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A First Step in the Healing Process

July 27, 2010 2 comments

Victims of Comrade Duch and Tuol Sleng.

**A word on the subject matter: The themes of genocide and crimes against humanity are not simple or easily discussed topics. I will try to approach them with aplomb but if it does not come out that way, know that I am aware of the complexity of the themes and tragedies and am only trying to disseminate the information to facilitate understanding for all. Thank you.

The Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia, or Cambodia Tribunal, handed down its first verdict in relation to atrocities committed in the Democratic Kampuchea; the regime implemented by the Khmer Rouge from 1975-1979. Comrade Duch, otherwise known by his birth-name Kaing Guek Eav, was found guilty and sentenced to 35 years in prison for his time spent as the commandant of the Khmer Rouge prison S-21 (Tuol Sleng) where upwards of 17,000 men, women and children were tortured and murdered. It is a first step toward justice for the survivors of the genocide and a first step in the healing process of a society that is a long way from coming to terms with the horrors it experienced at the hands of its own citizens.

Very few societies on this earth have experienced genocide, overcome it and come to terms with it. In fact, you can probably only name one: Germany. Through a mixture of reconciliation (West and East German partition undoubtedly helped in that it allowed two separate societies to develop – not positively for the East – and gain a whole host of other issues that superseded the past.), rule of law (the Nuremberg Trials) and restriction, Germany has been able to, healthily, move on from the horrors of World War II and the Third Reich. On another hand you have Rwanda; a country working towards societal health but still in that process rather than at the end. Peaceful since its genocide in 1994, Rwanda has used a different tact in moving on. President Paul Kagame has established an essentially authoritarian state (depending on who you ask, actually) where ethnic tensions are buried rather than dealt with; there is evidence that this is not working 16 years on and that ethnic animosities continue to fester dangerously close to the surface.. These two cases lead us to Cambodia and its own, unique handling of a similar atrocity.

Last year, the New York Times published a story shedding light on the growing generational understanding and remembrance gap, concerning the Khmer Rouge and its reign of terror, in Cambodian society. As new children are born in Cambodia, parents speak less, teachers teach less and children inquire less about the horrors that seem like only distant memories to them. Why is this? Why is a society, still closely linked to its past, collectively forgetting – or rather, trying to – such a monstrous tragedy?

Victims of the Killing Fields. Photo by Stevemuhkween, Sept. 2007, WikimediaCommons

There are a myriad of points and theories to discuss here, but I will touch on three in particular. First, as simple as it seems, it is in human nature to forgive and forget rather than confront. It it not our natural predilection to have difficult conversations on subjects of death, sadness and betrayal with friend, family and neighbor; it is infinitely easier to bury those issues in the depths of our collective conscious. This is true when we have a tiff with our significant other so you can imagine how it is an easier way forward for a society struggling with reconciliation of past crimes.

Second, there has been – to the credit of the Cambodian government – an attempt at concerted reconciliation; memorialization, truth commissions, prosecution, etc. There are two truths hidden in this attempt, however. A government led reconciliation, without a base in the grassroots level, will continually come up short in its attempts to bring about change. No matter how tactful a government is, popular society deems when it will get on with life and deal with issues. If government and its populous are not on the same page, true reconciliation well be near impossible. Reconciliation also, inevitably, reintroduces some of the crimes’ perpetrators back into the affected society. This can have the effect of alienation – a sense of injustice – and can also led to the negation/hinderance of the reconciliation process. (Re: Rwanda & Iraq.) This has happened in Cambodia. Remember, yesterday’s verdict if the first for the Extraordinary Chambers that was established in 2006; 27 years after Pol Pot’s fall.

Third, as they say, time heals all wounds. A quarter century, while a quarter of most human’s lives, is a pittance in the grand scheme of coming to terms with events that destroyed a society. Cambodia may simply not be ready to confront its demons.

So with the conviction and sentencing (too light?) of the evil Comrade Duch, Cambodia takes a giant step forward toward justice and eradicating the lingering banality within its society. It is the first of many that it will have to be take. I hope that the journey continues and we can point to Cambodia as a case-study in how to overcome massive societal upheaval. Time will tell.

Cocktails with the Captain

July 21, 2010 1 comment

Saranac Adirondack Lager - Pick some up.

From time to time, a man has to stand up for what he believes in regardless of the consequences. Damn the Man. Fuck the draft. Screw you editor. We don’t need no stinking patches. That’s right, ladies and gentlemen… I’m going rogue. In this week’s edition of Cocktails with the Captain, I’d like to take some time to talk about my first love, beer (sorry smoking-hot girlfriend), and highlight two of my favorite microbreweries on the East Coast.

The third most consumed drink worldwide, next to tea and water, has been around for a very a long time. As the story goes, some ancient Sumerian brahs living in Mesopotamia said some prayers to Ninkasi, the Goddess of Beer (super-hot for sure), that not only thanked her for her amazing gift but also helped them remember the recipe. Way to go guys.

Just a few years later, I started my own experiments with beer at the ripe age of 21 (19)… (ok 17)… (…16). There were lagers and ales, pilsners and porters, blondes and redheads: I tried them all. As the craft brew revolution began and exploded into the new millenium, the rest of America tried them all too.

SweetWater 420 Extra Pale Ale. It's good stuff.

My personal philosophy when it comes to beer is that sometimes good things can be hard to find. My two favorite microbreweries are continuing to grow but have not yet gained full exposure. In total, beers sales in America were down by over five million barrels in the last year. Despite this, small brewies experienced  a 7.2% volume increase in sales.

The Saranac brewery, technically the F.X. Matt Brewing Company, nestled in the foothills of the Adirondack Mountains in Utica, NY, is the fourth oldest family owned brewery in the United States; it is ranked as the 7th largest craft brewing company in the US (or the 15th largest overall) based upon 2008 beer sales volume. You’ve probably seen their Pale Ale. (It almost won the Washington Post’s March Madness Beer Bracket.) But, my personal favorite (perhaps of all time), the Adirondack Lager – a German-style amber lager – was named named the Top Premium Lager by the Great American Beer Festival back in ’91. You should buy some.

The SweetWater Brewing Company was founded in 1997 and quickly made a name for itself in the American brewing scene. By 2002, it had been voted the Best Small Brewery of the Year and awarded Brewmaster of the Year by the Great American Beer Festival. Based in Atlanta, it is largely distributed throughout the Southeast. Their flagship beer – SweetWater 420 Extra Pale Ale, a West Coast style pale ale – is also my favorite. You should really buy some the second you cross over the Mason-Dixon Line. It’s real good y’all.

(My editor thought I had finally gone an entire post without saying y’all… sucker).

World Cup Quarter-Final Predictions

July 1, 2010 Leave a comment

Soccer City

1) Brazil vs. Netherlands. Friday, July 2 at 10 am EST on ESPN.

History is on the side of the Brazilians who beat the Dutch in the 1994 and 1998 Quarter-finals in the United States and France. The first 30 seconds of the 1994 youtube clip is too funny. Hawaii Five-O meets the pitch! Both teams are playing well at the moment but I would put the Brazilians as slight favorites to win against the Oranje.  Expect tight passing games from both teams. While the Dutch will be more of the adventurous type in attack, the Brazilians will play tough defense and wait for an opportunity to pounce and counter.

2) Uruguay vs. Ghana. Friday, July 2 at 2:30pm EST on ESPN.

Ghana’s Black Stars, the last hope for Africa in this tournament, take on the defensively solid La Celeste of Uruguay in the first-ever clash between the two countries. Uruguay is making its first appearance in the quarter-finals since 1970 and their attack force of Diego Forlan and Luis Suarez has scored 5 of the 6 goals for the team so far. Ghana will be without the services of Andre Ayew and John Mensah due to accumulation of yellow cards. I expect Ghana to enjoy the lion share of possession in this game but see the pesky Uruguayans advancing on the back of either a Forlan or Suarez goal.

3) Argentina vs. Germany. Saturday, July 3 at 10 am EST on ESPN.

This is going to be a rollercoaster of a game. Both teams are playing attractive, high-scoring soccer and there is some bad blood between the two stemming from the World Cup in 2006. Watch this match with a group of friends and have the beer flowing as the action will be non-stop and the cards may be flying. This game is hard to call but I give a slight edge to Germany and think they can catch the Argentinean defense flat-footed on one of their trademark counters. Also, if there is any game that Lionel Messi could choose to make his mark this would be the one. He needs to step up.

4) Paraguay vs. Spain. Saturday, July 3 at 2:30 pm EST on ESPN.

I obviously expect Spain to win this match and advance and would not be surprised if they have 70% possession of the ball. Paraguay played an uninspiring match against a much weaker Japanese squad and I just don’t see how they will be able to compete with the Spanish. That said, once the ball drops it is anyone’s game.

Here’s another nice little preview: