Moving to Study and Live Abroad: Why I Chose Europe for My Masters Degree

The Old Harbor - Copenhagen, Denmark

If everything goes according to plan with my Visa and class registration I’ll be starting my two year Masters in Communication and Cognition at the University of Copenhagen in just under a Month.  Eager to get settled and begin the culture shock process I jumped the Atlantic and came over a bit early. So far I’ve got two weeks as a Danish resident under my belt and am starting to get my bearings.

While worlds apart I’ve found that the Danes and Arizonans have at least one thing in common.  When I tell them I’ve chosen to re-locate to Copenhagen I always get a quizzical look and the question, “Why Denmark?”.  Most follow the question up with “Why the University of Copenhagen?”, especially when they find out I passed up on an invitation from Georgetown in Washington D.C. to attend.

A lot of factors went into my decision making process and I’ll try and share some of them with you in this post in the hope that they help those of you facing similar decisions and perhaps offer insights into the process for everyone else.

The Application Process

In applying for Graduate programs I knew I didn’t need to return to Grad School. I had a good job, a great resume, decent job security, and a network that allowed me the luxury of turning down several jobs over the course of the recession. Simply put, I missed the academic environment and felt that there was significant potential to improve my social circle, resume, and future prospects with a return to academia.  Especially one that would allow me to work on my existing passions and projects while getting extra credit for them.  I studied lazily for a week for the GRE, took it and operated on the assumption that my resume and body of work would be far more valuable than test scores.  I also knew that the difference between a PhD and a Masters was significant, both in cost and weight so I decided to split my energy between the two.

To select the Schools I’d apply for I made a list of schools that I felt had a very respectable reputation and then pulled up several University lists and rankings.  With these lists in hand I made my way through them making note of the Universities which were in a location I’d be willing to move to and which ranked in the top 50-75 world wide. From there I researched the University’s list of programs and looked for schools with a Communication oriented program or something that would allow me to study social media, virtual worlds, and online education. It is important to note that the one consideration I didn’t take into account was my chances of getting accepted.  I didn’t need to go back, and so as a result the $75 application fee and $15 transcript fee was a small cost to pay for an application and the chance to explore my curiosity.

I was surprised that several of the schools I was most interested in (Harvard, Cambridge) didn’t have any programs remotely connected to the area I wanted to study.  On the opposite end of the spectrum others (Columbia, Edinburgh) had programs focused in my area, but which were taught exclusively online.  Something I wasn’t interested in despite that being one of my central areas of research. I wanted to improve online courses, not struggle through existing ones.

I also felt that it was important that I not fight the language barrier any more than I had to. So, I focused on researching Universities that had English based programs or were based in English speaking countries.  I was surprised at just how many Universities world wide offer courses and programs in English. They’re out there, the trick is finding them.

After doing my research (which took much longer than I expected), I ended up with a list of 8 Universities.  Of those I found 4 PhD programs and 4 Masters programs to apply to. I targeted faculty in the programs I was interested in and sent out a barrage of e-mails asking questions and introducing myself.

Though unorthodox I felt it was worth the effort to apply directly to a few PhD programs as they offered better financial support and would have provided an accelerated program.  Of the 8 Schools I applied to the 4 PhDs were Stanford, Cornell, University of Pennsylvania and University of Washington. The 4 Masters I applied to were Georgetown, University of Copenhagen, Oxford, and a joint program between University of Southern California and the London School of Economics.  Key elements in my application were strong statements of purpose and letters of recommendation, my undergraduate participation in Arizona State’s Barrett, The Honors College w/ Honors Thesis, my professional research and expertise, and my GRE scores which were mediocre with a 530 Math, 590 Verbal and a 5 on the Essay portion.

To make things more challenging I later learned that I had applied during one of, if not the hardest application cycles in the last 50 years.  Ultimately, I received compelling invitations from Georgetown and University of Copenhagen.  Both offered cities and experiences completely different from Arizona, storied histories, and excellent reputations.  However, where Georgetown was only able to offer student loans and $30,000 a year in tuition fees University of Copenhagen offered a complete tuition waiver.  After additional research I also learned that Copenhagen ranked 40th/45th on the lists of Global Universities which was significantly higher than Georgetown. Additionally, the University is a member of the International Alliance of Research Universities which consists of 10 of the world’s leading academic institutions: Cambridge, Oxford, Yale, Australian National University, Berkley, Peking University, National University of Singapore, University of Tokyo, ETH Zurich.

This is when it became real. I wasn’t just enjoying fanciful dreams of applying at the major universities around the world. I was faced with a very compelling opportunity to actually live those dreams and see them brought to reality.  Frankly, it was absolutely terrifying.  That may shock some of you, as a veteran traveler and repeat solo traveler, but the prospect of a trip is vastly different than the prospect of 2 years in a foreign education system, in a alien country. Even the age of the University was mind boggling. University of Copenhagen was founded in 1479 – keep in mind that Columbus didn’t even sail until 1492.

I wasn’t sure if I had the balls to do it. Then I thought through how much I regretted never spending a semester or year abroad during my undergrad, about how incredible the opportunity laid out before me was, and how fear aside it was something I truly wanted to do.  I fired off my letter of acceptance and began researching just what exactly I had signed up for.

The Role of Location and Culture

I moved to Arizona from Colorado when I was six.  I spent the next 18 years of my life in various parts of the state where I lived in Sedona, Prescott, Tempe and Scottsdale.  During that time I spent an additional two years on the road. The first was in place of 5th grade and was a year spent home schooled and backpacking with my parents through Europe. The second was in place of 7th grade and a year spent RVing and home schooled through the US.

The one thing all that time in Arizona taught me was that Arizona and I aren’t kindred spirits. The state has some incredible people, world class natural beauty and a bucket of potential. Unfortunately, it is also dominated by a world view and behavioral culture which is 180 degrees from me.  The state as a whole is anti-education, anti-intellectualism, anti-entrepreneurship, anti-humanism, anti-multiculturalism and the embodiment of what happens when you have 30 years of the GOP party line in action.  As someone who takes a strong humanistic approach to life, values education, curiosity and intellectual pursuits, isn’t religious, values science and history, has a global world view, relishes different cultures and fiscal responsibility Arizona left me miserable.  Outside of my group of friends I found myself surrounded by people who actively embraced and relished in waging war on everything I view as important and essential for progress, sound governance, and a healthy population.

Similarly, Arizona has absolutely zero long-term plan for economic development.  The State has been bleeding all of their top talent for years due to dreadful policies and their short sighted approach to business and education.  The job prospects and opportunities for people 25-45 in the state are nearly non-existent beyond the basic service industries or a job with Intel, and the chances of that changing any time soon in the current environment are non-existent.

So, when it came time to relocate for my Masters I knew I wanted a destination that would provide a community and culture that valued long-term thinking, that took a humanistic approach to life, which had significant potential for professional development and networking, as well as an area that put heavy emphasis on cultural and educational development.

With these criteria in mind the Scandinavian countries immediately jumped to the top of the list.  You’ve probably heard that Denmark (and Scandinavia at large) are some of the happiest countries in the world.  That’s with good reason.  They’ve spent the last 30 years investing heavily in education, infrastructure, health care and innovation while embracing a  humanistic approach to governance and policy.  To a person they are some of the best educated, friendly, helpful and least religious people in the world.

During my 18 day trip to Scandinavia in July of 2010 I was absolutely floored by how helpful, friendly, and genuine the Norwegians and Danes I met were.  Their willingness to have a conversation, answer questions, and to look out for each other was refreshing.  As was the ease I found when seeking out stimulating conversations that were based in well educated, global perspective and insight.  In the three days I spent in Copenhagen during that trip I fell in love with the city and developed an incredible respect for the Danish people.  That feeling and experience has only been magnified over the past two weeks as I’ve gotten settled and worked to navigate the city.

The city itself is a perfect reflection of its people.  With beautiful ancient architecture the city is clean, well laid out, has a great public transportation system, is lined with canals that nearly rival Amsterdam, and is one of the greatest biking cities I’ve ever experienced.  Some 36% of the population commutes to work by bicycle every day. Despite being an ancient city, efforts have been taken to clean up the harbor and river system and the water in the inner harbor is so clean it is safe for swimming.  The coast is decorated by massive wind turbines, and the general feeling is one of an ancient city that is retaining its spirit and essence while charging into the future.

A Global Network

Ultimately one of the biggest resources in life is your social and professional network. It is what drives a successful career, business venture, and makes for a rich and informative personal network.  I developed an incredible network of friends, peers, and professional contacts during my time in Arizona many of whom have since re-located further diversifying the information they can share and the insights they are able to offer.  But, I knew that to truly live the life I want to live I need a network of friends and professional contacts who are truly global and as diverse as the places they were born, educated and raised.  I knew that that by relocating either abroad or to one of the coasts that I’d be exposed to a completely different mixture of people to share, collaborate, relax, learn from and explore with.

The opportunity to live, study, and socialize abroad offers me an chance to develop an entirely new network from the ground up, while maintaining the existing networks I cherish. It provides me the opportunity to radically re-structure the aspects of society I engage with regularly, as well as the cultures, nationalities, and professional backgrounds of my peer group all in a way which wouldn’t have been possible if I stayed in the same region and the same communities I’ve spent the last 20 years in.

So, Why Denmark?

Obviously, there isn’t a simple answer.  We’ll see how I feel about the decision as I start my classes and start to integrate into the local culture and truly see it as a local instead of just a visitor.  That said, it’s amazing to be surrounded by wonderful people who truly seem to understand the importance of charting a path forward, of looking toward the horizon and of embracing new information and relishing it, not trying to quash or discredit it.  I’ll tell you one thing, it sure is nice being surrounded by people who don’t live their lives believing the earth is 6,000 years old and that corporations will always have their best interests at heart.

I’ll be continuing to write on the experiences, revelations, and lessons learned during this adventure so stay tuned. Also, if you’ve got a question you’ve always wondered about or a challenge in your own process don’t hesitate to reach out.

Interested in doing more research? Consider browsing Amazon’s assorted titles on Denmark or Study Abroad.

Rep. Harry Mitchell (D-AZ)

In the past month I’ve sent my house representative Harry Mitchell two e-mails. The first urging him to support George W. Bush’s impeachment and the second expressing my disgust at his decision to ignore the wishes of his constituency, cave in to fear, and to vote for the FISA bill and Telco immunity.  Though it took a week to receive a response to each of the messages here they are for public record:

On the FISA Bill and Retro-Active Immunity:

Dear Mr. Berger:

Thank you for contacting me in regard to your concerns about the recent update to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA.  I appreciate hearing your thoughts on this important issue.

I agree with you that we must work toward a better FISA law that protects our civil liberties and provides our intelligence community with the tools they need to protect our homeland from another terrorist attack.

While far from perfect, I believe that H.R. 6304, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) Amendments, is a reasonable compromise. As a result, I voted for H.R. 6304, which passed the House on June 20, 2008 by a vote of 293 – 129.

First and foremost it will keep us safe.  According to a National Intelligence Estimate, al Qaeda has reconstituted itself, and is continuing to plot against Americans.  In recent months, fighting in Afghanistan has intensified.  While I am frustrated that the Administration chose to divert troops from Afghanistan to Iraq, the threat is real and we must do what we can to protect Americans.

At the same time, the act requires that, in gathering intelligence, President Bush and future Presidents, will need to seek warrants to conduct surveillance on Americans.  The law allows an exception for certain emergency situations, provided the Attorney General notifies a specialized FISA court that surveillance is beginning, and the Attorney General applies for a warrant within 7 days.

In addition, the act will ensure that any past surveillance abuses by the Bush Administration will be fully investigated.  The bill requires the inspectors general of the Justice Department, and all agencies authorized to conduct foreign surveillance, to report to Congress on all federal government programs involving warrantless surveillance conducted since September 11, 2001.  The bill requires a preliminary report within 60 days of enactment, and specifically requires that the final report include a detailed description of what President Bush referred to as the “NSA Terrorist Surveillance Program,” as well as any program conducted by or at the direction of any part of the federal government that involved domestic electronic surveillance of Americans or did not, in any way, fully comply with federal law.

I was extremely disappointed earlier this year when, in the middle of negotiations about a new FISA bill, the President abruptly ended negotiations, and allowed temporary FISA amendments to lapse because of his insistence that Congress immediately grant retroactive immunity to telecommunications companies who may have violated their customers’ privacy rights. I believed then, as now, that courts, not Congress, should make such determinations, based upon evidence.

H.R. 6304 requires just that.  Instead of granting retroactive immunity, the bill requires courts to make individualized determinations and only dismiss suits against telecommunications companies upon proof, by substantial evidence, that the assistance they provided to the Administration was part of a program to detect or prevent a terrorist attack, was specifically authorized by the President, and that they had been told by a high level intelligence official that such cooperation had been determined to be lawful.

Finally, H.R. 6304 contains a “sunset” provision, requiring the next President, and a future Congress to review these FISA amendments in 2012, and make any necessary changes, before allowing them to continue.

I strongly believe that warrantless wiretapping abuses by the Bush Administration must be fully investigated, and I am pleased that nothing in H.R. 6304 prevents any current or former government official who may have broken the law from being investigated by Congress or the Department of Justice as appropriate.  Please be assured that I take violations of civil rights seriously, and will continue to support efforts in Congress to get answers.

Again, thank you for sharing your views with me on this issue. If you have any further questions or comments please do not hesitate to contact me in the future.

If you would like to receive email updates about how I am working on behalf of Arizona’s 5th Congressional District, I invite you to sign up for my newsletter at


Harry E. Mitchell

Member of Congress

On the subject of Impeachment:

Dear Mr. Berger:

Thank you for contacting me regarding impeachment. I appreciate hearing from you on this important issue.

I share your frustration with many of the policies the Bush Administration has implemented, and do not feel the previous Congress provided adequate oversight. I am pleased, however, that the new Congress is finally examining these policies. I believe this is very important.

Oversight, like impeachment, is one of the checks our constitution gives Congress over the Executive branch. Our founding fathers wisely gave these powers to Congress to protect against Executive excess, and abuse of power. I believe Congress has an obligation to use this power, forcefully when necessary, but always responsibly.

Oversight provides an opportunity for Congress to investigate actions undertaken by the executive branch, make factual findings, and make policy changes. Should congressional oversight uncover evidence of a high crime or misdemeanor, then I believe it would be appropriate to consider impeachment.

As Chairman of Oversight and Investigation for the Veterans Affairs Committee, I take congressional oversight very seriously. In that committee alone we have uncovered grave injustices toward many of our nation’s veterans.

As you may know, on June 10, 2008, Rep. Dennis Kucinich introduced H. Res. 1258, a resolution impeaching President George W. Bush, for high crimes and misdemeanors. This legislation is now pending before the House Judiciary Committee. Should the resolution pass out of committee and come to the floor of the House for a vote, I will keep your views in mind.

Please be assured that I will continue work for a balanced, transparent, and ethical government as this Congress progresses.

Again, thank you for contacting me about this issue. I hope that you will not hesitate to contact me again should you have any additional questions, comments, or concerns.

If you would like to receive email updates about how I am working on behalf of Arizona’s 5th Congressional District, I invite you to sign up for my newsletter at


Harry E. Mitchell

Member of Congress

While I am refraining from commenting in depth, both of these responses while thorough are hogwash. Add one more worthless congressional representative to the list. As if being saddled with Kyle and McCain’s corruption and moral failings was not enough. The sad part is I actually voted for, and had some level of faith in this one.

Several links to discourse currently occurring in the senate about the FISA bill and illustrating why Mitchell’s response is horseraddish:  [Boxer],[Feingold],[Dodd]

Terrorism & Technology – Ignorance is Bliss

I can’t sit idly by any longer keeping my view on this matter to myself or limited to select conversations. The House’s recent vote to approve the FISA bill with provisions allowing immunity for the Telco companies that participated in the blatant violation of constitutional rights has left me steaming. Call it the straw that broke the camel’s back if you’d like but it’s time to take a real look at everyone’s favorite word – terrorism – and the delusional behavior that’s allowed otherwise intelligent Americans to sign off on atrocity after atrocity while selling the constitution and bill of rights off wholesale.

Willing to give up our constitutional rights in the name of security? All because you’ve been told and believe it will prevent Islamic terrorist attacks and that air travel, buildings, etc. will be safer and that you and your fellows will no longer be at risk if we give up enough of our liberties or allow enough supervision? I’ll let you in on a little secret. Not only are you wrong, but you’re so far off base you should be embarrassed. You want something to be afraid of? I’ll share the TRUTH with you and let me assure you it’s FAR scarier than the cinematic garbage you’ve been cowering from for the last 7 years. Only, these threats are hardly mentioned. These are just a taste of the real threat you face and the sad reality is that the steps being taken, and the rights you’ve offered up for sacrifice won’t make you any safer from them.

Edit: In reviewing this post I’ve decided that I need to attempt to clarify a key point before going into the following illustrations. I’m sharing these threats not to illustrate the danger we are in, but rather to illustrate the general dangers out there…To paint a big picture in the hope it helps you understand better, the real situation.  I believe that once you understand the situation better that you will, I hope, be less willing and susceptible to fear tactics based on over exaggerations/lack of perspective. I’ve included the following illustrations because while useful, I don’t believe big picture statistics such as the following register for the average individual. On the off chance that they do please note that the CDC has reported the following top 10 causes of death in the U.S. in 2005: Heart disease: 652,091, Cancer: 559,312, Stroke (cerebrovascular diseases): 143,579, Chronic lower respiratory diseases: 130,933, Accidents (unintentional injuries): 117,809, Diabetes: 75,119, Alzheimer’s disease: 71,599, Influenza/Pneumonia: 63,001, Nephritis, nephrotic syndrome, and nephrosis: 43,901, Septicemia: 34,136.  When you add up these 15 diseases they killed 1,891,480 in 2005. Keep in mind that these statistics do not accuratly include the estimated 400,000+ people who die from smoking each year, or the 43,000+ estimated car accident fatalities which occured in 2005.  Consider how these threats impact your behavior and then consider how your behavior and ability to live life to its fullest has changed given your reaction to the threat of terrorism.  Now please consider these illustrations. I remind you they are real and shared not to drive you to give up your constitutional rights but rather the exact opposite. These are shared to educate and to give you perspective. Before you give something up paramount to the quality of your life, consider the relative nature of the alleged threats to your life.

Illustration I: It’s 113 degrees outside right now, tonight’s low will be 77 degrees. My air conditioning is running, I have constant access to cooled water, and I still go home dehydrated. In fact when I walk into my apartment I have to take off my shoes, or wait for the tar that’s melted onto them from the asphalt in the parking lot to melt. On my way home from work I’ll pass through at least 10 traffic lights. When I get home and go to cook dinner I’ll pull a T.V. dinner out of my freezer and microwave it. Now imagine the death toll that we could expect among Phoenix’s 6 million residents if the power went out for 2 days. The death toll aside, imagine the catastrophic economic impact?

Don’t think that’s possible? The Washington Post, January 19th 2008:

In a rare public warning to the power and utility industry, a CIA analyst this week said cyber attackers have hacked into the computer systems of utility companies outside the United States and made demands, in at least one case causing a power outage that affected multiple cities.

‘We do not know who executed these attacks or why, but all involved intrusions through the Internet,’ Tom Donahue, the CIA’s top cyber security analyst, said Wednesday at a trade conference in New Orleans.

The article goes on to quote:

Over the past year to 18 months, there has been “a huge increase in focused attacks on our national infrastructure networks, . . . and they have been coming from outside the United States,” said Ralph Logan, principal of the Logan Group, a cyber security firm.

At the time MSNBC noted:

In a test last year, the Homeland Security Department produced a video showing commands quietly triggered by simulated hackers having such a violent reaction that an enormous generator shudders as it flies apart and belches black-and-white smoke.

Illustration II: The power issue aside, let’s talk about Nuclear threats. We are, after all discussing invading Iran for continuing to pursue nuclear weapons – but again, let’s look at the REAL threat to Americans. Compare the impact of a foreign nation located on the other side of the world in which, despite all of the posturing and what’s happened in the middle east over the last 6 years, has a relatively positive view of the U.S. or…the potential harm just one or two rogue hackers could inflict if they were able to hack our nuclear facilities. Let’s look at Arizona again. Arizona is home to the Palo Verde nuclear power plant which has 3 reactors and is the largest in the U.S. It’s also located less than 50 miles from DOWNTOWN Phoenix. Anyone in the mood to speculate what might happen if hackers were able to compromise the facility and initiate an overload resulting in an enormous generator literally ripping itself apart? Oh, and I forgot to mention Presidential Candidate John McCain stated last week that his future energy policy would focus on building 45 new nuclear reactors in the U.S. by 2030 (NY Times).

Illustration III: Feeling nervous? That’s hardly anything compared to what would happen if malicious hackers penetrated the FAA’s flight system. You thought Sept. 11th was bad? As I’m writing this I did some flash research. According to FlightAware there are currently over 5,500 airborne aircraft being tracked by the system right now, with over 53,000 arrivals tracked in the last 24 hours. What happens if the software coordinating part or all of that traffic is compromised?

Illustration IV: Attended a major concert or sporting event recently? Pretty tough security right? Pat downs, searches, no opened water bottles or containers. Heck, more than a few of us have had our small nail clippers confiscated for “safety” reasons. All in the name of preventing terrorism and keeping you safe – it makes you feel better, right? One catch – when I was a student at ASU we snuck all sorts of things in through those security measures. Luckily we were focused on getting in tortillas and bottles of alcohol not plastic explosives and marbles. The student section typically holds several thousand of Americans best and brightest youths, packed shoulder to shoulder. The pathetic thing is, that despite all the money being spent and time being wasted, those security precautions still miss more than they actually catch. Just last week I was talking to a friend, who realized after the fact that she’d accidentally flown with a can of mace in her handbag. It’s an uneasy feeling I’m sure more than a few of you have shared.

Illustration V: Let’s put death, destruction and devastation aside and look at the information wars. Earlier this month an important, though little covered, news story broke noting that at least 3 members of Congress have reported that their computers had been compromised by Chinese hackers looking for information on dissidents. Even more interesting is this quote;

The Pentagon last month acknowledged at a closed House Intelligence committee meeting that its vast computer network is scanned or attacked by outsiders more than 300 million times each day.

Do I have your attention yet?

The Reality: These dangers are a basic snapshot of the threats out there. I’ve shared them with you to 1) educate you and to 2) offer illustrations of the extreme dangers out there in the hope of illustrating the triviality and blatant stupidity of the fear tactics currently being used on the American public 3) illustrate why terrorism is not sound grounds for giving up our constitutional rights. The panic-laden behavior of the current atmosphere of fear is a very real type of terrorism. The talking heads also have it right, in part. The target IS America and the American people. The unsettling and unpopular truth, however, is that we face two distinct groups of terrorists. The Islamic extremists we’re all more than familiar with and then a second, equally insidious group. The politicians, corporations, and consultants encouraging an atmosphere of fear for political and economic benefit. Since the viewpoint I’m about to cover is extremely controversial let’s start out with a basic definition:

“terrorism“ noun

1. The use of violence and threats to intimidate or coerce, esp. for political purposes.
2. The state of fear and submission produced by terrorism or terrorization.
3. A terroristic method of governing or of resisting a government.

In a post 9/11 world we are all more than familiar with this definition. Most of us have used the words terrorist, terrorism, etc. on a weekly basis over the past 7 years. However, this post is about what happens when we take a close look at the actual definition – at the significance of the word, the meaning, and what it truly means for American’s health, freedom, and safety as it relates to domestic threats.

For the sake of this post the two parts of the definition we need to focus on are the 2nd and 3rd points. In respect to the 2nd, I’d like you to take several moments and to reflect. Ask yourself who are ALL of the parties that have played a role in the creating and perpetuating the current atmosphere of fear and submission in the U.S.? Second, I want you to ask yourself who has capitalized the most on those fear and used the threats posed by terrorism to the greatest advantage? As you ponder these two questions keep in mind, that no one can hear you right now. No one is there to judge you. Now is a moment for true, honest reflection, for you to look at the concepts fairly. Ask yourself if you’ve been correct in your assumptions, and if you feel you have to defend those assumptions to yourself.

Now – consider the 3rd definition. This is of paramount importance as it’s something we seldom look at fairly. When we discuss terrorism it is typically as a tool for resisting government, as is the case with the Islamic zealots. Occasionally, as was the case with Saddam, we apply it to foreign dictators who have shown a blatant disregard for human rights, who typically operate above the rule of law, who imprison political prisoners, and who discourage opposition through fear. Say it again, “A terroristic method of governing a government” and now ask yourself how that fits against what has occurred in the U.S. under the Bush administration. Consider it relative to the questions you answered in regard to the previous point and keep in mind that the current administration and it’s supporters have violated the Geneva convention, made a mockery of habeas corpus, have made proven use of reported terrorist threats to shift elections/political favor, has ousted secret agents for political gain, has facilitated countless no-bid contracts, forced into retirement or disgraced any qualified dissenting voice, and illegally spied and detained Americans among a plethora of other scandals and violations.

Realistic Threats

Don’t mistake my words. I’m not saying that religious zealots are not a threat. I’m not saying that we should ignore their preferred use of hijackings and suicide bombings. I AM saying that they are a relative threat. I AM saying that the fear of boarding an airplane and having it hijacked should be kept in perspective. That if we give in to fear and are willing to sacrifice everything America stands for, and even our morality for a false sense of security, then we are anything but patriots. The war on terror hasn’t just been a war against a small minority which attacked us. It hasn’t just been a war on the government (Afghanistan) that supported them. It has been a war on an entire religion, a war against sovereign nations under false pretense and most disturbingly, it has been a war against what America truly stands for carried out by self proclaimed American patriots. The real threats to America come not only from extremists but those bereft of morality seeking power or financial gain. It doesn’t matter if the threat comes from an Islamic zealot, a Christian zealot or an Atheist hacker. This is not truly about religion. It’s about money and power.

My only hope is that from this point forward, when faced with new legislation, or a decision that affects the future of the world, that you will pause. Ignore the false appeals to fear. Transcend the impulse to sacrifice anything and everything for the illusion of safety. Judge the measure, bill, action, or statement by its legitimacy instead.

Let the words of our founding fathers guide you:

Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.
-Benjamin Franklin

It behooves every man who values liberty of conscience for himself, to resist invasions of it in the case of others: or their case may, by change of circumstances, become his own. -Thomas Jefferson

For further reading: A recent Forbes article on tech threats.

Something unclear?  Want more information?  Have a question? Disagree? Please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section.

Video Game Violence & AZ HR 2660

Open letter to Mr. Warde V. Nichols:

Mr. Nichols,

A recent Ars Technica article ( caught my attention as both an Arizonan and an individual with significant technological experience. As the sponsor of HR 2660 and with an update noting that you intended to continue to pursue the bill next year I’d like to offer some feedback from a Millennial. While I find a desire to reduce violent crime admirable, especially crime which is sexually driven and the images associated with it I cannot help but feel you have had the facts misrepresented to you. I invite you to correct me if I’m incorrect in any of my statements or assumptions.

There have been two significant pieces of miss-information which have been embedded in our culture’s psyche in regards to video games. The first is the age demographic that uses them, the second is their association with violence. While I encourage you to do your own research, I’ve provided some basic information I have on hand from my own research.

On the demographic mi’s-perception – a few excerpts from:
“Women age 18 or older represent a significantly greater portion of the game-playing population (30%) than boys age 17 or younger (23%)”
“Thirty percent of most frequent game players are under eighteen years old.”
“Twenty-six percent of most frequent game players are between 18 and 35 years old.”
“Forty-four percent of most frequent game players are over 35 years old.”

Similar statistics have come out of Palo Alto’s gaming research studies and for a wealth of academic research done into the gaming community as a whole please consider reviewing the Daedalus project:

The demographic breakdown, and other data that disproves the media’s stereotyped version of the gaming community was also reflected in my own thesis research done as part of my undergraduate studies at ASU through the Hugh Downs School of Human Communication and Barrett Honors College. A PDF of the full paper is available for your review here: Berger-Thesis-MMOGs.pdf

On violence
– Did watching T.V. or reading a book make you more violent? Did your history text make you want to commit serial crimes after reading about Jack the Ripper? Though we don’t generally acknowledge it, our culture’s stance on video game violence is sadly hypocritical. That argument aside, even my personal experiences as a semi-retired gamer aside, the actual data does not support a connection between violent video games and actual violent crimes. Because of the significant bias/lack of understanding which has existed for the last 15 years over the issue it’s hard to find legitimate research that shows even a fundamental understanding of the video game-video gamer relationship.

Some research done in the community however, paints a pretty clear picture. Articles like this one: which show the parallels between the release of violent video games and video game platforms and violent crime. Another recent posting that explores it from an informed perspective can be found here: each of these only cover a brief snapshot of the actual information out there. The overall picture however, is one that shows that video games are not the culprit.

Fundamentally the true source is social abuse, poor psychological, poor parenting or a combination of all 3.

As a staunch conservative, I would think that you better than most would understand the difference between having a gun for sporting purposes/to hunt and individuals who use that weapon for violence against their fellow man. If video game producers are responsible for the actions of the individuals who choose to play their games, gun makers are equally responsible for the actions of the individuals who use their product. I think, when we get right down to it, we both know that argument is ridiculous.

While I respect what you’re trying to accomplish as far as sexual acts and abuse, I also worry that this bill again follows the same path. By the standards I’ve seen set down through this bill and it’s policies the acts, concepts, and stories recounted in 2/3s of the books on Oprah’s book list would constitute violations and could be argued as dangerous and obscene content. They almost always seem to depict or be based upon acts of rape, incest, abuse, or excessive violence. If we move down this road there is no definitive stopping point – under the guise of doing good what’s to stop us from classifying even the absurd such as the historical Rape of Europa as within the classifications for obscene.

Please, continue to focus on correcting the problem but take the time to truly focus your energies where they can do real good and will move us forward both culturally, historically and morally.


Alex Berger

So I say to you again Mr. Nichols: No sir, you are incorrect in your assumption that violent video games result in violence. Unless, that is, you also believe that reading the Bible also results in violent behavior. A text which depicts vivid stories of rape, stoning, and horrible violence.

The New American University: Education, Opportunity & an Assault Rifle?

Kent State/US Flag

It’s gotten to the point where I have to pinch myself when I wake up each morning. It’s not some odd dream; not some perverted nightmare. It is the reality that has become so commonplace over the last 8 years that it is written off as par for the course. Mention the word security and suddenly you’re granted a no questions asked get out of jail free card. The worst part is, the card comes with the kitchen sink and keys to the safe. In this case it looks like those keys are in fact to the gun safe. As a recent Arizona State University grad this one hits close to home.

Yesterday (March 5th) the Arizona Republic reported that all three of Arizona’s major universities’ police departments have adopted plans to purchase military grade assault rifles in the immediate future. The Republic reported that Arizona State University (ASU) will be the first of the big three to adopt the weapons. In fact, according to the article ASU has already purchased four assault rifles and is in the process of raising funds for the purchase of four more. The assault rifles are to be distributed among the campus police vehicles – yeah, police cars with machine guns sitting in them around campus -where they will remain until needed.

So, what’s the justification for putting assault rifles on our college campuses? “Active Shooter” situations in which the University/Police Department claim there may not be sufficient time for SWAT to arrive. Which might sound great unless you are familiar with ASU’s main campus. The catch lies in the details. You see, the Tempe police department is located kitty corner to the ASU Campus. In fact if you include the Brickyard (on Mill) & The Towers (Dorms) you could even argue that the Tempe Police Department is located ON ASU’s campus. If you decide to focus instead on ASU Main’s central core the police station is some 1,000 feet off campus. Take a look for yourself:

Tempe Campus from Google Maps

I realize that the setting and environment are a bit different, but besides the obvious issues, hasn’t history taught us a few lessons about this sort of thing? The “Under Siege” image I created at the top of this post was created by combining a photo of the U.S. Flag and an old black & white photo from the 1970 Kent State incident. A historic moment which illustrated all too well the dangers of combining university populations, protests, and automatic weapons.

I appreciate that police vehicles are fairly secure, but are they really THAT secure? After all Arizona was ranked as the state with the most vehicle thefts per capita in 2001. The last statistics I saw stated that we had improved to 4th in 2006.

It just doesn’t make sense to me. Especially when I reflect on my various experiences with the Tempe/Campus Police. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve got a perfect record (not so much as a speeding ticket), the utmost respect for the men and women in our police force, and a number of friends who are officers – but I’ve also seen extremely disappointing behavior by the Tempe/Campus Police. I’ll never forget one occasion where an officer threatened to Tazer me if I didn’t walk faster as I was leaving a house party or a discussion I had with a friend working for campus security as he laughed about the reputation one of the Campus Officers had for excessive Tazering. When dealing with students the rules often get bent. They don’t know their rights, have not accumulated a lot of real world experience and are still viewed by society as youths. It shouldn’t happen but it does. Even in casual interactions with the Campus Police there was always a feeling of disdain or an automatic presumption of guilt. That tone was completely different than the helpful, open sincere vibes I’ve received from the other Valley police.

My goal isn’t to harp on the Tempe/Campus Police, rather my goal is to offer some basic perspective as a recent grad on the environment and student/officer relationship on campus and why – beyond the issues of rights, safety, and common sense – assault rifles and ASU shouldn’t mix.

I know assault rifles are cool – but let’s face it, are students really THAT scary?