Archive | October 2010

The cycle of violence in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict

I’m always into applying quantitative methods to human rights issues. This is a really great paper from the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on how both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict propagate violence against themselves. As Dr. King said, “Violence begets violence.”

“Ending violent international conflicts requires understanding the causal factors that perpetuate them. In the Israeli–Palestinian conflict, Israelis and Palestinians each tend to see themselves as victims, engaging in violence only in response to attacks initiated by a fundamentally and implacably violent foe bent on their destruction. Econometric techniques allow us to empirically test the degree to which violence on each side occurs in response to aggression by the other side. Prior studies using these methods have argued that Israel reacts strongly to attacks by Palestinians, whereas Palestinian violence is random (i.e., not predicted by prior Israeli attacks). Here we replicate prior findings that Israeli killings of Palestinians increase after Palestinian killings of Israelis, but crucially show further that when nonlethal forms of violence are considered, and when a larger dataset is used, Palestinian violence also reveals a patternof retaliation: (i) thefiringof Palestinian rockets increases sharply after Israelis kill Palestinians, and (ii) the probability (although not the number) of killings of Israelis by Palestinians increases after killings of Palestinians by Israel. These findings suggest that Israelimilitary actions against Palestinians lead to escalation rather than incapacitation. Further, they refute the view that Palestinians are uncontingently violent, showing instead that a significant proportion of Palestinian violence occurs in response to Israeli behavior. Well-established cognitive biases may lead participants on each side of the conflict to underappreciate the degree to which the other side’s violence is retaliatory, and hence to systematically underestimate their own role in perpetuating the conflict.”

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Movie of the Week: Under the Bombs

For 34 days in 2006, the Israeli Defense Force bombed civilian targets throughout Lebanon purportedly in response to the abduction of several Israeli soldiers by the political and militant group, Hezbollah. As in all conflicts, exact numbers of the dead and wounded are up for debate, but estimates indicate that up to 1300 Lebanese civilians died in the attacks, along with a number of military deaths. The devastation to Lebanese civilian life and infrastructure was widespread and all inclusive.

The war began on July 12th, 2006. Lebanese-French filmmaker Phillippe Aractingi travelled to Lebanon and began filming Under the Bombs just ten days later, in the midst of the bombing. He recruited two actors and had them ad lib a rudimentary story within the conflict, shooting the entire film with a small hand held camera. All other actors are real people: victims, people involved in the clean-up and body searches or angry locals caught in the middle of a senseless political conflict. The acting is not perfect, as all scenes appear to be first takes, but the scenery is such that the juxtaposition of actors upon true devastation makes the great human and social costs of the conflict more real than any documentary could be.

It is a superb movie, and a great example of guerrilla film-making at it’s best, mending documentary with fiction and attempting to capture the complex lives of those caught in the middle of the Arab-Israel conflict. It’s easy to see how big budget blockbuster films like the Hurt Locker were inspired by Under the Bombs, both movies being a melding of honest fact and fiction set in the middle east. However, Under the Bombs takes no real political side, instead focusing upon residents, who largely care little about the conflict and care more about the stability of their own everyday lives.

Liu Xiaobo

Today, the news appeared that Liu Xiaobo has indeed won the 2010 Nobel Peace Price for his “his long and nonviolent struggle for fundamental human rights in China.” I applaud the Nobel committee for awarding this esteemed award to a long time political prisoner and human rights advocate in China. It is remarkable as it is the first Nobel to EVER be awarded to a Chinese citizen.

These words got Li Xiaobo thrown into prison:

“After experiencing a prolonged period of human rights disasters and a tortuous struggle and resistance, the awakening Chinese citizens are increasingly and more clearly recognizing that freedom, equality, and human rights are universal common values shared by all humankind, and that democracy, a republic, and constitutionalism constitute the basic structural framework of modern governance. A “modernization” bereft of these universal values and this basic political framework is a disastrous process that deprives humans of their rights, corrodes human nature, and destroys human dignity.”

It was interesting to me that the only mention of Li’s award on the state supported XinHua News, was a very brief article on how the prize will damage Norway/China relations. Included is this quote:

“The Nobel Peace Prize should be awarded to people who contribute to national harmony, country-to-country friendship, advancing disarmament, and convening and propagandizing peace conferences”

as if to say that China should dictate who and what type of people the Norwegian Nobel committee should award it to. The statement reeks of incredible arrogance. Perhaps they learned these lessons in arrogance from the United States.

No doubt, the Chinese government will lash out diplomatically at the Nobel committee and at Norway, by arresting Norweigian citizens or restricting Chinese companies that deal with China (I am referring to the recent debacle with Japan). But, through awarding him the prize, the Nobel committee have sent a clear message to China that arising as a major player in the world economy comes with major responsibilities, not the least of which is recognition of basic freedoms and human rights. As this is the first Chinese Nobel, the Chinese will have no choice but to recognize Li Xiaobo and democratic reform movements.

It was ironic that the same day I read about Li Xiaobo’s potentially winning the prize, the New York Times also ran a lengthy article on academic dishonesty and fraud in China (in addition to others). One has to assume that the monolithic power of the Chinese government, known to foster an atmosphere of corruption, fuels this debacle. Until the Chinese government begins to recognize and encourage freedom of speech and academic expression, we can assume that there will be no other Nobel’s for China. To put this in perspective, the world’s third largest economy, Japan, has 18 Nobels.

We cannot disregard the Chinese government’s great progress in improving the lives of many, many Chinese citizens and the incredible challenges they face. However, as in the United States, the job is never done. Unfortunately, until basic and simple freedoms are provided, such as the freedom to receive and disseminate information, China will languish in a corner.

Joel Black

Recently, I went to Los Angeles. While I was there, I was able to visit my good friend Joel Black whom I had not seen in 23 years. I’ve known him since high school and he is one of my favorite people on the planet. Joel was responsible for one of my favorite records, The Terrifying Sicko’s “Chipping Talc off Priscilla’s Calm Demeanor” along with countless other incredible musical projects including one of my own. All of this, in addition to being a beautiful human being. I can’t say that about a lot of people, but Joel is one of them. I don’t know why, but I made this short film about him.

SACNAS Once Again

For the past three years, I’ve made it a point to go the Society for the Advancement of Chicanos and Native Americans in Science Conference (SACNAS). SACNAS is an organization devoted to encouraging minority students to pursue graduate education and careers in science. Although I am likely well beyond the targeted age demographic, it’s a really great time to hang out and talk with younger kids embarking on careers in science; kids who are largely the first members of their family to graduate high school, let alone go to University. More or less, many of these hard working and excellent kids aren’t much different than me. I go to a few conferences every year, and find that most are filled with the typical one-upmanship and grandstanding that you would expect in the science world. SACNAS on the other hand, with its emphasis on younger scientists, is entirely laid back. It’s incredible to meet faculty and working scientists in an environment outside their element.

This time, I was able to present a poster of a project that I’ve been working on. While the poster was nothing to get excited about, one of my judges, a Chicano gentleman from New Mexico State, and I must have talked for more than a half an hour about the importance of science as a tool to make the world a better place. After more than a half an hour of explaining how my research could be used to influence health policy to more efficiently deliver health services to isolated and at risk populations, the gentleman teared up and gave me a huge bear hug. It was incredible and completely out of my academic experience at the U of M, where more often than not, it seems that making a name for yourself and keeping the economics of science moving is priority one.

To hell with that. Science is at its core subversive. It’s about shaking up preconceived notions of the world. All the way back to when Galileo disrupted the hegemony of the church by simply pointing out the world rotated around the sun. Now, with the world facing a litany of problems and challenges, the likes of which humanity has never seen, our voices are more important than ever.

Organizations like SACNAS encourage the perfect demographic to contribute to science. People who understand what the poor and marginalized experience. People who have just enough conscience to contribute to the betterment of the world and people who think in a unique enough fashion to avoid all the pitfalls of trendy scientific thinking and contribute exciting and original ideas.

Nike Park Spells Bad News for Shibuya Homeless

Recently, in the online edition of TBS Television, I encountered a news story on Miyashita Koen in Shibuya, Tokyo. It appears that Nike Shoes have negotiated a deal with the Shibuya Ward Office to $200,000 per year for naming rights and permission to perform a large renovation on the park, including a project to create a large slide in the shape of the Nike swoosh. In effect, the park will end up being a giant billboard for the massive shoe manufacturer. The incursion of private enterprise into a public space immediately raises suspicions of back room corruption and shady dealings amongst Ward officials, not to mention the cheap price of for complete control of a publicly owned space. Why Nike? Why not Adidas or Birkenstock? And why should tax payer funded areas promote one particular privately owned business?

Of course, Ward officials and some local residents are happy to have the park renovated at someone else’s expense, but the implications of this are that private business merely needs to flash money and it can then post it’s trademark on just about any public space it likes. Soon, we’ll be seeing Disney billboards on the Imperial Palace, or worse, Tommy Hilfiger signs on the Diet building itself. Of course, Japan is no stranger to billboards and advertising, which are ubiquitous throughout Japan. Until now, however, business advertising has been limited in publicly funded spaces, outside of that on vending machines.

However, Miyashita Kouen is significant in that it has become home to a small but present squatter community of homeless persons in addition to providing a home base for local community and political groups. The Ward office has begun the process of forcibly evicting the homeless individuals this month, some of whom have resided in the park for years. Local community groups have come the park residents’ aid, vocally protesting the eviction, surrounding the park and creating problems for the clean-up crews through large art installations and signboards. Interestingly, the article I read on TBS made not a single mention of the homeless issue, inferring that the community groups were merely a group of misdirected troublemakers without a specific agenda. This struck me as interesting, given Japan’s predilection to ignoring the homeless, almost as if they do not exist. What one does not see, does not exist. More disappointing however, is TBS’s lack of spine.

The quandary, of course, is that the park is paid for by taxpayers, for the use of taxpayers. Local residents will not use the park specifically because of the presence of homeless and the fear for the safety of their children. Yet, the Ward is not willing to provide housing for the homeless and the lack of jobs in a rough economy for aging, single men keeps the men in the park. The Ward may clear the park, but may create another problem by scattering the men throughout the Ward aside from the important human rights concerns.

As in the United States, homeless people in Japan have little recourse. To make matters worse, homeless in Japan are denied the right to vote having no permanent address, thus they have zero representation in government. A lack of political will in a climate that is experiencing a crushing limitation of financial resources prevents local authorities from being proactive on the issues of the local homeless, and worse, a societal attitude that assumes family support for elders, completely marginalizes aging, single men as being outside the network and thus not true members of society. How the situation will play out in the long term, is unknown, but for the short term, it appears that Japanese local officials have taken a cue from the Americans and put business ahead of the demands of social minorities.

An excellent run down of the events in English can be found here. A mixed Japanese/English blog by an artist group advocating for the park can be found here.

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