Archive for the 'Politics' Category

Missing the glaring similarities

March 23rd, 2009

It’s sometimes surprising just how narrow the focus of some people can be, when they compare themselves, or a group they identify with, to people who aren’t them.

People will tend to expect others to see them in a much better light than they would themselves see other people placed in the same situation. Or than how they would expect other people to see other people in the same situation.

An obvious, and loaded, source for examples around here (Israel) is how many Israeli citizens see the neighbouring Arabs and Muslims. All too many times people react quite severely to bad/improper/unacceptable behaviour from them, while fully admitting they’d behave very similarly in the same situation. And they don’t see a problem, because it’s different. Somehow. In a way they can rarely articulate.

I’ll probably, laziness permitting, write a lot more about quite a few conversations like this that I had in the past. But this particular post is about a single issue, though I did talk with several different people who feel the same as the single example I’ll present here.

This one is not about any issue specific to Israel, but rather about the rise in Islam, or in the amount of Muslims, in Europe.

I was talking with this person, an Israeli Jew, and he mentioned reading about the “problem” of Muslims in Europe. He kept on for a while about how the Europeans[1] are having a problem, how it’s becoming a large issue there, and how it’s going to end in riots and violence.

So far nothing you can’t find in the headlines of a lot of newspapers, though his opinion was certainly on the anti-Muslim side.

Then he went on to explain that he completely understands why the Europeans don’t like the Muslims . It’s because they live in their own segregations, keep their own different culture and their own different customs, dress differently, and generally try to keep themselves different and unique instead of trying to completely blend in and assimilate themselves in the local culture of the country.

Funny that. Seems to be nearly identical reasons for Anti-Semitism against Jews. Let’s say circa World War II ? Separate communities? Check. Keeping their own different culture? Different religion? Different rituals, special days, behaviour codes? Check. Different cloths? Check[2].

But according to him (another reminder, this “him” is actually several people), not liking Muslims because of these reasons is fine and understandable. Not liking Jews because of these reasons, though, was/is bad, racist, and completely unjustifiable.

I was already staring incredulously while listening to this, when I was exposed to another gem. It’s not just that these Muslims keep themselves different, you see. It’s that they plot to make everyone be like them, to take control of Europe by any means necessary, and then take over the rest of the world.

Seriously? All these people, many regular everyday people, all planning together to control the world?

No, I was told. Of course it’s not all of them. But they do what their elders and religious leaders tell them to. And those, who lead them, they have a plan, and are driving towards it.

Ahem. Right. I heard about that somewhere. A while ago. I think it was a little bit different when I heard about it, though. The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, anyone?

After being persecuted and attacked by people believing such nonsensical hoaxes, I’m talking to Jews (some religious, some old enough to have personal experience) who have no problem believing the same things, based on the same proof (none whatsoever), because it is about some other group that they don’t like.

And no, I was told, of course it’s not the same. How isn’t it the same? Because The Protocols of the Elders of Zion are vicious lies, but these Muslim leaders really are out to control the world.

I admit that as a Jew living in Israel I’m not feeling very happy about growing percentage of Europe’s population being Muslim. Especially since the lack of love really does go both ways, and most of them are maybe being taught to hate me a lot more than I personally don’t like them. But this sort of tortured logic (or lack thereof), wild accusations, and outright hypocritical nonsense… appals me.

You don’t like people because of who they are, or what they believe? Fine, that’s your right. But be frank about it. And stop it there. For someone who has been, or whose parents have been, in the exact same situation, and thought it horrible, to now be on the complete other side? And to feel fine and justified about it? Not to notice the similarities? Not even after they’re pointed out to you, though it’s obvious enough that it shouldn’t be required? Enough to get me depressed about humanity.

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  1. Ignoring the fact that these Muslims are Europeans, and citizens of their respective countries. None of the people I talked to seemed to pay attention to this apparently minor fact.[back]
  2. In many places, though not all. Which I suppose is the same for the Muslims.[back]

A Democracy is not a Technocracy

September 2nd, 2007

There are a lot of accusations, that started to fly around after the recent war in Lebanon, against several politicians and military officers. Many justified, many not. Heck, everyone is unhappy after a military exercise which doesn’t end in a resounding success, and military actions never end in resounding successes.

This post is just about one of these claims/accusations. Specifically, there are a lot of people claiming that one of the faults was nominating Amir Peretz as the minister of defence, because he has no military background.

Now, I’m far from being a fan of Peretz. Most of what I have to say about him is not particularly nice. But this particular accusation is stupid nonsense. Not because he does have military experience. He doesn’t. But because it’s not relevant to the way we run our government.

The form of Representative Democracy we’re using is based on the idea that people vote for parties. The parties have some political agenda they’re supposed to focus on[1], and their list of candidates. Based on the relative amount of votes a party receives, the top candidates from the party go in the Knesset (parliament). The leader of the party most likely to manage to form a coalition is given a chance to do so, and if he/she succeeds then the leader becomes the new Prime Minister. And candidates from the parties that joined the coalition get appointments as ministers, based on the political dealings that were made in order to convince them to join the coalition.

Notice how nothing here mentioned particular knowledge and ability in any particular skill related to the relevant ministry? This is not an oversight. This is by design[2].

People vote for a party to represent their general goals and ideals. Maybe even based on the top candidates of that party. But which person gets to be minister of what, that depends more on the agenda of the party (If their political agenda focuses on a specific issue, ministries relevant to that issue will be something they will work for when negotiating) and overall political game, than on the knowledge and pedigree of candidates.

The minister of health does not have to be a medical doctor, or hold degrees in biology, zoology, or environmental studies. The minister of education does not have to have a degree in education, psychology, or sociology. The minister of science does not have to have a degree in physics, biology, chemistry, or math. The minister of culture does not have to have a degree in history, art, or music. And the minister of defence? No need for degree in military studies or strategy, and no need for military experience.

That’s the system. On purpose. This is why we call it a representative democracy, rather than a technocracy.

The minister needs to hold some level of public trust, even if by proxy (of the political party that was voted for). And needs to have the administrative ability to run the ministry.

For the technical knowledge the minister needs to have assistants, and advisors. The responsibility of the minister is not to know in advance about the subject matter, but to be able to find people to inform him/her about relevant topics of the subject matter. And to make decisions that fit the political agenda of the party, are good for the country[3], and make sense based on what the minister can understand from the experts and advisors the minister consults with.

Anyone who isn’t happy with it, well, has a right to. But they have to realize that their position is that they want to get rid of democracy in favour of a technocracy. Not that they want the same type of democracy we have now, except with a minister of defence that knows military. That’s hypocrisy, and intellectual laziness.

After all, if you want a professional for defence, why not in other fields? The usual answer is that it’s because defence is important. There are two problems with that argument:

  1. Education? Also important. Health? Also important. Science? Also important. Finance and economics? Also important. Keep going. Which one of them you think you can abandon and then go on and keep the country alive, and worth living in, after a decade?
  2. If a professional is a superior option for any important field, why wouldn’t it be a good idea for other fields, important or otherwise? It needs to be a good idea there as well, right? So why pick a professional just for defence?

So claiming they want a professional there, means they want a professional everywhere.

And this does not go well with our democratic idea. You can’t keep both. The current election and party structure cannot survive if you need each minister to be a credited professional in the field.

If it’s skill based, there’s no point in an election. Professionals are recognized by other professionals, and by academic institutes, not by the masses[4].

And not everyone can have a degree in everything. So, if you start by the pool of candidates that won votes in a global election, and then filter them in ministries by their knowledge, you can easily get in a position where you only have a single eligible candidate for some ministries. Not very democratic when there’s no choice. Worse, you may get in a position where you have nobody to fill a certain ministry. What do you do then?

People can claim they want a new system of government. They can go and try to solve, to some level, all the technical problems of the new system. But they can’t fault the current system for things which are a parts of the system’s design, while claiming that they really do want the current system and not the replacement system that doesn’t have those “faults”.

Or, in this case, you think Peretz is an idiot? Fine. You think that, only[5] because he has no military experience, it was a huge mistake to appoint him defence minister? Not fine, and you may be a bigger idiot than he is.

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  1. liars, the lot of them, of course, but that’s the difference between practice and theory, right?[back]
  2. As the computer saying goes: “It’s not a bug, it’s a feature!”[back]
  3. Hopefully, anyway. And filtered by the minister’s worldview[back]
  4. Though even there it’s a mess, and in many areas you have professionals who disagree, and follow different schools. Which one do you want to make the decisions, unchecked?[back]
  5. other reasons can be fine, as long as this one isn’t on the list[back]

The chickens must be terrified

August 25th, 2007

Who wouldn’t be terrified, discovering they just made it to the list of potential terrorist’s targets? And chickens are, well, chickens. It’s a well known fact.

On the other hand, the only chickens who seem to be attractive to terrorists, so far, are those living in the US. Or, in any case, the US government’s very own DHS are the only one who believes their chickens to be prime targets.

Yep, seems that the US DHS thinks that chicken houses are terrorist targets.

Why?

Because many of them are warmed by propane gas. And propane gas is inflamable. No, it is, really. You blow a bomb near a container of propane, and it will explode and burn.

Burning every chicken in the very close area. Possibly also the house of the farmer raising the chicken, if it’s close enough to the tank.

The rule affects nearly every poultry grower across the Delmarva peninsula, and as many as 20,000 sites across the country, because propane gas is the most popular chicken house heating method.

“The three 1,000-gallon propane tanks at a local grain elevator, or nursing home, or school or campground are not terrorist targets,” said NPGA Senior Vice President Philip Squair in a May 1 news statement. “What DHS is asking is for ordinary homeowners, businesses and farmers to declare themselves terrorist targets because they choose to use propane to heat their houses and businesses.”

Let’s do some guesswork, shall we?

Expected death toll if terrorists blow up the propane gas tank at a chicken house? Probably 0-6 people[1], and some fried chickens.

Expected death toll if the terrorists would take the same amount of explosive and put it near a small house in any small town? 0-6, without fried chicken.

Expected death toll if the terrorists would take the same amount of explosives and put it near the security gate of a mall, where people congregate to pass inside? 4-30? More?

Yes, I can see the terrorists going after the rural chicken houses. Any minute now. Any minute now.

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  1. depending on how many kids the farmers have, if they’re home, where the gas tank is located, and how competent the terrorists are. How competents are terrorists who go after chickens, I wonder?[back]

Community concerned by the poor job done at dissolving the community

August 5th, 2007

About two weeks ago, after the election in Turkey, there were some news articles in local Israeli papers about it, and about the responses by the Jewish community in Turkey.

I found a particular article (Hebrew only, sorry) by Ynet especially amusing, though I’m not sure whether the credit belongs to bad reporting, or an actual interviewee who doesn’t pay attention to what comes out of her mouth.

Large parts of the article contain some statements by someone identified as “Rachel” from the Jewish community in Istanbul. The article doesn’t explicitly say it, but the overall impression is that she is supposed to be representative of the opinions of the Jewish community.

She is not happy with the results of the election, and is concerned about the growing power of the Islamic party, AKP (Justice and Development Party).

There are many interesting, and problematical, things in her statements. But the one that really got my attention was the complaint that the power of the Islamic party rises because of the failure of the secular school education.

Specifically (rough translation by me):

After many years of secular education in schools, if these are the results – it’s not certain it succeeded. Apparently the education the youth get at home is stronger than the secular education system.

Think about that for a moment, considering the source.

This is amusing on two fronts.

The lesser one is that, well, the AKP party isn’t a strictly hard-religious party. A large amount of their voters chose it for other reasons entirely[1].

The main was is, well, that this statement was made by someone from the Jewish community is a non-Jewish country. The mere fact that there is a Jewish community there, that the young adults in their community are Jewish, is a clear indication that the secular public eduction did not entirely overcome the religious home education.

And she complains about it. She says that she wants good secular education that will rid the pupils of any religious ideas they had from home.

Anyone wants to guess what will happen to her own community if that happens? Do you think she’ll be happy about it?

Sad, really.

Some other minor nitpicking of the article:

The AKP has done a pretty good job for Turkey, both economically and diplomatically, so far. Most of the articles I saw here tend to gloss over that fact, and to overemphasize the Islamic parts of its agenda.

As a sign of how the AKP really does push the Islamic agenda, Rachel tells us she read that in recent years the number of mosques in Turkey has grown and is now maybe larger than the number of schools. She is concerned. Nobody mentions that a mosque serves a lot less people than a school. Or that, for example, Israel has a lot more Temples than schools as well[2]. Or, well, where exactly she read that and what are the real numbers.

Rachel[3] is also concerned because she noticed in recent years that many more business are buying products from local Muslim sellers[4]. Obviously there is no mention of things like maybe the lower cost of local products, possibly the increasing quality of local products that makes them relatively more attractive than they were in the past, or that maybe the point is that people are buying local and not that they’re buying Muslim. All over the world you hear of people complaining about imports and saying that other people should buy more local products, but here, on the cases it’s noticeable, we’re suddenly supposed to see it as a problematic indication of the rise of Islamic tendencies?

There is also no big change here. The AKP has been growing steadily for the past few elections. This is not a surprise, or extreme (at least so far), Islamic wave which is taking the country by a storm. Yet the article explicitly refers to “An Islamic Revolution”.

Rachel also believes that the work by the AKP to improve relations between Turkey and the EU, or attempts to join the EU, are done only for “political reasons” and nobody else cares about it. According to her most people think it won’t noticeably improve the people’s quality of life. No explanation on why she claims they think it will have no socio-economic impact. No explanation on what the hidden agenda of the AKP is supposed to be here if they don’t really think it will benefit Turkey.

And so on and so forth. Fun reading.

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  1. Heck, considering the full things they, and the other parties there, stand for, I think that if I lived in Turkey I’d have voted for them myself. And I’m not exactly a huge fan of how Islam looks like these days.[back]
  2. Which I guess means Turkey is still way ahead of us in being a secular country.[back]
  3. Yes, for some reason a lot of the article focuses on what Rachel has to say.[back]
  4. instead of importing them is implied, especially as the example is seeing a lot of “Cola Turka” instead of “Coca Cola”. Personally I fail to believe soft-drinks are a religious experience, but that may just be me.[back]

How many really bored Texans are there?

June 7th, 2006

The brilliant Texas governor, or maybe a really drunk aid, have come up with a new plan to help prevent illegal immigration across the border from Mexico.

What’s the idea?

The Texas governor announced his plans for streaming the border surveillance camera footage over the internet at a meeting of police officials on Thursday.

“A stronger border is what Americans want and it’s what our security demands and that is what Texas is going to deliver,” Mr Perry said.

The cameras will cost $5m (£2.7m) to install and will be trained on sections of the 1,000-mile (1,600km) border known to be favoured by illegal immigrants.

Yep, placing lots and lots of cameras covering huge stretches of the border. Then wiring them all up, and broadcasting the footage on the Internet for anyone who wants to monitor.

The practicalities of effectively covering such an area with cameras are beyond me. For comparison, the entire border of Israel, with the sea and all neighbouring countries, is slightly more than 1,000km. They’re talking about 160% of that.

The price they quote for the job also seems widely inadequate. This should cover all the cameras, installation, wiring required to connect everything, computer servers to collect all the footage and store it, and bandwidth costs for transmitting all that video over the Internet?

No way. They’ll run out of money before even beginning to deploy and set the infrastructure, not to mention maintenance costs.

Heck, they current estimates I see for their fence idea is at $8 billion. This is a third of the length, but walls have much lower maintenance and upkeep costs, don’t require electricity, and don’t have to be wired. So maybe $5 billion is more likely than $5 million.

And that’s not even the biggest problem with the idea, I think. Who exactly do they expect to sit and watch those border cams??

Sure, some may be placed in locations with nice scenery, so may become popular. But most of the cameras will just be covering empty stretches of a deserted border. And totally deserted and eventless videos are mainly one thing: boring.

This is a part of why normally people who monitor such surveillance cameras are paid money. It’s a boring job. Nothing is happening, and there’s nothing to see.

Sure, the singular event of actually noticing a group of Mexicans trying to sneak in can be exhilarating and exiting, no doubt. But most people won’t get to see that even if they’ll wait hours, days, weeks, and months, just staring at a camera feed. It’s a very long border, I remind you.

Watching such a huge amount of cameras will require massive manpower dedicated to the task. Texas can’t employ so many people on this job, so they’re trying to get it done for free by the public.

But nobody will do it on their spare time. Not unless their alternatives are even more boring and dreary than watching a motionless camera feed.

Can there really be that many Texans out there who are constantly so bored out of their minds?


Hat tip to Make You Go Hmm

Elections

April 4th, 2006

The elections for the Knesset (Israel’s parliament) took place last week.

Basically the Knesset has 120 seats. People vote for parties, and the seats are divided according to the relative amount of votes each party received (as long as a party passed a certain minimum).

The Prime Minister is then selected by the president as the party leader with the best chance of managing to arrange a coalition of parties big enough to form a government (i.e. a majority). And the parties who enter the coalition then divide the ministers’ positions in the government between them.

Well, roughly.

The system does encourage quite a few small parties, since minor groups have a chance of entering the Knesset, and even a decent chance of entering the government. Sometimes it even gives them too much power, since if the largest party can’t get enough support to form a government, another party leader may get the chance to be PM and from the government instead. This gives the small parties quite a lot of leverage.

And can sometimes have amusing results. In this election, for example, the biggest surprise was the pensioner’s party. They did have a chance to enter the Knesset, since there are a lot of old pensioners out there who understandably think about their own needs more than about some grand political schemes. But nobody expected them to do more than barely pass, if at all. And apparently lots of people who didn’t like anyone else decided to vote for them as a default, since it appeared harmless enough. Resulting in them getting 7 seats. And almost certainly entering the government.

One running gag about it is the surprise that the people at the 6th and 7th positions didn’t have a heart attack when they heard they’re in. Obviously none of them really expected to. Another cheap shot, but amusing, about them being old was a skit about a prominent politician saying he moved to their party to the 20th position. When asked why does he like it, given that they only got 7 seats, he replied that it’s only a matter of a few months until he’s in.

Another interesting results was the Avoda party, who received 19-20 seats (they’re still finishing with the final tally, and squabbling over everything). This makes them the second largest party, after Kadima with 29-30 seats.

The feelings are that they would have gotten a lot more votes if it weren’t for their party leader, Amir Peretz, whose views, at least some of them, are not particularly popular even among the party’s loyal voters. I myself know a few die-hard Avoda voters who didn’t vote for them this year because of him. And given the difference in votes between them and Kadima, having someone else might have been enough to make them the largest party, and having the first shot at building the government.

The Likud party, which together with the Avoda has been one of the two largest parties for a long long time, has suffered a lot, dropping to 12 seats. Finger pointing of course commenced immediately, with most of the fire directed towards the party leader Benjamin Netanyahu. Partially justified, since a lot of people don’t like him personally either.

Though mostly what hurt them was Kadima, which was basically started by Ariel Sharon, the Likud party leader until not so long ago, who retired, taking a lot of the people, and the seats, with him.

Sharon also appeared prominently in Kadima’s campaign TV ads. Which is amusing given that he’s lying unconscious in a hospital, will take no active part in the party, and doesn’t have much to do with its current form except for vague statements they make about them being committed to continuing his legacy, whatever that may be.

All in all, lots of political fun. As always.

And a serious dearth of parties, and politicians, worth voting for. That’s usually the case, in that I always feel like instead of voting for the best party I have to settle on voting for the least of all evils. This year, however, deciding who is the least bad, well, wasn’t easy at all. I nearly decided to give up and skip the vote.

The problem being that, unlike few-parties methods like the American, we do have a plethora of small bizarre parties. This means that a missing vote is, relatively, a vote for the small parties. And I like most of them a lot less than my few least-bad candidates.

Oh, well. This election is over. Next one in four more years. Unless, as happened a lot lately, something will happen to force an earlier election.

Stay away from… someplace

April 11th, 2005

Sometimes the rampant paranoia of the Americans amazes me.

Pilots are instructed not to fly near nuclear power plants. But they
are also not allowed to be told where are the plants located.
Yes, they are not allowed to fly near areas which are not specified to them. Nice and easy to do, isn’t it?

So they decide to find out by themselves, run some searches on publicly
available data, and publish it among themselves. Only to be told that
they’re not allowed to reveal those secrets. And back to square one.

Oh, yes, and it seems that it’s really not that hard to find those power plants.