Monday, April 27, 2009

Air Force One Attacks New York City: City Passes Air Raid Drill

Updated (April 28, 2009):
Raw video footage
The White House apologized, New York City's mayor was "furious" (so is president Obama) (CNN), and Manhattanites got quite a break from routine today.

(from CNN, used w/o permission)

People working in New York City's skyscrapers saw a large airliner flying low - obviously not in normal flight corridors - and being escorted, or maybe chased, by F-16 fighters. Many New Yorkers, remembering what happened on September 11, 2001, and wanting to see April 28, 2009, started heading for ground level.

The flight of the VC-25, a military version of the Boeing 747 that's called Air Force One when the President's on board, was cleared through the FAA: No problems there. And the New York City police knew about the flight.

According to New York's finest, they were supposed to keep mum about the flight. Makes sense, considering how sensitive the exact location of that particular aircraft is, whether the president's on it or not.

The police say they didn't tell anyone about the flight, because they were told not to: "...'The flight of a VC-25 aircraft and F-16 fighters this morning was authorized by the FAA for the vicinity of the Statue of Liberty with directives to local authorities not to disclose information about it but to direct any inquiries to the FAA Air Traffic Security Coordinator,' the statement said...." (FOX News)

This Was a Pretty Good Air Raid Drill

Putting a positive light on this, I think this morning's little incident can be seen as a test of New York City's readiness for the next attack.

The impromptu mock attack demonstrated that New Yorkers know how to react to an attack: even if authorities don't tell them what to do.

The VC-25 / F-16 flight's mission was to update stock photos.

Vaguely related posts: In the news:
Update (April 28, 2009)

"Raw: Low Flying Military Planes Cause Panic Near Statue of Liberty"

LETHLSS, YouTube (April 27, 2009)
video 1:56

Thanks to bnsullivan, on Twitter, for the URL.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Dalai Lama: Good Words for America, President Obama

And, some pretty good advice. In my opinion.

The Dalai Lama is on a five-city tour of America, giving speeches, delivering a public lecture, and talking with reporters.

What he had to say about greed got quite a bit of attention. The Dalai Lama also had some good things to say about America and President Barack Obama, but I only found that reported by one news outlet.

Stereotypes, Assumptions, and the Dalai Lama's American Tour

I've gotten the impression that quite a few Americans have based their view of conservatives on re-runs of "All in the Family" and "M*A*S*H." There really were people like Archie Bunker, back in the 'good old days.' And, there still are opinionated bigots today. Some are conservatives.

Frank Burns is a caricature of a real sort of person, too: although I think he's more stylized than Archie Bunker. And, there are marvelously ignorant people with rigid and internally inconsistent ideologies today. Again, some of them are conservatives.

That's television. In real life, people don't sort themselves out quite as neatly.

I've been called a conservative, and I won't argue the point. In contemporary American culture, some of my views are "conservative." Others aren't. My opinion is that "conservative" is the cultural label that is least inaccurate in describing my beliefs. (More about what I am, in A Catholic Citizen in America.)
Labels are Useful - With Limitations
Labels are vital to communication: language is, arguably, nothing but labels for objects, actions, ideas, and all the rest of the phenomena we encounter. But a label is not the thing it identifies. And, a label may not be inaccurate.

The Dalai Lama could be labeled as a liberal: because he denounces greed. He could also be labeled as a conservative: because he regards America as a defender of freedom.

Or, it could be argued that the Dalai Lama is a slippery character who says what his audience wants to hear. I'm pretty sure that's the sanctioned view in China, whose leaders call Tibet 'Xizang province.' I suppose they can call it anything they wanted: they conquered Tibet a little over fifty years ago. Or, to use the more polite term, China liberated Tibet a little over fifty years ago.

More labels.

The fact is, China says that Tibet is Xizang province, and they've got enough troops in place to make good on their claim.

The Dalai Lama, Greed, and the American Way

Decades ago, in the afterglow of the 1950s, I ran across this definition of an American: Someone who buys things he doesn't need, with money he doesn't have, to impress people he doesn't like. Chasing after money and status never made much sense to me.

This, from a conservative?!

I have no objection to people trying to make money. I'm having a shot at doing that, myself: I've been a small business owner since getting laid off in the spring of 2006. But, I won't be like the character in "Brigadoon" who said, 'I'll lie for the company, I'll cheat for the company, I'll steal for the company: but I won't give up my ideals!' I think that's how it went, in the 1954 movie version.

And yet, I think I'm "conservative" by American standards. I
  • Admire, rather than despise, the American armed forces
  • I believe that people come to America because of this country's opportunities for prosperity - and guarantee of freedom
  • I do not regard America as the cause of most of the world's problems
Even after decades of the term being associated with the likes of Frank Burns and Archie Bunker, I think I'm a patriot by some standards. I don't have much choice: as a Catholic, I'm required to support the country I'm a citizen of - and I was born an American.

Finally: Some of What the Dalai Lama had to Say

  • Los Angeles Times
    • "...The Dalai Lama, in a ringing denunciation, declared Friday that the ailing global economy is the result of 'too much greed, and lies and hypocrisy.
    • " 'These are some of the factors behind the global crisis,' he said at a news conference at UC Santa Barbara. 'Those people who feel that money is the most important thing in life, when economic crisis hits, learn that it is only one way to be happy. There is also family, friends and peace of mind.'
    • " 'Therefore, this crisis is good,' he added with a laugh, 'because it reminds people who only want to see money grow and grow that there are limitations.'..."
  • KSBY
    • "...The Dalai Lama also shared insight on what caused the global economic crisis: 'Greed,' he said, 'greed.'
    • "Through it all was a message of attaining inner peace through acts of kindness and compassion - words from an exiled spiritual leader who has seen and experienced so much. 'Without a pessimistic attitude, full of confidence and human potential,' he said, 'work hard and try to change our way of thinking and also to some extent, our way of life.'..."
  • FOX News
    • "...'I think basically America is a champion of freedom, democracy, liberty,' he said before a series of lectures at the University of California, Santa Barbara. 'Occasionally the administration neglects these principles, but overall, I think these principles are very much alive in this country.'..."
    • "...'He seems, I think, very realistic, very open,' the Dalai Lama said, 'and he always reaches out to other people, even though some people create some problems. He always reaches out. That's, I think, wonderful. Very good.'..."
    • "...On the global economic downturn, he said there is a positive side - if one is willing to recognize it.
    • " 'I think the global economic crisis, in a way, is good, to teach people who usually see their luxurious way of life. Now, I think it reminds people there are limitations. It's unrealistic to always expect grow, grow, grow, grow,' he said...."
Related posts: In the news:

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Waterboarding, Moralizing, Politics, and Security

Waterboarding's back.

I think that many politicos count on their most loyal supporters having very short memories, or a deep need to re-hash a few favorite topics. Another War-on-Terror Blog isn't about politics, but America's leaders are chosen by political means, so politics affects the war on terror. And, I'm afraid, often affects decisions our leaders make.

Waterboarding: It Really is Unpleasant

Reuters, via International Business Times, used w/o permission)

That's a demonstrator, being waterboarded to show how horrible, inhuman, depraved, and generally awful it is. That photo is from a 2007 article. The caption was "A demonstrator is held down during a simulation of waterboarding outside the Justice Department in Washington November 5, 2007. (Photo: Reuters)"

Waterboarding is something that I'd rather not do, or have done to me. I'd rather not have another root canal procedure, too: and I really don't want to go through finals week again. Of course, that's different.

I don't take demonstrators who waterboard each other to show how intolerable it is very seriously. I do give some credence to a former CIA interrogator, quoted in an Indian news article:

"...Former CIA interrogator John Kiriakou told U.S. news media that suspected al Qaeda lieutenant Abu Zubaida agreed to cooperate after being subjected to the simulated drowning technique for less than a minute by CIA officials in 2002.

" 'It was like flipping a switch,' he told the Washington Post.

"He said the session yielded valuable information and probably helped prevent attacks, but he now believes waterboarding is torture and 'Americans are better than that.'..." (International Business Times)

My guess is that Mr. Kiriakou is a nice person, and feels bad about making someone else feel bad. That's much to his credit. I think it's quite possible that he believes that waterboarding is torture. And I agree with him that "Americans are better than that."

The International Business Times didn't give enough information about Mr. Kiriakou to allow an evaluation of his personal motives and beliefs, in reference to his dislike of waterboarding.

I think two things are interesting here. First, someone who doesn't work for the CIA any more says that waterboarding is torture. Second, the same person says it is effective: "'It was like flipping a switch," is how he was quoted.

"Torture" is a word which, like "love," has many meanings. People may describe everything from final exams to waiting in line as "torture," and mean it. The same word is used to describe physical abuse ending in actual injury.

America subjects its own troops to waterboarding as part of training. Code Pink may believe that America tortures its own soldiers, but I'm not willing to take that leap of faith.

And, waterboarding is effective.

I do, seriously, think that America has a responsibility to behave ethically. Legal professionals have given their considered opinion that waterboarding is not illegal - and presumably not unethical. They could be right.

The way things are shaping up now, we could be in for a replay of the McCarthy era, as those professionals are run through as many Congressional hearings as it takes to destroy their careers and, if possible, their lives. I sincerely hope that doesn't happen: both for the sake of the victims, and for the sake of the American Congress's reputation.

Wouldn't it be Nice if Terrorists Were Nice?

I'd love to live in a world where an American interrogator could sit down with someone like Abu Zubaida, enjoy a nice cup of tea, ask who was planning the next attack, and get a nice, civil answer. Perhaps after that the interrogator would politely ask the terrorist to please stop hating Americans and other westerners so much.

Overwhelmed by the tea and kindness, the terrorist would fervently renounce terrorism, shake the interrogator's hand, and start doing volunteer work with Habitat for Humanity.

I'd love to live in a world like that.

As it is, I'm stuck with the real world, and so are the people who are trying to keep another 9/11 from happening.

Out here, terrorists are not nice people. I think that the politicos, in their self-righteous zeal to do whatever it is they're trying to do, should remember that the "diabolical" George Bush isn't the enemy. Al Qaeda is, and that group isn't alone.

News and views:

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Marmots, Wallabies, and National Security

"Op-Ed: What Marmots Teach Us About Terrorism"
Wired Science, (April 21, 2009)

"When dealing with national security, we would be wise to take lessons from nature about managing risks. Animals that fail to evolve or learn effective ways to avoid predation leave no descendants. Thus, by studying the diversity of anti-predator adaptations, we may learn about what works and what doesn't work with respect to our own risks...."

I doubt that this is the definitive answer to all questions regarding national security: but Daniel Blumstein makes a good case for studying animal behavior as a guide to balancing risk and cost in national security planning.

"...A key lesson is that avoiding all risk is impossible...." This may be another important point.

The author may prefer that America emulate marmots, rather than wallabies - staying away from dangerous areas. If so, I don't agree - but I recognize that isolationism is a perennially popular point of view.

Bottom line: This op-ed is a relatively easy read, and presents a pretty good case for observing nature to learn what systems work, and which don't.

Pentagon Computers Hacked - Joint Strike Fighter Project Data This Time

The article is dated April 21, 2009 - and it's not the sort of thing I like to read at around 1 in the morning.

"Computer spies have broken into the Pentagon's $300 billion Joint Strike Fighter project -- the Defense Department's costliest weapons program ever -- according to current and former government officials familiar with the attacks.

"Similar incidents have also breached the Air Force's air-traffic-control system in recent months, these people say. In the case of the fighter-jet program, the intruders were able to copy and siphon off several terabytes of data related to design and electronics systems....

"The latest intrusions provide new evidence that a battle is heating up between the U.S. and potential adversaries over the data networks that tie the world together. The revelations follow a recent Wall Street Journal report that computers used to control the U.S. electrical-distribution system, as well as other infrastructure, have also been infiltrated by spies abroad.

"Attacks like these -- or U.S. awareness of them -- appear to have escalated in the past six months, said one former official briefed on the matter. 'There's never been anything like it,' this person said, adding that other military and civilian agencies as well as private companies are affected. 'It's everything that keeps this country going.'..." (WSJ)

On the other hand, I'm rather glad that Americans can read this sort of not-entirely-complimentary news about their country. Which is another topic.

Several terabytes of weapons system data in the hands of a potential enemy isn't a good thing, no matter how much value is put on "transparency." Worse, I think, is the possibility that North America's power grid could be shut down.

We've had blackouts before, notably in 1965, 1977, and 2003. To everyone except conspiracy theorists, those were accidents: and involved a fraction of the power grid. I don't think it's at all impossible that a coordinated, willful, effort to compromise the grid would be more effective than a single breaker near Niagara tripping at the wrong time.

"Cold War Mentality" and the Real World

Much of the article is old news.

America's military, taking their mandate to protect the country seriously, has noted that China is been steadily improving its online warfare capability. And, that a number of recent attacks point at China.

China's government says 'did not!'

As The Wall Street Journal put it:

"...The Chinese Embassy said in a statement that China 'opposes and forbids all forms of cyber crimes.' It called the Pentagon's report 'a product of the Cold War mentality' and said the allegations of cyber espionage are 'intentionally fabricated to fan up China threat sensations.' ..." (WSJ)

That's probably the line that Americans who like to appear sophisticated and/or open minded will take. Again, nothing new.

There's a War on, People

Despite the White House officially removing "war on terror" from America's authorized lexicon, there are sill quite a few organizations which want to kill Americans and change this country: violently.

That may not be a "war," officially, but it's going to feel like one no matter how nicely its described.

The Chinese connection with these cyberattacks doesn't surprise me at all. China is certainly not an Islamic country: but as I've written quite often, not all terrorists are Muslims. And China's leaders could easily see Al Qaeda, the Taliban, and similar groups as useful allies.

I think there's reason to believe that China's leadership wants to extend its influence beyond the borders of China and Tibet - or Xizang province, as China calls the country, now that it's been "liberated" and made part of China.

I do not agree with the official Chinese position, that the American military's assessment of the Chinese threat is "Cold War mentality." I have more respect for China's leaders than that. I see China as a large country which has not yet succeeded in decimating its own population: a country with significant technical capabilities, a potentially strong economy, significant natural resources, and an understandable desire for a place of prominence in the world.

I have no problem with China becoming a major economic power, provided that the Chinese markets are comparatively open.

However, there's good reason to suppose that China may be trying to assert itself the old-fashioned way: through raw power, intimidation, and sabotage. This, I have a problem with.

Related posts: In the news:

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Ahmadinejad Urges Strong Defense for Roxana Saberi - 'Good Cop/Bad Cop'?

Update (May 11, 2009)
Roxana Saberi seems to have a supporter in Iran's government: Iranian's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad sent a letter to the chief prosecutor in Tehran, telling him, to make sure that Roxana Saberi got an opportunity to give a full defense at her appeal.

This could be no more than a matter of an official in one branch of the government urging another branch of the government to act. President Ahmadinejad is, presumably, in the executive branch. Iran's Revolutionary Court, which tried Roxana Saberi behind closed doors recently, seems to be in the judicial branch.

Iran's government is a theocratic republic, with three main branches: the legislative, executive, and judicial. It looks like Iran's government has a sort of 'checks and balances' system, much like America.

Ahmadinejad's Letter Could be Nothing More Than it Seems

The report of President Ahmadinejad's plea for truth, justice, and the Iranian way comes from Iran's official news agency: IRNA. (CBC) The Iranian president's action may simply be the executive's effort to impress the judicial branch with the gravity of Roxana Saberi's case.

Or, the letter and the IRNA report could be an effort to impress foreigners with the wisdom and compassion of Iran's government.

Or something else could be going on.

I don't know.

'Good Cop/Bad Cop,' Roxana Saberi, and Iran's President Ahmadinejad

I do know that the treatment of Roxana Saberi, at this point, looks a bit like a 'good cop/bad cop' act in a television show: where one interrogator acts aggressively toward the subject, while the other appears to be protecting the subject from the 'bad cop.'

Considering the efforts of the current administration to reach out to Iran, President Ahmadinejad could be playing the part of the good cop: impressing America's leaders with his thirst for justice.

Or, maybe he really does want something resembling a fair trial.

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

Roxana Saberi, American-Iranian Journalist, Sentenced to Eight Years for 'Spying'

Update (May 11, 2009)
Roxana Saberi is an American journalist. Her father was born in Iran, her mother is Japanese, and she grew up in Fargo, North Dakota. She's in Iran, where she was arrested for buying wine and convicted of being a spy. She's been sentenced to eight years in prison under Iran's own version of Sharia law.

"...'This is a shocking miscarriage of justice,' said US Senator Byron Dorgan, who represents the state of North Dakota where Saberi's family lives...." (ABC)

With due respect to the North Dakota Senator's statement, I disagree. To me, the word "shocking" means primarily to be "surprise greatly." (Princeton WordNet)

I am not in the least surprised that this American reporter was sentenced to eight years in prison for being a spy. It's the sort of thing I expect the Ayatollahs of Iran and their ministers to do.

I'll grant that Senator Dorgan's remark is accurate, though, if another meaning of "shocking" was intended: to "strike with disgust or revulsion." (Princeton WordNet)

Reaching Out to Iran and a Reality Check

The BBC gave a wonderfully succinct description of how the current American administration took word of Roxana Saberi's sentence:

"...President Barack Obama 'is deeply disappointed at this news,' his spokesman Robert Gibbs said.

"Correspondents say the case will have serious implications for US-Iranian relations at a time when Mr Obama has reached out to the Tehran.

"US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton earlier expressed her disappointment at the sentence.

"She said the US would vigorously raise its concerns about the case with Tehran...." (BBC)

More of what Secretary of State Clinton said, from CNN:

" U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said she was "deeply disappointed" by the news. "We are working closely with the Swiss Protecting Presence to obtain details about the court's decision, and to ensure her well-being," Clinton said in a statement.

"The United States will 'continue to vigorously raise our concerns to the Iranian government,' Clinton said. 'Ms. Saberi was born and raised in the United States, yet chose to travel to the Islamic Republic of Iran due to her desire to learn more about her cultural heritage. Our thoughts are with her parents and family during this difficult time.'..."

I'm relieved to hear a high administration official say that America will 'vigorously raise our concerns' over this matter. I also hope that the current administration realizes that, while 'reaching out' is a very nice idea, the leadership in some countries quite simply isn't nice: and no amount of friendliness and good will is likely to change that unpleasant fact.

Roxana Saberi's Big Mistake: Not Acting Like AMPAS

A delegation of AMPAS (American Motion Picture Arts and Sciences) got a tour of Iran recently. Press TV ("the first Iranian international news network, broadcasting in English on a round-the-clock basis.) posted an article about one of the delegate's reaction to the Iran they saw.

"President of the American Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, Sid Ganis says Iran is very different from what the US mainstream portrays...."

"...'Iranians are very sophisticated, educated and culturally literate people and they have access to far more western media and technology than any of us had realized.' He said.

" 'We traveled freely around Tehran, Shiraz and Isfahan and we didn't see any signs of political demonstrations or speech directed against Americans.'..."

(from Press TV, used w/o permission)
"Sid Ganis at Persepolis, Shiraz, Iran"

Maybe that's how Roxana Saberi should have acted: smiled a lot, said very nice things about Iranians, and not asked too many questions.
AMPAS, Smiles, and Saying Nice Things
I think it's wonderful that Hollywood bigwigs feel like taking time out of their busy schedules to travel abroad in the interests of creative exchange and education. And, it looks like they had a fine time on their trip to Iran.

I hope they had opportunities to compare notes with Iranian movie-makers. Hollywood could use some new ideas, in my opinion - but that's an entirely different topic.

And, I'm glad that they didn't follow the lead of Louisiana's Representative John "Towelheads" Cooksey. That was a boorish and ignorant remark to make in America. In Iran, it would be boorish, ignorant, and probably not a little dangerous.

Even "sophisticated, educated and culturally literate"people might be understandably miffed - and Iran doesn't have the reputation for protecting free speech, no matter how daft, that America does.

As it was, the AMPAS delegation met nice Iranians; had a great time, judging from that photo of Sid Ganis at Persepolis; and said nice things about Iran.
Roxana Saberi and Being a Reporter
We don't know anything about Roxana Saberi's trial, but she must have done something to make Iran's leaders peeved with her.

In a way, it really is her fault that she's looking at an eight year stretch in an Iranian prison - assuming she lives that long. She should have smiled a lot, not asked too many questions, and said nice things: like AMPAS.

Iranian-American Relations and Somebody from Fargo, North Dakota

In a way, the foreign policy of America must not be determined by concerns of - or for - one person.

On the other hand, I think the treatment of Roxana Saberi is a strong indication that Iran's leaders are not even close to being on the same page as America when it comes to basic ideas like freedom of expression.

I hope that Roxana Saberi survives her encounter with "her cultural heritage".

I also hope that the current American administration realizes that all the friendliness in the world will not make all countries as safe as America for people who ask questions.

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

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Homeland Security Report: American Veterans are Potential Terrorists - I am Not Making This Up

'As is well known,' 1 American soldiers are trained to use weapons, including explosives.

Timothy McVeigh was an American soldier.

Veteran Timothy McVeigh helped blow up Oklahoma City's Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in 1995.

Obviously, American veterans are very dangerous people, and should be watched closely.

No, I don't believe it: but that's apparently the sort of logic that Homeland Security is using these days.

I'm Not Making This Up

"Right-wing Extremism: Current Economic and Political Climate Fueling Resurgence in Radicalization and Recruitment," is a Homeland Security/FBI collaboration. And, parts of it may make sense.

"Though the nine-page report said it had 'no specific information that domestic right-wing terrorists are currently planning acts of violence,' it said real-estate foreclosures, unemployment and tight credit 'could create a fertile recruiting environment for right-wing extremists and even result in confrontations between such groups and government authorities similar to those in the past.'..." (CNN)

"Right-wing Extremism: Current Economic and Political Climate Fueling Resurgence in Radicalization and Recruitment" may be very nice and sensible. But if it's anything like the (draft, I trust) copy of a MIAC report with a similar subject, everybody to the right of Pelosi could be in trouble.

MIAC identified people who supported Ron Paul, Chuck Baldwin, or Bob Barr in the last election as potential terrorists. Also people who were pro-life.

As I said, I am not making this up.

I wish I were.

Looking Forward to a Nicer America?

I think I can understand the current administrations preference for dropping the term "War on Terror." It's so, well, warlike. And most people agree that war isn't nice.

From the sounds of the current Homeland Security head, we may be in for at least four years of euphemisms.

"...During her confirmation hearings, Napolitano told a Senate committee she preferred to use the term 'man-caused disasters' in lieu of 'terrorism' to describe the threats and potential threats with which her department must deal...." (USN)

If this keeps up, we may have to learn contemporary newspeak, just to figure out what our leaders are saying.

Overseas, a Mixed Bag of Opinions

I found two rather different takes on the report:
  • "The Obama administration has issued a chilling warning to US police forces about the threat of a rise in violent rightwing extremist groups...." (guardian)
  • The Homeland Security/FBI report "is the latest wheeze dreamed up by the Obama administration to distract us from the fact that roughly half America now realises the man's New Deal II project is a slow-motion car crash...." (telegraph)
I won't go as far as Lamar Smith, a Texas Republican, in throwing terms like "leftwing" and "rightwing" around. But, I think he may have a point:

"...'Their leftwing assessment identifies actual terrorist organizations, like the Earth Liberation Front and Animal Liberation Front. The rightwing report uses broad generalizations about veterans, pro-life groups, federalists and supporters of gun rights,' said Smith. 'That's like saying if you love puppies you might be susceptible to recruitment by the Animal Liberation Front. It is ridiculous and deeply offensive to millions of Americans.'..." (FOXNews)

Actually, I'm delighted and a bit surprised that ELF and ALF were identified as being similar to 'terrorist' organizations. For much of my life, their sabotaging of logging operations and setting the odd fire was viewed as overly-fervent political statements. Or, by the news, ignored outright. As I've said before, I've done time in academia.
'Those People' Again?
It's possible that the report suffered from lack of direct contact with dangerous people like veterans. I don't know exactly who put the report together. It's quite possible that they were people who have had extremely little direct contact with American veterans.

There hasn't been a military draft since 1973. I don't have statistics, but I think it's possible that an all-volunteer armed forces has resulted in fewer people having had personal contact with people who served, or are serving, in the armed forces. The American military today isn't, demographically, an exact replica of America as a whole. They're better educated, more likely to be from the middle class, and disproportionately Asian or Hawaiian / Pacific Islander than your group of "average American." (January 4, 2009)

It's possible that, after leaving the armed forces, veterans don't go into the elite circles that drafted "Right-wing Extremism: Current Economic and Political Climate Fueling Resurgence in Radicalization and Recruitment."

And, the people who drafted the report are human beings. It's a very human thing to fear the unknown.

Lets Hope the Nice Talk Today is True

As Timothy McVeigh demonstrated, you don't have to be an Islamic Arab to be a terrorist.

And, as I've written before, every system of belief has it's crazies.

I'm glad that Homeland Security realizes that not everyone who is concerned about environmental issues is a potential terrorist. I just wish that the same courtesy would be extended to people who served in America's armed forces, supported Ron Paul, or have views that are not in accord with Nancy Pelosi's.

Related posts: In the news:
1 A tip of the hat to Walt Kelly, creator of the Pogo comic strip. "As is well known" was a catch-phrase, if I recall correctly, of a character in that strip: one Simple J. Malarky, Walt Kelly's take on Senator J. McCarthy.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

American Journalist Roxana Saberi: Fargo's Freedom; Iran's Ayatollahs

Update (May 11, 2009)
Roxana Saberi is an American journalist, in Iran, charged with espionage.

It's an open-and-shut case, as far as I can tell. She's been going around asking questions and taking notes. Spies ask questions and take notes. The verdict is due soon - two guesses what it'll be, and the first one doesn't count.

Looks like the Islamic Republic of Iran will show the world what Islam and Islamic justice is all about in the near future. The Ayatollah's notion of what 'real' Islam is, anyway.

Roxana Saberi - North Dakotan

This case is a bit more personal for me, since I grew up on the North Dakota/Minnesota border, in the Red River Valley of the North. Roxana Saberi grew up in Fargo, North Dakota. (For what it's worth, her father's Iranian, her mother Japanese. I'm interested in where people's ancestors come from - but I'm not as bothered by 'those foreigners' as some Real Americans seem to be.)

It's quite likely that Roxana Saberi will be convicted of espionage - or anything else that the Iranian bosses like.

The American government has demanded her release. A mouthpiece for Iran's judiciary called the demand "ridiculous and against international laws." (LAT blog)

My sympathy is with Roxana Saberi, her parents, Reza and Akiko, and everybody who has to deal with Iran and it's masters.

More-or-less related posts: News and views: Related posts, on censorship, propaganda, and freedom of speech.

Monday, April 13, 2009

President Obama and State Secrets: It's Different, When You're in Charge

I was impressed, after reading that President Obama had authorized the raid that freed the Maersk Alabama's Captain. Barack Obama may be more solidly attached to the real world than might have been expected.

I'm not as surprised as I might be, though. Last August I wrote about Obama's failure to live down to the Congressional Black Caucus' standards. I could be wrong about this, but I think that many members of the CBC have never quite gotten over the passing of the sixties.

War Isn't Nice: Neither is the Taliban - Deal With It

Like it or not, organizations like Al Qaeda and the Taliban are
  1. Not nice
  2. Determined to make their version of Islam the only version
  3. Not at all inhibited when it comes to killing people who get in their way
Since America, Western civilization in general, and - judging from the number of Muslims killed by these lions of Islam - quite a bit of the Islamic world don't see eye-to-eye with Al Qaeda and the Taliban, there is a conflict going on.

It may not, officially, be the "War on Terror" any more, but the fact is that Al Qaeda quite happily killed around 3,000 people in New York City a few years ago, and hit the Pentagon. The physical damage can be repaired: the people stay dead.

I realize that "war" isn't a nice word, and that it would be nice if there wasn't any war. But that doesn't change the unpleasant reality that everyone on Earth is living with right now: that the freedom to wear trousers (for men), and drive cars (for women); and freedom to decide how, or whether, to worship, is at stake.

Calling it a misunderstanding, or some other euphemistic term, might make a few people feel better - but it doesn't change the deadly nature of what's actually going on.

President Barack Obama: Keeping State Secrets?! The Horror!!

What seems to be brewing today is a refusal by the White House to say whether or not President Barack Obama supports the State Secrets Protection Act.

As The Atlantic put it, "...As a candidate, Obama supported the principles espoused in a similar piece of legislation, but he did not sign on to the bill as a cosponsor...." (The Atlantic)

The State Secrets Protection Act (S 2533) is "A bill to enact a safe, fair, and responsible state secrets privilege Act." ( Who could possibly be against that?

'The Devil's in the details.' Good or bad, what matters in legislation is not its lofty goals and aspirations, but what it actually says. In the case of S2533, even the summary starts looking dicey.

"State Secrets Protection Act - Amends the federal judicial code to: (1) require a federal court to determine which filings, motions, and affidavits (or portions) submitted under this Act shall be submitted ex parte; (2) allow a federal court to order a party to provide a redacted, unclassified, or summary substitute of a filing, motion, or affidavit to other parties; and (3) require a federal court to make decisions under this Act, taking into consideration the interests of justice and national security...." ( S 2355 summary)

To those who truly believe in the ineffable perfection of federal judges to make wise, true - and reasonably prompt - decisions, S2355 is probably quite acceptable.

I grew up in the sixties, and although I acknowledge that America needs federal judges: I would very much rather not trust the lot of them to make sensible decisions about whether or not all the umbras of emanations were aligned correctly to permit eavesdropping on terrorists - probable or actual.

The last I checked, 221 people who had been tried and convicted of rape in American courts have been freed because of DNA testimony. I don't know how many were executed.

Then there's that wonderful bit: "specific guarantees in the Bill of Rights have penumbras, formed by emanations from those guarantees that help give them life and substance...." I know: "Penumbra" does have a legal definition: one that's as shadowy as the name implies. "In an 1873 article on the theory of torts, Justice Holmes used the term penumbra to describe the 'gray area where logic and principle falter.'..." A Penumbra these days seems to be "The rights guaranteed by implication in a constitution or the implied powers of a rule." (TheFreeDictionary)

There may be times when something that vague is needed in law - but it can also, I think, result in very groovy judicial legislation.

From the point of view of either bleeding heart liberal or a heartless conservative: American courts don't have a particularly good track record.

Perhaps more to the point, the courts aren't particularly noted for their speed. I wouldn't feel particularly safe, learning several weeks after the next 9/11 happens, that some federal court judge finally decided to approve listening in on the terrorists' messages.

Checks and Balances are a Good Idea

I'll admit that my apprehension over S2355 stems in no small part from the farcical antics of judges - many of them at the federal level - during my lifetime.

Sober, rational decisions have been made. On the other hand, just a few years ago a judge in Becker County, Minnesota, set a laughably low bail for a convicted sex offender. Thanks to Judge Thomas Schroeder's kind attention, Joseph Edward Duncan III was free to go to Idaho, where he wound up facing three murder charges. The last I heard, he's been sentenced to death. ( Crime/Punishment) (My views on capital punishment: "Capital Punishment: Killing Those Who Deserve to Die " A Catholic Citizen in America (October 2, 2008).)

I'm willing to trust American security to responsible grown-ups. That lot: I'm not so sure.

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

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Maersk Alabama's captain, Richard Phillips: Free

It sounds like the Maersk Alabama's captain, Richard Phillips, is free, alive, and on an American warship.

A BBC article's first two paragraphs are, technically, accurate:

"The captain of a US container ship taken hostage by Somali pirates has been released, the US Navy has said.

"According to initial reports, three pirates were killed in the operation to free Captain Richard Phillips. Another is in custody...." (BBC)

One of the meanings of "release" is "the act of liberating someone or something" (Princeton WordNet). Technically, Captain Phillips was released: by the American military.

'Diplomacy' is Nice - So are Results

I approve of negotiation. Talking out issues and coming to a mutually acceptable agreement is a good thing.

Sometimes that's not possible.

In this case, the pirates wanted around $2,000,000 ransom for Captain Phillips. The people Captain Phillips worked for - and America - weren't about to pay that. For starters, paying kidnappers for abducting people is not a good way to discourage such behavior.

The pirates wouldn't budge, Somali elders "refused the arrest of the pirates," and the Americans insisted that they wanted Captain Phillips back.

"...'The negotiations between the elders and American officials have broken down. The reason is American officials wanted to arrest the pirates in Puntland and elders refused the arrest of the pirates,' said the commissioner, Abdi Aziz Aw Yusuf. He said he organized initial contacts between the elders and the Americans...." (AP)

Those Big, Rough Americans

With the proper direction, talks with the pirates, Somali elders and commissioners, Americans, and anyone else who wanted to join in, could have gone on for months. Maybe years.

Instead, American forces freed Captain Phillips, unharmed, and arrested one pirate. Three others were killed. I'd have preferred to hear that it was four captured pirates: but that sort of thing is a foreseeable outcome for people who take hostages and defy a military force.

Captain Phillips is Free, the Maersk Alabama Brought Food to Somalia

I'm sorry that there was loss of life. That's regrettable. But, the pirates chose to fight.

Perhaps the pirates miscalculated. The America they defied was not an America which avoids conflict at any cost, and will negotiate until issues become moot.

Related posts: News and views:

Thursday, April 9, 2009

American Authorities to Somali Pirates: 'We Want to Talk -

- but we're not stupid'

An FBI negotiator is talking with pirates who are holding the Captain of the Maersk Alabama hostage in a lifeboat.

The American navy's destroyer Bainbridge1 is near the lifeboat, too: as well as a naval surveillance plane and a drone. (UPI)

We Want to Talk: But We're Not Stupid

Some people are born negotiators: willing to reach the best possible outcome for all parties concerned; through discussion of the matters at hand. Not all people are like that. My guess, though, is that the pirates will be much more open to the call of sweet reason, with a airborne robot, an aircraft with a human at the controls, and a destroyer nearby.

'Eeuw! How Militaristic!'

Then, there are people who don't like weapons. I've discussed hoplophobia before. My opinion is that it's an endemic condition in America's upper crust: and isn't recognized because the 'experts' in the psychological fields are among those affected. The self-described better sort in America have a similar attitude toward those big, rough soldiers.

By the way, this little piracy thing is "over-hyped and confused with terrorism:" according to a retired officer, whose wisdom is shared in an National Public Radio article. (NPR)

The Maersk Alabama's cargo: Food and Supplies for Kenya

A few news articles mentioned that the Maersk Alabama was carrying food bound for Kenya. A smaller number mentioned the United Nation's World Food Program shipment that was on board. One gave a rather more thorough summary.

The Maersk Alabama was carrying roughly 4,100 metric tons of corn-soya blend plus 990 metric tons of vegetable oil. Brought to refugees in Kenya, courtesy the United Nations World Food Program. Oh, yeah: a couple of Christian charities had some stuff on the ship, too:
  • WorldVision
  • Catholic Relief Services
The Maersk Alabama is an "American flagged," or "U.S.-flagged" as the news articles insist on putting it. The Associated Press acknowledged that all 20 of the Maersk Alabama's crew are Americans. (AP)

No Wonder Americans are Hated: We Play Too Rough

It's hard to say, at this point, whether the Somali pirates realized that they were hijacking a ship with 20 Americans on board, when they boarded the Maersk Alabama. They must have known that they were dealing with 'those people,' though, when the unarmed American crew took the ship back.

This incident may give insight into why America is hated so much: Americans play too rough. Look what they did to those poor, armed, pirates.

Related posts: News and views:
1 DDG 96, in service since 2002, not the one commissioned in 1902, of course.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Genocide! Racism! Down With Columbus Day!!

In today's news:
"University denounces legendary explorer's legacy"

"Providence, RI (WPRI) - Brown University will no longer celebrate 'Columbus Day.'

"This week, the faculty voted to do away with the holiday, after students raised concerns about Christopher Columbus' treatment of Native Americans.

"Last fall, students submitted a petition with more than 700 signatures to the University denouncing the explorer's legacy, and accusing Columbus of genocide and racism...."
No surprises here.

For people who really believe that all whites are racist, and that Professor Ward Churchill is right about the "little Eichmanns," this is another glorious victory. For the rest of us: it's more of the same.

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

Somali Pirates Take American Ship: Crew Takes it Back

Short version: The American container ship container ship Maersk Alabama was hijacked by Somali pirates. Then the Maersk Alabama's crew took the ship back. At least one of the crew is missing, taken by retreating pirates.

Someone from the Defense Department said that the Captain of the Maersk Alabama seems to be on a lifeboat, with four pirates.

I sincerely hope that the captain gets back to civilization safely.

Civilized Places, Not-So-Civilized Places, and Somalia

Using the word "civilization" in that context sounds terribly intolerant, biased, judgmental, and all that: But I'm not in college any more, and don't have to use newspeak any more. I can acknowledge that there are civilized places in the world, where there are laws that conform, to some extent, to international standards: and that Somalia isn't one of those places.

I'm not criticizing Somalis, or their culture: but let's be realistic. In practical terms, although they've got a president there isn't a Somali government, and the territory's a mess. Also a home to pirates.

Let's be Open Minded, Not Empty Headed

"Don't be so open-minded that your brain falls out" is a phrase I ran across decades ago: and it's as apropos now as it was then. 'Knee jerk' anything is a problem: whether it's 'real Americans' who think those foreigners should go back where they came from; or people who think that some foreigners are right because they're not westerners.

American isn't always right: but it isn't always wrong, either.
"American Authorities to Somali Pirates: 'We Want to Talk - "
(April 9, 2009)
Related posts: In the news:

A Hijab, Bullies, and a Do-Nothing School System

Terrorists aren't nice. Neither are bullies. They both do naughty things.

Some people brought up in Muslim communities are terrorists. Some people brought up in Christian communities are bullies.

But, and this is important, not all Muslims are terrorists, and not all Christians are bullies.

Wear that Scarf, Jana Elhifny, and You Will Die

Specifically, Jana Elhifny was told that she would be killed in a school stairwell, if she wore a heard scarf: the sort of headgear that quite a few varieties of Islam require for women. This particular article of clothing is a hijab.

The school administration did - nothing. According to Jana Elhifny, her friend Stephanie Hart, and a court that awarded them a total of $400,000 in damages.

A spokesperson for the school said "The district did an incredibly thorough investigation," (FOXNews) which may be true, depending on exactly which definition of "incredibly" is used, and how it is interpreted.

The school rep claims that Jana couldn't identify the tormentor(s) by sex, size, or voice. Which may or may not be true.

Think About It

Imagine that you're an older high school student, in a country where they don't speak your language, and don't share most of your customs. You're accosted by a half-dozen or so of the natives. They threaten your life while urging you to abandon your religious practices. It all takes less than a minute.

Quick: give a detailed description of each one of them. In that second language you picked up. To an authority who may or may not give any indication of being willing to believe your story.

Some Muslima Won a Court Case: So What?

Jana Elhifny is married now, and living back in Egypt.

God be thanked, her experience in America included one person who wasn't depraved or indifferent. And, the American court system recognized the injustice done to her.

On the other hand, Jana didn't have an entirely positive experience in this country. And she'll carry those memories with her for the rest of her life. My hope is that she'll tell about the good, as well as the depraved, to her children.

Hijabs, Rosaries: Why Can't Those People Leave Us Alone?

America has been a predominantly Protestant country, although that's changing. The Protestant branch of Christianity does not encourage - or, in some cases, tolerate - the use of religious symbols: except within very narrowly prescribed limits.

I'm a Catholic.

Right now, I'm wearing a 'chaplet' - a small crucifix on a length of knotted cord - around my neck. It's visible, although not glaringly so. After this week, I may take it off - it's part of a Lenten observance for me. On the other hand, I may keep wearing it for a while. It's an excellent reminder for me, of what I believe.

I live in a community that's almost entirely Catholic, so I don't stand out all that much. Not all Catholics living in America have it that nice.
Being a Religious Minority Has Advantages
Being a Catholic in a country that's overwhelmingly Protestant or secular has let me experience - to a tiny extent - what people in other non-majority faiths live with.

That may be why I'm as sympathetic as I am toward Muslimas who wear hijabs, Sheiks who grow beards, and people who wear turbans.

Because of choices I made, and am content with, I'm one of 'those people' too.

Related posts: In the news:

Unique, innovative candles

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


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

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

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