Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for August 22nd, 2014

Displaced by meme evolution

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In reading this profile of one of the last professional pickpockets, I noted the ripple effect of meme evolution:

These are lean years for pickpockets. People carry more credit cards and less cash; men wear suits less, and tightfitting pants more. The young thieves of today have turned to high-tech methods, like skimming A.T.M.s.

Displaced by cultural change.

Notice how intimately the Internet is woven into the above cultural change: it’s throughout that particular cultural change. And the Internet (including music, video, Twitter, forums, news, blogs, and so on) is a perfect meme medium: enormous reach and rapid mutation and selection. And, as noted above, the ripple effects are enormous (cf. Ferguson MO, identified as a hotspot via Twitter).

Indeed, the international criticism of what is happening in Ferguson is quite severe: the US no longer occupies any sort of moral high ground, and with its recent military failures and destructiveness, respect for it has ebbed. The Week magazine carried an abstract of a column by Daniel Haufler that appeared in Berliner Zeitung:

America is a de facto apartheid state, said Daniel Haufler. Blacks have ostensibly had civil rights for 50 years, but in reality “white reactionaries have fought unabated against equality.” Today, discrimination against African-Americans is pervasive and devastating. When unarmed teenager Michael Brown was hot dead by a white cop after being stopped for jaywalking in Forguson, Mo., he was just one more in a long line of black victims. [Indeed, we have another not far from Ferguson: two white cops show up to confront a man behaving irrationally. Within 15 seconds they had shot him dead. The police chief explained that he had attacked them with a knife, wielded overhand. A video made with a smartphone shows that the police chief’s statement was false. – LG]

Whites, by contrast, can “brandish machine guns at the police”—as did supporters of Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy—without fear of reprisal. And it’s not just the police but the entire government that is arrayed against black Americans. Systematically denied equal access to education and employment, they are demonized when seek government benefits. in fact, the higher the black population in a state, “the lower that state’s social spending.” Ongoing white resentment of the civil rights movement that took away their privilege is the reason the U.S. is the only developed country in which a major party, the GOP, “wants to abolish the welfare state.” That party is also actively trying to change state electoral laws to diseenfranchise African-Americans. It isn’t just the police that must change—-it’s the entire culture.

Very clear-sighted, I’d say—and note particularly this Kevin Drum post from today, regarding the last points.

But the point is: things are shifting rapidly. That is, cultural values are not so insulated by distance and language and expense of travel as once was true: Internet again.

So we’re in the midst of a major meme war, in effect, or—more appropriately—Cambrian Explosion of memes, evolving rapidly, exchanging patches of meme-DNA, and so on.

Written by LeisureGuy

22 August 2014 at 1:04 pm

White-on-white murder in America is out of control

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Written by LeisureGuy

22 August 2014 at 12:26 pm

Posted in Law

Playtime for a mountain lion

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A determined cat. (Good 1-minute video, but I can’t embed it.)

Written by LeisureGuy

22 August 2014 at 10:54 am

Posted in Cats, Games, Video

Failed US War on Terror resulted from bizarre search for Moderate Jihadis

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As the US has repeatedly demonstrated, statecraft and diplomatic efforts and wars require a solid foundation of knowledge and understanding if they are to be successful. Ignorance is not allayed by enthusiasm (cf. Bremer’s completing the destruction of Iraq after the initial invasion, itself based on lies and ignorance). Patrick Cockburn has an interesting excerpt from his new book, via Informed Comment;

[This essay is excerpted from the first chapter of Patrick Cockburn’s new book, The Jihadis Return: ISIS and the New Sunni Uprisingwith special thanks to his publisher, OR Books.  The first section is a new introduction written for TomDispatch.]

There are extraordinary elements in the present U.S. policy in Iraq and Syria that are attracting surprisingly little attention. In Iraq, the U.S. is carrying out air strikes and sending in advisers and trainers to help beat back the advance of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (better known as ISIS) on the Kurdish capital, Erbil. The U.S. would presumably do the same if ISIS surrounds or attacks Baghdad. But in Syria, Washington’s policy is the exact opposite: there the main opponent of ISIS is the Syrian government and the Syrian Kurds in their northern enclaves. Both are under attack from ISIS, which has taken about a third of the country, including most of its oil and gas production facilities.

But U.S., Western European, Saudi, and Arab Gulf policy is to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad, which happens to be the policy of ISIS and other jihadis in Syria. If Assad goes, then ISIS will be the beneficiary, since it is either defeating or absorbing the rest of the Syrian armed opposition. There is a pretense in Washington and elsewhere that there exists a “moderate” Syrian opposition being helped by the U.S., Qatar, Turkey, and the Saudis.  It is, however, weak and getting more so by the day. Soon the new caliphate may stretch from the Iranian border to the Mediterranean and the only force that can possibly stop this from happening is the Syrian army.

The reality of U.S. policy is to support the government of Iraq, but not Syria, against ISIS. But one reason that group has been able to grow so strong in Iraq is that it can draw on its resources and fighters in Syria. Not everything that went wrong in Iraq was the fault of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, as has now become the political and media consensus in the West. Iraqi politicians have been telling me for the last two years that foreign backing for the Sunni revolt in Syria would inevitably destabilize their country as well.  This has now happened.

By continuing these contradictory policies in two countries, the U.S. has ensured that ISIS can reinforce its fighters in Iraq from Syria and vice versa. So far, Washington has been successful in escaping blame for the rise of ISIS by putting all the blame on the Iraqi government. In fact, it has created a situation in which ISIS can survive and may well flourish.

Using the al-Qa’ida Label

The sharp increase in the strength and reach of jihadist organizations in Syria and Iraq has generally been unacknowledged until recently by politicians and media in the West. A primary reason for this is that Western governments and their security forces narrowly define the jihadist threat as those forces directly controlled by al-Qa‘ida central or “core” al-Qa‘ida. This enables them to present a much more cheerful picture of their successes in the so-called war on terror than the situation on the ground warrants.

In fact, the idea that the only jihadis to be worried about are those with the official blessing of al-Qa‘ida is naïve and self-deceiving. It ignores the fact, for instance, that ISIS has been criticized by the al-Qa‘ida leader Ayman al-Zawahiri for its excessive violence and sectarianism. After talking to a range of Syrian jihadi rebels not directly affiliated with al-Qa‘ida in southeast Turkey earlier this year, a source told me that “without exception they all expressed enthusiasm for the 9/11 attacks and hoped the same thing would happen in Europe as well as the U.S.”

Jihadi groups ideologically close to al-Qa‘ida have been relabeled as moderate if their actions are deemed supportive of U.S. policy aims. In Syria, the Americans backed a plan by Saudi Arabia to build up a “Southern Front” based in Jordan that would be hostile to the Assad government in Damascus, and simultaneously hostile to al-Qa‘ida-type rebels in the north and east. The powerful but supposedly moderate Yarmouk Brigade, reportedly the planned recipient of anti-aircraft missiles from Saudi Arabia, was intended to be the leading element in this new formation. But numerous videos show that the Yarmouk Brigade has frequently fought in collaboration with JAN, the official al-Qa‘ida affiliate. Since it was likely that, in the midst of battle, these two groups would share their munitions, Washington was effectively allowing advanced weaponry to be handed over to its deadliest enemy. Iraqi officials confirm that they have captured sophisticated arms from ISIS fighters in Iraq that were originally supplied by outside powers to forces considered to be anti-al-Qa‘ida in Syria.

The name al-Qa‘ida has always been applied flexibly when identifying an enemy. In 2003 and 2004 in Iraq, as armed Iraqi opposition to the American and British-led occupation mounted, U.S. officials attributed most attacks to al-Qa‘ida, though many were carried out by nationalist and Baathist groups. Propaganda like this helped to persuade nearly 60% of U.S. voters prior to the Iraq invasion that there was a connection between Saddam Hussein and those responsible for 9/11, despite the absence of any evidence for this. In Iraq itself, indeed throughout the entire Muslim world, these accusations have benefited al-Qa‘ida by exaggerating its role in the resistance to the U.S. and British occupation.

Precisely the opposite PR tactics were employed by Western governments in 2011 in Libya, where any similarity between al-Qa‘ida and the NATO-backed rebels fighting to overthrow the Libyan leader, Muammar Gaddafi, was played down. Only those jihadis who had a direct operational link to the al-Qa‘ida “core” of Osama bin Laden were deemed to be dangerous. The falsity of the pretense that the anti-Gaddafi jihadis in Libya were less threatening than those in direct contact with al-Qa‘ida was forcefully, if tragically, exposed when U.S. ambassador Chris Stevens was killed by jihadi fighters in Benghazi in September 2012. These were the same fighters lauded by Western governments and media for their role in the anti-Gaddafi uprising.

Imagining al-Qa’ida as the Mafia

Al-Qa‘ida is an idea rather than an organization, and this has long been the case. . .

Continue reading.

The truth—built on a basis of actual, stubborn facts—is by far the best and most reliable guide, even though it is disdained by most in politics and in organizations, all of which seem to include certain beliefs that must not be questioned or discussed—and the fact that these must not be discussed is also not open for discussion.

Written by LeisureGuy

22 August 2014 at 10:46 am

Posted in Mideast Conflict

Why Militarized Policing is the worst Response to Ferguson’s Problems

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Good checklist of how militarized policing, which doubtless works for occupation forces in a conquered nation, is not only inappropriate in the US but also counter-productive. Chris Cocking writes:

The town of Ferguson, Missouri has now seen ten days of almost nightly disorder following the shooting of black teenager Michael Brown by the police. The decision to bring in the National Guard has not quelled the disorder and in fact may be aggravating the situation.

Society often has a tendency to fear crowds and to presume they need to be tackled by force but it is in fact this force that can make a tense situation spill over into violence. In many cases it is the cause of a problem, not the solution.

Taking on the crowd

During the night of August 18, 31 protesters were arrested in Ferguson and Amnesty International observers were told to leave the scene.

The police deployed in the evenings in Ferguson are heavily armed with a range of sophisticated weapons. They have tear gas, sonic devices, baton rounds, and stun grenades, all of which make them look more like soldiers than civilian policeman.

These devices are indiscriminate crowd control weapons designed for dispersal and do not differentiate between protesters. Everyone is in the firing line. It’s an approach that has long been questioned by researchers of crowd behaviour. Many have argued that treating crowds forcefully and indiscriminately often escalates disorder rather than calming it. If a crowd thinks it is being treated unfairly, it will react against this treatment which can in turn cause more forceful police responses, resulting in an escalating cycle of disorder.

Describing the crowd

The language used to describe the protests in Ferguson also reflects our pervasive mistrust of crowds.

Ferguson Police Captain Ron Johnson provided a prime example of this problem when he said at a press conference that “a small number of violent agitators … hide in the crowd and then attempt to create chaos”. I have seen no CCTV footage to support this assertion and I would take issue with the premise behind it anyway. He implies that a a minority of people with malicious intent are responsible for inciting the peaceful majority to behave violently. This assumes that crowd members are easily influenced by others to do things that they would not otherwise do. If crowds were this easily influenced by others, why don’t they listen to police warnings to disperse?

The idea that crowds are gullible and uncritical of any social influence is largely a myth. If violence does occur it rarely happens because a violent minority has whipped up the the crowd. It is more likely because the police have treated the crowd in an indiscriminate way. This psychologically unites crowd members to act together against what are perceived as illegitimate attacks against them.

A study of the figures presented by the media and politicians to illustrate “irrational” criminality during the 2011 riots in the UK tells a similar story. The statistics used to describe these events were often selective or misrepresented and the conclusions drawn were not . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

22 August 2014 at 10:38 am

Posted in Law Enforcement

What lies beneath Stonehenge

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Very interesting article. It would have been very interesting to be in the crowds at the time. Gone now beyond recall: all those ceremonies and life experiences…

Written by LeisureGuy

22 August 2014 at 10:07 am

Posted in Religion

Great shave with Shannon’s soap

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SOTD 22 Aug 2014

The soap is a freebie that I agreed to test. Note the ingredients. It’s a softer soap, along the order of Wickham, and it lathered very nicely with Mr. Pomp, the brush. Tin is a nice size, and on a whim I tried palm lathering, and that worked well. Next time, though, I’ll face lather for the sake of variety.

The ATT H-1 with an Astra Superior Platinum blade did an easy, three-pass shaving producing a BBS finish. A good splash of Krampert’s and Friday begins.

Written by LeisureGuy

22 August 2014 at 9:04 am

Posted in Shaving

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