Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Long Delay

There has been a long delay in posting... apologies. Work transitions have made my life a little hectic.

I'll be going to Central America in January, which--barring violent relief of my digital camera by hooligans--should provide some excellent photography for my blog.

On another note, my plans for the first half of next year have changed. 14 days ago I was told I was going to Afghanistan next August for work. 10 days ago I was told I was going in April. 5 days ago I was told I was going ASAP. Today, the deployment office got confused and told me I was going to Iraq. With everything settled, I'll be heading to Afghanistan in January and will return for months later. Again, great opportunity for anecdotes and photographs.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Georgians, the Ruskies and My Job

Not a usual post... I digress and talk about my interest.

I told a friend of mine the other day, "You know I have best job ever? My job is to follow, understand, and analyze conflict. News is old to me--or I helped create it. Revelations in the media are pretty "duh". You should switch careers."

I work in the defense/foreign policy world. I made the above statement because I spent the majority of my workweek following and assessing the war in the Caucasus (normally, I would pounce on a layperson and ask, "Which one?" However, I am referring to the thrashing of Georgia by the Ruskies.) I think this cartoon sums it up nicely:

I will not recount the conflict here; I also can't be bothered to type out in depth analysis. Suffices to say that the Bear has come out of hibernation. Not to say that the Russians haven't been flexing their muscles, reasserting their influence along their periphery, beefing up their military, or provoking Georgia and planning this operation for a long time. They have. At the same time, Georgia acted foolishly in a vacuum: did they believe that the US and NATO would fight open war with Russia over a handful of separatists, despite economic, political, and military considerations and investments? Remember that whole nuclear deterrence thing between Russia and NATO?

Josh Foust at Registan has been covering this particular buildup for over a year now. Russia was waiting to pounce and Georgia grossly miscalculated (i.e. was dumb)--see above cartoon. Nothing new. However, some huge observations can be drawn from the conflict.

1. Russia is testing the US and NATO. By invading and staying put--in some cases, digging in--she is trying to see how far she can press her luck.

2. Russia is proving that Europe can do nothing against her--Russia supplies Europe with over one third of its oil and nearly 40% of its gas. Europe is helpless.

3. I am a recovering idealist and say this with regret. Half of me wants to stand by the Georgians, however badly they screwed this up. However, the realist side admits that war with Russia--given security concerns, energy pressures, and economic issues--over tiny Georgia will not happen. Realpolitik, people. The US and UK could posture and put a couple of Carrier Groups in the Black Sea; Russia would call our bluff, we would not risk open war, and we would look even weaker.

4. Saakishvili has learned that putting a European Union flag behind you does not mean you are a member.

5. From an 'academic study of war' aspect, this war has shown us the blurred lines between conventional and non-conventional wars. Russia invaded with troops, tanks, and jets--yes. However, she deployed irregulars and paramilitaries and relied on local Ossetian fighters as well, who often carried out the nasty bit of warfare we'll call The Spoils. Moreover, the Russian have revised their claims of Georgian ethnic cleansing and civilian deaths--from 1,600 civilian Ossetian dead to 130. Hmmm. Information warfare attempt that didn't take?

6. Speaking of information warfare (IO), the kinetic assault on Georgia was coupled with an IT assault--the first time this has happened. Georgia government and military websites and servers were bombarded with DOS attacks that attempt to flood, overwhelm, and shut down servers, restricting access, information dissemination, and communications. We're talking Cyberdyne and SkyNet.

7. The Russians have pumped holes through international law. To be fair, this who area (the Caucasus) is dodgy to begin with. However, if you weren't paying attention, you wouldn't have noticed that Russia issued Russian passports/citizenship to most Ossetians and Abkhaz in Georgia. Legality? When violence erupted, they asserted, "We will protect our citizens." Legality? Uh... Why doesn't the EU issue passports to all Chechens and then "defend her citizens"? Why doesn't the US issue passports and citizenship to all Tibetans and then defend her "people" from China?

8. The whole episode will make NATO and the EU review their invitation to Georgia. If there is a chance of this happening again, there is no way that continental Europe--and less chance the US and UK--will enter a defensive treaty with Georgia that potentially put NATO into likely confrontation with Russia over 30,000 separatists in the Caucasus. See Observation #3.

Sad, fascinating, and exciting all at the same time. My boss asked me the other day where I would like to be stationed or work during my career. I said the Caucasus. Call me crazy, but I doubt I'll be bored there.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Sandeela vs. Caylee OR Ratings vs Real News

I have long been disgusted by media bias in reporting on abused, missing, or kidnapped girls. Soccer moms, young women, and the West at large thirst and beg for news stories when cute, white, photogenic, or socio-economically-matched girls are affected. Natalie Holloway is an excellent example. Caylee Anthony is another. Madeleine McCann is unfortunately another.

As far as I'm concerned, Natalie Holloway was a stupid partier who got drunk and agreed to "take a ride" with strangers. Social Darwinism and natural selection at work. Caylee and Madeleine are different cases--their situations are an unfortunate result of bad parenting and a dangerous world. And despite how this article may read, I do hope and pray that Madeleine and Caylee are found safely.

However, why do we hear about these particular stories? Women and girls go missing by the millions. 113-200 million women and girls are "missing" as I am typing this. Over 1.5 million lose their lives through violence or neglect every year. Why are these three special?

Moreover, given the recent premiere of Honor Killings in the US through the murder of an equally unique and important American girl, Sandeela Kanwal, why is Caylee dominating news coverage? If anything, the advent of this violent epidemic on American shores should dominate the news. Yet we hear very little to nothing about it in favor of another story of bad parenting and unfortunate mishap.

800,000 kids go missing in the country every year. How often do you hear stories of little Puerto Rican girls in New York, black girls in Birmingham, or Mexican-American girls in California being kidnapped or going missing? Ever? Can you recall one? I can't. Why is this? Are all the missing kids white and middle class?

Is it ratings versus real news? This is my argument. When America sees a non-white child go missing, they dismiss it as crime from the inner city or some other social evil that we don't want to talk about. When a poor kid goes missing, it's probably some white trash father or podunk redneck to blame. More than this, most people in this country are white and middle class--when a story hits close to home or seems like it could affect them (or their kids in this case), they watch. The need. The yearn for every detail. It becomes a soap opera that penetrates America's heart; deep down inside we want the Lost to be found so we can rest assured at night that our kids are safe.

Thus, the media ignores real news--Sandeela's demise at the behest of her "dis-honored" father--for the Soap Opera this-can-happen-to-you news--Caylee, Madeleine, and Natalie--so that we watch...and watch...and wait for news. To quote a graduate professor of mine: "The Press are whores to sensationalism and ratings." I hold this truth to be self-evident.

America's First Honor Killing

I remember reading about America's first honor killing in the news and almost wrote an op-ed on it. I never got around to it and instead am posting here.

For those that don't follow this, an honor killing is usually perpetrated against a women by her family because she has "shamed" them, either by wearing makeup, taking off her headscarf, have a non-Muslim boyfriend, drinking, or escaping from arranged marriages. It occurs almost entirely among Turks, Kurds, Afghans, Pakistanis, and Indians of Islamic faith, although some cases have involved Arabs and other ethnicities from the Near East, as well as Christians, Sikhs, and Hindus throughout.

Most people on this continent are probably oblivious to the proliferation of honor killings in Europe--so numerous now (in the multiples of hundreds) that Scotland Yard set up the Honor Crimes Unit and EU leaders have set up a pan-European anti-Honor killing squad.

What was shocking is that the US case didn't occur in L.A., New York, the Washington area, or any of the major population centers for Central/South Asians, Arabs, Kurds, and Turks. It happened, instead, in small town Jonesboro, GA, just down the road from where I grew up.

Thinking of some prominent examples of the 5,000 (UN estimate) annual honor killings... I remember reading a story about a young 16 year old Turkish girl in Germany. She wore some makeup. Her youngest brother--perhaps 13--shot her in the face in the schoolyard. He had been ordered to by his father and older brothers. Why? Because she was living a western life and he, as a minor, would have his record wiped clean at 18.

In 2003 in Britain, a Kurdish man, Abdalla Yones, stabbed his 16 year old daughter 11 times and then slit her throat because she had a Christian boyfriend.

One Turkish-German women, Hatin Surucu, had been married off to a cousin in Turkey at 16. She escaped at 22 with her son and fled to Berlin, where she took up residence at a single mothers home. She finished school and began specialist training as an electrician. Her family tracked her down and her 3 brothers shot her as she waited for a bus in 2005.

Horrible, shocking, disgusting. I hope this archaic and inhumane practice is wiped out before more occur in our country (although the murder of two sisters in Texas is suspect). Paramount is the message that while we enjoy a multicultural open society with freedom of worship, this does not trump the secular, individual, and humans rights laws that we hold dear and which enable this country to prosper.

Update: Here is a well written op-ed by Fipp Avlon on the subject. Avlon is a big proponent of centrist independent politics and is a professor at Stanford University. He was formerly Rudy Guiliani's top speechwriter.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

4:86PM: Time has shifted to the metric system in the UK

UK civil servants use calculators to tell time.

This is sad. A meter maid in the UK wrote a guy a ticket despite the fact that the gentleman has plenty of time left on the meter. Why? Because the meter maid thought that time operated in the metric system. Didn't you know there were 100 minutes per hour?

When the victim of the stupidity protested that he had paid for 75 minutes of parking:

"The warden disagreed and tried to prove his point with a calculator.

He tapped in 14.49 and added 0.75 to produce a total of 15.24, claiming this meant Mr Alsop's ticket had expired at 3.24pm, some 17 minutes before he returned to his car."

The victim tried to explain, but the traffic warden ignored him and kept on ticketing. Coupled with my recent post on the failure of education standards, this story is not surprising.

Lunacy: 4 Common Sense: 2

Car Thieves Are Covered by Our Insurance

Read the absurdity here.

Seriously. A young guy in the West Midlands (UK) had his car stolen. The thief rammed a police officer trying to evade arrest. Following standard police procedures, the Police charged the victim's insurance for thief-induced damage to the patrol car. The insurance company, in turn, charged the victim £1,000 ($2000US)!!

Two things: 1) Let's explore the outer limits of this line of thinking and 2) let's talk about personal responsibility.

I can understand if a child's guardians or parents are held accountable or a vicious dog's owner is responsible for his misbehavior. I can also understand some instances of negligence (i.e. you place a loaded pistol on a desk next to a deranged suicidal maniac or otherwise enable a delinquent act).

So, when is one responsible for inanimate objects? Perhaps when they are in your possession?

I would not sue McDonalds because I spilled hot coffee on me--it's my dumbass fault.

You shouldn't--and have thus far been unable to--sue gun manufacturers for crimes committed with their products.

Specific to cars--If I lend my car to a friend, I understand--by law--that I am also lending out my insurance. However, if he steals it, I have no control and am thus absolved. I was neither negligent nor enabling.

Secondly, what happened to personal responsibility? If this criminal did it, he should have to answer for it. Bottom line. That's it. The idea that the government is specifically dispensing blame to those that a) they know can pay and b) had no part in the accident is disgusting.

Hopefully the citizens of the UK will take notice and lobby their MPs to end this nonsense.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Perfect Caption

I found this image online yesterday in the Post's Day in Pictures.

I was a bit traumatized, yet not surprised. These gentlemen are celebrating the Tour de France. Can you guess their nationality? I'm sure all you Brits can. Keep in mind that these grown Frenchmen are celebrating a national sporting event by dressing up like characters on one of the most popular French TV shows... so there is no excuse!

I could unleash a multitude of France jokes, but these are available at the link below. I will, however, offer a perfect caption and a timeless quote of relevance.

The perfect caption: The Tour de France is so popular with the French because it's the one sport where you don't need balls.

Brilliant. What would Napoleon say about his compatriots? Oh...wait, Bony was Corsican. Nevermind.

Secondly, literary genius and iconic American Mark Twain had this to say about our Francophone brethren:

"France has neither winter nor summer nor morals. Apart from these drawbacks it is a fine country. France has usually been governed by prostitutes."

Truer words have never been spoken.

For further comic relief at the expense of the Fifth Republic, go to google, type in "French Military Victories" and click "I'm Feeling Lucky".