Monday, December 31, 2007

The War on Terror: Not Just America's Problem

Before anything else: Happy New Year!

Getting bombed is a New Year's tradition for many: but not the way 27 people in Thailand did. Three bombs went off in Sungai Kolok, in Narathiwat province: two in a hotel disco, and one on a motorcycle outside another hotel. Nobody was killed, but 27 were hurt.

Thai Army spokesman Colonel Akara Thiprote said that Islamic insurgents were to blame. That's likely enough. More than 2,000 people have been killed in attacks in Narathiwat, Yala and Pattaniin Narathiwat provinces since January, 2004. Yala and Pattaniin Narathiwat are mostly Muslim, and the Thai government says that Muslims who want an independent Islamic state did the killing.

I've gotten the impression that some people, including some national leaders, think that if America would stop being mean, the war on terror would end. They use terms like narrow-minded, intolerant, oppressive, or whatever the cause of the year is, but it boils down to "being mean."

The "death to Israel! Death to the Great Satan America!" slogans are what make the headlines here in America, and elsewhere. But, the War on Terror isn't an American war, any more than America started hostilities. Around the world, people who think that anyone who doesn't follow their version of Islam deserves death are putting their beliefs into practice.

I sincerely hope that leaders around the world, and particularly in old Europe, realize that radical Islam isn't a problem that can be solved by criticizing non-liberal American policies. Maybe my impression of Europe is too greatly influenced by previous French administrations.

Although leaders like Osama bin Laden and groups like Al Qaeda and the Taliban hate many aspects of American culture and policy, but I'm quite sure that their disapproval doesn't stop there.

Given the number of Muslims in Europe, and the relative efficiency of Muslims and old-style Europeans at settling down and raising families, I think that the Islamic world will soon include Europe. When that happens, organizations like Al Qaeda would expect European countries to practice Islam their way, just as the Taliban did in Afghanistan.

Even if non-Muslims remain a majority in Europe, I doubt that a triumphant Taliban, or an Al Qaeda with control of the heart of Islam would allow Europe to remain unchanged. For example:
  • I have trouble imagining a global Caliphate tolerating what's euphemistically called the adult entertainment of Copenhagen and Amsterdam.
  • The people who banned soccer from the Kabul stadium, and wouldn't let girls play, might even ban wine from France.
  • Worse, it might be the end of the Oktoberfest.

January 1, 2008.

I don't usually announce edits of a post, but this one went beyond correcting a typo punctuation error. A few hours after posting this, and after having had an adequate fraction of a night's sleep, I did some heavy editing. No ideas have been changed, but it should make more sense now. I added a transitional paragraph (the one starting "I've gotten the impression that"), cleaned up some typos and corrected a really embarrassing copy-and-past error I'd made while fixing a sentence last night (beware copy-and-paste writing!!).

Sunday, December 30, 2007

America: Intolerant? Uncaring? Reality Check in Chicago

"Everyone knows" how intolerant and uncaring America is: at least in the more progressive campus cliques I lived near for much of my life. The proofs generally involved Martin Luther King and a comparison between American and British health care.

On the other hand, there's what happened this week in Chicago.

Anu Solanki disappeared Monday, Christmas Eve. Her husband was concerned, because she'd been on her way to dip a statue in the Chicago river. That's not a river you want to fall into: especially not in late December.

(About that statue: Anu and Dignesh Solanki were married in 2006, and had a second ceremony in May. A statue of Ganesh, Hindu god of good fortune and wisdom, was involved in the May ceremony. Later, the statue broke and Anu was advised to dip it in water to avoid ill fortune.)

The car Anu was driving was found with the doors open, and the keys in the ignition. One of the reasonable assumptions was that Anu had slipped, and dipped herself in the Chicago river, along with the statue.

Four days and upwards of a quarter-million dollars later, Anu showed up. In California.

She'd decided that getting married was a mistake. So, she bummed a ride from a guy she knew, and went to the west coast. She left the car, because it belonged to Dignesh, and she wanted to make a clean break.

Now, she's embarrassed at all the fuss that her disappearance caused. Police and prosecutors will talk over whether she has to be charged for something. If she is, it won't be for running away. As Cook County Sheriff's spokesman Bill Cunningham said: "It's not a crime to deceive your husband and family."

I don't see this incident as the act of people in an intolerant and indifferent society.
  • A Hindu woman, who came to America from India very recently, disappears.
  • Officials of a major city have at least 40 people working round-the-clock to find her, spending over a quarter-million dollars in the process.
  • She shows up, alive and well, explaining that she didn't like being married.
  • And she may not be in legal trouble.
If this is intolerance and indifference, I don't understand the terms. (People practicing Hinduism make up about 0.4% of the American population, and about 0.6% of Americans are "Asian Indians," as the Census Bureau puts it. Anu and Dignesh are members of a really small minority.)

Related posts, on tolerance, bigotry, racism, and hatred.

Pakistan is not America

Benazir Bhutto's party has chosen a new leader. Leaders, actually.

Bhutto's widower, Asif Ali Zardari, and son, Bilawal Bhutto, will pick up where she left off. That's what the Pakistan People's Party, Bhutto's party, said today.

Bilawal, 19, was reading History at Oxford when his mother was killed, and has no political experience. But, his mother was about that age when she got active in Pakistani politics.

Bilawal said that he'd avenge his mother's assassination. He may not have a bloodbath in mind, though. He said: "My mother always said that democracy is the best revenge."

A candidate's spouse picking up where the wife or husband left off is nothing new in American politics. Having a 19-year-old lined up to take national leadership hasn't happened yet in America. And it's not likely to. For starters, there are age limits on that sort of thing.

This should be a wake-up call for Americans who judge what's going on in Pakistan, and the actions of Pakistani leaders, by American standards.

Pakistan is a fine country, but it isn't America. People have a different way of getting things done there.

Posts about Benazir Bhutto.

Brave Words, Prudent Words

When Benzair Bhutto was returning to Pakistan, Baitullah Mehsud said he'd meet her with suicide bombers.

Now Bhutto's dead. Part of the team that killed her was a suicide bomber. And, more Pakistanis have died in the following riots than the suicide bomber killed.

Baitullah Mehsud, Al-Qaeda-linked Pakistani Taliban commander who probably plans to spend the rest of his life in Pakistan, says he didn't do it."

Whether or not he had a hand in the hit, I think that Mehsud is showing good judgment. Apart from a few special-interest groups, I doubt that anyone with a hand in Bhutto's assassination is likely to win Pakistani popularity polls.

Posts about Benazir Bhutto.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

"They're all Muslims" - This Does Not Help

The attitude that "the only good Indian is a dead Indian"1 hasn't gone away. It's just gotten a makeover.

An ex-co-chairman in Giuliani's New Hampshire Veterans for Rudy told a British newspaper, "The Guardian (video)," that Giuliani was best suited to deal with "one of the most difficult problems in current history" — "the rise of the Muslims." John Deady isn't co-chair any more. He's handed in his resignation.

That "rise of the Muslims" remark started a brouhaha that kept getting better. Or worse.

Politicos and their helpers get foot-in-mouth disease regularly, but this was a two-footer. Deady told
  1. The Guardian: "We need to keep the feet to the fire and keep pressing these people until we defeat or chase them back to their caves or, in other words, get rid of them."
  2. Talking Points Memo Web site: "I don't subscribe to the principle that there are good Muslims and bad Muslims. They're all Muslims."
"They're all Muslims"?!! GIVE ME A BREAK! Muslims We are not looking at a monolithic group here.

I'm very concerned at the way that Islam has worked its way into the American presidential campaigns: from the Clinton worker writing that Obama might be a dangerous Muslim to a Giuliani co-chair's "They're all Muslims" exercise in bigotry.

One of the last things America needs right now is to confirm the terrorists' claims that the War on Terror is a war on Islam. "They're all Muslims" is a line that belongs in a B movie, not in a presidential campaign.
The Talking Points memo posts referenced are: "Rudy Campaign Might Ask Surrogate To Resign Over Anti-Muslim Comments" and " Rudy Surrogate: 'I Don't Subscribe To The Principle That There Are Good Muslims And Bad Muslims'"
1 Union General Philip Sheridan didn't actually say that.

At a conference, General Sheridan was introduced to another leader, chief Toch-a-way of the Comanche nation. The chief said, "Me Toch-a-way, me good Indian." The general replied, "The only good Indians I ever saw were dead." Over time, Sheridan's crack wore down to "the only good Indian is a dead Indian."

(About Toch-a-way's syntax: Don't knock it. Few Euro-American people knew the languages Indians spoke - and gestured. Compare Toch-a-way's grasp of English to what an American Senator might do, trying to speak conversational Urdu.)

Related posts, on tolerance, bigotry, racism, and hatred.

Friday, December 28, 2007

After Benazir Bhutto: Grassroots Looters, Official Spinmeisters

The investigation into Benazir Bhutto's assassination seems to be all but wrapped up.

She wasn't killed by bullets or shrapnel. A spokesman for Pakistan's Interior Ministry, Javed Iqbal Cheema, said that all three shots missed. It wasn't the shrapnel, either. It seems that she was ducking into her vehicle when the bomb's shock wave hit her, knocking her head into a lever attached to the sunroof.

That's plausible enough, but a surgeon who was trying to save her life yesterday, Dr. Mussadiq Khan, says that she was killed by shrapnel hitting her skull.

The Pakistan Interior Ministry's report is fast work. Here in America, it can take well over 24 hours to sort out what killed someone. But then, American coroners are generally a meticulous lot, and can get almost obsessive over verifiable facts when a major public official gets assassinated.

I also don't know what cultural values might encourage officials to find a plausible cause of death other than shrapnel or bullets.

Whatever the cause of death was, the Pakistani government seems to have proof that Al Qaeda is behind Bhutto's assassination. The Taliban, too. And they've got a transcript to prove it. The Associated Press (AP) published a copy, translated into English.

One of the people in the conversation is "militant leader Baitullah Mehsud," as the AP put it. We've heard about him before: He's the Pakistani tribal bigwig and Taliban leader who said he'd have suicide bombers ready when Bhutto came back to Pakistan. Looks like he may have kept his word.

Benazir Bhutto's husband would not allow an autopsy. I can understand that: facing a loss like that, many people don't feel like having their loved one's body cut up. On the other hand, an autopsy might have given more evidence about Bhutto's death.

And, while Pakistani government officials give official statements, Pakistanis are looting banks (seven in Multan), setting trains on fire, and burning tires. From the grassroots looters to the official spinmeisters, this isn't Pakistan's finest hour.

On the other hand, I sincerely hope that American leaders don't decide to abandon Pakistan. One of the last things the world needs right now is for a country with nuclear weapons to come under the control of Al Qaeda and/or the Taliban.

Posts about Benazir Bhutto.

Pyrrhic Victory, Anyone? Another Thought on the Bhutto Assassination

Looks like Pakistan's President Musharraf is fingering Al Qaeda in Benazir Bhutto's assassination.

Whoever killed Bhutto, they certainly achieved their short-term goal of killing her. Their longer-term goal was almost certainly to remove a popular, non-Islamist leader who was willing to deal with the "great Satan America."

The bad guys won the battle.

But this may be a case of 'win the battle, lose the war.' People who mourned Bhutto's death chanted, "as long as the moon and sun are alive, so is the name of Bhutto" at the mausoleum in Garhi Khuda Bakhsh.

But, the bad guys created a martyr. I'm not talking about the guy who was probably looking forward to 72 virgins in a celestial whoopee house.
  • Alive, Bhutto might or might not have made an effective Pakistani leader - again.
  • Dead, Bhutto may become a symbol and rallying point for Pakistanis who want something more democratic and tolerant than what the likes of Al Qaeda have to offer.
Bhutto's death could be what it takes, for grassroots leaders in Pakistan to give their country a representative, responsive government.

Related posts, on Individuals and the War on Terror.

Posts about Benazir Bhutto.
(As a one-time historian, I can't help showing off. Gaining a short-term goal at the cost of a long-term goal isn't anything new. Back in the nineteenth century, "Pyrrhic victory" was coined to describe the situation. A little over two millennia ago, the king of Epirus, Pyrrhus, won a battle with Roman forces. "If I win a victory in one more battle with the Romans, I shall not have left a single soldier of those who crossed over with me" was his reaction.)

Al Qaeda: We Killed Bhutto

"AL-QAIDA CLAIMS RESPONSIBILITY" "The Times of India" (December 28, 2007)

That's what Al Qaeda spokesman Mustafa Abu Al-Yazid said.

And a bulletin from FBI and Homeland Security officials to U.S. law enforcement agencies cites Islamist Web sites which said Al Qaeda had claimed responsibility for Bhutto's assassination. And that Al Qaeda's number-2 man, Ayman al-Zawahri, was the planner.

They could be right.

An op-ed piece, "Security Barrier: Pakistan a More Dangerous Place Without Bhutto" claims that Pakistan is an important part of the Al Qaeda network: "As we’ve seen time and again, including in the most recent terrorist attempt in London, if you follow an Al Qaeda-linked terrorist’s road, it often leads back to Islamabad. September 11, the attacks on Madrid, the shoe bomber, the London tube bombers and Glasgow all had connections with Pakistan. The recent Red Mosque siege and now Bhutto’s assassination are just glaring proof that the terrorism nurtured in Pakistan and launched abroad has now come home to roost."

That could be true, too.

The frontier tribal areas of Pakistan are the sort of cultural and economic backwater where Al Qaeda and other Islamic terrorist groups seem to thrive.

If the Pakistani frontier is another Al Qaeda refuge, than helping Pakistan get on its feet is important. Although I'm pretty sure that we'll be hearing about the Chamberlainesque wisdom of side-stepping today's problems in Pakistan.

Posts about Benazir Bhutto.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Benazir Bhutto's Assassination and
Nawaz Sharif's Near-Miss:
It Could be Worse

It's been a busy day in Pakistan.

While campaigning for the Pakistan People's Party, Benazir Bhutto was shot at a rally in Rawalpindi, the city where Pakistan's military has its headquarters. Someone: possibly the assassin, or another attacker, then blew up, killing roughly 20 more people.

Meanwhile, near the Islamabad airport, four supporters of Nawaz Sharif were killed at a rally near the Islamabad airport. Mr. Sharif was about a mile away at the time.

Finger-pointing and Monday-morning quarterbacking is well under way.
  • At the hospital where she died, some Bhutto supporters shouted "dog, Musharraf, dog!" according to a cable news report.
  • Musharraf blames Islamic extremists.
  • TimesOnline suggests that Pakistani warlords or security forces may be responsible.
  • Some in the blogosphere blame America's President Bush.
I don't think that Musharraf would be stupid enough to assassinate a leader with the sort of popular support Bhutto had. Assuming that she won the election, or at least won a plurality, I'd think that he could have made a deal to keep some power. But I could be over-estimating his political smarts.

The situation in Pakistan is bad. A nation with nuclear weapons and the missiles to deliver them
  • An assassination and a near-miss on the same day
  • Pakistan's current leader seems to have very little popular support
  • The borderlands are controlled by warlords who haven't caught up with changes that started with the Magna Carta
But it could be worse.

As easy as it is to be cynical about President Musharraf's apparent plan to delay the January 8 election, it's probably a good idea. With lethal gunfire at one candidate's rally, the leading candidate assassinated, and the President suspected of ordering the assassination, Pakistanis could use a little breathing room to calm down: and find someone to replace Bhutto.

And, I think that Bhutto's assassination shows how little support maniacal Muslims have in the Islamic world. A recent poll in Pakistan showed that about 4% of Pakistani people planned to support religious parties next month.

Islamic terrorists don't seem to be any more of a majority than the 0.0001% or so of Muslims at this year's Hajj who chanted "Death to America! Death to Israel!" at this year's Hajj.

With that sort of grassroots non-support, it should be no surprise that the bonkers elements of Islam depend of hijacked airliners, bombs, and the occasional sword to make their point. They're loud, and lethal, but violence seems to be the only argument they have.

See "Assassination Whodunit: Bhutto Faced Threats From All Militant Groups in Pakistan" (December 27, 2007)

Related posts, on Individuals and the War on Terror.

Posts about Benazir Bhutto.

Benzir Bhutto, June 21, 1953 – December 27, 2007

An assassin killed Benazir Bhutto, former prime minister of Pakistan, at a political rally today. Her supporters are taking it none too well: understandable, under the circumstances.

Some of them, at the hospital where she died, shouted "dog, Musharraf, dog!" according to the news. That must be a translation into English. In my opinion, killing Bhutto would be about the stupidest thing Musharraf could do, but people have pulled bonehead stunts before.

Meanwhile, Benazir Bhutto's family is going through a very rough time. My family and I pray for them. I hope that those who read this will do so, too: and pray for all victims of terrorism.

Related posts, on Individuals and the War on Terror.

Posts about Benazir Bhutto.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Censorship: Watching Governments, and Watching the Watchers

Repressive regimes restricting what their subjects see and hear is nothing new, but McClatchy Newspapers ran "Middle East censors seek to limit Web access" today.

Rulers in the Middle East doesn't have a monopoly on the power in "knowledge is power" to themselves. In fact, the McClatchy article says that some Arab countries have little or no filtering:
  • Lebanon
  • Morocco
  • Jordan
  • Egypt
Egypt may be off the list soon, though. Politicians there are looking at criminalizing some online activity.

I'm no believer in the idea that everyone should have access to all information: online child pornography is, for the most part, illegal in America, and I don't have much of a problem with that. I even think that restricting access to details of troop deployments in wartime is debatably proper.

Reporters without Borders (RWB) gives a global look at how will journalists think they're being treated. RWB's "Predators of Press Freedom" is a sort of rogue's gallery of leaders with an aversion to their subjects getting facts on their own.

RWB is a Paris-based organization with an international flavor, and names to match.
  • French: Reporters sans frontières
  • Spanish: Reporteros Sin Fronteras, or RSF
  • German: Reporter ohne Grenzen or ROG
RWB's "Worldwide Press Freedom Index 2007 / Eritrea ranked last for first time while G8 members, except Russia, recover lost ground" looks like a pretty good ranking resource. On the down side, the list has a built-in bias: rankings are based on questionnaires sent to
  • Freedom of expression Organizations partnered with RWB
  • Correspondents in RWB's network
  • Journalists
  • Researchers
  • Jurists
  • Human rights activists
I take what advocacy groups say with a grain of salt: including the ones I agree with. To RWB's credit, they show how they collected and analyzed the data:The questionnaire was refreshingly objective, overall. I could quibble about a few questions.

For example,
  • "During this time, how many journalists and media assistants: ... 6. Were personally threatened?" I remember the days leading up to a Miller Brewing Company executive getting fired for talking about a "Seinfeld" episode to a colleague of the opposite sex (or should that be 'non-identical gender?'). The threshold of being "threatened" has gotten pretty low at times.
  • "Over the period, was/were there (yes/no): ...Restricted physical or reporting access to any regions of the country (official ban, strict official control etc)?" I think I know what RWB means, but what if a reporter was offended because she wasn't allowed to take photos in part of Peterson Air Force Base?
  • "Over the period, was/were there (yes/no): ...Routine self-censorship in the privately-owned media? Give this a score from 0 (no self-censorship) to 5 (strong self-censorship)?" This has the same problems of interpretation as being "threatened." Again, living in a country where hypersensitivity is close to becoming a right may be coloring my perceptions.
Finally, although the ranked list gives some guide to how tightly the countries control information, the "Evaluation by region" links give a more detailed (and so, I think, better) look at what's going on

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Jews Flee Iran, Fearing Persecution: Sound Familiar?

"Comparisons are odious,"1 but I'll risk making this one.

"40 Iranian Jews Make Exodus from Iran, Arrive in Israel to Escape Dangers" (December 25, 2007) tells how, and why, these Jews left Iran.

One of the covert emigrants "told all his friends where he was going, and they wanted to come along. 'I was scared in Iran as a Jew,' he said. 'I would never be able to wear a skullcap in the streets there.' Others said they felt safe in Iran, discounting warnings that Jews could become targets."

Seeing that headline was "like deja vu all over again" for me. In April of 1933, Chancellor Hitler and his colleagues defined what they meant by "non-Aryan," and what they intended to do about people who weren't part of the herrenvolk.

About three quarters of a century ago, intellectuals and Jews started leaving Germany, before the Nazi regime made life unpleasant and brief.

Today, some Jews are leaving Iran for about the same reason.

There are obvious differences between 1933 and 2007.

For starters, the leaders of Iran aren't Aryan. Actually, they are, but not the way the Nazis used the term.

On the other hand, then and now, nominally-democratic regimes with clearly-defined philosophies are removing people, and ideas, that their leaders don't like.

I'm seriously concerned.
1 Samuel Johnson (1709-1784). The quote, in context, is
"Asked by a Scot what Johnson thought of Scotland: 'That it is a very vile country, to be sure, Sir' 'Well, Sir! (replies the Scot, somewhat mortified), God made it.' Johnson: 'Certainly he did; but we must always remember that he made it for Scotchmen, and comparisons are odious, Mr. S------; but God made hell.' "
(Quotes on Scotland, The Samuel Johnson Sound Bite Page)
Johnson's witticism has been paraphrased to refer to Texas, as well as other places and topics.

Monday, December 24, 2007

72 Virgins! Count Them! 72!
Is This Really What Islam is About?

As an infidel, I'd like to believe that the 'be a martyr, get 72 hot virgins' aspect of Islam wasn't real. Or, that what I've read about it, including rather poetic descriptions of beauty as delicate as the membrane within an egg, was getting misinterpreted.

Today, I saw part of a video aired (quite a bit) by Palestinian Authority television.

A clip is available on YouTube, "Martyr Rewarded with 72 Virgins."

"Media Group Claims Music Video is Sign of Growing Danger in Gaza" tells that, according to a group called Palestinian Media Watch, a music video that got heavy air time before, during Palestinian attacks on Jews, is back.

The music video's story line is easy to follow, and simple yet powerful. Jews kill a young (Muslim) woman. Oddly, she's wearing western clothing.

She's a martyr.

Then, a young (Muslim) man goes to visit her grave, and, you guessed it. Jews kill him.

He's a martyr.

There's a happy ending, though. He's reunited with her in a sort of celestial social club - along with 71 other whoopee girls.


I don't know what to think of this belief that martyred men get 72 martyred women (virgins, of course) as a sort of payoff.

A couple of points, and I'd done for the day.
  1. Is this really what Muslim women have as their highest goal: to be part of the entertainment at an other-worldly blowout?
  2. Does Islam really expect Muslim women to get bumped off at a 72-1 ratio? Or, are the Muslim women in that 24/7 party recruited from all women who make the cut?

Nuclear War in the Middle East: Messy, Lethal, and Brief

Iran's official position has been "Death to Israel!" and "Death to the great Satan America!" since the ayatollahs took over, back in 1979. The country's "peaceful" nuclear program may provide the Islamic Republic with nuclear weapons in the near future: possibly near the end of this decade.

If Iran decides to use nuclear weapons, the odds are that the Supreme Leader and company would start with Israel. A "respected Washington think tank," the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), made an educated guess about what would happen. It's an "estimate," since Israel isn't saying anything about the megaton nuclear bombs they're rumored to have, and Iran's policy, when it's not organizing "Death to Israel!" rallies, is that nuclear program is peaceful. (There's a fairly detailed, if somewhat dated, discussion of Iran's program at Global Security's website.

Lots of people would die.

However, about three weeks after that particular jihad started, Israel would have serious rebuilding to do in Tel Aviv and Haifa, among other places, and over 80% of the people it had before the destruction started.

Iran would have to stage its "Death to the Great Satan America!" rallies somewhere other than Tehran and Tabriz, and I suspect that Natanz and other parts of what used to be Persia would require extensive international aid before survivors could move back. Iran might have 75% of the people it started out with. The CSIS thinks that, for practical purposes, there wouldn't be an Iran any more.

I'm not so sure. People as a whole are resilient. I think the deciding factor is whether surviving Iranians would want to get back to the old hate-the-Jews-and-Yankees Islam, or try something else.

Even best-case estimates don't look good in the CSIS study, as reported:
 Low Estimate High Estimate 
Israeli deaths:200,000(4%)800,000(13%)
Iranian deaths:16,000,000(25%)20,000,000(30%)

Prospects don't look too good for Syria or Egypt, either, if the leaders of those countries decide to try a do-over of the Arab world's 1967 effort to push the Jews into the sea.

I sincerely hope that a war like this never happens.

The appalling death toll would suggest that Iran's leadership wouldn't start a war that would kill so many of their subjects. On the other hand, the ayatollahs might think that they're doing Iranian Muslims a favor: from what I understand of Islam's lunatic fringe, dying in a Jewicidal jihad would earn them a place in the Las-Vegas-style afterlife we've heard about - the 72 virgins and all that.

All things considered, I'd say it would be a good idea to reduce the odds that Iran gets nuclear weapons.

There's more at " 'Israel could survive nuclear war' " (Jerusalem Post), and "Report: Iran Would Suffer Up to 20 Million Casualties in Nuclear War With Israel" (

Sunday, December 23, 2007

EEEK! Guns! Hoplophobia and Foreign Policy

"French Logic, Islamic Reality" [URL no longer valid] is just a sort of cartoon, but the post may have a point.

The "Sear and Hammer" blog has an intriguing definition in its header: "Hoplophobia (n) - mental disturbance characterized by irrational aversion to weapons." 1

The post's picture is a speech balloon with a quote, "Security is the responsibility of the state. I am against the private ownership of firearms. If you are assaulted by an armed burglar, he will use his weapon more effectively than you anyway, so you are risking your life." The speaker is a photo of French president Nikolas Sarkozy. The background image shows a street scene that could have been taken in the Middle East. (The photo was probably taken in one of the French cities where young Muslims have been expressing their feelings about French wisdom and policies in a crudely physical manner.)

The caption reads, "'s that working for you folks?"

How Not to End a War

This reminds me of European leaders' reaction to World Wars I and II. After "the war to end all wars," European leaders pondered how to prevent another conflict. Pooling their wisdom, they decided that the war happened because
  • They'd had weapons
  • They were developing more weapons
  • And it was Germany's fault
So, the assembled luminaries at Versailles arranged punishments for Germany, and assurances that the civilized countries in Europe wouldn't have too many weapons.

Yes, I'm over-simplifying. A lot.

However, I think it's arguable that the Versailles party helped Germany's National Socialist party rise to power, by giving the German people something to be legitimately offended at. On top of that, the peace-loving nations of Europe now didn't have the military power to effectively negotiate with a Germany that wasn't quite so scrupulous about treaty obligations.

So, we got WWII.

'War to End All Wars' Number Two: Lessons Learned?

I'll give European leaders credit. After the Second World War,
  • They formed NATO, a blatantly military alliance
  • Germany got better treatment than after WWI - the half that wasn't given to the former Soviet Union, at least
  • Japan wasn't treated too badly
Some of Japan's international help, a great deal of it from America, was admittedly intrusive. However, the intent was to get Japan re-built and on its feet. Since Japanese industries have been very serious competitors with American and European businesses, from Toyota to Nintendo, it seems that the efforts were successful.

Spirit of Versailles: Still Here

Back in Europe, though, I'd say that the spirit of Versailles is still alive and well in Europe. A plausible explanation for Europe's pervasive negotiate - and - conciliate preference is that the people of Europe got two horrible shocks, a generation apart, and so want to avoid armed conflict at any cost.

Besides, it feels so much nobler to plea for peace and hand out Nobel Peace Prizes, than to engage in the sort of rough and destructive military action that's occasionally necessary when dealing with leaders who are willing to kill and destroy.

Compromise: But Not Always

I don't see myself as a "hawk," politically.

I would very much prefer that conflicts be resolved by all parties sitting down and discussing - calmly, if possible - their differences. That way, a mutually acceptable compromise may be reached.

I've also studied enough history to realize that sometimes compromise isn't the best approach. The people who put the United States of America together in the aftermath of their revolution compromised on the issue of slavery. It took the suppression of another revolution, a century later, to settle the issue.

England's Prime Minister Chamberlain is best-known for his notorious compromise at that Munich meeting in 1938. The peace he won lasted a couple of days. Or, five and a half months, depending on which event you choose as the end of Chamberlain's peace: Germany
  • Entering the Sudetenland on October 1, 1938
  • Invading the remainder of Czechoslovakia, March 15, 1339
Back to the point of this post.

First, a couple of fairly obvious points
  • Peace is nice. It would be nice if everyone would agree to settle differences peacefully.
  • War isn't nice. Things get broken and people die. This is not good.
  • Diplomacy can lead to mutually-acceptable compromise. This is good.
Second, it's hard to shake the impression that America and Europe have leaders and 'experts' who are afraid of weapons. Not sensibly cautious about getting shot by a tanked-up hunter or enthusiastic mugger: being afraid that the guns will shoot them.

Misplaced or exaggerated fear can make people do and write odd things. Palestinian 'activists' have a history of demanding a cease-fire when Israeli forces are hurting them. Then, after they've had a chance to resupply and regroup, it's back to "Death to Israel!"

This week, Hamas asked Israel to stop attacking terrorists. I think we can count on more headlines like "Olmert Rejects Hamas’ Offer of Cease-Fire," with the usual interpretation of unreasonable Jews rejecting peace-loving Palestinians - published by possibly- hoplophobic editors who seem more focused on achieving peace than avoiding genocide. (Yes, I'm biased.)

Third, compromise with others, letting them achieve some of their goals, is important. But sometimes compromise isn't the greatest good.

Finally, compromise with leaders who call for "Death to Israel!" and "Death to the great Satan America!" seems less than prudent.
1 You're not likely to find "hoplophobia" on your bookshelf, uless you've got something like "Contemporary Diagnosis And Management of Anxiety Disorders" (Philip T. Ninan, MD, and Boadie W. Dunlop, MD). The idea that fear of weapons is not normal seems to be one that hasn't gained traction among America's best and brightest.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

The University of Minnesota and the Never-Ending Battle for Tolerance, Sensitivity, and the Academic Way

Christmas is two days away.

For those who are offended by that statement, I suggest enrolling at the University of Minnesota as a student, or applying for a job on the faculty or support staff.

The War on Terror is, to a great extent, a conflict between at least one set of Muslims and the powerful, secular, western civilization they believe is the cause of their problems.

It's reasonable to argue that Muslims on this particular jihad don't really understand western civilization.

I think the same could be said of the self-appointed 'best minds' of western civilization, the people who run America's colleges and Universities. And that concerns me.

One of this season's examples of America's brightest and best (?) at work is discussed in "Reader, beware: 'Seasonal creep' threatening to break out at U," a Katherine Kersten piece in Thursday's Minneapolis, Minnesota, "StarTribune." I've got a few comments of my own.

Now that the University of Minnesota's Office of System Academic Administration has made the U of M safe from "Joy to the Word" and other disturbing songs and ideas, they're moving on to office parties.

The problem with office parties in December, as Ms. Kersten quotes from a U of M official memo, "is that 'celebrations held in December tend to make people think of Christmas, whatever the theme.' And who knows where that could lead?" Even throwing Hannukah and Kwanzaa into the mix isn't good enough. The result is still to Christmasy.

As the memo put it, "an event that is meant to be a seasonal celebration [with no allusion to Christmas] suddenly looks very Christmasy when decorated with green and red." That would be "insensitive."

There's a great deal more in Kersten's column.

I see this U of M memo as another example of academia's curious notion that Christianity is dangerous, or at least insensitive and intolerant (the closest that political correct philosophies can come to the idea of "evil," it seems).

  • America's colleges and universities, to a disturbing degree, are trying to keep our students safe from Christianity
  • Islamic fanatics are trying to kill Americans and other infidels - and insufficiently Islamic* Muslims
  • America relies on graduates from American colleges and universities to analyze and understand the likes of Al Qaeda and the Taliban
It does not fill me with confidence, to know that many of those experts have been taught to fear Santa Claus.

It could be worse. The University of Minnesota could be offering a major - and post-graduate degrees in - Scroogianics.

"Scroogianics" is the study of how Christmas hurts people, together with methods of protecting people from Santa Claus, mistletoe, red and green lights, and other perilous phenomena. This academic discipline, and the name "Scroogianics," is something I made up tonight, as a sort of darkly humorous joke.

It may not be all that funny, though. We could have something like it next year, given the flexible standards academia tends to give people and ideas that they like. Remember how professor Ward Churchill was taken seriously, until public pressure forced the University of Colorado to look up some of his citations?

* 'Insufficiently Islamic' by their standards.

Related posts, on censorship, propaganda, and freedom of speech.
Related posts, on tolerance, bigotry, racism, and hatred.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Blocking Services as Censorship: Who Decides What's Naughty or Nice?

Traditional news media aren't the only ones who may be filtering what people see and read.

1389 AD, a blog with a very well-defined viewpoint about Islam and the War on Terror, has an issue with Websense and that filtering service's - mistakes?

Quoting from a message the blogger sent to Websense: "I request that (Foehammer’s Anvil) be reclassified as a news site. It is currently misclassified as a "games" site.

"There are NO games on Foehammer’s Anvil. Instead, it is a a hard news and commentary site with no fluff."

... "In addition, I request that you also reclassify (Gates of Vienna) as a news and commentary site."

It seems that Websense, a filtering service used by schools and companies to keep students and workers from using the "wrong" websites, uses categories like "news" and "games" to define websites.

Sometimes Websense makes a mistake. That's understandable.

What disturbs me is that Websense apparently is more likely to block a website "by mistake," if that website is what 1389 AD calls "anti-jihadist."

That smacks of censorship, the sort of politically correct "tolerance" that's plagued American culture, particularly academia and the media, for decades.

This latest allegation of deliberate blocking of unwanted opinion and information is, I think, another example of why the best blocking software is what we all carry between our ears.

When I started browsing the Web, I considered using one of these blocking services. Briefly. I decided against it because
  • Those relying on keywords were notoriously ineffective: letting porn through, while blocking innocuous fan sites about Patrick Stewart
  • Category-based services, where human beings make lists, deciding whether websites are naughty or nice, combine the disadvantages of human error and bias
I have no intention of using a blocking service that might block a website because it contained the phrase, "the bell went ding-d***, ding-d***." I also don't want to deal with a service that might be blocking sites because they had incorrect opinions or intolerant facts about the abuse of ADHD anti-American aardvarks, or whatever the crisis of the month was.

It will be a hot Minnesota winter before I let someone else decide what I, or my family, sees.

Related posts, on censorship, propaganda, and freedom of speech.

New on the Blogroll: Muir S. Fairchild Research Information Center

I found Muir S. Fairchild Research Information Center (MSFRIC), while researching for a post today.

The MSFRIC's mission is to connect "the Air University student to the prime information sources in the areas of air, space, and cyberspace power through effective research tools and information professionals." (from "About Us")

"The Muir S. Fairchild Research Information Center web site is provided as a public service by Muir S. Fairchild Research Information Center and the Maxwell Support Division." (From "Privacy and Security Notice")

From what I've seen of this website, it's a no-nonsense, text-heavy, resource designed for use by someone with moderate experience with online research.

As with everything else on the Blogroll, I do not necessarily agree with the opinions and beliefs expressed by the websites and blogs listed. The links are there to help visitors - and me - learn more about issues connected with the War on Terror.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Muslims Chant "Death to America! Death to Israel!" at Hajj Part 2

The previous post uses an Associated Press (AP) news story as its source.

Quite a few new outlets use the AP. A few might run an entire AP story, but in most cases, a news outlet chooses a its own headline, and edits the AP copy. For instance, headlines for the AP Hajj story included: I've written about headlines before. This time, I'll try to be brief.

I made up that "Muslims Chant 'Death to America! Death to Israel!' at Hajj" headline to
  1. Grab attention
  2. Show how a headline can be strictly accurate, but intentionally deceptive
The headline is 'accurate' - there were Muslims chanting "Death to America!" and "Death to Israel!" at Hajj. But the headline gives a very biased impression. About 1 in every 10,000 Muslims engaged in Hajj this year were at the Iranian rally.

So, as I've written before and will probably write again, When reading the news, read the news, not just the headlines - and think about what you're reading.

Muslims Chant Death to America! Death to Israel!" at Hajj Part 1

That headline is 'accurate,' but misleading. Very misleading, I hope. I'll save my ongoing rant about news and truth for the next post.

Muslims from all over the world are at Mecca, for Hajj. It's a very big deal for Muslims, one of the five pillars of Islam: "a pinnacle of worship in order that Muslims who gather to perform Hajj can praise their Lord and Master, be thankful for His blessings, and humbly pray to Him for the removal of their difficulties. Muslims living in various parts of the world get to know each other, lay the foundation of social culture, give advice to each other, and provide opportunity for collective struggle.

I'm a bit disquieted by that "collective struggle" business. It's too close to the 'workers of the world unite, you have nothing to lose but your chains' philosophy I kept running into, back in the "good old days" of the sixties and seventies. (And yes, I know that a better translation is "Proletarians of all countries, Unite!")

However, Hajj predates Marx and Lennin by centuries, and is unquestionably one of the most important, and well-known, aspects of Islam.

It's also a wonderful opportunity for people and organizations to get attention.

For example, one group had "a brief rally held by several hundred Iranian pilgrims, calling on Muslims to unite against the U.S. and Israel, which they said 'dominate the Muslim world.' "

That rally is yearly affair, set up by the Iranian government. This year there were "several hundred Iranian pilgrims" calling the faithful to unite against America and Israel. In a crowd of "millions of Muslims," about 1/10,000 of the Muslims engaged in Hajj were at the Iranian rally

Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei sent an envoy with a message, telling Muslims that "hajj requires them to show love for God and to 'expel, fight and stand up to Satan' -- lessons Muslims 'have to learn all over the world.' " Also that "They are hatching plots in Palestine, Lebanon, Iraq and Afghanistan and pitting one section of Muslims against the other," Supreme Leader's envoy Ayatollah Mohammadi Reyshahri read from the statement.

And, the rally had the usual "Death to America!" and "Death to Israel!" chants against two nations that Iran's leaders say are the enemies of Allah. But, being good Muslims, the Iranian rally didn't have the usual fist shaking. Hajj is, after all, a place where aggressiveness, arguments and disputes are left behind.

I'd like to think that "Death to America!" and "Death to Israel!" - and the assumption that America and Israel are enemies of Allah - are ideas that some Muslims question: but I could be wrong.

Related posts, on Islam, Christianity, Religion, Culture and the War on Terror.

New on the Blogroll:

Researching for another post, I found

This extensive site describes itself as "a humble effort to serve the spiritual, commercial, informational, communication, cultural, educational, economic, political and social needs of the worldwide Islamic community in the 21st century. We are dedicated to make an information portal site on the internet that is pure, clean and 'worthy of its name', InshaAllah."

This looks like a good English-language resource for information about Islam.

As with everything else on the Blogroll, I do not necessarily agree with the opinions and beliefs expressed by the websites and blogs listed. The links are there to help visitors - and me - learn more about issues connected with the War on Terror.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Interrogation, Waterboarding, Rights, and Reality Checks

I harangued earlier today about how The New York Times was forced to correct a news story's alternatively accurate subheadline.

America is a nation of laws, and individual rights are important. I am glad to live in a country where, for the most part, the rules are laws forged in a public forum, not whims of the powerful.

End-justifies-the-means arguments make me uncomfortable.

That said, I'm very concerned that many people in news, media, and politics, seem to have lost track of what happened in the autumn of 2001.

After 9/11, New York City was missing several buildings, and about 3,000 people. The Pentagon lost office space and people, and an airliner full of people didn't do too well that day, either.

Those who conceived and planned the 9/11 attack are, for the most part, still around. And they still hate the guts of Americans, and anyone else they regard as insufficiently Islamic.

The people who keep Al Qaeda, the Taliban, and similar organizations running are dedicated to making the world safe for their sort of Islam. That sounds noble, until you realize that their version if Islam includes practices like honor killings, and executing teenagers who wear trousers.

Their version of Islam will not be safe from the infidel until America, western ideals of freedom and tolerance, and a teddy bear named Mohammed are wiped from the face of the earth.

When interrogated, I doubt that they'll cooperate because they think the interrogator plays chess with them, or is a fine fellow.

Making their life unpleasant, with the prospect of less unpleasantness if they provide useful information, seems a reasonable approach.

I don't believe that people should be treated inappropriately. But westerners, and non-westerners who like to wear trousers, play soccer, or do other 'un-Islamic' things, are in deadly peril.

After the fuss about Guantanamo prisoners being abused by being forced to sit on grass, and being given food that wasn't to their liking, it's a little hard to take claims of abuse and torture seriously. Particularly when the abusees are fanatics who may have information that could save innocent lives.

The New York Times Wrong! Nation's Newspaper of Record Corrects CIA Tapes Story

That headline is an example of the sort of trick The New York Times pulled.

And a pretty good example of why news should be read, not skimmed.

The nation's 'newspaper of record' published "White House Role Was Wider Than It Said" as the subheadline (or deck) of a story about an election-year sound-and-fury exercise about CIA interrogation tapes made in 2002.

Here's what happened:
  • In the spring of 2002, months after the 9/11 attack, CIA interrogated Abu Zubaydah. He was thought to be a top Al Qaeda logistics officer. They weren't polite to him. In fact, he was kept in a cold room and subjected to loud music, and yelled at. According to one of last year's anti-Bush books, Zubaydah turned out to have three distinct personalities, "a boy, a young man and a middle-aged alter ego." The same book says that this nut (nuts?) was (were?) in charge of arranging travel arrangements for wives and children of Al Qaeda men. He also apparently told "what people ate, or wore, or trifling things they said."
  • After information of the tapes of the interrogation was no longer useful, they were destroyed. Aside from taking up space with outdated data, keeping the tapes put the agents involved at risk.
  • Now, with a presidential election coming up, politicos and civil rights professionals are very interested in finding out who ordered the tapes destroyed. The buzz word now is "waterboarding," a sort of mock-drowning. It sounds frighteningly unpleasant at best: not the sort of thing I'd care to experience.
  • The New York Times ran the CIA tapes news story.
The current New York Times headline is "Bush Lawyers Discussed Fate of C.I.A.Tapes." The first two paragraphs read, "WASHINGTON — At least four top White House lawyers took part in discussions with the Central Intelligence Agency between 2003 and 2005 about whether to destroy videotapes showing the secret interrogations of two operatives from Al Qaeda, according to current and former administration and intelligence officials.

"The accounts indicate that the involvement of White House officials in the discussions before the destruction of the tapes in November 2005 was more extensive than Bush administration officials have acknowledged."

The fourth paragraph reads, "It was previously reported that some administration officials had advised against destroying the tapes, but the emerging picture of White House involvement is more complex." (emphasis is mine)

That's right: it's complicated. More than five and a half years after the fact, not everyone involved can remember exactly what they said, and who they said it to. It may be a White House Cover Up, or what a reasonable person might expect from the memories of several human beings.

Some journalist's dream of getting credit for the next Watergate phenomenon may come true as a result of this CIA tapes matter. Eventually, there will be a major scandal that supports the beliefs of papers like The New York Times. It is possible that the destruction of interrogation tapes in 2002 will be that scandal.

On the other hand, it may not.

Whether or not the CIA tapes were destroyed as part of some sinister cover-up, or whether FBI agents' assertions that they were doing fine until the CIA showed up (The Seattle Times), isn't as important, I think, as what this shows about news coverage.

Back in the 19th century, newspapers had very definite editorial viewpoints, and were proud of the fact. The Fargo Argus, for example, was a staunch Republican newspaper: and said so on the front page banner. I enjoyed reading the colorful, unabashedly biased, news stories, back when I was a researcher for a regional historical society.

Somewhere in the 20th century, news organizations decided that they should be unbiased and objective. That's a nice ambition, but I doubt that any combination of human beings could have the omniscience it would take to know, and report, facts and their meaning accurately and completely.

At best, a news outlet might aspire to give a very wide range of viewpoints, and let the reader or viewer sort out the result.

So What?

Knowledge is power. Headlines, and subheadlines or decks, are intended to catch attention - and can be used to give impressions that just aren't so.

Referring to the imaginative subhead, Editor and Publisher quotes The New York Time's Washington, DC, chief, Dean Baquet. He said that the subheadline went a "little farther than the story," the facts were true.

And the lesson is - Don't assume that the headlines, or the subheadlines, are accurate. And remember, those "objective" news stories may not include all the relevant facts. While you're at it, be aware of how the facts are presented: some words and phrases are emotional triggers, like "cover-up," "conspiracy," and "torture" or "abuse."

Remember, a few years ago, when prisoners at Gitmo were being abused, by being forced to sit on grass?

That EOB / Executive Office Building Fire: What's the Big Deal?

As it happened, the EOB / Executive Office Building (more officially, the EEOB, or Eisenhower Executive Building) fire this morning was a relatively minor event. I haven't heard how much damage was done, but only one person got hurt: and the Marine who made a hole in a fifth-floor window with his hands was treated and released.

I wrote quite a long post about the event, earlier this morning.

So, why would I spend so much time on a relatively minor event?
  • It was an attention-grabbing event, and it grabbed my attention.
  • This was a very good 'live-fire' exercise for some people in Washington.
    • The people in the EOB evacuated calmly and effectively. Yes, that includes the U.S. Marine. He was on the fifth floor, had a fire of unknown extent between him and the ground, and made use of the tools on hand - literally - to make an alternative exit. Getting everyone out of an office building with two miles of corridors smoothly and swiftly is no small feat.
    • Emergency responders did a good job, getting a dozen or so vehicles and their crews into a relatively cramped area in minutes.
  • We got a good look at some aspects of how news coverage works.
    • Reporters don't always get it right. Secret Service Agents Keeping Firefighters Out of Burning Building was the gist of the early report. A reality check (by the same reporter) indicated that the agents were making sure that the firefighters really were firefighters - a sensible precaution.
    • News is what happens around reporters. This relatively minor fire got heavy coverage in no small part because it happened across the street from the White House, where reporters are as thick as mosquitoes in a Minnesota summer.
Now, the news:

EOB: Executive Office Building, Near White House, is On Fire

The Eisenhower Office building, AKA Executive Office Building, AKA EOB, is on fire. Not the whole thing, just a couple of rooms on the second floor.

The odds are pretty good that the fire started in the construction that's been going on in the building for the last year or so. It might, or might not, be an electrical fire that got lucky.

The EOB is one of those old nineteenth century buildings, with 18 foot ceilings and four-foot-thick stone walls. Quite a landmark. I hope that the architect's "fire proof" design hasn't been messed with. His building was made of stone, concrete, with some cast iron for decoration.

There's some good news here:
  • The building evacuation was orderly, with people walking, not running - a good, routine, orderly process.
  • The fire seems to be limited to a room or so.
  • Emergency response seems to have been prompt, and thorough: Something like a dozen vehicles showed up.
Something I don't quite understand: One firefighter, inside the building, took a tool to a window pane, broke it out - and then lifted the sash. It seems to me that it would have been faster, and more effective, to just lift the sash.

Now, maybe a half-hour after this news broke on cable, the smoke coming out of the EOB is white - indicating that there's water being put on the fire. And there isn't anywhere as much smoke as before.

The fire isn't out, but it's being dealt with.

More good news:
  • The fire was low-key enough so that firefighters have been able to carry some furniture out - I saw one drape something like a coffee table over a (stone) balcony.
  • The emergency response seemed to be smooth, and by the numbers: quick, orderly, efficient - like it should be.
  • And, according to Homeland Security, the fire is contained.

More facts, and opinions, as they crop up:

News weirdness:
  • About 10:15 Washington time, the report was was that Secret Service, that has offices in the building, was that Secret Service agents were preventing firefighters from getting into the building.

    Reality check: five minutes later, we hear that Secret Service agents are vetting everyone who goes into the building, to make sure that they really should be there. Not a bad idea, considering how many sensitive documents are in there, and what a wonderful opportunity this would be for someone to plant a regrettable device in the EOB. Apparently, fire investigators aren't being allowed in. Not yet.
Background and Details
  • The fire most likely started in an electrical closet near the Vice President's ceremonial office. I hope that room wasn't damaged or defaced by the fire. My guess is that it would be somewhere between difficult and impossible to fix the damage properly these days. We don't make things now, like they did over a hundred years ago. Often, for good reason.
  • Details about the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, from the White House website.
  • Interesting detail: The reporter I heard called it the "Executive Office Building," or EOB; For the White House, it's the "Eisenhower Executive Office Building," or EEOB.
  • That "Eisenhower" part of the name comes from President Eisenhower saving the building from demolition in the fifties. The place has been due for repairs and renovation for decades: and quite a bit of it is getting worked on now.
  • The EOB has been getting upgrades for a long time. In 1900, holes were drilled in the EOB's granite and ironwork to accommodate the War Department's new telephone system (this is the current Fact of the Week from the White House site). It might have been easier to tear the thing down, in the fifties, and then tear that down now, with today's technology in mind. I'm glad the old building was kept, though. I think there's a place for tradition.
  • One injury: a U.S. Marine was on the fifth floor when the fire broke out. With a fire of undetermined extent between him and the ground, he quite reasonably broke out a window. With his hands. He was treated at the scene for lacerations, and refused transport to a hospital.
What's the big deal with this fire, and this post? I'll write about that next.

U.N. Security Council Okays Another Year in Iraq

The headline is "UN Security Council Votes to Extend U.S.-Led Force in Iraq for 1 Year," and the lead paragraph is "The U.N. Security Council voted unanimously Tuesday to extend the U.S.-led multinational force in Iraq for one year, a move that Iraq's prime minister said would be his nation's "final request" for help."

This vote gives the multinational force of 160,000 troops authority to operate in Iraq through 2008.

And I expect to hear more about America "going it alone" in the presidential campaign. I've written about this sort of thing before:

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Iranians at Monkey Point: Economic Development, or Monkeying Around?

There's a major project in the works in Central America that could be good news for Nicaragua and, in the long run, America. But I'm very concerned about what may actually be going at Monkey Point.

Nicaragua, Venezuela, and Iran have teamed up to compete with the Panama Canal. Their plan is to set up a deep-water port at Monkey Point on Nicaragua's east coast and run pipelines, a highway, and a railroad to the Pacific coast.

View Larger Map

In strictly economic terms, the project makes sense: to me, at least. I'd like to see every country with a lively domestic economy, and a lot of foreign trade. My motives aren't entirely disinterested. The more comparatively wealthy a nation is, the more likely the people there are to buy American agricultural products, computers, and all the rest of things American companies make. And that will, indirectly, help me.

Nicaragua's economy isn't doing too well these days. It has:
  • Among the most unequal distribution of income on Earth.
  • The third lowest per capita income in the Western Hemisphere
  • Energy shortages that stunt growth
It's not all bad news in Nicaragua. In addition to the Monkey Point project, Nicaragua's getting getting foreign help:
  • Foreign debt reduction with the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) initiative
  • Over $800 million in debt relief from the Inter-American Development Bank
  • Nicaragua has ratified the US-Central America Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA), which should attract foreign business, creating jobs and economic development
    (and, I suspect, news pieces about exploitation and/or unfair foreign competition
Even though it will probably benefit the Nicaraguan economy, not everybody is happy about what I call the Monkey Point Project.

After the second military helicopter in two days came to Monkey Point, a delegation of Rama Indian and Creole locals wanted to know who had landed on their territory. They didn't appreciate the newcomers' refusal to identify themselves, and expressed their displeasure with machetes.

The locals tell time by the sun and tides, live on fish and jungle animals, and aren't at all eager to be dragged through a few thousand years of economic, political, and technological development.

Besides, quite a few of them fought with Contras against the Nicaraguan President Ortega a few years ago, and might be against an Ortegan project, even if they were in a better position to benefit from it.

The people on Monkey Point aren't the only ones who don't like what's happening on their land. The "San Antonio Express-News" reports that Iran may be planning to use its influence in Nicaragua's Monkey Point Project to stage attacks on America.

The idea of Nicaragua as a staging point for terrorist attacks isn't as crazy as it may seem. The country's about a thousand miles away from the American southern states, with regular, convenient commercial flights between Managua and Miami.

Then, there's the reputation that the three "Monkey Point Project" countries have earned:
  • Nicaragua
    A corrupt government gave way to Marxist Sandanista rule in the late seventies, then free elections in the nineties ended Sandanista rule, but a 2006 election returned (former?) Sandanista Daniel Ortega Saavedra to power
    President Ortega has said that he isn't Marxist any more, and wants peace.
    That may be true: People change, and the Cold War is over. The Department of Homeland Security didn't seem concerned, a few months ago.
  • Venezuela
    More-or-less benevolent generalissimos ran the country for most of the first half of the 20th century. They helped the country's petroleum industry and let some social reforms happen. Elected governments have run the country since 1959. The latest president is Hugo Chavez, who's held the post since 1999. President Chavez has said
    • "I have said it already, I am convinced that the way to build a new and better world is not capitalism. Capitalism leads us straight to hell."
    • "I hereby accuse the North American empire of being the biggest menace to our planet."
    • "A coup happened in Venezuela that was prepared by the U.S. What do they want? Our oil, as they did in Iraq."
    • "The left is back, and it's the only path we have to get out of the spot to which the right has sunken us, ... Socialism builds and capitalism destroys."
    • (In reference to President Bush's September 19, 2006 speech at the U.N.) "The devil came right here... And it still smells of sulfur today."
    • "[The planet] is being destroyed under our own noses by the capitalist model, the destructive engine of development, ... every day there is more hunger, more misery thanks to the neo-liberal, capitalist model."
    If he was a speaker on the American college and university circuit, Hugo Chavez could probably make a good living: although I think he'd have to avoid cracks like that "neo-liberal" remark. As the leader of a nation with significant oil wealth, and one which engages in trafficking in persons - providing women and children for the purposes of sexual exploitation and forced labor to places like Spain, the Netherlands, and Caribbean nations - I'm very uncomfortable with President Chavez's acknowledged beliefs.
  • Iran
    The nation was called Persia until 1935, became an Islamic Republic in 1979, and has been ruled by the Supreme Leader, learned Islamic scholar who answers only to to the Assembly of Experts. The current leadership set the tone for its administration by raiding the U.S. embassy and kidnapping the people inside. The current President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has made it clear that he doesn't want Israel to exist, a preference that quite possibly extends to many infidel nations.
The idea of these three nations cooperating to set up a globally significant transportation system a few hours south of America should be a concern to people who prefer a free market and religious tolerance to what Presidents Chavez and Ahmadinejad offer. As for President Ortega, he may have found a substitute for his Cold War patron in the anti-American and oil-rich rulers of Venezuela and Iran.

Monday, December 17, 2007

"Peace For Our Time," or "Blood, Toil, Tears and Sweat" That Lead to Peace?

The year 2007 is winding down. It's been a big year.
  • Cries to set a date for abandoning Iraq are fading as it becomes embarrassingly obvious that Coalition forces and Iraqis are succeeding in rooting out Al Qaeda in that country.
  • "Islamic" wisdom and justice has been on display, in cases like the "Girl from Qatif" and her male companion who were raped - and therefore convicted to imprisonment and lashes.
  • The many facets of Muslim culture and sensitive infidels brought us
  • Presidential election campaigns are recycling the usual nincompoopery ("Here Come the Weird Words: Election's Coming Up!," "Watch for Weird Words: Election's Coming Up!").
That American election concerns me. First, as an American, I'll need to select a candidate from a somewhat unpromising field. Second, as someone living on Earth, I'll have to live with the decisions that the winner makes.

I think that the most immediate, and critical, foreign policy issue for America - and every other country - is the War on Terror.

On the one hand, religious fanatics have a clear vision of the sort of world they want: one in which Islam is safe from blasphemous teddy bears; and where rape victims face the lash and imprisonment (I know: the Saudi King pardoned the "Girl from Qatif" today - there'll be more on that in another post).

On the other hand, I see a western civilization with a distressing unwillingness to recognize that radical Islam isn't an issue that can be solved with encounter groups and an increase in tolerance.

In my opinion, Islamic leaders will have to decide whether they want the Islam of honor killings, or whether they're willing to wrench their beliefs loose from ancient Middle Eastern cultural norms.

I also believe that western leaders must seriously re-think the sort of radical individualism and secularism that has soaked into every fiber of western culture.

And we need to recognize that the War on Terror
  • Isn't limited to a few countries in the Middle East
  • Probably won't be over for many years (or, likely enough, many decades)
  • Won't be over until an enormous amount of work is done in both Muslim and non-Muslim cultures
The good news is that hard-nosed, clear-eyed leaders do appear now and again. Over sixty years ago, England had such a leader. I'm going to end this post with the end of Winston Churchill's first speech as Prime Minister to the House of Commons.

I hope that America gets a leader with this combination of guts and brains. Soon.

"... I would say to the House, as I said to those who have joined this government: 'I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat.'

"We have before us an ordeal of the most grievous kind. We have before us many, many long months of struggle and of suffering.

"You ask, what is our policy? I can say: It is to wage war, by sea, land and air, with all our might and with all the strength that God can give us; to wage war against a monstrous tyranny, never surpassed in the dark, lamentable catalogue of human crime. That is our policy.

"You ask, what is our aim? I can answer in one word: It is victory, victory at all costs, victory in spite of all terror, victory, however long and hard the road may be; for without victory, there is no survival.

"Let that be realised; no survival for the British Empire, no survival for all that the British Empire has stood for, no survival for the urge and impulse of the ages, that mankind will move forward towards its goal.

"But I take up my task with buoyancy and hope. I feel sure that our cause will not be suffered to fail among men. At this time I feel entitled to claim the aid of all, and I say, "come then, let us go forward together with our united strength."

(Quote from The Churchill Centre (
Blood, Toil, Tears and Sweat
First Speech as Prime Minister, May 13, 1940, to House of Commons.)

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Pakistan's Musharraf Restores Constitution: It's a Start

I'll admit to mild surprise.

Today, Pakistan's president Pervez Musharraf ended his emergency rule of Pakistan, restoring the constitution.

A cynic might assume that he had the constitution tweaked to his (current) satisfaction.

And, elections will be held soon. "The caretaker government is under oath to hold free, fair, transparent and impartial elections to put the country back on track," according to a Pakistani government spokesman. Not surprisingly, there's concern that the election will be "flawed."

I'm no political expert, but I think flaws are a near-certainty. I doubt that there's been a 'flawless' election in any country, in any era. Face it: human beings don't do things 'flawlessly.'

As far as the Pakistani election goes, I'd settle for 'good enough.'

Yankees With Ray Guns: The Advanced Tactical Laser

A megawatt laser with a four-inch-diameter beam that can cut through metal at a range of nine miles. Science fiction when I was growing up, a Boeing Integrated Defense Systems project today.

Boeing's Advanced Tactical Laser (ATL) Advanced Concept Technology Demonstrator ACTD) is a high-energy laser weapon system. In the field, it could be installed in a (large) aircraft in a matter of hours.

The megawatt (roughly) laser beam is 10 centimeters across, with a range of many miles. says it's got the heating power of a blowtorch. Hardly the sort of wallop that Han Solo's Millennium Falcon packed in "Star Wars," but it's still enough energy to be a serious weapon.

This laser cannon could save lives: on all sides.

The ability to focus a great deal of energy on a very small target from a great distance may reduce an advantage that outfits like Al Qaeda have had in the War on Terror.

Up to this point, their habit of hiding behind civilians, setting up operations in residential neighborhoods, has given them better protection than any armor. American forces, and coalition forces in general, do not want to hurt innocent people. "Collateral damage" may be acceptable in some cases, but it's something to be avoided.

When it's ready, this weapon system should be able to burn through a missile launcher and leave the car parked next to it untouched (apart from some singed paint, I suspect).

More about the Advanced Tactical Laser (ATL) and related projects:

Friday, December 14, 2007

Here Come the Weird Words: Election's Coming Up!

Although I've got well-defined opinions about how, and why, American foreign and domestic policy should be run, "Another War-on-Terror Blog" isn't a political blog.

However, since politicians are the ones who decide whether or not America acts sensibly, there are times when I'll write about politics and politicians.

This is one of those times.

One of the people who want to be president got in the news. Mike Huckabee's "America's Priorities in the War on Terror" was published in the January-February issue of "Foreign Affairs."

And, the Associated Press distributed a news article on Huckabee and his article.

The headline:

"(AP) Huckabee Sees WH 'Bunker Mentality'"

Lead paragraph and quotes:

"Mike Huckabee, who has joked about his lack of foreign policy experience, is criticizing the Bush administration's efforts, denouncing a go-it-alone 'arrogant bunker mentality' and questioning decisions on Iraq."

" 'Much like a top high school student, if [the United States] is modest about its abilities and achievements, if it is generous in helping others, it is loved. But if it attempts to dominate others, it is despised,' he writes in the January/February issue of Foreign Affairs."

"... 'The Bush administration's arrogant bunker mentality has been counterproductive at home and abroad. My administration will recognize that the United States' main fight today does not pit us against the world but pits the world against the terrorists.' "

Let's take a look at Huckabee's article.

Here's my summary of the main points on the first page - and my comments:
  • The Bush administration should have done more to "explain Islamic jihadism to the American people."
    Fair enough - but think about what would happen to a politician who started talking openly about Islam, Middle Eastern Culture, and unpleasant realities like the burqa and honor killings
  • America should find an alternative to terrorism that Middle Eastern leaders and people will accept.
    A fine goal - although I suspect that attempts to change the sincerely-held beliefs over there would be attacked as cultural imperialism, or something of the sort.
  • If America uses force, this country should use overwhelming force.
    That makes sense to me - but then, I'm one of those people who believe that tyrannical dictators, serial killers, and other people who live by alternative ethical standards, aren't nice, and don't respond well to perceived weakness.
If you're an American, and plan to vote next November, I suggest that you read the rest of his article.

Particularly since "going it alone" doesn't appear anywhere in Huckabee's article.

(It's almost a dead certainty that "going it alone" is going to surface again, before the election's over. I posted a reality check on the "unilateral" actions of America a few months ago. As I recall, America was out of control and "going it alone," because the French government didn't approve of American foreign policy.)

Now that "going it alone" has risen to the surface, much in the manner of a drowned muskrat, it probably won't be long before "quagmire" pops up, too.

What's the point of all this?

For whatever reason, news articles often aren't particularly complete discussions of the events and issues they touch on. And sometimes, they aren't particularly accurate: or use words like "going it alone" or "communist sympathizer" to affect the reader's reactions.

Reading the news is an important part of a citizen's duty in countries where people vote. But it's not enough.

Analyzing what news outlets decide to publish is important, too. That, and going to the original sources of information when possible.

I wrote about more about words, reality, and politics in "Watch for Weird Words: Election's Coming Up!" (August 9, 2007).

Reconstruction in Iraq: It Could be Worse

So far, this is all "alleged," since the FBI investigation is still in process.
  • Special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction (SIGIR) Stuart Bowen may have inspected his employees' office emails
  • The FBI is inspecting "several issues of possible fraud and abuse" - who's being defrauded and abused isn't clear yet
  • SIGIR Bowen and his deputy, Ginger Cruz, may have used taxes from Americans to pay for their legal defense, starting in 2006
  • The FBI may sniff out whether SIGIR Bowen snookered an earlier investigation into just how much a pricey book about Stuart Bowen's SIGIR accomplishments in Iraq cost - the thing's being compiled by his office
Whatever the results of the investigation are, we can be assured that the Bowen's office is following standard government procedure now. Instead of saying something like, "investigation? We don't know about no stinkin' investigation," a spokeswoman for SIGIR said "I can neither confirm or deny the existence of any investigation. However, no SIGIR official has received notice that they are the subject or target of a criminal investigation." Now, that's traditional governmentalese.

This set of investigations will probably be in the news for a while: particularly since there's a presidential election coming up in November. Odds are pretty good that we'll hear at least some of the following:
  • The Bush administration is punishing SIGIR for revealing waste and abuse in Iraq
  • SIGIR is a ruse, diverting attention from the real sinister stuff going on in Iraq
  • SIGIR is a tool of the administration, covering American involvement in Iraq with a cloak of legitimacy
  • SIGIR somehow represents how America is hurting Iraq
I could be wrong, but election years seem to bring out the lunatic in many people.

A little background: SIGIR is a federal agency, set up by Congress and "serving the American public as a watchdog for fraud, waste, and abuse of funds intended for Iraq reconstruction programs." There needs to be some sort of oversight, with all the money flowing into Iraq.

A few statistics from the SIGIR website (
  • Total relief gone to Iraq as is now over $100 billion USD
  • total attacks on Coalition forces and Iraqis dropped to their lowest levels in over a year (maybe SIGIR is a propaganda tool of the administration!)
  • Total number of audits and total number of inspections by SIGIR is now over 100. (Roughly one audit per billion dollars?!)
There are quite a few reports available at the SIGIR website that might be worth wading through.

I'll admit, freely, that there has been malfeasance in America's efforts to help Iraq recover from three decades of a tyrant's management. The entire operation was run by human beings. And we tend to do bad things, given the opportunity.

However, it could be worse. Think about
  • The Reconstruction in the Old South, with scalawags and carpetbaggers?
  • The Treaty of Versailles, and and its cluelessly idealistic approach to drawing national boundaries on maps of Africa and Asia?
All things considered, I'd say that it would be better to live in Iraq now, than in the Old South a dozen decades ago.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Canadian Teen Killed by Muslim Father - Over Scarf: Maybe - And This Isn't News?

Here's what we know:
  • Aqsa Parvez's father called authorities on Monday.
  • He said that he had killed her.
  • When police arrived, the 16-year-old was still alive, so they rushed her to a hospital
  • Then she died.
Her friends say that her father killed her because she wouldn't wear a hijab, or traditional head scarf. The police are, quite properly, not discussing what Aqsa's father had in mind when he murdered his daughter.

The Canadian Islamic Congress made an interesting statement: "I don't want the public to think that this is really an Islamic issue or an immigrant issue," is how the CIC's Mohamed Elmasry put it. "It is a teenager issue."

"Teenage issue." I don't think that Mr. Elmasry was trying to say that filicide is a normal part of the teenage experience in Canada, but I could be wrong.

The phrase "honor killing" didn't show up in either "news" online source I found for this incident. Although a comment on the 'news-blog' did bring up the point. I think, and hope, that this is another case of Islamic values and cultural values getting confused. (See "Is the War on Terror a War on Islam? Not Quite.")

I only found this item on two national-scale, news sources. And one of those was a blog:USA Today blog and Fox News, so it may not be important. Or, maybe this is another incident that doesn't fall under the 'all the news we want to print' standards.

Related posts, on Islam, Christianity, Religion, Culture and the War on Terror.

Lebanon Loses Another Leader: General Hajj

The Lebanese military has been studiously neutral in their country's politics.

Early today, General Francois Hajj and several other Lebanese soldiers were killed by a 77-pound bomb. They were driving in a Christian neighborhood near Beirut.
  • Lebanese politicos who don't approve of Syria say Syrian ordered the hit.
  • Lebanese politicos who welcome Syria's influence in Lebanon say, "did not!"
  • The Lebanese military say that the attack is a bad thing, and that they don't know who is responsible: yet.
So far, business as usual.

Getting assassinated is a chance people take, when they become important Lebanese leaders. General Francois Hajj is the ninth is a series of hits, starting with the truck bomb that killed Rafik Hariri in February of 2005. Even a United Nations investigation said that the Hariri hit may have involved Syrian officials.

It does seem that there's a correlation for Lebanese leaders, between wanting Syria out of Lebanon, and getting killed.

Finally, a few interesting details
  • General Francois Hajj was a Maronite Catholic
  • The bomb that killed him was a traditional car bomb: 77 pounds of explosives packed into a BMW, in this case

Unique, innovative candles

Visit us online:
Spiral Light CandleFind a Retailer
Spiral Light Candle Store


Note! Although I believe that these websites and blogs are useful resources for understanding the War on Terror, I do not necessarily agree with their opinions. 1 1 Given a recent misunderstanding of the phrase "useful resources," a clarification: I do not limit my reading to resources which support my views, or even to those which appear to be accurate. Reading opinions contrary to what I believed has been very useful at times: sometimes verifying my previous assumptions, sometimes encouraging me to change them.

Even resources which, in my opinion, are simply inaccurate are sometimes useful: these can give valuable insights into why some people or groups believe what they do.

In short, It is my opinion that some of the resources in this blogroll are neither accurate, nor unbiased. I do, however, believe that they are useful in understanding the War on Terror, the many versions of Islam, terrorism, and related topics.