Saturday, September 29, 2012

Why You Fail to Understand the Middle East

I am by no means a cultural expert on the Middle East and North Africa, but it has become painfully apparent to me that if I only know a little bit about those regions, then nearly everyone else on the blogosphere knows even less than that.

I'm sorry that I have to go on the attack to my Conservative readers (only because I know that most of my readers are conservative), but I'm going to have to call you (most of you) out on something.  Many of you claim that Islam is the problem in the Middle East, and you're doing that for two reasons:

1.  You have a feeble understanding of Arab and Persian cutlure.

2.  You're on a mission to paint Islam as a false religion, at least false compared to Christianity.

I got someone on some blog, maybe Political Realities, to admit that he believed Islam to be a "false religion," (his words, not mine), and I couldn't help but wondering if his opinion served as a credible one.  I mean, honestly, would you give credence to a radical Muslim's interpretation or perception of Christianity?  I wouldn't, but that's not because I grew up Catholic.  It's because I generally don't seriously consider the opinions of radicals when they're speaking about their perceived opposition.

So let's explore thing 1 that I mentioned above.  I think all of this stems from the fact that few of you have even a cursory grasp of Middle Eastern culture.  Arabs and Persians have historically been brutal cutlures, and that fact is largely a result of their environment.  Try growing up in the harsh, unforgiving desert and see how you turn out.  Then, couple that with the fact that the peoples around you are so bent on increasing their stockpile of already scarce resources that they're forced to conquer those around them just to have a greater chance of survival.

That's how these cultures began, and that's part of the reason they are still harsh today.  You might think that because it was such a long time ago that they should have evolved, but thousands of years of a particular cultural attitude has a way of ingraining itself in the psyche of an entire people.  You can't simply unmake thousands of years of cultural development and just expect them to "get with the times."  Although it may change and evolve over the centuries, it won't simply "go away."

I think Silverfiddle brought up the Jews as an example of how Islam is the real problem, because he believed the Jews to be peaceful.  Well, let's consider something here: how did the Jews even obtain their homeland?  Spoiler alert: they conquered it.  Not only did they conquer the lands that came to be known Israel and Judea, but they committed genocide all along the way.  They claimed that God told them to, so that the heathens wouldn't test their faith in God.

A little harsh, no?  Oh, but what they did was totally fine because "God commanded it."  Hopefully, some of you reading this are seeing how absurd that sounds, especially when you consider that the terrorists blow up school busses of children because it is "Allah's will."  The Jews were just as brutal as the Arabs and Persians.  Their laws were just as unforgiving.  They owned slaves (ironic given the fact that they broke free of slavery), they believed in eye-for-an-eye justice, and they sacrificed animals, just like many "heathen" religions around them.

The only difference is that the Jews were consistently conquered from about the 8th century BC on, so their society didn't really get a chance to reach the heights of decadent violence as their neighbors did.  Although I am sure that they were still just as fanatical and brutal as everyone else.  I mean, they stoned people, too.

So why do you think Islam is the problem, given the fact that Middle Eastern culture has been brutal since it began?  The Arabs, Persians, and other Semites had existed thousands of years before the advent of Islam.  Islam, if you know anything, didn't come into being until the 7th Century AD.  I promise you that Sharia law was simply the pre-existing law that ruled Arab and Persian cultures, just with a religious excuse behind it.

Arab and Persian culture came before Islam, and Islam is a product of those cultures.  Why are far east Asian Islamic countries less fanatical than Middle Eastern countries?  It's because they come from completely different cultural traditions.

Why are American Christians more fanatical than European Christians?  Why are there some Mormons who still believe in polygamy and some that don't?  Why is an Italian Catholic different from a Midwestern Catholic?  It's because of how culture reflects the interpretation of a religion.  Fundamentalist Southern Baptists are infinitely more zealous and ignorant of the meaning of Christianity than even the most ardent Catholic.  And it's because Catholicism is rooted in nearly two-thousand years of tradition and evolution, while the Southern Baptist movement is maybe two hundred years old counting its predecessors.

Many of you fail to understand the violence in the Middle East because you can't get over your vendetta against Islam.  You look for any reason to point out how awful a religion it is, so every time a Muslim perpetrates any kind of violence, you immediately use that for validation.  I suppose we should say that Catholicism is false every time a priest molests a kid.  We should just throw all of Christianity out the window whenever Christians perpetrate violence.

"Christians don't kill in the name of God!"  Well, they don't anymore at least.  But that's only because Western Civilization evolved.  The Arabs and Persians are still living in 1099 AD.  Islam is no more false than Christianity.  Get over it, because unless you bring intellectual things to the table, all you're doing is having a "my dad is better than your dad" argument.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Dumbass Idea of the Week: Worst. Thief. Ever.

A guy in Massachusetts makes out with a coin collection worth over $100,000.  Some might be thinking, "hmm, that's a pretty good heist," and it was.  There's just one problem though:  the guy spent the coin collection on pizza and a movie at face value.

Apparently, he didn't realize that the Liberty quarter he had was worth way more than 25 cents.  In fact, it was worth over $1,000.

It doesn't pay to break the law, but apparently it pays even less to be a gigantic dumbass about it.  You can read the original article here.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Repost: Intelligence is a Shitty Business

Rarely do I repost something I've written in the past, but I think this is as good a moment as any to do so in light of everyone flipping out about GWB and the 9/11 intelligence.  Again, my credentials are short, but I know more than probably about 95% of Americans in terms of the process and what the work itself is like.

I was a cryptologist in the U.S. Navy for three years.  I was of the communications intelligence brand, and in 2005-2006, I was deployed with the USS San Jacinto in the Persian Gulf.  While I was there, I was the ship's collection supervisor, which meant it was my job to make sure we were carrying out our ship's portion of the overall collection mission. 

When the San Jacinto was acting fleet coordinator (basically whenever the carrier pulled into port) I was responsible for tasking the cryptologic collection missions of not just my strike group, but all the strike groups in the 5th fleet.  Suffice to say, I know a thing or two about how intelligence works.


It might sound cool to be a spy, or to be involved in some sort of intelligence stuff, but then you hear about some spies of ours getting caught by Iran and Hezballah. When a CIA official says "we'll likely never see these guys again," that's when the reality of the intelligence business should set in.

It really is a shitty, thankless field to work in. Sure you get to tell people that you can't talk about what you do, and then chuckle at them for their inevitable probing questions as though they think they're crack interrogators who are going to trick you into revealing what you know, but that's not enough to make it not suck.

I know what it's like. In the Navy I was a cryptologist. I only spent three years as a cryptologist, so I didn't have the chance to get into any of the seriously crazy shit, but three years is enough to know how much it sucks.

For starters, there's that whole thing where you can never tell anyone anything, ever. That sounds cool at first, but after a while it gets frustrating. I did some fairly cool shit in my time. I was really good at what I did, and I wish that I could share my success stories with the people I care about. But the only people that knew just how good I was and the great things I did are those who worked with me and were cleared to know that sort of stuff. I haven't seen them in years, and even if I did see them it's not like we could talk about it out in the open.

It actually affected my marriage a bit. My ex-wife didn't like the fact that I couldn't come home and talk about work other than whenever we had to paint something. She didn't appreciate the idea that there was a part of my life that she'd never be privvy to. You see in the movies where spies' wives get all upset about that sort of thing, and I always discounted that as silly. "This can't be realistic. Of course their wives would understand." Well, not all of those wives understand, I guess.

And aside from how it affects your personal life, there's the nature of the work itself. Intelligence is not the place for people who enjoy discovering concrete answers to their burning questions. Much of the job revolves around guess work. Try this little exercise. Observe one person for like a month or so, and after that month try to predict their daily schedule for the next month.

Sounds easy, right? Well, it's not that easy. The person might call in sick for work one day. He might stay in for lunch rather than going out. He might go out with his friends and be too hungover to get to work on time the following day. Then, after you realize that there are a million variables you have to take into account in your observations and predictions, throw five more people into the mix. Try to predict what six people are going to do every day for the next month.

As if that's not hard enough, let them in on the little exercise, and tell them to willfully try to throw you off their scent to make them more unpredictable. Still easy?

Intelligence involves a *lot* of guess work. We always called them WAGs, or Wild Ass Guesses. "I don't know," is never an answer that your superiors want to hear, so you give them the best guess with what you've got. Sometimes you don't have shit, but they still want answers.

So intelligence is a field in which all you're doing is guessing and hoping to Christ that you're right. Your successes will never be known to the people you care about, and your failures will be plastered in plain sight for all to see. People mock you for failing so much, but don't realize that successes are kept under wraps because if everyone knows what works, it doesn't work anymore.

So if you're into dealing with guess work, never getting to talk about the cool shit you've done, and enjoy getting shit on by a public who doesn't even understand the nature of your work, then work in the intelligence field. You'll have a ball.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

9/11: What Does It All Mean?

I short: I don't really know.  In college, my professors always told my fellow students and me that every generation has a significant historical event that shapes their lives forever.  For my parents it was Vietnam.  For my Grandparents it was the advent of the Cold War.  For my Great Grandparents it was the Great Depression and WWII.  For my generation, according to academia, it's 9/11.

I would have preferred it to be the fall of the Soviet Union, but if you think about it, 9/11 was sort of a product of that moment in history.  Yes, there were a lot of ingredients that went into that batch of terrorist soup, but lets focus on that one for just a moment.

I think it was Bill Clinton who said something to the effect that during the Cold War, America had one enemy:  the Soviet Union.  It was a polarized world where everyone else sort of just stood still on bated breath wondering whether it would be the US or the USSR that ushered in nuclear holocaust.  America was a different place with the Red Menace always on the horizon.  But when they called it quits, America's enemies multiplied.

No one cared anymore about the glory of the Soviet Union, and some people in the Middle East thought it was high time that they get their piece of the pie.  Sure, they terrorize the world under the guise of Islam and making the world safe for Allah and Arab culture, but we all know what they really want.  They see the all the wealth and comfort the "decadent" west has amassed, and they're tired of living in the Middle Ages.

To be sure, the terrorists don't intend to share their piece of the pie with the People.  When push comes to shove, they will live comfortable lives and maybe just hope that it some how trickles down to the People.  And if it doesn't, well then that's just Allah's wish, isn't it?

The 90's were relatively calm, save for turning Bosnia into a sheet of glass and boming aspirin factories in Iraq, but things weren't too crazy.  We didn't have a perpetual enemy for which we needed to remain vigilant.  I think for a while there, America was getting bored.  And then, some assholes in a couple of planes decided to go and blow shit up.

We found our next perpetual enemy.

The way I see it is that we have so much wealth and military might that we have to use it, or at least we feel like we have to use it.  Ever find yourself sitting at home and feeling on edge?  You wonder why you're so anxious, but then you realize it's because you're bored and have nothing to do.  So you set out to find something to do.  But then you find a task that takes you ten minutes to complete, and you find yourself with nothing to do again.  So what's the next logical step?  Find a long-term project.

Yes, they picked a fight with us, so we are somewhat justified in our "War on Terror."  But it's a war that will never end, because there will always be terrorists.  Whether it's some Arab Muslim strapping a bomb to himself and blowing up an embassy, or some homegrown American anarchist screaming about setting the People free, there will always be terrorism.

And maybe that's a good thing.

That might sound asinine, but I liken America to a kid who needs to be occupied with something or else he'll be up to no good.  So my generation will forever be influenced by the next perpetual enemy.  My children won't know what life was like before Al Qaeda, and soon I'm sure we will forget what it was like when the FBI needed a warrant to bug you.

The society we have inherited is one that is perhaps more secure in its safety, but I fear less secure in its liberties.  I think this is what the terrorists wanted.  Their goal is not to scare us into submission--they know we'll never acquiesce and say "you win."  Their goal is to force us to take our freedoms away from ourselves, because it's our liberty that is in direct opposition to their goals.

The change they are trying to effect is not necessarily monetary or physical, but philosophical.  They're trying to frighten us into abandoning our principles.  If you cannot destroy the body, then you strike at the heart, the will to fight.  And since "ideas" are thought of only as silly things that "pointy-headed intellectuals" talk about amongst themselves in their ivory towers, my guess is that it won't be long before we give in and lose the will to fight.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

To Promote the Arts . . . And a Friend

I have posted some of his music here before, I think.  My good friend, James Rubino, is a composer and now a graduate student at Yale.  I always joke to him that now he's "made it to the big leagues."  For his senior recital, he compsed a piece that is set to a play that he and I both enjoyed, Caligula.

Written by Albert Camus, Caligula peers into the life of the mad Roman emperor.  The play is very excellent.  In that way that only Camus can do, he takes us on a journey with a man who has gone insane and seeks to take all of his ideas to their "logical conclusions."

This, is the music that would be set to such a performance.  Please, support the arts, and my friend, and remember to like and favorite!  Enjoy!!!

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Caption Request: Gary Busey

An anonymous poster requested that I caption a particular photo of Gary Busey, likely in response to my using Gary Busey in a little fable in my article from today.

Challeng accepted.

"Dinosaur condoms for everyone!"

Socialists vs. Racists: Political Conditioning and You

I stopped visiting Crooks and Liars for a while because it gave me a headache.  When I first started getting into the blogosophere crap, I started out briefly on Ace of Spades.  Some of my conservative readers might enjoy that place, but having experienced both sides of the fence, I can tell you the only difference between the two sides is their political bent.

But because I'm an idealist at heart, and my hopeless hope hasn't been completely ripped from my chest, I went back over to Crooks and Liars recently to wade back into the madness.  Today, I read an article there about why we should have a "serious discussion about race."  The author was lamenting how conservatives lament the race card.  Of course, when it came time to point fingers to blame someone for "the race card," the Right Wing caught the blame.

I thought about it for a moment.  Yes, why don't we have a serious discussion about race?  Let's just sit down and talk about it.  But then I thought about how this conversation would go.  Here's a snippet of how the scenario played out in my mind.

Bartender:  So Mr. Busey, what will you have today?

Gary Busey:  I'll have a black russian.

Bartender:  Oh, I'm sorry Mr. Busey, but we're out of coffee liqeuer.

Gary Busey:  Oh, so you only do white russians eh?  You racist son of a bitch!

Bartender:  Sir, I'm not racist, we just don't have the right ingredients to give you what you want.

Gary Busey:  Well, why don't you just go out and buy some?

Bartender:  I'm sorry, Mr. Busey, but it's just not in our budget.  We have to wait until the end of the month.  There's just not a high enough demand to justify . . .

Gary Busey:  Oh, so there's enough for white russians but not black russians?  I see.  Look me in the eye and tell me you're not racist!!!

Bartender:  Mr. Busey, I assure you, I'm not racist.

Gary Busey:  BULLSHIT!!!  YOU'RE LYING!!!

And that's pretty much how it would go.  Even if you looked them dead in the eye and swore on the God they know you worship, they'd never believe you when you tell them you're not racist.  But don't think you're getting away conservatives.  You're just as bad.

Let's play a little word association.  I'm going to say a phrase, and you say the first thing that comes to your mind.  Ready?

Social Justice.

Uh oh, I think I just heard a few people shout "SOCIALISM!"  Maybe some of you were even brave enough to let the big "C-Word" out (Communism . . . minds out of the gutter please).  My point, in case you haven't figured it out or neglected to read the title, is that this stuff is all about political conditioning.

Both parties have conditioned a large portion of their electorate to associate certain words and/or phrases with detestable concepts.  "Welfare Reform," is "racist," while "social justice," is "socialism."  I think I've said this before, but American politics, aside from being a madhouse, is little more than a fictional game of heroes vs. villains.  It's the Champions of Justice vs. The Big Bad Racists.  It's Joe the Plumber, wrench in hand, vs. The Red Commie Menace!

Serious discussion won't happen until *both* sides turn off their conditioning and stop making this about good vs. evil.  Until then, you're all just LARPing.*

*LARP - Live Action Role Play.  You can fully understand my insult by following this link.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Rachel Bloom's Latest: You Can Touch My Boobies

It's the combination of her intelligence and sex appeal that gets me going when I think of Rachel Bloom.  She's the chick who did "Fuck Me Ray Bradbury".

Here is her latest, about a boy who has a sexy dream in Hebrew school.


Sunday, September 2, 2012

Letters to a Democrat

The inspiration from this comes from Albert Camus's "Letters to a German Friend."  That short work can be found in the anthology Resistance, Rebellion, and Death.  It's an amazing read that everyone on the planet should undertake.

The idea was that Camus was writing to a friend of his, a German, while Camus was serving in the French Resistance.  Camus set out to tell his "friend" exactly why he and Germany were wrong.  It's not enough to just simply say "well you're wrong because what you're doing is plainly wrong."  You have to justify everything, or else you're just as blind as your oppressors.

My goal is to make this a recurring segment, and I will also have Letters to a Republican just in case any of my Republican readers thought they were going to get away.  So without further ado . . .

September 2, 2012


You once told me that people like me are the reason that America is so screwed up.  Me, and others like me, are so blind to the truth that we allow our party overlords slowly erode our freedoms.  You called me a "partisan hack," because I criticized a Democrat president; you called me a racist because I had the audacity to question the philosophical veracity and moral righteousness of Affirmative Action; and you accused me of being a complete moron for failing to understand your silly notion that running extremely high deficits from junk spending is a good thing.

I couldn't help but laugh in your face, because the irony of all your accusations was too hilarious to ignore.  The fact that you try to stifle my voice is precisely why American politics has devolved into nothing more than a screaming match between adult children.

Because you act as a mouthpiece for your party, worthy candidates cannot be nominated.  Because you tell me to "sit down and shut up," America suffers.  Because you equate me and my cohorts to the psychopaths who shoot up movie theaters, rational discourse cannot be held.

Freedom, liberty--words that often ilicit a snicker or two when used in an "adult conversation" about politics--begin their slow death march when free speech and thought are subverted.  You laugh at me when you say that, because you seem to always be up in arms whenever the government appears to be abridging our freedom of speech.  Contrary to what you may believe, our politicians don't try to make us shut up.

You already do that for them.

Any time someone criticizes a policy that provides some benefit to minorities, you throw out the word "racist," and the conversation stops.  Any time someone brings up the notion that we ought to make sure no one gets away with voter fraud, you shout out "voter supression!" and the discussion is over.  Your overlords gave you these weapons--weapons designed to dismantle any semblance of rational discussion.

No matter what your overlords have told you--no matter how many pre-canned phrases lead you to believe contrary--I am not your enemy.  Liberty dies when good, honest men who love their country are branded as heretics and traitors.  Your overlords prey on your feelings, your sentiments, and they turn you against me so that you'll continue to vote them into office.

They've got you scared--so scared that you will use against me the very weapons you denounce.  You are so afraid that you will abridge my freedom of speech.  You've become a parrot, a robot.  You hear certain key phrases such as "personal responsibility," and your brain is conditioned to automatically respond by accusing me of being an "anarchist."

You, my friend, are the downfall of liberty.  You allowed your overlords to remove your ability to think, and you've transformed into little more than a trumpet: for a trumpet only sounds when its master blows into it.  You are killing liberty with your tirades, your insults, your soundbites.

All I want is for you to stop screaming at me, to stop calling me names, to actually listen to my words.  The best part is that you don't even have to agree with me!  All you have to do is listen and think.

Liberty, my friend, does not mean we have to always agree.  Liberty means we are allowed to disagree.  So stop trying to bully me into your camp, because even if you are right, I'd rather be a mistaken free-man than an enlightened slave.