These are all the Blogs posted on Sunday, 30, 2008.
Sunday, 30 March 2008
Intra-Shi'ite Fighting Poses Problems For McCain
New Duranty: The heavy fighting that broke out last week as Iraqi security forces tried to oust Shiite militias from Basra is reverberating on the presidential campaign trail and posing new challenges and opportunities to the candidates, particularly Senator John McCain.
The fierce fighting — and the threat that it could undo a long-term truce that has greatly helped to reduce the level of violence in Iraq — thrust the war back into the headlines and the public consciousness just as it had been receding behind a tide of economic concerns. And it raised anew a host of politically charged questions about whether the current strategy is succeeding, how capable the Iraqis are of defending themselves and what the potential impact would be of any American troop withdrawals.
Mr. McCain, the presumptive Republican nominee, has made the Iraq war a centerpiece of his campaign; he rode to success in the primary season partly on his early advocacy of the troop buildup. The battle in Basra broke out as he returned from a trip to Iraq this month, proclaiming that violence there was down and that the troop escalation was working.
Mr. McCain, of Arizona, said he was encouraged that Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki’s government had sent its troops to reclaim Basra from the Shiite militias. “I think it’s a sign of the strength of his government,” Mr. McCain said Friday at a stop in Las Vegas. “I think it’s going to be a tough fight. We know that these militias are well entrenched there. I hope they will succeed and succeed quickly.”
Or, it could be that we have been so successful in controlling Sunni-Shi'a fighting (or that the populations have simply separated on their own) so now we see the smaller fissures, both intra-Sunni and intra-Shi'a open up.
The Democrats, who are calling for phased troop withdrawals, are beginning to point to the fighting in Basra as evidence that the American troop buildup has failed to provide stability and political reconciliation — particularly if the fighting leads one militia, the Mahdi Army, to pull out of its cease-fire; that could lead to a new spate of sectarian violence across the country. Some are saying the fighting strengthens their case for troop withdrawals.
But the McCain campaign is hoping to turn that argument on its head, asserting that the battle in Basra shows just how dangerous the situation on the ground in Iraq is. It says this bolsters Mr. McCain’s argument that a premature withdrawal of American troops would lead to more widespread violence, instability and perhaps even genocide.
I want a commander-in-chief who can watch with cool equanimity while our enemies fight each other, and who will not be drawn back into Iraq's civil war on humanitarian grounds. I want a commander-in-chief who values American lives above the lives of Iraqis and who recognizes the difference between American national interest and Iraqi national interest.
“I think that what this demonstrates is that there are very powerful forces that still remain that do not want to see the success of the central government and that would relish the prospect of the American withdrawal so that they could try to fight or shoot their way into power,” said Randy Scheunemann, the McCain campaign’s senior foreign policy adviser. “Would you rather have the Maliki government in control, or the Iranian-backed special groups in control, or Al Qaeda in control?”
This is a false choice. The Maliki government is Shi'a and is already aligning itself closely with Iran. The Sunnis will fight or be crushed by the Shi'a, which is unlikely to happen because they will receive backing from the Sunni states, especially from Saudi Arabia. The likely long-term outcome is a low-level civil war that will flare up from time to time. The Sunni states and the Shi'a states will continue to sell oil to finance the war and they will be more likely to increase production because they will need the money so the price of oil is more likely to drop than rise. The Kurds are likely to split from the rest of the country and we should support that in exchange for a base in Kurdistan. That's all we need. It's long past time to admit that the Iraq "Light-Unto-The-Muslim-Nations" project has failed. It's time for plan B.
Posted on 03/30/2008 7:33 AM by Rebecca Bynum
Sunday, 30 March 2008
Once again, the Israelis have promised something actual, concessions that will likely endanger their own citizens, while the Palestinian Arabs have promised something ephemeral, that costs them nothing.
JERUSALEM (AP) -- Israel and the Palestinians agreed Sunday to a series of 'concrete steps' aimed at paving the way for a final peace agreement later this year, beginning with an Israeli pledge to remove some 50 roadblocks in the West Bank.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, in the region for the second time this month trying to energize faltering talks, announced the measures, saying they 'constitute a very good start to improving' the Palestinian economy, which has been crippled by Israeli restrictions.
Notice how Israeli restrictions (which are simple measures of self-defense against the relentless terrorism against their citizens coming from the Palestinian side) are blamed for "crippling" the Palestinian economy, such as it is. Palestinian dysfunction is never the Palestinian Arab's own fault.
Under the plan, Israel will remove about 50 roadblocks, upgrade checkpoints to speed up the movement of Palestinians through the West Bank and give Palestinians more security responsibility in the town of Jenin with an eye toward looking at 'other areas in turn.'
The Israelis also pledged to boost the number of travel and work permits it gives to Palestinians and support economic projects in Palestinian towns.
In return, the Palestinians vowed to improve policing of Jenin 'to provide law and order, and work to prevent terror,' according to a State Department statement released shortly before Rice spoke.
Posted on 03/30/2008 8:57 AM by Rebecca Bynum
Sunday, 30 March 2008
The language of administration
I have never served on any kind of Diversity Committee, and it is unlikely that I would be asked to do so. I do not know the precise words Diversity Officials use to say: "We should take more black people even if they aren't good enough." But this is what "diversity" means, so it must be said, one way or another. Of course, "precise words", are precisely what diversocrats do not use. If anyone were to state clearly that skin colour mattered more than talent, you would hear a pin drop in Diversity Offices all over the world.
Stupid and wicked ideas are often couched in obscure language because clarity shows up stupidity and wickedness. Some people cannot write clearly, but even more are afraid to.
The Underground Grammarian, a journal excoriating poor English, is a real find. This short piece from J. Mitchell Morse, explains why administrators are some of the worst offenders. He means academic administrators, but I think it applies equally to other bureaucrats and to managers in industry:
Just as the citizens of a paper-mill town don't smell the sulfur fumes that thicken their yellow air, so we tend to be unaware of the pervasive fear of mental clarity, and to share it unconsciously. We turn off our minds for the same reason that we turn off our lights: we want to sleep in darkness.
Every ruling group wants the masses to be docile, uncritical, unquestioning, unthinking. Virtue, therefore, has always been associated with ignorance and inarticulacy. In view of the exacerbated official anti-intellectualism of the last quarter-century, bad grammar is now a badge of safety, an assurance that we are real folks, not pointy-headed innaleckshals or elitist snobs. The basic cause of bad writing is not lack of brain power but lack of courage.
That is why many of those who are drawn to administration write poorly. Not all but many administrators--although they don't know it--don't dare to write well. They have subconsciously surrendered the power to think with literate clarity, lest they be unacceptable in the way that Adlai Stevenson and Morris Udall were unacceptable.
So have many of us teachers. We are afraid of the pseudo-populists. The most unconsciously reactionary of us all are those who--in the name of radical populism--want our students to remain complacently ignorant of the English in which books are written.
Is it any wonder that our students think and write confusedly?
The first step toward curing this disease, I have found, is to make the patient aware that he has it. Once our students realize that they have the bad habit of intellectual timidity, they begin to have the possibility of writing clearly. For many administrators, however, I fear there is no cure. They have chosen the life of clumsy obfuscation. They have long since consented to sin. They love it.
Posted on 03/30/2008 8:47 AM by Mary Jackson
Sunday, 30 March 2008
Al-Sadr Calls Off Militia
BBC: Iraqi Shia cleric Moqtada Sadr has ordered his fighters off the streets of Basra and other cities in an effort to end clashes with security forces.
He said in a statement that his movement wanted the Iraqi people to stop the bloodshed and maintain the nation's independence and stability.
The government, which had set a deadline to hand over weapons in return for cash, called the move "positive".
Cash coming from American taxpayers, of course. Why should they spend Iraqi oil money when the American purse is still wide open?
The fighting has claimed more than 240 lives across the country since Tuesday.
In Baghdad, the city's military command has extended a round-the-clock curfew for an indefinite period. The curfew had been due to end on Sunday morning...
Moqtada Sadr's statement said: "Because of the religious responsibility, and to stop Iraqi blood being shed, and to maintain the unity of Iraq and to put an end to this sedition that the occupiers and their followers want to spread among the Iraqi people, we call for an end to armed appearances in Basra and all other provinces.
"Anyone carrying a weapon and targeting government institutions will not be one of us."
The cleric also demanded that the government apply the general amnesty law, release detainees and stop what he called illegal raids.
Moqtada Sadr also told his followers to "work with Iraqi government offices to achieve security and to file charges against those who have committed crimes". ...
Posted on 03/30/2008 9:45 AM by Rebecca Bynum
Sunday, 30 March 2008
Mob forces Punjabi girl, 9, into marriage to punish father
A NINE-YEAR-OLD girl in Pakistan has been forced to marry a man of 24 to punish her father for eloping with a neighbour’s daughter.
Nazia Nawaz, who lives in the village of Babrianwala in rural Punjab, described last week how a mob of 30 men, led by a mullah and the local council, stormed her family home and demanded that she and her seven-year-old sister marry two male relatives to settle the dispute.
The forced marriage of Nazia to her adult cousin had just been completed when other family members arrived to stop the wedding of her younger sister, Shazia.
This weekend human rights campaigners in Pakistan criticised successive governments for failing to stamp out the system of village justice known as vani, which is common throughout remote areas of Punjab.
The case emerged when Nazia and her mother made a public statement seeking protection from the man she had been forced to marry.
Her mother, Anwar Bibi, said the dispute began last year when her husband fell in love with his cousin and married her. “My husband developed relations with his cousin, Shamim Bibi, about three months ago. Her father, Muhammad Yar, said Shamim had been abducted and started pressurising me to give my two girls in return.”
Yar demanded that her two daughters be given in marriage to his two adult sons, one of whom was 30 years old and already married with a child.
Villagers said Yar’s sons had planned to take the girls and rape them to punish their father, Rab Nawaz.
Police have arrested 20 men in connection with the ceremony, including Yar and his two sons. The local police chief, Ghulam Mustafa Pahure, said the marriage was in breach of a women’s rights act that came into force last year.
Nazia’s father, whose elopement ignited the family feud, said he had no regrets. “I married for love and we want to stay together, and for this I’m prepared to pay any price,” he declared.
A report published last week by Pakistan’s Human Rights Commission (HRC) revealed widespread sexual violence against women, often in attacks sanctioned by village councils. In 2007 the commission discovered 354 cases of gang rape, 377 rapes and 21 cases where women were stripped naked as a family punishment.
Pakistan has faced condemnation for its failure to protect rural women in a number of high-profile cases in the past two years.
In one landmark case a former defence minister was found to have been part of a jirga, or community council, that ordered five daughters of a man accused of murder to be handed over to the victim’s family. The youngest was two years old.
Posted on 03/30/2008 9:56 AM by Esmerelda Weatherwax
Sunday, 30 March 2008
MAKE OUR CHURCHES SAFE
Our move comes after the brutal assault on Canon Michael Ainsworth who was kicked and punched as he went to tell youths to be quiet in a passageway by his St George-in-the-East parish church in Shadwell in March 5.
That attack highlighted a sorry lack of security at church properties, many of which have faced regular vandalism and become magnets for bored antisocial youths. Gravestones at St Dunstan's church just a mile away in Stepney are regularly daubed in graffiti and other buildings have had windows smashed.
Too often, religious leaders said last week, vandalism against churches was treated as just that, 'vandalism', but similar graffiti on mosque properties is treated as 'faith hate crime'.
There is a feeling among many that the authorities treat churches with less importance.
Yet we have some of the most magnificent London churches in the East End, three of which were created by Nicholas Hawksmoor in the early 18th century, St George's, St Anne's at Limehouse and Christchurch at Spitalfields. Our churches should not be neglected.
Canon Ainsworth, writing in the Advertiser last week, called on Tower Hamlets council, which is responsible for the upkeep and security of 12 church grounds and burial sites, to "play its part" in reviewing security.
But Mr Ainsworth feels that by investing in the derelict nature study centre in St George's Gardens in Canon Street-road, there would also be some good emerging from the horror of the March 5 attack.
The Advertiser urges Tower Hamlets councillors to give this issue the attention it deserves.
We are looking at some of the East End church grounds over the next few weeks and campaigning for improvements.
Posted on 03/30/2008 10:29 AM by Esmerelda Weatherwax
Sunday, 30 March 2008
The Duty To Instruct And Protect
Australia has added its voice to the international chorus of outrage over an anti-Islam film posted on the internet by a right wing Dutch politician.
Foreign Minister Stephen Smith said Geert Wilders' film Fitna equated Islam with acts of terror and violence and was "highly offensive".
"It is an obvious attempt to generate discord between faith communities," Mr Smith said.
"Like leaders in the Muslim world and in Europe, I strongly reject the ideas contained in the film and deplore its release.
"In Australia we believe in the right to freedom of expression but we don't believe in abusing that right to incite racial hatred."
--from this news article
In "Fitna" not a single word that was heard, or that was seen on screen, was spoken or written by a non-Muslim -- that is, until the very end. Every passage displayed was from the Qur'an. Every voice heard in the tapes was that of a devout Muslim, save for that voice of a non-Muslim heard at the very end, uttering the words that explain that the sound of the ripping page was of one not from the Qur'an, but from a phone book, because "it is not for" non-Muslims to rip a symbolic page -- the page of violence, hatred, jihad to subdue the Infidel and ensure the dominance of Islam and rule by Muslims -- from the Qur'an, as from the other implicated texts of Islam (Hadith, Sira), but for Muslims to metaphorically do so -- a challenge to them, a task for them.
And that's it. The rest is all from Islam and from Muslims.
For Foreign Minister Stephen Smith of Australia to denounce a text that is both an act of pedagogy, and an appeal, as hate-mongering, disgusts. That the same Foreign Minister appears to believe that an attempt to present certain undeniable -- but by Westerners such as himself, so nervously, so nearly hysterically, denied -- as "racism" when he knows perfectly well that an ideology is not a race, and that David Hicks, and Adam Gadahn, and John Walker Lindh, are every bit as malign and dangerous to Infidels as were Atta and his nineteen immediate collaborators, or those in Indonesia who murdered so many Australian tourists in Bali, shows a misguided attempt at the "pre-emptive cringe." Does Smith, do others in the Western world who utter this kind of thing really believe it?
Some, no doubt, are confused because they cannot believe that a billion people could possibly accept such malign doctrines. But that is not what the movie "Fitna" argues. It is not what it suggests. It attempts to show the most obvious truth: that the texts of Islam, those that are being, and have been in the past, since the beginning of Islam, taken to heart, are dangerous to Infidels. Muslims who do not take those passages -- in the Qur'an, the immutable and uncreated Word of God -- to heart, may not do so for a variety of reasons. They may be illiterate villagers, whose Islam consists only of the Five Pillars, and who somehow remained largely unaware of the rest, though they have always known that they were "Muslims," that this "Muslim" identity was the main thing in their lives, and that loyalty was owed to Islam and to the Umma, and that this tended to elevate Muslims above all others. Look at all the accounts, over the centuries, by European travelers, by Hindu historians, by Christians who endured Muslim rule (Arakel of Tabriz, the celebrated Armenian whose chronicles have just been re-published in a scholarly translation), by Jews (see Maimonides' Epistle to the Yemen, see Benjamin of Tudela), and no doubt there are also Zoroastrians who have left their accounts.
What do they say, all those chroniclers and historians? Does Foreign Minister Smith know? Does he care to find out? What do the Western scholars of Islam say about the history of Islamic conquest, what prompted it, and what happened to the non-Muslims in the lands that were conquered, over the past 1350 years? Does he know that for a very long period, and especially in that century between roughly 1860 and 1960, before the Great Inhibition, all kinds of Western scholars, German and Dutch and Italian and Russian and English and American and Spanish, studied Islam and the history of Islamic conquest, and their works are not to be ignored nor denied, in the intolerable rush to embrace the assorted espositos and armstrongs, who have nothing like the learning of Schacht, Hurgronje, Jeffrey, Zwemer, Lammens, Dufourcq, and hundreds of others.
This kind of thing cannot be endured. It is not for this or that temporary placeholder in the Western world to decide, peremptorily, because he lacks the wit to figure out how to talk, intelligently, about the meaning and menace of Islam, in a way that cannot be denied, and lacks the wit to figure out the minimal measures that can be taken, if he is to fulfill the duty that high government officials in democracies all have, expressly or by implication, which is to both to instruct and to protect those who, by electing them, or those who appointed them, have entrusted these officials with certain responsibilities, and expect more than the kind of idiocy that Foreign Stephen thinks is acceptable, thinks will satisfy. (DW)
Posted on 03/30/2008 10:58 AM by Hugh Fitzgerald
Sunday, 30 March 2008
Eat your words
Ben Macintyre gives us some food for thought:
Food is surely the single most important conveyer of words between and among languages. Early travellers traded in exotic goods, but also in words. Just as our palates were changed and expanded with foreign tastes, so the English language has been constantly enriched by new and strange food words, which were themselves gradually absorbed into everyday speech.
Chocolate was only one element of the linguistic banquet laid on by the Aztecs. They gave us guacamole, chilli and tomato, the supposedly aphrodisiac qualities of which persuaded hopeful Italians to dub it the “golden apple”, pomodoro. Some Nahuatl words were quite indigestible. Tlilxochitl, for example, was a prized delicacy meaning “black flower”. The Spanish simply couldn't get their tongues around it, so Willem Piso, a Spanish doctor serving under the governor of Brazil, renamed it vanilla (meaning “little sheath”).
[...Read the original to find out about avocados...]
Food words invade with the invaders. Wine, pepper, butter, radish all came to English from the Roman invasion. Cheese is related to the Latin caseus. The Norman Conquest brought a banquet of table words, as sophisticated French cookery colonised simpler Saxon fare. It is only a slight exaggeration to say that the Normans invented English cooking words: Saxon animals (sheep, pig, cow) became Norman terms when cooked and seasoned: mutton, pork and beef. More exotic words followed: gravy, mustard, liquorice.
Food words were exported from wherever the empire spread. And when no word was easily available for import, its very foreignness became its description. Walnut, for example, comes from Old English walhnutu, which means “foreign nut”, since the first walnuts seen in Britain came from Italy.
While English was almost omnivorous, a few food words have been too big to swallow. Early visitors to Hawaii were thrilled to find a fish called a humuhumunukunukupuaa, but as a food, and a word, it never caught on. Some words, like some foods, are best consumed where they originate.
Posted on 03/30/2008 2:40 PM by Mary Jackson
Sunday, 30 March 2008
For various reasons, last week was a bit of a bugger. The sound of BBC newsreader Charlotte Green, who has the vocal equivalent of a poker face, collapsing into giggles on Friday's Today Programme, was therefore exactly what the doctor ordered.
Click here to listen. Do not, under any circumstances, laugh. Laughing is strengst verboten. The Times reports:
The normally austere tones of the 8 o'clock news on BBC Radio 4's Today programme were replaced by fits of hilarity this morning when a newsreader was unable to stop laughing after hearing a clip of an old sound recording.
Charlotte Green had just finished reading an item about what appeared to be the earliest recording of the human voice, made in 1860, when she fell into an uncontrollable fit of laughter from which she was unable to recover.
Ms Green's latest "corpsing" episode was immediately reported on the BBC sister station Radio 5 Live and prompted thousands of calls to the BBC press office and instant replays on websites.
The giggles were triggered by a recording of the French song Au Clair De La Lune, unearthed by American scientists, that was apparently made 11 years before Thomas Edison first demonstrated the gramophone. The strange, scarcely audible, wail was too much for Ms Green, who was unable to recover her composure and broke down intermittently during the next item: a report on the death of the esteemed screenwriter Abby Mann.
The BBC said that Ms Green's giggles started when she heard in her earpiece a colleague's remark that the clip sounded like "a bee buzzing in a bottle". A spokeswoman said that the programme had so far had 20 comments about the incident, "all positive, about how funny they found it" and no complaints.
The Times leader comments on the strange phenomenon of "corpsing":
Nobody is sure why it is even called corpsing, except that it so often turns out to be dead funny. As when the BBC newsreader Charlotte Green was seized by giggles yesterday on the Radio 4 Today programme while sombrely announcing the death of the Oscar-winning screenwriter Abby Mann - and all the more so because Ms Green generally declaims in the glacial register of a theology don. What had set her snorting so helplessly into her microphone? A snatch of Au Clair de la Lune that was being touted as the first known recording of a human voice.
The only other thing we know for certain is that, as with a tango, it takes two to pull it off. You can no more corpse in private than you can tickle yourself. Scientists suggest that a fit of corpsing is triggered when you find yourself ambushed by an inappropriate and incongruous emotion while you're straining to keep a straight face on account of being in the throes of simulating a very different, far more serious emotion.
Hence corpsing's tendency to afflict actors, newsreaders and commentators - famously the cricket commentator Brian Johnston, who regularly convulsed himself and radio listeners from Trent Bridge to Trenchtown with his corpsing.
Corpsing is such a legendary part of theatrical lore that some believe the term might even have originated from the theatrical prank of goading a fellow actor who's playing a corpse on stage into laughing. Peter Cook was notorious for tossing ad libs, like surreal grenades, into dialogue to provoke his comedy sparring partner Dudley Moore into corpsing. Why were such unscripted moments not cut from the subsequent TV broadcasts? Because the joy of corpsing is that it is as infectious as chicken pox.
Posted on 03/30/2008 11:42 AM by Mary Jackson
Sunday, 30 March 2008
Spring forward - trip over.
The clocks went forward an hour in the UK this morning on to British Summer Time. They also went forward in Sweden but I expect there they call it Swedish Summer Time.
I am now somewhat discomknockervated. I had a late night on Friday in the Pub With No Beer which didn’t help my sleep pattern yesterday but the change has unsettled me more than usual.
I can see the sense in it, making the utmost use of available daylight. If it was important during two world wars I can see the use in this current concern for energy saving. But it doesn’t mean I have to like it.
Some people grumble when the clocks go back in October. Every year some society for the purpose declares that there will be x number more accidents because the clocks are returned to the natural rhythm for the longitude and latitude of the British Isles once the summer is over. They think we should be in line with Central Europe Time all year. The fact that Sweden and Finland and Iceland are not on CET much of the time (if at all) either cuts no ice. They refuse to recall the experiment in 1969-71 when we didn’t turn the clocks back for two years and everybody was miserable because we went to school and work in the dark and got home in the dark. Which is why we went back to the tried and trusted method.
I don’t like the very late light nights of June. I would be no good in northern Scotland or Norway with the Land of the Midnight Sun. I absolutely hate going to bed at 10pm and hearing birds tweeting and sun still streaming through my curtains. I don't sleep well during June and it makes me grumpy.
I like getting up when it is dark and watching the dawn in russet mantle clad walk o’er the dew of yon high eastern house over the back.
I wish we stayed on Greenwich Mean Time all year.
But never mind, it’s being so cheerful as keeps me going.
Posted on 03/30/2008 2:58 PM by Esmerelda Weatherwax