[The following is slightly adapted from a comment written for a Facebook post, based on this article about President Obama’s December 6, 2015 speech, which for some reason Facebook would not allow me to post. Possibly because, at nearly 3,500 words, it’s too long. What can I say? I felt inspired. The comment that inspired me basically expressed doubt that Obama has put as much thought into “ISIS and the implications of radical Islam” as the article’s author thinks. I have adjusted some formatting and added some links.]
You may be right about Obama not thinking through the full implications of radical Islam, but the exact same can be said for people on the right who posit radical Islam as a threat to “Western civilization” (a fluid and undefined term if ever there was one) on a par with German fascism or Soviet communism. Lest this seem like a tu quoque argument, I’ll even concede that Obama might underestimate the short-term threat posed by radical Islamism, but only because I believe the proponents of the radical-Islamism-as-mortal-threat viewpoint drastically overstate its dangers—furthermore, by arguing for such an aggressive stance against it, they paradoxically serve its aims. Continue reading →
It’s worth pondering for a moment just how difficult it is to survive on $2 per day. That’s a single gallon of gasoline. Or half a gallon of milk. If you took a D.C. bus this morning, you have 25 cents left for dinner. Among this group in extreme poverty, some get a boost from housing subsidies. Many collect food stamps — an essential part of survival. But so complete is their destitution, they have little means to climb out. (The book described one woman who scored a job interview, couldn’t afford transportation, walked 20 blocks to get there, and showed up looking haggard and drenched in sweat. She didn’t get hired.)
Edin is a professor specializing in poverty at Johns Hopkins University. Shaefer is an associate professor of social work and public policy at the University of Michigan. In several years of research that led to this book, they set up field offices both urban and rural — in Chicago, in Cleveland, in Johnson City, Tenn., in the Mississippi Delta — and tried to document this jarring form of American poverty.
If you don’t know by now that you should always Google the subject matter of a meme before re-posting it, then you are either (a) too young to use a computer yet, or (b) hopeless. That said, it is now becoming clear that you shouldn’t always trust a debunking of a meme.
A series of images making their way around the web show huge numbers of people piling onto some rusty, rickety ships. The description often accompanying the image suggests that these are Syrian (or Libyan) refugees headed for Europe, with sinister suggestions for what that implies…
You may have seen a meme (the idea kind of meme, not the image macro kind) going around comparing states of the northeastern U.S. to urban areas of Texas, like this one showing that Connecticut is about the same size as Houston:
I found a site (MAPfrappe) that lets you do this by tracing outlines on the map, then dragging them around for comparison’s sake. It even adjusts your outline to account for the Mercator projection. I used it to make an outline of Oahu to show that it’s about the same size as Austin, but then wondered why I spent time doing that when I could have traced Texas in order to compare it to other places around the world.
This piqued my interest for at least three reasons:
Obscure history from World War II and the Cold War are a hobby of mine (and it seems safe to assume that any “terrifyingly awesome secret” found in a German forest dates to that period in history.)
I find the idea of long-lost underground structures fascinating, albeit usually in a tragic way—like the abandoned tunnels in Ghostbusters 2, or the slightly-less-fictional “mole people” (not a very nice term) of Las Vegas, New York, etc.
We’ve been watching the Sundance series Deutschland 83, which just had its season finale.
Deutschland 83 deserves its own post, but to summarize: It is about a young East German soldier sent to spy on West Germany by posing as the newly-assigned aide to a general in the West German Army. I haven’t seen much of the show The Americans, but I suspect they share some thematic similarities. As the title indicates, Deutschland 83 is set in 1983, the year we came closest to nuclear annihilation since the Cuban Missile Crisis 21 years earlier.
Bolivia, a landlocked South American country, has a navy with 173 vessels and about 5,000 personnel, despite being a landlocked country. It currently uses its navy to patrol the rivers that flow into the Amazon, as well as Lake Titicaca, which is located on Bolivia’s border with Peru. (Lake Titicaca, in addition to being the largest lake in South America, is the highest navigable lake in the world, at 12,507 feet above sea level. That’s the basis for my attempted pun in the title, since I can’t think of any puns based on the name of the lake itself.)
The country will get its day in court sometime soon, now that the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague has agreed to hear its claim for “sovereign access to the sea” (h/t Paul). The legal case involves complicated questions of international law that you can read about on your own. Continue reading →
There are poachers in Africa currently hunting Rhino. This woman hunts the poachers.
The “hunts the poachers” line sort of caught my attention. (Yes, yes, other aspects of the photo caught my attention, too. I’ll get to that.)
The awesome blog TYWKIWDBI wrote about this woman, Kinessa Johnson, yesterday, and clarified that the organization where she works, VETPAW, employs ex-military servicemembers to secure locations where poachers are known to operate. The goal is to dissuade poachers from trying anything in that area, not to seek them out and engage them (which is what “hunt” sort of implies). That doesn’t make it any less bad-ass by any measure. Continue reading →
The message from the medieval past is that religious violence seldom limits itself to one target and expands to reach the maximum number of available victims.
Cultural ignoramuses portrayed President Obama’s references to the Crusades and the Inquisition at the recent National Prayer Breakfast as an excuse for Islamic terrorism, but the president’s allusions could and should have been used as an opportunity to reflect on the special damage inflicted in many historical contexts by warriors seeking conquest in the name of their god.
Thomas Asbridge, director of the Center for the Study of Islam and the West at the University of London, commented in this newspaper that “we have to be very careful about judging behavior in medieval times by current standards.”
This issue is better judged from the other side of the looking glass. What we actually see today is a standard of medieval behavior upheld by modern fanatics who, like the crusaders, seek both religious and political power through violent means. They offer a ghastly and ghostly reminder of what the Western world might look like had there never been religious reformations, the Enlightenment and, above all, the separation of church and state.