Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Insert Catchy Blog Title Here

It's seems so strange that we only have a week of classes left before final exams. I feel like we've been here forever and for no time at all, and I can't figure out how much knowledge I was supposed to have crammed into my brain during that time. I've done more work here than in all of high school combined - not that that's saying much - but the more I learn the more I realize how much I don't yet know. We've read so much in this class, but we've only covered the basics, or so it seems.

I find thanksgiving break and the holidays in general interesting, because all of a sudden there is an increase in good will. Many people who didn't have a close enough home or family to go back to got invited along with others to their homes. It's interesting to see people completely alter their behavior and even moods because of a socially constructed holiday. People were playing christmas music and making food and paper snowflakes in the lounge yesterday. It seems like not even finals can kill the good feelings.


Over the break I read Horizons. As a disclaimer I will just say that I generally dislike science-fiction beside the rare exception. The exceptions have always been the classics. This book was alright. Though I did notice several interesting themes within it.

First of all, and most obviously, there is the Con. I thought that all the stuff surrounding the Con was such a clear example of liberalism. Here leaders are having to deal with public opinion when deciding foreign policy strategies. Gone is the environment of Machiavelli where the leader does whatever he pleases and uses oppression and propaganda to deal with the people. In fact, the entire plot of the book surrounds the will of the people. The Giaists are trying to crash a rock into earth to scare the people enough where the World Council will have to destroy the platform.

However, the book was very constructivist as well. For example, the Terror Years effected the international environment enough where norms changed all nations were willing to give up control of their militaries to the World Council. Also, the states are not completely rational actors deciding what to do based on material gains. The Balkan States broke from their economic interests (allying themselves with the US) because of how mad they were seeing a dead Balkan looking man get killed. In fact, all things I described as liberal could also be understood using a constructivist lens.

I have a friend that reads some science-fiction who said that these books are judged based upon how cool their concepts are, not the quality of their writing. To that extent, Horizons was a great book. However, I found it quite hard to get over her writing style. I also feel that at times she spent so much time describing bad-ass things (like Ahni’s fighting) that it detracted from the story. It’s weird that I say that because I do enjoy Tom Clancy’s bad-ass moments in the books of his I’ve read. Maybe that’s because that really all the books are.

Overall though, Horizons was generally entertaining and brought up some good issues in IR.

No Place Like "Home"

The 2003 Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines home as:
1. one's place of residence
2. the social unit formed by a family living together
3. familiar or usual setting
4. place of origin 
6. the objective in various games: home plate

Excluding number six, I suppose that the concept of home typically represents itself in those ways.  Yet, the phrases seem so simple.  When I started this post, I could not even describe home, possibly because emotions are stronger than words. . . . or, maybe home is not a physical place.  Maybe we construct home and make it our own by circumstance.

Though I appreciated the love, the reprieve, the familiar details, and the abundance of memories attached to the home I returned to this past weekend, at the same time, something felt right about returning to AU.  It is a terrible thing, but whenever I travel somewhere else, I usually do not become home-sick because the new place becomes home, and I cannot imagaine living anywhere else.

So, in particular, what makes D.C. special?  Over the weekend, I constantly receieved the approving, knowing, silent nod from family to my student status as a D.C. "wonk" (just kidding, "wonk" wasn't mentioned, except for the time my grandma and I discussed Erin's article on marketing colleges in AWOL, but that's another story . . .).  Yet, it not just about D.C. with the monuments, Georgetown, and some little white house at the center of it all.  It's about D.C. and the crowded Metro, wide sidewalks, people selling roses in traffic, and our own TDR jams.

I guess stereotyping has its purpose; categories are always easier to digest.  Yet, the details and aspects that defy the stereotype are what make the world interesting.  Look at cultures (i.e. Native American, sound familiar?).  Look at whole countries.  Though we have the tendency to be proud of our differences, in this way, we are all the same.  The concept of "self"/"other" has come up numerous times this semester, but maybe the divide is only as bold as we construct it to be.

(GOOGLE wizard of oz home . . . makes you wonder what Dorothy could have meant.)

Monday, November 29, 2010


I spent a lot of time over break thinking about Thanksgiving and the lies that were told to the elementary and middle school students. What does your average student in highschool really know about Native Americans? It made me think hard about how we actually view native americans today. One of my friends said that she felt that she almost forgot that there were native americans still in America. I know stupid right, but it made me wonder, is it really her fault or is it socities fault. Is it because history books in school don't really get into native american culture in modern day times. It's almost like they are a forgotten group of people, glossed over in the things we learned in class but such an important part of history. when I went to the museum of the american indian, I felt that something was missing. Unlike some of my peers, I felt that the museum was more like an art museum. I felt like it was something generic to it. I took into great consideration, the fact that the museum is remembered most for the food court and not the displays themselves. All I took away was that they have great tamale and fish. It surely was not a holocaust museum, even though many Native Americans were killed in early America.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

This Week

I found the museum this week interesting. It surprised me that it didn't focus at all on the interactions between the tribes it portrayed, or the interactions between them and european invaders. Like some people said, it seemed more like a cultural museum than either a history or an art museum. Each little exhibit seemed somewhat isolated from the others. While they all related in that they were about "American Indians" and each floor had somewhat of a theme, each little section didn't necessarily relate much to the ones around it. I spent a lot of time on the third floor, if only because I was waiting for other people to catch up, and I found it interesting that there was so much space dedicated to these cultures in the current world. I suppose there's nothing in the name "National Museum of the American Indian" that suggests otherwise, but I still expected it to be mostly a history museum. (On a side note, I was also really surprised to see that small section about them in Chicago. In all my years in Chicago, I don't think I've even seen a native american/ american indian. Maybe I'm just not in the right parts of the city.)

I also liked Friday's discussion on whether Columbus saw the natives as human or not. I think that in some cases, it would help to see them less as people and more as animals. Animals can be tamed, domesticated, used for your own purposes. It would be immoral to treat humans the same way, at least today. By thinking of them as animals, the explorers and conquerers could praise them when they did something to their liking, and punish them when they did not, without fear of their conscience getting in the way.

Blogging my Subjective Thoughts Away

Class topics that I was itching to get a piece of at, of course, 12:35 (darn it):
We were seeming to come to the consensus that Cortés was more objective than Columbus in his treatment of the Native Americans.  I do not believe this is the case.  Given their historical European backgrounds, their assessements on the indigenous populations could only be subjective because all labeling was grounded in previous context.  For example, the Europeans firmly believed in mythology, superstition, and religious consequences (i.e. Sirens, Grand Khan, Moors).  Thus, although Cortés seemed to "understand" the Native Americans more, he did not "understand" them in the compassionate, globalized way we use that word today.  Instead, his "understanding" was to fulfill this own aims.  Maybe the reason Cortés is seen as a smarter explorer than Columbus was becuase he had concerte goals, and he knew how to accomplish them by using culture as a strategy.  In Todorov, it was perfect that he was likened to a realist:  "discourse is not determined by the object it describes, but is constructed solely as a function of the goal it seeks to achieve" (116).

Additionally, I want to address an earlier notion that these conquistadors did not see the Native Americans as people.  To a certain extent, they did label them and compare them to "objects" (i.e. the land) out of convenience or out of uncertaintity (i.e. Columbus could not reconcile whether they were a tainted self or an "other" to be rejected).  Still, even more, the explorers saw the Natives as inferior beings first, which then further debased their humanity.  He could compare "people to the Indians I have already spoken of," and that typified them "with astonishment . . . closer to men than animals" (35-6).
** Thus, whether the above perspectives are the most accurate or are up to debate, I am loving our analysis on The Conquest of America, in both the contemporary and past tense.  By analyzing the construction of the self/other, identities in general, the power of language, finalist doctrine, and the (lack of) responsibility, the story of colonization has become much more interesting than in the past and an extreme warning of our policies for the future.

Reflections on World Politics and the Real World
Also one of the highlights of this past week was participating in Oxfam's Hunger Banquet (here's what you missed:  http://www.facebook.com/home.php?#!/event.php?eid=109134769152565&index=1).  Though the experience was not as intimiate as a banquet in which I participated in the past, partially due to a lack of people (i.e. the poor eating rice on the floor were proportionally more than the other classes, but not an overwhelming presence), it was really eye-opening when the speaker from Oxfam explained development in relation to the Haitian crisis.  A nation that once could support itself, now has to import 80 percent of its rice.  The series of unfortuante events in Haiti (i.e. widespread poverty, further destruction after the earthquake, cholera) stem from its lack of self-sufficiency.  Yet, this is not the Haitian people's fault.  The aid many countries pump into Haiti is only temporary (i.e. food that undermines local businesses).  The NGOs offer short-term services that are un-coordinated.  The government lacks infrastructure.  Haiti's recovery could be simple if it considered its people, in all their potential, first.  (For more information on Haiti, see  http://www.oxfam.org/en/pressroom/pressrelease/2010-03-30/haitians-say-jobs-key-recovery).

American Indian Museum

The Museum and the book were quite the compliments. I enjoyed the Museum of the American Indian. I love the section that had on the Hupa tribe. They’re from my area and they had a picture of a guy I know. That was exciting. Kind of weird to see though. Here’s this picture of a guy I know presented as if he was from some totally different world and era. That was how the entire museum felt in some ways --- as if they were presenting the tribes as some strange beasts from another land quite separate from us. It was like a cultural zoo where one could go station to station and see isolated tribe with only reference to their “natural habitat.”

Also, it was quite interesting how the only use of the word genocide was in reference to the massacres in Guatemala in the 1990’s.

I found Todorov’s portrayal of Cortez to be somewhat lopsided. He presented the man as this master planner who figured out what to do and then executed it. However, based upon “Guns, Germs, and Steel” and “The People’s History of the United States” he seemed much luckier then skilled. Now, because of his intelligence he was able to capitalize on his luck. For example, in “Gun, Germs, and Steel” Diamond wrote that he basically rode into the city not knowing exactly what o expect. Upon seeing the huge army of the Montezuma he did what any general at the time would do, send his cavalry around to set up for a flanking maneuver. When he charged to take hold of Montezuma he signaled the cavalry to charge and the Aztecs were so frightened of the horses that they did not mount an effective defense.

Overall though, I’m really enjoying the book. The linguistic spin he’s using is great. Some of the etymology he does reminds of Nietzsche in Beyond Good and Evil though hopefully his is a bit more accurate and researched.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Has everything REALLy changed?

In class we talked about Columbus and hos view of the indigenous people. he saw them as something other than human. He saw them as a group that needed to be given civilization and religion, savages. As 21st century people, we like to think that we would not respond like Columbus. If a person from the United States found an unknown Island with people who were totally different than any known society, what would we do? Some people say that they would just do research on these people and the Island. I disagree. Just look at how we treat people in other countries now, when they have different beliefs. We think that they need saving, they need to be brought democracy, freedom of religion, liberation. Would we not think the same of people, who have not existed in the world in any of the ways we are familiar with? I don't have much to say but would ask us to really look into ourselves and ask, is everything so completely different than 1462? We speculate, we justify, we assume. When we all die, I'm pretty sure college students will sit around and talk about these aspects of our society just like we can easily find the error in the previous era. hindsight is 20 20 and we all know that people like to think their ish don't stank, but if you lean a little bit closer, they will find out otherwise.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

which is more acceptable

Personally, I believe that neither of these are acceptable ways to represent the Native American people. Throughout the entire museum, I felt like everything was presented in a way to erase the devastation. The focus really wasn't on the history. I felt that the exhibits were more, "look at our pretty clothes and jewelry" and didn't really focus on the fact that many were massacred for their land, forced off. There was something lacking in the presentation. Unlike in the Holocaust museum, I was not moved by the tragic events, and I believe it due to the fact because that was not the focus. And then I realized after the fact that the name of the museum is "The National Museum of the American Indian." Columbus made a mistake in thinking this was India, and still they bear that name to identify them, "Indians".

The Red Skins, do I even need to say anymore. This is a stereotypical representation of the Native people. In cartoons, they are always people with red skin and a feather in their hair, prime example is peter pan. Then the fact that there is a Native American representing such an American pass time. Then it actually made me think., do any Native Americans play football? I just think there is something wrong with the ways in which these people are represented in our culture.

Discovering Gold, God, and Generalization

In all honesty, I like to blame Columbus for what happend to the Native Americans.  In elementary school, "sailing the ocean blue in 1492" was quite a heroic task, but then in high school, it seemed that hating him for all the rape, diseases, and repression was a good way to take avengeance for the genocide.

Yet, Todorov's remarks on the "self" and "other," as well as his portrayal of Columbus, make me realize that the blame has many dimensions.  Though Columbus was the catalyst of the many horrible outcomes of conquest, he really was a participant of a greater social context and a slave to human nature.  In terms of social context, Columbus is the quintessential man from the Age of Exploration.  He had the courage and ambition to finanace a trip across unchartered territory.  He wanted to be considered a pious Christian figure, with the Spanish version of his name meaning "bearer of Christ" (Cristobal) and "repopulator" (Colón) (26).  Yet, his monetary "means" replaced this "end."  Like most human beings, Columbus became greedy. . . .

Or, for a more exact emotion, Columbus was too proud.  This pride was most dangerous because it was rooted in ignorance.  Believing his own culture and ways to communicate to be right, the "conquest of knowledge" became a "conquest of power" (Pagden qtd. xii).  Thus, ignorance was bliss because he usurped unlimited authority over the Native Americans.  They could not resist his orders because the whole theme of conquest from an outsider was unprecedented. 

Consequently, we cannot "blame" Columbus in the sense that he mirrors Caesar, the notion of U.S. paternalism, or our own inward human instincts.  It is difficult to blame blindness and narrow-mindedness.  If we do wish to "blame" Columbus, it can only because he was the performer of unjustly acts which did cause destruction.  All actions have consequences.  "Taking the fifth" because of cultural ignorance cannot erase the guilt and his decision to perpetuate those norms.  Columbus's thinking could have been a product of both the conscious and un-conscious, but if supposing the conscious, remember that Martin Luther King Jr. spoke out against slavery.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Climate Change issue

In class today we discussed many things including global climate change. I got a bit frustrated during this conversation and I apologize to anyone that I may have offended with my attitude. I found some of the arguments being presented by other morally offensive and I didn’t restrain my react. In the following blog I will try to show why these arguments were off base in a more polite manner.

First off, I just want to say that it’s generally accepted among all respected scientists that human’s are contributing to climate change. The degree is debatable but the general fact is not, unless you want to discount the entire scientific field. Think about it in this way, during the Great Depression people said it was just a natural cycle of the market. Now, to some degree they were correct. However, the amount that it was a natural cycle was far outweighed by the amount that it was an exceptional economic instance. I would say the same is true about the environment today.

I would like to turn my attention to what Gabe said in class. He said that if something is a natural phenomenon then we have neither the means nor the right to stop it. In terms of the means, he may be right. So far there has not been a single real solution to the problem of climate change proposed. Based upon how quickly we are polluting and the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere the only real way to save ourselves is through some sort of bioengineering project that no one has invested yet.

The second claim is quite off base however. The reason I reacted so strongly to it is because that’s the sort of claim I’ve been arguing against for years but with far-left mystic tree lovers. Since now its Gabe who made that claim I’ll use a different argument. His claim was that if something is natural phenomenon that we have no right to stop it. If we stretched that logic it would mean that all antibiotics are a violation of nature. In fact, it would mean all medicine is a violation of nature. I wonder if he really meant what he was saying.

What if it was me?

In class I was surprised that people would argue that everyone does NOT have a right to food. Survival of the fittest some people claimed. I feel that response is rash and harsh. Only the strongest should survive they claim, but what if it was you? People don't have a choice about what family they are born into. People can't always control circumstances. One day you have a job, you get in an accident and have to be hospitalized, you can't work so you can't pay your bills and you lose your house and end up on the street. What if you've been laid off from your job, you look all around town for jobs but none are available. Should these people not eat? People are so quick to say everyone does not have a right to food until they are put into a situation where they, themselves can not eat and people deny them the ability to get food. I bet they'd change their minds then. But why does it have to be like that? Why can't people just think, What if it was me all the time. What if it was me starving? What if it was me who had to work for a wage I could not raise a family on? Because if it was you wouldn't you want someone to care. Wouldn't you want someone to implement policies to help you get back on your feet? Wouldn't you want someone to say that you have a right to food just as much as you have a right to life? Alot of people say that emotions should have nothing to do with government leadership and global order. I disagree. I feek that if you can see yourself in the people you create policies for, you will be able to help those who need it.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Why I Love Letts 6

     Last night, in my little corner of the room, I attempted to dive into the ocean of homework that will eventually drown me.  Yet, said homework was more of a background statement among the chattering of friends and the sound effects of Harry Potter 5.  Though I had never seen the movie, I soon realized that the true magic was not on the television screen, but permeated in the minds and thoughts of the people surrounding me. 
      Only on Letts 6 can we turn a conversation about Draco Malfoy and the Hogwarts houses
      into a full-fledged debate on prosperity and poverty.
     I have always realized that these are tricky subjects, but for some reason, it is too easy to think of them as "outside."  Over there they are starving.  Over there they do not have shelter.  What should we do about it?  What about dignity? 
     These questions are important, but furthermore, we must question how they pertain to us, right here and right now, as U.S. citizens, as individuals with our own stories and backgrounds, and as human beings.  That is when our voices truly explode like fireworks.  Their powder is our passion.
     One of the can of worms openened was the "rights" v. "needs" debate.  It is so interesting that we feel the need to separate issues on a philosophical and biological/practical level, but I think it has roots in church/state or even religion/logic divides.  On the surface, nobody has a right to anything.  As Social Darwinsim outlined, it is all about competition and survival.  Yet, humans are more than "animals."  We unite as a race not necessarily because we always agree, but because we realize our need to survive is better done collectively and that the needs for survival are the same (i.e. food, water, probably shelter).  On a moral level, those needs equal rights.  For example, following the Catholic Preferential Option for the Poor, the poor should be cared for not just out of sympathy, but out of practicality.
     The other can was on whether the "American dream" was practical.  As an optimist, I would like to believe so, but in reality, I have to agree with that chance of randomness (i.e. luck/fate).  For example, higher education in America is expensive and selective.  Despite ambition, talent, and financial need, not all students are going to be lucky and land in their "dream schools" (or even "safety schools").
     In the end, we all agreed that it was unfair that some people started with more than others.  For that reason, many hypotheical scenarios become skewed because society is not "equal."  This was one point that Inayatullah was making:  many "quasi-states" are disadvantaged because of colonization, and such a force was out of their control.  Humans are creatures of circumstance, too.  Yet, if we clearly defined the tools to succeed in life as "rights," maybe societies would feel more pressure to grant them.  Maybe it would be for the greater good of humanity.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

The Logical vs. The Moral

There were several questions posed in class on Friday, and I’d like to discuss a few of them.

Are basic needs and basic rights the same? Like what was said in class, from an American political perspective, yes. If we have the right to life, then we have the right to everything that we need to live - like food and water. But when you have to look at it from different perspectives, it gets trickier. It also gets confusing when you realize that people have different definitions of “basic needs.” Is housing a basic need? You can technically survive without shelter, in some places. Is education a basic need, if you need some sort of education in order to get a job to feed your family? And if these are basic needs, do we also have a right to them? I don’t think so. I don’t think that we can classify a basic need as anything other than the minimum we need to survive - if we also want to claim these things as our rights. That’s not to say that I don’t think everyone should have these things. Everyone should have a place to live. However, once you get beyond the bare minimum needed for survival, then what you should and shouldn’t consider basic rights gets complicated. 

The problem with that is, that if you only guarantee people food, you get into all sorts of moral issues. Maybe it's fair, in theory, to not provide a good amount of affordable healthcare and such to the poor, but anyone with a decent conscience or who has been without healthcare when they need it wouldn't be able to agree with a policy that didn't support people like that. And then you get into another question that was brought up in class - how important is an individual to the state as a whole? Does it really matter if a few people end up sacrificed for the good of the state? Do we need to spend our resources protecting people that don't contribute as much back to society? Again, my logic says no. But my conscience says yes. I wish that the two were more compatible. For whatever reason, they don't agree with each other. Based on my logic earlier, I don't think education is a right. Philosophically it doesn't make sense to me. On a practical level though, I really do think that the government should guarantee education up to a point, and give people loans and grants to get higher education. I wouldn't be here if they didn't.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

HIStory can be different than HERstory..but you need both to know the truth

I feel that this question can be put like this, "Is there a point in hearing both sides of an argument before determining what is really going on?" I find it strange that we just listen to one account of history, but when two people get in an argument, we often say "Let me hear her side of story." What Sally tells you about Ann can be totally different than what Ann tells you about Sally. Only when you put these two accounts together, are you even capable of having the truth. I don't think that anyone is capable of total objectivity. We are Human, not robotrons, as a result, how we feel, perceive things, rank things by importance to us, the histories we account reflect that. Look at the issue of the Britain and the American Revolution. Do you think that it's written the same way in American textbooks as British textbooks? Just think about the perceptions of the United States in Iraq or Afghanistan. They are not the same as what we may see them. It is important to look at both views. We cannot be content with half the story albeit history or present. If we do not seek out alternative stories, we will never know the full truth on how things came to be seen today. Then if we take into account, like J. Tickner states, the histories have been written by men of influence. What about the people who were not in a position to tell their stories, the marginalized populations of the world, do their stories not count? Without alternative foundational stories, part of the truth is missing. Thus, the value in analyzing world politics from different perspectives is the ability to see the world clearer.

History Vs. Tickner-ing Clock

Of course it is valuable to look at the world from multiple perspectives.  Diversity is beautiful because it not only highlights the ways we are the same, but it shows the ways we are different.  Different does not always have to be bad, as it is useful to construct the "self" and  to see where lie personal priorties.  Debates and international coalitions exist as ways to faciliate helpful dialogues. 
     In the same manner, Ms. Silvero noted in her World Bank talk today that identity extends to countries.  Policies cannot be universal because countries are bound to their past experiences and their current relationships.  Thus, policy-makers must be sensitive to cultures and their inherent values.

However, the real question regards the value of alternative IR viewpoints.  Scholars such as Enloe and Tickner have shed much light on the stories of marginalized populations, and this is helpful if we need to re-consider the mainstream theories of realism, liberalism, and constructivism.  Yet, realistically, it is impossible to consider all the IR perspectives existing in the world.  They make for great reading, awesome thinking/dialogues, and notable re-analyzing of our current state of affairs, but having so many perspectives are also inefficient.  The purpose of a theory is to make sense of a disorganized world, but if we consider every thought out there, theory slowly disintegrates.

A re-writing of the history of world politics is a concept that has been explored in the micro level debate of re-writing U.S. history.  It proposes that time is not a line, but branches out in circles.  To a certain extent, I agree that history should not be solely focused on the "great white men" because every cause has an effect, every conqueror has its conquered.  Voices of the marginalized would create more depth to the "white" backbone.  Still, history can only be re-written so much.  Again, we cannot consider all groups and micro events equally because there is not enough time.  If students learned about every role of every citizen during the American Revolution, for instance, it would be a while before they learned who actually won the battle . . . and is that not the main point?

Tickner argues that that is the problem, we are running out of time to re-write history.  Yet, history has been and always will be there.  If individuals want to pursue a subject more in depth, they can do so, but for the general population, maybe a few embellishments here and there would suffice.

Monday, November 8, 2010

We Will Always be Afraid of the Dark

*  This reflection builds off of Holly's substantive post from earlier this week (http://andorranatmosphere.blogspot.com/2010/11/do-i-feel-secure.html).
This post was very interesting regarding the matter of fear.  There are the famous, if not trite, words of FDR, “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself,” which cannot be truer regarding terrorism.  Terrorism is an ongoing problem, comparable to disease or crime.  It cannot be suppressed because fear, too, is a natural phenomenon; therefore, as long as fear (which breeds hatred, which breeds violence) exists, there will always be such acts. 
Yet, “If . . . [we] redirect our resources away from sensible programs and future growth, in order to pursue unachievable but politically popular levels of domestic security, then they have won. . . .” (Mueller 17). 
It is funny how (in)security of the nation translates into (in)security of economics, but I suppose that both are closely related.  “Time is money,” and it is the driving force of many of our actions.  It may (sadly) even take dominance over morals.  Yet, even from an economic point of view, we must be wary of our materialism.  As Wolfers noted, security follows the “law of diminishing returns.”  That is, each time we increase security, we sacrifice something else in our society, and eventually, the opportunities of security will not be worth their cost (15).  Consequently, the want for security, like wealth, is never satisfied.
However, we can try to control the inevitable, with categories, labeling, and any actions that will make sense of the world and give us a peace of mind.  I was surprised by the accessibility of the Pentagon, for instance.  On the one hand, it aimed to be more like the Spy Museum than the DIA.  There were large windows, wide hallways, exhibits, a garden (hello, hotdog shack), and a gift shop.  The tourism was rampant, and it seemed like the government was assuring us that their work was justified.  Then, on the other hand, I cannot imagine the employees looking at the glass displays on any given day.  They are too busy constructing their covert and vast tasks into “everyday work,” and it only becomes easier when the corridors are systematically labeled and are lined with commercialized shops.
Is it bad to adapt to chaos?  To construct normalcy?  Happiness?  Not necessarily.  It makes us efficient and literally keeps us sane.  It is just imperative to draw the line between perspective and reality.  Dreams, nightmares, probabilites . . . and truth.  For example, a person of a lower class may be content with his/her life and wealth, but that does not make him/her financially secure.
Mueller’s Simplicity and Spook: Terrorism and the Dynamism of Threat Exaggeration
Wolfers’ National Security as an Ambiguous Symbol

wealth in America

In class Erin asked in what way do we see the issue of the great economic disparity in this country, more like that of car crashes or the way we see terrorist attacks. I really think that people see it in the way one sees a car crashes. People detach themselves from the situation and they blame others. "Oh they didn't work hard enough" or "All they have to do is pull themselves up by their own boot straps." Well, what happens if there is no work for them? What happens if they don't have boots at all. For me this is a touchy topic. I am not upper class, I am not middle class, I come from a single parent household. I live in inner city. I went to public schools in a school system that is failing children. I also had the opportunities that many students like me do not get the chance to recieve. I went to a school that, basically helped to nurture my raw ability, gave me the opportunity to do research with NASA, Intern with the ACLU ect. But I go home and I see people with more potential than me amounting to nothing and I assure it is not always because they did not work hard enough. It is because some people don't get the chance to better themselves, they do not get the opportunity to work. There are very few chances they get to do better than their parents, what we know to be called "Social Mobility" I think that the economic gap is a problem for national security. The current system is breading generations of people who can not climb out of a hole that they did not even digg for themselves. A child can be smart and have great potential, but if that child is forced to read outdated books, in a classroom with 37 children, on an empty stomach, in a neighborhood that is not entirely safe. It is scientifically proven they can not succeed( Maslows Hierarchy of Needs). The system of capitalism is not the fatal flaw, in my opinion. I feel that there are systematic social constructions and things that take place in society that create an inequility of opportunities. America is falling behind in technology, competition abroad, and in education in general. Can people say that it has nothing to do with the economic state today. There are potential scientists, doctors, economist ect, hidden among the lower classes, but they will not get the opportunity to do so because they are not afforded the tools to turn potential into substance and reality.

It's the economy...dumbo.

One thing that struck me as particularly interesting in this last discussion was how Toby seemed to see economics as another means of defense. He said something akin to, “In order to be secure a nation must have a strong economy to have the resources to maintain a formidable military.” A very realist concept; our economy functions as a means for military ends. However, I would take issue with this concept. I would say that one could argue that the military functions as a means for economic ends.

It is true that one of a nation’s top priorities must be the security of its citizens and maintaining the existence of the state. But while state security may seem like the goal of utmost importance, most nations can rest assured that they are not going to be taken over in the near future. Through various international institutions the age of conquest has largely come to and end. Therefore, it can be said the military has become a tool of the state to pursue its economic goals.

It seems that if one wanted to take a very utilitarian approach to the subject, they could say that the only reason to care about terrorist is because it acts as an obstacle to an functioning market. If people are so worried about their safety that they stop engaging to economic activities then the economy comes to a halt. For example, after 9/11 the airline industry took a major hit because people were afraid to fly. Many of the obvious security measures put in place acted more to restore confidence in the industry than actually provide more security.

I’m not necessarily saying that this dynamic is true in all cases. It obviously is not for an entire host of very good reasons. However, it is a dynamic in play and to see the economy as a means for military ends or security ends seems to simplify the issue.


In class on Friday we talked a lot about economic security of individuals and the country, what makes us feel economically secure, as well as how economic security fits in with national security. There was one point that someone (I don't remember who) made during class that I'd like to discuss. They said that a person who was just making enough to make ends meet but pretty much has no chance to of losing their job or something would be and feel more financially secure than someone who is making a lot of money but has a higher chance of losing it. To some degree, that makes sense, but I don't think it's true. First of all, a person making a lot of money, even if that money was not stable, would at least be able to do pretty well while they had that money, and also have the ability to save up money in case something does go wrong. On the other hand, someone who is making just enough to make ends meet would not be able to save, and because of that probably feel much less financially secure than someone in the other category. Even though logically, the person who reliably makes just enough is more financially secure, it doesn't mean that they feel that way. In my experience, the more money you have to spare, the more financially secure you feel, even if your situation could easily change. 

I really don't like thinking about money. Unless I'm getting my paycheck, in which case thinking about it makes me happy. But I hate how much it affects everything we do and everything we are. And I really hate when people take it for granted that they'll always be wealthy, or if not wealthy, at least never have financial problems. Here on the northwest side of DC, you don't see how much of a difference there is in the distribution of wealth. You don't see the homeless here, you don't see the people who struggle to get by on minimum wage. You don't see the families of 8 crammed into tiny 2-bedroom apartments. And while in some ways, it's more pleasant to not see these things, I kind of wish that I still did see them on a regular basis. Here I feel so far removed from the real world. Back at home, I would be constantly reminded that there were people worse off than me, but here I start feeling like I'm at the bottom of the economic ladder because I have to work 2 jobs just to buy enough clothes and to pay my mom back for the little bit of tuition she could afford. It's hard here to see that I'm actually doing better than a lot of people in this country. I wish I could see it more often. I don't like forgetting about reality. 

Also, Erin shared this on Facebook, but I'm reposting it here because I thought it was kind of relevant to my post. 

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Do I Feel Secure?

I don’t’ think that the troops in Afghanistan make me more secure. The troops in Afghanistan are there in order to do what? In the words of Kat Williams, “Terror can’t keep a home address.” There is no way of completely knowing who, what, when, where, and how in relation to the institution of terrorism. We discussed in class that terror organizations don’t have front offices; they are covert organizations that span multiple countries. Troops being in Afghanistan are not changing the fact that these terrorists can just go somewhere else and are in many other places. But for some reason, even though I know that nothing can be fully accounted for, I still feel secure. I feel that my security doesn't mean that I don’t fear what might happen; it’s just that my fears are not presented in reality everyday. People are not getting blown up everyday in America. I don’t think I can just chalk it up to the troops being in Afghanistan. It’s more of I know something “could” happen vs. what “will” happen. I know there could be an attack tomorrow, but I also know that it’s not likely that that will happen. This comes more from my day-to-day experiences and American History in general.

Speaking of fear, people in class just looked at it in this negative way. They neglected to realize that some degree of fear could save your life. That’s on of the reasons we were given this emotion. When one has a reasonable amount of fear, it allows them to take precaution. It allows you to be ready, just in case you need to fight or run. There are some things that people should fear, if not the absence of fear could be detrimental. To not fear a lion you come across on a path could mean the potential of thinking it will do you no harm, you won’t be ready to do what you can to survive. Further more I don’t think fear means a feeling of less security. It means accepting reality when you have a rational need for fear. If we did not fear terror our security would not be adequate and more attacks would happen.

The situation in Afghanistan doesn't erase my fear. It does not make me feel safer than I was before. I just recognize that it is irrational to disrupt my life for something that only “could” happen. I fear the unknown like most, but I won’t let that keep me in for the rest of my life. Security is reality staying in the could happens and not the will happens.


Does the fact that the United States has troops deployed in Afghanistan at the present time make you more or less secure?
I don't know a lot about the subject. But if you define security broadly, as, for example, in the 2010 National Security Strategy, then I would say that having troops in Afghanistan makes us less secure than otherwise - for one main reason. If the definition of national security includes having a prosperous (or at least reasonable) economy, then the war in Afghanistan is hurting us rather than helping to keep our country secure. Our maintained presence there is pouring a lot of money into defense, when that money could be better spent improving the economy. I understand the reasons we are at war, but I think that we've been there too long. Are we really still protecting ourselves by being there? (I guess that's the question I'm supposed to be answering...) I don't really think so. In the narrow sense of national security, I do actually feel safer knowing that there are troops there. Maybe it's because of the fear that spread post-9/11, but knowing that there are soldiers there, and that our presence could be, in some way, scaring terrorists from attacking again, makes me feel safer. 
That being said, I think we need to get out of there. Until we leave, we can't be certain that it's helping us in terms of physical security. In terms of economic security, it is definitely not helping us. I would feel much more financially secure if I knew that there wasn't a good percent of the budget being poured into defense. If we withdraw from Afghanistan, and then we get attacked again, then maybe I'll believe it was a good thing to be there. But as it is, I would prefer if this war would end. 

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Is Afghanistan as Important as MJ?

On a surface level, the War in Afghanistan makes me feel more secure.  If national security can be considered actions that protect a country's best interests, values, and being, then having troops that defend America's (and the world's) freedom is naturally a good thing. 

However, what is interesting to consider about the war effort is its time frame.  The Council on Foreign Relations pegs the "War in Afghanistan" all the way back to 1999.  One would think that news on Afghanistan would be exhausted by now, but in reality, it is finally increasing.  NPR reported that in January-August 2009, Afghanistan received 2% of media coverage, about as much as the death of Michael Jackson.

The media blames clandestine information, potential danger, and cost as limits on why the story was not covered (note: these are the thrills and risks of journalism!).  The real reason for the surged interest in Afghanistan (no pun intended), is Obama's emphasis on the matter.  It is his war (Liz Spayd, Washington Post managing editor, qtd. on NPR).  This makes me question the subjectivity of security.  Krebs and Lobasz certaintly believed that "rhetorical coercion" could limit dialogue:  "While the attacks were real, the insecurity was a cultural production" (6).

So then, the morphing of security makes me feel insecure.  There is a famous cartoon* that depicts a president choosing the color threat via M&Ms.  Obviously, he has a preference.  In the same way, Al-Qaeda is directly related to U.S. foreign policy/the War on Terror because of the 9/11, so it makes sense that Afghanistan is a target.

Still, as discussed in class, terrorism is terrorous because of its unpredictability.  The War in Afghanistan will not stop the other 46 Foregin Terrorist Organizations on the State Department's watch list.  The War may not even deter attacks from al-Qaeda; it may encourage them. 

Maybe this substantive question should be analyzed Devil's Advocate style:  "If the the United States did not have troops deployed in Afghanistan at the present time, would that make you more or less secure?"  On the whole, I might feel more secure if the U.S. allocated its resources more evenly towards various threats.

*or maybe not so famous because I couldn't find it on Google for the life of me... Try this instead (yes, I realize the last few colors are out of order).

Krebs, Lobasz on Fixing the Meaning of 9/11:  Hegemony, Coercion, and the Road to War in Iraq
May 2010 National Security Strategy for the United States of America

Security and Afghanistan

As the war in Afghanistan continues to prove to be a great challenge, questions over its productivity have increased. Even if a person excludes all the questions about its legitimacy they still have to decide whether it is making them more or less secure. I believe that, in the long run, the war has made me less secure.

The war is Afghanistan acts as a recruitment tool for all terrorist cells. They are able to point to it as proof of the US’s imperialistic desires. Furthermore, anytime we destroy someone’s home, spoil someone’s harvest, or kill someone’s family member we foster the growth of anger; both anger of the individual effected and general societal anger. The societal anger lays a foundation upon which presupposes individuals to turn anger into action when directly effected by the US negatively. The number of terrorist cells has grown exponentially since our “War on Terror.” I suppose that when Bush declared it he forgot that in war both side increase recruitment.

By failing to effectively establish a functioning state in Afghanistan and defeat the Taliban the war has highlighted the weaknesses in the US military. Before the two wars began after 9/11, the US military was held in awe by the world. The war Bosnia and the First Gulf War demonstrated the ability of the US to project power made any attack upon it seem like a daunting proposition. However, the wars in Iraq an Afghanistan have proved to be challenges beyond the reckoning of most people in the early 2000’s. As a result, the world is now intimately aware of the US military’s limitations.

Furthermore, the war in Afghanistan has made us less able to react to additional security threats. If the Bush administrations only goal in Afghanistan was to protect the American people, we would have been much better off with a much more limited approach. Special Forces operations and Predator strikes would have been sufficient resources to limit Al Qaeda’s capabilities to acceptable levels.

Above all, we must realize that fighting the Taliban does not make us more secure. The Taliban’s immediate goals do not extend beyond the Afghan borders. In the Frontline documentary called, “Behind Taliban Lines” they talk to many Taliban fighters about what their motivation is for joining. Across the board they say that the only reason they are fighting is to get foreigners to leave their land. They see the American occupation their as an assault to their dignity. Therefore, while those who truly wish to bring harm to the US homeland have left the country for safer territory, we continue to fight those who want sovereignty. As counterevidence to this point some may point to the more extreme braches of the Taliban in Pakistan who do wish to attack us within our borders. However, these people have been radicalized because of the war and even if the existed before it, they would have been contained without a full-scale invasion.

In Afghanistan, we snatching at flies but the real security threat are the far smaller number of yellow jackets. And while there are several yellow jackets in the meadow were in, the most dangerous ones have moved to safer territory. Meanwhile, these flies keep on biting us and yellow jackets in other places can plan their attacks in leisure. The war in Afghanistan has not made us more secure¬ ⎯ in fact it has created a far larger number of enemies and has hampered our ability to fight the original enemies. If someone wants to justify the war for other reasons (human rights, democracy promotion, etc.) that is up to them, but rationalizing the invasion in terms of security simply does not work.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Mashallah...I was pleasantly surprised to find kindess

My Halloween night was anything but pleasant. That is until I got into the cab to come back to the dorm from U street. The only thing that turned my night around was the amazingly, genuinely kind cab driver Omar. Now that I think about it, I think it was fate that I went out, missed the metro, froze my but off waiting as all the other cabs were full, realized that my group of friends only had $15 between us and the ride would cost us at least $20, and somehow ended up in Omar cab. When we told him all we had was $15 dollars he looked at us and said, " If that is all you have, then that is what I will take." I was amazed, I was ready to take off my shoes and begin walking back to campus, or calling public safety for a safe ride home, but that was not necessary. Most of the ride was silent, except for Omar's conversation in Arabic.

During the ride I found out that Omar actually had a degree in Arabic and Islamic studies. When i found this out I was even more shocked. "Why was he driving a cab when he had a degree?" This made me start to think. This is not the first situation in which I've heard of people from other countries coming to America, and being subjected to working in jobs beneath their education level. My old AP US history teacher told me that the woman who bagged his groceries studied medicine. Why does this happen to highly intelligent, and qualified people. More importantly, how are these people able to be positive and even kind when in their own lives, people have not treated them the same way. I know, what does this have to do with world politics? Well, it is helping me construct my views of society today. This experience has helped my position, that there is hope, kindness, fairness still out there. That I don't have to suspect horrible things will happen all the time. But if they do, there is still those things that remind me of the goodness in humanity. If your still wondering, look at the constant state of cynicism, and the lack of optimism in many people's view of the world and how things work. Further, why are people surprised by kindness nowadays?

Halloween in DC

Nothing much to say for this week. The rally was awesome. Yousef and Ozzy on the same stage, who would have imagined. I almost screamed my head off.

Something I did notice however: the Korean cultural center went all out. They were trying to get some free trade bill to get passed. They had a huge amount of Korean candy and there was a massive line to get some. The line went right by this little kiosk where some representative gave us pamphlets about the bill. There was also some movie playing in the other room about Korean-US partnerships.

I wondered why they were doing this. Did they really think that some people would get inspired by the panphlets and write to their congressmen? Then I realized that we’re in DC; the congressmen may be the ones getting the pamphlets. I can just imagine it. The fiscally responsible representative from Iowa’s 2nd district walks in with his kid. He’s giving the information and a seed is planted. Two months later when deciding what to do on the issue that seed may just tip the scale.

Reason’s why I love DC.