A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to War

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Official UK government photo of the Prime Minister’s residence at 10 Downing Street

Today, President Obama announced that he will seek authorization from Congress for a military strike in response to the use of chemical weapons in Syria, an act apparently committed by the Assad regime.  “This attack is an assault on human dignity.  It also presents a serious danger to our national security,” Obama said in his speech.  “In a world with many dangers, this menace must be confronted.”

The President stressed that the scope of these strikes would be limited.  “This would not be an open-ended intervention.  We would not put boots on the ground.  Instead, our action would be designed to be limited in duration and scope.  But I’m confident we can hold the Assad regime accountable for their use of chemical weapons, deter this kind of behavior, and degrade their capacity to carry it out.” Continue reading

Ain’t it Swell to Finish Well

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This photo of Martin Luther King, Jr. is part of a Library of Congress collection.

What can we learn from Martin Luther King Jr., George Costanza, Barack Obama, and King Jehoshaphat?

Yesterday was the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” Speech.  It was an appropriate moment to remember a man who gave so much and inspired so many.   He is rightly regarded as one of the greatest Americans who ever lived.  Yet, even as we praise him, it is also worth noting that King had one advantage that is denied to most of us, and an odd kind of advantage it was: he died young.

Now, before I cause serious offense to anyone, let me make clear that I am in no way happy that King’s life was shortened.  This was a major setback for the civil rights movement and a great tragedy for America.  What I am referring to is not the fact that King was murdered, but rather that his early death has preserved him in our memory at the height of his success. Continue reading

The Trouble with Swallowing Syria

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U.S. soldiers delivering non-lethal aid to the Syrian opposition. They may soon be asked to do more. (Department of Defense photo)

WARNING: This is not an article about Miley Cyrus’ performance at the VMAs on Sunday.  It is an analysis of a serious news story.  If you are looking for less serious news coverage, please feel free to check out any of America’s 24-hour cable news networks.

“Syria is not easy to swallow.”

This rather odd quote was made yesterday by Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moallem in regard to possible military action by Western nations against the Assad regime.  We can interpret it in a couple of different ways.  One would be to go for the most literal meaning: it is true that attempting to swallow all 71,479 square miles of Syria would not be easy.  In fact, if this is the meaning Mr. Moallem was going for, I would say he is a bit guilty of understating the issue. Continue reading

Lost in Austen Adaptations

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Picture courtesy of Wikipedia user Eymery

While at the movies this past weekend, I saw a trailer for the new film Austenland, which apparently features Kerri Russell going to some sort of Jane Austen-themed resort in England where guests dress in period costume, attend nightly balls, and engage in flirtations with the opposite sex.  The film will apparently show how a dose of Jane helps the heroine to overcome her fears and give in to love, or something like that.  All I could think was, “Another one of these movies?  Really?”

Don’t get me wrong: I love Jane Austen, as do most women who are at least moderately clever and can appreciate men who know how to dress and dance properly.  I’ve seen pretty much every adaptation of an Austen novel made in the past twenty years.  There are probably too many of them, but at least they tend to stay true to the source material.  There are worse things I could spend my time watching. Continue reading

The Inevitability of Religion

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This map shows the relative importance of religion in different countries based on polling data by Gallup. Darker red colors indicate greater importance. Most of the less religious countries are located in or somehow connected to Western Europe. (Several others are former USSR states.) Image courtesy of Wikipedia user Sbw01f.

Author’s Note: The following is a brief essay written back in 2011 which is only now being made public.  It is one of a series of such essays that I have produced examining the causes and results of spiritual belief.  It is not meant to be a full-length research paper, but rather an initial overview leading to more in-depth work in the future: please keep this in mind when reading it.

Is the secularization of the world inevitable?  Not so long ago, any number of scholars would have been ready to answer “yes” to that proposition.  Unfortunately for them, time is a funny thing: it does not always play out as one would expect.  The world today seems to be just as religious and perhaps more so than it ever has been.  Rather than taking a back seat, the realm of the spiritual is at the center of our great political and sociological debates.  Why is this, and does it represent an inevitable urge of humanity or merely the last death throes of a world unwilling to embrace change? Continue reading

The CIA Fesses Up…60 Years too Late

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President Truman and Iranian Prime Minister Mossadegh in happier times

Did you hear the big news?

No, not that Bradley Manning wants to undergo hormone therapy and prefers for us to refer to him/her as Chelsea Manning.  That’s a somewhat shocking and yet oddly predictable end to what has been a media circus of a military case.

No, not that Ben Affleck is set to play Batman in the next Superman movie.  Apparently, the two superheroes are going to face off against one another, which strikes me as odd for two reasons: 1) I thought they were both supposed to be good guys, and 2) We all know that Superman would win in an actual fight.  However, it makes sense that they couldn’t bring back Christian Bale because then they would have to admit to casting two British guys as America’s two greatest comic book icons. (Well, them and Aquaman…)

The big news that I am actually referring to is the CIA’s admission that it was behind a coup in 1953 that unseated the democratically elected prime minister of Iran, Mohammed Mossadegh.  New details in a CIA document declassified under the Freedom of Information Act provide proof that the CIA helped to organize and carry out the operation through a combination of propaganda, bribery of Mossadegh’s supporters, inducing the population to riot, colluding with Iran’s security forces, and pressuring the Shah to dump the prime minister. Continue reading

A Bad Week to be Bo

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Photos from Voice of America and the White House

While most of the news these days seems to be an endless train of unrelated tittle tattle, every so often two stories coincide in a way that sheds new light on our society.  More to the point, it allows a writer such as myself to take two apparently unrelated issues and smoosh them together because they both involve someone, or something, named Bo.

Upon waking up this morning, I was greeted with the news that the trial for disgraced Chinese politician Bo Xilai, former mayor of the city of Chongquing and prominent voice within the Chinese Communist Party, had begun.  He stands accused of bribery, corruption, and abuse of power, the latter charge stemming from his alleged involvement in covering up the murder of British businessman Neil Heywood, whom Bo’s wife has already been convicted of murdering. Continue reading

What Do NSA Violations Tell Us About The Nature of Government?

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A part of the NSA’s interior that it apparently doesn’t mind you seeing.

The Washington Post has been filled with revelations recently about an internal audit at the NSA which revealed thousands of violations of its privacy rules.  The linked article says the May 2012 report “counted 2,776 incidents in the preceding 12 months of unauthorized collection, storage, access to or distribution of legally protected communications”.  Post author Barton Gellman added that, “Most were unintended. Many involved failures of due diligence or violations of standard operating procedure.”

The newspaper also draws attention to an October 2011 ruling by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court which found that the NSA was using illegal methods to track and store internet communications of U.S. citizens and legal residents.  Only one page is made available for public viewing, with the author’s name redacted by the Post.  A Freedom of Information Act request for more details of the case is currently pending. Continue reading

Niebuhr on the Road

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The hills of Pennsylvania on the road yesterday.

It used to be that when I would go on a long road trip, I would spend most of my time listening to music, first on my portable CD player and then on my iPod.  Once I had a laptop, I could also watch movies, which seemed more than anything to provide a pleasant distraction from the hours of cornfields zipping by my window.  Eventually, I started using my laptop to write while on the road, which was probably a slightly more productive use of my time.  However, this summer I have gone decidedly old school: I spend a good portion of my hours in the car…reading books.

I know, no one reads books anymore.  Why else is every bookstore but Barnes & Noble now closed?  If people do read books, they read them on their tablet, phone, or Kindle.  Only in extreme circumstances will they resort to real paper and ink (not “E Ink”).  For every person not reading a book, there are two or three people not reading a newspaper.  I recently observed that soon our libraries will be nothing more than a place where people go to sit down and read something electronically.  After all, it’s better for the environment. Continue reading

Egypt’s Never Ending Revolution

People often ask me what I think about the situation in Egypt, knowing that I worked for the Egyptian Press Office in Washington, D.C. through three and a half years of revolution and political transition.  I understand the curiosity, especially since Egypt is a country that few Americans understand, but the fact is that my opinion isn’t worth that much, and neither are the opinions of most of the people you see on television.

Take a look at the situation in Egypt today: the security forces have moved in to clear the Muslim Brotherhood’s protest camps, leaving approximately 525 people dead.  This is the latest in a long line of chaos that started with the 2011 revolution and has now gone through a ruling military council, an elected Islamist government, and then another takeover by the armed forces. Continue reading