November 30th, 2010 § 0 comments § permalink

Timothy Garton Ash

the professional members of the US foreign service have very little to be ashamed of… what we see here is diplomats doing their proper job: finding out what is happening in the places to which they are posted, working to advance their nation’s interests and their government’s policies.

In fact, my personal opinion of the state department has gone up several notches. .

October 27th, 2010 § 0 comments § permalink

the Global War on Terror (the officially retired title soldiers on in popular usage, despite the Obama administration’s weird new appellation “Overseas Contingency Operation”)


September 28th, 2010 § 0 comments § permalink

[This]( is a goodish article on anti-Muslim discrimination in the US. One aspect I find particularly incomprehensible:
>”In America right now, there are intense concerns about many issues — immigration, the faltering economy, the interminable wars” and the erroneous belief, held by many Americans, that the first nonwhite president is Muslim, said Akbar Ahmed, a professor of Islamic studies at American University.
Do people really feel increased hatred of a group when a (supposed) member is in a position of authority? Why? Wouldn’t it make equal sense to believe that, if a Muslim is running the country, they can’t be all bad? Or is Obama evidence that a vast Islamic conspiracy is poised to overrun the US, enslaving Christians and probably eating their babies?

More books

July 29th, 2010 § 0 comments § permalink

In a chart of changes over the last decade, this must be the most impressive:

Books published in 2000 in the US: 282,000
Books published in 2010 in the US: 1,053,000

June 8th, 2010 § 0 comments § permalink

Diaspora politics is identity politics in its purest form. Struggling to maintain and demonstrate identity in a foreign land, migrants adopt symbols and political doctrines from their hoemland. These are exaggerated to fill the gaps left by other forms of identity, and lack the pragmatic restraints that could come from actually living in a place.

A long article in the New York Review of Books considers the growing division betwen Zionists and liberal Jews, both in Israel and the US. It touches on the diaspora politics overall, but also connects to the impact of personal experience, memory, and generational divisions:

When he probed the students’ views of Israel, he hit up against some firm beliefs. First, “they reserve the right to question the Israeli position.” These young Jews, Luntz explained, “resist anything they see as ‘group think.’” They want an “open and frank” discussion of Israel and its flaws. Second, “young Jews desperately want peace.” When Luntz showed them a series of ads, one of the most popular was entitled “Proof that Israel Wants Peace,” and listed offers by various Israeli governments to withdraw from conquered land. Third, “some empathize with the plight of the Palestinians.” When Luntz displayed ads depicting Palestinians as violent and hateful, several focus group participants criticized them as stereotypical and unfair, citing their own Muslim friends.

22 years’ jail for breaking Iraq sanctions

April 25th, 2009 § 0 comments § permalink

Life gets pretty unpleasant for people falsely accused of terrorism: once the authorities have publicised somebody as a terrorist, it becomes embarrassing to see them walk free. The lucky ones find [support from the community]( and grudging government acceptance that they have at least some rights. Others, like Rafil Dhafir, find themselves hounded for anything the authorities can pin on them
Dhafir is an Iraqi-American doctor. He is currently serving 22 years in an American jail, confined to a ‘[communications management unit](’ that severely restricts his contact with the outside world. The US government thinks of him as a terrorist, and ‘[counts](’ his imprisonment as a success in the War on Terror.
But Dhafir has never been so much as charged with terrorism. He was instead convicted of sending money to Iraq, in violation of sanctions. He claims the money was for charitable purposes, and nobody seems to deny this.
[Sanctions on Iraq]( were one of the most bone-headedly counter-productive policies of recent years. Variously intended to contain Iraq, force it to dismantle its WMD programs, or force Saddam from power, they in fact only managed to harm the weakest in Iraq (to the tune of several hundred thousand deaths), while strengthening the regime. But forget that breaking this law is far more honourable than obeying it, and you still bang up against the length of the sentence. 22 years?! When [other sanctions-breaking attempts]( went unpunished, and comparable fraud offence rarely carry anything like this sentence? This is a sentence that makes no sense — except on a political level.

Corrupt judges

March 31st, 2009 § 1 comment § permalink

This is pretty horrific. Not just judges taking bribes, but judges taking bribes from private prisons to give children jail sentences there. In other words, people were being locked up as a side-effect of a scheme for prisons to drum up more business:

Hillary Transue, 17, who appeared in Ciavarella’s courtroom in 2007 and spent a month in a wilderness camp for building a MySpace page that lampooned her assistant principal, was elated that her record would be expunged.
Youths were routinely brought before Ciavarella without a lawyer, given hearings that lasted only a minute or two, and then sent to detention for offenses as minor as stealing change from cars and writing prank notes.

[xpost from LJ]

Appreciation of marketing

January 7th, 2008 § 0 comments § permalink

This is the only article I’ve read on the US presidential elections which hasn’t been a waste of time. Briefly, Obama is more fond of behavioral economics than Clinton. Therefore she wants small targeted changes that have the most effect cheaply; he is suspicious of policies which rely on everybody being a rational actor, fully informed about government policy. Why hasn’t anybody else mentioned that?
On a vaguely-related topic, I find it fascinating watching the campaign idly from afar, and so being on the outer reaches of massive, smart media campaigns. They twist everything I read so thoroughly hat I end up with firm feelings about the candidates, without (barring the article above and maybe two or three others) having the faintest idea what they stand for. The only thing that comes close is Apple’s marketing, which is perfectly capable of convincing me that I need an iWhatever even when the rational part of my head knows it’s overpriced rubbish.

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