First of all, I think it is fair to say that no-one who wants to be taken seriously should use the words “Arab Spring” without heavy irony.
The fact is that the First Amendment, no matter how embattled, protects a range of expression unthinkable even in Western Europe. Because of that unique position, and because the U.S. seems doomed to play an outsized diplomatic and military role in the tumultuous Muslim world, it behooves the State Department to constantly explain the vast differences between state-sanctioned and legally protected speech in the so-called Land of the Free. If the U.S. government really was in the business of “firmly reject[ing]” private free-speech acts that “hurt the religious beliefs of others” there would be no time left over for doing anything else.
Matt Welch, stating what is alas not obvious to officials at the US State Department.
Meanwhile, I note – as have others – that the killing of the US ambassador in Libya only made it on page 4 of the New York Times. All the news that’s fit, to, er, print. Okay, I understand the limitations of print journalism, but something tells me that a journalist and editors goofed. A US ambassador got murdered, FFS.
The US elections got a lot more interesting, alas, for horrible reasons. The ghost of Jimmy Carter hangs over it.
Some wise comments, I think, from Walter Russell Mead. He is even-handed in how he regards the options for Obama and his opponent:
The order and competence dimension of a presidential election should not be underestimated. Voters generally don’t want presidents who drive the U.S. government like it was a Ferrari. They want a comfortable, safe ride; their kids are in the back seat of the car. Yesterday’s events damage President Obama because they call into question the story the campaign wants to tell—that President Obama is a calm and laid-back, though ultimately decisive person who brings order to a dangerous world and can be trusted with the car keys. But if Republicans respond by looking wild eyed and excitable (remember John McCain’s response to the financial crisis in 2008?), bad times will actually rally people to stick with the devil they know.
Yesterday rocked President Obama’s world and gave Governor Romney’s campaign some new openings. But one day in a long campaign is just one day. We still don’t know how these events will reverberate across the Middle East or how the U.S. response will develop. In some ways, trouble overseas distracts attention from the White House’s current domestic problems—the Woodward book and the Chicago strike. And the President can thank his stars that the German Constitutional Court decided not to plunge the world economy into crisis this morning and allowed the German government to complete the ratification of the most recent European bailout agreements.
As he says, we are living through a period where there is a lot of what finance geeks and others call “event risk”. There is a lot of it about.
I am off to Turkey tomorrow. Gulp.
If you believe – as in: if you believe that if you went into it thoroughly you believe that you would believe – that Noam Chomsky is a monster, but have better things to do with your life than wade through all the disgustingness that would prove it, then this is the interview you should read.
My thanks to David Thompson.
I understand some poor individual in Northern Africa recently posted a slur on Allah and did not delete it quickly enough… and for this a Saudi Mullah declared a death sentence upon him, a Fatwah. This got me to thinking… perhaps we have our own ways of laying curses upon the heads of such 10th Century fanatics. In fact, it might even be great fun and a marvellous creative exercise. So here is mine:
Oh ye purveyor of hatred, listen well as I lay a Western Curse upon you and your descendents unto the end of time: May your daughters abandon you. May they reject you and your foul beliefs and leave for the free world. May they make billions of dollars as free women citizens and marry whomever they wish and live in happiness the rest of their lives. May your sons run away and join the army and become great warriors who earn the highest honours and medals that Israel can bestow upon them. May your wife or wives found chapters of NOW and withhold sex from you until you treat them as equals. If you attempt to beat them, may they take out their Glock’s and shoot your worthless balls off. May you live to see all in the lands of the Middle East and Northern Africa living together in equality, peace and freedom.
Thus do I curse you and all who are like you.
It is said, probably apocryphally, that in rejecting an appeal for the great French chemist Antoine Lavoisier to be spared the guillotine, the revolutionary judge said, “The Republic has no need of scientists”.
The great Pakistani physicist Abdus Salam, the first Muslim to win a Nobel prize for science, has been written out of Pakistani history for being the wrong sort of Muslim, writes Rob Crilly in the Telegraph. Among the saddest aspects of this story is that when reading this I could not wholeheartedly join in with Mr Crilly’s wish that Professor Salam’s name should again be honoured in his homeland. While public and elite opinion in Pakistan remains such that it does not wish to claim a great nuclear physicist – and one of the architects of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons programme – as its own, better for the world that Pakistan gets its wish.
Over at the Big Hollywood site – one of many started by the late Andrew Breitbart – it points to how the singer Lady Gaga (full confession – I have some of her tunes on my iPod) pulled out of a tour in Indonesia, a country with a big Muslim population, on the grounds that her material would offend some of the locals. She has cancelled the tour, although she has made rather mealy-mouthed comments on it. Now just imagine what typically happens if, say, a Christian organisation complains about the tone and content of a singer’s material? I remember back in the 1980s when Madonna’s lyrics and videos incurred the wrath of some. And yet such singers regard it as almost a badge of honour to offend Christians. But with Islam, or certain varieties of said, somehow that delight in causing offence does not exist. And we know why: because those who cause such offence, such as Theo van Gogh can reach a very sticky end. As some of our more colourful music entertainers are finding out, there are limits on your willingness to test freedom of expression in the face of potential violence.
I am presently in the Kingdom of Jordan. It’s a pleasant place. Developing quite rapidly. Friendly, welcoming people, although with a slight excessive tendency to charge foreigners more than they might charge locals for the same thing. That’s a sign of the stage of development the country presently occupies, however. Those higher prices are still cheap, by the standards most westerners are used to, and it is easy to get away with. Such are the joys of using an alphabet that westerners generally cannot read, too. (This sort of thing happens much more in Thailand than it does in Vietnam, for instance, as the Latin alphabet used by the Vietnamese makes it much harder to get away with. Despite the preponderance of alphabets used in India, it happens far less there, given that every establishment has an English language price list that is used by Indians far more than by westerners).
Amman is a city with quite a lot in common with somewhere like Bangkok, actually, although Bangkok is clearly more developed right now. A huge number of people have arrived in Amman from the countryside in recent decades, boosted by greater economic opportunities in the city than the desert as well as for political regions. Huge, relatively poor neighbourhoods have sprung up in East and South Amman. Crowded, sure. Desperate, not at all. In these neighbourhoods you find clusters of souks and markets and stores devoted to most imaginable products.
The new and rapidly growing middle classes are in West Amman. This is a mixture of highway flyovers, international restaurant and hotel chains (including many American restaurant chains not seen in Europe), shopping malls, and bad driving. It resembles Dubai in some ways, but is much less manic, much less the product of ruthless absolute monarchy and a viscous caste system (the Jordinian royal family being much more moderate) and contains many more pedestrians, even if the road infrastructure does not appear to have been invented with pedestrians in mind. There are various signs that money has entered Amman both from and via the UAE in various ways, but it doesn’t appear to be dominating the place. Plus, the weather is a good deal nicer, which helps a lot.
Go into the nicer shopping malls, and you find many of the expected international tenants that are generally to be found in middle class districts of rapidly developing cities with aspirational middle classes: Starbucks, Zara, etc. Anchoring each mall is a huge supermarket, selling vast amounts of food and non-food items at good prices – devoting roughly 50% of floor space to food and 50% to everything else, an outlet of the French chain Carrefour.
As I usually do in foreign countries like this, I devoted some time to wandering around the aisles of this supermarket. There is no section devoted to alcoholic drinks, this being an Arab country. Jordan is not an especially difficult place to find a beer. There are (fairly expensive due to high taxation) liquor stores throughout the country, mostly operated by members of the sizeable Christian minority, but drinking alcohol is something you separate from good wholesome activities like doing the regular shopping or having dinner in a public place, so there is no alcohol section and most restaurants do not serve alcoholic drinks. More entertaining is the section that would be devoted to things like ham, bacon, and salami in a European country. It is really amazing what you can do with turkey meat if you try, as anyone who has ever been served a halal English breakfast can vouch. And along with the Turkey salami there is the lamb salami beloved of Indian pizza aficionados. The regular meat section is full of lamb and beef, some of it imported from places like Brazil and Australia, and some of it sourced locally. The seafood section contains lots of fish that are described as coming from Dubai. An almost landlocked country is not going to be able to source most of its seafood locally (and, in the modern globalised world, who does, anyway?). The food section in general contains much catering to local tastes, and contains a very impressive mixture of local and imported.
Go into the non-food section and you find cheap TVs, computers, and other electrical appliances of all kinds. Cheap, but not too unsightly clothing in a mixture of western and local styles, kitchen utensils, tools and light kitchen, household and garden stuff. Toys. People familiar with the non-food section of a Carrefour or a Tesco anywhere else will be familiar with the contents here. A larger portion of this is imported, and needs to be less localised than the food, but where local sourcing and catering to local needs and taste is necessary, it is done.
Get a bus or taxi to the poorer neighbourhoods of Amman, and there are more downmarket malls in existence or under construction. These also have Carrefour outlets in them, possibly smaller ones. While Starbucks and Zara don’t necessarily travel all that far down from the upwardly mobile middle classes, supermarkets can. Everyone wants to buy good and inexpensive food, and cheap TVs and mobile phones appeal to all social classes as well. Carrefour have moved into the market by first providing cheap goods to relatively upmarket purchasing power by opening in malls that want them as tenants and with which signing contracts and negotiating bureaucracy is relatively easy, in so doing setting up supply chains and logistical systems in the country, and are now just starting to move out into the mass market.
Carrefour are, i think, the best in the world at general retail in middle income and developing countries. Their two most important competitors in this are Wal-Mart of the US and Tesco of the UK. Carrefour resembles Tesco more than it does Wal-Mart. Both Carrefour and Tesco began as food retailers, and as supply chain management became more and more important became better and better at it. Both were very good at negotiating the vagaries of their local planning laws and local labour laws, and expanded domestically to a huge extent as a consequence of this. Both added more and more non-food items as they opened larger and larger stores, to the extent that they became general retailers rather than simply food retailers. (The French use the word hypermarché or possibly the pseudo-Anglicism hypermarket to describe a large store that sells both food and non-food under the same roof. The English stick with supermarket regardless of how big it gets. As well as opening larger stores, they also opened smaller stores, becoming masters of everything from small convenience stores to giant mega markets (some of which do not even sell food). Using economies of scale to run both very small convenience stores and very large megamarkets at the same time was a relatively new thing, and both companies got this relatively early. Both took advantage of the new markets that opened up in Eastern Europe after 1989.
Wal-Mart on the other hand came from general non-food retail and added food later. → Continue reading: Urban development in Jordan and the power of French hypermarkets (but not French politicians)
There are several reasons why no sane Londoner would want former London Mayor, Ken Livingstone, to ever hold sway over even the smallest fragment of life in this fine old town ever again. But even by the standards of his immoderate, incendiary rhetoric over a long and inglorious career, this material I link to via Harry’s Place blog surely has to take the proverbial biscuit.
Last year, investigative journalist – and no right-wing hack – Andrew Gilligan, had a fascinating story about Ken’s interesting sources of funding. From Iran, no less.
Update: Livingstone’s anti-semitism has been a feature for some time. Even his own party is starting to get seriously rattled. He’s playing a very dangerous game: pandering to fundamentalist islam and trying to score points with them by bashing Jews. FFS.
Another update: Harry’s Place has more on the latest outrage.
That is what she is, it seems. A member of the House of Lords, Jenny Tonge has arguably now gone so crazy that the police might get involved, although as a libertarian, I defend freedom of speech absolutely, so I think any criminal prosecution would be wrong, just as I defend the right of a political party to eject her, shame her and put her head on a metaphorical spike outside the Tower of London.
Breaking: She has now resigned the Liberal Democrat whip. It is extraordinary she has been allowed to hang on for so long.
As Nick Cohen has written:
“The Israeli-Palestinian conflict explains the shabbiness of Lib Dem thought as it explains so many other shabby arguments circulating in Europe. Its leaders ought to know that the only moral position to take is to support a two-state solution in which a free and democratic Palestine lives alongside Israel with borders that approximate the dividing lines of 1967. In theory, everyone except far-leftists, Islamists and neo-Nazis knows this. In practice, Lib Dem opinion has been seized by a reactionary version of radical chic in which murder is celebrated and racism dignified.”
And later on, he writes this crushing paragraph:
“As it is impossible to write about Jews in the present climate and expect to have a sensible debate, let me replace them with blacks. Suppose a leading Lib Dem peer had said that black people were by their nature mentally inferior to whites. Would you expect liberal society to be satisfied if Clegg did not expel her from the party and screamed and shouted about his honour instead? I suspect most people would demand that he proved he knew the meaning of the word by taking action. Suppose the same Liberal peer were to go on to bring up the most poisonous myth of white supremacy and say that young black men were touring the cities looking for white women to rape. In those circumstances liberal society would consider it outrageous if Lord Wallace were to dismiss complaints by saying, “The reason why we resist expelling her from the party is that we do sadly find the current Zanu-PF party very intolerant of all criticism.”
The woman is a piece of delusional scum. There’s no need to be polite. Sorry if this offends anyone.
It is richly ironic that a party with the name “liberal” in it contains such a character. Guido has more on the background.
here is another item from Janes:
UK urged to prepare for EMP threat.
The UK House of Commons Defence Committee (HCDC) has warned of the potential danger posed by a deliberate electro-magnetic pulse (EMP) attack, pointing – in a report published on 22 February – to Iran and non-state actors as particular threats. Citing evidence given by the US EMP Commission, the HCDC stated that “Iran, in particular, is reported to have been conducting what appear to be missile tests to simulate a nuclear EMP strike”
It sort of makes me glad that I and my own computers are in an out of the cross-hairs corner of the world…
Here is an item from a Jane’s email newsletter that caught my attention:
Iran-Israel shadow war escalates
The covert war between Israel and Iran has seemingly escalated, with attempts being made on the lives of Israelis in both India and Georgia. On 13 February, CCTV cameras in New Delhi, India, captured footage of a motorcyclist attaching a magnetic bomb to a vehicle being driven by the wife of an Israeli diplomat
I fear the Middle East will be a self-curing problem through self-immolation in a localized Armageddon. We must not forget the hatred for Israel is secondary to the hatred of some elements of each of the major Islamic sects for each other. Once Iran has a viable stockpile of deliverable nuclear weapons, the Saudi’s will do the same. Pakistan already has them. Israel has them. It will be a nuclear free-for-all that will only stop when there is no one left standing. We can hope the Israeli’s can manage to survive with more of their society intact than the others, primarily because they are not stark raving lunatics like many of those with whom they share the region.
Maybe we will finally catch up with Sadam Hussein’s collection of WMD, which some military guys have told me headed over the border into Syria before the shooting started…