Saturday, May 31, 2008

Do We Really Want These Guys in Charge?

Wouldn't it be nice, if everyone would be nice?

Can't argue with that. It would be - nice.

But everyone isn't nice. Decisions should be made on the basis of that unpleasant reality.

In the American presidential election, debates and sound bites are covering predictable ground: basically, that the current Administration made up stories about the Iraqi nuclear weapons program, and used that as an excuse to unilaterally invade Iraq. On the up side, one guy is making money with a tell-all book on the subject. You've got to hand it to McClellan: his timing, for the release of his book, was about as good as it could have been.

Again, this blog isn't political, but what the politicos do affects the world we live in. And, with rather wild tales of subversive plots bouncing around, I think it's time to look around, and see what the world is really like. Parts of it, anyway.

Burma / Myanmar

Sometimes I'm happy to be wrong. Two weeks ago, it looked like a cholera epidemic had started in Burma (or Myanmar, or whatever) ("It Has Begun: Cholera in Burma / Myanmar" (May 16, 2008)). So far, we haven't heard of massive death tolls from cholera in that country.

Of course, we haven't heard much of anything. Except now the U.N. reports that the junta that runs Burma, and wants everyone to call it Myanmar, is forcing people out of the refugee camps and back into what's left of their homes. Which is rough, since they don't always get rations, and the cyclone didn't leave much 'home' to go back to.


About 60 people murdered by that country's military in 1984 are being dug up. They're some of the 123 people killed in the 1984 Putis massacre.

At that, Peru is a success story. Of a sort. After the 'democratic' government of Peru went after Shining Path (Sndero Luminoso or SL) guerrillas (Maoist flavor) and other threats to its rule and/or Peru's citizenry, Peruvians got sick and tired of being pushed around: and occasionally dumped into graves they'd been forced to dig.

There's a 'truth commission' going around, digging up evidence - and bodies - in an effort to sort out what actually happened. "Paz y Esperanza, which provides legal counseling for victims' relatives, said that the Defense Ministry has refused to provide information on the soldiers who were involved in the massacre."

The indiscriminate slaughter seems to have ebbed somewhat. And yes: I'm quite sure that some American/CIA plot is supposed to be behind it all. America is a big country, and does deal with quite a few countries: some of which don't have very nice leaders. That doesn't make America responsible for what those leaders do.


This country's leader, Saddam Hussein, was removed 'unilaterally' by America: and over two dozen other countries. The news is full of the current chaotic state of Iraq - Sunnis and Shiites alike agree on one thing: 'Yankee Go Home!' Or, as CNN wrote about discussions of American-Iraqi security arrangements: "Many Iraqis suspect it could lead to the establishment of bases, a long-term presence of American troops, and a weakening of Iraqi government control of foreign troops. Powerful Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr has said any such agreement should be put to a popular referendum.... "

'Iraq would be safely under the leadership of Saddam Hussein, if the current American administration hadn't lied about the Iraqi nuclear program.' That's the line I've been hearing for a few days. Oddly, quite a few people believed that Saddam's regime had, or would soon have, nuclear weapons. And, reasonably enough, didn't want to wait until some of their cities got instant urban renewal.

I think that semantics play a part here. Quite a few people don't seem to understand the difference between a lie and a false statement. A lie is a false statement made deliberately. A false statement is just that: a statement which is not factual. Human beings can and do make mistakes. Even Americans make mistakes. Quite often, in fact.

The World Isn't Perfect: Live With It

I read an op ed in the International Herald Tribune this morning that started with: "For the past 40 years, the world has tolerated one outrage after another against the people of Burma by a succession of military dictatorships. Imprisonment, executions and brutal suppression of any dissent have been the way of life in Burma for more than a generation, while the junta's neighbors, supporters and critics alike, have only made lame excuses for doing nothing."

The author does have a point. The junta that's running Burma is bad for the country, and bad for the country's people. He raises a sensible (and rhetorical) question, "will the international community remove the generals while there is still a chance to save lives?"

My answer is, no. Certainly not if by "international community" he means the United Nations. The United Nations is good at some things, but decisive action against tyrants isn't one of them. I'm pretty sure that the United Nations' approach to solving the Burma mess would go like this:
  1. Request that 'ousting the Burmese junta' be brought up in the next U.N. Security Council meeting (I believe that might be the appropriate body)
  2. Prepare speeches for the meeting
  3. Address the U.N. Security Council, when an opening in the agenda became available
  4. Prepare responses to objections raised (probably by China)
  5. Go To Step 3
If that sounds familiar, you've either been keeping track of the United Nations, or read my post of April 26, 2008.

I'm not entirely convinced that this is the time to get rid of the junta that's been running Burma. But I'm not convinced that it's impossible, either.

The International Community, America, and Tyrants

Many seem to forget that the 'international community' and the United Nations isn't the same thing. Well over two dozen other countries were involved when America was "going it alone" unilaterally" in Iraq. from Albania to the United Kingdom.

What it took then was a strong nation to lead a sizable fraction of the other countries on Earth in an effort to oust a dictator who was reasonably suspected of having weapons of mass destruction.

Even though the WMD program wasn't found, I submit that Iraq is better off without Saddam than with the tyrant and his colorful sons.

Without a country like America, the world would most likely be a patchwork of alliances, each dominated by whichever warlord was least ineffective at using guns and leadership.

Given a choice between a world
  1. Run by the likes of
    • The House of Saud (among the most enlightened old-school monarchies around) or
    • Burma's junta
  2. Where diplomats squabble in the United Nations while America provides a rallying point for countries that give a rip
I'll take option 2.

Sources and background:

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Army Takes Down Crosses at Kosovo Chapel: Sentiment, Regulations, and Common Sense

Somebody set up three crosses and a commemorative sign outside a U.S. Army chapel in Kosovo. We don't know who, but the crosses and the sign have to go. And, oddly, I think there's a good reason for it.

And it's not because the Army Chaplain honored, Lieutenant Colonel Gordon Oglesby, was Baptist and I'm Catholic. Actually, I think that memorial was a touching tribute to someone who sounds like a very dedicated man.

I also think that the U.S. Army is right to take them down. This time, regulations make sense.

Here's how the article starts:

"Army to Remove Memorial Sign and Crosses From Chapel in Kosovo Camp"
FOXNews (May 29, 2008)
  • "Army officials say they are only following regulations, but their plans to remove a memorial to a U.S. chaplain at a camp in Kosovo have shocked and saddened his widow.
  • "Elizabeth Oglesby said she was "a little bit sad" when told her a sign honoring her late husband, Army Chaplain (Lt. Col.) Gordon Oglesby, would be removed from the North Chapel at Camp Bondsteel in Kosovo.
  • "The sign, as well as three crosses, are being removed to put the chapel in line with Army regulations, said Lt. Col. William D. Jenkins of the 35th Infantry Division's Kosovo Force 9."
Farther down in the article, I read explanations for why the crosses and sign had to go.

"Army regulations prohibit chapels from being 'named for any person, living or dead, or designated by a name or term suggesting any distinctive faith group,' [35th Infantry Division's Kosovo Force 9] Jenkins said."

There's a good reason for having a regulation like that. Many American citizens are Christian, but quite a few are Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, have other beliefs, or no religious beliefs at all. And people from any of these groups are likely to be in the American military.
  • " 'This is not a new regulation and exists to protect the free exercise of religion of all soldiers,' Jenkins said.
  • "Army regulations require the exterior of military chapels to remain free of religious symbols.
  • " 'The interior of each U.S. Army chapel reflects faith-specific signs, symbols, etc., during each faith group's service so that their faith is fully represented during their service,' Jenkins said. 'The exterior of Army chapels is a different matter since the chapels are used by many different faith groups.'
  • "The crosses will be replaced with a stone monument bearing the name of the chapel and the crest of the U.S. Army Chaplain Corps, Jenkins said.
  • "He said the removed crosses will be used by chaplains during special services like the sunrise service. The memorial sign will be returned to Oglesby's unit, the 36th Division."
When it's over:
  • The Kosovo chapel will be usable by whoever needs it
  • Chaplain Oglesby's memory will be honored by the sign that had been on the chapel
  • The three crosses will be available for use
Sounds reasonable to me.

As to what the more brittle columnists and bloggers will make of this bit of news: I think we get an idea of that from Michelle Malkin's reaction to a scarf.

Rachael Ray, Dunkin' Donuts, Michelle Malkin, and Common Sense

(The news media weren't as inventive as I feared they might be: see Update at the end of this post.)

Let's start with a little quiz:
  • Rachael Ray
  • Dunkin' Donuts
  • Michelle Malkin
  • Common Sense
What item does not belong with the others?

Dunkin' Donuts decision to pull an ad that Michelle Malkin and (apparently) quite a number of casual observers didn't like is still in the news. "Dunkin' Donuts pulls Rachael Ray ad over 'terror' controversy" (CNN (May 29, 2008) discusses the matter from a business perspective. [February 16, 2009: This article is no longer available]

And, the journalists are still getting it wrong.

Journalists Quoting Reporters Quoting Columnists?

The CNN article's lead is factual: "The coffee and baked goods chain removes an online spot where Ray wears a fringed black-and-white scarf that critics complain looked like a kaffiyeh, the traditional Arab headdress."

CNN also displays a screenshot of the 'terrorist' scarf, which I think is vital in an article about the appearance of something.

(from CNN, used w/o permission)
[February 16, 2009: This image is no longer available]

After that good start, CNN repeats a quote that they claim is from Michelle Malkin's column of May 23, 2008:

"The kaffiyeh, Malkin wrote in a column posted online last Friday, 'has come to symbolize murderous Palestinian jihad. Popularized by Yasser Arafat and a regular adornment of Muslim terrorists appearing in beheading and hostage-taking videos, the apparel has been mainstreamed by both ignorant [and not-so-ignorant] fashion designers, celebrities, and left-wing icons.' "
(from previously cited CNN article)

The only problem is that Michelle Malkin's post, "Of donuts and dumb celebrities" (May 23, 2008), does not contain those words. At least, not in that order.

The nearest approximation to the CNN "quote" is in a comment to the post:

"Look, the kaffiyeh has a *direct* association with Palestinian violent action against Jews and Westerners that goes back at least 40 years. Yassir Arafat himself popularized the use of the keffiyeh in direct conjunction with his terror campaigns. Many, many, many innocent people have been brutally murdered under that black and white emblem".

I'll admit that Michelle Malkin could have edited that passage out after the journalists read it, but I doubt it. If she had re-written her post, that would have been bigger news than the original Rachael Ray / Dunkin' Donuts debacle. The headlines would practically write themselves: "Conservative Columnist Cover-Up," "Malkin Re-Writes Controversial Post."

An earlier claim that Malkin had written that particular claptrap is in an MSNBC article, posted yesterday, which contains a portion of the CNN quote: "popularized by Yasser Arafat and a regular adornment of Muslim terrorists appearing in beheading and hostage-taking videos." That seems to indicate that both articles are drawing from the same source.

MSNBC might have gotten its material from either of these articles:
  • "Dunkin' Donuts yanks Rachael Ray ad
    (Boston Globe (May 28, 2008))
    "By Carol Beggy and Mark Shanahan Globe Staff / May 28, 2008"
    • " 'The keffiyeh, for the clueless, is the traditional scarf of Arab men that has come to symbolize murderous Palestinian jihad,' Malkin yowls in her syndicated column. 'Popularized by Yasser Arafat and a regular adornment of Muslim terrorists appearing in beheading and hostage-taking videos, the apparel has been mainstreamed by both ignorant and not-so-ignorant fashion designers, celebrities, and left-wing icons.' "
  • ""Rachael Ray Involved in Keffiyeh Controversy"
    (The Hollywood Gossip (May 28, 2008))
    "Posted at May 28th, 2008 12:55 pm by mischalova
    Filed under: Rachael Ray" .
    • " 'The keffiyeh, for the clueless, is the traditional scarf of Arab men that has come to symbolize murderous Palestinian jihad,' Malkin wrote in her syndicated column. 'Popularized by Yasser Arafat and a regular adornment of Muslim terrorists appearing in beheading and hostage-taking videos, the apparel has been mainstreamed by both ignorant and not-so-ignorant fashion designers, celebrities, and left-wing icons.' "
The Boston Globe article does not have a time stamp, as far as I could see, so it's hard to tell which of these actually came first.

Of course, it's possible that CNN, MSNBC, The Boston Globe, and The Hollywood Gossip all got their material, including the ersatz quote, from a source I wasn't able to find.

A Clueless Conservative Columnist and Cultural Awareness

However fictional the details may be, mainstream news got one thing right. Michelle Malkin posted a column that deserves a place in the Clueless Hall of Fame. (If the CHF doesn't exist, it should. Although it would be a crowded place.)

Michelle Malkin clearly wanted her readers to believe that Rachael Ray and Dunkin' Donuts were promoting Palestinian terrorism with a paisley scarf.

She may actually believe that the scarf is a keffiyeh, and have been unable to perceive the obvious differences between the scarf's pattern and that on the keffiyeh worn by Yasser Arafat.

She may even be correct in her assertion that many people on the coasts identify that sort of headgear with terrorism.

But to make the claim that Dunkin' Donuts was promoting terrorism - without checking the facts - showed abysmal judgment, at best.

Back when I was growing up, before Telstar, Michelle Malkin's egregious blunder might have been more forgivable.

And, back then, Rachael Ray's scarf wouldn't have gotten someone's attention. Odds are that, if that photo had been in a magazine, some nut would have taken the trees as cherry trees in blossom - and a symbol of Japanese Imperialism.

These days, particularly with so much attention focused on the Middle East, it's hard not to see dozens, hundreds, of men in the everyday clothing of that part of the world.

Noticing what's seen is something else.

Patterns on the kaffiyeh aren't all alike, and I noticed that men with the same pattern seemed to form groups more often than those with different patterns. My working hypothesis has been that the patterns are similar to the tartans of my Scots ancestors, indicating membership in some kinship group.

I'm impressed, not positively, that Michelle Malkin missed that detail.

I'm even more impressed that, on top of everything else, Michelle Malkin consistently misspelled Rachael Ray's name. According to Michelle Malkin, the Food Network personality's name is "Rachel Ray."

And, I'm embarrassed to admit that I picked up that mis-spelling in my post on this topic yesterday. It's corrected now, except where I quoted from Malkin's column. There, following my standards, I repeated the words of the source: not what I thought the words should be.

Previous post on this topic:

"Rachael Ray and Yasser Arafat? GET A GRIP!"
(May 29, 2008)

Key to the quiz:

Answer to the quiz:
  • Rachael Ray
  • Dunkin' Donuts
  • Michelle Malkin
  • Common Sense
What item does not belong with the others?

Answer: Michelle Malkin. This conservative columnist didn't do some simple, fast, research before posting that May 23 column. Therefore, her name does not belong in a list that includes the term "common sense."

Mainstream news media didn't do their research, either, but that's another matter.
UPDATE May 29, 2008

Thanks to techfun, a fellow-member of BlogCatalog, who pointed out the actual source of the quote that was being referenced by news articles. It's from a post in "Rachael Ray, Dunkin' Donuts and the Keffiyeh Kerfuffle " (May 28, 2008)

That's right: May 28, 2008. Not the May 23 post that reporters seemed to be referring to.

That's a relief. Whatever I think about the habit of reporters and editors to pick which facts they like, and which they don't, I've assumed that what they identified as a facts were, indeed facts.

The possibility that mainstream news media had repeated an unsourced quote - and not bothered to check an online source - was extremely disturbing. I'm glad to see that the quote actually did come from Michelle Malkin.

As for Michelle Malkin's remarks: I still think that she needs to learn that people in other parts of the world 'dress funny,' and that sometimes celebrity endorsements are made by people wearing contemporary fashions.

earthlingorgeous, another BlogCatalog member, had this observation on Rachael Ray's outfit: "It's not a terrorist scarf FYI it's the traditional design and for women to wear it it's called a Krama."

That's from a discussion thread I started: "Rachael Ray, a 'Kaffiyeh,' and a Plea for Help" (BlogCatalog discussion thread (started May 29, 2008)).

Rachael Ray and Yasser Arafat? GET A GRIP!

Please, people: think!

I realize that it is a challenge to come up with a new column on schedule, but I would have hoped that Michelle Malkin, or anyone else who gets paid to crank out words, would take a deep breath, think, and maybe use common sense and a search engine before turning in a column.

This week's prize piece of runaway cluelessness may be Michelle Malkin's identification of a scarf worn by Rachael Ray in a Dunkin Donuts commercial as a symbol of terrorism.

Ignorant Column, Misquoting Journalists

"Rachael Ray ad pulled as pundit sees terror link"
MSNBC (May. 28, 2008)
  • "Malkin claimed scarf similar to those worn by murderous Islamic extremists"
  • "Dunkin' Donuts pulled a television spot featuring talk show host and Food Network personality Rachael Ray this weekend after a Fox news commentator associated it with terrorists.
  • "In the ad, Ray is wearing a scarf that Michelle Malkin said in her nationally syndicated column resembled a kiffiyeh, Middle Eastern garb that is 'popularized by Yasser Arafat and a regular adornment of Muslim terrorists appearing in beheading and hostage-taking videos.' " ...
Funny. I thought that Michelle Malkin was a columnist who appeared on Fox News: Now I see that MSNBC identifies her as a "Fox news commentator."

Michelle Malkin's column doesn't appear on the website, but the website does include an Associated Press article about the mess ("Dunkin' Donuts Pulls Rachael Ray Ad Over 'Terror' Symbolism" FoxNEWS (May 28, 2008)).

The column that started this exercise in nonsense, and has cost Dunkin Donuts a great deal, is "Of donuts and dumb celebrities" Michelle Malkin (May 23, 2008))
  • "Sigh. You all know I've been a fan of Dunkin Donuts for quite some time–and have touted their strong position in favor of immigration enforcement.
  • "Charles Johnson notes, and many readers have e-mailed about, Dunkin Donuts' spokeswoman Rachel Ray’s clueless sporting of a jihadi chic keffiyeh in a recent DD ad campaign. I'm hoping her hate couture choice was spurred more by ignorance than ideology.
I'll admit that "hate couture" is a moderately well-turned phrase. Other than that, the Malkin column seems to be clueless blather.

It would be different, if the scarf that Rachael Ray wore bore a serious resemblance to the kaffiyeh worn by the late Yasser Arafat.

It doesn't. Not to my eyes, anyway. Sure, both are black and white, and have a generally rectilinear pattern. But that's as far as the resemblance goes. Even the ratio of black to white is visibly different.

MSNBC doesn't come out much better. That quote ("popularized by Yasser Arafat and a regular adornment of Muslim terrorsts appearing in beheading and hostage-taking videos") that presumably came from Malkin's column does not appear in the column. Granted, it might have been edited out later - but a blatant bit of clumsy cover-up like that would have been a bigger story than the original.

The closest to MSNBC's purported quote is in a comment to the column: "Look, the kaffiyeh has a *direct* association with Palestinian violent action against Jews and Westerners that goes back at least 40 years. Yassir Arafat himself popularized the use of the keffiyeh in direct conjunction with his terror campaigns. Many, many, many innocent people have been brutally murdered under that black and white emblem"

Keffiyeh: a Symbol of Terrorism?

Doing a little checking for this post, I think I can see why Michelle Malkin might have blundered. "Where Some See Fashion, Others See Politics" (The New York Times (February 11, 2007)) describes how the kaffiyeh had become a fashion statement in some circles. I'm no expert, but I think the Times writer goofed, describing Arafat's 'chainlink' pattern as being the standard in the Arab world. I've seen many variations, in news footage.

Seeing pictures of Yasser Arafat in a kaffiyeh, and seeing knockoffs on fashion-conscious westerners, thinking that any black-and-white tasseled cloth is an Arafat kaffiyeh almost makes sense.

Almost, but not quite.

First, and most important, there isn't all that much resemblance between what Rachael Ray wore, and the sort of kaffiyeh worn by Yasser Arafat.

Second, I don't see much evidence that kaffiyehs (I know: that's probably not the correct plural form) are unique to terrorists. Identifying a presumed kaffiyeh as symbolic of terrorism is not merely ignorant: it is a feat of ignorance on a heroic scale.

I had assumed, from what I saw on news and documentary footage from the Middle East, that patterns on a kaffiyeh indicated membership in a kinship group. That assumption is based in large part on the habit some of my ancestors had, of wearing tartans which identified their clan.

I've been able to find nothing about the significance of the kaffiyeh patterns, but have found sources which show that the 'Arafat pattern' isn't the only one in use.

Finally: a look at Rachael Ray's scarf, the kaffiyeh on Arafat's head, and others:

(from MSNBC, used w/o permission
Screen shot of the Rachael Ray ad, with the 'terrorist' scarf.

(from CBC Yasser Arafat obituary, used w/o permission)
Pictures of Yasser Arafat, at about the same scale as the Rachael Ray picture, and one showing more detail of his kiffiyeh.

Other kaffiyeh patterns:

(from Dolls Clothes, used w/o permission)

(From The New York Times, used w/o permission)

(From Corbis, used w/o permission)

Another post on this topic:

"Rachael Ray, Dunkin' Donuts, Michelle Malkin, and Common Sense"
(May 29, 2008)

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Another Fortnight, and Still No Quagmires

Another two weeks has passed, and I still haven't heard "quagmire" come out of a politico or campaigner. With just a little over five months to go before the America election, that's a good sign.

I noted the campaign's quagmirelessness back in "Lies, Quagmires, and Straight Thinking" (May 14, 2008). There's a more detailed discussion of "quagmire" and political rhetoric in "Quagmire: Now and Forever, it Seems" (November 11, 2007), with links to earlier related posts. (I hope it's simply political rhetoric, and that the 'quagmire' people don't actually think in those rather dated terms.)

It's Biased, Funny, and Worth Thinking About

I've said it before, I'll say it again: "Another War-on-Terror Blog" is not a political blog. I do, however, have very well-defined ideas about what is and is not reasonable behavior and decision-making.

I ran into a post on another blog last night that gave me a much-needed laugh. The blog itself is very biased, and makes generalizations about the Democratic Party that may not be valid.

Just the same, "21 WAYS TO BE A GOOD DEMOCRAT" describes a sort of person that I recognized, mostly from my college days and my sojourn in San Francisco. You'll probably recognize the all-too-accurate definition of the typical dedicated liberal, too: unless you hold such views yourself.

Aside from the entertainment value, that post is a good reminder - to everyone - that assumptions should be reviewed and assessed once in a while. Particularly one's own.

  • "You have to be against capital punishment, but support abortion on demand.
  • "You have to believe that businesses create oppression and governments create prosperity.
  • "You have to believe that there was no art before Federal funding.
  • "You have to believe that global temperatures are less affected by cyclical documented changes in the earth's climate and more affected by soccer moms driving SUV's.
  • "You have to believe that hunters don't care about nature, but loony activists who have never been outside of San Francisco do.
  • "You have to believe that self-esteem is more important than actually doing something to earn it.
  • "You have to believe the NRA is bad because it supports certain parts of the Constitution, while the ACLU is good because it supports certain parts of the Constitution.
  • "You have to believe that Margaret Sanger and Gloria Steinem are more important to American history than Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Edison, and A.G. Bell.
  • "You have to believe that standardized tests are racist, but racial quotas and set-asides are not.
  • "You have to believe that homosexual parades displaying drag, transvestites, and bestiality should be constitutionally protected, and manger scenes at Christmas should be illegal.
  • "You have to believe that this message is a part of a vast, right wing conspiracy.
"Ready to vote???"

That "Ready to vote???" is a mildly-scary reminder that Americans will be selecting leaders this November: including a president.

democrat=socialist (December 30, 2007)

The blog has changed its URL recently, but the blogger apparently intends to maintain the old posts as a sort of legacy blog. New URL:

Friday, May 23, 2008

Saudi Arabia Finally Gives to WFP: Is This the Image Islam Wants to Project?

"WFP completes $755 million appeal with Saudi pledge"
World Food Programme (May 23, 2008)

"Rome, 23 May 2008 - The World Food Programme has met its extraordinary call for US$755 million to compensate for the increased costs of food and fuel with a US$500 million donation from The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, received yesterday and announced today.

" 'We turned to the world to help the hungry and the world has been generous, said Executive Director Josette Sheeran. 'This is an example of what humanitarians around the world can do when we come together to address problems that affect us all.' ... "

" 'The Saudi donation will keep many people from dying, others from slipping into malnutrition and disease, and will even help to stave off civil unrest,' Sheeran said.

"The half-billion dollar contribution puts the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia at the forefront of the large-scale, high-level, multilateral UN action by the global community, focused on emergency and longer-term solutions to the high food and fuel price crisis which is sweeping the globe. Rising food costs have left in their wake increased levels of hunger and poverty – and in some cases - provoking riots and destabilising governments."

How Noble! How Generous! How Late!

I'm not a huge fan of the United Nations, and don't regard that organization as the only way to help people around the world.

That said, many people do see the United Nations as important, and regard support of United Nations programs as a measure of compassion and social responsibility. Which would make America and Japan the most socially responsible countries on the planet. America bankrolls 22% of the United Nations budget, Japan gives 19.47%, and every other nation gives less. (That's $1.42 a year per citizen for America, $3.94 for Japan: and that's for another post, maybe.)

Although I regard support of the United Nations as a measure of a government's compassion and social responsibility, I don't regard it as the only measure. It's quite possible to send aid and comfort to needy people, without working through the United Nation's bureaucracy.

However, supporting the United Nations and its programs does seem important to maintaining an image of being a caring nation.

That's why it was so odd that Saudi Arabia had given nothing to the United Nation's World Food Program, or WFP, in response to an urgent appeal this April. As of May 18, 2008, Saudi Arabia, whose king is Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, had given exactly nothing. Nothing, that is, until an upstart news network defied tradition and published articles about Saudi and OPEC behavior ("A Gulf in Giving: Oil-Rich States Starve the World Food Program" (May 9, 2008), "OPEC Stands Silent While Oil Prices Spark Food Riots In Neighboring Egypt" (May 14, 2008), FoxNEWS).

The WFP, along with programs like the UN Development Program and the UN Children's Fund, get their money by "voluntary funding," which means that member states choose which programs they fund - and which they don't.

The United States decided to give $362,700,000 USD to WFP through May 4. Then, after the appeal for more funds, the American administration chose to spend an additional $250,000,000 USD. That's a total of $612,700,000 - but who's counting?

The World Food Program website lists contributing governments by year, including 2008 (as of May 18, 2008, as I'm writing this) and 2007. The lists make interesting reading, I think.

As I said before, throwing money at the United Nations isn't the only way to help people. But, it is one way to help: and a way that many people around the world recognize.

I think it's interesting that OPEC (Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries) countries, collectively, gave $1,500,000 last year. That's one minute and 10 seconds of OPEC's oil revenue during 2007.

It's even more interesting that Saudi Arabia, the quintessential Islamic country, gave nothing this year to the World Food Program. Not, that is, until an upstart news network showed remarkable lack of deference, broke tradition, and published a report on Saudi Arabia's behavior.

I don't blame the WFP for being so effusively grateful to Saudi Arabia in their press release. They're dependent on wealthy nations for support, and it isn't wise for organizations - or people - to be other than conventionally grateful for whatever you get.

I do think that Saudi Arabia and OPEC have a curious policy regarding the WFP and their reputations as caring, giving, countries.

Maybe Saudi Arabia had cash flow problems.


Thursday, May 22, 2008

Hezbollah Gets Veto Power in Lebanon: Not Good News

Hezbollah has quite a few aliases:
  • Hizballah
  • Hizbollah
  • Hizbullah
  • Hezbollah
  • Party of God
  • Islamic Jihad
  • Islamic Jihad for the Liberation of Palestine
  • Organization of the Oppressed on Earth
  • Revolutionary Justice Organization
And that's just in English.

Hezbollah has been a growing force in Lebanon: helped by Syria, Iran, and suicide bombers. The Islamic movement doesn't approve of Israel, thinks that Palestinians don't have what they should have, and acts against Israel by:
  1. Bringing terrorists and collaborators through the border crossings using foreign documents
  2. Setting up a terrorist organization inside Israel and in Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip
  3. Cross-border operations - smuggling weapons and terrorists
  4. Financial support for Palestinian organizations and groups.

With its track record, I wasn't very happy when I read that Hezbollah now has veto power over the Lebanese cabinet.

I'd like to believe that reason and the collective common sense of the international community would serve to restrain Hezbollah (see "The final straw," below).

Somehow, though, I doubt it: Although it's barely possible that Syria and some other countries will now find it less convenient to support that particular bunch of Islamic enthusiasts.

On the other hand, since they've got veto power in Lebanon, Hezbollah is much closer to being a 'legitimate political party,' rather than a 'terrorist organization.' At least, in the world where international diplomats live.

Lebanon Under Hezbollah: A Potential Reality Check

I think that it's possible that a Lebanon effectively under the control of Hezbollah might serve to clarify what is happening in the Middle Eastern theater of the war on terror.

Back when the Munich Pact brought "peace for our time," it wasn't all that unreasonable to pursue a policy intended in part to "correct what many British officials regarded as the injustices of the Versailles Treaty...."

After Germany invaded the Belgium, the Netherlands, and other parts of Europe dearer to the British leadership than the Sudetenland, it became clear to the English speaking world that Germany's national socialist party wasn't quite as dedicated to "the peace process," as we call such things now, as had apparently been hoped.

Right now, there's a great deal to be concerned about in the Middle East: It is remotely possible that Hezbollah, the Taliban, Al Qaeda, and other terrorist organizations will prove to be harmless advocacy groups: and that all that is needed for peace in the Middle East is for America to withdraw troops and support from that area.

I think it's more likely that some Hezbollah, or another player in the region, will sooner or later launch a "final solution." I hope this does not happen. But, if terrorists, or states which support terrorism, begin using nuclear weapons, I think that their acts may bring the nature of the war on terror into sharper focus.

Or, maybe not. The optimism, if that's the word for it, of those who desire "peace for our time" seems boundless.

Sources used for this post:
  • " Lebanon agreement shifts power to Hezbollah"
    International Herald Tribune (May 21, 2008)
    • "BEIRUT, Lebanon: An agreement reached by Lebanese political factions early Wednesday amounted to a significant shift of power in favor of the militant Shiite group Hezbollah and its allies in the opposition, who won the power to veto any cabinet decision.
    • "The sweeping deal to form a new government promised an end to 18 months of crippling political deadlock here, and underscored the rising power of Iran and Syria, which have backed Hezbollah in a proxy battle against the governing coalition and its American and Saudi allies."
      [emphasis mine]
  • "The final straw"
    International Herald Tribune (May 19, 2008)
    • "America is always looking for ways to weaken Hezbollah and end its violent operations. The good news is that Hezbollah may now finally be undermining itself from within.
    • "Trapped between Israel's wrath and the disillusionment of the Lebanese people, the "Party of God" is bringing about its own destruction and damaging its credibility by openly taking on the world.
    • "Last month, Hezbollah announced that its top military commander, Imad Mughniyeh, had been assassinated in Damascus. Mughniyeh had been on the most-wanted lists of 42 countries for his involvement in several high-profile bombings, including attacks that killed more than 200 Americans in Lebanon in the 1980s. After Mughniyeh's death was announced, Hezbollah's leader, Hassan Nasrallah, quickly accused Israel, and vowed vengeance: 'You have killed Hajj Imad outside the recognized battle zone,' he declared, speaking in front of party militants. 'If you want an open war, then let it be an open war.'
    • "An open war will leave Hezbollah in shambles and destroy its infrastructure and influence. Any operation from Hezbollah in response to Mugniyeh's assassination will surely be met with a massive Israeli retaliation, with consequences harsher than even the last war. This will not be accepted by the majority of Lebanese who are still struggling to regain their livelihood, and will inevitably lead to a civil war. Nasrallah, in effect, is caught between two wars: one of Israeli retribution, and the other initiated against him by the outraged Lebanese people.
    • "Rather than serving as a fearsome threat, Nasrallah's proclamation has trapped Hezbollah. In any future confrontation, Israel will not refrain from bombing economic infrastructure and civilians, whose villages Hezbollah guerrilla fighters use as a launching pad for their attacks. As Nasrallah is well aware, this will inflict on Lebanon a price it cannot pay. The balance of fear, which Hezbollah has claimed is tilted in their favor, has been nullified....
    • "Today the Party of God is out of options. By trying to avenge the murder of the party's military commander, Nasrallah would bring disaster upon Lebanon and the Shiite community. He cannot deliver on his vow to wage an open war and will have to backtrack on his threats.
    • "What the international community needs to do now is to capitalize on Hezbollah's troubles by strengthening Lebanon's moderate, democratic forces and the authority of their central government. America should seize this opportunity to undercut the influence of an organization that has the blood of many people on its hands. Time is of the essence."
    I think, particularly looking at the veto power Hezbollah now has, this analysis is overly optimistic.
  • "Syria weighs peace with Israel against costs"
    Reuters (May 21, 2008)
    • "DAMASCUS (Reuters) - Under pressure over an alleged nuclear program, Syria is exploring a peace deal with Israel that could alter its links with Iran and with anti-U.S. groups such as Lebanon's Hezbollah and Palestinian Hamas Islamists.
    • "Syria and Israel confirmed on Wednesday that they were conducting indirect talks mediated by Turkey -- eight months after Israeli planes raided a target in eastern Syria.
    • "Washington said last month that site was a nuclear reactor being built with North Korean expertise and stepped up its campaign to isolate the Baath Party government in Damascus...."
    The Reuters piece gives a pretty good background on the tangled relationships between Syria, Israel, and Iran.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Quran Shot by American Soldier: American, Iraqi Leaders Respond

Some American soldier, probably a staff sergeant, shot a Quran near Baghdad on May 9, 2008. He's been re-assigned out of Iraq, disciplined, and will face charges for what he did.

The good news in this is that, according to the Calgary Herald today, there hasn't been a violent reaction in Iraq.

Here's what we've learned in the news, about this exercise in world-class cluelessness:
  • May 9, 2008:
    American soldier uses a Quran for target practice
  • May 11, 2008:
    Iraqi police find the holy book of Islam "on a firing range in Radwaniyah, west of Baghdad, with 14 bullet holes in it and graffiti written on its pages
  • May 11-18, 2008:
    The soldier claims he didn't know it was a Quran.
    "U.S. officials rejected the claim."
    American military officers respond to the incident:
    • Colonel Bill Buckner: "both serious and deeply troubling" - and that the shooting was the action of one soldier
    • Major General Jeffery Hammond (top American officer in Baghdad) (May 17, 2008): "I come before you here seeking your forgiveness," speaking to tribal leaders and others in a ceremony of apology - "In the most humble manner I look in your eyes today and I say please forgive me and my soldiers." (CNN video (2:45))
    • Lieutenant General Lloyd J. Austin III, second in command for American forces in Iraq, made individual visits Monday to Iraqi
      • President al-Maliki (Shiite)
      • Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi (Sunni)
      • Parliament speaker Mahmoud al-Mashhadani (Sunni)
    • General David Petraeus, Commander of American forces in Iraq, made an official apology in a meeting between Lieutenant General Austin and Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi
  • May 20, 2008:
    • President of the United States George Bush apologizes Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, promises prosecution of the American soldier who started this mess
    • An American embassy spokeswoman said that in the call Bush expressed his deep concern over the incident and the "completely unacceptable conduct of an American soldier."
Meanwhile, while this avalanche of apologies was starting down the slope, Loyal and devout Muslims in Iraq were responding:
  • Sheikh Hamadi al-Qirtani, speaking on behalf of all tribal sheiks of Radhwaniya, called the incident "aggression against the entire Islamic world."
  • "The Association of Muslim Scholars in Iraq also condemned the shooter's actions and the U.S. military's belated [!] acknowledgment of the incident."
    " 'As the Association of Muslim Scholars condemns this heinous crime against God's holy book, the Constitution of this nation, a source of pride and dignity,' the groups statement said, 'they condemned the silence by all those who are part of the occupation's agenda and holds the occupation and the current government fully responsible for this violation and reminds everyone that God preserves his book and he [God] is a great avenger.' "
    CNN (May 18, 2008)
Belated? Well, it was a week after the Quran's discovery, before the command structure of the American military started kissing Qurans (literally, in at least one case) in an effort to make nice.

I'm not terribly surprised at the "belated" response. There are quite a few levels of command between a staff sergeant and a major general. And, despite what people in other countries seem to think, Americans are not Kryptonians, with powers and abilities beyond those of mortal man. There's no big "S" on any of our chests, and we have to get facts through normal channels, just like anyone else.

The Calgary Herald reports that "Iraq's government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said Bush's apology was not enough.

" 'We need to try this soldier since he committed a grievous crime. This is what the Iraqi government wants. It is not satisfied with just an apology,' he said.

"The Iraqi cabinet said the U.S. military should also educate its soldiers to respect Islam and Muslim holy sites."

Odd. I thought there was already a training program about what to say, what to wear, what not to say, what not to wear, and all the other points necessary to keep Muslims from getting offended.

I'm not sure what would satisfy the Iraqi cry for justice. Perhaps stoning the American soldier, after burning his immediate family alive, followed by the beheading of his extended family, would be enough.

I recognize that shooting the holy book of Islam - with insulting graffiti in it - is absolutely reprehensible behavior. And, I hope that there is an appropriate punishment for the soldier responsible for starting this international incident.

But, the key word there is appropriate.

I am deeply disappointed in two things, in relation to this incident:
  1. That one American soldier, of the thousands in Iraq, was so abysmally foolish as to shoot a book that many people hold sacred
  2. That so many Iraqi leaders appear to have such little understanding of how the outside world works, that they demand dire retribution for some nitwit shooting a book

News about this mess, over the last few days:

"Iraq party: Punish U.S. soldier who shot at Quran"
CNN (May 19, 2008)

"BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- Iraq's most powerful Sunni Arab political party on Monday said a U.S. soldier's desecration of the Quran, the Muslim holy book, requires the 'severest of punishments,' not just an apology and a military reassignment.

"The Iraqi Islamic Party, the movement of Iraqi Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi, condemned what it said was a 'blatant assault on the sanctities of Muslims all over the world.' "

(The word "sanctities" makes sense in this context: "2 a: the quality or state of being holy or sacred : inviolability b plural: sacred objects, obligations, or rights." (Miriam-Webster))

"Bush apologizes to Iraqi PM over Koran shooting
Calgary Herald (May 20, 2008)

"BAGHDAD (Reuters) - President George W. Bush has apologized to Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and promised prosecution of a U.S. soldier accused of using a copy of the Koran for target practice, Iraq said on Tuesday.

"Bush apologized in a telephone call on Monday with Maliki, who told him the incident had humiliated and angered Iraq's largely Muslim population, the cabinet said in a statement.

"A U.S. embassy spokeswoman said that in the call Bush expressed his deep concern over the 'completely unacceptable conduct of an American soldier.' "

More, at:
"Bush Calls Iraqi PM, Apologizes for Koran Shooting Incident"
FoxNEWS (May 20, 2008)
" US sniper shot at Koran in Iraq"
BBC (May 18, 2008)
"Iraqi VP Urge Action Against US Soldier Over Koran"
Limun.Hr (May 18, 2008)

Friday, May 16, 2008

It Has Begun: Cholera in Burma / Myanmar

Things are very bad in the Irrawaddy Delta, where Cyclone Nargis has killed tens of thousands. Over a hundred thousand may die soon, if food and medical supplies - and aid workers to deliver them - are either allowed, or dropped, into the region.

Leaders have a very short time in which to act.

Crisis in the Irrawaddy

"Burma raises official cyclone death toll to 78,000"
The Guardian (UK) (May 16, 2008)

Includes video (1:25) " 'I felt like I was being watched' "
The Guardian (UK) (May 16, 2008)

"Guardian journalist Helen Pidd reports from neighbouring Thailand after spending a week in Burma seeing first-hand the extent of the damage caused by Cyclone Nargis"

One of the important points here is Pidd's description of what journalists have to do in Burma / Myanmar - and what everyday life is like there.

The article has at least two gems:

"Outbreaks of potentially life-threatening cholera have been confirmed among the survivors, the World Health Organisation (WHO) said today. But officials said the number of cases was in line with previous years, suggesting there may not be an epidemic of the waterborne disease, as aid agencies had feared."

"The Burmese prime minister, Thein Sein, was reported on state television saying the emergency phase of the cyclone disaster was over and that the country was now in the rebuilding phase. The UN said this was nonsense, and that there was still a critical need for far more aid. The UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, has not even been able to talk to Senior General Than Shwe, Burma's military dictator, on the phone." [emphasis mine]

I discuss a possible, although radical, solution to the humanitarian disaster in the Irrawaddy in a previous post: "People May be Dying Soon in Burma - There's a Solution."

A very similar idea is discussed in " 'This is a Good Day to Argue for Humanitarian Intervention' " The Irrawaddy (May 15, 2008).

Remember the Irrawaddy

Cyclone Nargis blew down buildings, killed people, and knocked out vital support systems.

But it was the junta in Burma / Myanmar that refused to let aid in, refused to let aid workers in, apparently switched useful food for low-nutrition junk, and continues to get in the way of people who are trying to save the lives of its subjects.

This is how despots work. They like being in charge, and don't like having anyone running loose who might see what they've done to the country.

Despots aren't good for their citizens.

The next time America is involved in removing a tyrannical regime, and a fuss is being raised, it would be well to remember the Irrawaddy.

bin Laden: Israel is Terrorist State (This is News?)

Big surprise, everyone: bin Laden doesn't like Israel. He says Israel supports terrorism. He released a tape yesterday to say so.

Actually, that should be 'purportedly released a tape.' The voice hasn't been identified as bin Laden yet, but my guess is that it actually is the terrorist leader.

The message has his style, and world view.

"Alleged bin Laden tape urges Muslims to liberate Palestine"
CNN (May 16, 2008)

"(CNN) -- A blunt new statement attributed to al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden urges his followers to liberate Palestine. The statement's release coincides with Israel's 60th anniversary.

"In the audio message, the speaker reiterates jihadist opposition to the existence of the Jewish state and its policies, and tells listeners that "liberating" Palestine should be the aim of every Muslim.

"The message, titled 'The Causes of Conflict on the 60th Anniversary of the State of Israeli Occupation,' was released Thursday on jihadist Web sites, where it is played over a still image. It runs nine minutes and 40 seconds and is addressed to Western peoples."

Whether or not it's bin Laden talking, I don't see much new in this.

"The speaker decries characterization of Palestinian militant groups as terror organizations. He also says Israel has engaged in terror.

" 'As your low values show double standards in one issue, you call the Palestinian organizations terror organizations. They were punished and ignored.' "

Okay. I think I understand now. Palestinians blow up strategic schools and students, attack tactical markets, and the Jews are to blame for it. That makes outfits like Hamas national liberation movements. When the Jewish military takes down rocket launchers hidden inside someone's home, that's terrorism.

Goofy, but pretty straightforward: and quite simple to understand, once you learn to look at the world that way.

Instead of haranguing on moral equivalence: here's a link to another, ah, discussion of the topic. "Moral Equivalence, Prisoners, and Al Qaeda" (July 21, 2007).

(Yes, I know: things are rough for many Palestinians. People in the Gaza strip aren't living the good life: to put it mildly. That doesn't make it okay to kill Jews.)

'Gateway Drug' Terror Website in North Carolina

"The Ignored Puzzle Pieces of Knowledge," or "Revolution.Muslimpad" ( is one of those things that makes me a little less enthusiastic about American freedom of speech than usual.

One of the strengths of America is that we have a great deal of freedom to say and display what we want: however outrageous, ill-advised, or daft it is. The War on Terror is giving America an opportunity to review and re-define just where freedom ends, and reasonable protections begin.

Freedom, Yes: Absolute Freedom, No

America has restricted certain sorts of speech before. I'm old enough to remember when "The Marlboro Man" was a cultural icon, on display in family magazines and television. Now, he's been banned because smoking is bad for you.

Today, people are using free speech to advocate methods of death which may be less lingering and painful than lung cancer, but leave victims just as dead.

"This is what you call a success story"

Here's what the only news agency I've found to date carrying the story says about "Revolution.Muslimpad:" "NEW YORK — When former Guantanamo inmate Abdullah Saleh al-Ajmi blew up an Iraqi police station — and himself — in April, a U.S.-based Web site was quick to post a reaction.

" 'This is what you call a success story,' Revolution.Muslimpad said of the homicide attack, which killed six. It described al-Ajmi as a hero, a 'martyrdom bomber' who sacrificed 'his life for the sake of Islam.' "

"When the blog, also called 'The Ignored Puzzle Pieces of Knowledge,' listed its top 'scholars of Islam' and people to 'take knowledge from,' it wasn't hard to notice that the list of 63 names contained mostly known terrorists — including Usama bin Laden and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. The site provides links to their works, all translated into English."

What's outstanding about this website is that it is well-done, technically, and written in English, by someone who understands English, for English-speaking people. Specifically, it seems, Americans.

Apparently, a 22-year-old American in Charlotte, North Carolina, Samir Khan, thought up "The Ignored Puzzle Pieces of Knowledge."

"But terror experts say it is unique because it is written in English for a Western audience and makes accessible radical Islamic content and context found mainly on Arabic-language sites.

" 'This Web site is one of the premiere English-language sites promoting terrorism,' said cyberterrorism expert Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Jewish human rights group the Wiesenthal Center.

"On Thursday Cooper presented a report on Capitol Hill on the dangers Internet sites like Revolution.Muslimpad pose to young, impressionable Muslims. His report, 'Digital Terrorism and Hate 2.0,' references the Web site four times as an example of how Islamic extremists recruit for Al Qaeda."

I'm no fan of regulating or restricting the Internet. Last month, I posted "YouTube Banned by China: Online Censorship?" (March 17, 2008):

"Be Careful What You Ask For

"Next time you read about some wonderful-sounding idea about regulating the Internet, remember Tibet, China, and YouTube: Deciding who can watch what can have undesirable consequences."

On the other hand, Revolution.Muslimpad does look dangerous.

There's a discussion going on at, "North Carolina Web Site Said to Be 'Gateway Drug' To Terror," which may be interesting.
I did a quick check, finding that the domain,, was first registered in October of 2006, and is owned by an outfit called Islamic Network, in Worthington, Ohio.
Update: May 28, 2008.

Comments to this post helped me add another website to this blog's blogroll:

Defenders Council of Vermont
  • "...our mission is to educate the citizens of Vermont about the nature, reality and threat of radical Islam, deepen Vermonters' understanding of America's heritage, honor the men and women of the armed services and their families, and support the efforts of others to help our armed forces work with local populations in foreign lands."
  • Defenders Council of Vermont's Executive Director added a for-more-information email address, in a comment today.
    "If any one would like more information about our organization please email me at ...."

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Lies, Quagmires, and Straight Thinking

My suspicions have been confirmed.

The president of the United States, and members of intelligence communities around the world, are human beings. And, they make mistakes.

The story broke in "Yahoo! News and "Politico."

You have to read between the lines, but the evidence is clear: These people are human beings, and can make mistakes!

"A question submitted from the online audience asked Bush whether he felt he had been misled about Iraq as he made the decision to go to war.

" ' "Misled" is a strong word,' he said. 'Not only our intelligence community, but intelligence communities all across the world shared the same assessment. And so I was disappointed to see how flawed our intelligence was.'

" 'Do I think somebody lied to me? No, I don't. I think it was just, you know, they analyzed the situation and came up with the wrong conclusion,' he added. "

I'm inclined to believe the president. Analyzing intelligence is tricky, but the best analysis in the world will be wrong if the data isn't accurate. It's the old 'GIGO' principle: Garbage In, Garbage Out. Gathering accurate intelligence data is tricky, because many countries - particularly the naughtier ones - don't seem willing to give accurate and complete accounts of what their supplies are, and what they plan to do with them.

One solution would be for the United Nations Security Council to draft a resolution, making it a rule that all countries would send each other complete reports on their military status.

I doubt, and hope, that not many people think a resolution like that, noble as it might be, would have much practical effect.

Unless people like the junta that's sabotaging relief efforts in Burma become peace-loving, generous, open, trusting leaders, gathering intelligence will be a dicey proposition at best.

Americans have a presidential election coming up. It is my fervent hope that American citizens who vote will set aside a little time, take deep breath, get informed, and think about their decision.

This is a time for reason and facts, not emotional reactions. All candidates are human beings, who live in an imperfect world. The past has shown that mistakes happen, and that the best data available isn't always accurate. The trick will be to figure out which candidate is least likely to use poor judgment, based on the information available.

On a brighter note, I haven't encountered the word "quagmire" recently. Perhaps someone has spread the word among those of a particular persuasion, that there are very few rice paddies in the Middle East. ("Quagmire: Now and Forever, it Seems" (November 11, 2007)).

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

People May be Dying Soon in Burma - There's a Solution

This is a quick follow-up to a previous post, "Burma / Myanmar / Myanma - Between Cyclones and Juntas, We Can't Ignore This" (May 11, 2008)

The situation right now in Burma is that a trickle of food and supplies is making it into the country, and a fraction of that may be getting to people who actually need it.

Odds are very good that between lack of food and rotting corpses, there's going to be a lot more death in Burma very soon.

Unless something is done.

The conventional wisdom seems to be that what is needed is for diplomats to deplore the ruling junta's lack of cooperation, the United Nations Security council to soberly consider why it's impossible to force Burma's bosses to let people in who can help Burmese citizens, and wait for the whole thing to blow over.

I'm being a bit unfair, but not by much, I'm afraid.

Another approach was brought to my attention in a comment on the previous Burma post. Oversimplified, here it is:

The starting premise is that the United Nations is not the only agency by which assistance can reach Burma.

An American-led coalition could assemble and deliver aid to the areas that need it most, without asking the ruling junta's permission. As an op-ed piece put it:

"The insertion of carefully targeted medical, clothing and food aid drops into the worst affected Irrawaddy delta region by US-led coalition aircraft would help prevent the deaths of many at risk of starvation and those at risk of succumbing to preventible diseases.

"Limited humanitarian intervention along these lines would probably provoke howls of outrage from China and others, yet these same countries would have little choice but to eventually acquiesce for fear of being seen as morally equivalent to the regime in Burma. Such action would also breach the legal sovereignty of Burma and the regime could argue it was justified in shooting down any aircraft as they entered Burmese airspace. But the regime would have to wear the consequences of this action, including Washington's almost certain military response to the targeting of US aircraft involved in leading an important (and widely popular) humanitarian mission."

I've seen worse ideas put forward: and this seems better than waiting the crisis, and the people in Burma, to die out while diplomats make speeches.

"Kosovo aid the model"
The Australian (May 14, 2008)

Markets, Hindu Temples Bombed in Jaipur, India

It could have been worse. Police found and defused an eighth bomb before it went off.
  • "Seven bombs kill 60 people in Jaipur"
    Reuters (May 14, 2008)
    "JAIPUR, India (Reuters) - Seven bombs ripped through the crowded streets Jaipur on Tuesday evening, killing around 60 people in markets and outside Hindu temples. ..."
    "Officials said the apparent motive for the bombs was to undermine a peace process between India and Pakistan or foment communal violence in India. ..."
    Reuters says it's the worst bombing India has seen in almost 2 years.
  • "Bombs kill 60 and wound 150 in western India"
    The Times Online (UK) (May 13, 2008)
    "A spate of bombings have plagued India since 2005. Last year, two explosions killed 43 people in the southern city of Hyderabad; seven bombings along Mumbai's commuter rail network killed nearly 200 people in 2006, and three New Delhi markets were bombed in 2005, killing 62 people.
    "There have also been a number of smaller explosions, and India has repeatedly blamed the attacks on Islamic militant groups backed by neighbor and rival Pakistan _ accusations Islamabad denies."
I can see India's point. When Hindu temples are bombed, and there's a Muslim country next door, it's easy to put two and two together.

Terrorist Bases in Pakistan Doesn't Necessarily Mean Pakistani Involvement

Although I wouldn't be surprised to learn that whoever put the bombing mission together was based in Pakistan, that doesn't mean that the Pakistani government was involved.

The impression I have is that the current leaders of Pakistan aren't entirely in control of their country. As I mentioned in "Al Qaeda: We Killed Bhutto" (December 28, 2007), the frontier areas of Pakistan are a cultural and economic backwater.

Places like that, where people generally are poor, traditional, and don't seem to approve of what's happened since Alexander the Great passed through their territory, are prime spots for Al Qaeda and like-minded groups to set up bases.

And, provided that the terrorists came to an understanding with the local tribal leaders, it probably wouldn't matter what the government in Islamabad thought about the situation.

That may change, though, if whoever winds up running the official Pakistani government gets organized and secure enough to be able to control the hinterlands.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

War in the Information Age: Cell Phone Redial Brings Battlefield Experience to Family

People, and war, haven't changed much over the millennia: Parents worry about their children who have gone to the battlefield.

Thousands of years ago, the sounds of battle might be heard in the parent's home. As societies changed and grew, soldiers traveled farther, and battlefields became distant realities.

As soldiers traveled farther, new communications technologies were developed to keep them in touch with the rest of the family.
  • Trans-Atlantic telegraph cable (mid-nineteenth century) joined by a telephone cable in 1956 made real-time communication between continents possible
  • V-mail in WWII used optical compression to make room for more letters on cargo planes
  • Communications satellites like Telstar were an incremental improvement on intercontinental telephone service
  • Cell phones, since the 1980s freed telephones from fixed outlets
Cell phones and other Information Age technologies had the potential to bring back the days when families of warriors often heard the sounds of battle.

Last month, that potential became a reality.

A family in Oregon came home in April, 2008, to find that their son, Stephen, had left a voice mail message. He was stationed in Afghanistan, and his Army MP company was under attack from a Taliban unit.

Or, more accurately, his cell phone had called home. The most likely explanation is that the phone got squeezed between their son and his Humvee.

The family heard gunfire, swearing and shouts for more ammunition. And their son's rifle barrel seemed to be overheating.

" 'You could hear him saying stuff like, he needs more ammo, or he needs another barrel,' said John Petee, Phillips' brother. 'At the end, you could hear a guy saying "Incoming! RPG!" And then it cut off.' "

It took the Petee family a while to get in touch in Stephen, but he was okay. Also embarrassed. " 'I finally got a hold of him,' Sandie Petee said. 'He was embarrassed, he said, "Don't let Grandma hear it." ' "

(From "Afghanistan Firefight Heard On Voice Mail"
KPTV; Portland, OR (May 5, 2008))

As I wrote earlier, "People, and war, haven't changed much over the millennia:" but that doesn't mean that technology doesn't make a difference.

The Vietnam conflict was called the first war delivered to America's living room, because of the relatively immediate video coverage on the newly-emerged evening news. Television coverage certainly made the conflict a more immediate reality than the newsreels and newspapers of earlier generations.

The occasional cell phone message from the battlefield is even more immediate than edited footage on the evening news.

And hearing unedited transmissions from a battle may make a difference in the way that people perceive a war.

Welcome to the Information Age

I think that the medium you're reading right now will make a bigger difference. Back in the sixties and seventies, American news was filtered through a few major east coast newspapers.

No conspiracy: the continental U.S. is four time zones wide. Newspaper editors work on tight deadlines - and making decisions takes time. It's understandable that editors would generally accept the judgment of their fellow-professionals on the east coast. That's where the sun rises on America, and where the news of the day first gets evaluated.

So, articles that The New York Times and a few other major east coast papers decided were newsworthy spread across America with the sun. Those that they didn't approve generally didn't go any further.

Broadcast news was even more restricted. If ABC, CBS, NBC, and PBS news didn't think a story was worthy of mention, America didn't see it on television news.

Cable news, the Web, and especially blogs, changed all that. News is no longer what a few editorial boards want it to be. News is, I think, becoming what concerned people think is important.

Not that bloggers are necessarily better at evaluating world events than professional editors. The advantage of the blogosphere is that it lets facts and opinions rise or fall in the marketplace of ideas: not in the predispositions of a few editors.
The phone call from Afghanistan:
"Brother's Firefight"
YouTube video 2:58 (April 21, 2008)
(Be advised: this is unedited battlefield sounds, including "graphic language." Stephen didn't want his grandmother to hear it: and I think his request was wise.)

Stephen's brother posted the audio clip, and wrote:
"My brother is an MP over in Afghanistan. He was on post on April 21st. He decided to give us a call, just to let us know how he was doing.
"Nobody was home so he got the answering machine, and hung up. Just then, they started getting shot at. Somehow, his phone re-dialed, and we got this on our answering machine. He is okay."
(JRPetee, YouTube)
There are hundreds of comments, so far, many supportive, as well as quite a few standard-issue remarks like:
"We most certainly DID pick this fight!
"And how in God's name can someone protect me in another country when I'M HERE IN THIS ONE?
"brainwashed, stupid sheeple...pitifull"
"Brother's Firefight"

JRPetee, YouTube (April 21, 2008)
video, 2:58

Burma / Myanmar / Myanma - Between Cyclones and Juntas, We Can't Ignore This

Whether you call it Burma, or Myanmar, or Myanma, people living in that country between India and Thailand are not having a good time right now.

Photo from AP, via Fox News, used w/o permission

Around 100,000 people were killed there by cyclone Nagris a few days ago.

If something isn't done about the lack of food, drinkable water, and medical supplies - and the presence of dead bodies - 1,500,000 could be dead soon, according to Oxfam1 and the British government. (Guardian (UK) (May 11, 2008))

I've posted about the mess in Myanmar before ("United Nations Refuses Aid to Burma, or Myanmar, or Myanma" (May 9, 2008)). Today, a selection of headlines gives a pretty good idea of what's happening:

Cyclone Nagris, the SPDC, and the War on Terror:
We Can't Ignore People in Trouble

The "We" here may be taken as Americans, or, my preference, anyone who believes that people should not have to put up with tyrants.

Photo from The China Post, used w/o permission

Everybody seems to want "democracy" these days, and the military junta running Burma / Myanmar is no exception. See the smiling people in that photo? We're told that they were participating in yesterday's election in Myanmar. And, in their position, with their sort of leaders, with a camera pointed at me, I'd probably smile, too.

Burma Background

The people there elected members for the People's Assembly or Pyithu Hluttaw:
(opposition) National League for Democracy 392 392
(opposition) Shan Nationalities League for Democracy 23
(pro-government) National Unity Party10
Chairman of the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) Senior Geneneral Than Shwe and the rest of the junta hasn't let the People's Assembly convene yet, but they say they'll have another election for membership in 2010.

Burma / Myanmar has been getting along without a constitution. The junta suspended the old one in 1974. However, a national convention got together in 1988 to set up principles for drafting a new constitution. That convention didn't include representatives from major democratic or ethnic majority (not a typo: majority) groups.

The junta's constitutional drafting committee started work on a new and improved constitution in December, 2007.

(from "The World Factbook" (CIA (updated May 1, 2008))


Yesterday, people in Burma / Myanmar voted on the junta's new constitution. "Widespread rumors say the results have already been fixed to deliver an 84.6 percent vote in favor of the constitution." (CNN). I wasn't terribly surprised to read that "witnesses and local officials who watched the local counting of votes Saturday say the vote appeared to average 80 percent to 90 percent in favor of the draft charter." (The China Post)

The constitution that appears headed for a landslide victory "guarantees 25 percent of parliamentary seats to the military and allows the president to hand over all power to the military in a state of emergency." (CNN)

Perhaps I'm being too pessimistic, but my guess is that an "emergency" will happen a few days to a month after the 2010 elections.

Burma, Responsibility, and Global Concerns

Cyclone Nagris and the State Peace and Development Council don't make much of a difference in the small central Minnesota town that I call home. Not directly, anyway.

That vote may not have been "fixed:" not post-poll, anyway. The powers that be in Burma have seen to it that their subjects have a clear understanding of what's at stake.
  • " 'To approve the state constitution is the national duty of the entire people,' the state-run newspaper New Light of Myanmar said in a front-page headline Friday."
    (International Herald Tribune)
  • " 'We have already seen regional commanders putting their names on the side of aid shipments from Asia, saying this was a gift from them and then distributing it in their region,' said Mark Farmaner, director of Burma Campaign UK, which campaigns for human rights and democracy in the country.
    " 'It is not going to areas where it is most in need,' he said in London."
    (Yahoo! News)
  • "Aye Aye Mar, a 36-year-old homemaker, looked frightened when asked if she thought anyone would vote against it.
    " 'One vote of "No" will not make a difference,' she whispered, her eyes darting around to see if anyone was watching. Then she raised her voice to declare: "I'm saying "Yes" to the constitution.' "
    (International Herald Tribune)
I agree with the poet: "No man is an island...."2 Hundreds of thousands of people dying because their rulers are either incompetent, depraved, or distracted is something I can't ignore. "I am involved in mankind". And, sooner or later, ripples from the lands around Pathein and Bago will reach my home, here by the Sauk River.

Right now, hundreds of thousands of people desperately need food, drinking water, medical supplies and clothing. Many will die if they don't get it.

Their need for assistance, in my opinion, outweighs the junta's need for maintaining power over their subjects.

Being ruled by tyrants didn't make people in Burma the target of Cyclone Nargis. But now that the storm is over, their government is very much part of their problem. Unhappily, Burma / Myanmar isn't the only country that needs a different sort of leadership.

I suggest that, when considering and debating the merits of military force, these ideas should be kept in mind:
  • Tyrants often don't have the best interests of their subjects in mind
  • Dictators don't, as a rule, give up power, no matter how nicely they're asked
  • History suggests that force must be used to unseat a tyranical regime
  • Even when tyrants aren't actively killing their subjects, their preoccupation with personal power inhibits maintenance of vital infrastructures
The point I'm making is that sometimes being involved in military action isn't the worst thing that can happen to people.

Donations for Burma / Myanmar Relief Being Taken:
Some of this Lot Might Help

Lists of agencies that accept donations, and might help people in Burma, have been published on Both news outlets got their information from InterAction, "the largest coalition of U.S.-based international nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) focused on the world’s poor and most vulnerable people."

1 ("Oxfam International is a confederation of 13 organizations working together with over 3,000 partners in more than 100 countries to find lasting solutions to poverty and injustice.")

2"No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend's or of thine own were: any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bells tolls; it tolls for thee."
excerpt from Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions: XVII. MEDITATION, John Donne (Project Gutenberg ebook)

Friday, May 9, 2008

United Nations Refuses Aid to Burma, or Myanmar, or Myanma

It's all the same country: you may still think of it as Burma, but around 1989 the bunch that's running the place decided that they liked the mame Myanma better. Sometimes it comes into the Latin alphabet and English as Myanmar.

Names are important, but right now I'd say that a higher priority is getting food and supplies in to people who weren't killed in the cyclone that hit the country.

Tens of thousands of people have already died. The body count may top 100,000 as survivors run out of safe drinking water and food.

Sure, it's Bad News, But So What?

There's something to be learned from this humanitarian disaster. I'm getting to that.

United Nations World Food Program (WFP) aircraft touched down in Burma yesterday. Then, according to the WFP, the shipment of supplies was seized. By the bunch that runs Burma/Myanma/Myanmar.

The WFP isn't sending any more aid for now. (UPDATE: Latest News indicates WFP will try again, tomorrow. "U.N. 'furious' as Myanmar aid 'seized'" CNN (May 9, 2008))

That shipment included 34 tons of high-energy biscuits. For survivors of a disaster like this, those biscuits could be life-savers. Literally.

A U.N. spokesman "said he didn't know why the supplies had been seized, but the move has left the WFP with 'no choice' but to suspend its aid shipments." ("UN halts aid shipments to Burma, accuses government of seizing supplies" CBC (May 9, 2008))

Humanitarian aid workers aren't being allowed into the country, which also is not helpful. The junta that runs the country isn't granting visas.

Unilateral Action? Cette Fois, l'Idée est Acceptable

American officials "have raised the idea of dropping aid into Burma unilaterally, without permission from the ruling military junta." There could be a problem with political fallout, and the practical issue of getting supplies to the people who need it. ("CBC" (May 9, 2008))

Interestingly, unilateral action is okay this time. French officials were considering the same idea. "French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, co-founder of the aid group Doctors Without Borders, said this week that unauthorized air drops could be permitted under the UN's "responsibility to protect" mandate, which applies to civilians." ("CBC" (May 9, 2008))

National Sovereignty is Important: So Are People's Lives

I haven't seen any arguments against efforts to force Burma/Myanmar/Myanma's leaders to let life-saving supplies through to their subjects. That's not surprising: humanitarian missions are well-thought-of among most Americans, at least.

In fact, the news about the Burmese hurricane shows that saving people's lives is so important that "unilateral" action is acceptable. Even if it violates the sovereignty of a non-western nation.

This is no exaggeration: Crossing a national boundary with a formation of aircraft, without permission, and then dropping un-asked-for materials on another nation's territory, would be very close to an invasion.

Something to think about

If it's okay to unilaterally save people's lives by defying a nation's leaders by bringing in food: is it okay to unilaterally save people's lives by defying a nation's leaders by bringing in military forces?

Of course, the two situations are completely different:
  • On the one hand, you have humanitarian aid saving people's lives
  • On the other hand, you have big, rough, soldiers barging in and, in the long run, saving people's lives
Obviously, there's no similarity at all.

Except that tyrants often don't have the best interests of their subjects in mind. And they don't seem to give up power, no matter how nicely they're asked. It takes force to unseat such people. And, once the big, rough, soldiers have fought their way through and removed a despot, they can, if they're Americans, stick around to fix roads, water plants, hospitals, and all the other critical systems that the tyrants were ignoring.

I think this comparison is worth thinking about.

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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.