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America vs. The World

The big trouble with dumb bastards is that they are too dumb to believe there is such a thing as being smart. — Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.

Friday, June 30, 2006

Punishing the punished

What goes hand in hand with investigating Katrina victims for misappropriating funds? Sending them to prison for extremely long times!

Wednesday, three residents of Kenner, LA were convicted of looting for trying to walk off with "27 bottles of liquor and wine, six cases of beer and one case of wine coolers" six days after the hurricane.

Yes, looting is bad. Yes, those convicted of it should do some time. But 15 years? There are bank robbers that get off lighter than that.

Once again, let's try some empathy on for size. It's been six days since the storm. There's no power or signs of authority. The local grocery store has already been broken into and ransacked...I don't know about you, but a couple dozen bottles of Jack might very well have been on my agenda.

Pearson, who had a clean criminal history, testified he went to the store to get insulin for his ailing mother, who stayed home through the storm and was running low on her medication. Deputies later confirmed Pearson's story and delivered the insulin to his mother, according to testimony.

Released from jail on bond, Little was later hired by the same store she was accused of looting, the store manager testified.
Oh yeah, let's lock these fuckers up before they loot again.

Foresight is 50/50

I’m a betting man.

So when it comes to volatile issues like the recent soldier-abduction-meets-Gaza-incursion across the Israeli border, I can’t help but make a few prognostications about what we can expect in this Middle Eastern theatre in the coming weeks.

Sure, I’m needlessly putting my ass on the line for something so unpredictable. But isn’t it all worth it for that 50/50 shot at being right?

1. Gilad Shalit will get out of this alive. The 19-year-old corporal whose capture started this whole mess is just too valuable to his Hamas-associated captors to kill. As the best bargaining chip Hamas ever had, his fate may determine the difference between a weeklong battering and months of all-out war. Unless someone gets trigger-happy or an errant missile hits their location, there will be no point at which his life is seriously at risk—the cost of his death is just too high.

2. Israel will not release every Hamas government official they arrested. As of Thursday evening, Israel had arrested 64 Hamas ministers and parliamentarians, supposedly as “bargaining chips” to exchange for Shalit’s freedom. Though the world may assume their detainment lasts no longer than the duration of this bloody chapter, there’s just no way they’re all going free. I’d be surprised if Israel permanently holds any fewer than five.

3. We will see increasing violent protests (i.e. riots) in Egypt. Cairo is taking a lead role in trying to work out a diplomatic exchange between the two sides. But spurred on by government-run media, the man on the street in Egypt—not to mention Jordan and Saudi Arabia—is furious about what they view as an Israeli act of war. And while Egypt’s President Hosni Mubarak is playing negotiator, his outlawed opposing party Muslim Brotherhood is pushing for pro-Palestinian rallies. I say rallies become riots within weeks, if not days.

4. Syria is in the crosshairs. Hamas’ top bananas—notably their political leader Khaled Mashaal—are based out of Damascus, so it should be no surprise that Israel has been sending warplanes over Syria. With a strong possibility that Mashaal gave the green light for the soldier’s capture while Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniya is left to deal with the consequences, Israel may begin directing their Hamas-snuffing efforts across the Syrian border. Expect to see at least one car or building blow up in Damascus sometime soon.

5. Palestine’s government will come out of this whole experience weaker. The presence of Israeli soldiers has always made the extremist position more appealing—in the short run. But when the smoke clears, Hamas will have to demonstrate their ability to take on reconstruction when they’d rather be rallying. At the same time, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ moderate position will be weakened by the entire experience. And when Palestinian leaders become weakened, you don’t see speeches. You see security forces marching in the streets. If you thought Gaza was unstable before, just wait.

Doubt any of these outcomes? I’ll be happy to put my money where my mouth is—that is, until I’m proven embarrassingly wrong. Predicting’s a bitch, isn’t it?

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Who's your daddy?

Last week I wrote about how the Democrats could learn a trick or two about standing up for themselves from the Dixie Chicks. Looks like former Reagan official Jim Webb, running for the U.S. Senate seat in Virginia as a Democrat, knows how it's done:
"George Felix Allen Jr. and his bush-league lapdog, Dick Wadhams, have not earned the right to challenge Jim Webb's position on free speech and flag burning. Jim Webb served and fought for our flag and what it stands for, while George Felix Allen Jr. chose to cut and run. When he and his disrespectful campaign puppets attack Jim Webb they are attacking every man and woman who served. Their comments are nothing more than weak-kneed attacks by cowards," Webb spokesman Steve Jarding said.
Yowza! That's almost as good as Rep. John Murtha calling Karl Rove a cowardly fatass.

It's good to remind the country that, despite all their flag waving, the Republican leadership's service record is not exactly outstanding.

UPDATE: Steve Gilliard has the full text of Webb's press release and some commentary over at The News Blog.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Together again

Dee Brown and Deron Williams are going to be playing together again. In Utah, but still. That's awesome.

UPDATE: Utah trades for Luther Head.

UPDATE II: Not really. But that would rule!

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Holy land? Holy shit!

So here it is, the first of many Israel/Palestine blogs by yours truly.

It was only a matter of time. You see, the neverending struggle for the Promised Land is a topic of particular interest to me, for three strong reasons:

1. It’s a conflict of extreme geopolitical importance, one that directly and indirectly affects nearly all significant nations and their respective foreign policies.

2. It’s a fascinating subject on both deeper and more superficial levels, one that regularly involves assassinations and explosions, espionage, backroom diplomacy, Machiavellian tactics and a daily look at the darker side of man.

3. It’s a personal matter—I was born in Israel, my extended family still lives there and the ongoing evolution of the situation is one that I’ve followed my entire life.

This third point requires particular attention, because it automatically labels me as biased in my coverage. So before moving forward, I must make one thing perfectly clear: you will see no “preferential treatment” here of one side over the other, because judgment has no place in this blog. “Good guys” and “bad guys” are completely irrelevant here.

If you want to read about who’s wrong and who’s right in the Middle East, there are countless sources for you to turn to. But this particular blog was founded on a desire to analyze the world as a game, a contest with players and bystanders, winners and losers, short-term tactics and long-term strategies. I want to take all global issues big, intense and controversial—and I want to make it fun.

That being said, consider this the launch of a continuing forum on the Israeli-Palestinian situation, with particular focus on making sense of the history, geography, demography and politics. Write in with any thoughts or questions you may have, or just dive into any sub-topic you want.

A few suggestions:

• The mindset of your average Israeli, your average left-wing Israeli and your average right-wing Israeli. How many political parties does Israel have, and why do only a few of them count for anything?

• The four unnegotiable demands of mainstream Palestinians, and why Israel will never give in to all four. What exactly is the “Right to Return?” What do everyday Israelis think of all those settlements?

• The recent ascent of Hamas, and what it means for everyone in the region and the world. (And you thought Iraq was controversial!)

• The big differences between Gaza and the West Bank, and why approaching them with similar tactics may have devastatingly different results.

• The spheres of influence—which nations are directly or indirectly involved? What “side” are other nations on? This is an important aspect to watch closely, as the Middle East always has the potential to spark larger fires just as the Balkans have done for Europe.

• Predictions of what will happen in the next month, six months, year, five years and 20 years (spoiler alert: it’s not looking good).

As with any game, our world has its fair share of sure bets and dark horses. But here’s the wild-card topic that can completely alter the course of the War on Terror, the Iran Question and the shifting balance of global power week by week. And you can expect a great deal of attention on one of the world’s front lines.

Did I mention explosions?

Monday, June 26, 2006


There's been a bit a discussion going on at Sadly, No! for the past few days about the concept of transhumanism.Transhumanism is basically the study of technologies to improve upon the human body, including such goals as greatly extending the human life span, creating copies of the human brain and melding human intelligence with computers. Yeah, it's some pretty crazy sci-fi shit.

Lying behind much of this transhumanist talk is Ray Kurzweil's theory that the rate of technological development is growing exponentially, so new technologies are being discovered at an ever increasing rate. That means that some of that crazy sci-fi shit might be a lot closer than we think. I explained this a little bit in the Sadly, No! comments here, here and here.

Admittedly, this stuff can be pretty scary, and in a follow-up post at Sadly, No!, Retardo seems to be calling for us to put the brakes on certain types of technological progress.

Say that was a good idea. How are we supposed to do it? Right after the first sheep was cloned in 1997, there was a big call for a public discussion about this whole cloning business (leading to a U.N. plan for banning all human cloning in 2002). What happened next? Scientists started trying to outdo each other to be the first to clone every dog, horse and monkey they could get their hands on.

If the Russian government decides they want to clone a human embryo, who's going to stop them? The United Nations? China could start chopping people's arms off to make super-robo-ninja commandos and we wouldn't be able to do a damn thing about it. We can't even stop North Korea from firing a missile at us. And as computers get cheaper and cheaper and wireless network give access to large and larger areas, more of the world will go online. Unless the telecos succeed in shutting off the pipes, information will be able to glow freely across the entire world. That's all science and technology is: Information.

I'm not exactly a big fan of the NRA (man, are these people nuts), but, well... If you outlaw science, only outlaws will have science.

If this sounds like scary cold war rhetoric, that's because it is. Retardo breaks out the standard "science is bad because it led to the atomic bomb" argument. But does anyone seriously think the world would be a better place if the U.S.S.R. had developed an atom bomb and we hadn't? There were evil, evil men running the Eastern Bloc in those days, and sometimes we do need to get our hands on advanced technology before the bad guys.

More importantly, the world really, really sucks right now. Like, really. There are more than six billion people on this planet, and life is generally nasty, brutish and short for a great many of them. How can we have any real chance of drastically improving their lives without vast infusions of new technology?

We can't stop technological progress, but I haven't lost faith in the ability of democracy to turn it towards good ends. We can turn research away from weapons and towards things like clothing the poor and feeding the hungry. If we try to ignore or impede the technological revolution that is happening around us because we are afraid of where it might take us, we are going to have no say in where that is.
Jeff Goldstein is a wanker.