Tag Archives: war

Baghdadi and Our Monsters

Trigger Happy

Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was the leader of ISIL. He was surrounded by special forces yesterday and detonated himself using an explosive vest. When he was alive, he orchestrated the genocide of the Yazidis, pushed for sex slavery, and organized brutal displays of mass crucifixions and executions, often putting them on video to be used for propaganda and recruitment.

I have no sympathy for people like Baghdadi, especially after they perverted the image of Islam. The world is better without him. His death is not the same as the death of Saddam Hussein and Muammar Gaddafi. There are no gray areas or utilitarian purpose to his rule. He is simply, a bad guy. However, the whole circus with the Trump administration’s announcement regarding his death leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

First off, the Pentagon stating that he ran to a tunnel with three kids to be used as human shields sounds like unnecessary propaganda. It’s very similar to when they described Osama Bin Laden using his wives as shields, which was later denied as a false statement. They are painting a very dramatic scene in order to make Baghdadi sound evil when he is evil enough as it is. I’m already on the US’ side on this. They don’t have to lie in order to sell it to me. In fact, the lie is off-putting. Why would Baghdadi bring children along when he planned to detonate himself? Wouldn’t he know those kids he was bringing with him? Isn’t it more plausible that he was trying to escape with them and not use them as shields?

Now, maybe the Pentagon wasn’t lying, but Trump lying and saying that he saw the whole thing live, much like a movie is a childishly blatant lie. First off, there was no audio. Second, the photo of him and his generals perfectly posed to try and simulate a situation room is comically set up. Cables are disconnected, people are staring at different directions, the photographer was blocking where the screen would be, and Trump perfectly centered like it was Da Vinci’s ‘Last Supper.’ Third, his description of Baghdadi crying and begging for his life was totally fictitious. Even Pentagon officials immediately denied it. There was no audio. No witnesses could attest to this. And the whole thing happened in a dark tunnel. Either Trump was describing what happened to Muammar Gaddafi years ago or he’s just going off of his sadistic imagination. “His body was mutilated by the blast… there wasn’t much left?” Really? Can the US president not hide his childish glee over this?

“Died like a dog”? “Die like a coward”? How does a dog die? How does a coward die? How does Trump know how a coward dies? What kind of language is this?!?!?

And then Trump goes on to brag about himself, comparing himself to ISIS in terms of Internet proficiency (what a weirdo!), claiming that he advocated the death of Bin Laden (he didn’t), and that killing Baghdadi was more significant than killing Osama Bin Laden. That last one is something adults simply don’t do. What does that even mean?

As for Trump comparing himself to ISIS in terms of Internet proficiency, let me follow his lead and go a bit further. Bill Maher lost his first show after he described the 9/11 terrorists as being brave, in contrast with US military strategy which is basically just bombing cities from a distance. I’m not a fan of Bill Maher, but there was truth to what he was saying. The 9/11 terrorists were cowards in that they targeted civilians, but they were courageous in personally committing their act of terror and facing death. The west commits terror mostly long distance. As hideous and as ill-advised his sentiment was, it cannot be dismissed as totally wrong. In any case, let me pull a Bill Maher and say that Trump, given the same circumstances, would not be any different from Baghdadi.

They both failed at serving in the military, though Baghdadi might actually be truly nearsighted. Apparently, Baghdadi has a PHD in Islamic studies. But just like with Trump’s education from Wharton, their supposed education doesn’t match reality. Baghdadi is as much a religious scholar as Trump is a business leader.

Trump is an accused sexual predator. In the same position as Baghdadi, is it really a stretch that he advocate for sexual slavery as well? With his macho fantasies and authoritarian tendencies, it is also very easy to imagine that he would be just as violent and as brutal as Baghdadi. Trump was quite callous with the imprisonment of children and the death of the Kurds. He doesn’t care much about the suffering in Puerto Rico and was quite dismissive about the US’ history with lynching. Baghdadi has his followers do most of the work for him. They are zealots who are following both extremist ideologies and twisted religious dogma. According to a recent poll, evangelicals are 90% against Trump getting impeached. These are the same people who believe he is appointed by God. The same people who wouldn’t mind conflict to break out over the Gaza Strip in order for Christ to come a second time.

The way we see leaders and monsters truly depends on the culture and circumstances surrounding them as well as which side we are on. ISIL and Baghdadi rose from the horror that is the fall of Iraq. One could argue that without the conflicts in the Middle East, perhaps the monster that is Baghdadi would’ve never evolved. Trump on the other hand lived a life of excess and was never really held accountable for his many failures and supposed crimes. And despite getting everything most people would want in life, he became this strange villain on the world stage. Now, imagine what worse cartoon monster he would’ve become if he was given the same circumstances as Baghdadi.

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Where I Understand Suspicion Against Foreigners

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The reason you don’t provoke North Korea is because you don’t want to give them any more incentives to build bombs. Everyone knows that the United States has the biggest military power in the history of mankind with a nuclear arsenal that could destroy the whole world multiple times. It is annoying to hear all of this tough talk against North Korea and appeasement, when the US’ mighty sword has not resolved clean victories and lasting peace in most of the conflicts it got involved in since the Vietnam War. Since Donald Trump got elected, he did nothing but casually hurl inflammatory rhetoric at North Korea and annoy US allies in the region. It is difficult not to argue that it has increased the North Korean zeal with its weapons program as well as encourage inflammatory rhetoric from the North as well.

It doesn’t matter if the US has the bigger bombs, or that it could mete out “fire and fury” at North Korea. Fire and fury has not resulted in the defeat of ISIS, despite Trump’s promise to rid of the group within days of his presidency. This is a ragtag guerilla group which the most advanced military might cannot seem to squash. Military victory is not gained purely on might alone. And the reason why South Korea is wise in being cautious with its approach with its neighbor is that not only would a war cause massive casualties and upend the rest of the eastern Asian region, it would also harm innocent North Koreans in the process. It’s not just because some North Koreans might be related to people in the South, but North Koreans are also human beings, people who have the right to live in peace.

And what is victory in a war with North Korea? A destroyed regime which will result in a power vacuum, perhaps resulting in an Asian version of ISIS? A humanitarian crisis with refugees fleeing the country? A ravaged South Korea and perhaps other major cities in Asia as well? A crippled China, one of the few countries with a growing economy that is fueling a significant portion of the world’s industries? It doesn’t sound like victory at all.

Talks of war against North Korea are gross and shortsighted. It would feel good to punch a fat bully in the teeth, but you don’t starve your neighbors and punch everyone else as well in the process. Most South Koreans don’t worry about nuclear war with the North. They’ve learned to live in the standoff. It is only the US’ rhetoric that is making things a whole lot worse and war with the North that much closer. The Koreas have already suffered countless of times due to foreign powers. This was way before the two Koreas were divided because of the US and the Soviet Union, the reason why South Koreans have traditionally looked at foreign influences with trepidation. Again, North and South Korea is being threatened due to the meddling of foreign influences.

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Time Traveling Via NPR

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I’ve been listening to old ‘This American Life’ episodes. Over the weekend, I listened to ones that were broadcast right after the attack on the World Trade Center. Like a time traveler, it’s interesting to hear what people feel at the time especially their attitudes towards the US heading to war. As expected, I was annoyed at experts at the time, people like Rumsfeld, who are selling the war with a calamitous need for justice and assurance that America is going to battle in most well thought-out manner. He couldn’t have been more wrong about everything. It’s amazing that they still allow him on television as an ‘expert’ on anything these days.

What’s most interesting was episode 196, when the events of September 11 are examined through different perspectives. Much like the movie ‘Rashomon,’ stories change drastically depending on whose eyes you’re experiencing them through. Of course, people in the west were scared. They we scared of this nebulous terrorist threat. As a westerner, this was probably my default point of view. The west needed a target. It needed to get back at someone. Saddam Hussein has always been a “bad guy” through most of the 90s. Perhaps getting him would turn the scales back into a place of normalcy.

But then there’s also the Muslim point of view. In the episode, a Palestinian teenager explains about why the September 11 attacks doesn’t benefit the Muslims, but instead benefits the Jews in Israel since it puts the Americans into conflict in the Middle East, much like Pearl Harbor brought America out of isolationism in WWII. This of course is seen as anti-Semitic conspiracy theories from western point of views, and in my opinion, rightfully so. But to some Muslims, especially Palestinians and with the different biases between western and Muslim media skewering regional opinion, this could very well be a plausible explanation for the attacks. Another Muslim point of view is that of a former soldier from Iraq who had to reluctantly fight for Saddam’s army. Not a rabid supporter of Saddam, the man had to explain to his son why the normally pleasant and well-meaning Americans had to violently terrorize their city. Looking back on this now, if he had stayed in the Iraqi army, this man would’ve been out of job and perhaps forced to join ISIS by now.

Lastly, the show also looked at war from the point of view of some soldiers. Despite best preparations, war is hell, and things could turn bloody in any minute. It is always best to approach war with reasoned reluctance than with the zeal and optimism the world had back in 2003, when we were confident at shocking and awing the enemy into submission.

Episode 200 looked at the radio station set up by the CIA to help overthrow the democratically elected president of Guatemala in 1954, Jacobo Arbenz. It was an interesting examination of the power of radio back in the day and the way propaganda is used both during a conflict and long after, when myths cultivated. What I find most poignant however, is the comment by Prof. Nick Cullather, who says that while the US does have a responsibility to sometimes intervene in foreign countries’ affairs, it is far more difficult to face the magnitude of the task afterwards. It is quite easy to depose a leader compared to the difficulty of finding a suitable replacement. Just look at Guatemala after Arbenz, Syria in 1949, Iran in the 50s, Chile and the junta in the 70s. And now Iraq with the fall of Saddam has the whole Middle East in a quagmire.

Listening to old radio shows and “time travelling” is a nice distraction during my commute. However, I would’ve hoped our leaders had more insight to predict the future. Looking back now, we were all such fools back then. It is amazing that NPR had the courage and prudence to examine issues from different perspectives, especially with the national climate in 2001-2003. Unfortunately, being seen as an organization with liberal biases, I doubt that it or any other organizations like it would have their ideas taken seriously in the mainstream media.

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On Ancient Cases of Fellatio

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Love the talent but hate the person, that’s exactly how I feel about Nelson Shanks. In a world where people make art careers without even knowing how to draw accurately, he maintains the (arguably) unfashionable tradition of academic painting. Just looking at his Website, it is amazing that such a talent still lives and breathes and creates magnificent work. It is like the work of a man taken out of the Renaissance; wonderful and beautiful paintings. The man has more talent that many artists could ever hope to have.

This is why this whole business with the Bill Clinton is all the more disappointing. In an interview with the Philadelphia Daily, he reveals that he’s hidden references to Monica Lewinsky in Bill Clinton’s portrait which was destined to be hung at the National Portrait Gallery. He said that he found the former President’s lie offensive and that the affair was a shadow to the Clinton presidency. He was quoted saying that the 42nd President was “the most famous liar of all time.”

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How obnoxious is that?

Now, I enjoy putting hidden messages and allusions not just in my work but also in the works I see and follow. But Shanks just put his own personal politics in what is meant to be an apolitical peace, lied about it during the process, and missed the irony throughout the whole thing. And what was so unforgivable; the former President’s extramarital affair, something which is a personal matter that his family appears to have moved beyond from? The hidden “humor” is crass, misplaced, and really should not be brought up now since everyone has already moved past it. Poor Monica Lewinsky deserves a life past her youthful indiscretions.

Regarding shadows to someone’s presidency, I think the big shadow in the Clinton presidency is their relationship with the banks and how they deregulated them. It is an overbearing cloud that still haunts the world to this day.  And as for lies, I think the biggest lies are the ones that cause the most lives. George Bush and Dick Cheney got American into an unnecessary war. It cost thousands of military and civilian casualties and created a quagmire which Barrack Obama perpetuates.  How’s that for a shadow over someone’s presidency?

The shadow of that dress is not that overwhelming in comparison.

A part of me thinks the whole thing is just a cry for attention. I wonder if setting up a dress to cast shadow during the painting process even truly happened. Shanks claims the Clintons have been trying to get the portrait taken down from the National Portrait Gallery, but representatives from the gallery deny this and the Clintons apparently couldn’t care less. If this was a cry for attention, it really is quite sad because the man is amazingly talented and shouldn’t need to court the raving right wing in order to get attention.

I don’t mind politics in art. I think it’s the artist’s job to tell truths in their work. And should it be in the realm of politics, then so be it. But harping at the Clintons regarding an old scandal just seems petty and ridiculous. And in the end, what message is the artist truly trying to say? I think it speaks more about the artist’s narrow minded politics than anything else.

I don’t know, maybe it’s just my progressive leanings, but I don’t think conservatives make for good messengers in art. I haven’t seen any good examples. There are some good technical artists out there; but most of the time, the work just comes off looking bizarre, hateful, hypocritical, and deeply misinformed.

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Art, “Terror,” and a bit about Godaddy

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An art opening, an art opening! Got a gallery show opening this weekend with a couple of other artists. Exciting stuff. It’s always good to meet new artists and see what kind of works other people are into. I also learned that I’m not the only foreign artist in the country who dabbled in making action figures.

Despite Korea being quite small, I’ve never been to this city right next to Seoul where we’re having the exhibition (Ilsan, northwest of Seoul). The place seems quite young and the architecture feels foreign to me. It’s almost as if I’m walking in Japan. I would hang out in Ilsan more if it wasn’t an hour and a half away from where I live. And really, there are far too many bars near where I live for me to wander far in order to get a drink. My neighborhood has made me lazy.

Are we feeling better now, Canada? Are we all good? I gotta say, the overall reaction to the shooting a couple of days ago was far more level-headed than one would expect if it happened down south. No giant panics and no moral outrages. No one is going after swaths of Muslim populations. What troubles me though is the almost too-canadian rumored reaction from our Prime Minister during the shooting: that he hid in a closet. How Canadian is that, eh? “Mr. Prime Minister, a gun man is causing trouble outside, you’d better get inside this closet!” Can’t we at least get a panic room or something?

On a more serious note however, I’m more troubled with Canadian politicians and Americans calling the whole thing an “act of terror.” Glenn Greenwald made a good point about it, and it’s something I always felt was the general bias when it comes to the liberal use of Western force in other countries. The shooter targeted Canadian military. As cowardly in terms of the attack coming out of nowhere as it is, there appears to be an effort not to harm civilians, but only to harm soldiers and those in power. Sure, there was an element of “terror,” but wouldn’t the act of combatants attacking others who are technically combatants be classified as par for the course in war? It wasn’t an act of terror. It was war, and Canada has been at war (against vague terror) along with the United States for over a decade now.

Calling the attack an act of terror, in my mind, does two things. One, it is used as another piece of propaganda for more war, more money for the military, and more kids being sent to fight overseas. What exactly are we doing in Afghanistan? For what purpose are we there for? Couldn’t Canada find a better way to achieve these goals outside of military intervention?

The other thing it does is that it defines the word “terror.” It was an act of terror when a man targeted soldiers and a government facility. I’m not going to argue against that because it definitely was terrible and I do feel for the victim and his family. I’ll give you that. It was an act of terror. He did not shoot civilians, but that poor soldier did not see it coming and did not deserve getting shot that day. But how do we define the actions of the US military when they bomb innocent civilians through signature strikes? How do we define the thousands of deaths in the vague “war on terror?” These are actions which kill not only supposed terrorists, but also civilians. Aren’t the people living in these neighborhoods also terrorized?

Now, I’m not saying that United States is a monster for conducting a terrorist campaign on several nations in what appears to be a disproportionate act of vengeance. What I’m saying is that “terror,” “acts of terror,” and “war against terror” are all horribly vague and maleable terms. They are trump cards which justify horrible actions and push forward shortsighted government policies. Sure, we can call something an “act of terror.” What happened in Canada was an act of terror. But let’s also examine our own terrible actions and see exactly how terrible we have been.

Problems with Godaddy again. Well, I don’t know if it’s Godaddy, Korea’s fickle Internet, or whatever. Ugh!

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From Your Buddy

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Hey Canada! What’s going on? You haven’t been the same lately. We really need to talk sometime. I know things are kinda shitty right now, but we’ll pull through.

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