Monday, May 28, 2012

Kurds, Palestinians, Bosnians, now Syrians?

With the most recent killing of innocent civilians in Syria, a debate is reemerging about the proper role of the US & UN in the conflict. Gideon Rachman from the Financial Times argues for continuing diplomatic efforts, while Syrian protesters in the diaspora are calling for US military intervention. To complicate matters, Iran has just admitted to having an increased military presence in Syria to assist Assad. Will this serve as a justification for Turkey, Saudi Arabia, or the US to do the same?

Here's a video on the most recent killings in Houla, Syria.

The diplomacy front is the status quo at this point, so I won't go into it. How should we thus understand calls for intervention? Let's look at other instances over the last couple of decades. A piece from a couple of months ago in Huffpo by Ruwaydah Mustafa demonstrates the importance of looking at any social issue from the margins for unforeseen insights and unsettling critiques. In memory of the 1988 massacre of Kurds in Halabja on Saddam Hussein's orders, she wrote: "Arab suffering has always taken precedence over Kurdish suffering in the Muslim world." To quantify this claim, roughly 10,000 Palestinians have died in roughly 25 years since the 1st Intifada, while at least 5,000 Kurdish civilians were killed in the Iraqi Halabja massacre of 1988 alone. Yes, the US was an ally of Iraq at the time of George H. W. Bush's presidency, and George W. Bush used the genocidal event to lend credibility to his case just before invading Iraq in 2003 (15 years later isn't very helpful). Here's a clip from the remnants of what was Halabja:

Nonetheless, numbers do not account for everything, but contextual comparisons can be instructive. Moreover, the Halabja massacre was on an equal footing to the Srebrenica mass killing of 1995 that prompted a more robust response by the UN, NATO, and the US to restrain Serbia and bring an end to the conflict and killing of Bosnians.

Back to Syria. According to the Voice of America: "U.N. officials estimate that 8,000 people have died in the year-long series of protests and government crackdown." The conflict is already in the death toll range of Palestinians (not per capita, though), and is way above what led to NATO military air raids in Libya to oust Qaddafi. A case can be made either way and either way there will be a massive killing "purge" following any alleged resolution to the conflict.

To be a bit cynical, I don't think Obama wants to begin military actions during a presidential campaign, although it could be in the cards if polling doesn't look favorable, or if international pressure significantly mounts so that he can arrange a genuine coalition. I also think he knows that he probably would not be able to get away with the drawn out plan (mis-)applied in Libya. And, Iran and Russia will make sure that Syria will not fall nearly as easily. Ultimately, it's a matter of if the phrase "never again" is applied and then supercedes strategic thinking or not.

Charlie Rose - Inside Islam 2011 Clip

Public Diplomacy 2.0 2008

Public Diplomacy 2.0 - YouTube

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

New Jersey Mall Cop tells Woman to remove Niqab

Materiality & the Image

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

ART THOUGHTZ: Post-Structuralism

Writing Tips

Henry Miller (from Henry Miller on Writing)
1. Work on one thing at a time until finished.
2. Start no more new books, add no more new material to “Black Spring.”
3. Don’t be nervous. Work calmly, joyously, recklessly on whatever is in hand.
4. Work according to the program and not according to mood. Stop at the appointed time!
5. When you can’t create you can work.
6. Cement a little every day, rather than add new fertilizers.
7. Keep human! See people; go places, drink if you feel like it.
8. Don’t be a draught-horse! Work with pleasure only.
9. Discard the Program when you feel like it–but go back to it the next day. Concentrate. Narrow down. Exclude.
10. Forget the books you want to write. Think only of the book you are writing.
11. Write first and always. Painting, music, friends, cinema, all these come afterwards.
George Orwell (From Why I Write)
1. Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
2. Never use a long word where a short one will do.
3. If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
4. Never use the passive where you can use the active.
5. Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
6. Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.
Margaret Atwood (originally appeared in The Guardian)
1. Take a pencil to write with on aeroplanes. Pens leak. But if the pencil breaks, you can’t sharpen it on the plane, because you can’t take knives with you. Therefore: take two pencils.
2. If both pencils break, you can do a rough sharpening job with a nail file of the metal or glass type.
3. Take something to write on. Paper is good. In a pinch, pieces of wood or your arm will do.
4. If you’re using a computer, always safeguard new text with a ­memory stick.
5. Do back exercises. Pain is distracting.
6. Hold the reader’s attention. (This is likely to work better if you can hold your own.) But you don’t know who the reader is, so it’s like shooting fish with a slingshot in the dark. What ­fascinates A will bore the pants off B.
7. You most likely need a thesaurus, a rudimentary grammar book, and a grip on reality. This latter means: there’s no free lunch. Writing is work. It’s also gambling. You don’t get a pension plan. Other people can help you a bit, but ­essentially you’re on your own. ­Nobody is making you do this: you chose it, so don’t whine.
8. You can never read your own book with the innocent anticipation that comes with that first delicious page of a new book, because you wrote the thing. You’ve been backstage. You’ve seen how the rabbits were smuggled into the hat. Therefore ask a reading friend or two to look at it before you give it to anyone in the publishing business. This friend should not be someone with whom you have a ­romantic relationship, unless you want to break up.
9. Don’t sit down in the middle of the woods. If you’re lost in the plot or blocked, retrace your steps to where you went wrong. Then take the other road. And/or change the person. Change the tense. Change the opening page.
10. Prayer might work. Or reading ­something else. Or a constant visual­isation of the holy grail that is the finished, published version of your resplendent book.
Neil Gaiman (read his free short stories here)
1. Write.
2. Put one word after another. Find the right word, put it down.
3. Finish what you’re writing. Whatever you have to do to finish it, finish it.
4. Put it aside. Read it pretending you’ve never read it before. Show it to friends whose opinion you respect and who like the kind of thing that this is.
5. Remember: when people tell you something’s wrong or doesn’t work for them, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong.
6. Fix it. Remember that, sooner or later, before it ever reaches perfection, you will have to let it go and move on and start to write the next thing. Perfection is like chasing the horizon. Keep moving.
7. Laugh at your own jokes.
8. The main rule of writing is that if you do it with enough assurance and confidence, you’re allowed to do whatever you like. (That may be a rule for life as well as for writing. But it’s definitely true for writing.) So write your story as it needs to be written. Write it ­honestly, and tell it as best you can. I’m not sure that there are any other rules. Not ones that matter.
William Safire (the author of the New York Times Magazine column “On Language”)
1. Remember to never split an infinitive.
2. The passive voice should never be used.
3. Do not put statements in the negative form.
4. Verbs have to agree with their subjects.
5. Proofread carefully to see if you words out.
6. If you reread your work, you can find on rereading a great deal of repetition can be by rereading and editing.
7. A writer must not shift your point of view.
8. And don’t start a sentence with a conjunction. (Remember, too, a preposition is a terrible word to end a sentence with.)
9. Don’t overuse exclamation marks!!
10. Place pronouns as close as possible, especially in long sentences, as of 10 or more words, to their antecedents.
11. Writing carefully, dangling participles must be avoided.
12. If any word is improper at the end of a sentence, a linking verb is.
13. Take the bull by the hand and avoid mixing metaphors.
14. Avoid trendy locutions that sound flaky.
15. Everyone should be careful to use a singular pronoun with singular nouns in their writing.
16. Always pick on the correct idiom.
17. The adverb always follows the verb.
18. Last but not least, avoid cliches like the plague; seek viable alternatives.

John Steinbeck

1. Abandon the idea that you are ever going to finish. Lose track of the 400 pages and write just one page for each day, it helps. Then when it gets finished, you are always surprised.
2. Write freely and as rapidly as possible and throw the whole thing on paper. Never correct or rewrite until the whole thing is down. Rewrite in process is usually found to be an excuse for not going on. It also interferes with flow and rhythm which can only come from a kind of unconscious association with the material.
3. Forget your generalized audience. In the first place, the nameless, faceless audience will scare you to death and in the second place, unlike the theater, it doesn’t exist. In writing, your audience is one single reader. I have found that sometimes it helps to pick out one person–a real person you know, or an imagined person and write to that one.
4. If a scene or a section gets the better of you and you still think you want it–bypass it and go on. When you have finished the whole you can come back to it and then you may find that the reason it gave trouble is because it didn’t belong there.
5. Beware of a scene that becomes too dear to you, dearer than the rest. It will usually be found that it is out of drawing.
6. If you are using dialogue–say it aloud as you write it. Only then will it have the sound of speech.

“As you write,” Steinbeck says, “trust the disconnections and the gaps. If you have written what your eye first saw and you are stopped, see again. See something else. Take a leap to another image. Don’t require of yourself that you understand the connection. Some of the most brilliant things that happen in fiction occur when the writer allows what seems to be a disconnected image to lead him or her away from the line that was being taken.”