Wednesday, November 7, 2012

my identity politics.

Tonight’s election was important to me.

In my ferocious pursuit of objectivity, maybe what you’d call my dogmatic slumber, I’ve rarely allowed myself to entertain my emotions during decision-making. But now in the interests of objectivity, even while I work to distance myself from them, perhaps it’s time to admit I have emotions.

Tonight’s victory was important to me.

While Barack Obama is a politician, and as such often seems to seek change slowly, strategically, and even sycophantically at times, I can’t help but recognize the immense difference that four years of politically expedient incrementalism has in amounted to aggregate. As I watched the screens of my bar flicker to cheers that recreational marijuana use, gay marriage, and reproductive freedom ballot measures were winning across the board, I couldn’t help but feel pride. While I still question any advance of democracy in spite of liberalism, in America, democracy still advances liberalism. This is important to me.

Tonight’s victory speech was important to me.

Despite where I am in life, I think it’s important for me to recognize where I came from. I was born to immigrants in North Carolina as the first American in a family of five, to recently married refugee parents with political asylum from Australia, and to a brother and sister that remained in Iran to weather the Iran-Iraq War that my parents’ taxes were ironically funding as America played both sides of the conflict. (Not like politically apathetic artists wearing keffiyehs ironic, but like parents funding bombs dropped on their children ironic.)

Despite the wars and political obstacles, I was lucky enough to meet them; my sister when I was 4, and my brother when I was 12. I still remember meeting my sister for the first time in our small DC apartment where we shared a room. I looked up from playing in my PJs, as friendly then as I am now, and yelped “Hi, who are you?!” It turns out she was a pop-obsessed teen straight out of Persepolis, a package deal that included Madonna and Richard Marx.

(Right-to-left: Me, my dad, and my cousin/future best bud Andre, a product of my young Persian aunt teaching Farsi to a young U.S. Special Forces soldier named Tim.)

As I piece together my origins, it sometimes seems almost too easy to forget. I recall a conversation I had with my parents about why it was so difficult to recover any family property in Iran. Quite simply, Baha’is are not allowed to own property in Iran. (My father’s family is Baha’i.) Forgetting your origins is a luxury that not all governments afford you, and the aforementioned persecution is a sentiment not all democracies would reject. Despite and during both Baha’i and Baptist Sunday school, I was a very early atheist. Atheism would be an ideology I’d imagine even some Americans (I wonder how they tend to vote) would like to persecute, much less Iranians. The prospect that I could’ve grown up a closeted liberal atheist in Iran makes it that much more fortunate that I escaped that fate.

In recognition of these origins, I think it’s important for me to acknowledge, then, that when Obama speaks in stories, he consistently speaks my story. I invite you to consider why these lines from Obama’s victory speech connected with me:

These arguments we have are a mark of our liberty. We can never forget that as we speak people in distant nations are risking their lives right now just for a chance to argue about the issues that matter, the chance to cast their ballots like we did today.

While Obama consistently mentions that “In America, no two families look the same,” I invite you to consider why the Republican narrative consistently doesn’t connect with me, minimizes my narrative, and why I don’t believe this to be pure coincidence.

While many chest-thump and browbeat about American freedom, they somehow frequently omit the transformative narrative that my freedom has cast, focusing instead on their entitlement to a marginally higher percentage of their hard-earned money. Sure, freedom from higher marginal tax rates is one kind of freedom among many, but I can’t help but feel that their fervent focus minimizes my story and many others. Calling Obama a tyrant because he wants to let the Bush tax cuts expire just doesn’t seem compelling when your identity as an American is a product of real tyranny, and when many (most) who’ve escaped real tyranny fear Mitt Romney for his disconnected world of privilege far more than Barack Obama for his suspiciously hard-to-spot soviet socialism. (Sarcasm, duh.)

When a political party is willing to appease intolerance or indifference towards the liberties fundamental to America’s many diverse and alternative lifestyles, seemingly in order to defend misguided economic and regressive tax policies that entrench those who’ve had multiple generations to benefit from America’s liberty, I can’t help but wonder: Despite my disdain for its ad hominem nature, is there merit to arguing in the domain of identity politics?

I don’t know.

Is there merit to welling up with pride hearing my mother, a brand new American citizen who despite all her flaws has endured enormous hardships to be where she is today, speak in broken English about how important it is that her first chance in her life to vote count for Obama in Virginia? Is there merit in thinking of her when the map turns blue? Is there merit in disdain for a Republican party that doesn’t seem to speak, understand, or care for her story?

For formulating objective opinions on propositions, I’d again say I don’t know, but I’m also not the only one who shares these sentiments. If my story and sentiment sound strange to you, I would venture something that might sound yet stranger to you: it’s not strange at all. It’s increasingly the American story, and it’s also the story of why the Republican Party is failing.

The Republican Party is failing to recognize the story of where almost all Americans began and forgetting the stories of how their America came to be. You can’t understand America by ignoring the truths that define so many Americans, or in Mitt Romney’s estimation, about 47% of them. You can’t understand America when “the young boy on the south side of Chicago who sees a life beyond the nearest street corner” is more likely to illicit jeers than cheers, conjuring images of a black drug-dealer on welfare. You can’t understand America when you claim “I built that,” denying the advantage of being born to privilege in America, yet oxymoronically coveting that advantage by actively denying it to many who’ve already begun to build the American dream.

Freedom has become a marketing term, used in politics more than anywhere else, to paint bogeymen while failing to articulate how they’re an enemy to any freedom beyond freedom from marginal tax increases (which is how John Roberts and I both ultimately characterize Obamacare). As I sit here staring at a promotional “Chase Freedom” credit card balance transfer offer, a testament to freedom’s marketability, perhaps it’s Mitt’s 53% of real Americans that’ve forgotten what freedom must’ve meant to their forefathers, a freedom that is oxymoronic to browbeat about.

Their own family histories certainly have similar stories to both mine and many families in the demographics Republicans just can’t seem to capture.

As a student of economics, money, and banking, while there is merit to some of the Republican economic platform, it exists within a context where Republicans have superimposed their narrow experience of America over the actual picture of the real America. The merits of Republican policies pale in comparison to the intolerance and threats to individual liberty implicit in the Republican extremism that propels the platform.

If the identity of these implicit threats eludes you, I implore you to ask your fellow Republicans, the old-school moderates who’ve spent the obstructionist era scratching their heads, for further information. Until the right-wing fringe begins to grasp some of these concepts, the demographic trends will continue to bury the Republican Party.

Sometimes it strikes me that in so many ways, I was almost a kid who didn’t make it; a kid who’s story today’s Republican Party wouldn’t care to tell. Yet here I am, I’d like to think by some merit of my own, but also by many strokes of fate and fortune; a first generation American, a government-subsidized graduate of America’s best public university, a former Fed bank regulator turned private sector consultant in NYC, amidst the cross-hairs of a couple super-storms and sleeplessness, awash in a sea of relevant history, so proud and so happy.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

an accidental thesis on abortion.

so earlier tonight, i got too tempted to restrain myself and i ended up responding to a couple of particularly provoking facebook posts. turns out i accidentally wrote out my thesis on abortion, so i figured i'd share it with you.

(abortions per 1,000 women aged 15-44.)

names removed, here's the pro-life argument that got me going...

I was adopted nearly from birth. At 18, I learned that I was conceived out of a brutal rape at knife-point by a serial rapist. Like most people, I'd never considered that abortion applied to my life, but once I received this information, all of a sudden I realized that, not only does it apply to my life, but it has to do with my very existence. It was as if I could hear the echoes of all those people who, with the most sympathetic of tones, would say, “Well, except in cases of rape. . . ," or who would rather fervently exclaim in disgust: “Especially in cases of rape!!!” All these people are out there who don‘t even know me, but are standing in judgment of my life, so quick to dismiss it just because of how I was conceived. I felt like I was now going to have to justify my own existence, that I would have to prove myself to the world that I shouldn’t have been aborted and that I was worthy of living. I also remember feeling like garbage because of people who would say that my life was like garbage -- that I was disposable. - from my friend conceived in rape, and I think she should live! Totally Pro-Life!"

Whenever you identify yourself as being “pro-choice,” or whenever you make that exception for rape, what that really translates into is you being able to stand before me, look me in the eye, and say to me, "I think your mother should have been able to abort you.” That’s a pretty powerful statement. I would never say anything like that to someone. I would say never to someone, “If I had my way, you’d be dead right now." - Rebecca

"'I think your mother should have been able to abort you.' That’s a pretty powerful statement." how exactly is that a powerful statement? that's simply a reiteration of the pro-choice position in the context of a situation where abortion often takes place.

implicit in every pro-choice position is an admission that "my mom should've been able to abort me." i would imagine rebecca has significantly invested her identity in a reflexive defensiveness, so i wouldn't bother getting personal and trying to convince her, but there is nothing particularly insensitive about that position. now telling someone who is pro-choice "you're mom shouldn't have been able to abort you," that is probably way more incendiary, since it implies their mom, who they most likely respect, isn't morally or intellectually fit to make the right decision.

which brings me to a point of confusion, in rebecca's case wouldn't she agree that her mom made the right moral decision in a morally ambiguous situation? isn't that ultimately a pro-choice argument? i would imagine the emotional turmoil in the context of forced carriage would be infinitely more complicated, since it leaves open the questions like "did my mother not want to have me? was i burden? was i born out of a double-coercion, first by rape, then by the government forcing my mother to term? did my mother's pregnancy ruin her life? was i born with the weight of having ruined someone's life?"

the fact that this doesn't seem to have occurred to you leads me to believe you fundamentally misunderstand the pro-choice position.

the moral context we ascribe to a child is incredibly complex. would you pull a baby from an unconsenting mother's umbilical cord, shackle it in handcuffs, and charge it with theft of the mother's sustenance and trespassing on her property? of course not, because we do not ascribe the moral context of an adult to a child, infant, or fetus. it is morally ambiguous.

you play on the moral ambiguities yourself by posing the question "at what point should a woman not be able to have an abortion?" but again, the moral ambiguity is the linchpin of the pro-choice position. and the (or at least my) pro-choice argument is that "where there is moral ambiguity, the government should not mandate it's or even the majority's morality, but should leave the morally ambiguous choice to the individuals most familiar with the situation."

unless you can find me a fetus capable of weighing in on complex philosophical questions like when life begins, guess who that is? the mother. that's why it's offensive to women when you claim that despite the mother being intimate with the details of the situation, the male-dominated government's moral position supersedes her's.

if you truly understand the pro-choice position, then you'd realize that no one sees this as a righteous defense of babies. to someone who's pro-choice, you're trolling on people's walls essentially going out of your way to say "sorry, but i don't trust that you, as a woman, have the ability to make a respectable decision in this morally ambiguous situation." it relegates women to a position of unthinking vessels for men's progeny. personally, i find that way more offensive than "your mom should've been able to abort you."

but seriously folks, who needs those dumb vessels anyway? there are binders full of women just begging to carry (pun intended) out god's will.

(when women have abortions.)

and here's a little subsequent tit-for-tat:

Interesting thoughts Chris. I don't think the ability of the fetus to weigh in on the decision has any relevance. If it did, those with mental illnesses or in a comma would be left to die b/c they cannot reason at the moment. Or, if it was based on just having a beating heart, 10+ patients of mine should not be here now because I was operating on them while we were waiting for their heartbeat to return. Each of these patients had a right to life, whether they could reason or not in their present state, and same goes if their heart wasn't back to beating yet....both are similar to the young fetus who is also not reasoning in the present, and the heartbeat we are waiting to kick in.

thanks, long time no chat. your arguments are thought-provoking too which is why i was so tempted to respond, so thanks for them.

i think you might still be missing the point on mine though. the pro-choice position is not that the comatose *should* die anymore than babies *should* be aborted, it is that those most intimately involved with and thus familiar with the situation should make the decision. in the situation you pose, the logical conclusion to a comatose person would be that the family should decide, which is exactly what happens when families in consultations with doctors take them off life support, despite there existing the possibility that life is viable.

if we're logically consistent, i guess we'd be on different sides of the terri schiavo debate. but again, what's funny about that case is the premise that "those most intimately involved should decide" was actually generally accepted, the argument was actually over who that was, the husband or the parents.

oh sorry, i think i missed a point now. i get what you're saying: the fact that some patients are guaranteed to have a heartbeat and "we're just waiting for [it] to return" makes them the moral equivalent of fetuses. sorry i can't agree with you there.

my argument has nothing to do with the viability of life, it has everything to do with moral ambiguity. of course there's no moral ambiguity over whether or not we can kill someone under anesthesia, but there is with whether or not a woman is obligated to carry a fetus to term, which is why the comparison falls apart.

...and voila, there you have it. my accidental thesis on abortion. good election time reading i suppose.

Monday, September 24, 2012

democracy means nothing.

i wrote this quite awhile ago about this article: israel's fading democracy. i've referenced it a few times since and realized it's really worth posting here.



i've been on this message for so long, constantly biting my tongue around fervent supporters of israel...

democracy means nothing. liberal democracy means everything, liberalism being far more important than democracy. you can gerrymander and manipulate an illiberal democracy to get the most vile and tyrannical governments imaginable, which is exactly the kind of government you get from hamas, hezbollah, and likud, where some citizens, be they sunni, shi'a, or jewish, are more equal than others.

in the last paragraph, he speaks directly to me: "And for all the cynics who are smiling sarcastically as they read these lines, I can only say to Americans, 'Yes, we still can,' and to Israelis, 'If you will it, it is no dream.'"

to which i would unsarcastically reply, "Not as long as America enables apartheid, which it does and it will. Your dream is dead."

Monday, July 23, 2012

from latakia with love.

the revolution is at a tipping point with the fight raging for damascus and aleppo, syria's largest and second largest cities. the regime is hitting back, and my best guess is the regime will be repulsed in aleppo but largely successful in damascus, where the shabiha are being led by assad's brother.



of course with the free syrian army fighting a protracted guerilla campaign, as they should, success for the regime takes on a slightly complicated definition. the regime can certainly shell and retake neighborhoods at will, but if the rebels melt away only to return later, establishing legitimacy and lasting control will be difficult. i expect a protracted game of cat and mouse in the capital for awhile to come.



"The Free Syrian Army is moving quickly and well," said Moaz Shami, a leading activist in the capital. "But the road ahead is still long, and what the rebels did surpassed their abilities. I can't say that they will liberate Damascus."



many observers think we may actually be passed the tipping point, with july 18th's bombing of the national security headquarters marking the beginning of the end for assad. if that's true, (and i hope it is,) then what comes after? there seems to be two possible outcomes.

in my ideal scenario, the regime collapses in damascus, and the free syrian army deftly steers the discourse away from sectarian conflict.

"We are putting together a unit to protect the national museum, the central bank and especially Alawite districts against revenge attacks," says a rebel in Damascus. "There is still no shortage of volunteers even for that, thank God."

in this ideal scenario, the regime's stubbornness works against them. if assad refuses to leave damascus, a rebel victory in the capital could spell complete sovereignty over all of syria for the syrian national council, including the ethnically alawite areas.



in the unfavorable scenario, a shrewd assad steers syria into a sectarian civil war and retreats to an alawite refuge, as some rumors suggest he already has, to deny the rebels a complete victory. a lot of signs point to evidence that the planning for this, including ethnic cleansing, may already be underway.



this post was inspired by a post from anusar farooqui's policy tensor, which detailed the imperative for the rebels should they seek to craft a viable state in this scenario, namely maintaining access to a port. in weighing out the possibilities, i found a post from the syria comment the most compelling justification for why this unfavorable scenario won't happen.

to break it down very simply:
1. alawite urbanization.
2. alawite integration.
3. lack of infrastructure.
4. lack of diplomatic recognition.
5. strategic indefensibility.

of these, i totally disagree with 4. russia would rapidly recognize an alawite state, as well as continue to trade and arm the alawites in exchange for continued naval basing rights in tartus.

but i find myself agreeing pretty heavily with 5. i scoured the internet for 2004 syrian census data to examine the ethnic makeup of latakia and tartus, but so far, no dice since all the government websites are incommunicado. (surprise surprise.) still, from the post: "All the coastal cities remain majority Sunni to this day." while i don't take that quote as gospel, i would be very surprised if the large sunni minority, possibly the majority in some crucial urban centers, couldn't function as an effectively crippling fifth column within any potential alawite state.

that said, i suppose we shall have to wait and sea.



long live the free syrian army.


Thursday, July 19, 2012

contracting aid.

dreday just posted this article which gives a whole lot of insight into the inner workings of foreign aid.

it's definitely got me thinking about the nature of government contracting in general, and how the theory of the firm applies to the public sector. i bumped into this list while exploring. it doesn't quite match up with the foreign policy list, but i still found it informative.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

a liberal libya.

egypt's vote turned out to be pretty disappointing, not that i didn't sort of expect it. (still hoping for the turkish model of a strong military to safeguard liberalism there.)

but i'm still holding out hope for a liberal libya.

I saw an old man with damaged eyesight, who could barely walk, being ushered in by his son. Other voters quickly brought a chair to him so he could rest and then carried him upstairs to vote, chanting "Allahu Akbar", or "God is great".

the national front has my vote.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

buxom bosons.

i suppose we can't all be particle physicists. for some of us, it's just way too complicated. i mean... statistically significant observations? what?

Rolf Heuer offered as good a summation as any when he said, "We have observed a new particle that is consistent with a Higgs boson."

dude, rolf, shut up- we discovered the fucking particle. now you're either with us or against us. ugh- liberals. but seriously folks, not sure why i just meandered into a few hours worth of the higgs boson but here's my favorite tidbit:



now here's the editorializing- it gave me crazy perspective watching the now outdated documentary "atom smashers," which basically tracks years of fermilab's search for the boson, now considered discovered by cern. if you're looking to feel like you live in a relevant time, look no further:



the editorial message about funding basic research is pervasive and it definitely got to me: a summary.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

a clean bill of health finalized.

"don't get it twisted to mean i'm railing against the bill, all taxes 'force' spending in some form or another. i'm just saying that wherever [the tax/subsidy] break-even point lies is where the equity/efficiency trade-off begins, producing access for those below at the expense of coercion for those above." -a crude reading of john roberts's opinion within my own opinion.

also, did anyone else notice the economist copied my headline?

object permanence.

something you may not know about me: some things you may never know about me.

my mortality is following me, making fun of me, laughing every time i trip on the cracks.

i've been here for years.

years.

yet i'm too above myself to care. i'm a god in a man's body; resigned to taking it all in as entertainment; to pushing every boundary just to see what happens, with a destructive streak that can only come from a profound acceptance of mortality's humor.

...

every once in awhile, you see yourself as all of yourself, typically as a tralfamadorian in transition. it's in those moments that you're still yourself (how am i not myself?) but you cease to identify with yourself, at least in-so-far as you can no longer be upset by upsets or offended by the unjust assumptions that go along with going anywhere.

having nothing to prove can be a major disadvantage, especially when everyone expects you to prove yourself.

maybe now and then little clues give you little clues. you can catch a glimpse of what was a formative experience for all of us, not because we wanted it to be but because it had to be, subtly referenced in every projection, out-of-context and out of reach.

maybe i'm just too damn good at being detached.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

yawn.

"traveling is a brutality. it forces you to trust strangers and to lose sight of all that familiar comfort of home and friends. you are constantly off balance. nothing is yours except the essential things: air, sleep, dreams, sea, the sky - all things tending towards the eternal or what we imagine of it." -cesare pavese

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

an economic collapse.

i keep this distance
to dwell this close

so nearly home
my home's home changes
but here i'm constant

four walls that melt and move
but to a moveable feast of flesh

a reminder;
alone in physical integrity
maybe delusionally transcendent

so long as it does not touch me
and i am yet untouched
front page news or your lost limb
in truth, calamity's a sideshow

but if we pretend
and we all feign hope
what am i to you?

Friday, April 13, 2012

on the evolution of products and production.

i know i've been on this rant for awhile now, but here's a tidbit: producers are the new musical artists, and all your beloved pop artists are just curators (some better, some worse). if you're into a song, forget the artist. find out who produced it, and then go find more. i've been doing it on the reg, and so far so fancy.





Friday, February 24, 2012

more more stimulus continued.

so mayhaps you remember my post about throwing fed credibility and caution to the wind in favor of radical new stimulus measures.

i just came across a richmond fed publication, "would a little inflation produce a bigger recovery?" it's an awesome pros and cons analysis of the idea. i dig it and you should too. kthxbai.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

paid vacation.

i wonder how people that support/supported guantanamo and enhanced interrogation and indefinite military detention rationalize stuff like this...

i suppose it's not a coincidence that i don't know anyone that fits that description, so it's not like i can ask. i would imagine they'd call it something like collateral damage.

and then of course there's title x subtitle d of the national defense authorization act.

it's all just... strange. embarrassing even.