Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Lebanese Man Due for Beheading in Saudi Arabia

I think it's safe to say that people who enjoy living on this side of the 16th century should stay well away from Saudi Arabia. In today's news:
"A Lebanese man charged with sorcery and sentenced to death in Saudi Arabia is scheduled to be beheaded on Friday, the man's lawyer said Wednesday.

"May El Khansa, the attorney for Ali Hussain Sibat, told CNN that she and Sibat's family were informed about the upcoming execution. She said she heard from a source in Saudi Arabia with knowledge of the case and the proceedings that Saudi authorities 'will carry out the execution.'..."
Saudi Arabia is an outstanding example of a nation that follows Islamic law - just ask them.

As I've said before, "With friends like these, Islam doesn't need enemies."

The House of Saud's enforcers got their hands on Sibat when he was in Saudi Arabia for the Islamic religious pilgrimage known as Umra. If the 'gotta go to Mecca' sort of pilgrimages didn't predate the family that runs that anachronistic kingdom, I'd wonder if those Islamic requirements were made to help the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques keep an eye on his franchise.

I've written about this sad case before.

Related post:In the news:

The CIA, the BBC, Iran, and an Iranian Scientist

"Iran nuclear scientist Shahram Amiri 'defects to US' "
BBC (March 31, 2010)

"An Iranian nuclear scientist who has been missing since June has defected to the US, according to a US media report.

ABC News said Shahram Amiri had been resettled in the US and was helping the CIA in its efforts to block Iran's nuclear programme.

Mr Amiri disappeared in Saudi Arabia while on a Muslim pilgrimage.

Iran accused the US of abducting him but Washington denied any knowledge of the scientist. The CIA has declined to comment on the latest report. ...
Well, maybe the CIA kidnapped an Iranian scientist, implanted a chip in his brain that makes him say what they want him to, and the IAEA's concerns about Iran's nuclear program are all part of a CIA plot.

And maybe the world is really run by shape-shifting space-alien lizard people.

I rather doubt it. Not that somebody in the CIA would capture ("kidnap," if you must) an Iranian scientist: that the international concern about Iran's nuclear program is some kinda plot.

Which isn't what the BBC article says.

They're awfully careful, though, to focus on the CIA's interest in Iran's activities.

Don't Look Behind the Curtain

I think it's remotely possible that Iran has been ramping up its production capacity for weapons-grade heavy metals and obstructing U.N. efforts to let inspectors look at the 'peaceful' nuclear program's facilities. Possible, but not likely.

Related posts:

Sunday, March 28, 2010

A Chilly Cell, the AP, the CIA, and Emotions

An AP story, about the death of a "militant" in a CIA prison:
"More than seven years ago, a suspected Afghan militant was brought to a dimly lit CIA compound northeast of the airport in Kabul. The CIA called it the Salt Pit. Inmates knew it as the dark prison.

"Inside a chilly cell, the man was shackled and left half-naked. He was found dead, exposed to the cold, in the early hours of Nov. 20, 2002.

"The Salt Pit death was the only fatality known to have occurred inside the secret prison network the CIA operated abroad after the Sept. 11 attacks. The death had strong repercussions inside the CIA. It helped lead to a review that uncovered abuses in detention and interrogation procedures, and forced the agency to change those procedures...."
(The Associated Press)
Anyone who likes perfection, instant gratification, and universal niceness, will not like the CIA, or the American judicial system. I'm no fan of America's Department of Justice myself: largely because of what I continue to view as ideologically-motivated efforts to achieve social engineering. A catchphrase describing that sort of thing has been "legislating from the bench." We may be emerging from that - interesting - period. Which is another topic.

What, if Anything, does This Article Show?

I don't know that I'd fault The Associated Press for the article's second paragraph:
"Inside a chilly cell, the man was shackled and left half-naked. He was found dead, exposed to the cold, in the early hours of Nov. 20, 2002."
Yes, it paints a vivid picture, and uses emotive terms when more clinical ones could have been employed. But news services are businesses. One of their primary goals is to make a profit. Experience seems to show that strumming on people's heartstrings is an effective way to sell newspapers.

And The Associated Press made what might be viewed as a remarkable statement in the third paragraph:
"...The death had strong repercussions inside the CIA. It helped lead to a review that uncovered abuses in detention and interrogation procedures, and forced the agency to change those procedures...."
Reform? CIA?? As something that's happened?! Not as something tearfully called for by the Society for the Liberation of Chilly Half-Naked Prisoners? There are days when I think that an acknowledgment by a traditional news service that the CIA did something right is news in itself.

The AP makes up for that (error?) a bit later in this article:
"...The CIA's program of waterboarding and other harsh treatment of suspected terrorists has been debated since it ended in 2006. The Salt Pit case stands as a cautionary tale about the unfettered use of such practices. The Obama administration shut the CIA's prisons last year.

"It remains uncertain whether any intelligence officers have been punished as a result of the Afghan's death, raising questions about the CIA's accountability in the case. The CIA's then-station chief in Afghanistan was promoted after Rahman's death, and the officer who ran the prison went on to other assignments, including one overseas, several former intelligence officials said.

"The CIA declined to discuss the Salt Pit case and denied a Freedom of Information Act request submitted by the AP...."
(The Associated Press)
I'll repeat the first paragraph of that excerpt again.
"...The CIA's program of waterboarding and other harsh treatment of suspected terrorists has been debated since it ended in 2006. The Salt Pit case stands as a cautionary tale about the unfettered use of such practices. The Obama administration shut the CIA's prisons last year...."
The AP doesn't actually say that waterboarding is what killed that "militant." But I think an argument can be made that it's implied. Hats off, in a way: the paragraph is, to the best of my knowledge, factually accurate.

And, I think just as important: the AP acknowledges that the CIA has reformed its practices. Yes, it was "forced to:" but I suspect that since the article does not mention who or what applied the force, it wasn't the Obama administration or a 'concerned citizens' outfit.

I learned about "checks and balances" in high school. The American system has them built into its government. The people who wrote the Constitution apparently realized that this new country's government would be staffed by human beings: and that we're not perfect. Oversight - intelligent oversight - is important.

Although it's the "fourth estate," and not a formally-recognized part of government, I think the press is in effect a sort of 'check and balance' on governmental institutions. Which is one reason why I think the Freedom of Information Act was a good idea.

I also think that allowing some requests for information to be denied is a good idea.
"...The CIA declined to discuss the Salt Pit case and denied a Freedom of Information Act request submitted by the AP...."
Do I think the CIA is trying to cover up something? Of course I do! They'd jolly well better be trying to cover up those details of their operation which could get their agents and American citizens killed.

It's possible, of course, that the CIA is engaged in some sort of plot to enslave the world, stifle freedom, and kill fur seals. Maybe that's why they denied the AP's request. Or maybe the CIA is more interested in protecting Americans, than in selling newspapers.

Related posts:
In the news:

Friday, March 26, 2010

South Korean Navy Ship Just Happens to be Sinking

North - and South - Korea are in the news again.

I'd be more worried, if this didn't look like one more shakedown by Dear Leader's enforcers. Of course this time the rulers of that worker's paradise may have gone over the edge, aren't after money or concessions: And think that having a few nuclear bombs gives them an edge over America. And China. And Russia. And Japan, and all the other countries in that part of the world.

So far, CNN's calling it an "accident." Yes, the South Korean Navy ship could just happen to be sinking near an island that just happens to be near the disputed border between Dear Leader's land and a country that's functional.

In the news:
"Several South Korean sailors were killed and one of its naval ships with more than 100 aboard was sinking on Friday after possibly being hit by a North Korean torpedo, South Korean media reported.

"A South Korean vessel fired at an unidentified vessel towards the north and the South's presidential Blue House was holding an emergency security meeting, Yonhap news agency said.

"South Korea's YTN TV network said the government was investigating whether the sinking was due to a torpedo attack by the North.

"The network also quoted a government source saying it was unclear yet whether the incident was related to North Korea.

" 'We are currently focusing on rescuing people,' the source said...."

"...The latest incident comes as destitute North Korea is facing pressure to end its year-long boycott of international nuclear disarmament talks, where it can win aid to prop up its broken economy in exchange for reducing the security threat it poses to the region. (Reporting by Cho Mee-young and Kim Miyoung; Writing by Jon Herskovitz; Editing by Alex Richardson)"
(Reuters AlertNet (March 26, 2010))
A few minutes ago, I read a Reuters report: Apparently a South Korean ship has fired on an unidentified vessel. This occurred after the first South Korean ship started sinking.

It's 'way too early to tell just what is happening. Dear Leader may want more money, or a special seat at the United Nations, or something: in which case, we're in for another round of bad behavior by the boss of North Korea.

Or maybe some North Korean naval commander started believing his outfit's propaganda, and snapped.

Or maybe a South Korean naval vessel just happened to spring a leak, some number of the sailors on board just happened to drop dead, and all this just happened to occur near Dear Leader's territory. It's possible. Unlikely, but possible. Very unlikely.

But it's 'way too early to tell.

Related posts:In the news:

Saturday, March 20, 2010

China, Paper on How to Bring Down USA Power Grid: All a Big Misunderstanding?

It'd be nice if what's happening in China is all just a big misunderstanding. Something that a little chat over tea could straighten out.

That would be nice.

I'm old enough to remember the 'good old days' of the sixties, when idealistic kids kept hearing messages like this oldie:
"...Nothing to kill or die for.
And no religion, too.
Imagine all the people.
Living life in peace...
"Imagine" (1971)

I'm not terribly nostalgic about the sixties - or the fifties. Or any period I've experienced. My memory's too good. They've all had their pleasant and unpleasant aspects, just like today.

Which brings me to a news item involving China. Bear in mind, this is in today's New York Times: Hardly a rabble-rousing ultra-conservative right wing hate monger like [fill in your choice of the newer crop of Information Age news services].
"Paper in China Sets Off Alarms in U.S."
The New York Times (March 20, 2010)

"It came as a surprise this month to Wang Jianwei, a graduate engineering student in Liaoning, China, that he had been described as a potential cyberwarrior before the United States Congress.

"Larry M. Wortzel, a military strategist and China specialist, told the House Foreign Affairs Committee on March 10 that it should be concerned because 'Chinese researchers at the Institute of Systems Engineering of Dalian University of Technology published a paper on how to attack a small U.S. power grid sub-network in a way that would cause a cascading failure of the entire U.S.'

"When reached by telephone, Mr. Wang said he and his professor had indeed published 'Cascade-Based Attack Vulnerability on the U.S. Power Grid' in an international journal called Safety Science last spring. But Mr. Wang said he had simply been trying to find ways to enhance the stability of power grids by exploring potential vulnerabilities.

" 'We usually say "attack" so you can see what would happen,' he said. 'My emphasis is on how you can protect this. My goal is to find a solution to make the network safer and better protected.' And independent American scientists who read his paper said it was true: Mr. Wang's work was a conventional technical exercise that in no way could be used to take down a power grid.

"The difference between Mr. Wang's explanation and Mr. Wortzel's conclusion is of more than academic interest. It shows that in an atmosphere already charged with hostility between the United States and China over cybersecurity issues, including large-scale attacks on computer networks, even a misunderstanding has the potential to escalate tension and set off an overreaction...."

"...In an interview last week about the Wang paper and his testimony, Mr. Wortzel said that the intention of these particular researchers almost did not matter.

" 'My point is that now that vulnerability is out there all over China for anybody to take advantage of,' he said.

"But specialists in the field of network science, which explores the stability of networks like power grids and the Internet, said that was not the case.

" 'Neither the authors of this article, nor any other prior article, has had information on the identity of the power grid components represented as nodes of the network,' Reka Albert, a University of Pennsylvania physicist who has conducted similar studies, said in an e-mail interview. 'Thus no practical scenarios of an attack on the real power grid can be derived from such work.'

"The issue of Mr. Wang's paper aside, experts in computer security say there are genuine reasons for American officials to be wary of China, and they generally tend to dismiss disclaimers by China that it has neither the expertise nor the intention to carry out the kind of attacks that bombard American government and computer systems by the thousands every week...."
I think The New York Times deserves credit for standing by its convictions. Repeating part of one of those (too?) long excerpts:
"...It shows that in an atmosphere already charged with hostility between the United States and China over cybersecurity issues, including large-scale attacks on computer networks, even a misunderstanding has the potential to escalate tension and set off an overreaction...."
(The New York Times) [emphasis mine]
There's nothing in that sentence that's inaccurate. There is "hostility between the United States and China", and it's quite true that "a misunderstanding has the potential to escalate tension and set off an overreaction."

But note the 'it takes two to tussle' point of view. If there is "hostility between the United States and China", there can't be one side causing the hostility - unless it's America. And in this case, I don't think even The New York Times could publish that and be taken seriously.

And then there's that wonderful phrase about "misunderstanding". In context, it's fairly easy to imagine that intolerant, racist, xenophobic America is likely to misunderstand the nice people who benevolently see to the welfare of the masses in China.

Or, not. I can't see into the minds of the NYT news editors, and so can't tell for sure what they 'really' meant.

This may mark me as a hide-bound intolerant 'poor, uneducated and easily led' radical right-wing conservative extremist: but on the whole I'd rather live in America, than in China. This is a country people are trying to break into. ("A Reporter Escapes the Taliban, Monks Escape China" (June 20, 2009))

Other related posts:And click "China" in this blog's label cloud.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Ali Hussain Sibat, Islamic Law, and Getting a Grip

With friends like these, Islam doesn't need enemies.
"TV presenter gets death sentence for 'sorcery' "
CNN (March 19, 2010)

"Amnesty International is calling on Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah to stop the execution of a Lebanese man sentenced to death for 'sorcery.'

"In a statement released Thursday, the international rights group condemned the verdict and demanded the immediate release of Ali Hussain Sibat, former host of a popular call-in show that aired on Sheherazade, a Beirut based satellite TV channel.

"According to his lawyer, Sibat, who is 48 and has five children, would predict the future on his show and give out advice to his audience.

"The attorney, May El Khansa, who is in Lebanon, tells CNN her client was arrested by Saudi Arabia's religious police (known as the Mutawa'een) and charged with sorcery while visiting the country in May 2008. Sibat was in Saudi Arabia to perform the Islamic religious pilgrimage known as Umra...."
The Saudi legal system seems to have, ah, interesting procedures. Ali Hussain Sibat's case apparently went to an appeals court. And bounced a few times.
"...The case was taken up by the Court of Appeal in the Saudi city of Mecca on the grounds that the initial verdict was 'premature.'

"El Khansa tells CNN that the Mecca appeals court then sent the case back to the original court for reconsideration, stipulating that all charges made against Sibat needed to be verified and that he should be given a chance to repent.

"On March 10, judges in Medina upheld their initial verdict, meaning Sibat is once again sentenced to be executed.

""The Medina court refused the sentence of the appeals court," said El Khansa, adding her client will appeal the verdict once more..."
Ali Hussain Sibat and his family are people I'm sincerely glad I'm not.

Diversity and Islam

At times like these, it's a little difficult to shake the impression that Islam is the property of the House of Saud. I've written before, though, about Muslims around the world stretching Islamic beliefs and practices over whatever culture they have.

I'll admit that it makes Islam one of the more colorful of the world's major religions. You've got everything from the lot that's running Sudan to Indonesia's people deciding what Islam is. Having no central authority (that I know of) probably helps.

In its own way, Islam is one of the finest examples of diversity on the planet.

Culture Shock

It's occurred to me that Islam may have lasted this long partly because until the last generation or so we didn't have transoceanic telephone cables, communications satellites, and the Internet.

Another few generations back, and telegraph service was the latest thing in information technology. I live in America, where we've kept up, at least: and I remember when you couldn't call someone in, say, Hong Kong or Mumbai without negotiating your way across the globe. Good grief. I remember when Mumbai was Bombay. ("Well, That's Interesting: Brooklyn and the Names of Things," Drifting at the Edge of Time and Space (March 9, 2010))

Getting back on-topic:

Over the centuries, every Muslim who could had to go to Mecca at least once. My guess is that most of the foreign Muslims were savvy enough to keep quiet about their own culture's brand of Islam. Death threats, particularly from an area's rulers, get people's attention. Back in the 'good old days,' foreign Muslims might not know all that much about what was "Islamic" and what wasn't in Mecca when they started their journey. But they had plenty of time to pick up travelers' tales on the way.

No airlines, remember?

So the folks around Mecca probably didn't get shocked too often. When they did, the carnage that followed would probably ensure that the next set of pilgrims would have gotten word that you didn't do whatever horrific thing the deceased did.

Like wear the wrong kind of clothes.
Welcome to the Information Age
Until just a few generations ago, almost all the folks on the Arabian peninsula seem to have been living pretty much the same way that their ancestors did when Abram moved out of Ur and changed his name.

Things weren't exactly placid as the millennia rolled by. Energetic cultures like the Assyrians, Persians, Greeks, and Romans shook things up a little: but that was mostly politics and warfare. As each empire in turn (Alexander the Great was from the area we call Greece these days) had its heyday and crumbled, the nomads and farmers lived in a way Abraham would have recognized and understood.

Then, about four and a half centuries back, someone invented a machine that knitted socks. That was, arguably, the start of the Industrial Revolution. A century earlier, somebody in Germany invented movable type. You could call that the start of the Information Age, although I'm inclined to use Jacquard loom's invention or the implementation of telegraph technology as a significant milestone.

Then as century followed century, canals were built, steam power developed, factories automated, robot spaceships sent out to explore the solar system, and hundreds of channels of cable programming made available to just about anybody with a dish antenna.
Meanwhile, Back on the Saudi Peninsula
Meanwhile, folks living around Mecca and Medina weren't being bothered much. Which seems to have suited them just fine. Change can be - and usually is - a bit difficult to deal with.

Then folks in Europe - a place that had been bothered, big time - developed machines that needed something with more power per pound than coal. Today, we've got nuclear reactors, are working on developing fusion reactors, and there's a promising development or two in antimatter production. But we're still using petroleum products.

A lot.

The Arabian Peninsula is mostly desert. But underground are some of the world's richest petroleum deposits.
We're Rich! Good News, Bad News
I've gotten the impression that the first generation or so of oil production in Arabia profited westerners more than the folks living there. But things change and a few decades back, sheiks with suitcases full of money were a staple news item. At least one of the mansions they built here in America set a new standard for tastelessness.

It's likely enough that they acted as - eccentrically? - as they did in large part because back home they'd have been executed for indulging their personal tastes. Over here, they were among foreigners who simply didn't care what you did with your place, aside from restrictions like how much yard you had to have. But as long as you didn't own a place with a neighborhood association, pretty much anything goes.

Loud taste in lawn ornaments, repressed for decades and suddenly released, is not a pretty sight.

But that's yet another topic.

More seriously, the folks back home were dragged over several thousands of years of cultural change in a generation or two. A world of burqas and Sharia law suddenly had things like individual rights, Barbies, soap operas, bikinis, Mickey Mouse, Ex-Lax, and Budweiser roaring in over satellite feeds with hundreds of television channels.

Islam as a House of Saud Franchise?

I'm pretty sure it's not, but as I said before, it's hard to shake the impression that Islam is a sort of franchise owned by the "Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques." (November 14, 2008) Many franchises let local owner-operators tailor the brand to local culture: just like Islam has been shaped to fit a wide variety of cultures.

I hope the House of Saud doesn't see it that way: and I'm not going off on that topic.

16th Century Values, 21st Century Information Technology

Seriously: I can see charging Ali Hussain Sibat with fraud, if he received goods or services from his listeners, in exchange for (bogus, I trust) predictions. But I'm an American: and fortune tellers are legal in most parts of the country, provided they have some sort of 'for entertainment purposes only' notice up.

I think it helps that Americans had to learn to live with people who didn't believe exactly what they did, since before the revolution. All those Protestant Christians who came over from England probably look like a homogeneous group to an outsider. But many came over because they were convinced that they alone were the true believers, and all the rest were wrong. There were a lot of groups like that.

But as the 13 colonies grew - and eventually got fed up with King George III - these mutually antagonistic groups learned that cooperation and coexistence are good ideas.

America has more diversity now, ethnically, culturally and religiously, which I think helps us keep from going (too) crazy over religious differences.

Which is a good thing for me. As a Catholic, I'm part of a religious minority. Which, getting back to Ali Hussain Sibat, means that I wouldn't touch anything like the sort of fortune telling he seems to do. Divination is something we're not supposed to do. (" 'If you must see ghosts ...' Materialism, Being Spiritual, and Uncle Deadly," A Catholic Citizen in America (December 18, 2009))

But, apart from protecting people from fraud, I wouldn't force my beliefs on anyone. It's against the rules.1

And yes, I know about the Spanish Inquisition. If you're an American, it's well to remember that those legal proceedings came to America after being filtered and edited by the sincerely non-Catholic English culture. Henry VIII and all that.

And, as I've said before, America isn't perfect. (July 3, 2008)

But execute someone because he did on-air fortune telling? Get a grip. This is the post-Magna-Carta world. You don't like fortune telling? You think it's wrong? No problem. But get a grip: Tell people why you think it's wrong; don't kill them.

Related posts:In the news:More:
1Like I said, I'm a Catholic, and we've got rules about a lot of things: including tolerance.Those documents are about as dry as their titles suggest. But they give a pretty good look at what the Catholic Church really teaches - not what you hear on the evening news.

That 2001 document refers to a United Nations Conference. I'm not the biggest fan of the United Nations, but the Church works with them, and with the national governments of places like America, China and Haiti. About fifteen centuries back, we worked with the war bands of barbarian Europe (my ancestors, by the way). We'll work with anybody.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

GovSec/U.S. Law 2010 Conference and Expo: March 23, 24

This is the first time I've written a 'promotional' post on Another War-on-Terror. Odds are that it'll be the last for quite a long time. That's not the sort of thing I do, as a rule.

This, however, looks interesting.

GovSec/U.S. Law 2010 Conference & Expo
Washington, D.C., March 23, 24

If you plan to go for business purposes: I urge you to use due diligence, and make sure that GovSec provides the information and networking resources you want. Don't get me wrong: I think this looks interesting, but I haven't researched it the way I would something that I'm spending money on.

This link list, derived from the GovSec 2010 Expo home page, may help you navigate parts of their website.Finally, Thanks to Kalin Tyler, of GovSec U.S Law Team/Tuvel Communications, for the heads-up on this conference.

If you decide to attend, I'd appreciate informative feedback about the expo.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Sean Penn: Passionate Defender of Hugo Chavez

Another reason I'm glad this isn't the 'good old days,' when ABC, CBS, NBC and PBS decided what the masses got to see on television, and The New York Times, along with a few other northeastern papers, led the way for all those lesser newspapers.
"If Oscar-winning actor Sean Penn had his way, any journalist who called Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez a dictator would quickly find himself behind bars.

"First Amendment be damned . . . If Oscar-winning actor Sean Penn had his way, any journalist who called Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez a dictator would quickly find himself behind bars.

"Penn, appearing on HBO's "Real Time with Bill Maher" on Friday, defended Chavez during a segment in which he detailed his work with the JP Haitian Relief Organization, which he co-founded.

" 'Every day, this elected leader is called a dictator here, and we just accept it, and accept it' said Penn, winner of two Best Actor Academy Awards. 'And this is mainstream media, who should -- truly, there should be a bar by which one goes to prison for these kinds of lies.'..."
(March 8, 2010)
I understand Mr. Penn's point of view quite well. I grew up less than two blocks from a college campus, and was immersed in America's dominant culture for decades.

Looks like things haven't changed much. As far as the self-described best and brightest are concerned, America and Venezuela are just alike. Except Venezuela isn't a 'racist, hateful, polluting, warmonger capitalist oppressor.'

It's true, sort of. Venezuela is a federal republic, just like the United States. We're a "Constitution-based federal republic" - but that's pretty close. (CIA World Factbook) Venezuela has a president, too: it's quite a popular title for the boss man of a country, these days.

And yes, Venezuela has elections. For that matter, so does Iran.

Welcome to the Information Age

I checked. Sean Penn was born in 1960: the start of a - remarkable - decade. My guess is that he truly, passionately, believes that Hugo Chavez is a fine fellow. After all, he was elected. And, at least as importantly, despises America. That last is a vital point, for anyone who wants to be considered 'intelligent' in some circles.

After all, 'everybody knows' that America is the embodiment of all that is icky. And if you don't agree, you're 'unintelligent.'

There's nothing like quite peer pressure to keep folks in line.

I'm not convinced that democracy, federal republics, or even elections are a guarantee that competent, caring people get into executive positions. I think America has a good system: but that's another topic.

So, since this is America, Mr. Penn can publicly express the opinion that reporters should be jailed for disagreeing with him. And, so far, reporters are free to report on Mr. Penn's remarks.

When I was growing up, the three commercial television networks plus (later) PBS were it as far as television programming was concerned. When network news came into its own: if they didn't think something was newsworthy, you didn't see it on television. If they did, you saw it. Over and over.

American newspapers weren't as rigidly structured: but since the sun rises over the east coast first, editors for papers like The New York Times were the first to start scanning the welter of information coming over the wire. They decided what would be 'in the news' for that day.

And other editors, often with smaller staffs, would look to The New York Times and it's cousins for guidance. They didn't have to: but with deadlines and a limited staff, it made sense to save a little time and assume that The New York Times editors knew what they were doing.

What everybody seems to have missed is that The New York Times is a hometown paper for New York City's upper crust. Nothing wrong with that: but I'm glad that we've got other information resources now.

Related posts:In the news:

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Iraq, Elections, the Usual News, and Kids With Inky Fingers

An election happened in Iraq, in early 2009. You've read about the violence: traditional news services have seen to that with their usual efficiency.

This, you may not have read about:
"Defying instructions by the Baghdad Operations Command (BOC) not to take children to the voting centers, some of the young ones went, but only to color their fingers with the indelible voting ink in imitation of their elders.

" 'My five-year-old protested staying at home and insisted on coming with us to the ballot centers, not giving much interest to other kids’ plans to play football in the streets that were empty of cars due to the traffic ban,' Umm Ahmed, a local resident of the New Baghdad area, told Aswat al-Iraq news agency.

"Voting centers in Baghdad and other 13 provinces started at 07:00 a.m. Baghdad local time to receive eligible voters who are electing their candidates to occupy all 440 seats in local councils amidst blanket security measures.

"Umm Ahmed pointed out that her son colored his fingers with the voting ink to pompously boast among his peers that he was the only kid in the family who was allowed to cast his vote...."
(Aswat al Iraq, English language edition)
Offhand, I'd say we won: particularly if the leaders that Iraqis vote in tell American/coalition forces to leave their country.

My guess is that they're no more foolish than another selection of humanity - and whatever they say, they won't do anything unless they're sure they can hold their country together without outside help. If Iraq's new leaders tell the foreigners to go home, I figure that means they've got situations well in hand.

And if it turns out they're wrong, we'll still be here.

Related posts:In the news:
A tip of the hat to mstoneman, on Twitter, for the heads-up on Iraqi kids with inky fingers.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Armenian Genocide Vote: Turkey Displeased

If you haven't run into this in the news, you probably will in the next few days:
"Turkey said on Friday chances of its parliament ratifying peace protocols with Armenia were jeopardized by a U.S. congressional panel vote that labeled as 'genocide' the massacre of Armenians by Ottoman Turks in 1915...."
Maybe not on Reuters, but it's been in The New York Times and on The Associated Press feeds: so odds are that your favorite news source will get around to mentioning that vote.

Or, not. Depends on what the editors decide.

And what Congress does.
"There are no plans at this point to schedule a full U.S. House of Representatives vote on a resolution labeling as genocide the World War One-era mass killings of Armenians by Turks, a Democratic leadership aide said on Friday...."
Congress works according to a set of rules - or is supposed to. The 'genocide' resolution was non-binding, and may not have the support required to pass the matter along.

You may not have heard of the 'Armenian genocide' in the early 20th century. Interestingly, Turkey had a different government when all those Armenians just happened to drop dead (the official explanation). Not a different administration. Not a different party with a majority of votes. A different government.

The closest analog, using American history, would be to imagine a situation where someone criticized actions taken by a royal governor, pre-1776. And the American Congress took that as a personal affront.

I've written about this before.

Related post:
In the news:

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Fatwa Condemning Terrorism? Apparently

If this is on the level, it's a big step:
"A Muslim scholar has issued a fatwa, or religious ruling, that says suicide bombers are destined for hell.

"Tahir ul-Qadri condemned terrorism and criticized Islamic extremists who cite their religion to justify violence.

"Ul-Qadri's 600-page fatwa is "arguably the most comprehensive theological refutation of Islamist terrorism to date," according to the Quilliam Foundation, a London organization that describes itself as a counterterrorism think tank...."
Sounds nice, and I'd like to believe that what CNN says is the whole story. That's not a criticism of CNN, by the way. Any reasonably short summary of a lengthy document - particularly if the original is in another language, which this fatwa may or may not be - runs the risk of leaving out critical subtleties.

Like the much-vaunted Jihadist reform program run by Saudi Arabia, a few years back. Sure enough: terrorists who went through the program were (probably) convinced that they should renounce terrorism and not commit violent acts. Against the House of Saud. On the Arabian Peninsula.

After those little qualifiers leaked out, we didn't hear quite so much about the program.

In this case, I'd like to believe that the fatwa really says what CNN says it does.

What we read sounds very nice:
"...'Terrorism is terrorism,' ul-Qadri said at a news conference hosted by the foundation. 'Violence is violence. It has no place in Islamic teaching, and no justification can be provided to it ...'..."
Given what we've heard so many times, though: I find it hard to take this at face value.

I hope that "terrorism" is not defined as acts of violence directed against Muslims without the direct approval of an imam; that "violence" is not defined as a destructive act committed by a non-Muslim under the direction of a Muslim - you get the idea.

Am I being overly-suspicious? Maybe. I rather hope so.

I'd prefer to believe that a few Muslim leaders, here and there around the world, are following the example of a mosque in Canada: and stepping into today's society.

For many, whose ancestors had been out of the loop since around the time Abraham moved out of Ur, the change is going to be very difficult. Others, not so much.

I think there is hope that Islam can exist in the Information Age.

That's not just wishful thinking. Quite a few Minnesotans are first- and second- generation Somali immigrants now: going through the same difficult process of putting down roots that many of my ancestors went through, not all that long ago.

Although some have dropped out of sight, to reappear in pieces in Somalia, most are quietly going about the business of making a living and raising a family. Don't expect to read about that in the news, though: that sort of common sense seems to confuse old-school news editors. (More: "Somali-Americans in Minnesota: According to The New York Times" (July 12, 2009))

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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.