Archive for April, 2011

Maybe reality isn’t always so great! #royalwedding

This AFP story in The Australian was talking about how proud Britain felt during the royal nuptials, st least as reflected in the editorials of most of it’s newspapers.

Papers’ pride evident in UK editorials | The Australian.

I’m a British ex-pat, for those who are not aware, and when I visited London again recently, I was really struck by the despair and hopelessness that the country seems to be going through.

Britain has not had much occasion to be proud these last few years. Aside from the post-colonial guilt that seems to be pervading British thinking these days, the country has fallen as a political and military power, national unity is at an all time low, everyone is complaining about too many immigrants and the football team can’t even make it past the first round of the World Cup. More to the point, the entire economy has collapsed, there is horrible unemployment and the country has come to the realisation that whilst it has an over-inflated financial sector, the country doesn’t do anything anymore.

So what did the wedding have to do with this? Well, despite all this, Britain can still put on a damn good show. They can have pomp and formality, they can pack hundreds of thousands of adoring fans outside a majestic cathedral, they can have a choir singing rousing patriotic songs about how awesome Britain is and they can entice millions upon millions of people to tune-in and watch it all take place, even if they spend the whole time complaining about it on Facebook/Twitter.

Britain can come together and be proud of something, celebrate itself as a nation, celebrate its history and its contribution to the world.

That’s why the end of that article irked me a little:

The proudly republican Guardian laid down arms for a day, but urged Britons not to get carried away with royal hype in the light of the nation’s economic troubles.

“These are tough times for millions of British people. This is not a day for demented princess worship,” it said in an editorial. “It is a day for a smile and a toast, not a day for standing to attention and tugging of forelocks. Tomorrow, and on every other day of the year, we will have to re-enter the world of reality.”

So what?

Why does the grim reality of an economic, political and cultural crisis mean that people shouldn’t get carried-away in the festivities? I would argue that they should get carried away because life is so bad. If you spend all year feeling ashamed, depressed and inadequate, what’s wrong with taking one day out to feel pride, stand to attention and tug on those forelocks as if Britain were still number 1?

It’ll take more than spending cuts to get Britain back on its feet. What I saw yesterday was one day where Britain held its head up high and was British again, and I don’t see why that’s in any way bad. I think The Guardian needs to show some more spirit.

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US in the Middle East: who will lead Egypt? Why Libya? And where is all this going?

Ryan Lizzer has written a very insightful article about the Obama administration’s foreign policy, particularly in the wake of the recent “Arab Spring”. As always, read the whole article, but here are a few points that are worth noting:

How the Arab Spring remade Obama’s foreign policy : The New Yorker.

I asked why they weren’t upstairs with the Secretary of State. “Hillary was against the revolution from the beginning to the last day, O.K.?” Mohammed Abbas, of the Muslim Brotherhood, said. “Obama supported this revolution. She was against.”

Abbas and Shady el-Ghazaly Harb, a member of the liberal Democratic Front Party, said that if Obama was upstairs they would meet with him. Abbas lit up at the idea. “We respect Obama’s attitude toward our revolution, and when we were in Tahrir Square we were following all of the leaders all over the world and what were their views,” Abbas said.

That’s called “having your cake and eating it too” – Clinton was pro-Mubarak and Obama was pro-revolution. Lizzer doesn’t play this up so much, but it’s really quite smart. It means that whoever ends-up on top in Egypt, someone in the US looks good.

That said, there was a pessimistic note about the outcome in Egypt:

…The activists she [Clinton] did meet with were not as organized as she had hoped. “As incredibly emotional and moving and inspiring as it was,” she said, speaking of the demonstrations, “I looked at these twenty young people around the table, and they were complaining about how the elections are going to be held, and the Muslim Brotherhood and the Islamists are so well organized, and the remnants of the old National Democratic Party are so well organized. I said, ‘So, well, are you organizing? Do you have an umbrella group that is going to represent the youth of Egypt? Do you have a political agenda?’ And they all looked up and said no. It made my heart sink.”

This is the difference between idealistic protests and realpolitik. Millions of pro-democracy activists pouring into the squares to reject dictatorship is all well and good, but there needs to be a movement, there needs to be someone competent to vote for who will deliver the reforms they want. Egypt does not seem to have done this at all – Mubarak is gone, but his lackeys are still in power and the only other discernible organised bloc is the Muslim Brotherhood. If they are shooting for a democracy, neither of these groups are exactly ideal.

The next point addresses the question on everybody’s lips: Why only Libya?

“I get up every morning and I look around the world,” she [Clinton] said. “People are being killed in Côte d’Ivoire, they’re being killed in the Eastern Congo, they’re being oppressed and abused all over the world by dictators and really unsavory characters. So we could be intervening all over the place. But that is not a—what is the standard? Is the standard, you know, a leader who won’t leave office in Ivory Coast and is killing his own people? Gee, that sounds familiar. So part of it is having to make tough choices and wanting to help the international community accept responsibility.”

Clinton insisted that the U.S. had to have regional support before it took action, and emphasized that it was crucial that U.N. action had been supported by the Arab League. “So now we’re going to see whether the Security Council will support the Arab League. Not support the United States—support the Arab League. That is a significant difference. And for those who want to see the United States always acting unilaterally, it’s not satisfying. But, for the world we’re trying to build, where we have a lot of responsible actors who are willing to step up and lead, it is exactly what we should be doing.”

Again, tough call. Where do you intervene militarily and for what reasons? The West does not have enough combined strength to solve every problem in the world (besides, we tried that – it was called colonialism, didn’t work out so well in the end), so how do we pick our battles? Regional support is not a bad basis, but the problem is that it discriminates against people who are being slaughtered by governments who are popular with their neighbours – Sudan, for example, has been able to act with near impunity because they are popular in the Arab League and the African Union.

This ties in to a bigger issue – the Obama administration is not sure where it is going.

…Obama has emphasized bureaucratic efficiency over ideology, and approached foreign policy as if it were case law, deciding his response to every threat or crisis on its own merits. “When you start applying blanket policies on the complexities of the current world situation, you’re going to get yourself into trouble,” he said in a recent interview with NBC News….[Former US National Security Advisor Zbigniew] Brzezinski added, “He doesn’t strategize. He sermonizes.”

Obama managed to beat even the dogmatic Bush in lofty rhetoric, but what exactly is his vision for the world? His policy direction has been foundering from day one and we have seen many reversals. There is some merit in trial-and-error policy and at least he is willing to learn from his mistakes, but the lack of a unified vision ultimately makes his administration look weak and indecisive, even when they are pushing for military intervention.

Obama is up for re-election soon, maybe this will force him to come-out and state a solid foreign policy. He’ll need it if America has any hope of re-taking its leading role in international affairs.

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How Palestine stumbled at the final hurdle

It was even looking like they were going to get support and declare their own state. The infrastructure was almost there, support was growing, the international aid was pouring in.

The announcement last night that a unity government had been agreed to again all but sealed it – the Palestinians are finally united. It would be far harder (but still possible) for Israel to claim that there was no one to negotiate with anymore.

But no!

Rival Factions of Palestinians Reach an Accord –

The deal brings with it the risk of alienating the Western support that the Palestinian Authority has enjoyed. Azzam al-Ahmad, the Fatah negotiator, said that Salam Fayyad, the prime minister in the West Bank who is despised by Hamas, would not be part of the interim government. It is partly because of Mr. Fayyad, and the trust he inspires in Washington, that hundreds of millions of dollars are provided annually to the Palestinian Authority by Congress. Without that aid, the Palestinian Authority would face great difficulties.

Fayyad is the reason the PA are in the position where they can be talking about statehood. All of the positive developments – from the economy to the roads to the law enforcement to the security – all of them, are because of his competent management of the PA.

Doing any kind of deal with Hamas is a risk to say the least – Hamas have been amping-up aggression recently and are still rejected by most Western countries. They could maybe have pulled it off, but if they allow Hamas to pressure them into firing Fayyad, there is no way that this will get anywhere. The last “unity government” ended in a civil conflict that killed more people than were killed in Gaza during Cast-Lead. I see little reason why this would be any different.

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So apparently the Arab media concentrates disproportionately on Israel!

Who’d have thunk it, right?

Gulfnews : Outdoing Israel in brutality

Funnily enough, comparing the number of Arab people killed during the wars between Israel and Arab countries with the number of Arabs killed locally, one will notice that Arab dictatorships have killed more people.

That’s hilarious.

In fact, it’s almost like the Israelis have been saying that for decades. So what exactly have the Arab media been glossing-over?

Other Arab despots are reported to have asked their security forces to aim their guns at protesters’ heads. Have you ever seen an Israeli officer torturing a Palestinian civilian to death in the street for everybody to see? Definitely not. Many of us have seen that in some Arab towns lately.

…It is true that Israel is forcing an embargo on Gaza, but I do not think that the Israelis are preventing the Palestinians from getting their daily bread, whereas the security services in some Arab countries stopped cars carrying food from entering certain areas. Nor are the Israelis cutting off electricity, telephone and other communication services from houses, hospitals and schools.

It has been reported that the security services stopped nurses and doctors from treating the injured during certain Arab demonstrations as a punishment for rising against the ruling regime. The thugs contracted by the police to help quell protests went even further. They shot at ambulances.

Unlike in some Arab countries, Arabs living inside Israel can organise sit-ins very comfortably. And when the Israeli police intervenes, they never beat demonstrators to death. And if we compare how Israel treats Shaikh Raed Salah with the way some Arab dictators treat their opponents, we will be horribly surprised, as the Israelis are very much less brutal.

So the Arab media has spent years exaggerating Israeli crimes, whilst allowing their own people to commit far worse and it took mass-riots sparked by a guy who set himself on fire for them to realise it.

It would almost be funny if there weren’t so many people dying as a result…

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Gaza extremism: what’s wrong with this sentence?

According to Jared Malsin in Foreign Policy, the recent murder of an Italian in Gaza has created some new scrutiny on Salafi (ultra-conservative literalist Islam-ism) Islam in Gaza. Fair enough.

Now try and guess what’s wrong here:

Gaza’s Salafis under scrutiny by Jared Malsin | The Middle East Channel

At the root of these dynamics is the Israeli and Western policy of isolating Gaza and ignoring Hamas. The crippling four-year-long blockade of Gaza has created the conditions of human misery and desperation in which a handful of people have turned to extremism.

Did you get it?

The premise here is that there was no extremism in Gaza before the blockade. So apparently, thousands of suicide bombers willing to end their own lives and kill room-fulls of civilians weren’t extreme. I guess they were just misunderstood.

Read on:

Perhaps realizing that a heavy hand can create further radicalization, Hamas has also recently taken a more nuanced approach to the Salafis, including sending religious scholars into prisons in hopes of nurturing a more tolerant outlook among them.

So Hamas clerics are the moderate ones now? Let’s lok at something one of them said once:

Clip Transcript | MEMRI

[The Jews] want to present themselves to the world as if they have rights, but, in fact, they are foreign bacteria – a microbe unparalleled in the world. It’s not me who says this. The Koran itself says that they have no parallel: “You shall find the strongest men in enmity to the believers to be the Jews.”

May He annihilate this filthy people who have neither religion nor conscience. I condemn whoever believes in normalizing relations with them, whoever supports sitting down with them, and whoever believes that they are human beings. They are not human beings. They are not people. They have no religion, no conscience, and no moral values.

Sounds pretty moderate to me, right?

Ironically, Malsin did stumble across the point somewhere, but seemed to look past it and try to find it somewhere else.

This is the crux of Hamas’ dilemma: if it allows attacks on Israel, it risks massive retaliation from the Israelis; if it imposes too strict a ceasefire, it risks eroding its credibility among its political base in Gaza, particularly among its armed cadres. A U.N. diplomat, quoted anonymously by Crisis Group explained the problem: “How long can Hamas sustain a policy of not engaging in resistance, while this non-engagement doesn’t produce any results in terms of liberating Palestine, easing the blockade, or any other political goal for which the movement exists?”

Hamas here is reaping what it has sown. They have been spreading and practising this kind of extremism for years. The problem for them is that now they control Gaza, they have more responsibility than they had when they were just a militia and their policy determines what happens to the Gazans. If they continue to randomly target civilian populations, they will only escalate tensions and cause more harm to come to everyone – so they are finally beginning to realise that this is not an effective strategy, or finally starting to think at all strategically.

These Jihadi groups that they can’t control are Hamas’ legacy to the Palestinian people. Hamas paved the way for the extreme thought, the violent rhetoric, the weapons smuggling and the kidnapping of foreigners. They brought the idea of violence as an end in itself, rather than a means to an end, to Gaza.

To reign-in these groups, Hamas would have to cooperate with Israel to a degree – as the PA have done to reduce terror in the West Bank. This, however, will be a complete reversal of everything that Hamas stand for – so unfortunately, I can’t see it happening.

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Stupid Cyclists

Ok, I don’t really care much one way or the other whether they start imposing speed limits on cyclists in San Francisco (although the idea seems kind of silly to me. If this is such an issue, why not just build a dedicated cyclist lane).

But more to the point, what exactly is a “non-profit bike shop”?

So what, he’s selling bikes at an unprofitable margin to encourage people to buy them? Meaning he makes no money and puts all the other bike shops out of business?

Or maybe he does charitable work fixing gears onto fixed-gear bicycles so the idiots who bought them can cycle up and down the massive hills in San Francisco without killing themselves. Yeah that must be it.

In that case, go that guy!

Golden Gate Bridge Speed Limit Plan Angers Cyclists

“Five miles per hour is definitely slower than I would ever go,” said Uri Friedman, a manager at Pedal Revolution, a non-profit bike shop near the hip cafes of San Francisco’s Mission District. “This just kind of penalizes someone who knows how to ride their bike. As it is already, having to navigate through the tourists as you’re trying to get out of town on a ride makes for a potentially frustrating experience.”

EDIT: Google answered my question.

Bicycle Store, Bike Shops, Bicycle Sale | Pedal Revolution Touring Bike Repair – SF San Francisco CA.

Pedal Revolution provides employment and job training for at-risk youth in San Francisco who are taking steps to improve their lives. Pedal Revolution is a social enterprise of New Door Ventures, a nonprofit organization that helps at-risk youth in San Francisco get ready for work and life by providing jobs, job-readiness and supportive community.

I am damn impressed! Mr Friedman gets to run his bike shop, help out some disadvantaged kids and get tax exempt status! That is ingenuity at its finest.

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Hilarious reply to Fiona Byrne

So Fiona Byrne was in the Sydney Morning Herald trying to justify herself this morning.

The Punch published this brilliant response from sports writer (yup, sports) Anthony Sharwood:

Eskalating pressure gets council out of a pickle | Article | The Punch.

Despite butchering her run at state parliament, not to mention the credibility of both the Greens and her own council over the Israel boycott, Marrickville Mayor Fiona Byrne went down swinging in today’s Sydney Morning Herald, with a bizarre, longwinded justification of her council’s right, nay civic duty, to embroil itself in matters beyond garbage collection.

“Being involved in international affairs is part of being connected to your community and through it the broader community of the globe,” she wrote.

This statement is so laughably meaningless and waffly, it barely deserves shooting down. The simplest, straight-from-the-hip rebuttal is to suggest the council might have first targeted a boycott of all things Chinese, given the fact that Marrickville Council raises the Tibetan flag on Tibet’s national day.

Mind you, with the local councillors’ propensity to yum cha at the excellent Hung Cheung restaurant on Marrickville Rd, that might have made life a little uncomfortable.

In her Herald piece, Byrne also cited section 233 of the Local Government Act. It states that one of the roles of council is “to provide leadership and guidance to the community”.

Well, interpreting this to mean that council should involve itself in the affairs of Israel, or any foreign power, is a logic leap of staggeringly audacious proportions.

Council should provide leadership and guidance? Ok, fine. How about a little leadership in fixing the numerous potholes on Illawarra Road. Some of that guidance would come in really handy in handling the delicate issue of the proposed expansion of Marrickville Metro shopping centre too.

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Chilling: Two teens arrested for Itamar massacre

Want to talk to me about “resistance”? Read this:

Two teens from West Bank village arrested over Itamar massacre – Haaretz Daily Newspaper | Israel News.

Before entering the house, the suspects noticed Yoav and Elad Fogel in the home’s window. Yoav [age 11] and Elad [age 4] were the first to be stabbed after the suspect entered the home. The suspects then entered the parents’ room. Ehud and Ruth tried to fight off the attackers, but were eventually overcome and stabbed to death. Ruth was also shot, but due to the weather at the time of the murder, the gunshots were not heard. The suspects fled the home, fearing that the gunshots had been heard.

Outside of the home, the suspects realized that their gunshots had gone unnoticed and they had not yet been discovered. Amjad Awad subsequently reentered the home in order to steal an additional M-16 rifle that was there. Back inside the parents’ room, Awad noticed three-month-old Hadas and stabbed her to death. While leaving the home once more, the suspect noticed that there were more children but apparently figured that he was running out of time. The lives of Roi Fogel, 8, and Yishai Fogel, 2, were spared.

I’m actually speechless. All I can do is read-over that sentence again.

“Back inside the parents’ room, Awad noticed three-month-old Hadas and stabbed her to death. ”

And as if that wasn’t bad enough:

According to a senior Shin Bet official, despite the suspects’ young age, Hakim and Amjad “described what they did with self-control and did not express regret over their actions at any stage of the investigation.”

I say in all seriousness that these are not the actions of human beings. There is no humiliation or provocation imaginable to justify murdering children in person and in cold blood. It takes an inhuman bloodlust to stick a knife into a three-month-old baby.

For those of you who aren’t squeamish, the family decided to release photos of the victims so that the crime could not be downplayed as these things usually are.

**Warning: extremely graphic**

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Kidnapped Italian ISM activist found dead in Gaza

This is just sad, really. The guy may have been misguided, but he didn’t deserve this.

Abducted Italian activist found executed in Gaza, Hamas says – Haaretz Daily Newspaper | Israel News

The body of an Italian pro-Palestinian activist was found hanging in the home of a Palestinian militant in the Gaza Strip early Friday, hours after he was reportedly kidnapped.

Hamas officials reported that the body of Vittorio Arrigoni, 36, was discovered in the home of a member of the Monotheism and Holy War group that claimed responsibility for the abduction in a video released Thursday.

The last foreigner kidnapped in Gaza was British journalist Alan Johnston in 2007.

Italian activist killed in Gaza: the Alan Johnston kidnapping – Telegraph.

A group that claimed to have kidnapped and held BBC correspondent Alan Johnston in Gaza for 114 days in 2007 at one point announced it had killed its Western hostage.

Mercifully the claim turned out not to be true. Mr Johnston was in the hands of a different extremist faction but the hoax showed clearly that Gaza was becoming a hotbed of al-Qaeda linked extremists.

Hamas actually managed to secure Johnston’s release.

That said, there’s still an deep, sad irony in this case – Arrigoni was in Gaza working for the International Solidarity Movement, which has constantly attempted to justify Palestinian violence by saying that it is just a result of the “occupation” and are always denying that there are genuine terrorists operating in these areas motivated by hatred and wanting nothing but to kill Israelis.

Now one of their members has unfortunately suffered the result of their mistake. A video released of him before he was killed said that “the Italian hostage entered our land only to spread corruption” and it described Italy as “the infidel state”.

The video also demanded the release of on of the kidnappers’ leaders, who is being held by Hamas in prison. Again, ISM have supported, or at least refused to condemn, Hamas’ tactic of kidnapping Israelis in order to have a bargaining chip to try and secure the release of convicted terrorists – the most recent example being Gilad Shalit, who is still being held illegaly in Gaza. Tawhid wal-Jihad was following Hamas’ example when they abducted Arrigoni.

I would hope that this incident will cause these groups to reflect on who and what they are really supporting. Unfortunately, I wouldn’t place a lot of value in the prospect of that happening.

The video can be seen below. There’s nothing too graphic, but I would not recommend watching it if you are easily disturbed:

***disturbing content***

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Hizballah World – Fun for the whole family

Fun for all the family

Reports came out last year of a bizarre theme park created by Hizballah, but now some genius from Vice Magazine has photographed it and provided some pretty funny commentary.

I took the liberty of thinking up some rides for their expansion:

  • Beauty and The Bomb – Live On Stage
  • Cinderella’s Crater
  • Honey I Shot The Kids
  • The Many Adventures of Whinnie The Prophet (peace be upon Him)
  • Beirut Lightyear: Space Ranger Spin
  • Slaying Private Ryan
  • Space Madrassa
  • Flaying Nemo – The Musical
  • Harry Potter and the Adulterers Stoned
  • Pirates of the Gulf of Aden
  • Rock ‘N Rollerkatushya – Strring Aerosmith
  • It’s A Shiite World After All(ah)
  • Snow Shiite’s Terrifying Adventures

Click here to see the actual park:


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