More neo con
When the UK said that it would deport "terrorist suspects" to torture-loving Algeria, voices of alarm were heard. It's okay, said the gov't:
The British government has absolutely no reason to believe that H will be arrested or otherwise detained for a prolonged period of time if deported to Algeria.
So H and Q ended their appeals. Some suggested that assurances from the Algerians would not be worth the paper they were written on. Oh dear.
Another neo con
What teh fuck?
Remember Al Qaeda? They were the enemy, right? On account of knocking down the WTC and all that. We're clear that they are who is not "with us" when we said "you're either with us or against us.
So what is this
Elements of the tough new approach towards Tehran outlined by Hersh include:
· Clandestine operations against Iran and Syria, as well as the Hizbullah movement in Lebanon - even to the extent of bolstering Sunni extremist groups that are sympathetic to al-Qaida
When the US attacked Afghanistan, Iran helped. They were our friends then. They were quite aggrieved when we started treating them like shit straight afterwards. After all, they're about on a par for demented Islamness with Pakistan and several streets behind Saudi Arabia (which is involved in this plot to provoke Iran into war).
So it seems it's "you're either with us or against us unless you're against whoever's against us and then you're with us even if you're against us".
All those who still believe that neocon idealism is "not misguided" raise your hands.
Rape on trial
I rarely agree with Johann Hari, rightly named a "cunt" by Busted
, and one of those horrible "liberals" whose views would not disgrace the average Republican, but there's always room for surprises. His article about rape
is spot on.
It is almost the crime that is not a crime, so casually is it treated and so muddled is the thinking on it. On the one hand, you have morons who claim that "she deserved it" because she has had a few more sexual partners than the Virgin Mary or was wearing a short skirt, and on the other you have clownish feminists who insist that rape is not about sex but always about power. (Which is bollocks that no one would repeat if they had not overdosed on Foucault. In his terms, everything
is about power, which is true, but things are not only
about power, and the power relationship that they manifest is not all there is to say about them.)
The chief problem with convicting rapists is that people (and men in particular) just don't believe that it's all that common. (And by extension, people believe that most rape reports are made by women who are settling scores with the accused man. That newspapers report the very rare occasions this happens prominently, but don't bother giving much coverage to convictions helps reinforce this view.) The victim is disbelieved from the get-go. (I should think many women do not report rapes precisely because they realise that they will be put on trial as much as their attacker.) The police are sceptical, not sympathetic. The trial focuses on the victim. Her sexual history is dragged into view, her story picked apart. The jury is allowed to consider that if she's done a few guys, she must have done this guy and then "regretted it". If she has had a drink or two, the case is doomed. Meanwhile, the jury is not allowed to draw conclusions from the man's sexual history, and if he's had a few, well, that's a mitigating circumstance, as though it was okay to fuck a chick against her will if you've had a drink.
We need to change the presumptions of young men. I've never raped a woman, and I never will, not even by "accident", because I'm very careful to secure consent. I do not fuck women who are drunk if they would not fuck me sober (and I know they would because I gain their consent when they're sober, not after they have been drunking -- a pissed-up chick going "I'd do you any time, even if I hadn't had a bucketful" is not what we're discussing here). We need more convictions for rape, less excuses for rapists. I'm not saying we should all have signed consents (although it's not a terrible idea) but I am saying that if you were not certain, you would be taking a huge risk. I do not know what we have for evidentiary guidelines, but I'd like to see discussion of a woman's sexual history outlawed in rape trials, and clarity that a defence based on "making a mistake", because of a woman's clothing or your misunderstanding that it would be okay to fuck her because she's got about a bit, must fail. I think it's past time that we did not force raped women to face their rapists, but allowed them to give testimony by video. Is justice served by some cunt of a lawyer breaking a woman who has suffered enormous psychological damage down in the courtroom, so that he can claim that she is not telling the truth on account of being a bit unhinged?
Blog like an Egyptian
The next time one of the liars who lead us claim that they are fighting the war on turr to defend our "values", remind yourself that shoulder to shoulder with us in that fight is Egypt.
Abdel Kareen Soliman is a blogger. He was a uni student until his uni expelled him. It expelled him for having a bit to say about his uni and about Hosni Mubarak, the hardman who runs Egypt. Standard stuff, you're thinking, the grist of blog mills the world over. Yes, but in Egypt, you get four years' chokey for it
A couple of facts about Egypt: it's the kind of place in which the coppers can rape you with a stick, and you
get punished for it --three months for resisting arrest
(a novel method, to say the least, to use your arse to prevent the copper from giving you a righteous clobbering with his truncheon, as is Egyptian policemen's wont); it's also the kind of place the US thinks should be supported with $1.3 billion of military aid a year, and another $800 million of other aid.
Still, at least Mubarak believes in democracy. Hooray! Well, he has elections at least. Until recently, the choice was between Mubarak and Mubarak, with Mubarak winning, but sniffing the wind of change, he allowed others to stand against him last time. He didn't allow their votes to be counted, but hey, let's not quibble over the details.
Here's what I want. We do not prop up governments that imprison bloggers. We do not give torturers weapons. Go to these places and build roads: yes. Train people to maintain the roads: yes. Pay vicious crooks to keep the peace: no. But what I want is a mirage. The people who paid to put W in power do not care about human rights. They have no dollar value.
This is why we will not tolerate claims of "victory".
Even if by some miracle the US pacifies Iraq, and its business people are able afterwards to profit hugely from Iraq's oil, we still lost.
After all the talk and bullshit about Iraq, this is what is left
. To be so far from home, powerless to help, as a whirlwind of violence engulfs everyone you love...
I am haunted by the image of Sarmad alone at his kitchen table, imagining his family are laughing and joking with him as they eat the food his mother has cooked for them all:
I seek consolation in small things that remind me of home. I keep three envelopes with my mother’s recipes scribbled on them — lentil soup, tomato sauce with beans and Iraqi-style biryani — next to my bed. When bad things happen back home, I cook them.
Sons of Sharon
Who wants peace in the Middle East? Not the US and not Israel.
Yet again, they refuse even to think about peace. Why would they? War is working for them. The stuff about the Quartet demands is just blather. Israel doesn't meet the Quartet's criteria for negotiation itself, and has no intention of doing so. I've noted before that there is a real problem with Hamas, but that should not blind us to the truth that Israel has no desire for an equitable peace (and in truth never has had). Ferociously disappointed that the Palestinian factions were able to patch up their differences, Israel and the US have found the perfect way to slap the Arabs in the face: instead of giving the new coalition time to work out its programme and seeing whether the partnership led to a moderation of Hamas, they have made it clear that they do not want to discuss anything with anybody. While Israel continues to elect hardmen leaders with an ultraZionist agenda, that's not going to change. It's a bad thing that the Palestinians elected Hamas; but it's equally bad that Israel empowered Sharon and the sons of Sharon.
Why do we laugh at the right and call them wingnuts? Because of pieces such as this
. Here is a rightist "thinker" suggesting that anyone who is in the least bit liberal or progressive is actually a secret Marxist.
Both communism and the New Left are alive and thriving here in America. They favor code words: tolerance, social justice, economic justice, peace, reproductive rights, sex education and safe sex, safe schools, inclusion, diversity, and sensitivity. All together, this is Cultural Marxism disguised as multiculturalism.
Erm, hold on. Those aren't "code words". Those are the words for those things. I mean, if "peace" is communist, colour me pink.
You couldn't make this shit up. If you were writing a parody of rightist nutterism, you'd read this and straight away realise that you were not up to the job. You simply cannot beat this.
Hungary's youth, having been fed a steady diet of values-neutral (atheism) and radical sex education while simultaneously encouraged to rebel against all authority, easily turned into delinquents ranging from bullies and petty thieves to sex predators, murderers, and sociopaths.
Erm, what, all of them
Consequently, and by extension, [cultural determinism] also rejects the first principles of our liberty enumerated in the Declaration of Independence. These are our "unalienable rights, among which are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." Cultural Marxism must reject these because these principles of liberty "are endowed by our Creator," who made man in His image.
Erm, but couldn't it derive the same principles from a different source? This is the whole problem with this kind of thesis: it takes a black and white view of everything. You "love freedom" or you're a communist. But you must "love freedom" in exactly the same way I do. This thinking informs the neocons. They have a set of ideals -- not all of them by any means distasteful -- but they believe that there is only one way to worship their particular idols. Other models are just evil. Of course it also informs extreme left nutters too. They have the same "my way or the highway to hell" mentality. True believers tend to. It seems to me that without doubt the exercise of the intellect is doomed to be stunted; it works better unrestrained than it ever will following tramlines.
I don't want to be rude, but if you are going to write an article about "What the West Can Learn From Islam", I do think you should include, erm, what you think the West can actually learn. A history lesson
is nice, and it's always lovely to see the names of the Muslim philosophers of the age when Islam was actually a (fairly minor) force in philosophy dropped, but where are the things the West can learn?
Given that Muslim philosophy bogged down in a dead end of neoplatonism, that its jurisprudence is less developed than ours, and that its structures and influence have produced societies that are dysfunctional and passive, I'd suggest that "not much" is not a totally unfair answer. This is not a question of cultural supremacism. It's just what it is. As Ramadan is pointing out, Islam is profoundly conservative. Is what the West should learn that Medina in 800 or so is a great model for society? That we'd all be happier if we'd just submit to God and allow a strong leader to run the place? If not, what?
And this struck me:
Much is made of pluralism, of equality, of racial nondiscrimination, and yet a great many Western societies have chosen to apply an "ethnic" or "Islamic" label to social problems rather than devising political and social responses to social crises. The upshot is that Muslims, even though they are citizens, are seen as a problem rather than as partners in a solution.
The problem is though that 7/7, for instance, is difficult to define as impelled by a "social crisis". And when people are killing their peers because either they feel kinship with the people of Iraq that our government is involved in mistreating or they do not feel they can accept the values and mores of our culture, such as they are, because of a particular reading of the strictures of their religion, well, is that not a problem with Muslims of a sort? I don't draw the same conclusions from that recognition as, for instance, the haters on the right do, but I recognise that the problem is at least in part rooted in a cultural disjunction. Ramadan is quite jolly about it: he believes that the "tension" in Western societies may well be positive, providing a chance to renew the commitment to diversity.
Well yes. But my "commitment to diversity" does not really stretch as far as a commitment to thinking it's okay to urge the murder of your peers, or to kill them. And I'm not sure that I feel particularly tolerant towards those who want to make women second-class citizens (to the extent of mutilating them even) and want to pull our society back to their idea of paradise on Earth (my idea of paradise would never exclude music or dancing, and I don't see why I have to be particularly tolerant towards those who don't just want that for themselves, but want to impose it on me too).
And can we learn from Islam how to accommodate these tensions? No, actually, we can't. Most Islamic countries deal with minorities by oppressing them severely.
Ramadan ends by saying:
Seeking out what Muslims love, how they love, and the nature of their aspirations can be the beginning of a difficult but respectful encounter.
The question that begs is why the West would want
a "difficult encounter"? Europeans have done difficult. It proved very painful for us. These days we have a more relaxed approach to our differences. An acquaintance with Muslim thought will not open a door for you to a new world of experience and interesting ideas. Sorry but it doesn't. A wealth of art, yes. A fresh perspective in some ways, yes. An interesting history, yes. But as a learning experience, it is mostly a cautionary tale.
On the freedom road
is an interesting discussion on how the left should approach Iran.
It's a question much debated recently, because the left is again caught in a bind. Whereas we naturally would support those groups in Iran struggling for women's rights, the rights of minorities -- in particular, the Kurds, Arabs and nonShias -- and human rights in general, this puts us on the side of the imperialists, who may (or more likely may not) goals that we support by means we absolutely do not. It's tough even for moderates on the liberal side, and some, such as the sadly Islamophobic Third Camp
are making clear that they support one not the other. It doesn't help that one has to distinguish carefully between those who are fighting for rights we would support, and those who are fighting for things we do not want to see. Some of the "exile groups" that the US supports are just as nasty as the theocrats. Do we really want to end up doing what we've done in Iraq, and choosing which bad guys we will back to the hilt once we remove the incumbent bad guy?
Complicating matters is that Iran is not just going to turn into a secular state overnight. It does have elections, and people vote for theocrats. This is something that needs to be understood. You can't just make people all freedom loving and liberal overnight, and you have to question whether it is right to fight to bring in norms that most people in a place do not support (a different matter from supporting the fight to bring in norms that a minority prevents the majority from adopting). The Islamic republic is not horribly unpopular, and it is not the case that a vicious state represses the masses. It is a nation divided, and we must take some care that we are not just picking sides in a war for values that we do not in any case always live up to ourselves. (The situation is very different in Sudan, where a minority that holds state power is murdering the majority population, which both left and right are largely ignoring for whatever reason. This is the shame of our age: that we have destroyed Iraq in the name of "freedom" or whatever bullshit we are currently destroying it in right now, but we will not stop the continuing genocide in Darfur. I'll be blogging more about Africa when I have the energy. Its not being in the news too often means that it's not always salient, but it should be.)
The worst case is that the left is painted as supporting Iran, or actually does support Iran, in this conflict. (By Iran, I mean the regime of course, not the people of Iran.) Not sufficiently distinguishing the parties involved in Iraq has led to the suggestion that we support murderers because we say that the Iraqis have a right to resist the occupation. (In truth, distinguishing good from bad in Iraq is extremely difficult, and the Americans often resemble nothing so much as another militia, rather than anyone who is actually in control.) It's important to be clear that opposing military action is not the same as endorsing the Ahmedinajad government.
Rule of war
Ten Iraqis were arrested and detained by the British Army. After torture, one died. No one is guilty.
They must have hung themselves from hooks and beaten themselves to death, eh?
This has now happened more than once. British soldiers have on more than one occasion caused the death of detainees, but the prosecutors -- also Army -- just aren't able to make a case. How can we claim to be fighting a war whose end is just is we are unable to do justice ourselves? It's a recurring question in this conflict, and the answer is always the same: we claim it because we are willing to lie, barefacedly.
Free the unfree for a fee
So Wikipedia has started to crack down on fair use
. Why would WP not want to use fair-use images? And what's with not allowing CC no commercial use licences...
Ah. There it is. The second is easily answered. If the content is not "free", it can't easily be sold. Couple this with the recent whining about lack of money and a conspiracy theorist might conclude that WP is going to be profiting from its content (more than it already does) some time soon.
The first is less obvious. One's first instinct is to put it down to the people involved just being fucking idiots and none too cluey on the law. (WP's lawyer generally takes a pronounce-and-pray approach to tricky legal areas: claim something is legal and then pray that it is.) Then it strikes you. Use a picture of someone's album cover and they might contest your "fair use". You're not going to get sued while you are a "free educational resource" (the copyright law would more or less Wikipedia as it stands) but you just might if you are making a ton of dosh from it.
I note that Mel Etitis, an editor whom I generally consider to be FOS, hit the nail resoundingly on the head:
Could someone explain to me it's so important that people be able to use Wikipedia's contents commercially that we can't use fair-use images in the way for which they're intended (i.e., fair use)? All the work that editors put in to this project for free, on the basis that this is a free encyclopædia, is to be judged by whether someone else can make money out of it? Does anybody else feel their stomach churning at this? --Mel Etitis (Μελ Ετητης) 12:48, 8 February 2007 (UTC)
I note that he is quickly shouted down, the fate of most common sense on the wiki.
I noted also that the pompous fart who goes by the moniker Just zis Guy (I'm not kidding; he really chose that for his nym) whines that noobs have to have fair use explained several times before they get it, if they ever do get it. This is nonsense. What you get from Guy is bullied if you don't agree with his particular reading of a law he doesn't understand himself. Ah well, arrogance dressed up as informedness is the stock currency of the wiki. I stopped reading at that point because a/ I was bored and b/ there was no prospect of becoming in any way enlightened by further reading.
Anyway, it's given a couple of the more excitable shitheads something to do: now they have a new way to upset lots of contributors. Glee!
This though, son, I will tell you
You won’t be better than me
You won’t be worse than me
You’ll be the same
That’s genetics and a sense of inevitability
And many people will tell you
There’s a scheme that explains all this
They’re entirely sure of it
And you will wonder
how they can be
when you’re not sure of anything
Well, whatever gets you through
at the smallest possible cost
Counting what you’ve gained
ignoring what you’ve lost
is the path you should take
is going to be a painful mistake
This though, son, I will tell you
No one will love you better than me
I love you infinitely
That’s genetics and a sense of impossibility.DR
Here is the problem with Israel. I sympathise with the Palestinians, think they should have a state, even think the Israelis have been bad boys. All of that and yet.
No one talks about the "and yet".
Many want an Islamic state.
Hands up everyone who wants to live in an Islamic state. No one volunteering?
That's the first part of the "and yet". I'd rather live in Israel than any Palestinian state. When, if, Israel gives up the West Bank, as it should, paradise won't spring into place. Many people there want women in niqab, hatred towards Christians and "materialists" (that's you and me, dude), handchopping, lash the boozers, conform or die. Well, that's their choice, but I'm not getting behind it. I'm not celebrating it, I mean. I'm for self determination but I do not cheer bad choices.
And I do celebrate the freedom and the progress that Israel represents. The left, all of us, could do with noticing that in an arena full of dictatorships, intolerance, disastrous regimes that do nothing but hurt their people, there is one place that is not like that. Yes, it's been backed by Western money. Yes, but the people there have worked hard to make the place work.And they voted for Hamas.
Okay, I understand "resist Israel". I sympathise somewhat with that. I understand that feeling runs high because your grandpa owned land in the Mandate and the Jews ran him off it. But Hamas is not your neighbourhood social group. It wants Israel destroyed and all Jews killed. It has not given up its charter. It has not renounced its aim to destroy all Jews, no matter how long it takes.
Israel's reluctance to deal with Hamas is understandable, even though Hamas will accept peace. You're going to be feeling that no matter how long "temporary" is, a temporary peace with people who have avowed to kill you and everyone like you is not wholly desirable. Egypt, when it signed a peace deal with Israel, did not caveat it by saying "we're only signing this because we can't destroy Israel, and we will do so when we're able". It made peace in good faith. I can understand not feeling Hamas will.
Of course, the Israelis use and abuse that. They have long taken legitimate security concerns and twisted them into extreme positions, sometimes with a healthy dose of their own racism.
Yeah, but the original concerns are not ill founded. We forget that all too often. We sometimes hear that Israel's foundation was a "mistake". I think it was (although I think that now the mistake has been made, there's no going back). But it was a mistake partly, maybe even mostly, because Israel is surrounded by irredeemable shitheads. That's not an expression of Islamophobia. I don't have a problem with Islam. It's an expression of will you fucking look at those bastards? Look at Egypt, Syria, Jordan. Write a blog like this in any of those places and you won't be able to sleep at night, waiting for the knock at the door.
Nothing in this life is clear-cut. Nothing. There are always "and yet"s. Forgetting that is wrong; sometimes, it's even inhuman. The world will rarely actually be judgeable as black and white, even if we paint it that way. I'm aware (painfully so because I have a correspondent who sees the world in black and white and gives me the other side of it) that seeing the world that way can feed those whose interests are served by boiling out the nuance from an issue: extremists of all hues, charlatans, the people liberals like me oppose
, have died opposing.
I am not forgetting the "and yet". I am supportive of the Palestinian cause. But I am supportive also of the aspirations of ordinary, day-to-day Israelis, the people who made the desert green, who built a functioning, democratic state in a place where no state functions without terror and heartbreak. They are people to be celebrated, not hated, and our desire to support those who are oppressed should not lead us to hate those who do not deserve it.
Pigs and apes
When I read that the principal of a school had admitted that it used textbooks that called Christians "pigs" and Jews "apes", I thought, yeah, that's a sad fact about "education" in Syria. But no, this is in Acton
. Once I'd got over the what the fuck moment that it induced, I started thinking, doesn't this kind of school get tax money?
I'd like to take the principal to one side and say to her, Look, tolerance is not just something we
show to you
. This is a message seemingly lost on many of our societies' intolerant members. It's not just something you get, like the dole or a free education.
Bunt the bollocks into touch
Whereas Madeleine Bunting, discussing sharia
, is right that it is an enormous body of law, not just handchopping and stoning adulterous women, she makes a mistake of equivalence.
Sharia is not a system of law like ours. It is not a painstakingly developed, shared code, which is "interpreted" differently in different places. It's based on one man's vision and how that vision was reported. It's quite important to understand that, and to be clear that that man lived a long time ago, and not in a nice, progressive society.
Don't get me wrong, there are some exceptionally horrible elements of how sharia has been interpreted
But there is no problem with how sharia has been interpreted. The handchopping is in there. So is the homophobia, the womanhating, the whole caboodle. It's not a big bundle of loving tolerance that has been badly interpreted by some longbearded nutters. They have interpreted it exactly correctly. The differences in sharia from one place to the other are not about interpretation so much as about what sources it is built from. But the fundamentals are agreed because no school of Islamic jurisprudence disagrees on the Qur'an as a foundation and all agree on a set of hadiths. The differences of opinion are similar to differences of opinion in Western law; you could compare Franco-Roman law with English law: they're different but the principles that guide them are not so different, so that they give similar, although not identical outcomes.
The closest comparison to sharia is not Western law and its processes but Mosaic law and Western processes as they existed about a thousand years ago. Sharia law is rather like Anglo-Saxon law. Dude, we moved on from that! They haven't.
Why is Bunting even writing about it? Because some Muslims want sharia in the UK (just for themselves though, not for all of us). And the likes of Dave Cameron have stepped in to say no cheers.
I say no cheers too. That shit's horrible. No cultural relativism on this score round here. It is not just as good as our law, and one of the good things about our law is that in principle it applies to everyone. We all get the same rights. Not a bit less because you're a chick, Jewish or you fucked your neighbour last week.
But surely they should be allowed to live how they choose? Yeah, fair enough. But not everyone gets to choose, do they? Not even rich Westerners can easily choose what system they want to live under, and it becomes a lot harder for people who are marginalised. You know who I mean. The usual suspects: the poor, those without power, women. If someone makes your community live under sharia, and you don't have the means to leave that community, you are stuck with it. I prefer to extend the protections of our law, such as they are.
I post this without judgement. I don't know what to think about it. Fuckups are going to happen in wars. This is the cockpit video taken when Corporal Matty Hull was killed by American A10s
, which the American military has tried to suppress. There has been a lot of talk in the English media about this, with some suggestion that the American pilots are cowboys. I don't think the video bears this out. I felt terribly sad for them -- they sound like young men -- when they realise what has happened. They are scared of the consequences: the fear is that they will be jailed because they attacked targets marked with identification panels. But they took them for rockets and were assured that there were no friendlies in the area. A full transcript is here.
I note though that the way the military has treated the family concerned is disgusting. The Pentagon lied about the video, saying it did not exist. But it does; it shows that he died in a terrible accident. Nothing sinister; nothing really that needed to be kept secret. Just a fuckup.
I have been reading a lot of antisemitic stuff for one reason or another (mainly because I've been thinking about the "new antisemitism" some accuse the left of indulging in). In some places, the far right intersects with the conspiracy world -- a haunt of mine from time to time -- and it's no big surprise to find the 9/11 was done by Jews "theory" exploited by the far right. (The leftist version has Mossad involved for reasons of creating an attack on Iraq, a nation of concern to Israel or variations on that idea; another version has it as an insurance scam created by a Jewish businessman with connections to prominent Jews in the administration. The far right simply believe it's one more manifestation of the Vast Jewish Conspiracy to take over the world and force us all to eat bagels.)
These people interlink and reinforce each other. Some are hubs for this bullshit, but others are just outliers. The hubs are echoed over and over in a vast chamber of nutters. Sadly, the echoes sometimes spill over into more reasonable discourse. This is a real worry for people of goodwill and what makes it doubly so is that the left is not at all worried!
Even by their standards -- if I can abuse that word; we are talking about people who genuinely believe Jews ritually murder Christian babies and invented the prochoice movement so that they could indulge -- Eric Hufschmid would have to be considered a bit loopy. He does though answer the age-old question: Is the Pope Catholic?
His answer? No
Mark Ravenhill on the brewing culture wars.
I sympathise somewhat with Ravenhill's views, but I don't think that "liberal values" demand that everyone join in with the arsefucking.
There is a clear difference between saying we ought to tolerate whatever and saying we ought to witness it or partake in it. I am not sure that signing up to a uni course means signing up for whatever Ravenhill considers should be part of it. If your values do not permit taking part in a play that, rightly or wrongly, contravenes the mores of most people in the UK, I don't think you are doing anything wrong not to take part.
Ravenhill is right on the whole though. Liberal values are nothing more than an outcome of an education and a vague concern for others. Universities are bound to uphold them. Conservatism feeds on ignorance, and "conservative university" is an oxymoron. It's not a coincidence that the educated tend to tolerance. It's hard to hate things that you can understand.
I'm uncomfortable though with the new notion that everyone must join in. There's a strand of thought that outsiders to a culture must "assimilate". I think that in so far as that means "get on with us", it's okay. But if it starts to mean, "be like us", I'm not so sure. I'm not saying the notion is wholly wrong. If people remain completely alien to the people around them, there is not much prospect of their having any sense of community with the latter. Whether that's important is another issue, and my doubts that it is are what make me uncertain.
Wincing the night away
Sometimes a record will have mixed reviews to the extreme, so that half the reviews hail it as the band's, if not history's, finest; the rest slam it as an indulgence, not as good as (fill in name of band's previous album) or just plain terrible. Often this is caused by the record's being so awful that only its mother and fanbois can love it. It's fair to say that The Shins' Wincing the night away has had that kind of mixed reception. So (bearing in mind that I am a huge
fan of The Shins) let's ask, is it winner or wincer?
I think it comes down to how many times you've listened to it. If you listened once, and did not give it another go, you might be put off by the production and the subtlety of James Mercer's songwriting, and perhaps by the darker edge that hides the Beach Boys influence that had been prominent on Chutes and Oh inverted world. The tunes are not in your face, and The Shins have discovered a mild experimentation (they have bought a reverb pedal and a keyboard). But listen to it a couple more times and what is revealed?
The truth is, it is an album easily the match of their first two. And that is saying something. It begins unpromisingly, with smothered, reverby mouthings, but Sleeping lessons, which had threatened to be plodding Shins, fires up into rocking Shins. Australia keeps it rocking, typical Shins straightahead rock. The intricate, clever melodies that made Chutes too narrow such a pleasure are there present and correct on the clever Turn on me, the brilliant Girl sailor and the single Phantom limb, which is up there with Saint Simon as their best work. That chorus just eats into you, until you feel you cannot breathe until you hear it again.
The couple of experimental songs in the middle that have drawn notice are simply Shins' songs with a fresh arrangement, particularly Sea legs, which sounds like Mercer ran into Beck. I think reviewers have been upset that The Shins did not simply make another Chutes, but it's not as though they made a whole album of Brazilian hiphop. There's nothing radically changed at all. Just a set of excellent songs -- probably all round a better set than either of the first two, which each had the odd duff moment (and Pam Berry on the new album is a song you'll be glad only goes a minute).
Yeah, I love it. Colour me a Shinstruck fan but I'd recommend it to anyone who enjoys well-crafted pop. In a couple of places, I might have wished that the producer had not treated Mercer's voice so heavily, but this is like complaining that you don't like the singer's shirt at a gig. For me, The Shins are as good as it gets right now, and Wincing gives more reasons to believe that.
One notes Tony Blair's whining that the police investigation into the cash-for-honours scandal has poisoned UK politics. Which selling lordships for political donations of course does not.
One notes the continuing debate about the House of Lords. Here's David Steel
, almost the definition of "useless twat" on why we should have a bunch of useless twats appointed to our upper house, who will then pontificate almost powerlessly on what the executive enacts without hindrance.
The correct form of upper house is simple: elect it by PR. A Commons consisting of local representatives and a Senate consisting of national representatives makes tremendous sense. We have something similar in Australia. It's a huge annoyance to the government if it doesn't control both houses, and that's a good thing.
Appointed anythings are a terrible idea. Why? Because whoever is empowered appoints a whole bunch of people who will further empower them. Whoever is disempowered remains that way. A house of the eminent would even be better, although agreeing what "eminence" should consist of is something that you can have wars over.
One notes that if the police briefs the press that it is investigating Muslim nutters who have been planning to behead people, those nutters will never get a fair trial.
We can't end up with the kind of jury selection Americans indulge in, in which instead of selecting a jury of one's peers, both sides try to select one that is so misshapen that it represents no one in particular. In this case, you'd have to have a jury of people who have never read a newspaper or watched TV, and how can you trust their judgement?
One notes the continued rise of Manchester United and the decline of Leeds United. If you needed evidence of evil forces at work in this world, well, there you have it. That no one seems able to stop ManUre and equally no one could stop Ken Bates from installing a suppurating boil with the face of a beauty-challenged macaque as Leeds' manager are proofs positive of the thesis.
One notes the resurgence of English rugby, displayed in the thrashing handed to the Scots. Cue triumphalist predictions all round. Dr Zen notes only that suggesting the Irish were hot favourites was foolish anyway, and we shall doubtless prevail over that bunch of hackers and fatboys. It should also be noted that rugby union is only of importance to anyone approaching sane if there's no proper football on.
The latest cause of outrage among American progressives is that Democratic politicians will not say that they won't bomb Iran. They are queueing up to say that they won't take any options off the table.
Now, it is unhelpful to say this, and they're only doing it to posture, and it's true that engagement with Iran is far the best course. Yet they are right.
Chirac, in his mistranslated and misunderstood comment, said that it would not matter so much in itself that Iran had a bomb or two, because it could after all never use it (he said that Israel would raze Tehran about ten seconds after the rocket left the launchpad) and there would be a state of mutual deterrence between Iran and Israel, but that the proliferation it might spark off was the real problem. The progressives have jumped on this notion.
Well, Chirac didn't get where he is today by being a thinker, so why expect him to start? The problem is not the first Iranian bomb, the second or even the hundredth. It's the one that some Jewhating nutter slips to Hezbollah. You do not need a rocket to deliver a nuke (the only ones so far delivered were of course dropped from planes). A truck will do nicely. The assumptions that there are a/ no nutters with access to Iranian materiel who would supply bombs to terrorists and b/ no terrorists who hate Jews sufficiently to atomise Tel Aviv are two that I wouldn't make if I were responsible for Israel's security, on account of the situation in Iran's being quite unstable and of there being plenty of nutters who would be up for the job. Suicide bombers want to create outrage and disproportionate responses. Islamic Jihad rejoices when Israel murders Palestinians because it is taking its revenge for a suicide attack. As I noted, this is a large part of the aim of the suicide bomber: make your enemy despisable. If Tel Aviv were nuked, and Israel retaliated by destroying Tehran (which I hope it could be persuaded not to do), the papers would be full of pieces painting the Israelis as the embodiment of evil, and asking why they felt justified in doing it when they couldn't prove
Iran was responsible. Count on it. What you would read, amid the expression of regret and sympathy for Israel, would be an expression of hatred for it.
What the progressives want is for Clinton, Obama et al to make an unequivocal promise not to attack Iran. Sadly, I think that would be a mistake. I don't want Iran to be attacked or think it will need to be, and I don't think there's any need for the ridiculous rhetoric that is being spewed on the subject. But I do think that if there were credible
(ie not made up and probably not supplied by Israel) evidence that Iran had a capability to make nuclear weapons within months (not the many years it is currently at), removing that capability might be the right thing to do. I do not think we should gamble Tel Aviv on finding out that we were wrong.
Where does a person like me get money from? I don't mean money to borrow. I mean money to have.
I need so much money to go home; it's a millstone. Mrs Zen made a spreadsheet. Her figures are insane. Three months of this, three months of that, three months of the other. I'm, like, fuck that, I'll have to be working. Because I can't go anywhere anyway if I'm not fully employed. I have just not to think about how hard it will be to have that much work, because if I'm negative about it, I start realising that I'm stuck here for good. But even by my reckoning, it's a lot of money. Realistically, 20K Australian. Less if I want to hope for the best, but not much less. Where does a person like me get that kind of money from?
Well, hang on. I know what you're thinking. The house I live in. It's worth 450K. When the FIL kicks it, the three daughters take a third share. It's already in their name for tax reasons. It will stand vacant when we leave. There isn't anyone in the family who wants to live in it. So...
But you see, that would mean giving us what we want, not what he wants to give. He wants to die and leave a legacy, not actually to give his kids a better life. My dad's the same. He could reverse mortgage his house, give my mum a decent retirement and me the money to go home. But would he? No fucking way. We get it when he dies. I'll probably be dead first, having drunk myself to death, brokenhearted in this shithole. Not that the FIL is going to get the option. Mrs Z can't even ask her sisters for a loan for a month. We are potless at the moment. It's a cashflow thing, although of course I don't have, never have, any spare money. I did have some savings but I spent them because December was thin. But I had a gap between needing money and getting it. Would she ask her sisters, both of whom have enough not to miss a grand (and that's all it was)? No, she wouldn't.
Ultimately, I think I will have to take out a loan. I wonder how much I can get my bank to give me, and how I will manage to pay it back when I'll be underemployed and overcommitted. But what else can I do? Mrs Z wants to work 2 days a week. She wouldn't even earn 20K in a year, let alone save it. I can't get enough work to do "overtime". If I could, I would. And I'm not goodlooking enough to become a rich lady's plaything. More's the pity...
On suicide bombing
The recent suicide bombing in Israel set me thinking. I have recently been reading around in Israeli and progressive literature, pro and anti the occupation. I realise I disagree deeply with a fondly held view of some progressives, because it is based on untruths.
The line that I find difficult is this: suicide bombers represent the only means for a liberation movement to fight an oppressor and these poor boys are just so humiliated and downtrodden that they feel there is no other way for them.
Neither of these things is true. That the left, with its long history of protest and activism, can believe the first, is simply astonishing. I have a single word of admonishment for those who find themselves supporting the murder of civilians: Gandhi. Gandhi faced a murderous and oppressive imperial force, a coloniser more brutal than Israel has ever been, and stood against them with what? A loincloth and a steadfast belief that presenting their wrongness to them would shame them into doing the right thing. He did not urge the bombing of anyone.
I think it is important, given the current political climate, given too that the left has slid into a quasi partnership with some horrible people (in some cases, sharing a platform with Islamists who would, given the chance, remove the very rights and privileges we fought so hard for!) to say that we do not condone the murder of civilians in any cause
I am not driven to my views by Islamophobia. Far from it, I'm fairly sympathetic to Islam. But I am not at all sympathetic to the view that the correct way to structure a society includes the repression of women, the smothering of dissident views or the hatred of outsiders that has seen Jews and other nonMuslims often suffer as badly at the hands of Muslims as they did at those of Europeans through the centuries (regardless that the Jewish experience in the Muslim world has not been as bad as it has in Christendom -- and it hasn't -- it still has not been a joyful union of people; and the knowledge that at any time, you can be scapegoated for all things unfavourable and hurt, punished or murdered does not allow people to live in the security that should be afforded all of us).
So the first untruth that I deny is that suicide bombing is a legitimate means of fighting oppression. I do not believe it. I believe it is a shock tactic, a means of creating outrage, that some men have created because of its psychological effectiveness. (What better way to hurt Jews than to force them into wrongness by making them fear and despise all
Arabs as potential murderers -- and in recent times, has the use of the tactic not made us susceptible to the same thing? By making death something that anyone
can deliver, people are forced to fear everyone of a particular type. I do not believe that Israelis, or us, can be considered solely culpable for fearing Arabs, wanting them controlled, holding them in suspicion. This is one of the aims of suicide bombing, and it is very effective.)
The second is that it is carried out by the downtrodden, the humiliated, those with nowhere to go. But studies of suicide bombers (particularly the work of Scott Atran) do not bear this out. (Nor does simply looking at the biographies of those involved: more often than not middle-class, educated men, angry but not necessarily personally affected in the deep way that the stereotype suggests.) They may feel that this is the most effective way they can use themselves in the cause they believe in, but they are not generally desperate men who feel they have no future.
Here is the thing. We have a one-eyed focus on the wrong the Israelis do the Palestinians, and become wrapped up in our desire for a narrative with good guys and bad guys. (This is how human beings are, a natural thing. We are hardwired to divide the world into ingroup and outgroup, and we find it hard not to categorise people in these simple terms. But once we are aware that we do that, we can try to move beyond it, of course.) And Israel has done bad.
But the other day three human beings were murdered in Eilat, three more families were robbed of people they loved. My mind wanders to the Israeli girl I met in Xi'an, gentle, bewildered by the hatred she felt not only from the Palestinians but from the West, towards her personally, someone who wanted justice for all and felt frustrated that she must bear the burden of association with those who do not. I think, I cannot believe in the rightness of her being killed. I cannot twist anything I hold dear into a belief that that would be right. I do not care who is oppressing you. It will never be right to kill the innocent to gain your freedom.
couldn't make a dream
from fishing line
broken and unindulged
an overstuffed sofa
fell apart at the seams
I was trying to tell you
what's good for you is good for me
you couldn't see
or you saw what you couldn't believe
still I reeled you in
slippery and untouchable
I felt the ghost of you
with my fingers
and kissed you in my dreams
no one ever is
what they seem
except for me
I'm unbridled and free
no one ever is
what they claim
except their name
and the size of their chains
no one ever is
what you dream
unless you dream
I will set you freeDR
And to think some people think a penchant for anal sex or a light whipping is odd. Some people feel incomplete because they have too many legs. Two too many. Read this
One feels for the husband. When your missus tells you she's going out to get legless, this is not what you picture.
So I try to take the next step. I have the quote and author coded as two separate variables. But obviously they could be combined as two properties of one variable. This would be useful if I wanted to add a new quote, because I could add both together in one go.
But I can't make it work. I use what I think should be the right method, but it doesn't call up a quote.
Then I find it. I missed a comma in the last array entry. I am not kidding. The whole thing is fucked because the last entry in the array is fucked. It simply doesn't create the entire array!
Anyway, now it works. Of course, you probably didn't ever notice that the quote changes, but it does, every time you access the blog. I am loving my script (it's not perfect: I don't declare the variables properly and it could mostly be placed outside the body, but Blogger already compromises the structure/presentation divide sufficiently that I don't think a bit more will hurt). Go on; see for yourself. Click on the quote and watch it change. Better still, steal my script. Change my quotes for yours (it's easy, just put quote in "q" for each entry and author in "a"). Just don't use Rowling as your author, k?
It's the law
One can argue that the Constitution of the US, although much loved, is defective and a poor model for other constitutions. Not because the freedoms it protects should not be protected, although at least one should not in my view, but because it does not properly state the rights it endows.
This is because, of course, its framers did not believe that rights are something a society as a body endows on its members, although they are, but believed instead that they pre-exist as inalienable rights endowed by God. The mechanism of endowment is unclear, because suggesting that rights are bestowed by a supreme being is merely a grandiose way of saying that there are rights that one should
have in a free society.
Were one to write an ideal constitution, I think one would list the rights that the society agrees that its members have and the powers it agrees to allow its government on constituting the state. It might or might not explain the reasons it believes those rights should be endowed -- and in a religiously minded state, that could well include that God bestows them on humans as natural rights and no state, however formed, has the right to abridge or alter them. (Without God, I believe that the concept of "natural rights" is very difficult to define or delimit. One can explain why we should consider that we have rights in various ways -- perhaps by a Rawlsian analysis of what is just -- but it is not by any means simple, as you would find if you set out to do it. Most who try descend rapidly into handwaving, and write elaborate versions of "we just do".)
Alberto Gonzales made a quite shocking statement during questioning in Congress, suggesting that the Constitution did not actually grant the right of habeas corpus
, but only guaranteed not to take it away. This is quite alarming
, because a government that pursued this line of thought could argue that its citizens do not have any rights at all if it decrees it. (The article I link is a bit alarmist and the argument is not entirely sound and the comparison with communist constitutions is interesting.) Obviously, Gonzales was right, and he, perhaps inadvertently pointed to the mistake the framers made:
the Constitution doesn't say, "Every individual in the United States or every citizen is hereby granted or assured the right to habeas."
Whereas it could not grant rights that it believed were inalienable, it could have assured them. You could argue that suggesting that one might not pass laws to abridge them or suspend them is the same thing but Gonzales is pointing to a key understanding of the US constitutional settlement, which is in essence correct. The state is in no position to assure basic rights because it does not grant them. The state works for the people after all. It has no constitutional basis to grant you anything. (You might suppose that the state could invent new rights to endow you with, but you would have to ask what right it has in turn to do so. After all, you are
the state in this model. You can grant yourself any right you like. It is up to the state, as a representative of society, to decide whether to recognise it.) But this is the thing. Gonzales is smarter than he's credited, and righter too. Because he is saying exactly that there is no mechanism in the Constitution to endow rights on citizens, only to recognise those that exist by the will of the people.
This discussion is lost on those in the UK who want the government to assure a set of rights in a charter (or the opposite). They do not seem to grasp that if the government is conceived as simply a servant of the people, it is in no position to grant or deny rights, only to recognise that we grant them or deny them to each other. Governments in the US model do not stand above the people. However, in the UK there is a feeling that the government does
stand above or at least apart from the people. This is an outcome partly of its birth in being the consultative body of a sovereign and partly of the UK's simply not being constituted for its people. The state in the UK is more often an encumbrance on the people than their servant.
European governments actually recognise a far broader set of rights than the US Constitution, as set out in the ECHR
. But this is a contract between governments, not between people.
My view on this is that were the ECHR reframed as the minimum standards that any society should accept -- in other words, that these are the rights that a society should endow on itself and that a government in that place should recognise and protect -- it is far superior to the American Constitution. It has two distinct advantages, in any case (quite apart from not recognising a right to carry guns): first, that it applies to "everyone" with no distinction between citizens and aliens -- so that in fact Europe recognises that the rights it wishes protected are fundamental
in a way the US simply does not -- and second, a government that wishes to deny you a right must explicitly deny it. It cannot quibble over its existence.
Firedoglake, which of course you already read daily, has some great examples
of Ivins' wonderful writing. One less light in a dark world; it really is a sad thing that there will be no more.
Vale Molly Ivins
Sad news for people of goodwill. A wonderful, but never strident, voice on our side has been stilled. Molly Ivins has died.
This is a time when America, and the world too of course, needs people who will stand up and say "this is bullshit". Ivins did it with a warm heart and a priceless wit. I tips me hat to Molly Ivins.