Monthly Archives: December 2015

The Better Angels of Our Nature: Interview with Steven Pinker

According to Harvard’s Steven Pinker, violence has been on the decline over the past century. This is encouraging news, especially given the atrocities of Islamic extremist groups like ISIS and the mass casualty shootings that are all too prevalent in America. Be it birthed from death cults or the minds of the deranged, 21st century terror is an anomaly; the general trend is downward. Pinker’s book, The Better Angels of Our Nature, makes the case. Below, an interview with the optimistic intellectual.

Consider the exchange at 59:00, where he discusses the anarchy resulting after police in Montreal went on strike. We can compare this situation to what happened in Iraq after the Coalition Forces invasion, or Syria after the Arab Spring, and make note: violence emerges directly — and rather immediately — from a power vacuum.

— Marcus

Inhuman extremism: using children as bombs

More evidence of the cult-like nature of ISIS:

Why Afghanistan’s Children Are Used as Spies and Suicide Bombers

“We here in Afghanistan, we see all the fighters. We learn from them,” says the 17-year-old Afghan boy, holding a gun and swaying back-and-forth. He doesn’t make eye contact as he speaks. “God willing, we want to be like them.” His name is Naimatullah, and he says he has been trained to carry out a suicide mission.


Children of ISIS

Tens of thousands of children currently live in ISIS-controlled parts of Iraq and Syria, and the group is actively recruiting some of them to be its next generation of fighters. In Children of ISIS, a FRONTLINE digital film, boys who went through its training describe the coercive methods ISIS uses to indoctrinate children to encourage unquestioning loyalty and obedience, as it prepares them to fight.



What after ISIS?

Even if we destroy ISIS, the region’s history of sectarian grievances, factionalism, and instability will continue to spur into being and sustain Islamic militants that are just as much a threat to civil order. An article below recommends a book by Jason Burke to help shape our thinking about how best to confront these groups: The New Threat: The Past, Present, and Future of Islamic Militancy.

Gangsta Jihad

Forgive the cliché: This book is essential reading. No hyperbole required. The New Threat -“new” in the sense that the danger posed by violent Islamism is evolving-deserves the careful attention of anyone appreciating the urgency of the West recalibrating its response to that danger.



Bellingcat: The new investigative journalism

Citizen journalists investigate current events and state activities using open source intelligence and ingenious analysis of social media for the site Bellingcat. Below, an article exposing ties between Russia and French far-right party National Front:

Fraud, Russian Interests Overshadow France’s National Front – bellingcat

By Jett Goldsmith Marine Le Pen’s French far-right party, the National Front, has experienced its most successful period in party history. Regional elections placed the party in 1st place with 28% of all votes, and various polls have shown Marine Le Pen leading the first round of 2017 presidential elections.


Jeb on Trump

Candidate Bush describes Trump’s dangerous rhetoric:

“This is all dog-whistle talk. This is to provoke anger. This is to generate massive attention to him. It’s not about a serious plan.”

Jeb Bush goes off on Trump after scrapping his trip to Israel

Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump canceled his scheduled trip to Israel a day after making polarizing comments calling on all Muslims to be banned from entering the United States. Business Insider sat down with Republican candidate Jeb Bush after a town hall meeting in New Hampshire to get the former governor’s reaction to Trump’s abrupt cancellation.

Special political prisons?

Below, a TED talk from Will Potter, a journalist who makes the case that special prison units exist in the United States that questionably restrict communication for prisoners who have ties to terror. While it may be wise to put in communication restrictions for leaders of extremist groups, why would these restrictions be kept quiet, as Potter asserts? It would seem an easy case to argue before the public.

Extremists, however repugnant their values, should be given trials and prison sentences that honor our values. Questionable types of detention such as what Potter describes do not assure the public that we are doing the job right.


Will Potter: The secret US prisons you’ve never heard of before

Investigative journalist Will Potter is the only reporter who has been inside a Communications Management Unit, or CMU, within a US prison. These units were opened secretly, and radically alter how prisoners are treated — even preventing them from hugging their children.

Public relations vs. knowledge

Generally speaking, electronic information is subject to manipulation in ways that print media cannot be (because of its permanent nature). Corporations embed ads on our web pages for products and news articles based on our browsing habits, and these can change with the refresh of a page. This activity is mostly harmless, but one can imagine political or economic organizations using the same tech for more nefarious purposes. A video from Deutsche Welt explores how public relations companies deliberately edit Wikipedia pages to delete unwanted information and promote products:


— Marcus

Freedom of information

Canadian-Iranian blogger and once-jailed dissident Hossein Derakhshan argues that digital media companies like Facebook and Twitter are undermining the spirit of the web. In contrast to dialogue-focused, independent blogs and forums, which provoke intellectual exploration, Facebook offers a closed, television-like experience that reinforces biases. Hossein also expresses concern about the amount of social control these media companies possess over mass populations.

The Web We Have to Save – Editor: Myself

The rich, diverse, free web that I loved - and spent years in an Iranian jail for - is dying. Why is nobody stopping it? By Hossein Derakhshan (@h0d3r), (Source: Matter) Illustrations by Tim McDonagh Seven months ago, I sat down at the small table in the kitchen of my 1960s apartment, nestled on the top floor of a …


— Marcus


The Nation’s Lydia Wilson interviews ISIS fighters

Since the Coalition Forces invasion over 10 years ago many of Iraq’s Sunnis have felt marginalized and threatened. The emergence of ISIS reflects, in this sense, a rekindling of the civil war that raged from 2005-2007.

From the article:

This is not radicalization to the ISIS way of life, but the promise of a way out of their insecure and undignified lives; the promise of living in pride as Iraqi Sunni Arabs, which is not just a religious identity but cultural, tribal, and land-based, too.”


What I Discovered From Interviewing Imprisoned ISIS Fighters

No sooner am I settled in an interviewing room in the police station of Kirkuk, Iraq, than the first prisoner I am there to see is brought in, flanked by two policemen and in handcuffs. I awkwardly rise, unsure of the etiquette involved in interviewing an ISIS fighter who is facing the death penalty.


Demagogues and democracy

Military service can be liberating. Its meritocracy, blind to forms of identity other than professional competence, reflects the egalitarian ideals upon which our nation was founded. For many, it’s refreshing (it was for me!). When political candidates appeal to ethnic and religious divisions, servicemen and women find it particularly troublesome, as we have long set aside those differences for a cause greater than ourselves.

Divisive appeals, notable in the populism of presidential candidate Donald Trump, also remind us of a dark past in America history. A documentary about the last great divider in American politics, a racist white Southern liberal named George Wallace, is below. Those who wish to understand the rhetorical skills and political opportunism manifest in demagoguery will find Wallace’s bio instructive.


— Marcus