Nov 15

Russia and the West are Teaming Up to Combat ISIS. What Could Possibly Go Wrong?

So there’s been a lot of stuff happening over the past few weeks regarding ISIS, Russia, and the West, and I thought it might be helpful for myself if I wrote up a quick summary of it all, because honestly it’s fairly hard to keep track of. Realizing this, I figured you all might be interested in the summary too, along with my comments as a Political Science major with plans to one day work at the United Nations. Hopefully we can hash all this out together, because I won’t lie, this is an extremely complicated with issue with lots of gray areas (#PLAIssues).

First things first, it’s important to know where everyone stands. The U.S., as you’ve probably heard, is against ISIS and the Assad regime, and is therefore supporting anyone attacking those groups. This includes the Syrian and Yemini rebels, which have been fighting against both. In fact, most of the major players we’ll be talking about are against ISIS and Assad. The only exception is Russia, who is allied with Syria, and has been working to help end the civil war. This stance I found has been confusing for a lot of people, because honestly, who wants an ally whose country is falling apart and who every other country hates? Well, it depends on what you value in your allies. Being allied with Syria, for one thing, gives Russia a foothold in the Middle East, right next to America’s major ally/foothold, Israel. Being Assad’s ally in the regime’s hour of need also makes Syria rather beholden to Russia. If you only have one ally, and they’re as powerful as Russia, you basically have to do what they say, because you can’t risk losing their help or having them turn against you. So if President Putin so desired, he could basically make Assad his puppet, and Assad really couldn’t do anything about it. The very idea is both brilliant and terrible.

Anyway, because of Russia’s support of Assad, Putin sent in troops a month or so ago to “attack ISIS,” or so they said. What American intelligence told us was that they were really focusing on the groups that threatened Assad, like our friends the rebels. After all, ISIS is attacking everyone that doesn’t agree with it–including these rebels–while the rebels are directly moving against Assad. So it was actually in the regime and its allies’ interests to leave ISIS be until the rebel threat is taken care of, since ISIS would actually be helping them fight off the direct threat. The U.S. wasn’t so happy about this, and promptly sent a team of its own soldiers into Syria to combat ISIS, as well as bolster the rebel force. For a few tense days it looked like Russia and America were heading towards another quasi war.

Then ISIS shot down a Russian passenger plane, killing close to 300 people in one day. This is when Russia’s priorities appear to change, as Putin announced Russia would now aggressively target ISIS. Apparently they meant it this time, because they basically sent a whole air-armada over to the region to drop small bombs. It was an antiquated war tactic, but hey, whatever works. It should be noted that throughout this whole Russian ordeal, the West barely batted an eye.

…Then Paris was attacked and everyone flipped out. The entire Western front was angry, and now France was in the game, sending air strikes over to ISIS strongholds. Recently David Cameron has been plugging for military intervention from Britain against ISIS, and now with their ally France under attack, you can bet on him getting it. In fact, a lot of nations now seem ready to take up the cause, since obviously ISIS isn’t discriminating by country. Who could be next?

Can I just pause and ask why ISIS thought this would be a good idea? If you antagonize every major military in the world, stirring up the West and the East, you know you’re going to get messed up, right? I mean it seems like common sense.

Anyway, while obviously irritated that the West responded way more to the attack on France then the attack on their plane, Russia realized they had a common enemy, and are now teamed up with France. America is also in support of this union, although diplomats are reasonably nervous about what will happen after ISIS is taken care of (because let’s face it, ISIS is toast). President Obama has noted that Americans will not allow the dictator Assad to stay in power even after ISIS is out of the picture, and Russia has remained (suspiciously?) mute on the subject.

Finally, the most recent development: Turkey shooting down one of Russia’s military jets. It should be noted that these two countries have been having problems with each other recently. Turkey, for one thing, absolutely hates Assad–he’s a terrible neighbor, and all of Syria’s escaped refugees have now settled in Turkey to take cover. Ending the Syrian civil war and ousting Assad is very high on Turkey’s list of priorities, but Russia for a while seemed to be helping Assad. Russia has also been flying several military aircrafts over Turkish airspace, aggravating them further. So it doesn’t come as a complete surprise that this strike happened, although the Turk’s timing is quite awful honestly and they used weapons America had given them, which is irritating to the U.S. because now we’ve been roped into what was really a bad decision.

Russia was obviously upset, and has placed sanctions on trade with Turkey that will ultimately cost the country about $3 billion dollars. Putin described the attack as “a stab in the back,” committed by “accomplices of terrorists,” and implied that America could have stopped the attack through better communication (Note that Turkey isn’t in support of terrorists, but what do you expect everyone to think when you attack a country who has publicly made it their mission to combat said terrorists?). Interestingly though, Russia has now agreed to follow along with Western attack plans, which will be lead by the United States. This is great!… Right? Well for now, we know that ISIS is going down, and that is good. But whether this cooperation will lead to a new bond between Russia and the West or ultimately more conflict, remains to be seen.

Adam, Karla and Roth, Andrew. “Moscow is ready to coordinate with the West over strikes on Syria, Putin says.” Stars and Stripes. Stars and Stripes, 26 Nov. 2015. Web. 30 Nov., 2015.

Graham, Thomas E. “Russia’s Syria Surprise (And What America Should do About it).” The National Interest. Center for the National Interest, 15 Sept., 2015. Web. 30 Nov., 2015.

Nov 15


I’ve spent most of my life growing up in State College at this point, and Pittsburgh is one of the nearby cities I’ve visited most. I’ve been coming to Pittsburgh since I was eleven, but the point that it became most influential for me was when I was just finding my place in high school. Interestingly enough, the lessons Pittsburgh would have to teach me seemed to change with the city as it developed and revitalized itself, and each visit gave me something new to think about–usually something that I would take to heart for years to come. Now I’ve returned to Pittsburgh again, this time with the Presidential Leadership Academy, and learned even more invaluable lessons, each more beneficial than the last. I thought for my blog this week that I really wanted to go back and examine everything I’ve learned from my time at Pittsburgh–not just the things we did on this trip–and how it relates to the city’s recent resurgence.

So without further ado…

In my sophomore year of high school I joined a Presbyterian youth group. I didn’t belong to the church or really any sort of religion at all, but the club was all-inclusive and full of several of my friends, so I enjoyed it. During every spring break, this group of about fifty or so teenagers and ten adult mentors would drive down to Pittsburgh to do service in the community. We slept on the floor of a church in sleeping bags, getting up early in the mornings so we could go repaint the walls of a homeless shelter, or clean out an old building that was being repurposed, or make food for people who because of factors beyond their control had been forced out into the street. It was during this time–not long ago at all–that Pittsburgh was still recovering in many areas. But the main reason the city has recently been doing so well is because of the insane amount of volunteers who have devoted their time to making things better. I am proud to have done my part during those few years, as I am extremely proud and impressed by the people we met who work in the Braddock Carnegie Library. These people have spent countless hours on this project for very little pay, solely for the purpose of making their community better. As a person who participates in community service on a very frequent basis, I could recognize the expressions of quiet satisfaction the tour guides wore on their faces–not just because they were doing a fantastic job, but because they knew what they were doing was the right thing, and that it was helping people. Upon arriving to college, I assumed Pittsburgh had already taught me all it ever would about what it meant to serve a community, and indeed what I learned during those three spring trips was invaluable and remains extremely influential for me. But this trip to Braddock showed me that Pittsburgh, thankfully, wasn’t done with me yet.

Before this trip, all my educational experiences in Pittsburgh had involved recovery, rebuilding and recuperation. This weekend proved to go beyond that, becoming more than anything a lesson in innovation. Practically everywhere we went, speakers were encouraging us to try new things, to push ourselves out of our comfort zones, and of course showing us how much good could come from that. I think the lesson that perfectly summarized all of those innovative strategies was only mentioned in passing. At Deloitte, the presented us with the “Platinum Rule:” Treat others the way they want to be treated. It is the same concept as the Golden Rule, but this new one (new innovation you might say) recognizes the diversity in a population, that not everyone will want the same thing as you. This might be because of a person’s business chemistry, but it could also be because of their background, experiences, culture, or any other part of them that might be different than ours. I feel this concept is what lead to most–if not all–of the innovations we saw during our trip. Google listened to what it’s employees wanted, and created possibly the most innovative and creative corporate working space ever to help them get their best work done. Deloitte used the concept when examining people’s personalities, and adapted their leading and following styles in order to gel with their colleagues. And the workers at the Braddock Library used it when they examined the community to see what they could do to make the old library useful and valuable to the surrounding community.

So ultimately I feel that being a leader and an innovator has everything to do with looking outside of yourself and considering others and the world around you, and putting them first. That’s what Pittsburgh has taught me through it’s wonderful displays of service, community, and fellowship. I can’t wait to see what this city has in store for me on my next visit.

Nov 15

Violent Video Games and the Degradation of Empathy

The effect violent video games have on American culture has always been a very contested and sometimes uncomfortable topic, due to the sheer amount of people who play them regularly. While I am in fact one of those people who can and has played these games for hours on end, I would argue anything with such a huge sphere of influence–especially influence on youth–should be thoughtfully examined. That is what I aim to do for you this week.

At the moment, video games are making more money than all other forms of media combined. This includes console games, games for PC, and games for your phone. And each year the video game companies’ goal is to make even more money. Like any good business, one of the things they’re wont to do is repeat themselves when they come across a successful product, as this is much less risky than trying something new. One of the things these corporations have found over the past fifteen years is that graphic violence, especially first-person-shooter violence, make a lot of cash. The first breakthrough example of this was a little game called Call of Duty. Heard of it? It sold more copies the week of its release than any other video game ever. It’s 2010 sequel, Black Ops, still holds records for the massive chunk of change it raked in. Naturally, game companies all over the place began to copy its style, producing more and more “realistic” military-style first-person-shooter games.

The general widespread theory you often hear is that video games are responsible for the rise in violence in American youth. The NRA has even pointed the finger at video game corporations for causing the uptick in mass shootings–highly ironic, considering how gun companies profit immensely from the free advertising they receive in games like Call of Duty (Hallman).

Unfortunately for the NRA, video games do not cause violence. If anything, they are one small contributor in a laundry list of circumstances that might push someone to commit a violent crime (Jhally). What more and more research is showing instead, is that violent video games desensitize players to violence, and in this fashion degrade the empathy of their participants (Ivory, Kalyanaraman).

Think about it. In all these violent games, in order to be able to play for hours at a time, you ultimately have to stop being disgusted or horrified by the grotesque acts your avatars are committing. When the main task of the game is to commit violence, you don’t think twice about the effect that violence might have on real people, and players commit a number of horrendous acts they would never dream of committing in real life. But in order to do this, they essentially have to “switch off” their empathy for others, and view the (increasingly realistic) humans humans they need to kill as objects, rather than people. Additionally, when you play these games where violence–not negotiation or strategy–is so often the very first solution to any problem, and rewards the players by advancing them in the game and earning them points, it forwards the message that violence is an appropriate means of handling these sorts of challenges (Jhally). While this may not actually cause a player to then go out and commit violent acts, it has been shown to desensitize them to violence–and not just in video games. After playing violent video games, participants across the board were less likely to become anxious when faced with images of violence in real life, and less likely to intervene when violence was being committed in front of them (Nauert).

Another thing American video games have been known to do is glamorize the our military. Even though the vast majority of citizens who play video games will never join the military themselves, they still are able to make a pseudo connection with it through highly militarized games like Call of Duty, America’s Army, and Battlefield. The things is, these games are hardly anything at all like actual war. According to actual soldiers, they take a small snippet of time–one where lots of danger and action is going on–and reproduce it for hours and hours (Jhally). Video games also do not take into the account the effect war actually has on communities. Americans are very detached to militarized combat in this sense–we haven’t had any sort of attack on the homefront this century aside from Pearl Harbor and 9/11 (if you want to call the latter an act of war). We simply can’t imagine the sheer horror of violence committed against our own people, so we often don’t think as hard about inflicting it on others. The fact that video games continue to instill pride in American players while they vanquish “the enemy” for hours on end through their gaming console, isn’t helping things (Jhally).

In conclusion, I’d like to put forth the proposition that everyone take another look at the messages violent video games are sending, and ultimately search for ways to get the truth out. We might not be able to stop a multi-billion dollar industry from making its products, but we should at least try to find ways to counteract the negative effects. This could be through education, or any other number of means. But we need to address the issue somehow; otherwise, Americans are just going to keep becoming less empathetic and more desensitized towards violence.


Hallman, Rick. “NRA Blames ‘Corrupt’ Video Game Industry for Gun Violence.” The Huffington Post, 21 Dec., 2012. Web. 9 Nov., 2015.

Ivory, J.D. and Kalyanaraman S. “The Effects of Technological Advancement and Violent Content in Video Games on Players’ Feelings of Presence, Involvement, Physiological Arousal, and Aggression.” Journal of Communication, 2008. no. 57, (532-555).

Jhally, Sut. “Joystick Warriors.” MEF, 2013. Film. Nauert, Rick. “Video Games Desensitize to Real Violence.” Psych Central, 28 July, 2006. Web. 9 Nov., 2015.

Robinson, T. Callister, M., Clark, B., Phillips, J. “Violence sexuality and Gender Stereotyping: A content analysis of official video game websites.” Web Journal of Mass Communication Research, 2009. no. 13.

Skip to toolbar