Benjamin Studebaker

Yet Another Attempt to Make the World a Better Place by Writing Things

The Interview: How We Should Respond to Terrorist Nonsense

American funnymen James Franco and Seth Rogen made a comedy called The Interview for Sony in which their characters attempt to assassinate Kim Jong-un, the supreme leader of North Korea. Someone really didn’t like this movie and really didn’t want Sony to release it–a mysterious organization known as “Guardians of Peace” hacked and leaked a series of Sony e-mails and threatened a 9/11 style terrorist attack if the film were released as planned. No one is certain, but the US government suspects that the Kim regime is behind the threats. It is, at the very least, supportive of them. North Korea’s National Defense Commission says:

The hacking into the Sony Pictures might be a righteous deed of the supporters and sympathizers with the [North] in response to its appeal.

Amazingly, Sony and the major American movie theater chains capitulated, cancelling the release. Was this the right thing to do?

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Why Our Schools Don’t Work

One of the difficulties with writing about education is that by the time educational reformers manage to make their voices heard, they are too old. They have forgotten what it is like to be a young person in school, and the schools have changed so much during their own lifetimes that to the extent that they do remember, their memories are no longer relevant. One of the paradoxes of life is that at 22, I still remember a lot of experiences from school that remain relevant to the contemporary debate, but because I am 22, no one really pays attention to much of what I say. But I digress. Today it has occurred to me that the reason our schools do not work is that our society has three distinct purposes for its schools, and that these purposes contradict each other in fatal ways.

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Russell Brand is Not a Hypocrite

Over the last year, British comedian Russell Brand has fashioned himself into something of a champion for the little guy–for poor and marginalized people in society. Politically, he’s a classic, old school Marxist. He sees politics as a fundamental struggle between owners and workers and wants a revolution of some kind to empower the masses (though he admits he doesn’t know what form that revolution should take). I’ve written about Brand before, and I don’t fully agree with his views, but I sympathize with his core observation–that our society is not yet fully just and that many groups of people suffer unnecessarily as a result. I also appreciate that he is providing us with opportunities to discuss fundamental questions of political theory with a wider audience. In recent weeks, we have seen conservatives in Britain attempting to discredit Brand as a political actor by labeling him a hypocrite. The story goes that because Brand has a lot of money (an estimated net worth of $15 million), this disqualifies him from taking issue with the distribution of wealth in Britain. This is a deeply misleading argument that would, if universalized, leave the poor and marginalized utterly voiceless.

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The CIA Must Be Purged

With the release of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence’s report on the CIA’s use of torture, many people all over the world are shocked by CIA’s willingness to use techniques that are not only cruel but remarkably ineffective. It’s long been known that torture is an ineffective means of extracting information. As I wrote back in 2012, there is a lot of evidence out there that torture is not a good strategy for obtaining reliable information. And if you think about it, that makes sense–torture can make someone talk, but why should it make a person tell you the truth? It’s not as if you have an answer key or will know the difference. If you did, you wouldn’t need to ask the question in the first place. So in this respect, the senate report confirms what we already should know, though many Americans still have not caught on, according to Pew:

There’s something else in the report that is much more shocking–the extent to which the CIA deceived congress and the Bush administration about the program.

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What Does it Mean to be a Hero?

A few months back, I watched a show on Netflix called BoJack Horseman. There’s a bit in the show where BoJack, the protagonist, gets into an argument with a veteran about the nature of heroism:

In particular, BoJack says:

Maybe some of the troops are heroes, but not automatically. I’m sure a lot of the troops are jerks. Most people are jerks already and it’s not like giving a jerk a gun and telling him it’s okay to kill people suddenly turns that jerk into a hero.

This has got me thinking–what does it mean to be a hero?

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