September 28, 2010


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?

April 25, 2009

22 years' jail for breaking Iraq sanctions

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.

March 31, 2009

Corrupt judges

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]

January 7, 2008

Appreciation of marketing

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.