Calling Messrs Peace and Quiet
Innovation often scares people, and rarely is the fear justified. A good example is the perceived impact of mobile phones on people's privacy. Everyone would be carrying around a mobile; no place would be safe. We could be disturbed everywhere and at any time.
The mistake in this reasoning is that GSMs aren't forced on people, and those who have one can control it. Some people I know have given up their regular phone altogether, and they decide when to switch off their mobile phones. That way, they gain that same peace and quiet the pessimists said they would lose.
Yesterday, Iraqis were interviewed on TV. (Anyone else find it strange that that's rare? This war was fought for them, right? Right?)
One man was searching for his missing brother. It's poignant that your assumption, if a relative is missing, is that he's arrested, even if he didn’t do anything.
Also interviewed was a family. All spoke fluent English, so they were hardly 'ordinary' Iraqis. The father said Saddam didn't just do bad things; he did feel liberated. His daughters didn't believe Americans risked their lives to liberate them.
It was interesting. So Gallup, how about a poll among Iraqis?
Meanwhile, in an alternate reality...
When we stormed into the palace, Saddam Hussein, finger on the button, was about to launch his vast array of WMDs, which we discovered afterward. As he fell to the ground, we glimpsed Osama Bin Laden and caught him too. He was here to inspect the thousands of Al-Qaeda training camps we encountered on our way over. How the crowds cheered as we paraded them around the city streets!
We've created a stable country ruled by wise Iraqis with the best of intentions. We came, we saw, and we conquered –without harming the civilian population or Iraq's rich cultural heritage.
Signs you should be worrying
- Your government is fighting a war against an unseen enemy, whose identity seems to be shifting and whose threat seems never to diminish. There are no clear indications of when this war would be considered won.
- Your government implies that dissenting with its policies is an act of treason. It uses this line of reasoning to discredit the press.
- Your government promotes a worldwide revolution of its ideology abroad, while chipping away at its foundation at home.
- Your government uses pompous sounding names such as Office of Homeland Security, Patriot Act and Operation Iraqi Freedom.
- Your government declares war unilaterally.
Peace or Democracy?
Where would you rather live, in a democracy that commits democratically approved unspeakable atrocities, or in a dictatorship that successfully ends a long and bloody war with its enemy?
I consider myself a true democrat. Freedom of speech, secularism, and fair elections are all extremely high ideals for me. But are they worth killing or dying for? Isn't any human life more valuable than these abstract concepts?
It's difficult to answer that, and I don't want to disparage the sacrifices made, now and in the past, in the name of democracy. But when I'm honest, my choice is for peace.
The Golden Hammer
Continuing the previous post: on the left, too, there's some unusual arguing. Anticommercialists AdBusters propose to 'Boycott Brand America' "because the symbols of American power are its corporations and their brands."
I'm not in love with corporate America; they can be blamed for many things. I'm sure this war benefits American oil interests and weapons manufacturers. But how it affects Nike or McDonald's is not only beyond me, but also remains unexplained by AdBusters.
It's a perfect example of the Golden Hammer principle: 'If you have a hammer, suddenly everything looks like a nail.' This harms the anti-war movement generally.
Bien étonné de se trouver ensemble
I've taken down the splash page because I found the upside-down American flag waving on this sicko site. Incidentally, the site links to this unintentionally hilarious nonsense, which is as fervently against this war as me. Pacifism makes strange bedfellows, I guess.
More unlikely peace-loving comes from isolationist Pat Buchanan. He argues one of the conspiratorial anti-war arguments: it's all to help Sharon. His arguments are mostly 'if it looks like a duck'-type rhetoric, with a dash of demagoguery thrown in for good measure, but he does provide further factual evidence that war plans predate 9/11 by at least months.
I've noticed that these condensed posts coldly listing pro and con arguments and pointing out nyah-nyah inconsistencies are not getting the kind of response I want. So this post is not about the USA breaking rule number 627, or about how the press is oppressed, it's simply about how I feel about all this.
I come from a country where authority in general, and the military in particular, are regarded with criticism if not downright suspicion. It may be cynical to reason this way, but cynicism is the product of the long and bloody wars that my continent has had to face, over and over again throughout the millennia. Time and again, people thinking they were working for the good of their country, or sometimes even humanity in general, have committed the most outrageous atrocities.
In 1914, all of Europe marched into a 'frischer, fröhlicher Krieg', a fresh and cheerful war. Some ten million people died in four years. To put that number in perspective: if planes would fly into the World Trade Center every single day for four years on end, not even half as many people would die. World War II saw murder beyond number, reaching deep into the dozens of millions of dead people. I've never been witness to any of this, but the memories of it have been rubbed into me from the culture in which I live.
This is, I think, also why so many Americans are in favor of this war; 9/11 wasn't just one of the most horrifying things to happen in the nation's history, it was also the first time that American civilians died at the hands of its enemies –ever, since the Revolution, as far as I know. On that grim day, the US as a country got its first taste of what it means to be the victim of war. And now we see what war does. It produces more war. And this war will in its turn produce more war, and on and on. War is not a solution to a problem. War is like trying to ride a tiger. You can't control it, no matter how hard you try to pretend.
I've heard what kind of a man Saddam Hussein is, and what he has done. He is a monster, there's not much doubt about that. It's not easy to leave Hussein in power. Just like it's not easy not to kill the man who killed your child, but let the judge convict him instead. It's not easy, but it's the way things should be. Things are not the way they should be.
This war will not bring safety, just like executing a murderer doesn't stop murders from happening. It may bring satisfaction to those who believe that at least we're doing something against all the injustice and cruelty in the world. But it's a hollow victory. This is not a safe planet. Horrible, unspeakable things have happened to it throughout its history, and there's no reason why this will change in the future. War is, after all, part of human nature: if this war, started by the safest, richest, most powerful country in the world, proves anything, it's that.
I'm sick of this war.
I'm sick because it shows that mankind still hasn't learned shit. That it has a short memory. That its fifty years of relative peace in at least a part of the world were nothing but a short intermission in the continuing story of humanity, a story written in the blood of the innocent.
In a recent posting, I fulminated against CNN's failure to report civilian casualties in the Baghdad market. Recent developments force me to adjust these views somewhat.
Based on the evidence that is available now (objective facts, such as the size of the missiles' craters), it is not unlikely to assume that the bombs that fell on the market in Baghdad were, in fact, stray Iraqi missiles rather than American ones.
Does this mean I will start watching CNN again? No it won't. It's CNN's job to report events as they unfold, not to cover them up. They are still wrong.
It was a bright, cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.
Winston sat at home watching television. 'You're watching Big Brother! Don't touch that dial, we'll be back after these messages.' A voice emanated from the screen. 'The Office of Homeland Security reports sweeping Coalition Forces victories in the Mid-East.' Tanks could be seen traversing the desert. 'Soon, Fundamentalist Terrorism will be a thing of the past.' Then, the following messages appeared.
BOMBARDMENT IS LIBERATION.
MUSLIMS ARE TERRORISTS.
UNILATERALISM IS DEMOCRACY.
SADDAM IS OSAMA.
DEBATE IS TREASON.
UNLAWFULNESS IS JUSTICE.
CENSORSHIP IS PATRIOTISM.
WAR IS PEACE.
What price war?
Recently, I mentioned 'ulterior motives' as one of the arguments against war. Unfortunately, it reinforces the idea that opposing this war is a left-wing knee-jerk reaction.
This war is objectively a bad thing. I invite those who support it to step back from their viewpoint, and to consider where this war is going. 120,000 additional troops. $75 billion is being allocated. No-one knows what the aftermath is, or how long it will last. America is discredited in the international community. Arabians who fled Saddam are returning to Iraq to fight the coalition.
Ask yourself: is all this really worth it?
Fame at last!
I found myself blacklisted at The Blacklist, a weblog dedicated to expose anti-American websites. I'd like to take this opportunity to thank TBL (and I'm not being sarcastic here) for bringing my site to the attention of those people who fervently believe the war is good and just. Those are exactly who I want to read my site. What's the use in preaching to the choir?
(Incidentally, the term 'blacklist' and the apparent equation of 'anti-war' and 'anti-American' reminded me of those dark McCarthy days in which the very core of what the USA is all about was most threatened.)
(Thanks for pointing me to this site, Mad Mitch!)
The Game and How to Play it
'What game have you brought?' asked the caliph.
'A boardgame', said the visitor. 'See? The pieces move around, as in battle.'
'Who am I in this game? Who are you?'
'Well, I'm king, and you could be a pawn…'
'Can't I be king?'
'That's irrelevant. This game's called Democracy. Everyone's equal.'
'What does it cost?'
'For the first square, one drop of oil. For the second, two drops. For the third, four. Etcetera.'
A month later, the caliph sent a message. 'Regrettably, we don't have enough oil.'
The reply: 'You broke our agreement. Our countries are now at war.'
Stop Watching CNN
Refreshing the BBC news site today, I was horrified to discover 14 civilians had died in a bombing in a Baghdad market. Various Reuters reporters had witnessed the attack, it said, and the nearest military target was a quarter of a mile away.
It all reminded me of the Bosnian Serb attack on the Sarajevo market in the nineties.
I turned to CNN.com to find out if they had any more information.
The story wasn't on their page.
Anywhere on their page.
Instead, there was a headline saying that the second week of the war was looking tough for US forces.
I checked CNN.com a few hours later. The news was crammed in some small space and said Iraq "claimed" it had happened and that the US "would be investigating."
I will never visit CNN.com again. Ever.
I'll let somebody else talk now
-They're shooting at me. They're trying to kill me.
-But they're shooting at everyone!
-What difference does that make?
--Joseph Heller, "Catch-22"
You can't fight in here, this is the War Room!
-- Peter Sellers as President Merkin Muffley, "Dr Strangelove" (screenplay written by Terry Southern)
Never think that war, no matter how necessary, nor how justified, is not a crime.
What difference does it make to the dead, the orphans and the homeless, whether the mad destruction is wrought under the name of totalitarianism or the holy name of liberty or democracy?
Reasons against War
Here are the anti-war arguments:
It's wrong to kill people
It's illegal and undemocratic
It violates the UN charter. Slim evidence. Most of the world opposes it. No resolution authorizing war was passed.
The US mistreats prisoners, bugged the UN and possibly the EU, forged 'evidence' and intimidates the press.
Iraq's still Iraq. Civil war is likely. Turning it into a stable democracy is extremely difficult. And it alienates Europe and fuels terrorism.
Oil, strategic location, business deals, PR, helping Israel, personal vendetta, racism, distracting from national crises may all play a part.
Reasons for War
Here's a list of pro-war arguments and how I counter them:
No concrete proof of WMDs, terrorist links or imminent threat. Saddam's evilness wouldn’t get him convicted in court.
Deposing Saddam won't solve Iraq's complex problems (see post-Milosevic Serbia).
Yes there is. Without proof of imminent threat, inspections should continue.
The whole idea of democracy is that you can't force it down people's throats.
Opponents have ulterior motives
I doubt Europe is scared, uncaring or anti-American (in the 'bigot' sense).
The war won't be so bad
Any civilian casualties are too many.
Having an opinion isn't being opinionated
Although I'm deeply opposed to this war, I'm still disappointed to see people around the world depicting President Bush as stupid or evil. I think he's neither. I just think he's violating international law.
I also think there are valid arguments in favor of this war (for example, Hussein is a cruel despot and forcible removal is the only way to get him out) but I don't think they measure up to the USA's gross abuse of power and dangerous destabilization of global politics.
Just because I'm emotionally against the war doesn't mean I'm absolved of rationally arguing my viewpoint.
Randy Newman, 1972
No one likes us
I don't know why
We may not be perfect
But heaven knows we try
But all around even our old friends put us down
Let's drop the big one and see what happens
We give them money
But are they grateful?
No they're spiteful
And they're hateful
They don't respect us, so let's surprise them
We'll drop the big one and pulverize them
Now Asia's crowded
And Europe's too old
Africa's far too hot
And Canada's too cold
And South America stole our name
Let's drop the big one, there'll be no one left to blame us
We'll save Australia,
Don't wanna hurt no kangaroo
We'll build an all-American amusement park there
They've got surfin', too!
Well, boom goes London,
And boom Paree
More room for you
And more room for me
And every city the whole world round
Will just be another American town
Oh, how peaceful it'll be.
We'll set everybody free!
You'll have Japanese kimonos, baby,
There'll be Italian shoes for me!
They all hate us anyhow,
So let's drop the big one now.
Let's drop the big one now.
No War in Iraq
I oppose the war because:
- innocent civilians will die;
- it's an unprovoked attack on a sovereign nation;
- it violates international law and the charter of the UN;
- the UN Security Council and the international community oppose it;
- no imminent threat has been proven;
- no connection between Iraq and terrorism has been proven;
- attacking Iraq increases the chances Saddam Hussein will use weapons of mass destruction;
- it polarizes the US, Europe and the Arab world;
- it creates the illusion of safety, suggesting that a military response adequately deals with a terrorist threat.
God, that's so annoying!
Although I am an atheist, anti-religious zealots annoy me more than religious proselytizers do. Take this quote: 'It's understandable that people made up God. He's an easy foothold in a chaotic, unpredictable world.' So why does the person claiming this not believe in God? The implicit answer is, 'Because I'm smarter. '
This combination of smug superiority and patronizing insult makes me want to puke. The reason I don't believe in God is because I see no indication He exists. But I definitely don't think that religious people are stupid; rather, I think that those who do are stupid themselves.
Holy Weapons Inspections, Batman!
[News report: "Turkey’s leaders agreed to let the United States launch attacks from three air bases: Diyarbakir and Batman in southeastern Turkey and Incirlik in southern Turkey."]
Batman is a registered trademark and copyright of DC Comics. The drawings in this comic are from the site of OnStar.
One side to every two stories
|North Korea attacks South Korea|
The North Korean army launched a full-scale nuclear attack on South Korea yesterday, killing a million South Koreans by noon. A White House spokesperson conveyed the US response this afternoon: 'Probably, we're considering a strongly worded reprimand. I'd have to check.'
|Iraq late delivering weapons|
At 12:00 tonight, 58 seconds late, Iraq delivered all missing WMDs to UN weapons inspectors. Hans Blix said that 'all WMDs are now accounted for; Iraq poses no threat anymore.' In response, President Bush vowed to 'nuke this dangerous nation to kingdom come' because of its 'blatant disregard of deadlines'
Our Tax Dollars at Work
|Recently, I've encountered a document that shows just what this World Trade Organization we hear so much about is up to. |
To some, the WTO is a scheming bunch who frequently meet big-shot CEOs to discuss optimized laborer exploitation. This document convincingly takes away such fears. For this is a 101-page description of… sardines.
Yes, sardines. Those little fish. You know what they are. Would you need one hundred and one pages to describe them? No. The WTO does, though. So relax. These people couldn't exploit jack shit without first debating the meaning of the word 'exploit' for seven months.
|The impending war in Iraq is held up by faulty equipment. The standard issue US Army Moral Compasses, supplied by the government, have been going haywire for the last few months. Mechanics are still investigating the source of the malfunction. |
'This is a major problem', says General B. Goode of the 117th Infantry Reserves. 'With a faulty moral compass, the troops are in disarray and their morale is low. What's more, the risk of US soldiers committing war crimes increases exponentially. It's simply too risky to send our forces out to war like this.'
The White House declined to comment.
|You're standing on the curb, waiting to cross the street. A red man stands facing you from the traffic island (your mileage may vary). You press the knob and wait for him to become a green, walking man.|
On the other side of the street, a girl is waiting in the exact same position. For some reason, she has her own set of guys, facing her, with their own red and green lightbulbs.
Why not have one traffic light, facing both ways, with two lightbulbs in it? It may sound hopelessly trivial, but how many pedestrian traffic lights are there?
The Press Conference
-Yes, the gentleman in the back..
-cronopio from snowstone.com, Mr Secretary. I have a number of questions.
- Why is Iraq's threat of weapons of mass destruction greater or more urgent than, say, two years ago?
- How would attacking a nation prevent terrorism by individuals or political groups?
- Why attack Iraq if most Al Qaeda members are from Saudi Arabia?
- During the cold war, both sides having WMDs supposedly prevented either side from using them (the so-called deterrence argument). Why isn't this true here? That is, if Hussein has WMDs, wouldn't he be insane to use them unless under attack?
- Speaking of which, wouldn't an unwinnable war be the one thing that would make him use them?
- Why attack an enemy country you suspect of having WMDs, while leaving alone another that admits to having them (North Korea)?
- What is the main argument against continuing weapons inspections?
- Why doesn't a team of specially trained assassins take Hussein out? Wouldn't that be cheaper, less bloody and equally effective as all-out war?
- Mr Secretary, you compared Hussein to "a man running down the street holding a gun, who's already shot people". Wouldn't it be more accurate to say, "a man who shot people ten years ago, went to jail for it, is now sitting at home and we think owns a gun"?
- You spoke of eighteen mobile medical labs in trucks driving around Iraq, claiming they are extremely hard to find. But if that's true, how did you find them in the first place, and why didn't you tell the weapons inspectors at the time?
On the Oprah Show tonight, Susan Sarandon hugged a Ugandan girl with AIDS, whom she'd helped get through high school and into a US university by donating a goat to her village nine years ago.
After Oprah shed some tears listening to the girl reading a thank-you letter, she proudly announced she would donate fifty goats.
According to Heifer International, the smart and praiseworthy people who organize these 'goat gifts', fifty goats cost $6,000. Oprah recently became the first female black billionaire. So the donation represented 0.0006% of Oprah's possessions.
Oprah sure inspired me to donate 0.0006% of my money.
There have been plays about plays, books about books and movies about movies, but it's rare that there's television (fictional television, that is) in which people watch TV. Here are some shows I've managed to think of:
- Invitation To Love, a soap series featured on cult classic 'Twin Peaks'.
- Krusty The Clown featuring The Itchy and Scratchy Show, ultraviolent cartoons wrapped inside the antics of a worn-out clown, as featured in 'The Simpsons'.
- Eye on Springfield, the hard-hitting news show from the same series.
- Sick, Sad World, a TV show showcasing bizarre happenings, enjoyed by 'Daria'.
Women on MTV
Did a human or some randomize() function cause Alicia Keys to be aired right after Britney Spears? See the contrast it made; compare these lyrics:
"I’m a slave for you. I cannot hold it; I cannot control it.
I’m a slave for you. I won’t deny it; I’m not trying to hide it."
"Wanna please wanna keep wanna treat your woman right
Not just dough but to show that you know she is worth your time
You will lose if you chose to refuse to put her first
She will if she can find a man who knows her worth."
The Future is History
How often has not some great mind flung an aphorism our way stating that "there is nothing greater or more beautiful about the human race than its imagination"? Indeed, man's ability to fantasize, extrapolate, prophesize and predict is without limit.
And that really, really sucks. It really spoils everything.
The First Human Clown
Veteran interviewer David Frost was on TV talking to Dr Brigitte Bosselier, who claims to have cloned the first human, and Raël, her guru and leader of the Raelians. In condensed form, this was said:
Frost: Dr Bosselier, can you show any proof?
Bosselier: No. The participants agreed to disclose their identities, but now they won't. I respect their wishes. An independent researcher investigating the claim would endanger their privacy.
Frost: I see. And you, Raël, you believe you were visited by an alien, right?
Raël: Yes, in fact, I know that these aliens created all life on this planet, and if you read the Bible closely, it confirms this.
Frost: I see. Thank you.
Some of the questions Mr Frost failed to ask:
- Why did this alien visit you of all people, Raël? You must have been a bad choice, virtually nobody buys your story.
- Why didn’t this alien leave you any proof (such as some of his technology or some material exclusive to his planet) to convince more than a handful of morons that the visit actually took place?
- Is it a coincidence that a cult with a UFO story, conveniently without any proof, claims to have cloned humans, again conveniently without any proof?
- How would it endanger the participants' privacy if the independent researcher would meet them in a secret location?
- Wouldn't your clone story gain credibility by not being linked to your sect?
- In fact, doesn't the absence of any proof combined with Raël freely ranting about his beliefs strongly indicate that this is simply a publicity stunt fed by Raël's megalomania?
- And finally, are you out of your fucking minds?
Since it's a new year anyway, we may as well introduce yet another currency. January 1st, 2002 saw the birth of the euro; in the meantime, that currency has become (surprisingly to some) virtually equal in value to the United States dollar. So why not join the two together? Ladies and gentlemen, allow me to introduce the eurollar.
But seriously, I think the fact that the currencies are now basically worth the same makes transatlantic communication much easier. You can just say 'this stupid thing cost me seventy bucks' and both continents understand how much you were ripped off for.
Predictions for 2003
- There will not be a new terrorist attack on U.S. soil.
- Movies will become increasingly costly and increasingly stupid and predictable.
- Nobody will like whatever architectural plan for Ground Zero will be chosen.
- The economy will hold steady; unemployment and prices of consumer goods will rise.
- The United States will once again invade Iraq, but this time 'finish the job', a phrase to be defined by the Dubya administration.
- There will be no peace in the Middle East.
- Europe and the United States will become more and more alienated from each other.
- Most predictions for 2003 will not come true.
Just Say Nō
I’ve been reading Asian literature (reviews to follow). The most important twentieth-century Chinese author, Lu Xun, was unknown to me and, I’m sure, to everyone I know; a collection of Japanese Nō plays, the most relevant Japanese literature, I found in a yellowed volume; Kenzaburo Oe may be a Nobel Prize winner, he’s no Stephen King either.
Why are school children in the West not taught at least the basics of the cultures of a few billion people? Why is it that being interested in it brands me a snob? Shouldn’t not being interested in it brand me a bigot?
The Truth Is Out There, You Just Don't Like It
"There’s a difference between having an open mind and believing something because you want it to be true." T’Pol, an alien aboard the starship Enterprise in the Star Trek TV series, makes this statement. It’s ironic, because T’Pol’s very existence is called into question by her own axiom.
It is my firm belief that aliens don’t exist. This sounds harsh and dogmatic, but it isn’t. I just mean that without evidence to the contrary, there’s no reason to assume they do exist. How someone can be an atheist and still believe in extraterrestrial life is, to me, the real enigma.
How To Write
|In 1886, Anton Checkhov wrote a letter to his brother Alexander in which he stated a list of conditions prose must fulfill to be considered art by him. They were:|
I wonder how much prose is being produced by fiction-writing hopefuls that fulfills all of these requirements. And I shudder to think how much writing out there fulfills none of these requirements.
- Make a list of daily links to visit (preferably weblogs), placed in random order. Surfing through them is not unlike playing a cassette tape with radio recordings of incoungruous songs, back in the 80s.
- Any site which contains a link that says 'Make <name of site> your homepage!' may be considered the product of either infinite stupidity or boundless arrogance, unless, of course, the site is Google.
- It is possible to make a detailed sociological study of people on internet merely by examining and comparing the numbers of hits returned by a set of carefully selected words.
A Toshiba ad on the web today stated: "complete freedom -wireless keyboard and mouse."
Freedom is a big word. It's one of the three things (the other two being fraternity and equality) that every human being on this planet most desires –and that the majority will never have. Without freedom, you're robbed of an essential part of your humanity; it's as vital a part of existence as food or air, and a core element of modern civilization.
Or, of course, according to Toshiba, 'complete freedom' is the ability to sit about half a meter further away from your computer screen.
Today was my birthday, and I've been so busy that I haven't had any time to think about presents. But luck came my way through the internet, where I found the perfect birthday present in the form of a news item.
Apparently, a woman named Ruth Lilly (87), heir to a pharmaceutical fortune, has done her small part to promote poetry.
She did so by making a donation to Poetry Magazine --in the amount of ONE HUNDRED MILLION DOLLARS.
The mind reels.
I'm curious to know what this heretofore obscure magazine will do with this humongous amount of dough.
War, war is stupid, and people are stupid.. --Boy George
Today, I learned about an anti-Iraq-war protest and decided to check it out. About a hundred people attended (it was raining). Representatives from anti-war organizations declared that they opposed this one; the audience applauded. Left-wing politicians and activists of various levels of extremity talked to the press and waved flags, including the Palestinian one.
I left early. Everybody was agreeing with each other; what was the point? There was nothing to learn here, only room to gloat about the moral high ground. This might also explain why I saw few muslims, although my city has a fair share of them.
Biologist Desmond Morris stated that it's a small miracle that human beings, historically unaccustomed to living in large groups, live in metropolises without chaos ensuing. The Washington sniper is the exception to the rule: modern society has driven him insane.
It's horrible and shocking to realize that one man can do so much damage so easily. No marksmanship skills are needed; rifles are abundantly available; innocent victims are everywhere. In fact, anyone could do it, but nobody does. He's so difficult to catch because society is unprepared for his cruelty. And crazy as it might seem, that's a comforting thought.
Political commentary on the web seems to me to be represented by various parties with vested interests, deeply entrenched in their views and committed only to defending their own dogmas and blasting their opponents'. Whatever happened to thoughtful, productive debate instead of mindless adherence to one ideology or the other? I blame the left as much for this as the right.
As a remedy, let me propose to you a healthy piece of oratory advice, practiced mostly in law schools these days: argue for and against the same issue in an equally fervent manner. Whenever either one doesn't quite convince you, find more arguments till it does. Then either fail to choose because you see the nuances of the point, or choose wisely from one of them. Don't have an opinion because you feel you should. Have one because you believe in it.
National Geographic Channel showed an interesting documentary about human psychology today, cunningly disguised as a documentary about Neanderthals.
First, two groups of anthropologists were shown, bickering vehemently about whether modern humans evolved from Neanderthals or simply replaced them. Both sides bitterly defended their view.
Then, geneticists intervened and provided categorical proof of the latter theory. Their unveiled contempt for that fuzzy group of non-natural scientists was shown, as were the 'evolutionaries' unwaveringly sticking to their story. It was like watching a criminal still denying the crime after being shown the surveillance video.
In short, a great show about human nature.
PepperMe.com, a site affiliated with the Dr Pepper beverage, presents various comic characters. Most poignant is Stash, who talks digustedly about the consumer society. This, kids, is 'meta-marketing': commercialism making fun of commercialism. Modern-day consumers are so fed up with ads that that disgust is what ads cater to.
This development suggests that the assault on our minds is almost over. Stash wants you to buy Dr Pepper. That's the sole reason he exists. Ignore him and the marketeers are weaponless. Then, we'll start buying things based on quality, and creativity will be back with artists, where it belongs.
How transparent can you get?
Spammers are not only annoying, they're also stupid. This was in my inbox today:
> [annoying ad for shrink bags]
> Mike, I want to send this to all e-mail addresses that come up under a
> search for "gift baskets" and/or "fruit baskets". If there are not 200,000
> addresses let me know and I will give you other search criteria. Thank
> you, Roy
Mike, before sending the commercial equivalent of regurgitated lunchmeat to 200,000 people, consider omitting Roy's comments. Roy, Mike's as stupid as a fruit basket. Fire him. Better still, give up spamming altogether.
Do the chairs in your parlor seem empty and bare... do you gaze at your bald head and wished you had hair?
Yesterday, it was 25 years ago that Elvis decided to return to his home planet. His presence is still felt. Every time we eat a fried peanut butter and banana sandwich or watch one of his Vegas performances, we're reminded of his greatness.
Trivia you may not know about The King:
- His favorite television show was "Monty Python's Flying Circus".
- The book "The Two Kings" explores parallels between Elvis's life and Jesus Christ's; "The Burger and the King" focuses on his peculiar eating habits.
- Whenever he didn't like a TV program, he would shoot the television set.
Of all the stuff I wish I'd learned in school, one subject ranks highest: rhetoric. William Shakespeare learned to argue for and against a certain point while still in secondary school. To my disappointment, this subject is still not taught in schools, although it's one of the few subjects that's useful to every person in every walk of life. So why not teach it? I don't know. Cynics might say that it is beneficial to certain groups in our society that not too many people know how to reason. Whatever the reason, it is a serious wrong to be righted.
Pro Con Artists
Today, the newspaper reported that a 54-year-old Serbian had attended 1,500 weddings in 32 years without being invited to any of them. (He always brought a nice gift for the bride, to avoid suspicion.) This reminded me of a similar and equally beautiful story.
In the nineties, a journalist had to name everyone on a photo of a political summit in France, to make a caption. To his surprise, one man could not be identified by anyone. In the paper's archives, the Mystery Man appeared again and again on pictures of all sorts of important political gatherings. And when François Mitterrand kicked off an international football championship, who handed him the ball in the middle of a full stadium? Monsieur X.
The man turned out to be a harmless unemployed guy who had managed to sneak into all these events unnoticed. The whole affair was a major embarrassment to the French authorities, who were obviously not amused.
Flipping channels, I came across Hogwarts Express pulling into a station. It was some promotional event.
The interviewer caught hold of 12-year-old Emma Watson, aka Hermione Granger. I felt sorry for her. Imagine being part of this hysterical media event. I hoped she hadn't had media training.
'Would you like to sing or dance, maybe make a CD?'
She answered these idiotic questions coolly and professionally.
'Who's your favorite singer?'
I found myself thinking, Please, anyone but Britney…
The interviewer didn't even blink.
'Would you like to meet her? You could, you know! You're famous…'
I sighed, relieved.
'My fellow Americans. Again, our society suffers a disaster of overwhelming proportions. Our prayers go out to the thousands of victims both here and abroad.
'But let's not forget the cowardly men whose greed has brought yet another multinational to the brink of bankruptcy. Make no mistake. They will be hunted down, they will be subpoenaed, and they will be brought to justice.
'You may wonder: can America endure much more of these economic calamities? I tell you this. We will persevere. We will endure. And we will come out of this a better and stronger nation.
'God save America.'
Elementary, dear surfer
Most weblog entries I see link to today's joke website, Flash animation featuring Osama and innovative use of an American flagpole, in short, whatever says, 'please chuckle and move along'.
It's fun, then, to see that there's still entertainment to be had from a site, despite its crappy graphics, oversized fonts and numerous spellling erors. It's no coincidence that Google rather than some weblogger found it. The Stickman Murder Mystery Games demand that you use your head to solve a murder. For all I know, the site's been around since 1993 and has had 1,203 hits. But I liked it.
Everything is Everything
Today's list of interconnected events:
- The US apparently bombed an Afghan wedding, an event often accompanied by celebratory gunshots, killing dozens of civilians.
- Avoidable killing of civilians is a war crime. But the USA approved a law to liberate US citizens brought before the International Criminal Court, founded to try such cases.
- The ICC opened for business yesterday in The Hague, The Netherlands; it only investigates war crimes allegedly occurring after July 1st.
- One hundred and thirty-nine years after Holland abolished slavery, a slavery monument was unveiled in a small park in Amsterdam. Only invited parties were present, infuriating slave descendants who'd come to attend.
One Nation, Above God
Whatever problems the USA has (out-of-control corporate power and fraud, undisguised contempt for international law and order, fanatical adulation of celebrities), it is unrivalled as a true democracy. That also implies secularism: the strict separation of church and state. Born out of the need to reconcile extremist religious zealots, it has become a powerful tool to ward off fundamentalist powers.
Now, the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that the words "under God", introduced in 1954 into the Pledge of Allegiance, are unconstitutional and should be removed. Politicians and public alike are outraged over this decision, claiming that the Founding Fathers are spinning in their graves. Nevertheless, it will be interesting to see how the Supreme Court will handle this. It is a true test of America's protection of secularism in the face of public adversity. And as for those Founding Fathers, here's what they and other prominent Americans had to say:
George Washington: "The government of the United States is not in any sense founded on the Christian Religion."
John Adams: "This would be the best of all possible worlds if there were no religion in it."
Thomas Jefferson: "I do not find in orthodox Christianity one redeeming feature."
Abraham Lincoln: "The Bible is not my Book and Christianity is not my religion. I could never give assent to the long complicated statements of Christian dogma."
John F. Kennedy: "I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute."
George Bush: "I don't know that atheists should be considered as citizens, nor should they be considered patriots. This is one nation under God." [my italics]
And in local news...
News just broke (May 6th, 6pm local time) that Pim Fortuyn has been shot, very probably killed. Nothing even remotely like this has ever happened in Holland. The assassin has not been found at this time. Regardless of the opinions of Mr Fortuyn, this ruthless act of brutal violence is worthy of nothing but utter condemnation. I guess the "luck" meaning of his surname wasn't applicable.
In the light of this news, I've removed a entry critical of Fortuyn from this website. It's silly and insulting to be critical of someone who passed away.
Where's the Beef?
A documentary about the fast food industry made some revelations that were news to me.
First of all, the original Ronald McDonald, Geoffrey Juliano, quit when he was asked to open the first "Ronald McDonald House". Exploiting terminally ill children, he explained, was too much.
Secondly, after a child died of food poisoning, investigators found that the bacteria contracted came from tiny bits of cattle faeces in McDonald's hamburger meat. Rather than remove the faeces, McDonald's now bakes its burgers at a high enough temperature to kill the bacteria.
Well, in my opinion, that's all a load of bullshit.
Smite the Demigods!
Today is "Becoming Day" on MTV. In "Becoming", extreme fans of musicians receive a makeover to resemble their idols, and are then filmed re-enacting their videos.
However, the show isn't on all day. Just now, MTV played regular videos, among them "Stan". In this best song by Eminem so far, obsessive fan Stan dyes his hair with peroxide to resemble Slim Shady, writes increasingly hysterical fanmail, and eventually kills himself, his wife and their unborn child. (The wife-and-child part was censored for the morning crowd.)
As William Shatner says in 'Airplane II: The Sequel': "Irony can be pretty ironic sometimes."
100 words - The Conflict
At my local miniature supermarket, run by Arabs, I saw a paper calling people to join a protest against Israel’s actions in the Palestinian territories. It seemed like a good idea to join. The Israeli government and army are way out of control.
It took me some time to realize that I was still stuck in the who’s right/who’s wrong mindset. The violence continues because neither party wants peace. So if I was honest, I’d march with Arabs in the morning, shouting ‘down with Israeli oppression’, then march with Jews in the afternoon, shouting ‘down with Palestinian terrorism’.
100 words - Anne's Judas
In 1944, Anne Frank, author of a now famous diary, was arrested by the nazis, along with everyone else in their Amsterdam hideout. She died in Bergen-Belsen.
Who betrayed the Frank family? A man named Ahlers, it now seems. Ahlers blackmailed Anne’s father Otto, who survived the war, twice: first in 1941, with Otto’s criticism of the Wehrmacht; after the war, from jail, with Otto’s 'collaboration' (he'd sold the Wehrmacht goods).
This doesn’t link Ahlers to the betrayal. But Ahlers knew both the Franks and the authorities, and was bankrupt at the time. He is a likely candidate at least.
100 words - Beauty
At times when there is reason to be cynical, some proof of real benevolence and human civilization is always welcome. Here’s one such proof.
An anonymous benefactor donated a 15th century book of hymns in pristine condition to a library. Its worth is estimated at several million euros. It used to belong to a family of Italian princes, and its blues, golds, monkeys in the margins and idyllic pictures on many pages make it a treasure. Here’s what I mean:
Both the book and the news item reinforce my belief in the basic goodness of human nature. Long live art!
Do the math
A friend asked me to put this little Flash movie on the site. I think it pretty much speaks for itself, provided you have Flash support.
One comment, though: although the facts presented here broaden most people's horizons, they ultimately depress more than anything else. Bluntly put, I'm missing the punchline. Viewing such blatant inequalities in the world must prompt people to political action. The reason the world is the way it's shown in the movie is because there is no incentive for politicians or corporations to improve it. Therefore, we should support politicians and activists who address these issues, and question those who don't.
Allah Bless America
It's not always that paradoxes of American foreign policy are readily available to the general public. Usually, only reading CIA reports and the opinion pages of renowned American newspapers will do the trick. But in the case of the United States versus Afghanistan, there is one particular movie that I invite everyone to watch. Seeing it is not unlike watching OJ Simpson's zany madcap antics in the Naked Gun movie series.
The movie I'm referring to is the James Bond movie, "The Living Daylights" from 1987. In this exciting action pic, our hero sports a turban as he engages the reds in the desert nation of Afghanistan. We learn that in spite of glasnost and perestrojka, there are still wicked evil Russian bad guys oppressing a freedom-loving people. As luck would have it, Mr Bond is supported in his actions by a certain Kamran Shah, a rebel leader whose horseback riding feats and simple clothing are a clever cover-up for an opulent lifestyle and an Oxbridge upbringing. The two join hands to fight the bad general Koskov.
Not all smelly Muslims with guns are scary, the movie seems to impress on us, only the ones who are not on our side. Well, we know better now. The person most eligible to have been the factual basis for Kamran Shah is none other than Osama bin Laden, and 007 was wrong ever to trust this spawn of Satan, let alone help him (he blows up a bridge for Mr Shah). Seeing "The Living Daylights" again should make you cringe at least a few times. Let's be happy that we are now clear on this: Osama bin Laden is a bad guy and, say, Saudi Arabia is a good guy. It's important to know this kind of stuff before you start bombing; you might hit someone who's really a friend.
Allah is my co-pilot
Did anybody else notice the supreme irony in the final and clinching proof of Usama bin Ladin's involvement in the attacks of September 11th?
Think about this. Here we have a man who, to a large portion of the world's population, is nothing short of Satan's spokesperson on Earth. What proof did we expect to find? The dead body of some Ahmed or Abdul, with Bin Ladin's fingerprints all over him, executed for trying to chicken out? Or maybe an intercepted, static-filled instruction to the hijackers to "kill them all"? Perhaps some ally, devastated by the senseless slaughter of the innocent, decided to rat on him? The answer is none of the above.
In fact, US Intelligence officials had bugged Bin Ladin's stepmother's phone, and picked up a call he made to her. He told her that something big was about to happen and that she probably wouldn't see him for a long time. Imagine the man who knows perfectly well that he has just decided to commit one of the most blatant acts of cruelty and terrorism, worrying about his stepmom.
It is not my intention here to write an apology for Bin Ladin. The sheer insanity and obsessedness of his actions do nothing to warrant any excuse. But I do see some human ambiguity peeping around the corner, some hopeful sign that even at times of utmost absurdity, even the very source of this outrageousness does stuff we all would do. Bin Ladin is an amazingly cruel man, but he is still a man. The conclusion from this is that no matter how much beyond reason our existence and the events around us seem to be, we can never throw our hands in the air and shout, 'I give up, there's no point to this. There's no way to understand this.' Bin Ladin's phone call showed that, however unreal all of this seems, it is real. Understanding that, I think, is the only way the planet can heal from what happened.
United (?) States
Today, I saw New Yorkers on the news who had taken to the streets pleading for peace. It's ironic that the people who had the core of their city ripped away are the ones urging for restraint, while everybody around them seems to think that bombing an already devastated third world country will accomplish something. The most cynical thing is that most of the people who died in the attacks of September 11th were probably more knowledgeable about the Middle East, and sympathetic to the problems there, than those who wish to honor their memory by means of warfare. There's also a lot of talk about unity going around; some of it sounds as if healthy debate about this problem is out of the question.
The newspaper said that the victims in the Twin Towers were from 63 different countries, among them Pakistan, the Lebanon, Jordan and Egypt. If Bin Laden is responsible for this, and if he did it to create a unified Arab front against the United States, in many ways, he couldn't have picked a worse U.S. target.