Tuesday, August 31, 2004

Iraqi militants kill 12 hostages

"Iraqi militants kill 12 hostages", Reuters, 2004 August 31.
"We have carried out the sentence of God against 12 Nepalis who came from their country to fight the Muslims and to serve the Jews and the Christians ... believing in Buddha as their God," said the statement by the military committee of the Army of Ansar al-Sunna.
Islamic tolerance rears its head yet again.
"We believe most of them were simple-minded and tempted to come to Iraq," Mohammed Bashar al-Faidi, a spokesman for [the Muslim Scholars Association, an influential Sunni Muslim group believed to have links to insurgents], said of the Nepalese. "We wished they could have been released by the kidnappers so that they could have become messengers for their brothers to warn them not to come to Iraq."
Good to see Islamic scholars condemning these killings so unequivocally.


Fool us once...

Christy Oglesby, "Return of the 'compassionate conservative'", CNN, 2004 August 31.
In the 2000 campaign, President Bush portrayed himself as a "compassionate conservative" -- an open, more inclusive Republican -- in a bid to win over middle-of-the-road voters. This year, he'll try once again to appeal to moderate, swing voters.

Christy Oglesby, "GOP pitches 'big tent' strategy", CNN, 2004 August 31.
Republican ringmasters have a plan for crowding the red canopy and keeping President Bush in the White House. Make sure regulars return. Beckon undecideds. And entice a few who usually go to the show beneath the big blue tent.

That's the mission, and party insiders and political augurs say Republicans know what message to bark -- moderation, moderation, moderation.
Just when you thought the Republicans couldn't insult the intelligence of the American public any further.

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, Republican National Convention, 2004 August 31.
[W]hen Nelson Mandela smiled in election victory after all those years in prison, America celebrated, too.
Uh, Arnie, would that be the same Nelson Mandela who called George W. Bush "a president who can't think properly and wants to plunge the world into holocaust"? That Nelson Mandela? Just checking.

This is a full nelson, bitch! It's a pun.


It's the policies, stupid!

Greg Botelho, "GOP aims for diversity, black votes", CNN, 2004 August 31.

The Democratic Party has long maintained a near monopoly on the African-American vote, a claim Republicans hope to tackle by putting on a new face this week in New York.
It's the policies, stupid!
"It was much commented in 2000 how Republicans had several minority speakers, but very few minority delegates. So they made a decision to make their delegate [pool] more diverse,"
It's the policies, stupid!
Yet Republicans say they can make a strong pitch to black voters -- if they're given a chance.
IT'S THE...oh, I give up. [storms off in frustration]


Sunday, August 22, 2004

Just a reminder of the sort of mendacious, manipulative bastards we're dealing with

The attacks themselves were bad enough but this makes me feel as sick as I did on the day of. (hat tip: Harry)


Friday, August 20, 2004

D'oh! Woohoo! D'oh!

via Mirabilis.ca


Goh Sui Noi, "Modernisation a threat to dialects in China; Local dialects are disappearing as greater mobility and interaction give rise to the need for a common tongue", The Straits Times, 2004 August 18.

'The modernisation process is a main reason for the decline of dialects,' said assistant professor Jing Wendong of the Central University for Nationalities.

The popularisation of putonghua - the national language based on the Beijing dialect - only quickened the pace of decline, he added.

In the past, China was an agrarian society where its people lead sedentary lives in villages and towns separated by mountains.

As China modernised and moved towards a market economy, there was greater mobility and more interaction between different communities, giving rise to the need for a common tongue.
'In the cities, people congregate from all regions and for these people to communicate, they need a common language, which is putonghua,' noted Professor Qian Nairong, a linguistics expert.
Prof Qian placed part of the blame for the decline of dialects on measures to restrict its use in newspapers and on television.

Others have pointed out that as young people gained fluency in putonghua, it has affected the usage of dialects.
Overall, the number of dialect-speakers is declining.

Language experts lament a loss of plurality in the Chinese culture with the decline in the use of dialects.

'Behind each dialect is the culture of a particular area, and local cultures are very rich,' said Prof Qian.

He suggested that dialects be accorded equal status as putonghua and be allowed to develop naturally.

Goh Sui Noi, "No need for mother tongue", The Straits Times, 2004 August 18.

Ms Qin Zhongxia, 34, is more worried about her 12-year-old son's progress in English lessons than whether he can speak his mother tongue.

A migrant worker from Anhui province, she speaks the dialect of their Gangbao village with her husband, but putonghua with her son Li Liming.

'If you ask me, I'd rather he speaks putonghua well, then English, and then our dialect,' she said.

Many migrant workers share her views. 'I don't wish for him to stay in the village, there is no future there,' Ms Qin added. And if he was not going back to the village, it did not matter if he could not speak his dialect well.
Kent Davis-Packard, "At last, an ancient tongue will be taught", The Christian Science Monitor, 2004 August 17.

The letter "yaz," shaped like a joyful human being, is the symbol of the Imazighen people. It's one of the 39 letters of Tifinagh, the ancient language all children in Morocco will be required to learn - in addition to classical Arabic and French - by 2008.

"It's our maternal language," says Amina Ibnou-Cheikh Raha, director of Le Monde Amazigh, a newspaper dedicated to Imazighen, or Berber, cultural issues. "It's the first language that existed here in Morocco. What's abnormal is that it has never been taught."

Berbers - the name given to the Imazighen people because they were viewed as "barbarians" who at first did not accept Islam - have inhabited North Africa since 7,000 BC. Their ranks have included St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas, and they have managed to preserve their languages despite French, Roman, and Arab conquests. [You missed the Phoenicians/Carthaginians, Kent.]

"Thanks to our mothers, and our grandmothers, 'Tamazight' [the term used to designate all Imazighen languages] is still alive," says Lahcen Ouberka, a high school teacher in Marakech.

Tamazight speakers constitute 40 percent of Morocco's population, 20 percent of Algeria's, and 1 percent of Tunisia's. This year, Morocco's Ministry of Education and the Royal Institute of Amazigh Culture (IRCAM) have introduced the 9,000-year-old language into some 300 primary schools throughout Morocco for the first time.

"It's very important to learn so we can speak with our brothers in the north and in the south," says first-grader Zineb Sakale excitedly.
Some Moroccan educators also hope the use of the language in schools will lower the Imazighen dropout rate.

"Many Imazighen students do not follow the educational system and they do not succeed, and this is in part because they don't study in their own language," says Fatima Agnaou, a researcher at IRCAM.

In 1967, Moroccan university students had formed the first Imazighen association in North Africa, the Moroccan Association of Research and Cultural Exchange. In the years since, new associations have continued to spring up, demanding the teaching of Tamazight in Moroccan schools.

Finally, in 1994, the late King Hassan II announced the introduction of Tamazight in Moroccan primary schools, but no move was made by the Ministry of Education until 2000.

Some worry that the initiative will stumble due to a government decision to begin teaching Tamazight in three separate dialogues, phasing in standardized Tamazight over the course of a decade. It's a decision some critics suggest was influenced by government fears of too much Imazighen unity.

There are, of course, countries that comfortably mix languages in their public school systems.

"In Switzerland, there are four official languages recognized by the state," says Khaji Mounia, director of the Tarik Ibn Zyad Cultural Center. "There are not ethnic ruptures in Switzerland. They are taught these languages from primary school up through university, and society lives in harmony."

But there are also places where the teaching of indigenous languages is a point of contention. In neighboring Algeria, for instance, the Imazighen were harshly repressed after independence from France. It was even illegal for a child to be given a Imazighen name, and such cultural repression sparked violent reactions.

The King of Morocco, whose mother happens to be a Berber, is cautiously pursuing a politic of incorporation. "I don't think we will have the same kinds of problems that Algeria went through," says civil activist Jamila Hassoune. Use of Tifinagh, she insists, is "a cultural richness that, instead of dividing Morocco, unifies it."
Regular reader(s) (Hey, Laban!) will know that I have reservations about the second part of the article on Tifinagh. I'm extremely pleased that an Islamic country has made it official public policy to teach its children to cherish their pre-Islamic heritage from a very young age, you know, instead of denouncing any pre-Islamic cultural identity as jahil, the vernacular Arabic for pre-Islamic, literally "ignorant", and trying to wipe it out. And I take more than a little ironic pleasure at the notion of an Islamic country implementing what looks suspiciously like a multiculturalist educational philosophy.

However, given the experience of Western schools with Afrocentrism and similar approaches in American schools for Hispanic students, Moroccan educators who hope that the use of Tifinagh will lower the Imazighen dropout rate are likely to be disappointed.

As for the assertion that the use of Tifinagh will unify Morocco instead of dividing it, well, the results of the similar policies in the West, the same ones I mentioned before, suggest precisely the opposite. If anything, the use of Tifinagh will further entrench and deepen the divisions between Imazighen and Arab.

The suggestion that the slow phase-in of Tamazight into schools is due to concerns about Imazighen unity implies that the government is aware (and afraid) of precisely that possibility. I'm surprised to find myself a little relieved that the government's enthusiasm for teaching Tifinagh is not unbridled. That suggests that the government is being more realistic than those educators who expect Imazighen dropout rates to fall or that civil activist who insists that the effect will be centripetal rather than centrifugal. Were it not, Tifinagh education's likely failure (in the case of reducing dropout rates) and outright counterproductivity (in the case of Moroccan unity) might cause a backlash on the celebration of pre-Islamic heritage not just in Morocco, but across the Islamic world.

I believe that the war on terror cannot be won without a sea change in how the global Muslim mainstream sees non-Muslim peoples and cultures. Teaching Muslim children to celebrate their pre-Islamic heritage is a step in that direction.


Thursday, August 19, 2004

Fun with statistics

America is bad. You wanna know why? Because it puts so many people in prison: 715 per 100,000 population, the highest incarceration rate in the world.

For every 100,000 people, Sweden imprisons only 75 and Sudan only about 36. That's because they're more enlightened.

Also, America imprisons more people because it's so violent, unlike peaceful and orderly societies like Japan. Or Haiti.

Prison Population Rates per 100,000 of the national population
United States715
Source: International Centre for Prison Studies, Kings College, London

In fact, the current US incarceration rate is a record high. That's because crime is too.[1]
"American prison population surpasses 2 million, the highest incarceration rate in the world", Salt of the Earth: Your online resource for social justice, April 2003.

Violent crime, which is of most concern to people on the street, has fallen to its lowest levels since 1974, when data was first collected nationally.
Unlike in Europe, where people are more civilized.
[O]ver the last 25 years there appears to have been a general increase in crime in all European countries.
Another reason that so many Americans are in prison is that American sentences are so long. That's because Americans are vengeful. Europeans are enlightened, giving convicts shorter sentences so they have less trouble re-entering society.
Laban Tall, "Cash for Good Causes", UK Commentators, 2004 August 11.

In a British prison you never serve your full sentence - that would be too harsh. [Iorworth] Hoare was released early and by November 1975, when he should still have been inside, he was back in court for another attack on a woman.
He had been released early once, only to offend again and be convicted. Surely that would be an end of early release ? But to the probation officers and social workers of the Criminal Justice system he was still capable of redemption, of being reformed. Give him another chance. Sentenced to four years in November 1975, less that THREE years later he was back in court charged with assault and indecent assault - crimes again committed when he should have been in prison. This time he got four years.

We must assume he was let out early and avoided being convicted again until June 1983, almost a year after he should have finished his sentence. This time the charges were rape and indecent assault, the sentence seven years. Naturally he was released early, and only five years after sentence was attempting to rape a retired teacher.

This time the judge had had enough.

"Paramount in my mind is that every moment you are at liberty some woman is at risk and I believe it to be my duty to protect, so far as I am able, women from the risk you represent.

"This is the last in a long line of appalling offences committed against women and the only sentence I can pass is one of imprisonment for life."

Life ? Fifteen years and he's on day release.
[/end sarcasm]
Let's go back to the statistics. Despite an uptick in the past year, US "crime rates remain some of the lowest in a generation". At the same time, the US incarceration rate has reached an all time high, at least four to five times the rate, depending on the country, seen in western Europe, which has seen a general increase in crime over the last 25 years.
Peter Reydt, "Britain: prison overcrowding reaches breaking point", World Socialist Website, 2004 February 26.

Under Prime Minister Tony Blair, the number of prisoners has risen by 24 percent. This is not due to rising crime rates, but to the readiness of the courts to resort to custodial sentencing for even minor crimes. First time burglars are twice as likely to go to jail now as they were eight years ago, whilst the number of adults serving sentences for less than 12 months is up 160 percent since 1999.
The increase has far overstepped all expectations. The projected figures for 2006 now expect the prison population in England and Wales to reach 87,200—9,500 more than planned for.
Such is the scale of overcrowding, that Home Secretary David Blunkett is said to be looking into increasing the use of electronic tagging. Some 3,500 people are currently on Home Detention Curfew.

The government’s criminal policy has been carried out under the banner of “tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime”. Committed to a right-wing big business agenda, the government has fulfilled the first pledge, but has done nothing to alleviate the social conditions that cause crime in the first place. Instead its own policies have contributed to the increase in the prison population through the rising levels of social inequality. Many inmates, for example, are in prison for petty offences, such as non-payment of fines, bills, etc. [Sure they are.]

The official attitude towards criminal policy, as with every other area of British social policy, increasingly mirrors that of the United States.
Good for Britain.

In any criminal justice system, the safety of law-abiding citizens is the one priority that should supersede all others. Hell, it’s the very point of society. It’s the reason that the state has a monopoly on violence. We, as citizens, “outsource” self-defense to our police and military so the rest of us don't have to worry about such things and can spend time on things we'd rather be doing and also because they can specialize and take advantage of economies of scale. This doesn’t preclude treating prisoners well, but to do so at the expense of the safety of society at large betrays the very purpose of civilization.
Prison overcrowding has the most devastating impact on the well being of inmates. The annual report for England and Wales for 2002/2003 by the Chief Inspector of Prisons published earlier this year, graphically underscored this. Its main conclusion found that the explosion in prison numbers was directly related to a staggering rate of suicides and self-harm in English and Welsh prisons.
Cry me a f*ckin’ river.

Hey, I’ve got an idea! BUILD MORE PRISONS, BITCH!

Now, before this post completely degenerates into right-wing bilespew, I’m going to point out how capitalism contributes to this state of affairs. Of the countries in western Europe, only Finland (17.1), Iceland (2.9), Norway (14.9) and Sweden (21.8) have population densities lower than the United States’ (32.0) (as measured in persons per square kilometer). Western Europe has an overall population density of 110.2. Of countries with a significant amount of rural territory (i.e. excluding San Marino, at 475.1; Malta, at 1,236.3 and Monaco, at 16,135.0[!]), Britain, at 249.5, is beaten only by Belgium (342.3) and the Netherlands (480.8), which is why God invented Australia. (Source: U.S. Bureau of the Census, International Data Base.)

When land is scarce, homes, offices and factories are gonna come up much higher on the priority list than prisons. I get that. I'm willing to cut western Europe a little slack on account of that.

But this clapped-out old nag of an anti-American high moral horse is long overdue his trip to the glue factory.

I understand that this post doesn't address US drug policy, but this one does.

And on the matter of incarceration and race (via MilkandCookies), consider the words of noted African-American actor Samuel L. Jackson.
Ninety-eight percent of the people in jail belong in jail. The other two percent probably did something somewhere, and it caught up with them. If you live your life a certain kind of way, you don't have to worry about that kind of thing happening. Like with the police, I always gave them respect. Cops have a hard job; I understand that. Of course, some of 'em are kind of screwed up mentally in certain ways....
They deserved to die and I hope they burn in hell!

[1]What the f*ck happened to Finland?


Wednesday, August 18, 2004

Britain: the Christina Aguilera of the international community?

or, Are the Chinese a bunch of prudes or what?

I bring this up because, not only does the sexual morality of modern Britons dismay Laban (a proud Briton though he may be, I doubt he’ll dispute the assertion), but the survey “cited” by the article (I put “cited” between scare quotes because the article fails to give either its title or author) suggests an alternative explanation for what godless describes as (and I’m paraphrasing here) “East Asian guys’ tendency to have a hard time in the female department.” (My Lord, my Lord, why hast thou forsaken me!)

[J]ust 17% of Chinese and 30% of French[!] would consider it normal to have had a number of lovers in the double digits.
[Of the peoples surveyed] the Chinese were the most moral, with 70% believing in monogamy.
[self-deception]Maybe we’re not failing to get laid, maybe we just don’t wanna! Didja ever consider that![/self-deception]

Read all about those slutty, slutty limeys here.

I wonder how much of an increase in traffic we're going to see from searches for “christina aguilera + slutty”.


It's funny 'cause it's true

via Slate

I'm just posting this to make a copy for myself.

Richard Connelly and Craig Malisow, "Moovin' On Up", Houston Press, 2004 August 12.
To our ears [Dairy Queen's new drink, the MooLatte] sounded a lot like "mulatto," which is a tired racial epithet we really hadn't heard since the last time we watched the movie Mandingo. Or, to be classy, Roots.

We're not the only ones. "Doesn't Dairy Queen have any black employees?" asked Timothy Noah of the online magazine Slate. "Or at least someone who's seen Show Boat?" (Show Boat was the Mandingo of its time.)

We figured there was a vast, untapped treasure chest of archaic racial names that DQ was missing out on, so we contacted the spokesman listed on the bring-a-cow press release. Chad Durasa was most helpful:

Q. This drink, it's not the "Mulatto"?

A. No. No. No. "Moo," meaning cow, and then "latte," meaning --

Q. OK. We were thinking of some other possible items, and I just wanted to run them by you. How about the High Yellow Butterscotch Sundae?

A. I'm not sure if I understand what that is.

Q. Just like a sundae with butterscotch topping, but this would be High Yellow butterscotch.

A. You mean like a higher quality?

Q. Yeah. That's just something to consider. We were also thinking -- the MooLatte has three separate flavors, but if you took eight flavors and combined them, you could call it the Octoroonie.

A. Octoroonie?

Q. Yeah.

A. Actually -- wow, that's actually a pretty good idea.

Q. And then one more here...Sambo's Extra Dark Triple Chocolate Shake. How's that grab you?

A. Actually, Dairy Queen doesn't make shakes. They make Blizzards.

Q. OK -- Sambo's Extra Dark Triple Chocolate Blizzard.

A. [Writing it down] What would that be?

Q. I would say you would find the blackest cone you could find and fill it with chocolate ice cream. And go from there.

A. All right. Interesting.

Q. Well, it's just something to think about.



via Kerim Friedman

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has authorised the construction of 1,000 settler homes in the West Bank.


Peace in our time

I give up.

Michelle Goldberg, “The whole world is watching”, salon.com, 2004 August 17.
Recently Bill Millard, an East Village writer, editor and musician, posted a suggestion on an anti-RNC listserve that activists should respond to the media's fear mongering by pledging, "publicly, loudly, with absolute seriousness -- to avoid and repudiate idiotic actions like triggering blackouts, harming horses, etc. That's right-wing provocateur behavior, not principled protest. Karl Rove couldn't think up a better way for this whole event to play right into the Repugniks' hands."

To Millard, the idea seemed like common sense, and he was surprised by the vehemence with which several activists rejected it. "Denouncing violence is the equivalent of attempting to minutely define who makes up a NoRNC coalition that's actually quite diverse and hard to pin down," wrote Eric Laursen, a member the A31 coalition, a group calling for direct action against the RNC on Aug. 31. "It just complicates the story for a corporate media that can't handle much in the way of subtleties."

Rather than repudiate violence, the direct-action faction of the anti-RNC movement is trying to convince the media that violence is solely the fault of the police.
[R]age has to be used strategically, [argues John Passacantando, the executive director of Greenpeace USA], or it amounts to little more than a tantrum. "We have to take our own discontent about the horrors this administration is foisting on our world and we have to find a way to productively channel that anger into something that speaks to a larger audience, as opposed to just engaging in personal therapy," he says. "When you're doing something in front of the cameras, for the cameras, you have to take into account how will this be perceived."

Such thinking makes sense only to those who are worried about alienating American voters. Liberals are, but many anti-RNC activists defiantly are not. Ironically, despite being motivated by a ferocious hatred of George Bush, some of those planning direct-action protests against the convention have grown so disillusioned with electoral politics that they barely seem to care whether he's defeated in November.

Getting Bush out of the White House "is an aesthetic thing -- I won't have to look at him anymore," says the A31 Coalition's David Graeber, explaining his mild preference for Kerry. A 43-year-old anthropology instructor at Yale, Graeber, who lives in Chelsea, says, "Maybe I'll vote for Kerry, maybe I won't."

With the outcome of the election a source of relative indifference to him, he's less interested in communicating with people in swing states than with people abroad. "I want to send a message to someone in Iraq, in China, in Afghanistan," that there are people in America who oppose Bush's foreign policy, he says.

Many liberals find such sentiments so irrational as to make discussion impossible. "I don't know: How do you convince the potential rioters that they're buying Christmas presents for Karl Rove?" [says former antiwar organizer Todd Gitlin].
It gets better.
Jennifer Steinhauer, “Just Keep It Peaceful, Protestors; New York Is Offering Discounts,” The New York Times, 2004 August 18.
In a transparently mercantile bid to keep protesters from disrupting the Republican National Convention later this month, the Bloomberg administration will offer "peaceful political activists" discounts at select hotels, museums, stores and restaurants around town during convention week, which begins Aug. 29.
If only the Romanovs had thought of this.

"It's no fun to protest on an empty stomach," Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg said yesterday, when he announced the program at NYC & Company, the city's tourism office, which will distribute the buttons to all comers to its Midtown office.
So the Bloomberg administration is going to try to placate protestors, some of whom are violently (in every sense of the word) anti-capitalist, with a discount scheme?
Protesters can also get the buttons from groups that have a legal permit to rally. But Mr. Bloomberg conceded yesterday that not everyone who wore a button would be strictly vetted for his or her peacefulness. "Unfortunately, we can't stop an anarchist from getting a button," he said, though he doubted any of them would want to wear one.
Mr. Mayor, I'll be blunt. You're not very popular. Commuters resent the re-introduction of the commuter tax. City residents resent the cuts in services. And, though the negative effect of this is likely negligible in a such a gay-friendly city, you kinda ping our gaydar more than that McGreevey guy ever did. Maybe even more than Tom Cruise. And we’re Blue Staters. We've got good gaydar.

I tend to vote Democrat, yet I genuinely admired your brave defiance of special interests in defense of our city's financial well-being. On the basis of that alone, I would vote for your re-election. In the last three years, Gracie Mansion has demonstrated far more fiscal responsibility than the White House.

Like our President, you hold a Harvard MBA. (Unlike you, however, he seems to have missed the class on the importance of positive cash flow. Perhaps he was off fulfilling his duty in the National Guard. You know, getting up at the crack of dawn to do lines. Of marching, that is. Yeah, Bolivian marching, maybe.)

Which brings me to my point. You are a Harvard MBA with a Wall Street background, which suggests that your firsthand knowledge of anarchists is limited.

I used to live in the fair borough of Brooklyn, in a neighborhood known as Williamsburg. Many of the people whom you hope to ply with promises of discounted Applebee’s Buffalo chicken salads were my neighbors. (By the way, if you were a visitor to Manhattan and deciding on a restaurant, would you really choose to eat at a fern bar like Applebee’s?)

I have no doubt that some of them will be perfectly willing to wear the buttons to, in language they would use, “appropriate the symbols of hegemony. And that salad doesn’t sound so bad. I don’t suppose they could do a Buffalo tempeh salad with a vegan soy blue ‘cheese’ dressing, could they?” If nothing else, with their ironic postmodern sensibilities, they may appreciate the buttons in and of themselves for their kitsch value. But you’re probably too far in the closet to be an enthusiastic fan of the whole kitsch thing.

(N.B. As far as they're concerned, You = The Man)
Law-abiding protesters will be given buttons that bear a fetching rendition of the Statue of Liberty holding a sign that reads, "peaceful political activists." Protesters can present the buttons at places like the Whitney Museum, the Museum of Sex, the Pokémon Center store and such restaurants as Miss Mamie's Spoonbread Too and Applebee's to save some cash during their stay.
Words fail me. I mean, the Pokemon Center?! Are you sh*tting me? *sigh*
The discount program for protesters is modeled on one for delegates to the convention, and there are some notable differences. Protesters are offered $5 off admission to the Museum of Sex, while delegates are not. But delegates get $3 off the space show at the American Museum of Natural History, a discount not offered to protesters. The Republicans get "Rent," the people who oppose them get "Tony n' Tina's Wedding."
Waitwaitwait...you’re sending the Republicans to “Rent” and the protestors to “Tony n’ Tina’s Wedding”?! Why hold back? Hire Pat Boone to entertain the protestors, why dontcha? And while you're at it, why not give the Republicans tickets to Bugger McSodomy's Leather Chaps Revue?

Okay, okay, now I get it. You're trying to pre-emptively "punk" both the Republicans (for their shameful refusal to send New York City the money promised after September 11th for increased security) and the protestors (for their anticipated violence), right? Right?!


Are you sh*tting me?

Arianna Huffington, "When the personal is political", salon.com, 2004 August 17.
We can't, of course, know what was going on in McGreevey's psyche, but hiring his lover, Golan Cipel -- an Israeli foreign national unable to obtain a federal security clearance to be the homeland security czar of New Jersey (and at a salary of $110,000 a year, no less) -- is the height of recklessness, and only makes sense as a taxpayer-funded cry for help.
Oh, really? And here I thought he was trying to keep his bit on the side within arm's reach. How simplistic of me to go for the "obvious" explanation.

Spin it as they might, McGreevey's inexcusably selfish behavior cannot be seen as anything but a setback for gay rights, a cause which I support.

Fortunately, salon has another essay on McGreevey, by someone who can tell his ass from his elbow.


Head of nail, meet hammer

Sam Harris, “Holy Terror; Religion isn't the solution -- it's the problem”, Los Angeles Times, 2004 August 15.
President Bush and the Republicans in the Senate have failed -- for the moment -- to bring the Constitution into conformity with Judeo-Christian teachings. But even if they had passed a bill calling for a constitutional ban on gay marriage, that would have been only a beginning. Leviticus 20:13 and the New Testament book of Romans reveal that the God of the Bible doesn't merely disapprove of homosexuality; he specifically says homosexuals should be killed: "If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall be put to death."

God also instructs us to murder people who work on the Sabbath, along with adulterers and children who curse their parents. While they're at it, members of Congress might want to reconsider the 13th Amendment, because it turns out that God approves of slavery -- unless a master beats his slave so severely that he loses an eye or teeth, in which case Exodus 21 tells us he must be freed.

What should we conclude from all this? That whatever their import to people of faith, ancient religious texts shouldn't form the basis of social policy in the 21st century.
Of course, the Bible is not the only ancient text that casts a shadow over the present. A social policy based on the Koran poses even greater dangers. Koran 9:123 tells us it is the duty of every Muslim man to "make war on the infidels who dwell around you." Osama bin Laden may be despicable, but it is hard to argue that he isn't acting in accord with at least some of the teachings of the Koran. It is true that most Muslims seem inclined to ignore the Koran's solicitations to martyrdom and jihad, but we cannot overlook the fact that some are not so inclined and that some of them murder innocent people for religious reasons.

The phrase "the war on terrorism" is a dangerous euphemism that obscures the true cause of our troubles, because we are currently at war with precisely a vision of life presented to Muslims in the Koran. Anyone who reads this text will find non-Muslims vilified on nearly every page. How can we possibly expect devout Muslims to happily share power with "the friends of Satan"? Why did 19 well-educated, middle-class men trade their lives for the privilege of killing thousands of our neighbors? Because they believed, on the authority of the Koran, that they would go straight to paradise for doing so. It is rare to find the behavior of human beings so easily explained. And yet, many of us are reluctant to accept this explanation.

Religious faith is always, and everywhere, exonerated. It is now taboo in every corner of our culture to criticize a person's religious beliefs. Consequently, we are unable to even name, much less oppose, one of the most pervasive causes of human conflict. And the fact that there are very real and consequential differences between the major religious traditions is simply never discussed.

Anyone who thinks that terrestrial concerns are the principal source of Muslim violence must explain why there are no Palestinian Christian suicide bombers. They too suffer the daily indignity of the Israeli occupation. Where, for that matter, are the Tibetan Buddhist suicide bombers? The Tibetans have suffered an occupation far more brutal. Where are the throngs of Tibetans ready to perpetrate suicidal atrocities against the Chinese? They do not exist. What is the difference that makes the difference? The difference lies in the specific tenets of Islam versus those of Buddhism and Christianity.
In the eyes of most of the civilized world, the United States is now a rogue power -- imperialist, inarticulate and retrograde in its religiosity. Our erstwhile allies are right not to trust our judgment. We elect leaders who squander time and money on issues like gay marriage, Janet Jackson's anatomy, Howard Stern's obscenities, marijuana use and a dozen other trifles lying at the heart of the Christian social agenda, while potentially catastrophic problems like nuclear proliferation and climate change go unresolved.

We elected a president who believes the jury is still out on evolution and who rejects sound, scientific judgments on the environment, on medical research, on family planning and on HIV/AIDS prevention in the developing world. The consequence, as we saw in recent elections in Spain, is that people who feel misled and entrapped by our dogmatic and peremptory approach to foreign policy will be unable to recognize a common enemy, even when that enemy massacres hundreds of people in their nation's capital.

It is time we recognize that religious beliefs have consequences. As a man believes, so he will act.
Now that our elected leaders have grown entranced by pseudo-problems like gay marriage, even while the genuine enemies of civilization hurl themselves at our gates, perhaps it is time we subjected our religious beliefs to the same standards of evidence we require in every other sphere of our lives.


Tuesday, August 17, 2004

Half Baked

Anita Hamilton, "This Bud's for the U.S", Time, 2004 August 23.
[The trade in marijuana] has led to an increase in drive-by shootings in Canada by rival dealers, and to "grow-rips," in which competing clans break into growers' houses to steal their crops, according to Canadian police. The body of the suspected ringleader of a trafficking group was found stabbed in the neck in a ditch in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, in November 2002. "It's still a dangerous drug," says James Capra, the DEA's chief of domestic operations. "People are killing each other over it."
Oh, for f*ck's sake. People kill each other over diamonds. Does that make diamonds dangerous?
"If the perception is that it will be easier to get marijuana in Canada ... then it creates problems at the border," Paul Cellucci, U.S. ambassador to Canada, said at a Toronto Board of Trade dinner in February.
Now here’s a more subtle argument that gets to the heart of the matter. A situation where a commodity is criminalized in most countries but much more easily available in one or a few creates market distortions with predictable consequences. One is the almost inevitable development of an illicit trade.

Another likely consequence is what the Netherlands, under pressure from its neighbors, is now characterizing as the problem of “drugs tourism”. That consumers of a particular good in a particular country incur costs when their country criminalizes that good is not disputed. What is not often mentioned (perhaps it’s considered too obvious to bother acknowledging) is that endless waves of feckless youngsters out to consume a substance that knocks a couple dozen points off their IQs create negative externalities of their own. (None of which is to say that their tourist dollars don’t make up for it, just that there are negative externalities for the more liberal country.)

One can address the asymmetry by exerting pressure on the more liberal country to adopt the stricter country’s less tolerant approach, as the Bush Administration has done. Or one can address the negative externalities more specifically, such as the Netherlands’ trial ban on sales of ganja to foreigners in the border town of Maastricht. (As if that’s going to stop some entrepreneurial Dutchman from starting a “middleman” service.) Of course, the simplest thing would be decriminalization by the stricter country, eliminating the downward pressure on supply (and consequent upward pressure on price and profitability) that criminalization generates as well as the attraction to more unsavory elements of an in-demand commodity that cannot be legally traded. If the government is so inclined, it can regulate and tax the sh*t out of it.


Monday, August 16, 2004

"It ain't us, it's the media. The media has distorted our image to make us look bad."

The tactic of overreacting to media depictions which godless posts about has broken out of the confines of the postmodern left and been adopted by groups not known for eagerly deconstructing texts.

Sophie Arie, "Don't honour wise guy De Niro, say US Italians", The Guardian, 2004 August 13.
Yesterday, it emerged that an influential Italian-American organisation had appealed to Silvio Berlusconi, asking the prime minister to cancel Italy's plan to award [Robert] De Niro honorary citizenship.

The Order of the Sons of Italy in America (Osia), which is based in Washington and has 600,000 members and donors, and describes itself as the oldest and largest association of its kind, is indignant that the actor has "made a career of playing gangsters of Italian descent".

It is particularly annoyed that De Niro is to star in a Steven Spielberg children's film which is, it says, deeply offensive and will instil in young people the idea that Italians are all mafiosi.
"This man [Spielberg] is going to make millions of dollars with a film that is going to introduce unflattering and untrue stereotypes of Italian-Americans as gangsters to millions of children," said Dona de Sanctis, Osia's deputy executive director.

The organisation faxed Mr Berlusconi on Tuesday to demand that the actor not be given the citizenship accolade.

"He has done nothing to promote Italian culture in the United States. Instead, the Osia and its members hold him and his movies responsible for considerably damaging the collective reputations of both Italians and Italian-Americans," the group said.

The letter, copied to Italy's minister for Italians abroad, also pointed out that for Italy to confer such an honour on De Niro would be perceived as an insult by millions of Italian-Americans who have long objected to the actor's "distorted and unbalanced portrayal of people of Italian heritage".
Will I be seeing Shark Tale? No, but only because it looks like it blows.

I’ll leave the last word to an actual Italian.
[S]aid Mariassunta Baranello, organiser of [a week long festival of De Niro films in his ancestral village of Ferrazzano], "Our history has good and bad bits. You cannot just deny the past. And after all, it is only cinema."


Saturday, August 14, 2004

Ah, for the days when members of global terrorist conspiracies could be easily identified from their prominently displayed snake insignia

An Onion-worthy piece from Salon

Dan Kois, "G.I. Joe is a fake", salon.com, 2004 August 14.
In a press conference today, the public faces of G.I. Joe -- Hawk, Lady Jaye, Flint and Sgt. Slaughter -- assembled outside G.I. Joe headquarters. They were flanked by much of the Joe team, including the mysterious ninja Storm Shadow, silent and brooding, and the Native American tracker Spirit, feeding mice to his eagle Freedom in a dignified manner. (Joe himself resides in seclusion; the few glimpses the public has been offered suggest he is a giant of a man, up to four times as tall as the rest of his soldiers.)

"None of the grunts were present for G.I. Joe organizational meetings," Flint said. "We're grateful to them for all they've done for our country, but they simply don't understand the tough choices G.I. Joe has had to make to keep America safe over the past 40 years. He kept Cobra Commander from carving his face on the moon with a giant laser. He shut down Destro's Texas dude ranch. He stopped the Crimson Guard from replacing all the world's money with Cobra currency. G.I. Joe was there."

Asked about the number of times G.I. Joe let major international terrorists escape, Flint scoffed. "Let them escape? No way. These guys have escape plans, jet packs, submarines constantly at the ready. We're just trying to foil their plans while keeping all our men safe. That's why the 1985-86 Cobra war was the only war ever fought by U.S. troops in which no American or enemy soldiers died."

Flint stepped back as Sgt. Slaughter took the microphone, shouting that two of the veterans in the TV ad bought by G.I. Joe Veterans for Truth were obviously Crimson Commander twins Tomax and Xamot in disguise. Lady Jaye came to the microphone and gently dismissed Slaughter's accusation. "We are, however, worried that the ads might be secretly funded by Cobra," Jaye added. "You reporters should remember that politically motivated advertisements aren't always what they seem. Often, back in the shadows, the people pulling the strings might not be interested in telling the truth."

The reporters at the press conference, surprised, smiled and clapped each other on the back. "Now we know," said Rick Atkinson, a correspondent for the Washington Post.

"And knowing," said Lady Jaye, "is half the battle."
See, progressives, G.I. Joe doesn't just promote mindless jingoism, violence and toys to children. In addition to a long and honorable record of disseminating child safety information, G.I. Joe has now allowed Kerry supporters to score an incisive satirical point on the Bush Administration that appeals to nostalgic twentysomethings like me! Republicans will probably respond by describing the comparison to Cobra as a misleading mudslinging.

And doesn't Storm Shadow work for Cobra? Hmmm...


Tuesday, August 10, 2004

Reasons for optimism

Regular readers will know that ma bete noire plus grande is Arab-Muslim hypocrisy on colonialism and genocide. I have long lamented that the few Arab or Muslim public voices (a shortlist that pretty much comprises Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, Irshad Manji and, if you read between the lines, Farid Esack, all South Asian i.e. non-Arab) who acknowledge this legacy are based outside the Islamic world. So I was quite pleased to discover this site (hat tip: normblog). I would especially like to call attention to this editorial.

People in this part of the world feel that they are victims of others, and throughout history they all remember their part as preys, while their part as predators tend to be sunk into oblivion. No wonder then that the quern of hate is still grinding all of us without sparing anyone, even the infant.

People tend to worship their gallant heroes without contemplating the awful truth that heroes took such a position only after having shed the blood of others. The Tatars visit Tamerlane’s grave as pilgrims; a behaviour that will certainly infuriate us (his victims), but aren’t we doing the same with our great leaders who have massacred men, orphaned children and ravished women? Aren’t we still celebrating independence days, and wailing at the same time in anguish for those old days of glory when other peoples drove us out of the territories we had seized all of a sudden in an oversight of history and away from the eye of justice?

Are we the only victorious conquerors while others are criminal invaders!

We are ashamed of our dark ages forbidding even their mention in our history books, but we take pride of our formidable empires that rose only on the skulls of other nations.

We start screaming whenever slightly offended by others, always praying to God to exterminate them all not leaving even one; yet it is permissible if we exterminate others.
The poor preys pierce the sky crying for justice and equality, but all is put in shadow when roles is swapped and they have the upper hand.

We are entitled, but others are not!
Lee Smith, "Sudan's Osama", Slate, 2004 August 5.
"I think many Westerners saw the Islamists as indigenous, self-determining voices, the true voice of the south," says [Abdullahi Ahmed] an-Na'im, a liberal Muslim thinker who teaches at Emory Law School. "They understood Islamism as a way of countering Western hegemony, but they overlooked the fact that these movements suppressed their own populations."

An-Na'im, who advocates a reinterpretation of Islam in accordance with human rights, was a disciple of Mahmoud Muhammad Taha, the Sudanese Muslim religious leader and political activist hanged in Khartoum for apostasy in 1985. Taha understood that the biggest problem facing Islam was its historical treatment of women and non-Muslims[.]
[emphasis mine]
Zafar Nomani, "Excommunication From the Mosque?", beliefnet.
We hear about "honor killings" when a father murders his daughter for having had sex before marriage or even being raped. I have long wondered how many fathers have shot their sons for dishonor? Many men do all kind of nonsense, but they remain clean, as men in society look the other way. Women are exploited or oppressed in the both the West and the East, while we as men preach justice and equality. I am struck by the double standard with which we live.
Many of the mosque leaders want to continue native traditions followed in the U.S., disrespecting the human rights of women. They need to be more open and tolerant not only towards women, but also to those who aren’t Muslim and those who don’t follow their particular ideology.
LAZY UPDATE (via Amardeep Singh)
S Irfan Habib, "Viability of Islamic Science: Some Insights from 19th Century India", Economic and Political Weekly, 2004 June 5.
Most of the Islamists repeatedly talk about modern science’s debt to Islamic civilisation but they seldom say a word about the Arab’s scientific debt to the pre-Islamic ancient civilisations from the so-called – ‘jahiliya’ phase.


Monday, August 09, 2004

"Dont make fun of my hobbies. I don't make fun of you for being an asshole."

Garden State
* * * * 1/2
I loved this movie to death but one scene which thoroughly took me out of the moment features Zach Braff explaining the tenets of Judaism to The Best Thing To Ever Come Out Of IsraelTM.

The Bourne Supremacy
* * *
Of the many Hollywood actors who have received crash courses in the martial arts since The Matrix Matt Damon and Uma Thurman are the most convincing. (Before The Bourne Identity and Kill Bill: Vol. 2 raised the bar above her performance in Charlie's Angels, I would have included Cameron Diaz.)


Wednesday, August 04, 2004

Wee little puppet men!

See you at the cinema on opening day!


Tuesday, August 03, 2004

Lazy post

Just some choice tidbits I gathered from the 'sphere in the past few days.

Abiola Lapite on anarcho-capitalism
[W]hat anarcho-capitalists like to refer to as "Private Military Companies" or "Private Police Forces" have already been tried in the real world and found wanting - they're called Mafias and Warlord factions.

From Michael Kazin's review of The Right Nation: Conservative Power in America in Mother Jones
Can [progressives] rid themselves of a nagging contempt for the unhip, the poorly educated, and the God-fearing? If the left is not a movement of and for working people—blemishes and all—then it has little chance to regain its previous influence.
[T]he left fragmented into a variety of worthy causes—from environmental defense to gay and lesbian rights to affirmative action. These fragments have helped make the United States a more humane place. But they forgot that the first rule of democratic politics is to state a few forceful ideas and to make clear how they can benefit the majority.
[I]f progressives want to prove the right wrong, they'll have to stop boasting about how enlightened they are and start winning over the heart of America.

Meanwhile, Alan Goldstein shows how far progressives have to go on the unabashedly liberal Salon.
[A]t the Really Really Free Market held Sunday afternoon on Union Square[,] I am unable to locate a single person who can speak coherently about science....Many people I interviewed made outrageous claims without a clue as to where their information came from.

I was informed that, because foods are not labeled, we don't know if we are eating a tomato with fish genes or corn with human genes. And, since it's not labeled, we obviously can't know what effect eating all this weird stuff will have on our health. I heard that biotechnology is not how the people want their food or medicine grown. I heard from people who would try a biotechnology cure for cancer, but only if acupuncture failed. I heard that the ecological impact of biotechnology looks pretty grave. I heard that research into Viagra: The Next Generation was preventing the development of a cure for malaria. I learned that our government needs to put a lot more energy into providing healthy alternatives rather than giving corporate welfare to big biotech. I heard a lot about faith, a lot about belief, and a lot about magic. Someone offered to read my future with Tarot cards.
If America cannot evolve a coherent environmental action movement Gaia, BIO and entropy will just have to work things out.

A history of the Left's position on Zionism as seen through the eyes of The Guardian demonstrates the potentially disastrous consequences of such incoherence.

From The Economist
The poignancy of the Guardian's affair with Israel stems from the Zionism of C.P. Scott, the great editor who ran the paper for nearly 60 years from 1872. Though a gentile, Scott was a friend and patron of Chaim Weizmann, the Zionist movement's foremost diplomat. Scott introduced Weizmann to Lloyd George and in 1917 gave a gushing welcome to Lord Balfour's promise of a Jewish national home in Palestine. Without one, declared Scott in an editorial, the Jews would never be safe. As for Palestine's Arabs, their rights should be respected but they were “at a low stage of civilisation”. In a letter to Weizmann he predicted that the “New Judaea” would not only be good for Palestine but serve as a “reconciling and awakening force among the neighbouring Arab peoples”.

From The Guardian itself
The "disenchantment" of the Guardian is largely due to the limits of its liberal philo-semitism once Jews could no longer be loved primarily for their victimhood. When it became clear, after 1967, that the creation of Israel had given rise to another set of victims, the Palestinians, Jews could no longer be unequivocally embraced. By the time of the Lebanon war of 1982, and the Sabra and Shatila massacre in Beirut that killed nearly 2,000, Israel was well on the way to achieving its current dubious status as the pariah state of the left. The rise and rise of the radical right in Israel, embodied by Menachem Begin and Ariel Sharon, simply reinforced this perception. But the often-expressed expectation (in the Guardian's letters pages) that Jews should behave differently because of their suffering exposes the weakness of such moralising. Persecution, it seems, is meant to lead to better human beings.
Just because someone's a victim doesn't mean she's a hero.
- Xiao Qiang, former executive director of Human Rights in China


Monday, August 02, 2004

With 6 you get chun jüan

via Fark, an article that elaborates on the themes of this post.

"A Guide to Chinese Takeout Menus", WPVI.com, 2004 July 31.
"You say millions of Americans are familiar with our ancestor?" [says Zuo Kuanxun, the great-great-great grandson of General Zuo Zongtang; to Westerners, he is known from Chinese restaurant menus as General Tso.]
Chinese food in the United States is full of such anomalies. Dishes that Americans consider takeout-joint stalwarts leave mainland Chinese scratching their heads.
Why the differences? The Chinese food that first made an impression on Americans came from the south, because the earliest immigrants to the United States were Cantonese, from around Guangzhou near Hong Kong. [For the same reasons, Punjabi cuisine has come to represent Indian food to many Westerners.] Their less spicy cuisine became the standard for a generation of chow mein houses.
There are other sources of difference between Chinese food on the mainland and in the West.
  • Adapting to both the Western palate and the Western pantry
  • Few, if any, among the earliest Chinese immigrants to the West were professional cooks.
  • The Cultural Revolution, an attempt by the the communist regime to systematically eradicate Chinese traditional culture, including cuisine.
Can't forget my favorite line from the article.
"A Confucian saying inside a cookie? I've never heard of it, but it doesn't sound like a bad idea," says Chen Huanshun, a cooking teacher at the Beijing Economic and Trade Senior Technical School. "But," he sniffs, "putting a piece of paper inside a baked good doesn't sound too sanitary."
UPDATE: godless of Gene Expression fisks a piece of egregiously blatant propaganda that somehow made its way onto the front page of the Sunday New York Times. Now, I read and enjoy the Times (I go straight for the Arts & Leisure) and am pretty forgiving of media bias, mostly because I expect it rather than go apopleptic when it prints or broadcasts something I disagree with. However, this article is unforgivably dismissive of the Cultural Revolution and the Great Leap Forward. godless is encouraging incensed Gene Expression readers to send complaints to Daniel Okrent, the Times' "public editor", effectively an ombudsman.

How about that? An Indian taking the Left to task for its atrocities in China and a Chinese who takes the Islamic world to task for its atrocities in India. Kind of like a bloggy Harold and Kumar. (Yes I know Harold's Korean.) Speaking of which, see it, but make sure to bring a bud. Or several.