Friday, November 20, 2015

5 Things on a Friday: Hoping for an Opportunity

My first draft of got a little jingoistic this week.  Perhaps that's inevitable in the wake of the Paris attacks and the other, also very considerable attacks that hit Beirut and that Russian plane in Egypt.  I find myself uncomfortable calling for a war in which I am extremely unlikely to fight--although, who knows, right?--but it feels like we may yet have an opportunity here.  This might be one of those moments in which we can achieve regional consensus and act, even if that consensus is short-lived and entirely self-serving on all sides.
Consider: Russia, Britain, and the U.S. were not all fast friends in the late 1930s and early 40s.  In fact, the allies invaded Russia in 1917 to try to oust the Communists.  The smarter half of the American public was keenly aware of the British interest in maintaining its colonial presence in North Africa and elsewhere--and distinctly un-interested in the ramifications this held for our collective strategy.  These differences were real.  It’s hard to say what would have happened had Japan not blundered its way into attacking Pearl Harbor in 1941.  However, the resulting three-way alliance fought a relatively unified and collective war that defeated its enemies and set the course for the modern world.

The result was far from perfect.
We had fifty years of Cold War before the Berlin Wall came down and the true promise of victory in Europe was achieved.  Alas, the "New World Order" of collective security was extremely short-lived.  Still, though, we’ve gone all this time without shooting at each other.  That’s not nothing.
I believe that there is a moment here again.  As before, it is a moment of uncomfortable compromises and ill-suited allies, but it’s still the best moment we’re likely to get.  No one should want another Cold War in the aftermath of military victory.  Unless it is the alternative to a hot war, unless it gives way to a framework for long-lasting peace and a way forward for all involved, however imperfect. 
San Diego's Ballast Point, a craft brewery that got its start in the back of a home-brew supply store in 1992, is being bought by alcoholic beverage conglomerate Constellation Brands Inc. The price: $1 billion...
That staggering amount reflects the frothy market for craft brews, which are steadily outpacing growth of the beer industry as a whole as consumers develop a taste for bold and bitter suds.
Ballast Point is from San Diego.
Craft brewing is a growing industry in the face of flat alcohol sales overall.  The price paid is surprising but not the total result.  Domestic tastes are changing, and large breweries are moving to adapt and survive.  This is not a net negative, but it could be if consolidation pushes the little guys out of the market.
There is without doubt an upper limit to the number of craft breweries that can possibly survive the current marketplace.  This is the discussion you hear a lot at local brew-fests in Connecticut.  However, if we wind up with tastier, more affordable beer—and that is a distinct possibility—then we’ll have done reasonably well.
Recently, one of the most articulate defenders of refugee resettlement, Daniel Byman, a professor of security studies at Georgetown… warned that “the true terrorism danger is that the refugees are not cared for or are welcomed briefly in a fit of sympathy and then scorned and repressed.” He’s right. The trouble is that Syrian refugees are not a monolithic bloc, and even the most generous resettlement policy might feel repressive to, say, Syrians who believe that the doctrines of gender equality and sexual liberalism represent an affront to their religion. Policymakers don’t have the power to decide how their actions will be interpreted. Nor do they have the power to dictate how ordinary Europeans will react to Syrians on a human level. In much of northern Europe, it is common to hear European Muslims complain of the emotional coldness of their native-born non-Muslim neighbors, who never stop treating them as foreigners, no matter how hard they try to fit in. This subjective sense of exclusion does much to fuel resentment on the part of European Muslims, and understandably so.
This is the issue that’s been raging through my Facebook feed this week, and for better or worse, I’ve found myself on the wrong side of it.  I’ve been arguing against relocation, not so much because I’m against the refugees or even afraid of terrorist infiltrators.  It’s because relocating such a massive number of people seems like a bad idea on its face.  These are not people who want to be Americans, per se.  They are simply running from the horrors of war.  I get that, but at the end of the day, I also think governments have a right and a responsibility to their current citizens to make the best of the bad choices available.  For the reasons laid out in the article above, I’m not convinced that mass relocation is the best available choice in this particular instance.
To be fair, this is much less of a problem in America than it is elsewhere.  The U.S. is by definition a melting pot of cultures, and in time, this nation will assimilate any new wave of refugees in the same that it has assimilated many, many others before them.  The idea of America is incredibly powerful.  It may take time, but in a hundred years this will no longer be a discussion.  The proof is laid bare in our history.  In the 1850s,German and Irish immigrants were considered little better than dogs by most of the American middle class.  But time and the melting pot do their work.  I believe in that.  How could I not?  I choose to work in New York, the capital of American immigration.
Where this immigrant problem is really a problem is in Europe.  There is such a thing as “French” culture and/or “German” culture.  There are regional and even local customs and traditions, things that bind the people to the land.  There is history, and it’s not just the artificial history of xenophobia.  We don’t have to love the European right wing to appreciate that they have a point, that they don’t want to lose what makes their countries unique to an uncontrolled wave of mass immigration.  I’m not convinced that they ought to be asked to.  Does Germany have a responsibility to be a melting pot?  Can it not simply be German?  What about France?  This melting pot thing, it’s an American ideal.  It’s what we have here.  Europe is its own place.  They have their own currency and everything.
Mass relocation does not feel like an answer to me.  As noted above, the answer is coalition warfare followed by coalition peacekeeping.  It is neither a new answer, nor an easy one.  It will likely require uncomfortable compromise coupled to genuine shared sacrifice (for once).
Well, what do you expect?  This, too, is the foundation of America.
[I]t’s important to remember that so far, only one of the Paris perpetrators was found to have a Syrian passport, suggesting he might have posed as a migrant. His co-conspirators have been identified as French or Belgian nationals…
[T]he U.S. also has by far one of the most stringent processes for admitting refugees, and its scrutiny is doubly strict for Syrian refugees, who endure a process that can take up to three years. The U.S. already has a superb security record when it comes to refugee resettlement. Of the 745,000 refugees who have arrived in America since Sept. 11, none have been arrested for domestic terrorism charges.
This idea that the very vast majority of current refugees are not terrorists is by itself not a reason to take more refugees.  There may be reasons for taking more, especially in the way that their very existence undermines the rationale of the so-called Islamic State.  However, the simple fact that current citizens have been the bad actors in Europe hardly argues in favor of the virtues of further immigration.  This assimilation problem is real, especially overseas, and pretending that it’s not is not helping the cause.  How can you be in favor of taking more immigrants when the descendants of immigrants you already have are so alienated as to attack their own home countries?  It’s a hard-hearted reality, but this is one of those math problems where the order of operations changes the answer significantly.
Twelve million Syrians have been displaced from their homes since 2011, and nearly four million refugees have fled the country entirely, often living in overcrowded refugee camps.
Twelve million!
Aerial view of a Syrian refugee camp, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
The U.S. does need to take more refugees, but as I said above, is it really possible to resettle twelve million people?  Seriously?  That is the same number of people as live in the states of Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island combined.  It’s half the population of Texas!  
This is not a few people fleeing the ravages of war, folks, it’s a mass migration towards greener pastures.  I’m sorry to say it, but we’re going to need another solution besides mass-assimilation to deal with this particular problem.
The proposal, which appears to draw heavily from a Russian peace plan circulated before the talks, sets Jan. 1 as a deadline for the start of negotiations between Bashar al-Assad’s government and opposition groups. Within six months, they would be required to create an “inclusive and non-sectarian” transitional government that would set a schedule for holding new, internationally supervised elections within 18 months… [B]ut stumbling blocks remain.
The biggest one is the fate of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, whose role is side-stepped in the agreement. Russia and Iran, the latter of which is participating in international talks for the first time, say he’s a necessary bulwark against extremist groups like ISIS and al-Qaida…  Secretary of State John Kerry suggested Saturday that Syrians could decide Assad’s fate through the democratic process, saying, “We did not come here to impose our collective will on the Syrian people.” This would seem to suggest that Washington is now open to him playing a role in the transition.
As I noted above, we can only hope that this is the start of the agreement we’ve all been waiting for.
With a relatively cheap $85 price, Chrome OS looks like an attractive option for TV-based computing, as long as everything you need is web-based. The one thing you probably wouldn’t want to do with this stick is use it as some kind of home entertainment PC. While it can handle Netflix and the like, that is still a job better served by the cheaper Chromecast paired with a smartphone.
Beautiful pieces of gear.  Not sure how useful, though.
These stick computers are such interesting pieces of technology, but as the note says, it’s hard to imagine an application for them that wouldn’t be better served by a cheaper solution.  I watch TV off my Chromebook using a spare HDMI cable pretty frequently, but the playback from ESPN3 is poor, and that’s one of the channels that I watch a lot.  I’ve therefore been in the market for something different, but it doesn’t sound like the Chromebit is gonna be that something.
Army plays its last home game tomorrow, against Rutgers.  We missed last week’s game due to Hannah’s sudden pneumonia outbreak, but we’re going this weekend, though I skipped the preview of this week’s game.  Rutgers is 3-7, but although the program is in disarray for a variety of off-the-field issues, they are big, and they have a lot of talent.  They are exactly the kind of team to which Army has lost all season long.
This year’s Army team looks very likely to finish 2-10, which will make this one of the worst seasons in Academy history.  Half the team is plebes, the defense is much improved, and I think Coach Monken is right that the team has improved overall in the course of the year.  However, there is still quite a lot to dislike, to the point where I think it is legitimate to wonder whether or not we really are “rebuilding”.  
How exactly are we rebuilding?

Next year is Monken’s make-or-break season.  He’ll have an experienced quarterback, plenty of experience in the skill positions, and two full classes worth of his own, often quite talented recruits.  Next year’s schedule also looks a lot more favorable.  If Army’s program doesn’t rise from the ashes like a beautiful phoenix, I’m going to start calling for this coaching staff’s replacement.

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