Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Flushed Koran Angers Quran Defenders

And they've brought on hate-crime charges against the the Quran-flusher.

You've heard about it by now. A student at Pace University in New York threw a Quran in a toilet. Twice.

I'm not clear on how many Qurans were involved. The news article I read implied that the same book was used on both occasions ("he threw a Quran in a toilet at Pace University on two separate occasions"). That seems unlikely, so it looks like the student desecrated two copies of the Muslim holy book.

Tacky? Boorish? Really stupid? Yes to all three.

Hate crime? Good question. I'll leave that to the courts.

I don't blame Muslims with being upset. What that student did was unconscionable in any group claiming to be a civilized society.

As a Catholic, I'd be upset if some artist put a crucifix in urine, put the thing on display, and got taken seriously as an artist. Or decorated a picture of the Virgin Mary with dung.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations has come to the defense of the Quran in the Pace University Quran desecration. They're the same bunch that came to the defense of the Minnesota Imams who just happened to re-enact the 9/11 martyr's pre-hijacking behavior.

My guess is that the Quran-flusher is in for a lot of trouble.

And that we'll be hearing a great deal about how put-upon Muslims in the states are.

That student's exercise in self-expression was not helpful.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Cool Heads, Lukewarm Brains, And Dr. Haneef

Dr. Mohammed Haneef, charged with owning a SIM card found in a burned-out jeep in Glasgow, is a free man. He left Australia for a "hero's welcome" in India after Australian Immigration Minister Kevin Andrews changed his mind about revoking Dr. Haneef's visa. The Aussie IM decided that Dr. Haneef's work visa would remained canceled.

Dr. Haneef's employer, Gold Coast Hospital, wants him back. They said that the doctor's job was waiting for him, if an outbreak of sanity occurred in the Australian Immigration Ministry.

Australian judicial authorities had a lucid moment last week, realizing that their case against the doctor was baseless.

Much to his credit, Australian Director of Public Prosecutions Bugg said that his office shouldn't have recommended charging the foreign doctor in the first place.

Australian authorities haven't come out looking all that competent in this caper. Even the arrest of Dr. Haneef, as he was leaving Australia to be with his wife and newborn daughter, probably wouldn't have happened if the good doctor hadn't called the police to let them know that he was leaving.

That call they paid attention to. The ones he had made, trying to clear up the mess, hadn't been returned.

I'm afraid that quite a few people in the Australian government should get some sort of award for their performance.

I suggest the creation of an award for the sort of outstanding law enforcement and jurisprudence displayed recently: the Keystone Cops Tinplate Slapstick; presented to deserving officials, for nitwittery above and beyond the call of nature.

Foolishness aside: Even though this exercise in lunacy has a guardedly happy ending, a bungled bit bureaucratic buffoonery like this is a very serious matter.

I'm acutely aware of how Dr. Haneef's rights were mis-handled. That shouldn't have happened, obviously. The good news here is that Dr. Haneef was able to clear his name quickly, unlike another sure-fire suspect, Richard Jewell, Dr. Haneef was not attacked by news media, and was able to clear his name quickly. (I bring Mr. Jewell up a lot in this connection, because I believe there are similarities in the way these two men were treated.)

Just as bad, perhaps worse, this get-the-foreign-doctor debacle makes it much easier for people to distrust the Australian government, and by extension all governments. People with the sort of power wielded by government officials are frightening when they turn their brains down to 'lukewarm.'

I hope that Dr. Haneef is allowed to work in Australia again, and that he is safe in doing so. It seems that Australia needs good doctors.

Perhaps the Australian Immigration Minister, if he decides to unrevoke Dr. Haneef's work visa, should consider encouraging foreign psychiatrists to work in Australia. Judging from the way so many officials acted in the Haneef matter, the psychiatrists would have no trouble finding work.

Posts on this topic:Information from FOXNews.com, "Doctor Gets Hero's Welcome in India

Sunday, July 29, 2007

U.S., Iraqi, Successes - News Not Fit to Print?

No, I do not believe that there's some sort of plot. I'll get back to that point.

Also, I generally don't try to divert visitors to another site, but this time it's important.

Despite attempts to cut funding and poison morale, U.S. and Iraqi forces are making major progress in Iraq.

Ralph Peters' column, WINNING IN IRAQ details what's been accomplished, really accomplished, in Iraq. If more of this sort of fact leaked into the news, there might not be so much anti-war sentiment in the States. And elsewhere.

The lead sentence of Peters' column is, "TO a military professional, the tactical progress made in Iraq over the last few months is impressive. To a member of Congress, it's an annoyance." (New York Post, July 26, 2007)

It's a moderately long column, but Peters lists quite a number of goals achieved by U.S. and Iraqi forces. Achievements I haven't heard about, for the most part, and I'm a bit of a news nut. More than a bit, if you ask my wife.

Do I think that "they" are keeping this out of the news? No. I don't think this is a conspiracy of some sort. At least, I prefer not to.

My father taught me to "never attribute to malice what can be explained by stupidity." And there are days when I've felt that there must be an awful lot of stupidity out there. And, that the really stupid ones tend to be promoted to management and administrative positions. Judging by the success of the Dilbert strip, I'm not the only one with this feeling.

Of course, that's just feeling, emotion: hardly the sort of thing I'd want to base an opinion on.

Besides, what a person believes to be true is at least as important as intelligence, when it comes to decisions.

An explanation for the apparent suicidal lunacy on Capitol Hill, and the way that news services resolutely present U.S. casualties, statistics on U.S. casualties, emotionally-charged interviews with those left behind by U.S. casualties, and the horrific horror visited upon the horrified victims of the War on Terror may be in a world view that seems to be common among the better classes of people in the States.

I don't think it's too unfair to summarize it this way:
  • America is bad
  • Big problems are America's fault
  • America is an imperialist warmonger
  • It takes two to fight
  • If America doesn't bother al Qaeda (or whatever group tops the list), al Qaeda won't bother America
  • People would get along if Society - and America - would let them
Maybe I'm being unfair, but not by much. I grew up within a block of a college, and spent a great deal of my young-adult life in academia. The cultural norms, and enforcement of them, were far from subtly handled.

There may have been a little change in academia over the last few decades, but I believe I recognized the familiar cultural assumptions in this country's education, entertainment- and news- media today.

Conspiracy to cover up successes? No. Belief that such successes aren't important, and certainly shouldn't be emphasized? Yes.

Peters also asks, "Do our politicians really want to help al Qaeda regain its balance?"

I would prefer to believe that this is not the case. But their behavior strongly suggests that their either want al Qaeda to restore its power to kill Americans, that (as Peters suggests) they are so greedy and short-sighted that they just don't care, or that they simply aren't experiencing the same state of consciousness that I am, here in Minnesota.

There are other possible explanations, of course, but none of the ones I've thought of are any more reassuring.

Still reading this? Follow that link to Peter's post, and look for his list of U.S./Iraqi accomplishments! There are good things happening: at great cost, but good things nonetheless.

There's a decidedly conservative view of this topic in Impressive Annoyance.

Previous posts on this topic:

Iraq Wins Asian Soccer Cup, Peace Breaks Out in Diyala

Good news from Iraq.

That country's team won the Asian Soccer cup, winning over the team from Saudi Arabia.

Given the sort of wanton destruction that I've come to expect following a major sports victory, added to the presence of people in Iraq who achieve self-expression through blowing up other people, banning vehicles from Baghdad sounds like a good idea.

Meanwhile, Diyala province should have made the news Thursday (July 26), when 18 tribal and local leaders made a sort of peace deal.

And, earlier this week, about 75 sheiks and local leaders got together at the Iraqi Army Headquarters in Khalis to thrash out "long-standing grievances with each other...." With words, not swords and bombs. The sheiks and local leaders came up with suggestions for ways to improve security. They also said that they'd work against "al Qaeda In Iraq" and other insurgent groups.

One thing I think is helping this outbreak of peace is the presence of U.S. troops. When U.S. forces occupy an area in sufficient force, al Qaeda and miscellaneous terrorists are inhibited, and locals get a chance to compare Islamic fanatics and the U.S. approach to life.

Quoting from a Stars and Stripes article, "In Baqouba, in particular, residents were shocked when local militant groups tried to enforce a no-smoking law."

Friday, July 27, 2007

Cool Heads and Terrorism Investigations: It Could be Worse

Dr. Mohamed Haneef is off the hook, sort of. He's the doctor charged by Australian authorities with reckless support to a terrorist organization. That's pretty serious. If he'd been convicted, he could have been sentenced to 15 years in prison.

Here's what he's supposed to have done:
  • Let a second cousin use his SIM card
  • Owning that SIM card when it got left in a jeep on the other side of the world
  • Still being the SIM card owner when someone tried to use the jeep to torch an airport terminal
Sounds pretty trivial, put that way.

Dr. Haneef was freed today, after an Australian chief prosecutor said it was a mistake, charging him with being connected to the London/Glasgow car bombings in Britain.

The decision to release came after a review of the evidence by Australian Director of Public Prosecutions Bugg. After this review, Mr. Bugg found that his office should never have recommended charging Dr. Haneef. There's more at "Australia Drops Terror Charges Against Indian Doctor Accused in Failed U.K. Bombings Plot."

Mohamed Haneef isn't quite out of trouble yet.

This week's SNAFU is about Dr. Haneef's visa. It's been revoked. Immigration Minister Kevin Andrews, back when Dr. Haneef was an escaping fugitive (who had called the police to let them know he was leaving the country), revoked Dr. Haneef's visa. Now the Immigration Minister is pondering whether or not to change his mind.

Dr. Haneef has what I'd call a pretty good reason for wanting to leave Australia. His wife had a baby by C-section, and he wanted to be with her and their baby.

Ironically, 11 years ago today, a bomb went off at Atlanta's Olympic Park, the start of a really unpleasant part of Richard Jewell's life.

I hope that Dr. Haneef gets the right to get on with his life faster than Mr. Jewell did.

Posts on this topic:Information from FOXNews.com, "Australia Drops Terror Charges Against Indian Doctor Accused in Failed U.K. Bombings Plot

This Keith Ellison Story Might Take Off

Keith Ellison, Minnesota Congressional representative since January of this year, earned fame of a sort by being the first Muslim voted into Congressional office. He earned fame of another sort by comparing 9/11 to the Reichstag fire in 1930s Germany.

Representative Keith Ellison really did say "On comparing Sept. 11 to the burning of the Reichstag building in Nazi Germany: 'It's almost like the Reichstag fire, kind of reminds me of that. After the Reichstag was burned, they blamed the Communists for it and it put the leader of that country [Hitler] in a position where he could basically have authority to do whatever he wanted." (Atheists applaud Ellison's views on Cheney, Libby, 9/11, Minneapolis Star-Tribune, July 8, 2007)

Representative Keith Ellison didn't say that President Bush is Hitler's grandson.

But, between people who hate President Bush, people trying to discredit Representative Ellison, and people who don't pay attention to what they read, I'm afraid that this will become a "news item" that the "vast right-wing conspiracy" has suppressed.

It's all a joke. "Bush is Hitler grandson say Minnesota Dem Keith Ellison" is the headline of an article with a format similar to that of a news story, with a stock photograph of the U.S. President.

Very convincing.

An astute observer might notice that the article's byline was "queen mudder," and that the hosting site was The Spoof!.

The Spoof! is, well, a spoof website. I can't do better, describing it, than to quote the Hitler's Grandson article's disclaimer, "All items on this website are fictitious. Any resemblance to persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental or is intended purely as a satire, parody or spoof."

With so many people willing to believe either the fictitious claim, or that Congressman Ellison followed up his Reichstag remarks with a weird claim like this, I'm afraid that we may have the birth of a conspiracy theory here.

Keith Ellison posts:As the first Islamic member of the American Congress, Representative Ellison deserves some attention. There may be more K.E. posts, given his colorful past associations and current talent for getting in the news.

Just a Thought: What Does "Withdraw Troops" Mean?

There has been, and probably will be, news about how many people would prefer that U.S. troops be back home, instead of Iraq.

It sounds like a repudiation of U.S. policy, but is it?

I might prefer that U.S. troops be back home, instead of occupying Germany. Although it doesn't make the news as often as Middle East affairs, the U.S. military has been mired in Germany since the 1940s.

Wait a minute! U.S. troops "occupying Germany?!" U.S. military "mired in Germany?!"

No, I don't see that the U.S. military presence in Germany over the last few generations constitutes a quagmire.

And, I don't think that wanting soldiers to be home with their families is the same as believing that the cause they are defending is wrong.

Muslims Fear American Attack, Global Survey Finds!!!

Maybe "winning hearts and minds in the Middle East" and the rest of the Islamic world isn't the most important goal for the States.

Maybe encouraging enlightened self-interest is.

Attitudes toward terrorism among Muslims, according to a Pew Institute Global Attitudes survey, are evolving in an interesting way.

Osama bin Laden, the leader of al Qaeda, has lost support in many parts of the Islamic world over the last five years.

Support of bin Laden among Muslims,
  • 20% - 01% Lebanon (suicide bombing "often or sometimes" justified from 74% to 34% in same period)
  • 56% - 20% Jordan
  • 46% - 38% Pakistan (some think bin Laden is hiding here)
  • 59% - 41% Indonesia
  • ??% - 57% Palestinian Territories
As with anything involving human beings, it's a complicated situation. Maybe it's significant that support for bin Laden is going down in Pakistan, Jordan and Indonesia, where suicide bombers have been blowing themselves up.

Being a target has a marvelously focusing effect on people's thoughts.

According to the news articles on the Pew Institute's report, many Muslims in Asia and the Middle East are concerned that, given the U.S. intolerant 'War on Terror' policies toward terrorism, their countries might be attacked by U.S. forces.

"The report says that 'Muslims in Bangladesh and Morocco are almost unanimous in their concern' about the military threat from the US, with more than 90 per cent in each saying they were very or somewhat worried. So are 85 per cent of Indonesians." (Time Online)

I didn't find that quote, but it's a big document, 133 pages, and I might have missed it.

Economic status makes a difference, but not as might be expected.

"The Pew Institute report suggested that globally, economic growth and stability were closely tied to a sense of personal well-being. But there was little evidence to sustain theories that the economy might have a similar beneficial effect on support for terrorism.

"In Lebanon, economic confidence has plummeted following the military clash with Israel but Muslims are still less likely to support either bin Laden or Hezbollah.

Palestinian support for suicide bombing appears to be fairly uniform across all income levels."
(Times Online)

In any event, I'm not sure that this report adds up to a practical criticism of the War on Terror. Here's one way to look at it:

Since 2002, many Muslims in the Islamic world:
  • Stopped approving of terrorism, or at least bin Laden
  • Became concerned that U.S. forces would attack their country
One way to interpret this information is that, faced with the prospect of the Great Satan America responding in kind to deadly attacks, "Death to America" became a somewhat less attractive slogan.

As I said before, anything having to do with human beings is complex. I'm not going to say that this proves that taking the battle to places that support terrorism is a good idea.

On the other hand, I don't think that this report shows that the U.S. policy of taking military action is ineffective.

Before 2001, U.S. policy was to treat terrorist attacks as a matter for the criminal justice system, and refrain from making a major military issue of such things. That changed after September 11, 2001.

Now, an increasing number of Muslims don't support al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, and have actually become hostile toward what the Online Times called "violent extremism."

It's not so great a stretch of the imagination for me to imagine that both the jihadist's attacks on Muslim (or 'insufficiently Muslim?') targets, and the real possibility that the United States of America might do something besides assume responsibility for providing room and board to successful terrorists.

Information for this post is from the Times Online (UK) "Muslims are weary of bin Laden but still fear American attack", FOXNews.com's "Muslim Support for Bin Laden Falls, Poll Says, and Pew Global Attitudes Project's "Global Unease With Major World Powers" (and the 2.2 megabyte pdf-format full report The Pew GAP's report other heading is "Rising Environmental Concern in 47-Nation Survey" - Captain Planet would be proud!

Related posts, on Individuals and the War on Terror.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Tipster Provision Back in Play

An article in yesterday's Washington Post, "Lawmakers Reach Deal on Security Bill," says that legislation intended to do something about the old 9/11 Commission report is making progress. According to the Washington Post, "negotiators crafted language to satisfy a Republican demand giving immunity from lawsuits to people who report suspicious behavior."

That 'tipster immunity' became an issue when what the paper euphemistically reffed to as six Muslim scholars ... acting suspiciously" were removed from an airliner last fall.

(Reality check: The imam's fellow-passengers noticed that they demanded seat belt extenders to accommodate their rather bulky clothes, re-arranged themselves into the seating pattern used by the 9/11 hijackers, and then began praying, aloud, in a language that very few Minnesotans understand.)

Imagine! someone being suspicious over that! What is this world coming to!

No wonder the Imams are suing the airline, and the passengers who didn't want to get blown up.

If the bill being run through the mangle on Capitol Hill makes it through, it may protect people who would prefer not being participants in the next jihadist exercise in self-expression.

The bill's prospects are looking better. A FOXNews.com article,"Sept. 11 Security Bill to Include Protections for Citizens Who Report Suspicious Activity," says that "John Doe Protections" for people who report suspicious activity stayed in the bill, giving immunity to those who report what they reasonably believe is suspect activity to authorities.

It looks like common sense may have visited this nation's capitol.

At least, I hope so.

Previous post:

Professor Ward Churchill: 'I'll Be Back'

An article, "Reporter's Notebook: Banned Professor Ward Churchill Scorns University Firing Squad, Media" on the FOXNews.com website, gives a sort of reporter's-eye view of professor Ward Churchill's firing.

It also promises that the colorful ersatz-American-Indian ethnic studies professor will be back: in the news, if not in the university.

"But Churchill had some plans of his own. He'll sue the university in Denver District Court for violation of his First Amendment rights," reporter Carol McKinley wrote.

I wonder how the lawsuit will compare with Judge Roy Pearson's $54-million-dollar-pants legal action?

Professor Ward Churchill: 9/11 Truthteller, or Nincompoop?

Active response to jihadist attacks on this country began in earnest with the 9/11 attacks. That may be one reason why so many opponents of the War on Terror focus on the 9/11 attacks, either calling them justified, or denying that they were made by terrorists or jihadists.

Those who believe that the United States of America has no right to defend itself against alleged terrorists now have a martyr of sorts: professor Ward Churchill, who accused victims of the 9/11 attacks of bringing the attacks on themselves.

He's a martyr some of them may not want.

Ward Churchill's academic offense, according to everything that's filtering out from the University of Colorado at Boulder, was lying: and writing books under an assumed name so that he could cite them in his own scholarly works.

It's 'obvious' that professor Ward Churchill's firing was a violation of his free speech rights.

Or maybe not.

Representative Mark Udall, Colorado Democrat, assured readers of the Rocky Mountain News that controversial views, and those who hold them, will find a safe haven in his state's universities.

Also a salary that's nothing to sneeze at. Churchill will collect one year’s salary of $96,392 as severance pay, according to Rocky Mountain News.

Back to Rep. Udall. He's all for academic freedom, but said that professor Churchill got in trouble because of his academic misconduct.

"But Ward Churchill’s actions have gone far beyond giving voice to reprehensible points of views," he said. "As much as Ward Churchill would like us to believe otherwise, today’s dismissal is about his academic conduct. It is a shame that Ward Churchill still tries to deny the disservice he has done to CU by claiming the university is interfering with his right to free speech." (Rocky Mountain News, "CU regents fire Ward Churchill" July 24, 2007)

I agree with Representative Udall on this. Professors are paid to make outrageous, insane, ludicrous proclamations. And then, try to back them up with something with at least a passing resemblance to truth.

Professor Churchill failed to live up to this high ideal.

Now that his firing is official, professor Churchill is becoming a victim.

One post identified professor Churchill as "cause celebre of the hysterical right."

Another posted a well-written piece, defending what he calls "academic freedom." "All that has been proven is that Churchill made some dubious claims in his writings without any real evidence, and that he engaged in ghost writing for some other academics," he wrote This blogger called professor Churchill's academic faux pas "appalling," but he believes that a professor of Churchill's caliber shouldn't be fired.

And one blogger, with a keen perception of how a group can be discredited by an excessively-enthusiastic member, posted, "Churchill is not a 9/11 truthteller, and he doesn't speak for me." This blogger goes on to say, "Comparing the victims in the World Trade Center to nazis (!) is both offensive and idiotic, and Churchill never even discussed the fact that the 9/11 attacks were allowed -- or made -- to happen by elements within the U.S. government."

I'm waiting for someone to declare that professor Ward Churchill was forced or maneuvered into the position of writing his 2001 essay, and 2003 book. 'Obviously,' he is being used as a tool to discredit all the folks who know that 9/11 was somehow or other a fake.

One thing that's struck me about conspiracy theories is how mediocre they are. Honestly: "elements within the U.S. government?" I've heard phrases like that for decades. I would have expected someone to come up with something more imaginative, after all these years.

I strongly recommend reading this article in the Rocky Mountain News, CU regents fire Ward Churchill (July 24, 2007). In addition to other detail, this article quotes people whose work, in the view of the U of C, Boulder, was "mischaracterized by Churchill."

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Professor Ward Churchill: Victim of Neocons, or Plagiarist?

Ethnic studies professor Ward Churchill is out of a job, at least for now.

Professor Ward Churchill achieved national fame in September of 2001, when he wrote an essay titled "Some People Push Back: On the Justice of Roosting Chickens" in which he compared "technocratic corps at the very heart of America's global financial empire" working in the World Trade Center as "little Eichmanns," a professorial quote taken from a Wikipedia article.

In 2003, Professor Churchill wrote a prize-winning book entitled "On the Justice of Roosting Chickens: reflections on the consequences of U.S. imperial arrogance and criminality" (ISBN 1-902593-79-0). (Again, thanks to Wikipedia for bringing this information together.)

A Denver Post headline in today's paper announces another milestone in professor Churchill's career: "CU regents vote to fire Churchill" (also published online in the Post's "movies" folder).

The Post gave a number of views on the firing. The paper quotes Emma Perez, associate professor of ethnic studies: "I'm disappointed because the University of Colorado and the regents have succombed (!) to the political agenda of the neo-conservatives."

It's true that U of C, Boulder, was encouraged to take a closer-than-usual look at Professor Churchill and his work after he wrote that essay, comparing some of the 9/11 victims to Nazi leaders.

The free-speech aspect of the colorful ethnic studies professor was dealt with early. An Associated Press article, repeated on the FOXNews.com pages, said, "Churchill's essay mentioning Sept. 11 victims and Nazi leader Adolf Eichmann prompted a chorus of demands for his firing, but university officials concluded it was protected speech under the First Amendment." (Emphasis is mine.)

Professor Ward Churchill was, and is, perfectly within his rights to call the people whose bones are still being picked out of New York City's hair Nazis. The freedom to say outrageous things is guaranteed by the Constitution.

I doubt, however, that we'll be hearing much about the way the university went to bat for his right to call terrorism victims Nazis.

According to the Denver Post, David Lane, Churchill's lawyer, said:
"...'I told them (the regents) we are at a crossroads, and that they will do irreparable damage to academic free speech if they fire him.

"The world will perceive that he was fired for his free speech.'...
(Denver Post)
That's likely enough. The actual reasons for his firing were much more prosaic, and don't reflect well on the politically correct parts of the academic world.

Even today, academic professionals are expected to tell the truth, and not claim credit for what someone else did. Professor Ward Churchill had earned a reputation for telling scholarly whoppers, and plagiarizing the works of others.

All in a good cause, I'm sure.

Buried much deeper in the Denver Post article were a few paragraphs that discussed the academic reasons for Churchill's firing.

(Warning: some of what follows violates what "everybody knows" on at least some college campuses.)
"...It soon became clear that Churchill's scholarship had been questioned for years by other professors. Thomas Brown of Lamar University in Texas had long challenged Churchill's assertion that early European settlers of North America had intentionally spread smallpox among Indians by handing out infected blankets.

"Eventually, other revelations about Churchill became public, including that his hiring bypassed most of CU's normal processes for awarding tenure and that he had no proof of his claimed American Indian ancestry, which was the foundation of his hiring.

"Ultimately, a CU faculty committee charged Churchill with inaccurately describing historical facts in some of his writings - including the smallpox case...."
(Denver Post)
(I'll get back to the "smallpox case" momentarily.)

The FOXNews.com article goes into rather more detail, but both the Denver Post and AP seem to agree on the basics.

Churchill was accused of plagiarism, falsification and other things that professors shouldn't do, by three faculty committees.

These "research allegations" go back to other learned writings made by Churchill. His "September 11" essay is involved only in that it raised such a stink that U of C, Boulder, was forced to take a serious look at the ethnic studies professor's work.

"The decision was really pretty basic," said university President Hank Brown in the AP article. President Brown added that the school had little choice but to fire Churchill to, in the words of the Associated Press, "protect the integrity of the university's research."

"The individual did not express regret, did not apologize, did not indicate a willingness to refrain from this type of falsification in the future," Brown said.

The falsification mentioned is a bit of academic mythology which I first encountered some time during the 1970s. At that time, "everybody knew" that American Indians were deliberately killed off by smallpox-infected blankets.

The AP article says, in part:
"...Brown had recommended in May that the regents fire Churchill after faculty committees accused him of misconduct in some of his academic writing. The allegations included misrepresenting the effects of federal laws on American Indians, fabricating evidence that the Army deliberately spread smallpox to Mandan Indians in 1837, and claiming the work of a Canadian environmental group as his own...."
(Associated Press)

All of that is rather boring, though. I expect that by the time I get this post finished, about 10:40 pm Central time in the States, tales of political oppression, neocon plots, and the total loss of freedom of speech will be the crisis du jur for many netizens.

In the news:

Monday, July 23, 2007

U.S. Masses Not the Only Ones Fed Up About Iraq

"Sickened by the group’s barbarity, Iraqi insurgents are giving information to coalition forces" is how a Times reporter summed up the situation in Dura, Iraq, and other places in the country.

Dozens of Al-Qaeda members in Dura have gotten "Fed up with being part of a group that cuts off a person’s face with piano wire to teach others a lesson," according to the article.

"They are turning. We are talking to people who we believe have worked for al-Qaeda in Iraq and want to reconcile and have peace," commander of the units that oversee the area said.

One paragraph in the article illustrates a point which I believe is important.

"The increased presence of US forces in Doura, however, is encouraging insiders to overcome their fear and divulge what they know. Convoys of US soldiers are working the rubble-strewn streets day and night, knocking on doors, speaking to locals and following up leads on possible insurgent hideouts."

From a certain point of view, this illustrates the very real danger of victory, if U.S. troops remain in Iraq after April 1 of next year.

Another post on this general topic: The Senate, Military Funding, and Iraq

Think Bush is Stupid Now? Wait Until He Invades Pakistan

It's possible that the U.S. forces will invade Pakistan, dealing with tribal leaders, brigands, and other colorful characters in the ungoverned land between Pakistan and Afghanistan.

To date, "everybody knows" that President Bush is stupid because he isn't chasing terrorists anywhere except in Iraq.

If U.S. forces go into the ungoverned area that's nominally in Pakistan, I think we can count on an outcry about how stupid President Bush is because he's getting the States involved in a country other that Iraq.

(I know: but I'm not "everybody," and know that there's U.S. presence in many countries other than Iraq.)

Cards-to-the-Troops Campaign by Xerox

Let's Say Thanks: not a bad idea.

In what may be a cynical attempt to gain profit from the suffering of others, Xerox joined with Give2TheTroops, the Boys and Girls Clubs, and other organizations, to send postcards to U.S. troops overseas. The postcards display drawings from children living in many states.

I prefer to see this as an opportunity to provide a few seconds of relief to someone serving overseas, and to let that person know that they're not forgotten, back here in the States.

The campaign is called Let's Say Thanks In Support of Our Troops. It took me about 90 seconds to select a card design and something to put on the back.

For those who are concerned about violating their principles, this anecdote may help: Someone with scruples about flag-waving and statements of support found a card (I believe it had a heart with the words "Made in the USA."). This person didn't use any of the pre-written messages, opting to write his own.

Is this program effective? Responses, purportedly From the Troops are available at Let's Say Thanks' website.

And, for those who would rather hear from a non-military source, there's Celebrities Say Thanks.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Congressman Keith Ellison and Islam

I became aware of Congressman Keith Ellison after he compared 9/11 to the Reichstag fire in the 1930s at an Atheists for Human Rights at a library in Edina, Minnesota.

I was going to re-visit the freshman congressman's antics today, when I ran into a very good discussion of his place in today's USA. The third sentence in the blog is "Congressman Ellison Carries the Islamists' Water." (It seems to be originally from Congressman Ellison Carries the Islamists’ Water on the Family Security Matters website.)

M. Zuhdi Jasser, the blog's author, wrote, "Mr. Ellison, this is not a crime problem. Radical Islamism is an ideological problem being fed globally by Islamists, jihadists, and Wahhabists who continue to exploit our faith for a transnational global political agenda. Your public remarks were irresponsible and deserve the censure of your colleagues in the U.S. Congress."

Jasser's post has a dense concentration of facts about about Minnesota's strange new congressman. I think it's worth the time it will take to read.

Keith Ellison posts:As the first Islamic member of the American Congress, Representative Ellison deserves some attention. There may be more K.E. posts, given his colorful past associations and current talent for getting in the news.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Tipster Protection Provision Blown Away

With so many lawsuit-happy lawyers and judges running around loose, protecting tipsters sounded like a good idea.

Especially after Minnesota imams who mimicked the 9/11 hijackers filed suit against US Airways and the "John Doe" passengers who reported them. I'm inclined to side with the passengers. I'd be wary if, during a Minnesota summer, bearded dudes in bulky clothing re-arranged their seat assignments and muttering in an unfamiliar language.

The homeland security legislation's provision to protect people who would prefer not to get crashed into the side of a skyscraper as sponsored by a New Mexico Republican.

Congressional Democrats didn't like it, so now it's history. The July 20 Washington Times has more, in Tipster shields lifted by Democrats

I ran into an editorial cartoon at Cox and Forkum, dated July 20, titled Zero Visibility. It shows an airliner going down in flames. Someone inside is saying "And finally we thank Democrats for discouraging you passengers from reporting our suspicious behavior. ALLAHU AKBAR!"

I've wondered how many people on Capitol Hill understand that leaders of the Taliban, al Qaeda, and their merry martyrs, are not very nice people?

Lesson for Terrorism Investigators: Return Those Calls!

Investigations into who did what in the London/Glasgow car bombings of a few weeks ago will probably continue for months to come.

Although nearly a dozen people are suspected of being involved, one or more may be innocent.

Mohamed Haneef, arrested on July 2 as he tried to leave Australia, has been charged with recklessly leaving his mobile phone SIM card with a distant cousin. That cousin's brother was in the Glasgow Jeep, and the SIM card was found in the fire-damaged jeep.

Maybe I'm biased, since I belong to a large extended family, but this charge seems a little goofy. If I understand it, Haneef is charged with:
  • Letting a distant cousin use his SIM card
  • Being the owner of a SIM card that got left in a jeep on the other side of the world
  • Still being the SIM card owner when someone tried to use the jeep to torch an airport terminal
It gets better. Haneef says he tried to call a British officer four times, to clear his name, and that his calls were not returned.

A likely story! However, a police investigation showed that Haneef did call the British officer's number four times on July 2.

At first, I thought that Australian authorities had demonstrated their investigative prowess by intercepting Haneef as he was boarding a plane headed for India: and with a one-way ticket!

It was good police work, in a way, but hardly the sort of thing that legends are made of. "Haneef told police he was leaving Australia to be with his family in Bangalore, where his daughter had been born just days before his arrest. Her stay in hospital was prolonged after complications arose during the Caesarean (!) birth." (AP/FOXNews.com)

I think even Inspector Lestrad might have been able to intercept the - fugitive? - under those circumstances.

Mohamed Haneef may be guilty of complicity in the car bombings. Or he may not.

I sincerely hope that, either way, he is treated better than Richard Jewell.

More about Mohamed Haneef: Suspect in Failed U.K. Terror Attacks Called British Investigator.

My views on rational investigations and Richard Jewell: Arrests, Doctors and Terrorists: Keeping a Cool Head

Bipartisan Support for Withdrawal Deadline - Not!

If you haven't heard about this yet, you probably will soon. A bipartisan group of legislators has signed a letter in which they promise to vote against funding U.S. troops in Iraq, unless deadlines for surrender (oops: make that withdrawal) are included in the bill.

The group is bipartisan, all right. Not only does it promote withdrawal from Iraq, but another blogger noticed a Republican among the seventy signers: Ron Paul. Reviewing the facts, I see opposition to the Bush administration's policies, and at least one Republican in the mix.

Yep, that's bipartisan, as the term is used these day.

I see that there are three Minnesota names among the signers:
  • Betty McCollum
  • Jim Oberstar
  • Keith Ellison
There's more about this affair in They Call This Bipartisanship?

Moral Equivalence, Prisoners, and Al Qaeda

Moral equivalence has been all the rage for the last few decades, among the better communities in this country.

"Moral equivalence" has been defined as "defining distinct and conflicting moral behaviors in similar terms." The principle of moral equivalence is behind statements like " 'all sins are equal in God's eyes,' which effectively equates ethnic cleansing with stealing a pencil."

Back in the 60s when my on-and-off affair with academia started, I learned that to be considered sensitive and intelligent the more 'sophisticated' cliques, one should believe, or at least say, that the U.S. detention of Japanese Americans (a really dumb policy) was at least as bad as Stalin's purges. Assuming that it was okay at the time to believe that the purges ever took place.

There's a pretty good discussion of moral equivalence as it relates to Amerika in Brandon Crocker's "Moral Equivalence Rides Again in a 2005 American Spectator.

I'm pretty sure that we'll soon be hearing rewrites of Senator Ted Kennedy's wisdom in reference to Abu Ghraib: "Shamefully, we now learn that Saddam's torture chambers reopened under new management: U.S. management." Amazing. I wouldn't have realized that a sustained policy of mass-murder and routine rape, mutilation, and beating of prisoners is equivalent to a few perverts taking obscene pictures.

The occasion for this display of "open-mindedness" will, I think, be yesterday's executive order relating to the treatment of prisoners.

Actions speak louder than words, but words carry weight, too. The executive order is a clear, detailed, massive collection of officialese, and Executive Order: Interpretation of the Geneva Conventions Common Article 3 as Applied to a Program of Detention and Interrogation Operated by the Central Intelligence Agency. I believe these two quotes will give you the gist of it.

"On February 7, 2002, I determined for the United States that members of al Qaeda, the Taliban, and associated forces are unlawful enemy combatants who are not entitled to the protections that the Third Geneva Convention provides to prisoners of war. I hereby reaffirm that determination."

And, "the conditions of confinement and interrogation practices of the program do not include:

"(A) torture, as defined in section 2340 of title 18, United States Code;

"(B) any of the acts prohibited by section 2441(d) of title 18, United States Code, including murder, torture, cruel or inhuman treatment, mutilation or maiming, intentionally causing serious bodily injury, rape, sexual assault or abuse, taking of hostages, or performing of biological experiments;

"(C) other acts of violence serious enough to be considered comparable to murder, torture, mutilation, and cruel or inhuman treatment, as defined in section 2441(d) of title 18, United States Code...." And so on.

Someone boiled it down to "don't be cruel."

Now, for what we'll probably be told is the moral equivalent of the U.S. position in the War on Terror (or W** ** T*****, if you're following the British PM's instructions)(see my Opinions, Freedom, and Sharia Law, and Wake Up America's British Prime Minister drops the Phrase "War on Terror".

Here's an official statement by Sulaiman Abu Ghaith, an al Qaeda spokesman, in October of 2001, as translated on BBC: "US interests are spread throughout the world. So, every Muslim should carry out his real role to champion his Islamic nation and religion. Carrying out terrorism against the oppressors is one of the tenets of our religion and Shari'ah."

I suppose I'm too poor, uneducated, and easily led to understand that "carrying out terrorism" and rebuilding sewage plants in Iraq are really the same thing.

A parting thought: Don't be So Open Minded that Your Brains Fall Out.

Friday, July 20, 2007

The No-Fly Terrorist List, National Security, and Sanity

Dateline, Kansas City, Missouri.

Common sense? No common sense here!

An 8-year-old boy has a name that's on a terrorist no-fly list. That's why, when he arrived at the airport in Cortez, Colorado, he was told "We cant get you on this plane, you're a terrorist." The whole weird story is on the Kansas City FOX 4 website: Metro 8-Year-Old Shows Up On No-Fly Terrorist List

Happily, an investigation determined that the preteen Tom Sawyer lookalike was not a dangerous terrorist: but not before the kid missed his plane.

"It's not really fair that I couldn't get home because another man in the world was a terrorist," he said, displaying a degree of wisdom and insight that I sincerely wish would be displayed more often in adults. Some days, I'd settle for a little common sense.

The Transportation Security Administration says that there aren't any children on the terrorist watch list: under the circumstances, that statement isn't all that reassuring.

This latest example of a security system with zero tolerance for sanity raises a real concern. While airport security was busy protecting travelers from an 8-year-old kid, how much attention was being paid to people who might be real terrorists?

The Fairness Doctrine is Back

Somewhat in the manner the Transylvanian Count getting resuscitated by his loyal servant in a Dracula sequel, the Fairness Doctrine is back in play. This relic of the post-WWII years was last heard of twenty years ago.

One of the effects of the rule was that if a station ran a 30-second spot for political party A, they had to run a 30-second spot for political party B, too. Even if the station's news feed was run by people who shared party B's views, even if the station's sitcoms, docudramas, and Captain Planet re-runs bore the stamp of party B's world view.

Getting back to the hemophagous count metaphor:

Back in 1987, fearless Fairness Doctrine hunters cornered the creature, drove a stake through its heart, stuffed its mouth with legal opinions, and buried it.

Now, one of the two major political parties, apparently believing that there's too much unregulated opinion floating around, has dug it up.

My attitude toward this attempt to regulate the marketplace of ideas should be pretty clear. A much more restrained discussion of the subject is in a piece written by Senator James Inhofe: "Fairness" at the Expense of Freedom?

As for me, I'm looking for a stake.

Senators, Secrets, and Sides: Loose Lips and Politics

The fuss over a New York Senator's request for details of the Pentagon's Iraq withdrawal plans is still in the news, and probably will be for quite a while. Senator Clinton even offered to have the troop deployment plans handed over in a secret meeting.

So far, the Pentagon hasn't cooperated.

Members of Congress playing politics with national security is nothing new. Unhappily, Members of Congress having trouble at keeping secrets is nothing new, too. Other people's secrets, anyway.

Back in the 80s, a senator from Vermont earned the title "Leaky" Leahy, and was forced to resign from his Intelligence Committee post: just because he released classified information during that little Achille Lauro misunderstanding.

Senator Rockefeller, of West Virginia, kept his family name in the forefront of public affairs when he announced the existence of a secret spy program, back in 2004 ("Lawmaker Says Mystery Spy Project 'Dangerous To National Security'," 12/9/04, AP, Katherine Pfleger Shrader). By implication, he was referring to national security of the USA.

What makes this quarrel interesting is a Pentagon aide who charged that the Senator's questions about Iraq withdrawal planning would help the enemy.

A spokesman for the senator said: "We sent a serious letter to the Secretary of Defense, and unacceptably got a political response back."

For once, I'm in agreement with something coming out of the New York Senator's office.

I do believe that this quarrel over letting a Senator get classified information is political, on both sides, at least in one sense of the word.

The New York Senator, in addition to a Congressional duty to examine information, has a reasonable interest in appearing active and concerned in national and international affairs. As a presidential candidate, she'd be foolish not to do what she can to 'look presidential.'

The Pentagon has a sort of political interest in plans for troop movement. This nation's military leaders, perhaps understandably, not only want to keep as many American soldiers from being killed as possible, but are required to maintain the existing power structure in the United States of America.

"Political" has been defined as being "of or relating to your views about social relationships involving authority or power." In this country, the "social relationships involving authority or power" involve a government which is run along the lines of a constitution which, among other things, guarantees the right to discuss matters involving national policy.

By this definition, the Pentagon's efforts to protect the United States of America and its government institutions is "political."

The Pentagon is clearly on the side of those who would prefer to keep the system we have, where people are allowed to disagree with those in power, and engage in debates without the approval of their leaders.

People involved in organizations like al Qaeda, the Taliban, and the Army of Islam sincerely believe that a free and open society like ours is utterly unacceptable, and must be wiped from the face of the earth.

I'm not quite sure where some of our leaders stand, judging from their track records of releasing classified information: information that would most likely hurt the United States and help those who prefer a more orderly and culturally unified society.

Geoff Metcalf's 2005 column, Congressional Intelligence Leaks, takes a rather colorful look at Capitol Hill's leaky minds.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

U.S. Senator Helps Propaganda: But Not Ours

Or, With Friends Like These ...

The headline is, under the circumstances, mild: DoD rebukes Sen. Clinton on Iraq questions. The first sentence of the article is carries a rather more appropriate tone. "The Pentagon told Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Rodham Clinton that her questions about how the U.S. plans to eventually withdraw from Iraq boosts enemy propaganda."

Undersecretary of Defense Eric Edelman was responding to New York Senator Clinton's statements in May, that the Pentagon had better hurry up and plan how to get out of Iraq.

"Premature and public discussion of the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq reinforces enemy propaganda that the United States will abandon its allies in Iraq, much as we are perceived to have done in Vietnam, Lebanon and Somalia," Edelman wrote.

Politicos broadcasting sensitive, even secret, information in wartime isn't new. At least not for the War on Terror.

Back in 2002, another Senator exercised his right to free speech, apparently without exercising his brain. Sen. Shelby the subject of probe on 9/11 intelligence leak (the Alabama Senator was a probable source of a "leak of highly classified intelligence related to al-Qaida communications in June 2002, primarily to CNN." The leak let al Qaeda know that one of their communications channels had been compromised, and that which two of their code words needed to be changed.

I suppose I shouldn't be too hard on members of the Senate. It must be difficult to keep track of what facts can be used to attract attention and get re-elected, and which, if broadcast, could kill American soldiers. Or even American Senators, if al Qaeda or a wannabe decides to take a whack at hitting the capitol again.

Minnesota National Guard Charlie Company is Home

Charlie Company, the Minnesota National Guard unit from the Sauk Centre area, is home, as of about 1:00 this afternoon.

They've been gone for about 22 months: a long time.

So: Thanks, Charlie Company, and welcome home.

Thinking about it, I doubt that any of the Charlie Company troops are wasting time online right now. There's almost two years of home and family life to get caught up on: and re-adjusted to.

I've got a few more details, and pictures, in the currentSauk Centre Journal, and will be putting some movie footage (digitage?) together tonight.

Minnesota National Guard Troops Homecoming: Sauk Centre

Charlie Company of the Minnesota National Guard has been gone since October of 2005, serving a long tour of duty in Iraq, after preparations in Mississippi and Kuwait.

Now, after a very long wait, they're on their way home. Folks here in Sauk Centre, Minnesota, have been getting ready to greet Charlie Company. We expect them tomorrow, around 1:00. No, make that later today. It's after midnight here in Minnesota.

Although I'm related, one way or another, to almost half the town, I don't have anyone very close to me involved in the conflict. Even so, I'm excited and relieved at the thought that these Soldiers from our part of the state will soon be back with their families. For those who have near kin returning, it must be an 'extreme event.'

I've got a few more details, and pictures, in the currentSauk Centre Journal.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

The Senate, Military Funding, and Iraq

Showing the sort of leadership we've come to expect over the last few months, the United States Senate pulled an all-nighter, and failed to pass military funding authorization in wartime.

The defense authorization bill that didn't pass would have included
  • Pay raises for service members
  • Missile defense programming
  • Rules on habeas corpus rights for Guantanamo Bay detainees
  • Equipment development plans
My hat's off to one of the major political parties. Even though they failed in their objective, they made a valiant effort to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

The desire to end U.S. involvement in Iraq is understandable. It's been about four years now, and apart from
  • Removing a brutal dictator
  • Rebuilding much of the infrastructure neglected under his rule
  • Removing the dictator's enforcers and launching a civilian police force in their place
  • Re-training Iraqi armed forces for something other than genocide and pillaging operations and
  • Helping Iraqi leaders build a working government while under fire from religious fanatics
...not much has been achieved in Iraq.

I wonder how many people remember that it took 11 years for the United States of America to move from the Articles of Confederation to the start of the Constitution we're using now?

There are times when I feel that there should be a Chamberlain Committee to award the "Peace for Our Time" medal to those who excel at ignoring the big picture.

Yes, I'm biased.

I don't think that religious fanatics who were trying to kill us before 9/11 will stop because we abandon a country with which were were not closely involved before 2001.

I don't think people who sincerely believe that their god wants them to kill people who don't follow their rules will stop because the United States decides to get out of their way.

I don't think that it is reasonable to expect this struggle between one segment of Islam and everyone else will end soon. I would be astonished if this conflict took less time to resolve than the seven decades during which the Soviet Union absorbed much of eastern Europe, threatened the rest of the world, and provided some self-described deep thinkers a shining beacon of hope in a competitive world.

Back to the U.S. Congress.

I'm being a bit unfair, of course. The U.S. Congress has one recent achievement to its credit. Together, the houses of Congress have managed to not only score lower than President Bush in job approval, but to outdistance the president in job disapproval as well:

Job Approval:
25.0% Congress
33.0% President

Job Disapproval:
66.0% Congress
62.8% President

(from Real Clear Politics for Presidential and Congressional numbers, reported on Fox News)

Another issue that came up in the recent Congressional mess was the use of earmarks. These convenient little dodges are another topic - and one that I won't get into. At least, not now.

Starvation, Poverty, and Perceptions

Norman Borlaug received a Congressional Gold Medal yesterday.

If you can't remember reading that name before, don't feel bad. Norman Borlaug hasn't been in the press as much as great thinkers like the Rev. Jesse Jackson and Cindy Sheehan.

All Norman Borlaug did was help start the Green Revolution, and devote his life to making sustainable agriculture available to people who didn't live on Catalina Island or in Kennebunkport.

I debated whether to post this in a 'War on Terror' blog, but decided that there is a connection.

I've posted before (Doctors, Terrorists, and the Proletariat: What's a Person to Think?) on how many people find the jihad against the west hard to understand. In my opinion, that's because we're involved in a conflict that is based on neither the colonial disputes nor the class struggles that plagued the 19th and 20th centuries.

Another blog, Greatest Living American Ignored, discusses Norman Borlaug in a very positive way. Even so, the blog itself and to a greater extent some of the comments show a world view that Guevara and Marx would have found fairly familiar.

I'd like you to read the blog yourself. Here are excerpts from two of the comments. Emphasis is mine.
"No American wants to see fewer people in the world. That would be bad for business. You can't have that. The Pope< just criticized Europeans for not having enough babies. So I guess God wants more and more people even if they die of hunger or disease or heat protration [sic] or malaria. Whatever. Anyway that is why Borlaug didn't get any press coverage."

"Greatest living American? For fighting world hunger with biotech foods that don't re-seed so that poor populations around the world are dependent on Monsanto, the venerable corporation that brought us Agent Orange?"
The first comment has the virtue of recognizing that religious beliefs are important, although maintaining the traditional view that religion in general, and Catholicism in particular, is a malignant force.

Both seem to me to be moderately good examples of a world view that insists on forcing issues and events into one of two categories: the oppression of indigenous populations by intolerant, expansionistic, imperialistic, racist European powers; or the oppression of the working class by the plutocratic, capitalistic, property-owning class.

My view is that jihad conducted by some (certainly not all) devout Muslims is exactly what they say it is: an armed effort to wipe from the face of the earth something which they believe is offensive to their god.

I doubt that the conflict between the open, free society that people enjoy here in the States and the nascent world caliphate represented by one part of the Islamic world can be understood without assuming that the motives of the jihadists are religious.

Finally: something in the news about the father of the Green Revolution: Scientist Norman Borlaug Receives Congressional Gold Medal for Food Research.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Rep. Ellison's Misconstrued Reichstag Remarks

Congressman Keith Ellison of Minnesota is in the news again, or still. He says that people "misconstrued my remarks." Misconstrued?!

Let's look at what he said last Sunday.

"It's almost like the Reichstag fire, kind of reminds me of that. After the Reichstag was burned, they blamed the Communists for it and it put the leader of that country [Hitler] in a position where he could basically have authority to do whatever he wanted. The fact is that I'm not saying [Sept. 11] was a [U.S.] plan, or anything like that because, you know, that's how they put you in the nut-ball box -- dismiss you."

(The Reichstag fire he's referring to is the 1933 blaze in the Reichstag building in Germany. The chancellor of Germany blamed Communists, who would have been running against his party in an upcoming election. The chancellor also asked for, and got, sweeping powers and authority: which he used to establish his party's position as the sole political power in Germany.)

Again: Misconstrued?!

"Do whatever he wanted"?

Hmm. Let's see what happened after the German chancellor got his powers.

"Truckloads of stormtroopers roared through the streets all over Germany, breaking into homes, rounding up victims and carting them off to [Brownshirt] barracks, where they were tortured and beaten." (William Shirer's "The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich," as quoted in Kersten's column.)

Odd. If something like that had happened after 9/11, I'd have thought it would have been on the news: at least in Reuters.

Now, Representative Ellison is telling whoever will listen what he really meant. Which, apparently, is that he doesn't agree with all of President Bush's policies, and that he thinks that Osama Bin Laden was really behind the 9/11 attacks.

Amazing: what a difference it makes, realizing that you're on camera.

Keith Ellison posts:As the first Islamic member of the American Congress, Representative Ellison deserves some attention. There may be more K.E. posts, given his colorful past associations and current talent for getting in the news.

Monday, July 16, 2007

There's a New Loon in Minnesota

It's been quite a while since Jesse "the body" Ventura gave Minnesotans a truly offbeat public figure. I remember when "Our Governor is Crazier Than Your Governor" was the slogan of the moment.

Those were the days!

Perhaps it's best to regard Freshman Congressman Keith Ellison as someone stepping into the long-vacant straitjacket of Governor Ventura.

On Sunday, July 8, Representative Ellison compared the 9/11 attack to the burning of the Reichstag in 1933.

In another article about his "Reichstag" remark, I learned that Congressman Ellison has clarified his remarks.

Tuesday, July 10, speaking to Katherine Kersten of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, he said that he thought Osama bin Laden was responsible for the Twin Towers going down. His Reichstag reference was intended to make the point that, "in the aftermath of a tragedy, space is opened up for governments to take action that they could not have achieved before that."

The actions of President Bush which he said were equivalent to the German chancellor's decree ending protection of political, personal and property rights was the commutation of Scooter Libby's sentence and some provisions of the Patriot Act.

These are debatable actions, but a careful observer might find subtle distinctions between these actions of the Bush administration and what happened after the German chancellor and his party took power: "Truckloads of stormtroopers roared through the streets all over Germany, breaking into homes, rounding up victims and carting them off to [Brownshirt] barracks, where they were tortured and beaten." (William Shirer's "The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich," as quoted in Kersten's column.)

I agree with the sentiment expressed in Kersten's headline: Katherine Kersten: Ellison's use of Reichstag fire goes overboard.

Kersten's column is the first place where I've seen mention of Representative Ellison's colorful background:
  • 1990s Connections with Louis Farrakhan's Nation of Islam
  • Defense of Kathleen Soliah, planter of pipe bombs under two Los Angeles police cars
  • Praise for Assata Shakur, convicted of killing a cop, and who now resides in Cuba.

Let's give Representative Ellison credit: aside from a brief lapse during his first few months in Congress, he hasn't abandon his beliefs.

Keith Ellison posts:As the first Islamic member of the American Congress, Representative Ellison deserves some attention. There may be more K.E. posts, given his colorful past associations and current talent for getting in the news.

Another Islamic Voice in the Debate

This isn't helpful, in my opinion.

Congressman Keith Ellison, speaking to a gathering of atheists, said "You'll always find this Muslim standing up for your right to be atheists," according to an article in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune: "Atheists applaud Ellison's views on Cheney, Libby, 9/11"

So far, so good. The freedom to believe, or not believe, what you want is an important part of the freedom we enjoy in the States.

Congressman Ellison also said something that I don't think is helpful in Islamic/non-Islamic relations.

A direct quote from the Star-Tribune article would, I think, be better than my paraphrase.
"On comparing Sept. 11 to the burning of the Reichstag building in Nazi Germany: 'It's almost like the Reichstag fire, kind of reminds me of that. After the Reichstag was burned, they blamed the Communists for it and it put the leader of that country [Hitler] in a position where he could basically have authority to do whatever he wanted. The fact is that I'm not saying [Sept. 11] was a [U.S.] plan, or anything like that because, you know, that's how they put you in the nut-ball box -- dismiss you.' "
(Minneapolis Star-Tribune)
While Congressman Ellison did a fine job of implying that the U.S. blew up the Twin Towers without actually saying that this was the case, his meaning is quite clear.

I applaud Congressman Ellison's technical skill as a communicator, but believe that his remarks will, in the long run, not help the average non-Muslim see those of his faith in a positive light.

Keith Ellison posts:As the first Islamic member of the American Congress, Representative Ellison deserves some attention. There may be more K.E. posts, given his colorful past associations and current talent for getting in the news.

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

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Getting Noticed in the Blogosphere

Technorati Profile

The best blog in the world won't be much use if people can't find it.

I've used search engines for years to promote websites, but it takes time for the organic approach to show progress: and I'm a bit more impatient now.

Just the same, I submit my blogs to DMOZ and a few other places.

Right now I'm learning how to use blogger communities and directories: both to get acquainted with others in the blogosphere; and to give my writing the chance to be read by as many people as possible.

I've had limited success so far, which isn't bad for someone who's less than a month into the blogging game. The only setback I've had is with Technorati, which seems to have had trouble 'seeing' updates to Another War-on-Terror Blog.

In the hopes that this is just a technical problem, I'm on the Technorati path again: and hence the rather odd phrase that leads this post.

"Islam is a Peaceful Religion" 2

Any time now, attention will be paid to groups like the Fiqh Council of North America and the Islamic Society of Central Florida. Anniversaries of the 9/11 attack of 2001 and the July 7, 2005 bus and subway bombings in London are coming up, giving news media an opportunity to do 'this month in history' pieces.

I was particularly impressed with the Fiqh Council of North America a couple years ago, when they made a quite definite statement about the place of mass murder in Islam.

The short version is 'terrorism isn't right.' The long version is still available online (NPR's All Things Considered, July 28, 2005) with a sort of digest in an MSN/NBC article of the same date.

I'm still impressed by this excerpt of the fatwa, taken from the NPR page:
"Islam strictly condemns religious extremism and the use of violence against innocent lives. There is no justification in Islam for extremism or terrorism. Targeting civilians' life and property through suicide bombings or any other method of attack is haram – or forbidden - and those who commit these barbaric acts are criminals, not 'martyrs.'

"The Qur'an, Islam's revealed text, states: 'Whoever kills a person [unjustly]…it is as though he has killed all mankind. And whoever saves a life, it is as though he had saved all mankind.' (Qur'an, 5:32)"
(NPR's All Things Considered, July 28, 2005)
That's about as definite a statement as I could hope for. The statement about "religious extremism and the use of violence against innocent lives" needs a precise definition of "extremism" and "innocent" to make me completely convinced: but that's nitpicking.

Even more impressive, this was a fatwa, or "scholarly opinion on a matter of Islamic law" - which is about as authoritative as it gets in Islam. With no hierarchical authority, Islam leaves a lot of elbow-room for alternative interpretations.

Now, that keeps things interesting.

The Fiqh Council of North America has an article "In Regards to the 9/11 Tragedy" on their website. It's undated, but that page has a 2006 copyright statement. The article makes the same basic points as the 2005 fatwa, as this excerpt shows:
"The Fiqh [juristic] Council of North America reiterates its earlier, repeated, unequivocal and unqualified condemnation of the destruction and violence committed against innocent men and women on September 11, 2001. This condemnation is deeply rooted in true Islamic values based on the Qur'anic instructions which consider the unjust killing of a single person equivalent to the killing of all humanity (Quran, 5:32).

"It also condemns any subsequent acts of violence and victimization of Muslims or others."
(The article's full title is "Statement of the Fiqh Council of North America on the Day of Remembrance of the Tragic Events of September 11, 2001.")
More good news surfaced about a year ago in Florida. U.S. Muslims Warn of Threat From Within headed an article of August 31, 2006. Imam Muhammad Musri, head of the Islamic Society of Central Florida, was quoted as saying "'Here in Central Florida, talking to most people, they are literally upset by the actions of Muslims _ or so-called Muslims _ overseas in Europe and the Middle East, because they say, "We wish they would come and see how we're doing here,"' Musri said. 'We know who the real enemy is _ someone who might come from the outside and try to infiltrate us. Everybody is on the lookout.'"

What's the point of bringing up all this old news?

First, not all who follow Islam are itching to kill people they don't agree with. Saying "Islam is a peaceful religion" isn't the lunatic statement that events in the Middle East and elsewhere might suggest.

Second, there are, here and there, Muslims who are willing to say, publicly, that the people who say that they're killing for Allah aren't being good Muslims. Considering how easy it to lose your head over such statements, that takes nerve.

Maybe Islam really is a peaceful religion.

Posts on this topic:

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

Friday, July 13, 2007

Ten Really Good Questions About Iraq and the States

Another blog's post, Let the surge run its course (July 11, 2007), started with ten excellent questions.

Eleven questions, counting the one that led the list of ten: "If we withdrew from Iraq this week..." - by grim coincidence, the House of Representatives voted to withdraw from Iraq on the next day.

I'm one of the people who don't think that abandoning Iraq to the gentle mercies of the likes of al Qaeda is a good idea. I'm also one of the people who think that 'America has problems, but America isn't the problem.'

Maybe that's why I thought americasinterests.blogspot.com made good reading.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Iraq, Congress, and the Initial Benchmark Assessment Report

Or, Snatching Defeat from the Jaws of Victory
Or, There's Nothing so Lovely as Surrender in April.

As usual, Iraq is in the news.

According to what I read in the news, the Malachi government in Iraq got a "satisfactory" rating on only 8 of 18 "benchmarks", mixed reviews for 2 more, and for the 8 remaining, in an interim report: the Initial Benchmark Assessment Report.

The report I read had a different count:
  • 9 benchmarks met: (i), (iv), (viii), (ix), (xii), (xiii), (xiv), (xvi), (xvii)
  • 7 benchmarks not met: (ii),(iii), (vii), (x), (xi), (xv), (xviii)
  • 2 benchmarks with a mixture of achieved and unachieved goals: (v), (vi).)
Here's the report, in pdf and html format, from the White House.

The current administration, trying to help leaders in Iraq set up a working government after over 30 years of a selfish tyrant's mismanagement, decided to increase the number of U.S. troops in Iraq. These soldiers were going to wage war on al Qaeda in Iraq, and anyone else who wanted to overthrow or disrupt the Iraqi government.

This has been called a "troop surge." Actually, the current strategy is called "the New Way Forward."

The last deployment of the U.S. troops involved in the "surge" arrived in Iraq just a few weeks ago.

According to the White House report, this "strategy -- the New Way Forward -- recognizes that the fulfillment of commitments by both the U.S. and Iraqi Governments will be necessary to achieving our common goal: a democratic Iraq that can govern, defend, and sustain itself, and be an ally in the War on Terror."

There's already progress. Limited progress, but progress.

The report says, "Tough fighting should be expected through the summer as Coalition and Iraqi Forces seek to seize the initiative from early gains and shape conditions for longer-term stabilization. These combined operations -- named Operation Phantom Thunder -- were launched on June 15, 2007, after the total complement of surge forces arrived in Iraq. The full surge in this respect has only just begun."

With a three-week-old major offensive showing limited progress, together with efforts at political reconciliation at the national, provincial, and local level, Iraq has a chance at getting a working government. A good chance, according to the White House.

Faced with the imminent threat of military and political success in Iraq, the United States House of Representatives acted with a decisiveness seldom seen on Capitol Hill.

A headline in the Washington Post says it well: House passes bill to withdraw troops from Iraq.

The measure, which passed a few hours ago, would have the Pentagon start withdrawing troops within four months, with all but a token force of 10,000 out of Iraq by April 1 of next year. The skeleton crew left behind would "train Iraqi soldiers, conduct counter-terrorism operations and protect U.S. diplomats."

al Qaeda and all the others who don't like U.S. efforts to help Iraq have been reassured by the House of Representatives. If they hunker down and survive until April of next year, they can enjoy a victory that will make the evacuation of Saigon, back in 1975, look like a tea party. Come to think of it, Saigon fell in late April, 1975, roughly April 27-30.

About the slow political progress in Iraq, the report says that there is "increasing concern among Iraqi political leaders that the United States may not have a long term-commitment to Iraq."

In other words, the Iraqis who are trying to put their country back together were worried that U.S. political leaders would do exactly what they did do.

The House of Representatives' notion of peacemaking goes to the Senate next. What they'll do, with 2008 elections coming up, is anyone's guess.

I sincerely hope that this nation's leaders are not putting polls and their own campaign plans above the good of the people who live in this country.

Whatever Congress decides, and whatever their motives, the odds are that they'll get to have their elections in 2008. November is only 7 months after April.


My academic and business experience has taught me that it's best to read original documents: not what someone says the original documents say. The only place, aside from the White House website, that I found a link to the White House report was the Fox Newsarticle.

Here's my summary of what the "Initial Benchmark Assessment Report" of July 12, 2007, says about the benchmarks.

The report itself is useful, if somewhat tedious, reading. (Available at the White House site, in pdf and html format).

  • (i) Forming a Constitutional Review Committee and then completing the constitutional review.
    * satisfactory progress

  • (ii) Enacting and implementing legislation on de-Ba’athification reform.
    * unsatisfactory

  • (iii) Enacting and implementing legislation to ensure the equitable distribution of hydrocarbon resources to the people of Iraq without regard to the sect or ethnicity of recipients, and enacting and implementing legislation to ensure that the energy resources of Iraq benefit Sunni Arabs, Shi’a Arabs, Kurds, and other Iraqi citizens in an equitable manner.
    * unsatisfactory, but it is too early to tell whether the Government of Iraq will enact and implement legislation to ensure the equitable distribution of hydrocarbon resources to all Iraqis.

  • (iv) Enacting and implementing legislation on procedures to form semi-autonomous regions.
    * satisfactory progress

  • (v) Enacting and implementing legislation establishing an Independent High Electoral Commission, provincial elections law, provincial council authorities, and a date for provincial elections.
    * Multiple components to this benchmark, each deserving its own assessment:

    • Establishing the IHEC Commission:
      * satisfactory progress

    • Elections Law:
      * unsatisfactory progress

    • Provincial Council Authorities:
      * unsatisfactory progress

    • Provincial Elections Date:
      * unsatisfactory progress

  • (vi) Enacting and implementing legislation addressing amnesty.
    * hard to say -- prerequisites for a successful general amnesty are not present; however, in the current security environment, it is not clear that such action should be a near-term Iraqi goal

  • (vii) Enacting and implementing legislation establishing a strong militia disarmament program to ensure that such security forces are accountable only to the central government and loyal to the constitution of Iraq.
    * prerequisites ... are not present.

  • (viii) Establishing supporting political, media, economic, and services committees in support of the Baghdad Security Plan.
    * satisfactory progress

  • (ix) Providing three trained and ready Iraqi brigades to support Baghdad operations.
    * satisfactory progress

  • (x) Providing Iraqi commanders with all authorities to execute this plan and to make tactical and operational decisions in consultation with U.S. Commanders without political intervention to include the authority to pursue all extremists including Sunni insurgents and Shiite militias.
    * unsatisfactory progress

  • (xi) Ensuring that Iraqi Security Forces are providing even-handed enforcement of the law.
    * unsatisfactory progress

  • (xii) Ensuring that, as Prime Minister Maliki was quoted by President Bush as saying, "the Baghdad Security Plan will not provide a safe haven for any outlaws, regardless of [their] sectarian or political affiliation."
    * satisfactory progress

  • (xiii) Reducing the level of sectarian violence in Iraq and eliminating militia control of local security.
    * satisfactory progress

  • (xiv) Establishing all of the planned joint security stations in neighborhoods across Baghdad.
    * satisfactory progress

  • (xv) Increasing the number of Iraqi security forces units capable of operating independently.
    * unsatisfactory progress

  • (xvi) Ensuring that the rights of minority political parties in the Iraqi legislature are protected.
    * satisfactory progress

  • (xvii) Allocating and spending $10 billion in Iraqi revenues for reconstruction projects, including delivery of essential services, on an equitable basis.
    * satisfactory progress

  • (xviii) Ensuring that Iraq’s political authorities are not undermining or making false accusations against members of the ISF.
    * unsatisfactory progress

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

The Right to Privacy and/or Anonymity

"Privacy" is important, but I've been interested in the way the term has evolved.

The American Heritage® Dictionary says that "privacy" means "The quality or condition of being secluded from the presence or view of others. b. The state of being free from unsanctioned intrusion: a person's right to privacy. 2. The state of being concealed; secrecy."

That makes sense, to me at any rate.

That "right to privacy" and "condition of being secluded from the presence or view of others" is where things get interesting.

Over the years, I've witnessed people getting upset when retailers put cameras in stores, to inhibit shoplifters. Sometimes the retailer went over the top, with cameras in women's dressing rooms. Generally, though, I'm with the store owners. I pay for what I get, and don't like paying extra to cover the costs of folks who take a five-finger discount.

Now that cameras in stores are accepted, the battle for "privacy" has gone to the streets. And the Web.

For years now, people have been expressing righteous indignation and grave concern over the terrible threat to "privacy" represented by security cameras mounted on light poles, and online merchants keeping track of what a customer buys.

After a while, I realized that these people were not crazy. Rather, their definition of "privacy" was very far removed from mine.

I think of "privacy" as applying to things like:
  • Changing my underwear
  • Exactly how much is (or isn't) in my bank account
  • What my family and I discuss at home

"Privacy" for some people seems to mean not being recognized or remembered when, for example:
  • Walking down a sidewalk
  • Driving a car
  • Looking at something in a store
  • Buying something in a store
Those last two points took some real getting used to for me. I love it when someone in a store remembers that I bought a widget last month, and looked at three-pronged blivets last week, and points out a new widget-washing blivet. I may not buy the thing, but I appreciate being told about it.

I've had interesting discussions with acquaintances and friends who are horrified at the sort of invasion of privacy represented by cookies, which track what's done at websites. I see that sort of "spying" as being equivalent to what any half-way alert store owner would do for someone with cash or credit who entered his or her store.

If people are that concerned with "privacy," perhaps they should consider wearing paper bags over their heads when entering a convenience store.

Come to think of it, that would almost guarantee that they get prompt, personal, attention.

A shazam moment struck me some time ago. What many mean when they say "privacy" is what I mean when I say "anonymity."

I have a little more respect for "privacy advocates" now. It seems that what they ardently desire is a world where they are anonymous units in a sea of humanity, going about their solitary existences without knowing, or being known by, those around them.

There's a sort of heroic social asceticism to that desire, but I wouldn't want to live that way.

And I don't. I've lived in a town of 4,000 for the last two decades. There are some folks here who don't know me by sight, but many do. If I walk into a store downtown, the odds are that someone will recognize me. When I drive the family van down main, it would be odd if someone didn't recognize the vehicle, and notice that I was driving it.

And I don't feel that my privacy is being invaded.

Understanding that a branch of the civil liberties community are struggling to establish a citizen's Right to Anonymity has helped me to make sense of an important dialog in contemporary society.

This is a discussion that's likely to get more active, now that cities in the U.S. are talking about following the United Kingdom's lead in using security cameras to dissuade those residents who want to hurt other residents.

A quick look around the Web brought me to a few of the voices in this diverse digital debate. As usual, I don't necessarily agree with all these resources.
  • An erudite look at the issue: Privacy as Contextual Integrity ("Interesting law review article by Helen Nissenbaum"). This one is also somewhat diffucult to read. The cited author doesn't seem to believe in paragraph breaks - a communication impediment shared by many in academia.
  • The Neighbors Are Watching Via Surveillance Video (from the big-brother-is-next-door dept) "Yes, it's nice to have a world where people are unlikely to commit a crime since they're always being watched, but do we really want a world where no one has any real privacy?" Why are rhetorical questions so common?
  • Hundreds of thousands of surveillance cameras across America track our behavior every day in the San Francisco Chronicle, October 17, 2004, "It pits the right to privacy, including anonymity in a crowd, against the potent fears of crime and, particularly these days, terrorism." Citing a Supreme Court ruling about "reasonable expectation of privacy," the article states that, as of 2003, "Even the American Civil Liberties Union doesn't object to video surveillance at national monuments and other potential al Qaeda targets." I must be on the right track, when such a respected journal as the San Francisco Chronicle links the right to privacy to anonymity.
  • Back-seat fun: careful, they might film you (July 8, 2007), an Australian article, discussing the dangers of security cameras in taxis. There seems to be a lack of security "when the images are downloaded, a report by Victoria's former privacy commissioner" said. The current privacy commissioner agrees.
This is serious: Aussies making out in the back of a cab face the peril of embarrassment.

Or maybe worse. If one or both of the ultrasmoochers have a significant other, that s. o. might be miffed. Or decide to express their displeasure in a crudely physical way.

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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.