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Xabier Ostale
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Xabier Ostale

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Via +John Hardy didn't vote for Abbott 
The Middle East Conundrum
Many recipes have been tried with very nasty results. None of the political trends seem to have delivered long-term stabilizing results. And everybody: from corporation's conservatives to religious bigots, from oil bloodthirsty bastards to separatists, from secular tyrannies to tribal Islamism, from militarist approaches to charities' interests, from soviet secularism to specialists of blaming, all seem to lead to a never-ending cycle of nightmarish mess.
In the meanwhile both internal and external influence add to an already complex system a new level of uncertainty.
One thing is particularly remarkable: everyone has a recipe and an opinion. 
Ken Roth of +Human Rights Watch shared this extraordinarily detailed map of who currently controls what chunks of land in Syria and Iraq, as of this week.

When reading this map, pay close attention to the white cross-hatching that covers most ISIS and Iraqi territory: that indicates "sparsely populated area," i.e. open desert which is exceptionally difficult to cross individually, much less in force, and so claims of "control" over these areas are more theoretical than practical.

Also note the maps of ethnic and linguistic groups on the left; while tribal affiliation (the basic axis of alliance in this region) is more complicated than that, these lines indicate the coarsest first-order boundaries. The relative homogeneity of Iraq (having separate Sunni and Shi'ite areas) is an aftereffect of the Iraq War, and of the ethnic cleansing and mass violence which followed: prior to the war, Iraq was highly intermixed. When you hear commentators ascribe the end of this violence to the 2007 "Surge," be aware that there's a certain amount of hubris involved in that: the violence happened to stop right around the time that there were almost no remaining areas where Sunnis and Shi'ites lived together anymore, everyone having fled or been killed.

You can contrast this with Lebanon and some of the immediately adjacent parts of Syria, which remain ethnically highly mixed. This is part of what made the Syrian civil war so explosive: the existence of a stable government was what assured the safety of minority groups (since stable governments tend to frown on mass slaughter), and so everyone in those groups was highly aware that if the government fell, they would become targets of genocide, thus giving all of those groups an extremely strong incentive to fight for al-Assad. 

And in fact, the Syrian map is now significantly less mixed than the Lebanese map, even in the far southwest of the country which borders on it. A few years ago, you would have seen an extremely significant Druze population, especially near the Israeli border. (There is a significant Druze population in Syria, Lebanon, and Israel, and they frequently move across the borders; that's in fact one of the biggest sources of on-the-ground communication between the three countries. The Druze in Israel are a particularly interesting case, as they're significantly more integrated into Israeli society than the Arabs, and feelings remain generally warm on all sides there.) The replacement of that population with Sunni dominance, and likewise the end of cross-border ties between Syrian Druze and everyone else, is a consequence of the rebels taking over that area.

Of course, you shouldn't take the broad swathes of Sunnis and Shi'ites to indicate profound unity among them; that's where tribal structures start to come into play. While "hey, we're both Sunnis, let's go beat up those Shi'ites" may be a perfectly reasonable overture in a negotiation between tribes, it's no more than an overture; it's not uncommon for the response to be "screw you, Tikriti" (or any other geographical, tribal, or familial distinction which happens to be more salient to the people in that particular area) Only the Kurds have something resembling a broad alliance among themselves, born of a very different history.

If you've noticed a pattern here, it's probably that alliances are fairly complicated, and people tend to make alliances with other tribes primarily for protection against third tribes, or to beat up some third tribe. This tends to clash harshly with the profound cultural need of Americans for there to be a clear "good guy" to root for and a "bad guy" to root against. Bashar al-Assad is a bloodthirsty, violent dictator, who is also the guarantor of the safety of all the ethnoreligious minorities of Syria against genocide. The Shi'ites of Iraq were profoundly oppressed for years by the Sunnis; until they got into power, at which point they started killing people left and right.

Some outsiders respond to this by picking one group or another to paint as their "good guys" of choice, whether it be the Israelis, the Palestinians, the Kurds, or the Syrian rebels who aren't allied with ISIS. Unfortunately, this tends to run hard against the rocks of reality fairly quickly, so it only works well in the long term for those willing to stay far away from practicalities and simply produce speeches or Internet memes about the goodness of their preferred side and how horribly they're being treated. Things get far worse when outsiders try to go in and get involved more directly, whether it be by joining protest organizations or by invading with large armies: the lesson in "wait, these guys aren't particularly good at all!" tends to take a while to learn, and a lot of bodies pile up in the meantime.

But nor is this an indication that outsiders should simply stay out; isolationism doesn't work for either the Middle East or for the rest of the world. Even the suggestion that the West's only interests in the Middle East are tied to oil is flawed; if you look at a map, you'll spot that the Middle East also contains critical seaports and routes, and borders all along the soft underbelly of Asia, up until it links to China. Try as you might, if you're going to be involved in the politics of the world, the Middle East will be as important today as it was 1,000 years ago, when it was a major trade axis for the planet.

What's the solution, then? You have to learn to deal with complexity: to understand that nobody is going to wear a convenient white or black hat, that loyalties are complex and shifting, and that the simple transplant of Western ideas like "democracy" doesn't work when the thousands of years of cultural underpinnings for those are completely different; you need to translate the purpose of ideas, not their particular implementations, if you want them to have local resonance.

Welcome to the Middle East: amateur hour is now over. 
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Zaid El-Hoiydi's profile photo
All societies evolve on their own but much time is needed for that process. Sometimes dictators have also a role to play, they did in Europe too.
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"The council became increasingly isolated from those who’d elected it. The more isolated it got, the more authoritarian it got."
1871: The Paris Commune
"The PNG [Parisian National Guard] held free elections and the citizens of Paris elected a council made up mostly of Jacobins and Republicans (though there were a few anarchists and socialists as well). The council declared that Paris was an independent commune and that France should be a confederation of communes. Inside the Commune, all elected council members were instantly recallable, paid an average wage and had equal status to other commune members."
"Contemporary anarchists were excited by these developments. The fact that the majority of Paris had organised itself without support from the state and was urging the rest of the world to do the same was pretty exciting. The Paris Commune led by example in showing that a new society, organised from the bottom up, was possible. The reforms initiated by the Commune, like turning workplaces into co-operatives, put anarchist theory into practice. By the end of May, 43 workplaces had become co-operatives and the Louvre Museum was a munitions factory run by a workers’ council."
"On May 21st, the government troops entered the city and were met with seven days of solid street fighting. The last stand of the Communards took place at the cemetary of Montmartre, and after the defeat troops and armed members of the capitalist class roamed the city, killing and maiming at will. 30,000 Communards were killed in the battles, many after they had surrendered, and their bodies dumped in mass graves."
A brief history of the world's first socialist working class uprising. The workers of Paris, joined by mutinous National Guardsmen, seized the city and set about re-organising society in their own interests based on workers' councils. They could not hold out, however, when more troops retook the city and massacred 30,000 workers in bloody revenge.
Bodhipaksa Dharmacari's profile photoCatherine “Tattie” Maguire's profile photoDouglas Pierre's profile photo
A little disheartening towards the end :(
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There is a widespread sense of trepidation that something dark might be round the corner.

Nighty night x
Scott Wilson's profile photoKunta “Ominous Cloud” Dave's profile photoXabier Ostale's profile photoRussell Davison's profile photo
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Alcibiades, 412 - 410 BC
After having fled the Sicilian campaign, defecting to Sparta, as soon as he was recalled to Athens to face trial on the charges of cutting off the penises of Hermai (busts of the god Hermes on a plinth with a phallus), the treacherous Alcibiades had again to flee Sparta because he was found having sex with the wife of king Algis II. So, he deserted to the Persian satrap of Lydia and Caria, Tissaphernes. From there he conspired to overthrow democracy in Athens, thus he could return.
In 411, the oligarchy of the 400 was established.
It only lasted four months, and democracy was finally reestablished in 410 BC.
To secure democracy in the future, each citizen swore an oath of loyalty to kill anyone trying to subvert the constitution.
Xabier Ostale's profile photoJeff O (Celtish)'s profile photo
That'd be great. 
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An extraordinary innovation in battlefield surgery.
Prince Hal’s Head-Wound: Cause and Effect (1403)
"Prince Henry was only 16 years old when he marched with his father’s forces to Shrewsbury in western England to fight against the rebel army led by Henry “Harry Hotspur” Percy. With English longbowmen on both sides of the battle, arrows caused many of the dead and wounded, including Henry Percy, who was killed when he lifted up his visor and was struck down by a shot."
"Prince Henry was struck by an arrow next to his nose on the left side during the battle of Shrewsbury. The which arrow entered at an angle (ex traverso), and after the arrow shaft was extracted, the head of the aforesaid arrow remained in the furthermost part of the bone of the skull for the depth of six inches."
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Don't get your knickers in a twist.
Frederick Wright's profile photoXabier Ostale's profile photoAlain Van Hout's profile photo
Ah, you were speaking figuratively. Okay, then it's fine :p
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A documentary:
OCD. A Monster in my Mind (Horizon 2015)
Beyond the common use of the acronym to describe our manias, fixations, obsessions, it's a complex disorder with very worrying consequences.

[Source: Mayo Clinic]
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder
Excessive thoughts (obsessions) that lead to repetitive behaviors (compulsions).
- 200,000 to 3 million US cases per year.
Medically manageable - Treatment can help
Chronic - Can last for years
Usually self-diagnosable - Doesn't require lab tests or imaging
Obsessive-compulsive disorder is characterized by unreasonable thoughts and fears (obsessions) that lead to compulsive behaviors.
OCD often centers on themes such as a fear of germs or the need to arrange objects in a specific manner. Symptoms usually begin gradually and vary throughout life.
Treatment includes talk therapy, medications, or both.

People may experience:
- Behavioral: compulsive behavior, agitation, compulsive hoarding, hyperactivity, hypervigilance, impulsivity, meaningless repetition of own words, repetitive movements, ritualistic behavior, social isolation, or persistent repetition of words or actions
- Psychological: anxiety, depression, fear, narcissism, panic attack, repeatedly going over thoughts, or sexual obsessions
- Mood: apprehension, general discontent, or guilt
- Also common: food aversion, nightmares, or racing thoughts
Xabier Ostale's profile photo李麟's profile photoBryce Miller's profile photo
The most OCD guy I know is a rural farmer.
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Alcibiades and Critias the tyrant were too close to Socrates.
Critias (460 - 403 BC)
"Critias was an Athenian politician who, earlier in life, was one of Socrates’ followers and Plato’s mother’s cousin. One of the hated “Thirty Tyrants” of Athens, Critias was held in especially low esteem for his practice of confiscating citizen’s property by mis-using his power and executing those who disagreed with or challenged him. The Thirty Tyrants (or The Council of Thirty) were a pro-Spartan oligarchy who were installed in power by the Spartan General Lysander following Athens defeat by Sparta in the Peloponnesian War in 404 BC. The Thirty Tyrants severely limited the rights and freedoms of the citizens of Athens and, most notably, their right to vote as well as showing little scruple in having their opponents executed or exiled on the slightest whim. Of the thirty men who comprised this council, Critias was the most ruthless."

Jyoti Q Dahiya's profile photoDouglas Pierre's profile photoXabier Ostale's profile photo
yeah, +Douglas Pierre  it's a good encyclopedia indeed, from time to time, to get a deeper knowledge of some authors.
And Bertrand Russell is always great.
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Flora and fauna on the Moon, and the polite moon-people living there
The Great Moon Hoax (1835)
"The article started by triumphantly listing a series of stunning astronomical breakthroughs the famous British astronomer, Sir John Herschel, had made "by means of a telescope of vast dimensions and an entirely new principle."
"Dr. Grant offered a list of the variety of lunar flora and fauna seen by the astronomers up to that point: 38 species of trees, twice this number of plants, nine species of mammalia, and five of ovipara. However, the highlight of this extract was the discovery of the first sign of intelligent, though primitive, lunar life — the biped beaver. These extraordinary beavers walked on two feet and bore their young in their arms. They lived in huts "constructed better and higher than those of many tribes of human savages." And signs of smoke above the huts of the beavers indicated that these advanced animals had even mastered the use of fire."
On August 25, 1835 the New York Sun announced the discovery of life on the moon. It explained that the discovery had been made by the famous British astronomer Sir John Herschel, who had invented a new telescope of vast dimensions and an entirely new principle. Over the course of the next
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I'm gonna give this series a go.
The official site of AMC’s original series Humans. Get the latest full episodes, news, photos, video and more.
Russell Davison's profile photoXabier Ostale's profile photoAnne Sewell's profile photo
Yeah, watched the whole thing. You actually get to like (most) of the robot types, but it is disturbing. Can't wait til the next season - Brits has so few episodes per season!
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Now, let's watch the documentary Horizon. First Britons
Early Britons: Have we underestimated our ancestors?
"Some of these Mesolithic, or Middle Stone Age, people lived at Blick Mead, Wiltshire - a few miles away from the future site of Stonehenge.
Here, groups seem to have managed and cleared rich forests, built structures and returned to the same place for over 3,000 years, according to a radio carbon date range that has yielded a uniquely long sequence for any Mesolithic site in Britain and Europe - 7,596-4,246 BC."
"Hunter-gatherers prospered in Britain, but then, 6,000 years ago there was a dramatic and permanent change in the way our ancestors lived their lives. So dramatic in fact that it's been given a different historical name. This was the start of the new Stone Age in Britain - the Neolithic."
"We have always thought of Mesolithic people, the first Britons, as hunter-gatherers, living a nomadic life, primitive and precarious. But what has been recently revealed at Blick Mead, and elsewhere, is the existence of a much more complex, dynamic society."
Evidence from a variety of sources suggests that the first people to resettle Britain after the Ice Age were more sophisticated than we could have imagined.
Xabier Ostale's profile photoDavid Lazarus's profile photoLew Graham PhD DD's profile photoMatt Hall's profile photo
I sure did appreciate perusing it. Thanks +David Lazarus!
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The Earth is oblate spheroid
I'm Xabier, I don't know what can I say here about me, so ask me and I will answer if I want.
I don't like lava-lamps at all.
I don't believe in any religion...
I don't!!! anything in general and in particular
and I do many things otherwise
I like drinking water and sleeping and walking and breathing
I like sex with a story lol
I make many mistakes, what I try to avoid, but it's normal
I'm learning how to whistle
and I don't use vinegar but lemon in my salads
Now, you know a lot about me...
(I forgot to say that I have superpowers because I like cuddles and guys)


+Politics (I'm very leftist)
+Science and technology
+++++Making friends
+++Sharing casual conversations
+++++Many other things
++++Simple things

Sometimes I swear and cuss, but because I'm practicing with English slang... lol
And I'm very leftist.

ENGLISH SPEAKERS, please, and kind people (grumpy are nice too lol)

Bragging rights
I've met Earthlings
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Right there
  • Impish kids preschool
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March 23
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Xabier Upstream Ostale