Saturday, June 04, 2005

Saudis and the American Gulag

How big will this news be with Amnesty International?
The harsh prison sentences meted out to three Saudi reformists who demanded a constitutional monarchy showed the red lines of the political reform process in the oil-rich kingdom.

"The harshness of the sentences was surprising," said a foreign diplomat posted in the Saudi capital. "One cannot find out what laws they (the defendants) breached."

Ali al-Demaini, Abdullah al-Hamed and Matrouk al-Faleh were sentenced on May 15 to nine, seven and six years of imprisonment respectively.
But then they didn't step on a book or pick it up with one hand, much less without gloves on: they asked for a constitution. Filthy beggars are almost as bad as Americans.

Five years in prison for "insulting the church"?

Yes, there really is a reason the Founders included a Bill of Rights: Standard practice in Europe. Still standard practice. The BBC has the story :
A Greek court has adjourned until early next year the trial of an art curator charged with publicly insulting the eastern Orthodox Church.

Christos Ioakimidis could be jailed for up to five years for showing a painting combining Christian and sexual imagery....

The Athens court said it delayed the trial that was set to open on Friday because of its busy schedule, according to Reuters news agency.

Mr Ioakimidis organised a major modern art exhibition in Greece as part of a series of cultural events leading up to the summer Olympics in Athens.

The case against him stems from a painting by Belgian artist Thierry de Cordier.

It was taken down after party leader Georges Karatzaferis lodged a complaint with the Supreme Court....

Mr Iaokimidis is charged with insulting public decency and the Church.
To my mind it would be more appropriate to charge Mr. Karatzaferis with instigating violence against innocent people, but what do I know? I'm an American.

Cases like this are only one of the better reasons for voting against the EU Constitution: If Ioakimidis had been in London, Greece could have demanded his extradition to face criminal charges for an offense which isn't illegal in Britain. At least that is my understanding. It may already be the case under EU treaties, tho. I not sure.

In any case, the EU is not America in Europe. They really are politically far more authoritarian than we are. Almost as much so as the liberal arts departments at American universities.

Thanks to ArtsJournal for the tip.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Human Events: The 10 Most Harmful Books?

Human Events Online ("The National Conservative Weekly") "asked a panel of 15 conservative scholars and public policy leaders to help us compile a list of the Ten Most Harmful Books of the 19th and 20th Centuries." I'll go along with several of the top choices, but a number of others seem a bit bizarre.

1) The Communist Manifesto by Marx and Engels
2) Mein Kampf by Adolf Hitler.
3) Quotations from Chairman Mao

OK. Those are easy enough to go along with, but how about runners up like:

14) On Liberty by John Stuart Mill
18) Origin of the Species (sic) by Charles Darwin
27) Introduction to Psychoanalysis by Sigmund Freud

I guess lists like this are one of the reasons I don't think of myself as a conservative. Darwin and Mill? Leather-bound coffee table editions of On Liberty were a cliche of the Reagan administration.

UPDATE: Or am I thinking of leatherbound copies of Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith? I may be confused...trying to remember which was the most popular unread book in DC 25 years ago stretches even my grasp of trivia. I think it was Wealth, tho. Anyone have any idea about the conservative animus toward John Stuart Mill and On Liberty? I mean, aside from their anger over the Tragedy of Abolition or something like that?

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Major E on the BBC and Iraq

PowerLine has their own anonymous correspondent in Iraq, who takes exception to BBC coverage: Click here: Power Line: After midnight

Would Proselytizing work on Muslim Europeans?

Hard to imagine that the Catholic Church would be opposed to giving it a shot. Someone by the singular name of Spengler commented in Asia Times Online shortly before Cardinal Ratzinger became the current Pope:
Now that everyone is talking about Europe's demographic death, it is time to point out that there exists a way out: convert European Muslims to Christianity. The reported front-runner at the Vatican conclave that began on Monday, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, is one of the few Church leaders unafraid to raise the subject. [1] Hedonistic dissipation well may have condemned the existing Europeans to infecundity and extinction, but that does not prevent Europe from getting new ones. It has been done before....

Now that John Paul II has been buried, Catholic voices are sounding the alarm about the coming Islamicization of Europe. In the future imagined by John Paul II's biographer George Weigel, "The muezzin summons the faithful to prayer from the central loggia of St Peter's in Rome, while Notre-Dame has been transformed into Hagia Sophia on the Seine - a great Christian church become an Islamic museum." [2]
If the Italians and French were all Muslim I suppose the French and the Italians would welcome those conversions.
Precisely how the Church might go about proselytizing Muslims is a different matter, and a dangerous one, considering that Islam decrees the death penalty for apostates...
Yes, there is that. The Saudis whacked a fellow awhile back for possession of a Bible.

David Runciman on the Internet: "the enemy of informed public discussion"

What a twit:
The new information technology, with its cascades of rumour and limitless outlets for personal histories, is more often than not the enemy of informed public discussion. In the face of an endless readiness on all sides to heed the unmediated voice of personal experience, it has become harder to sustain the bigger picture needed for any plausible defence of progressive politics. This shifts politics, inexorably, to the right.
Runciman teaches political theory at Cambridge, and judging from his closing remarks in his article on US moves to repeal the estate tax, he is bitterly unhappy with Tony Blair's lack of ideological purity.

One bright note (for them) which Runciman and other critics of repeal have never, to my knowledge, noted: Over time, repeal will create plenty of hugely rich anti-capitalists who can use their wealth to attack the capitalism they so little understand. As a pragmatic issue, the pro-repeal faction ought to be thinking about the long-term negative consequences of their success, and about how to minimize them.

Perhaps I overemphasize the potential political importance of socialist centi-millionaires and billionaires, and just plain old fashioned rich fascists seeking to use government to maintain their inherited wealth, but I think the potential is real for anti-free market actors on the left and right to have increased influence.

Tip: Arts & Letters Daily

Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Sweet Shirazi wine

Wasn't that how the Persian poet Sa'adi used to put it? I've just spent several precious minutes Googling but can't find anything on that other than that Sa'adi did indeed write frequently about the stuff, sweet or otherwise. Anyway, archaeologists have been doing some digging, as is their wont, and have come up with a possible winery:
Archaeologists digging in southern Iran have found a pool and pots they believe were used some 1,800 years ago for large scale wine production, reinforcing the now-Islamic nation's status as the cradle of wine drinkers.

"We have found an almost intact pool with a canal in the middle of it. This is where the juices from crushed grapes would flow and be collected later in pots for fermentation and turning into wine," Ali Asadi, the head of the excavation team said. The team, which includes a group of Polish archaeologists, is digging at a site called Tange Bolaghi, near the southern city of Shiraz - a name also associated with fine wine.

Asadi said the team has also unearthed grape seeds, huge clay pots and remains of other similar pools in the area.

"The size of the pots and abundance of grapes in the area suggests wine could have been produced for commercial purposes at the facility," Asadi said...

Iran is believed to be the place where wine was first made - a jar containing the remains of 7,000-year-old wine was found some 30 years ago in the kitchen area of a mud-brick building in Hajji Firuz Tepe, a Neolithic village in Iran's Zagros Mountains.
The Daily Star of Lebanon has the story.

Back to the 13th century poet Sa'adi:

"The Rose Garden of Sheikh Muslihu'd-din Sadi of Shiraz"

'Twas in the bath, a piece of perfumed clay
Came from my loved one's hand to mine, one day.
"Art thou then musk or ambergris?" I said;
"That by thy scent my soul is ravished?"
"Not so," it answered, "worthless earth was I,
But long I kept the rose's company;
Thus near, its perfect fragrance to me came
Else I'm but earth, worthless and the same.

Thanks to Arts & Letters Daily for the tip.

Lacking perfumed clay, bellybutton lint would likely do.

NY Times outs the CIA air transport companies

Scott Shane, Stephen Grey and Margot Williams have an article in the New York Times which reveals company names, bases, plane types, tail numbers, missions flown, even a picture of a plane which includes its registration numbers.

What do the people at the Times think they are accomplishing with this? I fail to see the purpose of revealing such detailed information. Tell the Islamists which rural airports have CIA planes, hangers, and offices? I wish the Times had explained the purpose of its article: most articles are pretty self explanatory, but I don't think this one was.

Was the information already common knowledge to our enemies? Well, this is what the NY Times did to get it:
An analysis of thousands of flight records, aircraft registrations and corporate documents, as well as interviews with former C.I.A. officers and pilots, show that the agency owns at least 26 planes, 10 of them purchased since 2001. The agency has concealed its ownership behind a web of seven shell corporations that appear to have no employees and no function apart from owning the aircraft.
OK, by the New York Times' own admission, it took considerable work to dig up info which the CIA went to some trouble to conceal. Perhaps this really was common knowledge, but since the NYT didn't point out why this should be public info, I hope the NYT will at least understand my perplexity about their purpose.
Nothing gives away the fact that Aero's pilots are the discreet bus drivers of the battle against terrorism, routinely sent on secret missions to Baghdad, Cairo, Tashkent and Kabul.
Nothing except an article in the New York Times which is complete with a nifty graphic titled "Secret Fleet- A network of private companies owns and flies planes linked to the C.I.A." Formerly secret fleet, with descriptions for finding their hangers and offices ("At the other end are the hangars and offices of Aero Contractors, down a tree-lined driveway named for Charlie Day"). Another graphic includes the possibly useless info: "Tail numbers include N379P, N8068V and N44982" and "Tail numbers include N8183J." I am sure the journalists who worked at the NY Times during the Second World War would be proud of you.

Thanks toBill Roggio/Winds of Change for the tip via Instapundit.

UPDATE: Here's a curious quote from an October 2, 2003, NY Times editorial :
But that does not mean there can never be a circumstance in which leaks are wrong — the disclosure of troop movements in wartime is a clear example.
So, leaking troop movements in wartime is a bad thing, but telling the enemy where they are is OK, so long as you are the New York Times? How is giving directions to a secret CIA base at a rural airport similar to revealing troop movents?

Thanks to FreeSpeech for the tip.

Monday, May 30, 2005

Guantanamo Bay: American Gulag?

Or not? I don't entirely trust the US government, but I don't trust the critics at all. That is a real shame, because their gross overstatements and to me clear anti-American political bias, do not mean that they don't have a good case, just that I am a lot less willing to take them seriously.

David B. Rivkin Jr. and Lee A. Casey, both DC lawyers and members of the U.N. Sub-commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights comment in NRO :
Amnesty International's 2005 Report on worldwide human rights was released this week, and its contents have justly outraged Americans who support U.S. efforts in the war on terror including the Washington Post...Among other things, the report...compares the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, with the [Soviet Union's] Gulag Archipelago. In addition, the executive director of Amnesty International USA has called on foreign governments to seize and prosecute American officials traveling abroad...

What Amnesty is really saying is that, in its view, America's fight against al Qaeda is not an armed conflict, to which the laws of war apply, but a criminal-enforcement matter where the rights to a speedy, civilian trial are applicable. This is evident in the report's description of the Guantanamo detainees as individuals held without charge or trial . . . on the grounds of possible links to al-Qaida or the former Taleban government of Afghanistan. Despite the fact that the vast majority of detainees at Guantanamo were captured on the battlefield, in arms against the United States or its allies, this criminal enforcement view is widely held on the Left. It is also a historical and legally incorrect.

Captured unlawful combatants are not entitled to POW status because such men are associated with groups that do not comply with even the most basic law of war requirements such as the prohibition on targeting civilians...
The Geneva Conventions exist to encourage decent treatment of both POWs and civilians by according protections to those who abide by the laws of war. Therefore, unlawful combatants get few protections reserved for POWs. The reasoning is that according POW status to unlawful combatants discourages them from acting within the rules of war.

Has AI called upon the governments of the world "to seize and prosecute" Kim Jong Il? Robert Mugabe? The people running China? If they have, I've missed the reports.

The Washington Post, no apologist for the Bush Administration, editorialized on Amnesty International's "report" on May 26th:
IT'S ALWAYS SAD when a solid, trustworthy institution loses its bearings and joins in the partisan fracas that nowadays passes for political discourse. It's particularly sad when the institution is Amnesty International...(L)ately the organization has tended to save its most vitriolic condemnations not for the world's dictators but for the United States.

That vitriol reached a new level this week when, at a news conference held to mark the publication of Amnesty's annual report, the organization's secretary general, Irene Khan, called the U.S. detention facilities at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, the "gulag of our times." In her written introduction to the report, Ms. Khan also mentionedonly two countries at length: Sudan and the United States, the "unrivalled political, military and economic hyper-power," which "thumbs its nose at the rule of law and human rights."
Imagine that: In her introduction to the Annual report, not a special report on Guantanamo, but a report covering the world, AI's Secretary general has nothing to say about North Korea. Nothing to say about Iran. Nothing to say about Libya. Nothing to say about Russia. Or China. Or Zimbabwe. Yet we are to accept her report as the the production of a serious, respectable organization. Even the Washington Post can't stomach her. The Post editorial continues:
Like Amnesty, we, too, have written extensively about U.S. prisoner abuse at Guantanamo Bay, in Afghanistan and in Iraq. We have done so not only because the phenomenon is disturbing in its own right but also because it gives undemocratic regimes around the world an excuse to justify their own use of torture and indefinite detention and because it damages the U.S. government's ability to promote human rights.

But we draw the line at the use of the word "gulag" or at the implication that the United States has somehow become the modern equivalent of Stalin's Soviet Union. Guantanamo Bay is an ad hoc creation, designed to contain captured enemy combatants in wartime. Abuses there -- including new evidence of desecrating the Koran -- have been investigated and discussed by the FBI, the press and, to a still limited extent, the military. The Soviet gulag, by contrast, was a massive forced labor complex consisting of thousands of concentration camps and hundreds of exile villages through which more than 20 million people passed during Stalin's lifetime and whose existence was not acknowledged until after his death. Its modern equivalent is not Guantanamo Bay, but the prisons of Cuba, where Amnesty itself says a new generation of prisoners of conscience reside; or the labor camps of North Korea, which were set up on Stalinist lines; or China's laogai , the true size of which isn't even known; or, until recently, the prisons of Saddam Hussein's Iraq.

Worrying about the use of a word may seem like mere semantics, but it is not. Turning a report on prisoner detention into another excuse for Bush-bashing or America-bashing undermines Amnesty's legitimate criticisms of U.S. policies and weakens the force of its investigations of prison systems in closed societies. It also gives the administration another excuse to dismiss valid objections to its policies as "hysterical."
The Washington Post got this one exactly right. They only left one thing out: by handing a major piece of propaganda to the Islamist fascists and their apologists, Amnesty International is giving aid and comfort to the enemy. And they know it.

Bearists of the World:

ID cards, data bases, and the (police) state

There's an ever so cheery article about new high-tech ID cards in the New Statesman :
"Public opinion likes the idea of ID cards because it seems like the ultimate solution to all known problems," says Brian Gladman, retired director of strategic electronic communications at the Ministry of Defence. "But actually, the way this bill is designed enables a police state. You're not going to be allowed to opt out of having an ID card, the linked databases make detailed tracking feasible, and a system with this combination of complexity and scale is way beyond the state of the art. It won't be reliable or safe. Anybody with access to the database will be able to target anybody. It's horrendous what you'll be able to do."

The National Identity meant to work like this.

You will be summoned (with up to a £2,500 fine for non-attendance) to visit a clerk, who will take your biometrics: the iris pattern in your eye, a fingerprint and a digital photograph. They will go into the system along with your name and other information, and you will hand over £85 and get a passport, ID registration number and card. From that moment, every use of your card will be automatically added to your government record, or "audit trail", whether it's at the social security office, your bank, Sainsbury's, the sexual health clinic, your office or on the way to your Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. Over time, a detailed and permanent account of your activities will build up.

The state will own this information. You won't get to see it, but it will be available to the police, the Inland Revenue, other public bodies and any commercial concerns the Home Secretary chooses. These visitors won't leave their own audit trail saying that they've called. We won't know who is observing us.
This isn't really news. Just think of what an oppressive government can do with this stuff. And if you think the Bush Administration is bad, Bob Herbert , why aren't you railing against this stuff?

Why France is screwed

If you have wondered why the French economy is a mess (forget about why they hate us, tho this is relevant to that issue as well), read this from the New York Times on the French rejection of the EU Constitution:
At the polling place at the Karl Marx primary school in downtown Bobigny, a working-class suburb of Paris...

Bernard Birsinger, the suburb's Communist mayor...
What more do you need to know? France is self-screwing.
Pollsters said the rejection reflected French voters' anger at the 72-year-old president and his center-right government for failing to improve the country's troubled economy, as well as fear that the treaty would erode France's generous cradle-to-grave social safety net.

The debate had been colored by fear of the mythical "Polish plumber," the worker from recent European Union members from the East who is increasingly free to move West and willing to work for lower pay than Frenchmen.

Proponents of the "no" fueled voters with fear of a more powerful European Union where France no longer has influence, and of an increasingly "Anglo-Saxon" and "ultraliberal" Europe where free-market capitalism runs wild.
So long as they demand policies which destroy their economy, but attribute the results to capitalisme, they are going to continue destroying themselves and fueling even more efforts which will make things worse for themselves.

Maybe the smart ones will do what so many of the Dutch have been doing lately: emigrate.

Fear of free movement of labor within Europe is much like it was in the northern United States when black southerners started moving up here in the search for factory jobs. That movement provoked a lot of racism, but that doesn't mean free movement of labor is a bad thing. It does provoke anger tho.

For French to denounce the British economic system as ultra-liberal free-market capitalism run wild just proclaims how out of touch with reality they really are. It is sad. The French are self-screwing, but they have convinced themselves that others are to blame. That disjunction between cause and effect, reality and perception, will continue to cause a lot of ill in our world.

Thank you, Karl Marx.

Sunday, May 29, 2005

Is Erica Jong suffering from brain damage?

Looks like it to me:
Of course we've all experienced the exhilaration of travelling abroad and suddenly being able to speak freely about things we would not say in Texas or Washington.
She is referring to the Middle East , by the way, which since since the fall of Texas and Washington, is apparently the last great bastion of feminist free speech.

I am perplexed that smart, well-educated people take her seriously.
Of course women in the Middle East need the vote, an end to domestic violence and free access to contraception. But so do we.
Huh? American women don't have the vote? I guess...I guess...Darn, I wish Newsweek would quit wasting time on Korans which weren't flushed down toilets and TELL people that the XIX Amendment ("The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.") has been repealed. That one slipped by. I just didn't notice the repeal effort, much less that it had been succesful. I blame John Ashcroft.

American women don't have free access to contraception? When was the last time she walked into a Walgreens? Or does she mean free in the sense of "paid for by someone else"? Why not free shoes while you're at it, Erica? Don't American women have a right to shoes paid for by someone else? Or is it her view that the Bushies want women to be both barefoot and pregnant?

Hmmm...This is scary. Danielle Crittenden has a good reply to Jong in the Huffington Post blog, and Jong has replied in the comments:
I think Ms. Bush's stated concern with women's freedom in the Middle East is a screen to hide our deteriorating women's rights at home.
Can Erica say "paranoia"? I do think that Erica Jong has taken leave of her senses.

Home-delivered milk is back in Wisconsin

Hard to imagine, but what high labor costs killed, affluent consumers have brought back :
Shorewood - A shadowy silhouette of a man, bent sideways by his lumpy underarm pack, loped up the sidewalks and driveways of sleeping suburbanites.

House by house, he performed the same dead-of-night ritual: a beeline to the side door to stoop low, flashlight in teeth, and exchange the lumpy bundle for one that rattled and clinked. Then, after scribbling on a sheet of paper, he hurried back to a waiting truck.

The truck, illuminated on the dark street by two shafts of headlight beams and a tiara of golden bulbs atop its cab, advertised "LW Dairy, America's dairyvan."

Its driver was LW owner Larry Westhoff of Beaver Dam, one of America's few remaining milkmen.

Even more amazing in 21st-century suburbia: 12 hours earlier, that milk was in a Wisconsin cow.
It may be awhile before houses are built with milk chutes again, tho. The one we had by the kitchen door sure was handy for getting into the house on the rare occasions the door was locked: I could open up the outside door, whack the inner door, and reach in to turn the doorknob.

Michelle Derus has the story in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.