Friday, November 14, 2014

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Hard To Be A Pacifist

After hearing about another execution of an American journalist held hostage by ISIS, the visceral reaction comes easily.  Even the most even-tempered and non-violent soul finds the gorge rising in their throat and the simple solutions easily form in the mind: “Find them, kill them, and make sure they know who did it and why.”

We have the forces; we have the means and the power to hunt down these wretched fanatics and grind them to powder.  There is no place on the planet they can hide.  We got bin Laden, so why can’t we marshal all the secret weapons and black ops teams like the ones we see on TV?  Why isn’t a bullet between the eyes the way to do it?

Because it’s what they want.  It is what they are counting on.  To ISIS and al-Qaeda, life is expendable and replaceable.  One more dead leader to them means they replace him with another; one more drone attack by us furthers their cause and draws new men to their cause.  We have been taking out their leaders since before we invaded Iraq and Afghanistan and still they grow.  We took out the most hunted man in the world and that hasn’t stopped them from replacing him.

We are seeing the consequences of being goaded into war.  We are seeing the result of generations of exploitation and lorded-over exceptionalism and self-styled supremacy.  The attacks against the West are not because we are not Muslim; they attack people of their own faith.  They are using religion as a facade in the same way a bigot uses the bible to justify racism, homophobia, and misogyny, and they allow their visceral hatred of those that bullied them to control their actions as well.  Their only hope is that we will respond in kind.  And we have.

We have given them what they want: attention and aggression.  The difference is that we have our limits and they do not because they believe they have nothing left to lose.  They also know there are powerful voices in America and the West who counsel peace and standing down the war machinery.  They hope those voices will be drowned out by the chants for war and blood and vengeance.

It is hard to resist the urge to destroy those who hate us.  But one hundred years of war and tension and world-wide suffering have not brought the peace.  War breeds more war, and those of us who struggle to keep our rage in check must prevail so that a calculated act of unspeakable cruelty is not met with the same.  Because it only leads to more blood, more sorrow and another hundred years of human misery wrought by miserable humans.

No, I don’t know the answer.  Peace has never been easy or a bargain; you have to pay for it.  It means overcoming prejudice and tribalism, two of nature’s more powerful visceral instincts.  If we cannot overcome them, the least we can do is control them and not let the epitaph of humanity be “It all started when they hit us back.”

Friday, January 17, 2014

Short Takes

Syria — Secretary of State Kerry seeks to assure parties as peace talks near.

Thailand — 22 protestors injured in bomb blast.

Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) to leave office by the end of the year.

David Wildstein, N.J. bridge scandal figure, will sing in exchange for immunity.

R.I.P. Russell Johnson, 89, the professor of Gilligan’s Island; Dave Madden, 83, of The Partridge Family.

Coffee to go — Korean community in New York City to consider boycotting McDonald’s.


Friday, August 23, 2013

Friday, March 29, 2013

Casual Good Friday

The Southeastern Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) always coincides with Easter weekend.  It’s not that Quakers acknowledge or celebrate Easter (some do, some don’t), but it’s usually a time when families can gather at the retreat center in central Florida and have a good and meaningful time together.

My friend (and Friend) Steve took this picture on Wednesday as Friends gathered.

SEYM 03-29-13

Let this be the setting for the day.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Sunday Reading

Obama’s LBJ Moment — David Rohde on how Barack Obama’s war on inequality matches the efforts of the war on poverty.

He quoted Jack Kennedy but sounded more like Lyndon Johnson.

In an audacious State of the Union address Tuesday, President Barack Obama made sweeping proposals to reduce poverty, revive the middle class and increase taxes on the “well off.” While careful to not declare it outright, an emboldened second-term president laid out an agenda that could be called a “war on inequality.”

“There are communities in this country where no matter how hard you work, it is virtually impossible to get ahead,” Obama declared in a blunt attack one a core conservative credo. “And that’s why we need to build new ladders of opportunity into the middle class for all who are willing to climb them.”

In his 1964 State of the Union address, Johnson introduced the legislation that became known as the “War on Poverty.” Those laws – along with many others he shepherded – stand today as perhaps the greatest legislative achievement of any modern president. Whether or not one agrees with him, Johnson’s laws – from the Civil Rights Act, to Medicaid, Medicare and Head Start, to sweeping federal urban renewal and education programs – changed the face of American society.

Obama, of course, is very different from LBJ and governing in a vastly different time. While Johnson excelled at cajoling legislators, Obama reportedly finds it distasteful. Where Johnson could offer new federal programs, Obama must maneuver in an age where the federal government is distrusted. And while Johnson had full government coffers, Obama lives in an era of crushing fiscal constraint.

Those differences, though, make Obama’s second inaugural address and Tuesday’s State of the Union all the more remarkable. As Richard W. Stevenson noted in the New York Times, “he continued trying to define a 21st-century version of liberalism that could outlast his time in office and do for Democrats what Reagan did for Republicans.”

Torture vs. Drones — Jane Mayer at The New Yorker.

There are some disturbing similarities between the Obama white paper and the Bush torture memos. Both use slippery legal language to parse dark government programs. Both have been deliberately hidden from public and even congressional oversight. And both involve the blurring of C.I.A. and military operations, and even include some of the same personnel. John Brennan, Obama’s nominee to direct the C.I.A., is a long-time veteran of the agency who, prior to joining the Obama Administration, served as chief of staff for former C.I.A. director George Tenet, under the Bush Administration during the depths of the torture scandal. Despite this, several human-rights experts have endorsed Brennan’s promotion, and Obama seems to respect him deeply. Whether that trust is well-placed remains to be seen; Brennan’s refusal, during his Senate confirmation hearings last week, to admit that waterboarding—the partial drowning of a prisoner—is a form of torture was a chilling display of institutional loyalty.

Clearly there are plenty of troubling questions surrounding the Obama Administration’s targeted-killing program. But, that said, are Obama’s drones comparable in terms of human-rights violations, to Bush’s Torture program?

Those who argue so miss an important distinction, one that David Cole also has brought up: torture under all our systems of law—including the laws of war—is illegal. This is true without exception, regardless of the circumstances, including national-security emergencies. Torture is also condemned by every major religion. Waterboarding was, and is, a form of torture. This has been established as far back as the Spanish Inquisition, and as recently as the Vietnam War. To argue otherwise is to legalize criminality. That was what the Bush Administration’s torture memos did.

Bark Bark Woof Woof — According to Brian Hare and Vanessa Woods, maybe dogs really can talk.

During the day, our dog Mystique is sweet and demure, but at night she becomes a different animal. She guards our house, barking ferociously every time someone comes within earshot. The only problem is that our house is on the main trail where the night staff walk back and forth after dark. Mystique dutifully barks at all passersby whether she has known them for a day or all her life. But if there was really a cause for concern, like a strange man with a gun, I wonder if Mystique would bark in a way that would alert me that there was something dangerous and different about the person approaching the house.

Dog vocalizations may not sound very sophisticated. Raymond Coppinger pointed out that most dog vocalizations consist of barking, and that barking seems to occur indiscriminately. Coppinger reported on a dog whose duty was to guard free-ranging livestock. The dog barked continuously for seven hours, even though no other dogs were within miles. If barking is communicative, dogs would not bark when no one could hear them. It seemed to Coppinger that the dog was simply relieving some inner state of arousal. The arousal model is that dogs do not have much control over their barking. They are not taking into account their audience, and their barks carry little information other than their emotional state.

Perhaps barking is another by-product of domestication. Unlike dogs, wolves rarely bark. Barks make up as little as 3 percent of wolf vocalizations. Meanwhile, the experimental foxes in Russia bark when they see people, while the control foxes do not. Frequent barking when aroused is probably another consequence of selecting against aggression.

However, more recent research indicates that there might be more to barking than we first thought. Dogs have fairly plastic vocal cords, or a “modifiable vocal tract.” Dogs might be able to subtly alter their voices to produce a wide variety of different sounds that could have different meanings. Dogs might even be altering their voices in ways that are clear to other dogs but not to humans. When scientists have taken spectrograms, or pictures, of dog barks, it turns out that not all barks are the same — even from the same dog. Depending on the context, a dog’s barks can vary in timing, pitch and amplitude. Perhaps they have different meanings.

Doonesbury — Anybody can do it.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Short Takes

The Tigers clinched the AL Central division title by beating the Royals.  Onward!

The U.S. is abandoning hopes for peace deal with the Taliban.

The Al-Qaeda in North Africa threat is the focus of secret talks.

Senate leaders say they are trying to avoid the cliff.

Iran is facing currency issues.

A little late … A judge has ruled that arrests at the 2004 GOP convention were illegal.

Tropical Update:  Nadine is still alive, but now a TS.  The next disturbance will follow her path.

The Washington Nationals backed into their first-ever division win.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Short Takes

Egypt begins voting in the presidential run-off election.

You’re on your own — The Greeks are being left to fend for themselves in their financial crisis.

Better late than never — Aung San Suu Kyi is going to deliver her Nobel Peace Prize speech 21 years after winning.

Off the bus — As Romney stumps in Florida, where’s Gov. Scott?

Nik Wallenda completes a tightrope walk across Niagara Falls.

Tropical Update: Hurricane Carlotta is ashore in Mexico.

The Tigers lost to the Rockies.

Short Takes

Egypt begins voting in the presidential run-off election.

You’re on your own — The Greeks are being left to fend for themselves in their financial crisis.

Better late than never — Aung San Suu Kyi is going to deliver her Nobel Peace Prize speech 21 years after winning.

Off the bus — As Romney stumps in Florida, where’s Gov. Scott?

Nik Wallenda completes a tightrope walk across Niagara Falls.

Tropical Update: Hurricane Carlotta is ashore in Mexico.

The Tigers lost to the Rockies.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Short Takes

The Nobel Peace Prize went to an empty chair to represent the place where Chinese literary critic Liu Xiaobo would have sat.

Deja Vu:
Bill Clinton met with President Obama yesterday, then spoke to the press.

Joe Miller loses a round in his legal battle to win the Senate election in Alaska.

WikiLeaks says the Pope impeded investigations into sexual abuse by priests.

Things are calming down in Haiti.

South Florida will get another cold front next week.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Freedom for Aung San Suu Kyi


Myanmar’s detained democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi greeted cheering crowds at the gate of her house, NBC News reported, after a release order was read to her by the authorities. However it was still unclear if she would accept any conditions of her release and whether she would talk to media, NBC News said.

Suu Kyi, whose latest term of detention was due to expire Saturday, could refuse to sign the release order, depending on whether conditions have been imposed.

Amid jubilant scenes, she told her supporters “we must work together in unison to achieve our goals,” according to a report by the U.K.’s Sky News.

The official, who demanded anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media, spoke shortly after three official cars entered her compound.

Hundreds of supporters of the Nobel peace prize laureate had gathered outside her home and party office on Saturday, chanting for her freedom after seven years of detention by the country’s military junta.

Before her appearance, the crowd of about 1,000 people who were waiting near her lakeside house chanted “Release Aung San Suu Kyi” and “Long live Aung San Suu Kyi”. Some wore T-shirts emblazoned with messages pledging to stand with her.

Every time I see a bunch of people running around in silly hats carrying misspelled signs screaming about “Fascism” and threats to democracy because gay people want to get married in America, I think of this woman who has been held prisoner in Burma. It puts it all in perspective.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Peace Prize

Speaking of putting things in perspective

From the New York Times:

Liu Xiaobo, an impassioned literary critic, political essayist and democracy advocate repeatedly jailed by the Chinese government for his writings, won the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize on Friday in recognition of “his long and nonviolent struggle for fundamental human rights in China.”

Mr. Liu, 54, perhaps China’s best known dissident, is currently serving an 11-year term on subversion charges.

China lashed out at the Norwegian Nobel Committee’s decision, calling it a blasphemy.

“Liu Xiaobo is a criminal who has been sentenced by Chinese judicial departments for violating Chinese law,” the Foreign Ministry said in a statement quoted by The Associated Press. The committee’s decision “runs completely counter to the principle of the prize and is also a blasphemy to the peace prize.” It said the decision would damage relations between China and Norway.

Mr. Liu is the first Chinese citizen to win the Peace Prize and one of three laureates to have received it while in prison.

In awarding the prize to Mr. Liu, the Norwegian Nobel Committee delivered an unmistakable rebuke to Beijing’s authoritarian leaders at a time of growing intolerance for domestic dissent and spreading unease internationally over the muscular diplomacy that has accompanied China’s economic rise.

In a move that in retrospect may have been counterproductive, a senior Chinese official recently warned the Norwegian committee’s chairman that giving the prize to Mr. Liu would adversely affect relations between the two countries.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Leaving Iraq


NEAR THE IRAQ-KUWAIT BORDER — The last U.S. combat troops were crossing the border into Kuwait on Thursday morning, bringing to a close the active combat phase of a 7½-year war that overthrew the dictatorial regime of Saddam Hussein, forever defined the presidency of George W. Bush and left more than 4,400 American service members and tens of thousands of Iraqis dead.

The final convoy of the Army’s 4th Stryker Brigade Combat Team, based at Fort Lewis, Wash., began entering Kuwait about 1:30 a.m. (6:30 p.m. Wednesday ET), carrying the last of the 14,000 U.S. combat forces in Iraq, said NBC’s Richard Engel, who has been traveling with the brigade as it moved out this week.

The departure marks the official end of Operation Iraqi Freedom, P.J. Crowley, a spokesman for the State Department, told msnbc [sic] TV. But while it is “an historic moment,” he said, it is not the end of the U.S. mission in Iraq.

“We are ending the war … but we are not ending our work in Iraq,” he said. “We have a long-term commitment to Iraq.”

We should never have gone there in the first place. That said, the men and women who did their duty as they were ordered to do served with honor, and we owe them the respect they have earned and deserve. Welcome home.

We have paid a huge price in their blood and our treasure. It will be years before the toll is finally counted and we may never know how many lives were lost or destroyed. I hold them all — everyone, from every country and the civilians who were trapped in this misbegotten folly — in the Light and hope they find peace and quiet. For those thousands of Americans who died and the countless more who were lost in the crossfire, I mourn them for the lives and the loved ones they left behind.


Thursday, December 10, 2009

Friday, October 9, 2009

President Obama Wins The Nobel Peace Prize

From the New York Times:

OSLO (AP) — President Barack Obama on Friday won the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize for “his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples,” the Norwegian Nobel Committee said.

“Only very rarely has a person to the same extent as Obama captured the world’s attention and given its people hope for a better future,” the committee said. “His diplomacy is founded in the concept that those who are to lead the world must do so on the basis of values and attitudes that are shared by the majority of the world’s population.”

Obama’s name had been mentioned in speculation before the award but many Nobel watchers believed it was too early to award the president.

The committee said it attached special importance to Obama’s vision of and work for a world without nuclear weapons.

“Obama has as president created a new climate in international politics. Multilateral diplomacy has regained a central position, with emphasis on the role that the United Nations and other international institutions can play.”

Oh, it’s going to be fun to watch the right wing go completely nuts over this. Expect the usual suspects to rail against those socialist Norwegians with their national health care and stuff, and I’m sure that at least one nutball is going to claim that the real reason President Obama went to Copenhagen last week wasn’t to campaign for the Chicago Olympics but to put the fix in for his win of the Prize. (Um, Copenhagen is in Denmark, which has nothing whatsoever to do with the Nobel Prize, but all those Scandinavians look alike.)

It will also feed the meme that the Peace Prize, having gone in recent years to the likes of Jimmy Carter, Al Gore, Yasir Arafat, Nelson Mandela, and Mother Teresa, is a pale shadow of its former self and is now nothing but a sop for the bleeding heart liberals who do nothing but go around the world and try to get everyone to just get along. (I expect they’re forgetting that there was once a move afoot to petition the Nobel Committee to give the prize to George W. Bush. How’d that work out?) One talking point that’s already circulating (Juan Williams at NPR hinted at it) is that this isn’t about President Obama at all — what’s he done to deserve it? — it’s a slap in the face to the eight years of Bush’s neocon swagger. After all, peace has a well-known liberal bias.

Get the popcorn. Make it the good stuff, with real butter.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Second Try

David Brooks is fresh back from Afghanistan. He reports that the war there is winnable and lists the reasons why.

[I]t is simply wrong to say that Afghanistan is a hopeless 14th-century basket case. This country had decent institutions before the Communist takeover. It hasn’t fallen into chaos, the way Iraq did, because it has a culture of communal discussion and a respect for village elders. The Afghans have embraced the democratic process with enthusiasm.

I finish this trip still skeptical but also infected by the optimism of the truly impressive people who are working here. And one other thing:

After the trauma in Iraq, it would have been easy for the U.S. to withdraw into exhaustion and realism. Instead, President Obama is doubling down on the very principles that some dismiss as neocon fantasy: the idea that this nation has the capacity to use military and civilian power to promote democracy, nurture civil society and rebuild failed states.

I am old enough to remember reading columns that had the same hopeful outlook about Vietnam in 1965. And while I sure don’t wish our efforts or our soldiers any ill will — after all, this is the place we should have devoted our full attention to after the attacks on September 11, 2001, not Iraq, and the Taliban is truly a dangerous entity — I wonder just how much insight Mr. Brooks or anyone can truly gain in six days and emerge as sure of victory as he is.

Our goal in the Vietnam war was to have it emerge as a peaceful and productive nation with a stable government. That goal was achieved: today Vietnam is a stable nation and willing trading partner with us, selling us everything from tennis shoes to raw materials. The catch is that it was achieved at a horrible price — millions of lives lost and scars that we still re-open every time someone runs for president if the United States — all because we tried to impose our will on a nation and culture that was engaged in its own civil war, we backed a corrupt and cynical regime simply because they said they weren’t Commies, and we lost. How similar is that to Afghanistan? Logistically it’s a whole different world, and it can be argued that we have a duty to hunt down the people who attacked us, but is the goal that much different? This time we need to remember that Afghanistan belongs to the Afghans and as hard as it might be to accept, not everyone in the world wants what we have.

No one in their right mind wants us to fail in Afghanistan, and no one in their right mind wants the return to the Middle Ages represented by religious fanaticism — in any form from any belief system. But we can’t forget that what may emerge in that rugged nation isn’t what we want for the Afghans, but it should be what they want.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Short Takes

Snowing Down South — and chilly in Florida.

Clinton Bearing Cash — The Secretary of State offers $300 million to rebuild Gaza.

Missing — Two NFL players are missing after going out into the Gulf of Mexico from Clearwater, Florida, in a 21-foot boat on Saturday.

Support for Sebelius — HHS nominee Gov. Kathleen Sebelius (D-KS) gets support from her two Republican senators.

Even the wingnuts think they’re crazy — Ben Smith reports that the folks who think President Obama isn’t a U.S. citizen is making mainstream conservatives and a few far-righters uncomfortable with their lunacy.

Tigers Beat: They drop two to Pittsburgh in the Grapefruit League.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Short Takes

All Safe — everybody makes it out alive from the US Airways plane landing in the Hudson. What an amazing job of piloting. Authorities are looking into rumors that the crash was caused by a gang of terrorists from Canada: “Federal investigators are pursuing early indications that the jet was struck by Canada geese shortly after takeoff.”

“Grave mistake” — Israel shells a U.N. mission.

Fond Farewell on TV — Gil Grissom (William Petersen) signed off CSI last night. (Oh, yeah, someone else said goodbye, too.)

Hearings: A lot of confirmation hearings yesterday, including Eric Holder, Ken Salazar, and Janet Napolitano.

No Vindication — Steve Benen explains the real meaning of the FISA court ruling.

Another Paper in Trouble — the Minneapolis Star Tribune files for Chapter 11.

Bus Ad Raises Hackles — If they can’t even find common ground over this…

Friday, January 2, 2009

Short Takes

- The Gaza conflict continues: They fire rockets, they shoot back. Lather, rinse, repeat. Except people keep dying. At what point will they figure out that it’s pathetically useless?

- The killing doesn’t stop: GI’s returning from war and violent crime at home.

- IOU: California may issue promissory notes instead of tax refunds.

- Former Senator Claiborne Pell, who put a lot of people through college, dies at 90.

- Paranoid Much? AirTran boots 9 people off a flight because they “fit the profile.” They were Muslim.

- The Culture of Victimhood: Alberto Gonzales feels sorry for himself.

- But the memory lingers on: Pentagon political officer Jim O’Beirne — husband of right-wing hack pundit Kate — is still calling the Obama administration “the opposition.”

- Subdued anniversary: What if Raul Castro marked the 50th anniversary of the Cuban revolution and nobody paid attention?

- Brr. The polar plunge tradition continued in Toledo.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Leave the Soldiers Out of It

Leonard Pitts in the Miami Herald:

What with refereeing the factions in a fractured foreign land and trying not to get killed by roadside bombs, they would seem to have enough on their plates. Is it really fair to ask them to take incoming rounds from Rush Limbaugh and

The former, you will recall, is under fire for denigrating as “phony soldiers” military men and women who question the war in Iraq. The latter angered many people last month with an ad in The New York Times condemning Gen. David Petraeus as “General Betray Us.”

I am in receipt of a mass e-mail from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, urging me to help hold Limbaugh accountable for his “insult” to “men and women in uniform.” If the senator sent a similar e-mail decrying the juvenile taunting of Gen. Petraeus, I must have missed it. Of course, politics is not an art much noted for its emphasis on moral consistency.

Still, it’s disappointing to see the diminution of soldiers become ever more a tool of political attack. Bad enough they questioned the patriotism of Sen. Max Cleland, who lost three limbs in Vietnam. Bad enough they accused Sen. John Kerry, a war hero with the record to prove it, of inflating his service. Bad enough they insinuated that Rep. John Murtha, a Marine for 37 years, is a coward. Bad enough they accused Sen. John McCain, a Navy pilot who spent seven years in a Vietnamese prison camp, of betraying POWs. Now they impugn those who are still under fire.

And here, let me spend a few moments explaining what my point is not. It is not, for example, that Limbaugh and should be prohibited from saying what they wish. Both are well within their First Amendment rights. My point is also not that service members are infallible or exempt from criticism. I, for one, am skeptical of Gen. Petraeus’ claims about the efficacy of the surge in Iraq.

No, what my point is, is this: There’s a line between attacking someone’s opinion and attacking their honor. We — by which I mean civilians — forget that all the time in disagreeing with one another. But it seems to me especially painful when we forget it in disagreeing with soldiers.

The vast majority of us never have and never will know what it means to don the uniform of this nation’s armed services. Will never know how it feels to shiver under enemy fire. Will never know what it takes to run toward that which common sense and human instinct demand we flee. Will never know what it’s like to lay it all on the line for country.

So how dare any of us recklessly — i.e., absent clear and compelling reason — impugn the integrity, the character, the honor, of those who do?

Some of us are old enough to remember the mistreatment of soldiers who returned to this country from service in Vietnam. ”Baby killers” was one of the more printable epithets hurled at them. We had not yet learned to separate the war from the warriors; to the contrary, we transferred our anger over a controversial war to those who made no policy, made no decisions, whose only role was to serve as honorably as they could and try to get the heck out of there in one piece.

Remembering how shabbily we behaved then, you’d think we’d do better now. But we are people with short memories and a collective incapacity for reverence. We slap ”Save the Troops” signs on the bumper of every suburban SUV, but when it comes to the one thing military culture prizes above almost everything — honor — our ”support” turns watery and weak.

“Phony soldiers?” “General Betray Us?” I don’t care what your politics are, that’s shameful. Our soldiers are fighting terrorists and insurrectionists. They shouldn’t have to fight us, too.