Tuesday, August 24, 2004

Brief Colorado Update 

Bonassus reader "John" writes to let us know that the organization sponsoring the Colorado electoral college ballot initiative has a website up.

There's not too much there so far, but if you're so inclined you can stop by and donate money or endorse the initiative.

As far as I can tell, the group organized to oppose the initiative, which is called (believe it or not) "Coloradans Against a Really Stupid Idea," has yet to put up a website.

Monday, August 23, 2004

How to Respond to RNC Protestors [?] 

I'm with Ezra Klein on this one, at least part of the way:
[T]hese protests have the potential to derail the Republicans or crash the Democrats, it all depends on how they're organized and how the media reports them. That I don't trust some of the suborganizations involved (Earth First) to stay peaceful and that I expect the media to report violence before reality only heightens my concerns. I'll be talking about this much more in the days to come as, I think, will a lot of us bloggers. I really think there's an off-chance that the election may be effectively decided in New York...
The closer the convention draws, and the more stories about rage-filled protestors I read, the more worried I get. Furthermore, I'm not really sure how the protests might "derail the Republicans." I find it unlikely that any sort of protest will dent GOP support besides, perhaps, a spectacle featuring 200,000 calm, sensible and mainstream-looking individuals silently marching down 8th Avenue each holding a single candle in the air. If there's one dumbass giant leering Bush effigy, one balaclava-clad bottle-thrower, or anyone who vaguely appears hippieish, that's who'll be on the news, and the net effect of the protests on GOP support will actually be positive.

A friend of mine who's actually (gasp!) considering taking part in the protests argued that there's an effect I'm overlooking: people overseas are likely to see a different version of events, and will be reassured to know that not all Americans support GW Bush. To which I say "They'll be more impressed if we don't re-elect him, and the protests are just going to make that goal tougher to reach."

Maybe I'm wrong: maybe I should be encouraging my friends and family to take part in the various marches and rallies, to serve as sober counterweights to the myopic, self-regarding street theater and violent-anarchist types. [Yeah, so I'm trafficking in prejudgments and stereotypes here. These are ideas out there in the ether waiting to be marshalled for the GOP cause.] But I suspect that the only function they'll end up serving is to inflate the crowd-size estimates, reinforcing the message that there are lots of nutsos out there.

My wife suggested a way for Kerry to counteract what I'm afraid is going to be a bunch of bad publicity: maybe Kerry should single out some heretofore obscure protest organizer for a pre-emptive "Sister Souljah" moment. Maybe it should be the scary guy from this Salon article. Such a gambit might also help inoculate Kerry from negative images from his days as a Vietnam protest leader. The script could be something like:

"Person X has pledged to do Y. Let me make myself perfectly clear: I repudiate these tactics and do not want the support of anyone who makes use of them. Our country and our people have withstood a series of blows, from the terrorist attacks of 9/11 to the deceptions and incompetence surrounding our involvement in Iraq. Our democracy has been weakened by underhanded campaigning impugning the valor of our veterans. Once again, as in Vietnam, our leaders have mishandled a military operation, and it is every citizen's right and duty to let the President know where we stand. But let us not further degrade our society by stooping to violence and lawbreaking, yadda yadda yadda."

Anyway, it's a thought. I don't expect it to happen, but perhaps it's worth considering. While you're thinking about it, you might want to re-read this Unfutz post in case you missed it last time I linked to it.

Another Potential Minor-Party Spoiler? 

An Alaska Superior Court judge has ruled that the "Republican Moderate Party" deserves a ballot line in November's elections, thereby ensuring that Alaska voters will have a chance to support former state legislator Ray Metcalfe in the US Senate race. He'll be joining Libertarian candidate Scott Kohlhaas and Green candidate Jim Sykes, as well as the winner of the contested Alaskan Independence Party primary.

Big deal, right? Alaska has been a solidly Republican state since the 1970s, after all. All major statewide offices are held by Republicans, and the presumed Republican Senatorial nominee, as the daughter of Governor Frank Murkowski, has enormous name recognition. Plus, since her father appointed her to the seat when he vacated it to become Governor, she's the incumbent.

As a matter of fact, though, a contested Republican primary (voting is tomorrow) and a surprisingly strong Democratic candidate (former governor Tony Knowles) have led election observers like the formidable Charles Cook to rate this seat a "toss-up." The most recent polls show a tiny margin between the Democrat and the Republican incumbent.

Here's where Metcalfe and Sykes come in. Each is polling in the 1-2% range. But Metcalfe has shown some strength in the past, pulling in over 6% of the vote in the 1998 Gubernatorial race. It's not clear to me whether Metcalfe has any chance of pulling this sort of showing again (particularly as I'm in New York City and have never been to Alaska), but minor parties are clearly a factor in this close race. Furthermore, unlike most such races this year, one of the minor parties is attempting to stake out a position between the two parties, rather than on their right or left flank.

Could be interesting...

Downsizing Themselves 

Never say never: sometimes lawmakers vote themselves out of jobs (or at least make keeping their jobs much, much harder). The BBC is reporting the latest case of politicians voting against their own self-interest:
Lawmakers in Taiwan's parliament have voted to halve the number of seats in the country's legislature in an effort to make it more efficient. The move still has to be confirmed by further votes, but if it passes it should come into effect in three years.

The changes were proposed by President Chen Shui-bian's party and were passed overwhelmingly, thanks in part to clear public support for the reforms. The proposals are part of a wider bill on constitutional change.

It is a bit like turkeys voting for Christmas. Taiwan's lawmakers have agreed to reduce the number of seats in their parliament from 225 to 113.

The change was pushed through by President Chen's party, the DPP, and the opposition nationalist KMT - the biggest parties in parliament.

These parties might stand to gain if fewer seats are contested, as the smaller parties or independents could find it harder to win enough support to get their candidates elected.

But in the end, even the smaller parties supported the moves to downsize the legislature, unwilling to be painted as anti-reform.

Friday, August 20, 2004

Mongolians on the Spot 

Mongolian democracy continues to consolidate:
The Mongolian People's Revolutionary Party, which led the last government, agreed to form the ``Grand Coalition Government'' with the former opposition after both failed to win enough seats in June 27 elections to form a government on their own.

The 66 lawmakers who attended the session Friday of the 76-seat Great Hural voted unanimously to approve Elbegdorj as prime minister.

The agreement followed weeks of legal wrangling over elections that were a stunning setback to the People's Revolutionary Party, which had held all but four seats in the last parliament. Both sides accused each other of cheating and the first two attempts to open the new parliament failed after Revolutionary Party lawmakers refused to attend.

[Guardian UK]
Mongolia's transition to true democracy has been impressively rapid and comprehensive, as this Freedom House report makes clear. It appears that another potential crisis has been averted, and that democratic norms are firmly rooted in the nation.

There is one slightly worrisome detail in the article: apparently some Mongolian parliamentarians, worried about how to operate a coalition government, sought answers on a fact-finding trip to Israel. Call me crazy, but I think there might be better exemplars out there...

Thursday, August 19, 2004

A Global Plot Revealed 

Careful readers of The Bonassus will have noticed a certain unseemly fascination with monkeys, as well as a more creditable concern for the people of Sudan.

Little did I suspect, however, that these two interests would reveal a global conspiracy of lower primates to destroy mankind's faith in the modern grocery system!

Take a look at this report from the highly-suspect news.com.au:
HORDES of monkeys are running wild in the Sudanese state capital Kassala, attacking women and children and looting shops for food, Al-Anbaa newspaper reported today.

The groups are going on the rampage in two suburbs of the city, close to the frontier with Eritrea, the newspaper said.

The monkeys launch "organised attacks which last several hours", targeting "bakeries and grocery stores".

They attack women and children, run into homes, "breaking kitchen utensils and snatching food from the children" and open the doors of refrigerators to get at the food inside, according to one resident, Salah Osman al-Khedr.

He put the phenomenon down to the wholesale cutting down of trees which has deprived the monkeys of their sole source of food.

The attacks start at dawn and sometimes last until dusk, he said.
Remind you of anything? The recent "Darla the Monkey" grocery store attacks obsessively regurgitated here and here, perhaps?

It's happening in Sudan. It's happening in Brooklyn. In India. In Japan. Your town could be next.

So next time you go to the grocery store, remember to gird your loins. And thank your lucky stars for -- THE BONASSUS!

Quick News Roundup 

Not much time to post today, so I'll limit it to this:

1) The New York Times has an excellent article on the organized effort by the Democratic Party and its supporters to give Ralph Nader a taste of what playing in the big leagues really means. The article makes it very clear that if Nader were really interested in party-building, independent politics or increasing the visibility of his political agenda, he'd have started by pursuing procedural reform instead of a vanity candidacy. It's also worthwhile to note that the SEIU, which has won the hearts of economic lefties for its aggressive union-organizing and negotiating tactics, has taken up the anti-Nader cause with its typical ferocity. For those of you who are attorneys (or want to help in non-technical ways), contact your state Democratic Party or The Ballot Project, Inc.

2) Parliamentary politics in Israel are even more unstable than usual right now. The Head Heeb brings his usual incisive analysis to bear on the situation facing Ariel Sharon as he tries to decide whether to form a coalition government with Labor, even as his party convention has voted against the idea.

3) Steve Silver has collected the nominees and winners for his Eckstein Award
Named for Angels shortstop David Eckstein, the award is given out in honor of athletes/celebrities whose names are Jewish, even though they’re not.
It's a great idea, and one whose timeframe should include the historical (David Cone, for example). I myself recall sitting in Hebrew school as a very young child, wasting time by gazing at a poster of the US Presidents, wondering whether President James Buchanan (which I read as "BOO-khah-nahn") was Jewish or just had a Jewish-sounding name. In any case, readers are invited to submit suggestions to this blog so that I can take credit for them.

Wednesday, August 18, 2004

Take the Protestors Bowling 

The New York Times reports today that the Bloomberg administration is trying a new tactic to keep anti-RNC protests from going out of control:
In a transparently mercantile bid to keep protesters from disrupting the Republican National Convention later this month, the Bloomberg administration will offer "peaceful political activists" discounts at select hotels, museums, stores and restaurants around town during convention week, which begins Aug. 29.

Law-abiding protesters will be given buttons that bear a fetching rendition of the Statue of Liberty holding a sign that reads, "peaceful political activists." Protesters can present the buttons at places like the Whitney Museum, the Museum of Sex, the Pokémon Center store and such restaurants as Miss Mamie's Spoonbread Too and Applebee's to save some cash during their stay...

Mr. Bloomberg conceded yesterday that not everyone who wore a button would be strictly vetted for his or her peacefulness. "Unfortunately, we can't stop an anarchist from getting a button," he said, though he doubted any of them would want to wear one.
You can find out more about the specials on offer here. These buttons are going to be a hot ticket. I predict that New Yorkers with no interest in the RNC will find ways to peacefully protest, just so they can score a button and treat themselves to every Manhattanite's dream date: a trip to the Staten Island Zoo, browsing the latest in Pokemon merchandise and scarfing down a yummy dinner at Applebee's. Actually, come to think of it, this just may be a way for the Mayor to support Democrats even though he has to pretend to be a Republican to keep his job.

Pretty clever, Mr. Bloomberg, but you won't get me to protest! I'm leaving town.

Tuesday, August 17, 2004

If They Don't Win, It's a Shanda (Not a Shonda Schilling) 

The Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York is getting ready to honor the 143 Jews who have ever played Major League Baseball:
Hank Greenberg and Sandy Koufax are already in the Hall of Fame. The other 141 Jewish major leaguers will get their due this month.

The Cooperstown, N.Y., shrine will host "A celebration of Jews in baseball" Aug. 29-30 in conjunction with the 350th anniversary of Jews in America. It will be the first kosher dinner in the Hall.

"It's a small group and it's an honor to be among them," said Los Angeles Dodgers first baseman Shawn Green, the most accomplished of 10 active Jewish players.
Readers should note that while Rod Carew and David Eckstein are not likely to attend (as neither, despite conventional wisdom, is actually Jewish), Kevin Youkilis, the "Greek God of Walks," is in fact one of us.

The article features a couple of choice quotes, including Gabe Kapler on playing alongside Youkilis on the only multi-Jew team this season:
"It's unspoken, but we share a common bond out there," Kapler said. "You have 24 guys who have a very different belief system than the one you were brought up with. You never feel that you are left out, but you understand: There's a difference."
And Shawn Green, on the groupie problems he faces
For Green, the biggest problem for a modern Jewish ballplayer is turning down all the bar mitzvah invitations from fans.

"I get all kinds of stuff, and you can only do the most you can," he said. "It's tough during the season because there aren't too many Jewish players, so everywhere we go the Jewish communities reach out to us. We do what we can."
.[Link via Throwing Things]

Third Parties and Centralization 

In a Washington Post opinion piece published today, Pradeep Chhibber and Ken Kollman argue that the two-party structure found in the US today is a relative historical novelty, with its roots in the relative power of the federal government, not in the winner-take-all electoral system:
Starting in the 1930s ... minor parties stopped winning significant shares of votes for elections to Congress, and viable third parties in the states have since died away. No longer do Prohibition, Socialist, Populist, Greenback, Farmer-Labor and various Labor parties compete for even one seat...

What happened to eliminate serious third parties? To answer this question, we need to understand why minor parties once drew so many votes. It was because most of these parties had strength in particular regions or even particular states. They were not fully national in scope. Even the major parties had more of a regional flavor than they do today.
I'd like to interject here: some of these parties still exist in some reasonably-powerful form. The Farmer-Labor Party in Minnesota, for example, merged with the Democratic Party in 1944, but the state party is still called the DFL.
Politicians and voters follow power... As the national government has become more powerful relative to state and local governments, national policies have come to matter more to voters...

Our neighbor to the north provides further evidence of the influence of centralization on the ability of third parties to win votes. Quite a few parties received significant vote shares in the 2004 elections for the House of Commons in Canada. The smaller parties that managed to win substantial votes have their roots in provincial politics, and they drew enough votes from those provincial roots to have a say in national politics. Their success is largely due to the fact that Canada is one of the most decentralized nations in the world.

So if you want to complain about the weakness of minor parties in the United States, don't blame the Constitution or the weakness of unions. Because most policies that determine our economic well-being are made at the national level, we have two dominant, national political parties. Third parties were alive and well in a more decentralized United States, in the days when the states had control over most of the policies voters cared about.
It's an argument worth thinking about, but one that I suspect most proponents of third parties would be quite uninterested in. Precisely because so much of the power in our government is located at the federal level, as far as I can tell, most third parties keep their eyes firmly on the national prize. This is why so many third parties run only in the Presidential election (as this site ably documents). Furthermore, for many minor parties, the issues motivating most of their supporters are constitutionally and sensibly reserved for the federal government. When the whole basis for your party's existance is national security policy, immigration reform or transjurisdictional pollution control, state and local politics must seem rather beside the point.

UPDATE: An article at Crooked Timber also discusses the op-ed. In my view, the comments are more interesting than the main posting.

Sunday, August 15, 2004

Yankee Doodle 

[WARNING: Images below may be disturbing to some readers]

Profiling Senatorial candidate Barack Obama in last month's Atlantic Monthly, Ryan Lizza can find only one thing (potentially) wrong:
If there is a knock against Obama, it is that he is perhaps a little too enchanted with all the attention and acclaim... I couldn't help noticing, when we sat down to talk in the dilapidated storefront that houses his Springfield campaign headquarters, that the blue-pen drawing he'd doodled on his newspaper during fundraising calls was a portrait of himself.
But wait, there's more:
At the end of today's lunch, a group of reporters gathered around [Obama] to shake his hand goodbye. Seeing me, Obama borrowed a pen and started drawing two faces on his newspaper, explaining with a laugh what I had written. One face was a craggy profile that would never be mistaken for him. The other was a frontal view of a man with a narrow face and oversized ears. I instantly recognized it as the drawing on his office desk in Illinois that I had reported--and still insist!--is a self-portrait. "You see a picture of a guy with a long chin and big ears and automatically assume it's me?" he asked. All the reporters, including me, cracked up. No way, he maintained, that's not me. Doodle-gate was successfully defused.

The episode was just a small example of why Obama is obviously headed for big things. Nursing a grievance, however small, with a reporter, he made the point that he was a little irritated, while at the same time making a joke of his annoyance. But he did it without alienating one of his most important constituencies--the press.

His art lesson finished, Obama said his goodbyes and walked out of the room. A reporter turned to me and said, "That man is going to be president."
[The New Republic]
Lizza, whose work I generally like, can be forgiven for making the common jump from "he noticed me!" to "he's gonna be President." Less forgivable, however, is the opportunity Lizza passes up to answer a fundamental question of American politics: is doodling presidential?

The answer: hell, yes, it is.

As you can see from the doodle reproduced below (which I scanned from the journal Cabinet and will happily take down if asked), Ronald Reagan, for one, shared Obama's love of doodling heads which bear a striking resemblance to his own.

[Incidentally, similar doodles have inspired this truly bizarre reading of Reagan's politics as being rooted in castration anxiety]

Readers can determine for themselves whether this doodle by LBJ has any elements of self-portraiture.

Examples of Eisenhower's doodling can be found here and here. Herbert Hoover apparently enjoyed doodling and designing girl's dresses. JFK's sailboat doodles are well known (and if you look very very closely and hallucinate, you can see the tiny self-portrait manning the helm).

Richard Nixon not only enjoyed doodling, but also took care to analyze the doodles of others, as this too-good-to-be true (but true nonetheless) interview reveals:
[Richard Nixon]

I always watch my opposite numbers to see how they doodle. I draw squares and diamonds and that sort of thing. I'm a very--I--I don't--

Day 5, Tape 1
[Frank Gannon]

You're a Republican doodler.

Day 5, Tape 1
[Richard Nixon]

Probably a square doodler, but I noticed that, for example, in 1972, when we were having our first discussion with Brezhnev about missiles. We--the argument was as to whether or not a big missile could be put in a smaller hole. Now, obviously, it can happen, or technically. But, in any event, he said no, and what he would do, he drew there, while we were talking about it, he would draw holes and then missiles as--to see whether or not they could go in the holes and so forth and so on. And down here, when we were meeting in a cabaña looking out over the s--Black Sea, he doodled--in this case, he drew a heart with an arrow through it. I--I don't know what s--that signified, but that was when we were failing to reach agreement on a proposal to limit M.I.R.V.s, which we had proposed and which they had rejected--rejected, at least, on any meaningful basis.
Note that the preceding discussion has been squarely aimed at what might be called the "unselfconscious doodle" or the "free doodle." Lest we forget, there is also the "calculated doodle," produced for public consumption rather than private amusement. Where to find such a beast? For some inexplicable reason, there are huge numbers of "Charity Doodle Auctions" around the world, where donors line up to pay big money for bad drawings by people famous for things other than art. As far as I know, Gerald Ford is the only US President to donate a doodle to one of these fundraisers (and his "doodle" is actually an autograph), but the other celebrities at this particular auction donated some choice pieces, including the tushy drawn by Kim Cattrall and the "I copied this off a placemat at the UNICEF cafeteria" work provided by Jesse Jackson.

Non-Presidential politicos participating in charity doodle auctions include John Glenn (linked above), Reagan/Bush I press secretary Marlin Fitzwater and William "Screw the Facts" Safire.

I'd like to end this piece on a note of warning. The non-Kiwi readers of this blog may not know that charity doodling can get politicians in trouble, particularly when they sign their names to works they didn't actually create. "Paintergate", and its subcomponent "Ponsonby-primary-school-doodlegate", the lamest quasi-scandal in the history of the universe, was just such a case. I ask all faithful Bonassusites to remember the lessons of this stupid chapter in world history.

[Note: Readers interested in more on Presidential doodling are strongly urged to check out Cabinet Issue 12.]

Thursday, August 12, 2004

Throwing Fuel on the Fire 

Know what? According to the US Government, Hans Island belongs to Canada (or is at least "under Canadian sovereignty.")

Says who? Why, the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, that's who! You can see this outrageous anti-Danish provocation in this document (you'll have to use the "search" function unless you're really thorough).

I hope I've made a valuable contribution to the ongoing and inane argument.

The Roots of the Hans Island Dispute 

A mysterious reader named JQ pointed me to a November 1994 article from the Toronto Star which sheds some insight into the ongoing squabble:
A cairn in the centre of Hans Island hides a cache of Canadian Club whisky. Or, the story goes, of Danish aquavit.

The uninhabited island between Canada and Greenland is our last frontier. Canada and Denmark both claim it.

So Canadians and Danes who visit the place keep up a friendly rivalry, swigging each other's stock and replacing it with the national brand in what must be the world's chilliest fit of claim-jumping.
I've always said it: there's nothing like hard alcohol to help cool a hot temper.

Hans Island Update 

As I first discussed here, Canada and Denmark are puffing up their feathers over their rival claims to a tiny island in the arctic. While it hasn't yet developed to the point of the Spratly Islands dispute, the Canadian Prime Minister highlighted the dust-up in a speech yesterday, and things appear to be getting more serious [Calgary Sun]:
Canada and Denmark are currently arguing over ownership of Hans Island, a desolate piece of rock -- so small it's not on many maps -- between Ellesmere Island and the northwestern tip of Greenland.

Danish military personnel recently visited the island to reinforce their country's claim to it.

In apparent response, some 500 military Canadian personnel, including troops from Gagetown, N.B., Griffon helicopters and the frigate HMCS Montreal will converge on the area for exercise Narwhal, starting Aug. 20.

While this is seen by analysts as part of an effort to re-establish more of a Canadian military presence in the Arctic after years of neglect, it probably won't escalate into a shooting match with Denmark, said Scott Taylor, publisher of Espirit de Corps magazine.

"We're both NATO allies, so it's not likely to go too far," said Taylor, adding the far north is as impossible to conquer as it is to defend.

"The strategy's been the way to defend the Arctic is not to rescue any fool dumb enough to invade there," Taylor said with a laugh.

Though they may outnumber our troops, the Danish forces are far from being a world power, he added.

"The Danes don't have nuclear-powered submarines, so we're safe," Taylor said.
The Vancouver Sun has more (in a somewhat overheated vein):

Two weeks from now, Canada's depleted and far-flung military diverts its attention from hot spots such as Afghanistan, the Balkans and Haiti, and invades the Arctic.

There'll be a navy frigate, Royal Canadian Regiment troops, coast guard cutters, Griffon helicopters, Aurora patrol planes and satellites overhead; more than 500 personnel descending on Baffin Island in the biggest Far North military operation in decades.

Behind it lies the ominous fact that a no-holds-barred diplomatic war is about to break out over Canada's claimed sovereignty of the islands and waters of the Arctic archipelago. And it's a war we could very well lose.

After half a century of grand visions followed by piecemeal forays into the great, icy heartland of the North, our long-presumed jurisdiction is back on the front-burner and open to serious international challenge after a decade of neglect...

While Canada contends the passage is ours, the Americans regard it as an international strait linking the Atlantic and Pacific.

More than 30 years ago they made the point by sending the USS Manhattan, a tanker with a reinforced, ice-crushing bow through the waterway without requesting Canadian permission. This was followed in 1985 by the icebreaker Polar Sea following the trail blazed by the Manhattan.

American and British nuclear submarines frequently cruise beneath the ice pack -- even surfacing at the North Pole. Russian submarines have been reported in Cumberland Sound off Baffin Island and a Chinese government research vessel popped up unannounced in Tuktoyaktuk in 1999...

Outside of exercises such as this month's operation on Baffin Island, the military presence in the North is virtually zero, apart from a skeletal area headquarters in Yellowknife, a few planes and an electronic espionage operation at Canadian Forces Station Alert.

"Can the Canadians pull this off in a military sense?" asks the Canada Project's Sands. "Not likely. It's tough. But go back 200 years and ask how Canada has survived as a nation alongside the U.S. -- not militarily. It has survived by making agreements to the point where the U.S. says there's no point in invading.

Back in the 1950s, in a flurry of concern over the sovereignty issue, Canada turned to the Inuit for a Band-Aid response. Native communities in northern Quebec were shipped north in RCMP cutters to populate barren islands and thus bolster Canada's claims of jurisdiction.

Today, ironically, it's once more the Inuit who fly the flag in scattered tiny communities across the North and give Canada a tenuous military presence in the vast reaches of the Arctic.

Militarily, however, the operation of the Canadian Rangers in a high-tech world of satellite surveillance and nuclear submarines is little more than useless.

The recruited Inuit, carrying ancient .303 rifles and wearing Ranger baseball caps, combine regular hunting trips with official patrols, keeping an outdoorsman's keen eye open for any foreign or suspicious presence among the ice flows.

"This is an area of tens of thousands of square miles and to imagine that the Inuit can patrol it with rifles and travelling on Ski-Doos is pretty naive at best," says Conservative MP Peter Goldring, who deplores cuts in patrols by Aurora surveillance aircraft.
UPDATE: Read the comments! Jonathan "Head Heeb" Edelstein has posted the initial fruits of his research into the 1950s-era Inuit resettlement initiative mentioned in the post above. Turns out things weren't quite as neutral as the article seems to suggest...

Young on Europe on Sudan 

[NOTE: What follows is the second installation of today's trend toward merely agreeing with other bloggers without adding anything myself]

After examining the EU's non-response to the ongoing atrocities in Darfur, Chris Young calls it like it is:
Look, I'm aware that this is actually a very complicated situation and that some of the measures currently being urged might end up being counterproductive. (I found out recently to my disappointment that, thanks mainly to Russia, Sudan has a discouragingly modern military.) And I do not even know enough about the situation to say definitively that it is a genocide. But it sure looks like one from where I sit, reading the news and feeling very safe and sound in Brooklyn. And so I hope I can be forgiven for saying that instead of calling a spade a spade, the E.U. seems much more inclined to say: "That there spade-like implement you see is not so much a spade as an instrument which might or might not be suited for such work as is conventionally called spading owing to the fact that it has a spade-like shape and might (or might not!) have been designed with spading in mind."

RNC Protestors 

I was going to comment on this Salon article about the people planning to protest the Republican National Convention, but Ed Fitzgerald has already made my point very nicely.

Wednesday, August 11, 2004

Lost Tribes? 

From the Head Heeb, an update on the situation facing the 5,000 or so Bnei Menashe:
The legal status of the Bnei Menashe of India may be settled when a rabbinical investigation team presents its report to the Israeli government. The report, which is expected within the next two weeks, will include a non-binding recommendation as to whether the Bnei Menashe, who claim descent from the lost tribe of Manasseh, should be treated as Jews under the Law of Return...

About 800 Bnei Menashe have already immigrated to Israel, but as with the Falashmura of Ethiopia, their status has been uncertain due to suspicion that they may be using a dubious connection to Judaism as a cloak for economic migration. Unlike the Falashmura, however, the Bnei Menashe began practicing Judaism well before their first contact with Israel and before Israel became an attractive destination for economic migrants, and those in Israel have continued to participate actively in the Jewish community. Their claim to be one of the Ten Lost Tribes is highly doubtful, but their present-day commitment to Judaism isn't.

To be sure, there may be some ulterior motives on the part of their sponsors. Shas sponsored the Falashmura partly in an attempt to establish a clientage relationship, and there are some indications that it hopes to do the same with the Bnei Menashe. The Bnei Menashe themselves, however, are sincere.
I concur with Jonathan on the unlikelihood of the Bnei Menashe genuinely being descendents of one of the 10 lost tribes. There's simply too immense a history of claims of this sort. Among some of the crazier claims to "lost tribe" status are:

* the Anglo-Israelite ravings so beloved by many of our nation's farthest-out racist nuts, which purport to prove that Anglo-Saxons are the true descendents of Menassah, Dan and the other tribes so familiar from boxes of Hanukkah candles.

* the Hebrew Israelites you may have seen on a street corner or on late-night cable-access shows, who see descendants of slaves across the Americas as being the heirs of the 10 lost tribes, or maybe all 12 tribes.

* a gabillion others you can probably find on the internet.

Readers interested in further information on various claimants to "Ten Lost Tribes" status are encouraged to read Kooks, by Donna Kossy, or to read this rather charmless synopsis from Wikipedia.

One interesting element of the Bnei Menashe's story is their claim to being a lost offshoot of the Kaifeng Jews of China, whose fascinating history you can read about here.

There's also an interesting website I've found on the other Jewish communities of India, but as I simply don't know enough about the subject I can't vouch for the accuracy of the information on the site.

Castles Made of Ice 

The leader of Turkmenistan, President Saparmurat Niyazov, has a penchant for taking things to ludicrous extremes. Extreme authoritarianism. Extreme self-regard (self-given nickname: Turkmenbashi, which translates to "Father (or Head) of All Turkmen"). And now, apparently, extreme architecture:
President Niyazov of Turkmenistan has ordered the construction of a palace made of ice in the heart of his desert country, one of the hottest on earth.

It is the latest in a series of colossal building projects instigated by the all-powerful president that seem to defy the country's environment.

"Let us build a palace of ice," said President Niyazov, "big and grand enough for 1,000 people."


"Our children can learn to ski," Mr Niyazov enthused, "we can build cafes there, and restaurants."
My assumption is that Niyazov was inspired by the 2002 James Bond movie "Die Another Day" and is hoping to trap British secret agents in the palace as it collapses. I could be mistaken, though: perhaps Niyazov is seeking to emulate Doctor Doom. Of course, it may just be the case that he has been driven mad with power. Don't get me wrong: if I had absolute control over a nation-state, I'd be building ice palaces, too.

In other news, the Olympics have officially started. Yeah, I don't care, either.

UPDATE: Turns out he wasn't kidding. Turkmenistan has entered into a contract with a French construction firm to build the ice palace. Projected opening date: October 2006. See you there!

Tuesday, August 10, 2004

Utterly Inexcusable Nader-Bashing 

"What's the deal with airplane food?"

"Have you noticed how tight the seating is on airplanes?"

Are these questions:

a) Cliched examples of stand-up comedy cliches?


b) The basis for an "as told to" confession from a presidential candidate printed in the nation's premier daily newspaper?

The answer? Both are correct.

Check out Ralph Nader's hilarious take on the pressing matters of the day:
I am taller than is facilitated by the cramped seats of the airlines that try to put in two extra rows. For tall people, they basically sell a ticket for all of you to go on the plane but your knees. Their motto could be, "Will travel, leave your knees behind."
[cue rimshot]
You know what I say to people when I'm in one of Delta's or United's cramped seats? I tap the man or woman in front of me before we take off and say, "My knees and resultant circulation are now at your mercy."
[Whoops of glee from audience]
They know that means they should refrain from pushing their seat back. Because if they do, they will hear: c-r-u-n-c-h.
[uproarious laughter]
I'm looking at a package of Kings Delicious Gourmet Party Mix. It says: "Made especially for United. A premium blend of cashews, honey-roasted sesame sticks and mini-pretzels."

I proceeded to open it with heightened anticipation, fully prepared to separate out the mini-pretzels from the rest. Are you ready? There was one little lonely shrunken cashew, two sesame sticks and the overwhelming denizens of this little packet were mini-pretzels. I counted them out, believe me. What else do you do on the plane where you're cramped?

Can you imagine an executive decision at the pretzel company, whoever is in charge, saying, "No one at United is going to count the number of cashews."
Oh, mercy. That man has incredible comic timing. Oh, my knees and resultant circulation.

I'm really looking forward to the Newsweek interview, where Nader tells it like it is about how difficult it is to understand the guy at the drive-through.

NOTE: I realize that this is my third post today which in some way bashes Ralph Nader. I fully realize the level of hackery and brain-deadness which this pattern implies. All I can say in my own defense is that I'm busy. Also, I can't stop myself.

More Referrer Log Laffs 

Recent Yahoo! and Google searches leading to this page include:

amway in the mideast
I wish this entrepreneur the best of luck, I guess.

Ralph Nader "middle name"
What is Ralph Nader's middle name? He doesn't list one on official documents, but I suspect it may be "Counterproductive."

pictures of Japan's latest hair trends
Unless all of Tokyo is lining up to get this 'do, I don't have much to offer.

Party N+1 

Well, at least he bothered to come to this convention:
Ralph Nader lost the presidential nomination from the California Peace and Freedom Party on Sunday when its members opted instead to nominate jailed American Indian activist Leonard Peltier.

Nader, who is running for president as an independent candidate, addressed delegates who represent about 80,000 Peace and Freedom Party members as they attended the party's weekend convention in Los Angeles, said party chairman and co-founder Kevin Akin.

"Ralph Nader personally appeared and discussed matters with us for an hour and answered many questions," said Akin, 53, of Riverside. "But we're pretty committed to Peltier and (vice presidential running mate) Janice Jordan."

Peltier is serving a life sentence in a federal prison at Leavenworth, Kan., for the June 1975 slayings of FBI agents Ron Williams and Jack Coler on the Pine Ridge reservation. He was convicted in 1977 of two counts of first-degree murder.
A little more background: The Peace & Freedom Party is only on the ballot in California (and, in fact, does not exist in any other state at all). Leonard Peltier is a 1970s-era Native American activist and perennial cause quasi-celebre of the left fringe in the US. You can read more about Janice Jordan and her collection of causes here.

I'd like to point out that this story shows why even countries with proportional representation, full public funding of election campaigns, and highly-inclusive debate rules still almost universally resort to "anti-democratic" measures like minimum vote thresholds and party-registration requirements. It's not necessarily that Peltier and Jordan or their supporters are total wackos (although they may well be). It's that not even a nod in the direction of realism is required for this kind of posturing. In countries with easier ballot access laws, single-issue parties proliferate. If ballot access were a truly trivial matter, then we'd probably see a lot of single-person (or single person's issues) parties as well, and Presidential debates would have to be held in Madison Square Garden, with all the seats taken by candidates instead of spectators.

Wednesday, August 04, 2004

Light Blogging 

I probably won't post again until Monday. Even after Monday expect light blogging for the next few weeks. I am going to run into a bunch of deadlines, and I may not post for days at a time.

Things should clear up around the first week of September, and sometime around then you can expect to see a new group blog that a few of us are developing, which will replace The Bonassus. More details to come next week.

More on that Monkey 

The Post knows a winner when it sees one, and has more today on the biting macaque (heh heh):
Darla the monkey, who performs menial household tasks for her disabled owner, Steve Seidler, bit 6-year-old Shayna Wasserman in front of her Bergen Beach home in June 2003, the victim's mother said.

"Steve was walking the monkey and his pit bull," said Jessica Wasserman. "The monkey jumped off his shoulder and onto my daughter's face. She blocked him, so he bit her shoulder."

"It was very painful," Shayna, now 8, recalled. "He just ripped the skin off. After that, I was afraid to go outside. I hate monkeys now. There should be no monkeys in the world."
Just to review: this man has two pets, a monkey and a pit bull. The monkey is his cook. Two small children now hate monkeys, one to a genocidal degree. And the monkey? He's got a lot to learn about the role of visual imagery in politicized legal cases:

Tuesday, August 03, 2004

Fears Confirmed 

After I saw Jaws when I was about eight, I had to convince myself there wasn't a shark in any body of water (lake, swimming pool, bathtub) before I was willing to get into it.

I can only imagine what the rest of this kid's childhood will be like:
A Hong Kong teenager had a nasty shock when he trailed his hand in a fountain - and got bitten by a piranha.

The boy, 14, was taken to hospital where he received three stitches in his left index finger, but was not in a serious condition, officials said.

Staff at the housing complex where the attack took place drained the fountain on Tuesday morning.

They found three dead freshwater fish, including two piranhas of a rare breed - apparently abandoned household pets.

Piranhas are popular fish in Hong Kong and can be bought at pet shops for less than HK$100 ($12.80) a pair.

Signs have now been posted around the fountain requesting pet owners not to release unwanted fish into the water.
Sadly, the boy was unavailable for comment, as monsters under his bed had eaten him later that night.

UPDATE: "Grandma, it hurts! It hurts!"

The New York Post has an incredible article describing a recent incident in Brooklyn involving a "service" macaque, a 2-year-old and a supermarket. It's more or less the ultimate Post article, and it surely took all three of the reporters assigned to the story to generate such memorable reporting.

Monday, August 02, 2004

A Seriously Under-Reported Story 

Luis Toro takes up one of the most under-reported stories of this electoral cycle* : the Colorado ballot initiative that would shift that state's electoral college delegation from winner-take-all to a kind of quasi-proportionality. Luis has given the question some thought, and will be voting against the proposal.

Why? First, Luis argues that abolishing the electoral college would be better. While I agree that the electoral college stinks, I'm not too impressed with this line of reasoning, mostly because I don't think the two issues are really very closely related. There's just no reason to believe that Colorado's adoption of this new system will somehow make nationwide electoral college reform less likely. Indeed, I would guess that passage of the initiative will set off a kind of arms race between the two major parties to get similar measures passed in other states, and that this trend and the related arm-waving and shouting will make a populist drive to get rid of the electoral college much more likely.

Luis, however, has more to say:
But that isn't the only reason I'm saying No to this plan. Let me tick off some of the others. First, I have a general objection to the constitutional amendment by ballot initiative. Let's elect our congresspeople and executives and let them do their jobs. This amendment doesn't even come close to meeting my own personal higher threshold for holding my nose and voting for one of these things. And I am very much against tinkering with the state Constitution for the purpose of capturing an ephemeral and theoretical advantage in a single election -- which is one way of looking at this amendment, because it expressly states that if passed, it would apply to the selection of electors in this presidential election.

Let's admit it -- there are a fair number of Democrats who are supporting this measure because they think it is a way to peel off four electoral votes from George Bush. Defeatists!!! How stupid will we feel if John Kerry wins Colorado, but the electoral college "reform" measure passes, Bush picks up four electoral votes and those votes put him over the 270 vote threshold to put him in the White House for another four years. Then what? John Kerry sues to overturn the measure because it changes the way electors are chosen during the same election at which those electors are on the ballot? The Colorado Supreme Court rules in his favor, but the U.S. Supreme Court installs George W. Bush as president a second time?

Not to mention in future elections as Colorado continues to swing away from the (recent) GOP high water mark toward being a true tossup or even Dem-leaning multicultural postmodern ideopolis, we might discover that within the Electoral College framework this initiative would have the long term effect of guaranteeing the Republicans three or four electoral votes where they otherwise would have none.

No thank you. Let's leave this Pandora's box closed.
Once again, I'm with Luis in being suspicious of the "constitutional amendment by ballot initiative" process; what's the point of having a constitution if a majority of voters can amend it at any election? I'm not certain this is an argument against supporting the amendment, though. It might be smarter to take advantage of Colorado's easy ballot access regulations to get an initiative on the next ballot amending this process out of existence.

Luis's arguments about the long-term implications of the initiative are much more intriguing. He's absolutely correct that to the extent Colorado trends Democratic in the future, Democrats will be hurt nationally by this initiative. On the other hand, while there's some reason to suspect that this is indeed happening, my (limited) knowledge of Colorado's demographics suggests that the state's electorate is actually moving in the other direction.

The "Pandora's Box" problem is more serious. It's all too likely that Republicans will push a similar initiative in California at the next available opportunity. It's possible that, as I suggested above, this will ultimately result in electoral college abolition. It's just as possible, however, that the trend will end with California, massively easing the Republicans' path to the White House. Either way, however, Pandora's Box was already opened when this ballot was put on the initiative, and I don't understand how voting against the initiative is supposed to close it

* Under-reported by everybody except me: I've posted on this topic before, arguing that the proposal would increase Colorado's share of pork coming from DC, and that the proposal is poorly designed if its purpose is proportionality or helping Democrats.

UPDATE: Read more comments on Luis's story here.

UPDATE 2: Political Wire is reporting that the proposal will definitely be on the ballot.

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