Syria: “The Problem from Hell”


Syria (Photo credit: ewixx)

I do not want to write about Syria because I have no special insights into the situation, but then again, I don’t know who does.   It is the proverbial elephant in the room, but like that old story of several blind men touching different parts of an elephant, it seems different depending on what part you touch.

Our military  will soon send missiles to do a surgical strike in response to what our government asserts was a chemical weapons attack by the Syrian government on its people.   John McCain asserts they already used chemical weapons, but that assertion is in some doubt.   This time is doubtless according to the Obama administration and crosses the “red line” that he warned the Syrian regime not to cross tens of thousands of deaths ago.

Whatever.  We’ll soon launch limited missile attacks which, well, will do what?  The argument is they will be punishment for crossing that “red line” of chemical weapons, argued since WWI to be the definitive line that separates reasonable war from monstrosities,   It seems the indiscriminate nature of chemical weapons is the key and the image of dying from slow asphyxiation cements the difference, though it seems a fine line between that and dying in a bomb produced falling building.   In any event, we Americans can luxuriate in discriminate killing because we have such sophisticated weapons that our missiles can hit not just a building but a specific window in that building.

Anyway, how is this to play out? is the BIG QUESTION.   The administration doesn’t want to topple Assad, at least not quite yet, because chaos may well harbor bigger threats that could prevail…. a large share of the freedom fighters have a Muslim extremist sense of “freedom”.    So, I guess we want to slap Assad’s hand hard enough so as not to cross that red line again, and otherwise watch the slaughter games continue while sending support to whatever elements we think of as the “good guys” or the better-than-worse guys.

And what I have said just scratches the surface.  Hell goes deep.  For those who want to explore the in-and-outs of this confusion, I suggest going to this link titled Why China and Russia are Standing by the Regime.   While describing their positions, the article links to various other articles about the situation, including the  historical use of chemical weapons, so it provides a good primer for those who want to learn more about the intricacies of this particular hell.

Somewhere there is a quote from a Russian describing our foreign policy regarding the volatile Muslim world:   “The Americans handle the Muslim world like a monkey handling a hand grenade.”  

Made me smile……   but the Russian tendency to support despotism under any circumstances is no answer either in this age of Middle East revolutions, reactions to decades and decades of repression and happening now compliments of hand held world interconnectivity and one more reason this problem is beyond the capacity of any nation to control or perhaps even guide.

The “Myth” of Black on Black Crime Revisited

(NOTE:   Over two weeks have gone by since my previous post.  A medical issue which is now largely resolved has distracted me, but I plan on posting more often again.)

I spent much of my previous post arguing that Jamelle Bouie was playing an intellectual shell game when arguing that black on black crime is a myth in his July 15 piece in The Daily Beast.   I did not realize at the time that Bouie restated his position two days later in The American Prospect in response to the “huge response  from both sides” to the “myth” editorial.

In the second piece he drops the argument of black on black crime being a myth and instead calls it a “dangerous idea”.  It is dangerous because:  “The only thing we accomplish by focusing on “black-on-black crime” as an independent phenomena—distinct from “white-on-white crime”—is justify universal suspicion of black men, and young black men, in particular.

Of course, the suspicion of black men in general stemming from this concentration on black on black crime in large cities is unfair to the vast majority of black men.  But labeling this as unfair is not going to stop the tendency to do it.  What will stop it is for the statistics in New York (and other major cities) to change. 

Bouie continues:  “What we’re trying to say is this: The manufactured image of rampant black male criminality creates fear, and that fear leads people to profile (stop and frisk), barricade themselves (gated communities), and confront individual black men because they must be up to something (George Zimmerman: “Those fucking punks always get away.”).”

I agree with the connections Bouie draws above, but not with his assertion that an “image of rampant black male criminality” is “manufactured”.   After all Bouie agrees: “It’s absolutely true that “NYPD stats show that 96 percent of all shooting victims are black or Hispanic, and 97 percent of all shooters were black or Hispanic.”

Those are striking statistics pointing to  those who commit by far the most crime.  Not the overwhelming majority of black men (or Latinos), of course, but still an overwhelming racial connection.   If one is looking at any situation in trying to understand it, certain characteristics appear prominent and those NYPD stats are glaring.   That the stats promotes profiling of one form or another is true, but to intentionally ignore them is to ignore reality.

I believe Bouie misconstrues the overall white reaction to “blackness” these days.   He implies whites see “blackness” as a cause of crime.   I’m just one white guy, but when I hear”black” used negatively it is usually an abbreviated form of reference to neighborhoods  that are not only black but characterized by a constellation of poverty – poor areas with a lack of job opportunities, a predominance of struggling single mom families, and schools which would need to be the best we have to really alter the situation for more than a few, but seldom are for various reasons.

If you took the NYPD statistics and separated black and Latino middle class neighborhoods out of black neighborhoods in total my guess would be the murder rate would be similar to that of white on whites.   I suggest another way to look at the situation is that successful black opinion makers like Bouie face a dilemma.   He does not want to defend the high crime stats associated with his race.  He knows the NYPD stats point out a problem but while admitting that, rather than tackling the largely intractable nature of the problem, he blames whites for manufacturing unfavorable images.

For the unfavorable images to fade, the problem has to fade, not the other way around.  While white prejudice towards blacks remains an important factor (and, by the way, prejudice isn’t a one way street), the basic problem is not racism but the presence of a seemingly implacable black underclass occupying parts of our major cities that commits a disproportionate amount of crime, most often against blacks themselves and fosters ongoing white prejudice and fear (*1).

The huge challenge is to find ways to improve the living  situation in these big city poverty areas, but as you have probably noticed there is a long list of huge challenges that face America at the moment, which leaves little government money or collective will to do much to improve these communities.  There are private efforts in schools and/or job related programs which are often valiant and successful, but are also usually costly and impact only a small fraction of the people there.

That is just the way it is and I do not see things changing much any time soon, no matter how we color the issue.  But again, painting the discussion of the subject with the broad brush of “racism” more often than not obscures the intricate nature of race relations in America rather than illuminates it.


(*1)   This is in no way a defense of George Zimmerman, who brought upon himself the circumstances that endangered him, assuming he came to feel endangered as his defense argued successfully enough to prompt reasonable doubt in the minds of the jury as to his guilt.   Guilty or not, Zimmerman was primarily at fault for what happened, but bad judgement is not necessarily a crime.