A (slightly) Educated Opinion on WikiLeaks

Growing up in this day and age it’s obvious to see how much the media affects us. All the way from launching animated birds at pigs on the all new iTouch 2, to conducting business calls face to face across the world via your iPhone. This could be just the Steve Jobization of the world (just wait, that phrase will catch on), or it could purely be the fact that we as a human race need to stay connected. The granddaddy of all these media sources is of course none other than the news media (or watching “Scarlet Takes a Tumble” on YouTube. That’s a close second).

The news media could almost be considered an entity unto itself where Fox News, CNN, and MSNBC are the voices and the slaving journalists are the hamsters that make the wheels spin.

Tell me, am I easily taken advantage of?”

Recently, meaning as of 2006, a new force in news media has come on the scene and packed a powerful hay-maker. If you live in a city where there is any sort of social communication and not in the state of Texas (because they really couldn’t give a damn, let’s be honest), then you’ve probably heard of WikiLeaks. It is considered a self-described “not-for-profit” organization that submits information to the public in a safe and anonymous way. Consider, if you will, it being the Google of dirty laundry (or a newspaper’s perverse fantasy). It’s a project of the Sunshine Press with Julian Assange as its founder and spokesperson.

 No relation to Alan Rickman.

If you’ve heard of WikiLeaks then you most certainly have heard, or been a part of, the massive controversy that has followed in its wake. Despite the bickering of well-trained officials and probably numerous speeches by Snape – I mean Assange — the two sides of the argument really boil down to this: is WikiLeaks allowed to do that? Before I give my opinion, which I know you are all dying to hear, let’s lay some groundwork first so that all the parties represented get equal share of the lime light.

Let’s begin with the anti-WikiLeakers or as they can be simplified to, all world governments. The reason Assange has been praised and hailed as the Golden Boy of news media for the past five years is he has procured many private, secret or classified media from various government sources. In turn, he has put all of those goodies on the Internet for all to see. Heck, according to EFF the guy has even won Australia’s version of the Pulitzer Prize as well as the Martha Gellhorn journalism award.

I would like to thank all those people I’m not allowed to name!”

 Now granted, government secrets and classified information isn’t what WikiLeaks always puts out, but they’re really the only sources that get any attention. In layman terms, the website has obtained through anonymous and secure sources the government’s hidden dirty magazine stash (most likely Hustlers). Now, what the people on the side of the anti-Leaks are claiming is that this “whistle-blowing” website has been “stealing” government property. There are many hurdles to overcome in nailing Assange on this because the U.S. Constitution does protect the re-publication of illegally gained content as long as the publishers themselves did not break any laws in getting them. Of course, those who are against Leaks claim that Assange has been breaking laws because how else would he be able to acquire information on soldiers killing innocent people in Iraq, or files related to Guantanamo Bay prisoners. Those who fall on this side of the fence are not so much trying to cover up what these governments are doing behind closed doors, rather, they’re trying to lock up the curious boy who opened them and stole the candy.

As for those who sing Assange’s praises and view Leaks as a positive to the news media, their case is easy to understand. “Governments should be transparent!” has been the cry of the little guy throughout the decades and even more so now that we see what governments are doing when no one’s watching. As for those who stand with Assange and Leaks, they view his work as a blessing to news media around the world. He has provided a source where journalist can go to in order to receive that next juicy story on who’s president just spent the people’s tax money on a year supply of Dairy Queen ice cream cakes.

There are worse things they could spend all that money on

 Assange has exposed many secrets over the past five years and has caused quite a commotion amongst, well, the world. But, what does this all mean? Is Assange really a journalist or just the Google whipping boy of the news media? I guess this is the part where you are all dying to hear my opinion.

I’ve always stood on the side of governments needing to be honest and transparent with their people. But, at the same time, no one wants to see their old man’s “How to Have Sex Over the Age of 50” book hidden on a shelf either. Along with that, I don’t believe journalism falls under the same definition as “stealing”. The cry of the pro-Leakers right now would be, “But he doesn’t steal the information! It’s brought to him by anonymous sources!” Right, he does that but, do you go around opening up banks for people to “anonymously” drop their money in? Say that one of those banks was to fall under some investigations, do you still stand on the side of, “But they were anonymous, I can’t be held responsible for holding what may be considered stolen money!”

Another point that might be added is the question of, “Why is the website down if it’s a legal and honest source of information?” From here you can really only run with speculations and opinions but hey, while we’re on mine, why don’t I share? If WikiLeaks was the Holy Grail of news sources then shouldn’t it still be in operation instead of making rallying cries for freedom of speech on their front page? You can’t form a case solely based on this but it does make a statement on the condition of WikiLeaks’ authenticity.

There is also something to be said about the future of journalism with this which is probably the most important point to touch on. It’s not hard to see that the art of journalism, and journalists for that matter, have been evolving over the years to the point where a simple cell-phone video is considered “breaking news”. As for what WikiLeaks did, they pioneered the “dumping method” as I like to call it.

Found some more information on Obama’s favorite type of wood”

WikiLeaks has taken the multitudes of secret information and put them on one (temporarily unavailable) site. It’s hard to say if this is truly journalism at its finest because Assange has really done nothing except provide the URL for the information to be posted on. I don’t believe Assange is a journalist by any means, more of an innovator (and possibly someone’s new inmate). Maybe he deserves a shiny trophy for his advancements it the field but, he is by no means a journalist it its truest sense.

But what of those who use the information from WikiLeaks? Probably journalist, editors, and curious nannies with nothing better to do, is my guess. Those who use the information WikiLeaks offers (or did offer) were merely tapping into the golden nectar of all journalistic sources. The thing that will interesting is what will happen to those who used Leaks if this site is truly in violation of governmental law? For that answer we must turn to what Aristotle once said, “That is another story”.

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A Playful Weekend

Avid bloggers, welcome. In this post of “There and Back Again” we will watch Zach run, longboard, sing, eat, drink, sleep and even lead worship. Stay tuned to see all these events and more unfold on “There and Back Again…a blog inconsistently updated!”

This past weekend was one of the funniest weekends I have had in a long time. To me it felt like almost going to one of my friend’s house when I am on break or during the summer. Last Thursday, Erin, Blake and I ventured to Bratislava in order to try our luck again with the Visa. We were told that they had been approved and all we needed to do is show them our insurance again and we would have that long-awaited sticker. Right from the start we knew this was going to be a heck of a trip because, well, we were going to the armpit of Eastern Europe. Returning to a place where only bitter memories exist was not our most ideal trip of the month. But, we knew what must be done and so we boarded a charter bus at 6:30 in the morning and headed to Bratislava.

From the moment we exited the bus the day was already starting off as an adventure. We had gone about five blocks from the bus station when Erin turned to me and asked, “Zach, do you have you’re insurance.” With all my being I wanted to reply, “Why yes Erin, I do. That would be silly of me to forget it on the bus after I said that I would be the one to do that silly sort of thing.” But, in fact when I looked down at my hands, there was no insurance folder. A weird sensation overtook me at that point. It was your normal mix of fear, anger and disappointment but for some reason and overwhelming feeling of calmness swept over me. For reasons only God knows, I had in my mind that something was going to happen that would make this okay.

In the meantime though I took off sprinting back to the bus station, ignoring generally all traffic laws and sidewalk etiquette. As I approached the bus station I remember thinking to myself, “Please, oh please, don’t leave just yet. Fuel up or get a snack or visit the restroom or something!” As I turned the corner and scanned the lot I found that the bus was nowhere in sight. I don’t know what compelled me next but I suddenly found myself racing across the lot and in front of other city buses, searching for our gallant white bus. With every passing minute my hope was fleeting and soon I began to fear the worst. Yet, still, this entire time, a gentle caress of calmness was playing with my heart, letting me know that it’s going to be okay. I soon decided to call it quits on my investigation and to save me the embarrassment of wandering around the bus station like a lunatic. As I was heading back to Erin and Blake I uttered in desperation, “Lord, please, I need this.” As soon as the sentence left my mouth our bus came roaring around the corner. Immediately I threw my hands up and yelled for the driver to stop. He probably thought of me as crazy and delusional the way I was speaking so fast and with my short bursts of praise.

With my insurance secure and after thanking God continuously for a good five minutes, we departed for the embassy. To save you the trouble of reading about how we wasted an hour before the embassy opened I’ll just jump ahead to after we received our Visas. There was much joy, weeping (not really), and shouts of praise after finally having the long-awaited sticker. From Bratislava Erin and I boarded a train to Ostrava, which is on the Eastern side of the Czech Republic, to visit Erin’s best friend and sister, Tyna (pronounced Teen-ah).

It is here that I returned to my childhood and basically had a play-date this entire weekend. From the moment we arrived I knew I was going to regret leaving that place. Tyna had pizza and beer ready for us when we entered her apartment and we spent the first night just relaxing and talking her and her brother Petr. Petr plays in a band called FIHA and is studying cinematography, so as you can image, we got a long very well and became good friends by the week’s end.

I think the thing I miss the most about being at Tyna’s house is our morning routines. I was always the last to wake up at around 11:00 and would meander into the kitchen for breakfast. The girls, having been up for 3-4 hours, would be busy doing Bible studies or preparing for the day. I would sit down and Tyna would begin making the coffee for all of us, a french press Starbucks brew. I must invest in a coffee bean grinder and a french press; it is very hard to go back to a machine after you experience these. Erin, then, would begin on making breakfast and we would have a lovely morning of laughs, coffee, eggs and relaxation. I will truly miss these mornings.

From there we would go longboarding behind her house, which is, if you could imagine, a surfboard/snowboard on wheels. You treat the device the same way in that you carve and weave your way down the road as if you were on a ski slope or a wave. We all had a blast sliding through the leaves and carving our way down the smooth roads. Afterwards we would return to the house and relax before going out. The first night we went to go watch Petr and his band play at a club in downtown. It was a mix of rock/dance/pop which was very interesting and nonetheless entertaining. When Petr and his band had finished up we departed for a street that is famous all over the Czech Republic. Two words to describe such a place: two-hundred bars. Of course we didn’t have the time nor the funds to visit all of them but we did venture into a couple to watch the soccer game on TV. It was a relaxing time talking and laughing with everyone. The band is a group of very down-to-earth, friendly guys who love to play music and spend time with friends. Petr especially is a fun person to be around as he is always joking in a reserved sort of manner and is welcoming to new people such as me.

The second day in Ostrava was probably my favorite. We paid a visit to Tyna’s parent’s cottage which is located literally on a hilltop. There is no driveway that leads to it so you are forced to drive up the grassy hill. What I found most interesting about the place is that no further than 50 yards in front of the house there is an old WWII bunker where soldiers would hide in during the bombing raids. It was open for us to venture into, though empty, it was still very interesting. We took a hike in the woods that flank her cottage on almost all sides and returned later in the day to homemade goulash. Hands down best goulash I have ever tasted. It was the perfect mixture of beef and sauce with a small kick of spiciness thrown in there. Afterwards her father offered me a cigar and some wine and we all settled down to watch the Czech National tam play hockey on TV. Needless to say, the day couldn’t have been more perfect.

The final day, Sunday, we woke to our morning routines and had a small worship and Bible study in Tyna’s apartment because the church she usually attends didn’t always have the best translations into English. It was a fabulous time and we went longboarding one last time before we departed Ostrava. I will miss that place and the friends I made dearly because it felt like a small piece of home that I was able to retreat to for a short period of time.

Well, this concludes this episode of There and Back Again, I hope you all enjoyed my weekend as much as I did. Please, continue to stay faithful to the blog and trust that I will update it more often. Till next time!

May the force be with you,

Zach

Aaaaaannnnnddd…We’re Back

My faithful bloggers! I know many of you have been eagerly awaiting my return to the blogging world and you must excuse me for my absence, a lot has happened over the past few weeks. What I’d like to do, and what I’m going to do (because it’s my blog) is start with recent events and then move backwards. So, in a way, we are going to be moving back in time for the next few posts. So without further ado, let’s begin.

Yesterday has been one of the more nerve-wracking and stressful days that any of us have had since being over here.  Upon my return from getting my Visa finalized (I’m coming home officially!) I discovered that our apartment had been broken in to. Believe me, this came as a huge shock due to the fact that our apartment rests in a very safe area of Prague. The odd thing was, the culprit didn’t as much as they could have. What I mean by this is that only a couple of cameras, iPods, headphones and one computer were taken along with my backpack (R.I.P. Eddie). Yet, three of our computers were in the apartment at the time of the break in as well as some other electronics. Besides these material things, nothing important was taken and no one was hurt. The police did a full search and had investigation teams searching for finger prints, but our hopes are not too high in finding our belongings.

Naturally everyone is still a little rattled and upset by the incident. It was told to me that “when unjust and seemingly undeserved things happen to us, we are really affected at the emotional level”. This is how we are all feeling right now and understand that more safety precautions are needed in our apartment. Though, out of all of this, I have learned that material things are just that, material things. With in an instant they are gone and there is really nothing we can do about it. This event has really realigned what I consider valuable and important in my life. Things are things, nothing more, nothing less.

There is no need to raise alarm fellow bloggers, we are all perfectly fine and safe. In fact, I’m sitting here drinking coffee eating some chips if you must know how I am doing. We’re going to go on living here as normal, just with some more precautions when leaving the apartment from now on. William Wallace said it best (or, I guess Mel Gibson), “They may take our lives, but they will never take our freedom!” Really the only disappointing thing to come out of all of this is I lost my backpack which I had since middle school. It also had my razor in it.

Anyways, until next post (which will be coming right up) I love you all and appreciate the prayers and support!

~Zach~

 

Swinging for the Fences

Hello Bloggers,

As is customary, I will take the time to open up this post with the standard “I’m doing great”, “Europe is amazing”, “I’m still eating fried cheese”, updates. It’s starting to cool down over here and is beginning to feel more like fall. Since this is my favorite time of the year (yes, yes, my birthday is in this month but that’s not the full reason why) I have decided to provide you with a link to some stunning/disturbing pumpkin carvings. Enjoy!

So, since it ’tis the season for Halloween, what better way to celebrate than to play softball over here in Prague. That’s right bloggers, we dusted off our cleats, broke out the ‘ol bats, and oiled up the gloves for a weekend tournament here sponsored by the Prague Post. I don’t think it was because of Halloween that they were sponsoring this tournament (it had something to do with education actually) but, nonetheless, the competition was in fully swing. I had to give my team credit, this was the first time that most of them had even touched a bat and glove in their lives, they played very well.

How the tournament was set up was each team was guaranteed five games. The top two teams after those five games would get to play in the championship game for all the marbles. As for our team, we assured our coach that we were going for gold. A little background on our coach: he has not won a game in over three years; last year his team never even showed up; he wears jeans with green shorts over them. These are just the basics you’ll need to know.

As for the team, I was very impressed. It took us a couple of games to figure out how to hit a softball that was moving slower than the first 40 min of Drive (see the movie, you’ll understand). But, once we understood the technique it was “swing for the fences kid!”. Sure we lost out first game to a bunch of middle-aged men and women who run a bookstore but I chalk that one up to first game jitters. Okay, yeah, and we lost to the Prague Post but I feel their victory was helped along by their shortstop who is in the Phillies’ farm system. After these first two hiccups, we were smooth sailing, going on to win our last three games by landslides. One team we beat 25-3 (and of course this was the team that our coach decided to take a picture in front of the score board with. Talk about insult to injury).

Our weekend was pretty much taken up by this tournament and it all came to a climax Sunday night when we were invited to a pub for a free all-you-can-eat buffet. As you can imagine, the people there probably thought we hadn’t eaten in days in watching how fast and viciously we ate their food. To top it all off, we were voted the “tournament favorite”. No trophy was involved, but we left with our chins held high, and our belly’s sagging low.

Always being faithful in keeping you updated (when I get around to it),

Zach

Hopping The Iron Curtain

Gentle Bloggers,

I feel like this post really doesn’t need much of an introduction. Maybe I could fill your heads with some information that I’ve gathered since being over here? I guess you really have no say in this so I’m going to go ahead and tell you. I’ll title this short segment, “A Zach Butler PSA for Seekers of Useless Information” (brought to you in part by Reese’s).

1) When working out (that’s physical exertion for you couch potatoes), doing one set of heavy lifting is the same as running at a 6-minute mile pace.

2) If you are an ice chewer when having your drink, that is actually a sign of an addiction. It’s a form of the Pica Disorder where one has an appetite for non-nutritive substances such as pencils, erasers, chalk, paint chips etc. It also could mean you have low iron in your body

3) They Flying Dutchman legend is actually true! Well, sort of. Legend has it that the ghostly ship appears to sailors, gliding above the water, just before a storm hits as a way of saying, “Hey, you’re about to end up just like this!” Well, these sailors may not be as crazy as they seem. There is this little thing called fata morgana which is an optical illusion or mirage that, with something to do with light and the moisture in the air, can actually make faraway ships look all sorts of terrifying. It just so happens that storms are the perfect conditions for this illusion to happen!

So yeah, there’s some of the many nuggets of knowledge I have acquired over here in Europe. Only here could you learn about such things…right? Anyways, to the main course of this post: Berlin.

I must say, Berlin was not the city I had expected it to be. Since it is a place so rich in history (irregardless of whether it’s good or bad history, it’s still history) I had half expected it to be crawling with old war buildings and maybe some of the places that the Nazis had outposts. Or maybe not even reaching that far back; I would have even taken some of the more important artifacts of the Cold War since this was the city where the separation of Communism and the rest of the world was never more real. But surprisingly, only a few historical objects remain. Check Point Charlie was one of these that we visited. In its prime it was the gateway for Americans to pass between the USSR and American controlled grounds. It was also a hot-spot for spies to cross through. Nowadays, its run by a German man wearing an American Army uniform and holding our flag. As you can see authenticity is their goal. Oh, and you had to pay 2 Euros if you wanted a picture in front of the check point.

The second place we visited is what everyone comes to Berlin for (I assume), the Berlin Wall. All kidding aside, it truly is a powerful sight to see. Most of the wall is gone but there is one stretch of it that allows you to get close enough to touch it and feel how the people of that time must have felt. Parts of the wall have been knocked out so you can gaze upon the iron bars that held the concrete slabs together. All over the wall is graffiti and boldly written outcries of how insane this wall was. There actually is the word “Madness” sprayed on one part of it. Everyone should visit such a sight at realize how serious people were about keeping the world divided.

As for the rest of the trip; of course we got lost again. At least this time we didn’t stray too far from the blinding lights of what I could only assume is one of the main centers of the town. Really, it wouldn’t be a trip if we weren’t lost at least once. Thankfully it was early in the night so we weren’t wandering around until the wee hours of the morning. Besides eating the typical German foods (such as brats with every ounce of heavy dressing laid upon them, fried meatloaf, and wienerschnitzel) and drinking some of the famous German beer, we took a boat tour of the city. All in all Berlin was an enjoyable city but I wasn’t as impressed as I was expecting to be. With much of it being commercialized and rebuilt I feel as if Berlin has lost some of itself along the way.

Well, until next time faithful bloggers.

Zach

On Reaching The Edge of the World

Faithful Bloggers,

What is this? Two posts in one day? I decided to treat you all by doubling my production of posts. Also I feel a little guilty that I haven’t been keeping up. I feel like most of my blogs start this way so this will be the last time I apologize or address the small fact that I don’t update like I should. But, if you really consider it, not many people update as often as they’d like either. So personally, I feel like one of the famous internet bloggers who keeps his followers on the edge of their seats, waiting to see what will happen next.

I decided to elaborate more upon the boat party that was sponsored by AAU this past weekend. The actual party was something along the lines of a let down. If you can, picture a large pack of people all crowded on a boat that is far too small to contain partying college kids. The layout was ingenious and creative I must say. The middle of the boat was the dance floor and the DJ booth overlooked that with all its blinding lights and lasers. A table had been set up for people to dance upon which I personally thought was very foolish. That’s the last thing you need is drunk kids going to town on an unstable piece of wood whilst drifting down a river. Stairs led to an upper balcony area on both the bow and stern of the boat where one could sit at the picnic tables that had been set up. Below the upper deck was the bar but it was far too crowded and not worth visiting. The biggest problem that the boat presented (besides not being able to move at any point during the night due to the quantity of people) were the bathrooms. For some reason the brilliant designer of such a ship decided to only build one men’s bathroom and three women’s. At any point it wasn’t uncommon to see a line of 20 or more boys lined up to take a leak while maybe two or three girls waited their turn. You can imagine this lead to more creative ways in order to relieve ones self.

As for the actual dance it was entertaining but the trip went on for far too long. It was a four hour boat ride and about two hours into it most of us wanted to get off in order to go search for food. Living here in the Czech Republic we pretty much live from meal to meal. Upon finishing one meal you’re immediately discussing what you’re going to do for the next. Personally I’ve resorted to eating peanut butter sandwiches and EuroDogs (they’re essentially hot dogs but only a dollar). But, I digress. Eventually the boat returned to the harbor. Here began what I consider to be one of the most embarrassing and yet confounding actions that the human race does. I don’t know if it’s human nature or just stupidity, but why do people insist on being the first out of a vehicle, such as a plane or in this case, a boat, when no matter what you do, you’re going to exit it at some point. Everyone feels the need shove and push their way to the door only furthering the frustrations of others and in most cases, upsetting others who are most likely drunk. After this arduous process had reached its conclusion our group found themselves wondering how to get home.

Here in Prague the metro stops at 12:30 which, in my humble but right opinion, is far too early to shut down the only practical means of public transportation. Sure one could take the trams back to their residency but that’s long and complex. Yet, we found that we really had no other option unless we wanted to walk it. We actually began walking in hopes of recognizing what part of town we were in and I truly think we were getting close to discovering where when Tram 22 came screeching down the street. Tram 22 is a universal tram that pretty much takes us to our street. Sure it’s a long journey, but the tram driver knows where he’s going, we don’t. At least, that’s what we all had assumed.

We boarded the tram and sat down on the poorly cushioned chairs. There were a few sleepy passengers and the sultry voice that would come over the speakers announcing our current and next stop. Upon looking at the tram stop map we were sorry to see that our destination was around 18 stops away. We sat back, soaking in the dull fluorescent lights, waiting for the voice to chime our arrival at home. I hadn’t been really paying attention to what was passing by us outside except for when we passed by what usually would be our stop for school. Soon though, things outside began to fade away and were replaced by fields and scarecrow houses. I began to feel uneasy, not scared, just a tightness in the chest and a sinking in the stomach.

Soon Tram 22 came to a stop and we noticed that we were the last of its riders. The conductor exited his control room and said something to us in Czech. We didn’t need to ask him what he was saying, we all had the same feeling swelling inside us, defeat. We exited the tram and squinted to take in our surroundings. I have been to the edge of the world gentle blogger and it is a place no mortal should ever tread. What surrounded us was a dead field, or, at least it looked dead from the orange glow of the street lights. There was a cracked sidewalk that lead us one of two ways. To our left was a road that was lined with lamps, broken houses, and a heavy hush. To our right the road ducked down a hill into blackness and I knew our wanderings would not take us there. We had ended up at the turn around; the last place the trams stop before heading back into the city.

We scraped our way over to the nearest tram map and looked on in horror and disbelief as we were now 32 stops away from home. Some of us tried to explain to the tram driver our situation but it was to no avail and we soon saw the light fading from our hope. We had no choice but to walk, and walk we would do. The road we headed down was split by the tram tracks and the hallow houses flanked both sides of the side-walk. Occasionally a sighing field would take over a vacant lot. There were no people. There were no cars. At this point our group was a mixture of feelings that would probably suit a psychiatrist’s notepad better than this blog so I will save you the time. A few of us tried to joke and keep spirits high, but where can you find happiness in a place that joy is no longer welcome in?

Eventually we came upon a gas station and the knife that was starting to dull in our stomachs was now twisting again. We decided that, if need be, we would buy the station’s entire inventory of food. Yet, as it would be, we found something even more rewarding. As we turned the corner to enter the station we saw salvation resting just before us. Like the majestic Roman chariots of the days of old, a AAA Taxi Cab was parked next to the curb. I can’t remember if a tear was shed upon seeing the glorious yellow cab, but I wouldn’t have been surprised if there was. The driver called another cab in the area in order to pick the rest of us up and soon we were headed back towards civilization.

Sitting in the car I watched as the uninviting landscape drew back and let larger buildings take the lead. Upon reaching the apartment and soon my bed I had a feeling of joy and comfort overtake me until I was soundly asleep. As you can see gentle blogger, I have witnessed things that no one should have to witness. Tread lightly and may you never have to see the edge of the world.