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News of the Day

Assorted news with some commentary:

  • As you probably know if you live in the US, intense public pressure has stalled SOPA. This is a minor victory, but the internet community needs to remember that this kind of bad legislation happens all the time across many topics, from continuation of terrible corn subsidies that give us corn syrup instead of sugar to IPmongers. Without fundamental reform of how elections happen (and ideally who gets elected), we've just stuck a fork once into a wheel that's been making a mess of our system. A lot more activism is called for to stop and reverse the policies put into place by the moneyed interests
  • Simultaneously, MegaUpload has been taken down in the US and in HongKong. This is a mixed bag; MegaUpload is hardly a nice company, but it was taken down for all the wrong reasons. Anonymous has taken down a few other websites in retaliation, namely the RIAA (always happy to see them taken down; they're entirely malign, IMO) and the US DoJ
  • The republican field has thinned a bit for the next presidential election, down mostly to Romney, Gingrich, Santorum, and Paul. Of the four, I find Romney the least objectionable; he's intelligent, moderate, and well-educated. Gingrich's past behaviour has come under the spotlight, mostly his personal relationships. As much as I'd like to see a conservative go down, I don't think this is how I want it to happen; we should not elect US Presidents to be role models. They're there to fill a job, and what matters is that they're competent to do it, we like the work-relevant values that flavour how they do it, and we can trust that they will do it. Less principled media (in this case liberal, because attacking a conservative is what we can trust liberal groups will do and vice-versa) suggest we evaluate Gingrich on his treating his ex-wives using the standard of family values he's talked about in debate. Tempting, but no. We judge candidates only using the principles outlined above; candidates can't ask (accidentally and negatively or intentionally and positively) for other criteria to be injected into how we judge them. The only relevant things we can extract from that whole mess are that Gingrich will tout the family-values line to fundies (not surprising given the electorate he's trying to line up behind him) and that he's not going to be bothered by public disapproval of whatever he decides to do.
    • Taking it outside the political spectrum, a quick thought on the open marriage thing that he proposed to one of his ill ex-wives instead of divorce. I do consider it a douche-y thing to introduce into an established relationship; in an ideal world, before a relationship gets too serious one establishes the very basic parameters in a mutually satisfactory way and there isn't ever pressure-or-an-ultimatum to change that. At least I'd expect people to float the topic and getting some kind of a maybe before going further. I don't think it's fair to have one party ask for a shift to polyamoury partway into a relationship (as a new topic in the relationship-context, that is), particularly given that it leverages the pain of losing someone against emotional torture for the monogamy-minded partner. If one partner decides it's important enough to risk pushing for it that they'd give up the relationship were it not permitted, I'm not sure whether I think it's worse to ask or to walk away from a LTR.
  • A fun pairing of news:
    • Competing rallies in Libya between Islamists and secularists on the role of Sharia in what comes next politically
    • Not-entirely-accurate commentary from the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community's lead on something stupid Newt Gingrich said. The problem here is that Newt doesn't know enough about Islam to talk intelligently about it, and that Harris Zafar (AMC) cherry picks Islam rather than talk about it clearly. Until as a society we understand more about what Sharia is, we're going to keep seeing stupid oversimplifications of it. Sharia is customs. There is Sharia in the details of how people live their lives. These customs suggest details for how Muslims should interact with Muslims and non-muslims that might be implemented through nonbinding Sharia courts in the western world. These customs also might come into play as people vote their cosncience to create laws that are favourable to them. These customs are also capable of acting as the law of the land. Muslims might either ignore Sharia entirely (analogous to Reform Judaism or some churches) or they might support some of the above types of Sharia. We are right to be concerned about the growth of Muslim values in our democracy (as we are right to be concerned about the growth of Christian values), and certainly should not permit Sharia to become the law of the land. In my opinion (I differ from multiculturalist liberals on this point), we should also not permit private sharia courts through the arbitration mechanism (likewise not permitting Beth Dins) to manage family law and most other parts of laws among communities. However, private practice of Muslim traditions (within the bounds of American law) is absolutely fine, just as fine as private practice of Christian, Hindu, or Judaist traditions.
    • Zafar's analysis of the Quran's protections of non-Muslims is also somewhat off; it neglects the distinction between people of the book and others. Wiccans, Hindus, Atheists, and others of non-Abrahamic faiths are not protected people.
  • The most corrupt man in Pakistan is shielded from the judicial system. Disappointing, but not surprising. Berlusconi managed to get this kind of treatment in Italy, while Saleh of Yemen just got immunity from prosecution in return for stepping down (one of the odder Arab spring transitions)
  • Argentina continues to engage in cheap populism in its push against Britain over the Falklands. David Cameron took the interesting step of calling Argentina's moves "colonialism", which has left a number of political figures livid, given Britain's colonialist past. In this case, I think Cameron's right and I would not have been shy about tossing the label out there; the Falklands have been British for well over a century, the people there want to remain British, and Argentina's efforts to take them back are inexplicable by any political theory of land control that I might accept. Argentina simply wants those islands, it's been foolish enough to stake national pride on acquiring them regardless of how the denizens feel or how weak a historical claim gets after over a century of not being reality. Britain certainly screwed over much of the rest of the world in the past, but having historically been a victim of that does not make Argentina right. Argentina doesn't have a leg to stand on.
  • I'm not sure what to think about this assuming it to be true. It's a claim by a mother that her severely disabled daughter was denied a kidney transplant over that disability. As much as we'd like to be able to give spare organs to everyone, if we don't have enough I think it'd make sense to consider mentally disabled or short-lifespan-expected people to be a lower priority than others for organ transplants. It is an unpleasant choice to need to make, but if we have to make it..
  • The CIA recently admitted that Charles Taylor was a US agent at some point in the past, possibly giving credence to Taylor's claim that the CIA once helped him escape a US prison in Boston(!)