Friday, March 26, 2010

Well, I'll be

Turns out Obama sent Netanyahu a message after all.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Oy gevalt

It seems Turkey's Prime Minister Erdo─čan is making vague threats to expel 100,000 Armenians currently working in Turkey "should it become necessary" because...the U.S. and Sweden decided to call the WWI massacre a genocide.

This sort of thing regarding non-Turkish and/or non-Muslim minorities is not new in Turkey's history, but this particular example of it seems rather boneheaded. Armenia isn't even directly involved, so far as I know. If the aim is for Turkey to avoid looking bad (where "bad" is taken to mean "perpetrator of genocide" or at least "mean to Armenians"), then this sort of thing doesn't really help.


We can now see once and for all that the Mongols were the biggest badasses of all time. I think at the end the video should have marked Damascus in addition to Baghdad and Jerusalem--it is the oldest continuously inhabited city in the world, after all--but then, I'm biased.

H/t Juan Cole.


I wonder what Mike Vanderboegh's opinions are on terrorism. I bet he'd say he's not a fan. And yet:

Mike Vanderboegh of Pinson, Ala., former leader of the Alabama Constitutional Militia, put out a call on Friday for modern “Sons of Liberty” to break the windows of Democratic Party offices nationwide in opposition to health care reform. Since then, vandals have struck several offices, including the Sedgwick County Democratic Party headquarters in Wichita.

[...] “We can break their windows,” he said. “Break them NOW. And if we do a proper job, if we break the windows of hundreds, thousands, of Democrat party headquarters across this country, we might just wake up enough of them to make defending ourselves at the muzzle of a rifle unnecessary.”Vanderboegh told The Kansas City Star that the action was meant to “get everyone’s attention.”

“What I was trying to get across was that people do not understand how on the edge of civil conflict this country is,” he said.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Calorie labeling: aw jeez

So Ezra Klein points out one of the "prevention" provisions of our shiny new healthcare bill, as is is job, wont, and duty:

One of the bill's provisions is a menu labeling proposal for chain restaurants with more than 20 locations. The proposal requires chains to post the caloric content of each item (and the total calories of combo meals) next to its listing on the menu, the menu board, and even the drive-through menu kiosk. This goes into effect next year, and will be one of the most visible effects of the health-care bill. You can read the provision here (pdf).

The early evidence on menu labeling has been undeniably mixed, but this is good information for people to have. In 20 years, I think we'll be baffled that there was a time when it wasn't easily available to us.

So here's my thing. The immediate parallel, to my mind, is the nutrition facts labels on food products. I know I have a hard time imagining buying prepared foods, whether that means orange juice or microwavable Indian food, without being able to see what-all's in 'em.

But the difference is you have a choice. I can pick up, buy, unwrap, and eat a candy bar without ever looking at the calorie count or the saturated fats percentage or the nature of the carbohydrates locked within it. When that number is splashed big and loud and in red on a menu--a menu that in some situations will be the equivalent of a poster--that is a whole different story. Furthermore, nutritional information gives you much more than the bare number of calories. At least it gives you information that you can use to manage your diet in the way that works for you, if you so choose.

I understand that its inescapability is the point of the provision. But my god, what about the eating disordered in this country? Many will be perversely overjoyed: no need to privately estimate calorie counts, round up wildly to be "safe," google around for others' tallies. But many will also be terrified. They will be terrified that if they consistently pick the lowest-calorie option when obliged to eat out at a chain restaurant, their friends and family will notice; and they will be terrified that on the occasion that they venture, manage, or feel obliged to pick a higher calorie option, someone--anyone who knows what they picked, whether a dining companion or a server or a bystander, will be thinking, "what is that fatass doing eating anything but naked lettuce." Fat people who want to be left alone to eat a goddamn meal will face even more detailed commentary and well-intentioned, yet ultimately hurtful advice from friends, family, and random strangers than they do now. "Normal" people (i.e. those not included in the previous two categories) will find themselves competing with themselves or others to limit their calories while restaurants compete to offer the lowest calorie options (with no incentive to do so with regard to nutritional content or to provide customers with the ability to consider nutrition, rather than calorie-counting, themselves).

This is not to mention three larger points: 1, not all calories are created equal; 2, weight loss is not health. It is not necessarily not-health, and I am not saying that this provision is the only mechanism in the bill (lord knows if it were Ezra would be singing a much different tune), but I would really like to see some work on urban food deserts, for example, before we start giving ourselves even more tools for public body and diet shame.

Finally, 3: in many ways one of the biggest issues around food and health for Americans is that our culture can't conceive of food as food. It's all calories and good fats and bad fats and antioxidants. Having to intellectualize and moralize the shit out of everything we eat is not good for us. It leads to deprivation/binge cycles, depriving ourselves of things we need because they're "bad," sometimes relying on companies or fads to figure it all out for us (read: diets). Many of these diets are not very nutritionally sound, and almost none of them promote healthy relationships between mind and body--which is really one of the bases of health.

I think this further standardization and commodification of food into points which are good or bad but ultimately to be conquered will do nothing to help this pathologization of food and plenty to further it.


MeMe Roth: "We’ve gotten ourselves to the point where we’re behaviorally and neurochemically dependent upon food."

Michael Pollan: "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants. That, more or less, is the short answer to the supposedly incredibly complicated and confusing question of what we humans should eat in order to be maximally healthy."

Our culture, sadly, is much more in tune with the former sentiment than the latter. I don't think putting calorie counts on menus nationwide will help.

U.S. hiding its teeth very well

There was an AIPAC meeting yesterday. Benjamin Netanyahu and Hillary Clinton both spoke at it.

Bibi at AIPAC:

“The Jewish people were building Jerusalem 3,000 years, and the Jewish people are building Jerusalem today,” Mr. Netanyahu said to the group, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. “Jerusalem is not a settlement; It’s our capital.”

Clinton at AIPAC:

She warned that the Obama administration would push back “unequivocally” when it disagreed with the Israeli government’s policies. But she reaffirmed that America’s support for Israel was “rock solid, unwavering, enduring and forever.” [...] “There must be no gap between the United States and Israel on security,” she said to loud applause.

As for how far off we are from anything remotely resembling a rational state of affairs:

“I thought she was excellent,” said Hal Rosnick of Easton, Conn. “She wants the parties to get back to indirect negotiations.” But Diane Hornstein of Chicago, said, “I would like her to recognize that Jerusalem is not a settlement. There’s no evenhandedness in the demands made of Israel.”

Wooo! Indirect negotiations!

To be clear, "indirect negotiations" means George Mitchell talking to the PA in Ramallah, driving over to Jerusalem, talking to Bibi's government, then driving back to Ramallah, and so on ad nauseam. That this is the goal--for Clinton to smooth things over enough for Bibi and Abu Mazen to consent to essentially sit with their backs turned and have their poor friend play the "Bibi says you're a stupidhead," "Well, tell him HE'S A STUPIDHEAD" "...Abu Mazen says you're a stupidhead" game--is really all you need to know.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Oh, just kill me now

The Camel Method, it seems, is a method of converting Muslims to Christianity by using the Qur'an.

“Camel” is not (readers might be gladdened to learn) a reference to a beast of burden in Arab lands. Rather, it is Mr. Greeson’s acronym — Chosen Angels Miracles Eternal Life — to help missionaries remember aspects of Isa’s story.

Sure it is. And the rifle sights supplied to the U.S. military in Iraq and Afghanistan with Christian scriptures engraved on them are just a celebration of the manufacturing company's faith.

"We believe that America is great when its people are good," says the [manufacturer's] Web site. "This goodness has been based on Biblical standards throughout our history, and we will strive to follow those morals." [...]

Weinstein, an attorney and former Air Force officer, said many members of his group [the Military Religious Freedom Foundation] who currently serve in the military have complained about the markings on the sights. He also claims they've told him that commanders have referred to weapons with the sights as "spiritually transformed firearm[s] of Jesus Christ."

Well, hey, we'll get 'em from the inside and out. Use the Gospels to shoot 'em down on the battlefield and to convert them in the streets until soon there won't be any pesky Muslims to deal with anymore. At least, not any upper-case ones:

“At the extreme,” Dr. Reynolds said, “these Christian missionaries will grow beards like Muslims, give up pork, even say that they are ‘muslims’ — lower-case ‘m’ — in the Arab-adjective sense of ‘submissive to God.’ ”

So what if there are a million ways of saying you're a believer in god that wouldn't elicit this kind of confusion? So maybe you have to engage in a little shell game to get your foot in the door. It's for their own good. Come to Jesus, hajji.

Another Quartet statement, cont.

Rosemary Hollis at FP's Middle East Channel has much more to say on the Quartet statement, though the upshot is basically the same:

All that being said, this latest Quartet initiative does not constitute a breakthrough. It provides no new ways to oblige the parties to make "the difficult choices" required to deliver "an independent, democratic and viable Palestinian state living side by side in peace and security with Israel." That will require more than an end to settlement expansion. It will require the removal of a good many settlements plus land swaps.

What she says it does do is hopefully give Abu Mazen cover to begin proximity talks despite the settlement debacle during Biden's Israel visit, as well as give the US the opportunity to "use the Quartet as a vehicle to send a strong message to the Israeli government that Washington's support is not automatic."

I don't see this as all that strong of a message to that effect in the light of the U.S.'s fairly rapid drawdown of displeasure since the incident. Washington needs to make a much sharper gesture than what we've seen if that's the message it wants to send.


Brazil and Argentina have agreed to negotiate a free trade agreement with...the Palestinian Authority.

The piece is a bizarre read. It's like an alternate universe, almost (an impression no doubt enhanced by the fact that I study mostly Gaza and I assume this article is about the West Bank).

Through the looking glass

Private military companies have officially gone meta. Just when I was getting used to the idea of corporate entities that make war for pay and maybe run some mining and transport operations on the side, Cambodia went and solicited corporate sponsorship for its military along the Thai border.

Then it turns out that one of the corporate sponsors is owned by the military. I at first assumed this meant the Cambodian military, which would make it the most circular arrangement since the cinnamon bun I ate yesterday--but no. It's owned by the Vietnamese military.

Which is just sort of mindboggling to me.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Another Quartet statement

The Quartet had a meeting, after which they released a statement. The Majlis has the transcript.

As one would expect, it contains nothing new and doesn't hold out much to be hopeful about.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Nepalese reconciliation not going so smoothly

Apparently, the chief of the Nepalese Army has declared that no, he will not induct the Maoist rebel troops into the Nepalese regular army en masse, thanks all the same. That the rebel fighters should become part of the national army was part of the peace agreement between the Maoists and the government; after General Gurung's statement, the Maoists have of course started hopping up and down.

What I find much more bizarre than their reaction is that a) this concession was ever a part of the agreement to begin with, and b) that both the Times of India article discussing it (linked above) and the World Politics Review post that linked the ToI (I love me some Off-The-Radar News Roundups) seem to take the tone that this move by the general is unwise. ("The stance is in contravention of the 2006 peace accord that put an end to Nepal's insurgency, and already destabilized the country last year when the previous chief of staff adopted the same position.")

I don't know if there was a different way that General Gurung could have gone about this, but integrating several thousand rebel forces with strongly demonstrated disloyalty to the state into your armed forces en masse, in the context of a very recent total breakdown of state sovereignty, is a recipe for disaster. Wikipedia says that the Nepalese army is 95,000 strong; it does not, however, say how it knows, and despite the surprising excellence of the website of the Nepalese Army, I can't find such numbers there. If Wikipedia is correct, then 6-7,000 Maoists (this being the conservative claim from the Times of India) in an army of 95,000 is not nothing. Even if you split them up pretty extensively you could have real problems with cohesion, authority and morale.

Look, Frederick the freaking Great understood this (per a deeply pompous* series of rebuttals to Machiavelli constituting the aptly named "Anti-Machiavel"). It seems reasonable to me that General Gurung, in the advanced year of 2066 in the Nepal Sambat calendar, should understand it too. I can't pretend to know much about how this agreement came about in 2006 (the Gregorian calendar year, not Nepal Sambat)--while I do need to make a bit of a study of Nepal's situation as an ancillary case to my thesis, I haven't gotten to it yet--but all I can say is that I hope this concession was a highly, highly necessary one.

General Gurung has some pretty good suggestions for what to do with the People's Liberation Army instead, if you ask me:

Gurung said the PLA could be accommodated in the police, border security forces and other non-military agencies. They could also be sent overseas for jobs or be rehabilitated with an economic incentive.

Meanwhile, the PLA seems to be acting in pretty bad faith, waiting for an excuse to break the agreement:

Gurung also expressed concern at Maoist chief Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda giving training to the PLA in their cantonments and urging them to be ready for another revolution if the government failed to implement the new constitution by May 28.

And, of course, what would be an attempt at post-civil-war reconciliation without a "you first" standoff:

There is growing uncertainty over the fate of the fighters with their own leaders saying the new statute should be promulgated before they are disbanded while the ruling parties are demanding the discharge of the PLA first.

At any rate, I currently feel quite a bit of sympathy for the good General, who seems to be very sensible and is being asked to do something that seems to me to be rather less sensible.

*Actual excerpt from Frederick the Great, I kid you not:

Where do these examples leave Machiavelli, and what comes of the ingenious allegory of David refusing to fight Goliath with the armor of Saul because of its weight? It is a lot of whipped cream! I admit that auxiliaries sometimes inconvenience princes, but I ask if conquering cities and provinces is not worth a little inconvenience.

Upon first reading, I recall picturing David facing up to Goliath covered from head to toe in whipped cream armor. Oops.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Don't do it, Kirkuk!

Firstly, I want to note the launch of's Middle East Channel, which is already shaping up to be fantastic (how could it not be, being edited by the likes of Marc Lynch and Daniel Levy?).

From that very channel comes this piece, Kurds No Closer to Taking Kirkuk After Iraqi Elections.

The piece is of course interesting on a topical level, as the fate of Kirkuk (whether it, and its oil, should become part of Iraqi Kurdistan or not) has been a major sticking point in Iraqi politics. However, being all caught up in my thesis as I currently am, I found this bit particularly interesting:

In the public eye, every election in Kirkuk turns into a census and quasi-referendum rolled into one. This is because the ethnic communities here assume that Arabs, Kurds and Turkomans vote for their own candidates; that this shows the respective communities' sizes; that the vast majority of Kurds want Kirkuk to be attached to the Kurdistan region; and that these factors combined suggest the probable outcome of a future referendum on Kirkuk's status.


Moreover, matters are complicated by intra-Kurdish divisions. Some of the heaviest campaigning in Kirkuk was not between Arabs and Kurds but intra-Kurdish: between the Kurdistani Coalition which combines the two Kurdish principal parties - the Kurdistan Democratic Party and Patriotic Union of Kurdistan - and the upstart Goran, or Change, movement. Goran's strong showing in the Kurdistan regional elections last July was a dire warning to the ruling parties, especially the PUK, the party from which Goran's frustrated would-be reformers sprang last year. Today, when no open campaigning was allowed, the PUK and KDP went all-out in their bid to outpace their rival. Cars bearing KDP and PUK flags and blaring their horns crisscrossed Kurdish neighborhoods as if the campaign was still in full swing. Men beat drums; in some areas, women - decked out in their most colourful finery - danced to the beat.

Some Goran candidates may not be following the main parties', and possibly their own leadership's, line on Kirkuk. For five futile years, the KDP and PUK have insisted that the only way to resolve Kirkuk's status is by a referendum based on an ethnic vote. They have loaded the outcome through their control of local government, which allowed them to change the governorate's demography in their favor. That outcome, therefore, is unlikely to be accepted by the losers, who have threatened violence if they are inducted into the Kurdistan region against their will.

Some Goran officials in Kirkuk, by contrast, seem to be saying something new - that the only sensible way to proceed is to restore trust between the ethnic communities and let Kirkukis decide for themselves, over time, what the best solution is for Kirkuk, by referendum or otherwise. This is music to the ears of Arabs and Turkomans, who have made no secret of their hope that Goran will gain a couple of seats at the PUK's expense, even if they themselves wouldn't vote for Goran, lest they increase the overall Kurdish vote.

It sounds like the PUK and KDP have been trying to take the province in a Lebanese direction--that is to say, legislating and statebuilding based on demographics. What is at stake in this case is different from what was at stake in Lebanon when the various agreements on which Lebanon's confessional system is based were made, but the consequences might not be dissimilar--widespread violence and general anarchy. I'm not sure what "letting Kirkukis decide for themselves, over time, what the best solution is for Kirkuk, by referendum or otherwise" would entail other than paralysis and punting--some kind of decision needs to be made one way or another--nor do I know how Goran would propose to go about "restoring trust between the ethnic communities", but all of that said, I can't see the PUK's and KDP's approach ending anywhere very good.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

In lieu of a real post

I'm afraid I've gotten too busy to keep up with this like I used to--I keep catching things I want to post about and never getting around to posting them. So here we'll have a link dump, but first I wanted to mention:


don’t use the term “world music” around thurston unless you want a 20 minute lecture

It's true. I will give a lecture about the problematic nature of "world music" to most anyone. Maybe not a full 20 minutes, though.

Anyhoodle, here are some things I've been meaning to post about:

Kate Harding on Kevin Smith's Southwest experience and the perils of flying while fat.

Ta-Nehisi Coates on how we define terrorism, who is a terrorist and who is not, and the lessons we have failed to learn from our national history of domestic race terrorism.

Finally, this article on depression and what it does to your brain--and what it may do for your brain--struck a chord with me.