November 2009


Via Al-Jazeera Europe and the New York Times

In a referendum vote Sunday, Swiss citizens supported a ban on new minaret construction, voting against the protests of the Swiss government and liberal parties:

Pre-referendum polls had indicated a comfortable, if slowly shrinking, majority against the proposal, but official results Sunday showed that the S.V.P. and its allies had won 57 percent of the vote. The result came after a controversial campaign that played aggressively on the same fears of Muslim immigration and the spread of Islamic values that already resonate in other European countries.

“That Switzerland, a country with a long tradition of religious tolerance and the provision of refuge to the persecuted, should have accepted such a grotesquely discriminatory proposal is shocking indeed,” David Diaz-Jogeix, Amnesty International’s deputy program director for Europe and Central Asia, said in a statement. (From the New York Times story)

A surprising development, to say the least. Switzerland is a strange country, institutionally – the legislature is generally constrained by the need to create supermajorities in order to enact any law, and altering the constitution is harder still. But, as is the case in California, the “rule by ballot initiative” throws things off considerably, giving fringe groups within the populace a lot more clout than minority parties in the legislative houses possess.

So far, I have yet to read any statements from the right-wing supporters of this proposal that clearly explain how banning minarets will do anything to prevent the spread of radical Islam.

You won’t catch me dead outside today, because it is the artificial (think “Secretary’s Day”) event known ominously as “Black Friday,” which – for the benefit of any international readers – is when Americans swarm shopping malls and department stores country-wide, sometimes trampling each other to death in the pursuit of $100 USD savings on HD TVs, Nintendo Wiis, talking Sesame Street characters, and pallets of lard.

I’ve never been much of a shopper to begin with, so it’s difficult for me to imagine what exactly it is that possesses people to participate in this new holiday kick-off tradition – the same way it’s difficult for me, as someone who has never been a soccer fan, to understand why riots seem to break out any time a major match is played around the world.

This year is a little different, however, given the context of America’s high unemployment (perhaps 17 percent, by some estimates) and year-long economic slump. However, it’s difficult to really predict what effect this will have on actual Black Friday shopping practices. Will the weak dollar and high level of unemployment depress sales this year, or will people who have held out on major purchases this year boost sales on this “door-buster sale” day, when there are major discounts to be had?

That’s an impossible question to answer at the moment, but I have no doubt that there will be newsmakers ready to voice opinions on the matter, and, based on these, predictions about how the rest of the holiday retail season is going to run. My advice is to ignore all of this, good and bad, since by definition it’s grounded on unsteady assumptions.

On that note, I must leave and retreat into my “study zone,” as I have exams Monday. I will not be heard from at least until they’re over, and if they go badly, perhaps never again.

WordPress has developed a neat little BlackBerry app, which I’m testing out right now while losing at Scrabble.

Also, the Senate voted 60-39 tonight to move the health care reform debate to the floor. During his comments, Sen. Chris Dodd asked, “Why are we here on a Saturday evening; and for that matter, what are you doing watching C-SPAN on a Saturday evening?”

I felt like he was talking to me.

EDIT: I actually won the Scrabble game, coming back from a 60-point deficit. The winning word was “EQUIP.”

Last week, Attorney General Eric Holder announced that five men held in the prison camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, would be moved to the United States in preparation for upcoming criminal trials in New York City. Included in this group is Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who has claimed to be among the masterminds of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on Manhattan and Washington, D.C.

Predictably, this has led to roars of outrage from the political right (predictably, because the move was made by the Obama Justice Department, and anything done by the Obama Justice Department elicits roars of outrage from the right). Their criticism, when it is intelligible, falls into three categories. First, there is the concern that bringing a “known terrorist” to trial in New York City (or, presumably, anywhere on U.S. soil) will make that location a target for terrorist attack. Second, some conservatives are disgusted by the idea that a foreign national is being accorded the right to civilian trial, when he is actually an “enemy combatant.” Third – and I’ve sat up over beers at a bonfire recently discussing the finer points of this one – many are worried that the trial will be a “circus” that turns into an excoriation and “embarrassment” of the United States’ intelligence community, specifically, the CIA.

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While flipping through satellite radio channels today, I became convinced that I had discovered proof of America’s growing stupidity. Every talk channel I flipped through – Sirus-XM’s “The Virus,” NPR, CNN, and others – were breathlessly covering one of three topics: the soon-to-open “Twilight” sequel, the confusion over when to start getting mammograms, and Sarah Palin’s recently-released memoir, “Going Rogue.”

The situation is the same all over the Internet, at least as far as Sarah From Alaska is concerned. Wonkette has basically just run with the “PalinBlog” (RogueBlog? SarahBlog?) theme already established over at NRO, Andrew Sullivan’s Daily Dish has officially been overwhelmed, and the whole spectrum of punditry has basically had nothing else on its collective mind for the past two weeks or so.

It’s not just the blogs, either – Newsweek ran a front-page story on her (complete with leggy cover shot) last week, National Review’s Rich Lowry continues to slavishly adore her in print and online, and she’s made a tour of all the major talk shows, including Barbara Walters and… (even!)… Oprah.

Why not? It’s a fun story with colorful characters and conflict (the story about Palin’s book, I mean; not Palin’s book itself). I’m tempted to pick it up, but have decided not to for at least two reasons: one, I don’t want to encourage this kind of behavior and two, I have no idea where I left my last box of crayons.

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