Adonis Diaries

Archive for November 11th, 2014

Could real democracy be deadened with too many soldier heroes?

‘Put a man in uniform, preferably a white man, give him a gun, and Americans will worship him.

It is a particularly childish trait, of a childlike culture, that insists on anointing all active military members and police officers as “heroes.”

The rhetorical sloppiness and intellectual shallowness of affixing such a reverent label to everyone in the military or law enforcement betrays a frightening cultural streak of nationalism, chauvinism, authoritarianism and totalitarianism.

But it also makes honest and serious conversations necessary for the maintenance and enhancement of a fragile democracy nearly impossible

You don’t protect my freedom:

Our childish insistence on calling soldiers heroes deadens real democracy

It’s been 70 years since we fought a war about freedom. Forced troop worship and compulsory patriotism must end

It has become impossible to go a week without reading a story about police brutality, abuse of power and misuse of authority.

Michael Brown’s murder represents the tip of a body pile, and in just the past month, several videos have emerged of police assaulting people, including pregnant women, for reasons justifiable only to the insane.

It is equally challenging for anyone reasonable, and not drowning in the syrup of patriotic sentimentality, to stop saluting, and look at the servicemen of the American military with criticism and skepticism.

There is a sexual assault epidemic in the military.

In 2003, a Department of Defense study found that one-third of women seeking medical care in the VA system reported experiencing rape or sexual violence while in the military.

Internal and external studies demonstrate that since the official study, numbers of sexual assaults within the military have only increased, especially with male victims.

According to the Pentagon, 38 men are sexually assaulted every single day in the U.S. military. Given that rape and sexual assault are, traditionally, the most underreported crimes, the horrific statistics likely fail to capture the reality of the sexual dungeon that has become the United States military.

Chelsea Manning, now serving time in prison as a whistle-blower, uncovered multiple incidents of fellow soldiers laughing as they murdered civilians.

Keith Gentry, a former Navy man, wrote that when he and his division were bored they preferred passing the time with the “entertainment” of YouTube videos capturing air raids of Iraq and Afghanistan, often making jokes and mocking the victims of American violence.

If the murder of civilians, the rape of “brothers and sisters” on base, and the relegation of death and torture of strangers as fodder for amusement qualifies as heroism, the world needs better villains.

It is undeniable that there are police officers who heroically uphold their motto and mission to “serve and protect,” just as it is indisputable that there are members of the military who valiantly sacrifice themselves for the sake of others.

Reviewing the research proving cruelty and mendacity within law enforcement and the military, and reading the stories of trauma and tragedy caused by officers and soldiers, does not mean that no cop or troop qualifies as a hero, but it certainly means that many of them are not heroes.

Acknowledging the spread of sadism across the ranks of military also does not mean that the U.S. government should neglect veterans, as they often do, by cutting their healthcare options, delaying or denying treatment, and reducing psychiatric services.

On the contrary, if American politicians and pundits genuinely believed that American military members are “heroes,” they would not settle for sloganeering, and garish tributes. They would insist that veterans receive the best healthcare possible.

Improving and universalizing high quality healthcare for all Americans, including veterans, is a much better and truer way to honor the risks soldiers and Marines accept on orders than unofficially imposing a juvenile and dictatorial rule over speech in which anything less than absolute and awed adulation for all things military is treasonous.

One of the reasons that the American public so eagerly and excitedly complies with the cultural code of lionizing every soldier and cop is because of the physical risk-taking and bravery many of them display on the foreign battleground and the American street.

Physical strength and courage is only useful and laudable when invested in a cause that is noble and moral. The causes of American foreign policy, especially at the present, rarely qualify for either compliment.

The “troops are heroes” boosters of American life typically toss out clichés to defend their generalization – “They defend our freedom,” “They fight so we don’t have to.”

No American freedom is currently at stake in Afghanistan.

It is impossible to imagine an argument to the contrary, just as the war in Iraq was clearly fought for the interests of empire, the profits of defense contractors, and the edification of neoconservative theorists.

It had nothing to do with the safety or freedom of the American people. The last time the U.S. military deployed to fight for the protection of American life was in World War II – an inconvenient fact that reduces clichés about “thanking a soldier” for free speech to rubble.

If a soldier deserves gratitude, so does the litigator who argued key First Amendment cases in court, the legislators who voted for the protection of free speech, and thousands of external agitators who rallied for more speech rights, less censorship and broader access to media.

Wars that are not heroic have no real heroes, except for the people who oppose those wars.

Far from being the heroes of recent wars, American troops are among their victims. No rational person can blame the soldier, the Marine, the airman, or the Navy man for the stupid and destructive foreign policy of the U.S. government, but calling them “heroes,” and settling for nothing less, makes honest and critical conversations about American foreign policy less likely to happen.

If all troops are heroes, it doesn’t make much sense to call their mission unnecessary and unjust. It also makes conversations about the sexual assault epidemic, or the killing of innocent civilians, impossible. If all troops are heroes, it doesn’t make any sense to acknowledge that some are rapists and sadists.

The same principle of clear-eyed scrutiny applies to law enforcement agencies. Police departments everywhere need extensive investigation of their training methods, qualifications for getting on the job, and psychological evaluation. None of that will happen as long as the culture calls cops heroes, regardless of their behavior.

An understandable reason for calling all troops heroes, even on the left, is to honor the sacrifice they make after they die or endure a life-altering injury in one of America’s foolish acts of aggression.

A more helpful and productive act of citizenship, and sign of solidarity with the military, is the enlistment in an antiwar movement that would prevent the government from using its volunteer Army as a plaything for the financial advancement and political cover of the state-corporate nexus and the military-industrial complex of Dwight Eishenhower’s nightmares.

Given the dubious and dangerous nature of American foreign policy, and the neglect and abuse veterans often suffer when returning home wounded or traumatized, Americans, especially those who oppose war, should do everything they can to discourage young, poor and working-class men and women from joining the military.

Part of the campaign against enlistment requires removing the glory of the “hero” label from those who do enlist.

Stanley Hauerwas, a professor of divinity studies at Duke whom Time called “America’s best theologian,” has suggested that, given the radical pacifism of Jesus Christ, American churches should do all they can to discourage its young congregants from joining the military.

Haurwas’ brand of intellectual courage is necessary, even among non-Christians, to combat the hysterical sycophancy toward the military in a culture where even saluting a Marine, while holding a coffee cup, is tantamount to terrorism.

The men and women who do enlist deserve better than to die in the dirt and come home in a bag, or spend their lives in wheelchairs, and their parents should not have to drown in tears and suffer the heartbreak of burying their children. The catastrophes become less common when fewer people join the military.

Calling all cops and troops heroes insults those who actually are heroic – the soldier who runs into the line of fire to protect his division, the police officer who works tirelessly to find a missing child – by placing them alongside the cops who shoot unarmed teenagers who have their hands in the air, or the soldier who rapes his subordinate.

It also degrades the collective understanding of heroism to the fantasies of high-budget, cheap-story action movies.

The American conception of heroism seems inextricably linked to violence; not yet graduated from third-grade games of cops and robbers. Explosions and smoking guns might make for entertaining television, but they are not necessary, and more and more in modern society, not even helpful in determining what makes a hero.

A social worker who commits to the care and advocacy of adults with developmental disabilities – helping them find employment, group home placement and medical care, and just treating them with love and kindness – is a hero.

A hospice worker in a poor neighborhood, providing precious comfort and consolation to someone dying on the ugly edges of American healthcare, is a hero.

An inner-city teacher, working hard to give essential education and meaningful affirmation to children living in neighborhoods where bullets fly and families fall apart, is a hero.

Not all teachers, hospice workers or social workers are heroes, but emphasizing the heroism of those who do commit to their clients, patients and students with love and service would cause a shift of America’s fundamental values.

It would place the spotlight on tender and selfless acts of solidarity and empathy for the poor. Calling all cops heroes too often leads to pathetic deference to authority, even when the results are fatal, and insisting all members of the military are heroes too often reinforces the American values of militarism and exceptionalism.

The assignment of heroism, exactly like the literary construct, might have more to do with the assignment of villainy than the actual honoring of “heroes.”

Every hero needs a villain. If the only heroes are armed men fighting the country’s wars on drugs and wars in the Middle East, America’s only villains are criminals and terrorists.

If servants of the poor, sick and oppressed are the heroes, then the villains are those who oppress, profit from inequality and poverty, and neglect the sick.

If that is the real battle of heroism versus villainy, everyone is implicated, and everyone has a far greater role than repeating slogans, tying ribbons and placing stickers on bumpers.

David Masciotra is the author of Mellencamp: American Troubadour (forthcoming, University Press of Kentucky). He writes regularly for the Daily Beast and Splice Today. For more information visit http://www.davidmasciotra.com.


 

 

Boom of female-led TEDx events in Lebanon?

In 2008, Patricia Zougheib was at work in Beirut, Lebanon, when she came across a video of Jill Bolte Taylor describing her own stroke. She was awed, and Googled the three red letters she noticed in the background—T-E-D. “I started watching one talk after the other,” she says, “and I got hooked, big-time.”

Jessica Gross posted on May 19, 2014

For a while, Zougheib kept her TED habit her own special secret, watching talks alone at her advertising job. “But then I thought, after one year, ‘No, this is too good not to be shared.’”

She introduced her husband to TED, and the two decided to invite some friends over to their house to watch and discuss talks.

TEDxSKE, the first TEDx event in Lebanon, started as a gathering of 6 friends — but it has led to a boom of TEDx events in the country, most of them helmed by women.

No one can explain why women are drawn to TEDx organizing here—but regardless of the reason, they are spreading ideas to attendees of both genders.

Zougheib knew TEDxSKE had reached a turning point when strangers started asking to join in. “It became an open house,” she says. “Of course, a limited open house, because our house can only fit 20 to 25 persons max.”

Two years later, the weekly salon was still thriving.

“I started saying, this salon is kind of changing our lives. Everyone is being affected by this,” Zougheib says. “I thought, if this small salon was having this much effect, we should do the big event with our speakers.”

She gathered a team of regular TEDxSKE attendees to lead another, bigger salon and to launch the main event TEDxBeirut.

The scene at TEDxSKE, held in the home of Patricia TK. Photo: Courtesy of TEDxSKE

At the same time, Reine Azzi, a teacher at Lebanese American University (LAU), was having her own TED moment. Scrolling through her Facebook feed, she came across one of Sir Ken Robinson’s talks, which an American friend had posted. “Because I’m a teacher, the title intrigued me, so I clicked,” she says. “And I fell in love with what he had to say.”

She watched all of Robinson’s talks and, the next day, approached her boss to ask about screening one of them as a lecture on campus. The event was small, but shortly after, someone introduced Azzi and Zougheib, who was still scouting locations for the inaugural TEDxBeirut salon. Azzi offered up the LAU campus, and the event drew 150 people. (I attended this event)

Things snowballed. Azzi held the first TEDxLAU salon in 2012.

Six salons and two main events later, “TEDxLAU events are always sold out. Always. It’s amazing,” Azzi says; the last salon, on mental health, sold out within 24 hours. “It’s as if students on campus were thirsty for events like these—events that are intellectual but at the same time humane … You don’t have a speaker who is just standing behind a table reading from a manuscript. You have a speaker who is sharing heart and soul with you.

Balloons at a TEDxBeirutSalon. Photo: Nadim Kamel

TEDxBeirut, meanwhile, has held eight salons and two main events, which featured local speakers and drew 700, then 1,200, attendees.

In fact, the organization grew so quickly that Zougheib quit her job and took 16 months to work solely on TEDxBeirut.

“I loved it—it was the best 16 months of my life,” she says. Not sustainable, though (“neither for me nor my husband”), so she’s back at work and has passed TEDxBeirut off to a team of four co-leaders. But she is still actively spreading TEDx.

“Everyone started asking us, ‘Please come do your event at our university!’” Zougheib says. Instead of taking the event on the road, she encouraged people to get their own licenses. TEDx salons mushroomed across Lebanon; there are now about 10.

Natalia Geha, for one, attended TEDxBeirut a few years ago, and just held her first TEDxNDULouaize salon at Notre Dame University-Louaize in January, with musical performances in addition to talk screenings and discussions. “I think it’s interesting that TED is becoming so popular in Lebanon, because we really lack cultural events,” she says.

A TEDxSKE salon, held in a beautiful venue. Photo: Nadim Kamel

It’s a sentiment echoed by Zougheib almost verbatim. “The movement is spreading like no other movement I’ve seen, ever,” she says. “We didn’t have many cultural events happening here. There was a lack.”

Zougheib also points out that media—internationally, but within Lebanon, too—tend to focus on turmoil, to the exclusion of achievement.

She wanted TEDxBeirut to be a platform for showing the inventiveness and creativity of her compatriots. “We all need non-political platforms where we can express our ideas, talk about our inventions, say that young people are as lively as they are elsewhere,” she says. “We do have ideas, believe it or not. Even if we come from Lebanon.”

Note: I attended many of TEDx events in Lebanon and joined the open-house several times: I took every opportunity when I could get a ride, particularly with my nephew William Choukeir who was co-sponsor of Tedx in its beginning and later headed the set-up of TEDxBeirut.

Riad Houeiss, Patsy hubby, took the trouble a couple of times to fetch me from home.

And got used to removing my shoes outside in order not to ruin the floor.

I posted countless reviews and reports on the events.

The cake at TEDxSKE's 5th anniversary party. Photo: Patrick Abi Salloum

Professional Procrastinator may write a sentence per day

Suppose you are a procrastinator and barely publish a 100-page book every 7 years.

It is Not the long delay of getting a task done that defines a procrastinator: It is the postponing of an important, urgent and critical job that should be grabbed by the horns.

For example, postponing writing your New Year’s lists of resolutions has Nothing to do with procrastination: Common sense has demonstrated that a resolution to be carried out successfully requires time, energy and consistency on a daily basis. And common sense tells you that you will lack all the necessary requirement, not just for one resolution, but for the dozen of them.

Why professional writers procrastinate?

1. Research is much more enjoyable than writing. The procrastinator enjoys surfing the Web for hours on, supposedly to get lucky and stumbling on a forgotten story. (I don’t like researching and wait until the sources are staked in front of me, if I could afford an assistant)

2. The procrastinator’s lame excuse is Ï wait till I’m in the “right mood, as if an artist becomes famous by Not working his trade every day, consistently and stubbornly, and does not wait for his mood swing to stabilize.

3. The main factor is the time lapse between sowing and reaping. If no external authority sets deadlines, the longer the time lapse the harder is to start on the task.

4. Abusing and draining your willpower. For example, the group of subjects who were prevented to touch the cookies for 30 minutes gave up on a math problem twice as fast as those who could eat as many cookies as they wanted. The period of self-control drains mental energy and willpower.

Luckily, self-control is not a requirement at every moment in our life, otherwise, we will be living as zombies.

A good trick to weaken procrastination attitude is to eliminate distractions such as turning off internet and TV.., particularly, give a rest for gorging on cookies and soda cans…

Best trick of all is to set deadlines, strict deadlines in phases, for example in writing your dissertation thesis.

Mind you that finishing writing a thesis is Not that important: after 3 years of fine-tuning and re-editing your Masterpiece, you realize that most of the contents are obsolete and need re-researching. This is the case for Non natural scientific fields of study.

In any case, if your belief is that strong for having a closure, then set your damned deadlines, disconnect from distractions, and get on with your dissertation.

At most, half a dozen will peruse your lengthy dissertation, maybe those on your jury board.

 


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