September 30, 2007

Calling Tom Clancy!

Tell me this isn't the perfect political thriller:

In an emerging democracy, a former member of their secret police has taken the reigns of leadership, slowly choking off the hard-won freedoms the people had gained in their few years of liberty.

Rising to leadership of the main opposition coalition is a young superstar, an international celebrity who has long been a voice for democratic reforms and is also a world chess champion.

Who will prove the master of the great game of political intrigue: the last Grand Master of Chess, or the former member of the KGB?

Stay tuned, folks...

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posted by Thursday at 3:57 pm 0 comments

September 29, 2007

Role Reversal

I am going to do something that I think may be utterly unique in the 500 or so posts I've written to this point:

I'm going to defend Bill O'Reilly.

Okay, I know, settle down. I have a reason.

Bill-O recently visited a Harlem restaurant called Sylvia's, as you probably know, and ended up with this (among other things) to say about it:

"I couldn't get over the fact that there was no difference between Sylvia's restaurant and any other restaurant in New York City. It was exactly the same, even though it's run by blacks [and has a] primarily black patronship."

Yes, he sounds ignorant. And yes, it's implied that he thought what he was going to see was the worst sort of nightmare of old white folks; some kind of mutated hybrid of Cribs, Pimp My Ride, and Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song.

And that's pretty much my point.

His amazement at the civility - nay, the very normality of black people reminded me of my own grandfather, and probably several of your own, too. It's not that he is particularly racist, it's that he was too lazy to correct his ignorance. (In O'Reilly's case, anyways: my own grandfather was racist - couldn't stand East Indians for some reason. Never found out why. Anyhow:)

That it took him decades before he went to a soul food restaurant is a little embarrassing, sure; but he went. O'Reilly was clearly out of his comfort zone, and made something of a fool of himself when he commented on what he found ("My God! They're just like people!") but he did try a new experience, and decided to share what he found.

We mock him, sure; but to how much of his audience was what he said a revelation? Think about it: what he found about Sylvia's may have actually been a surprise to much of his viewers! Consider the demographic; consider what people that demographic is likely to be living near; and consider the odds of any of them ever visiting Harlem.

Okay, they're as likely to avoid it because that's where Bill Clinton set up his office after he left the Presidency as for any other reason, but that's not the point.

Flashback to college: remember the first-years who were out of the house for the first time in their lives? And they had to tell everybody about all the things they were discovering, "out in the real world, man!" Everything was big and neat and new and intense. They bugged the hell out of me, sure, but it was cute to watch them learn. All part of growing up, see.

It's like that, if you're lucky, for your entire life. you keep thinking, keep discovering, keep learning things that are big and neat and new and intense. It just happened that O'Reilly discovered this aspect of humanity quite late in the game: he bugs the hell out of me, sure; but at least he's learning. Hopefully, he took some of his audience along with him.

Because frankly, the more folks who discover that "The Other" is actually just another name for "people we know nothing about" the better.

***

May I suggest: if you want to see just how jarring this experience can be, try Richard Poplak's Ja, No, Man: Growing Up White in Apartheid-Era South Africa.

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posted by Thursday at 11:11 pm 0 comments

Testing, Testes...

Men, as I've mentioned before, are frequent idiots. We will do things that at first glance (and second, and third, and...) seem remarkably stupid; often to impress women, but they're not a requirement. Other guys or even no one at all will provide a suitable audience.

I will place you 100-1 odds that it was a man who decided to squeeze a piece of a cow and drink whatever came out (a neolithic frat hazing ritual, perhaps?). It was a undoubtedly a guy who invented skull trepanning. And how many women do you think chose to fly kites in a freakin' thunderstorm?

It's not a coincidence that Icarus was Daedalus' son rather than his daughter: his daughter would have called him insane for trying to fly with wax wings in the first place and gone back to picking the lock.

This stupidity does, in fact, have a purpose: guys tend to find stuff. And find out stuff. And often die doing it, sure, but so long as SOMEONE survives, the species gains knowledge ("I guess those are poisonous, then...").

Unfortunately, the need for having an expendable, hormonally charged population has diminished greatly, what with the invention of the scientific method and research and a better understanding of how the world works. But the instinct is still there.

So now we compete with each other over... well... what can only be considered trivialities. Driftglass has a comment on the theme that Blue Gal was discussing (see previous posts below). I think he's basically correct in theme (especially the bit about the dominance of God), but I also am certain that we can avoid those socially idiotic pitfalls. Genetically and socially speaking, cooperation has far more advantages for us at this stage than competition does.

I can only go by personal experience, of course, but I'm a fairly non-competitive guy by nature. According to the "From Mars etc" books, I'm as much female in nature as male (as they consider the definitions). I'm a lifelong nerd who (amusingly enough) ended up being rated a "good match" with half the girls in the school by a computer dating system.

They declined to follow up.

Yet somehow: I'm married to the coolest person I've ever met, I get what I want with what can only be considered alarming frequency, and I'm enjoying a very nice little life.

When I've encountered a so-called Alpha Type, it's the simplest thing in the world to use a bit of psychic judo on him. The stupid and/or belligerent ones tend to get confused, and the smart ones eventually let their guard down, and we can communicate like humans, which is a nice bonus. Competitive people are bewildered by non-competitive ones. Which, I suppose, means I regard such encounters in a competitive frame of mind.

Bugger.

Nothing like taking an hour to lose an argument with yourself.

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posted by Thursday at 12:57 pm 0 comments

Dime Bags Now Costing Eleven Cents

The biggest (and only, really) problem with the Canadian dollar being at par with the U.S. dollar is that our farmers are suffering...

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posted by Thursday at 11:14 am 0 comments

September 28, 2007

Inspired At Any Size

(Triggered by a post by the ever-wonderous Blue Gal)

I speak now as a raging hetro male (meaning YEARS of intense research has gone into this study).

There are no songs about small-bottomed women. There is a reason.

Yet I can think of four about their opposites without even trying:

Baby Got Back by Sir Mix-A-Lot
The legend, and many a West Coast Canadian white boy's introduction to rap of any kind;

Big Bottom by Spinal Tap
Yeah, it's a parody - but it came from somewhere! Turn up that bass, Nigel! Needs more "metal cred", you say? Well, it's covered by Soundgarden...

Fat Bottomed Girls by Queen
Somehow, Bicycle Race was more convincing coming from Freddie, but which got more air play?

Low Rider by War
As much about cars as David Wilcox's Layin' Pipe is about road drainage.

***

Plus, a little story:

One upon a time, a former employer of my Significant Other went to Brazil with a female friend of hers. After a couple of days, they noticed the somewhat larger friend was getting far more attention from the men on the beaches, and eventually the more slender of the two asked why.

The response was delivered with a dismissive wave:

"Meat is for the man; bone is for the dog."

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posted by Thursday at 10:14 pm 2 comments

Loud Pipes...

...Ban Bikes.

I was wondering when this would start:

Since July First of this year, motorcyclists in Denver have had to ride with a ticket on their mufflers proving that they are in compliance with 80 dB bylaws.

This is in direct response to insecure idiots who want to make as big a noise as they can. There is NOTHING to loud pipes other than a whining refrain of "look at me look at me look at me", and there never has been.

A big part of the appeal of motorcycling is standing out from the crowd. This is true for all bikes: cruisers, crotch-rockets, touring rigs, even standards. Every one of us wants to be independent, an individual who is loosely affiliated with others on two wheels but ultimately rides alone. There's a swagger that comes with the helmet, and a sneer for those dressed in "fashion leather": useless, pretty boy stuff without even pockets for armour. We're taller in our boots.

But.

For all our determined (some would say desperate) separation, we need a crowd to be separate from. No use rebelling when there's nothing to rebel against, despite Brando's best efforts.

So we loves us a crowd.

And, just like the kids who can't build a damn thing so they break stuff instead, some of us aren't able to draw attention on looks alone. So we do it by being assholes instead.

The idea of "Loud Pipes Save Lives" is simple idiocy. Ever heard of the Doppler Effect, Bucky? A coffin-driver may hear you, but they'll have no idea what direction you're coming from: they'll only hear you when you're past them, and then your loud pipes will be as useless as teats on a bull. And it's not just the drivers you're annoying.

I live in a valley. With certain bikes, I can hear them from inside my house for a good sixty seconds after they've left town. Don't think sixty seconds is a long time? Punch up the clock on your 'puter and listen to this. (Too old to hear that? Try this one.)

Ed Moreland, the AMA's vice-president of government regulations, insisted that the rule would force motorcyclists to use only those mufflers provided by the original manufacturers:

"That would force everyone who drives a Ford to return to the Ford dealer and get the exact replacement muffler every time their exhaust system wore out."

Ed's got it completely wrong on this, of course; just like the emission standards that didn't kill off auto manufacturing, despite the best predictions of doom and gloom. The free market simply came up with a better design on engine. In the same way, if muffler manufacturers have to stay within certain limits, they will.

The rather pathetic excuse that regulation mufflers "kill the power" is utter nonsense, too: most bikes have far more power than the people riding them can use (170 horses in a 500 lb machine, anyone?). Even the most relaxed-breathing ("race only" - heh) pipes only add 3-4 horsepower at best.

What it really comes down to is basic math:

[cars outnumbering bikes by 1000 to 1 ratio] + [living in a democracy] = incredibly annoyed voters ban bikes from region.

So why do some of us insist on loud pipes? I have a theory (other than the "belligerent asshole" one):

Most riders don't bother with ear plugs, so between the bike noise and the wind blast (it happens in full face skid lids, too) most older bikers can't hear a damn thing, so perhaps it's akin the old women who's sense of smell has completely deteriorated so they soak themselves down in whatever scent was popular when they were in their teens.

It's called "recapturing your youth through delusion"; and some people think it works.

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posted by Thursday at 8:07 pm 0 comments

September 27, 2007

The Broken Circle

AAAGGGGHHHHH!

Someone, somewhere, must have found out!

All our secrets are being revealed, and it's Conspiracy Factory's fault!

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posted by Thursday at 10:05 am 0 comments

September 25, 2007

In Defense of Prickdom

The Significant Other and I enjoy each other's company tremendously. One of the things we like most is that we can't get away with intellectual laziness around each other. As she puts it:

"Bring your 'A' game, boyo: I'm worth it."

It makes for occasional awkward conversations when we have a guest or two, and they're not quite prepared to defend positions they espouse; but for us, it works. In keeping each other sharp, we end up with more rhetorical blades than just Occam's Razor to duel with.

We're having a bit of a debate now over whether the United States has a "healthy" or "unhealthy" democracy: it could be a few months before common ground emerges on this one.

And since there is no argument that is worth breaking up our marriage over, we always speak respectfully to each other, even when the demands for justification are utterly unreasonable. Sometimes, playing Devil's Advocate puts me (or her) on a precarious platform, logically speaking: so the perpetual debates enhance our sense of balance, too.

But back to the real world.

So there have been a couple examples of free speech at a couple different institutions lately. In both cases, it seems appropriate to use perhaps the most famous quote on free thinking in history:

"Monsieur l'abbé, I detest what you write, but I would give my life to make it possible for you to continue to write."

-Voltaire, in a letter written to M. le Riche, 1770

And I can't say I disagree with that view, though in another of the SO and my disagreements, I am more likely to consider the effect of speech on individuals or groups in society while she tends more towards individual rights of expression: I support hate laws, she opposes them. We found this difference during this gentleman's extradition hearings.

However.

There is also such a thing as politeness.

In one case, there was a student who ended up on the sharp end of electricity; and in the other there was a world leader who received the edge of a school administrator's tongue. Where lay the difference?

Case the first:

The event was a talk by former presidential candidate John Kerry at the University of Florida. The student, Andrew Mayer, was, unfortunately, deliberately combative in his questioning, which wasn't a good approach, and he didn't have his question well prepared, even knowing that he'd only have one minute to speak. He ended up going over the one minute limit, and that gave the enforcers there the excuse to drag him away from the microphone, where things escalated to a ridiculous degree.

Was he being a bit of an obnoxious jerk? Yes.

Was he resisting arrest, fighting security, or behaving in a threatening manner to anyone? No way in hell. The most physical act he did was wave a copy of Greg Palast's Armed Madhouse; and while it's a potentially dangerous book intellectually, the copy in question was a small, yellow paperback edition, and tremendously inefficient as a club. Now, Mr. Mayer is being threatened with five years in prison for resisting arrest.

And, thanks to the brouhaha that followed, Kerry didn't have to answer the question.

(Get on Greg Palast's mailing list here: the right people will be pissed off that you did.)


Case the Second:

The current President of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, recently gave a speech at Columbia University. This, naturally enough, incited plenty of debate as to whether the man should have been invited to do so, or even be allowed in the country.

Alas, much of the debate was essentially incoherent, boiling down to either outrageously uninformed ("He caused 9/11!") or spurious ("He's icky!").



Don't get me wrong: this guy is, as far as I'm concerned, a BAD MAN. He's a conservative hard liner who got into power (first as the mayor of Tehran in 2003, then president in 2005) using the invasion of Iraq as the wedge to stir up a new paranoid nationalism. With that, he's rolled back a number of freedoms in what was arguably the most liberal Arabic nation.

He's a deliberate goad and confrontationist, dividing the world into Us and Them to prompt his populace into a fight/flight response, and encouraging them to think of him as their sole chance for survival.

And he's also very, very good at telling people what they think they want to hear.

However.

I wonder if those opposed can come up with a better statement than this, made by Lee Bollinger, the president of the university:

"[Secondly] to those who believe that this event should never have happened, that it is inappropriate for the university to conduct such an event, I want to say that I understand your perspective and respect it as reasonable. The scope of free speech in academic freedom should itself always be open to further debate. [...] I want to say, however, as forcefully as I can that this is the right thing to do, and indeed it is required by the existing norms of free speech, the American university and Columbia itself."

War is failed diplomacy.

War is the ultimate expression of failure; that we could not communicate well enough to prevent death. For communication to happen, we need to hear what other people have to say. Tragically, this includes people we don't agree with.

Of course, this doesn't mean we can't question what those people say... Again, from Mr. Bollinger:

"Mr. President, you exhibit all the signs of a petty and cruel dictator."

And this lovely closing to his introduction:

"A year ago, I am reliably told, your preposterous and belligerent statements in this country, as at one of the meetings at the Council on Foreign Relations, so embarrassed sensible Iranian citizens that this led to your party's defeat in the December mayoral elections. May this do that and more."

An interesting (to say the least) introduction of a speaking guest, who is also the elected representative of a democratic nation (well, a theocratic republic, anyways). As some have already asked, did Bollinger invite Ahmadinejad here just to insult him? Is this some kind of Political Celebrity Roast? If so, where the heck is Patton Oswalt?

At heart, to invite someone to present their side of a story only to trot out their criminal record for the audience immediately before they speak is tremendously dickish behaviour.

And I'm okay with that.

Because what the president of Columbia University said about the President of Iran wasn't hearsay, and it wasn't rumour, and it wasn't simple malice: it was all straight forward fact, on public record and available to any person who wished to look. Information is never a bad thing: and unlike John Kerry, there would be little in the way of distractions to prevent the Iranian leader from responding. In fact, he would be given two hours to do so, if he wished.

But wait - aren't I the same person who criticized Mr. Mayer's being a dick?

Yup.

Excuse me while I slip on the tap shoes...

Part of the answer is what, or rather who, Ahmadinejad represents: he is an official representative of the nation of Iran. It is extremely important to communicate with that nation, as the frank belligerence he is projecting has been often disguised in his speeches, and must be revealed and countered so those people around the world (including in his home nation) can hear and see what our (the west's) view on those words actually is.

When he is here, the eyes and ears of the Arabic nations will turn here, too; this also happens when the leaders of our nations travel to foreign countries. Even if film or radio is edited, invariably a transcript turns up that reveals the whole of a speech, or exchange, or debate; and that can be found by everyone in the world. Without communication, there is no understanding. Without understanding, there is no diplomacy. Without diplomacy...

Mayer, on the other hand, had an important point (or three) to make, but because of either his lack of preparation or his deliberate inciting of security, he let himself become the story. For want of decorum, the point was lost.

It comes down to this: there is a time and a place for everything. Both Bollinger and Mayer had the right time and place, but Meyer did the wrong thing.

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posted by Thursday at 4:44 pm 0 comments

September 23, 2007

You Don't Even Know The Capital of Turkamyakfistan!

Many years ago, when I still lived on a small island, there was a great roaring debate about a lot of logging going on in a watershed. Now, there were pros and cons to each side, mostly boiling down to differences between public good (drinking water availability on an island is always a touchy subject) and private ownership (landholder wanted out and was stripping the land to sell), but one of the stranger exchanges I took part in went more or less like this:

Old Balding Man: "Oh, yeah? Well, I bet you don't even know where the salt springs are!"

The island I came from was named, in fact, Salt Spring Island; and outside of a general sense of "over there", I didn't know where the eponymous springs were. Still don't, as it happens.

Yours Truly: "On private property in the North End, aren't they?"

OBM: "Ah, ha! So you don't know where they are!"

YT: "Uh, no."

OBM: "So why should we listen to you tell people what to do?" *snort*

I waited. Ended up that what he just said was his entire argument, and it took a while to realize no more was coming. Now, I'm sure you've sensed the slight flaw in his reasoning.

YT: "So... that's it?" Nothing. "That's your argument?" Nothing. "Can you tell me what the Sam Hill difference my knowing where the salt springs are will make to arboreal biology? Clear cutting a watershed is a bad idea whether I know local geography or not!"

But as far as he was concerned, he had won the debate and didn't have to talk any more.

It was, and is, an infuriating approach. I was reminded of the encounter by another I had earlier this week with a co-worker: the point was a curfew for teen agers in our town. Eventually, she came out with:

"You don't have any kids, so you don't understand."

It's true that I don't have any kids, but that's not what we were debating. Odds are quite good that I never will have kids; but oddly, that's not stopping me from thinking. A point could be made that as I don't have any kids, my thoughts aren't coloured by the idea of protecting them at all costs and I can consider a balance between being a public nuisance and curtailing personal freedoms.

So why the trip down memory lane?

Mostly because of this sort of thing. The constant criticism of "bloggers" by folks in the main stream media is asinine: is there any reason why you have to have a press pass in order to think? Information is out there, and what people decide to do with it is up to them.

Going to criticize the blogs leaning left or right? Read more than two, and you're going to find a whole lot more than two points of view! Ends up, believe it or not, that there are a whole lot of people who actually are somewhere between the extremes.

And if you can find a single person who reads both the Washington Times and the Washington Post and thinks those rivals are equals in their reporting, then you've got a more famous searcher beat.

Going to criticize the accuracy of the "reporting" from blogs? I don't imagine I have to point out the sometimes startling degrees in quality of accuracy available from the usual sources...

How about local issues that just have a tiny three inches in the newspaper, or merely a blip on television, but can actually be considered and written about by people who care about that issue or are even directly involved?

We don't have a deadline. We don't have an editor breathing down our necks. We aren't forced to "go live, on the air" fifteen minutes after we hear about something.

We've actually got time to think. Go fig.

And what we don't have, what we most certainly DON'T have, is an obsession with Orenthal James.

We DON'T spend weeks discussing a single blond girl gone missing or died and left a kid.

We DON'T get distracted for months on end by some minor criminal trial while there's a war going on and while rights are being trampled.

Why not? Because there are too damn many of us.

We're not really fighting for ratings, because there's no way to take our competitors "off the air". We end up talking about what ever the hell interests us, because this is our toy, our soap box. We can talk for as long as we want when ever we want and however we want to.

We can even examine a government document and decipher what it means, because damned if some of the millions of us aren't damn smart.

We can review what statements our various governments make on Friday nights, even if the media tends to ignore them. Because they'll still be there in the morning. Hell, a bunch of us are still watching come 5 PM. It's because we're total geeks, but at least we're useful ones.

We are obsessive compulsives, and we'll track down stories that interest us because they interest us, not because we think they'll draw a crowd.

It's funny what an obsessive people can find out, if they try.

And we can leave the information all in one handy, dandy location for ease of reference: no passwords, no microfiche, and no locked and sealed vaults where people can pretend they never said what they very clearly did.


What it boils down to, my dear MSM friends, is this: if you're not going to help keep public figures honest, then quit complaining and get out of our way.

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posted by Thursday at 4:41 pm 2 comments

September 20, 2007

Flashback!

It's marketed at pubescent boys with a promise to make them manly and/or virile;

It's cheap, cheap, cheap to make;

And everyone who uses it thinks it's a substitute for a shower. Well, they look like they do, anyway.

I'm talking, of course, about... Hai Karate!

Oh, sorry: you thought I was going to say TAG body spray? Why ever would you think that?

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posted by Thursday at 7:13 pm 0 comments

September 18, 2007

How Green is the Span...

Between the Tigris and Euphrates?

Certainly the dullest man to ever rivet a nation's attention, Alan Greenspan has come back into the news after a single line from his recent book caught some people's attention:

"I am saddened that it is politically inconvenient to acknowledge what everyone knows: the Iraq war is largely about oil."

But I've said it before, and I'll say it again:

The current war in the middle east isn't about terrorism, or even about oil - that's merely profit and bribes for some of the individuals involved. The real kick the Vulcans are on is power, and they are playing a bad game of it, trying a short cut, trying to force a "final victory" without realizing that you cannot play at toy soldiers when your battlefield is metaphorical.

The oil was, believe it or not, an excuse. The oil got support in back rooms, it provided an incentive to a certain element that would work with the government, and it, if you'll excuse me, greased the wheels in the political arena as well: the Carter Doctrine (short version: they stop our oil, we invade) could be called up as part of a legal rebuttal.

The problem wasn't so much the control of the oil reserves as it was the stability of the cost. Hussein has enough to jerk the price around at his whim, but he was still selling oil to the United States in the weeks before the actual invasion.

The oil was only one leg of the table that the current war games are being played on: important, yes, but not sufficient on its own. If it were, Iraq would have been invaded in the 80s.

Another limb was whatever crazy-juice president Bush drank from his daddy's still. For those who don't remember, even into his first year as president, Junior was considered a useless dilettante, and a stupid one at that. Like his policies or not, mock his indecisiveness and chameleonism, Bush Senior was not considered a stupid man. Horribly inappropriate for the job, sure, but not stupid; and his son suffered by comparison.

Consider also: one of these two fought in a war. The other owned the Texas Rangers and is widely regarded as having hidden behind his daddy's dialing hand when the threat of a draft came along.

Nothing gets your macho back like a war, dang it!

A third factor was political expediency: war presidents get re-elected. Afghanistan was handy, sure, but the real prize would be someone who the domestic public hated already. Hell, there were probably still warehouses full of "So-Damn Insane" (geddit? geddit?) t-shirts lying around ready to get dusted off an sold all over again. Blame the army, there: that Kuwait thing didn't last long enough to dump all the merchandise.

But now Dubya was ready to fix his daddy's mistake! And the multitudes were howling for blood of enemies, not the dust of Kandahar.

But the biggest reason behind the war were the greatest drivers for it: the Vulcans.

These folks look at the world the same way you or I (or other, saner folks) look at a Risk board. They want American Empire, and not just of the cultural variety. They want military bases spanning the globe, fully manned and guarding missile silos. They want to stop people doing whatever it is they don't want them to do. Certainly, sometimes this will be for economic reasons: but economic reasons aren't why they want this: they want power, not money.

The goal is a true Pax Americana. The same idea of the Thousand-Year Reich, but other nations can keep their governments. So long as they do what America says.

This odious combination of Manifest Destiny and White Man's Burden has taken root among some conservatives, and that branch took root with Reagan, was pushed aside by Bush the First and Clinton, and came back into power with president George.

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates may have revealed more than he thought when refuting the statement:

"I think that it's really about stability in the Gulf. It's about rogue regimes trying to develop weapons of mass destruction. It's about aggressive dictators."

All of which justifies invading, oh, twenty or so countries, and oddly doesn't mention terrorists at all. Funny, that.

Interestingly, Greenspan later clarified his quote, saying he meant the war was about controlling the oil flow, not the oil itself.


Yeehaw! is not a foreign policy.

-Seen on a poster in Iraq and quoted in "Imperial Life in the Emerald City." Apparently, it's becoming a movie...

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posted by Thursday at 9:56 pm 0 comments

September 16, 2007

Has Anyone Asked...?

Just a quick question to all the U.S. candidates running for the nomination of their respective parties:

Of the formerly 750 prisoners at Guantanamo Bay prison, more than 420 have been released, and dozens more cleared to be released.

Any idea what would happen if these people had been tortured during their stay? Assuming, of course, waterboarding, stress positions, and BEING LOCKED INSIDE A FUCKING PRISON don't count.

Is anyone (Ben Stein, 2002: "I don't understand why we have any concern about these people at all. I mean, these people are major league scumbag killers.") interested in revising their former opinions of those held at the prison?

Anyone still on about "any means necessary" when questioning people? Or doubling the size of Guantanamo?

Supposing, just supposing here, that some of these innocent people were tortured - and they gave up some information... and that information was acted on. What then?

And where, exactly, does one stop?

Just asking.

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posted by Thursday at 6:14 pm 2 comments

September 13, 2007

Fair and Balanced About Unbalanced Folks

It's often enough that I rip on various and sundry religions (and usually with excellent reason, frankly: click on "religion" below if you don't believe me) so it's only fair to point out moments when I'm impressed by people of faith.

Here's two:

I had never heard of the word "ijtihad" until reading "The Trouble With Islam" by Irshad Manji. In the talking heads and interviews I've seen, it's either never been mentioned, or been presented in such a dull fashion that the word blipped past without making a dent in my consciousness: it is an Arabic word, and it means "independent thinking".

And it's simply not one I've heard ever mentioned.

What Ms. Manji does is ask the question: why not? Why isn't ijtihad the tradition that gets discussed among not only the Muslims of the West, but Muslims the world over? Why is a religion that is truly as global as Christianity demanding the rigid thoughtlessness of the Arabic Imams?

What is the desert doing in Malaysia?

In response to the book, she has launched a website with a great name (muslim-refusenik.com) where you can get the book free - if you read Persian, Arabic, or Urdu at least.

Read the book, read the site. Some great questions, and even better debate.


Item two:

A lot of my problem with religion (for me, at least) is the bald hypocrisy with which many of the supposed representatives live: bible thumping con artists and gay bashing homosexuals and flat out adulterers and church protected paedophiles are paraded out with alarming regularity, and for some reason that turns me off.

I'm funny that way.

Another is the constant prostelysing, demanding we all live in a world of their own making, individual freedoms be damned (guaranteed)! It's reason enough to be friendly to Jewish neighbours.

But I do have some respect for those folks who live by their codes, bizarre or backwards though they may be, at least it's their own life.

The Amish congregation at Nickel Mines has just moved to the top of the list.

If you don't remember them, they had a nutbag lock himself in a small school and butcher five young girls before (as these cowards invariably do) killing himself. They have received over $4.3 million in donations from around the world... and they've given a contribution to Marie Roberts, a widowed mother of three.

She is widowed because her late husband, Charles Carl Roberts, shot himself almost a year ago after first shooting ten Amish schoolgirls, killing five.

A new school has been built (the old was demolished after the incident), and is expected to close on the anniversary of that day, but no ceremony will be observed.


Reading that, is anyone not embarrassed by people celebrating the 20th anniversary of Diana's death?

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posted by Thursday at 8:18 pm 2 comments

SCREW Your Inscrutables...

...to the sticking-place, and we'll not fail!

-Not quite Lady MacBeth


The Skeptics' Circle rides again; and the meeting is held, should be more often, at a tavern out somewhere's in the mid-west...

And early Las Vegas, perhaps?

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posted by Thursday at 4:59 pm 0 comments

September 09, 2007

Isms Galore!

So seven high schools here in B.C. are teaching a class in "isms": Social Justice 12 is to include (in alphabetical order, no less) ableism, ageism, anthropocentrism, consumerism, cultural imperialism, extremism, feminism, fundamentalism, hetrosexism, humanism, racism, sexism, and speciesism.

Other than being incredibly awkward to pronounce, are any of these items really new? Is it enough to justify creating an entire year long subject?

Really, there are really only a couple truly new items on the list that have never been specifically covered before: hetrosexism and speciesism. The other eleven are all already covered as part of other subjects, so what will happen in those classes? Surely the presence of "isms" won't be reduced in the older courses, as they do form a huge part of our (and everyone's) history, social structure, etc.

So?

So what does lumping them together into a new course do for the students? These subjects are important enough to be included in other courses, and frankly they already are:

Ableism: mostly a concern with engineering and city planning.
Ageism: political hot potato, but also a politicians problem. Social security, standards of care facilities, health care, even motor vehicle testing are all political and legal concerns.
Anthropocentrism: this has been taught for decades anyways. History, social studies, anthropology, and even literature all cover this.
Consumerism: Have to admit, this is a new one on me. I'd imagine economics courses would have this as part of their curriculum.
Cultural imperialism: Er... What Anthropocentrism + Consumerism equal? Again, economics and/or anthropology would have this in their purview.
Extremism: Social studies, history, anthropology, religion (if you're lucky enough to have this course) or simply radio, television, and newspapers examine this.
Feminism: If none of your classes don't cover this, CHANGE SCHOOLS! Arguably the biggest single movement in 100 years, it's all over any reasonable curriculum.
Fundamentalism: Glad to see this making an appearance at the high school level, but again any course in religion, history, political science, or social studies should be including it anyways.
Hetrosexism: See below.
Humanism: In my personal lexicon, this means "atheism". I can't say I have a problem with that! 8)
Racism: See Feminism.
Sexism: Uh, "See Feminism" again.
Speciesism: See below.

So we're left with (theoretically) two new subjects: speciesism and hetrosexism.

Speciesim is easily covered in biology classes: just bring in a book on parasites or viruses and any illusion we have of being the "dominant" species on this planet is out the window. We're not the top dogs in any way, shape or form; not in numbers, not in biomass, not even in our ability to change the environment around us. We're able to kill off ourselves and other mammals easily enough, but the majority of species on Earth won't even notice our absence.

As for hetrosexism, apparently this is to teach against "hetrosexuality being the norm". Well, hetrosexuality is in fact the norm: it's what (by far) the majority of the population identify as. What I'd consider a better phrasing is that this course should oppose the prejudice against homosexuality, which again certainly falls into the same categories as racism and feminism (or rather, anti-feminism. Androism? Hmm...)

It's not so much that I'm opposed to these things being taught; however, I just don't think they're going to add anything to the social conversation. The only way this course will be useful is if it becomes mandatory, and frankly I'm not convinced something this vague and specific will be that useful: it covers far too many subjects from far too many fields for any of them to get more than a cursory look.

Still, it's the first year this is being tried; perhaps my concerns will be allayed in execution.

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posted by Thursday at 11:05 am 0 comments