Sunday, November 29, 2009

Another Stampede-Free Hajj: Credit Where Credit is Due

Something wasn't in the news this year: another stampede at the tent city of Mina.

Because, as far as I can tell, it didn't happen.

No News was Good News from Saudi Arabia

Looks like the Hajj is wrapping up for this year - or maybe it already has. Hajj is "the fifth pillar of Islam ... a pilgrimage to Mecca during the month of Dhu al-Hijja...." (Princeton's WordNet) - was, or is, in late November this year.

The date of the Hajj seems to jump around a bit, since it's based on a lunar calendar, and other factors. I don't see any thing unusual about someone not using a solar calendar - but then, I'm one of those people who celebrates Easter. The date of which is determined by another lunar calendar.

The famous - or infamous - stampedes have been at what Western news often calls the "stoning of the devil." Here's what CNN had to say about this year's event:
"...Jamarat is a re-enactment of an event when Prophet Abraham stoned the devil and rejected his temptations, according to Muslim traditions.

"The ritual stoning of three pillars, which occurs in the tent city of Mina -- about two miles from Mecca, was the scene of stampedes and many deaths in the 1980s and 1990s as pilgrims passed a crowded bottleneck area leading to the small pillars on the ground...."
With due respect to CNN, the eighties and nineties weren't the only period during which devout Muslims trampled their way into the world's headlines:

A short selection of regrettable incidents during the Hajj, so far in the 21st century: Note: as far as I can tell, newsworthy stampedes occurred in only in 2001, 2003, 2004, and 2006. Counting 2000 as the first year of the 21st century, that means lethal stampedes were a part of only 4/10 of the pilgrimages.

I think one factor that helped this year was a major investment in the infrastructure for this year's Jamarat. According to CNN, Saudi Arabia put up $1,200,000,000 set of five pedestrian bridges - and three "massive pillars" to accommodate the millions on Muslims who came.

My hat's off to the House of Saud, for learning from experience: and making arrangements that didn't kill pilgrims this year. Also, for taking what appear to have been effective steps toward seeing to it that this year's Hajj was a religious event. Not a political one.

Looks like the king of Saudi Arabia saying, back in 2008, that terrorists were giving Islam a bad name may not have been a fluke. (September 27, 2008)

And, looks like another Hajj has passed (or is passing) without disaster, and without the seemingly-obligatory 'death to people we don't like' chants. Despite a few - ah, enthusiastic - Saudi clerics, the government of Sudan, Al Qaeda, the Taliban, Somalia's own Al Shabaab, and assorted jihadist wannabes: I think it's possible to think that Islam isn't the hopelessly out-of-touch bunch of dangerous misfits who can't deal with a world where women are often allowed to drive.

Related posts: In the news: Background:

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Russian Train Derailment: Sabotage on the Moscow-St. Petersburg Line

Train wrecks can cause no end of a mess, but generally don't leave a crater a yard across - and explosives residue.

It looks like someone caused a Russian express train to derail near Uglovka. That's a town about 400 kilometers, or 250 miles, northeast of Moscow. Hundreds of people were traveling from Moscow to St. Petersburg. Over two dozen were killed - different news articles give slightly different numbers: which isn't all that surprising. The accident scene is, literally, a train wreck.

And, as I said earlier today, it's just about certain that this wasn't an accident. Particularly since a second bomb went off, after the first explosion. I understand that's a fairly typical approach: one explosion to draw a crowd and rescue crews, then a second to kill even more people for Allah, the motherland, or whatever.

Inspired - maybe - by the derailment, someone said that a bomb had been planted at Moscow's Kievsky train station. The building was evacuated and searched, and no bomb found. Folks are being let back in now. (RIA Novosti)

The bomb at the Moscow train station may have been a hoax. Since they didn't find one, I certainly hope it was.

Luxury Train Hit

The Moscow-St. Petersburg express was a luxury train, designed to travel at around 124 miles / 200 kilometers an hour: a sort of analog to Japan's Shinkansen, or "bullet trains."

As a target for terrorism, it was a choice which almost guaranteed nation-wide - and, as it turned out, world-wide - news coverage. There was another derailment, similar to yesterday's, also caused by an explosion, on the same route, in August of 2007. (RIA)

Obviously, This is the Work of - Somebody

There are a few "obvious" sorts of groups to blame for yesterday's wreck.
  • Islamic terrorists, because
    • They blow up people
    • Russia wasn't being sufficiently Islamic
  • Chechen rebels, striking a blow for freedom
    • Or killing innocent people, as usual
  • Organized crime
    • Someone refused an offer they couldn't refuse
Me? I don't have enough information to make a reasonable guess as to who's responsible. That said, one of the less-unlikely parties would, I think, be someone with an interest in the Russia-Chechnya situation.
Chechen Terrorism?
Chechnya is a part of Russia, just north of Georgia - or a territory brutally ground under the heel of oppression. Depends on who you're listening to. Quite a few people think it's part of Russia. But then, a lot of folks say the same about Montana and America: and I'm sure that someone, somewhere, disagrees.

If Chechnya sounds familiar, it should. Separatists, insurgents, whatever, dedicated to freeing Chechnya from oppression, or something like that, managed to kill a school-full of kids and teachers in Beslan back in 2004. I suppose it was easier than attacking soldiers. (CNN)

Apparently that glorious victory didn't sit too well, even among Chechen separatists. (Global Security) The Chechen leader who may have been responsible was Shamil Basayev, who died in an explosion in 2006.

Which isn't to say that someone whose heart is in Chechnya and whose conscience is on vacation might not have decided that, since murdering a school-full of kids didn't win freedom for Chechnya, maybe killing a bunch of people on a train would.
Organized Crime: No, Really
Or, like I said, maybe a businessman in Russia made someone an offer he couldn't refuse: and was refused. Back in the 'good old days,' in - say - Chicago, it wasn't healthy to refuse to do business with some of the more influential members of the community. From what I've heard, Russia has been experiencing growth in the organized crime sector of their economy.
Islamic Terrorists?
And, of course, there are Islamic terrorists. Why they'd hit a train going from Moscow to St. Petersburg, I've no idea. But it's possible. Not very likely, though, I'd think.

A Russian news article ended with what I think is one of the more sensible comments on the question of what the two recent explosions mean:
"...The blast has raised fears of a resurge [!] in terrorist attacks in the Russian capital and other major cities. Russia was hit hard by terrorism in the 1990s and the early years of this decade, but there had not been a major incident outside the volatile North Caucasus region since 2004.
Somewhat-related posts: In the news: Background:

Russian Train Wreck? Yeah, it Looks Like Terrorism

Updated (November 28, 2009)

More, at
The news broke last night, about a terrible train wreck in Russia.

This morning's news said that investigators had found bomb residue and a crater.

And now, a second bomb has gone off.

Yeah, I'd say this looks like a terrorist incident.

In the news:

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Navy SEALS Capture Terrorist Ahmed Hashim Abed, Face Court-Martial

I haven't seen this item in traditional, old-school news services. Possibly because they're trying to come up with an acceptable angle on it: but that's speculation on my part.
" Navy SEALs have secretly captured one of the most wanted terrorists in Iraq — the alleged mastermind of the murder and mutilation of four Blackwater USA security guards in Fallujah in 2004. And three of the SEALs who captured him are now facing criminal charges, sources told

"The three, all members of the Navy's elite commando unit, have refused non-judicial punishment - called an admiral's mast - and have requested a trial by court-martial.

"Ahmed Hashim Abed, whom the military code-named 'Objective Amber,' told investigators he was punched by his captors — and he had the bloody lip to prove it.

"Now, instead of being lauded for bringing to justice a high-value target, three of the SEAL commandos, all enlisted, face assault charges and have retained lawyers...."
I just don't have the right - or, rather, left - attitude about the American military. I don't think they're a bunch of poor, uneducated minorities drafted to serve the "American Empire;" and/or sadistic monsters who delight in nothing more than hurling puppies over cliffs and massacring innocent villagers. (January 4, 2009, March 4, 2008 - you can't make up that sort of thing)

The charges are serious:
  • Special Operations Petty Officer Second Class (SO-2) Matthew McCabe
    • Dereliction of performance of duty for willfully failing to safeguard a detainee
    • Making a false official statement
    • Assault.
  • SO-2 Jonathan Keefe
    • Dereliction of performance of duty
    • Making a false official statement
They may be guilty. Or, not. I don't know enough about the circumstances to know whether their request for a "court-martial" hints that there may be mitigating circumstances - or that they want the facts in the case to go on record - or something else.

Traditional news services may be in a pickle. This is a juicy news item: two American soldiers are accused of hurting the lip of a highly-placed terrorist, or by their negligence causing him to get the sort of injury that sometimes happens in football practice.

That's news! Brutal, sadistic, inhuman, violent American soldiers: just like the ones who killed all those innocent (?) people in Mai Lai! (March 4, 2008)

Problem is, this isn't the sixties or seventies. In America, at least, ABC, CBC, NBC and PBS aren't the only sources of television news, and a handful of northeastern papers aren't the leading - and virtually only - source of text-format news. These days, we've got cable news channels - at least one of which is radical (?) enough to be both high in the ratings and annoyingly unwilling to follow established traditions in coverage.

Then, there's the Internet: and blogs like this one.

It's downright hard to limit what the American people know to what we're supposed to know.

But I'm getting off-topic.

As I said, the charges against those two SEALs are serious.

But somehow, I don't think we'll hear too much about it. Reporting on their crime would mean taking a good look at how the American military polices itself - and has a long tradition of finding and correcting errors.

And, if stories about the crimes of McCabe and Keefe get the sort of hype that, say, Abu Ghraib got: there's a very real danger that Americans will find out how the American military works.

Besides, being tried for giving a powerful terrorists an owie on his lip isn't the sort of thing that's likely to make Americans cringe in loathing and horror from 'those American soldiers.'

As I say, traditional news media may be in a pickle.

Vaguely-related posts: In the news:

Monday, November 16, 2009

Fort Hood, Obama, Congress, and Getting a Job Done

Depending on your point of view, the American Congress is nobly concerned with what appears to be a serious SNAFU that led to the Fort Hood shootings: or eager to have a three-ring Congressional Hearing so they can get on camera and explain why if only they'd been in charge, Major Nidal Malik Hasan wouldn't have shot all those people.

Or, how:
  • Only more federal spending in their state will prevent another tragedy
  • It's 'obvious' that the Fort Hood shootings are the result of
    • Racism
    • The military-industrial complex
      • Maybe not: This one's getting a bit old
  • Like everything else, it's the fault of
    • The Bush Administration
      • Either one
      • Or both
    • Republicans
    • Democrats
    • Right-wing extremists
    • Whatever
One bogey man I'm pretty sure wouldn't be proclaimed by a member of Congress is 'the commies.' As I wrote yesterday, blaming commie plots for problems is seriously out of fashion these days.

This Blog isn't Political

I'm not - putting it mildly - in full agreement with many of President Barack Obama's policies and programs. But I'm not "against" President Obama: in the sense that I want him to fail, not matter what. I'm not "for" the president, either, if that means cheering his statements and decisions simply because he's the one who made them. (June 21, 2009)

I've got very well-defined views on the war on terror. For example:
  • I think there's a war on: and that no amount of creative labeling is going to change that.
  • I hope that America and our allies win: partly because I prefer living in a world where it's okay to wear trousers, drink beer, or 'let' women drive cars.
In some circles, saying that I hope America wins probably brands me as a conservative - and a radical right-wing one, at that.

A fairly common assumption in America is that people are either conservative, liberal, "moderate," or apathetic. For people who sort out other people that way, I'm obviously conservative: except in the ways that I'm obviously liberal. (A Catholic Citizen in America (November 3, 2008))

This blog reflects my beliefs that America isn't perfect, but isn't the source of all the world's ills, either. I also think that America is one of the few countries with the ability, and willingness, to provide leadership in coalitions like the one that ended a brutal dictator's rule Iraq.

And, I'm convinced that sometimes people aren't nice because they've decided to be not-nice.

But I don't support Republican positions because I'm a staunch Republican - or Democratic positions because I'm a dedicated Democrat. On occasion, each of the two major parties say or do something that makes sense. That I support.

Congress, Fort Hood, and President Obama

This doesn't happen all that often - I agree with President Barack Obama.
"President Barack Obama on Saturday urged Congress to hold off on any investigation of the Fort Hood rampage until federal law enforcement and military authorities have completed their probes into the shootings at the Texas Army post, which left 13 people dead....

"...Obama turned his attention home and pleaded for lawmakers to 'resist the temptation to turn this tragic event into the political theater.' He said those who died on the nation's largest Army post deserve justice, not political stagecraft.

" 'The stakes are far too high,' Obama said in a video and Internet address released by the White House...

"...Army psychiatrist Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, 39, was charged on Thursday with the shooting spree at Fort Hood last week. Army investigators have said Hasan is the only suspect and could face additional charges...."
So far, this makes sense. On the other hand, the White House Press Secretary published this press release: Political grandstanding? I'm not going to make that claim. The president - whoever holds the office - is an executive. A competent executive, faced with the possibility that something went horribly wrong in his or her organization, should see to it that a thorough investigation be made.

And, so far, there's nothing I've seen to indicate that FBI and other law enforcement agencies have been mishandling the case.

Congress? Yes, if law enforcement agencies seem to be blundering, and the executive branch wasn't dealing with the situation, then I'd say that Congress might have a reason get their blue-ribbon panels together, organize their press conferences, and maybe even spend some time asking sensible questions.

But, as things stand now, I think the best thing Congress could do is get out of the way, and let professionals do their jobs.

Related posts: In the news:

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Commie Plots, Cholesterol, Frank Burns, Hugo Chavez, and 2012

In the "good old days," when I was growing up, a vocal portion of the American populace were convinced that commie plots were behind just about everything they didn't like.

By the time I was paying attention, they had a declining influence over the American government's decisions. In my opinion their greater contribution to the culture was a fairly steady stream of gaffes, and being a highly identifiable group for comedians to joke about, satirists to satirize, and writers to use as the basis for memorable - if somewhat two-dimensional - characters like Frank Burns of M*A*S*H.

That was then, this is now. Acid rain, the terrible dangers of electrical transmission lines, and global warming, have replaced "commie plots" as effective rallying cries. Although not for the same people as were swayed by the likes of Wisconsin's Senator Joseph McCarthy, of course. It's hard to imagine a politician building his or her campaign on the claim that there are some number of known communists in the State Department.

Or, if some politico was crazy enough to try - winning a state or national election.

Hugo Chavez, Weather Control, Democracy and All That

This afternoon, discussing western-hemisphere politics and cultural history with my oldest daughter, we ran over the idea that democracy was the only viable, or for that matter, decent, form of government.

The idea died at the scene.

Our conversation ricocheted in another direction: which has even less to do with the general topic of this blog than this post.

The encounter with one of the basic assumptions of many Americans - that democracy is the only "right" way to run a country - reminded me of something I wrote about a year ago:

Military Rule as the Ideal Form of Government

No, I don't really think so, but look at this:
  • Government by Religious Leaders
    Example: Afghanistan under the Taliban
    Result: Terrorism
  • Government by Monarch
    Example: Saudi Arabia
    Result: Terrorists
    • (15/19 of the 9/11 hijackers were Saudis)
  • Government by Elected Leaders
    Example: Somalia
    Result: Terrorists - and pirates
  • Government by Military Ruler
    Example: Guinea
    • Assuming that the elections were as faked as critics claim
    Result: No terrorism (and no pirates, either)
You see?! That 'proves' that military rule is superior to old-fashioned monarchies, theocracies, and constitutional democracies.

What's Wrong With This Picture?

Pretty obvious, isn't it? I carefully selected examples that supported my claim. That can make for effective propaganda, but it's not good reasoning.

As a matter of fact, I don't have the visceral, reflexive revulsion that many Americans have toward the idea of having a country run by military or religious rulers. I think it depends on what individuals are running the show, and which side of the eighteenth century most of the country's people live on.
(December 29, 2008)
Hugo Chavez is the leader of a constitutional democracy. Venezuela's current constitution dates from December 30, 1999 - and President Chavez was elected in 2006 by a respectable margin: 62.9% to 36.9%. The next election for the Venezuelan president is in 2012.1

The Mayan "Long Count," and 2012; and 7138; and 12263; and 17388; and ---

Which brings up the point of this post. Quite a number of people seem to assume that 2012 will be when the world ends.

As a matter of fact, December 21, 2012, is when a "Long Count" cycle of the Mayan calendar will end - assuming that the current Long Count started on August 11, 3114 BC. If it started on August 13 - which is possible - the cycle re-starts on December 23, 2012. It'll also re-start in the spring of 7138, summer of 12263, autumn of 17388, and so on.2

Western civilization's calendar uses a base-ten numeric system, and involves centuries and millennia. We just experienced the end of one of our 'long cycles' - December 31, 1999 - and Y2K went past without an apocalypse. (Yes, there was a real issue with legacy software - which encouraged some long-overdue upgrades and re-engineering.)

I don't expect to influence people who are convinced that:
  • Commie plots are behind every disagreeable event
  • We're all gonna die from
    • Acid rain
    • Cholesterol (high or otherwise)
    • Global warming
    • The end of a Mayan calendrical cycle
On the other hand, I think there's some merit in reminding the rest of us that assumptions are a convenient mental shortcut - and should be re-considered now and again.

Related post: In the news: Background:
Hugo Chavez may, eventually, be the basis of a character as colorful and memorable as Frank Burns. From today's news:
"Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez says he will join a team of Cuban scientists on flights to "bomb clouds" to create rain amid a severe drought that has aroused public anger due to water and electricity rationing.

"Chavez, who has asked Venezuelans to take three-minute showers to save water, said the Cubans had arrived in Venezuela and were preparing to fly specially equipped aircraft above the Orinoco river.

" 'I'm going in a plane; any cloud that crosses me, I'll zap it so that it rains,' Chavez said at a ceremony late on Saturday with family members of five Cubans convicted of spying in the United States...."

Friday, November 13, 2009

Iran's Supreme Leader and God

Noted and recorded:
"Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei cannot be removed from his post because his legitimacy comes from God, an official close to Iran's most powerful figure was reported Friday as saying.

"Khamenei, whose public persona is usually above politics, stoked controversy in Iran when he endorsed the disputed victory of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in June's presidential elections, which plunged Iran into its deepest internal crisis since the Islamic revolution of 1979...."
"It can't happen here?"

Given the assumptions of post-Enlightenment Euro-American culture, it's unlikely that anybody's going to try justifying weird and destructive decisions by saying, "God says so."

We've got our own slogans, like "national security" and "diversity."

Related posts: In the news:

Major Nidal Malik Hasan, What's 'Obvious,' and Common Sense

I'd better start this post by stating that I don't think killing people is nice.

I also think that it would be nice if everybody would decide not to be naughty.

And, that if everybody also decided to be nice, and not be naughty: that would be nice.

Judging by the last few thousand years of human history, that's not gonna happen any time soon.

On Thursday, November 5, 2009, last week, Major Nidal Malik Hasan shot quite a number of people. Just over a dozen died, more than twice that number were injured.

That wasn't nice.

It wasn't nice that someone shot Hasan, either: but under the circumstances, I think I won't complain too much about that bit of "gun violence."

Major Hasan and the Usual Suspects

So, "obviously:"
  • The Ay-rabs are to blame
  • Them Muslins are to blame
  • Guns are to blame
The first two are a bit more "obviously" bogus conclusions, since America's dominant culture doesn't approve of racial discrimination: at least, not against people whose ancestors don't come from northwestern Europe.

Blaming guns, though - and blaming those people over there who own guns - seems to be a cherished belief among the self-described 'better sort' in America.

Richard Daley, Mayor of Chicago:
"Everyday in society someone is being killed unfortunately. America loves guns. We love guns to a point that we see the devastation on a daily basis. And you don't blame a group. You don't blame a society, an immigrant community because of the actions of one group -- you can't -- one individual, you cannot say that."
'Everybody knows' that guns make people kill other people.

Lots of Guns, But No Bodies on the Street

Sometimes, what 'everybody knows' isn't so. Kids used to bring hunting rifles to school routinely in the small town where I live. We don't do that now, since our leaders have made new rules about those nasty guns (rifles, actually - but never mind that). The point is, with all those firearms in and around the school, nobody got shot.

A skunk was blown up, but that's another story. And involved explosives, not firearms. ("A Woodpile, a Skunk, and Dynamite: Remembering the Good Old Days," Through One Dad's Eye (December 15, 2007))

The point is, I don't think that the residents of this small central Minnesota town are intrinsically better, more intelligent, more reasonable, and more reliable than everybody else. At least, I hope not. And, although the school is now nicely gun-free, quite a few of us own guns. And we don't shoot each other.

Guns, Hoplophobia, and All That

Mayor Daley's statement depends on an assumption: "We love guns to a point that we see the devastation on a daily basis." The assumption seems to be that, if those nasty guns weren't around, people would be nice.

Okay, let's say that America's leaders decide that everybody should be nice, and not own those nasty guns.

People - those of us who aren't making a living by dreaming up rules for the rest of us to live by, anyway - are fairly bright. Even those who make a living by breaking the rules are often bright enough to not get caught for a while.

So I think it isn't entirely unreasonable to suppose that if our leaders dream up a rule about nobody being allowed to own or carry a gun: people who routinely follow the rules, like soldiers, will follow that rule, too. And people who routinely don't follow the rules: won't.

Never heard the word "hoplophobia?" I'm not surprised.
" 'Hoplophobia (n) - mental disturbance characterized by irrational aversion to weapons.' 1"
(December 23, 2007)
The dominant culture of America feels that guns are dangerous things, and are to be feared and shunned. And see nothing odd about that. Why should they? Everybody they know feels the same way, and they often read in the best newspapers and magazines that they're right.

I agree that guns are dangerous, and that not everybody should use one. I also think that cars are dangerous. As well as lawn mowers, ladders and buckets.

For that matter, computers are dangerous. But that's another topic. (June 27, 2008)

Being Nice, Being Real

I think it would have been nice if, as Major Hasan opened fire at Fort Hood, someone had
  • Perceived that the Major was feeling a need
  • Opened a dialog with Nidal Malik Hasan
  • Formed an encounter group from among the survivors
If Nidal Malik Hasan was a nice person, he would have nicely sat down and communicated his feelings.

Of course, if he was a nice person he probably wouldn't have opened fire in the first place.

Maybe the problem isn't guns. Maybe the problem is that sometimes people decide to be naughty.

Related posts: News and view:

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Major Nidal Malik Hasan "Psychotic"? "Paranoid"? "Schizoid"?! and This is on NPR?!

News articles about Major Nidal Malik Hasan's fit of self-expression at Fort Hood last week will probably have "allegedly" sprinkled through them for some time. Annoying as it can be, I remember the "good old days" when news services were - sometimes with reason - accused of convicting people before a trial. And, worse, influencing juries and judges.

America is a country where a person is supposed to be considered innocent until proven guilty. I know: America isn't perfect, and the judicial system hasn't always done what it's supposed to. But that "innocent until proven guilty" is the way it's supposed to work - and newspapers that printed headlines like "SMITH KILLS JONES" weren't helping.

So, we got "allegedly" sprinkled through the news.

Major Nidal Malik Hasan: Why Did He Kill All Those People?

In the case of Major Nidal Malik Hasan, although it is possible that he was working as part of a larger plan, the only evidence we've got - including those 13 bodies - points to one guy, acting alone, killing over a dozen people.

The big question isn't so much 'who,' as 'why.'

I could assume that Major Hasan's outburst wasn't the act of a Muslim - until news broke that he followed Islam. Or thought he did.

I could assume that the shootings at Fort Hood had nothing to do with Islam - and that the witness who heard Major Hasan say "Allahu akbar" actually heard a handful of other syllables - and put them together as that phrase. No harmful intent - just the sort of mis-hearing that can happen.

I've learned to be leery of assumptions - at least until there's a good-size pile of facts to work with.
Facts, Investigations, "The People Have a Right To Know," and Common Sense
Being a member of the general public, I don't expect to get all the facts that investigators have. Much as I'd like to have all the inside information: that'd be a daft way to conduct a criminal investigation.

Think about it. Let's say that a police force is investigating the murder of Mr. Jones. If they were a kind of Keystone Cops, the lead detective might announce, "Mr. Smith has purchased an airline ticket to Miami. We plan to arrest him at the airport this afternoon, as he is boarding the 4:55 flight." That's not gonna happen.

It makes sense for law enforcement to keep some facts - and particularly speculation - out of public view while an investigation is going on.

So, what investigators tell reporters is a selection of facts they have. Reporters, presumably, can do their own research and root out facts on their own - and may independently discover information that the investigators have.

But a reporter isn't likely to put all the facts into a story. Not necessarily because the reporter doesn't like some of the facts, and thinks they shouldn't be so - but because there are too many facts, many of which really aren't all that important.

Deciding what's important and what's not involves assumptions. And yes, I'm leery of assumptions: but we all have to use them, or we'd be swamped by everyday decisions. Me? I try to make sure my assumptions are few, simple - and consistent with the real world.

I've written about facts, reporters, assumptions and the news before. (January 7, 2009, for starters) Reporters - and editors - have deadlines to consider, and only so many words to use for each article. They've got to use their judgment, and put what's important in - and leave what isn't, out.

I think that old-school, traditional American journalists have a rather narrow and dusty notion of what's important - and what's real - but that's another topic. (October 21, 2008, and other posts)
Back to Major Nidal Malik Hasan
It's getting very hard to ignore the possibility that Major Nidal Malik Hasan wasn't quite right in the head - and/or had signed up on what, for him, was the wrong side in the war on terror. (I know: The War on Terror seems to be a non-event which isn't happening - officially. (March 30, 2009) The rest of us have to deal with the real world.)

I was impressed - very impressed - when I read this article:
"Starting in the spring of 2008, key officials from Walter Reed Army Medical Center and the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences held a series of meetings and conversations, in part about Maj. Nidal Hasan, the man accused of killing 13 people and wounding dozens of others last week during a shooting spree at Fort Hood. One of the questions they pondered: Was Hasan psychotic?

" 'Put it this way,' says one official familiar with the conversations that took place. 'Everybody felt that if you were deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan, you would not want Nidal Hasan in your foxhole.'

"In documents reviewed by NPR and conversations with medical officials at Walter Reed and USUHS, new details have emerged regarding serious concerns that officials raised about Hasan during his time at both institutions...

"When a group of key officials gathered in the spring of 2008 for their monthly meeting in a Bethesda, Md., office, one of the leading — and most perplexing — items on their agenda was: What should we do about Hasan?

"Hasan had been a trouble spot on officials' radar since he started training at Walter Reed, six years earlier. Several officials confirm that supervisors had repeatedly given him poor evaluations and warned him that he was doing substandard work.

"Both fellow students and faculty were deeply troubled by Hasan's behavior — which they variously called disconnected, aloof, paranoid, belligerent, and schizoid. The officials say he antagonized some students and faculty by espousing what they perceived to be extremist Islamic views. His supervisors at Walter Reed had even reprimanded him for telling at least one patient that "Islam can save your soul."."

And, Whatever You Do, Don't Discriminate Against a Paranoid Psychotic - if He's of the 'Right Sort'

I don't think that many people regard National Public Radio as part of the "vast right-wing conspiracy." So, reading words like "psychotic," "disconnected," "aloof," and "paranoid" in connection with Nidal Malik Hasan seems to indicate that the army's passing this non-WASP along - despite glaring warning signs - isn't some imaginary tale dreamed up by the 'radical right wing news media.'

What was really impressive, to me, was this excerpt:
"...So why didn't officials act on their concerns and seek to remove Hasan from his duties, or at least order him to receive a mental health evaluation? Interviews with these officials suggest that a chain of unrelated events and factors deterred them.

"For one thing, Walter Reed and most medical institutions have a cumbersome and lengthy process for expelling doctors, involving hearings and potential legal battles. As a result, sources say, key decision-makers decided it would be too difficult, if not unfeasible, to put Hasan on probation and possibly expel him from the program.

"Second, some of Hasan's supervisors and instructors had told colleagues that they repeatedly bent over backward to support and encourage him, because they didn't have clear evidence that he was unstable, and they worried they might be 'discriminating' against Hasan because of his seemingly extremist Islamic beliefs...."
There's a bit about information sharing, too: the people reviewing Hasan didn't - apparently - know about some of the emails he'd sent.

When NPR mentions the possibility that political correctness had something - anything - to do with the Fort Hood shootings, things are getting bad for advocates of the wacky side of America's dominant culture.

I've written, earlier, on America's leaders "treating select groups with the sort of institutionalized deference once enjoyed by European aristocracy and nobility." (November 10, 2009)

Radical an idea as this may seem, I don't think that how a person is treated should depend on who his or her ancestors were, what clubs the person has joined, or his or her faith - or lack of religious beliefs.

In my opinion.

Related posts: News and views:
Updated 12:46 p.m. Central (November 12, 2009)

More about Major Hasan, in the news: According to the paper, prosecutors haven't suggested a motive for the killings, back on November 5.

As for the news, I think we'll be hearing quite a bit about Major Hasan's bumper sticker in the next few weeks:
"...Colleagues and relatives have said that Hasan, a U.S.-born Muslim of Palestinian descent, opposed the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and was upset about his own looming deployment to Afghanistan. Relatives also said he had been harassed because of his religion.

"At the apartment complex where Hasan lived in Killeen outside Fort Hood, another soldier had vandalized Hasan's car and tore off a bumper sticker that read 'Allah is Love,' prompting Hasan to file a complaint to police, a co-manager of the complex said. The soldier had been in Iraq and reportedly was upset to learn that Hasan was Muslim...."
The Washington Post)
The Washington Post's "soldier" was also a "neighbor:"
"The bumper sticker reading 'Allah is Love' was torn off and the car was keyed.

"A police report was filed in the August 16 incident involving Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan's Honda, and a neighbor was charged with criminal mischief. But what kind of impact that incident, and possibly others, had on Hasan remains a mystery...."

"...The bumper sticker incident at Hasan's apartment complex in Killeen, Texas, is the first known example of harassment that has surfaced since the shooting. Apartment manager John Thompson said Friday that he reported the situation to police after the girlfriend of then-resident John van de Walker told him that he did it. Thompson said he saw van de Walker apologize to Hasan and that a police report was filed...."
("Fort Hood suspect's religion was an issue, family says
CNN (November 7, 2009))
Looks like The Washington Post's editors feel that the perpetrator of the bumper sticker crime's being a soldier is important. And, that Mr. van de Walker being one of those people who live in apartments isn't. They're probably right.

But that one incident doesn't seem to add up to a pattern of discrimination and persecution. And you'd think that evidence for such a pattern would have been displayed more prominently, in the news. After all, discrimination is news.

A tip of the hat to mstoneman, on Twitter, for the heads-up on The Washington Post story.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Major Nidal Malik Hasan, Imam Anwar al-Awlaki, and Common Sense

Some of the headlines this week are drearily familiar, like "The Price of Oil and the Massacre at Fort Hood." I've no doubt that the price of oil is connected with the [alleged] acts of Major Nidal Malik Hasan at Fort Hood. I'm pretty sure that the autumnal equinox was involved, too. As well as the New York Stock Market and the political campaigns leading up to the recent American election.

We live in a strongly interconnected world. As John Muir said, "Tug on anything at all and you'll find it connected to everything else in the universe."

But that doesn't necessarily mean that the price of peanuts in Perth made a significant difference in how many people Major Hasan [allegedly] killed in Fort Worth, last week.

And I'm not at all convinced that 'Big Oil' is 'really behind' what happened. Any more than I think that commie plots were behind everything that 'real Americans' didn't like, back in the forties and fifties. Yes, there were (and are) communists. Some of them probably plotted.

But come on, folks: there's more to the world than struggling towards the worker's paradise, and protecting Mother Earth against plutocrats' pursuit of filthy lucre.

Focus on Islam? There's a Reason

Another headline reads, "Muslims frustrated by focus on religion in Fort Hood shooting". I'm a bit sympathetic with Muslims in America who don't think Allah is telling them to kill the unbeliever. As I've written before, this period of history really doesn't seem to be Islam's shining hour.

Major Hasan didn't help matters any, by [allegedly] saying "Allahu akbar" as he [allegedly] murdered over a dozen people. Making that quintessentially Islamic remark pretty much guaranteed that religion would be part of the discussion of the Fort Hood shooting.

At this point, I think that politely ignoring the religious aspect of the Fort Hood incident would be adding another layer of willful incompetence to the little matter of how people who should have acted responsibly treated Nidal Malik Hasan's [allegedly] bizarre behavior.

I still think it's possible - even likely - that Islam itself isn't a system of belief that can't be tolerated in a post-Magna Carta world.

But, now that Imam Anwar al-Awlaki's name has cropped up in connection with Major Hasan, and we learn about emails sent by Hasan to the Imam, ignoring one of the more dubiously-safe flavors of Islam would be, in my opinion, ridiculous.
"A senior government official tells ABC News that investigators have found that alleged Fort Hood shooter Nidal Malik Hasan had "more unexplained connections to people being tracked by the FBI" than just radical cleric Anwar al Awlaki. The official declined to name the individuals but Congressional sources said their names and countries of origin were likely to emerge soon.

"Questions already surround Major Hasan's contact with Awlaki, a radical cleric based in Yemen whom authorities consider a recruiter for al Qaeda. U.S. officials now confirm Hasan sent as many as 20 e-mails to Awlaki. Authorities intercepted the e-mails but later deemed them innocent or protected by the first amendment...."
(ABC News)

Islam Disrespected? Welcome to My World

I'm one of 'those Christians.' I'll freely admit that there are people who insist that they're Christian - and do bad things. Individuals like Joseph Burges, and organizations like the KKK of the fifties and sixties, for example.

I think that Muslims who think that Allah isn't telling them to kill lots of people should see this period's focus on their beliefs as an opportunity to tell their side. Playing the victim, on the other hand, might feel good - but I think that particular fad has played out.

'I can't understand what it's like, to have my beliefs attacked?'

I was raised in a mainstream Protestant church, and accepted what I'd been taught.

I spent the first decades of my life on or near American college campuses. I learned that, to be considered 'sophisticated,' you had to talk about how pathological, oppressive, and generally yucky religion was. "Western" religion, that is: Christianity was taboo, but the more obviously "non-Western" beliefs were sort of okay.

So, I became a Catholic: which is another topic, for another blog.

Islam, before that little set of incidents on September 11, 2001, may have enjoyed the status of a 'non-Western' religion. Now, with outfits like Al Qaeda and the Taliban insisting that they're defending Islam - and nations like Sudan and Saudi Arabia being as Islamic as they can be - by their own standards - it's getting hard to ignore the weird side of Islam.

Particularly with so many bodies on the floor.

Related posts: News and views:

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Getting Called an Islamophobe, Saving Lives

As a half-Irish Roman Catholic, I have a personal stake in the idea of "tolerance."

Tolerance, Freedom, and Warping a Language

"Tolerance" is a word with quite a few meanings. The way I mean it, in that sentence, is "a disposition to allow freedom of choice and behavior, ...the act of tolerating something, ...willingness to recognize and respect the beliefs or practices of others" (Princeton's WordNet)

The English language has taken a beating in recent decades. "Freedom of choice," for example, often means "it's my baby, I can kill it if I want." Which is a topic for another blog.

"Tolerance?" It can be used in its traditional sense: but it also means dividing a population - generally, but not exclusively, along ethnic lines - and then treating select groups with the sort of institutionalized deference once enjoyed by European aristocracy and nobility. (Although Europe's "good old days" there were checks and balances, like wergild.)

Nobody Wants to be Called an Islamophobe

Some American subcultures have made a point of adopting a hostile attitude toward Islam and Muslims. My perception is that it's often the same subcultures whose members take a dim view of blacks, Jews, Catholics, and other "foreigners."

As a melanin-deficient person, I suppose I have to say this: I'm not on the same page as white supremacists. I'm not even in the same book. Considering my ancestry and personal choices, I'd be crazy to buy into that philosophy.

"Islamophobe" is a word that's come into common use since September 11, 2001. Just because the Muslims who killed about 3,000 people that day were part of an outfit that says it's defending Islam - and just because "Allah akbar" - or "Allahu akbar" has entered the English language as something said by devout Muslims just before they blow themselves up - a number of people, in America at least, have gotten the idea that Islam is connected with terrorism.

So far, I agree. Just as I agree that Christianity is connected with activities of the Ku Klux Klan in the fifties and sixties - with all those burning crosses, it was kind of hard to miss.

I also think that it's a mistake to believe that Islam is a monolithic group of culturally and historically homogeneous people, united in hatred of the West, beer, and trousers.

'Religion' is Wrong, but Don't be an Islamophobe

But - and here I differ with the more self-described 'intelligent and sophisticated' minds of America - I don't think that Christianity is an inherently isolationist, xenophobic, violent system of belief. Or, that Tony Alamo is a typical Christian leader.

Interestingly, although it's considered 'sophisticated' in some circles to regard Christians as wallowing in "self-satisfied ignorance," and to believe that religion in general is a pathological condition, the same people seem to think that focusing disapproval on Islam is "intolerant." (I'd say "bad," but the concepts of good and evil are 'well known' to be sociological constructs developed by a group of authoritarian, hierarchical, male-dominated oppressors.)

And that anyone who criticizes or suspects a Muslim is "Islamophobic."

I'll agree that suspecting a person of inappropriate behavior only because that person follows Islam is unreasonable.

But I won't go as far as the more politically correct people do, and assume that suspecting a person who follows Islam of inappropriate behavior is "Islamophobic" - if there is objective reason for that suspicion.

In short, I don't think that anyone should be above suspicion of individual wrongdoing on the basis of the person's ancestry or associations. ("He can't be guilty - he's a member of my club" may feel good, but that doesn't make it right.)

Risking Being Branded as an Islamophobe or Saving Lives - A Tough Choice

As a writer nearing retirement age, I don't have to kowtow to ideologues in order to preserve my job and career. Not everybody is in that happy position.

I have some sympathy for army brass who apparently ignored evidence that Nidal Malik Hasan had - well, odd views which might affect his performance as a soldier.
"...As a senior-year psychiatric resident at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, Maj. Nidal M. Hasan was supposed to make a presentation on a medical topic of his choosing as a culminating exercise of the residency program.

"Instead, in late June 2007, he stood before his supervisors and about 25 other mental health staff members and lectured on Islam, suicide bombers and threats the military could encounter from Muslims conflicted about fighting in the Muslim countries of Iraq and Afghanistan, according to a copy of the presentation obtained by The Washington Post.

" 'It's getting harder and harder for Muslims in the service to morally justify being in a military that seems constantly engaged against fellow Muslims,' he said in the presentation.

" 'It was really strange,' said one staff member who attended the presentation and spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the investigation of Hasan. 'The senior doctors looked really upset' at the end. These medical presentations occurred each Wednesday afternoon, and other students had lectured on new medications and treatment of specific mental illnesses...."
(Washington Post)
Let's say that, instead of Nidal Malik Hasan giving that presentation, it had been some guy named John Smith - whose ancestors had been living in the New England states for the last three hundred years. And, that Smith's presentation wasn't about Muslims and Islam, but Christians and Christianity. Or about white people.

Does anybody really believe that 'John Smith' would have had much of a military career after that? Not, I think, without quite a bit of re-education.

Of course, it's different with Nidal Malik Hasan.

Reasonably, because it really is different, when a person is from a readily-identifiable group which makes up only a few percent of the population.

Not-so-reasonably, when a person is from a group which enjoys a certain degree of privilege by perhaps-well-intentioned laws and customs.

I am extremely concerned about the picture that's emerging, of a confused youth who entered the army against his parent's wishes. (The New York Times) I am sad to learn that someone keyed Nidal Malik Hasan's car, and tore off his "Allah is Love" bumper sticker. (CNN)

But I don't think that's a good reason for killing 13 people who didn't deface a bumper sticker - and I think the army chain of command might have kept those people alive. If officers hadn't been afraid of being branded with as "Islamophobes."

As I said before, I have some sympathy with people whose jobs and careers depend on the whims of ideologically-motivated zealots.

My grievance is not so much with officers who apparently did not identify a dangerously unbalanced individual.

My grievance is with a system which punishes people for acting on evidence, for treating individuals based on merit, without regard to the other's heredity and social standing.

I think it is high time to consider the possibility that decisions about individuals should be based on what the individual does - not on the person's ancestry or social position.

Related posts: In the news:

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Berserk Killer Psychiatrist Nidal Malik Hasan, Islam, and Getting a Grip

There's a body count of 13 and more than twice that number wounded at Fort Hood. The chief (and only) suspect quite possibly said "Allah Akbar!" or maybe "Allahu Akbar!" during his exercise in self-expression.

I should think that emotions are running high on the base, and elsewhere. Which may explain this news item:
"The Army chief of staff says it's important for the country not to get caught up in speculation about the Muslim faith of the alleged Fort Hood gunman.

"Gen. George Casey says he's instructed his commanders to be on the lookout for that reaction to the killings at the Texas post...."
I think that's good advice. For starters, there isn't enough public knowledge to form a solid opinion - and we may never be able to peel back enough layers to figure out what went on inside the head of Major Nidal Malik Hasan.

On the other hand, what we do have to go on is disturbing.

No: I do not think there is some vast Islamic plot, and that the thousand or so Muslims in the United States Army (MailOnline) will rise up as one and start killing their fellow-Americans.

They're Investigating a Possible Conspiracy: So There Must Be One?

According to televised news, law enforcement authorities are investigating the possibility that these shootings were part of a wider conspiracy - and, to date, coming up with no evidence to indicate this is the case. I doubt that they had information which led them to think it was 'some kinda plot.' On the other hand, when someone starts shooting people for no apparent personal reason - the idea that he's part of a larger plan has to be investigated. Investigators would be remiss in their duty if they didn't look into the possibility.

Me? I think the odds are that Major Nidal Malik Hasan snapped and then killed over a dozen people. On his own.

'Everybody Knows' About Muslims, Psychiatrists, Americans, Whatever

Not because he's a Muslim ('everybody knows' what they're like) or because he's a psychiatrist ('everybody knows' what they're like, too): but because he's a human being. (November 5, 2009) We do, from time to time, do things that don't make sense - and that aren't right.

Nidal Malik Hasan and the United States Army: What Went Wrong?

The question is, in my opinion, why he snapped - and why nobody in a responsible position took action when they learned about Nidal Malik Hasan's odd behavior.
"There was the classroom presentation that justified suicide bombings. Comments to colleagues about a climate of persecution faced by Muslims in the military. Conversations with a mosque leader that became incoherent.

As a student, some who knew Nidal Malik Hasan said they saw clear signs the young Army psychiatrist ... had no place in the military. After arriving at Fort Hood, he was conflicted about what to tell fellow Muslim soldiers about the fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, alarming an Islamic community leader from whom he sought counsel....
Danquah figured that Hasan's doubts were known by the military's chain of command - and that they'd act responsibly. The brass had opportunities to do so, as complaints got filed for more than a year.

But in this case, it seems that army officials may not have wanted to be branded as Islamophobes. Thirteen bodies later, it looks like overlooking Major Hasan's behavior may not have been an entirely prudent decision.
"...His fellow students complained to the faculty about Hasan's 'anti-American propaganda,' but said a fear of appearing discriminatory against a Muslim student kept officers from filing a formal written complaint...."
Yesterday, I wrote about my concern that Major Hasan may have been a walking time bomb, with army brass ignoring the tick-tick-tick out of fear of being considered biased. Apparently, his fellow-students had noticed that Nidal Malik Hasan had a few screws loose, had reported his behavior - and been ignored.

Tolerance is Fine: But Get a Grip!

Considering cultural - and legal - standards in America over the last four decades, I'm not surprised. 'Discrimination' and 'bias' are among the very few human failings for which the dominant culture in America has zero tolerance. "Zero tolerance" itself may be a reaction to decades of feel-good policies which seemed nice and open-minded, and left chaos in their wake. Which gets into a different topic.

I think the Army chief of staff is right: this isn't a time to jump to conclusions. As The Associated Press put it, "it's important for the country not to get caught up in speculation about the Muslim faith of the alleged Fort Hood gunman."

On the other hand, I wish I didn't feel like telling people in the army chain of command to get a grip. Yes, there are Islamophobes. There are people who have a deep, abiding hatred of Muslims - and Christians, and Americans, and Japanese, and used car dealers and psychiatrists - but let's expect the same standards of behavior from everybody, no matter what their faith - or lack there of - is, or who their ancestors were.

I hope - very sincerely - that thirteen deaths at Fort Hood will encourage military authorities to consider the possibility that a soldier might act improperly - even if that soldier isn't a WASP.1

Related posts: In the news:
1 WASP, White Anglo-Saxon Protestant" "a white person of Anglo-Saxon ancestry who belongs to a Protestant denomination". (Princeton's WordNet)

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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.