A Tale of Two Turkeys

By most accounts, the Republican National Convention has so far been a bit of a gong show. The party’s elder statesmen have given it a pass, as have most of the next generation, except for those who wanted to make some noise and try to block the advance of the Trump juggernaut. The big story, of course, was the speech. Her speech.

Melania Knauss-Trump.jpg
[Image by Marc Nozell from Merrimack, New Hampshire, USA – 20160208-DSC08093, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=46940102%5D

So, what’s the deal here? I see three possibilities:

The speechwriter was paid by GOP insiders to try to embarrass Trump. From the passages lifted verbatim from — of all people — a speech by the Democratic First Lady only 8 years earlier (an irony true Republicans would find too delicious) to the rick-rolling. But ultimately, it’s a move that will have little or no effect on his faithful followers. If anything, many will likely see it as further proof (and rightly so) that their candidate is being victimized by the establishment.

OR

It’s all part of the Trump-Clinton conspiracy to make Hillary look like the only sane candidate. Oversold, maybe? The choir gets it. The decided probably too. But the folks in the pews never will (which is why, if this was true, creating this bizarre straw man was such a grave miscalculation; they seriously underestimated how much this personae and his rhetoric would resonate with the lower middle-class white American).

OR

It’s a most cynical ploy of a man who believes he is unstoppable. He can say and do whatever he wants — even steal the words of his opponents and use them to support his own cause — with impunity.

For a slightly more serious analysis of the rise of Trump and the fall of the GOP, see this excellent piece by Nick Hanauer.


As for the other Turkey, what’s the deal there? Are they one step away from North Korea-style choreographed street performances? Taking some notes here, not deep thinking, but…

I don’t speak Turkish, but listening to the rhetoric being spewed by Erdogan the past few years, it would seem that the Turkish word for “Kurd” is being translated into US English as “terrorist”. And since the recent failed coup, we’re hearing “democracy” and “democratic” being tossed around quite a bit, which I think is being translated from the Turkish for “socially regressive, autocratic, authoritarian regime.”

It’s telling that, so far, they’ve dismissed and/or arrested more people in the education sector (education ministry and teachers) than military personnel. This is a regime that comes down hard on peaceful protesters during peace time, but has no qualms about encouraging its supporters to come out on the streets in numbers and throw themselves in front of tanks. Wow, such courage! Sorry, I don’t buy it. Judging by what I’ve seen in the media, the military showed quite a bit of restraint. I’m sure they realized there was no chance of success if they couldn’t garner popular support, but with a hostile civilian force being egged on by their leader, they really didn’t stand a chance of success…

 

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The Orange of Discord

Boats ferrying boxes of oranges to freighter waiting beyong the rocks at Jaffa. circa 1930. Author unknown. [Public domain or CC-BY-SA-2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

A while back, I mentioned how much I enjoy BBC World (especially this part) and I lauded the worldly perspective of the British. But there’s a dark side to imperialism, and England most certainly had a hand in fanning the flames of one the Middle East’s enduring dramas.

The Al Jazeera English website is presenting Eyal Sivan’s Jaffa – The Orange’s Clockwork in its entirety (0:46:54) until November 14. If you can ignore the rather poor choice of title, it’s actually quite good.

This documentary treats the Arab-Jewish conflict from the perspective of citrus growers, both Arab and Jewish, in the town whose name is synonymous in the West with not only oranges, but with Israel, and the struggle of European diaspora Jews to build a new nation in their ancestral homeland — or if you prefer, the war of European Zionist Jews against the rightful inhabitants of Palestine, take your pick.

The film consists of interviews with the growers themselves (some old enough to remember 1948) interspersed with some interesting (albeit superficial, but hey it’s a 45-minute movie) analyses of ye olde propaganda newsreels. I liked that the director didn’t feel a need to resort to melodrama or sensationalism or polemics, and it’s a subject that easily elicits all those things. At the same time, it felt quite human. And what we see is, okay, there was a time when Arab and Jew lived and worked together. Maybe it was not a lovefest, but it was functional. And in most parts of the world, most of the time, that’s the best you can hope for.

The Presumption of Decency

Edward Glaeser is a professor of economics at Harvard who does research on urban growth and he’s written a short essay on a topic completely outside his area of knowledge. Nevertheless, it’s an interesting read. It’s titled The Presumption of Decency and I urge you to check it out.

I think he touches on a deep-rooted flaw in human thinking habits, one that frequently puts us on a path to a mindset that enables us to justify committing some the most atrocious acts against other human beings. And despite the remorse we may feel afterward, we do it again and again.

The fact is, our perspective-taking abilities are generally not very good. We also have incomplete access to the situational information of others. So when we try to understand the behaviors of others, we tend to assume it’s due to negative motivations or personality flaws. Social psychologists refer to this as a fundamental attribution error.

For example:

Ellen is ignoring me. She’s being a bitch.

Ummm, maybe Ellen is busy?

On the other hand, when reflecting on our own actions, we tend to be more forgiving. For example:

I have so much to do right now. I don’t have time to answer that email.

Are you really so busy, when you’ve already answered messages from several other people?

I suspect we are doubly likely to fall back on this heuristic when trying to understand those who are in conflict with us:

The police won’t let me take my bike through this gate. They are morons.

Maybe at one time, this was a useful heuristic, helping us to quickly identify potential threats so we could eliminate them before they became immediate dangers. But if something is not an immediate danger, shouldn’t we not be relying on a heuristic when we try to understand it? Shouldn’t we be making the investment of time to investigate more deeply to form a better conclusion?

Now that humans have armed themselves with weapons capable of death and destruction on a massive scale, perhaps it’s time to call this out as detrimental to us as a species. That is, if continuation of the species is important to us.

Let’s start by not always assuming the worst of others.

Anti-Western Protests in the Middle East: What Does It Mean?

Of all the news programming on TV, I like BBC World the best. They have without a doubt the most attractive selection of news presenters in the world (here, here, here, here, I can go all day). It may be one of the reasons why I think, for all the criticism of imperialism (and we must decry the tyranny of imperialism in all its forms), the English, as a group, in our age, have one of the broadest world perspectives and therefore the most entitled to comment on it. For all the socio-political-economic challenges brought by the resulting migration of peoples, I’m ever so thankful for the ethnic diversity. 

Anyway, my enjoyment of the newscasters has been marred by coverage of current events in the Middle East. And like any good American, my knee-jerk reaction was KILL THEM ALL.

I felt immediate disgust at myself. Not because my reaction was a contradiction of my liberal values. Rather, I felt I’d been manipulated. And I really hate that. The question is, by who? The media? Mmm–nah, that’s a (typically liberal) cop-out. Generally, I view all sources of information with mistrust, including my own empirical evidence (my world is a scary place, indeed). Was it that little shithead, lizard brain, reacting to some perceived threat to my survival? Yes, quite possibly, but being somewhat comfortable middle-class, somewhat educated, living in a Western society, I like to think we’re far enough removed from physical dangers that I’m able to shut down that crap quickly enough. I’m still working through this. To be continued…

But moving past that, and ignoring the motivations and actions of the master manipulators and bit players with agendas (and they are there too), I’ve wanted to try to understand the motivations of the “common people” who are now in the streets across the Middle East, protesting for… something. I feel like this is an even bigger minefield, fraught with so many potential bias judgements. It’s so easy to start talking shit. I do that quite well. But there is more at play than a First World mind can readily understand, even one who witnesses this first-hand on the ground. And maybe this is because we have cleverly learned to shut off that lizard brain.

Issues of poverty, fear, powerlessness, frustration, all coming in to play that are truly beyond our realm of experience, and consequently, I think, beyond our true comprehension.

We have never lived under threat of death by bombing, no matter how many bloody corpses and wailing mothers we see on television (though we got a taste of that on September 11, 2001 when the World Trade Center in New York was reduced to rubble). We cannot truly conceive what it feels like to be dying because we cannot put something in our mouths to nourish us, no matter how many earnest actors we see holding fly-covered children in their arms. We’re spectators of great dramas, the fourth wall. But for millions of other people in the world, these dramas are their realities.

I need to write about this. It’s important. Not because I can solve it. Not the world problem. Not even my own feelings. I cannot solve any of that. There is no solving here. It’s painful. I just need to feel it right now.