Saturday, 14 October 2006

Gleanings from the blogosphere, Oct. 14

Islamic scholars are taking up the Pope's challenge and engaging in interfaith dialogue, reports Ed Morrissey at Captain's Quarters. Their response to the Pope will be delivered Sunday, but it is already available online. It's a small start, but it's a start. As you can read in the Bible, "Do not despise the day of small beginnings."

Continuing the Islamic theme, John Burgess at Crossroads Arabia tells us the Saudi government has set up an English/Arabic website with the express purpose of combatting Muslim extremism.

A moderate Muslim journalist, Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury, is literally running for his life in Bangladesh. Reader_iam at Done With Mirrors brings us up-to-date on his situation, with more than a note of despair.

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I have been carnivalized

That's carnivalized, not caramelized. And for the very first time, too.

EterazAli Eteraz is hosting the current Carnival of Islam in the West, and saw fit to include my earlier post on the Muslim moles in the Toronto terrorist cell. Thanks, Ali. If the uneasy relationship between Islam and the West interests you, and you'd like a glimpse of it through (mostly) Muslim eyes, click on over and browse through the articles he offers.

And for those who haven't encountered the term before, a blog carnival is a catalogue of selected recent posts on a specific topic, compiled by enthusiasts, and usually hosted on different blogs on a rotating basis.

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Friday, 13 October 2006

Second Muslim mole helped foil bomb plot

Mubin ShaikhWe now find out that there was not one, but two Muslim moles working within the terrorist cell that was planning attacks in Toronto. The first, Mubin Shaikh, seen at fight, came to public attention about a month after the arrests.

The existence of the second, who is now in a witness protection programme and whose identity will not be revealed, was reported today by the CBC.
However, the CBC has learned that he played a key role in the investigation that led to dramatic raids in the Toronto area in June.

"He really felt, as a loyal Muslim Canadian, like he owed Canada something, to give back to it," said a close friend and former business associate who, for security reasons, can't be named. "And it's not surprising to see that he did that for the cause of Canada."
The mole, a young agricultural engineer, apparently provided key evidence to investigators and will be an important Crown witness when the matter comes to trial.

This is exactly what many Canadians have been calling for: members of the Muslim community who will put their loyalty to Canada and the protection of innocents ahead of any sympathies with misguided co-religionists. I suppose it won't carry much weight with those who are determined to hate all Muslims and to see them all as terrorists, but it should. These men didn't just talk the talk, they walked the walk.

And if terrorism is to be defeated in the West, this is the kind of collaboration that is absolutely essential. The Muslim community itself is our first line of defence.

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North Korea by night

Rumsfeld's second favourite photo or no, this picture was too striking not to pass on. North Korea shuts off the lights - and all electricity - at 9:00 pm. That one little dot of light is Pyongyang where the Beloved Leader lives. From the Daily Mail.

Great place to be an amateur astronomer, presuming any of them can afford telescopes.

North Korea's nuclear explosion in doubt

No airborne radioactive particles have been found by either American or Chinese monitors.
The U.S. government remains uncertain of the nature of the underground explosion, although the air sampling tends to reinforce earlier doubts about whether the test blast was entirely successful, officials said. Data from seismic sensors indicated the explosion was smaller than expected.
This makes it highly unlikely that North Korea actually carried out a successful nuclear detonation. (Hat tip to my friends at Stubborn Facts.)

Although I have posted briefly on the North Korean nuclear situation here and here, I have been unable to really get into panic mode over the whole affair, in large part because the smallness of the seismic signature of the detonation inspired doubt from the very start. Those doubts now seem to be vindicated.

The world has been given a grace period to do something about North Korea before it starts selling nuclear technology to every terrorist group with sufficient financial backing. This was the clear danger from the very start, as not even Kim Jong Il is crazy enough to provoke a nuclear war with either its neighbours or the US. There are disheartening signs, such as Russia and China's pressure in the UN to keep reaction low-key in favour of diplomatic solutions, which has too often been UN-speak for accomplishing nothing whatsoever and giving tyrants a free hand.

On the other hand, Shinzo Abe, Japan's new right-wing, nationalist prime minister made his first foreign visit to China last week, just before the test and got along famously with his hosts (remember the saying: Only Nixon could go to China?) with one of their main points of agreement being the necessity of keeping North Korea in line. I find it encouraging that the first impulse has not been to start an antagonistic military build-up in the Far East between the two great regional powers.

So while the situation in North Korea is still a subject of grave concern, there is not yet any need to panic. Indeed, Kim may have done us all a favour by making it very difficult to ignore his shenanigans and galvanizing world opinion enough to accomplish something before critical mass is obtained. That's a bit optimistic on my part, I know.

[Read the comments.]

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Muhammad Yunus and practical feminism

Now this is the kind of feminism I can really get behind!

Muhammad YunusBangladeshi economist Muhammad Yunus and the Grameen Bank are sharing a Nobel Peace Prize for pioneering and implementing the practice of micro-loans.
Yunus' notion -- today, known as microcredit -- has spread around the globe in the past three decades and is said to have helped more than 100 million people take their first steps to rise out of poverty.

Some bought diary cows, others egg-laying hens. In recent years, money for a single cell phone has been enough to start thriving enterprises in isolated villages without phone lines from East Asia to West Africa.

''Lasting peace cannot be achieved unless large population groups find ways in which to break out of poverty,'' the Nobel Committee said in its citation in Oslo, Norway. ''Microcredit is one such means. Development from below also serves to advance democracy and human rights.''

A large number of the beneficiaries of microcredit have been women, which is why I made the link to feminism.
''I can't express in words how happy I am,'' said Gulbadan Nesa, 40, who five years ago used $90 from the Grameen Bank to buy chickens so she could sell eggs. She's since taken more loans and expanded into selling building materials.

''Not long ago I was almost begging for money to feed my family,'' she said from Bishnurampur, her village in northern Bangladesh. ''Today, I've got my own house and enough money to feed my children and send them to school.''

This is the kind of feminism that gets me excited. It seems innocuous when you first look at it, but this is the kind of empowerment that has profound, lasting results. Families are lifted out of poverty, women gain dignity and independence, all through a very simple mechanism. And it is downright insidious and apolitical, with only lunatics like the Taliban likely to oppose it. No, I have no official statement from them along those lines. Seeing as they routinely firebomb schools teaching women skills for microbusinesses, I think it only likely they would oppose this kind of initiative as well. Most third world countries smile benignly and allow this kind of activity, which may ultimately prove to be positively seditious, both in terms of women's rights and in terms of political power.

And - dare I say it? - it is also capitalism at its finest. While I am very worried about some of the extremes of capitalism (think huge multi-nationals), this kind of capitalism dignifies and enables individuals and through them their families and the entire society, bit by bit.

I think the Nobel Committee chose very wisely this year.

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Thursday, 12 October 2006

Gleanings from the blogosphere, Oct. 12

Both Spook86 and Steve Janke are explaining why Japan's trading sanctions against North Korea are a much more devastating move than is generally known.

It sounds like education is getting a profound and welcome makeover in Saudi Arabia. John Burgess tells us about it at Crossroads Arabia and warns it will not be without controversy.

Ed Morrissey is singing the same tune as I am when it comes to Palestine:
The Palestinians can't blame Israel for this. Shootings such as the one that took Rafiq Siam have their origins in a divide that war alone can address now. In the end, neither side can win, because both are essentially nihilistic and will not stop. The Palestinians have created a death cult in two different flavors, and both sides value martyrdom so much that both will fight until everyone is dead in order to keep power in their own hands, once the fighting starts.

Eventually the Palestinian people will have to demand an end to their misery and jettison both factions from their polity. An all-out civil war might wake them from their political coma and shock some sense into them. Siam's father tells the Guardian that he's "sick of both sides because they can't control the situation." This realization that they have failed to produce a rational ruling class might finally force the Palestinians to generate one before the terrorists kill them all.

I got a bit of a surprise from this article by Larry Elder, in which he trots out economic and ethical statistics in favour of the Republicans over the Democrats. It almost sounds too good to be true. It certainly isn't the whole story, but interesting nonetheless. Hat tip Booker Rising.

Wednesday, 11 October 2006

Blog glossary = bloglossary?

Are you confused about some strange term you've seen on a blog? And you don't want to seem uncool by asking what it means? Well, you don't have to.

Some enterprising souls in the UK took it upon themselves to create a blog glossary.

Of course, so has Wikipedia.


If you can't find it somewhere in there, it's probably not worth knowing.

In my ongoing selfless service to the blogosphere - ahem! - I've put a link in my sidebar, where you'll be able to access this reference at all times. Just look under the walrus and the carpenter.

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The ongoing saga of YouTube pornography

"Rev." Billy Bob Gisher is very satisfied with the results of his crusade against YouTube pornography.
Take a look at the number of major advertisers we caught mired in YouTube smut, that have pulled their ads, and headed for the hills. With the exception of the extremely belligerent conglomerate of Cingular, the word was most definitely on the street. This rapid attempt on the behalf of YouTube to leap into the loving arms of Google, was inevitable as after all, how could they stay afloat without major advertisers?
This is not mere bluster. If you take a look at the blow-by-blow accounts of advertisers contacted by Gisher and their responses, you will find the battle and its results well documented. I'm not in a position to evaluate how much it figured into YouTube's decision to sell but1.6 billion dollars is not a bad consolation prize.

Gisher has no intention of breathing a sigh of satisfaction and letting matters drop. He and his crony, King Bastard, are retrenching before the next phase of battle.
For a few days we will be gearing up for the larger battle against adult content which is served with little or no regard for the easy access that children have to the material. We are also gearing up to follow up on several surprise issues that came out of our investigation on YouTube.

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Violent elephants

African elephantThe New York Times magazine has an impressive article, "An Elephant Crackup?", on strange new behaviours emerging among elephant populations. While individual elephants have shown signs of trauma before, entire groups are behaving in violent, dysfunctional ways, sometimes terrorizing nearby human villages. Researchers have drawn striking parallels between these behaviours and those of traumatized, disrupted human populations.
This fabric of elephant society, Bradshaw and her colleagues concluded, had effectively been frayed by years of habitat loss and poaching, along with systematic culling by government agencies to control elephant numbers and translocations of herds to different habitats. The number of older matriarchs and female caregivers (or ‘‘allomothers’’) had drastically fallen, as had the number of elder bulls, who play a significant role in keeping younger males in line. In parts of Zambia and Tanzania, a number of the elephant groups studied contained no adult females whatsoever. In Uganda, herds were often found to be ‘‘semipermanent aggregations,’’ as a paper written by Bradshaw describes them, with many females between the ages of 15 and 25 having no familial associations.

As a result of such social upheaval, calves are now being born to and raised by ever younger and inexperienced mothers. Young orphaned elephants, meanwhile, that have witnessed the death of a parent at the hands of poachers are coming of age in the absence of the support system that defines traditional elephant life. ‘‘The loss of elephant elders,’’ Bradshaw told me, ‘‘and the traumatic experience of witnessing the massacres of their family, impairs normal brain and behavior development in young elephants.’’

The article is fascinating, often depressing, and sometimes profoundly moving.
Okello said that after the man’s killing [Note: by an enraged elephant], the elephant herd buried him as it would one of its own, carefully covering the body with earth and brush and then standing vigil over it.
When a group of villagers from Katwe went out to reclaim the man’s body for his family’s funeral rites, the elephants refused to budge. Human remains, a number of researchers have observed, are the only other ones that elephants will treat as they do their own.

Hat tip to Amba at Ambivablog

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One thing the SWC has done for me

Glaze my eyes over with endless bureaucratese, without giving me any solid information to chew on.

Status of Women CanadaMy SWC meme hasn't exactly been a riproaring success, for three reasons. First of all, this blog is still pretty obscure, so most people are probably still unaware of it. Second, those who are aware of it don't have a clue what to say about Status of Women Canada if they aren't allowed knee-jerk, partisan generalities. And third, I haven't tagged anybody specific.

Well, there's not much I can do about the first, at least not quickly.

As for the second, I sympathize. I had nothing to say off the top of my head either, positive or negative. Research wasn't very helpful. The government documents were full of meaningless flow charts, bureaucratese that must be designed to thoroughly discourage anybody trying to find real information, and page after page of vague generalities. After a couple of hours, my brain was numb and I was no closer to finding out what programmes were actually funded by SWC, nor what practical difference they made to anybody. I am still therefore basically without an opinion, although my suspicions have been raised. One of their main emphases is GBA - Gender Based Analysis - which seems to be a programme to make sure there isn't any gender bias in the public service. In a 2002 document they said it was too early to have any concrete results, but they should be able to say something more precise in a couple of years. In 2005, they were saying much the same thing. This has all the earmarks of a government sinkhole, money being spent on endless, perpetual studies that never make recommendations or even come to any kind of conclusion. What I really want to find is a list of organizations that SWC has sponsored, how much money they were each given, and what they accomplished with it. If anybody can help me, I would love to know where to find it.

As for the third reason, I will try to put together a politically diverse list of both genders and see if that gets the ball rolling better. In the meanwhile, I would like to hear from you: what difference has the SWC made in your life, for better or worse? You can comment here or at the original post, email me (make the necessary changes to the address), or post on your own blog and link back or let me know.

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Tuesday, 10 October 2006

Pressuring North Korea

Kim Jong IlThe absolute best post on how to handle North Korea, and I've read quite a few, trust me. In From the Cold is a blog written by a former spy who drips expertise in every post.

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A new wrinkle in the abortion debate is really very old

Opponents of abortion in South Dakota have taken a new tack, and it apparently has the pro-choice forces at a bit of a loss on how to handle it.
Vote Yes for Life campaign manager Leslee Unruh takes what she calls the pro-life "feminist" approach to the abortion debate.

Instead of discussing how abortion "murders babies" she talks about how abortion exploits women. The campaign headquarters features pictures of women and the slogan, "Abortion Hurts Women."
According to the Times, Sarah Stoesz, president and chief executive of Planned Parenthood of Minnesota and North and South Dakota, says Unruh's pro-woman, pro-life tactic is "effective" and has thrown her group's campaign "off balance."

"Historically, this debate has been focused on fetal rights, fetal life. We have a lot of language about that," Stoesz told the newspaper. "This adds an element we're not accustomed to. It's a different line of debate... And that is something we struggle with politically."

It is interesting that 19th-century feminists also saw abortion as an exploitation of women issue and were adamantly opposed to it, without exception.
The feminist movement was born more than two hundred years ago when Mary Wollstonecraft wrote "A Vindication of the Rights of Women." After decrying the sexual exploitation of women, she condemned those who would "either destroy the embryo in the womb, or cast it off when born." Shortly thereafter, abortion became illegal in Great Britain.

The now revered feminists of the 19th century were also strongly opposed to abortion because of their belief in the worth of all humans. Like many women in developing countries today, they opposed abortion even though they were acutely aware of the damage done to women through constant child-bearing. They opposed abortion despite knowing that half of all children born died before the age of five. They knew that women had virtually no rights within the family or the political sphere. But they did not believe abortion was the answer.

Without known exception, the early American feminists condemned abortion in the strongest possible terms. In Susan B. Anthony's newsletter, The Revolution, abortion was described as "child murder," "infanticide" and "foeticide." Elizabeth Cady Stanton, who in 1848 organized the first women's rights convention in Seneca Falls, New York, classified abortion as a form of infanticide and said, "When you consider that women have been treated as property, it is degrading to women that we should treat our children as property to be disposed of as we see fit."

Anti-abortion laws enacted in the latter half of the 19th century were a result of advocacy efforts by feminists who worked in an uneasy alliance with the male-dominated medical profession and the mainstream media. The early feminists understood that, much like today, women resorted to abortion because they were abandoned or pressured by boyfriends, husbands and parents and lacked financial resources to have a baby on their own.
From "The Feminist Case Against Abortion."

Questioning dogmas can be a very healthy thing. It is way past time that women questioned the standard dogmas about abortion.

Hat tip to Big Blue Wave.

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Controversy in the Kingdom

Tash Ma TashThere is quite a debate raging in Saudi Arabia. A popular TV show, Tash Ma Tash, lampooned terrorists in a recent episode and they've stirred up quite a hornet's nest. Fundamentalists are praying for the deaths or the repentance of the actors - depending on their degree of rage, I suppose - while others are rushing to their defence.
From condemnation, to qualified support, to clear approval, these reactions demonstrate that the show has achieved its goal of getting people talking about the status of social and cultural issues that are often confusedly seen as "religion".
Something noteworthy: The Saudi government has not taken any action to stop the broadcast of this controversial program.

You can read all about it here and here and here at Crossroads Arabia, where John Burgess, an Arabist of considerable real experience, keeps a daily watch on Saudi Arabia and provides a much more fleshed-out, knowledgeable view than you'll find anywhere in the Western media. Any Westerner who wants to gain some insight into the country at the heart of Islam should make this blog part of their daily reading.

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And you thought SARS was scary...

Europe is fighting its own superbug, drug-resistant tuberculosis. A new Stop TB Partnership has been launched in Europe to try to fight the disease.
Markku Niskala, head of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, said the message for EU leaders was: "Wake up, do not delay, do not let this problem get further out of hand."

"The drug resistance that we are seeing now is without doubt the most alarming tuberculosis situation on the continent since World War II," he said.

The WHO has found high levels of multi-drug resistant tuberculosis in Baltic countries, Eastern Europe and central Asia.

Le Figaro reports that 70,000 people die of it yearly. OK, so how many SARS deaths did it take for the world to boycott Toronto? I assume TB is a little less contagious, because otherwise this makes no sense at all.

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Monday, 9 October 2006

Muslim super heroes

John Burgess at Crossroads Arabia reports on a Muslim comic book series that has super heroes that impersonate the 99 attributes of God in Islam and has now received crucial financial backing necessary to launch an animated TV series.
It's interesting to note that one of the motivations for Al-Mutawa to create this series was his observation that Hamas was selling stickers of suicide bombers to children. He believed a strong alternative was necessary.

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Train tickets to the Walrus

People sometimes take the strangest routes to end up at The Walrus Said! These people rarely stay long, but their train tickets amuse, bemuse, or sometimes confuse me.

Here are some of the more unusual search terms that lead people to this blog.
  • walrus that have no face (One of the most ignored of minority groups. Stop the conspiracy of silence now!)
  • letter of concern by pastor to absenteeism (No, I have no idea why that pointed in this direction.)
  • the walrus and the carpenter religion (Hey, if they can build religions around Star Wars or Elvis...)
  • walrus kipling (Sorry, sweetie. Kipling didn't write about walruses. But Walrus wrote about Kipling...)
  • Walrus speech (Normally slow and incomprehensible. Except here.)
  • dangers of walrus leather (Another vital issue deliberately ignored by the MSM)
  • reinstate computer to 06 08 06 (Or else!)
  • sociology ethanol (There must be a university course on it somewhere.)
  • said lost (several times and usually by Germans) (Warum also? Das verstehe ich gar nicht.)
  • weird and white and needy (It is absolutely amazing how many people get the title to Weird Al's White and Nerdy wrong. And they all come here.)
  • church of walrus (I am speechless)
  • walrus effect (Google had no idea either)
  • walrus toilet (I really don't want to know)

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Sunday, 8 October 2006

The beginnings of popular dissent in Iran?

Here's a story that has received very little attention in the Western media, but which might be a sign of growing trouble for the regime in Iran.

The earlier story from the Iranian media: Tehran Police Clash With Supporters Of Outspoken Cleric

Hat tip to Ianism! The Sequel for the original heads-up.

Time for an SWC meme

I imagine most Canadian bloggers are aware of the "Five Things Feminism Has Done for me" meme going around, in protest of the Conservatives' reduction of the funding to the Status of Women Canada. I didn't get tagged and didn't offer to participate on my own, because I found the meme irrelevant. Reading some of the many posts entitled "Five Things..." confirmed my impression.

Most bloggers came out with thoughtful, sometimes quite personal meditations on the positive contributions of feminism. Few of them were controversial: the right to vote, equal pay for equal work, the right to own property and the like. You'll get no debate from me on the value of such contributions.

But the meme was a red herring. It's not feminism, particularly not early feminism, that is the issue. It is the value of the work done by Status of Women Canada and to what extent they are representative of the women of Canada.

Now, I could give you my knee-jerk reaction based on a few reports more or less vaguely remembered, but of what value is that? About the same as the majority of the reactions, one way or another. Quite honestly, I know virtually nothing about what the Status of Women has accomplished in concrete terms, or what practical effect it has had. And really, to have an intelligent opinion on the cutting of funding to SWC, you have to know this kind of stuff.

So I want to know, can you name one single thing SWC has done that has impacted your life, positively or negatively? No vague partisan rhetoric, please.

If you are a Canadian blogger, please consider yourself tagged. (I've never participated in a meme before, so please bear with me. I'll probably tag some specific individuals later as well.) And please let me know about your posts, so I can index them here. In the meanwhile, I'm going to go do some research, so I can participate in my own meme. Hopefully we will all come out of this with a better and more informed idea of whether cutting SWC funding is a positive or a negative.

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