Friday, February 29, 2008

Jewish School, Sabbath Game, Good Point, Smart Move

Herzl/Rocky Mountain Hebrew Academy's basketball team deserved a place in the regional games. But their game was on the Sabbath: putting the Jewish school's team in a very difficult position.

They're getting support from the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) an Islamic civil rights group, which is making what I think is a very smart move. And, a good point.

"Islamic Group Supports Jewish School Teams' Plea Over Sabbath" FOXNews (February 28, 2008)

"A Jewish school's plea for basketball playoff games to be scheduled at times other than the Jewish Sabbath got support Thursday from an Islamic civil rights group.

" 'In a nation as religiously diverse as America, it is important that we all make the extra effort to accommodate the beliefs and practices of others,' said Amina Rubin, communications coordinator for the Council on American-Islamic Relations. 'Student athletes should not be forced to choose between their faith and participation in sports.' "

CAIR has been in the news before, although I haven't noticed them in the last few months. My impression of CAIR was that they were a very enthusiastic group of Muslims with, to be polite, a tendency to over-react to insults, real or imagined.

Perhaps they've re-evaluated their position. It's a relief to be able to say something positive about the group.

Previous posts discussing CAIR:

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Peach Bottom Nuclear Plant: Security was the Pits

The point of this post is that people matter. Individual people. Even in a world of 6,000,000,000, and in a nation of 300,000,000, decisions made by one or two people can affect thousands, or millions.

For example: "Peach Bottom Plant Worker Fired" WJZ TV news video (November 1, 2007)

It's an inspiring sight: individuals whose job it is to guard one of America's nuclear power plants:
  • Armed
  • On duty in the ready room
  • Fast asleep
It's hard to get many details, but apparently security guards at Pennsylvania's Peach Bottom Nuclear Power Plant had made arrangements to cover for each other while they slept on the job. There's an opposing view, that the guards were forced to sleep, by having to work too much.

The guard who videotaped them snoozing has been fired. Understandably, since after he got no response going through the 'proper' channels, the tape went public.

I know that it's in a company's best interests to listen to internal reports of incompetence, and that there are whistle blower laws: But I also know that there are many managers and executives who are breathtakingly foolish.
  • Good news:
    Security at Peach Bottom didn't rely entirely on the snoozing guards
  • Bad news:
    If something had gone wrong at Peach Bottom, about 188 square miles could have become uninhabitable, and thousands of people would have died - including some in New York City and Washington, D.C.
How many people remember Chernobyl?

View Larger Map

There's been some attention paid to Peach Bottom since then, and it may be a while before guards hit the snooze button there. It's even possible that there will be a little more attention paid to the possibility that terrorists might decide to walk in and make a nuclear 'accident' happen.

Meanwhile, I'm profoundly grateful that for my immediate family, the nearest nuclear power plant is dozens of miles away, and, on average, downwind.

Related posts, on Individuals and the War on Terror.
A rather official view of atomic reactors and safety is online, at the Federation of American Scientists (FAS) website: "CRS Report for Congress - Nuclear Power Plant Security and Vulnerabilities" (January 18, 2008) (Order Code RL34331)

'Crippled' Marine Marches Back to Iraq:
Wants to Help

It's hard to keep a good Marine down, apparently.

Gunnery Sergeant William "Spanky" Gibson lost most of his left leg in May, 2006. He was on foot patrol in Ramadi, Iraq.

He could have gotten a desk job, back in America. But he didn't. Sergeant Gibson is back in Iraq, his second tour, on active duty with his fellow-Marines.

Getting back on his feet, with an assortment of artificial legs for different functions, took work and determination.

"I realized, well, it ain't growing back, so let's start recovering," Sergeant Gibson said. "Initially, I didn't allow it to affect me to the point of despair ... Now, I roll over and look at my wife and say, this kind of sucks. But you get over it quickly."

Two months after he was shot, Gunnery Sergeant Gibson was back at Camp Lejeune. While training there, he decided that he needed to go back to Iraq. "It's in part to show appreciation to my fallen Marines and also to tell the people of this country that ... I'm back to help you in any way I can, again."

Today's Iraq isn't the country he left, almost two years ago.

"The country itself, it's changed tremendously," he said. "I don't know if I ever thought I'd see it, but I hoped that our actions here ... would allow that change to happen, and now seeing it, it's amazing."

He looks at what's happening in Iraq as the rebirth of a country. "This is where we were 232 years ago as a new nation," he said. "Now they're starting a new nation, and that's one of my big reasons for coming back here. It wasn't for other Marines to look at me and say, 'Oh wow, you're a tough guy.' "

Hats off to Gunnery Sergeant Gibson, and all the other soldiers and technicians who are helping Iraqis put their country back together after decades of a tyrant's mismanagement: And helping keep America safe.
Quotes from "Iraq War Marine With Amputated Leg Back in Active Duty" FOXNews (February 28, 2008)

Related posts, on Individuals and the War on Terror.

A Presidential Candidate Named Hussein? Get a Grip!

"Another War-on-Terror Blog" isn't political, but you may not believe it by the time I'm finished with this post.

Blog posts, and a monumentally stupid warm-up speech for one candidate, have brought up the issue of ethnicity, religion, and nation-of-origin. and what it is to be an American. And it all relates to the War on Terror:

On November's Ballot: The Anti-Christ?!

When elections shake the tree of liberty, quite a few loose nuts fall out. One of the candidates has an 'un-American name,' and has been compared to the Anti-Christ. ("Barack Hussein Obama is the 'King of the South' predicted in the Bible." I'm not making this up.)

Barack Hussein Obama, Jr. - a Reality Check

The 'Satanic' candidate is Barack Hussein Obama, Jr., and we know quite a bit about him.
  • Born 1961, in Honolulu, Hawaii
  • Protestant1
  • Harvard Law School graduate: with honors
  • Former editor of the Harvard Law Review
  • Lawyer
The fuss about Mr. Obama seems to center around his father, a now-deceased black Muslim-turned-atheist from Nairobi, Kenya, who graduated from Harvard. His mother apparently is okay. She's white, with an academic specialty in anthropology.

Mr. Obama is a Harvard Law School graduate himself, and the first black person to edit Harvard Law Review (what took them so long?). The Presidential candidate's following his father through Harvard isn't what's raising so much worry, though: it's his middle name, Hussein.

I may be naive, but I don't think that we should assume that someone is evil, just because he's a second-generation Harvard man, and a lawyer, to boot.

That's not what the fuss is about, of course. It's Mr. Obama's ancestry and name.

Is Hussein an Evil Name?

Saddam Hussein did no favors to the name "Hussein." He ran Iraq for about three decades, before a coalition removed him from power. Shortly after that, the new Iraqi government expressed their opinion of his administration of their country by removing Mr. Hussein from the roles of the living.

Saddam wasn't the best leader in the world. But it isn't reasonable to assume that everyone with "Hussein" in his or her name is a potential tyrant with a taste for solid gold bathroom fixtures.
  • Saddam Hussein's last name may not even be a surname, in the western sense of the word.
  • "Hussein" is a fairly common surname. In America. I did a little checking -
    Frequency* of selected family names in America, as of 1997: *Number of times the name showed up in a list of 88,700,000 American names, from the 1997 U.S. Census.
  • I understand that "Hussein" is even more common in and around the Middle East.
It's no more reasonable to think that a Hussein is a tyrant-in-the-making, than it is to assume that a Schmidt wears black boots and marches the goose step, or that Johnsens and Stensruds are likely to lead a band of raiders down the Mississippi.

In fact, one of the things I admire about Mr. Obama is the way he has honored his father. It takes a certain amount of guts and devotion, for a politician to retain a name that he knows will raise questions about his background. And attract unwarranted attacks.

Focus, People, Focus!

America has important issues to decide in this election. I'd like to see candidates and their supporters discuss those issues: not how 'American' their names are, or where their ancestors came from.

What does politics have to do with the War on Terror?

Quite a bit.
  • American leaders are chosen through a political process
  • Leaders make decisions, like
    • Should we use force to stop terrorists?
    • Is it nice to listen in, when terrorists are planning to kill people?
    • Should America cooperate with other nations, even if the French government doesn't approve?
  • Actions will be taken, based on what is decided
  • Consequences of those actions will decide the success of people who don't want their lives controlled by the likes of Al Qaeda and the Taliban
As to whether or not being a lawyer relates to a candidate's character, that's a matter for another blog.
1Ethnicity does not determine belief. I'm half-Norwegian, with a Norwegian middle name. That doesn't mean I'm Lutheran, or worship Thor.

Related posts, on tolerance, bigotry, racism, and hatred.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

War Quotes

I ran into a couple of quotation collections about war (more or less) today, and thought they'd be worth sharing.

The Incredible Shrinking Exchange Student:
The Not-So-Strange Case of Jonathan McCullum

"U.S. Exchange Student Starved by Egyptian Host Family Loses 50 Pounds" FOXNews (February 27, 2008)

Jonathan McCullum, a 5-foot-9 teenager, weighed 155 pounds when he left to spend a school year in Egypt.
  • Good news: He made it back alive, and may survive
  • Bad news: He weighed 97 pounds when he got back to America
He says that the host family in the exchange program starved him. The man of the house over there, Shaker Hanna, says that's a lie, and that "the boy we hosted for nearly six months was eating for an hour and a half at every meal. The amount of food he ate at each meal was equal to six people," which raises a question.

Which did Mr. Hanna mean: that
  1. The American ate as much as six people would consume in a meal
  2. Jonathan McCullum ate as much meat as you'd get from six people
My guess is #1.

The Egyptian family was presumably following their religious rules, which has them (presumably) fasting more than 200 days a year.

Does this show how cruel and inhuman Muslims are?


The family are Coptic Christians.

So What?
  • Is running this news story anti-Christian?
  • If the host family followed Islam, would it be anti-Islamic?
  • Was my "as much meat as you'd get from six people" remark anti-Christian?
I'd say "no" across the board. Although that cannibalism crack was admittedly in bad taste.

On the other hand, this news story could be an indication of bias. "Exchange student starved while in Egypt" (Yahoo News (February 27, 2008)) tells that young Mr. McCullum's experience isn't all that unusual.

"The Committee for Safety of Foreign Exchange Students, a nonprofit advocacy group, said the exchange programs are rampant with instances of abuse and neglect.

" 'This is not an isolated incident. I'm aghast but I'm not shocked,' the committee's director, Danielle Grijalva of Oceanside, Calif., said after hearing McCullum's story."

Rampant abuse of exchange students, in a world where exchange students wind up even in small central Minnesota towns?1 That's dramatic. And this isn't news?

I could be wrong about this, but it's possible that traditional news organizations shy away from stories that might embarrass socialist regimes, or cast 'oppressed' people in a bad light.
1 We don't starve them, here in Minnesota. On the other hand, the winters here might be considered a sort of punishment.

Committee for Safety of Foreign Exchange Students

"The Committee for Safety of Foreign Exchange Students (CSFES) advocates for the safety of foreign exchange students and was instrumental in the strengthening of the U.S. Department regulations for the protection of these young people."

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

"Crusher:" Robot Soldier

The war on terror is the first major conflict in which robots are playing a significant role. Predator drones are already patrolling battle zones. The first-generation Predators have been joined by Predator B, dubbed "The Reaper."

Airborne robots will probably be joined by robot trucks. Soon. When I was growing up, this would have been science fiction:
  • A seven-ton robot scout driving itself to an intersection keeping an eye on traffic for a week or so, and sending back reports
  • Later, the robot hauls supplies over terrain that would give humans in a Humvee spinal injuries
  • After being refitted with weapons, the seven-ton soldier attacks a heavily-fortified position
Today, seven tons of muscle truck with artificial intelligence is on its way to production.

Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is rolling out "Crusher," a robotic battle truck. "Crusher" drives itself, although it's possible to steer it by remote control.

"Crusher" in the news: When The New York Times and other traditional news outlets hear about this, I suspect that there'll be a spate of hand-wringing impression pieces on the inhumanity of war.

Like every other new technology, robots able to act without direct human control will require new procedures and rules of engagement. But I don't regard this new example of artificial intelligence as a monstrous threat.

Given a choice, in a situation where terrorists were dug in, surrounded by heavy barriers and booby traps, I'd rather have the assault led by a seven-ton robot, than by American troops.

Of course, I'm one of those people who believe that terrorists aren't very nice people. I also believe that people whose colleagues have used retarded women as walking bombs aren't likely to stop killing people because they've been asked politely.

Florida Power Outage: Not an Attack
But a Reasonable Preview

About 4.4 million people (WSVN) (U.S. Usage - 4,400,000) people are without, or have been without, power in southern Florida.

Miami-Dade Schools are locked down, parents told not to pick up their kids - traffic is a mess, with no traffic lights and twits blowing through intersections.

Just to make things interesting, there's severe weather in the area, including a tornado watch (seems that the tornado warning ended a little while ago).

No, this probably isn't a terrorist attack. That's what Homeland Security is saying. Odds are that we'll learn that a substation had problems, and that the outage spread.

So, why post this in "Another War-on Terror Blog?"

Hackers shut down power in several cities recently, all of them outside America. It's not at all unlikely that terrorists will try to do the same thing in the United States. And, they might succeed.

What's happening in Florida right now is a pretty good preview of what could happen:
  • No traffic signals
  • Snarled traffic and vehicular accidents
  • schools locked down
  • Commuter trains stop running
  • Weather warnings and other emergency information can't be broadcast - and received
  • With luck, backup systems at airports and hospitals work
Latest information, from Florida Power and Light: Two Turkey Point nuclear reactors "tripped offline" for unknown reasons, and so did two oil-fueled generators.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Of Bias, Veils, and Crucifixes

A blue-eyed, melanin-deficient American like me isn't the victim of bias very often. The days when my Irish background would be a problem are past, and I discovered decades ago that using a cane made my limp less troublesome to people around me.

Muslims in America don't have as easy a time fitting in. Many don't look as "Anglo" as my ancestors could, after dropping their accent, getting a haircut and wearing conservative clothes. Worse, many of the 1% of Americans who are Muslims follow customs which make them stand out. This country isn't used to seeing women wearing veils, or clothing that covers enough of the body to satisfy Islamic standards.

I don't pretend to understand how it feels to be a Muslim in America. I do, however, know what it's like to be Catholic, when another case of clueless anti-Catholicism hits the news.

Case in point: Jaime Salazar, 14, and Marco Castro, 16, were ordered to stop wearing their crucifixes in an Albany, Oregon, school. The mother of one of them had given her son a rosary, similar to the one his friend wore. In each case, the crucifix wasn't much more than an inch tall. The two teens think that being Latino makes them targets. They could be right: but I think that the crucifixes didn't help.

The principal at the school says that the crucifixes are gang symbols, and banned them. That's fair, sort of: school policy says that gang symbols are verboten. And police in Albany, Oregon, say that crucifixes are being used as gang symbols in other towns, so maybe they're gang-related in Albany, too.

The principal and the police may not be aware that millions of Catholics around the world use, and occasionally wear, rosaries. Not because Catholics are gangsters, but because the rosaries help us keep track of our prayers.

Even though 24% of Americans are Roman Catholic, I've noticed that many other Americans either know little about Catholicism, or know things that aren't so. I suppose it's what we get, for having practices that most people don't.

I suppose that having a principal say that two teenagers are connected to gangs because they wear rosaries isn't the same as a cashier saying, "please don't stick me up," to a veiled customer.

Just the same, the outrage I felt when I read about those Oregon teens may be similar to what Muslims feel when someone reacts badly to an expression of their beliefs.

Related posts, on tolerance, bigotry, racism, and hatred.

Related blog, on being Catholic in America:

Attention Congress: The FBI is Not the Enemy

As I've said before, this isn't a political blog. But when politicians get in the way, politics becomes part of the war on terror.

Politics As Usual

"Mukasey: Delayed passage of surveillance bill hurting security" CNN (February 22, 2008)

That news article was in the "Politics" section. Appropriately enough, since Congress let the Protect America Act of 2007 (PAA) lapse last week. Now, our legislative leaders are discussing whether or not to let telephone and other telecommunications companies cooperate with American law enforcement and defense agencies without getting sued.

Yes, I'm over-simplifying. But that's what one of the current SNAFUs on Capitol hill boils down to.

I suppose that, particularly with an election coming up, Representatives and Senators are anxious to show their constituents that they're doing something.

Like protecting Americans from The Enemy.

Which, for quite a few Representatives and Senators seems to be the FBI.

I understand how important checks and balances are, and I'm aware of the two-century tug-of-war between the three branches of American government.

I also understand that Islamic fanatics are on a jihad to kill Americans.

I'm not convinced that most of Congress has the same understanding.

Reminder for America's Congresspersons

  • The FBI is not the enemy
  • The CIA is not the enemy
  • People who are sworn to defend America are not the enemy
  • Al Qaeda is the enemy
  • The Taliban is the enemy
  • People who are convinced that God tells them to kill Americans are the enemy
Some members of Congress may remember how they ran for cover as three thousand people were being killed in New York's World Trade Center, an airliner was crashing into the Pentagon, and a planeload of American heroes brought Flight 93 down before it reached its target.

A Plea to Congress: Get Out of the Way!

It would be nice if our leaders would take time off from whatever they do in Washington, and make it possible for people who give a rip to defend this country.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Redneck Special Forces:
An Idea Whose Time has Come??

Probably not, but I thought this photo and the text that goes with it is funny: "...Redneck Special Forces (USRSF). The latest ploy to drive the Taliban and Al Qaeda out of the mountains of Afghanistan ...."

Not politically correct, I think, but funny.

Updated (August 5, 2008)

The original link for this post is no longer valid. I'm updating this post with a currently valid link: Photo posted on

This photo seems to have been around for several years. One of its other current appearances is "Breaking News Report- USRSF" (Blue Collar Republican (February 19, 2008 )).

Islamic Extremists, YouTube Censors, and Thinkers: They Care

For Christians, this is the season of Lent (today is the Third Sunday of Lent). It's a time of year for preparation and reflection on the great mystery of Easter.

As a devout Catholic, I reflect (more or less effectively) on what we believe and celebrate, and how we should live and pray.

Something came up that may belong on this blog.

Whether banning YouTube, blowing up shoppers at animal markets, or calmly discussing today's realities, many Muslims seem to care enough about their beliefs to do something about them.

There's something to be learned from that sort of dedication.

YouTube Banned by Pakistan

Pakistan joined the club of countries that have banned YouTube.

The countries, and why they pulled the plug on YouTube:
  • Pakistan: a movie trailer for Dutch lawmaker Geert Wilders's upcoming film, saying that Islam is fascist and likely to incite violence against women and homosexuals
  • Turkey: some video clips insulted, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, in someone's opinion.
  • Thailand: video clips were offensive to Thailand's revered monarch, King Bhumibol Adulyadej.
  • Morocco: someone posted videos that weren't complimentary about how Morocco treated the people of Western Sahara (Morocco's controlled that territory since 1975).
I think I can understand the leadership in these countries, even if I can't approve of their actions. It must be very tempting to silence people who don't agree with you, or who reveal inadequacies in your actions.

At the risk of applying moral equivalence, perhaps Americans shouldn't be very critical of the leaders who banned YouTube. After all, the United States enforces Hate Crime laws.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

PAA is Poo, and Kaput: Or, Who Should Congress be Protecting Americans From?

As of a week ago, Americans are once more free to sue telecommunications companies for cooperating with law enforcement.

That statement is unfair, but not very.

The 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) set up rules which took into account both the cutting-edge communications technology of the seventies, and a lively concern about the right of Americans to sue telecommunications companies.

The Protect America Act of 2007 (PAA) hastily passed a mere six years and a few months after the 9/11 attacks, updated FISA. Almost three decades had brought changes in information technology. Lots of changes.

PAA also made it possible for telecommunications companies to cooperate with American law enforcement without getting sued.

For some of our leaders, that's a real problem.

Other Congressional concerns were addressed, though. Including an assurance that the "temporary update of the FISA bill is carefully worded to guard against law enforcement listening in on Americans who may be involved with plans that organizations like al Qaeda have for killing other Americans."

I feel so much safer.

Back to the demise of PAA, last weekend.

As CNN put it:
"Attorney General Michael Mukasey on Friday pressed Congress to pass an update to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, saying its delayed passage makes it harder to track terrorist suspects 'by the day.'

"President Bush secretly instituted the National Security Agency's domestic spying program after 9/11.

"The bill contains a controversial measure that grants legal immunity to telecommunications companies that cooperated with a warrantless wiretapping program that President Bush acknowledged in 2005.

"Critics say the program violated the law, and phone and Internet companies now face as many as 40 lawsuits related to their participation.

"Because the question of whether telecommunications companies will get the immunity "is up for grabs," Mukasey said, they are "more and more uncertain, more and more hesitant to cooperate.' "

National Intelligence Director Mike McConnell claimed that lifting that lawsuit immunity would hurt America's ability to find out what terrorists are planning.

Now, McConnel and Attorney General Michael Mukasey say that they're right: " 'We have lost intelligence information this past week as a direct result of the uncertainty created by Congress' failure to act,' they wrote in a letter to Rep. Sylvestre Reyes, chairman of the House intelligence committee."

At least we can rest easy, knowing that Americans can once more sue telecommunications companies for cooperating with the people who are trying to keep both of them alive.

Congress is doing something about the 'wiretap' issue. The House and Senate each came up with a bill, with a big difference between the two:
  • The Senate bill gives retroactive immunity to telecommunications companies that wiretapped American phone and computer lines when the American government asked them to, but without the permission of a secret court that was set up in the seventies
  • The House version doesn't
I wrote about the Washington crowd, FISA, PAA, their priorities, and the real world, in "Congress Must Decide Who to Protect Americans From" (August 5, 2007)

I'm glad that legislators are aware of the importance of due process and warrants for arrests, wiretaps, and other matters. I wish I could be confident that they were also aware of just how serious the threat from terrorists is.
News articles used in this post:

U. S. Marine Major Dennis and Nubs: A Dog Story

Posts on this blog are generally serious, so it's good to write about a Marine and his dog: USMC Major Brian Dennis Major and Nubs.

(More at "Marine Serving in Iraq Finds Friend in Rescued Dog" (February 22, 2008))

"Desert dogs" are pretty common around Iraq's border towns. The dogs eat scraps from the towns, getting a steady source of food, Major Dennis wrote in an email. "The Iraqis get an incredible early warning system; these dogs hear anything approaching from miles away and go nuts and scramble to defend their territory."

Dennis is a fighter pilot, but was on the ground in Iraq, near the Syrian border. He'd volunteered to be part of the military team that's building infrastructure and training Iraqi forces to take over there.

He was on patrol when he saw a gray and white dog: most likely a German shepherd-border collie mix. Major Dennis named the dog Nubs after he learned that someone had cut the dog's ears off: apparently under the impression that it would make the dog more alert and aggressive.

The Marines did what you'd expect Americans to do to a crop-eared, half-wild dog1: they fed it.

Nubs started following the Dennis and the patrol on their rounds, and the Marines started looking for the dog. It wasn't an easy life for Nubs at that point. He'd lost a tooth and gotten bitten in the neck.

Then, in December of 2007, with temperatures near freezing, somebody stuck a screwdriver into Nubs.

Major Dennis found Nubs, put antibiotic on the wound, and slept with the dog to keep him warm. The Marine wrote, "I really expected when I woke up for watch he would be dead."

Nubs lived.

Days later, Major Dennis and the outfit he was with moved to the command post, about 65 miles away. He thought he'd seen the last of Nubs.

Wrong again.

Two days after the move, while working on a Humvee, Dennis looked up. Nubs was there, staring at him.

That was the good news.

The bad news is that the rules said 'no pets on the base.' Major Dennis was given two options: put the dog off the base, or kill him. He was given four days to make his decision, and act.

The decision was simple, implementing was anything but.

Major Brian Dennis and his Iraqi interpreter got to work. They found a Jordanian veterinarian to take care of Nubs and fill out the necessary paperwork. Major Dennis got to work on red tape on his end, and his family and close friends collected the $3,500 it would take to move Nubs from Amman, Jordan, to San Diego, California.

At this point, Nubs is safe in San Diego, in the care of Captain Eric Sjoberg, a colleague of Major Dennis. Captain Sjoberg is teaching Nubs to "just be a dog."

Major Dennis and Nubs should be together next month, when the Marine gets back to America.
1 Students and faculty of American colleges and universities, residents of Berkeley, and people who never got over the sixties notwithstanding.

Terrorists as an Oppressed Class: That was Then, This is Now

"Bangalore engineer with terror designs held"
The Times of India (February 23, 2008)

Yahya Iyash Kamkutty is an electrical engineer who was once employed with a leading US multinational. He was fired by at GE after being caught stealing data. He'd planned to set up his own firm. After losing his job, he joined the (banned) Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI). He's still an active member.

And, he's been arrested. Indian police say that they have a laptop, hard disc, jihadi material and hundreds of books from his house: and that they may now be able to round up even more terrorists.

And, stop more attacks like the ones Yahya and company had been planning.

The Times of India article seemed to find it a little odd for a terrorist to have such a good education. Up until the London/Glasgow attacks last year, the conventional view was that most terrorists were 'poor, uneducated, and easily led.' As someone observed then, we're seeing "a better class of terrorist" now.

It looks like news media around the world are getting used the idea that terrorists don't necessarily come from the 'oppressed classes.'

More of my view on how terrorists have been viewed as a new sort of 'oppressed proletariat,' in

The War on Terror: It's Not All Uneducated Muslims and Attacks on America

"It is a certain fact that not all Muslims are terrorists, but it is equally certain, and exceptionally painful, that almost all terrorists are Muslims."
(" 'Innocent religion is now a message of hate' " Telegraph (UK) (April 9, 2004))

I would put more emphasis on the "almost" in that statement, but it's essentially true.

There are non-Islamic terrorists, of course, like And there are non-Islamic groups like the white-supremacist National Alliance, and the militia that inspired Timothy McVeigh, which teach intolerance as much as Al Qaeda or the Taliban.

Even so, jihadist Muslims have earned Islam a reputation for having a near-monopoly on terrorist attacks.

The terrorist-on-the-street also has a reputation for being an uneducated loser, and American news media may give the impression that America is almost the only target of terrorism.

Recent events, starting with the London/Glasgow attacks last year, show that terrorists aren't necessarily ignorant, uneducated, and on the low end of the economic ladder. And, although I think that the "great Satan America" is a major target of Islamic terrorists, it isn't their only target. For example, "The Times of India" discussed the recent arrests of several Islamic terrorists:
  • Muzammil Sheikh
    software engineer
    (2006 train bombings in Mumbai)
    Arrested after police learned that his brother, Faizal Sheikh was an LeT (Lashkar-e-Toiba ("Army of the Pure")) leader
  • Sabeel Ahmed
    MBBS (Bachelor of Medicine Bachelor of Surgery, I think)
    (London terror plot and attack on Glasgow (UK) airport)
  • Kafeel Ahmed
    PhD scholar in aeronautical engineering
    (London terror plot and attack on Glasgow (UK) airport)
    Died of burns suffered in Glasgow attack
  • Mohammed Asif
    MBBS student
    (Unspecified terrorist activity)
  • Asaduallah Abubaker
    MBBS student
    (Unspecified terrorist activity)
  • Yahya Khan1
    (Unspecified terrorist activity)
Another Indian Muslim proved the point that not all Muslims are terrorists:
  • Mohammed Haneef
    a physician in an Australian hospital
    (London terror plot and attack on Glasgow (UK) airport:
    accused courts found no evidence and freed him: (is a cousin of the Ahmed brothers, but not linked to terrorism otherwise))
Dr. Mohammed Haneef was detained by Australian authorities in a display of inept buffoonery worthy of Arthur Conan Doyle's Inspector Lestrade. (I harangued about that debacle in "Cool Heads, Lukewarm Brains, And Dr. Haneef" (July 30, 2007).)

The Times of India's article discussed what is still regarded as something of an oddity: These accused terrorists are well-educated men, not the sort of 'poor, uneducated, and easily-led' person that a terrorist is supposed to be.

More of my view on this assumption in
1Yahya Khan's activity gets a little more attention in "Terrorists as an Oppressed Class: That was Then, This is Now" (February 23, 2008).

"The Times of India" articles referenced in this post:

Friday, February 22, 2008

Serbia and Kosovo,
from a Croatian-Irish Point of View,
and from Another Point of View

"Wait, so really.... we all really can't just get along?... gotcha."
Peace Turkey (February 21, 2008)

Another blog's post on the Serbia/Kosovo situation. "Peaceful Turkey" gives a point of view I don't think we'll see in the papers: Including more of that strange ""Kosovo is Serbia" quote, and the reasons in culture and history that make it (almost?) make sense.
"Serb tantrums lead to violence against US embassy "
Prairie Pundit (February 21, 2008)

I haven't run into allegations of Serbian government or PAC involvement in the demonstration and/or riot in Belgrade elsewhere, but it's possible: particularly since there don't seem to have been Serbian police near or around the American embassy.
"Serbian President Boris Tadic Calls Emergency Meeting; Rioters Protest for Fifth Day"
FOXNews (February 22, 2008)

The day after, some more details, including:

" 'Kosovo is Serbia and we will never surrender, despite blackmail by the European Union,' Serbian government official Dragan Deletic told the crowd."

"Tadic's and Kostunica's parties are united in a coalition government — but the two differ sharply on how to handle Kosovo's declaration of independence, with Tadic saying Belgrade must press on with efforts to join the EU regardless and Kostunica seeking to drop the bid over EU nations' recognition of Kosovo.

"Rioters also targeted the missions of Croatia, Turkey, Bosnia, Belgium and Canada, officials said. Germany said its mission suffered damage."

"In Kosovo, about 5,000 protesters in the Kosovo Serb stronghold of Kosovska Mitrovica threw bottles and stones at U.N. and NATO peacekeepers."

The score, after the fires were out in Belgrade last night:
  • One dead (the still-unidentified body in the U.S. embassy)
  • Over 150 people injured
  • About 200 people arrested
  • 90 shops ransacked
There's no word on whether any of those running shoes and track suits have been recovered. In a way, those looters were a bright spot in yesterday's violence.

At least some of the protesters were sober enough to make full-contact five-finger discounts. Their rapid response to a rare opportunity also shows a presence of mind and ability to adjust to circumstances that Serbia and Kosovo will need in the years ahead.

Developing a moral sense and a code of ethics will be needed, too. I'm hoping that there will be enough people in those countries with both the brains and the character to sort out the current mess.
More at "Here We Go Again: American Embassy Burned in Belgrade" (February 21, 2008)

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Here We Go Again:
American Embassy Burned in Belgrade

The mess in what used to be "Yugoslavia" isn't exactly part of the war on terror. Just the same, I think today's events shed light on problems that America faces in the world.

Background: Yugoslavia, Serbia, Kosovo, and Dead Albanians

Here's a short, and over-simplified, background:
  • The Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes was cobbled together in 1918 - part of the nation-building craze that followed WWI
  • The Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes was re-named "Yugoslavia" in 1929
  • Josip Tito ran the place as an independent Communist state from 1945 to 1980
  • Tito died in 1980, and the Yugoslavia had a few other bosses for almost a decade
  • Slobodan Milosevic said that he was president of the Serbian Republic in 1989, and made it stick
    • Milosevic's ideas about Serbian domination of the area broke up Yugoslavia the hard way
    • Fighting resulted in Yugoslavia breaking into independent ethnic territories in 1991-92:
      • Croatia
      • Slovenia
      • Macedonia
      • Bosnia
    • What was left, Serbia and Montenegro, became the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (FRY): with Milosevic as boss
    • Under Milosevic's orders, Serbia's military tried uniting ethnic Serbs in Serbia - and neighboring republics - in to "Greater Serbia"
    • Milosevic's plan succeeded in getting Serbia bumped from the UN
    • Serbian leader Milosevic eventually became president of FRY in 1997
    • 1998: a minor ethnic Albanian insurgency in Kosovo, a formerly autonomous Serbian province provoked, or provided an opportunity for, Serbian forces to massacre ethnic Albanians living in Kosovo, and kick the survivors out of the country
    • Some Albanians objected, NATO got involved (I told you this was over-simplified), and Serbia got bombed by NATO
    • As a result
      • Arrangements were made for Kosovo to become independent
      • Milosevic was accused of crimes against humanity, but died in The Hague before the trial could start
  • February 17, 2008, Kosovo declared itself independent of Serbia - jumping the gun on plans for independence eventually, but not now
Some Serbs didn't like it. I can see their point: what's the point in being a privileged minority (in Kosovo), or majority (in Serbia), if you can't throw your weight around and kill the occasional Albanian?

And yes, I'm being terribly unfair. Maybe. I said, "some Serbs," not "Serbs."

There are more detailed, and less colorful, discussions of Serbia and Kosovo in The World Factbook, and of Kosovo in Global Security's Military section.

Kosovo Independence, Serbian Protests, Five-Finger Discounts, and Protester Flambé

Last Sunday, Kosovo declared independence, some Serbs didn't like it, and now two floors of the American embassy in Belgrade have been burned.

A protester came out extra-crispy, and quite dead. His body was found in the embassy after it cooled off a bit.

Not all Serbs were at the accidental activist-roast at the embassy. Many more were at a rally, chanting "Kosovo is Serbia," and saying that they'd never give the province up.

It's not just American property that's getting trashed in Serbia and Kosovo. UN equipment is getting hit, too.

Some groups even broke into a McDonald's and "demolished the interior." More level-headed people ransacked shops, and liberated sporting goods, including running shoes and track suits, from a department store.

Perhaps we shouldn't be too hard on the protesters. Belgrade's emergency clinic says it treated more than 30 lightly-injured people: half of them policemen. The clinic's deputy chief said that the injured protesters were, for the most part, "extremely drunk."

What Does this Serbian Riot / Protest Mean for America?

By itself, today's violence is just more of the cost of doing business in a world of tiny nations and ancient feuds. My guess is that the American embassy was hit because America helped NATO keep Serbs from Killing Albanians in Kosovo.

Besides, it seems to feel good to hate America. I suspect it's because this country is big, successful, and doesn't have a habit of making life miserable for people (and their families) who engage in penny-ante vandalism of American property.

So, until America starts acting like a real oppressor, we can expect to see American embassies burned, and American flags burned. It's a compliment, in a way, to this country's civilized behavior.

An important point to note in Belgrade's big street party is that what's happening in Serbia doesn't seem to have a significant religious angle to it. From the looks of it, the Serbia-Kosovo / Serbian-Albanian is a feud between ethnic groups that probably goes back to a time long before the Hatfields' and the McCoys' ancestors emigrated to the new world.

Finally, it's well to remember that the world is full of territories that have a long, long backlog of mismanagement and hostilities. It will take time for them to get organized, and learn to cooperate with each other. Lots of time.
"The World Factbook" - Serbia
Global Security - Military - Kosovo Background
"Kosovo and U.S. Policy" Congressional Research Service (2007)
More at "Serbia and Kosovo, from a Croatian-Irish Point of View, and from Another Point of View" (February 22, 2008)

Hacked Police Website: Get Used to This

"Anti-American rant takes over Dallas police Web site"
Houston Chronicle (February 19, 2008)
And, same headline, different content:
"Anti-American rant takes over Dallas police Web site"
With screenshots of the hacked Web page
SoTT reprint of Houston Chronicle article (February 19, 2008)

The Sott reprint screenshot captions:

"A screenshot of the hacked Web page. The text reads in part as follows - with our corrections to grammar and spelling: 'You, Americans, are really stupid if you can't see what really occurs in the world and in your country! You society is ruled through and through. You are under the control of religious fanatics! Your children kill each other at schools! You're so selfish that you can't soberly estimate events! You are attacking the peaceful countries worldwide and you think that this is necessary! Open your eyes! ' "

"A second screenshot of the hacked Web page. We here at SoTT have obscured the profanity in the image but you probably get the gist of it."

People around the world are computer-savvy, so between efforts by Al Qaeda, the Taliban, and Berkeley, we'd better get used to seeing this sort of thing.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

How to Succeed in Conflicts: Three Approaches

"He only employs his passion who can make no use of his reason." (M.T.C.)

This post is a change of pace: Instead of current events, I'm taking a look at some ways that people think relations between America and Al Qaeda, western civilization and the Taliban, and other aspects of the War on Terror should be handled.

The first two approaches outlined are extremes, of course: but if you're paying attention, you've probably run into at least a few people who come close to the Mad Patriot or Wistful Activist.

The third approach is closer to what I think would be sensible. Call that one the Hopeful Historian.

Acknowledging That There is a Conflict

Even the most heavily-tinted rose-colored glasses won’t keep a person from noticing that some groups hate America, and want to hurt Americans. Generally, these groups aren’t very nice to other people, either, but that’s another matter.

With perhaps a few exceptions, most political leaders in America have acknowledged, if grudgingly, that New York City’s World Trade Center was destroyed by foreign terrorists. Further, there seems to be a consensus that another attack like the one that killed about three thousand people in New York, the Pentagon, and on Flight 93, should be avoided.

Deciding How to Approach, and Resolve, the Conflict: Three Approaches

Where people seem to differ is just how another 9/11 should be avoided.
A Passion for Vengeance: The Mad Patriot
At one end of the opinion continuum, you've got what I'll call the Mad Patriot, who would
  • Nuke Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and any other Islamic place
  • Carpet-bomb whatever's left
  • Tear down every mosque in America
    • And the rest of the world
  • Outlaw turbans
  • Require all men to shave - twice a day, if need be
  • Write a constitutional amendment, establishing a national dress code
The Mad Patriot has a passionate desire for justice and/or vengeance, and a lack of appreciation for other cultures. This person understands force, but lacks the wisdom to use it effectively.
  • "There can never be a complete confidence in a power which is excessive." (C.T.)
  • "That cannot be safe which is not honorable." (C.T.)
  • "Appraise war in terms of the fundamental factors. The first of these factors is moral influence." (S.T.)
A Passion for Conciliation: The Wistful Activist
At the other end, there's the Wistful Activist, who would have America
  • Engage in multilateral dialog, involving all parties concerned
  • If absolutely forced into military action, put civilian experts in charge of all aspects of the campaign, and use force diplomatically - For example:
    • Order that a particular hill with no tactical or strategic value be taken, at any cost
    • Once it's taken, withdraw from the hill
    • Wait for the enemy to be impressed with American resolve
  • Recommend an enemy leader for the Nobel Peace Prize
    • Think: Yasser Arafat, 1994
  • Form a study group
    • Which will explain why America caused the conflict in the first place
  • Ask the French president what he would do
  • Warn against global warming
The Wistful Activist has a passionate love of goodwill and cooperation, coupled with a lack of appreciation for just how nasty and unreliable people can be. This person has noble ideals, but lacks an appreciation of human nature.
  • "He had a certain frankness and generosity, qualities indeed which turn to a man's ruin, unless tempered with discretion." (C.T.)
  • "The name of peace is sweet, and the thing itself is beneficial, but there is a great difference between peace and servitude. Peace is freedom in tranquility, servitude is the worst of all evils, to be resisted not only by war, but even by death." (M.T.C.)
  • "Let him who desires peace prepare for war." (F.V.R.)
A Passion for Reason: The Hopeful Historian
Somewhere between those people who understand the importance of force, but not how to use it, and those who understand the value of peace, but not how to gain it, the Hopeful Historian wants America to:
  • Remember that the War on Terror is a war against terrorists: not against Islam
  • Continue to get help and advice from countries whose leaders are willing to defeat terrorist organizations
    • Even if old colonial powers don't approve
  • Negotiate when possible, use force when necessary
  • Accept the fact that
    • There are people who do not, and will not, tolerate any rule but their own
    • Building, or rebuilding, a stable nation takes time - and compromise
  • Remember that virtue is not so much weakness, as the correct application of strength
  • Continue the American tradition of helping nations rebuild after a war
The Hopeful Historian has a passionate hope that leaders will use reason, and deal with the world as it is: not as they would like it to be.
  • "In stirring up tumult and strife, the worst men can do the most, but peace and quiet cannot be established without virtue." (C.T.)
  • "It is a youthful failing to be unable to control one's impulses." (L.A.S.)
  • "Be not too hasty either with praise or blame; speak always as though you were giving evidence before the judgment-seat of the Gods." (L.A.S.)
  • "I do not distinguish by the eye, but by the mind, which is the proper judge." (L.A.S.)

Quotes from

Wal-Mart, a Muslim Woman's Veil, and a Really Rude Clerk

And CAIR (The Council on American-Islamic Relations). This time, I think that somewhat jumpy1 civil-rights outfit had a point.

CAIR says that a Muslim woman, wearing a face veil, went through a checkout counter at a Wal-Mart store in Riverdale, Utah, on February 2, 2008.

The cashier at that counter said: "Please don't stick me up," according to The Council on American-Islamic Relations, anyway.

They could be right. Wal-Mart seems to think so. Wal-Mart's regional general manager, Rolando Rodriquez, signed a letter of apology and sent it to CAIR on Monday of this week. The Nevada chapter of CAIR released the letter yesterday.

The clerk will be subjected to "sensitivity training," and CAIR seems to be satisfied.

So am I, although
  1. What I think about the matter doesn't make a whit of practical difference.
  2. "Sensitivity training" is something of a hot-button phrase for me
The "sensitivity training" I know about is the eighties-style indoctrination in politically correct attitudes toward men and other undesirable types, but it may have changed in the last twenty years.

Although I've stood behind enough cash registers to know how unsettling a customer covered face can be, you don't treat a customer like that.

Not more than once, in my day. A stunt like that would have gotten me fired. On the spot, if the manager had been within earshot. If I was very lucky, I might have been re-assigned to the stockroom.

There's no reasonable doubt that some Muslims have decided that Allah is telling them to kill infidels (or "kafir," to be more 'multicultural').

That doesn't mean that everyone who wears clothing that doesn't match the dress code we've been used to is a thug, or a terrorist. Some may be weirdos, but that's an entirely different topic.

People from Somalia have been moving to central Minnesota lately: mostly in St. Cloud, for now. It's only a matter of time until Sauk Centre, the town I live in, has Somali families living here. When that happens, I'm hoping that we'll get another couple shelves of specialty foods in the grocery.

There's a near-certainty that someone will do something insulting here. There are jerks everywhere.

My hope is that people who are on the brink of jerkishness will get a grip, and accept that not everyone is just like them.

Related posts, on tolerance, bigotry, racism, and hatred.
1 "Hypersensitive" might be a more accurate term. CAIR hasn't been in the news lately, though, so they may have reviewed their policy, which seemed to be that any arrest, or perceive insult, of a Muslim - or Muslimah, for that matter - was a hate crime.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

America: What an Awful, Nasty, Disgusting, Smelly, Bad Country

Or maybe it's not.

This blog is not political, but politics is hard to avoid: particularly in an election year.

America is getting ready for a presidential election in November of this year. It's more than usually important, since it's the first presidential election since 1928 without an incumbent running in the primaries for president, and the first since 1952 without an incumbent in the general election."

With politicos in both major parties trying to grab the White House, and smaller parties with wild hopes of making the big time, something weird was almost bound to happen.

Today, something did. The wife of one of the candidates hit national news today: full speed, no brakes. As reported on WRC /

" 'People in this country are ready for change, and hungry for a different kind of politics,' Michelle Obama said. 'And let me tell you something, for the first time in my adult life, I am proud of my country because it feels like hope is finally making a comeback.' " I put emphasis on the phrase that caught many people's attention.

She explained her remark at the time, as reported of " 'I have been desperate to see our country moving in that direction and just not feeling so alone in my frustration and disappointment.' "

The Obama campaign is doing a professional job of clarifying her statement, or putting their spin on it, depending on how you want to put it. "The point is that of course Michelle is proud of her country, which is why she and Barack talk constantly about how their story wouldn’t be possible in any other nation on Earth," a spokeswoman said. "What she meant is that she’s really proud at this moment because for the first time in a long time, thousands of Americans who’ve never participated in politics before are coming out in record numbers to build a grassroots movement for change." Again, the emphasis is mine.

I don't think that the "for the first time in my adult life, I am proud of my country" statement is particularly important by itself, outside the American presidential campaign. And I don't think it will be important in politics a week from now.

I do think that what a presidential candidate's wife said shows an all-too-common set of feelings and assumptions about America. Being born in 1964, she's lived her entire life in the sixties, and in a culture that's been steeped in the groovy decade. "Marinated" might be a better term.

In some circles, America is considered
  • Imperialistic (an oldie but a goodie)
  • Oppressive (Power to the people, man!)
  • Hypocritical" (an inevitable accusation, where people or nations with ideals are involved)
  • Polluting (This may fade, since China got on the radar recently)
  • Materialistic (Sometimes confused with 'successful,' I think)
  • And enough other pejoratives to fill a glossary
Further, unless things have changed since I rubbed elbows with the self-defined better classes ("tolerant" or "open minded" seem to be preferred terms now: I haven't heard "sophisticated" used that way for decades).

I'll admit to a bias: I like living in America.

Parts of that preference came from:
  • Living in San Francisco, where an ESL program brought me in contact with people from east Asia. They had gone to a lot of trouble to get themselves, and their families, here: one of them got out of the worker's paradise he was born in by imitating a pile of anchor ropes for longer than most native-born Americans would be willing to sit in a bus.
  • Studying history, which brought me in contact, vicariously, of what humanity's efforts at government have achieved - and committed - over the last four millennia or so. Although some cultures are attractive, like
    • Ancient Greece (provided you belonged to the right class)
    • Viking Scandinavia (my Nordic ancestors didn't spend all their time pillaging my Celtic ancestors)
    But, all things considered, contemporary America is the least unpleasant place I can think of to live: particularly if I wasn't given a choice of which group I belonged to.
Do I think America is perfect? Of course not. Not even close. We're a nation populated entirely by human beings: and that means trouble, no matter where or when you are.

It'll do as a homeland, though, until something better gets built. Meanwhile, given a choice between
  1. Being miserable about how America doesn't live up to my dreams of an ideal nation
  2. Enjoying the freedoms I have, and doing what I can to make those dreams real
I'll take option 2. A nation that can make "Irish need not apply" a thing of the past can, I think, do almost anything.

Political Correctness, Belarus-Style? Three Years Hard Labor for Journalist Aleksandr Klaskovsky

I don't know whether a Belarusian journalist sitting in prison because he decided to publish some cartoons is political correctness run amok, old-school suppression of a free press, a kind of islamophobia, or maybe all three.

Whatever it is, it's bad news.

Back in September of 2005, the Danish paper, Jyllands-Posten, published 12 cartoons, depicting the Prophet Mohammed.

They weren't exactly flattering. In fact, I think some were in bad taste.

As a Catholic living in America, I'm accustomed to seeing cartoons that are impolite toward, and often wildly inaccurate about, my faith. It's one of the unpleasant side-effects of living in a free society.

That may be why, even if an unflattering - or blasphemous - cartoon about Catholicism showed up in the local paper, it's hard to imagine my fellow-parishioners rioting in the streets.

Living in a country where putting a crucifix in urine1 is considered "art," I've gotten used to living among people who don't necessarily share my values or beliefs.

As the cartoons were republished around the world, Muslims got upset. The Norwegian embassy in Damscus was "torched," and followers of Islam made a bonfire of furniture from the Danish embassy. Protests a few days later were "peaceful," with chants of "At your service, oh Mohammed, at your service, oh Prophet of God," and the ever-popular "Death to America, Death to Israel."


The protesters had signs, too, including: "No dignity to a nation whose prophet is insulted;" and "What comes after insulting sacred values?" That second sign raises a good question, actually.

The death toll seems to have been remarkably low:
  • At least 10, according to a socialist website
  • 24 or more in Nigeria alone, as reported in the International Herald Tribune"
  • 139, according Wikipedia, citing a website that is now heavily commercial - and is for sale - (
My guess is that 139 is closer to the actual body count than the 10 reported early in the process.

I think it's odd, even considering the global scope of the events, that even an estimate of the actual number of people killed as a result of Islamic "protests" against the cartoons. But that's a matter for another time: and probably another blogger.

Back to that Belarusian journalist.

Belarus isn't an "Islamic" country. About 80% of the people are Eastern Orthodox, about 3% Muslim, and the rest are Roman Catholic, Protestant, or Jewish.

As the Danish cartoons were spreading around the world, Aleksandr Sdvizhkov decided to publish them in the Zgoda (Consensus) newspaper. Then, in March, 2006, the Belarusian boss, President Aleksandr Lukashenko, shut Zgoda down.

Belarusian Secret Service agents arrested Sdvizhkov on November 18, 2007, charging him with inciting religious hatred. They'd probably have picked him up earlier, but Sdvizhkov had been abroad. He came back to Belarus for 10th anniversary of his father's death.

From "Freedom Remains Elusive for Journalist in Belarus Jailed For Printing Islamic Cartoons" FOXNews (February 19, 2008):
Vitaly Taras, a member of the Union of Belarusian Writers, said in an interview that Sdvizhkov's punishment was excessive. "The case demonstrates to the whole world that European values, including the freedom of speech, have little value in Belarus," Taras said.

The population of Belarus, formerly a Soviet republic, is overwhelmingly Orthodox Christian; only about 3 percent of the 9 million residents are Muslim. Lukashenko's oppressive, Soviet-style government has a history of quashing independent media, and it has close ties to Iran.

"The authorities suddenly became very worried about the feelings of Belarusian Muslims," said Aleksandr Klaskovsky, a Minsk-based independent political analyst with Belarusian News. "Prior to the scandal, Belarusian authorities told everyone who would listen that Belarus was a Slavic, Russian Orthodox country, ignoring the country's true multicultural and religious reality."

Taras said the government's crackdown on Zgoda sent a message to Muslims worldwide: "The Sdvizhkov case in Belarus can only please extremists from Hamas, and other Muslim radicals, who will be happy our authorities turned out to be on their side."
Something bad is going on in Belarus:
  • Political correctness run amok?
    This could be the sort of sensitive response we'd see, if rabid fans of hate crime legislation had their way. There's something in nearly everyone that would like to see those who disagree with them silenced.
  • Old-school suppression of a free press?
    I don't know that anyone, other than hard-line defenders of former Soviet republics, wouldn't agree that what's going on in Belarus is old-school, heavy-handed censorship.
  • A kind of islamophobia?
    I know it sounds odd: but I think that's what we're looking at here. Muslims, some of them, have earned Islam a reputation for being a religion that beheads, blows up, or burns people who are judged unworthy by the local imam. It may be understandable that some governments see placating Islamic partialities at any cost as a reasonable policy.
In the short run, punishing "anti-Islamic" people and publications seems to be good news for Islam. In the long run, I think that Islam, and Muslims, will suffer loss of respect as a result of that sort of 'help.'

Since I'm a Catholic and an American, here's what the American government, and the Vatican, had to say about those Danish cartoons and how some Muslims reacted to them.
In a strongly worded statement, a U.S. State Department spokesman said Friday that the U.S. respects freedom of expression, but the publication of cartoons that incite religious or ethnic hatred is unacceptable.

The Vatican also weighed in Saturday, saying freedom "cannot imply the right to offend" religious faiths, but emphasized also that "violent actions of protest are deplorable."

The Vatican said a government should not be held responsible for actions of a newspaper. However, authorities "could and must, eventually, intervene according to the principals of the national legislation," the Vatican added.
Freedom of expression is a good idea, but there's a distinction between expressing an idea, and peeing on the wall. I think it's time that more publishers learn the difference.

  • Freedom "cannot imply the right to offend" religious faiths
  • Even when offended, "violent actions of protest are deplorable"

1 I'm not making that up. An "artistic" photograph, "Piss Christ," won the Southeastern Center for Contemporary Art (SECCA) "Awards in the Visual Arts" competition (ca. 1989). Federal funding of the award was discussed in congress. (Transcript posted by the California State University, Long Beach)

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Geert Wilders: A Mini-Hitler?
Recent Dutch History, Uneducated Berbers, and Other Details

"The mistakes on Geert Wilders by the foreign media-My reflections" (February 17, 2008?)

This post seems to be written by someone familiar with Dutch culture and recent history. I recommend reading it: with the usual grain or two of salt.

Dutch Member of Parliament
Target of Planned Suicide Attack

The attack was to be carried out by first shooting the political leader, then exploding a van full of explosives. As one commentator put it: "Many innocent people were to die in the chaos."

'All the News We Want to Print?'

This assassination plot is a hot topic in parts of the blogosphere. Geert Wilders is a very conservative political leader in the Netherlands who has clearly-defined and unflattering opinions about Islam.

The planned shooting/van bomb attack may be in the news somewhere, but I haven't been able to find it: not in English-language news, at least.

How come? This item seems to have the elements of 'news' to me:
  • A European political leader, who is
    • Outspoken
    • Relatively photogenic
    • Articulate
    • Deeply committed to one side of a controversial topic
  • This politico is threatened by assassins who have a specific plan
    • Which would involve massive carnage
  • Bonus: The would-be assassins are religious fanatics
And yet, the assassination plot seems to be a non-event that never happened.

We probably wouldn't have heard about it at all, if it weren't for a report that Geert Wilders filed with the Haaglanden police. Politically incorrect bloggers found the report, and have been writing posts on the topic. (Infidel Bloggers Alliance and 1389 Blog - Antijihadist Tech, for example)

To be fair, traditional news outlets have been writing about the Netherlands' Geert Wilders: "In Netherlands, Anti-Islamic Polemic Comes With a Price" in the "Washington Post," (February 1, 2005), for example.

Why Would News Agencies Ignore Wilders' Death Threat?

There are at least three explanations: two reasonable, the other not so much.
  1. As important an assassination plot against Geert Wilders would be to him, personally, and to the Netherlands' politics, news editors may have decided that the event was not interesting enough, globally, to be 'international news.'
  2. There may be no assassination attempt. There may have been no Haaglanden police report. Crazy stories can spread in the blogosphere: as the recent Torrentfreak / Dependent Records SNAFU showed.
  3. Non-Christian, non-EuroAmerican, religious fanatics plotting to kill a very conservative politician who disapproves of their beliefs may not be among the major news agencies' preferred article topics.
These three possibilities aren't mutually exclusive: any two, or all three might be true. The significance of Geert Wilders and the Islamic assassins depends partly on why the press is ignoring it.
  1. The fate of one Dutch politico, and the Hollanders near an exploding van, may not be a major event in the great scheme of things. It may not even be interesting enough to hit the Terneuzen front pages. I'm not sure that this is very likely: Particularly since Wilders' actions to date have been considered newsworthy, and part of what seems to be a sea change in Dutch politics.
  2. Bloggers generally don't have the staff and resources that outfits like the Associated Press, Reuters, and United Press International do. In fact, I don't know of a blogger who does. Worse, many bloggers have more enthusiasm than training in research and analysis. The alleged death threat is plausible, though. Back when the assassination of Theo van Gogh was on more people's minds, the "Washington Post" wrote about Geert Wilders, and online video clips that featured the Dutch politician: " 'He is an enemy of Islam and he should be beheaded,' the narrator of one video clip posted on the Internet says in Arabic, against the crackle of gunfire. Behead him, 'and you will earn a place in paradise.' " Besides that, Netherlands police had found a hit list that included MP Wilders' name.
  3. Unhappily, I think it's possible that news editors may simply not like the story because it doesn't match their vision of the world. Geert Wilders is the sort of person that the American press, at least, does not approve of:
    • Very, very "conservative"
    • White, and intolerant of other ethnic, racial, and/or religious groups
    • Quite successful in making his beliefs known
    The alleged Islamic assassins are people who do seem to be on the 'approved' list:
    • Followers of a non-Christian religion
    • Members of a group whose roots are not in the soil of northwestern Europe
    • Presumably "oppressed" by the religious and ethnic majority of America (and, dare I say it, Europe?)
    If my comments about "3" make you think that my parka hood is a tad too tight, try this:
    As a sort of thought experiment, consider a hypothetical situation, with another cast of players. I'm setting it in America, since I'm more familiar with my homeland's culture. Remember, this is hypothetical: make-believe, if you will.

    Myron X, Black Muslim and Senator from California, is a prominent supporter of Greenpeace and the Sierra Club, and co-sponsor of a bill to remove all immigration barriers. A Simi Valley police report shows that a white supremacist group plans to shoot X, and then detonate a truck-full of explosives at a Conservation Club rally.

    Even if the report was dubious, don't you think that this story would be on the national news - with a good chance of going global?
    I'd like to believe that reason "3" is silly. But I do have the impression that what started as a laudable response to real injustice and prejudice a half-century ago has become a sort of prudish unwillingness among journalists (and others) to discuss the failings of non-WASPs.

    Saturday, February 16, 2008

    Toledo's Mayor, the U.S. Marines, Feelings, and Common Sense

    United States Marines Invade Toledo!

    Alert Mayor Saves the Day!
    Toledo's Mayor Finkbeiner wouldn't let Marines get off a bus in his city earlier this month.

    The Marines had planned to conduct a three-day urban patrol exercise downtown, as they had about two years ago. The Marines would have been working out of the Madison Building. Toledo owns the building, and it's mostly vacant.

    A city employee, acting on instructions from Mayor Finkbeiner, told them they couldn't get off the buses.

    I suppose that the mayor might have let the Marines know they weren't wanted earlier, but he says he was taken by surprise. Although some of Toledo's police officials had known about the Marines' plans for weeks, the mayor apparently didn't know about the exercise until he read about it in the "Toledo Blade."

    That's plausible: the police wear uniforms, like soldiers do, and have a paramilitary organization. That could make them very hard for some people to communicate with. Graduates of the sixties who remember their lessons know that only squares hang with the fuzz.

    Now Toledo businesses are paying for the mayor's decision. Organizations and businesses outside Toledo are having second thoughts about deals they had been considering.

    Mayor Finkbeiner - Defender of Toledo's Feelings

    Mayor Finkbeiner explained his reasons for refusing to let about 200 Marines practice urban warfare in Toledo.

    Essentially, he seems to be afraid of soldiers, and assumes that everyone in Toledo is, too.

    Mayor Finkbeiner told the "Toledo Blade:" "No matter how much I respect, love, and appreciate the military, there are better places to conduct military planning and staging sessions than the central business district," establishing a reasonable and conciliatory tone. "I think the military brass would understand and appreciate that."

    Then, we get to Mayor Finkbeiner's reason for ordering the Marines out of town. He didn't want what the "Blade" called "a repeat of the last time the Marines' battalion trained downtown in May, 2006."

    "I saw the military with guns drawn emulating warfare, and I observed the expressions of citizens who happened to just be coming down the sidewalk that particular Saturday noon in wonderment, asking, 'What have I found myself in the middle of?' " Mayor Finkenbeiner said. "There was a look of wonderment on some people's faces, and there was a look of fear on other people's faces."

    Guns + uniforms = fear.

    I understand that reaction all to well: I remember the sixties.

    Fearful Feelings and Marines in Camouflage

    Not everyone in the Toledo area share their mayor's feelings, though. According to the "Toledo Blade," A 55-year-old man from West Toledo, Douglas Finch, Sr., couldn't believe the mayors "concerns."

    Mr. Finch was there, in May of 2006, when the Marines were downtown with their camouflage and rifles. The sight was grabbed his attention, but it wasn't scary. "We have enough empty buildings here, so why not let them train in one?" Mr. Finch said.

    Good question.

    I think the answer is that the Mayor of Toledo is one of a not-inconsiderable number of Americans who
    • Don't like war (a reasonable attitude, shared by quite a number of soldiers, I've read)
    • Think war is unnecessary (a much more debatable belief)
    • Are frightened of soldiers - any soldiers (a regrettable and somewhat pathetic response)
    There are some people - like the late U.S. Representative Tom Lantos, who survived the Holocaust, who might understandably be afraid of uniforms.

    Most people, who grew up in America, have no practical reason for fearing the American military.

    It's too bad that several generations have now grown up with a conditioned fear of the warriors who defend them. Particularly since these days, there are people out there that Americans really should be afraid of.

    "Finkbeiner taking flak over Marines - Mayor defends his decision to cancel urban war games" "Toledo Blade" (February 10, 2008)
    (The source for the quotes and most facts in this post.)

    Op Ed
    "Don't Blame Us For Berkeley/Toledo Attacks Against Marines Say Businesses"
    "NewsBusters" (February 16, 2008)
    (The writer argues that Toledo businesses deserve to lose business, since Toledoans elected their gun-shy mayor. Unless Finkbeiner was elected by a landslide, there's a problem with the idea - but that's a topic for someone else's blog.)

    Berkeley, Doing What Berkeley Does Best

    Protesters are still protecting Berkeley from those big, rough, United States Marines.

    There's a pretty good rundown of what happened yesterday, in "Berkeley protesters remain at still-empty Marine recruiting station"
    "Contra Costa Times" (February 15, 2008)

    There's a bit of grim humor in the Berkeley situation.

    Here are protesters, crying out against the efforts of warriors who are sworn to protect the protesters' right to cry out.

    America: 'what a country!'

    You've Learned Ebonics? Now it's Time to learn Berkeleyish

    "Berkeley Marine Protest: Video Shows Confrontation as Cops Remain 'Neutral' "
    "" (February 4)

    In which we learn that "neutral" in Berkeleyish means "I'll let protesters block the entrance to this Marine recruitment center, but I won't let you in."

    Who says television isn't educational?

    Britain's Separate-But-Equal Treatment of Islam: Is the Idea Better? Or Batty?

    That was Then

    "We can learn so much from Europe/England/Denmark" was a common attitude when I grew up. At least, in the academic sub-culture I lived in. The phrase, "we can learn so much from...." was actually used sometimes. The idea was that all the best ideas were from
    • Europe in general, because of all that 'culture'
    • England, because of their socialized medicine
    • Denmark, because that country had legalized prostitution
      (thereby showing how open-minded and uninhibited they were)
    'We can learn so much Sweden' was on the list, until word got out that the country was a world leader in suicide rates.

    This is Now

    We can learn so much from England: like how to promote humanism, multiculturalism, and, probably, terrorism.

    That's what the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) said in a report yesterday.

    There's probably still something to learn from England's well-intentioned effort to make minorities feel at home by exempting them from the rules that Britons had to follow, and letting them (forcing them?) to set up ghettos, where they could do things their way: 'Don't do it!'

    The United Kingdom's experiment with a 'separate-but-equal' approach to distinctions between people isn't going too well. That should be no surprise. Remember how well "separate but equal" worked in America?

    An "International Herald Tribune" article had interview extracts from one of the RUSI report's authors, Gwyn Prins, including these quotes:
    • "One reason that the United States does not suffer from homegrown terrorism is that it is the world's melting pot, where immigrants are Americans, salute the flag, and obey the constitution and the law."
    • "The U.K. should have the self-confidence to do the same, but we don't."
    • "We don't insist they learn English, that they fully and properly integrate into our society as a whole. So we have these ghetto societies where Islamist extremists can create a narrative of resentment and recruitment."
    Prins is a specialist on international security at the London School of Economics. He's also good at pressing all the wrong buttons, at least for people in some circles.
    • "The safety and security of our citizens is the government's main priority and the government rejects any suggestion that Britain is a soft touch for terrorists."
      Prime Minister Gordon Brown's government
    Britain's current Prime Minister is unquestionably aware that terrorism is an issue for the United Kingdom. The wisdom of his approach to the situation may be debatable. Last July, for example, he forbade government ministers from using the word "Muslim" and told his team to drop the phrase "war on terror."

    I've got nit-picking problems with what the RUSI report writer said.
    • "Melting pot," for example, isn't a good metaphor for America. I've traveled around enough to know that there are very distinct regional and ethnic cultures here. "Crazy quilt" might be a better way to describe what we've got.
    • Saying that "the United States does not suffer from homegrown terrorism" is simply wrong. From the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, to a mosque-burning in Tennessee, America has had home-grown terrorists. The American terrorists, though, generally are people who don't like this country's habit of welcoming non-WASPs.
    On the whole, though, I think that the British think tank identified an important point.

    People moving to another country should expect to meet some qualifications. For example, I'd expect to learn German, if I decided to live in German, and expect that I'd have to learn German customs and obey German laws if I became a citizen there. In fact, I'd be a little disturbed if I found that I had to live in the "American quarter" of Düsseldorf, or some other area, and had "leaders" who discouraged me from learning German. I'm not talking about American military bases, with their transient populations, but what happens with individual immigrants.

    That's not to say that ethnic neighborhoods are wrong: it's natural for people with preferences for, say, garlic or lutefisk to settle near each other.

    But trying to be "multicultural" by allowing select groups to set up independent legal systems, and then maintaining de facto barriers to keep members of that group from getting jobs outside the ghetto, is crazy. It hasn't worked before, and I'd be astonished if it worked now.
    More, about the RUSI report: Study criticizes UK's vulnerability to Islamic extremists "International Herald Tribune" (February 15, 2008)

    Selected "Another War-on-Terror" posts about the 2007 Glasgow/London attacks in the United Kingdom:
    "Arrests, Doctors and Terrorists: Keeping a Cool Head"
    (July 2, 2007)
    "Doublethink, Doctors, and Dumb Ideas"
    (July 3, 2007)

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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.