Category Archives: Topical

An interesting question…

“Some were fed watermelon to fill their bladders, they said, and then had their penises tied.”

Besides the Kingdom’s uncomfortable taste for torture, the article below reveals that some tolerance for diversity, however limited, also reflects the modern Saudi state. Such tolerance suggests that pluralistic political reform, while surely distant, may one day come to America’s long-standing gulf ally:

In Saudi Arabia: Can It Really Change?

Thirty-five years after Wahhabi forces saved the Saudi monarchy, foreign descriptions of Saudi Arabia remain for the most part remarkably bleak. The writers of the four books under review examine the domination of the al-Saud dynasty with the fascination with which a zoologist might regard a black widow snaring its prey.

— Marcus


The blogger and the bully

The article below explores how a networked citizenry can hold state officials to account, even in regimes that do not honor human rights.

Making Chinese Officials Accountable, Blog by Blog

Despite the risks, Chinese social media users are beating online censorship. Ai Weiwei, He Xie, an installation of 3,000 porcelain crabs / Photo: glasseyes view China sent its first email in 1987. It read, “Across the Great Wall, we can reach every corner in the world.”

In a sense, this man is no longer alone:

(Separately, an interesting discussion with Charlie Rose and Jeff Widener, the award-winning photojournalist who snapped the above “Tank man” photo that famously captured the spirit of Tiananmen ’89.)

Blood money?

While selling arms may be good business, Senator Paul asks if it may also be immoral, illegal, and strategically dubious:

Senator Chris Murphy adds that, inside Yemen, citizens think they are being targeted by a US bombing campaign, and this action is helping radicalize the Yemeni people against the West.

Despite objections from 27 senators, the sale passed the Senate. The other side of the debate argues that the sale was necessary because Saudi Arabia is fighting a militia backed by the Iranian government. For years Iran has conducted actions that destabilize the region, including support for terrorism and the pursuit of nuclear technology.

The Hill praises the senators who forced the vote for reasserting Congress’s proper role with respect to conducting war and overseeing foreign policy:


Senators challenge status quo on Saudi arms sales

This week, Sens. (R-Ky.), (D-Conn.), (R-Utah) and (D-Minn.) managed to singlehandedly do something that the rest of their colleagues would much rather avoid or ignore: They forced the Senate to debate the wisdom of continuing to provide Saudi Arabia with some of America’s best weaponry, no questions asked.


Escaping the cult…

A nation-sized cult attacks a member who braves leaving.

North Korea calls UK-based defector ‘human scum’ – BBC News

North Korea has branded a UK-based diplomat who defected to South Korea as “human scum”. Thae Yong-ho, deputy envoy in London, and his family are now under the protection of the South. Without listing his name, the North’s Korean Central News Agency said the envoy had been accused of leaking secrets, embezzlement and child rape.

Conflict and cooperation

SWJ suggests that a systematic, analytical, game-theory-based approach to battlefield interrogations may be effective:

Small Wars Journal

Journal Articles are typically longer works with more more analysis than the news and short commentary in the SWJ Blog. We accept contributed content from serious voices across the small wars community, then publish it here as quickly as we can, per our Editorial Policy, to help fuel timely, thoughtful, and unvarnished discussion of the diverse and complex issues inherent in small wars.

Defense, Inc.

One of the more curious experiences I had after signing up to serve was being offered large sums (for a poor kid from North Carolina, mind you) to work as a defense contractor. Contractors take on the same tasks as soldiers, but earn pay that can be very high compared to the set military scale. The result of the DoD’s contracting focus is that America ends up with a surplus of contractors who hold positions that could be done by uniformed personnel for less expense. Veteran Special Forces operator Lloyd Sparks has written an insider’s account of working life in America’s defense industry, outlining its curious culture and contradictions; his views add weight to calls for reform.

— Marcus

Boondoggle: My Unexpected Career as a Military Defense Contractor

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Nuance and cultural awareness

Keen cultural awareness and language skills can be the difference between right and wrong information, and such can save one’s skin, especially in cases where an interpreter cannot always be trusted. Successful overseas officers understand how culture influences thinking and perception. An article from Pacific Standard below explores the subject. I’ve added an excerpt from a favorite Hollywood movie to emphasize the point.

— Marcus

We Aren’t the World – Pacific Standard

In the Summer of 1995, a young graduate student in anthropology at UCLA named Joe Henrich traveled to Peru to carry out some fieldwork among the Machiguenga, an indigenous people who live north of Machu Picchu in the Amazon basin.




Saudi teens sentenced to death

Saudi Arabia: 3 Alleged Child Offenders Await Execution

Three Saudi men are awaiting execution for alleged, protest-related crimes committed while they were children. Saudi judges based the capital convictions primarily on confessions that the three defendants retracted in court and said had been coerced. The courts did not investigate the allegations that the confessions were obtained by torture.