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Underestimating Our Afghan Summer? April 30, 2009

Posted by presto21 in Politics, World Affairs.
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Hey guys,

Most of you are aware that in what will probably go down as the most important foreign policy decision of his first term, President Obama ordered the doubling of our troop presence in Afghanistan. As one who is generally skeptical of an interventionist foreign policy, I’ll admit that I find the rationale behind this “doubling down” far more compelling than many of our other military misadventures (Iraq?). A couple major arguments for increased involvement in Afghanistan:

1. The guys who attacked us on 9/11, while not born and raised in Afghanistan, relied heavily on the safe haven the Taliban provided for fundraising, training, planning, and organizing.

2. The Taliban is, by any humane standards, a brutally repressive regime; especially so with regards to women. The other day a video leaked out of a young Pakistani woman being publicly whipped for the crime of having a man to her home who was not part of her family. Those who prosecuted her under Sharia law said that she could have been executed and claimed that, if anything, they were being lenient. Here’s a link to the video: Taliban Video Shows Teen Girl Beaten for ‘Adultery’

3. The Taliban is back on the rise in Afghanistan and the Karzai government is widely seen as ineffectual outside of Kabul.

4. The number of troops we have there now is universally seen as insufficient. Our military’s movements in most key areas are limited to the extent that soldiers rarely go far from their bases.

5. The terrorism and extremism in Afghanistan has overflown into large swaths of Pakistan’s tribal region, destabilizing it greatly and ruining the tourism driven economy the SWAT valley used to enjoy. Worst of all, Pakistan’s own military has proven either unwilling or unable to staunch the bleeding. Everyday the Taliban’s influence creeps closer to Islamabad.

6. Pakistan has a nuclear arsenal.

Comparing such imperative threats to the thread of bad intelligence our government used to link 9/11 to Iraq and launch a massive invasion, makes it clear that, for once, we may have a war of necessity on our hands. Maybe war is never justified, but some wars are certainly more justified than others.

Such has been my thinking on the prospect of a renewed campaign in Afghanistan: It’s going to be tough, it’s going to be expensive, and there’s no guarantee of success. But at least we have some solid reasons to be there. At least an honest debate on the merits of more or less involvement seems warranted.

Well, a couple days ago I read an excellent article which contained firsthand account of a firefight in the region as well as some eye-opening specifics on what we can expect from Afghanistan as the fighting ramps up this summer. While it does an excellent job of highlighting the huge strides that could be made if the massive poppy industry (which bankrolls the Taliban) can be shutdown, it is also a sobering reminder of the worst-case scenario: a protracted and bloody, conflict with heavy U.S. and civilian casualties.

Please read the article here: Poppy Fields of Afghanistan

Troy Davis (URGENT!) April 29, 2009

Posted by Afflatus in Politics.
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Take a minute to read about Troy Davis. This from a letter I received from Amnesty International:


Amnesty International USA: TAKE ACTION NOW!

While news channels across the country are consumed with counting up to President Obama’s first 100 days in office, Troy Davis has been counting down his last 30 days before a new execution date could be set. Help make these extra days count.
On May 19th help save Troy Davis by putting together any activity, event or creative action that calls attention to his case.

Dear Jonathan ,

The 30-day stay issued by the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals expires on May 15th.

So now is the time for us to organize to save the life of Troy Anthony Davis. We’re asking everybody to come out strong on May 19th – a day marked in human rights calendars across the world as the Global Day of Action for Troy Davis.

Whether you’re holding a “Text TROY to 90999” sign on a busy street or organizing your local Amnesty chapter to hold a public demonstration or vigil, we need everybody to contribute their time on May 19th to make sure that the state of Georgia does not kill a man who may well be innocent. Register your Global Day of Action for Troy Davis activity or event now.

We know that time is short for organizing public events, but an execution date could be set as early as late May, so it is essential that action be taken soon. It’s also really important that we get an accurate count of how many events and activities are taking place on May 19th, so we can share this information with officials in Georgia. Our emails and phone calls have gone a long way in buying Troy some much-needed time, but now we’ve got to take our action to the streets.
Troy Davis with his mother Virginia Davis

We appreciate the tens of thousands of you who have stood in Troy’s corner while heart-stopping scenes have unfolded. On three separate occasions, Troy has been scheduled for execution. And on three separate occasions, his life was saved within a short period of time, even minutes, of his scheduled execution date.

Each time, those last minute stays came after people like you turned out by the thousands to rally in his defense. It was no coincidence. Troy’s sister and long-time Amnesty activist, Martina Correia, has acknowledged Amnesty’s powerful role in saving her brother’s life each of those times.

Now here we are again with the clock winding down. While we can see little opportunity for legal recourse or second chances, we know that your advocacy has a strong record of making amazing things happen.

When we first introduced you to Troy Davis in early 2007, few people outside of Georgia knew about the injustice taking place. In the past two years, countless people have come to see Troy’s case as a prime example of why the death penalty must be abolished – the risk of executing someone for a crime they did not commit is just too high.

We are serious when we say that we need everyone to support Troy Davis on May 19th by organizing their own event or awareness-raising activity.

After all, if you had 30 days left to fight for your life, wouldn’t you want to know that you had thousands standing in your corner?

In Solidarity,

Sue Gunawardena-Vaughn
Director, Death Penalty Abolition Campaign
Amnesty International USA

Bush and Somalia April 26, 2009

Posted by Afflatus in History, World Affairs.
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I’ve been really busy recently, thus I havent had a chance to post much. Writing a paper on Somalia has taken up most of my time. I’ve briefly shared some of what I’ve learned about Somalia with some of you, but its necessary that everyone understands the extent to which the US and Ethiopia, along with other Western and African countries, made disastrous policy decisions in Somalia in 2006. Without time to explain in more detail, I refer you to this short article from cfr, my new favorite source of news on international affairs.

On thing to get clear is that the piracy on the horn and the Islamic extremism in the south are independent of each other. Pirates are generally not linked to the Islamic terrorists in the south or elsewhere in the world.

Another thing the article notes is that the US has bombed militant Islamic extremists in Somalia 5 times in the past 2.5 years! Pretty crazy right?

In essence, hard diplomacy (the military) is not the solution in Somalia. Combined Western naval fleets can only patrol 1% of the waters within range of Somali pirate attacks. Likewise, it is not the solution in the fight against Islamic fundamentalists. Both problems require soft diplomacy: building up infrastructure and industry, providing much-needed food and water, and supporting the new moderate, Islamic, transitional government in their fight against the extremists.

This view favoring a soft solution is wide-ranging, and held by experts on both sides of the political spectrum. Too bad the Bush Administration did not understand what we do now.

Two more articles that help to explain the immense humanitarian crisis in Somalia are: here and here.

I’ll post more after finals, or if you have specific questions, ask!

Foreign Film Review: Buffet Froid (1979) April 22, 2009

Posted by masterj27 in Books and Movies.
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I’ve mentioned to some in our blogging community that I’m taking a class on French cinema this semester. It’s pretty much my favorite class, and while studying for a quiz on this film this morning, I was inspired to share a little about this movie and hopefully inspire some of you to go out and watch it. The film is called Buffet Froid, which literally translates to “Cold Cuts” in English. SPOILER ALERT: to appropriately analyze this film I will have to spill the beans on the plot line!

Bertrand Blier is not your typical director, in essence he is a non-conformist. He wouldn’t even conform during the French New Wave movement, which characterized by challenging the status quo in terms of film making! Blier is known as a provocateur, a proponent of controversial subject matter and atypical filming styles. The films made by Blier usually reinforce slogans from the May 1968 period of France, a time when traditional society and morality were put into question and there was a substantial change in society. If you haven’t already noticed, this guy didn’t really like customs and conventions; he was more into shaking things up. The protagonists of his films were usually rebels with eccentric personalities, and this film is no different.

The film centers around the life of Alphonse Tram (played by iconic French actor Gerard Dépardieu), an unemployed man with a strange life characterized by drinking wine and confusion on the meaning of life. In the first couple of scenes, Tram tries to start a conversation with a man on the Metro on how he thinks about killing people from time to time, only to discover that his acquaintance is killed in the scene thereafter. Knife in stomach with death slowly approaching, the man shows indifference towards his impending doom, is in no sign of pain (aside from lying on the floor with a knife in his stomach), and actually tells Tram to leave him alone so he can die in peace. Tram goes home, the only apartment in the whole complex that is being used, to his wife and they have a pointless conversation about their lives. Soon after, they discover that someone has moved in above them: a police inspector by the name of Inspector Morvandieu (played by the director’s father Bernard Blier). The inspectors apartment is littered with crates on the only sign of furniture is two small crates next to a larger crate with plates, glasses, and a bottle of wine that resembles an odd dining room table and chairs. After a drink, Tram heads home. He discovers later that his wife has been killed and tells the nonchalant inspector about the situation and asks Tram to identify the body but thinks nothing of the situation thereafter… he says something like he “is not at work at the moment”. A couple of minutes later in the film, a man knocks on the door who confesses to be the killer of Tram’s wife (known simply as The Assassin, played by Jean Carmet). He tells Tram of his frustration with women and how he has sudden urges to strangle them. Tram lets him in and they share a drink and have a talk. We have now been introduced to the three main protagonists of the film. The rest of the film is quite absurd in nature: the Assassin believes a bulky man to be a women and tries to sleep with him, the inspector reveals his fear of Brahms and music in general, and the trio are hired by a man to kill someone who turns out to be the contractor himself. In the end, Tram, the inspector, and the Assassin go to the  country where they come upon a hired killer who is looking for a man named Alphonse Tram. Tram tells the hitman that the Assassin is named Alphone Tram, and the hitman promptly shoots him. The inspector and Tram take the hitman “hostage” and are picked up by a woman in a car whom they’ve never met. After they run out of gas in the middle of a bridge, the hitman attempts to escape but jumping off the bridge into a creek (no problem!). After repeatedly trying to shoot the man with a pistol (who seems to be a mile away) they get in a boat to try and chase him. They discover in the end that the woman who picked them up is the daughter of the man killed on the subway, and in typical French fashion everyone dies at the end of the movie (except for the woman, who is seen rowing peacefully as the credits begin to roll).

If that sounded a little bizarre, it’s because it was meant to be. I must admit that this is one of the strangest movies I have ever watched, but after a little analysis in class, I discovered why it is so weird. After we watched a different movie in this class I’m taking, a student raised a very good point that I’ve tried to take to heart. She said, “At first I tried to make sense of the film as it was happening, but I realized that was impossible. So I let myself go.” What she was saying was that she didn’t try to interpret every action and every scene as it came along. This is when I developed my own philosophy for watching films in this class. I let things happen and I try to make sense of everything at the end of the film. The great thing is, I discovered that maybe the movie wasn’t meant to make sense. Maybe it’s a ridiculous set of vignettes that are meant to challenge traditional standards and ways of film making (remember challenging the status quo?).

Anyway, back to the movie at hand… The main reason I wanted to share this movie with all of you is because there is one aspect about it that I find intriguing. In what spectrum in human life do things not necessarily make sense, there is an absence of time, fears take strikingly human and real forms, and there is no real message at the end? Nightmares. This film can be seen as a giant nightmare where Alphonse’s fears are realized (including his scary thoughts about killing people and how he convinces himself that he was the one who murdered the man in the metro). A lot of information is thrown at the viewer, but none of it really makes sense and a lot of questions are unanswered. It’s kind of hard to describe but I would really encourage you to watch the movie from this perspective and see how cool it really is.

Thanks to Professor Tilden Daniels for some of the information in this blog and a great lecture on a fantastic film!

DJ Casemo April 22, 2009

Posted by xander574 in Books and Movies.
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An electro funk mix that will have you wringing out your T shirt in no time. This mix is a combination of some older tracks, some new ones and some downright ANTHEMs.

Download HOT SWEAT now.

Two eye-opening articles… April 21, 2009

Posted by Afflatus in Politics, World Affairs.
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The first details what was for me a new, humanistic perspective of why the US should stay in Afghanistan. Though Obama decided long ago to send 17,000 more troops there, I still have been frequently debating the merits of this decision. It’s an interesting article.

The second argues for a dramatic restructuring of our local government institutions. Inefficiency is ubiquitous, and vast improvements can be made in almost every state. Definitely check out this short article.

The first makes many undeniable arguments in favor of remaining in Afghanistan. A classmate of mine told me that we will probably have long-term bases there to protect our national interest, and to help stability and democracy in the region. I’m beginning to think this is not a bad idea.  Thoughts? On either article?

My First Kiva Loan April 19, 2009

Posted by Afflatus in Uncategorized.
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I just made my first KIVA loan to a group of entrepreneurs in Prasat, Cambodia. Read below for the description of my loan recipients. I’ve helped people by giving my time before through community service, but this is the first time I’ve given my money. I had fun, and I encourage everyone to make a loan through Kiva. Nicholas Kristoff says its one of the best philanthropic things you can do with your money in his article in today’s Times.

The 13 people living in Prasat village in Cambodia’s Kandal province who comprise this village bank loan will use the loan for various purposes. Mrs. Morn Nheb is a 50-year-old village bank president. She uses hay to make fertilizer that she sells to farmers. Since her business is doing well, she wants to expand it by purchasing more hay to make more fertilizer to sell and earn more income. Her husband, Mr. Sam Lorn, is a hairdresser. Mrs. Morn Nheb has two children who attend the local school.

While Watching Nostradamus: 2012… April 19, 2009

Posted by xander574 in Rediculous.
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Well this might make no sense…But my guess is that the “end of the world” in 2012 will be in one of two ways. The first being THE ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE, i know we are all excited about this one. Plus, we are all preparing our zombie contingency plans. For all of those not prepared for this outcome i recommend picking up the Max Brooks books, “The Zombie Survival Guide” and “World War Z.” The are ripe with information on how to survive the eventual end of the world.

Personally the way i think it would happen is in 2012 there will be a technological breakthrough involving genetic manipulation and the rabies virus causing humans to become blood thirsty animals with a need to feed.
The second outcome is not necessarily the end of the earth itself, but more of the end of the earth as our only home in the universe. For instance its very possible that due to some technological break through we are able to colonize the moon, mars, and/or europa. Or a warp drive.

Mrs. Dorothea Lange April 18, 2009

Posted by presto21 in Books and Movies, History.
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Hey guys,

(I can’t post her photos in the “My Name Is” section)

My Name Is: Dorothea Lange

Born: Hoboken, New Jersey in 1895

Died: October 11, 1965

Best Known As: American documentary photographer and photojournalist, best known for her Depression-era work. Lange’s photographs humanized the tragic consequences of the Great Depression and profoundly influenced the development of documentary photography. These pictures speak for themselves…

Lange's Migrant Mother

Lange's "Migrant Mother"

Dorothea developed polio at the age of 7 and since treatment was not yet available she came out of it with a rather weak right leg and a life-long limp. She informally apprenticed herself to several well-known New York photography studios in the 1910’s and then moved to San Francisco in 1918. With the onset of the Great Depression, Lange turned her camera lens from the studio to the street. Her studies of unemployed and homeless people captured the attention of local photographers and led to her employment with the federal Resettlement Administration (RA), later called the Farm Security Administration (FSA).

From 1935 to 1939, Lange’s work for the RA and FSA brought the plight of the poor and forgotten — particularly sharecroppers, displaced farm families, and migrant workers — to public attention. Distributed free to newspapers across the country, her poignant images became icons of the era.

In 1941 Lange was awarded a prestigious Guggenheim Fellowship for her work but after Pearl Harbor she gave back the award to record the forced evacuation of Japanese Americans to relocation camps. To many observers, her photograph of Japanese-American children pledging allegiance to the flag shortly before they were sent to internment camps is a haunting reminder of this policy of detaining people without charging them with any crime or affording them any appeal.

April 1942, Weill Public School, San Francisco

April 1942, Weill Public School, San Francisco

Her images were so obviously critical that the Army censored them. Today her photographs of the internment are available in the National Archives.

Mississippi Delta Children

Mississippi Delta Children

Check out more of her pictures with captions

World Homosexuality Laws April 18, 2009

Posted by Afflatus in World Affairs.
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With all the talk of same-sex marriage in the news these days, I was wondering what other countries laws were for the issue. Of course Wikipedia has the answer. I love wikipedia.

Follow the link here.

Looks like the United States is in the middle of the pack in terms of same-sex marriage laws.

With Governor David Patterson, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, and numerous powerful Senators in support of same-sex marriage in New York, I expect they will pass the recently introduced legislation. This would be a major victory for the movement to legalize same-sex marriage, and it will take a lot of work.

The Foggy Bottom metro stop today was such a lively and happy scene. The sun was shining, tourists were touring, vendors were selling books, food, and bike rides. Activists were trying to save the world. While I was observing the scene, I saw a gay couple holding hands walk by a heterosexual couple also holding hands, and I smiled. I hope the trend towards a more free, pluralistic society continues, and more states legalize same-sex marriage.

The bottom line: If you don’t like same-sex marriage, Don’t have one.