Blogs

Zidane a victim of racism? Maybe - but not so fast

| Tue Jul. 11, 2006 4:40 PM PDT

Having written a column before the World Cup worrying that racism, in the form of ugly taunts and gestures (and worse) from fans, would mar the competition, and then having seen those fears largely unfulfilled, Dave Zirin, writing at Alternet, seeks to salvage his thesis on the strength of speculation re: l'affaire Zidane. He argues that if, as has been reported, the lavishly tattooed Italian defender Marco Materazzi called Zinedine Zidane, a Muslim of Algerian descent, "a dirty terrorist"--which Materazzi denies--well, then, Italy should hand back the cup.

This makes for an impassioned column, no doubt, but there's a problem. Armies of lip readers ("international lip readers," no less) have been marshaled to decipher the insult leveled at Zidane, and they've come up with a bewildering array of suggestions. Some say Materazzi wished for Zidane and his family an ugly death; others that he insulted the French player's sister; and still others that he told "the balding playmaker" to go fuck himself. I know enough Italian to be reasonably confident these phrases aren't easily confused--so...I don't think much of international lip readers.

Undeterred by the speculative (and agenda-advancing?) quality of the crap flying around about the incident, Zirin takes his opening. (Not a huge deal, but he seems to think Zidane's nickname is Zissou; it's actually Zizou.)

But then in the final act, at the moment of most exquisite tension, it seems racism may have actually emerged from the shadows. I, for one, am damn glad that when it did, it ran smack into Zissou's beautiful head.

We don't know with iron certainty what Materazzi said, but if it turns out to be more of the anti-Black, anti-Muslim, garbage that has infected soccer like a virus, the Italian team should forfeit the cup. They should voluntarily give the greatest trophy of them all back to FIFA as a statement that some things in this world are more important than sports. Racism will be the death of soccer if things don't change. Italy can set the sport back on course, with one simple, stunning gesture. Give the damn thing back.

Racism is a big problem in soccer, no question. But maybe we could hold off on these kinds of stirring summons until the evidence is in, especially when they involve demonizing a guy, Materazzi, who might be guilty of nothing more than standard-variety trash talking, and fanning an already incendiary debate that touches on the most sensitive civilizational and religious divide of our times.

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Slapping the *#@! out of copyright violators

| Tue Jul. 11, 2006 4:22 PM PDT

U.S. District Judge Richard P. Matsch has ordered the copyright violators known as "film sanitizers" to cease and desist their activities. Those who scrub DVDs and VHS tapes of what they consider objectionable material are in violation of the studios and directors who own the film rights, Matsch ruled on Thursday.

The companies named in the Denver lawsuit included CleanFlicks, Play It Clean Video and Clean Films. These companies remove profanity, sexual scenes and graphic violence from films and then rent and sell the edited versions. Around ninety video stores, half of them in Utah, rent CleanFlicks movies to customers.

"Their (studios and directors) objective ... is to stop the infringement because of its irreparable injury to the creative artistic expression in the copyrighted movies,'' the judge wrote. ''There is a public interest in providing such protection.''

Judge Matsch has ordered the companies to turn their inventories over to the appropriate movie studios within five days of the ruling.

Report Your Neighbors

| Tue Jul. 11, 2006 4:15 PM PDT

Ever wonder if that jittery guy down the street is really a speed freak? If you lived in Tennessee, you wouldn't have to. Authorities there recently launched a website listing state residents convicted of methamphetamine offenses– searchable by name or address. Why only people involved with this single drug and not, say, murderers or rapists? Well, that's what Jack Shafer calls the moral panic over meth for you.

And then there's illegal immigration, which outrages some private citizens so much that they've set up a similar database
where Minuteman-types can post the names and addresses of anyone they suspect of being undocumented.

All of which ought to make things easier for any excitable vigilantes out there – like the guy in Maine who murdered two sex offenders whose addresses he found on the state's online database.

Defending a Free Press

| Tue Jul. 11, 2006 3:23 PM PDT

"When in Doubt, Publish." That's the title of an essay defending the New York Times' decision to run the SWIFT story. "We believe that in the case of a close call, the press should publish when editors are convinced that more damage will be done to our democratic society by keeping information away from the American people than by leveling with them."

I fully agree, and I'd emphasize one point here: The government for too long has abused its classification system. Things that should never be secret are kept bottled up for years for bizarre and purely arbitrary reasons. (The CIA's budget from 1947 is still classified, even though, for instance, the 1998 budget is public.) There's often no reason to trust an official request that this or that be kept out of the papers—and less so with this administration, which has elevated wanton secrecy to an art form. If the government wants to persuade journalists that some state secrets are too sensitive and too important to divulge, then it should stop needlessly keeping secret so many things that don't fall under that category. A clearer line would help everyone here.

UPDATE: Jay Rosen has a very good post on this subject that's worth reading in full.

The Tax Cuts Are Working? Hardly.

Tue Jul. 11, 2006 3:04 PM PDT

As expected, the Bush administration announced today that this year's budget deficit is not nearly as bad as officials had predicted it would be a few months ago. On the off- chance that this strikes you as cause for celebration, you can reuse the same party hat you wore last year. According to the Los Angeles Times, "This will be the third year in a row that the administration put forth relatively gloomy deficit forecasts early on, only to announce months later that things had turned out better than expected. To some skeptics, it's beginning to look like an economic version of the old 'expectations' game."

To President Bush, on the other hand, the news looked like proof that he had it right all along. "The tax cuts we passed work," he declared this morning. Economists at the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, meanwhile, dispute this claim, using data gleaned from a Treasury Department analysis presented at the very same Mid-Session Review at which President Bush made his announcement. Guess they shouldn't have commissioned that study…

Big Dig Now Killing People

| Tue Jul. 11, 2006 3:01 PM PDT

A slab of concrete fell from one of the Big Dig tunnels in Boston and killed a woman yesterday, according to news reports. This Times story discusses what an out-and-out boondoggle the entire project was. They neglected to note, though, that prior to 2001, the chief executive of the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority was Andrew Natsios, under whose tenure "the biggest rise in costs, from $10.8 billion to $14.7 billion, took place." Anyway, Natsios then went on to join the Bush administration and become… head of the U.S. Agency for International Development, which was, among other things, responsible for rebuilding infrastructure in Iraq. Make of that what you will, although recurring themes like this one aren't very amusing after awhile.

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Newsweek "Covers" Mexico

| Tue Jul. 11, 2006 2:29 PM PDT

Newsweek pulls off a neat rhetorical trick in its coverage of the Mexico election:

The ex-mayor [Andrés Manuel López Obrador] vowed to challenge the result before a federal election tribunal; his infuriated supporters threatened to take to the streets. Their resistance could muddle the political picture for months, confusing not just Mexicans but outside observers who had looked to the ballot for a clear indication of which way Latin America was tilting—toward the leftist populism of Venezuela's Hugo Chávez, or the pro-market, pro-U.S. stance of Colombia's Alvaro Uribe.
Obrador, of course, isn't like Chávez at all, apart from the fact that they're both, broadly speaking, "leftists." But Felipe Calderón's supporters have been putting up images linking Chávez and Obrador for weeks, as a campaign tactic to drive down the ex-mayor's ratings. And Newsweek dutifully laps it up. Nicely done.

On a related note, do read Mark Weisbrot's column today on whether rule by the left would be better for Mexico. Ultimately, the much-feared leftists running countries in South America—Nestor Kirchner in Argentina, Evo Morales in Bolivia, and yes, even Chávez—have been doing pretty well, while Calderón is promising to pursue the same policies that have left Mexico with a stagnant growth rate for two decades. Figuring out why some countries are doing well and others aren't is never an easy task, but the idea that a leftist president in Mexico would spell doom for the country is nonsensical.

Why Iraq and Afghanistan Have No Police

| Tue Jul. 11, 2006 12:03 PM PDT

I noted yesterday that the U.S. has failed to build a police force in Iraq that can keep some semblance of order and doesn't engage in torture and abuse on a widespread basis. But apparently there hasn't been much success building up police forces in Afghanistan either. Why is that? Vance Serchuk has a long reported piece in the Weekly Standard trying to figure it out:

[B]uilding foreign police, it turns out, is something that the American government is expressly designed not to be able to do--the legacy of a 1974 congressional ban that abolished USAID's Office of Public Safety, previously charged with these missions. Although exceptions to the act have since crept onto the statute books, their cumulative effect has been to make police assistance into a second-tier, ad hoc responsibility of several different agencies and actors scattered throughout the executive branch.
Just to be clear, then: one of the most important tasks for trying to piece a failed state back together again is an "ad hoc responsibility of several different agencies." Serchuk notes that in Afghanistan, the Pentagon and the State Department are currently battling over who will control the police, and the result is constant skirmishing "over issues like which contractors to hire, what tactics the Afghan police can be taught, and whether key individuals should work out of the U.S. embassy or the military compound." One can imagine the situation isn't much better in Iraq. And short of a massive bureaucratic reorganization, this doesn't seem like a problem that will be fixed anytime soon.

Breaking News: Magic Mushrooms Produce "Mind-Altering Experiences"!

| Tue Jul. 11, 2006 11:13 AM PDT

Scientists have found powerful evidence for something a lot of folks, um, learned in college.

Scientists said a substance in certain mushrooms induced powerful, mind-altering experiences among a group of well-educated, middle-age men and women.

Participants cited feelings of intense joy, "distance from ordinary reality," and feelings of peace and harmony after taking the drug. Two-thirds described the effects of the drug, called psilocybin, as among the five most meaningful experiences of their lives.

But in 30% of the cases, the drug provoked harrowing experiences dominated by fear and paranoia. Two participants likened the episodes to being in a war. While these episodes were managed by trained monitors at the sessions where the drugs were taken, researchers cautioned that in less-controlled settings, such responses could trigger panic or other reactions that might put people in danger.

The study is apparently "among the first to systematically assess the effects of hallucinogenic substances in 40 years" (outside of dorm rooms, that is). (W$J)

Geneva Rights? Really?

| Tue Jul. 11, 2006 11:03 AM PDT

I don't know if the administration's "new" stance on Geneva rights for detainees is really all it's cracked up to be. Here's how the New York Times described the policy:

Pentagon officials released a memo that was issued last Friday ordering that all detainees be treated in compliance with Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions, which requires humane treatment and a minimum standard of judicial protections.
Okay, that's the Pentagon. What about the CIA? Aren't they holding—and possibly torturing—suspects in secret prisons all around the world? Will their detainees fall under the Geneva Conventions? If not, doesn't that render this "new" policy pretty much useless? Extending protection only to prisoners in military custody won't do much for people such as Khaled el-Masri, the man who was mistakenly detained by the CIA and allegedly tortured for several months in a small cell in Afghanistan.

One should also note, as Marty Lederman has in the past, that there's a bit of a loophole here: what the Pentagon considers "humane" differs greatly from the Geneva definition of "humane." A number of coercive interrogation techniques—such as stress positions and scenarios designed to make detainees believe that death is imminent for their family members—could very well carry on. That would be completely illegal of course—such things are expressly prohibited by Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions—but when has that ever stopped these people before?