Saturday, June 23, 2007

Elwood the Ugly Dog

Let me start by saying I am normally a fan of anything that walks around on 4 legs. I have a soft spot in my heart for even the homeliest of pets. And dogs, especially!

But man oh man, this is one ugly dog. Elwood is a 2 year old Chinese Crested and Chihuahua mixed breed, and won the competition for the world’s ugliest dog on Friday. He came in second last year, which has to make me wonder what the winner from last year looked like. Because, man, this dog is UGLY!

The dog comes from New Jersey, so maybe he was hanging out in a toxic dump too long or something. He’s earned the nicknames ET and Yoda, but to me he looks more like a gremlin once they’ve turned evil. Remember Spike? Spitting image, don’t you think? And don’t miss the big audacious named collar around his neck, completing the image.

Elwood’s owner, Karen Quigley, had this to say about the dog: "The breeder was going to euthanize him because she thought he was too ugly to sell. So ha ha, now Elwood's all over the Internet and people love him and adore him." I don’t know about know about adoring him, Karen, but he sure is funny to look at…from a distance.


Posted by Scottage at 9:41 AM / | |  

Friday, June 22, 2007

Israeli Tourism Industry Collaborates with Maxim to Show Finer Side of Israeli Life

Israel has seen a sharp decline in tourism over the past few years. The deteriorating situations in Lebanon and Gaza and the resulting hostilities against Israel have dried up Israeli’s primary source of revenue, tourism, especially amongst males ages 18-38. So the Ministry of Tourism is advertising in a magazine that has a firm grasp of this demographic: Maxim Magazine!

Maxim is to young adult males what Cosmo is to young adult females. The magazine promises “girls, sex, and sports” and falls barely short of being pornographic. What’s more, the advertisement for Israel certainly comes even closer to being pornographic, featuring Miss Israel 2004 Gal Gadot barely covered and lying in an erotic position promoting a pro-Israel club event.

David Saranga, of the consul for media and public affairs, finds this the best way to appeal to young adult males.

We found that Israel's image among men aged 18-38 is lacking, so we thought we'd approach them with an image they'd find appealing. When you see beautiful women, good-looking people, on the beaches of Tel Aviv ... you understand that Israel has to deal with the conflict, it's true, and there are religious elements in its society, but there are also other things. I want people to know that Israel is much more than a conflict, that people in Israel have normal lives.

Not surprisingly, the religious right is dead set against the advertisement, and is trying to block the ad from being run in July’s Maxim. MK Colette Avital called for an urgent session of parliament to discuss the “pressing matter of state”. MK Zahava Gal-On indicated that Israel should be focusing on “women of substance and accomplishments” rather than selling sex.

Meanwhile, the models see posing for Maxim as an acto fo Zionism. 25 year old former air force sergeant Tali Handel had this to say about the Maxim spread:

The fact that I can represent this country makes me very proud. I don't see anything negative about it. Nothing else brings [people] here, not Jerusalem, not the beautiful nature. People are not interested. So, I think it's okay to use something else to bring them.

The truth is that the Maxim spread may be more representative of Israel than people guess. Many people associate Israel with Orthodox Jews and religious conflict. And certainly the religious right maintains a tremendous amount of power because of their role in maintaining the coalition government. But in many ways, the secular community is the backbone of modern-day Israel.

Secular Jews are the significant majority in Israel today. They have developed a thriving high-tech industry that has provided Israel both a significant economy and the weaponry that has kept Israel alive despite its many conflicts. Israel has a nightlife and music industry that compares with any secular party scene in Europe. And yes, Israel has some of the most beautiful beaches and beautiful women in the world.

While the ultra-Orthodox spit on the soldiers who protect their lives, and use their inordinate power to pass legislation that hinders industry and tourism, the secular community is building a country that can compete in the real world. Now they are attracting people to that country, using the country’s natural resources. I have no problem with the spread, and hope it is not blocked by the Knesset.


Posted by Scottage at 2:05 AM / | |  

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Storm Brewing Over Rushdie Knighthood

There is a storm brewing, and no one is noticing. It’s not out in the Atlantic, and it won’t produce torrential rains. But it packs the same uncertainty and potential for destruction associated with the hurricanes we’ve experienced in the past few years.

The storm is the anger and frustration from the Muslim community. We saw a similar storm produced by the publishing of cartoons of the prophet Mohammed. We also saw a similar storm brewing when thousands of Lebanese civilians were killed in the conflict between Israel and Hezbollah last year, but the storm fizzled over land as so many hurricanes do.

This storm brews over an offense to the religion of Islam itself. The eye of this storm focuses on the knighting of Salman Rushdie, author of “The Satanic Verses”, a book which basically proposes the theory that the prophet Mohammed was fooled by the Devil as opposed to being enlightened by God. The book proposes that Islam needs to be theologically reviewed.

After writing “The Satanic Verses”, the late Iranian supreme leader, Ayatollah Khomeini issued a fatwa death warrant against Rushdie, sending him into hiding for 18 years. That death warrant has never been lifted, and now Islamic extremists have placed an 80,000 pound bounty on the author’s head. Mohammad Reza Bahonar, first deputy speaker of the Iranian parliament, addressed the Rushdie incident in parliament:

Salman Rushdie has turned into a hated corpse which cannot be resurrected by any action. The action by the British queen in knighting Salman Rushdie, the apostate, is an unwise one. The British monarch lives under this illusion that Britain is still a 19th century superpower and that bestowing titles is something still deemed important.

Tasnim Aslam, Pakistani Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, indicated that the appointment of knighthood to Rushdie is an insensitive act towards the Muslim community:

He was told that Salman Rushdie has been a controversial figure who is known less for his literary contribution and more for his offensive and insulting writing which deeply hurts the sentiments of Muslims all over the world. Conferment of a knighthood on Salman Rushdie shows an utter lack of sensitivity on the part of the British government.

Gerald Butt, editor of the Middle East Economic Survey, said:

It will be interpreted as an action calculated to goad Muslims at a time when the atmosphere is already very tense and Britain’s standing in the region is very low because of its involvement in Iraq and its lack of action in tackling the Palestine issue.

Just like the protests following the publication of cartoons of Mohammed, protests are beginning to spring up in Muslim communities around the world. In Pakistan, effigies of Rushdie and Queen Elizabeth, were burnt during protests. In Multan, Karachi and Lahore, hundreds of protestors set fire to British flags and called for “Death to Britain, Death to Rushdie”. A party at the British embassy in Tehranand to celebrate Rushdie was also protested, as Muslims threw stones, eggs, and paint filled bags.

Mohammed Ijaz ul-Haq, Pakistan’s Religious affairs minister, provided the most troubling statement.

This is an occasion for the world's 1.5 billion Muslims to look at the seriousness of this decision. The West is accusing Muslims of extremism and terrorism. If someone exploded a bomb on his body he would be right to do so, unless the British government apologises and withdraws the 'sir' title.

Only time will tell if we are looking at the beginning of mass protests in Muslim communities throughout the world, or if this storm will fizzle as others have in the past. But this storm is an important one to watch. It is a storm which is rapidly picking up steam, and even if it turns into a dud, this storm may contribute to the bigger storm that I have worried about for some time now.


Posted by Scottage at 12:00 AM / | |  

Monday, June 18, 2007

US Kills Children In Afghanistan – Will This Light The Fuse?

This isn’t exactly a new trick at all. Hezbollah and Hamas have been playing this trick on Israel for years and years, always with the goal of igniting international condemnation of the young Jewish state. And now the US has fallen for the same trick, this time played out by Al Qaeda.

The plot is simple: do whatever necessary to show your enemy a juicy target, one ripe with combatants and seemingly free of civilians, hide some civilians in the location, and then wait for the enemy to bomb the location. After the bombing, show the innocent casualties and bemoan the evil ways of the aggressor.

During the Grapes of Wrath campaign in South Lebanon, Hezbollah fired Katyusha rockets from behind a hospital, and the retaliation by Israel killed many infirmed Lebanese. In Gaza, Qassam rockets were fired from behind an orphanage last years, and the retaliation resulted in the deaths of children. And in the latest war in South Lebanon, Katyushas were regularly fired from populated areas, with civilians as human shields.

In all these examples, as well as many others where similar tactics were used, the goal was simple: foster international condemnation of Israel, cutting it off from the international support the country relies upon to survive. However, it’s equally obvious that the United States would neither receive such international condemnation nor would the condemnation affect it so radically. So why employ this strategy at this time?

With chaos prevailing in many countries in the Middle East, the goal seems apparent to me: to unite the Muslim people behind a common enemy, the United States!

The first rule of warfare in the Middle East is that the enemy of my enemy is my friend, at least for today. Because of this, two parties who have been feuding for decades or centuries can suddenly find themselves united against a third party at the drop of a hat. The rapidly changing allegiances in the region are what make fighting there so challenging, and so deadly.

The US has already experienced this once before, in Lebanon, where the US Marines suddenly became the common enemy and was attacked by a coalition of Lebanese forces that had been fighting each other only for years. In 1983, the US didn’t realize that they had become the common enemy as early as February. Not understand the rules of war in the Middle East cost the US 241 servicemen in Beirut that year.

Once again, we are seeing the push to make the US the common enemy. Perhaps the goal is to stop the Muslim on Muslim fighting being seen in Lebanon and Palestine. Maybe the desire is to pull countries like Jordan and Egypt, which have been on the sidelines during all the latest conflict, into the fray. But any way you look at it, while children were the victims here, the target was the US military.

The story is fairly well buried in the American press; CNN shows the story half way down their main page, and doesn’t even list it in the Middle East section, Fox News includes it in their third section, and Google News only adds it at the very end of their World News section. But Al Jazeera leads off with the story, as do other local news portals from the Middle East. Even BBC news makes this a top headline.

The American press focuses on the fact that children were told to stay inside the building, and weren’t allowed to go outside all day, preventing the military from knowing of their presence. Also, the American press, points out lack of damage to a nearby mosque, pointing to our respect for Islam. Al Jazeera doesn’t even mention these things, and links the killings to the 1500 civilian deaths in Afghanistan over the past 17 months.

Only time will tell if this tactic will be at all effective in provoking retaliation against the US military, or even against US civilians. But one thing is apparent to me, this morning when the US conducted an air strike against an Al Qaeda compound, we were actually the targets.


Posted by Scottage at 10:42 AM / | |  

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Free Speech: Lee Kaplan v Yaman Salahi

To me, the most important principle for a free society is freedom of speech. Without this basic freedom, society gains the ability to control the information going to its citizens, and prevent healthy debate on crucial issues. Along those lines, blogging has become a vital piece of national debate in this country, and allows people to express their opinions, complete with thorough background information, in an organized fashion.

Admittedly, I disagree with many bloggers out there, and find some dangerous. But freedom of speech is naturally challenged by the extremes, and only by preserving the rights of these extreme speakers or writers are the rights of everyone preserved. Only by allowing the most hateful people to speak freely can we hear all sides of the debate, and really analyze the most difficult issues facing our society.

Yaman Salahi, a college student, has a blog called Lee Kaplan Watch. He has issues with a pro-Israel writer named, you guessed it, Lee Kaplan, who writes for FrontPageMag. Now I have to say I don’t know much of Kaplan’s work, but from what I’ve read so far, he is more conservative than I am, but not horrible or dishonest. Understand, though, I’ve only read a small amount of his work, and perhaps he’s worse than I know.

But regardless of whether you agree or disagree with Lee Kaplan, to my mind, Yaman Salahi has the right to blog about him. In fact, our society needs Salahi to blog about Mr. Kaplan, so that we can critically analyze Kaplan’s work.

Kaplan decided to sue Yaman Salahi for business interference, and actually won his case in small claims court. College student Salahi was required to pay $7,500 in damages. Oddly enough, since the case was settled in small claims court, the judge was not required to issue a response or explain his decision. But unquestionably, any decision limiting the rights of bloggers to speak their mind is, in my humble opinion, dangerous.

Salahi writes:

My first amendment rights have been subverted with support from the courts, which only shows that everybody is in danger of facing these abusive small claims court defamation suits. My speech has been punished by a ruling with no opinion explaining why or advising me what not to do in the future… I will never know what element of Kaplan's claim, if any, the judge agreed with, though Kaplan will certainly continue to claim that all of them were accepted, though he knows well that this is not the case.

In reality, I suspect that Kaplan’s views are closer to my own than Salahi’s. But if we allow bloggers to be censored, we threaten the very freedom of our society that makes it so appealing. Let’s hope that this decision is corrected, and the rights of bloggers are protected by our courts, as was intended by the first amendment of the constitution, protecting citizen’s right to freedom of speech.


Posted by Scottage at 2:02 AM / | |