Infographic of the day

Islam in Europe.  From the Economist.  Handy.

What to do about ISIS?

This post from Josh Marshall made a lot of sense to me:

We need to redefine our Syria policy around the goal of the physical elimination of ISIS as a territorial entity and the physical destruction of its top leaders. If that means accepting the continuance of Assad family rule in at least rump Syria than we need to accept that – even though he’s backed by regional adversaries Russia and Iran. Again, how serious are we about eliminating ISIS? I’d say not very serious if we’re still hung up on Assad.

I fully realize that Assad has resorted to a massive amount of bloodletting to hold on to power. But his need “to go” has something of a over-precious talisman quality for the standard characters in Washington. We need to decide: what’s really important? Really important. Not makes us feel good or what’s preferable or even what we said we wanted thee years ago but are afraid to unwant. What’s really important.I think it’s clear that breaking ISIS is really important. Ending the Assad regime would be great. But we can live with Assad. And more concretely, we can deal with Assad later, once we’ve dealt with ISIS…

What I do know is this. ISIS is a genuine threat to us and our allies. In recent weeks, they’ve killed more than a hundred people in Paris, downed a Russian jetliner and appear to have carried out major attacks in Beirut and Ankara. They are a real and present threat. Assad is not a clear or present threat to us. Our policy is a contradiction and a losing one. We can deal with Assad later. In Washington circles it’s become a conceit. Our policy in Syria should be to destroy ISIS. Everything else can come after that.

And somewhat similar views from Fred Kaplan:

Third, this air power should be directed to support all ground forces engaged in fighting ISIS, no matter how unpalatable they might otherwise be—including Iranian-backed militias. This is not a simple Cold War–style fight. In the war on ISIS, we are on the same side with allies, adversaries, and forces in between. Choices must be made: If the overriding goal is to defeat ISIS, especially after the attack on Paris, then we need to swallow hard and team up with—or at least not impede—countries and organizations that we otherwise don’t like at all. In World War II, Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill allied with Josef Stalin to beat Adolf Hitler—and if they hadn’t, out of loathing for Soviet communism, then Hitler’s Germany would have won. True, as a result, after the war, the Soviet Union occupied all of Eastern Europe for the next 45 years, but that fate, however dreadful, was seen as preferable to seeing a Nazi flag waving across the entire continent. Not to stretch the analogy, but a case can be made that acceding to more Iranian influence in Iran and Syria (which is likely to happen anyway) is preferable to seeing ISIS stretch its caliphate across vast swaths of the Middle East.

This stuff is, of course, far from my own areas of expertise, but whether right or wrong, seems based on thoughtful analysis rather than knee-jerk thinking.

Islam= Nazism?

Apparently, if you are Marco Rubio.  Wow, there’s Islamophobic pandering, but this is really something.  Via Chait:

Marco Rubio appeared on This Week yesterday morning, where he took umbrage at Hillary Clinton’s statement that the United States is “at war with jihadists” but not “at war with Islam.” Rubio declared himself baffled by Clinton’s carefully parsed distinctions. “I don’t understand it,” said Rubio. “That would be like saying we weren’t at war with the Nazis, because we were afraid to offend some Germans who may have been members of the Nazi Party, but weren’t violent themselves.” If we tease out Rubio’s metaphor, the Muslim faith as a whole is equivalent to Nazism, and violent jihadi terrorists are the equivalent of the Nazi leadership. Rubio has a knack for grasping the midpoint of Republican Party doctrine at any given moment, and his comments reflect the party’s renewed conviction that the war against terrorists must be defined in the broadest possible terms.

Yowza.  Honestly, it is hard to interpret Rubio’s analogy in any other way than what Chait has done here.  And it matters.  As Chait continues:

The Obama administration, like the Bush administration before it, believes in defining the conflict in the most narrow terms. There is a very good reason for this. The United States is not actually at war with Islam. Non-extremist Muslims account for the lion’s share of the victims of jihadist terror, and are needed as allies in the conflict. Air strikes and counterterrorism may be important tools against ISIS, but in the long run, we need non-radicals to maintain the loyalties of the majority of the Muslim world. If the Muslim world gravitates toward its most extreme elements, the West will find itself in an unwinnable struggle against an enemy that can generate fighters moving invisibly among 1.6 billion people worldwide. The radicals want to persuade the rest of the Muslims that they represent Islam writ large in a clash against Christians and Jews. The West’s strategy is predicated on breaking down this link, making it as hard as possible for them to claim that the West is at war with Islam as a whole.

Honestly, just depressing that one of the more seemingly reasonable, “establishment” figures in the GOP seems to think it is just fine to essentially say that we are at war, not with radical Islamism, but Islam itself.


Antibiotics and your microbiome

This research is too close to my heart to leave for quick hits:

The study, recently published in mBio, found that just one weeklong course of antibiotics changed participants’ gut microbiomes, with the effects sometimes lasting as long as a year. After all, antibiotics don’t discriminate—as they attack the bad bacteria, the good ones are vulnerable too.

In a randomized, placebo-controlled clinical trial at two centers (one in the United Kingdom, one in Sweden), researchers gave participants one of four commonly-prescribed antibiotics—clindamycin, ciprofloxacin, minocycline, and amoxicillin—or a placebo. They checked on participants’ oral and gut microbiomes by analyzing the bacteria present in their saliva and feces before the experiment (to get a baseline), right after the week of antibiotics, and one, two, four, and 12 months afterward.

The effects varied depending on which antibiotic the person took, but generally, while the oral microbiome bounced back pretty quickly, some of the bacteria in the intestines suffered a crushing blow. People who took clindamycin and ciprofloxacin saw a decrease in types of bacteria that produce butyrate, a fatty acid that lowers oxidative stress and inflammation in the intestines. The reduced microbiome diversity for clindamycin-takers lasted up to four months; for some who took ciprofloxacin, it was still going on at the 12-month check-up. (Amoxicillin, on the plus side, seemed to have no significant effect on either the oral or gut microbiome, and minocycline-takers were back to normal at the one-month check-up.)

What’s more, the researchers found that while “both study populations carried antibiotic-resistance genes in their oral and gut microbiomes” before the study began, genetic analyses revealed the presence of more of these genes after people had taken the antibiotics.

“Clearly,” the study reads, “even a single antibiotic treatment in healthy individuals contributes to the risk of resistance development and leads to long-lasting detrimental shifts in the gut microbiome.”

Obviously, antibiotics save lives, but we need to be much more careful with when and how we use them.  On the bright side, it was good to see the minimal impact of amoxicllin– far and away the antibiotic my kids have been prescribed the most (and also on the bright side for my kids, it’s been a long time since any of them have needed an antibiotic).

Photo of the day

From the Telegraph’s animal photos of the week:

A hyena and vulture are locked in an intense stare down over food at the Maasai Mara National Reserve in Narok, Kenya.

You looking at me, pal ? A hyena and vulture are locked in an intense stare down over food at the Maasai Mara National Reserve in Narok, Kenya.Picture: Majed Sultan/HotSpot Media

When values collide on campus

Count on George Packer for some great analysis:

Statements of absolute value should rarely be trusted, at least not absolutely. But for me, and perhaps for you, there are at least two to swear and live by: racism is always and everywhere wrong. And a decent society depends on the freedom to think and say what we want. At their heart, these statements uphold the same thing: the dignity and autonomy of every individual—the right to be seen and heard as yourself. They are mutually affirming, even mutually necessary. The struggle against racism requires intellectual freedom, including the right to tell people what they don’t want to hear, in order to advance justice in the face of hatred, ignorance, or indifference. And free speech becomes arid or venomous without a spirit that extends to everyone the recognition of his or her humanity.

In the controversies at Missouri and Yale, now gone national, these two absolute values seemed to run headlong into each other—to the point where some writers thought they had to set aside one or the other as beside the point…

Accounts like these get closer than viral videos to the reality lived by most people swept up in controversies. They aren’t happy stories, but they aren’t hopeless, either. Nor do they lend themselves to the outrage and contempt that provide a satisfying sugar high. But the whole tendency of our politics and our media pulls in the other direction. Twitter too often makes its users more hotheaded and simpleminded than they really are. Ambivalence and uncertainty and distinction-making don’t easily fit the form, and no one wants to give an inch—otherwise you’d be cut to pieces. A news story activates a burst of responses, instantly polarized along boringly familiar lines, which generates a second storm of commentary on the comments, drenched in name-calling and, sometimes, threats—many of them made much nastier by anonymity, the coward’s byline. The commentary itself then creates another news story, a gathering storm, and the rain comes down again.

All of it is highly ritualized, as are the abject confessions, forced apologies, and tendered resignations that sometimes follow. Everyone knows the script by heart…

In this context, it’s all the more depressing to find highly regarded American universities giving in to the notion that racial justice requires a new form of repression. This week, Mizzou police issued a statement encouraging students to report not just physical threats, but also “hurtful speech”—a dangerously wide category

Whatever the intentions, the vocabulary and logic of “safe spaces,” “micro-aggressions” (slights and insults, including inadvertent ones), and “trigger warnings” (labels accompanying written or visual material informing readers that the content might be upsetting) can be just as insidious as actual speech codes. (Tocqueville noted that, in American democracy, social pressure could be a more powerful force than the coercive measures of less free societies.) The technical sound of these terms gives them an authority they don’t deserve. They inevitably create an atmosphere of self-censorship, intolerance, and groupthink—all intensified by social media. [emphases mine] They take difficult human business out of the messy realm of exchanges between individuals who have to learn how to reason and argue and get along, and turn it over to the ghostly arbitration of the mob. They leave young people ill-equipped to navigate the less forgiving world of adults. Or, perhaps, the new campus culture is preparing the next generation to be citizens of a republic of mentally armed camps.

Yeah, that.

Profiles in Cowardice

All these Republican governors (like our pathetic one here in NC) refusing to take Syrian refugees into their states is just the worst form of pandering and fear-mongering.   You remember the 9/11 bombers?  Saudi nationals who were here on regular temporary visas.  It’s possible some terrorists may try to pretend to be refugees to sneak in, but there’s many other ways and the downside is that you are totally turning your back on people coming here because their home regions are being destroyed by terrorism.

Big  Steve suggests a little math exercise (tailored for his home of Canada):

There, of course, are expected utility/utilitarian calculations one could make.  Let’s say that of the 25000 refugees that Canada would take in, 1% will die if we don’t: 250.  Let’s say that of the 25000 refugees, .01% or 2.5 (still a historically high number) would become terrorists that end up killing 100 Canadians.  Are the lives of 100 Canadians worth more than 250 refugees?  Of course, I am just playing with numbers and I am not a philosopher who is an expert in the trolley problem.

What this does seem to be is an outsized fear that might cause us to do what is against our values, against our character.  We already see American politicians dancing to the tune of fear: Trump threatening the first amendment by offering to close mosques, governors saying that they will not take in refugees, etc.  The aim of the terrorists is to cause us self-inflicted wounds–like rendition, torture, Abu Grhaib (the whole Iraq invasion), Guantanamo, etc.  The way to defeat the terrorists is not to ignore their attacks but not to over-react to them and not to change who we are and what we do as a result of their attacks.

Oh, and here’s an important point, so far all the identified Paris attackers are European nationals.  There’s a manhunt going on in Belgium.  Do we need to close American borders to Belgians?

And for the record, governors do not actually have the legal authority to keep Syrian refugees out of their states– just so we can be clear on the pandering and fear-mongering.

And finally, Amy Davidson takes on Republicans’ and decidedly un-American religious test for Syrian refugees.

On Monday, President Barack Obama reacted to this suggestion with some anger. “When I hear folks say that, well, maybe we should just admit the Christians but not the Muslims, when I hear political leaders suggesting that there would be a religious test for which person who’s fleeing from a war-torn country is admitted, when some of those folks themselves come from families who benefited from protection when they were fleeing political persecution, that’s shameful,” Obama said. (That last bit, about “families who’ve benefited” when fleeing persecution, was an unmistakable reference to Cruz and Marco Rubio.)…

Cruz is cruder than some, but he is not alone among Republicans. On Sunday,Jeb Bush also said that, although he isn’t entirely opposed to helping refugees who’d been screened, “I think our focus ought to be on the Christians who have no place in Syria anymore.” …

Indeed, it’s not clear that the talk of Christian refugees is meant, even by the loudest Republicans, to translate into the appearance of Syrian Christians in America, as opposed to being an acknowledgment that some of the crowds that cheer when they hear anti-immigrant rhetoric might have qualms of conscience. The problem, they can be told, is just that our Muslim-sympathizing, cowardly leaders would bring in the wrong refugees…

It seems strange, when moderate Muslims are trying to distance themselves from a milieu of terror, that we would insist that such a thing is impossible. There are international and American laws that recognize people who need protection. There are principles of common decency which do the same. What they do not do is use faith, or the lack of it, as a basis for rejection. (America should have let in more Jewish refugees during the Second World War; that wouldn’t have meant turning away Thomas Mann.) And it is a brutal insult to Syrians who have gone through four and half years of carnage to say that the fact that they are Sunnis gives them some sort of immunity from ISIS or from the Assad regime. There are four million Syrian refugees outside of the country now, and many more inside it. There will likely be some bad people among them. That fact does not obviate their suffering…

One of the more dishonest aspects of Cruz’s comments on Fox was his characterization of who the Syrian refugees are. He mentioned an estimate that, in the “early waves” of refugees entering Europe, “seventy-seven per cent of those refugees were young men. That is a very odd demographic for a refugee wave.” Perhaps it would be, if the number were accurate. A bare majority of the Syrian refugees are women, as noted in September, when Ben Carson and Scott Walker raised similar alarms. About twenty-two per cent are men between the ages of eighteen and fifty-nine—a broad definition of “young.” Cruz is smart enough to know this…

Is it Cruz’s view that a nineteen-year-old, just out of high school, should head for the hills, looking for the moderate Syrian opposition that even the C.I.A. has been unable to find? Or should he languish in a camp, with no prospects of really settling anywhere, as a target for the wrong type of tutor? That is not going to make Europe or the United States any safer. What Cruz and the others are saying is that the threat people are living under, which has been enough to drive them from their homes, should not matter. What does matter is whether we feel threatened by them.

The other insinuation that Cruz and others are making is that Obama doesn’t like Christians, and refuses to acknowledge the Islamic character of terrorism—maybe, they suggest, because of his character, or because of who he is. “I recognize that Barack Obama does not wish to defend this country,” Cruz said. And saying that was shameful, too.

Good stuff!  And let’s be clear, I’m no fan of liberals arguing along the lines of “this has nothing to do with Islam.”  Of course, it does!  A radical, perverted abomination of Islam held by a tiny minority, but Islam nonetheless.  It would be folly to pretend that there’s no connection and not take that into account in thinking about how to deal with the problem of radical Islamist terrorists, but that decidedly does not mean we should be irrationally afraid of all Muslims.

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