Resolutions

I made only one official New Year’s resolution last year, which was to lose 30 pounds.  Considering the time-worn tradition of making such laughable resolutions and not following through, I figured I’d aim high.

It took me until June to actually attempt to start, so I was off to a good start.  However, by October, I was pretty much done.  I’ve gained about 3 pounds back from my low, but as of this time last year, I weighed about 210lbs, and I’m at 178 today.

2015 was, by many measures, a year I can only describe with a great deal of profanity, and I will be pleased to see it consigned to to the toilet bowl of history.  In that spirit, I have compiled a new list of resolutions for the coming year. We’ll check back in a year to see how I did.

  1. Only wildly overspend and fret over the perfect gift for people who will appreciate it. Do all the rest of my shopping at the dollar store.
    I am notorious for overspending on my significant other, even when they do not reciprocate. Now that my significant other is significantly less significant, I need to stop doing that, because they are significantly underspending now.
  2. Keep my friends close, and keep my enemies out of my business.  Social media interactions with people I know in real life are being culled to a segment of people who a) want to continue to be linked to me and b) haven’t tried to stick a knife in my back over the last few months.
  3. Lose the last 10 or so pounds I need to lose.  Getting to 168 would put me into ‘average weight’ on the BMI chart, which I know is complete nonsense, but it will make me feel better about myself.
  4. Work this ball of flab into some semblance of shape.  Despite losing 30 pounds, I am still not what one would consider all that attractive in the midsection.  Flatter, to be sure, but still quite slug-like.
  5. Write at least one blog post a month here.  Because I need to get back to writing.

That’s it.  I’m working on becoming a better human being, but that’s always going to be a work in progress with little in the way of quantifiable success.  These are solid goals.

So, as it says at the top of the page, Slàinte Mhath, and a happy New Year.

Je suis un Occidental blanc privilégiée

It’s taken me a few days to coalesce my thoughts about the attacks in Paris, but in writing this I was really waiting for the inevitable reaction. Unfortunately, I could have written this days, or even months ago, and it would have been the same.

I can’t imagine what the people of Paris are going through. In many ways, this is a more horrifying attack than September 11th, or even the Charlie Hebdo attack.  This was not an attack on a specific target – even the Bataclan was not really a ‘target’ per se, other than having a high concentration of victims available.  9/11 was a strike against a symbol made by ultimately faceless killers, as everyone they directly terrorized died with them, and the overwhelming body count actually veers into Stalin’s ‘statistics’ category.  Charlie Hebdo was a directed strike against a singular group that the average person likely had a strong opinion on but didn’t think about often. The attack probably reinforced their opinion, and left them with the comforting notion that as long as they didn’t do what Charlie did, they’d be safe.

This attack, however, is the kind of attack I’d have been making against the west since 2001 were I a terrorist mastermind.  This is visceral, up front, random violence that leaves a lot of blood and even more witnesses.  This is the kind of attack that truly terrorizes a population.  It doesn’t give them the option of staying away from symbols or comforting themselves with notions that if they don’t poke the bear, it won’t eat them.  This is what terror looks like.

With all the outpourings of sympathy, for the changed user icons with French flag overlays, one would think that this is a rare occurrence.  I suppose it is, if you’re a privileged white Westerner.  But these kinds of attacks happen almost daily around the world. 147 people were murdered in an attack on Garissa University College in Kenya in April. 233 civilians were massacred over two days in Kobani, Syria in June. 145 people were murdered in a series of bombings in Borno State, Nigeria in September.  Those are just a few of the ‘larger’ attacks, but we almost never hear about them on the news, or they’re part of the background noise that’s quickly forgotten. I say this as an NPR listener – I remember all of those events being reported, but they were tucked into the regularity of other reporting and had a shelf life of maybe two days. In contrast, the Paris attacks became the only news on for hours, and is still being discussed.

We care now because the bodies are white, because they were enjoying music that we like when they died, because we saw first-hand accounts on social media. To put a fine point on it, the people who died were us. There’s a perception that everywhere that’s not speaking English is a dirt-poor third-world country where this sort of thing is an accepted part of life, but that is not the case.  People die in these attacks doing the same things the people in Paris died doing, and it gets broadcast on social media just the same.  We don’t see it, because we don’t speak Swahili or Arabic or Yoruba.

The death toll in Paris is tragic, but the real tragedy will truly unfold in the days and weeks to come. The mindset of France today should be familiar to anyone who remembers September 14th, 2001 in America.  We were numb, we were angry, we were ready to bomb anyone who didn’t give full-throated support to our desire to bomb everyone.  We were looking for enemies under every rock, and when we found people who looked like them, we didn’t stop to ask questions first. France is ready to lash out at Syrian refugees, even though those refugees are fleeing the very same violence.  They’ve come to Europe to escape incidents like this happening on a daily basis. What they’re finding is a a disturbingly familiar othering from voices on the right that has led, in the past, to some rather dark times.

Of course, France isn’t just focused on internal threats. Long the cultural symbol of hesitance in the face of danger, unwillingness to fight, or outright cowardice (a relatively undeserved stereotype), France is gnashing its teeth and vowing, in the words of President Hollande, a “war which will be pitiless” which sounds like the perfect response to point to when I have to write this again in 10 years. Hollande is George W. Bush standing at Ground Zero, vowing that Al-Qaeda would “will hear all of us soon.” 14 years later, we have a line of futility drawn straight from that pile of rubble to the attack in Paris, and it’s labelled “the Islamic State.”  This is a beast of our own making.  Hollande’s pitiless war is just going to be more of the same.  Wars of vengeance do not solve problems, they create them.  The U.S. war in Iraq created IS. IS has no borders, so attacking it means attacking Syria and Turkey and Iraq and Lebanon and Jordan, and even breaking the military capacity of IS is effectively meaningless considering they weren’t rolling tanks into Paris.  Adding more death and destruction to the Middle East is the exact opposite of a solution to the problem, and it is fundamentally what IS wants.

The Islamic State is no stranger to massacring Muslims, as their targets are, by a wide margin, mostly people in their own neighborhood. The goal of this attack in Paris and others perpetrated in the West is to get the West to strike back.  Our own cultural insensitivity works both ways – they kill 140 people in Paris, and the average Kurd or Syrian doesn’t care in the same way we don’t care if 140 of them are killed.  Similarly, if the response is French war planes bombing targets up the street, or French soldiers going door-to-door, the people directly affected aren’t going to sit there calmly and accept that this is because of an attack 2,500 miles away.  All they’re going to see is France wrecking their town.  And eventually, an IS ideologue is going to sing sweetly to their children that they can get revenge, all they have to do is wear this vest and go to heaven.

So yes, I mourn for Paris.  But we need to stop acting like this is the only real terrorism, or that the responses we’re seeing are acceptable or even useful.  Because if we do, I’ll just be able to change a few names and post this again.  And again. And again.

 

Terrorists Strike on American Soil

Ahmed Mohamed was arrested for making a hoax bomb. That’s the official reason for his arrest. But that’s not why he was arrested.  The why of why he was arrested is a little more complicated, but it boils down pretty succinctly to bigotry, xenophobia, and terrorism.

Let’s get a few things straight, this wasn’t a “post-9/11 overreaction.” This was a number of people actively taking their racism out on a 13-year-old boy. There was, at no point in the ordeal, an actual fear or even belief that he had made a bomb or even intended to make a device that people would believe was a bomb. Ahmed’s English teacher decided that it would be better to err on the side of lynching than let this opportunity to be a terrible example to the class pass by.  Upon seeing the clock, the teacher declared that it looked like a bomb, despite Ahmed’s calm protests that it didn’t.

This teacher, this brave first responder, then had Ahmed taken out of class. Note that the teacher didn’t immediately call for a lockdown and evacuate the class.  The teacher didn’t actually think that it was a bomb and the teacher at no point believed that there was any danger.  The teacher was (to use the accurate terminology) a fucking asshole racist bigoted xenophobe who had found the perfect excuse to toss the local Muslim kid to the wolves.  But the fun didn’t stop with Ahmed’s English teacher.

Upon being escorted to the office, highly not dangerous clock in tow, the police were called.  Someone in the office called the police on a 13-year-old with a clock. They did not call the police and say HOLY FUCK THERE IS A BOMB HERE SEND HELP, because a few officers showed up in orderly fashion, not the entire bomb squad. Helicopters did not circle. Students were not evacuated. CNN was not on scene in minutes.  No one at any time actually thought this was a bomb.

Ahmed, for his part, consistently maintained that he had made a clock. He did not mention to anyone that this was a device intended to emulate a bomb.

The police arrived, and began questioning Ahmed, who asked to speak to his parents. That request was denied, because he was “in the middle of an interrogation.” I understand that the maximum IQ for a police officer is at least 24 points lower than the minimum to get into Mensa, but even the most barely-functional police officer should know that this is a blatant violation of a person’s Constitutional rights. So it’s safe to say that the intent here was not to discern whether there was any threat here, it was to intimidate. The interrogation was simply to send the message “your freedom is at our whim.”

After the interrogation, this cooperative, whip thin 13-year-old boy, who could have been snapped like a twig by any of the officers, and that everyone knew was not building a bomb, was handcuffed, “for his safety and for the safety of the officers,” in full view of his peers, and frog-marched to the local precinct, where he was processed and charged with creating a hoax bomb.

He was wearing a NASA t-shirt. I don’t claim to know a lot of jihadis, but I can bet that none of them have screamed “DEATH TO AMERICA EXCEPT FOR YOUR SPACE PROGRAM!”

The charge was, of course, bogus, and quickly dismissed after social media turned up for the circus that the authorities were putting on.  The media, for its part, immediately began pushing the narrative that Ahmed had been arrested for making a hoax bomb.  But he wasn’t.  He was arrested for being brown.  The clock is even incidental here: when the first police officer saw him, his reaction was “Yup. That’s who I thought it was.” He wasn’t expecting the quiet white nominally-Christian boy who is far more likely to be a mass shooter. He was expecting Ahmed. They wanted to arrest the brown kid. They wanted to haul in the Muslim like he was a trophy.

There’s another part to this story, one that actually involves terrorism.  Ahmed’s father is a political person. He’s a vocal opponent of anti-Islamic activity in America who happens to live in a town with a mayor who is leading the charge against “Sharia Law,” as if that’s actually a thing that is happening in America. He often returns to his native Sudan to run for president.  He has debated notorious bigots.  He’s outspoken in claiming his rights.

And now, seemingly out of nowhere, his son has been rounded up, had his rights violated, and been accused of egregious crimes that no one involved actually believes he intended to commit. They weren’t even polite enough to disguise it. “Yup. That’s who I thought it was,”  the police said. They knew who this was. They knew what they were doing and who they were targeting.  This arrest was an act of terrorism.

ter·ror·ism
ˈterəˌrizəm/
noun

  1. the use of violence and intimidation in the pursuit of political aims.

This was unambiguously the use of intimidation (and, it could be argued, violence), in the pursuit of political aims. It doesn’t matter that they tried to do it under the color of law, this was thuggery, pure and simple. This was an act of terrorism, against American citizens, on American soil.

The real crisis that we face is that, even though Ahmed has been invited to the White House, even though he’s going to be held up as an example by well-meaning groups, Ahmed case isn’t unique, and his case is not an outlier.  This happens every day. Ahmed is fortunate that his interaction with police didn’t involve a coroner’s report. The media isn’t going to call this an act of terrorism.  Even people who should be calling it an act of terror (people like the President and even Ahmed’s father) don’t recognize it as terrorism, because they don’t recognize that it is, because most Americans can’t even think in those terms.  Terrorism is something that happens over there or is perpetrated by people who aren’t white.

White terrorism is never called terrorism.  We need to start calling it that.  We’re going to keep seeing stories like this, stories like the shooting in Charleston, stories like the shooting in Oak Creek, and we’re going to keep viewing them as isolated incidents. They’re not. They’re fomented by a culture that gives implicit backing by ignoring what they are. They’re abetted by an investigative and preventive framework that refuses to accept that they are actual politically-motivated threats to public safety. This is terrorism. We need to start treating it like terrorism.