Little Boy in Tehran

In the first of a pair of June 7 photos, a man clad in black guides a little boy—three years old, perhaps—out of a second story window. As the child’s tippy toes touch a narrow ledge, his little black tennis shoes and his little blue jeans and shirt sliding up over his chubby belly evoke the innate cuteness of a precious toddler. The second image shows the man in black anchoring his right leg and hand to the window opening while his opposite, open palm extends down in line with the cement face of the building. Below, just out of reach, the sweet little boy is still gazing and stretching toward the first man, while a rescuer wearing basic white body armor reaches up to grasp the child below his armpits.

All violent death is brutal, and I have no interest in claiming that one recent tragedy is worse than any other. There is no shortage of such human horrors to contemplate—Tehran (June 7), London (June 3), Kabul (May 31), and Manchester (May 22) provide an incomplete list. Aside from quantifying the number of deaths (Kabul had over 150), each event provokes a multiplicity of subjective narratives that reflect the way people perceive the tragedies.

For me the photo described above is compelling because the sight of a toddler being evacuated emphasizes the tragedy of violent death. In terror attacks, where all of the casualties are innocent bystanders, but also in deliberate conflicts in which non-combatants often suffer the most, children are among the innocent people whose miraculous existence is extinguished for almost no reason at all. When a child—who possesses no fault for being born at a random place and time—suffers violent circumstances from their environment, it also illuminates the level of arbitrariness in terror and brutality. Arbitrary violence is disturbing because we cannot immunize ourselves against it through our own actions. For those of us who feel rather safe, our own insecurity increases as we empathize with the individuals and families who find themselves in the circus of traumatic violence. Why does the little boy in Tehran have to be dangled from a window in order to escape potential murder while my son and I are casually selecting tasty snacks at our local health food store? What is the likelihood that something like this will happen to me some day?

Those photos are an emotional starting point from which to understand other disturbing facets of the ISIS terror attack which killed at least 17 people in Tehran. The political context is totally disgusting. The U.S. has historically undercut democracy in Iran and supported totalitarian government, though increasingly over the past two decades it has served Washington’s agenda to demonize Iran’s rigid, conservative policies. The reality that the Iranian nation-state has been growing more moderate doesn’t suit the Axis of Evil narrative. In fact, immediately after the moderate candidate was re-elected in the Iranian Presidential election on May 19, Donald Trump vilified Iran as he addressed leaders of Muslim-majority nations during his state visit to Saudi Arabia.

More recently, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt, and Bahrain cut diplomatic ties with Qatar because that country supposedly backs Iran. Bizarrely, their break may have been at least partly due to a fake news story created in Qatar by Russian hackers. After that announcement from those four Middle Eastern nations, Trump seemed to take credit for encouraging their move, baffling the rest of the U.S. government which knows that Qatar is one of our military allies in the region. All of these dynamics together imply that the current administration is instigating conflict with Iran, which is consistent with its foreign policy agenda—if it has one—since it began in January. Needless to say, it is yet another political farce in which our allies (Saudi Arabia) are even worse than the enemy (Iran).

Let me take a step to the side before I return to another Trump tweet and to the sweet little boy being rescued in Tehran. The unsurprising big news during the president’s Saudi Arabia visit was a renewed and expanded arms deal with Saudi Arabia, a perennial human rights violator and ISIS supporter. A major arena in which the U.S. is supporting Saudi Arabia is Yemen, which has come to rival Syria as one of the worst humanitarian crises since World War II. Trump and his team have also ramped up activity in that country, where Saudi Arabia and Iran are fighting a proxy war. The botched Navy Seal raid on January 29 killed at least 10 Yemeni children. Another SEAL raid in Yemen on May 23 killed 1 child and wounded 5 others. So again, children and other innocent people are dying from horrific violence through deliberate conflict that is tangentially related to the politics of demonizing Iran.

Back to Tehran—where after the June 7 terror attack, President Trump expressed his regards but added that “states that sponsor terrorism risk falling victim to the evil they promote,” implying that Iran got what it deserved. It is a sick suggestion in response to violent death, and again this tragic element becomes more pronounced when one contemplates the image of a three-year-old among the chaos. Did that little boy sponsor terrorism because he was born at a certain longitude and latitude, or because of the chosen religion of his parents, or because of his citizenship or the color of the skin?

Sadly, though, the president’s comment is mainly untactful rather than untrue. It is both logical and historical that nations with violent records are susceptible to some amount of retribution. And for that reason we should not only be empathetic with the boy who escaped harm in Tehran—along with his fellow nationals who did not escape–but we are forced to be acutely aware that the arbitrary component of mass violence (as well as the historical one) makes us vulnerable. Understanding that terror can affect us as well (though it is statistically extremely unlikely) should in turn deepen our empathy for those abroad who suffer. When I see the sweet little Iranian boy being lifted down from the window, spiritually I see my own precious son in that traumatic situation, and I ache for peace, joy, and safety for him and for all of humanity which ought to be capable of surviving with less brutality.

Photo Credit: Omid Vahabzadeh/Fars News, via Agence France-Presse — Getty Images // https://www.nytimes.com/2017/06/07/world/middleeast/iran-tehran-attacks.html?_r=0

A Lesson from France

Yesterday Macron won in France as expected, defeating white nationalist Le Pen by a comfortable margin—65.5% to 34.5% per preliminary results. The definitive victory of a “moderate” capitalist over an overtly fascist far-right leader is a relief after witnessing the 2016 electoral disaster in the United Sates.

The media had eagerly compared the French and American candidates—Le Pen to Trump, Macron to Clinton, and Mélenchon (or the less popular Hamon) as the “French Bernie Sanders.” The analogy is accurate as white nationalist movements seek to take power throughout the West while radical movements refuse to allow the right or the center to proliferate oppression across the globe. Le Pen is very Trumpian in that context, while the anti-Le Pen sentiment far outweighed any direct enthusiasm for Macron among the electorate.

While the comparison between the two elections is easy to imagine, a major difference should be just as obvious to the casual observer of politics. In France, the parliamentary system and the two-round election process ensured greater democratic participation and prevented the worst-case candidate from being selected, while the two-party, presidential system in the U.S. facilitates the empowerment of a more hated person. If Americans had participated in a multi-party election with a two-round run-off, Trump may have lost with a margin similar to Le Pen’s defeat.

There are two reasons why a run-off would have prevented an unpopular, fascist victory in America. Hypothetically, let’s re-run Trump, Clinton, Sanders, Stein, and Johnson as candidates from five distinct parties. (I believe there were eleven candidates in the first round in France). Knowing that the first vote would narrow the race to two candidates rather than decide the final outcome, voters would typically feel free to vote for their preferred candidate rather than vote “strategically” for “the lesser of two evils.” The votes would have been more evenly distributed among the various parties, and there would have been an increased chance in somebody other than Trump or Clinton making the second round. In any case, the results would reflect a more accurate political spectrum than a single-vote process. In France, for example, the top four candidates each won between 19 and 24 percent of the votes.

Next, let’s assume that Clinton and Trump still emerge as the top two candidates after a competitive first round election with several choices. At this point voters no longer have an option to vote for a “third party” candidate because those have been eliminated. Therefore, no votes for Stein or write-ins for Sanders would “steal” the election from Clinton. Also, since the process would allow people to vote for their first picks during the initial round, I think they would be more likely to go ahead and vote for “the lesser of two evils” rather than “stay home” out of spite and bitterness.

The problem is that there is almost no chance of developing a more democratic voting process in America in the near future. Indeed, we are struggling not to lose ground as the two-party system—though primarily the Republicans—erodes what voting rights the public has. But what we can learn broadly from France nonetheless is that the democratization of the process matters as much or more than the campaign of a particular candidate.

While implementing something like Instant Runoff Voting (which the U. S. Green Party has supported for a couple decades) at the federal level seems unlikely, we can begin by pushing for greater democracy in all of our smaller institutions, such as local government, classrooms, workplaces, neighborhoods, and religious organizations. We need to practice democracy in our daily lives while mobilizing our broader system towards more empowerment. Otherwise, we will only ever have two terrible choices until the end result of that false dichotomy takes us so far that we don’t have any choices at all.

Unholy Week

The non-Christian, anti-Christ president—who 80% of white evangelicals supported in November—has marked one of Judeo-Christianity’s most sacred calendrical periods with a series of hostile events that imply the possibility of three or four major, murderous campaigns, if not a rhetorical or actual Third World War. Nobody knows the intentions or outcomes of the administration’s actions, but it is hard to imagine any narrative that contextualizes them in an optimistic fashion.

On April 7, the U.S. bombed a Syrian air base in retaliation for the Syrian governments alleged use of chemical weapons on its own people. There are at least four major problems with this. First, the bombing killed several Syrian civilians including children. Second, although there is no doubt that Assad is a horrible dictator, there remains the need for some investigation to prove that he was responsible for the sarin gas attack. Third, the Assad regime is allied with Russia in the fight against ISIS, so the U.S. bombing appears to have fueled tensions with Russia. Fourth, the Assad regime used that airbase to launch missions against ISIS, so attacking the Syrian government and its military infrastructure can be seen as an indirect support to the entity that our governments claims to be its number one enemy. If all of these problems can be combined into one generalization, it is that the devastating conflict in Syria is complex, and a macho, knee-jerk reaction is counterproductive to any effective strategy in the region.

Similarly the week before, the U.S. announced an increase in support to Saudi operations in Yemen, an arena that has grown to rival Syria as one of the most tragic crises in the last 70 years. The U.S. is lending equipment and expertise to the Saudis as they combat the Iran-backed Houthi rebels. At the same time, the U.S. has run its own mission to undermine the regional Al-Qaeda group in Yemen, including the disastrous Navy SEAL raid in January. In that particular case, the Yemeni people who are more or less aligned with Al-Qaeda are fighting the Houthis, so they are at once our allies as well as our enemies. This amounts to the U.S. supporting both sides of the Yemeni conflict, which should be a despicable aberration except that it is typical of U.S. intervention, as we have observed in Syria. The U.S. is fully willing to support Al-Qaeda-aligned rebels in Syria against Assad, yet the SEAL raid Yemen was claimed to be a “highly successful” mission to gather “vital intelligence” on Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.

If the Trumpian military responses to the humanitarian crises in Syria and Yemen aren’t adequately foreboding, then his decision to challenge North Korea’s longstanding nuclear bluff by dispatching an aircraft carrier group to the Korean peninsula should punctuate the week of military maneuvering nicely. Clearly North Korea is a horribly oppressive state under the Kim dynasty, but a cavalier show of force may not be the most tactful effort. Meanwhile, on the opposite side of Eurasia, Trump has done an about face and called for a stronger NATO, and now American soldiers are stationed along Poland’s border with Russia.

I will barely mention that the U.S. is sending military personnel into Somalia for the first time in two decades in order to fight terrorism and that we dropped the largest non-nuclear bomb in our arsenal on an ISIS cave and tunnel complex in a remote area of Afghanistan. In 2017, Holy Week has been a coldhearted display of Trump’s eagerness to use unholy violence. He seems so ready to massacre enemy combatants as well as innocent civilians that he is setting himself up for any of a number of possible wars around the globe. It would be wonderful to see ISIS, Al Shabab, Assad, and Kim eliminated from our troubled world, but common sense as well as history have demonstrated that cultural chauvinism, disrespect, macho posturing, and careless military massacre will always be counterproductive in the dismantling of extremism.

Driving Away with Autonomy

I keep hearing about driverless cars, or as I call them, mobile prisons. I don’t even like riding in a vehicle while somebody else is driving, so maybe my distaste for automated transportation is in part a personal problem. That said, hackers and feds could remotely commandeer an IoT car with powerlocks and deliver their helpless subjects right into a police station or river. But even when we are not at the mercy of tech-savvy nemeses there is a general incapacitation of humanity that corresponds to the capabilities of our machines. Talk about so-called “autonomous vehicles” should concern us about the displacement of our own innate freedom.

Marshall McLuhan’s study of “Media Ecology” argued that technology extends human abilities outside our body. The obvious advantage of tools is that they expand our capability while reducing the burden of work on our physical forms. The disadvantage, however, is that our naked abilities atrophy when we exercise them through technology. Gloves, for example, are a tool that I use when I am splitting firewood so that the friction from the handle of the splitting maul doesn’t give me painful blisters on my hands. McLuhan would describe gloves as an extension of my skin. If I wear gloves for too much of my physical work, however, my skin will remain fragile rather than tough. In other words, by extending my skin’s ability to protect beyond my body, my actual skin has become weaker.

A more cerebral example of a medium would be a mobile device, especially those which our language has come to describe as “smart phones.” Many people, including those without a deliberate Media Ecology approach, have considered that some mental abilities will decrease as we become more dependent on handheld computers. Perhaps people will have poorer memories when they’ve become accustomed to storing their friends phone numbers on their contact list and can use IMDb to recall the names of actors in movies, among other things. Maybe math skills will deplete as we now carry calculators at all times in the form of our phones. Although it is in part a play on words, it would not be too farfetched to say that “smart phones” extend our intellect outside of our body. This makes us conveniently intelligent as long as we are utilizing a handheld device, but without it we become stupider than we would have otherwise been.

So if you are riding along in an “autonomous vehicle,” that implies that you have relinquished your autonomy in exchange for a ride. The benefit is ease of transport, but the cost is the mediation of control, will, and freedom into a complex digital-mechanical apparatus. I personally prefer simplicity as well as autonomy, so I may never take the opportunity to ride in a driverless vehicle. That said, my position is not categorically anti-technology. Instead I want to evaluate media cautiously by weighing their effects on humans and the planet along with their alluring benefits. People will have to form their own evaluations, but for me the most healthy and enjoyable form of autonomous transport is walking.

Website Review / “February Hummingbird: An interactive story.”

http://februaryhummingbird.com/

When I grew up in the 80s and 90s, Choose Your Own Adventure was a pulp phenomenon in which adolescent readers were empowered to risk their fates as protagonists in some paperback adventure. After they consumed a chapter-worth of words, readers took delight in being able to decide their next move before enjoying or suffering the consequences of their impulse. The options might read something like “enter the cave / turn to page 116” or “take the mountain trail / turn back to page 84.” Sometimes the reader’s eager eyes might spoil an ending as fingers clumsily flipped chunks of pages.

The recent appearance of a website called “February Hummingbird” offers a similar network of narrative possibilities, but in this case the electricity of the online format magnifies the effect of the multi-path story. To a casual browser, this creation, which attributes itself to “Marisa and Blake,” may appear rather basic due to its fresh look and its light, pleasant prose, but behind that simplicity is a crystalline brilliance that emanates from the consummation of form and content.

Beginning in the 1960s, Pioneering media ecologist Marshall McLuhan reported how electricity extends the central nervous system beyond our bodies and allows people to experience the world instantaneously as “space and time interpenetrate each other totally in a space-time world.” Internet, cellular, and satellite technologies express this understanding as information and communication traverse the world at light speed. Whether by intention or through the intuition with which organisms inhabit their natural environment, the “February Hummingbird” authors have created a Choose Your Own Adventure-type narrative within a medium that matches its message. The hyperlink ecosystem is a more fluid format for expressing simultaneous, alternate pathways than the clunky method of flipping pages either forward or backward—a print convention which suggests linear time.

The harmony of well-mated form and content is not only an equation for a whole that exceeds the sum of its parts, but it is also the recipe for a kind of medium that allows aesthetic efficacy—and, whether or not the former was incidental, Marisa and Blake can certainly take credit for the latter. The story flows with a casual tone due to its conversational diction and its second-person point-of-view, a unique characteristic of the Choose Your Own Adventure-type model. Suspense moves the reader quickly though short pages, but the narrative is otherwise fun and slightly absurd. Since multiple pathways empower an element of free will, the text has a versatility that allows either a quick, less-than-five-minute read or a longer exploration of the various, simultaneous possibilities.

The web design is also very clean and creative, beginning with the centered blue silhouette of a hovering hummingbird. All of the buttons are very simple and intuitive, such as two unobtrusive arrows that patiently rest in the upper right corner until the reader is ready to either go back one page or return to the beginning. For those who wish to demystify the aesthetic glimmer of the primary content, a nice circumscribed i on the opposite corner makes transparent much of the authors’ process. The map is one of the smartest features, as it represents all of the interconnected possibilities within the story in a single image. Such a picture is more than novel—when applied through comparison to the grand narratives that give meaning to life, the simultaneity of such a story map challenges the linear perception of time.

Perhaps “February Hummingbird” is a casual weekend invention from “a Creative Writing major and a Computer Science major,” as the site claims, but it exemplifies a relationship which great artists understand intuitively—that media are both technological and aesthetic. When information and communication technologies evolve such an equilibrium, they have a tremendous power to enrich and inspire their audience.

Ego Versus Empathy and the Destruction of Our Children

This piece appears in POPs #2: Parents on Parenting, a zine edited by my friend Jonas and available from Pioneer Press.

And what concerns me is that, beyond the mischief of Trump and all those in his Cabinet and the people that he’s appointed into roles of leadership, I had never quite understood that we had another severe, unattended enemy in our midst. And that was our species’ commitment or weakness in the face of absolute greed. And I think we have failed to come to certain solid conclusions, because we have been so contaminated with possessions and power that we have forgotten that we have destroyed our children, or set the tone for that.

Harry Belafonte, December 5, 2016

A Love for My Child and an Empathy for Others

I have always cared about kids, but since my son was born that regard has become enhanced into a deep awe and existential empathy. I am amazed at his being, and the responsibility that my spouse and I have to care for him has magnified the sense of meaning in my life. While my bond with my son has engendered a controlling desire to facilitate for him the greatest possible experiences and opportunities, my parenting experience has also made my empathy for other children more powerful.

Sadly, this deeper understanding affects me most when I become aware of tragedies in which children suffer. In 2015, for example, the world was disturbed to see the image of Alan Kurdi, a three-year-old Kurdish boy whose dead body washed onto a Turkish beach after his family had attempted to cross the Mediterranean in a rubber raft. One doesn’t have to be a parent to feel horrified by the little boy’s death; nonetheless, being a dad compounded my empathy for Alan Kurdi and millions of other child refugees, because I know that if my own child drowned at sea after fleeing a massive civil war—even though he is, of course, safe from that and other horrific scenarios—it would amount to hell on Earth for me.

In the context of creating a healthy society that values the quality of life of all people, a powerful love for my own child generally complements the consequent empathy I experience for others, yet I believe that my ego’s tendency to overemphasize my son’s well-being creates an ethical dilemma in which a regard for my own child could undermine my obligation to society’s children at large. My complicity in systems of negligence and exploitation create a conflict between my own son’s comfort and the well-being of other children.

The Destruction of Children

Worst-case scenarios for our near-future world have been disturbing my spouse and me, especially since the recent, wicked campaign season has culminated in the election of a hateful, narcissistic oligarch who is consolidating power around himself at the probable expense of the safety and freedom of hundreds of millions of people. As parents of a toddler, we fear that our son could have to grow up in a dystopian America full of state-based drone attacks, ethnocentric vigilante violence, and a scarcity of essential resources.

Those are severe situations, yet it is with relative luxury that I can enjoy thinking about such catastrophes for my own son while millions of children are experiencing them today. The civil war in Syria comes to mind again, where 10 million refugees have either fled the country or become internally displaced, while another half million people have been killed, including 50,000 children. Such extreme suffering and destruction has occurred due to the violence between a totalitarian state and various rebel groups, and it has been tolerated and even exacerbated through the proxy wars of foreign hegemons, namely the U.S., Russia, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Iran.

Although Syria is experiencing the largest humanitarian crisis since World War II, children obviously suffer everywhere, whether it is in the mineral mines of the Democratic Republic of Congo or in our own communities where systemic as well as intimate power structures inflict trauma on our society’s most vulnerable and innocent members. While my humanity leads me to empathize with children who suffer, and my personal experience of the precious parent-child bond enlarges that empathy into a deep, existential sorrow, I seem to have little control over the Syrian regime’s killing of children, for example, while I do have an essential influence over the day-to-day nurturing of my own child. At the same time, I believe it would be selfish for me to act as if I have no obligation toward those who are suffering.

When Ego Undermines Empathy

 Ego undermines Empathy when I think I deserve more than I need at the direct or indirect expense of those who have less than they need. Because of both subjectivity and complexity, it is hard to articulate a point in which the preservation of my family offends the well-being of others, but I have a distinct feeling that focusing too much energy on my own material status comes with economic and opportunity costs for families who are less fortunate. To be clear, my spouse’s and my current incomes put our family around the Medicaid eligibility threshold, but various benefits of a thorough, middle-class upbringing and support network continue to make us extremely prosperous by international comparisons.

The connections between providing for my son and caring for the world’s children include political and economic examples. Politically, my family enjoys enormous freedom in raising our son with plenty of space and access to resources, in part due to the power, wealth, and pluralism of the U.S. nation-state. A basic understanding of recent history, however, reveals that the state has often acted as an imperial entity elsewhere in order to preserve its own standing—Guatemala and Iran in the 1950s are two cases out of the several hundred that come to mind. Benefiting from the freedom and security of citizenship within the world’s top superpower comes through the costs of lives and quality of life among the subjects of our foreign interventions, historically and presently.

Economically, colonial exploitation has evolved into the current tumult of global markets, whereby the so-called First World hoards resources and coerces entire groups into wage slavery to serve the comfort and convenience of the beneficiary population—the top fifth or so of the world. The story of a personal electronic device could highlight this connection between one’s wealth and another’s poverty, beginning with raw materials. Control of minerals such as coltan, tin, tantalum, tungsten, and gold for use in many of our machines, from cell phones to jet planes, has been linked to 20 years of civil war and the displacement of 1.4 million people in the Democratic Republic of Congo. While government bodies and NGOs have been working to improve the situation, slavery, wage-slavery, child exploitation, and sexual violence have permeated throughout the mining operations. From a consumer standpoint, the harsh exploitation of the workers makes our high-tech gadgets more affordable. Likewise, the precious metals are exported for manufacturing to places with low wages and tough working conditions. A Foxconn factory worker in Shenzhen, China, for example, might have to save up to six months’ wages to purchase one of the iPhones that she helped to assemble. From this perspective, the humanitarian cost for the abundance of cheap goods that populate my son’s environment is a lower standard of living for the children among the 70% of the world’s families that live on less than $10 a day.

Parenting in a World of Conflict

The moral dilemmas of how to live one’s life are hardly peculiar to parents, yet having the responsibility of caring for a child augments the duty to provide security and success at great costs. I want my child to have healthy food, a safe home, space to play, imaginative toys, nice friends, and the best educational opportunities. I also want to give him attention and to spend as much time with him as possible. The problem for me is whether I am providing him with the best resources and greatest nurturing through a complicity in systems whose costs fall on others with less privilege.

Is it okay to spend fifteen dollars on a toy that he doesn’t need when the opportunity cost of that toy could be either donating a toy to another kid or giving the money to Doctors Without Borders, for example? Is it better to spend two hours at home with my son in the evening instead of attending a rally in solidarity with Standing Rock or volunteering at a food pantry? Should I move farther out into a bigger house so that he has the most peace and the most safety possible, even if the mortgage and upkeep on the home require so much of my time and money that I am too busy to engage in social movements or contribute resources to campaigns? There is no universal answer in these scenarios because they are subjective and because their contexts are complex, but there is clearly a realm of decision-making where my personal interests may undermine the moral obligation I feel toward the social good.

My son is the most important subject of my life, but to the universe he is not more important than anybody else. Certainly all children have an equal right to freedom and security, and as parents I believe we are in some way obligated to try to provide that first for our own offspring, but only in a way that allows us to also seek it for others. Whenever I see children suffering—whether from U. S. foreign policy, extreme materialism, or climate catastrophes—I care about those kids, especially because I can imagine how horrible it would be to see my own son in their situations. As a result, I want to seek a way of life that both nurtures my son and supports a healthy world for all children.

Yemen from the Ground

I attempted to write a little about Yemen last month despite it being fairly new territory within my own worldview. Yesterday I read a phenomenal piece on The Intercept by Iona Craig, who has reported on the ground in Yemen for years. This article is beautifully written, and it clearly presents the voices of the people who were attacked by the terrible SEAL mission as well as the sociopolitical context. Superior journalism.

https://theintercept.com/2017/03/09/women-and-children-in-yemeni-village-recall-horror-of-trumps-highly-successful-seal-raid/

The Discovery of Kuzco

The Discovery of Kuzco // 245 pages // 4.25″ x 6.88″

kuzco-cover-thumb

Kuzco, Missouri is a little place–alternately viewed as the middle of nowhere or “The Navel of the Universe”–where an assortment of individuals converge and divide in cycles of community. An easy-going drummer with a dark edge, a Black Studies professor, a despondent history adjunct, a first-generation mother and student, a hip young couple, a tough, lone young woman, and the legacy of an enigmatic pioneer–the stories of these distinct characters merge into a broader narrative like myriad tributaries flowing into the great Mississippi River watershed.

Email eddiejenkinshernandez (at) gmail.com for information on purchasing a copy.

Yemen Goddam

Journalists and human rights organizations have appropriately condemned the suffering in Syria as the worst humanitarian crisis since World War II, and the recent Amnesty International report of the state’s sadistic torture and mass executions at a prison near Damascus makes the hellish disaster appear even more horrific. While regional hegemons meet in board rooms and raise or stay refugees from the eastern-most shores of the Mediterranean like poker bids, another crisis is worsening at the southern tip of the Arabian Peninsula in Yemen. The stories of the people of Yemen deserve a more complete narrative—and, more importantly, comprehensive action—but I can only sketch a few scenarios that point to the relationship between their struggle and the violent conflict of power-hungry states.

In 2015, Saudi Arabia began an attack against Iranian-backed Houthi militants who had ceased control of Yemen’s capital, and in the first year of the war over 900 children had died. Additionally, the Saudi-led coalition has bombed four Doctors Without Borders hospitals.

Although the Obama administration eventually blocked some specific arms deals with Saudi Arabia due to high civilian death tolls in Yemen, in recent years Saudi Arabia has been the largest recipient of American-made weapons, including a $30 billion deal for 150 new and repaired F-15 fighter jets in 2011. The U.S. government defended the deal with the oppressive Saudi state by claiming that the transaction was good for the American economy. The U.S. is by far the largest weapons exporter in the world.

A couple weeks ago, the U.S. executed its own operation in Yemen, with the Trump administrating approving a SEAL Team 6 raid that killed 24 people. Initially, the U.S. claimed that there were no civilian casualties, but in fact local sources say that 9 of the victims were children, and some accounts dispute that any of those killed warranted significant military attention. The U.S. suffered the death of one Navy SEAL, and three others were wounded. Additionally, a $70 million aircraft was destroyed. The White House has declared the raid a success, citing the attainment of valuable intelligence.

Two sick narratives in particular seem to intertwine among so many disturbing details of this mission. The first involves the death of the 8-year-old daughter of Anwar al-Awlaki, who was an Al-Qaeda leader and American citizen that the U.S. assassinated with a drone strike in 2011. His 16-year-old son had also been killed with a drone two weeks after his own execution. Now the recent murder of his young daughter raises the question of whether her death was a coincidence or whether Trump was making an early example of his campaign claim that “when you get these terrorists, you have to take out their families.” The other problematic narrative has to do with the brutality of SEAL Team 6, a premier counter-terrorism unit that was also responsible for the execution of Osama bin-Laden. Leaks and testimonies from the unit show patterns of revenge killing and battlefield mutilations. Trump’s heartless attitude and SEAL Team 6’s desensitized violence pair well in an exhibition of the lowest form of American foreign policy.

For Yemeni civilians, unfortunately, the direct destruction of a Saudi-Iranian proxy war is compounded by an even broader impact, as 3.3. million people in that nation are acutely malnourished. Fishing boats, farms, and homes have been bombed, leaving families who are suffering from violence, hunger, and disease. As of July 2016, the UN reported 2.2 million internally displaced persons within Yemen, as well as 180,000 fleeing to neighboring countries. Those combined figures equal about 10% of the nation’s population.

Yemen is 8,000 miles away from me, yet the starvation of children and the bombing of homes feels closer when American-made F-15s are flying over such carnage. The longstanding relationships between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia, as well as the U.S. history of helping to undermine pluralism and democracy in Iran, sets a context for understanding the complicity of the U.S. government and its patriotic taxpayers in such horrible and unnecessary suffering. Tragically, intervention is the rule, not the exception, and the greatness of America, in terms of economy and power, corresponds to direct hostility and indirect negligence abroad. Regardless of the U.S. share of the blame compared to that of other oppressive states such as Saudi Arabia, Iran, Turkey, or Russia, for example, the U.S. has some power to affect positive change only if it replaces its America-First doctrine with a more humanitarian foreign policy.

Sources and Further Reading:

Human Slaughterhouse: Amnesty International Says Up to 13,000 Hanged at Syrian Prison

The bloody consequences of US hypocrisy are on full display in Yemen

Bombing of Doctors Without Borders Hospital in Yemen Kills at Least 15

U.S., Saudi Arabia agree to $30 billion deal for F-15s

Yemen Aftermath: Trump’s First Military Raid Continues To Raise Questions

The Crimes of SEAL Team 6

Yemen’s food crisis: ‘We die either from the bombing or the hunger’

UNHCR Yemen Situation

Antichrist President as a Self-Fulfillment of Morbid Eschatology

Donald Trump is an antichrist. He is a person who claims to be our nation’s savior while embodying the opposite characteristics of Jesus of Nazareth, as he appears in the gospels. Trump has spent his entire life promoting a personal brand, and he has never done anything in the interest of helping others. He has discriminated against people of color in his housing. He has violently assaulted his former spouse and other women. He creates enemies then turns to them with hatred and retaliation. He condones torture and the killing of children.

The devil who entices this false messiah, then, is Steve Bannon, a white-supremacist Christian-nationalist who pursues the possibility of pushing America into a cataclysmic conflict against Islam and the East in which millions of innocent people would die and suffer. Bannon sits beside Trump and whispers his hot breath into the presidential ear.

It is not so ironic, however, that 80 percent of white evangelical voters elevated an antichrist to the most powerful political office in the world, since their faith in white nationalism tends to dominate their zeal for Christ. Furthermore, their morbid eschatology demands fire from heaven and gathering armies, so why not go ahead and empower an antichrist in order to realize their prophesy? After all, if secular humanism and an inclusive liberation theology gradually bring about a more harmonious society, then moral progress would leave evangelicals looking like members of an archaic death cult.