Sunday, September 30, 2012

There Goes Honey Boo Boo

TLC, like a lot of other cable channels, is throwing out a lot of reality shows these days, and one of them has become a summer hit. Here Comes Honey Boo Boo is about a little girl beauty queen who comes from a southern redneck family. Between pageants, the little girl hangs out with her trashy family, in their trashy Georgia home, doing trashy things. So yea, the family is white trash, but that’s OK, because they seem like pretty nice people.

As much as the show is about Honey Boo Boo, it’s also about her “mama,” June. Mama June weighs 300 pounds and isn’t very refined. She must have something going for her though, since she has four children by four different men. Maybe it’s her cooking. Her family seems to like her spaghetti sauce a lot, which is ketchup mixed with equal part butter. Fortunately for her, she’s been able to nab her latest baby daddy, who appears to be a keeper, and he is willing to work at a chalk mine seven days a week to support her family. What’s a chalk mine, you wonder. Some Google research reveals that he mines Kaolin, which is not used for chalk, but is mainly used to give paper its shiny gloss and is the primary component of porcelain. Maybe the stuff looks like chalk in its raw form.

While watching the show, I laughed out loud a few times, mostly when somebody did something disgusting and uncouth, but it gets old after a few episodes. The very opening sequence features Mama June farting, which was funny the first time, but eye-roll inducing each time thereafter. Like most reality shows, I don’t see this lasting more than a few seasons. Hopefully, that will be enough time for the family to make enough money to send the kids to a good school, so they won’t be making the same mistakes their mama made, and start popping out kids at a young age. It’s already too late for the oldest daughter, who at age seventeen continued the family tradition during the course of the season by having a baby, of whose father is not spoken of.

The disappointment about this show is that it is airing on TLC. TLC once stood for The Learning Channel, and it used to show educational programs. I used to watch it frequently, but no more. A reality show is a reality show, and even a good one only gets so much traction.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Those Monster Cereals

I was in the cereal aisle at Walmart recently, when the shelf stocker asked if I needed help finding anything. I usually say, “No, thank you,” but this day, I had something in mind.
“Uhm, usually around Halloween, they stock Count Chocula.” I said, mildly embarrassed.
“Not yet, but people have been asking!” She replied.

People have been asking! I wonder how many people, and how old they are. I imagine they’re all Gen-Xers. Back in the day, which is the 1970’s for people my age, there was a large group of characters who chucked breakfast cereals at us between the Saturday morning cartoons we used to watch. The characters which were most appealing to me were monsters: Count Chocula, Frankenberry, and a little ghost named Boo Berry. They vied for my attention in comical cartoon skits trying to one up each other, only to be scared away by something or other in the end. The characters no longer appear on television, having gone the way of the Saturday morning cartoon, and they only appear on grocery shelves around Halloween time. The company that produces the cereals, General Mills, claims that they are available to retailers year round though, and that the retailers are the ones who make the decision to only carry them as a holiday item.

For as long as I can remember, there were always at least three members of the franchise available to choose from, but occasionally a fourth was tried out, with limited success each time. Frakenberry and the Count appeared first in 1971, and were joined by Boo Berry a year later. Sometime later in the decade, a werewolf named Fruit Brute came along to scare them by howling “Fruuuuuuuuit!” every time he got excited. I remember buying Fruit Brute, and not being very impressed with it, as it was just another basic fruit flavored cereal. I think that’s why it failed, because of the lack of a focused flavor. A few years after they discontinued Fruit Brute, they retried the same basic recipe with a new mascot called the Fruity Yummy Mummy, complete with a Jamaican musical beat, and he lasted for even less time then the werewolf did.
As far as flavor goes, Count Chocula was always my favorite, not just because it was chocolate, but it was a very rich chocolate. Boo Berry was appealing to me more because it was blue, which is a unique color for a cereal, than for the flavor. I’m not even sure what blueberries taste like, so have no idea if Boo Berry comes close. All I can say is that it was tart. I’ll have to do a comparison some day by putting blueberries in my Boo Berry.
Fortunately, I missed out on the legendary pink “Frankenberry stool” syndrome which was the result of an indigestible red dye they initially used. They had corrected that problem by the time I started paying attention to things like that. For curiosity’s sake, I did a comparison of the nutritional information between sugar-laden Frankenberry and my current favorite cereal, Grape-nuts. I’m a little surprised that one cup of Grape-nuts has 270 more calories, half of a gram of fat, and 390 mg of sodium more than the “junk food” cereal. What’s up with that? On the other side, Grape-nuts does have significantly more fiber.

The box covers used to be hand drawn illustrations, but now they are computer generated. I’m not a fan. The characters work better with a more classical ambiance, evoking the old Hollywood movie characters they were meant to impersonate. Modernizing characters that are based on old horror movies subverts the campy spookiness which makes it fun. Nonetheless, I expect to see my favorite cereals return to the store shelves soon, and I can’t wait to help myself. Even though Saturday morning cartoons are gone, I’m hoping to catch an old monster movie some Saturday afternoon, while I chomp away on a couple of bowls of Monster Cereal. I’m prepared to even sit on the floor while doing it, just like I used to.

What is your favorite Monster Cereal? 

Friday, September 7, 2012

Using Realist Tactics for an Idealistic End

Realism is an ideology towards international relations. It is also called Power Politics, and is dependent on the possession of power. It takes for granted that the global community is anarchic, having no central authority. Though the exercise of Power Politics is Machiavellian by definition, it also relies on the political philosophy of Thomas Hobbes. Hobbes formulated his philosophy on the idea of Natural Law. He felt there was a “war of all us all” in human relations when there is no government, when people live in a state of anarchy. Humans developed civilization and its corresponding governments to counter this natural state. Government is practical because people need the security it can provide. When humans live in an anarchic state, they are in a constant fear of death and their only means of survival is to obtain power. In this state of nature, the competition for power never ceases. Presently, and throughout history, global politics have been in a state of anarchy, with each state representing its own person trying to survive in a state of nature. The present movement towards globalization is analogous to Hobbes social contract in which individuals create a state in order to obtain peace. But there is presently not yet a world government, and as Hobbes advises individuals to seek peace, but if it does not work go back to war, so too should the states seek peace, but be ready for war against those who do not cooperate. Until all states are prepared to commit to a social contract, our own country must maintain a position of power in order to survive.

In an anarchic world, each state must obtain and maintain an appropriate level of power in order to continue existing. If the state does not possess enough power to defend itself against its enemies, it will be conquered. Other states will attempt to take away its power when the opportunity presents itself as a way of ensuring their own survival. So, each state will try to achieve hegemony so that it will be able to survive any threats to its security. This is what the United States faces. The challenge for the U.S. is to maintain its hegemonic position in order to ensure its own safety. This will be necessary until the global environment is no longer in a state of anarchy. Furthermore, the United States can use its power to force other states to become liberal democracies, which would be unlikely to threaten the U.S., a fellow liberal democracy. It is empirical that liberal democracies do not go to war with each other. Once all states become liberal democracies, the possession of power will not be a necessity, because we will no longer be in a state of anarchy. So, attempts to spread democracy are in the self interest of current democratic states. 

Though it is generally ascribed to him, Niccolo Machiavelli never said, “The end justifies the means." This is an accurate expression summing up his political philosophy though. Machiavelli advised a head of state not to be merciful. He advised this because he believed it is an effective quality of a successful ruler, in spite of its apparent demeaning association. The purpose of being a successful ruler is not to enrich oneself or oppress ones citizens; that would make a tyrant, something he expresses disdain for in his Discourses. The purpose of a successful rule is so that the citizens of the state may live in an environment of security, not amidst anarchy. Using any means necessary to overcome anarchy is not only necessary, it is noble. In a state of anarchy, people are not free, but are slaves to fear. In the anarchic global political situation, all nations are in a state of fear. The enemies of democracy are authoritarian states, particularly those with expansionistic aims. Iraq, under Saddam Hussein was one of those states. 
Saddam Hussein was a master Machiavellian. An example of this occurred shortly after he took power in Iraq when he assembled his parliament. The exits in the building were blocked and Hussein announced that there were traitors in their midst. He introduced an informant and asked the informant if an individual in the audience was a traitor. The informant said he was, and the accused was led out of the building, never to be seen again. Hussein asked the informant this question of each and every person assembled in the hall that day. The informant said the person was either a traitor or a loyalist to the Ba’ath Party. Those labeled traitors were all led out, on their way to certain execution. Those labeled loyalists were spared. No evidence was given to prove somebody’s guilt. Their survival was dependant on the informant saying that they were loyal to Saddam Hussein. Imagine how those men felt on that day, trapped in that chamber with no place to escape and waiting for their names to be read. The fear must have been horrifying. While Hussein sat in a chair, arrogantly smoking a cigar and reading from his list of names, his captured audience did all they could do at that point --they kowtowed. The shouts of “Hail Saddam” and “We love Saddam” were broken only by the desperate protests of the accused while they were led away. Nobody knows how many of the accused were actually guilty of conspiring against Hussein, nor does it matter. Hussein made it perfectly clear that any person even suspected of conspiring against him would be killed. His grip on power was now firmly established, and could only be broken by an outside force. 

Saddam Hussein could have been advised by Machiavelli himself on how to obtain and maintain power. But Hussein was a tyrant and had ambitions of expansion. So how should those outside forces who would oppose his expansionist ambitions have proceeded against him? The answer lies within the irony, you fight fire with fire. This is where Realism comes into play. The opposing nations were correct to use their power to defeat him. The United States found it necessary to oppose him because if he were to expand his power in the Middle East, he would gain control of the oil market and threaten the power of the U.S., which is highly dependent on affordable oil importation. The U.S. used Machiavellian rationale when it chased his forces out of Kuwait in 1991, but it didn’t play out the Machiavellian game when it did not overthrow him. Machiavelli would not have advised one to leave his enemy alive, let alone in power. This was a strategic mistake, because Hussein would have attempted revenge as soon as the opportunity presented itself. The second Bush Administration realized this. Despite the reasoning they spoke of publicly, the second U.S.-Iraq War was a continuation of the first. They were finishing the job and protecting the United States’ position of power. 

The opposition to Realism comes from the Idealists. The Idealists believe that states, like people, are basically good and want peace. This may be true if the state is controlled by the people through a liberal democracy, but not all states are democratic. Many are authoritarian like Iraq was under Saddam Hussein, and are not interested in cooperation, but in obtaining power at the expense of other states. Idealism depends on cooperation among all states. If all states would cooperate, an idealistic world could be realized. Until all states reach an advanced system of democracy though, the world will continue to be in a state of anarchy. Now, in order to make all states cooperate, some must be forced. A state, like a person cannot be forced to do something unless the enforcer has enough power to make it happen. Power is therefore essential in a pre-Idealistic world. Realism can be a means of achieving the Idealistic end. 

By defeating the regime of Saddam Hussein, the United States accomplished three tasks. One, it eliminated an enemy. Two, it made an example of that enemy, which will discourage other enemies from challenging it. Three, it may put Iraq on the path to liberal democracy, which will allow it to cooperate in a peaceful world. The first two are practical results which have immediate benefits. The last is a long term goal which the Idealists would want, but would probably be unable to achieve. Idealists would support less violent measures such as economic sanctions. However, economic sanctions had been in effect for a decade and the results were not effective. Realism, through war, accomplished what the Idealists could not. The means of defeating Hussein may have been violent, and innocent people died, but in the long term, Iraq will be more prosperous, the world will be less anarchic, and much fewer Iraqi’s will die than if Hussein had stayed in power. We should remember that throughout history, violence has often been a driving force for change, and often it is for the better.