Sunday, May 30, 2010

Pirates Aren't Good for Business: or, Views From Zapata, Texas

Say "Pirates," and many Americans may think "Somalia." Some folks in that part of the world put their territory on the map by reviving the old custom of piracy. Economically, it worked: for the pirates, anyway, and whoever was providing them with boats, supplies, and support.

But that's Somalia. I doubt that reviving piracy in parts of northern Mexico will have the same effect on the local economy.

Here's what got me started thinking about pirates, Mexico, and southwestern America's border waters:
"Pirates threaten boats on US-Mexico border lake"
The Associated Press (May 29, 2010)

"The waters of Falcon Lake normally beckon boaters with waterskiing and world-record bass fishing. But this holiday weekend, fishermen on the waters that straddle the U.S.-Mexico border are on the lookout for something more sinister: pirates.

"Twice in recent weeks, fishermen have been robbed at gunpoint by marauders that the local sheriff says are 'spillover' from fighting between rival Mexican drug gangs.

"Boaters are concerned about their safety, and the president of the local Chamber of Commerce is trying to assure people that everything's fine on the U.S. side of the lake...."
I'm not faulting the local Chamber of Commerce. That's what they do: try to present whatever's going on in their area in the best possible light. Here in Minnesota, it's a matter of emphasizing things like "four seasons of fun," instead of discussing our wildly variable climate.

Zapata, Texas, Falcon Lake, Names and Change

Something that jumped out at me, reading the AP article, was the names. The Associated Press did a pretty good job of interviewing - and quoting - several different people. Presumably getting a representative sample of local views.

The first person's name, Jack Cox, is what would have been called a 'regular American name' in my youth, shortly after the Truman administration. Mr. Cox also has what I think are valid concerns, considering the regional situation:
"...At the fishing camp his family has owned for 50 years, Jack Cox now sleeps with a loaded shotgun at his feet and a handgun within reach.

In the American waters, Cox said, 'you're safer, but you're not safe.' Mexican commercial fishermen regularly cross to set their nets illegally, why wouldn't gunmen do the same? he asked....
My nobody in my household owns a firearm - but I do see why Mr. Cox takes the precautions he does. I also think he's got a point, about the border: Pirates are notorious for a lack of scrupulosity in observing legal restrictions.

A Few Boats Get Boarded: So What?

What's put Falcon Lake's pirates - or "gunmen" - in the news are a couple of recent incidents on the lake. The Texas Department of Public Safety issued a warning, two weeks ago, to stay away from the international border that runs the length of the lake - and notify relatives if they plan to go out on Lake Falcon.

I suppose you could say that last request was self-serving, on the part of Texas authorities. Telling your next of kin that you planned to ply Lake Falcon's waters would give American law enforcement an idea of where to look for the bodies.

Since they issued that warning, American boats have - by and large - stayed on the American side of the border:
"...'That's a good indication. It means they're getting the message,' Texas Parks and Wildlife Capt. Fernando Cervantes said Thursday as he patrolled with two other game wardens. 'They're still coming out, but they're not going across.'..."
Apart from the interior of some cities, Americans don't expect to be accosted by bandits. Let's put it this way: Tijuana, Mexico, isn't Irvine, California. So, when we have two incidents of piracy in a short space of time - it stands out.

Names, Again

Remember what I said, about 'regular American names?' Fernando Cervantes doesn't fit that stereotype. But he's a captain in the Texas Parks and Wildlife department.

Change happens.

Mexico: Beyond the Stereotypes

If your mental image of Mexico was formed by watching movies like "Thunder Over Mexico" (1933), you might want to do a little research on your own. Things have changed. A little:
"Mexico has a free market economy in the trillion dollar class. It contains a mixture of modern and outmoded industry and agriculture, increasingly dominated by the private sector. Recent administrations have expanded competition in seaports, railroads, telecommunications, electricity generation, natural gas distribution, and airports...."
(Mexico, World Factbook, CIA (last updated May 19, 2010))
It's a sort of good news / bad news situation: Mexico's national government is at least making an effort to appear to be pulling Mexico into the late 20th century - and succeeding to some extent. That, in my view, is the good news. The bad news is that there seems to be only so much that the Mexican national government is able - or willing - to do about the country's tradition of relaxed and/or corrupt law enforcement.

Back to "Thunder Over Mexico:" a comment on the IMDB entry for that movie recalled the killing of Cardinal Posadas Ocampo at the Guadalajara Airport in May, 1993. PBS says it was a case of mistaken identity. (February, 1997) The assassins were supposed to kill somebody else.

That shootout at Guadalajara was between parties with an interest in one of Mexico's important exports: illicit drugs.

As the World Factbook put it:
"Illicit drugs:
"major drug-producing nation; cultivation of opium poppy in 2007 rose to 6,900 hectares yielding a potential production of 18 metric tons of pure heroin, or 50 metric tons of 'black tar' heroin, the dominant form of Mexican heroin in the western United States...."
(Mexico, World Factbook, CIA (last updated May 19, 2010))
My hat's off to Mexico's leadership, in a way. Faced with tourist-killing levels of violence in formerly money-making spots like Tijuana, they looked to America in the sixties for wisdom - legalizing heroine and cocaine. In "small doses." ("Heroin and cocaine now legal in Mexico – in small doses" (August 25, 2009))

From the looks of things, that didn't do much to make the drug cartels play well together.

So: that sleepy little village, with a peon sleeping under his sombrero and a tumbleweed blowing down the middle of an empty street? If that ever was a valid image of Mexico, it isn't now. The country's getting up to speed with the top nations of the world - by fits and starts. I think that there's a good chance that, generations from now, most Mexicans with get up and go will stay in Mexico: instead of getting up and going elsewhere.

Law Enforcement: It's Not the Same Everywhere

Not all nations approach law enforcement the same way:
"...Game wardens and the U.S. Border Patrol watch over the lake but do not cross into Mexican waters, and no Mexican law enforcement is visible...."
As 'sophisticated' as it sounds, not all countries are the same. (June 9, 2009) Some make an effort to control violent conflicts within their borders, some either can't or won't. Mexico isn't the only country with a law enforcement deficit. The outfit that's supposed to be Somalia's national government was having a hard time controlling the capital city, last I heard, and Jamaica looks like a contemporary analog of gangland Chicago ("Lemming Tracks: News from Jamaica," Apathetic Lemming of the North (May 25, 2010))

I mentioned the Committee to Protect Journalists' Impunity Index in 2008. (April 30, 2008) Mexico was on the list then, and it still is. The index reflects how many unsolved murders of journalists a country has to its credit, adjusted for population. Although it's focus is quite narrow, I think it may be a useful indicator for how comfortable - or uncomfortable - a nation's leaders are with people who go around asking questions. There's more it than that - a number of the top nations have experienced massive armed conflict recently - several notches up from Mexico's drug wars.

Impunity Index
  1. Iraq
  2. Sierra Leone
  3. Somalia
  4. Colombia
  5. Sri Lanka
  6. Philippines
  7. Afghanistan
  8. Nepal
  9. Russia
  10. Mexico
  11. Bangladesh
  12. Pakistan
  13. India
  1. Iraq
  2. Somalia
  3. Philippines
  4. Sri Lanka
  5. Colombia
  6. Afghanistan
  7. Nepal
  8. Russia
  9. Mexico
  10. Pakistan
  11. Bangladesh
  12. India
  13. Not listed

What - if Anything - Does This have to do With the War on Terror?

Tourists getting killed, a dead Cardinal, and a little piracy of a border lake, aren't 'national security issues,' like some dude trying to set off a bomb in Times Square.

That piracy thing is getting close, though.

The connection I see is that Mexico may - or may not - be able and willing to bring the drug bosses to justice. If the Mexican national government can't - or won't - do so, I think it's just a matter of time before the folks who make a killing by selling heroine in America will realize that they can use the same resources to bring weapons and terrorists into this country. For a price, of course.

On the other hand, maybe the drug bosses are sharp enough to realize that if an outfit like Al Qaeda ended up controlling America, they probably wouldn't be as diplomatic and diffident as the current government has been, dealing with rowdy neighbors.

Related posts:

Monday, May 24, 2010

Antibiotic-Resistant Superbug: The American Military Did Something Right?!

The headline led me to expect the same old line about the evils of biological warfare and the American military: "Pentagon to Troop-Killing Superbugs: Resistance is Futile." I was pleasantly surprised. Here's an excerpt:
"Pentagon to Troop-Killing Superbugs: Resistance is Futile"
Danger Room, Wired (May 24, 2010)

"A super-germ that's become a lethal threat to troops in Iraq and Afghanistan may have met its match in a novel technique that kills entire bacterial colonies within hours.

"Today's troops have a 9 in 10 chance of surviving their battle injuries. But wounds and amputation sites leave them vulnerable to infection, especially by Acinetobacter — an opportunistic pathogen (somewhat-misleadingly) nicknamed 'Iraqibacter' for its prevalence in war-zone medical facilities. As Wired Magazine reported in 2007, the bacteria has infected at least 700 American troops since 2003, and killed at least 7 people exposed to it in military clinics.

"Iraqibacter was once treated with common, easy-to-access antibiotic drugs. But in the last few years, the bacteria have developed a powerful resistance to all but one medication, called Colistin, that's got a bit of a nasty side effect: potentially fatal kidney damage.

"And since the illness afflicts relatively few people, Big Pharma companies aren't exactly lining up to develop new drugs...."
So far, nothing remarkable: and I was still waiting for the usual emotional effluvia about antibiotic-resistant bacteria, the evils of capitalism, and that we're all gonna die.

It didn't happen. Back to the article:
"...But a Pentagon-funded research team at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, along with small biotech firm PolyMedix, are making rapid strides toward a new line of Iraqibacter treatments — and the medications could spur the development of antibiotics that can fend off other drug-resistant ailments.

" 'We didn't set out to create a mechanism that could be applied to other illnesses,' Dr. Gregory Tew, the UMass scientist behind the project, told Danger Room. 'But it's an impressive and exciting bonus that's come of our work.'

"The scientists have already used the new type of antibiotics to effectively treat Staph infections, which kill thousands of Americans each year. Common antibiotics work by attaching to a specific molecule (like an enzyme) inside bacterial cells. With some minor adaptive changes, bacteria can alter their cell structure to prevent antibiotic binding, thereby becoming resistant to the drugs. Some infections even develop 'persister cells,' which stop growing when the antibiotics are administered, and then turn back on once a round of meds is completed.

"But Tew and co. have developed antibiotics that work from the outside to quickly destroy bacterial cells...."
Essentially, the new drugs don't make small-scale changes in the bacteria: they poke holes in the cell membranes, killing them instantly. And, short of growing the microbial equivalent of chain mail, there doesn't seem to be much the germs can do about it.

Given the resilient nature of disease organisms, I suspect that eventually there may be a super-duper-superbug that'll have that 'chain mail.' But that's another issue.

Right now, it looks like a whole lot of people will be living, who would have died otherwise. And, incredible as it may seem for someone immersed in America's dominant culture, we have the American military to thank.

Whaddaya know.

It's nice to read about something the American military did right - even if it is in a very specialized section of a niche publication. I'd like to see this sort of thing on the front page of The New York Times and Los Angeles Times: but I'm not holding my breath.

I'm not pessimistic, though. This is the Information Age, not the 'good old days,' when the 'right sort' decided what the Masses were allowed to see. ("What is an Information Gatekeeper?" (August 14, 2009))

These days, anybody with access to an Internet connection can search for information - and find it. Even if east coast newspaper editors didn't decide it was "fit to print."

About that new approach to dealing with 'antibiotic-resistant' infections: It's very good news that 'military research' was funding research that the cold-remedy companies weren't backing.

Related posts:

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Pakistan, YouTube, Censorship and the Sixties

Pakistan's at it again. I'm not going to rant about those intolerant foreigners and how perfect America is. We're not.

Here's an example of tolerance and free speech, as practiced in here in America:

(from PZ Myers, Pharyngula (July 24, 2008), used w/o permission)

Judging from what he wrote online, the associate professor at the University of Minnesota, Morris, has explained to his students that his is a fine, questioning mind and that anyone who doesn't agree with him is wallowing in "self-satisfied ignorance."

The nail pierces a consecrated host. If you're not a Catholic, that may not mean much. I am, and I'm not happy - at all - about what that professor did.

By the standards of some American sub-cultures, that's being very 'open minded.' Or sophisticated and intelligent, at any rate.

That professor's students, if they're smart, will keep their mouths closed, nod sagely at everything their superior says, and repeat it all on the test. If they're really smart, they'll start thinking on their own - at the risk of being accused of living in "self-satisfied ignorance."

Pakistan: Yesterday, FaceBook; Today, YouTube

That professor's counterparts in Pakistan have banned YouTube. It's got un-Islamic content about The Prophet, you see.

Makes perfect sense, once you accept the 'I'm right and all other views must be suppressed at all costs' attitude.

Again, I'm a practicing Catholic, and despite my view that sacrilege isn't nice I'm convinced that: Tolerance is a good idea. Even if the other person doesn't agree with you. (A Catholic Citizen in America (August 3, 2009)) Part of my position comes from my being part of a religious minority in this country. I also think that truth thrives in the marketplace of ideas - when differences of opinion are accepted.

Like I said, Pakistan's at it again. Yesterday their top brass blocked FaceBook, now YouTube is on the blacklist.

Given my background, I can sympathize with the angered Muslims there: but I don't think what they did is a good idea. Western civilization, at least, has gotten it into its collective head that 'tolerance' is one of the few true virtues: along with, perhaps, recycling and environmental awareness.

That's another topic.

What Pakistan did wasn't "tolerant," by Western standards. I think it's also stupid. Never mind the way that Pakistan is 'proving' to outsiders that Muslims are close-minded ideologues who can't stand ideas that aren't their own. By what I trust is a well-intentioned effort to follow their own religious beliefs: They are robbing their own people of opportunities to learn about the rest of the world.

And - large and ancient as Pakistan is - most of the world isn't Pakistan.

Jesus, Beer, India, and Religious Tolerance: This Might Work

Earlier this year, I saw a picture of Jesus: in a rather conventional style, holding a cigarette and a can of beer.

Sacrilege? Maybe. I'd never pay for a copy of the thing, but with that "self-satisfied ignorance" bit of performance art as a standard - seeing an image of my Lord kicking back in a manner familiar to many Americans is almost refreshing. But then, I'm a Catholic: I know that cigarettes aren't healthy, and that too much alcohol is bad for you; but in moderation? No problem. consuming them isn't intrinsically evil. (For me, 'moderation' in booze is just about zero - but that's me.)

That image showed up in India - where I'm pretty sure it was an effort to inflame Christians against non-Christians. (A Catholic Citizen in America (February 22, 2010)

The picture showed up in a children's handwriting textbook, in India. Here's a news excerpt I used in another blog, with some of that post's commentary:
"...The company that made and distributed that book made a really, really big mistake. India is one of those countries where deliberately offending someone's religious sentiments is illegal.

"Which may or may not be a good idea....
" 'Christians in India's northeast are outraged after a picture showing Jesus Christ holding a beer can and a cigarette was discovered in primary school textbooks.

" 'The image appeared in a handwriting book for children in church-run schools in the Christian-majority state of Meghalaya, where it was used to illustrate the letter 'I' for the word 'Idol'....

" '...Police said they were hunting for the owner of the New Delhi-based publisher, Skyline Publications, who faces charges of offending religious sentiment, local police superintendent A.R. Mawthoh told AFP.

" 'The Roman Catholic Church in India has banned all textbooks by Skyline, while Protestant leaders called for a public apology.

" 'The state government also denounced the publication.

" 'We strongly condemn such a blasphemous act. Legal action has been initiated against the publisher,' M. Ampareen Lyngdoh, an education minister in the Meghalaya government, said...."
(myFOX New York) [emphasis mine]
(A Catholic Citizen in America (February 22, 2010)
I'm an American, so the Catholic Church in India banning all textbooks from that publisher seemed a bit extreme. On the other hand: those things were being given to pre-teen children - and in the bishops' position, I'd want to have someone go over the textbooks to see if other intellectual land mines were planted in them.

What really got my attention in the news was that India was a place where someone could be charged with "offending religious sentiment."

India is a country where Hindus, Muslims, Christians and others have a choice: act like stereotype religious fanatics, steeped in "self-satisfied ignorance;" or learn to play well together.

Like I said, I don't think America is perfect - I don't think India is perfect, either. But a country's acknowledging that people can have religious beliefs and be able to accept differences in others impresses me. Notice: it's not having religious sentiment that's illegal; it's offending religious sentiment. Looks to me like America might be able to learn something from India here.

Back to Pakistan, FaceBook, YouTube, and the Information Age

I grew up as the last gasps of McCarthyism were echoing across America. In my youth, I was - unimpressed - but red-white-and-blue-blooded all-Americans who thought the papers shouldn't be allowed to publish anything uncomplimentary about America, and that all those foreigners who didn't agree with them should go back where they came from.

That sort of 'intolerance' has been replaced by the 'tolerance' of the trashed Quran. I can't say that I see much fundamental difference.

Meanwhile, over in Pakistan, whoever is in charge this week seems to have decided that Pakistanis shouldn't be exposed to un-Islamic influences. I didn't think that the House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC), as implemented, was a good idea - and I don't think that Web censorship is a good idea, either.

Addressing the sort of information control Pakistan's leaders seem to have in mind: It doesn't work. Sooner or later, the subjects will find out what's really happening - and then some of them will start wondering why their leaders didn't want them to know what the rest of the world was like.

With today's communication technologies, operating a truly closed nation is a challenge. North Korea seems to be managing it: but Kim Jong Il has geographic advantages that Pakistan lacks.

In any case, I don't think trying to keep 'the masses' in the dark is a good idea. The young, bright, energetic people may not like their 'benevolent' isolation. They'll find ways around the establishment's barriers - and that's one demographic that no sane leader would want to alienate. Remember America in the sixties?

Related posts:In the news:Related posts, on Islam, Christianity, Religion, Culture and the War on Terror.

Related posts, on censorship, propaganda, and freedom of speech.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

'Draw Mohhammed Day?!' Get a Grip!

Pakistan blocked FaceBook over 'Draw Mohammed' Day. That tells you something about:
  • Pakistan
  • The 'Draw Mohammed' organizers
I'm an American citizen, grew up in a Western culture, and am not particularly ashamed of it. I also think that killing thousands of people in New York City's World Trade Center was a bad thing to do: and that the CIA and/or shape-shifting, space-alien lizard people weren't really behind it.

My firm, considered, opinion is that outfits like Al Qaeda and the Taliban are not at all nice; that they do not respond well to gestures of goodwill; and that force will continue to be necessary to protect people who don't live up (or down) to their version of Islam.

I also think that war is not nice: but sometimes it's better than the alternative.

FaceBook, 'Draw Mohammed Day,' a Teddy Bear, and Getting a Grip

Quite a few Islamic countries seem to be having a hard time, making the transition from a pre-Abrahamic culture to the Information Age. Sudan and Saudi Arabia sometimes seem to be in a race to see which has the craziest Islamic government. (December 3, 2007, March 19, 2010, for starters)

That said, I'm (slightly) sympathetic with whatever Pakistani official decided to block FaceBook. I'm a practicing Catholic - and was not at all pleased when a college professor stuck a nail through a consecrated host, ripped a page out of the Quran, tossed the lot into a trash can and posted a photo of the result. It was a statement about the "self-satisfied ignorance" of people like me. Adding insult to injury, my tax dollars helped pay the salary of this fellow. (August 5, 2008)

I was - and am - angry about the situation.

I also recognize that the American notion of "freedom of expression" and equality protects that sort of sacrilege. I'd be a bit less displeased with the situation, if American 'equality' was a bit more evenly distributed - but that's another topic.
Pakistan and FaceBook: It Could have been Worse
Pakistan's action against FaceBook makes sense, in a way. My understanding is that at least some flavors of Islam believe that any visual depiction of The Prophet - or any living thing - is strictly forbidden. Given that assumption, I can see where they would want to ban FaceBook over 'Draw Mohammed Day.'

Under the circumstances, I think stopping short of a fatwa demanding the head of FaceBook executives and staffers shows commendable restraint.

But, understanding the motives behind this censorship doesn't mean that I entirely approve. I've lived much of my life in an American subculture where facts and ideas which do not support the dominant view are actively expunged from discussion. It's not good for people who don't conform to their leaders' opinions: and in the long run, I don't think it's good for the leaders. Yet another topic.
'Draw Mohammed Day' - This Does Not Help
Whatever the motives of the 'Draw Mohammed Day' organizers, I have more trouble sympathizing with their cause. It's hard to believe that many in the English-speaking world who have heard of Mohammed are unaware of the prohibitions against drawing a likeness of The Prophet.

I don't have a problem with visual depictions of living creatures - but I know that others do. I would no more invite people in a public setting to draw The Prophet, than I would to offer an orthodox Jew a ham sandwich, or insist that a strict vegetarian eat a porterhouse steak.

Not that those three examples are quite equivalent. The point is, I've lived among people who weren't exactly like me. It really isn't smart to intentionally insult and abuse another's beliefs or customs.

I understand that it may 'feel good' to fling insults at 'those people.' It may even earn you some status in your own little subculture.

But we live in a big world. I can understand Sudan's leaders having fits over a teddy bear, and a Saudi cleric who wants women to use one eye at a time. Understand, not condone.

That 'Draw Mohammed Day' has a Western feel to it - which makes the 'Draw Mohammed Day' organizers more culpable. They presumably either grew up in a culture that - in theory, at least - practiced tolerance: or learned about the concept in their studies. You'd think they'd know better.

Related posts:In the news:Related posts, on Islam, Christianity, Religion, Culture and the War on Terror.

Related posts, on censorship, propaganda, and freedom of speech.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Pakistan Arrests (Alleged) Times Square Bomber's Financial Backers - By Jove! I Think They've Got It!

This post is going to be a lot from the news, a little of my take on what's been happening.

First, my take.

I Try to Keep an Open Mind - But There are Limits

I've ranted, on occasion, about red, white, and blue-blooded American nitwits who don't seem to realize that most of the world isn't in the 48 contiguous states - and that although foreigners are, by definition, un-American: that's okay. When an American goes to another country, we're the foreigner. I also have little patience for the more 'sophisticated' folks who are equally convinced that America is the source of everything they don't approve of.

I don't usually say that I've got an "open mind," since I remember the old gag: "Don't be so open minded that your brains fall out."

Still, I try to take cultural differences and other points of view into account. I don't want to come across as one of those Frank Burns clones who seem convinced that there's a moral imperative to drive on the right side of the road.

That said, I think that piloting airliners into New York City's World Trade Center was a bad thing to do. Even if the terrorists felt that they were completely justified.

I'm also convinced that having a shot at blowing up an SUV near Times Square was not justified. But then, I don't think America - or 'the commies' - are to blame for everything that goes wrong.

"One-Off" Attempt by Someone Who Didn't do His Homework?

Back to that botched attempt. several points set Faisal Shahzad apart from the Oklahoma City bombers.
  • Timothy McVeigh and company knew
    • Which sorts of fertilizers required careful handling
      • And which wouldn't explode
  • Faisal Shahzad
    • Not so much
  • The Oklahoma City bombers were a group of American citizens
    • With no discernible foreign backing
  • Faisal Shahzad is an American citizen
    • With foreign backing
I haven't researched this, but my guess is that the Timothy McVeigh crowd wouldn't consider Faisal Shahzad to be a "real" American. Faisal Shahzad is an American citizen, by the way: even though he's obviously no WASP. For that matter, neither am I.

I see that some staunch defender of the fatherland came up with the bright idea of taking away Mr. Shahzad's citizenship. (CBS News (May 5, 2010)) And that there have been the standard-issue comments about how American Muslims better be careful or the conservatives will come after them.

Like I said, I'm not Anglo, so I'm a bit biased about whether or not letting all those 'foreigners' into the Anglo-Saxon States of America is safe. In my opinion, America isn't in dire danger from the:
  • Irish
  • Chinese
  • Japanese
  • Blacks
I would say that, of course, since I'm the son of an Irishman. And 'everybody knows' what we're like. Or did, before the Kennedy presidency. That's an oversimplification. And another topic.

Back to the Times Square car bomb: At first, there was no evidence that this was anything more than a one-off botched attempt from some 'regular American' with a few screws loose. Later, there still wasn't evidence that Faisal Shahzad was working with anybody.

The key phrase there is "no evidence." I might feel that Elvis is behind every terrorist attack on America - but without evidence, that's just be a feeling. And a fairly crazy one, at that.

Now, we've got evidence.

Pakistan, the Taliban, Terrorists, and a "Shazam!" Moment?

I've used "shazam! moment" to describe a person's sudden understanding of information that he or she already had. Organizations can have "shazam!" moments, too.

Judging from what I read in the news, I think the outfit that's nominally running Pakistan may have had a "shazam! moment recently.

Maybe, just maybe, a few key people in Pakistan's central government may have realized that those nice Islamic fellows who have been killing people they don't like in Pakistan's tribal regions are doing Pakistan no favors - and that America, un-Islamic as it is, isn't against Pakistan.


Here are a few excerpts from the news, plus my take:
"Times Square bombing plot has converged Pak-US' interests: Expert"
oneindia (May 15, 2010)

"Analysts believe that following the botched Times Square bombing plot which saw the United States' tirade against Pakistan asking it to transform its lip service into action and work to dismantle the terror breeding camps flourishing on its soil, Islamabad has begun to see and take seriously the threat posed to its government by the Taliban.

"The recent arrest of two men, who are said to be the failed Times Square bomber Faisal Shahzad's accomplices shows how the US and Pakistan's interests have converged, said Stephen Biddle, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington.

"The big change in Pakistan is they have become much more aggressive against the Pakistan Taliban because they have come to see them as a threat to their regime," The Christian Science Monitor, quoted Biddle, as saying.

"The United States, for long, has been asking Pakistan to destroy the jihadi camps running inside its territory, and has been providing all monetary and military assistance, but years of continuous demands have resulted in little ground action...."
I'm not quite sure what to make of that phrase, "...the United States' tirade against Pakistan...." I wasn't aware that the United States had made "a speech of violent denunciation" against Pakistan. (Princeton's WordNet definition of "tirade")

It depends on your point of view, of course. While I was doing time in American academia, just about anything that the wrong sort said about America was supposed to be just simply fraught with violence and hatred. But I didn't detect that sort of 'sophistication' in the rest of the oneindia article.

Oh, well: one more unsolved mystery.
"How Times Square bomb arrests unite US, Pakistan"
The Christian Science Monitor (May 14, 2010 )

"Pakistan's arrests of at least two members of the Pakistan Taliban in connection with this month's attempted bombing in New York's Times Square reinforces how the interests of the US and Pakistan have begun to coincide.

"A senior military official confirmed Friday that in recent days Pakistan arrested at least two individuals who provided training and resources to Faisal Shahzad, the American from Connecticut who allegedly attempted to detonate a car bomb in Times Square earlier this month...."
This seems to be the CSM article cited by oneindia that mentioned Stephen Biddle. I'm inclined to agree: Pakistan's central government arresting someone just because that person paid to have Americans killed is a step in the right direction. From my point of view, of course.

Bottom line? Pakistan's apparent cooperation with American authorities is probably good news for America and Pakistan. The advantage for American interests is fairly obvious. For Pakistan's leaders, wrapping their minds around the idea that terrorists who want to kill them aren't safe to have around, and that Americans who are trying to restrain the terrorists aren't the enemy, may eventually lead to a Pakistan that's not as much of a mess as the country is now.

'Racial Profiling,' 'Cultural Insensitivity,' and Getting the Job Done

FBI agents, apparently following up on connections between the alleged suspect in the attempted Times Square car bomb attack in the alleged city of New York - sorry, that slipped out, but I'll let it stand - asked a distraught businessman a few questions.

He may not have anything in particular to do with the botched bombing: bit I'm inclined to think that the FBI agents were acting properly.

I'd think the same, if (this is a hypothetical situation) some blond guy named Johnson had been questioned by the FBI in connection with another attempted attack by Scandinavian Lutherans who were incensed over the West's lack of lefse-awareness. (August 1, 2007)

Investigations of attempted bombings have to follow all leads. It'd be nice if the FBI could ignore everybody who isn't directly connected - but they won't know who that is, until after they go through the investigative process.

Here's the news item that got me started on that topic:
"Camden businessman raided by FBI faces eviction"
The Philadelphia Inquirer (May 15, 2010)

"A Cherry Hill man whose condo was raided Thursday by FBI agents investigating the attempted bombing in Times Square faces eviction over unpaid rent.

"Court documents show that Iqbal Hinjhara and another resident are three months behind on the $1,285 monthly rent and have been served with an eviction notice. The landlord, Dana M. Covert, filed a complaint on April 22 in Superior Court in Camden County seeking $3,213 in rent and to have the tenants and their belongings removed.

"A hearing is scheduled for Thursday.

"The complaint doesn't spell out Hinjhara's relationship with the other person facing eviction, Assia Quadid. Hinjhara's brother Muhammad Fieaz lives at the condo but isn't listed on the complaint...."
From some points of view, the 'harassment' of Mr. Hinjhara is pure racial profiling and an example of the Gestapo tactics the FBI always employs because they're mean, icky people. To its credit, The Philadelphia Inquirer didn't take that line.

Quite a bit further down in the article, we get a look at what could be called the American justice department's cultural insensitivity:
"...Earlier on Friday, Hinjhara spoke to Fox 29 news.

"He said he didn't know Faisal Shahzad, the Pakistani-born suspect charged in the botched May 1 Times Square terror attack.

" 'We have very limited relationship with the community. We are busy in our work,' Hinjhara said.

"U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents detained three other Pakistani men, two in Boston and one in Maine.

"The federal agents were tracing financial connections to Shahzad.

" 'We are very simple. We do . . . international business and we do it through the bank and everything is OK,' Hinjhara said. 'We come home, go to work. That's it.'

"Hinjhara said the agents did not ask him about Shahzad.

"But agents did ask about the business that sells printing machines and ships equipment to Pakistan, India, and Europe.

"Hinjhara bought the Camden property in September from the Long View Publishing Co. for $237,000, according to tax records.

"He is listed in a state business database as agent for M.Y. Printing Equipment, which receives mail at the Cherry Hill condo.

"The state revoked the company's status as a corporation in 2006 for failure to file annual reports. Prompt Printing Press operated at the site for years before closing in early 2009.

"Hinjhara said investigators removed files from his Camden business.

"He said the agents were 'very friendly people.'

" 'We don't mind. We appreciate it they came . . . They're satisfied now,' Hinjhara told Fox 29.

"He said he understood that the FBI was doing its job...."
(The Philadelphia Inquirer) [emphasis mine]
I don't know anything about the Camden businessmen, apart from what I read in the news. I think it's possible that their either unfamiliar with the American preoccupation with paying bills on time and filing all those pesky tax and business forms.

Me? I was raised in America, so I know that it's a good idea to fill out and mail forms that the IRS expects. I'm also rather old-fashioned in my attitude toward paying my bills: partly for ethical reasons, partly because I realize that people will give me more leeway when I really can't pay, if I've got a record of prompt payment. Enlightened self-interest.

Or, it may not be cultural conflicts at all. Some - but not, I think, most - American businessmen and women get the bright idea that it's the little people who pay their bills. Then, a few months or years later, they get their names in the papers, for having failed to practice enlightened self-interest.

Related posts:Background: posts about Pakistan:

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

'Loose Lips Sink Ships,' Times Square Bomber, and News Leaks

In today's news:
"Police: News reports may have spurred Times Square suspect to flee"
CNN (May 11, 2010)

"Times Square bombing suspect Faisal Shahzad may have headed to the airport on the night of his arrest after hearing media reports, New York City Police Commissioner Ray Kelly said Tuesday.

"Kelly told reporters that 'before the individual was taken into custody, there was a lot of specific information about who we were looking for,' and 'there's some indication this information made the individual leave.'....

"...Shahzad had boarded a plane that was minutes away from takeoff when authorities arrived to arrest him.

"Kelly said the leaks were part of what he believes is an 'inordinate amount of information given out by somebody' in the case, despite the fact that the investigation is ongoing.

"He declined to answer questions about Shahzad's alleged ties to the Pakistani Taliban, a connection that's been mentioned previously by Attorney General Eric Holder.

"However, during a conference for private security executives Tuesday, members of the New York Police Department outlined common threads Shahzad shares with other recent homegrown terror suspects. The main points are that he grew up in a middle class family and is believed to have been radicalized while traveling overseas to a conflict zone.

"Another common thread discussed is that suspects have turned to the internet for religious guidance...."
You think the finger pointing over the British Petroleum Gulf spill is something? Wait until the next successful terrorist attack: when some hotshot reporter tells the perpetrators how to evade security. The reporter could win a Pulitzer Prize for journalistic excellence - but that's a rant for another day.

I think contemporary journalists shouldn't, perhaps, be judged too harshly. They're in the business of collecting information and repackaging it according to their employers' editorial policies. I think it's quite possible that any given reporter and editor might wonder, for a moment, whether publishing information might allow a terrorist to escape - or cost lives. But it looks like that sort of thing isn't as important as 'the people's right to know.'

I've gotten the impression that American journalists during WWII had a somewhat firmer grip on who wanted to protect them, and who didn't. That wasn't a 'golden age,' but there does seem to have been a bit more enlightened self-interest floating around then.

Phrases like "loose lips sink ships" - or "...might sink ships" - may sound corny these days: anachronistic reminders of a time when people who wanted to kill Americans were simplistically regarded as "the enemy."

I don't want to go back to the none-too-thinly-veiled racism of some WWII propaganda. On the other hand: is it too much to ask, for journalists to show some common sense: even when some nincompoop in a responsible position doesn't?

Related post:In the news:

Sunday, May 9, 2010

New York City Times Square, The Pakistani Taliban, and Being Prudent

Three headlines this morning, with pretty much the same story:That's The New York Times, FOXNews, and CNN: There's the usual listing at the end of this post.

Isn't this a reversal of earlier claims that the New York City Times Square bombing wasn't related to terrorism? No. What's been said before by various authorities is that there is no evidence to support the idea that a terrorist organization is behind the failed bombing. (May 2, 2010)

Now, it looks like they've got evidence.

But, rather prudently, we're not being told exactly what the evidence is.
"...Mr. Shahzad, who was arrested at Kennedy International Airport aboard an Emirates Airlines airplane bound for Dubai little more than two days after the bomb was discovered, soon told police that he trained in Waziristan, the main base for the Pakistani Taliban and Al Qaeda. Neither Mr. Holder nor Mr. Brennan indicated what new information led them to the firmer conclusions about the role of the Pakistani Taliban."
(The New York Times)
Exactly, no: generally, yes:
"...Attorney General Eric Holder and White House counterterrorism adviser John Brennan said the investigation has led authorities to believe that suspect Faisal Shahzad trained with the Taliban in Pakistan and was funded by them.

"Brennan told 'Fox News Sunday' that Shahzad had 'extensive interaction' with the group, which he described as virtually 'indistinguishable' from Al Qaeda...."
The 'public has a right to know' - but I think law enforcement and the Department of Homeland Security also have a responsibility to keep terrorists from leaning exactly how much they know.

"Loose lips sink ships" is an old saying, but the principle still applies.

Related posts:In the news:

Friday, May 7, 2010

Another Bomb Scare in New York City

I'd have mentioned this earlier, but I've been - distracted - today.
"Another day, another scare in a cautious New York"
The Associated Press (May 7, 2010)

"Police cleared the streets around Times Square on Friday and called in the bomb squad to dismantle what turned out to be a cooler full of water bottles. Earlier in the day, police were called in to check a suspicious package that turned out to be someone's lunch.

"Since a Pakistani-American tried unsuccessfully to set off a car bomb in the heart of the city last weekend, false-alarm calls are up dramatically, nerves are jangled, and media and law enforcement are rushing to the scenes to make sure the reports aren't something bigger.

"More than 600 calls came in since Saturday's attempted car bombing of a busy street near Times Square — about 30 percent higher than normal, police said...."

"...On Friday, cable news channels went live with images of the false alarm on Times Square, focusing in on the light green cooler as police officials hauled it away from the area. Police don't know who left the cooler behind. The streets opened within an hour, and workers weren't told to evacuate.

" 'It was exciting, but it seemed a little silly, after all - a cooler that somebody left there,' said psychiatrist Thor Bergersen, of Newton, Mass., who watched the drama from the eighth floor of the Marriott Marquis hotel.

"But Times Square vendor Walter 'Candyman' Wells said the constant scares aroused more suspicion.

" 'I think they're testing us, whoever is doing this,' Wells said Friday, sitting on a stool near his table of T-shirts. 'They're playing chess with us right now, but they ain't gonna win. 'Cause we're the Bobby Fischers.'..."
Walter 'Candyman' Wells, by the way, isn't Duane Jackson, who reported the (real) car bomb.

With 20-20 hindsight, New York City authorities could have saved themselves a lot of trouble. But, with due respect to the eighth floor psychiatrist, I think Mr. Wells has a point.

I doubt that all of those 600 or so false alarms were terrorists probing NYC's defenses. But we'd better come to terms with the idea that Al Qaeda, the Taliban, and others aren't all uneducated nitwits. (July 8, 2007) A smart terrorist would want to know what effect a failed bombing has on New York City's response to threat, real or imagined. And yes: I think there are smart terrorists. I don't agree with their goals, and think their philosophies are not acceptable: but I don't think they're stupid. Crazy, maybe. But not stupid.

Related post:In the news:

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Zimbabwe, Iran, and Uranium: Oh, Jolly

As a rule, I'm glad to hear that someone with people issues finally makes a friend. In this case, I'm not so sure that it's good news.

This excerpt is longer than most, but I think it's important - interesting, at any rate - as background. I'll be back after the BBC.
"Zimbabwe's Mugabe backs Ahmadinejad on nuclear Iran"
BBC (May 4, 2010)

"President Robert Mugabe has backed Iran's 'just cause' on seeking nuclear power, as President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad continues his Zimbabwe visit.

"Zimbabwe's leader said both countries had been 'unjustly vilified and punished by Western countries'.

"Iran is subject to a range of UN diplomatic and trade sanctions, although it insists its nuclear project is for energy, not to build a weapon...."

"...Iran's leader also castigated Western nations, saying: 'They want to seize the markets of the countries [Iran and Zimbabwe] and destroy their economies,' reports the AFP news agency...."

"...Mr Mugabe and some of his closest allies are subject to targeted sanctions by several Western nations.

"These include a travel ban and an assets freeze but not trade measures....

"...He [Mr. Mugabe] has criticised it [the Movement for Democratic Change, or MDC] recently for failing to get the sanctions on him lifted.

"They were imposed after the US and the EU accused Mr Mugabe of rigging elections.

"He says they were really a punishment for his policy of seizing land from white farmers."

Ahmadinejad and Mugabe: What Could Possibly Go Wrong?

I'm not on the same page as this fellow:
"Hegel was right when he said that we learn from history that man can never learn anything from history."
George Bernard Shaw, The Quotations Page)
On the other hand, he did have a point. I think this fellow was closer to the mark:
"Progress, far from consisting in change, depends on retentiveness. When change is absolute there remains no being to improve and no direction is set for possible improvement: and when experience is not retained, as among savages, infancy is perpetual. Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. In the first stage of life the mind is frivolous and easily distracted, it misses progress by failing in consecutiveness and persistence. This is the condition of children and barbarians, in which instinct has learned nothing from experience."
(George Santayana, "The Life of Reason," Volume 1, 1905, The Quotations Page)
What's generally remembered out of that passage is: "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."

History doesn't repeat itself, but I think that when events start following a familiar pattern: it's well to look at what happened the first time.

Iran isn't in the best shape, economically. It's being run by people with strong allegiance to a particular ideology - and an arguably weak grasp on reality. Iran's leaders are looking for allies in some odd places. And, Iran's leaders blame powerful European nations - and the Jews - for their problems.

That may not sound familiar, particularly if you're an American and less than, say, 40 years old. This country hasn't exactly encouraged a study of history in recent decades.

I was born during the Truman administration, and studied history. Take the names off, and what's going on in Iran today is reminiscent of what was going on in Germany between what Americans call the Great Depression, and the start of World War II.

I sincerely hope that the EU leadership, and others in responsible positions, remember that Iran's leadership may not be entirely peace loving and trustworthy.

Zimbabwe and Simplicity

About Zimbabwe? It's part of a former British colony. Zimbabwe is doing about as well, adjusting to self-rule, as many other African countries. President Mugabe is currently running the place - but he's got competition.

Zimbabwe had a Prime Minister before President Mugabe's rule: the Prime Minister was Robert Mugabe. Same fellow. Under one title or another, he's been in charge since 1980.

A thousand years from now, whoever is making things happen where Zimbabwe is now may be as outstanding as Zimbabwe's namesake, Great Zimbabwe. Today? Not so much.

If Zimbabwe has uranium, and Mugabe thinks Iran will help him keep his job - Iran's 'peaceful' nuclear program could give him a boost. And, in my opinion, we'll have gotten much closer to seeing what the Russian Federation will do if the Ayatollahs decide to nuke Moscow.

Do I think this is a simple matter of how Mugabe and Ahmadinejad hit it off, and what some dude in Moscow does?


Some stories have that sort of 'James Bond / Dr. No' simplicity. This is the real world: where over 6,000,000,000 people in about 200 nations arrange themselves in groups that don't necessarily line up with today's national borders - or what their leaders feel like doing.

Simple, it isn't.

Related posts:Background on Zimbabwe:

New York City Times Square Wannabe Bomber: and We Still Don't Know Everything

It looks like Faisal Shahzad is very involved in the Times Square wannabe bombing. He's a Pakistani-American, according to the news: and it sound like there may be an international conspiracy involved.

Or, not.

Oh, yeah: The Miranda thing:
"Alleged terrorist Faisal Shahzad was initially questioned by authorities under the public safety exception to the Miranda rule, Deputy Director of the FBI John S. Pistole said today at a press conference. Shahzad, who faces terrorism charges for a failed attempt to blow up a car in Times Square, was later read his Miranda rights and continued to cooperate with authorities after that, Pistole said...."
(CBS News)

Times Square Bombing, Protecting People, and Politics as Usual

Maybe things have changed in the last several years: but I'm pretty sure that some of the more overheated minds in America are already busy warning us that
  • Miranda warnings are
    • Part of a commie plot to enslave us all
    • Nowhere near strong enough to protect us from those brutal police
  • All foreigners are terrorits
    • And they smell funny
  • Any foreigner questioned by law enforcement is the victim of racial profiling
    • And/or police brutality
Me? I'm glad that the investigation is progressing - and I still hope that Congress keeps its hands off the investigation. They can grill the folks who are trying to protect us later.

At the rate this case is going, there should be plenty of time before the next election.

Cynical? Pessimistic? No, getting over some sort of an annoying bug.

Related posts:In the news:

Sunday, May 2, 2010

New York City's Time Square: A Bomb, a Vietnam Vet, Electricity, and Congress

I've read that the Pakistani Taliban says it's responsible for the dud bomb in New York City's Times Square this weekend. And, that police in New York City say there's no evidence to support that claim.

Mind, New York's Finest apparently didn't say that the Pakistani Taliban aren't responsible: just that there's no evidence that they are.

My opinion is that, quite definitely, someone wanted three tanks-worth of propane, and assorted fireworks, to explode near Times Square. Who, and why? Those are both very good questions.

By adopting the biases of one group or another, I could assume that 'obviously' this is the work of:Some of the more shrill of America's 'serious thinkers' notwithstanding, this country's police don't work that way. I think the idea of starting an investigation with evidence and ending in a conclusion is better than the reverse.

A Vietnam Vet is Involved

I remember the "good old days," when it seemed that just about every crime in America was committed by a "Vietnam Veteran." The reporters weren't lying, by the way: but they weren't explaining why this was the case, either. Demographics and the draft were involved. (A Catholic Citizen in America (April 2, 2010))

That was then, this is now: although some folks don't seem to have gotten the memo. ("All Those 'Poor, Uneducated, Minorities Being Drafted in America!' " (January 4, 2009))

Given my all-too-clear memories of "the good old days," I was very pleased to hear that a Vietnam vet was involved in this weekend's bomb incident. Keep reading:

The street vendor who spotted the smoking vehicle investigated, and reported to a mounted New York City police officer. Then "...he and two impact police officers on patrol in the area began to clear pedestrians from the vicinity while calling for assistance...." (Ray Kelly, NYPD Commissioner, via newsstoryoftheday)

Here's part of what the BBC had to say about the discovery of the smoking SUV:
"...Police acted on a tip-off from a street vendor - a Vietnam War veteran, who saw smoke coming from the SUV parked on 45th Street and Seventh Avenue at about 1830 (2230 GMT) on Saturday.

"The vehicle had its engine running and hazard lights flashing, officials said.

"Duane Jackson, a 58-year-old handbag vendor, said he had spotted the car parked illegally and when he examined it he saw keys in the ignition with about 20 keys on a ring...."

Forensics, Testimony, and Video: Lots of Video

I'd recommend reading that BBC article, linked below, "In the news." I'll pull out a few highlights. Investigators are
  • Talking with people
  • Studying the SUV and its contents
  • Looking at videos
    • About 82
    • When Commissioner Kelly was interviewed, they'd examined 32
    • 3 "had some value"
  • The SUV's plates belonged to another vehicle
    • From Connecticut
  • The motive hasn't been released
    • Investigators
      • May not know
      • May not, literally, have a clue to why this bomb was planted
The BBC article included this map of the Times Square area:

(From BBC, used w/o permission)

I Hope Congress Doesn't Get Involved

I suppose it's inevitable that some member of Congress will want to 'do something' about this investigation. We might even get a full-blown Congressional investigation panel out of it.

I rather hope not. Right now, competent professionals are working their way through an enormous amount of evidence: and I don't think that getting dragged to Washington and asked occasionally-sensible questions is going to help speed up the process.

Don't get me wrong: I think that many members of Congress are well-meaning. But I remember the aftermath of the Oklahoma City bombing of the Murrah building. That truck bomb involved an exotic-sounding chemical, ammonium nitrate. Some of America's leaders got the bright idea that we'd all be safer if this dangerous stuff was banned.

By the same token, we'd all be safer if electricity was banned. That stuff's dangerous!

So is ammonium nitrate. Global Security has a pretty good writeup on that substance: "Explosives - ANFO (Ammonium Nitrate - Fuel Oil)." Then there's anhydrous ammonia. It doesn't have to explode to kill. Farmers and folks in agribusiness follow specific procedures when handling that stuff. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has a pretty good definition of anhydrous ammonia, on their "Ag 101" page.

Happily, someone intervened - and Congress didn't cripple American agribusiness. For which I'm grateful.

This time around, I suppose we could get a nationwide ban of SUVs, propane (say goodbye to back yard grilling, unless you burn wood or charcoal), fireworks: or, if someone on Capitol Hill gets really inspired, clocks. And electricity: remember those wires? That bomb used electricity!!

"New York Police Commissioner on the unexploded Bomb in Time Square New York City"

newsstoryoftheday, YouTube (May 1, 2010)
video, 3:22

Text associated with the video, on YouTube:
" New York City police have defused a car bomb parked in Times Square, one of the city's busiest tourist attractions, officials say.

"They say propane tanks, fireworks and a timing device were removed from a parked SUV.

"Part of the area has been cleared of pedestrians and blocked off.

"Both President Barack Obama and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg praised the quick response by the New York Police Department.

" 'We are very lucky,' Mr Bloomberg told reporters. "We avoided what could have been a very deadly event.'

"The security alert was triggered when a street vendor saw smoke coming from a black Nissan Pathfinder parked on 45th Street and Seventh Avenue at about 1830 (2230 GMT) on Saturday.

"Correspondents say New York City police are on constant alert after a series of alleged terror plots in the wake of 9/11 attacks.

"Suspect spotted

"Police shut down several blocks of New York's busiest tourist attractions, as well as subway lines, while a robotic arm broke windows of the vehicle.

" 'There were explosive elements, including powder, gasoline, propane and some kind of electrical wires attached to a clock," police spokesman Paul Browne told reporters early on Sunday.

" 'No motive has been identified,' he added.

"Mr Browne also said officers were investigating a report that someone had been seen running and they are reviewing security videotapes.

"The car's plates do not match the registration, he said.

"FBI agents have joined NYPD investigators at the scene.

"The White House said President Obama was being kept up to date on the investigation.

"The most recent terror alert in New York City involved a plot to set off suicide bombs in the subway system.

"Earlier this year an Afghan immigrant, Najibullah Zazi, and an associate, Zarein Ahmedzay, both pleaded guilty in connection with the attempt."
Related posts:In the news:

Car Bomb in New York City's Times Square: An Update

Two updates on yesterday's incident in New York City's Times Square.
"Car bomb found in New York's Times Square"
BBC (May 2, 2010, 13:07 GMT/UTC)

"New York City police have defused an improvised car bomb parked in Times Square, one of the city's busiest tourist areas.

"They say propane tanks, fireworks, petrol and a clock device were removed from a parked sports utility vehicle.

"So far, there is no evidence that it was more than a "one-off event", the US homeland security chief said.

"Forensic evidence including fingerprints had been recovered, Janet Napolitano told NBC television.

" 'We're treating it as if it could be a potential terrorist attack,' she said.

"Early on Sunday the vehicle was towed to a forensic lab in the city's Queens district and Times Square was reopened...."
I'm often - impressed? - at how local news becomes national news in America: if it happens in New York City, Los Angeles, or another 'important' big city. (Places like Chicago, Kansas City, or Dallas - not so much. But that's another topic.)

In this case, even if this had been another case of an abandoned vehicle setting off an alert, I think this international coverage might have been warranted - at least for the initial clearing of Times Square. After the 9/11 attack, anything that might be an attack in New York City is "news."

While I'm thinking of it: The Associated Press gave an ultra-brief recap of some related recent incidents:
"...In December, a parked van without license plates led police to block off part of the area for about two hours. A police robot examined the vehicle, and clothes, racks and scarves were found inside.

"In March 2008, a hooded bicyclist hurled an explosive device at a military recruiting center, producing a flash, smoke and full-scale emergency response. No suspect was ever identified...."
Reuters has more detail on yesterday's near miss:
"Failed NY bomb a potential terrorist attack: Napolitano"
Reuters (May 2, 2010, 9:39am EDT/13:39 UTC)

"The United States views a car bomb that failed to go off in New York's Times Square as a potential terrorist attack, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said on Sunday.

"Police tipped off by a street vendor found and defused the bomb inside a sport utility vehicle in the business, shopping and entertainment area of Midtown Manhattan when it was packed with tourists and theater-goers on a warm Saturday evening.

" 'We're taking this very seriously,' Napolitano told CNN's 'State of the Union' program. 'We're treating it as if it could be a potential terrorist attack.'

"Police said no motive or suspect had been identified. Napolitano and other officials have not specified whether the suspects are Americans or foreigners.

"Authorities said the failed bomb -- made of propane, gasoline and fireworks -- could have killed many people.

" 'This wasn't make believe. This wasn't a false alarm. This was the real deal -- to hurt people,' said Fire Commissioner Sal Cassano, adding the force of the bomb could have taken down the front of a building if it had gone off.

"New York has been on high alert for an attack since the September 11 attacks in 2001 in which hijacked airliners toppled the World Trade Center's twin towers, killing thousands of people...."
The really good news in this incident is that nobody got hurt.

Related post:

Saturday, May 1, 2010

New York City's Times Square, a Smoking SUV, and Decisions

Update (May 1, 2010, 11:26 p.m. Central; 04:26 UTC)

I've learned to be cautious about accepting information leaked by an anonymous source during a rapidly-evolving situation, but this is interesting, plausible, and suggestive:
"Cops find suspected car bomb in Times Square"
The Associated Press (May 1, 2010)

"Police evacuated buildings and cleared streets of thousands of tourists around New York City's Times Square after finding an apparent car bomb in a parked SUV.

"New York City police say a mounted police officer noticed smoke coming from the SUV at 6:30 p.m. Saturday. A law enforcement official tells The Associated Press that bomb investigators found propane tanks, powder and an apparent timing device inside the vehicle. The official wasn't authorized to release the information and spoke on condition of anonymity.

"Police evacuated several residential and commercial buildings and cleared several streets of thousands of tourists milling around on a warm Saturday night...."
We'll see how this develops.
Update (May 1, 2010, 10:57 p.m. Central; May 2, 03:57 UTC)

Looks like NYC authorities made the right decision:
"NY police confirm car bomb caused Times Sq. evacuation"
Reuters (May 1, 2010)

"The New York Police Department said on Saturday the incident that caused Times Square to be evacuated was what appeared to be a car bomb, which was being dismantled by officers on the scene.

" 'This appears to be a car bomb that the bomb squad is in the process of dismantling,' police spokesman Paul Browne said. 'We do not know the motive.'..."
I'm strongly inclined to believe that New York's Finest don't know why that bomb was planted. They may not know who planted it: yet.

I'm not going to speculate: not with so little to go on. The "obvious" suspects may not be the guilty parties:Bottom line? For me, its' that nobody seems to have been hurt. That's good news. Identifying who planted the bomb, and why, can wait: while competent professionals sort through the evidence.

The update ends here. I'm leaving the original post as-is.
Odds are pretty good that this is a vehicular fire that happened in the wrong place:
"UPDATE 2-New York's Times Sq. evacuated for suspicious vehicle"
Reuters (May 1, 2010)

"Police evacuated New York's Times Square on Saturday night after a dark-colored sports utility vehicle was found to be smoking and a small 'flash' was observed by firefighters on the scene.

"Officers at the scene said the evacuation order stemmed from an 'emergency investigation' and dozens of officers blocked access to the busy central Manhattan square, which is popular with tourists and theater-goers.

"New York Police Department spokesman Paul Browne said a vehicle had been left in Times Square, with smoke seen coming from it.

"There was an unconfirmed report that someone was seen running from the car, Browne said. A bomb squad responded and a small fire was extinguished, he said.

" 'We're just trying to determine if it was anything other than a car fire,' said Browne. 'We don't know yet if it's anything more than that.'

"The SUV is parked very close to a production of 'The LionKing' on 45th Street. Women in evening gowns were among the crowd on one of the warmest nights of the year and the busiest night of the week for Broadway theaters in the area....

"...Reuters reporters on the scene said they heard an explosion from the area of the SUV around 9:15 p.m. An NYPD community affairs officer said that and another small explosion heard by bystanders were the sound of water cannons aimed at the vehicle in an attempt to break through the glass...."

An SUV catches fire: What's the Big Deal?

Some time ago, here in the small town in central Minnesota where I live, I was on hand when a vehicle caught fire near Main Street. I'm not sure if it made the news, even in the local weekly.

Naturally enough: vehicle fires happen, and this one was brought under control quickly. It was a big deal for the vehicle owner, but not for many other folks.

When something like that happens in New York City, the Big Apple, near Times Square: yeah, it's a kind of big deal.

From the sounds of it, emergency responders in New York City handled the situation sensibly. They (1) tried to put out the fire; and (2) started evacuating people in case this wasn't just a vehicular fire.

Let's assume, hypothetically, that this SUV was packed with explosives. The detonation mechanism didn't work the way it was supposed to, and it started smoking. First responders tried to put the fire out, but didn't bother folks seeing the Lion King - or anyone else.

Then, a few minutes later, when that part of New York City disappeared in a bright flash: well there would be quite a few questions asked later.

So, no: I don't think that evacuation was an over-reaction. In 20-20 hindsight, it's easy to see that an evacuation wasn't necessary. At the time, it may not be quite so obvious.

Related posts:In the News:

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

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

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