Strong opinions, weakly held

Month: October 2001 (page 2 of 16)

Robert Reich’s latest column in the American Prospect attempts to outline a pragmatic approach to fighting terrorism (reader-submitted link). Here’s a juicy quote, taking both the left and right to task for their hardline positions:

Here’s where America’s political and intellectual left and right seem incapable of reasoned debate. Much of the left is still bemoaning America’s Cold War support of anticommunist dictators–the shah, Mobutu, Somoza, Greek colonels, Korean generals, Pinochet, Marcos, Armas, the mujahideen–and our nation’s gruesome record advising them, training their death squads, schooling and equipping their torture specialists, and helping them squirrel away their vast wealth. Given this history, the post-September 11 effulgence of American flags, patriotic hymns, and “freedom and democracy” bromides offered by American politicians strikes many on the left as dangerously ahistoric if not downright hypocritical.

The right dismisses this sordid history as irrelevant to the current crisis and accuses anyone on the left who dwells on it as “blaming America” for terrorism. Both sides are wrong: the left for suggesting that this history should make us any less determined to fight Islamic extremism and the right for assuming that this record has no bearing on why much of the third world is hostile toward us. Of course, we must proceed against terrorists with full force. Yet it’s also important to understand that our checkered history has shaped the understandings of many poor nations whose cooperation we need in order for that force to be effective and many of the world’s poor who are both attracted to radical fundamentalism and repelled by American bullying.

So, one thing I didn’t realize at first is that Microsoft attempted to justify MSN’s blockage of non-IE browsers by saying that those browsers were not standards compliant. As Edd Dumbill points out in his weblog, that’s a bunch of crap. Dan Gillmor also has a brief Q&A with Tim Berners-Lee about Microsoft’s decision to exclude in his weblog.

If you’ve been out of town for a few days like me, this Economist rundown of what’s going on right now in Afghanistan should get you up to speed.

Joel Spolsky: Working on CityDesk, Part Four

I heard a news item on the BBC this morning stating that the US was broadcasting a radio message in Afghanistan explaining how to tell bomblets from cluster bombs and food aid packages apart. Apparently both of them are yellow, and we’ve been dropping them in close enough proximity that people might blow themselves up by picking up a bomblet that they think might be a ration. This really fuels the argument that any food aid we provide should be distributed through NGOs that are already in that business in Afghanistan. (This BBC article mentions the radio message.)

Over at Slate, Robert Wright has written an excellent article on the issue of whether or not Islam can reconcile itself with modernity. Here’s one of the key points in the article:

I’m not saying that Islam is irrelevant to what happened on Sept. 11. In fact, I buy much of Sullivan’s argument-that understanding contemporary Islamic fundamentalism, as distinguished from moderate strands of Islam, helps illuminate our predicament. But I am saying that this whole business of mining the Quran for incendiary quotes is essentially pointless. Religions evolve, and there is usually enough ambiguity in their founding scriptures to let them evolve in any direction. If Osama Bin Laden were a Christian, and he still wanted to destroy the World Trade Center, he would cite Jesus’ rampage against the money-changers. If he didn’t want to destroy the World Trade Center, he could stress the Sermon on the Mount.

The entire article is excellent. Don’t skip it.

Lots of stuff happened while I was gone. For one thing, I had about 500 unread emails in my inbox, and I’m still catching up. In other news:

  • Microsoft launched Windows XP.
  • Microsoft redesigned MSN, and as part of the redesign, intentionally locked out browsers other than Internet Explorer. I had about 5 billion email messages in my inbox from discussions of this on various mailing lists, but I can’t get worked up about it. Is anybody smart enough to use a browser other than IE dumb enough to use MSN?
  • The completist in me wants to make sure to point out that Phil Agre released another set of attack-related links in my absence.
  • The USA Act was signed into law. John Dean has written an excellent rundown of the problems with the law for MSNBC.

I’m going out of town for a few days, so things will likely be quiet around here until I get back next Monday.

Keep an eye on this: a US military spokesman says that the Taliban is planning to poison food aid and blame the United States for it. There’s no chance the United States is planning to poison food going into Afghanistan, but my cynical side says that this could be one of those things said in a war to demonize the enemy. Either the Taliban is planning on trying to make us look bad by poisoning their own people and blaming us (which wouldn’t surprise me given the way they’ve been willing to sacrifice civilians so far), or we’re trying to make it look like the Taliban is doing that. The bottom line here is that we don’t really know the truth, and we shouldn’t automatically assume that what we’re being told is the truth, or more specifically, the whole truth.

Mark Goldblatt was shocked to learn that Microsoft has removed words deemed offensive from the thesaurus in Office 2000 (and, I assume, XP). That just totally sucks. I’ve tried to overcome the burning hatred I once felt for Microsoft, but they keep doing things that rekindle it. (Link from Flutterby.)

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