One blogger’s personal bridge to nowhere

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

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

Saddam’s nukes were in France all along

In the midst of humping the perpetual favorite theme of conservatives — the enduring, albeit thoroughly debunked, “axis of evil” — the Wall Street Journal‘s Bret Stephens slips in the fact that Saddam Hussein apparently didn’t get build his still-elusive nuclear weapons from uranium from Niger, but from the French surrender monkeys!

Britain gave France the secret of the hydrogen bomb, hoping French President Charles de Gaulle would return the favor by admitting the U.K. into the European Economic Community. (He Gallicly refused.) France shared key nuclear technology with Israel and then with Iraq. [emphasis mine]

That’s it, no further discussion.  Perhaps there was some cooperation on something vaguely related to nuclear stuff and/or technology between France and Iraq, but the implication of this throwaway sentence — one of a series of throwaways meant to connect “the nuclear daisy chain” (presumably with something even flimsier than daisies) — is that Iraq still has nuclear weapons.  Good to know not only is the Right hewing to the same “axis of evil” canard, but they have not even moved beyond peddling WMD deception in Iraq of all places.

June 3, 2009 Posted by | Conservatives, Foreign politics | , , , | 1 Comment

The craziest country between South Korea and China

northeast asia mapAn odd choice of geographical description from NYT‘s David Sanger:

The sanction has never been enforced, partly because of concerns that it could escalate hostilities with North Korea, the poorest and least predictable state in Northeast Asia. [emphasis mine]

In Northeast Asia? I’d venture that North Korea takes the cake for poorest and least predictable state out of a group larger than just China, South Korea, Japan, and Russia (and okay, maybe Mongolia). But, um, yes, that is the correct quadrant of the correct continent in which North Korea is poor and unpredictable.

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

May 26, 2009 Posted by | Foreign politics, media | , | Leave a comment

Venezuelan democracy bad, Venezuelan leader good

chavezMost people in Venezuela, since they voted in elections for Hugo Chavez, clearly like the “democratic” leader. As long as they are manipulated into doing so, that is:

It should also be noted that Chávez has acquired his extraordinary executive powers — he obviously wants to be president-for-life — through the ballot box. Americans may not like him, but Venezuelans do — a majority of them, at least. However, it’s impossible to overlook his anti-democratic methods of silencing his critics and neutralizing any potential opposition.

It’s impossible to overlook the contradiction in these two sentences from Eugene Robinson’s op-ed today. You can argue that Chavez is popular — an argument that’s fraught with opportunities for attack from the right, unfortunately — or you can focus on the problems and the strongarming present in Venezuelan elections. You can’t really do both, however, without undermining your case from both ends.

(image from flickr user ¡Que comunismo! under a Creative Commons license)

April 21, 2009 Posted by | Foreign politics | , | Leave a comment

The Irish-Croat-Hungarian anti-Bolivian assassination alliance

No, really.

Unless, as his opponents somewhat wildly claim, Morales staged the whole thing, that is.

(via Morning Coffee)

April 17, 2009 Posted by | Foreign politics | , , | Leave a comment

If you’re a foreign leader, don’t have lunch with Gideon Rachman

The FT‘s foreign affairs columnist explains:

Would you have lunch with this guy (right)?

Would you have lunch with this guy (right)?

I interrupt my holiday briefly to note that the last two national leaders that I have interviewed for lunch with the FT – Abhisit Vejjajiva, the prime minister of Thailand and Mikheil Saakashvili, the president of Georgia – are facing similar sorts of problems this weekend: mass demonstrations in Thailand and Georgia, aimed at levering them out of power…

I interviewed Abhisit last January and Saakashvili about a year ago. Could I have inadvertently put a curse on them both?

Rachman helpfully also provides substantive commentary.

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

April 13, 2009 Posted by | Foreign politics | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“There is no such place” where Israel can’t bomb

I guess I never really appreciated the extent to which Marty Peretz’s maxim, “Don’t fuck with Israel,” is espoused equally bluntly by Israeli leaders themselves.  Apropos the very bizarre — and under-appreciatedly bizarre — Israeli bombing of a weapons-smuggling convoy in Sudan last month, Ehud Olmert had this to say:

“We operate everywhere where we can hit terror infrastructure — in close places, in places further away. Everywhere where we can hit terror infrastructure, we hit them, and we hit them in a way that increases deterrence,” he said at an academic conference.

“It was true in the north in a series of incidents, and it was true in the south in a series of incidents,” he added. “There is no point in going into detail, and everybody can use their imagination. Those who need to know, know. And those who need to know, know that there is no place where Israel cannot operate. There is no such place.”

Am I allowed to use my imagination to envision such a place?

March 30, 2009 Posted by | Foreign politics, Middle East | , , , | Leave a comment

War in the Northern Mozambique Channel?

(cross-posted at UN Dispatch)

To the list of major concerns for the 798,000 inhabitants of the small Indian Ocean archipelago of Comoros — such as frequent coups and hyperactive volcanoes — add secession and, um, war with France? An independent country since 1975, Comoros has co-existed awkwardly with a couple of islands in the chain, together known as Mayotte, which has been “politically separate” since independence. Now, as of yesterday, with the endorsement of 95% of Mayotte voters, the islands officially constitute a departement outre-mer of France. In response, Comoros’ vice president has, naturally, suggested that this is tantamount to a declaration of war.

mayotteWhile France is probably not about to send its destroyers down into the Indian Ocean, it is interesting to note that, in the past, UN attempts to grant sovereignty of Mayotte to Comoros were stymied by the French Security Council veto. This is not necessarily neo-colonialism, though, as indicated by the heavy support by Mayotte’s population for incorporation into the metropole. Economic benefits abound, but there also seems to be a somewhat odd sense of national belonging, somewhat disturbingly expressed by this Mayotte legislator quoted by Reuters: “We may be black, poor and Muslim, but we have been French longer than Nice.” Interesting what the island assumes that the French think of “Frenchness.”

(image of a Mayotte sunset, from flickr user gunner.romain under a Creative Commons license)

March 30, 2009 Posted by | Africa, Foreign politics | , | 1 Comment

If you play M.I.A.’s songs backwards, they reveal a secret terrorist plot!

Belting out terrorist ballads, to be sure

Belting out terrorist ballads, to be sure

Okay, that’s an exaggeration, but it’s clear that NYT reporter Thomas Fuller, for whatever reason, is promoting some sort of agenda that the work of artist M.I.A. has “dissonant undertones” supporting Sri Lankan terrorists. Perhaps it just makes for a more attractive headline to claim that a famous pop artist sympathizes with a little-known (in the West, at least) rebel outfit, but regardless, his article makes a good case study of both journalistic bias and an inability to parse the distinction between “separatist” and “terrorist.”

It should become clear to the reader right away how Fuller feels about M.I.A. when his lede describes her as “the very pregnant rapper who gyrated across the stage at Sunday’s Grammy Awards.” Umm…I can think of slightly less condescending ways of describing a woman who almost won a Grammy (okay, meh) and who defied the reigning stereotype that pregnant women should cover up their bodies and sexuality (props).

That, however, turns out to be better than how Fuller portrays M.I.A.’s reputation in Sri Lanka: “virtually unknown” or “an apologist for the separatist Tamil Tiger rebels,” who have also been designated a terrorist organization — by governments, including Sri Lanka’s (of course) and the United States’, as well as by a conveniently chosen Sri Lankan songwriter who describes them as “perhaps the most ruthless terrorist outfit in the world.”

Look, I am not an apologist for the Tamil Tigers. They are indeed ruthless, having perpetuated more than their share of horrific murders and abuses. They may even be the “most ruthless” in the world, though I, no songwriter by any stretch, am not going to get into the game of ranking the world’s terrorist organizations by their ruthlessness.

No, my only point is to describe the stage set by Mr. Fuller. The evidence he musters in playing up M.I.A.’s alleged terrorist sympathies is weak at best: a tiger in the background of one of her videos that “looks like the rebels’ logo,” M.I.A.’s use of the word “genocide” to describe the situation in Sri Lanka, and the nameless opinions of “Sri Lankans who have seen her videos.” Fuller’s contention that M.I.A.’s use of the notorious “g-word” puts her on the “outer fringe of opinion” may come as news to many rather mainstream activists, for whom the country is typically on “alert” lists of potential genocide. That “at least” ethnic cleansing has occurred or is occurring in Sri Lanka is on even more solid ground, given the notoriety of the Sri Lankan military’s disregard for civilians and use of sweeping ethnic-based tactics to root out Tamil Tiger rebels.

Moreover, even if Fuller succeeds in proving M.I.A.’s Tamil sympathies (aha! an ethnic Tamil sympathesizes with the people of her homeland!) — surely following up on those of her father, a shadily described “leader in the Tamil separatist movement” — that is a far cry from supporting Tamil Tiger terrorists, as Fuller rather crudely suggests. Tamil separatist movements preceded the Tigers, they existed at the same time as the Tigers, and they will likely endure beyond the Tigers’ demise. To conflate the two is an insult to both peaceful Tamils and to the entire principle of clamoring for autonomy.

Not at all incidentally, it is only in the third-to-last paragraph of the piece, juxtaposed rather lamely with one about a sickening video of “of people being blown up by Tamil Tiger bombs and subtitles about M.I.A. being a terrorist,” does Fuller include this short acknowledgment.

M.I.A. responded that she did not support terrorism.

Good to have her side of the story.

Personally, I think the worst M.I.A. can be accused of is riding on the trainwreck that was Slumdog Millionaire. But here’s this anyway.

(image from v e. under a Creative Commons license)

February 11, 2009 Posted by | Foreign politics, media | , , , , | 1 Comment

Was Johnny Appleseed a Kyrgyzi?

Previously unknown bit of random trivia: the Central Asian nation of Kyrgyzstan is “home to the genetic parent of all the apples of the planet.”  But that evidently has not been enough to keep the country well-off enough to turn down a $300 million bribe loan from Russia to close down an important U.S. base in the country.

Apples for a base?

Apples for a base?

(image from flickr user Don-Piefcone under a Creative Commons license)

February 9, 2009 Posted by | Asia, Foreign politics, Russia | , , | Leave a comment

Kissing Verboten

In case you thought we were prude here in ‘Murica, ask Richard Gere about his visit to India, where:

Even marriage sometimes doesn’t give you the licence to smooch – an Israeli couple was fined $22 by a court for kissing after getting married in a Hindu ceremony in Rajasthan. The priests had taken umbrage.

Indian authorities should probably adopt this amazing song as their anthem (translation here, but you get the point):

February 5, 2009 Posted by | Foreign politics, Humor | , , | 1 Comment

One more year of good Ghanaian democracy, please

kufuorProbably not the best time for an ousted president to make this proposal:

Ghana’s outgoing leader John Kufuor has called for presidential terms to be extended from four years to five.

In his last state of the nation address to parliament, President Kufuor said the extra year would give leaders time to complete vital industrial projects.

Granted, Kufuor’s stepping down after an extremely tight and contentious election is an admirably democratic thing to do, and he doesn’t appear to be forcing his suggestion onto anyone. But if he was serious, maybe he should have thought to suggest longer terms before he was voted out of office.

(image of President Kufuor from flickr user World Economic Forum under a Creative Commons license)

January 5, 2009 Posted by | Africa, Foreign politics | , , , | Leave a comment

The Republic Formerly Known As Macedonia, or France

(cross-posted at Dispatch)

The Ambassador At Large points out some rather tongue-in-cheek suggestions from Gregg Easterbrook on how to resolve the, er, name problem of the so-called (and very strictly so, if you ask a Greek) Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.

macedonia map.jpg

  • The Republic Formerly Known As Prince.
  • Steve. Wouldn’t Steve be a cool name for a nation?
  • An Obscure, Landlocked Mountainous Region Along the Vardar River.
  • Emmanuelle. Really sexy woman’s name might increase tourism.
  • ROM. Subliminally suggests Republic of Macedonia, but the official name would be just initials — like KFC — thus frustrating Greece’s objection.
  • Skopje and So Much More!
  • The Greatest Nation in Human History. This would force the United Nations to say, “Now we will hear from the delegate representing The Greatest Nation in Human History.”
  • The United States of America. Leading national brand in the world, yet cannot be copyrighted.
  • Easterbrook’s suggestions rest of the logic that, as he exasperatedly reminds Greece, “titles cannot be copyrighted!”

    Anyone may publish a book called “Gone With the Wind.” Any country can call itself France, though it’s not clear what the incentive would be.

    Perhaps. But I don’t think Macedonia would improve its prospects of joining NATO among, say, the French if it tried to call itself “France.”

    December 30, 2008 Posted by | Foreign politics, Humor | , , | Leave a comment

    Female genital mutilation — just a “small problem”

    This bit of yesterday’s Washington Post article about female circumcision in Kurdistan captures the sexist domestic attitudes that make ridding this horrific practice so difficult.

    Zangana has been lobbying for a law in Kurdistan, a semiautonomous region with its own government, that would impose jail terms of up to 10 years on those who carry out or facilitate female circumcision. But the legislation has been stalled in parliament for nearly a year, because of what women’s advocates believe is reluctance by senior Kurdish leaders to draw international public attention to the little-noticed tradition.

    The Kurdish region’s minister of human rights, Yousif Mohammad Aziz, said he didn’t think the issue required action by parliament. “Not every small problem in the community has to have a law dealing with it,” he said.

    Describing the damage done to girls by this practice as a “small problem” is bad enough, but the truly heinous aspect of the minister’s comments is his firm situation of the issue within “the community.”  By shoving the problem out of the political, and into the communal — read: the familial, a.k.a. the patriarchical — Aziz is both damning the prospects of achieving such legislation and striking a powerful and timeworn blow against feminism.  Issues like female circumcision very much belong in parliament, and shunting them out, will naturally only prolong the abuses toward Kurdish women and girls.

    December 30, 2008 Posted by | Feminism, Foreign politics, Iraq | , , | Leave a comment