Presidential Debate

In my obviously biased opinion, Kerry did better than Bush. But I don’t think any one of them convinced many undecided voters…

Bush’s message today:

میں ڈھیٹ ہوں۔

In my obviously biased opinion, Kerry did better than Bush. But I don’t think any one of them convinced many undecided voters.

Now I am waiting for the Daily Show with Jon Stewart treatment of the debate.

Legal Torture

Obsidian Wings has a very important post about a bill in Congress which will allow the US to legally send suspected terrorists to any country for torture.

The Republican leadership of Congress is attempting to legalize extraordinary rendition. “Extraordinary rendition” is the euphemism we use for sending terrorism suspects to countries that practice torture for interrogation.

[…] As it stands now, “extraordinary rendition” is a clear violation of international law—specifically, the U.N. Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Degrading and Inhuman Treatment. U.S. law is less clear. We signed and ratified the Convention Against Torture, but we ratified it with some reservations. They might create a loophole that allows us to send a prisoner to Egypt or Syria or Jordan if we get “assurances” that they will not torture a prisoner—even if these assurances are false and we know they are false.

Here is some information about the bill from Edward Markey, a Massachusetts Congressman’s office.

These are excerpts from a press release one of Markey’s staffers just emailed me:

The provision Rep. Markey referred to is contained in Section 3032 and 3033 of H.R. 10, the “9/11 Recommendations Implementation Act of 2004,” introduced by House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-IL). The provision would require the Secretary of Homeland Security to issue new regulations to exclude from the protection of the U.N. Convention Against Torture and Other Forms of Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, any suspected terrorist – thereby allowing them to be deported or transferred to a country that may engage in torture. The provision would put the burden of proof on the person being deported or rendered to establish “by clear and convincing evidence that he or she would be tortured,” would bar the courts from having jurisdiction to review the Secretary’s regulations, and would free the Secretary to deport or remove terrorist suspects to any country in the world at will – even countries other than the person’s home country or the country in which they were born. The provision would also apply retroactively.

Please contact your Congressman and tell him/her to vote against this provision.

And in November, please vote the Republicans out who are thinking up such crazy laws and has been doing what the law would make legal for quite some time now.

Here is the text of the bill (large PDF file; another option is to go here and search for HR10). Sections 3032 and 3033 are the relevant ones.

Air Marshall on No Fly List

I can’t understand why so many so-called libertarians defend no-fly lists and related actions like refusing to let Cat Stevens into the US when it is clear to me, a social democrat, that the government can be quite incompetent. I have posted previously about members of Congress being on no-fly lists but now comes the ultimate amusing incident from the Transportation Security Administration.

Still, the TSA is learning. It recently acknowledged that a Federal Air Marshall, unable to fly for weeks when his name was mistakenly put on the “no-fly” list, was in fact not a threat, and removed his name from the list.

If you still think that such a bad list containing “more than 19,000 names” is worth doing, I hope a name similar to yours accidentally gets put on the list. It took the TSA weeks to correct their mistake when one of their own employees who’s the only law enforcement guy on the plane was unable to fly. How long do you reckon it would take you to correct a mistake like that?

Hat tip: Crooked Timber.

POSTSCRIPT: See Cryptogram about no-fly lists and Newsweek about the Cat Stevens incident.

Urban Vs Rural = Democrat Vs Republican?

Via Political Animal, there is an interesting data analysis about the Democrat-Republican divide.

The two parties today not only represent different political philosophies but find their core support in different kinds of communities. The nation has gone through a big sort, a sifting of people and politics into what is becoming two Americas. One is urban and Democratic, the other Republican, suburban and rural.

Although the split isn’t true in every case, divisions between city and countryside nationally are stark, widespread and rapidly growing.

[…] In the 1980 presidential race, Democratic and Republican counties on average had about the same number of voters. By 2000, however, the average Democratic county had three times as many voters as the average Republican county.

[…] In the country’s most partisan counties —- those where one party wins by more than 20 percentage points —- the split is overwhelming. In 2000, the average landslide Democratic county was eight times larger than the average landslide Republican county. In 1980, the average landslide Republican county was more populous than the average partisan Democratic county.

[…] Twelve of the 20 most Democratic counties […] are in metro areas, including the District of Columbia, the Bronx, San Francisco County, Philadelphia County and St. Louis County.

But out of the 115 counties with the strongest Republican support, only four are in metro areas —- one in Utah, another in Arizona, a third outside Atlanta and the fourth the president’s hometown of Midland.

They also have the list of the 100 most Democratic counties in the 2000 presidential election and the 100 most Republican counties in the 2000 presidential election.

Looking at those lists, a few things jump out. For example, 10 states are not represented in the two lists. These are Alaska, Connecticut, Delaware, Indiana, Maine, Minnesota, Nevada, New Hampshire, Vermont, and Washington.

Another is how heavily Republican these counties are compared to the Democratic counties. The last county on the Republican top 100 voted 81.3% for Bush in 2000. Only 10 counties were more Democratic than that and the 100th Democratic county was only 64.9% for Gore in 2000.

States with most number of partisan counties were: Texas (27), Nebraska (21), Utah (16) and Idaho (11). Of these, only 7 Texas counties were Democratic while all the rest were Republican. This means that 68 out of the top 100 Republican counties were located in these 4 states. I expected the others but Nebraska was a surprise to me.

The maximum number of Democratic counties were in the following states: Alabama (7 rural counties), California (7 urban/suburban counties), New Mexico (6 rural + 1 urban county) and Texas (7 rural counties).

Thirty-three states and Washington DC are represented in the Democratic top 100 while only 14 states are present in the Republican list.

Anglo-Sikh War Journal

Sepoy of Chapati Mystery has started posting the journal of an anonymous subaltern from the second Anglo-Sikh war in the Punjab in 1848-49. It should be interesting reading.

Some historical background is available here.

Sepoy promises another journal from the 1857 war of independence/mutiny later. Fascinating!

National Interest = Narcissism

It would be funny if the fate of 160 million Pakistanis did not depend on it. I grew up hearing General Zia talking about justifying every stupid act of his on Islam and the nation. Now, it is Musharraf’s turn.

Gen. Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan’s president, said Thursday that he may renege on his pledge to step down as army chief of staff because “the vast majority” of the Pakistani people “want me in uniform” and fear that he would be weakened without it.

How did Pervez Musharraf find out the opinions of the vast majority when he can’t move around the country without a huge security contingent and closure of roads?

Musharraf said conditions in the country have changed since he promised in a nationally televised address last Dec. 24 to leave the army as part of a deal with opposition lawmakers that would allow him to remain president through 2007.

“It’s primarily the security of Pakistan, the internal conditions,” he said in an interview. “There’s too much happening around,” he continued, citing terrorist threats and potentially divisive battles over the sharing of limited water resources.

Yes, it is always the national interest that these generals have at heart, never their own personal ambitions.

But Musharraf, 61, said that whether he stays in uniform has “nothing to do with democracy,” adding, “It’s only the Western media, which is attaching, linking my uniform with democracy.”

So true! An army general running the country has got nothing to do with democracy.

Musharraf said he had not made a final decision about whether to stay on as army chief of staff. He said he was “still looking at the pulse of the people” and noted that he has until the end of the year to make up his mind. Musharraf pledged to give up his military post as part of a deal late last year with an alliance of Muslim fundamentalist parties, the Muttahida Majlis Amal, to secure their backing for constitutional changes that would effectively legitimize his presidency through 2007.

For the last several months, Musharraf has dropped hints that he is reconsidering his pledge, and other senior officials have started to prepare public opinion for a reversal that foreign diplomats and Pakistani analysts regard as all but inevitable. Earlier this week, the legislative assembly in Punjab, one of Pakistan’s four provinces, passed a resolution calling on Musharraf to keep his uniform, a plea that has since been repeated by cabinet ministers as well as by Shaukat Aziz, Pakistan’s new prime minister.

Musharraf hasn’t decided (right!), that’s why his underlings are making so many statements for him to stay in uniform.

In the interview, Musharraf bristled when asked whether he was reluctant to step down as army chief — and name a replacement — for fear that in doing so he would effectively create a new rival. “I know that the army follows me,” he said. “I know they are with me, and the next chief of army staff will be appointed by me. And he’ll be a person who is most loyal to me, obviously, so I don’t see this issue of the army being a center of power or being some kind of a competition or a tussle between me and the army.”


The real issue, Musharraf said, was “more in the realm of the perception of the people of Pakistan. The people of Pakistan think that the strength of a president is much more than the strength of a president out of uniform… . I know that the vast majority of the people, from all the mail that I’ve seen and all the telephone calls, do want me in uniform… . If their perceptions change that I have been weakened, maybe it won’t be good for Pakistan.”

Notice how he conflates his person and the country.

And as if that was not enough, there are reports of Musharraf planning to promote himself to Field Marshal.

Ending months of speculation, General Musharraf has informed the US and UK and his closest friends and advisors of his decision to promote himself to field marshal in October.

This last news item about the perennial lawsuit-filer MD Tahir is quite funny and sad in a way.

Advocate MD Tahir has moved the Lahore High Court asking the Federation of Pakistan to get rid of democracy and declare the country a kingdom with General Pervez Musharraf its first king.

Mr Tahir referred to several incidents of overthrowing democratic governments which had let the country down and said every time a dictator came into power sycophants people gather around him to guard their vested interests.

The dictator in order to keep his rule secure fully manipulates them through sham elections and people indeed favourite to him only are chosen, said the petitioner. The petitioner said this practice did not represent a true democratic will of the people but reflected the will of the people ruled by kings.

Mr Tahir said when politicians themselves wanted to see General Pervez Musharraf in uniform for an infinite time even after the constitutional deadline of December 31, the circumstances demand that Pakistan should be declared a Kingdom and democracy should be discarded once for all.

May be Pervez Musharraf will like to be king. But one thing is sure: he still won’t give up his army uniform.

UPDATE: Some gems from the New York Times:

Pakistan’s president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, said in an interview on Monday that his leadership was freeing his country from the menace of extremism and that this national “renaissance” might be lost if he kept his pledge to step down as army chief at the end of this year.

[…] Of his promise to serve only as the country’s civilian president after Dec. 31, General Musharraf said, “Yes, I did give my word that I would.” The step has been viewed as fulfilling his larger promise to return Pakistan to democratic rule, “but the issue is now far greater than this,” he said.

[…] “I’m sorry, I don’t want to boast about myself,” he said, “but there is a renaissance, there is a big change we are trying to bring about.”

Though he said he had not yet decided to remain army chief beyond the Dec. 31 deadline, he asked pointedly, “How did General de Gaulle continue in uniform all through his period as president of France, and France is a democratic country?”

Is Musharraf talking about De Gaulle’s leadership during World War II and the immediate postwar period till 1946? How does that compare to the Pakistani situation today?

Roller Coasters, Hijabs and Terrorists

Via Amygdala comes this New York Times story about the Muslim Youth Day organized by ICNA-NJ which included a day at the Six Flags here.

Accompanied by a half-dozen classmates, Ms. Khan was among the estimated 15,000 Muslims who came out for Muslim Youth Day on Friday, when the Great Adventure theme park was set aside for Muslims from as far away as Massachusetts and North Carolina.

But where there are Muslims, there will always be controversy, usually of two kinds. First come the bigots and nut cases:

Yet Muslim Youth Day, intended as a day of relaxation and morale boosting, has not been a thoroughly smooth ride. The last week has been fraught with threats and racial epithets lobbed at the Islamic Circle of North America, the group that rented the park for the event, and the corporate offices of Six Flags Great Adventure.

Kristin Siebeneicher, Six Flags’s spokeswoman, said she spent the week in interviews with radio performers from New Jersey, California, Colorado, Texas and Oklahoma who wanted to know why the park was turning its rides over to Muslims and shutting everyone else out for the day.

“The concerns are that they believe the event is exclusionary,” Ms. Siebeneicher said. “I don’t think most people understood it was a day we’re closed anyway, and we were not taking something away from the public to give to a private group.”

In the spring and fall, Six Flags is open only on weekends, and the park is often rented out to groups on weekdays, Ms. Siebeneicher said. She added that the National Conference of Synagogue Youth regularly rented the park for a day, as well as the Catholic Youth Rally and an organization of home-schooled children.

[…] Ms. Siebeneicher said that the most disturbing thing about the questions she fielded about the event was the implication that Six Flags was playing host to a terrorist-friendly organization.

She said one talk show host asked if the company would rent the park to Nazis. The park’s guest services phone lines and the company’s corporate offices in Oklahoma were flooded by callers asking Six Flags to reverse its decision and threatening to boycott or sue the park.

For some people, something that has been a normal practice for a long time suddenly becomes controversial and a no-no once Muslims are involved. It was a similar case with the non-photo driving license, a practice that was longstanding and had benefited conservative Christians became anathema once conservative Muslim women wanted to benefit from it.

Nevertheless, Six Flags did run an additional F.B.I. check on the sponsoring group, despite the fact that they had rented the park to the group twice before.

In fact, the last time Muslim Youth Day took place here was just three days before the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.

But hey, September 11 changed everything, didn’t it?

Then there was the usual Muslim controversy.

Earlier this week, the words “for Muslims only” were removed from the sponsor’s Internet advertisement for the event. Adem Carroll, a relief coordinator and spokesman for Islamic Circle of North America, said the event was never intended to exclude others, particularly because many of its members are in mixed families, with Muslims and non-Muslims. The intent instead was to provide a protected environment for those seeking to relax.

Via Muslim Wakeup, you can look at their old flyer which includes:

Entire park all day for Muslims only

in capitals on the top right. As if that was not enough, they reiterate the sentiment in the body of the flyer:

Exclusive day for Muslim [sic] only

Was that really necessary? Wasn’t the name of the event “Muslim Youth Day” or the name of the organizer “Islamic Circle of North America” enough as a hint that this was a mainly Muslim event?

When Muslims get together, a requirement of or at least a discussion of hijab (the head covering for Muslim women) can’t be far behind. ICNA had these dress guidelines for the participants at Muslim Youth Day.

Modest dress code must be observed. Clothing should be loose, non-provocative and cover neck to ankle for all aged 10 and older. No swimming costumes are allowed.

Good thing I didn’t go because I was definitely going to wear my swimming trunks. [/sarcasm]

It is obvious to some Muslims that this standard of modesty must be implemented for women, but can be ignored for men.

While most of the women at the event complied with some version of the dress code, or hijab, fully covering their bodies and heads, standards were somewhat loosened for the men, many of whom were admitted in shorts and T-shirts.

Couldn’t the New York Times reporter been a little more precise? I would like to know if any women or girls were told to cover up or denied entry. Same for men and boys. May be I can try to find out as I have a couple of friends among the organizers.

One reason I could have gone to the event was for the Allah Made Me Funny Comedy Tour which had an act there. But Michelle is too young and we didn’t have a babysitter.

Google Mail

I have 6 Gmail invites. If you want a Gmail account, leave a comment with a valid email address or email me.

UPDATE: The original 6 are gone, but I got some more invites. So if you want an account, let me know.

UPDATE II (Nov 9, 2004): All the invites are gone!

Rosh Hashanah

Shanah Tovah. Happy Rosh Hashanah, everyone.

Pakistanis or Arabs?

Via Al-Muhajabah, I found an interesting article in the Detroit Free Press.

A new national poll challenges the view that Arab Americans were the only victims of bias and profiling after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.

A survey conducted by Florida-based Bendixen & Associates found that Pakistani Americans reported higher levels of discrimination and government targeting than Americans of Arab descent.

About 31 percent of Pakistani Americans said they have experienced discrimination in their schools, workplaces or neighborhoods over the past three years. Twenty-one percent of Arab Americans made the claim.

When it came to profiling, 16 percent of Pakistani Americans said they had been mistreated or targeted by government officials because of their background, compared with 11 percent of Arab Americans.

Asked who did the profiling, 63 percent of Pakistani Americans said it was local police. Among Arab Americans, 36 percent said they had been targeted by airport security, and 21 percent answered that they had been targeted by local police.

The head of the polling company, Sergio Bendixen, said one reason why Pakistanis reported higher levels of profiling by police officers may be because they, in general, tend to have darker skin than Arab Americans, and therefore may raise the suspicions of some people in law enforcement.

Others said that religion may be a factor. The vast majority of Pakistani Americans are Muslims, while at least half of the Arab-American population is Christian, experts say.

I have anecdotal evidence which supports this article, but anecdotes don’t make data since there is an inherent bias (due to the ethnic composition of the people I know, for example) in my anecdotes. Among my acquaintances, I had noticed that most complaints about profiling and harrassment came from Pakistanis than from Arabs. For example, most of the students I know who were interviewed by the FBI after September 11, 2001 were Pakistanis. I had always put this down to the fact that I know many more Pakistanis than Arabs or Iranians.