Well Said

Foreign Policy, David Rothkopf, “The Enemy Within”

Besides the hilariously appropriate metaphor Rothkopf uses to frame his editorial (the U.S. as burger-guzzling ground-pounder on the fast-track to the cemetery), he makes excellent points as he runs down the list of perceived foreign threats politicians routinely use as bogey-men and swiftly dismisses them all. This is one of the most succinct write-ups I’ve come across that explores why the U.S. needs to stop worrying ad nauseum about external enemies and focus on its domestic issues. This attitude of fear-mongering has been present in politics for as long as I’ve been aware of politics as a thing people care about (admittedly, not long), but given the economic instability of recent years and the advent of terrorism as a front-and-center FEAR in the popular consciousness, people seem to be in overdrive.

That’s not to say there aren’t domestic “terrors” that inspire ridiculous amounts of mental exhaustion among some people (tax laws, abortion rights, gay marriage/civil unions), but it’s so much easier and more common for politicians to point in fear out over the oceans at something that simply is not there or so far over the horizon as to be irrelevant. It sounds like a tired old complaint, but it would be great if those who claim to want to lead us actually did some, you know, leading.

David Rothkopf: “If America stopped searching for goblins under the bed, it might actually be able to reset its economic priorities and start investing in the things that would make the country stronger, more prosperous, and safer again, from infrastructure to energy security to better schools. What’s more, Americans might find that a foreign policy that identified real risks but kept them in perspective and was more about deepening ties, finding common ground, and avoiding unnecessary conflict would work better than the tired us vs. them formulations of the recent past.”


TED, Rory Stewart, “Time to End the War in Afghanistan”

This is another excellent TED talk from July of 2011, this time regarding western military intervention in Afghanistan. The closing of his talk is too good to miss, so I’ve transcribed it below for anyone who doesn’t want to watch. Besides it being an honest analysis of western involvement in the region from someone who’s spent a tremendous amount of time there, Stewart constructs a clear, well-reasoned, thought-provoking argument that should be a positive example of debate for anyone interested in engaging in public discourse about topics like this.

Rory Stewart: “When people talk about intervention, they imagine there is some scientific theory – the RAND Corporation goes around counting 43 previous insurgencies, producing mathematical formulas saying ‘You need one trained counter-insurgent for every 20 members of the population.’ – this is the wrong way of looking at it. You need to look at it in the way you look at mountain rescue.

When you’re doing mountain rescue, you don’t take a doctorate in ‘Mountain Rescue.’ You look for somebody who knows the terrain. It’s about context. You understand that you can prepare, but the amount of preparation you can do is limited. You can take some water, you can have a map, you can have a pack, but what really matters is two kinds of problems: problems that occur on the mountain which you couldn’t anticipate, such as, for example, ice on a slope, but which you can get around, and problems which you couldn’t anticipate and which you can’t get around, like a sudden blizzard, or an avalanche, or a change in the weather. And the key to this is a guide who has been on that mountain in every temperature, at every period; a guide who, above all, knows when to turn back, who doesn’t press on relentlessly when conditions turn against them.

What we look for in firemen, in climbers, in policemen, and what we should look for in intervention, is intelligent risk-takers. Not people who plunge blind off a cliff, who jump into a burning room, but who weigh their risks, weigh their responsibilities. Because the worst thing we’ve done in Afghanistan is this idea that failure is not an option. It makes failure invisible, inconceivable, and inevitable. And if we can resist this crazy slogan, we shall discover in Egypt, in Syria, in Lybia, and anywhere else we go in the world that if we can often do much less than we pretend, we can do much more than we fear.”

The Atlantic, James Fallows, “False-Equivalence Watch: Nice Work by the Times and Post!”

I wish I could start a political movement to protest “Representation without substantiation!” This brief article focuses on how subtle changes in copy-writing can alter public perception of a story, with regard to the Senate debate over the “Buffett Rule” proposed by President Obama. The writer compares two different headlines about the state of the debate in the Senate and each addresses (one accurately, one inaccurately) why the proposed legislation will not move beyond the Senate.

In short: despite the fact that the legislation won majority support (51-45), Republicans threatened to filibuster to delay and argue against it. The Republicans have not followed through on their threats in modern times, but because the Democrats were not able to secure a “super majority” to override the threatened filibuster, and a tremendous amount of time would be wasted on a filibuster, the fight was abandoned.

The New York Times accurately represented the situation, their headline read, “Republicans Block Debate on ‘Buffet Rule’ in Senate.” Though NYT is regarded as a more liberal, left-leaning publication, the headline indicates the factual reality that Republicans are responsible for ending debate on the Buffet Rule.

Forbes, however, ran a headline which read, “Buffet Rule Fails in Senate, 51-45.” This is a blatantly inaccurate, intentionally vague representation of what happened. If one were to speculate where Forbes’s political loyalties lie, it’d be easy to infer from this headline, which is sort of, you know, wrong, when it comes to the field of journalism.

I thought this article was effective in demonstrating exactly the kind of thing I personally think is wrong with political debate in this country: disingenuous representation. The Forbes headline gives the inaccurate impression that the Senate outright rejected the Buffet Rule, putting the onus on the entire governing body, when in actuality, it was because the Senate Republicans threatened to filibuster the legislation that the Buffet Rule was stopped in its tracks. And I don’t even want to get into the problem with the filibuster as a governing practice. Suffice it to say that I think the only way it could ever work is if you actually make the person or group threatening to filibuster follow through with their threat. Good work, Senate Democrats…

Anyway, anyone with only a moment to glance over headlines would read the Forbes version, misunderstand the situation without knowing any better, and go on to cultivate ill-informed opinions. This sort of problem is endemic and, to me, indicative of a larger problem with how we currently function as a society. Though we pride ourselves on freedom, that does not mean we should allow “free” incorrect and untrue assertions to have any place in political debate.

This has been a problem for as long as man has tried to govern, but shouldn’t we at least TRY to negotiate obstacle at some point? The issues with which our country is grappling are far too significant to muddle around in petty misrepresentations. Real people live and die by the laws of this land and deserve to be accurately informed as to what goes into creating them.

NPR, Linton Weeks, “Obama Is the Best and the Worst President. Discuss.”

When kids are growing up and asked what they want to be when they’re older, some poor, misguided souls claim they want to be “President of the United States.” Personally, I can imagine few positions I’d rather hold less than the presidency, but maybe that’s just me. I’m also of the mind that no one who WANTS to be in such a powerful position should ever be ALLOWED to be in that position to begin with, but that’s another problem entirely.

This interesting NPR write-up examines an issue that cuts to the core of political division in the United States: scapegoatism. I can’t imagine how difficult it must be to be the President, especially if you attain the office with the intention of trying to do good for the country. I’m sure most go into it thinking they can help the people they love, shepherd those people into a new age of prosperity, elevate them above where they are collectively on inauguration day. How disappointing that moment must be when you, the purported “most powerful person in the world” realize just how ineffectual you are; how self-destructive and resistant to the most basic, beneficial change those people are. They don’t know what’s good for them and they know not what they do, but you can’t dictate what should or shouldn’t change, because you’re supposed to be one of them.

It’s a hell of a catch-22. I believe Obama actively wants to do good, and although he (as with all presidents) has gotten caught in the complicated dance of mission, expectation, and opposition, he has done some good. That’s not to say he’s without flaws. I disagree with his expansion of what I’ll summarize as “Bush’s ‘War on Terror’ policies,” for one. His lack of commitment to the LGBT community has been sad and he’s done pretty much nothing for my generation and anyone younger. But the point is, he seems to be genuinely trying. I get the impression he cares.

All of this is to say that it would be nice if the U.S. citizens dispensed with absolutism in their judgments of his performance and adopted a more nuanced, informed understanding. Despite his best efforts, President Obama and everyone who helps him to achieve the goal of betterment are only human and the world is a more complicated place by the day. Although advances in technology have expanded our view, it seems the public’s thought processes have yet to keep pace. I guess that’s just human nature. Anyway, the article says all of this better than I can manage, so I defer to Mr. Weeks’ analysis.

Dean Keith Simonton: “For good or ill, Obama will also be judged according to criteria that must be considered unjust by any rational standard — most notably the economy. Even though the U.S. president has very little control over economic growth — particularly now that the economy has become global — he still is saddled with the blame for a bad economy.”

TED, Kelli Anderson, “Design to Challenge Reality”

Another excellent TED talk, this one about how clever and creative design can influence the “reality” of the world. Anderson manages to infuse even the most mundane projects with uniqueness and fun. Some of the things featured in this are really remarkable, especially the sunny, optimistic version of The New York Times. I couldn’t find the actual website featuring the doppelganger newspaper, but I did manage to find a Reuters article about it.

As Anderson describes it, she is preoccupied with “the hidden talents of everyday things.” This is not an original idea, but one that deserves more prevalence in our culture. Check out her work in this video to see for yourself exactly what she means. I’m willing to bet that if unique perspectives like Anderson’s carried more weight in establishing popular viewpoints, humanity may encounter a multitude of problems, but they may very well be better equipped to negotiate those problems in a more open-minded, thoughtful manner than we do right now.

At the very least, we’d all likely be a lot less stressed.

Kelli Anderson: “The world is full of order that doesn’t necessarily deserve our respect. Sometimes there is meaning, justice, and logic present in the way things are, but sometimes there just isn’t. And I think that the moment we realize this is the moment we become creative people because it prompts us to mess things up and do something better with the basic pieces of experience.”

Boulet, “The Darkness”

This comic, collected in a single running story on the page above, is among the best I’ve ever read on the internet. In fact, it may be one of the best I’ve ever read anywhere, period. In a well-illustrated and humorous way it tells the story of one young man’s quest to find love and the difficulties he encounters as a result of the overwhelming attractiveness of his brooding roommate.

It’s a great, relatable premise and one that is explored lightheartedly while also addressing some of the most important aspects of romantic relationships: attraction, honesty, emotional connection, love. It also addresses issues nice guys often feel pressured to confront when trying to impress the opposite sex, including the decision to adopt or not adopt certain personality characteristics one feels may be more attractive. As you can imagine, the protagonist has a lot to learn in this department and Boulet has some great insights to share throughout the story.

One of the most amazing things about this comic is that it was drawn entirely within a 24-hour period earlier this year. If that doesn’t impress you, I don’t know what will. Boulet is an incredibly talented writer and artist and I cannot recommend this comic enough. I hope you take some time to sit down and enjoy it – I guarantee you will have a heart-warming smile on your face by the time you reach the end.