Compassion and proximity

The Boston Marathon Bombing, or whatever name history will eventually give it, happened just a few hours ago.

I know and feel that it is a tragedy. I also know and feel, like a friend pointed out on social media, that people around the world routinely experience similar anguish in the name of the same security we felt was violated today.

He was, and I now am, speaking of our country’s policy of drone warfare. Yes, I understand that this policy’s intention is to increase our security.

But what difference does our rationale make to the innocents wounded and ended, or their families? Is that anguish anything less than what our fellow citizens today have experienced? A good case could be made that the fear experienced by those living in the regions where targeting often occurs is markedly worse.

I say this not because I believe the experience of the Boston bombing victims is not worthy of lament by comparison.

And I’m saying all this as a matter of self-introspection more than as a questioning of everyone else.

Today’s bombings made me emotional. And by that euphemism, I mean I got choked up and my eyes did this watery, on-the-verge-of-tears thing they sometimes do when I experience empathy.

I could pawn this supposedly emasculating behavior off on a heightened sense of concern because my girlfriend attends school in Boston, or the fact that I am poised to move to the area late next month, but the truth is I’m something of an empathetic Olympian.

Despite my bleeding, Herculean heart, I have not experienced this level empathy about drone victims, even though reason seems to dictate to me that I would have more justification in doing so.

As much as I do care about the innocent victims of drone strikes, there is some relatable quality possessed by the victims in Boston.

It brings to mind a quote by Mark Zuckerberg, though the quote isn’t 100 percent equivocal to the scenario: “A squirrel dying In your front yard may be more relevant to your interests right now than people dying in Africa.”

Is it proximity? I think so, but not necessarily all geographical. I’m thinking culturally. No matter how much I’d prefer to be above it, it makes sense that I would find more in common with fellow Americans than a group of people whom I may understand, but could never know.

This realization is disheartening in two ways. Firstly, it undermines my own self-perception of objective humanitarian interest.

Secondly, this new self-perception makes whatever level of humanitarian interest I have for these people seem like a cause even more lost when promoting it to those whom are already generally unconcerned with this results of our foreign policy.

Desaparecidos’ Conor Oberst, Encourages Hacktivism at Tallahassee Show

Desaparecidos delivered a politically charged performance at The Moon in Tallahassee, Fla,. Wednesday night.

Desaparecidos, a post-hardcore band fronted by Bright Eyes singer Conor Oberst, is a band that many, this writer included, never expected to see performing again when they broke up in 2003, and Oberst’s primary act, Bright Eyes, took off.

Though the band only released one album, “Read Music/Speak Spanish,” the album has maintained a faithful listenership.

Desaparecidos expertly combines punk ethos lyrics with the controlled chaos and the divinely aggressive marriage of melody and shouts which best defines the post-hardcore genre. The album’s lyrics lampoon and confront issues such as inequality, rampant consumerism and aggressive militarism.

It’s worth noting that it was written prior to the 9/11 attacks, as this indicates a true passion rather than the reactionary partisanship parading as anti-war sentiment, which is all but quiet now in the music scene.

In a New York Time’s interview Oberst, who donated the maximum $2,300 to President Obama in 2008, as well as performed benefits for Obama, revealed he is upset the current drone policy.

“Obama increased drone strikes and targeted assassinations of American citizens,” he told me. “All the promises he made in the course of that 2008 election, all the things that I thought I heard him saying when I was standing there in the primaries in Iowa on a frozen morning listening to him speak, the person I thought I was hearing, is not the person that is running our government.”

Since reuniting last year Desaparecidos has released four new songs which focus on different issues:

“MariKKKopa,” which takes aim at the controversial Joe Arpaio, Arizona’s Maricopa County sheriff.
“Backsell,” which dashes music industry practices.
“The Left is Right,” which pays homage to the Occupy movement with it’s line “If one must die to save the 99, maybe it’s justified.”
And, lastly, “Anonymous,” which is in support of Bradly Manning and named after the hacker group of the same name

Before launching into “Anonymous” last night, Oberst spoke to the crowd in one of many tongue-in-cheek addresses:

“I recommend if you have any computer skills, what I recommend you to do is to break into any financial institution, and steal as much money as you possibly can, and to find any little, [expletive deleted] corrupt Florida congressman, I’m sure there’s many, hack into their emails, find out — find out about their mistresses, and then put that all out on the [expletive deleted] internet.”

The evening was one of catharsis for the politically frustrated, and likely one of much confusion for one Oberst fan girl I overheard say she was only here because she liked Bright Eyes, and had never heard Desaparecidos.

While Bright Eyes is not devoid of social commentary, Bright Eyes tends to ply the listener with it, where as Desaparecidos makes no qualms about sounding their seemingly barbaric yawp. Although, after listening to the album for 10 years I understand there is no barbarism attached. Calculated, thoughtful and impassioned conveyances of dis-contentedness should never be equated with barbarism.

Desaparecidos makes angry music, and if last night was any indication, that anger is more than matched by their professionalism.

The set list:
1. The Left is Right
2. The Happiest Place on Earth
3. Mall of America
4. Backsell
5. Man and Wife, the Former (Financial Planning)
6. Manana
7. Greater Omaha
8. Survival of the Fittest/It’s a Jungle Out There
9. $$$$
10. Anonymous
11. Man and Wife, the Latter (Damaged Goods)
12. MariKKKopa
13. Spanish Bombs [The Clash Cover]
14. Hole in One

When You Play the Game of Drones…

Carl Hess, a man who has written many, many letters to local papers in my area, gave a speech to my opinion writing class last week. It was interesting to finally see and hear him after I’d seen so many of his letters.

I enjoyed much of Hess’ speech, but was taken aback when I discovered how dismissive he was of critics of drone assassinations.

In 2007 I went through a phase of writing letters to the editor, and several were published. I recall my then girlfriend’s quite Republican father calling me Carl Hess. At the time I was a bit of a libertarian, so I took slight offense to this comparison, but even at that time I could recognize Hess as a voice of reason compared to most other local opinion writers.

Since then, many of my views have shifted, but my foreign policy stances have mostly solidified. Then, I found  trial-free detention, and torture of terror suspects unfitting of a civilized nation, even one waging such a tricky, new brand of war.

Today, I naturally believe trial-free death sentences by drones are worse.

The methods that led to detainment of accused militants was the basis of my opposition. In Guantanamo only a small percent of the prisoners were captured directly by US forces, while 95 percent were captured by warring tribes motivated by bounties.  The justifications for detainment were as shallow as “finding that prisoners carried Kalashnikov rifles, wore olive drab clothing, had Casio watches, or had stayed in ‘guesthouses’—all of which were commonplace in Afghanistan”

According to Jennifer Gibson, a researchers for “Living Under Drones,” a major study released by Stanford University and New York University, drone targets are subject to similarly flawed justifications. Bounties are offered to informants for providing new targets.

But potential to murder innocents is not the only pitfall of the drone strategy. In an interview with On The Media, Stanford Law professor James Cavallaro, author of the Living Under Drones, said there were profound consequences for the communities. 

“We’ve found psychological disorders; post-traumatic stress disorders. We’ve found a break down in the communities. Parents told us they don’t send their kids to school. People don’t go to religious services; they don’t go to group meetings. They are very suspicious of each other.

In effect, an entire area of Pakistan has been turned into a war zone, even though, in theory, the United States is not at war with Pakistan.”

Cavallaro went on to say American media is failing in it’s obligation to question the legitimacy of drone policy.

“Suppose a police officer in New York or Chicago shot and killed a young man and the only media inquiry was whether or not the young man might have participated in a gang. That wouldn’t be adequate by any stretch of the imagination.

The question is: was that person presenting a threat at the time he was shot by the police officer. did he have a weapon? was there an imminence to the danger presented or not? Because if there wasn’t, at most you can arrest that person,

And the same principles apply in areas outside of war zones. And if there is no imminent threat the United States cannot kill a person and then legitimate it by saying ‘this person was a militant.’

Reporting what an anonymous officials says without challenging it, I think, borders on irresponsible. I don’t think the media would apply the same standards in the U.S.”

Cavarallo also points out that the vast majority of drone strike victims, 98 percent, are either signature strikes or casualties, and not personality strikes. Personality strikes are known targets and high level operatives which are subject to review by the president. Signature strikes are suspected militants who are executed on the basis of suspicious behavior.

To minimize the likelihood of casualties, the administration has taken the brilliant safety measure of redefining what is a militant. That new definition includes all military age males within a strike zone, unless there is evidence  posthumously proving innocence.

I’m confident there is a division of the CIA dedicated to reviewing the guilt and innocence of drone victims. Please note my sarcasm on that last sentence.

Retired General Stanley McChrystal cautioned that the use of drones are “hated on a visceral level” and the resentment created  “is much greater than the average American appreciates.”

To illustrate McChrystals point a newly released Gallup poll reveals a staggering 92 percent disapproval of US leadership within Pakistan, which is up from 49 percent when the poll was conducted not even two years ago.

If anti-American sentiment is surging due to the use of drones, and thus, presumably, incentive to do harm to Americans, then how can it possibly be said that the current drone policy is more of a solution than it is a problem?

EDIT #1: I wrote this blog and titled it the night before I published it. This means I did not see this report from Al Jazeera titled “Game of drones.”