Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Haiti, Help and Hope

Haiti is in rough shape right now.

The good news is that over 90% of Haiti's citizens are alive.

The bad news is that almost 2% aren't. Haiti's major city and capital are in ruins. If something isn't done, quickly, plagues will kill off many of the survivors. The country was in bad shape, economically, to begin with. Having a corrupt government didn't help.

So what?

Haiti's a neighbor of America. Quite a few Haitians are living in America today: and more probably want to come over.

Now, why isn't this American citizen appalled at all these foreigners coming to America? Because this American citizen as a pretty good memory:

"My Ancestors were 'Them Furriners' "

"My ancestors, not all that long ago, got into this country for about the same reason as today's Haitians. They came in legally - although there was the bunch that came in through Canada. It's a little complicated.

"I suppose a 'red white and blue-blooded American' response could be to be appalled and shocked and horrified at these foreigners breaking into this fair land - getting jobs - and sending that 100 percent all-American money back to Haiti.

"Some of it, anyway. They'll have to eat, and live somewhere. And maybe buy work clothes.

"Besides, looking at it as an investment - I think America would profit, in the long run, if we can help Haiti get on its feet economically. A nation of desperately poor people can't buy our exports. A nation of stinking-rich people can.

"So, my inclination is to think: 'legal-schmegal, let them stay, let them get jobs, and with any luck they'll stay longer and open some new businesses.'..."
(Apathetic Lemming of the North (January 20, 2010))
I've told my kids that altruism is, in a sense, impossible for someone who's able to think ahead. That's because helping someone else, indirectly and eventually, benefits the person giving help. Or that person's descendants. The 'payoff' on altruism can be a long time coming.

People living in Port au Prince and other places hit by the quake are, in a way, pretty well off for now. Haiti's climate is warmer than where I live, in Minnesota: and they won't freeze to death.

The rainy season is coming in May, though. Haitians whose homes are no longer available will need a place to get in out of the rain.

If you haven't given to a charity that's helping Haiti, there's still time. Folks there will need help for quite a while yet.

Related posts:In the news:

Friday, January 22, 2010

Arkansas Recruiting Center Shooting, the Right to Remain Silent, and War

American law, civil law, isn't the same as military law. There's a different set of rules: and, as I understand it, a different purpose.

The legal system I live in, again as I understand it, is intended to sort out what's true and what's not in disputes between people, and in situations where someone seems to have been hurt.

Like when there are two bodies on the floor.

Military law, yet again as I understand it, is intended to sort out what's true and what's not. But the process is a bit more hard nosed than the civilian process. And, military law, again as I understand it, is built around the premise that the people being tried are responsible adults with some degree of intelligence and good sense.

Civilian law isn't.

That's why police Mirandize suspects, and there are rules about what the defendant in a case can do. Apparently, there are instances where someone isn't allowed to plead guilty.

On the whole, I like American civilian law. That "innocent until proven guilty" business - although it hasn't been perfectly observed - is a refreshing alternative to systems that see things the other way.

Arkansas Recruiting Center Shootings, the Law, and Al Qaeda

Then there are cases like the Arkansas recruiting center shootings.
"Lawyer: Arkansas shooting suspect pleads guilty in letter to judge"
CNN (January 22, 2010)

"A Tennessee man accused in a fatal attack at a military recruiting center in Arkansas has written to the judge in the case, pleading guilty and claiming to have ties to al Qaeda in Yemen, his attorney said.

" 'He did send a letter to the judge, which is highly inappropriate,' Claiborne Ferguson said Thursday from Memphis, Tennessee. 'If my client had the intention of pleading guilty, it is misguided and misinformed as to Arkansas law. He can't plead guilty to a capital crime.'..."
It's anyone's guess what happens next: that mostly depends on the judge.


Carlos Bledsoe changed his name to Abdulhakim Muhammad. Then, on June 1, 2009, he (allegedly) killed Private William Long, wounded Private Quinton Ezeagwula at a recruiting center in Little Rock, Arkansas.

That "allegedly," by the way, comes from the American 'innocent until proven guilty' thing - and came into common use a few decades back, when someone noticed that news services had a habit of deciding who was guilty and who wasn't, well in advance of court decisions. There was a bit of a fuss, understandably. On the whole, annoying as it is sometimes, I think common use of "allegedly" is a good idea. It reminds us of what's been legally proven, and what hasn't.

Carlos Bledsoe / Abdulhakim Muhammad will have his case heard, and a verdict will be reached. Eventually.

Pleading the Fifth and Al Aqaeda

Abdulhakim Muhammad waived his Miranda rights, and said that he shot the soldiers because he was a good Muslim. Now he says that he's connected with Al Qaeda. (more, in an excerpt at the end of this post)

Like I said before, I like American civilian law. It's civilized - although it hasn't always been applied consistently. And there was that slavery thing. It took a major war to sort that out.

I like the protections for the individual that are built into American civilian law.

I also like to breathe, and would prefer to continue doing so.

Quite a few Americans probably feel the same way.

And, in my opinion, treating suspected terrorists with the same careful deference shown suspects in murder cases isn't helping to keep Americans alive.

The Carlos Bledsoe / Abdulhakim Muhammad case is, in my opinion, skimming the envelope when it comes to what is, and what is not, a matter of national concern.

Only two people were shot in that recruiting office, and one of them lived. Bledsoe / Myhammad may simply be a nut case who thinks he's working for Al Qaeda. Next work it could be Elvis or space aliens.

The problem is, Al Qaeda is real. And it's a threat.

Terrorists, Muggers, and Getting a Grip

An American airliner that landed safely this Christmas wouldn't have, if someone linked to Al Qaeda hadn't botched the job.

Throw in "alleged" and "allegedly" to suit your taste - there really doesn't seem to be much doubt about the general outline of Christmas attack. A whole lot of people could have been killed.

There is, like it or not, a war going on. Al Qaeda, the Taliban, and like-minded outfits are actively - and violently - trying to impose their version of Islam on the rest of the world.

There's a reason for American civilian law allowing people to 'plead the fifth' in trials, and remain silent after they've been arrested.

And, there's a reason that enemy combatants haven't been extended the same privilege.

'You have the Right to Remain Silent' - - - BOOM

Think about it. Some fellow was caught with invoices for two tons of ammonium nitrate; floor plans of the South Coast Plaza mall in Costa Mesa, California; and a hand-written letter - in Arabic - telling him to deliver the stuff to "Ali."

And wouldn't say who "Ali" was; if the delivery had been made, and if so, where; or anything else.

As I understand it, Americans have a right to remain silent if they are arrested - and may ask for an attorney. In general, I think that's okay.

Not that 'remaining silent' is my style. The times I've been stopped by the police, I was only too happy to talk: but then, I hadn't done anything illegal. Well, not very. Never mind.

For someone who's held up a convenience store, or mugged someone - I suppose the 'right to remain silent' has a reasonable purpose. Which is another topic, for another blog.

In the case of the hypothetical fellow with the invoice, application of Miranda rights might have unpleasant consequences.

I don't know how much of the South Coast Plaza's 2,700,000 square feet / 251,000 square meters would be affected by tons of the explosives you could make from a ton of ammonium nitrate. Judging from what happened to the Alfred Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma, though: I think the results would make the evening news. ("Explosives - ANFO (Ammonium Nitrate - Fuel Oil),"

Let's say that the fellow with the invoices had, on advice of his lawyer, remained silent. Then, a few weeks later, the South Coast Plaza was subjected to instant urban renewal. With people inside. And, there was good reason to believe that more explosions were planned.

Would the right to remain silent still make sense?

Don't bother asking the folks who were shopping at South Coast Plaza: Many are dead, and the rest might be biased.

Don't get me wrong: I think that protections of my freedom that are built into the American Constitution, and American law, are a good idea. I also think that, in the unlikely event that there was evidence for my having information about a threat to this country: allowing or encouraging me to keep quiet about the threat wouldn't be a good idea. At all.

Not-So-Hypothetical: Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab and the Christmas Attack

The case of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab and Northwest Flight 253 is a bit more complicated. Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab is the son of a wealthy Nigerian, a resident of the United Kingdom, and tried to bring down an American airliner on Christmas.

He claims to be connected with Al Qaeda.

With so many nations involved, I'm not sure who should get first crack at Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab. Offhand, since he tried to take out one of our airliners, I think that American investigators should be allowed to find out what they can from him.

Pretending that Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab is just one more individual who allegedly engaged in illegal activities doesn't, I think, make sense. Particularly since he claims to have connections with Al Qaeda - and there's reason to believe he's right.

Giving him the right to remain silent might make civil rights advocates feel good. But it could allow the next attack to succeed.

If We're Nice, Won't They be Nice, Too?

I'm about as sure that there will be another attack, as I can be sure about anything:
"...I suppose I should be glad that our representatives in Washington are working hard to protect our rights. But in cases like this, I'm concerned that many of them don't know what's been happening during the last few years ((From and BBC.)):
  • "1972, September 5, Munich Olympic Games. Palestinian terrorists kill 11 Israeli athletes.
  • "1979, November 4, Teheran. Ayatollah Khomeini supporters take over U.S. embassy. Fifty-three U.S. diplomats held hostage until 1981.
  • "1983, April 18, Beirut. Islamic Jihad truck bomb hits U.S. Embassy. 63 dead.
  • "1983, October 23, Beirut. Hezbollah truck bomb hits U.S. Marines barracks. 241 dead.
  • "1984, December 4, Kuwait Airlines. Hijackers divert flight 221 to Tehran. 2 dead.
  • "1985, June 14, TWA flight. Hijackers divert flight 847 to Beirut. 1 dead (U.S. Navy diver Robert Dean Stethem, dumped on the airport tarmac).
  • "1985, October 7, cruise ship Achille Lauro. 69-year-old American Leon Klinghoffer and his wheelchair dumped overboard.
  • "1987, September 5, Pan Am. Abu Nidal hijacks flight 73 in Pakistan. 20 dead.
  • "1988, December 21, Pan Am. Libyan terrorists allegedly blow up flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, 259 dead.
  • "1990, November 5, New York City. A group including Ramzi Yousef kills Jewish Defense League leader Rabbi Meir Kahane
  • "1994, March 1, Brooklyn. Rashid Bas attacks a van transporting yeshiva students. 1 dead.
  • "1996, June 25, Dhahran area, Saudi Arabia. Unknown persons hit Khobar Towers with truck-bomb. 19 dead.
  • "1998, August 7, Kenya, Tanzania. Unknown persons hit U.S. embassies with car bombls. 291 dead.
  • "1993, February 26, New York. An al-Qaeda-financed group including Mohammed Salameh, Nidal Ayyad, Mahmud Abouhalima and Ahmad Ajaj, hit the Twin Towers with car bomb. 6 dead. "The blind sheik," Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman, masterminded the bombing.
  • "2000, October 12, Yemen. Al-Qaeda may be responsible for attack on USS Cole. 17 dead.
  • "2001, September 11, New York City; Arlington County; Somerset County, Pennsylvania. Al-Qaeda affiliates hijack airliners, destroy Twin Towers, damage Pentagon. Fourth airliner brought down in Somerset County field. 2,974 dead.
"I'm no accredited expert in international affairs, but I see a pattern here...."
("Congress Must Decide Who to Protect Americans From," (August 5, 2007))
It would be - nice - if everybody would agree to be nice.

That hasn't happened, apart from a few brief cease-fires, in the last 5,000 years. I don't think it's gonna happen now.

It may not be "nice," by some standards: but I think that investigators should be allowed to ask people questions, if there's reasonable cause to think that they know about plans to kill other people.

Related posts: In the news:
Excerpt from "Lawyer: Arkansas shooting suspect pleads guilty in letter to judge," CNN (January 22, 2010):
"...Before pleading not guilty, Muhammad waived his Miranda rights and gave a video statement indicating political and religious motives, authorities said.

"He 'stated that he was a practicing Muslim ... that he was mad at the U.S. military because of what they had done to Muslims in the past,' detective Tommy Hudson wrote in a police report at the time.

"Muhammad told police "he fired several rounds at the soldiers with the intent of killing them," according to Hudson's report.

"In his letter to the judge, Muhammad claimed he had links to al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula in Yemen, a group that has claimed responsibility for the attempting bombing of a U.S.-bound airliner on Christmas...."

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Imperialist American Aggressors Occupy Haiti?

I've had the news on, from a couple different networks, off and on yesterday and today. Nothing unusual there, for me.

And, nothing unusual in what I heard.
"The US has denied its military has taken charge of Haiti amid claims by France that the Americans were "occupying" the earthquake-ravaged country.

"Alain Joyandet, the French Cooperation Minister, has called on the UN to 'clarify' the American role in the impoverished country, which was previously colonised by both countries. 'This is about helping Haiti, not about occupying Haiti,' he said...."
It's true, by the way: Americans troops are on the ground in Haiti. Big, rough American soldiers with awful, nasty guns. 'Obviously' the work of an imperialistic warmonger aggressor.

Or, maybe, the work of a nation that doesn't particularly want big people in Haiti killing little people in Haiti, to get at supplies. Or, just for the fun of it.

I heard, this morning, about a doctor in a hospital in Haiti (sorry: that's as precise as it gets for me) say that he didn't see any need for those soldiers being in Haiti. His hospital hadn't been looted.

Normally, the Haitian government would be maintaining law and order with its usual efficiency. Since about 5:00 p.m., Haiti time, last week: a noticeable percentage of the Haitian government isn't there any more. Sure, they'll get reorganized in a while: but right now, the place is a mess.

America: Damned if We Do, Damned if We Don't

The way I see it, America has two basic options, when it comes to Haitians and the little matter of keeping bullies - armed and otherwise - from hurting people who may not be big, strong, and armed themselves.
  1. Do nothing
  2. Send troops in to keep that doctor alive
Option one might work: until that doctor stopped a bullet or some other person in Haiti got hurt. Then whatever happened would be the fault of heartless, uncaring America.

Option two has resulted in the usual 'Yankee imperialism' line. No surprises there. On the up side, that doctor will probably survive to complain about something else that the Americans did - or didn't do.

Why Send Big, Rough Soldiers?

America doesn't have much of a national police force. And can you imagine the fuss, if the Yankee imperialists sent FBI or CIA agents to Haiti?

The American military is under the command of the American government, in the person of the President. And - believe it or not - American soldiers really are trained for peacekeeping. Also building bridges and roads, if it comes to that.

Sure, it would be nice if everybody in Haiti were perfectly calm, collected, law-abiding people who would never dream of taking advantage of a lack of law enforcement. It'd be nice, but the last I checked: Haitians are human beings. Some of us aren't all that nice. And many Haitians have little reason to be perfectly calm and collected right now.

Related posts: In the news:

Friday, January 15, 2010

Americans and Generosity: Just a Thought

From the news:
"Haitian Community in Florida Sending Aid Back Home"
Voice of America (January 14, 2010)

"Members of Haitian communities across the globe are trying to reach their loved ones in the wake of Tuesday's earthquake. One of the largest communities of Haitians outside of the country itself is in Central Florida.

"Staff at an aid agency in Orlando sort through food, clothes and other items donated by members of the public. Harvest Time International sends thousands of kilos of aid to countries around the world. Special bins are for contributions for the people of Haiti...."

"...Florida businessman Michel Dorcean heads Orlando's Haitian American Chamber of Commerce. He is one of nearly 200,000 Haitians in Florida. Dorcean says Haitians around the world feel they need to contribute resources to help those back in their homeland. He said, 'There is more than four to five million people throughout the world in the Diaspora, and that is a very strong number. And this Diaspora - it is time for them to get together and pick up the plate and help out.'..."
Well, that's not so surprising. People who moved to America often kept in touch with family back home, wherever that was, and sent help when it was needed.
"Corporate America offers help to Haiti"
MyFoxOrlando (January 15, 2010)

"A broad range of U.S. corporations has already provided millions of dollars to fund relief efforts for earthquake-ravaged Haiti, helping provide urgently-needed food, supplies and disaster-management specialists.

"Haiti was stuck with a massive, 7.0 earthquake on Tuesday, leaving the capital city Port-au-Prince in ruins, killing an estimated 50,000 people and leaving millions without access to food and housing.

"President Barack Obama said Thursday that the U.S. government will provide $100 million for relief in Haiti and companies, too, are pitching in to help.

"Roger Lowe, senior vice president of communications at the American Red Cross, said that retailer Lowe's Companies Inc, Coca-Cola Co. and Bank of America Corp. have each donated $1 million to the organization to fund its earthquake relief efforts in Haiti.

"News Corporation, the parent company of FOX 35 has also announced that it will pledge $250,000 to the Haiti relief effort to be divided between the American Red Cross and the Salvation Army.

"In addition, News Corporation will match -- dollar for dollar -- contributions made by United States-based employees, up to $250,000 for the next four weeks to the following organizations: American Red Cross, Habitat for Humanity, Real Medicine, Salvation Army, UNICEF, Save the Children and Yele Haiti...."
Okay: That's a little odd. Aren't the bourgeois oppressing the working class something fierce, and tearing bread from the bleeding lips of the poor? Or something like that?

America Did Something Right?!

Being upbeat - or anything other than being derisive or dismissive, at best - about America and things American simply hasn't been fashionable for most of my life. Americans, if they're to appear sophisticated and intelligent, have been expected to keep up appearances by at least being apologetic about their citizenship.

In some circles, at least. The better ones, of course.

Don't Worry: You Can Believe This is All Lies

My guess is that, among the brightest and best - just ask them - in America, Voice of America is still decried as a tool of the imperialist oppressors. And MyFox Orlando? That's part of the infamous FOX news network: and 'everybody knows' they lie. All the time.

America Isn't Perfect

I'm half-Irish. I've never seen an "Irish Need Not Apply" sign: and don't feel at all bad about that. I think it helped that an Irishman could drop his accent, get a haircut, learn to be boring, wear dull clothes - and pass for 'Anglo.'

Whether the John F. Kennedy's election to the presidency was a cause or an effect in the acceptance of those papist Irish is debatable - but I'm getting off-topic.

Right now, Somali-Americans are among those who are enriching this country: and occasionally being disrespected by the usual jerks.

Like I said, America isn't perfect.

Let's put it this way: Pat 'blame Haitians' Robertson is an American.

America isn't All That Bad, Either

Fashionable anti-Americanism notwithstanding, I think that America is okay.

I hope that didn't offend anybody.

I ran into an aphorism today, on televised news. Didn't catch who said it, and this is probably more of a paraphrase than a quote. Anyway, here it is:

Americans aren't generous because they're rich. They're rich because they're generous.

I think there's an element of truth to that.

About America, from my point of view: About Haiti earthquake, in Apathetic Lemming of the North. About Haiti, from A Catholic Citizen in America

Monday, January 11, 2010

13th Sustainment Command (Expeditionary)'s on Twitter

I like to be able to write about something positive. This is one of those opportunities.

A few minutes ago, I learned about this Twitter account:

* Name MAJ Raul Marquez
* Location Fort Hood, Texas
* Web http://www.hood.a...
* Bio 13th ESC Public Affairs section is the link between the 13ESC and local, national and international media outlets as well as the Central Texas community.

Twitter URL:

You may know 13_ESC_PAO as the 13th Sustainment Command (Expeditionary).

Someone from that unit asked other Twitterers (Tweeters?) to promote the 13th's Twitter account: and now I have.

Nidal Malik Hasan: 'We've Got to Promote Him'?

Back in the sixties I didn't think that who a person's ancestors were should matter, when it came to deciding who got promoted and who didn't.

I didn't think it should matter in the eighties, and I still don't think a person's ethnic background should be a factor in deciding who gets what job.

Except in a few special cases. I mean, Chan Kong-sang (Jackie Chan) is a pretty good actor: but can you imagine him in the role of Martin Luther King? Which is another topic.

Open Minded Shouldn't Mean Empty Headed

It's looking more and more like the multiple homicide at Fort Hood on November 5, 2009, could have been avoided.

Major Nidal Malik Hasan is the [alleged, as contemporary mores dictate] Fort Hood shooter. He [allegedly, again] killed 13 people.

Major Nidal Malik Hasan is quite obviously not a New England Yankee, or any sort of WASP.

And yes, Major Nidal Malik Hasan is a Muslim.

I certainly don't think that Major Nidal Malik Hasan should have been excluded from the armed forces, or promotion, because his ancestors aren't Anglo-Saxon. Or because he's a Muslim.

I do think that it's quite natural that over 1,100 soldiers in the United States Army are Muslim. (November 6, 2009) As of 2007, about 0.6% of Americans were Muslims. ("CIA World Factbook," United States) With a population of very roughly 300,000,000 - about 18,000,000 Americans are Muslims. It'd be a bit odd, if a few weren't in the military.

But I do not, emphatically, think that Major Nidal Malik Hasan should have been promoted and given glowing evaluations because his ancestors aren't Anglo-Saxon, and in deference to his Muslim cultural heritage.

It's getting increasingly difficult to believe that political correctness wasn't a factor in Major Nidal Malik Hasan's remarkable military career.
"Fort Hood shooter's superiors ignored their own concerns"
News roundup, USA Today (January 11, 2010)

"A Defense Department review of the shooting rampage at Fort Hood, Texas, has found that doctors overseeing Maj. Nidal Hasan's medical training repeatedly voiced concerns over his strident views on Islam and his inappropriate behavior, yet continued to give him positive performance evaluations that kept him moving through the ranks. The picture emerging from the review ordered by Defense Secretary Robert Gates is one of supervisors who failed to heed their own warnings about an officer ill-suited to be an Army psychiatrist, according to information gathered during the internal Pentagon investigation and obtained by the Associated Press...."
That's it: the entire story in the USA Today News roundup.

Don't be surprised, if you don't see this in your paper. The little matter of Major Hasan's apparent immunity from logical consequences probably won't be in the evening news tonight, either. But, I could be wrong.

The USA Today News roundup paragraph did not give many specific facts, so I looked for more detailed information. That phrase, "obtained by the Associated Press" gave me a sort of handle for my search.

If you don't like what you see next, you are free to assume that it's all lies. The AP article was published on the FOXNews website. And, in some circles, 'everybody knows' that FOXNews lies. All the time.
"In Hasan Case, Superiors Ignored Their Worries"
The Associated Press, via FOXNews (January 11, 2010)

" A Defense Department review of the shooting rampage at Fort Hood, Texas, has found the doctors overseeing Maj. Nidal Hasan's medical training repeatedly voiced concerns over his strident views on Islam and his inappropriate behavior, yet continued to give him positive performance evaluations that kept him moving through the ranks.

"The picture emerging from the review ordered by Defense Secretary Robert Gates is one of supervisors who failed to heed their own warnings about an officer ill-suited to be an Army psychiatrist, according to information examined by investigators conducting the study.

"Hasan, 39, is accused of murdering 13 people on Nov. 5 at Fort Hood, the worst killing spree on a U.S. military base.

"What remains unclear is why Hasan would be advanced in spite of all the worries over his competence. That is likely to be the subject of a more detailed accounting by the department. Recent statistics show the Army rarely blocks junior officers from promotion, especially in the medical corps...."

"...In telling episodes from the latter stages of lengthy Hasan's medical education in the Washington, D.C., area, he gave a class presentation questioning whether the U.S.-led war on terror was actually a war on Islam. And students said he suggested that Shariah, or Islamic law, trumped the Constitution and he attempted to justify suicide bombings, according to the information reviewed by The Associated Press.

"Yet no one in Hasan's chain of command appears to have challenged his eligibility to hold a secret security clearance even though they could have because the statements raised doubt about his loyalty to the United States. Had they, Hasan's fitness to serve as an Army officer may have been called into question long before he reported to Fort Hood...." [emphasis mine]
Around this point in the article, I remembered Frank Burns, that red-white-and-blue-blooded all-American idiot doctor from the "M*A*S*H" television series. When Larry Linville's character was written out of the script, the hopelessly incompetent Dr. Frank Burns (if my memory serves) went AWOL, chewed the buttons of a nurse's uniform - then promoted and transferred to a stateside hospital.

In a television sitcom, that's perfectly okay.

When the real army seems to be acting the same way, I get concerned.

Back to excerpts from that AP article.
" July 2009, Hasan arrived in central Texas, his secret clearance intact, his reputation as a weak performer well known, and Army authorities believing that posting him at such a large facility would mask his shortcomings.

"Four months later, according to witnesses, he walked into a processing center at Fort Hood where troops undergo medical screening, jumped on a table with two handguns, shouted 'Allahu Akbar!' — Arabic for 'God is great!' — and opened fire. Thirteen people were killed in the spree and dozens more were wounded...."

"...After the Fort Hood shooting, Gates appointed two former senior defense officials to examine the procedures and policies for identifying threats within the military services. The review, led by former Army Secretary Togo West and retired Navy Adm. Vernon Clark, began Nov. 20 and is scheduled to be delivered to Gates by Jan. 15...."

"...Hasan's superiors had a full picture of him, developed over his 12-year career as a military officer, medical student and psychiatrist, according to the information reviewed by AP.

"While in medical school at the Uniformed Services University of Health Sciences from 1997 to 2003, Hasan received a string of below average and failing grades, was put on academic probation and showed little motivation to learn.

"He took six years to graduate from the university in Bethesda, Maryland, instead of the customary four, according to the school. The delays were due in part to the deaths of his father in 1998 and his mother in 2001. Yet the information about his academic probation and bad grades wasn't included in his military personnel file, leaving the impression he was ready for more intense instruction.

"In June 2003, Hasan started a four-year psychiatry internship and residency at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., and he was counseled frequently for deficiencies in his performance. Teachers and colleagues described him as a below average student.

"Between 2003 and 2007, Hasan's supervisors expressed their concerns with him in memos, meeting notes and counseling sessions. He needed steady monitoring, especially in the emergency room, had difficulty communicating and working with colleagues, his attendance was spotty and he saw few patients.

"In one incident already made public, a patient of Hasan's with suicidal and homicidal tendencies walked out of the hospital without permission.

"Still, Hasan's officer evaluation reports were consistently more positive, usually describing his performance as satisfactory and at least twice as outstanding. Known as 'OERs,' the reports are used to determine promotions and assignments. The Army promoted Hasan to captain in 2003 and to major in 2009.

"At Walter Reed, Hasan's conflict with his Islamic faith and his military service became more apparent to superiors and colleagues, according to the information. He made a pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia, a trip expected of all Muslims at least once. But he was also cited for inappropriately engaging patients in discussions about religious issues...."
(The Associated Press, via FOXNews) [emphasis mine]
Dr. Frank Burns was funny.

Major Nidal Malik Hasan, not so much.

The AP article doesn't say that Major Hasan's ethnic background or religious affiliation was involved in his remarkable immunity from the results of incompetence.

Maybe Nidal Malik Hasan's superiors like the way he looked, or the way he played poker.

Or maybe they were concerned that dealing with him the same way they would with some blue-eyed nitwit from Massachusetts would leave them open to the charge of Islamophobia.

Given the core values of America's dominant culture over the last few decades, I think that a sincere desire to avoid the appearance of Islamophobic, racist behavior is more reasonable than the poker hypothesis.

I could be wrong.

But Nidal Malik Hasan's substandard, disturbing, performance; and his continued promotions; remind me of the eighties, when political correctness was in flower. I was 'lucky,' as American culture expresses the idea. I could get out of the academic racket and get an honest job.

Those 13 people at Fort Hood: they won't be able to get on with their lives.

Related posts: In the news:

Saturday, January 9, 2010

"Allah," Dominant Cultures, and Tolerance

Update (January 10, 2010)
It's six churches in Malaysia now.
"2 more churches in Malaysia firebombed in 'Allah' row"
CNN (January 10, 2010)

"Two more churches in Malaysia were firebombed Sunday, bringing the total to six since a court ruled that non-Muslims can use the word 'Allah' as a term for God.

"No one has been hurt in the attacks, which began Friday. They follow a high court's ruling that Christians can use the word 'Allah' in literature printed in the country's official language, Malay.

"In Malay, the word for God is 'Allah,' as it is in Arabic.

"But many in the predominantly Muslim country, including the government, believe the word should be exclusive to Islam.

"The government has banned the use of the word in Christian literature, saying it is likely to confuse Muslims and draw them to Christianity...."
Prime Minister Najib Razak is either doing damage control for Islam, or trying to defuse a testy situation.

In fairness, America has seen anti-Islamic behavior.

For example, almost two years ago someone burned a mosque in Tennessee. Then the local (Christian) churches in town provided room for Muslims in the community to worship. A few days the churches had raised $10,000 for rebuilding the mosque, and were bringing in more money. Three white supremacists were charged in the crime. (February 16, 2008, February 13, 2008)

And late last year, someone put arguably pornographic anti-Islamic posters up in St. Cloud, Minnesota. (December 11, 2009)

What's going on in Malaysia - the government's recent confiscation of over 20,000 Bibles, and a half-dozen churches burned this weekend - seems to be a bit more that the work of a few disgruntled jerks.

It's really hard to avoid the impression that the Islam, Malaysian style, is turning into the weird mutation we've seen in "defend Islam from a teddy bear" Sudan and "women should only use one eye" Saudi Arabia.

It would take someone who's pathologically optimistic, to say that this period is Islam's shining hour.

From today's news:
"Fourth church attacked in Malaysia as Allah row deepens"
Reuters (January 9, 2010)

"Arsonists in Malaysia struck a fourth church on Saturday as the government tried to soothe tensions arising from a row over the use of the word "Allah" to refer to the Christian God."


"The unprecedented attacks risk dividing the mainly Muslim nation of 28 million people, which has significant religious minorities, and complicating Prime Minister Najib Razak's plan to win back support from the non-Muslims before the next elections by 2013.

"The row, over a court ruling that allowed a Catholic newspaper to use Allah in its Malay-language editions, prompted Muslims to protest at mosques on Friday and sparked arson attacks on three churches that saw one Pentecostalist church gutted.

"While Najib visited the badly damaged Pentecostalist church and offered a government grant of half a million ringgit ($148,100) to maintain 'a harmonious society,' church leaders said they wanted more concrete assurances of safety.

" 'We ask the government to make a strong statement to these wrongdoers so we can worship in peace on Sunday,' Reverend Hermen Shastri, secretary-general to the Council of Churches Malaysia, told Reuters...."

Religion and Politics

More, from the same article:
"...Christians account for nine percent of the 28 million population, with a sizable number of non-English speaking Christians in Malaysia's Borneo island states of Sabah and Sarawak who have used the word 'Allah' for decades.

"Najib's handling of the issue will determine whether he can keep the support of the Malays and win back ethnic Chinese and Indian voters to solidify his grip on power after taking control of the government last year...."
I'm glad I'm not Prime Minister Najib Razak - or any other political leader. It's hard enough, making rational decisions, without the added complication of trying to retain at least grudging support from "the public." Particularly when "the public" includes groups whose decision-making process appears to be anything but rational.

Add religion to the mix, and leadership can be really exciting.

Before I write anything else:

A Clarification

Judging from server logs, quite a few people who read this blog use ISPs in the United States. (I do not track individuals, and don't have the resources to do so: but I do pay attention to browser statistics.) Many others are in western Europe.

Odds are, you've heard that religion and science get along as well as mongoose and cobra; and that faith and reason are utterly, totally, completely and diametrically opposed concepts. I know that, at least since the 19th century, one of the dearly-cherished notions in American culture is that faith and reason are utterly incompatible.

This post may make a bit more sense, if you realize that I do not go along with the crowd on this point. Although I have heard and read statements which are rather clearly "religious," and which seemed to be comparatively unsullied by logic or reason: I do not think that faith and reason are incompatible.

As with so many other things, 'if a hundred million people really believe in a stupid idea, it's still a stupid idea.' In my opinion, "vox populi, vox dei" notwithstanding. I've discussed my views on reason and faith in another blog, and put links to some posts in From A Catholic Citizen in America below, under "Related posts." (I'm the Catholic citizen, by the way: That's right: I'm one of those people.)

Back to Who Gets to Say "Allah," Tolerance, and All That

Yet another quote from that Reuters article. This will be the second-to-last in this post - really.
"..."Don't point fingers and say UMNO is racist...when churches are burned," he said referring to his party, the United Malays National Organization (UMNO) that is the linchpin of the National Front that has ruled the country for 52 years.

"But Malay-Muslims, including those in UMNO, fear the word could be used by Christians to proselytize to Muslims, which is already illegal in the Southeast Asian country...."

The Myriad Faces of Tolerance

A legal ban on Christian proselytizing? It sounds so reasonable, in a way. Particularly, from a few politically correct points of view, Malays are foreigners, and non-Western at that: so just about anything they do is okay.

Besides, 'everybody knows' what those Christians are like. (Actually, I remember the 'good old days,' when one "Christian" group near the campus I was on seemed to be working on a quota system. I've suspected that their hard-sell tactics may account for quite a few of today's American Buddhists. But that's another topic.

Yeah: I can see where someone would want to ban Christian proselytizing. Or Muslim proselytizing, for that matter. And no, that's not different.

I emphatically do not want legal restrictions on people telling other people about what they believe, and why. I think that existing legal sanctions against people who advocate murder take care of extreme cases, like some hypothetical bunch of head-hunters.

It's no altruism on my part. I'm a convert to Catholicism, and am all too well aware at what it's like to be part of a religious minority. No 'victimology' here - just noting that a whack job warning about Jesuit assassins is merely an extreme on one continuum of attitude toward Catholics and other "Satanic cults."

Tolerance For Me, and Nobody Else?!

I think all too many people, when they say they want "tolerance," actually mean that they want those people who agree with them to be free to say what they like, have unrestricted access - tax-supported, if possible - to communications channels, while people who don't have the approved beliefs are sanctioned if they try to say what they think.

Americans are human beings, with all the failings - and potential - that goes with it. It shouldn't be surprising that America doesn't have a perfect record when it comes to tolerance. Two recent examples come to mind:

Blacklists: HUAC and Commie Hunts

You've probably heard of it as the "Hollywood blacklist," but the House on Un-American Activities Committee or HUAC, searched for commies far beyond that Los Angeles suburb. I'm a bit unfair with that heading: the House on Un-American Activities Committee didn't brand everybody in Hollywood as a commie, and all physicists weren't blacklisted for flirting with communism - or having a relative who did.

But the 'McCarthy era' hurt a great many people for what seem now to be frivolous reasons. I remember the trailing edge of it, and it left a very bad taste in my mouth.

Political Correctness

Where many if not most Americans know about the anti-communist hysteria of McCarthyism, and recognize it as a bad idea, "political correctness" may not ring as many bells.

I've gotten the idea that it's a non-phenomena that never existed, as far as some of the 'better sort' are concerned. Can't say that I blame them. PC's effect on American academia has the potential, I think, to do to liberal philosophy what McCarthyism did to the conservative world view, about a half-century back now.

I've discussed PC and related topics quite often: March 4, 2009, June 27, 2008, April 29, 2008, for starters.

People who say that political correctness doesn't exist, and never did, may not be lying. To lie is (among other things) "tell an untruth; pretend with intent to deceive" (Princeton's WordNet) [emphasis mine] I made the point, March 28, 2008, that a commander at Fort Detrick had probably said something about powdered anthrax that wasn't true: but that he wasn't lying.

To lie, a person has to make a statement - with knowledge that the statement is false.

Over Age in Grade Campus Radicals

When someone - let's call him George. Let's also say that George was part of an exciting, vibrant social movement in his youth. George saw many of his dreams realized, and has for the last several decades lived and worked among people with ideas and ideals very much like his.

How nice for George.

And how easy for George to slip into the habit of assuming that all nice, reasonable people are just like him: who believe just about exactly what he believes.

There are socially-conservative Christians like that.

There are also, I'm quite convinced, quite a number of academics like George.

A Brief Flashback to the 'Good Old Days'

I was was in a peace march, in the early seventies, for my own reasons. But I wasn't really committed to a people's movement against oppressor classes. Actvists' Utopian dreams looked good on paper, but even then I had been learning a little too much about homo sapiens sapiens and the last few thousand years of history to think that a people's collective would really work. Not on a large scale, anyway.

Turns out, judging from what happened in Russia in the early nineties, I was right. But that's yet another topic.

The point is, that quite a few people who were campus radicals, back in the 'good old days,' are now old coots around my age.

Quite a few of them went on to pursue successful academic careers.

I had different plans. After college, I had jobs chopping beets, being a radio disk jockey, delivering flowers, and working as an advertising copywriter.

Lucky me. No kidding.1

Philosophical stances aside, what most distinguishes me from over age in grade campus radicals is, I think, my knowledge that Woodstock is history, disco is dead, and a whole lot has happened since transistors stopped being stand-alone components.

Unkind? Unfair? Maybe: but I think that the implications of global online communities, who do not depend on 'official' information gatekeepers, haven't quite sunk in for many traditional academicians.

Back to Malaysia and Tolerance

Just a short review: that Reuters article's leader was:
""Arsonists in Malaysia struck a fourth church on Saturday as the government tried to soothe tensions arising from a row over the use of the word "Allah" to refer to the Christian God."
I've discussed religion quite a bit in this post - more than is usual for this blog. That's because
  • Quite a number of Muslims have fairly well-defined religious beliefs
    • Including those in Malaysia
  • I have fairly well-defined religious beliefs, myself
  • I prefer tolerance over intolerance
    • The issue in Malaysia appears to be primarily one of religious tolerance
      • Although I think other factors are in play
        • Ethnic differences
        • Economic imbalance
          • Real or
          • Imagined
I find comparisons useful. Since the "row" in Malaysia over what "Allah" is supposed to mean, and who is allowed to use the term, is - apparently - a religious issue, it seems sensible to compare Malaysia with the country whose language, culture, and customs I know best: America.

America is a "Christian" country, right? Well, sort of. A 2007 estimate broke out religious belief, or lack of it, this way:
  • Protestant 51.3%
  • Roman Catholic 23.9%
  • Mormon 1.7%
  • other Christian 1.6%
  • Jewish 1.7%
  • Buddhist 0.7%
  • Muslim 0.6%
  • other or unspecified 2.5%
  • unaffiliated 12.1%
  • none 4%
    ("World Factbook," United States, CIA (last updated November 27, 2009))
There was a time, not too many generations back, when America was overwhelmingly Protestant. Some folks are still getting used to the change. Which is yet another topic, again.2

Let's look at Malaysian religious beliefs, from 2000:
  • Muslim 60.4%
  • Buddhist 19.2%
  • Christian 9.1%
  • Hindu 6.3%
  • Confucianism, Taoism, other traditional Chinese religions 2.6%
  • other or unknown 1.5%
  • none 0.8%
    ("World Factbook," Malaysia, CIA (last updated December 22, 2009))
Malaysia 9 years ago reminds me of how I remember America, around the sixties: Just substitute "Protestant" for Muslim and "Catholic" for Buddhist. I'm talking ratios here - and recalling an impression. It was surprisingly difficult to find data for religious affiliation in America, past about 1990. I couldn't find anything from what I thought would be accepted as a reliable source. Not that I spent all that long, looking.

Where was I? Right. Malaysia, America, percentages of who believes what.

Whether or not Malaysian Muslims have a point in trying to keep everyone else from using the word "Allah" in a way they don't like is more than I know. I suppose the question could be approached like a trademark dispute: but some Muslims in Malaysia probably wouldn't like that, either.

One point that interested me was that, according to Reuters, Christians in the Malaysian states of Sabah and Sarawak who don't speak English have used the word "Allah" to mean "the Christian God" for decades.3

Freedom of Expression Must Extend to Everybody: Not Just the Majority

Muslims in Malaysia may be on a voyage of discovery, in which they'll have opportunities to learn how to have sincere religious beliefs: without wanting to either kill everybody who doesn't agree with them; or make it illegal for 'the wrong sort' to talk about what they believe.

America, with quite a few stumbles along the way, has come - grudgingly, it sometimes seems - to a point where, by and large, and with notable exceptions, most people are free to believe what they want. And, again by and large, free to discuss what they believe in public.

I don't agree with everything that Muslims and Evangelicals and Buddhists and Taoists and Atheists say. But if I expect to have my right to express my views maintained: I'd jolly well better see to it that everyone else has that right, too.

Related posts: Background:
    Dan Georgakas, from Buhle, Buhle, and Georgakas, ed., ENCYCLOPEDIA OF THE AMERICAN LEFT, (Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press (1992)
  • "Oppenheimer, (Julius) Robert"
  • "Robert Oppenheimer"
    • Professor Robert Oppenheimer was 'blacklisted,' but not very much
      • "...Oppenheimer found himself knocked down a few pegs but still able to continue on as a professor...."
    • I still am not convinced that R. Oppenheimer's treatment was entirely reasonable
  • "The 'Other Oppenheimer' and the World He Made Up"
    Berkeley Labs News Center (November 06, 2009)
    • Mostly about Frank Oppenheimer

1are the establishment. And, sadly, may not realize what happened.

Me? Thanks to a highly eclectic job history, I have fairly detailed knowledge of how several industries work, from the inside, and had time to "...follow knowledge like a sinking star, Beyond the utmost bound of human thought...." If I'd stayed in the academic establishment, I wouldn't have been obligated to conform to a degree that I could not tolerate.

So, why would an allegedly-sane man who doesn't conform easily, and has issues about authority, convert to - of all things - Catholicism?

That's a topic for another blog. These posts, in A Catholic Citizen in America, are a some in which I discuss how I came to have the views I do now: 2 America has changed during my lifetime. A lot.

For one thing, when I was a child, "Christian" in American English - in the area I lived in, anyway - meant "Protestant." Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox? Nope: They're not "Christian." Why? They're just not, that's all. That's changed, I think. Can't say I'm sorry, either.

Researching this post, I found numbers for religious affiliation in America in 1990 and 2001. The figures were headcounts for each group, plus a count for all adults counted. America's adult population went up quite a bit: from 175,440,000 or so in 1990 to 207,980,000 in 2001: so I converted the numbers to percentages of the adult population, to get an apples-to-apples comparison:

Total Christian86.35%76.69%
Protestant with no denomination supplied9.81%2.23%
Christian with no denomination supplied4.60%6.80%
(From data in Self-Described Religious Identification of Adult Population: 1990 and 2001, U.S. Census)

The fifties and sixties were even less like today's America. Me? I've always understood that only a few members of my extended family are 'real' Americans: having lived here for several millennia before Europeans found the place. The rest of us were "foreigners" not all that many generations ago.

So it's easy for me to accept the idea that some of my nieces are Filipino the way I'm a Scotsman, and that quite a few of my fellow-Minnesotans don't look Scandinavian. At all. (more: "Somali-American Jamal Bana: You are Missed" (July 13, 2009))

From the way some melanin-deficient 'regular Americans' still express themselves, I'd say that not everyone has gotten the memo that not all Americans are New England Yankees any more.

Of course, we never were.

3 I wouldn't call "the Christian God" "Allah," but then, I live in North America, and speak American English.

Around here "God" with a capital "G" is what the folks in my parish call the person who I am quite convinced made an agreement with Abraham, three or four millennia back. (Preface to the New American Bible - which you don't have to read if you don't want to) There wouldn't be "Christian" anything for over a thousand years after that - but never mind, I think I know know what Reuters means.

And, as if to make things more confusing, "god" with a lower-case "g" is synonymous with "deity" - a somewhat generic term. It's also an expletive.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

'Everybody Knows' Poverty Causes Terrorism: So How Come - - - ?

Poverty causes crime. 'Everybody' knows that.

Poverty causes the sort of crime that many of the oppressor classes call "terrorism." 'Everybody' knows that, too.

In some circles, everybody really does feel that those 'facts' are real.

Poverty, Crime, Terrorism, and - Excuse Me While I Rant

A blog post in The New York Times started with "Sec. Clinton gave an excellent speech on development today. She has a longtime interest in poverty issues...." (NYT blog)

Apparently Ms. Clinton and the entire very intelligent and caring Obama administration is doing everything it can to end world poverty. That's nice, by the way, in my opinion: the goal, anyway.

And, the blog post continued: "...In contrast, President Bush never seemed very interested in global poverty...."

This is not a political blog, as I've written before.

But, also as before, here in America politics determines who our leaders are - and, to a great extent, politics determines foreign policy. And that does fall within the scope of Another War-on-Terror Blog.

Poverty is Real, and It's No Virtue

Poverty - relative poverty, at any rate - is a part of the human condition. I'm "poor" by some standards: by choice. Lower middle class, at any rate, and certainly not living a 'typical' American lifestyle. (more at "Lemming Tracks: Lower Middle Class and Loving It" (December 14, 2009)) There was a time when I was glad to be living in a nine-by-twelve room with a window, and a lavatory with running water down the hall. My wife and I own the house we live in now, but it's no split-level ranch in the suburbs, or whatever the status house is this decade.

Not that I wouldn't mind having the mean $60,000 or so annual income of your 'average American household. (U.S. Census, 2004) I could even learn to live with owning a private jet, a helicopter, a chalet in Aspen to match the one in St. Moritz, and about a hundred square miles of northern Minnesota.

Like Tevye said, in "Fiddler on the Roof:"
Perchik: "Money is the world's curse."
Tevye: "May the Lord smite me with it. And may I never recover."

("Memorable Quotes for 'Fiddler on the Roof' "
I think that a person can practice virtue - or vice - while living in poverty. Or, while living with riches. Which gets into ideas like free will - and I'm dangerously close to wandering even more off-topic.

Poverty, Virtue, and What Everybody Knows That Just Ain't So

Assuming that there's a causal relationship between poverty and virtue or vice isn't limited to any one philosophical stance.

At one time, you'd be likely to hear from some goofy preacher that poor people are inherently honest and rich people aren't. That weird little belief went over big, apparently, among some congregations of people from the shallow end of the economic pool.

The flip side of that notion is the "prosperity gospel," which was popular a decade or so back, among another demographic. And was, I think, equally daft. But I'm getting off-topic again.

That's a couple flavors of Christianity in America. The idea that there's a cause-effect link between poverty and inappropriate behavior (not everybody believes that things can be "wrong") shows up in some of the 'better' circles of American culture, too.

I think that the resumes of the 9/11 hijackers and the people involved with the London-Glasgow car bombings helped shake the assumption that poverty causes crime. For a while, though, it looked like we'd have a new stereotype on our hands. ("Cool Heads, Lukewarm Brains, And Dr. Haneef" (July 30, 2007)) Which is yet another topic.

Poverty Causes Crime, Right?

Which is why crime ran rampant across all the land, during the Great Depression.

Wondering why you haven't read about that in your history text? The Great Depression Crime Wave didn't happen. Crimes were committed: but luminaries like "Pretty Boy" Floyd and Bonnie and Clyde (1932-1934) stick out, I think, because they were the exception to the rule. And, arguably, colorful individuals.

There doesn't seem to be some vast right-wing conspiracy to cover up a huge crime wave during the Great Depression. It simply didn't happen.

Implications of the lack of fit between the 'poverty-equals-crime' belief and America's monumental economic slump seem to be sinking in. About seven decades after the fact. ("Experts: Bad Economies Don't Cause Crime Waves," Laura Sullivan, National Public Radio (November 20, 2008))

And that is not getting off-topic.

Poor, Poverty-Stricken Osama bin Laden?!

Osama bin Laden, who put his family on America's cultural landscape back in 2001, probably isn't enjoying an affluent lifestyle right now.

Being intimately involved with an attack on America that resulted in about 3,000 deaths will do that. The fuss over Bonnie and Clyde is nothing, compared to American authorities' response to Al Qaeda.

Osama and his family weren't exactly poverty-stricken at the turn of the millennium.
"...Osama bin Laden is one of more than 50 children of a Yemeni-born migrant who made a vast fortune building roads and palaces in Saudi Arabia and his extended family spans the globe. Many have been educated in the United States and the family has donated millions of dollars to several American universities...."
(CBS News)
Incidentally: there's little-to-no reason to believe that many or most of Osama bin Laden's relatives share his views about killing people who aren't sufficiently Islamic - by Al Qaeda's standards. And, let's remember that the FBI helped many of them get out of America, before red-white-and-blue-blooded American nitwits lynched them.

Stereotypes: Convenient, But Poor Substitutes for Facts

I've run into quite a number of odd beliefs in my time. At various times, I've heard or read that:
  • Commies are behind all problems
  • American imperialists cause all problems
  • All problems are caused by
    • Blacks
    • Whites
    • Chinese
    • Japanese
    • Jews
    • Catholics
    • Religion
      • Especially Christianity
    • Whatever
  • Poverty causes crime
I'm a bit skeptical - to put it mildly - about all of the above. If nothing else, those sincerely-held beliefs paint reality in strokes that are 'way too broad.

Take 'American imperialism,' for example. I'm not happy about the way the Hawaiian Islands were confiscated, and I am happy that the federal government has finally started recognizing treaties it made with the American nations, well over a century ago. But I don't see big, bad Amerika as the imperialist warmonger it's made out to be in some circles.

After all, we recently elected a Hawaiian president: Is that really the act of imperialist oppressors?

And the notion that the way to fight terrorism is to end world poverty is - excessively hopeful, in my opinion.

I think it would be nice to reduce or, if possible, eliminate the root causes of poverty.

I'd also like to see an end to all disease, and live in a world where all women are beautiful, I could eat as much as I like and not gain weight, and cable television is free. Somehow, I don't think that's gonna happen.

But, although I don't think it's possible to eliminate relative poverty - human beings are too individual for that, in my opinion - I also think that trying to reduce or eliminate conditions which inhibit human enterprise are laudable.

Work to End Poverty? Fine! But Get a Grip

I think it would be folly to believe that poverty alone causes terrorism, and to treat terrorists the same way that we treat individuals who commit crimes.

As I wrote earlier this week, terrorists - the leaders, at least - don't seem to be misunderstood street kids who just need a break. And giving them art lessons doesn't seem to make them into nice people.

Acting on the basis of high ideals that were groovy when Woodstock was news might feel good. It would also, in my opinion, get a lot of people killed: people who weren't trying to kill other people who, like myself, aren't sufficiently Islamic. Again, by Al Qaeda's standards.

The War on Terror is a real war. Leaders of the other side won't like us, or even tolerate our existence, unless we embrace their peculiar brand of Islam. Which isn't all that likely, considering how much Americans and others like beer, dogs, and soccer.

More-or-less related posts: Background:

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

If We Don't Discuss It, It Doesn't Exist?

There was a time when you'd find people - good, upstanding pillars of the community, members of the country club who went to the right church and everything - acted as though problems could be ignored into oblivion.

If you remember the fifties and sixties, you know about this sort of thing: the prominent businessman whose secretary had to take a long vacation; the society matron whose doctor prescribed extra-strength happy pills; and so on, all the way to that famous meeting of the Harper Valley PTA.

And, of course, there were the hidebound conservatives who really believed that any criticism of "the government" was tantamount to treason.

That was then, this is now. "The establishment" has a different preferred reality, apparently - and I find that I'm still at odds with it.

"Wouldn't it be Loverly?"

I've made the point before, that I don't think war is nice. I also think that it would be nice if everybody would just get along.

Somehow, though, I doubt that people like Osama bin Ladin are likely to decide that they'd feel a whole lot better if they stopped hating the west and killing Muslims who didn't live up - or down - to their standards.

It would be nice, if you could take a dedicated terrorist, be nice to him, show him how to draw nice pictures, and wind up with a nice person who's ready to embrace the whole wide world in one big fuzzy hug. As Eliza Doolittle sang, Wouldn't it be Loverly?"

Or, as the Beach Boys put it: "Wouldn't it be Nice?"

Not, however, very likely. In my opinion.

Art Lessons for Terrorists: You Can't Make This Sort of Thing Up

I've seen enough applied psychology work, over the decades, to be cautious about dismissing most ideas. "Art therapy rehabilitation," though, is quite close to the edge of the envelope when it comes my willingness to be open-minded.
"...Mohammed Atiq al-Harbi, also known as Mohammed al-Awfi, and Said Ali al-Shihri were sent home to Saudi Arabia, where they were admitted to an 'art therapy rehabilitation programme' and later set free, US and Saudi officials said...."
Those art lessons didn't go entirely to waste. A deputy leader (Said Ali al-Shihri) and a field commander (Mohammed al-Awfi) for Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, or AQAP, now should be able to draw nice pictures - if called upon to do so. (France24)

Terrorists Don't Believe They're Terrorists

I'm going out on a limb here, but it seems that terrorists - the Islamic-crazy sort, at any rate - believe that what they're doing is right.

Just as Joseph Burges apparently thought that God wanted him to kill people who did naughty things. (A Catholic Citizen in America (July 24, 2009))

Except Al Qaeda and the Taliban have a whole lot of people like Joseph Burges - and they're organized.

I think it's the height of folly to act as if Osama bin Laden, Mohammed Atiq al-Harbi, Said Ali al-Shihri, and others like them, are like misunderstood street kids who just need a break to go straight.

War isn't Nice, But This is War

The War on Terror may no longer exist - officially (March 30, 2009) - but there's a (loosely) organized set of organizations who earnestly, sincerely, passionately believe that God is telling them to kill people.

The people they want to kill don't, quite often, want be killed. What we have, therefore, is a conflict.

The War on Terror isn't a nice, old-fashioned, gentlemanly war where a formal declaration of war is sent - and a battle arranged after tea on some mutually-acceptable afternoon. I rather doubt that wars were ever quite like that - and the War on Terror certainly isn't of that sort.

But it is a war. Over 3,000 people abruptly stopped breathing on September 11, 2001.

Some died when an exploding airliner sprayed bits and pieces of their bodies over New York City. Some didn't get out of New York City's World Trade Center in time. Some, the ones caught on floors above the impact points, couldn't.

Others were crushed, burned, or asphyxiated when an airliner crashed into the Pentagon.

Still others were retaking their airliner when it crashed into a field in Pennsylvania.
I won't 'Get Over It'
It might sound grand to say something like 'put the past behind me' or 'let bygones be bygones' or 'live and let live.' The problem is, the people who keep Al Qaeda and the Taliban going - as well as the other Islamic terrorists - (not all Muslims) aren't willing to 'live and let live.'

And, nice as it sounds, it doesn't take two to make trouble. Not when one of them is intent on killing the other.

This is One Problem That Won't Just Go Away

Back to the 'Harper Valley PTA' strategy, of ignoring a problem - unless it involves someone else.

Pretending that the War on Terror doesn't exist makes about as much sense, I think, a giving terrorists art lessons and feeling that they'll be nice people as a result.

The people running Al Qaeda and like-minded outfits are, quite simply, not nice. Wanting them to be nice, hoping that they'll be nice, treating them nicely, and pretending that everything's nice: isn't nice. It's stupid. And, potentially, lethal.

There's More - There's Always More

If you haven't gotten enough of this post: There's more. I put excerpts from the news and op-ed pieces that got me started, as well as some of my running commentary, after the links in this post.1

Related posts: News and views:
1Excerpts from today's news and views:

Prisoners released from Guantanamo return to fight for al Qaeda

"You won't see this story in many of the U. S. Elite fact we could not find a mention of it in any of the major papers or broadcast networks. While it is true they all reported several different articles on President Obama's announcement that he was closing Guantanamo they somehow have missed the story. You have to look in the British press to find it.

"The story is that many of the Guantanamo prisoners that are being moved out of the Cuban prison have ended up back on the battlefield fighting with al Qaeda. In fact, 74, at least, have returned to the battlefield. Six prisoners were returned to Yemen last month.

"Meanwhile, there are also reports that a significant number of al Qaeda fighters have moved from Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan to Yemen...."
(News and Commentary, Beaufort Observer)
Lots of assertions, not many specific facts. This is what I started with, this afternoon. I thought that the claims made were quite likely true: but I've learned to research, rather than assume.

So, I started digging: starting with "look in the British press to find it." There's quite a bit of "the British press," but at that clue narrowed the search a trifle.

U.S. suspends Guantanamo prisoner transfer to Yemen

"The Obama administration on Tuesday suspended the transfer of detainees from the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay to Yemen as a result of the deteriorating security situation there.

"President Barack Obama bowed to political pressure from Democratic and Republican lawmakers not to send any more prisoners to Yemen as a result of revelations that a would-be bomber on a Detroit-bound plane had received al Qaeda training in Yemen.

"Several of the roughly 91 Yemeni detainees at Guantanamo Bay had been cleared to be sent home, as the Obama administration struggles to close the prison.

"White House officials made clear that the suspension was considered a temporary one.

" 'While we remain committed to closing the (Guantanamo) facility, a determination has been made, right now any additional transfers to Yemen is not a good idea,' said White House spokesman Robert Gibbs...."
Well, that's interesting. I'm not sure quite what to make of Reuter's turn of phrase - "...President Barack Obama bowed to political pressure...." - but let it pass. Besides, I doubt that someone with the Beaufort Observer would think Reuters was "the British press."

US suspends Guantanamo to Yemen transfers

"The US has said it is temporarily suspending the transfer of prisoners to Yemen from the Guantanamo Bay detention centre in Cuba.

"The move comes after it emerged the Nigerian man accused of trying to bomb a US plane on 25 December was allegedly trained by al-Qaeda in Yemen.

"More than 80 Yemeni men were due to be moved from Guantanamo Bay, as the US tries to shut down the camp.

"Officials fear many could re-join militant groups if sent back to Yemen.

"While we remain committed to closing the facility, the determination has been made that right now, any additional transfers to Yemen are not a good idea," said White House spokesman Robert Gibbs.

"US President Barack Obama has come under pressure to halt Guantanamo transfers to Yemen since investigators said 23-year-old Nigerian Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab had been trained in that country to blow up a transatlantic flight to Detroit on Christmas Day.

"It was alleged last week that the bomb plot was planned by two men who were released by the US from Guantanamo Bay in November 2007.

"Mohammed Atiq al-Harbi, also known as Mohammed al-Awfi, and Said Ali al-Shihri were sent home to Saudi Arabia, where they were admitted to an 'art therapy rehabilitation programme' and later set free, US and Saudi officials said...."
Do I really need to say it? BBC - the British Broadcasting Corporation - is, well, British. This could be the source alluded to by the B.O.

Said Ali al-Shihri isn't exactly a household name here in America, but it looks like he's a very important person in Al Qaeda. Specifically, there's good reason to believe that he's the deputy leader of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, or AQAP. Mohammed Atiq al-Harbi? He's only an Al Qaeda field commander. ("Key figures in al Qaeda's Yemeni branch," France24 (January 5, 2010))

Well, at least both of them should be able to draw nice pictures now.

'Bad guys' make it difficult to close Guantánamo

"The Christmas Day airline bomb plot, with its direct links to al-Qaeda in Yemen, is causing a big headache at home for President Obama and, in particular, for his already deeply troubled effort to close Guantánamo Bay.

"Of the 198 detainees still in the prison, nearly half — 91 — are from Yemen.

"In the past 24 hours there have been calls from Republicans and Democrats for the White House to freeze plans to repatriate many of them to Yemen...."

"...There is little confidence in Washington over Yemen's ability to secure its prisoners, or keep tabs on those that have been released. Memories are still fresh of a 2006 jailbreak by 23 top al-Qaeda members. 'All transfers of Yemeni detainees should stop,' Senator Joseph Lieberman, an independent, insisted.

"Two of the four top leaders of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula — Saudis called Said al-Shiri and Muhammad al-Awfi — are former Guantánamo detainees who crossed into Yemen after being sent back to Saudi Arabia. Of the more than 800 who have passed through the site in Cuba since it opened in January 2002, 108 have been Yemenis — and only 18 have been repatriated.' 'Yemen has produced an unusually high percentage of seriously bad guys,' said Benjamin Wittes, a Guantánamo expert at the Washington-based Brookings Institution. 'Given Yemen is likelier than the average country to be really scary, and the Government less likely than about all others to keep an eye on them and manage the risk, you end up with a very difficult combination of circumstances.' "
(Times Online (UK))
Or maybe this is "the British press" resource that the Beaufort Observer's writer used. Or, maybe not.

That failed Christmas weekend attempt to bring down Northwest Flight 253
(December 27, 2009) has been quite an embarrassment to the American president. From the looks of it, though, traditional American news media has recovered from the surprise - and administration officials are being quite a bit more prudent about off-the-cuff remarks. (December 28, 2009)

The Yemen connection? Not so obvious in American news coverage. My opinion.

Key figures in al Qaeda's Yemeni branch

"Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) has claimed a botched Christmas Day attack on a US-bound flight in a statement released on the Internet. FRANCE 24 takes a look at some of the group's top leaders.

"Days after the failed attack on Detroit-bound Northwest Airlines Flight 253, the international spotlight has focused on Islamist networks in Yemen, where 23-year-old Nigerian Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab was reportedly trained by an al Qaeda bomb-maker. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has called the situation in Yemen 'a threat to global and regional security'.

"But the threat from Yemen – especially from al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), the group that has claimed the Christmas Day plot – is not a new phenomenon.

"US and Yemeni authorities have been familiar with some of the key figures in Yemeni jihadist circles for the past few years. An alarming number of top AQAP leaders have passed through US and Yemeni detention centres and they are well-known to authorities in both countries.

"The 'emir': Nasir al-Wuhayshi

"A Yemeni former aide to Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan, al-Wuhayshi, was in Tora Bora, near the Pakistani border, during the US-led offensive after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks. He escaped via Iran and was arrested by Iranian authorities who then extradited him to Yemen in 2003...."
(France24 (January 5, 2009))
This is a pretty good background resource: I hope France24 keeps the page online.

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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.