Thursday, August 28, 2008

Barack Obama's Acceptance Speech: A Rousing Success

Barack Obama made history today, in Denver, by being the first black American to make an acceptance speech after being nominated a major party's presidential candidate.

Barack Obama's acceptance speech comes on the 45th anniversary of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s, "I Have a Dream" speech in front of the Lincoln Memorial.

I've seen Martin Luther King's speech, and I've heard Barack Obama's acceptance speech. Both men are accomplished orators.

Judging from the cheers, boos, and occasional chant, I don't think there's any doubt that Barack Obama's acceptance speech was an effective speech. He assured the Democrats in attendance that McCain wouldn't be a good president, and that he, Barack Obama, would be. He stated that he was ready to win the election, and closed his speech with "America, we cannot turn back. We cannot walk alone. At this moment, in this election, we must pledge once more to march into the future."

Then "The crowd gave Obama a roaring welcome and met lines of his speech with chants of his catchphrase, 'Yes, we can.'..."

All in all, Barack Obama's acceptance speech was an effective, rousing, political speech: quite appropriate for the occasion, and one which obviously had an impact on his fellow-Democrats.

However, I don't think that Martin Luther King, Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech is in danger of being eclipsed by Barack Obama's oratory tonight.

This is no reflection on Barack Obama, or his speech. He was addressing his fellow-Democrats. Being a good politician, he praised his party and his positions, and cast doubt on those of his opponent.

Martin Luther King, Jr., was also at a political event of sorts when he delivered his "I Have a Dream" speech. But he was engaged in the March on Washington. He wasn't trying to win an election: he was trying to change minds. And succeeded. I recommend reading the transcript and seeing the video of King's "I Have a Dream" speech at "Martin Luther King Speeches / I Have a Dream - Address at March on Washington (MLK Online).

In the news: I didn't get either of those CNN videos to load tonight: my guess is that the CNN servers are working near their limits. You may have more success.

And, you can try YouTube. Be sure you get the real Obama acceptance speech, not the one done by Eddie Murphy. These seem to be actual videos taken from coverage of Barack Obama's acceptance speech:
Why write this post? I wanted to mark a historic occasion, and give my reaction to a speech made by one of this year's more accomplished orators.

Barack Obama: That's Not a Temple, That's History

Any American presidential candidate's nomination acceptance speech is pretty big deal.

Barack Obama's speech, as the first black American presidential candidate, delivered on the 45th anniversary of Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech, is a bigger deal than most.

Democratic National Convention organizers had arranged for their candidate's acceptance speech to be at INVESCO Field in Denver, Colorado. In front of a faux Greco-Roman temple facade.

That was before Obama wowed the crowd in Berlin. I'll get back to that later

An outdoor arena - and warmup acts that include Stevie Wonder, Sheryl Crowe, and Jennifer Hudson - makes the venue look a bit more like a rock concert than the Democratic party probably likes right now.

Then there's the backdrop. It looks like a Greek temple. Or the Lincoln Memorial. Or the White House.

The 'Greek temple' comparison has been used with the sort of enthusiasm that Obama's supporters had when criticizing McCain's inability to remember how many houses he owns. I'll get back to that later, too.

I'm not bothered by the backdrop, myself. Architects have been using the look of Ancient Greek - and Roman - temples for centuries when they want to evoke permanence, tradition, reliability, and stability. The Lincoln Memorial and the White House both have similar columns on them.

I'd say it's more likely that the Democratic party leaders had the Lincoln Memorial and/or the White House in mind, than a 'temple to Obama.'

Obama's Backdrop Doesn't Bother Me

In fact, for me it's a reminder of what this country is, and one of the reasons that it's endured so long.

The founding fathers studied the political systems used in countries and empires across thousands of years of history. They picked what they believed to be the best: the democracies used by some Greek city-states, and by Rome.

From that starting point, they made changes, drawing on the experiences of about 23 centuries.

Their first attempt, the Articles of Confederation, didn't work too well, but the Constitution has seen America through a major revolution, two global wars, Watergate, the Teapot Dome Scandal, and ongoing discussions of the gold standard, for 219 years.

Barack Obama's acceptance speech is a milestone in America's developing history, so I don't see a problem with a reminder of the ancient democracies of Greece and Rome.

In the news:
I said I'd get back to 'Obamaopolis,' and McCain's referral of the question 'how many houses do you own' to his staff.

McCain and the Houses Question

True enough: most people who own houses know how many they own. And McCain had been presenting himself as a 'regular guy.' If the criticism had been that McCain had too much money to understand what many people deal with, I'd have taken it a little more seriously.

But the focus has been on his not knowing exactly how many he owns.

Turns out, there seems to be some debate about that. The number that's going the rounds now is seven, but he may 'own' eight. That count includes
  • All the apartments and homes owned by McCain's wife, Cindy
  • Various family trusts for
    • Cindy and John McCain
    • Their children
    "Rezko Reality
    McCain misfires as he attacks Obama's home purchase
    (August 22, 2008)
I agree: McCain has more money than I do. So, I hope, does Mr. Obama. Having America run by people who are wealthier than I am has never bothered me. In fact, I'd just as soon have someone in the White House who does know how to make a good living.

Back to McCain referring the 'how many houses do you own' question to his staff: it looks like it's his wife who owns the real estate. McCain may have decided not to try calculating what percentage of his wife's holdings he could be said to "own" during an interview.

Barackopolis, a Celebrity Candidate, and Free Beer

That 200,000-strong crowd at Berlin's Tiergarten Park had to pay for their beer. True, the rock band Reamonn was performing, and so was reggae artist Patrice.

But the main draw seems to have been Obama, at least as much as the reggae, beer, and rock-and-roll. Reamonn's lead singer, Rea Garvey, seems to think so - and wrote in a blog that Obama was the event's focus.

So, an American presidential candidate can pack 'em in at a German rock fest. So what? I've never believed that being popular was a hindrance to being president.

America has had popular presidents before. To this day, there's a Kennedy Caddesi in Istanbul.

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Here's how I see it:
  • The Republican party has a (presumptive) presidential candidate who has more money than most average Joes
  • The Democratic party has a candidate who has lots of charisma - and is a fine orator
Neither of which has very much to do with which will make the better president.

I understand that elections involve a great deal of name-calling and irrational slogans. That's part of what makes them so colorful and exciting.

But, if you're an American, and plan to vote, do us all a favor. Before you cast your ballot, collect the facts and think.

Georgian Invasion an American Plot: Who Knew?

America ordered Georgia to start the conflict that forced Russia to roll tanks into Georgia, sink or steal much of the Georgian navy, and set up checkpoints where only Russian papers allowed passage.

It must be true: Putin said so:
  • " the Black Sea city of Sochi Thursday, Putin said the U.S. had encouraged Georgia to attack the autonomous region of South Ossetia.
  • "Putin told CNN his defense officials had told him it was done to benefit a presidential candidate -- Republican John McCain and Democrat Barack Obama are competing to succeed George W. Bush -- although he presented no evidence to back it up.
  • " 'U.S. citizens were indeed in the area in conflict,' Putin said. 'They were acting in implementing those orders doing as they were ordered, and the only one who can give such orders is their leader.'..."
    (CNN (August 28, 2008)) [emphasis mine]
Hats off to CNN for mentioning that "he presented no evidence to back it up."

There's been quite a bit of Monday morning quarterbacking, about what set off the Russian invasion of Georgia. (" 'Quagmire's' Back: Georgia, Russia, Nato, Bush, and the Blame Game" (August 24, 2008)). I think Putin deserves credit for imagination and chutzpah.

I don't buy the implied 'Bush did this to get McCain elected' argument: but my guess is that quite a few people will.

If they don't believe it already.

Interestingly, Putin didn't blame America for blowing that Georgian fuel train (CNN (August 24, 2008)). It's 'obvious' that it America made that train hit a land mine: An Ameican warship arrived in the southern Georgian port of Batumi at about the same time. The American military claims that the ship carried humanitarian supplies - but who knows what dark secrets were hidden below decks?
(This space used to display a photo of spectacularly burning tank cars in Georgia. The train just happened to blow up when it set off a land mine. The article, from August 24, 2008, is still there, CNN isn't displaying the photo any more.)

(That's the great thing about conspiracy theories: a little innuendo will go a long way.)

More odd assertions at In the news:
  • "Putin accuses U.S. of orchestrating Georgian war"
    CNN (August 28, 2008)
    • "SOCHI, Russia (CNN) -- Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has accused the United States of orchestrating the conflict in Georgia to benefit one of its presidential election candidates....
    • " Putin told CNN his defense officials had told him it was done to benefit a presidential candidate -- Republican John McCain and Democrat Barack Obama are competing to succeed George W. Bush -- although he presented no evidence to back it up.
    • " 'U.S. citizens were indeed in the area in conflict,' Putin said. 'They were acting in implementing those orders doing as they were ordered, and the only one who can give such orders is their leader.'..."
    • "...When told that many diplomats in the United States and Europe blame Russia for provoking the conflict and for invading Georgia, Putin said Russia had no choice but to invade Georgia after dozens of its peacekeepers in South Ossetia were killed. He told Chance it was to avert a human calamity...."
  • "Vladimir Putin accuses Bush of provoking Georgia conflict to help John McCain"
    TimesOnline (August 28, 2008)
    • "Vladimir Putin accused President Bush tonight of orchestrating the war in Georgia in a plot to get John McCain elected to the White House.
    • "In his most explosive allegation since the South Ossetia crisis erupted, the Russian Prime Minister said that the United States had provoked the conflict to aid the Republican candidate, who is an outspoken critic of the Kremlin.
    • " 'It is not just that the American side could not restrain the Georgian leadership from this criminal act. The American side in effect armed and trained the Georgian army,' Mr Putin said.
    • " 'Why spend years holding difficult negotiations and looking for complicated compromises in ethnic conflicts? It's easier to arm one of the parties and push it to kill the other party, and the job is done.' ..."
  • "Huge fire as Georgian train hits landmine"
    CNN (August 24, 2008)
    • "TBILISI, Georgia (CNN) -- A train carrying fuel hit a mine and burst into flames near the Georgian city of Gori Sunday morning, according to an Interior Ministry spokesman.
    • "The explosion, which happened on the railway tracks in the village of Skra, caused a huge fire, the spokesman said. A television report said 10 tanker cards were on fire, according to The Associated Press.
    • "There were no immediate reports casualties, but reports said two houses were damaged and windows were blown out, AP reported. Georgian Interior Ministry spokesman Shota Utiashvili blamed Russia for the blast.
    • "In another development Sunday, a U.S. Navy warship carrying humanitarian aid anchored in the southern Georgian port of Batumi on Sunday, AP reported....
Related posts, on "Who Knew? Assertions and Assumptions from All Over"

History Made Today: Barack Obama Nominated to Run for President:

History was made today, in Denver. Barack Obama was nominated as the Democratic party's presidential candidate. This is the first time in American history that a black man has been a major party's Presidential candidate.

I'm glad that I've lived long enough to see this happen, but I'm not surprised that it did. America has a pretty good track record for giving people a chance to succeed: even if they're simply not the proper sort.

In my youth, I saw a smooth-talking Irishman run for president: and win. This was only a few generations after one of my ancestors said, of another of my ancestors, "he doesn't have family: he's Irish."

Whether we see President Obama sworn in or not, history has been made.

I have reservations about a number of Barack Obama's policies and views, but that's par for the course for me and a presidential candidate. Or president, for that matter. Despite these differences, I am glad to see that America has passed another milestone in accepting people who don't fit the Yankee/Boston Brahman mold.

Who knows, I may last long enough to see America's first Hispanic president. Or the child of someone who made it out of Vietnam or China working in the Oval Office.

Recent posts about Barack Obama:

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

World's Longest Arch Bridge Proposed - Bin Laden's Building it

Bin Laden's building the world's longest arch bridge.

No, not that bin Laden. Osama bin Laden has been out of the construction business for quite a while.

The bin Laden family seems to be pretty big, and quite a few bin Ladens are still involved in the family business. On a rather large scale, it seems.

Sheikh Tarek bin Laden, brother of Osama bin Laden, plans to build what will be the world's largest suspension bridge, connecting Africa and Arabia. It's a huge engineering project, and promises to make a big difference in the economy of the region.

I wrote about the bridge project elsewhere.

Now that I've gotten your attention, here's a little puzzle. Breaking this blog's format, I'm giving a number of excerpts from an article, without first giving the article's name and source.

See if you can guess who published this. I've but some key phrases in bold.

"DJIBOUTI, Aug 13--The brother of the world's most famous terrorist has unveiled a plan to build the world's longest suspension bridge, linking two continents across the world's most dangerous waters, as well as two new cities -- one at each end.... "

"...An odd mix of Djiboutian government officials, American military contractors and journalists gathered in the splendor of the Djibouti Kempinsky Palace, the country's sole five-star hotel, to watch hyperbolic promotional videos.

"The project was compared to the construction of the Pyramids, the Garden of Eden and the Great Wall of China. It would be a "hope for all humanity".

"The company's chief executive, Mohamed Ahmed al Ahmed, said people around the world would soon hope and pray for a life in Djibouti and would forget their dream of living in America...."

"...The main contractors are a firm called L3 Communications, a company which styles itself as offering 'global security and engineering solutions'.

"It is also one of America's largest defense contractors and its senior staff includes retired military officials and Republican businessmen.

"Sheikh Bin Laden may be the front man, but L3 seemed to be running the show. Experts lined up to answer questions after the video screenings were all working for US firms -- some were former Bush administration officials.

"Even the chief executive, Ahmed, has close American ties. He previously worked for another US defense contractor, DynCorp.

"Ahmed claimed these were minor problems. Look at Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Doha, he insisted ignoring the fact that those cities were built on oil money...."

This informative article makes sure that the reader knows that a big Arabian engineering project involves
  • American military contractors
  • Individuals with links to the American military and the Republican party
We're also told that L3's chief executive, who has "close American ties," ignores the fact "that those cities [Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Doha] were built on oil money."

This article appeared on Alalam News Channel's website ("Bin Laden to Build World's Longest Bridge " (August 13, 2008)). That's an Iranian station, with offices in Tehran.

Aside from the somewhat dated, overly-formal phrase, "which styles itself," this article could have been written in America. The writer uses English skillfully.

And, I've run into quite a few Americans who regard links to the American military, the Republican party, and the Bush administration in very much the same way as this article's author does: and seem to believe that "oil money" is different from other sorts of money.

I believe I understand why an Iranian might view an Arabian engineering projects connections with Americans with some suspicion. Why some Americans have similar attitudes toward the American military, the "military-industrial complex," 'oil money,' and "big oil" is not so clear.

Not-exactly-related posts, about what some people actually believe:

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Barack Obama: Upstart Young Whippersnapper?

While researching an earlier post, I found an eye-opening op-ed piece in the International Herald-Tribune. This blog is not political, but I think that one aspect of the 2008 American presidential election is more historical and cultural, than strictly political.

That's the success of Barack Obama, Democratic nominee for the American presidency.

While researching a post about what is most likely a bunch of meth-heads with a drugged and possibly delusional plan to assassinate Barack Obama, I found this:
"Obama is the face of change in black politics"
International Herald Tribune (August 10, 2008)

"...But while Democratic black voters embraced Obama by ratios of 8 or 9 to 1 in a lot of districts, the 42 House members in the Congressional Black Caucus, for a time, split more or less down the middle between Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton, and the country's leading black ministers and mayors trended toward the Clinton camp. Clyburn himself declined until the very end to endorse a candidate in this year's primaries, saying that his leadership role required him to remain neutral.

"It is hard for any outsider to fully understand the thinking that led many older black leaders to spurn Obama's candidacy. On a surface level, those who backed Clinton did so largely out of a combination of familiarity and fatalism. If you were a longtime black leader or activist at the end of 2007, you probably believed, based on your own life experience, that no black man was going to win the nomination, let alone the presidency. You knew the Clintons personally, or at least you knew their allies in the community...." [emphasis mine]
The split in the Congressional Black Caucus was news to me. It may have been reported in the American news media: but I missed it.

But, on consideration, it doesn't surprise me.

The reason for this split, as discussed in "Obama is the face of change in black politics," is quite plausible. To me, at least.

Quite a lot has happened in America, since the sixties. I can easily understand how people who remember the day Martin Luther King, Jr., was killed might have trouble adjusting to the world we live in today.

I remember that day, myself. It was a very stressful time, and one which made a deep impact on many people. I still remember much of the song that ended with, "I thought I saw him walkin' up over the hill / With Abraham, Martin and John."

Very moving.

Also, something that happened about forty years ago. That doesn't make it unimportant, but it does mean that assumptions formed about society in the late sixties may need a little updating.

That International Herald Tribune piece says that young American blacks don't see a black American president as such an impossibility. I'm inclined to agree with them: I saw the first Irish American president elected. That must have seemed unlikely-to-impossible to quite a number of my forebears.

Times change. And the last forty years have seen quite a bit of change in America.

On the other hand, some things don't seem to change all that much. Another excerpt from the same article. Remember - the "I" in the next paragraph is the author of the article, not me.
"...This point about whether Obama was 'black enough' came up often in my discussions. It referred to the perception among some black leaders that he hadn't shared the African-American experience, period. Obama's father was a Kenyan academic; his family came to America on scholarship, not in chains...."
(International Herald Tribune)
I think I can see the point. I've run into people who were quite willing to tell me that I couldn't possibly understand, because I hadn't been through the Depression, or served in World War II, or shared some other experience with them.

The 'not like us' feeling toward newcomers is certainly not a monopoly of American black leaders. The Daughters of the American Revolution are quite strict about limiting membership to those who can prove direct blood descent from someone who had a hand in the American Revolution.

Back when I was growing up, fiction and humor often included a character who was acutely aware of his or her descent from the people on the Mayflower, or some other deep-rooted group.

I have nothing against people who decide to limit membership in their organizations to some particular sort of person. That's their decision. I wouldn't be too interested in becoming a DAR, anyway.

"The Art of the Possible"

Politics has been described as "the art of the possible" (Otto Von Bismark, via R. A. Butler). I think it's time for quite a few people in this country to decide whether Barack Obama is an impertinent young whippersnapper, or whether he's someone who is living in today's America.

Obama, Culture, and the War on Terror

The difficulty that some Americans have, accepting the idea of a black man getting this close to the presidency, shows how deeply entrenched ideas can be.

And, it shows how important it is to keep up with a changing world.

In my youth, some people were still getting used to the idea that Japan was a major trade partner with America, and that society had changed since the end of WWII. Their inability to keep up with the rest of the world was an annoyance, at least, to others. It also made it difficult, or impossible, to take the occasional good idea they had seriously.

It's been just over forty years since Martin Luther King, Jr., was assassinated. This isn't the sixties any more. As an American, I'm concerned that some of our nation's leaders seem to be unaware of the changes they helped bring about.

Obama Assassination Plot and/or Meth Bust: Close Call in Colorado

Update October 28, 2008

Related Post:
Looks like some white people were going to kill Barack Obama.

Or, a bunch of meth-heads with guns and scrambled minds picked 'kill Obama' out of the swirling chaos in their heads.

Or, something else was going on in Colorado, near the Democratic National Convention.

Update: Threat probably rooted in racism and more 'aspirational than operational,'... "

The fact is that several people were arrested in Colorado yesterday, with meth. And, what put this in the national news, firearms that included a sniper rifle. And, for at least one of them, a stated intention to kill Barack Obama.

Of course, that could be the meth talking.

The FBI is being sensibly cautious. An FBI spokesman assigned to the Denver Democratic National Convention said: "This is a methamphetamine and firearms case that arose from a traffic stop made by an Aurora Police officer," which is true. And, may make prosecution of attempted murder charges possible later. The way American justice works, defense lawyers love it when law enforcement accuses suspects without solid evidence.

On the other hand, nobody seems eager to let this bunch loose. For which I'm duly grateful.

After seeing photos of the suspects, I wasn't surprised to discover that they're thought to be tied to white supremacists.

Muslims Have No Monopoly on Fanaticism

Any group - Whites, Muslims, video game players - are going to have fanatics in their number. Fanatic video game players may never threaten western civilization: apart from overloading the health care system with carpal tunnel injuries.

Violent individuals and groups like white supremacists and Muslim terrorists, on the other hand, are real threats.

That doesn't mean that all Muslims are terrorists, or all Americans with melanin deficiency are white supremacists, any more than all American blacks were members of the Black Panthers, forty years ago.

Terrorism is an Equal-Opportunity Destroyer

Right now, the most obvious terrorists are Muslims who think that anyone their imam doesn't like should be dead. My guess - and hope - is that this is as representative of Islam, as the KKK is of Christianity, or Timothy (Oklahoma City) McVeigh is of rural white people.

The point is that people who destroy buildings with other people still inside are dangerous: whether they're (maybe) part of a militia, or part of Al Qaeda.

I think that Colorado and federal law enforcement is taking sensible steps with Sunday morning's meth-and-guns bust. The suspects are still in custody, the claims they made about wanting to kill Obama are being taken seriously. On the other hand, they're not taking former Durham County District Attorney Mike Nifong as their role model.

I also think that the odds are good that the lot arrested yesterday was planning to kill Barack Obama. Particularly since one of them said they were, and another expressed the opinion that a black man shouldn't be president.

These are, in all probability, very dangerous people who should not be allowed to roam around.

But I'm not going to assume that they are white supremacist racist assassins, until we know a bit more. Quite a bit more.

There's a press conference this afternoon, about the possible Obama assassination plot. Maybe we'll learn more then.
On a related topic: the American Presidential election is coming up. Get ready for misinformation, disinformation, and just plain stupid talk. "Online dirty tricks may mar U.S. elections " (CNN (August 26, 2008)) points out that the Internet makes it easier than ever to spread facts, half-truths, lies, and crazy ideas.

I sincerely hope that Americans who vote take a little time to think about what they read: and not make up their minds based on what some guy said he read in an email that some other guy forwarded.
Possible Obama assassination attempt, still a developing story, in the news:
  • "Obama Assassination Attempt Possible Attack on Race or Resistance to Change"
    Associated Content (August 26, 2008 )
    • "Police in Colorado, the Secret Service and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) are investigating a possible Barack Obama assassination attempt. Aurora, Colorado police arrested 3 men and a woman on drug and weapons charges Sunday. Three of the arrests occurred as the result of a vehicle stop; evidence uncovered in the vehicle led police to a hotel room where a fourth suspect jumped from a fourth floor window to avoid being taken into custody. The suspects in the alleged Obama assassination atttempt are believed to be linked to a white supremacist organization...."
  • "Nevada Man Accused in Obama Assassination Plot"
    Las Vegas Now (August 26, 2008)
    • "A Nevada man sits in the Denver jail, along with three others, accused of plotting to kill Senator Barack Obama.
    • "Police arrested 28-year-old Tharin Gartrell of Lincoln County early Sunday for driving erratically in a Denver suburb. But what they found in his rented pickup is what landed him in jail.
    • "Police found two high-powered scoped rifles, a bulletproof vest, two wigs, a gun scope, and three identity cards with other people's names. Police also discovered methamphetamine in Gartrell's car.
    • "Police believe Gartrell was involved in a plot to assassinate Senator Obama during his acceptance speech Thursday night at the Democratic National Convention in Denver. That's when the FBI stepped in and arrested three other people in a nearby hotel. Thirty-three-year-old Shaun Adolf, 32-year-old Nathan Johnson and Natasha Gromek are also in a Denver jail.
    • "Johnson spoke to a Denver television station and said this regarding Adolf and the rationale behind the assassination plot.
    • " 'He made a comment in the past and I cannot tell you exactly when, but he said he didn't believe a black should be a leader of this country,' Johnson said...."
  • "Feds Investigate Possible Obama Assassination Plot in Denver"
    FOXNews (August 26, 2008)
    • "Three men arrested in Aurora, Colo., on methamphetamine and firearms charges may have been plotting to assassinate Barack Obama, FBI authorities told FOX News late Monday, although local officials are still pondering the intent of the suspects.
    • "Aurora Police Detective Marcus Dudley identified Tharin Gartrell, 28, as one suspect pulled over for a routine traffic stop Sunday and found to be wanted on numerous warrants. Two rifles, including a sniper rifle, and methamphetamines were found in the car.
    • "KCNC in Denver reported that Gartrell led police to a hotel in Glendale, where a second man, who police did not identify, tried to jump out a six-story window. He landed on an awning and took off, but broke his ankle. He was eventually taken into custody and a third man was also arrested.
    • "The men may have ties to Sons of Silence, an outlaw biker group, and are believed to have connections with white supremacists. Federal sources said this incident may have had more to do with methamphetamine than with any plot to assassinate Obama, but local police did not say why they connected the men to the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee.
    • "Federal officials said verbal threats against Obama were made, but were not considered credible...."
  • "Plot to Kill Obama: Shoot From High Vantage Point"
    KCNC / cbs4denver
    • "Denver's U.S. attorney is expected to speak on Tuesday afternoon about the arrests of four people suspected in a possible plot to shoot Barack Obama at his Thursday night acceptance speech in Denver. All are being held on either drug or weapons charges.
    • "One of those suspects spoke exclusively to CBS4 investigative reporter Brian Maass from inside the Denver City Jail late Monday night and said his friends had discussed killing Obama.
    • " 'So your friends were saying threatening things about Obama?' Maass asked.
    • " 'Yeah,' Nathan Johnson replied.
    • " 'It sounded like they didn't want him to be president?'
    • " 'Well, no,' Johnson said.
    • "Maass reported earlier Monday that one of the suspects told authorities they were 'going to shoot Obama from a high vantage point using a ... rifle ... sighted at 750 yards.'
    • "Law enforcement sources told Maass that one of the suspects 'was directly asked if they had come to Denver to kill Obama. He responded in the affirmative.'
    • "The story began emerging Sunday morning when Aurora police arrested Tharin Gartrell, 28. He was driving a rented pickup truck in an erratic manner, according to sources...."

Update August 26, 2008

A little over 24 hours after the traffic stop that led to a drugs-and-guns arrest, more details are coming out:
  • "U.S. Attorney: Threat against Obama not 'operational' "
    CNN (August 26, 2008)
    • "DENVER, Colorado (CNN) -- There is not enough evidence to conclude that three people arrested with drugs and weapons posed a "true threat" to Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama, the Denver U.S. Attorney said Tuesday.
    • " Troy Eid called the suspects 'meth heads' who, because of their drug addiction, were likely not capable of carrying out a plan to hurt Obama.
    • "Their alleged plot to harm Obama was apparently fueled by racism and was more 'aspirational than operational,' Eid said.
    • "The suspects face federal and state charges in connection with the drugs and weapons, according to authorities.
    • "An affidavit filed Tuesday cites an unnamed female informant who notified law enforcement that there was some kind of threat being made against Obama's life...."
  • "Fed official: Colo. men no true threat to Obama"
    International Herald Tribune (August 26, 2008)
    • "DENVER: A group of suspected drug users arrested in Denver this weekend with methamphetamine, guns and bulletproof vests made racist threats against Barack Obama but posed no true danger to the presidential candidate as he accepts the Democratic nomination here this week, federal authorities said Tuesday.
    • "The three men — all said to be high on methamphetamine when arrested — are the subject of an assassination investigation, but so far, authorities say, it appears they had no capacity to carry out any attack on Obama.
    • " 'The law recognizes a difference between a true threat — one that can be carried out — and the reported racist rantings of a drug addict,' U.S. Attorney Troy Eid said.
    • "He said the men's plans were "more aspirational, perhaps, than operational."..."
I was happily surprised to find very little hysteria in the blogosphere.

Okay: I didn't find any. For this sort of thing, I generally do a Google search with terms like 'obama assassination' - and look at what comes up in the first twenty hits.

One reason I limit my search this way, when looking for alternatively-rational material, is laziness - and very real time pressure. Another reason is that I am not looking for an isolated loony, hunched over a keyboard, wearing a tinfoil hat. I look for people with enough of a following, or audience, to generate the traffic and links that Google seems to like.

With the exception of a couple of hits that seemed more intent on generating traffic, than proclaiming sincerely-held beliefs in odd ideas, there was nothing. The closest was an old UK news item about some Nobel Prize winner who thought that those Yanks would shoot Obama: and that Hillary Clinton should be president.

I also found a very interesting op-ed piece, but that's for another post. ("Barack Obama: Upstart Young Whippersnapper?" (August 26, 2008).)

Sunday, August 24, 2008

"Quagmire's" Back: Georgia, Russia, NATO, Bush, and the Blame Game

Russia's stomping on the undersized country of Georgia was so outrageous that the United Nations started complaining.

Obviously, someone must be to blame.

Last week, the intellectual world's Monday morning quarterbacks were deciding where the fault lay.

Lesser minds might have thought that Georgia was at fault, for trying to reclaim some of its territory, or that Russia was at fault, for a massively disproportionate response.

But Boston University's Professor Andrew J. Bacevich rose above such plebeian imaginings. In the August 15, 2008, issue of The Christian Science Monitor, he revealed the 'real' culprits.

Russian Invasion NATO's Fault: And Bush is Wrong

Professor Bacevich's belief makes perfect sense, when you see things his way.

"Russia's payback"
The Christian Science Monitor (August 15, 2008)
"NATO disrespected Russia for too long. Now the Alliance must regroup."

"Boston - Poke a bear often enough and you're likely to get bitten. As the crisis over Georgia continues, this describes where the West finds itself today in its relations with Russia.

(I put some relevant excerpts from the article below.)

The professor seems to believe that Russia's invasion of Georgia was NATO's fault: and I think he's right, sort of.

I think this is a fairly good paraphrase of the professor's argument:
  • NATO offered NATO membership to Russia's old Soviet satellite states
  • Russia didn't like it, and complained
  • NATO persisted in 'disrespecting' Russia by treating its neighbors like independent nations
  • Obviously, NATO should have done what Russia wanted
  • Therefore, it's NATO's fault that Russia invaded Georgia
It should be no surprise that America's president Bush is involved.

Georgia, Bush, Iraq, and the Triumphant Return of "Quagmire"

Professor Bacevich becomes almost lyric as he describes the folly of NATO, America, and the Bush administration.

"...As the old saying goes: The sky grows dark with chickens coming home to roost. Russia's brutal treatment of Georgia is payback for the West's disdainful treatment of Russia back when it was prostrate. Western weakness in responding to this challenge reflects the folly of allowing NATO to lose sight of its core mission, which is to protect Europe, not pacify Central Asia. Meanwhile, the Bush administration, despite America's vaunted military power, can do little more than protest, remonstrate, and offer Georgia symbolic assistance. Still trying to extricate itself from the quagmire of Iraq, the US already has more than enough military commitments to keep itself busy...." [emphasis mine]

It may be just me, but that "despite America's vaunted military power" seems to have a bit of "neener, neener" in the subtext.

The Bush administration, it seems, is being cast in an unfavorable light, for being unable to "do little more than protest, remonstrate, and offer Georgia symbolic assistance."

Perhaps professor Bacevich believes that America is wrong to use diplomacy in the Georgia-Russia situation, and would have done better to attack, had it been possible to launch a massive military offensive against Russia.

Somehow, though, I doubt it.

Then, the good professor used this phrase: "...Still trying to extricate itself from the quagmire of Iraq...."

Back in the sixties and seventies, "quagmire" was an excellent metaphor. It evoked images of the swampy land of Vietnam, and reminded people of how America was mired in an 'unwinnable' war.

When applied to Iraq, however, "quagmire" loses some of its power. There are very few rice paddies in the country. In fact, a great deal of Iraq is desert. "Sand trap" might be a better metaphor: although it does not have the historic panache of "quagmire."

The use (and, arguably, misuse) of "quagmire" is something I've discussed before ("Another Fortnight, and Still No Quagmires " (May 28, 2008))

The professor's use of the tried-and-true term, "quagmire," however, is a minor point. The word appears only once, after all.

Russian Imperialism is Okay?!

Professor Bacevich has a remarkably tolerant view of Russia's actions in Georgia:

"...Russia is not our friend, but it need not be our enemy. The Kremlin's ambitions are not ideological but imperial. Putin is not a totalitarian; he is a nationalist, intent on ensuring that Russia be treated with respect and, within the area defining its 'near abroad,' even deference. Yet beyond its immediate neighborhood the danger posed by a resurgent Russia is a limited one, in no way comparable to the threat once posed by the Soviet Union....."

I think a reasonable summary of that paragraph is: 'Don't worry: all Russia wants is a little empire to call its own.'

If that argument sounds familiar, it should.

Russia and Georgia: Been There, Done That?

Back in 1938, quite a few of the best and brightest in England believed that the treaty of Versailles had been unjust to Germany. I think they had a point.

They also seemed to believe that if Germany was allowed to acquire a few little countries, the German leadership would feel better, and Europe would enjoy peace.

This was, in a way, a very enlightened policy. It allowed British leaders to demonstrate that they understood the German position regarding Czechoslovakia: in particular the part of Czechoslovakia called the Sudetenland, where ethnic Germans complained about the way they were treated.

The wisdom which Chamberlain and other showed in the Munich meeting has been disputed, particularly considering how Chancellor Hitler's Germany behaved a little later.

However, at the time recognizing Germany's imperial aspirations, and allowing Germany to have control of a few little countries in eastern Europe, may have seemed quite reasonable.

I don't know if Russia's coming to the, ah, defense of ethnic Russians in South Ossetia is quite parallel to Germany's acquisition of Sudetenland. For starters, Russia is a whole lot bigger than Germany.

Damned if You Do, Damned if You Don't

Although the focus of professor Bacevich's article is how NATO should have shown Russia more respect, he couldn't seem to resist taking a swipe at the Bush administration.

"...Meanwhile, the Bush administration, despite America's vaunted military power, can do little more than protest, remonstrate, and offer Georgia symbolic assistance...." It's Bush's fault, of course, for getting America involved in the "quagmire" of Iraq.

In a way, I see the professor's point. America's efforts at dealing with the invasion of Georgia have been diplomatic, rather than military, in nature.

But has the professor considered the alternatives?

Here are responses which America might have taken, with how the 'intelligent' people on campus would probably react:
  1. Ignore the crisis
    • Apathetic!
  2. Use non-violent diplomacy:
    protest, remonstrate, offer symbolic assistance
    • Ineffectual!
  3. Send in the Troops
    • Militaristic, imperialistic warmongering!
  4. Combine diplomacy and military force
    • America says 'peace' but wages war!
At this point, America is pursuing option #2. And the professor complains of America's ineffectiveness. But somehow I don't think that he'd approve of any American actions. At least, not as long as the current president is in the White House.

Ironically, professor Bacevich, with his assertion that consideration should be given Russia's imperialistic ambitions, has published a brand-new book: "The Limits of Power: The End of American Exceptionalism."
Excerpts from
"Russia's payback"
The Christian Science Monitor (August 15, 2008)
"NATO disrespected Russia for too long. Now the Alliance must regroup."

"Boston - Poke a bear often enough and you're likely to get bitten. As the crisis over Georgia continues, this describes where the West finds itself today in its relations with Russia.

(Back to top)

"Amid conflicting reports of Russia's commitment to a cease-fire, one thing is clear: Moscow scored a crushing geopolitical victory this week. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov declared that the US must choose between a "virtual project" with Georgia, or a real partnership with Russia.

"After days of evident disarray, only now is the West cobbling together a response: Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will visit Georgia in a symbolic show of support, US Air Force cargo jets are delivering small amounts of humanitarian aid, and NATO ministers will meet Tuesday to consider the crisis. When they do, they should remember how we got to this point...."

(Back to top)

"...NATO, a military alliance founded to contain Soviet power, embarked upon an aggressive program of eastward enlargement, incorporating into its ranks former Soviet satellites such as Hungary and Poland and former Soviet republics such as Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia. Although the Kremlin objected vociferously, the West ignored these protests...."

(Back to top)

Friday, August 22, 2008

Indonesia, "Allah Akbar," and Muslim Tolerance

I still hope that Islam really is a "peaceful religion," and that a region in which Muslims are a majority can tolerate people who don't measure up to whatever Islamic standards the local imams say are 'true Islam.'

What's happening in Indonesia isn't helping me maintain that assumption.

For 20 years, students the Arastamar Evangelical School of Theology in Jakarta have been praying and singing hymns. What news services call 'hard line' Muslims, naturally, don't approve. They feel that it's proselytizing. They say.

So, the Muslims used bamboo spears and Molotov cocktails to drive the Christians out.

Indonesia's reputation for tolerance isn't entirely gone. The Christians were allowed to live, and even permitted to move into a small office building on the other side of the Indonesian capital.

Those Thieving, Singing, Burglarizing Christians

Well, singing, anyway.

From one point of view, the Christians must be at fault. After an attack on the Christians on June 26, 2008, east Jakarta district chief, Murdani, blamed the Christians for the raid, saying that both "warring" parties should stay calm.

Besides, there was a rumor that one of those Christian students stole a motorcycle from a neighboring village.

A July 25, 2008, attack began when stones fell on the school's dormitory roof. At the same time a voice on a nearby mosque's loudspeaker cried "Allah Akbar." "God is great" in Arabic.) It's hard to shake the notion that the Allah Akbar/incoming rocks was more than mere coincidence.

This time, the rumor was that a Christian student had broken into a residence. Police dismissed the accusation, but the Akbar bunch didn't.

Making Nice with Radical Islam, and Leaning on Property Owners

There's a possibility that recent attacks on the school were more about economics than religion. Someone made the school an offer to move out, and the school refused.

It's not hard for me to see the attacks as an 'offer they couldn't refuse.' Particularly since the school can be torn down now.

A few years ago, locals had burned construction shelters, when the school tried to build on new land. More land for the school meant less land for the Muslims, so naturally someone torched the construction equipment. Makes sense, in a lawless sort of way.

There doesn't seem to have been much done about whoever forced the school out. Arastamar Evangelical School of Theology's chairman, the Rev. Matheus Mangentang, said, "Why should we be forced from our house while our attackers can walk freely?"

Part of the answer may be that there's an election coming up. Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono's government doesn't want to seem anti-Islamic, by treating attacks on Christians and other minorities as crimes.

A Jesuit priest, Prof. Franz Magnis-Suseno, has lived in Indonesia for a half-century. "People are still tolerant, but there is a growing suspicion among Muslims of others," adding that police haven't prevented attacks on minorities, and forced closures of both Christian churches and nontraditional mosques. "The state has some responsibility for this growing intolerance, namely by not upholding the law," he said.

Equal-Opportunity Bigots

Muslims have burned several mosques of the Muslim sect Ahmadiyah. The firebugs feel that the Ahmadiyah sect is heretical.

Indonesia has been a good example of how a largely Islamic nation can tolerate diversity and freedom. I sincerely hope that the country does not begin running its affairs along "Islamic" lines, as Saudi Arabia does.

Indonesia intolerance in the news: Related posts, on tolerance, bigotry, racism, and hatred.

American Troops to Leave Iraq: an Independent Iraq, and Common Sense

If you've been following this blog, you know that I'm no fan of the 'out now' or 'timetable for withdrawal' approach to American troops in Iraq ("April 29, 2008, April 2, 2008, November 16, 2007).

I think that the planned withdrawal of American troops by late 2011 is a good idea.

Looks like I've changed my mind, but I haven't.

Withdrawing American (and coalition) forces from Iraq ASAP would most likely have resulted in a replay of the Fall of Saigon. Establishing an unconditional timetable for withdrawal would have given Al Qaeda and other anti-Iraqi forces valuable knowledge. All they would have had to do was endure until the coalition was gone. Then they would have been free to blow up or behead Iraqis as they saw fit. Shortly after that, we'd most likely have been looking at an Iraq run by Al Qaeda.

I don't think that would have been a good idea. I still don't.

The agreement that's being worked out now, if approved, has American troops withdrawing from Iraq: provided that
  • Certain conditions are met
  • The Iraqi government wants them out, when the time comes
This sounds like good sense. And is another indication that Iraq has an independent government, not an occupied territory operating under a United Nations mandate.

I think, considering Iraq's strategic position, that American troops will be "occupying" Iraq fifty and a hundred years from now, in the same way as America is "occupying" Germany today: by maintaining American military bases in an independent country's territory, with the consent and cooperation of that country's government.

But, it looks like Iraq is now an independent, sovereign, nation, making its own arrangements with foreign powers.

Good news for all of us.

Related posts: America 'pullout' in the news:
  • "Deal would have U.S. troops out of Iraq by 2012"
    CNN (August 22, 2008)
    • "BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- U.S. and Iraqi negotiators have reached agreement on a proposal calling for a complete U.S. military withdrawal from Iraq by 2012, the head Iraqi negotiator said Friday.
    • "The deal still must be approved by both sides, said Mohammed al-Haj Hamoud, deputy foreign minister and head of the Iraqi negotiating team.
    • "Hamoud said Thursday's meeting between U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki was helpful in reaching the tentative agreement
  • "U.S. troops to leave Iraq by 2011"
    International Herald Tribune (August 22, 2008)
    • "BAGHDAD: The United States has agreed to remove combat troops from Iraqi cities by next June and from the rest of the country by the end of 2011 if conditions in Iraq remain relatively stable, according to Iraqi and U.S. officials involved in negotiating a security accord governing American forces here.
    • "The withdrawal timetable, which Bush administration officials called 'aspirational goals' rather than fixed dates, are contained in the draft of an agreement that still must be approved by Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki and other Iraqi leaders before it goes before Iraq's fractious Parliament. It has the support of the Bush administration, American and Iraqi officials said.
    • "American officials stressed repeatedly that meeting the timetables depended on the security situation in Iraq, where sectarian killings and attacks on American troops have declined sharply over the past year from the peak levels of 2006 and 2007. Iraqi officials, who have pushed for an even tighter target date for the United States to end its military operations, could also end up rejecting the draft agreement...."

Monday, August 18, 2008

Liu Xiang and the 2008 Olympics: There's Something to Learn Here

Liu Xiang almost made it to the first hurdle of the men's 110-meter hurdles. An old injury stopped him after a couple paces - and probably would have kept him away from the starting blocks in any other setting ("Injured Liu exits hurdles, Olympics" Sports Illustrated (Monday August 18, 2008)).

As Sports Illustrated put it:
  • "...Liu's pursuit of the gold was supposed to be one of the main story lines of these Summer Games, from Monday's first round of qualifying through Tuesday's second round, Wednesday's semifinals and Thursday's final....
  • "...For Liu has come to represent his nation's desire for international recognition and respect...."

China on Display

The 2008 Beijing Olympics haven't turned out quite as the Chinese leaders had hoped.
  • Journalists didn't appreciate China's carefully filtered Internet connections: and wrote about it
  • A spectacular opening ceremony (CNN) featured
    • CGI-enhanced fireworks (MSNBC
    • Lip-synching cutie Lin Miaoke, who stood in for Yang Peiyi after the Chinese Communist Party's Political Bureau decided that Yang Peiyi didn't look good enough
    • 56 children, one from each of the 56 ethnic groups in China
      • Make that 56 Han children
        • One dressed up in Han traditional style
        • 55 dressed up as the minorities
About 90% of China's population are Han. For all I know the Han rulers think that all Chinese really do look alike. Having grown up in America, I thought that an all-Han cast being passed off as ethnically diverse was as tacky as a blue-eyed blond in black face playing the role of Martin Luther King.

Apparently, though, those Han actors are okay. As AFP explained:
  • "...To world audiences, the opening ceremony incident may have appeared insensitive to minorities, akin to having white Australians represent aborigines, but in China it is routine, said China minorities expert Dru Gladney.
  • " 'I would not be surprised if some ethnic minorities in China were offended by this but they are also accustomed to it,' said Gladney, a professor at Pomona College in the United States.
  • " 'In the West, we are obsessed with authenticity in such matters but it's different in China. I'd guess many Chinese would not have a problem with it.'..."

Back to Liu Xiang and the Olympics (Finally!)

Liu Xiang and other Chinese athletes show that there's more to China than fake fireworks and filtered news. Having watched him warming up, I doubt that Liu believed that he'd make a good, or even adequate, showing in the 110 meter men's hurdles. But he went to the starting blocks anyway, and tried. (I posted my reaction to Liu Xiang's effort in "Liu Xiang Starts 110-Meter Hurdles: a Class Act" Apathetic Lemming of the North (August 18, 2008).)

The women's marathon, over the weekend, was another case where Chinese athletes did a better job of promoting their country than their government did. My family and I watched as Romania's Constantina Tomescu Dita ran with the rest of the marathoners over a minute behind here ("Tomescu Dita's gamble pays off - Women's Marathon report" IAAF (August 17, 2008)).

Constantina Tomescu Dita won - by about 22 seconds - with Kenya's Catherine Ndereba finishing second. But China's Zhou Chunxiu and Zhu Xiaolin did more than finish in third and fourth place.

The two Chinese athletes shared a water bottle during the last part of the race: passing it along like a baton. Now that's cooperation and teamwork.

There's Good in China

While the Chinese government has been conducting its comic-opera efforts at self-promotion, Chinese athletes have been showing admirable traits. Liu Xiang's determination was a good example - even if he only made it a couple paces past the starting block.

Zhou Chunxiu and Zhu Xiaolin's sharing of a water bottle - and a Chinese flag after the race - showed a sort of cooperation and competition that many athletes could learn from.

There are good things happening at the Olympics. I prefer to concentrate on those.
While researching this post, I ran into a few interesting tidbits. Including proof that China isn't the only nation whose Olympics didn't come off quite as planned.

The 1904 Olympics, in St. Louis, had to compete with the World's Fair. And lost. On top of that, an American won the marathon. Apparently.

Fred Lorz ran into the stadium before any of the other runners, was cheered, and awarded the prize, and then banned from competition when the event organizers found out that he'd been driven part of the way.

Fred Lorz and the 1904 Olympics: A quick look at the 1904 Olympics:

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Russia and Georgia is America and Iraq: Everybody Knows That!

I heard one of the talking heads on a business show say, in passing, that America couldn't complain about Russia's invasion of Georgia, because America invaded Iraq.

He even paraphrased "everybody knows."

His assumption isn't as crazy as it seems. At least, quite a few people agree with him. Their line of reasoning seems to be this:
  • America invaded Iraq
  • Based on intelligence about WMD programs in Iraq
    • Which was, apparently, wrong
  • So America was wrong to unilaterally invade Iraq
You can't argue with logic like that.

My guess is that what's stirred up this month's 'invasion of Iraq was based on lies' enthusiasm is the upcoming American presidential election, exacerbated by a new book. I know: That last item is almost five years old. The point is, this assumption of faked intelligence is nothing new. It may even, to some extent, be true.

Or, we could be looking at Monday morning quarterbacking on a massive scale.

Why the Coalition Invaded Iraq

It's easy now, years after a brutal tyrant has been deposed, to say that the invasion of Iraq was a mistake. Particularly since no weapons of mass destruction have been found. So far.

However, back then, leaders from a significant fraction of the world's nations saw credible evidence that Saddam Hussein was developing, or already had, biological weapons: and was developing nuclear weapons. Quite a number of Kurds had found out, the hard way, that Hussein had chemical weapons: and a willingness to use them.

Those leaders had choices:
  1. Wait and see
    • What's the worst that can happen?
      • A few cities get vaporized
      • A plague or two sweeps a few countries
  2. Act before
    • Hiroshima and Nagasaki have company
    • We find out what biological warfare on a grand scale is like
America, and the rest of the coalition, decided to take option 2.

The intelligence may have been wrong.
We See No WMD, So There Are No WMD?
Or, it may have been correct. Iraq is a big country: much larger than Massachusetts or Maryland. A lot of it is desert. A comparison may be useful:

I grew up on the edge of North Dakota, a state which has miles and miles of miles and miles. Trucks and snowmobiles stranded between towns generally get found: but the drivers want to be found.

(from U.S. Geological Survey, North Dakota Water Science Center, used without permission)
That photo is of Edmore, a town in one of the cozier parts of North Dakota. Most of the state isn't that densely populated.

The next photo shows a very large petroleum terminal in Iraq. I'm quite sure that if railroad-car-size containers with weapons of mass destruction inside were hidden inside that terminal, coalition forces would have found them by now.

(from U.S. Army Quartermaster Center and School, used without permission)
'Okay, men: there are a dozen cargo containers buried out there. Go find them!'

Whether containers buried somewhere in the lands beyond the horizon would have been found by now is another question.

Why Russia Invaded Georgia

Russia had a pretty good reason for invading Georgia.
  • Some people in two northern provinces of Georgia said they wanted to be part of Russia
  • Some of them were acting violently
  • Georgia moved troops into one of the provinces
Russia, naturally, rolled troops and tanks in, destroyed Georgian military supplies, sank or took much of the Georgian navy, took over a major highway, and the Georgian city of Gori.

It seems to me that there are some none-too-subtle differences between Russia's invasion of Georgia, and the coalition's invasion of Iraq. Or, as it's usually called, America's unilateral invasion of Iraq.

An Expert Wrote a Book

As I said earlier, some of this month's 'Bush Lied' talk seems to stem from a recently-publicized book: "The Way of the World: A Story of Truth and Hope in an Age of Extremism" by Ron Suskind.

Ron Suskind is a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist. That's impressive, but it doesn't make him right. Janet Cooke won a Pulitzer Prize, too.

Suskind could be right, "that in 2003 the White House ordered the CIA to forge and disseminate false intelligence documents linking al-Qaeda and Iraq." (Democracy Now!)

It's possible that America has been embroiled in a web of lies and deceit, and that "America's" invasion of Iraq was just like Russia's invasion of Georgia. But I don't think it's likely.

Any more than I think it's likely that the Ames strain of anthrax was really developed in a secret slave-labor lab under Crawford, Texas.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Assumptions; the Ames Anthrax Strain; Ames, Iowa, and Fort Deterick

The anthrax letters of 2001 contained the Ames variety of anthrax. This has been public knowledge for quite a few years.


It seems obvious that the Ames strain came from Ames, Iowa. Particularly since Iowa State University, is in Ames, and has laboratories. Iowa State University even admits to involvement in germ cell migration! In fruit flies.

There's just one problem with that obvious origin: it's not so.

This is why I do research. It's 'way too easy to pick up a fact, like the name of an anthrax strain, and run with it: far beyond the reasonable and the real.

A blog I'd been referred to recently mentioned that the strain of anthrax used in the 2001 letter attacks came from Ames, Iowa. This caught my eye, since it was the first time I'd read of a connection between that city in Iowa and the anthrax letters.

A little digging showed that quite a few people believe that the Ames strain of anthrax came from Ames, Iowa. I've put a few samples, farther down.

Exactly where the Ames strain comes from is interesting, but not important, in my opinion. However, the explanation of how a strain of anthrax found in a Texan cow got called the "Ames strain" is a good example of how even very smart people can take a fact and an assumption, and come up with a wrong conclusion.

Assigning a geographically confused name to a biological sample is a relatively minor issue.

But mistaking assumptions for facts can be a very serious matter. For example, if you're looking at a traffic light with no lights burning, the fact is that you don't see either a red, amber, or green light. Assuming that the light is (or should be) green may be true: but that's an assumption, not a fact. And, you'd better be aware that it's an assumption, if you step into the street.

American voters will be selecting a president in November, and I hope that everyone who casts a ballot makes decisions on facts, not assumptions.

I've got two reasons for writing this post.
  1. Assumptions aren't facts - and assumptions made about the Ames strain are a good illustration
  2. I thought of a wonderfully nutty conspiracy theory - and want to share it

The Ames Strain, Texas, and a Fort Deterick Oops

An article in the Washington Post, and another in The New Yorker, both republished on the UCLA website, tells how the Ames strain got its name. And, shows why there's some confusion about the Ames strain's origins.

The USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) sends a special sort of container to veterinary labs in America. These containers are used to ship dangerous biological samples, like anthrax. The return address on the packages is for the USDA's Veterinary Services Center in Ames Iowa.

When researchers at Fort Detrick, Maryland, got an anthrax sample from a dead cow in Texas, they looked at the return address on the package, and figured it was from Ames, Iowa.

Later, when they wrote about that strain of anthrax, they called in the Ames strain. After that, it would have been confusing - and rather difficult - to change the name. After The New Yorker published a vivid account of events in an Ames laboratory that never happened, the Ames strain was almost guaranteed to be associated with Iowa.

The UCLA website has copies of two articles that show how the Ames strain got its name, and why people might assume it's from Iowa. I put the key sentences in bold.
    Washington Post (January 29, 2002)1
    • "...But here's one thing the lethal bug is decidedly not: originally from Ames, Iowa.
    • "New details emerging from the infamous bacterium's murky past suggest the Ames strain did not come from the sleepy Iowa college town of the same name, or from anywhere else in Iowa. It was a Texas strain, cultured from a Texas cow, federal officials now say.
    • "How it came to be known internationally as the Ames strain is a story of confused labeling and mistaken identity in the Defense Department's two-decade-old quest to find the perfect vaccine to protect troops against a near-perfect killer...."
    • "...The Army acquired the strain in 1981 as part of a national search for novel types of anthrax to use in testing vaccines. It had no name until 1985, when it was described in a scientific paper by researchers at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases in Fort Detrick, Md."
    • "The name 'Ames' was chosen because the researchers believed the strain came from there: The shipping package bore a return address from the USDA's National Veterinary Services Laboratories, an Ames, Iowa, lab that diagnoses illnesses in cattle, according to Gregory Knudson, a former USAMRIID scientist and a co-author of the article that identified the strain. The label stuck....
    • "...A search of long-forgotten Army documents finally resolved the mystery. The strain, it turns out, had come from Texas, which did experience anthrax outbreaks around 1980. The bacteria was isolated by the Texas Veterinary Medical Diagnostics Laboratory at Texas A&M University and shipped to USAMRIID in May 1981.
    • "The germs were mailed in a special container, a package identical to hundreds of others that the USDA supplies to veterinary labs around the country. The return address on the package: The USDA's Veterinary Services Center, Ames, Iowa."
    The New Yorker (November 12, 2001)
    "How a sick cow in Iowa may have helped to create a lethal bioweapon.
    • "On the evening of October 12th, a group of scientists and academics at Iowa State University's veterinary college, in Ames, Iowa, gathered in one of the school's laboratories for a procedure involving the university's collection of Bacillus anthracis, the bacteria that causes the disease anthrax. The school's anthrax collection was noteworthy both for what was known about it and for what was merely speculated. What was known was that over the years Iowa State's veterinary microbiologists had accumulated more than a hundred vials containing various strains of anthrax, some dating back to 1928. In 1978, a fondly remembered professor named R. Allen Packer had uncorked one of the fifty-year-old vials and, after a couple of tries, was able to coax the bacillus back to life. The experiment, a testament to the remarkable durability of anthrax spores, had lent a certain distinction to the collection.
    • "What was speculated about the Iowa State anthrax was even more compelling. One week earlier, on October 5th, a Florida photo editor named Bob Stevens (case 5), at American Media Inc., had died of anthrax, the first bioterror fatality in what has come to be known as 'the homeland.' Early news reports suggested that the F.B.I. had traced the anthrax to a laboratory in Ames, from which the bacteria had perhaps been stolen or otherwise obtained by terrorists.
    • "The reports of an Ames connection to the anthrax terrors caused much excitement in Iowa, and the College of Veterinary Medicine was suddenly fielding scores of calls from reporters wanting to know about the deadly 'Ames strain' of anthrax. The trouble was, nobody at the school knew anything about an 'Ames strain' -- whether it was the strain of anthrax infecting the mail, whether the Iowa State lab had ever possessed it, or even whether there was such a thing as an 'Ames strain.' None of the vials were identified as 'Ames,' but then the labels were cryptic, some bearing only numbers or dates...."
Despite that article in the Washington Post, and UCLA's efforts at setting the record straight, the assumed Iowa connection keeps showing up. Here's a sample - I put the 'Ames' references in bold.
  • "...Bush Pressured FBI to Blame al-Qaeda for Anthrax..." (Informed Comment (August 5, 2008))
    • "...One thing I haven't seen mentioned with regard to the attempt to implicate Iraq in the anthrax scare in fall of 2001 is the reason Iraq was hard to rule out as a source. It was that it clearly originated in labs in Ames, Iowa. The Reagan administration had permitted the provision to Iraq of anthrax precursors . . . from Ames, Iowa. That is, the Republican Party was proliferating weapons of mass destruction to Saddam Hussein in the 1980s...."
  • "Why I Believe Bush is the Anthrax Terrorist - 11. Anthrax Targets"
    #newsgarden (October 10, 2004)
    • "...All the contaminated letters contained the Ames strain of anthrax, the DNA of which is traced to the original batch preserved in a university lab in Ames, Iowa. This strain was 'weaponized' in Utah into a potent powder with an elaborate secret technique developed at Fort Detrick, Md...."
  • "The CIA's Role in the Anthrax Mailings: Could Our Spies be Agents for Military-Industrial Sabotage, Terrorism, and Even Population Control?"
    Tetrahedron Publishing (2001)
    • "...In summary, there are several serious indicators that the source of the anthrax weapon used in the mailings was the Ames, Iowa strain of silica-impregnated and electro-statically charged anthrax produced by the Battelle Memorial Institute under their classified CIA and Defense Department 'Project Jefferson.' This hyper-weaponized germ was likely produced with the help (or under the direction) of Dr. Alibekov and/or Dr. Patrick. The fact that these Battelle agents and affiliated agencies gained financially as a result of the anthrax mailings and public fright fits the parameters of a conspiracy to commit military-industrial sabotage, terrorism, and serial homicide approaching economic genocide...."
The author of that last article was particularly impressed at how many laboratories in the Ames, Iowa, area were involved in the production of anthrax vaccines, or had actually been doing anthrax research.

I suspect that there may be an innocent explanation for all that anthrax research around Ames, Iowa. Iowa is one of America's major cattle-producing states, and cattle farmers don't like anthrax.

1 As republished on the UCLA website
(University of California, Los Angeles, Department of Epidemiology, School of Public Health)

About Fort Detrick, Maryland

Since Fort Detrick shows up in quite a few of these "anthrax" posts, I thought it would be a good idea to provide a few links, and a little background. The Fort Detrick Post Guide's cover describes the place as a "Center of Excellence for National Biological Defense Medical Research, Strategic Communication, and Defense Medical Logistics." The base has been around since about 1940.

While studying Fort Detrick, I found that the military post's history had a covert aspect. The original version was written by Norman M. Covert. Mr. Covert was Fort Detrick's public affairs officer and historian from 1977 to 1999. He's since retired from his Fort Detrick position and is living in Frederick, Maryland.
And now, something quite silly:

THEY Are Behind It!

The conspiracy theories I ran into, growing up, were mostly about commie plots to subvert American Democracy. That theme doesn't seem to be so common now, but conspiracy theories are still part of the cultural landscape: Considering the sort of ideas that I find, floating in the pool of knowledge, a disclaimer seems prudent.

What you read next is make-believe. It isn't true. I made it up.

Actually, I enjoy making up conspiracy theories. It's fun, taking assumptions and a few facts, giving logic and common sense a coffee break, and watching what happens.

Besides, I've often thought that most conspiracy theories lack the vision, the scope, the epic scale, that global events deserve. In short, they show a certain lack of imagination.

With that introduction, I present:

The Ames Strain, Texas, and What THEY Won't Tell You!!!

Dr. Bruce Ivins, and all scientists at Fort Detrick, were dupes of the military-industrial complex! They were meant to assume that the anthrax from TEXAS came from Ames, Iowa!!

These pawns of dark forces, seeing a return address label with "Ames Iowa" on it, were forced to believe that the anthrax within came from Ames!!

A cabal of Army officers, shadow scientists, and renegade psychotherapists conspired to spike their coffee with a strange brew of psychoactive drugs which made them particularly susceptible to the subliminal message hidden in Fort Detrick's restroom signs.

You see?! When you get THE TRUTH, it ALL MAKES SENSE!!!!!

Of course, the anthrax came from TEXAS. As is well known, the diabolical Bush comes from Texas: both the senior Bush, and the evil twin clone that's been fobbed off on an unsuspecting American Public as his son!!!

(And it's true: McCain is just the same as Bush! He's an evil clone that didn't come out quite right, and had to be planted in another family, to spread chaos and intolerance across the world!)

As for the sick cow that spawned the Ames strain of anthrax: that was no accident! That cow was DELIBERATELY INFECTED with a serum developed in a secret underground laboratory under Crawford, TEXAS, where slave labor was used to create bioterror weapons of mass destruction to use against minorities and free thinkers!!!!!!!

The seemingly innocent use of an Ames, Iowa, return address on those USDA packages was in fact part of a sinister plot.

And, I have PROOF!!!. As anyone can see, by this map, Iowa, the state that Bush's minions forced the scientist pawns to identify as the source of the anthrax, is far removed from TEXAS, where the Ames strain anthrax serum was actually created!!!

Scientists in Maryland, their minds swirling from mind-bending drugs and hypnotic restroom signs, could hardly be expected to verify that the anthrax sample labeled "Ames, Iowa," had actually come from a distant state.

PROOF!!!!! Evil scientists under Crawford, Texas, created the "Ames strain!!!
More posts (serious ones) about the "Amerithrax" case, in this blog: And, a more serious look at conspiracy theories: And in the news, learning from mistakes:

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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.