Better Border-Leaping Through Technology

February 29, 2012

On his blog, Borderlines , Frank Jacobs wondered yesterday about the impact of Google Maps on the kinds of pre-conflict stressors — resource coveting, in particular — which have existed throughout human history without an external digital Atlas of Omnipotence to invoke.

As Jacobs notes, “[t]he lines that Google draws on maps have no government’s imprimatur”, yet it is still the popular first recourse on the topic of boundaries.  What Google and those perhaps causal users of the Maps can trip into, though, may be an intractable dispute-cum-simmering-conflict with no less potential for turning lethal than a well-known conflict.

The world only has one Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and that is enough.   But even more reason for Google to tread lightly on disputes like Costa Rica/Nicaragua — the proportion of Internet users who know about the historical context of the latter is obviously lower.

Google’s unofficial motto “Don’t Be Evil” has gotten a lot of flak lately for reasons related to user privacy and security.  Doing everything in its power to keep the Maps current, accurate, impartial, informative and full of clarity?   Could reduce some amount of the potential for armed conflict in the world.

Sounds like the non-evil thing to do.


Xi and the Sea (Lanes)

February 20, 2012

The presumptive next leader of the PRC just paid the U.S. a visit, and apparently the media here are quite taken with his more approachable, Chinese and American pop culture infused manner of communicating.

I think it is important to keep the substantive differences in the Sino-American relationship in mind, however.  The CCP isn’t going to let the yuan float or allow greater local political autonomy in Tibet just because the next head of the PRC references “Mission: Impossible” or other American cultural fare.

After all, this is a regime that has raised ‘pop culture as an opiate for the masses’ into an ironic art form


In other reviews of scenes from the world stage, Iran has both cut off oil shipments to the UK and France and threatened to close the Strait of Hormuz.   Clearly the IRI is angling for a nomination in the yearly Shooting Self in Foot Awards, but as I’m looking back at Operation Ajax via the excellent All the Shah’s Men, I can’t help but think that the more things change the more they stay the same.  Particularly in the Middle East.  Sixty years ago Britain was furious that Iranian nationalism dare stand in the way of its oil.

Now Britain imports no Iranian oil, letting it coolly and consistently push for greater sanctions.   If only the US could say fifty years from now that the Iraq war moved us on a similar path away from oil period.

A Catholic Schoolgirl’s Thoughts on Peacebuilding 1/infinity

February 17, 2012

No, just because I attended “the Academy of Our Lady of Peace” did not mean I thought peace was a simple thing or easily achievable, even as a teen.  Yes, I was and am grounded by the ethos of Catholic social teaching, but as is the case 99.9 % of the time, my undergrad years were a dose of reality.

Which is not to say that I was a realist by the time I got my BA, just that I’d been fed a steady diet of nuts and bolts on peacebuilding, to the point where the most ephemeral I can now get about “peace” is that it’s a journey, not a destination, and certainly not a definition-by-negation destination.

One of the most significant and yet overlooked influences on that worldview was the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, both predominantly counterinsurgency conflicts that began during my high school years.

RIP Anthony Shadid

February 17, 2012

He was a Lebanese-American who rediscovered his heritage in adulthood and developed a passion for the Middle East. As a veteran foreign correspondent in the region for the US press, he earned two Pulitzers.

His book Night Draws Near: Iraq’s People in the Shadow of America’s War is arguably THE best English-language account of the Iraq War’s impact on the country’s civilians.

Shadid was a talented journalist — more than that, he was an invaluable cultural translator between America and the Middle East.

In death I sincerely hope he is even more widely read.