Arming a fractured world

In Monday’s debate, Romney said the following about Syria and American support of the anti-Assad insurgents:

We need to have a very effective leadership effort in Syria, making sure that the — the — the insurgents there are armed and that the insurgents that become armed are people who will be the responsible parties. (source)

Emphasis mine.

A few years ago, I bought a used book published in 1990 called The Fighting Never Stopped. It was an exhaustive chronicle of the dozens of violent and bloody conflicts that have happened since the end of World War II. A common trope among American academics is that the Cold War was the longest period of peace in modern times without a major struggle. The rise of nuclear-armed states, claimed to be rational, would herald the end of war due to deterrence.

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Two neoconservatives loudly agreeing with one another

I’ve watched most of the debates in the three post-9/11 presidential races. As I’ve grown and met more people, read a wider range of news sources, and taken college-level social science courses, the foreign policy talk of the candidates has become more jarring and disturbing.

Aggressive, interventionist foreign policy is not just wrong in a theoretical way, or a moral way. Its history is one of corpses, strewn from Vietnam to Iran, from El Salvador to Iraq and Afghanistan. Not just soldiers, but women and children of every race, faith, and creed. The United States has undermined democracies in favor of despots who promise open markets for goods, and to be an ‘ally’ in the region. Our war with the Taliban is not just against hardline Islamic fundamentalists- many fighters are poor farmers making a few hundred dollars as a hired gun.

My issue is not that American politicians have used these methods in the past, but rather at every opportunity they champion them as a sort of ideal foreign policy.

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My California ballot measure endorsements for November 6th


A common issue I notice is that each fall election in California has a slew of ballot measures, many of which are confusing and most importantly, deceptive. The amendment, veto and initiative process dates to 1910 and the heyday of the Progressive Era. In the century since, over 1,200 proposals have made it on the ballot. This year has several substantial propositions, which could change not only California’s tax policy, but also how we treat criminals.

I won’t preface these endorsements with much, but I’ll pick out the two most important to me.

Prop 34 will eliminate the death penalty and commute sentences to life without parole. It is not only a moral imperative to do this, but also will have about $100 million a year, which will in part go to investigating unsolved rapes and murders- an outrageous proportion of terrible crimes are done by people who elude justice.

Prop 36 is a serious reform of the “three strikes” policy approved by voters in 1994. I assume some of you may have voted yes in that election, but it is now clear the it is a perversion of justice. It would stop people from serving life for a third, petty offense and adjust sentences of those that are in prison for a minor third strike. Many of the people that have come to define three strikes (who stole a crowbar, a few cookies, or a couple videotapes) would be freed under time served.

Our prison system is inhumane, overcrowded, and filled with people sentenced under mandatory minimums and other measures that fill our prisons and remove power from judges.

The endorsements are below the fold.

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Eleven years

The events of September 11th, 2001 weren’t life-altering to me. I simply was too young- I had just turned eleven when it happened, and the odd circumstances of where I was (away from news, television for several days) means I don’t have the sense of solidarity that many other people had during that eventful Tuesday. The main feeling I felt was embarrassment- I had been so jubilant from the trip and finally being home; once home, I realized my enthusiasm was sharply at odds with the state of the country.

It is odd to believe that there are millions of Americans who have no memory of the attacks. Incoming college freshmen have only vague memories, in a few years they will have no memory at all. It seems strange that in a few years people will enter the military, perhaps serving in Afghanistan, and have nothing more than family and textbooks to tell them how we came to be there.

What September 11th did, quite starkly, is mark the end of my childhood, and was the initiation to the rest of my life. As the War on Terror began, I found that my sentiments were that of adults. I no longer had history wash over me, instead I interacted with it. I shared the same confusion in the run-up to the Iraq War. Some aspects of it I listened to, such as the dire world painted by the State of the Union in January, the inspectors finding nothing, and over the radio hearing Sec. Powell’s address to the United Nations. Rather than learning about these events at a later date, and forming a worldview from scratch, my opinions about the War on Terror are traced back to the very beginning, and are an evolution rather than a history lecture.

As each year passes, and the events fade little by little, it becomes a question of what September 11th will influence, and what it means. It cannot eternally be tears and three thousand candles. Neither can we move on entirely- partly because of its terrible scale, but because it has a deep impact on present day America. What has arisen is a national day of service, which I was involved in last year. I helped paint a fence for an American Legion post, with people my age and people fifty years my senior. It feels natural that a day of destruction move to become a day of rebuilding. Of making a better future while respecting the past. Of using our feelings about September 11th to make good in a world that needs it.

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The only winning move

The movie WarGames is the film that best sums up my generation’s take on the Cold War. Though it came out seven years before I was born, it brings together the experience of living decades removed from World War II- after proxy wars and decades of a nuclear and conventional arms race.

In short, I don’t understand the Cold War paradigm. Did I have to be there? Perhaps I did, but the stakes seem skewed. The United States created its nuclear stockpile as a way to ward off Communist influence. It also overthrew democratically elected presidents in the Middle East, South America, and Africa as means to an end- namely, a world of capitalist countries and United States military supremacy. The USSR had a similar vision in a somewhat different filter, and did the same things. Oh, and on several cases they almost destroyed all humankind due to hair-trigger nuclear systems.

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Going the distance on writing- NaNoWriMo

Well, it’s about seven weeks before the 1st of November, and the beginning of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). During the month of November, a bunch of people will attempt to write a full novel- the only requirement being that it has to be at least 50,000 words long. And by ‘a bunch’, I mean that in 2011, over a quarter million people attempted the challenge. It is the largest event in the history of creative writing, despite that it dates from 1999, when there were 21 writers.

That’s quite a lot of copy- 5 1/2 pages a day roughly. It tests limits of endurance, time management, and dealing with the frustration associated with novel writing- condensed into a very limited time-frame.

I tried my hand at NaNoWriMo last year- attempting to create a fictionalized version of my experiences at Occupy. What I quickly realized as that my biggest problem, even bigger than the organizing and consistency, was that I have no clue how to write fiction. I’ve never been able to write more than ten pages without getting angry at my lack of structure, and lack of exciting passages. There are key problems with dialogue, with showing rather than telling, with creating a compelling setting.

A long-term solution is to educate myself through creative writing curriculum, find people with similar problems and form a group, embark on a writing project over many months. This, however, doesn’t fit into two months very easily. Fiction, therefore, is an unlikely path at present.

So it looks like I will cross the void and join a ragged group, the NaNoWriMo Rebels. Given their own discussion form in a far-flung place, they are attempting to reach 50,000 words by other means. Epic poetry, biographies, essay compilations. The organization that manages the event and verifies completion has recently come out and stated it plainly- it is not cheating to write something outside of the scope. Fiction is not necessary, neither is a cohesive and related 50,000 words.

It is there that prospects are brighter. Most of what I’ve written for pleasure since my senior year of high school have been essays- often in the form of blog posts. Much of this is unrefined, but two things drive me to an essay compilation:

1. I can generate quite a lot of copy in a single day from essays. In a couple hours I can produce a thousand word blog piece- less if I write about something that doesn’t need citations. Two thousand words is the daily minimum if I have any hope.

2. Unrefined is fine. The whole point of the exercise is to write a lot, and write everyday. It’s the important step to other good habits in writing- you cannot work on your editing if you have no copy to work on.

Only about one in seven participants actually completes the task. It is a monumental undertaking and stretches the limits of a great many people- even seasoned writers, let alone people who haven’t done intensive writing in years, if at all. I do not know if I am capable of doing this.

But that’s something you don’t know until you try.

The rabbit hole of ‘voter integrity’

In the Reddit group that I moderate,  a diary from the Daily Kos website was linked. The points made were pretty solid- in essence, that there is a good and a bad way to protect against voter fraud- and the discussion that followed was  productive.

A person of a more conservative or libertarian persuasion cited figures figures of non-citizens or dead people able to vote. The point being that the voter rolls need to always match up exactly with the electorate. A report released in the past week stated there were 30,000 dead people are on the North Carolina voter rolls.

I decided to investigate. And thus the trip to Wonderland.

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