Saturday, July 31, 2010

Blogs, Freedom of Speech, and Threats to the Status Quo

This is - interesting.
"Will Washington's Failures Lead To Second American Revolution? "
Ernest S. Christian & Gary A. Robbins, Perspective, Investors Business Daily blog (July 30, 2010)

"The Internet is a large-scale version of the 'Committees of Correspondence' that led to the first American Revolution — and with Washington's failings now so obvious and awful, it may lead to another.

"People are asking, 'Is the government doing us more harm than good? Should we change what it does and the way it does it?'

"Pruning the power of government begins with the imperial presidency...."

"...Bill Clinton lowered the culture, moral tone and strength of the nation — and left America vulnerable to attack. When it came, George W. Bush stood up for America, albeit sometimes clumsily...."
The bloggers' view of America's current administration is somewhat less than favorable: understandably, in a publication devoted in part to the idea that owning private property is okay.

The bulk of the post concerns economic issues which I believe are important, but which fall outside the purview of this blog. The point of interest, for Another War-on-Terror Blog, is in the first paragraph:
"The Internet is a large-scale version of the 'Committees of Correspondence' that led to the first American Revolution — and with Washington's failings now so obvious and awful, it may lead to another...."
(July 30, 2010)
Before writing what I think about the Internet, information gatekeepers, and change, a few points:
  • This is not a political blog
    • I occasionally discuss politics because that's how America selects its leaders
    • I am not "for" or "against" the president
      • Particular policies are another matter
  • I do not call for the overthrow of the American government
    • That would be
      • Illegal
      • Messy
      • Likely to give us something even less acceptable

What are Information Gatekeepers? Why are They So Upset?

I've discussed this before:
...According to Princeton's WordNet, an gatekeeper is literally a doorkeeper or doorman: someone who guards an entrance. "Gatekeeper" may also be used as a metaphor:
"gatekeeper (someone who controls access to something) 'there are too many gatekeepers between the field officers and the chief' "
(Princeton's WordNet)
So, an "information gatekeeper" is someone who controls access to information.

Information Gatekeepers in America

For several generations, the traditional information gatekeepers in American culture included
  • Newspaper editors
  • Teachers and organizations of teachers
  • Leaders of colleges and universities
  • Entertainment industry executives
  • Publishers of books and magazines
There are others, like politicians and military leaders - but I'm inclined to think, "...if you will let me write the songs of a nation, I care not who makes its laws...."1

A problem I see with America's traditional information gatekeepers is that, by the 20th century, a very small group of people had a great deal of control over what the rest of us were allowed to know. I don't think this was (entirely) intentional....
(August 14, 2009)
That's the way it was for most of the latter part of the 20th century. Then people started using the Internet, and now we've got blogs - including this one - publishing ideas that haven't been approved by America's traditional information gatekeepers.

I don't mind the way things are, in terms of freedom of speech: but I'm not part of America's established order, either. My ideas are not politically correct: I even think it's okay for people to use dangerous technology like guns, LP gas and computers. (June 27, 2008)

I think America's traditional information gatekeepers are very concerned that people like me are free to share ideas with others.

They should be.

It seems that many folks who are not part of America's power structure now realize that they're not the only ones who are fed up with the status quo.

Back in the 'good old days,' it was possible to convince many - perhaps most - folks who didn't entirely agree with the establishment's way of thinking that their only allies were inarticulate crackpots. (A Catholic Citizen in America (April 1, 2010))

Today, not so much. Some bloggers are crackpots. Some aren't - and there isn't any way of making sure that anti-establishment ideas are presented almost exclusively by crackpots.

No wonder folks in the establishment are concerned.

Saving a Spunky Girl Reporter, Retaining Our Freedom

At least, America doesn't have a way of filtering what "the masses" see on the Internet - yet. That may change.

Earlier this week, a attractive ESPN reporter made an emotional appeal for the government to do something about those awful people on the Internet. (Apathetic Lemming of the North (July 29, 2010)

She's got a point. What happened to her wasn't right. Stalking is a bad thing, and people shouldn't do it.

But I'm very concerned that, months before an election, an attractive young woman makes an emotional cry for help - pleading that the government save her from nasty people online.

As I said, she's got a point: existing laws against stalking should be enforced, and perhaps the penalties are insufficient.

But that's not what she asked for.
"...She said, 'If somebody could think of something, I mean, they'd be a hero because, you know, there's just a lot of stuff that needs to be policed; that needs to be looked at. No one's held accountable for what they put on the Internet.'..."
(Erin Andrews, quoted on CNS News, via Apathetic Lemming of the North (July 29, 2010))
'Will no-one save her?!' My concern that the American Congress will rush to rescue this fair damsel - and set up regulations that will keep unsavory characters away from the American public.

Unsavory characters like stalkers, terrorists, and Ron Paul supporters.

Related posts:Baqckground:

Friday, July 30, 2010

WikiLeaks, Killing People Who don't Agree, and Living in the Real World

From today's news:
"U.S. worried more secret documents may be released"
Reuters (July 30, 2010)

"U.S. officials are worried about what other secret documents the whistle-blowing website WikiLeaks may possess and have tried to contact the group without success to avoid their release, the State Department said on Friday.

"The shadowy group publicly released more than 90,000 U.S. Afghan war records spanning a six-year period on Sunday. The group also is thought to be in possession of tens of thousands of U.S. diplomatic cables passed to it by an Army intelligence analyst, media reports have said.

" 'Do we have concerns about what might be out there? Yes, we do,' State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley told a briefing, adding that U.S. authorities have not specifically determined which documents may have been leaked to the organization...."
My take on the data dump / leak / whatever? It's not a good thing. I might not have chosen quite so colorful a phrase as some American officials have, but I'm in general agreement with this:

"Both Crowley and Gibbs expressed concern that the document dump might expose U.S. intelligence-gathering methods and place in jeopardy people who had assisted the United States.

" 'You have Taliban spokesmen in the region today saying they're combing through those documents to find people that are cooperating with American and international forces. They're looking through those for names. They said they know how to punish those people,' Gibbs said...."

"The People have a Right to Know"

"The people have a right to know," and permutations on that phrase, have been around for decades. I associate it with the National Inquirer, probably because of that "Inquiring minds want to know" marketing campaign.

The idea that an informed populace is necessary is, I think, correct: at least, in a country where citizens can vote on issues and/or who their leaders will be. Which takes "the people have a right to know" out of the realm of "Diet of Doom" journalism and into a rather more serious area.

Censorship, Freedom of Speech, and Common Sense

The real world isn't particularly well-suited to simple solutions. Not when it gets to the nuts-and-bolts level.

I don't particularly like censorship. I've written about that before. Quite a lot, I see.

On the other hand, I'm aware that there are people in the world who are not nice. At all. Some of them flew airliners into skyscrapers almost 10 years ago, with regrettable results.

Today, quite a few folks sincerely believe that Americans - and anybody else who doesn't live up to their particular version of Islam - should either become their sort of Muslim, or become dead.

The rest of us, including quite a significant numbers of Muslims, would rather not live in a Taliban-style world.

That's where the trouble with these leaked documents comes in.

As I see it, the Taliban thinks that people who are identified in these documents should be dead. The people whose identities have been compromised probably don't agree.

That's the sort of conflict that would, ideally, be settled over a nice cup of tea.

We don't live in an ideal world, so that's not what will happen.

I'd like to believe that whoever has the as-yet-unreleased documents sincerely believed that "the people have a right to know," and had no clue that lives were at stake. And, that the individual will now realize that not-nice people will almost certainly do not-nice things if more secrets are leaked.

I don't think that's likely.

Wouldn't It be Nice, If Everyone was Nice?

We live in a not-nice world. The Taliban, Al Qaeda, and like-minded groups are quite willing to kill people whose ideas don't match theirs. They're not the only trigger-happy ideologues around, of course: but right now they're a major threat.

It'd be very nice if the Taliban's leaders and all the rest would suddenly decide that it isn't nice to kill people who aren't just like themselves - but I seriously doubt that's going to happen.

So, until everybody decides to be nice - we'll need to have secrets. Not many, I hope, but some.

Related post:

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Transparency: For the Right People, Apparently

This blog isn't political. Not in the sense that I consistently write that a Ms. Smith is the most intelligent woman in the universe, who by rights should have won every election she ran in - or that a Mr. Jones is a doo-doo-head who is unfit to serve as a human being. (more at June 21, 2009, and elsewhere)

This blog is concerned with the war on terror - whether that term is supposed to exist or not. (March 30, 2010) What America's government decides to do - or not do - about the real threat of people who want to kill us is determined, for the time being, by politicians.

As a result, I have to look at political matters from time to time.

Like this:
"Contrary to the Obama administration's promised commitment to open government, the Department of Homeland Security, in a highly irregular move, filtered hundreds of public records requests through political appointees, allowing them to examine what was being requested and delay releasing sensitive material, according to internal e-mails obtained by the Associated Press.

"The political appointees were allowed to vet records requests that were deemed politically sensitive and require career employees to provide them with information about who requested records — for example, where the requester lived and worked, whether the requester was a private citizen or journalist and, in the case of congressional representatives, whether they were Republican or Democrat.

"The DHS issued a directive to employees in July 2009 requiring a wide range of public records requests to pass through political appointees for vetting. These included any requests dealing with a 'controversial or sensitive subject' or pertaining to meetings involving prominent business leaders and elected officials. Requests from lawmakers, journalists, and activist and watchdog groups were also placed under this scrutiny.

"The reviewers included Homeland Secretary Janet Napolitano's top staff members, including her deputy chief of staff, senior department lawyer and deputy director of scheduling...."
(Threat Level, Wired)
I think it's a good idea to be careful about what information is released to which people. The old adage, 'loose lips sink ships,' may sound corny - but there's good sense in it. (May 11, 2010)

However, I think that deciding what information is "sensitive" should be in the hands of someone whose job security isn't dependent on keeping a politico happy.

I was impressed, positively, when candidate Barack Obama said that he would promote 'transparency' in government. It's a fundamentally sound idea.

The problem is, it has to be turned from a sound idea into an established practice.

From the Office of Deniability: No Information Was Withheld

Like that one-time favorite of Hollywood, the letter of pardon from the Governor, some information becomes less and less useful, the longer it's withheld.
"...Although the vetting did not prevent information that should have been released from getting released, the AP noted, it did cause numerous delays - sometimes lasting weeks - in releasing records to Congress, watchdog groups and reporters. The delays led some department officials to worry about potential lawsuits, according to one internal e-mail the AP obtained.

" 'All this article points out is that senior leadership had visibility into FOIA releases to enable the department to be as responsive as possible to requests from the press and other stakeholders, especially as it pertained to documents generated during the previous administration, DHS spokeswoman Amy Kudwa told Threat Level in an e-mail statement. She noted that the department, under the Obama administration, had reduced a FOIA backlog inherited from the Bush administration from 74,879 requests at the end of fiscal year 2008 to just 12,406 requests as of this January and had also reduced the typical processing time for requests.

"The e-mails obtained by the AP, however, reveal that political appointees were less interested in vetting record requests for these reasons than for determining — based on the kinds of requests coming in - what areas of the government might be under scrutiny. Knowing what records journalists were requesting might help the administration prepare a response in anticipation of a news story. For example, the e-mails show concern about making sure the department didn't release information about Obama's father without first coordinating with the White House...."
(Threat Level, Wired)
I was impressed that the DHS spokesperson mentioned the size of the backlog at one point during the previous administration, compared to the size under Obama's enlightened oversight - without saying how the size of the backlog compared to the number of requests. I've talked about using, and misusing, facts before.

Can't We Just Trust the Government?

There are systems of government in which 'the masses' don't have to know what's going on. Instructions come from the Emperor, or whatever the top level is called: and responsibility for folks at my level ends when we receive our instructions, and obey.

A system like that can work, but it's not the way America gets things done.

Our system requires an informed electorate. That's informed, not fed whatever our betters think we should know.

As the upcoming midterm elections will probably demonstrate once again, it's messy: but the system works.

And I rather like it.

Related posts:In the news:

Monday, July 19, 2010

Blogetery Shutdown, WordPress, Al Qaeda, the FBI, and C3PO

It made a memorable line in a famous movie:
"No! Shut them all down! Hurry!"
(C3PO, Star Wars Episode IV, via
And, in context, C3PO's instructions to R2D2 were appropriate.

Ordering someone to 'shut them all down' isn't always a good idea, though.

Last Friday, I read about 73,000 WordPress blogs hosted by Blogetery going silent. I was - concerned. Particularly since, hyperventilating Tweets and blog posts notwithstanding: all those blogs apparently had been silenced.The least-unlikely explanation I ran into was that Blogetery had been involved in some sort of intellectual property rights infringement.

I wasn't going to suggest that terrorism was involved, one way or the other: there were enough wild rumors flying around as it was. So I missed my chance to write 'told you so.' Which is okay.

Earlier today, I read that the FBI had called for Blogetery's shutdown because one (1) blog hosted on their servers had terrorist-related materials on it.

So the feds shut down all 73,000?! That seemed - excessively zealous. Unless law enforcement had reason to suspect that someone on the Blogetery staff was the one who had planted the terrorist-related data - in which case the only safe thing to do would be to shut everything in Blogetery down, until technicians could go through the code and equipment.

Check Facts, THEN Issue Orders

Apparently, some hapless employee - misinterpreted? - what the FBI, or someone, had said, and told both Blogetery and the media that the FBI had said 'shut them all down.'
"...But [ chief technology officer Joe] Marr said a employee erred in telling Blogetery's operator and members of the media that the FBI had ordered it to terminate Blogetery's service. He said did that on its own...."
What still isn't clear is why old-school news media in America hadn't reported on the Blogetery shutdown. I suspect that my father's advice may apply here: "Never ascribe to malice, what can be explained by stupidity."

Or, in the case of old-school media, institutional inertia and a monumental level of cluelessness about Information-Age issues.

Conspiracy? I Rather Doubt It

The 'addled employee' explanation could be part of some sort of plot to silence somebody or other. Or to prove that America's federal government can silence critics, or to keep people from knowing the the mothership finally came for Elvis.

But I don't think so.

I also don't think that we know everything there is to know, about what happened to Blogetery. But I'm not as concerned as I was on Friday. The explanation first given on CNET is plausible, given how excitable people can get when the FBI, blogs, and terrorists are involved.

My guess is that somebody, somewhere along the line, overreacted - big time - and caused a whole lot of unnecessary excitement.

Or maybe not-so-unnecessary.

Cloud Computing and Solid Realities

I've briefly discussed cloud computing in another blog. I think the idea is attractive: and somewhere between impractical and dangerous right now.

The Blogetery shutdown shows, I think, how vulnerable data stored on someone else's server is.

About Blogetery and the missing blogs: I suggest reading that CNET article. Of the published reports I've read, it seems to be the best-researched and calm discussion of what we know to date.

Do I Trust America? The FBI?

I've made the point that, in my opinion, America isn't perfect. I am convinced that this country is run by human beings. Mistakes happen, and sometimes bad things are done on purpose.

But, on the whole, I think that America is a pretty good place to live. And, yes: I 'trust the government.' To the extent that I must assume that, on average, its institutions act in accord with a set of laws that are intended to prevent officials from doing serious harm to American citizens.

The CNET account describes what appears to be a legal operation of the FBI, done with judicial approval: in which some yahoo overreacted and added fodder for a new crop of conspiracy theories.

The FBIPressOffice, on Twitter, linked to the FBI's 'top 10 of the week' lists on Friday, July 16, and hasn't mentioned anything about the Blogetery situation since then.

Which I don't find too surprising, since the (real) issue is probably still under investigation.

I've put excerpts from four news articles after the links, interspersed with brief comments.

Related posts, aboutIn the news:
"Blogging platform was cut off by its hosting company last week after the authorities said al-Qaeda 'terrorist material' was found on one of its servers, its web host, BurstNET Technologies said Monday.

"Blogetery, a platform for some 70,000 blogs, was taken down by BurstNET after the Federal Bureau of Investigation asked BurstNET 'to provide information regarding ownership' of the server hosting, BurstNET said in a statement.

"BurstNET shuttered Blogetery at its own discretion after concluding it was violating its 'Acceptable Use Policy.'..."
(Threat Level, Wired)
This is the most recently-published article I read today. The 'AUP' violation explanation makes sense, particularly since there seems to have been a pattern of bad behavior. Still: 73,000 blogs?
"The blogosphere and online message boards have been buzzing with speculation as to why blogging website, which claims to have hosted more than 70,000 bloggers, was suddenly shut down last week.

"Was the site a haven for terrorists? Packed with how-to advice for bomb builders? Rife with child porn? And did the FBI really order the blogging site's host BurstNET to pull the plug?

"BurstNET officials on Monday attempted to set the record straight by issuing the following statement:

" 'On the evening of July 9, 2010, BurstNET received a notice of a critical nature from law enforcement officials, and was asked to provide information regarding ownership of the server hosting It was revealed that a link to terrorist material, including bomb-making instructions and an al-Qaeda "hit list", had been posted to the site. Upon review, BurstNET determined that the posted material, in addition to potentially inciting dangerous activities, specifically violated the BurstNET Acceptable Use Policy. This policy strictly prohibits the posting of 'terrorist propaganda, racist material, or bomb/weapon instructions". Due to this violation and the fact that the site had a history of previous abuse, BurstNET elected to immediately disable the system.'..."
That "was the site a haven" style reminds me of some of the more colorful journalism of the late 19th and 20th centuries - and that's another topic.

I'm presenting these excerpts in reverse chronological order, by the way: most recent to earliest.
"A popular website that hosted more than 70,000 bloggers was shut down suddenly last week after the FBI informed its chief technology officer that the site contained hit lists, bomb-making documents and links to Al Qaeda materials, it was reported on Monday.

"When the WordPress platform went dead, the initial explanation from the site's host,, was that 'a law-enforcement agency' had ordered it to shut down, citing a 'history of abuse.' The explanation caused a wave of conspiracy theories in the blogosphere.

"But according to a report on CNET Monday, shut down when it became spooked by a letter from the FBI, in which the bureau detailed the presence of terrorist materials among the blog posts...."
"Spooked" isn't quite the sort of stuffy prose that a more literary outlet might employ - but I think it fits what we know, to date.

Finally, what I regard as the must-read article, from CNET. There's more detail, after this excerpt:
"More details are surfacing about why, a blogging platform that claimed to service more than 70,000 blogs, was mysteriously booted from the Internet by its Web-hosting company.

"The site was shut down after FBI agents informed executives of, Blogetery's Web host, late on July 9 that links to al-Qaeda materials were found on Blogetery's servers, Joe Marr, chief technology officer for, told CNET. Sources close to the investigation say that included in those materials were the names of American citizens targeted for assassination by al-Qaeda. Messages from Osama bin Laden and other leaders of the terrorist organization, as well as bomb-making tips, were also allegedly found on the server.

"But Marr said a employee erred in telling Blogetery's operator and members of the media that the FBI had ordered it to terminate Blogetery's service. He said did that on its own.

"This past weekend, reports surfaced that Blogetery was shut down by the federal government and suggested that it was likely due to copyright violations. On Sunday, CNET reported that the shutdown had nothing to do with copyright violations and that a similar service,, a platform for message boards, was shuttered within days of Blogetery. It is still unclear why Ipbfree was cut off...."

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

'Draw Mohammed Day,' the Sequel

Anwar al-Awlaki, a Yemeni cleric, put Seattle's Molly "Everybody draw Mohammed Day" Norris on an execution list. Here's what set him off:
"...Norris published a 'blasphemous cartoon' on her website in April in protest to Comedy Central's decision to censor an episode of a popular show, 'South Park' that depicted Islam's Prophet objectionably...."
(The Times of India)
I haven't seen the "South Park" episode in question, but I don't doubt that it was offensive. Or, at any rate, that it offended quite a number of Muslims.

It's not just the citizen from Seattle who's threatened. Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) officials spoke with a Canadian woman who, inspired by the Seattle cartoonist, set up her own 'draw Mohammed' Facebook page. The RCMP suggested that she remove that page - and not speak with reporters. Looks like she took half their advice - but talked to at least one reporter. Or maybe a journalist spoke with someone from the RCMP. (FOXNews)

Killing Offensive People Isn't Nice

I realize it's applying my values to other people, but I don't think it's nice to kill people, just because they're boors.

I don't think it's right to call for the execution of a cartoonist, based on something the cartoonist drew.

I also think it's not right to tell folks to kill someone who set up a Facebook page for the cartoonist.

Killing someone because the other person offended you isn't considered proper behavior in the West. Quite a few countries even have laws against that sort of thing, and it was regulated before that. It's one of the cases in which the beliefs I've chosen are on the same page as Western values. Which is another topic.

Islamic Terrorists aren't Nice

I also think that outfits like Al Qaeda and the Taliban are:
  • Under the impression that they're defending Islam
  • Not even close to being on the same page with Western laws and customs
The incidents of September 11, 2001, should have made nearly everybody in the Western world aware of this.

We Live in a Global Community: Deal With It

And I certainly think that it's - silly, at best - for a grown person to intentionally offend people who have a track record for killing folks who offend them.

Granted, whoever censored that "South Park" episode wasn't following contemporary American/Western mores. Offensive portrayal of sacred things, like that "South Park" episode and putting a crucifix in urine is perfectly acceptable behavior. Even, in some circles, commendable.

As long as a person is living in a closed society where everybody agrees that religion is icky - that sort of behavior doesn't do any obvious, immediate, physical harm.

The problem is that the 'proper' sort of people don't live in a nice little gated community, cut off from the world. Like just about everybody else, they live in a village with a population of over 6,830,000,000.

And we're not all exactly alike.

Outfits like Al Qaeda and the Taliban have their own way of coping with a diverse world. I think their approach is wrong.

Folks who deliberately offend their neighbors have another way of coping with a world that isn't just the way they'd like it. I think their approach is wrong, too.

I've discussed this before:
'Draw Mohammed Day' - This Does Not Help
Whatever the motives of the 'Draw Mohammed Day' organizers, I have more trouble sympathizing with their cause. It's hard to believe that many in the English-speaking world who have heard of Mohammed are unaware of the prohibitions against drawing a likeness of The Prophet.

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

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

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

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

That 'Draw Mohammed Day' has a Western feel to it - which makes the 'Draw Mohammed Day' organizers more culpable. They presumably either grew up in a culture that - in theory, at least - practiced tolerance: or learned about the concept in their studies. You'd think they'd know better.
(" 'Draw Mohhammed Day?!' Get a Grip!" (May 19, 2010))
Related posts:In the news:Related posts, on tolerance, bigotry, racism, and hatred.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Banned in Britain: Savage and the Department of Unintended Consequences

I don't know enough about Michael Savage to have an informed opinion about what he's said in public in the United Kingdom.

Maybe he really is as dangerous as Hamas.

Or maybe he's just saying things that the established order in Britain don't want to hear.

If it's the latter, the United Kingdom has a bigger problem than Michael Savage.

Anybody I don't Like is a Commie!

In my 'good old days,' quite a few people were convinced that anybody they didn't approve of was a commie. Or at least a commie sympathizer. Or part of the red menace.

That's one of the reasons I'm not terribly nostalgic about the 'good old days.'

That was then, and now things are different. Sort of. Here in America, folks whose sympathies were for blacklisted physicists became the establishment. As a result, the wacky end of establishment supporters don't see commies everywhere: now it's fascists and racists and relevant stuff like that.

Different words, same old song.

Silencing the Opposition: Such a Tempting Idea

I think it's a very human thing, when you're in a position of influence, to keep people who don't agree with you from expressing their views.

I also think it's a very, very stupid idea.

Particularly these days, when "the masses" get their information from many sources: not just a few national broadcasting networks and a handful of newspapers. I've written about information gatekeepers before.
"Banned in Boston" as a Stamp of Approval
Decades back, "banned in Boston" showed up in entertainment news fairly often. Someone speculated that playwrights and movie makers tried to get Boston's painfully proper people to ban their work: for the free publicity. And as a sort of stamp of approval: showing that the playwright or director was 'bold' and 'outspoken.'
Dangerous Ideas, Maybe: But Dangerous to Whom?
I get - interested - when a national government tries to silence someone who doesn't agree with the current leaders.

I think it's good for Michael Savage, that he lives in the United Kingdom. In some countries, he wouldn't be banned - most likely, he'd just disappear. Or get killed by an 'unknown assailant.' (April 30, 2008)

As I said before, I don't know much about Michael Savage's statements. Maybe he really is dangerous.

Or maybe the British establishment isn't any more open to disagreeable ideas, than their American counterparts. If that's the case, I think their (apparent) effort to silence Mr. Savage may make his position stronger.

I could be wrong, but I don't think the British like their leaders to tell them how to think, any more than Americans do.

Here's what set me off today:
"New U.K. government bans Michael Savage"
WorldNetDaily (July 12, 2010)

"Conservative Party admin demands repudiation of 'violent' statements"

"The new Conservative Party-led government of Prime Minister David Cameron informed Michael Savage it will continue the ban on the top-rated talk-radio host's entry to the United Kingdom unless he repudiates statements made on his broadcasts that were deemed a threat to public security.

"The U.K. Border Agency told Savage through a letter from the treasury solicitor's office that his 'exclusion' from the U.K. that began last year under the Labour Partygovernment of Gordon Brown will continue 'in the absence of clear, convincing and public evidence' that he has 'repudiated his previous statements.'

"As WND reported, then–British Home Secretary Jacqui Smith announced May 5, 2009, that Savage was on a list of 16 people, along with terrorists and neo-Nazis, banned from entry because the government believed their views might provoke violence. Smith said it was 'important that people understand the sorts of values and sorts of standards that we have here, the fact that it's a privilege to come and the sort of things that mean you won't be welcome in this country.'..."

"...The U.K. ban-list includes Hamas terrorist leader Yunis Al-Astal, former Ku Klux Klan grand wizard Stephen Donald Black, neo-Nazi Erich Gliebe and radical American pastor Fred Phelps, known for his virulent anti-gay protests at funerals...."

"...An e-mail message dated Nov. 27, 2008, from an unnamed Home Office official, says, with regard to Savage, 'I can understand that disclosure of the decision would help provide a balance of types of exclusion cases.'

"Another e-mail points to complicity by other agencies and even former Prime Minister Brown.

" 'HO (Home Office) intend to include [Savage] in their quarterly stats ... Both the FS (foreign secretary) and PM (prime minister) are firmly behind listing and naming such people,' it reads.

"The e-mails include a message from an unnamed civil servant whose cautions were ignored.

" 'I think we could be accused of duplicity in naming him,' he wrote without explaining the reason.

"Smith's successor as home secretary, Alan Johnson, called the ban a terrible blunder and told the London Daily Mail he would scrap the policy of maintaining an enemies list. But Savage told WND two days later that according to his attorney, Johnson's announcement did not mean his name had been removed from the list...."


Oh, my:
  • "...'...disclosure of the decision would help provide a balance of types of exclusion cases...."
  • "...'...Both the FS (foreign secretary) and PM (prime minister) are firmly behind listing and naming such people,'..."
  • "...'I think we could be accused of duplicity in naming him,'..."
In my opinion, it's a really bad idea for a nation's leaders to try silencing people whose ideas they don't like. We're not, quite, looking at thoughtcrime here: but I think it's a bad sign when national leaders appear to want uniform - and enforced - beliefs among their subjects.

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

Bombs in Uganda: Islam, Martyrs, and Making an Impression

Over seventy people in Uganda were killed while they watched the soccer World Cup games. Al Shabaab, a "Somali Islamist militant movement" (CNN), says they did it. For Islam and country, of course:
"...'And the best of men have promised and they have delivered,' said an Arabic statement issued by Al-Shabaab's press office and obtained by CNN. 'Blessed and exalted among men -- (taking) full responsibility ...We wage war against the 6,000 collaborators; they have received their response.'

"The 6,000 is an apparent reference to African Union peacekeepers in Somalia. Uganda contributes troops to the peacekeeping effort.

" 'We are behind the attack because we are at war with them,' Al-Shabaab spokesman Ali Mohamoud Rage told reporters at a news conference in Mogadishu, Somalia.

" 'We had given warning to the Ugandans to refrain from their involvement in our country. We spoke to the leaders and we spoke to the people and they never listened to us.'

"Rage said young suicide bombers carried out the attacks, but did not specify their nationalities. 'May Allah accept these martyrs who carried out the blessed operation and exploded themselves in the middle of the infidels,' he said...."
My guess is that folks in Uganda are thinking about Al-Shabaab now. Uganda's president, Yoweri Museveni, raised a significant, if rhetorical, question:
"...'If you want to fight, why don't you attack soldiers or military installations instead of fighting innocent people watching football?' said Museveni, who on Monday visited a rugby sports center where two of the blasts occurred Sunday...."
The two targeted sites mentioned in the CNN article were an Ethiopian restaurant and a rugby center.

This is speculation, but I suggest three possible reasons for picking such sincerely civilian targets:
  1. Killing lots of innocent people makes the survivors feel bad
  2. By now, hitting civilian targets is a tradition among 'defenders of Islam' like Al-Shabaab
  3. Civilians often can't shoot back
    • Soldiers can

With Friends Like This, Islam Doesn't Need Enemies

My guess is that the people Al Shabaab wound up and sent to commit suicide and kill rooms full of people were quite sincere. They probably believed that they'd get a celestial whoopie house, or whatever Al Shabaab's recruiting line is.

Whoever's running Al Shabaab may really believe that they're setting up their 'martyrs' to get a grade-A-number-one harem, or a ever-full hookah, or whatever their clerics dreamed up as a reward.

That seems to work for the folks who get sent out to kill themselves. I doubt that praising "martyrs" who kill themselves and take dozens of football (soccer, here in America) fans with them is going to help Islam's image.

There are already quite a few folks who assume that all Muslims are homicidal maniacs following an insane religion. Al Shabaab's efforts won't change their minds - and might convince others that the anti-Islam crowd is right.

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

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Wednesday, July 7, 2010

British, American Courts: Plodding, Frustrating - But Consider the Alternatives

From today's news:
"Five charged as al Qaeda plotters in U.S. and U.K."
CNN (July 7, 2010)

"The Justice Department announced charges Wednesday against five people who prosecutors say are members of an al Qaeda plot to attack targets in the United States and the United Kingdom.

The charges link a plot against the New York subway system to a scheme to attack a target in the United Kingdom, and say both were directed by 'senior al Qaeda leadership in Pakistan.'...
The CNN article shows the sort of concerns that British courts - and, I think, Western courts in general - have. An immigration tribunal decided that one of the men involved, Abid Naseer, is an Al Qaeda agent. He wasn't deported to Pakistan: because he might be tortured there.

Some red-white-and-blue-blooded Americans might say that's being 'soft on criminals.' Maybe so: it's also one of the reasons I sincerely hope Western civilization wins the war on terror. The more rabidly "Islamic" countries, like Iran, are quite definitely not soft on criminals. ("Halt stoning of Iran 'adulterer' - Human Rights Watch," BBC (July 7, 2010))

I put "Islamic" in quotes, since I don't think that outfits like Al Qaeda are any more representative of Muslims and Islam, than the Ku Klux Klan of the fifties and sixties was of Americans and Christianity.

There's a Lesson Here: Several, Actually

First, I think the legal proceedings in today's news show that Al Qaeda and like-minded organizations are
  • Not nice
  • Not safe to have around
  • Nowhere near willing to sit down and chat about living peaceably alongside people aren't just like them
If that sounds patently obvious: you haven't been keeping up with the sillier statements of America's more earnest subcultures.

Second, for all its (many) faults, the sort of judicial system that's been hammered out in the English-speaking world could be worse. A lot worse. Principles like 'innocent until proven guilty' may not feel good all the time: but there's a reason why we're careful (on paper, anyway) about assuming that someone's guilty - and then stringing the varmint up.

Not-entirely-unrelated posts:In the news:

U.A.E. Ambassador and Iran: One Insane Speech Too Many?

It's possible that Iran's Ayatollahs have made one insane speech too many.

A Washington Times article yesterday said that the United Arab Emirates ambassador to the United States was okay with using military force to stop Iran's nuclear program. And said so in public.

Ambassador Yousef al-Otaiba apparently would like to give sanctions a chance - but if that doesn't change Iran's policy, well: "We cannot live with a nuclear Iran" is the way the article says that he put it.

Apparently other Arab diplomats have said essentially the same thing privately: the United Arab Emirates (U.A.E.) ambassador is the first one to go public.

I don't think this is anything to celebrate: any sort of military strike on Iran is likely to be messy. On the other hand, I'm rather relieved that at least one diplomat from the Islamic world seems to have decided that on the whole, he'd rather be alive, than pretend that Iran is okay because they're "Islamic."

It's a sort of victory for common sense.

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Sunday, July 4, 2010

Fourth of July, 2010

Today is the Fourth of July: America's Independence Day. On the whole, I'd rather live here in America than anywhere else.

As someone, it may have been Paul Harvey, pointed out, America is one of the few countries people are trying to break into.

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Thursday, July 1, 2010

Mainstream Media, Wikileaks, Reputation and Reality

If you've tried submitting something to Wikileaks, you know what's happened.

If you've given Wikileaks money recently, you may not.

From yesterday's Threat Level (Wired):
"With World Watching, Wikileaks Falls Into Disrepair"
Threat Level, Wired (June 30, 2010)

"...Despite a surge in mostly laudatory media portraying Wikileaks as a fearless, unstoppable outlet for documents that embarrass corporations and overbearing governments, the site has published only 12 documents since the beginning of the year, the last one four months ago. And on June 12, Wikileaks' secure submission page stopped working after the site failed to renew its SSL certificate, a basic web protection that costs less than $30 a year and takes only hours to set up.

"Wikileaks still prominently displays a link on its homepage to a secure submission form for whistleblowers to upload documents. But the page doesn't load. The site's donation page remains reliably available. Wikileaks' head Julian Assange declined to comment...."

Whistle-Blowers, (Traditional) Media, Gatekeepers, and the War on Terror

Conventional wisdom is that plucky girl reporters, idealistic investigative reporters, and determined editors defend the Masses against Big Oil and other oppressor corporations.

Sometimes it works that way. Or worked that way, anyway. Some of those plucky girl reporters have retired by now.

I'm not surprised at the "surge in mostly laudatory media portraying Wikileaks as a fearless, unstoppable outlet for documents that embarrass corporations and overbearing governments."
Credit Where Credit is Due
My hat's off, actually, to the traditional information gatekeepers who looked up from their Underwoods and noticed that the Internet wasn't just a fad.
Whistle-Blowers: Image and Function
Old-school reporters and their editorial counterparts would recognize whistle-blowers as a close analog to the workers who organized in defiance of moneyed interests.

On the whole, I rather approve of whistle-blowers, myself.

Ideally, governments would have a thorough system of checks and balances to prevent one branch from becoming too powerful - and providing a means to correct waste and mismanagement.

Also ideally, businesses would pay attention to what their employees do, so that we wouldn't have disaster plans for the Gulf of Mexico that included caring for indigenous walruses.

Since this is the real world, those ideals aren't always met: which is where whistle-blowers come in.
Wikileaks: I'll Take Your Money, But Not Your Submissions
Wikileaks sounds like a good idea: particularly if it had the sort of verification system that Wikipedia is developing.

Like I said, it sounds like a good idea.

Too bad that whoever's running it decided to let a 30-buck SSL certificate lapse. And isn't fixing the problem.
Wikileaks, Clueless Media, and the War on Terror
The rise and fall of Wikileaks ties in with the War on Terror in a few ways.

First, it's an example of how old-school media just doesn't get it.

This isn't the 20th century any more.

Things happen fast

And, the Masses aren't - in America anyway - the Masses any more. Many - most - of us have Internet connections, know where to get one, or know someone who does.

The Internet is a wonderfully fast, powerful tool for digging up information. Some of the information isn't accurate, some of it's simply wrong, but it's possible to sort through what's there and get a pretty good idea about what's really happening.

Back in the 'good old days,' a few major metropolitan newspapers and the three broadcast networks agreed on what they thought was happening - and that's what just about everybody else would read and hear. It might take weeks, months, before folks who weren't part of the in crowd caught on that reality didn't match what was in the news.

That was then, this is now. These days, the odds are that someone online will pick up information and discuss it before traditional media starts its wheels rolling.

Second, the folks who run "media" are human beings.

Like anybody else, they've got their assumptions.

Folks who don't grow up living inside a power structure whose beliefs they share have many opportunities to learn about 'diversity of opinion' up close and personal.

I think that "media" leaders have not had as many opportunities to learn that every place isn't just like lower Manhattan, the better parts of Los Angeles, or wherever they live.

Which, I think, is why it took so long for traditional news media to wrap their minds around the idea that today's terrorists aren't uneducated, poor folks lashing out against oppressor classes. (July 8, 2007, July 3, 2007)

Human beings make mistakes. Particularly when they've gotten out of the habit of checking on whether or not their assumptions match what's really happening.

Let's remember that "media" was praising Wikileaks - while that service was taking people's money and giving nothing in return.

The same folks are reporting on what they think is happening in the war on terror. I think it's a good idea to take what they say with a grain of salt - and do their fact-checking for them.

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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.