Wednesday, April 22, 2015

22 Links to the Earth in General and “Inside ISIS”

1. As chilly Antarctic ice reaches a thirty-five-year maximum (h/t Abe Greenwald), here are some links not just for Earth Day but for those interested in global political affairs.

3. Rather than wanting a green or leftist in charge, I hope Rand Paul becomes the next president, even as I share the hope of many that he comes to sound more radically libertarian.

It’s disturbing to see the ease with which my some of my fellow libertarians dismiss the unique opportunity Paul offers, perhaps overestimating other candidates’ libertarian tendencies. I’m sure many Paul fans are hoping the media jumped the gun with dismaying (but ambiguous) reports the Kochs might back Scott Walker, who is not a libertarian, rather than Rand Paul.

Gary Johnson may be the favorite of some libertarian purists, but he’s not a pure libertarian himself, talking of “winning the War on Drugs” by “taxing marijuana” (at least prior to becoming head of a legal pot company), instituting a national sales tax, and humanitarian military missions. None of that renders him non-awesome, but, like Paul, he’s less than a perfect anarcho-capitalist.

4. Despite the tireless efforts of hawks to push the simplistic idea that any event anywhere in the world is a refutation of military non-interventionism, I think messes like that in Yemen right now ought to make us more cautious about blundering into such regions, and I think Rand Paul would be more cautious.

5. That doesn’t mean he has some rosy, optimistic view of the world -- nor do I. On the contrary, the discovery of oil in the ground frequently means barbarians acquiring unearned resources, or at least regimes that now have less incentive to cultivate commerce and peaceful conflict resolution.

I saw a talk at Half King bar by journalist Tom Burgis, author of The Looting Machine, and his book recounts how the discovery of natural resource wealth in Africa so often causes conflict, corruption, and other political problems -- including resource-monopolizing regimes suddenly becoming so rich they don’t even care whether their citizens are wealthy enough to pay taxes. Some reformers think the world would be better off if the resources were just left in the ground. I hope it doesn’t have to come to that.

6. Yet, as the left often notes to its credit, the political and military consequences of using oil have to be placed on the “cost” side of the ledger just like the environmental risks. Oil now helps fund the terrorists of ISIS, and if Bush were still president, I suspect the Mexican authorities warning of an ISIS camp just across the Texas border in Mexico would be seen as a particularly negative and newsworthy side effect.

7. Even as such dangers lurk, though, everyone including radical Muslims wants to play the victim nowadays, as this elderly, gay, British historian still has the perspective to recognize (h/t J’Lien Sorbo). Even rich mass-murderers want to be seen as the underdog, and modern liberals all too often play along.

8. Benjamin Hall (disclosure: who has the same agent I do) is not blind to ISIS’s evil. He traveled in the regions where their fighters are taking over and brutalizing, raping, and decapitating prisoners. His useful book Inside ISIS: The Brutal Rise of a Terrorist Army explains where ISIS came from and the stomach-turning things they do.

As is usually the case when you look at the details of such a movement, the simple right-wing and left-wing U.S. explanations of their motivations do little to capture the rather alien and theological internal logic that guides them. Trying to shoehorn them into some Western theory such as anti-colonialism -- or a conspiracy theory about them being mere Western pawns -- won’t help you understand how they rationalize the mass-rapes and the destruction of museums, but it’s not too mysterious if you see the brand of Islam they’re pushing.

But agreeing that they’re especially terrible -- as Rand Paul, for one, does -- does not necessarily entail agreeing with hawks’ preferred solutions to the problem. (Paul’s transformation on the road to Damascus, so to speak, has not caused him to forget our bad track record of intervention over there.) Are we really to think that if we’d just backed the Free Syrian Army things would be peaceful and free there now? The FSA, that would be the guys who kidnapped an NBC reporter and then tried to make him think they were allied with both Assad and Shiite militias, presumably to get the U.S. to fight both those rivals?

I believe Hall is pained by the horror he witnessed over there and wants to help, but that’s no proof that the McCains of this world will know who to back and where to send weapons if we get more deeply involved. As Hall himself chronicles in the book, the U.S.’s situation in the Muslim world is now so multilayered and complex that, for instance, we are currently supporting those fighting with Iranian-backed Shiite militias in Iraq (to prevent its government falling to ISIS) and supporting those fighting against Iranian-backed Shiite militias in Syria (despite simultaneously wanting its government, run by Assad, to be toppled, even though he’s the most active anti-ISIS force in the region).

I do not question the empathy of someone who says the region’s murderers must be stopped, but I question the sanity of anyone who looks at that tangled mess and says without much hesitation, “Let’s get in there, and then things’ll get sorted out!”

9. In one small reminder that the (painfully) long-term victory will probably be cultural rather than military, ISIS is now reduced to imprisoning men for wearing skinny jeans, smoking, and using cell phones.

10. Hipness is a real threat to totalitarians. Here’s NPR’s half-hour interview with a punk in Cuba whose life was changed when he heard Led Zeppelin but had to watch in frustration as even the Wall coming down in Europe did not lead to greater openness and freedom in Cuba (h/t Dave Whitney).

11. Iraq certainly used to be hip -- the very cradle of civilization -- a few thousand years ago. Their music may have sounded like this haunting number (h/t Richard Cooper). And don’t be afraid that if you click it’ll just be the B-52’s “Mesopotamia.” It isn’t. Not this time.

12. Another reminder that horrible doesn’t, alas, automatically mean fixable is this famous Donald Rumsfeld memo from 2003.

13. It should be clear by now that my wariness about the hawks does not mean that I’m sympathetic to Islamic totalitarians or the left-liberals who coddle them back here in North America. I can’t even stand the kind of wussiness that leads to student activists -- a coalition of ostensibly-pluralistic leftists and Muslims, as happens with growing frequency -- saying they can’t cope with the movie American Sniper being shown.

(They ended up showing it after all but in a de facto double feature with Paddington, which only makes the whole scuffle more ridiculous -- but hey, if that left the kids sympathetic both to efforts against Islamic totalitarianism and to the right of bears and others to immigrate, I guess there are worse outcomes.)

14. Will the mainstream press be any more eager to foster debate as it lurches leftward with decisions like the picking of the new Face the Nation host?

15. An un-p.c. eagerness to let the truth just hang out, so to speak, is a healthy but lately unpopular thing. I would hate to see the U.S. end up so swaddled in p.c. taboos that discourse here becomes like, say, discourse in Turkey (just across the border from Syria), where you won’t hear many people daring to refer to the Armenian Genocide when that horror is remembered in two days.

(Here’s hoping two of my favorite Armenian-Americans do well at the back doctor and this coming Saturday’s Electoral Dysfunction panel at the PIT, by the way, not that these events are otherwise related.)

16. Things are getting so p.c. in the U.S. that in Kentucky -- Kentucky! -- a judge let a home invader (who held a three year-old and others at gunpoint) off with a month’s probation because the three year-old is now frightened of black men. Apparently, one’s victims being racist is grounds for a lenient sentence now.

Let’s just say it’s not clear after an incident like that that more tearing down of “white privilege” and greater respect for marginalized populations is sufficient to create justice.

17. Nor should that be taken to mean that whites are awesome. Neither eastern nor western Ukraine looks very admirable right now, despite elites pressuring you to take sides in that conflict. The neutral, individualistic administration of property-based law should be what matters, not tribal or nationalistic grasping for collective power.

18. Of course, imaginary war on other planets is still fun, as we all know from watching the Force Awakens trailer (and as some know from watching the brief teaser trailer for next year’s spin-off Star Wars movie Rogue One before that trailer got taken off YouTube).

19. The consensus seems to be that the Star Wars ones inspire greater confidence than the gloomy Batman v Superman trailer, though the sci-fi fan in me doesn’t mind the whole “fear of Krypton” angle in these films.

20. Less remarked upon is the fact that the Fantastic Four trailer looks bland. Let us keep our (stretchy, invisible, rocky, fiery) fingers crossed this trip into an alternate dimension leads to some excitement.

21. The Hateful 8 trailer from Tarantino being released and then yanked at about the same time the four mentioned above debuted mainly strikes me as further evidence that Tarantino (who threatened to sue over a leaked script not long ago) and the Weinsteins may be in denial about how little control auteurs have over the Internet these days. That trailer was leaked once before about, what, a year ago, man?

Maybe third time will be the charm.

22. But now I’m straying away from topics like war and heresy to more familiar econ subject matter. I’ll make May a “Month of Economics” on this blog, kicking off on May Day with a look at philosopher John Tomasi and his critics.

Maybe I should dedicate next month’s blog entries to Madonna, who had the courage to praise Thatcher on Instagram -- until the lefty mob demanded she take it down and she complied. So much for being an unapologetic rebel and all that. 


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