Saturday, February 18, 2006

It Looked So Good

I was so excited when I read the headline in the New York Times: "Bush Sees Need to Expand Role of NATO in Sudan". And the opening to the story did not disappoint:
President Bush signaled a new American commitment on Friday to addressing the crisis in Darfur, saying he would support an expanded role by NATO to shore up a failing African peacekeeping mission there.

Mr. Bush also said he favored doubling the number of peacekeepers operating in Darfur under United Nations control, as proposed by the Security Council last month. He discussed Darfur, in western Sudan, as an offshoot of a question about the fate of children in war-ravaged northern Uganda.

"I talked to Kofi Annan about this very subject this week," Mr. Bush said, referring to a meeting with the United Nations secretary general. "But it's going to require, I think, a NATO stewardship, planning, facilitating, organizing, probably double the number of peacekeepers that are there now, in order to start bringing some sense of security. There has to be a consequence for people abusing their fellow citizens."

Administration officials said Mr. Bush's comments reflected discussions between the United States and its allies calling for a broader interim role for NATO in Darfur until a larger, United Nations peacekeeping operation can be established.

So far, so good. But alas, it looks like this is yet another false hope. Further in the story:
After President Bush spoke on Friday, a senior State Department official said the United States proposal continued to be "to strengthen the A.U." until United Nations forces arrive late this year.

While Mr. Bush spoke of "a NATO stewardship," the American officials cautioned that NATO would command only logistical operations, not the African Union troops.

They reiterated that Washington would send no American troops. In Congressional testimony this week, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said, "We are prepared to talk with our NATO counterparts about what more we can do to support" the African Union forces "until we can get the U.N. forces" into Darfur.
[...]
Over the last year, about 7,000 African Union peacekeepers troops have been stationed in Darfur to monitor and enforce a cease-fire between rebel and government troops. In January, the Security Council began to plan to send peacekeepers to Sudan, which envisions a force of as many as 20,000 operating under a broad mandate.

But United Nations officials have acknowledged that winning commitments from member nations to send that many troops is likely to prove difficult. The United States has stated unequivocally that American combat troops would not be sent there, and other nations have offered similar cautions.

Why do we have this unequivocal stance against sending US troops? I was looking for some leadership, damn it, not a shield by which any half-hearted Western country could duck out of its military obligations to the peacemaking force.

To me, this sounds just like Bush's oil proposal in the 2006 State of the Union. Sounds very dramatic, raises liberal eyebrows, immediately gets interpreted down to meaninglessness by lower aides, fade to black. It's wrong when the subject is our energy policy. It's inexcusable when it comes to genocide.

Meanwhile, Joe Biden (D-DE) and Sam Brownback (R-KS) have introduced a resolution calling for NATO troops to intervene in Darfur, including American troops if necessary. I generally despise Brownback, but his leadership on this issue has been steady, constant, and unwavering. I respect that immensely.

I'm competing in the Minnesota State Debate Tournament this weekend, so I might not be posting this weekend. If that is the case, have a great weekend, and see y'all Monday!

Friday, February 17, 2006

At Least We're Not Italy

It's always nice to discover that America is actually not the most regressive modern western country when it comes to misogyny:
Sexually abusing a teenager is less serious a crime if the girl is not a virgin, Italy's higher court said on Friday in a controversial ruling that immediately drew a barrage of criticism.
[...]
The supreme court is no stranger to controversial judgments.

In recent years it has ruled that "an isolated and impulsive" pat on a woman's buttocks at work did not constitute sexual harassment, and returned a verdict that a woman could not have been raped because she was wearing skin-tight jeans.

Now that's judicial activism.

Sweet Home Bethesda

My hometown is in the news today:
Two uniformed men strolled into the main room of the Little Falls library in Bethesda one day last week and demanded the attention of all patrons using the computers. Then they made their announcement: The viewing of Internet pornography was forbidden.

The men looked stern and wore baseball caps emblazoned with the words "Homeland Security." The bizarre scene unfolded Feb. 9, leaving some residents confused and forcing county officials to explain how employees assigned to protect county buildings against terrorists came to see it as their job to police the viewing of pornography.

After the two men made their announcement, one of them challenged an Internet user's choice of viewing material and asked him to step outside, according to a witness. A librarian intervened, and the two men went into the library's work area to discuss the matter. A police officer arrived. In the end, no one had to step outside except the uniformed men.
[...]
Later that afternoon, Montgomery County's chief administrative officer, Bruce Romer, issued a statement calling the incident "unfortunate" and "regrettable" -- two words that bureaucrats often deploy when things have gone awry. He said the officers had been reassigned to other duties.

Hooray for prioritization!

JCole with the link.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Survey Me, Survey You

Tuo-Yu Su, a Ph.D. student at the University of Buffalo, has asked me to participate in a survey about blogging. And not only that, he wants you all to participate as well! Oh, the perks you get from hanging around The Debate Link.

The survey can be found here. It's pretty short and sweet.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

The Dark Side of Public Sectarian Schools

One of the key goals of the Religious Right in America today is to reinsert religious faith, prayer, and other sectarian sundries in public schools. Fortunately, religious freedom is sufficiently ingrained as a value here that they can't go flat out and say "we want every American schoolchild to be immersed in Christian dogma." Rather, they frame the issue as one of democratic choice--local school districts should be able to choose curriculums that represent their values, if these values happen to be religious, then so be it. The benefit of this is the healing some sect-line divides (presumably Baptists and Catholics, say, would differ heavily in what theological tenets they'd like to add into the classroom). But it also theoretically leaves room for other religious minorities too--in areas where, say, Jews are in the majority, then they could make the public school reflect their values and theology and marginalize the opinions of other faiths.

So the question is whether Christians who are pro-sectarian public schools are honest in their desire for mere democratic choice, or are fair-weather fans of the doctrine who support it only when it yields Christian majorities.

In this vein, Amy Welborn tips us off to a very interesting story about a state-supported Catholic school in Scotland whose parents are pressuring the school to switch affiliation--to Islam. Why? Because the student body of the school is 75% Muslim.

Now if this was a private school, I'd say the school could legitimately do whatever it wants, regardless of whether it made its parent's happy. If they don't like it, they can leave. But this school isn't private--it's supported by the state. As such, isn't it the logical end of conservative trumpeting of local democractic supremacy that the school adhere to the wishes of the majority of its "voters"? Now this isn't a problem for me, because I oppose state-sponsored religious schools for all faiths (and I think this whole controversy is an excellent example why). But for those who think these schools are desirable, what would be their warrant for denying the will of the people?

I think the answer lies in the blog of one respondent who tackled the issue. Curt Jester (whose headline image, featuring Jesus and Pope John Paul II waving and saying "wish you were here," might be one of the creepier things I've ever seen) writes:
I am not sure why there has been a lot of attention paid to a Scottish Catholic school (state run) where the 75% of Muslim students want to change it to a Muslim school?

After all secularists have been successfully doing this for years with nary a complaint.

Basically, this guy wants to compare a Muslim-faith school not to its logical partner (a Catholic school), but to the secular public schools. From this view, Christianity is the neutral baseline, and anything that departs from it is equally deviant and/or discriminatory. A secular school and a Muslim school are both equidistant from a Catholic school (albeit in different directions), and thus both should be opposed. Curt Jester even says flat out that the "secularists have been...doing this for years," implying that turning a school secular and turning a school Muslim are exactly the same. But the view of Christianity as a neutral baseline is simply wrong, and definitionally places others (Jews, Atheists, Agnostics, Sikhs, Muslims, etc.) as irrevocable outsiders in the political community. Furthermore, the mentality behind it is delusional; whatever the flaws in a secular school system, inoculating its students with "Muslim values" is definitely not one of them (no, short programs designed to foster tolerance and understanding toward a minority faith is not the same as transmitting the values of that faith. That's a lazy argument, don't make it).

But weak logic aside, this is the logical upshot of what happens when a democratic society lets religion inside its schools. Occasionally, its going to work to the benefit of another faith. If you can't take that, then you should re-examine your commitment to the value (this is part of the reason why I think the goal of a Christian America and that of a democratic America are mutually exclusive).

Thanks to Rick Garnett for the original heads-up (Here/here).

Continuing the Conversation

In a discussion regarding the recent revelation of new Abu Gharib pictures, my TMV co-blogger Justin Gardner opines the following:
Listen, I'm not saying that these pictures won't hurt us. They will. But let's rip the bandaid off in one fell swoop. Because now we face a reality where every six months a few more pictures and a few more videos make their way into the public eye, and we'll have to keep talking about it over and over and over and over and over again.

Might I humbly submit that we should continue talking about these abuses until we see some real accountability for the perpetrators, the superiors who authorized the tactics, and a real commitment from the Bush administration to categorically stop using torture as a policy (signing the McCain Amendment, then giving a "signing statement" that eviscerates the intent of the bill doesn't count)? Until all that happens, I think Abu Gharib should stay in the news, and I don't lament that it might get more lead time in our media institutions. Machiavelli argued that the sovereign should do get all the bad things he has to do out of the way at once, because the people's memories are short and they're more likely to forgive one large aggression over a litany of minor aggravations. That may be good strategy, but I think this administration is Machiavellian enough for me already.

Alas, I have far less faith than Gardner that these pictures will be enough to make us pay any more attention to Abu Gharib than we already have(n't). We, as a people, desperately want to ignore this issue. We want to pretend it doesn't happen. And unless there is a constant media blitz forcing Americans to come to terms with our torture policy, we'll continue to ignore it. One day of additional coverage isn't enough. And I think that's all we're going to get before we lapse into our regular state of apathy.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

N-Word(?) Please!

Over at BlackProf, Christian Bracey has an interesting post on a White Kentucky teacher's use of "niggah" in the classroom. The teacher is adamant that "niggah" is distinct from "nigger" and is not a racial slur.

Bracey references Randall Kennedy's book Nigger: The Strange Career of a Troublesome Word. It's a fascinating book (I read it over the summer), and I think it yields a lot of insight into the controversy. Kennedy outlines the different contexts in which "nigger" is used, how it can mean different things in those contexts, and how culturally contingent the meaning of "nigger" is. "Nigger" of course is in its "original" form a racial slur, but sometimes its a term of more benign disparagement, and other times even used to connote endearment. The teacher in this case claims that he is cognizant of the difference, that "niggah" represents the latter meaning and not the former, and he shouldn't be disciplined.

Student reaction has been mixed. Bracey writes:
Student reaction was interesting. A number of them acknowledged that the n-word often is used among black students, and sometimes whites, as a term of affection. But many expressed surprise that a teacher would venture into this territory. Some black students were angered by the incident, claiming it was "very offensive" and warning that "if you're white, you don't say it." Another black student was far more conciliatory, describing Dawson as "a good teacher who likes rapping and using urban slang," and who most likely was not trying to hurt the black student's feelings. Stranger still is that there have been NO reports on what white students think of their teacher's comments.

That last part interests me, because I think this is an issue of serious concern to white people. We hear "nigger" being used in a positive format, read writers like Kennedy who explicitly urge that the word be stripped away from white supremacists, and don't know where we stand. One can say that one should err on the safe side, and that this teacher went too far, even if his intentions were benign. I'd agree with that, but even this paradigm still leaves a lot of room for problems to arise.

Take, for example, my purchase of "Nigger." I bought it in a bookstore while vacationing in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. How do you think I felt walking around South Carolina holding a big book with "Nigger" emblazoned across the front in bold letters? Short answer: I didn't, because I hastily put the book in a plastic bag to hide it from view. Even in the act of purchasing it, I pulled the whole "slide-it-between-two-non-objectionable-books" maneuver, as if I was buying a pornographic magazine. Can anyone expect a real race conversation to develop in this environment? This isn't the only time this sort of thing has happened. I've covered the title of my copy "Critical Race Theory: An Introduction", because I'm petrified that it sounds like a racist tract (ironic as that is). If someone asks me what I'm reading (especially if they're a minority), I'll answer "Critical Race Theory", and immediately add "it's kind of the cutting edge progressive philosophy on race issues" so they don't think it's a repeat of "The Bell Curve." Even the title of this post was problematic--I wavered heavily on whether it was "appropriate" for my own blog. And that's just my own blog and my own life. Lord knows how I'm going to broach this topic on TMV, which is hosted by someone else, in a way that actually informs the reader what I'm writing about without putting my host at the risk of being seen as rude (or worse).

I'd wager this same anxiety is part of why white students aren't giving their reaction to the controversy. I don't think that's the whole thing--some of it may be the media deciding this is a "Black" issue and not seeking out White commentators, or other issues that I haven't thought of yet. But I think this at least provides a good example of one of the major (but by no means sole or largest) barriers to racial progress in America.

Starlight

Amongst my many writing commitments, one of the things I do on campus is act as the liberal voice on our weekly political talk show, entitled "Bubble to Bubble" ("Bringing the news of the Washington Bubble Right Here To Our Very Own Carleton Bubble!"). Each week, the show moderator sends us a list of topics we're going to discuss, and we can send him any of our own they we think should be on the agenda. For today's (Tuesday's) show, I said we should talk about Darfur. He said that sounded good, and asked if there's been any specific new news reports I wanted to discuss. And I responded that that's the problem: the issue has appeared to have fallen off the radar of the mainstream media.

All of this is a round-about way of giving my whole-hearted concurrence to this article about American Speedskating Gold Medalist Joey Cheek. Gold Medals are cool, obviously, but what's really important is what he's doing with his time in the limelight:
He's an Olympic champion after being the only 500-meter speedskater to break 70 seconds in two rounds of competition Monday, and he took his 15 seconds of fame to announce in a post-victory news conference that he will donate every penny of the $25,000 he wins from the USOC to refugees in the Darfur region of the Sudan. Cheek also called on his sponsors to match or beat that pledge.

The article calls upon the media to give more coverage to stories like Cheeky's, and I obviously concur. I question why the NYT or Washington Post doesn't just give this story front-page billing. Easy answer: It's a nice story, but not front-page news. Easy response: Newspaper's decide what's front-page news, and I'd like them to be a bit more concerned with the public impact of their decisions rather than just following the latest trend like lemurs off a cliff. It would be impossible for newspapers to be neutral even if they tried, so they might as well provide support for the morally compelling stories of our day. I do see the harms in overtly partisan news reporting (hello, Fox News); that's not what I'm advocating here. But I think that genocide can safely be removed from the realm of "partisan" issues. If the big media players were determined to make an issue out of this, they could. And I think they should.

In the mean time, we should thank Joey Cheeky for doing his part.

Monday, February 13, 2006

There's No Place I Can Be...

Woohoo! Well color me brown and call me "Cap'n"--I'd apparently be a great fit on the crew of the Serenity. Just what I wanted!

You scored as Serenity (Firefly). You like to live your own way and don't enjoy when anyone but a friend tries to tell you should do different. Now if only the Reavers would quit trying to skin you.



Your Ultimate Sci-Fi Profile II: which sci-fi crew would you best fit in? (pics)
created with QuizFarm.com



H/T: Professor Bainbridge, who clocks in at the only marginally less cool Millenium Falcon.

Insert Chuck Norris Joke Here

Ezra Klein (via John Cole) on a hunting trip Vice President Cheney took a few years back:
One thing to be clear on: Dick Cheney wasn't hunting. He wasn't doing what Ted Nugent does, or what Indians used to do. Cheney was killing things.

Apparently, they just pen-raise a massive number of birds, then release them to be slaughtered en masse by wealthy patrons. Cheney's group killed 417 of the 500 birds released, and Cheney himself bagged over 70.

Iran Cartoon Central

"The First Information Center of Iranian Cartoons on the Web".

They've even got their first Holocaust cartoon up. I particularly like how the Jew in front of Auschwitz looks like he hitchhiked there. No genocide here, just looking for a job! Similarly, the Jew in Israel is presented as a foreigner standing outside the gates. Just as Jews "voluntarily" came to Auschwitz, they "voluntarily" came to Israel. Just another imperial colonizing choice by the Western oppressors. Nothing to do with fleeing a society that had spent most of the past two millenia cyclically slaughtering them (how could they? They're both Westerners! And White to boot!).

I'm sure they'll be updating frequently, if you have the gag reflex. Thanks to Jack Noble for the tip.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Gay Marriage Ban Shot Down In Maryland Legislature

The Washington Post has the scoop (H/T: Amp). I pointed out earlier that the Court ruling which sparked this series of events is in serious jeopardy due to the make-up of Maryland's Supreme Court, but still, this is a good thing.

The next step? Democratic affirmation of marriage rights. I'm not on-board with those folks who say that judicial decisions protecting gay rights are evil activist monstrousities. That's because I respect the courts for doing their job. But even still, it's qualitatively better for the people and their representatives to stand up themselves and protect the rights of their minorities--not depend on the judiciary to do it. Maryland is actually one of the better targets for democratically voting for marriage rights--though nothing will happen until at least after the 2006 election cycle.