Friday, April 30, 2010

Nick Clegg v David Cameron v Gordon Brown

For those following the British election debates, the BBC has a good aggregator of election news, here.

UPDATE: There's also a Facebook Democracy UK page...

Florida Congressman Wants Chechens Added to Terror List

So far, the State Department has said: "No." Despite the fact that the group has officially declared war on the United States, as well as masterminding terror attacks in Russia. On this issue, IMHO, Congressman Alcee Hastings (D-FL) is right, and Hillary Clinton is wrong:
HASTINGS CALLS FOR CAUCASUS EMIRATE TO BE ON TERRORIST LIST
Group Claimed Responsibility for Moscow Subway Bombing

WASHINGTON--U.S. Congressman Alcee L. Hastings (D-FL), Co-Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (U.S. Helsinki Commission), introduced legislation today urging the State Department to formally designate the Caucasus Emirate as a Foreign Terrorist Organization.

The State Department’s 2009 Country Reports on Terrorism is not expected to include the Caucasus Emirate in its list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations despite the group's recent attacks on the Moscow subway that killed at least 38 people and the fact the group is behind more than 60 acts of terrorism in Russia’s North Caucasus in the past three months and trained 20 suicide bombers in 2009.

“We have a policy of zero-tolerance towards terrorism of any kind directed against anyone anywhere in the world,” Hastings said. “The Caucasus Emirate cooperates with al-Qaeda and has declared jihad on the United States, Russia, the United Kingdom, and Israel. This organization is a threat to our national security and that of our allies. This resolution urges the Administration to officially acknowledge that reality.”

Shamil Basaev, who was the leader of the predecessor organization to the Caucasus Emirate until his assassination by Russian commandos in 2006, trained at an al-Qaeda camp in Khost, Afghanistan in 1994. The group’s Web site has included articles from an author connected to perpetrators of the 9/11 attacks and the 2009 Fort Hood, Texas shootings with rhetorical attacks on the United States calling for American Muslims to wage holy war against the United States.

“President Obama has made historic improvements in U.S.-Russian relations,” Hastings continued. “The United States and Russia must stand together in this ongoing struggle against violent fanatics. In this fight there is no room for double standards, we must be consistent."

Charles Crawford on Pope-gate, Cont'd...

Charles Crawford, Britain's former man in Warsaw, wants answers to some questions about the latest Foreign and Commonwealth Office anti-Papist memorandum:
The Heresiarch links to my thoughts on the FCO and its Popegate scandal, but wonders if I have it right - maybe the causes are ... even deeper:

It's easy enough to blame New Labour, with its love of targets and hatred of anything traditional or elitist, for this sort of tosh, but I suspect the Blair administration has been as much the symptom as the cause of it.

Other, profounder, causes have been at play: a loss of nerve on the part of the old elites, the complete ascendency of the media and the news cycle, a generalised and growing distrust of institutions - most powerful when internalised by those who themselves run those institutions - a truncation of attention-spans and an hysterical neophilia.

The best word for it is infantilisation. Britain, and probably most other western countries as well, is regressing to a state of toddlerism, or at best arrested adolescence.

I could not agree more.

See how the FCO is responding to this self-made disaster. By sending the offenders back to school:

The civil servant in charge of the Pope’s visit to Britain has been suspended and is to be investigated for misconduct after a memo lampooning the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church was leaked to the press.

All the staff involved in producing the memo are to be sent on “urgent diversity training” and will have nothing further to do with organising the visit of Pope Benedict XVI to Britain in September.

Please excuse me while I leave the desk to emit a high-pitched scream.

Goes offstage

eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee

Returns

This is not a problem requiring 'diversity training', where the wretched victims sit listlessly staring out of the window, trying their best not to listen to some or other humourless harpy intoning on their need to 'respect' minorities and examine their 'unconscious prejudices'.

This is not a technical problem at all, capable of being sorted by some extra 'training'.

Indeed, the key problem is the very fact that the FCO apppears to think that lack of 'training' is the problem, and that more training is the answer.

Wrong!

It's all about structure and professional attitude.

What was happening across the organisation to create a culture and command structure in which a significant non-junior diplomat could produce and circulate around Whitehall such drivel? (Note: when the story broke I contacted the FCO myself and was assured that the offending officer was 'junior'. This was at the least highly misleading.)

Come on Fleet Street, ask the the FCO the right questions:

-who was Mr Noorani's line manager?
-what instructions were given to him and by whom?
-what internal expertise was being drawn upon to advise on the Pope's visit?
-why were these ideas circulated without HM Ambassador to the Vatican clearing them first?
-who is running this part of the FCO whelk stall?

Answers please, from people in the know.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

The New Republic on Human Rights Watch's Jihad

Benjamin Birnbaum writes:
As [Robert] Bernstein and his allies saw it, Whitson and others in MENA consistently ignored the context of Israeli actions—context that might have created a more accurate picture. That was the overriding complaint in a letter Edith Everett wrote to HRW in June 2008, outlining her dissatisfaction with the way the organization was treating Israel. HRW had repeatedly called for Israel to lift its blockade of Hamas-controlled Gaza. Everett pointed out that “the original contravention of human rights lies with Hamas and these terrorist organizations and if they were to stop their unprovoked attacks on Israeli civilians there would be no restrictions on the flow of goods into Gaza.”

That month, Bernstein made a presentation at a meeting of the executive committee of HRW’s board. After asking HRW staffers to leave the room, he told the assembled something they already knew—that he had concerns about MENA’s Israel work—and something they did not: “I told them, from then on, they couldn’t assume that I would remain silent to the public.”

Ken Roth was absent from the meeting—his daughter was graduating from high school that day—but he was furious when he found out. He immediately e-mailed Bernstein’s son Bill, a classmate from Brown, lamenting how unfortunate he found it that a man who had spent his life championing human rights had become an apologist for Israel. He appealed to the younger Bernstein to intervene, warning that his father would do great harm to the organization and to his own reputation.

Not everyone at HRW, however, was eager to keep Bernstein in the fold. His persistent questions had become a never-ending source of annoyance to Whitson. “It just came to this point where we would have countless meetings with him explaining things over and over,” Whitson says. “And then, he would just ask the same question as if you’d never had the conversation before. And you’re like, ‘But did you actually read the report? Did you actually see what it said? Because it answers your question, and we’ve discussed this, like, eighteen times.’” Her attitude toward Bernstein’s threat was one of indifference. “You’re like, ‘OK, just go public and get it over with.’”

At the time, however, Bernstein was still unsure of himself. He had begun consulting prominent outsiders, among them just war philosopher Michael Walzer and Newsweek’s Fareed Zakaria, a friend of his son Tom. Zakaria spoke to Bernstein at length—first in a face-to-face meeting, then in a series of phone calls. Bernstein had already started putting his thoughts to paper—thousands of words’ worth—but felt he was getting nowhere and urged Zakaria to take up the cause instead. Zakaria demurred. “My advice to him,” Zakaria says, “was that, if he felt as strongly as he did, then he needed to speak out because the impact of the founder of Human Rights Watch talking about his disillusionment with the organization was going to be far greater than an outsider who had no historical association with the organization.”

Bernstein also raised some of his concerns with then-HRW board member Richard Goldstone, who would go on to write the U.N.’s much-maligned report on the Gaza war. There are few more reviled figures in Israel right now than Goldstone, but even he sympathized with Bernstein on certain points, such as the politicized nature of the U.N. Human Rights Council, which, after being created in 2006, had directed its first nine condemnations at Israel. In March 2008, barely a year before he accepted UNHRC’s mandate to investigate the Gaza war, he told Bernstein that he thought the body’s performance had been hopeless and expressed ambivalence as to whether HRW should continue appearing before it. He also agreed with Bernstein that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s increasingly aggressive anti-Israel rhetoric, in combination with his threatening policies, was an issue worthy of HRW’s attention. Goldstone pushed Roth to address it, but to no avail. (When I asked Roth in a February interview at his office about HRW’s refusal to take a position on Ahmadinejad’s threats against Israel, including his famous call for Israel to be “wiped off the map,” Roth quibbled about the way the statement had been translated in the West—“there was a real question as to whether he actually said that”—then told me that it was not HRW’s place to render judgments on such rhetoric: “Let’s assume it is a military threat. We don’t take on governments’ military threats just as we don’t take on aggression, per se. We look at how they behave. So, we wouldn’t condemn a military threat just as we wouldn’t condemn an invasion—we would look at how the government wages the war.” Whitson, who sat in on the interview, offered her two cents: “You know, that statement was also matched by Hillary Clinton saying that the Iranian regime should be destroyed or wiped off the map. Again, so, very similar statements, side by side, close in time.” For his part, Goldstone told TNR that he eventually came around to the view this was not an issue HRW should take up.)

Bernstein was becoming steadily more frustrated—and two of his closest allies at the organization were soon on their way out. In early 2009, Whitson informed Steve Apkon that, if he wished to serve another term on the MENA advisory committee, he would be expected to make a contribution in the $10,000 range. Apkon was livid. He dashed off a sharply worded letter to advisory committee chair Shibley Telhami. “An organization that was founded to protect the most basic of human rights—freedom of speech—seeing it as the canary in the coal mine in regards to everything else, seems to have created within its own organization a disregard and intolerance for open dialogue,” he wrote. His membership was not renewed. (HRW denies that Apkon’s removal had anything to do with his criticisms, attributing it primarily to his failure to make an acceptable contribution.)

Shortly thereafter, Edith Everett was gone. At a MENA advisory committee meeting in March 2009, two months after the war in Gaza, she raised the subject of human shields with HRW senior military analyst Marc Garlasco, who was on hand to discuss the issues he and his fellow researchers were planning to write about: “I said, ‘I hope when you talk about the Palestinians in Gaza that you speak about their use of the population as human shields,’ and he was beginning to respond to that when Sarah Leah Whitson wouldn’t let him speak. She just put an end to that conversation. She said, ‘Well, in summation, I think we have to move on,’ or something, and I said, ‘This is ridiculous,’ you know?” Everett immediately tendered her resignation from both the HRW board and the MENA advisory committee.

At the end of that month, Bernstein sent a long e-mail to the board of HRW. “While I realize that HRW is doing a lot of valuable work, to me the mishandling of the Israel-Palestine situation is like a cancer,” he wrote. “After my twenty-one years as chair, I still care deeply about the direction of HRW, and my inability to bring change bothers me.”

NJ Court Rules Blogger Not "Journalist"

In a state shield law case, New Jersey Superior Court Appellate Judge Anthony J. Parrillo ruled against bloggers, according to The American Culture:
Shellee Hale, who lives in Washington state, wrote in the comment section of a blog that New Jersey-based software company Too Much Media was the victim of a security breach, citing anonymous sources (presumably within the company). Too Much Media acknowledged the security breach occurred — though it said the exposure of customer information, including credit card details, was brief. Yet the company still sued Hale for defamation and demanded she reveal her source.

As Mike Masnick at TechDirt notes, Hale writes for many blogs, and has also contributed articles to several “mainstream” publications, including The Wall Street Journal and Business Week. Nonetheless, Too Much Media says it wants her sources, and maintains she does not deserve the protections of New Jersey’s shield law because she’s just a blogger. The trial court agreed with Too Much Media, and New Jersey’s highest appellate court upheld that ruling on April 22.

Before we move on, let’s note the salacious details of this case as outlined in this Law.com article: Too Much Media is a software company “that provides software chiefly used by Internet pornography providers”; and Hale posted her comments at “Oprano.com, a website self-described as ‘The Wall Street Journal for the online adult entertainment industry.’ ”

I’d hate to think those details clouded the decision process of the judges in this case. At any rate, it’s irrelevant. This decision impacts all who share their views on the Internet, and Parrillo’s decision drips with contempt for mere “bloggers.”
Link to decision, here (PDF).

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

PA Consulting Produced Joke Afghanistan Strategy Powerpoint


Clearly stated on page 31 of the Pentagon Powerpoint slide from "Dynamic Planning for COIN in Afghanistan" titled "Afghanistan Stability / COIN Dynamics" (p.22 of 31) mocked on page one of the New York Times is the author:

"© PA Knowledge Limited 2009."

Some questions:

1. Why is a contractor allowed to copyright a US government document paid for by taxpayers?

2. Who awarded this contract to PA Knowledge Limited?

3. How much was PA Knowledge Limited paid for this PowerPoint presentation?

4. Why wasn't PA Knowledge Limited mentioned in Elisabeth Bumiller's April 26, 2010 front-page NY Times story about the PowerPoint scandal?

Some interesting information from the PA Consulting website raise one more question about how this scandal originated:

1. PA Knowledge Limited is a subsidiary of PA Consulting--a British company:
Corporate headquaters
123 Buckingham Palace Road
London SW1W 9SR
United Kingdom
Tel: +44 20 7333 5865
Fax: +44 20 7333 5050
QUESTION: Why is US strategy in Afghanistan being interpreted for PowerPoint presentations for the Pentagon by a foreign (although allied) company? Isn't there anyone in the Pentagon who can do this without a contract? Contracting out your strategy is a sure loser--that's a no brainer...

Isn't there anyone in Congress who could hold a hearing? Obviously someone leaked this to the press for a reason. Perhaps PA Consulting should be held liable for the problems with America's Counterinsurgency Strategy in Afghanistan?

The PA Consulting website describes the contract but unfortunately doesn't disclose the amount of money US taxpayers have wasted to date on this contract:
Counterinsurgency and strategies for effective ‘whole of government’ approaches to influence unstable regions

Developing tailored causal maps of key drivers of stability in regions and countries of interest, drawing on a library of analyses of regions across the world, we help give senior decision makers and their teams a shared ‘big picture view’ and a more structured way to help inform options for intervention.
Time to call PA executives to testify before Congress about their responsibility for America's problems in Afghanistan--as Goldman, Sachs brass just did.

President Obama Visits Ottumwa, Iowa

According to the Ottumwa Courier, the President has just been in Ottumwa, Iowa.I was there at Thanksgiving with someone I know and a friend. It's an interesting town. Hometown to Edna Ferber, author of "Showboat". Site of "Meat Solutions" (a slaughterhouse). Industrial. Union. We had a "loose meat" sandwich at "Canteen Lunch in the Alley" and saw the beautiful mural of Chief Ottumwa over the bar in the Tom-Tom-Tap at the Hotel Ottumwa. Then watched a magnificent prairie sunset. Next time you find yourself in Iowa, follow the lead of President Obama...and drop by Ottumwa. Here's an excerpt from the Ottumwa Courier report:
President Barack Obama on Tuesday sought to bolster both health care and regulatory reform during a historic visit to Ottumwa, saying his administration wants to “restore a sense of security to the middle class.”

“Visits like this remind you that when you get out into the heartland and you talk to folks, there is a lot to learn from rural America,” Obama said to a packed house at the Hellyer Student Life Center on the Indian Hills Community College campus. “It’s towns like this that give America its heartbeat.”

After a warm welcome, Obama received a standing ovation for the passage of health care reform, emphasizing popular angles on the legislation, like putting an end to bans for pre-existing conditions and help for senior citizens. He touted the reform package as the single biggest deficit reduction action since the 1970s, though he admitted it will mean larger deficits in the short term.

A similar ovation followed comments on regulatory reform for business. Obama focused on responsibilities, trying to create a connection between obligations met by families and those failed by corporate and political America. He drew distinctions between the behavior of Americans who struggle to pay their debts and behave according to social norms and corporations who don’t bother to try.

“Even before this last crisis it felt like it was slipping away. Folks like you are living up to your responsibilities. People in Washington and Wall Street are not living up to theirs,” he said.
And here's the video of the President' Town Hall from the White House website:

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

What Did Billy Graham Say to President Obama?

According to Christian Web News, among other things, topics included Franklin Graham's blacklisting by the Pentagon...
President Obama made the short drive from Asheville, where he spent the weekend, to Montreat, to see the 91-year-old Graham and son Franklin, also an evangelist.

The visit only lasted about 30 minutes, and included aides and advisers to both men. Obama had a private prayer and conversation with Billy Graham. Graham gave two bibles to Obama, one for him, and the other for the first lady, Graham spokesman Larry Ross said, according to the Associated Press.

Obama was “extraordinarily gratified that he took the time to meet with him” White House spokesman Bill Burton said.

According to Franklin Graham, his dad and Obama's conversation was “very cordial, very nice.” He said, “When the president got ready to leave, the president prayed for my father, my father prayed for him.”

According to Graham, his father prayed for the nation and that God would give Obama wisdom in his decisions. Franklin Graham said in his prayer, the president thanked God for Billy Graham's life.

Franklin Graham said he and Obama talked for a short time about the Pentagon Prayer Service ordeal. Graham said that the activists with an agenda were trying to pull all religion out of the military.

Franklin Graham said, “I wanted to make him aware of that. He said he would look into to it.”
BTW, I couldn't find an account--or a photo--on the White House website (but maybe I missed something).

General Jones' "Macaca" Moment of Truth...



I saw this video on YouTube yesterday, and was willing to give General Jones the benefit of the doubt. It is an old joke, one I had read years ago in a joke book. Not the worst joke ever, and possibly not even intended in a bad way...But, now that General Jones has apologized, it unfortunately needs to be taken a little more seriously--by the Israeli government, if not by the American Jewish community. If he has apologized, then General Jones has admitted that his intent was not, in fact, innocent. It was a reflection of a deeper bias against, prejudice towards, and even contempt for Jews and Israel (he mentioned Israel explicitly in the joke). If he had said, "No apology necessary, no offense was intended," it would have been different.

IMHO, Israel should issue a diplomatic protest against General Jones, asap. The Israelis need to ask for another National Security Adviser, who has not demonstrated such insensitivity, if nothing else. The American Jewish community, likewise, needs to formally protest and ask for a new National Security Adviser in the interest of the United States--where no group of citizens of any religion should be singled out for humiliation at the hands of a government official (especially a top Presidential adviser). Imagine what would have happened if General Jones had joked about Muslims, and use that as a single standard for judging behavior.

General Jones may have started with a banal joke, but if his apology isn't evidence of intentional defamation against Jews, I don't know what is... And if not stopped now, who knows where this might end, especially given recent demonization of Israel by General Petraeus and the Obama administration?

It's a "Macaca" moment of truth for General Jones, as former Virginia Governor George Allen might tell him...

UPDATE: I've received this response from the Anti-Defamation League Media Relations Department to my inquiry about their reaction:
(ADL Media )
Mr. Foxman’s reaction to Gen Jones’ joke as cited below in the ABC blog was widely reported in the media.

ADL has accepted Jones’ apology

http://blogs.abcnews.com/politicalpunch/2010/04/antidefamation-league-national-security-adviser-jones-told-inappropriate-stereotypic-joke-about-jewi.html

Home > Politics > Political Punch
Political Punch
Power, pop, and probings from ABC News Senior White House Correspondent Jake Tapper

Anti-Defamation League: National Security Adviser Jones Told “Inappropriate, Stereotypic” Joke About Jewish Merchant
April 26, 2010 11:19 AM

While many in the largely Jewish audience laughed, others didn’t find it so funny, including Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith.

“It's inappropriate,” Foxman told ABC News. “it's stereotypic. Some people believe they need to start a speech with a joke; this was about the worst kind of joke the head of the National Security Council could have told.”

“To make fun of Jews in terms of ‘Jews won’t help you in need, Jews want to sell to you?’ Whoa!” Foxman says. “Where's the sensitivity? The irony of it is General Jones went to this forum to reach out to the Jewish community. Of all the jokes this is probably the worst one he could have picked.”

National Security Adviser Gen. James Jones has apologized for his offensive joke. Abe Foxman and the Anti-Defamation League have accepted his apology.

Statement from General Jones about the joke he told during his remarks at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy
“I wish that I had not made this off the cuff joke at the top of my remarks, and I apologize to anyone who was offended by it. It also distracted from the larger message I carried that day: that the United States commitment to Israel’s security is sacrosanct.” – General Jim Jones, National Security Advisor
P.S. I prefer Barry Rubin's analysis, here:
I could talk about more but let me focus on two that I think are inescapable and have policy consequences. It is interesting to note that both aspects relate to changes Jones made in the way the joke has been told by Jews.

First, the story is set in Afghanistan. Why there of all places where there have never been any Jews and there is only one in the whole country today? When it has appeared onJewish sites, the joke was set in the Sahara Desert. Note also Jones insisted--part of the joke but also revealing--that it was based on a "true" story.

Well, Afghanistan is the main theatre of operations for the U.S. military, especially if one takes into account future plans. So it shows that even in Afghanistan, there are people obsessed with theIsrael -Palestinian conflict. (That's not true by the way.) The idea that the conflict is the central issue in the world determining everything has become a theme of ObamaAdministration foreign policy. True, it is a Hamas guy and not a Taliban guy. Yet one cannot help but make the connection.

Second, instead of an individual Jew, the focus of the story is switched to Israel by making it a Hamas guy, putting in references to Israel, and making an Afghan Jew describe Israel as "my country."

The Jew, now made into a representative of Israel--in effect--rather than a generic Jew, seeks to charge (presumably overcharge) for letting the Hamas guy in to get what he needs. Indeed,Israel does demand an admissions' fee into peace for Hamas and also the Palestinian Authority: that they must show they are serious about peace as well as make compromises.

The tendency of the current U.S. government and of Europe is-and I don't want to overstate this-to say that such a barrier is unnecessary. End the sanctions on the Gaza Strip, they say, let Hamas into the talks (I'm not saying the Obamaadministration endorses this idea), give the PA a state. Then everything will be okay and peace will prevail.

The adaptation of this into the joke is to let the Hamas guy in without a tie and trust him to pay at the end of the meal. Indeed, that if you do so he will stop cursingIsrael and want to be friends. After all, most restaurants today have given up their tie and jacket requirement.

Now here's the joke I'll tell when they ask me to speak at the National Security Council:

An Israeli is walking through a dangerous desert, beset by enemies on every side. He comes upon an American general who is national security advisor. "Please help me," says the Israeli, "I'm out of ammunition."

"I'd love to help you," says the general, "but I can only sell you a tie. It's because I'm helping you that they are all out to get me!"

"No thanks on the tie," says the Israeli, "I'd rather have your support as an ally against those antisemitic, anti-American totalitarian forces which are out to destroy you any way."

Apple iPhone Search Raises Question: Are Bloggers Journalists?

If so, Gizmodo argues, bloggers such as Jason Chen are protected by California's journalism shield law:
Police Seize Jason Chen's Computers
Last Friday night, California's Rapid Enforcement Allied Computer Team entered editor Jason Chen's home without him present, seizing four computers and two servers. They did so using a warrant by Judge of Superior Court of San Mateo. According to Gaby Darbyshire, COO of Gawker Media LLC, the search warrant to remove these computers was invalid under section 1524(g) of the California Penal Code.
IMHO, the language in the code, "or other periodical publication," ought to cover blogs and bloggers. The clear definition of the word publication is to make something public--not to print on paper. See Wikipedia's definition:
"To publish is to make content publicly known. The term is most frequently applied to the distribution of text or images on paper, or to the placing of content on a website."
Yet, copyright law does not reflect this fact, according to Ray Ming:
RayMing Chang, Publication Does Not Really Mean Publication: The Need to Amend the Definition of Publication in the Copyright Act, 33 AM. INTELL. PROP. L. ASS'N Q.J. 225: This article analyzes the definition of publication in the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976 and finds strong support for the proposition that electronic dissemination (e.g., "Internet publishing") of works does not result in publication under American copyright law. This article argues that the definition of publication needs to be amended to explicitly include electronic dissemination.
The Apple case presents a chance for the courts to weigh in on the status of blogs and bloggers...

Monday, April 26, 2010

Charles Crawford on the British Foreign Office's "Pope Memo"

Read it here:
So the point is that this sort of crass behaviour did not arise incidentally or through a fleeting engorging of poor Steven Mulvain's post-adolescent imagination lobes.

It took place in a professional context deliberately engineered by New Labour in which professional standards - and the very idea of standards - are 'relativised'. Where FCO new entrants are harangued about Climate Change and Outreach to Islam but not taught the basic professional values.

One in which Judgement is cast aside in favour of Delivering Results and Personal Impact.

The problem, see, is that if you emulate Mr Mulvain and Deliver Results and achieve Personal Impact without Judgement, you can screw up on a vast scale.

Memo to Next Government:

Haul me quickly back to the FCO to sort all this out.

A dirty job, but someone has to do it.

Ross Douthat on the Significance of South Park

From the New York Times:
Across 14 on-air years, there’s no icon “South Park” hasn’t trampled, no vein of shock-comedy (sexual, scatalogical, blasphemous) it hasn’t mined. In a less jaded era, its creators would have been the rightful heirs of Oscar Wilde or Lenny Bruce — taking frequent risks to fillet the culture’s sacred cows.

In ours, though, even Parker’s and Stone’s wildest outrages often just blur into the scenery. In a country where the latest hit movie, “Kick-Ass,” features an 11-year-old girl spitting obscenities and gutting bad guys while dressed in pedophile-bait outfits, there isn’t much room for real transgression. Our culture has few taboos that can’t be violated, and our establishment has largely given up on setting standards in the first place.

Except where Islam is concerned. There, the standards are established under threat of violence, and accepted out of a mix of self-preservation and self-loathing.

This is what decadence looks like: a frantic coarseness that “bravely” trashes its own values and traditions, and then knuckles under swiftly to totalitarianism and brute force.

Happily, today’s would-be totalitarians are probably too marginal to take full advantage. This isn’t Weimar Germany, and Islam’s radical fringe is still a fringe, rather than an existential enemy.

For that, we should be grateful. Because if a violent fringe is capable of inspiring so much cowardice and self-censorship, it suggests that there’s enough rot in our institutions that a stronger foe might be able to bring them crashing down.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Lang Lang's iPad Recital

(ht HuffingtonPost)

Hail, ReoCities!

Savior of Geocities websites...
14:00 PM, Tuesday, 20 October 2009 - GeoCities Dying
A while ago I posted a link on Hacker News that GeoCities was going to close. It didn't really click with me that that might be a disaster. I figured, good riddance, they're nothing but a hosting provider for spammers. Then, on the 20th of October 2009, about a week before GeoCities was really going to close, someone else posted a link, pointing to some interesting pages. These were on an old GeoCities account, about to be erased. It wasn't what I would call a masterpiece, and I didn't agree with all of it, but it seemed like it was worth keeping.
So I logged in to one of my trusty servers and backed up that user's home directory. Then, I started to wonder how much more good stuff was about to be lost forever. Only one way to find out.
A bit of googling for my favorite subjects with inurl:geocities.com turned up a surprising number of really interesting pages. That's when I decided to back up as much of the 'Silicon Valley' area in GeoCities as I could. One thing led to another, and sooner or later it was clear that just backing up a bit of GeoCities wasn't going to be good enough.
There was plenty of interesting (and not so interesting) stuff in other areas of the site. So I decided to go all the way and get all of GeoCities. But making a backup of something as large as geocities.com, and making it live again was not as simple as it seemed.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Simon Johnson: Break Up the Banks!

(ht Huffington Post)

How Volcanic Ash Shuts Down Jet Engines

Arianna Huffington on SEC v Goldman, Sachs

Arianna, who has a pretty good head for business herself, says Wall Street has "shorted" America's Middle Class:
After reading the details of the SEC's filing against Goldman Sachs, it's hard not to come away thinking: "Why would anyone ever do business with that firm again?" Likewise, after even a cursory examination of the treatment of the American middle class by the Wall Street/Washington class over the past few decades, one should also wonder why anyone would ever do business with that crowd again. And yet, there they are, still running things at the Treasury, the Fed, and the National Economic Council.

The urgent need for the reorganization of our financial system goes far beyond the upcoming debate on new financial regulations. And it goes far beyond the media's right versus left framing. It's a question about the future of our country, and whether we are going to stop the slide toward a Third World system in which there are just two classes: those at the bottom and those at the top.

A lot of people at the top of the economic food chain have done very well shorting the middle class. But the losers in those bets weren't Goldman Sachs investors -- they were millions of hard working Americans who had heard the pitch and bought into the American Dream, only to find it had been replaced by a sophisticated scam.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Bring Back Transatlantic Steamers...


That's what a friend of mine suggested to me today, to solve the air traffic shutdown caused by the eruption of the Icelandic volcano Eyjafjallajokull.

The old Queen Mary used to take one from NYC to England in 5 days. And the new Queen Mary 2 is still in business for Cunard Lines.

My own recommendation--zeppelins!

Friday, April 16, 2010

Huffington Post-1, Goldman Sachs-0

Today's Huffington Post appears to be chock full of the Goldman Sachs Fraud Charges Story....

Iceland's Uzbek Connection...

The volcanic eruption dominating the news today reminded me that Iceland's First Lady, Dorrit Moussaieff, comes from a prominent Bukharian Jewish family that traces its roots to the dyer of Ghengis Khan's robes. Here's an excerpt from a February, 2009 profile in the Times of London:
...That is because the Icelandic first lady comes in the zippy form of Dorrit Moussaieff. She is sitting in the splendid drawing room of her Belgravia apartment, which is panelled with wood and decorated with porcelain and paintings by Toulouse-Lautrec and the preRaphaelites. At 59, dripping in jewels and with her nut-brown hair freshly blow-dried by Nicky Clarke himself, she looks closer to 35.

Her husband’s entire government may have just resigned but she seems unruffled by the political turmoil. “He is currently attending to an entirely new administration,” she acknowledges. So why did he not resign, then? “Nobody asked him to. More champagne?”

I accept a glass of bubbly, mixed with pomegranate juice. Five minutes later she is suggesting we go to an art opening at “Charlie Saatchi’s”, inviting me to dinner and urging me to bring my four children to Iceland in half-term. Although she doesn’t take a glass herself, she clearly cares not one jot that the comparisons to Marie Antoinette are starting to loom dangerously large.

She is wearing a selection of goodies that are almost as opulent as the room. Apart from the diamond cubes in her ears, one of her (three) diamond necklaces is set with a dark-green antique mogul emerald as big as a matchbox. Of the necklace itself, she is briskly dismissive. “The diamonds are insignificant,” she comments. “What’s significant is the emerald.”

A scion of the Israeli Moussaieff jewellery dynasty, born in Israel, she came to London at the age of 13 with her parents.

She followed her father into the family business and was, in her jewellery-selling heyday, rumoured to be earning a seven-figure salary. She had been a fixture on London’s party circuit for years before she met Iceland’s president, Olafur Ragnur Grimsson, in 1999 at a lunch party in South Kensington; four years later they were married. Moussaieff has now taken the Icelandic cause to her bosom, splitting her time between Reykjavik and the splendour of her London apartment. She’ll bang Iceland’s drum all right, but not in sackcloth and ashes.

Dmitry Babich on Kyrgyzstan's Crisis

From Russia Profile (ht Johnson's Russia List):
Aitmatov did not believe in flawless state machines – not in totalitarian ones, not in democratic ones. He was more interested in his protagonists – homegrown philosophers who in their space stations turn out to be freer and more astute than some university professors. And this is the greater truth, once again demonstrated by the events of 2005 to 2010 in the writer’s native Kyrgyzstan. So, Askar Akaev was replaced with Kurmanbek Bakiev. So Bakiev will now be replaced by someone else. And this someone will also place their friends and relatives in lucrative jobs in “investment and innovation,” simultaneously putting their opponents in prison. And similarly they will take the percentage of their supporters in Parliament up to 100. This percentage, by the way, only gets bigger with every new revolution. In Bakiev’s time, the party of power took 79 percent – more than in Akaev’s. Looks ideal. But all of the sudden, there is a new revolution.

Meanwhile the United States, Russia and other countries keep trying to figure out which one of them financed the rebels. In reality, the rebels did not need any financing. Hunger and illiteracy worked much better than any foundations or spies. The illiteracy was caused by the collapse of the Soviet education system, and the hunger is a consequence of illiteracy. And right now the task at hand is to teach the Kyrgyz youth Russian and/or English, to give it a future. But this is not mentioned in newspapers or at summits. The topics of gas pipelines and external political “spheres of influence” are much more interesting.

Democracy is not a race car that can be imported from the United States or from Western Europe with a “quality assured” certificate from Freedom House. It is not a blissful nirvana and not even a procedure, as was thought in the 19th century. It is a search. It is the daily improvement of the quality of a person – their education, their sense of responsibility for the country and the family, their freedom from prejudices and sin. This is what should be done in Kyrgyzstan, in Russia and in Poland, not boasting of EU membership or of the “power vertical” at the same time as people are forgetting books and the habit of reading in general.

Having lived in the shadow of a very cruel political regime for 60 years, Aitmatov showed us that it is possible to be an utterly free person even in an authoritarian society. It was futile to build “Berlin Walls” to limit his freedom – it was the same as building ramparts against aviation. Thanks to his imagination, he easily flew over the bounds of censorship. This is how he became a free person, without Parliaments and national revolutions. Let’s learn from him today – in Russia, in Kyrgyzstan, and in Poland.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

"The Guy in the Windbreaker"

President Obama slipped away from the White House Press Corps the other day, but he couldn't hide from my Swarthmore College buddy Tom Satterwhite, who published his account on the Washington Post Local Opinions website today:
The guy in the windbreaker
By Tom Satterwhite
Washington


The other day, while I was waiting for the light to change at Chesapeake Street and Nebraska Avenue NW, I saw about eight big black sport-utility vehicles approaching.

My first thought was, “This looks like fairly heavy artillery, but it can’t be Him ... where are all the motorcycles, the press and the 10,000 police that always seem to trail behind?” The lead car turned onto the street ahead of me and started up the hill toward the Fort Reno Park athletic fields.

Nobody got out to redirect traffic, and I followed the procession up the hill. Then the caravan stopped, and while I watched, a guy in a black windbreaker and a few agents got out and started walking up a hill on the right toward a small crowd of people milling around for no apparent reason. I thought, “This is too much. What is going on?” So I parked in an illegal spot, got out and walked over to the field where an agent inquired, “Can I help you?”

“Are we allowed to go on the field?” I asked. She smiled and said, “Of course. It’s public property. See the agent over there.” Another agent, who seemed to be about 10 feet tall, came over, scanned me with a wand, and said, “Thank you. Go ahead.” When I got to the top of the hill, I realized some girls were playing soccer, and the guy with the black windbreaker, who was now pretty close, looked me in the eye for a second. Still mystified, I turned and asked one of the coaches, “The president is here because ... ?”

“His daughter is on my team.”

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Mary Moran v National Football League Players Association

Now, this is an interesting lawsuit. The plaintiff is the daughter of Congressman Jim Moran (D-VA). The defendant is the union of professional football players.

If this goes to trial, it will be hard to get a seat in the courtroom.

National Guard Truck Kills Science Reporter at DC Nuclear Summit

Constance Holden, 68, a reporter for Science magazine, was killed by a National Guard truck as she rode her bicycle near the Washington Convention Center yesterday, according to the Washington Post.

More on the story from GreaterGreaterWashington.org:
The incident puts a tragic veneer on an already-frustrating event, where citizens have to show ID and submit to searches just to enter their own homes. Security agencies are doing all of this in the name of protecting the world leaders, but it's less clear whether it's all necessary. What is clear is that one Washingtonian is dead as a result.

Geoff Hatchard Tweeted, "All this security to ensure that no one gets hurt or dies at the summit, and the security manages to kill someone? Mission NOT accomplished."

Sunday, April 11, 2010

More on the Polish Airliner Tragedy by Charles Crawford

The Legacy Of Lech and Maria Kaczynski: Si Monumentum Requiris, Circumspice
Here is the text of my appreciation of the life and times of Lech and Maria Kaczynski, now up at Radio Free Europe.
* * * * *
I attended a smart Warsaw dinner party in 2006, not long after the Kaczynski twins and their Law and Justice party (PiS) had triumphed in the 2005 Polish parliamentary and Presidential elections. The assembled Poles, distinguished Warsaw intellectuals, united in noisy disgust. The Kaczynskis were portrayed as belonging to that part of the political spectrum which ranges from pathological extremists to the far side of the Antichrist. Poland was hurtling down the road to ruin, even dictatorship.

Feverish attacks on the Kaczynski phenomenon from many Poles (including Solidarity period colleagues) quickly turned into an international liberal media ‘narrative’ drawn from a pick ‘n mix list of disobliging adjectives which is surfacing in some obituary analysis: extreme, nationalist, homophobic, anti-German, anti-European, ultra-Catholic, xenophobic, reactionary, divisive, populist, right-wing.

The worst adjective the patronising Warsaw elite threw at the Kaczynskis was something much more subtly Polish: they were so provincial. They were not ‘one of us’ – too petty and pedantic, too truculent, too self-righteous, too wrapped up in Poland’s own myths, too worried about all those uneducated primitive Poles out there. In short, much too Polish – but in the wrong way.

In my four years in Warsaw from numerous meetings with the Kaczynski family including their mother Jadwiga Kaczynska I drew my own, very different conclusions. They came across as smart, amusing, private but determined and far-sighted Polish patriots who had ‘attitudes’ rather than specific policies.

The Kaczynskis' overriding ambition was for Poland to be strong. (This might sound a curious goal for non-Poles, but remember that since 1795 Poland has been substantively free and independent for only 40 years.) The Kaczynskis looked uncompromisingly at what they saw as key weaknesses in Poland as it had had emerged from its bleak modern history. They identified three themes.

Communism’s Corrupt Legacy

One was the dire moral and institutional legacy of communism. Poles’ heroic heave to end Soviet rule had come with a huge cost. Poles had spied on and betrayed other Poles. Key state institutions had been penetrated by people on the Moscow payroll. Far too many people had prospered dishonestly since communism ended. New foreign investment flooding into Poland was welcome, but it brought too many temptations to cut corners.

Above all, key Solidarity leaders including Lech Walesa himself had pulled punches when communism ended, allowing numerous communist villains to sneak away from their crimes only to return in expensive new suits, whistling nonchalantly as new European ‘social democrats’. It was this argument which so infuriated former Solidarity personalities – how dare the Kaczynskis call into question Poland’s (and Solidarity’s) supreme moral triumph in ending communism peacefully? Heresy.

In my view Lech Kaczynski wanted to win the 2005 Presidential election primarily to see his view of this recent history vindicated, rather than with any clear plans to do much about it. In particular there was no generalised throwing open of the communist archives – some commentators close to the Kaczynskis told me that key Solidarity people and many senior Catholic Church leaders had to be protected from devastating revelations of betrayal or private indiscretions.

As the post-communist Left reeled under one scandal after another, Lech Kaczynski campaigned against corruption at all levels of the state (with sly swipes at unwholesome ‘foreign’ influences), first as Justice Minister in 2000-2001 and then as Mayor of Warsaw.

As Mayor he set a new style. Official processes were meticulously if not painfully respected. Unspectacular but steady improvements were made. Corruption scandals faded away. This unassuming if not boring style went down well with the public.

And, yes, Mayor Kaczynski banned two gay parades. Not so much because he was against homosexuality (decriminalised in Poland decades before the United Kingdom got round to it), but rather because he thought that that sort of thing was just unseemly. The fact that many German and other foreign gay rights activists wanted to use the parades to challenge his authority made him more defiant.

Political Instability

The Kaczynskis also fretted over political instability itself; they did not want Poland slipping back into the ruinous feuding of the 1930s. By 2000 the dozens of political parties which had contested early post-communist elections had been reduced to some ten groupings. However, a quarter or more of Polish voters flirted with overtly populist leaders of a ‘Red-Brown’ inclination. Many were marginalised Poles from families displaced from Ukraine in World War Two and now somehow ‘rootless’ in poor rural areas.

After the Kaczynski PiS party (to their own surprise) became the largest party in the 2005 Parliamentary elections, the twins hit upon a strategy which scandalised many middle-class Poles: they formed a government with these populists, the Self-Defence and Polish Families parties led by Andrzej Lepper and Roman Giertych respectively.

This ridiculous government wobbled along for a year or so then collapsed, prompting the 2007 elections. The main centre right party Citizens Platform swept to power. Far from banging a ‘right wing’ free market drum, PiS talked about ‘social justice’ and strong state support for the less fortunate. PiS sucked in votes from different parts of the left spectrum. Self-Defence and Polish Families were crushed. The former communists struggled to get into double figures.

The result of the Kaczynskis’ crafty machinations has been a spectacular success for Poland and for Europe. Only four political groupings are now in Parliament, all committed to EU membership and modernising pro-Western policies. Polish politics, decision-making and institutions are notably more stable – Poland’s current fine run of economic success while the rest of Europe is faltering is no coincidence.

Poland and Europe

Finally, Lech Kaczynski wanted Poland to be strong in Europe. But he also wanted Western Europe to grasp that while it had prospered after World War Two, Poland had been left at Yalta to rot under Russian/Soviet rule. He insisted that the values of ‘modern Europe’ had been formed without Poland’s rightful participation, so Poland did not see itself as automatically bound by them. Yes, Poland would join the European Union. But it had not thrown off communist Moscow to submit to petty-bureaucratic Brussels.

Thus Poland’s tenacious negotiating positions over the 2005 EU Budget deal and the Lisbon Treaty. Other EU capitals saw the Kaczynskis as blustering amateurs who would quickly fold. I warned London that the Kaczynskis would be stubborn and skilful negotiators, and privately advised Tony Blair how to work with them.

Lech Kaczynski duly played on Angela Merkel’s desperation to get EU voting reweighted in Germany’s favour and extracted a remarkable concession, namely that Poland’s excellent voting weight under the Nice Treaty extend until late 2014. This gives Poland a stronger hand in the 2012/13 EU Budget negotiations. Kaczynski also steered Poland’s Eurozone membership issue into the long grass – again, a perspicacious outcome which has done Poland no harm.

Lech Kaczynski’s Legacy

Lech Kaczynski reminds me of Bill Buckley’s famous ambition for US conservatives, to "stand athwart history, yelling Stop!" His weakness was turning his fiercely held attitudes into policies. Far too often, especially in foreign policy pronouncements, he came across as heaving large lumps of Attitude into the river of current affairs, making an impressive splash but doing nothing to stop the water simply running past again.

Attitudes and policies come and go. For now let’s remember and respect what Lech and Maria Kaczynski did over more than 30 years to build a strong, honest Poland.

Yesterday on BBC and CNN I was asked whether Poland would slump into political instability, so many top people being lost in this disaster. I replied, “of course not”.

Poland is in deep sorrow, yet coping firmly and democratically with this calamity. Lech Kaczynski helped make that happen – a towering moral and political achievement, for Poland and for Europe.

* * * * *

The plaque for Sir Christopher Wren in St Paul's Cathedral says this:

si monumentum requiris, circumspice (if you seek his monument, look around you)

The same goes for Lech Kaczynski in his fine and honourable journey from child film star to law studies through internment and Solidarnosc, and then to his final years as Poland's third democratically elected leader.

Charles Crawford on the Polish Airliner Tragedy

From CharlesCrawford.biz:
I have just heard the appalling news about the crash near Smolensk of the plane carrying President Kaczynski and a senior delegation en route to Katyn.

As well as the President and his wife Maria it looks as if former President-in-exile Ryszard Kaczorowski, head of the Institute of National Memory Janusz Kurtyk, head of the Polish National Bank Sławomir Skrzypek and dozens of other significant Polish personalities have perished as the plane tried to land in thick fog.

The Russians have moved fast to open an official investigation. The plane itself was the official President's jet, a Soviet-era designed Tu-154.

I knew many people on board. Beyond awful.

Lech Kaczynski was a man who fought long and hard to bring his country modern constitutional democracy. Interned by the Communists for his work for the Solidarity trade union, he worked closely with - then fell out with - Lech Walesa.

In the 1990s he held various prominent decisions before making his name denouncing corruption as Justice Minister in the Buzek government from 2000-2001. He then did well as Mayor of Warsaw and was elected President of Poland in 2005.

I met him on many occasions before and after he became President. My wife and I also much enjoyed the company of his wife Maria.

This is not the moment to write some wider thoughts about what the Kaczynski family represented. No doubt it will not take long before sneers about his supposed narrow-minded anti-gay Catholic reactionary anti-EU attitudes creep forth.

Suffice to say that Lech Kaczynski was not that. He was a highly intelligent, principled Polish statesman, who above all emphasised the central importance in public life of honesty, the law and democratic constitutionality .

My own deepest condolences to his daughter Marta, his brother Jaroslaw and to his mother whom I had the honour to host in 2006 at the Residence in Warsaw on our Remembrance Day. She played her part in Poland's struggle for freedom in WW2. How tragic for her that one of her beloved twin sons has been lost today.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

US State Department Responds to Kyrgyz Crisis (Sort Of...)

From the transcript of US State Department Spokesperson PJ Crowley’s comments at today’s press conference:
Regarding Kyrgyzstan, we continue to closely monitor events on the ground in Bishkek, as well from here in Washington. Today, Assistant Secretary Bob Blake met this morning with Kyrgyz Foreign Minister Sarbaev. The purpose of the meeting was simply to inform him that we would not be having the scheduled dialogue today as was originally planned. Our chargé at the Embassy in Bishkek also met today with opposition leader Rosa Otunbayeva. Our message in both cases was that we hope that calm will be restored in a manner consistent with democratic principles. Our priority, at this point, is law and order and that democracy be established in accordance with the rule of law. And we’ve been – continue to reach out to government officials and opposition leaders in every way that we possibly can.

We have no information regarding any specific threats to Americans who are there. Obviously, the safety and security of our personnel is of paramount importance, and we will continue to monitor the situation. This evening, in Bishkek, there are some crowds that are assembling on the streets. We have ongoing concerns about looting, even though the situation on the ground was relatively peaceful today. Our Embassy is operating, although it is closed except for emergency public requirements that can be arranged through a special appointment, and operations are ongoing at the Manas airfield.

With that, I’ll take your questions.

QUESTION: What can you tell us about the – I mean, was there any substance in the conversations that you had with the foreign minister and with the opposition leader in Bishkek? Did they talk about what kind of a solution the United States could recognize, what kind of a solution would not result in you finding this to be a coup d’état? And did they talk about Manas and its future?

MR. CROWLEY: I do not think it was a substantive conversation.

QUESTION: Well, do you have any concerns about any of what I just asked about, or you think everything’s just going to be fine and you’re going to continue to –

MR. CROWLEY: Right. Run it by me again. Let’s take it step by step.

QUESTION: Well, I’m wondering what your thoughts are on how you’re going to deal with the situation. I mean, there is statutory requirements that you’re obligated to uphold, although I guess the argument on Honduras wasn’t exactly – it didn’t go exactly as planned.

MR. CROWLEY: Well, let’s start –

QUESTION: What are you going to – I mean, is this is a coup? Is this –

MR. CROWLEY: Let’s start with this point. The situation is ongoing. We will be governed by the facts. We will operate in accordance with U.S. law. I think one of the important factors by law is the question of a military coup. There’s no indication that the military or security services played any role or any meaningful role in what has happened in Kyrgyzstan. Our interest is in seeing a peaceful resolution and we will work with the government ministries and Kyrgyz officials to see the restoration of democratic rule as quickly as possible.

QUESTION: Was that democratic rule really there before?

MR. CROWLEY: We want to help Kyrgyzstan continue on a path towards effective democracy.

QUESTION: Well, does that mean that if any group of people gets big enough and storms government buildings and declares that they’re in control and they’re going to form a new government – as long as they didn’t have anything to do with the military, that that’s okay with you guys?

MR. CROWLEY: We have concerns about the situation on the ground. Obviously, we deplore any violence. There has been – we have concerns about ongoing looting and disorder. We stand with the people of Kyrgyzstan. We understand that there were specific grievances that resulted in the demonstrations that have produced an opposition that now says that it has effective control of the government. We recognize states. We obviously will deal with governments – some good, some not so good. But we will continue to work – to help Kyrgyzstan and the people of Kyrgyzstan have a government that they can support and that functions in accordance with democratic principles.

QUESTION: Well, are you operating on the – operating with the idea that Bakiyev is still the president?

MR. CROWLEY: Right now, we are in touch with government ministries. We are in touch with opposition figures. Our message to both is the same.

QUESTION: But wait, just on that – but, I mean, do you believe that Kyrgyzstan was on a path to democracy before this whole incident? I mean, if you had a restoration of the status quo, would that be a return to democracy?

MR. CROWLEY: We have expressed our concerns about Kyrgyzstan and corruption within its government. We want to see Kyrgyzstan continue to develop on a path to democracy.

QUESTION: But was it on that path, I guess, is my – was it on the path before, like, last week?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, there – I mean, there was an election in Kyrgyzstan not so long ago. We stated our concerns at the time about the manner in which that election was conducted. At the same time, we recognize that there was a government in Kyrgyzstan and we have been dealing with that government. We are closely monitoring the situation. We are talking to all of the figures involved in this situation and we will continue to encourage them to resolve this in a peaceful way.

David.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

QUESTION: When you say you’re talking to all the people, are you talking to the president?

MR. CROWLEY: We have not been in touch with the president.

QUESTION: The president is supposedly in the southern part of the country and it seems, of course, that he’s sort of rallying support for himself. Do you advise him to give up?

MR. CROWLEY: It is not for us to advise him to do anything. It’s for us to advise government officials to resolve this peacefully and with the interests of the people of Kyrgyzstan at heart.

QUESTION: P.J.

MR. CROWLEY: Yeah.

QUESTION: Yesterday – I’d like some clarification on a meeting – yesterday, you said that the foreign minister and the son of the president was going to meet for these meetings. Did –

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I said that the foreign minister and the son were en route here to Washington. We have not had any contact with the son today.

QUESTION: Did he actually come? Can you verify that he actually came?

MR. CROWLEY: I cannot. We believe he’s in Washington, but beyond that, we have not had any contact with him. We had contact today with the foreign minister.

QUESTION: And can you fill me in a little bit more what was said in that meeting?

MR. CROWLEY: No.

QUESTION: Did you send any messages for him to send back to the president?

MR. CROWLEY: No. I mean, we talked about our goals being peaceful resolution of this, respect for democratic principles and respect for human rights of those who are demonstrating. But beyond that, we did not send a particular message to the president.

QUESTION: Do you still think that this guy is the foreign minister?

MR. CROWLEY: Hmm?

QUESTION: Do you still –

QUESTION: Do you still recognize him as a foreign minister?

MR. CROWLEY: He is currently the foreign – I mean, there are – as you’ve just said, there is a president who has not yielded power. There is an interim leadership that claims to be in charge of the government. We are talking to both. It’s not for us to take sides one way or the other. Our interest here is with the people of Kyrgyzstan and a peaceful resolution of the situation. We met with the foreign minister because he was arriving here to participate in scheduled talks that obviously have been postponed. We are in touch in Bishkek with the foreign ministry officials that we have worked with for quite some time. We know foreign – former Foreign Minister Roza Otunbayeva. She served in the United States, I believe, at the UN during the 1990s. So she is a figure who is known to us. But again, how this is resolved should be resolved with the interest of the people of Kyrgyzstan in mind. We will continue to work with all sides to try to resolve this peacefully.

QUESTION: So why is this different than a case, for instance, with Honduras, where you insisted, which didn’t necessarily happen, but you insisted on the return of the democratically elected president? Is it just the fact that the military was involved that makes this less unacceptable than it did in Honduras?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, we –

QUESTION: It seems like –

MR. CROWLEY: I mean, fair enough. We prefer to see changes in government through democratic and constitutional means. That is clearly our preference. That happens in many places of the world. Unfortunately, it doesn’t happen in all places of the world. If you look back on Honduras, the facts in that case are well-known. The military charged into the presidential mansion, took President Zelaya out of the country against his will, and then put in place a de facto regime.

QUESTION: So it’s just logistics, basically?

MR. CROWLEY: The situation in Kyrgyzstan is still unfolding, but it is different. In the case of Honduras, we also had the ability to work effectively within the Organization of American States, an organization that was founded on democratic principles and, in fact, insists in its charter that those countries that are functioning democracies are those that are able to retain their membership. So I wouldn’t see direct comparability between the situation in Honduras and the situation in Kyrgyzstan.

Samir.

QUESTION: Are you going to contact the president? Do you know where he is now?

MR. CROWLEY: We’ve seen the same reports that you have that he’s still in the country, has moved into a part of the country that he is from. Beyond that, we have not had any contact with him yet.

QUESTION: You said earlier –

QUESTION: Has Secretary Clinton actually made any phone calls to Putin or had any conversations when she was in Prague regarding this situation with the Russians?

MR. CROWLEY: A good question. She has been with her counterpart, Foreign Minister Lavrov. It wouldn’t surprise me if this was part of the conversation, but I haven’t had a readout of her contacts today.

QUESTION: On the al-Madadi incident –

MR. CROWLEY: Hold on, we’ll stay in the same –

QUESTION: P.J., you said earlier that it’s not your place to take sides, but surely you are on the side of a democratically elected government, aren’t you? Or are you suggesting that this wasn’t a democratically elected government and therefore you’re willing to let it be toppled?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, it’s –

QUESTION: Through undemocratic means?

MR. CROWLEY: It’s not for us to let it – I mean, this is a sovereign country. We respect the sovereignty and integrity of Kyrgyzstan. We do recognize that various ministries and security services have pledged their allegiance to the opposition group that has emerged. I think, again, it’s not for us to take sides here. We are watching closely what is happening. We will continue to encourage everyone to follow the interest of the people.

QUESTION: But the impression that you leave by saying that you’re not taking sides is, in fact, entirely the opposite of – you are taking – by not taking sides, you are taking sides. You’re saying that you can accept this.

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I mean, we will continue to deal with the Government of Kyrgyzstan and we are following closely what’s happening. We understand what’s happening. But as to what – how it will – we’ll watch and see how events unfold.

QUESTION: All right. And then you mentioned – you had a reference when talking about Honduras to the OAS. Well, you have a multi-nation organization that can deal here –

MR. CROWLEY: And yes –

QUESTION: And an illustrious ambassador there as well.

MR. CROWLEY: Yes. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Who I’m sure is thrilled that his first couple weeks there –

MR. CROWLEY: Well, in fact –

QUESTION: What do you want – what would you like the OSCE to do, if anything?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, all right. Look, first let me reiterate again. The situation there is very fluid. There are competing claims as to who is in power. We’re going to watch this carefully as it continues to unfold. We will note that the UN is sending special representatives there to monitor the situation. As you do note, the OSCE has a direct interest in what is happening and the intrepid new ambassador to the OSCE, Ian Kelly, is on the case and providing information to us. So – and we will watch this carefully. We will continue to remain in contact with government ministries and various figures within Kyrgyzstan, and we’ll see how events unfold.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: There are reports from a senior leader within the opposition that there’s a high probability that the base will be – that the lease for the base is going to be shortened. Have you been told that, and could you react to the possibility of that?

MR. CROWLEY: I think we’re getting way ahead of ourselves. We have an existing agreement with the Government of Kyrgyzstan. It is an important transit center, contributes significantly to stability within the region, including Afghanistan. It is – it continues to operate. And we have seen reduced operations there in the last day. It hasn’t had a significant impact on our operations in Afghanistan. We will – but we will continue operations there and we will continue to discuss this with government ministries.

QUESTION: So are you saying that if you lose the base, it won’t have a significant impact?

MR. CROWLEY: I think you’re – I think you’re leaping ahead –

QUESTION: Well, if it hasn’t had a significant impact yet, do you think you –

MR. CROWLEY: Pardon?

QUESTION: If it hasn’t had a significant impact yet, according to you, then would it have any sort of impact if you lost the base?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, you’re leaping to a conclusion that I think – I don’t think we’re prepared to draw at this point.

QUESTION: Also on the base, have any – though you haven’t issued any kind of authorized or ordered departure yet, and you may not, have you moved any Americans to the base for safety?

MR. CROWLEY: That’s – that is an option to us. I can’t really tell you if – we’ll just go through that process. We have – we’re monitoring the security situation closely. We remain concerned about the welfare of American citizens in Bishkek. We’re taking appropriate security precautions to protect our families and our diplomats there. We have the option of moving personnel to Manas if we think that is necessary. We’ve evaluated that option. I can’t say at this point whether we’ve actually done that. It’s possible that there are some people who are there. And we also have other facilities that are available to help our families and diplomats if that’s the case.

At the same time, the situation was calm during the day today. We are not aware of any specific threats to Americans in Bishkek, but it is something we’ll continue to consider.

Facebook Kyrgyzstan News

Jetigen.org

Twitter Feed from Kyrgyzstan

(ht Registan) http://twitter.com/search?q=-RT%20%23freekg

Kyrgyzstan News Updates from Ferghana.ru

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Kyrgyz Opposition Demands US Base Closure

From Yahoo News/AP:
BISHKEK, Kyrgyzstan – Opposition leaders declared they had seized power in Kyrgyzstan, taking control of security headquarters, a state TV channel and other government buildings after clashes between police and protesters killed dozens in this Central Asian nation that houses a key U.S. air base.

President Kurmanbek Bakiyev, who came to power in a similar popular uprising five years ago, was said to have fled to the southern city of Osh, and it was difficult to gauge how much of the impoverished, mountainous country the opposition controlled Wednesday.

"The security service and the Interior Ministry ... all of them are already under the management of new people," Rosa Otunbayeva, a former foreign minister who the opposition leaders said would head the interim government, told the Russian-language Mir TV channel.

The opposition has called for the closure of the U.S. air base in Manas outside the capital of Bishkek that is a key transit point for supplies essential to the war in nearby Afghanistan.
Hmmmm...I remember when Rosa Otunbayeva was an actively pro-US Kyrgyz politician. We'll have to wait until the dust settles to know what really happened. If the US really does lose the Manas base, then I guess we weren't behind the latest coup, after all--but you never know...

Violence Spreads in Kyrgyzstan

Is this fruit of the US-supported "Tulip Revolution"? The BBC World Service reports:
Security forces in Bishkek, the capital of Kyrgyzstan, have opened fire on anti-government demonstrators.

The government says it does not have sufficient forces to restore order

Eyewitnesses say that at least four people have been killed.

The authorities have declared a state of emergency in Bishkek, and the cities of Naryn and Talas.

Protesters in all three cities have been trying to to seize government buildings.
More on this story from Registan.net;
Most readers of this website surely know that protesters seized the Talas administration building and took the regional governor hostage after the detention (rumored or actual isn’t clear) of opposition politician Bolot Sherniazov. Authorities shut down numerous websites and eventually cut off access to websites outside of Kyrgyzstan. Police took back the Talas administration building and dispersed protesters only to lose control to regrouped protesters shortly later. Regardless of whether or not he was actually arrested in the morning, Bolot Sherniazov was arrested, as were Almazbek Atambaev and Omurbek Tekebaev. Atambaev, and likely the many other opposition politicians who have reportedly been arrested, was arrested on suspicion of fomenting unrest in Talas.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Court Rules Against Net Neutrality

According to this CNET report, because FCC regulatory authority is not covered by existing legislation...well, time for Congress to put it into law! Surely Google and Apple and Intel have deep enough pockets to take on the phone and cable companies? Otherwise, you can kiss alternative information sources goodbye, IMHO.

Charles Crawford on the Killing of Eugene Terreblanche

From Charles Crawford:
The murder of Eugene Terreblanche has forced into prominence a number of difficult issues for South Africa.

Namely the startling murder rate for 'white' farmers.

And the fact that for all the impressive political reconciliation achieved (or not) in South Africa since apartheid ended, the ANC still enjoys celebrating its success with its war-song "Kill the Boer".

I never met Eugene Terreblanche. But as part of my job in the Embassy in South Africa to go to more exotic parts of the South African political spectrum, I did meet many so-called conservative if not extreme Afrikaners such as Carel Boshoff and Clive Derby-Lewis, who subsequently went to prison for murdering top South African communist/ANC figure Chris Hani in 1993.

Plus on one fine day back in 1990 or thereabouts I went to an outdoor rally for the Afrikaner Weerstandsbeweging (AWB) at which Terreblanche appeared on his horse. The event was strangely demure, hundreds of Afrikaner families having neat and tidy picnics as the prelude to Terreblanche's windy oratory.

The AWB and various other such organisations of varying degrees of militancy are always presented as 'far-right', whereas of course they were and are primarily national-socialistic. Far from wanting to exert 'supremacy' over Africans, a strong theme was (and remains) a separate homeland for Afrikaners where they can run their own affairs and preserve their undoubtedly specific culture and religion, within a highly communal context and tight central economic control.

Carel Boshoff has given the greatest thought to how this that this homeland should be achieved in a way obviously not at the expense of South Africa's African majority, to the point of creating a small private Afrikaner enclave called Orania. It has not taken off.

The AWB as led by Terreblanche were a more primitive, blustering and sporadically violent group bent on threatening racial confrontation aimed at partitioning South Africa, but never quite getting round to it (other than a farcical but bloody attempt in 1994 to stop the Bophuthatswana homeland being reincorporated into South Africa).

The harsh reality of South Africa is that Kill the Boer political idiom as a metaphor for 'black' African supremacy is very popular. It was this exuberant militant chanting which led to communist Joe Slovo being publicly humiliated at one of the first ANC rallies after the ANC was unbanned.

Up in Zimbabwe it is precisely this Africanist sentiment which has motivated Mugabe to drive his country into the ground. Better a land racially cleansed of 'white settlers', achieved if necessary at the price of destroying much of the country's agricultural and industrial infrastructure.

South Africa is heading in the same direction, but from a far higher economic altitude and with a shallower glide-path towards eventual disaster. The steady attrition of attacks on white farmers (and the sadistic violence often accompanying them) is just part of that deeper process.

As for Eugene Terreblanche, he achieved notoriety for his vainglorious 'white supremacy', and ended up being hacked to death by obscure workers motivated consciously or otherwise by ideas of lumpen African supremacy.

I wonder if in his final horrible seconds alive he was surprised.

Friday, April 02, 2010

Apple's IBooks Now Available in App Store - PCWorld Business Center

Apple's IBooks Now Available in App Store - PCWorld Business Center

Posted using ShareThis

Yesterday's BBC News Scoop: Shakespeare Was French

You can listen to yesterday's report on the BBC, here:
Could William Shakespeare be French?

New evidence unearthed at the site of his Stratford home suggests that the mother of England's most famous son was French.

The French Ministry of Culture has told the Today programme that it wants to honour the playwright as a member of France's own pantheon of great writers.

Nicola Stanbridge reports on the Shakespeare's hidden past.
(April Fool's!)

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Google Becomes Topeka


The reason, as announced on the company blog:
We didn’t reach this decision lightly; after all, we had a fair amount of brand equity tied up in our old name. But the more we surfed around (the former) Topeka’s municipal website, the more kinship we felt with this fine city at the edge of the Great Plains.

In fact, Topeka Google Mayor Bill Bunten expressed it best: “Don’t be fooled. Even Google recognizes that all roads lead to Kansas, not just yellow brick ones.”

For 150 years, its fortuitous location at the confluence of the Kansas River and the Oregon Trail has made the city formerly known as Topeka a key jumping-off point to the new world of the West, just as for 150 months the company formerly known as Google has been a key jumping-off point to the new world of the web. When in 1858 a crucial bridge built across the Kansas River was destroyed by flooding mere months later, it was promptly rebuilt — and we too are accustomed to releasing 2.0 versions of software after stormy feedback on our ‘beta’ releases. And just as the town's nickname is "Top City," and the word “topeka” itself derives from a term used by the Kansa and Ioway tribes to refer to “a good place to dig for potatoes,” we’d like to think that our website is one of the web's top places to dig for information.

In the early 20th century, the former Topeka enjoyed a remarkable run of political prominence, gracing the nation with Margaret Hill McCarter, the first woman to address a national political convention (1920, Republican); Charles Curtis, the only Native American ever to serve as vice president (’29 to ‘33, under Herbert Hoover); Carrie Nation, leader of the old temperance movement (and wielder of American history’s most famous hatchet); and, most important, Alfred E. Neuman, arguably the most influential figure to an entire generation of Americans. We couldn’t be happier to add our own chapter to this storied history.

A change this dramatic won’t happen without consequences, perhaps even some disruptions. Here are a few of the thorny issues that we hope everyone in the broader Topeka community will bear in mind as we begin one of the most important transitions in our company’s history:

Correspondence to both our corporate headquarters and offices around the world should now be addressed to Topeka Inc., but otherwise can be addressed normally.

Google employees once known as “Googlers” should now be referred to as either “Topekers” or “Topekans,” depending on the result of a board meeting that’s ongoing at this hour. Whatever the outcome, the conclusion is clear: we aren’t in Google anymore.

Our new product names will take some getting used to. For instance, we’ll have to assure users of Topeka News and Topeka Maps that these services will continue to offer news and local information from across the globe. Topeka Talk, similarly, is an instant messaging product, not, say, a folksy midwestern morning show. And Project Virgle, our co-venture with Richard Branson and Virgin to launch the first permanent human colony on Mars, will henceforth be known as Project Vireka.
We don’t really know what to tell Oliver Google Kai’s parents, except that, if you ask us, Oliver Topeka Kai would be a charming name for their little boy.

As our lawyers remind us, branded product names can achieve such popularity as to risk losing their trademark status (see cellophane, zippers, trampolines, et al). So we hope all of you will do your best to remember our new name’s proper usage:

Finally, we want to be clear that this initiative is a one-shot deal that will have no bearing on which municipalities are chosen to participate in our experimental ultra-high-speed broadband project, to which Google, Kansas has been just one of many communities to apply.

Posted by Eric Schmidt, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, Topeka Inc.
(April Fools!)