Thursday, February 23, 2006

Scandi Mafiosi

California news:

You can say it: "That poor Ferrari." Fortunately, the car (pictured) was the only casualty. The owner, Stefan Eriksson, former executive of Gizmondo Europe with alleged ties to the Swedish mafia, was involved in the crash but not seriously injured. The police are still investigating if Eriksson was the passenger as he claims.
There's a mafia in Sweden? Man, nobody tells me anything.

UPDATE: Turns out Stefan isn't only connected to the Swedish Mafia, he IS the Swedish Mafia (a.k.a. the "Uppsala Mafia") along with fellow mafioso Peter Ulf and Johan Enander:
In early 1990 the three companions got the infamous name “The Uppsala Mafia”. They where sentenced to long punishment in jail in several different trials, one of the crimes was trying to fraud 22 millions Kronas from the Swedish Bank Giro central. Stefan “Fat-Stefan” Eriksson 43 yrs was 1993 and 1994 sentenced to 10 and a half years prison for major economic frauds. His companion Peter Uf, was sentenced to in total 8 and a half years prison. Ulf is today a manager in the Gizmondo organization. Johan Enander, 46, that was called the Uppsala-mafia torpedo got over 6 years prison in different trials. He was sentenced for different crimes as for example physical assault, blackmail etc. In December 2003 he was again sentenced to one and a half years of physical assault of a women. As soon he had served hi punishment he was assigned as Head of security at Gizmondo.
Source: Swedish Newspaper Aftonbladet (English translation, weirdly, on a Gizmodo site). LA Times has the full story.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Another Republican has had it with Bush

Of course the Democrats won't do:
With an often meek opposition party (the Democrats have few, if any, standard-bearers who have really grappled with the torture issue seriously, and this includes Al Gore's sour grapes and poor venue selection for hyperbolic showmanship), people like me increasingly have no party to turn to. We recall the Clinton years with dismay, given his episodic and ineffective reaction to al-Qaeda as it grew in strength, culminating in the 9/11 attacks--as well as his morally bankrupt inattention to genocidal action in the Balkans pre-Richard Holbrooke's insertion in '95. We continue to be fearful the Democrats don't understand the full panoply of stakes with regard to the war on terror, and will over-compensate for what they too simplistically deride as Bush's unilateral militarism, and replace it with an overly supine resort to treating terrorism as a criminal law issue, so as to likely revert to a more isolationist posture at a time when continued major American involvement is absolutely critical on the world stage.
I share his fears. But I'll take a Clinton who is "ineffective" at foreign policy over a Bush who actively destroys it any day. I think I'll give some more money to Wes Clark.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Islam and Democracy

One of Andrew Sullivan's readers (an Hindu), writes:
"I am so tired of Muslims of blaming 'culture' not the 'religion' for any trouble inside Muslim countries. If you need an example of the falsehood of that statement - look at India and Pakistan. The people are ethnically identical, speak the same languages and eat the same foods. (In fact they were the same country until Muslims demanded they get their own country).

Today Pakistan is a military dictatorship and has been for most of its 50 plus year life. Its only claims to fame are killing journalists, operating jihadi camps, beating up women who try to run marathons, possessing nuclear weapons and blowing up the local KFC to prove that Islam is not violent. India on the other hand is a striving (albeit Third World) democracy that is home to Gandhi, yoga, computer programmers, hugging saints, doctors and spelling bee enthusiasts. Thus once again demonstrating that it isn't the 'culture' but the 'religion' that is truly incompatible with the modern world.

In fact, it's sad to say this but in the eyes of many Hindus, myself included, September 11th is just another horrific example of the 1400 years that Islam has been fighting 'the other'. We don't view it as some sort of perversion of Islam but rather the way it has been since its birth. I'm also tired of liberals blaming marginalization in Europe and Britain for everything. That is just rubbish. Hindus in Europe are the same colour as their Muslim counterparts and therefore would face the same discrimination and barriers but choose to direct their energy to better education and assimilating into the culture. Not to building better bombs."
I think he raises an important point. After all, Islam is in part a "model" for how to run a state created by a political leader. That there are problems reconciling it with Democracy (a competing political "model") is not surprising. And since Democracy seems to be the "winner" of the two (based on GDP per head of Democracies vs. Islamic states) then it follows logically that the Muslim world can't have its cake and eat it too. It has some tough choices to make:
  1. Recognize that Democracy must come before Islam and try to compete with the world's leading nations while de-emphasizing political Islam
  2. Continue unsuccessfully to try to mix the two while falling further behind
  3. Forget about Democracy and try to re-invent or modernize Islam (in a cohesive way) so that modernized Islamic states can compete with democratic ones
  4. Create pure Islamic states and try to live as they did 1400 years ago
The trouble with option 1 is not losing "face", especially since Muslims tend (with reason) to view Democratic states as "Christian". The troubles with option 2 are clear for everyone to see in many Muslim countries today (Pakistan being one of them). Option 3 is difficult without a visionary leader, and since Islam is also a religion this leader would have to be a deity of some sort (a new Prophet). These folks don't grow on trees. Option 4 is also difficult, especially since the Muslim ruling classes tend to enjoy the material goodies available in Democratic states, thereby corrupting the "purity" of old-fashioned ways (witness Saudi Arabia).

My take: The West should help encourage progress towards option 1. One of the ways to do this is to continue divorcing Democracy from Christianity. Having an American President who is a founding member of the Religious Right does't help. State-funded churches in Norway don't help either.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Sunday, February 19, 2006

A Neocon Admission

A fine display of integrity by my favorite blogger:
The correct response to this is not more triumphalism and spin, but a real sense of shame and sorrow that so many have died because of errors made by their superiors, and by intellectuals like me.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Anti-Semitic Cartoon Contest

Andrew Sullivan:
A group of Israelis launch a contest: for Jewish cartoonists to produce the most anti-Semitic cartoons imaginable. Nothing could better distinguish the difference between the West and the Arab-Muslim world.
Very healthy.

More about pre-war Intelligence

Former head of CIA's intelligence gathering in the Middle East speaks (via Andrew Sullivan):
The administration defended itself by pointing out that it was not alone in its view that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and active weapons programs, however mistaken that view may have been.

In this regard, the Bush administration was quite right: its perception of Saddam's weapons capacities was shared by the Clinton administration, congressional Democrats, and most other Western governments and intelligence services. But in making this defense, the White House also inadvertently pointed out the real problem: intelligence on Iraqi weapons programs did not drive its decision to go to war.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Olympics: Counting Medals

American media seems to focus on total medal count, which right now puts Norway on top:

Meanwhile Norwegian media (NRK, the Norwegian version of the BBC) puts the US on top:

Then again, some purists think the recently added tv-friendly judged events,
Judged events, which hardly merit the appellation “sports,” are the bane of right-thinking viewers everywhere, but are manna to the non-sports fans whom NBC must court in order to justify charging the exorbitant advertising fees necessary to recoup the 3.57 billion dollars it spent for the right to televise the Olympics until 2008. The credulity and general lack of any interest whatsoever in the minutiae of competition, which characterize this audience, are also responsible for such reportorial abominations as tape delayed broadcasts, commercial breaks during live play of hockey games, interminable chatter throughout actual competition and time-wasting human interest stories between them, when NBC could be showing less popular but live events.
which are dominated by Americans,
Of the 71 medals the U.S. won in the last four Winter Games, 31 came in events that were not in the Olympics before 1992 and in skeleton. Team USA's 2002 Olympic medals included 16 won in events that never had been Olympic sports until 1992 or later and in skeleton.
should be removed.
1. Immediately cap the number of events at the present level and forget about adding any new ones. There must be no further nonsense about adding any more non-sports to the Games. Ballroom dancers, ski ballerinas, I’m looking at you. Events included in previous Olympics, but currently out of favor, are exempt from this provision (more on them later).

2. Integrate as many events as possible. Until Atlanta, in 1996, ladies competed against gentlemen in the shooting events; now they compete separately. No more. Shooting, curling, and archery should henceforth join equestrian events as co-ed sports.

3. Events requiring the participation of large teams should be kept to a minimum. One way to eliminate some of these events would be to require the participation of the best athletes in the world in order for the sport to be included in the Olympics. Immediately, dropping baseball and soccer (which is really a modified Under-23 tourney) would pare several hundred athletes from the Summer Games roster. The Olympics is no place for merely good athletes; it is for the very best of the very best. The passing into history of the noble ideal of the gentleman amateur is a deplorable matter, but now that the best athletes in the world have chosen to sacrifice that ideal on the altar of Mammon, the Games has chosen to accommodate them rather than to disavow its claim to be the ultimate athletic competition. A corollary of this decision, which cannot be gainsaid, is that there is no place in the Olympic Games for any but the best athletes.

4. Sports with too many sub-events should be cut down to size. In 1932, there were four shooting events; today there are seventeen. Four is more than enough. The same goes for Sailing, where eleven classes could be profitably reduced to two or three. (This might be a tough sell to IOC President Jacques Rogge, a former Olympic yachtsman, but even he might sanction the elimination of boardsailing.) As a core sport, and essential to the Summer Olympics, Athletics (or Track and Field to Americans) should be spared this process of reduction.

5. Ideally, Gymnastics, Rhythmic Gymnastics, Figure Skating, Ice Dancing, Boxing, Diving, and all other similarly subjective events should be eliminated. This will never happen, of course, but I would settle for exscinding the subjective, judged components of Ski Jumping and Moguls. In the former event, the longest jump should win. Period. As in the long jump, style in ski jumping should be measured by the result of the jump, not vice versa. In moguls, the “tricks” make a mockery of what is otherwise a pure, downhill race.

6. There should be a return to pure sports. By pure, I mean athlete-determined (as opposed to judge-determined) events that rely on athletic ability or sporting skill rather than artistic merit. The level of fitness, strength and agility required in events like gymnastics and figure skating is truly admirable, but neither of these events is any more a sport than is ballet, which requires a similar combination of athleticism and artistry. An example of a laudable recent addition to the Games is triathlon, which debuted in Sydney and should be a regular event in future Summer Games. For more such pure events, the IOC would do well to look to the history of the Games. Tug-o-war (included six times between 1900 and 1920) seems an obvious and potentially riotously successful candidate for re-inclusion. Pigeon shoots and Polo would also make lively additions to the Summer Games.
I agree but I don't care all that much. I stopped watching the Olympics after I moved to the US. American TV turns it into infotainment with human interest stories and commentators who don't know the first thing about the sport. Growing up in Norway I would sit there with a stop-watch and write down lap-times on a piece of paper. NRK would show the entire event, all contenders, with no commercials. Maybe some day I'll get back into it; if digital TV takes off and I can watch NRK in Atlanta.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Cartoon Commentary at B.D.

From one of many great comments to Greg's post:
This controversy reminds me of a story about an English Communist who went to Moscow in the Soviet era. He was so excited to be out of what he considered the "tyranny" of England that he took out a picture of Queen Elizabeth and stomped on it and tore it. He expected the Soviets to be as gleeful as he. But they were outraged. They threw him in jail, then deported him. Their argument was almost as religious as the Islamists. Their religion was authority. They saw any rebellion against what had been constituted as authority as dangerous and unacceptable. One of the aspects of Western culture the Islamists hate is our tolerance of anti-religious feeling. They are almost as outraged at cartoons deriding Jesus as at those mocking Mohammed. They don't riot when those come out because they figure before long Islam will replace Christianity, since Christianity is obviously too weak to defend itself against blasphemers.
Make no mistake about it. Their enemy is not Christianity. It's toleration, individualism, reason, and sanity itself.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

A Voice of Reason

This comment by Morag Mylne sums up my opinion at this point:
It would be wrong to ban or prevent, through legislation or otherwise, the expression of opinion just because it is in poor taste or causes offence. Belief itself is not threatened or undermined by this sort of exposure. Faith can withstand insult. There will be times when the better judgement is not to publish something when it is known that it will cause offence. But that judgement should never compromise the fundamental value of free speech.

Friday, February 03, 2006

What the hell?

Kevin comments:
I mean, just look at whose flag they're burning in the Middle East right now: Denmark's.

Cuddly little Denmark! Home of Hans Christian Andersen, delicious pastry, and tasteful furniture. Home of Tivoli and the Little Mermaid. Denmark!

If there's a lesson to be learned here — and I assure you there won't be — it's that Arabs rather obviously don't hate America any more than any other country. We just provide them with more opportunity to show it.
Then Google News shows these headlines:That's called "milking it for all it's worth"!

Andrew Gets It

What is it about contemporary Islam that seems to make it clearly incompatible wih Western freedom of speech? In that may lie the answer to the most pressing question facing the West today: the illiberal, fanatical religious enemy within.
Even though I pick on him I admire his moral clarity and willingness to write about controversial subjects. But why does he have to keep bringing Hitler into every discussion of the Arab-Israeli conflict?
Here are some other cartoons recently printed in the Arab, Muslim press. They are no different than Nazi propaganda in their unvarnished anti-Semitism.
Isn't this conflict complicated enough without dragging the Third Reich into it? Or is Andrew seriously suggesting that the anti-Semitism of Nazi Germany and Arab dislike of Israel are closely linked?

The Outrage Continues

Shouting "Allahu Akbar" (God is Greatest), they smashed lamps with bamboo sticks, threw chairs, lobbed rotten eggs and tomatoes and tore up a Danish flag. No one was hurt.
Some Muslims consider any images of Mohammad to be blasphemous. Among the Danish drawings, one depicted him in a turban resembling a bomb.
So it is insensitive to draw a picture of Mohammad. I get that. But don't you run the risk of seeming hypocritical when you run around burning and tearing up Danish flags to protest against "insensitivity"? And by the way - the Danish flag is an image of a cross.

I must say that to me this issue shows that the Islamic world is really out of whack in a very fundamental sense. Some Muslims seem to live in a bubble. Clearly they don't understand how the world works, that it is dominated by liberal democracies who allow free speech.

It's like a follower of the sea-god in ancient Rome waking up one day feeling religious outrage over the aquaducts. It's wet. There's water all over town. Get over it. And don't look at it if it offends you.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

"Cartoons hurt moderates in Muslim countries"

Religious studies researcher Kari Vogt at the University of Oslo, just back from a trip to Marocco, says moderates there reminded her that incidents like this "provide ammunition to hard-liners who are opposed to press freedoms in Muslim countries" (article in Norwegian).

That is a good point. There may have been many practical reasons why publishing such cartoons was a bad idea. But now that is has been done it's important that the West does not back down. This is an opportunity for citizens of the Muslim world to educate themselves about the mechanics of Western-style liberal democracy (specifically, that governments do not have the power to censor the press).

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Racial hypocrisy from Andrew Sullivan?

After Kevin Drum, I consider Andrew Sullivan to be my favorite blogger. And unlike many I like the fact that he lets his emotions color his writing (other bloggers have called him "too excitable").

But sometimes this emotional coloring produces some strange results. Consider the recent row over these cartoons in the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten which has prompted outrage in the Arab world, causing Syria to recall its ambassador from Denmark among other things.

Andrew, as I would expect, defends freedom of speech.
Er, yes, we do have a right to ask Muslims in the West to respect freedom of expression, especially about religion. It's called Western civilization. Maybe not in Jordan. But in the free world, blasphemy is not a crime.
But, in September 2004, when the Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter published this cartoon he was in a different mood:

Man with the dog: "I don't think one should build walls between people."
The Jew: "Damn anti-Semite!!"

Instead of defending free speech he linked approvingly under the heading "ANTI-SEMITISM WATCH" to a post which saw this cartoon as evidence of rampant Swedish racism (I e-mailed Andrew about this at the time but he never replied).

In fairness, Andrew does point out that the Danish cartoons are "blasphemous to strict Muslims", adding "In the free world, you are also free to be an anti-Semite." And I've never seen him side against the "freedom of speech" movement.

But I find it a bit hypocritical that he implicitly condemns a Swedish cartoon featuring a Hasidic Jew as evidence of racism while staunchly defending the right of Danish cartoonists to depict Mohammed in unflattering ways.

Personally I think both cartoons are perfectly fine. By Scandinavian standards these cartoons are just funny, and there's nothing mean-spirited about them. We Norwegians don't start crying about "racism" when we see unflattering images of vikings, even though our ancestors were suppressed and mistreated by both Danes and Swedes for over 500 years.

"I promise (hiccup) to never drink mjød (Norse beer) again..."

Other countries may have different standards. Clearly Americans (and Israelis) are hyper-sensitive about unflattering images of Jews, and the Muslim world is sensitive about pictures of the Prophet (who is not to be depicted at all according to the Koran, as I understand it). But if you can't accept that other societies have different standards for these things then don't travel, and for God's sake stay off the internet.

UPDATE: Added links to the Danish and Swedish newspapers above. Also, multiple English-language sources reported that Le Monde and BBC ran the controversial Mohammed cartoons. Le Monde also ran this cartoon of their own (the text in the beard says "I must not draw Mohammad"):

UPDATE II: I have since learned that it is Muslim convention, not the Koran itself, that bans images of Mohammed.

UPDATE III: Andrew partially redeems himself.