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Archive for May, 2008

It’s occurred to me over the past couple of years (probably because I read it somewhere) that Al-Qaeda’s strength comes from the support it enjoys from many Muslims in the Middle East, and that, unlike Al-Qaeda’s members and core supporters, much of that support rests on Al-Qaeda’s claims about ‘western infidels’, claims which tend to be reinforced by U.S. foreign policy, especially over the past seven years. In other words, while Al-Qaeda’s strongest supporters genuinely hate the western world and want to see it vanish, most of the support it enjoys is ‘conditional’ – in the sense that, if U.S. foreign policy changed to undercut Al-Qaeda’s argument (by, for example, getting out of Iraq as soon as possible), much of that support would weaken or vanish entirely. When that support vanishes, it delegitimizes and marginalizes Al-Qaeda (and related groups), making it more difficult for them to recruit and raise funds.

In fact, support for Al-Qaeda has plummeting (really plummeting, not just declining). Andrew Sullivan links to pieces by Lawrence Wright and Fareed Zakaria discussing the drop in support for Al-Qaeda in the Muslim world:

The Simon Fraser study notes that the decline in terrorism appears to be caused by many factors, among them successful counterterrorism operations in dozens of countries and infighting among terror groups. But the most significant, in the study’s view, is the “extraordinary drop in support for Islamist terror organizations in the Muslim world over the past five years.” These are largely self-inflicted wounds. The more people are exposed to the jihadists’ tactics and world view, the less they support them.

From the Zakaria piece. Yes, I know I’m quoting a piece from its quote in another blog. (Zakaria is discussing a study out of Simon Fraser University which deserves, but has not gotten, major play in the press. I strongly recommend reading it.)

An Al-Qaeda fanatic’s opinion won’t be changed by changes in U.S. foreign policy, and to him anything may be done to further Al-Qaeda’s goals – because that is the very nature of fundamentalism. That leads to tactics that most of the ‘conditional’ supporters of Al-Qaeda find repugnant, and eventually the indiscriminate murder of innocent civilians (in many cases, other Muslims) – which of course weakens support for such outfits. I still believe that a fundamental shift in U.S. foreign policy is the best long term policy to prevent Islamic terrorist organizations from becoming as powerful as Al-Qaeda has been, but in the meantime the terrorists seem to be doing a pretty good job of marginalizing themselves.

Update: Here’s some more from Andrew.

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No, I’m not writing about HRC’s remarks Friday, I’m talking about the Eurovision Song Contest – that annual celebration of kitsch, glam and (mostly) pedestrian music in which 25 European performers from different countries go up on stage and perform so that the whole of Europe can choose the best song/voice/sex appeal/weird outfits/light show/weird dancing/ability to get their border countries to vote for them.

To those unfamiliar with the Eurovision process, here’s what happens: most European countries (43 this year) choose one singer/band to perform an original song that will go to the contest. There are two semifinal nights before the final, at which 25 countries are represented. Each performer gets three minutes on stage to perform, taking about two hours, and then viewers across Europe vote for who they think should win. They take 15 minutes to vote, 15 minutes to count the votes, and then spend 45 minutes describing how each of the 43 countries entered initially voted, giving points to the top ten performances: 1-8 points for places 10 through 3, 10 points for second, and 12 points for first. Country size doesn’t matter; 12 points from Malta is as good as 12 points from Germany.

Of course most of the music is… well, crap. It can usually be divided into one of three categories: bad europop, really bad europop, and pale imitation of really bad europop. Occasionally a completely off-the-beaten-track song shows up, such as Lordi’s death metal song from two years wihch won the competition for Finland. Much of the time the winner is a marginally decent song, usually a ballad or something that falls into the category of bad europop.

Usually however, the winner has more to do with inter-country politics: the Scandinavian countries vote for each other, the east European countries vote for each other, Portugal and Spain vote for each other, etc. So the winner is rarely the best song. In principle winning Eurovision can launch careers – in practice it rarely seems to do much for the winner outside his own country, unless they were already established. Celine Dion and Cliff Richard have won it when they were already established artists – only Abba and possibly Dana seem to have had their careers launched by Eurovision.

I watched this year’s Eurovision streamed live online, which began with a tedious Romanian ballad and ended with a tedious Norwegian pop song. Mixed in between was a 75 year old rapper from Croatia, a blind singer from Georgia, and a 16 year old from Armenia. Other notable performances: the Russian performance was forgettable but featured an ice rink on the middle of the stage. The Latvian group dressed up as pirates and sang a half-decent song about pirates, the Azeri group had some weird performance involving half the performers dressed as angels and the other half dressed as devils, and the Bosnian performance was just bizarre (but a pretty good song nonetheless). (You can watch the full program at eurovision.tv – the links above take you to the original videos for each song, but I recommend watching the whole performance to understand the full force of Eurovision.)

In the middle of all this came the one real bright spot of the night – a nattily dressed group from Denmark, singing a crisp pop song, with a crisp melody, crisp lyrics, crisp outfits and an overall crisp performance. A song vaguely reminiscent of Frank Sinatra/Peggy Lee style music but with a much more modern edge. The only song I’d probably want to listen to regularly. Of course, since they had the best song of the night, they only came in 14th.

The winner? Russia, with another boring song. The big loser? The UK, a result that says more about how the rest Europe dislikes the UK than about the song itself (it was certainly much better than the Russian entry).

I’ll stick to my music collection.

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How do we perceive a rainbow? And does everyone perceive a rainbow in the same way? These seemingly simple questions can reveal some interesting features of the human brain. For instance, is the “striped” appearance of the rainbow—the seven distinct bands of color that we see—a construct of our higher mental processes, or do the mechanics of human

Very interesting article.

read more | digg story

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A new link in my blogroll – a friend of mine grows orchids and posts pictures of them on his blog at Tabbie’s Garden (and other pics as well). Check it out!

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I used to like the Clintons, but after the past two months I am completely repulsed by their gutter tactics, selfishness and complete lack of principles. Now that Obama has the nomination all but sewn up, Andrew explains how the great cosmic balance came into play tonight:

African-American voters killed the Clinton candidacy. It is a fitting end to the Clintons’ campaign and an almost Shakespearean coda to their career. The Clintons were exposed in their long-running exploitation and reliance on minority votes. No group was more loyal to them than African-Americans; and in the end, like everyone else, African-Americans realized that the Clintons are frauds, disloyal to the core, cynical to their finger-tips, and finally, finally, returned the favor.

This will be history’s verdict: in the end, the Clintons were defeated not by Republicans, but by African-American Democrats. How wonderful. How poignant. In the end, the karma gets you. Maybe it had to be this way. But this final coup de grace against these awful, hollow, cynical people is a beautiful, beautiful thing.

Well put. It’s time for the Democrats to move on and leave the Clintons behind – and that means no unity ticket. There are other veep candidates who can appeal to Clinton’s core demographic, and I sincerely hope Obama picks one of them.

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