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the post-american world June 23, 2008

Posted by KG in books, foreign policy, international, iraq war, politics, religion, reviews, terrorism, Uncategorized.
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excerpt from fareed zakaria’s new book, the post-american world (nytimes review), which i highly recommend

(also, be sure to check out gps, his new show on cnn…”CNN U.S. chief Jonathan Klein approached Zakaria about a year ago and was told that “the only show I want to do is one that fills in the huge gaping hole in American television, which is 95 percent of the rest of the world,” Zakaria said in an interview with the Associated Press on Monday…”):

The split between Sunnis and Shiites is only one of the divisions within the Islamic world. Within that universe are Shiites and Sunnis, Persians and Arabs, Southeast Asians and Middle Easterners, and, importantly, moderates and radicals. Just as the diversity within the communist world ultimately made it less threatening, so do the many varieties of Islam undermine its ability to coalesce into a single, monolithic foe. Some Western leaders speak of a single worldwide Islamic movement – absurdly lumping together Chechen separatists in Russia, Pakistani-backed militants in India, Shiite warlords in Lebanon, and Sunni jihadists in Egypt. In fact, a shrewd strategist would emphasize that all these groups are distinct, with differing agendas, enemies, and friends. That would rob them of their claim to represent Islam…

A cottage industry of scaremongering has flourished in the West-especially in the United States-since 9/11. Experts extrapolate every trend they don’t like, forgoing any serious study of the data. Many conservative commentators have written about the impending Islamization of Europe (Eurabia, they call it, to make you even more uncomfortable). Except that the best estimates, from U.S. intelligence agencies, indicate that Muslims constitute around 3 percent of Europe’s population now and will rise to between 5 and 8 percent by 2025, after which they will probably plateau. The watchdogs note the musings of every crackpot Imam, search the archives for each reference to the end of days, and record and distribute the late-night TV musings of every nutcase who glorifies martyrdom. They erupt in a fury when a Somali taxi driver somewhere refuses to load a case of liquor into his car, seeing it as the beginning of sharia in the West. But these episodes do not reflect the basic direction of the Muslim world. That world is also modernizing, though more slowly than the rest, and there are those who try to become leaders in rebellion against it. The reactionaries in the world of Islam are more numerious and extreme than those in other cultures-that world does have its dysfunctions. But they remain a tiny minority of the world’s billion-plus Muslims. And neglecting the complicated context in which some of these pseudoreligious statements are made-such as an internal Iranian power struggle among clerics and nonclerics-leads to hair-raising but absurd predictions, like Bernard Lewis’s confident claim that Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad planned to mark an auspicious date on the Islamic calendar (August 22, 2006) by ending the world. (Yes, he actually wrote that.)

The ideological watchdogs have spent so much time with the documents of jihad that they have lost sight of actual Muslim societies. Were they to step back, they would see a frustration with the fundamentalists, a desire for modernity (with some dignity and cultural pride for sure), and a search for practical solutions-not a mass quest for immortality through death. When Muslims travel, they flock by the millions to see the razzle-dazzle of Dubai, not the seminaries of Iran. The minority that wants jihad is real, but it operates within societies where such activites are increasingly unpopular and irrelevant.

excerpt from newsweek:

Look around. The world’s tallest building is in Taipei, and will soon be in Dubai. Its largest publicly traded company is in Beijing. Its biggest refinery is being constructed in India. Its largest passenger airplane is built in Europe. The largest investment fund on the planet is in Abu Dhabi; the biggest movie industry is Bollywood, not Hollywood. Once quintessentially American icons have been usurped by the natives. The largest Ferris wheel is in Singapore. The largest casino is in Macao, which overtook Las Vegas in gambling revenues last year. America no longer dominates even its favorite sport, shopping. The Mall of America in Minnesota once boasted that it was the largest shopping mall in the world. Today it wouldn’t make the top ten. In the most recent rankings, only two of the world’s ten richest people are American. These lists are arbitrary and a bit silly, but consider that only ten years ago, the United States would have serenely topped almost every one of these categories.

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george carlin, 1937-2008 June 22, 2008

Posted by KG in comedy, news, religion.
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nytimes:

During his live 1996 HBO special, “Back in Town,” he raged over the shallowness of the ’90s “me first” culture — mocking the infatuation with camcorders, hyphenated names, sneakers with lights on them, and lambasting white guys over 10 years old who wear their baseball hats backwards. Baby boomers, “who went from ‘do your thing’ to ‘just say no’ …from cocaine to Rogaine,” and pro life advocates (“How come when it’s us it’s an abortion, and when it’s a chicken it’s an omelet?”), were some of his prime targets.

Although some criticized parts of his later work as too contentious, Mr. Carlin defended the material, insisting that his comedy had always been driven by an intolerance for the shortcomings of humanity and society. “Scratch any cynic,” he said, “and you’ll find a disappointed idealist.”

supreme court inc. March 23, 2008

Posted by KG in 2008 Elections, econ, legal, news, politics.
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“supreme court inc.”:

The origins of the business community’s campaign to transform the Supreme Court can be traced back precisely to Aug. 23, 1971. That was the day when Lewis F. Powell Jr., a corporate lawyer in Richmond, Va., wrote a memo to his friend Eugene B. Snydor, then the head of the education committee of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. In the memo, Powell expressed his concern that the American economic system was “under broad attack.” He identified several aggressors: the New Left, the liberal media, rebellious students on college campuses and, most important, Ralph Nader. Earlier that year, Nader founded Public Citizen to advocate for consumer rights, bring antitrust actions when the Justice Department did not and sue federal agencies when they failed to adopt health and safety regulations.

If there is an anti-Nader — a crusading lawyer passionately devoted to the pro-business cause — it is Theodore Olson. One of the most influential Supreme Court advocates and a former solicitor general under President George W. Bush, Olson is best known for his winning argument before the Supreme Court in Bush v. Gore in 2000. But Olson has devoted most of his energies in private practice to changing the legal and political climate for American business. According to his peers in the elite Supreme Court bar, he more than anyone else is responsible for transforming the approach to one of the most important legal concerns of the American business community: punitive damages awarded to the victims of corporate negligence.

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quotes of the day March 9, 2008

Posted by KG in international, news, politics.
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“socialists win spanish election, retaining power”:

Mr. Zapatero both won and lost voters over his ambitious social and political agenda that has ushered in such changes as the legalization of gay marriage, fast-track divorce, recognition for the victims of the fascist Franco dictatorship and more autonomy for some of Spain’s 17 regions.

“Zapatero has given us more rights than any leader to the people of Spain: the old, the young, gays, men, women,” said Santiago Cruz, 69, a retired plumber who lives in the working-class Madrid suburb of Vallecas, which has a large immigrant population. “I grew up under Franco with no rights. I grew up having to sing Franco’s anthem so that his fascist supporters would throw me scraps of cabbage.

Other voters claimed that Mr. Zapatero’s social changes were destroying Spain’s value system.

Zapatero is breaking with the traditional Christian values that we have espoused our whole lives,” said Miguel María Santos de Quevedo, a 76-year old retired notary in Tomares, a town in Andalucía, who voted for the Popular Party. “He wants to impose his relativist values on everyone, to claim that there is no such thing as good and bad.

steven pinker on npr January 29, 2008

Posted by KG in cognitive science, interviews, language, neuroscience, news, psychology, religion.
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steven-pinker-2.jpg

discussing his nytimes magazine article, “the moral instinct,” on talk of the nation.

30min segment