I have this theory about the hubbub surrounding Iranian president Ahmadinejad’s visit to the Big Apple–I think the neocons who are chanting the loudest for war with Iran are pants-wettingly terrified of actually facing the man, mano a mano, and having to say directly, out loud, what they think, as well as face the fact that many Iranians had the gall to support us after 9/11 (which undercuts the neocon view of all Iranians as Evil Brown People). It’s so much easier to keep him at arm’s length and portray him as a cartoon villain, isn’t it?
I posted the other day about similarities between Iraq today and Yugoslavia 15 years ago, and how I hope (certainly naively) that Iraq will go the way of Czechoslovakia more than Yugoslavia. The other major split-state crisis in the world, of course, is Israel/Palestine, but now it turns out (h/t Volokh Conspiracy) that another potential separation may occur in Belgium, of all places.
“We are two different nations, an artificial state created as a buffer between big powers, and we have nothing in common except a king, chocolate and beer,” said Filip Dewinter, the leader of Vlaams Belang, or Flemish Bloc, the extreme-right, xenophobic Flemish party, in an interview. “It’s ‘bye-bye, Belgium’ time.”
Radical Flemish separatists like Mr. Dewinter want to slice the country horizontally along ethnic and economic lines: to the north, their beloved Flanders — where Dutch (known locally as Flemish) is spoken and money is increasingly made — and to the south, French-speaking Wallonia, where a kind of provincial snobbery was once polished to a fine sheen and where today old factories dominate the gray landscape.
“There are two extremes, some screaming that Belgium will last forever and others saying that we are standing at the edge of a ravine,” said Caroline Sägesser, a Belgian political analyst at Crisp, a socio-political research organization in Brussels. “I don’t believe Belgium is about to split up right now. But in my lifetime? I’d be surprised if I were to die in Belgium.”
With the headquarters of both NATO and the European Union in Brussels, the crisis is not limited to this country because it could embolden other European separatist movements, among them the Basques, the Lombards and the Catalans.
Since the kingdom of Belgium was created as an obstacle to French expansionism in 1830, it has struggled for cohesion. Anyone who has spoken French in a Flemish city quickly gets a sense of the mutual hostility that is a part of daily life here. The current crisis dates from June 10, when the Flemish Christian Democrats, who demand greater autonomy for Flanders, came in first with one-fifth of the seats in Parliament.
Turns out there are ten languages spoken in Belgium, but the vast majority speak either Dutch or French (slightly more speak Dutch). I’m one of those geeks who finds the Ethnologue fascinating–the USA has 238 languages listed. Not all of those languages are exactly equal: English has 210 million speakers in the U.S., while Eyak apparently has one (who is 89 years old, lives in Alaska, and should probably be writing everything down and/or offering classes–although I wonder if she would have any takers).
Back to my original point, though–the trend in the world for some time has been for distinct ethnic and/or national group to want to form their own countries. It has happened in places like East Timor and the aforementioned Czechoslovakia. There are often rumblings about independence in Quebec and Puerto Rico. It’s hard for people born in the U.S. to understand this, I think, because (except perhaps for Minutemen types) the basic idea of being “American” is constantly being redefined. The Flemish people were Flemish long before “Belgium” existed, and the same is true for Kurds and other groups in Iraq and other countries. We are in way over our heads, is all I’m saying.
If I may be permitted to geek out for a moment, I have become a huge fan of George R.R. Martin’s series A Song of Ice and Fire. I’m about 2/3 through the second book, A Clash of Kings, which is followed by two more books and will eventually comprise a seven-part series. Time Magazine proclaimed him the “American Tolkien,” but I really only give Tolkien credit for creating the genre and archetypes that other authors have put to better use. If you actually try reading The Lord of the Rings, it’s not the easiest thing in the world–Tolkien was always more of an academian than an author. In my opinion, it took Peter Jackson to really breathe life into those characters.
A Song of Ice and Fire has its own extensive backstory, along with multiple languages, religions, and ideologies, that, much like Tolkien’s work, make you believe there is really a huge body of research behind the novels. The books are much more readable, though, especially considering Martin’s background as a screenwriter.
One thing the books really touch on that I like is the “ordinary” people–it’s not all about lords and kings and all that. And even when it is, the characters are shown in full, with all their flaws, fears, and bodily functions. I remember reading Frank Herbert’s Dune series and wondering, above all else, when his characters ever had time to eat and go to the bathroom. Then again, Martin’s books don’t have anything as cool as sandworms.
Here are some other scifi/fantasy/historical fiction sagas that I recommend, if you happen to have a lot of time for reading:
- Hyperion, by Dan Simmons
- The Camulod Chronicles, by Jack Whyte
- Harry Turtledove‘s alternate history series, where the South wins the Civil War, continuing through to the end of World War II (one plot spoiler: the equivalent of the Battle of Stalingrad is fought in Pittsburgh)
- Kim Stanley Robinson‘s Mars Trilogy (he finds a practical use for buckyballs!!!)
Don’t make a news correspondent angry. You wouldn’t like her when she’s angry.
Bill O’Reilly claims he’s been tasered and that that kid in Florida is a “wimp.” The search is apparently on for any footage of the tasering of Bill O’Reilly. I say why should we do all the work? If BillO could be tasered once, he could do it again. So bring a cop on your show and show us all how getting tasered is no big deal, Bill. I triple dog dare you…
Anyway, when Whoopi Goldberg (who is actually pretty smart) presses her on this, Ms. Shepherd demurs, saying that it’s more important for her to know how to care for her son. This is almost legitimate. Almost. But it misses. If this were a thousand years ago, and she were toiling in a cave someplace with no access to information and spending 20 hours a day trying to keep her family fed, then sure, some knowledge may simply be too esoteric to be useful and, worse, distract from the actual task of survival.
But that isn’t the case. Here we have an actress and singer who is living, if I read my calendar and atlas correctly, in the 21st Century in the United States. Has she never seen a picture of the Earth from space? As it happens, a vast majority of people in the U.S. can hold a job, care for their family, and also know that the Earth is, y’know, round. Some people (though sadly, not enough) also know it takes the Earth a year to go around the Sun, that gravity makes things fall, and that DNA is a big molecule in which genetic information is coded. None of this is needed to feed your family (unless you are a science writer), yet humans are in general capable of handling a vast amount of information not directly pertaining to immediate survival.
I suppose the Dickwad-in-Chief would tell the family in this AARP-produced video that they don’t need health insurance because they could just take their daughter to the ER for leukemia treatment. Bush should be forced to watch this video non-stop for as long as possible–it’s an incredibly important message, and it’s irritatingly cheesy.
Seriously, what the hell is wrong with us?
I am not one to naysay the efforts of environmentalists. It probably is the case that the meat industry is doing more environmental damage than we realize. But I was a vegetarian for nearly eight years, from December 1996 until October 2004 (although I reintroduced fish into the diet starting in 2000). Eight years, which is exactly one-fourth of my total life (I’m 32), and it never looked anything like this (h/t to Salon):
Alicia Silverstone’s Sexy Veggie PSA
Order a FREE vegetarian starter kit at GoVeg.com
As I recall it (and I mean no disrespect), most vegetarians don’t look much like Ms. Silverstone (who has come a long way since Miss Match, it would seem). A somewhat more accurate (and decidedly NSFW) depiction of naked vegetarians can be found here (vegetarian porn–ah, the things you find with a simple Google search. Seriously, though, NSFW. I don’t want to be responsible for anyone getting fired).
Anyway, important environmental message vs. wet, naked Cher Horowitz–where would you expect my attention to be?
Here’s something from the glory days: