The QuakerRanter Top-Five

Outreach, Family, Pacifism, and Blog Culture

At year’s end it’s always inter­est­ing to look back and see which arti­cles got the most vis­its. Here are the top-five Quak​er​Ran​ter​.org blog posts of 2013.

1. Outreach gets people to your meetinghouse / Hospitality keeps people returning

This grew out of a inter­est­ing lit­tle tweet about search engine opti­miza­tion that got me think­ing about how Friends Meet­ings can retain the curi­ous one-time visitors.

2. Tom Heiland

My father-in-law died in Jan­u­ary. These are few pic­tures I put togeth­er while Julie was still at the fam­i­ly home with the close rel­a­tives. Thanks to our friends for shar­ing a bit of our life by read­ing this one. He’s missed.

3. Expanding Concepts of Pacifism

A look at Friends tes­ti­monies and the dif­fi­cul­ties of being a fair-trade paci­fist in our hyper-connected world today. I think George Fox and the ear­ly Friends were faced with sim­i­lar chal­lenges and that our guide can be the same as theirs.

4. Rethinking Blogs

A num­ber of new ser­vices are try­ing to update the cul­ture of blog­ging. This post looked at com­ments; a sub­se­quent one con­sid­ered how we might reor­ga­nize our blogs into more of a struc­tured Wiki.

5. Iraq Ten Years Later: Some of Us Weren’t Wrong

This year saw a lot of hang wring­ing by main­stream jour­nal­ists on the anniver­sary of the Iraq War. I didn’t have much patience and looked at how dis­sent­ing voic­es were reg­u­lar­ly locked out of debate ten years ago – and are still locked out with the talk that “all of us” were wrong then.

I should give the caveat that these are the top-five most-read arti­cles that were writ­ten this year. Many of the clas­sics still out­per­form these. The most read con­tin­ues to be my post on unpop­u­lar baby names (just today I over­heard an expec­tant moth­er approv­ing­ly going through a list of over-trendy names; I won­dered if I should send her the link). My post on how to order men’s plain cloth­ing from Gohn’s Broth­ers con­tin­ues to be pop­u­lar, as does a report about a trip to a leg­endary water hole deep in the South Jer­sey pines.

Iraq Ten Years Later: Some of Us Weren’t Wrong

Ten years ago today, U.S. forces began the “shock and awe” bom­bard­ment on Bagh­dad, the first shots of the sec­ond Iraq War. Pres­i­dent Bush said troops need­ed to go in to dis­able Sad­dam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruc­tion pro­gram, but as we now know that pro­gram did not exist. Many of us sus­pect­ed as much at the time. The flim­sy pieces of evi­dence held up by the Bush Admin­is­tra­tion didn’t pass the smell test but a lot of main­stream reporters went for it and sup­port­ed the war.

Now those jour­nal­ists are look­ing back. One is Andrew Sul­li­van, most wide­ly known as the for­mer edi­tor of New Repub­lic and now the pub­lish­er of the inde­pen­dent online mag­a­zine The Dish. I find his recent “Nev­er For­get That They Were All Wrong” thread pro­found­ly frus­trat­ing. I’m glad he’s tak­ing the time to double-guess him­self, but the whole premise of the thread con­tin­ues the dis­mis­sive atti­tude toward activists. Start­ing in 1995 I ran a web­site that act­ed as a pub­lish­ing plat­form for much of the estab­lished peace move­ment. Yes, we were a col­lec­tion of anti­war activists, but that doesn’t mean we were unable to use log­ic and apply crit­i­cal think­ing when the offi­cial assur­ances didn’t add up. I wrote week­ly posts chal­leng­ing New York Times reporter Judith Miller and the smoke-and-mirror shows of two admin­is­tra­tions over a ten-year peri­od. My essays were occa­sion­al­ly picked up by the nation­al media — when they need­ed a coun­ter­point to pro-war edi­to­ri­als — but in gen­er­al my pieces and those of the paci­fist groups I pub­lished were dismissed.

When U.S. troops final­ly did invade Iraq in 2003, they encoun­tered an Iraqi mil­i­tary that was almost com­plete­ly inca­pac­i­tat­ed by years of U.N. sanc­tions. The much-hyped Repub­li­can Guard had tanks that had too many bro­ken parts to run. Iraq’s nuclear, chem­i­cal and bio­log­i­cal pro­grams had been shut down over a decade ear­li­er. The real les­son that we should take from the Iraq War was that the non­vi­o­lent meth­ods of Unit­ed Nations sanc­tions had worked. This isn’t a sur­prise for what we might call prag­mat­ic paci­fists. There’s a grow­ing body of research argu­ing that non­vi­o­lent meth­ods are often more effec­tive than armed inter­ven­tions (see for exam­ple, Why Civ­il Resis­tance Works: The Strate­gic Log­ic of Non­vi­o­lent Con­flict, by Eri­ca Chenoweth and Maria J. Stephan, reviewed in the March Friends Jour­nal (sub­scrip­tion required).

What if the U.S. had acknowl­edge there was no com­pelling evi­dence of WMDs and had sim­ply ratch­eted up the sanc­tions and let Iraq stew for anoth­er cou­ple of years? Even­tu­al­ly a coup or Arab Spring would prob­a­bly have rolled around. Imag­ine it. No insur­gency. No Abu Ghraib. Maybe we’d even have an ally in Bagh­dad. The sit­u­a­tions in places like Tehran, Dam­as­cus, Islam­abad, and Ramal­lah would prob­a­bly be fun­da­men­tal­ly dif­fer­ent right now. Anti­war activists were right in 2003. Why should jour­nal­ists like Andrew Sul­li­van assume that this was an anomaly?

From the Vault: More Victims Won’t Stop the Terror (10/2001)

Today is the ninth anniver­sary of the war in Afghanistan. In recog­ni­tion, here’s my Non​vi​o​lence​.org essay from 10/7/2010. It’s all sad­ly still top­i­cal. Nine years in and we’re still mak­ing ter­ror and still cre­at­ing enemies.

The Unit­ed States has today begun its war against ter­ror­ism in a very famil­iar way: by use of ter­ror. Igno­rant of thou­sands of years of vio­lence in the Mid­dle East, Pres­i­dent George W. Bush thinks that the hor­ror of Sep­tem­ber 11th can be exor­cised and pre­vent­ed by bombs and mis­siles. Today we can add more names to the long list of vic­tims of the ter­ror­ist air­plane attacks. Because today Afgha­nis have died in terror.

The deaths in New York City, Wash­ing­ton and Penn­syl­va­nia have shocked Amer­i­cans and right­ly so. We are all scared of our sud­den vul­ner­a­bil­i­ty. We are all shocked at the lev­el of anger that led nine­teen sui­cide bombers to give up pre­cious life to start such a lit­er­al and sym­bol­ic con­fla­gra­tion. What they did was hor­ri­ble and with­out jus­ti­fi­ca­tion. But that is not to say that they didn’t have reasons.

The ter­ror­ists com­mit­ted their atroc­i­ties because of a long list of griev­ances. They were shed­ding blood for blood, and we must under­stand that. Because to under­stand that is to under­stand that Pres­i­dent Bush is unleash­ing his own ter­ror cam­paign: that he is shed­ding more blood for more blood.

The Unit­ed States has been spon­sor­ing vio­lence in Afghanistan for over a gen­er­a­tion. Even before the Sovi­et inva­sion of that coun­try, the U.S. was sup­port­ing rad­i­cal Muja­hadeen forces. We thought then that spon­sor­ship of vio­lence would lead to some sort of peace. As we all know now, it did not. We’ve been exper­i­ment­ing with vio­lence in the region for many years. Our for­eign pol­i­cy has been a mish-mash of sup­port­ing one despot­ic régime after anoth­er against a shift­ing array of per­ceived enemies.

The Afghani forces the Unit­ed States now bomb were once our allies, as was Iraq’s Sad­dam Hus­sein. We have rarely if ever act­ed on behalf of lib­er­ty and democ­ra­cy in the region. We have time and again sold out our val­ues and thrown our sup­port behind the most heinous of despots. We have time and again thought that mil­i­tary adven­tur­ism in the region could keep ter­ror­ism and anti-Americanism in check. And each time we’ve only bred a new gen­er­a­tion of rad­i­cals, bent on revenge.

There are those who have angri­ly denounced paci­fists in the weeks since Sep­tem­ber 11th, angri­ly ask­ing how peace can deal with ter­ror­ists. What these crit­ics don’t under­stand is that wars don’t start when the bombs begin to explode. They begin years before, when the seeds of hatred are sewn. The times to stop this new war was ten and twen­ty years ago, when the U.S. broke it’s promis­es for democ­ra­cy, and act­ed in its own self-interest (and often on behalf of the inter­ests of our oil com­pa­nies) to keep the cycles of vio­lence going. The Unit­ed States made choic­es that helped keep the peo­ples of the Mid­dle East enslaved in despo­tism and poverty.

And so we come to 2001. And it’s time to stop a war. But it’s not nec­es­sar­i­ly this war that we can stop. It’s the next one. And the ones after that. It’s time to stop com­bat ter­ror­ism with ter­ror. In the last few weeks the Unit­ed States has been mak­ing new alliances with coun­tries whose lead­ers sub­vert democ­ra­cy. We are giv­ing them free rein to con­tin­ue to sub­ject their peo­ple. Every weapon we sell these tyrants only kills and desta­bi­lizes more, just as every bomb we drop on Kab­ul feeds ter­ror more.

And most of all: we are mak­ing new vic­tims. Anoth­er gen­er­a­tion of chil­dren are see­ing their par­ents die, are see­ing the rain of bombs fall on their cities from an uncar­ing Amer­i­ca. They cry out to us in the name of peace and democ­ra­cy and hear noth­ing but hatred and blood. And some of them will respond by turn­ing against us in hatred. And will fight us in anger. They will learn our les­son of ter­ror and use it against us. They cycle will repeat. His­to­ry will con­tin­ue to turn, with blood as it’s Mid­dle East­ern lubri­cant. Unless we act. Unless we can stop the next war.

Wikileaks Whistleblower is Arrested

The NYTimes is report­ing that a mil­i­tary ana­lyst who leaked the “Col­lat­er­al Mur­der” videos to Wik­ileaks has been arrested. 

atwar-wikileaks-blogSpanIf you missed the leaks at the time, you can watch them at Col​lat​eral​Mur​der​.com. They are videos tak­en from the gun-sights of US heli­copters, com­plete with the com­men­tary from mil­i­tary per­son­nel fir­ing down into the Iraqi neigh­bor­hoods below them. The videos cap­ture the killing of civil­ians, includ­ing two Reuters jour­nal­ists. They show just how imper­son­al mur­der has become. This is a video game war and there’s no real con­se­quence to shoot­ing the wrong tar­get from thou­sands of feet away.

The arrest­ed sol­dier is Spe­cial­ist Bradley Man­ning, 22, of Potomac, Md. Motives for leak­ing the videos are unre­port­ed at this time, but one would sus­pect they include a moral revul­sion to what the Amer­i­can war has become. The war has large­ly been fought out of sight. Man­ning has helped give us a glimpse of what’s hap­pen­ing. It’s hor­rif­ic in its banal­i­ty but so is the war in Iraq.

Flashbacks: Aging Youth, Vanity Googling, War Fatigue

I occa­sion­al­ly go back to my blog­ging archives to pick out inter­est­ing arti­cles from one, five and ten years ago.

ONE YEAR AGO: The Not-Quite-So Young Quakers

It was five years ago this week that I sat down and wrote about a cool
new move­ment I had been read­ing about. It would have been Jor­dan Coop­er’s blog that turned me onto Robert E Web­ber’s The Younger Evan­gel­i­cals, a look at gen­er­a­tional shifts among Amer­i­can Evan­gel­i­cals. In ret­ro­spect, it’s fair to say that the Quak­erQuak­er com­mu­ni­ty gath­ered around this essay (here’s Robin M’s account of first read­ing it) and it’s follow-up We’re All Ranters Now (Wess talk­ing about it).

And yet? All of this is still a small demo­graph­ic scat­tered all around. If I want­ed to have a good two-hour caffeine-fueled bull ses­sion about the future of Friends at some local cof­feeshop this after­noon, I can’t think of any­one even vague­ly local who I could call up. I’m real­ly sad to say we’re still large­ly on our own. Accord­ing to actu­ar­i­al tables, I’ve recent­ly crossed my life’s halfway point and here I am still ref­er­enc­ing gen­er­a­tional change. How I wish I could hon­est­ly say that I could get involved with any com­mit­tee in my year­ly meet­ing and get to work on the issues raised in “Younger Evan­gel­i­cals and Younger Quak­ers”. Some­one recent­ly sent me an email thread between mem­bers of an out­reach com­mit­tee for anoth­er large East Coast year­ly meet­ing and they were debat­ing whether the inter­net was an appro­pri­ate place to do out­reach work – in 2008?!?

Pub­lished 9/14/2008.

FIVE YEARS AGO: Van­i­ty Googling of Causes

A poster to an obscure dis­cus­sion board recent­ly described typ­ing a par­tic­u­lar search phrase into Google and find­ing noth­ing but bad infor­ma­tion. Repro­duc­ing the search I deter­mined two things: 1) that my site topped the list and 2) that the results were actu­al­ly quite accu­rate. I’ve been hear­ing an increas­ing num­ber of sto­ries like this. “Cause Googling,” a vari­a­tion on “van­i­ty googling,” is sud­den­ly becom­ing quite pop­u­lar. But the inter­est­ing thing is that these new searchers don’t actu­al­ly seem curi­ous about the results. Has Google become our new proof text?

Pub­lished 10/2/2004 in The Quak­er Ranter.

TEN’ISH YEARS AGO: War Time Again
This piece is about the NATO bomb­ing cam­paign in Ser­bia (Wikipedia). It’s strange to see I was feel­ing war fatigue even before 9/11 and the “real” wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. 

There’s a great dan­ger in all this. A dan­ger to the soul of Amer­i­ca. This is the fourth coun­try the U.S. has gone to war against in the last six months. War is becom­ing rou­tine. It is sand­wiched between the soap operas and the sit­coms, between the traf­fic and weath­er reports. Intense cruise mis­sile bom­bard­ments are car­ried out but have no effect on the psy­che or even imag­i­na­tion of the U.S. citizens.

It’s as if war itself has become anoth­er con­sumer good. Anoth­er event to be pack­aged for com­mer­cial tele­vi­sion. Giv­en a theme song. We’re at war with a coun­try we don’t know over a region we don’t real­ly care about. I’m not be face­tious, I’m sim­ply stat­ing a fact. The Unit­ed States can and should play an active peace­mak­ing role in the region, but only after we’ve done our home­work and have basic knowl­edge of the play­ers and sit­u­a­tion. Iso­la­tion­ism is dan­ger­ous, yes, but not near­ly as dan­ger­ous as the emerg­ing cul­ture of these dilet­tante made-for-TV wars.

Pub­lished March 25, 1999, Non​vi​o​lence​.org

Torture for Ideology

Reports are in that link up the US tor­ture pro­gram and the hunt for the non-existent weapons of mass destruc­tion. Jonathan S Lan­day in McClatchy News quotes a “for­mer senior U.S. intel­li­gence offi­cial famil­iar with the inter­ro­ga­tion issue”:

“The main [rea­son for the tor­ture] is that every­one was wor­ried about some kind of
follow-up attack (after 9/11). But for most of 2002 and into 2003,
Cheney and Rums­feld, espe­cial­ly, were also demand­ing proof of the links
between al Qai­da and Iraq that (for­mer Iraqi exile leader Ahmed)
Cha­l­abi and oth­ers had told them were there.”

“There was constant
pres­sure on the intel­li­gence agen­cies and the inter­roga­tors to do
what­ev­er it took to get that infor­ma­tion out of the detainees,
espe­cial­ly the few high-value ones we had, and when peo­ple kept coming
up emp­ty, they were told by Cheney’s and Rumsfeld’s peo­ple to push
hard­er,” he continued.

All this is not real­ly a sur­prise; I cov­ered it in real time over on Non​vi​o​lence​.org. There were numer­ous reports that the Vice Pres­i­dent and Sec­re­tary of Defense were push­ing the intel­li­gence agen­cies to come up with evi­dence that would back their flawed theories. 

The Unit­ed States is sup­posed to be the cham­pi­on of free­dom but we resort­ed to the most bru­tal of communist-era tor­ture tech­niques because our high­est offi­cials were more inter­est­ed in their car­toon view of the world than the com­plex real­i­ty (and not so com­plex: any­one who’s tak­en an “Intro to Islam” class would know that an alliance between Sad­dam Hus­sein and Osama bin Laden would be have been very unlike­ly). When facts and ide­o­log­i­cal the­o­ries don’t match up, it’s time to dig for more facts and revis­it the ideologies.