Monday, October 30, 2006

Maybe they need an Islamist government

Today's coverage of the Congolese elections by the New York Times chooses to highlight negative aspects of the vote.

"It was supposed to be a bright moment in the country’s history, the culmination of the first free vote in more than 40 years, but the leaky skies and the possibility of violence cast a pall over the day....

The United Nations has spent $500 million on this election, more than any other in the organization’s history, saying that Congo is crucial for establishing peace in all of central Africa. But the voting seems to have driven a dangerous wedge into the middle of Congo, a country of 60 million that is the size of Western Europe but has only 300 miles of paved roads.
There is no doubt that moving DR Congo towards a democratic future is not going to be easy. There is every reason to be skeptical about the ability of Joseph Kabila or Jean-Pierre Bemba to help in that process. But millions of Congolese are willing to give at least one of them a shot. Of course, it would be great if they could base their vote on the candidate's position on health care or education reforms, but Congolese history hasn't given them that luxury.

I wouldn't be particularly critical of the Times coverage of the election had it not been for the warm and fuzzy feelings the same Africa correspondent seems to have about the Islamists in Somalia.

We are permitted to be cautiously optimistic when religious radicals take control of a failed state, but not when a nation transitions toward democracy. Jeffrey Gettleman doesn't seem to feel that African's are capable of democracy. Sadly, Muslims form a small minority in DR Congo, so it seems unlikely it will become the Islamic Republic of Congo any time soon. I'm not sure that the Catholic Church is ready to take over the leadership of a country these days, but I guess we could give Benedict a call. If all else fails, maybe they could ask the Belgians to return, sure there was that business with the raping and the pillaging, but they brought order. And the Times feels that is what's best for the natives.

Friday, October 27, 2006

It's irrelevant, it's boring, you wouldn't read it if it weren't in your dentist's office, it's a third rate Newsweek. Let's face it: Maclean's sucks

This was Maclean's cover this week:

Now, I'm about as likely to notice Maclean's on the newsstand as I am to pick up a copy of Reader's Digest, but I was at a lecture given by Barry Wellman this week and he pointed it out.

I knew that there was no way that I was going to be convinced that the internet 'sucked' by anyone, never mind someone writing in Maclean's, but I was interested in what the point of the article was. So I read it (on the internet). And there goes five minutes I'll never get back.

Steve Maich doesn't think that anything special has come from the internet. Which proves that he is either intellectually dishonest or not qualified to write an article on the topic. To sum up the points of the article are:

There are way better inventions than the internet. For example, the washing machine. It's hard to argue with that. After all, doing laundry makes things all nice and clean, whereas the easy access to porn means that the internet makes you dirrrty.

The music industry (and the entertainment industry at large) is suffering because of file sharing. Personally, I can't sleep nights for the thought that Clive Davis may be forced to sell a mansion. Yes, things are changing. This has meant significant shifts in the music industry. Technology has reduced production costs, it is now cheaper and easier to distribute music, and artists are less reliant on promoters to get heard by an audience. I sure hope that they don't figure out a way to transfer these lower costs to the consumer. I don't dismiss the serious problem of copyright infringement (or at least no more than Maich dismisses the fact that many people are, in fact, paying for music online), but every new technology has had consequences for older industries, does that mean the technology is bad? (Is the author still upset by what the Spinning Jenny did to the traditional yarn industry?).

People can say whatever they want on the internet and get to hear things that the mainstream media would never say. Much like the washing machine argument, this one is hard to disagree with. After all, I am more likely to pop virtual bubble wrap than I am to read an article in Maclean's, but that's because I happen to find it more intellectually stimulating. I am sick to death of hearing criticism from old media that I am reading the wrong things and only those things that confirm my own beliefs. If everyone who regularly reads blogs agrees to subscribe to one piece of old school dreck will journalists agree to stop writing articles like this? I would be willing to pay to stop having to hear this argument repeated endlessly. I find it tiresome that in 2006 anyone presumes to know what I should be interested in, or what is 'good for me'. And it is illogical to think that I am more likely to read things I disagree with when I have to pay for them in print form than I am to read them for free on the internet. Of course, that's not quite what these journalists usually mean. Rather they would prefer that we access unbiased, neutral sources written by professionals who use facts, rather than bloggers who only have opinions. Conveniently, these supposedly unbiased, neutral publications usually pay their salaries. Isn't it great when your belief system coincides so well with your financial interests?!

People spend time online when they could be talking to their neighbours. I suppose I could be having deep discussions with the old lady who nearly burnt down my building or the girls who sing James Blunt songs at all hours of the day, but I'd rather spend time reading the musings of complete strangers in Chicago or New York . I apologise for being responsible for the downfall of civilisation.

People are being scammed online. People who agree to give someone access to their bank account with the promise that they'll be able to help them sneak money out of Nigeria deserve to be robbed.

Won't somebody please think of the children. Children are being solicited sexually online! You know what the biggest threat to children is? People they know. Family members, teachers, clergymen, coaches, scout leaders. If you notice that Uncle Bill is on your daughter's buddy list, I would strongly recommend that you have a chat with her.

Basically, this article points out that the worst of human nature can be found online. Whereas Maclean's Magazine? Why that ain't nothin' but mediocrity!!

Ah, Hitch...

From Ian Parker's New Yorker profile on Christopher Hitchens (text not on-line):

And then the young doctor to his left made a passing but sympathetic remark about Howard Dean, the 2004 Presidential candidate; she said that he had been unfairly treated in the American media. Hitchens, in the clear, helpful voice one might use to give street directions, replied that Dean was "a raving nut bag," and then corrected himself: "A raving, sinister, demagogic nut bag." He said, "I and a few other people saw he should be destroyed." He noted that, in 2003, Dean had given a speech at an abortion-rights gathering in which he recalled being visited, as a doctor, by a twelve-year-old who was pregnant by her father. ("You explain that to the American people who think that parental notification is a good idea," Dean said, to applause.) Dean appeared not to have referred the alleged rape to the police; he also, when pressed, admitted that the story was not, in all details, true. For Hitchens, this established that Dean was a "pathological liar."

"All politicians lie!" the women said.

"He's a doctor," Hitchens said.

"But he's a politician."

"No, excuse me," Hitchens said. His tone tightened, and his mouth shrunk like a sea anemone poked with a stick; the Hitchens face can, at moments of dialectical urgency, or when seen in an unkindly lit Fox News studio, transform from roguish to sour. (Hitchens's friend Martin Amis, the novelist, has chided Hitchens for "doing that horrible thing with your lips.") "Fine," Hitchens said. "Now that I know that, to you, medical ethics are nothing, you've told me all I need to know. I'm not trying to persuade you. Do you think I care whether you agree with me? No. I'm telling you why I disagree with you. That I do care about. I have no further interest in any of your opinions. There's nothing you wouldn't make an excuse for."

"That's wrong!" they said.

"You know what? I wouldn't want you on my side." His tone was businesslike; the laughing protests died away. "I was telling you why I knew that Howard Dean was a psycho and a fraud, and you say, 'That's O.K.' Fuck off. No, I mean it: fuck off. I'm telling you what I think are standards, and you say, 'What standards? It's fine, he's against the Iraq war.' Fuck. Off. You're 'Any liar will do. He's anti-Bush, he can say what he likes.' Fuck off. You think a doctor can lie in front of an audience of women on a major question, and claim to have suppressed evidence on rape and incest and then to have said he made it up?"

"But Christopher . . ."

"Save it, sweetie, for someone who cares. It will not be me. You love it, you suck on it. I now know what your standards are, and now you know what mine are, and that's all the difference--I hope--in the world."
What more can one say?

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Liberals Accuse Women of Being Liars and anti-Environment

An item posted on the Liberal Party website states that Canadian women are dishonest:

Environment Minister Rona Ambrose’s recent disgraceful attempts to twist the truth about third party opinions of her flawed Clean Air Act are yet another example of this government’s disdain for the people of Canada....Today, Liberal Environment Critic John Godfrey plainly denounced Ms. Ambrose’s attempts to deceive the public into thinking her clean air package actually has support as contemptuous of Canadians who expect the full truth from their government.

“To salvage her clean air disaster, the Minister of the Environment has been misquoting the Canadian Lung Association,” he said.
Excuse me? Are we to stand idly by while the Liberal Party sullies the good name of Canadian women? The reason that women don't go into politics is because they have to face men like John Godfrey who, rather than disagreeing with their politics, accuse them of being deceitful.

I, for one, demand an apology. Women are not liars, and to suggest that we are shows how far the Liberal Party of Canada has to go with regards to gender relations. I will not rest until John Godfrey resigns and all candidates for Liberal leadership issue statements that this sort of misogyny will not be tolerated in their party.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006


So, the soap for fat girls has released another ad in their 'Real Beauty' campaign that is causing much buzz. We're all supposed to applaud Dove for telling us that the beauty industry has created unrealistic standards, and that if we use their body wash we'll still have cellulite, but that's okay because every girl is beautiful in her own way. But you know what? It's not true. Some people are ugly, most people are average and a small number of people are really freaking gorgeous. I figure I fall somewhere in the large middle catergory (maybe I'm wrong, it may be I fall into the first category, but since nobody has ever told me so, I'll go on with the belief, deluded or otherwise that I am an average looking gal).

If we are talking about physical beauty and not "beauty on the inside" (which we already have a term for, it's called "being a good person"), some people have more of it than others. This is just a fact of life. Apparently, if you have daughters you are supposed to be very concerned about this fact and do everything possible to hide it from them. And you must lie: "of course you're as pretty as the head cheerleader with a modeling contract, you're just a different kind of pretty".

The new ad shows an averagely pretty woman going into a model shoot. They do her hair and makeup and she looks much better, though just in a regular person sort of way. Then they do some serious editing on the picture, change her image so that she basically doesn't look like herself anymore, and she's worthy of being a cover model. Everyone is very excited about this ad, finally we are showing our girls exactly how the industry creates these false standards of beauty that we hear so much about. Except that the ad is a lie. Vogue does not take normal looking girls and digitally edit their images for a photo shoot; they take gorgeous people and edit their photos. I'm sure that you could take a picture of me and change it so that I look prettier than I actually am. You could not take a picture of me and make me look like Angelina Jolie. DNA, or God, or the Flying Spaghetti Monster dictated that Angelina would have the kind of beauty that could make otherwise straight women fall in love with her, and that (despite my name) I would not have a face that could launch a thousand ships, but rather would have to settle for the kind of looks that turn the heads of creepy Varsovians. Do I wish I were prettier? Sure, I guess. I wish even more that I had a voice like Nina Simone. But I do not. Now, I could accuse the music industry of creating false standards of vocal ability as a result of all the post production that goes into creating a CD. But at the end of the day, Nina Simone still had a better voice than I do. Similarly, I could complain that the publishing industry creates false standards of writing by editing the works of great authors before they are released. But even with an editor, I don't write like Ryszard Kapuściński. These are all things that I need to come to terms with. I have my own special skills that these people don't have (that I am at a loss to come up with right now... man this post is depressing!).

What is wrong with society is that we have decided that it is okay for reasonably attractive girls and women to be depressed about their appearance and then blame their self-hatred on somebody else. You know what? It's not okay, it's vain and pathetic. I refuse to buy into the idea that just because you feel bad about something, you have a legitimate cause to feel that way (see also: Islamist rage). There are teenage girls in Rwanda who had someone take a machete to them when they were a toddler, think of the body issues they must have. So don't tell your daughter she's beautiful (unless you are Jon Voight and Marcheline Bertrand, then I guess you can go right ahead), tell her what is actually special about her. It has meaning, and has the added value of not being a god damn lie. And while you're at it, tell her that she needs to stop blaming other people or corporations for her imaginary problems and get on with living her life.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Insane Dictator Update

It would be funny, if it weren't so sad.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Personally, I blame Kapuściński

This may explain why I once scored as borderline autistic on a personality test that supposedly measured empathy.

(Link via Marginal Revolution)

Nobody's Dog

Billionaire Belinda Stronach, who has had the world handed to her on a silver platter, enjoys playing the role of victim whenever her dubious character is called into question. We are led to believe that people who judge Belinda do so because they are misogynist pigs who don't think women are fit for elected office.

Real women don't worry about such petty matters of course, because real women just get the job done.

(Link via A Chequer Board of Nights and Days)

Jan Goes Home

The Sudanese government has given Jan Pronk 72 hours to leave their country.

Do we have agreement yet that the Sudanese government has absolutely no interest in ending the violence in Darfur? Turning armed militias on innocent civilians is one thing; but not even pretending to play the U.N's game? Surely that's unforgivable!

Friday, October 20, 2006

Offensive to Dogs, Not Women

Why is it that any time someone is accused of insulting Belinda Stronach, all women are supposed to take offense? There are lots of terms worse than 'your dog' that I could use to describe the power hungry slut and none of them are a comment on my entire gender.

Why? Because, believe it or not, we are not actually a collective. She is not one of 3 billion, she is an individual. And as an individual she does a lot of things that make people upset.

Apparently this alleged comment means that Peter Mackay unable to consider the interests of Afghani women in our mission in their country. Why is this exactly? Did all the women of Afghanistan also shack up with him and then publicly humiliate him in front of the entire country? 'Cos if not, I think we can probably rest easy.

No, I suppose MPs shouldn't call each other names while in the House of Commons, but if she's that sensitive, maybe she doesn't belong in politics.

Thursday, October 19, 2006


Growing up I worshipped Madonna (in our house you weren't allowed to just like someone, you either loved them, hated them or had no opinion at all). I loved her music, I loved her videos, I loved her. She is the only person who ever came close to playing the role of "female role model" in my life. As an adult, I am perfectly happy with this fact. I don't worry that I spent my childhood adoring a woman who used sex to sell herself, because there was never any doubt that she was in control. When people (I'm looking at you MuchMoreMusic) suggest that she set the stage for Britney Spears and her ilk I get furious. Today's entire teen pop industry is dominated by parents who realised that their child had a little bit of talent and decided that their one chance of fame and riches in this world was to milk their kid for all it was worth. (You knew that Tony Ciconne was in no way cool with his daughter talking about sex, and certainly wasn't walking around talking about how great her breasts were under her cone shaped bra, unlike certain other fathers who shall remain nameless). Madonna was a self-made woman. She is basically the living embodiment of the American dream.

Madonna ceased being interesting circa 1992. Her last good album was Like a Prayer, Vogue was a wonderful moment in pop culture history but the song itself was not so great. Everything that she has done since then has been boring. It is not entirely her fault. Her musical career was based on the idea of taking music from the gay underground and making it mainstream. By the mid-1990s the gay scene was decidedly "in" (in no small part due to Madonna), so that couldn't work for her anymore. If you add to that the fact that nobody was listening to pop in the 90s, Madonna really didn't have a role to play.

Some will claim that Madonna became interesting again with the release of Ray of Light. They are wrong. Ray of Light was fine, I suppose, if you like that sort of thing. If somebody who did not already have Madonna's stature had released it, it would have gone nowhere. But this post is not about Madonna's music (and I am getting to my point....).

By the late '90s when Madonna's "comeback" started, she was 40, had turned introspective, become a parent, and joined a cult. This does not make for a great pop star. It is also a long time since Madonna has been tuned into anything even remotely underground. Sure gay men still worship her, but they also worship Cher, Liza Minnelli and Barbra "shut the fuck up" Streissand. She is no longer cutting edge pop. But more importantly, she is no longer cutting edge socially. Whereas she was one of the first mega-celebs to talk about AIDS, she now thinks it can be cured by magical water, she jumped on the anti-Bush wagon far too late for it to be interesting and withdrew the American Life video at the first sign of controversy. In short, she is now just like every other aging celebrity, desperately trying to still be relevant long past their time, trying to keep up with the fashions.

What is in right now? Babies. Every celebrity has to have one. (Now, I actually believe that Madonna may have been in part responsible for starting this trend, but it was unintentional and she failed to capitalize on it in as children's author notwithstanding). Madonna's not really the baby sort. Sure, she has kids, and I'm sure she's probably a better parent than most, but her strict disciplinarian style isn't really conducive to Annie Liebowitz spreads in Vanity Fair.

What else is in? Caring about the third world. I'm not knocking her here, but the woman doesn't care about anyone but herself (and her cult). The idea of Madonna as humanitarian is completely far-fetched. But there she was this week getting herself one of those trendy African babies that are so in right now.

And so the controversy begins (and Lemon arrives at her point). Is she just doing this to get attention or does she actually care about the children of the world? Is David Banda just the latest in a long line of people that Madonna has picked up on a whim (Jelly Bean Benitez, Sean Penn, Sandra Bernhardt, Rosie O'Donnell) only to unceremoniously dump them when they are no longer of interest to her? Probably, yes. But you know what? Having Madonna hitch you to her star does great things for your life. I'm sure that Madonna was not driven by a feeling that she needs to do something to help in this crazy world of ours, rather she is trying to create a better image for herself and her cult. But at the end of the day, it doesn't really matter because everybody wins. Little David gets to go live in England where his every need will be fulfilled, and Madonna gets to show that she's doing her part for Africa. Like Bono, but with less actual effort.

However, while I am in no way opposed to Madonna buying babies from the continent of Africa (and couldn't care less whether she bypassed laws to do it. If the superrich want to take care of orphans, I'm not going to defend the law that forbids them from doing so), it does further prove my point that she is no longer interesting. Angelina already did the African adoption thing (and call me naive, but I do believe she actually cares), Oprah has the orphanage thing covered (I don't believe she cares all that much, but she's motivated by guilt not trendiness), Madonna is breaking no new ground. It's pathetic really. But there you have it.

Pop stars are never interesting after 40.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Maybe Communist Dictator is Just the Wrong Profession....

Everyone's at a loss for how to cope with a nuclear North Korea. Could this be the solution we've been looking for? (Get Tom Cruise in on the deal, if nothing else it'd make for a great South Park episode).

Sorry for the practically non-existent blogging lately, work and school have both been busy and I've been sick for over a week now... turns out reading French social theory while high on cough medicine isn't conducive to pithy little posts.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Microlenders Win Nobel Peace Prize

Bangladeshi Muhammad Yunus and his microlending organisation, the Grameen Bank, have been selected as the 2006 recipients of the Nobel Peace Prize "for their efforts to create economic and social development from below".

It's always nice to see the award go to someone who has actually done some good in the world.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Is It Time To Invade Yet?

With the Sudanese government continuing to make threats to those who may participate in a U.N. mission in Darfur, it seems unlikely that they are going to willingly accept such a force any time soon. Is there going to be a point at which we say 'enough is enough' and go in anyway? Because if there isn't then we should stop wringing our hands about it and admit to the people of Darfur that their lives aren't worth an international incident. I'm sure that the little girl getting raped on her way to get water will understand that we would like to stop what is happening to her, but we would like more that all the U.N. member nations get along without any awkwardness. Do you know what it is like to have to look an ambassador in the face after you support a Chapter 7 resolution against his country?

Monday, October 02, 2006

It is your responsibility as a Canadian

To select which of our citizens is most annoying. And unlike in most elections, your vote will actually count!

(Link via Daimnation!)

Kofi On Trial

In the Sunday Times Magazine, Adam LeBor looks at Kofi Annan's tenure as U.N. Secretary General and examines the organisation's record under his leadership:

UN officials argue that the organisation is merely the sum of its member states and the secretariat are impartial civil servants waiting for instructions from the security council. If member states lack the political will or means to stop a conflict, there is nothing the UN can do. This argument has undoubted appeal, not least to the consciences of those responsible for the UN’s failures. If everyone is guilty then nobody is guilty. If everyone is responsible then nobody is responsible. But it is not adequate. However responsibility is divided between the secretariat, the security council and the general assembly, the UN functions as an institution itself. It has decades’ worth of experience of conflict zones, a powerful institutional memory, considerable moral authority – however battered by recent scandals – and, for many, symbolises the hope for a better world.

Most discussion about UN reform focuses on arcane theoretical questions. A concrete start would be to make the secretariat accountable. Annan has expressed regret over Rwanda. “I believed at that time I was doing my best. But I realised after the genocide there was more I could have and should have done to sound the alarm and rally support,” he said in 2004. But many questions about his term as DPKO chief remain unanswered. Why did he refuse General Dallaire permission to raid the Hutu arms caches? With whom did he discuss this decision? Why did he not pass Dallaire’s faxes warning of massacres to the security council? When did he first hear that the Serbs were massacring the men and boys of Srebrenica? And where was he when the Serb attack began in early July? Stephane Dujarric, Annan’s spokesman, referred all these inquiries to the UN’s reports on Rwanda and Srebrenica, which do not provide answers.

If there is any sense of shame about the UN’s failures, it is no hindrance to promotion. Annan brought several of his protégés with him to the 38th floor. Shashi Tharoor was made his director of communications and special projects. In 2001, Tharoor was promoted to run the UN’s communications department. India has nominated him for secretary-general and he has been lobbying hard for the top job, with Annan’s tacit support, according to the UN insiders’ website Iqbal Riza, Annan’s deputy in the DPKO, was promoted to Annan’s chief of cabinet, one of the most influential behind-the-scenes positions. Riza resigned in December 2004 in the wake of the oil-for-food scandal. He is now Annan’s special adviser on the Alliance of Civilizations.

Any organisation with goals as far reaching as the United Nations is perhaps bound to fail in many ways. But while we cannot demand that it function perfectly, we should at least expect a Secretary-General whose commitment is to the spirit of the institution, rather than its bureaucracy. In this Kofi Annan has failed consistently.

(link via Normblog)