Sunday, September 30, 2007

From the mouths of ...

"[W]henever I hear anything described as a heartless assault on our children, I tend to think it's a good idea. I'm happy that the President's willing to do something bad for the kids."

Bill Kristol on Fox News

Friday, September 28, 2007

More on Ahmadinejad at Columbia

The following is borrowed from Information Clearing House

Lost In Translation: Ahmadinejad & The Media
by Ali Quli Qarai

Sept. 28, 2007.
First I want to make some remarks about that now world-famous statement of President Ahmadinejad at Columbia: “We do not have homosexuals in Iran of the kind you have in your country.” The American media conveniently ignored the second, and crucial, part of his sentence as something redundant.

Obviously he was not saying, "We don’t have any homosexuals whatsoever in Iran" — something nobody in the world would believe, not even in Iran. And by implication, he was not telling his audience, "I am a plain liar!" — something which his audience at Columbia and the American media construed him to be saying.

What he was saying is that homosexuality in the U.S. and homosexuality in Iran are issues which are as far apart from one another as two cultural universes possibly can be. They are so dissimilar that any attempt to relate them and bring them under a common caption would be misleading.
“Homosexuality is not an issue in Iran as it is in present-day American society.” This was, apparently what was saying in polite terms.

Homosexuality in the U.S. is a omnipresent social and political issue which crops up in almost every discourse and debate pertaining to American society and politics. So much so that I think it was a major issue, if not the deciding factor, in the last two presidential elections which paved Bush’s way to the White House and saddled the Democrats with defeat, because a large so-called conservative section of the American public (the Red States) felt wary of the pro-gay liberalism of the Democratic Party.

By contrast, homosexuality is a non-issue in Iran, and is considered an uncommon perversion (except as an occasional topic of jokes about a certain town).
From the viewpoint of penal law, too, it is does not receive much attention, as the requirements for a sentence (four eye-witnesses, who have actually seen the details of the act) are so astringent as to make punishment almost impossible. (It would be interesting to know how many Iranians have been accused of homosexuality during the last two decades)

By contrast adultery and homosexuality are legalized forms of behavior in most of Europe and America, and regarded not as criminal acts but as perfectly acceptable forms of sexual behavior, and as legitimate natural human rights which need to be taught even to all Asian and African societies as well.

There was also a subtle hint in his remark that he wanted to move on from this topic to more serious and relevant matters, a point which would be obvious to anyone conversant with Persian language and culture (like his other hint concerning the disgraceful conduct of Columbia University's president, when, while formally inviting Columbia academics to Iran, Ahmadinejad added, “You can rest assured that we will treat you in Iran with hundred percent respect.”

Iranians, being linguistically a very sophisticated people, (commonly) speak in hints which may be invisible to outsiders. Americans in comparison tend to be straightforward and often primitive. (In general the Persians, like other civilized societies, have developed the art of making and responding to harsh remarks in soft and friendly words. Americans, as Prof. Bollinger proved, have still much to learn from concerning the civilities of civilized hostility.)

Mr. Bollinger’s hostility towards President Ahmadinejad had obviously been fed by devious translations and interpretations of Ahmadinejad's earlier — also world-famous—remarks about Israel and the Holocaust. It was as if, as one commentator has remarked, the professor only had been watching Fox News.

Unfortunately for more than an year these remarks have given a ready-made excuse to Ahmadinejad's critics to demonize him and attack Iran’s foreign policies. Although he has made some attempts (unjustifiably belated, I think, and not quite adequate) to clarify himself.

We who hear these remarks have also an intellectual duty to ourselves and others to see exactly what he exactly meant. It is a basic linguistic principle of civilized discourse that so long as there is an acceptable and upright interpretation for a remark, it should not be given a devious meaning. Moreover, as one of my teachers often says, it is easy to reject and denounce the statements of others, but the worthy task of every intelligent seeker is to try to understand people who hold different opinions. This is particular necessary when such statements originate in a different linguistic and cultural domain.

When Ahmadinejad repeated Ayatullah Khomeini’s words that “Israel baayad az bayn beravad,” (which literally means that Israel should cease to exist), what is critically important is to know how Iranian people understand these words of their president. I don’t think any mature Iranian with some awareness of regional politics has ever thought that the late Leader of Iran, or the present President, were advocating some kind of military action against Israel. By citing the examples of the Soviet Union and the Apartheid regime in South Africa, Ahmadinejad, too, has clarified what he meant by ‘Israel ceasing to exist.’

By the rules of civilized discourse, every speaker’s clarification concerning what he means is authoritative, as he is entitled, before all others, to state and clarify what he means by his statements. In this case, Ahmadinejad has also clarified as to how he thinks “Israel baayad az bayn beravad” may happen: a general referendum in undivided Palestine with the participation of its Arab, Jewish and Christian population.

As for Ahmadinejad's statement that the Holocaust in a myth, we all know that the word “myth” has several meanings in the dictionary. One of its meanings is “A fiction or half-truth, especially one that forms part of an ideology” (The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language).

A myth is not something necessarily untrue and Ahmadinejad has not denied outright that the Holocaust did occur, although he seems to have doubts about its exact extent, doubts which are prone to be strengthened, rightly or otherwise, by attempts to persecute or prosecute scholars whose research leads them to conclusions different from main-current historiography.

What he basically appears to question is that the Holocaust should be made an ideological tool for the pursuit of unfair and inhuman objectives — something which most of us acknowledge has happened in the case of Palestine.

Why should the people of Palestine be made to pay the price for the guilt and failings of Europe?, he asks. I think that is a legitimate question.

The savants of the media are free to interpret Ahmadinejad’s statement with the purpose of demonizing him and excoriating Iran, but there are better and alternate paths for those who strive for understanding and peace between nations, and to an objective like this institutions, like Columbia University, should contribute.

I hope that Mr. Bollinger will advance a courageous apology to Mr Ahmadinejad, and take advantage of his standing invitation for continuing the exchange of ideas with academic circles in Iran.

Iranians generally are a large-hearted people, like most Americans, and I hope the bitterness which has arisen from the unfortunate events of the past week will soon be forgotten, with the sincere efforts of well-meaning intellectuals and officials on both sides.

I cannot think of any other way in which good will between these nations, as well as the good repute of Columbia University can be salvaged.

Ali Quli Qarai is an Iranian scholar. He has published several books, including a translation of the Quran. He can be reached at

Thursday, September 27, 2007

RIP, Anita Roddick

This interview originally ran in the SF Examiner in 2001.
Dame Anita Roddick, environmentalist, activist and founder of the
Body Shop died from a cerebral hemorrhage on Sept 10, 2007

In 1976 Anita Roddick founded The Body Shop. Today (2001) her environmentally-friendly, beauty products chain of stores numbers 2,000 around the world, 300 in the U.S., 6 in San Francisco. Once dismissed as a 60's liberal flake Roddick's environmentally ethical and moral business beliefs are now championed as the new world order.

Fred Dodsworth: Do appearances count?
Anita Roddick: Yes it does in a culture like America - a graphic culture, a visual culture. You're measured by what you look like. You are more believed if you are "good-looking" than if you had some quirky, idiosyncratic look.
This is totally peculiar to the Western culture - including Europe - and more southern than north. And some parts of the body are seen as much more attractive than other parts of the body. In Japan it's your neck, your hands, your feet, and not your mouth. You hide your mouth when you talk. In Europe, it's other parts of the body, mostly cheeks and lips.
This notion of what you look like, and you're measured by your look, and the language around that, is absolutely shored up by our culture, our visual culture.

Q: Are we doing young women a service by promoting beauty?
A: It's how you define it. If you define it as sort of a combination of features, stuck in a box of 18-25 years old, there's no value. We're not doing anybody a service. Because you're actually saying that what you've done in life, you know, raised great kids, being a support for every damn social movement, whatever it is women have achieved, has absolutely no value at all.
So on to the trash heap of life you go if you're my age with crow's feet and dimples in your bum. And the messages that are given are really: Shut up; Get a face lift, and Diet.
Even thirty-five years after the women's movement we're still bombarded with images of passive and compliant women, which is really bizarre. Who knows a compliant woman? I know no one, anymore.
So we're doing no service and education is doing sweet f-all. There's nothing in our education that tells young girls they're remarkable. There's nothing in our education that says what their role in history is. It's almost like his-story, it's not her-story anymore. The Masai said that hunting would be different if the lions could tell the story. Our history would be different if women told the story.

Q: Ideals of beauty in indigenous cultures are very different than our ideals. Women from our culture are thought to be sickly by folk from indigenous cultures.
A: The West Africans have a wonderful description of sensuality of woman. They say, "A women to be beautiful, she has to walk like her bum is chewing gum." This great rotundity, with a magnificence of flesh, that was a pre-European definition of women. It was always about how the body signified the valleys and the mountains. The mounds of the flesh were supposed to reflect nature.

Q: Are women and men different?
A: Of course they're different. They're different by conditioning. They're different by language. There's no doubt about that. We shape them by how we talk to them, what we show them, and what we purchase. Different colors. Blue. Pink.
Yeah, I think they're different. Women are funnier. I think one of the things that will shape women in the next millennium is laughter. When women are together in groups they laugh. It t cuts through fantasy. It cuts through fear. I think women have a better sense of humor than men.

Q: Can women really be successful in business?
A: Why not? They don't need to have male characteristics. Only for the last century have women been allowed to take their place in business. Females were supposed to be support for the male breadwinner, but two world wars changed that pretty fast.
Look at the great French wine company Clicquot and the woman who ran that amazing champagne company. She was a trader, a merchant. It was not considered a woman's place.
Yes they do make good business people. Now whether or not they want to play the game, the collegiate grouping around the Rotary clubs, the Lions' clubs or whatever bloody clubs they're called - women don't like. They spend seven to ten times more time with their kids than their partner does. They have a different balance.
What do you need to be a good businessperson? You need to have a bright idea. You need to be able to be a trader, a merchant. Selling it for a profit, thank God if you can. You need to be able to speak it up, i.e., story-tell about it, i.e., market it. And you need to be consistent, and have a passion. And all of those women have.

Q: Then why are so few women successful in American corporations?
A: Women are leaving corporate America in droves because they don't like what power is doing. They don't like the nature of power as seen by hierarchy, control. They're much more seamless in their connections and networks. They like -- I believe -- a much more grassroots way of organizing.
They don't like being part of an organization that is very male-run, like a city, or like the stock market, because they end up having very male characteristics. They're much harder, more aggressive.

Q: Are the issues the same for young and older women?
A: In my experience, women at my age (post menopausal) do become more radical as they get older. I love this quote of Dorothy Sayers -- "A woman in advancing old age is unstoppable by any earthly force." And they ARE demanding to be heard.
Going back to your original question about what you look like - when you get my age, what you look like is not priority. It's about being heard. Being sure your place matters, whether it's in the community or in business or in society.
Being heard in a respectful way is something that is not given naturally. Having wisdom, which is your accumulated knowledge with it's moral overtone, is of no value. That's one of the great losses in our society, where in many other countries wisdom is embraced.

Q: What is the current status of women in the first world?
A: We're pretty lousy at the moment, in terms of stages. The United Nations, a couple of years back, gave out this pretty appalling statistic which said it would take another 500 years before women would get the same level as men, on the political agenda. And another 750 years on top of that, we're talking about a bloody 1,000 years before women will achieve the same economic status. I don't know about you but I haven't got much time on this stuff.

Q: No hope?
A: There's a lot of interest in things going on but it never hits the radar screen because it's deemed by the media as not sexy. There's a lot of grassroots activity going on in isolation. Women in the developing world, the majority world, are the leaders of the grassroots organizing. Thousands and millions of small, economically self-reliant groups pushing at the environmental mess and public education. You get half a dozen women building a well or teaching kids, but together their impact is monumental. If you think you're too small to be effective then you've never been to bed with a mosquito.

Q: If you could speak to every young woman in the world and say one thing that they might take with them throughout their lives …
A: Challenge everything. It's not just by being confrontational but seeing there's another viewpoint, because there's another story.

Q: Does business have any moral authority or responsibility?
A: It doesn't, but it should have. Businesses are now more powerful than government. They're the most powerful institutions on this planet. They're beyond the influence of religion. They're beyond the influences of government. Tthat's why they need more than anything now, to have a moral influence and an honorable code of behavior. But they don't. Because by the nature of the system, they're allowed to be corporate criminals. They're allowed to be financial fascists. They're allowed to act in a way that if a human being acted, they would be imprisoned. They're allowed to do anything in the name of profit, and yet there has never been one clause written, one word written, that says you have to, by law, maximize your profit. Never, ever.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

I support the Jena 6

article borrowed from the Wikians

Racial tensions resurfaced in Jena on September 1, 2006, when hangman's nooses were discovered in an oak tree on the campus of Jena High School after a black student had asked the vice principal if he and some friends could sit under the tree, where white students had typically congregated. The school administration recommended that the noose-hangers be expelled. The elected La Salle Parish School Board overruled the school, he and the three white student perpetrators received in-school suspension.

On November 30, 2006, an arson fire destroyed the main academic building at the school. On December 4, a fight broke out on campus, after which six African-American students, later dubbed the Jena 6, were arrested and charged with attempted second-degree murder.

The six accused of attempted second-degree murder are black and were fighting a white student after what they claimed to have been a week of intimidation by white students, including the one who was assaulted.

Intimidation cited includes an incident in which a white student brandished a gun at the black students while at a convenience store after a verbal exchange. Black students allegedly wrestled away the gun and were then held in custody and charged with theft while no charges were made against the white student.

On June 26, 2007, the first day of trial for Mychal Bell, one of the defendants, the prosecutor agreed to reduce the charges for Bell to aggravated second-degree battery and conspiracy to commit aggravated second-degree battery.

Bell was found guilty by an all-white jury, and will face the possibility of up to twenty-two years in prison when he is sentenced. The sentencing was originally scheduled for July 30, but has been delayed. However, the case is currently in dispute, as the court-appointed public defender did not call a single witness in his attempt to defend Bell. The other five students will be tried at a later date.

On August 24, 2007, a bond hearing was held for Mychal Bell. Judge J.P. Mauffray ruled against Bell, citing four prior violent crimes in his past and three parole violations. The Judge admitted being in error because the prior crimes were sealed juvenile cases.

The Third Circuit Court of Appeals tossed out Mychal Bell's conviction, stating that he should have never been tried as an adult as he was sixteen years old at the time of the incident. The ruling does not affect the other teenagers in the case because they were all seventeen years of age, or the age of legal consent, in Louisiana at the time of the incident.

Though local citizens strongly defend their town, Jena has gained international attention for alleged "new 'stealth' racism" that lives on in the United States as reported in a National Public Radio prime time story on July 30. The town also featured in a BBC documentary, This World: "Race hate in Louisiana".

Something's happening here...

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (the elected President of Iran and allegedly a "man of peace") spoke to the assembled United Nations this week.

Among other topics in his 40 minute address he accused the United States of human rights abuses!

He said: ""The rights and dignity of the American people are ... being sacrificed for the selfish desires of those holding power." He cited as examples our "setting up secret prisons, abducting persons, trials and secret punishments without any regard to due process ... (these) have become commonplace."

Six years ago, Ahmadinejad would have been laughed off the stage for such a ridiculous statement. Today he speaks a truth that our Congressional Representatives are incapable of saying. Perhaps because they are too busy passing irrelevant motions to censure MoveOn for running an ad in the New York Times.

Once upon a time we weren't afraid of petty tyrants, nor were we afraid of the truth.

In 1959 Nikita Khrushchev, the Premier of the Soviet Union, the man who assumed Josef Stalin's mantle, toured the United States of America for 13 days. Ironically, the only place he was denied entry was Disneyland.

Today, too many off us would not allow anyone we disagree with to travel freely nor speak freely in this country that was built on such freedoms.

Follow up, Sept 27
Here's a related piece posted today on Progressive Historians.
and here's Rick Perlstein's take on the same issue, entitled 'Bed-wetter Nation".

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Bad Iran?

As we get in a slather about Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, (the "man of peace") and his visit to the US, there are a few things to keep in mind. Take for instance the following:

Iran Population: 70,472,846 (2006 est.) wiki Iran

Iraq Population: 26,783,383 (2006 est.) wiki Iraq

Israel Population: 7,184,000 (2007 est.) wiki Israel way of comparison, the SF Bay Area population is equivalent to Israel, the State of Texas is equivalent to Iraq and the population of California AND New York combined is still smaller than Iran.

and now for a little history.
In 1951, a nationalist politician, Dr. Mohammed Mossadegh was elected Prime Minister of Iran. Mossadegh became enormously popular by nationalizing British Petroleum/BP (then known as Anglo-Iranian Oil Company), which controlled Iran's oil reserves.

In 1953, President Eisenhower authorized Operation Ajax, and the CIA worked to overthrow Mossadegh and install a U.S.-friendly monarch (the Shah of Iran); and for which the U.S. Government apologized in 2000.

The Iranian Revolution overthrew the Shah in 1979. Shortly thereafter the US froze Iran financial assets (still frozen in 2007) and with the support of President George H. Bush (Papa Doc Bush) the US provided Iraq with illegal chemical and biological materials which were used as weapons against Iran's defenders and civilians from 1980 through 1988.

There were more than 100,000 Iranian victims of Iraq's chemical weapons during the eight-year war.

The total Iranian casualties of the war are estimated to be between half a million and a million persons. Almost all relevant international agencies have unanimously confirmed that Iran never used chemical weapons during the war.

They hate us because of our freedoms?
I don't think so.

...back to the numbers:

Reported U.S. military deaths in Iraq: 3,800 (Sep 25, 2007)
Estimated number of injuries to US military personnel: 36,943 including catastrophic amputation and grievous brain injuries according to the same source. Add approximately 1,000 deaths, if you wish to included 'contractors' (read Mercenaries), who have died in this current war on Iraq

Number of Iraqis slaughtered since the U.S. attacked Iraq:
1,062,267 according to (and Lancet, the British medical magazine)or 73,606 to 80,224 according to

… many of the deaths have occurred due to aerial attacks, with women and children being frequent victims, wrote an international team of public health researchers, according to the Washington Post.
Number of Iraqis made refugees as a result of the U.S. war on Iraq: 3.8 million according to USA Today (February 07, 2007)

Friday, September 14, 2007

The Prophet Samuel on the Curse of Kings

Samuel told all the words of the Lord to the people who were asking him for a king.
He said, ‘This is what the king who will reign over you will do:
He will take your sons and make them serve with his chariots and horses, and they will run in front of his chariots.
Some he will assign to be commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and others to plow his ground and reap his harvest, and still others to make weapons of war and equipment for his chariots.

He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers.

He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive groves and give them to his attendants.

He will take a tenth of your grain and of your vintage and give it to his officials and attendants. Your menservants and maidservants and the best of your cattle and donkeys he will take for his own use. He will take a tenth of your flocks, and you, yourselves, will become his slaves.

When that day comes, you will cry out for relief from the king you have chosen, and the Lord will not answer you in that day.’

– I Samuel 8:10-18