Category Archives: terrorism

Surprises of Globalization

Photo credits: taken by Shamil Zhumatov, Reuters; shared by Fadhel Hawramany on Google+; Cheese-making in Kazakhstan
The admonition of our forefathers that “all men (and women) are created equal” does guide a lot our decisions as Americans and lately seems to keep leading us back to another old adage, that one that says “no good deed goes unpunished”. The fact that it seemed wrong to many Americans to enjoy relative prosperity while many others around the world seemed to languish in poverty led to a belief that, although Americans lost all of their jobs, the jobs that were created in places where no boom has gone before (in recent memory) convinced us that this was, in some twisted self-effacing way, a good thing for the whole world in the long run. Allowing others to make puny wages doing jobs that provided Americans with great incomes could be justified because it would eventually lift up workers around the world, assuage our national guilt, and usher in a future that guaranteed human rights for all. Not that we necessarily had a choice. Globalization happened. Actually, of course, average Americans did not send their jobs to other nations; their jobs were yanked away and bestowed elsewhere. Still it is somewhat comforting to believe that losing our jobs makes us better Americans, adhering to the ideals that formed the basis of our nation and the ideals that people around the world have found admirable and desirable.

I don’t think we have been quite as happy with the realities of the road to globalization. It will take many generations, probably, for global economics to raise the standard of living for everyone. In the meantime, Americans are left in a sort of economic backwater, a zone where all but the wealthiest Americans are stuck treading water, and rather brackish water at that. We don’t really want to be in this financial limbo and we may not stay here for long. Hopefully we will find a way up and out, a way back to the prosperity that makes America hum, that calms twitchy Republican plutocrats, and gives us back our optimistic spirit. What we can’t know is how long it will take for this to happen, and whether we will be able to pull another rabbit out of our magic hat and find the next thing or things that will take us to a new prosperity. Perhaps on our enforced hiatus from prosperity we will learn to enjoy a bit of languishing, to slow down a bit and embrace a simpler lifestyle that values intangibles like family and friends and leisure and that does not so much rely on collecting more and more stuff, things, objects we never have any time to appreciate.

Must everyone in America have granite countertops and stainless steel appliances? I just saw that photo that you see at the top of this post, taken by someone at Reuters and shared on Google+ that shows a Central Asian mother and daughter making cheese. They are squatting in a hut with a straw floor forming perfect mounds of fresh cheese on a wooden board probably getting ready to sell their cheeses at the local market. Obviously the contrast between these two “kitchen” scenarios exposes the distance the world must travel before there is any real economic global equality of opportunity. If we find a way to restore the upward trajectory of our economy the distance among nations will continue to widen or at least maintain its current proportions. However, I don’t expect that we will lag behind on purpose waiting for people in other nations to catch up.

In addition, economics is not the only sphere of human activity that has been stirred by globalization. An absolute torrent of hostility has been released, most of it religious in nature between people who adhere to a set of stern religious laws and have practiced this demanding religion since antiquity.  So we find ourselves in the midst of a religious firestorm, a maelstrom that was unforeseen by most of us. If you read science fiction, especially Frank Herbert’s Dune books, the idea of jihad probably did not come as a total surprise, but still, who knew; not us “ugly” Americans. We did not know that modern communication devices like computers and especially cell phones, and the penchant for tourism that arose with transportation advances and increased prosperity would, just like disturbing a hive of hornets, produce culture shock after culture shock, foment anger and violent reactionary responses that would lead to the threat of terrorism that has arrived on America’s (and the rest of the industrialized world’s) doorstep and which has become a new fact of life.

Who knew that there are many people who would want to resist globalization, who treasure their traditional lifestyle, their religious isolation and who, once change began to rock their world, awoke to a passion of missionary zeal that Allah requires once the infidel is right in your backyard. Christians ought to understand the often unintentional cruelties of the call to carry a foreign religious mission to “pagans” and “nonbelievers”. Many of us did not foresee that what seemed like just simple economic change would resonate through every level of the diverse cultures around the world and make diversity one of the largest issues involved in globalization. Untangling these belief issues and lifestyle issues requires delicacy and time, not strong weapons in the American arsenal. We are spontaneous, well-meaning, earnest, clueless; bulls in the china shop of global human interactions. We are not known for either patience or delicacy.

Now that globalization has begun, it probably can’t be stopped unless we go into another “dark” age which seems unlikely. But the globalizations we are experiencing will probably not do away with nations, nor will it probably do away with religions, at least not in any of our lifetimes. Can we wend our ways through the minefields of culture shock and religious intolerance and economic rises and falls to form a more perfect union of the world’s nations that could bring to our little planet health and peace? That is the challenge of this particular era of human history. Will environmental forces trump all of it and drown us in global environmental crisis? We live with that challenge right now. Yikes. I wish I believed that this all arose from our belief that all men are created equal (and perhaps some of it did) but most of this nexus of change arose from greed. Oh well, we are what we are. Surprise! The key words here are delicacy and time.


The End of the World/Global Insanity

I can understand why we almost believe that the Mayans were right to predict that the world will end on 12/12/2012 or 12/21/12 (whichever). I sort of get why people used to make those sandwich board signs that announced the end of the world. Sometimes the world seems to spin out of control, to lose its footings and to make us feel anxious and a bit unhinged. Lately the world has felt that way times ten. Maybe it started for us on 9/11, maybe it started with the turn of the millennium, but this is not just an American phenomenon. Everywhere we look there is turmoil and upheaval.

Go continent by continent and the whole planet seems to have gone haywire, nuts, offering no solace anywhere we look. Start in Antarctica where the ice is melting and the penguins are losing habitat, sources of food, and nesting grounds. This is an Antarctica where scientists who need medical care have had to go to rather extreme lengths to get the treatment they needed.

Africa has been breaking our hearts for a long, long time. Gangs have ravaged parts of Africa. Disease has had its way with Africa. Civil War has caused horror in Africa. Now the areas of North Africa that were once fairly stable have broken out of the authoritarian governments that have created big gaps between their rich and their poor and they are trying to form new structures which allow the people to govern themselves. We have called this the Arab Spring and it has spread beyond Northern Africa into Syria. Syria, we feel your pain. Your leader will not yield. He bombs his own people. Syrians must become refugees living as orphans in neighboring nations. Children are dying. And the war goes on and on. These Arab Spring nations that took such brave risks to win the right to create their own governments have not had such an easy time making this happen. And we have terrorists who see opportunity wherever there is unrest.

Asia takes in an enormous number of nations and many of these nations have been affected by internal strife, social change, or natural disaster. North Korea likes to be a sort of aggressive enigma, and even though its new young leader might hold out some promise for a less antagonistic relationship with the rest to the world, we publish material that pokes unnecessary fun at the leader of this scary nation, a “joke” which is culturally specific and which humiliates this young leader who needs to understand that the world would really like to count his country as a member of the world’s friendly nations. We are not getting along really well with Mr. Putin in Russia, although we operate as allies most of the time. China owns a large portion of our debt, has now become a major polluter, and has a long way to go in terms of human rights, so, although China is fairly stable and is growing right now, it may experience more instability down the line as the people become more affluent. Japan experienced that awful (and awful is the correct word here) earthquake/tsunami with massive death, destruction, and nuclear contamination. Even now the detritus of this disaster is floating eastward to pile up on the shores of Hawaii and eventually the west coast of the US. Southeast Asia has also experienced political unrest and was hit by a terrible tsunami. India had the bombing in Mumbai, a terrorist act. India also has its slums to deal with. Those slums represent India’s shame and India will have to come up with ways to end the desperation, hopelessness, pollution, and disease that are embodied in these slums. It goes on and on; I haven’t even mentioned Afghanistan and Pakistan and Iran.

Australia – I don’t know anything really bad about Australia although two Australia DJ’s recently may have caused a suicide in London because of a prank, and there was some kind of extreme weather event in Australia this year, I believe.

Europe has partnered with America (unintentionally) to fall into a giant recession. They have lost some of their manufacturing to Asia and unemployment is high. They are having trouble with their “entitlements” and have gone through a long period of austerity making life difficult in many European nations. They are even more affected than we are by the upheavals of their neighbors. Europe has also had some extreme weather to deal with. What Europe has achieved is one of the few positive outcomes we can look to. They may not be out of recession; they may still have economic problems to face, but they have worked together because the European Union and the Euro have forced them to find ways to do that. In fact they were just given the Nobel Peace Prize.

South America has had to deal with several earthquakes, but South America has perhaps been one of the most trouble-free continents in this past year or two. Even so, Hugo Chavez, leader of Venezuela finds that his cancer is back and if he can no longer lead then the stability of that nation may be affected.

As for America, we have really had a rough time of it lately with our extreme weather, especially some very destructive hurricanes and frightening tornadoes, droughts in some places and heavy rains in others. Our weather and our economy have been quite unstable. Our government has been contentious with both politicians and citizens divided into two opposing camps. We don’t have enough jobs for people who need them and we seem to be losing our confidence. We are also worried about the insanity that seems to be dominating countries all around the world. Which brings us back where we started from: to the end of the world.

Of course I doubt the world will end on 12/12/12 or 12/21/12 or anytime soon. In fact scientists have said that the Mayan calendar was interpreted incorrectly, or they discovered more writing which changed their analysis about the prediction; I forget which one. We are probably just in an era when many elements of our existence on this wild planet are in transition. Economies are changing, governments are changing, religious bargains will have to be struck, new energy sources will have to be found or lifestyles will have to change. Just when the whole world wants to enjoy the comfortable lives Americans live, the resources to live that lifestyle may run out.

It is difficult to live in the midst of all this change and anxiety. We prefer security and a sense of comfort, peace and productivity. We definitely don’t have enough of these things that we crave right now. But we certainly can say that we live in interesting times. I hope next year gets a bit more boring and holds a few more of the certainties that give us pleasure and optimism. Please, settle down folks, we can’t control the weather, but everyone could soft pedal the power grabs for a while.



March Madness???

It is difficult enough to get on an airplane these days because the new security procedures that are designed to protect us all also remind us of all the reasons we fear flying. These procedures are also time consuming and somewhat degrading and we are never sure when we will be singled out for an embarrassing pat down or body scan. Our anxiety levels, our frustration levels, and perhaps our anger levels are already elevated before we even get to the boarding area where our regular flying nerves set in. It is a wonder more people are not having meltdowns on planes. However March has been a real stand out month for aviation because we do not have passengers causing problems on flights, instead the crew members have been losing it.
On March 9th we had the bipolar flight attendant on a Chicago-bound American Airlines flight out of Dallas-Fort Worth Airport. She started screaming, “We’re going to crash and ranting about 9/11.” This is all I would need to send me running for the exit doors but the passengers did not panic. This plane was on the ground and it taxied back to the airport where the flight attendant was removed from the flight. Passengers continued to Chicago on a later flight. This woman was not really coherent; there was not a single theme to her rant, she was just as concerned about not having enough ice on the plane as she was about the need to return to the gate. She complained about the American Airlines bankruptcy and about the labor unions and said she was not responsible for crashing the plane. I would have been worried that this was some new kind of terrorist attack but she was so obviously irrational that it would be hard to explain what technique the terrorists would be employing unless perhaps it involved stealing meds or brainwashing.
March 27th brings us another strange incident with a crew member on a Jet Blue flight from New York City to Las Vegas, only this time it is the pilot. The Captain, sent to the bathroom by the copilot who noticed that the Captain was having difficulties, stormed through the plane saying “They’re going to take us down”. A third row passenger said the captain said there could be a bomb on board the flight. This plane was already airborne so there was no way to get off of the plane but the Captain looked like he was planning to open the door. In an even more bizarre turn of events there happened to be an off-duty pilot on the plane and he and the copilot locked themselves in the cabin and flew the plane to an airport in Amarillo, Texas. I guess it is reassuring that these flyboys stuck to the job of getting their passengers safely on the ground somewhere, but they had to leave the problem of the incoherent captain to the flight crew and the passengers. Fortunately there were some very brave or some very anxious, frustrated and angry passengers who tackled the pilot just outside the cockpit and sat on him for twenty minutes until the plane landed.
OK, it is hard to imagine how these two events could be terrorist attacks and I am sure, unless there is some drug being administered to flight crews, that these are just two separate, scary events that just happened to occur in the same month, both on airplanes, and both involving crew members. Perhaps the flight crew is just as anxious, frustrated, and angry before a flight as the passengers are (not a comforting thought). Perhaps living with the threat of terrorist activity preys on the minds of the flight crews even more than on the minds of the rest of us (also not a comforting thought). These two events also make me wonder how many of the people we depend on in airplanes are on meds. Let’s hope that when March ends so will the lunacy on airplanes.