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Showing posts from 2015

Why You Will Never Ever Understand the Middle East

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Whether you are from Moscow or San Francisco, from Mosul or Riyadh, from Tehran or from Tel Aviv, you will have your personal understanding of the Middle East, but you will probably never understand the Middle East. It is a little like religions: the understandings cannot all be true. 

The cause of this disability that we all have is very simple to explain but nearly impossible to fix. It is called


COGNITIVE DISSONANCE
You may have heard about it in your psychology courses. Very simply it is the fact that we tend to listen to conflicting facts and opinion, but after a while it hurts the brain, so we simplify beliefs.

Simple example: You want to buy a car but cannot decide between a Fiat and a Renault. They seem about the same. So you talk to friends who own Fiats or Renaults, read ads and articles in journals about Fiats and Renaults. Soon you have now filled up with contradictory opinions and "facts" from contradictory sources. It hurts. And you have to buy a car.
So on Monday y…

The Limits of Tolerance and the Limitlessness of Modern Ignorance

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A very curious event occurred in Virginia recently. An entire school district closed its schools in a [perhaps justified] panic because of parental reaction to a calligraphy lesson ???

The students were being taught about Middle Eastern art, and the teacher asked the students to copy by hand the following collection of Arabic letters:



This is certainly an interesting and difficult exercise. The only problem for all concerned is context. All Muslims and some Christians may recognize this as the Shahada, the Muslim creed of faith.

There is no god but Allah. Muhammad is the messenger of God.
In the context of a lesson in world religions or world cultures this might not have caused a problem: if the school was made up of families, administrators, and teachers who were not in the midst a panic about Islam as a religion with all of its political ramifications. Many of these parents in Virginia were convinced that the teacher was trying to convert their children to Islam.
Context.
In a certain cont…

Has Erdogan Taken Turkey off a Cliff?

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We do live, as they say, in interesting times. The Turkish president, with the support of his Islamist supporters and his intelligence services, has created a situation in which his interests have more in common with any and all Sunni insurgents in Syria than with the Kurdish fighters in the north of that country. These PKK aligned Kurds are not friends of Turkey and they are not popular with all of the region's Kurds, but they are united in blood with about seventeen million Turkish Kurdish citizens. And they are an effective force against ISIS. Turkey has chosen to fight them rather than do anything effective against ISIS.



By encouraging the unraveling of the Kurdish peace process before the last elections, Erdogan has allowed the creation of a bloody chaos in Turkey's southeast. Now he has managed to turn the sympathy of most Kurds, except for the leadership in Erbil, against Turkey.

Erdogan seems to be stepping through a cow pasture spread evenly with dung. Every step he tak…

Who Is the Kurds' Worst Enemy?

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It is a strange time for the Kurds. Ever since they were promised a homeland of their own after World War I and had that taken from them, they have struggled against Iraq, Iran, Turkey, and Syria for autonomy or even national independence. And  yet the dream seems even further away.

In the time of the infamous Shah of Iran, an American ambassador asked the Shah's prime minister if it were not possible to give the Kurds a little bit of autonomy. The response was clear and concise: "Being a little autonomous is like being a little pregnant."

Now, the goal of a freer Kurdistan seems in sight. Except for a few hidden agendas, however. Iraqi Kurdistan is still in the tribal struggle been the Talibani an Barsani groups and shaken by a reform movement, Goran. The Kurdistan Regional Government in Iraq is in a struggle against the communist/anarchist PKK. This struggle places them at odds against the PKK allies in Rojana, the Kurdish area in Syria, who are fighting against ISIS in …

Erdogan didn't know it was a Russian plane. Wink. Wink

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Erdogan now claims he did not know it was a Russian plane he shot down. Ethiopian perhaps?

What on earth has happened? Erdogan, faced with the fact that his foreign support is paper thin, tries claiming ignorance. Does that work for you? It might work at first for his Turkish followers. The press in controlled, the opposition is cowed, anyone hurting the Sultan's feelings is thrown into jail. Erdogan apparently forgets that his ability twist the truth does not work so well in the rest of the world.

NATO and Russia were at serious odds over the Ukraine. Erdogan felt that this tension would keep the Russians from maintaining his favorite enemy Assad in power forever. Then disaster struck. The Russians joined the fight in Syria with special emphasis on supporting Assad.

The Paris massacre was a game changer.  France, with the sympathy of England and the United States, approached Russia for closer coordination in suppressing the Sunni militants - including ISIS - in Syria.

What to do?

Sudd…

Too many birds in the sky

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Recognize ISIS is a Sovereign State: and Destroy It

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If any sovereign state had orchestrated the death hundreds of citizens in four different countries in a matter of weeks, it would find itself at war with those countries – and a real war, not just bombing campaigns and the arming a few local combatants. To a certain extent, ISIS is playing the role of terrorists without a country. If, say, Mongolia had pulled off terror attacks in Turkey and Russia in October and in Lebanon and France in November, Ulaan Baatar would be a smoking ruin occupied by troops from several grudgingly cooperating nations. But instead the world is paralyzed from taking decisive action, hypnotized and staring into the eyes of a cobra that will soon strike again.
Henry Kissinger gave a course at Harvard in National Security Policy in the 1960s, and I remember him saying, that the worst thing that could have happened during the Cuban Missile Crisis would have been if Castro was overthrown and had escaped with a few of those pesky middle range Soviet nuclear missile…

It is time to start printing the New Drachma - FAST

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There was a time when Greece thought it would be a good idea to join Euro zone. This gave the Greeks a strong currency with which it could borrow much too much money.

So they borrowed too much money. But at a certain point they realized they could not pay it all back.
The Greek government asked more and more money to pay the interest on the money they already borrowed. Somewhere along the line they forgot how to do arithmetic.

Athena is coming

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This is Athena. She is the goddess that is in charge of keeping stupid Greeks from hurting themselves. Also, she anihilates the ememies of Greece that take advantage of Greek stupidity. She has a lot on her plate right now. For starters, dishonest Greek politicians and greedy Greek plutocrats should head for their blast shelters. Also, European "experts"  and bankers who believe that destroying Greece is the only way to save their investments: head for the shelters! Athena is coming, and boy is she mad.

In Medieval England it was a crime to take from the rich to help poor. What has changed?

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Without going into the details, the wealthy and the super-wealthy have always been able to hold on to their wealth by vilifying and criminalizing those who would narrow the gap between the rich and the poor. Robin Hood has been a wonderful image of primitive socialism, and as long as he remained a Disney character, even the Koch brothers and the corrupt world leaders and possessing classes could enjoy the show.
As soon as anyone made a serious attempt to do something for the needy, that person felt the full sanctions of the state and of the police. Take the case of a certain Middle Eastern president, who was not really particularly upset at religious dissent but who went bonkers when evidence was revealed pointing to an accumulation of billions of dollars in his coffers and that of his cronies.
Socialists, when they got over their revolutionary frenzy, favored wealth and income taxes. This hardly made them popular in the country clubs in America or the yacht harbors of southern Europe. …

The Mafia Banks, the European Financial Institutions, and the Destruction of Greek Society

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There was a time when the Mafia had a cottage industry, a series of all-service banks. They would lend you money on unsecured credit, lend your more than you needed, and if you could not pay, they would slam a car door on your hand - or worse.

The European Central Bank and the International Monetary fund have been in exactly the same business. Crafty European financial institutions lent unsustainable amounts of debt to Greece's shiny new credit card. When Greece couldn't pay - wham, the car door.

It used to be that authorities went after the Mafia loan sharks. Unfortunately the European authorities are going after the Greeks and refuse to work out a reasonable solution for a problem that they themselves facilitated.

And actually, the Mafia never were able to monopolize the loan shark business, let alone take down a sovereign country.

The Queen of Turkey

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In an exciting breakthrough in relations with LGBT communities,  President Erdogan suggests that he may become the Queen of Turkey.  We wish him good luck in his exploration of his new identity. If only Ms. Merkel could be more open.