Friday, March 19, 2004

Fine Oprah 

Jeff Jarvis makes an excellent case for slapping Oprah with an indecency fine, since that seems to be all the rage these days.

This morning, Stern tried to play a clip from the Oprah show yesterday in which they were doing exactly what Stern was fined for yesterday: defining sexual colloquialisms. Oprah defined "tossing your salad," Howard defined "David Copperfield." Oprah played it on her show. Jimmy Kimmel played the clip on his network show to make the point. But Stern's button-pushers hit the delay button when he tried to play it. Howard begged to play it: Let them fine Oprah as a pornographer. But they won't fine Oprah. They only want to fine Stern. Same statement, different mouths, different treatment.
Atrios has more, including a slightly longer Oprah transcript.
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Marshall answers critics 

Josh Marshall has posted a rather lengthy defense of his claim that the latest Pew poll shows a "rising tide of anti-Americanism" in the Muslim world. A claim which I took up here and which other readers have emailed him about. Marshall admits here that

As Pew phrases it in one of their summaries, "anger toward the United States remains pervasive [in the four Muslim states surveyed], although the level of hatred has eased somewhat and support for the war on terrorism has inched up."
Marshall does not take issue with the decrease in America's unfavorable rating. His argument is that it is more important to look at the numbers over a long timeframe, going back to before the war began.

I tend to agree. One must assume that the level of hatred spiked near the start of the Iraq war, and the 2003 poll was taken in May, barely two months after the start of the conflict. I would be interested in seeing complete numbers from before the war.

Having said all that, public opinion in the Arab/Muslim world in the short term should not be the concern. If only 5% like us now, when 15% (or however many) used to like us, that's not a huge deal to me. It doesn't make a difference strategically or tactically.

What matters is what those same populations think once they learn that America was serious about building up a democratic Iraq and then leaving.

Side note: Whatever their opinion of the United States, I don't think the hatred extends to individual Americans. I spent almost a month in one of the Gulf countries, just a few months after the end of major military operations in Iraq. The people (including mostly Pakistani guest workers and the few native Arabs I actually spoke with) were, without exception, friendly. The natives were curious--mostly about what I thought of their country, of which they were quite proud. I think on both sides of the conversation there was a desire to show that, hey, we're just people, not stereotypes. Of course, terrorism and the war did not come up, nor should they have. Although ultimately that's the kind of culture-to-culture conversation that is most needed.
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Thursday, March 18, 2004


Since my alma mater's victories can be counted on one hand this season, I must settle for other teams in the NCAA tournament. Which basically means I have to settle one round earlier this time.

So, I am officially endorsing Boston College, Maryland, and Gonzaga. And Go Air Force! (Applies to basketball only.)
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The weather is Bush's fault 

Atrios posted a casual comment about snow, and it only took his readers ten comments (and 9 minutes) to come up with a snarky comment about Bush. In... a post... about... the weather... Seriously.
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Standard procedure 

Unfortunately, the UN's usual response is to flee, precisely when they're needed most.

UN staff have been pulled out of the flashpoint town of Mitrovica in Kosovo where two days of inter-ethnic clashes have left 31 dead.

UN Secretary General Kofi Annan said the decision had been taken in view of the worsening security situation.
Same as in Rwanda, Congo, Iraq...
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UN negligence 

Roger Simon has some commentary about the $10.1 billion that Saddam skimmed off the UN-managed Oil-For-Food program. Sounds like they did a real bang-up job, doesn't it?

For more, click here, and read this piece from today's Opinion Journal.
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Playing loose with the facts 

Josh Marshall accuses Richard Perle of dismissing facts when he doesn't agree with them. The problem is, in the very same post, Marshall does the exact same thing himself.

Last night Richard Perle was on Chris Matthews Hardball show and Matthews pressed him on the results of the new Pew poll which appears to show a rising tide of anti-Americanism in Arab states that are at least nominally allied with the United States.
The Pew poll (large pdf) shows no such "rising tide of anti-Americanism." Far from it. The poll shows a marked decline since just ten months ago in the "very unfavorable" view of the United States.

Here are the percentages that hold a "very unfavorable" view of the U.S. in the four Muslim countries included in the poll.

Turkey: May 03 - 68%. March 04 - 45%. (Decrease of 23%)
Pakistan: May 03 - 71%. March 04 - 50%. (Decrease of 21%)
Jordan: May 03 - 83%. March 04 - 67%. (Decrease of 16%)
Morocco: May 03 - 46%. March 04 - 46%. (Unchanged)

A decrease is not "a rising tide." Of course, the unfavorable numbers are much higher than we would like. But they are declining. (Two-thirds or more of the people in Jordan and Morocco hold unfavorable views of the United Nations, as well.)

Interestingly, a majority of the respondents in those four countries believe the world would be more dangerous if another country were as powerful as the U.S. In fact, France is the only country in the survey where respondents think the world would be safer if U.S. power were matched by another country.

Finally, the frightening part: Majorities in Pakistan and Jordan, and a plurality in Morocco, hold a favorable view of Osama bin Laden.

See "Dueling Crackdowns" below for an idea of what that means to the future of the Middle East.
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Create your own race scandal 

When you want to get angry about racism, but you don't have any racist acts to get angry about, just create some.

A week after a reported campus hate crime drew national attention, sparked protests and shut down the prestigious Claremont Colleges, police on Wednesday called the incident a hoax staged by a professor who slashed tires, shattered windows and spray-painted racist graffiti on her own car.

Claremont McKenna College psychology professor Kerri Dunn, who had told police that her car was vandalized as she spoke at a March 9 forum on racism, was identified by two eyewitnesses as the person who damaged the auto, authorities said Wednesday.
The car wasn't the only thing she damaged.
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Out of line 

Kofi Annan needs to get back in his box. When is the last time a UN Secretary-General made a comment like this?

Mr Annan said that the Aznar government's attempts to turn attention away from the possibility that al-Qaida was responsible, and its support for the Iraq war, were among the reasons voters rejected him.
This is the same Kofi Annan who said that Saddam was a man he could "work with," remember?

Since when is it the UN Secretary-General's place to comment on fair and open elections in a member state?
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Chaos and turmoil 

Europeans simply refuse to hear what the Iraqis have to say, and the latest example is Hans von Sponeck.

The new element that exists is the almost daily emotional trauma caused by the illegal war. Every fibre of society is bound to be affected by the chaos and turmoil in Iraq, to a lesser extent in rural areas, to a greater extent in Baghdad, Basra and other big cities. No one is spared...

I would venture to say, based on phone conversations with Iraqis, that the overall picture is worse now...
Eight out of ten Iraqis disagree with you, Hans. A majority (56%) say things are better now than before the war, and 23% say things are the same. Who do they think they are to refute a sophisticated, enlightened European like yourself?
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Wednesday, March 17, 2004

Dueling crackdowns 

(Note: This seemed a lot more coherent when I wrote it. Now it strikes me as a little disjointed, oversimplified, and not nearly fleshed-out enough. A nice illustration of the hazards of blogging while very tired. This is something to rework and expand another day, perhaps, because I think the main theme, the struggle for the soul of Islam, is one that needs more attention.)

Two headlines today illustrate the Islamic "civil war" perfectly:

Saudi Arabia suspends 900 imams

Saudi detentions aim to rein in reformists-analysts

Don't assume that both of these acts were carried out by a unified Saudi government. There is a tug-of-war going on within Saudi Arabia, and in the Islamic world as a whole, between the die-hard religious conservatives and the relatively moderate elements of society. The detentions of reformists were most likely done under the auspices of Prince Nayef's security forces, while the suspensions of imams probably happened as a result of higher orders--from Nayef's half-brother Crown Prince Abdullah.

I will spare you the details of the Saudi power struggle. If you want details, this is a good place to start. In a nutshell, King Fahd is incapacited, but not dead, and until he passes, Crown Prince Abdullah is ostensibly in charge. But his half-brother Nayef controls the secret police and religious institutions. The two have been at odds, not only concerning their areas of influence in society, but over the succession to the throne. Abullah tends toward gradual reform and modernization, while Nayef comes down on the side of the religious authorities and the status quo. It is far from clear which of the two will emerge victorious.

The personal struggle between these two Saudi princes is truly the Islamic world writ small. This struggle is going on in such widely separated areas as North Africa, Iraq, Iran, and Pakistan. (Not to mention Afghanistan and much of Central Asia.) In some places, the mullahs hold power over society, and are opposed by a majority of the people, who are fed up with repression. In others, religious conservatives are trying to gain back power from secular rulers. (Or, in the case of Iraq, they are trying to keep secular, democratic leaders from gaining power in the first place.)

All of these countries, and a few others, represent individual fronts in a simmering civil war that stretches across the entire Arab region and into the neighboring Persian and Turkic areas of the larger Islamic world. "Civil war" may sound like an unnecessarily strong phrase, but keep in mind that Islamic fundamentalists have carried out bombings across this entire region, except for in Iran, where the fundamentalists are already in charge. The fundamentalists have attempted assassinations of secular rulers on more than one occasion. Fortunately, none have succeeded since Egypt's Anwar Sadat was killed by Muslim Brothers in 1981.

But across the whole region, the struggle continues. Where the fundamentalists hold power, they are fighting like hell to keep it. In other places, they are trying to terrorize their way into power. As the Islamic holy land, Saudi Arabia is a country all Muslims look to for an example--and it presently shows a confusing, two-headed nature to its neighbors. The outcome of the Saudi power struggle will have far-reaching consequences throughout the Middle East.

The outcome of the Muslim civil war is vital to the United States because we're in it. Terrorist acts against the United States and the West are simply new fronts in the Muslim civil war, meant to strike at the supporters of secular Muslim rulers, and to gain support for the fundamentalists among the Muslim "street."

It is clear which side we're on in this war, and it will not end until the fundamentalist, anti-modern side is ultimately defeated. We owe it to ourselves and to the Muslim people of the Middle East to see this fight through to victory.
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Reverse psychology 

In a letter today, an al-Qaeda-affiliated group had the following words for President Bush:

"Kerry will kill our nation while it sleeps because he and the Democrats have the cunning to embellish blasphemy and present it to the Arab and Muslim nation as civilization."

"Because of this we desire you (Bush) to be elected."
Sure you do... Nice try.
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"It's all the same war." 

Smash hits the nail on head.
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We don't like your kind in these here parts... 

I really doubt this is going to help the South's image...

The county that was the site of the Scopes "Monkey Trial" over the teaching of evolution is asking lawmakers to amend state law so the county can charge homosexuals with crimes against nature.

The Rhea County [Tennessee] commissioners approved the request 8-0 Tuesday.

Commissioner J.C. Fugate, who introduced the measure, also asked the county attorney to find a way to enact an ordinance banning homosexuals from living in the county.

"We need to keep them out of here," Fugate said.
How about a law to ban hicks from proposing backward laws?

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Baseball bans steroid 

Major League Baseball has banned the steroid THG. Too bad the players will probably strike before submitting to tougher testing.
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Iraqi state of affairs 

Yesterday I posted links to a survey conducted by a number of media organizations, in which nearly eight in ten Iraqis responded that things are going as well as (23%) or better than (56%) before the war.

Silly Iraqis. Don't they know their country is in the midst of a fiasco?
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Beannachtam na Femle Padraig! 

May the feast of St. Patrick be a joyous day for one and all! I suppose an Irish blessing is in order.

May you live to be a hundred years
With one extra year to repent.

All right then.

Slainte Mhath!
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Tuesday, March 16, 2004

Something is up in Iran 

Play-by-play here. Sporadic clashes... thousands of regime forces in the streets... fires in Tehran... It's hard to make heads or tails of all this, but clearly something is going down in Iran. I just wish there were some kind of corroboration of it all.
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The Seven P's 

"When he realized that he was unable to nail his other hand to the board, he called 911."

I thought this was just some odd local story in today's newspaper, but now that Drudge has picked it up, I need to set the record straight.

First, Drudge's headline is "Maine man attempts to nail himself to a cross..." I just want everyone to know that we aren't all like that in Maine.

Secondly, is the math curriculum that poor in Hartland?
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Iraqis happy with their lives, hopeful for the future 

It really must have pained ABC and the Beeb to release these Iraqi poll results.

Excerpts from ABC:

On a personal level, seven in 10 Iraqis say things overall are going well for them — a result that might surprise outsiders imagining the worst of life in Iraq today. Fifty-six percent say their lives are better now than before the war, compared with 19 percent who say things are worse (23 percent, the same). And the level of personal optimism is extraordinary: Seventy-one percent expect their lives to improve over the next year.
No, that's not extraordinary unless you've been looking at Iraq through your quagmire blinders. (And 56+23=79, not "seven in 10" unless I'm missing something.)

Iraqis divide in their rating of the local security situation now, but strikingly, 54 percent say security where they live is better now than it was before the war.
Not only that, but a large majority expressed trust in the Iraqi police, and a slim majority voiced their trust in the new Iraqi army.

Oh, and they overwhelmingly reject political violence and support a unified Iraq.

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Those enlightened French 

France is accused of "direct involvement" in the 1994 Rwandan genocide, and is presently helping China to intimidate Taiwan ahead of the island's democratic elections.

Yeah, America should only do things that France would approve. Right...

Are these examples of that European "nuance" and "sophistication" we hear so much about?

UPDATE: Apparently, the sophisticated French policy toward Iraq is not enough to keep France out of the crosshairs:

French officials are investigating threats against France by a radical Islamic group, the Justice Ministry said Tuesday.
Take note, Europe. The only policy that will keep the Islamists from attacking you is self-extermination. (And trying to force Muslims to look French isn't going to make them so...)
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Local paper awakens to news 

The Bangor Daily News, surfing the bleeding edge of the news cycle, reprinted a March 11th piece by writer (and friend of Robert Fisk) Gwynne Dyer in today's edition--the 16th. (Column here.) This would be forgiveable, except for the fact that the assumption that drives Dyer's entire column was invalidated a few days ago.

There are claims that the attacks were the work of al-Qaeda, although at the time of writing the Spanish government still believes that the bombs were planted by the Basque separatist group ETA. Let us assume for the moment that it really was ETA's doing. Here are three things that the Spanish government will not do, no matter who is running it after Sunday's election.
And then he goes on to speculate based on a false assumption. If you want to read the whole column, go ahead, but Dyer's point in a nutshell is that in the face of a terrible attack, Spain will not strike back at the terrorists. That's something only those big, evil Americans do. Defeating terrorists is a job for cops, he argues.

Let me give you a couple more bits from the column:

In other words, the Spanish government will not lose its balance. A terrible thing has happened, but it knows that responding with illegal violence and repression would just drive lots of innocent and law-abiding Basques into the terrorists' camp.
I wasn't aware that the American government had lost its balance, but that's clearly Dyer's implication. "Illegal violence and repression?" I prefer "Speaking to terrorists in the only language they truly understand." Do nothing to hit them back, and all you do is embolden them, and make them think they have a free pass to bomb with impunity.

They will respond this way because they have learned that you can live with terrorism.
Maybe Europeans are so cowed by the prospect of terror attacks that they decide to "live with terrorism" versus getting off their nuanced asses to fight it. Maybe they think that fighting back will lead to more attacks, while leaving the terrorists alone might make them stop. And they're probably right about the first part, although the idea that passivity will stop the attacks is a dangerous one. Sooner or later, Europe is going to realize it's an existential struggle, and that terrorists hate them simply for being.

But back to my earlier point. Dyer structured his whole column around the assumption that the Basque separatist group ETA carried out the Madrid bombings. He wrote the column on Thursday, when the Spanish government considered ETA as the main suspect. By Sunday, election day, the Spanish population had come to believe that al-Qaeda was responsible, while only the government insisted that ETA was to blame--an insistence that led some Spaniards to vote for the opposition.

And yet, five days after the bombing, and three days after al-Qaeda became the primary suspect, the BDN prints a column that has been overtaken by events. Surely they must have something a bit more timely they can print, instead of wasting editorial page space on an irrelevant piece like Dyer's.
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Another Maine blogger 

Well, sooner or later it was bound to happen, and just now I stumbled upon a Maine blogger who blogs about politics and current events, among other things. I like what I've read so far. I know there must be more of us out there, but so far, Shawn Levasseur is the only one I've found, so please go over and say hello!

UPDATE: Also Maine expat Solonor. And Peter at Slublog. It's funny what you can find once you look for it.
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Monday, March 15, 2004

I'm confused 

My brother sent me a link to a site that... well, just go take a look. Browse around a bit. Don't miss the puppet ads, and the Save the Kittens campaign is priceless.

I can't for the life of me figure out exactly what the hell this thing is all about.

Neither can Atrios, or, it seems, his readers. Or, if Atrios is right, the Washington Post.

Is it a parody? Is it serious? If you have to ask that question, then it's poorly done. Or brilliantly. I can't tell.

Someone please tell me who is putting on whom here!
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Dark future? 

Rusty Shackleford over at My Pet Jawa speculates on the ramifications of the Spanish election. I really, really hope he's wrong.

My guess, unfortunately, is that he's at least half right. And that's a bad, bad thing. Brace yourselves.
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Maine lawmakers seek state assault weapons ban 

Fearful that the useless federal assault weapons ban will not be renewed when it lapses in September, two Maine legislators are seeking to pass a state ban.

Unless the state Legislature acts now, Strimling said, it will be a year before a state ban could be put into effect. "If that's not an emergency, I don't know what is," he said.
Wow, an emergency. Why is it an emergency?

"All this ban does," said Maryellen Sullivan, of the Maine Citizens Against Handgun Violence board of directors, "is keep military-style killing machines off our streets."
Oh, right...

Well here's the straight dope on assault weapons, because most people don't know what the assault weapons ban really does. They don't know how the law defines an "assault weapon." Here's a quick exercise:

Rifle with pistol grip, OK.
Rifle with flash suppressor, OK.
Rifle with both, evil assault weapon which must be banned.

There are non-banned rifles which are far more accurate or more powerful than an M-16 or AK-47, but those assault weapons just LOOK menacing. Besides, you can still buy rifles that have slight cosmetic differences but function exactly the same way. I'll illustrate:

This is a banned assault weapon, and cannot be manufactured in or imported to the United States. (Although if it existed before the ban, it can still be bought and sold like any other rifle.)

This nearly identical rifle is perfectly legal under the ban.

Go ahead, click on the links and look at the pictures. I'll be right here waiting.

Quite the effective law, eh? Those two rifles are mechanically identical, but one is banned and the other is not.

Besides, you won't find many gun enthusiasts who consider an AR-15 or an AK the best rifle money can buy. Far, far from it. None of the banned assault rifles make the knowledgeable shooter's list of most powerful or most accurate rifles.

And I'll get another misconception out of the way. Many people assume that if the assault weapons ban lapses, people will be roaming our streets with fully automatic machine guns. I hate to break it to you, folks, but those have been illegal since 1934, unless one gets permission from the Treasury Department. Gaining permission involves a complete FBI background check, fingerprint check, a recent photo, and a sworn affidavit that the transfer is of reasonable necessity. Since 1934, a legally-owned machine gun has been used in exactly one crime--a 1988 murder committed by a police officer with a police-owned weapon.
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Israel denies West Bank burial for Abbas 

I'm no fan of the late terorrist Abu Abbas, but denying him a burial on Palestinian land just seems spiteful.

Late Palestinian guerrilla leader Abu Abbas may be buried in Syria after Israel refused to let his body be returned to the West Bank.
I really can't figure out what purpose this denial serves.

UPDATE: Oops. I called Abu Abbas a "terrorist" instead of the BBC-standard "guerrilla leader." What was I thinking?
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Europa probe 

I've been waiting for today's news for some time. Many planetary scientists believe that Jupiter's icy moon Europa contains a salty ocean under its icy crust. And if there is liquid water in large quantities, then there just might be life.

Apparently some people think we're going to send a lander to Europa to find out, because they're testing out devices that could be used to melt through the ice.

If we end up sending a lander to Europa, I think it will be much more exciting than the Mars missions, scientifically. There won't be dramatic pictures, but the data just might prove that earth is not unique as a living world, and open the possibility that life flourishes throughout the universe.
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Europeans: "You mean they hate us too?" 

Europe might actually get it after Madrid. The continent might finally realize that the "global" part of the "global war on terrorism" isn't something those warmongering Americans tacked on for show, and that it really IS a global war. Maybe there's a silver lining in this tragedy after all. But it's a terrible shame that it took two hundred deaths to make the obvious facts sink in.

UPDATE: Wow. I hope this is a sign not just of solidarity in grief, but solidarity in action as well. One can hope.

MORE: Did someone say "action?"
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New Bill Whittle 

I haven't read it yet, but Bill Whittle has a new post. All his other writing has been outstanding, so head over there and give him a read.
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Sunday, March 14, 2004

Jordanian women abused: UN 

The BBC reports:

Nearly half of Jordanian women suffer physical abuse in the home, a ground-breaking UN report has found.
This is truly shocking news, considering that Jordan is a Muslim country, and Islam, of course, is a peaceful religion that respects all people. Surely the Qu'ran must forbid abuse. Specifically, it says:

Men are the maintainers of women because Allah has made some of them to excel others and because they spend out of their property; the good women are therefore obedient, guarding the unseen as Allah has guarded; and (as to) those on whose part you fear desertion, admonish them, and leave them alone in the sleeping-places and beat them. (Qu'ran 4:34)
Oh. I guess that explains things, then.
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Terror works 

The Spanish might not agree that their election validates terror, and many in Europe and America probably don't think so either. But you can bet the terrorists consider today's Spanish election as a victory for themselves as well as the Socialists.

Way to cave, Spain. Don't expect the Islamists to suddenly become more sympathetic to you, though.
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