Monday, November 30, 2009

When US Foreign Policy Makes No Sense

Just wondering aloud here. Some of our government's policies on the surface make absolutely no sense. I know several right wing war mongers that will defend the invasion of Iraq, but even they can't understand why we're fighting in Afghanistan. I've wondered as well.

But it's not just Afghanistan. Consider the hostility and punishment directed towards Cuba even with the collapse of the Soviet Union. The hostility has only been intensified since the fall.

Everybody knows that the war on drugs has been a complete failure. A Rand report study compared the cost effectiveness of 4 methods of dealing with drugs. These were 1-source country control, 2-prohibition, 3-domestic enforcement, and 4-prevention and treatment. Prevention and treatment was FAR superior (which is also proved by the recent decriminalization in Portugal, see here), yet the vast bulk of the money in fact is spent on the very least effective technique; source country control (i.e. bombing Colombian peasants). More people die from tobacco than cocaine, yet we're not bombing North Carolina. What's going on here? It makes no sense. Or does it?

It only makes no sense if we assume that the stated reasons are the real reasons. What if the war on Colombia is more about clearing the land for agri-business or mining interests in this resource rich country? What if the aggression against Cuba was never about fear of the Soviets, but once again about installing governments that do as they are told by Washington, and the very act of defiance had to be squelched to prevent others from following a similar course? And the best way to overthrow a government you disapprove of is to portray them as a threat to the American people. Though that's no longer tenable the aggression towards Cuba remains and is kind of not discussed.

Tomorrow Obama will let us know if he'll be sending additional troops to Afghanistan. Michael Moore pleads with him not to. I wish Michael all the success in the world. And it might work. Politicians know more and more these days that popular resistance is a big problem for their imperial ambitions. But why would Obama even consider expanding a purposeless war? Well, maybe it isn't purposeless. Maybe there's a lot of money to be made piping oil out of the Caspian Sea, through Afghanistan and Pakistan and out to the Indian Ocean (bypassing Iran). Is that what's going on? I really don't know. But when our wars appear to make no sense I tend to think that there must be a way in which they do make sense. Obama has pressure from some people that stand to make a lot of money, and he must balance that against popular resistance. Tomorrow we will find out which way he goes.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Why Would Humans Evolve the Capacity for Tickling?

What's great about the Theory of Evolution is it provides us a paradigm with which we can really explore the features of living organisms. The old "Godidit" hypothesis always works, but it's not very satisfying intellectually. It's pretty much a dead end.

So why would humans develop the capacity for tickling? This is just a recent curiosity of mine. A little google research provides some interesting insight. The theory is that laughter creates social cohesion, indicating to other members of the species that you aren't there for threatening purposes, improving social bonds, etc. Apparently tickling is a mere extension of that.

This may be true and it may be false. Searching google I find that creationists like to mock such explanations. In truth they are speculative. But they do conform to an overall paradigm that we know is true and they offer testable features. What do the creationists offer? Nothing but the untestable and unfalsifiable assertion that God is responsible complex things. There's not so much to mock on that view because there's basically almost nothing there to mock.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Barack Obama on Religion

Some interesting tidbits via Common Sense Atheism and his commenter Scott, apparently his mother was practically an atheist, as was his father when he met her. Below is some mildly interesting commentary from Obama that is unlikely to please evangelicals. Not that they liked him anyway. Is Obama an atheist as well?

By the way I think the youtube heading "Obama Attacks Religion" is a little overstated. It's basically general criticism of those that want to govern as if the Scriptures were inerrant.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

American Priorities

Remember about a year ago how Israel started bombing a bunch of civilians trapped in a tiny cage and the initial pretexts evaporated?. You might remember how they admitted to using chemical warfare on these trapped civilians.

Now there's a report on the war crimes in the conflict called the Goldstone Report. I really don't know much about it except to say that it does accuse Israel of war crimes and does call for an investigation. Also it's been endorsed by the U.N. despite U.S. opposition.

Maybe these are complex issues. Maybe reasonable people can think differently. Would you expect the U.S. House of Representatives to go out of their way to overwhelmingly condemn the report? It seems strange to me that our country is so concerned about working on behalf of a foreign country. Should we be expending so much capital on them? Don't we have our own problems?

Saturday, November 14, 2009

More on Christian Suicide Terrorists

An excerpt from Pape's Dying to Win with regards to suicide terrorists from Lebanon, where there exists a significant Christian population:
New information about the identity of the suicide attackers presents a fresh picture that casts the role of Islamic fundamentalism in a new light. I spent a year leading a team of researchers who collected detailed evidence on the ideological and other demographic characteristics of suicide terrorists. The results show that at least thirty of the forty-one attackers do not fit the description of Islamic fundamentalism. Twenty-seven were communists or socialists with no commitment to religious extremism; three were Christians. Only eight suicide attackers were affiliated with Islamic fundamentalism; the ideological affiliation of three cannot be identified. Moreover, although Iran did provide money and other support to the Lebanese resistance fighters, the rise of Hezbollah and large popluar support for the movement were directly caused by a clear external event, Israel's massive occupation of southern Lebanon in 1982. Further, although religion was a recruiting tool, examination of the logic of martyrdom articulated by Hezbollah and other Lebanese political leaders overwhelmingly justified suicide terrorists acts, commonly called "self-martyr" operations, as an extreme measure necessary to end foreign occupation of the homeland, while explicitly ruling out such acts as an end in themselves or for other, even religious, goals.

Contrary to the conventional wisdom, I argue that religious difference-not Islam-played the key enabling role in causing suicide terrorism in Lebanon. Although foreign occupation created the necessary basis for armed resistance, the religious schism between the occupiers' societies and the occupied society enabled resistance leaders to inflame nationalist sentiments to the point that the occupied community supoprted and glorified suicide terrorism. Fear of a religiously motivated occupier, more than anything in Islam, encouraged a significant level of community support for extreme self-sacrifice to end the occupation. (p129-130)

Alan Dershowitz is Pissing Me Off

I became interested in the Israel/Palestine conflict and while earlier in my life I was reading more pro-Zionist sources recently I've been reading more from the other side of the conflict. For instance I read a couple of books by Norman Finkelstein. In one of Finkelstein's books, Beyond Chutzpah, he lays out a detailed case for why Alan Dershowitz book, The Case for Israel, is a blatant hoax, and further it's a plagiaristic work of a prior book widely regarded as an earlier blatant hoax, Joan Peter's book From Time Immemorial.

Finklestein's case looks pretty strong to me. The detailed documentation of plagiarism is devastating. But the outright fabrication is also clearly documented.

But I wanted to give Dershowitz a chance to respond and I had heard him say he responded in a recent book called The Case for Peace. So I got a hold of the audio version and I listened to his response to Finkelstein's book, which I have just read. Dershowitz starts by quoting Noam Chomsky as follows. And be aware that I'm listening to the audio book, so I'm not sure on punctuation, capitalization, etc.

"The Jews do not merit a 'second homeland' because they already have New York, with a huge Jewish run population, Jewish-run media, a Jewish mayor, and domination of cultural and economic life."

I'm no Noam Chomsky expert, but I've heard him make this statement. What he said was in response to the claim that Palestinians don't need a homeland because they are nothing but Jordanians. He says that argument is just as absurd as the claim that Jews don't need a homeland because they already have New York. He rejects that argument as absurd and as far as I know has long been on record in support of a two state solution. Dershowitz has taken that statement, which was intended to express what Chomsky thought was an absurd notion, and he's made it such that this is in fact Chomsky's view.

Is this sloppiness or deception? Read Beyond Chutzpah and you'll see that Dershowitz engages in both. As Finkelstein emphasized when he debated Dershowitz on Democracy Now (which is quite fun to watch), this guy is the Felix Frankfurter Chair at Harvard Law School. To see such sloppiness and error is pretty surprising.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Obama Change Watch

I've outlined a few of the items that show that Obama represents nothing but the status quo as far as peace. See here and here and here for examples. I just stumbled across another item that is interesting.

The old Obama was highly critical of Bush's use of "signing statements." These were basically declarations Bush would issue when he signed legislation indicating those parts of the law he believed he could ignore. Pretty rough stuff, right?

Well, that was the old Obama. The new Obama sees things differently and is now issuing the same kind of signing statements of his own. See here.

Really though this wasn't unforeseeable. His voting record belied the implications of his rhetoric. Even smart people didn't get it. I wonder if they would get it now?

Bob Dutko Fears Muslims

Bob now says that when he meets a Muslim he can't help but feel suspicious, since there is so much support for terrorism among Muslims. Is he justified in thinking this way? This is the question he put to callers. All of his callers think so (meaning he's whipping up the fear, and probably resulting violence, which seems to be his goal). I think differently of course, and I told him why.

I didn't say all that I had wished to say, so I sent him a quick email with a couple of additional points, which I reproduce below.

Your fear mongering of Muslims is quite sad. U.S. foreign policy has lead to the death of millions of Muslims over the last 30 years. The starvation campaign in Iraq. Pushing Saddam into a war with Iran, wherein we supplied him the weaponry and logistics support. Maybe a million dead Iraqi's since 2003. Just like the Germans feared the Jews, in the same way you attempt to whip up support for more violence against Muslims by engendering more fear.

Your argument is that polls show that Muslims support terrorists groups. Well, so do Christians. Leaving aside your support for the Nicaraguan Contras, who killed 40,000 civilians or so and all of your other support for U.S. terrorism, look at Lebanon, where Christian suicide terrorists have emerged to expel occupying forces. This poll shows that 80% of Christians supported Hezbollah, the group that pioneered suicide bombing in the 80's.

So now it is time for you to ignore the facts Bob, and spread the fear. You're like the prophets of Ahab, telling the King exactly what he wanted to hear. I suppose Elijah was "hating Israel" when he criticized Ahab's behavior.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Meet a Christian Suicide Terrorist

To the left is Norma Hassan. She was a Christian school teacher from Lebanon. She blew herself up as part of an effort to expel Israeli occupation forces from southern Lebanon. She brought 7 people down with her.

But isn't this all about 72 virgins? Isn't it about jihad? Isn't it because Islam is a violent religion? Isn't it because these people hate freedom and democracy?

To me anybody that can think there way out of a paper bag should be able to figure out the motivations of suicide terrorists. They say it repeatedly. Their actions are very consistent with their statements. And now Robert Pape has shown based on evaluations of the terrorist's profiles what the motivations are and are not. It's not about religion. It's not about poverty. It's not about lack of education. It's not about jealousy of prosperity or about fear of western values. This is about weak parties living in a homeland that they regard as occupied by an outside force.

Consider some of the facts that many regard as so paradoxical. Most of the 9/11 hijackers came from Saudi Arabia. But they were our allies. Most were Sunni Muslims, not more radical Shia Muslims. Mohammad Atta was well educated and from a wealthy family. What kind of sense does this make? It makes perfect sense if you ready Robert Pape. There were U.S. troops present in Saudi Arabia at the time, and Atta and others regard that as an occupying force.

If you do read Pape you might assume he'd come to leftist conclusions. It was pretty staggering though for me to read his final thoughts. What to do to resolve the problem? Our military presence in the Middle East is the chief motor for Arab antagonism towards us. The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Ealam feel the same way towards the Sri Lankan military. Hamas and Hezbollah feel the same way toward Israel. Should we just leave and wash our hands of the region?

That's not really an option for Pape. Why? Well we need their oil. His solution is to pull out as much as possible, but be ready to pounce if necessary. Basically these natives are sitting on our oil, so we have to do what's necessary to protect our property, but don't overdo it and aggravate them. It's kind of an outright commitment to empire as I read it.