What is the Appeal of the Islamic State?

What is the Appeal of the Islamic State?

–June 29, 2015

And a big “Happy Anniversary” goes out today to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, as one year ago today he and his righteous followers put the world back on the path towards salvation.yosemite-sam

Say what? And Abu who?

Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is the self-proclaimed Grand Poobah of all Muslims, who was declared caliph of the Islamic State’s conquered territory on June 29, 2014. This new caliphate represents the eighth or ninth one in Islamic history depending upon your views regarding the legitimacy of the caliphate of the 400-or-so-year Ottoman Empire. But whether one believes that the last caliphate ended in 1924 or sometime in the 1500s, the emergence of this new caliphate is groundbreaking and its one year anniversary must be reason to party like its 1999….

Or not.

More likely the Islamic State is celebrating the anniversary with an increase in its usual day-to-day activities that it conducts to revere Muhammad and Allah. You know, beheading apostates and foreign infidels, shooting prisoners of war, burning spies, stoning adulterers, enslaving women and children, and just generally making sure no one has any fun at all.

“Allah Akbar,” Baby!

What’s the deal with this Islamic State? Three years ago no one had even heard of this group, and its abbreviated initials seem to constantly change, as Islamic State as been referred to as ISIS, ISIL, ISI and, most recently, just IS. Three years ago Al Qaeda and the Taliban were the baddest-ass Muslims in the land, but now Islamic State makes those groups look like two lost-in-the-woods Boy Scout troops.

In three short years, IS grew from a barely recognized rag-tag militia fighting against the Syrian government into one of the most powerful guerrilla armies in the middle east. An army and a self-proclaimed Islamic government that had captured large sections of Syria and Iraq, and inspired terrorists acts around the world. A movement that is also drawing large numbers of recruits from around the world, both those wanting to fight from within the caliphate and those seeking martyrdom abroad.

What is the appeal? Why are Muslim youth around the world flocking to the IS cause?

Al Qaeda offered its recruits 97 virgins in the after-life, but IS doesn’t even mention virgins in its propaganda. There is mention of the possibility of slave girls in this life to worthy Islamic State fighters. But are Islamic boys that hard up that they’ll give up everything for a remote chance at bedding an infidel slave woman?

Maybe…. What with most Muslim woman out of sight due to burkas and hijabs, and Muslim women definitely out-of-touch until marriage, well, can you say “sexual tension?” And nothing like a good fight to alleviate some of that tension.  Shooting prisoners, lopping off heads and the like probably provides the equivalence in tension release. And if done well it could lead to that infidel slave girl.

What else can be considered appealing about the Islamic State? How can Muslims, youth or otherwise, find it appealing on a religious or intellectual basis?

On a religious basis Islamic State only allows an extremely narrow interpretation of Islam, and failure to abide by this Flag_of_the_Islamic_State_of_Iraq_and_the_Levantinterpretation marks one as an apostate subject to death. In fact, most of IS’s victims thus far in its short history have been other Muslim’s who follow the wrong interpretation of Islam. In fact, if you’re a Shi’ite Muslim, you might want to think twice before heading off to the the Holy Caliphate, as Islamic State doesn’t take kindly to those of the Shia Muslim faith.

On an intellectual basis, well, you’d better be prepared to devote all energies to Allah, because intellectually that’s all that matters in life.

Sounds like fun, eh?

Allah Akbar! 

–Originally published in Hash It Out! on June 29, 2015

White or black, and why should anyone care?

White or black, and why should anyone care?

June 15, 2015–

Spokane, Washington resident Rachel Dolezal joined the in-the-international-spotlight club last week because of her race. Or, perhaps, because of her lack of race.

Ms. Dolezal is head of the Spokane chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), but reportedly might be lacking in the color expected from someone holding that position. In fact, her own parents started the media furor by saying their formerly blonde, blue-eyed baby girl had been falsely portraying herself as “black” for years, and provided a birth certificate and photographic evidence as proof.

A long-time Spokane social activist and part-time African studies college instructor, Ms. Dolezal has been evasive when questioned about her race since the emerging story broke. “That question is not as easy as it seems,” she told the Spokesman-Review newspaper in one of her last known statements to the press on Thursday. “There are a lot of complexities…and I don’t know that everyone would understand that.” She closed the brief interview by noting that “We’re all from the African continent….”

The NAACP on Friday issued a statement in support of Ms. Dolezal, stating that “one’s racial identity is not a qualifying criteria or disqualifying standard for NAACP leadership. In every corner of this country, the NAACP remains committed to securing political, educational and economic justice for all people.” Ms. Dolezal had stated that she would release a statement regarding her race (or lack thereof) tonight during the local chapter’s regularly scheduled monthly membership meeting, but that meeting has been cancelled upon her request.

Ms. Dolezal is certainly not the first person to disguise her race. Perhaps one of the more famous instances of white-to-black race impersonation in relative modern times is that of John Howard Griffin. Griffin artificially changed his skin colour to black with a combination of drugs and extensive ultraviolet light exposure and travelled the racially segregated southern states for six weeks as a black man. His experiences were chronicled in the international bestselling book–Black Like Me–and helped highlight the day-to-day struggles of being black in the white-dominated southern society of the late 1950s.

While not a color change, a young Jewish boy named Solomon Perel successfully masqueraded as a German of Aryan descent during World War II, after he was captured by German troops during their initial invasion of the Soviet Union. He was so successful that he was incorporated into the army unit that captured him as an interpreter, played a role in the capture of Josef Stalin’s son, and was then sent back to Germany to attend an elite Hitler Youth school. As a circumcised Jew, Perel’s identity was in constant danger of being exposed, but he somehow managed to avoid detection until the end of the war (his story is told in the the book, I was Hitler Youth Solomon, which was adapted into the 1990 Academy Award-nominated film, Europa Europa).

These two impersonators had good reasons behind their race deception. But what of Ms. Dolezal? Should, as is expected, her race prove to be white not black, then why? What was her motivation? And, should we care?

If she was gaming the system for financial gain, then yes, we should care. Ms. Dolezal did receive a full scholarship to the traditionally black Howard University; however, race was evidently not a criteria for the scholarship. Spokane city officials are reportedly investigating whether she lied about her ethnicity when she applied to be on the municipal police board. And the Spokane Police Department has suspended its investigation into racial harassment hate mail she received, reportedly because evidence has surfaced that the alleged mail never passed through the U.S. Postal Service.

So, there doesn’t yet appear to be any evidence that she was outright gaming the system for financial gain, but perhaps playing the system for some kind of personal reason….

Maybe Ms. Dolezal just wants to be black. If that’s the case, should we care?

The Gods Must be Angry With Us…Again!

The Gods Must be Angry With Us…Again!

—June 11, 2015

Why must the Gods always be so angry with us?

Case in point, Gods in Malaysia were apparently angered by a group of western tourists who stripped naked for a photo session on top of Mount Kinabalu late last month. The tourists’ antics evidently angered the mountain’s sacred ancestral spirits, who in response, cast down an earthquake on the area that killed 16 people (OK, so while not technically “Gods,” any spirit that can invoke a God-like cataclysm is pretty much a God in our book).

Four of the tourists have been arrested by Malaysian authorities, who are reportedly on the hunt for six others (no word yet on whether international arrest warrants have been issued). Pending charges center on public indecency, though local citizens and politicians have been calling for charges that could lead to much more severe penalties, with some of the locals requesting the tourists’ heads.

As is generally the case with all-powerful Gods, the mountain’s sacred spirits remain mute on the issue, and are letting theirAngryGod_answer_1_xlarge actions speak for themselves.

And what of Allah (“In sa Allah!”)?

He seems to have kept his anger in relative check for five centuries, but then started getting all pissed off about 50 years ago, sparked in large part by those Jewish folks who had the audacity to call his sacred land theirs. That ire soon expanded to include those who had the nerve support the Jews, and more recently to his own people, who tick him off for a broad range of reasons–Idolatry, blasphemy, apostasy, adultery, listening to western music, looking at women, shaving, flying kites, to name a few. Most recently, Allah has been casting his holy anger on those foolhardy artists who dare attempt to create his holy likeness.

Allah’s not like most Gods, though, as he does not utilize his power over the elements to inveigh his wrath. Instead he invokes his holy ire through the righteous actions of his most devoted followers. And why not? They can certainly be just as effective as a natural disaster, and they’re becoming so media savvy that the depth of Allah’s anger can truly be conveyed to the masses in color and in almost-real-time.

Jesus (“Praise the Lord!”), while relatively quiet these past few centuries, certainly had his moments.

He seems to be an equal-opportunity wrath dispenser, utilizing both the natural elements and his flock to carry out his righteous anger. Everything from the great plague to any number of earthquakes, tempests, volcanoes and other natural disasters have been attributed to his rage, though in recent centuries less and less so. His people have also been quite effective at holy wrath dispensary. Just ask the ancestors of Muslims, North and South American Indians, Africans and any number of the world’s people who have been slaughtered by Christians in the name of Christ.

How about Jeusus’ Dad (also considered to be the young version of the Hebrew God, Yehova, God of Israel, though not father of Christ)–Wrathful?

You betcha! Can you say “Great Flood” or “Sodom” and “Gomorrah?” Heck, the Old Testament is full of natural cataclysms called down upon us for one reason or another.

Roman Gods? Greek Gods? Egyptian Gods?

Sadists!

And they didn’t even have to be angry…. Perhaps they just liked to practice.

Hellfire and brimstone, what Gods don’t get angry with us?

OK so Buddah tends to be fairly benign, and some of the Hindu Gods don’t seem to have anger issues.

But we’d wager that they all have their moments, too.

Bottom line is that we’d love to see what the Gods might do should they ever be happy with us. But we’re not going to hold our breath….

–Originally published by Hash It Out! on June 11, 2015

Keeping Up with the Kardashian’s New Step-Mom

Keeping Up with the Kardashian’s New Step-Mom

—June 7, 2015

The former Bruce Jenner, a 1976 Olympic decathlon gold medal winner and television personality best known for his “father” role in “Keeping Up with the Kardashians, is now probably the most famous transgendered person in the world, thanks to her debut this month as Vanity Fair magazine’s cover story. The story of Caitlyn, as Bruce is now to be known, has pushed the issue of transgendered people into the national spotlight, and, well, raises a whole lot of questions.

Let’s start with Bruce…. Uh, we mean, Caitlyn.

Jenner claims that she suffered from gender identity disorder since childhood, and that “God gave me the soul of a female.” Yet the disorder did nothing to hinder his former complete success at being a man’s man: high school football star, world-record breaking Olympic athlete, race car driver, married to three different hot babes, father of six kids, successful businessman, Hollywood actor….

It begs the question, did he feel like a woman when he scored a touchdown? Did he feel like a woman when he smoked the competition on the track? Did he feel like a women every time he was trying to conceive any of his six kids?

While those questions remain unanswered, Jenner now says “for all intents and purposes, I’m a woman,” and news media is reporting that Jenner is post-transition. And yet, Caitlyn is still walking around with the male bits dangling between her legs. That’s right, Jenner has not undergone sex reassignment surgery. So, how can someone with a penis and testicles be considered a woman?

Can he…. Uh, she?

This is a question that even the transgendered community can’t seem to agree on, with some in the community arguing that successful sex reassignment surgery should be required for consideration as a true post-transitional man or women. Others, Jenner apparently included, feel that it should be based more upon a state of mind.

The question of what constitute’s one’s gender remains a grey area in the U.S. legal system, as the court’s have not really had to address too many cases…yet. The state of Maine’s supreme court did address the issue last year in a decision affirming the right of a transgender male-to-female to use the ladies room of his/her high school.

So which locker room is Jenner going to use, and how is that going to play out? Is Jenner going to be comfortable in either one? As a woman, the men’s room should conceivably make her feel uncomfortable, but the ladies room could be equally awkward for her due to her remaining manhood. And what of those sharing that same locker room space? How would you feel sharing shower space with Bruce/Caitlyn Jenner?

Interestingly, Jenner says he has no interest in men and that he is currently asexual. But what if his–sorry, her–sex drive returns? We suppose Jenner will be chasing the ladies as a lesbian. But how is his lesbian paramour going to feel about her lover having a penis?

And what of that penis? Should Jenner decide to go further into his quest for womanhood does sexual reassignment surgery really work. Does penile inversion–the most common technique for  transgendered male-to-female–create a true approximation of a working vagina?

See–a whole lot of questions, with each question begetting more questions. I think we’d better stop with that last one….

—Originally published June 7, 2015 by Hash It Out!

China’s Rising Middle Class Giant

China’s Rising Middle Class Giant

How Big and How Much is He Going to Grow?

Chinese economic numbers have been considered suspect by the west for years, but even  high-level Chinese officials are starting to admit that government figures on GDP growth, fiscal revenues, credit data, and imports/exports are unreliable, at best. “Many of the numbers are watery,” Dong Dasheng, former deputy auditor at China’s National Audit Office, told audience members at an annual meeting of high-level political advisors in Beijing in March. Noting that numbers have long been massaged, Dong said the official 7.4 percent GDP growth rate (lowest one in 24 years) for 2014 is far from the truth, but “relatively more realistic comparing (sic) to the numbers in the past years.”

Despite the likely manipulation of economic numbers, few people will dispute that China’s economy, like its population, is massive. The question is, how big and how much is it going to grow? It’s like trying to calculate the size of a giant by looking at his grainy photographic portrait, and then trying to figure out potential growth by rummaging through his compost bin to determine how much he consumes.

But, no matter what the answer is, a giant is still a giant, and the Chinese middle class has quickly grown into one such giant. Again the question is, how big and how much is it going to grow?

Let’s look at this giant’s portrait and rummage through his compost bin:

To start with we need to determine what constitutes “middle class,” an ambiguous term that can easily be misapplied if its parameters aren’t delineated. Broadly speaking, middle class is the group of people in a society who reside socio-economically between the working class and upper class. In describing the North American middle class social scientists generally apply social aspects–such as educational attainment and type of employment–to the equation. On a strictly monetary basis, social scientists and economists trying to constitute what determines middle class in North America have come up with annual income ranges from $35,000 on up to $150,000.

There is no hard-set definition of what constitutes “middle class” in China, but Helen H. Wang, author of the award-winning book–The Chinese Dream: The Rise of the World’s Largest Middle Class and What it Means for You–defines Chinese middle class as households with a “third of its income available for discretionary spending.” Monetarily, a middle class household would earn somewhere between $10,000 and $60,000 per year, says Ms. Wang.

Global consultant McKinsey & Company, which conducts extensive studies on China’s middle class, believes $9,000 to $34,000 per year constitutes Chinese middle class earnings. Where one lives in China can also dictate middle class standards, as the spending power of the yuan varies widely between regions and between the countryside and urban areas. Thus, someone living in Shanghai needs to earn several thousand dollars more per year to be considered middle class than someone living in a rural village in Qinghai province.

Annual income rates have grown phenomenally in China over the past three decades, with a 10-fold jump between 1980 to 2010. According to an analysis of official government statistics by the China Market Research Group, the average annual disposable income per capita rose from $280 in 1980 to $3,000 in 2010, which put the typical Chinese household at earning about $9,000 per year as of 2010.  As of January 2014, the National Bureau of Statistics of China reported the average annual disposable income per capita at about $4,720, a 57 percent increase from 2010. The World Bank reports that China’s gross national income per capita quadrupled from 2000 to 2013, rising from $2,830 to $11,850.

So, how many Chinese are middle class, and how many will be middle class in the years to come?

Ms. Wang put the number at “more than 300-million” and at “more than the entire population of the United States,” and believes this population will reach 700- to 800-million by 2022. These indefinite figures have been bandied about by numerous other sources over the past three years, likely due in large part to the extensive media coverage Ms. Wang has received since the release of her book.

While not putting a specific number on today’s Chinese middle class, and, like Ms. Wang in referring to it as larger than the total U.S. population, McKinley & Company believes that China’s middle class will number 630 million by 2022. This equates to roughly 75 percent of the urban population and 45 percent of the country’s entire population.

The Brookings Institution, a highly influential Washington, DC think tank, put China’s middle class at 157-million people as of 2009. Brookings’ “absolute approach” for defining middle class uses the delineation of “households with daily expenditures between $10 and $100 per person in purchasing power parity terms.”

In its report–China’s Emerging Middle Class: Beyond Economic Transformation–Brookings reported that China’s middle class represented roughly 12 percent of the total population as of 2009, but that China’s middle class was on the cusp of expanding exponentially due to China’s    rapid growth rate and because a significant proportion of the population was “close to the lower-bound threshold of [Brookings’] definition of the middle class.” Given this assessment, Brookings believes China’s middle class will consist of about 42 percent of the population by 2020, and over 70 percent of the population by 2030.

Using these percentages with Chinese population projections puts the number of middle class in China at roughly 575-million by 2020, and more than 960-million by 2030.

Ernst & Young Global Limited’s Middle Class Growth in Emerging Markets report has projections similar to Brookings, placing China’s middle class as of 2010 at about 150-million, with this number rising to almost 500-million by 2020, and almost reaching 1-billion by 2030.

All of these projections about the size of China’s middle class are “giant-like,” to say the least. But will these projections be reached?

Brookings brings up several uncertainties that could impede the growth of China’s middle class, foremost being whether China can continue generating economic growth at the levels its been achieving for the past two decades. Noting that China’s “labor-Screen Shot 2015-11-10 at 5.24.33 PMintensive export-led growth…is showing signs of strain,” Brookings suggests that China needs “a new growth strategy” that encourages much greater domestic consumption. “The great uncertainty for China is whether its current growth is sufficiently robust to carry it forward until the middle class consumption engine can start to fire, or whether growth will stall before the middle class really matures.”

Ms. Wang, while more optimistic, addresses this issue as well by saying that Chinese households, which traditionally save 20 to 25 percent of their annual earnings, need to be encouraged to save less and spend more. Ms. Wang’s optimism is driven in large part by her observation that China’s younger generations are “consuming like crazy.”

An observation shared by McKinsey & Company, which considers the younger generation born between 1990 and 2010 to be the most westernized to date. The company expects that this generation–three times larger than the U.S. Baby Boomers who drove U.S. consumption for years–will double their share of consumer demand within 10 years.

Such observations are supported by recent data, such as U.S. exports to China growing from $27-billion in 2003 to $124-billion in 2014, or the fact General Motors sells more cars and trucks in China than in the U.S., whereas just 11 years ago the ratio was one vehicle for every 10 sold in the U.S.

Another factor to consider about the Chinese middle class is that it may be bigger than pundits think, and wealthier. As with their government, Chinese people are known to be “watery” when reporting financial numbers. Undeclared wealth is called “gray money” in China and it represents the proceeds from corruption (considered by some as rampant in China), income earned from “gray” areas of the economy, and unreported income such as year-end bonuses that most Chinese do not report. A 2012 survey by the China Society of Economic Reform concluded that gray income accounts for $1 trillion per year, or 12 percent of China’s economy.

But what of the elephant in the Chinese living room (pardon the pun) that no one seems to notice. That being the lop-sided demographics of the country that make it the fastest aging country in the world by median age, and estimated to become among the oldest by median age within 20 years.

China’s economic success has been largely driven by its vast pool of labor, but the water in that pool reached its peak and is now starting to slowly but steadily evaporate. According to China’s National Bureau of Statistics, the country’s potential labor force shrunk for the first time in modern history in 2012, an emerging trend that is expected to continue for at least the next 20 years due to the country’s “one-child” population control strategy.

That one-child policy, according to Chinese government statistics, has kept the country’s population in check by a factor of 400-million people. And while that had served as an economic accelerant of sorts because those additional people did not need to be fed, clothed, educated or housed, it also means that many fewer consumers, wage earners and taxpayers to help continue driving the country’s economy.

China’s lop-sided demographics suggest that the coming years will bring a dramatic decline in the cheap labor market that has served as the primary driver of the Chinese economy. At the same time China will see a dramatic increase in its elderly population, which earns little, spends little and pays little in taxes, yet will need much in the way of government services and health care.

It remains unclear how much this elephant in the living room is going to impact the economy and how much it may slow the expansion of the middle class. But it’s an elephant. It may be sleeping now, but when it wakes up people are going to notice.

–Presented to SPI June 2015

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Sources:

Wang, Helen H. The Chinese Dream: The Rise of the World’s Largest Middle Class and What It Means to You. Bestseller Press, 2010, 2012.

Kharas, Homi, and Geoffrey Gertz. China’s Emerging Middle Class; Beyond Economic Transformation. Brookings Institution Press, 2010.

Barton, Dominic, Yougang Chen, and Amy Jin. Mapping China’s Middle Class. Insights & Publications. McKinsy.com. June 2013.

Chen, Lu. Why Chinese Economic Data Can’t be Trusted. China Business & Economy. TheEpochTimes.com. March 2015.

Kuhn, Anthony. Lure of China’s Gray Economy Reaches Rich and Poor. National Public Radio. NPR.org. January 2014.

The World Bank. World DataBank: World Development indicators. databank.worldbank.org. 2015.

China Profile. Median Age of the Population in China, India, Europe and the United States of America, 1950-2100. China-Profile.com. June, 2011.