Tuesday, February 07, 2006

proud citizen of bush's nation of retards

Really, why is this man allowed to talk in public? does he have loved ones? If you care about this person, don't let him speak to groups or people. I hope this is parody, but strangely don't think it is:

"Goldberg: 'Some say that Native Americans were great environmentalists don't know history. Some think that Indians were like a Disney movie, with Indians talking to bunnies. The great plains used to be a giant forest. The Indians burnt it to the ground to hunt buffalo."

The Great Plains used to be a giant forest that the Indians burnt down to hunt buffalo? Have you ever seen a more damning indictment of the American educational system? Dude, I don't even think anyone can argue with you and try and set you straight; we all just need to slowly back away and leave you alone in your weird world.

Friday, February 03, 2006

This is what you voted for...

A kid walks into a gaybar and attacks people with a hatchet and a gun.

This is what the gay marriage amendment push was about. This is what the republican national convention was about. This is what "love won out" is about.

You scream from the rafters that gay people are destroying the country and communities and should matter less under the law, and soon enough folks are getting whacked in the head with a hatchet. True, usually the violence is less odd, less reported, but all the same...

What Would Tintin Do? Pt. 1

So, I’m not a terribly prolific contributor to this blog (as any search through our archives would show you). But given that I now have a new desk job that is punctuated with a few long spells of nothing-to-do during the day, I’m going to try and be a bit more active hereabouts.

Daniel has been holding down the domestic front for a while, so I’m going to try and focus on foreign affairs, especially that area near and dear to my heart, the Middle East. I hope to have a piece up about the Hamas elections soon, but before that I wanted to make a few remarks about the cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad that have been causing so much controversy of late.

A bit of background: Towards the end of 2005, a Danish newspaper called Jyllands-Posten (they have an English-language service here) ran a series of twelve cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad, one of which depicted him wearing a turban, which was drawn as a bomb with a lit fuse. The cartoons accompanied an article about self-censorship, written after an author, Kare Bluitgen, was unable to find an illustrator for a children’s book he was writing about the life of Muhammad and the Qur’an. Prospective illustrators repeatedly turned down the project, citing fears of offending Muslim sensibilities and inviting violent reprisals a là Van Gogh (more on that later).

It was accompanied by this text, written by the Jyllands-Posten’s culture editor (from a translation by Wikipedia):

“The modern, secular society is rejected by some Muslims. They demand a special position, insisting on special consideration of their own religious feelings. It is incompatible with contemporary democracy and freedom of speech, where you must be ready to put up with insults, mockery and ridicule. It is certainly not always equally attractive and nice to look at, and it does not mean that religious feelings should be made fun of at any price, but that is less important in this context. [...] we are on our way to a slippery slope where no-one can tell how the self-censorship will end. That is why Morgenavisen Jyllands-Posten has invited members of the Danish editorial cartoonists union to draw Muhammad as they see him. [...]"


Protests were lodged almost immediately. Ambassadors were withdrawn, rallies held, etc. In response to the response, several leading European newspapers republished the images, in an act of solidarity with Jyllands-Posten. The papers, including Die Welt and Soir France, argued that they were taking a principled stand for free speech in re-running the caricatures.

Because of these actions, and despite the firing of the chief editor of the France Soir, the outraged response has continued to grow, with a boycott of Danish goods by Muslim groups, an armed raid on EU offices in Gaza (in which, thankfully, no one was hurt), and death-threats made against illustrators and publishers.

All of which has provoked a great deal of opinion and analysis in the blogosphere, to which I will contribute the following two cents:

First of all, I think my reaction to the whole business is based on a very careful distinction between legal actions and morally responsible actions. One of the absolute best parts of the American way of government, in my opinion, is its protection of free speech. You should be able to say and publish what you like (excepting, of course, threats or libel) without legal repercussions. There should be no Ministry of Culture censoring books and the press for content. If you want to write a racist screed, satirize politicians and religions in the most vulgar manner possible, or write an epic novel delimiting all the reasons I suck, by all means, let no arm of the government stop you.

But if you do let out with a racist screed, for example, don’t think that this entitles you not to be met with anything but the loudest and most clearly articulated of fuck-you’s from everyone within earshot. Being racist does not make you brave. It does not make you principled. It makes you morally irresponsible.

And please don’t whine about your free speech rights being under attack when other people exercise their right to free expression by calling bullshit on you. There is no such thing as a no-tag-back rule in Free Speech. If you can’t take it, don’t dish it out.

Hence, while I think that it was perfectly legal for Jyllands-Posten and others to publish their cartoons, I maintain that it was a pretty reprehensible action, and I support all the legal forms of protest that have been going on in response to it, from marches to boycotts.

In order to understand why I think the publication of the cartoons was morally irresponsible, I think you have to put their publication in the wider context of the troubled relations between European Muslims and their fellow citizens. Unfortunately, this is precisely what a lot of American bloggers and pundits have failed to do.

However, as I'm about to leave work, this post will have to come to an end half-way through its argument. Up next: Why Piss Christ isn't something to get worked up about, The Van Gogh Murder, Muhammad in the Supreme Court Building, and why I hate intolerance and the Dutch.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

"God is the lover of the zoo."

Over New Year's while talking to me, my mother was relating that my cousin who is a Baptist minister had met Bobby Welch, the president of the southern baptist convention. Mom went on to relate that my uncle had coached him, I believe in college (in what sport, I don't know) and that he always been really nice and friendly to my mom and cousin (who were about 4 at the time) and they had their first childhood crushes on him. He always talked to them when he came by the house and (I think) was a lifeguard and would sometimes take the to the pool. Kind of a sweet story, and he sounds like he is and was a really nice guy.

This is part of what makes so much of the politics of the last couple of years so painful: I know that individually the people pushing the worst policies are also really nice people individually. Not all of them are the awful people you would expect when you look just at what they support. The freepers are the vocal few, trapped alone in their miserable lives whining on the internet, but most of the folks who voted for torturing people, war for revenge and profit, cutting social programs for the poor, harming the environment, demonizing gay people, and adjusting the tax code to benifit the the wealthiest among us are suprisingly decent people when you actually meet them one on one (and make no mistake that any vote for bush this last go round can only be viewed as a vote for such; four years into it you can no longer feign ignorance). I have no doubt that were I to meet Mr. Welch, we would probably get along so long as we didn't discuss politics or religion.

But I'm probably not going to meet him individually, despite some sort of family connections. I am going to meet his effects on the direction of the baptist church. The extreme politicization of the southern baptist convention is how I have to judge him and those he represents.

Anyway, I haven't really dug too deeply into learning more about him specifically and don't care too right now. He was nice to my mom as a child and I'll stick with that for the moment (though I am not departing with my belief that the modern southern baptist convention represents the worst of modern America).

I finally googled his name though and got this link:

Go Bobby Welch!

It is an amazingly obnoxious (and long) piece of writing to read, but the final paragraph begins with this line which begged to be shared:

"God is the lover of the zoo."

If you want context, go for it, the link is there, but it really ruins it. I do recommend the whole last paragraph, but just the line itself borders so beautifully on the absurd and is likable all by itself. Without that awful article of condescending vapid ra-ra-go-team fight-fight-fight-win-win-win crap, you can give it its own context, find a way to let it make sense. Associated with the greater horror that it is part of, you can't like it so much.

Like Bobby Welch.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Sort of... but no.

I like Larry Johnson's writing in general. He offers great insight usually, but I have to take serious issue with how he simplifies why it was stupid for Condi to not have seen the Hamas victory coming. Yes, it was stupid and probably no one outside of the administration didn't at least know they were going to do well in that election. In a post at NO QUARTER he references an excerpt of his previous writing on the subject including this statement:

"We are unwilling to come to grips with a very simple truth -- the majority of people in the Middle East prefer an Islamic rather than a secular government. Economic development does not ensure a steady march towards a secular, diverse society. Heavens (irony intended) just look at us. Despite our economic prowess and alleged sophistication, religious fundamentalists in our own country have succeeded in bringing great pressure to bear on our government and our media."

No, a majority of the people in the Middle East do not prefer an Islamic government to a secular diverse government. A majority of people in the Middle East aren't seeing their needs met and the Islamic surge is fed off of a resentment of the West's role in that lack. Hamas won because it is concerned with the day to day needs of the population of Palestine. This is not to say that Hamas goes about acheiving this the right way or that Hamas gaining more power bodes well for the region, but if you want to take the teeth out of Hamas and resistance groups there are only two ways too it and neither has a damn thing to do with religion. The religion part is just a cultural rallying point, reinforcing a sense of belonging and moral imperitive to a cause. To slow down terrorist groups you have to either kill them all ('them' being the members of not just the organization itself, but the entire group, ethnic/regional/political/whatever that they are revolting in the name of), or you have to incorporate the population back into the community. In Israel, the Palestinians have been marginalized and divided and had much of their means of economic stability destroyed. Until those issues are handled, the resistance will only get increasingly heated.

This isn't because Palestinians want an Islamic government. It is because they see Hamas as fighting against and enemy who is standing in the way of their security. Give a Middle Eastern nation security and stability for a few years and see if the populace keeps voting in an Islamic majority.

And the same with this country. Yes, economic development does insure a march towards a more secular diverse society, but only in so much as all members of society are incorporated and involved in that society and that the economic development doesn't allow one group to accumulate most of the profit. No, Christians in this country are by no means the ones with the economic short end of the stick, but they sell their message as a reaction to being victimized.

They are not selling Jesus's message, but rather using the Bible as a cultural touch stone for rallying against the forces which they peceive as threatening them. Notice that the religious right attracts the most racist, bigoted folks you will ever meet. Not only the overt ones, but the message of protecting the world from this secular onslaught is also not so subtly as they would like to believe communicating a wish for a time when being white was more overtly advantageous. We aren't stupid; we know what is meant when they talk about the good old days and it has nothing to do with morality. It is about the world being organized in a way that white people and particularly a certain segment of the white population was on top and assured of staying on top.

The religious right makes a great noise about the country turning from its values, but this is what they mean. It is just a thinly veiled attempt at resurrecting social controls that keep people 'in their place'.

I am not so cynical to believe that all religious sentiment amongst people is so calculated and callous. Certainly there are true believers and those whose moral compass is aligned by their faith, be it Christian, Muslim, or other and certainly churches and mosques play central roles in many communities and that the idea of getting a feeling on belonging and purpose isn't only a negative thing or necessarily in opposition to a functional, diverse, accepting culture. But for these things to remain positive, people's basic needs must be met and they must feel secure and safe or their religious sentiment can easily be harnessed into knee-jerk political opposition, which in more extreme cases can lead to terrorism.