Friday, October 30, 2009

Imperialist American Aggressors Attack Poland?

The headline: The lead paragraphs:
"Shots were fired form the destroyer USS Ramage as it was leaving the Polish port of Gdynia on Wednesday (October 28), Polish media reported.

"A witness working in a port warehouse told news channel TVN24 he heard rounds hitting a wall and video shot on Thursday (October 29) shows marks on the building's exterior...."
The rest of the story:

A crew member on the USS Ramage was cleaning a machine gun. It was loaded. Three rounds were fired. The Polish military police boarded the Rampage. The Rampage's crew cooperated fully, according to American Navy authorities.

Nobody, thank God, was killed - or, apparently, injured.

The Lesson

I think this is a good reminder
  • Don't stop reading at the headline
    • Or the lead paragraphs
  • See if other news outlets give the same story
  • Remember generic words like
    • To fire on
    • Shell
    • Mark
A "shell," for example, could be anything from something coming out of a 22 caliber deer rifle, to something weighing more than a Cadillac. In the context of that news article, a "mark" could be anything from a square inch of chipped brick to a gaping hole.

That Reuters story wasn't inaccurate: but it can be seen as misleading. I'd be willing to write off a single instance of this sort of reporting, if there weren't a pattern.

Back when I was in college (one of the times: I'm a repeater), someone pointed out how unfair it was that, for a while, anyone with an eastern European accent was the bad guy in films.

I doubt that this dramatic shorthand was quite as universal as it was made out to be, any more than the 'bad guys always wear black hats in westerns' stereotype. But after reading that assertion, I paid attention to films of a particular period, and sure enough: A whole lot of people from eastern Europe were bad guys: more than you'd expect.

The point is that 'eastern European accent = evil intent' was so solidly planted a cultural assumption, that filmmakers could use the association.

These days, most people - I hope - realize that quite a few people from eastern Europe aren't deranged assassins, sinister spies, or mad scientists.

And some day - I hope - most people will realize that America is not the source of most of what's wrong in the world. But I'm not holding my breath.

Related posts: In the news: Related posts, on tolerance, bigotry, racism, and hatred.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Danish Newspaper's Cartoons Back in the News

It could have been worse. David Coleman Headley and and Tahawwur Hussain Rana / Tahawar Rana were caught and charged before they could carry through on their plans. From the looks of it, they wanted to help "commit terrorist acts against overseas targets, including facilities and employees of a Danish newspaper that published cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed in 2005...."

The arrests have been a major news item today. Many of the recent reports seem to be ringing changes on this U.S. Department of Justice press release:
"Two Chicago men have been arrested on federal charges for their alleged roles in conspiracies to provide material support and/or to commit terrorist acts against overseas targets, including facilities and employees of a Danish newspaper that published cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed in 2005, federal law enforcement officials announced today. There was no imminent danger in the Chicago area, officials said, adding that the charges are unrelated to recent terror plot arrests in Boston, New York, Colorado, Texas and central Illinois.

"The defendants charged in separate criminal complaints unsealed today in U.S. District Court in Chicago are David Coleman Headley, 49, and Tahawwur Hussain Rana, 48, also known as Tahawar Rana, announced Patrick J. Fitzgerald, U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois, and Robert D. Grant, Special Agent-in-Charge of the Chicago Office of the FBI. The complaints remained under seal temporarily after the defendants' arrests, with court approval, so as not to compromise further investigative activity...."
(U.S. Department of Justice)
There's more - quite a lot more - to the DOJ press release.

The bottom line is that another terrorist attack - attacks, more likely - won't happen. Not on schedule, at least.

And that's good news.

The bad news is that some (a few, I trust) people who are convinced that they're following - and defending - Islam apparently still have that Danish paper on their hit list.

Freedom of Speech and Callouses on the Soul

I don't approve of terrorism. I think I understand some of the emotions and motives involved, but that is not the same as condoning terrorism, or excusing terrorists from responsibility.

A few years ago, Morgenavisen Jyllands-Posten, a Danish newspaper, published a number of cartoons by a Swedish cartoonist. Depending on your point of view, they were clever, sophisticated, in poor taste, or a world-class example of intellectual jingoism.

They portrayed the prophet - which is unacceptable by itself, in some flavors of Islam - in a very, very unfavorable light.

But, that sort of in-your-face contempt for religious beliefs is protected by 'freedom of expression' these days, in Western countries where 'free speech' is valued.

As a devout Catholic living in America, I'm used to seeing and reading angry, disgusting, and clueless 'comic' references to my faith. It goes with the territory. I don't like, particularly when I'm forced to help pay the salary of someone who commits sacrilege. (August 5, 2008)

I've gotten gut-wrenching angry, sometimes. But I couldn't support a bunch of crazed Catholics who wanted to kill the governor: and would, if by some freak of probability such a group existed and I had information about them, cooperate with civil authorities. Yes: I'd be helping people who attack my faith. But I'd be following my faith by being a good citizen.1 And, I think, helping people who didn't know all that much about Catholicism what my faith was really about.

I'd probably be even more emotionally worked up, if there weren't so many callouses on my soul. Some of the subcultures I lived in weren't just anti-Catholic - they didn't approve of any sort of 'organized religion.' Except maybe some very non-Abrahamic ones. After a while, you almost get used to it.

Which may be why this blog isn't anywhere near as vehemently anti-Islam as some 'real American' ones are. As I said, I don't condone terrorism: But I do have some idea of what it's like to follow a faith that most people in my country either doesn't care about - or are hostile toward.

Two Chicago Men and 'Those Muslims'

I think it's a good idea to remember that, after wild reactions to anti-Islamic cartoons made Muslims look like out-of-control rioters - and Islam like a repressive and dangerously violent cult - the more sane and sober followers of Islam took stock of what they believed, and how they should react to insults. And came to the conclusion that
  • 'Freedom of speech' was part of contemporary culture in many parts of the world
  • Violent reactions to naughty cartoons made Muslims look silly
    • At best
  • Following culturally-normative channels of protest were a better idea
I've posted about this before. (February 13, 2008)

As I've said often: 'Islam' isn't some great, homogeneous, monolithic block of people who all feel, think, and act the same way. It's prudent to remember that the loudest, most violent, craziest of any group aren't representative of the whole group.

Related posts: In the news: Related posts, on censorship, propaganda, and freedom of speech.
1Which makes being a Catholic in America really interesting these days. That 'be a good citizen' thing is one of the rules I have to follow, but I also have to obey God's law. Still, in could be worse. Look what happened to Thomas More.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Another Big Bomb in Baghdad

It's old news, in a way:

"Death toll rises to 160 in Baghdad bombings"
CNN (October 26, 2009)

"The death toll from twin car bombings in Baghdad climbed to 160, with hundreds more wounded in the deadliest attack in the capital in more than two years, the Interior Ministry said Monday.

"At least 540 people were wounded in Sunday's attacks.

"One of the bombs exploded outside Baghdad's governorate [sic] building, the other outside the justice ministry. The bombs detonated in quick succession about 10:30 a.m., officials said...."

I haven't posted on this before, for several reasons:
  • It's been a busy year for my family
    • A daughter married
    • My father died
  • This latest bombing in Baghdad is
    • A personal tragedy for hundreds - possibly thousands - of people
    • Nothing new
This may sound cold or harsh, but Iraq was under the control of a selfish tyrant for about three decades. Putting together a functional government, getting the sewer systems and power grid working right, and sorting another Versailles-related mess.1

And, getting all that rebuilding and diplomacy done while religious crazies and (probably) Iranian agents are doing their level best to foul up the process? Under the circumstances, I think it's mildly surprising that blasts like Sunday's don't happen more often.

It's not that I don't care: but I've seen nothing to show that this attack represents any sort of change.

It's greatest significance seems to be that the Iraqi government is reacting in what I see as an admirably defiant way. If some bunch had blown up buildings and killed people in Minnesota's capital, I'd much rather have representatives of the governor say that there's no way the terrorists will win, than hear nice gestures of reconciliation.

But, I'll admit that I'm biased. I don't approve of terrorism, and don't want the likes of Al Qaeda to win.
1 I know: a lot has happened since 1919. But I don't think today's situation was helped by telling Kurds, for example, that they had to put up with boundaries drawn by foreigners, based in part on what luminaries like President Wilson thought, and administrative divisions set up by the Ottoman Empire.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Rwandan Genocide Priest: Terrorism is an Equal-Opportunity Destroyer

A reminder that terrorists, and terrorism, isn't limited to men who order women to shake it (October 21, 2009) and destroy unbelievers - along with the occasional mosque.
"Clergyman linked to Rwandan genocide seized in Italy"
CNN (October 22, 2009)

"A Rwandan accused of 'complicity' in the massacre of students at the college he headed during the country's genocide 15 years ago has been arrested in Italy, where he served as a clergyman, an international police agency said.

"Officers from the Italian Carabinieri and Interpol's National Central Bureau in Rome, Italy, arrested Emmanuel Uwayezu -- who had been wanted in Rwanda, the international police organization Interpol said Wednesday in a news release.

"Uwayezu, 47, is accused of genocide, conspiracy to commit genocide, complicity in genocide and crimes against humanity. He is in Italian custody and is awaiting extradition to Rwanda.

"According to Interpol's statement, the Rwandan arrest warrant says Uwayezu was alleged 'to have acted individually and as part of a conspiracy to plan and commit genocide by instigating Hutus to kill Tutsis in the area of Gikongoro, as director of the Groupe Scolaire Marie Merci college in Kibeho.'..."
Granted, "genocide" isn't exactly "terrorism."

"Terrorism," as generally used these days, means "the calculated use of violence (or the threat of violence) against civilians in order to attain goals that are political or religious or ideological in nature; this is done through intimidation or coercion or instilling fear". (Princeton's WordNet)

"Genocide" is the "systematic killing of a racial or cultural group". (Princeton's WordNet) Not quite the same thing.

Still, accounts by people who escaped the national socialist's purging of non-Aryans - and one who didn't (see The Diary of Anne Frank) suggest that having your friends, family - and yourself - hunted down is a 'terrifying' experience. In some respects, at any rate. So I don't think that post involving one of the African genocides is all that much off-topic in this blog.

'Hutus? Tutsis? Never Heard of Them'

Not all that many people - outside central Africa - probably have.

View Larger Map

Hutus were living in the lands between Lake Kivu and Lake Ihema about 500 years ago, when Tutsis moved in. European oppressors weren't involved.1 People around the world seem quite capable of getting into trouble with each other, with no outside help.

The Tutsis were controlling the area - and the Hutus - when Europeans arrived.

By the way, I'm sort of ignoring the Twa - who at this point number about 1% of the Rwandan population. The Twa are pygmies, and well under the radar as far as the Hutu-Tutsi conflict are concerned.

The area occupied by Hutu and their Tutsi rulers was so far inland that Europeans didn't get there until the 19th century. After a bit of wrangling, Germany got control of the place in 1885. Belgians and British wanted the place too, or at least pieces of it.

Then, after the end of The War to End All Wars, the (victorious) leaders of Europe, and American President Wilson, drew up the Treaty of Versailles: establishing national boundaries with the sort of heady self-confidence that seems to have been in vogue at the time.

World War II and a century of smaller conflicts might suggest that Versailles wasn't such a good idea, after all.

The treaty, I mean. The Palace, grounds, and town are a magnificent example of 16th- and 17th century city planning and architecture.

Back to Hutus and Tutsis

I suppose that, since the Tutsis were ruling the Hutus at the time, it's understandable that the Europeans regarded them as superior to the Hutus - and ran the area under that assumption.

The Hutus, apparently, didn't like the situation. It's possible to see the Rwandan genocide(s) as a sort of payback. Which isn't to say that I approve. At all.

Resources in the "Background" links, below, give a little more detail about what happened in that part of Africa, and the people who live there.

"The" Rwandan genocide happened in 1994, when about 800,000 people were killed in about 100 days. They weren't all Tutsis: some moderate Hutu were deemed unfit to live, too. Around 2,000,000 surviving Hutus fled to Zaire - which now goes by the name "Democratic Republic of the Congo."

You can't have that many people moving around, without causing a bit of animosity. "Ethnic strife and civil war" led to Zaire's Colonel Joseph Mobutu defeat. He'd run the country since 1965, re-naming it Zaire. Laurent Kabila was the next ruler. He re-named the country the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Other warriors challenged him in 1998. Kabila was assassinated in 2001, with his son succeeding him as ruler. (CIA)

I gather that the Congo Free State Belgian Congo Republic of the Congo Zaire Democratic Republic of the Congo's head of state is called a president. That's a pretty common title these days - but the methods used to determine leadership remind me of the 'good old days,' when my forebears discussed issues of succession with swords and axes, often as not.

Back in Rwanda, the disagreements between Hutus and Tutsis - and other matters - are, in my opinion, far from settled. (BBC) On the other hand, it looks like Rwanda's people are working their way from settling their differences by fighting, to the somewhat less messy methods many countries use today. They'll probably be successful, sooner or later, in getting up to speed with places like Scotland, Norway, and Germany.

Sooner, if they don't get more 'help' like the Versailles Treaty, in my opinion.

My Outlook for Africa - Short Term and Not-So-Short Term

I've speculated that one reason Europe did as well as it did is that there weren't any major powers 'helping' and 'guiding' the Campbells and the MacDonalds, the Vikings and the Gaels, a thousand years ago.

The odds are very good that I had kinfolk on both sides of the wall at Lindisfarne, and I've got a more personal stake in the thaneship of Cawdor than many.2

But somehow mainland Europe got over the Viking raids. Norway is part of the European Economic Area and the European Free Trade Association, although it's not part of the European Union. And quite a few Irishmen are Vikings - or descended from the northmen. But that's another story.

Africa has produced relatively stable kingdoms and empires before, like Kush, Nubia, Songhay, Mali and Ashanti: and, arguably, ancient Egypt. Hollywood notwithstanding, quite a few of the Pharaohs were as obviously African as I'm obviously European. (ethnically - I was born in North Dakota) Sure, they didn't follow the Geneva Conventions, and didn't have bicameral legislatures. Nobody did, before the 18th and 19th centuries.

With the track record they have, I see no reason why people living in Africa can't cobble together functional national or regional governments that are more-or-less in compliance with international law.

If the Vikings, the Irish, the French and the Germans can manage it, I'd say anybody can.

Emmanuel Uwayezu is One of Those People

There's every indication that Emmanuel Uwayezu is a Catholic priest.

For some, that'll be proof that 'those Catholics' are nasty people who commit genocide. Or, that Emmanuel Uwayezu can't be guilty, because he's a priest.

I'm a Catholic, so I'm a bit biased here. If Emmanuel Uwayezu is guilty of the crimes he's accused of, I hope that he's tried, found guilty, and sanctioned appropriately. Genocide isn't just against international law: it's forbidden by the Church (March 8, 2009, A Catholic Citizen in America)

I don't think Emmanuel Uwayezu's (alleged) involvement in a genocide is connected to his being a Catholic priest, any more than I assume that he arranged for the deaths of enemies of his tribe because he's black. I give people credit for having free will: the capacity to choose whether they will do good or evil.

But, like I said, I'm biased.

Related posts: In the news: Background:
1 Around that time, some Europeans were thrashing out who would control Cawdor Castle.

Although I enjoy the play by that Englishman, Shakespeare, the fact is that Macbeth won the castle fairly, by might of arms. I have a passing interest in the thaneship of Cawdor myself, as the clan Campbell held Cawdor when life got a bit more settled in the region - and hold it, I'm told, to this day.

2 I'd be Thane of Cawdor myself, being descended from the clan Cambell, though not bearing the name: if a sizable fraction of a million people were to drop dead. Not that I'd want the title, not at that price.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

In the News: Shaking it for Islam; Wannabe Jihadist Stopped

The war on terror (which no longer exists, officially (March 30, 2009)) was in the news this week: quite a bit.

Since I'm more limited than, say, The New York Times when it comes to having resources to research and write about events and issues, I have to pick my topics. Out of the welter of bombings, talks, and assertions this week, two items stood out.

Shaking It for Islam

Or, 'with friends like these, Islam doesn't need enemies.'
"Women in Somalia forced by hardliners to shake their breasts"
Zimbabwe Star (October 20, 2009)

"Somalia's hardline Muslim extremists have ordered women to shake their breasts to determine if they are wearing 'un-Islamic' bras...."

"...The Daily Mail has reported that some women have been publicly whipped for wearing hidden undergarments, with insurgents claiming that it is a 'deceptive' act to violate Islam by wearing bras...."
American psychologists in the fifties and sixties would have had a field day with an item like that. If any of them had decided to write a book about Al Shabaab's 'shake it, babe' version of Islam, they'd have probably outsold "The Naked Ape" (1967).
"Somali Islamists whip women for wearing bras"
Reuters Africa (October 16, 2009)

"Somalia's hardline Islamist group al Shabaab has publicly whipped women for wearing bras they say violate Islam by constituting a deception, north Mogadishu residents said Friday.

"The insurgent group, which seeks to impose a strict form of sharia Islamic law throughout Somalia, amputated a foot and a hand each from two young men accused of robbery earlier this month. They have also banned movies, musical ringtones, dancing at wedding ceremonies and playing or watching soccer.

"Residents said gunmen had been rounding up any woman seen with a firm bust and then had them publicly whipped by masked men. The women were then told to remove their bras and shake their breasts.

" 'Al shabaab forced us to wear their type of veil and now they order us to shake our breasts,' a resident, Halima, told Reuters, adding that her daughters had been whipped Thursday.

" 'They first banned the former veil and introduced a hard fabric which stands stiffly on women's chests. They are now saying that breasts should be firm naturally, or just flat.'..."
Islam isn't the only religion that's had its crazies. Back in 1616, Thomas Tuke, a Puritan, won lasting fame of a sort with "A Treatise against Painting and Tincturing". his strong antipathy toward women who 'deceive' men by dying their hair or using makeup has been discussed for decades. I was introduced to the story in the sixties, and I found a reference to it as recently as 1994.

I'll say this for Al Shabaab, although I certainly don't support their actions: Having their guys tell well-stacked chicks to shake it for Islam is probably great for their morale. The Al Shabaab dudes, I mean. I get the impression that the women aren't quite so happy about the situation.

Terrorists Stopped or Religious Expression Repressed: Take Your Pick

This story is getting attention in traditional American news media. I suspect the choice of targets helped.
"Feds: Boston terror suspect planned to kill officials, attack mall"
CNN (October 21, 2009)

"A Massachusetts man was charged Wednesday with one count of conspiring to provide material support to terrorists abroad, the acting U.S. attorney for Massachusetts said Wednesday.

"Tarek Mehanna, 27, of Sudbury, Massachusetts, traveled overseas, sought training from the Taliban, wanted to kill U.S. soldiers in Iraq and hoped to kill one or two members of the executive branch of the U.S. government, said Michael K. Loucks, the acting U.S. attorney for Massachusetts....

"... Mehanna and the others were unable to get automatic weapons to carry out the mall attack, Loucks said.

"The complaint affidavit alleges that Mehanna and co-conspirators sought to participate in 'violent jihad against American interests and ... would talk about fighting jihad and their desire to die on the battlefield.'..."
From the looks of it the 'battlefield' might have been a place like Mall of America, here in Minnesota. As I said, I think that targeting politicos and American shopping malls got the American press's attention. I even heard something about this on NPR.

Times being what they are, I doubt that anybody's going to try excusing Tarek Mehanna and company on the basis of religious freedom. After all, the argument could be made, all he wanted to do was follow his (sincerely held) religious beliefs.

After 9/11, that sort of open-mindedness seems to have been on the wane.

But, as I've said before, I could be wrong.

Related posts: In the news:

Anita Dunn, John Ensign, and Beliefs

Updating my post of October 19, 2009. I'd better start this one the same way:

This blog isn't political, as I've discussed before. (June 21, 2009, for starters)

Just the same, America's leaders are chosen by a political process. What they believe and what they do affects the war on terror. And, discussing what they apparently believe will, at times, seem 'political.'

I'm concerned about what an interview with White House Communications Director Anita Dunn, on CNN's "Reliable Sources" showed.

"Everybody knows" that FOXNews is an arm of the Republican Party, that it never covers Republican scandals, and so forth. As long as "everybody" is the people at a Starbucks in lower Manhattan, or the faculty lounge of a college, that's not so much of a problem.

When the member of the White House staff - speaking, apparently, for the White House - believes that this is true, that could be a problem. Particularly when she refers to facts which aren't so.

"Anita Dunn: Fox News Is 'Research Arm of the Republican Party' "

PoliticsNewsPolitics, YouTube (October 11, 2009)
video 9:07

A transcript of part of that interview, about 4:45 to 5:31 and 5:35 to 6:10:
Anita Dunn:

"...and I told Major [Garrett] quite honestly that we had told Chris - Wallace - that having fact-checked an administration guest on his show - something I've never seen a Sunday show do - and, Howie, you can show me examples of where Sunday shows have fact-checked previous weeks' guests and I'd be happy to see those - We asked Chris for an example where he had done that to anybody besides somebody from the administration in the year 2009, and we're still waiting to hear from hear from him. When they want to treat us like they treat everyone else. But let's be realistic here, Howie. You know, and they are, you know, they are, they're widely viewed as you know, part of the Republican Party. Take their talking points, put them on the air; take their talking points, put them on the air, and that's fine. But let's not pretend they're a news network the way CNN is...."

Asked for a clarification:

"...I'm not talking about people like Major Garrett, I'm talking about the overall programming. [Howard Kurtz: "Okay"] For instance, Howie, The New York Times had a front-page story about Nevada Senator John Ensign. And the fact that he had gotten his former chief of staff a job as a lobbyist. Then helped those clients. His former chief of staff's wife was somebody Ensign'd had an affair with. [Howard Kurtz: "An important story"] Right. Now. Did you see coverage of that on Fox News? I'm not talking Glenn Beck, I'm not Sean, I'm not talking The Factor, I'm talking about Fox News. [Howard Kurtz: "I will have to check on that. I I assume you know the answer."] ..."
(CNN's "Reliable Sources", via YouTube video: transcribed by Brian H. Gill / Norski)
Limiting her sample of Fox News Sunday to "in the year 2009" was smart. And, she may be right about that.

But comparing The New York Times' cover story of one of John Ensign's scandals to FOXNews, she asked the rhetorical question: "Did you see coverage of that on Fox News?" In context, it's clear that she thinks the answer is "no."

A staunch supporter of America's first Hawaiian president might note that FOXNews didn't cover exactly the same parts of John Ensign's career as The New York Times covered.

As I've discussed before, newspapers and news networks have limited space and time to work with. They can't present everything they know, and have to select what gets published.

From the looks of it, John Ensign has been quite busy, since he went to Washington. With a plethora of scandalous - and probably illegal, even for a Senator - extracurricular pursuits of John Ensign, I'm not surprised that two news outlets failed to present exactly the same selection of naughty behavior.

From the October 19, 2009 post:

FOXNews Coverage of Senator John Ensign's Scandal (That - According to the White House - Doesn't Exist)

I selected the first few Google hits, ignoring a page of links to videos, and a sort of 'where are they now' of politicians caught with their pants down.

John Ensign May be Innocent Until Proven Guilty - But His Current Scandal is Certainly on FOXNews

This is America, so a person is innocent until proven guilty. In courts, anyway. Just the same, Senator John Ensign seems to have cheated on his wife - systematically - and had his parents pay the bill for his extramarital jollies.

Admirable, in a way, keeping it 'in the family:' I get the idea that most Senators use public funds for that sort of thing.

Not that I approve of cheating on your spouse - even if you're a senator.
(October 19, 2009)
And yet, with leadership like this, America endures.

Related post:

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The Chembots are Coming! It's Just Like "Terminator 2"!

No, not really.

"Pentagon Researchers Unveil Blob-Like Robot"
FOXNews (October 20, 2009)

" The Pentagon has unveiled a new 'chemical robot' that's half liquid, half solid…and all weird.

"The new robot — which scientist are calling a ChemBot — moves by inflating and deflating parts of its body via a process called jamming. This causes its skin to change between semi-liquid and semi-solid states. Researchers say it could one day help save lives on the battle field.

" spoke with Ward Carroll, the editor of, about the chembot.

" 'Jamming is simply introducing air into a membrane that's filled with particulate matter— BBs, if you will,' he explained. 'The plan is that this robot would go where other robots can't go, because it can change from a solid to a liquid-like state.'..."

I could write some 'scare' copy, comparing chembots to the living-metal robot from "Terminator 2: Judgment Day," but you can read that sort of thing in the more 'relevant' blogs.

Like so many prototypes, today's chembot doesn't look all that impressive:

(From, used w/o permission)

(From, used w/o permission)

Actually, it reminds me of a bean bag. That can flex.

As the article points out, these chembots are at the "proof of concept" stage now. Since the gadget actually does change shape on cue, technicians and researchers can go on to develop versions that'll do something more than just show they can move.

One of the obvious applications is intelligence-gathering.

Interesting days, these that we're in.

Related post:

Monday, October 19, 2009

White House Reporting, John Ensign, Freedom and a Reality Check

This blog isn't political, as I've discussed before. (June 21, 2009, for starters)

In some circles "everybody" knows that FOXNews always lies about President Obama, and never covers any conservative scandals. I can see their point: FOXNews coverage wasn't as adulatory of the "change" president as traditional news networks. And FOXNews has the annoying habit of reporting news: even if it doesn't support White House policy or display President Obama's efforts in a favorable light.

Criticizing the President is Treason!

Well, no.

That's the way we work in America. It's a concept we call 'freedom.' Being allowed to criticize national leaders can result in awkward conversations - and the occasional criminal investigation.

Remember Watergate?

I remember the 'good old days,' when it was conservatives bitterly complaining about people who criticized The Government, and even The President. You could almost hear the capital letters as they uttered those two phrases. Quite a few of them seemed to think that criticizing government policies or elected officials bordered on treason.

Well, those were conservatives. And "everybody" knows what they're like.

This time "everybody" isn't all that wrong.

Some conservatives have a very narrow - and distorted - view of the world, and regard reminders of that objective reality which we all share as a sort of attack.

So do some liberals.

I suspect that tunnel-vision chauvinism is a trait you'd find in some supporters of almost any political or philosophical position.

That's more of an annoyance, than a problem, as long as people who see the world through an ideological kaleidoscope are few in number and far from major decision-making positions.

When they're in top federal offices, I get concerned.

As I wrote before, "In some circles 'everybody' knows that FOXNews always lies about President Obama...." When the "everybody" are people contributing to a discussion thread, or writing a blog, that's America's cultural background noise these days.

When they're on the White House staff, I get concerned.

Like it or not, the American president is in a critical decision-making position - and if he or his staff are breaking with reality, we've got trouble. Big time.

The White House Communications Director, FOXNews, and Fact Checking

"...'She [White House communications director Anita Dunn] criticized "FOX News Sunday" last week for fact-checking -- fact-checking -- an administration official,' [FOX News Sunday host Chris] Wallace said Sunday. 'They didn't say that our fact-checking was wrong. They just said that we had dared to fact-check.'

" 'Let's fact-check Anita Dunn, because last Sunday she said that Fox ignores Republican scandals, and she specifically mentioned the scandal involving Nevada senator John Ensign,' Wallace added. 'A number of Fox News shows have run stories about Senator Ensign. Anita Dunn's facts were just plain wrong.'..."
"Fact checker" is a term used in journalism. It's what you call a person who researches assertions made in non-fiction text: and who is supposed to point out assertions that can't be verified; or which are contrary to objective reality. To "fact check" is, presumably, the act of performing a fact checker's tasks.

I "fact-check" routinely: a habit from my college days, and before.

Since the host of a FOXNews show asserted that FOXNews had covered the John Ensign scandal (the latest one, anyway), I needed to see if FOXNews actually had published an article or two on the conservative senator.

Using Google, I found 816 hits for "John Ensign" - which doesn't prove much.

About "John Ensign" and Names in America

"John Ensign" is a fairly typical sort of name in America.

You may not know all that many "Ensign" families, but the surname is the 15,523th most-common surname of the 88,799 listed in a U.S. Census report.1

That's not as common as the top three names (Smith, Johnson, Williams); but much more common than family names like Kiliipaakaua, Billingsby, or Plavnik. As for "John," It's the second-most-common name for guys in America, just after "James," and before "Robert."

So some of those 816 "John Ensign" hits might be stories about a John Ensign who won a chess tournament in Boise, Idaho, or was elected mayor of Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Quite a number of those Google hits, though, are about a "John Ensign" who is a senator - and who apparently should have known better.

FOXNews Coverage of Senator John Ensign's Scandal (That - According to the White House - Doesn't Exist)

I selected the first few Google hits, ignoring a page of links to videos, and a sort of 'where are they now' of politicians caught with their pants down.

John Ensign May be Innocent Until Proven Guilty - But His Current Scandal is Certainly on FOXNews

This is America, so a person is innocent until proven guilty. In courts, anyway. Just the same, Senator John Ensign seems to have cheated on his wife - systematically - and had his parents pay the bill for his extramarital jollies.

Admirable, in a way, keeping it 'in the family:' I get the idea that most Senators use public funds for that sort of thing.

Not that I approve of cheating on your spouse - even if you're a senator.

Finally, I noticed that FOXNews chose to put their articles about John Ensign - which the White House says don't exist - in the Politics section. That choice is open to criticism, since under the circumstances coverage of Senator Ensign's extramarital activities might have been categorized in some other way. Alternative placement might have been in the Health or Leisure sections.

Related posts: on news, assumptions, and points of view.
(added about 6:20 p.m. October 19, 2009): News and views:
1 "Frequently Occurring First Names and Surnames From the 1990 Census," U.S. Census Bureau. Source: U.S. Census Bureau, Population Division. Data read May 22, 2007, verified October 19, 2009.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Iran's Nuclear Weapons Program: Oops, Let's Look at That Again

The headline is dry enough, and the first few paragraphs are hardly what I'd call heated prose. But this article got my attention anyway:
"U.S. Considers a New Assessment of Iran Threat"
The Wall Street Journal (October 16, 2009)

"Amid Pressure After Latest Nuclear Revelations, Spy Agencies Rethink a 2007 Judgment That Weapons Effort Had Been Halted"

"U.S. spy agencies are considering whether to rewrite a controversial 2007 intelligence report that asserted Tehran halted its efforts to build nuclear weapons in 2003, current and former U.S. intelligence officials say.

"The intelligence agencies' rethink comes as pressure is mounting on Capitol Hill, and among U.S. allies, for the Obama administration to redo the 2007 assessment, after a string of recent revelations about Tehran's nuclear program.

"German, French and British intelligence agencies have all disputed the conclusions of the 2007 National Intelligence Estimate, or NIE, in recent months, according to European officials briefed on the exchanges...."

So Iran's Ayatollahs Get the Bomb: What's the Worst that Could Happen?

Odds are, I think, pretty good that Iran won't have more than the dozen or so nuclear weapons that North Korea probably has, any time soon: and probably nothing all that much more powerful than the devices that overheated parts of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

More effective weapons, like the hydrogen bomb that put a mile-wide crater near Nam island in the Pacific, back in the fifties.1 More powerful bombs have been developed since then, of course.

However, it's quite expensive to build, say, a 100 megaton hydrogen bomb: and you need fairly specialized equipment to make the components. And, of course, people who can run the machines.

So I don't think that Iran will be punching mile-wide holes in the ground any time soon.

But it's remarkable, how much damage can be done with just a dozen or so kilotons-worth of atomic bomb.
Hiroshima, Nagasaki, and Two Very Unpleasant Days
A piddly little 13 to 18 kiloton bomb vaporized part of Hiroshima, killed around 140,000 people, and make others really sick. The 21 kiloton bomb that went off over Nagasaki would have done quite a lot more damage, if it weren't for the hills there. Even so, about 39,000 people were killed.

Those were very unpleasant experiences, and I hope that sort of thing doesn't happen again.

On the other hand, I'm not going to indulge in the conventional apology for a decision made by President Truman, which saved thousands - maybe millions - of Japanese lives. And quite a number of American lives, for what that's worth.2

Like it or not, Japan's leaders during WWII had given no indication that they wanted to surrender (and yes, I know about the 'surrender/capitulation' translation - the story's been on campuses for at least thirty years).

On the other hand, experience in the Pacific theater had taught that Japanese forces were quite willing to fight to the death, rather than surrender. And quite capable of employing Japanese civilians for combat and combat support.

Accepting death before defeat can be an admirable trait, and won Spartans lasting fame at Thermopylae. But the resolve of Japanese leaders also indicated that an invasion of the Japanese homeland would most likely involve fighting until the vast majority of Japanese citizens were dead. Along with quite a large number of Americans. Including my father, who served on an LST slated for use in the invasion.

Without the reality-check of those nuclear bombs, a conventional invasion of Japan was, I've read and been told, was the only realistic alternative.

I'm one of the people who most likely wouldn't have been born, if President Truman had been 'nice.'

I'm not sorry I'm alive, and I'm not at all sorry that thousands (millions?) of Japanese citizens around my age and younger are alive, too. (More at "Unintended Consequences? The West May be Getting Over Hiroshima" (January 25, 2008))

Iran's Ayatollahs With A-Bombs

I think many people would agree that cities like Budapest, Vienna, Athens or Warsaw wouldn't be improved by having a nuclear bomb detonated over - or in - them. The same probably goes for Paris, Berlin, Moscow, London and Madrid.

Some of those cities aren't withing range of missiles Iran's known to have, today: but I don't think there's any reason to believe that something like Fat Man couldn't be shipped in via air freight.

As for the idea that London, say, wouldn't be hit because there are mosques there? Muslims who follow the wacky side of Islam have shown little if any reservations about hitting a mosque. Maybe if it isn't the one they go to, it's just another enemy target. The rationale doesn't matter: the fact is, Muslims blowing up other Muslims and mosques is a fairly routine news item, and has been for years.

All things considered, I don't think this period is one of Islam's shining hours.

But that's another topic.

A Hundred Thousand or So Dead Parisians Wouldn't be Nice

I think that people in France wouldn't like it if part of Paris was obliterated. They might even be irrité if bits and pieces of Madrid or Moscow started falling out of a mushroom cloud. Can't say that I'd blame them.

I wouldn't be happy, either: and I wouldn't be happy if an American city was nuked.

The sort of death and destruction that would go along with that sort of an even would be, as I said before, unpleasant.

What happened as a result of a nuclear strike probably wouldn't be pleasant, either.

Remember how many people felt after the 9/11 attack? 'Only' around 3,000 people died then. The death toll from a nuclear attack on a major city, even with a low-yield bomb, could easily be fifty times as large.

America, the likes of Professor Ward Churchill notwithstanding, took time to figure out who actually launched the 9/11 attack - and where they were based. Then, an American-led coalition ended the Taliban's control of Afghanistan: despite the 'nuke Kabul' rhetoric of some of America's more hot-headed citizens.

A nuclear strike in America might, or might not, provoke America to lash out thoughtlessly. But let's say the target wasn't in America.

Quite a few nations have, or most likely have, nuclear weapons:
  • US
  • Russia
  • United Kingdom
  • France
  • China
  • Israel
  • India
  • Pakistan
  • North Korea
Several of those countries have missiles that could deliver warheads a significant distance. I don't think it's beyond the realm of possibility that their leaders might, if they suffered a nuclear attack, respond in kind.

If the Iran's Ayatollahs ordered the attack, and used a missile launched from Iran, the sort of detective work that went into finding out that - despite the number of Saudi citizens among the 9/11 terrorists - the rulers of Afghanistan were responsible, and not Saudi Arabia.

Let's Say Iran Nukes Moscow

I really wouldn't like to read, sometime in the next few years, that part of Moscow had been destroyed, and that people could start moving back into the Tehran area in another few centuries.

On the other hand, that sort of scenario would end the "Iranian nukes" issue.

What to do? Short of Obliterating Iran

I have a great respect for the people of Iran and their history. I think the world would be better with Iran, than without the country.

The Ayatollahs are something else: but the Ayatollahs are not Iran. (See "Journalism in the Information Age, Or Nothing Says 'No' Like a Brightly Burning Motorcycle" (June 24, 2009))

An option that gets discussed in the news quite often is economic sanctions against Iran. It sounds like an attractive idea, and would be even more attractive to me if there were a good chance that it would work.

But so far, economic sanctions haven't done much more to Iran than give the leaders there something to talk about, and hurt the citizenry.

I'm not at all convinced that sanctions work, as a rule. Take North Korea, for example: economic sanctions have probably hurt Koreans who aren't connected with Kim Jon Il's government: but there's little reason to believe that he's suffered. His staff has probably had to scramble to keep up his supplies of lobster - but they're out of the loop when it comes to decision-making.

I'd love to have a practical, humane, popular, and swift solution to the problem of religious fanatics trying to get nuclear weapons.

I don't have one.

I do think that there's a chance that the Ayatollahs will mismanage Iran so badly that significant Iranians end their rule - and, probably, their lives.

Whether that happens before Iran builds and delivers a nuclear bomb depends on knowledge I don't have.

I'm afraid that military force will be necessary to end the threat of Ayatollahs with nukes. It doesn't need to be a 'nuke Tehran' approach. If the:
  • Iranian nuclear program is concentrated in a few places
  • Facilities
    • Can be precisely located
    • Are close enough to the surface so that 'bunker buster' penetrating bombs would be effective
Then maybe an equivalent to Israel's bombing of Iraq's reactor, back in 1981, would end the threat - long enough for fed-up Iranians to solve their problems with a new set of leaders.

That's a lot of "ifs," though.

So, do I think sanctions will work? No.

Would a precise military strike be effective? Maybe - but I think the odds are mighty slim. Even so: I think the odds are that someone is going to solve the 'Iranian nukes' issue with something between a comparatively precise attack, and a full-scale assault that will leave much of Iran in ruins.

Do I have a better idea? Other than wait and hope that Iran's people wipe out the Ayatollahs and their government: no.

Do I think this is a satisfactory state of affairs? Certainly not.

Related posts: In the news: Background:

1Mile-Wide Crater: Roughly

The crater wasn't exactly a mile across. Haskins's paper says that the Castle Bravo hydrogen bomb had a 15 megaton yield, and produced a crater 6.500 feet in diameter and 250 feet deep. I think those numbers are rounded: but you get the idea. Hydrogen bombs have been built with a design yield of 100 megatons. ( For comparison, the nuclear bomb detonated over Hiroshima was rated at 12 kilotons. ( Or 13 to 18. Depends on who you read.

2Nagasaki, Hiroshima, and People Like Me

The civil rights movement in America taught us to think of people in terms of their ethnicity and ancestry. Every ancestor of mine that I know of descended from people in northwestern Europe, and I look it: melanin-deficient skin, blue eyes and all. You'd think that people in Japan would be utterly foreign to me.

It's a fact: I'd stick out like a sore thumb in Tokyo, if I wandered away from the usual tourist haunts.

On the other hand, I have a great deal in common with quite a few people in Hiroshima. And even more in Nagasaki. I'm Catholic. There are - and were - quite a few Catholics in those two cities. Quite a few of them died when those nuclear bombs went off.

I'm not happy about that. At all.

But I'm not going to rant about Yankee imperialism, for the reasons I've outlined.

That photo? According to an accompanying article, that's what was left of the Urakami Cathedral in Nagasaki, after the "Fat Man" bomb went off. Like I said, I'm not happy about that.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Indonesia, Islam, Adultery, Stoning, Burkinis, Divisiveness and the West

I've run into assertions like these quite often over the last few years. You probably have, too:
  • Those Muslims make women wear burqas, and let men do anything they want.
  • Islam oppresses women and has no standards for male behavior or dress.
  • Muslim women are forced to dress a certain way, Muslim men aren't.
I know: There's a bit of redundancy in that list. But you get the idea.

I can see why quite a few people think that those assumptions are true. Sudan and Saudi Arabia, for example, seem to be in a race for first place at displaying Islam as a hopelessly anachronistic cluster of beliefs, run by men with - to be polite about it - weird sexual hangups.

New Law Proposed in Indonesia: A Woman Accused of Adultery Should be Stoned

I've read enough about Islam, and corresponded with enough Muslims and Muslimas, to suspect - quite strongly - that the House of Saud and the bunch running Sudan don't represent all Islam.

Men who think Islam holds men and women to different standards don't just live in and near the Middle East. Here's some political news from Indonesia:
"The law also dismisses a rape victim's claims unless she can provide four male witnesses to the assault."(CNN)
In a way, no surprises here. That's the Islam most westerners see, the version of Sudan and Saudi Arabia, and - to a greater extent - Al Qaeda and the Taliban.

Just on thing. This law went through a provincial parliament in Indonesia. And it's not likely to get implemented.

The law was railroaded through the provincial parliament in Aceh, a semi-autonomous Indonesian province. The lawmakers responsible are the outgoing MPs of the "Prosperous Justice Party" - a bunch of Islamic "hardliners," as CNN put it.

"...'It is very unlikely the law will be implemented,' foreign ministry spokesman Teuku Faizasyah said Tuesday. 'The governor has already made it clear he won't support the legislation.'..."
Aceh has been a problem for Indonesia: and was given a measure of independence in exchange for a measure of peace.

The governor of Aceh, Irwandi Yusuf, is a former rebel who is in an unenviable position. On the one hand, he's got the "deeply devout" (or wildly wacky, depending on your point of view) religious leaders who have influence in the province.

On the other hand, the governor has foreign donors whose investments could help pull Aceh out of the mess left by his insurgency and a 2004 tsunami.

The problem, as nearly as I can see it, is that many of the foreign donors aren't all that keen on supporting an outfit that stones rape victims.

And lets get real: if a man in Aceh forces a woman to have sex with him, and they get caught, he isn't likely to say, 'I'm a rapist.' He'll say it was consensual sex, and that she's an adulteress. Unless four men break the 'good old boy' code and fess up to what happened, the dude's problems will soon be a bloody mess on the pavement.

The law doesn't just affect women, though.
"... Women are required to wear headscarves. Men caught gambling or drinking alcohol are whipped. Muslims are mandated to pray five times a day....

"...'Imposing these draconian punishments on private, consensual conduct means the government can dictate people's intimate lives,' Elaine Pearson, deputy Asia director of Human Rights Watch, said of the new law...."
I'd be surprised if I was on the same page with Ms. Pearson: more about that later. But I do think that the new Aceh law, as reported, is good news for male rapists/seducers, and really bad news for women.

Bikini Babes, Hot Chicks, Muslim Women and Ogling Men

On the other hand, the imposition of Islamic culture on British swimming pools has most likely been a big disappointment to ogling men, but might not be all that bad for women, in the long run.
News from the United Kingdom:
'...British swimming pools are imposing Muslim dress codes in a move described as divisive by Labour MPs.'

'Under the rules, swimmers – including non-Muslims – ... must comply with the 'modest' code of dress required by Islamic custom, with women covered from the neck to the ankles and men, who swim separately, covered from the navel to the knees. [emphasis mine]

'The phenomenon runs counter to developments in France, where last week a woman was evicted from a public pool for wearing a burkini – the headscarf, tunic and trouser outfit which allows Muslim women to preserve their modesty in the water. [emphasis mine]

'The 35-year-old, named only as Carole, is threatening legal action after she was told by pool officials in Emerainville, east of Paris, that she could not wear the outfit on hygiene grounds....'
"I think the Labor Members of Parliament have a point: this is a 'divisive' point. Men in western countries have learned to expect the titillation of watching nubile young women bouncing in their bikinis on the beach. Depriving them of this (right?) certainly could be a 'divisive' issue.

"On the other hand, I'm not at all sure that something being done in France makes it sophisticated and/or a good idea.

"Sure: right now, after decades of bikinis, hot pants and nipple rings, it's hard to imagine that anyone would be mean-spirited enough to deprive hot-blooded men of their jollies. Or women of the opportunity to be regarded as 3D living color moving centerfolds...."
A Catholic Citizen in America (August 16, 2009)

Yes, This Does Connect With the War on Terror

I think the war on terror has at least as much to do with a conflict of cultures as it does with the religious beliefs of some Muslims and the increasingly secularized hodgepodge of fashionable notions in the West.

One of the most obvious and visible aspects of a culture is what people chose to wear - or are forced to wear.

A Disclaimer: I'm One of Those People

I'm a practicing Catholic: which puts me at odds with a great deal of Western culture. I am convinced that:
  • Women should be regarded as
    • People
    • Not sex objects
  • Everybody should exercise the moderate self-respect we call "modesty"
  • Sex
    • Is a wonderful aspect of the human condition
    • Is not the be-all and end-all of existence
  • Civilization is More than Bikinis and Nipple Rings
And yeah: that makes me really counter-cultural. Which is a topic for another blog.

But They Don't Do It That Way in France!

I have long been of the opinion that Versailles is a wonderful example of architecture and landscape design; that the Louvre is a great museum, and that Charlemagne was a great leader. But I do not think that an idea is worthwhile simply because it's French.

I've discussed how the French government believes that women should be free to decide how they dress. Provided that they choose according to French standards. (Ooh! La! La!) (July 11, 2008)

Are Bikinis the Only Thing Holding Up Western Civilization?

I'd like to think that flashing flesh on the beach or in the swimming pool isn't the only thing Western civilization has left.

And, I think it's important to note that at least some flavors of Islam have a dress code that applies to men and women:
Swimmers "...must comply with the "modest" code of dress required by Islamic custom, with women covered from the neck to the ankles and men, who swim separately, covered from the navel to the knees...."
Men in the West have gotten used to women putting themselves on display. It's a sort of tradition.

But that doesn't make contemporary Western standards of attire a good idea. A tradition of sorts, yes. Good idea: that's debatable.

This may be a good time for people in the West to decide what they really think women are, and whether the culturally-normative floor show is really respectful and appropriate.

And, I think that an idea that "runs counter to developments in France" can still be an idea worth considering.

Related posts: In the news: Background:

Thursday, October 8, 2009

We Can Learn So Much From the French: More About Culture

Update (December 6, 2009)

Roman Polanski, that award-winning and highly talented child rapist, is facing justice: European style. Looks like he's under house arrest - in a Swiss chalet.

And who says crime doesn't pay - for the right people?

Of course, there's the possibility that the Swiss government will decide to go along with an American request for extradition. Or, not.
(Arnd Wiegmann, via Reuters, used w/o permission)
I've made the point - often - that Islam isn't a single, huge, monolithic, homogeneous block of people. More recently, I've mentioned that the West is the same way.

Like the French government's shielding a child rapist (alleged, of course) because he's a great filmmaker. That's a very close paraphrase of a French government spokesperson's statement.

Turns out, many people living in France may not be quite so, ah, open-minded:
"France's Culture Minister Frederic Mitterrand is facing intense pressure over a book he wrote that described paying for "young boys" in Thailand.

The book was written four years ago, before he joined the government, but is back in the headlines following his impassioned support for Roman Polanski.

Polanski has been arrested in Switzerland on child sex charges.

Mr Mitterrand, nephew of former President Francois Mitterrand, has come under attack from right and left. ...
Maybe the French wouldn't have minded so much if their Culture Minister had restricted his hanky-panky to young girls? Or been a great filmmaker?

Or, maybe France has the same disconnect between the 'better sort' who run things, and the 'pool, uneducated and easily led' Janes and Joes who actually make things run.

Related post: In the news:

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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.