Archive for the 'peace' Category

I [Heart] Precious Ramotswe

Saturday, April 30th, 2005

I’ve tried to get Janus/Onan to read Alexander McCall Smith’s No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series before, but I don’t know if he ever followed the suggestion. Having just finished the latest book in the series, I want to remind him, and everyone else who hasn’t read these, to make a point of doing so. If you have read the previous books in the series, but haven’t read the latest one yet, you owe it to yourself to do that. It’s the best yet, and that’s saying a lot.

Here: I’ll even link to the evil one-click-patenting bookseller to make it easier for you to buy it: In the Company of Cheerful Ladies.

There’s a gentle folk wisdom to these books, a magic that is subtle, but powerful, and it builds as you read more of them.

Also recommended is the book’s official website, where you can read answers to fans’ questions delivered both by Alexander McCall Smith andby Mma Ramotswe herself: Alexander McCall Smith: Ask the Author.

David Corn on Marla Ruzicka’s Life (and Death)

Tuesday, April 19th, 2005

David Corn remembers Marla Ruzicka, who was killed by a suicide bomber the past Saturday in Baghdad: One (especially) sad death in Iraq.

Gurstein on the Sad, Doomed Palms of Los Angeles

Friday, December 3rd, 2004

As someone who grew up watching the palm trees of L.A. grow taller every year, I was really touched by this piece from Rochelle Gurstein of the New Republic: On the lifespan of trees.

I guess it matches my mood these days, watching the world unfold, mourning what’s lost while trying to stay open to the possibilities of the future.

Wangari Maathai Wins Nobel Peace Prize

Friday, October 8th, 2004

The Nobel Prize Committee, in their wisdom, help shift my all-Bush/all-Iraq/all-the-time focus, at least momentarily, with this timely announcement about women’s-rights and forest-planting activist Wangari Maathai: Kenyan environmental activist wins Nobel Peace Prize.

Way to shake that tree.

Myths at Home and Abroad Cloud Prospects for Peace

Tuesday, April 27th, 2004

I’ve been thinking about movies lately. Like John Boorman’s Excalibur, when Nicole Williamson as Merlin is asked by Nigel Terry’s Arthur, “What is the greatest virtue of knighthood?” Merlin answers, “Truth. That’s it, yes, it must be truth, above all. When a man lies he murders part of the world.”

Well, these days, with respect to the war in Iraq, the murderers are clearly winning, both literally and figuratively. On both sides of the conflict, lies and myths are driving the public to support war and oppose peace, in part because a certain type of leader knows that by encouraging these beliefs he can cement his own hold on power.

Two stories I read recently highlight this. From today’s LA Times: Rumors thrive in a nation shaped by myth.

For decades under Hussein, Iraqis lived in a country perverted by propaganda. Little was known about the outside world or the dealings of the government. The people’s mood was controlled by innuendo planted by Iraqi intelligence operatives and by shreds of vague information that spread through alleys and boulevards. This created a parallel reality, which at its most outlandish featured last year’s televised proclamation by Mohammed Said Sahaf, then Iraq’s information minister, that U.S. forces were not in Baghdad, even as gunfire from advancing troops rang out behind him.

Street gossip is merging with a new phenomenon: satellite TV. Satellite dishes symbolized the end of Hussein’s regime and brought the unfolding of events into living rooms. Live broadcasts by Al Jazeera and other Arabic-language channels show what is happening in Iraq, from kidnappings to suicide bombings to gun battles between American troops and insurgents. U.S. forces claim that these outlets have stepped beyond the boundaries of news gathering and are inciting uprisings and sabotaging efforts to build a democratic Iraq.

On a visit to the Middle East this month, Deputy Secretary of State Richard L. Armitage said he “didn’t have enough fingers and toes” to count what Washington considers to be Al Jazeera’s numerous inaccuracies.

Al Jazeera is often first on the scene of a story. Its breathless commentary and images of dead Iraqi civilians undercut the U.S. message that the occupation is improving the country. The bloodshed the channel shows sometimes offers an eerie counterbalance to assessments by Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt, the top U.S. military spokesman in Iraq, who has described battles between insurgents and U.S. forces as “upticks” in violence.

Hamida Smaysam, dean of media studies at Baghdad University, said: “Everyone is watching Al Jazeera and other Arab TV stations. There’s a war of information going on, and the Americans have not been able to fill the gap.

“Al Jazeera is not intentionally distorting the facts — it’s just rushing into exciting news and making quick conclusions,” she said. “But at the same time, the Americans want to hide things.”

Meanwhile, back here in America, our own little Ministry of Information has been busy putting out its own twisted version of reality with a fair degree of success. For proof of that, look at this latest report (Americans continue to believe Iraq supported al Qaeda, had WMD) from the people at PIPA, the Program on International Policy Attitudes:

According to a new PIPA/Knowledge Networks poll, a majority of Americans (57%) continue to believe that before the war Iraq was providing substantial support to al Qaeda, including 20% who believe that Iraq was directly involved in the September 11 attacks. Forty-five percent believe that evidence that Iraq was supporting al Qaeda has been found. Sixty percent believe that just before the war Iraq either had weapons of mass destruction (38%) or a major program for developing them (22%).

Despite statements by Richard Clarke, David Kay, Hans Blix and others, few Americans perceive most experts as saying the contrary. Only 15% said they are hearing “experts mostly agree Iraq was not providing substantial support to al Qaeda,” while 82% either said that “experts mostly agree Iraq was providing substantial support” (47%) or “experts are evenly divided on the question” (35%). Only 34% said they thought most experts believe Iraq did not have WMD, while 65% said most experts say Iraq did have them (30%) or that experts are divided on the question (35%).

Not surprisingly, perceptions of what experts are saying are highly correlated with beliefs about prewar Iraq, which in turn are highly correlated with support for the decision to go to war.

Perhaps most relevant politically, perceptions of what the experts are saying are also highly correlated with intentions to vote for the President in the upcoming election. Among those who perceived experts as saying that Iraq had WMD, 72% said they would vote for Bush and 23% said they would vote for Kerry, while among those who perceived experts as saying that Iraq did not have WMD, 23% said they would vote for Bush and 74% for Kerry.

It’s all very depressing. The truth would set us free, but we’re too busy wrapping ourselves in a warm, fuzzy cloak of tailor-made deception to notice. Will enough of us on each side of the conflict catch on, allowing us to craft a better future for our children? I’d like to believe so. But in the face of stories like these it sure doesn’t seem likely. I’m left with the embittered, defiant response that Daryl Hannah’s Pris gives in Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner, “Then we’re stupid, and we’ll die.”

To which my inner Roy Batty can only smile and say, “No we won’t.”

Riverbend in the the Spring

Saturday, March 13th, 2004

I haven’t linked to Riverbend in a while, and this seemed like a good item with which to resume: Spring…

Basically, an occupying power brought in a group of exiles, declared Iraq ‘liberated’, declared the constitution we’ve been using since the monarchy annulled and set up a group of puppets as a Governing Council. Can these laws be considered legitimate?

Us Versus Them

Saturday, October 18th, 2003

You’re having a conversation with someone, or reading something someone’s written, or watching someone on TV, and you’re thinking, “This person is pretty sharp/has interesting ideas/knows what he or she is talking about.” And then the person strays into expressing an opinion about something that he or she knows very little about, but that you happen to be (at least relatively) expert in, and they say something that is just totally, ridiculously, naive.

Maybe you call them on it. Maybe you don’t. It might not be worth it. Maybe the naive thing they said wasn’t just some random opinion, but something that has a lot of emotional resonance with them, for whatever reason. And since they lack the firsthand experience that would allow them to recognize how ridiculous their assertion is, you’re basically counting on an appeal to your authority, or your ability to craft a logical-sounding argument and their willingness to listen to it, if you want to change their mind.

I feel this way when the militarily-astute types I’ve been paying attention to lately start talking about how our current Iraq endeavor is an appropriate step in a grand scheme to “drain the swamp” of Arab terrorism. When you draw them out, their argument basically comes down to a belief that the blunt application of military force will allow us to “win” a cultural/religious war with the whole of the Arab world, or the whole of Islam (they tend not to distinguish between the two), making “them” over to be very much more like “us,” at which point the problem will be solved.

It’s a naive fantasy.

Similarly, when the Prime Minister of Malaysia addresses the opening session of the Organization of the Islamic Conference and basically describes a global conspiracy whereby a small group of Jews is pulling the levers of power to keep Muslims down, it comes off as ludicrous. At least, that’s the way Daniel Drezner portrays it here: The state of Islam — 2003. And he has a point. From an outside perspective, those parts of the speech were clearly naive and racist.

Other parts were pretty insightful. The Muslim leaders at the conference ate it up, giving the speech extended ovations.

The cycle continues. I didn’t point to it back in July when it appeared, but I’m reminded of that recent study into the physiological basis of conflict escalation. See this write-up, for example: Too much force may be with you.

Someone pushes us. We push back — harder. At each stage the injuries worsen, the perceived gulf between us and them widens. We care less about those on the other side, are more willing to inflict pain in retaliation.

My son went to a really wonderful preschool. When something like this happened on the playground, this is what the very wise director of that school would do. First, of course, she would intervene to stop the violence. But having used whatever minimum amount of force was needed to achieve that, she wouldn’t follow up with some kind of stern lecture or punishment. Instead, she’d get down on the combatants’ level, and ask one of them (typically, the one who had been responsible for the latest round of escalation) to look at the other one. “Look at his face. What do you think he’s feeling right now?”

We are all connected. There is no them. There’s only us. We will march down this road of escalating violence exactly as long as it takes us to figure that out. Maybe we’ll figure it out today. Maybe we’ll figure it out after some angry preschooler nukes Mecca.

I vote for today.

Beverly Eckert: A Better Tomorrow

Friday, September 12th, 2003

Yes, I didn’t do any self-absorbed commentary on the anniversary yesterday; just more of my usual self-absorbtion. But here’s something that I think expresses a worthwhile sentiment: On rising above fear to make a better world.

Kynn on the Iraq/Palestine Parallel

Thursday, June 26th, 2003

Kynn of Shock & Awe points to a Yahoo! News image of the US Army destroying Iraqi homes, and constructs a thought-provoking comparison between the US and Israel as occupying powers: Home demolitions.

I think he’s got a good point. Pay attention to what life is like in and around Israel these days. Because George Bush is absolutely following in Ariel Sharon’s footsteps. That’s our future as a nation we’re looking at, the logical end of countering force with more force, random violence against innocents with still more random violence against innocents, death with more death.

We need another way. We need to find a path to a world where differences with our neighbors don’t have to be capital offenses. I know that the right-wing types, especially those who have had their values systematically dismantled and re-assembled as part of their service in the military, will dismiss such talk as hopelessly naive. I understand where they’re coming from. They’re absolutely right — from a certain point of view.

But so am I, from a different point of view. We need a new, larger frame of reference that encompasses both truths. Resolving this ambiguity, the ambiguity between short-term realism and long-term idealism, is our main challenge as a species right now. It will absolutely determine the kind of world our descendants live in.

We need to move beyond our current system. We need another way, a different future. We need leaders wise enough to see that future, brave enough to commit to it, and skilled enough to actually take us there.

George Bush is not that leader. I’m still not sure, in all honesty, that any of the current Democratic challengers is, either, but I know for a fact that George Bush isn’t. He’s at the opposite pole. In his lack of insight, his blunt willingness to reduce complex issues to the simplest formulations, and, especially, in the darker undercurrents of his personality that lead him to set his jaw and dish out righteous vengeance to those he too-quickly identifies as the source of his troubles, he is absolutely taking us in the wrong direction. It’s the same direction Ariel Sharon has been taking Israel for the last few years, and it’s not hard to see where it leads. It’s a downward spiral of ever-increasing violence. It’s a tunnel with no light at the end, a hole, a pit, a collective mass grave.

It’s a good place for us not to be going.

Wise on Taking Action

Tuesday, June 17th, 2003

Here’s a little uplift, courtesy of reader and link-suggester extraordinaire Pilar: The recent commencement address delivered by Tim Wise at Grinnell College: Cleaning up the funk.

Rhona Prescott’s Story

Saturday, June 14th, 2003

Here’s an interview from the Library of Congress Veteran’s History Project: Stories of courage: Rhona Marie Knox Prescott. There’s audio available, too, if you click around a bit. It’s the interesting story of what one Army nurse experienced in Vietnam, and some of the problems she had to deal with after coming home.

Facts and figures can only communicate so much. It takes a human observer, a human voice, to communicate some truths. And we need to understand this truth, so we can do our part to help those suffering through the war in Iraq when they come home.

We’ve already repeated some of the mistakes of Vietnam with this war. We don’t need to repeat all of them.

An Upward Spiral

Thursday, June 12th, 2003

I’m not linking to anything today. There’s plenty of news on the subjects of my various obsessions, but I don’t feel like commenting on any of it. I especially don’t want to get caught in the trap of picking some part of a downward spiral and claiming it is the point of origin, thereby laying blame for the whole mess on one side or the other.

I’m taking a time out today. I’m asking myself what I want to do with the time I have left, however much or little that ends up being. I know I can’t fix everything that’s broken: the world, my country, my city, my circle of friends, my family, myself. I just want to move in the right direction. I want to travel along a spiral heading upward, not down.

I want to take a walk on the beach. So that’s what I’m going to do.

Loeb, Wallis on Finding Hope, Losing Fear

Thursday, June 5th, 2003

We live in a time of lies, surrounded by cynicism and examples of our own powerlessness, writes Paul Loeb at WorkingForChange. But we can’t lose perspective. Reclaiming hope: The peace movement after the war.

In a similar vein, Jim Wallis wants to pass on some wisdom he received via a voicemail message from his 4-year-old son, Luke: Don’t be afraid.

I found these pieces this morning, and wanted to rush out and put them on the site, but I needed to come up with an appropriate topic first. So there you go. Peace.

Photos of Flowers and Baby Birds

Tuesday, April 15th, 2003

For no especially good reason, except I was depressed about my indulging in that whining about polarization earlier, and wanted to send something uplifting to Adam at Words Mean Things, I took a break just now and snapped some photos in the yard. Specifically, some photos of the roses bloooming outside my bedroom/office window, and a nestful of baby house finches in the jasmine by the front door. Follow the link below, or scroll down, if you enjoy such things. Peace, y’all.