Friday, September 17, 2010

Speaking of Security...

How about one of the largest security concerns of our day and age... terrorism? I read this passage in Rick Steves' book "Travel as a Political Act" and could not have put it better myself. If you find this stimulating I encourage reading his entire book, where he uses examples from his own travel experience to offer multi-faceted possibilities to seemingly unsolvable problems.

An excerpt from "Travel as a Political Act" by Rick Steves

On terrorism...

"Fear has always been a barrier to travel. And, after 9/11, the U.S. became even more fearful... and more isolated. Of course, there are serious risks that deserve more careful attention. But it's all too easy to mistake fear for actual danger. Franklin D. Roosevelt's assertion that we have nothing to fear but fear itself feels just as relevant today as when he first said it in 1933.
I'm hardly a fearless traveler. I can think of many times I've been afraid before a trip. Years ago, I heard that in Egypt, the beggars were relentless, there were no maps, and it was so hot that car tires melted to the streets. For three years, I had plane tickets to India but bailed out, finding other places closer to my comfort zone. Before flying to Iran to film a public television show, I was uneasy. But in each case, when I finally went to these countries, I realized my fears were unfounded.
History is rife with examples of leaders who manipulate fear to distract, mislead, and undermine the will of the very people who entrusted them with power. Our own recent history is no exception. If you want to sell weapons to Colombia, exaggerate the threat of drug lords. If you want to build a wall between the U.S. and Mexico, trump up the fear of illegal immigrants. If you want to create an expensive missile-defense system, terrify people with predictions of nuclear holocaust. My travels have taught me to have a healthy skepticism toward those who peddle fear. And in so many cases, I've learned that the flipside to fear is understanding.
As travelers and as citizens, we react not to the risk of terrorism but to that perceived risk of terrorism- which we generally seem to exaggerate. For travelers, the risk is minuscule. Here are the facts: Year after year, about 12 million Americans go to Europe, and not one is killed by terrorists. In 2004, there was a horrific bombing in Madrid- no Americans killed. In 2005, there was a despicable bombing in London's subway and bus system- no Americans killed. In 2008, there was a terrible bombing in Istanbul- no Americans killed. This isn't a guarantee. <Something could happen to an American abroad.> But, tragic as that might be, it wouldn't change the fact that it is safe to travel. Statistically, even in the most sobering days of post 9/11 anxiety, travel to most international destinations remained no more dangerous than a drive to your neighborhood grocery store.
Why do we react so strongly to these events? The mainstream media are partly to blame. Sensationalizing tragedy gets more eyes on the screen. But it also exaggerates the impact of a disaster, causing viewers (understandably) to overreact. More than once I've found myself in a place that was going through a crisis that made international headlines- terrorist bombing, minor earthquakes, or riots. Folks from back home call me, their voices shaking with anxiety, to be sure I'm okay. They seem surprised when I casually dismiss their concern. Invariably, the people who live in that place are less worked up than the ones watching it on the news 5,000 miles away. I don't blame my loved ones for worrying. The media has distorted the event in their minds.
I got an email recently from a man who wrote, 'Thanks for the TV shows. They will provide a historical documentation of a time when Europe was white and not Muslim. Keep filming your beloved Europe before it's gone.'
Reading this, I thought how feisty fear has become in our society. A fear of African Americans swept the U.S. in the 1960s. Jews have been feared in many places throughout history. And today, Muslims are feared. But we have a choice whether or not to be afraid. Americans who have had the opportunity to travel in moderate Muslim nations like Turkey or Morocco- and been welcomed by smiling locals who gush 'We love Americans!'- no longer associate Islam with terrorism.
Of course terrorism- which, by its very nature, is designed to be emotional and frighten the masses- makes is more difficult to overcome fear. But my travels have helped me distinguish between the fear of terrorism... and the actual danger of terrorism. I was in London on 7/7/05, a date the Brits consider 'their 9/11.' A series of devastating bombs ripped through the subway system, killing 52 and injuring about 700 people. Remembering the impact of 9/11 on the U.S., I thought, 'Oh my goodness, everything will be shut down.'
Instead, I witnessed a country that, as a matter of principle, refused to be terrorized by the terrorists. The prime minister returned from meetings in Scotland to organize a smart response. Within a couple of days, he was back in Scotland, London was functioning as normal, and they set out to catch the bad guys- which they did. There was no lingering panic. People mourned the tragedy, even as they kept it in perspective. The terrorists were captured and brought to justice, Britain made a point to learn from the event (by reviewing security on public transit and making an effort to interact more constructively with its Muslim minority)... and life went on.
The American reaction to the shocking and grotesque events of 9/11 was understandable. But seeing another society respond so differently to its own disaster inspired me to grapple with a new perspective. If the goal of terrorists is to terrify us into submission, then those who refuse to become fearful stand defiantly against them.
Every time I'm stuck in a long security line at the airport, I reflect on one of the most disconcerting results of terrorism: The very people who would benefit most from international travel- those who needlessly fear people and places they don't understand- decide to stay home. I believe the most powerful things an individual American can do to fight terrorism are to travel a lot, learn about the world, come home with a new perspective, and then work to help our country fit more comfortably and less fearfully into this planet.

Terrorism by the Numbers
Reducing the tragedy of terrorist casualties to statistics strikes many people as disrespectful and callous. But I believe that when we overreact to the threat of the terrorist, we empower the terrorist and actually become a part of the problem. By setting emotion aside and being as logical as possible, we can weigh the relative risks and rewards or costs and benefits of various American behaviors.
Every three days, a 747's worth of people die on our highways. And it's not worth headlines. We're a mighty nation of 300 million people. People die. Some 400,000 people die on our roads every year. Anybody in that business knows if we all drove 20 miles an hour slower, we'd save thousands of precious lives. But in the privacy of the voting booth, is the average American going to vote to drive 50mph on our freeways to save thousands of lives? Hell, no. We've got places to go.
Consider hand guns. Thirteen thousand people die every year in our country because of handguns. You could make the case that that's a reasonable price to pay for the precious right to bear arms. We are a free and well-educated democracy. We know the score. And year after year, we seem to agree that spending these lives is a reasonable trade-off for enjoying our Second Amendment right.
Germans decided not to have that right to bear arms, and consequently they lose only about 1,000 people a year. Europeans (who suffer less than a quarter the per capita gun killings we do) laugh out loud when they hear that Americans are staying home for safety reasons. If you care about your loved ones (and understand the statistics) you'll take them to Europe tomorrow.
If we dispassionately surveyed the situation, we might similarly accept the human cost of our aggressive stance on this planet. We spend untold thousands of live a year for the rights to drive fast and bear arms. Perhaps 300 million Americans being seen by the rest of the world as an empire is another stance that comes with an unavoidable cost in human lives.
I know this is wild, but imagine we downgraded our 'War on Terror.' Fantasize for a moment about the money and energy we could save, and all the good we could do with those resources if they were compassionately and wisely diverted to challenges like global warming or the plight of desperate people (in lands that have no oil or strategic importance) whose suffering barely registers in the media. Imagine then the resulting American image abroad. We'd be tougher for our terrorist enemies to demonize. And imagine the challenge that would present to terrorist recruiters."

Addressing Security Challenges

As some of you may know, one of the classes I am enrolled in this semester at NYU is Peacemaking and Peacebuilding. A crucial part of "making" peace is addressing security concerns, something we are currently focusing on in our coursework. We recently read an excerpt from the book New Global Dangers by Michael E. Brown. I found his work intriguing and would like to share it with you for your thoughts and commentary. Because of time restrictions (and my hands getting tired from typing) I have only included the sections that I found to be most interesting. Enjoy!

New Global Dangers by Michael Brown

Excerpt from Policy Lessons

Conceptual Lessons

Policymakers (also) need to reconsider the ways security problems are conceived and how security problems should be framed.
First, many policymakers still define security in narrow terms, giving undue weight to interstate conflicts and the military dimensions of security problems. Policymakers should develop broader security agendas that give appropriate weight to the full range of interstate, intrastate, transnational, military and nonmilitary challenges that are unfolding today. The policy lesson is to think inclusively about the security agenda.
Second, if security problems are complex, multidimensional and interconnected, it follows that security policies should be multifaceted. Unfortunately, policymakers often favor simple, single-factor policy approaches; they hope that a single silver bullet will solve complex policy problems. This is another example of wishful thinking. The main policy lesson here is that complex, multidimensional security problems do indeed require multifaceted policy responses- often involving a combination of diplomatic, political, economic and military elements. This is often challenging conceptually and politically, but it is nonetheless necessary.
Third, a related lesson is that many contemporary security problems are not amenable to simple military action. Indeed, military responses often turn out to be inappropriate, ineffective, and even counterproductive. The use of military force often appears to be a panacea, but this is all too often illusory. Problems that have nonmilitary roots will almost always require a range of nonmilitary policy responses, even if military actions are a part of the equation as well.

International Lessons

Policymakers should keep in mind several general policy lessons about the international dimensions of contemporary security problems and the international dimensions of suitable policy responses.
First, many security problems in the twenty-first century will cross national borders and cut across regions. Some will be truly global in scope. It will be beyond the capability of any one actor- even a superpower such as the United States- to tackle these problems on its own. National leaders who try to tackle these problems unilaterally will fail; national interests will correspondingly suffer. Therefore, one of the most basic principles of security policy in the twenty-first century will be multilateralism: transnational security problems will require multilateral policy responses.
Second, multilateral initiatives will require leadership. Although the United States will not be able to lead on every issue at every junction, it will continue to be the world’s most powerful country for the foreseeable future. U.S. leadership – in identifying problems, devising strategies, forming coalitions, providing resources and taking actions- will therefore be key. If U.S. political leaders play a more energetic and effective global leadership role, many national, regional and international security challenges will become more manageable. If U.S. leaders are unwilling, disinclined, or unable t play this role, a wide array of security problems will become increasingly formidable.
To be more effective, U.S. officials need to develop a better appreciation of what international leadership entails. Since the end of the Cold War and cutting across both Democratic and Republican administrations, the prevailing U.S. approach to international problems has been to set a U.S. course and assume that others will ultimately follow- willingly or grudgingly. Complaints about American presumptuousness and arrogance have consequently become increasingly common. U.S. officials would be wise to appreciate that true leadership is based on true consultation. It is not enough for Washington to inform others of what it intends to do. The United States needs to consult with allies, friends and others about goals, strategies, and actions. And above all, Washington needs to make a genuine effort to take the views of others into account. The United States clearly has the capacity to undertake unilateral actions in the international arena, but it will be able to lead only if it listens.
This leads to a third set of lessons. Those who seek to forge or sustain multilateral initiatives should seek to keep several operations guidelines in mind. For starters, multilateralism cannot be turned on and off and on again. Building multilateral patterns of cooperation takes steady, sustained engagement. The United States, which often suffers from international attention deficit disorder, will have to pay continual attention to the maintenance of multiple international coalitions. A related guideline is that multilateralism is not an a la carte proposition. The United States cannot champion multilateralism when it is convenient for Washington to do so and slight it the rest of the time. The United States must be prepared to engage on issues across the board. In addition, multilateralism is a two way street. The United States must be willing to give as much as it gets. Indeed, one would hope that the world’s wealthiest and most powerful country would be inclined to give more than it gets.
Most of these policy lessons are simple and commonsensical: act early, think ahead, plan for the long haul, avoid simple conceptual schemes and simple policy responses, recognize the limitations of military actions, and recognize the need for multilateral initiatives.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Some food for thought...

I was recently sent some thoughtful quotes made by Albert Einstein. The man was not only a genius in physics, but apparently in life as well. Enjoy!

Collected Quotes from Albert Einstein

  • "Any intelligent fool can make things bigger, more complex, and more violent. It takes a touch of genius -- and a lot of courage -- to move in the opposite direction."
  • "Imagination is more important than knowledge."
  • "Gravitation is not responsible for people falling in love."
  • "I want to know God's thoughts; the rest are details."
  • "The hardest thing in the world to understand is the income tax."
  • "Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one."
  • "The only real valuable thing is intuition."
  • "A person starts to live when he can live outside himself."
  • "I am convinced that He (God) does not play dice."
  • "God is subtle but he is not malicious."
  • "Weakness of attitude becomes weakness of character."
  • "I never think of the future. It comes soon enough."
  • "The eternal mystery of the world is its comprehensibility."
  • "Sometimes one pays most for the things one gets for nothing."
  • "Science without religion is lame. Religion without science is blind."
  • "Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new."
  • "Great spirits have often encountered violent opposition from weak minds."
  • "Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler."
  • "Common sense is the collection of prejudices acquired by age eighteen."
  • "Science is a wonderful thing if one does not have to earn one's living at it."
  • "The secret to creativity is knowing how to hide your sources."
  • "The only thing that interferes with my learning is my education."
  • "God does not care about our mathematical difficulties. He integrates empirically."
  • "The whole of science is nothing more than a refinement of everyday thinking."
  • "Technological progress is like an axe in the hands of a pathological criminal."
  • "Peace cannot be kept by force. It can only be achieved by understanding."
  • "The most incomprehensible thing about the world is that it is comprehensible."
  • "We can't solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them."
  • "Education is what remains after one has forgotten everything he learned in school."
  • "The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing."
  • "Do not worry about your difficulties in Mathematics. I can assure you mine are still greater."
  • "Equations are more important to me, because politics is for the present, but an equation is something for eternity."
  • "If A is a success in life, then A equals x plus y plus z. Work is x; y is play; and z is keeping your mouth shut."
  • "Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity; and I'm not sure about the the universe."
  • "As far as the laws of mathematics refer to reality, they are not certain, as far as they are certain, they do not refer to reality."
  • "Whoever undertakes to set himself up as a judge of Truth and Knowledge is shipwrecked by the laughter of the gods."
  • "I know not with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones."
  • "In order to form an immaculate member of a flock of sheep one must, above all, be a sheep."
  • "The fear of death is the most unjustified of all fears, for there's no risk of accident for someone who's dead."
  • "Too many of us look upon Americans as dollar chasers. This is a cruel libel, even if it is reiterated thoughtlessly by the Americans themselves."
  • "Heroism on command, senseless violence, and all the loathsome nonsense that goes by the name of patriotism -- how passionately I hate them!"
  • "No, this trick won't work...How on earth are you ever going to explain in terms of chemistry and physics so important a biological phenomenon as first love?"
  • "My religion consists of a humble admiration of the illimitable superior spirit who reveals himself in the slight details we are able to perceive with our frail and feeble mind."
  • "Yes, we have to divide up our time like that, between our politics and our equations. But to me our equations are far more important, for politics are only a matter of present concern. A mathematical equation stands forever."
  • "The release of atom power has changed everything except our way of thinking...the solution to this problem lies in the heart of mankind. If only I had known, I should have become a watchmaker."
  • "Great spirits have always found violent opposition from mediocrities. The latter cannot understand it when a man does not thoughtlessly submit to hereditary prejudices but honestly and courageously uses his intelligence."
  • "The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and all science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead: his eyes are closed."
  • "A man's ethical behavior should be based effectually on sympathy, education, and social ties; no religious basis is necessary. Man would indeeded be in a poor way if he had to be restrained by fear of punishment and hope of reward after death."
  • "The further the spiritual evolution of mankind advances, the more certain it seems to me that the path to genuine religiosity does not lie through the fear of life, and the fear of death, and blind faith, but through striving after rational knowledge."
  • "Now he has departed from this strange world a little ahead of me. That means nothing. People like us, who believe in physics, know that the distinction between past, present, and future is only a stubbornly persistent illusion."
  • "You see, wire telegraph is a kind of a very, very long cat. You pull his tail in New York and his head is meowing in Los Angeles. Do you understand this? And radio operates exactly the same way: you send signals here, they receive them there. The only difference is that there is no cat."
  • "One had to cram all this stuff into one's mind for the examinations, whether one liked it or not. This coercion had such a deterring effect on me that, after I had passed the final examination, I found the consideration of any scientific problems distasteful to me for an entire year."
  • " of the strongest motives that lead men to art and science is escape from everyday life with its painful crudity and hopeless dreariness, from the fetters of one's own ever-shifting desires. A finely tempered nature longs to escape from the personal life into the world of objective perception and thought."
  • "He who joyfully marches to music rank and file, has already earned my contempt. He has been given a large brain by mistake, since for him the spinal cord would surely suffice. This disgrace to civilization should be done away with at once. Heroism at command, how violently I hate all this, how despicable and ignoble war is; I would rather be torn to shreds than be a part of so base an action. It is my conviction that killing under the cloak of war is nothing but an act of murder."
  • "A human being is a part of a whole, called by us _universe_, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separated from the rest... a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty."
  • "Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts." (Sign hanging in Einstein's office at Princeton)
Copyright: Kevin Harris 1995 (may be freely distributed with this acknowledgement)