Kobani: ISIS’s Stalingrad?

Oct 20 2014 @ 1:42pm

Syrian Kurds Battle IS To Retain Control Of Kobani

Last night, American military transport planes delivered weapons, ammunition, and medical supplies to the Kurdish fighters still holding the northern Syrian border town of Kobani against a lengthy siege by ISIS militants:

The supplies were not provided by the U.S., but instead came from other Kurdish forces outside of Kobani, the official told FP. U.S. aircraft merely facilitated the airdrops. American warplanes have been bombing Islamic State targets in and around the city for weeks, but the airdrops escalate that effort and mean that the U.S. is now facilitating direct assistance to the Kurdish fighters defending the city.

The defenders of Kobani welcomed the aid but warned that it would not be enough to decide the battle. Much still depends on how much help Turkey will allow across its border. Obama reportedly gave Erdogan advance notice of the drop on Saturday night, but Juan Cole interprets it as defiant of the Turks’ wishes. Since then, Ankara has been sending its usual mixed signals:

In comments published by Turkish media on Monday, [Turkish President Recep Tayyip] Erdogan equated the main Syrian Kurdish group, the PYD, with the PKK. “It is also a terrorist organization.

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Fifty Shades Of Racism?

Oct 20 2014 @ 1:17pm

Reviewing James Booth’s Philip Larkin: Life, Art, and Love, Alexander Adams praises the biographer for pushing back against Larkin’s more vociferous critics, especially those who dwell on his private sexism and racism. About the latter charge:

Any biographer has to take into account the criticism Larkin has faced for racist comments made in private letters. Those who are quick to apply the label ‘racist’ are usually unwilling (and NPG x12937; Philip Larkin by Fay Godwinunable) to distinguish causes and types of racism.

Racism is a spectrum of views, ranging from the pseudoscientific conviction that certain groups are genetically superior/inferior to a dislike of certain cultural manifestations. The causes of racist sentiment can be anything from displaced dissatisfaction, cultural prejudice, political partisanship, religious conditioning and nationalist sentiment in time of war right up to paranoid delusion. Dyspeptic misanthropes often express disgust in racist form when their frustration is of a general unfocused kind.

There is no suggestion that Larkin ever uttered a racial insult to a person’s face or engaged in any discriminatory behaviour (indeed, Booth presents examples of where Larkin supported the careers of non-white authors). Booth points out that Larkin only voiced racist opinions to receptive individuals (Amis, Monica, etc) in private and often undercutting epithets with irony or self-mockery.

While true, this does not make Larkin’s racist expressions false.

It would be surprising if a culturally conservative white Englishman with mild nationalist sentiments did not resent some of the cultural changes of Britain from the 1950s onwards, just as it is equally unsurprising that he felt somewhat ashamed of his prejudices and unwilling to hurt anyone directly. Booth has no need to excuse Larkin’s prejudices, just as we should have no reason to require excuses. HP Lovecraft’s racist view on life is an essential part of his writing; Larkin’s racist comments about West Indian cricketers and Indian doctors are peripheral and irrelevant to understanding his poetry.

There is also a very English Amis-Larkin cultural sub-text here: the ironic private use of racist and sexist language as a kind of mock meta-protest at the forces of progress. Jonathan Raban, in a review for The New Republic, discussed this question – without flinching from the actual words – this way:

In 1978 [Larkin] wrote to Robert Conquest: “We don’t go to Test matches now, too many fucking niggers about.”

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Getting Ebola Under Control

Oct 20 2014 @ 12:58pm

Yesterday and today brought a few bits of good news:

According to the BBC, the Spanish nurse who was the first person to contract Ebola outside of West Africa has tested negative for the virus (a second test is required before she’ll be officially free of the disease). And the United States has reached an important milestone: the 21-day monitoring period for the 48 people who had contact with Thomas Eric Duncan, the Liberian man who died of Ebola in Dallas, ended on Sunday and Monday. Aside from the two nurses who cared for him, there have been no new infections.

Things are also looking up in Africa, where two countries have been declared Ebola-free:

On Friday, the World Health Organization announced that Senegal had completely contained the spread of the disease, and now on Monday Nigeria has joined them.

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Obama Departs The White House En Route To New York

There have been posts I’ve written over the past decade and a half on this blog that have left me with a very heavy heart. Absorbing the full meaning of what was revealed at Abu Ghraib was one; reflecting on the horrifying child-abuse in the Catholic church was another; reacting to president Bush’s endorsement of a Federal Marriage Amendment or president Obama’s half-assed decision to re-fight the Iraq War one more time were not exactly easy posts to compose. I confess I find it hard to write dispassionately about these kinds of things. The abuse of children; the torture of prisoners; the madness of permanent warfare; and the citizenship and dignity of gay people: these are first order questions for me. I understand, as we all must, that politics is an inherently flawed, imperfect, deeply human and always compromised activity. But some things are not really open to compromise. And torture is one of them.

The mounting evidence that president Obama’s long game may well mean the entrenchment and legitimization of torture and abuse of prisoners is a deeply painful thing to report on. He’ll say otherwise; they’ll reach out and insist otherwise. But the record, alas, is getting clearer by the day. We have seen Obama’s rock-solid support for John Brennan’s campaign to prevent any accountability, even to the point of spying on the Senate Committee tasked with oversight, across his two terms. We have watched as the White House has refused to open up its own records for inspection, as it has allowed the CIA to obstruct, slow-walk and try to redact to meaninglessness the Senate Intelligence Committee’s still-stymied report on torture. Our jaws have dropped as the president has reduced one of the gravest crimes on the statute book to “we tortured some folks,” while doing lots of “good things” as well.

Now for the moment when the stomach lurches. The Obama administration is actually now debating whether the legal ban on torture by the CIA in black sites and brigs and gulags outside this country’s borders should be explicitly endorsed by the administration in its looming presentation before the UN’s Committee Against Torture (which might well be an interesting session, given the administration’s consistent refusal to enforce the Geneva Conventions).

One has to ask a simple question: what on earth is there to debate? Torture as well as cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment has already been banned by the executive order of the president, and it is not bound by any geographical limits. Here, moreover, is the text of the Detainee Treatment Act, pioneered by torture victim John McCain, making it even more explicit:

(a) No individual in the custody or under the physical control of the United States Government, regardless of nationality or physical location, shall be subject to cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment.

(b) Construction. Nothing in this section shall be construed to impose any geographical limitation on the applicability of the prohibition against cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment under this section.

Well: here is the explanation, as given by Charlie Savage in the NYT yesterday:

Military and intelligence lawyers are said to oppose accepting that the treaty imposes legal obligations on the United States’ actions abroad. They say they need more time to study whether it would have operational impacts. They have also raised concerns that current or future wartime detainees abroad might invoke the treaty to sue American officials with claims of torture, although courts have repeatedly thrown out lawsuits brought by detainees held as terrorism suspects.

The CIA’s lawyers want more time to study whether banning torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment of prisoners in line with the law and Obama’s executive order would have “operational impacts”. But how could it when torture and mistreatment are hereby forever banned? Doesn’t it imply that the CIA still sees an option for restoring torture in the future, especially if a pro-torture Republican wins the presidency?

A strong case for this interpretation can be read here in a post by David Luban. It’s essential, if complex, legal reading for anyone concerned that Obama, by taking the CIA’s side in this debate and promoting and exonerating those implicated in past torture, has actually left open the real possibility of this darkness descending again.

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know-dope-shirts

Jon Walker asks around:

“About four months” is theoretically the absolute fastest that stores could begin selling recreational marijuana in the District after the D.C. Council adopts new legislation, according to Rabbi Jeff Kahn. As the operator of Takoma Wellness Center, one of D.C.’s three functioning medical marijuana dispensaries, he is uniquely positioned to provide insight into this question.

But a year to a year-and-a-half is more likely:

One big hold up could be the council and the local regulators charged with writing the final rules.

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Why Networking Makes You Feel Icky

Oct 20 2014 @ 11:42am

Jordan Gaines Lewis explains:

Describing ourselves on paper, while blindly attempting to live up to the expectations of others, makes it all feel like a giant lie, doesn’t it? Of course, personal statements and cover letters add a particularly thorny dimension – we have to brag about ourselves.

An amusing study in an upcoming issue of Administrative Science Quarterly suggests that putting ourselves out there professionally actually makes us feel dirty. Literally.

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The View From Your Window

Oct 20 2014 @ 11:22am

NY-NY-556pm

New York, New York, 5.56 pm

Malkin Award Nominee

Oct 20 2014 @ 11:03am

“You might get AIDS in Kenya, the people have AIDS, you got to be careful, the towels can have AIDS,” – Pat Robertson, not on South Park.

What The Market Is Thinking

Oct 20 2014 @ 10:45am

Last week was a volatile one for the S&P 500, starting with the worst three-day decline since 2011. Robert Shiller contends that “fundamentally, stock markets are driven by popular narratives, which don’t need basis in solid fact. True or not, such stories may be described as ‘thought viruses.'” He focuses on secular stagnation, “the idea that there is disturbing evidence that the world economy may languish for a very long time, even for generations”:

I did a LexisNexis count of newspaper and magazine mentions, by month, of the phrase “secular stagnation,” and I found that they have exploded since November 2013. And a Google Trends search shows a similar pattern for web searches for the phrase since that time.

Why? It’s probably because Lawrence H. Summers, the former Treasury secretary and Harvard president, used the phrase in a talk he gave on Nov. 8 at the International Monetary Fund in Washington. Paul Krugman wrote approvingly about the talk in The New York Times nine days later. Mr. Summers presented his secular-stagnation idea with uncharacteristic diffidence: “This may all be madness and I may not have this right at all.” But his talk seemed to release a thought virus.

And changing the mindset of investors isn’t easy. Clive Crook points out an irony:

The more widely these psychological channels are understood, the harder it is for central banks and other policy-makers to exploit them.

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Legalization Crosses The Border

Oct 20 2014 @ 10:19am

Cannabis Supporters Hope For Legalization

Christopher Ingraham maintains that “the news coming out of Colorado and Washington is overwhelmingly positive.” And that other nations are paying attention:

Countries, particularly in Latin America, are starting to apply these lessons in order to craft smarter policies that reduce violence and other societal harms brought about by the drug war. Uruguay, for instance, has moved toward full national legalization of marijuana, with an eye toward reducing the thriving black market there. Mexico’s president has given signs he’s open to changes in that country’s marijuana laws to help combat cartel violence. The Organization of American States recently issued a statement in favor of dealing with drug use as a public health issue, rather than a criminal justice one.

Regardless the eventual direction of marijuana legalization in the U.S., steps toward reform here are already prompting other countries to seek out more pragmatic solutions to their drug problems. In short, they’re making the world a better place.

However, Ed Krayewski is underwhelmed by Uruguay’s experiment:

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