26 February 2007

Is my girlfriend battered?

I know she is not, but reading a law review article about battered women brought up a recent memory.

Stereotypes and myths exist, such as “Blacks just like to fight”, “Latinas are hot blooded,” and “Asian women are trained for this sort of thing.” These sterotypes and cultural myths serve to place battered women of color in opposition to the image of the white battered woman who is the norm. Morrisson, Adele. 2006, March. Deconstructing the image repertoire of women of color. U.C. Davis Law Review, 39, 1081. 1083.

It is interesting that I should come across after what happened last week. A friend of my girlfriend and I, I will call him Jonah, came back into town and we went out to meet him and my best friend (who introduced us to him). By the time we arrived both of the guys were drunk. Jonah had spent a lot of time with my girlfriend the previous summer when I was out of town for an extended business trip. I knew Jonah had feelings for her, and while we had never talked about it, I knew that she also knew how he felt.

He was drunk and very touchy feely. He had moved away about 7 months ago and it seemed he still liked her. She was uncomfortable but I did not know how uncomfortable, so I did not intervene. Now, she is not known for being tactful when she feels disabused, so I did not think too much about the hanging-on going on. She was being polite and if I saw she wanted me to intervene then I would.

I would also be hesitant to intervene without solicitation because I would worry that I was being the jealous boyfriend. I have always worried that that hesitation would come back to haunt me. At one point the three of them found their way to the bar, as I was talking to an older acquaintance. I guess Jonah started kissing her neck and she was obviously uncomfortable. My best friend intervened; hearing her describe it makes me really proud to be his friend. The situation seemed resolved.

I was finally tired of chasing the drunk boys around, and she needed to wake up early for work the next day, so I decided it was time to leave. Jonah said some things to her that were beyond appropriate, so much so that she did not tell me until we returned home, because while the threshold may be too high I would have acted. But that is irrelevant to the passage above.

My concern is that because my girlfriend is feistier than most, do people that know her not step up to defend her when they should because of her reputation? Discussing it later that night she did say that she feels constrained by her reputation. She worries about even speaking up sometime because she fears being dismissed as being argumentative. I told her to never hesitate when she feels uncomfortable, maybe other times she should be less argumentative, but not in these instances.

As an analogy I worry that I am the criminal justice system by not being responsive enough to her concerns out of concern for the myth of “being hot blooded”. I also have the other hesitation, the concern of being too involved and jealous, but this only compounds my worries. I am thankful that my best friend acted. It sounds like the situation was so over the top that even I would have acted, but I am not so sure. I like to think I would have acted.

22 February 2007

Swivel rocks!

Swivel is a new web site that provides data sets on all kinds of stuff. The site will also run analyses and I am sure things much more complicated than I am able to understand on differing data sets.

I thought this was a funny set. I would like to see this data placed into a time series over the 47 years the data was collected from. I am curious to see how much smaller the more contemporary playmates are than the ones from years past.

Chaloupka 1992

This pace seems to represent assurance, but this is always paradoxical. Pace no longer represents competence; now, it is a reversal. New destabilizers constantly emerge to confound the stability of the nuclear age. The signs of safety continually appear as accompaniments of chaos, and the inherently chaotic (the nuke) raises possibilities of a more managed society than anyone had ever imagined. Reagan’s well-known inability to understand how our “defensive” capabilities could appear obviously “offensive” to the Soviets is only a symptom of a larger tendency that pervades nuclearism. As Gary Willis has explained, resources will inevitably be confused with intentions; resources become the sign of intentions, and the reality of the sign is continually overestimated, perhaps more so when the stakes are higher.

Naturally, the enemy’s intent and willpower are less visible than his resources; so we overestimate them in much larger degree – this is called the “worst-case” scenario. If we must presume the worst in order to be prepared for anything, then the slightest increase in enemy resources must be read as part of a larger design being implemented. Even a cutback in one area will be read as an economy called for by greater expenditure elsewhere.

Transposed into the reverse logic of deterrence, the consequence is that assessments of enemy strength – a more or less routine affair in peacetime – become permanent destabilizers when the balance of terror is institutionalized. The rationalistic management that modern nuclearists proclaim as their achievement will continually threaten to produce aggression and unbalanced terror. In such a strange setting, as Deleuze and Guattari explain, desire will stage breakouts along all sorts of unexpected lines. Chaloupka, William. 1992. Knowing nukes. Minneapolis: U. of Minnesota Press. 76-77.

The block quotation (that I have marked in bold) from Chaloupka here is a citation from Gary Willis’ Critical Inquiry 1982 article. As a combination of security studies and rhetoric this is an important book for me. What I remember not being adequately dealt with by Chaloupka is the break in thinking which supposedly occurred with the development of nuclear arsenals. I tend to think people were always nuclear a la Latour’s “we have always been modern.”

People have always known their lives are fragile and may come to a sudden end beyond their control. The advent of a nuclear arsenal overseas did not change this. There is the risk of a sudden cessation collectively. The immediate move into the remainder-less world might now be a new concern ushered in by nuclear weapons, but how this has wide reaching changes in signification I am not sure. Regardless, the passage above is important, especially to-day.

The new destabilizers to-day are easy to see: terrorism and their mechanisms such as email, cell phones, and porous borders. The signs of safety that accompany these destabilizers are border patrols, the National Security Administration and their Predator program, the Patriot Act and military commissions just to name a few. It is hardly contentious that these mechanisms have led to a more managed and manageable society.

The contentious part is the Gary Willis block quotation. The Bush Administration has become the ultimate peddler of the worst-case scenario. According to statements we are to believe that not only Iraq but also that al Qaeda was/are nuclear threats. The lack of evidence proving the nuclear threat is spun to mean that al Qaeda is not seeking nuclear weapons because they (here we will find carefully inserted words such as ‘may’ or ‘might’ or ‘possibly’, but the message is the same: be afraid) have nuclear weapons. The worst-case scenario then becomes a lens through which al Qaeda is viewed. If there is movement from Afghanistan it means al Qaeda is leaving and taking the offensive. If there is silence it means al Qaeda is preparing for a spring offensive.

This lens will produce a ratchet of violence. Tensions will always be escalating and the other will see every action one side takes as aggressive. This is easily seen in the bin Laden assessments. Initially he was just a Saudi critic, but his threat assessment has gradually ramped up, sometimes as a result of a violent action and sometimes not. For example we can look to his early statements, which have now been entirely discounted. Initially bin Laden claimed to want the US out of the Kingdom (the Kingdom is not just Saudi Arabia, but also the holy land of Mecca and Medina.) Those claims are now dismissed (whereas his more radical and catastrophic claims are uncritically accepted as truth) by our administration as lies to make him seem more moderate and appealing to others. Signs of moderation are seen as recruitment attempts. Is this not the perfect example of Willis’ “even a cutback in one area will be read as… greater expenditure elsewhere”?

Iran is another illustration. Not only does Bush fall into this pattern when looking at Iran, but it is this very pattern that allowed Ahmadinejad to be elected. Iranian aid to Shiites in Iraq is seen as an anti-US gesture, when it may possibly be merely a means to protect a minority, which faces violent persecution. The US media, Bush is not alone in this error, links Iraqi insurgents into one anti-US group. There are places in Iraq where the Shiite insurgents and the US troops are fighting the same enemy and Iran might possibly be helping US forces.

What was the threat to US interests when the Iranian revolution occurred? Why was it treated with such disdain? Our response was to arm Iraq and the Baath party; Saddam Hussein was our preferred weapon against Iran. And now we are bogged down in Iraq trying to clean up that mess while Iran has reacted to our hostilities and moved into a new tier of US threat assessments. The Iraq war is misnamed. This is all the same battle of the US versus Iran, which is really a battle of modern forces versus conservative forces. It is odd that the preferred weapon of the US to fight these conservative forces is an evangelical President that has celebrated his disavowal of nuance. Instead of focusing on killing the conservative forces, maybe we ought to instead focus on converting those forces. The real question then becomes the one Chaloupka finds begged by Deleuze and Guattari: what is the desire of modernity, which keeps staging breakouts in all these unexpected lines?

12 February 2007

National Review Watch: Mansourian

To-day’s National Review piece to be scrutinized is by Farhad Mansourian who is a research fellow at the Center for Promotion of Democracy & Human Rights. His piece is short yet it is packed with arguments and assumptions that need to be dissected. This article comes on the heels of increased public discussions about reconciling with Iran and is an attempt to silence those calls by arguing for a continuation of a hard-line approach while “aiding internal efforts that strive to bring about democratic regime change from within.” I am not sure exactly what these internal efforts are or whom they are going to and I get the impression that Mansourian does not know either.

My alternative would allow for some sort of rapprochement with Iran and also allow some of these same internal efforts Mansourian lauds. By removing the demonization, I contend, moderates would have increased leverage in their contestations with non-moderates and would then be able to reform the government. People voted for Ahmadinejad because they feel increasingly antagonized by the outside world and felt he was the best way to regain some strength. Removing this fear and opprobrium might just be enough to keep people from voting for him and others like him.

Mansourian claims my policy would fail because there is no room for moderation in Iranian politics because “all Iranian politicians, regardless of faction, are subject to the dictates of the Supreme Leader.” I will hesitatingly posit that this is correct, but it still does not defeat my prescription. The Supreme Leader’s dictates are not to wipe Israel off the map. Those dictates are not to engage in a violent struggle; rather they can be interpreted as such. Those dictates can also be interpreted to allow Iran to play a more constructive role more in line with US interests. What is needed is a moderate government that interprets those dictates in such a way. Mansourian’s argument about the one style politics is a contradiction with his later claim, which I discussed above. Mansourian’s prescription is to foment internal change, yet he forecloses that very possibility in my prescription. Why does this argument carry weight with the soft-line policy and not in the hard-line policy? If anything it would be easier for the more powerful members of Iranian society to create change than the more marginalized groups, which Mansourian seems to champion.

There is one other argument Mansourian makes that needs to be addressed. He claims the soft-line policy would teach the ayatollahs to foment chaos in the region. However, Mansourian again betrays himself. He says they will “sense that all they have to do is keep the Middle East in chaos.” The word I want to focus on is ‘keep’. The Middle East is already in conflict so where then is the risk of the soft-line policy? Iran is actively fomenting chaos under a US hard-line approach. Maybe the soft-line approach, for a change, is the way out of the morass into a new status quo. Mansourian hints at what would be his response: deterrence. The US can punish Iran for bellicose behavior by letting them “understand that there are consequences to their actions.” This punitive function of US foreign policy, I contend, lacks credibility in to-day’s world. The US military is over-extended and US public opinion for another engagement with a larger-then-Iraq adversary is likely to be non-existent. A punitive option would also be easier to secure with a soft-line policy because it can then be demonstrated that we tried and Iran is intractable in their aggression. Not only would the world be more in line with our policy (see Putin’s recent comments) but US public opinion would also be more easily secured.

Mansourian wants the US to match Iranian bluster with American bluster, meanwhile people are dying and an irreversible course towards more chaos and death is being set upon. It is time for a change and as long as we keep up the saber rattling we cannot honestly expect the change to come from Tehran first. It is time to look within and realize how we have helped create this mess.

02 February 2007

National Review Watch: Krauthammer

To-day’s sample from the National Review is an article by Charles Krauthammer called “Iraq’s choice.” I chose this article because I am familiar with Krauthammer as one of the most hawkish of pundits yet also one of the most intelligent. I find his arguments are usually well laid out and are not typical of many conservative pundits, especially those published by the National Review. This article is consistent with my take on Krauthammer.

Where many would have blamed ‘liberals’ for treasonous disrespect to the US, Krauthammer merely disagrees with Zakaria. Krauthammer’s argument is that the US did not bring Iraq a civil war, rather some Iraqis chose this course of action. Krauthammer admits some mistakes on the US’s part, but those mistakes did not necessitate such a response.

There are not any sweeping claims. Rather I find this article to be a sober assessment whose only crime is that it resides in a literature base usually containing unsupported sweeping claims.