Thursday, February 11, 2016

Not Saddam's ISIS?

Samuel Helfont and Michael Brill disagree with one currently popular answer to the question of "Saddam's ISIS?" - and their answer is "No" in their remarks about "The Terrorist Group's Real Origin Story" (Foreign Affairs, January 12, 2016):
One of the key arguments in support of the "Saddam gave us ISIS" line is that veterans of Saddam's military and intelligence services are now members of ISIS. This should not be surprising. Since 2003, former Baathists have joined a variety of insurgent groups, not just ISIS. They have shifted their loyalties over time according to the political climate - basically to those they judged could successfully take power. Like others throughout history, Iraqis have repeatedly demonstrated a tremendous capacity for adapting to current circumstances and acquiescing to the dominant ideology . . . . Domestically, Saddam . . . opposed Islamism and those promoting any other version of Islam than his own . . . . The Baathists were ruthlessly consistent in their attempts to track down and "neutralize" anyone with the slightest hint of Salafist or Islamist sympathies . . . . The party secretariat asked the local branches . . . to take special note of adherents to "Salafism, Wahhabism, and the Muslim Brotherhood." Throughout the 1990s, the regime also fine-tuned the organization of its security services, creating special sections to deal with the Muslim Brotherhood, Wahhabis, and various Shiite Islamists. Another [incorrect] argument is that Saddam was applying sharia law when he beheaded prostitutes, cut the hands off thieves, or threw homosexuals from the rooftops; but there is no evidence in the Baathist records that the regime applied sharia law in Iraq. Such atrocities were carried out by regime paramilitaries such as the Fedayeen Saddam, many of whom, the regime's records indicate, were poor Shiites who are considered heretics by ISIS. Although elements of the regime's brutality resemble proto-ISIS behavior today, they are better understood as an evolution of the cruelty that characterized Baathist rule in Iraq. There was no Islamist motivation behind it.
Helfont and Brill thus argue that there's no evidence that Saddam turned toward Islamism in the latter days of his rule, nor is there any evidence that leading members of the Baath Party were involved in establishing the Islamic State. Rather, leading members of Iraq's Baath Party wound up as officials in the Islamic State for purely opportunistic reasons - and, I suppose, because their experience in governing was useful to the Islamic State.

Relevant to this issue would be the number of ex-Baathists in positions of genuine power in the Islamic State's governing agencies. The secular Arab Nationalist ideology known as "Baathism" had lost a lot of its legitimacy as a ruling ideology under Saddam, and he did turn toward Islam - cynically, I think - to regain some of that lost legitimacy. In a sense, then, one can speak of a kind of continuity, even if cynical in origin, if ex-Baathists' predominate in the Islamic State's governing institutions.

So . . . do they?

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Wednesday, February 10, 2016

A Bronson Bodine Moment . . .


Carter Kaplan offers another episode, "Cold Echoes" (Emanations 2 + 2 = 5, pp. 324-362), in the continuing saga of Bronson Bodine. In the following lines on page 330, Bronson re-encounters - in Antarctica - Captain Amber, a pirate he has recently fought side-by-side with against a common foe - but Amber is in a nasty mood:
"It is very good to see you again, Captain Amber," said Bronson Bodine. Beside him, Nabnak nodded sympathetically.

"Ar!" growled Amber. His eyes shook in their sockets. On the table beside him was a large meat cleaver he had been using to cut bandages. He snatched it up and hurled it at Bronson.

Bronson caught it easily with a curving motion that was as subtle as it was disarming. He hefted the cleaver significantly, eyed Amber closely, and then casually set the weapon on a table.
I thought the "subtle" way in which Bronson is described as catching the cleaver is well done. The word "disarming" is also nicely handled, for it cleaves into two different meanings.

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Tuesday, February 09, 2016

Samuel Helfont on Islam and Islamism

Samuel Helfont

Regular readers know that Islam and Islamism are two terms I've often discussed and distinguished, using the rule of thumb that "Islam" is the religion and that "Islamism" is the political use of Islam. This distinction, however, is problematic, as we shall see. But first, let's read what the Islam expert Samuel Helfont offers as his views on "Islam and Islamism: A Primer for Teachers and Students" (FPRI Footnote, Vol. 20, No. 9, August 2015):
Disputes over Islam and Islamism continue to rage in the Islamic World and in Muslim communities in the West. Islamists often refer to themselves simply as Muslims and they claim that those who oppose their ideas also necessarily oppose Islam. They root their ideas in a particular reading of history. If Muhammad combined political and religious authority, then how could Muslims disavow the role of politics in Islam? This is a powerful argument.
Agreed, the fact that Muhammad is a moral exemplar for Muslims makes the distinction between Islam and Islamism problematic and weighs in favor of Islamism as the true Islam, for if Muhammad combined the two roles of religious leader and political leader (not to mention military leader and highest judge), then how can one separate Islam from politics?

Nevertheless, Helfont brings as much nuance to bear against Islamism as he can find in Muslim sources and history, and he thereby provides important information on politics and Islam throughout history.

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Monday, February 08, 2016

He's a stud-stud, stud-stud, stud-stud, study machine . . .

Kim Chung-woon
Photo by Chung Hee-cho
The Korea Herald

Korea Herald reporter Kim Hoo-ran interviews Kim Chung-woon on how "Studying is the key to owning your life" (February 5, 2016):
Kim Chung-woon, formerly a psychology professor and who now calls himself a "creator," is perfectly at home in his basement office in Nonhyeon-dong, Seoul . . . . Kim's office is a veritable man cave: . . . Walls lined with massive bookshelves holding volumes and volumes of books; a long desk from Japan that is crafted out of a very old tree trunk; a little nook with an easel and painting paraphernalia; a complex high-end sound system and a couch positioned just so you can appreciate the full impact of whatever may be blasting out of monstrous speakers . . . . "Well, this is a best-selling author's place," Kim says nonchalantly . . . . when I remark that visitors must envy this space. His latest book . . . has been top of the best-seller's list at a major online book store for three consecutive weeks. Several of his previous books have also been bestsellers.
One might then expect Kim to respond that writing is his most enjoyable activity, but:
For Kim, studying is the most fun thing. "Studying involves defining something that you like, giving it depth, clarity," he explains. Perhaps it is only natural that an academic scholar would cite studying as fun. "From my experience, intellectual achievement is the most fun thing. There is an ecstasy in learning something you didn't know before," he says.
Well, that's fine for him, but I'd rank studying second among "fun" things to do. My first is writing, but I can add that only when I'm writing do I really learn.

Hence this blog.


Sunday, February 07, 2016

"Witchy Woman"

The British writer Elkie Riches has a creepy ghost story, "Most Women do not Creep by Daylight," published in this year's Emanations 2 + 2 = 5. Here's a scene near the beginning:
Dust stirs faintly at my passing. Dust is the only thing that registers me and my persistence. I spent an age trying to rid this place of dust, to clean and please, and now in this new, darker age, I cultivate dust around me. I wear dust, I eat and breathe it, I drink it in great gasping, airless spasms. Sometimes when the afternoon is marked by a column of gold through the bedroom window, I feel the dust settle on my form - this persistent form - and I do believe if anyone were there they would see a shape made of sunlight. A woman's form suggested in curves. Maybe they would think me an angel - or whatever passed for that now. (page 195)
But she isn't an angel, not even close . . . I like that image, though, "a shape made of sunlight." Does that make her other than a "Witchy Woman"?


Saturday, February 06, 2016

The Mechanics of Creativity?

Mechanism of Creativity
Burlington Continuing Education

In that same Sunday Review section of the New York Times (January 30, 2016), Adam Grant explains another factor in his article "How to Raise a Creative Child. Step One: Back Off": Fewer rules. To wit:
So what does it take to raise a creative child? One study compared the families of children who were rated among the most creative 5 percent in their school system with those who were not unusually creative. The parents of ordinary children had an average of six rules, like specific schedules for homework and bedtime. Parents of highly creative children had an average of fewer than one rule.
Fewer than one rule? Would that be a little like no rules?
Creativity may be hard to nurture, but it's easy to thwart. By limiting rules, parents encouraged their children to think for themselves. They tended to "place emphasis on moral values, rather than on specific rules," the Harvard psychologist Teresa Amabile reports.
How would one teach values without talking about rules? For instance, is the Golden Rule really just a rule? Or is it a broad statement of a value? "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." Wouldn't that be a value expressed as a rule? Or a rule expressing a value?
Even then, though, parents didn't shove their values down their children's throats. When psychologists compared America's most creative architects with a group of highly skilled but unoriginal peers, there was something unique about the parents of the creative architects: "Emphasis was placed on the development of one's own ethical code."
One's own ethical code? What, then, if the 'ethical' code developed is unethical? Might there be creative sociopaths? Or if not sociopathic codes - since those would be extreme cases - at least self-interested codes developed at the expense of other people?

Oh, one more thing - despite the image above (from a different website), the implication of Grant's remarks is that there are no mechanics of creativity. That was just a bait and switch on my part. Rather creative of me, don't you think?


Friday, February 05, 2016

Creativity: Encouraging Breadth

Did Einstein really say this?
Birna Birgisdóttir

In a recent Sunday Review of the New York Times (January 30, 2016), Adam Grant explains "How to Raise a Creative Child. Step One: Back Off":
Evidence shows that creative contributions depend on the breadth, not just depth, of our knowledge and experience. In fashion, the most original collections come from directors who spend the most time working abroad. In science, winning a Nobel Prize is less about being a single-minded genius and more about being interested in many things. Relative to typical scientists, Nobel Prize winners are 22 times more likely to perform as actors, dancers or magicians; 12 times more likely to write poetry, plays or novels; seven times more likely to dabble in arts and crafts; and twice as likely to play an instrument or compose music.

No one is forcing these luminary scientists to get involved in artistic hobbies. It's a reflection of their curiosity. And sometimes, that curiosity leads them to flashes of insight. "The theory of relativity occurred to me by intuition, and music is the driving force behind this intuition," Albert Einstein reflected. His mother enrolled him in violin lessons starting at age 5, but he wasn't intrigued. His love of music only blossomed as a teenager, after he stopped taking lessons and stumbled upon Mozart's sonatas. "Love is a better teacher than a sense of duty," he said.
I agree. Passion drove my doctoral research, and I have breadth. So . . . why don't I have a position in my field? Not enough passion for the job-search battle, I guess.

By the way, did Einstein really say any of these pithy statements attributed to him?


Thursday, February 04, 2016

Fadel Boula on the Islamic State: Nothing to do with Islam?

Fadel Boula
Al-Akhbar, Iraq

The journalist Fadel Boula, resident of Iraq, asks aloud the question on everyone's mind:
Does terror truly have no religion?
We know this is on everyone's mind because everyone is so quick to disavow any link between terror and Islam, but Boula then surprises by undertaking to answer his own question without self-deceit:
This slogan ["The Islamic State has nothing to do with Islam"] is uttered regarding terror, as though [terror] reflects a picture that is completely unrelated to its perpetrators' religious affiliation, and as though there are no religious goals or values behind it, but only a state of insanity that causes those afflicted with it to run amok, unaware of what they are doing or what [they seek] to achieve by their actions – [actions] that disgust not only human beings but [even] the beasts of the jungle.
Boula's initial approach already notes the improbability that the terrorism supported by millions of people is either like unto a natural disaster or merely the work of primitive tribes:
The terror that is shaking the world today is not a natural disaster like a tornado, a thunderstorm or an earthquake, and it is not perpetrated by savage tribes. It is perpetrated by people who enlist [because they are] inspired by a religious ideology. [These people] advocate enforcing and spreading [this ideology as a set of] dogmatic principles that must be imposed by the force of the sword, and which [mandate] killing, expulsion and destruction wherever they go.
The Islamic State's motivation is religious, and that religious ideology is the Sunni version of Salafi Islam:
Since its inception, this movement of terror has espoused a Salafi ideology that champions religious extremism, and brainwashed people of all ages have rallied around its flag, [people who were] trained to kill themselves and kill others in order to attain martyrdom.
Boula continues, but he has already made his point, as noted on Memri, "Special Dispatch 6288" (February 1, 2016). We can add that not only is Salafi Islam like this, so is the Iranian version of Shia Islam that undergirds the theocratic state in Iran, but I don't know if Boula went that far since he was writing this piece for the pro-Iranian Iraqi newspaper Al-Akhbar . . .

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Wednesday, February 03, 2016

'Deadly Networks' out to get me?

Drift Net
Deadly Networks?
Mere Drifters

I thought at first that I was being alerted by an email to the dangers of drift nets, as the words "Deadly Networks" caught my eye, but upon looking more closely and perceiving the subject heading, which read, "YOUR LIFE HAS BEEN PAID FOR," I realized that I'd just received my first death threat (YAWN) in my time as a blogger - in fact, my first death threat (YAWN) ever in my . . . uh, life. It's from someone or other calling himself "Serial Killer," and this is how his message opened:
Attention, I am very sorry for you, [it] is a pity that this is how your life is going to end as soon as you don't comply. As you can see we are the members of the Deadly Networks in the world, which is responsible for the bombing of twin . . . tower's in America on Sept. 11th and the bombing of London transport services on July 7th (AL-QAEDA NETWORKS WORLDWIDE), I don't have any business with you, my duty as I am mailing you now is just to KILL you and I have to do it as I have already been paid for that. (Bold italicized underlined emphasis mine - HJH.)
Let me get this straight. Deadly Networks is the official name of the larger network, or association of networks, that includes Al-Qaeda, and this 'Serial Killer,' who's already been paid to kill me (and therefore has to do it) happens to feel sorry enough for me to let me know that he's going to kill me "as soon as . . . [I] don't comply." Eh? How would he know when I've begun not to comply? And not to comply with what? My death? Am I supposed to make an appointment? And he promised to tell me how I'm going to die. Well, how then? He doesn't say. So . . . is he going to fly a passenger plane into me? Or will he leave a bomb on me - as if I were a seat on a subway train? Let's see more on this:
Someone who you called your friend wants you dead by all means, and this person have spent a lot of money in this venture, This person came to us and told me that he wanted you dead and he provided us with your name, picture and other necessary information's we needed about you.
Some 'friend' wants me "dead by all means." I guess that means by planes, trains, and automobiles, at least, along with everything else in this wide, wild, wonderful universe that can kill a man. Hmm . . . Let me address this hitman directly.

Ahem. This job sure sounds complicated for you, but if you would just let me know the name of this friend of mine, that'd simplify things for sure. As you see, I'm complying, not delaying, merely trying to make things easier for you. At the moment, I just need to know what stage you've reached in your obligation to kill me. You seem to relate that below:
So I sent my boys to track you down this including bugging of your phones with satellite tracking devices and they have carried out the necessary investigation we needed for the operation on you, and if you doubt this information [I] am going to give you all the necessary information about you back to you in your next reply so that you can believe me, and my boys are really on you but I told them not to kill you that I will like to contact you and see if your life is important to you . . . . I called my client back and ask him of your email address which I didn't tell him what I wanted to do with it and he gave it to me and I am using it to contact you now. As I am writing you this mail my men are monitoring you and they are telling me everything about you.
Well, you certainly sound as though you know what you're doing. I congratulate you on your professionalism. That clever trick that got you my email address was pure genius. The 'friend' of mine will never suspect the truth. Good thing he didn't happen to ask why you wanted my email, else you'd have had to make up some story, why, like, "I don't know, I just want it," and that might have made him suspicious. (Folks just don't seem to trust each other anymore!) Moreover, I have to admit that my life is important to me. You're quite insightful for a sociopathic hitman. Indeed, I'm willing to pay a huge amount of cash just to hear that I won't be killed. How much do you want?
Now do you want to LIVE OR DIE? Since all program has be made and draw to kill you. Get back to me now if you are ready to pay some fees to spare your Life, $8,000 is all you need to spend in this process you will first of all Pay $3,000 and then I will send a tape to you which I recorded in every discussion I had with the person who wanted you dead and as soon as you get the Tape, You will pay the remaining balance of $5,000. If you are not ready for my help, then I will carry on with my job straight-up.
Only eight thousand dollars?! What an insult! My life is worth far more than a piddly 8,000! Of course, I want to live, but not for a mere 8,000 dollars! Get serious! I demand a more worthy proposal, or I won't pay a cent!
Don't shout at me, buster! And what's this about wishing me good luck? Don't you realize that my good luck is your misfortune? As for noticing anything 'funny,' rest assured that I'm not some sort of comedian! The only thing funny in all this is your ridiculously low estimate of how much my life is worth. I await your next offer, and it had better be serious.

Meanwhile, I'm putting all this on the internet by means of my blog so that you can easily find my response and know that I am deadly serious when I say that I have told no one about your email - and all my readers are witnesses to this fact.

(And yes, dear readers, just in case anyone misread my tone and thinks I'm being serious, let me set the record straight for you: I do indeed know that this death-threat email is a scam.)

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Tuesday, February 02, 2016

"Little Orphant Annie"

Mary Alice Smith
Little Orphant Annie

I don't recollect if I was in the fourth or fifth grade and whether Mrs. Hatman or Mrs. Grimmet read us this poem - which, incidentally, inspired the comic strip "Little Orphan Annie" - but one line has stuck with me all these years, so see if you can guess which one:
Little Orphant Annie
James Whitcomb Riley
Little Orphant Annie's come to our house to stay,
An' wash the cups an' saucers up, an' brush the crumbs away,
An' shoo the chickens off the porch, an' dust the hearth, an' sweep,
An' make the fire, an' bake the bread, an' earn her board-an'-keep;
An' all us other children, when the supper-things is done,
We set around the kitchen fire an' has the mostest fun
A-list'nin' to the witch-tales 'at Annie tells about,
An' the Gobble-uns 'at gits you
Ef you

Wunst they wuz a little boy wouldn't say his prayers,--
An' when he went to bed at night, away up-stairs,
His Mammy heerd him holler, an' his Daddy heerd him bawl,
An' when they turn't the kivvers down, he wuzn't there at all!
An' they seeked him in the rafter-room, an' cubby-hole, an' press,
An' seeked him up the chimbly-flue, an' ever'-wheres, I guess;
But all they ever found wuz thist his pants an' roundabout:--
An' the Gobble-uns 'll git you
Ef you
An' one time a little girl 'ud allus laugh an' grin,
An' make fun of ever' one, an' all her blood-an'-kin;
An' wunst, when they was "company," an' ole folks wuz there,
She mocked 'em an' shocked 'em, an' said she didn't care!
An' thist as she kicked her heels, an' turn't to run an' hide,
They wuz two great big Black Things a-standin' by her side,
An' they snatched her through the ceilin' 'fore she knowed what she's about!
An' the Gobble-uns 'll git you
Ef you
An' little Orphant Annie says, when the blaze is blue,
An' the lamp-wick sputters, an' the wind goes woo-oo!
An' you hear the crickets quit, an' the moon is gray,
An' the lightnin'-bugs in dew is all squenched away,--
You better mind yer parunts, an' yer teachurs fond an' dear,
An' churish them 'at loves you, an' dry the orphant's tear,
An' he'p the pore an' needy ones 'at clusters all about,
Er the Gobble-uns 'll git you
Ef you
You've doubtless guessed it, what stuck in my mind: "Er the Gobble-uns 'll git you ef you don't watch out!" The original title, by the way, was "The Elf Child." The poem serves as a warning to little children to be good, obviously, but are goblins working both sides of the street, on the side of both good and evil?

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