Scholars and Rogues Nonfiction: The Price of Ignorance by Fred Skolnik

Americans do not know very much about the world. Historically this is partly a result of distance and isolation and partly a result of arrogance. The arrogance comes into play when Americans consider the importance or relevance of what other people are doing, since it goes without saying that Americans do everything better than everyone else. Why individual Americans find it necessary to identify with the idea of America’s greatness may be sought in their need to bolster their self-esteem in the absence of personal distinction and in their feelings of insignificance in the shadow of the American Dream. The consequence of this arrogance and the ignorance it engenders may be found in the results of America’s involvement in armed conflicts around the world. Continue reading

Open letter to the United States Department of State

Post-Citizens United, if money is speech, then where does the Hedges v Obama case lead?

And by device, I mean government.

Sent via web form this date, August 12, 2014 (san links)

Dear Sir or Madam,

As concerned citizens are prone to do, we discuss matters of world import. Occasionally we come up with ideas, sometimes even good ones. To the extent that a proposal has arisen from one of those conversations, I would like to offer it for your consideration. Pending your response, I’ll postpone contact with the office of the President of the State of Palestine, Mahmoud Abbas, pertaining to the same proposal.

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CATEGORY: LitJournalFiction

Scholars and Rogues Nonfiction: “Exit Wounds” by Travis Slusser

The exit wound is always larger than the entrance. Well, not always- bullets don’t obey rules but in my case this isn’t a bullet we’re talking about. This is tens of thousands of bullets. This is tons of ordnance dropped from the sky and buried along roadsides waiting mute and blind and seething for a convoy to roll past. My wound is a tiny white crescent moon on the web of my right hand. The white crescent of Islam, a symbol more powerful and holy and frightening than anything I could wrap my homogenized and X-Boxed American head around. It was a hot shell casing from the breech of the man’s rifle next to me. A Major assigned to train the Afghan police; he emptied all 7 of his magazines within minutes of the engagement beginning. That’s how I came to be out of the truck and in the midst of the dust and chaos of my first firefight. The Major and our squad leader next to him had gotten trigger-happy and were now calling out for fresh mags. I grabbed a bandolier off the back of the seat in front of me and ducked out the armored door of the humvee, hustling the ammo one truck length ahead to them, “exposing myself repeatedly to intense small-arms fire” as the report would later word so eloquently. I joined these two and gave them some covering fire as they reloaded, popping off about 20 rounds. At this point the searing hot brass landed right in the web of my firing hand and I yelled and shook it violently, dislodging the cursed thing, then went back to shooting up the hillside across the narrow valley. Continue reading

CATEGORY: WarSecurity

For your consideration: Jimmy Carter on ending the war in Gaza

An article from Foreign Policy

Ending this war in Gaza begins with recognizing Hamas as a legitimate political actor

I know. Right off the bat, even the idea of recognizing Hamas rankles. Here’s the thing, though. In 2006, as a result of a thoroughly monitored election, the people put Hamas in power. That is the definition of self determination. That is the definition of legitimate political actor. The hazard of democracy, especially when it works, is that we won’t like who the people put in charge. If we can’t live with those outcomes, then we just need to accept that we really don’t care for democracy at all. Further, that what we do believe in is hegemony of one people, one culture, over others. Naturally, that would mean ours and not theirs. This, in spite of the fact that anyone would be hard pressed to seriously and legitimately make the case that we are one people, one culture, and that our chosen version of that should be the one that calls the shots.

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Old news: the more one looks at the Israel/Gaza conflict, the older the news gets.

As a part-time blogger, it can be difficult to keep up with the vast amount of news out there, especially when some events move so quickly. That doesn’t mean I don’t try. Mainly it means I open more new tabs in my browser than my computer likes, and keep them open for days until I can finally get around to reading them. Today I have two articles that leave me shaking my head in dismay, both from The Guardian.

First, we hear from Dennis Kucinich with Crimes against humanity in Gaza: is it really a ‘buffer zone’ — or a bigger plan?

Look at the region’s maps from recent history. Look at the steady erosion of Palestinian land and the acquisition of land by Israel, and you can understand that the present attack on Gaza is not about solely about Hamas. It’s about land. It isn’t just about Hamas’s rockets. It’s about land. It isn’t just about Hamas’s tunnels. It’s about land. It isn’t about kidnappings. It is about land. It isn’t even about meeting a housing crisis in Israel. It is about grabbing land from the Palestinians in Gaza and the natural resources that go with the land, upon the occasion of Israel’s military invasion of Gaza.

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Book-Review

The Dragon Tattoo dilemma: What is good? Bad?

Stieg Larsson’s crime novel The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is really an examination of moral and ethical ambiguity…

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson (image courtesyGoodreads)

The next novel from my 2014 reading list is the first in a trilogy (yet again with the trilogies – sheesh) that has swept to great success. The late Stieg Larsson’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is a solid enough crime novel, and its foreign setting, for many readers, (it’s set in Sweden, for those who don’t know) is, I’m sure, an element of allure. Add to this the familial, financial/corporate, technological, and journalistic threads that are the material of the novel’s fabric and it’s easy to understand why the novel has been a runaway bestseller.

While I have proclaimed loud and long that I am not much of a genre fan, (unless one considers classic literature a genre – which I suppose it is, though the classification would then come from its historical significance rather than its subject matter – and that, of course, then begs the question “What do we mean by ‘genre’?” – and here I’ll stop since I now begin to sound like Jacques Derrida), if pressed, I will admit to a fondness for mystery/crime fiction. Given the hoopla that’s surrounded these novels, since I’ve promised to stretch myself by reading more genre work (see my comments at the 2014 reading list link), choosing one of these books seemed an obvious decision.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is a long book (the English translation clocks in at almost 650 pages). Pacing is sometimes an issue, and Larsson has an annoying tendency to offer longish explanations about various areas of Swedish life, economics, and  jurisprudence that are sometimes helpful but at other times simply drag down what was a crisp pace in the narrative. He’s not as annoying as, say, Tom Clancy or James Michener about this “need to explain,” but it does make reading the novel a chore from time to time. I am not sure if this is the translator’s or Larsson’s fault. My estimation, though, based on the regularity with which this behavior annoyed me, is that Larsson must be held accountable. Continue reading

CATEGORY: WarSecurity

How else should a people defend itself when provoked?

Time and again I hear this question, a question consistently asked by pro-Israel policy apologists. Hamas is bad. They fire rockets into Israel. What are we supposed to do? The answer, apparently, is to engage in a decidedly one-sided battle, killing indiscriminately, with the mightiest armed force in the region. Shelters are bombed, because Hamas uses human shields. Children die, because Hamas uses human shields. We just need to look back to Golda Meir to learn that there never was a Palestine, and that Israel will never forgive the Arabs for forcing Israelis to kill Arab sons.

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Since we’re just supposed to trust Israel every time they make a claim

Israel jumps to conclusions, Palestinians die

Consider this:

The Israeli military said early Sunday morning that an officer thought to have been captured by Palestinian militants during a deadly clash Friday morning, which shattered a planned 72-hour cease-fire [emphasis added], was now considered to have been killed in battle.

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Obama on torture: they were just “folks”

An Iraqi man hugs his brother in November 2005 after being freed from Abu Ghraib prison, a site where some prisoners were tied up, hooded and sexually degraded by the American military. – Ahmad al-Rubaye/AFP/Getty Images

I voted for Barack Obama twice and would do so again, given his election opponents, but man, he can annoy the hell out of me.

This time, it’s his statement Friday that after Sept. 11, the CIA “tortured some folks.” Here’s the story in The Guardian.

Let’s dispense with the small detail first: That statement is a 10 on the no-shit-ometer. Is there anybody who didn’t already believe this? We’re a long way from “breaking news” alerts from your favorite news websites. Continue reading

Obama-Nope

President Obama thinks you’re sanctimonious for insisting torturers be charged with felonies

The President of the United States still shows no signs of seeking justice against war criminals

The President of the United States, by way of giving the world a Friday heading into the weekend presser in hopes that we’ll miss it and just ignore it to death, finally leveled exactly the kind of allegations we’ve been waiting for for six years now. Then he clarified his position by saying that we shouldn’t be sanctimonious, but let’s see it in his own stammering words:

I understand why it happened. Uh, I, I think, ah, ih-, it’s important, uh, when we look back to recall how afraid people were, uh, after, uh, the tow-, twin towers, uh, fell, and, and the Pentagon had been hit and the plane in Pennsylvania had fallen and people did not know, ah, whether more attacks were imminent, uh, and there was enormous pressure, uh, on our law enforcement and our national security teams to try to deal with this, uh, and um, hyuh, i-, i-, i-, it’s important for us not to, uh, feel too sanctimonious in retrospect about the tough job that those have and a lot of those folks, uh, wuh, uh, were s-, s-, working hard, ah, under enormous pressure, and are real patriots but having said all that, we did some things that were wrong. And that’s what that repor-port reflects, and that’s the reason why, after, uh, I took office one of the first things I did was to ban, uh, some of the, in-, extraordinary interrogation techniques that are the subject of that report.

 

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Adventures in headline writing, Gaza edition

The New York Times, a division of the Israeli Military.

So something happened in Gaza today, something horrible even by the abysmal standards of that terrible situation. Here’s the headline in The Guardian:

Israeli strike on UN school kills 15

With the following sub-lede:

UN says it was refused time to evacuate civilians before IDF shelled Gaza school, injuring 200

Then there’s The Independent: Continue reading

A Falun Dafa protest parade

Reporting from San Francisco, on the 15th anniversary of the Chinese crackdown…

The procession began with a marching band, but this was the only component it had in common with a typical American celebratory parade. This was a much more serious affair. For though it superficially looked like a parade, it was actually a protest against the People’s Republic of China and that country’s persecution of practitioners the Falun Dafa spiritual discipline.

The marching band behind this large identifying banner led the procession, which contained hundreds of people.

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Fermented soybeans are your friend

An ode to nattō, an horribly lovely Japanese import…

Do you like soy sauce, tofu, miso soup? The humble soybean gives us so many edible wonders that you probably didn’t know it is also used to make what Westerners consider to be one of the foulest foods ever to come from Japan.

(Nattō from my grocer’s freezer about to get mixed with raw egg. This is one of my favorite toppings for rice.)

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Feminism

Why can’t you ladyfolk be nicer when explaining feminism to us? [trigger warning]

A personal perspective from the front lines of the war on women

Oh. I see. Share this if you get it.

Source: name withheld for safety

In the quote that follows, “I Blame the Patriarchy” blogger Twisty addresses a question I, like all feminists, have SO often been asked: “Don’t you think you could win more men to your cause if you were nicer?” And now, now, in my late forties, my answer is a firm “NO! NO I FUCKING DON’T.”

In my thirties, while I was also busy volunteering at and raising funds for battered women’s shelters (did you know the most requested item at a women’s shelter is hair dye, to make the women harder for their abusers to spot? If you ever run across a great sale price on hair dye, buy some extra and donate it to a women’s shelter, please – they always need it) and I was volunteering at the Women and Children’s Free Restaurant, and producing “The Feminist Papers” and “The Vagina Monologues” on my campus and marching in “Take Back the Night,” and taking the stage at “Speak out against rape” and being active in my campus Women’s Studies club and writing and editing the biweekly social justice newsletter for my church, and going to college with a near-perfect 3.9 grade point average, and raising a female child under the patriarchy, often as a single parent having to bring my daughter to classes with me as my military husband was frequently deployed during this period, I was also willing to take precious time to talk to men, both online and off, who demanded that I explain feminism to them, convince them – and it was required to be sweetly, nicely, patiently, with a smiling, pleasing feminine demeanor, and I complied, used up lots of time complying. Continue reading

CATEGORY: World

So, how’s that vote on Scottish independence coming?

Say what you will about Scottish National Party leader Alex Salmond, there’s no denying his political instincts. Salmond’s most recent blast at David Cameron, which appeared yesterday in The Independent, suddenly takes Cameron’s recent battles with the European Union and attempts to turn them into a reason to vote Yes on the Scottish Independence motion on 18 September of this year. Salmond’s argument is really quite clever. Cameron, of course, has been using the potential threat of a possible British exit (“Brexit”) on the back of a proposed referendum within the UK on continued EU membership—in an attempt to get the EU to adopt some pro-British reforms. Salmond has taken Cameron’s implied threat and is now going to use it against him. As it turns out, this might be an argument that works. Scotland is considerably more supportive of EU membership than is the whole of the UK, as it turns out. So Salmond’s new argument for a Yes vote—there already are lots of them, of course, some good, some not so good—is that if you want to remain in the European Union, that may be more likely in an independent Scotland than by remaining within the United Kingdom. Continue reading

There’s plenty of blame to go around for ISIS’s progress in Iraq. (Photo: State Department / Flickr)

Maliki big loser in the blame game

However vindictive and mule-headed, Prime Minister Maliki doesn’t deserve all the blame for the success of ISIS in Iraq.

There’s plenty of blame to go around for ISIS’s progress in Iraq. (Photo: State Department / Flickr)

There’s plenty of blame to go around for ISIS’s progress in Iraq. (Photo: State Department / Flickr)

Everyone wants to blame Iraq’s Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki for the military success of ISIS (the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham) in Iraq. For instance, appearing on Fox News,

Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) criticized the U.S. for arming “Islamic rebels who kill Christians” in Syria and who are now militant in Iraq and said “the person most culpable” for the crisis in Iraq is President Maliki. Paul hit back at Sean Hannity’s oversimplification of the Iraq crisis and attempts to blame President Obama and Democrats on Hannity’s radio show this week.  Continue reading

Facebook - Unshare

Open letter to Mark Zuckerberg: you owe us one hell of an explanation

Did Facebook’s scientific study contribute to user suicides? We’ll never know, but statistics demand that we ask the question.

Dear Mr. Zuckerberg:

As the title of this post indicates, you owe us one hell of an explanation. Indulge me, if you will.

As you are undoubtedly aware, your company, Facebook, recently had a scientific study published online in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS). I would naturally assume, social media being your element, that you are aware of a degree of outcry about the ethical lapses that appear evident in your study’s methodology. I doubt you registered my own outrage, so ICYMI, here it is.

A key element of my expressed outrage is this:

Did you know that you were consenting to have your emotional state manipulated? Continue reading

ISIS 2

A quick resolution to the ISIS offensive not likely

It could bog down like the Iran-Iraq War.

ISIS 2Kenneth Pollack is infamous for his 2002 book The Threatening Storm: The Case for Invading Iraq. That doesn’t mean he’s incapable of producing valuable work today.  Currently a senior fellow in the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution, Pollack wrote an Iraq Military Situation Report that appeared June 14. The Islamic State in Iraq and Sham — or Syria, or the Levant (take your pick) — he reminds us, “is only one piece (albeit the central piece) in a larger array of Sunni groups that are overwhelmingly Iraqi.” At first I thought he wrote “overwhelming Iraq,” but, apparently, not quite yet. Continue reading

ISIS

ISIS: common enemy of Iran and the United States

It’s ironic that Iraq’s last two enemies now stand ready to defend it against a third enemy, ISIS.

ISISThe advance of ISIS into Baghdad is on hold at the moment in part due to resistance from the Iraqi military and Shia militias. On Sunday, the Washington Post reported:

An Iraqi general told reporters in Baghdad that the armed forces have “regained the initiative” in recent days and are confident that Baghdad is secure. As part of the effort to protect the capital, soldiers headed into the desert to dig a trench, according to footage broadcast on local television stations. Continue reading

Tony Blair

Blair, Rumsfeld or Wolfowitz: who’s the biggest dick?

Tony BlairIt’s a tough call. On the one hand, we have former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair whining to an unappreciative world that what’s going on in Iraq now—which appears to be a complete breakdown of whatever civil and military institutions somehow survived the US-led and UK-abetted invasion and occupation—has nothing whatsoever to do with him, nosiree. This has been greeted with the highly predictable derision it deserves, including from members of the Labour Party who made him their leader in the first place. Continue reading