Friday, June 29, 2007

Surf's up

It appears the "religious police" have arrived in Iraq. Internet cafe patrons are being kidnapped, tortured, and even killed for viewing website that a group of vigilante religious police have deemed "offensive to Islam." Most of the cafe owners or patrons are abducted and killed for accessing chat and/or pornography sites.

Prior to the fall of the Baath regime the "offensive" sites were blocked; however now the access is laregly unrestricted in internet cafes. The article discusses how the Iraqi government or law does not officially prohibit the access of any genre of sites. The government has however, refused to comment on requests for protection of its citizens and private business owners. Schools have started to compile lists of banned sites that are blocked on their computers.

Schools and private business owners decision to ban certain sites is an executive decision; the computers and internet service is their's and they can offer it in whatever condition they want for their customers or students. Hopefully the decision is in the best interest of their students, patrons, or their own well being and not just capitulation to the vigilante repression of freedom of speech and freedom of conscience.

It's easy to understand why the Iraqi government cannot respond to cafe owners concerns with police protection given the violent civil unrest present in the country. However, that doesn't preclude the government from standing up for the rights of its citizens. A statement that this type of terrorism is not acceptable and will not be tolerated may be a hollow statement in that enforcement is less important than stablizing the government and nation as a whiole, but it is a statement that needs to be made if the Iraqi government wants to maintain the appearance of and belief in the foundational elements of a democracy. If the Iraqi government refuses to remain strong in the face of Islamist and hardline religious fanatics, the long-term forecast for the Iraqi government is even bleaker than the military threats suggest.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

The Female Form

I was looking at the news yesterday on the BBC News site and found three somewhat related articles on the first page of the World News section. I found the breadth of news relating to women and how they are portrayed to be intriguing.

A discussion of the revolting use of FGM treatment on young girls in Africa was right next to an article about the return of "Girl Power". And not too far away was an article about how not only is there going to be a witchcraft conference, but that it some regions of the world women are still labeled and killed for being witches. It seemed to be an odd series of articles and topics.

The first article covered the announcement that a complete ban is finally going to be enforced against FGM in Egypt after social unrest stemming from the recent death of a 12-year old girl following the procedure. The article mentions the practice is not common in the rest of the Muslim world, but is mainly an Egyptian (North African) practice and is believed to be founded in ancient Egyptian tradition. Sounds to me like they just want to give "legitimacy" to something that is revolting, dangerous, disfiguring, and completely aimed at keeping women subordinate in the sexual realm. The procedure is referred to as "a rite of passage" for the girl.

Next to this article is one about the worldwide return of "Girl Power" aka the Spice Girls aka sex appeal and eye candy. An article that is covering a group that promotes the complete opposite of FGM - a healthy appetite for sex and promoting the female form. Regardless of your views of the musical talent of the five ladies, there is no question they promoted "Girl Power" in the mid-nineties. Strong females out there having fun and being sexy and liking it.

Juxtapose that with an article about how witchcraft is so prevelant that it's getting its own convention. Withcraft is, of course, historically how men dealt with "Girl Power." We killed them. Women with too much power, influence, or knowledge were labelled witches and "put on trial." Harnessing the power of female sexuality could lead men astray, obviously the men were dupped by the power of darkness and the wicked. Unlike FGM, instead of removing a bodily part to destroy a women's sexual freedom, undermining her "girl power" if you will, - a procedure abhorred by the West and human rights organizations worldwide, and rightfully so - at least in the West we made sure to burn, drown, or stone them will all of their "power" intact, right?

image from

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

The "Other Iraq"

An advertisement campaign out of northern Iraq is aimed at promoting investment in and travel to the region by English speaking audiences. Erbil is the city that seeks to unseat regional power Dubai as the benefactor of Western travel and entertainment dollars. The campaign refers to the Kurdistan region as "the other Iraq" in order to distinguish itself from its far more violent and unstable sister regions to the south. Millions have been spent to help bring stability and international investors to the region. While the region gives hope that the rest of Iraq may someday turn to multinational investiment in order to provide the Iraqi public with better jobs, social programs, and sanitary conditions, Kurdistan enjoys the luxury of being able to avoid the sectarian strife in the south do to a homogeneous community and having benefited from the no-fly zone established in 1991.

Kurdistan looks to be on the way to a viable economy to compliment it's already existing military force. Many scholars and pundits argue that the Kurds deserve their own country - although none of them are probably Turkish - and if Erbil is any indication of what the Kurds have planned for the future then Kurdistan, not Afghanistan or Iraq, may become the poster child for democracy in the Middle East. The more companies and countries that invest in Kurdistan creates more interests in keeping the region stablized. Even if the Kurds don't establish their own sovereign nation, the work being done in the region should help create a blueprint for the rest of Iraq if the sectarian violence ever stops.


On the 12th of July the prayer which will open the US Senate's day will start and end with the mystical "OM". Rajan Zed will be the guest "chaplain" uttering the Hindu prayer. It may be a first in the Senate's two hundred year history.

Zed may be lucky that he is not blessing the House. After January's row over whether or not Minnesota Rep. Keith Ellison should be able to use the Qur'an during his swearing in process - a process that doesn't even use a holy text; the 'hand on the Bible' event is just a photo-op and is after the congressional oath - Capitol Hill may again buzz with "we are a Christian nation" rhetoric and fanfare in the weeks leading up to Zed's prayer. Perhaps Virginia Rep. Virgil Goode will issue another bigoted letter focused on the establishment of a homogeneous religious faith in the United States (read: Christianity).

Legal secularists may not want to condone the public expression of faith, especially in a government institution, however they should at least acknowledge the positive aspects of having an opportunity to expose our political leaders to religious pluralism. If the Supreme Court is going to allow the government to promote religion, so long as it isn't promoting a particular sect, it would behoove our society and its leaders to be exposed to the broad range of religious faiths of its members more often. "Value Evangelicals" - to borrow the term used by Noah Feldman - like Goode, will most likely decry the event as an example of the further degradation of our culture, morals, and tradition.

Hopefully the event occurs without much ado and Mr. Zed is allowed to conduct his prayer with the same respect the regular chaplain is given.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Delicate (Radical) Muslim Sensibilities

Last weekend, Salman Rushdie was honored by the Queen of England for outstanding literary achievement; the Queen had over 900 people on her Birthday Honours list which received an honorific title. Only Mr. -now Sir - Rushdie's knighthood has lead to international protests.

On the following Monday (June 18th), Pakistan's national parliament passed a resolution condemning the award. Pakistani Religious Affairs Minister Ejaz-ul-Haq went so far as to intimate that Rushdie's knighthood was justification for suicide bombings; he argued that actions like Rushdie's knighting are the root cause of terrorism. He also advocated for all Muslim countries should cut off open dialogue with Great Britain if they didn't rescind the honor. Ul-Haq later took the floor and told the parliament that his statement was not promoting or justifying suicide attacks. The British envoy in Islamabad was told that the knighting of Rushdie was contrary to attempts by Pakistan and Britain to build "mutual understanding" and it showed an "utter lack of sensitivity" by the British government.

Iran has called the knighthood "a provocative act" on the part of the Queen and the UK, and claimed the honor was evidence of "Islamophobia" within the British government.The Iranian Foreign Ministry Director for Europe, Ibrahim Rahimpour, stated that the title given to Rushdie was an "obvious example of fighting against Islam. It has seriously wounded the beliefs of 1.5 billion Muslims and followers of other religions." First Deputy Speaker Mohammad Reza Bahonar called Rushdie a "hated corpse" on the floor of the Iranian parliament. His statements were reportedly met with a loud applause. A spokesman for the Iranian Foreign Ministry called the knighthood "a blatant example of the anti-Islamism of senior British officials" and that it showed "the process of insulting Islamic sanctities was not accidental but was being supported by some Western countries."

Britain denies any anti-Islamic sentiment behind the honorific title bestowed upon Rushdie. Salman Rushdie has published over 10 different works since 1975, most of which are fiction. His second novel Midnight's Children earned him literary acclaim. His rise in the literary world occurred seven years before he published The Satanic Verses. He has published seven pieces since 1988. Rushdie isn't a one-trick pony - more on point, he isn't an Islamophobic one-hit wonder who rode his anti-Islamic message all the way to gates of Buckingham Palace.

For those readers that aren't aware of the cause of this international row, many within the Islamic world believe Rushdie to have insulted the Prophet Muhammad and his wives through dream narratives of the protagonist in The Satanic Verses. So incensed were some clerics, that Ayatollah Khomenei actually issued a fatwa condemning Rushdie to death and offering a bounty for his head - Khomenei claimed the offense was in Rushdie's depiction of Muhammad and his wives, but perhaps it was the dream narrative that was very similar to his Parisian exile. Iran refused to remove the fatwa even as recently as 2006. [A fatwa is a legal opinion, it is, therefore, not legally binging in court. It's similar to dictum in American law. It has legal significance, but is nothing more than an opinion of a judge on a certain subject. That doesn't mean of course that some wouldn't use a fatwa for justification after committing a crime. A similar decree was issued against Naguib Mahfouz which lead to a fanatical Muslim man stabbing him in the neck.] Rushdie was forced into hiding for many years. Translators and publishers linked to the text were also threatened or even killed.

I shall leave it to my readers to research the Rushdie's reference on their own if they so choose. However, the Hornbook/Cliff's Notes answer is this: it refers to a highly contested interpolation - a passage added to a text by someone other than the author - within the Qur'an. Rushdie's novel isn't even about the contested Qur'anic passages. For those that want a brief synopsis of the book: here.

Reading the novel I was expecting a depiction of the Prophet and his wives that was teetering on the far edges of bawdy. Now I am not an easily offended person, so perhaps my reaction is invalid. Nor was I raised a Muslim. However, while I am not easily offended I do have a good internal barometer of what is offensive to the general public. I didn't find the allusions to be offensive, and most certainly not to the point of a death sentence. At least with the Dutch cartoons there were images that were easily identifiable as offensive (Muhammad with a bomb in his turban) to those of the Islamic faith. Christians wouldn't like it if Jesus was portrayed flirting with alter boys in a commentary on the Catholic Church. Free speech aside, I can at least understand why the cartoons would be offensive to Muslims. (For an interesting angle on why some Muslims may be offended read Reza Aslan's article)

Regardless of the degree of offense, words and images do not justify violence. Muslims concerned with the West's depiction of their faith as one of radicals and violent young bearded men shouldn't feed the fire with violent protests of cartoons, knighthoods, or novels. Time and time again (from bin Laden to last week's diplomatic dialogue) Muslim's delicate sensibilities are invoked. Most commonly, "Muslim humiliation" is referenced. Instead of mindless protests and violence, read the text, commentary, etc. and then respond in kind with scathing rebukes or reviews of the Western or author's depiction of your faith and culture. Respect is not earned through mob mentality delinquency or by cutting off diplomatic ties with a country because they hurt your feelings. Iran, Pakistan, and other radical clerics may not speak for the Islamic faith, but they do have the loudest voices and receive the most media coverage. It's time to drown them out. The root cause of terrorism is not the knighthood of an author, but a failure to provide economically, socially, and politically for the disaffected Muslim youth. Economic progress is hard without multinational investment; which in turn is hard to secure when national policy is decided by emotion and reprisals against past "humiliations."

Midaq Alley by Naguib Mahfouz

Naguib Mahfouz was a Nobel Peace Prize winner and is heralded as one of the Arab world's best writers. He was born, died, and buried - last August at the age of 94 - in Cairo, Egypt. I found this book while I was studying at AUC. It is supposed to be one of his best; the story did not disappoint.

Midaq Alley was written in 1947 and takes place during the later portion of World War II in an alley of Cairo. The basic idea behind the story is modernization - specifically the breaking of Arab tradition for Western tradition. The story follows the everyday lives of the people that live in the alley. Everything from the mundane to the taboo and unrequited love to war is experienced by the small group of Egyptians in the alley. The characters are extreme representations: the match-maker, the professional crippler/beggar, the rich land-lady, the hashish store owner, the coming of age male, and the young beautiful female that longs for a new life of her own as she has to fight off suitors.

The story is a touching blend of the character's lives, feelings, and desires. I often found myself trying to imagine the characters walking in the alleys, smoking hookah at the shops, and going about their daily lives in Cairo. It helped to have a firsthand experience as a reference point, but it's not required to become engaged by Mahfouz's writing.

My only regret is that I didn't pick up more of his works while I was at AUC. The AUC Press is holds the rights to his works and I can't buy the same artwork for the covers outside the Middle East. If you want to pick up a copy, don't fret, Amazon has copies too.

Wag of the Finger

While male rebellion and even some illicit behavior is often socially constructed as a part of or measurement of our "manhood," I have never considered speeding as one of the crimes included. In Australia, not only does the toilet water spin the other direction, but speeding is a matter of machismo. Violent images of car crashes failed to decrease the amount of speeding in Australia, so what is the government left to do? Ah yes, a national campaign to attack penis size of offenders.

From time to time you'll hear a car or motorcycle rev its engine and/or squeal its tires for no real reason other than to draw attention to the driver. And to be fair, you think "oooo big tough guy" or "he's over compensating", right? While the attention grabbing actions seem to be fair game, general speeding seems a bit ridiculous. I don't think as I am driving down I-80 that the people passing me have a small penis; instead I usually think "Geez! Someone's in a hurry!"

What about female speeders? Are they just off the hook from national - now international - embarrassment? Perhaps Australia should go with an equally as funny and potentially offensive campaign to curb female speeders by playing up the stereotype that women can't drive?

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Quick Reviews

Here are some books I have read recently:

Holy Superheroes! by Greg Garrett

This nonfiction books examines the impact of faith and spirituality in comic books. The book is less than 200 pages so the examination is cursory but informative. I enjoyed the book mainly because I enjoy both the intersection of the two different elements, as well as each element individually. Some of the sections were thought provoking, while the post-9/11 chapter is very touching. The book is rife with quotes from founding fathers and great social reformers which make the book worthwhile in itself. If you have a little time to kill and enjoy thinking about spirituality or what role comic books have in our society as side from providing scantly clad women illustrations for the teenager male population, pick up Garrett's book.

July, July by Tim O'Brien

Tim O'Brien is a wonderful storyteller. He's also a graduate of Macalester College in St. Paul. A fun fact for me when I was talking to Prof. Dick Lesicko about the book in March. O'Brien was a member of Lesicko's debate team. Anyways, I have been impressed with O'Brien ever since I read The Things They Carried (the collection of narratives not just the short story of the same title). This book is about a class reunion (at Mac but in the book it's Darton Hall) of former hippies and Vietnam Vets. It's an interesting examination of what happens in life after college, when you have to put form to your dreams and theories. It's a quick read and a good summertime book.

Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman

As I wrote in my review of Fragile Things I like Gaiman's writing style and fantasy worlds. He always has an excellent amalgam of wit, history, religion, philosophy, and the spectacular. The premise of this novel is that there is a world beneath London, literally an Underground London, were people go when they fall through the cracks or are forgotten. This alternative London is full of knights, lords, monsters, and bounty hunters. The novel is about a man that stumbles into this world after trying to help a young woman and desparately tries to get his old life back. Another great summertime or travel book.

How Soccer Explains the World by Franklin Foer

Foer aims to explain globalization and the geopolitics of certain regions through their passion and treatment of football (soccer). It's an interesting book, and surprisingly on point with some regions international politics. I learned a lot about the history of certain European clubs like Milan, Barcelona, and the nasty sectarian history and fighting between Reading and Celtic. Rarely in the United States do we hear any news about the football clubs around the world. Every four years soccer is a blip on our radars for the World Cup and then back to exile, making it hard to understand the world's passion for the sport. While Foer doesn't actually believe that soccer/football explains the positives and negatives of globalization he does provide a clear argument for the extension of certain world ailments (i.e. sectarian strife, crime syndicates, ethnics divides, and the Jewish Question) onto and into football clubs around the world.

In the end, I would reccommend all of these books for summer reading. None of them are too heavy for a nice summer day.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

The Ultimate Betrayal

When everything you know and understand has gone to pot, you always have your personal perception of your life. Your emotions, thoughts, and recollections are intrinsically unique. They are yours and only made public if you so wish to share them. No one should ever be able to take away your freedom of conscience or your ability to trust in your own feelings and perceptions. People. time, and tragic events may be able to take way your the ability to function in everyday life. Aside from the natural decline in memory and agility, we can generally trust our own instincts, emotions, and perceptions.

Not being able to trust our own body and the information it is communicating to us is a terrible event. Long-term medical diseases like Lou Gehrig's disease or Alzhemier's are horribly painful for the victim and those around them. Enemies don't even wish such fate's on each other.

Losing control isn't limited to neurological or physical ailments. Sometimes the unknown is just as debilitating. Modern medicine is supposed to have the answers. Even a terminal diagnosis brings with it a plan of action; a possible remedy to pursue is discussed and treatment is commenced.

For almost a year now by body has waged war on itself. No one is quite certain what the cause or even the ailment is. Doctor's are fairly certain it's not malignant or terminal, but that does little to stymie the fears of getting through the day when pain or a lack of control take over. It had gotten to the point that I didn't remember what it felt like to feel normal. Luckily, the current treatment seems to be working, with only minor spells of panic, pain, or discomfort.

My thoughts and sympathies go out to those that are suffering a much more severe form of sickness and disabilities than me, and to the families that have to cope with the difficulties associated with slowly or even quickly watching a person's body turn against them.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Divided by God by Noah Feldman

Noah Feldman is a constitutional law scholar and professor. He's on his way to Harvard Law this fall after previously teaching at NYU.

Divided by God seeks to provide the reader with a historical account of and propose an answer to the separation of church and state problem. Feldman does a good job of walking the reader through the history of the First Amendment Freedom of Religion jurisprudence and history.

Most of the book is spent covering the history of the religious freedom jurisprudence. Your basics are covered -like the difference between the Establishment Clause and the Free Exercise Clause - as well as a brief philosophical discourse on freedom of conscience in the 18th century. Feldman also spends a lot of time on the history of two groups, the legal secularists and the value evangelicals.

The propose of this book is three-fold:

1) To provide the reader with a history of the issues surrounding the separation of church and state;
2) Show why both the legal secularists and the value evangelicals have incorrect interpretations of the First Amendment and its history;
3) To propose a solution to the current cultural, political, and social problems surrounding the separation of church and state dilemma.

The book was fairly easy to read. Even those without a legal education should find Feldman's arguments, discussions, and historical regurgitation clear and concise as he uses very little "legalese."

In the end, Feldman decides to propose his own solution to the church/state problem. He believes the Lemon test and O'Connor's endorsement test should be replaced with what he calls a more historically accurate test of "no coercion and no money". While I agree that his "coercion and money" prohibition is a better bright line test for the courts, I don't know that I personally want more religion in the public sphere. Nor do I want more politicians deciding and writing legislation based on their personal faith.

Regardless of my personal views, Divided by God is an insightful book and one that more people should read. The more the general population knows about the law and why certain freedoms are in place the better.

Starman: Sins of the Father (TPB)

At the behest of a friend I read the trade paperback (TPB) Starman: Sins of the Father.

Premise: The Starman mantle is passed down a generation after family tragedy. However, the next in line is not only hesitant about taking up the herioc post, but is antipathetic about it.

I'm not much of a DC Comics guy. I've mostly read Marvel comics - particularly the X-Universe - and thus have less knowledge about the DC Universe. I was able to read the series without much trouble even though I don't know much about the original Starman, Opal City's history, or the Starman villian du jour.

This series is mostly a coming of age/father-son personal struggle story arc. The series was written in the mid-nineties and thus has the artistic flavor of that time period. Personally, I didn't much care for the art work. It's not bad, just not aesthetically pleasing to me, if you will. The writing used a lot of broken sentences and incomplete thoughts to move the storyline; as far as literary style goes, it's some what hard to read in the comic book format. However, the emotional intensity and personal struggle in the arc required a disjointed thought process. I would be interested to see if the writing style changes as the series progresses; that being said, I don't know yet that I will seek out the story of Starman.

I don't know if it's a failing on my part to understand the DC Universe, the Starman history, or the appeal of Starman, but I didn't get extremely attached to any of the characters in the storyline. I'm sure as Starman comes to term with his new life as the champion of good in Opal City and more villians seek to wipe him off the face of the earth the intrigue will build.

There is a character in the storyline called The Mist. Apparently, the Mist and Starman (1940s style) were quintessentional adversaries to the point that the animosity has passed down through the generations. Yet I didn't quite understand the author's last depiction of the Mist. Perhaps I am missing something because I lack the history of the series and characters, but the almost decreped and absent-minded image of the Mist at the end of the series is so contradictory to his persona in the rest of the series that it left me in a state of disbelief.

All in all, the series was entertaining. It was a nice read on a hot day. The storyline seemed in tune with natural human emotions. Yet i just couldn't get myself to care about what happened next in the saga once the arc was finished. Perhaps it will grow on me if I pick up another TPB of Starman. I shall reserve judgment, until that day.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Enemies and Friends

Wednesday's repeat attack on the Shi'a al-Askari Shrine in Samarra, and the Shi'a reprisal attacks on at least six Sunni mosques that followed, further evinces that the sectarian bloodbshed between the Sunni and Shi'a is still a constant threat to civilian lives and miltary personnel. While PM Nouri al-Maliki's party blamed al-Qaeda for the attack, the sectarian warfare isn't limited to insurgent groups or terrorist cells. This is a civil war that destroys relgious shrines and places of public worship, and targets non-combatants. Even if an Iraqi cell of al-Qaeda destroyed the minarets of al-Askari shrine, they didn't then bomb, burn, or attack six Sunni mosques overnight.

While the American troops should try to promote peace and the rule of law in Iraq; we do not wanted to be connected with groups that are willing to kill civilians indiscriminately based on whether or not they believe the banu-Hashim should control the caliphate and that the mahdi will usher in the end of days. However, I fear that our current military strategy is going to link us to such sectarian murder.

By funding and arming local Sunni factions we are not only giving them the means by which to fight al-Qaeda, we are also giving them the means to continue the sectarian violence which undermines a unified state and government. If we start arming the Sunnis, how long until the Iranians arm the Shi'a factions for purposes of "self-defense" after claims of United States prejudice and the arming of sectarian factions determined to kill Shi'a civlians? The United States already claims that Iranians are giving arms to the Shi'a factions and the Taleban in Afghanistan. Is our response to arm the Sunni factions? Are we going to ask the Sunni insurgents to wage the war the Bush Adminstration so desparately wants with Iran?

Even if the United States were to arm both sects - of course then we will need to make sure the Kurds are well armed too - and avoid the Iranian arms quagmire, once we pull out of Iraq we will leave trained and armed sectarian factions. These factions aren't afraid to kill each other when we occupy the country, what will they do when we leave? Will the new Iraqi government and police force be able to defend themselves from multiple armed factions trying to gain control of the country? Obviously not. The whole reason we're arming the local factions is because the Iraqi government and police can't control the violence within it's borders as is.

If a civil war is going to happen, we should do our best provide a stable government infrastructre and rule of law, train and arm the government to deal with insurgent groups. and offer whatever aid is necessary to protect the civilans from sectarian violence. We should not, however, start picking sides. How will the next generation of Iraqis respond to the United States for not only occupying their country and failing to provide the government and safety from death and tryanny it promised, but also for giving local factions the means by which to continue the reign of tryanny and sectarian bloodshed. We must becareful proceeding with a foreign policy that espouses: "The enemey of my enemy is my friend." It's not very hard to play this roulette style game before our new allies are Iran and al-Qaeda.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Sagging: Freedom of Expression or Obscenity?

The city council of Delcambre, Louisiana unanimously passed an ordinance making it a criminal act to show your underwear in public. The ordinance comes complete with a maximum $500 fine, or up to 6 months in jail. The ordinance is due to become law when the mayor signs the ordinance, which is expected sometime this month.

Critics of the law believe the law will be used selectively against the "hip-hop" community. Council members claim the law will be enforced against everyone, regardless of race or gender. However, the law will almost certainly disproportionately affect the African-American community. Is it intended to do so? The Mayor's retort is that "white people wear bagging pants too."

The Louisiana indecency laws ban the exposure of private parts; the Delcambre's new proposed law clearly extends the scope of the indecency law. While the banning of "private parts" in public surely applies to public health concerns, the ban of underwear in public is too broad. While the sight of a thong or boxer shorts band may not be appealing to all, it certainly isn't obscene, nor is it furthering any public health interest. I would much rather see some young adult's tighty-whities than the half to full moon exposed during "plumber's butt." That is obscene, and perhaps I could understand the prohibition of low-rise jeans and no underwear in that same vein. However I fail to see the obscenity in seeing the top of someone's skivvies. The logical extension of this law is to also make criminal the exposure of bra straps as well. If you're going to prohibit the exposure of undergarments then you shouldn't stop with the lower half. Moreover, I hope Victoria's Secret or Hanes don't intend to have window shops, their mannequins maybe in for a rough night in the Delcambre jail.

The fashion choice of sagging your pants is a personal decision that shouldn't be governed by state authorities. Unless the city council truly believes that the exposure of undergarments has no redeeming social value and appeals to people's prurient interests then it seems like they have overextended their reach - of course if they think it appeals to people's prurient interests then perhaps the city council just has a underwear fetish? This quote from the Mayor intimates that perhaps he views the display of underwear as analogous to exposing yourself: "If you expose your private parts, you'll get a fine". He went on to say, "They're better off taking the pants off and just wearing a dress." Sounds like a trap, next week the Delcambre council will pass a law against cross-dressing too.

G-Men Take On Zombie Hordes

The BBC News site has an article with a hilarious title "FBI tries to fight zombie hordes".

The FBI has found networks of zombie[s]... being used to ...steal...and attack
The agency said the zombies... were "a growing threat to national security".
The FBI has been trying to tackle networks of zombies for some time as part of an initiative it has dubbed Operation Bot Roast.

Unfortunately, it's not nearly as exciting as the X-Filesesque title and my creative editting suggests. It has to deal with cyber-crime. I just couldn't pass up the opportunity to mention the clever title.

United No Longer: Palestinian Government in Shambles

Hamas fighters in Gaza City increased their attack on Fatah controlled areas and buildings. They overran the headquarters of Fatah's Preventive Security forces in Gaza City today, declaring the "liberation" of Gaza. The BBC reports that the attack led to President Abbas dismissing PM Haniya from his post and declaring a state of emergency.

The dismissal effectively gives the Gaza Strip to Hamas. The West Bank will be controlled by Fatah, at least for the time being. With Gaza City in the hands of Hamas - and soon the Gaza Strip - the response by Israel could be quick and fierce. PM Olmert has already warned of 'regional consequences' if Hamas has complete control of Gaza. Israeli security forces are reporting that Hamas in becoming more sophisticated like Hezbollan in Lebanon and are smuggling weapons into Gaza through Egypt. All of these Israeli comments were during the power struggle over the last few days. Their response to the dismissal of Haniya and the effective hand-over of Gaza to Hamas will be interesting and I fear bloody.

President Abbas will hold elections as soon as the fighting abates. However, if elections in 2006 are any indication of the view of the populace, Abbas may find himself with more Hamas members elected. The power struggle, according to Danny Rubinstein in a NYTimes Article, is the fault of Abbas and Fatah not sharing power with the generally elected Hamas members. If a new election occurs and more Hamas members are elected, Fatah will either have to ignore the voice of the people or they will be no better off than they are now. Time will tell...

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

The Price of Fluency

As I mentioned in my previous post, I'm going back to France. As such, I want to make sure that I can stubble my way through a conversation with retailers and other salespeople well enough so that they don't get pissed at me. In the end, if they have pity and speak English, at least it won't be b/c they hate me for refusing to try.

With five years of formal French classes (8th to 12th grade) in secondary education, 2 semesters + one 8-week year review course at Iowa, plus a semester of oral French skills at Iowa I should be able to pick it up rather quickly, right? That's the hope anyway. I was thinking of getting one of those "Learn French in 3 days" magic CD sets to force me to dive head first into la langue de francaise. I also looked at Rocket French and Rosetta Stone. Rocket French is much cheaper, so a bonus point to Rocket French. I tried the Rosetta Stone demo and it wasn't too bad. I jumped right into French 201, just so I wasn't learning the words for boy and girl. (Not that I remember much French vocabulary) At the end of my 30 min lesson I learned the verbs for tying, lock, unlock, zip, unzip, freefalling, and leave through picture and sound association. I don't know how the full versions teach grammar and conjugation, but the picture association works well. It helps to know the pronouns for he and she to be certain.

I also tried the Arabic demo. I am seriously considering shelling out the $340 for Arabic vol 1 and 2. I need to learn it over the next year and private tutoring wasn't working - by no fault of my tutor, she was great. It wasn't creating an environment or schedule that was conducive to diligent studying on my part. My only fear with Rosetta Stone based on the demo, is that it won't teach me grammar or the conjugation forms/stems of the words. I need to read Arabic more than I need to speak it at this point in my "academic" career. I'm torn on what to do. C'est la vie, n'est pas?

Parisian Rendez-vous

Well the tickets are purchased (thanks to Mastercard; insert "Priceless" tagline here) and the studio down payment has been sent. Paris will be at our disposal for 8 nights in October.

The place we rented can be found here. We decided to pay the same or less than a 3-star Parisian hotel and rent a studio apartment for our time in the city. We'll be by my favorite Parisian site, Sacre Coeur. With the Metro stop near by it should be easy enough to get to other sites in the city as need be. We're excited to buy food at the local markets and bakeries.

We plan on making a trip outside the city limits at some point. A 15 hour excursion or so to Fountainebleu and Versailles, Normandy, or the Loire Valley. We'll still have to set that up. The majority of our time will be spent in the city at a nice even and relaxed pace. We bought a book that has walking tours throughout the city, complete with historical facts and maps.

The plane tickets weren't terrible at $870/person out of Des Moines. We figured we would pay the little bit extra not to have to drive and park in Chicago or elsewhere. We can get a ride to the "International" Des Moines airport and then stay the night in Ankeny upon our return if the jet lag is too much.

Slightly funny is that we will get back on a Thursday, we probably won't go back to IC until Friday, and our mock trial team's first tournament is that weekend. Nothing like re-acclimating yourself to American society by listening to future litigators.

Of course, what this really means is that I don't have much time to re-learn some basic French. Sacre Bleu!

A Short Guide to Iraq: 1940's Style

A friend passed on to me a link to this pamphlet produced by the US War and Navy Departments during World War II. It's somewhat entertaining and occasionally bigoted in its views/lessons on life.

I couldn't help but hear a voice like Sam Elliot, John Wayne, or George C. Scott when I was reading it. The Arabic in the back is accurate as far as I can tell. As the pamphlet says, it's an Iraqi dialect so I don't know some of it as I was exposed to an (urban) Egyptian dialect.

Some of the foregin policy/cultural interaction guidelines would be helpful to our troops in the Middle East even today.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Russian Ninjas

It seems the Russians are launching a ninja attack on northern Italian farmers. (BBC article)

I was reminded of Kill Bill Vol.1 when reading about the old man that warded off the powerful Russian ninja. The difference being two-fold: 1) This ninja isn't Uma Thurman, and 2) The old man didn't land his shot square in the chest of his would-be assailant. Minor details really.

I was reminded of a funny cartoon I saw online about 5 years ago that detailed how to survive a ninja attack. Unfortunately for everyone I can't find the cartoon, and thus cannot enlighten everyone on how to survive a deadly ninja attack. However I did find these amusing videos and sites:

1. How to Survive a Ninja Attack
2. Howto: survive a ninja attack
3. Ask a Ninja Question 16 "How to Kill a Ninja"

Hopefully you can find a nugget in there to help you sleep easier tonight, knowing that if the Russian ninjas come you'll be better prepared.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Afghan Fighters Version 2.0?

In a previous post I mentioned Reagan's support of the Afghan "freedom fighters" against Cold War nemisis the USSR. It seems my facetious comment about supporting the next version of the Afghan mujahideen may not have been as assinine as I orginally thought.

According to this BBC Article ("US pits Iraqi Sunnis against al-Qaeda") the new "exit" strategy in Iraq is to arm and train local warlords. The article uses the euphemism "Sunni tribal sheikhs" instead of warlords but any time the military trains and arms "local tribes and factions" it is only a matter of time before we - or they - start referring to them as "warlords." Warlord and factional disputes have left Afghanistan an almost completely lawless - in the sense of a formal central government controlling the rule of law - state, with Kubal as the only city the United States has any firm control over.

It is incredibily ironic that we are training local factions and militant groups to fight off a "freedom fighter" faction we helped arm and train 20 years earlier. The Islamist dogma that the Afghan mujahideen propogated didn't seem to bother us 20 years ago when it was focused on fighting and killing Soviets. In 20 years, will these Iraqi factions be the next al-Qaeda?

The U.S. Military is training these factions under the auspices of the Iraqi police force. However, each faction is to "secure their own areas." How long until these factions start a civil war - assuming the Bush Administration's current view that there is no civil war in Iraq - or start killing civilians in a territorial battle when U.S. troops finally leave? General Lynch's words offer little solace. He is quoted as saying:"There are tribal sheikhs out there who say: 'Hey, just allow me to be the local security force. I don't care what you call me. You can call me whatever you want. Just give me the right training and equipment and I'll secure my area.' And that's the direction we're moving out there."

"US commanders on the ground have been authorised and encouraged to enter into truces and agreements with local Sunni factions wherever possible, even if they are suspected of using arms against US forces in the past." (emphasis added) 

The article and US military strategists point to the al-Anbar province as the archetype of success and future stability with this policy. The article points out that al-Qaeda had attacked police recruitment posts, which helped generate more antipathy towards al-Qaeda in the province. Perhaps it is the cynic in me, but I find it hard to believe that the al-Anbar province success will apply to the entirety of the country and recent success doesn't guarantee long-term safety for Iraqi civilians or US troops.

The reason this appears to be a failure to learn from history is that this is exactly what we had with the Afghan fighters 20 years ago: a common enemy that everyone could rally around as unwelcome and a threat to local interests. The problem wasn't getting the Afghan mujahideen to fight the Soviets. The problems was what to do with the armed fighters once the Soviets were defeated and withdrew. (For a fascinating book on the evolution of the jihadi ideology and firsthand accounts of influential members of the movement read The Journey of the Jihadist) We can't untrain these fighters once we give them the means to kill. In the short-term, this new local armenment policy may help suppress al-Qaeda's influence and military operations. I just hope it doesn't come back to haunt our children and grandchildren.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Damn Yankees

So the Yankees are finally within one game of .500, and it only took until the second week of June. The Yanks used a three interleague game sweep of the bottom feeder Pirates (26-37) to extend their winning streak to six games.

I was certain going into this interleague home stand that the Yanks would find a way to lose to the NL Central punching bag. They came close in game one, winning 5-4 after a walk-off single by Jeter in the 10th inning. A decent start by 44 year old Clemens (6 innings, 5 hits, 3 runs, 2 walks and 7 strikeouts) yesterday, still required the Bronx Bombers to put up 1, 2, 2, 1 runs in the fifth through eighth innings respectively to win 9-3. The Yanks were leading 5-2 going into the top of the fourth today. By the time the homeside was up to bat the score was 6-5 Pirates. The Yankees responded to win 13-6 and sweep the Bucs.

While it's good to see the Yanks swinging the bat better and the bullpen not losing close games for a change, the Yankees still gave up 13 runs in three games - at home - to the bloody Pirates! A-Rod had two homeruns today accounting for 4 RBIs, bringing his series total to 6 RBIs. If A-Rod wasn't playing out of his mind this year, the Yankees would be battling the Nationals for East Coast inferiority.

I don't even like A-Rod. In fact, most people who talk basebeall with me have heard me refer to him as "Nimrod." He's overpaid, has made too many errors in big games for a player of his caliber, and has a case of fall-impotency. I don't expect the Yanks to win the World Series every year. I do however expect players of A-Rod's caliber to produce when he's expected to produce... the postseason.

Many have called for the head of Joe Torre; I say we should instead call for the head of the Boss. Ol'George is the reason that the majority of this team qualifies annually for senior citizen discounts at the Country Kitchen Buffet. Our bullpen is getting too old (Mussina, Pettite, and Clemens in the starting rotation?) and so is our outfield. George seems to think that if you take an established player and pay him more than most countries' GNPs, that they will bring home World Series Championships. The problem is that most established players that bring home eight figure paychecks are in one or both of these categories:

1) Fat cats
Give a player $20million and his reason to impress wanes quickly. Why sacrifice your body for team when you're earning tens of millions of dollars. You don't have to impress GMs to get the big bucks anymore. Just sit back and reap the benefits of making the Boss think you're worth the obscene paycheck you're getting.

2) Performance Decline
To earn the millions upon millions these players earn, typically they must produce for the better part of a decade or more. By the time they land in the Big Apple, they are too old to produce the numbers that gave the Boss drool marks on his pillow. Even if they can still produce, it's rarely to their previous level over the course of the season. See Randy Johnson and Bobby Abreu. Moreover, the older you get the easier you get injured or have chronic injury problems. See Gary Sheffield, Kevin Brown, Carl Pavano, and Jason Giambi.

The numbers most players produce when the arrive in the Bronx either proves my points or proves that New York is its own little universe for baseball stats. While New York fans may expect more from their players, they don't make them swing at bad pitches, don't make them throw horrible pitches, and don't injure them. On that point, neither does Joe Torre. So place blame where it belongs: in the front office.

Here's to the Yanks making a run at the Red Sox and bringing to August and September baseball what they do best: drama and excitement.

Fragile Things by Neil Gaiman

As I finish books on my "Current Reading List" I intend to review them, for whatever that's worth. I'm not a literary critic by any means, but I'll give it a whirl.

Fragile Things by Neil Gaiman


This book was given to me by my friend Brad after I recommended American Gods - also by Gaiman - to him. I haven't read a lot of Gaiman; my first exposure to him was as the writer of Sandman. Now I haven't actually read Sandman but I have read American Gods, Good Omens, Neverwhere, and 1602, a one shot series for Marvel. Needless to say, I like Gaiman's style and fantasy aimed stories.

Fragile Things is a collection of short stories and poems by Gaiman.


I am not a poetry fan, and thus I tended to read but rarely enjoyed the poetry. There is nothing wrong with poetry per se, I just prefer prose. The poetry wasn't overly artsy - difficult to follow or read - nor was it cliched; poetry fans will probably find nothing wrong with the poems contained in Fragile Things.

I enjoyed most of the stories. The collection served it's purpose of passing the time in a limitless, non-stressful, and imaginary world. The American Gods novella at the end of the collection was a nice addition. A couple of the shorts have been made into graphic novels since Gaiman originally wrote them, like Harlequin Valentine. Overall, I enjoyed the collection and would recommend it to anyone that enjoys stories filled with imagination, dark imagery, and dark humour.

Favorites: The Monarch of the Glen, Sunbird, Other People, and A Study in Emerald

Baseball, hot dogs, and apple pie

Recently Melissa and I went to a Cedar Rapids Kernels game. The Kernels are a Single-A affiliate for the Los Angelos Angels of Anaheim of California of the Western Coast of the United States of America, unipole of the world. The Friday night adversary of the Kernels were the Quad City Swing - a Davenport Single-A affiliate for the St. Louis Cardinals. It was a good time. We paid $9/each for tickets about two rows behind the third base line. We purchased our ballpark food and watched a relaxing and exciting game. The Kernels won late after the Swing broke the scoreless game with two doubles - their only hits of the game at that point - in the 8th. A walk-off single in the bottom of the ninth sealed the game for the Kernels. The team mobbed the player responsible for the game winning home run like they had just won the pennant. It was great.

It's nice to go to a game without any attachments. Kernels v. Swing... I couldn't care less who wins. Unlike going to see the New York Yankees or St. Louis Cardinals (Melissa's team, and my adopted NL team), the loss of the "our" teams won't leave us feeling let down. For the record, I have never seen the team I want to win, win live. Don't get me wrong, I'm not a horrible hex. I have seen the Mets, White Sox, and Royals win at their home stadiums; but my point is that while I wanted them to win because I was at their home stadium, I didn't want them to win.

This was the second Kernels game I have been to this season and ever. Last time I went because the Cubs affiliate - the Peoria Chiefs - were in town. My friend wanted to go see the game because Ryne Sandburg is manager of the Chiefs. I was happy to obligue. Of course I rooted for the Kernels, despite sitting on the vistors side because I really dispise the Cubs. I have the Chicago-land students at the University of Iowa to thank for that. I don't even pay that much attention to the NL outside of how the Cards did, but man do those Cubs fans vex me - I am terribly vexed. My newfound annoyance with the Cubs creates a problem when going back to my "hometown" team of the Iowa Cubs. Solution: go when they are playing Memphis, the Cardinals Triple-A affiliate.

Man United?

It seems Sony is stirring the pot over in Manchester. ("Cathedral to demand Sony apology")

Sony claims that they have permission to use the interior of Manchester Cathedral in their upcoming game Resistance: Fall of Man. Of course the cathedral spokesperson says "not so fast Sony."

My favorite part of the whole shinanigans is the 4 part demand on the part of Manchester Cathedral. They want Sony to help fund social groups in Manchester to help fight gun crimes. I thought England didn't have a right to bear arms? This seems like something the police need to focus on more than an entertainment corporation. Of course, this suggests that violent video games lead to real life violence. It's possible, I'm not an expert in psychology or sociology, but I have a hard time following the argument that violent video games lead Manchester to have a higher gun crime rate. My guess is the problem is a deeper socio-economic conflict. Mental note: don't piss of a ManU fan, he might be piss drunk and pull a Desert Eagle on you a la Snatch.

Saturday, June 9, 2007

Egyptian Court Rules on Niqab Ban

Today a committee in the High Administrative Court of Egypt upheld a 2001 court ruling to prohibit the American University of Cairo (AUC) from enforcing a complete ban of the niqab on campus. The niqab is a veil worn by a woman that only shows the woman's eyes; as opposed to the hijab which only covers a woman's hair but leaves her face completely visible. Both are garments designed to promote modesty in Islamic women while they are in public. Female Muslims generally begin wearing veils after they reach puberty; although there are varying opinions in the umma - Muslim community - as to the type of veil to be worn by a female Muslim, and even if veils are required by the Shari'a at all.

I first came across the article on the BBC News website entitled "Cairo campus veil ban struck down." After reading it I googled the subject to see if there were any other articles on the subject. The way in which the media outlet portrayed the ruling differed from site to site. Al-Jazeera (English edition) titled their article "Egyptian Court Permits Face-Veil Use"; whereas CBSNews went with the verbose title of "Egyptian Court: University Can't Ban Veils, American University Of Cairo Says Ban Protects 'Personal Safety And Security'". The American source goes immediately for the safety and security concerns AUC used as justification for the ban in an effort, I can only presume, to keep American fears of Muslims and the Middle East alive. Al-Jazeera went with the simple and postive title, choosing to focus on the right to wear the veil. The BBC went with the more negative title, focusing on the court's decision to strike down the ban.

The differences in the articles didn't end with the portrayal of the court's decision. The BBC and Al-Jazeera articles name the claimant as Iman al-Zainy, a former doctoral student at the Islamic Al-Azhar University. CBSNews names the plaintiff as Heba el-Zeini.

Regardless of the differences the articles all discuss that AUC banned the niqab in an effort to promote personal saftey on campus. As the Al-Jazeera article - the only article to mention the campus' current security measures - states students are currently required to pass through a metal detector and show IDs before entering the campus. This is true. We were required to pass through a metal detector, show IDs and they searched our bags every time we entered one of the entrances to the campus; it was the same on the Greek campus as it was on the main campus. Despite the modern security measures, the guards - all male for the entire 7 weeks I was there - paid much less attention to the female's bag and ID as they did the female student. Perhaps it was because I was with American/Western females, but even when female students walked in who where of Middle Eastern ethnicity, the guards smiled more than they searched.

While on the campuses I didn't see any students in the niqab, obviously because this case was still being argued. I did see female students wearing hijabs. I would say the split was about 50/50 on covered and non-covered female students. They same percentage could be said for the young Egyptian women that frequented the restaurants and clubs we visited during our stay. The use of the niqab was even less frequent and was - in my experience - only worn by older women. You may wonder why I think they were older if I could only see their eyes, fair question. I could see wrinkles; moreover, body posture and sometimes hands were indicators as well.

A commentary on the case from December (found here) pointed out that AUC also wanted to ban the niqab to ensure student integrity during exams. A point I hadn't considered but a fair point. Given the pace the guards move students through the gates - it's not wise to keep American, Western, or liberal educated youths lined up near extremely busy and dangerous (traffic laws don't apply unless a guard with a gun is present) streets, especially if you are concerned of attacks from hardline Islamist groups - I doubt the niqab is dispostive on tricking the guards. Just like a bar in the United States, a favorable look-a-like will get the job done.

The Islam Online commentary also mentions the fact that universities rarely enforce the ban. It's probably not coincidence that this case started in 2001. AUC security was quite responsive to world events while we were there, and I don't imagine that year was any different.

Chapter 1, Art 2 of the Egyptian Constitution states "Islam is the Religion of the State. Arabic is its official language, and the principal source of legislation is Islamic Jurisprudence (Sharia)." Notice that the provision states "the principal source..." not "a principal source"; the Constitution was actually changed to the former to reflect a more pro-Islamic stance. This change means that Shari'a has a greater influence in Egyptian law, leaving the ban on veils to be a peculiar ban. Yet Art. 3 states, "Sovereignty is for the people alone who will practise and protect this sovereignty and safeguard national unity in the manner specified by the Constitution". Unlike their Muslim brothers and sisters in Iran, Egyptians place their sovereignty in the people, not the ulema - Islamic law scholars/imams. Of course the power is really lies with the Hoss, but at least on paper it's a socialist democratic state.

Article 40: "All citizens are equal before the law. They have equal public rights and duties without discrimination due to sex, ethnic origin, language, religion or creed."

Article 41: "Individual freedom is a natural right not subject to violation except in cases of flagrante delicto. No person may be arrested, inspected, detained or have his freedom restricted in any way or be prevented from free movement except by an order necessitated by investigations and the preservation of public security."

Article 42: "Any citizen arrested, detained or whose freedom is restricted shall be treated in a manner concomitant with the preservation of his dignity. No physical or moral harm is to be inflicted upon him. He may not be detained or imprisoned except in places defined by laws organizing prisons..."(emphasis added)

The reason I mention articles 40 and 41 is that they are the justification offered by the plaintiff for filing her complaint. 42 was mentioned purely because of the choice of pronoun.

The Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR)quotes the committee as saying
The report recommends that the ban on the niqab be revoked on constitutional grounds. Specifically, Article 41 of the Constitution, according to the report, "prohibits discrimination against citizens on a number of grounds including religion or belief; a Muslim woman's niqab is linked to her religious beliefs." The report likewise invoked Article 41 of the Constitution "which holds personal freedom as a natural, sacrosanct and inviolable right; a woman's dress, which protects and covers her body, is a pillar of personal freedom, as dress is intimately linked to a person's body… and falls under the rubric of bodily freedom."

Actually, Article 41 states exactly when individual freedom can be violated, including public safety. Which is why AUC framed their argument in terms of public safety, even though my experiences tell me that AUC security is only a moderate concern to the actual guards.

In the end, I think wearing of the niqab is a personal choice. So long as AUC staff - female staff if requested - makes sure that jihadi terrorists don't start hiding underneath the veil, the female students should have the right to wear whatever they want so long as it's not threatening the safety of those around them. If you are to believe some Islamic scholars the women who choose to adorn the niqab are protecting the public from the noxious and uncontrollable male libido; a charitable action that should be allowed to continue if the veil-wearer freely chooses to take part in the tradition.

Friday, June 8, 2007

Rendition Trials

With all of the Paris-gate coverage, little has been made of the commencemt of the CIA rendition trials in Milan, Italy. Twenty-six Americans - most of whom are believed to be CIA agents - and six Italians are accused of kidnapping an Egyptian terror suspect and allegedly torturing him in Cairo. Look here for BBC coverage, or here for NY Times coverage.

The NY Times points out that if allowed to persue the claim, the trial may uncover teh "darker side" of our War on Terror - aside from the war and deaths of innocent civilians, of course. It will be interesting to see what happens in the Italian Constitutional court with respect to this case. Both the US and Italy fear international embarassment and the leaking of state secrets. There is no mention if the Hoss is worried about being connected to the secreting away of an imam and alledged torture in one of his Cairo prisons.

I would like to point out that the most important fact from these articles isn't the focus on torture, the War on Terror, or alledged illegal actions by CIA or Italian operatives. The most important fact is that this case might yet prove that it is not the NY Yankees that are the evil empire but the Boston Red Sox. Philip Morse, a minority owner of the Sox, will be a witness in the case. "It is alleged that his Gulfstream jet was used by the CIA to fly Abu Omar out of Italy."

Shawskank Redemption*

The daily soap opera that is the "incarcerated" life of Paris Hilton has taken a new twist. Every person able to watch, listen to, or read a TV or news website, has surely been informed of the socialite's release from a California jail. It's received more press than the G8 Summit.

Sheriff Baca stated that she was released for "medical reasons;" yet the sheriff refused to expound upon his statement for "privacy reasons." The blogosphere and news outlets have been full of rampant speculation as to what the major "medical" problem is. I had heard everything from a rash to a refusal to eat prison food, and from sleep deprivation to claustrophobia.

Baca is further quoted as saying, "The problem here is that there is a medical issue and it isn't wise to keep a person in jail with her problem over an extended period of time and let the problem get worse." I'm a little confused, but shouldn't a modern prison facility have a medical ward? We're not talking about Devil's Island, Abu Ghraib, Chateau d'If, Old Tolbooth, or The Maze. It's a modern day Los Angelos prison, with a wing designed to keep celebrities, police officers, and politicians from mingling with the general prison population. (see BBC Article). I don't remember any other inmates getting out recently because they missed their caviar or 24 carat ring - which I saw on a news show once, it was obscene, even by legal standards.

Something I will rarely say, but I agree with Rev. Al Sharpton in this BBC article on the subject. This release by the sheriff smacks of favoritism. It seems Baca is sheriff by day and a fighter for social justice and inequity by night. He is quoted as saying, "My message to those who don't like celebrities is that punishing celebrities more than the average American is not justice." I agree that punishing celebrities more than the average Joe Schmoe is not equal justice and is a poor use of our justice and penal systems. However, I fail to see how the punishment that Ms. Hilton received was more severe than other probation violators. As my previous post described, her attorney claims the cell was too small and isolated, yet is designed to protect her. Baca's logic only works if: 1) Keeping celebrities with unnamed medical conditions is more severe in punishment than keeping non-celebrities with the same medical condition or 2) Ms. Hilton received a worse sentence merely because she has celebrity status. Violating probation can lead to imprisonment of the entire sentence for the original crime. In Iowa, a DUI usually leads to a 6-month deferred sentence. However, a violation of your probation gives the court the discretion to incarcerate you for the entire six months that it originally deferred. I may not be familiar with the laws of CA but I doubt it's much different.

Ms. Hilton -unless the judge rules otherwise- will get to spend 40 days in house arrest. Baca made a big deal to point out she won't be able to leave her home. Sorry, but 40 days in a four-story 1920's Hollywood mansion is not a deterrent. ET showed a delivery van bringing Ms. Hilton her favorite cupcakes and two friends coming to visit. It seems her "medical" concerns have abated quite quickly. Hopefully the air of the Hollywood hills and cupcakes will allow her to heal better than would have otherwise happened under state doctor supervision.

Of course, since writing this and before I could post it after work, Ms. Hilton was taken back to her cell, kicking and screaming the entire way. She now has to serve the full 45 day sentence in jail as opposed to the 23 day sentence she was originally required to serve after 'good behavior.' She screamed "[i]t's not right" at the judge while in tears after the sentence can down. She also screamed for her mommy... how more cliche can you get?

* The title is borrowed from the 7-Jun-2007 Daily Show with Jon Stewart, in which Jon stated they would not be covering the Hilton saga but if they did the story might be titled "The Shawskank Redemption."

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Cpl. Grizzlyman

Bear robots rescues wounded troops

It seems the US Military has developed the Battlefield Extraction Assist Robot or BEAR to aid and rescue wounded US troops. The robot actually has a teddy bear-like face to reassure the wounded solider and put them at ease.

It's like Care Bears meets Terminator. While the idea of a rescue robot has obvious benefits, it's the comical teddy bear face that takes the cake. Maybe the plan is to warm the hearts of the enemy? Don't shoot... I love you!

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

The Hoss Strikes Again

Egyptian Brothers Arrested BBC Article

It seems the Egyptian government is gearing up again for another election. When I was studying in Cairo in the summer of 2005 Hosni Mubarak - the Hoss - had dealt with opposing candidate Ayman Nour in a similar manner just prior to my arrival (see 2005 story).

The National Democratic Party (NDP) prefers to arrest opposition rather than acknowledge public cries for reform or participate in the democratic process. NDP did approve March 2007 constitutional reforms for Egypt - although I am skeptical of any law/doctrine/referendum the heir apparent Gamal "Hoss Jr." Mubarak would promulgate and advocate as "strengthen[ing] political parties" and yet critics are calling a solidification of the Egyptian emergency state of law. If interested, here is the Egyptian Constitution.

The leader of the new party Democratic Front, Osama al-Ghazali Harb, - a former member of NDP's Policies Committee, which is head by none other than the Hoss Jr. - resigned after the referendum was passed; he believes the constitutional reforms will only keep the NDP's firm control on the Egyptian government in place.

When I was staying in Cairo, Condolezza Rice visted in order to talk with the Hoss about the upcoming elections. Near the American University of Cairo's (AUC) campus are areas of immense human and vehicle traffic. In one of these squares, there was a 15ft sign of the Hoss with what looked like Xmas tree lights strung around the edges, creating - what I can only assume was intended - a halo effect around the Hoss' head. There were slogans in Arabic around the cutout as well, although I don't know what they said. We were told it was placed there by a supporter. On the edge of the "Greek campus grounds" of AUC - across the street from the main campus - there was a huge billboard of the Hoss that I had to look at everyday (see picture supra). The reason I tell this anecdote, is because the day that Sec. Rice arrived the gynormous cardboard angelic Hoss magically and conveniently disappeared; just in time for the NDP to talk about fair elections with Sec. Rice. It seems only fair that they had to take down the angelic Hoss in order to talk about fair elections given that I didn't see a single advert for Mr. Nour or any other candidates during my seven week stay. Let alone a giant-sized angelic advert of another candiate erected in an area of substantial daily traffic.

The Hilton Prison Suite

Ms. Hilton's lawyer is complaining that his client's prison stay is cruel and unusual punishment. Okay, he didn't use those words but he is saying that it's unfair. Evidently, Ms. Hilton is in a confinement/isolation cell. Her lawyer is complaining that 45 days in isolation (23 of 24 hours in her cell) isn't fair and a normal person would have been placed in a dormitory with other inmates, which would make the time go faster for Ms. Hilton. All she did, he says, is drive on a suspended license while on probation. Of course, he convienently left out the part that it was probation for a DUI.

I am pretty sure that reason Ms. Hilton is in the isolation cell is so that she doesn't have to interact with the "common folk" in the prison population; most likely a move for her safety rather than as extra punishment for being an hotel heiress. I doubt the court system or prison is really all that troubled that Ms. Hilton's time isn't passing very fast. It's the penal system, not summer camp. Although, if every person that went to prison for a DUI received isolation treatment, we might have less repeat offenders.

Just look at it this way, it'll give Ms. Hilton time to write her book on life in the klink.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Giulani's Post Debate Statement

After the Republican debate, Republican presidential candiate Rudy Giulani said - to paraphrase - that all he heard at the Democratic debate was a push to go back to the 1990s and forget about the threat of the terrorists to the United States.

1) I'm sure that the Democratic candiates plan to completely ignore the war in Iraq and the threat to national security created by that war and jihadi Islamists and terrorist groups. I think I remember that answer in the Democratic debate... Wolf: "Please raise your hand if your administration's policy regarding the war in Iraq will be to just completely ignore it and act like it never happened." ::every hand goes up::

2) If the reason that Giulani believes that the Democrats want to roll back policy blindly to 1990s is because they mentioned the Democratic heydays of the '90s, then Mr. Giulani, it seems to me you are proposing sometime much worse. At every possible moment you invoke the memory and presidency of Reagan. According to your theory, that must mean that you want to roll back to the 1980's. Not only would that push the threat of terror from the Middle East and jihadi Islamists further from our mind, it would be a complete shift in policy. Instead of fighting the War on Terror by targeting Islamists we would fund and support their campaign against current world powers. Given that we are currently in a unipole situation, it seems that Giulani's invocation of Reagan only means that Giulani must want to the Islamists to defeat the United States. At least that is what it would mean if we were to follow his statement and reasoning to its logical end.


Ronald Reagan Proclamation 5034 - Afghanistan Day, 21 March, 1983

The tragedy of Afghanistan continues as the valiant and courageous Afghan freedom fighters persevere in standing up against the brutal power of the Soviet invasion and occupation. The Afghan people are struggling to reclaim their freedom, which was taken from them when the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in December of 1979.

In this three-year period the Soviet Union has been unable to subjugate Afghanistan. The Soviet forces are pitted against an extraordinary people who, in their determination to preserve the character of their ancient land, have organized an effective and still spreading country-wide resistance. The resistance of the Afghan freedom fighters is an example to all the world of the invincibility of the ideals we in this country hold most dear, the ideals of freedom and independence.(emphasis added)

If you read the proclamation it isn't very hard to just replace "Afghanistan" with "Iraq", "Soviet Union" with "America", and "Afghan freedom fighters" with "Iraqi insurgents". If we weren't the occupying force in Iraq, it's not unfathomable that President Bush would issues a statement in the spirit of Reagan's Proclamation 5034.

This proclamation only further evinces that Mr. Giulani's comment was nothing more than sophomoric politicking. But then the great Ronald Reagan knew all and was infallible, right? At least that is the myth the Republicans aim to push.

Barnett and Iran

Below is a recent gmail conversation I had with my friend about a Thomas Barnett piece...

The Barnett Piece: KnoxNews Columnist

Julian's comments:
The most worrisome thing about this for me is that Barnett is no dove by any stretch of the imagination. And he has a lot of contacts inside the Pentagon...

My response:
It's not unfathomable. It seems to me a full scale strike on Tehran will only hurt Israel. Any support by Israel of an attack on Iran will lead to an increase in attacks by Hezbollah from Lebanon/Syria. Such attacks will push the destablized conditions in Beruit and Lebanon even further from reconstruction of a stable government and a potential Middle Eastern haven for grassroots reform.

Saudi may privately speak of removing their regional nemisis Persia from rising power, but publicly they will never be able to stand behind an American attack, especially if it becomes an American-Israeli attack. If there is a hated regional nemesis vilified more than Persia, it's the Israelis.

I don't think it's out of the question that Bush will do something as he leaves office to hand a steaming pile off to the next president in the event that it's a Democratic president-elect. Hopefully this time Congress will have the intelligence and testicular fortitude to tell the President "no."

Julian's comments:The fact that the Israelis and the Saudis would both like to see Tehran knocked down a few pegs, but can't get away with trying it themselves may mean, as I think Barnett was arguing, that even now they're both privately pushing the US towards doing it for them. How anyone on Earth could think anything the Israelis or Saudis come up with vis-a-vis Iran is likely to be a good idea is beyond me; however, I doubt it's beyond Cheney and Bush.

What really worries me is that all of the major Democratic presidential candidates are on record as saying that Iran MUST NOT be allowed to get atomic weapons. They probably need to say that in order to be politically viable in the general election, but it could also back them into a corner regarding our policy towards Iran during this next obscenely long year and a half.

My response:
All UN reports I have read state the Iranian program is years away from actualizing the threat of nuclear weapsons. Thus, by the time Bush leaves they - in theory - won't be armed. I understand that we can't wait until they are armed to respond, but do you really think that the Bush adminstration will use "they have the potential of creating weapons of mass destruction" as a justification for invasion? Given the fallout of the last war based on the lack of WMD, a doubt public support will be high for another invasion based on the same justification.

I don't think the view that Iran shouldn't have nuclear weapons necessiates invasion. Perhaps the answer does lie in Riyadh; more Arab pressure may be the answer. Western pressure (I include Israel in this) isn't going to solve anything. Western military pressure will only increase the public support for the jihadists in the area. While the Sunni and the Shia may have bad blood, Saudi pressure could lead to the Arab league pressuring Iran to curtail its weapons program.

I am of the opinion that Iran should be able to develop nuclear power for non-military purposes if they so choose. I understand the line is very thin between non-military programs and being able to nuke Tel Aviv; yet continuing to treat the Arab world as if they are children and can't police themselves isn't going to further relations or allow them the ability to regulate themselves. I seriously doubt that 70 milliion Iranians want nuclear war with Israel. I seriously doubt the Egyptians, Lebanese, Syrains, and Jordanians truly want nuclear fallout on their borders. Let Tehran have their nuclear power, if the Israelis have it why not let the Iranians have it. The Israelis are just as trigger/missle happy as the next guy; yet we trust them with the bomb. Let Iran prove that will do as they say. Closely monitor them, hell allow China and Russia to have a say in it which will allow them to maintain their energy interests and still maintain an open door policy.

If we want Iran to reform, invading is the worst possible option.

Julian's comments:You're preaching to the choir on all of those points. Actually, I'd go as far as to say that Iran and Israel could probably handle Mutually Assured Destruction as well as India and Pakistan have. Hopefully cool heads will prevail, but the nuclear issue is potentially quite inflammatory. I guess we'll just have to wait and see.

Your response??

Standardizing My Future

As I start to prepare for the GRE, I am reminded of why I hate standardized tests. The Kaplan book clearly states that succeeding on the GRE is dependent upon mastering the GRE game. A clear admission that the GRE doesn't actually test your ability to earn a post-graduate degree. In three years of law school I wasn't once asked a test question of this nature: "You have a book shelf with five missing books. You want to re-shelf the books but notice instructions on the wall. It says that Torts cannot be placed next to Admin Law. Con Law cannot be in front of or behind Civil Procedure..." you get the picture.

The reading comprehension and analytical writing sections at least make sense when deciding whether or not the potential student is capable of forming an argument and analyzing dense material. The line of reasoning of logic games, antonyms, and synonyms as measuring tool for future success is lost on me. Perhaps that just means I am not fit for post-graduate studies, aye?

Government Fashion Critics?

As I was reading the BBC World News site I stumbled across this article.

It seems a US military panel has decided to change the discharge status of an ex-Marine based on his decision to wear fatigues to an anti-war protest. The military justifies their punishment based on a rule that prohibits the 'unauthorized wearing of uniforms.' The panels decision has left a war veteran with "kind of honourable status" according to his lawyer after their "non-punitive decision."

If the decision isn't punitive - it doesn't affect any of the benefits he will receive - and the Cpl. removed his name tag and military emblems, why has the military decided to punish this veteran? Unless the military demanded that the Cpl. return his fatigues after service, then why do they care what he does once discharged, especially if he has removed any reference to the military or his service from the attire.

No reasonable person is going to believe that the government/military is sponsoring the anti-war protest just b/c an ex-Marine is wearing fatigue pants and a fishing hat. I suppose the Cpl should have waited a week or two so that his discharge was complete, perhaps then nothing would have happened. But again, no one watching the protest will be confused or lead to falsely believe the military is protesting President Bush's War on Terror/Democracy outreach to the Middle East program. It seems that the military is just sore that one of the young men that fought for his country and served his time decided that he didn't agree with the war.


Welcome to my blog, where I'll talk about whatever topics are on my mind. Midnight Sprint will be your source for my opinions on rubbish to revolution.

Why "Midnight Sprint", you ask? It's a reference to the Doomsday Clock and current world events. You know, sort of an attempt to be witty, dramatic, and/or ominous.