Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Help Katrina's victims, and don't punish the American Red Cross

I just learned from Little Green Footballs that I committed an egregious error in suggesting that those wishing to help the victims of Katrina should donate to the Salvation Army instead of the American Red Cross. According to LGF, the American Red Cross has nothing to do with the policies of the International Committee of the Red Cross and has in fact withheld funds from the ICRC to protest its blatantly biased agenda.

I've amended my earlier post with an update. And I've donated what I can to both the Salvation Army and the American Red Cross. People are suffering. Let's do all we can.

You can donate to the American Red Cross by calling 1-800-HELP-NOW.

You can donate to the Salvation Army by calling 1-800-SAL-ARMY.

Swimming against the current:
What's happening to Al Gore's tv channel?

I just got around to listening to a very stale podcast of the Brian Lehrer show from almost a month ago. (I share my iPod with a household that currently includes two seventeen-year-old girls, so I listen to more Leonard Cohen than Leonard Lopate, and I don't mind, because the seventeen-year-olds are right, in that respect.) But can somebody tell me what is going on with Al Gore's foray into television? (I know, I know. He invented it. Let's move on.)

I tried Googling INdTV, and Google asked me if I meant "In HDtv." The website "indtv.com" is parked. Not a good sign. Some more Googling informed me that his project is now called "Current TV," something I later realized I would have known if the Lehrer podcast hadn't put me to sleep. "Currenttv.com" is a television commercial ad company that apparently has fielded enough foul balls for Gore's station that their website now greets you with: "We are in no way associated with the Current.TV Network." That's a good sign. If you're not savvy enough to get your own dot com name, or to pick one you can get, you're already three steps behind most teenagers in America today. Not an auspicious start for the inven--okay, I said we wouldn't bring that up.

So what the hell is going on? Has the American public suddenly wised up to cynical appeals to its baser instincts and stopped watching crappy propaganda? Did Gore's concept simply nose-dive? Somebody fill me in! I'm watching French cable filtered through Guadaloupe, and there's not a news article to be found on the web about Current TV's arrival or demise. (Excepting one insider piece titled, "Gore's Current TV Actually Works, Some Think." Bear in mind that "Some Think" is media-speak for "Nobody Thinks.") The podcast I listened to said it was pretty heavy on religion and spirituality. Lots of Deepak Chopra. Did Gore discover an enormous black hole in the heart of American youth? Wouldn't that merit a story?

When I finally found Current TV's website, it was via the "tv" domain suffix. (I thought it might be Transylvania, which would be kind of cool--but that's not a real country. Actually "dot-tv" belongs to the island nation of Tuvalu, whose nine thousand inhabitants are now desperately trying to get rich off something it would have taken them another millennium to invent. More power to 'em.) The blurb for their latest video pick offers some kind of satirical piece wherein Karl Rove gets advice from O.J. Simpson, Michael Jackson, and Robert Blake. Gee, that sounds funny. Except for the dead women and molested children part. Suddenly I don't mind not having DSL.

Anyway, Current-TV-dot.tv offers little for us non-high-speed viewers to view, even in their apparently favored four-minute format. So I checked our their blog. God, and I thought my numbers sucked. A pathetic appeal for comment on Katrina had brought in zero posts after five hours, so I jumped over to the vblog part of the site to see if maybe Current TV users aren't just too advanced for QWERTY. Nope. Nothing there except a weird pean to some guy who sent them some video of the aftermath of the London bombings. Which happened almost two months ago. And another pathetic appeal for any kind of input. "Garbage out, garbage in," I guess.

Can anyone say, "Air America"?

Monday, August 29, 2005

Staying on topic ...
Never forget that humans suck,
and everything is our fault

The American left is getting very good at feigning sympathy while pointing a blaming finger. A half-million residents of New Orleans have fled their beloved city ahead of the approaching hurricane, and "experts" and environmentalists think now is a good time to suggest that they shouldn't have lived there in the first place.

Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea culpa. We built a city, erected walls to save it from a flooding river. Oh why, oh why didn't we listen to those "experts" and stay in the trees and caves? Life was so good back in the Pleistocene, when nothing bad ever happened.
"Let's sing a song, of long ago/When things were green, and movin' slow."

The Associated Press called up the ubiquitous doomsday-predicters to harangue us about how we've been screwing things up ever since we tried walking upright:
Experts have also warned that the ring of high levees around New Orleans, designed to protect the city from floodwaters coming down the Mississippi, will only make things worse in a powerful hurricane.

I love the way these experts don't seem to have any constructive suggestions. Their advice always seems to boil down to "leave things alone and go somewhere else." The safety of inaction is just too appealing for the self-hating left to resist. The wetlands would have saved us. Reminds me of environmentalists who claimed after last year's tsunami that the coastal populations would have been safe if they had left the shoreline's ancient mangrove swamps intact and not lived on the coast. Sounds like a great idea, except for the fact that most of those people have long depended on fishing and tourism to live. "Honey, let's visit a mangrove swamp in southeast Asia this Christmas! And then we can spend New Years at the the Center for Disease Control in Atlanta!"
Katrina is expected to push a 28-foot storm surge against the levees. Even if they hold, water will pour over their tops and begin filling the city as if it were a sinking canoe.

Make that, "a sinking canoe constructed by a plague species."

Last night Euronews showed impressive images of the parking lots surrounding New Orleans' sports stadium packed with row upon row of ambulances, cherry pickers, and other emergency vehicles. Workers readied their gear, filled sandbags, and loaded their cars with water and first-aid supplies. Residents calmly and patiently evacuated the city. This is civilization. We do not cower at the dark forest's edge or shrink in fear from adversity. Despite the dire predictions of the "experts," I know that these people will return to their homes and rebuild, no matter how terrible the damage. The price we pay for being brave enough to build is that we must sometimes rebuild. This is nothing new, and it is a facet of human nature that we should celebrate, not denegrate.

My thoughts are with the people facing Katrina's wrath. If you wish to donate to the relief effort, call the Red Cross (1-800-HELP-NOW) and donate. [Update: I was wrong to suggest earlier that the American Red Cross should be avoided--they have nothing to do with the sins of the Internation Red Cross. See my post above on this error and correction.] Or call the Salvation Army (1-800 SAL-ARMY) and donate to their efforts.

(The lyrics in the image caption above are from Randy Newman's "Dayton, Ohio, 1903." The image is from a mural by Taylor Studios for the South Florida Museum.)

Sunday, August 28, 2005

The London Zoo pushes self-loathing to the limit

No lice. No brains, either.

Fausta over at Bad Hair Blog has managed to call my attention to a story I'd been meticulously avoiding on my rounds through the news over the past few days. The London Zoo has put a group of humans in a caged habitat in an attempt to say something profound about our relationship with the animal world and the ecosystem in general. What caught my eye in Fausta's post was the blatant self-hatred evident in the zoo's own statement regarding the exhibit:
"We have set up this exhibit to highlight the spread of man as a plague species and to communicate the importance of man's place in the planet's ecosystem," London Zoo said.

"Plague species"?! Good grief. I'll accept that I'm evolved from lower primates, and I'll grant that we gobble up the planet's natural resources to support a lifestyle rather more advanced than that of the life forms further down the ladder. But "plague species"?

A look at the Yahoo slideshow on the human zoo reveals that all eight of the volunteers taking up residence there are white. What are they trying to say? (I'm also curious what the reaction would have been from the public and from the media if all eight were black, or Polynesian, or Australian aboriginal.)

I was avoiding this story because just the headline reeked of relativist idiocy. I wasn't wrong about that, but I'm still glad to know just how strong western self-loathing has grown. They made their point. Now I think the bears probably want their space back.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Calling Reuters' bluff

Reuters says that its suspicious habit of turning up right on time at the scenes of terrorist attacks in Iraq is nothing more than "quick response to news events." The U.S. military has suspected for some time that some Reuters employees have blurred the lines between reporting and participation. Now cameraman Ali Omar Abrahem al-Mashhadani has been detained and sent to Abu Ghraib, and Reuters wants to know why. I think they should be cautious about this one, however: they may not want the rest of us to know why.
Jimmy Olsen? Or embedded with the enemy?

Coalition forces appear more confident about probable cause in Mashhadani's case than they were in the case of three Reuters workers picked up for arriving too swiftly on the scene of a helicopter downing last year. They were released without charge after three days. Mashhadani appears to be in somewhat hotter water:
Lieutenant Colonel Guy Rudisill, spokesman for U.S. detainee operations in Iraq, said the journalist was now in Baghdad's Abu Ghraib prison: "He will not be able to have visitors for the next 60 days," he added.

The U.S. has declined to explain what exactly got the cameraman in trouble, but his family says it apparently relates to his profession:
An account from Mashhadani's family of his arrest on August 8 suggests that images found by U.S. Marines on his cameras during a general sweep in the neighborhood prompted his detention.

Relatives said that Marines conducting a routine search of the house turned hostile after viewing images stored on Mashhadani's video and stills cameras and his desktop computer.

Reuters has provided the U.S. military with published work by Mashhadani that shows scenes of conflict and gunmen operating in plain view of civilians. Nothing in his work has indicated activity incompatible with his status as an independent journalist.

Reuters typically omits an important qualifier in this last statement in a baldfaced attempt to exonerate Mashhadani before he's even been charged. It should probably read: "Nothing in his work submitted to Reuters ..." or "Nothing in his work as an official Reuters cameraman ..."

Reuters has acted as cheerleader for terrorists in Iraq since the invasion. Their coverage of Iraqi opinion on the U.S. occupation has been consistently slanted against what polls reveal about what Iraqis think, making them appear more of a mouthpiece for Zarqawi than an objective news service.

It would come as no surprise to find that their cameraman felt it convenient to become "embedded" in a terrorist cell. I can hardly wait to know what was on Mashhadani's tapes and computer, and to see how fast Reuters spikes the story should guilt become evident.

If Mashhadani is exonerated, I will report it immediately. If he is found to have aided and abbeted terrorism, will Reuters do the same?

Baby shell

Slow, steady, and very small

The middle of the road may be a good place for politicians, but not so for baby red-footed tortoises. We rescued this little one from our driveway early this morning. If she learns to stay off the asphalt, she should still be around when we are long gone from this earth. One interesting thing we noticed is that the babies can back up, something the adults we've seen either can't do or choose not to do. For a look at her big brother and more about red-footed tortoises, see my earlier post on our island's most docile denizens.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Genocide averted

No, I'm not going to rail on about Darfur again. Google “cultural genocide” and scroll down through five pages of outcries against genocide real (Armenia, Tibet) and imagined (post-slavery white Southern society, lesbian families), and you’ll run into an interesting blip. About ten years ago, the Deaf community in America accused scientists of cultural genocide for encouraging cochlear implants in deaf children as young as six months. The Deaf are not known for mincing words, and their choice of the term “genocide” may have seemed hyperbolic at the time, but their approach has apparently worked. Though children are being “implanted” (yikes) regularly now, this threat to Deaf culture and language appears to have been subverted and conquered.

Between ninety and ninety-five percent of children born deaf are born to hearing parents. The other five to ten percent are born to deaf parents, and therefore are usually raised with sign language and enveloped in Deaf culture and community from an early age. Those born into the hearing world have traditionally taken a different path, one that usually goes something like this: an infancy of gazing at your parents' moving lips and furrowed brows, an early childhood of visits to audiologists and frequent fittings and refittings for hearing aids, followed by admission into a deaf school, the discovery of a sign language and a whole bunch of people who use it, and then a life divided between love of home and family and the irresistible attraction of a community that signs. This is a gross simplification, but one I doubt many deaf people would deny is basically true.

This won't hurt a bit ...

And here lies the landmine of the cochlear implant. Suppose we take all those deaf children born to frantic, hearing parents and remove them from that path, implant a device in their heads (at as young as six months) to make them hear, and tell the parents to keep them away from sign language. Disregarding for a moment the fate of those children, what happens to the community? Within a single generation, perhaps two, the entire community of the deaf would be decimated, putting at risk its language, its culture, and a good deal of its history. A few generations later, sign language would be about as significant as Esperanto, and the culture, history, and humor of the Deaf would be utterly lost, there being nothing left of deaf people but “Children of a Lesser God” and some interesting documentaries from the early 21st century. Okay, perhaps “genocide” is not so hyperbolic.

This situation lends itself to all kinds of analogies, most of which are misleading. The most common comparison thrown out by audiologists and hearing parents of deaf children is, “If the child were born without a leg, we’d give him a prosthesis, right?” Yes, of course. But drawing connections between physical handicaps and deafness muddles the reality of what it is to be deaf. Many deaf people reject being called "handicapped." The PC relativist phrase "differently abled" generally makes me gag, but when the deaf use it, they have a point. Consider this. Imagine a group of blind people suddenly called into existence in central Africa a few thousand years ago. No offense intended, but they’d be lion chow in a matter of weeks, no matter how great their ingenuity. Imagine a community of paraplegics. Probably the same outcome. Imagine a community of autistics--same thing. But a community of deaf people suffering the same miserable circumstances would have very likely survived, prevailed, and ultimately prospered just as hearing communities did. (In fact, the earliest forms of sign language may have been developed by early African hunters trying their best in the brush to make the lions dinner instead of fatter.) Hearing doesn’t do humans much good against predators. If you hear the lion coming, you’re doomed already.

In terms of "ability," hearing served us primarily by providing an effective means of communication, and the deaf found an alternate means, one comparably effective before the invention of the telephone (which the deaf would not have invented prior to the television). It's interesting that the inventor of the telephone, Alexander Graham Bell, was an ardent advocate of eliminating deaf society through sterilization and forced assimilation. Maybe if he'd invented a videophone he would've been a little more openminded. There's little in humankind's list of achievements today that could not have been achieved in the absence of sound. Music doesn't count--sorry, Amadeus, it's a trifle compared to the ability to organize our lives and rule the planet. Besides, many deaf people enjoy music, particularly a good back beat. (I once knew a Deaf high school student who needed constant reminding to remove his headphones in class.) If they'd had to invent music, however, it probably would have been a little wanting, like if all the world's cuisine had been left to the British.

Bringing this back to the issue of cochlear implants, I must say that if my five-year-old daughter were tomorrow diagnosed with severe hearing loss, I'd probably scratch together the forty grand and get her the operation. But she's five, and already speaking one language and learning another, and attending a hearing school and acclimating to hearing culture. It's easy to say now, but I do believe I would not have had her "implanted" had she been born deaf. Lack of hearing at birth is not, I believe, a handicap like blindness or missing limbs. It is more akin to--and this is an odd analogy the Deaf community thought up at the height of the implant furor--being born black in a predominantly white society. Not the best of luck, but certainly no reason to go messing with nature.

The most common form of deafness is caused by deformation of or lack of hair cells inside the cochlea, the watery, shell-shaped part of your inner ear. These hair cells serve as the conduit that normally translates motion inside your ear into electrical signals that are then carried by your auditory nerve to your brain, where they are translated into what you perceive as speech, wind in the trees, or Brahms. If your cochlear hair cells are not up to the job, a cochlear implant will replace them with a set of electrodes. Installing this set of electrodes requires drilling a hole in your skull. Making them work requires wearing a magnetic transducer connected by a wire to a microphone whose signals are processed through a computer to simplify them into something your brain can comprehend. Most CI users wear this kit on a belt, though newer technology fits it into a hearing-aid-sized bit you can wear over your ear. It’s proven pretty effective at speech for many users, though the wind in the trees and Brahms are still a ways off. One out of three ain’t bad, though you might wish for either of the other two once you've had your fill of what passes for speech these days.

I worked for several years at a school for the deaf in New York City. Astonishingly, I was hired despite the fact that I’d been signing for less than a year. Whether my skills were even passable at that stage is irrelevant, since no one bothered to test me before putting me in the classroom. I learned quickly, thanks to facts that I was married to a native signer--a hearing child of deaf parents--and that my Deaf teaching assistant refused to speak or to pretend to read lips. I still feel guilty about the students who suffered through the ineptitude of my first year, when I was learning to sign as they were attempting to learn writing and history. My second-year students fared better, and today I am nearly fluent.

At the time I worked at the school, the deaf world was experiencing an upheaval over the issue of “oralism” versus signing in the classroom. Oralism refers to an educational philosophy espousing the exclusion of sign language from deaf classrooms. Adopted by American educators of the deaf in the 19th century, oralism holds that teaching the deaf to speak, read lips, and use assistive listening technology is the best route to integrating them successfully into hearing society. Problems arose as deaf students realized that clear speech was not possible for some among them, that lip-reading is largely a myth, and that hearing aids are good when the kettle is boiling but not much use at a boisterous dinner table. What the deaf also knew is that they possessed, as we all do, an inate mental flexibility--cerebral plasticity--the ability to adapt. Without the ability to hear, the deaf possess a means of communication equal to that of the hearing world, though one at a disadvantage in societies based on verbal expression and auditory reception. (There are instances, in fact, when deaf communication exceeds the efficiency of hearing communication. I can describe the physical layout of a room to my Deaf stepson in less than half the time it would take me to describe it to his hearing sister, and with greater accuracy and comprehension. In my experience, subtleties of emotion are also more effectively expressed in sign than verbally.) Anyway, oralism lost. The school were I worked had been a bastion of oralism, and not long after I left, they were compelled by student protests to institute a sign-language requirement for incoming teachers that would have--just five years earlier--prevented my being hired. A great leap forward in a short span of time.

Compared to bats (which can guide their motion using sonar), snakes (which rely on their ability to see in infrared), and birds and fish (which depend upon a sense of magnetism we cannot mimic even with a compass), we are all disabled. Many deaf people consider themselves as “abled” as they want to be. They do not think of their ears as vestigial appendages handy for jewelry or holding up sunglasses, but they regard the auditory world the way most of us regard the olfactory world: sometimes useful, often amusing, but by no means vital. (There are certainly also many deaf who disagree. In my family we have two deaf men, one who would give almost anything to hear and the other who wouldn’t become hearing if you paid him.) I understand how difficult hearing people find it to fathom this attitude. The fastest education any hearing person can receive is to seek out the local place where Deaf people gather (there is always one) and visit it on the right night. The communication you will witness will be more alive than you have ever seen in room filled with hearing, speaking people. You will feel why so many Deaf fear abandoning the quiet--yet vibrant--world they’ve come to know.

A few points about deafness:

1. You've seen I capitalize the word "deaf" occasionally. I do this when referring to a person or group that is culturally deaf. Simply physiologically deaf gets a small "d." My teaching assistant was one of at least eight brothers and sisters born deaf to deaf parents who themselves had deaf parents. He is Deaf. (In fact, for being from a multi-generational deaf/Deaf family, he gets the much-envied title of "strong Deaf.") If my grandfather finds that even with hearing aids he cannot hear anymore, then he is deaf, not Deaf.

2. Deaf does not mean mute. Many deaf people use their voices all the time, and not just in the company of hearing people. Visit any school for the deaf at lunchtime and you’ll see what I mean.

3. Deaf does not mean mentally retarded or deficient in any way. It’s embarrassing to even have to address this slander, but it doesn’t seem to want to go away. I won’t treat you to a list of all the achievements of deaf people throughout history ... you can Google that. I’d rather point out that this misperception arises out of the obvious fact that deaf people have a hard time understanding what you’re saying--and it doesn’t mean they’re stupid. They can’t hear you. If you found yourself lost on the campus of a deaf school, you might have a hard time understanding the directions you’d get. But that doesn’t make you retarded, does it?

And addressing some common misconceptions about sign language:

1. Sign language is not universal, and there is no reason it should be. If you don’t speak the same language as someone living in Kyoto, why should your deaf friend sign the same language as a deaf person in Kyoto? Signers of different languages do seem to have an easier time understanding one another than hearing speakers of different languages. This may be partly due to the iconic nature of many signs and the fact that signers are accustomed to discerning meaning in gesture. It may also have to do with the fact that most sign languages have certain givens, such as expressing past, present, and future spatially (past is usually either behind--as in ASL--or to the signer’s left--as in British Sign Language). But grammar, syntax, and vocabulary vary so much among deaf signers around the world that we have arguably as many sign languages on earth as we have spoken languages. American Sign Language, or ASL, is merely one of humankind’s many sign languages, though it is probably the most well-understood of them and is undoubtedly the one that counts the most hearing people among its users. Over two million people in America use ASL as their primary mode of communication, making it the nation’s third most popular language.

2. Sign languages were not invented by hearing people who then bestowed this brilliant gift upon a grateful and previously bored deaf population. Sign has existed for millenia and evolved organically over time and across distances, just as spoken languages did. The signed alphabets were invented and bestowed, however, and they serve as a necessary bridge between sign languages (none of which have any written form) and the languages the rest of us use.

3. When a signer “fingerspells” he or she is spelling a word that has been adopted from spoken language but does not have its own sign. If I want to tell my deaf dinner guests that I’m serving ocelot steak, I need to spell “O-C-E-L-O-T,” because there is no sign signifying that exact animal. (There are signs for “lion,” “tiger,” and so on, and deaf people in Colombia probably have a sign for “ocelot,” but few in North America would know it.) I can sign--not fingerspell--“steak” simply by pinching the flesh between my thumb and forefinger. Many signs are vaguely or overtly iconic. Sign languages are sometimes denegrated as not being real languages because of the iconic nature of some signs. Critics say it’s more gesture and mime than language. The next time a waiter asks what you’d like for dinner, answer by pinching the flesh between your thumb and forefinger. See how iconic sign language is.

4. American Sign Language is not merely English codified into hand and finger movements. That’s called Signed Exact English, and it’s used by many educators of the deaf in a misguided attempt to aid children’s English language comprehension. Very few deaf adults use SEE; it’s cumbersome and inelegant. ASL is fluid and natural by comparison; it has its own grammar. For this reason, it’s impossible to sign ASL and speak English simultaneously without sacrificing the accuracy of one or the other.

5. Braille has nothing to do with the deaf. (This may seem obvious, but you’d be amazed how many people ask me about Braille when they hear I worked as a teacher of the deaf.) Braille is simply the spoken English language expressed in our 26-letter phonetic alphabet and and codified into raised dots. There are no widely used written forms of sign language, owing mainly to the fact that most sign languages are non-linear in nature, conveying meaning through an active tableau of simultaneous hand-shapes, movements, and facial expressions. This level of visual complexity does not translate well onto paper. My class once worked for months on developing a written form of American Sign Language, a project that captured their attention like no other. They invented a set of swoops, curves, and loops--all punctuated with dots and accents showing handshapes and eyebrow position--and found they could cut written English out of the middle and communicate simple sentences directly to one another on paper in the language of their minds. More serious Deaf linguists, teachers, and students have since brought the dream of written sign closer to reality.

So why did the Deaf community freak out over cochlear implants? And why has the shouting died down now?

The early approach to language development in children with cochlear implants mimicked the old oralist approach: avoid sign language as it might inhibit the development of the child’s verbal communication skills. Over the past few years, that approach has lost its primacy, and acceptance of sign language as an option or even a necessity in the lives of “implanted” children has taken some of the steam out of the “implants are genocide” argument. In an article published in 2004 on Audiology Online, Debra Nussbaum addressed the changing attitudes and pointed correctly to their cause: failure of implants to live up to expectations in a significant number of children:

During the initial era of cochlear implantation in children during the late 1980s and early 1990s, the number of students with cochlear implants was relatively small, and children with implants comprised a fairly homogenous group. Planning for that population was perhaps easier and more well defined. It was assumed that a decision to obtain a cochlear implant involved participation of an educational setting that exclusively utilized an auditory means of communication. The expectation was that all students with cochlear implants would have full access to spoken language.

As we have had the opportunity to take a closer look at the characteristics of students with cochlear implants for almost two decades now, it is become increasingly apparent that there must be more than one definition of an effective program for children with cochlear implants ...

In the fall of 2000, the Laurent Clerc National Deaf Education Center at Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C., established a Cochlear Implant Education Center (CIEC) ... At the time the CIEC was established, sign language for students with cochlear implants was rarely promoted, as sign language was viewed by many medical, audiology, speech-language pathology and education professionals as deterrent to spoken language development. While that opinion continues to be held by some, feedback from families and professionals across the country, and some early research, suggests that there is increasing support for use of sign language for a segment of implanted children. Those continuing to advise against the use of manual communication for children with cochlear implants warn that the use of sign language reduces the amount and consistency of spoken language stimulation for a child, promoting dependency on visual communication, and causing further delay in spoken language acquisition. Those maintaining that sign language can be beneficial to children with cochlear implants believe that with careful attention and planning, spoken language development can be maximized in a signing environment, and that sign language use can support the development of spoken language.

This relatively rapid acceptance by audiologists of the utility of sign language comes as a bit of a surprise to me. The scientific and support community behind assistive listening devices and cochlear implants had a reputation for being a bit hard-headed on the issue of sign language. Perhaps the discrediting and demise of oralism that took place through the 1990’s made the somewhat similar approach of early CI advocates seem untenable. It’s also probable that the community could not continue to shrug off as anomolies the number of early-implanted children who ended up severely language delayed.

In a rebuttal to a statement from the Alexander Graham Bell Center on the preference of speech as the language modality for implanted children, Nancy Bloch of the National Association for the Deaf writes:
The NAD takes a more holistic approach with its emphasis on early exposure to and usage of sign language as a vital component of the rehabilitation and support services program for implanted deaf children and their families. It is incumbent upon such centers to afford implanted children with all the tools available that can contribute to lifelong success. The reality is that childhood implantation continues to have variable outcomes. For some, it works better than for others. Either way, empirical research has shown that children who maximize use of signing at an early age score higher at a later age on reading and mathematics tests. We have long known the data on the accomplishments of deaf children of deaf parents whose abilities are comparable to and better than their hearing peers. Such children are both fluent in English and sign language. This points to the very real benefits of early signing, given appropriate support for overall language development.

This kind of levelheaded, reasoned approach has proven far more effective than accusations of genocide in bringing the best interests of implanted children back to the top of the agenda. (The hyperbolic controversy of the 1990s should not be dismissed as useless, however, as it probably served to bring visibility to the issue, visibility that made it impossible for the audiology establishment to ignore people like Nancy Bloch.) The new paradigm borne of the compromise resembles an earlier approach to language development in deaf children called “BiBi.” The University of North Carolina at Greensboro’s “CENTeR” for early intervention with deaf and hard-of-hearing children has on its website a succinct description of six common approaches to language development, including BiBi.

Bilingual/Bicultural (BiBi) emphasizes American Sign Language as the infant's primary language through immersion. Thus, ASL becomes the basis for learning English as a second language. Connections are established between ASL and written English. ASL provides access to the culture of the Deaf community. Individual decision-making about amplification and speech are encouraged.

This approach clearly places more emphasis on sign than most implanted children probably experience, at least until they have failed to succeed in a strictly oral environment. It does acknowledge the reality to which Bloch alludes in her rebuttal regarding deaf children raised in signing environments: they tend to succeed better at mastering English (though not necessarily speech) than those denied sign at an early age, and they tend to perform better academically and in hearing society. I witnessed this effect first-hand in my time teaching the deaf. I was assigned to work with “low-functioning” high-school students, and to the best of my recollection, not one of my students was a child of deaf parents and most of the parents I saw on conference nights did not even sign. The students whose parents were deaf or whose parents had adopted sign effectively into their households were almost without exception “high functioning,” and they went on to succeed academically on the college level both in programs for the deaf and in regular hearing colleges and universities. A Google search on one such student whose name I recall reveals that he graduated from Boston University with a degree in political science and now teaches ASL at Harvard. Not too shabby. Anecdotal, of course, but worth thinking about.

So on the face of it, it looks as if the cochlear-implant controversy has faded away for good reason: implanted children are no longer blindly steered away from signing, and many adolescents and young adults with implants are choosing what is best for them, even if that means attending deaf schools or attempting belatedly to join Deaf culture. Isn’t it nice when things work out? But there’s a slight problem. (If there weren’t, why would I be writing this?) The controversy has not really been resolved, it has merely been postponed. Science will eventually come up with a more effective “cure” for deafness, one that actually repairs the existing biological structures rather than replace them with technological innovations. And then we’re back to the old genocide issue. The Deaf community must face this prospect and arrive at a coherent approach to dealing with it. The hearing world regards deafness as a biological error to be corrected, and it has a strong argument. The Deaf regard the inability to hear as the root of a culture and language whose vanishing would be a great loss to humankind, and they are right.

Suppose that in a decade or two, despite the best efforts of the Bush administration, stem cell research leads to the ability to safely and effectively repair damaged or missing cochlear hair cells and auditory nerve cells. No “implanting” of wires and electrodes in children’s heads. No magnets stuck to their skulls. No little computers they have to wear behind their ears or on their belts. What then? The Deaf community has today been rescued from the menace of cochlear implants partly by its strengths, but mainly by the technology’s own failings.

The Deaf dodged a bullet in the cochlear implant crisis, but the bullet was a dud. How will they--and we--face the inevitable reality that one day there will be a true cure, one that will eliminate deafness, and Deafness?

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Might as well buy that burqa now:
In the Clash of Civilizations,
the West is a no-show

Are American diplomats in Iraq betraying the sacrifice of all those working so hard and risking so much to make Iraq a better place than it was? Reuters reports this morning that all three factions negotiating Iraq's constitution say the U.S. has dropped its objection to Iraqi laws being put to a religious test. The Shiites and the Sunnis are no doubt thrilled, since they'd prefer to drag their debilitating religious schism along with them for another millenium rather than set it aside and move on. The more secular-minded Kurds are justifiably horrified:
"We understand the Americans have sided with the Shi'ites,' he said. 'It's shocking. It doesn't fit American values. They have spent so much blood and money here, only to back the creation of an Islamist state ... I can't believe that's what the Americans really want or what the American people want."

In a column printed in Arab News today, Amir Taheri points to the terrifying flip-side of American weakness: an increasingly confident and belligerent Iran. He quotes from a 700-page document that Iranian President Ahmadinejad presented to Parliament on Tuesday. It clearly defines his government's short- and long-term goals for Iran. "Leadership is the indisputable right of the Iranian nation," Ahmadinejad claims, and he goes on to define how the world will be guided by the leadership of the mullahs. Taheri explains:
The creation of an “Islamic pole” is the key objective of what the document refers to as “the 20-year strategy” of the Islamic Republic. It is not clear who developed that strategy and whether or not Ahmadinejad, who is elected for a four-year term, hopes to remain in power for two decades.

The goal of the “Islamic pole” would be to unite the world under the banner of Islam, as the “final Divine message” and “the only True Faith.” But it is not clear whether this is to be achieved during the 20-year period of the strategy or within a broader timeframe.

It is not only in foreign policy that Ahmadinejad opposes “American ideas”.

His economic, social, and cultural programs, too, are designed in defiance of Western capitalist models.

He wants the state to play a central role in all aspects of a people’s life and emphasizes the importance of central planning. The state would follow the citizens from birth to death, ensuring their health, education, well-being and leisure. It will guide them as to what to read and write and what “cultural products” to consume so as not to be contaminated by Western ideas.

Sounds like a new, even more nightmarish version of the Soviet Union--one with all the totalitarian faults of the original, but now with a built-in prejudice against modernism and equality of the sexes. We should do everything possible to stave off this global conflict, lest our children inherit a new "cold and hot" war. Secular democracy can strip this menace of its power. Ahmadinejad knows this, and so he makes the Iranian government's position on democracy quite clear:
The document says that in a Muslim country power belongs to God. The exercise of that power is the privilege of the Prophet and, after him the 12 imams of duodecimo Shiism. Since the 12th Imam is in “grand occultation”, thus not exercising power on a day-to-day basis, the task devolves to “chosen ones from the family of the Prophet”. In the case of Iran today it means Ayatollah Ali Khamenehi, the “Supreme Guide” who claims to be a descendant of Hussein, the third imam.

Ahmadinejad says that not only will he fight any form of democratization in Iran but would mobilize the nation’s resources to prevent the United States from imposing the Bush plan on the Middle East.

If the "Bush plan in the Middle East" includes setting up an Iraqi theocracy in which all laws must conform to Islamic principles, then Ahmadinejad is shadow boxing. It looks like America is spending $150 billion and spilling the blood of thousands just to advance the mullahs' agenda. They can get back to making nuclear weapons and let us handle transforming the Middle East into a gigantic Islamist super-state.

The Kurdish negotiator quoted above has it right. A theocratic Iraq is not at all what Americans signed on for, and the Bush administration had better get wise to that fact. If voters decide over the next year that they were hoodwinked into trading American lives and resources for the sake of bearded troglodytes, mid-term elections will make our president more of a dead duck than a lame one. The dismal reality of a theocratic Iraq could create a new bloc of American voters: those who supported the war but condemn its outcome. If the Bush administration continues to prove itself inept at achieving its high-minded goals, that bloc will look around in 2006 and 2008 for a new party. God help us.

Friday, August 19, 2005

Bangladesh gets it

Zafar Sobhan writes in Bangladesh's The Daily Star about the significance of the August 17 bombings there. On Wednesday, more than five hundred small, timed explosions rocked cities and towns in all but one of the nation's 63 provinces. The level of coordination required for such an attack exceeds that of every Islamist terrorist strike since 9/11, yet the western media are scarcely giving the event the attention it deserves.

The learning curve in Bangaladesh seems a good deal steeper than in America and the U.K., but then, they have suffered less dramatic (though more deadly) Jihadi violence in the past. Sobhan writes:
There can be no doubt (not that there should have been before, but anyway) that there exists a well-organised movement that wishes to replace our democratic system of government with a religious theocracy, and that they are prepared to use any means necessary to achieve their ends. Don't take my word for it -- or that of any other media trouble-maker for that matter. Take their word for it. Interestingly enough, though, early indications are that neither the government nor the opposition are doing so.

Remember what the lead investigator into the July 7 London bombings had to say in the hours after the bombs went off? "As far as I'm concerned, the words 'Islam' and 'terrorism' don't go together." I think we can expect that Bangladesh will be a little smarter and see the wisdom of a swift and unwavering crackdown on Islamist activity, in particular on Jama'atul Mujahideen Bangladesh, which should have been stamped out years ago.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

It is impossible to exaggerate the evil
at the heart of the "insurgency"

Terrorists in Iraq just blew up a bus station and then set off another bomb near the hospital where emergency workers had taken the wounded and dying. If you find it difficult to grasp the rationale behind such a choice of targets, that's only because you haven't been brainwashed into a state of homocidal psychosis by drug-pushing Salafist cult leaders.

MEMRI TV brings us another clip of Iraq's most popular television show, "Terrorists in the Grip of Justice." This one has "insurgent" Ramsi Hashem Abed, who used to work for Zarqawi and company, describing his career of raping and killing university students, turning ambulances into car-bombs, fomenting civil war, and taking a mix of hashing and opium to make the may mayhem less nerve-wracking. He went by the alias "Abu Shema'"--for his daughter's name, he says. How sweet.

Watch the clip or read the transcript. This monster is no freedom fighter, and his revelations about the nature of the "insurgency" are significant. They consider Shiites apostates, they consider Kurds traitors, and they consider the beginning of Ramadan an auspicious day for blowing people up. Their leaders include members of the old Feddayin and Iraqi security services. They outsource "slaughtering" (beheading) to Syrians who slip in across the border and suicide bombing to Afghanis. They do the raping and car bombing themselves. They are paid in dollars and appreciate a can of Pepsi every now and then.

Their existence should not have been tolerated when they formed the middle and lower echelons of Saddam Hussein's criminal gang, and it should not be tolerated now. Those calling for retreat from the battle against these thugs should remember that any small patch of the planet relinquished to them will be a hell-on-earth for the innocents who live there and a factory for the exportation of relentless evil. If you think this is hyperbole, listen to Mr. Abed.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Enough of this nonsense

"Please ... stop me before I speak again."

Christopher Hitchens has weighed in on the Cindy Sheehan debate. I find myself disagreeing with Hitchens so much of late that I wonder if I haven't lost my mind.

Bush should simply give her the additional face-time she asks, and quick, before she manages to blow the easily-bored American media into a frenzy over this crap. Hitchens disagrees, and though his argument is typically well reasoned, I can't but help hearing it read in a sort of snooty Maggie Smith accent.
"What dreary sentimental nonsense this all is ..."

True. But wouldn't it be better just dealt with? Take the silly woman on a bike ride. Sit down and have coffee with her. Just get her out of the spotlight, for chrissake.

UPDATE: I've removed the tongue-in-cheek suggestion that the Secret Service physically assault Sheehan. It wasn't funny to begin with, and now that a Crawford resident vented his anger at Sheehan by driving over part of the memorial she has set up, it's just embarrassing. My apologies.

On the positive side, there's been a glimmer of sense from one counter-protester in Crawford, according to AP:

One woman, who identified herself as an Iraqi immigrant, held a sign across the road from protesters Tuesday that read, "Troop removal = disaster -- keep the promise."

And what is your exit strategy,
Mr. Kissinger?

A friend and reader just sent me this piece by Henry Kissinger on the propect of U.S. troop withdrawal from Iraq. My friend asked simply, "What do you think?"

Win Henry Kissinger's two cents!

Is this a trap? I've written more than once on my belief that those guilty of war crimes should be excluded from political debate. And Hitchens claims Kissinger is a war criminal, though shamefully I don't know why, since I haven't read his writing on this topic. So should I even bother to read Kissinger's opinion? Well, I already have, and his essay is worthy of attention and comment. So I'm about to risk breaking my own rule. If Hitchens turns out to be correct, then I'm a hypocrite.

Kissinger's take on the supposed impending withdrawal of U.S. troops from what is undeniably an active theatre of war is most interesting and useful for reasons I believe were unintended by the author. He is vaguely--and not surprisingly--opposed to our reducing our troop strength in Iraq. Yet he comes across as so circumspect you'll be cross-eyed by the end of his meanderings. "Withdrawal" before victory is retreat. Granted, it might in some cases be regrouping, but I don't think anyone in the Pentagon suggests that we will go to the trouble of reducing our troop strength in order to increase it later in a second attempt at shock and awe.

What will the premature diminishing of troop strength achieve? It will not reduce casualties, since the terrorists at work in Baghdad and Basra will find is just as easy--if not easier--to inflict the now commonplace casualty rate of a dozen in a day on a force of 100,000 as they do upon the present force. What might actually reduce the casualty rate is not merely withdrawal, but disengagement. Are we giving up the fight? Does "withdrawal" signify that we have lost our nerve--our willingness to risk death to achieve the creation of a new Iraq, one stripped of its menace and yes, one aligned with our economic and social goals? Kissinger blandly puts these questions in a historical perspective better suited to rehabilitating his career than to winning a war.

He also refers to Saudi Arabia as a "moderate Arab state." This smacks of the worst kind of realpolitik bullshit. Saudi Arabia is a nation that denies its female citizens not only the right to vote but the right to drive a car or appear in public without a male escort. A nation that maintains the only city on earth officially off-limits to those who decline to join a certain religion. A nation that imprisons people without trial and whose trials send convicts to have their hands lopped off before cheering crowds. What claim have they to the label "moderate"?

There are no lessons from Vietnam that will serve us in Iraq, save the valuable experience of those men and women who lived through the horror of battles lost and battles won. And they don't need Kissinger to relay their wisdom to our troops in Iraq or those who send and keep them there. In case anyone needs reminding, Vietnam was a war we lost; and it became a loss that tore our nation to shreds. Seeking advice from the architects of either that war or the retreat from that war is the height of idiocy.

That said, I must acknowledge that I generally agree with Kissinger's assessment. The problem is that his analysis is obvious, something I could have penned if I had any authority on the subject or enough ego to override my lack of authority. But it seems that by virtue of having lost a war Kissinger is now an expert on how not to lose one, so here we are:
For someone like me, who observed firsthand the anguish of the original involvement in Vietnam during the Kennedy and Johnson administrations, and who later participated in the decisions to withdraw during the Nixon administration, Casey's announcement revived poignant memories. For a decision to withdraw substantial U.S. forces while the war continues is a potentially fateful event. It affects the calculations of insurgents and government forces alike, so that the definition of progress becomes nearly as much a psychological as a military judgment. Every soldier withdrawn represents a larger percentage of the remaining total. The capacity for offensive action of the remaining forces shrinks. Once the process is started, it runs the risk of operating by momentum rather than by strategic analysis, and that process is increasingly difficult to reverse.

True enough, but is there anyone outside the ranks of the muddleheaded pacifist left who doesn't already get that? And are any of them going to listen to him?

Iraq is a new battle in a very old war, a war dormant for almost a century, since the fall of the last caliphate. A war briefly submerged in the titanic struggle between Communism and the west. It is a war now resurrected, not by Bin Laden or by western policies toward Muslims, but by the inevitable impossibility of reconciliation between two very different visions of what the world should be. Vietnam may mean quite a bit to Kissinger's place in history, but it means jack to what we're going through now. Sorry, Mr. Kissinger, your advice smells a bit stale compared to the knowledge of those who actually understand what this fight is about, and how it should be fought.

Should you find yourself mired in a bloody conflict between communism and capitalism and think that he could possibly be of some assistance, you can hire Mr. Kissinger here.

Monday, August 15, 2005

Another of the countless fruits of Islam:
debilitating drug abuse

Today the BBC bucks the trend of accepting at face value the Muslim world's ludicrous holier-than-thou attitude: they shine a light on rampant drug addiction in the horn of Africa. Evidently, widespread abuse of khat adds yet another obstacle to Somalis' hopes of salvaging a working society out of the train wreck their country has become. The BBC still fails to mention that khat abuse affects African and Arab societies from Marrakesh to Mecca and has even been imported to Somali and Yemeni immigrant communities in New York and Minneapolis.

Somalia is a typical example of how mosques and sharia courts can turn the clock back even further on societies suffering from tribalism and civil war. Since the fall of Mohammed Said Barre in 1991, the country has had virtually no central government. The inhabitants of northern Somalia now say that they are an independent nation of impoverished, starving, disease-stricken people, distinct from the impoverished, starving, disease-stricken people to the south. If they say so. Since the Clinton administration's shameful retreat from Mogadishu, the west has pretty much abandoned Somalia to the horrible fate that criminal gangs (which mainstream media like to call "tribes") have in store for it. There is no economy to speak of; warlords print their own money; the only thing organized in Somalia is crime.

And now the vaunted moral guidance of the imams seems to have no problem with the young men of Somalia getting hopped up their eyeballs on cathinone, the most powerful of at least three narcotics present in freshly picked khat leaves. Cathinone is a class I controlled substance in the U.S.; its effects are similar to cocaine or amphetamines, though the multiculturalist left prefer to compare it to coffee or cigarettes.
Relativist re-education quiz of the the week: One of these things is not like the others ...

Somali anti-khat activists see it a little differently, in that khat doesn't seem to have the same effect on one's workday as a morning java.
"Our men have become lazy over the years because of the widespread trade that forces them to just sit and enjoy the product. Our children have nothing to eat, let alone go to school, because their fathers cannot work, Rukia Osman Mahmoud, an anti-khat activist, told IPS ...

An article in Mother Jones claims that Somalis in America simply can't understand why the U.S. government is giving them a hard time about their importing khat. After all, it's done so much for their society back home, and a good afternoon chew is a cultural institution. Relativists on the left would like us to see khat abuse as comparable to tea-time or stepping-outside-for-a-smoke.
In East Africa, the afternoon khat session is a centuries-old ritual. But for America's growing population of East Africans, many of whom fled the Somali civil war, chewing khat (a mild stimulant also called chat or jat) has become a dangerous pastime. Across the nation, immigrants hungry for a taste of home are finding themselves caught up in America's drug war ...

Scientists don't quite see it the same way:
[Khat's] effects are similar to those of amphetamine and include euphoria, increased alertness and excitement etc. (Giannini et al. 1986). The khat user believes he thinks more clearly and quickly and is more alert, though concentration andjudgmentt are objectively impaired. There is a tendency to querulousness with lability of mood and increases in anxiety and tension (Margetts, 1967). Kennedy (1987) has described transient psychotic phenomena following a khat session. Confusion, disorientation, grandiose fantasies and a mildly depressed mood may occur.

"Tendency to querulousness," "increases in anxiety and tension"? Researchers estimate that khat-chewing in places like Egypt, Somalia and Yemen range between 40 and 80 percent of the population. Is it any wonder peace and prosperity are merely hazy mirages in the far distance for so many of these people?

(And by the way, that's not a real khat leaf in the photo. It doesn't grow here, and possession of it would be illegal under French law. Real khat looks similar to the leaf in the photo but has serrated edges and is usually left attached to a reddish stem.)

Sunday, August 14, 2005

Let's keep our eyes on the ball

There's lately been a good deal of relativist hooey claiming that while we play whack-a-mole with Islamists we're overlooking the rise of a "Christian Taliban."
Yes the “Christian Taliban” is diligently working toward an America where we will be forced to worship their concept of God or face the consequences of their tactics of terror. We will live in a nation where Jewish, Muslim, and Hindu children will be forced to pray to a vengeful and hard-hearted God who will proclaim that they will burn in the fires of hell because a loveless and cruel concept of Jesus is not their personal savior. We will live in a nation where genuine Christians who are the true believers who know that both God and Jesus are the purest form of love will be forced to deny a loving Christ and worship a false ‘Jesus’ who represents oppression, punishment, revenge, hate, and bigotry.

Homosexuals, human rights activists, environmentalists, women’s rights advocates, and others will be persecuted, jailed, and perhaps eventually executed because they will refuse to believe that God is cold-hearted and filled with hate instead of love.

chtalibOh, brother.

Now I regard all religions as obstacles to good, inasmuch as they rely on the denial of reason, and reason is the shortest route to achieving what is good. Nevertheless, I am going to grit my teeth and attempt to debunk the paranoiac fantasy of the Christian Taliban. If it seems in part a defense of Christian philosophy, so be it. The priests had me doing Catholic calisthenics every Sunday for more than twelve of my early years; perhaps I'm brainwashed. Christians don't scare me.

Granted, I would have been plenty scared of Christians if I'd been born a half a millenium earlier, especially if I'd been born Jewish or anywhere in Central or South America. So let me first take that argument off the table: That was then, this is now. Yes, Christians had their bloodthirsty and bellicose stage, but it came to an end centuries ago. No, the Nazis don't count--they were not driven by Christian ideology, but by nationalism, anti-Semitism, and a freaky cult of personality. Hitler saw the clergy as an enemy to be subverted or dominated, not as an ally. And the odd anti-abortion fanatic running around the backwoods with a sniper rifle and a backpack full of C4 has as much to do with Christians as Jeffrey Dahmer had to do with gay-rights groups. Terrorism in the name of Christ does exist today, but it is rare enough to qualify as an anomoly. Even Catholics in Northern Ireland seem to have outgrown their desire for bloodshed, and their cause was a mix of nationalism and religion anyway. I doubt they would have been appeased if Britain had given Belfast to the Vatican.

Then there's the old argument that the Bible is full of prescriptions for violence against unbelievers. True, but that's the part that Christians call the "Old Testament," and its message is tempered by, if not abrogated by, the teachings of Christ outlined in the "New Testament." That's why they call themselves "Christians."

And then there's the issue of Christians in America making themselves more active in government of late. I agree that this is troubling, but our government is a democracy. If our nation's citizens elect officials who act on the evident desire of the majority that our tax dollars not be spent on recommending abortion to pregnant African women, that's democracy. Those who argue otherwise apparently would rather have an enlightened despot who knows better than the church-going masses, or perhaps they want to segregate the nation's populace into two distinct regions--"dumb" and "dumber"--and then divide it in two.

Christians around the world appear to be seeking reconciliation of the differences that have divided them in the past. Catholics and Anglicans recently took steps toward resolving their ancient dispute over the absurd questions of whether Mary was conceived without sin and whether she got to take her 70-year-old body with her to heaven. The way the rapprochment is described in Roderick Strange's opinion piece in the Times of London makes it seem more like Christians have simply grown weary of debating such idiotic crap, the way a bunch of stoners watching the sun rise on a night-long argument over why boats float might feel.
Dogmatic definitions articulate the mysteries of faith but do not exhaust them. What we believe is more profound than the way it is expressed. Definitions call for respect; they should not create anxiety. The reality of the faith shared is what matters. So Anglicans may recognise that what has been defined is what they already hold, while Roman Catholics should recognise that they need not fret over formulaes.

We seek our reunion by deepening our faith.

"Dude, the boat floats ... cool ... let's just drop it."

The most interesting part of this blather is Strange's assertion that "[d]efintions ... should not create anxiety." What a nice conceit, and it is already true for the vast majority of Christians on earth. I just learned today that in the year I was born, the thousand-or-so inhabitants of the Caribbean island I call home were obliged to attend weekly mass. Well, no one has come knocking on my door on any Sunday morning since I arrived, so I guess the Christian Taliban decided to give us a pass--or maybe they don't exist.

Getting back to the loopy assertion I quoted at the beginning of this post, "Homosexuals, human rights activists, environmentalists, women’s rights advocates, and others will be persecuted, jailed, and perhaps eventually executed." Yes, that is undeniably true, but you got the verb tense wrong. They are being persecuted, jailed, and executed, along with apostates, democracy protesters, and--interestingly--Christians.

Ironically, Strange himself would earn a fatwa calling for his death if he had published his essay in any number of Muslim nations. This line alone would make him guilty of heresy: "... the Mother of Jesus is proclaimed as the Mother of God." Whoops. Say that in Yemen or Malaysia, then wait for the anxiety to set in.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Move over, Jerry Lewis

Bill Clinton isn't about to let the world forget what a smug, sanctimonious blow-hard he can be. It's no surprise the worst of him comes out in an interview with Le Monde. I can imagine the reporter's unwavering and adoring gaze heating up the ego of France's second-favorite American man. Well, he gave them what they wanted:
"We cannot isolate ourselves from the world behind walls."
Here we go again ... Which is it? Are we a problem because of globalization and the incessant march of our influence around the world, or are we crouched behind our stockade in a paranoiac last stand against foes who are only trying to get us to change?
"We cannot kill all our enemies."
If you say so, pardner. This kind of all-or-nothing approach got us nowhere back when Clinton was president. It's merely a stalling tactic of those who prefer the safety of deliberation over the potential for blame that comes with action.
"We need a strategy which will create more partners and fewer terrorists." Americans' destiny is closely tied to that of other people." He cited the example of U.S. aid raised for victims of the Dec. 26 earthquake and tsunami in the Indian Ocean, and linked it to an increase in the proportion of Indonesians who had a favorable opinion of the United States."
Oddly, Clinton is referring to a poll conducted in February by the Heritage Foundation. He just loves those polls. Why don't we hand over Arkansas to the good people of Aceh? Then they'll really like us! Clinton makes it look as if Democrats are suggesting once again that we put American policy up for a referendum in places populated by people who clearly do not share our vision and goals. They'd better wise up before 2008.
"It can't but improve our image when we show that we can be selfless, that we want to build a world with others, by understanding their problems, by helping them both for our interests and for shared objectives," Clinton said.
This blinkered optimism would be funny if it were not costing so many innocent lives. We do not share objectives with Islamists.
He also urged the use of religion to resolve conflicts rather than to create them.
Clinton said he regretted the rejection of the European Union constitution by French and Dutch voters in referendums earlier this year. "It is difficult to overcome the reflexes of national
identity. But you will get there."
Talk about condescending. And misleading. Why does he presume that those who voted no did so out of a reflexive sense of national identity and not out of reasoned concerns over the prospect of common policies, economics, and immigration?

I imagine that all over France this morning, Le Monde readers were gazing wistfully at a photo of Clinton's big, grinning mug (or maybe he was making his "I feel your pain" face--I haven't seen the paper yet). Can't they all chip in and get him an old farmhouse in Provence? Or maybe a sleazy little bachelor pad down in Marseille? You can have him for a while. We won't mind.

Monday, August 08, 2005

Another long, slow turn in the downward spiral
at the United Nations

Basically a giant clown-car filled with nepotistic crooks

I've believed for some time that the U.N. needs more than reform. It needs to be superseded by an organization whose membership is limited to secular democracies, an organization that would therefore possess both the desire and the rectitude to do good. This alliance would also serve as a constant reminder to citizens enduring the rule of tyrants and theocrats that they would be better off following our lead. The U.N. is sacrosanct, however, as I have been reminded countless times in conversations with friends on the left. Always the same old line: it's not perfect, but nothing is; its collective heart is in the right place; it's done so much good over the years. I no longer believe there is a grain of truth in any of these defenses of the U.N.; the organization is intrinsically flawed, rotten to the core, and has now sunk so low that it is arguably a hindrance to the goals of world peace and prosperity.

The U.N.'s structure makes it simultaneously undemocratic and slow--two faults that usually do not coincide. The Security Council is at once elitist (granting limitless veto power on the basis of who kicked ass half a century ago) and blinkered by an overdeveloped sense of international egalitarianism (granting rotating membership to states that have no business being involved in anyone's "security"). The General Assembly is not worth mentioning. The executive leadership is corrupt, and arrogant to boot. Every time you turn around one high-level official or another is hiring this cousin while steering a contract to that nephew. The lower echelons of the organization harbor child rapists and pimps. When peacekeepers aren't sodomizing minors or shooting one another, they're opening the gates of so-called "safe-havens" so their charges can be marched off to extermination camps. All opportunities for meaningful reform probably passed years ago, if they ever existed. When the current scandal involving the secretary general and his son has to compete for attention with one involving the previous secretary general's shady dealings with his brother-in-law and nephew, it starts to look like an institutional problem, not just a couple of bad apples.

Now the Volcker Commission has found evidence that Oil-for-Food Director Benon Sevan and one other U.N. official encouraged corruption in the program for personal benefit. Sevan and his wife received cash deposits in their bank accounts of nearly $150,000, while Alexander Yakovlev, a U.N. procurement official, had almost a million dollars in kickbacks wired into an account in Antigua. The Associated Press tries weakly to suggest that this turn of events is actually not so bad, since some have accused the U.N. of wasting and stealing millions or billions of dollars intended to relieve the hardships imposed on the Iraqi people by sanctions. Volcker even discovered motive: Sevan and his wife repeatedly overdrew their accounts prior to his transforming the program into his own private cash machine. The commission's latest report also suggests that Kofi Annan may be looking for new digs come September and the release of the next report, since emails have revealed that he knew more than he has admitted about his son's manipulation of Oil-for-Food.

In May of this year, Annan's chief of staff, Mark Malloch Brown, gave a speech to the U.S. Congressional Committe on International Relations. His address amounted to a half-hearted admission of problems in the U.N., followed quickly by an appeal for more money, followed by a not-so-subtle suggestion that we stop sticking our noses in the U.N.'s business. Just write the check and shut up, alright?
"I would also argue that just as the United Nations is under-funded, so is it in some ways over-supervised."

What Brown goes on to describe in his speech is not a surplus of supervision but the well-known bureaucratic labyrinth the organization has created. Red tape is not oversight; just because it inhibits action does not mean it inhibits criminal action. Brown demonstrated how U.N. officials have grown accustomed to the presumption that their every pronouncement is incontestable. Before the press and members of the Congress of the United States, he exaggerated figures related to the cost and scale of current peacekeeping operations, stating that there are eighteen active operations costing nearly 4.5 billion dollars annually. The U.N.'s own published information contradicts him. At the time of his speech, there were only sixteen active operations, and that number hasn't changed since and apparently won't any time soon. Those sixteen operations cost 3.6 billion dollars annually. Call it carelessness or chicanery, in either case it reflects poorly on an institution entrusted with so much. We've waited too long for the U.N. to get its act together. It's time to find someone else for the job. It's time for an effective alliance of democracies.

What's on your mind?

Went out dragging the stagnant left side of the blogosphere tonight and struck gold. Swerve Left serves up a plate of science with a side of leftist paranoia: Keep your tinfoil helmets on tight, they're closing in!

Researchers in Britain and the U.S. have been able to determine the image that subjects are looking at through a brain scan when different images were displayed to the subjects' left and right eyes ... subjects watched a clip of "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly". The researchers said, "We were able to tell one part of a scene from another, and we could tell one type of sound from another."

Seems scientists are one step closer to reading your mind. If you're watching a spaghetti western through "special goggles," that is. (I'd be doing that right now if I hadn't lost my special goggles yesterday somewhere in the sofa cushions.) But watch out, Swerve Left warns us, "How much longer will it be before these machines are used in lie detector tests or perhaps to detect a lack of loyalty to a cause?"

The Reuters article linked in the post provides us with this helpful graphic:

"Now tell me what you see ..."

The story is even funnier the way Reuters presents it. They quote Dr. Haynes of the University College London Institute of Neurology:
"One day, someone will come up with a machine in a baseball cap. Then it really could be helpful in everyday applications."

Maybe if it gets everyone to stop wearing baseball caps.

Here's what Reuters says the American half of this scientific endeavor got out of the research:

The US team say their study proves brain scans do relate to brain cell electrical activity.

Ahhhhh, good. Glad we got that cleared up. (Is the U.S. team smoking pot?)

Anyway, don't worry. When the guys with the nightvision gear rappel down through your chimney and slap a baseball cap on your head, they'll be interested only in the left side of your brain.

Sunday, August 07, 2005

Carnival of the Revolutions

This week's Carnival of the Revolutions has gone up at Blogrel, which I was delighted to discover is an Armenian-oriented blog created by writers who--like me--are non-Armenians wise enough to recognize a great thing when they see it. I haven't written much about Armenia, just one post that I can recall, but that's only because my connection is more familial and culinary than political. (Now that I think of it, if I found time to write about Belgian frites, I should do the same for the amazing yogurt kefta soup my step-daughter makes.)

The crew at Blogrel have done an admirable job of bringing together this week's collection of revolution- and democracy-oriented stories. In particular, this week I recommend looking at the progress and regress of democracy in Azerbaijan, which I wrote about back in June. Blogrel points us to Marianna Idrisova Gurtovnik's observations on the lead-up to elections there--a fascinating look at the behind-the-scenes reality of the electoral side of democratic revolutions, the not-so-boring stuff that goes on while we're posting photos of people dancing in the streets. Blogrel no doubt has tons more on the topic of change in Azerbaijan; I will get to it when my eyes are a little less bleary.

Blogrel is also going up in my sidebar as a Consciousness-Raising Link. Have a look.

Uprooting the Islamist fifth column

It appears that American and European law enforcement agencies are finally working in concert to round up jihadi terrorists for prosecution. It's unfortunate that it took the deaths of so many innocents to wake the west from its dreamy multiculturalist stupor.
The arrest of Haroon Rashid Aswat, a British citizen of Indian descent, comes as British prosecutors said they would consider treason charges against any Islamic extremists who express support for terrorism.

The U.S. warrant accuses Aswat of conspiring with others between October 1999 and April 2000 to set up a camp in Bly, Ore., aimed at training and equipping individuals to "fight jihad in Afghanistan," police said in a statement.

Aswat, 30, had been detained in Zambia since July 20, where he was questioned about 20 phone calls reportedly made on his South African cell phone with some of the bombers responsible for the July 7 transit attacks in London that killed 52 people and the four bombers. He was deported Sunday to Britain, said Zambian Home Affairs Secretary Peter Mumba.

Aswat is one of two associates of the Muslim cleric Abu Hamza al-Masri who are referred to but not named or charged in a 2002 indictment issued by a federal grand jury in Seattle against a Muslim convert from the area, officials have said. The other is Oussama Kassir, a Lebanese-born Swede, who was convicted of weapons violations in Sweden in 2003.

A British citizen of Indian descent talking bombs on his South African cellphone from Zambia with other Brits of Pakistani and West Indian origin, after earlier training jihadis in Oregon for terrorism in Afghanistan and consipiring with a Lebanese-born Swede to assist in the murderous plans of a one-eyed, hook-handed Egyptian cleric who said in his London mosque that the Columbia space shuttle was destroyed by Allah because it contained a "trinity of evil"--Christians, a Jew, and a Hindu working together.

Better check that melting pot. I think it's boiling over.

For those still unclear about what's at stake:
Part II

Islamists with big mouths continually reinforce the point that I've been trying to make for months: A fifth column has taken shape inside western society that wants us subjugated to Islam or dead. Thanks to Little Green Footballs for calling attention to this undercover investigative report from the Times in London on what "moderate" Muslims in Britain are saying when they think they're safely out of the public eye. Three weeks before the July 7 bombings, a reporter for the Times infiltrated the Savior Sect, a radical Islamic group trying to stay under the radar of MI5 while encouraging its followers to subvert British society and kill infidels. What the reporter witnessed (and apparently taped in some instances) is simply stunning. Why this isn't getting more media attention in the U.S. is unfathomable, given that similar groups may well be doing similar things in mosques and private halls from Brooklyn to L.A.

Here's an excerpt:
Last week Omar Brooks stirred controversy with televised comments, but they were carefully chosen to avoid appearing to incite violence. On Saturday, July 2 he had been more forthright.

Speaking to a group of teenagers and families, he declared it was imperative for Muslims to “instil terror into the hearts of the kuffar” and added: “I am a terrorist. As a Muslim of course I am a terrorist.”

The 30-year-old, who claims to have had military training in Pakistan, said he did not want to go to Allah while sleeping in his bed “like an old woman”. Instead: “I want to be blown into pieces with my hands in one place and my feet in another.”

In public interviews Bakri condemned the killing of all innocent civilians. Later when he addressed his own followers he explained that he had in fact been referring only to Muslims as only they were innocent: “Yes I condemn killing any innocent people, but not any kuffar.”

Read the whole thing:

Inside the sect that loves terror - Sunday Times - Times Online

Abusing sympathy?

When earlier this morning I first read of Cindy Sheehan's touching appeal for a meeting with President Bush, I thought to myself, "He should give this woman the time she deserves ... she gave our nation her son." It occurred to me that setting a precedent of giving even fifteen minutes to each family that has lost a son or daughter would cost the president days (about twenty days, so far, if he didn't take time out to sleep). But no one is asking for that. Now AP has amended the story's lead paragraph (though not the headline) to make mention of the fact that Bush already met with Cindy Sheehan once, in April 2004.

I'm not sure how I feel about her claims that she wasn't ready and that she hadn't realized there were doubts about the WMD rationale. It does start to smack of shameful partisan grandstanding on the grave of a fallen soldier. Nonetheless, Bush should show that he's better than that and meet her a second time.

For Muslim minorities, integration--not autonomy--is the answer

The Philippine Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (AARM) has devolved into yet another example of the inevitable state failure that results from mixing Islam with politics. Fifteen years ago, Manila negotiated an end to a Muslim separatist rebellion by setting the region aside as a semi-independent enclave defined by the religion of its inhabitants. Today, ARMM is awash in corruption, poverty, and terrorism, and upcoming elections there apparently offer little hope of change.
“The question is, is the ARMM still relevant? Since it was established, there has been little improvement in the lives of the people. The quality of life is actually retrogressing, not progressing,” Zainudin Malang, head of the Center for Moro Law and Policy Concerns, told AFP.
“A vast number of people don’t care. ARMM is no longer relevant to their lives and as a political vehicle autonomy needs to be reexamined,” he said.
“There is little sympathy for autonomy, there is little awareness of what the regional government has done and there is little knowledge of who the people are in the ARMM.
“We will be electing a new leader but the ARMM future is uncertain,” Malang said, urging the government to examine alternatives such as a federal state.

To make things worse, the region has been infected by Islamic militancy in the form of Abu Sayyaf, a group with links to al-Qaeda and whose stated aim is the creation of an Asian Islamic super-state. Abu Sayyaf broke away from other Muslim rebel groups who decided in the early 1990s to cease hostilities and accept the creation of AARM. The group, now led by a man called Commander Robot, bombs passenger ferries and shopping malls, murders priests, and supports itself by taking hostages from resorts and hospitals and beheading them if ransom is not paid. The United States aids Manila in its fight against Abu Sayyaf with millions of dollars in military aid and the assistance of hundreds of American military "advisors."

Muslim minorities in the Philippines and Thailand, along with Islamist minorities in Indonesia, have traditionally seen separation as preferable to integration. Holding elections in regions like Mindanao does not make them democratic. A people who succeed in winning their own isolation by defining themselves and their "autonomous region" according to religion are a long way from understanding democracy. Perhaps, as Mr. Malang suggests, the Philippine's Muslims will see the wisdom of setting religion aside and returning to true democracy as a state in a federal system, a state properly defined by its borders and the votes of its citizens--not by their choice of god, gods, or prophets.

Saturday, August 06, 2005

I'm speechless (imagine that)

Here's the opening paragraph of an opinion piece published in the Jordanian Al-Dustour two weeks ago:
Regardless of the problems that Arabs and Muslims have with the United States today, the truth remains that the Americans are a friendly, honest, hardworking, skillful and ambitious people. They are a people who don't carry hate or ill will for anyone; and a people who richly deserve the greatness that they have attained through countless efforts and sacrifices throughout their history.


Read the whole thing: "Muslims Admire the Greatness of America." (Thanks to Watching America for noticing and translating this.)

Another problem with turbans and hijabs:
You can't see when you're backing into a corner

Less than eight hours after the Bush administration added its support to Europe's plan to allow Iran a civilian nuclear program, the intransigent terrorist state has announced that it is rejecting the proposal anyway. It "does not meet Iran's minimum expectations," says Iran's foreign minister--expectations which apparently include mushroom clouds over New York, London, and Paris, at a minimum.

At issue is whether Iran gets to enrich its own uranium and keep the spent fuel from a "peaceful" nuclear power program, fuel which can have highly unpeaceful applications. Europe's proposal is that the Russians (who clearly need the dough) will build them a nuclear reactor and supply the fuel for it, each time retrieving the spent rods before installing the new. In a surprise move yesterday, the U.S. said the Paris agreement would do, and this despite the fact that it appears the more sophisticated roadside bombs being used against U.S. and Iraqi forces are coming out of Iran. In a fine display of naivete, the Times report on this revelation plays down the possibility of official Iranian involvement in efforts to destabilize Iraq, because "it would be counter to their interests to support Iraq's Sunni Arab insurgents." What piffle. To the Iranian mullahs, the government shaping up in Baghdad is in no way the Shiite-dominated puppet for which they'd hoped. For them, no government is preferable to one that divides power between their allies and their enemies.

U.S. backing for the Paris agreement didn't do it much good. Apparently this is not really about the somewhat strange necessity for civilian nuclear power in a nation blessed with more fossil fuel than it knows what to do with. It is about the right of Iran's theocratic thugs to do whatever they want, whenever they want. In a press conference translated by MEMRI TV this week, an Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman responded to a reporter's question about the planned return to uranium enrichment with a simple, "What do you care?" Now how come Scott McClellan never thought of that?

So much for the long dark tea-time of the soul

In one of Douglas Adams' books (I can never keep them straight, and my love affair with them was a long time ago), he writes about a planet at the center of a cloudy nebula, one so dark that its inhabitants never see any other planets or stars. They eventually construct a spacecraft, venture beyond the nebula's shroud, and for the first time in their sheltered history view all that had been hidden from them. Their reaction is something like, "Well, that will have to go," and they immediately set to work destroying everything in existence that is not them. This post's title is also from Adams, but enough of that ...

Recent events in Malaysia may not rank up there with the Taliban's destruction of the ancient statues of Buddha at Bamiyan, but they're still a striking example of the horrifying consistency of Muslim intolerance. Malaysian authorities brought in bulldozers last week and destroyed the giant teapot of the "Sky Kingdom"--an odd Islamic spinoff cult declared heretical by the country's Islamic council and a sharia court. Part of their belief is that water (and therefore tea) possesses spiritual healing powers, so they built a giant teapot on their property. If you want to see a photo of it, look at this post from last week. Be forewarned: the image of a giant teapot may so offend you that you will become possessed by an uncontrollable urge to blow things up, as a group of 30 Malaysians armed with guns and hand grenades apparently were back in mid-July. The leader of the Sky Kingdom wisely made himself scarce after that attack, so the police who accompanied the bulldozers last week were unable to arrest him.

Here's what's left.

You can't see any sign of the teapot in the photo because the Malaysian Islamic authorities apparently found even the wreckage so offensive that they had it carted away.

Western media on Beurger King Muslim:
"We're Lovin' It!"

The Associated Press has jumped into the halal happy-meal fest over France's new religiously oriented fast-food joint. (Let's note that it is not "Beurger King Halal" ... it's "Beurger King Muslim." AP conveniently edited the word "Muslim" out of the restaurant's name in both the headline and the lead paragraph. I wonder how they would feel about a "Taco Bell Catholic" in Boston, or a "KFC Jew" in Brooklyn?)

AP is so thrilled at having a chance to contribute to western liberalism's new obsession with self-hatred that they apparently can't see the irony in their own reporting:

Customers, including non-Muslims, said the restaurant was not segregating Muslims but showing a normal, peaceful Muslim activity that was open to all.

"Both Muslims and other people feel at ease here," Talbi said. "Maybe this kind of place will help to correct the bad image of Muslims and tell the world to stop talking nonsense about us."

But then we have another customer's opinion:

Female customers also seemed happy. Cherifa Halimi, 19, sat in a booth sipping drinks with four friends, all dressed in black flowing gowns covering all but their hands and faces.
"There are a few changes they could make to give the place a completely Muslim image," Halimi said. "The television is OK, but there shouldn't be any music."

Still feeling at ease?

Friday, August 05, 2005

Looking back at Hiroshima

When shock and awe worked

On August 6, 1945, America acted on the morally questionable decision to kill over two hundred thousand innocent civilians in an attempt to bring the Asiatic-Pacific theatre of World War II to an early end. In my opinion, the decision is a defensible one, though there are valid arguments that the choice of target was flawed. I also believe the decision to repeat the act on Nagasaki before the Japanese had been given time to take stock of the situation is probably indefensible. The Truman administration most likely felt it necessary to demonstrate to the Soviets that Little Boy was not a one-off, but that could have been made equally clear by dropping Fat Man on an uninhabited Pacific island.

The Japanese still display an admirable ability for circumspection with regard to what we did on that day. None of the speeches I've heard so far on CNN's coverage of the ceremony has attempted to turn the remembrance of this day into another venue for the obsessive America-bashing that now rivals soccer as the world's most popular pastime. And this despite the fact that Japanese still have a hard time facing the reasons there wasn't much objection at the time to America's decision. The speakers have mostly focused on the need for all humankind to see the attainment of peace as the world's highest priority. A little dreamy at this stage, but noble, nonetheless.

Even Reuters managed to get through their report on the event in Hiroshima without bringing up Iraq. This may have something to do with Japan's complicated feelings about Iraq and U.S. foreign policy in general. As long as North Korea keeps lobbing missles over their islands and bragging about their newfound nuclear prowess, it's unlikely the Japanese are going to adopt the mindless-pacifist stance many on the left would like to see. They're even talking lately about the possibility of building their own bomb to balance nuclear deterrence in the region. And unlike their insane neighbor to the north, Japan could probably put the finishing touches on their own Little Boy in about twenty minutes. There would certainly be a dismaying irony to the emergence of new nuclear nation from a people so given to idealistic talk of peace. In any event, it's doubtful that China would allow North Korea to push Japan to such a recourse. We shall see.