Recent writing, mostly about horrible things

Tweeting the war:

The crowdsourcing of war reporting in Kabul is sort of  like a running version of the Red Balloon Challenge, only with explosives instead of balloons.

Two and a half years on from the first documented use of Twitter to crowdsource information about an attack in Kabul, no new platform has replaced Twitter for this purpose among Afghan and foreign journalists and aid workers.

If you want to follow the war in real time, follow its most prolific Twitter users.

Why Afghanistan’s dangerous political crisis is about power, not ethnic grievances:

Ethnicity matters among Afghan politicians, but it is not a reliable indicator of political affiliation or loyalty. Even party affiliation isn’t a reliable indicator of where an individual legislator will come down on a nationally controversial issue, because Afghanistan’s party system is weak and party discipline within the parliament is almost non-existent.

The rise of Afghanistan’s next generation of feminists and their campaign against street harassment:

A generation of Afghan feminists who came of age in the years following the fall of the Taliban regime is rising to challenge their country’s harmful traditions and attitudes more loudly than ever before. Unwilling to compromise with conservatives and disappointed with the pace of reform over the past decade, a group of these women in Kabul formed Young Women for Change in 2011.

Led by feminist activist and Dickinson College sophomore Noorjahan Akbar, the group aims to fight the deep-seated beliefs that underpin the oppression of women in Afghanistan. Its members aren’t content with gender quotas in government and progress on paper. They want to see progress on the streets, in the rulings of the courts and in the behavior of the police.

The undeclared and escalating border war between Afghanistan and Pakistan:

Tribal leaders in Nangarhar and Kunar rallied around Amarkhel and urged him to stay in his position. They also promised to send their own militia fighters to support the Border Police in any confrontation with Pakistani forces, according to a local researcher who attended several tribal large tribal gatherings in Nangarhar in the past few days.

Describing the affected villages he visited in Kunar, the researcher, who requested anonymity because he often travels to Taliban-controlled areas, told me, “The whole place really looks like a war zone. The artillery shells have destroyed the compounds. Animals are dead and many people have left. The UN has not been able to get into the area, although some people who have moved [away from the border] have been helped by UNHCR.”

Taking drastic measures to protect Afghanistan’s mobile phone networks during the drawdown of international forces:

No one should confuse the planned shadow network with development. It is not development, or even emergency aid. It is a  short-term communication fail-safe for a country where a simple text message –’shooting on road to town, turn back!’– can draw the line between life and death.

Amrullah Saleh’s fortress of solitude

Jerome Starkey’s prose makes me laugh at horrible situations:

In an exclusive interview with The Scotsman in his mountain bolt hole, Amrullah Saleh compared the Taleban to Cambodia’s Khmer Rouge and accused the government of being “ultra soft” on the brutal, mediaeval insurgents.

“Mountain bolt hole.” Oh dear.

Living with ghosts

Captain Cat, on recent political developments here:

Whilst we endlessly debate whether Karzai is friend or foe or fit to lead, and discuss the possibility of peace deals led by men who will probably never have to answer for their own crimes or for the lives they have destroyed; whilst we avidly read news articles in the half-belief that someone, somewhere must surely make a breakthrough about what must be done, the country’s quiet majority will continue to live with their ghosts, hopes for some kind of justice for past abuses vanquished. Dreams will bow their heads in silent resignation, the world will continue to turn.

I so wish Javaid could comment. Almost three months have passed since his death, and I still catch myself wondering what he’ll say about the elections, or the appointment of the High Level Peace Council. And then I remember.

Piss in their game

Hamesha:

As long as there are wizards and wizardry, this country will have leaders and decision makers. Someone needs to start pissing in their game. Which is why of all things, the one thing this class cannot tolerate is intelligent critique. It is a sign of things to come, and they shudder at the sight of it and put it down to no end.

“That is why you are here”

AREU just released a new report on the Shia Personal Status Law (previously known in the Western press as the Shia Family Law), and it is one hell of a report –fifty one pages long and illustrative of how the international community interacts with the Afghan government and Afghan civil society. I’m making my way through it now. When I’m done, I hope I’ll have time to post something on it. Until then, here’s a telling snippet:

The Afghan organisations interviewed reported being consistently told that this was an internal issue of the Afghan state and it was outside of the role of international institutions to interfere. UNAMA was singled out for particular criticism for their inaction. Civil society had higher expectations of UNAMA’s role in speaking out on human rights, gender and political development issues. One MP remarked on UNAMA’s cumbersome bureaucracy, slow reactions and the institution perceiving itself as always having its hands tied.

Representatives from UN agencies as well as western embassies were also reportedly present in the parliamentary gallery when the bill was being discussed and did not raise the issue as a concern with their own governments at that time, to the consternation of MPs alarmed at the bill’s contents and the lack of debate. During a meeting hosted by a UN agency between Afghan women activists, MPs, UNAMA and several embassies, one Afghan woman stated, “We understand if the embassies have to work behind the scenes. But they should be working, you know? And it is UNAMA’s job to be interfering, to speak up on human rights issues. That is why you are here.”

The same old canard

From the comments section of Aid Watch, emphasis mine:

Lure D. Lou:

Transitionland says that immediately tackling corruption could go far to reversing this. What I would say is that one man’s corruption is another man’s way of life…as long as you have great disparities in wealth, a non-democratic power allocation, and fortunes to be made from drugs and weapons you will get nowhere in tackling corruption. Corruption is endemic to even the most advanced societies…just look at New Jersey politics…what you need are alternative structures that aren’t corrupt that will hopefully draw enough people away and give them enough incentives to stay on the straight and narrow. This is not going to happen any time soon in Afghanistan, Nigeria, or even New Jersey. The focus on corruption is a waste of time…better to use the corrupt system than to try to change it…but goodie-two shoes Americans are unlikely to want to go there…we want to save souls while allowing our contractors to rake in the dough and our NGO legions to pad their ‘conflict zone’ resumes…the Great Game of neo-colonialism continues.

Good governance NGOs in places like Afghanistan make me laugh.

A few things:

1) When I mentioned corruption, I was referring to corruption by aid agencies and their contractors. If corruption in the aid world is, as Lure D. Lou argues, a “way of life,” it is not one I want any part of.  We condemn and punish corruption in the for-profit sector (or should); there’s no reason we should apply a different set of principles to non-profits, including aid agencies.

2) New Jersey is corrupt. Comically so. But its corruption is, for the most part, the non-lethal variety, and it is mitigated (though not always successfully) by strong rule of law. Comparing Afghanistan to New Jersey is absurd. Afghanistan won’t reach New Jersey’s level of governance development for a very, very long time (I’m pretty confident I will be long dead by the time it does), but that doesn’t mean Afghanistan can’t do better, or shouldn’t. Corruption in poor societies steals food from the mouths of the poor, deprives people of basic necessities of life, walks hand in hand with human rights abuse, kills. If you don’t have an ethical problem with that, you’re an asshole.

3) It’s “better to use a corrupt system than try to change it”? Use it for what exactly?

Lou’s muddled argument seems to be that corruption is hardwired into human nature, but some humans (read: people from the developing world) are slightly more prone to corrupt behavior than others.  Lovely.

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Another prize-winning comment:

Justin Kraus:

Transitionland,

I for one wish there were more people like Lure D. Lou in development work, at least he is thinking outside the box a little bit. Your own approach, and that of most development agencies, strikes me as arrogant and patronizing. Talking about how the “international community,” which if it exists at all in any meaningful sense, is surely the most hypocritical entity on this planet, should “hold the Afghan government to its commitments” as if they were somehow freely made in the first place (how many troops do “we” have in that country?), and as if it were completely unproblematic for “us” to be telling them how to run their country. What we call vetting, they call western imperialist encroachment. Why not “allow” them to choose their leaders as they see fit? We don’t go waltzing into Japan which, even with the recent election, doesn’t have a “true” democracy in any western sense of the word?

And then you take this patroninizing protective posture over the Afghan people by stating that Mr. Lure is “dangerous” to the people that you are (supposedly) “helping.” Who is the best judge of what is and what is not help? From the looks of it most Afghanis are rejecting Western “help.”

Perhaps we should be humble enough to take a step back and stop trying to impose our “help” on a people who clearly prefer to manage themselves in ways very different from “our” own.

1) Putting international community in snark quotes is lame. Everyone knows what it means, or should anyway. It’s a convenient shorthand for a collection of governments and IOs working together. In Bosnia, it’s the OSCE, EU, UN, and United States. In Afghanistan, UNAMA, ISAF, donor agencies, NGOs, and foreign governments. No one is going to write all that out. You find international community an obnoxious phrase? Too bad. Get over it already.

2) Holding the Afghan Government to its own constitution and to international law is not disrespectful, but the opposite would be. “You must do better” implies “and we know you can.”

3) As for “telling them how to run their country” — well, this is the crux of the matter, isn’t it? Are we shoving an unsuitable form of government and set of ideals down the throats of unwilling Afghans?

We are, if you count only those  who gain personal benefit from anarchy, corruption, and misgovernment. These are the people who, in every transitional society, are first to invoke “cultural differences” when the existence of said differences would oh-so-conveniently allow them to gain or retain power.

Afghan public opinion on many things  –that is, what ordinary women and men think– matches closely the more principled goals of the international community in Afghanistan. If anything, Afghans have actually expressed stronger desire for good governance, rule of law, and transitional justice than many expats.

4) “What we call vetting, they call imperialist encroachment.” Um, no. That’s just factually untrue.

From page 28 of the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission report, A Call for Justice:

Many people who participated in our study forcefully made the point that human rights violations continue in Afghanistan today and that abusers remain in power. The vast majority of respondents who participated in the survey wished to see those who committed human rights abuses removed from their posts. Ninety percent of respondents indicated a desire to see the removal of perpetrators from their posts. The results of the survey were reflected in the sentiments expressed in the focus groups. Most participants wished to see the exclusion of human rights abusers from public office in order to prevent the reoccurrence of injustice. In particular they wanted to prevent perpetrators from gaining political power in the future.

Some “Western encroachment” that is.

5) “Why not ‘allow’ them to choose their leaders as they see fit?” That’s a great idea. Only, slightly difficult in practice at the moment for two reasons: some of those in power will do almost anything, including defraud, intimidate and kill, to hang on to it. And the international community is not doing enough to protect the right of ordinary Afghans to freely and fairly choose their own leaders.

6) Afghans (Afghani is a unit of currency, like dollar or Euro) aren’t “rejecting Western ‘help'” –they are rejecting our hypocrisy, laziness, corruption, insufficient respect for Afghan lives on the military side of things, and unwillingness to listen to Afghans who actually want the best for their country. That’s a different animal entirely.

These people are beyond parody

Too bad, because parody is fun.

Anyway, here is a video that will ruin your afternoon:

You’re welcome.

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A side note: Videos like the one above make me think, and we’re the ones advising other countries how to run liberal democracies and promote civic involvement and all that warm, fuzzy stuff? Insane.

But then, mercifully, I remember that it’s not the crazies doing that work, it’s people like me, or, more precisely, people like my superiors.

Where do I enlist?

Americorps volunteers are, apparently, the Afro-Socialist shock troops who will keep Real Americans in line (and by lines, I mean bread and medicine lines) when Obama and his pals, George Soros, Ban Ki Moon and Bill Ayers, turn America into a totalitarian oligarchy through provision of free abortions  to billions of illegal aliens and establishment of Sharia Law and criminalization of heterosexuality and mass granny killings and the nationalization of all the conglomerates you hold dear.

Or, something like that. Just ask Glenn Beck, America’s last patriot!

As Jason Linkins sagely put it:

Who hasn’t gazed upon the average gaggle of Americorps volunteers, fresh and clueless from college, and thought to themselves: “From this raw material, I could surely fashion a brutal cadre of fearsome shock troops that will finally bring Western civilization to its knees!”

My best friend just applied to Americorps and her birthday is coming up. I need to scour eBay for an ammo belt to match her fave heels.

“August has ended those dreams”

I have to shake my head sadly and agree with Frank Pasquale’s assessment:

Back in June and July, when I was posting on the policy options behind health care reform, I naively thought that we were headed for an illuminating public debate about the issue. In my most sanguine moments, I imagined a world where not just experts, but even some plurality of voters grasped concepts like DRG’s, risk-adjustment, and parallel public-private systems of health care provision.

August has ended those dreams. What we have instead is completely unhinged talk of “death panels,” euthanasia for the elderly, universal coverage as slavery-reparation, and wholesale government takeovers of the health care system.

[...]

Emotional appeals trump rational argument. In an interview on Chris Lydon’s show Open Source, Cass Sunstein, a rationalist, dismissed the emotional appeals suggested by George Lakoff because they expressed too dim a view of human nature.

On the Sunstein-Lakoff point; I don’t think the problem human nature at all, but rather the peculiarities of American political culture. There are societies in which public debates over polarizing policy issues are conducted with civility –ours just isn’t one of those societies. Not at this point in our political development anyway.

Pasquale agrees, and blames the the omnipresent bullshit cloud that is the only form of political socialization for way too many people in this country (think: Glenn Beck, Michelle Malkin, Lou Dobbs, radio shock jocks, Fox News, sensationalist rags like the NY Post, and the Washington rumor mill).

It should now be clear that Lakoff likely overestimates the sense of responsibility in the mainstream media. Rather than engage in the hard work of educating viewers about what reform would actually do, it’s searching for the exciting, shocking footage of screaming and shouting. Given the death of appointment television, news producers know that they may well be competing for eyeballs against nasty spats on Real Housewives of New Jersey, or babbling beefcake on the Bachelorette. Dress up the same antics as being Something Important or Civic Protest, and you’ve got yourself a news story. It’s so much easier than, say, describing whom a public option would help, or how health insurance exchanges would operate.

Nothing new, but Pasquale captures the absurdity well.

The coming socialist healthcare baby-killing dystopia!

Pandagon‘s Jesse Taylor alerted me to this.

Sarah Palin tells her facebook friends:

The Democrats promise that a government health care system will reduce the cost of health care, but as the economist Thomas Sowell has pointed out, government health care will not reduce the cost; it will simply refuse to pay the cost. And who will suffer the most when they ration care? The sick, the elderly, and the disabled, of course. The America I know and love is not one in which my parents or my baby with Down Syndrome will have to stand in front of Obama’s “death panel” so his bureaucrats can decide, based on a subjective judgment of their “level of productivity in society,” whether they are worthy of health care. Such a system is downright evil.

Frightening. Such a system does sound evil. Good thing that is NOT AT ALL what the Democrats are proposing. Try again.