Saturday, January 31, 2009

New on the Blogroll

"National Interest, and as a corollary, Primacy" is the blogroll's latest link.

The blogger, Richard Nere, says: "These are indeed my personal pontifications on the vicissitudes of International Affairs." Given his academic credentials, interest in international affairs, and what I've read of his blog, I think his posts will be worth reading.

The usual disclaimer: I don't necessarily agree with, or endorse, what's on the blogroll. It's where I list websites and blogs that I think shed light on the War on Terror.

Iraq Elections Okay, Civilian Deaths Down: Whaddaya Know? Good News

Good news from Iraq.

News coverage of Iraq's election - largely free of violence - certainly is a change from the tone of most news from Iraq. Some of it's because there has been real improvement in that country: but I can't help wondering if January 20, 2009, having passed has something to do with it.

From what I've read, it took tight security: but Iraqis got to the polls - and weren't killed. That's an improvement over Iraq's first free election in fifty years, following Saddam Hussein's defeat.

(CENTCOM Photo, from "On Point II," page 421, used w/o permission)
"Figure 106. Iraqi woman voter."

As I wrote the other day, Iraq isn't going to be a western democracy. Or a "western" anything else. But it looks like it's well on its way to being a stable country. And, considering the people and natural resources, I think it'll be a prosperous one. I hope so.

More-or-less related posts: In the news:
  • "Obama praises peaceful Iraq polls"
    BBC (January 31, 2009)
    • "US President Barack Obama has congratulated Iraqis for holding a largely peaceful vote for provincial councils across the country....
  • "Obama hails Iraqi elections as key step forward"
    Reuters (January 31, 2009)
    • "WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. President Barack Obama on Saturday hailed Iraq's peaceful provincial elections as an important step forward in Iraqis taking responsibility for their own future...."
  • "Bush shoe-thrower sculpture given the boot in Iraq"
    AFP (January 31, 2009)
    • "...The shoe -- in which a bush was planted -- stood three metres high (about 10 feet) and sat atop a white pedestal in Tikrit, the hometown of executed Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein...."
  • "Iraqi civilian deaths down in January"
    CNN (January 31, 2009)
    • "BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- The number of Iraqi civilian deaths in January dropped to the lowest monthly levels since the U.S.-led invasion began in 2003, according to government numbers supplied to CNN...."
  • "Iraq election ends without major attack - ministry"
    Reuters (January 31, 2009)
    • "BAGHDAD, Jan 31 (Reuters) - Iraq concluded provincial elections on Saturday without recording a major attack anywhere in the war-weary country, said Defence Ministry spokesman Major General Mohammed al-Askary...."

Friday, January 30, 2009

FBI, CAIR, and Hamas - This is Interesting, but Not News

The FBI cut ties with CAIR last summer.

Apparently, because CAIR may have ties with Hamas.

And, this little matter hasn't been in the news.

CAIR: Unindicted Co-Conspirator in Texas Holy Land Foundation Trial

CAIR is one of many unindicted co-conspirators in the Texas Holy Land Foundation trial. I've written before about my views on "unindicted co-conspirators" and the Holy Land Foundation trial: " looks like federal law enforcement is being thorough, compiling a list of who might, possibly, be involved in funding terrorists, and letting the judicial process sort out who's actively involved, and who's not...."

CAIR may or may not be tied to Hamas. And, the FBI's severing of ties with CAIR doesn't prove that a link exists. As a letter from an FBI special agent, explaining why CAIR affiliates could not participate in an FBI program, put it:

"...As you know, members of the United States Government, especially those serving in a law enforcement capacity, have a duty to be judicious in our activities as representatives of the Federal Government. As a result, if CAIR wishes to pursue an outreach relationship with the FABI, certain issues must be addressed to the satisfaction of the FBI. Unfortunately, these issues can not be addressed at the local level and must be addressed by the CAIR-National Office in Washington, D.C...."

CAIR, Hamas Linked - Maybe

This isn't J. Edgar Hoover's FBI of the sixties.

I don't have unconditional confidence in the FBI, any more than I do in any other human institution. But, the Federal Bureau of Investigation is not the Keystone Cops collection of incompetents and ideologues that traditional news media depicted four decades ago.

I have trouble believing that the top federal law enforcement organization would drop ties with an advocacy group like CAIR without very good reason. CAIR is not just America's "largest Muslim advocacy group" - it seems to have a great deal of clout with traditional news services.

In October, 2007, I speculated about why CAIR gets such polite coverage from old-school journalists:
I could be wrong, but I'd guess that there are two major reasons why so many news outlets don't report the a major civil rights group (allegedly) helping the other side of the War on terror:
  • Most editorial boards are staunch supporters of civil rights, and the groups they think are supporting civil rights
  • CAIR has a marked tendency to identify any attack, real or imagined, on a Muslim person or group, as some sort of bigotry - at best
(October 22, 2007)

FBI: Islamophobic? Bigoted? Racist?

That letter from the FBI ended with:

"...The FBI continues to be an ardent supporter of maintaining valuable dialogue with American Muslim communities and its leaders to forge new and enhanced relationships at both the local and the national level. The goal of the FBI's outreach is to eliminate retaliatory, hate-motivated crimes against Arab/Muslim-American individuals and to enlist the American Muslim communities' cooperation in the global war on terrorism.

"It is hoped the issues with CAIR can be resolved in a expeditious manner. In the near future the FBI will be contacting you to reschedule this important event."

I don't see indications of bigotry, racism, or islamophobia in that, but I don't work for CAIR.

CAIR, Hamas Link Suspected, FBI Drops CAIR Connection: This Isn't News?

What impresses me is old-school news media's lack of awareness of, or interest in, the FBI's blackballing of CAIR last summer. No matter what sort of editorial stance was preferred, the story's dramatic:
  • FBI Rejects CAIR Overtures
    Islamophobia in high places?
  • CAIR-Hamas Link Suspected
    Terror connection: investigation continues
  • CAIR Participation in FBI Events Postponed
    Pending trial affects outreach program
I'm sure there are other possible angles on the story.

The point is, the FBI's decision to sever relations with CAIR involves war, international intrigue, community programs, civil rights: and, for all I know, Hollywood stars and the endangered bog turtle.

Traditional news media should have been having a field day with the story. Instead, they maintained the sort of polite reticence that has helped make the blogosphere a serious competitor of traditional information gatekeepers.

Vaguely-related posts: Background:
  • USA v. Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development, Exhibit List
  • copy of October 8, 2008, letter from FBI special agent James E. Finch to "MCOP Invitee" (pdf)
    • MCOP is "Muslim Community Outreach Program"
  • "FBI Cuts Ties With CAIR Following Terror Financing Trial"
    FOXNews (January 30, 2009)
    • "The FBI is severing its once-close ties with the nation's largest Muslim advocacy group, the Council on American-Islamic Relations, amid mounting evidence that it has links to a support network for Hamas.
    • "All local chapters of CAIR have been shunned in the wake of a 15-year FBI investigation that culminated with the conviction in December of Hamas fundraisers at a trial where CAIR itself was listed as an unindicted co-conspirator.
    • "The U.S. government has designated Hamas as a terrorist organization.
    • "An official at the FBI's headquarters in Washington confirmed to FOX News that his office directed FBI field offices across the country to cut ties with local branches of CAIR.
    • "In Oklahoma, FBI officials had worked with CAIR's local branch from its founding in 2007 and attended the fundraising banquet that launched the office. But just over a year later, the local FBI froze all its programs involving CAIR...."
  • "Beware Of CAIR"
    Investor's Business Daily, Editorials & Opinions (January 30, 2009)
    • "Homeland Security: You'd think the Council on American-Islamic Relations would be savoring the results of an election that favors its agenda. Instead, it's having to do major damage control.
    • "Over the past several months, the Washington-based pressure group has suffered a series of punishing blows to its reputation as a self-proclaimed "moderate" voice for Muslim-Americans. In the latest setback, a "Dear Colleague" letter sent out to every House member warns lawmakers and their staffs to "think twice" about meeting with CAIR officials.
    • " 'The FBI has cut ties with them,' the letter says. 'There are indications' CAIR has links to Hamas, the Palestinian terrorist group.
    • "The letter, signed by five Republicans, including the head of the Congressional Anti-Terrorism Caucus, is attached to an article by a homeland-security news service. It reports that the FBI has been canceling outreach events across the country with CAIR, following a recent directive from headquarters to cut ties with the group.
  • "CAIR's True Colors"
    The Investigative Project on Terrorism (January 30, 2009)
    • "Though it represents itself to be a Muslim civil rights organization, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) devoted most of its resources earlier this month to mobilizing opposition to Israel's attempt to neutralize Hamas militarily. It organized petition drives and bus caravans from chapters across the country to a protest held January 10th in Washington, D.C.
    • "On Thursday, the Investigative Project on Terrorism reported that the FBI has cut off contact with CAIR due to unanswered questions about the organization's roots in a Hamas-support network. Earlier this month, the IPT showed how CAIR officials dutifully avoid mentioning Hamas by name when discussing the conflict. Yet no major media outlet or political figure is challenging CAIR's positions or tactics...."
  • "Investigative Project on Terrorism: CAIR's Hamas Ties Prompt FBI Cut Off"
    PR Newswire (January 29, 2009)
    • "WASHINGTON, Jan. 29 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- The FBI has cut off communications with the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) in the wake of damning court evidence that ties the group's founders to a Hamas-support network in America, the Investigative Project on Terrorism has learned."
    • "It is a stunning rebuke to the organization which promotes itself as 'arguably the most visible and public American Muslim organization.' The decision to end contacts with CAIR was made quietly last summer as federal prosecutors prepared for a second trial of the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development (HLF), an Islamic charity convicted in November for illegally routing money to Hamas. CAIR was named as an un-indicted co-conspirator in the case...."
  • "FBI Cuts Off CAIR Over Hamas Questions"
    The Investigative Project on Terrorism (January 30, 2009)
    • "The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has cut off contacts with the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) amid mounting concern about the Muslim advocacy group's roots in a Hamas-support network, the Investigative Project on Terrorism has learned.
    • "The decision to end contacts with CAIR was made quietly last summer as federal prosecutors prepared for a second trial of the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development (HLF), an Islamic charity accused of providing money and political support to the terrorist group Hamas, according to people with knowledge of the matter...."
Related posts, on tolerance, bigotry, racism, and hatred.
Update (January 31, 2009)

Except for FOXNews, the FBI-CAIR-Hamas situation still isn't in American national news.

It is, however, getting discussed in the blogosphere. And, there's a 'contact Congress' campaign going on, More, at "FBI to CAIR: Take a Hike" (SlantRight (January 31, 2009)).

As I've said before, this isn't the 'good old days' - and traditional information gatekeepers have stiff competition.

Castro, Cuba, Guevara, Traditional Gatekeepers, and the Information Age

This isn't the 'good old days' of my youth. A lot has changed, here in America, since the glory years of Led Zepplin and Disco.

That was when Walter Cronkite, Huntley and Brinkley, or Peter Jennings told most of us what was going on in the world: and, after 1971, intellectual aspirants followed "All Things Considered." Some newspapers and magazines did their own research, but most looked to The New York Times and a few other sources in the Eastern time zone to see what the 'important' news of the day was.

Welcome to the Information Age

These must be trying times for the old-school news editors, college professors, and other established authorities. Back in the 'good old days,' these traditional information gatekeepers had a great deal of control over what ideas and information would be spread quickly, and reinforced.

People with potentially disruptive, unsettling, or "divisive" ideas had to rely on their own circle of friends and acquaintances, if they hoped to get a hearing.

That's an oversimplification, of course. Even then, an older bit of information technology, movable type and the printing press, helped editors of 'underground newspapers' to get around the gatekeepers.

That was then, this is now.

Today, thanks to a happy combination of technology and a (not exactly universal) love of freedom, just about anybody with an idea can get a hearing. Globally, providing that they use a language which is understood in many countries. (English is understood in over a hundred countries, which may help explain why so much of the Web is in that language.)

Compared to the 'good old days,' we live in a maelstrom of information and opinions.

Americans don't have a tight little cluster of 'reliable' network news programs, magazines, and newspapers to rely on.

Not everyone agrees on what the day's 'relevant' news is, or what we're supposed to know about it.

It's complex, and confusing. Anyone who tries to pay attention finds contradictory views, backed by various combinations of facts and wishful thinking.

I love it.

Some of the ideas we find on the Web are - 'alternatively sane,' I suppose would be one way to put it. One of my favorites, almost certainly a gag, involved a global conspiracy of squirrels, bent on enslaving humanity and forcing us to slave in their nut mines.

I think the 'marketplace of ideas' tends to identify crackpot notions, and allow consideration of fact-based points of view. It would be nice, if traditional gatekeepers would do the same thing: but it's nice to have an alternative.

Castro (Fidel), Castro (Raoul), Obama, Che Guevara, and today's world

I started reminiscing about the 'good old days,' and remembering why I'm so glad I'm not back there, while catching up on the news.

(And, no: I don't think that President Barack Obama is allied with Castro (either one). It wouldn't surprise me, if someone thinks he is, though: there's no shortage of odd ideas floating around.)
Castro (Fidel) to Obama: Yankee Go Home!
If Fidel Castro meant it when he called Obama "honest" and "noble," that's not what he's saying now. A Reuters article from yesterday's news, "Fidel Castro demands Obama return Guantanamo base," discusses the former Cuban president's demand that Obama give the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo to Cuba - without conditions. And, that Obama is supporting what he thinks is an "Israeli genocide" against Palestinians.

Reuters quotes Castro: "Not respecting Cuba's will is an arrogant act and an abuse of immense power against a little country," which isn't anything new. Fidel has had the same line about American presidents since 1959.
Castro (Raul), Russia, and the Inverted Pyramid
First, about the "inverted pyramid:" Journalists have used inverted pyramid organization for their stories for quite a while.

One reason may be that when the telegraph was the fastest way of transmitting a story, connections could get cut. That made it important to put the most important part of the story first.

Editors like the inverted pyramid, too. When reporters put the most important parts of the story first, an editor could cut as much off the bottom as necessary to fit an available space, and still have a coherent bit of news.

I learned, from classes and on-the-job experience, that readers tend to scan headlines. When they see one of interest, they'll read the first paragraph or two. Sometimes, they'll read more of the article. If they're particularly interested, readers will go all the way to the end.

That means that most people will never see what's put at the end of a news article. Which is okay, if the most important facts are in the headline and lead paragraphs. And, you agree with what the reporter and editor think is most important.
Inverted Pyramid Format and What's Important: One Example
The current president of Cuba, Raul Castro, is in today's news: "Russia and Cuba seal new partnership at Kremlin" (Reuters). The island nation has a new president, and is making new ties with the international community.

We read that Cuba's current president, Raul Castro, is on an unprecedented trip to Russia: and signed a partnership pact with Kremlin leader Dmitry Medvedev. Reflecting on the the event, Cuba's elected president stated: " 'This is an historic moment, an important moment in relations between Russia and Cuba.' "

That's from the beginning of the story. Around the middle, we read:

"Asked afterwards by a reporter about possible military cooperation between Moscow and Havana, Sechin responded: 'Why are you interested in that ?' "

The last paragraph reads:

"Trade between Russia and Cuba totaled $239 million during the first 11 months of 2008, a 26 percent rise compared to the same period in 2007, the Kremlin said. Russia mainly buys sugar cane from Cuba and sells machinery."

That seems to be a pretty good example of inverted pyramid writing, for an article that focuses on the economic aspects of Castro's trip. There may have been a tendency to focus on the positive aspects of Castro's trip: but the first post-Cold-War visit from a Cuban leader to Russia is a big deal. Perhaps Reuters didn't want to seem sensationalistic.
Inverted Pyramid Format and What's Important: Another Example
MSNBC covered the election of Cuba's new, elected, president, in February of 2008 ("Raul Castro succeeds Fidel as preside"):

The first two paragraphs are pretty solid inverted pyramid style:

"HAVANA - Cuba's parliament named Raul Castro president on Sunday, ending nearly 50 years of rule by his brother Fidel but leaving the island's communist system unshaken.

"In a surprise move, officials bypassed younger candidates to name a 77-year-old revolutionary leader, Jose Ramon Machado, to Cuba's No. 2 spot — apparently reassuring the old guard that no significant political changes will be made soon...."

So far, so good. Next is a sample from around the middle of the story. MSNBC quoted Raul's assurance that " 'The Communist Party guarantees the unity of the Cuban nation,' " and discussed possible revaluation of the Peso (and Raul's purdent observation "that any change would have to be gradual to 'prevent traumatic and incongruent effects.' " Then, MSNBC gives readers a look at what ordinary Cubans think of their new president.

" 'He's a trustworthy man,' Maria Martinez, a 67-year-old retiree who watched the announcement on the Chinese-made television in her dark living room in Old Havana. 'He won't make mistakes.'

" 'All we really want is peace and tranquility,' she added.

"Her 33-year-old neighbor, Raul Rodriguez, let out a long sigh and nodded as the announcement of Raul Castro's election was made." (MSNBC)

Looks like all Cubans want is "peace and tranquility," that they believe that their new (and elected) president "won't make mistakes," and is "a trustworthy man." And, I'm sure that that's what Maria Martinez said, or a pretty good translation.

It would be odd, if Fidel's brother didn't have supporters.

And, that may be all that many readers saw of the story. People on the Web are notorious for short attention spans, and the article was fairly long: around 1,100 words, by my count.

So, back in February, it looks like Cuba was a happy land, with a president who had the confidence of the people, and who understood the importance of caution in trying economic times.

Readers who finished the article got what I'll call bonus data: rather uncomplimentary views of Raul Castro, from Cubans who preferred not to be identified. The article ends with:

"...'This country it's like jail,' said the 51-year-old, who like many Cubans declined to give his last name to a foreign journalist when criticizing the government. 'They close the doors and say "the president is Peter or the president is Paul" and everyone responds "Good, it's Peter or Paul." There's no openness.' " (MSNBC)
Propaganda? Drama? Randomness?
Packing the front of the article with neutral or positive information about Raul Castro and his Cuba, and leaving "it's like jail" until the end might be an effort to leave the majority of readers with a distorted view, and still be able to claim objectivity.

Or, maybe the dissenting opinions were at the end for dramatic effect.

It's even possible - barely - that MSNBC editors don't organize articles, and just pop paragraphs into place as whim or chance dictate.

Just the same, unless someone read the last 142 words of the article, a reader would leave the article with the impression that Raul Castro was a prudent leader, and had the support of his people.

That might be all that's important, from MSNBC's point of view: but I don't agree.

The Information Age: Complex, Confusing, Contradictory, and Showing Great Promise

I'd rather deal with information overload, than in a society where news and entertainment was carefully regulated: for the people's good, of course.

I'm pretty sure that some don't agree with a movie review, "Che the revolutionary hero? Ruthless serial killer more like" ( News (January 30, 2009)), written by someone who has rather definite opinions.

And, "Gore Delivers 'Inconvenient Truth' Lecture to Senate Committee" (Washington Post (January 28, 2009)) refers to the "Oscar-winning documentary 'An Inconvenient Truth,' " which some argue isn't exactly a documentary.

I'm glad that I live in a society where Hollywood studios are free to idolize Che Guevara. I don't agree with their view, but I've learned to be very wary about censorship.

I just wish that it was a bit safer to discuss ideas which challenge beliefs like former Vice President Gore's views on global warming.

More-or-less related posts: News and views: Background:

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Iraqi Government Boots Blackwater: Another 'Mission Accomplished'

Blackwater Security is back in the news: and the killings in Baghdad's Nisoor Square aren't forgotten.

People who may think that Code Pink has a centrist philosophy, feel that wars would end if America was nice, and opine about the "Right Wing Christian Dynasty," aren't likely to let Blackwater go. What Blackwater security's employees did was a wonderful propaganda tool for them: a concrete example of what they seem to fear more than the Taliban.

Blackwater Guards on Trial

The American judicial system hasn't forgotten, either. Guards involved in the 2007 Nisoor Square killings were charged earlier this month. "...Each of the former guards has been charged with 14 counts of manslaughter, 20 counts of attempted manslaughter and one count of using a firearm in the commission of a violent crime...." (CNN)

Manslaughter. That's "homicide without malice aforethought." (WordNet) I think I see the point. Apparently there isn't enough evidence to show that the nitwits planned to kill somebody. It's not emotionally satisfying, but it is still a serious charge.

I'm not as certain now, as I was in 2007, that the case should be tried by an Iraqi court. It still seems like a good idea: Iraq is a sovereign country, the offense was committed in Iraq, against Iraqi citizens. But, the India-Pakistan-Mumbai situation has given me more to think about, when it comes to international criminal cases, and I'm not even close to making up my mind.

I'm just glad that I'm not responsible for deciding where the case gets tried.
Strange Justice
A problem I have, when thinking about American courts, is that I started being aware of how the American judicial system works in the sixties. What I learned - from sources which often had a favorable view of American courts and their efforts to change society - about the weird decisions and views on social engineering from the bench appalled me. At best, I have reservations about the ability of an American court to stay glued to the space-time continuum.

Iraq to America: Find Another Security Firm

Blackwater Worldwide seems to be definitely out of Iraq now. American diplomats will have to find another company to provide protection.

Iraq's Major Geneneral Abdul-Karim Khalaf spoke for the Interior Ministry: " 'We sent our decision to the U.S. Embassy last Friday,' Khalaf told The Associated Press in a phone interview. 'They have to find a new security company.' " (AP)

Sounds reasonable. Reputation is important, and Blackwater's reputation in Iraq isn't good at all. Even if Blackwater as a company was blameless in Nasoor Square killings (stay calm, keep reading), the Iraqi government would want Blackwater out: just as a matter of public relations. As it is, I can't help but think that something went horribly wrong in Blackwater hiring or management practices - maybe both.

And, Iraq isn't blacklisting all Blackwater employees. If someone worked for Blackwater and wasn't involved in what happened in Nasoor Square, they can apply for a job at another security company.

It's "Mission Accomplished" - and Will be for Generations

Iraq's a sovereign nation. It's government is negotiating with the American government, sorting out how the two countries will be handling diplomatic security - and whatever else needs to be dealt with .

There's still a lot of work to be done, catching up on three decades of neglect under Hussein's mis-management: and repairing what happens when a homicidal dictator won't give up, and religious crazies try purifying a country with swords and truck bombs. I think Iraq will be willing to let America help.

America's got a pretty good track record, that way: one reason that Anti-American demonstrators in Japan and Germany, for example, have the resources to express their opinion is what America did after WWII, to help the countries get back on their feet.
"Mission Accomplished?" Never
What some might see as the Iraqi government throwing its weight around is, I think, evidence that America - and the coalition - can claim "mission accomplished" for one phase of the War on Terror's Iraqi front. A brutal dictator is gone, and Iraq is going about the messy business of establishing what I hope and believe will be a prosperous, free, country.

There's much more to do, and I'll be surprised if America isn't involved in matters of trade, security, and diplomacy with Iraq for for generations. The way I see it, that's part of the 'mission' too: making it possible for Iraq and other countries to prosper.

Iraq won't be a "western democracy." Iraq isn't, except maybe from the Chinese point of view, a "western" country. But, I think that Iraq will be a country whose government and economy favors good sense, rather than terrorism.

Good enough for me.

Related posts: News and views:

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Ahmadinejad Wants America to Apologize: This is News?

Actually, yes. For one thing, he wasn't speaking in Tehran. The Iranian president was in Kermanshah. And, he's responding to President Barack Obama's "conciliatory tone toward Iran," (The New York Times) which may be a hopeful sign of real change - or not.

(from Reuters, via FOXNews, used without permission)
This is news?

President Ahmadinejad's list of American crimes include
  • America's support for the 1953 coup that ousted the "democratically elected government of Mohammed Mossadegh and installed Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi"
  • Shooting down an Iran Air Airbus A300
    • The U.S. Navy missile cruiser Vincennes, 1988, Persian Gulf)
  • "America's efforts to thwart Iran's nuclear ambitions"
    (information and quotes from The New York Times)
Sounds pretty bad.

And, those American 'crimes' actually did happen.

CIA Ousts Elected Government - 1953

True enough. As far as it goes.

A coup overthrew Iranian Premier Mohammed Mossadegh. Depending on how one views the Cold War, he was either a victim of capitalistic, imperialistic, warmonger oppression: or someone in cahoots with the Iranian Communist party, and who had nationalized some foreign oil holdings. (That's the cue for "It's All About Oil!")

The History Department at the University of San Diego has an interesting timeline of the Iran Crisis of the fifties. From USD's account, it sounds like getting the Shah back on the throne was Eisenhower's fault (the timeline identifies him as "Ike"). I haven't discovered details about how Mossadegh's government wound up being elected in the first place.

American Warship Shoots Down Unarmed Airliner

Also true.

Iran Air Flight 655 was, in fact, an Airbus A300. The Vincennes was (and is) an Aegis class cruiser with advanced tracking radar. And, the Vincennes did shoot down IA 655 on July 3, 1988. One version of this incident is that American sailors saw a perfectly harmless civilian airliner on their radar, and decided to shoot it down. And, as far as that goes, that's an accurate account.

As usual, it's not quite that simple.
The Strange Matter of the Silent Air Crew
One detail that doesn't get discussed all that much is what the Iranian Airbus A300's crew didn't do:

"10:49 AM –Vincennes warns aircraft on military frequency, no response
"10:50 AM –Warnings repeated, civilian and military channels, no response"
"USS Vincennes Incident" (Spring, 2004)

It seems to me that a flight crew of a civilian airliner would be highly motivated to let a warship with the Vincennes' firepower know who and what they were. But, for whatever reason, they didn't.
Aegis Computers, Memories, and a Mystery
The Vincennes' computers recorded that the Iranian airliner was ascending. The crew remembered clearly that it started descending - just like a military aircraft starting an attack. Oddly, they might both be right. The Aegis tracking system may have started feeding the crew tracking data about another aircraft, that actually was descending, but identifying it as the IA 655 airliner.1

If they hadn't been in a war zone, with the death of 37 Americans on the USS Stark fresh in their minds (May, 1987, Exocet anti-ship missiles), and with literally seconds to make a life-or-death decision, the Vincennes' track coordinator would almost certainly noticed the error, and corrected it.
Cool Titles, Easy Reading, and Public Perception
I think one reason that Ahmadinejad's version of the incident is better-known is that it is a close match to articles with cool titles like "Sea Of Lies" (Newsweek (July 13, 1992)). Detailed information and background tends to be in reports with dusty monikers like "Manipulating the OODA Loop: The Overlooked Role of Information Resource Management in Information Warfare" (...Air Education and Training Command (December 1996)).

Given a choice, which do you think most people would feel like reading?

America Thwarts Iran's Nuclear Ambitions

Although Iran started working with nuclear reactors back when the Shah was in charge, the 'Iranian nukes' issue is very much current events. Iran seems to be insisting that it needs nuclear power for strictly civilian purposes - and has been making weapons-grade fissile material off and on for years.

So, this charge is true. And, since I'm rather concerned about what the Ayatollahs would do with nuclear bombs, if they had them, I'm okay with America, and the United Nations, 'thwarting' Iran's nuclear plans. (I discussed this recently: "Iran's Nuclear Program, Israel, Iraq, America, Bush and Obama: Simple? Not!" (January 11, 2009).)

Facts, Selective Awareness, and American 'Crimes'

President Ahmadinejad's list of 'crimes' sounded pretty bad. He is, after all, among those who seem to believe that America is behind most of the world's problems - just like the Zionists.

Since the ideas and languages of that view are very familiar by now. I thought it might be a refreshing change of pace to take President Ahmadinejad's wish list, and re-phrase it.

Iranian Preisdent Ahmadinejad wants apologies because America
  • Doesn't want religious fanatics to have nuclear weapons
  • Helps Jews defend themselves from neighbors who want to kill them
  • Stopped the (real) torture and killing at Abu Ghraib
  • Allows its armed forces to defend themselves
If the American government is supposed to apologize for that sort of thing, maybe all Americans should apologize because America
  • Is one of the countries that people try to break into, instead of the other way around
  • Helped bitter enemies get back on their feet after WWII
  • Is helping Iraq recover from Hussein's three decades of neglect
So much depends on what facts one decides to admit.

Related posts: In the news: Background:
1 Turns out the Iranian airliner was sharing that general area with "...a second aircraft, a low-flying A-6 Intruder, descending in altitude, from the carrier Forrestal. By a bizarre serious of events attributable to the Aegis system itself and not to operator error, she [Captain Dotterway] believes the track identification numbers of the Iranian airbus and the A6 were transposed. Under normal circumstances, the track coordinator would have identified the number conflict and rectified it. However, given the time compression of approximately 180 seconds, the confusion over track numbers was never resolved...."
("ADA259045 - Reconstructing Combat Decisions: Reflections on the Shootdown of Flight 655" (October 1992))

Monday, January 26, 2009

Al Shabaab May Be Running Somalia Now: Just What We Need

Whether or not Al Shabaab is running Somalia is a bigger issue for Minnesotans - and for all of us than you might think.

It's been a week since Barack Obama was sworn in as President of the United States (twice).

One bit of good news about the inauguration was the nobody from Somalia blew up at the festivities: or somewhere else, in a spot calculated to cast a pall over the opening day of Obama's administration. There was reason to be concerned:

"The FBI was investigating two 'streams of intelligence' suggesting that Somalia-based terrorist organization Al Shabaab may have been plotting an attack timed to coincide with the event, the FBI and Homeland Security said in a joint threat advisory obtained by CNN...." (CNN)

Isn't that "Al Shibab?"

I've been over this before. Spelling names as used in one language in another is tricky: and it gets a lot trickier when the languages don't used the same alphabet.

"Al Shabaab" is one way of expressing the name of an Islamic 'militant' group, or 'Islamist' group in Sudan. "Al Shabaab" is roughly the way it sounds. Translated, it means "youth," or "the youth." Latinized spellings of the name that I've run into are: the Shibab, al-Shabab, the Shebab, or Al-Shabaab. I've tended to go with "Al Shabaab."

Americans: You Think it's Bad Here? Check Out Somalia

About ten days ago, Ethiopia was pulling out of Mogadishu, Somalia's capital, and Islamic 'militants,' 'Islamists,' or whatever, were moving into the facilities Ethiopian troops had been using. I'm not clear on details, but today we've heard that Al Shabaab is holding key parts of Mogadishu. They've raided the Somali Parliament building, and apparently are demanding that several lawmakers surrender.

Al Shabaab may not get its way, though.

"...The situation left Somali lawmakers stranded in the neighboring country of Djibouti, where they often convene and where talks on forming a new government are under way...." (CNN)

I'm happy for them: Al Shabaab doesn't sound like a bunch any sensible person would surrender to, given a choice.

On the other hand, It says quite a bit about Somalia that its lawmakers - apparently all of them, except for the 'Islamists' - were meeting in another country. That'd be like the U.S. House and Senate meeting in Quebec.

Somebody Knocked Over Somalia's Alleged Government - So What?

Somalia is far from a major player on the world stage, but it's in an important position: that's why Somali pirates were - and are - such a problem. Who's running the country does make a difference. Particularly if the people running it decide to make it into another safe haven for terrorists.

And, I've got a more personal reason.

Quite a few people from Somalia come to Minnesota. It's not the climate that draws them here: It's the jobs. As far as I know, nobody from that part of the world's moved into my town yet, but I've run into some of these new Minnesotans in the nearest small city, about an hour down the road.

I haven't asked anyone, but my guess is that many of them are concerned about what's happening, back in the 'old country.' And, I'd be a lousy neighbor if I wasn't at least a bit concerned, too.

Al Shabaab: Not a Very Nice Group

Al Shabaab isn't the sort of organization that fits well in a civilized world. The top Al Shabaab leaders seem to be affiliated with Al Qaeda, it's killed Somali peace activists, and the American government has identified Al Shabaab as a Foreign Terrorist Organization.

And, Al Shabaab may be involved in the disappearance of a dozen or so Minnesotans. Some of them may have ducked out willingly. Others should probably, under the circumstances, be considered victims.

The Distressing Case of the Disappearing Minnesotans

One of the young men was found in Somalia. His name was Shirwa Ahmed. He was from a Somali-Minnesotan family, and apparently was the star performer in a suicide bombing back in Somalia. It took DNA testing to figure out who the pieces belonged to, but he's been returned to his family, and buried.

Victim? A suicide bomber?! As I wrote last December, "I think it's very possible that Shirwa Ahmed was a suicide bomber: and I'm not excusing that act. But I also think that people can be persuaded: Particularly if the persuader claims to be using the authority of their religious beliefs."

The last I heard, the Somali connection with the disappearance of between 10 and 40 young Minnesotans hadn't been established. But it's not all that unreasonable: particularly since what seems to be another bunch dropped out of sight after Homeland Security found out that one Somali suicide bomber had been a Somali-American:

"...One homeland security official told the Financial Times investigators were trying to ascertain whether it had any connection to a group of Somali-American youths who had gone missing from Minnesota. The men disappeared from their homes after authorities determined a suicide bomber who had attacked a target in Somaliland, east Africa, was a Somali-American...." (Financial Times)

It's not 'That Trouble Over There'

The odds are very good that Al Shabaab, or a like-minded group, convinced Shirwa Ahmed to leave Minnesota, and kill himself in Somalia. Units of the National Guard from Minnesota, and the other states, have been serving long, hard, tours of duty abroad. And, despite the best efforts of those who try to stop terrorists, it's possible that Al Qaeda or some other group will succeed in another attack like 9/11.

The War on Terror is very real, it isn't something that can be safely ignored, and it isn't 'over there.' It's every place where people aren't living quite the way that the Taliban or Al Qaeda - or Al Shabaab - think they should.

More-or-less related posts: In the news: Background:

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Abu Ghraib: Abuse and Sexual Humiliation by American Soldiers in the News Again

Abu Ghraib is back in the news.

You remember Abu Ghraib? That Iraqi prison was big news about four years back: "Torture at Abu Ghraib - American soldiers brutalized Iraqis. How far up does the responsibility go? (The New Yorker)

'Everybody knows' what those American soldiers are like: When they aren't brutalizing helpless prisoners or throwing puppies off cliffs, they're they're massacring helpless villagers.

And, what 'everybody knows' isn't necessarily so.

"Darkest Secrets" of American Abuse - in the News

Abu Ghraib is re-opening, under new management, with a new look and a new name. Here's a sampling of how the event is getting treated news and view:

"Abu Ghraib to Reopen After Getting a New Name and Makeover"
Digital Journal (January 25, 2009)

"Abu Ghraib, the infamous prison with heavily fortified walls and watchtowers that came to represent abuse and sexual humiliation of prisoners by American soldiers after photos revealed its darkest secrets is scheduled to reopen in mid-February...."

"Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison to reopen - with new name"
Reuters (January 24, 2009)

"BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Iraq will reopen its notorious Abu Ghraib prison next month, but will change the name which became synonomous [!] with abuse under both Saddam Hussein's rule and U.S. occupation, a senior official said on Saturday...."

Abu Ghraib: Just the Facts; But Not All the Facts

Both articles are, as far as they go, accurate. Abu Ghraib was used by the American military, and a few American soldiers on duty there abused prisoners: and, like imbeciles, took photos of themselves doing it.

American military authorities had discovered this disgusting violation and started their investigation at least as early as August 11, 2003. The 'American Abuse at Abu Ghraib' stories broke about nine months later, in May, 2004. That's when news media began using Abu Ghraib as another example of how dreadful American soldiers are, how awful the American military is, and (in some cases, at least) how America is pretty much yukky.

Interestingly, Al Jazeera was one of the news outlets that mentioned (or admitted) that the American military was investigating the outrage. Even so, most readers were, I think, more likely to read, "US commander 'allowed prison abuse'," placed closer to the headline.

Al Jazeera wasn't lying, by the way:
  • The abuse really happened
  • The commander didn't stop it until it was discovered
  • So, since it happened on that commander's watch
    • the commander "allowed prison abuse"
Which isn't quite the same as 'knowingly allowed prison abuse.'

It's marvelous, how language can be used to reveal facts: or obscure them.

'If at First You Don't Succeed - - - Exit Abu Ghraib, Enter Haditha

Partly, I think, because Americans and others, don't rely entirely on traditional news media for facts any more, Abu Ghraib failed as an anti-war rallying cry for the American public.

More recently, the 'better sort' had another shot at recalling their glory days, during the Vietnam War. An incident in Haditha, Iraq, promised to be the "Iraqi My Lai!," "Iraq's My Lai!," the "Defining atrocity of the Iraq War!" Then, facts started slipping out, and the Haditha 'massacre' faded from the headlines.

Abu Ghraib: Here We Go Again

Four years is a long time for many people, and the odds are that quite a few have forgotten those pesky little details about the Abu Ghraib scandal.

And, what they do remember is shaped by people like Senator Ted Kennedy, who offered this wisdom regarding Abu Ghraib: " 'Shamefully, we now learn that Saddam's torture chambers reopened under new management: U.S. management.' "

As I wrote earlier, "Amazing. I wouldn't have realized that a sustained policy of mass-murder and routine rape, mutilation, and beating of prisoners is equivalent to a few perverts taking obscene pictures."

From that Reuters article, and Digital Journal's contribution to shaping perceptions, it looks like we're in for a rash of Abu Ghraib retrospectives. If they're as selective about what actually happened as the 2004 campaign, I've got some suggestions:
  • Remember
    • Abuse at Abu Ghraib really happened but
      • A handful of soldiers were involved
      • American military authorities had been investigating the incidents for nine months before the press got excited
    • People and organizations don't always fit into neat "good guys" and "bad guys" categories

  • Think
    • Senator Ted Kennedy and The New York Times may not be telling everything they know
    • Twisting truth by using a selection of pertinent facts is an effective way to distort perceptions
As tempting as it might be to assume that a few perverts assigned to Abu Ghraib were typical American soldiers, the assumption won't hold up.

Reading Past the Headlines is Hard Work

"The cases of abuse at Abu Ghraib by no means serve as a microcosm of how the large majority of US Soldiers conducted detainee and interrogation operations throughout Iraq in 2003 and 2004. The vast majority of Soldiers assigned to detention facilities or involved in interrogations performed their duties with honor and in accordance with international standards of decency. A review of the history of the JIDC and the incidents of abuse that occurred there, however, can improve the understanding of the challenges facing the US Army in its drive for strategic intelligence and in dealing with the deteriorating security environment...." (

Reviewing "the history of the JIDC and the incidents of abuse that occurred there" is hard work, though. It's so much easier to accept the words of an elder statesman: " 'Shamefully, we now learn that Saddam's torture chambers reopened under new management: U.S. management.' "

Easier, yes. Prudent? I'd say, "no."

Related posts: News and views: Background: Related posts, on censorship, propaganda, and freedom of speech.

Abu Gharib? Abu Ghraib? Abu Ghrib? Abu Ghurayb?! A Spelling Issue

The spelling of names in a language that uses the Latin alphabet is tricky, when the name comes from a language that uses another system for expressing sounds: and gets even more interesting when the other language uses a non-phonetic system for the visual system of encoding data that we call "writing."

That prison in Iraq, where Saddam Hussein had people tortured and killed, and the American military investigated a bunch of naughty soldiers, is called Abu Gharib, Abu Ghraib, even Abu Ghrib. I think that last may be a typo, but it is pronounceable.

To Change or Not to Change? That is the Question

Researching a post today, I found that no less authority than The New York Times likes "Abu Ghraib." ("...Torture at Abu Ghraib American soldiers brutalized Iraqis. How far up does the responsibility go?") (American soldiers brutalized Iraqis: it must be happening all the time. You know what those Americans are like!)

I've gone back and 'corrected' names in this blog a few times, as I learned that my first posts used an obscure spelling. Not often: but I have done it. And, since Abu Gh[-whatever] seems destined to be with us for a while, as a recurring news item, and I discovered just how many ways there were to spell it in English, I decided to go back and do a little extra research.

I generally take the spelling used by a vast majority of sources, unless there's good reason to think that the majority is wrong, and someone else actually knows what the score is.

With no less illustrious authority than The New York Times as a guide, I should probably change the spelling I've been using ("Abu Gharib") to what The New York Times likes ("Abu Ghraib").

On the other hand, "Abu Gharib" got 3,280,000 hits in a Google search earlier today, compared to 3,220,000 for "Abu Ghraib." By that standard (a sort of popularity poll), there's only about a 2% difference in how many people use the two spellings, with "Abu Gharib" winning by a very short lead.

Just to make things more difficult, I found another spelling: "Abu Ghurayb, [Abu Ghraib]" (

"Abu Ghurayb" got 42,400 hits on Google a few minutes ago. It may be more accurate, by some standards, but with about 1/100 as many people using it as front-running spellings, it doesn't seem like a good choice. I don't want readers stumbling over an unfamiliar spelling.

So, for now, "Abu Gharib" will be the standard spelling in this blog.

Now, back to my research.
Update (January 25, 2009)

I got to thinking: The New York Times liking "Abu Ghraib" is one thing. But, when The New York Times and Reuters both think that's the 'right' way to spell the name, that's another.

Quite a few people regard those two traditional news outlets as authoritative: so, "Abu Gharib" will change to "Abu Ghraib" today.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Gitmo Prisoner Released to Saudi Arabia, Graduated from Jihad Rehab, Rejoined Al Qaeda: Success Story?

You've read about it: a Saudi man, Said Ali al-Shihri, had been held at "Gitmo," the Guantanamo (Guantánamo, if you insist) Bay prison for terrorists. Then, he was released, to Saudi Arabia.

As The New York Times put it this morning, "He was released to Saudi Arabia in 2007 and passed through a Saudi rehabilitation program for former jihadists before resurfacing with Al Qaeda in Yemen." At least, he's back and with Al Qaeda - according to a website used by terrorists. They may be right.

Al-Shihri was in Gitmo, because he was probably involved in a lethal bombing of the American Embassy in Yemen's capital, Sana. After he was released and went home to Saudi Arabia, he went through the desert kingdom's jihad rehab program. And released, as a successful graduate.

Well, more-or-less successful. Looks to me like Yemen is on the Arabian Peninsula, and graduates from Saudi Arabia's jihad rehabilitation program are supposed to lay off acts of terrorism - on the Arabian Peninsula. The rest of us, it seems, are fair game.

Yemen is setting up its own jihad rehab program, according to Arab News. Yemen is getting ready for the 100 or so Yemenis expected to be sprung from Gitmo, now that America has a new administration.

As Arab News put it, "The move triggered outrage among rights activists who said the government’s plan to keep the returnees in a rehabilitation center in their home country only means re-jailing them."

Judging from the Saudi example, I'd say that the 'rights activists' don't have much to worry about. Not about the Gitmo prisoners being re-jailed.

The case of al-Shihri, the jihad rehab programs, and the prisoners at Gitmo brings up an interesting point: Isn't it customary to wait until after a war is over, to release prisoners of war?

As Clive Davis said in the Spectator: "Well, let's hope this has all been thought through."

Related posts: News and views:

Thursday, January 22, 2009

America, Racism, and What Didn't Happen at Virginia Tech

All Muslims are not terrorists. Islam isn't attacking America and other countries. Al Qaeda, the Taliban, and like-minded fanatics are.

(I do tie all this together, just a few paragraphs down.)

But, since those terrorists think they're Muslims, it's not beyond belief that they may contact, or try to influence, Muslims in America. Which means that law enforcement agencies might want to talk with American Muslims, and encourage them to feel like part of the local society. Not everybody thinks this is a good idea. Putting it mildly.

And it's very easy, given some rather common assumptions, to cry "racial profiling," and be taken seriously - whether you've got a case, or not. I realize that it's wrong to assume that's someone is guilty, based on having a funny name, or some other irrelevant factor. That sort of "racial profiling" isn't just wrong: it's stupid, wasting time and resources.

But institutionalized, officially supported, racism is, if not completely gone, well on its way to being eliminated. The Rutherford B. Hayes administration ended a long time ago, World War II has been over for more than a half-century, and it's time for everyone to pay attention to what's happening now.

And, what's not happening.

Another Murder at Virginia Tech: And Nobody's Crying "Yellow Peril!"

Another murder on the Virginia Tech campus hit the news today. Xin Yang, a graduate student from China, was killed - an decapitated - by Haiyang Zhu, another graduate student from China.

" 'An act of violence like this brings back memories of April 16,' university President Charles Steger said. 'I have no doubt that many of us feel especially distraught.'..." (The Associated Press) That masterful understatement referred to the last acts of Seung-Hui Cho, a Virginia Tech student who killed 32 people before killing himself, back in 2007.

There's something missing from every news article I've read about the murder, and the mass murder at Virginia Tech in 2007. Nobody seems to think that there's some significance to the killers in both cases being Asian.

It makes sense, since there isn't any reason to think so, in what's been published.

But 'making sense' isn't a high priority for the sort of people who were worried about the "Yellow Peril" a century ago.

America has changed since the Rutherford B. Hayes Administration

"Everybody knows," in some circles, that America is fundamentally racist. I would no more expect to change the opinion of someone who believes that, than I would expect to convince a white supremacist that it's okay to share a neighborhood with blacks, Jews, and Catholics.

There's a bit of truth to the idea that America is a racist country. Particularly if you ignore everything that's happened since about 1950.

For example, my ancestors faced "Irish Need Not Apply" signs. One of them, asked about the family of an utterly unsuitable person who was sniffing around her daughter replied, "he doesn't have family, he's Irish."

Quite a few Irishmen, and Chinese, built the American railroad network, back in the nineteenth century. If anything, the Chinese were treated worse than the Irish.

When a lot of people came to the American west from east Asia, after the 1849 Gold Rush, they were the target of racist attacks. I don't think it helped, that some of these immigrants were shipped east to break strikes. President Rutherford B. Hayes wrote in his diary, "I would consider with favor any suitable measures to discourage the Chinese from coming to our shores." That was in 1879.

Congress passed The Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882, and made the act permanent in 1904. Well, fairly permanent. Times had changed in 1943, when China was an important ally against Japan. The Chinese Exclusion Act was repealed, and it didn't come back.

But What About the Japanese?

I haven't forgotten Japanese Americans during World War II, the internment camps and confiscated property.

It took a while, but the American government finally apologized for Franklin Delano Roosevelt's Executive Order 9066 (February 1942), with Public Law 100-383 (better known as the Civil Liberties Act of 1988)- signed into law on August 10, 1988.1

And, putting money where its mouth was, started the process of paying reparations to the people who had their property and their freedom take from them. (Actually signing the checks took even longer, but it did happen.) 2

What's the Point?

America isn't perfect, but it isn't the racist oppressor that some people seem to believe it is. As I've written before, I'm relieved that American courts are dealing with all those broken treaties with Indian nations. And, I can't approve of the way this country acquired Hawaii, or how the Union treated the south in the days of the Reconstruction's carpetbaggers.

But that was then. America has learned, and changed. I think it helped that people from all over the world have been coming here, and showing that you don't have to be a Yankee to be a good neighbor and citizen, but that's a whole different topic.

There will always be people with severe biases, racial and otherwise. But they aren't the ones running the country.

Wake up, everybody: It's the 21st century.

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

Updated (January 23, 2009)

Speculation about the recent murder being "racist" has begun (in a poker forum's 'off topic' area).

The idea that this disgusting murder has something to do with "racism" seems to be spreading, judging from this blog post: "My thoughts on Virgina Tech, Asians, Condolescences,[!] Racism and etc[!]"

I see that the Asian American Journalists Association (AAJA) had some pretty good advice, dating back to the 2007 mass murder at Virginia Tech:

"Media Advisory: Coverage on Virginia Tech Shooting Incident"
AAJA (April 16, 2007)

"As coverage of the Virginia Tech shooting continues to unfold, AAJA urges all media to avoid using racial identifiers unless there is a compelling or germane reason. There is no evidence at this early point that the race or ethnicity of the suspected gunman has anything to do with the incident, and to include such mention serves only to unfairly portray an entire people.

"The effect of mentioning race can be powerfully harmful. It can subject people to unfair treatment based simply on skin color and heritage.

"We further remind members of the media that the standards of news reporting should be universal and applied equally no matter the platform or medium, including blogs.

I see that I was following the AAJA's 2007 advice, since "there is a compelling or germane reason" for mentioning race and ethnicity in this post.

I'm not at all surprised. There are people who believe that Asians are 'those people,' and 'not us.' And, who don't like anybody who is not 'us.' But, as I said, they're not running the country.

1 Curiously, two of America's better-known presidents were involved in taking property from Japanese Americans and locking them up. Franklin Roosevelt gave the order, Ronald Reagan signed the act that apologized for it, and got the ball rolling on at least a token restitution.

2 Eventually, someone's going to figure out what I think about racial reparations, from what I wrote (December 18, 2008) about "...'social justice' - which seems to involve taking money away from one set of people and giving it to another, because of what a third set of people did over a century ago...."

I don't think race reparations, American style, are a good idea, since there are no people alive today, who actually experienced slavery in the Old South. And, if we're going to start rewarding people damages because of what happened to their ancestors, there's almost no end to it.

For example, since I'm half Irish, I could claim that I should be given reparations from England, for the way Henry VII and others treated my ancestors. And, I could join the English in demanding reparations from Norway, and Denmark, based on what the Vikings did, about a thousand years ago.

I'm half Norwegian, and the odds are pretty good that I've got ancestors who were involved in the Viking raids: so I'd better start looking for someone else to demand money from.

The Irish, English, and Norwegians could, collectively, as northern Europeans, demand reparations from Italy, since their ancestors were more-or-less directly oppressed by the Romans. And Rome is in Italy.

It doesn't need to stop there. All Europeans, Italians included, could demand reparations from Ukraine, since the Scythians (people who lived where Ukraine is now, more or less) harassed the Romans (and practically everyone else they could reach). And Ancient Rome, after all, laid the foundation for Western Civilization. (Inconsistent? Sure, why not? We're talking Rights and Social Justice here.)

Ukrainians, in turn, could demand reparations from Iran, since the Persians oppressed them. Well, Darius I tried to invade their territory. Unsuccessfully.

Iran? My guess is that, digging back far enough, I'd find someone who 'oppressed' Persia.

The point? Bad as slavery was, that was then. This is now.

The individuals around back in the days of slavery are dead: slaves and slave owners alike. I don't see the point in rewarding one ethnic group, based on what happened to (many of) their ancestors, at the expense of other people who had nothing to do with the offense.

The Civil Liberties Act of 1988 is, really, different.

It involved an official apology - long overdue - and payment to individuals whose property was taken, and who were imprisoned during WWII. The reparations were not to all Japanese Americans. Just, as far as I can tell, to the individuals who were hurt. It's been expensive: As of August, 1994, the Civil Rights Division's Office of Redress Administration (ORA) had paid about $1,590,000,000 to 79,943 Japanese Americans. But, I think, worth it.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Fitna Producer Geert Wilders: Alive and Well, and Facing Charges

I'm rather glad that nobody managed to kill Geert Wilders. He's the Dutch member of parliament who made "Fitna" about a year ago. The film expressed Wilders' view of the Quran: that it's a "fascist" book (BBC), and that Islam is a threat to Western society (CNN).

Hanging's Too Good for This One

That's a rather familiar line from America's westerns of a few decades back. My preference that Geert Wilders not be killed isn't based on any sympathy I have for him, or his views. I value human life. And, in this case, I see no reason why Geert Wilders life should be any more pleasant than necessary.

The producer of Fitna, that rabidly anti-Islamic film, will face charges "for inciting religious hatred in speeches and a film he made about Islam last year," if the plans of Amsterdam's prosecutor go through.

I'm not holding my breath: Dutch authorities have decided not to prosecute Geert Wilders before, and may do so again.

Just the same, I think that a good drag through court might, possibly, do the fellow some good. Or not. He does seem to have sunk rather deep into hatred.

Death Threats and Geert Wilders

Dutch authorities have, it seems, been taking a little extra care to make sure that their Geert Wilders stays alive. There have been cautious reports of death threats against him in the news from time to time, and Theo Van Gogh's murder gave weight to the idea that when people of a particular persuasion say 'death to...', their threat should be taken seriously.

Fitna Protests a High Point for Global Islam

With exceptions, Muslims around the world listened to Al Arabiya News Channel and other voices which urged restraint and good sense.

Malay Muslims, for example, called for a boycott of Dutch products. Whether or not one approves of boycotts, I think its arguable that boycotting is a more civil way of expressing disapproval, than cutting of somebody's head.

Fitna: A Truly Bad Movie

Last year, researching Fitna, I tried to find someone with a good word to say about the movie (aside from Wilders, his followers, and those who voted for him).

I did, finally, find one reviewer who liked a few seconds of the film: a visual trick in the ending credits. Aside from that, though, I got the impression that dedicated patrons of cinema might have been willing to charge Geert Wilders with making a painfully bad movie.

In short, Fitna was a bomb.

Related Posts: In the news: Related posts, on censorship, propaganda, and freedom of speech.

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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.