Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Empire State Building Goes Red and Gold for People's Republic Anniversary

There's a saying I ran into, decades ago, that makes a lot of sense: Don't be so open-minded that your brains fall out.

New York City's Empire State Building's lights were red and gold, to commemorate the 'glorious people's uprising' that threw off 'the shackles of the oppressor' and ushered in 'the enlightened era of the People's Republic of China:' 60 years and still going.

Sure, twenty thousand-plus people starved to death as a result of that revolution: but they were probably enemies of the state, anyway.

Me? I'm a fan of tolerance and all that: but this does seem to be a bit over the top.

I'm inclined to be on the same page as a politico from New York State:
"...New York politicians have paid notice as well, and say they are let down by the light-up. Rep. Anthony Weiner, D-N.Y., said it was a mistake to pay tribute to what he called 'a nation with a shameful history on human rights.'

"Historians of the revolution noted the unimaginable — and often forgotten — toll of the revolution and China's communist rule, which has taken tens of millions of lives through years of war, famine, reeducation and wholesale slaughter...."
About those little boo-boos that the People's Republic of China has done over the last six decades? Feel free to ignore them, or pretend they didn't happen. After all, that's a quote from FOXNews - and 'everybody' knows what they're like.

Oh, well: I'm sure whoever decided on the light show had a very definite reason.

Related posts: In the news:

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Gaza: It's the Fault of the Jews - And Palestinian Militants?!

The real news here isn't that a United Nations investigation found that something is the fault of the Jews.
"A U.N. investigator defended a report Tuesday that accuses Israel and Palestinian militants of war crimes during their conflict in Gaza, an allegation Israel condemns and claims is the result of bias against the Jewish state.

"Former South African Judge Richard Goldstone said he and his fellow investigators rejected criticism by Israel that the 575-page report was politically motivated...."
(The Associated Press)
What impressed me about the AP report is that not only was the "expert" named - but "Palestinian militants" were cited as having committed some errors.

Considering endemic anti-Semitism among the nations of the world, that's close to a breakthrough.

Related posts: In the news:

Monday, September 28, 2009

Roman Polanski, Queen Boudicca, France and Special Rules for Special People

Update (December 6, 2009)

Roman Polanski, that award-winning and highly talented child rapist, is facing justice: European style. Looks like he's under house arrest - in a Swiss chalet.

And who says crime doesn't pay - for the right people?

Of course, there's the possibility that the Swiss government will decide to go along with an American request for extradition. Or, not.
(Arnd Wiegmann, via Reuters, used w/o permission)
I've made the point that, in my view, the war on terror isn't so much about religion as it is about culture. In the west, we've gotten used to the idea of not killing our wives and daughters when we're in a snit, letting them drive cars, and even letting them have jobs.1

Social upheavals after the 14th century's Black Death and the 18th century's revolutions helped establish that state of affairs.

I also think people like Queen Boudicca may have left as a deep impression on northern European cultures, as she did on the Romans. But that's another story.

Islam Isn't Monolithic - Neither is the West

Just as I think it's a mistake to assume that to assume that "the Islamic world" is a single, culturally united block, I think it's a mistake to assume the same about Western civilization. NATO and the Euro notwithstanding, Europe isn't exactly homogeneous, culturally: And America isn't Europe.

An example popped up in today's news.

Roman Polanski is, no reasonable question about it, a skilled - even talented - motion picture director. I respect skill and talent in people. Part of that is probably from the set of American cultural values I learned as I grew up.

Then, there's that little matter of Mr. Polanski's "1970s sexual-offense charge involving a 13-year-old girl." (CNN)

I don't approve of rape. Particularly of young teens, by men in positions of importance. That's also in part from the cultural values I picked up. What can I say? Americans, as a group, are just plain intolerant of rape.

Then, there's France.2
"...The French culture and communications minister, Frederic Mitterrand, said he 'learned with astonishment' of Polanski's arrest. He expressed solidarity with Polanski's family and said 'he wants to remind everyone that Roman Polanski benefits from great general esteem' and has 'exceptional artistic creation and human qualities.'..."
That's very broad-minded of them: and a tribute to the cultural values of France. I don't think it's any accident that one of the greatest museums in the world, the Lourvre, is in France.

What upset the French government, and brought it to the defense of this exception artist and child rapist ("alleged," of course) was Italy's arrest of Roman Polanski: a shocking display of insensitivity.

Apparently Italy doesn't consider great artists to be "beyond good and evil."

I'd have a little more respect for the French position, if the argument had been one of legal jurisdiction, or a perception that Mr. Polanski wouldn't get a fair trial in America. I might not agree: but either argument could be based on principles that I can respect.

But no. France seems to regard Roman Polanski as immune by reason of his "exceptional artistic creation and human qualities."

Again, I don't doubt that Mr. Polanski is good at making movies. Very good.

But I don't assume that rapists are dirty, smelly people who are not of my ethnic group(s) and/or below me in economic status. And, that 'great artists' or 'the right sort' don't rape, unless the victim is also of 'the right sort:' but instead that they 'get mixed up' with the lower classes from time to time.

Yeah: the west has its cultural differences, too.

Related posts: In the news: Background:
1 "Letting"?! my forebears are from Ireland and Norway, for the most part - two European enclaves which didn't "let" women do what they willed, any more than they "let" men act. To a great extent.

I'll grant that they got downright "civilized" from time to time: but nobody's perfect.

2 Don't get me wrong: I have great respect for French achievements. France has been one of the great cultural hubs of Europe.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Afghan Immigrant, Hydrogen Peroxide, New York City Subways, and a Close Call

It looks like New York City's subways had a close call:
"An Afghan-born Colorado resident may have plotted an attack on New York commuter trains for this month's 9/11 anniversary, a US prosecutor has said.

"The suspect, Najibullah Zazi, is accused of receiving explosives training in Pakistan and buying large quantities of bomb-making chemicals...."
This thwarted effort at self-expression through explosives is pretty big news in the English-speaking world, at least.
"Evidence of one of the biggest US home-grown terrorism threats in almost two decades unfolded this week as investigators described a plot to detonate explosives made with beauty-industry chemicals.

"Using information gleaned from phone and email intercepts, surveillance footage and receipts from vendors, prosecutors drew a picture of Najibullah Zazi, a 24-year-old Afghan at the centre of the scheme.

"They accused him of conspiring with at least three others, including a New York imam, Ahmad Wais Afzali, and of lying to US authorities investigating an alleged terrorist conspiracy to deploy weapons of mass destruction in the form of hydrogen peroxide bombs. The imam was released on Thursday after his family posted bail of $1.5 million ($1.72 million)...."
(Brisbane Times)
I remember, after the Oklahoma City bombing, some of America's lawmakers talking - seriously, it seemed - about banning ammonium nitrate. For those city boys, it probably made sense. The first they'd heard of those big words was in connection with a bomb: and naturally, they'd want to ban something that dangerous.

Never mind that it's a key ingredient for fertilizers. Which farmers use to grow the food that winds up in Washington.

That time, sanity prevailed, and we're still allowed to grow food using 20th-century technology.

This time, hydrogen peroxide, acetone and hydrochloric acid were on the list of bomb-making ingredients. That's a whole bunch of big words, too: but since hydrogen peroxide and acetone, at least, are used in hair salons, my guess is that our leaders will know enough not to talk about banning their use.

But, I've been wrong before.

Remember the Liberty City Seven?

Najibullah Zazi and all seem to have gotten much closer to actually carrying out their plans than most have.

That Brisbane Times article mentions the time, down in Florida, where some guys either tried to blow up Chicago's Sears Tower - or were trying to snooker Al Qaeda. Either way, not the sort of people who should be left unsupervised. The American press has been calling that lot the Liberty City Seven. (March 27, 2008)

The alleged terrorists had hydrogen peroxide, acetone and hydrochloric acid. Mix them the right way and you get triacetone triperoxide. That's TATP: The stuff used in the 2005 London train bombings and what Richard "shoe bomb" Reid would have used in 2001. (The New York Times, Reuters)

"Said," "Admit:" There's a Difference

A caption under the alleged terrorist's photo reads, "Najibullah Zazi has said he is not involved in terrorism" - and I have no problem with that caption. He probably did "say" that.

Here's what FBI officials said, as quoted in a traditional news outlet: "FBI officials have admitted that such cases are 'aspirational' rather than operational." (Brisbane Times) [emphasis mine]

The alleged terrorist "said" - FBI officials "admitted" - well, there's nothing unusual about that. The verb "to admit" is frequently used to describe statements by law enforcement officials. But how often do we read something like "Greenpeace representatives admitted that they interfere with whalers"?

Of course, that's different. 'Everybody knows' that Greenpeace is a bunch of idealistic people, dedicated to defending delicate little Mother Earth from the big, bad whalers. And that the fuzz are jackbooted oppressors. Ask 'anybody.'

I don't think the said/admit dichotomy is entirely deliberate. I do think that there's a very definite set of values held by many of the traditional information gatekeepers - and that's a whole different topic. (September 18, 2009, August 14, 2009, for starters)

9/11? Yeah, it Could Happen Again

So far, we've been "lucky." Or, more accurately, outfits like the FBI and CIA, by intercepting messages between terrorists and doing other things that 'rights' groups generally don't like, have kept people like the Liberty City Seven and Najibullah Zazi's merry band from killing a whole lot of other people.

All things considered, I'm rather glad that Chicago's Sears Tower is still there, and that New York City's subways are no more dangerous than they usually are.

With the sort of "luck" that allowed the CIA and FBI to notice an imminent terrorist attack, and stop it, America may not have a replay of 9/11. I rather hope that's what happens. And, that other countries can avoid terrorist attacks.

What I hope and what I expect aren't necessarily the same thing, of course.

The War on Terror Will End: Eventually

I think it's nice that the current administration has dropped the "War on Terror" phrase. (March 30, 2009) I'm sure that it's a gesture that is appreciated - in some circles, anyway.

But, whether we like it or not, the war against groups like Al Qaeda and the Taliban is not over: and, in my opinion, won't be for years. Decades. Generations.

On one side, you have people who give every indication of believing that God wants them to maintain an extreme form of a culture that has more in common with Assyria and Harappa than Austria and Hong Kong.

On the other side are people who have gotten used to wearing trousers if they want to; not killing their wives; and allowing women to drive cars.

I don't see a lot of room for compromise here.

The situation isn't hopeless, though. Al Qaeda and the Taliban are not all there is to Islam. (I've written quite a few posts on that topic.)

I think there's a reasonable hope that Muslims around the world will re-evaluate what they believe, separate cherished customs from places like Sudan and Saudi Arabia from what the Prophet said, and make the - in some cases difficult - decision to come up to speed with at least 18th-century ideas of personal freedom and social order.

That sort of massive social, cultural - and economic - change won't come easily, and I doubt that it'll come quickly. But I am pretty sure that it will come.

That, or we'll all have to get used to living under a Taliban-style caliphate.

Related posts: In the news:

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Afghan Husband Rapes Wife: Culture, Law, History, and Catching Up

Men getting a bit frantic about having children isn't unknown in Western civilization. Take England in the early 1500s, for example.

Henry VIII of England had a problem having children. Boys, anyway, who would live past their teens. Although, given his bed-hopping habits, it wouldn't have been hard to claim that just about boy whose mother was in or near London was an illegitimate son of the "Defender of the Faith" (who later set up his own church).

That was then, this is now. These days, heads of state are expected to keep their shenanigans discretely under wraps: although some still do get a little carried away. (Reuters)

Ishmael to Internet in One Lifetime

I've made the point before, that many Muslims have been dragged across several thousand years of history and cultural change in one or two generations. Stable cultures, carrying on traditions which had been ancient when Abraham moved out of Ur, were relatively isolated until Western civilization needed petroleum.

Then, the world of individual rights, Barbies, beer, bikinis and Mickey Mouse dropped into their quiet world. It must have been like a retirement community suddenly having a frat house near the golf course.

'I Can't Get My Wife Pregnant: It Must Be Her Fault!'

Afghanistan is an Islamic country. It's also in the Middle East - or just outside that region, depending on who you're reading.1 And, it's not the best spot in the world to live if you're a woman.

Take Shameen, for instance. She's had a rough time lately. She and her husband haven't had children. He blames her, and apparently Afghan culture backs him up.
"... After one severe beating, she ran from her home and to the police station. Her husband promised the police he would not attack her anymore, so she gave in and agreed to go back home with him.

Days later, Shameen's husband took her on a trip to visit her sister's grave -- a 15-year-old sister who was burned to death for displeasing her husband.

"Shameen says her younger sister was 11 years old when she was forced to marry an older man. He would beat and abuse her until one day he killed her.

"As Shameen walked along the graveyard with her husband he took her near a shrine where he forced her to the ground, lifted her burqa and raped her. He then threatened her with a knife and asked her who was going to help her now. She was screaming as he slashed her throat and body.

"A passerby saved her.

"Now, she has no one to turn to -- not even her own parents. In their eyes, she has brought them shame, an offense punishable by death.

"In Afghanistan, a woman is blamed for the injustices she must live through. Shameen says when her sister was killed, her parents turned a blind eye...."

Rape isn't Nice, and We Shouldn't Do It

Rape is a serious offense. And, yes: a husband can rape his wife. It's wrong, it's bad, and it's a monumentally stupid thing to do. But, it's possible.

This definition and discussion of rape might help clarify my views:
"Rape is the forcible violation of the sexual intimacy of another person. It does injury to justice and charity. Rape deeply wounds the respect, freedom, and physical and moral integrity to which every person has a right...."
(Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2356)
A key word here is "forcible." Shameen's husband forced himself on her. That may be okay in some cultures - but I don't buy into the multicultural ethic that says morality is determined by culture. Some things are wrong anywhere, and rape is one of them.

"A passerby saved her."

I think there's some hope for Afghanistan. The CNN article says: "A passerby saved her." At least one person in the country doesn't think that sexual assault in a cemetery is okay. And, the Afghan government not only allows shelters for abused women to exist, but cooperates with them.
"... Authorities brought Shameen to a shelter run by Women for Afghan Women (WAW). The organization started in New York to provide humanitarian assistance to women who do not know they have rights.

"In this safe house, WAW is currently providing care, security and an education for 54 women and children.

"Nearly 90 percent of Afghan women suffer from domestic abuse, according to the United Nations Development Fund for Women...."
I was doing time in a university in the eighties, when political correctness was in flower, so I've got - ambivalent? - feelings 'women's rights' and other PC dogmas. But the CNN article gives no clear indication that political indoctrination is part the WAW shelter's program: And those women desperately need a place to stay.

Islam, Culture, Rape and Attitude

There are more Muslims in America today then there were when I was growing up: but they're still a tiny minority here. My guess is that many Americans get their impression of what Islam is from the antics of Sudan's government, Saudi clerics, and people like Shameen's husband.

It's sort of like knowing Christianity from the activities of the Westboro Baptist Church and the KKK in the sixties. (November 26, 2007) Yes, those outfits claim to be Christian - and their members may believe it sincerely - but their actions are not typical of Christianity as a whole.

With Islam, it really is different. It looks to me like we've got a situation equivalent to entire nations being controlled by analogs of the Ku Klux Klan, as was in the sixties, at least; and the Westboro Baptist Church, with it's notions about the American military being part of a homosexual plot. (October 31, 2007)

But, based on what I've read - and correspondence with Muslims and Muslimas who do not think terrorism is a good idea - I think that Islamic belief is highly influenced by the culture of whatever region Muslims live it. I see a strong analogy to the "Bible truths" preached by some Christian groups: like 'alcohol is the work of the Devil' or 'rock music is Satanic,' which appear to stem more from the personal preferences of the pastor and mores of the local culture, than anything else.2

I've used Indonesia as an example of a very Islamic country that doesn't act like Sudan or Saudi Arabia. I don't think Indonesia is perfect, by any means. (August 22, 2008) Indonesia's officials may be struggling with reconciling their own beliefs, demands by Islamic crazies, and awareness of what's happened since the Magna Carta: and trying to run a country where terrorists have a limited - but significant - number of supporters.

For that matter, I don't think America is perfect. Which is another topic. (July 3, 2008)

I'm old enough to remember the 'good old days,' when significant numbers of Americans - including judges - figured that if a woman got raped, she must have been asking for it. Okay: In some cases, the victim was behaving imprudently. But that wasn't an excuse for rape. Not. At. All.

That attitude, and an indulgent view of drunk driving, seem to be on the wane. At least, I sincerely hope so.

Afghanistan is in Bad Shape - Abandoning Them to the Taliban Won't Help

I've said, often, that who wins the war on terror matters (July 30, 2009, for starters) Abandoning Afghanistan and the rest of the Islamic world to the Taliban and Saudi clerics isn't just wrong, it's a bad idea. There are Muslims - many, I hope - who would say "this is not us" about jihad as imagined by Bin Laden's Al Qaeda and the Taliban. (August 9, 2007)

If they're not given an opportunity to develop an Islamic world that's a bit more post-18th-century than what the Taliban and Al Shabaab have in mind, I don't think it would be long before the rest of the world had a relatively united block of terrorist nations to deal with.

Related posts: In the news:
1 With a world population of a bit over 6,000,000,000, somebody's going to have a passionate opinion about whether or not the term "Middle East" should be used at all.

I try to use terms that most people who understand English are familiar with. And "Middle East" is a whole lot shorter than "the-swath-of-countries-along-the-south-and-east-shores-of-the-Mediterranean-around-the-Caspian-and-south-shore-of-the-Black-Sea-and-eastwards-to-India."

Sure, "Western Asia" sounds cool - but leaves out the northern tier of nations in Africa, and Sudan: which have more-or-less-strong cultural similarities to the other Middle Eastern countries.

2 There's an anecdote, which I haven't traced to its source, about a Christian denomination with members on both sides of the Mason-Dixon line. Sometime in the 20th century, when transportation technology made a national convention practical, delegates from north and south got together.

The 'Bible truth' that one set believed was that alcohol was okay, but tobacco was the work of the Devil. The other was okay with smoking - health problems notwithstanding - but knew that God Himself had declared alcohol to be the work of the Devil.

They had, I heard, quite a lively theological discussion before thrashing out a compromise.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Argentina, Regulating Broadcasters, Grupo Clarin, Ted Turner, 800-Pound Gorillas, and Freedom of Speech

I've said it before: Things aren't simple.1

Take a piece of legislation in Argentina today, for example. It passed one of the Argentinian legislature's houses by a wide margin: but lawmakers who didn't approve walked out, refusing to vote; some say they'll fight the bill in court.

It's "a controversial media law that spells out media ownership rules and calls for the creation of a regulatory agency." (CNN)

What's so controversial about that? Don't companies appreciate being regulated? Don't people enjoy having limits placed on what they are, and aren't, allowed to own? That's getting into a whole different topic: and this isn't, as I've said before, a political blog.

The stated goals of this bill sound appealing. Naturally enough.
"...The goal of the so-called Audio-Visual Communication law is to regulate television and radio broadcasters and increase competition in the media industry, according to a draft of the bill.

"Opponents say it targets media critical of the current government and President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, especially the media giant Grupo Clarin...."

"...Among the changes proposed in the bill, a company that owns a cable business would not be allowed to own any over-the-air broadcast channels. Also, the owner of a cable company would be allowed to have only one channel on that system...."

Regulation: I Don't Have to Like it

I'm no huge fan of regulation, but I recognize that it's necessary. Sometimes. We have to decide which side of the road to drive on, the continental power grid wouldn't work if generating stations weren't kept strictly in sync.2

Radio and television broadcasting regulation makes sense too, I think. If each station were free to broadcast on any frequency or any power level, whoever could afford the most powerful transmitter would dominate any frequencies that station chose to transmit on.

Reasonable Controls, Freedom of Speech, and 800-Pound Gorillas

I don't know enough about the situation in Argentina to have an opinion about the proposed Audio-Visual Communication law. Grupo Clarin sounds a bit like Turner Enterprises, here in America and Canada. I've no objection to Ted Turner' Turner Enterprises running:
  • CNN (Cable News Network) / HLN (Headline News)
  • TBS (Turner Broadcasting System)
  • TNT (Turner Network Television)
  • TCM (Turner Classic Movies)
  • Cartoon Network
  • Adult Swim
  • Boomerang
  • Toonami
But then, there are well upwards of 300,000,000 people living in America alone - and even Ted Turner hasn't monopolized the traditional news and entertainment media here. Argentina has almost 41,000,000 people, about an eighth the size of America's population: My guess is that Grupo Clarin could be a lot bigger in Argentina than Turner Enterprises is in America, in terms of market share and influence.

Maybe Argentina's government needs to regulate its 800-pound media gorilla, to keep it from sitting on everybody else.

On the other hand, maybe Argentina's president doesn't like criticism - who does? - and decided to 'protect the masses' from 'divisive opinions.'
"...In my youth, some conservatives complained that there 'oughta be a law' against criticizing the government. I understand the feeling: but I know too much about places where criticizing the government is, in fact if not in theory, illegal...."
(June 16, 2009)

Censorship of Information Media: It Can't Happen Here?

America has a history, and a reputation, for having 'divisive' discussions. I don't particularly like squabbles, but I'd rather allow 'divisive' opinions to be heard, than live in a country where everybody said how much they like Dear Leader and his policies. (June 16, 2009)

Not everybody likes that sort of freedom.

Back when the Web was young, some conservative Christians were appalled by the rampant pornography. To hear them talk, you'd think "WWW" stood for "Wicked, Wicked Web." Some compassionate liberals were deeply hurt by "hate speech" spreading uncontrolled across cyberspace.

I don't approve of pornography or hateful screeds either, myself.
"...But when some socially conservative Christian organizations joined forces with liberal political action groups, I got concerned. They both wanted the government to do something about about people putting bad things on the Web. One of the odd couples was the Christian Coalition and the Feminist Majority.i.

"We didn't (quite) get a federal agency in charge of deciding who could put information on the Internet, and who could view it, thank God. But it could have happened. A great many people were very upset.

"So upset that, in my opinion, they weren't thinking about the consequences of what they wanted...."
(March 9, 2008)

Traditional Gatekeepers, Freedom of Speech, Censorship, and the Information Age

I think we're living in a time of major changes: not just in what people say to each other, but how we communicate. We've been through something like this before:
  • 360 BC Writing threatens to
    • "...produce forgetfulness in the minds of those who learn it..."
    • Create "...a show of wisdom without the reality..."
    (Drifting at the Edge of Time and Space (August 23, 2009))
  • 1455 AD Movable type
    • Allows mass production of documents
    • Threatens the livelihood of scribes
    • 1517: Materially assisted the rapid spread of divisive opinions
Ironically, we probably wouldn't know about Socrates' grave concerns about the deleterious effects of writing on the mind, if his opinions hadn't been written down and preserved over the millennia.

Civilization made it through the development of movable type, and I think we'll weather Information Age technologies, too.

But, if the past is any indication, it's not going to be smooth sailing.

Traditional gatekeepers: the editors, publishers, teachers, and entertainers have, for generations, had more-or-less tight control over what 'the masses' were allowed to know. And, just as importantly, how we're were supposed to feel about what we're shown.

That was then, this is now. Argentina's president may be trying to stop dissent by putting a muzzle on one of the traditional information gatekeepers. Even if the Audio-Visual Communication law passes and is enforced, I don't think it'll stop people who don't approve of the president from publishing their opinions.

Argentina has roughly 9,000,000 million Internet users, as of 2007. (CIA World Factbook) That's not #1 in the world, but with about 9/41 Argentinians being connected - about two out of every nine people in the country - something published online has a pretty good chance of reaching many of the country's households: and getting talked about in more.

This isn't the 'good old days.' Traditional information gatekeepers don't have the control they used to. And regulating the old-school journalists and broadcasters isn't as effective a tool for controlling dissent, either.

The Information Age, so far, has made it possible for people who aren't part of the established order to get their views published. When I was growing up, "power to the people" was the rallying cry for a particular philosophical stance. One that looks good on paper.

I don't think the various flavors of collectivism or socialism work in a culture composed of human beings, but the idea of people - even if they didn't go to the right school or belong to the right clubs - having the power to influence a government makes sense.

Widespread, relatively inexpensive Internet access has put the power to publish in the hands of 'the people.' Not everybody, but a much wider swath than before. Today, we're seeing opinions that wouldn't have appeared in The New York Times, on CNN, or in the 'better' west coast papers. It's messy, but that's the way freedom is.

Besides, as a cartoon character said, "knowledge is power, and I like power." 3

Related posts: In the news:
1 I've made a point that situations involving human beings are seldom simple on September 9, 2009, January 11, 2009, December 27, 2008, September 27, 2008 and February 14, 2008, for starters.

2 Remember the blackouts of November 9, 1965 and August 14th, 2003 in the Hudson Bay-Great Lakes-Long Island area?

3 Cobra Bubbles, in a "Lilo and Stitch" episode, if memory serves: or maybe it was the movie.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Obama, Iran, Missiles, Europe, and "What the heck did they tell him?"

It's in today's news: The (diabolical, according to some) Bush administration's plans to put a (shudder) missile defense system in Europe are being dropped.

Peaceniks1 of America have little reason to cheer, though. President Barack Obama, the 'change' president, is changing the Bush-era missile defense system plans. Not, apparently, scrapping them.
"... The 'new missile defense architecture in Europe ... will provide capabilities sooner, build on proven systems and offer greater defenses against the threat of missile attack than the... program' that former President George W. Bush proposed, Obama said.

"Obama said the change of gears was based on an 'updated intelligence assessment' about Iran's ability to hit Europe with missiles.

"The Islamic republic's 'short- and medium-range' missiles pose the most current threat, he said, and 'this new ballistic missile defense will best address' that threat...."
As I've said before, "it's different when you're in charge." (September 27, 2007)

Why I Hope None of My Descendants Become President

I'd have said "kids," but I hope that they're not the last of the people my wife and I have launched. God willing, there will soon be grandchildren - and I tend to look at the long term, in both directions.

It's been a while since I've seen the phrase, "it's good to be king." The idea is that it's pleasant, on the whole, to be at the top of the ladder in terms of authority.

In a way, that can be true: in the short term. Take Saddam Hussein, for example. His lifestyle was lavish, even by American standards. Until two dozen or so nations 'unilaterally' jumped on his throat.

That's a sort of worst-case scenario, of course.

Most American presidents I've seen have aged - sometimes fast - once they got into the Oval Office. Understandably. There's a lot of responsibility that goes along with the perks of having a live-in cook and domestic staff.

Last year, after Barack Obama became President-Elect Obama, a strictly-for-laughs blog came out with a post that included before-and-after photos, and this paragraph:
"...This is after less than a day of briefings and staff meetings where they tell him all the big secrets. Like about the alien plan to invade Earth in February. Like the White House television uses an antenna and won't get H.D. Like Mississippi and Alabama will probably continue to be states. You know, junk like that...."
(Oddly Enough, Reuters)
Oddly Enough's author was (probably) kidding "about the alien plan to invade Earth in February."

Unhappily, not all threats to America - and the rest of the world - are quite that imaginary.

Which is why I rather hope that my descendants do what my forebears have done for generations out of mind: stayed at or below the midpoint of the economic ladder; and well away from positions that would require them to make life-and-death decisions for a nation.

Iran's Been a Threat for Years - What Changed?

What I find a bit unsettling about President Obama's decision is that "updated intelligence assessment" phrase. It's been public knowledge for years that Iran had ballistic and/or cruise missiles that could deliver a warhead to parts of eastern Europe. Nuclear weapons, not yet: but even a conventional warhead could do noticeable damage.

Years from now, the details will probably come out. Meanwhile, I prefer to hope that the president is making the best of what for him is a bad situation: having to provide a viable defense for America's European neighbors; while making it appear that he isn't like the 'diabolical' President Bush.

An alternative explanation for Obama's 'get defenses up fast' approach is that
  • Iran's gotten new technology
  • Enhanced it's existing weapons inventory
  • Decided to fire missiles, ready or not
  • Some combination of the above
- - - And that we've got a limited time in which to keep places like Kiev, Bucharest, Budapest and Belgrade from experiencing instant urban renewal.

Related posts: In the news:
Peaceniks1 Peacenik: ">someone who prefers negotiations to armed conflict in the conduct of foreign relations". (self?) defined at Princeton's WordNet) A peacenik is certainly not one those big, rough, icky (shudder) military types, who make it safe for peaceniks to hold anti-war demonstrations.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

The Jasper Family, the U. S. Army, and Four Really Bad Hours

When the U. S. Army makes a mistake, it's often a big one. I think that's because of its size, and its soldiers being in life-and-death situations.

The latest snafu to hit the fan was in The Associated Press's news last night:
"An Army unit is reviewing how it delivers information to families after a call to a western New York couple led them to believe their son had been killed in combat.

"Ray Jasper of Niagara Falls said he, his wife, Robin, and their extended family spent four hours Sunday mourning their son, Sgt. Jesse Jasper, before learning from his girlfriend that he was alive...."

The Horror! The Inhumanity! The Callous Disregard for Feelings!

The Army recognizes that its soldiers are people with families, and has procedures to deal with the fact:
"...A spokesman for the 82nd Airborne Division said Jasper's unit, through its family readiness group, notifies all families of deaths within the unit to prevent undue worry and misinformation. Maj. Brian Fickel said callers are instructed to read from a written script to prevent misinterpretation...."
There's an investigation going on, but right now it looks like the script was read exactly as written - but that the phone connection dropped during a critical few moments, changing the meaning of what was said.

The unit is apparently considering re-writing the script.
"...Fickel said the unit is considering starting the scripts with 'your son or daughter is fine.' Internal jargon like "red line message" will probably go, he said...."

The Army Goofed! Anybody Surprised?

The Army makes mistakes. No surprises there. Sometimes they're really big mistakes. Again, no surprises. This is the second time this year that something's gone wrong with the Army's procedures for notifying next-of-kin.

That might be a surprise - but this time it was a single incident involving (apparently) a perfect storm of a written script, internal jargon, and a faulty phone connection. About nine months ago, it was about 7,000 "John Doe" letters sent by some contractor.

Yes, I think somebody at the contractor's end dropped the ball - but a Colonel's name was on the letter; the U.S. Army Human Resources Command in Alexandria, Virginia; was responsible for the mission of getting (more appropriate) letters sent out: and a Brigadier General apologized for the mess. (January 7, 2009)

In that case, a unit of the army was responsible for getting something done right, something went wrong, and the problem was dealt with. I'm pretty sure that there will be changes, this time, to ensure that another family doesn't have the experience that the Jaspers had for four hours.

The Army Learns from Mistakes - That Might be a Surprise

It's not that I've got a blind faith in America's military - or in America. This country's made some world-class blunders over the last two-and-a-third centuries. It's also corrected most of them. Some corrections are, in my view, still pending - but I don't expect instant fixes.

America's military is the same way. They've made mistakes. Sometimes huge ones. And, learned from them.

I think that's why "On Point II: Transition to the New Campaign The United States Army in Operation IRAQI FREEDOM May 2003–January 2005" didn't get the enthusiastic press coverage it might have.

In my view, there were 'way too many facts in the document - and too much discussion of routine procedures that the Army has for spotting mistakes and seeing to it that they don't happen again. ((June 30, 2008) Some mistakes, of course, are repeated - but with the exception of outfits like the K-9 corps, soldiers are almost exclusively human - and 'to err is human' is all too true.

It'll be interesting to see if old-school news media and other traditional gatekeepers approach the Jasper family's experience with the same polite deference and reserve they've used for ACORN's chronic ethical lapses.

Of course, 'that's different.'

Related posts: Background:
On a personal note: when thinking about large, long-established, organizations, I'm inclined to look at the entity's history and nature - not just what a small number of people affiliated with it have done recently.

A couple decades ago, while the pedophile priest scandal was starting to boil over, I converted to Catholicism. Not because I approve of men in authority raping boys, but because of what I had been learning about the Catholic Church. (February 19, 2009, in another blog, for starters)

Yes, priests raping boys was - and is - wrong. The activities of a handful of priests should have been dealt with earlier. Priests are human beings, and sometimes they do things that are bad. (July 29, 2009, July 25, 2009, and elsewhere, in another blog)

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

ACORN, News, and Business as Usual

ACORN's made mistakes - most recently, giving dubiously useful advice to a couple posing as a pimp and a prostitute planning to set up a brothel with underage Hispanic girls. (San Bernardino County Sun)

It's gotten so bad that the U.S. Census decided to say they won't be using ACORN's help. (

Reporting ACORN, Haditha, Westward Venture, Global Patriot

ACORN's chronic lapses in ethics - and common sense - do get in the news, but it's nowhere near as easy to find out what the advocacy group (or grassroots community organization, or whatever) has put its foot in, as it has been to find references to the Westward Venture and Global Patriot incidents. And, of course, that perennial favorite, Abu Ghraib.

It's tempting to feel that any and all reports of ACORN naughtiness are 'lies' - after all, it wouldn't be right (by some standards) to criticize a group whose aim is to defend the oppressed and disadvantaged. I think that's a sort of updated retread of the old 'my country right or wrong' or 'America, love it or leave it' attitude that we were taught to despise in conservatives.

When it's applied to a bunch that says it's protecting an oppressed minority, of course, 'it's different.'

But ignoring chronic ethical lapses simply doesn't make sense. Particularly for those who support the publicly-proclaimed ideals and goals of a shifty group.

Not that mainstream, traditional, news outfits have been suppressing the story. The New York Times, for example, had an article about the U. S. Census Bureau cutting ties with ACORN. In their politics section. On September 11, 2009.

Yes, ACORN Coverage - Or Lack of it - Does Relate to the War on Terror

ACORN is, I think, essentially a political organization: making sure that people, living and dead, vote in a particular way.

I have no problem with organizations pursuing political goals. Democracy is messy, but it does, I think, help ensure that a wide range of ideas get considered. On the other hand, I do draw the line at voting the graveyard. To the best of my knowledge, the right to vote does not extend beyond the grave.

Although the Supreme Court may have decided otherwise.

The problem I have with ACORN - or, rather, with the decided reticence with which traditional news media treats the organization's shortcomings - is what I perceive as preferential reporting.

An American "warship" like the Global Patriot fires on boat whose crew acts like they're starting a suicide run - it's international news, with "US admits killing Egyptian in Suez Canal" and "All men are not equal" headlines. (April 7, 2008)

A minority-rights group tells what they have every reason to believe is a pimp and a prostitute how to get away with opening and running an underage brothel - it's "Census Bureau Drops Acorn From 2010 Effort" - in a back section, on the anniversary of 9/11.

I don't think it's 'some kinda plot' - but I do think that "all the news we feel like printing" is the working motto of many if not most of America's traditional news outfits. They're not, in my view, trying to be biased.

But old-school journalists may not be aware of the profound changes which have taken place since Woodstock: and have affected the world outside Berkeley, Amherst, Boulder and downtown Manhattan. They certainly don't seem eager to publish information that would embarrass an organization with 'relevant' goals.

America, for the time being, is a republic with a strong tradition of democracy. Like it or not, what 'the people' think and feel makes a difference in foreign policy. And that make a difference - a huge one - in what happens in the war on terror.

And, who gets elected makes a difference. Which means that the behavior of advocacy groups like ACORN matters.

And it matters, if American journalism's old guard is trying to be nice and polite about ACORN's boo-boos.

I know this sounds corny: but facts matter; and the truth is important. Even if it doesn't feel good.

Related posts: In the news:

Monday, September 14, 2009

Osama Bin Laden Speaks (probably): New Verse; Same Song

Hats off to Osama bin Laden.

Or whoever made the speech that's been attributed to bin Laden.

Demonstrating, perhaps, that he can learn from mistakes, Al Qaeda's leader didn't repeat Ayman al-Zawahri's remark that the president of the United States was a "house slave" or "house negro." (November 21, 2008) The remark was translated both ways.

That crack didn't go over too well, here in America. As I wrote at the time,
"...Woodstock is history, disco is dead, black members of congress make the news because of what they do, not what they look like, and America will very soon swear in its first black president...."
(November 21, 2008)
Not all of America's best and brightest (by their standards) have realized that this isn't the America of 1963: but that's another topic.

Other than that, Bin Laden's message is another verse of the same old song:
"...'To the American people, this is my message to you: a reminder of the reasons behind 9/11 and the wars and the repercussions that followed and the way to resolve it,' the message said.

" 'From the beginning, we have stated many times ... that the cause of our disagreement with you is your support of your allies, the Israelis, who are occupying our land in Palestine. Your stance along with some other grievances are what led us to carry out the events of 9/11.'..."
'And it is the fault of the [scapegoat]' is a common refrain for people who are dissatisfied with reality, and either can't or won't recognize their own deficiencies. When I was growing up, 'it is the fault of the commies' came from one direction, while 'it is the fault of capitalists' came from another. If people who blamed capitalists liked long phrases, they'd say something like 'military-industrial complex.' And, they still do.

Which, again, is another topic.

"House negro" wasn't in the speech, but the idea is still there.
" The message claims that the Obama administration is under the influence of the Republican White House it replaced, pointing out that the president kept Robert Gates as defense secretary -- a holdover from the Bush administration.

" 'Prolong the wars as much as you like. By God, we will never compromise on it (Palestine), ever,' the message continued...."
"...we will never compromise" - that might be well to remember. Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups most likely won't be willing to compromise: on the plight of the poor, poor Palestinians; or much of anything else.

That's an important point to remember.

Even if a magnanimous Caliph of Winnipeg decided to let people wear trousers during winter months (maybe after paying an 'infidel tax'), I don't think that life under what Al Qaeda seems to have in mind would be any more pleasant than Afghanistan under the Taliban.

Of course, it isn't just about trousers: there's the centuries-long development of freedom and individual rights that I think many people in the West would miss. Even the 'sophisticated' ones, who loath and despise America in general and the American military in particular for defending those rights.

As for the assertion that Barack Obama's neck is under the heel of Massa Bush: nonsense. I don't agree with President Obama in many points. But I do think that he's an intelligent, highly articulate man. And I think that he is quite interested, for a mixture of reasons, in having an America around four years from now, for his second term.

On that, we're on the same page. It's very improbable that I'll vote for Obama in the next presidential elections: but I certainly want an America around to hold them.

'Bring the Troops Home?' Not Gonna Happen

Some time ago, I wrote about how nice it would be for all American soldiers to be home with their families. (July 27, 2007) My family knows a family whose father spent a very long time in Iraq - and one of my brothers-in-law will be over there as a (civilian) firefighter for some time. It's rough on the families. I'd much rather have everybody home.

But it's not gonna happen. Like it or not, America is a large, powerful country - and the only one in the world with both the ability and the will to form coalitions against tyranny. We've been conditioned to regard that as "corny," at best. But it's true.

America can 'go it alone:'
  • With over two dozen other nations
    • Operating under a United Nations mandate
  • Remove a brutal dictator
  • Enable local and regional leaders to root out murderous fanatics in their country
  • Stick around for the years - decades - it will take for the country to get back on its feet
America could, hypothetically, pull its military out of every other country; stop exporting products and services; stop importing products and services; pretend that the rest of the world wasn't there.

Not gonna happen. America depends on trade with other countries - like it or not - and we all depend on a large, stable country being around to provide the sort of willing leadership it takes to deal with an imperfect world.

Which isn't the same as "occupying" other countries. If having American soldiers stationed in another country is "occupying" the country - or "oppressing" it, then America has been occupying Germany and Japan for over sixty years. Professor Churchill and some other serious thinkers may see the situation that way: but I doubt that the Japanese and German governments do.

Related posts: In the news:

Saturday, September 12, 2009

TSA: Our Tax Dollars at Work; Protecting the Public From Flash Cards

The TSA recently defended air travelers from a grave danger: An American student named Nick George and the Arabic flash cards he carried in his backpack.
"...George said that Transportation Security Administration officers kept him in the screening area for what seemed like 45 minutes. Eventually a woman from the TSA arrived and began asking more questions, like how he felt about 9/11.

" 'Do you know who did 9/11?' he said that the woman asked.

"George said that he told her that it was Osama bin Laden, and that she responded smugly, 'Do you know what language Osama bin Laden spoke?'

"Soon after that a Philadelphia police officer arrived and told George to put his hands behind his back. Without explanation, he slapped handcuffs on him and led him away...."
(Philadeplphia Daily News, via

Defending American Ignorance

In a way, the TSA's officers' and inquisitor's efforts are admirable.

In the face of a general awareness that foreigners are human beings, and easy communication with anyone on Earth through the Internet, they were valiantly striving to protect the air travelers from those who are so un-American as to actually learn something about those nasty Ay-rabs.

Nick George was a suspicious character, of course. Even though he looks like a "real American" (by, say, Timothy McVeigh's standards), Nick George had not only been in countries that weren't America, England, or (for the more tolerant "real Americans") France. George had been in Jordan, Egypt and Sudan.

And, Ay-rab words like "terrorist" and "explosion" were on his flash cards.

Nick George claimed that he had the flash cards so that he could learn to translate Al Jazeera - an Ay-rab news network.

What more proof did the TSA need? Here was someone who not only had been in places known to harbor Ay-rabs and other foreigners: he actually admitted to wanting to learn how to follow an Ay-rab television news network!

WASPs, "Real Americans," and the Rest of Us

Nick George is obviously not a "real American." Not by some standards.

For that matter, neither am I. By some standards.

Although I look 'Anglo,' and even have blue eyes, I'm no red, white, and blue-blooded WASP. Half my ancestors came from the British Isles - but they were Irish and Scots. One of them might have been deported from England - but that's another story. The rest of my forebears were from Norway - so by some standards, I'm simply not a "real American."

I can live with that.

Particularly since quite a substantial number of American citizens aren't WASPs - and don't even look the part. I'd like to think that the days when "White Anglo-Saxon Protestant" and "American" were considered as synonyms by more than a few isolated crackpots are past - but incidents like Nick George's run-in with the TSA keep happening.

All-American Ignorance, Dangerous Knowledge, and the TSA

As I wrote in a post about dangerous technologies like LP gas and computers, "Knowledge is Power: and I Like Power."

I'm quite willing to believe that an American citizen might be interesting in learning Arabic - and even travel to the Middle East - without being a danger to others. Not physically dangerous, anyway. There's always the chance that someone like that might let others know that Ay-rabs were as human as "real Americans" are, weren't all terrorists, and weren't all Muslims.

"They're All Muslims," Nipple Rings, Flash Cards, and Common Sense

My guess is that quite a few TSA officers don't think that the flying public needs to be protected from nipple rings and flash cards. Or from the people who carry them.

On the other hand, in common with quite a few other Americans, some don't seem to realize that
  • Not all Arabs are Muslims
  • Not all Muslims are terrorists
  • Not all terrorists are
    • Arabs
    • Muslims
I realize that this isn't as easy to remember - or deal with - as the 'all foreigners are suspicious,' 'all Arabs are Muslims / all Muslims are terrorists,' and "they're all Muslims" belief system that some cherish.

It's a big, complex world out there. Cherishing ignorance isn't a viable option. Neither is hectoring people who try to expand their knowledge.

Related posts:
In the news:

Friday, September 11, 2009

New York City, September 11, 2001, 10:28 am

At 10:28 am, New York time, this post will get published.

On this day, this minute, eight years ago. the north tower of New York City's World Trade Center fell.

Let's not forget.

Related post: Background:

New York City, September 11, 2001, 8:45 am

At 8:45 am, New York time, this post will get published.

On this day, this minute, eight years ago. American Airlines Flight 11 crashed into the north tower of New York City's World Trade Center.

18 minutes later, at 9:03 am, United Airlines Flight 175 hit the south tower.

40 minutes after that, at 9:43 am, American Airlines Flight 77 hit the Pentagon.

At 10:05 am, New York time, the south tower of the World Trade Center collapsed. Port Authority Police Department officers were climbing the stairs, seeing if they could rescue the several hundred people still inside.

10:10 am: United Airlines Flight 93 dove into a field in Pennsylvania as the passengers and crew were recapturing the airliner.

At that time, New York City World Trade Center's north tower was still burning.

Related post: Background:

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Remembering 9/11, Eight Years Later

Eight years ago tomorrow, airliners struck New York City's World Trade Center, another crashed into the Pentagon while the passengers and crew of Flight 93 kept their airliner from reaching its target.

Two years ago, when I began writing this blog, America was unilaterally going it alone in Iraq, leading more more than two dozen other nations under a United Nations mandate. (June 11, 2008, August 9, 2007)

Today, 105 of the 1,776-foot-tall Freedom Tower is visible - in the form of steel beams and enough concrete to make 100 miles of New York City sidewalks (New York Daily News) About a thousand people took part in a Run to Remember, some of them raising money for charity in the process.

What's Next?

Prediction is a dicey proposition at best, but this seems likely enough:

Two years from now, I expect that America will still be taking military action in Afghanistan. Whether this country will be "going it along" with NATO, or "unilaterally" leading another coalition, I can't guess.

Eight years from now, the focus of the war on terror will likely be elsewhere: maybe Somalia or Sudan; maybe Iran or even Saudi Arabia.

Eighty years from now, the war on terror may be over - but I wouldn't count on it.

Unlike wars between nation-states, the war on terror is against groups of religious zealots who are loosely aligned with each other, and can travel around the world: settling wherever they can find support - willing or otherwise.

There isn't a headquarters to capture or a capital city to occupy; There aren't factories to bomb or, for the most part, permanent bases to attack.

That doesn't mean that this war is unwinnable. It does, I think, mean that it's going to be a slow process of
  • Preventing Islamic crazies from taking control of countries, as the Taliban did with Afghanistan
  • Spotting and stopping efforts to reprise the 9/11 attacks
  • Encouraging people in the Islamic world to at least consider the possibility that the outside world isn't all bad
America has done quite a bit, pursuing that last point, in Iraq: rebuilding hospitals and sewage plants, and helping Iraqis sort out three decades of neglect by Saddam Hussein. (January 11, 2008)

We're Winning

A sustained willingness to use military force is, I think, vital to stopping the Taliban, Al Qaeda, and all the other Islamic fanatics. (Note: That's "Islamic fanatics" - Al Qaeda and the Taliban are at least as much a threat to Muslims as they are to the rest of the world.) However, I also think that some of the important victories in the war on terror won't be military.

Re-building New York City's World Trade Center; remaining a country that people try to break into, not out of; and being willing to lead even if the French government doesn't approve: These things are important.

And, I think that five former American secretaries of state are right. America must lead.

Here's a summary of their advice to the next president:
  • Get real
  • Be smart
  • The world is a complicated place
  • America has to lead
  • Play down the ideology
  • Approach the world
    • Rationally
    • With perspective
    (September 23, 2008)
I don't think the five former secretaries of state were spot-on in every detail: but I think they had the right idea.

This country isn't perfect, but it's the only nation on Earth with the tradition of freedom, the military forces, and the willingness to act, that's needed to get past discussions of agendas and resolutions.

Related posts: In the news: Background:

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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.