Something to make every day better

Bad news on all fronts, so here’s something that can cheer you up.

Birds are dinosaurs (this isn’t breaking news; bear with me). It isn’t that dinosaurs “evolved into birds”; it’s that we saw the evolutionary result and called them birds before we knew what dinosaurs were. If you think that’s disappointing, then think about them ripping a fish from the sea or tearing apart a worm with their fearsome claws and beaks or swooping down at 60 mph to grab and devour a hapless vole or basically just fucking with Tippi Hedren. It’s pretty awesome. Randall Munro at xkcd explains it better, as usual.

Birds and Dinosaurs
So how does that make life better? Just start calling birds “dinosaurs”. As in, “Man, Gary, I got like zero sleep. These dinosaurs were making a ton of racket outside my window,” or “Our blueberry bush is doing great, but I can’t keep the squirrels or the dinosaurs away.” You’ll see that makes every day just a little better.

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Donald Trump Foreswears Getting Nasty

“Just getting nasty with Hillary won’t work,” Mr. Trump said. “You really have to get people to look hard at her character, and to get women to ask themselves if Hillary is truly sincere and authentic. Because she has been really ugly in trying to destroy Bill’s mistresses, and she is pandering to women so obviously when she is only interested in getting power.”  –Times

 

“Don’t you people think Hillary is gross?”

 

Donald Trump has openly outlined his campaign, which is going to revolve around:

  • Bill’s infidelities (and Hillary’s role)
  • All the crackpot conspiracies from the 90s (including cattle futures and probably Vince Foster)
  • Benghazi
  • Ties to Wall Street corruption.

The thing here is that while the first three are nonsense, they all tie in together to portray someone as essentially being sleazy. For Trump to focus on money-and-power grubbing or sexual pecadillos is obviously insane, but it might work. He’ll still lose, I think, as demographics make it very difficult, but the media loves stories about Hillary being crooked and the Clintons as being low and grubby farm people. Maureen Dowd is going to have no less than 11 columns between now and November that are transcripts of phone interviews with Trump (and another 5 which are saucily imagined conversations between Hillary and Bill. Every single one of these columns will mention Lena Dunham). It’s going to be as ugly as you imagine.

On the other hand, I’m not yet emotionally ready to talk about this labor/environmentalist article. I hope Loomis has something about it.

“A Hundred Tiny Hezbollahs”: In Syria, Today’s Desperation is Tomorrow’s Outline

 

John Kerry and Vladimir Putin

Not pictured: Syrians

 

As talks begin again in Vienna on ending the Syrian civil war (which is so much more than that), the main issue revolves around whether Bashar al-Asad should stay or go, with the US favoring the latter and the Russians promoting the former. It seems weirdly removed and high-level, and it is, because the realities on the ground make the removal of one man a short-term fix at best, if not entirely irrelevant.

A really interesting and well-reported article in Foreign Policy by James Harkin helps illustrate why. In the article, Harkin talks of how Hezbollah has flooded the area around Damascus, propping up the Syrian army, and training local militias to fights ISIS, Nusra, and other enemies. The militias are largely Shi’ite, Ismaili, and Druze, all of whom are among the main targets for Sunni extremists. Here’s a taste of how complicated it is.

As Syrians retreat to sect, ethnicity, and tribe, Hezbollah’s services as specialists in irregular warfare are in massive demand. This isn’t only true for Syria’s tiny Shiite minority: Many other religious groups have been threatened — but also emboldened — by the crisis. Faced with the rising tide of a vicious Islamism within the insurgency, they are organizing themselves in Hezbollah-like “self-defense forces.” From the Druze in Swaida to the Syriac Christians in rural Homs to the Alawi-led “Syrian resistance” formations in the coastal provinces of Latakia and Tartous, they see themselves as engaged in a life-or-death struggle for their beliefs, and they exist in a fractious, paramilitary relationship to the Syrian state.

In any war, alliances shift and bedfellows that are made are far stranger than in politics. What ISIS has done, among other things, is to further distort who is on the “right” side. It’s easy and correct to say that the battle between ISIS and Asad is a battle between two terrible sides, but what of the other Alawites? What of the Druze who flock to an Asad quasi-ally in Hezbollah, who are also defending Christians but have all but colonized Golan? If the Ismailis side with Asad, who is a monster, against ISIS, who tried to exterminate them, should they end up on the losing side of the civil war if the US gets its way in negotiations?

The point here is that focusing on Asad, while understandable, overlooks the tectonic fractions that created these conditions in the first place. I think it is inevitable that there will be a new map, as Syria and Iraq have, for all intents and purposes, ceased to exist. In Vienna, they are as much a product of diplomatic imagination as they were at the end of WWI. Understanding the new realities on the ground is the only way to eventually find a path toward peace.