Thursday, December 30, 2004

Tsunami Devastation

I wanted to write a really meaningful post about the tsunami in Asia. But I am pretty much speechless about it all. I just shudder to think what it must have been like. In some places, one in four people are dead or missing. And now those who survived have a difficult battle in front of them. The feeling of helplessness that one is faced with, trying to grasp and understand how this happened, the immesity of the devastation and how this couldn't have been avoided - only the blow lessened - is so foreign to our everyday dealings. Humans are so used to conquering Nature, that it is a sobering slap in the face to see what happens when Nature fights back.

I was marveling a few weeks ago, that the world’s population has doubled in the last 40 years, from about 3 billion to 6 billion. We have a yearly increase of approx. 75 million people, which represents about a 1.14% population increase every year. (This is projected to decrease over time, so that in 2050 the world population will be just over 9 billion.) It’s pretty humbling to see that while we can overcome many of Mother Nature’s hindrances in populating this world, she sometimes asserts herself with a devastating show of power.

Monday, December 27, 2004

Germany's relationship with Patriotism

I came across an interesting article today in the English edition of a German newsmagazine, Der Spiegel. The article, entitled “Debating Patriotism” talks about Germany’s dilemma with national pride. After experiencing American patriotism, French “La Patrie”-ism, and British “modest pride” I found Germany’s lack of patriotism particularly fascinating.
It’s not a lack, per se…it is more a fear to express pride, as if one would be reprimanded and branded as being a neo-Nazi, if you dared to suggest German superiority in anything other than soccer, and even then, the German soccer fans would never start chanting: “Deutschland, Deutschland” like the American fans chant U-S-A.
I can remember talking about the benefits of school uniforms in the US, how children can concentrate on schoolwork, instead of competing in some fashion show. And my German interlocutor responded, that you would never find uniforms at German schools, because it is against the idea of individuality that is promoted in Germany, and too reminiscent of the Hitler Youth, etc. Yeah…well, not very logical, because in Britain most schools (public and private) have a uniform. But this is just an example of the spastic relationship Germans have with their collective past.
Another one is the ban of Hitler’s Mein Kampf. It is impossible to buy that book legally in Germany. Some libraries have copies of it, but you are only allowed to read it, in a special room after signing a form revealing loads of personal details and your intentions. Alternately you can seek connections to the local underground neo-Nazi chapter, who have become the sole distributors of the book in Germany.

[Interesting nugget of information I got from a German friend of mine, and found more detail of in Wikipedia:

Today, the copyright of all editions of Mein Kampf except the English and the Dutch (Dutch government seized that in the same way) is owned by the state of Bavaria. The copyright will end on December 31, 2015. Historian Werner Maser, in an interview with Bild am Sonntag has stated that Peter Raubal, son of Hitler's nephew Leo Raubal, would have a strong legal case for winning the copyright from Bavaria if he pursued it. Raubal, an Austrian engineer, has stated he wants no part of the rights to the book, which could be worth millions of Euros.
The government of Bavaria, in agreement with the Federal Government of Germany, does not allow any copying or printing of the book in Germany, and opposes it also in other countries but with less success. Owning and buying the book is legal. Trading in old copies is legal as well, unless it is done in such a fashion as to promote hatred or war, which is generally illegal. Most German libraries carry heavily commented and excerpted versions of Mein Kampf.
In the Netherlands selling the book, even in the case of an old copy, is illegal as promoting hatred, but possession and lending is not. In 1997 the government explained to the parliament that selling a scientifically annotated version might escape prosecution.
1999, the Simon Wiesenthal Center documented that major internet booksellers like and sell Mein Kampf to Germany. After a public outcry, both companies agreed to stop those sales.
Mein Kampf was an influential text among the Arab Ba’ath Party activists. An Arabic edition of Mein Kampf has been published by Bisan publishers in Lebanon. It ranks on the best-seller list among Palestinian Arabs.
Public-domain copies of Mein Kampf are available at various Internet sites with links to
banned books; also, several web sites provide copies of the book. However, some of those copies are edited in a dubious way, for example to replace the many references to Christianity in the book with neo-Pagan ones.]

I digress…

Oh, and the word ‘Nazi’ there doesn’t mean someone who is abusing their power, and behaving despotically…it actually means Nazi. I found this out, when wanting to change the channel of one of the TVs in the cardio room at my local (thus German) gym: the only answer I got when asking if there were any “TV Nazis,” were aghast expressions. No Seinfield fans there, I guess. The closest expression they have would be “Fascists.” But you still don’t bandy about with such terms there.

Ah, here is another characteristic that will have many Americans baffled and scratching their heads: German university is free, however there is absolutely NO accountability on the students’ part. A student may take and drop as many classes as he or she wants, fail as many classes as he or she dares, and up until recently, study as long as he or she liked to get his or her degree. Now, some schools have set a 15 semester (thus 7 ½ year limit) to “free” studies…after that one must pay the *gasp* exorbitant tuition of 600 Euros a semester. The universities’ demands of accountability were met with hysterical screams that Big Brother was coming.

The Spiegel article’s author pretty much summed it up:
When the French are criticized, they barely respond. Comfortable with their own identity, they do not react to the midge-bites. Still in search of normality, the Germans have not yet reached that state of calm.

Sunday, December 26, 2004

The UN's Abu Ghraib

I found the link to this article, detailing the UN's latest scandal, at the fourth rail:

[...]HOME-MADE pornographic videos shot by a United Nations logistics expert in the Democratic Republic of Congo have sparked a sex scandal that threatens to become the UN’s Abu Ghraib.
The expert was a Frenchman who worked at Goma airport as part of the UN’s $700 million-a-year effort to rebuild the war-shattered country. When police raided his home they discovered that he had turned his bedroom into a studio for videotaping and photographing sex sessions with young girls.

[...]When the police arrived the man was allegedly about to rape a 12-year-old girl sent to him in a sting operation. Three home-made porn videos and more than 50 photographs were found.
The case has highlighted the apparently rampant sexual exploitation of Congolese girls and women by the UN’s 11,000 peacekeepers and 1,000 civilians at a time when the UN is facing many problems, including the Iraqi “oil-for-food” scandal and accusations of sexual harassment by senior UN staff in Geneva and New York.
The prospect of the pornographic videos and photographs — now on sale in Congo — becoming public worries senior UN officials, who fear a UN version of the scandal at the American-run Abu Ghraib jail in Iraq. “It would be a pretty big problem for the UN if these pictures come out,” one senior official said.

What? You mean it could possibly discredit the UN's moral superiority and dirty its otherwise clean slate?

The article is pretty detailed:
[...]UN insiders told The Times that two Russian pilots based in Mbandaka paid young girls with jars of mayonnaise and jam to have sex with them.

[...]In July 2002 the rebel commander Major-General Jean Pierre Ondekane, who subsequently became Minister of Defence in a postwar transitional government, told a top UN official that all that Monuc (the United Nations Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo) would be remembered for in Kisangani was “for running after little girls”.
An international organisation examining the sex trade between Monuc and local women found that in March there were 82 women and girls who had been made pregnant by Moroccan men and 59 more by Uruguayan men.

According to UN insiders, at least two UN officials — a Ukrainian and a Canadian — have had to leave the country after getting local women pregnant.

According to Bill Roggio at the fourth rail, the main stream media in the US hasn't picked up on this story:

[...] news sources do not view the story of international soldiers, while wearing the U.N.'s baby blue berets, repeatedly raping and exploiting children as news worthy. Unlike Abu Ghraib, we will not be subject to the daily barrage of compromising photographs plastered on the front pages of French, Moroccan, Canadian, Russian, Ukrainian or Uruguayan peacekeepers raping children.

[...] In an extensive article on abuses in the Congo, which include rape, there is nary a mention of the abuses by United Nations peacekeepers. The story of U.N. troops exploiting and raping women and children in the Congo far exceeds the crimes committed in Abu Ghraib by American soldiers, but it will be buried like the United Nations Oil for Food scandal, which far exceeded the all of American cooperate scandals combined, or the sexual harassment at the United Nations headquarters.
Internationalism and its vehicle for propagation, the United Nations, must be shielded from criticism at all costs by the liberal elites. It is American abuses of terrorists that are important, after all. Nothing to see here. Move along.

Well said...

Anonymous Commentators

Everyone who writes a weblog, can be as anonymous as he or she wants. They write about their view of the world, which not surprisingly, contrasts with many other people's. Weblogs have created a forum of exchange, between people who usually would have never entered into conversation with each other. Basically, it widens horizons...of course, only to the extent someone wants to widen their horizons. Nevertheless, the possiblity and opportunity are there.

I often jump from one blog to another, snowballing from links left by commentators, or by posters alike. It's also interesting to read the comments at one's own blog. It lets you know that someone is out there virtually "listening" to you, agreeing with you, or perhaps offering you a point of view or argument you hadn't considered. Basically, blogging and surfing blogs can be an encouraging social and informative experience.

However, there is a group of people who almost want to sabotage this exchange. They post nasty comments, and don't even have the guts to stand to their opinions, preferring to remain anonymous. Here is a collection of a few of these comments:

Found at Trying to Grok:
"[...]someone as fucktard-dumb as you." Now, this guy really wanted to hide his cowardice, by giving a false email address: The domain isn't even registered...alternately, he probably thought he was being really witty. However, I love that word's up there with cheese-dick, and numb-nuts. To the commentator's credit, he did leave his view of things...but not without insulting the blogger.

Found at Sminklemeyer:
You are just cannon fodder there in Iraq, nobody cares about what you think and what you feel.
Okay, this one is real creative...the whole I am on your side, when I protest this war by calling you a mindless killerbot.

Another one along a similar vein was found at Buffbabe220:
...kill any kids or old ladies today?
Really classy, that is...

And this cowardice knows no allegience....I was over at Liberal Patriots, and found a heated exchange between some anonymous commentator(s) and the poster, the Progressive Patriot:
Anonymous: You are a fucking idiot.
Progressive Patriot: You represent 99% of the right-wing...too god-damned much of a coward to post with a name. Now, go enlist you spineless punk....Bushitler needs more meat in the Iraq grinder.
Although I disagree with P.P.s response, I have to agree with the "spineless punk" comment.

I think everyone benefits from constructive criticism, but this is far from constructive. This is just plain destructive. Basically all these anonymous posters have one thing in common: they are trying to stand in the way of exchange of ideas. They are, for lack of a better word, terrorizing those who dare to express their points of view. They are trying to silence people who disagree with their view of things.

This really made me think: we are always trying to shield others from our opinions. I was talking with a friend, and she said, she never speaks about religion or politics with other people, because it is too enflammatory. Well, I agree to a certain extent. You shouldn't force your opinions on others, however, how are we supposed to progress if we don't exchange ideas and opinions? How are we going to learn tolerance and acceptance, if we are never confronted with things that might enflame us? I don't want to sound all hoo-ah, but despite all the destructive comments, we who dare stick our necks out and express our opinions, shouldn't give up. And we have much more in common than our differing world views might suggest.

Update: Sminklemeyer has a great post blasting an anonymous commentator at his site.

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Why I love my friend, Frances

I spent the afternoon with an old friend of mine...when I say old, I mean, we have know each other since the fifth grade...okay, that's a long time for us urbanites.

We were driving in her car, and she started on a wonderful diatribe, explaining that she had taken her car to a body-shop owned by an acquaintance of her boyfriend to get a dent repaired. She said the guy seemed very shady, and she didn’t like the place…but her insurance didn’t cover the dent (caused by a hit-and-runner, when she had the car parked), and he would repair it for cheap.

When she picked up the car a few days later, the dent was repaired, but he had lost her key, broken the center arm rest closing mechanism, and…*gasp* horror upon horror: her Bush/Cheney button and “I voted” sticker had been removed from her Righty the Elephant Beenie Baby, which she had in the front of her car.

She claimed: “I just know that bastard saw that, and thought, 'oooh, she’s Republican' and knew that I voted against Prop 66, (which would have limited California’s Three Strikes Law), and got all angry, because he is most likely on his second strike. And so he stole my Bush/Cheney button just to spite me.”

I was cracking up so hard.

Monday, December 20, 2004

Muslim Secularism…or the Lack Thereof

Henryk Broder is one of my favorite Germans…he belongs to one of the 20% of Germans who was happy to see Bush win.

Every week he has a small radio commentary, which you can listen to online at his website.

On the 19th of Novembers he showed discussed the situation of Muslims in Germany:
Heiliger Bimbam !19. November 2004
Auch wenn man mit Religion nichts am Hut hat, scheint es doch wahnsinnig wichtig zu sein, wie der Gott heißt, an den man nicht glaubt. In den vergangenen Tagen wurde mit einer Leidenschaft über die Muslime in Deutschland diskutiert, als wären sie alle erst letzte Woche zu uns gekommen.

Holy Cow!
Even if you don’t care about religion, it really seems nevertheless important, how the god is called, in which one doesn’t believe. In the last few days, Muslims in Germany were talked about with such a passion, as if they only just arrived here last week.]

Let me give some background: Germany is trying to deal with the conflicts of having mixed religions in their society with many different tactics, one minister even going so far as to suggest a Islamic public holiday in Germany. In the following audio report, Broder summed up the biggest problem with Muslims in Germany:

“There is a secular Christian culture, there is a secular Jewish culture, but there is no secular Islam. There is banal naïve differentiation, between Islam and Islamismus [a German word, which when literally translated means: “Islamism”], which is reminiscent of the differentiation between communism and a totalitarian government. The former in both may have been a good idea, but the second lost the plot.

He continues: “the problem with Islam, which was formerly a problem with other religions too, is the interpretation of God’s word. In religions where it is interpreted as symbolic and metaphorical, then you can live with it. In religions were it is directly interpreted, it leads to catastrophes.”

He went on to cite and example in Israel, where the Orthodox right protested against a yogurt company, because they had put dinosaurs on their packaging, in an attempt to attract youngsters to eat their product, with an explanation about dinosaurs, including the fact that they lived 100 million years ago; according the Jewish belief, dinosaurs couldn’t have existed, because the existence of the Earth only goes back about 5000 years. There was a big conflict, but in the end the orthodox Jews lost, and it has since just become an amusing anecdote. Broder summed it up by saying, it’s all a question of how society reacts.

He took the example of the promise of 72 virgins “available” for all Muslims, (not just martyrs) upon arriving in Heaven. He said, he has yet to hear the Muslim community to refute this as just being symbolic. In addition he said there has been no Muslim counterpart, to Monty Python’s Life of Brian.

I thought this was all very interesting. Basically saying there wasn’t enough introspection in Islam. And there is no Muslim country, which “practices” a secular Islam…the closest example being Jordan, which still doesn’t compare to it’s Christian or Jewish secular counterparts.

When I was listening to this, I remembered the group Free Muslim Coalition who is promoting the secularization of Muslim culture. They had an interesting article on their website discussing

Military camaraderie

I am home for the holidays! Arrived last night at LAX at 2am in the morning. From now on it’s only direct flights for me. It’s not like there aren’t direct connections between Frankfurt and Los Angeles. But I like to save where I can…but somehow the satisfaction of saving about $100-150 isn’t so sweet, when your parents have to come pick you up in the middle of the night, instead of the original 9pm at night.

My plane to JKF was about 80% military personnel…it was like one huge pot luck almost. Everyone chatting with everyone. You could hear war stories being exchanged, everyone was happy to be flying home. Quite a few families looking forward to spending time with the grandparents, and cousins. Also dreading future deployments. But it really struck me how upbeat everyone was. It was like this huge family.

I am constantly impressed by the “military community”. Apparently the military community extends beyond the separate units soldiers are in. If you compare the army to any other business/company, you would really have to say that they have some pretty good morale. Okay, I guess the word morale is wrong. Perhaps they aren’t all happy with their jobs, positions or employers…but it is almost like some kind of club. There is some instant camaraderie when two service personnel meet. It’s almost like an alumni association.

It kind of reminds me of the school I used to go to: we didn’t have a lot of materials, the campus was pathetic, we had no intramural sports…but we had some really good teachers (and some lesser good teachers), and although some students came and went, there was a core that was there for a while…which meant that from the 7 people I graduated with [it was a really, really small school], 4 people I had been with since the 5th grade, and the other 3 came in the 6th and 7th grades. We were a motley crew, representing a mixture of immigrant children (French, British, Iranian, and Guatemalan) and American born children of immigrants (Haitian, Mexican), not to mention different religions. But through the fact that we had no choice, but to associate with each other (there weren’t enough children to form cliques), we became a pretty tightly knit group. And even if I groaned inwardly everyday I went to school, I always enjoyed seeing my friends, and bitching with them about those whom I didn’t like. If I were to meet alumni from that school, I would feel an instant affinity with them, because we surely have shared experiences.

I haven’t been exposed to the military life and profession for long enough to really know what it is like. But it seems like there is this shared experience that everyone who has been in the military can emphasize with on some level or another…and I can’t really think of many jobs where this is true. Of course teachers, firefighters and policeman can always exchange “war stories,” but as they aren’t all operating under the same employer they don’t always have the shared experiences.

Saturday, December 18, 2004

The Virgin Birth

Okay, I know I shouldn't really be commenting on this, because I have absolutely no knowledge of the Bible...okay, maybe a bit, but not enough to be confident talking about it. However, I just wanted to bring up an interesting nugget of information.

I will digress first: A teacher of mine recounted the story of the little girl cooking with her young mother in the kitchen. Before putting the roast into the casserole, the young mother cut off a lump of the meat off the end of the roast, and lay it next to the roast in the casserole. The little girl asked her mother, why she did that. And the mother responded, that she didn't was just something her mother always did, and she had learned how to cook roast from her mother, so she had picked it up too. So they called the grandmother, and asked her why she did it, and she replied, she didn't know...her mother had always done it, so she did too. So they called the great-grandmother and asked why she always cut a lump off the end of the roast...and she said: "Oh, that was because my roast pan was too small for the whole roast."

Anyways, to get back to the Bible, or more precisely, the "Virgin" Mary. Now both Matthew and Luke recount the birth of Jesus...and the preceding Immaculate conception. And Mary is always mentioned as the virgin Mary. Okay, so, in all probability, she was. However, I think it's highly probable that they didn't mean to constantly call her the Virgin Mary, but instead, the maiden/girl Mary, as the word "virgo" in Latin means : maiden, virgin, young girl.

So, when the Bible was translated from Latin, they just took the translation "virgin"...but it wasn't necessarily so. Once again, I want to re-iterate, that I am not saying she wasn't a virgin, I am just saying that they may have just wanted to say maiden Mary, and instead it was translated into the Virgin Mary...

I have no idea, why I am writing this, I just thought it was an interesting fact...and I want to suddenly make my years of Latin courses worth something.

Moral Values Myth

Okay, I know this is outdated, but I still feel that I need to address it.

It was kind of frustrating, and still is, when people call the counties and states that voted for Bush, Jesusland. This urban legend is based on exit polls with fixed answers, that didn’t give the responders much leeway.

The best explanation of this polling phenomenon comes from Charles Krauthammer, at the Washington Post:
The way the question was set up, moral values were sure to be ranked disproportionately high. Why? Because it was a multiple-choice question, and moral values cover a group of issues, while all the other choices were individual issues. Chop up the alternatives finely enough, and moral values are sure to get a bare plurality over the others.
Look at the choices:
• Education, 4 percent.
• Taxes, 5 percent.
• Health Care, 8 percent.
• Iraq, 15 percent.
• Terrorism, 19 percent.
• Economy and Jobs, 20 percent.
• Moral Values, 22 percent.
"Moral values" encompass abortion, gay marriage, Hollywood's influence, the general coarsening of the culture and, for some, the morality of preemptive war. The way to logically pit this class of issues against the others would be to pit it against other classes: "war issues" or "foreign policy issues" (Iraq plus terrorism) and "economic issues" (jobs, taxes, health care, etc).
If you pit group against group, the moral values class comes in dead last: war issues at 34 percent, economic issues variously described at 33 percent and moral values at 22 percent -- i.e., they are at least a third less salient than the others.

Now, in polls which had open ended questions, where the voters could write in their own answers, the results , shown in the second box down on the first page, were pretty different.

Iraq Movie

The feature film about the American involvement in Iraq ihas been announced:
Producers at Universal Pictures are developing what would be Hollywood's first feature film about the war in Iraq, with actor Harrison Ford ready to portray a U.S. general in the movie, the studio said on Friday.
The combat drama would be based on the upcoming book "No True Glory," an account of the battle for Falluja by Bing West, a Marine veteran and former U.S. assistant defense secretary now covering the war as a foreign correspondent, a studio spokesman said.

Friday, December 17, 2004


So, I was cruising The Nation online....[it's my masochistic perversion]...and I came upon this little ditty.
For the most part the article is typical socialist fodder: A 2000 study by Andrew Franklin, then an economist at the University of Connecticut, showed that Wal-Mart operated primarily in poor and working-class communities, finding, in the bone-dry language of his discipline, "a significant negative relationship between median household income and Wal-Mart's presence in the market." [...] Only 6 percent of Wal-Mart shoppers have annual family incomes of more than $100,000. A 2003 study found that 23 percent of Wal-Mart Supercenter customers live on incomes of less than $25,000 a year.

Okay so here's my beef...I was checking out family incomes in America, and guess what? Families with an annual income of $30,000 and less make up about 40% of the population...and families that make over $110,000 a year make up 5% of the population. So this would actually pretty much indicate that Walmart shoppers are pretty much a slice of America, there isn't over proportional representation of any class, as far as I can see.

Here's another money quote: Unlike so many horrible things, Wal-Mart cannot be blamed on George W. Bush.

However, the article did mention something pretty troubling: California Assemblywoman Sally Lieber, who represents the 22nd Assembly District and is a former mayor of Mountain View,[...]smelled blood when, tipped off by dissatisfied workers, her office discovered that Wal-Mart was encouraging its workers to apply for public assistance, "in the middle of the worst state budget crisis in history!" California had a $38 billion deficit at the time, and Lieber was enraged that taxpayers would be subsidizing Wal-Mart's low wages, bringing new meaning to the term "corporate welfare."

See, if that is the truth, isn't it sad that it is buried in the last pages of such an article? Why don't they just go with that in the first place and forget all the Marxist fodder? I would definitely read an article explaining how Walmart is reducing labor costs – thus increasing their profit - by having welfare pay its employees.


After years of emailing friends links and rants, I decided I should just have a web presence and stop clogging email accounts.