Police, Firefighters, and Schools Targeted in Fifth Straight Night of Sweden Riots

Firefighters responding to rioting in the suburbs of Stockholm, Sweden. Image by Scanpix.

Firefighters responding to rioting in the suburbs of Stockholm, Sweden. Image by Scanpix.

Stockholm police have called for reinforcements as rioting in poor suburbs to the northwest and southwest of the Swedish capital have entered their fifth night. Rioters have set fire to schools and a restaurant, attacked banks and police stations, smashed shop windows, and lit cars ablaze in violence so severe the U.S. Embassy has warned Americans to stay away from the area. Police and firefighters responding to the scenes have reported being pelted by stones or blinded by laser pointers. However, according to Stockholm police spokesman Kjell Lindgren last night’s violence was somewhat less intense than that of Wednesday night. No injuries were reported last night, he said.

The riots allegedly began on Sunday night in the suburb of Husby when police shot and killed an elderly man wielding a machete. Husby, like many of the suburbs affected by the violence, is populated predominantly by immigrants and unemployed or poor youths. Locals in these neighborhoods had long complained of police brutality, and eyewitnesses claim that during the initial confrontations Sunday night police shouted racial slurs at the rioters.

Both the International Herald-Tribune and BBC News have discussed the implications of these riots on Sweden’s carefully-crafted image as an ideal society. For years, Sweden has touted its model of democratic socialism, a strong welfare state, fiscal responsibility, and a “partnership mentality” between business, unions, and the government as a model for the rest of the world to copy. Swedes enjoy one of the world’s highest standards of living, best health care systems, and longest life expectancies, and it has remained largely untouched by the European Union’s economic crisis. It has even gone so far as to claim it is a classless society.

Yet one of the most common explanations for the riots has been anger over unemployment, which is higher for immigrants than native-born Swedes. Immigrants complain that, in spite of Swedish claims of being tolerant and welcoming, they face discrimination and difficulties assimilating into Swedish society. Activist Rami Al-khamisi told Reuters “We see a society that is becoming increasingly divided and where the gaps, both socially and economically, are becoming larger. And the people out here are being hit the hardest … We have institutional racism.” In a society where 15% of the population are immigrants, this is a serious problem.

However, Lindgren insists that it is wrong to characterize these rioters as “poor, unemployed immigrant youths.” He told the press that incidents have occurred not only in poor neighborhoods but also some middle-class ones, and that among the rioters police have encountered there is “a mixture of every kind of people you can think of. We have got Swedes, we have got very young people, we have got people aged 30 to 35. You can’t define them as a group. We don’t know why they are doing this. There is no answer to it.”

In addition, police chief Mats Loefving emphasized in his statement to Swedish Radio that some of the rioters have prior criminal records. “In the midst of all this there is a small group of professional criminals, who are taking advantage of the situation to commit crimes like this,” he said.

According to Reuters, there have been riots in Sweden before, but they have not lasted this long, usually being extinguished after one night. The riots have brought immigration issues back into the Swedish public consciousness, with political parties arguing over what to do about it. Meanwhile, news agencies continue to speak to locals such as Maria Petersson, a nurse who told Reuters “My daughter comes home from school and says the kids say they can’t play with her because she’s dark. I am both Ethiopian and Swedish but I will never be considered Swedish by the Swedes. To them, I am just another immigrant.”

Information from Reuters, the International Herald-Tribune, BBC News, Sky News, ITV News and the Irish Times.

To Boldly… uh.. Play It Safe and Not Rock the Boat?

Star Trek Into Darkness image from HD Wallpapers

Star Trek Into Darkness is a very good movie. It has great action, great cinematography, great acting, a compelling plot and some funny dialogue. It is a great popcorn movie for when you just want a night at the theater. A solid 8 out of 10.

…and that’s about all I would have to say about this movie. It didn’t blow my mind, but it didn’t stink like a dead skunk in the road. It wasn’t the best Star Trek film ever, but it was far better than some of them.

You know who you are, movies.

You know who you are, movies.

That’s really what makes talking about this film so difficult. I don’t want to bad-mouth it at all; I honestly liked it and will almost certainly get it on DVD when it comes out. It’s just that it is “good enough”. It doesn’t disappoint, but it doesn’t aspire to new heights, either.

What I’m thinking happened was that J.J. Abrams knew that the last film was a huge gamble. The idea of rebooting something as sacred to its fans as Star Trek would not be an easy sell to said fans, and finding actors who can play such iconic characters faithfully was no mean feat. That’s not even mentioning the decision to have Vulcan destroyed or to have Uhura in a romantic relationship with Spock.

To Abrams, this must have seemed like a good time to play it safe, and not take too many risks. He kept what worked about the last film, expanded on some of the ideas in it, and otherwise stayed in familiar Star Trek waters. Pretty much the only risk he took was cramming in a beat-you-over-the-head political metaphor, and even that isn’t exactly “alien” to Trek habits by any stretch.

In fact, I would say this film plays it safe to a fault – one long sequence near the end will, to anybody who is remotely familiar with Trek lore, make eyes roll. While played up as a dramatic and emotional scene, it is such a blatant rip-off of a very famous pre-reboot Star Trek scene that it comes off as corny.

Still, the positives I have to say about this film far outweigh the negatives. Fans of Simon Pegg’s Scotty who were disappointed by his minor role in the first film will be pleased to know that he has a much bigger role here. The relationship between Uhura and Spock is explored in more detail, and Chris Pine’s Kirk is given a much more compelling character arc, as he is forced to truly confront his weaknesses and vulnerabilities. Plus, the opening is absolutely hilarious.

The film looks gorgeous, too. There are some really cool locations and ships to be seen, and it all works well with the pacing. J.J. Abrams is a good director, once you get past his obsession with lens flares.

Needs Moar Lens Flare image from ICanHasCheezburger

Basically, if you didn’t like J.J. Abrams’ take on Star Trek the first time, this won’t change your mind, but if you did like the reboot, you will probably like this movie.

Oh, and there are Klingons in it.

maH 'oH Quch Daq Qoy vetlh!

maH ‘oH Quch Daq Qoy vetlh!

Congratulations to my cousin on her graduation from college! Here’s wishing you the best of luck!

Cat Flag’s Guide to Understanding Millennials: People Who Helped Shape Our Generation

Millennials image from CSU Long Beach

Every generation is, in large part, a product of the times they grew up in. Those times, in turn, are shaped by those in the older generations who make their mark on history, for good or ill. My grandmother’s generation would not be what it is today if it weren’t for figures like Henry Ford or Franklin D. Roosevelt. My parents’ generation came of age in a world shaped by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., John F. Kennedy, Richard Nixon, Neil Armstrong, and others.

It seems to me, then, that any exploration of what makes a generation tick must take into account the figures who helped shape the lives that that generation grew up in. That’s why, for the second part of my miniseries on understanding Millennials, I am going to talk about a few of the people who, in my estimation (read: these are my personal opinions), played the biggest role in making us who we are today.

Shigeru Miyamoto

Shigeru Miyamoto image by Vincent Diamante

Who he is: A video game designer and developer for Nintendo.

How he shaped the Millennials: This is the man who made our childhoods.

Super Mario Bros.? That was his idea. Donkey Kong? He gave us that too. The Legend of Zelda? He drew inspiration for that game from his own childhood. Star Fox? F-Zero? Pikmin? All his. Countless hours of our childhoods were consumed playing his video games.

Super Smash Bros from Dan Dare

For many of us, myself included, our first introduction to video games as a concept was through one of his creations. Who knows how many rainy days we spent playing Starfox or Zelda? Or how many bus rides to and from school were spent on our Game Boy playing Mario? Heck, Mario alone is one of the most recognizable characters in the world today. And from these games, we learned the value of persistence. After all, if we’re honest, how many tries did it take everyone to beat those games? Dozens? Hundreds, maybe? We all probably lost count about the second or third time we ran out of lives.

All I know is that to us, this unassuming, friendly, modest Japanese man is more than a man. He is a legend. Consistently and unquestioningly considered the greatest video game developer of all time, he was even awarded the Prince of Asturias Award by the Crown Prince of Spain.

Here’s a list of the video games Miyamoto has helped to create, to put things in perspective.

Sir Tim Berners-Lee

Sir Tim Berners-Lee image from John S. and James L. Knight Foundation

Who he is: The creator of the World Wide Web.

How he shaped the Millennials: He made the Internet available to everyone.

As I mentioned last time, we are a generation for whom technology comes second nature. That probably would not have been the case without Sir Time Berners-Lee. Although the Internet had been around for decades by the time he came around, it was still very much something that was mainly used by big businesses, universities, the government and military, and hardcore computer nerds. A large part of why it was so exclusive was because it was not easy to use at all. While attempts had been made to simplify it, such as the domain name system (the thing that gives us “whatever-it-is.com”), it still was cumbersome and clunky and user-unfriendly by our standards.

What Berners-Lee did between 1989 and 1991 was introduce two simple yet profound innovations. The first was to create a user-friendly graphical interface for computers to display when they connected, and the second was to link those graphical interfaces with links you could click with your mouse, like this. Those links were the key, because they could present information to the user in the same way people think: by linking ideas together. He called his “web” of links “The World Wide Web”, and the graphical interfaces that they connected were known as “web pages”.

This innovation proved to be a tipping point. Suddenly, ANYONE could use the Internet, and soon enough, everyone was using the Internet. Of course, Berners-Lee did one more thing to make sure his technology got into every computer around the world – he gave his program away for free. He didn’t even patent it. The foundation he set up to keep Web technology updated is a non-profit foundation, and anyone and everyone can use the Web however they wish.

Without the Web, we wouldn’t have Facebook or Twitter, we wouldn’t have Amazon.com or YouTube, and we wouldn’t have Cat Flag.

Thanks, Tim!

Thanks, Tim!

Osama bin Laden

Osama bin Laden portrait from Hamid Mir

Who he is: The now-deceased founder and leader of the terrorist group Al Qaeda and the man behind the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

How he shaped the Millennials: He scarred us.

I didn’t necessarily say that the people on this list shaped us in a good way, did I? No, the man whose name is now synonymous with evil scarred my generation. And I do think “scarred” is the right word.

I’ve already discussed his impact in some detail before, so I’ll try to be brief. When I was growing up in the 1990s, at least here in America, the ideas of world peace and a beautiful global utopia actually seemed achievable. The Cold War was over, technology was rapidly changing everybody’s lives (see above), and the economy was booming. Sure, things were far from perfect. But it seemed that there was sort of a euphoria over the land as we all counted down to the turn of the millennium, that especially affected kids like me. We were all promised by our teachers and our parents that we could achieve anything we dreamed of, and it certainly looked like we really could.

Then Osama bin Laden appeared to remind us all that evil still exists. Obviously, the closer you were to the twin towers or the Pentagon, the more of an impact the attacks had. Yet everyone across America felt the pain on some level. The attack struck us like a knife, and cut a very deep wound from which we have yet to fully recover, if we ever will. Yes, he was eventually killed by Seal Team Six, and yes, we celebrated in the streets. But I still had to take off my shoes and bring only a few tiny bottles of shampoo and toothpaste with me on the plane to Branson, Missouri last month.

Our priorities changed. Our culture changed. Our politics changed. We basically gave up on world peace and a beautiful global utopia. 9/11 shattered those dreams. Is it any wonder, then, that we Millennials cling to nostalgia?

Barack Obama

President Obama image from Wikipedia

Who he is: The President of the United States of America

How he shaped the Millennials: He has shaped our politics (for better or for worse).

I don’t know why young Millennial voters, many voting for the first time, were absolutely infatuated with this man in 2008. Perhaps it was the fact that he is charming and an eloquent speaker. Maybe it was because young people are generally going to be liberal anyway, and he captured the hearts and minds of the American left-wing. Maybe it was that he promised action on helping us with our mounting student loan debt. Or maybe it was the fact he was the most tech-savvy presidential candidate in the race, with a smartphone and a Twitter account.

Whatever the reason, the Millennial vote was a big part of what put him in office. I remember what a big event his inauguration was. I remember how everybody had such high hopes that this was the man who would remake Washington, D.C. and fix all the problems that the previous three presidents had left behind.

I also remember the massive disappointment with his first two years in office. To be fair, not every Millennial supported him to begin with, and he did maintain a number of Millennials throughout those years for whom he could do no wrong in their minds. For the most part, though, my peers went from the high of seeing “their” candidate win the election to the lows of seeing “their” president fail to accomplish a great many of the things he promised. It was like a hangover, except this hangover cost America a huge number of jobs, failed to end the detention of more than a hundred people without trial in Guantanamo Bay, and gave us a flawed health care “reform” that was really just a patch job.

Yet, somehow, in the second two years of his first term, we came back around to him and helped re-elect him in 2012. Why the change? In part, I think, we grew a little more mature and recognized that no presidential candidate ever delivers everything they promise. In part, I think, we decided to give the other side a try – Tea Party, anyone? – and were frightened by what we got. In part, I think, we recognized that America is changing, that we like many of those changes, and that President Obama is on the side of letting those changes come while his opponents often come across (to us) as trying to block those changes and keep us in the past. Again, I’m generalizing here, and don’t claim that all Millennials felt this way.

As of this writing, I think it’s fair to say that the majority of Millennials broadly support the president and his policies, even if we don’t necessarily agree with everything he says. Will this mean the Democratic Party can rely on a solid bloc of young voters in elections to come? That remains to be seen. What can’t be denied, though, is that President Obama represents, for most of us, our first real experience with politics. First impressions have a very lasting impact.

What do you think? Do you think there are other people that have helped shape the Millennials? Do you agree or disagree with my selections? Let me know in comments!

Third Time Awesome!

Iron Man 3 poster from Comics Beat

Now that I have filled my indie historical drama and artsy fancy-pants musical quotas, it’s time to go back to reviewing movies about things blowing up.

Iron Man 3 is a movie in an interesting position. The Avengers was such a huge risk, and such a huge success, that it seemed like the sort of thing you simply couldn’t top. At the same time, a slew of sequels becomes pretty much inevitable when you win more than a billion and a half dollars at the box office. Marvel Studios, director Shane Black (Kiss Kiss Bang Bang), and writer Drew Pierce (No Heroics) faced a real conundrum: how should they approach this follow-up to such an epic movie?

It turns out, the answer is to dial back the “epic” substantially and make a more focused story about a small handful of characters. Instead of expanding the scope, Iron Man 3 shrinks it. Instead of being about bigger and badder enemies, this movie is very much a personal tale about Tony Stark/Iron Man as a character, as he adjusts to the “new normal” and tries to figure out how to handle it.

The film opens with Stark telling the audience “We create our own demons”, and the story clings tightly to that theme. The villains are all people from Stark’s past. Stark finds himself in a very personal, inner conflict, trying to balance going after the bad guys and protecting those that he cares about, and he doesn’t always succeed. The filmmakers even made a surprising decision: to show Stark struggling with PTSD after the events in The Avengers.

Also, he crash-lands in blue snow.

Also, he crash-lands in blue snow.

If that sounds deep, it is, but before you go thinking this is some dark melodrama, let me reassure you that this movie is still fun and has plenty of light-hearted moments. This movie proves that “going darker” doesn’t have to mean “always taking itself too seriously” or “trying to copy The Dark Knight“. It has plenty of the humor, silliness, and slapstick that made Iron Man so fun in the first place. After all, how dark can a movie be when the hero takes out some bad guys with Christmas ornaments?

Robert Downey, Jr. is back in prime form for what has become his signature role. Gwyneth Paltrow and Don Cheadle both are clearly having great fun reprising their roles as Pepper Potts and Col. Rhodes, respectively. But the real show-stopper is The Mandarin, a staple villain of the comics who in this film has become a terrorist leader played by Ben Kingsley (yes, the guy who played Gandhi in the 1982 movie). Without spoiling anything, this film takes The Mandarin in a very interesting direction that nobody could possibly expect.

In essence, this movie makes all the right decisions – it doesn’t try to cram in too much the way Iron Man 2 did, it doesn’t try to top The Avengers and thus start a cycle of constantly trying to top oneself and eventually burning out (I’m looking at you, Pirates of the Caribbean), and it strikes just the right balance between action and character development. It is a great summer blockbuster and a great sign that the Marvel films are still in the right hands. If you like comic books, or if you just like a good action movie, I highly recommend this film.