ACCUMULATING PERIPHERALS


Some say we're "on the side of tyranny." But at Microsoft… by mattsteinglass
March 31, 2010, 3:46 am
Filed under: China, Human Rights, Internet, Uncategorized, Vietnam

we prefer to call it “advancing free expression through active engagement in over 100 countries, even as we comply with the laws in every country in which we operate.”

Google has done  a lot over the past two weeks to earn my goodwill. Yesterday they did another thing to earn my goodwill.

We believe that malware is a general threat to the Internet, but it is especially harmful when it is used to suppress opinions of dissent…
This particular malware broadly targeted Vietnamese computer users around the world. The malware infected the computers of potentially tens of thousands of users who downloaded Vietnamese keyboard language software and possibly other legitimate software that was altered to infect users. While the malware itself was not especially sophisticated, it has nonetheless been used for damaging purposes. These infected machines have been used both to spy on their owners as well as participate in distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks against blogs containing messages of political dissent. Specifically, these attacks have tried to squelch opposition to bauxite mining efforts in Vietnam, an important and emotionally charged issue in the country.

Here’s McAfee CTO George Kurtz with the details.



Singapore's PM is the old PM's son, but surely no nepotism was involved by mattsteinglass
March 30, 2010, 4:04 am
Filed under: Asia, democracy, Human Rights, Uncategorized

I think the New York Times phrased this “apology” exactly right.

Apology: In 1994, Philip Bowring, a contributor to the International Herald Tribune’s op-ed page, agreed as part of an undertaking with the leaders of the government of Singapore that he would not say or imply that Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong had attained his position through nepotism practiced by his father Lee Kuan Yew. In a February 15, 2010, article, Mr. Bowring nonetheless included these two men in a list of Asian political dynasties, which may have been understood by readers to infer that the younger Mr. Lee did not achieve his position through merit. We wish to state clearly that this inference was not intended. We apologize to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew and former Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong for any distress or embarrassment caused by any breach of the undertaking and the article.

Personally, I’m quite sure that Lee Hsien Loong achieved his post entirely on the basis of merit, and that the fact that his father, Lee Kuan Yew, was the founding Prime Minister of Singapore, dominated its politics for 40 years, and still carries the title “Minister Mentor” has nothing to do with it. Further, I don’t think the above item in the NY Times has anything to do with the fact that in Singapore, organizations that publish unflattering things about people who happen to be related to the Prime Minister, and who often themselves happen to hold important offices in government, tend to get sued for hundreds of thousands of dollars. And I think that to suggest that this system represents a privatized sophisticated commercial-law version of the types of oppression of free expression that exist in, say, Communist dictatorships would be completely inaccurate and quite probably libelous under Singapore law.



There goes Sarkozy's post-retirement gig at AEI by mattsteinglass
March 30, 2010, 3:30 am
Filed under: Conservatism, Europe, Health care reform, Uncategorized

The President of France gave a speech yesterday at Columbia University. (Hat tip Kevin Drum.)

“Welcome to the club of states who don’t turn their back on the sick and the poor,” Sarkozy said, referring to the U.S. health care overhaul signed by President Barack Obama last week. From the European perspective, he said, “when we look at the American debate on reforming health care, it’s difficult to believe.”

“The very fact that there should have been such a violent debate simply on the fact that the poorest of Americans should not be left out in the streets without a cent to look after them … is something astonishing to us.”

Then to hearty applause, he added: “If you come to France and something happens to you, you won’t be asked for your credit card before you’re rushed to the hospital.”

But I bet he still loves hot dogs!



Holds. Filibusters. Smiting of the special election candidates. by mattsteinglass
March 30, 2010, 2:30 am
Filed under: Judaism, Obama, Uncategorized

Had we passed the stimulus bill, but not achieved universal health insurance: Dayenu!



Wealth and the annihilation of built culture in East Asia by mattsteinglass
March 29, 2010, 5:03 am
Filed under: Architecture, China, Vietnam

I spent two weeks in Beijing five years ago and loved it. At that point the hutong neighborhoods had already experienced a campaign of progressive annihilation for five or ten years, but there were still large swathes of them remaining, and there was a groundswell of opinion among Chinese architects that they ought to be preserved. Also, the city had put some brilliant young urban planners in high positions for the plans for the 2008 Olympics. It looked like a new generation of better-educated young urban planners and designers with international perspectives might mean a more sophisticated approach to the future of the city that preserved some of its heritage and texture.

That doesn’t seem to have happened. In fact, the Beijing neighborhood I found most appealing, the one hutong area that looked likely to persevere because it had become a hipster, arts and bougie tourist mecca, looks to be slated for one of those dismal Disneyfied “renovation” projects.

Much of the problem here is the lack of widespread appreciation for the genuine feel of the historical in these late-modernizing East Asian societies. Only a few, mainly older, educated members of the elite care about such things. But I think there may be another factor at work besides (lack of) aesthetics. Over the past couple of years, as I’ve watched many of the nicest houses in the Hanoi lakeside village where I live getting demolished for larger, nondescript modern houses and small apartment buildings, I’ve come to feel that much of the problem may be the dramatic income differentials that are appearing in third-world countries successfully leaping into development and modernization. The construction workers who build new houses in our neighborhood come from desperately poor areas of the countryside where nominal per capita income may still be under $300/year. Rent for a house in our neighborhood is averaging at least $2000 per month; a six-floor apartment building would bring in over $5000/month. The disparity between the daily wage of a construction worker and the price his labor can bring (in the form of new rents) is simply too large; it’s sweeping away entire neighborhoods. Much of the classic French colonial architecture of downtown Hanoi has already been annihilated. Because officials know they’re supposed to preserve the aesthetic feel of such areas, they commission multi-story blocks with pseudo-French detailing, huge mansard roofs and window shutters, but the clumsy postmodern imitation only exacerbates the ugliness. But I can’t quite believe that the reason Paris has remained Paris, while Hanoi is turning into some cut-rate Singapore, is solely due to the aesthetic superiority of the French themselves. I think it’s possible that the vast economic gap between what it costs to employ a day-laborer and the worth of an urban building simply never opened quite so wide in Paris in the 19th century, when the country was making its leap to modernity.

Overall, obviously, economic development is a good thing. But I have a feeling that within 25 years there’ll be very little reason to visit China or Vietnam. They’ll look more or less like Tysons Corners, Virginia, but with less nature. And the fast-food restaurants in the strip malls will serve pho. Though I understand you can get a mean bowl of pho in Tysons Corners, too.



Andrew Sullivan needs a little more tolerance for ambiguity on Jerusalem by mattsteinglass
March 29, 2010, 2:55 am
Filed under: Israel, Uncategorized

I basically agree with Andrew Sullivan on Israel/Palestine issues. But he keeps writing things that are just a bit off point. Sometimes, these small mistakes lead to significant errors in the thrust of what he’s saying. For example, today he characterizes Dennis Ross as “a fervent believer in Israel’s eternal control of all of Jerusalem (meaning a two-state solution will never happen).” He backs this up with an interview Ross gave to the Jerusalem Post in 2008:

You raised the issue of Jerusalem. That was at the AIPAC speech. And what [Obama] said, he said the following: “Jerusalem is Israel’s capital.” He said the city should never be divided again. And it’s true that in that speech he didn’t make the third point, which is, the final status of the city will be resolved by negotiations. Before the speech he said that, after the speech he said that. The American position has been those three points. The fact of the matter is, Jerusalem is Israel’s capital. That’s a fact. It’s also a fact that the city should not be divided again. That’s also a fact. The position of the United States since Camp David, the position, by the way, adopted in the Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty, signed by [prime minister] Menachem Begin, was that the final status of Jerusalem would be resolved by negotiations. Those are the three points. That’s what his position is.

I have no idea what the problem is supposed to be with what Ross said here. He’s expressing the same diplomatically carefully line the US has always expressed on Jerusalem. The deal with Jerusalem and the Israel-Palestine conflict is that it combines the unbelievably tedious niggling details of a Brooklyn zoning dispute with the murderous desperation of the Bosnian religious-ethnic civil war. This is a difficult needle to thread, and the US has a formula for threading it, which involves fudging words like “Jerusalem” and “undivided” so they can mean different things to different people.

Here’s the deal: Israelis consider Jerusalem to be their capital. The US has no problem with the idea that West Jerusalem, where the Knesset and Prime Minister’s offices are located, is the capital of Israel, but it doesn’t want to embrace the idea that East Jerusalem is included in that designation. East Jerusalem needs to become the capital of a future Palestinian state, because the Palestinians insist on being able to say that Jerusalem is the capital of Palestine. So the Americans can embrace the statement that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel, without expressing the caveat that they mean West Jerusalem, as that would piss off the Israelis. They can also agree that Jerusalem will be the capital of an eventual Palestinian state, without needing to specify “East Jerusalem”, as that would piss off the Palestinians, and in any case the Palestinians have no interest in trying to claim West Jerusalem.

The next requirement for American policy is to avoid any suggestion that Jerusalem will ever be divided by a hard border with fences and checkpoints. This is unacceptable to the Israelis because, during the 1948-67 division, Jewish residents were expelled from the Old City (which was occupied and then annexed by Jordan) and Jews could not access the Western Wall. It’s probably unacceptable to Palestinians as well, since any hard border drawn today would run through the Old City so as to keep the Jewish Quarter on the Israeli side; that would put the main entrance to the Temple Mount and the Al-Aqsa mosque across a border inside Israeli territory. Basically the whole idea is a nightmare, and nobody is considering it. The statement “Jerusalem should not be divided again” refers to this consensus. In this way, the US manages not to disagree openly with Israelis who expect to solidify Israel’s illegal and unrecognized annexation of East Jerusalem, but in fact what the US means by “undivided” is left ambiguous, in terms of sovereignty issues, to leave room for ultimate Palestinian sovereignty over Arab neighborhoods of East Jerusalem and the Old City.

The point here is that for Dennis Ross to say “Jerusalem is Israel’s capital, and Jerusalem must never again be divided” is not the same as saying “Jerusalem cannot be the capital of an independent Palestine.” The US envisions a future in which Israel considers Jerusalem its capital and has sovereignty over Jewish neighborhoods, Palestine considers Jerusalem its capital and has sovereignty over Arab neighborhoods, there are no hard barrier walls dividing the city, and security and other municipal arrangements are worked out in negotiations. Sullivan needs to grant more credit to the complexity of these negotiations and of the history of the dispute, and the ambiguity people need to embrace to arrive at formulas that will allow negotiations to go forward.



FBI arrests sect that worships Christ through use of assault rifles by mattsteinglass
March 29, 2010, 1:23 am
Filed under: Guns, Religion, Uncategorized

Apparently these guys had issued threats of violence against Muslims in Michigan. On watching the video, I had three questions:

1. Is that a Chrysler K-Car? Or a LeBaron?

2. Is that the Sisters of Mercy? It sort of sounds like The Church played at 25 rpm, but I’m obviously just revealing my ignorance of late-’80s Goth synth rock.

3. Are people required to post “Warning: Religious extremists playing with smoke grenades” warnings when they do this kind of stuff in public forest areas?

[youtubevid id="Apmn9xMxiZ4"]



Wait, not Waterloo…what was that battle called again? by mattsteinglass
March 22, 2010, 3:50 pm
Filed under: Health care reform, Russia, Uncategorized

Lots of amusement going around over the Waterloo metaphor and whose it turned out to be (Yglesias, Frum, Benen). In the latest twist, the Sunny Idiot is proclaiming that actually health-care reform isn’t Obama’s Waterloo, it’s his Borodino; he won, but with significant casualties, and presumably he will find his victory over health-care to be empty and pointless, like Napoleon’s occupation of the burnt-out Moscow, and soon see his shrunken armies retreating across the landscape, harried by Russian partisans and diphtheria. (Who’s fond of czars now? Eh?)

I’ve had enough of this. It seems to me that in the context of a year-long campaign punctuated by striking victories where the invading forces were in sight of their ultimate goal and confident of gaining a crushing symbolic victory, only to fall just short, be unexpectedly held off, and finally driven back in a disastrous rout, a different battle metaphor may be more apt. I think Godwin’s Law considerations prevent me from getting any deeper into this issue though.

[youtubevid id="zIcYsUpgbHM"]



Dingell: This machine kills Republicans by mattsteinglass
March 22, 2010, 6:24 am
Filed under: Health care reform, Uncategorized

John Dingell: If I had a hammer...

John Dingell apparently used the same gavel to ring in health-care reform that he used during the vote to create Medicare in 1965. Check it out.



If you can translate that, what can't you translate? by mattsteinglass
March 21, 2010, 9:38 pm
Filed under: Literature, Uncategorized

Jenny Davidson reminds me of Georges Perec’s novel “La Disparition”, translated by Gilbert Adair as “A Void”. The book doesn’t contain the letter “e”. This becomes thematic, with the protagonist trying to figure out what it is that seems to be missing in his life. Beautiful conceit: the reader knows what’s missing in the character’s universe, it’s blindingly obvious to us, but the character  can have no conception of it, and this comes to stand for our own relationship to what’s missing from our spiritual lives, which could be blindingly obvious to some hypothetical outside observer. In that way the audience-protagonist relationship works rather like “Memento”.

But the point here is that Gilbert Adair translated this from French to English. And it’s quite readable. Think of the challenge in every sentence. This gets back to my beef with people who too often claim that words, concepts or works of art are “untranslatable”. Certainly some are, but a lot of the time it’s just laziness and a desire to appear mysterious. I think Paul Bowles has a really good line about that sort of empty exoticism somewhere, but I can’t remember it.




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