Saturday, May 21, 2005

Does This Map Make Me Look Fat? 

The world is at war. Europe stands on the brink of a controversial series of constitutional ratifications. Economies are atwitter. And Angus MacNeil, a Scottish member of the House of Commons, has his fingers on the pulse of the world:

He's tabled a motion and is mobilizing Scots to get the BBC to stop using their new three-dimensional weather maps.


Angus MacNeil, a Scottish National Party legislator for the remote Western Isles, said [BBC’s new 3D weather] graphics, which show Britain from the south, made Scotland look far smaller than it is, and rendered his constituency almost invisible. He urged Scots to complain to the BBC and tabled a motion in the House of Commons calling on the broadcaster to reconsider.

"We are well used to changeable weather, but this map is a change too far," MacNeil said. "The BBC needs to rethink their daft distorted map. They need to see Scotland as it is."

The maps aren't exactly popular, as the article linked above makes clear, but I'd be hard-pressed to think of something sillier to get worked up about. I'm assuming this is just the Scot sense of humor at play. Whether or not MacNeil is for real, it's a fun story.

Maps can be drawn to contradict or reinforce nearly any prejudice or stereotype. Depending on the projection you select, the features you choose to display, the colors you use, the boundaries you do and don't represent, and a dozen other similar choices, you can make almost any point you want about any country on earth with a little editorial cartography. Maps of Israel are probably the best example of this phenomenon: you'd be hard-pressed to map the country without making significant enemies.

Here's one create-a-map site you can burn some time on. I made my own:

(I flipped it upside down to irritate Germany.)

God and Beer 

In 2003, Thorkild Grosbøll wrote and said in an interview that he did not and could not believe in God. ("There is no heavenly God, there is no eternal life, there is no resurrection.") Despite the fact that he was a government employee, Grosbøll was suspended from his job.

That's because Grosbøll was a Lutheran minister here in Denmark. It's a fairly lax institution as state religions go—despite the almost medieval look of their ministers' collars—but, perhaps not reasonably, they do at least expect the shepherds of their flock to believe in God.

In this case, however, the sheep begged to have their shepherd back. Hundreds of Reverend Grosbøll's parishioners came to his defense and requested his immediate reinstatement.

Yesterday, Reverend Grosbøll renewed his vows (Danish; English). Here are the words of that oath, as quoted by the Jyllands-Posten article:

"Jeg, Thorkild Grosbøll, som mundtligt i vidners nærværelse over for biskop Jan Lindhart har bekræftet trosbekendelsens enkelte led, lover hermed for Guds ansigt, at jeg som præst i Taarbæk Sogn vil virke i trofasthed mod den apostolske tro."

"I, Thorkild Grosbøll, who verbally in the presence of witnesses before Bishop Jan Lindhart have confirmed the faith's simple guidance, promise herewith before God's face, that as a priest in Taarbæk parish I will work in faith of the the apostolic belief."

According to the article, Bishop Jan Lindhart stresses that he'll "keep a sharp eye" on the reverend, in both the disposition of his priestly duties and in his public pronouncements.

I don't have a dog in this fight, but I think it raises a lot of interesting questions:

That's not the only religious news I wanted to touch on this morning, though. There's also this:

Muslim protesters today called for the bombing of New York in a demonstration outside the US embassy in London.

There were threats of "another 9/11" from militants angry at reports of the desecration of the Koran by US troops in Iraq.

Some among the crowd burned an effigy of Tony Blair on a crucifix and then set fire to a Union flag and a Stars and Stripes.

Led by a man on a megaphone, they chanted, "USA watch your back, Osama is coming back" and "Kill, kill USA, kill, kill George Bush". A small detail of police watched as they shouted: "Bomb, bomb New York" and "George Bush, you will pay, with your blood, with your head."

I suppose we can now expect those rabid, jingoistic, flag-waving Americans to begin running riot all over the United States. Dozens will die and still more will be injured as a direct result of their frothy fury. After all, the flag has been desecrated, and we all know the power of symbols. The media will no doubt then berate these demonstrators for having catalyzed the violent American reaction, and Muslim authorities will launch an immediate investigation into "the man on a megaphone," since Islam will not tolerate the desecration of another culture's cherished symbols.

And I am Marie of Rumania.

On the secular side of things, the Danish Beer Enthusiasts Festival is underway in Valby. Among the many noble goals of the DBE is, in their own English words, to "ensure beer respect and maintain and further develop sound and solid beer traditions."

And they don't even care what you believe about God.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

The Moronic Underground, Underground 

The reason the Moronic Underground forum is inaccessible is that they're upgrading the site "during this week." So it'll come back online eventually, probably within a couple of days.

Also, Bill Clinton was in town the other day (Danish; English). I didn't join the throngs of adoring fans that flocked to see him, but from what I've heard, and from what's been reported, he certainly got a rock star reception.

At his various appearances he apparently spoke up in support of Iraq's new government, in support of more women in government (maybe not the best spokesman for that particular issue), and in support of Denmark's environmental policy. ("When I landed in Copenhagen, I saw all the windmills and I thought, 'You're good, we're not,'" he said at one appearance.)

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

And a Pox on Westerberg 

Quoth the inscrutable Westerberg: “Talk about saying so much, so badly!”

Since I’ve obviously eluded the sterling understanding of Westerberg, I’m afraid persons of less intellect may have been thrown into even deeper confusion than poor Westerberg by my previous post. (And who, after all, is not of less intellect than Westerberg?) In the interests of clarity, I’ll address the Westbergian questions as thoroughly as possible.

Yeah greg, but we went on this mission to "win the hearts and minds" of our enemies. Continued psychological and physical torture may not be the best way to do it.

We didn’t go on “this mission,” by which I assume you mean the 4-year-old War on Terror, to win the hearts and minds of anyone. Winning hearts and minds is a tactic, not a strategy. To elevate it to a goal is to guarantee failure. See Plato’s Gorgias, op cit, for a discussion of why persuasion and popularity count for nothing in and of themselves.

The suggestion that these military personnel were exercising their rights to free speech is a joke.

And it’s not even a very good joke! Who told it? Not me.

The Quaran burning was done specifically to rile up these prisoners and to hurt them.

To the best of my knowledge, no Korans, Qurans, Quarans, or even Qu’urans were burnt. They weren’t even flushed down any toilets. Had they been burnt or flushed, however, I’m confident the intention would indeed have been to rile up the prisoners and hurt their feelings. So we’re agreed as to the probable motive of an imaginary event. Excellent.

The military knew it would cause outrage. This was not some kind of organized protest, but a perceived torture technique. The US military knew damn well that this would cause a deep and strong reaction among the prisoners it was aimed at.

I think you really ought to be using the subjunctive when talking about hypothetical events, but I admire your convictions! “The military knew! This was notbut was…! The US military knew damn well!” Your confidence and certainty ring out from every line!

I don’t know what the military does and doesn’t know. I don’t know what this hypothetical event was or was not. I don’t know any specifics or context or anything beside the fact that, as far as the best evidence is concerned, it didn’t happen. But that doesn’t mean I don’t admire your rock-solid self-confidence about what other people would have been up to had they been up to the kinds of things they apparently weren’t up to!

Whether you think they SHOULD be offended by this is another story. I agree that people SHOULDN'T really find the destruction of these symbols offensive, but the fact is that they do ,and the military personnel knew it.

I think you still ought to be in the subjunctive, or at least restrained by some sense of conditionality, because I’m not sure how it is you know that “people” do find “the destruction of these symbols offensive,” or how you know that the military personnel know it, or knew it. Has there been polling I’m not aware of?

It was done specifically to hurt people, not as some sort of religious/political statement.

My understanding, again, is that it wasn’t done it all, but in the event that it were to happen, you’re probably right: it probably would be to hurt people’s feelings. Or would it? What if there was a budding Robert Mapplethorpe standing guard at Gitmo?

Just like forcing Iraqi prisoners into humiliating homosexual positions was meant to hurt the sensibilities of those prisoners. SOme might say, Hell, it's not so bad, it didn't kill them, but we know it's contrary to thier culture.

Whoa! How’d we get from the hypothetical flushing of Korans to the humiliation of Iraqi prisoners? Who are these “some” you’re describing, and why is their opinion relevant? What do they mean when they say what they say?

Look we are not dealing with the most highly educated people here, who are aware of OUR culutral rights and standards. That's precisly why we take to disrespecting their culture, we know how much power it has.

Which people are we talking about? The rioters? The hypothetical prisoners who had to endure the hypothetical desecration of a hypothetical Koran? The Iraqi prisoners who were humiliated by U.S. military personnel now on trial for same?

It seems to me that you’re saying, “We’re dealing with ignorant people, who know nothing of our own culture or standards, and that’s why we’ve taken to disrespecting their culture: because we know what power such disrespect wields over ignorant people.” You’re welcome to correct me if I’ve misinterpreted that.

If, however, I’ve read the logic correctly, can you please document the ways in which “we’ve taken” to disrespecting their culture along these lines? (“Taken to” implies a certain habituality, but maybe that’s not exactly what you meant?)

Your logic also posits that these aggregated people are in fact ignorant, or at least “not the most highly educated.” (Where do we draw the line? I barely eked out a Bachelor’s degree, so I’m not one of the most highly educated myself.) You also say they know nothing of our culture or standards. I’m not sure if you intend to imply a link of causality, but since it’s not explicit I’ll assume you don’t. For what it’s worth, I think you could make a pretty good case that they know our culture awfully goddam well, and know just what buttons to push to advance their cause. For example, they might suppose that by rioting maniacally over the alleged desecration of a copy of the Koran, they’d incite plenty of Western liberals to agonize over our desecration of their culture, which would make us all feel really bad and earn more sympathy for the plight of people who think stoning homosexuals is pretty good, but nowhere near as good as collapsing whole walls on top of them.

But that’s just hypothetical thinking on my part.

Your logic also seems to imply that our default position is or ought to be we one of respecting ignorance, or at least the cultures to which ignorant people belong. Or at the very least we ought not to give offense to the ignorant. I find this a strange point to be making and request clarification. Don’t all cultures have their share of ignorants? Are you proposing that we refrain from insulting any culture that has constituents too ignorant to be able to respond rationally to such criticism? Wouldn’t that be the end of all cultural criticism?

I like how you describe the prisoners, rioters, "terrorists" I guess, as violent son's of bitches.

Thanks, but if you’ve been a regular reader of my Almanac, or took time to peruse it, you’d see my preferred term is usually “evil bastards”—and the group extends beyond the prisoners, rioters, and “terrorists” (whoa! a whole new straw man!) described here.

When this Western Civ., that you are so proud of, invaded their country took people hostages illegaly, imprisoned them with no access to a lawyer, and tortuted them physically and pyschologically.I thought people had certain RIGHTS.

Western Civilization has produced the most villainous, murderous tyrants in history by sheer body count. No argument from me there. (And now we’re in territory that I’ve covered not only on the Almanac, but in my book.) But where do you get these highfalutin’ notions of the “illegal” hostage taking, access to lawyers, and so on? What makes you think anyone has any rights at all? That’s just a cultural bias.

Western Civilization is the culture that’s taught you to think this way. I think that’s a culture worth defending. If you don’t, why are using the ideas of Western Civ to criticize Western Civ? Why not just damn it wholesale and be done with it?
Apparently only when it's convienient for flag waving and stupid patriotic rhetoric. No violence on this peaceful western civilizations part...huh?

But wait, what are you saying? Are you suggesting there are transcendant rights that apply to everyone, everywhere, regardless of their government? Do you mean to suggest the citizens of Cuba have the right to free expression? Do you mean to suggest the citizens of Darfur in Sudan have the right not to be gang-raped? Do you mean to suggest a universality of rights? I’m excited, because it sounds like we’re actually agreeing on something concrete here. I thought you were arguing from a relativist perspective, in which each culture had to respect the rights and beliefs of other cultures, however primitive. (For example: “Cannibalism is wrong.” “No, it’s an important part of their culture. It’s wrong of you to make moral judgments about their culture.”)

I also like how define the war as the opportunity for WEStern Civ. to impose our values on the rest of the world. It's precisely this arrogance that's got us into trouble in the first place.

You’re missing an important pronoun here, I think. Who or what exactly is it whose definition of the war you so admire? I don’t think I’ve heard anyone define the war as “an opportunity for Western Civilization to impose our values on the rest of the world.” Whom are you citing here?

I’m going to pass over your sarcasm and your phantom pronoun and presume that “this arrogance” you speak of is the arrogance of the idea that “our values” are better than other values, which idea has “got us into trouble in the first place.”

If the idea that representative government, self-determination, and the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness (etc.) are better than theocracy constitutes “arrogance,” then I don’t really care what sort of trouble it gets us in. I’m not going to equivocate. I believe in the inalienable rights of man as articulated by the great western thinkers from the Enlightenment forward, and I think any equivocation is a giant leap backward. Representative democracy is better than theocracy. Self-determination is better than a caste system. Equality before the law is better than slavery. I still hold these truths, and others like them, to be self-evident. I assumed you do, too, based on your articulated concern for “RIGHTS,” but maybe you just don’t think they’re worth holding onto if they’re going to “get us into trouble.”

And beliveve me if reports of Bible burning throught Afghanistan or Iraq were highly covered in American press, there would be outrage by a quite strong Christian fundamentalist movement, and yes, some Muslims would be beaten or killed in American streets, as we have already seen, without this coverage.

The only account I can recall of any “Muslim” being “beaten or killed” in American streets was that of a Sikh being mistaken for a Muslim not long after 9/11. He was beaten or shot to death at an Arizona gas-station, if I recall. Have there been more incidents of this that I’m not aware of?

Don’t get me wrong: Americans are as bonkers as anyone else. Hell, we riot when our sports teams win championships! We riot at the drop of a hat! I hope you don’t think I meant to imply Americans are above rioting. I was only conjecturing about the kinds of coverage and political spin my hypothetical riots would engender.

Your "red states" analogy doesn't hold water, because you are talking about people from the SAME country and culture,people who generally supposedly should understand the principles of our nation. Not people in another country.

Instead of rogue Move-On Activists, then, let’s say it’s a bunch of Syrian Al Qaeda sympathizers. They toss Bibles onto a bonfire in Texas. And suddenly the American streets are thick with Christian protesters outraged by the desecration. My questions only make my point even clearer: “Would any member of Bush's cabinet dare say that the burning of a Bible would not be tolerated by the government? Would columnists like Mr. Gailey wag their disapproving fingers at the [Syrian] activists who ‘provoked’ the crisis?” The answers are still probably no and no, are they not?

Your suggestion that these people are somehow more violent and less tolerant than we are is offensive.

I defy you to go through my original post and show me where I spoke of anyone other than the rioters themselves as “some very superstitious, very violent sons of bitches.” And kindly spare me the righteous indignation, since you've already compared everyone who doesn't share your ideas about Christiania to Nazi supporters. Were you not suggesting we were somehow more violent and less tolerant than you?

But if you think the average Islamist—by which I mean that group of Islamic fascists with whom the entire civilized world remains at war—aren’t more violent and less tolerant than the average westerner of any political persuasion. . . Well, it would provide a nice circularity to say such thinking would be offensive, but it wouldn’t be. It’d be just plain stupid.

It's also a bit ironic, that only days ago you threatned me (with God knows what)for expressing myself here in a way, and using a tone, that you found offensive in some way.

Full disclosure, Westerberg, please. Here’s what I said: “I don't insult people who've taken the time to come to and comment on my sites, but when people start insulting the other people who've come to and commented on my sites, all bets are off. Please don't make me tap into my inner savage. I'm asking nicely, but I'm only asking once.”

That was the “threat” you keep referring to. The mystifying threat that’s had such a chilling effect on your “right” to spout your idiot notions on my website.

Read it again carefully. I say, “I don’t insult visitors to my site.” Clear enough. Then I say that I reserve the right to change that policy when visitors to my site insult other visitors to my site. I then ask you not to make me tap into my inner savage. Are really too fucking stupid to grasp what’s being said here? I’m saying that as a rule I don’t like to insult visitors to my site, and I’m asking you not to force me to make an exception in your case. Westerberg, you ignorant slut, you’ve done it! You’ve compelled me to cross that line! You stupid, blathering, gaseous sack of festing slug feces—you’ve actually compelled me to insult you!

You should feel honored.

You claimed I was insulting your readers. I guess insults don't come under free speech.

”So it's clear,” you wrote, “that you are the not the types who care much for human rights unless it effects you directly. You would have served a nazi regime quite well. As long as they're not knocking down my door and locking me up indefinately.....”

Yes. Having to put up with insults from me in retaliation to insults of your own is the end of free speech. Excellent analogy, Mr. Darrow. Move to dismiss!

But isn't that what American military personnel did to it's prisoners. All I did was type a few lines, and you got upset, imagine if someone actually said something truly offensive to you, and youwere forced to release that "inner beast" of yours.

Just imagine! I might actually insult other people! Which is exactly what I was doing when you came doddering onto my website with all your masturbatory, self-righteous, relativist drivel!

Freedom of speech is something you seem to feel that people thousands of miles away, living in a desert should understand, yet you yourself feel no personal obligation to uphold.

That’s right, Westerberg: the whole issue of free speech, which you spent whole paragraphs assuring us has nothing to do with the case at hand anyway, boils down to whether or not one can post comments on my half-assed little blog without engendering pissy moronic insults.

Is there no bottom to the shamelessness of your rhetorical tactics?

And now, a few larger points that got lost in the shuffle: I wasn’t even comparing cultures in my original post! Read it again, Westerberg, I beg of you. Read it carefully, slowly, with something approximating actual human thought. Can you begin to see what I’m talking about? My anger is directed at domestic targets for a domestic audience. I was angry at the slavish obsequity with which the media and the administration were farting out their little cooing sounds to Islam. I thought they’d stepped way the hell out of bounds by generalizing things to the point of absurdity. I let it all go in an emotional release. And you, in your petulant, childish, whining rant, had to go and misunderstand and misrepresent things so badly that I had to write this!

You, sir (or ma’am), are an ass-monkey, and I will continue to address you as an ass-monkey, or quite possibly “the” ass-monkey, until I decide to do otherwise.

Monday, May 16, 2005

A Pox On All Your Symbols 

When our Secretary of State says that the desecration of the Koran will not be "tolerated" by the United States, and that the United States respects "all world religions," I think we all know what she's doing: she's blowing little puffs of diplomatic smoke out of her ass to assuage the wounded vanity of some very superstitious, very violent sons of bitches.

"Disrespect for the holy Koran is not now, nor has it ever been, nor will it ever be tolerated by the United States," she told a Senate Subcommittee.

She's also completely devaluing one of the pillars of Western Civilization.

I'm only picking on Condi because I just saw her uttering these dangerous obsequies on Euro-CNN (in a pre-recorded segment on the subject of the Newsweek apology) and my blood nearly boiled over. But you hear the same sort of polite little utterances from everyone on the right and left these days, and it just irritates holy hell out of me.

The Koran is a book, dammit. Just like the Bible, the Bhagavad-Gita, the I Ching, and Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farms.

Those of us who recoil every time some jackalope torches a copy of The Catcher in the Rye and shudder at humanity's sad experience with the banning of books, however, are under no obligation to bundle our panties and wail bloody murder every time a book comes to a premature end.

My own daughter has recently been literally eating her way through the dog-eared books in my poli-sci library, but I think Western Civilization can withstand the loss of a single paperback copy of The Federalist Papers. I'm equally confident that Christianity and Judaism could survive the burning of a few Bibles, and that Islam will be none the poorer if a few Korans are violently remaindered.

Our political and chattering classes don't seem to agree. Commenatators on the left like Philip Gailey of the St. Petersburg Times had been using the reports of the "desecration" for some target shooting at the administration:

It's too late to protest going to war, but it's not too late to protest the abuse and torture of prisoners or the debasing of American values at home and abroad by the Bush administration. American patriots, whether they support the war in Iraq or oppose it, should be outraged, if, for no other reason, than such stupid acts as putting the holy Koran down the toilet will make it harder to win the battle against Islamic extremism and will put more American lives at risk.

Good point, Mr. Gailey. But here's a thought: the war we're fighting—the larger war, the overarching war—is fundamentally about religious liberty. That is, should society be built around religious tolerance, in which every citizen is permitted to worship according to his or her beliefs, or should we all convert to Islam and live our lives according to Shariah law? Let me put it another way: would you consider it "debasing American values at home and abroad" if someone were to burn a Bible? A copy of the Constitution? An American flag?

These things are symbols, dammit, and our cherished right to free expression means that we can do whatever the hell we want with them. You can't cherry-pick your outrages, getting upset at (apparently innaccurate) reports of Koran swishies at one moment then gnashing your teeth over calls for a constitutional amendment to outlaw flag burning the next. And as for you merry pranksters on the right, the same goes for you in reverse: if you're lucid enough to grasp the triviality of a book getting flushed in a toilet, and you share my contempt for the notion that such behavior is "debasing" American values anywhere, then how can you get behind a movement to outlaw the "desecration" of the American flag?

The bold thing for the administration to have done—for Condi to have done—for Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice, whom I certainly don't know well enough to call Condi, to have done—would have been to say, "This is what we call freedom of expression. It's not always pretty. But the millions of men and women who took to the streets to oppose your liberation/occupation couldn't have done so without it."

The media don't seem to know which way to run with the story of this story's not having been a story after all. What, in the end, can one say? Let's pretend the book were the Bible and the riots and deaths were in Texas. Yes, let's say a couple of rogue Move-On activists tossed a couple of Bibles on a campfire in Texas as some kind of gesture intended to piss off their Christian peers. And let's say anti-MoveOn riots suddenly broke out all over the so-called "red states" of our nation. And let's say fifteen people ended up dying as a result of those riots, and scores more were injured.

Would any member of Bush's cabinet dare say that the burning of a Bible would not be tolerated by the government? Would columnists like Mr. Gailey wag their disapproving fingers at the MoveOn activists who "provoked" the crisis?

Or try a different scenario: pretend the Scientologists of the world ran amok because a French artist started publicly wiping his ass with pages torn from Dianetics.

Never mind. Either you get it or you don't. If you do, there's no point in my saying anything else. If you don't, I'm probably just pissing you off.

A pox on all religions and superstitions.

A pox on all the hypocritical posturing on the left and the right.

A pox on the whole damn human race.

* * *

Thank you for allowing me to get that out of my system. I now return you to Moron Abroad, currently in progres.

Feeling Better 

Sorry for the lapse in posting. I got hit with a really bad chest cold Thursday night and am only just now finally feeling better. That's the good news. The bad news is that I seem to have passed it onto my lovely wife, meaning my Molli duties may eat into my blogging time until she's back on her feet.

In the meanwhile, Westerberg's recommended reading is worth checking out, although I don't have time to translate it myself just yet: Sharp Criticism of Police Hash Action in Christiania.

Also, Danish golfer Thomas Bjørn won the British masters (Danish; English).

It's especially nice to see that if you remember his memory-searing meltdown a few years ago. I just reread the July 21, 2003 Almanac (see the preceding link) about the event, and was struck by this paragraph:

A Danish champion at the British Open! Could it actually happen? It seemed inevitable—which only proves that you can be a Red Sox fan your whole life without learning anything.

A lot can change in two years...

Also, if the "Sharp Criticism of Danish Police" isn't enough criticism to get your week started, here's an article about "Hard Criticism of Danish Tsunami Aid:"

»Beredskabet var ikke godt nok. Eller rettere: Det fandtes ikke. Det vurderes derfor, at Udenrigsministeriet ikke havde overblik over situationen før den 29. december,« lyder konklusionen f.eks. fra Danmarks Rejsebureau Forening (DRF).

Preparation wasn't good enough. Or more accurately: it didn't exist. The foreign ministry was subequently unable to grasp the situation until December 29," reads the conclusion from Denmark's Travel Agency Association (DRF).

If you're in a more tabloidy frame of mind, Ekstra-Bladet has some advice on how to "Jump Out Like a Sex Goddess." Sex Expert (!) Flic Everett offers some advice to woman who want to be sexier (masturbate more, carry peppermint chewing gum at all times, wear red, pink, orange, brown, and gold, and so on). She concludes, however, "It's just sex, not a complicated operation. If you don't like it, just stop and try something else."

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