The last few days have been a blur. Fly from London to Los Angeles. Fourteen hours later, head back to the airport to Houston and on to Buenos Aires.
I staggered out of the airport into the cloudless, hot morning toward a taxi stand, reminding myself that I had to listen to some Astor Piazzolla, the Argentine master of the bandoneón. I decided that later that afternoon, I would rock my favorite, The Rough Dancer and the Cyclical Night.
Progress across the parking lot was slow. I am traveling with more gear than I ever have. I have a duffel bag completely taken up by extra clothes to keep me operational in Antarctica, where I’ll be a few days from now.
At the taxi stand, a man ushered me into his ride. I showed him the address of the hotel and we hit the road. In extremely broken versions of each other’s languages, we attempted to converse. It didn’t go well but we had some laughs.
After driving for less than half an hour, the driver pulled over and, as an aggressive scowl came over his face, told me it was going to cost $160 U.S. to get me to the hotel. Perhaps it was the jet lag or my memories of challenging taxi rides in interesting places I have dealt with before, but I started laughing.
The driver’s face went from intense to fallen, which only made me laugh harder. He then dropped his price to 100. I kept laughing and assured him that wasn’t going to happen. Then, strangely, he went to 98. Then 80 and finally 40. We agreed. I paid him, added a tip and we drove a few minutes further and reached the hotel. He shook my hand, perhaps having enjoyed the hassle, and took off.
A few years ago, I was coming into the city center of Beijing from the airport in a taxi. The driver drove several miles toward the city, took an offramp, doubled back to the airport and basically started the trip over again. I called him on it. Busted, he almost started crying. “Sorry!” he exclaimed as he shut off the meter.
This was all light relief from what had been on my mind since I’d landed in Los Angeles several hours before: the attacks in Paris.
In my room, I read that French president François Hollande had authorized an airstrike on an Islamic State (ISIS) stronghold in Raqqa, Syria. This will have to help Hollande, whose approval rating is and has been extremely low.
I am willing to bet that France had developed the intelligence on that particular mission well before Paris was attacked. I wonder if they had not carried it out before because there was the potential for a high number of civilian casualties — but after so many dead in the streets of Paris, they decided the world wouldn’t notice some dead Syrian innocents.
As far as what to do and when to do it, ISIS picked the right time and place to carry out its attack. Almost immediately, several U.S. governors pledged to do whatever they could to block the entry of Syrian refugees to their state. In the case of Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Texas and several others, I think the refugees are getting the better part of the deal. But ultimately, ISIS is getting the best part. Its plan is working well.
To be fair, these governors have every right to be concerned. The truth is, we don’t know who any of these refugees are.
I have met three people, two Canadians who work in Africa and one American who was working in the Middle East, whose job it was to interview people seeking asylum status in Canada and America. It’s a tricky business, and all three of them told me independently that some of those applying are found, after being investigated, to be extremely bad guys trying to save their necks and escape prosecution.
That said, a vetting system can be set up that, I bet, would satisfy the states willing to take the refugees in. I think none of the true greatness of the United States would be lost on these people and they would make kickass Americans.
If ISIS can destabilize the global effort to relocate Syrians, especially with winter coming, and beyond that, further cast the idea of “Muslim equals extremist” in the minds of people all over the world, it has truly succeeded. I would really hate to lose a battle of ideas to these dumbfucks.
How the world deals with ISIS and other extremist groups could very well be humankind’s greatest test this century.
ISIS is the perfect glitch of old and new operating systems smashing together. It is waging a war using the Internet and cellphones yet its adherents believe that if they are killed in battle, they will go meet some virgins in heaven. These are people you will never, ever be able to deal with rationally. There is no table they sit at, no treaty they will sign and definitely no Jesus moment they will come to.
There is only one way to stop them. Unfortunately, this is exactly what they want.
No smart bomb has the intellectual heft to kill the bad and leave the good. The future will be a lot of noncombatants losing their lives because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time.
It is pathetic that there is a dune buggy on Mars sending back really cool pictures, yet here on Earth a battle is being waged with one side stuck in the Stone Age.
Selfishly, I think about all the places in the world I will never get to visit because of these assholes. Realistically, I know that this is only the beginning of a prolonged and dreadful ordeal.
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