemen attacked the Paris offices of satirical French newspaper Charlie Hebdo in Paris, killing twelve and injuring eleven:

Two gunmen in balaclavas and bullet-proof vests, armed with a pump-action shotgun and an automatic rifle, stormed into the Paris offices of Charlie Hebdo at about 11.30am as about 15 journalists had gathered for the weekly editorial conference. They called for the editor by name and then murdered him before spraying the room with gunfire, killing nine more and wounding others. Laurent Léger, a Charlie Hebdo writer, managed to sound the alarm, calling a friend and telling him: “Call the police. It’s carnage, a bloodbath. Everyone is dead.”

As they made their getaway, the gunmen shot dead two policemen, including one who they shot in the head at close range as he lay injured on the pavement.

Charlie Hebdo has courted controversy regarding depictions of the Prophet Muhammad in the past, starting in 2006 when they responded to the Jyllands-Posten controversy with images of the Prophet Muhammad of their own. Their offices were firebombed in 2011 in response to a cover changing the name of the paper to “Charia” (for Sharia) Hebdo with a “guest editorial” by the Prophet.

There is some question as to how Islam regards depictions of the Prophet Muhammad. The Qu’ran does not ban depictions of the Prophet. However, some variations of the hadeth – a collection of Muhammad’s teachings that I could best compare to Proverbs – outlaw the practice.

Reaction has been swift, with French President François Hollande denoting Thursday as a day of mourning. The United Nations and United States were also quick to condemn. Muslims not affiliated with the Islamic State were quick to denounce the killings. Jon Stewart took some time on The Daily Show to talk about it. While some outlets are censoring the covers that Charlie Hebdo has put out, others have reacted with spiteful malice towards this attitude. Of course, the usual suspects in America have ratcheted up the Islamophobia.1

It should also be noted that French Muslims have dealt with considerable discrimination despite their heavy presence in France’s population when compared to the rest of Europe; in 2010, a French government panel recommended banning the Hijab in public buildings. The response by some on the French right has been openly hostile to Islam, and many Muslims are bracing for retaliation.

Even The Onion, which has responded to threats of violence in the past by responding with hilarious and often NWS retorts, was noticeably downcast in their response.

It is my personal belief – one that I will concede risks politicizing this topic at a sensitive time – that one thing bears mentioning: I don’t know of too many children who have the ability to write who put down “I want to kill people when I grow up!” on paper. That’s because just about any form of extremism is born from desperation. The Islamic State isn’t an uprising of well-to-do people; it, along with Al-Qaeda and other extremist groups, is an uprising of people who feel that they have nothing else to live for, being taken advantage of by people who are teaching a perverted form of Islam to those that don’t have the means to know any better. When you live every day in abject poverty, in fear of drone strikes, a bunch of virgins start to sound enticing.

Times like this bear a link to what Afghanistan used to look like. Miniskirts, uncovered heads, a useful economy… it’s hard to place those images with what has replaced them in my lifetime. But a populist revolt overthrew the King in 1973, and starting in 1979, the Soviet Union invaded as part of their larger proxy war against the United States, leading to a civil war that lasted ten years and only ended thanks to American intervention. The country never recovered.

I bring up Afghanistan in this context because that’s basically been the entirety of the Arab middle east: a pawn for the two big superpowers to play with, damn the consequences. Those countries’ destruction opened the way for many extremist groups to come about; The Islamic State is little more than a Pokemon evolution of all of the movements before it. Those groups, for many in this area, are the only way to get out of their sorry way of life. Those groups teach the bastardized form of Islam that educated Muslims denounce on a daily basis. Every time a drone strikes a wedding party in one of these countries, we make those groups a little stronger.

Free speech and free thought are the antithesis of what extremist Muslims – or really, extremists of any religion – want or believe in. If we want to create less extremists, we must allow the way of life in these countries to improve. Until that point, what happened to Charlie Hebdo, the girls kidnapped in Nigeria by Boko Haram, the beheading of the Western journalists and aid workers, and other cases of extreme terrorism will continue, the head-shaking will continue, the hatred will continue, and the cycle will get stronger and stronger, not unlike the circling of water around a toilet drain.

UPDATE @11:46AM ON 1/8: Charlie Hebdo’s Patrick Pelloux has defiantly announced that, instead of printing the standard run of 60,000 magazines, their next issue will print 1m copies.

Charlie Hebdo will publish next Wednesday to defiantly show that “stupidity will not win,” columnist Patrick Pelloux told Agence France-Presse, adding that the remaining staff will soon meet.

“It’s very hard. We are all suffering, with grief, with fear, but we will do it anyway because stupidity will not win,” he said.

1 – I will not link to or mention any of these people or their hashtag. I refuse to give them oxygen.

Christopher Bowen covered the video games industry for eight years before moving onto politics and general interest. He is the Editor in Chief of Gaming Bus, and has worked for Diehard GameFan, Daily Games News, TalkingAboutGames.com and has freelanced elsewhere. He is a “liberaltarian” – a liberal libertarian. A network engineer by trade, he lives in Derby CT.

An Open Letter To Supporters of Ismaaiyl Brinsley

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To Whom It May Concern:

Yesterday afternoon, two NYPD officers, Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos, were shot at point-blank range by a man named Ismaaiyl Brinsley, who also shot his girlfriend earlier in the day in Baltimore. Statements made online by Brinsley indicated that he was killing cops as retribution for what happened to Eric Garner, but reports are also coming out that he had issues for a very long time. The reactions to this shooting are predictable, especially from the right. An NYPD police union even declared war on its citizens.

We expect this. I’m going to talk now to those of you celebrating the shooting.

Before I begin this letter properly, I need to let you know: I’m a card-carrying member of the American Civil Liberties Union and a donor to the Innocence Project. When protests over Trayvon Martin’s death happened, I stood beside people – as one of only a few white people in the crowd – and protested in Bridgeport, CT. I tolerated Ernie Newton and the Nation of Islam while holding hands with my friends and singing We Will Overcome. I get it. Police brutality is a legitimate issue, it’s one that any honest person will admit affects black people disproportionately, and it must be challenged and ultimately changed.

So believe me when I say: you’re screwing this up. At best you’re burning any currency that’s been built up since the acquittal of Daniel Pantaleo; you’re only going to get more people hurt, or worse.

I’m going to belabor two main points:

1) Speaking solely from a tactical perspective: we – by we, I mean protesters, supporters and others who decry police brutality – are in a position of weakness. It needs to be understood that a lot of people – I don’t have recent polls I trust, but I’m comfortable in calling this a majority – are perfectly fine with police officers using whatever means they have to control “other” people. To them, anything that threatens their sense of security of stability is open game. Remember: when the NYPD was spying on Muslims, most citizens approved of it; it didn’t affect them, if they didn’t have anything to hide, vague reference to 9/11, etcetera. These people are taught that the police are infallible. Yes, we know that there’s plenty of evidence to the contrary, but this is about optics. Simply put, we have to convert a lot of people, and rooting for murder is a poor way of going about that. Remember: everyone talks about Martin Luther King Jr., and it wasn’t because of his comments on rioting. Meanwhile, Huey Newton and Fred Hampton are footnotes.

2) None of what I said above takes into account humanity. The accusations people are making about the police is that they don’t hold into account the lives of those they “serve and protect”, particularly those of minorities. Statistics honestly bear all of this news out. But when you sit there and cheer for the deaths of two officers, with families that just lost someone before Christmas, take a look in the mirror and ask yourself what you have become. If you think so low of the police force or anyone in an uniform that you consider them monsters, do you really want to drag yourself to that level? Listen: I know people who are cops, or want to be cops, that I don’t trust with an ice cream cone, let alone a gun. The system needs reform. But when you cheer a senseless murder from an obviously deranged individual, you’re no better than the police. I’d argue you’re far worse, honestly.

I’m sure there will be a chorus of “you don’t get it!” from people saying a white man on a site that prominently uses the Gadsden Flag can’t speak for how to approach the police. I’d argue it’s my position as a suburban white man that gives me a perspective of the people you’re going to have to convert to get real, honest reform, and not just a temporary burst of energy that burns off just as quickly. Trust me: I hold no love for the ignorant white doofus who thinks racism ended on July 2nd of 1964, complains bitterly that life isn’t what it was like in 1986 for some reason he can’t articulate, and doesn’t understand our political system beyond hating Obama. But he has to be converted, or at least made to understand a new normal.

What is happening now is turning off that person. The more of those people that get turned off, the harsher the reaction can be from the NYPD and other police departments across the country. More death, more injury, more protests, more spinning of our tires. If we want true reform, and with it true equality regardless of race, then it’s critically important that we forcefully denounce Ismaaiyl Brinsley, denounce anyone who supports his actions, and keep working towards a better future for everyone.

Sincerely,
Chris Bowen

Christopher Bowen covered the video games industry for eight years before moving onto politics and general interest. He is the Editor in Chief of Gaming Bus, and has worked for Diehard GameFan, Daily Games News, TalkingAboutGames.com and has freelanced elsewhere. He is a “liberaltarian” – a liberal libertarian. A network engineer by trade, he lives in Derby CT.

Russia’s Ruble Problem is Temporary… And not Just THEIR Problem

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Russia’s been in something of a spot of bother lately. The decision by OPEC to continue elevated levels of oil production (in order to deliberately suppress oil prices, and drive higher production cost competitors out of the market), in addition to American sanctions, have caused the Russian ruble to plummet against the American dollar. Steps taken by Russian President Vladimir Putin and the Central Bank of Russia to halt this decline have not been effective, causing Putin to call what’s happening a “catastrophe”.

These reduced oil prices of course have many benefits to the US, beyond schadenfreude at Russias predicament. Fuel prices are the lowest they’ve been in almost ten years; which has had a positive effect on consumer prices overall, travel, and holiday spending during retail’s heaviest season.

So with prices at the pump going lower, and Putin struggling, everything’s all good, right??

Not really.

Here are a few reasons why we should be concerned at what’s happening right now:

* There’s a lot of arm-twisting going on both inside and outside OPEC – What’s really happening, is Saudi Arabia is effectively in a staring contest with weaker members of OPEC, and no one has the strength to end the standoff. These low prices are harming oil producers everywhere. The price can only be so low, for so long, before there’s so much pressure (both internally, and from other oil producing nations); that the Saudis will cut production, and allow the price of oil to rise.

* We’re due for an energy market correction – As I said above, this action isn’t just hurting Russia. It’s hurting Venezuela, Mexico, Norway, and all other oil-exporting countries, and it’s not sustainable. Speculation, aggregate demand increases, and softening of the Saudi position, are likely to bring the price back up within a few months, which benefits Russia in the long term.

* Vladimir Putin’s support is, and will remain, solid – Breathless articles in the Western press about Putin’s “challenge” possibly leading to his downfall are vastly overblown at best. For one, Putin knows who his key allies are, and they – the oligarchs in Russia – will be taken care of first. Furthermore, he is virtually synonymous with the once again powerful Orthodox Church, and his domestic policies (which basically amount to keeping the buses running on time and eradicating homosexuals) are still extremely popular. If push comes to shove, the Russian people will stick with him; partly because he’s their best chance against the west (and more importantly, China), and partly because if they do protest, they stand a good chance of not making it home (Putin’s history is clear in this). It’s just as well, because…

* There are no legitimate alternatives to Putin – Simply put, Russia’s liberals (and in fact all political factions other than Putin, and those even more hardline) are broken; either irrelevant and ineffectual, or small, hardcore sects, that hold little appeal for a nation that still remembers bread lines. Financial transparency? Human rights? These are things which, in the mind of a hardened nation, don’t pay the bills; and in the opinion of many Russians, may not be desirable, as they would benefit currently disfavored people (such as gays, and those of religions other than Russian Orthodox).

* When you poke the bear… – Russia has shown that they will act with violence when it suits their desires; ask Georgia, Chechnya and the Ukraine about that… if they can pick their heads up long enough to speak. I’m not entirely sure we want to see the Russians become desperate, or feel truly threatened, economically or politically. At best, many lives may be lost or destroyed in small scale conflict, and the disruption of that inevitably comes with it. At worst we could see war with Russia and “the west” (under whatever pretext or theater in which it may begin); perhaps including support from China, splinter eastern Europeans, “enemy-of-my-enemy” Islamic groups; and governments around the world, who would have to pick a side in a war between the United States, and “anyone other than the United States”.

That’s a wild scenario, but not wild enough to be completely discounted.

In the end, I predict that Russia will ride this out, and wait for mutual interests in the oil industry to start wearing down the U.S. and Saudi Arabia. There could be some retaliation, leading some to guess at a second Cold War. However, ultimately, Russia doesn’t have sufficient economic clout to meaningfully damage the United States and its allies, without also causing greater damage to themselves.

Enjoy the gas prices (and laughing at Putin) for now, but understand that, most likely; prices (and the ruble) will swing back closer to their recent medians, by the end of February (March at the latest), with little or no long-term damage to Putin.

Christopher Bowen covered the video games industry for eight years before moving onto politics and general interest. He is the Editor in Chief of Gaming Bus, and has worked for Diehard GameFan, Daily Games News, TalkingAboutGames.com and has freelanced elsewhere. He is a “liberaltarian” – a liberal libertarian. A network engineer by trade, he lives in Derby CT.

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