CATEGORY: EnvironmentNature

Keystone XL: weaponized greed

If one wanted, hypothetically, to win a world war, and studied the previous world wars to glean what relevant information might be revealed, one would be struck by the fact that America is a formidable foe, with tremendous natural resources. Americans habitually throw away enough food to feed another continent. Or a war effort. It would be advantageous to remove this fertile ground from the equasion. What if Rome had salted the fields before waging war on Carthage? Continue reading

Captive Minds: the war on totalitarianism

“Whoever recommends and helps a good cause becomes a partner therein: And whoever recommends and helps an evil cause, shares in its burden.” – Holy Qur’an 4:85

There is no possible way to love your neighbor by killing him, yet radicalized “Orthodox Christians” are killing their way westward across Ukraine. There is no way to do good to the traveller by taking him hostage, yet this practice is routine in the “Islamic” State.

In an explosive performance art video, two Russians are seen dousing the doors of Lenin’s Mausoleum with holy water, chanting “rise up and go,” a twist on the resurrection of Lazarus, except the deceased is no friend, but a haunting. It’s an exorcism.

Isn’t it odd that the Donetsk Ukrainian airport and the Maiduguri Nigerian airport are so strategically important to these rag-tag bands of crusaders? Almost as if they were taking orders from the same general who is terrified of an impending airlift.

Do you really believe Africans don’t know about Ebola? As they say in France, c’est raciste. There have been twelve major outbreaks since 2000 AD, all of them in Africa, yet the people are incredibly suspicious of the unarmed doctors and aid workers. Who has been telling them that Ebola is a hoax? Continue reading

WordsDay: Literature

The Song of Roland – timeless is as timeless does…

Disagreements about whether The Song of Roland is about Roland’s heroic (and foolhardy) geste or about the ultimate triumph of Charlemagne over enemies within and without his empire seem less important with this re-reading than noting how many people die for that amorphous and deadly social construct we call honor….

The Song of Roland, trans. Robert Harrison (image courtesy Goodreads)

As I make my way methodically through the works of Horace (3 books of odes down, one more to go, then epodes, satires, and his “Art of Poetry”), I’ve been reading at the same time in the epics on my 2015 reading list. I’ve finished The Saga of the Volsungs and am now digging into the Song of the Niebelungs. This made more sense to me than my original plan which was to read about the Volsungs, then go off and do some medieval Chinese poetry before Das Nibelungenlied. Since the German epic tells a version of the Volsung story, I’ll write about those two together – and be able to discuss how a Viking saga got changed for the purposes of courtly literature. Given this dive into epic lit, I’ll probably take on The Mabinogion, the Welsh epic, before heading east for Chinese courtly poetry.

That said, astute readers (and I know you all are) will notice that this essay is clearly going to be about a work not even on the original 2015 reading list. I was (where else?) in my favorite used book store last week when I came across this version of  The Song of Roland. It was nearly a giveaway it was so cheap, so naturally I scooped it up. As I mentioned above, it seemed apropos given that Horace is, while most rewarding, in an 1890’s prose translation sans notes (always read the notes, students) that is costing me extra time as I do some background work so that I understand both poet and translator fully, that I read something along with that noble Roman. I raced through the Volsung saga (in a good critical edition) and now the Chanson de Roland (in a good critical edition).  Continue reading

Book-Review

The great war and the need for memory…Barbara Tuchman’s The Guns of August

Historian Barbara Tuchman’s The Guns of August clearly illuminates the truth of war: in any era it is what is done wrong as much as what is done right that decides conflicts….

The Guns of August by Barbara Tuchman (image courtesy Goodreads)

The first book from the 2015 reading list was a Christmas present. I have long been an admirer of historian Barbara Tuchman and have long considered her superb A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous 14th Century among my favorite books of any genre. Given that 2014 was the centennial year for the beginning of World War I, I began looking for a copy of her Pulitzer winning exploration of the first months of that “war to end all wars,” The Guns of August sometime last year. Alas, because of my dedication to what we might call “book rescue” (I try to buy used books whenever I can), I found myself (I suspect) competing with others who thought “Hey, its the centennial of the Great War – good time to read (or re-read) Barbara Tuchman.”

So I floundered about trying to catch a used copy at my favorite book stores both physical and online. No luck. Eventually, my interest waned and when I put the book on my Christmas list, it was with little hope that even my clever and perspicacious Lea could find a copy for a Christmas present.

Oh, me of little faith. Find one she did, and I spent the holidays working my way through this fascinating account of the beginning of World War I. Continue reading

Look out white people, Fox host Shannon Bream thinks you’re dodgy

Oh, wait. Is that not what she meant?

In a panel discussion with a black woman, a white man, a woman of…judging solely from skin tone, that is…indeterminate origin, and one blond-haired, alabaster-skinned twit, which would you think would be responsible for the following:

Bream suggested profiling may not be effective in situations where criminals are wearing masks or where the tone of their skin doesn’t “look like typical bad guys,” apparently implying that certain skin stones should raise red flags for law enforcement. See video clip here.

Awkward. Especially when this is what we know of the racial breakdown of “bad guys” in the U.S. And by “bad guys,” I mean people actually convicted of wrongdoing and spending time in prison for it. Continue reading

CATEGORY: Journalism

Media silence on the NAACP bombing in Colorado

A bomb, broadcast silence, and a very confused FBI

From ThinkProgress: A Bomb Went Off At A Colorado NAACP. Where Is The 24-Hour News Cycle?

Two thoughts. First, along with many others, I wonder why this doesn’t get the television coverage it deserves.

Second: “although the FBI is investigating the motives behind the bombing and says domestic terrorism is still a possible motive [emphasis added].”

“Possible motive?!” WTH. Continue reading

Liberty Leading the People: Eugène Delacroix

Free France: join the maquisards

Liberty Leading the People: Eugène Delacroix

Liberty Leading the People: Eugène Delacroix

“Their prophet is Satan. There is no connection between the Islamic faith and this minority.” -Hassan Chalghoumi, an imam of the Paris suburb of Drancy

“Zeal, in religion, is a pure and enlightened attachment to worship of the Divinity and its maintenance and progress; but when it grows blind and false and takes to persecution, it becomes the greatest scourge of humanity.” – Voltaire, Questions on the Encyclopedia

Mon Chéris,

I am crying as I type this, listening to La Marseillaise over and over in the headphones. The beauty of the Republic of France, which even we Americans envy, is your resolve. While American revolutionaries stopped with a new system of government, the people of France devoted decades to reforming the very fabric of society. We shook hands as fellow citizens. You embraced as brothers. We shook off the physical shackles of tyranny. You rooted it out in your hearts and minds, looking where we dared not, holding a mirror before the entire human condition, willing the change that only comes from within. Continue reading

War

Book Review: Sean McFate’s The Modern Mercenary

The Modern Mercenary—Private Armies and What They Mean for World Order, Sean McFate, Oxford University Press, 2014.

George Orwell is often credited with the quote, “People sleep peaceably in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf.” He didn’t say it of course. Famous people almost never said the things that are attributed to them, but the quote resonates because of its fundamental truth: Most of us cannot protect ourselves and depend on a network of rough men—police, military, etc.—to allow us to sleep soundly.

One particular group of rough men, mercenaries, occupy an outsized place in our mythology. Whether it’s Kurosawa’s ronin or Sturges’s Magnificent Seven or Forsyth’s Dogs of War, the less violent among us cling to the idea that when all else fails we can call on the services of a group of hard but principled men who will step in and save us from those who would do us harm. Interestingly, based on the number of Web sites and periodicals devoted to becoming a mercenary, it appears that almost as many dream of being those rough men. Continue reading

ISIS

Sounding the alarm about the Islamic State does not have to be a call to arms

Nor does glossing over the Islamic State’s ultraviolence help make the case for non-intervention.

The putative Islamic Caliphate

The putative Islamic Caliphate

On Dec. 18, the Guardian published a report by a team of reporters, including Focal Points contributor Ali Younes, titled The race to save Peter Kassig, the American aid worker who the Islamic State captured and ultimately beheaded. The article is full of juicy details such as this about Islamist ideologue Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi:

On 18 October, Cohen and Abdel-Rahman flew from Kuwait to Jordan, and checked into the Four Seasons hotel in Amman. Two days later, they finally met Maqdisi, who arrived at the Four Seasons in his beat up ‘97 Hyundai. They set off for Maqdisi’s home, in a relatively poor neighbourhood 10 miles north of Amman. On the way, Maqdisi’s car broke down. Cursing and stuck in the middle of a traffic jam, Cohen said Maqdisi opened up the hood and started beating the engine with a wrench. Five minutes later they were off again. Continue reading

CATEGORY: World

Too many people + unbridled consumption = trauma for billions

Does disaster loom, brought on by population increases and a governing economic system predicated on ever more growth?

Scratch a problem involving homo sapiens. Smog choking cities. Carbon dioxide and methane warming atmosphere or ocean. Forests rapaciously slashed. No fish where fish used to be. Nuclear waste with no safe home (ever). Pollution everywhere. Children without education. Billions of poor without hope or safe drinking water or adequate food. Disease and death induced by the absence of health care.

And wars. Plenty of wars.

In such examples of human trauma amid conflicts over life-sustaining resources, there’s a centrality rarely discussed.

Too. Many. People.

When I was born, in 1946, America housed just over 141 million people. Today, the 50 states approach 320 million people. Despite a declining birth rate, America gains a person every 16 seconds, thanks largely to the admission of about 1.5 million legal foreign workers each year.

When I was born, the Earth had about 2.5 billion people. The Census Bureau anticipates 9.3 billion people globally in 2050. That would be almost a four-fold increase in the people Earth would seek but likely fail to adequately support.
Continue reading

Peshawar, site of a savage attack by the Taliban on a school on Dec. 16. (Photo: Muzaffar Bukhari / Flickr Commons)

Will the Taliban attack on a Peshawar school generate more reform than the Newtown school shooting?

Since Sandy Hook, there have been nearly 100 school shootings. How many more Pakistani children need to die?

Peshawar, site of a savage attack by the Taliban on a school on Dec. 16. (Photo: Muzaffar Bukhari / Flickr Commons)

Peshawar, site of a savage attack by the Taliban on a school on Dec. 16. (Photo: Muzaffar Bukhari / Flickr Commons)

On Dec. 16, a Taliban attack on the Army Public School in Peshawar, Pakistan left 132 children, as well as 13 adults, dead. In the New York Times, Declan Walsh reports that “the Red Mosque seemed a nearly untouchable bastion of Islamist extremism in Pakistan.” To refresh your memory, in 2007, the two Islamic militants running Lal Masjid, known as the Red Mosque, in Islamablad ― the brothers Maulana Abdul Aziz and Abdul Rashid Ghazi ― called for the overthrow of the Pakistani government. Continue reading

Religion

Forget torture. Who would Jesus rape?

On the rapes of Majid Khan and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed

Pop quiz!

Fill in the blank: rape is morally acceptable when __________.

Time. Pencils down.

I don’t know about you, but there was never a point in my life when I needed to be told that there is no such thing as a good answer to this question. But let’s define our terms, shall we? In January 2012, the FBI finally updated its definition of rape:

“The penetration, no matter how slight, of the vagina or anus with any body part or object, or oral penetration by a sex organ of another person, without the consent of the victim.” [emphasis added]

Furthermore, the Department of Justice clarified: Continue reading

Immigration

At the border, an arbitrary fate

Desert grasslands reveal a more nuanced view of illegal immigration

by Bruce Lindwall

A journal entry from a February day during an Expedition Education Institute semester in the Desert Southwest

I went out this morning and found some pictures down in the wash. This is how it happened and why it was so very important.

We were five altogether. Bill is the director of the grasslands research center here in southern Arizona; it’s his job to look after all 8,000 of the acres in his care. Four of us who had come to study up a bit on the ecology of desert grasslands: Thomas from my home state of New Hampshire, Antony from Montreal, and Khiet who was born in Vietnam but grew up in Pennsylvania. This morning we were all headed off a couple miles from the headquarters to pick up trash that falls by the wayside as immigrants slip across the border covered by darkness and becomes hidden in the folds and creases of the borderlands.

Bouncing along the dirt road we asked Bill about grassland ecology, successional stages, and alien species, thinking that we were pursuing the most important learning of the day. Little did we know how close that was to the truth. It was a short ride that ended at a seemingly random spot at the edge of the road. Our little crew outfitted itself with gloves, trash bags, and bottles of water.

It felt liberating to walk freely through the grassland. We had been limited to the roads these last few days for fear of trampling the many experiments laid out amongst the tawny brown stalks of sacaton and lovegrass. But now we were free to wander, and wander we did. Held together at first by habit and conversation, we gradually spread out to explore the small washes and gullies that so thoroughly wrinkle this land. Slowly our bags began to fill with the odd bits jettisoned by those who had come this way. There were empty food tins, torn trash bags, endless water jugs and lots of toilet paper, both used and unused.
Continue reading

Republican lawmakers such as John McCain and Lindsey Graham seek further sanctions against Iran. (Photo: Jeffrey Richardson / U.S. Navy / Flick Commons)

By pushing for more sanctions, U.S. hardliners play into hands of Iranian hardliners

New sanctions legislation against Iran would alienate Europe, Russia, and China.

Republican lawmakers such as John McCain and Lindsey Graham seek further sanctions against Iran. (Photo: Jeffrey Richardson / U.S. Navy / Flick Commons)

Republican lawmakers such as John McCain and Lindsey Graham seek further sanctions against Iran. (Photo: Jeffrey Richardson / U.S. Navy / Flick Commons)

“Buoyed by the failure of the US and five other powers to reach a comprehensive agreement with Iran over its nuclear program,” writes Jim Lobe for Inter Press Service, “pro-Israel and Republican hawks are calling for Washington to ramp up economic pressure on Tehran even while talks continue, and to give Congress a veto on any final accord.” But, he continues,

Most Iran specialists here believe that any new sanctions legislation will likely sabotage the talks, fracture the P5+1, and thus undermine the international sanctions regime against Iran, strengthen hard-liners in Tehran who oppose accommodation and favour accelerating the nuclear programme.  Continue reading

Why exactly was Chuck Hagel forced out as secdef?

Was Chuck Hagel scapegoated by a White House inner circle that he failed to penetrate?

Chuck Hagel may have been a victim, but, like his predecessors, he failed to demonstrate the requisite vision the military needs for the future. (Photo: DoD / Erin A. Kirk-Cuomo / Flickr Commons)

Chuck Hagel may have been a victim, but, like his predecessors, he failed to demonstrate the requisite vision the military needs for the future. (Photo: DoD / Erin A. Kirk-Cuomo / Flickr Commons)

Was fired Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel simply a scapegoat for charges that the Obama presidency was slow to respond to the Islamic State and ebola? Perhaps an administration that hired him to wind down the Afghanistan War and cut Pentagon costs had reversed course and instead sought a secretary of defense to put the United States on war footing with the Islamic State.

Or as indicated by his confirmation hearings, was Hagel just too poor a spokesperson for the Pentagon?

Perhaps he just couldn’t contend with micromanagement from President Obama’s inner circle of Obama, which he was unable to penetrate. Continue reading

Politics: Democrats vs Republicans

House Intel Committee: new report exposes lies while pushing more

Next up: Issa to investigate House Intel Committee?

Associated Press reports, as seen here at Time, that the House Intelligence Committee has released a new report on the Benghazi tragedy. Or, as AP put it, “The House Intelligence Committee report was released with little fanfare on the Friday before Thanksgiving week.” Why might that be? What could possibly be in a Republican-led Intelligence Committee report about Benghazi that the GOP wouldn’t want plastered all over the place for everyone to see? Read on. Then get the report straight from the horse’s mouth.

Debunking a series of persistent allegations hinting at dark conspiracies, the investigation of the politically charged incident determined that there was no intelligence failure, no delay in sending a CIA rescue team, no missed opportunity for a military rescue, and no evidence the CIA was covertly shipping arms from Libya to Syria.

Continue reading

Wheel of Fortune

What President Obama didn’t mention in his immigration address

There’s a sequence of 6 letters that appears nowhere in the transcript

President Obama finally addressed the nation today regarding the executive actions he’s taking in regard to our broken immigration system. If you’re looking for a strident pro or con piece, this isn’t it. If you’re looking for a call to see him impeached, yeah, good luck with that. If you’re acting like this is the first time a sitting president has ever had the temerity to go it alone on the issue, maybe you might want to bone up on the administrations of Ronnie “Golf? I NAP!” Reagan and creepy ex-chief of the secret police George “I Threw Up on Helmut Kohl and All I Got Was this Lousy T-Shirt” Bush, the Elder. Even so, I’m here to throw our friends on the right a bone. Continue reading

Unfortunately, a lot more than battlefield requirements goes into the design of war planes.

How does the world’s leading advocate of air power ― the U.S. ― wind up using the wrong planes?

Unfortunately, a lot more than battlefield requirements goes into the design of war planes.

Using a bomber such as the B-1 against the Islamic State endangers civilians even more than fighter attacks. (Photo: Christopher Ebdon / Flickr Commons)

Using a bomber such as the B-1 against the Islamic State endangers civilians even more than fighter attacks. (Photo: Christopher Ebdon / Flickr Commons)

In Harper’s, Andrew Cockburn writes:

President Obama’s war against the Islamic State will represent, by a rough count, the eighth time the U.S. air-power lobby has promised to crush a foe without setting boot or foot on the ground. Yet from World War II to Yemen, the record is clear: such promises have invariably been proven empty and worthless. Continue reading

The Islamic State’s financial model can only take it so far. Pictured: the government building in the Islamic State’s capital city, Raqqa. (Photo: Beshr O / Flickr Commons)

So, Islamic State, you want to rule a caliphate

For the Islamic State to preside over a caliphate takes money — lots of it.

The Islamic State’s financial model can only take it so far. Pictured: the government building in the Islamic State’s capital city, Raqqa. (Photo: Beshr O / Flickr Commons)

The Islamic State’s financial model can only take it so far. Pictured: the government building in the Islamic State’s capital city, Raqqa. (Photo: Beshr O / Flickr Commons)

In an invaluable article at the Barcelona Centre for World Affairs site titled How Long Will ISIS Last Economically?, Eckart Woertz delves into the Islamic State’s finances.

ISIS is not a mere terror organization, but an insurgency that follows a classic “Clear, Hold, Build” strategy. The aim is state building as the very name ISIS suggests. However, holding territory implies provision of services to the governed population such as food, energy and water and possibly health and education. The longer it holds territory, ISIS needs to worry about much more than just funding military operations. It now rules over roughly 8 million people. It does not assume a veneer of statehood for nothing; at its home base in Al Raqqa it has interfered in school curriculums, repaired roads and launched a consumer protection authority for food standards. Continue reading

Arts & Literature

Peter Handke, the Nobel Prize, and the Weight of the World…

Handke, Austria’s (arguably the world’s) greatest living writer, will probably never get the Nobel…and maybe he shouldn’t…or should…

Peter Handke (image courtesy Wikimedia)

For some readers of this piece, the name Peter Handke will probably suggest only controversy. Handke has spent the last two decades of his life under attack for his association with – and inexplicable defense of – the Serbian government of Slobodan Milosevic. No less a personage than fellow Nobelist-in-waiting Salman Rushdie has called Handke a propagandist for the Milosevic government’s genocidal policies. When Handke received the International Ibsen Award earlier this year, Pen Norway called for the selection jury’s resignation and one scholar called giving Handke the award the equivalent of giving the Immanuel Kant Prize to Joseph Goebbels. Other important literary figures have defended Handke stating that he deserves the Nobel Prize – one claiming that she received the prize when Handke was the more worthy recipient.

All this comes as no surprise – troubling though it is – to me. I’ve been an admirer of Handke’s work since I was introduced to him in undergraduate school. What grabbed me initially was his “anti-play” Offending the Audience. Continue reading