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|Sunday, July 10th, 2011|
|Even The Onion Is Noticing*
WASHINGTON—State Department diplomat Nelson Milstrand, who appeared on CNN last week and offered an informed, thoughtful analysis implying that Israel could perhaps exercise more restraint toward Palestinian moderates in disputed territories, was asked to resign Tuesday. “The United States deeply regrets any harm Mr. Milstrand’s careful, even-tempered, and factually accurate remarks may have caused our democratic partner in the Middle East,” Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in an unequivocal condemnation of the veteran foreign-service officer’s perfectly reasonable statements. “U.S. policy toward Israel continues to be one of unconditional support and fawning sycophancy.” Milstrand, 63, will reportedly appear at an AIPAC conference to offer a full apology as soon as his trial concludes and his divorce is finalized.
*For those who are unaware, The Onion
is a satirical online newspaper.
|Monday, May 2nd, 2011|
Well, Canadian politics has certainly been shaken up tonight. Final results:
- Conservatives: 167 seats
- NDP: 102 seats
- Liberals: 34
- Bloc Quebecois: 4 seats
- Green Party: 1 seat
This has been the most momentous Canadian election in my lifetime. A short summary of the changes:
- Separatism has, for the short term at least, been defeated. The Bloc, a constant fixture since 1993, no longer even has official party status
- Not only have the Conservatives won a majority - and with a more right-wing government than Canada's seen before - they have achieved something that is, to my knowledge, unprecedented: they have gained a majority without a significant presence in Quebec. I largely agree with the folks on CBC that a lot of this is due to Harper handling the recession, which has hit Ontario hard, largely the same way a Liberal government would, with deficit spending and economic stimulus
- For the first time in Canadian history, we have a Green MP! I spent today campaigning for Elizabeth May, who is a wonderful person, and I am hugely excited about this achievement.
- Also for the first time in Canadian history we have a social democratic - an NDP - official opposition, largely due to Quebec's selection of a federalist social-democracy party over a separatist one. This is a massive opportunity for the NDP, and a great victory, although all the news stations have been parsing it the opposite way ("this is a massive chance for the NDP to screw up and collapse"). I'm very excited about this as well, and hope my party can pull it off.
All in all, I'm conflicted as to whether the good (destruction of the Bloc, NDP official opposition, election of Elizabeth May) outweighs the bad (Harper majority, meaning he can do whatever he likes - US friends, think of the President + House majority + Congress supermajority situation, and factor in a much higher level of party discipline; Canadian majorities haven't been called an 'elected dictatorship' for nothing - for the next four years). Overall, I'm feeling fairly positive - I went into this election knowing Harper had a decent chance at a majority, and believe the NDP will do a better job of holding him to account than the Liberals could. However, things could also go very bad very fast, depending on how hard-right and partisan Harper decides to be.
All in all, a watershed for Canada. Condolences to Ignatieff, who I do believe is an intelligent person who sincerely sought what was best for the country and tried to run a campaign on the issues. No condolences whatsoever to Gilles Duceppe - he may be a very nice person, I don't know, but he's spent the last two decades trying to destroy the country I love, and his political demise fills me with glee.
|Sunday, May 1st, 2011|
Sorry if that's an insufficiently serious/sober response, but it sums up my views at the moment. If my US friends (and heck, people from anywhere else) don't know what prompted it - for goodness sakes' turn on the news
Congrats to the US. I'm going to New York in about a week and wow, they're just going to be throwing a giant party.
EDIT: Wow, and the Republicans are already
refusing to stop warmongering for a second, and emphasizing that the US can't even think about winding down the War on Terror, despite, y'know, accomplishing its primary objective. Have these people no shame? Do they simply love war that much, that they can't simply accept good news for a moment, but have to argue as to why the US must engage in perpetual war?
|Monday, December 27th, 2010|
|The Hunger Games
I've just finished reading the Hunger Games trilogy and...wow. That is some heavy
stuff for a series geared at teen readers. Suzanne Collins doesn't have Rowlings skill as a wordsmith and world-builder - actually, her writing style is fairly clunky - but the narrative is impressive.
She starts with a fairly standard dystopian setting and a protagonist who's mainly remarkable for not being a Good Female Role Model - which is something I appreciate. Katniss is cold-blooded, pragmatic, and - aside from a very small number of loved ones - she's not at all in the habit of thinking about others before herself. These aren't presented as good qualities; she's very quickly shown to be a deeply flawed heroine, while still being to some degree sympathetic.
There is a love triangle, but it's set up and resolved in such a way that it almost feels like a direct attack on Twilight (which, btw, I've heard a lot about - all bad - but not read). The choice is as much between two ideologies as between two guys. Peeta is straightforwardly nice, a kind of idealist who is above all a decent person in a world full of pragmatists. Gale's an idealist in a different way, a revolutionary who wants to destroy the dystopian government. Katniss is dragged hither and thither as she tries to work out how she should respond to having an increasingly influential and dangerous position, troubled about whether to support rebellion or not.
The concluding chapters of the third book feel especially out of place in a young adult series, and very intentionally raise a lot of hard questions. How many lives, and whose lives, is it acceptable to sacrifice in a quest to build a better world? Can war ever be waged morally? Is it justifiable to fight wars in the service of ideals when ideals are inevitably corrupted by the necessities of war? This isn't normal for a kid's book; it's much
darker than the Harry Potter series - which remains, to its end, idealistic, and leaves its major characters with few emotional scars relative to what they go through - and rejects the simplistic ending of "good guys win, bad guys overthrown" (or even the more depressing one of "good guys die in glorious last stand") and even the idea that there can be "good guys" and "bad guys" in war. The supposed "good guys" strike the most devastating blow in the series.
I wouldn't say it's as good as the Harry Potter books, as the characterization is less skilled and the writing style more disjointed, but it's still a powerful series.
|Wednesday, November 3rd, 2010|
|US Election 2010
The number of individuals in the US Senate whom I respect has just declined from 1 to 0.
|Sunday, September 19th, 2010|
|Wednesday, September 8th, 2010|
|Mark Reads Harry Potter Predictions for Book 6
I can't reply with spoilers on Mark's site so I'm doing it here because some of his predictions are so hilarious. My replies are in bold
- Aunt Petunia will apologize to Harry for the way she has treated him. No.
- We will see Harry return to the Burrow. YES!
- We will see the first Voldemort-related death of a Muggle before the halfway point of the book.Well, hear about, but not see - WAY before the halfway point. On the second page of text, in fact.
- Harry will...uh...find a new girlfriend? I don't know, I'm not feeling the Harry/Cho shipping.
- RON AND HERMIONE WILL HOLD HANDS. God, GET IT OVER WITH ALREADY. LOL he is expecting shipping so maybe he will like it.
- Lupin will do his best to step into the role that Sirius left behind. No.
- Ok, let's get into some real shit: Bellatrix is gonna WRECK SKULLS in this book Not so much.
- Snape and Harry will have a conversation about the end of the Occlumency lessons. LOL no
- Voldemort will appear in person in the book before the halfway point. HAH because this is the only book besides PoA in which he never actually shows up.
- We will see Karkaroff again...as a Death Eater. HEY I CAN RECYCLE PREDICTIONS. He doesn't show up but he is mentioned as having been killed, so this isn't that bad of a prediction.
- The Half-Blood Prince is....a new character we have not been introduced to. WRONG but that was my prediction too before HBP!
- Harry will see some manifestation of his parents again. No.
- MORE LUNA LOVEGOOD. Only because...WHY NOT. YAY Luna.
- I think we will learn why Dumbledore trusts Snape so much in this book.
- The next Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher will not be FUCKING EVIL. Massive LOL because NO to the first but YES to the second but you don't think so at the end of the book.
- Umbridge will come back in some form, but only briefly. YES exactly, very good prediction.
- And for my big prediction: The number of people in the Order of the Phoenix will be cut in half by the last page. No.
|Friday, August 20th, 2010|
Just finished rereading DH for the nth time. I'd forgotten how good
it is - by far the best of the series, even despite the inconsistent worldbuilding (Fidelius charm, wand ownership) because we get to see how the characters change and grow into adults. And I just love the Dumbledore storyline.
Only just noticed that Voldemort, Snape and Harry more or less represent the three Peverell brothers - Voldemort, wanting the wand, Snape, attached to a dead person more than to anyone living, and Harry, with the Cloak.
I really, really hope they do the movie right for this one and stick to the book, the movies have generally been disappointing. But when I was reading I kept running across scenes that I'd love
to see in the theatre.
|Friday, July 16th, 2010|
from the head spokesman of the Tea Party, Mark Williams, who has called Barack Obama a "welfare thug", in response to the NAACP's resolution calling for the Tea Partiers to denounce racists within their ranks.
If that letter is not racism, pure and undiluted, then racism does not exist. If there is one thing the Tea Parties prove, it is that a society may go a century and a half without changing one whit. People haven't changed just 'cause they've stopped wearing white hoods.
|Monday, March 22nd, 2010|
This page at the New York Time has an excellent short summary of how health care reform will affect people:http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2010/03/21/us/health-care-reform.html#scenario-1
Yay! That's much easier than reading the whole bill.
From a read-through of the page: the vast majority of people will either benefit or be unaffected. It's very difficult to see any policy reason for people to freak out about this.
EDIT: Weird, so links work without HTML now, but not with it? Well, whatever.
|Friday, March 19th, 2010|
|On Health Care Reform
I was following the debate back when it started, but I haven't been paying a lot of attention to the procedural stuff. My general sense of the bill is that they've taken out the main thing that would actually have benefitted people (the public option to enable people to get reasonably-priced health insurance) while leaving in things that make life harder for people and are clearly sops to the insurance companies (mandates).
Three points of view from people I respect (particularly the last two):
Matt Yglesias, a fairly conventional liberal, thinks <a href="http://yglesias.thinkprogress.org/archives/2010/03/cbo-health-reform-will-reduce-the-deficit-cover-tens-of-millions-of-americans.php">it's a great thing</a> that will help people and reduce the deficit.
Glenn Greenwald, a tireless defender of civil liberties from any and all opponents, Republican or Democratic, and constant skewerer of political lies and deception, says <a href="http://www.salon.com/news/opinion/glenn_greenwald/2010/03/12/democrats/index.html">the Democrats, including Obama, never intended to pass a public option</a> and are pandering to the insurance companies.
The League of Ordinary Gentlemen, a collaborative blog with unconventional takes on policy that are often outside the left-right dichotomy, say the bill is corporatist, <a href="http://www.ordinary-gentlemen.com/2010/03/predictions-about-healthcare/#comments">"combining the worst aspects of the market and socialism"</a> and will increase the deficit greatly without improving health outcomes.
For the record: I live in Canada, we have single-payer, it generally works well, we picked the guy responsible for it - Tommy Douglas (Kiefer Sutherland's grandpa, btw) - as the Greatest Canadian several years back, and any politician suggesting we get rid of it would see their political career go up in flames in about a nanosecond. It's good to have the security of knowing bills won't bankrupt you if you get sick or lose your job. And we do it without particularly high taxes either (Canadian federal top marginal income tax rate = 29%; US top marginal rate = 35%).
EDIT: WTF, I don't know WHY my links won't work!
|Sunday, March 7th, 2010|
Mildly annoyed at Barbara Streisand. This moment isn't for womankind, it's for Kathryn Bigelow, who made an exceptional movie and deserves the award entirely irrespective of her gender.
|Friday, February 12th, 2010|
Yesterday I read an article on the luge track for this year's Olympics. It's supposed to be the fastest track ever built, and the article noted that one corner is an absolute recipe for crashes. Canadians have been pretty much monopolizing the luge track in hopes of getting an edge. The Canadian luge coach insisted that while very difficult, it wasn't dangerous. Canadian luger Sam Edney said the track had been proved to be safe and crashes were all part of the sport.
Today Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili died in a crash on a training run. It's a little hard to absorb.
We wanted to impress the world.
We wanted to win even at the cost of sportsmanship.
And we got a guy killed.
|Thursday, February 11th, 2010|
At least 10 gold medals.
Top three in the total medal count.
Both hockey golds - of course.
And at least one more medal for my favorite Olympian, the wonderful Cindy Klassen, who's back despite her knees giving her serious trouble.GO CANADA!
|Wednesday, February 3rd, 2010|
|Oscar Pick - Best Picture
There's four qualities that are important for a Best Picture winner, IMO. Good, creative plot; characters who feel like real people; re-watchability (if it's the best thing made this year, it should be one that's worth watching more than once) and audience appeal (if most people don't want to see it, it's probably not the year's best movie).Avatar
has a lazy, uncreative plot, poor characterization, is somewhat rewatchable as an action movie, a great popcorn flick, and very popular. I fully support it walking away with the visual effects, art direction, etc. awards, but it probably didn't even deserve to be nominated for Best Picture. Nonetheless, it's probably likely to win - the Academy wants to show they're willing to give Best Picture to a sci-fi movie.District 9
is actually a better movie, if they wanted to pick a science fiction one. It's harder to get people to empathize with insectoid aliens than tall blue people, but the movie pulls it off easily. Characterization is decent, though not great; the story, despite the rather hamfisted-ness of the message (a fault Avatar has equally) is well done and interspersing the documentary bits is a good touch; it's popular and I'd like to watch it again.Up in the Air
is far more conventional Oscar fare. Character development is, well, good, but the main character doesn't strike me as someone who could actually exist in real life. (The younger supporting actress shouldn't get the Oscar for that - she can't cry realistically.) The plot's good. I don't know how broad the popular appeal is, and while I enjoyed it well enough it's not something I'd be interested in seeing again.The Hurt Locker
. I only saw this one yesterday, in reaction to all its nominations, though I'd heard it was good before. Plot and characterization are excellent, but it feels almost more like a work of art than a movie. It gives the same sense as reading some classic novels: I ought
to see this, I enjoy it at some points, but it's something you observe from the outside rather than something that draws you in. I'm impressed, but wouldn't watch it again. Kathryn Bigelow should
get best director for it, as it's extremely well done - but Best Picture should go to something your average person would actually enjoy watching.Up
. It has an amazingly creative plot, and animation allows it options that aren't available to live action because there's no reason the laws of physics need
to apply. The characters are well-drawn, endearing, and evolve over the movie. The villain is somewhat understandable (a not-necessarily bad goal morphs into obsession and madness over time) rather than a cardboard Evil Person as in Avatar and District 9. The themes of family and being able to leave behind the past are clear and true and don't feel as anvilicious as Avatar or District 9. It's enjoyable, popular, I went to see it twice in the theatre and would watch it again. It's the only movie on this list of 5 (the only 5 of the nominees I've seen) that made me cry. It's heartwarming, and enough picks have gone to downer movies. It's the only one of the five that merges very good filmmaking and writing with a movie that's genuinely enjoyable. So Up
is my pick for Best Picture.
I know it won't actually win - the win will go to Avatar, despite the lack of quality in everything but action and special effects and the relative laziness in worldbuilding (come on, it's a completely alien planet, do something more than fiddling with size, color, and number of legs!), and even if Avatar didn't exist Up wouldn't have a chance because a lot of the people who vote are actors, who naturally prefer movies that have actors in them. But Up is still the best movie made in the last year.
|Monday, January 18th, 2010|
|The Wages of Deceit
Full quote from a post on one of my favorite blogs:From the new Harper’s piece featuring Sergeant Joe Hickman on three Guantánamo “suicides”, this particular bit chilled me to the bone (emphasis mine),
"The pathologists place the time of death “at least a couple of hours” before the bodies were discovered, which would be sometime before 10:30 p.m. on June 9. Additionally, the autopsy of Al-Salami states that his hyoid bone was broken, a phenomenon usually associated with manual strangulation, not hanging.
The report asserts that the hyoid was broken “during the removal of the neck organs.” An odd admission, given that these are the very body parts—the larynx, the hyoid bone, and the thyroid cartilage—that would have been essential to determining whether death occurred from hanging, from strangulation, or from choking. These parts remained missing when the men’s families finally received their bodies.
I actually have an incredibly difficult time wrapping my head around the degree of dehumanization that goes into making the decision to simply remove the “neck organs” of men who have died in US custody from being strangled and having rags stuffed down their throats. It’s as though the line of logic took a sort of “out of sight, out of mind” track: if we get rid of any evidence of wrongdoing, we can wipe the very event from the record oand carry on as if nothing is awry.
Andrew is, I think, right to suggest that this story, “really takes you into the realm of totalitarian states”. Overused a characterization as it is, the kind of sociopathic belief that reality, history, and the course of events can be shaped to meet the needs of the centres of power by the crude and blatant erasure of inconvenient facts (like necks organs) is terrifyingly Orwellian in nature.
If there is any wonder why I have railed so hard against my own country’s [the author, like me, is Canadian] tacit involvement in enabling torture, this is more than reason enough. The institutionalization of this kind of damaged mindset, then, is the logical culmination of finding ways of justifying the use of torture, regardless of the circumstances. Not only do the ground rules of right and wrong become elastic, but the very notion of what did and did not happen becomes a matter of debate — trading the elimination of words for body parts.
Anyone who thinks that such a cancer won’t eventually spread to decisions involving the everyday lives of citizens has a distinctly more rosy outlook than I.
The article quoted is here
and is chilling, fascinating, and troubling to read.
As it applies to Canada, it illustrates what I find so troubling both about our Conservative governments determination to impede, withhold evidence from, and shut down any investigation that occurs in whether detainees handed over by Canadians to the Afghan security forces were tortured. Abetting torture is corrosive to national principles; withholding the truth about events is corrosive to trust in government and government responsibility for its actions. "National security" has been used far, far more often to hide government incompetence, errors or malfeasance than it has been used to conceal information actually relevant to security.
|Monday, December 28th, 2009|
In Shi'a Islam, the day of Ashura commemorates the martyrdom of Husayn ibn Ali, grandson of Muhammad, who the Shi'a consider his rightful successor as Imam.
On the day of Ashura, 2009, Seyyed Ali Mousavi, the nephew of Mir Hussain Mousavi, was killed during a protest, very probably by the Iranian regime.
Protests have moved outside of Tehran, into cities throughout Iran. The Iranian regime may just have shot itself in the foot, badly. Symbolism is an incredibly powerful thing.
This could bring down the government, or it could be the next Tiannamen. We can't know which. God be with all the protesters.
|Friday, October 9th, 2009|
Oh, Come On
Yes, I'm sure a lot of people think Obama's a wonderful person and all, but it's not as if he's actually done anything to deserve a Nobel Peace Prize. He's given a lot of nice speeches, hasn't closed Guantanamo, hasn't pulled out of Iraq, is continuing to fight a war in Afghanistan with heavy civilian casualities, and has not achieved anything thus far on peace between Israel and Palestine or done anything substantive to put pressure on Israel to end settlement construction.
I'm sure there were people nominated for the award who risked, suffered, and achieved far more in the service of peace.
At least Obama seems to realize that he doesn't deserve this and it doesn't reflect anything he's actually accomplished. I'm very skeptical that it will measurably affect his future actions, though. What a waste. The award is supposed to honor merit, not global fame.
|Monday, September 21st, 2009|
|An Illustration of Press Bias
Jimmy Carter recently did an interview with Colombian newpaper El Tiempo
. There are two competing headlines (some news organizations use both):
"Carter concened Chavez has become authoritarian" (from the Associated Press)
"Ex-president Carter says he's disappointed in Venezuelan leader Chavez"
"Carter: US Might Have Been Involved in 2002 Chavez Coup"
Now, from the first two you'd get the sense that the interview was mainly critical; from both, that it mainly focused on Venezuela. Neither are accurate. Most of the interview was about Latin America in general, with some discussion of Venezuela and Colombia specifically, and Carter had as much positive as negative to say about Chavez. This reflects how the US media treats Latin America - and it's not a liberal/conservative media bias thing either, Huffington Post uses the top headline as do most US news sites.
Here's the exerpt that the first two are working from:Speaking of Venezuela, what do you think of Hugo Chávez?"I know him well. The Carter Center has been involved in four or five elections, some of which were very difficult. I would say that every election result was basically consistent with the will of the people. Chavez has gone ahead in an honest election with almost 60 or 62 percent of the vote. That said, I think his popularity in his country had decreased and that its influence has declined in other nations. But I see him as someone who brought, perhaps, a necessary transformation to Venezuela to allow those who were formerly excluded more equal participation in national wealth.
He did well in past years, particularly when it was flooded with oil resources. Now that these have fallen, I am increasingly concerned about Chavez's inclination to consolidate all political power incrementally in his own office and away from the influence of an independent judiciary. It is necessary to have autonomous bodies within the administration, apart from the legislature that the government controls almost completely now.
Do not blame all these problems on Chavez, because I think the political opposition has been badly advised as when it boycotted the parliamentary elections, which meant that Chavez controls all the seats. I do not think there's any question of that. Personally, I was disappointed to see him depart from what I think was a fair and honestly opportunity that was the result of legitimate elections, to an increasing domination on his part that led him to have a more authoritarian government."What about [Chavez's] criticism of the U.S.? "In that case I also have mixed emotions. I believe there is no doubt that in 2002, the US at least had full knowledge or could be directly involved in the coup that ousted him. Thus, he has a legitimate claim against the U.S. government, which pulled him off. Now we have a different president than we had then and he has also changed.
What I think is that for both Venezuela and Chavez international relations would be better if he stopped their attacks and insults against U.S. that, to me, are increasingly random in nature, and unjustified. I know, because it is a fact and I had long talks with President Obama and his top officials, they would like to have normal relations, friendly and social, commercial and diplomatic relations with Venezuela. But he makes it almost impossible. We made mistakes in the past, as did Venezuelan officials. Now is the time to see how to end the verbal accusations against the Obama administration, which are a kind of extension and perhaps were more justified in the case of the Bush administration."
I agree with everything Carter says there; you can decide for yourselves whether the headlines distort the general sense of the interview.
In the rest of the interview, Carter is positive about the changes taking place in left-wing Latin American nations, which he notes have given a greater role to previously-excluded groups such as the indigenous populations. He views recent coups - the current one in Honduras and the 2002 one in Venezuela - as the greatest threats to democracy Latin America is facing (as opposed to many US politicians who cite the aforementioned left-wing governments as the greatest threat to democracy).
For interested people, I'll post summaries and quotes of some other parts of the interview below (including the bit where Carter mentions probably US involvement in the 2002 coup). If you want the full translation, it's here
.( Cut for lengthCollapse )