Tuesday, November 28, 2006

my accent

Apparently it's as bland as can be.

What American accent do you have?
Your Result: The West

Your accent is the lowest common denominator of American speech. Unless you're a SoCal surfer, no one thinks you have an accent. And really, you may not even be from the West at all, you could easily be from Florida or one of those big Southern cities like Dallas or Atlanta.

The Midland
North Central
The Inland North
The South
The Northeast
What American accent do you have?
Take More Quizzes

(Via Yglesias.)

Update: For some reason, the bars showing how much of each regional accent I have are not showing up ... blame it on Blogger, I guess. Also, something to do with Blogger's interface with Mozilla means you may have to refresh the page to get the most recent postings.

in today’s news

Stunned by a significant loss of support from Hispanic voters in the 2006 midterm elections, Republican politicians redoubled their efforts to reach out to the Hispanic community.

Or not . . .

(Via Atrios)

Monday, November 27, 2006

the modern slave trade

I watched a movie the other day called “Lilja 4-ever” and it reminded me of a Foreign Affairs article I read recently titled “The New Global Slave Trade.” Ethan Kapstein writes:

When most people think about slavery -- if they think about it at all -- they probably assume that it was eliminated during the nineteenth century. Unfortunately, this is far from the truth. Slavery and the global slave trade continue to thrive to this day; in fact, it is likely that more people are being trafficked across borders against their will now than at any point in the past.

This human stain is not just a minor blot on the rich tapestry of international commerce. It is a product of the same political, technological, and economic forces that have fueled globalization. Just as the brutal facts of the Atlantic slave trade ultimately led to a reexamination of U.S. history -- U.S. historiography until the 1960s had been largely celebratory -- so must growing awareness of the modern slave trade spark a recognition of the flaws in our contemporary economic and governmental arrangements. The current system offers too many incentives to criminals and outlaw states to market humans and promises too little in the way of sanctions.

Contemporary slavery typically involves women and children being forced into servitude through violence and deprivation. Disturbingly, the advanced industrial states have failed to take much action to address the issue. The problem is one of political will, not capability, for the rich countries of the world have at their disposal numerous instruments that, if their leaders had the courage to use them, could greatly curtail the global slave trade. Just as the British government (after much prodding by its subjects) once used the Royal Navy to stamp out the problem, today's great powers must bring their economic and military might to bear on this most crucial of undertakings.

Some more facts:

[T]he total number of people estimated to be living in some form of forced servitude around the world (according to the International Labor Organization) [is] 12 million. Whatever the exact number is, it seems almost certain that the modern global slave trade is larger in absolute terms than the Atlantic slave trade in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries was.

But this is primarily a problem in developing countries, right? Well, not entirely.
The Justice Department reported in 2006 that about 17,500 persons are trafficked into the [U.S.] annually; in the late 1990s, the CIA put the figure at about 50,000. [Kapstein does not explain whether the numerical difference is due to different methodologies or an improvement in the situation, or both.]

And the U.S. has been relatively aggressive and successful in its efforts to combat the slave trade. If this is what success looks like, I’d hate to see failure. One possible problem: in the U.S., “drug traffickers generally face much stiffer sentences than do those who traffic in humans.”

How does the slave trade work?
Slavers typically recruit poor people in poor countries by promising them good jobs in distant places. A recruiter will then offer a victim a generous loan—at an exorbitant interest rate—to help with travel arrangements, papers, and locating a job in the new community. On arrival, the promised job never materializes, and thus the large debt—up to several thousand dollars—can never be repaid. The victim is then stripped of all travel documents, given a false identity, and forced into a job. He or she—and his or her family—are threatened with disfigurement or death should the slave try to alert the authorities or escape. If they are paid at all, slaves get the bare minimum required for survival.

Roughly 2/3 of slaves are estimated to be used for sex. The trade is lucrative since slave traders can earn on average $10,000 per slave.

Kapstein concludes:
It is worth remembering that in the nineteenth century many people argued that slavery would end “naturally” once the practice was no longer economically profitable. But historians now agree that since slavery remained extremely profitable until the day it was aboloished, such an end was unlikely ever to come. If this was true in the past, it is even more true today, since the costs associated with the slave trade have shrunk so dramatically. As long as slavers continue to face only mild penalties from a handful of countries—and none from the rest—they can be expected to continue their work, underminng in the process the legal and ethical foundations of the global economy. If the United States and some of its European partners wish to halt modern slavery, they will have to use their power to do so, just as the Royal Navy halted the Atlantic slave trade on the high seas in the nineteenth century. There is no “natural” end to slavery in sight, and any productive policy must start by recognizing that fact.

the rule

Let me see if I’ve got this right.

Using the courts to advance the cause of gay marriage is judicial activism.

Using the courts to defeat the cause of gay marriage is NOT judicial activism.


the national interest

In the NY Times Sunday Book Review, Michael Lewis writes about Colin Powell’s speech in front of the UN in February 2003:

Walking into the United Nations, Powell understood he was being used by the administration to persuade not foreign governments but the American people. And persuade them he did. Before his speech, DeYoung points out, two-thirds of Americans were against going to war; after it, half of them favored war. Three-quarters of those polled by The Los Angeles Times said they felt Powell had proved the case against Iraq. Before the speech Colin Powell was the most unambiguously admired figure in public life. “You’ve got high poll ratings,” Cheney said to him beforehand, as he poked Powell in the chest. “You can afford to lose a few points.” “They needed him to do it,” Powell’s wife, Alma, says here, “because they knew people would believe him.”

Colin Powell used the trust he had earned over decades of public service to sell the American public on a dubious war. This will not easily be forgotten.

But in the end, the American public is responsible for this war. The public supported the war and re-elected President Bush a year and a half into it, basically ratifying the decision to invade. It's true that many people opposed the war from the start, but these people were generally ignored or marginalized until recently. There was certainly a failure of leadership on both sides of the political aisle, and the media mostly abdicated its role as government watchdog in the run-up to the war. But the failings that made this war possible run much deeper and broader than that—they are failings in how we see the world and how we see ourselves.

We see ourselves as always doing the right thing, even when we’re not (firebombing Dresden and Tokyo in WWII, installing the shah in Iran in 1953, helping to overthrow democratically-elected governments in Guatemala in 1954 and Chile in 1973, invading Vietnam, or bombing Cambodia, for example). For many people, definitionally, the U.S. cannot err in its foreign policy because it acts, based on Constitutional principles, with the consent of its people. (Whether consent has been given when it is not asked for until after the fact merits another discussion entirely.) Along these lines, Americans tend to think the government spends much more on foreign aid than it actually does.

We go to great lengths to convince ourselves that what is in America’s interest is in everyone else’s interest as well. We most often run into trouble when we fool ourselves into thinking we’re acting in the interest of other people when we’re really only acting in our own interest, and often not even that. Guatemala 1954 led to Cuba 1959. Iran 1953 led to Iran 1979. Iraq 2003 will lead to . . . God knows what.

The fact is that, aside from national rhetoric about all men being born equal, we don’t really believe foreigners have the same rights as we do—the right to life, liberty, and so on. And they clearly don’t under the domestic political system we’ve set up and the international political system in which we participate. So when we went in to “liberate” Iraq or Afghanistan, making the Iraqi or Afghan people better off was never one of our top priorities, and it never will be under the current international political system. All assertions to the contrary are either deliberate untruths or pleasant self-delusions. If the Iraq invasion had truly been a humanitarian intervention, the American public never would have supported it. This fundamental disjuncture between the interests of the Iraqis and the interests of the U.S. is why so many Iraqis have died and why we have no idea what we’re doing there now. And it is why whatever we end up doing to extract ourselves from the situation, the Iraqis will suffer for it more than we will.

The American people bought this war, and now we—and (mostly) the Iraqis—will pay for it.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Iran’s government . . .

. . . ever teetering on the verge of collapse.

If only the MSM would show us what’s really going on there! Thankfully, Michael Ledeen has the story for us at NRO.

Given the ECHR’s actions in the case of the Iranian refugees, does this mean that Ledeen supports an enhanced role for the Western Hemisphere’s counterpart, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights? (The one that no one in the Western Hemisphere has actually heard of.) Would he go so far as to advocate that the United States, renowned defender of human rights around the world, finally ratify the American Convention on Human Rights and accept the Court’s contentious jurisdiction?

Does it mean Ledeen supports an increase in the number of U.S. visas granted to refugees and asylees, and a streamlining of the process by which those people obtain legal status in the U.S.? Does he think we should revisit the process by which asylees are sent back to their home countries, a process known, in the proud tradition of sending boatloads of Jewish refugees back into Hitler’s arms, as “expedited removal”?

If so, it is welcome news to me.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

a complaint

Andrew Sullivan wrote today:

Mitt Romney will surely provide a fascinating glimpse into the Christianist mindset in the coming two years. He will be the candidate for the Christianist right, but he's not a Christian. And many Christianists may well recoil at the man's Mormon faith. In fact, the latest Rasmussen poll shows that 53 percent of evangelical Christians would not even consider voting for a Mormon president. That's more than the 43 percent in the general population. So this emerges as a delicious irony: a candidacy made possible by sectarian politics could subsequently be made impossible by the same forces. I'm sorry if I have little sympathy for Romney's plight. Live by fundamentalism; die by fundamentalism.

While I mostly agree with the substantive point, Sullivan’s casual comment that Romney is "not a Christian” bothered me. So I wrote him this:
I'm sure I won't be the only one to correct you on this, but Romney is a Christian by any meaningful definition of the word. All Mormons are Christians. Christ is unquestionably the central figure of the faith; in fact, the official name of the church is "The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints." Some other Christians have decided that because Mormons have a different view of the Trinity, spend a lot of time talking about church founder Joseph Smith, and believe that each person has the potential for godhood, they are not Christians. Ask any Mormon if he or she is a Christian and they will say yes. Who gets to decide this important question: Mormons themselves who profess a profound belief in Christ or exclusionary Christianists who want to denigrate the faith of others?

I say this as an atheist ex-Mormon who really doesn't give two cents about the underlying theology, but it still bothers me every time I see this trope coming from some quarters that Mormons aren't Christians which apparently gets picked up and passed on without a second thought. And it's something people need to get right as I'm sure it will be discussed ad nauseam once Romney's campaign gathers steam.

And he responded:
I take the reader's point. But Muslims also revere Jesus. And the inspiration for Mormonism's radically innovative understanding of the message and life of Jesus - Joseph Smith's "discovery" - is so alien to mainstream Christianity (and so transparently loopy) that I don't consider Mormons Christians. This is not to say I don't support their religious freedom or their right to play a full part of American politics and society. But they're not Christians as I understand Christianity.

Which didn’t exactly resolve my concerns, so I wrote back:
In response to your post, I have a few nits to pick. Muslims may revere Christ, but do they worship him? Is he the central figure of their faith? No, that is Mohammed. More importantly, Muslims do not self-identify as Christians, whereas Mormons do.

It seems to me that people of faith should take care when describing the beliefs of others as "transparently loopy." To a non-religious person, belief in supernatural phenomena like turning water into wine, raising the dead, or walking on water might seem "transparently loopy." As far as a "radically innovative" message that is "alien to mainstream Christianity," that could easily have described the beliefs of Martin Luther during his life. Few now would dispute that he is a Christian. In fact, Luther and the Mormons share the unpleasant characterization of the Roman Catholic church as the Whore of Babylon described in the Book of Revelation.
I don't see the need for all the name-calling, on all sides. It seems to me that religious belief is highly subjective and, on definitional questions such as who is a Christian, the benefit of the doubt should go to the believer, not the outside observer.

C.S. Lewis, who is highly regarded within the Mormon church, espoused this view:

It is not for us to say who, in the deepest sense, is or is not close to the spirit of Christ. We do not see into men's hearts. We cannot judge, and are indeed forbidden to judge. It would be wicked arrogance for us to say that any man is, or is not, a Christian in this refined sense . . . When a man who accepts the Christian doctrine lives unworthily of it, it is much clearer to say he is a bad Christian than to say he is not a Christian.

No response yet …

Monday, November 20, 2006

say goodbye to the NPT

If it wasn’t clear already, the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) is a dead letter. From the NYTimes:

The Senate gave overwhelming approval late Thursday to President Bush’s deal for nuclear cooperation with India, a vote expressing that a goal of nurturing India as an ally outweighed concerns over the risks of spreading nuclear skills and bomb-making materials.

By a vote of 85 to 12, senators agreed to a program that would allow the United States to send nuclear fuel and technology to India, which has refused to sign the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.

The agreement, negotiated by President Bush and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh of India in March, calls for the United States to end a long moratorium on sales of nuclear fuel and reactor components. For its part, India would divide its reactor facilities into civilian and military nuclear programs, with civilian facilities open to international inspections.

Critics have been unwavering in arguing that the pact would rally nations like North Korea and Iran to press ahead with nuclear weapons programs despite international complaints and threats. Opponents of the measure also warned that the deal would allow India to build more bombs with its limited stockpile of radioactive material, and could spur a regional nuclear arms race with Pakistan and China.

This is a great way to put the nail in the coffin of the already shaky weapons regime. We’re helping India do an end run around the NPT to advance our goals in the region—but will this really even do that? What credibility do the nuclear powers have now in arguing that Iran must abide by its treaty obligations to use nuclear technologies for only peaceful means? The administration has made no effort to build a new rule-based system for regulating and containing nuclear technology. It’s made no effort to address the dubious moral ground on which the NPT is constructed (by what principle do some countries get nukes and others none?) by taking real steps towards a nuclear-weapon-free world. So the current weapons regime is crumbling beneath us and we have no replacement ready—in fact, we aren’t even seriously talking about a new system, it’s not even on the radar. Not a proper subject of discussion in the Senate or the news media, apparently. The only conclusion I can draw is that the administration never saw the NPT as a particularly useful piece of paper to begin with and is now glad to be freed from its constraints. Either that or our national security policy is being decided by true incompetents.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Bush draws lessons from Vietnam

From the NYTimes on Friday:

President Bush, on his first visit to a country where America lost a two-decade-long fight against communism, said Friday the Vietnam War's lesson for today's confounding Iraq conflict is that freedom takes time to trump hatred.

I guess that’s true, but probably not in the way he intended.
''My first reaction is history has a long march to it, and societies change and relationships can constantly be altered to the good,'' Bush said after speeding past signs of both poverty and the commerce produced by Asia's fastest-growing economy.

Also true. It only took Vietnam 30 years to get past being bombed back into the Stone Age.

No mention was made of the 2 million (or more) people killed and the suffering that continues to this day. No mention was made of the genocide next door in Cambodia we triggered then ignored.
"It's just going to take a long period of time for the ideology that is hopeful -- and that is an ideology of freedom -- to overcome an ideology of hate," Bush said after having lunch at his lakeside hotel with Australian Prime Minister John Howard, whose country has been one of America's strongest allies in Iraq, Vietnam and other conflicts.

''We'll succeed,'' Bush added, ''unless we quit.''

This man has the mind of a child. It reminds me of when my first grade teacher proudly told the class that the U.S. had never lost a war. I guess no one ever told her about Vietnam (or Korea, for that matter). Or sufficiently explained to her the concept of “losing.” Whatever lessons Bush is drawing from Vietnam, I am not very confident that they will help us resolve the problems we now face in Iraq.

Vietnam became successful only after the invading powers, the U.S. and France, were expelled. I wonder if anyone has bothered explaining to Bush the concept of nationalism (it’s like patriotism, but for people in other countries) and how people don’t usually like having their homeland invaded by foreigners.
''For decades, you have been torn apart by war,'' Bush said, toasting his hosts. ''And today the Vietnamese people are at peace and seeing the benefits of reform.''

The president's welcome by the public was much less enthusiastic than the rock-star treatment afforded President Clinton when he came in 2000. Happy crowds thronged Clinton, who normalized relations with Vietnam.

But Bush encountered a country where many with long memories deeply disapprove of the U.S. invasion of Iraq -- even as they yearn for continued economic progress to stamp out still-rampant poverty.

With all traffic halted, many Hanoi residents gaped at his long motorcade from their motorbikes. Other clusters of onlookers gathered before storefronts, a few waving but most merely looking on impassively.

Huynh Tuyet, 71, a North Vietnamese veteran who had his hand blown off fighting the Americans, recalled his own lesson.

''Even though the Americans were more powerful with all their massive weapons, the main factor in war is the people,'' he said. ''The Vietnamese people were very determined. We would not give up. That's why we won.''

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

borat recap

I saw the Borat movie last weekend. I liked it, but was also fairly exhausting to watch. Having seen all the HBO Ali G shows on dvd, I had a good idea of what was coming, but I still felt violated by the end. It was the final scene with Pamela Anderson that did it. Reading what she says here made me feel much better about the whole experience. Running naked through a mortgage insurance convention brandishing a dildo is one thing, but assaulting someone unawares is something else entirely.

My fiancĂ© and I were talking afterwards about how people would react when they saw the movie. I was kind of hoping for riots a la Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring or The Rules of the Game in WWII-era France. But judging by the Brooklyn audience we were part of, I think many people won’t really know what it is they are watching. I certainly didn’t when I first saw the Ali G show in Britain several years ago. First of all, I could barely understand what he was saying. And it looked like a goofy British news talk show to me. The people on the show seemed to take it seriously, so I did at first as well.

Evidently, some people in our audience felt the same way about Borat. At one point in the movie, somewhere near the gay pride parade segment where Borat says “You mean the person that put plastic fist in my anus is homosexual?” someone in the audience yelled out “faggot!” I think Borat will have the last laugh on America if half the country watches and cheers him on unironically. He plays a 21st century Candide, a bumpkin traveling the world peeling up the corners of polite convention to reveal the often dystopic reality underneath. But you can read Candide as a straight story, too, as a colorful travelogue. And you can watch Borat for the slapstick and funny accent and completely miss the rest of it. I have to wonder how many people will watch the movie and not know he is not really from Kazakhstan …

There was also a 7 or 8 year old kid sitting next to us in the theater. During the naked hotel scene, my fiance overheard his dad, who was sitting nearby, say "I wouldn't have brought him if I'd known there was all this gay shit" in the movie. Never mind any number of other things in the movie that an 8 year old might be better off not seeing (just about all of it). But Borat could turn him gay so look out! Protect your children!

Dad, if you are reading this, I would think twice about watching the movie. I think you might feel kind of like Grandma felt when you took her to Shaun of the Dead. Although if the orthodox Jews or parents of young children in our audience didn’t walk out, I guess anyone can make it through to the end.

America we stand as one

I think this should be the theme song for the new era of bipartisan cooperation we are now apparently entering. Still great after all these months. It is how I will always remember the Bush years.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

back in blue

Let me just say ... Yay Democrats! It is nice to see someone in power finally facing some of the consequences of their actions. The last 5 years in American politics have been an unmitigated disaster ... hopefully we are witnessing a first step towards rehabilitation.

Also, in case you are tempted to take seriously anything written by political reporter Adam Nagourney in the NY Times ever again, this not-so-prescient article should put that idea to rest. When Karl Rove confidently predicts victory for his party in 2002 and 2004, it's good politics. When Democrats do it in 2006, it's hubris. What a joker.