June 12th, 2005

[LINK] A problem with interfering in religious politics

Marina Ottaway's article "Keep the Faith,", in The New Republic, is worth reading for this paragraph alone.

The Bush administration's answer to the challenge of political Islam has been to promote moderate Islamist organizations and moderate interpretations of the religion. The Muslim World Outreach Policy Coordinating Committee--set up in July 2004 by the National Security Council to improve communication with Islamic organizations and better the image of the United States in the Muslim world--is an important part of this strategy. But trying to promote moderate interpretations of Islam is probably futile and certainly risky. Remember that, when the Iranians took over the embassy in Tehran, conventional wisdom was that the Shia were the most dangerous Muslims, whereas Wahhabis were thought to be conservative socially but rather apolitical. Obviously, that view has changed in recent years. Nevertheless, the idea has taken hold in some parts of the administration that Sufism represents a benign, moderate form of Islam that should be encouraged. It is doubtful that most people making the argument understand the roots of Sufism and why it has spread in some regions but not in others. It is even more doubtful that they have given much thought to the resentment that favoring one sect over another could cause in the Muslim world. (Imagine the reaction in this country if secular France, concerned about radical evangelical groups in the United States, decided to support moderate churches.)

French subsidies to the Episcopalians? The mind boggles.


CFTAG proceeded very nicely this afternoon, with myself, schizmatic, A., and L. in attendance. Many topics were discussed, including the pagan Lithuanians' uchronical conquest of Europe, the development of the printing press in the mid-14th century, misogynist depictions of women in RPG books and (I suspect on a related note) the shortfall of female writers in science fiction and fantasy, the implausibility of AI.

[BRIEF NOTE] Social Justice in Cuba?

The International News Alliance hosts a translated version of Rafael Rojas' El Pais article "Is Cuba a fair country?"

For decades, the regime's intellectuals have presented socialism and the revolution as the crystallization of a Cuban tradition of political thought, dating from the republicanism of the 19th century and continued by the nationalists or communists of the 20th, which set the values of equality and justice ahead of those of liberty and democracy.

But some Cuban historians, within and outside the island, have criticized this official stance on three main points: the nationalist "exceptionalism" that informs it; the unilateral and exclusive vision of Cuban intellectual history that it transmits; and the underestimation of liberal and democratic values in Cuban tradition. The Castro regime's philosophy is by now pretty threadbare. However, the myth that Cuba is a fair country, a land of social justice, persists in the Latin American imagination.

The exhaustion of the regime's approach to justice stems largely from its theoretical poverty. The intellectual class of the island, while bombarded by the regime's incessant talk of equality and justice, remains ignorant of the theoretical revolution associated with writers such as John Rawls, who died in 2002. I refer to books such as Theory of Justice (1971) and Political Liberalism (1993), where Rawls observes how, in the decades between the heyday and fall of the socialist camp, the liberal concept of justice evolved from that of impartiality to that of equity.

The different contemporary currents of the philosophy of justice - libertarians, utilitarians, liberals, conservatives, socialists, communists, feminists, eco-marxists - have lately been defining their positions with an eye to the legacy of Rawls. All the present theoreticians of law start from Rawls' work, agreeing with him on a point that is indigestible for the Castro regime: political power, like income or services, belongs to the sphere of justice, and must also be shared.

Rojas goes on to question whether the Cuban revolution has left any lasting results.

[S]ome voices in the Cuban diaspora have begun to question the myth of Cuba as a "fair country." Their writings show us an island with growing class and regional inequalities, inequitable access to public services, and a restratification of society.

Some data in recent studies point to the outlines of the new Cuban social segmentation. About 80 percent of the population earn less than 300 pesos a month, though the state helps a great deal. But at least 1.5 percent, mostly white and connected to the government or foreign firms, earn from 1,000 to 6,000 pesos.

Social restratification has also affected regional imbalances. The human development level in cities that are more or less integrated in Cuba's rather small piece of the international market, such as Havana or Matanzas,is greater than in many other areas, such as Pinar del Rio or Camagüey, and far greater than in traditionally backward regions in the southeast, such as Las Tunas or Guantánamo. The southeast contains the 36 poorest municipalities in the island, some of which have living standard indicators typical of any other Caribbean country, and generate copious emigration to the western provinces.

This sort of spatial inequality is common in every economy, even planned ones: Estonia was always richer than Tajikistan. As to the utility of the Cuban revolution, three questions come quickly to my mind.

1. What would have likely happened to Cuba absent the social revolution of the 1960s? Would Cuba have become a normal upper-middle-income country with serious, perhaps a Caribbean version of Brazil or Argentina? Or was this impossible?

2. Are there no other ways that Cuba could have enjoyed this success? Costa Rica, as a democratic middle-income country, has managed to achieve comparable gains in human development without the cost of dictatorship. Was the Costa Rican path possible in Cuba?

3. Was what happened worth the cost and the risk? More than a million Cubans have emigrated since the Revolution from a country that used to receive immigrants by the hundreds of thousands, while during the Cuban missile crisis Castro reportedly willing to sacrifice Cuba to further the cause of global revolution would be furthered. Were the benefits of the revolution worth the risks taken by Castro?


On a day like today, when the temperature in Toronto as recorded at Pearson Airport is 28 degrees Celsius before humidity is taken into account and 38 degrees Celsius after, I was curious to find out how fans actually work. Convection is the relevant principle. The motion of the fan causes air to circulate within a specific area. If this air is cooler than a particular object--say, your skin--it will absorb this second object's heat and rise. Because hot air rises, cooler air moves in to take its place and absorb more warmth. The faster this convecting air moves, the cooler you feel.

I want a larger fan.

[REVIEW] Cherryh's Downbelow Station

I lent my copy of C.J. Cherryh's Downbelow Station to schizmatic today. I wrote about Downbelow Station last January. The only things that I'd add to last year's review is an observation that Cherryh's fictional universe is intensely political, in a good way.

For further reading, see these reviews of Downbelow Station, (1, 2), Cherryh's bibliography, the Meetpoint Station fan site, Cosma Shalizi's insightful note, Sol Station's interactive starmap of her Alliance-Union universe, and her own Wikipedia article.

In case you were wondering, yes, there is a Cherryh-related web quiz, asking test-takers questions to determine what character from Cyteen they'd be. I still come up with Ariane Emory. This is still disturbing. Collapse )
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