Aug 31, 2013

The Syrian Civil War Draws the World's Attention and Some Soldiers of Fortune. But Is There Any Fortune?

The users of WMDs should be held accountable and the world community should condemn human rights abuses and should support conditions that promote good life, the right of self-determination, and the democratic process. Well, should is one thing and what is are not identical. There's lots of blame to go around, including toward the United States that wants to punish Syria's use of chemical weapons.

In the 1980s during the Iraq-Iran war, the US was giving lots of weapons and most importantly military intel to Saddam. When Iran was gaining the advantage and was ready to exploit weaknesses in the Iraqi defenses, the US alerted Baghdad. Saddam's response was to use sarin and mustard gas against the Iranians indiscriminately. He had used such chemical weapons before against Iraqi citizens opposed to his regime. The US bears lots of responsibility for aiding Saddam then.

Now president Obama has painted himself into a corner after saying the US will punish Syria if WMDs were used. He has to act in order to appear resolute. Or, does he? The world, including those bodies responsible for international law, the American people, and most of our allies are against US military intervention in Syria right now.

Human suffering abounds
There are also constitutional questions. The US president can act without Congressional approval if the country's under threat. But we aren't. We're not sure--yes, we must be given the evidence--as to who's done what in Syria since the civil war erupted. Everybody has a right to be cautious, indeed suspicious, about claims on national security, WMDs, etc, by the US administration. 

Sorry, Mr. President, you have not changed many of the "national security" policies of your predecessor--policies you were against as a Senator and as a presidential candidate.  Of course you've done a few good things, but the spying, the drones, GITMO, and now this looming war make us to stand back, disapprove and ask lots of questions. 

The so-called Middle East region is very complicated. Ethnic, religious, political, and cultural conflicts have been shaking the region for thousands of years. Religion is a major factor of how people behave there. We shouldn't forget that Europeans fought many bloody wars and massacres were fueled by religious zeal. The M.E. is no different. Currently, there's a big fight between the Sunni and and Shia sects. The Saudis have been supplying weapons to the Syrian opposition. Jihadists have also been participating the that civil war.  

Syria has the support of Iran because of the Shia link. Most of the Muslims in the region (and the world) are Sunnis who fear the Shia Ayatollahs. The Iraqi civil war--yes, it's been going on since the US invaded in 2003--also has these two groups against each other. Same with conflicts in Lebanon, and the Palestine greater region.

Obama said he wants to "fire a shot across the bow" to tell the Syrians, "you can't do this". But these shots often don't work. What's the next move then? The only way to stop Assad is to seriously damage his power structure--the military, his top generals, and his ability to maintain his government. But, then we're talking about regime change! This isn't very appealing either, because we don't know who comes next. It could be worse as there are lots of extremist religious fanatics on the other side. 

This is a problem with countries that turn into very messy situations. Boots on the ground is an option, generally speaking, but not very likely now or in the near future. Certainly the US public has no appetite for such, nor the rest of the big powers.

Aug 1, 2013

A Summer Break of Sorts....

The widest point of the Hudson river. There are many places around where the night sky is visible as light pollution isn't bad.

This summer is fleeting as far as I'm concerned. If I were a lifeguard, I'd be having the winter blues about now. OK, I promised myself to take any opportunity available this August, which just started, to do something interesting and create memories. Yes, we are who we are to a great extend by the experiences we have and our memories. Even if all else remained the same--disposition, character, intelligence, etc--without the particular memories I have, I wouldn't be the same person, for better or worse.

Anyway, I've been engaging in all sorts of projects and thus haven't taken many pictures, which is one of my favorite hobbies.  But, I do keep my eye on the surroundings and I make frames in my mind. Much of photography is about framing. The focus, the emphasis, the point of view. 

From a recent gallery exhibit in Beacon, NY, titled "the XXX show" or something like that.
Photography has changed humanity, because this technology has enabled us to capture moments that many can't be replicated. A camera can be seen as a time machine. Recording, documenting, and ultimately reinforcing our memories.

The visual often has a greater impact on people's minds. Human rights abuses, civil rights movements, natural phenomena & catastrophes, for example, sensitize a greater number of people.

It's the generations after the late 1980s or more likely the 1990s that have their lives documented so much in pictures and videos, oh, and emails, and other social media. The older among us know that it wasn't always like this. We don't have many pictures from our earlier life. I grew up with film photography. I learned the art working with a totally manual camera--all the settings had to be adjusted depending on the conditions--which meant I had to understand what aperture, speed, ISO, clouds, sun, flash, etc, all did. The film had 24-36 frames and it had to be developed; no instant feedback nor gratification. 

It got to be very expensive and my Olympus SLR was getting old. Needed new expensive lenses. I dropped this hobby for many years until the new digital technology arrived.

I got my first digital camera in the early 2000s, and a good one (for its time) in 2004 while working for a US presidential candidate in Cleveland, Ohio, as part of the media team. Once I made the transition I was elated I could take up my old hobby and enjoy it even more. So many more options and possibilities. Easier to share too.

We've heard how the TV played a major role in the election of 1960. By that time almost every household in the US had a TV set. That period marked the transition from party politics to media politics. The candidates increasingly relied on TV images to get their message out and attract votes. The party power decreased as a result. Nowadays, it's the candidates themselves that raise most of the money, decide when to run and on what issues. 

Under the George Washington bridge on the Jersey side
By the way, one of the problems in our system is gridlock, divided government is often the norm, that is, different party blocks control power; one the Executive and another the Congress (or one of its Houses) so there's gridlock. 

What's stranger is that the members who can cause dysfunction come from areas of the country that are far from the mainstream. For example, the Senate Minority leader--whose stated priority has been to make Obama a failure under any cost--comes from very conservative Kentucky. His political fortunes depend on representing this brand of backward conservatism, because the votes for his (re)election come from there. As conservative as he is, he'll have an even more conservative [I say, a wingnut tea partier] challenger in the Republican primary!

I shouldn't have started on politics, but maybe there's no free will as Sam Harris (among others) contends, so I steered into the political sphere inadvertently.

The Bear Mountain Bridge I cross often

Looking south from Bear Mountain, NY. The Hudson river is very interesting!