Feb. 10th, 2006

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I now have only 77 megabytes of hard drive space left on my computer, out of 40 gigabytes. Methinks I should start moving some files over to CD-Rs.
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Over at [livejournal.com profile] cubmike74 and [livejournal.com profile] hayseedplowboy's place last month around my birthday, I heard Galaxie digital radio service playing some 80s songs in the background and realized, after hearing two songs in a row about nuclear war, that this was a worryingly popular subgenre. Take one of these songs, Alphaville's elegiac "Forever Young."

Let’s dance in style, lets dance for a while
Heaven can wait we’re only watching the skies
Hoping for the best but expecting the worst
Are you going to drop the bomb or not?

Let us die young or let us live forever
We don’t have the power but we never say never
Sitting in a sandpit, life is a short trip
The music’s for the sad men


I can also point to Duran Duran's immortal lyric "Don't say you're easy on me you're about as easy as a nuclear war" in their song "Is there something I should know?", or to the success in English and in German of Nena's famous "99 Luftballoons". In the 80s' index of nuclear war songs only touches upon the long, long list.

The 1980s were a tense time, granted. In an era when there were forty thousand Soviet nuclear warheads, Prince Edward Island is lucky to have survived, given that my home city of Charlottetown--a provincial capital, and site of an airport--would almost certainly targeted and that the very existence of CFB Summerside would doom the Island's second community. When your strategic warplans enable the massacre of almost half of the population of Prince Edward Island as a tertiary sideshow to the main depopulatory events, you know that you probably should go back to first principles.

No one did, though, not until it was almost too late. Take ABLE ARCHER 83. Hence, I suppose, the songs. I wonder: What were things like in Soviet-bloc popular music?
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Of the three Baltic States, Latvia has the most strongly multiethnic population, with large Russophone minorities everywhere in the country and Russophone pluralities and even majorities in some rural districts and urban areas, including the capital city of Rîga. Estonia's population is also multiethnic but to a lesser degree, with more than two-thirds of its non-Estonian population living in only two of Estonia's fifteen counties, in Harju County including the capital of Tallinn and in the highly industrialized Ida-Viru County in the northeast on the Russian frontier. As Peteris Zvidrins explains in "Changes in the Ethnic Structure of the Baltic Countries" (PDF format), the Soviet-era immigration of workers is responsible for most of Estonia's new ethnic diversity and much of Latvia's. Before 1940, there were certainly substantial enclaves of ethnic minorities in both countries--Russophones on their eastern frontiers and in their capital cities, Swedes on the Estonian coast, Jews and Poles in Latvia--but there weren't so many as no and they certainly weren't as large.

Somewhat surprisingly considering Lithuania's history, it's Lithuania that now has the most ethnically homogeneous population of the three Baltic States, the proportion of ethnic Lithuanians in Lithuania's post-1940 frontiers remaining stable at four-fifths of the total population. Russians form a large minority in Lithuania, but they predominate only in the city of Visaginas, built in the 1970s around the Ignalina nuclear power plant. The second-largest ethnolinguistic communities in Estonia and Latvia are Russophone; in Lithuania, that place is filled by Lithuania's Polish minority. The Russophones of Latvia and Estonia have their particular concentrations, and the Poles of Lithuania can claim the same, concentrated in Vilnius County, forming population majotrities in the Salčininkai and Vilnius district municipalities and strong minorities in the city of Vilnius proper and the Trakai district municipality.

The Poles of southeastern Lithuania form, by the standards of post-1945 central and eastern Europe, the most kresy, of the Polish east. Marzena Kisielowska-Lipman's 1999 essay "The echoing Polish borderlands" (PDF format) talks at great length of the continuing sentimental attachment of Poles to what used to be the east of their country--in Lithuania, Belarus, Ukraine--and the ways in which it's deployed to try to build a new relationship. The friendly and warm Polish-Lithuanian relationship, for instance, and Poland's support for Ukraine's Orange Revolution, are products of this sentiment. The remaining Polish minorities in Belarus and Ukraine are highly dispersed, though, perhaps doomed to assimilation and/or mass emigration to a richer Poland. The Poles of Lithuania are unique--among Polish minorities in eastern Europe as among minority populations in the Baltic States--in remaining a compact and well-organized population with a distinct territory and a supportive government. It'll be interesting to see how they'll evolve in the next generation.
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Way back in April 2004, I wrote a little post called "Religion(s) of Peace, Religion(s) of Hate". In it, I examined Algeria's Front Islamique de Salut, a fundamentalist Muslim party that did very well in the Algerian polls despite--perhaps because--of its extreme misogyny, because of the way that it denied women any right to participate in public life and quietly permitted stupid young men to go do horrible things to inconvenient women. The military intervened when the FIS won a parliamentary election, prompting a very bloody civil war in which some sections of the FIS decided to turn on women specifically, to kill women as an act of terror. At its peak, this tactic included selecting female residents of government-controlled villages as sex slaves. Abstract theological debates took place in which insurgent theologians debated the burning questrion of whether it was okay for a single fighter to rape both a mother and her daughter, or whether he could rape only one, and if so who should he rape. Other things, like throwing acid on the faces of unveiled women, were taken for granted as moral.

Is this what Islam is about? Of course not! The FIS' systematic campaigns of rape, mutilation, and murder directed towards conveniently vulnerable women appalled Muslims around the world. Every human culture that isn't horribly dysfunctional--including, I'm ashamed that I have to emphasize, every Muslim culture--holds these acts in repugnance.

Is this Islamic, can this be Islamic at all? Well, yes. If an act is defined by the perpetrators as being undertaken for a specific goal while using very specific language used in support of this goal, I'm inclined to take the perpetrators at their word.

All too often these days, people take prescriptions and mistake them for descriptions. It's an innate human tendency, I suppose, for people to believe that their things are as they should be, and that any criticism to the contrary is funamentally unfair and biased. It's an innate human tendency, but it's one that's terribly destructive of any serious discourse, of any inconvenient criticism. Every complex cultural construct can have multiple interpretations. Many of these interpretations work well. Many of these interpretations lead people to evil ends. It would be nice to be able to pretend that the latter interpretations don't exist, It would be nice, but since these interpretations do exist, and do wreak havoc, it would be intellectually dishonest to pretend that they don't.

There's plenty of other myths, of course. Say, "Denmark is a tolerant and liberal country." Or, "Canada/[$countryname] is the best country in the world." Or, for that matter, "Randy McDonald never makes mistakes." I'm sure that you can come up with your own.

There may or there may not be truth to these myths, who knows? It is certain that it's impossible to discern what's true and what's not if you pretend that everything is true, no, really it is! Credibility counts.
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I've a rough draft in the workers, expect it tomorrow. For the time being, let me just say that I don't think that they work because they just aren't good satire at all, and that it's for this reason I find the fuss kicked up about them ridiculous. They're stupid, and they're pointless, and it's a bloody tragedy that they've become a central flashpoint.

Your thoughts? I'll point you to [livejournal.com profile] angel80's analysis, for extra points.
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You can find everything on the intra-webs.
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