Words Can Hurt

If you were going to intervene to stop the bloodshed, at what point in time would you do it?

If you were going to intervene to stop the bloodshed, at what point in time would you do it?

Well, I guess I’m back from my blogging hiatus. There really hasn’t been much to write about this summer… I’m kidding of course. My lack of blogging isn’t for lack of opinions or lack of things to be opinionated about, but pure sloth. It’s the summer, and the summer is for riding motorcycles and drinking beer on patios. So now that I’ve briefed you on the most recent events of my confortable life, let’s turn to a group who probably had a significantly worse summer than I, the Syrian people.

The international community is once again up in arms over the use of chemical weapons in Syria and with good cause, because it’s absolutely horrible, and the next Syrian Assad gases should be himself. However, as terrible as the events in the Levant are, I maintain my previous claim that chemical weapons has changed nothing, strategically speaking, for the United States and the western world. So if it’s not cold, hard, realpolitik, is bombing Assad’s chemical weapons stock about saving the poor Syrian people? Well, no, because it won’t stop the civil war. The fact that chemical weapons use is the sole “red line” used by anyone, let alone the leader of the free world who has access to the best and brightest minds on offer, for humanitarian intervention in a conflict where 100,000 people are dead and 1.7 million people are displaced and all of it done with conventional weapons, makes me think our civilization is doomed. Given these numbers, another several hundred people killed does not constitute a new humanitarian disaster worthy of intervention on those grounds alone. Instead of bombing chemical weapons stores maybe we should try and get a handle on those millions of displaced people.

People smarter than I have opined as to why the use of chemical weapons in a conflict is a red line for outside intervention. Other people smarter than I have argued why chemical weapons aren’t all that deadly, and why they shouldn’t be a red line in this particular conflict (here’s one hint, we can’t destroy all of them). You should read those links, but if you don’t have the time, think of this; is suffocating via Sarin gas really a worse death than having shrapnel rip through your body? How is one any more or less humane than the other. Why would one be a red line and the other not?

Assad gassed his people because because most people in Syira probably think like most people in California, that chemical weapons are a particularly scary prospect to face. It’s psychological warfare as much as it is chemical warfare. However, it’s also another kind of dialogue with the Syrian people, namely, don’t fuck with Assad. If Bashar al-Assad is willing to defy the President Obama and the mighty military he wields, he must be so powerful, so in control of his country, that Obama dare not respond. So what hope do you have FSA?

I imagine the recent shuffling of American forces in the region is a result of President Obama asking the Pentagon to give him options. My hunch is that as of my writing this, a decision is yet to be made. However, if a military strike does go ahead, make no mistake, it’s not about helping the poor Syrian people who have for too long been the victims of war, and it’s not about any real measurable change in America’s interests in the outcome of this war. It’s about Obama looking like less of a chump, and about making the threat of the use of American power credible. That’s what you get when you draw a red line. If someone crosses it, you have to respond, or look like a fool. If nothing else, all those boring speeches our leaders give on this policy or that, they can matter.

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Stephen Hawking Doesn’t Matter & Neither Do You

I haven’t been blogging much lately because it’s summer and I have better things to do with my time than argue on the internet. Most of my intellectual capital these days has been spent reading books and trying to learn something new, rather than regurgitating my nonsense in the form of disjointed writing (that and my motorcycle isn’t going to ride itself). However, in taking a break from terrorizing the small children of my city with an unnecessarily loud safety conscious bike, I want to briefly remark on something that appeared in the news back in May, the boycotting of an academic conference in Israel by Stephen Hawking. He did this because it’s in Israel and, you know, they’ve had some problems there.

Some people criticized Hawking’s boycott as lacking in the spirit of intellectual discourse, and some applauded his embrace of nonviolence as a means of protest. Both of those arguments make some sense. However, I would like to take a minute to remind everyone of something that is often lost in our modern political culture… your individual actions do not produce change. Stephen Hawking is a very accomplished man, more so than pretty much everyone on the planet, and while, given who he is, his individual actions have some relevance in the realm of science, that relevance doesn’t apply to much else. By all means, if going to Israel makes Hawking feel anguish in the depths of his consciousness, then he shouldn’t go. However, no one else should make the mistake that he’s accomplishing anything useful. No Israeli polices will change as a result of his boycott, neither will anyone’s opinion of the conflict.

I know, I know, now is the part where you say, “But if everyone boycotted Israel than that would affect real change.” Good for you, I congratulate your offensive towards the moral high ground. I hope it lets you sleep comfortably at night, because that’s all this kind of thinking does, assuage people’s egos. Our political culture embraces individual action. We’re all told to “think globally and act locally.” Ride your bike to reduce your carbon footprint, don’t shop at Wal-Mart so they stop building Wal-Marts, boycott Israel so they stop killing Muslims.

If the problem of global warming has any kind of a solution, it’s going to occur at the macro level, with government regulation.* One corporate screw up put almost 5 million barrels of oil into the ocean; riding your bike does jack shit. In the same vein, if the Israeli/Palestinian conflict has a solution, it won’t come from academic boycotts, but from something negotiated or maybe imposed from the top down. You might cancel your trip to Israel, but most other people won’t. You could spend the rest of your life trying to convince everyone to cancel their trips as well, but the likelihood of you getting enough people to cancel their trips so that it makes a difference is negligible (the fact that it would even emancipate the Palestinians in the first place is also up for debate). I’m all for fighting the good fight politically speaking, but you only have so much time on this earth, use it wisely.

*That and technological innovation. When environmentalists lecture people on the evils of air travel due to its huge carbon footprint I always think, sure, inflicting guilt is one way to go, but another is to become and engineer and just build a better airplane.

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Yet Another Example As To How Watching The News Makes You Dumber

This isn’t related to the usual suspects on this blog, but there’s lessons for all in here. Whatever you think of Tucker Max, the man understands the media better that most. If you don’t know who Tucker is, seven seconds on his web site will enlighten you. He writes stories about his social life as a narcissistic twenty-something man. Tucker figured out what most neglected children figure out, which is that anger means attention, and he essentially manufactured a controversy out of nothing in order to get himself publicity. He found a segment of the population that would be diametrically opposed to his writing (feminists), and egged them on until they had no choice but to respond. Watch the podcast for yourself, but I’ve transcribed part of Tucker’s monologue that’s relevant;

If I get these people enraged at me, then they’re going to drum up a lot of, they’re going to make a lot of noise and Fox News and all these people will cover their noise. They won’t cover me directly, but they’ll cover a controversy about me. So I like, created this sort of like, controversy about Tucker Max…

Whenever there’s a news article they cover the controversy, but there really is no controversy because I created all of this controversy.

The staples of the media jumped on this because it gave everyone (mostly feminists and people who dislike feminism, or what they think is feminism) a chance to reinforce their identities. There was nothing new being said. No great debate taking place. This is something that most people don’t understand. What really matters isn’t whether or not a particular media outlet is conservative or liberal, but that they limit what you see. Fox News (or MSNBC) doesn’t care if you hate Tucker Max or love Tucker Max, they just care that you accept the premise that he matters. The controversy allows you to feel better about yourself, to reinforce your identity. You don’t learn anything new.


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The New York Times Mocks Central Time Zone America

The New York Times and CBS News took a poll of American opinion regarding their country’s foreign policy.

After 12 years of war and amid signs of a sustainable economic recovery, nearly six in 10 people said the United States should not take a leading role among all other countries in trying to solve conflicts, the poll found, while only about a third said it should remain at the forefront.

On Iran, however, the same proportion of people — 58 percent — favored the United States taking military action to stop Iran from manufacturing a bomb, an action that President Obama has repeatedly warned the Iranian government is a “red line” for the United States.

Much like Obama’s red line on Syria and chemical weapons? Other people pay attention to stuff like this.

Most of the write up for this poll drips of contention and mockery for the part of the world between New York and Los Angelas, also known as the United States of America. Such as this barb regarding one respondents view on American intervention in Syria;

“We don’t have the finances for it, we have problems of our own, and we have to solve our own issues before we take on everyone else’s problems,” Michael Burt, 54, of Creedmoor, N.C., who worked in hotel security but is now on disability leave, said in a follow-up interview.

You know, just in case you might have assumed he knew what he was talking about, now you know his opinion isn’t worth taking seriously. The reason Michael Bert, 54, of Creedmoor N.C. deserves mockery for his views aren’t because they’re wrong; after all, the New York Times has a long history of opposing American intervention in other countries, but because he believes them for the wrong reasons. You can’t oppose an interventionist American foreign policy because you think America needs to take care of its own first, but because you realize that an interventionist American foreign policy is all about ensuring the constitutional right of soccer moms to drive SUVs for cheap. Here’s another;

More than half of Americans said the United States should never conduct cyberattacks against another country, while about a third said such attacks should be carried out. The Bush and Obama administrations, working with the Israelis, have made covert attacks against Iran’s nuclear program.

They want to drop bombs on Iran, but not hack into their Facebook pages. Little do they know their government is already hacking.

The administration’s handling of the attack on the mission in Benghazi, Libya, continues to cast a shadow. Fifty-three percent of people said it was “mostly hiding something” about the attack, while 34 percent said it was “mostly telling the truth.”

At the same time, people were cynical about the motives of Republicans in denouncing administration officials, including Ms. Rice, over Benghazi. Nearly six in 10 said the criticisms were mainly for political reasons, as opposed to a search for the truth.

Don’t they know the only reason they think Obama is hiding something regarding Benghazi is because of the same Republican criticisms they dismiss as being political.

Seventy-two percent of people supported using drones to kill terrorism suspects, though there was significant concern that they kill innocent people and are not subject to adequate oversight.

And this is why drone strikes will continue to happen.

Despite the snarky tone of my post, I agree with some of the mocking. But this article should have been a op ed titled, “Why America Will Continue To Make The Same Mistakes Over and Over.”

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The Most Important Sentence You’ll Read Today About Canada’s Policy Regarding Israel/Palestine

From the National Post;

And yet, rhetoric aside, the Harper government’s official position on key issues remains remarkably close to that of the rest of the international community.

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Lest You Think Globalization Is Destroying Everyone’s Souls Equally

What the newest structure in this photo? If you guessed the skyscrapers, you're wrong.

What the newest structure in this photo? If you guessed the skyscrapers, you’re wrong.

From the book, Qatar: A Modern History, by Allen J. Fromherz;

Qatar is not a place ‘without a past’ or ‘without a culture’ as it has been described in popular literature. Ironically, anxiety about a lack of historical roots appears to be felt more by visitors to Qatar than by Qataris themselves. Perhaps expecting exotica, adventure, and orientalized Arabness, the expatriate is disappointed by the modernity, by places that look ‘Western’ or ‘just like home’. Many Qataris, in contrast, rarely express the same level of postmodern angst. The environment has appeared to change, but many fundamental human relations still remain the same for a Qatari. From their perspective, they are still bound by many of the same social rules and strictures as their parents, even if the built environment often appears Western and modern. Even so, the strictures and social rules are changing, albiet at a much slower pace that the rise of the skyscrapers.

It is not simply that the Western visitor does not see the ‘real’ Qatar, or that the elusive ‘real Qatar’ as experienced by Qataris cannot, in fact, be experienced by the vast majority of visitors. In fact, explanation for the feelings of ‘inauthenticity’ experienced by the Westerner or Westernized visitor in qatar comes from the intellectual, social philosophies shaped by the particularities of Western history, particularities that seem obvious to the Westerner but do not easily apply to Qatar or the way Qataris experience their country today. First, there is the assumption among many in the west that modernization is exhilarating yet painful, necessarily leading to historical loss and to the collapse of a past identity. There is a deep assumption in Western literature and thought that an essential conflict must exist between tradition and economic modernity. This assumed ‘inevitable’ conflict, experienced so vividly in the West, has been foisted upon the Middle East. According to the this classic theory, Qatar should be a boiling stew of problems brought about by the conflict between tradition and modernity, but it is not. Instead, many of the same social strictures, many of the same arrangements of linage remain in the midst of apparent modernity. Qatar is a stable country and many political scientists, at one time predicting its fall, now predict a long-term future for Qatar’s existing political system. The old political system is usually the first to go after the forces of modernity and tradition have clashed. Yet Qatar remains a monarchy and many social structures remain unchanged. (pp. 4-5)

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The Worst Argument In The World

It's not wrong anymore. Morality in 2001 was totally different.

It’s not wrong anymore. Morality in 2001 was totally different.

This is unrelated to anything currently occupying the world’s news headlines, but I’m reading through the book Wanted Women by Deborah Scroggins, which lays the lives of Somali/Dutch politician and author Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Al Qaeda operative Aafia Siddiqui side by side. The book is actually well written and Scroggins seems to take issue with a many of Hirsi Ali’s criticisms of Islam. Apparently one of the most controversial things Ali said regarding her former religion is when she remarked that the Prophet Muhammad was a pervert for marrying a nine year old girl. Scroggins thus writes;

She would not concede that even if it was historically true that the Prophet married a nine-year-old, which some scholars doubt, the society of seventh-century Arabia was different from ours and calling him a pedophile was her opinion, not “the truth.” (page 228)

The debate over whether or not Muhammad actually married (implying that he had sex with) a nine year old girl is best left to others because, 1) I’m not a theologian, and 2) I don’t give a shit. The fact that this is even up for debate is what interests me. If you were making a list of the worst things in the world, sex with small children would be very near the top, but apparently God felt it wasn’t important enough to lay out clear boundaries on this particular subject (as he did with say, eating pork), so he left things a little fuzzy. One might argue that it was God’s will to leave this aspect of his Prophets life vague, which in that case I’d say welcome to cop out city, population, you.

But the worst argument in the world part comes in where Scroggins implies that there is one morality for seventh century Arabs, and another for 21st century people. Apparently we shouldn’t judge Muhammad too harshly for pre-pubescent sex, on account of the fact that everyone was doing it. The guy was certainly a product of his environment, and if he were alive today a little re-education, rather than punishment, would be the correct answer. However, if you’re making this argument, unless you want to claim that little girls of the seventh century were somehow physically and psychologically enhanced by sex with forty-something year old men, instead of being horribly traumatized as the little girls of today would, you need to seriously re-examine how badly your brain is broken. Start here.

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