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Archive for the ‘Side B’ Category

When Bill Clinton was President (and even before), those opposed to him wasted no time or effort to tar and feather him by associating him with the following scandals…

Whitewater – a real estate venture gone bust;
Vince Foster – the Deputy White House Counsel who killed himself in 1993;
Troopergate – allegations from the days when Clinton was Governor of Arkansas; and
Gennifer Flowers.

This constant cry of scandal and misdeed led to an interesting conclusion.

When something scandalous actually did show up, the affair with Monica Lewinsky and the impeachment and trial that followed, the public had Clinton “scandal fatigue” and shrugged. Clinton was acquitted by the Senate and he left office with an approval rating of 66%. By comparison, Ronald Reagan finished out his second term with an approval rating under 60%.

As George Santayana put it, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

Such is the case with those who oppose President Barack Obama. Whether it is those who…

…question his birth certificate;
…question his religion;
…question his affiliation with pastor Jeremiah Wright;
…question his patriotism; or
…call him a socialist,

…those that call for the impeachment of the current occupant of the White House are falling into the same trap that captured the opponents of Clinton.

When something actually does show up – such as Benghazi and the Issa hearings or the IRS controversy – the public just shrugs and passes it off as more GOP crying wolf…or Kenyan…or Muslim.

Just once, I would like to see an opposition party keeps its powder dry and pounce at the right time…not simply at every whiff of blood in the air.

I have such large expectations.

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In On The Origin of Species, Charles Darwin wrote about natural selection. This is the process by which organisms evolve over time. Humans – or better known by their scientific name, homo sapiens – have not been immune from this process and our species is the product of evolving from other, earlier species including Homo erectus and Homo habilis.

This post is not to talk about evolution or those who deny its scientific credentials. Instead, this post is about how Homo sapiens is an evolutionary dead end.

Yep, we are the last of our kind. There is no moving forward from this point on the family tree.

I make this announcement based on two idiosyncracies of our species.

The first has to do with out brain power. Because of our intelligence, we can build solutions to adapt to changing situations. With our mental know-how, there is no need for us to use natural selection to adapt to any different set of conditions that we might encounter in the future. From climate change to space travel to an errant chunk of comet slamming into the Pacific Ocean, humanity will be able to use its combined cranial fortitude to craft a technological solution to help us live.

And if we can’t, then that is the end of us and our line.

The second reason I make my Traveling Wilburys-like announcement has to do with how our society treats change.

The process of natural selection will express itself in humanity – as it does in all other organisms – by producing a mutation. This mutation may or may not produce an effect that is beneficial to the person who has that mutation. This mutation may or may not show itself as a physical difference. However, if this mutation does produce a marked physical difference and whether or not if confers an adaptive advantage to the carrier, the person with that mutation will be killed off as soon as possible.

Sad to say – but ever so true – but human society despises the other and actively seeks to destroy that which is different. It’s part of the reason genocide is the pastime of humanity. So if there ever comes a person who displays gills or translucent skin or…whatever the beneficial mutation is, that person will be knocked off by a tribe, mob, or government entity before that mutant has the chance to propagate.

So, for those pair of reasons, that is why I conclude that H. sapiens is the highest – and last – branch on the Homo tree.

Best of luck to those who follow us.

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For those of you in the United States who haven’t been following along, I currently live in Thailand.

Thailand, for those of you not following along, is a foreign country that resides outside of the United States of America.

As a foreign country, Thailand has some rules, laws, and conventions that some citizens of the U.S. of A. might find odd.

Thailand has a constitutional monarchy which means, like England (another foreign country), there is a king and queen who sit as the formal head of government.

However, unlike England, it is against the law and is indeed a punishable offense to make fun of or to say anything negative about the royal couple. The name for this crime is lese majeste.

Can you imagine living in a country where you can be punished – perhaps even lose your job – for mocking the head of the government?

Of course you can. You already do.

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Before I raised anchor from the Continent, spent some time in the U S of A becoming reacquainted with my home culture, and before planting my new homestead in Thailand’s capital, I wrote a post about a double standard in the Arabic world.

Now that I am ensconced on the other side of the world, I am going back to mine that “double standard” vein…mainly because it is so easy.

Today’s installment deals with the treatment of mosques.

In April of 2013, LEGO announced that they would be halting production of the Jabba’s Palace playset. Cries of racism came from the Turkish Cultural Community of Austria as they claimed that the palace of Jabba the Hut, the criminal lord of the Tatooine underworld, looked too much like the famous Hagia Sophia mosque in Istanbul, Turkey.

Putting aside the fact that the LEGO representation of Jabba’s Palace looks almost nothing like the iconic Turkish mosque (i.e., zero minarets on Jabba’s Palace as opposed to the four on Hagia Sophia, the tops of the domes are different), I’m here to talk about the double standard of the reaction.

The Turkish Cultural Community of Austria (TCCA) threw out the cry of racism and took to the electronic media to decry the technical desecration of a historic mosque because of its questionable similarity to a toy.

So what do you think the reaction of the TCCA would be to the actual desecration and destruction of a real historic mosque? If you guessed “apoplectic” or “hysterical”, then you don’t understand the meaning of the phrase “double standard.”

When – also in April of 2013 – a minaret of a historic and ancient Umayyad Mosque in the Syrian city of Aleppo was destroyed during the civil war, the reaction of the TCCA was…

…absolutely ear-shattering nothing.

Go ahead. Look at their website here and you won’t find an iota or hint of any outrage at the destruction of the minaret in Aleppo.

The lesson here appears clear.

If a Western (in this case, Danish) toy company makes a product that looks something like a mosque (but only if you squint), then bring down the rafters with condemnation.

If an Arabic entity (in this case Syrian military or rebels) actually destroys part of a mosque, then shrug your shoulders.

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A true test of whether one’s position is based on sound principles or is simply the product of a bias is to switch the givens of a situation.

For example, if a person sides with Group A over Group B in a given situation based on a principle, then that same person should also side with Group B if the roles were reversed because the principle remains the same.

In an earlier post, I showed how a member of the Supreme Court of the United States switched principles depending on who was making the argument. Let me now expand on this idea to the world at large.

As a Jew, I take the situation regarding the existence of Israel rather personally.

In 1947, the United Nations General Assembly voted to implement a partition plan that would have created two states: one Palestinian and one Jewish.

When the British Mandate over Palestine ended on May 14, 1948, David ben Gurion declared Israel to be an independent state. The following day, neighboring Arab states invaded the Jewish State in what is now known as the 1948 Arab-Israeli War.

Shockingly, and against all the odds, Israel won.

Almost two decades later, in 1967, war broke out again. As Egyptian forces crossed UN lines and massed on Israel’s southern borders, the Israeli Air Force launched a surprise attack against Egypt starting the Six-Day War. At the end of that conflict, Israel had taken over the Sinai Peninsula (from Egypt), the West Bank (Jordan), the Gaza Strip (Egypt), and the Golan Heights (Syria).

In 1979, as part of the Camp David Accords, Israel returned the Sinai to Egypt. In 1993, as part of the Oslo Accords, some portions of the West Bank and Gaza Strip were placed under the control of the newly created Palestinian Authority. In 2005, Israeli forces left the Gaza Strip. However, to this day, the Jewish State has maintained control over portions of the West Bank and the Golan Heights.

This Israeli control over these lands once held by Arabs has not sat well with the Arab world and with the international community. The United Nations Security Council (UNSC), with its Resolution 497, calls on Israel to rescind its annexation of the Golan Heights. Reactions from the Arab street are negative when Israel builds settlements in the West Bank

So what would be the mood of the “Arab Street” (whatever that phrase means) if an Arab country annexed land belonging to a neighbor. If the Arab states were adhering to the principle that annexation, in any form, was bad, then it would be obvious that leaders from Libya to Egypt to Syria would demand that their Arab brothers return said land.

But why imagine when I can bring you a real-world case study.

Allow me to introduce you to the African area of land known as Western Sahara.

A colony of Spain in the late 19th century, the Western Sahara is bordered by Morocco to its north, Algeria on its extreme northeast, Mauritania to its east and south, and its western border is the Atlantic Ocean.

Morocco had claimed the land bound by the Western Sahara as its own since 1957. In 1975, Spain relinquished control of its colony to a joint administration run by Morocco and Mauritania. Mauritania withdrew from the joint administration in 1979 and Morocco took full control of the territory.

However, the people who originally lived in Western Sahara were not too pleased to be under anyone’s rule and the Sahrawi national liberation movement (also known as the Polisario Front) was created and it proclaimed the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) in the area known as Western Sahara.

So here you have a portion of land once run by a European party which walks away and a neighboring country takes de facto control of the land and its people. To make the comparison even more obvious, the annexing country builds a wall to contain the original inhabitants.

(For comparison, the Moroccan Wall in Western Sahara is 2,700 kilometers in length where as the Israeli West Bank wall is 700 km in length.)

So what has been the international response to this annexation by an Arab country? Has there been a UNSC resolution asking Morocco to immediately give up its claim?

Of course not.

Among the UNSC resolutions that have been adopted, there has been a resolution asking for a cease-fire to the conflict between Moroccan forces and the Polisario Front (UNSC Resolution 690) and there has been one asking for a referendum so that the people could decide (UNSC Resolution 995).

I’d like to link to any negative commentary from an Arabic news service about the annexation by Morocco of the Western Sahara, but I can’t seem to find any. If you come across any, please let me know.

So while the international news community files story after story after story after story about today being the Palestinian commemoration of Nakba (The Day of Catastrophe…otherwise known as the day Israel declared its independence in 1948), don’t expect a similar rush to criticize the conquering power when the anniversary of the annexation of the Western Sahara by Morocco comes around.

Why?

Because of الازدواجية …which is “double standard” in Arabic.

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There is a metaphor that has been floating around that I wish would wither and die.

Most recently with the news out of Cleveland of the three rescued kidnapped girls, the dreaded metaphor is making itself known.

It raised its head after the bombings at the Boston Marathon with the likes of CNN and Senator Lindsey Graham (R, SC) to Linda Chavez all using the same cliché.

This disdainful trope fully came into its own when folks gathered around their keyboards to discuss the failures of the intelligence communities in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. (Un)Fine examples can be seen here and here and here.

I speak, of course, of the “connect-the-dots” metaphor.

The problem with the knee-jerk criticism of “Why couldn’t XYZ connect the dots?” is that the critic has the advantage of hindsight. After the fact (e.g., attack, crime, malfeasance, etc.), it is always easy to see the clues hiding in plain sight.

Before the event, it is nearly impossible to connect the dots. The reason for this is due to the number of dots. In a true connect-the-dots picture, the dots are clearly labelled in an easy sequential order and there are no extraneous dots. As with the example below, it is child’s play to even guess the mystery image before the pencil even hits Dot#1.

Find the farm equipment

Find the farm equipment

However, law enforcement and intelligence officials – those most often criticized for failing to connect the dots – do not have the luxury of numbers dots with no extra material. What those people have to deal with is more analagous to the nighttime sky.

The better metaphor that you should have in your mind the next time you read some pundit cry and wail about some police force not connecting the dots is that of the constellations. Instead of the simple kiddie connect-the-dots above, what is below is a more accurate (albeit simplified) picture.

Now find the tractor

Now find the tractor

Look at all those dots in the simplified starchart above and multiply those dots by 100. Now try to find the picture of the tractor.

That’s what the police and people who work in agencies with three-letter acronyms have to contend with. Given that situation, the surprise is not that the legal system misses events, but that it actually does manage to find the signal in the noise.

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Boston Tidbits

Random thoughts about the news coverage regarding the bombings at the Boston Marathon

Lawbreakers Lawbreaking?

I have written before about my desire for journalists to delete the anonymous source from their reporting.

This article from the Los Angeles Times has following three paragraphs:

The CIA shared all the information provided by the foreign government including two possible dates of birth, his name and a possible name variant as well, an official said

FBI and Russian security services have been conducting interviews separately in the Dagestan area since the Tsarnaev brothers became suspects in the bombings last week, according to a federal law enforcement official.

The officials asked not to be identified because they were not authorized to discuss the investigation.

Read those paragraphs again and you will learn that these unnamed officials are providing information to outside sources when they have not been authorized to disseminate such data.

What other federal officials have provided information to outsiders when they weren’t authorized to do it?

Bradley Manning who currently sits in jail…
John Kiriakou who was sentenced to thirty months…
Thomas Drake who had charges against him dropped…

Notice that the above troika were all charged with crimes.

Why is it that none of the unnamed officials in the Times story have to worry about being hauled in front of a judicial proceedings? Why is it okay for an anonymous federal official to blab to Times staff about what the CIA, FBI, and Russian security services knows but it was not okay for PFC Manning to give his material to WikiLeaks?

Is Dick Van Dyke His Role Model?

On a lighter note…

This article from The New York Times has this sentence (on page 2 of the online article)…

Mike Doucette, 27, a chimney sweep who lives on the street, described seeing one brother shot and fall to the ground.

What the Dickens?!? In the second decade of the 21st Century, there are still chimney sweeps? Not only that, but there are  chimney sweeps in the United States of America?

Who knew?

And does Mr. Doucette sing “Chim Chim Chir-ee“?

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