Politics Archives

March 11, 2004

Terrorist attack in Madrid

My knowledge of the background to today's terrorist attack in Madrid (presumably by ETA despite denials from their official spokesbastards) can best be summed up as "bugger all" but I'm finding that close reading of recent postings and comments at A Fistful of Euros is helping me cure this ignorance. Go there.

March 16, 2004

Spanish election analysis at Harry's place.

If you are one of those who think the victory by the Spanish Socialist Party in last Sunday's elections is some sort of capitulation to the terrorists, read these two posts at Harry's Place for a much needed antidote, and follow the links from there.

It hardly needs to be pointed out how offensive and patronising such views are, coming just days after over ten million Spaniards took to the streets in those moving silent protests against terrorist attacks which killed 200 of their compatriots.
Best of the blogs on Spain
So, yes, 11-M influenced the vote, but not because we are overcome by fear, or because we think that we can avert further attacks, but because we will only put up with so much lying and manipulation, and especially not when it is the dead and their families that are being heartlessly and shamelessly manipulated. (quoted from another blog cited in that article)
I've set these links to open in a new window and disallowed comments for this post here because there is much better and more well-informed discussion going on in those other blogs already than the subject could ever generate here.

March 20, 2004

Princess Juliana and the media

Princess Juliana of the Netherlands has died, so the country is becoming an island for the rest of the weekend. I agree that the death of a former monarch deserves a lot of media attention, and I'm actually somewhat interested in it, but the media here are covering nothing else! As if the world economy, the war on terror, the democratic process in the USA and all other important issues are taking a breather out of respect for a member of a small country's royal family member who has been retired from active duty for a generation.

Still, it's not entirely wasted on me. She did lead an interesting life, after all.

March 22, 2004

Harry's place on the Yassim assassination

I wonder why I bother with putting politics in this blog at all... Gene at Harry's Place voices my thoughts on Israel's assassination of Sheikh Yassim exactly, even using the same words I'd have used if I'd blogged it myself.

April 30, 2004

Right-wing conglomerate stifles patriotic expression

Joey Manley comments on Sinclair Broadcasting's recent decision not to broadcast Nightline's roll call of American war dead today, highlighting the free speech aspect and questioning SBGI's historical awareness:

This is scary, people. A rollcall honoring those who gave their lives in this war is not only appropriate, it's traditional and conventional journalism -- this kind of thing has been done by journalistic outlets in every American war since, at least, World War I. It's even a little jingoistic, frankly. That something like this can be considered verboten is truly a sign of the danger free speech is in, right now, in our country.

May 8, 2004

The Piercing Gaze

After two hours, The Old Man was looking forward to the end of the ordeal. On the whole, he had not done badly. He had surprised many by admitting that the whole mess was his fault and had even looked sincere while saying it. Sure, there had been moments when he had wavered, fidgeted or waffled. Sure, it might not have been a good idea to say that Alpha had been blindsided; in Alpha's position, being blindsided was not an option. But these moments would surely be glossed over, forgotten. He would ride it out.

Then it was time for That Woman to ask her question. That Woman, mention of whose name still made his and his supporters' hackles rise.

As That Woman spoke, and, it seemed to The Old Man, she spoke interminably, making the minutes allocated to her seem like an eternity, The Old Man fidgeted again. The Old Man swayed from side to side, looking to his left, looking to his right, never meeting That Woman's Gaze. But he felt the Gaze, all right. Who would not? It didn't matter that he now wielded more power than That Woman, that he had always had fewer scruples than That Woman. It didn't matter, even, that That Woman's question wasn't particularly interesting or salient. That Woman's Gaze came with electrodes. Under That Woman's Gaze, part of him slunk away, and now it was The Old Man himself who was on the box, being pointed at and laughed at.

That Woman had stopped talking. Her Gaze, though, stayed fixed on The Old Man. What was her question, again? The Old Man fidgeted, grimaced, squirmed, and scratched the top of his head. 15 more minutes to go.

Myopia to the left of me, short-sightedness to the right!

A left-wing RL buddy (well, sort of: we know one another from the Dutch small-press comics circuit and he has stayed in my house a few times. By the standards of online friendship, that means we're practically engaged) of mine and a right-wing online friend and colleague of mine are both making comments in their blogs that show exactly the same sort of selective blindness. I should be grateful to them. It's very rare to have such a great opportunity to be fair and balanced dropped into your lap.

First, Martin Wisse asks, rhetorically:

Does the fact that US soldiers have engaged in torture in Iraq demand of those on the left who supported the war to re-evaluate their position?


Then surely, the fact that the liberators themselve engage in torture and rape, must cause some soul searching? After all, what does liberation matter if torture still happens?

I suppose Johann Hari and Harry of Harry's Place are chopped liver? I presume you didn't check back to see what such vocal supporters of the war as Christopher Hitchens and Norman Geras have been saying, Martin? Seriously, you didn't, did you? You went "fuck'em" in January and haven't looked back since, have you? Because if you had bothered to look, you'd know that there was plenty of soul-searching.

Despite illustrating a satire on the Bush administration's handling of the run-up to the war, I have counted myself among the "pro-war" left for some time - and that has taken, and still takes, quite a bit of soul-searching. There are no easy answers here, no morally pure[spit] position. But these particular horrors will end, and end soon. The horrors that Saddam inflicted on his people would not have ended any time soon.

At least Martin (unlike myself), makes his point quickly and concisely. A few days earlier, Carson Fire, who I have quite a few reasons to call my friend even if I've never met him in the flesh, wrote a rambling post trying to make several points at once. The main point, as far as I can tell, was to portray himself as a lone right-wing voice in a vast left-wing wilderness of webcartoonists:

My fellow webcartoonists who sit on the "other side of the aisle" have been quite vocal for some time, now, and it just seems like it's a good thing to let you all know that we're not all marching in lockstep.

No, Carson, webcartoonists are not all marching in lockstep. You make it seem like we're all some sort of Borg hive-mind that only allows for leftist voices. As if Jeff Darlington, Jim Alexander, Howard Tayler, Syke, Ryan Higgins, Scott Kurz, Ian MacDonald, Sarah Huntrods and Kaichi Satake for goodness' sake are chopped liver. Some of them are very vocal, others are not. All of them have made their opinions known at opportunities of their choosing, and will do so again. It may surprise Carson to know that there are also left-wing cartoonists who choose not to voice their political opinions on their sites, for reasons that concern them only.

But the extent of Carson's selective blindness is revealed in the following two paragraphs:

And you can see who gets all the press for cartoonists these days... vile voices like Aaron McGruder and Ted Rall. While some on the left are shocked that Ann Coulter is allowed to live, McGruder and Rall spread some of the most wicked vitriol into the mainstream, and under cover of little drawings.

[paragraph snipped]

Rall is the kind of cartoonist who's syndicated, oh, just everywhere, and gets nominated for Pulitzer Prizes. Even an embarrassed MSNBC had to yank the feed last week when the Tillman cartoon surfaced. To many Americans, who detest leftist-hate rants, this is the face of modern American cartooning.

These are striking for what they don't say:
1. That the amount of vitriol expended by the left on Ann Coulter, Rush Limbaugh and her ilk is matched drop for drop, if not more, by the right's response to Rall, McGruder or Michael Moore for that matter. Duh!
2. That the press Rall in particular gets isn't universally positive among the American left (the international left isn't aware of him).
Andrew Sullivan, a much more astute conservative commentator than Carson, has kept tabs on left-wing bloggers distancing themselves from Rall - he missed some that were made earlier and undoubtedly there are many more. The ones that he mentioned include some prominent left bloggers. I don't think the many people denouncing him regularly in The Comics Journal forums and Talk About Comics are all raving reactionaries either.

My point with this long ramble that took almost two hours to put together? Like the Jacobean theatre-goer said when London's two theaters both featured Romeo and Juliet: "A pox on both houses". If you post political opinion on a weblog, be prepared to do some legwork. Don't just read those sources that confirm your own prejudices about your opponents - and steer clear of the fringes of both (or rather, all) sides.

May 24, 2004

Effective interrogation techniques

Hesiod at Counterspin Central reports about a TV program he saw about interrogation techniques in recent history. The program gave some examples of the similarities and differences between various historical torture techniques such as those used by the Gestapo, and those used at Abu Ghraib.

But it is the story of the Germans' most effective interrogator that caught my eye:

The second example was of a Luftwaffe Corporal, Hans Joachim Scharff, who spoke perfect English. He was in charge of interrogating downed American and British pilots.

His technique?

He was really nice, joked around with the prisoners, treated them well, gave them coffee and tea...and found out an absolute shitload of information from them.

You see, the pilots were all conditioned by the allies to believe that the Germans would do all sorts of horrible things to them if they were ever captured. So when their captor was a really nice and pleasant guy you could smoke a cigarette with and joke around with, they dropped their guard and gave away a lot of information inadvertently.

Amazing, huh?

He was probably the most effective interrogator the Germans had during WWII, and he was extremely humane.


Now, Scharff was the exception to the rule for German interrogators. But, he was also the most effective, and did not violate the Geneva conventions to do it.

Not to toot my own horn, but Geir and I were right about this.

May 28, 2004

No. 1 reason gay marriage must be a good idea:

The French are trying to ban it.

June 2, 2004

The Religious Policeman and Muslim-Refusenik

The Religious Policeman tells us what life is like in Saudi-Arabia, a country so vile it spawned, what, 15 of the 19 9/11 hijackers. He is a rare voice of reason from the heartland of Wahabbi fundamentalism, and for that he risks "disappearing". Although he has little to report that is hopeful, the fact that he exists gives me hope.

Likewise Irshad Manji who also faces death threats for her outspoken opinions even though she lives in Canada. At least her death threats don't come from the government though.

June 6, 2004

All I am saying, is give nukes a chance

(Via, again, Brad DeLong.Warning: non-expert opinions below (not the quoted ones; my own.) )
Mark Kleyman makes a case that nuclear fuel should get another chance:

Nukes, if run right, are fully competitive with coal, and a hell of a lot cleaner. (Modern coal plants are much cleaner than they used to be, but that's not saying much. In addition to all that greenhousing carbon dioxide, coal makes particles, and particles are BAD. As for all the old coal plants still running -- the ones whose lives the Bush Administration just extended to infinity by changing the New Source Review standards -- fuhgettabadit.)

I'm not really qualified to judge this, but I think (and have thought for some time) that a return to nukes would reduce two problems that could bite us in the ass in the next generation or so. One is climate change, which is likely to inconvenience a few people here and there in the not-so-distant future, the other is our dependency on not just coal, but oil, much of which is owned by countries whose governments and/or populations hate us *).

But these are all short-term problems, what about the nuclear waste that will irradiate us until the end of time? Mark makes the point quite forcefully:

Nuclear waste. This is a problem only if you think that we need to plan waste disposal that will (no, I'm not making this up) survive the end of civilization and be safe for the ignorant primitive nomads who will wander the earth 10,000 years from now. Actually, the solution isn't technically very hard.
... and then he gets a bit technical. I don't want to quote the whole article here; go read it if you're interested.

I am still less optimistic than Mark about operational security (both the large-scale problem of a plant going KABOOM and the smaller contaminations that come from routine human error) and the risk of spent nuclear fuel falling in the wrong hands, but if these problems are solvable, then we should give nukes a chance.

Mark concludes his article with:

[Note: Thirty years ago, I was pretty current on this stuff. I had to take the engineering on faith, but I knew the policy problem just about as well as anyone did. (I think I was the original author of the pyramid idea, which didn't pass the giggle test but which no one, as far as I'm aware, actually refuted.) But that was thirty years ago, and it's more than possible that my memory is faulty or that the world has changed so that some important detail above is imprecisely stated or flat wrong. Corrections invited.]

I'm looking forward to seeing those corrections to Mark's article, and also to seeing any misconceptions of my own cleared up. I'll follow this debate with great interest.

*)I know oil isn't a major resource for electricity generation, but oil, coal and gas are still part of the same market. If the price of one of them goes up, so do the others. Oil dependency exacerbates the effect of our other fossil fuel dependencies. Plus, as Matt Yglesias notes "... any strategy to burn less gasoline -- electric cars, the "hydrogen economy," more mass transit, some combination of the three -- is going to require the production of more electricity."

Continue reading "All I am saying, is give nukes a chance" »

Party animals


I got the Dutch ballot lists for the European elections in the mail a few days ago. In the List Vote system, I can vote for any of several hundred candidates whose votes will primarily be assigned to the party list. If a candidate gets more than an X number of votes, he or she may get a seat in preference to the candidtates higher up the list. Political parties put their most important personalities at the top, giving them the best chance at gaining a seat in Parliament, but they like putting interesting or famous characters at the bottom of the list to gain attention and show these characters' endorsement of the party.

The list on the left takes this idea to extremes! The Partij voor de Dieren, "Party for the Animals", is a party whose platform is entirely based on animal rights, animal welfare and support for organic farming. "Kooks", I hear you say? If they are, then the Netherlands has quite a few kooks. The party narrowly missed getting a seat (out of 150) in the Dutch parliament. "Pig-hugging PETA members?" I hear you say...

Well, let's look at the bottom of the list. Who are these people?

At number 1, we find the party leader, Marianne Thieme. She's 30-ish and is the same person who nearly got a seat in the Dutch parliament last year. Other than that, I don't know that much about her. Let's go further down the list...

At 13, we find Paul Cliteur, formerly of the right-wing VVD. A jurist, columnist and philosopher known for his critique of Islam and multiculturalism. Not known as a woolly thinker, generally.
At 14, we find writer and painter Gerti Bierenbroodspot. I'm unfamiliar with her work.
At 15, we find another writer: Mensje van Keulen.
At 16: Belinda Meuldijk, a songwriter (the party's own page lists Maarten 't Hart, another writer, who unfortunately had to be scrapped from the list because he couldn't show a passport in time).
Seeing a pattern here?
At 17: Martin Gaus, owner of several dog training schools, writer of several books about dogs, and a presenter of animal programs on Dutch television. When Jeroen saw the list, he said "It's tempting to vote for Martin Gaus, just so I can say I did".
At 18: Jan Wolkers, one of the Netherlands best-loved writers, known internationally for Turks Fruit (Turkish Delight).
And at 19: Rudy Kousbroek, writer and essayist.

Now, one of my favorite statesmen, Vaclav Havel, is a writer, and he has done a great job as one of communist Czechoslovakia's foremost dissidents and the Czech Republic's first President. But this list looks like the party is aiming exclusively at support from the nation's literati. Are they the only ones who support animal rights, or just the only ones who will base their vote on that one issue to the exclusion of everything else?

(Note: while I was, uh, ruminating on this posting, I found out that this weblog had been added to the blogroll of A Fistful of Euros, in its "Living in Europe" section. I hope those of you coming here from there enjoyed this little Euro-political oddity!)

June 10, 2004

I want my, I want my, I want my MRLP

In the UK, the Monster Raving Loony Party used to be a good lightning rod for the disaffected. They could vote for a party that consisted of harmless nutters who were in it for laughs (or maybe that should read "critics wishing to expose the inherent sillyness of the political process"), safe in the knowledge that if they had any sensible policy, it would be by accident (but it would become law in 20 years time).
Since the death of its charismatic and fearless leader, Screaming Lord Sutch ("His views on whether there should be more than one Monopolies Commission also gave many pause."), the party has never been the same.

Without a leader who has Sutch's charisma, vision and sheer barking madness, the MRLP is spent. So who should replace him? Post in the comments.

And be nice. Don't say "Tony Blair".

Whinging UKIP idiot makes reinder go librarian-poo!!!

Listening to news and current affairs radio is a bad habit that I should lose. A few minutes ago I heard a report by the station's UK correspondent sampling opinions from voters for the UK Independence Party. Asked why they voted UKIP, one voter had the gall to reply "I don't want to be in a totalitarian regime"!
Excuse me? Excuse me? Have you been arbitrarily arrested lately? Denied Habeas Corpus? Tortured, perhaps? Disenfranchised? Barred from travel, denied access to outside news sources?
A month ago, 10 countries that, less than two decades ago, had totalitarian regimes were finally allowed to be part of the EU, a prize that the democratic governments of these countries fought hard to qualify for. Several other countries including Turkey are still grasping for that brass ring, and one stumbling block for Turkey is its human rights record, which it is trying to improve just so it has better chance of joining. If any of these countries thought they were joining a totalitarian regime, would they bother?

There is a lot wrong with the EU. Improvements can certainly be made to the democratic representation and accountability. Some of the money that goes to the EU is very badly spent - the world would become a better place quickly if its agricultural subsidies were scrapped, for example. But anyone who seriously claims it's a totalitarian regime has is something very badly wrong with them.

And if totalitarianism offends you at all, UKIP is about the last party you should vote for. Here's what Johann Hari had to say about the UKIP:

Searchlight even alleges that UKIP's current national chairman and one of its leading candidates, Mike Nattrass, has been a member of the extreme right, pro-Apartheid, pro-Rhodesia New Britain Party.

UKIP boasts that it now requires all candidates to declare they are not racists. Yet they don't seem to try very hard to make sure these anti-racist declarations are accurate: Private Eye recently provided a summary of the public racism of UKIP's new star recruit, Robert Kilroy-Silk. "Pakistanis want to generate hate ... but then what else can we expect from Pakistan?" he asks. Iraqis are "not worth the life of one British soldier, not one. All they seem to do is moan, incessantly, about their lack of amenities". He raves against "pushy blacks" and "talentless Asians", and suggests that asylum- seekers should be "herded together" by the paras and "dumped on a secure slow boat to ... wherever".

Yup, liberal democracy is in great hands with these people.

Continue reading "Whinging UKIP idiot makes reinder go librarian-poo!!!" »

June 11, 2004

Someone should tell Ian Gillan

Bananas sold in the EU are not, in fact, banned from being excessively curved. There's also no standard length for condoms.

Despite this misunderstanding, Bananas is still a pretty good Deep Purple album. I just hope Ian G didn't vote UKIP.

June 18, 2004

Hrm, interesting

A good article by Frans Groenendijk (who posted in the comments here a week or so ago! Hi Frans!) about the success of Paul van Buitenen's Europe Transparent party in the European Elections. He calls it "the best thing that happened in Dutch politics in many many years" and he's right. Would that the British had had a candidate of van Buitenen's caliber to vote for, to channel their quite legitimate distrust of the EU-as-it-is-now into something constructive instead of having to vote for a bunch of dweebs whom Paul Schroeder described to me as "one evolutionary rung removed from the BNP" - and I'm not sure if he meant that UKIP were one rung above the BNP.

If I have one criticism of van Buitenen, it's that I think his portrayal of himself as an anti-politician looks disingenuous to me. I refuse to believe, for instance, that he didn't have a suit to wear on TV during the election night, and that he would have naively chosen to wear a hideous neon-green tie over his green lumberjack shirt, thinking that that would do. I think that was a deliberate act of political portrayal. But that's a minor grumble when I think of what he may be able to accomplish, and what his (and one of his comrades, writer Els de Groen)getting elected in the first place signifies. Let's wait and see.

(Update: I was right: van Buitenen does have a suit.)

Trade unions and emerging democracy in Iraq

[Note: I have a long-ish piece about webcomics in the works. While assembling my thoughts on that, I'm doing some linking to political stuff that I happen to find interesting]
[Note no. 2: if I was female and Johann Hari wasn't gay, I'd very much want to have his baby]
Johann Hari talks of the need to avoid despairing for the future of democracy in Iraq, and discusses some encouraging signs, focusing specifically on the heroic role that trade unions are playing in the process:

Here is a small illustration: two months ago Moqtada Sadr, the de facto leader of the Shia uprising, was leading his Army of Mehdi towards Nasiriyah . They stumbled across an aluminium plant and ordered the staff to evacuate, but the workers would not leave. Their trade union, the Federation of Workers' Councils and Unions in Iraq, issued a statement saying their workers "refuse to evacuate their workplaces and turn them into battlefields".

The union rejected "the two poles of terrorism in Iraq" - the armed militias and the occupying forces - and insisted on a transition to a democratic Iraq. Here we have ordinary Iraqis refusing to allow yet another war to disrupt their lives, and they are greeted with total silence from progressive Brits.

(note: In Europe, trade unions typically are reduced to bickering about whether wages should go up 1 or 2 percentage points. In the US, as I understand it, they are discounted entirely, presumably because no one remembers what life was like a hundred years ago. This example shows what unions can be.)

Continue reading "Trade unions and emerging democracy in Iraq" »

June 22, 2004

Now that you mention it, they'd been pretty quiet lately

Norman Geras reports that one of my favorite political blogs, Harry's Place, has vanished from the earth along with its host, Bloghouse, which must house a lot of blogs, because it has blog and house in the name. Eep!

This is a bit like the disappearance of Dave Winer's weblogging service a few weeks ago, only in this case the host's flesh-and-blood owner has also disappeared.

Norm says Harry

doesn't know if they have any chance of recovering the material but it looks very much as though they may have lost everything.

I'd help, but all I have is the RSS summaries of the past few weeks. No full posts on disk, alas.

(via Socialism in an Age of Waiting who are also sort of MIA, but that's only because they've decided to concentrate on the waiting and leave the socialism for a rainy day. And they heard the news from The Virtual Stoa. Yes we're learning to be thorough about our sourcing practices here at Waffle.)

Update: Of course, has quite a bit of material.

June 23, 2004

Harry's Place is back!


Johann on Assault on Civil Liberties, UK

A well-researched, well-argued piece by Johann Hari about the totalitarian policies of Home Secretary David Blunkett, and Britain's failure to learn from the miscarriages of justice that came to light in the 1990s:

Twelve Muslim men are being held indefinitely in Belmarsh Prison. They are boxed into small cells for 22 hours a day. Their offence? They don't know, and nor do you. Under the Prevention of Terrorism Act 2000, even their lawyers have no right to be told why they are being detained. After two years, there are no plans to charge them with any crime.

This is not punishment, it is judicial kidnapping. The canon of Western law - built upon habeas corpus - was designed to prevent precisely this arbitrary exercise of power. Blunkett sneers that only residents of NW3 would worry about such trivia.

The Home Secretary seems to have genuinely missed the point of civil liberties. By ensuring that the police and politicians are not just rounding up the usual suspects, proper judicial process actually makes everyone safer. When the Guildford Four and the Birmingham Six were jailed, it wasn't only their lives that were ruined; real terrorists were left free to carry on murdering - and there are graveyards full of innocent people who can vouch for it. Blunkett's plan for constricting civil liberties is based on a trade-off - liberty for security - that does not work in reality.

(emphasis mine)

More from my personal Johann Hari Echo Chamber in a later post.

June 24, 2004

So that's why their uniforms were so cool

Another one from Johann Hari. I'm not too sure about this one, but I have to say it takes real balls for a young, left-leaning gay journalist to write in a gay magazine that

It’s time to admit something. Fascism isn’t something that happens out there, a nasty habit acquired by the straight boys. It’s a gay thing, baby, and it’s time for non-fascist gay people to wake up and face the marching music.

Hari stacks the deck somewhat in favor of this daring thesis. Surveying European fascist leaders in the past thirty years, he includes in his count of fascists right-wing populists such as the late Pim Fortuyn and Joerg Haider. I don't care much for their anti-immigration platforms but considering them fascists is a bit over the top. Not that I'd be able to argue it, because the term "fascist" is treated as if everyone agrees what it means anyway. Strangely, Hari does not mention Filip Dewinter, Belgium's very succesful far-right leader (who does look a bit swish to me, but let's not go there), and refers to France's Jean-Marie LePen only as an "exception". That's a big exception!

Hari is on safer ground, though, when he discusses the British National Party, and seems to have done his research well when he looks at gay fascists in history. You know, the guys with the cool uniforms:

And this Gaystapo has an icon to revere, an alternative Fuhrer to worship: the lost gay fascist leader Ernst Rohm. Along with Adolf Hitler, Rohm was the founding father of Nazism. Born to conservative Bavarian civil servants in 1887, Ernst Rohm’s life began – in his view – in the “heroic” trenches of the First World War. Like so many of the generation who formed the Nazi Party, he was nurtured by and obsessed with the homoerotic myth of the trenches – heroic, beautiful boys prepared to die for their brothers and their country.


Rohm’s blatant, out homosexuality seems bizarre now, given the gay genocide that was to follow. He talked openly about his fondness for gay bars and Turkish baths, and was known for his virility. He believed that gay people were superior to straights, and saw homosexuality as a key principle of his proposed Brave New Fascist Order. ...[The SA] promoted an aggressive, hypermasculine form of homosexuality, condemning “hysterical women of both sexes”, in reference to feminine gay men.

This belief in the superiority of homosexuality had a strong German tradition that grew up at the turn of the twentieth century around Adolf Brand, publisher of the country’s first gay magazine. You could call it ‘Queer as Volk’: they preached that gay men were the foundation of all nation-states and represented an elite, warrior caste that should rule.

Hari then goes on to look at the historical links between Rohm and the modern Neo-Nazi movement, and the psychology of hypermasculinity underlying it. Fascinating. Read the whole thing. I hope he posts it on Harry's Place soon so we can enjoy a vigorous discussion of this.
Update: He has. And one of the first comments denounces it as a real stinker and makes similar points about Fortuyn to the one I made. Pass the popcorn!

June 28, 2004


If I had a cat, I'd be doing this myself: posting pictures of my cat just to fill in some time. But instead I'll make do with cat pictures from The Religious Policeman who treats his readers to an overdose of adorable cuteness to tide them over during his vacation, but also manages to pack in a lot of information about the place cats and dogs occupy in Saudi life, and gets a chilling point across with one of his captions:

By the way, I cannot be traced from these cats. They are long gone.

By the way: while I agree with the point made about camels and think it applies to camel drawings as well, this should not be seen as an excuse for writers to work camels into comic scripts. So be warned, Geir Strøm.

Work went well today. I may soon have time to jump on the "commenting on Michael Moore" bandwagon. Yes, I know it's on the opposite end of the cuteness spectrum from baby kittens, but brash ping-ponging between aesthetic experiences is a big part of what ROCR is about.

July 11, 2004

Hari Echo Chamber returns

I haven't blogged much about politics in the past two weeks. If I have time, I'll explain this later today using a little Zen parable from my misspent days trekking through the Hillemayas wearing saffron robes and a shiny skin wig. However, in the absense of original political thinking cheap shots and deep thoughts along the lines of "injustice is bad", here are three new articles from Johann Hari about some of the issues of the day.

In The Golden Age of American Documentaries, Hari mentions two other documentary movies I should very much like to see:

Continue reading "Hari Echo Chamber returns" »

July 13, 2004

Objectively pro-delicious

Crooked Timber's Ted Barlow would rather cook lamb than argue with Glenn "Isntapundit" Reynolds' latest bit of bollocks. Can't say I blame him myself. MMM lamb.

He says that Michael Moore (who is responsible for writing and directing left-wing films of questionable accuracy) is the American version of the Iraqi rebel cleric al-Sadr (who is responsible for killing our soldiers and running a repressive fundamentalist regime in Fallujah). Etc., etc.

I could argue with this nonsense. But wouldn’t all of our time be better spent sharing a genuinely delicious recipe for braised lamb shanks in red wine? I think so.

The recipe is impossible to screw up and requires little attention. I usually make it for just two people, which means that I only cook two lamb shanks with the same quantities of vegetables and liquids. Since the skillet easily holds two lamb shanks, this is a one-dish meal for two people.

Lightly adapted from Cooks Illustrated.

6 lamb shanks (3/4 to 1 pound each), trimmed of excess fat
1 tablespoon canola oil
2 medium onions, sliced thick...

July 19, 2004

Where Turkey is headed

Via A Fistful of Euros:

A long and well-written article in the New York Review of Books, about the progress made by Turkey's prime minister Erdogan towards democracy and qualifying for EU membership. Short version: there's a long way to go, but the country's becoming freeer and wealthier.

What's noticeable about this is that Erdogan is an Islamist. Contrary to expectations at the time and popular belief in much of Europe, this has not stopped him from proving himself

more committed to democracy than any of the self-proclaimed "secular" leaders who misruled Turkey during the 1990s. He has secured passage of laws and constitutional amendments abolishing the death penalty and army-dominated security courts; he repealed curbs on free speech, and brought the military budget under civilian control for the first time in Turkish history. He authorized Kurdish-language broadcasting, swept aside thirty years of Turkish intransigence on the Cyprus issue, and eased Greek–Turkish tension so effectively that when he visited Athens in May, Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis proclaimed that the two countries now enjoyed "a relation of cooperation based on mutual trust."

I don't really know that much about Turkey, but it will be interesting to read this article again in December and see how things have gone since it was posted.

August 6, 2004

"Let Life mean Life"

Continuing on a topic (albeit not deliberately) that was raised in the comments here, David T at Harry's Place argues in favour of abolishing the mandatory life sentence for murder in the UK:

Continue reading ""Let Life mean Life" " »

August 11, 2004

Mark Lynas

(Via Johann Hari at Harry's Place:)

Mark Lynas's blog about climate change looks like one to watch for people interested in environmental/global warming issues. I've only given it a brief glimpse, and can't tell yet if it's going to be like the Informed Comment of global warming, but if it were, that would be much needed.

One thing that jumped out at me is the design, with its threaded comment excerpts on the front page. Me likes.

August 20, 2004

Who's bloody war is it anyway?

I wanna take you to a gay bar,
I wanna take you to a gay bar,
I wanna take you to a gay bar, gay bar, gay bar.

Let's start a war, start a nuclear war,
At the gay bar, gay bar, gay bar.
At the gay bar.

Now tell me do ya, a do ya have any money?
I wanna spend all your money,
at the gay bar, gay bar, gay bar.

I've got something to put in you,
I've got something to put in you,
I've got something to put in you,
At the gay bar, gay bar, gay bar.

You're a superstar, at the gay bar.
You're a superstar, at the gay bar.
Yeah! you're a superstar, at the gay bar.
You're a superstar, at the gay bar.
Super, super, superstar

Right! You're MTV. Did you just hear anything you want to censor? But ofcourse:

Let's start a war, start a nuclear war...(the word war made inaudible)

*sigh* I have no words for this... How stupid does it get?

(Lyrics: "Gay bar" - Electric Six)

August 24, 2004

Un-amusing democracy

There's something deeply depressing about watching the American electoral process at work, even when you do so from a safe distance, without the dubious benefit of American newspapers, American TV and American hate radio, and even when the candidate who you, for lack of a better word, support, has a fighting chance. Ed Brayton nails why. I'm not going to quote a single word from it here; go there, read the whole thing, then read the whole weblog from the first post to the last (including the posts at Dispatches From The Culture Wars' old location, from which Ed has just moved). It's one of the best blogs out there. Every post is an education.

Update: After posting this, I saw that Ed had followed his post up with Speaking Truth to Power, in which he points out two organisations that help separate spin from sooth:

After the last entry, I feel like I should at least point out the few people who actually are making an effort to find the truth about statements made by the politicians. There are two websites that come immediately to mind, both of which I link to under news sources on my sidebar - Spinsanity and FactCheck.Org. Both sites are non-partisan and both of them take the ads and pronouncements and talking points of the two major party candidates and check them for accuracy.

September 29, 2004

Neelie Who?

Nosemonkey at Europhobia sums up the controversy over the nomination of Neelie Kroes to the European Commission and looks at the underlying problems in how the Commission is put together and that I don't have to. Thanks, Nosemonkey!

Oddly, "the Parliament can only approve or vote down the entire commission and cannot pick out individual candidates for veto." This could make for tough work for the new Commission president, Jos� Manuel Barroso. Not only has he had no say in who his subordinates are (they are nominated by individual member states and he has to work with what he's got), but he's also been lumbered with some dodgy-sounding ones.

Something needs to be re-thought, indeed. Sounds like a job for Super-Paul!

September 30, 2004

Holsclaw to Republicans: police yourselves

I don't know how many people reading this are Republican-voting Americans - probably not too many by now. My fault - whenever one shows up in the comments, I tend to give only short, snarky responses, or not respond at all. I have my reasons; let's just say they have to do with wanting to avoid too much emotional investment in political debate.
That doesn't mean I don't read those few comments that have come from you guys. I do, often more than once. And I do pay attention to substantial arguments coming from right-wingers elsewhere in the big ol' blogosphere.
Why do I poke my head out right now to mention this? Well, it just so happens that one of those right-wingers I pay attention to is Sebastian Holsclaw of Obsidian Wings, and he has something to say :

My message to Republican leaders is this, either listen to the moral implications, or at least learn Dan Rather's lesson. The blogosphere is beginning to focus its attention on this issue... Put it to rest now. Admit that you hadn't fully thought through the implications of this small section of the bill and move on. It would be the height of foolishness to risk the American public's backing for the War on Terror on a practice which is both highly immoral and typically unhelpful. We are going to have to steel the public's nerves for a lot of things to come in the future. It would be a shame to waste time and energy defending the unhelpful and indefensible instead of dealing with other issues which are highly useful to the war and merely tough to defend.

Read the whole thing, and then start taking action so that this thing is off the table before the election.

October 6, 2004

Bwa ha ha!

Shot by Both Sides never fails to deliver good snark:

Meanwhile, Mark Chapman has been refused parole after a "review of records". Clearly they didn't review any of John Lennon's post-1973 records, otherwise they'd have granted him an official pardon.

October 15, 2004

Talk about a rapid response!

On the Internets, it only takes a day to get from the sex-drive-destroying documents detailing the alleged sexual harrassment by some troglodyte TV personality or other, to this: a new Psychopatia Sexualis entry with its own website. Don't click either of these links if you're a vegetarian - your dietary options are limited enough without the desire to ever eat a falafel again being knocked out of you.

(Via Boing Boing without whom I'd be a lot more productive)


From the "most of what you and I believe is wrong" files:

Matthew White's history site is essential reading. It gives a thorough account of the 20th Century's wars and massacres, answering such questions as "Who was worse, then, Stalin or Hitler?", "What killed more people, gun control or Christianity?", "Who and what were the most over- and underrated people and events of the 20th Century?" and "What are the parellels between the USA and the Roman Empire?" (that last one with a bit of future history thrown in! Yay!) Not bad at all, for an amateur.
Interestingly, White concludes that there isn't any religious, racial or ideological pattern to the atrocities of the century of genocide - the factors are all across the board. He considers it to make more sense to think of the slaughter that took place between 1900 and 1999 as a single historical event unfolding over time, just like the Medieval European Migration, the American Great Migration and the Great Vowel Shift. He calls it the "Hemoclysm", a name that I can see as having staying power. I'll be wasting spending quite a bit of time on this site.

Via Shot by Both Sides (whose RSS feed appears to be on the fritz, or at least Bloglines no longer gets it), via Sussurration.

October 18, 2004

Oh that liberal media

(This Modern World, from Salon, via Atrios, although Talking Points Memo had it too)

The faith-based presidency

Update: The article can now be found at Truthout, in full, registration-free

The New York Times' Ron Suskind describes George W Bush's metamorphosis into Nehemiah Scudder:

''This is why he dispenses with people who confront him with inconvenient facts,'' Bartlett went on to say. ''He truly believes he's on a mission from God. Absolute faith like that overwhelms a need for analysis. The whole thing about faith is to believe things for which there is no empirical evidence.'' Bartlett paused, then said, ''But you can't run the world on faith.''

Continue reading "The faith-based presidency" »

Alternate alternate reality

This makes my head spin: from an alternate reality in which Gore won the Presidency of the USA, comes a critique of an imagined alternate reality in which Bush won the presidency of the USA:

Continue reading "Alternate alternate reality" »

I joined the reality-based community and all I got was this lousy T-Shirt!

Following up on this post and the widening bruhaha over Suskind's NYTarticle*):

I'd buy the T-Shirt if someone made it to professional standards and the profits went to an anti-Bush cause.

Continue reading "I joined the reality-based community and all I got was this lousy T-Shirt!" »

October 21, 2004

"Tax cuts aren't conservatism"

Linked primarily so I won't forget to read them properly in the morning, Henry at Crooked Timber highlights some articles I oughtta go read.

Continue reading ""Tax cuts aren't conservatism"" »

Are you a Neocon?

Via Nosemonkey at Europhobia:

Are you a neoconservative? Take this quiz to find out.
It's only 10 questions, covering all foreign policy bases, and it's placed me correctly (as a liberal internationalist - I'd have liked to see more granular results to find out if there were any questions that I'd answered like a neoconservative or a realist would have done). I've had one other online quiz declare me a George Bush Republican so I've got a bit wary of these quizzes, but this one seems accurate enough.

Wot, no casualties?

Josh Marshall gets to the bottom of Pat Robertson's account of a conversation with President Bush in which Bush poo-poo'ed the notion that there'd be significant*) casualties in the war in Iraq:

Candor requires me to say that, as a general matter, I don't trust this guy as far as I could throw him. I certainly wouldn't put in any stock in his say-so if he were accusing someone I supported.
...But in this case, it's sort of an admission against interest. Robertson's no Kerry supporter. He has no interest in hurting the president.

And even if you assume that Robertson is acting out of some sort of intra-Republican pique, he's said this before -- and not at a time when the statement would be quite so politically charged.
When he spoke a few months ago, Robertson's point was that President Bush was sure the war would be a painless one.

That sounds a lot like our president.

Robertson had that conversation. Don't doubt it.

Continue reading "Wot, no casualties?" »

If Kerry wins...

Abu Aardvark makes some predictions:

If Kerry wins, and Chalabi joins with Sadr to form an effective mass movement against the political regime which Kerry helps create in Iraq, I predict that certain elements of the current neo-conservative right will side with this Chalabist insurgency over the American-backed regime.
If Kerry wins, and there is a terrorist attack against the US homeland in the first year, conservatives will howl for blood, if not impeachment. There will be no rallying around the president...

... and more. I'll hang a scorecard over my monitor on November 3.

October 24, 2004

Bush's "Accomplishments"

Via Europhobia: The Nation lists a 100 undisputable instances of mendacity, malevolence, incompetence, corruption and simple disconnection from reality on the part of the Bush administration. Every one of them properly sourced, and divided into the categories "Iraq", "Terrorism", "National Security", "Cronyism and corruption", "The Economy", "Education", "Healthcare", "Environment", "Rights and Liberties" "Flip Flops", (Bush's) "Biography". Essential reading for those outside the reality-based community who still argue "but Bush has accomplished a lot, really".
It's hard to tell which of the 100 facts is the most damning, but try Nosemonkey's shortlist if you're in a hurry.


Today's "Bwa ha ha" moment comes from The Poor Man, concerning the effectiveness of the Bush/Cheney campaign's new "wolves" ad. I haven't seen the ad itself, but I hear it's inspiring gales of Homeric laughter among viewers across the world. I'll have to make do with the Poor Man's parody, and the counter-punch from Wolf Packs for Truth.

Oh, and Slate's dissection of the ad. Surprise, surprise: It's a crock.

October 25, 2004

Add "Criminal negligence" to the list

"The list" of course, being "mendacity, malevolence, incompetence and simple disconnection from reality". I suppose "negligence" is technically covered under the "incompetence" rubric, but the recklessness of letting 350 tonnes of high explosives remain unguarded needs to be highlighted separately:

Some 350 tons of high explosives (RDX and HMX), which were under IAEA seal while Saddam was in power, were looted during the early days of the US occupation. Like so much else, it was just left unguarded.

Not only are these super-high-yield explosives probably being used in many, if not most, of the various suicide and car bombings in Iraq, but these particular explosives are ones used in the triggering process for nuclear weapons.

In other words, it's bad stuff.

What also emerges in the Nelson Report is that the Defense Department has been trying to keep this secret for some time. The DOD even went so far as to order the Iraqis not to inform the IAEA that the materials had gone missing. Informing the IAEA, of course, would lead to it becoming public knowledge in the United States.


Whether the coverup goes under the heading of "malevolence" or "mendacity" is a matter for debate.

Juan Cole:

So let me ask this again. Bush is making us safer? The American public trusts him to fight terror more effectively than Kerry? On what record? Bush appears to have all but just called up Usamah and Khamenei and told them where Saddam's old stuff was in case they needed it for their programs. And he politely made sure that no pesky US troops would be around to impede their access.

(see also: The New York Times: Tracking the Weapons: Huge Cache of Explosives Vanished From Site in Iraq, Michael Froomkin: Mistakes, Incompetence and Coverup Beyond Fevered Imaginings, Talking Points Memo's coverage, Obsidian Wings: This Defies Belief, etc, etc. etc. I have to agree with Brad of The Ancient and Hermetic Order of the Shrill when he says: "Impeach the fuckers. Impeach them tomorrow")

October 27, 2004

Zarqawi's legs

Dsquared is troubled by the ongoing bombing campaign in Fallujah. This doesn't stop him from channeling Monty Python:

I am, as a result haunted by a nightmare in which I am flying in a helicopter gunship above the town of Fallujah, looking down on the wrecked buildings and bodies below. I find myself having a conversation, through a megaphone, with one of the residents:

Me: Just hand over Zarqawi and we’ll let you live!
Resident: OK! OK! We’re having a bit of trouble finding him!
Me: A likely story! Bomb them again, Lurch!
Resident: Could you just give us a hand? Like maybe tell us where in Fallujah he’s staying?
Me: I don’t know. But we have excellent intelligence that tells us that you’re harbouring him! Bomb that coffee shop, Lurch, it looks like an ammo dump!
Resident: Well, what does he look like?
Me: Everyone knows what Zarqawi looks like! You’re just playing for time! Bomb him again!
Resident: Well, how many legs does he have? Give us something to work with here!

And at that point I wake up, screaming.

Quick stolen explosives update

My recent immersion in my work has also resulted in a slowdown of shrill partisan screeds from me, for which I'm sure many people are thankful.
On the issue of the stolen explosives, I want to mention quickly that I'm not buying the "they were gone when we got there" line, and that I follow it through Joshua Micah Marshall's summaries and commentary. He's on this like a terrier. Ed Brayton's ongoing commentary is worth a look too.
Update: As is Juan Cole's:

Despite the new attempt to defend Bush from charges of incompetence over the disappearance of 380 tons of dual-use explosives (which can be used to detonate nuclear bombs) from the al-Qaqaa facility in Iraq, there is really no excuse. The Pentagon's attempt to maintain that the facility was inspected in early April by US troops has fallen apart. It has 1000 buildings, and the troops had no orders to search them exhaustively. Thus, the statement that they did not see the stickers of the International Atomic Energy Commission does not in fact suggest that the explosives were already gone. It indicates that they didn't have time to see much of the facility.

The gravity of the disappearance of these explosives cannot be underscored enough. Not only can they help in the detonation of a nuclear bomb, they are deadly in their own right. A pound can bring down a jetliner. There are 2000 pounds in a ton. Bush let enough high-power explosives disappear to bring down (God forbid) 760,000 airliners! What if this stuff leaks from Iraq to al-Qaeda?

October 29, 2004

War on terrorism over: Homeland Security polices copyright instead

From Yahoo news:

ST. HELENS, Ore. - So far as she knows, Pufferbelly Toys owner Stephanie Cox hasn't been passing any state secrets to sinister foreign governments, or violating obscure clauses in the Patriot Act.

So she was taken aback by a mysterious phone call from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to her small store in this quiet Columbia River town just north of Portland.

"I was shaking in my shoes," Cox said of the September phone call. "My first thought was the government can shut your business down on a whim, in my opinion. If I'm closed even for a day that would cause undue stress."

When the two agents arrived at the store, the lead agent asked Cox whether she carried a toy called the Magic Cube, which he said was an illegal copy of the Rubik's Cube, one of the most popular toys of all time.

He told her to remove the Magic Cube from her shelves, and he watched to make sure she complied.
"One of the things that our agency's responsible for doing is protecting the integrity of the economy and our nation's financial systems and obviously trademark infringement does have significant economic implications," [spokesclown Virginia Kice] said.

Six weeks after her brush with Homeland Security, Cox told The Oregonian she is still bewildered by the experience.

"Aren't there any terrorists out there?" she said.

Apparently not. Clowns.

October 30, 2004

Al-Qaaqa looting still ongoing in November 2003.

I know that the handful of readers who aren't already convinced that Bush needs to be fired won't read past the words "A French" before their eyes start glazing over, but:

A French journalist who visited the Qaqaa munitions depot south of Baghdad in November last year said she witnessed Islamic insurgents looting vast supplies of explosives more than six months after the demise of Saddam Hussein's regime.

The account of Sara Daniel, which will be published Wednesday in the French weekly Le Nouvel Observateur, lends further weight to allegations that American occupying forces in Iraq failed to protect hundreds of tons of munitions from extremists plotting attacks against their own troops.

Failed, over a six-month period. Their leadership hushed it up for eighteen months. Didn't get Bin Laden either because of their leadership's incompetent handling of the battle at Tora Bora and because they had to go after Saddam instead. For the love of God, fire the Bushies.

(Via Josh Marshall)

November 1, 2004

EU Constitution a rambling monstrosity

Via Europhobia comes this Comparison of the EU and US Constitutions. Sadly, the EU constitution loses out: it's a long, rambling piece described as a "meddler's charter".
I hope I get around to reading all its 243 articles (the US one has seven, plus 27 amendments) some time before the referendum — but right now to be honest, I can't be arsed. Two hundred and forty-three!

Tony Blair privately backs Kerry

Tony Blair has privately admitted that he wants Democrat John Kerry to win tomorrow's US election.

The Prime Minister has acknowledged to at least two confidantes that a Kerry win would be a 'lifeline' for his own political future.

I'll join The Ancient and Hermetic Order of the Shrill (Okay, I joined them long ago, but my application seems to have been lost in processing. Those Uber-Yog-Sothoths have no respect for their foot soldiers) in calling on Blair to make his backing of Kerry public. Preferably before the election.

(note: I originally wrote "to make his backing of Blair public". D'Oh! Blair's enthusiastic backing of Blair is rather widely known already. Thanks to reader Mithandir for pointing this out.)

November 3, 2004

Be warned...

[A_Man_In_Black] If Bush wins this election, by Monday all the banks and government offices will be closed, and soldiers will be marching in the streets.
[Reiver] Really? That's handy.
[Reiver] ASCII voted for him, so you can give him a special hug. :)
[ElCarpeto] There'll always be a strong guy around to help you open jars. Kinda handy really.
[A_Man_In_Black] It's an indisputable fact.
[Reiver] Indeed.
[A_Man_In_Black] Monday is Veteran's Day.

-From Nightstar IRC network

That said, I hope to god that Kerry wins. I have dual American/British citizenship, am a socialist, and would rather like to not have to be embarrassed by the American half of my culture anymore, even if I don't plan to leave Britain.

That and the fact that I think Bush is the worst thing to happen to America since it was founded. How the hell did he manage to lose all the world's good will about the 11th of September so quickly?

So, it's four more years then?

So it looks as if it's going to be four more years of Bush. I won't have to tell you that I think this is worse than bad - it's disastrous. However, the American people have spoken, and if there's one silver lining to the dark storm cloud that hangs over the world this morning, it's that they have done so in large numbers. For the first time in many years, the electorate was involved. An involved electorate will educate itself, organise itself, and over time, make better and better decisions.
The Abu Ghraib administration will undoubtedly consider itself unleashed, so I don't expect a lot of good news in the next four years. But after that, a more careful, less reckless, less spendthrift and more genuinely conservative administration may replace them. They may even be Republican!

And that's it for me on American politics for the next couple of weeks. I'm putting down the Kool-Aid, handing in my Order of the Shrill badge and focusing on work, music, comics and a little bit of Euro-politics where I'm actually well-informed.

(Actually, I've learned quite a bit these past few months, and I hope I'll be able to put that to good use in my writing and cartooning.)

Update: What John said.
Update to the update: What John said.
Update to the update to the update: What John said, again.
Update highlighting someone not named John Hesiod begs to differ even with the turnout thing. I don't know how long this link will continue to work because Hesiod wants to shut down his blog, so I've reproduced it in its entirety below the fold.

Continue reading "So, it's four more years then?" »

Joey Manley on the election result

This aspect of Bush's re-election disturbs me too. Joey Manley:

They won by playing the hate card: essentially, they have excluded me and my life partner, and millions like us, from full citizenship status, and by rubbing our noses in the fact that they have the power to do so. That is what turned this election, the so-called "moral values" issue. The moral values of exclusion, hatred, disenfranchisement, and fear. This is hard, and it will not be forgotten or forgiven. There can be no compromise with those who deny us our basic human rights. We must fight them (legally, by the way, and non-violently) at every turn. I refuse to accept their bogus morality, and I refuse to accept their authority over my personal choices in life.

Never give up. Never surrender.

I don't call him Fearless Leader for nothing.

See also Kieran Hiely's post on moral values at Crooked Timber. Oh, and Eszter's.

Conservative civility watch

If you want to imagine the future, imagine a boot...

We’ve got their teeth clutching the sidewalk and out boot above their head. Now’s the time to curb-stomp the bastards.

From - just one of many data points demolishing the ludicrous notion put forward by some conservatives that conservatives are champions of civil political discourse.

November 4, 2004

Conservative civility watch

After we cut your balls off, let the healing begin, says Grover Norquist:

"Once the minority of House and Senate are comfortable in their minority status, they will have no problem socializing with the Republicans. Any farmer will tell you that certain animals run around and are unpleasant, but when they've been fixed, then they are happy and sedate. They are contented and cheerful. They don't go around peeing on the furniture and such." Norquist assured us that he meant neutered "psychologically" and his metaphor was "facetious." Of course: Let the healing begin.

Hat tip to Digby.

November 5, 2004

Soldiers describe looting

For the record, and in case the story disappears down the memory hole: here's this from The LA Times:

Iraqis piled high-grade material from a key site into trucks in the weeks after Baghdad fell, four U.S. reservists and guardsmen say.

By Mark Mazzetti, Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — In the weeks after the fall of Baghdad, Iraqi looters loaded powerful explosives into pickup trucks and drove the material away from the Al Qaqaa ammunition site, according to a group of U.S. Army reservists and National Guardsmen who said they witnessed the looting.

"Sorry everybody"

This warms the cockles of my heart. Or maybe just the valves, but in any case, some part of my heart is warmed. Thanks, folks!
(Via Questionable Content)
Update: When I posted the link, it was just one page. Now it's 176 pages and I'll be damned if I'm going to look at all of them. Probably not all of them will be sincere, some of them will take a good thing too far, and there's likely to be more than a bit of attention-whoring going on. That's life.

So you want to emigrate? (Part one of two)

I've been hearing it ever since I started following US elections online: in 1996 it was "If Clinton gets re-elected, I'm leaving the country" from Republicans, in 2000, wins for either Gore or Bush would be reasons for their most virulent opponents to bail, and in 2004, many are finding the thought of another 4 years of Bush and/or the hate amendments that have passed in 11 states unbearable. It seems to be a relatively new development: in an article in De Groene Amsterdammer, not yet published online, historian Geert Mak expresses surprise at hearing his American contacts saying it when he traveled through the western United States for the first time in 15 years last summer. Americans wanting to leave for political reasons? Never!
There is one difference between 1996 and 2000 on the one hand, and 2004 on the other, though: then, it was nearly all talk, and few people followed through. This year, it looks like people are actually going through with it.

Continue reading "So you want to emigrate? (Part one of two)" »

November 8, 2004

Blue Bunny's election legitimacy clearinghouse

Blue Bunny of Battle has spent some time investigating claims that the US elections were stolen. In his previous guise as Pink Bunny of Battle, he drove himself into shrill unholy madness (Aaaiii! Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Pink Bunny R'lyeh wagn'nagl fhtagn! Aaaiii!!! Yog-Sothoth!!!, etc, etc, etc) pondering the possibility of a Bush re-election, and if he had any good reason to believe that the election was stolen, he'd jump at it, so I trust him if he considers it to be disproven.

November 10, 2004

How high is the Euro, papa? $ 1.30 and rising

(Note: the Euro is not actually at $ 1.30 right now, but it peaked there earlier today, and is more likely to rise than fall against the dollar).
Rhona at Europhobia has a good piece without economist-speak about the US's trade deficit and why the fall of the dollar is worrying to Europeans.

November 11, 2004

"Fight Jesus with Jesus"

A good post at Legal Fiction about the role of Christian values in progressive politics, and how atheists like myself can learn to understand them. A highlight:

...try to forget what you know and start from a blank slate. Approach it from a new perspective. And here's the perspective I want you see - Christianity can be appreciated by people who don't believe in the divinity of Christ, or that don't believe in God at all. First, approach it just as you would approach studying some religious practice in a foreign country or from a past era. It's strange that so many big-hearted progressives extend so much respect to the religions of foreign cultures, but fail to extend that same respect to the exurbs of Atlanta. Second, take a hour or two one night and go read the four Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John). These four books are the foundation of all Christianity. Consider it an exercise in anthropology.

I think many of you (especially those who don't know much about the religion) will find it a fascinating insight into the minds of the Red Americans that seem so foreign. It will help you understand them. And once you understand them, you can begin to have a dialogue with them, rather than a screaming match. I went back and read them this weekend for the first time in many years. I wanted to make sure that the Jesus I remembered from childhood was the opposite of the intolerance I'm seeing today. And he was - in spades.

Again, for those of you actively hostile to American Christianity, don't read it as a religious text. Read as you would read the teachings of Plato or Emerson or Thoreau. One can be a complete atheist and still find wisdom in the words and stories. As for the miracles, treat them as parables or allegories, just as you would the Garden of Eden story (which is a beautiful work of literature and nothing more).

This resonated very strongly with me; in fact the other day I was thinking of doing something like that myself: going through the key texts of Western Monotheism from beginning to end like Dave Sim has done, and finding meaning and value where they can be found. Of course, Sim made up a weird hybrid religion out of his readings, which is one place where I don't want to go. I'm still mulling over which language to read it all in, and which translation, though.
I'm pretty sure that if and when I get around to doing this, I'll find some inspiration in it; at worst it will result in some more biblically-themed comics like When We Had Tails (OK, Geir wrote that. It's still one of my faves and I've wanted to do more like that one ever since).

Worse than Ashcroft?

It's hard to believe that the Bush administration would pick someone worse than Ashcroft to succeed him, but they seem to have managed it. Hilzoy of Obsidian Wings and Blue Bunny of Battle on the nomination.

November 13, 2004

My position on hate crime vs hate speech

A quick clarification of positions I've taken earlier in comment threads. This issue is undoubtedly going to come up in the context of the events of the past hate-filled week. I'm not going to elaborate that much; I just want to state where I stand.

* I am in favour of legislation against hate crimes. Motive already plays a role in the sentencing of criminals, so no new principle is introduced into legislation by punishing a crime motivated by hate against a group more harshly than one motivated by, for example, jealousy or fear against an individual. Better to formalise this rather than allow one judge to ignore the motive entirely and the other to impose harsh sentences on the basis of motive. Also, hate crimes often have the intended and actual effect of intimidating members of the hated group, and are thus a form of terrorism.
* I am against legislation against hate speech. Part of my motivation for this is that the principle of freedom of speech is an important one under the Dutch constitution and one or two others. But I also have selfish motives: I like being able to badmouth people, and if someone hates me or a group I belong to I would rather know about it than find out seconds before they slit my throat. Actual threats, on the other hand, should be actionable.

November 14, 2004

Montana's Jackson Pollock

Publius at Legal Fiction argues that the American political spectrum isn't a straight line going from far-left to far-right but resembles instead a Jackson Pollock painting (painted in non-Euclidean space from the sound of it) and looks at the election of one Democratic governor in Montana to argue how working with that fact can lead to electibility. A good read.

November 22, 2004

"Disinvest from Sudan"

Hearing about the genocide in Darfur has always made me despair. What with the UN hidebound and toothless, the EU unwilling to even use the G-word and the US and its most powerful allies having their hands full in Iraq (would that they had spared their guns for Sudan, a continuing hotspot of islamic fundamentalism, religous/ethnic warfare and ethnic cleansing whose leadership is thick as thieves with Osama Bin Laden), it really looks like the world is just going to let the killing happen. Johann Hari, looking at corporate complicity in the genocide, argues that there is at least one thing that citizens and organisations can do: force the corporations that provide Sudan with the means to kill its people to divest from Sudan. This may seem over-optimistic, but he notes that it has worked before:

...the only group that has effectively lobbied against the genocidal regime in Khartoum has been the red-state Christian evangelicals in the US. They lobbied hard for an oil embargo against Sudan, so US dollars were not used to slaughter their fellow Christians. Uber-moralistic religion clashed with raw amoral markets, and - incredibly - the Bush administration sided with the evangelicals against the oil companies. As a result, since 2000, no US oil company has been allowed to operate within Sudan, to their fury. Peace [in that area, at least —RD] has finally prevailed. This shows what can happen when the Sudanese government is subject to serious economic penalties for its crimes.

The US is lobbying hard for the UN to impose similar international oil sanctions to stop the genocide in Darfur. (The evangelicals are much less worried about slaughtered Muslims, but they believe the chaos might spill over into the south). This is being flatly opposed by China - which receives a quarter of its oil supplies from Sudan - and Russia. These two authoritarian governments are vandalising any attempt to deal with this genocide through the United Nations.

It seems nobody is prepared to choke off the corporate fuel for the holocaust in Darfur....So what do we do - lie back and watch the first genocide of the 21st century scythe through Darfur unhindered?

There is an alternative. Professor Eric Reeves is an expert on the murder of black Darfurians. He explains: "The only way to stop this genocide now is for a mass campaign to force multinationals to disinvest from Sudan. During the apartheid era in South Africa, the divestment movement was an immensely powerful force in breaking down this system of racial discrimination. We can do the same today."

Through our pensions plans, our universities and our stock portfolios, we in Europe own most of the companies providing the hard cash for this genocide. If our governments fail to act to end genocide, the responsibility falls to us. Go to to find out how, practically, we can act to deprive the Janjaweed militias of money and arms, just as we throttled apartheid.

The downside to this approach is that, as people remember from the end days of Apartheid, it takes a long time, during which the killing will continue. But if there's no hope of defeating the Sudanese dictatorship through military means or official sanctions, it's up to ordinary citizens to do what we can.

November 23, 2004


Electing a president named Bush is bad for your country's financial health. (Hat tip: Danny)

How high is the Euro, papa?

$ 1.31 and rising. And some people are getting a wee bit pessimistic. (link via Atrios)

November 24, 2004

It's the meat of a pig, right? So do they ship it to deadbeat states?

... when I first started reading about American politics, I had to have the concept of pork barrel spending explained to me. I'm sure what Ed Brayton proposes - to change the legislative process so that a law can address one issue and one issue only - is how it's done, uhm, everywhere.

November 25, 2004

Vaclav Havel for UN SecGen?

Sign me up. If he feels fit enough to do it and actually wants the job, he's my man.

December 13, 2004

Memorable quote from "Ents and Trolls"

Henry of Crooked Timber writes:

As I’ve mentioned before, I much prefer it when the more ignorant members of the American right-wing commentariat limit themselves to attacks on European anti-semitism, even if they grossly exaggerate its extent and effects. It’s much more disturbing when they praise Europe than when they damn it - they invariably latch onto the nastiest and most atavistic aspects of European politics and policy.

I've seen this myself as well. The only specific example that I can think of now —because seeing this phenomenon in action makes me reach for the brainbleach and the eyeforks— was an English Conservative Commentator (who will remain nameless and unlinked) claiming to be happy that the Netherlands had finally "woken up" just as the first mosques were going up in flames, but the phenomenon is real enough.

Update: Some good comments have been made to that post. In particular, read the reality checks provided by commenter Novakant, around 3 a.m on December 14.

December 14, 2004

You're a braver man than I am, John Band

John at Shot by Both Sides recently put up a post entitled "Ignorance Remedied in which he tries to clear up some misconceptiona about English laws, especially regarding free speech and self-defense in case of burglary. Crooked Timber's Daniel Davies calls John's attempts "a rather Sysyphean task" and that was what sprung to mind when I read the title as well. After all, The Straight Dope has been fighting ignorance since 1973, and made very little headway in those 31 years. And the good folk at The Straight Dope aimed their efforts at the general public, who on average are a whole lot less knee-jerk and closed-minded than the subsection of the population that blogs, so what John is trying to do is even harder.
Yes, I'm getting a bit disillusioned with this whole blogging thing, at least as far as political blogging is concerned. With few exceptions, I don't think a whole lot of communication goes on in political blogs. Community-building, yes, but if you look at the sort of community that results in places like the Blog that LGFWatch Watches, then that doesn't look like a great contribution to the common weal of mankind.
Nevertheless, I applaud John for trying, and I hope that his work will soon inspire me to do some Augian bullshit-removal myself. I have been looking at one life-and-death issue relating to my home town that received some coverage in the international press and in blogs, all of it that made it back to me appallingly uninformed, and have been meaning to put in a bit of work to correct the misinformation. The thing that's been stopping me so far is my own cowardice; I do not look forward to dealing with the fallout if that post gets widely distributed, which it should be if it's to be effective. However, I have not seen anyone else take up this gauntlet, so I just might end up writing it to get it out of my system. Just as soon as I work up the courage.
Meanwhile, go to John's site if you want to know what it takes for someone in Britain to get a conviction for "defending yourself" against a burglar inside your house (shooting a fleeing man or stabbing him twelve times in the back will do it) and why the new religious hate law there, while bad, will not cause Rowan Atkinson to go to jail.

December 21, 2004


I've been wondering for some time why opposition to the new ID card laws in England is so much stronger than that in the Netherlands, where for some time, there was talk of draconian punishment for not carrying ID when requested.

Via Nosemonkey, now I know. No2ID explains the political rationale (and it is all about politics, not policy — the value of the law, as with much of the unlamented mr. Blunkett's law and order policy is in outflanking the Tories on the right, not in delivering results), and explains what sort of data are to be held by the government and, one way or another, to be accessible through the ID cards.

Continue reading "No2ID" »

December 31, 2004

History of 2005

Something tells me that this vaara character at Silt 3.0 doesn't like "leading bloggers" much:

January 20, 11:52 am – At Bush’s inauguration, a protester carrying a “Four More Wars” sign is shot dead by a Secret Service agent

January 20, 11:53 am – Leading bloggers run out of synonyms for “Yay!”

January 20, 11:54 am – Major networks cut away from footage of Bush’s motorcade to cover the shooting

January 20, 11:55 am – Leading bloggers run out of synonyms for “treason”

January 21 – The Secret Service officer is identified by his initials, P.H.

January 22 – A shadowy new group calling itself “Friends of P.H.” purchases ads on all leading blogs

January 24 – FOPH announces that its Legal Defense Fund has collected $12.4 million

January 25 – Atrios posts evidence that FOPH is funded by Richard Mellon Scaife and Paul Weyrich

January 26 – Leading bloggers shriek about “paranoid moonbat conspiracy theorists”

January 27 – Regnery Publishing gives P.H. a $4 million advance for his autobiography

January 31 – Someone on Daily Kos suggests that what P.H. did was wrong

February 1 – A DOS attack crashes the Daily Kos servers

February 2 – Leading bloggers celebrate, call the destruction of Daily Kos a “victory for democracy”

excetra,excetra. (via Atrios)

January 4, 2005

Eighteenth century intellectual property rollback

Prof. De Long has posted a very readable and interesting book excerpt about an epic battle between 18th-century booksellers over perpetual copyright. Read it if that sort of thing interests you.

ACLU and Christianity

Two more to pass on without comment: Ed Brayton writes about ACLU defending religious liberty and Christians working within ACLU.

An answer I needed to a question I had

Professor Juan Cole on why partitioning Iraq along ethnic lines would be bad. Summary: It's not as simple as it looks on the map.

January 7, 2005

A debate challenge from Von

Von of Obsidian Wings has a challenge to anyone willing to identify as a pro-torture blogger:

Resolved: As a matter of U.S. policy, torture should be used by the U.S. and its allies in fighting the war on terror.

If you are (1) a blogger, (2) support the foregoing position, and (3) you're up for a bit of fun, e-mail Obsidian Wings with your contact information (the e-mail is at the top of the front page).

I'll take the contrary position -- i.e., torture is not a wise and proper tool -- and debate the first serious respondent. For simplicity and my own sanity, I will only debate one person, and therefore will not respond to requests for debate via methods other than an e-mail. The debate will proceed, one post alternating and tracking the other, until one of us gets horribly bored. At which point it will end.

Incidentally, yours truly will be the sole judge as to who is "serious" and who is not. If I reject your challenge, I will explain why in an e-mail.

Before you send that e-mail, however, realize what this debate is not about:

1. It's not about the Geneva Convention, the Gonzales memoranda, or associated technicalities or legalisms.... This is a debate about policy; about what kind of country us well-informed citizens want.

2. It's also not about prosecuting soldiers on the battlefield, the ticking time bomb scenario, or what you saw last night on 24. If your position is going to be that torture may be defensible if minds are fogged by war, or if there's a terrorist ready to explode a nuclear bomb in thirty minutes and the guy you've just captured knows where it is and how to defuse it -- this is going to be a pretty boring debate because I'm going to largely agree with you. To paraphrase another, I can twist the utility knob and come up with a hypothetical in which most of us would enthusiastically advocate the slow torture and death of a seven year old kid. .... Rather, this is a debate about the wisdom of using torture as official policy where there is no apparent necessity.

3. Do not expect the debate to fall into the usual liberal v. conservative dog-and-pony show. ...Indeed, I'm relatively center-right; don't be surprised if, at the end of the day, you find yourself pretty far to left of me -- with other noted lefty torturers, such as Castro, Stalin, etc. [But I should keep the rest of my powder dry, no?]

Could turn out interesting...

January 13, 2005

Fokke & Sukke were also at that party

It's very rare for the makers of Fokke & Sukke to tackle British events, but Übergruppenführer Harry inspired them:

January 18, 2005

I've got an answer

Lose the Delusion writes:

Eighteen bloody days! That is all it took before Robert Kilroy-Silk made the news in 2005.[...] Anyway, having failed in his ambitions to lead UKIP, he has been desperately trying to find other parties to lead. And, guess what? No one wants him. Faced with no other choice, he is now talking about setting up his own party.... And, truth be told, I would just love to see how that goes. Despite his claims to have been 'inundated' with calls to go it alone, you just have to wonder what losers would join a party set up by someone no one else wanted?

Why, these losers of course. They turned up in droves for Pim Fortuyn. (Note: these particular losers are the ones who made it into Parliament in the 2003 elections, after the LPF had started its spectacular implosion from its 2002 heights of having, what was it again, 26 MPs. So within a larger pool of losers, these dweebs can be thought of as winners and survivors, but that's not saying much, and the implosion still hasn't ended.

In 2002, Pim Fortuyn first became the leader of a group of Dutch celebs, rejects and retirees from other parties and career second-stringers. When they tossed him out, he started up again with a bunch of third-stringers and real estate development industry goons. And he got 26 of them into Parliament. I'm sure mr. Kilroy-Silk will have no trouble finding people of equal quality or better.
(Hat tip: Nosemonkey)

Ayaan returns

More interesting news from Dutch politics: Ayaan Hirsi Ali has returned to the Second Chamber, with a speech to the press in which she pledged to continue her work, insisted that she did not intend primarily to hurt the feelings of groups within the population and made the point that her work fighting for the emancipation of immigrant women is simply a continuation of her social involvement from before she became a full-time politician. She also paid tribute to filmmaker Theo van Gogh (quick summary from listening to the press conference on the radio).

Hirsi Ali appears to have lost none of her fighting spirit. Good.

January 28, 2005

Von on the "Pro-Torture Right"

Von of the mighty Obsidian Wings needs to fix that spelin miztaeck in the headline to his piece on The Pro-Torture Right (and let's hope that if and when he does, it doesn't break this link), but he's right to be scathing about the rabid little racists at the Blog That LGFWatch Watches:

So it goes. If you want uninformed political commentary from a guy whose reaction to the Madrid bombings was to make fun of the mourners; who presides over one of the most insular and profane commentaraits in the blogosphere; who has the fervor of the zealot without the restraining humility of actual belief; and who engages in rational thought only to the extent that he needs to rationalize the latest fact into his preset response tree -- well, by all means, read Charles Johnson.

Continue reading "Von on the "Pro-Torture Right"" »

January 31, 2005

So I don't have to

Digby has posted a Conservative Civility Roundup so I don't have to. There's some other stuff about the "Leninist Strategy" practiced by rightist think tanks as well; scroll to the bottom to read the trash-talking.

February 1, 2005

Yup, you could hear a pin drop.

Crooked Timber's Kieran Healy catches Michelle Malkin being presumptuous and sloppy with the facts:

Continue reading "Yup, you could hear a pin drop. " »

February 5, 2005

The Ketchup of the Far Right

A friend showed me this link,

IT's a ketchup which attempts to stir the political fervour of Conservative Americans. But let's look deeper.

Continue reading "The Ketchup of the Far Right" »

February 7, 2005

Brad, just give'em the rope to hang themselves

Much as I dislike Little Green Footballs' comments policy, Brad DeLong shows that it's possible to err too far in the other direction.

Continue reading "Brad, just give'em the rope to hang themselves" »

February 13, 2005

Photographer's rights

(Via Boing boing's coverage of a San Francisco photographer being harrassed by cops in a MUNI station):

The Photographer's Right is a downloadable guide that is loosely based on the ACLU's Bust Card and the Know Your Rights flyer. It may be downloaded and printed out using Adobe Acrobat Reader. You may make copies and carry them your wallet, pocket or camera bag to give you quick access to your rights and obligations concerning confrontations over photography. You may distribute the guide to others provided that such distribution is not done for commercial gain and credit is given to the author.

Continue reading "Photographer's rights" »

February 28, 2005

Single-question pop quiz: Are you living in a failed state?

Are you living in a failed state? Find out by taking this one-question pop quiz!

1. Consider this scenario:
"On your way to work, you zip past a red light and are immediately nabbed."
Does the word "nabbed" mean:

a) "gunned down by a local militia who didn't like the look of your own militia colors"
b) "arrested by a religious police organisation run by students who were trained in a refugee camp in a neighbouring country. They don't care about you ignoring the red light, but you spend the night in a makeshift cell and are flogged in the public square for not wearing a long beard or a veil."
c) "mobbed by starving kids who think you're a UN aid convoy, because nobody else can ignore a red light without a) or b) occurring."
d) "blown up by a car bomber passing the green light from your left."
e) "fined € 25 and told to pay more attention in traffic."

Continue reading "Single-question pop quiz: Are you living in a failed state?" »

March 1, 2005

Political quickies

Worth reading:
Blood and Treasure: Brand Orange about the men behind the curtains of the Ukraine's Orange Revolution:

OK, so what do we think of freedom as a brand management strategy? The obvious answer is: who cares, so long as it works. I think it’s a bit more complicated than that for a couple of reasons.

And Brad deLong: Cats vs. Dogs, State vs. Treasury, Diplomats vs. Economists on why the economist's approach to international trade, as a way to align long-term interests is more important and, in the long run, more beneficial, than the diplomat's approach, which is to use trade relations as carrots and sticks: the long run we all have an enormous mutual common interest in peace, tolerance, and prosperity. And we have virtually no interest in most of what governments choose to fight about. Who cares today whether the signs in Strasbourg say "Strasbourg" or "Strassburg"? Who today is willing to fight and die to make Vancouver part of the United States of America? Who cares today whether the eighteenth century saw members of the Bourbon or the Habsburg dynasty seated on the throne of Spain?

This has very powerful implications. For one thing, it means that next to nobody in the foreign relations community is thinking about a set of issues that is one of the key sets of geostrategic issues for America today. What set? Let me back up a century and a half.

March 5, 2005


For some things there are no words.

The state of Virginia has passed an act that not only bans gay marriage, but bans any "partnership contract or other arrangements that purport to provide the benefits of marriage." - In other words, rights of attorney, child custody arrangements, even wills.

What can one say to this?

Continue reading "Handbasketweaving." »

March 9, 2005

The Agonizer and its potential uses

I read this interesting discussion on a new weapon the US military is funding the develepment of on Obsidian Wings. It is designed to incapacitate the enemy by causing him excruciating pain. I made a mental note to write a post saying that I was undecided yet on the issue, that on the one hand such a weapon would probably be better than a lethal weapon; but on the other hand such a weapon would be used in situations where otherwise a lethal weapon would not be used, it could be put to use torturing prisoners, and that I didn't exactly trust the current US administration to use it responsibly. You know, a reeeeeaaasonable post urging you to read the OW piece including its comments and make up your own mind on this.

Then I was reminded of the scum who toyed with the lives of cancer sufferers in the name of Christianity, and I thought, screw it, I want one of those babies so I can shove it in the face of Stephen Green and all those other lowlifes at Christian Voice. I'm sure I'll like his face more when it's contorted in a rictus of exquisite agony.

So, the Agonizer. My tentative position is that I'm for it, and I want one. Travis was always the second coolest guy in Blake's Seven, anyway, and he had one (no one is as cool as Kerr Avon, so I'll settle for being as cool as Travis).

March 17, 2005

The case for Blair?

The Waffler channels the Bull Moose and talks about himself in the third person.
The Waffler casts his gaze across the channel and wonders who the people who still support the Rose are.

Continue reading "The case for Blair?" »

Proud of Britain?

On perhaps a related note to my earlier question on the case for Blair, Andrew Rilstone has been pondering what it means to be Proud of Britain, or at least to like being English, which is not the same. The ponderings were inspired by a pamphlet he got from the UK Labour party, which he put in Jarvis–I mean scare quotes. There's a website for the theme as well.
In the end, Andrew lists a few reasons to be proud of Britain:

Continue reading "Proud of Britain?" »

April 14, 2005

If I were a Brit, who should I vote for?

Lib Dem, apparently:

Who Should You Vote For?

Who should I vote for?

Your expected outcome:

Liberal Democrat

Your actual outcome:

Labour -17     
Conservative -23     
     Liberal Democrat 36
     UK Independence Party 6
     Green 31

You should vote: Liberal Democrat

The LibDems take a strong stand against tax cuts and a strong one in favour of public services: they would make long-term residential care for the elderly free across the UK, and scrap university tuition fees. They are in favour of a ban on smoking in public places, but would relax laws on cannabis. They propose to change vehicle taxation to be based on usage rather than ownership.

Take the test at Who Should You Vote For

The reason I expected Lib Dem instead of Labour was that I voted "neutral" on quite a few questions, which is what their Dutch equivalent would do.

(Via SBBS)

April 16, 2005

Who/where/what am I?

(Via Shot By Both Sides, which I will take the trouble to visit even if Bloglines isn't working).
According to , I am somewhat to the right on economic matters and pretty far to the left on social issues. This translate into a match with the Green Party, which I'm about as pleased with as SBBS's John Band must be with his match with the Conservative Party.
Oh, wait...

By the way, Chris's own explanation of the survey is well worth a read, and made me laugh a few time by its references to policital stereotypes. From reading it, I get the idea that UKIP have no real reason for existing: on their core issues, their core voters put the same answers as voters for the Conservatives. For historical reasons, many people in Britain don't trust the Tories no matter how much they agree with them on substantive issues. But in the long run, one of the two parties will have to go.

May 6, 2005

What's worse than a sore loser?

Why, a sore winner:

The rest of you probably now have a sane Member of Parliament. I have George Galloway. Your MP probably hasn't told Saddam Hussein what a jolly decent bloke he is. Mine has. Your MP probably thanked the returning officer for all his hard work. My MP told him he was corrupt. Your MP probably believes passionately in the welfare of his constituents. Mine has an international agenda and a suspicious tan.

Charming chap, this George Galloway. (Via Pete Ashton who is mostly optimistic about the meaning of yesterday's UK election results)

May 7, 2005

Post-election roundup-ette

Two memorable postmortems of the UK election at the new group blog The Sharpener. First, Phil on the state of the parties after May 5:

Obviously the Tories are the worst losers. If I were a Conservative voter, I'd be really worried about the state of the party. For as long as I can remember, it's been a good rule of thumb that when Labour were in trouble, the Tories would be the first to benefit, and vice versa. ... Michael Howard and Lynton Crosby ... they mobilised a core 'Right' vote, representing around 30% of the population, and absolutely nobody else.
In this election we've seen New Labour's triumphal achievement: reducing the Conservatives to their current state. It may even be irreversible: all they need to lock themselves into the downward spiral is to appoint yet another leader who plays well with the grass roots... New Labour isn't in a much better state; it's had very few other triumphs.
... Nothing to say about the BNP, except that they're not going to go away (unassisted). And nothing at all to say about UKIP or Veritas, except perhaps "ha ha ha".

Second, Jim Bliss on the election's most prominent personality:

Incidentally, there was some criticism of our Jeremy during the run up to the election. But I fear the undeniably insightful Justin may have missed the point a little with Mr. Paxman. You see, our political culture has reached a kind of saturation point with regards to evasiveness. It is technically no longer possible to extract any interesting information from an elected representative. Even the most skillful of interviewer is powerless against an adult stubbornly pretending to be a 4-year-old in a sulk.

Paxman understands this. And he realises that when politicians refuse to answer simple questions, they look like total morons to the rest of us. So he has shifted role. His interviews are no longer about extracting information from politicians. And to judge them on those grounds is to misunderstand the great political theatre being played out. Paxman's role is now that of The Everyman (and woman). It is he, and not those he interviews, who truly represents us. He sits there and openly sneers at those who most need and merit it. He, as do we, sees through the charade, and he embodies our derision as we watch these bumbling buffoons who refuse to talk straight with those they are supposed to represent.

Paxman is not there to interview. He is there to convey our contempt.

And he's the only reason I stayed up as late as I did. Watching him sigh and roll his eyes every time a Labour MP used the phrase "an historic third term" was hilarious. And the unconcealed glee that glinted in his eye each time a tory claimed the government is the most unpopular in recent history ("Yes, but if this result tells us anything, it's that your party is even less popular than the most unpopular government in recent history! You really are a complete shambles, aren't you?")

By the way, I agree with Jim: Appalling though Michael Howard may be, he's shown real class in the manner of his leaving. Good riddance, but kudos to him for taking responsibility and acting decisively rather than hanging on to his position of power.

July 5, 2005

Message to Live 8 cynics: Shut up, you don't know nearly as much as you think you do

In the run-up to Live 8, and after the event, I kept hearing this from far too many people, far too many of whom really should know better:

It's so annoying to hear rich pop stars witter on about ending world poverty. Those people could buy Africa between them, why don't they put their money where their mouths are?

Setting aside the false irony implied in the juxtaposition of "Rich pop star" and "world poverty" (what, you wanted the poor and disenfranchised to solve the problem on their own instead?), the problem with such cynical statement is that the people making it probably don't actually know exactly how rich rock stars are (this information is available to the public, but I'll betcha the cynics haven't looked it up), or what they've been doing with their money.

Case in point: Pink Floyd guitarist David Gilmour, worth £ 75 million, donated to charities for the homeless for years without making a bit fuss about it; then in 2003 he sold a £ 3.6 million house and donated the money to the charity Crisis.

As I type this, I can hear the cynics scoff already.

So he sold a house? Gave away 5% of his net worth? He's got plenty of other houses, and cash in hand. What else has he done?

To which I can only answer "I don't know, and neither do you." Gilmour has been putting his money where his mouth, er, isn't, and has been critical of people who donate to charities and then shout about it. Not that any amount of shouting would have silenced the chatter of "Put your money where your mouth is, then".

As for Bob Geldof's effectiveness, I'm with Jim Bliss.

I think the man's an absolute hero. He's taken the very modest amount of fame afforded someone from a late-70s punky new wave band with a couple of hits, and done frankly astonishing things with it. Yet every single time over the past couple of weeks that I've seen Live 8 discussed in the media (whether mainstream or alternative) it's been framed in the context of whether or not Geldof is really doing any good....

Here's an admission... my first real political act was almost certainly my decision to become a vegetarian in my mid-teens. It was a political act in the sense that it politicised me. My decision forced me to look at the world in a way I hadn't done before and it got me reading books by people I wouldn't have considered up until then. But the actual reason I became a veggie was to impress a girl.

My point is a simple one... young people can sometimes make decisions for silly reasons, but the ramifications of those decisions can be profound and life-changing... I'd be a completely different person today if I hadn't had a crush on a vegetarian when I was 15. My politics could very well be unrecognisable. Now, I don't know how many 16-year-old poverty activists Geldof has created in the past two weeks and will create tomorrow.

This is also the reason I completely condone Geldof's decision to fill the limited time available to him with the biggest possible acts, rather than making the event a showcase for African talent. This isn't supposed to be an advertisement for any particular artists... this is an attempt to get minds thinking about a particular issue. So it is infinitely more important to have the stage filled with the same faces that appear on the posters above teenage beds and on MTV than to have it filled with relatively unknown African artists, whatever their talent....

Besides, if Bob Geldof can get Roger Waters and Gilmour to perform together again, world poverty should be a piece of cake to him.

Update: Reader Mithandir pointed out an article on the BBC website in which Gilmour is quoted as saying he will not profit financially from the enormous sales boost Pink Floyd records have got from the concert, and a Universal Music spokesman pledges the profits from digital downloads of Paul McCartney's show to the cause as well. So the cynics can shut up about that as well.

Conservative civility watch

Okay, I said I wouldn't do this again, that if you want to hear about that sort of stuff, you can just go to Digby's blog, but I can't resist linking to this one: Liberal-hunting permit bumper sticker. I wonder how many of these were printed, and how long it will be before someone claims that that sort of thing is the exception rather than the norm, and that it's really THE LEFT *thunderclap* who are uncivil to poor oppressed conservatives all the time.

July 6, 2005

G8 protests

I live in Edinburgh, and have been basically confiined to near my house for a week due to the rioting and such attendant on the G8 protests. And I honestly don't believe it's doing any good whatsoever. Hell, the G8 aren't even meeting here.

People coming thousands of miles to protest... It just seems there's better uses for that week of their time: Help reconstruct Afghanistan. Dig wells in Africa. Raise money for charities. Give the money you'd spend to a homeless shelter. It'd probably do far more good as a whole than spending thousands of pounds just to fly out here and cause trouble.

July 31, 2005

Where are you on the Global Rich List?

One day, this will help me settle a political argument, I'm sure of it: You think you're poor? Really? Type in your annual income and find out how many people in the world are poorer than you.

I'm the 754,307,892 richest person on earth!

Discover how rich you are! >>

(Via comments on Websnark)

August 4, 2005

Fahd's cadaver's barely in the ground

... and The Religious Policeman is back, with caustic commentary from the heart of Saudi-Arabia. Fancy that. Nice seeing him again, and he gets to slag off Little Brown Shirts in one of his first few postings.
Update: Actually, he's not in Saudi anymore. I missed that in my enthusiasm for his return.

August 26, 2005


Fafblog interviews the Democratic Party:

FAFBLOG: So what's up, Democrats?
JOE BIDEN: What's up is the war in Iraq, which is terribly mismanaged, Fafnir.
FB: Oh wow! Are you guys against the war, too?
JOE LIEBERMAN: Oh no, we're not AGAINST the war!
HARRY REID: We're all FOR it!
BIDEN: It's the best worst idea in the world, and we're gonna run with it to victory!
HILLARY CLINTON: Watch me eat a bug!
FB: So we can actually win the war! That's great news!
REID: Sort of!
BIDEN: Maybe!
CLINTON: I can wrestle a buffalo!
FB: I'm confused.
REID: The problem is troop levels, Fafnir. The US invaded without enough boots on the ground!
LIEBERMAN: Just another couple hundred thousand soldiers on the ground and hey, we should have this thing wrapped up in no time!
BIDEN: Just like I told George Bush all along! I told him in the Oval Office, "You're gonna go in without enough troops and you're not gonna plan for the occupation and it's gonna be the biggest mistake of your presidency and I'm gonna vote for it!"

Confusingly, the rest of the blog appears to be satire.

September 1, 2005

"Looting" vs "Finding"

Snopes gets to the bottom of the "Black people loot, white people find" controversy and explains how the disparity might have originated. Probably not the end of the story, but worth a read.

September 2, 2005

Cost inefficiencies

The last thing I'd want to happen to any charitable donation for disaster relief is for it to go into funding terrorist fellow traveler Pat Robertson. He'll only use it to propagandise against western values and have foreign heads of state assassinated (via everyone, but let's credit Eric M this time).

Hear, hear

Matthew Shepherd got one of those "Gas strike" emails and wrote back:
Beating the Dead Gas Strike Horse

Continue reading "Hear, hear" »

Submitted without pointless comment

I was checking out New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin's biography on Wikipedia just now, and at the bottom it said:

On September 1, 2005, Nagin was interviewed on WWL-TV radio and made furious and open remarks about authorities not doing their duty in providing aid to the city of New_Orleans after Hurricane_Katrina devastated the city and the surrounding area.[1]

Ray Nagin was elected US president in November 2008.

(Emphasis mine) It's likely to disappear in the next half hour (the timestamp on this post is 22:57 CET). I'm not sure what this addition tells us, other than that Wikipedia still needs some improvement and that the New Orleans flood is... I don't know. I'm having to choose between hyperbole and platitude right now. It's getting into people's heads, for sure.
Update: in the time it took me to waffle over what I wanted to say, the prediction of a Nagin presidency has disappeared. Think of this as a note for future historians.

September 5, 2005

A quick note to new readers

I see I'm getting a lot of visits from people searching for "Ray Nagin biography". I have very little to offer on that subject; in the post that causes Waffle to show up in those results, I merely linked to his bio on Wikipedia in which an oddity had just shown up.
Two things:
1) You might as well go directly to Wikipedia for this sort of thing; it's fast surpassing Google in usefulness even if there's the occasional bit of partisan graffiti in controversial or high-interest topics;
2) The prediction of a Nagin presidency showed up soon after the man's outburst at the Federal government. A cooler look at his actions will reveal that he's not all that hot. Indeed, via Patrick at Making Light, I read this post by China Mieville suggesting that Nagin has copious amounts of egg on his face. Now, if you follow American political life even as an outsider, you'll know to expect blame-shifting and mudslinging. Mieville is unusual and credible because his excoriation of Nagin is about as far removed from the expected spin as it could possibly be. Not that I believe everything Mieville has to say on the matter either - I think his interpretation of events begs a few questions. But read for yourself and make your own conclusions.

And that's all I'm going to say about New Orleans that isn't connected to the fundraising effort I'm part of. I'm still convinced that now is as good a time as any to criticise the American government – at all levels – for what went wrong in terms of disaster-preparedness and coordination, but it's not my place to do that. I'll leave that to those who have some actual knowledge to base their opinions on.

September 7, 2005

Stone me, it's a serious article about the Flat Tax!

The Sharpener: Tories and Lib Dems consider flat tax. Cecil Adams of The Straight Dope once called a Flat Tax "the stupidest idea to come down the pike since pet rocks." and I hope y'all won't mind if I treat the idea with a bit of skepticism if that's the undeniably bright Unca Cecil's opinion of it. But like pet rocks in their day, the Flat Tax is all the rage these days, so it's a good idea to learn a bit about it and form one's own opinion. But if serious discussion of the idea exists in the world of political/economic blogs, I haven't come across it. Then again, my lifeline to the world of economic weblogging consists of what Professor DeLong says about notable economics and public finance related posts on his own blog, so if he's not interested in flat-tax proposals either way, I don't get to hear of them.
Phil Hunt's post gives some idea of what a concrete scheme might look like in England and how it could amount to more than just everyone but a few rich people's taxes going up.

September 19, 2005

Me-ow, meine Damen und Herren! Me-ow!

The best coverage I've seen of the German elections comes from Mrs. T at a A Fistful of Euros. If you're at all interested in the situation there, read her dozen or so most recent posts. Mrs. T covers all bases, and pays attention to the dark horse of the race: the Left Party, who polled 8%.

It's easy to fail to pay the 'Left Party' the attention they deserve, mostly because nobody is likely to form a coalition with them. But still it should be noted: they did very well in this election. They should receive the congratulations they deserve.

Congratulations, then, wendebeschädigte East German communists: you polled surprisingly well, once you put yourselves under a West German carpetbagger.

And congratulations, Oskar Lafontaine. Many years ago you were the only major German political leader willing to speak the truth about the cost of unification. What a way you've come since then, finishing your career by becoming the first West German head of the SED.

That's gotta hurt. Oskar Lafontaine is like the Ralph Nader of the 2005 German elections, only seedier: his split from the SPD is almost entirely ego-driven, and instead of with a bunch of ineffectual Greens (the German Greens were already in government with the SPD) he got himself in bed with the inheritors of the East German Parteiapparat.
Read the rest, I tells ya.

September 23, 2005

But will he play that booger song at his inauguration? Is what I want to know.

This won't be news to many of my readers in the US, but I'm posting this for the benefit of Jeroen, who likes Kinky Friedman's old records: The Bull Moose reports that the Kinkster's gubernatorial bid, what there is of it, is doing well in the polls:

The spirit of Sam Houston independent style politics is alive and well! Kinky Friedman is well on his way to the Governor's mansion. The first Bill Hillsman commercial has been released - must see TV. A highly unscientific but encouraging San Antonio Express-News on-line poll shows the Kinkster in the lead -

"If the election were today, who would get your vote for Texas governor?Kinky Friedman 32.6% Chris Bell 24.8% Rick Perry 15.9% Carole Keeton Strayhorn 15.8%Someone else 10.9%"

And the mainstream press is increasingly taking Kinky's candidacy seriously (seriously!). From the Houston Chronicle,

"Republican activist Betty Sterquell, 77, of Amarillo, said there are Friedman bumper stickers across her city. Sterquell attended her first gubernatorial inauguration in 1939 for another singer-turned-politician, "Pappy" Lee O'Daniel.

"We all thought he was goofy with his 'Pass the biscuits, Pappy' and his Light Crust Doughboys, and he just walked away with it," Sterquell said.

Check out what is now Kinky's campaign site.

October 15, 2005

In America, everything is porn now

Warren Ellis writes that:

Tucked deep inside a massive bill designed to track sex offenders and prevent children from being victimized by sex crimes is language that could put many Hollywood movies in the same category as hard-core, X-rated films.

The provision added to the Children’s Safety Act of 2005 would require any film, TV show or digital image that contains a sex scene to come under the same government filing requirements that adult films must meet.


Under the provision inserted into the Children’s Safety Act, the definition of sexual activity is expanded to include simulated sex acts like those that appear in many movies and TV shows.

The provision, written by Rep. Mike Pence, R-Ind., could have ramifications beyond simply requiring someone to ensure that the names and ages of actors who partake in pretend lovemaking as compliance with Section 2257 in effect defines a movie or TV show as a pornographic work under federal law. Industry sources say the provision was included in the bill at the behest of the Justice Department.

Industry officials contend that the way the provision is written, a sex scene could trigger the provision even if the actors were clothed. While the language is designed to capture “lascivious exhibition of the genitals,” other legal decisions have said that “lascivious exhibition” could occur when the genitals are covered.

The bill, with the Section 2257 provision included, already has been approved by the U.S. House of Representatives and is waiting consideration by the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Industry executives worry that the provision, which is retroactive to 1995, will have a chilling effect on filmmakers. Faced with the choice of filing a 2257 certificate or editing out a scene, a filmmaker might decide it’s not worth getting entangled with the federal government and let the scene fall to the cutting-room floor, the executives said…

There is, of course, no reason to suppose that the bill does what it says on the tin. As the Reuters report mentions:

"Guys who are making [child pornography] don't care about reporting requirements," one source said. "When they're caught, they're looking at 30 years in prison. There's no indication they're going to fill out the paperwork."

(via Eric M, who also points out that digital images = webcomics).

I'll just add the blindingly obvious observation that this nonsense was proposed by a Republican, has passed a Republican-dominated House, will easily pass a Republican-dominated Senate and will be upheld by a Supreme Court that the Republican president is now stacking with his Republican cronies. The only hope that the entertainment industry has is that it will turn out to be as big an administrative nightmare for the government as it will be for them.

November 6, 2005

Yes, Virginia, there *are* grown-up Republicans

Why oh why couldn't John McCain become President in 2000? If it had to be a Republican, I mean.

McCain vows to add torture ban to all major Senate legislation

WASHINGTON - Girding for a potential fight with the Bush administration, supporters of a ban on torturing prisoners of war by U.S. interrogators threatened Friday to include the prohibition in nearly every bill the Senate considers until it becomes law.

The no-torture wording, which proponents say is supported by majorities in both houses of Congress, was included last month in the Senate's version of a defense spending bill. The measure's final form is being negotiated with the House, and the White House is pushing for either a rewording or deletion of the torture ban.

On Friday, at the urging of Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz, the Senate by a voice vote added the ban to a related defense bill as a backup.

Speaking from the Senate floor, McCain said, "If necessary - and I sincerely hope it is not - I and the co-sponsors of this amendment will seek to add it to every piece of important legislation voted on in the Senate until the will of a substantial bipartisan majority in both houses of Congress prevails. Let no one doubt our determination."

The ban would establish the Army Field Manual as the guiding authority in interrogations and prohibit "cruel, inhumane, and degrading treatment" of prisoners.

The Bush administration has sought to exempt the CIA from the ban.

McCain's stature in the fight is enhanced because he was tortured while he was a prisoner during the Vietnam War. When the Senate voted to include the ban in the defense spending bill last month, it was approved 90-9.

They took 7 years of his life and most of the use of his arms, but they couldn't take his cojones away. There's one guy left in the Republican party who knows right from wrong and understands that America's leadership should include moral leadership. How many Bush administration officials have to be impeached before McCain can become the top man?

(long quote because that nag screen that the AZcentral site shoved in my face irritated me and would probably irritate others)

February 4, 2006

Daily Press Briefing from US State Department 02/03

So far, the online coverage of the controversy over the Jyllandsposten cartoons depicting Mohammed has checked out with what I heard and read in the real news, so I haven't felt any need to put my 2 cents in. However, the past few days I've been reading contradictory quotes from the US State Department's response to the controversy. Especially within Europe, quite a few writers have been appalled at what they see as State cowtowing to the Muslim mobs, but other sources cite State's principled stance in favour of freedom of the press.
So I decided to look for the fullest version of the statement I could find.'s own site, at the time of writing, is useless, and so is Google, but a Technorati search showed a lenghty quote at cartoonist Colleen Doran's blog:

QUESTION: Yes? Can you say anything about a U.S. response or a U.S. reaction to this uproar in Europe over the Prophet Muhammad pictures? Do you have any reaction to it? Are you concerned that the violence is going to spread and make everything just —

MR. MCCORMACK: I haven't seen any — first of all, this is matter of fact. I haven't seen it. I have seen a lot of protests. I've seen a great deal of distress expressed by Muslims across the globe. The Muslims around the world have expressed the fact that they are outraged and that they take great offense at the images that were printed in the Danish newspaper, as well as in other newspapers around the world.

Our response is to say that while we certainly don't agree with, support, or in some cases, we condemn the views that are aired in public that are published in media organizations around the world, we, at the same time, defend the right of those individuals to express their views. For us, freedom of expression is at the core of our democracy and it is something that we have shed blood and treasure around the world to defend and we will continue to do so. That said, there are other aspects to democracy, our democracy — democracies around the world — and that is to promote understanding, to promote respect for minority rights, to try to appreciate the differences that may exist among us.

We believe, for example in our country, that people from different religious backgrounds, ethnic backgrounds, national backgrounds add to our strength as a country. And it is important to recognize and appreciate those differences. And it is also important to protect the rights of individuals and the media to express a point of view concerning various subjects. So while we share the offense that Muslims have taken at these images, we at the same time vigorously defend the right of individuals to express points of view. We may — like I said, we may not agree with those points of view, we may condemn those points of view but we respect and emphasize the importance that those individuals have the right to express those points of view.

For example — and on the particular cartoon that was published — I know the Prime Minister of Denmark has talked about his, I know that the newspaper that originally printed it has apologized, so they have addressed this particular issue. So we would urge all parties to exercise the maximum degree of understanding, the maximum degree of tolerance when they talk about this issue. And we would urge dialogue, not violence. And that also those that might take offense at these images that have been published, when they see similar views or images that could be perceived as anti-Semitic or anti-Catholic, that they speak out with equal vigor against those images.

QUESTION: That the Muslims speak out with equal vigor when they see — that's what you're asking?

MR. MCCORMACK: We would — we believe that it is an important principle that peoples around the world encourage dialogue, not violence; dialogue, not misunderstanding and that when you see an image that is offensive to another particular group, to speak out against that. Anti-Muslim images are as unacceptable as anti-Semitic images, as anti-Christian images or any other religious belief. We have to remember and respect the deeply held beliefs of those who have different beliefs from us. But it is important that we also support the rights of individuals to express their freely held views.

QUESTION: So basically you're just hoping that it doesn't — I'm sorry I misspoke when I said there was violence, I meant uproar. Your bottom line is that both sides have the right to do exactly as they're doing and you just hope it doesn't get worse?


QUESTION: You just hope it doesn't escalate.

MR. MCCORMACK: I gave a pretty long answer, so —

QUESTION: You did. I'm trying to sum it up for you. (Laughter.)

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah. Sure.

QUESTION: A couple of years ago, I think it was a couple of years ago when, I think it was the Syrians and the Lebanese were introducing this documentary about the Jews — or it was the Egyptians — this Administration spoke out very strongly about that and called it offensive, said it was —

MR. MCCORMACK: I just said that the images were offensive; we found them offensive.

QUESTION: Well, no you said that you understand that the Muslims found them offensive, but —

MR. MCCORMACK: I'm saying now, we find them offensive. And we certainly understand why Muslims would find these images offensive.


QUESTION: One word is puzzling me in this, Sean, and that's the use of the word "unacceptable" and "not acceptable," exactly what that implies. I mean, it's not quite obvious that you find the images offensive. When you say "unacceptable," it applies some sort of action against the people who perpetrate those images.

MR. MCCORMACK: No. I think I made it very clear that our defense of freedom of expression and the ability of individuals and media organizations to engage in free expression is forthright and it is strong, you know. This is — our First Amendment rights, the freedom of expression, are some of the most strongly held and dearly held views that we have here in America. And certainly nothing that I said, I would hope, would imply any diminution of that support.

QUESTION: It's just the one word "unacceptable," I'm just wondering if that implied any action, you know. But it doesn't you say?


I'd say that this is a typically measured, politicianly response that includes plenty of language emphasizing that yes, people do have the right to say and print insulting cartoons. So at least there's no need to claim that the Americans are weaseling out on the issue.

Update: On the other hand, the Bush administration's love of freedom of expression doesn't extend to that of American scientists trying to get some science done. Andrew Revkin reports that NASA scientists get harrassed by presidentially-appointed commissars telling them what they can and can't say (hat tip Eric Millikin )

February 6, 2006

My opinion!

Because Pete is puzzled over the lack of a response from the likes of me to the Mohammed cartoons: What he said.

Whoa, Patrick Nielsen Hayden is right, this does save a lot of work. And makes for a good game of Outrage Bingo.

Update: One of these days I'm going to learn to cut and paste, or maybe to check that I've cut and pasted the money link correctly. This is like the second time in two days that I rendered a perfectly good blog post nonsensical by putting the wrong link in. What was originally the second link to Pete's post should have been, and is now, the link to this Crooked Timber post by Chris Bertram.
Crooked Timber!
Crooked Timber!
Crooked Timber!
Crooked Timber!

You'd think after two years I'd have got the hang of this blogging thing, but who am I kidding. I haven't got the hang of counting either after more than 30 years. I'm hopeless and should just club myself to death.

March 4, 2006

Saba Rawi update

LGF Watch rounds up the latest news on the Saba Rawi case, including both mainstream media coverage and political responses. Some of the links are a bit messed up right now, but from a brief look at one quoted article in the Volkskrant, the English translations seem to be accurate enough.

March 27, 2006

Republican War on Science seminar at Crooked Timber

I loved the last two Crooked Timber seminars, but the latest one looks like it'll be a doozy. It's on The Republican War On Science, both the book by Chris Mooney, who is taking part, and the concept of the RWOS itself. I'm reading it now.

April 9, 2006

Eric M speak

You listen. Him smarder than me.

Is all.

April 11, 2006

Don't you think he looks tired? Part 2

US Vice President Cheney attempts to pitch a ball at one of those games Americans like.

Do I? Like hell I do! Cheney looks like he's at Death's door. Ariel Sharon looks healthier than Cheney right now and he's been in a coma for three months.
It's hard to imagine that the man is only 65. Seeing the evil genius*) behind the Bush administration reduced to such a piece of human wreckage is almost enough to make a man feel very slightly sorry for himnaaah.

*)If by "genius" you mean "crazy and incompetent" and by "evil" you mean "evil".

April 25, 2006

A word from Scott Martens

Scott Martens at AFOE has something to say on what is known here as the MP3 murder:

So, to the racist assholes of the Vlaams Belang, to every Belgian reporter and editorialist who through casual racism allowed their coverage to assume that the perpetrators were Muslims, to Brussels Journal, Michelle Malkin, the LGF crowd, to the many who blamed this killing on Islam or race, and to everyone in Belgium who thinks Islam is more incompatible with European values than Catholicism, I would like to offer up a big fuck you! If you wonder why your immigrants are socially excluded, you might start by looking at the society they're excluded from.

Endorsed, wholeheartedly. Read the rest for background.

April 29, 2006

[Einar] Missing the bloody point.

America's Fate: The Titanic's

Deals with a real issue: America's crippling national debt, but tries to blame it on Social Security, Medicare, and the like.

...No mention of two very expensive wars and an extensive peacekeeping mission.

Why is it that Conservatives can spend as much as they want on war, but want to take away the protection of the most vulnerable, and claim, even as George W. Bush uses a beaureaucratic trick (replacing the Social Security's funds with government bonds so that he can spend the money) that Social Security needs to be stopped, as it's causing the National debt.

And yet, one of the responses:


Entitlements. Need we say more?

Look at your charts.

In 1965 we spent 27% on entitlements. Now it is 54%.

We will be spending 25% of our entire GDP on SS, Medicare and Medicaid. That is more than the TOTAL Federal budget.

We have to address entitlements. Nothing else really matters. We can control ALL the other spending. We can cut defense spending to zero. We can close all the parks. And we still cannot solve the problem unless we can control entitlements.

We will probably have to ration health care at some point. Let's be smart about it. Everybody dies eventually. How much is one more year worth?

...Ah, just bugger me with a broostick sideways and spare me this crap.

May 19, 2006

Blogplug: LGFWatch on the Hirsi Ali affair

Like Martin Wisse, I've been greatly enjoying the Hirsi Ali affair. My take on it is similar to Martin's, although I am a little more sympathetic to Ayaan Hirsi Ali herself: I believe her heart was always in the right place, she was sincere in her struggle for the emancipation of women in Muslim countries and women immigrants from those countries, and she deserves better than to become the American Enterprise Institute's token black, feminist liberal. I do think her choice of the AEI leaves one with the impression that she's a lot less smart than she's made out to be, but then again I don't think she ever had much of a grasp on any issues other than the one she's closely associated with.
Rita Verdonk, on the other hand, has once again proven that instead of the steadfast maintainer of strict rules that her followers see in her, she's weak, incompetent and flip-flopping. She was against Hirsi Ali's citizenship before she was for it, then against it again, and now that Prime Minister Balkenende has told her to be for it, she's for it again. You heard that right: Balkenende of all people gave the so-called Iron Lady a big ol' smackdown. I'm respecting him a little more already. Praise the Lord and pass the popcorn.
I do wonder when all those other VVD parliamentarians and ministers who knew in 2002 that Hirsi Ali didn't have a valid Dutch citizenship will resign.

If you're living abroad, don't speak Dutch and want factual, accurate reporting on the whole affair, you could do a lot worse than to go to LGF watch for coverage and translations from the Dutch media. While their use of the facts as a club to beat Little Green Footballs and its rabid commentariat over the head with gets a bit old... ah, who am I kidding. That never gets old. In any case, LGFWatch, with the help of its correspondents, presents a reasonably accurate picture of the circumstances surrounding Hirsi Ali and Verdonk, as well as a good critique of the misrepresentations in certain right-wing blogs.
Relevant links:
Breaking News
How stupid are lizards?
We get mail
Oh Dear...
The Verdonk Files
Free Speech, Dutch Style

May 29, 2006

Playlist politics

I have a problem.

My MP3 playlist contains both Beatles and Stones songs. It contains a large amount of classic rock, signifying cool to the Baby Boomer generation, but also a decent selection of more recent material - enough 1980s pop to warm the cockles of the hearts of those in my own generation as well as the post-ironic hipsters whose favourite bands now all steal from that stuff. There's a shout-out to racial diversity in the form of music made by such unmistakeably black people as Solomon Burke and Bettye Lavette, and a socially-conscious chord is struck with the prominent inclusion of the latest Neil Young album. My Last.FM graphs show a nearly perfect power distribution, indicating that I have both strong preferences, signifying an ability to make clear, decisive choices, and wide-ranging tastes as evidenced by the length of that long, long tail, signalling a mind that's open to new ideas. Deep in the bowels of that long tail are indy rock acts such as the Flaming Lips, who you have to like to have any credibility whatsoever. Speaking of flaming, Queen, Rufus Wainwright and, to a lesser extent, Kate Bush, are included to capture the all-important gay demographic. Even the token amount of classical music in there, itself a transparant ploy to hint to cultural traditionalists that I am more refined and serious than I let on, is carefully massaged to create an impression of balance: work by the unescapably brilliant but politically incorrect Richard Wagner is off-set by the inclusion of a symphony by the Jewish-born composer Gustav Mahler.

In a sane world, this would not be a problem. People would recognise that my musical preferences are largely the result of my personal history, mixing in preferences I acquired as a teenager with whatever I came across in adulthood. But we don't live in a sane world, we live in a world where a person's iPod playlist is something people like Jacob Weinsberg write blitheringly stupid articles about. Next thing you know, some op-ed writer will pipe up saying I look fetching in a yellow pantsuit.

July 23, 2006

How to talk to a global warming skeptic

A very exhaustive list of questions global warming "skeptics" are likely to ask, with answers and commentary (via Comments in Patrick Farley's livejournal. For the latest in the underlying science go to RealClimate).

August 16, 2006

History of Oil

While we're still waiting for the MySQL server, and the Rogues of Clwyd-Rhan archives, to come back up, here's something that Branko linked to a few days ago: Robert Newman's History of Oil, a 45-minute comedy-tised documentary about the history of Western, ehrm, involvement in the Middle East and the desire among countries to control energy resources as a motivating factor in this, ehrm, involvement. You'll never take the phrase "bringing democracy to the Middle East" seriously again, and as for Tony Blair... well, I for one was already convinced the guy was a weasel, but Newman brings it home well.
I never rated Newman and Baddiel all that highly, apart from the History Today skits, of course, but History of Oil is superb - funny, educational and interestingly structured. (45 minutes)

August 23, 2006

Oh yeah, the apocalypse. Totally didn't happen yesterday, did it?

It says on the blog's home page that we're supposed to write about the impending apocalypse, and I'll admit it. I've been remiss in my duties. This is because I don't read wingnut blogs, preferring to read material by writers who aren't completely out of their minds.
Apparently, "Islam scholar" Bernard Lewis predicted that August 22 would herald the return of the hidden Imam and that Ahmadinejad would start nuking the rest of the world that day. Or something like that; like I said, I can't be arsed to read that sort of thing, and predictions of the End Of The World look extra-insane the day after the announced date. But Jim Henley got a nice riff out of it:

I experienced the carnage first-hand. This morning on the Washington Beltway a guy drove really slow in the left lane - right in front of me. Couldn't have been going over 50.

I was as resolute in refusing to be cowed by this unprovoked Iranian aggression as I was enraged at the fecklessness of our leaders, who failed to preempt the outrage by launching a major and of course purely defensive war on the Islamic Republic.

But where the craven Bush Administration and its puppeteers on the decadent Left fail America, the blogosphere can fill the void. We are fighting this war too, no less than the meeting planners at the think tanks and the guests on talk shows and the dumpers of fluids into airport bins. So I'm offering this blog item as a sharing - and yes, healing - place. Each of you, please tell us how you coped with the Day of Dodecahedral Doom. Whether acolytes of the Twelfth Imam cut in front of you at Au Bon Pain or put you on hold without asking or failed to note that your blog linked something before any other blogs you happened to notice, no enormity is too, well, enormous, for us to bear, together...

I'd like to add that I was feeling a bit sleepy all day that day, presumably as a result of mind rays from the Twelfth Imam sapping my mental strength. Also, all the good reading matter in my studio had been mysteriously replaced by Bob & Bobette albums, all of which sucked except a very early one that had... get this... muslims as the supporting characters. If that isn't a sign of a conspiracy I don't know what is.

I apologise for my lack of attention to matters eschatological. I'll pay more attention next time.

August 24, 2006

I need to go and rip some spines out.

I have a longer post on this issue brewing in my head, but it may turn out to be the sort of thing that I end up not posting because it's too inflammatory and risks burning the already quite bombed-out remains of my bridges with the right-leaning folks in the webcomics community, both among the readership and among my cartooning colleagues*). For now, though, allow me to swear profusely at fucking pigheaded bigoted motherfuckers like the dickwads who got on Raed-in-the-Middle's case at JFK airport:

One of the two men who approached me first, Inspector Harris, asked for my id card and boarding pass. I gave him my boarding pass and driver's license. He said "people are feeling offended because of your t-shirt". I looked at my t-shirt: I was wearing my shirt which states in both Arabic and English "we will not be silent". You can take a look at it in this picture taken during our Jordan meetings with Iraqi MPs. I said "I am very sorry if I offended anyone, I didnt know that this t-shirt will be offensive". He asked me if I had any other T-shirts to put on, and I told him that I had checked in all of my bags and I asked him "why do you want me to take off my t-shirt? Isn't it my constitutional right to express myself in this way?" The second man in a greenish suit interfered and said "people here in the US don't understand these things about constitutional rights". So I answered him "I live in the US, and I understand it is my right to wear this t-shirt".

Then I once again asked the three of them : "How come you are asking me to change my t-shirt? Isn't this my constitutional right to wear it? I am ready to change it if you tell me why I should. Do you have an order against Arabic t-shirts? Is there such a law against Arabic script?" so inspector Harris answered "you can't wear a t-shirt with Arabic script and come to an airport. It is like wearing a t-shirt that reads "I am a robber" and going to a bank". I said "but the message on my t-shirt is not offensive, it just says "we will not be silent". I got this t-shirt from Washington DC. There are more than a 1000 t-shirts printed with the same slogan, you can google them or email them at . It is printed in many other languages: Arabic, Farsi, Spanish, English, etc." Inspector Harris said: "We cant make sure that your t-shirt means we will not be silent, we don't have a translator. Maybe it means something else". I said: "But as you can see, the statement is in both Arabic and English". He said "maybe it is not the same message". So based on the fact that Jet Blue doesn't have a translator, anything in Arabic is suspicious because maybe it'll mean something bad!

[...The woman from Jet Blue] asked, what kind of t-shirts do you like. Should I get you an "I heart new york t-shirt?". So Mr. Harmon said "No, we shouldn't ask him to go from one extreme to another". I asked mr. harmon why does he assume I hate new york if I had some Arabic script on my t-shirt, but he didn't answer.

Bastards. Stinking, racist, wilfully ignorant, small-minded, disgusting, cowardly swine. May they squirm in hell. Fuck them back to front and side-ways and then fuck them again.

Feeling better now, I think. Via LGF Watch who have been documenting the end of what I thought was our civilisation in excruciating, red-mist-inducing detail.

*)Though frankly? "This website is a wingnut-free zone" sounds better to me with each passing day.

August 26, 2006

Dsquared speak

You listen:

As he did in Iraq, Chirac has played a blinder diplomatically. I don't think anyone ought to have ever believed that he was going to unilaterally cough up the men and money for this forlorn hope of a peacekeeping force. All that France provided was a convenient pretext for Hizbullah and Israel to walk away, in a reasonably dignified fashion, from a fight that neither of them wanted to be in.

Having got that, the international community ought to just say, "Thank you, monsieur," and walk away, not start complaining. Asking for the peacekeeping force is just childish, like asking for a kiss from the Easter Bunny when you've already got the chocolate.

This is what diplomacy looks like. You may say that it looks dishonest, sleazy and unpleasant, but I reply: we tried it your way for most of the month of July, and I can show you some pictures that would make your stomach turn.

August 29, 2006

Things that make you go 'Gods, not again'

1. Angela Merkel wants herself some God in the European constitution. Because, you know, the last time that idea was tried it was greeted universally with smiles and flowers and candy. I have nothing to add to Nosemonkey's comments on the matter, except this: I'm a long-time supporter of the idea of a European constitution, but I've voted against an appallingly bad implementation of that idea before and will do so again if our dear leaders fill it up with unnecessary and divisive guff again. Is it really so hard to come up with something on the American model? The US constitution takes an hour to read from the preamble to the end of the Bill of Rights, and that's if you read it carefully. Study it and emulate it - if anything make it simpler.
2. Ed Brayton cannae take it anymore, and quite rightly so: The "War on Christmas" season has started early this year, and we'll spend the next four months getting steaming piles of bullshit dropped down our chimney by America's mullahs. By the way, don't think you'll be safe from this if you live in the UK or the Netherlands: Stupidity is highly contagious, as both Education Minister Van der Hoeven's "openness" to Intelligent Design and the Daily Mail and Daily Express reporting that Andrew Rilstone analysed have shown.

September 12, 2006

Andrew speak, you listen

Seriously, why are you reading this when you could be reading Flogging a Dead Horse, Andrew Rilstone's essay on Britain's proposed new laws against "Extreme pornography" instead? Sample quote:

I don't think that looking at images of necrophilia, sexual violence or bestiality is one of my more fundamental human rights. It's a right I'm perfectly willing to give up, along with my right to shout 'fire' in a crowded theater, my right to drive on the right hand side of the road and my right to put potato peelings in my wheelie bin, so long as it does some good. But I would quite like to know what kind of good the new law is supposed to do.

Are cemeteries being vandalized in order to provide models for a booming necro-porn industry? Is the RSPCA worried about an epidemic of cows with sore bottoms? Then by all means, let's take action. Let's impose a criminal penalty on people who look at pictures of non-consenting bovine sex, in the hope that by cutting off demand, you will put the suppliers out of business, as has worked so successfully in the case of hard drugs.

Go read the whole thing. This web page will still be here when you're done.

September 26, 2006

EU doing what it's supposed to do, film at 11

Following on a theme established by Andrew Rilstone's posts on reporting in the UK newspapers the Daily Mail and the Daily Express, here's a post by Nosemonkey at the Sharpener:

Finally, in the (never-read) second-to-last paragraph, we get the real story:
“The decision replaces 25 national packaging rules and two EU directives on quantities with one single EU-wide law leaving packaging up to market forces”
So no more scare stories of our pints of milk or pounds of butter being under threat - perhaps even an end to the “metric martyrs” business - as all restrictions on how food is packaged are removed in one fell swoop. If this new law is passed and works properly, if the market calls for food to be sold in Imperial measures, food can be sold in Imperial measures. So, were the Metro to be slightly less rabid in its following of the Associated Newspapers anti-EU line, the story should perhaps have read “The EU does what it’s supposed to do, reducing pointless and restrictive food regulations and freeing up the market”. But as we all know from decades of reading anti-EU scare stories, Brussels NEVER cuts back on regulation. Oh no…

September 29, 2006

Fokke and Sukke have fallen into the hands of the Americans

"...Oof! And that was just the good cop!"

Just so Americans know how the world will perceive them from now on. From Fokke & Sukke.

September 30, 2006

Repeat: Effective interrogation techniques

I was a bit surprised to find that my blog post on Hans Joachim Scharff was two and a half years old already. Since then, the articles it refers to have vanished, and the centre of gravity of the political debate on torture in the US has shifted from labeling the sadistic scum humiliating prisoners at Abu Ghraib as "a few bad apples" to "anti-torture" being a political label for those who pretend to put up a fight against the legalisation of torture in all but name, rather than a minimal precondition for membership in democratic society. So I'd like to link to it again, and also recommend Katherine and Hilzoy's many posts on the issue at Obsidian Wings as just a starting point for those who want to know more about what is being done in Americans' names.

One article that I found in a new search for "Hans Joachim Scharff" is Truth Extraction: Honey Beats Vinegar which also describes how one American interrogator got useful information out of Japanese prisoners of war by ensuring they felt safe. That links to a longer article which is unfortunately behind a subscription wall.

December 14, 2006

Fair Trade = Free Trade

Hilzoy at Obsidian Wings has a post up on the economics of Fair Trade products, which makes a point I've been meaning to make for some time:

What I am doing, I think, is exactly what standard economic theory says that consumers do: namely, registering my preferences through my purchasing choices.

I mean: this is such a completely unremarkable thing to do, especially to market-oriented conservatives, that I'm constantly baffled at the pushback it gets. One of the whole points of the market is that, absent market failures, it's a wonderful mechanism for transmitting information about consumer preferences to producers, and for giving producers an incentive to meet those preferences. For instance, I drink Diet Coke, and I prefer to drink it in cans, even though it would undoubtedly be cheaper if I bought it in those big two liter bottles. I assume that it's because there are enough people like me in the US that Diet Coke is available in cans. If people preferred it in some other form -- in little Diet Coke-soaked sponges that we could suck on, or Barney-shaped dinosaur containers, or IV drips, or whatever -- then I assume those would probably appear. But when I buy Diet Coke in cans, I don't normally hear about how strange and spooky it is for me to be trying to influence the market by buying the things I prefer. I don't get long lectures on how my decision to buy Diet Coke in cans will paradoxically cause cans to become unavailable. People normally just say: oh, right, cans. Fine. Some conservatives say: thank God you're allowing the market to register your choices, instead of setting up a central planning mechanism to decide on Diet Coke delivery systems. Some liberals add: I hope you recycle them. (I do.) But normally that's the end of it.

Republic of Palau recently criticised, among others, Hilzoy for stating the blindingly obvious in her earlier post on products whose production makes the world a worse place, which includes coffee and chocolate. She did conclude that she was glad that real-world information was finally being made available to Americans who might want to base decisions on that information. I found myself being skeptical, thinking that for every American who would decide to abstain from chocolate or switch to fair trade products, there would be three who would make a point of buying as much chocolate as they could, eat it at chocolate abstainers in a deliberately offensive manner (see: Vegetarianism, responses to), claim that fair trade chocolate is really granola and publish "research" claiming that fair trade chocolate makes you gay (I wonder if those people know how much soy cheap chocolate contains). Hilzoy has this to say about responses like that:

I think the pushback comes from the fact that this is such a liberal thing to do. But one of the points I was trying to make at the end of my earlier post was: it should be a conservative thing to do as well. Anyone who has a preference for products not produced using child labor should welcome the opportunity to register that fact through the market. And market-oriented or libertarian conservatives, in particular, should (I think) regard this as by far the best way to register these preferences. After all, the alternatives, as with Diet Coke delivery systems, generally involve some sort of state action by which our preferences can be enforced. One does not have to choose between these two: one can both advocate for child labor laws throughout the world and refuse to buy stuff made with child labor. But anyone who feels leery of the governmental solutions has, I would have thought, a special reason to hope that the market-oriented solution works, and to encourage it.

As is her standard, Hilzoy is very thorough, meeting several other objections that might be raised including the all-important one about liberal self-righteousness. Read the whole thing.

Your Last Chance To See has now passed. reports:

Wuhan, 13 December 2006 - The Baiji Yangtze Dolphin is with all probability extinct. On Wednesday, in the city of Wuhan in central China, a search expedition, under the direction of the Institute for Hydrobiology Wuhan and the Swiss-based Foundation, drew to a finish without any results. During the six-week expedition scientists from six nations desperately searched the Yangtze in vain.

Douglas Adams is whirling in his urn.

February 10, 2007

An Iraq interrogator's nightmare

Former contract interrogator Eric Fair writes in the Washington Post:

A man with no face stares at me from the corner of a room. He pleads for help, but I'm afraid to move. He begins to cry. It is a pitiful sound, and it sickens me. He screams, but as I awaken, I realize the screams are mine.

That dream, along with a host of other nightmares, has plagued me since my return from Iraq in the summer of 2004. Though the man in this particular nightmare has no face, I know who he is. I assisted in his interrogation at a detention facility in Fallujah. I was one of two civilian interrogators assigned to the division interrogation facility (DIF) of the 82nd Airborne Division. The man, whose name I've long since forgotten, was a suspected associate of Khamis Sirhan al-Muhammad, the Baath Party leader in Anbar province who had been captured two months earlier.

The lead interrogator at the DIF had given me specific instructions: I was to deprive the detainee of sleep during my 12-hour shift by opening his cell every hour, forcing him to stand in a corner and stripping him of his clothes. Three years later the tables have turned. It is rare that I sleep through the night without a visit from this man. His memory harasses me as I once harassed him.

It's... not easy for me to feel sympathy for this man. His suffering, real though it may be, pales in comparison to the suffering he and the likes of him have inflicted on their detainees, many of whom were never charged with any crime (for more on the nature of what people like Fair got up to, who they did it to, and the effects what they did has had in some of the better-documented cases, I refer to Obsidian Wings' coverage of torture and detention, especially Hilzoy's posts, especially those on the torture of Jose Padilla). In addition, Fair could have avoided his present nightmares by not doing evil in the first place.

Nevertheless, by owning up to what he did, admitting it was wrong, describing what torture does to those who practise it, and arguing strongly against it based on his own experiences, Fair has made a significant first step towards his rehabilitation. I hope it will also contribute to the whole story of what went on at Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo Bay and other American military prisons around the world coming to light, and to the end of the practices Fair describes.

February 13, 2007

Christian values

Self-identified "Christians" send Amanda Marcotte email, and Amanda quotes them. It makes for fascinating reading, though it is somewhat disturbing to note that so many Pharisees walk among us. And they vote.

In the old days, when this blog had working comments, people would pipe up at points like this to inform me that that sort of behaviour was the exception, not the rule. I didn't believe it then, and one would have an even harder time convincing me now.

February 17, 2007

New Free Richard Thompson song, plus Earth Day Footprint questionnaire

I missed this at Making Light's Sidelights, but managed to catch it at Avedon Carol's Sideshow: Richard Thompson has a new song up on his website, called Dad's Gonna Kill Me. First impression: pretty energetic delivery with his usual strong guitar work. Dunno if it's the best writing he's ever done, yet, but I'll know when I've listened to it more.

Another quick catch: the Earth Day Footprint Quiz tells me that if everyone lived like me, we'd need 2.1 planets. This in spite of me not owning a car and living in a very modest apartment. My footprint is well below the average for a person living in the Netherlands, but, like my cellphone, it's not small enough.

February 21, 2007

Quick links for Wednesday

Children's literature is full of scrotums! (Via Neil Gaiman)

Matt Taibbi: Maybe We Deserve to Be Ripped Off By Bush's Billionaires:

While America obsessed about Brittany's shaved head, Bush offered a budget that offers $32.7 billion in tax cuts to the Wal-Mart family alone, while cutting $28 billion from Medicaid.

MediaFork is a new media-ripper derived from HandBrake, whose development had stalled recently. Works on OSX and linux (linux version Command Line only). I couldn't get the source code to build, but the binary version worked swimmingly. So far, I've done all my DVD ripping with MPlayer, but you can never have enough tools... and this one seems to be a little smarter than MPlayer at finding the correct audio channels automagically.

Teen 'sport killings' of homeless on the rise. Reminded me of this Majikthise post from a month or so ago. Remind me to be nice to a homeless person some time.

The man responsible for putting my old band's music on Sellaband and adding old photos showing me in the band also regularly sends me interesting music links, so I can almost forgive him. Today, he sent me a link to Dalek I, an obscure early synth duo. I didn't care much for this sort of thing when I was actually living through the synth pop era, but a lot of it sounds rather good to me now.

March 5, 2007

Quick links for monday

Chris Lightfoot is dead. I liked his weblog. He dropped off my radar a bit when he stopped posting frequently, but had he returned, I would have found out from many other bloggers linking to him enthusiastically. He only wrote when he had something to say, and when he did it was almost always good. I wasn't aware of his many other online roles (he was involved in Pledgebank and mySociety. I can only second mySociety's recommendation to

sift through his blog and marvel at the quantity of primary research and original coding that went into it. Documenting and exploring his work would provide material for many years of research, and yet all this was accomplished by the age of 28.

Chicken Yoghurt finds Britain’s bookworms misanthropic and death-fixated.

Digby on the latest round of bullshit claims that "Teh Left" is uncivil and hateful because, oh my stars and garters, Teh Left uses swears:

I have to admit that I'm even more surprised, however, that the manly warriors of the rightwing blogosphere are so genteel and restrained, which they seem inordinately proud of, as if they've won first prize from the Boston spinsters crochet society or something. There has always been a particular type of prissy conservative male who shares certain characteristics with fluttery Victorian ladies who get all breathless (and aroused) in the presence of muscular, earthy language. I didn't realize that the alleged he-men of the rightwing blogosphere were like this but I suppose I should have. It certainly explains why they haven't joined the military.


And The Poor Man, a few days ago, ran a blogger's style guide to civility and seriousness.

Speaking of civility, read The Greatest Cliché: The Unexamined Propaganda of "Political Correctness" (via)

March 15, 2007

Quick links for Thursday

Noteworthy things I've read today:
Digby on religious literacy in the US.
Amanda Marcotte on guns, bad faith arguments and pleasure as a positive good.

April 27, 2007

Jon Swift has a drawing assignment for you

Jon Swift:

If Chris Muir drew Charles Schulz's Peanuts, for example, he wouldn't have bothered drawing a panel showing Lucy pulling the football away at the last minute when Charlie Brown tries to kick it. That would be too Old School for him. Instead, Muir would just have Lucy say, "Democrats always pull the football away at the last minute when you are trying to kick it, Charlie Brown." Lucy and Charlie Brown would also probably be in their underwear.

Internet meme in 5... 4... 3....

May 1, 2007

An honest obituary of Boris Yeltsin

I found this more than a week late, but Yeltsin: An Obit of a Drunken, Bloblike Train Wreck of a Revolutionary Leader by Matt Taibbi is still worth a read because it's well-written and gives a better insight into why the Russians didn't care much about ole' Boris than the "they prefer an authoritarian over a buffoon" line that was common in the conventional obits. (Via Majikthise)

July 11, 2007

Deaths of the Haemoclysm, by religion

Parrotline has run the numbers of the death tolls of the various wars in the 20th-Century haemoclysm, separating them by religious affiliation. World War II is, quite wisely, listed separately because it's a complex event and separating out all the religious affiliations involved is going to take the scholars until Doomsday. Numbers are shown for deaths in 20th/21st-century wars by religious affiliation of warring parties and deaths in worst 20th/21st-century genocides by religious affiliation of killers and victims. The final scorecard:

Wars involving European-Christians and Asian Buddhists (incl. WWII) have killed 154.8 million people in the past century. Wars involving Muslims (incl. WWII) have killed 25.6 million people in the past century.

Major genocides & atrocities committed by European-Christians and Asian Buddhists have killed 84.0 million people in the past century. Major genocides & atrocities committed by Muslims have killed 3.5 million people in the past century.


August 4, 2007


I have nothing to add to this

As recently as the 1980s [...] Ronald fucking Reagan could not-so-boldly call for the elimination of all nuclear weapons and be widely regarded as having departed only ever-so-slightly from the hardcore militant industrialist anti-communist line. Ronald Reagan! Mr. "Evil Empire" himself wanted, or so he claimed, to eliminate all nuclear weapons from on Earth! Now it’s seen as a risky move (with a whiff of sixties fervor) for a Democratic primary contender to rule out the use of nuclear weapons against small, decidedly non-nuclear asymmetrical threats holed up in friendly nations? What? What dank, perverted path are we on? Twenty years from now, will Unity ‘28 scion Chelsea "LeMay" Clinton sadly note the unseriousness of those neo-stinking robo-hippies opposed, on principle, to nuking PETA? Or the NEA? A meth lab, maybe? The odd Mexican?

Twenty years ago, everybody in this country (give or take a baker’s million blazing nutjobs) understood that the use of nuclear weapons was a cataclysmic, final act of madness, a step towards global suicide to be avoided at (almost) any cost. Now, absent an enemy with any real ability to do us harm, the idea that nuclear weapons should be available to use on caves full of crazy idiots armed with weapons that were the height of military sophistication approximately seventy years ago, this idea is the conventional wisdom? Of the Democratic Party? The party that ostensibly wants to end the war in Iraq? Where have you gone, Robert McNamara / A nation turns its loony eyes to you, doot doot doo.

What the fuck, seriously. What. The. Fucking. Fuck. I want off this ball, blundering downhill. I want to go home, to the nation I imagined I lived in.

August 6, 2007

Milking the fatties

Being Unhealthy Could Cost You Clarian Health is taking a novel approach to reducing health-care costs: It's penalizing workers for indicators of poor health For employees at Clarian Health, feeling the burn of trying to lose weight will take on new meaning.

In late June, the Indianapolis-based hospital system announced that starting in 2009, it will fine employees $10 per paycheck if their body mass index [BMI, a ratio of height to weight that measures body fat] is over 30. If their cholesterol, blood pressure, and glucose levels are too high, they'll be charged $5 for each standard they don't meet. Ditto if they smoke: Starting next year, they'll be charged another $5 in each check.

But why stop there? The real money's in cancer and heart disease. I'd say lung cancer should be worth at least $150 per paycheck, and a heart attack should be cause for immediate suspension without pay. That should teach people to take care of themselves! (Via Sadly, No!)

August 29, 2007

Starship Stormtroopers

Starship Stormtroopers, an eminently readable essay, or perhaps a transcripted speech, by Michael Moorcock from 1977, about authoritarianism in Science Fiction and Fantasy literature:

There are still a few things which bring a naive sense of shocked astonishment to me whenever I experience them -- a church service in which the rituals of Dark Age superstition are performed without any apparent sense of incongruity in the participants -- a fat Soviet bureaucrat pontificating about bourgeois decadence -- a radical singing the praises of Robert Heinlein. If I were sitting in a tube train and all the people opposite me were reading Mein Kampf with obvious enjoyment and approval it probably wouldn't disturb me much more than if they were reading Heinlein, Tolkien or Richard Adams. All this visionary fiction seems to me to have a great deal in common. Utopian fiction has been predominantly reactionary in one form or another (as well as being predominantly dull) since it began. Most of it warns the world of 'decadence' in its contemporaries and the alternatives are usually authoritarian and sweeping -- not to say simple-minded. A look at the books on sale to Cienfuegos customers shows the same old list of Lovecraft and Rand, Heinlein and Niven, beloved of so many people who would be horrified to be accused of subscribing to the Daily Telegraph or belonging to the Monday Club and yet are reading with every sign of satisfaction views by writers who would make Telegraph editorials look like the work of Bakunin and Monday Club members sound like spokesmen for the Paris Commune.

Some years ago I remember reading an article by John Pilgrim in Anarchy in which he claimed Robert Heinlein as a revolutionary leftist writer. As a result of this article I could not for years bring myself to buy another issue. I'd been confused in the past by listening to hardline Communists offering views that were somewhat at odds with their anti-authoritarian claims, but I'd never expected to hear similar things from anarchists. My experience of science fiction fans at the conventions which are held annually in a number of countries (mainly the US and England) had taught me that those who attended were reactionary (claiming to be 'apolitical' but somehow always happy to vote Tory and believe Colin Jordan to 'have a point'). I always assumed these were for one reason or another the exceptions among sf enthusiasts. Then the underground papers began to emerge and I found myself in sympathy with most of their attitudes -- but once again I saw the old arguments aired: Tolkien, C. S. Lewis, Frank Herbert, Isaac Asimov and the rest, bourgeois reactionaries to a man, Christian apologists, crypto-Stalinists, were being praised in IT, Frendz and Oz and everywhere else by people whose general political ideals I thought I shared. I started writing about what I thought was the implicit authoritarianism of these authors and as often as not found myself accused of being reactionary, elitist or at very best a spoilsport who couldn't enjoy good sf for its own sake. But here I am again at Stuart Christie's request, to present arguments which I have presented more than once before.

Read on and take notes. And get yerself some John Brunner novels. They're good. (via)

Note: misspelling of "Tolkien" in the quoted section corrected because I'll have no part in spreading it around.

February 13, 2008

Hilzoy on Obama, for future reference

Three posts by Hilzoy of Obsidian Wings that I want to be able to quickly find again should the need arise, concerning Barack Obama's track record in office, why Hilzoy endorses him and the inadequate response to the Obama phenom by the Clinton campaign:

Mistakes are Expensive
Barack Obama (posted in 2006)
Obama actually.

Nothing to add to these—I'm just posting them for future reference.

February 15, 2008

Saudi government to execute "witch" after extracted confession

I've seen a lot of justified outrage over this: The trial and conviction of an illiterate woman as a witch in Saudi Arabia. Yes, the Saudi legal system and government really are that backward, vicious and barbaric. As Human Rights Watch writes in its original report on the case:

The religious police who arrested and interrogated Fawza Falih and the judges who tried her in the northern town of Quraiyat never gave her the opportunity to prove her innocence against absurd charges that have no basis in law.

“The fact that Saudi judges still conduct trials for unprovable crimes like ‘witchcraft’ underscores their inability to carry out objective criminal investigations,” said Joe Stork, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Fawza Falih’s case is an example of how the authorities failed to comply even with existing safeguards in the Saudi justice system.”

The judges relied on Fawza Falih’s coerced confession and on the statements of witnesses who said she had “bewitched” them to convict her in April 2006. She retracted her confession in court, claiming it was extracted under duress, and that as an illiterate woman she did not understand the document she was forced to fingerprint. She also stated in her appeal that her interrogators beat her during her 35 days in detention at the hands of the religious police. At one point, she had to be hospitalized as a result of the beatings.

The judges never investigated whether her confession was voluntary or reliable or investigated her allegations of torture. They never even made an inquiry as to whether she could have been responsible for allegedly supernatural occurrences, such as the sudden impotence of a man she is said to have “bewitched.” They also broke Saudi law in multiple instances, ignoring legal rules on proper procedures in a trial.

The judges did not sit as a panel of three, as required for cases involving the death penalty. They excluded Fawza Falih from most trial sessions and banned a relative who was acting as her legal representative from attending any session. Earlier, her interrogators blocked her access to a lawyer and the judges, and denied her the right to professional legal representation, thus depriving her of the opportunity to cross-examine the witnesses against her. She claims that some of the witnesses were unknown to her and that others had made statements against her only as a result of beatings.

As I say, the outrage is justified, and Saudi-Arabia deserves widespread condemnation and ridicule. However, condemnation and ridicule aren't going to stop Fawza Falih from getting executed. So I've been asking myself and others "what are we going to do about this?"

And I don't have an answer. It's easy to think of fun things you can do to protest. We could threaten to reprint cartoons representing the prophet Mohammed until the Saudis relent, or we could boycott Saudi oil until you forgetthey relent, or, and I should stress that my next suggestion won't be any less feasible than the previous ones, we could collectively travel back in time to September 12, 2001 and put that loathsome backwater in our crosshairs along with Afghanistan and instead of Iraq.

The only thing I can think of that ordinary people can do is to talk to both the Saudi government and their own. Write letters to your Saudi consulate or embassy, write to your MP/congressman/whatever, write to your Foreign Secretary, and tell them, politely (in other words, don't borrow phrasing from this blog post), why you think Fawza Falih should not be executed. Unfortunately, neither HRW nor Amnesty International provide ready templates, but you and I can do this in our own words. Campaign.

By the way... I'm not suggesting that this is the only thing that can be done. Just that I can't think of anything else, but this is likely to be a failure of my own imagination as much as anything else. If you have a better idea, or even a hare-brained idea that might lead us to a better one, tell me.

Contact info for the Saudi embassy in the Netherlands
HRW's letter to King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia

February 21, 2008

Why the Muslim hordes aren't going to overrun us, and other stuff

From a very link-rich post at A Fistful of Euros focused on telling us who the people are that make such dire predictions of European demographic collapse and where there funding comes from, comes this long post from 2004 clarifying some demographic trends among muslim immigrant communities in France, particularly that the fertility rates in these communities are falling and will fall further. I argued the same point privately a couple of days ago but didn't have a source ready.

The AFOE article itself collects several links to articles that are too long to read in the time I have between breakfast and work, so I'll just quote a bit from it links and all:

The Nation’s Kathryn Joyce takes a look at the politics of Eurabia; nobody should be surprised that it’s pretty ugly. Essentially, there’s a gaggle of thinktanks/campaign groups/whatever closely connected to the Mormons and Senator Sam Brownback, and specifically to their extreme “quiverfull” wing, which advocates having absurdly (8+ kids) large families. It looks a lot like an effort both to find a new market for their politics in central Europe (Kazcynski’s Poland was Target One) and also to gin up a foreign-policy scare that would energise their base in support of Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign. Well, that went well.

It’s also amusing that Joyce describes their view of Poland as “the anti-Sweden”. I don’t know to what extent this is a true misrepresentation, but it’s worth pointing out that they’ve placed their strategic bridgehead on the wrong side of the Baltic. It’s as if the Normandy landings had taken place somewhere on the coast of Portugal or Ireland. In yet another cracking DM post, this time by “AFOE Principal Investigator” Edward Hugh, we learn that Sweden is the last place in Europe that needs to worry. Well, except for France. Poland, on the other hand, is solidly in their problem group of countries with very low total-fertility rates [...] France? Sweden? You can almost hear the authoritarian personalities creak and groan with the cognitive dissonance. Of course, there’s a very good reason why they didn’t go to either France or Sweden, which is that they would have been laughed out of town.

But what especially amuses me is this:

The result is the spread of US culture-war tactics across the globe, from the Czech Republic to Qatar–where right-wing Mormon activist and WCF co-founder Richard Wilkins has found enough common cause with Muslim fundamentalists to build the Doha International Institute for Family Studies and Development.

Doha? As in Qatar? Yes. Unless you’re in the oil or natural gas business, there’s one reason to locate a new institution - especially a profoundly subsidy-dependent one like a thinktank - in Qatar, which is that the sheikh is probably paying for it.

I've read part of the Joyce article so far, and it's a cracking good read. I for one am amused at findind out that the story about wolves recolonising eastern Germany was supposed to scare us. I was all "Yay, wolves! Arrroooo!" when I read that.

May 18, 2008

I really didn't want to read about this

What US Customs looks like from the outside
From Scary Go Round - US customs as seen from the point of view of someone who travels in a lot.

For the longest time, I've been telling myself I wasn't going to travel to the United States - not as long as being in transit means I have no rights, not as long as I have to be fingerprinted, prodded, questioned and poked before I'm allowed in, not as long as shit like this can happen, not as long as George Bush is President and the dumb fucks who voted for him in 2004 are still allowed not just to vote, but to drive as well.

Well, I've changed my mind. I have a damned good reason. However, it's the same reason this Italian traveler had, so reading about that struck a chord:

He was a carefree Italian with a recent law degree from a Roman university. She was “a totally Virginia girl,” as she puts it, raised across the road from George Washington’s home. Their romance, sparked by a 2006 meeting in a supermarket in Rome, soon brought the Italian, Domenico Salerno, on frequent visits to Alexandria, Va., where he was welcomed like a favorite son by the parents and neighbors of his girlfriend, Caitlin Cooper.

Domenico Salerno, with his girlfriend, Caitlin Cooper, in Rome on Sunday. He was held for 10 days in the United States after being denied entry.

But on April 29, when Mr. Salerno, 35, presented his passport at Washington Dulles International Airport, a Customs and Border Protection agent refused to let him into the United States. And after hours of questioning, agents would not let him travel back to Rome, either; over his protests in fractured English, he said, they insisted that he had expressed a fear of returning to Italy and had asked for asylum.

Ms. Cooper, 23, who had promised to show her boyfriend another side of her country on this visit - meaning Las Vegas and the Grand Canyon - eventually learned that he had been sent in shackles to a rural Virginia jail. And there he remained for more than 10 days, locked up without charges or legal recourse while Ms. Cooper, her parents and their well-connected neighbors tried everything to get him out.

Now the odds of this happening to me are, realistically, slight. It's the principle that matters though. This is what can happen and if it happens to you, you have no rights. I wonder, though, whether Americans understand how much this hurts them. The American authorities have permanently deterred Mr. Salerno from returning to the US, spending his valuable Euros there and doing the volunteer work in the community he was a guest in (more on that below). Any tax moneys spent on Ms. Cooper's education will be benefitting Italy instead once she's tunneled her way out of the Land of the Free. People reading the story, like Martin Wisse who I got the link from, will be thinking twice about traveling to the US while the conditions above apply, and they also won't be bringing their Euros in. This shit adds up.

Aggie and I discussed this incident a bit, and without wanting to put any blame on Mr. Salermo, there are probably lessons to learn about what kind of behaviour to avoid when traveling to the US. I guess by now all reasonably intelligent people understand that you don't say things like "I have a bomb strapped to my chest! Allahu Ackbar!" when customs ask you if you have anything to declare. It's probably not a good idea to testify to your own character by telling Immigration you've done volunteer work in your host community and that you're integrating well with it, especially if your English isn't too good. It's not clear from the article whether Mr. Salermo did that, but it's a possibility and I'll add it to the list of behaviour to avoid for the 17 hours or so of nonpersonhood on my trip. It's probably an even worse idea to do that while being Meditterranian-looking.

After my summer trip, my next visit will be after the elections, but before the next President's inauguration. The post-Bush restoration project will be a long and arduous one, but I hope that they'll find time to look at the policies that make abuses like this one possible.

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