Monday, May 24

Box men & burqas

For the record, I agree with Steve Chapman:

The veil, we are told, is a symbol of oppression imposed on women by husbands and other male relatives. Could be. But how do the critics know? The same thing can be said about surgically enhanced breasts in Europe and the United States.

Just because a few adults may be coerced into doing something doesn't mean others should not be allowed to do it of their own free will. If men are employing violence to control wives and daughters, the reasonable response is to punish them sternly while encouraging women to report the crimes.

But outlawing the burqa merely trades one form of compulsion (you must wear this) for another (you may not wear this). Besides, it is bound to backfire: If brutal men can no longer prevent women from wearing veils when they leave the house, they can prevent them from leaving the house at all.

It may be difficult to interact with someone whose face you can't see. But lots of things that are difficult when unfamiliar soon become tolerable or irrelevant.

For my part, every time I see a discussion about the burqa, I think of Abe Kōbō's The box man. Abe says,
In seeing there is love, in being seen there is abhorrence. One grins, trying to bear the pain of being seen. But not just anyone can be someone who only looks. If the one who is looked at looks back, then the person who was looking becomes the one who is looked at.
(Actually, I'm probably thinking of a niqab, the black dress that covers everything but the eyes, not the burqa, which covers the eyes as well. And apparently I'm not the only one who's thought of this connection.)

So should I appear on the street in France wearing a niqab (and nothing else)? Or on the street in a more "permissive" country as a box man?

Friday, May 21

Mistreatment by your own fanatics is OK

[T]he Cheonan “was sunk as the result of an external underwater explosion caused by a torpedo made in North Korea.”
despite a national outpouring of grief, the senseless attack aroused surprisingly few public demonstrations of wrath with the North. Brian Myers, a writer on North Korea, notes that there was more palpable anger in 2002 when an American army vehicle ran over two South Korean schoolgirls.
and in Afghanistan
A history of botched raids and air strikes by coalition forces lends rumours of their alleged mistakes credibility, even where the insurgency is weak. As the war intensifies and mishaps multiply around the country, winning hearts and minds may become even harder. A neighbour of the victims in Koshkaky speaks for many: “If the Americans do this again, we are ready to shed our blood against them. We would rather die than sit by and do nothing.”

Dalai Lama praises Marxism for "moral ethics"

"Still I am a Marxist," the exiled Tibetan Buddhist leader said in New York, where he arrived today with an entourage of robed monks and a heavy security detail to give a series of paid public lectures.

"(Marxism has) moral ethics, whereas capitalism is only how to make profits," the Dalai Lama, 74, said.

However, he credited China's embrace of market economics for breaking communism's grip over the world's most populous country and forcing the ruling Communist Party to "represent all sorts of classes".

Tuesday, May 18

Our militarized police

Most American police SWAT teams probably have fewer restrictions on conducting forced entry raids than do US forces in Afghanistan.

Sunday, May 16

Illinois' problems

Illinois Turns off Businesses
Illinois maintained its title of 6th worst state to do business in, according to a poll of the nation's top business leaders in Chief Executive magazine. Wayne Cooper, the magazine's publisher, says the chief culprit for the dismal ranking is the state's D-plus grade for taxes and regulation...

Cooper says respondents sense hostility and budget uncertainty from Springfield and an overabundance of regulation in the state's books.
but taxes may be too low:
Ralph Martire, executive director of the nonpartisan Center for Tax and Budget Accountability, said even then the numbers are “distorted.” He said the most appropriate figure to look at is total tax collection as a percentage of income. Illinois is ranked 46th according to the Federation of Tax Administrators. Martire believes that is a disturbing figure.

“We’re low tax, we’re low spending, we have a $13 billion deficit and we’re not meeting existing needs,” he said. “The way we look at this whole problem is the most responsible solution is a tax increase.”

Other groups, especially those which oppose the governor's borrow-heavy budget, are more concerned with debt levels than revenue.

The COGFA report looks at data from 2007–the latest available statistics on local governments–to analyze total debt outstanding. Illinois ranks fifth with more than $116 billion in debt, translating to about $9,000 per-capita for a ninth-place ranking.

Monday, May 10

Poor media coverage of chemical risk

In a survey of 937 scientists who are members of the Society of Toxicology, the Center for Media and Public Affairs and its affiliate site found that WebMD is the only news source a majority of them (56 percent) regard as accurate in covering chemical risk. Wiki came in second at 45 percent. Trailing badly at 15 percent were the New York Times, Washington Post and Wall Street Journal. USA Today took the print booby prize at 6 percent, and network broadcast news recorded an embarrassing 5 percent.
In fact, it's just as Darshak Sanghavi wrote in Why do we focus on the least important causes of cancer?

Another bailout

[Freddie Mac] — already propped up with $52 billion in taxpayer funds used to rescue the company from its own mistakes — recorded a loss of $6.7 billion and said it would require an additional $10.6 billion from taxpayers to shore up its financial position.

The news caused nary a ripple in the placid Washington scene. Perhaps that’s because many lawmakers, especially those who once assured us that Fannie and Freddie would never cost taxpayers a dime, hope that their constituents don’t notice the burgeoning money pit these mortgage monsters represent. Some $130 billion in federal money had already been larded on both companies before Freddie’s latest request.


Fannie and Freddie, lest you’ve forgotten, have been longstanding kingpins in the housing market, buying mortgages from banks that issue them so the banks could turn around and lend even more. After both companies overindulged in the lucrative but riskier end of home loans, they nearly collapsed, prompting the federal rescue.
And by some accounts, led to the financial collapse.
Mr. Baker’s [Dean Baker, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington] concern that Freddie may be racking up losses by overpaying for mortgages derives from his suspicion that the government might be encouraging it to do so as a way to bolster the operations of mortgage lenders.

That would make Fannie’s and Freddie’s mortgage-buying yet another backdoor bailout of the nation’s banks, Mr. Baker said, and could explain the government’s reluctance to include them in the reform efforts now being so hotly debated in Washington.