Tuesday, August 29, 2006

The trouble with the "Islamo-fascism" label

Wrong War, Wrong Word: a writer takes issue with the use of "Islamo-Fascism" to describe a disparate collection of Islamic movements that have little to do with "Fascism" beyond some totalitarian aspects common to all. I'm inclined to agree for the most part.

I disagree that the disparate Islamic groups have nothing in common, and I've used a term that I originally picked up from a writer named Coral Bell to describe what I perceive them as having in common: jihadists.

Unlike a concept of "Islamo-fascism", a concept of jihadism immediately places context in a Middle East setting rather than in an inaccurate context reminiscent of Europe in the late 1930s. The use of "jihad" has similar connotations to the "Islamo-" in "Islamo-fascism" of treating the extremism of these groups as a product of Islam itself, which is something that the Wrong Word article thinks is in appropriate, but I think implying that such extremism is derived from Islam is appropriate because I think it's true.

Let me explain that: it is true that obeying "the tenets of Islam" has brought a great deal of peace and civilisation. It is also true that obeying "the tenets of Islam" has bought death and destruction. "The tenets of Islam" are not set in stone, and are subject to interpretation. While both the opponents of Islam - those who think Islam itself is intrinsically evil - and Muslims themselves may claim that there is a single standard to which all Muslims adhere, this simply isn't true in reality. If it were true, there would be no differing sects of Islam.

So while Muslims of a peaceful bent can claim that "true Islam" doesn't condone death and destruction, other Muslims can take the tack of focusing on the more extreme Quranic verses and Hadiths demanding death to the infidels (which they interpret as "all who disbelieve") and claim that Islam not only condones violent extremism, but demands it. Both are Muslims, even though their beliefs are mutually incompatible, and I think it appropriate to describe the extremist sects of Islam as "jihadist" since they are Islamic, and the concept of militant "jihad" is the common thread linking their extremist opposiion to things they consider un-Islamic (which in some cases can include other Muslims, but that's a subject for another time).

"Jihadism" I think also moves things away from the Bush Administration's dangerous approach of viewing military action against "Islamo-Fascism" as the only appropriate response ( as it was when confronted with Fascism), and into a sphere where the conflict is viewed as an ideological one rather than a purely military one. This allows for a more measured response more in line with the earlier days of the Cold War rather than foolishly thinking - as the neoconservatives do - that the collapse of the Soviet Bloc in the 1980s was triggered by solely Reagan's militant stance rather than being primed by the decades of ideological undermining of the Soviet system which the West had very patiently performed.

The groups that I would call "jihadist" are the following: President Ahmedinejad and his supporters in Iran, Hezbollah, Hamas, Islamic Jihad (sheesh, look at the very name, people!), the Wahabbist/Salafist sect of Islam. Obviously there are important differences between the groups, but they all share a viewpoint in which "Islam" is under attack, and it must be defended by any means necessary. I presume the exact nature of how "must be defended" translates into action would illustrate the differences between the various jihadist groups more clearly.

Briefly...

Somewhat related to last post: has it always been the case that politicians and political talking heads focus more on attacking opposing viewpoints rather than supporting their own viewpoints, is it a recent occurrence, or am I misperceiving matters entirely and my view of politics as being basically an interminable and pointless fight between Left and Right over who's worse is a completely inaccurate view?

Monday, August 28, 2006

Ethics, sort of

A review by David Byrne. The documentary "Jesus Camp" portrays what is essentialy a Christian version of a madras - one which teaches "that evolution is being forced upon us by evil Godless secular humanists, that abortion must be stopped at all costs, that we must form an “army” to defeat the Godless influences, that we must band together to insure that the right judges and politicians get into the courts and office and that global warming is a lie". That last one puzzles Mr Byrne. It doesn't puzzle me: they oppose the existence of global warming because their ideological enemies - the "godless Left" - support it. That's all the reason they need.

Anti-Iran protest misdirects LGBT struggle. This article has bounced around the hard left side of the web a bit since the anti-Iran protests on the one year anniversary of the execution of Mahmoud Asgari and Ayaz Marhoni. It weaves a, to my mind, frankly ludicrous conspiracy of neoconservative imperialists trying to misrepresent Asgari and Marhoni's deaths in order to scapegoat an Iran that, while not gay friendly, isn't as hostile as we poor, media-besotted fools have been misled into believing, with the goal being to prime the public for another forcible "regime change" in Iran. Skipping over most of my questions about the accuracy of this alleged scenario - and there are many - I find it especially disconcerting that the article goes so far as to not only condemn "neoconservative imperialism", but praise Iran's handling of gay rights, implying that it is actually better than the US in some ways.

The relationship between the two links is this: they each describe an ideological position - "global warming is a lie" in the Jesus Camp adherents and "Iran is better than the US on gay rights" from the hard left - that is arrived at solely from taking the opposite position to that taken by their ideological opponents. There appears to be no independent thought involved: "godless leftists" say global warming is a serious environmental concern, therefore it must be a lie they cooked up to oppose Christianity somehow; "neoconservative imperialists" say Iran persecutes gay people, therefore they must actually be okay on the issue.

The formulation of "x=bad, therefore NOT x=good" is seductively simple, broadly accepted and completely illogical. It justifies torture in Abu Ghraib by the Right: the prisoners are Evil Terrorists[tm], therefore any action taken against such evil must be good, or at least justifiable. It justifies siding with illiberal regimes in the Middle East by the Left: the Evil US opposes them, so they must actually be good, or at least not really all that bad.

I believe that everyone tries to do right, but are led to do wrong by accepting faulty reasoning that makes wrong appear right to them. I believe one such avenue that leads people to do wrong is the acceptance of the faulty reasoning that anything or anyone that opposes a perceived wrong must automatically be right.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Hunh.

From Digg, describing the UN:
"It was created to stop another world war.

So far, we haven't had one of those."

Monday, August 21, 2006

Resolution 1701, progress so far

Sometimes it's nice to be wrong. Lebanes troops have entered South Lebanon, Israeli forces are letting UNIFIL take over their position. This ceasefire could conceivably work.

On the other hand...

UNIFIL is supposed to be beefed up to 15,000 troops, but the world community isn't exactly being generous. France in particular has been far less forthcoming than it initially promised, sending a mere 200 army engineers, and apparently wants to pass off as much responsibilty as possible to other EU nations (that's my interpretation of their request for a European Union meeting over the issue, anyway).

Meanwhile, a raid by Israeli special forces has Kofi Annan saying that he is 'deeply concerned about a violation by the Israeli side' of the ceasefire in southern Lebanon.

Sidenote: of all the articles I found in Google news, this one was the only one that put "violation" in inverted commas in their headline. Interesting the way media bias works.

Also missing from most of the news reports on Google is why Israel did what it did. Here is why:
Israel defended Saturday's operation, saying it was aimed at preventing the transfer of weapons from Iran and Syria to Hezbollah, an action barred by the resolution.

Israel won't accept "a cease-fire in which Hezbollah can use that cease-fire just as a timeout to regroup and rearm and prepare for the next round," said Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev.

"Israel would not have to do these sort of operations if the international forces and the Lebanese forces were following through on their commitment ... preventing these arms shipments for Hezbollah."

In Washington, a White House spokeswoman said the Bush administration took "note" of Israel's statement.

"We note that the prevention of the resupply of weapons to Hezbollah by Iran and Syria is a key provision of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1701," said Jeannie Mamo. "And the incident underscores the importance of quickly deploying the enhanced UNIFIL."

This is correct with regard to what Resolution 1701 says: there is to be "no sales or supply of arms and related materiel to Lebanon except as authorized by its Government". The trouble of course is that the word of the "Zionist aggressor" counts for very little in the region, so the claim of illegal arms transfers to Hezbollah will most likely be viewed by Israel's neighbours as nothing more than a pretext to try and continue hostilities.

Even accepting Israel at its word (and I do so until proven that I should not do so), that leaves the matter of enforcement. Who decides what to do in the case of a violation of a UN Resolution? The Israeli government believes that it has the right to enforce Resolution 1701 as it sees fit, apparently. The Secretary General has made it clear that he disagrees, and I tend to agree with his disagreement: legitimate power to decide upon appropriate enforcement of a UN Resolution resides with the UN Security Council.

Of course, "legitimate power" is not the same thing as "effective power", which explains why Israel did what it did: they don't trust the Security Council to be able to effectively enforce the Resolution which is supposed to make Israel safe from Hezbollah, so they executed an illegitimate, but effective, response of their own. From a realist perspective, perfectly sensible. From a liberal internationalist perspective, a horrible thing to do, especially when they claim that their illegitimate action was legitimised by a UN Resolution: it brings back memories of George W Bush insisting that he had to ignore the UN in order to enforce the will of the UN on Iraq as laid out in Resolution 1441.

What's it mean from a reality-based perspective? Well, I guess we'll see.

MIT OpencourseWare

MIT's OpenCourseWare looks interesting. I'm sifting through their section on political science. Their first lecture on justice conflates the idea of just treatment with the idea of treating a person with the dignity they deserve: giving them what is rightfully theirs and refraining from taking what is rightfully theirs. Workable, but moves the definition debate to what constitutes "rightfully theirs"....

The tension of individual liberty vs regulated equality as exemplified by economic inequality resulting from capitalism? I default to liberty, but there doesn't seem to be a logical underpinning to it: I've just assumed it to be true, based on my life experiences I guess. I have a vague sense that it isn't actually possible to create equality through regulatory means, but again, evidence and reasoning is lacking.

Must read more...

Thursday, August 17, 2006

A bit of thoughtstream on the recent UN ceasefire...

My description of the UN Security Council as having no judicial organ doesn't appear to be completely accurate. From time to time the Secretary General of the UN has expressed a statement one way or the other over interpretation of a UN resolution. Such skerricks as I've found suggest that this is a power that the Secretary General must exercise with great restraint lest they lose what hard-to-gain international legitimacy they have by coming down too strongly on one side or another.

The ceasefire is more or less holding at the time of writing. Given past criticisms of the UN, I should in fairness praise the efforts of that body in successfully getting the fighting to stop in a conflict where neither side wants the fighting to stop. But as the news outlets keep saying, it's a brittle truce.

Both sides are already working on ways to circumvent the Security Council's desires, and the concrete implementation of Resolution 1701 has some nightmarish difficulties associated with it. There's no clear guide for what happens when. Lebanese forces are in no hurry to enter Lebanon until Israel has pulled out. Israel has no intention of pulling out until UNIFIL takes control of the area. UNIFIL isn't going in until Lebanese forces are in place.

Meanwhile, the Hezbollah members of the Lebanese government have stated flat out that Hezbollah is not going to disarm. Of course, as a non-state actor, Hezbollah is beyond the mandate of the UN, and it's up to the Lebanese government to deal with internal security matters. Unfortunately, in a military conflict between the Lebanese government and Hezbollah, the government would almost certainly lose.

Israel is a state entity, and is expected to follow UN resolutions, so their circumvention has to be a little more crafty than flat-out disregarding it: as Resolution 1701 calls for “the immediate cessation by Israel of all offensive military operations", Israel has taken it upon itself to continue any defensive operations. It has also taken it upon itself to define what constitutes "defensive" - the continuing naval, air and land blockade of Lebanon, for example.

I very much fear that the current ceasefire is the sort of ceasefire which only gives the antagonists time to rearm.
From time to time I browse through a copy of the Daily Telegraph (aka the Daily Terror) at a newsagent. Usually I just want to have a look at the Letters to the Editor section. The news section is usually...well, not news as near as I can tell, but the reader's opinions are something I feel the need to track from time to time.

A few days ago I read a letter from one person reacting to the news that Family First Senator Steve Fielding had pledged to vote against Howard's new immigration bill. The writer made the claim that Australia's need to be tough on immigration had been demonstrated by the recent arrests in the UK.

This is a strange claim to make considering how many of the people arrested on terrorism charges in the UK weren't Muslim immigrants.

Go through the list of suspects and two things stand out. First is that many of the suspects converted to Islam while in Britain. Of those that didn't, many are described as having recently become "very religious". Second is the frequency with which people familiar with the suspects are shocked at the thought of the suspect ever doing anything violent, sometimes stating flat out "he would never do anything like that".

Oh yes, third thing: they're all male.

On the second point: what were people expecting? It's like how victims of con artists always say "but he seemed so trustworthy!". That's exactly the point: a con artist who seems like a con artist isn't going to be a very successful con artist. Likewise, a terrorist planner who immediately raises suspicions isn't going to get very far in his terrorist planning career. Far better to have someone who raises no suspicions, and in fact actively tries to be as non-violent as possible until the time comes to strike.

On the first point: it clicks together several things that have been disparate in my head. The first is Fukuyama's assertion that anti-Western jihadists are born not from a lack of democracy in the Middle East, but in the West when the children and grandchildren of adult immigrants turn to radicalism after failing to integrate within Western society. The second is the strong statements made by Muslims around the world that Islam doesn't condone terrorism. The third is my perception of the workings of religions in the West, such as the Church of Scientology and the Unification Church, that have had the label of "cult" applied to them.

Put simply, what I see in the history of the alleged perpetrators is cult recruitment. They have embraced a new identity in place of an uncomfortable and insufficient old identity. The rules of the group which defines this new identity requires that they isolate themselves from anything that might threaten the definition and strengthening of that new identity, hence the turn towards insularity prevalent among the suspect list.

Other characteristics of cults include a radical opposition to the world around them (hello anti-Western rhetoric) and a reaction to any attack from the outside world as an attack not on the actions carried out by the group, but an attack on the group's belief (hence the description of Bush's war on terror as a "war on Islam" by radical Islamic groups). The effect is to (a) stop any internal criticism of the cult, and (b) encourage non-cult members to support the group against "unjustified attack" - mainstream Muslims who might sincerely believe their claims of an attack on Islam, for instance.

Mainstream Islam has little if anything to do with cultic version of Islam. I would be curious to know if this cult has more success recruiting from devout mainstream Muslims, or from non-Muslims and lapsed Muslims. I strongly suspect the latter.

What if the entire approach to the war on terrorism has been wrong? What if, instead of being surprised and disbelieving at the thought of non-violent recent "Muslim" converts being agents of terrorism, we should instead regard it as the usual state of affairs?

What if "Islamic terrorists" were not primarily a product of existing Islam, but were recruited from a pool of people experiencing spiritual anxiety caused by the clash of their traditional way of life and modernity, just as "cults" appeared and started recruiting Westerners in the 1960s in response to the social upheavals taking place in our culture? What if this Islamic cult willing let mainstream Islam embrace it, tried to persuade mainstram Muslims that attacks on the cult were an attack on the entirety of Islam, but actually viewed the mores of mainstream Islam, such as not killing civilians, as un-Islamic- and in fact declared takfir on mainstream Muslims (approximate meaning: pronouncing that someone who claims to be Muslim is in reality an unbeliever)?

Here's a test: go through all the terrorist attacks that have occurred worldwide from 9/11 onwards, and profile the perpetrators. Will they predominantly be from the Middle East, and longstanding adherents of a longstanding radical Islamic sect? Or will they be recent converts, and either born in the country that was attacked or else immigrated there while they were only a child? I suspect the results will not be what most people expect.

I'm anti-conspiracy-theory

A person at work with no strong political interests asked me a few days ago if I thought that the recent arrests in the UK over an alleged terrorist plot was some kind of put up job by the US government.

It surprised me to see that what might once have been the domain solely of hardcore conspiracy buffs appears to have gained traction in mainstream society, but I suppose it's not that unexpected. The US government has been using the spectre of terrorism to justify a number of unpalatable actions that it's performed in recent years, and it's not that much of a leap to consider that a government that's shown a willingness to compromise its own morality - at Abu Ghraib for example - might be willing to scare its citizens into compliance with government goals.

In spite of severe disagreements with much of the Bush Administration's policies, I don't think this is a frame-up. Yes, it's a possibility, and a plausible one if you believe that the US governmnent's entire concern with "international terrorism" is nothing more than a covenient excuse to increase its global power, but I don't believe that the US governments action in recent years are insincere; they're only terribly, terribly misguided.

Just to make thing interesting, this story from MSNBC alleges that America pressured British authorities to make the arrest a week earlier than the British wanted. The number of people who see that, see the coincidental timing with the current situation in Lebanon, and go "ahah!" is, I suspect, very large.

Here is an alternative hypothesis, based on the maxim "never attribute to malice what can adequately be explained by incompetence": the existence of international terrorism is genuine, and this plot was genuine. The British authorities did get tipped off by a Muslim as to the existence of a group in the UK planning terrorist actions, which surveillance showed to have a well-formed, concrete plan to carry out. As the MSNBC article said, the UK was patiently acquiring evidence in order to mount a successful prosecution against the alleged perpetrators.

The US learned of all of this courtesy of their longstanding intelligence-sharing agreement with the UK. Unlike the UK, US authorities panicked. As the article says, "American security officials have become edgier than the British in such cases because of missed opportunities leading up to 9/11". Perhaps they were terrified that the proposed "dry run" that was allegedly going to take place would turn out to be an actual run. And so, they asked, or rather, demanded, that the arrests occur before any of the alleged perpetrators ever so much as set foot on a plane. Of course, no-one can turn down a US demand in today's world even if they wanted to.

It's plausible if you accept that the US government's approach is not motivated by imperialism. That may be one reason many people would dismiss it out of hand of course. But I don't believe that the US is motivated by imperialist philosophy. Rather, I believe that the US is currently motivated by unreasoning fear.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

My position on the Iraq war: um.

My views have changed over time. It's very likely that they're going to keep changing. I've gone from undecided, to dubiously supporting, to regretfully opposing, to hopeful, to despairing. The simple fact is that there's too much at issue for me to come down with a simple yes or no answer to the question of whether the Iraq invasion was, is, or will be, a good thing or not.

I started out not knowing. I didn't believe even then that this was a simple question of "US good, Saddam bad". I listened to the talking points of the day, but it took a while to reach a decision.

The first talking point I rejected was the claim that this invasion was all about securing access to oil. I found it hard to understand why people were getting up in arms about a mere natural resource when something much more important and much more valuable to its possessors was up for grabs: power. The neoconservatives in the US had plans to solidify US dominance over the world so as to shape into a form they found more acceptable - all for our own good of course.

The second claim I had a hard time swallowing was that this was about ridding the world of a dictator. At this time, there was no indication whatsoever as to what form, if any, the post-Saddam Iraq was going to take. In fact, it was fairly clear at the time that the US was focusing on the WMD argument, with the removal of Saddam described as nothing more than "a nice bonus" - and quite possibly an optional one at that. On a TV debate here in Australia, a Kurd asked the assembled panel what would happen if Saddam did in fact comply fully with Resolution 1441, allowing UN inspectors unfettered access to all of Iraq and accounting for all of the unaccounted-for WMDs allegedly still in his possession - would that mean that the US would leave Saddam in power, free to oppress the Kurdish population in Iraq? He never got an answer to his question.

The arguments about terrorism and national security I regarded as the weakest arguments for an Iraq invasion. The alleged links between Al-Qaida and Saddam were tenuous, the spectre of a terrorist attack using WMDs sounded like scare-mongering (particularly since the most abundant source of nuclear, chemical and biological arms remains the former Soviet bloc), and the level of threat to "world security" seemed a question for "the world", not the US, to answer. And yet, this was the centrepiece of the pro-war argument: Saddam has WMDs, he's disobeying the UN, and we have to stop him even if it means disobeying the UN.

But I did consider the possibility that overthrowing a dictator could be a good thing. It was a risk though. Could I trust the US to actually replace Saddam with a government that was democratic rather than simply install yet another dictator, except this time one who serves their interests? Even if I believed that was the goal of the US, could I trust them to succeed at that goal?

Such was the state of affairs when I attended my one and only anti-war rally. That rally was held internationally. It was huge - much, much bigger than even the organisers expected. Did it make any difference? I think it did: the day after that rally, as I was scouring for articles about the rally, I saw that the US government had officially announced that they would work towards building a democratic government in Iraq. I sincerely believe that this commitment to building a democracy in Iraq would not have come about if that international anti-war rally hadn't attracted such a large turn-out. As I recall, rallies after that announcement - which I didn't attend - were much, much smaller. I no longer attended, as my main objection to regime change had been dealt with.

So did I switch to a pro-war position once it became clear that the US wasn't going to replace a sadistic, ruthless, anti-American dictator with a sadistic, ruthless, pro-American dictator? I did for a time. But after the invasion, as the rebuilding effort dragged on, I wondered just how much of a commitment the US government had really made. I wondered if the American people really understood just how much time and effort it would take to rebuild a nation (one study I've read suggested that it'd be a minimum of 5 years before things even looked like approaching stability). I wondered if, instead of celebrating the short-term overthrow of a dictator, I should be worrying about what's going to happen to Iraq, and perhaps even the world, in the long run thanks to a poorly-planned, poorly-executed invasion of Iraq which has alienated the US from its longtime allies.

And yet, I can't support a withdrawal from Iraq. The mess must be cleaned up. Invading Iraq and then failing to clean up afterwards would be the worst of both worlds. I have no choice but to hope that the neocons succeed in their efforts to bring "freedom and democracy" to Iraq, even though I view their philosophy as an overall threat to world peace.
Full text of UN Security Council Resolution 1701

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

"Lebanon, and all of Lebanon, rejects any resolution that is outside" these demands, Berri said.
So sayeth the Parliamentary speaker of Lebanon, a Shiite Muslim. The full force of why "democracy promotion" in the Middle East was such a horrible idea is starting to hit me. And it doesn't make me feel better that it's a reflection of current trends in Western democracy.

It seems to me that a democracy can only function effectively when there is room for agreeing to disagree or "loyal opposition". An Opposition may oppose, a protestor may protest, but at some level there is a sense that though there are disagreements, there is sufficient common ground for them all to work within the framework of one democratic system. Lebanon doesn't yet have this, and consequently the ballot box becomes less about what's good for all and more about what's bad for those bastards that you were shooting at just 20 years ago.

Note what Berri said: all of Lebanon. I find it highly suspect that all Lebanese are opposed to the proposed UN resolution, but I can believe that he's trying to get Lebanese people to jump on the pro-Hizbolla bandwagon. But I find his motives suspect. Is he, as I strongly suspect, aiming to bring about a Shiite takeover of Lebanon at the ballot box?

In the 1980s there was civil war. In Condi Rice's "new Middle East", the democratic framework in Lebanon is ripe for takeover if Hizbollah can garner enough support from other factions within Lebanon to get voted into a full majority position of power. Once that happens then they can do what both the US government and the Australian government currently do, and claim to always represent the will of all of the country as if the people who don't vote for them simply don't exist. Or worse, they can do what the elected president of Zimbabwe has done, and start deliberately targeting their opposition for abuse. Of course, it isn't democracy that best guards against this government-sanctioned abuse of those who don't agree with the current government: it's liberalism.

Also shaping my opinions about this are this article, and comments left on it. It may seem strange that an article specifically claiming that Hizbollah is not motivated purely by Shiite ideology of restoring the Caliphate throughout the Middle East prompts me to think the opposite, but the comments jumping up and down to celebrate Hizbollah's pan-Arab appeal left me with the feeling that this was exactly the goal: Hizbollah's is actively pushing the impression that they fight for all of Islam, and all of the Arabic world, against the evil US/Western/Zionist pigs. Hizbollah I suspect wants wide-ranging appeal, but only for the purpose of seizing complete control of Lebanon through the democratic process, at which point they will seek to transform it into an Islamic Republic. The comment that solidified this belief in my mind was in response to a Lebanese who claimed to oppose Hizbollah, noting their goal of spreading Shia revolution:
Lebanese,

You are a Maronite. Are you not?

You guys belong with the French and the Crusaders. Please wake up and come back to your roots. You love the zionists and hate the Muslims of any colour.
Or, to put it another way: "you're either with us or with the enemy". Sound familiar?

So Lebanon is going to go down the crapper because of a Neoconservative promotion of democracy that gives no regard to the liberal safeguards on democracy needed to prevent the creation of a tyranny of the majority: a tyranny that Hizbollah is now I believe actively trying to create for the purpose of bringing about a Shia revolution.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Breaking with gay rights groups on libertarian grounds

Hate speech and hate crimes....

I think I'm in danger of falling into the trap of the first-year uni student: I've read a few books and got some ideas from them, but a few books don't give me a full grounding in all the relevant facts and theories that may be out there, so my perspective is limited in ways of which I'm not even aware yet. But I do know a little stuff, and try to apply it. As long as I remember that my understanding is imperfect, I should be okay I think.

For hate speech, my thinking is currently beholden to John Stuart Mill's ideas on freedom of speech, that even the most inaccurate and hurtful speech must not be censored because (a) if the speech isn't publically shared, then it can't be publicly shown to be wrong (assuming even that it is in fact wrong, and not merely unpopular or challenging deeply entrenched ideas), and (b) because censorship only drives an idea underground where it can potentially do more damage. This puts me at odds with almost every gay rights organisation out there I think. So am I wrong? Is my understanding incomplete somehow?

To go from theory to practice, here's a recent example of what might reasonably come under the umbrella of hate speech, as said recently by a man named Guy Adams on an Internet Radio station called The Right View, as reported by Truth Wins out:
"The newest thing in Chicago, it's becoming a trend, and you're gonna find this hard to believe… sex with infants,” Adams said, without offering evidence to back his preposterous and offensive claim. “It's not enough that they have… you know when you engage in perversion, and homosexuality is perversion, we don't hate the gays mind you, we don't hate them, we hate what they're doing… pretty soon that perversion is like addiction, it's not enough, so you need to graduate to something else. You need to move on. So now they're having sex with animals, a small group that's getting bigger, sex with infants, sex in the street in Chicago out in the open, it's just getting more and more perverted."


I think Mill has it exactly right here: people shouldn't be deprived of hearing this. In fact, I would specifically encourage the propagation of this message to as many people as possible. They should know exactly who Guy Adams is, who he works for, and just how round the bend on gay issues he really is: he's the Deputy National Grassroots Director for an organisation called Renew America, run by far-Right former US Senate candidate and Presidential candidate Alan Keyes, who is best known in gay circles for kicking his queer-identifying and anarchist-leaning daughter Maya out of home. Truth Wins Out is demanding that Adams get sacked, with no response so far. A blog from a man named Joe Brummer is tracking Adams' comments, and has posted some e-mails that Adams sent.

The host of the Right View has a blog, and interestingly enough is engaging in self-censorship: the current blog has no record of what happened on it shortly after the Adams interview was, er, podcasted, stating only "Unbelievable....I'm not even going to comment on what has happened with my blog, but I'm back" and promising a podcast "talking about the 'controversy' that has taken place on this blog this week." I love me some well-placed inverted commas.

Fortunately, as of writing, the original article is still available via Google's cache, including access to the comments on that article. Note that both the comments and the trackbacks feature have both now been disabled in The Right View's blog.

So I stand by Mills on this, based on the fact that The Right View is attempting to censor the vocal objections that have been raised in response to Adams' rantings: freedom of speech includes freedom to be exposed as a nutbag. The fact that the host of The Right View is trying to initiate a cover-up tells me that free speech in abundance is the way to go on this.

As for hate crimes....more complex. I hope to get to it eventually.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Flock

Flock, a new web-browser based on the Gecko HTML-rendering engine driving Mozilla, Netscape, Firefox, Epiphany(I think)...

Why yet another one? From the looks of it they've got a Web 2.0 love affair going on, and want to make a browser that leverages the "network as platform" aspect of that buzzword. As it appears to be related to Yahoo somehow, it's unsurprising that they've tightly integrated the browser with Yahoo's Flickr online image-sharing service. More convenient access to blogging and fine-tuned searching also appear to be in there.

As they say in their Flock 0.7 beta announcement, not everybody needs this: "If you are a power user (hint: if you use del.icio.us[check] or a news reader[check] or if you visit Digg[check], that probably means you) and if you have decorated your browser with, oh, say, 20 extensions or more[I'm sitting pretty at 13, not counting Greasemonkey scripts], Flock may not be for you."

Apparently the people who it is for are the people who could benefit from convenient access to online services like Flickr et al but aren't quite tech-savvy enough to easily utilise them without help - help which Flock aims to provide. The project looks interesting, if underdeveloped. Worth keeping an eye on I reckon.

Down with buzzwords

Bleeurgh, but I guess it had to happen eventually: some yutz is trying to coin the term Web 3.0 to push their pet futurist vision. Basically it's just a re-hash of the concept of a Semantic Web which was buzzing around a few years back and which Clay Shirky poo-poohed. He criticised the model as being unrepresentative of reality, and criticised people pushing the Semantic Web as being stupefyingly negligent of this. His description of how nearly every framing of an example problem that the Semantic Web was supposed to solve actually obscured the problems with it rather than demonstrated its value: "First, take some well-known problem. Next, misconstrue it so that the hard part is made to seem trivial and the trivial part hard. Finally, congratulate yourself for solving the trivial part."

It holds true for the article on "Web 3.0": "Once machines can understand and use information, using a standard ontology language, the world will never be the same." Yes, the Semantic Web could work wonderfully once a standard ontology language exists, but that's the trivial part. Actually creating that standard is the hard part. And the article treats it as trivial: "However, if we were at some point to take the Wikipedia community and give them the right tools and standards to work with (whether existing or to be developed in the future), which would make it possible for reasonably skilled individuals to help reduce human knowledge to domain-specific ontologies, then that time can be shortened to just a few years, and possibly to as little as two years." Sure. And if an infinite number of monkeys could be provided with an infinite number of typewriters then we'd see every work of writing that could ever be written get written. This is pie-in-the-sky stuff, and simply throwing thousands of wikipedia volunteers at it isn't going to magically create "tools and standards" that have only a theoretical existence at best.

Standard ontology for everything from wikipedia volunteers? I've seen wikipedia volunteers arguing over whether they its's best to use the word "kidnapped", "abducted", or "captured" to describe what Hizbollah did to two Israeli soldiers recently, with no clear concensus reached, and objections raised that at least one of the three was misleading. What standard?

Friday, August 04, 2006

Issues with the Howard Government

Supporters of the Howard government base their support on the claim that it has a good economics track record. My current theory is that this claim is (a) 100% accurate, and (b) completely missing the point.

Economic indicators are good. Inflation is low, unemployment is low, the budget is in surplus. Part of this is due to reforms made by Labor in the 1980s which the Howard government inherited, but it seems incredibly foolish to suggest that the current government played no part in creating the current stable economic situation.

So the Howard government is strong on economic management, and this is a good thing to have in a government. The reason that this doesn't win me any sympathy for the Howard government is because I don't believe economics is everything. Their agenda on other issues leaves me very cold.

Worse, it appears to me that the Howard government actively tries to promote economics as the most important aspect of government: more important than national security, more important than welfare, more important than anything. They not only promote their strength on economic issues, but promote that this strength should be the prime concen of voters. Whether or not this is actually true, the principle effect that I see is the subtle de-emphasis of issues on which I disagree with the current government which are not based on economics: gay rights, for instance.

By emphasising economics and de-emphasising everything else, the Howard government obscures its weakness on issues not related to economics. Seriously, what good has this government done in which the primary concern is not how it affects the hip pocket rather than, say, how it affects the environment?

What I fear most from this overemphasis on economics is how it seeps into the population. Is it just me, or is the population of Australia becoming less friendly and more selfish than it used to be? I get the impression that it is, and I think this changed character of society reflects the changed character of the government: in both government and the population, giving help to others where it's needed has been sacrificed for the sake of maximising economic output. All that I want is enough money to live comfortably - I don't feel the need to be rich, especially if it means sacrificing my time from pursuits which are economically inferior but emotionally, intellectually, and spiritually fulfilling.

This economy uber alles agenda extends to religion as well: I suspect that there is a kind of spiritual hole left in a person by pursuit of the Almighty Dollar at the expense of having any sense of non-economic value to someone besides yourself. Enter Hillsong, and the perfect spiritual solution to this problem in the form of HIllsong's Prosperity Doctrine, which says that wealth is a sign of God's favour, so maximising profit grants you worth as a human being in the eyes of God.

I believe that the Howard government's encouragement of Australian society to overfocus on economics helped bring about Hillsong's influence and power.

Voting strategies?

Thinking back over the Trustee vs Delegate models of representation, I think maybe describing current representative democracy as %100 Trustee-based is an oversimplification.

It's true that many voters decide how to vote based only on whether or not a candidate claims to adhere to a certain moral authority (Evangelical Christianity, for example). But it's also true that some voters find such a voting strategy disturbingly naive, and do consider a candidate's position on specific policy when voting. So just as there's conflict between specific questions of policy and between whose judgement best to trust, there's also conflict between whether voting for a candidate's policy or voting for a candidate's judgement is the better option.

Uncertainty about the future I think gives voting on judgement an extra edge over voting on policy in the current world situation: the future seems especially threatening at the moment, and since you can't formulate policy for something that hasn't happened yet, voting on judgement is the best option.

Countering this means either convincing an electorate that your judgement is the one to trust, or convincing an electorate to be less concerned about what the future holds, so that issues in the present are given more emphasis, where it is possible for voters to vote on policy rather than on judgement. The preferred option of course depends on which one gives you the stronger position.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

On Media Handling



Blogpost-in-progress. Points as I notice them.

I've done no media training, but I think I can notice a few traits common to media training.
Let's see, there's:
  • Staying on message. You want to emphasize a particular point every chance you get. A primitive version is to tack onto an interview "I'd just like to say..." followed by the point you feel needs more emphasis.
  • Always answering the question you want to answer, not the question you were actually asked. The trick here is to try to give the impression that you're providing an answer rather than evading the question.
  • Always taking the opportunity to make sure any point that might contradict the impression you want to give gets countered. Not so much a problem in one-on-one interviews, but can be problematic in conference-type environments, such as when you're one of a number of guests on a talk-show. NEVER sit back and let an opponent negate the message you're so carefully trying to sell.
  • In photoshots, colour makes a difference. Pay attention to it.