Saturday, October 27, 2007

Kooks and clubbing

Are you familiar with David Horowitz's Islamo-Fascism Awareness Week? Of course you are: you're an informed global citizen and you keep up on this kind of thing. Oh, how I love you, hypothetical erudite and well-informed reader of my blog. You make it all worthwhile.

There was a speaker for said event at UCLA last Thursday, to which I went. My friend B planned to attend it in hopes it would be "a contentious scream fest": intrigued, I showed up. I don't honestly know who the speaker was, and I can't say as I care. He was from Florida, and apparently spends his life researching Islamic charities on the Internet and trying to find links to terrorist organizations. Most of his speech was about said charities, and was frankly kind of boring. I wouldn't be surprised if everything he said was factually accurate, although it was really kind of hard to tell how significant it was: they were interesting anecdotes, I guess, but hardly proof of any sort of systemic failure of law enforcement. And frequently (surprise, surprise) misleading.

He had an anecdote about a speaker hosted by UCLA's Muslim Student Association, for example, who wrote an opinion piece a while back that called Osama bin Laden a freedom fighter and philanthropist. Which is nasty, of course, but it turns out that the paper was written in 1999. Mind you, you would have to be naive to think that OBL was a good person even back then, but he hadn't reached nearly the level of universal social condemnation and blame that he's achieved now. A fair number of people (again, naively) felt that he wasn't involved in a lot of the activities he was accused of. So to blithely misrepresent a pre-9/11 opinion as current and use that as a brush with which to tar the entire Muslim Student Association strikes me as somewhat disingenuous.

In any event, I was expecting to disagree with this guy, but I was (foolishly, I suppose) expecting to at least listen to a rational speaker, just one that I disagreed with. And at first, despite his boring presentation and questionable associations, I got more or less what I expected. And then it turned out that he was bat-shit insane. He told us how he would have conducted the war on terror:

1) Don't try terrorists in civilian courts, because civilians have forgotten 9/11 and are unlikely to convict terrorists (apparently this is a failing of the civilians, rather than a sign of weakness in the case against accused terrorists). When questioned on this point, he went on to say that if he were president, he would mandate military trials by executive order and "ignore" congress.

2) Go to war in Iraq, but as soon as we kicked out Saddam, tell the world we'd found the WMDs and leave. One of the questioners thanked him for his ideas and said that it was heartening to hear that we had reporters who recommended "blowing up the imaginary WMDs to win the war."

Somebody asked him why he thought that civilian courts wouldn't work against Al'Qaida, since the UK had used civilian methods fairly effectively against the IRA, whose conflict involved similar religious arguments. You could almost hear the gears screaming in the man's head as he tried to avoid saying that it was because Islam makes people violent and irrational, but the sentiment came through in his response anyway. It was horrifying.

As horrifying, I suppose, was the number of people who agreed with him. I would guess that half the audience was there for the same reasons as me: attending for the gruesome spectacle. The other half, though, seemed to genuinely agree with him and clapped along merrily.

In other, less depressing news, I went out bowling Friday night. Bowling alleys are dinghy, dirty places where people wear trucker caps, listen to country music and drink Budweiser from novelty, bowling-pin shaped bottles. Unless you are in Hollywood, in which case there is a man out front with a clipboard and earpiece enforcing the dress code (no "MC colors", construction boots, or white shirts), 7-dollar mixed drinks, and a live DJ.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Bits and sundries

I found a major improvement on my bike ride in to class, which is nice. I found a dedicated bike lane parallel to Sepulveda which allows me to avoid the I405 onramps, which makes my life much happier. This is not, however, blog-worthy news. As I rode my bike in this morning, though, I was annoyed to find that the path had been blocked with yellow tape, forcing me to follow my old, less-safe route. I quickly realized, though, that the yellow tape was in fact police tape, and not much further up the road two police officers were talking over a dead body in the middle of the bike lane. I was less annoyed after that.

I saw a double billing of Ingmar Bergman movies at a nifty little art theater last week. This was my first time seeing any of his movies, and his reputation is definitely well-deserved. It's strange how juvenile a lot of the subject matter was, though: the first movie, Autumn Sonata, is about a mother and daughter hashing out the problems in their relationship, and features the daughter complaining at her mother because she was forced to go to gymnastics lessons and her mom made her cut her hair (among other such relatively banal complaints). The second movie, Cries and Whispers, features the emotastic line "It's true, I have considered suicide." It sounds like a bunch of angsty teenagers yelling at each other. But the movies are still really good! I mean, saying Ingmar Bergman is a good director is kind of like saying Shakespeare was a pretty decent writer, I guess, but still. It was impressive to see how good direction could make a banal subject (in Autumn Sonata anyway) really gripping (and depressing!).

And finally, for those of you who actually care about progress in my life and not just random anecdotes, things are going really well for me. My classes are interesting and engaging (even if I did intentionally give myself a light workload for the first term). I've talked to my advisor, who has given me office-space (hooray!) and ideas for research (hooray!). Overall, I definitely feel like I've made the right choice in coming back to school. Even if I learned this morning that I was the oldest person in my Spanish class. Including the teacher.