Friday, December 2, 2011

The Gulnare Letter

I first heard rumblings of the brewing storm from the east a few evenings back.  I checked my facebook, and a friend of mine posted a story from cnn's ireport that was headlined simply "Gulnare."  I grew up a short distance from Gulnare and wondered what on Earth could have potentially happened there that would have drawn any sort of media attention.  The old mine there is (to my knowledge) long closed, and the community is so small and out of the way that most people living in Pike County don't even know how to get there.  I clicked on the report and read that the Gulnare Free Will Baptist Church had voted to not allow an interracial couple to be members of the church due only to their choice to mix races.  I felt sick.  Not because of what they did; because I knew what was coming next.

I left Pike County at 19 to try to make my own way in the world.  I had outgrown its confines, and despite my comfort there I knew that if I was to leave the mark I wanted to that departure was necessary.  I had fallen victim to some of her more well-known vices suffered by a very visible minority; excessive drinking, laziness, and a general malaise towards thinking about tomorrow.  My family knew it was best that I leave.  So I left.  With no plan.  With no real ambitions.  I just knew I had to leave.  Nine years later I have grown immeasurably, intellectually, emotionally and socially.  But Eastern Kentucky is not a place one leaves lightly, and my thoughts often wander there. 

I am writing what follows for two reasons, and for three different audiences.  The first reason is to cast the situation in Gulnare in relief of a person who was raised just a few miles away, and to discuss how most of us probably feel about it.  The second is to address the way that Pike County, and her sons and daughters, relate to and fit in the rest of this world.  The two audiences I will address directly are people from Pike County and Eastern Kentucky who have left and those who remain behind.  The third is the audience that will probably read this more than those two:  Everyone else.  I hope this very frank discussion can possibly give you more insight into our minds.

Those who have left

There is an Eastern Kentuckian diaspora, and if you are a member of it I sympathize.  The region has always been impoverished and underfunded.   At one time, subject to Northeastern robber barons who mined away our resources and paid our ancestors in script.  Frankly, a lot of what happens today has a lot to do with that.  So there isn't much future at home for many of us.

But at some point you decided to leave, and for most of it it was for the same reason:  You could not reach the heights you aspired to by staying at home.  Some of you decided this very young.  Others, such as myself, didn't make this decision until we had punched and kicked our way into a corner that there was no escaping.  But most of you have probably had a lot of the experiences that I have had, or ones similar to the ones I will relate.

Leaving is hard.  Not only are you leaving a very insular, family oriented community, you arrive in a strange place that finds you to be an oddity.  A walking novelty item.  For some people this is harded than others and they end up quitting to go home where they can live in peace.  My second girlfriend would call me every night from UK in tears because she felt so alone and people made fun of her.  Another person I was close to lied, told people she was from Lexington, and hid her accent by never speaking up in class. 

The incident in Gulnare has raised that old, irritating chorus that we have become so accustomed to.  We are all racist, ignorant hill-billies who can't even read the bible we preach from.  That's why I was intially upset with Gulnare.  I knew what was coming next.  And come it has.  Just scroll through facebook or look around on the comments section of ABC news or CNN (if you dare) and you can find some incredibly horrible and uncivil things being thrown around about us and our home.  But I warn you to not be too defensive; do not try to tell people they are wrong and I will tell you why.

You simply have to get used to this.  It's part and parcel of the deal.  You may have been told that the rest of the world (excluding Eastern Kentucky and other cultural counterparts) are a very open-minded place.  You will find that generally, they are not.  People are going to make fun of your accent.  They are going to mock your high school education.  They are going to make jokes about whether or not you wore shoes, if you have all your teeth, and ask if your parents were related.  And more hurtful than anything else, they will often discount your opinions based purely upon the proposition that "you just don't know what you're talking about." 

You have to accept it, because if you do not, you will EXHAUST yourself trying to correct everyone.  Let your actions speak for you and let your achievements further your credibility.  Those who do not come around if you excel certainly are not going to be convinced that you are their equal from you talking to them logically.  Don't fall into the "well, I'm not a racist because ____" trap.  You are validating them.  In their eyes you are beneath them.  This is the modern equivalent of "low birth" I have discovered.  For those few, nothing will change that perception so you may as well learn to suck it up.  Now that doesn't mean you can't say that what Gulnare Freewill did is wrong; by all means, say so.  But stop right there.  Don't qualify it, don't tell them about how you don't know anyone like that, or about how open-minded your church is.  Just say it's screwed up and move on.  Don't apologize for things you haven't done.

But once they do, there is a second step.  Reaffirm who you are.  Don't do the disservice of letting this person think "well, this guy/girl is just different from everyone where they grew up."  Don't run from who you are.  Everyone who knows me in this community knows I am from Pikeville, Kentucky.  I'm damn proud of that.   I would like to believe that those people I have interacted with have come away at least sometimes having a positive opinion about where I'm from.

To everyone at home

I seriously doubt that as the 15 members of the Free Will Baptist Church at Gulnare sat down to vote on whether or not Stella Harville and Ticha Chikuni would be allowed to be part of their community that they anticipated the looming firestorm.  But they are reckless for not doing so.  The entire country already finds us to be a sideshow act waiting to happen, and when people do stupid things like that the spotlight just shines right in all the wrong places.

But you can do something about it.  You can universally, vocally, condemn what is happening at Gulnare in your own churches, and release those statements to the media.  I've already seen a lot of glimmers of this, and it has made me very happy.

What people outside do not understand about this is that such an action runs contrary to some of our most cherished and deeply held beliefs; that people should be free to live their lives without interference from others.  Also, it may seem like overkill considering that Gulnare itself only has about 30 people living there, and the church only has 15 members. 

But again, it does not matter.  To the outside world you ARE those 15 people.  And it's completely arbitrary, judgmental, prejudiced, and unfair.  But that's just the way it is.  You cannot expect the rest of this country to change at all, and we can point out their hypocrisy until judgement day but it won't make a difference. 

At the end of the day, this will fizzle out.  In a few weeks, some new flash-in-the-pan story will hit and America's collective disapproval will be aimed elsewhere.  But the scars are going to remain.  Probably no matter what we do. 

Who knows.  Maybe one of these days it will cease to be alright to judge us.  But until then it is what it is.  And I have a final on Monday.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Snyder v. Phelps - Just roll with it

So yesterday, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Margie Phelps and the Westboro Baptist Church against a grieving father.  As much as I think that it would be nice if WBC disappeared up their own rear ends, the fact is that the court's judgment is not the worst thing that could have come out of this case.  I don't agree with it, but in a close call like this, I would prefer to have a little too much freedom than not enough.  But I'm going to complain anyway.

Brief History of Free Speech/The Problem with the Majority/What I think a proper standard COULD be

If there is one thing to scrutinize in terms of our understanding of free speech in relation to Phelps is how the doctrine has evolved over time.  We did not use to consider a civil suit to be an actual constraint on liberty; only government action could give rise to a legitimate free speech defense.  This is based more or less on the classical ideas of liberty in the United States.  People should be free to do as they see fit, and be free to reap what they sow in terms of their actions.  If you look at early case law in things like libel suits and such among private citizens, courts rejected free speech arguments out of hand.  If the government did not institute the action, free speech could not be a valid defense.

But as I believe, and many judges have pointed out, the letter of the law is often not the lived experience of the law.  Judge Harlan really harps on this in his dissent in Plessy, basically arguing that separate but equal doctrine was impossible from a practical perspective.  He famously pointed out that everyone "knew what [this was] really about."

The venerable Justice Harlan, working hard on his dissent in Plessy

This applies to First Amendment issues too.  Although a suit for libel, slander, IIED or other civil actions are certainly not government action, they have a practical effect of shutting down certain avenues of speech.  You are much less likely to say or do certain things if you know you are going to be turned into a potential cash pinata for a jury to slam open because you said or did things they had a moral problem with. 

Then again, I think that there are two problems with our modern understanding of free speech.  First, we do not appreciate the context that those earlier cases truly emerged from, and we definitely don't appreciate what was really being applied.  There was definitely not much in terms of Constitutional law to apply really until after the turn of the century, and even then, what really dominated how cases like this turned out were local understandings of decency.  There was not some broad national understanding of shared values of free speech or free exercise during the 1800s.  Look at such things as Chaplinsky v. New Hampshire, from 1942, to see a court applying an older standard of free speech.  Alito echoes some of this in his dissent, although his dissent is rife with holes that are hard to ignore, and was quite self-serving in some respects.

I point all of this out because there is a problem with the majority.  In our quest for a more perfect understanding of the First Amendment, I really do believe that we have abandoned a lot of common sense.  Most jurists despise the phrase 'common sense,' and with good reason.  Common sense dictated that slavery was acceptable.  Common sense dictated that a woman could not be admitted to the bar.  Common sense was an acceptable argument for many institutions and practices that many Americans now look back on with a shared national shame.  But in my opinion, this is not a valid reason to completely abandon common sense, and Alito sort of scores a headshot in one part of his dissent implicitly using this argument.

Alito argues that it is hard to say that allowing the tort of IIED to succeed here truly cools a person's free speech due to the high threshold for even getting that claim in the door.

As an aside, I saw some people online criticizing the attorneys for Snyder for combining the epic with the protest in the case, believing they should be kept separate.  Keeping them separate would have meant bringing two IIED claims, and having to meet this standard:

"This is a very narrow tort with requirements that "arerigorous, and difficult to satisfy." W. Keeton, D. Dobbs, R. Keeton, & D. Owen, Prosser and Keeton on Law of Torts §12, p. 61 (5th ed. 1984). To recover, a plaintiff must show that the conduct at issue caused harm that was truly severe.

Meeting this standard two separate times would have been much less likely. Even if they somehow managed to win at the trial court, the Court of Appeals would have almost certainly have dismissed for failure to state a claim.  However, for some reason Snyder's counsel did not maintain this argument at trial.  I am not sure why this path was chosen, and I think it may have been a mistake.  But its important to remember that the Court had launched headlong into the free speech analysis and had decided that it was going to rule purely on that basis.  In other words, if the picket was going to be protected, the epic was going to be protected.  The relative degree of offensiveness was essentially taken off the table.  Another possible reason was the fact that Snyder actually found that epic on a search for his son's name on Westboro's site.  This messed with the 'intentional' aspect of the Tort claim.  In any event, while the epic was really probably worse than the actual picket, the facts were very bad for Snyder.

We have seen the use of free speech as a defense grow over time.  New York Times v. Sullivan and the Flynt case are pretty famous examples.  But I feel that the Court has taken a pretty drastic step in this case, because as I read it, I have a hard time imagining ANYTHING that won't be protected speech so long as it is on public property.  Honestly, where are we going to draw the line?  Is there a line?

I think that the old 'fighting words' standard is an acceptable standard for free speech purposes; I have trouble finding fault with it.  The standard is as follows:

 “To constitute excluded fighting words, the words must do more than merely "annoy or offend;" they must be "inherently inflammatory." They also must amount to "a direct personal insult" that is "directed to the person of the hearer" and must "have a direct tendency to cause acts of violence [by that person]" so as "to incite an immediate breach of the peace." The question is whether the words are such as "to provoke the average person to retaliation."Professor Nimmer meets Professor Schauer (and Others):  An Analysis of “Definitional Balancing” as a Methodology for Determining the “Visible Boundaries of the First Amendment,” 39 Akron L. Rev. 483, 502(citation omitted)

Pictured:  Fighting Words^

There is a problem with this standard, as applied to this case, but I will point it out in the next section.  But I find it disturbing that the majority just sort of breezes over this with a slight mention and applies no analysis.  This leads to only one of two conclusions:  They thought that the speech Phelps pushed was nowhere near the level of fighting words, and if that is the case where in the world is the threshold for that?  The other possibility is that they have just further marginalized this doctrine as a category of unprotected speech.

Here is my other big problem with the majority.  Everyone has made a very big deal out of the fact that Westboro followed a state regulation in terms of keeping a certain distance from the funeral, getting a permit, and following the procedure to protest.  But that regulation guarantees that the State itself will not interfere with, nor punish, the demonstrators.  Yes, if they had followed all of the rules and then were marshalled out of their designated area by police, than I would be outraged.  But the State did not punish WBC, nor did they pursue WBC.  Snyder did.  That is a completely different issue, as it is a suit originating from a private citizen.  The court should not have the ability to insulate private citizens from liability against other private citizens just because one of the party followed ONE set of rules. 

For anyone crying foul here, just think about it in terms of what you do everyday.  When you drive your car, you are required to drive the speed limit, stay in your lane, stay off your phone, and numerous other state imposed requirements.  If you hit another person's car, even while following all the rules, the suit is not dismissed out of hand because the action is sensitive to the context of the accident.  There are plenty of situations where you could potentially follow all of the rules, but still be liable for negligence, or even battery, and be liable to a private citizen.

Perhaps this is just a quaint and provincial view of the Constitution.  But I feel as though the true spirit of our rights cannot be summed up as absolute, inassailable freedoms.  Yes you should have the right to free speech.  You also have a right to be sued for a private citizen for injuring him or her with that free speech.  This is generally still true, but it is becoming less and less potent as a legal maxim.  I cannot agree with that.  The Bill of Rights was designed to protect us from our Government; not as some sort of ticket to have a free for all where we say and do whatever the hell we please without regard for our fellow citizens.  WBC argued that this was public speech (which I will address), and not directed at Snyder.  However, just casting something in generalized terms should not make the conduct public when the conduct is obviously being centered around a private figure.  The protest revolved around Matthew Snyder; not the capitol building.

So for me, the proper thing to do would have been to evaluate the claim of IIED on it's merits, and basically ignore the First Amendment.  WBC never once challenged that they actually inflicted the injury upon Snyder.  Not once.  The entire time they argued that because they were exercising free speech (and also throwing free exercise around in there), and because they followed a state law, that the IIED claim should fail.  That's pretty much one of the most cocky arguments you can throw at a court especially when the threshold for IIED is pretty much unreachable in most jurisdictions.

Dasean Jackson was rumored to have filed an amicus brief

But we are mortified at the idea of punishing people for things they say.  For some reason or another, American jurists seem to have little to no faith in their own profession's ability to discern an unpopular viewpoint from an absolutely outrageous assault upon another person or someone who is only trying to rile up trouble.  Yes, we have abused people's right to free speech in the past.  But that was a different time; not just socially, but legally.  A lower court judge in Kentucky in 1850 would have been in charge of a veritable fiefdom.  Should a person be found guilty of violating some obscure ordinance regarding the dissemination of unpopular literature in a small town they could be in quite a bit of danger.  Getting appeals was difficult, and getting representation was also incredibly difficult.  Moreover, in many places contingency fees were unheard of, meaning a poor plaintiff was not going to be a plaintiff at all.  The bottom line is these sorts of things would be very unlikely today.  Our legal system is now TRULY a state/federal system, as opposed to before when a small town Kentucky lawyer would probably never have to argue a case in Lexington or Louisville.  The ACLU has chapters everywhere.  I just do not see us being washed away in a sea of arbitrary laws and ordinances designed to squash unpopular viewpoints, nor do I think that we are in danger of losing our rights down some invisible slippery slope.  Our fears are not founded when viewed under a totality of our present circumstances.

Our relationship with free speech regulation

The court also seems to suggest that because the issue is one of public concern (the fate of our nation because we don't string up all the gay folk?) that the speech is protected.  As I noted before, the protest hovered around a private ceremony, which is plenty good enough to transform the nature of the speech.  It was about the death of Matthew Snyder, and why they were glad he was dead.  They simply cast it in generalized terms, and the court nodded approvingly.

Let's create a hypothetical here.  Let's imagine for a moment, that a person is a convicted sex offender, and has had to register his name and address.  Let's call him Nathan Ray Batey, and let's also assume his crime was minor.  Now let's just say that one day, a member of the local PTA finds out that a sex offender lives in her neighborhood.  So she organizes all of her friends together to stage a picket, on a public sidewalk, across the street from his house.  Their signs say things such as "God Hates Sex Offenders," "Sex Offenders are Destroying America," "All Sex Offenders Burn in Hell," and "Thank God for Chris Hansen."

What would we do without Chris Hansen

So those are all matters of public concern, but isn't it just slightly coincidental that they happen to be marching around across the street from a registered sex offender?  It is even the slightest bit possible they might attract some unwanted attention to Mr. Batey?  But by the analysis of this court, Mr. Batey has no remedy so long as they are in a public place and do not mention him by name, unless the city has an ordinance specifically forbidding such an action (Frisby v. Schultz, briefly mentioned).  If that is truly the length and breadth of our analysis of public speech, I call it epically goofy.  I read that part of the opinion as a license to harass without fear of a common law remedy, and actually completely agree with Alito.

Why the dissent is ALSO wrong

As I have devoted so much time to the majority, you may get the impression I completely disagree with them.  That's untrue, I just question how they arrived at their destination.  Alito is also guilty of an absolutely ferocious blunder:  He takes issue with the standard of the majority (which I honestly could not parse out of that opinion), but then offers an even worse standard.  His standard would hold that speech which intiates a public dialogue or debate is protected. 

I honestly don't know what in the world that is supposed to mean, but I do know this:  There is a whole lot of speech out there that does not initiate a public dialogue.  There is really no framework for analyzing something like that; I don't know how you would even go about it.

"Here you go lower courts......why don't on that...." J. Alito

The fighting words standard does not help as much here as you might think for two reasons:  First, fighting words do need to be directed at a person in an easily demonstrable fashion.  Like the angry baby in the picture above, who is obviously challenging your very manhood. 

Don't wuss out; show him how you roll.

Second, they really were (in the epic) insulting Matthew Snyder, the deceased.  This is sort of a standing problem.  Can Matthew's father enforce the rights of his son's good name when his son no longer has an interest in same?  That is actually a pretty gnarly question, and one that would have made this case REALLY interesting.

To wrap it up, I do like where the court comes down in some respects.  The facts of the case were actually bad for Snyder, and the majority probably made the right call coming down where they did.  My only problem is that this case sets a bad precedent, and I fear that the 'content' v. 'manner' analysis that used to matter so much is now truly dead. 

Life goes on.  Let's see what happens now.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Black Jack Pershing and the 'Terrorists'

There is a very prevalent internet story that moves around in certain circles, rearing its head from time to time to stand for the proposition that the best way to end the war in Iraq and Afghanistan is to 'terrorize the terrorists.'  I first came across this story my junior year of college.  I was interested to see if it was true so I decided to go to the library and do some research.  I mean what was I going to do otherwise?  Actual homework?  Suffice it to say, the story (as told) is entirely false.  Here is the typical gist of the tale, although I have seen at least 5 or 6 different forms of it:

"HOW TO STOP ISLAMIC TERRORISTS...... it worked once in our History...
Once in U.S. history an episode of Islamic terrorism was very quickly stopped. It happened in the Philippines about 1911, when Gen. John J. Pershing was in command of the garrison. There had been numerous Islamic terrorist attacks, so "Black Jack" told his boys to catch the perps and teach them a lesson.
Forced to dig their own graves, the terrorists were all tied to posts, execution style. The U.S. soldiers then brought in pigs and slaughtered them, rubbing their bullets in the blood and fat. Thus, the terrorists were terrorized; they saw that they would be contaminated with hogs' blood. This would mean that they could not enter Heaven, even if they died as terrorist martyrs.
All but one was shot, their bodies dumped into the grave, and the hog guts dumped atop the bodies. The lone survivor was allowed to escape back to the terrorist camp and tell his brethren what happened to the others. This brought a stop to terrorism in the Philippines for the next 50 years.

Pointing a gun into the face of Islamic terrorists won't make them flinch.
They welcome the chance to die for Allah. Like Gen. Pershing, we must show them that they won't get to Muslim heaven (which they believe has an endless supply of virgins) but instead will die with the hated pigs of the devil."

Sith Lord Black Jack Pershing

That is the general gist of the tale, but as I said, I have seen it in various forms.  For reasons I am confused about, or possibly in denial of, this story has made Pershing sort of a hero to some people.  If it is true, it is pretty horrific, and does not speak too well of the man, nor of our armed forces in general.  Fortunately it is false.  Pershing was a very intelligent leader, who took over the lead in the Southern Philippines against the Moro Rebellions not because he was ruthless, but because he was respected by many of the Moro tribes for his compassion and empathy. I decided to finally write about this because for some reason I have received this story 3 times in the last week.  I will address the backdrop of the tale first, and then address it's various components.

First of all, most of the time the story claims that Pershing was a native of Mississippi.  Not true, he was born in Missouri.  Ok, got that off my chest.

Contrary to popular belief, Missouri has given us more than Mark Twain and shitty beer

Second, the Moro Rebellions in the Philippines were not as much the result of 'Islamic Terrorism' as they were about a fundamental misunderstanding (see: failing to do homework) of the political structure of the Moro tribes, and a total set-up by the Spanish.  When the Spanish-American war ended, Spain ceded all of the Philippines to the United States including the Muslim minorities in the south.  What they did not mention was the fact that Spain had fought against nearly constant rebellion in that region during their attempts to colonize the area, and only signed a peace treaty sometime during the 1870s or early 1880s.  What they also neglected to mention was that as soon as they signed that treaty, they peaced out pretty quickly, and pretty much decided it was not worth the effort to exercise de jure control in the area.  The only garrison they had in the area was in the largest city in the south, Jolo, and they handed it over in 1899.  Probably while smirking and giggling.  So we quickly ran off to sign a treaty with the Sultan of Sulu, Kiram, to ensure Moro neutrality in Spanish American relations and that they would not side with Filipino insurrectionists in the south.  However, we discovered rather quickly that we had sort of been had.  The Sultan did not really have any authority to speak of in internal affairs of the Moro tribes; in fact he never had any.

We really are pretty good at doing that

So the predictable happened.  Individual tribal leaders (known as Datus) began to split up according to their individual interests.  Some sided with the Americans, some sided with the Filipinos, and some decided to continue to fight for an independent Moro state. 

In fact, Pershing's first appearance in Moroland was not to violently smash a rebellion of wacky Muslims.  Actually, it was to 'make nice' with some particularly influential ones.  Due to his high level of education, fluency in the local language, and impartial manner, he actually succeeded in getting many powerful Moro tribes to side with the United States.  He was officially declared a Datu by the Moro people, and was considered an essential cog in ensuring peace in the region through his diplomatically gained trust with the locals.  Not because he was in the habit of waging psychological warfare against the indigenous people.

Most of the Moro people in the south, at this point, did not have too much of a problem with the Americans.  While we were more involved than the Spanish, we respected the neutrality agreement, and the Moro loved Pershing.  But we had a problem in the U.S.  The Indian Wars were all over by 1901, and we had an excess of ex-cavalrymen and other veterans that had no more wars to fight in.  The answer was to turf them off to Moroland, to deal with another 'savage problem.'

Again, what happened was pretty predictable.  While many of the servicemen who came actually provided a boost, due to their familiarity with tribal politics, many others brought that same 'kill 'em and let god sort 'em out' mentality that resulted in such travesties as the Sand Creek Massacre.  All it took were some of the unfriendly tribes in the south to attack some American soldiers for all hell to break loose.

Pershing (what was this guy, some kind of hippie?????) insisted that the Americans should not take unilateral action against the offending tribes.  Rather, they should partner with friendly natives in discovering who was responsible for the attacks, who had been fostering anti-American sentiment, and make a point of only punishing the men who took part in the attacks.  The military governor of the Philippines answered with an emphatic "meh," and instead issued a proclamation that the Datus hand over the offenders or face American guns.  Predictably that didn't go too hot, and we found ourselves embroiled in a conflict with far more Moro tribes than had ever been necessary.  In any event, this led to a whole lot of mindless violence that must have had Pershing doing a serious facepalm.

Now we actually get to the supposed story of Pershing's bacon brutality.  The year is correct.  Pershing took over as the third governor of Moroland after two other governors during 1911.  But there are only two prevalent tales of the use of pork to terrorize the Moros, and neither of them involves Pershing.  The first was told by Rear Admiral Mannix who was a young officer in the Philippines.  He related a story to people later in his life about how some officers in the Philippines had taken to the practice of shoving pork meat into the mouths of dead Moros to attempt to frighten their comrades.  However, this story dated from around 1906 or 1907, and definitely did not involve Pershing.  The second comes from the British author of 'Jungle Patrol' named Victor Hurley.  Published in 1938, Hurley's tale involved Colonel Alexander Rodgers of the 6th Cavalry, who allegedly buried Moros in pig skins to intimidate them.

I have a major problem with the second story, primarily due to its conclusion.  Hurley contends that this ended the religious fanaticism of the Moros in areas controlled by Rodgers, but at the same time acknowledges that the violence did not stop.  Instead, he claims, that the Muslim fanatics were simply replaced by (and now I'm quoting) "homicidal maniacs."  So it worked!  But it didn't.  Somehow people who were religiously inspired to fight the occupation changed overnight into just good ol' fashioned psychopaths.  And all it took was a little pig blood.  I honestly have to say that that is the most deluded conclusion I have ever read in my life.

Things have certainly improved, no?
In any event, Pershing was certainly responsible for quelling the Moro Rebellions, but he did not do it by slaughtering the population.  Here are some of the things he did:

1.  He convinced the US government to donate land for the building of mosques (OMG HE WAS A FUCKING TERRORIST)

2.  He streamlined the legal system which had been a big problem since the occupation began.  How boring right?

3.  He scaled down the size of military units, and focused on the quality of their training and mobility.  This allowed them to access deeper into the jungle interior, and is similar to certain things we have done in Afghanistan.

4.  Allowed a limited system of slavery (a prevalent Moro practice) which we had previously abolished.  Our abolishment of that system was one of the biggest problems we had in dealing with the Moros. 

That wasn't all he did, but those reforms were huge (and frankly the only ones I really remember and can easily verify).  But how did he deal with combat?  Well in 1911 he was faced with a massive Moro uprising, where several thousand of them holed up in an inactive volcano called Bud Dajo.  Interestingly, this was the second time they had done this, and the first time of the 1,000 odd Moros who went into the crater, only 6 survived.  They were terrified of us, obviously.  However, the first battle of Bud Dajo was a nightmare for the United States.  Yes, we completely slaughtered all belligerents (and a lot of women and children), but the brutality turned friendly Moros against us.  Pershing was determined to avoid another setback.  The following is a word-for-word excerpt from Pershing's account of the event:

"There was never a moment during this investment of Bud Dajo when the Moros, including women, on top of the mountain, would not have fought to the death had they been given the opportunity. They had gone there to make a last stand on this, their sacred mountain, and they were determined to die fighting . . . It was only by the greatest effort that their solid determination to fight it out could be broken. The fact is that they were completely surprised at the prompt and decisive action of the troops in cutting off supplies and preventing escape, and they were chagrined and disappointed in that they were not encouraged to die the death of Mohammedan fanatics."

So as opposed to giving them any reason to erupt in religious furor against the American forces, Pershing just surrounded them and let them chill out.  That does not seem to be in accord with the sort of thinking that would lead someone to brutally slaughter P.O.W.'s to instill fear in his enemy.  Think about this:  If Pershing's greatest interest was avoiding conflict entirely by granting enemy requests, dealing generously with the Moro people, and engaging in diplomacy with any willing Moro leader, what sense would it make to engage in an activity which would strike any of these individuals as barbarous beyond belief?  That question answers itself.

It would have been stupid.  Major league stupid.

Here is why I am writing about this from a larger perspective:  There is some sort of longstanding pseudo-wisdom which is constantly harkened to which leads some people to believe that simply brutalizing the utter hell out of your opponent is the way to win.  History traditionally tends to show that brutal tactics are more often then not actually a good way to win a war.  In fact, they are a great way to prolong an armed conflict.

I will pose this question to anyone who thinks that these tactics are a good idea:  Let's instead imagine that Muslims invade Kentucky, and begin to brutalize anyone who dares stand in their way. 

I'm not sure why they would invade Kentucky, but let's just say they do

 Let's imagine that they take 50 Christian prisoners and beat the living hell out of them.  Before executing them, they force them to renounce their faith, and say the Muslim Shahada, ensuring that they 'go to hell.'  They then carve pentagrams all over their bodies and cast them into a mass grave.  They relase one guy to go tell everyone what happened.  What do you do?  Do you cower in the corner?  Or do you grab a gun and get after it?

Patrick Swayze knows what we would do

So what in the world makes anyone think that other people around the world are any different? Honestly, I have absolutely no idea.  Pershing's efforts to stabilize the Southern Philippines were largely successful, but it had absolutely nothing to do waging a psychological warfare based on the fear of hell.  It had to do with diplomacy and understanding his enemy.  Interestingly, these are the two least popular battle tactics in the American population at large.

So in summation:  While there is no way to guarantee that the apocryphal tale is false, it is extremely unlikely that it is true.   The gross oversimplification it presents is an incredible misrepresentation of a very complicated conflict.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Workout Update - Week 3 and Existentialism

"Work is not man's punishment.  It is his reward and his strength and his pleasure."  - George Sand

If one can look past the possibly sexist connotation of the above statement (made all the more ironic by the fact that it was made by a woman), you may see an attitude which is not terribly common in our present day.  It reminds me of the story Martin Luther King Jr. tells about the streetsweeper.  About how a man who sweeps the streets should take to his job like Michelangelo painting the Sistine Chapel, so that when he died all who knew him would say he was the best street sweeper who ever lived.

People scoff at these sorts of notions today.  Work on it's own is not anything to be proud of, unless it leads to some sort of financial gain or advantage.  These ideas are furthered by the cliff notes version of Marxism that pervades on many college campuses, which advances the notion that those who labor are trapped in an endless cycle which they are neither aware of nor are they capable of escaping.  To many within the "educated" classes, a person who enjoys hard labor for it's own sake is provincial and quaint.  A sort of relic of a bygone era when brawn mattered as much as brain. 

If so, I am definitely a relic.  People have asked me how I can workout the way I do and still go to law school.  I tell them I do not understand the question.  The real question to me is how I could do law school if I did not push myself physically.  There is something about physical labor that is gratifying on a level that my intellectual pursuits cannot touch.  For example, I can write a paper about one of my many random pursuits, and submit it for publication.  Some people will love it, some people will like it, some people will hate it, and some will be entirely indifferent.  Someone will poke a hole in the methodology, someone will question my conclusions, and someone will debate my structure.  Oftentimes, the only reason someone even weighs into the discussion is so they can essentially establish "yes, I too have read a book."  Other times, someone jumps in to a discussion because they believe they have some incredibly unique perspective on the conflict in question that no one has ever heard.  They are normally wrong.  In the end, intellectual discussion can quickly become a cock-fight wherein there is nothing truly gained or learned by anyone.

These two are actually about to discuss 'Don't Ask Don't Tell' 

On the other hand, physical labor is definite, concrete, and not up for debate or discussion.  You run a sub 6 minute mile, finish a half-marathon, dunk a basketball, bench 300 pounds, lose 100 pounds, drop into a perfect BMI range?  No one can take that from you and no one can question it.  Your work has reaped a bounty which is not up for criticism or debate.  There is freedom and beauty in that which few things in this world can create.

No.  If it were not for my physical pursuits, I would not survive my academic pursuits.  Well now that we have that high-minded BS out of the way.....

Operation Big Ass Bench Press Update

 Initially, I was slightly skeptical about my plan on this lift.  Exaggerating the sticking point is an old time tested method which gets results, but the other phase of my plan was a bit more radical.  The first two times I did it, I was extremely disappointed that I was not tired.  I kept telling myself that the point was not to be tired, but to work on my muscle's power output in a very limited scope.  And as I discovered on Friday, it is working.  It is really working.  I bench pressed 235 pounds on a whim, which is a gain of 15 pounds in two weeks. 

That pace cannot keep up for long, but its an exciting gain to make.  Also, I think I know how I made it.  Today, after I did my 9 sets of 3 at 115, I decided to see what 185 lbs would feel like.  It felt like it was made of lead.  The reason for this, as it turns out, is fairly simple.  Those short, punching lifts recruit Type 2 fibers to work.  Those fibers use large amounts of energy and oxygen, and can only fire over limited periods of time.  Those 9 sets of 3 blasted them out, leaving only the more numerous but weaker Type 1 fibers to help. So when I unracked that 185 today, I was really doing it on fumes.

Operation Squirrely

This has been some tougher going, but its a great example of how you need to think when you are working out for a purely athletic purpose.

I knew from step one that this would require a sort of fundamental shift in my approach.  I used to use what I like to call the 'Carpet Bombing' approach to athleticism.  This essentially just meant that I was going to lift hard, heavy, and long, until my body was completely trashed.  This is not a very nuanced approach.
Pictured:  A lack of nuance

But as I have already documented this is incredibly physically demanding and time consuming.  Therefore, not really an option for me.  So I have been working more on my balance and flexibility over the last two weeks than I have raw power.  This has required a fundamental change in my thinking about how I measure the effectiveness of workouts.  Instead of making sure that I feel like death when I get home, I pay attention to how I feel when I come back to the gym.

When this sort of exercise does what it is supposed to, you feel lighter, bouncier, and quicker.  So far that is working, but I am not jumping any higher than I was when I started.  Considering my starting point, its probably understandable;  I don't get into the really serious stuff until the 5th week.  This is going to be harder to accomplish and I knew that coming in.  On the other hand, my running vertical off of one leg has definitely increased.  So that is something to keep an eye on.  Considering my past, I don't think that running vertical will ever get back to where it was at it's highest.  But you never know......

Friday, February 4, 2011

The Islamic State - Islam v. Christianity/History of the Islamic State

"You would have no power over me, unless it were given to you from above."  Gospel of John 19:11

The unrest in Egypt, and much of the confusion and discourse about it, has inspired me to rehash some of my work from the University of Kentucky into some blog posts.  As some of you may be aware, while at UK, I studied Anthropology and Arab and Islamic Studies.  My focus in Anthropology was religious and cultural practice, doctrine, and theology.  While most of my writings were about communal violence and it's attendant causes, a great deal of my work focused in the history of Christianity and Islam. 

The thesis I advance in terms of the Islamic state is one of it's inevitable return to prominence in the Middle Eastern world.  This does not mean superiority to the secular state in practice or effect, but simply that it is a natural progression.  Today, we live in the death throes of the nationalist dictatorshps which dominate in the Middle East.  Egypt and Tunisia are two examples of countries which cannot sustain their practices, but the Middle East has longed for change ever since the fall of the Ottoman Empire.

An Islamic state (be it democracy or otherwise) is nothing to fear.  While an absolute return to the Shari'a law is not likely, or practical frankly, most aspects of it will definitely pervade should Egypt write a new constitution.  The boogeyman of Shari'a law is not really the deathly spectre of violence, repression, and misogyny that many here make it out to be. I find it interesting that this appears to be one thing that the far right and far left can agree on.  Those on the far left seem to believe Shari'a is a codification of written law which condemns homosexuals to death and women to a life of servitude.  Those on the right seem to think it mandates an inevitable expansion of Islam and war with the west.

Both sides are incorrect.  The post I write today will be about the formation of the initial Islamic State, Medina, and its effect on history.  I do this to address two concerns:  First, the concerns of those on the left in this country seem to have more to do with certain practices in Afghanistan and other areas which they attribute to Islamic government.  This is a simple confusion; many of the practices are cultural ones which were maintained by the local people once Islam arrived.  They are not mandated (or many times not even authorized) by the Qu'ran or Hadiths.  The left also seems to lump all religious government together.  That a government based on religion is inevitably corrupt, repressive, inferior, and backwards.  This belief is primarily pressed by our experiences in the West with monarchies which claimed to be ruling "for God."

Let me say right off the top that this post has nothing to do with moralisms of either religion.  I am not here to advance the idea that any particular religion is better than another.  Religions and their theologies have their various "pros and cons."  For example, while I believe Islam establishes a far superior system of government structure than Christianity, Islam definitely accepts the institution of slavery.  Christ never did, which was why the first groups in Europe fighting against slavery were fringe Christian groups, and why the last country to ban slavery was Saudi Arabia.  Not a moral judgment; just a fact that comes from the bare reading of the texts.

The verse from the Gospel of John is the most critical to understanding the relationship of Western history to religious government.  This was spoken by Jesus Christ to Pontius Pilate.  In this statement, it appears that Christ accepts the legitimacy of human government.  But at the same time, he states explicitly that Pilate's power over him comes from God.  This, and a few like passages, were those which Christian kings used to rule with absolute impunity over their subjects.  It also justified and propagated the hereditary system of passing the throne, as it was accepted that no one would be born into a royal family that God did not intend to be King.  We often today cite the famous "render unto Caesar" passage as the most critical to us, but once the Christian Kingdoms of Europe were established, the above cited passage was more crucial to understanding the mindset.

This sentiment is echoed later in the Bible as well.  The book of Romans makes allusions to what will come to be understood as the Divine Right of kings.  Romans 13:1 basically translates to, "[l]et everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. "  Romans 13:5 establishes to principle that disobeying the King is disobeying God:  "Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience."

But here is what is critical:  During the three or four years of Christ's ministry, he did not explicitly create any system of social structure and government.  All of those things came later.  What the Gospel and the New Testament created was a claim for legitimacy of human led government, but definitely not a modicum of their execution.  There were no guidelines for Kings; this set the table for Monarchs to terrorize their subjects while claiming "Deus vult," Latin for "God wills it."

For a closer to home example of this, take a look at the "Laws and Liberties of Masschusetts," the document adopted by Massachusetts Bay in 1648.  The colony was established on the Christian religion, and drew it's authority for governing on the Bible.  The Laws and Liberties cite to the bible for all of their authority, and it is demonstrative of the complexity and difficulty of basing government upon Christian principles.  In the section titled "Capital Lawes," the drafters cite directly to biblical authority to use capital punishment.  However, they do not one time cite to the Gospel or New Testament for this proposition.  Only four books are mentioned:  Numbers, Leviticus, Deutoronomy, and Exodus.  Once we have moved past the Capital Lawes section, we notice no further citations to biblical authority. 

This is indicative of the typical problem faced by attempts to set up a Christian government.  The New Testament and the Gospels acknowledge human government, but provide only skeletal guidance.  As a result, Christian governments were required to create a smattering of Jewish, Christian, and indigenous cultural practices.  Without going into too much detail for the purposes of this post, the inevitable result of this was widespread abuse by rulers, shaping the rules and doctrines to fit the needs of the current ruler, and sometimes just creating their own church.  See Henry VII, Vladmir the Great, etc.  Critical above all else was this simple fact:  The King of a Christian Kingdom of the Dark/Middle Ages before the Renaissance became a proxy for God himself.  The Christian dogma did not limit the power of the King, in fact it did quite the opposite. 

The formation of the first Islamic state was quite different from the first Christian states.  When Muhammad was driven out of Mecca, he fled to Yathrib (later renamed Medina).  The people there took him in and became the first Muslims.  This was the first Muslim state, with Muhammad at it's head.  At this point he was not just a religious leader, he was a political leader as well.  Muhammad dealt with taxation, warfare, welfare, slavery, trade, and every other issue that faced a leader of a state in the 600s. 

Upon Muhammad's death his followers were faced with a problem.  How to decide who the new leader would be.  The choice was a dramatic departure from the typical political unite of the day.  The leader was chosen democratically based upon his merit.  Abu Bakr was the first Caliph. 

Interestingly, a group of Muslims believed that Allah alone had the ability to choose the Caliph.  This led to their support of Ali, Muhammad's closest living male relative.  They believed that only Ahl al-Bayt (People of the House) had the authority to lead.  The Ahl al-Bayt referred to the people who were related to Muhammad.  Eventually, Ali did become Caliph (he was the fourth, after Uthman), but was assassinated by rivals due to their fear he would try to establish a hereditary title.  Ali's son Hussein rebelled, and those who supported his succession fought against those who supported Yazid, the new Caliph, at Karbala in 680. 

This war echoes to the present day.  Hussein's followers became the Shia Muslims and the followers of Yazid, the Sunni. 

The Sunni Muslims believed that the Hadiths and the Qu'ran served as a limit on the Caliphs.  By the time of the acension of the Umayyad and Fatimid empires, there was a very well established system of government using these sources.  In the event of a question, the first source was the Qu'ran itself.  If the Qu'ran was silent on the issue, than the Hadiths were referred to.  But these were generally not questions for the Caliph; they were for the scholars who operated pretty much independently of the Caliph.  The Caliph was expected to act in accordance with Islamic jurisprudence; failing to do so would render him vulnerable to being usurped by one who would.

An image of a 'Qadi,' a sort of Islamic Magistrate

This made the Caliph accountable to the law, which stemmed from many other sources than the Caliph himself.  For example, according to the Qu'ran, a person's right to personal and real property is inviolate.  Unless they are a criminal, they cannot be forced to cede any land or property to the State.  What does this mean?  Under the Caliphates, there were absolutely no government takings, no matter what the Caliph may have wanted to do.  We will examine some of this sort of thing in a later post.

Christ did not have the advantages Muhammad had.  He was living in Imperial Palestina, subject to the laws of the Pharisees and the Emperor of Rome.  Muhammad was the leader of a political state.  Therefore, establishing Islamic governments was a very ready-made sort of situation.  All of the Caliphates that arose from Iran to Spain from the 600s to the 1300s derived from that first state in Medina.  The first Christian state was (arguably) established in Edessa, Turkey, by Bardaisan the Gnostic.  This was done more than 100 years after the death of Christ, and was done by a sect which was later outlawed by Nicea.

The differences in experience between Christians and Muslims living in Theocracies could not have been anymore different.  Christians in the Dark and Middle Ages lived under the Rex Lex system; The King, The Law.  This has colored our perceptions in America about religious systems of governance, and still results in our misunderstandings about it today.

The next post in this series will be about the Islam's Golden Age which spanned about 500 years.  This is what most people who want to return to an Islamic government are referring to.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

The Courthouse and the Icy-Hot back patch

There is one thing you find out pretty quickly doing your first work as a Law Clerk:  Law school has taught me absolutely nothing about being a lawyer.  It is true.  I remember being so lost my first week of clerking for a firm downtown that I thought my face might show up on a milk carton.  Fortunately, I was in a smaller firm with a few great attorneys who were extremely patient with me in guiding me through the process.  Most notably Dan Canon, Laura Landenwich, and Garry Adams.  Those 3 were the attorneys I worked most closely with.  It is interesting how you react when you know that out of everyone in the room, you know the very least.  Some people fake like they know whats going on (don't do that), others simply clam up and offer nothing, and some people just try to offer what help or assistance they can.

I am number three on that list.  When I feel like I am not able to offer excellence, I try my best to offer pure effort.  I become Johnny Hustle. 

I tell you that story to tell you this story.  My internship was unpaid, and as a result the law firm was very flexible with me in terms of the hours I would work.  Most days I did not even arrive until about 10 or so, with the exception of the week we were in trial.  The best thing about the flexibility was that it afforded me the opportunity to spend a lot of time at the gym.

Here is where I got a practical lesson in lawyering.

I don't remember what day of the week this happened on, but I want to say it happened on a Friday.  I had just gotten done lifting weights and I decided that I would go play some basketball.  Now this is a pretty serious decision if you are playing at the Downtown Y in Louisville, but not for the reason you may think.  The Downtown Y (for whatever reason) is sort of a haven for guys who never really played basketball, but have played a lot of pickup.  Oh right, most of these guys also fancy themselves as being some pretty tough customers. 

I honestly think I have played with all four of these gentlemen

Now this would not be a big deal, if it were not for the fact that oftentimes this results in some fundamental misunderstandings about the game.  For example, there is a fine difference between a 'hard foul,' which prevents a person from shooting an easy ball, and 'assault' which is a misdemeanor in the state of Kentucky.  Basketball provides an interesting sort of setting for the fake tough guy to act tough.  Because there are a lot of people around, it is unlikely that if a fight should break out it will really go too far.  Secondly, it provides unlimited opportunities to take shots are people who are not in a position to really defend themselves.  There are always two or three of these guys playing Downtown.  Ergo, if you choose to play pickup at the Downtown Y, gird your loins for battle, because 'chippy' is the name of the game. 

That looks about right

I don't really mind the physicality.  I'm not a little guy, and in reality competitive basketball is far more physical then most people realize.  But it's certain kinds of physicality that the Y brings that make it an interesting venue for 'hoopbang.' 

I have sort of a love-hate relationship with basketball.  I have never really been that good of a player compared to the folks I played with, but I was always good enough to contribute something.  Normally rebounds, assists, the random breakaway dunk, and sometimes I would make a shot.  But as much as I love the game, the game does not always love me back.

Pictured:  Me and Basketball

I have had some pretty serious injuries in the past, the worst one while I was trying to make it work at Itasca Community College (I didn't), and my knees and left ankle are still basically a mess.  The combination of globetrotting and the attendant pressure have pretty much sapped my competitive basketball juices.  I play to have fun and stay in shape now, and really hate when people start getting too serious.  But every now and then, someone will do something, or say something, that makes me start playing 'for real' again.  And that is how I inevitably will injure myself.

On this particular afternoon, I wound up being guarded by one of the gentlemen pictured above.  He was probably about 5'8 and maybe 140 lbs.  So I had around 7 inches and 50 pounds on this little piece of stool.  He decided that in guarding me, he would keep me away from the basket essentially by just trying to physically push me out of the lane with his hands.  I found this humorous, and pushed back to get myself into the lane, and scored our teams first couple of baskets.  This particular gentleman also decided he wanted to bring the ball up for his team, and did not realize that as an ex point guard, I am not particularly slow.  Because the guy could barely dribble, I managed to strip him on a possession, and thought I was taking it to the other end for an easy two.  And then the easily predictable happened.

My opponent in honorable athletic contest had decided that he could run me down and block me.  What he didn't realize is that I can jump decently high.   He also didn't realize that he was rather short.  And rather slow.  The end result was that while I was in the air, dropping the ball in, he ran directly underneath me.  Suddenly, I am aware that the world was upside down.  In a fit of brilliance (or utter panic) I tried to tuck my head up as fast as I could hoping to prevent the inevitable whiplash head slam that normally accompanies this situation.  So what I discovered instead was a new and exciting way to injure yourself in this predicament:  You can curl into the fetal position mid-air, and land almost exclusively on your lower back.  Don't worry, I informed N.A.S.A. of this development.

I may or may not have then called this person a 'stupid little bastard'

The whole gym uttered a harmonious 'oooooooo' as I hit the floor like a sack of nickels.  The next sensation I had was a tingling all over my legs, followed by the realization I was having a hard time moving them.  As a few of the other players helped me up, I felt a pain in my back that forced me to walk hunched over, and at a snail's pace.  Every step was agonizing.  Walking the block home to my apartment from the gym was a nightmare, compounded by the fact that no one leaving the Y parking lot seems to understand that pedestrians have the right of way when the little walking man symbol is on.  I spent the next two days at home, laying on the couch, with a heating pad and Chardonnay.

But then came Monday.  I had told the firm what happened, and that I may not be able to come into work.  Everyone was fine with that, and told me to take all the time that I needed.  But Johnny Hustle plays hurt.  Because playing hurt is better than not playing at all right?

Maybe not.

On Monday, I was walking around the office like a zombie trying to balance books on his head.  Any slight bending on my part resulted in pain shooting through my lower back and hips.  Getting into and out of my desk was a ten step ordeal that required significant planning and preparation. One misstep would result in me falling down face first in front of several lawyers I respect and their suddenly confused and mortified clients.  Not to mention that this likely would have resulted in some muffled wailing as I expressed my dissatisfaction with the situation and attempted to roll over like a mentally slow turtle.  I was in this state for a few days.

During the week I discovered the miracle that is the Icy-Hot back patch.  While I have never discovered the exact nature of the injury I received (what's a hospital, by the way?), I did discover that the Icy-Hot back patch made me slightly more mobile.  With the patch on, I could walk like a rather spry elderly woman, which was infinitely better than the first option.  With my new found swagger, I bounced around the office like Betty White, as opposed to one of the extras from Thriller.  Before the dance, not during the dance.

So with my newfound mobility, I was looking forward to again adding what I could to the logistical aspects of the law.  For example, moving boxes around and running stuff to other offices and the courthouse are really an actual necessity that sometimes becomes troublesome.  I genuinely did not mind when I was asked to do these things, because I felt like as a very physically able person, I should be ready and willing to do them.  It was rare that I was enlisted into these jobs, but I was from time to time. Around this point, one of the other attorneys in the firm announces he needs someone to 'run something to the courthouse real quick.'  For me, that was like the Bat Signal going up in Gotham.  I was on that job like a drunk 8th Grade Gym teacher on Snooki's face. 

It is very important, before you take on a task, to ensure that you have all of the necessary information before giving the thumbs up.  I forgot that truism during this misadventure.  After I excitedly accepted the job, the attorney then said, "oh yeah, we need to have that there in 20 minutes.  At the most."  Given my physical condition, he may as well have said "can you possibly carry this sack of bowling balls over there as well?"  But remember, I was playing hurt, and I was hiding the pain.  And I had just slapped on an Icy-Hot back patch.  So what did I say to myself?  "Johnny can make it.  Be a hero, son."

(Do you know what the difference is between a hero and a complete idiot?  Two things:  The outcome, and the stake.  If a person dives in front of a bus to knock a watermelon out of the way and is killed in the process, he isn't a hero; he's a moron.  Just an aside, not germane to the story......)

So there I am, waddling at the speed of smell down the streets of downtown Louisville, with a motion in hand.  What its for?  I have no idea.  To this day.  Johnny Hustle does not stop to smell the roses, or read the motions when the clock is a factor.  It is sometime after I walk across Fifth Street that I realized my particular 'gait,' and my attempt at speed made it look as though I had just shit myself.  And it is also around this point that my Icy-Hot backpatch goes from 'Icy' to 'Hot.'

Oh right.  Its also around 100 degrees outside and I am wearing a shirt, tie, and khakis.

Needless to say, by the time I reach the courthouse, I am sweating like a fat guy in the sauna.  Combine this with the way I am walking, borderline delirium from the pain, and the fact that I'm waving around a motion like its an American flag and I'm at the Daytona 500, and you may imagine that I am drawing some attention.  A person I knew from the Y who works at the County Attorney's Office saw me and waved hello, to which I quite calmly responded, "*GASP* I'VE GOT TO FILE A MOTION!" and waddled away post haste.

I stormed up the stairs like the French peasantry storming the Bastille.  In the process, I very nearly ran over a District Court judge (who probably mistook me for someone late for the Drug Court hearing).  When I filed the motion, I looked at my cell phone.  The trip had taken 18 minutes.  The trip back took about 40.  When I got back, I was greeted with some bemused looks, and an invitation to take the rest of the day off.  I did.

That's the kind of thing they don't teach in law school. 

Monday, January 31, 2011

Machiavelli and Egypt - The Inevitable Failure of Mubarak/U.S. Folly/What we just don't get

"Men should be either treated generously or destroyed, because they take revenge for slight injuries - for heavy ones they cannot." - Niccolo Machiavelli; Chapter 3, The Prince

If you have never worked through any of Machiavelli's writings, they are definitely worth a spot on your 'to read' list.  The quote above is from The Prince, which is widely viewed as written in irony and intended more to be understood in his broader contexts of writings as opposed to representing his true opinions.  Having read The Prince and most of The Discourses (which are absolutely huge, do not take these on lightly) I actually believe that this is true.  Machiavelli was a great humanist, who used the emperors of Rome to suggest that the best rulers were those who were even-handed and respected by his people.  The above quote seems to suggest that Machiavelli believed rulers should be despotic, vicious, and brutal in dealing with his subjects.  But in reference to his greater body of works, it makes more sense to believe he meant this to be read as advocating generosity in dealing with subjects. 

It is this quote from Machiavelli which leads us to one inevitable conclusion about Egypt - It could not succeed in its current state.

Muhammad Hosni Sayyid Mubarak was born in 1928 (quite an ironic year for the purposes of this writing), who rose through the ranks in the military and eventually became Anwar Sadat's Vice President in 1975.  We won't go through the entire development of events that led up to this, although they do bear on the situation, but in 1981 Sadat was assassinated by his own generals due to his signing of the Egypt-Israel peace accords.  After this Mubarak assumed office and has not relinquished it since. 

Really ever since 1981, the United States and Egypt have been close allies.  Egypt's willingness to play ball with Israel despite their history was basically set up by our willingness to give Egypt support and military hardware if they promised to play nice with Israel.  An oversimplification, but basically a truism.  In the meantime, Egypt has become one of the only Islamic countries to ally themselves with most Western European nations. Egypt has a relatively free media, unfettered internet access, and active public education.  But there has been a hitch:  Because our support of Egypt basically relies on their casual stance towards Israel, we fear the country being taken over by a regime which will change back to an aggressive stance.  At the same time, we pay lip service towards 'reform,' and greater civil liberties.  For reasons as old as Mubarak himself, this could not possibly be a successful formula.

The stage for Mubarak's failure was actually set for him long before 1981, however.  In fact, it was set in 1928 by Hassan Al-Banna, the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt.   I will not go into all the reasons for the creation of the MB, but it was mainly due to the colonial government of Britain (in the future I will write about the failures of the secularist national state in the Middle East).  Al-Banna was a proponent of the return to the Sunnah (path) of Islam, and life according to the Prophet and the Great Caliphs.  The MB became incredibly popular and set up chapters in Syria, Transjordan (now Jordan and Israel), and Lebanon.  Many groups, such as Hamas and Hezbollah, can trace their roots back to activism which began in the MB.  During WWII, the MB actively sided with the Nazis, performing espionage and other activities on their behalf. 
Eventually the MB was banned due to an attempted assassination of Abdel Nasser.  Nasser was a staunch secularist and nationalist, who kept the MB out of the political process.  This makes some sense in the context of the times.  The religious reformers in the Middle East were openly critical of nationalists regimes which dominated at the time, and openly advocated for social change.  Nasser was no different from any other nationalist regime; the MB likened him to "Pharoah" of the Old Testament, the oppressor of Moses and the Jews.  (Reminder:  Muslims believe that they too, are the children of Moses and Abraham.)  After the attempt, Nasser went on a no holds barred campaign against his opposition.  Thousands of members of the group were tortured, executed, or exiled.  In this period of time, there was no real activism taking place in Egypt.  Sayyid Qutb, the author of Milestones, left the country.  You could not criticize Nasser, nor speak out against his government, without a knock on the door from the secret police. 

During the Cold War, you could not run a bingo parlor without deciding whose camp you were in.  You were either supplied and aided by the Soviets, or the Western bloc led by the U.S.  Well, due to Nasser's relations to Israel, the U.S. led bloc would not support or aid Egypt.  Therefore, they turned to the Soviets.  Nasser modelled his political and economic structures after the USSR.  Dissent was crushed; you fell into line or you fell into a ditch with a bullet in your brain.  There were no other options.  It was in this environment that the MB was fostered and created.  One of outright, holistic oppression.  'Pharoah' was the object of hostility, and no one else.  But what was also growing in the environment was resentment; not just from those with religious aims, but those who just plain did not like the socialist/nationalist structure in place.  But that hostility was either pent up, or it was expressed in exile.

Let's fast forward back to the present.  The MB still exists, and is still a large opposition group in Egypt.  But basically the fact is this:  Nasser and the Cold War Era policy of repressing dissent was carried over by Mubarak once he was in office.  The problem was that once Egypt hitched their wagon to Western Europe, their new found allies began to press reforms onto Egypt.  So Mubarak and his allies did the worst thing imaginable.

They allowed various forms of dissent and free speech.  But once some invisible line was crossed, that dissent was squashed.  This is a form of governance which is absolutely not sustainable.  Mubarak broke Machiavelli's rule from The Prince.  While Nasser's regime dealt with the people in very severe terms, crushing dissent and seeking to control, Mubarak's could be termed more 'passive-aggressive.' 

A good example is how Mubarak handled election issues.  Ostensibly, Mubarak was a 'President' of a republic which elected its President.  But Mubarak has only run a handful of times due to Egypt being in a constant state of declared emergency.  People may remember a few years ago the absolute catastrophe that was the Egyptian referendum.  On election day, areas that were suspected to be anti-Mubarak had the polling places barred by the police.  We gave them a quick slap on the wrist, but basically we did not mind that he did this because he said that these areas would elect Muslim Brotherhood candidates.  Israel (presumably) jumped for joy when they saw that the Egyptian people were being kept from exercising their theoretical right to vote.  Mubarak would have been better off saying there would be no elections whatsoever, as opposed to teasing his dissenters with the idea of a free election.  People can only bear insult for so long.

We have made a colossal mistake in our judgment of Egypt.  It should be apparent now that the spectre of radical Islam as the de facto heir of any regime was merely a pretext for Mubarak staying in power.  These protests are largely led by secular university students, professionals, and others who have quite deliberately distanced themselves from the Muslim Brotherhood and any radical Islamic ideas.  Earlier today I watched an interview with a woman leading a group of protestors.  She wore no hijab or covering of anykind, and there were many women with them in the group.  She spoke of a broken political process, not the desire to implement Shari'a law.  I am certain that some groups would like that, but they appear to be a minority.  However, this does not mean that these people do not share some of the Muslim Brotherhood's values and ideas.  The most obvious example is that Egypt will no longer take a deferential stance with Israel; they may even go to war.  The Egyptian people have the most negative opinions of Israel of any nation on Earth, according to many polls.  They will elect a leader who reflects that.  Might we see a very religious leader in Egypt?  I do not presume to know the answer to that question.  But I do know that this go round, the people will actually choose this leader.

Hopefully, this leader will deal generously with his people.