Oct 202014
 
middle-east-oils

In a provocative essay in Foreign Affairs, Shashank Joshi lays out the reasons why India has, by and large, stayed out of Middle Eastern affairs. Of particular interest to me are the ideological reasons:

New Delhi has deeper ideological reasons for its opposition to intervention in the Middle East. Indian policymakers tend to view recent Western intervention in the Middle East as comparable to the U.S.-funded and Pakistan-led effort to support opposition forces in Afghanistan after the Soviet Union’s invasion in 1979. In the Indian view, it was the West’s intervention that primed Afghanistan for the growth and spread of radical Islam. Suhasini Haidar, strategic & diplomatic affairs editor of the Indian newspaper The Hindu, summarized the feelings of many Indians in a July 2014 op-ed: “Each of the countries today at the center of the world’s concerns over extremism is, in fact, a country that has seen direct or indirect Western intervention, not Western absence — Afghanistan, Syria, Libya, and Iraq.”

Well, imagine that! You mean to say that Western action in the Middle East (ostensibly usually led by the United States under both Democratic and Republican regimes) isn’t a magical panacea to what ails that troubled region?!

foreign-policy-word-map

It’s true that India has enough on its regional plate with rather ornery neighbors in Pakistan and China. Regardless, I don’t consider it an isolationist move to stay out of Middle Eastern affairs. It just pragmatic. There is little to be gained by wading into the morass of complicated, centuries-old grudges, alliances and enmities that tangle Western Asia.

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Oct 072014
 
Angela George [CC-BY-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Or… Infidels Have No Place at the Table

By now you’ve probably heard of or seen the clip of Ben Affleck angrily defending Islam against the invectives of Bill Maher and Sam Harris. Here’s the clip in case you missed it:

Did you watch it? I confess that I haven’t watched it, nor am I likely to do so because I can already tell it’s just… too much. I generally enjoy the rantings of my fellow Irishman Bill Maher on sundry topics but I have to hit mute any time he starts railing on Islam. I’ve watched Bill for years and he has consistently blanketed all Muslims with the same characterizations. That there may even be a portion of the population pushing back or that there may need to be more nuance than a single characterization of one billion people’s faith doesn’t pass muster with him.

Harris penned a defense of his appearance on his blog. It’s definitely worth a read. A couple excerpts of note:

Kristof made the point that there are brave Muslims who are risking their lives to condemn “extremism” in the Muslim community. Of course there are, and I celebrate these people too. But he seemed completely unaware that he was making my point for me—the point being, of course, that these people are now risking their lives by advocating for basic human rights in the Muslim world.

After the show, Kristof, Affleck, Maher, and I continued our discussion. At one point, Kristof reiterated the claim that Maher and I had failed to acknowledge the existence of all the good Muslims who condemn ISIS, citing the popular hashtag #NotInOurName. In response, I said: “Yes, I agree that all condemnation of ISIS is good. But what do you think would happen if we had burned a copy of the Koran on tonight’s show? There would be riots in scores of countries. Embassies would fall. In response to our mistreating a book, millions of Muslims would take to the streets, and we would spend the rest of our lives fending off credible threats of murder. But when ISIS crucifies people, buries children alive, and rapes and tortures women by the thousands—all in the name of Islam—the response is a few small demonstrations in Europe and a hashtag.”

Harris is right, of course, that there are dangerous people and interpretations of Islam that must be dealt with. I think he underestimates the degree to which ‘other’ Muslims cry out over atrocities committed in our religion’s name, in no small part because it’s not as sexy to cover on CNN or Fox News.

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Sep 232014
 
"Pluto moon P5 discovery with moons' orbits" by NASA, ESA, and L. Frattare (STScI) - http://hubblesite.org/newscenter/archive/releases/2012/32/image/c/. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Pluto_moon_P5_discovery_with_moons%27_orbits.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Pluto_moon_P5_discovery_with_moons%27_orbits.jpg

… Or Pluto is a Ball of Rock & Ice, not a Cartoon Dog

A few years ago, the International Astronomical Union standardized the definition of a planet and as such declassified Pluto. According to the IAU, the current official definition of a planet is a celestial body that

1. is in orbit around the Sun, 2. is round or nearly round, and 3. has “cleared the neighborhood” around its orbit

Pluto was declassified down to a dwarf-planet. The international outcry was enormous. And STUPID. Because this:

pluto

I would contend that the outcry about Pluto being declassified would have been severely muted if not for the fact that Walt Disney decided to name his iconic cartoon dog, Pluto, after the Greek God of the Dead and Ruler of the Underworld.

Recently, for some inexplicable reason, the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics decided to tackle the issue of Pluto’s planet-ness again.

Gingerich argued that “a planet is a culturally defined word that changes over time,” and that Pluto is a planet. Williams defended the IAU definition, which declares that Pluto is not a planet. And Sasselov defined a planet as “the smallest spherical lump of matter that formed around stars or stellar remnants,” which means Pluto is a planet.

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Sep 162014
 
ukraine-russia

In his latest show, Common Sense podcaster Dan Carlin talked about how the actions of Russia are in large part an answer to NATO expanding its borders almost unto Russia’s borders and rubbing its nose in areas which the Russians considers to be their business, not the West’s.

For an old and powerful country like Russia, this is simply ‘poking the bear’. It’s an intrusion into what they consider to be their sphere of influence. Consider Ukraine, which Russia has always regarded as under its sphere of influence. And perhaps rightfully so, since it’s a border country. Previously, the Ukrainians had democratically elected a government which favored closer ties with mother Russia. Then that government was overthrown by a government which favored closer ties to the West. US diplomats had been recorded talking about what they would do to increase USA/western influence and decrease Russian influence. It is perhaps not unreasonable to expect that the Russians would think ill of such provocations.

Nor would it be unreasonable that the USA would think ill of countries meddling in the internal affairs of those within the its sphere of influence. The Monroe Doctrine, issued as far back as 1823, states:

The occasion has been judged proper for asserting, as a principle in which the rights and interests of the United States are involved, that the American continents, by the free and independent condition which they have assumed and maintain, are henceforth not to be considered as subjects for future colonization by any European powers.

Essentially, the USA was telling the European powers to keep the hillel out of the Americas. The USA considers the Americas to be our backyard and quite simply, “get off all our lawns!”

I recently read an article from i09 reporting that China is mass-producing islands in the South China Sea in order to expand its sphere of influence. Now the South China Sea isn’t exactly no-man’s land. Its territory is disputed by many nations. But according to i09 and the BBC News, China’s actions are in response to American incursions into the region:

China’s land grab at sea is primarily directed at its main strategic rival, the United States. As the U.S. Pacific Fleet continues to sail regularly through the South Chinese Sea, the Chinese Navy has become more assertive. Last December, it dispatched its new aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, to shadow the U.S. Navy cruiser, USS Cowpens. A Chinese amphibious assault ship approached and ordered it to leave the area. The commander of the Cowpens refused, saying he was sailing in “international waters.”

At that point the U.S. Navy says the Chinese ship suddenly swung across the Cowpens‘ bow, just 1,600 feet ahead, forcing the cruiser to take evasive action.

south_china_sea_disputes

There is nothing particularly innocent about a U.S. Navy Cruiser sailing through the South China Sea and then throwing its hands up in the air, saying it’s in “international waters”. It reminds me of the old children’s taunt where you wave your hands in front of someone’s face, all the while declaring your innocence, “I’m not touching you! I’m not touching you!”

Now imagine, Chinese naval vessels just happening to find themselves patrolling around in the Caribbean or off the west coast of the USA. I’m pretty sure that we would flip out.

In both instances, even if the USA sees itself as a force for good around the world, the rest of the world, especially powerful countries like China or Russia, aren’t always going to see us the same way. They’re not evil for not falling in line with America’s glorious vision of itself. They’re acting like any other powerful country would… patrolling its backyard and making sure the lesser proles stay in line.

Feb 252014
 
Jan_Brewer_by_Gage_Skidmore

The state legislature of Arizona recently passed a law allowing that would allow business owners, as long as they assert their religious beliefs, to deny service to gay and lesbian customers. The (potential) law has come under intense criticism across the country. Arizona Governor Jan Brewer is considering whether to veto the measure.

Some economic conservatives have even come out against the measure because they fear it will hurt business interests in the Copper State. Even if Brewer does veto the legislation, it doesn’t speak well for Arizona’s tolerance that such a measure would pass in the first place. The measure has been framed as a way to ensure religious freedom. Religious freedom… to discriminate. So much for love the sinner, hate the sin amongst Arizona’s religious and social conservatives.

But this is not the first time that Arizona has run into social/moral controversy.

MLK Day Superbowl Controversy

In 1987, Republican governor Evan Mecham rescinded his predecessor’s executive order to recognize the day. Mecham also made his displeasure for the holiday widely known, saying that King did not deserve a holiday and that black supporters of the law should have been more concerned about getting jobs. In 1989, the state legislature approved the holiday but that was put on hold due to popular opposition.

Shortly after the Superbowl was awarded to Arizona, a 1990 ballot initiative to observe the holiday was defeated by the people of Arizona. Eagles owner Norman Braman had warned that if the MLK Day ballot initiative went against adoption of the holiday, the NFL would not hesitate to pull the game from Arizona and move it somewhere else.

flag_of_Arizona

The NFL did indeed remove the Super Bowl from Tempe and held another vote, choosing Pasadena instead. It took another 2 years but Arizona voters finally approved the MLK Day holiday in the 1992 elections, in large part due to the revenue lost from not hosting the Superbowl. The NFL responded by awarding Superbowl XXX to Tempe at their 1993 meeting.

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Feb 242014
 
Chris_Rock

Every once in a while, I like to put on Chris Rock’s comedy special Bigger & Blacker. If you haven’t seen it, do so. Rock talks about the breakdown of the family, the battle of the sexes, political scandals, gays, racism, healthcare, insurance, school violence, gun control, sex, etc. It’s a comedy special so you take it with a grain of salt but even though some of the references are old, the overall themes are still relevant.

The special was on Comedy Central last night and here’s a great quote from it:

It don’t make no sense to be a racist, sexist, or nothing, but…. it don’t. It doesn’t. It don’t make no sense ’cause whoever you hate will end up in your family.

That’s right, you don’t like gays, you’re gonna have a gay son.

You don’t like Puerto Ricans? Your daughter’s gonna come home with ”Livin’ la vida loca!”

karma1

The more dogmatic the person, the bigger the fall. No where does it come more into focus than in family life. In addition to the examples cited, I’d add religion or ethnicity to the mix.

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Feb 232014
 

After my recent post about avoiding technology extinctions, I decided to check out my lineup to see how well I’m doing. By and large, I’m pretty happy. I have four main machines, each running a separate OS – Linux Ubuntu, iOS, Android and Windows 7. I have peripheral devices that plug into and work across device types/software.

My main tech lineup

  • Dell Vostro laptopDell Vostro Laptop. Originally bought in 2007 shortly before I joined PNC. Windows collapsed on me a couple years ago so I took the plunge and switched to Linux Ubuntu. I think I extended the life of this machine by switching to Ubuntu. It’s a great, simple OS. The productivity suite, LibreOffice, is free. There’s a central repository for downloading apps such as Firefox. Updates to applications are pushed to me. All I need is a new battery and it would be portable again.
  • Apple iPad, first generationApple iPad. First generation. I can’t upgrade iOS on this machine because Apple stopped supporting the first generation device after iOS 6. By and large, it still works well though apps crash more frequently nowadays. I’m considering jailbreaking it to upgrade iOS or totally scrapping iOS and going with Linux’s tablet OS or perhaps Windows 8. But I like that I have at least one Apple/iOS device.
  • Samsung Galaxy NexusSamsung Galaxy Nexus. Originally $250, two years ago. Sprint phone running Android KitKat. I like this phone but it’s almost 2 years old and the battery life stinks. I even bought an extended life battery, which beefed up the previous slim profile and I still don’t get more than 8 hours of (relatively) use before it dies. My contract with Sprint is up soon so I’m going to go with a third-party reseller and possibly get a Galaxy S3 or S4 or Note.

Advanced Nerdistry

  • Custom-built HTPC. It cost ~$600 to build, mostly using NewEgg and a little bit of BestBuy. It was my first build so I could probably do cheaper now. Runs Windows 7 Ultimate with XBMC, Plex and WMC installed for media collection and playing purposes. I have a 1 TB hard-drive on it and recently bought an additional 3 TB hard-drive.
  • Silicondust HDHomeRun PrimeSiliconDust HDHomeRun Prime. A three-tuner device that’s compatible with Comcast’s CableCard. I can now pause and rewind live TV. I can schedule upto 3 recordings (or upto 2 recording while watching another live channel). All without paying Comcast’s monthly set-top box rental fee, which would be even more if I wanted DVR capabilities.I generally prefer using WMC to watch live TV because its interface is a little smoother than XBMC’s and the recording features are better. I have MCEBuddy setup to process recorded WMC TV episodes in order to remove commercials and shrink the file size while I’m at work. The episode is then placed within my media collection and is picked up by XBMC. I’m still working out the kinks in this one but it shows a lot of promise.
  • Google ChromecastGoogle Chromecast. A very handy little device. I got one for my parents so that they can ‘cast’ Netflix movies from my mom’s iPad to their TV. It works better than their supposedly Smart DVD player which has Netflix built in. When I visit the parents or take my Chromecast to friends’ places, I can access my HTPC’s movie and TV episode collection on my phone, then cast it to their TV using the Plex App. There are other alternatives such as the Roku or Apple TV, which are great home-based setups but neither beat the portability of a Chromecast.

 

 

Feb 202014
 
Apocalypse Ahead

In a New York Times article yesterday, Farhad Manjoo wrote about how to survive the next tech extinction.  VHS vs Betamax. HD DVD vs Blu-Ray. Netscape vs Internet Explorer. Nook vs Kindle, as cited by Manjoo. We’ve seen them come and go. So, how do we not get caught out in the rain?

Here’s the list of his recommendations.

  1. Buy Apple’s hardware
  2. Use Google’s services
  3. Buy media from Amazon
  4. Bet on connectors

Manjoo focuses on a combination of good hardware, cloud services and interoperability. Interoperability and portability are really the biggest keys here. Take a service or app and use it across device types in order not to be left out in the cold in case of the tech apocalypse. (Now if the nanomites decide to shut everything down, we’re all out of luck anyway).

Apocalypse Ahead

Buy Apple Hardware

I’m not a huge fan of Manjoo’s blanket hardware choice of Apple. I prefer Windows-run machines for laptop or desktop but I don’t mind iOS for tablet. And iPhone ain’t too shabby either but I like Android and it’s not as far behind iOS as Manjoo posits. It’s not that he chooses Apple but more so that he chooses only Apple hardware/operating systems, ignoring anything that runs Windows, Android or Linux. Regardless, hardware is possibly the least important choice.

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Feb 192014
 
American Corporate Flag | Amazon

I have to admit, although I would never buy this Corporate American flag, I frickin’ love it.

American Corporate Flag | Amazon

Here’s another one:

Corporate Flag #2 | Reclaimdemocracy.org

I have nothing against any of these companies. (Well except maybe NBC, which is owned by Comcast, which although they provide my internets, sucks). And it’s interesting that both have only 30 logos. I couldn’t actually name all the logos on these flags but I listed them as best I can remember at the moment:

CBS, Playboy, Coca-Cola, Camel, Microsoft/Windows, Travelers, Apple, Nike, Continental Chrysler, Warner Bros, Intel, Pizza Hut, McDonalds, Xerox, Adobe, IBM, General Electric, Internet Explorer, Bell Telephone, United, Shell, NBC, Comcast, Pepsi, Wal-Mart, Eli Lilly, General Motors, Citigroup, Citi, Google, Fox, Verizon, Exxon, Chevron, Visa, Hewlitt Packard, HP, Disney, Ford, Starbucks, Proctor & Gamble, Mastercard.

Anyway, I think these flags are both a testament to American ingenuity and innovation as well as a commentary on the Corporatization of the USA. It’s possible to recognize both at the same time.

Feb 172014
 
Homosexuality

Damon Linker does a good job of laying out the reasons why conservatives believe that opposing same-sex marriage is not akin to racism.

The big deal is that strictures against homosexuality are rooted far more deeply in the Judeo-Christian tradition than racism ever was. Yes, slavery is found throughout the scriptures and comes in for criticism only, at best, by implication. But race-based slavery — and the racism that made it possible and continues to infect ideas and institutions throughout the West to this day — receives no explicit endorsement from the Bible.

Which isn’t to say that those seeking to justify race-based slavery or racism couldn’t, and didn’t, twist biblical passages to make them provide such justification. But the Hebrew Bible and New Testament clearly do not teach (either explicitly or implicitly) that buying, owning, and selling African slaves is next to godliness.

The same cannot be said about the normative teaching on human sexuality contained within the Judeo-Christian scriptures — and even more so, within the interpretative and theological traditions that grow out of them. In dismissing this teaching so casually, Chotiner ends up implying that traditionalist churches and religious communities are the moral equivalent of the Ku Klux Klan.

HomosexualityI’ve heard black folks object to the comparison between racism and homophobia because some still see homosexuality as a choice. That’s demonstrably false.

The conservatives whom I read, who appear to engage critically with their theological tradition don’t hold the old view of homosexuality as a choice. But within the contexts of their religious tradition, they will still view homosexuality as a disordered reality. You can’t choose to be gay or straight – fine. But if the choice was made for you (by dint of biology) that you’re gay, your desires are still disordered.

We’re all fallen creatures and so gays, though born more fallen so to speak, are still deserving of God’s love. Pope Francis has emphasized this point; without changing Catholic traditional Catholic teaching on the permissiveness of homosexual behavior. It’s an important shift in tone because trad Catholics teach that it’s not mutually exclusive to love gays and still disapprove of their behavior. (Love the sinner, hate the sin). A God-fearing homosexual would be commanded, in their opinion, to live chastely. To deny their desires because of that disordered element.

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