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Monthly Archives: June 2010

When a hurricane strikes the East Coast or the South, residents are warned for days ahead of time to prepare for the upcoming disaster. But out here on the West Coast, unfortunately, our disasters usually come in the form of earthquakes, which arrive suddenly and with no warning.

So it is with a rare and uneasy feeling that Californians are currently awaiting one of the few West Coast disasters which has been reliably predicted ahead of time. Except this catastrophe is not going to come courtesy of Mother Nature, but instead as what our president might call a “man-made disaster” — in this case, a riot.

Nearly everyone in the Bay Area agrees that a major Oakland riot is brewing if the verdict in the trial of policeman Johannes Mehserle, accused of murdering BART passenger Oscar Grant on New Year’s Day, 2009, comes back anything other than “GUILTY!” The problem for Oakland’s sense of security is that Mehserle is almost certainly not guilty of murder, and the jury is likely to give him a comparatively light sentence or even let him go completely.

The case has received wall-to-wall coverage in California for the last 18 months, but here’s a quick primer for those of you elsewhere in the country who may be unfamiliar with it:

In the early hours of January 1, 2009, a large group of young men got into a brawl on BART, the Bay Area’s subway system. Police were summoned and stopped the train at Oakland’s Fruitvale station, where a chaotic mass-arrest scene spilled onto the platform. As hundreds of passengers watched — many of whom were filming the proceedings with their cell-phone video cameras — several harassed BART police officers tried to subdue and then arrest dozens of brawlers. In the midst of the melee, one of the cops (Johannes Mehserle) pulled out a pistol and shot one of the men being arrested (Oscar Grant), killing him.

Sounds bad, right? Not so fast. As revealed in some of the videos taken of the incident, Mehserle was absolutely flabbergasted to see a gun when he looked down at his hand, because he had been instead reaching for his taser, which is also gun-shaped and kept in a belt-level holster. As several witnesses, including a weeping Mehserle himself, testified at the trial, the shooting was entirely accidental, and Mehserle was instead trying to tase Grant, whom he felt was out of control and resisting arrest. You can see the moment yourself in the last few seconds of the most famous video, when Mehserle looks at the gun in horror and then puts his hands to his forehead in dismay. The gestures only take a few seconds, but the entire case rests on this.

Because of public outcry, Mehserle was put on trial for murder, even though the threshold for murder was self-evidently not met in this case. Is Mehserle guilty of killing Oscar Grant? Certainly. Should he be convicted of involuntary manslaughter or negligent homicide? Probably. But a murder conviction requires proof of intent and malice aforethought — that you not only wanted to kill the victim but also planned it ahead of time. And it’s quite obvious first of all that Mehserle hadn’t planned anything, since he had never even met Oscar Grant until moments before the shooting; and that Mehserle’s distress afterwards — as well as the testimony of eyewitnesses who heard Mehserle saying “I meant to tase him!” — prove beyond any reasonable doubt that he had not intended to kill Grant at all.

For the incident to count as “murder,” these thoughts must have gone through Mehserle’s mind: “Here I am surrounded by hundreds of eyewitnesses, half of whom are filming me, as well as several policemen including my superior officer; I think this is a good time to murder a stranger in cold blood in front of everyone, just because I’m a homicidal maniac!” Highly dubious, to put it mildly.

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On Tuesday, President Obama announced the appointment of this year’s “White House Fellows,” a prestigious program in which outstanding Americans are chosen to work in the White House and receive “first hand, high-level experience with the workings of the Federal government.” According to a White House Press release, one of this year’s Fellows is a young lawyer named Samar Ali:

Samar Ali is an Associate with the firm Hogan Lovells US LLP. She is responsible for counseling clients on mergers & acquisitions, cross-border transactions, Shari’a compliant transactions, project finance, and international business matters.

Left out of the press release is that she also previously worked as an intern and received training at the Islamic International Arab Bank; according to her staff bio at the Hogan Lovells law firm,

Samar’s experience includes advising a Middle Eastern university in the potential establishment of a Foreign Aid Conventional and Shari’ah Compliant Student Loan Program. … Before joining Hogan & Hartson, Samar worked as a summer associate for the firm and as a legal intern for the Islamic International Arab Bank.

For those who have never heard of it, the Islamic International Arab Bank “commenced its banking operations in accordance with Islamic Sharia rules on the twelfth day of Shawal 1418 AH, corresponding to 9 February 1998, to meet the growing demand for Islamic banking services and products.”

What exactly is “shariah-compliant finance”? Essentially, it’s the practice of conducting all monetary matters to be in full compliance with all aspects of Islamic law. This entails such trivial details as not banking on the Muslim sabbath and holy days, but more importantly forbids paying or receiving interest of any kind (something which is the bedrock of “western” finance); modern interpretations of Islamic law prohibit “making money from money” and thus the payment of “interest” on deposits, so Shariah-compliant banks must devise all sorts of convoluted ways to redefine interest as something else altogether — such as “profits,” “dividends,” and so on. Shariah-compliance also means only investing in or loaning to companies which themselves adhere to Islamic law, or which at least don’t generate profits from any activities forbidden by the Qur’an — such as drinking alcohol, gambling, or anything involving sexuality. And (one of the little-discussed rules you’re not supposed to know about) most shariah-complaint banks refuse on principle to invest in any company doing business in Israel — which, obviously, could not be specifically stipulated in the Qur’an, but the excuse is that companies doing business in Israel must be assumed to violate Islamic law somehow.

(Many analysts also claim, such as in the comprehensive pdf report visible here, that shariah finance is simply one aspect in a global multi-pronged assault on the West, and is essentially a euphemism for the economic side of jihad. Hmmmmm….)

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An Israeli cargo ship arriving in Oakland today was forced to sit idle and not offload its containers when longshoremen joined forces with a coalition of communist and Islamist groups who picketed the port in protest against the recent violent incident off the coast of Gaza.

The ship, owned by Zim Lines, was not carrying any controversial cargo, nor is Zim involved in politics in any way; it was targeted simply because the shipping company is based in Israel.

The planned protest and blockade were organized by The Free Palestine Movement (one of the same groups which organized the Gaza “flotilla” in the first place) as well as a rogues’ gallery of nearly every communist, anti-Israel and radical Islamist group in the Bay Area:

Oakland, CA: Join the Labor and Community Picket of an Israeli Zim Lines Ship

Sunday, June 20, 5:30am
Port of Oakland,Berth 57, Middle Harbor Rd.
Protest Israel’s Attack on the Gaza Freedom Flotilla!
Boycott Israeli Ships and Goods!
Lift the Blockade NOW – Let Gaza Live!
Bring Down Israel’s Apartheid Wall!
We call on everyone who stands for justice and against occupation and apartheid to join the June 20 picket at the Port of Oakland. This is a moment of great opportunity. In San Francisco in 1984, a picket line and refusal to unload cargo of a ship carrying South African cargo was a key event in mobilizing the anti-apartheid movement worldwide.

Sponsored by: Labor / Community Committee in Solidarity with the People of Palestine:
Arab American Union Members Council, ANSWER- Act Now to Stop War and End Racism, Palestine Youth Network, US Palestine Community Network, Al Awda- Right to Return Coalition, Arab Youth Organization, MECA-Middle East Children’s Alliance, Students for Justice in Palestine, Arab Resource and Organizing Center, International Solidarity Movement, San Jose Peace and Justice Center, International Socialist Organization, Peace and Freedom Party – SF, Transport Workers Solidarity Committee and many labor activists in the Bay Area

However, you wouldn’t know any of this if you had just read the mainstream media’s reportage. For example, the San Francisco Chronicle described the protesters as “peace and labor groups”:

“Our view is that the state of Israel can not engage in acts of piracy and kill people on the high seas and still think their cargo can go anywhere in the world,” said Richard Becker, an organizer with ANSWER, one of many peace and labor groups involved in Sunday’s action.

From the list of sponsors above, I don’t see too many “peace” groups, but instead radical Islamic and Arab organizations dedicated to the extirpation of Israel, and some far-left political groups, a couple of which use the word “Peace” in their names as an Orwellian euphemism for “destroy the capitalist system.”

Here’s a video taken at this morning’s protest:

DailyKos also has breathlessly excited updates about today’s action. A follow-up second protest is happening as I write, at 4:30pm on Sunday.


The protesters carried Turkish and Palestinian flags. Peace!

Another false narrative found in the mainstream coverage of today’s incident is the implication that the longshoremen were taken by surprise when they showed up for work this morning but out of principle refused to cross a “picket line.” Again, according to the Chronicle,

The demonstrators want to block the unloading of the Zim ship for a full day. After convincing the day shift of longshoreman to honor the picket line, the demonstrators dispersed around 10 a.m.

First of all, it seems from the online listings announcing the event that labor union groups were among those who organized the protest in the first place, so the longshoremen most likely knew about it ahead of time and had already agreed to blockade the Israeli ship.

Secondly, the phrase “picket line” is being somewhat abused here. Picket lines are traditionally defined as “a common tactic used by trade unions during strikes, who will try to prevent dissident members of the union, members of other unions and ununionised workers from working.” In other words, picketing is supposed to be done by employees, ex-employees, or union members against a business engaging in what they claim are unfair labor practices. But if a group of non-workers and non-union members show up to demonstrate against something they don’t like on purely political grounds, that’s not really a “picket line,” but rather just a “protest.”

The seemingly inconsequential distinction between a “picket line” and a “protest” is significant in this instance, because union members are expected to “not cross a picket line,” but there are no similar enjoinders against “crossing a protest.” If all unionized workers are prohibited from crossing anything self-defined as a “picket line,” then all it would take is three people with homemade signs to shut down any business or corporation by standing out front and declaring themselves to be an uncrossable “picket line,” even though their protest has nothing to do with labor practices or union-busting.

But by using the phrase “picket line,” and ensuring that the media repeats the phrase, it gives cover and plausible deniability to the longshoremen’s union to join in and effectively implement the blockade, without overtly taking credit. “We have nothing against Israel,” they could claim, “but we simply could never cross a ‘picket line’!”

Uh-huh. Right.

Even though the evidence is already overwhelming and continues to grow every day that the “Gaza Freedom Flotilla” was actually a planned jihad attack, the anti-Israel forces are doubling down and hoping that this grotesquely misrepresented incident will be the spark which finally causes the West to turn on Israel and actively work toward its destruction.

This morning’s protest was co-organized by Paul Larudee (paste this URL into a browser window: http://www.indybay.org/newsitems/2010/06/20/18651338.php — incoming links to Indybay are disabled), one of the very people who was on the Gaza flotilla itself, and who was given a hero’s welcome upon his return to the Bay Area from a short stint in an Israeli jail. But again, you’re not supposed to know that.

Today’s blockade of the Port of Oakland by anti-Israel forces, in collaboration with the Longshoremen’s Union (ILWU), is the opening of another front in the war on Israel — economic, politcal, propagandistic, and military — which escalates week by week. Will it ever end? Not according to the masterminds of the flotilla:

Meanwhile, Yasser Kashlak, a Syrian businessman of Palestinian descent who heads the “Free Palestine Organization” and is funding this boat, as well as another that is to carry journalists and parliamentarians, said over the weekend on Hizbullah’s al-Manar television station that he was more and more optimistic that one day these same boats would take “Europe’s refuse [the Jews] that came to my homeland back to their homelands.

“Gilad Schalit should go back to Paris and those murderers go back to Poland, and after that we will chase them until the ends of the earth to bring them to justice for their acts of slaughter from Deir Yassin until today.” Kashlak, a fervent Hizbullah supporter, called Israel a “rabid dog sent to the region to frighten the Arabs. He said he had a message for Israelis: ‘Get on the ships we are sending you and go back to your lands. Don’t let the moderate Arab leaders delude you, [you] cannot make peace with us. Our children will return to Palestine, you have no reason for coexistence. Even if our leaders will sign a peace agreement, we will not sign.’”

Clear enough for you?

UPDATE:

Keep in mind that the Port of Oakland is not some minor, backwater city-owned port: it is in fact the fourth busiest container port in the country and a major linchpin in the economy of California and the West, serving as the gateway for much of the materials coming from Asia into the United States. A threat to the proper functioning of the Port of Oakland can effect the economy nationwide. It’s not a good sign that fringe groups can dictate which countries get to ship goods into the US. What if someone protested at the port against China‘s human rights record? Would the longshoremen stop unloading Chinese ships and bring most West Coast imports to a halt? Obviously not. Pragmatism dictates that you can bully a small trading partner, but not a big one.

UPDATE II:

The protesters’ plan all along was to protest at the port prior to the arrival of the Zim Lines ship, to ensure that the shift of longshoremen who would be on duty when it did arrive would have already agreed not to do their jobs. But as reported in Israel National News and Gateway Pundit, the Israeli ship arrived several hours later than scheduled, and as things turned out, it was so late that it would not have been unloaded until Monday morning anyway. So the protesters ended up most likely having little or no effect on its actual timetable. Instead, an unrelated Chinese ship at the same berth had its unloading delayed, because the same longshoremen who didn’t cross the “picket line” could not work on it either.

It’s not known if the Zim ship’s late arrival was accidental or if it purposely idled a few hours off the coast to avoid a confrontation at the docks.

There Will Be Straws

June 17th, 2010 - 6:32 am

Daniel Day-Lewis, who learned a thing or two about sucking up oil through straws in a recent film role, explains to President Obama how to fix the Gulf oil spill:

There Will Be Straws


If that made absolutely no sense to you, then you need to watch the Director’s Cut, an extended version which includes the cultural references: a clip of Obama saying he can’t suck up the oil spill through a straw, and another clip of Daniel Day-Lewis as the lead character in the film There Will Be Blood demonstrating that Obama is mistaken — you can suck up oil through a straw, even at a distance. Both clips are viral Internet memes:

There Will Be Straws: The Director’s Cut

Big state, weak candidates.

In California’s primary races for the state’s two top positions — governor and senator — four cringe-worthy candidates won the party nominations.

On the Democratic side, Barbara “How-Dare-You-Call-Me-Ma’am” Boxer easily maintained her steely grip on the senatorial seat, while 17-time former governor Jerry Brown reappeared like an acid flashback from a bygone era to audition again for his old gig.

Meanwhile, over in the Republican camp, two insanely rich corporate CEOs essentially bought the nominations.

What did we Californians do to deserve this? In a state with 37 million people, these are the best four we’ve got?

Is This a Monster Movie or a Political Campaign?

Both Boxer and Brown are veritable dinosaurs, clambering out of the Political Tar Pits to lord over the landscape for another eon or two. Boxer has been in politics for 38 years, and has been a member of Congress for 28 years. In all that time her political positions have not evolved one bit. She is still running on the Vietnam-war era anti-military far-left populism which has fueled her career from the start. I can easily imagine her becoming the Helen Thomas of politicians, refusing to retire or go away well into her 90s as she dodders up and down the hallways of power spouting off mean-spirited tirades.

And as for Jerry Brown, I’m awestruck by his audacity. Like, dude, you’ve already been governor. Twice. And your freakin’ father was governor before that. Also twice. Between 1959 and 1983, there was only a brief interlude when somebody not named Brown was governor.

I think we need to stage an intervention. Jerry Brown is obviously addicted to politics. He’s been at it so long (41 years) he makes Boxer look like a madamoiselle, not a ma’am. Not only was he governor twice starting 35 years ago, but he’s also been California Secretary of State, Chairman of the California Democratic Party, Attorney General of California, candidate for Senate, three-time candidate for President of the United States, and when he ran out of high-profile offices to run for, he scraped the residue out of the bottom of his political bong and ran for Mayor of Oakland. I mean, nobody wants to be Mayor of Oakland. It’s what you settle for when you have the DTs and can’t get anything decent, like drinking cough syrup.

It’s time for some tough love with Jerry. Stop enabling him. He needs a trip to the Betty Ford Clinic, not the Governor’s mansion.

With these two embarrassments on the Democratic side, you’d think the Republicans would have a golden opportunity. But no. Instead, we get two clichés straight out of Central Casting, two nearly interchangeable zillionaires who decided it would be amusing to spend some pocket change — $70 million, $80 million, I lost track already — to dabble in politics and buy the governorship and a seat in the senate.

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Losing Is the New Winning

June 4th, 2010 - 4:25 pm

What do Canadian soccer scores, the Gaza Flotilla Incident, Marxism, and the origins of Christianity have in common? Simple: They all rely on the notion that winning is bad. The triumph of the downtrodden.

We now see the culmination of a grand historical arc playing out right before our eyes. And just as at most epochal turning points, the people experiencing it have little or no idea that it’s even happening.

I want to say just a few words about the Gaza Flotilla, but to arrive there I must first take a roundabout digression. Let’s start our journey in Canada.

The more you score, the closer you come to defeat

A kids’ soccer league in Ottawa recently instituted a new rule: If your team outscores your opponents by more than five goals, then you lose. That’s right — the high-scoring team loses the game:

Win a soccer game by more than five points and you lose, Ottawa league says

In yet another nod to the protection of fledgling self-esteem, an Ottawa children’s soccer league has introduced a rule that says any team that wins a game by more than five points will lose by default.

The Gloucester Dragons Recreational Soccer league’s newly implemented edict is intended to dissuade a runaway game in favour of sportsmanship. The rule replaces its five-point mercy regulation, whereby any points scored beyond a five-point differential would not be registered.

Kevin Cappon said he first heard about the rule on May 20 — right after he had scored his team’s last allowable goal. His team then tossed the ball around for fear of losing the game.

As insane as this new rule might seem to the naive, it’s neither surprising nor unexpected: Similar anti-competition guidelines which punish winners have seeped into our culture over the last several decades. This Ottawa soccer rule is just the consummation of a larger trend. Many public school districts in the US now discourage or prohibit intra-class competition, not just in games but scholastically as well. Why? Because competition inevitably leads to winners and losers, which leads to athletic or intellectual hierarchies, which leads to social hierarchies, which leads to social inequality. And that‘s the biggest no-no of all.

But the prohibition against competition is often a prelude to a more Orwellian inversion of reality. Many kids’ sporting leagues have something called The Mercy Rule, in which the officials stop keeping score after a certain point if two teams are so mismatched that the game would otherwise become a farce. From there, however, it is a small step to the “Ottawa Rule” whereby you are allowed to score as much as you want, but if you outscore your opponent by too much, you’ll be declared the loser. (One imagines that inept-but-clever Canadian soccer teams will henceforth attempt to win games by “accidentally” scoring own-goals and kicking the ball backwards into their own nets as often as possible; eventually the league could devolve into a frenzy of “suicide soccer” as teams try to rack up as many points for the opponents as they can, seeking to “win” by losing by more than five goals.)

A similar thing happened to me in my elementary school days. One spring, our hip teacher announced that he would soon hand out the award for “Best Student” in the class. Much speculation ensued among the kids as to who it might be; the general consensus was that three students, based on our speed in finishing quizzes ahead of everyone else, were the obvious candidates: Karen, Ronald, or me. But when the big day arrived, the teacher announced, to everyone’s shock, that the Best Student prize was going not to any of us three but instead to Wayne. Wayne?!?!?!? Everyone turned to look at him in amazement. Wayne was, by any valid measure, far and away the worst student in the class. He still had not yet learned how to read. He couldn’t do basic arithmetic. He sat in the back of the room and harassed other students, and didn’t even bother to complete most assignments. In the modern era, he definitely would have been placed in a “special education” class for learning-disabled students, but our public school district back then had eliminated all “tracking” as discriminatory, so students of all calibers were lumped together. Our teacher explained that he was giving the award to Wayne because Wayne needed it more than anyone else, in order to boost his low self-esteem, which was the cause of his misbehavior. (Of course, having his psyche dissected in front of the class humiliated him even more, completely undoing any psychological benefit the award may have given him.) But here’s the kicker: our teacher then announced that Karen, Ronald and me had to sit in the corner and not participate every time there was a quiz for the rest of the year, as punishment for “embarrassing the other students” by finishing too fast and getting perfect scores.

My school district was ahead of the curve when it came to progressive ideals, and what happened to me back then is a natural progression from the non-competition guidelines now becoming commonplace across the country — just as Mercy Rules in sports can eventually lead to “the high-scoring team loses” Ottawa-style decrees.

Christianity, Marxism, and the Triumph of the Downtrodden

Championing the underdog is nothing new. There is a long history leading to what happened in Ottawa and my school.

While these days we tend to think of Christianity and Marxism as polar opposite ideologies in direct contradiction to each other, they both can be seen as formal expressions of the same notion: That the downtrodden, society’s losers, are actually the winners; and that the rich and powerful are the losers.

Jesus said, in Matthew 19:24, “Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” He also, in Matthew 19:21, said “If you want to be perfect, go and sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

The inescapable conclusion one draws from these statements by Jesus is that people who are wealthy and successful will in the long run be the greatest losers of all, because they cannot enter heaven when they die. You may be on top now, Jesus is saying, but eventually only society’s losers (the destitute) will get the ultimate reward — eternity in heaven.

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