Monthly Archives: November 2015

Summarizing Syria

Recently, Turkish F-16 fighters shot down a Russian Su-24 bomber. This is the first time a NATO member has shot down a Russian jet since 1952, when a US pilot shot down a Russian jet near North Korea. In 1960, the Russians shot down a US U-2 spy plane that was over Russian airspace. This is not the first time Russia and NATO have been involved in shooting down each other’s planes, and the previous instances did not lead to war. Will this recent one be any different?

Looking at the stories told by both sides, the Russian one survives the mathematical examination of the evidence provided. The Turks claimed that they warned the plane 10 times – in the 17 seconds that they claimed it took the Su-24 to transit a stretch of Turkish airspace less than 2 miles, which would require that the plane be moving at stall speed. The Russians claim that not only did their plane not transit Turkish airspace, but that they received zero warnings about the attack.

The Russians also point out that they shared the flight path information with the USA, as part of an effort to coordinate flights over Syria. The Russians now accuse the USA of sharing the flight information with the Turks, who then planned an ambush. To bolster the Russian side, they point out that the Turks had two F-16s in the area from an airbase 46 minutes away, while it took the Russians 34 minutes to reach the area from their base – the Turks were in place for an ambush. The Russians also demonstrate that it was the Turkish air force that entered Syrian airspace for 40 seconds at a height of 2400 meters to shoot down the Russian planes. That point of contention is underscored by a US officer’s leaking information that the Russian plane was shot down over Syria.

Circumstantial evidence includes the rapidity of producing professional videos of both the executed pilot and the attack on the rescue mission, along with evidence that Turkey has both been purchasing oil from ISIS and supplying it with arms and ammunition.

In response, the Russians have deployed anti-air surface missiles to the area and have moved naval support closer to the area. They have indicated that they will shoot down threats to their planes, and this can include jets in Turkish or Israeli airspace standing off Russian aircraft. While I don’t think the Russians will shoot first, I do think that the Russians will down any aircraft involved in firing upon one of its own. The Russians have acknowledged an increase in tensions and a decrease in their trust for the USA – which could result in NATO forces being banned from entry into Syria and Iraq, possibly even Jordan. It could result in Turkey losing access to gas supplies from Russia and Iran. It could result in a move to incorporate the Donetsk region into Russia. None of these moves, however, would lead to war.

Therefore, the decision to escalate remains in the hands of the USA and its allies.

Thanksgiving 2015

I live in the United States of America, and today is the holiday of Thanksgiving in the USA. Like Christmas, it has been poisoned with commercialism. While this day is set aside for the giving of thanks and expressing gratitude, the day following has fallen victim to advertising campaigns that have stipulated that it is a day for grasping, greedy consumption. It is a day for assembling at the shrines of acquisition with a frenzy sufficient to trample anyone in one’s path, even unto death, that one might forget thankfulness in a rage of worldly want.

And so it goes for most people through to Christmas. The bombardment of advertising is with us all through the year: Valentine’s Day is for buying flowers and chocolate. St. Patrick’s is for buying green beer. Easter is for buying chocolate and eggs and that horrible fake grass that gets everywhere. Mother’s Day is for buying things for mothers. Father’s Day is for buying things for fathers. July 4th is for buying lots of meat and fireworks. August is for buying things for returning to school. September is for buying things in general, at Labor Day sales. October is for buying candy and costumes. But in November, the advertising takes on a sinister quality. It drives people to deadly frenzies and deep depressions. In a time that Christians have set aside to contemplate the birth of Jesus Christ and the message of love, compassion, and truth that he brought, we face the demeaning chants of mammon that overwhelm that message.

We hear and see evidence that we are worthless without making new purchases. We buy things that we don’t really want or need, but we do so and experience some form of psychic release and joy because of the imprint that advertising has burdened us with. Make no mistake: the advertising these days is a highly polished product, capable of infecting even the most stalwart of men that declares, “I’m not affected by advertising!” Yes, you are. It’s that effective. Legions of psychologists have constructed those ads to cause you to believe, with all your heart, in the lies of worldly consumption as salvation.

For the film, “Czech Dream” (Czech: Český sen), the filmmakers showed how easily a lie could be fashioned to the point of driving a mind to madness. They started by shaving their beards and getting some sharp clothes – provided free to them, if they but made an advertising mention for the product in their film. Next, they created an ad campaign for a store that would never exist. The advertisers refused to tell an outright lie, but the filmmakers got the advertisers to go with a negative campaign. “Don’t shop.” “Don’t buy.” “Don’t show up.” Those were the slogans of the campaign, which, legally, were not false advertising.

Next came the psychological touch to the construction of print ads. The filmmakers showed how the makers of the ads study the layout on the page so that they produce not only a document that informs, but that convinces the reader to desire an opportunity to pay for the goods advertised. Was there deception involved? Legally, no. But, ah, there’s that qualifier that the advertisers and psychologists hide behind as they create their propaganda! “Legally.” “Technically.” Words like those mean that, while there is no legally-defined illegal activity taking place to the best of the knowledge of the participants in the activity thereof, oh, yeah, it’s totally unethical and manipulative.

Honestly, I believe that one day, a host of outraged parents could engage in a class-action suit against Nickelodeon, Walt Disney, and, to a lesser extent, McDonald’s, for causing their children to become affected with ADHD and/or ADD. By brandishing the “kid-friendly” adjective, these agents fooled parents into trusting their children’s attention spans to their advertising onslaught, leading to minds made pliant and submissive to the whims of anything flashy. I saw this affecting my child and put a parent block on those channels. With only a few days of withdrawal, she was reading again. She was also no longer nagging me incessantly about how we needed to have a vacation in a Disney property or that we needed to purchase a DVD with a Nick or Disney label on it.

Turning off the advertising on television is only part of a solution. Sadly, I still live in a world of people that are awash in ads. The ads surround me on road signs, on the airwaves, and on whatever sneaks past my adblocker software. It’s a constant mental assault. There are even programs dedicated to the best ads, as if, somehow, the advertising itself is the content to view and not just the things we allow ourselves to endure in order to see non-advertising content. And there are ads, as well, in that content. “Product placement” is as pervasive as it is perverse.

The antidote to this advertising, in my experience, is true devotion and service. I find this in my religion, which teaches me of the constant need to express thanks and gratitude, to avoid the influences of the world, and to seek after the better things that God offers us. The time I spend in devotion and service gives me true joy. Those times give me precious memories with family and friends that are beyond the prices that the pure free-market libertarians want to put on everything, even the breaths that we take. No, there are things that have no way to be bought or sold. They are much more real than the material goods that pass through our fingers on their way to the garbage dump or resale shop.

True religion is not the cause of woe in the world. False religions do cause woe, but look at the causes of false religion: one sees grasping materialism, lusts for power, and desires for control at their roots. Those things are also the causes of many, many other woes in the world. Those things are mammon. Mammon is not some deity of old – it is the Hebrew word for “money.” One cannot serve both mammon and God. The priests of mammon know this, which is why they poison the year, and especially the religious holidays, with their propaganda. Even though service to mammon destroys humanity, it appeals to our lusts and allows them to be unbridled while blinding us to the consequences that surely follow. True religion asks us to restrain our wildness, and shows us the consequences of our actions. It then encourages us to do what is right, to do what is loving. It encourages us to seek after treasures not of the world, but the treasures of true love, for God is love.

I have never bought my wife a diamond ring, and I never will. My love for her is not of this world, so why would I want a token of the world to express it? No, I bought her a small Swiss cowbell as a token for our love. It has a meaning to us (as well as anyone else that has seen “Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge” or DDLJ). The bell can pass from this world, but the symbolism contained in it is eternal. It is not a sign of my earning potential or folly: it is a small material representation of a vast, infinite network of devotion.

Thanksgiving, at its heart, is about humbling oneself. It is about realizing that there is much to be grateful for, even in the worst of circumstances. It is for accepting that the material world will pass and all the things of the world with it, but that something greater yet endures. It is not nation, it is not corporation, and it is not even land or sea. That which yet endures, which is greater than all things, is love, for God is love.

My nation might plunge itself into a conflict which I know to be immoral and abominable: yet I will give thanks for my family and friends. I might be ridiculed for my fidelity towards something that I cannot prove exists: yet I will give praise to my God. I might be assailed with messages that tell me I am nothing without a certain worldly possession: yet I will find joy in knowing that I am a child of God, and that He is part of my family and friends.

There is much that can be done to fend off the impact of the servants and followers of mammon. We serve and follow love when we give service. We serve and follow love when we humble ourselves and give thanks. We serve and follow love when we can find the quiet stillness within each of us, that allows us the simple, yet eternal, pleasure of discovering our unity with God.

We can all find this quiet stillness, each in our own way and after our own journey to that place. The secret to finding it, however, is not in wrath, but in patience. We find it not with purchasing, but with giving. We approach it not with grasping consumption, but with loving compassion. Mammon is found through acts of violence. Love is found through acts of non-violence.

Therefore, I wish peace unto one and all this year. Find a quiet place and a quiet time, and discover that loving stillness within yourself and let it grow in its influence upon you.

Geopolitical Directions

It’s no secret that China and Russia are both in a state of heightened tensions with the USA. All three nations have engaged in activities to provoke each other: I will leave aside an accounting of which side does more to provoke the other. The fact that the tensions exist, and that they exist at this level, let us assume as a given.

Now, what the USA is doing with these tensions is what concerns me. Yesterday, I read comments from an admiral that we need to roughly double the number of aircraft carrier groups under US command to 21 to respond to higher global tensions. Today, I read about the USA testing a Trident ballistic missile – a submarine-launched missile that is designed to deliver a nuclear warhead – just off the coast of Los Angeles, a general discussing how the USA conducted war simulations about a potential Russian invasion of the Baltic States (and how the US/NATO forces were destroyed in the conventional exchange), and now I read that Ash Carter, the USA’s Secretary of Defense, gave a speech in which he implied that Russia is intending to potentially engage in a nuclear attack on the USA.

The fact that all of these stories have come out in just a matter of days – if not hours – shows to me that it’s clear that the USA intends to continue to escalate the tensions. These three stories are basically the justification for an escalation, which would include a vast expansion of military spending. But an escalation would also increase the risk of conventional war, which in turn would lead to an increase in the risk of a nuclear war, either limited or all-out.

The USA plans to deliver MANPAD anti-air missiles to Syrian rebels – even though those rebels often become al-Qaeda or ISIS forces – and those MANPADs can be used against Russian planes. Who would Russia hold responsible if one of is planes was shot down with a US-provided weapon? If the USA deploys troops in Syria to fight alongside rebels, who will the USA hold responsible if they are killed by Russian or Iranian forces?

The fact is, Assad *is* the legitimate ruler of Syria, full stop. Assad has requested Russian aid in eliminating *all* rebels against his regime, not just those that belong to a particular group. The UN has criticized the USA for its actions in Syria, and rightly so. By supporting the rebel movements against Assad, the USA has brought forth the entity known as ISIS. ISIS then established a murderous regime that tore into the civilian populations of Iraq and Syria – and the civilian population of Syria included all the refugees from Iraq that that nation hosted. Now, those millions from Iraq and Syria are flowing into Europe, threatening to unleash a massive wave of European xenophobia. Several leaders there, including German ones, have already referenced concentration camps in public speeches.

But the USA continues to poke and probe and prod in Syria because if Assad goes, then so goes Iran’s potential pipeline to the Mediterranean and in goes Qatar and Saudi Arabia’s pipeline. If Syria wasn’t a transit country hostile to US interests, Assad could be as horrible as anyone else in the world and get away with it. Don’t believe me? Look at what Turkey and Saudi Arabia, both US allies, are doing to their people. Saudi Arabia beheads more people than ISIS and the head of Turkey is engaging in a genocidal civil war so that he can rewrite that nation’s constitution to give him dictatorial powers. Syria is all about the oil, and that is why the USA is risking a wider conflict with Russia.

Russia’s economic survival is on the line, so it will defend Assad. Syria has always been Russia’s most dependable ally in the region. Think of Syria as the Russian Israel. If massive waves of Palestinians were threatening to wipe out the Netanyahu government in Israel, you would almost count on US divisions showing up to save the day, if they were requested. We would insist upon our right to aid an allied government deal with its internal crisis and then politely ask other nations to stay out. That’s what Russia is doing in Syria, and the USA is ignoring those requests to stay out. This can lead to trouble.

In the South China Sea, China has claimed a large area of water as part of its territory. Vietnam, Taiwan, Indonesia, and the Philippines also claim those waters, or parts of them. Since claims for waters are based upon nearby land, China went ahead and built some land in shallow waters, and then made its claims based upon those lands. China then built naval and air bases on those lands, just to get the point across that it really intended to claim those waters. The US response? Sail a military vessel into China’s territorial claims.

The Chinese are very, very sensitive about their waters. When a British naval vessel sailed up the Yangtze River in 1949 to prevent the Communists from forcing a crossing of that river during the Chinese Civil War, the Communists informed the British ship to turn around, as the British no longer had rights of navigation on the Yangtze River. Those rights had been established in the wake of the two Opium Wars of the 1800s in what were called “The Unequal Treaties.” The British vessel’s presence in Chinese territorial waters was highly offensive, but the Communists nevertheless gave the British the chance to do the legal thing and withdraw.

When the British refused to withdraw, the Communists opened fire and incapacitated the ship. After several hours of shelling, the British ship surrendered. The Communists had defended the honor of the nation.

Since then, the Communists went on to be simply “China”, and took lands that it felt were rightfully theirs. Xinjiang and Tibet were both areas that Chinese emperors had once ruled over, so China sought for their return to its rule. It engaged in an unofficial war with the USSR over islands in the Amur River. It took land in Kashmir and Assam from India in 1962. About the only nation to successfully rebuff a Chinese invasion has been Vietnam, but the Chinese have still tried several times to take land from Vietnam that it views as being properly part of China.

Interestingly, neither China nor Russia has ever completely invaded a country to take it over. Their goals have always been limited and, once they secured their desired territory, they halted. Granted, the Russian record starts only in 1991 with the disbandment of the USSR, but its adventures in Georgia and Ukraine have been limited. For its part, China fought the US in the Korean War only to preserve the government of North Korea, which the South Korean leaders had threatened to invade and eliminate. China holds the view that its objective in the Korean War was attained so, therefore, it won.

But back to the matter of waters and territory: China has made its claim and has told the USA that it will not always allow its ships to sail through its waters unchallenged. But, because of matters both of oil and out of commitment to its ally, Philippines, the USA will continue to make those challenges. What will happen if the Chinese order their batteries to fire after a US vessel refuses to withdraw? Will the US vessel return fire, or will it be a paper tiger? And if it returns fire, will the Chinese escalate further by formally occupying the Senkaku Islands, thereby provoking a wider conflict with Japan?

Given the US provocations in words and actions, particularly those involving nuclear weapons, I do wonder aloud if we are about to enter a war and, when the war goes badly for one side or another, a field commander will decide to use one of the tactical nuclear weapons under his control, opening up the question of whether or not a general, strategic exchange then commences.