Sunday, September 8, 2013

Against Intervention in Syria

I have abandoned this blog for nearly two years due to other needs, projects and concerns, but the current drumbeats for war, despite our Secretary of State's attempt to insist that us attacking another nation isn't war (it is) have me very concerned. I abhor the use of chemical weapons . . . I abhor the use of bombs, bullets and land mines, too. I do not see how the the deaths of those who died of "conventional weapons" are any less important or any less horrible than the deaths of those who die from sarin gas. 

I can't pretend to "know" anything, partly because I don't trust either the news media or the politicians or the president when it comes to all they are saying about Syria. I DO know that I find it horrible that they keep talking about the 400 children killed by sarin as though THEIR lives are important, but the far greater numbers killed by "conventional" weapons weren't worth intervention?

I am NOT for intervention, as much as I would like to see the killing stopped. I just don't think we are going to stop it by more killing. Just because the initial warning action doesn't mean boots on the ground doesn't mean we know what will transpire after that. Presumably Assad wouldn't just take a US attack without some response. The repeated assertion that we won't have boots on the ground also sounds as though we only think it's the lives of OUR soldiers that matter. And what about the many unknown possibilities? What if OUR bombs kill women and children in the densely populated areas? What if our bombs release the chemicals? 

What if it isn't Assad's government that used the sarin? Who would have had the most to gain by using it? He knew he would be risking some kind of retribution if he did. He was already winning, at least in terms of cities and territory controlled. Why risk bringing down the might of the United States upon him? What if the rebels used it to try to gain territory? What if they used it to try to get the USA and other countries to intervene and get rid of Assad for them? Is it true, as was said by a former NSC staffer on television the other day, that the sarin used was "homemade" and not "weapons grade"? If so, why is that? Why would Assad be using homemade sarin instead of the more effective weapons grade? 

What if al Qaeda is experimenting with sarin in this situation and perfecting their use of it so they can use it elsewhere? Wouldn't this be a good subterfuge in which they could blame it on Assad? 

We did not intervene in WWII because we knew Jews were being gassed by the millions. We entered that war because we were attacked at Pearl Harbor. We stood by when Saddam Hussein used chemical warfare, mustard gas and sarin, against Iranian troops and against the Kurds in his own country. We only went to war with him when he crossed into Kuwait and tried to take it over and the use of chemical weapons was not the justification. Obama's contention that we have not allowed it since WWI is wrong. The USA owns chemical weapons. Let's hope we never use them. And let's hope we don't intervene in the Syrian Civil War.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

National Space Society Conference on Space Solar Power Video

On Monday, November 14, the National Space Society held a conference on the future of space solar power. You can see the video of the conference here. (Click the word "here")

Saturday, November 5, 2011

National Space Society to hold news conference on space based solar power



November 4, 2011

Gary Barnhard, Executive Director, National Space Society, 1155 15th
Street, NW Suite 500, Washington, DC 20005
Office: 202.429.1600 Direct: 301.509.0848


Washington, D.C.—The National Space Society (NSS) will hold a press
conference on November 14, 2011, from 9 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. at the
National Press Club in Washington, D.C., to announce the findings of a
ground-breaking space solar power study conducted by the prestigious
International Academy of Astronautics (IAA).

"With space solar power technology, energy can be collected from
space and transmitted wirelessly anywhere in the world,” said Mark
Hopkins, the leading Executive Officer of the National Space Society.
"This technology could be the answer to our energy crisis. We look
forward to sharing the results of the IAA's study, and exploring the
potential that space solar power has for creating thousands of green
energy jobs,” he added.

This event is free and open to the public. Members of the press are
encouraged to attend.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Al Qaeda's Miscalculations

We are awash in the memories of the 9/11 attacks and the horrific loss of life that took place ten years ago. We are bombarded with re-analyses, questions, and replays. When we think of the enormity of the consequences of that fateful day, not only the losses that took place when each plane hit its target or crashed in a Pennsylvania field, the deaths, the destruction, those consequences have to include thousands of deaths in other countries, whether of terrorists or innocent people caught up in the whirlwind of war. We have to consider the long term economic devastation, the effects of two wars, the killing and maiming of our own soldiers, whose lives, my son Leif often pointed out, were surely as worthy of saving as those who died in the 9/11 attacks. We have to consider the psychological effect of our loss of our feeling of immunity to such attacks, our fear of experiencing more of them, the cost of mounting defenses whether through war or through safety checks at airports before we board a plane.

Psychologically, the world is a different place, and when we think of the enormity of the 9/11 attack, and other Al Qaeda terrorist attacks, how can we contemplate that any sort of reason would think that such blind destruction would bring about their aims?

Tonight on the Cafferty File on CNN, Jack Cafferty was asking the question, "Did the terrorists win?" He read a variety of answers, some who thought they did, some not, but none of those who responded thought past the surface of that question to evaluate whether Al Qaeda had achieved its larger aims (aims beyond their glee at destroying targets and killing people), and whether instead, Al Qaeda had fostered some unintended consequences that may have far different results than they could have ever imagined . . . and certainly not what they would have wished.

Someone with a different world view wrote the opinion piece quoted below. The writer's viewpoint is that there are unintended consequences to Al Qaeda's attacks brought about new alignments in the world and new opportunities for some societies to open and change. We probably will not know the full effect of Al Qaeda's impact on the world for another generation or more, but it behooves us to think about the ways in which we have changed as a result, ways that may, because of our own changed actions, result in new alignments and strategies that will not only fight terrorism, but create a climate ultimately hostile to terrorist forces.

Below is the interesting analysis of a global thinker:

Al-Qaeda's Miscalculation

It is tempting for some to see Al Qaeda’s attack on the US as a long-term strategic victory for them. After all, it imposed huge costs on the US economy at the time, and continues to impose them through lengthy engagements in Afghanistan and Iraq, costing trillions of dollars the US might be spending in other areas. Al Qaeda achieved its desire to cause the US departure from Saudi Arabia. Its top tier leadership appeared to remain alive and able to inspire new radical elements. It created two breeding grounds for Al Qaeda and its affiliates to sharpen their skills. Neither Iraq nor Afghanistan has turned into a US victory march like the liberation of France. Sobering. But have the forces of radicalism really won? Are they really on the advance, or are there other larger tectonic shifts we need to be cognizant of?

In fact, the unintended consequences of Al Qaeda’s strategic blunder are manifold and deeply undercut their own aims, which were doomed from the start.

Al Qaeda’s spectacular attack was meant to incite a clash between civilizations, but in fact it was an attack on the very nature of civilization and what allows us to be civil: the tolerance and pluralism that allow modern civil society to function, and the legitimacy of the monopoly of violence by the nation state. The results were predictable: those who were attacked, who had common interests, united.

The net effect of Al Qaeda’s attack was to advance liberalism, institutionalism, democracy and global governance, and delay state-on-state conflict. In that context, the most important, visible, exciting, enduring, and unexpected consequence of 9/11 was to end the estrangement between India and the United States and link the two largest and most consequential democracies in a partnership that will transform the globe.

This linkage, more than any other, dooms the forces of radicalism. For, as these two dynamic economic and cultural systems become linked, they will only become more dynamic. Areas that were once at the periphery of their sphere of engagement are now critical junctures of conversation and interchange. The forces of radicalism will be caught in a pincer movement, not by any military action, but by the simple fact that while roads and aircraft can carry IED’s or bombs, they also carry ideas, opportunity, and expectations of personal freedom.

The first unintended consequence of Al Qaeda's attack was an end to the estrangement between the US and India, the lifting of sanctions, and thus the legitimization of India as a major power. In the wake of 9/11, the US needed all the help it could get, and the War on Terror provided an opportunity for the US to drop sanctions on India since its 1998 underground nuclear test. The net effect was not only to end the barriers to India’s voice in key rule-making bodies, but to legitimize another secular, democratic, nuclear power to act on the world stage. Had 9/11 not happened, who knows how long the regime, so deeply counter-productive to re-establishing balance in the international system would have persisted?

The dropping of sanctions in turn allowed the bureaucratic organs of both sides to acknowledge the obvious: there is another big country with similar values; why aren’t we cooperating and engaging more seriously? Once the basic prohibitions were removed, bureaucracies do what bureaucracies do: apportion and work the obvious problems and solutions.

The second unintended consequence of Al Qaeda's attacj was that by focusing American attention on South Asia, it created a new awareness of India as a fellow secular democracy, and created the opportunity for a complementary exchange of world views. The United States is a learning entity, and no experience is as powerful a teacher as war. Just as the US came to understand and be engaged with European, East Asian, and South East Asian societies, cultures, and governments as a result of World War II, Korea, and Vietnam, the US was suddenly confronted with a cultural system and religious mind-set it did not understand, and the reaction was predictably American. Here is a problem to be solved: “Here is something we don’t understand…we better get smart.” And so began an explosion of interest and expansion of area and Islamic expertise of India's neighbors.

This activity brought the US consciousness into the dynamic cultural system of West-Central-South Asia, and a new awareness of India as a fellow secular democracy with rich and deep experience, both with the challenges and success with pluralism, and created the opportunity for a shared world view. Sitting on opposite sides of the world, each corrects the strategic blindness or myopia of the other.

The third unintended consequence of Al Qaeda's actions was to fundamentally alter and preserve the global benefits of Pax America, giving birth to an American leadership that is more acceptable, more inclusive, and more legitimate in the world. America’s over-reaction to the 9/11 strike was also self-critiquing and self-correcting, causing Americans to reassess the utility of unilateralism, and the greater need for broader engagement and institutionalism. The shift happened even before the change in administration, but the voice of the US electorate confirmed the importance of this more humble approach, seeking to be indispensable rather than dictatorial.

The global community learned as well, galvanized to a more active engagement by the fear of a rampaging rogue superpower. Rather than polarizing the world as Al Qaeda hoped, the attacks greatly galvanized intelligence and law-enforcement sharing, global governance, and created a nuanced, diffused world of Lilliputian strings that slowly constricted the activities of terrorists, expanded the number of nations talking, and advanced the cause of liberalism.

The fourth unintended consequence of Al Qaeda's attack is that by focusing nation-states on a common threat and the need to cooperate (as well as contain the US), it advanced global governance and institution building, delaying state-on-state conflict and extending a period of peace between nations at least a decade. The enemy of my enemy is my friend. 9/11 and subsequent attacks made the entire world of nation states feel at risk. That the only superpower could be struck so spectacularly made the threat of transnational terrorism legitimate and believable, causing nations to put off conflicts with their neighbors till this new world was better understood, or distracting them from those conflicts. Had there not been such fear of a common enemy, and the pro-social activity among nation-states it produced, we might have witnessed a very different and far uglier emergence of multi-polarity than we have.

The fifth unintended consequence of Al Qaeda's attack was to inadvertently deepen Islam’s engagement with democracy, causing those both in and outside of Islam to question previous assertions of both religious and cultural incompatibility. On 9/11, Afghanistan was a theocracy; Iraq and Pakistan were both dictatorships. Today they are all democracies with an experience of freedom of the press. Even if they collapse, they have experienced both, and that will mold their expectations. Those freedoms in turn have exerted pressure for reform in Iran, Saudi Arabia and across the crescent of Islam.

The sixth unintended consequence of Al Qaeda's strike was to deepen Islam’s internal conversation and external engagement with the modern world by giving the free Islamic press its first big stories. The spectacle of the Al Qaeda attack sparked conflict, and the new found freedom of those in Afghanistan and Iraq to produce and consume media caused an explosion in global conversation and introspection among the emerging pan-Islamic middle class. Many in the West find networks such as this threatening, when in fact their emergence is among the greatest victories, for a fundamental tenant of liberalism is that if all ideas are allowed to compete, the best ideas will survive. The existence of these networks allows expression and insight into legitimate concerns and injustices, increasing the chances of reform by legitimate political authority, and deepening the understanding of the outside great powers. It likewise spreads stories of success and adaptation to modernity, while at the same time demonstrating the ultimate futility of terrorism in advancing the aims of resolving these same injustices.

That is not to say that there are not downsides. Evidence suggests that radicalism is born principally in the first generation professionals / middle class who have been uprooted from traditional village life and for the first time have broad access to many media outlets. In their credulity and search for more meaning and identity, they are more likely to find such absolutist notions appealing. If we are optimists, “the other three billion” will continue to benefit economically and in personal liberty from the opportunities afforded by globalization, development and urbanization, and so we will have several more generations prone to such radicalism brought about by such social changes.

The seventh unintended consequence of Al Qaeda's campaign was to reassess and reapportion power in the international system toward more inclusive global governance. The limits and disadvantages of unilateralism revealed by the US response to 9/11, and the expanding consciousness of the power dynamics and cultural richness of the Indian Ocean region, has caused the leaders of the world to recognize that going forward, a more representative order will be necessary for legitimate global governance. The most obvious indicator for this is the shift in US position toward India’s position on the UN Security Council. Even if the UNSC does not change, the message is clear: India will be consulted as if it had a seat at the table. India’s legitimacy is obvious.

Only India has gotten it right, resisting the temptations of religious segregation, radicalism and authoritarianism, and proving to the world that vastly diverse communities—including the full diversity of Islam--can function peacefully and coherently in a democracy while sustaining significant growth, playing a responsible role in the global commons, and using its military to come to the aid of its fellow nations. India is the most realistic example of global governance and tolerant pluralistic democracy we have, and a greater engagement of India with its extended neighborhood can only be a net benefit to the world.

The eighth unintended consequence of Al Qaeda's assault is the emergence of a policy goal and consensus to link South-Central-West Asia and Europe. In the wake of 9/11, the international community was forced to focus on how to make Afghanistan a self-sustaining success. What is clear is that a land-locked country cannot flourish without overland trade, and so there is an emerging consensus of a “Silk Road Strategy” to create both the hardware (road and rail), and the software (border crossings and liberal trade regimes) from India through Pakistan into Afghanistan.

Imagine the central Ring Road of Afghanistan with five spokes. The first and most important intersects at its southeast corner, retracing the Grand Trunk Road through Pakistan, across India to Calcutta, accessing the Bay of Bengal and the richness of South East Asia beyond. This cornerstone spoke would allow all of South/Central Asia to benefit from the linkage of the Indian economic miracle to the resources of central Asia, enabling India to export opportunity, and with it the characteristic optimistic, tolerant, cosmopolitan pluralism that would be a tonic for the whole of West/Central Asia. Its mirror image is a spoke that radiates southwest, jutting through Iran to the port of Chab Bahar and into the Arabian Sea and Gulf of Oman.

The next spoke is due north, into the energy rich states of Central Asia and then Russia. Radiating eastward is the old Silk Road into China, and radiating westward the Silk Road through Iran and into Europe. By calling attention to its backwardness and lack of opportunity, Al Qaeda has engaged the global community to accelerate the emergence of an overland trading system that will bring great opportunity to South-Central Asia, and a web of equities and cross investments that create incentives for stability. The ring road of Afghanistan is becoming the continental equivalent of the Straits of Malacca. The moment the policy push succeeds in activating that first spoke from India, it will inject a shot of cosmopolitanism into the center of the Eurasian subcontinent that will radiate into its many arteries like adrenaline pumped straight into a heart patient, and the success of this strategy will be transformative.

The final uninended consequence of Al Qaeda's actions was to deepen global connectivity and networks. We had a choice; we could have shut down the networks that brought terror to our shores, but we did not. Instead, we have only deepened our connectivity. Any network, whether the networks be roads, sea-lanes, air-lanes, or the global media of cyberspace can carry messages of intolerance or be used to plot or effect violence, but we must resist the urge to close them.

We do not stop global air commerce because of 9/11; we do not stop naval trade because of Mumbai; we do not close the trains because of Madrid, and we will not close the information networks because of a tape from Bin Laden. Liberalism is a long game, a game of statistics, in the belief that for every malicious network transaction, there will be orders of magnitude more beneficial ones. If we keep them open, in the end we will benefit by them carrying more truth, light, and opportunity.*

When I look at things on the balance, I see the overall effect of Al Qaeda’s attack was to advance liberalism, institutionalism, democracy and global governance, and to delay state-on-state conflict. But the biggest and most consequential gift, was to unite the enemies of intolerance and pluralism, the US and India, the two poles of global democracy. Guess who got caught in the cross fire?
*This was originally written over a year before the Arab Spring.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Friday, October 8, 2010

Sad Decline in Picture Book Sales

The New York Times reports a sad trend, the decline in picture book sales. Click here for the article.

Picture books can be wonderful, complex and full of terrific vocabulary that early chapter books can't use; how terrific the illustrations can be, showing children a wide range of art and teaching them to look for details and "read" the story in the art as well. I saw parents pushing their kids to reach chapter books too young. Too many teachers and parents teach their kids to hate reading that way.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Why are so many gay teens dying?

Why are so many gay teens dying?

It is so inexpressibly sad that young teens are so humiliated by others that they take their lives. How inexpressibly sad that they die in misery and loneliness. How inexpressibly sad that their families are left with such grief. My heart goes out to them.

When is our society going to realize that bullying and humiliating others is wrong, sinful, hateful?

We need to protect our children.

We need to realize that we cannot force everyone into the same mold and that love is precious wherever it is found.

Bravo to those that started and are participating in the "It Gets Better" project.

Thursday, September 30, 2010