Boondoggle

One blogger’s personal bridge to nowhere

Why is that everyone makes a big hubbub…

…when two American journalists imprisoned in North Korea return to the United States after a visit from a high-profile politician, but no one seems to make a fuss when a bona fide American wacko is released by the Burmese after swimming, inspired by a vision, to Aung San Suu Kyi’s house?  Can’t Jim Webb get any props?

August 20, 2009 Posted by | U.S. Foreign policy | , | Leave a comment

Dear Reuters: people are not powderkegs

Reuters has a welcome article about the struggles of and xenophobia toward Roma populations in Hungary.  Unfortunately, the piece is titled “Roma a powderkeg in Hungary as crisis deepens,” as if the Roma themselves are the ones to incite the hatred and prejudices they are subjected to.  The article itself is not too bad, though I would rather it describe Roma as “intentionally excluded” from many jobs than as simply “unwelcome,” a seeming watering-down of a malicious practice.  But please, Reuters: the Roma themselves are not the “powderkeg;” that’s even worse than blaming xenophobia on the economic crisis.  Prejudice lies in the aggressors, not its victims, and it’s disgusting to imply otherwise.

August 13, 2009 Posted by | Eastern Europe, media | , | Leave a comment

Obama’s just a lucky black cat

President Barack Obama

President Barack Obama

Niall Ferguson has written a column in which he and his editors make fools of themselves for writing allowing him to write that Barack Obama is like Felix the Cat because they are both black, and they are both “very, very lucky.” But firstly because they are both black.

Actually, Ferguson’s point — such that it is — is that Obama is lucky (see Yglesias and Jason Zengerle on the stupidity of Ferguson’s lede and premise, respectively). Here are a couple of reasons why, according to Ferguson, Obama is lucky.

Felix the Prez is lucky in domestic politics, too. After months of wrangling, Al Franken was finally confirmed as senator for Minnesota, giving the Democrats a potentially crucial margin of advantage in the upper house of Congress. To prove the point, the Senate last week voted by 68 to 31 to confirm the president’s pick, Sonia Sotomayor, as the next associate justice of the Supreme Court.

Obama is lucky because an incoming Senator who won election eight months ago is now being seated, eight months later. He’s also lucky because he picked a highly qualified nominee for the Supreme Court, and that the Senate voted to confirm this highly qualified nominee.

New thesis for Ferguson’s latest book: we’re very lucky that a system of currency evolved, because otherwise we’d all just be sitting around juggling objects that we could be using as money.

(image from flickr user teadrinker, under a Creative Commons license)

August 11, 2009 Posted by | Conservatives, U.S. politics | , , | Leave a comment

How to stop desertification?

(cross-posted to UN Dispatch)

desert wallBuild a giant wall.  6,000 kilometers long.  Made out of sand.  Stuck together with bacteria.  No, seriously.

“The threat is desertification. My response is a sandstone wall made from solidified sand,” said Mr Larsson, who describes himself as a dune architect.

The sand would be stabilised by flooding it with bacteria that can set it like concrete in a matter of hours.

Take his word for it; he’s a dune architect.  And desertification is not something to mess around with.  It’s poised to affect over 2 billion people in 140 countries if left unchecked.  But with a gigantic, bacteria-reinforced dune wall, buttressing a “Great Green Belt” of trees, unchecked it will not be.  As long as we can figure out minor details like politics, funding, and where to obtain “giant bacteria-filled balloons.”

If this seems similar to ad hoc geo-engineering schemes of righting the climate, well, it does to me, too.  Except that I’m more comfortable building walls to stop desertification than, say, attaching tubes to giant zeppelins that pump the air full of sulfur dioxide to block the sun and cool the planet.

(image from flickr user John Spooner under a Creative Commons license)

July 24, 2009 Posted by | Environment | , , | Leave a comment

Sarah Palin needs a thesaurus

I’m not going to make a substantive comment on Sarah Palin’s hatchet job of an op-ed in the Post.  Instead, I’m going to do what good East Coast elites are supposed to do: make fun of her.

The ironic beauty in this plan? Soon, even the most ardent liberal will understand supply-side economics.

The Americans hit hardest will be those already struggling to make ends meet. As the president eloquently puts it, their electricity bills will “necessarily skyrocket.” So much for not raising taxes on anyone making less than $250,000 a year.

Even Warren Buffett, an ardent Obama supporter, admitted that under the cap-and-tax scheme, “poor people are going to pay a lot more for electricity.” [emphasis mine]

Heh.  At least she didn’t pull out any Michael Gerson-esque similes.

July 14, 2009 Posted by | Conservatives, U.S. politics | , , | 1 Comment

Even Willy Wonka wouldn’t have done this

Death by chocolate turns morbid:

A man fell into a vat of hot melted chocolate and died on Wednesday at a factory in New Jersey, a spokesman for the local public prosecutor said.

July 9, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | | Leave a comment

Elite media slanders Palin

I meant to publish this on Monday, the day after I read gagged on the following article on the front page of The Washington Post, announcing Sarah Palin’s resignation:

Sarah Palin, the Republican Alaska governor who captivated the nation with a combative brand of folksy politics, announced her resignation yesterday in characteristic fashion: She stood on her back lawn in Wasilla, speaking into a single microphone, accompanied by friends and neighbors in baseball hats and polo shirts.

[snip]

Palin offered few clues about her ambitions but said she arrived at her decision in part to protect her family, which has faced withering criticism and occasional mockery, and to escape ethics probes that have drained her family’s finances and hampered her ability to govern. She said leaving office is in the best interest of the state and will allow her to more effectively advocate for issues of importance to her, including energy independence and national security. [emphasis mine, in case you, dear reader, somehow missed the obsequiousness that is dripping out of this article]

I don’t think this depiction of events could be portrayed more favorably if it were written by Sarah Palin her-egomanical-self.  Some facts omitted and distorted: Palin, a polarizing figure, cannot be said to have “captivated the nation” by any objective stretch of the imagination; her account of the “frivolous ethics probes” is here taken at unquestioned face value; her family has been scorned much less than she has shoved it in the public spotlight of her own volition; and, hilariously, the notion that proximity to Russia “national security” is an “issue of importance to her” is a crassly political seed-laying.

Beyond this, though, is my continued perplexedness over how Sarah Palin and her defenders can continue to harp on “media elites,” and blame them for her downfall, when even the supposedly liberal Washington Post bends over backwards to make her look good — is a “back lawn” with “friends and neighbors in baseball hats and polo shirts” anything short of an ideal for a politician? —  in its coverage of an embarassing resignation.

In case we missed the message, the Post published this “news analysis” by Dan Balz alongside the above-quoted article:

Sarah Palin demonstrated once again yesterday that she is one of America’s most unconventional politicians, following an unpredictable path to an uncertain future.

That Alaska’s Republican governor has a flair for the theatrical — and plays by her own rules — was underscored anew by her stunning announcement that not only will she not seek reelection in 2010, she will resign her office this month.

But are Palin’s rules those of someone with the capacity to seek and win her party’s presidential nomination in 2012, as many believe is her ultimate goal, or of someone who has flashed like a meteor across the political skies but with limited impact? [emphasis, need you be reminded, mine]

When the the only other option than winning a presidential nomination is flying through the sky like a glowing meteor, I think it’s safe to say that we have an objectivity problem here.

July 8, 2009 Posted by | media, U.S. politics | , | 2 Comments

Sarah Palin quit because of too much freedom…

Damn Alaskans and your scurrilous Freedom of Information requests.

July 8, 2009 Posted by | Conservatives, U.S. politics | , , | Leave a comment

Iran more impotant to Saddam than the U.S.

Brian Fung of FP Passport uncovers some fascinating tidbits from U.S. interrogations of Saddam Hussein. I found the following extremely interesting.

saddamhusseinHussein continued the dialogue on the issues relating to the significant threat to Iraq from Iran. Even though Hussein claimed iraq did not have WMD, the threat from Iran was the major factor as to why he did not allow the return of the UN inspectors. Hussein stated he was more concerned about Iran discovering Iraq’s weaknesses and vulnerabilities than the repercussions o the United States for his refusal to allow UN inspectors back into Iraq. In his opinion, the UN inspectors would have directly identified to the Iranians where to inflict maximum damage to Iarq. [sic, and emphasis mine]

What’s most shocking is how completely U.S. policymakers seem to have missed this angle. So obsessed were they in Hussein’s “terrorist” threat — or, more accurately, in selling the fear of this threat to their political constituencies back home — that they entirely misunderstood motives that, with any serious study of the reason, would have been eminently clear.

Combined with something else I read recently (I think it was this) about the corresponding futility of trying to understand the Iranian nuclear program without reference, first and foremost, to the Iraq-Iran war, this information proves to me the preeminence of regional dynamics over the big “anti-American” confrontation that American politicians always seem to assume is the driving force of everything. This is hubris, certainly, but it is also just supremely short-sighted. And it’s the kind of thing that torture definitely won’t help you uncover.

(image from flickr user iDip under a Creative Commons license)

July 6, 2009 Posted by | Iran, Iraq, U.S. Foreign policy, U.S. politics | , , | 1 Comment

Sin tax to salvation?

I’m all in favor of legalizing marijuana (and taxing it would be okay, too), but I think it’s an exaggerration to say it could “save California.”

July 1, 2009 Posted by | Economics, U.S. politics | , | Leave a comment

Enjoy your odd-shaped European produce

(cross-posted at UN Dispatch)

cucumbersIt’s official: curvy cucumbers (not to mention “forky carrots” and “bendy beans”), previously on the cutting board chopping block, are acceptable fare in European supermarkets.  The British Foreign Secretary celebrates.

(image from flickr user Ian-S under a Creative Commons license)

July 1, 2009 Posted by | Food, Foreign politics, Humor | | Leave a comment

A shocking shocker

Maybe the Boston Globe needs to start giving its blurb writers thesauruses…

Brian Roberts sails in with the winning run (above) to cap Baltimore’s five-run rally in the eighth inning. The Orioles, who trailed, 10-1, scored 10 runs over the final two frames to shock the Red Sox in one of the biggest shockers in recent history. [emphasis mine...shockingly]

But yes, the loss was shocking.

July 1, 2009 Posted by | Baseball | , , | Leave a comment

Cracks in the glass gondola-sphere

An unlicensed female gondolier?

Get off that gondola, woman.

Courtney at Feministing passes on news of a breakthrough in Venice:

Twenty-three year old Giorgia Boscolo just became the first female gondolier after nine centuries of exclusively male rowing in the canal in Venice. Boscolo had to pass a grueling six-month, 400 hour course, but told reporters that she had no fear that she couldn’t handle the physicality of the job: “Childbirth is much more difficult.” Boscolo is the mother of two.

Nine centuries of sexism don’t surprise me.  What shocks me is that a gondolier would need 400 hours of training to row people up and down canals in a little boat.  Was this something that was imposed only on Boscolo because of her gender?  Or are all gondoliers just…really, really good at rowing gondolas?

(Just guessing here, but I also imagine that this kind of rigorous regimen is a way of keeping the cadre of gondoliers insulated.  If it’s something that most people — even women! — can do, then that seems all the more reason for current members of the club to make ridiculous requirements for entry.)

(image from flickr user blacque_jacques under a Creative Commons license)

June 29, 2009 Posted by | Feminism | , , | 1 Comment

Arguably, historical memory is important

Robert McFarlane, a National Security Advisor under Reagan, explains the war in Iraq:

In 2003, it was arguably democracy promotion, rather than the threat of weapons of mass destruction, which triggered the U.S. invasion of Iraq.

Nice. Since, in the year 2003, the invasion or Iraq was in fact predicated on the threat of weapons of mass destruction — there are no ifs, ands, or buts around this justification, I’m afraid — McFarlane just adds the word “arguably” to fit the long-reigning ex post facto casus belli of “democracy promotion” into a context into which it simply does not belong. Justifying the war on pro-democracy grounds was a rationale that gained in strength with each discovery of a hiding place in which WMD were not hidden. This is not something that’s controversial; it was prevailing conventional wisdom.  Trying to change it through canny means is just an attempt to reclaim historical memory.

June 26, 2009 Posted by | Conservatives, Iraq, U.S. Foreign policy | , , | Leave a comment

Freedom in the Middle East or bust

Beyond such stomach-churning lines like this (and we all know Michael Gerson’s 5th grade-level aptitude for similes) — “Democracy is not inevitable like communism was said to be; it is inevitable like hope.” — Gerson’s op-ed today is unsurprisingly political hackery. His broad brush paints an admittedly jagged swath across the Middle East, but this trajectory still inevitably leads — this is Bush’s former speechwriter, remember — where else but to freedom.

Inevitable democracy

Inevitable democracy

But while the development of democracy in the Middle East is not linear, it is also not random. It moves in steps, but upward. Taken together — a constitutional Iraqi democracy, a powerful reform movement in Iran, democratic achievements from the Gulf sheikdoms to Lebanon — this is the greatest period of democratic progress in the history of the region. Given consistent outbreaks, it seems clear that the broader Middle East is not immune to the democratic infection.

This reminds me of nothing so much as Condoleezza Rice’s cringe-worthy utterance that death and violence simply represented the natural “birth pangs of a new Middle East.” The reflexive habit of neoconservatives to any spate of elections as a triumph of this abstract notion of “freedom” — even, remarkably, when they acknowledge, as Gerson does, the tendency to “overinterpret events to confirm preexisting views” — is simply an indication of how politically fraught this term has become. Gerson does not need to analyze the specific politics and social dynamics of each Middle Eastern society; he sees what he wants to see (in Iran, that means a “powerful reform movement” and “martyrs” of democracy, who will no doubt eventually succeed), and uses these out-of-context planks to reconstruct his political project: vindicating his old boss’s “freedom agenda.”

Such a baldly partisan op-ed contributes less than nothing to informed discourse; its only effect is in reminding readers that Republican talking points, whatever the facts on the ground, will prevail. The ark of the political universe is long, one might surmise, but it bends inevitably toward freedom democracy the GOP.

(image from flickr user carcollectorz under a Creative Commons license)

June 26, 2009 Posted by | Conservatives, Foreign politics, Middle East | , , , , | Leave a comment

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