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If China is with you, you are not isolated in the world

2014 July 21
tags: ,
by Ian Welsh

The shooting down of Malaysian Airlines MH17 has led to a vituperative barrage in the Western media (and social media), blaming Russia.  This barrage has been fomented, in large part, by the White House, which has been relentless.

Many act as if Russia is horribly in the wrong, isolated, and alone.

China’s Xinhua wrote this:

The one-sided accusation is not surprising in light of their long-time stance on the crisis in eastern Ukraine, and their attitude towards Russia’s absorption of Crimea in March. But without convincing evidence, jumping to a conclusion will only heighten regional tension and is not conducive to finding out the truth.

Russian President Vladimir Putin late Thursday said it is Ukraine that bears the responsibility as the tragedy occurred over its territory. The tragedy, Putin said, could have been avoided should Ukraine’s eastern regions be in peace.

If China is with you, you are not alone.  The shooting down of MH17 is a tragedy, as when the US shot down an Iranian jetliner, and it may well have been done by Ukrainian rebels.  But it doesn’t mean Russia is isolated.

And perhaps, when the rebels were known to have SAMs with the distance to shoot down airliners, airliners should not still have been allowed to travel over the conflict region?  That decision is Ukraine’s, by the way.

There can be no defending the targeting of civilians and if this is not a false flag operation, it will turn out to have been a mistake, it is in no one’s interest to be blamed for such an attack.

The conflict in the Ukraine is a conflict of choice: the West’s choice in helping overthrow a democratically elected government, Russia’s choice in at least tolerating and most likely encouraging the separatists (and possibly giving them the BUK, though they also captured at least one system from the Ukrainian army), and Ukraine’s choice, for refusing any negotiations with those of its citizens who want federalization, a not unreasonable requrest when Ukraine has signed up for IMF austerity.

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Media Coverage of Israel’s killing of Palestinians

2014 July 20
by Ian Welsh

During Operation Cast Lead, the last time Israel decided to concentrate a large number of war crimes into a short period by kicking the shit out of Gazans despite the fact that Palestinians offer exactly zero real military threat to Israel I wrote a lot about it, and received the strongest pushback of my writing life: rich donors don’t like it when you say bad things about Israel.

Coverage in the US, of Israel, is so slanted that the Washington Post runs with 2 Israeli soldiers dying rather than over 60 civilians being slaughtered.

Simply put, for most news organizations, when Israel goes on a rampage, inflicting massively disproportionate collective punishment (a war crime), you have to make your bones.  Ideally you should cover for Israel: make excuses or slant coverage.  Of course the Post mentions that many more Palestinians are being killed by Israel than vice-versa; and of course the Washington Post will get around to mentioning the number of children killed

But the Washington Post editors know what all news editors know: about half the audience only reads the headlines.  Half of the remaining audience reads only the first paragraph.  If you don’t get around to mentioning inconvenient facts until later, most people will never read them.  You can feel virtuous “we covered that”, while being a propaganda outlet at the same time.

As with a lot of topics, writing about Israeli war crimes endangers your career.  The publishers and editors don’t want to hear; powerful politicians don’t want to read it.  Those who wrote against the Iraq war tended to get demoted or lose their jobs.  It’s not so bad for Israel and Palestine, of course: if you’re the sort of person who might write such articles, you’ll never make it to a position to write those articles.

Oh, to be sure, there are exceptions, and there are more in Britain than in the US.  But they are exceptions.

Writing about Israel and just noting the facts even handedly (starting with the higher casualty numbers, say), if you’re career minded, or just want to be able to feed your family, is a bad move.  It’s just not worth it.

The Barbarism of ISIL, the Taliban and Wahhabism and collapse of hegemonic ideology

2014 July 19
by Ian Welsh

One of the particulars of my writing and thinking which confuses many people is that I am able to respect the worthy qualities of individuals and groups whom I otherwise despise.  So I can say that George Bush was a great man (he changed the nature of his country and made it stick), while also despising him.  By the same token, Hitler and Osama Bin Laden were great men. They also had great gifts: it is jejeune to not admit, for example, that Hitler was a great orator, one of the greatest in the 20th century.  Without his great gifts, he would have been far less dangerous.

In the same regard, I can admire the pre-9/11 Taliban for their apparent genuine belief: their actions were in accord with their theology.  I can admire them for all but eradicating the opium crops and for bringing peace to most of the country.

I can admire, likewise, the fighting ability of ISIL and, to a lesser extent, their belief.  I can admire the breadth of the dream of creating a new caliphate.  I can admit that these are dangerous people and that their belief makes them more dangerous.

For that matter, I can admire Putin’s abilities while noting he’s committed many many war crimes: I haven’t forgotten what happened in Chechnya, and the sheer brutality Putin used to put down the Chechens.

People think that because I can admire something about individuals or groups they hate, that I like those groups or people.

In many cases they’re simply straight up wrong. The Taliban and ISIL are, to me, barbarians.  When the Taliban dynamited the giant Buddhas, I lost all sympathy for them.  Only barbarians do such things, and any faith that requires such actions is my enemy, straight up.  In a world ruled by the Taliban, I would have no place.

Likewise ISIL’s destruction of the Syriac Archdiocese is just barbarous.  I suspect this is a perversion of the Islamic faith, which always mandated respect for other religions of the book, but it occurs nonetheless.  Their treatment of non-Sunni Muslims is likewise atrocious in the true sense of the word: it’s an atrocity.  They are backwards, uncivilized and barbarous, savages who can only destroy the finer products of civilization, not appreciate or conserve them.  They are provincial bigots.

I also have no time for any movement which treats women as second class in the way the Taliban and ISIL do.  Some will say that this is my own provincialism, but I am heir to a universal ideology, in its own way as powerful or more powerful than Islam; one which says all humans are equal before the law.  Like all ideological statements of justice, this cannot be proved.  I can’t say “I am right and they are wrong” because of arguments based on logic back to first principles.  Those first principles, whatever they are, are always axioms, and unprovable.

Such ethics, morals and values need arguments, they need logic; they need revelation too, often enough.

But at core those ethics and the ideologies they are fostered by, are choices, and choices that say who we are, embedding our treatment of others—and ultimately it is how we treat others that speaks to who we are.

It is for this reason that while I don’t agree with, say Hezbollah, about everything, that I have respect for them overall: they have non Shia members.  After the war they rebuilt non-members houses.  They restrict themselves to military targets much more so than any of their enemies (the attack on the marine barracks was an attack on a military target, in response to US shelling of Shia villages, non-military targets.)  To the extent they are Islamic, they embody much of what is, to me, admirable in Islam.

Hezbollah’s ethics, as they are played out in the real world, are not antithetical to mine.  They can exist in a geographic space, I can exist, we could be friends (we’re not, for the dull).  Their values do not demand my destruction.  If ISIL took over a city I was in, I’d be beheaded.  They would treat large classes of people in ways I find deeply unethical, even evil.  And they are barbarians.

Because a group is barbaric does not mean eterna-war.  Sometimes the best response is no response, containment or simply slowly destroying them ideologically.  The inability to understand which barbaric groups are a threat to spread, and which aren’t a threat to spread is constant, as is the understanding that ideological war must be fought materially and ideologically, but only rarely with guns.

Taking out unpleasant regimes and creating power vacuums which real barbaric threats could arise is another constant mistake.

I have no mandate for Qaddafi, for example, but the Libyan war was a mistake.  Qaddafi was better for his population and for the West, than what has come since.  Syria’s Assad is a monster who tortures, and who seems to enjoy torturing (similar to George Bush in this respect).  His regime is deeply distasteful.

Syria under Assad was far better than Syria in civil war, with ISIL controlling a large chunk of it and using it as a base to invade Iraq.

The inability to recognize real enemies is ongoing and pernicious.  The ultimate source of the barbarism of movements such as ISIL is Saudi Arabia.  Containment of Saudi Arabia’s influence should be a cornerstone policy of the West, because their noxious form of Islam spreads barbarism.  Making deals with Saudi Arabia and using them as instruments of US policy has lead to endless problems far larger than they were meant to cure.

This is true as far back as the original Afghan war against the USSR.  This was not a war the West needed to interfere in.  Arming the Mujahideen there is the grandfather blowback decision which has led to virtually all of the problems discussed above (much of the rest is Israel/Palestine based).  The war in Afghanistan did not just destabilize Afghanistan it corrupted, destabilized and radicalized Pakistan, which had been on a secularizing path before all that dirty money started flowing into the country through networks infected by a noxious variant of Saudi Islam.  As with pictures of Afghan girls in Kabul wearing skirts, Pakistan was a far more liberal nation in the 70s, socially, than it is today.

Don’t use barbarians as your proxies.  Saudi Wahhabism and its offshoots is fundamentally in opposition to secular Western enlightenment society.  Doing business with such people undermines the core ethics of our own system of ideology.

This does not mean neo-con style perma war.  It means showing that our ideology produces better outcomes for them than their own ideology does.  Through the fifties and even into the seventies, secularism rose in the world because it was seen as providing better outcomes.  It was constantly undermined by the actions of the United States in overthrowing democratic governments they didn’t like.  Noticing that the West didn’t believe in its own ideology (at least not for Muslims, and today not even for its own citizens), and that they could not share in the prosperity of secular democracy and socialistic capitalism, is it any wonder that many turned to another strong ideology?

This disease is the disease of unaccountable elites.  Elite families, even in democracies, would rather deal with other elite families than with messy democracy.  A Shah seems more amenable than a democratic Iran.  It’s easy to do business with Saudi Princes, you know who to talk to.  Deals can be cut, and if they don’t work out for most of the population, who cares?

Playing the game as a chess-board; using whatever proxies or allies come to hand, and violating your own ideology undermines the true basis of your power. Western hemegony was based on blood and iron, to be sure; but it was also based on the very real promise of emancipation, freedom and prosperity.

Deny the fruits of western ideology to those who reach for them, and of course they will turn against you.  Pervert them even within your own countries by undermining your own democratic principles and by concentrating wealth and income in the hands of a few, while impoverishing the many; make it clear that modern neo-liberal capitalism doesn’t spread prosperity to even the core nations, and you have set up one of the preconditions of not just hegemonic collapse, but of internal collapse of a civilization.  People who do not believe in the genuine goodness of what they are fighting for, hardly fight for it at all.

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It really is kind of Israel to help Hezbollah

2014 July 16
by Ian Welsh

by giving them this blow by blow of how the iron dome works, wasting the gift of that knowledge while they attack an entity that is less dangerous to Israel than radios falling in tubs.

I’m sure Hezbollah members pray in thanksgiving regularly for the continued stupidity and incompetence of their enemies.

This sure as heck ain’t grandpa’s Israel; or Grandpa’s Israeli army.

War criminals, to be sure, but at least they make up for that somewhat by being cretins much of the time.

Next up, a ground invasion, which granted won’t give too much information given Hamas’s capabilities, but will still give useful intelligence to an actual dangerous foe.

(Israel’s “wars” with Hamas remind me of a 220 pound man beating up a 90 lb weakling to show he’s “tough”.)

Yellen tells American Industry not to produce jobs or good wages

2014 July 16
by Ian Welsh

There is no other way to read this:

Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen said U.S. labor markets are far from healthy and signaled the Fed will keep monetary policy loose until hiring and wage data show the effects of the financial crisis are “completely gone.”

Look, why would those who hire people want easy money to go away?  They don’t.  So if giving people good wages and employment will mean the Fed tightening, they have every incentive not to do so.

The actual way to do it is to say “this policy is not working.  If it does not show progress, we will cancel it.”

If what you wanted was high wages and low actual unemployment.

Which isn’t what Yellen wants.

Why Bookstores live or die

2014 July 10
by Ian Welsh

In my experience, this is why they live, if they do:

Munro has since bought the building, which Walker described as an astute move that has provided various options for managing its future.

Bookstores almost always fail not because of e-books, but because of rent increases.  This is true of a lot of interesting, marginal businesses, especially in cities with housing bubbles (and Victoria is not cheap.)  Prices go out of line with income, rents follow, and interesting stores which need low rent die. So you wind up with a whole bunch of chain stores or boutiques operations selling overpriced goods and services who can make the rent.

I shopped at Munro’s many times over the years, as an aside, since my parents lived in Victoria during their retirement, and my grandmother in hers.  A great bookstore, with a good selection, knowledgeable and friendly staff.

But all those things aren’t enough when the rent goes up, and rent is set, in effect, by the value of the lot of land if turned into overpriced condos.

In general bubbles are bad for everyone who isn’t in on the bubble.  If you are winning, they’re great, but the people who don’t participate are screwed.

And bookstores are, somehow, never participants.

Drive enough similar business out, because they can’t make the rent, and soon the great neighbourhood you moved into isn’t, it’s an overpriced condo hell of glass and concrete and soulless chain stores.

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A Transcript of Abu Bakr’s Speech

2014 July 6
by Ian Welsh

Can be found here.

It’s an interesting document, and worth reading yourself.  Contrary to media intimations of evil, and raving, it’s a pretty sane document.

I’ll highlight this bit:

Terrorism is to refuse humiliation, subjugation, and subordination [to the kuffār – infidels]. Terrorism is for the Muslim to live as a Muslim, honorably with might and freedom. Terrorism is to insist upon your rights and not give them up.

But terrorism does not include the killing of Muslims in Burma and the burning of their homes. Terrorism does not include the dismembering and disemboweling of the Muslims in the Philippines, Indonesia, and Kashmir. Terrorism does not include the killing of Muslims in the Caucasus and expelling them from their lands. Terrorism does not include making mass graves for the Muslims in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and the slaughtering of their children. Terrorism does not include the destruction of Muslims’ homes in Palestine, the seizing of their lands, and the violation and desecration of their sanctuaries and families.

Terrorism does not include the burning of masājid in Egypt, the destruction of the Muslims’ homes there, the rape of their chaste women, and the oppression of the mujahidin in the Sinai Peninsula and elsewhere. Terrorism does not include the extreme torture and degradation of Muslims in East Turkistan and Iran [by the rāfidah], as well as preventing them from receiving their most basic rights. Terrorism does not include the filling of prisons everywhere with Muslim captives. Terrorism does not include the waging of war against chastity and hijab (Muslim women’s clothing) in France and Tunis. It does not include the propagation of betrayal, prostitution, and adultery.

It sort of speaks for itself, in the “you call me a monster?  Look in the fucking mirror” vein that is rather hard to argue against when your leaders have just invaded multiple countries on flimsy pretext leading to the deaths of hundreds of thousands, minimum and the creation of millions of refugees, the vast majority of whom just happen to be Muslim. And when the leader of the “free” world brags about how great he is at killing, while he force feeds men who, in many cases, haven’t been convicted of a damn thing.

I despise everything ISIS stands for.  But it’s simply impossible to defend what the West has been doing to Muslims for the past 20 years, or to note that ISIS doesn’t exist as a force worth worrying about with George Bush’s illegal invasion of the Middle East.

You look back to the 50s and 60s, to Iraq and Iran, and you see states trying to be democratic, whose version of Islam is mild and moderating; whose women are becoming more and more free and educated (the same is generally true of Afghanistan, and Pakistan. Pakistan goes really off the rails when it starts being used as a throughfare for arms and money to Afghan Mujahadin.)

Prosperity, and democracy, and hope of a better future.  A belief in truly universal human rights, and that Muslims get to have elections and keep the results of them too.  Or that if they have democratic elections and do manage to keep the results (Iran), that they won’t be enbargoed so their children die due to lack of medicine.

If you won’t offer people freedom and prosperity and autonomy; if you won’t respect their democratic decision-making, why would you be surprised if, after bombing them into the ground, they become unpleasant people?  They are only learning the lessons you have taught them, that might makes right, that there are no “human rights” that apply to Muslims which aren’t bought at the end of a gun (perhaps there aren’t any for anyone, but there certainly aren’t for Muslims.)

Abu Bakr is Bush and Blair’s love child. He is the the great grandchild of the CIA spooks who overthrew democratic elections in the middle East.  He is the step-child of the Egyptian police state, which has proved over and over again that Islamists can”t take power peacefully, because the people with guns won’t allow it.  He is the grandchild of Madeline Albright, who throught that half a million Iraqi children were “worth it.”

An evil man, to be sure, Abu Bakr. But a man who does not exist absent the great and extended efforts of men who were, judged by the number of dead and wounded and dispossessed, even more evil than he.

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The Ubiquity and Importance of Operant Conditioning

2014 July 4
by Ian Welsh

As you may know, dogs salivate when presented with food.

A man named Pavlov used to ring a bell when he fed his dogs.

Then he stopped presenting food, and just rang the bell: the dogs salivated, even though no food was present.

The dogs had been conditioned.

Behavioralism, the psychology of operant conditioning, famously did not deal with the contents of our minds: only with behavior.

This was a mistake, not just because the content of our minds matter, but because operant conditioning can explain a lot of mental activity.

In my childhood there was an advertising jingle which ran as follows “butter tastes better, naturally.”

Almost 40 years later, when I see butter or even think about butter, odds are high that jingle will run through my mind.

Conditioning can be very mild, and work.  Simply repeat the same two words together often enough, and most people will think the second word when they hear the first one.  Give people story scripts “the princess, the square jawed hero, the dark hero, the sage” and they will fill in the lines without you having to tell them, which is why most of us are so very good at figuring out the plots of stories.

To this day, certain smells remind me of my grandmother.  Because I loved my grandmother, and because she gave me the best couple years of my childhood in her house on the beach, those smells are good ones for me, even if “dry old lady wearing rose-water” isn’t a good smell for other people, it is for me.

Call these triggers: upon seeing something, thinking about something, smelling something,  hearing a word or phrase used, or sme we are likely to trigger some specific responses ourselves.  We need not even necessarily remember the original operant conditioning: mental patients who have lost all long term memory, still form associations.  Likewise events in our childhood, long forgotten, can leave triggers.

Some conditining is mild: the jingle with pleasing music, the constant repitition of words together to create associations, the standard tropes of the heroes journey tapping into the universal human need to fit the world into story structures.

Others are primal, they become attached to fear or terror; to pain or lust; to love or hate; to a sense of belonging or to the human horror of being outcast from the group and the shame which comes with it.

Whatever causes your first strong sexual arousal will condition you strongly; the first time that you have fear that makes the world turn into a tunnel and your ears roar will brand you.  But day to day fears can do you in, too: scurrying around to avoid the feral neighbourhood dog-pack.  Words you can’t say without mom or dad getting angry, or sad, or drinking.  Words that if your parents say them mean you’re in for it.  Acting gay, or nerdy, or whatever else will get you ostracized from your peer group.  You can gain these conditions without even consciously realizing it, avoiding what you see causes others to get ostracized or beaten up.

This conditioning extends right down to the level of thought.  When I need to move quickly, I think certain predetermined thoughts “ass-gear-go”.  When I need to clean up, others “Shit/shower/shave”, when I listen to certain songs I start writing stories about certain characters in my head.  When I see an oak tree, I think of a story my father told me about oak trees.  And once the thoughts start flowing, certain throughts trigger other thoughts in very conditioned rotes. This is especially noticeable to me in fields I’m familiar with: start me on what money is, say, and the journey is tediously familiar: but start me anywhere on various economic subjects and I’ll loop to the others in time and in predicable ways.

Much of what we think we are has been conditioned, often by events we don’t manage or in ways we don’t consider conditioning.  Most of our complex of assocations, of triggers, or positive and negative attachments was not consciously chosen, but is state dependent on our start position (who our parents were, where we born) and to what amounts to random chance. Combined with our genetic endowment, this determines our personality.

When you think of it this way, or experience it (through meditation or certain types of psychotherapy), you start to disconnect from your thoughts, your habits, even your personality as who you are, because you can see that there are millions of different “yous” that could have occurred with different events.  And you ask, “if I’m not my thoughts, who am I?’

There are a few great mysteries of life.  “Why is there anything?”  “If anything, why this?  And, “what is consciousness.”  Do thoughts make us conscious?  Or is it that which apprehends the thoughts which is consciousness?

Some Lessons of Meditation

2014 June 30
by Ian Welsh

I’ve meditated, on and off, for years.  The last couple months I meditated intensely.  Five hours a day average. as much as 10 hours a day on occasion.

Meditation has a “woo” reputation, an idea that it’s peaceful and serene and lovely.  Now maybe that’s where you’re aiming to get, but meditation is a tool, a process, and it is hard bloody work and often unpleasant.

In general, in meditation, you’re trying to detach from your thoughts.  To stop identifying with thoughts as yourself. You don’t exist because you think.  Your thoughts are witnessed by something that is close to you.

As you detach from your thoughts a few things become clear: most of what you think is repetitive.  You have a number of loops, a pile of triggers and you run through them incessantly. You think in cliches (for you); you think other people’s thoughts, and you rarely think anything you haven’t thought before.

What this means is that you don’t, actually, think very much. You have thoughts but they are almost entirely event and loop driven, and not under conscious control.  One reason, as you meditate, that you come to desire less thoughts is that you becoming achingly aware that most of what you think is tediously, boringly repetitive.

As your thoughts die down, you find out that many of them were defense mechanism. Absent thoughts to occupy it, your mind hones in your fears, your lusts, the stuff you fear the most; the stuff you desire but find shameful: all of that comes to the fore.  Sexually explicit imagery (this is common, not just me) with completely inappropriate objects, terrifying fears you had buried; hatreds you thought you had gotten over years ago; trauma that was only half healed.

Meditation gives you a good hard look at your mental habit and fixations, and you probably won’t like what you see.

Meditation is, thus, hard.  A friend of mine who is an enlightened guru of “recognized lineage” says that when people come to him, interested, he tells them to meditate for an hour a day for six months: the minimum requirement for the lifestyle.  Almost no one does.

The thing is that if you face what meditation brings up, go through it, and learn to not care or judge, it loses its powers.  The fears, the lusts, the hates pale, and rust and blow away.  The repetitive thoughts slow (and for some, go away completely), and if you engage in them, you tend to do so consciously, rather than unconsciously.

The fixations, the chatter, stops commanding you nearly so much.  You gain a certain amount of mental freedom: to think about what you want to think about, or nothing at all.  To truly put down the traumas of the past.  To look clearly at lusts and desires and decide to act on them or not, but not care much either way.

But it’s hard work, and it hurts, and that’s why most people don’t get very far with it.

Oh, there are types of meditation which avoid the hard work for a time: chant mantras, for example, and keep your mind constantly occupied, and you can avoid your demons.  But generally, still the mind, and your ring-fencing thoughts die away then your demons step through the gaps and face you with yourself.

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2014 June 30
by Ian Welsh

1) Israel is a settler state.

2) Israeli land was, mostly, taken from other people, by force.

3) Thus the vast majority of Israelis live on land taken by force from the indigs.

4) The “settlers”,are simply the leading edge of taking land and destroying homes, by force, from the indigs.

5) Israel is, also, a religious ethnic state where you only have the full rights of citizenship if you are of the correct religion.

If you are a believer in modern secular democracy, it is hard to see any solution for the Israel/Palestine issue which is not a single state solution.  Give everyone in Palestine full citizenship rights, including the right to vote.

It happened in South Africa. It may happen in Palestine.  If it doesn’t, the other routes out are uglier: full-on ethnic cleansing, or a loss by Israel of its “Jewish legal identity” in war (no, their nukes won’t protect them.)

America isnt’ going to be able or willing to support Israel’s colonial ambitions forever.

None of this is to say that Israel’s crimes are unique.  Conquering indigs and taking their land is old-hat. Those of us who live in North America are lucky—our genocide was long over before most of us were born, and much of it was done by germs.  We keep the few remaining indigs largely on reservations, where they live in squalid 3rd world conditions, far from the sight of their conquerers.  Israelis live right on top of those they are conquering, and have to become indifferent at best or monsters who regard Palestinians as sub-human at worst, in order to function.  After all, the Palestinians are still right there, in their face, daring to look like humans who some mother loved.

“The weak do what they must, the powerful what they will” – Thucydides.  And the Palestinians are weak.  And the Israelis are still (comparatively) strong.

They won’t be forever, however.  When they aren’t, they should worry that they will reap as they have sowed.