Quotulatiousness

June 24, 2014

ISIS rejected Al Qaeda’s “rules”

Filed under: Middle East, Military, Politics, Religion — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 11:51

In Slate, Will Saletan explains how ISIS deliberately cast aside Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda’s “seven rules for effective terrorism”. Is this evidence that ISIS is too extreme and will destroy itself or is it wishful thinking?

The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria is scaring the hell out of everyone. It has infested Syria, overrun Iraq, alarmed Iran, and convinced U.S. politicians it’s the most dangerous terrorist organization ever. But frightening everyone isn’t a long-term growth strategy. ISIS is destroying itself.

Al-Qaida, the organization from which ISIS recently split, understands this truth. For years, Osama Bin Laden and his lieutenants tried to explain to their affiliates the folly of unchecked brutality. In letters and directives captured in the 2011 raid on his compound, Bin Laden stressed the importance of patience, discretion, and public opinion. His advice, boiled down to seven rules, forms a clear outline of ISIS’s mistakes.

1. Don’t fight civil wars. Bin Laden recognized that battling for territory against local governments was a lousy way to get to theocracy. [...]

2. Don’t kill civilians. That was Bin Laden’s principal regret. He called for guidelines that would instruct jihadists to avoid “unnecessary civilian casualties.” [...]

3. Don’t flaunt your bloodlust. One of the captured al-Qaida letters, believed to have been written by Bin Laden or his aide, Atiyah Abd al-Rahman, urges al-Qaida’s Yemeni affiliate to “stay away from words that will affect the people’s support to the mujahidin.” [...]

4. Don’t rule harshly. Bin Laden was a theocratic fundamentalist, but he cautioned his allies to avoid the “alienation from harshness” that was “taking over the public opinion.” [...]

5. Don’t claim territory unless you can feed the people. [...]

6. Don’t fight with your allies. Bin Laden tried to rein in the fratricidal belligerence of ISIS’s precursor organization, al-Qaida in Iraq. [...]

7. Don’t alarm your enemies prematurely. In 2010, Bin Laden advised his followers in Yemen not to escalate the war there, in part because “the emergence of a force in control of the Mujahidin in Yemen is a matter that provokes our enemies internationally and locally and puts them on a great state of alert.”

June 19, 2014

Declined and spoiled ballots in the recent Ontario provincial election

Filed under: Cancon, Politics — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:08

A few Twitter updates from @308dotcom shows that the steady interest in my old post about declining your ballot was real:

The Islamic version of the Thirty Years’ War

Filed under: Middle East, Military, Politics, Religion — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:25

One of the most destructive wars in Europe ran from 1618 to 1648 and involved the repeated devastation of much of central Europe. The term “Thirty Years’ War” is a convenient term for the series of overlapping and interlinked conflicts between and among the combatants originally religious in nature (Protestant versus Catholic) and later becoming more of a struggle for political control (Wikipedia‘s entry covers most of the issues).

In the Spectator, Douglas Murray says this is a good model to help us understand what is happening right now in the middle east:

Syria has fallen apart. Major cities in Iraq have fallen to al-Qa’eda. Egypt may have stabilised slightly after a counter-coup. But Lebanon is starting once again to fragment. Beneath all these facts — beneath all the explosions, exhortations and blood — certain themes are emerging.

Some years ago, before the Arab ‘Spring’ ever sprung, I remember asking one top security official about the region. What, I wondered, was their single biggest fear? The answer was striking and precise: ‘That the region will clarify.’ That is a fear which now appears to be coming true.

The Middle East is not simply falling apart. It is taking a different shape, along very clear lines — far older ones than those the western powers rudely imposed on the region nearly a century ago. Across the whole continent those borders are in the process of cracking and breaking. But while that happens the region’s two most ambitious centres of power — the house of Saud and the Ayatollahs in Iran — find themselves fighting each other not just for influence but even, perhaps, for survival.

[...]

There are those who think that the region as a whole may be starting to go through something similar to what Europe went through in the early 17th century during the Thirty Years’ War, when Protestant and Catholic states battled it out. This is a conflict which is not only bigger than al-Qa’eda and similar groups, but far bigger than any of us. It is one which will re-align not only the Middle East, but the religion of Islam.

Over the last decade, many people have “explained” the unsettled and unstable situation among the various middle eastern Islamic states by pointing out that Islam never went through the sort of wrenching religious/political upheaval like the Protestant Reformation in Europe. We may actually be seeing this process live right now.

June 16, 2014

The Kronies: Laughing All The Way to the Export-Import Bank

Filed under: Humour, Politics, USA — Tags: , — Nicholas Russon @ 12:26

Published on 16 Jun 2014

Get Konnected at http://thekronies.com/

In this very special episode of “The Less You Know”, Johnny and Bobby learn a valuable lesson about campaign finance.

With a crucial re-authorization vote looming, the Representatives must decide whether or not to support the U.S. Export-Import Bank. Johnny and Bobby nearly make a terrible mistake, one that could endanger their political careers!

Luckily, Bankor and Ariel Stryker appear just in time to set the Reps straight…straight on the path to re-election. Including a special appearance by “the Big man” himself, this episode is sure to capture hearts, minds, and votes.

June 15, 2014

Questions that need to be asked of the IRS in wake of email loss announcement

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Government, Politics, USA — Tags: , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:57

Sharyl Attkisson has a set of questions that someone in congress or within the Justice department should be directing toward the IRS after Friday’s announcement that, oopsie, we kinda sorta lost those Lois Lerner emails you were interested in reading:

  • Please provide a timeline of the crash and documentation covering when it was first discovered and by whom; when, how and by whom it was learned that materials were lost; the official documentation reporting the crash and federal data loss; documentation reflecting all attempts to recover the materials; and the remediation records documenting the fix. This material should include the names of all officials and technicians involved, as well as all internal communications about the matter.
  • Please provide all documents and emails that refer to the crash from the time that it happened through the IRS’ disclosure to Congress Friday that it had occurred.
  • Please provide the documents that show the computer crash and lost data were appropriately reported to the required entities including any contractor servicing the IRS. If the incident was not reported, please explain why.
  • Please provide a list summarizing what other data was irretrievably lost in the computer crash. If the loss involved any personal data, was the loss disclosed to those impacted? If not, why?
  • Please provide documentation reflecting any security analyses done to assess the impact of the crash and lost materials. If such analyses were not performed, why not?
  • Please provide documentation showing the steps taken to recover the material, and the names of all technicians who attempted the recovery.
  • Please explain why redundancies required for federal systems were either not used or were not effective in restoring the lost materials, and provide documentation showing how this shortfall has been remediated.
  • Please provide any documents reflecting an investigation into how the crash resulted in the irretrievable loss of federal data and what factors were found to be responsible for the existence of this situation.
  • I would also ask for those who discovered and reported the crash to testify under oath, as well as any officials who reported the materials as having been irretrievably lost.

Losing an ordinary email archive happens now and again. Losing an email archive that is the focus of some fascinating questions about the IRS being used as a partisan oppression device against political opponents? That will take a lot of explaining away, as it’s just too convenient and the timing is highly suspicious. What is even more interesting is that the IRS hinted that since they can’t find those emails, they’re thinking of abandoning the investigation. So, clearly there’s nothing to see here and we should all just move along now.

Update: This seems relevant.

Update, 17 June: Megan McArdle assesses whether this “innocent” explanation is plausible.

In short, yes, there is an innocent explanation: An accident combined with a really bad e-mail storage policy to wipe out critical records. There’s also a semi-innocent explanation, where really bad storage policy could have enabled Lerner to arrange a hard drive accident that destroyed incriminating e-mails before she had to respond to Camp’s initial letter. I find the innocent explanation much more plausible than a conspiracy, or even the semi-innocent explanation — even assuming that she was conspiring with the White House, why bother with the elaborate schemes when you could just send your incriminating e-mails from an outside account?

But that still leaves me really concerned about the terrible policy decisions. The timing of the data loss is incredibly suspicious, and the IRS has left itself completely unable to answer those suspicions with anything better than a shrug. It should expect — in fact, it should request — a thorough outside investigation of this incident, but even the most scrupulous audit will not be able to entirely quell the worry that the IRS enabled a rogue agent to get away with destroying evidence.

To believe the IRS requires a pretty low opinion of government competence. My friends who work in regulated sectors such as finance are outraged by the IRS’s description of how it was running its backup process, because the government subjects them to constantly ratcheting standards for document retention — specifying how long, and on what format, they have to keep every communication ever generated by their firms. How dare they demand higher standards of regulated companies than they do of the regulators?

In 2014, every government agency should be storing every e-mail that goes in or out in an easily accessible format. That they weren’t bothering suggests that the IRS does not expect to deliver the kind of accountability that it routinely demands of taxpayers. That’s potentially a much bigger problem than anything Lois Lerner stands accused of — and it should be rectified, government-wide, with all due speed.

A few minutes later, Megan sent out this Twitter update:

June 14, 2014

George Will confesses to using dodgy statistics in last week’s column

Filed under: Media, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:39

In the Washington Post last week, columnist George Will wrote about sexual assault on college campuses. The piece was widely criticized, and even drew a formal complaint from U.S. Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.) and Robert Casey (D-Pa.), which was published yesterday [PDF]. Today, he admits that he used a totally unreliable source for the statistics in the original article: President Barack Obama’s staff at the White House.

I have received your letter of June 12, and I am puzzled. You say my statistics “fly in the face of everything we know about this issue.” You do not mention which statistics, but those I used come from the Obama administration, and from simple arithmetic involving publicly available reports on campus sexual assaults.

The administration asserts that only 12 percent of college sexual assaults are reported. Note well: I did not question this statistic. Rather, I used it.

I cited one of the calculations based on it that Mark Perry of the American Enterprise Institute has performed {link}. So, I think your complaint is with the conclusion that arithmetic dictates, based on the administration’s statistic. The inescapable conclusion is that another administration statistic that one in five women is sexually assaulted while in college is insupportable and might call for tempering your rhetoric about “the scourge of sexual assault.”

June 13, 2014

Ontario embraces scandal, mismanagement and deficits

Filed under: Cancon, Politics — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 07:25

Well, that happened. As Elizabeth said to me when I got up this morning, at least it means we see the back of Tim Hudak. Aside from that, not a lot of encouraging news from the polls. We have set our acceptable political standards to a much lower notch, and we clearly don’t think it’s a bad thing to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on party purposes. Noted.

Premier Kathleen Wynne didn’t win the election so much as Horwath and Hudak lost it. Horwath was cut off at the knees by her own party (and organized labour), while Hudak tried on a set of fiscal conservative policies for size … and they didn’t fit at all. Things must have been more desperate inside the Liberal war room earlier in the campaign, if they felt they had to get the Ontario Provincial Police and the media unions to both declare for Wynn (if any two organizations should stay out of politics, they’d be the ones). And yet, once the votes were counted, they clearly didn’t need to force those two organizations out of their traditional neutral stances after all.

And, to top off the sudden acceptance of a much lower standard of political conduct by the provincial government, we get to watch (and suffer financially) as the province introduces a mandatory pension scheme on the false basis that Ontarians aren’t saving enough of their own money for retirement. That’s going to be fun. I wonder what the job market is like in Alberta…

Paul Wells offers his take on the election:

Kathleen Wynne’s victory is historic, it is almost all hers, and its meaning is a little opaque, because there is a tension between her platform and her record that will be resolved only by her actions, now that she has the length of a majority mandate to show Ontarians what kind of premier she wants to be.

Historic: She is Ontario’s first elected woman premier. Almost all hers: People who make a living proclaiming their knowledge of strategy said she was crazy to put herself at the centre of her party’s messaging and communication to the extent she did. She voiced her own attack ads. To voters upset about the mess McGuinty left behind, she offered her person as sufficient guarantee that the past would stay past. It’s what Paul Martin attempted in 2002-2006, but Wynne offered none of Martin’s creepy intramural fratricide and never benefited from the fast-burning personal popularity that seemed, at first, to be Martin’s greatest asset until he ran out of it. The funny thing about a cult of personality is, sometimes it works better if you don’t have quite as much personality. Rule One in Bill Davis’s Ontario is, don’t get on people’s nerves.

But there are a lot of Conservatives in Ontario who have forgotten the province was ever Bill Davis’s. There are a lot of people who accreted around Mike Harris in 1990 like barnacles — the Little Shits, Frank magazine used to call them — and they’ve never really grown up. They were at Trinity College or Upper Canada College or Hillfield Strathallan or some other dreary Anglo-Saxon dumping ground in the early ’80s when Ronald Reagan came on TV and fired the air traffic controllers, and they’ve spent the rest of their lives looking for an excuse to play Ayn Rand Home Edition. It even worked in 1995, when Mike Harris came back from his 1990 drubbing and years of the worst recession, combined with the worst government, Ontario had seen in ages. Harris’s “Common Sense Revolution” worked because by 1995, thanks to Bob Rae, common sense seemed revolutionary.

[...]

But back to Wynne. She ran on activist government, and celebrated victory by congratulating those who want to “build up Ontario.” But Ontario can’t afford the Ontario it’s got. Wynne’s own platform quietly acknowledges this. Hard public-sector wage freezes and a new program-review exercise won’t feel much like building up. If she abandons them for more spending, she simply postpones harder choices. She has proven herself a redoubtable politician; now she had better be a very good premier, because she’s put herself in a fix to get the mandate she just won.

But that’s a high-class problem, one she would not trade for the simpler life Hudak can now look forward to. (A word on the NDP’s Andrea Horwath: she is in trouble with some New Democrats for forcing this election and losing the bargaining power she had in a minority-government legislature. But the balance of power is not a comfortable place to be after a while, and Horwath was well into the zone where, every time she propped Wynne up, voters would wonder why. The NDP should cut her some slack.)

June 12, 2014

Wynne, Hudak, Horwath … or none of the above?

Filed under: Cancon, Politics — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:37

I live in an unusual riding this election: my local MP died recently and my MPP is his widow. This may be why I have seen almost no activity in the riding by the NDP and Liberal candidates: there are a few signs in my part of the riding, but I have not been contacted by either party in person or by handbill/flyer/telephone. A canvasser for Christine Elliot showed up on my doorstep a couple of weeks ago. Aside from that, you might not think an election was happening.

In the neighbouring ridings, there seem to be more signs for all parties, but it’s the most low-key election I’ve seen in many years. Perhaps that’s because of the choices on offer. In the last couple of federal elections, the choices were the crooks (Papa Jean’s scandal-tainted Liberals, under whoever was left standing after the music stopped at the last leadership convention), the fascists (Obergruppenfuhrer Harper and his neo-nazi marching band and glee club), and the commies (the last crusade of Saint Jack, and the Quebec Children’s Crusade that followed). At least there were compelling stories there. The Ontario election, on the other hand, has much less interest for anyone who isn’t a political junkie.

The Liberals are still the crooks, but they boast the first lesbian premier (which still gives them a great deal of media credit, even if the actual voters aren’t as swayed by this as the journalists are). The NDP are riven by an open revolt on the part of the doctrinaire old guard, who loudly disagree with the rhetoric and tactics of their current leader and sound as if they’re determined that she loses. The Progressive Conservatives … well, here’s how Richard Anderson describes their leader:

Where was I? Oh yes I was talking about Timmy. He seems to be a swell guy. I think. A running joke shortly after the leadership convention was that if Tim Hudak were any more wooden he’d be liable to get Dutch Elm Disease. Which is terribly untrue and based on nothing but smears and innuendos. Termites are far more of a problem in Ontario than Dutch Elm Disease. During this most recent campaign he was able, albeit briefly, to display genuine emotion. He seemed kind of annoyed at Kathleen Wynne during the debate.

OK I’m lying. I didn’t see the debate. I’m a political junkie but Ontario politics these last few years has been a gruesome spectator sport. I can’t take it anymore. Please, please make them all stop.

[...]

Sorry. This post is about Tim. It’s about why Tiny Tim needs your support tomorrow to win the election, otherwise he won’t be able to get the operation he desperately needs to become a real boy. Sorry again. Mixing my Disney stories again. No wait wasn’t one of those stories Dickens? Ah heck, Disney did it better. Bless you Scrooge McDuck!

And that’s in a post recommending a vote for Tim and his merry band in the forward-backward party. Just imagine what he’d say if he was against Tim.

Me? I’ve already said I’m voting for the splitters this time around.

If you don’t know who to vote for, but still want to be counted you can decline your ballot. My 2011 post on how to decline your ballot has been racking up thousands of hits since the election was called (much more attention than it got in the previous election).

Main page and decline your ballot stats

I’ve no idea if there will actually be a significant number of refused ballots tonight, but it might be a minor news story in the aftermath.

Update I just got back from voting, and I picked up the mail from our “Super” mailbox on the way back. There were cards from both the NDP and Liberal candidates in with the usual mix of bills, real estate agent flyers, and local ads.

Repost: Ballot Box Irregularities

Filed under: Cancon, Law, Politics — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 06:54

I first posted this article in 2004. I repost it every election:

Ballot Box Irregularities, Canadian Style

This article in Reason Hit and Run talks about the recent decision to allow partisan ballot-challengers to monitor the voting in Ohio. In Canada, these people are called “scrutineers” and they have a vital job.

No, I’m not kidding about the vital part. Each candidate has the right to appoint a scrutineer for every poll in the riding (usually only the Liberal, NDP, and Conservative parties can manage to field that much manpower). I was a scrutineer during a federal byelection in the mid-1980′s in a Toronto-area riding, but I had five polls to monitor (all were in the same school gymnasium). This was my first real experience of how dirty the political system can be.

The scrutineers have the right to challenge voters — although I don’t remember any challenges being issued at any of my polls — similar to the Ohio situation, I believe. They also have the right to be present during the vote count and to challenge the validity of individual ballots. Their job is to maximize the vote for their candidate and minimize the vote for their opponents.

Canadian ballots are pretty straightforward items: they are small, folded slips of paper with each candidate’s name listed alphabetically and a circle to indicate a vote for that candidate. A valid vote will have only one mark inside one of the circles (an X is the preferred mark). An invalid vote might have:

  • No markings at all (a blank ballot)
  • More than one circle marked (a spoiled ballot)
  • Some mark other than an X (this is where the scrutineers become important).

After the polls close, the poll clerk and the Deputy Returning Officer (DRO) secure the unused ballots and then open the ballot box in the presence of any accredited scrutineers. The clerk and DRO then count all the ballots, indicating valid votes for candidates and invalid ballots. The scrutineers can challenge any ballot and it must be set aside and reconsidered after the rest of the ballots are counted.

A challenged ballot must be defended by one of the scrutineers or it is considered to be invalid and the vote is not counted. The clerk and DRO have the power to make the decision, but in practice a noisy scrutineer can usually bully the DRO into accepting all their challenges. I didn’t realize just how easy it was to screw with the system until I’d been a scrutineer and watched it happen over and over again.

This is the key reason why minor party candidates poll so badly in Canadian elections: they don’t have enough (or, in many cases, any) scrutineers to defend their votes. In my experience in that Toronto-area byelection, I personally saved nearly 4% of the total vote my candidate received (in the entire riding) by counter-challenging challenged ballots. We totalled just over 400 votes in the riding (in just about 100 polls) — 21 of them in my polls. I got 15 of those votes allowed, when they would otherwise have been disallowed by the DRO.

There was no legal reason to disallow those votes: they were clearly marked with an X and had no other marks on them; they were challenged because they were votes for a minor candidate. As it was, I had a heck of a time running from poll to poll in order to get my counter-challenges in (I probably missed a few votes by not being able to get back to a poll in time).

The Libertarians only had six or seven scrutineers, covering less than a third of the polls in this riding. If the challenge rate was typical in my poll, then instead of the 400-odd votes, we actually received nearly 2000 votes — but most of them were not counted.

Yes, even 2000 votes would not have swung the election, but 2000 people willing to vote for a “fringe” party would be a good argument against those “throwing away your vote” criticisms. Voters are weird creatures in some ways: they like to feel that their votes actually matter. Voting for someone who espouses views you like, then discovering that only a few others feel the same way will discourage most voters from voting that way again in future.

Another reason that minor party votes matter (that I neglected to mention in the original post) is that parties receive funding based on their vote totals in the previous election. Disallowing minor party votes also deprives those parties of the funding they would otherwise be entitled to next time around. For the bigger parties, this is trivial, but for minor parties, this may be critical to them being able to stay active — and visible to voters — between elections.

June 11, 2014

“None of the Above” wins Nevada Democratic primary

Filed under: Politics, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:35

NBC News reports the breakthrough for perennial candidate in Nevada:

Elections have historically been defined by their winners and losers — but on Tuesday a primary in Nevada returned a disheartening result for all the candidates: nobody won.

Voters in the state’s Democratic primary for governor were so unimpressed by the eight men on offer that the most popular option on the ballot paper was “none of these candidates,” which received 30 percent of the vote, according to figures from The Associated Press.

Democrat activists in the state acknowledged earlier this year that they had failed to find a credible challenger to face incumbent Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval, according to Politico. And it clearly showed at the polling stations, with more than 21,000 people turning out with the express purpose of saying “no thanks” to the sum total of their party’s would-be governors.

Unfortunately, Nevada state law doesn’t allow NOTA to be on the ballot for the general election:

If voters did in fact want an empty seat instead of a challenger to face Sandoval they will be disappointed: In second place behind “none of these candidates” was Robert Goodman, a man who has run twice before and this time received 25 percent of the vote. State law means he will be the Democratic candidate.

H/T to Popehat for the link.

June 10, 2014

The two Hillary Clintons

Filed under: Politics, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 07:58

Charles Cooke on the political phenomenon that is (are?) Hilary Clinton:

It seems clear now that there are two Hillary Clintons. The first, who exists wholly in the abstract, is the one we have been waiting for. She is a Maker of History and a savior of women; an equal partner in the power couple that presided over the prosperity, cool, and competence of the 1990s; a world-beating secretary of state; a feminist who smashes glass ceilings and fights for all that is right and good. Millions of us are “Ready!” for her.

The other exists in the real world. This Hillary is a person who lacks concrete achievements; whose inevitability never quite translates into evitability; whose rhetoric always seems to turn up empty; who has an impressive capacity for saying things that hurt her and her interests; and, most distressingly of all, who becomes instantly less likeable the moment she opens her mouth.

It is the second Hillary that is currently making the news. Indeed, important as the Democratic party’s internecine war was to her loss, one has to start considering the possibility that what ultimately doomed Hillary Clinton in 2008 was that she is Hillary Clinton. The husband whose name she took has a political knack unmatched in our times — a capacity to spin straw into gold and to rise unscathed from the dirtiest of ashes. Hillary, alas, seems to have the opposite quality, possessing a remarkable ability to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory and to turn favorable moments into cudgels that might later be wielded against her. Responding in May to a question about suicide, Clinton voluntarily launched into an unwise disquisition about gun rights, including in her messy remarks the politically dangerous recommendation that the federal government should look to “rein in” the right to bear arms. This weekend, she made a similar error. Asked about her astronomical public-speaking fees, Clinton declined to give the honest answer — which is, “I have the opportunity to make a lot of money speaking; wouldn’t you take it?” — and instead went off on a peculiarly defensive tangent. “We came out of the White House not only dead broke but in debt,” Clinton explained to Diane Sawyer. “We had no money when we got there and we struggled,” she continued, “to, you know, piece together the resources for mortgages for houses.” Later, she repeated the claim, noting that the couple was in dire need of the cash to “get us houses.”

What a difference a plural makes.

June 9, 2014

The not-so-hidden racism in the Bergdahl release

Filed under: Humour, Military, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 07:22

Nicole Mullen explains why you’re an awful racist if you don’t see the awful racism in the swap of five Taliban prisoners for US Army hero/deserter Bowe Bergdahl:

Treating politics like professional wrestling rivalries comes with its fair share of downfalls though, and this Bergdahl case is a perfect example of such shortcomings. As a leftist myself, I was quick to dismiss any notion of Bergdahl’s traitorous behavior, nor did I take exception to Obama’s decision to circumvent congressional approval when he released five terrorists from Gitmo. I simply read that a trade occurred, googled to find out how the right felt about it, and then blindly argued against every single point that they made. Is Bergdahl a deserter? Of course not, he’s a hero. What evidence do I have of that? None. Who cares? I’m right and you’re wrong.

But, this is where the breakdown occurs, because there’s something my fellow liberals are missing in all of this, and only part of it is to blame on fervent, unquestioning support of the president. It’s odd to me that in a whole industry of race obsessed blowhards collecting freelancing checks, I’m the only one who noticed how racist the Bergdahl trade was.

I want to make it clear that I’m not criticizing the president for his decision to rescue Bergdahl, but there’s something that the white left is afraid to talk about here. When Obama traded five men of color for one white man – he made a very clear statement about race. He let the entire world know that one white life is worth at least five brown ones, and that is incredibly fucked up and gross and problematic.

Think for a second – if Bush had made that trade, is there any doubt that we would be calling him out for how outrageously racist it was? If a white man had traded five brown men for one white man, we would be quick to see it for what it was – an affirmation of white privilege and power. But, because Obama is a man of color himself, it seems as if no one noticed.

I can only imagine the struggle Obama, a man of people of color, must have felt as he authorized that trade. He was betraying himself – the black part of himself – while simultaneously affirming the privilege and power structures inherent in the white part of himself. The courage it took to make that decision is remarkable, and again, I feel like he made the right choice, but we should really look at this situation and use it as a way to reflect on our cultural attitudes to the devaluation and reductive characterization of colorful men that we objectify through cisrace projections of cultural self-worth.

June 1, 2014

Kevin Williamson provokes a reaction to his Laverne Cox hit piece

Filed under: Media, Politics, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:02

The National Review‘s Kevin Williamson went out of his way to be provocative in his article about transgendered actress Laverne Cox:

NRO - Laverne Cox Is Not a WomanThe world is abuzz with news that actor Laverne Cox has become the first transgender person to appear on the cover of Time magazine. If I understand the current state of the ever-shifting ethic and rhetoric of transgenderism, that is not quite true: Bradley Manning, whom we are expected now to call Chelsea, beat Cox to the punch by some time. Manning’s announcement of his intention to begin living his life as a woman and to undergo so-called sex-reassignment surgery came after Time’s story, but, given that we are expected to defer to all subjective experience in the matter of gender identity, it could not possibly be the case that Manning is a transgendered person today but was not at the time of the Time cover simply because Time was unaware of the fact, unless the issuance of a press release is now a critical step in the evolutionary process.

As I wrote at the time of the Manning announcement, Bradley Manning is not a woman. Neither is Laverne Cox.

Cox, a fine actor, has become a spokesman — no doubt he would object to the term — for trans people, whose characteristics may include a wide variety of self-conceptions and physical traits. Katie Couric famously asked him about whether he had undergone surgical alteration, and he rejected the question as invasive, though what counts as invasive when you are being interviewed by Katie Couric about features of your sexual identity is open to interpretation. Couric was roundly denounced for the question and for using “transgenders” as a noun, and God help her if she had misdeployed a pronoun, which is now considered practically a hate crime.

On cue, Tom Chivers responds:

For Williamson, the term “trans woman” is, of course, meaningless. He refers to Cox as “he” throughout his piece (despite a Clarksonesque but-you-can’t-say-that-these-days line about how “misdeploying” pronouns “is now considered practically a hate crime”) and says that our modern sensibilities of referring to trans people as their preferred gender is “sympathetic magic”, “treating delusion as fact”, “policing language on the theory that language mystically shapes reality”, like a “voodoo doll”. “Regardless of the question of whether he has had his genitals amputated, Cox is not a woman, but an effigy of a woman,” he says.

This, Williamson would no doubt claim, is the-emperor-has-no-clothes telling-it-like-it-is. “Sex is a biological reality,” he points out, unarguably. Indeed it is. No amount of surgery or hormone therapy will allow Cox to become pregnant, no terms of address will turn that stubborn Y chromosome into a second X. That is, indeed, a simple fact of human biology.

But who disagrees with that? No one. Williamson’s fearless truthsaying is, in fact, a fatuous statement of the obvious, dressed up as iconoclasm. Nobody in the world believes that calling Cox and other trans women “women”, using the pronouns “she” and “her”, will change anything biological; they know that she will not be able to have children, no matter what words we use. They do it out of respect, and sensitivity – what we used, in fact, to call politeness. If someone wishes to be addressed as X, then it is polite, usually, to do so. There may be times when other considerations apply: if someone insists on being referred to as “Doctor” and using that to give them unearned authority, say. But if someone wants to change their name, then we are happy to let them do so, and to address them by their chosen name, because it’s their business. I see no reason why changing one’s chosen pronouns should be any different.

Update. On the non-confrontational side, Elio Iannacci reports on Laverne Cox for Maclean’s:

The standout figure in all this flurry of activity, of course, is advocate/actress Laverne Cox, who graces the cover of this week’s issue of Time magazine. Cox is the breakout star of Netflix’s popular prison drama, Orange Is The New Black, which begins airing its second season next week.

Cox, an academic, writer and film producer as well as performer, has been fighting for Trans rights well before she had her first major guest spot on Law & Order and appeared in the reality show I Want To Work For Diddy in 2008. She says trans issues weren’t broached so intelligently five years ago. “I’m not naming names because I’m a working actress …  but let’s get real,” she says via phone from New York City. “We’ve had such a wave of trans-ploitation films and TV — but that’s changing.” She is aggressively seeking to be a part of that change; she’s producing a documentary on transgender teens as well as one on Ce Ce MacDonald, an African-American trans woman who served a 41-month prison sentence in a men’s prison in Minnesota. “We are in the midst of a revolutionary moment,” she says.

Even a few years ago, the current profusion of trans characters and would have been unimaginable. A trans character was more likely an afterthought in a script, treated as a cliché or a freak. Most had more in common with Jared Leto’s trans character in Dallas Buyers Club, an Oscar-winning role that some critics have protested, saying it mirrors the offensive Mammy caricature in Gone With The Wind. On the fourth season of the popular reality series Project Runway, in 2008, fashion designer Christian Seriano used disparaging phrases such as “hot tranny mess” to describe inelegant or unstylish people. The word seeped into mainstream vernacular.

“We’ve had years of being at the end of the bad jokes and getting our bodies sensationalized,” says Cox, “but we have since learned to speak up. Transgender people in social media began standing up and saying, ‘This is not me and this is not acceptable.’ ”

Getting on the ballot is a major struggle, if you’re not a Democrat or Republican

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Cancon, Government, Politics, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:09

Doug Mataconis gives a few examples of how the two major US political parties have conspired to make it much harder for anyone to get on the ballot without being a nominee of the Democratic or Republican parties:

In theory, the purpose of nominating petitions is supposed to be to ensure some level of ballot integrity by requiring people who want to appear on the ballot for local, state, or national office to demonstrate some minimal level of support for their candidacy. In reality, what ballot access laws in many parts of the country have become are a means by which the two major parties in general, and incumbents specifically, restrict third parties and challengers from getting on the ballot, or at least making it more difficult for them to do so. The Michigan law at issue in this case, which requires Congressional candidates to get just 1,000 signatures to get on the ballot. Given the fact that the population of Conyers’ district is some 700,000 people, and that he got more than 200,000 votes in 2012, one imagines that it wouldn’t be too difficult for Conyers to meet that target. The situation is quite different, though, for independent and minor party candidates. According to Ballotpedia, an independent candidate for Congress must submit at least 3,000, and no more than 6,000, valid signatures of registered voters in order to get on the ballot, three times as many as a candidate from ether of the two major political parties. In other states, the ballot access requirements are even more restrictive. In Virginia for example, a candidate for statewide office must submit at least 10,000 valid signatures, including at least 400 from each of the state’s 11 Congressional Districts. Other states are even more stringent, although there are some standouts. New Jersey, for example seems to be one of the few states where petition requirements for independent and third party candidates are actually lower than those for major parties candidates, at least when it comes to Federal offices. In general, though, even a short perusal of the nominating petition laws of the states leaves when with the inescapable conclusion that they are generally designed to make it harder for candidates to get on the ballot than aimed toward any legitimate goal of “ballot integrity.”

Other restrictions in various states include all sorts of timewasting — and volunteer effort-wasting — requirements for third-party efforts that often don’t apply to incumbents or to the two major parties. Every political party depends on volunteers, and those volunteer hours are used up quickly (and not renewed) when they have to be spent on busywork, rather than activity that helps elect their candidate.

For example, in Ontario, where there’s currently an election underway, it takes only 25 signatures from voters in the constituency to get a nominee’s name on the ballot. If you’re running as a member of a recognized political party, you also need the party leader’s signature on your nomination form (example here [PDF]). That’s an easy enough hurdle that anyone should be able to clear it (yet every election, a few would-be candidates fail to achieve ballot status … and sometimes it’s a major party candidate).

To run as a candidate in a Canadian federal election requires 100 signatures from voters in the riding (but only 50 in lower-population ridings in remote areas of the country). The nomination paper includes several pages for the signatures [PDF]. For more detail on how the signatures are validated, there was an interesting case in the last federal election.

May 28, 2014

Ontario election 2014 – the local front

Filed under: Cancon, Liberty, Politics — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:28

Click to download full-size PDF

Click to download full-size PDF

So far, the local candidates have been almost invisible here in Whitby-Oshawa. Last week, we had a canvasser show up for Progressive Conservative candidate Christine Elliot (the incumbent MPP), but that’s literally it. As far as I know, this is the complete list of registered candidates for the riding:

  • Christine Elliott, Progressive Conservative
  • Ryan Kelly, NDP
  • Ajay Krishnan, Liberal
  • Stacey Leadbetter, Green
  • Douglas Thom, Freedom Party

The Ontario Libertarian Party issued a press release the other day, boasting that they were “in a position to form a majority government”. Which sounds great, but all it really means is they’re finally running enough candidates that, should they all be elected, the OLP would have enough seats to form a majority. A subtle distinction, I’m sure you’d agree.

However, despite the massed ranks of OLP sacrificial lambs candidates, they don’t have one in Whitby-Oshawa. This means that instead of wasting my vote by voting Libertarian, I’ll waste my ballot on Douglas Thom of the Freedom Party (“Splitters!“).

CBC News has a profile of the riding here. For other Ontario ridings, you can look them up here.

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