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31 Oct 2014

News in translation: Blaise Compaoré’s Farewell Statement on Twitter

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The president of Burkina Faso, Blaise Compaoré, resigned office today. The latest information seems to indicate that he has fled to Ghana, although the situation in Burkina Faso is very much in flux at the moment; news and rumors are breaking fast.

This evening, Compaoré issued something of a farewell statement on Twitter. I went ahead and translated it into English for the benefit of those who are interested but don’t read French.

14 Nov 2013

“The Collected Stories of Stefan Zweig,” Pushkin Press, 2013

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For those of you who are wondering whether you want the new Collected Stories of Stefan Zweig, just published by Pushkin Press: well, of course you do. Twenty-two stories by Stefan Zweig, translated by Anthea Bell, in a nice hardcover edition — the decision to buy it is a classic no-brainer.

All the same, I’ve been mildly annoyed that I couldn’t find a table of contents anywhere. So, here’s a list of the stories that are in the book, along with their original German titles and first date of publication:

  1. Forgotten Dreams [Vergessene Träume], 1900
  2. In the Snow [Im Schnee], 1901
  3. The Miracles of Life [Die Wunder des Lebens], 1903
  4. The Star Above the Forest [Der Stern über dem Walde], 1904
  5. A Summer Novella [Sommernovellette], 1906
  6. The Governess [Die Governante], 1907
  7. Twilight [Geschichte eines Unterganges], 1910
  8. A Story Told in Twilight [Geschichte in der Dämmerung], 1911
  9. Wondrak [unfinished], unpublished until 1990
  10. Compulsion [Der Zwang], 1920
  11. Moonbeam Alley [Die Mondscheingasse], 1922
  12. Amok [Der Amokläufer], 1922
  13. Fantastic Night [Phantastiche Nacht], 1922
  14. Letter from an Unknown Woman [Brief einer Unbekannten], 1922
  15. The Invisible Collection [Die unsichtbare Sammlung], 1925
  16. Twenty-Four Hours in the Life of a Woman [Vierundzwanzig Stunden aus dem Leben einer Frau], 1927
  17. Downfall of the Heart [Untergang eines Herzens], 1927
  18. Incident on Lake Geneva [Episode vom Genfer See], 1927
  19. Mendel the Bibliophile [Buchmendel], 1929
  20. Leporella, 1935
  21. Did He Do It? [War er es?], unpublished until 1987
  22. The Debt Paid Late [Die spät bezahlte Schuld], unpublished until 1951

15 Oct 2013

The “Oath Keepers” and Credibility

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While reading an article in the Daily Beast about the “Oath Keepers” group, I saw something that kind of surprised me:

These members vow to protect the constitution but also to disobey any governmental orders that they deem “unconstitutional.” Recently, the Oath Keepers adopted NSA leaker Edward Snowden as a symbol of this oath, and bought a billboard in the White House station of the D.C. Metro that reads: “Snowden Honored His Oath, Honor Yours! Stop Big Brother!” [emphasis mine]

So the Oath Keepers consider Snowden a patriotic whistleblower who did the right thing. Well, readers, you know what? I think that’s swell, and I agree wholeheartedly.

But here’s the thing: I can’t help but feel pretty sure that they would consider Snowden a cowardly traitor, and they’d be calling for him to be rendered to a CIA “black site,” tortured, then brought back to America and executed for treason, if there happened to be a Republican, instead of a Democrat, in the White House. What they’re so upset about isn’t how much power the government has, it’s how much power the Democrats have.

The right-wing “Patriot” militia movements were active during the years when Bill Clinton was in the White House. They were very concerned about “freedom,” and anxious to stockpile weapons and play “Red Dawn” war-games in the forest, because America’s freedoms and its Constitution were “under threat.”

Then, in 2001, George W. Bush took office, and the “Patriot” militias all yawned, stretched out, and lay down for a nice long nap. After 9/11, America lost its mind and decided the Constitution was much less important than Keeping America Safe from The Terrorists. We passed the execrable USA PATRIOT Act. The Bush administration put forth, and began acting on, a radical doctrine of supreme Executive-Branch power: basically, the President could do anything he liked in the name of National Security, without let or hindrance, without oversight or even input from other branches of government.

Here was a genuine threat to freedom and to the Constitution, and what did the militias and the rest of the right-wingers do? They either continued their refreshing nap, or they got up and actively cheered for it. I kept wondering how comfortable these people were going to be with an all-powerful Executive Branch in charge of an authoritarian security state once the Republicans were no longer in control of the White House, and guess what? As soon as Barack Obama took office, the militias and the rest of the right-wingers immediately started screaming about Tyranny, waving Gadsden flags around, and stockpiling ammunition in preparation for the day they’d have to defend themselves against Government Stormtroopers.

That, readers, is why I am unable to take these people’s protestations of concern for Freedom and the Constitution seriously. If they’d said a word about it when the Bush administration was laying the groundwork for the all-powerful Executive Branch, while we Americans were turning into a bunch of power-worshipping cowards and embracing the authoritarian security state, I might be able to take them seriously today when they express their deep concerns about government power.

But I don’t buy it for a New York minute, readers. The Oath Keepers worship power, they just don’t want it in the hands of anyone they disagree with. The minute there’s a Republican in the White House again, even if it’s some milquetoast plutocrat like Mitt Romney, the militias and the Oath Keepers will all go back to sleep. Some of them will even go back into cheerleading mode, lavishing praises on an all-powerful security state again.

And before you write an angry comment accusing me of being “partisan,” let me repeat what I keep saying here over and over again: Obama’s record on civil liberties and the “War on Terror” has been even worse than Bush’s. The Bush administration laid the framework and set the precedents, but the Obama administration picked up that ball eagerly and ran with it.

Libs and Dems mostly revealed themselves to be power-worshipping authoritarians as well. Far too many Dems were very concerned about the Bush administration’s arrogation of power to the Executive Branch in the name of National Security, then suddenly decided it was all just fine when the Obama administration did the same things and more. I’m very disappointed about this, and even surprised I wasn’t cynical enough to foresee it happening. What’s wrong is wrong, no matter who happens to be doing it.

Right-wing militias are right to be concerned about the government having too much power, and they’re right to be concerned about our all-encompassing surveillance state. “National Security” and “Fighting Terrorism” should not be blanket excuses for our government to do whatever it wants, without oversight and with total impunity. That’s something I think all Americans ought to agree on. No government should ever have that much power — it’s fundamentally un-American. No government should ever have that much power, no matter which party is in the White House.

But I’ll start taking right-wing militias’ supposed love of “freedom” more seriously the day I see them screaming about tyranny and calling for the impeachment of a REPUBLICAN president, readers. Until then, these “Oath Keepers” and their ilk have zero credibility, as far as I’m concerned. No matter how many anti-Obama bumper stickers, NRA T-shirts, and Gadsden Flags they can muster, they haven’t actually proven themselves to be anything but power-worshipping authoritarian cowards, just like the rest of us in this brave new America.

10 Oct 2013

What really happened with Miriam Carey?

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Right-wing radio screamer Michael Savage is a looney-tune, readers, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t make a good point from time to time. (That also doesn’t mean he isn’t worth listening to; I literally can’t sit through twenty minutes of Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh, or any of the other right-wing radio hosts, but “The Savage Nation” is very entertaining, and I enjoy listening to it, even though I disagree with Savage almost constantly.)

Savage has been asking questions about Miriam Carey, the woman who was gunned down by the police (DC police department? Capitol Police? Secret Service?) after a car chase through downtown DC last Thursday, 3 October. Now, of course, he’s of the opinion that Carey was killed by the police because President Obama is a tyrant — that’s silly, and it’s not useful. But he still makes a lot of good points: Where’s the outrage? Why was this unarmed woman, who seems to have been suffering from mental illness, who had a one-year-old baby in the car, gunned down in a hail of bullets? It’s been a week since this happened, and there hasn’t been a whole lot of press coverage of this case, and no one other than Miriam Carey’s family seems to be very upset about it.

Why did Miriam Carey have to die? She was unarmed, and she had a baby in the car, for crying out loud, but they gunned her down like she was John Dillinger or something. We’ve been told about her “post-partum depression,” as though that had anything to do with anything, and her issues with mental illness, although her sisters insist she was not delusional.

Was it just a gross over-reaction by police, who were afraid she was a terrorist? If so, that’s not exactly reassuring, readers… that makes me not like the idea of driving in Washington DC. Michael Savage’s theory sounds pretty logical to me: she made a wrong turn somewhere near the White House, hit a barrier, and then freaked out and panicked when the cops started swarming around her car, pointing guns at her. She was terrified and confused, and tried to get away from the police, ended up near the Capitol after a brief high-speed chase, and was then gunned down like Dillinger, because she was a “threat to national security.” She apparently hit a Secret Service agent with her car while she was trying to get away from the White House, and she apparently hit a Capitol Police car with her vehicle down near the Capitol. I guess that was enough to justify killing her?

Readers, I don’t think this happened because President Obama is a Nazi socialist tyrant, pace Savage — that’s ridiculous. I’ll tell you what, though: I do think this happened because we’re turning into an authoritarian police/security state.

Remember, readers: a police state isn’t necessarily a third-world dictatorship where the police strut around the streets in jackboots, arresting people for no reason, hitting people with their nightsticks just for fun, lords of all they survey, like your probable mental image of a “police state”… a police state is a state where the authorities can do what they want with impunity.

We’re told that “police are investigating the use of force” in the case, as per SOP. My guess is that the “investigation” will conclude that the use of force was justified, because they were afraid Miriam Carey was a Terrorist, and the only way to handle a Terrorist is to shoot to kill, Q.E.D. This is how our law-enforcement officers behave in our authoritarian security state.

And you’ll notice that nobody’s outraged about this. Yeah, it’s a shame how that unarmed, possibly mentally-ill lady had to die, but my God, what if she’d been a Terrorist? Get used to the New Normal in our security state, readers. In America, we shoot first and ask questions later, in order to protect the Freedom that makes us so great.

10 Oct 2013

A Grim Report on Press Freedom under Obama

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Readers, you should check this out: “A Grim Report on Press Freedom under Obama,” by Zoë Carpenter.

Among the most egregious actions cited in the report for having a chilling effect on the press are the prosecution of eight government employees or contractors under the 1917 Espionage Act, more than twice as many as all previous administrations combined; the restriction of normal reporter-source relationships by aggressively pursuing leaks, using secret subpoenas and by implementing a program requiring federal employees to monitor one another for signs of unauthorized disclosures; hostility to press inquiries and reluctance to release information; and the use of the administration’s own internally-created media to bypass the press.

I’ve been saying it for years: Obama has been worse on civil liberties than George W. Bush was. I sure wish this weren’t the case, but basic intellectual honesty compels me to admit that it is, unfortunately.

This is another disturbing reminder of the fact that we are rapidly becoming a nation of authoritarians. There’s a nearly unanimous bipartisan consensus in Washington that total government surveillance is necessary and good, and a goal to be worked toward; and far too many American citizens are totally comfortable with an authoritarian surveillance state, as long as the government is in the hands of the political party we happen to identify with.

Libs and Dems were concerned about the erosion of civil liberties under George W. Bush, and rightfully so, but they’ve been unwilling to see a problem with it while Obama’s been in the White House. Conservatives and Republicans cheered for Bush’s erosions of civil liberties, then suddenly started shrieking about tyranny the day Obama took office.

What’s the basic problem here, readers? It’s this: since 9/11, America has become a nation of power-worshipping authoritarian cowards. God knows, I wish with all my heart that weren’t so, but it’s true, whether we like it or not. We all ultimately seem to agree that the President and the government can do anything they want, anything at all, to anybody in America and anybody in the rest of the world, as long it’s being done for “national security” and/or “fighting terrorism.” We’ve turned our police departments into paramilitary, shoot-first, machine-gun-toting cowboys. We’ve allowed the government to monitor all our communications. We’ve become such a bunch of goddamn cowards that we’re happy to give up our freedom, and all the things that have made America a truly great nation, as long as an authoritarian government keeps us safe from the scary Terrorists.

5 Oct 2013

Madagascar: Three people burned on a pyre

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Note: This is my translation of the article “Nosy-Be : Un Français, un Italien et un Malgache jetés au bûcher,”, which appeared on the website of the newspaper L’Express de Madagascar on Friday, 4 October 2013.

Nosy-Be: A French person, an Italian, and a Madagascan thrown onto a pyre

Suspected of involvement in organ-trafficking, three individuals were showered with blows and then thrown onto a fire. A mob unleashed itself on them after a child’s body, with some organs missing, was discovered.

Death on a pyre for three presumed organ-traffickers:

Yesterday, at around 07:00 am, Gianfalla Roberto, an Italian expat with French citizenship, and his alleged accomplice, a French man who answered to the name of Thierry, were tortured before being thrown onto a bonfire on a beach, near the Cratère jetty, on the eastern side of the island of Nosy Be. At nightfall, around 18:00, a certain Zaidou, a native of Madagascar’s “perfumed isle” [i.e. Nosy Be], suspected of being in cahoots with these two Europeans, suffered the same atavistic sentence. After being apprehended by the fokonolona in the Ambatozavavy suburb, he was brought to the town center, in the Daresalama neighborhood. After being lynched, he perished in the ordeal of the flames.

What brought this explosive situation about was the kidnapping of Mohamad, an eight-year-old boy. Lacking certain organs, the corpse of this child, who’d been missing since [last] Friday, washed up on shore Wednesday at around 23:30 at Madirokely, not far from the Cratère jetty, where a boat belonging to the two foreign expats, the victims of vigilante mob justice, had been anchored for a week.

Several hours earlier, an angry mob had rushed over to the boat to inspect it, due to rumors circulating that the child’s body might be hidden on board, [and the mob] looked all around the area. Since their arrival, the French man and the Italian, who, according to the latest information, had not registered themselves with the Italian consul on the island, had been seen several times moving heavy ice chests around.

On Wednesday evening, after having inspected the boat, the fokonolona went over it from stem to stern without laying hand on any sort of evidence of wrongdoing. The people who surrounded the boat even had a look in the refrigerator, but it was empty, according to testimony from Homady, a paterfamilias who lives in the area. According to him, a group of local people who had taken over the area reached a path by which the young boy had been thrown into the sea. Washed back up onto shore by the waves, the boy’s corpse, whose genitals, nose, eyes, and ears had been cut off, was frozen when it was discovered. Suspicions immediately fell upon the two foreigners again. Interrogated by the mob, one of the boat watchmen brought the mob, at around 05:00 am, to his bosses’ hotel. Having fallen into the clutches of the [vigilantes], the two suspects were soon beaten up. They’re said to have confessed, and to have denounced their accomplices, who were staying in Andilina, some 20 km from the town, before they were thrown onto the fire.

Forced to hole up in their camp after seven of their houses had been burned down, along with a truck, the night before, the forces of order did not intervene in these scenes of desolation. Accused of having hidden Zaidou,
they endured the wrath of the population. “Two deceased and ten injured people were admitted into our care during these clashes,” states Julien Randrianarison, head doctor of the Nosy Be hospital. Among the fokonolona, rumors circulated that Zaidou had agreed to sacrifice his two sons in the alleged [organ] trafficking, then changed his mind about it. Strangely, Mohamad, his brother Nono’s son, was kidnapped.

Concerned for the safety of French expats, the Quai d’Orsay [the French foreign ministry] announced on its website yesterday that it is counting on the Madagascan judiciary to shed light on the exact circumstances of these events. It also recommended to those [French people] present in Nosy Be to stay where they are. The French school on the island is temporarily closed. “Three text-message advisories have already been sent to our countrymen on the island. Moreover, it’s recommended that those planning to go there delay their visit,” announced Jérôme Bresson, the minister-counselor of the French Embassy in Madagascar. According to the French ministry’s website, almost 700 French people are registered in the “perfumed isle” [i.e. Nosy Be].

Yesterday in the late afternoon, the Minister of Foreign Affairs Ulrich Andriantiana and his counterpart in the Ministry of the Interior Florent Rakotoarisoa traveled to Nosy Be, accompanied by Division General Ranrianazary, Secretary of State in the national police force. “Our priority is first of all to reestablish order; next will follow investigations into the homicides and the acts of vandalism that have been committed,” says the number-one of the police force.

Due to this unrest, a curfew has been decreed in the district from 21:00 to 04:00 am.

Raheriniaina
Seth Andriamarohasina and Vonjy Radasimalala
Friday, 04 October 2013

4 Oct 2013

ICC Africa Trials: Kenya and Ivory Coast

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Readers, if you’re interested in the ICC trials of Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, Kenyan Deputy President William Ruto, and Kenyan journalist Joshua Sang, I suggest you follow RNW’s “The Hague Trials Kenya” blog.

RNW (Radio Netherlands Worldwide) also has a similar blog — “Regards sur Gbagbo” (it’s in French) — with news and info about the ICC trial of former Ivory Coast president Laurent Gbagbo.

The ICC has a web page with info and links to all the current cases and situations it’s involved with, too.

31 Aug 2013

More on Al Jazeera America

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A couple of helpful commenters on my previous post pointed out that we in America can still access Al Jazeera English on the Web, just not via the main URL. I bookmarked http://www.aljazeera.com/news/africa/ to take me straight to the Africa News page, and it works fine. I can navigate around the website from there and read whatever I want. I still can’t watch video content, but that’s OK.

Since I don’t have cable TV, I can’t really judge how well Al Jazeera America is working out. It hasn’t become one of my go-to news sources on the Web, but I will keep an eye on it, as I do think it could be a very valuable resource, a good alternative voice on the US media landscape.

I know a lot of Americans think Al Jazeera is hopelessly biased; some think it’s extremely left-wing, some think it’s a mouthpiece for radical Islam, and some think both of those things simultaneously (the human brain is pretty amazing). But our alternatives here in the States are either Beltway-consensus bullshit heavily admixed with celebrity gossip and other vapid brain-candy (CNN, NBC News, CBS News, etc, etc), or openly biased tendentious partisan garbage (Fox News, MSNBC, talk radio, the political Web), and I wish Al Jazeera America success.

20 Aug 2013

Al Jazeera America

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Today, 20 August 2013, marked the debut of a new cable news channel: Al Jazeera America, a brand-new offering from Al Jazeera.

This is a good thing, in a way, but a very bad thing as well. Here’s why:

Al Jazeera English is now basically unavailable in the USA. If you try to visit the Al Jazeera English website (www.aljazeera.com) from an American IP address, you’ll be redirected to Al Jazeera America (america.aljazeera.com). If you visit the Al Jazeera English YouTube channel from an American IP address, you’ll find that there are now almost no videos there.

As I write this, I can still access Al Jazeera English news stories via the iPad app, and I can watch videos that are associated with news stories, but the live feed is dead now: you just get a message stating “The video you are trying to watch cannot be viewed from your current location.” I strongly suspect they’re going to lock down the mobile apps much more tightly real soon, too.

Why is this? Because cable-TV providers don’t want Al Jazeera giving away its content for free on the Internet when they’re carrying Al Jazeera programming on their cable-TV systems.

So, those of us who live in America but do not subscribe to cable TV have basically lost access to Al Jazeera English content. All we get is whatever limited content Al Jazeera America chooses to offer on the Web.

In America, our news media can mostly be classified under two broad rubrics:

  1. The Beltway-consensus media
  2. The partisan political media

This is why those of us who pay attention to what’s happening in the world often turn to foreign news sources: BBC World News, France 24, Al Jazeera English. CNN and the networks are vapid, extremely dumb, and completely useless; Fox News and the right-wing media are garbage; and now, with the advent of MSNBC’s Blue-Team programming, we’ve got partisan Democrat garbage as well.

Al Jazeera English has always been a very useful source of information; they pay attention to many stories ignored by American media, and have been refreshingly free of Beltway-consensus bullshit and brain-dead Red-Team/Blue-Team pabulum.

I think it’s great that they’re launching a news channel that will bring their perspective to America, but it really sucks that it has to be at such a cost: to me, the loss of Al Jazeera English wouldn’t be worth having the new Al Jazeera America, even if I had cable TV and could actually watch the damn thing.

As it is, I’ve lost access to Al Jazeera English and gotten nothing at all in return for it.

It’ll be interesting to see what happens. I’d like to see Al Jazeera America be successful, but I can’t help but feel angry and embittered that one of my most important go-to sources of news has basically disappeared for me.

18 May 2013

My current Dream Trip

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Today being one of Somaliland’s two Independence Days (Somaliland became an independent nation on 26 June 1960, having previously been a British protectorate; less than a week later, Somaliland merged with the newly-independent Italian Somaliland to form the Somali Republic; Somaliland later declared itself independent of the Somali Republic on 18 May 1991), I can’t quit thinking about how badly I want to go there.

As long as I’m dreaming, here is my current ultimate Dream Trip:

Start in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
Take a bus from Addis to Dire Dawa.
Take a minibus from Dire Dawa to Harar.
Take a minibus from Harar to Jijiga.
Take a bus (or minibus?) from Jijiga to Hargeisa, Somaliland.
Round-trip by bus from Hargeisa to Berbera (on the Somaliland coast) and back.
Take a bus (or minibus?) from Hargeisa to Djibouti.
Fly from Djibouti to Sanaa, Yemen.
Fly from Sanaa to Asmara, Eritrea.
Fly from Asmara to Khartoum, Sudan.
Finally, fly from Khartoum to Cairo, Egypt.

I intend to follow this itinerary someday, but who knows when. (Right now is not a real good time to go to Yemen or Eritrea…)

Bear