Wednesday, April 30, 2008

TPI's picks for US President

For obvious reasons, it is an election in which everyone in the world has a stake, even if only a few of us can vote. The Proud Islamist disagrees with Hamas on this one. Obama's pastor made me more fond of the man himself, and the Democrats probably do have something to offer the US on the domestic front, but I refuse to settle for a large amount of evil in order to realize a small quantity of good. Unfortunately, the current system requires it.

My feelings on US Presidential campaigns, with their barely democratic two-party system, are well summed up by this passage from Douglas Adams' So Long and Thanks for all the Fish, which was recently brought to my attention by an acquaintance (if that person is reading this, how does it feel to wield such influence?).

"No," said Ford, who by this time was a little more rational and coherent than he had been, having finally had the coffee forced down him, "nothing so simple. Nothing anything like to straightforward. On its world, the people are people. The leaders are lizards. The people hate the lizards and the lizards rule the people."

"Odd," said Arthur, "I thought you said it was a democracy."

"I did," said Ford. "It is."

"So," said Arthur, hoping he wasn't sounding ridiculously obtuse, "why don't the people get rid of the lizards?"

"It honestly doesn't occur to them," said Ford. "They've all got the vote, so they all pretty much assume that the government they've voted in more or less approximates to the government they want."

"You mean they actually vote for the lizards?"

"Oh yes," said Ford with a shrug, "of course."

"But," said Arthur, going for the big one again, "why?"

"Because if they didn't vote for a lizard," said Ford, "the wrong lizard might get in. Got any gin?"

The solution to this problem would be to have a "none of the above" option on the ballot - if 50% of the people select this option, the election has to be redone. While this would rarely happen, it would send a message to campaign managers everywhere when the number of "NOTA" votes edged up, saying "Yes, people are engaged in the process, and they just don't like any of you." Sure, you would run the risk of spending the odd $100 mil whenever it did hit 50%, but if anyone believes that democracy is worth fighting and dying for, the I'm sure they wouldn't begrudge it a bit of cash every now and then to keep it healthy.

Now, this might seem like an intellectual curiosity that will never be realized, and maybe it is, but nobody ever effected change by focusing on that.

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Thursday, April 24, 2008

Riots that matter

A popular criticism of the Muslim world is its extraordinary sensitivity - we are, as a group, pretty touchy about certain things. It wasn't always that way, and there are fairly simple historical reasons as to why we are in this period of emotional hypersensitivity when our symbols are attacked.

"Look at those Mozlems," it is said, "They'll riot over cartoons! Tells you something about them!"


Really, it's true, it does tell us something about them, although nothing that isn't so obvious as to be trivial.

That argument aside though, my immediate reaction to claims like this is to say "Look at you Europeans and North Americans! You comfortable, literate, enlightened North Americans. Look at the crap that you riot over!"*

Now I despise all of this sort of boorish violence, and I have argued many times that Muslims ought to be the last people to engage in it. That said, if you're going to be boorish and violent, at least be boorish and violent over something that matters.

*And apparently, they haven't even made it to the final yet.

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Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Are you a pile of stuff?

The following is something I developed during the course of a series of conversations I've had over the last six years on the nature of human consciousness. Apparently, some obscure philosopher came up with something similar a while ago, and anybody who has spent far too much time thinking about Star Trek might have had a similar idea.

Imagine that I were to offer you a great reward - let's say $1 Billion, substitute whatever you desire the most - in exchange for your participation in the following procedure.

You will be put to sleep on an operating table and your body will be instantly cooled to 0K - absolute zero - and in a state of complete stasis. It will experience absolutely no changes, and is frozen in space down to the atomic level. Over the table upon which you lie, a piano of an astronomical weight is suspended from the ceiling.

Using your body as a template, a copy will be produced from pure elements on a similar table on the other side of the room. The copy is also in a similar state of stasis, and, when completed, is absolutely identical in every way to the original, down to the relative positions of the atoms.

Now both bodies are instantly pulled out of stasis, and woken up, but at the precise moment that they wake up, a lever is pulled, the piano falls, and the original body is crushed. This is done with such precision that the copy gains full consciousness at the exact moment that the piano completely obliterates the original.

The copy will awaken with all of the behavioural traits of the original - an observer who knows you would find him or her to be completely indistinguishable from you, and the copy can now claim the $1 Billion reward for participating in the experiment.

Assuming that everything transpires exactly as described above, and assuming that you are interested in your own survival, would you agree to participate?

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Friday, April 18, 2008

. . . Barack Obama, on the other hand, does not.

A lot of people like Barack Obama for his seemingly "progressive" domestic and foreign policy platforms. On the contentious questions of the Middle East, however, it is all so much hot air. Like every other US politician, he will utter whatever patently ridiculous bromide is necessary to get elected:

From the conservative-zionist Jerusalem Post

"Hamas is a terrorist organization, responsible for the deaths of many innocents, and dedicated to Israel's destruction, as evidenced by their bombarding of Sderot in recent months. I support requiring Hamas to meet the international community's conditions of recognizing Israel, renouncing violence, and abiding by past agreements before they are treated as a legitimate actor."

And from FoxNews:

“We must not negotiate with a terrorist group intent on Israel’s destruction,” Obama said. “We should only sit down with Hamas if they renounce terrorism, recognize Israel’s right to exist, and abide by past agreements.”

Peace is made between enemies, you idiot. If Hamas were to recognize the legitimacy of a zionist state, and then renounce violence against it, there would be NO NEED TO NEGOTIATE IN THE FIRST PLACE. You can't ask the other party to give away its entire negotiating position as a precondition of starting negotiations, and expect the answer to be anything other than "uh, no."

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Thursday, April 17, 2008

Shlomo Ben-Ami gets it. . . .

A bit of rare clarity from a former FM for the State of Israel, in yesterday's Zaman.

". . .

The US eventually had to abandon its fantasies about Western-style Arab democracy, but it ironically left the Iranians carrying the torch of democracy in the region. After all, Iran was quick to recognize that free elections are the safest way to undermine the Middle East's pro-American regimes.

The Iraq war also meant that America ignored the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. The chances that the Bush administration might be able to rally America's Sunni "moderate" allies in the region to help salvage an Israeli-Palestinian peace are now hostage to an Iranian-led regional axis that includes Hamas, Hezbollah and Syria. All are united in their rejection of a Pax Americana in the Middle East, and all have so far shown remarkable resilience in ignoring America's pre-conditions for a dialogue.

America's inability to inspire the peoples of the Middle East, all ruled by US-backed autocracies, is not exactly stunning news. What is news is that American power might also be losing its ability to intimidate them."

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The White UN's Burden

The BBC, along with most of the British media, was abuzz yesterday over Gordon Brown's speech before the Security Council, chastising African nations, particularly South Africa as well as Zimbabwe itself, for failing to intervene in the obviously tainted election process in that country.

Mbeki's speech, on the other hand, was spoken of with disdain - the man didn't even mention Zimbabwe! How absurd! Journalists clucked and pundits wagged their fingers.

Watching the footage of the UNSC meeting, the racial overtones of the entire show were impossible to ignore. Even when Ban Ki-Moon gloriously hopped off the fence (upon which it is his job to sit) and started demanding action from the AU on Zimbabwe, the reporters didn't sound so much like they were saying "Ban Ki-Moon, Secretary General" as "Ban Ki-Moon, Not-A-White-Man."

Brown, on the other hand, who has been cast by the pro-war media in Britain as the weak prince who succeeded the noble king, has been benefiting from his show of "decisiveness." After ending Britain's combat role in Iraq, in their eyes he really needed the kind of public approval boost that can only come from pushing around a poor country populated by darkies.

Ok, so it's not all about race. Zimbabwe's economy, if any of the reporting is to be trusted (and much of it is not to be), is next to non-existent, and the damage that has happened over the past 5 years may take much longer than that to reverse. Mugabe doesn't really have an excuse not to publish an election result after 3 weeks, and it seems transparently dishonest to choose this week to charge the opposition leader with treason.

If there is a humanitarian crisis, by all means, let the UN do something about it, but since when is a disputed election the business of the Security Council? More importantly, what exactly does Gordon Brown hope to accomplish by posturing in that chamber? Would Britain be compliant, if African leaders began haranguing them to do something about a disputed election in the United States? Was the Security Council supposed to act on what happened in Florida in 2000?

Last year, when US warplanes and Ethiopian forces were cooperating to install a puppet regime in Somalia, nobody in power in the Western world batted an eye, and the result was the return of chaos and proxy wars to the Horn of Africa. Now Robert Mugabe steals an election, and suddenly the sky is falling.

In abusing the UN to posture, lecturing poorer nations on their own affairs, exaggerating a threat to global stability, and applying double standards in the lofty name of democracy, Brown is showing that perhaps he isn't all that different from Tony Blair after all.

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Sunday, April 13, 2008

The History of European Insecurity about Islam

Here's a long, but really well-sourced article about anti-Muslim polemics through Western history.

The common accusation that litters the Internet these days about the Prophet being a paedophile are almost funny when juxtaposed with what they were accusing him of in the 17th and 18th century:

Prideaux, for instance, in his work of “gross bigotry” - Vie de Mahomet - wrote, “Mahomet (Mohammad) married Cadhisja (sic) (Khadijah) at five, and took her to his bed at eight years old.

Americans in particular have long harboured ill-informed fantasies of the mass conversion of the Muslim world, as detailed in another fascinating article by Baylor U Prof Thomas S. Kidd, from a 2006 article in Christianity Today.

The more things change . . .

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Thursday, April 10, 2008

Fisk on why Arabs don't criticise their dictatorships

Robert Fisk is possibly the greatest British journalists of the last 50 years, if not ever - a man who probably understands the Middle East and the Muslim world better than some of the people who were born there; I don't say than people who "better than people who live there" because Fisk does live there, in Beirut, although his itinerary takes him all over the place.

One thing that earns him respect even amongst those who hate him is his ability to anger all sections of his audience, by telling them things that he believes they don't want to hear. As Fisk found out in an Ottawa banquet hall a few weeks ago, it isn't always that they don't want to hear, but that they aren't free to nod agreement.

Ironic, isn't it? The same warmongers who point at Muslim "hypocrisy" in complaining about human rights abuses by Western powers are, in fact, the reason why many of them won't turn their rhetoric against the barbarism and despotism of Syrian, Egyptian, Libyan, and other governments. The security establishment - which we have hyped up due to fantastical and irrational fears - colludes with the most vile regimes in the Muslim world in suppressing any kind of meaningful reform. Oh, and Egypt, here's $13B for "defense" against your own citizens.

Many of us who are critical of Western imperialism in the Muslim world (and everywhere else, for that matter) don't, however, have such vulnerabilities back home - either because "back home" is nowhere more exotic than Winnipeg, or because our particular "back home" isn't as uniformly bad as some people assume. For those of us in that position, we don't have a problem explaining why the reign of the ibn Saud has been in every way a stain on the face of the Muslim world, and how happy we will be when that name is erased from the pages of history, and never replaced with its ilk again.

If it seems like we don't spend much of our ammo on Muslim governments, it's because our ammo is limited, and the barbarity of such places is not, for us, a point of contention. The majority of those participating in this debate are in agreement that everyone deserves a fair trial, that rape is a crime, and that torture is not a legitimate way to obtain information. There's no point in having a debate where most of the participants completely agree.

At least, we're all in agreement about it when Arab dictatorships are doing it. There are some here who think that sort of behaviour on the part of our own governments should be encouraged.

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Sunday, April 6, 2008

Goods 4 Girls

Some of you may remember me waxing wroth about Proctor and Gamble's new exploitive marketing campaign, to persuade women to buy their women's hygiene products by saying that the proceeds would go to distributing the same in remote African villages.

Obviously, I'm not the only one who noticed the problem. As a result, a new international health initiative has been started, in partnership with Kenyan and Ugandan community organizations. Goods 4 Girls plans to address the same problems with hygiene and girls' education through solutions that are sensitive to community needs and capacities, and do not leave those communities dependent on environmentally hazardous imported products.

These enterprising, globally-minded people saw a problem and did something about it.

You can donate or volunteer to help by clicking on the button below.

Goods for Girls

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