RSS feed for entries


Civil War, Uncivil War

Does it matter which one is happening in Iraq? If it’s “not a civil war” does that mean it’s “okay”? If it is, does that mean anyone plans on doing anything different?

This is yet another way of avoiding the issues. They aren’t hard to articulate:

1) Saddam Hussein was one of the world’s outstanding sadistic dictators. He needed to be deposed.

2) Killing the patient in order to save them is bad.

3) The US, with it’s hamfisted operating procedures and oil-murky motives, is busily killing Iraq. The US has an absolute moral obligation to stop destroying the place and to make reparations in whatever way is acceptable to civilian Iraqis.

4) While the US fiddles, arguing about how many hundreds of thousands have died and what the definition of war is, people are perishing, families are falling apart, and the land is turning into waste.

Update a few hours later. Well, that’s a relief. The whole thing has been cleared up because, as happens so often, Jon Stewart and The Daily Show have come to the rescue. What we’re dealing with here is a “minor linguistic flareup.” Also a “faith-based melee.” Or, just possibly, a “territorial argle-bargle.” The incomparable has the clip.

    Print This Post Print This Post

Bridging the West-Muslim Divide

There is a big divide, important people say. Muslims are furious about the treatment of Palestinians, about discrimination, humiliation, and marginalisation. To demonstrate how to treat people right, they blow them up. The West is furious about people being blown up. To demonstrate how to treat people right, they blow up mosques. And people, but always only as a regrettable side-effect. It’s not terrorism when the West does it. Remember that, or nothing will make any sense.

The West has some other issues that get less press. Oil, for instance. This is not about oil. Do not think about oil. Think about the clash of civilizations. (Are you thinking about it? Good.)

And then there’s human rights. The idea of having to live with the restrictions, uptightness, and all-around neuroticism that most Muslim societies seem to consider normal horrifies the vast majority of Westerners. But since they don’t, themselves, have to live with it, not much is said. It would be intolerant, or meddlesome, or it’s an internal affair. Sort of like wife-beating used to be something between a man and a woman. However, just because almost nobody talks about it, doesn’t stop it from being a source of hostility. Too often, it’s over-generalized hostility, as things that aren’t voiced usually are.

There’s a common thread there. The anger is about occupation, humiliation, poverty, violence, and abuse. These are not religious issues. They aren’t even cultural issues.

They are issues of justice. Nobody, whether Western, Muslim, or Western and Muslim, wants to be poor, hurt, or humiliated. A world united behind impoverishing and abusing people would be worse than our current one, not better. It is not unity anyone wants. It is justice, at least for themselves.

Let me go through a few examples, just to make my meaning clear.

  • Palestine. The Jews, having been atrociously treated by the Europeans, decided they needed a Jewish state. Personally, I don’t think it’s possible to have a benign government without the separation of religion and state, but I’m also a strong believer in consenting adults doing whatever they damn well please. So I’ll blink the separation issue for a moment, and grant the concept of a Jewish state. They wanted that state in the Promised Land. The only problem was, the land had been promised to some other people as well (perhaps proving not only that God exists, but also that he wouldn’t pass his real estate license). So Palestinian people got turfed out to make way for Jewish people. No matter how you look at it, that is an injustice. The consequences of that injustice will continue to resonate until it either stops (which means the Palestinians can live in peace in their own country, whether that’s a non-religious state or a separate, viable Palestine) or everybody is dead.
  • It doesn’t stop because the US is too busy supporting Israel, right or wrong. So we’re currently headed toward the second alternative while we waste time talking about bridging a non-existent divide. There is no divide. Nobody wants to be booted out of their country or have to pass checkpoints to reach a hospital. There’s only a lot of people who’d rather do what’s easy (for themselves) than what’s right. There’s a lot of people who’d rather use poor refugees as irritants against their enemies, or ignore the crimes of their client state. In other words, there’s only a lot of people who’d rather have (other) people die than do what it takes to right a wrong. No divide there either, unfortunately.
  • Lack of respect for Muslim traditions. Some traditions should not be respected. Cannibalism. Slavery. Female genital mutilation. Only the first is not well-known from at least some Middle Eastern lands. None of them have anything to do with Islam, but the appalling treatment of people in majority Muslim societies puts the religion in a bad light. So why aren’t the clerics making sure these things stop? Instead, some come out with statements favoring wife-beating and rape. There are psychopaths everywhere. But the right-thinking clerics should be ostracizing the crazies, not meeting them with, at most, embarrassed silence.
  • Many of these so-called traditions have to do with depriving women of basic human rights, such as freedom of movement, and even the basic ability to choose one’s own clothing. But they’re not limited to that. There are also ludicrous pronouncements about music and shorts, things that call to mind some of the excesses of Southern Baptists. When Muslims stop demanding respect for travesties of human rights, both serious and silly ones, and start demanding respect for traditions that deserve it, like the Middle Eastern concept of hospitality, at least they’ll have justice on their side.
  • Globalization. That’s what it’s called. In actual fact, it gives corporations new ways to make money, new ways to avoid environmental laws, and new ways to avoid labor laws. Even in the US itself, that supposed bastion of globalization, when consumers tried to buy medicines from other countries where they were cheaper, the corporations soon put a stop to that. Globalization for me but not for thee. Nobody wants to be a cash cow for the wealthy. There’s no divide. There’s just rich people, Western and non-Western, who’d rather make money off less-rich people. Nothing new there, not even the diversionary tactic of riling up the poor with religion instead.
  • State-sponsored terrorism, aka war. Killing people because it suits your purposes is bad enough, but I want to focus on the demonization that is necessary to allow it to happen. There is, we are told, some kind of “clash of civilizations.” On one side there are the blond, blue-eyed heroes, and on the other a bunch of cheating, thieving, no-good Semites.

     Wait, that’s the old script. Those were Jewish Semites. This time, it’s totally different. On one side are fine, upstanding followers of Western, Christian values, and on the other are a bunch of cheating, thieving, terrorist Arab Semites. Totally different.

  • Every single cleric who is allowed to call him- or herself a Christian ought to be condemning this. Instead, there are a few fundamentalist Christian preachers who not only condone it, they promote it. By giving criminal heads of state religious cover, a few clerics make the religion seem like nothing but a bandage for an oozing wound.
  • Small-scale terrorism, aka terrorism. Targeting civilians because you can’t get at soldiers is Bad. Not Honorable. Thoroughly despicable. Every single cleric who is allowed to call himself a Muslim ought to be condemning this. By giving criminals religious cover, a few clerics make the religion seem like nothing but a bandage for an oozing wound.

Not one of these issues is anything people disagree about. The only disagreement is how much it matters when they hurt other people. Trying to find “agreement” on that is either despicable (“Okay, I won’t discuss human rights for women if you’ll stop harping on human rights for Palestinians.”) or irrelevant (“We can agree that both Christianity and Islam are great religions”).

By pretending that the problem is some kind of cultural divide instead of injustice, it’s possible to pretend that the only thing needed for a solution is a bit of talk and understanding. Interestingly enough, nobody is ever quite agreed on what to talk about first. Is it respect for religion? Or tradition? Or market forces? Or not committing acts of war without a license? Pretty soon, we’re talking about talking, and that’s even easier than not solving the problem by talking about it.

    Print This Post Print This Post

Turkana nomads understand global warming

Fergal Keane of the BBC wrote a sad piece about the desiccation of the way of life of the Turkana in northern Kenya. The always dry climate has been suffering years of deepening drought. Decades of lethal corruption have also done their part to make life increasingly impossible. The whole article is well worth reading (and if there was some way to watch his and Darren Conway’s film, Nomads of the Shore, on BBC News24 this weekend, I would), but I wanted to mention one sentence in particular that leapt out at me. Keane is sitting around the campfire after dinner, talking.

They ask me about Iraq: “Why are people fighting?”

Some of them believe the steadily heating climate is being caused by the war.

They have a better grasp of world events than some world leaders I could mention. After all, we wouldn’t have the war if nobody needed oil, and if we didn’t burn oil, we wouldn’t have global warming.

    Print This Post Print This Post

Republicans: a method to their madness

Well, either theirs or mine. What follows is my wild-eyed conspiracy theories about what could be behind some recent gibberings from that quarter.

Start with why the hell Rummy resigned only when it would do nobody any good except himself. Why didn’t the Shrub ask him to leave when it could have helped the Grand Old Perverts in the election? Because Shrub’s just the face people (used to) want to have a beer with. He can’t fire Rumsfeld. Rumsfeld is one of the triumvirate running the place. None of them can fire each other because they all know too much. If one of them backs out, it’s because he damn well wants to.

Rummy’s nuts, but not stupid. He knew people would come hopping after him with hatchets the minute he was out of power. He wasn’t going to give up his protection unless the alternative was nothing but endless days of being polite to pesky Congresscritters. When it looked pretty hopeless, Shrub got his heads-up to draft Robert “Iran-Contra Escape Artist” Gates to stand by. Once there was no hope, none at all, which only happens after the results are in, then Rumsfeld resigned. In his own good time. He doesn’t give one single solitary microhoot about the election priorities of a bunch of peons who need votes.

The next one of the three to go, if any of this has anything to do with reality, will be Rove. There’s no further kingmaking for him to do. He’s not going to be able to kick Congress around the way he’d like to. And his day job is going to be listening to the Shrub’s tantrums. I see him “pursuing other options.”

And what about Dick “I like ducks” Cheney? He might find out he’s had heart trouble all these years. It may become necessary for him to spend more time with the board of Halliburton. Then somebody could be slotted into Veep-space who could run in 2008.

Outside the White House, why is McCain (and the Liebermouse) still pretending that all we need is more troops for total victory? Are they really that stupid? I don’t think so. There’s not a snowball’s chance in Washington that 500,000 troops will be sent to Iraq. There is also no chance that Iraq will end well before the next election. This way, he can say, “If only you’d followed my advice. But you didn’t. Now see the mess we’re in.”

Possibly, just possibly, my wild-eyed theories are wrong. They were last time.

But that opens a possibility that threatens to unseat reason, at least what I’ve got of it. It means that maybe, perhaps, these guys really believe it. I mean, really. They really think they’re serving the country with this shit. As if they thought we were all really flies, and not human beings. It beggars my imagination. It’s much easier to assume that they must be rational, and have breathtaking chasms of amorality. But then the hugeness of the vacuum in the place where they ought to have souls is beyond me.

Either they are mad, or I am.

And I know it’s not me.

Technorati tags: Republicans, Rumsfeld, Gates, McCain, election

    Print This Post Print This Post

US Elections: It’s all over but the shouting

So I went off and voted. I’m in a true-blue, majority Hispanic precinct here near Los Angeles. No point jimmying anything or intimidating anyone because the results here are never even close. Nice poll workers–several below seventy this time!–and everything working smoothly.

The funniest thing here is that in California the voters decide. We’re supposed to decide four pages worth of water board officials, harbor masters, dogcatchers, judges, referendums on everything, and the occasional Governor and such. These ballots are the size of young tablecloths, bigger than some tabloid newspapers. The voting “booth” is a little fold-up plastic table with privacy screens, and the surface is several inches shorter. The ballot is too big to lie flat in there, so it curls up against the screens and generally tries to escape. You can’t fold it because the paper is optically scanned afterwards and has to be undamaged. You know you’re in trouble when the ballot no longer fits in the voting booth.

The news from elsewhere is not so good. Machines malfunctioning in Democratic-leaning precincts all over the place. Lines out the door at seven in the morning. People waiting to vote, standing in the rain, and finally having to bag it because Democrats do have to work. When have I seen this movie before?

Josh Marshall’s Talking Points Memo is doing much to keep track of the enormous number of irregularities at their Election Central. They’ve already pointed out that there’s a nationwide pattern in the repeated, harassing phone calls to people in contested districts. The robocalls seem to come from Democratic candidates, but are actually from Republicans, although that fact is hidden. (Illegally so.) Of course, the convictions for all the cheating will come months, more likely years, after the election. The election, meanwhile, is trashed. The law needs to be amended to disqualify cheaters, something even the sports world has no trouble understanding.

The thing I find most curious about the “false flag robocalls” is that the Republicans are the party that has always blocked any legislation to limit the plague of telemarketers and spammers. After all, they wouldn’t want to reduce the profits of their contributors. That’s bad enough. Now it appears that not only are they aware of how screamingly annoying these pests are, they’re willing to use it to cement their dictatorship. And there I was, thinking the Devil was supposed to be a man of wealth and taste.

But the really hair-raising news comes from Greg Palast, as it so often does on this issue. In an article for The Guardian’s comments section, he points out that the Republicans have been making a concerted effort to strike millions of likely Democratic voters off the rolls. They’ve been quietly at it for months. How successful they’ve been, we’ll find out today when the poor blighters go to the trouble of showing up at the polling place, only to be told that they’re not wanted.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, democracy can’t work unless we make sure of it. It requires a good voting process in which everyone can participate, and a well-informed electorate. Our local dictators-in-training are working very hard for the opposite, as dictators do. So could the international community please send enough observers here to help this struggling democracy?

Update, November 26th
Any time would be good for you lot to send observers. Hello? Hello?
NYTimes article about tens of thousands of votes electronically vaporized, and that’s just the ones we already know about.

Technorati tags: midterm, elections, US, American, voter suppression, stolen election, 2006

    Print This Post Print This Post

So this is cynicism

I don’t like it. Nothing looks hopeful or promising. I find myself seeing everything going to the dogs, no matter what. Strike that. There’s nothing wrong with dogs. I’m talking about the cockroaches in suits who currently run the country.

For instance, all the normal signs are that the Democrats will take over one or both Houses of Congress. The Democrats are not saints, but they’re also not totalitarians. For one thing, they’re just not organized enough. A Democratic takeover ought to mean that the thuggery and criminality of the last six years is finally investigated. It ought to mean some kind of justice is done. It ought to mean that the US starts behaving like a country instead of a gang. I ought to be full of pleased anticipation.

Instead, I’m thinking the polls mean nothing. The thugs will have some military adventure to pump up their popularity. Admittedly, it’s getting late in the day for that. I expected it a week ago. They’ve scheduled Saddam’s verdict for four days before the election. The thugs are presenting vague non-evidence that the usual suspects plan to topple Lebanon. No doubt, they’ll arrest a bunch of “terrorists” shortly, thereby saving the country from a fate worse than death. That should give them about five percent at the polls. They’re at about 40% now, in round, national numbers. The remaining 5.1% can be handed to them by rigged voting machines. Presto: 51%.

When I think I’m being too pessimistic, and that the level of ill will is so high that even Diebold won’t save them, then I figure that the Democrats will be too spineless to actually DO anything. They’ll fart around being all centrist instead of just mucking in there and doing what’s right.

And then I get even grumpier, and I think that whether they do anything or not, it doesn’t matter. Come 2008 and the next presidential election, everything will magically become the Democrats’ fault if they control anything at all.

It’s hopeless.

Except that I do hope I’m wrong.

Update: November 25th
Well, They tried the scare tactics, but nothing big enough to pull their fat out of the fire. Maybe the military is so mad by now that enough officers wouldn’t play along. And They tried messing with the election itself (tens of thousands of votes electronically vaporized, and that’s just the ones we already know about). But I was wrong that They would be able to do enough. So far, so good.

It’s a new feeling, enjoying being wrong. Now I have to worry about whether it’ll last.

    Print This Post Print This Post