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October 10, 2004

Afghanistan held its first ever elections last week. It will apparently take weeks to count all the ballots, but I'll be shocked if Hamid Karzai doesn't win.

As Donald Rumsfeld has reminded us, "democracy is messy." For example, according to the UN team coordinating the Afghan elections, around 9.5 million Afghans are eligible to vote. But 10.5 million Afghans are registered. And in a country of 28 million, with many people living in distant deserts and mountains, I'm very skeptical of the accuracy of those registrations.

Second, we've got a potential voter fraud issue. Apparently each voter was supposed to have their hand marked with indelible ink, so that vote officials could prevent people from voting more than once. But apparently, the officials are instead used ink that easily washes off. Are people voting more times than they're allowed? No one knows. Because of this, all of Hamid Karzai's opponents are boycotting the election, claiming that it is not legitmate and they won't honor the results (or, they might possibly be using this as an excuse, as they are all likely to be defeated in the vote).

Then you've got the issue of intimidation of women. Much of the country still seems to hold values in which women should be powerless and invisible. For example, some of the provinces of southern Afghanistan women, who make up around half the population, only make up about 10% of the registered voters. Human Rights Watch argues that this is due to women fearing for their lives and safety if they tried to vote.

And finally, we've got good old warlord intimidation. It seemed very likely that the Men With Guns who are the de facto rulers of much of Afghanistan, would tell their "subjects" who to vote for. I haven't dug around much, but this example of a southern tribal leader telling his tribe to vote for Karzai or have their homes burned down, really stands out.

Is it a bit much to expect Afghanistan to become a smooth-functioning democracy only three years after a US invasion, and 20 years of catastrophic civil war before that? Yeah, it probably is. I'm trying to play Nation-Building Savior in my head, but I'm not sure how one transforms a brutalized land which is still largely tribal in nature, into a thriving egalitarian democracy.

I don't know if the nation's of the world are particularly concerned about an Afghan democracy or the Afghan people themselves. This could very easily be play-acting, so that the world can turn away with clear conscience while pantomime-president Karzai rakes in the foreign aid to assemble a nice, unifying iron fist. Actually, that's what I'd bet my money on. If Karzai can get "Democracy" embroidered on his swell wooly hat, and then work out some deal with the warlords to share rule over the suffering millions, everyone willing to turn a blind eye is happy.

But let's say that you actually care about what happens to Afghanistan, what the hell would you do? Part of me thinks that the UN's got the cart before the horse, working on ballots and constitutions while the country's citizens are imprisoned by Kalishnikovs and burqas. Maybe democracy should take a back seat to food programs and public safety. Maybe a traumatized people needs to get some of the basics down before worrying about self-rule.

But I don't think that's true either. Many of the world's most deprived and oppressed fight for freedom and democracy, and fight hard. Who am I to pretend that democracy only matters when you've got a full belly and a front door?

I think that maybe you can only have democracy if you really want it. Maybe you really are only as free as you fight to be, and you get the democracy you deserve (that might explain a few things about democracy in the US of A).

Maybe somebody ought to ask the Afghan people what they want, and how we can help them. Maybe Father doesn't always know best.

Posted by Jake at 05:17 PM | TrackBack (0)
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I think you hit the nail right on the head with the last two paragraphs. Democracy (And a non-corrupt one at that) is not a basic human right - it's something you really have to fight for.

Posted by: Toby Wood at October 11, 2004 10:12 AM
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Media News

November 16, 2004

Tales of Media Woe

Senate May Ram Copyright Bill- one of the most depressing stories of the day that didn't involve death or bombs. It's the music and movie industries' wet dream. It criminalizes peer-to-peer software makers, allows the government to file civil lawsuits on behalf of these media industries, and eliminates fair use. Fair use is the idea that I can use a snippet of a copyrighted work for educational, political, or satirical purposes, without getting permission from the copyright-holder first.

And most tellingly, the bill legalizes technology that would automatically skip over "obejctionable content" (i.e. sex and violence) in a DVD, but bans devices that would automatically skip over commericals. This is a blatant, blatant, blatant gift to the movie industry. Fuck the movie industry, fuck the music industry, fuck the Senate.

Music industry aims to send in radio cops- the recording industry says that you're not allowed to record songs off the radio, be it real radio or internet radio. And now they're working on preventing you from recording songs off internet radio through a mixture of law and technological repression (although I imagine their techno-fixes will get hacked pretty quickly).

The shocking truth about the FCC: Censorship by the tyranny of the few- blogger Jeff Jarvis discovers that the recent $1.2 million FCC fine against a sex scene in Fox's "Married By America" TV show was not levied because hundreds of people wrote the FCC and complained. It was not because 159 people wrote in and complained (which is the FCC's current rationale). No, thanks to Jarvis' FOIA request, we find that only 23 people (of the show's several million viewers) wrote in and complained. On top of that, he finds that 21 of those letters were just copy-and-paste email jobs that some people attached their names to. Jarvis then spins this a bit by saying that "only 3" people actually wrote letters to the FCC, which is misleading but technically true. So somewhere between 3 and 23 angry people can determine what you can't see on television. Good to know.

Reuters Union Considers Striking Over Layoffs- will a strike by such a major newswire service impact the rest of the world's media?

Pentagon Starts Work On War Internet- the US military is talking about the creation of a global, wireless, satellite-aided computer network for use in battle. I think I saw a movie about this once...

Conservative host returns to the air after week suspension for using racial slur- Houston radio talk show host (and somtime Rush Limbaugh substitute) Mark Belling referred to Mexican-Americans as "wetbacks" on his show. He was suspended for a couple of weeks, and then submitted a written apology for the racial slur to a local newspaper. But he seems to be using the slur and its surrounding controversy to boost his conservative cred with his listeners.

Stay Tuned for Nudes- Cleveland TV news anchor Sharon Reed aired a story about artist Spencer Tunick, who uses large numbers of naked volunteers in his installations and photographs. The news report will be unique in that it will not blur or black-out the usual naughty bits. The story will air late at night, when it's allegedly okay with the FCC if you broadcast "indecent" material. The author of this article doesn't seem to notice that Reed first claims that this report is a publicity stunt, but then claims it's a protest against FCC repression. I'd like to think it's the latter, but I'm not that much of a sucker.

Posted by Jake at 04:02 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)
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Jake's first attempt at homemade Mongolican barbecue:

Failure.

What went right: correctly guessing several key seasonings- lemon, ginger, soy, garlic, chili.

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