April 2009


Daily life in Caye Caulker, a small coral island (pop. 1,300) off the coast of Belize.

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Taxi – The roads are paved with sand and the taxis are all golf carts

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Rush-hour traffic…

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Fishermen’s Wharf – Pelicans gather to catch a free meal

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A Frigate bird tries to steal the catch. Frigates are huge, gliding birds who rule the sky in Caye Caulker. Pelicans are excellent fliers at low altitudes, but they aren’t as speedy or maneuverable. When they got together, we saw some excellent dogfights.

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Local game

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[Financial district] – View from the roof of the Lazy Lizard – In the evening most of the town gathers at the Lazy Lizard cafe and bar, which offers excellent (and cheap) happy hour rum drinks and a great view of the sunset. There’s also a swimming and snorkeling spot, which is nice as long as you avoid the boats going through the canal.

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View from the roof, to the north

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Nightlife

In his article on the current disagreements between Charles Johnson of LGF and some right-wing bloggers over “accusations of bigotry and treason”, David Weigel of the Washington Independent seems to have a hard time understanding the issues that divide “Terrorism-Watching Conservative Blogs.” He says:

But in the early days of Barack Obama’s presidency, LGF has become better known for the various fights it picks with many on the right — including conservative bloggers, critics of Islamic extremism, and critics of Islam in general who used to be Johnson’s fellow travelers….

Johnson supported Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) in 2008, but he spent some of the campaign attacking anti-Obama conspiracy theorists, and he rejected the idea designs were malicious, rather than merely naive. Johnson worries, in conversation and on his blog, that his old allies have been duped by far-right European political parties and have bought into wild attacks on the president that discredit their own causes.

“I don’t think there is an anti-jihadist movement anymore,” Johnson said. “It’s all a bunch of kooks. I’ve watch some people who I thought were reputable, and who I trusted, hook up with racists and Nazis. I see a lot of them promoting stories and causes that I think are completely nuts.”

Johnson’s disgust with the terrorism-focused conservative blogosphere has had a traumatic effect on a dogged and dogmatic community of bloggers and scholars.

Like Charles Johnson and other anti-fascists, including Christopher Hitchens and the bloggers at Harry’s Place, I’m opposed to fascism. Like Hitchens, I believe that “swastika symbols exist for one purpose only—to be defaced.” I’m not as bold about my opinions as Hitchens is, but any form of genocidal authoritarianism combined with racism, any politically-based efforts to make laws condemning a group of people based on who they are rather than what they do, tends to piss me off.

That’s why I find it hard to support bloggers who claim to be against the Islamist-related brand of fascism, but who will write books with, feature and praise the work of somone like Serge Trifkovic, one of the leaders of the Bosnian Serbs during the years of ethnic cleansing. When bloggers say things like “the Nazis are not the problem”, this is also alarming.

Anyone who actually follows and reads the links that have been provided for years by “terrorism-watching” blogs like Robert Spencer’s Jihad Watch, Charles Johnson’s Little Green Footballs, Harry’s Place and Pamela Geller’s Atlas Shrugs would know that the source of Islamist terrorism is not “Islam”, it’s a political/paramilitary movement sponsored mostly by wealthy Saudis and Pakistanis and powerful Iranian mullahs. Training and planning are provided by Pakistani and Iranian intelligence agencies. Libya occasionally helps in these efforts. Although the Iranians, Pakistanis, Libyans, and Saudis fight amongst themselves, they also work together. Islam is used as an inspiration and a recruiting tool, but recruits are also inspired by drugs, money, the will to dominate and the joy they take in being aggressive towards people who can’t fight back.

If you follow the links and ignore the right/left controversies, the blogwars and the offbeat comments, this is the message you will get. All of these bloggers provide an essential service, combing through the international news for information that Fox News and CNN fail to provide. The differences between them tend to based on whether the blogger is anti-Islam or anti-fascist.

Charles Johnson has always been more anti-fascist than anti-Islam, which is why other anti-fascist bloggers, even leftists like David T. at Harry’s Place tend to understand where Charles is coming from:

Charles Johnson at Little Green Footballs has been reporting on an ‘anti-Islamisation’ conference organised by Pro Köln, which is the successor to the neo-fascist “Deutsche Liga für Volk und Heimat“.

We expect fascists to use anti-Muslim bigotry to advance their hateful politics. The British National Party are following precisely the same agenda in the United Kingdom.

If you are no longer capable of distinguishing between specific jihadist and Islamist parties – Hamas/Muslim Brotherhood and Jamaat-e-Islami – and ordinary Muslim citizens of your country, then you have crossed over the line. If you attend a conference organised by fascists, then you have also crossed over the line. You have become an anti-Muslim bigot.

Of Weigel’s article, Johnson says:

One more comment on this subject: this hasn’t been a sudden change at LGF. My refusal to associate with fascist groups is not new. It’s a core principle and always has been, and that’s why, when I saw the so-called “anti-jihad” bloggers starting to hook up with European neofascist groups two years ago, I could not remain silent.

The current controversy is just more proof that Jane’s Law…

The devotees of the party in power are smug and arrogant. The devotees of the party out of power are insane.

..is still true. Back in 2004, when the Left in America was out of power and getting kind of looney about it, Harry’s Place did not ‘get’ LGF. Like David Weigel they linked to the misleading Little Green Fascists Quiz, written by addled leftist LGF hater “Dr. Menlo”, as proof that LGF was tolerating fascist, right wing views.

Back in 2004, I wrote a quiz that showed that extremist, extrerminationist views, leaning very close to fascism, were currently more common on the left:

NAZI OR BLOGGER?

This quiz was inspired by this, and by this post, written by Matthew Yglesias.

Care to test your knowledge of current politics and ear for dialogue? Each of the following quotes represents either:

a) Charles or a comment from Little Green Footballs

- OR -

b) a Leftist, a Green or a Fascist.

See if you can tell which is which! This is a self-grading test (answers provided below), so if you get it wrong you have no one to blame but yourself.

“..there is no easy solution..for life to survive as we know it, millions of people are going to have to die. It’s sad to say that, but it’s true. Millions of people are already dying – it’s just gonna have to start happening here”

a) LGF

b) Leftist/Green/Fascist

[the answer is B, Environmental rights activist Craig ‘Critter’ Marshall]

“Palestinian Gumen Kill Theiving Israeli Settler..Gunmen kill three Israeli land thieves, plus one future land thief.”

a) LGF

b) Leftist/Green/Fascist

[the answer is B, Indymedia commenter Boaz describing the death of a five year old girl (the ‘future land thief’) and members of her family, shot in their beds by Palestinians]

“The son of Ikhlas Yassin (who had 7 children, not 3) says he was tortured by the Al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades until he invented the story that his mother was a collaborator.”

a) LGF

b) Leftist/Green/Fascist

[the answer is A, Charles linking to an article about the torture and murder of Bakir Khouli, a Palestinian mother of 7, by Arafat's Al Aqsa.]

“The outrage you hear is coming from Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, the UN Commission for Human Rights, and all the various “Students for Justice in Palestine” groups on university campuses across the nation.”

“Awful quiet…..I’ll wait…..hrm…..crickets….”

a) LGF

b) Leftist/Green/Fascist

[the answer is A, LGF commenter David about 'humanitarian' reaction to the torture of Bakir Khouli]

“Only Israel would benefit from this war, and the Zionist warmongers in media and government seek to use America’s guns and money to strike devastating blows at Israel’s enemies. They also know that the ensuing war fever will shift attention away from Israel’s brutal terrorism and suppression against the Palestinian people.”

a) LGF

b) Leftist/Green/Fascist

[the answer is B, Nazi David Duke]

“I get so many emails and tips to articles these days that it’s simply impossible to read everything; one of the things I missed last week (although it was discussed quite a bit in our comments) was the story of former PLO terrorist Walid Shoebat, now an apostate Muslim and passionate pro-Western voice: From PLO Terrorist to Lover of Zion. (Hat tip: Nekama.)”

a) LGF

b) Leftist/Green/Fascist

[the answer is A, Charles]

“Shoebat began awakening from the death cult when his Christian wife challenged him to read the Bible”

“..Which is precisely why Bibles in Saudi Arabia are outlawed. To the extent that even the APO was denied mail service of Bibles to US military installations in the KSA.”

a) LGF

b) Leftist/Green/Fascist

[the answer is A, commenter Geepers, on Charles’ post about a former PLO terrorist]

And then there’s Rumsfeld who said of Iraq, ‘We have our good days and our bad days.’ We should put this S.O.B. up against a wall and say, ‘This is one of our bad days’ and pull the trigger.”

a) LGF

b) Leftist/Green/Fascist

[the answer is B, St. Petersburg Democratic Club]

“[Brooklyn-born settlers in Israel] should be shot dead. I think they are Nazis, racists, I feel nothing but hatred for them.”

a) LGF

b) Leftist/Green/Fascist

[the answer is B, Poet and Oxford Professor Tom Paulin]

“Students at University College Cork in Ireland have put together a list of well-known authors and speakers who are Jews, under the name Palestine: Information with Provenance. As LGF reader AWH put it, this is the Internet version of the Nazi yellow star.”

a) LGF

b) Leftist/Green/Fascist

[the answer is A, Charles’ post about a University-sponsored hate site]

…..

That was a pretty easy quiz, wasn’t it? Even without the answers, it’s easy to tell the difference between the real LGF and the leftist/green/fascist group.

If I wanted to make the quiz harder, I’d ask you to guess whether David Duke or Noam Chomsky said one thing or another. So many left/green/fascist extremists speak with the same voice lately. It’s hard to tell them apart.

In those days, there was no leftist equivalent of Charles Johnson speaking out against extremists or obsessed loonies like Noam Chomsky and the folks at Indymedia. It’s a shame, they could have used one.

The enemy of your enemy is not your friend. When Leftists tolerated and supported the extremists in their midst, they did great harm to their party. If the Right wing follows the same path, they can expect to be out of power for eight years, maybe longer.

We all need to pay attention to the voices of sanity in our midst. In the long run, the anti-fascist right and left will appreciate the work that Charles Johnson has done.

UPDATE: I was on a plane from NY to California all day yesterday, so I’m a little late in saying welcome to visitors from Little Green Footballs!

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Florist’s Window

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Graveyard near WTC

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He’s not the Soup Nazi, he’s the Soup Man

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Taking a photo of the NY Stock Exchange

More photos of Wall St. and the South Street Seaport up on Flickr

Gene at Harry’s Place believes that this article captures the Israeli zeitgeist:

Israel is a country held together by argument. Public culture is one long cacophony of criticism. The politicians go at each other with a fury we can’t even fathom in the U.S. At news conferences, Israeli journalists ridicule and abuse their national leaders. Subordinates in companies feel free to correct their superiors. People who move here from Britain or the States talk about going through a period of adjustment as they learn to toughen up and talk back.

Ethan Bronner, The Times’s Jerusalem bureau chief, notes that Israelis don’t observe the distinction between the public and private realms. They treat strangers as if they were their brothers-in-law and feel perfectly comfortable giving them advice on how to live.

One Israeli acquaintance recounts the time he was depositing money into his savings account and everybody else behind him in line got into an argument about whether he should really be putting his money somewhere else. Another friend tells of the time he called directory assistance to get a phone number for a restaurant. The operator responded, “You don’t want to eat there,” and proceeded to give him the numbers of some other restaurants she thought were better.

I lived near and worked in New York City for years, so a place where people argue and befriend with vigor, where you have to push and shove to get into a crowded bus, where people give advice to strangers is a home away from home to me.

Thanks to National Geographic:

What makes up our world? Dive into this photo-mosaic portrait of the Earth to see it through the eyes of users like you. It’s made up of hundreds of photos of the natural world, each submitted by users to My Shot. (Submit a photo) Move the yellow square over an area you would like to explore, click, and go. Double-click on an image to see more information about it. Keep clicking—and diving deeper into the Infinite Photograph—to get a truly boundless picture of Earth.

From the “Letters to the Editor” section of the Star Ledger:

Being a merchant marine captain, I am totally frustrated by the actions or inactions of the various maritime powers, particularly ours, to respond to the scourge of piracy.

Most civilian police departments undertake undercover actions to eliminate organized crime syndicates, human trafficking, gangs, drug cartels, etc. Many of these operations are successful, resulting in the arrest and prosecution of the perpetrators.

It is rather mind-boggling as to why the maritime powers do not do the same. They now are spending millions of dollars to have dozens of warships patrol, mostly unsuccessfully, a vast area. Instead, they should let three to four small cargo ships heavily armed with concealed weapons cruise the sea lanes. When the pirates get near, the ships should open fire and send them to the bottom of the sea. No need to arrest them.

When the remaining pirates see that their cohorts are not returning home with a prize, they will think twice before go out to sea again. End of piracy.

– N.M. Elliott, South Orange

Mumbai terror detective tells of world plot

The 50-year-old detective, who would appear almost boyish if it were not for the heavy bags under his eyes, is famous for wheedling confessions out of murder suspects by making audacious bluffs. He made his name during the investigation into the terrorist blasts that claimed 257 lives in Mumbai in 1993 – a case he cracked with the help of a scooter key that linked the veteran smuggler Tiger Memon to the atrocity.

That single clue laid bare a nexus of underworld involvement and led to more than 100 convictions.

According to Mr Maria, on the first night of the November attack, Mr Kasab showed signs of having been trained to withstand interrogation, but soon broke down.

The police chief quickly got his answers: 10 terrorists armed with AK56 automatic rifles (the Chinese version of the AK47), pistols, grenades and other explosives had arrived by sea from Pakistan, Mr Kasab told Mr Maria.

The militants had broken up into smaller units and fanned out across Mumbai to kill as many people as possible.

“Kasab was relatively forthcoming,” Mr Maria said, dismissing suggestions that his men resorted to torture – something the Mumbai force has been accused of in the past. “Real interrogation never works like that. It’s not as you see it in the films,” he said.

The nuggets of information were the first to be unearthed in an investigation that will be the focus of global attention as Mr Kasab’s trial proceeds. Charged with murder and waging war on India, the Pakistani national faces death by hanging if convicted.

Mr Maria, who has worked 15-hour days on the Kasab case for the past four months, knows the limits of what the gunman can reveal directly. “We have here a limb, not the brain, of this terrorist organisation,” he said.

Black Hole Creates Spectacular Light Show

A jet of gas spewing from a huge black hole has mysteriously brightened, flaring to 90 times its normal glow.

For seven years the Hubble Space Telescope has been watching the jet, which pours out of the supermassive black hole in the center of the M87 galaxy. It has photographed the strange phenomenon fading and then brightening, with a peak that even outshines M87′s brilliant core.

Scientists have dubbed the enigmatic bright blob HST-1, and are so far at a loss to explain its weird behavior.

“I did not expect the jet in M87 or any other jet powered by accretion onto a black hole to increase in brightness in the way that this jet does,” said astronomer Juan Madrid of McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, who conducted the Hubble study. “It grew 90 times brighter than normal. But the question is, does this happen to every single jet or active nucleus, or are we seeing some odd behavior from M87?”

Many supermassive black holes have jets of material that spray out perpendicularly from the donut-shaped ring of matter falling onto the black hole. These beams of hot gas are thought to result from magnetic field lines that are twisted by the black hole’s mass, and propel charged particles outward.

But most rays do not appear to blaze up with such extreme intensity as HST-1. Scientists aren’t sure if it is an exceptional case, or if it represents a normal event for black hole jets, which are still not very well understood. In this case, the bright knot of HST-1 is about 214 light-years from the M87 galaxy’s core…

At Pajamas Media

When discussing religion, how do we know when respecting apparently faith-based beliefs leads to contempt for our beliefs? Should we tolerate the intolerant? These questions are particularly relevant when a secular political body, the United Nations, recently passed an anti-blasphemy measure (backed by the 57-state Organization of the Islamic Conference) combating “defamation of religions.”

The Columbia University School of Law conference Candor or Respect: Talking About the Religion of Others, held on February 26, was supposed to focus on the treatment of all religions within the realms of the public sphere (governance, diplomacy, and journalism). It was not supposed to concentrate solely on Islam. But these days, when a discussion focuses on religion, and when panel members agree that “there is reason to believe that a failure of either candor or respect could be profoundly dangerous,” the subject of Islam will tend to take center stage.

As several panelists noted, the association of religion with profound danger and abuse would not have occurred to the majority of the population ten years ago. But we all understand the concept now. Speaker Leonard Leo of the Federalist Society said, “We’ve seen a shift” in the concept of respect for religion since pre-Cold War times. The old definition, described in Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, concerned the need to protect religious belief against coercion by the state. The religious defamation resolution that was passed by the UN Human Rights Council in 2008 defines respect of religion as the protection of Islam from “attempts to identify [it] with terrorism, violence, and human rights violations.” As Mr. Leo noted, restraints on criticism of Islam were not just directed at states; they were also directed against individuals.

This definition of respect was put forward by the Organization of the Islamic Conference, an organization of 57 states that call themselves “the collective voice of the Muslim world.” Flemming Rose, the Jyllands-Posten editor who published the “Danish cartoons,” understood why the OIC demanded censorship in the name of “respect.” As a former correspondent in the Soviet Union, he saw how the Russian government and mafia used intimidation to gain “respect.” In his Washington Post article titled “Why I Published Those Cartoons,” he said: “I am sensitive about calls for censorship on the grounds of insult. This is a popular trick of totalitarian movements: Label any critique or call for debate as an insult and punish the offenders. … The lesson from the Cold War is: If you give in to totalitarian impulses once, new demands follow. The West prevailed in the Cold War because we stood by our fundamental values and did not appease totalitarian tyrants.”

Lately, it’s sadly obvious that most Western elites have changed their policies on appeasing totalitarian tyrants.

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