Archive for August, 2010

Quick update

The Country Estate is presently in the process of moving its base of operations from Cincinnati to Seattle. I should arrive on Tuesday and be set up by Wednesday. I will try to do a link aggregation post tomorrow night if I have a decent amount of wifi time, but that’s hardly a good bet with the wifi presence in America’s hinterland.

This drive has already been fascinating. We made it from Cincinnati to Sioux City, IA yesterday and then from Sioux City to Sundance, WY today. We saw Mt. Rushmore today and will see Devil’s Tower tomorrow. This Great Plains part of the country is like nothing I’ve ever seen before. It’s hard to believe people can get by in such a dry, sunny, unforgiving place.

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Tired of failure in Iraq and Afghanistan, embarrassed neocons have accelerated their push to have Iran be the next invasion-point in the war on terror. But hey, war-making fun isn’t just for neocons! Glenn Greenwald hits the Obama administration hard on how the supposedly “serious,” pragmatic guys at the top of Obama’s security team are already treating Yemen as the next theater of operations in the war that never ends.

The lede is delicious:

Could Barack Obama become the first person in history to win the Nobel Peace Prize two consecutive years?  It is hard to dispute the premise that awarding him the Prize this year would be every bit as justifiable as last year’s award.  Fresh off his Nobel-winning escalation of the war in Afghanistan, we now have this monument to world peace: (various press clippings about drone strikes in Yemen)

I was seething over Obama’s Nobel win last year coming right on the heels of his Afghan escalation, and then he had the audacity to lecture the rest of the world about the necessity of fighting wars in his acceptance speech. This is why you can’t award speculative prizes based on what you hope to get out of someone. We hoped to get an anti-war president who would close Guantanamo Bay out of Obama, and instead we got a wimpy loser who is pushed around by the military and probably will never close Guantanamo Bay. It’s Bush III, but with more college basketball tournament brackets and The View appearances.

One more devastating quote:

The illogic and propaganda driving this is so familiar because it’s what has been driving the American National Security State for the last decade.  There is anti-Americanism and radicalism in Yemen; therefore, to solve that problem, we’re going to bomb them more with flying killer robots, because nothing helps reduce anti-American sentiments like slaughtering civilians and dropping cluster bombs from the sky.

Yes, blowback is real. The terrorists don’t hate us for our freedoms. The terrorists hate us because we are occupying their countries, flushing Korans down toilets at due process-free prison camps and dropping bombs on wedding parties. But that answer is too complicated and inconvenient for an American public that loves to be scared and a bunch of death-worshiping politicians who love to scare them.

Read the article. We need more Greenwalds in this country. It’s pretty clear that most Democrats only opposed war some of the time under Bush because Bush was in charge; now that Obama is in charge, it’s perfectly ok to go back to being stooges in the service of the military-industrial complex. And the Republicans don’t appear to be interested in changing horses mid-stream since that could easily give Democrats the first real chance they’ve had at reversing the Republicans’ huge advantage on military and defense issues that probably goes back George McGovern. The war is going to have to be ended by little, insignificant people like us.

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As promised, here’s the links I owed you from last night.

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Quick hit

Full coverage returns tomorrow. I had a bit of a heavy schedule tonight and only just finished selecting the day’s best stories now, at 1:15 in the morning. I could probably bang out a links post for you guys, but one thing I’ve noticed is that sleepy blogging is every bit as dangerous as inebriated emailing.

I’ve written whole posts on near-unconscious cruise control, then dashed back to the computer the next morning with no time to spare, just to see if I made any sense the night before. Even when I’ve made sense, these sleepy posts tend to come with at least one horrifying grammatical error–usually some sort of homophone/homonym mix-up. I find that observation interesting in the sense that the same homonyms and homophones that can trouble non-native speakers of English can challenge out-of-it native speakers, too.

So just bear with me till tomorrow morning. Besides, nothing very interesting happened today, except for the release of awful stats on the U.S. housing market and the Hong Kong tourist bus murders in the Philippines.

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It’s an interesting time for Islam in America right now. America had seemed able to avoid much of the Islamophobia that has plagued Europe, but 9/11 got the stove lit, the birther opposition to Barack Obama fired things up and now the Park 51 Islamic community center controversy has the heat cranked all the way up. These developments have been highly unfair to the American Muslim community, which, in addition to the baseline rights and courtesies owed to it as well as all law-observing religious and ethnic groups in America, is among the best integrated and/or assimilated Muslim communities in the world and has many highly successful members. There were two Islam-related articles that I found especially poignant and worthy of comment today.

The first was Pat Buchanan’s op-ed on the Park 51 controversy. Pat Buchanan often tricks me because he is such a valuable voice on war and foreign policy and then fires up emotionalist nastiness like this Park 51 piece. He starts off the article by debunking a pro-Park 51 WaPo op-ed which he claims derides opponents of the project as bigots and panderers. How does he debunk the charge? By stating that 61% of Americans don’t support the construction project. Ah yes, because majority opinion determines the definition of bigotry. By this logic, early American slave owners who believed they had the right to hold other humans as property weren’t bigots, either. I don’t think Pat Buchanan would want to defend that position.

From that point, Buchanan begins to build up his positive as against Park 51. In his mind, the WaPo editorial is textbook liberal–too beholden to rationalism, too skeptical towards emotional responses like patriotism. I guess this is the sort of line that appeals to his readers because I would imagine most Americans in this Enlightenment-derived society would want to stand with rationalism. There’s a lot of nice quotes from Burke and Pascal, appeals to our Christian tradition and the treatment of contemporary Christians in the Islamic world. It’s this last appeal that is most upsetting because it comes from the same rhetorical place from whence Newt Gingrich launched his “you can build your mosque when we can build a church in Saudi Arabia” argument. America is not Saudi Arabia, thank God! Why would we want to lower ourselves to the moral level of a country in which morality police once let girls burn alive inside a school rather than escape unveiled and a judge has recently asked hospitals to intentionally paralyze a man?

So if you’re the kind of person who gets misty-eyed reading The Sorrows of Young Werther, maybe you’ll like Buchanan’s emotionalist, culturalist argument. I put a lot of stake in culture, too, but not before fundamental rights. If there’s an American culture, I would like to think it is closer to my position.

Things are about to get interesting with today’s second story, the story of a Muslim waitress at Disney who is demanding the right to wear her headscarf instead of a Disney-issued alternative. Since Ramadan has begun, this woman has showed up to work in a hijab and been sent home without pay seven times.

I couldn’t have any less sympathy for her.

The bottom line is that nobody is putting a gun to her head and making her work at Disney. If she wants to wear a hijab but Disney says it is not part of the dress code, then I guess it’s time to either follow their dress code or find an employer with a more amenable one. Imagine if I went and got a job at a coat-and-tie restaurant in New York. They tell me that I’ll have to maintain standards of appearance to keep my job, including no visible piercings. That goes ok for a week, then I go out and get both of my eyebrows pierced. Do you think I would still have a job? Do you think I would deserve to still have a job?

What this girl is counting on is Americans unthinking respect for all things religious. If she just wanted to wear a headscarf because she was a hipster and it seemed super ironic, we wouldn’t respect that. But because it’s part of her religion, our first inclination is to shut up and respect it just because it came attached with the religion word.

For me personally, I think most dress codes are ridiculous. If I own a business some day, you’d better believe I’ll have shaggy hair and a pair of jeans. I’d seek out the most qualified employees, headscarved, ear-gauged, facial tattooed and otherwise. But that’s my position. Disney is a business, too, and has the right to establish contracts with its employees that mandate certain conditions for their continued employment. If that means no hijabs or hijabs only with funny hats on top, that’s their right. I’m not angry at this girl because she’s Muslim. I’m angry at this girl because she’s an idiot who wants to use government force to exact her goals on a private employer.

I think these two stories speak to the internal diversity of the American Muslim community. Many Muslims are fiercely trying to avoid controversy with the Park 51 situation and fit in here even as their neighbors get more bigoted, but then there are others who, like members of any other religious group, want to take advantage of our tolerance. Here’s hoping the anti-Muslim bigotry and tolerance-manipulation in America both fizzle out.

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I was pleased to see two stories I heard addressed last week on Free Talk Live covered in more depth this weekend by journalists. Though I am pleased to see these stories get coverage, I would be infinitely more pleased if they had never happened and didn’t need to be covered. Both exemplify horrifying abuses of state power at its worst.

The first is far more serious–the awful case of Kathryn Johnston, the 92-year-old Atlanta woman killed in her own home by a hail of nearly forty bullets fired by trigger-happy cops on a no-knock drug raid who later planted narcotics at the scene. It’s an older case that resurfaced in the news last week after the city reached a $4.9 million settlement with her family. $4.9 million that won’t bring back Kathryn Johnston and $4.9 million that will be paid by Atlanta taxpayers, not the sick puppies responsible for murdering this woman. As the Free Talk Live guys pointed out as well, ask yourself if this story would have ever become as big as it did if the victim hadn’t been a 92-year-old woman. Imagine it was a 20-year-old black guy, for example. We wouldn’t still be talking about that case now and a lot of bigots would probably even be hinting that the guy had it coming.

Even if this raid had resulted in drugs being found, it still wouldn’t be right. Cops don’t have the right to kick your door down with guns drawn to keep sovereign adults from consenting to buy, sell and use substances arbitrarily defined as illegal. Adults should have the right to control what goes in their bodies–even if it’s something suicidal like hemlock. When are we going to stop supporting the persecution to the point of death of these victimless “criminals?”

In the other case of note, federal prosecutors have decided not to take action against Lower Merion (Pa.) school district for distributing laptops and then commanding webcams on the laptops to take unauthorized photos of the students at home. Now imagine some guy in the community had given away laptops and didn’t warn people he would be keeping control over the webcam nested in the laptop, which he then used to take nude photos of children. We would call that pedophilia and kiddie porn at the least, maybe something even worse. That guy would go to jail and be put on a sex offender list for life. But when a public school system does it, we just look the other way.

People need to realize that the state is not on our side. The state is not “of the people.” At this point in our country’s history, the state is a self-reinforcing monstrosity of illiberalism and opacity, within which the various levels, layers and organizations collaborate with each other and against us. Plenty of people get into state service for the “right” reasons, but they quickly become active or passive adherents to the gospel of aggression that keeps them attached to the taxpayer teat. They feel perfectly comfortable looking after their interests embodied in the state, so why should we people kept under the state jackboot feel uncomfortable asserting our opposition to them and refusing to collaborate in our own mistreatment?

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