Friday, October 22, 2010

WikiLeaks: Again, Still

It's in the news: WikiLeaks dumped another few hundred thousand classified documents into its website. I don't think it matters whether the usual newspapers and broadcast news studios re-publish parts of that set of information.

This is the Information Age, and even those folks who still read newspapers are generally able to go online themselves - or know someone who can.

Those 'classified' documents aren't secret any more.

WikiLeaks and the Real World

I've written about WikiLeaks before. (August 13, 2010) I think what they did earlier this year was wrong: Not because 'America can do no wrong,' but because America is trying to protect journalists, the WikiLeaks bunch, and the rest of us from religious crazies who are determined to kill anybody who won't do Islam their way.

And these WikiLeaks stunts don't make that job any easier.

A few American news outlets have mentioned the possibility that bad things will happen to folks in Iraq as a result of what WikiLeaks has done. That's likely enough. And, if Iraqis get killed because they helped free their country from Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda: I'm pretty sure it'll be blamed on America. And/or the Bush administration. Or western imperialism. Or maybe Mickey Mouse.

War is Not Nice

I've made the point before: War is not nice. Things get broken and people get killed. (February 15, 2010)

I think it would be nice if there was no more war.

I think it would also be nice if everybody everywhere would be nice.

That would be: nice.

Problem is, there are not-nice people in the world. Some of them have decided that their particular version of Islam is the only 'real' one - and that anybody who doesn't agree should be killed.

That's not nice.

It would be nice if Al Qaeda and all the rest would come to, say, the Berkeley campus; hug a tree; throw a Frisbee; chat with someone in the political science department about peaceful coexistence: and from that day forward do nothing more violent that carry a sign or burn a flag. An American flag, of course.

My guess is that burning something like a Saudi Arabian flag would be classified as 'hate speech.'

'Everybody Knows' What Those American Soldiers are Like

The word "torture" is already in the news, regarding these WikiLeak documents. I have no doubt that, somewhere in that mass of 400,000 or so docments, there's an account of a soldier doing something wrong.

I remember Abu Gahrib. The dirty picture. The abuse that didn't stop until the commander learned about it. And was being investigated by the time reporters got the story. (January 25, 2009)

That wasn't an Iraqi My Lai, and I rather doubt that there's one in this latest dump.

Motivation and Responsibility

I don't know why whoever's calling the shots at WikiLeaks is putting peoples' lives in danger. I could make some guesses:
  • Money
    • WikiLeaks is getting huge publicity from these data dumps
    • Traffic at the WikiLeaks website should increase
    • Some may now give money to WikiLeaks
  • Idealism
    • 'The people have a right to know!'
    • The vile fiends must be revealed - America's
      • Military
      • Government
      • Imperialism
      • Whatever
  • A desire for
    • Attention
    • Causing strife
    • Something Freudian
I don't know why WikiLeaks is putting the lives of Iraqi patriots on the line. If I had to guess, I'd say it's probably idealism. Whoever makes decisions for WikiLeaks may really believe that the outfit is doing the right thing.

Whatever the motive(s), what WikiLeaks has done doesn't surprise me. And I'm pretty sure if there's something unpleasant about an American soldier in those documents, it'll get full press coverage. It's the sort of clueless, irresponsible foolishness that I've come to expect from Western mainstream news media.

And that's another topic.

Related posts:
In the news:

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Being Offended, Clueless Tolerance, and the Smell of Bacon

This post is a little off-topic for Another War-on-Terror Blog, but not by much.

Screwball Traditionalism

In my opinion, part of what is encouraging some (a few, I trust) Muslims to wage war against the 'wicked' West is a matter of cultural perspective.

Here in the West, most people live in a world where the Magna Carta is centuries in the past.

It's hard to shake the impression that, in many parts of the Islamic world, the Magna Carta is thousands of years in their future.

From legal action taken against a 'blasphemous' teddy bear, to outlawing the color red: I think there's evidence that many folks living in places like Sudan and Saudi Arabia are dealing, none too calmly, with a world that they simply don't understand.

Or like.

As I've said before: just a few generations back, many folks had been living in a culture which hadn't changed all that much since the days before Abraham moved out of Ur. Then they were dragged across thousands of years of change, from a culture of burqas and honor killings to a world of bikinis, Budweiser and dog food commercials.

No wonder some went a bit nuts.

Screwball Progressivism

Then there are the folks who are convinced - passionately, blindly, irrationally - that groups of people they don't normally associate with are being oppressed something fierce. I think many mean well, but the results are - sometimes regrettable.

Here's the news item that set off this post:

"Cafe owner ordered to remove extractor fan because neighbour claimed 'smell of frying bacon offends Muslims' "
MailOnline (October 21, 2010)

"A hard-working cafe owner has been ordered to tear down an extractor fan - because the smell of her frying bacon 'offends' Muslims.

"Planning bosses acted against Beverley Akciecek, 49, after being told her next-door neighbour's Muslim friends had felt 'physically sick' due to the 'foul odour'.

"Councillors at Stockport Council in Greater Manchester say the smell from the fan is 'unacceptable on the grounds of residential amenity'.

"The fan has been in Beverley's Snack Shack takeaway in the Shaw Heath area of the town for the past three years.

"Mrs Akciecek and her husband Cetin, 50, - himself a Turkish Muslim - work more than 50 hours a week buying, preparing and cooking hot and cold sandwiches and hot-pots for their customers.

"Today mother-of-seven Mrs Akciecek said she plans to appeal against the decision.

"She said: 'I just think it's crazy. Cetin's friends actually visit the shop, they're regular visitors, they're Muslim people, they come in a couple of times a week.

" 'I have Muslim people come in for cheese toasties. Cetin cooks the food himself, he cooks the bacon.

'When we go to a cafe my husband wouldn't be offended by the smell of bacon. His friends are not offended by it, we have three visitors who come here for a sandwich, friends of my husband, and the smell doesn't offend them at all....
I don't doubt that a person, somewhere, was "offended" by the smell of frying bacon. That person may also be a Muslim. It's fairly obvious that other people who are Muslims aren't "offended" by the odor.

I've known 'Christians' like that, who were 'offended' by women wearing slacks. That's (almost) another topic.

It's Not Easy, Being Part of a Religious Minority

I have some sympathy for Muslims who are living in places where most folks don't follow Islam. Although 'it's not the same thing,' I have analogous experiences: being a practicing Catholic in America. Yeah: I'm one of those people. (see my A Catholic Citizen in America blog)

That said, I also think that:
  • Muslims aren't all alike
  • There's tolerance
    • And there's cluelessness
I suspect - strongly - that what we're seeing in that news item is an example of heavy-handed, clueless 'tolerance.' Possibly triggered by a woman who is so backward and ignorant - or maybe oppressed - as to actually have seven children (shocking!).

That last point is conjectural: but here in America I've run into the notion, among the 'better sort,' that having children - or, if one must, having more than one or (shudder!) two - is somewhat indecent. And a sign of backwardness, ignorance, and general ickyness.

No wonder it seems like the 'better sort' is a dwindling demographic.

And that is definitely another topic.

Related posts:More related posts, on Islam, culture, and catching up:In the news:

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Toilet Paper, a School, Hazmat, and Being Funny

So much depends on context. For example:
"...Dozens of YouTube videos show Cessna pilots throwing toilet paper from their planes and cutting the resulting ribbons with their propellers.

" 'It is an old stunt to drop a roll of toilet paper from a plane and then try to cut the resulting streamer with one's wing or propeller,' said hobby pilot Wayne Smith of Knoxville, Tenn., in an e-mail. 'Getting a hazmat team to check out the results is beyond ridiculous. Where has our country's sense of humor been hidden?'..."
Joyriding in an airplane, trying to shred toilet paper? That actually sounds like fun. Silly, a bit stupid, potentially dangerous: but fun.

And who could possibly think otherwise?

Hazmat Meets Toilet Paper

Here's how a hazmat team and toilet paper met recently, in New Jersey:
"Update: Westwood field bombed from air with toilet paper; pilot could be charged" (October 14, 2010 )

Tariq Zehawi, via, used w/o permission"A Westwood man who bombed the middle school grounds with toilet paper may face federal charges for reckless operation of an aircraft and dropping objects from a plane without proper authorization, a Federal Aviation Administration spokesman said Thursday.

"The pilot, whom the spokesman declined to identify, flew a single-engine propeller plane registered to a Westwood address over the high school and athletic fields shortly after 6 p.m., covering the athletic fields and surrounding area with his soggy cargo, F.A.A. spokesman Jim Peters said....

"...Children were on the field at the time of the incident, Peters said.

"The aircraft, a Cessna 172 S, took off from Caldwell at 6 p.m., and landed there an hour later, after making three passes over Westwood Regional Middle School and papering an adjacent athletic field, surrounding trees, the building, and the ground in front of the high school, Peters said...."

"...Investigators from the Bergen County Sheriff's Department, who were called to investigate objects dropped from a low-flying aircraft, retrieved four rolls of soggy toilet paper from the scene, Sheriff Leo McGuire said. Hazmat teams were also called to the scene but did not find any indication of hazardous materials, McGuire said....

"...'What might seem to be a somewhat harmless prank, in this post 9-11 age, especially with the amount of air traffic we have from Teterboro and the New York airports, a low-flying aircraft is extremely disconcerting,' he said. 'If this was a prank, it is a prank that will end in arrest for the perpetrator.'..."
The toilet paper may have been dry when in left the airplane. According to the article, it was "a dewy night," so by the time investigators arrived the toilet paper streamers were wet.

As it turns out, the wet toilet paper was just wet toilet paper: annoying, maybe, but harmless.

I don't always side with "the authorities." Like when a middle-school student was led away in handcuffs - for using an erasable marker. (Apathetic Lemming of the North (April 6, 2010))

In this case, though: I think sending that hazmat team was a prudent choice.
Just Wet Toilet Paper
Like I said, the stuff festooning the school grounds was just wet toilet paper. Wet toilet paper is notoriously difficult to remove from tree branches: but it's hardly a threat, except to one's aesthetic sensibilities.

But consider the possibilities.
Remember Anthrax?
Wet just about anything, however, can harbor pathogenic microorganisms. And, sometimes, even dry powders can be dangerous. Remember the 2001 Anthrax situation? Sure, the stuff only killed five people: but folks were a tad cautious about opening their mail, after word got around. (August 6, 2008)

War isn't Funny

I might, as a teenager, have thought that running onto an airport tarmac and throwing a backpack toward an airliner would be funny. The backpack wouldn't have anything dangerous inside, so everybody would understand that it was a joke, right?

Eventually, maybe. Even then, quite a few folks would have frowned on a daft stunt like that.


Like it or not, there's a war on.

War isn't funny: things get broken, and people die.

Biological weapons exist. The 2001 anthrax incident seems to have been the work of one man, and not all that directly connected to what we usually think of as "terrorists:" but it showed what could be done.

"Hobby pilots" may or may not be aware of what's happened during the last decade.

Emergency responders, on the other hand, don't have much of a choice. It's their job to be know about threats they might have to respond to.

Maybe the odds are that an airplane dropping ribbons of white material over the grounds of a school isn't a threat. I think that's the case.

But it's not, I also think, a good idea to assume that odd events like that probably are pranks, and act on that assumption.

This Didn't Happen

Let's say that the 'funny prank' wasn't so harmless, and the Westwood, New Jersey, authorities were a more hearty, less cautious lot.

Hearing that an airplane had dropped long white ribbons of stuff on a school, the Westwood branch of the Keystone Cops were startled at the news. Then, with remarks like 'boys will be boys,' and 'wish I'd done that,' they went back to chomping donuts and drinking coffee.

Problem was that, in this (hypothetical) case, the long white ribbons were laced with little, tiny, microscopic critters. Not very nice ones, either.

A week later, with the area between Spring Valley and Hackensack cordoned off, someone from the CDC was trying to convince a Congressional committee that it was a really bad idea for them to enter Westwood and interview survivors.

Unlikely? Probably.

Impossible? I don't think so.

And I don't think it's a good idea for emergency responders to react - or not react - based on what they feel might be so.

Related posts:In the news:

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Faisal Shahzad, Times Square, and Responsibility

A whole lot of people weren't killed in New York City's Times Square in May of this year. Not for a lack of effort, though. If Faisal Shahzad had known more about making bombs, we'd be missing quite a few more "little Eichmanns." (April 3, 2009)

Faisal Shahzad was convicted for setting off a smoking SUV that encouraged an evacuation of Times Square. Some of the charges were:
  • Attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction
  • Conspiracy
  • Attempt to commit international terrorism
It's all the fault of America, of course. Or Western civilization. Non-Muslims, anyway. According to Mr. Shahzad.
"Times Square bomb plotter sentenced to life in prison"
Deborah Feyerick, CNN International (October 5, 2010)

"A judge in Manhattan sentenced Faisal Shahzad to life in prison for the botched Times Square car bombing as the 31-year-old Pakistani-American defiantly warned in court to 'brace yourself, the war with Muslims has just begun.'

" 'The defeat of the U.S. is imminent, inshallah,' Shahzad said on Tuesday during the sentencing.

"Speaking in a 14th-floor courtroom where a clear view of the World Trade Center site can be seen through a window, Shahzad said Muslims have been defending their people and their lands.

"If that makes us terrorists, 'then we will terrorize you,' he said, imploring people who embrace Islam.

"U.S. District Judge Miriam Cedarbaum, who sentenced Shahzad to the mandatory sentence of life in prison, noted that he failed to show remorse for his actions...."
Blowing up folks out for an evening1 in Times Square is defending Islam?

Makes sense - by the sort of standards I've run into from time to time.

For all too many folks, everything and anything is the fault of:
  • The Commies
  • The
    • Blacks
    • Chinese
    • Irish
    • Japanese
    • Whites
    • Whatever
  • The Capitalists
  • The Military-Industrial Complex
  • Big Oil
  • Fluoridated drinking water
And let's not forget the space-alien, shape-shifting lizard people.

Faisal Shahzad invoked a variation of a philosophy which has been quite popular in some American subcultures.

In my 'good old days,' people who decided to hurt other people were called "victims of society" by the self-styled best and brightest in the land. That slogan got stale: I think because too many people had run-ins with "victims of society."

But long after the slogan faded, the basic idea - that people like Faisal Shahzad weren't responsible for their actions because of what others did - remained quite popular.

That sort of charity-on-acid approach to jurisprudence seems to be waning. The emergence of 'victims' rights' as a consideration - and the identification of whoever got assaulted as a victim - was a major step toward sanity. In my opinion.

Then some people decided to fly airliners into New York City's World Trade Center.

Over 3,000 people stopped living - some very abruptly, some while trying to evacuate the towers, some while going in to help them escape.

By fits and starts, I think that people in positions of responsibility in America are becoming aware of a somewhat-ignored facet of reality. They're deciding that, on the whole, it's a good idea to protect the folks who want to follow the laws from those who don't.

As for Faisal Shahzad's assertion that the Americans/Westerners/Non-Muslims made him do it? A few generations back, that defense might have worked.

Related posts:In the news:
1 Times Square evacuation started around 6:30 p.m. May 1, 2010.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Guatemala, Dr. John Cutler, Tuskegee, Nürnberg, and Learning

I must be crazy: On the whole, I like living in America.

Despite the fact that this country systematically discriminates against my ancestors.

The Irish ones, anyway. Discriminates something fierce. Why, you'll see "Irish need not apply" signs in employers' windows!

Oh, wait: which century am I at?

The year is 2010. This is the 21st century. There's been an Irish president, for crying out loud. The Irish, by any sensible measure, are now accepted by America as a whole.

That's one reason why I like living in America: This country has a track record for learning from mistakes. Eventually. It took a major war to sort out the slavery issue - and the War Between the States involved other issues, too. That's another topic.

Guatemala, STD Experiments

Disgusting medical experiments conducted in Guatemala by Americans have been in the news. The experiments were criminal by today's standards.

Seriously: What was done by the Venereal Disease Research Laboratory of the Public Health Service was not good. It was bad. It was wrong.

An excerpt from yesterday's news:
"PAHO Statement on STI Experiments in Guatemala"
PharmaPro (October 1, 2010)

"1 October 2010. We have just listened to a press briefing by Dr. Francis Collins, Director of NIH, who discussed experiments in Guatemala in the 1940s, in which prisoners and other vulnerable groups were intentionally infected with sexually transmitted diseases. Dr. Collins said these experiments were 'deeply disturbing' and 'reprehensible,' and we agree. We join the US Secretary of Health and Human Services and the Secretary of State in deploring these experiments.

"This research was conducted by the Venereal Disease Research Laboratory of the Public Health Service and venereal disease experts from Guatemala, with funds given to the Pan American Sanitary Bureau (PAHO's precursor) by the U.S. Institutes of Health, and with some cooperation by Guatemalan authorities. Dr. John Cutler, who conducted these experiments and worked on the infamous Tuskegee experiments, was then a Public Health Service medical officer.

"We are just learning details of these experiments, and the US Institute of Medicine is now conducting an investigation.

"The Organization has established strong ethical standards for research it sponsors or is associated with to prevent such abuses for many years now...."
What that agency of the American government did in Guatemala was bad. It was not good. It was wrong. They shouldn't have done it.

Those experiments occurred in the 1940s.

Now that an official (and long-overdue) apology has been made, my guess is that the appalling lapse in ethics will be discussed in news media - and may be added to the litany of American offenses taught in American schools.

America is Not Perfect

Make no mistake: bad things have been done in America. Sometimes by the American government.

I'm glad that systematic treaty violations of the 19th century are being sorted out in American courts: but those agreements with the first nations on this continent should not have been broken in the first place.

I do not approve of the way that the government of Hawaii was overthrown and the territory taken.

And I'm not all that crazy about some of what's being done in today's America.

Still, I'd rather live here, than any other place in the world. That's not the knee-jerk emotional reaction of a chauvinist. I have, from time to time, over the decades, been so fed up with what was happening in this country that I started looking around for someplace to go.

I discovered that there wasn't a country around, for example, that provided the kind of safeguards for its citizens' rights that I enjoyed here. Perfect safeguards, no: generally adequate, yes. There's more - but the point is that I chose to stay: after looking at the alternatives.

I'm not the only one who likes it here. One of the major issues these days is how to deal with folks who are in this country illegally. On the whole, I think it's prudent to follow the rules of a country you're emigrating to - but I think it says something for America that we're one of the places people try to break into.

America Learns

About that "litany of American offenses taught in American schools" I mentioned earlier: I think that the American educational system is overly-enthusiastic in portraying America as a cesspool of racist, sexist, homophobic bigots out to destroy the environment and rip crumbs from the bleeding lips of the oppressed.

That said, I also think it's a good idea to make sure that each new generation knows about what went wrong before. And what went right.

Both are important.

Knowing what worked in the past may keep folks from reinventing the wheel - and crying out for some new law, when there's a neglected one on the books that needs to be enforced. And that's yet another topic.

Knowing what America has done wrong might keep this country from making a similar mistake again. I can't prove it, but I think that one reason we don't have concentration camps for Muslims in this country is that the American government (finally) acknowledged that locking up Japanese-Americans was a bad idea.

There are other ways of running a country - which is why I don't plan to move.

Turkey, for example, seems to be trying to cover up atrocities committed by the Ottoman Empire. Which strikes me as silly, considering that the current government was set up by folks who overthrew the Ottoman Empire. And yes, that's an oversimplification.

Japan is doing a little better: but there's an effort by some folks in that country to rewrite the history of WWII - without the details they don't like.

I sympathize with folks who don't like some parts of their country's history. As I wrote, I'm not at all crazy about some things that America has done. But I think it's vital to remember errors: so that we will learn, and not repeat them.

I think it's important to remember triumphs, too: like the signing of the Declaration of Independence, and the repeal of the 18th Amendment. Not to maintain a puffed-up jingoistic pride: but to remember why it's important to not repeat errors.

America's a great place to live, we've got a lot to lose: and if we don't keep learning we may do just that.

Related posts:In the news:

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

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

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