Monday, April 26, 2010

Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir Wins Election! Genocide? What Genocide?

Sometimes it's appropriate to let bygones be bygones. Sometimes, not.

Take the example of a small country whose military ruler likes to be called "president," and who had an election recently to prove his point. Several years ago, natives in a backward part of this small country dropped dead in large numbers. Rather abruptly, in many cases.

"Genocide" is such a harsh word. And, just because the International Court indicted this gentleman regarding those dead natives: well, can't we just forget the past and move on?

Looks like that's what's happening.

And I'm not comfortable about the situation. At all.

'Genocide' is Such a Harsh Word

The small country is Sudan. The leader is Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir. He won an election recently. The official poll numbers say so.

The BBC didn't, as far as I could tell, mention the little matter of dead natives in the Darfur region on Sudan. CNN did, in the 14th paragraph of their article:
"...Al-Bashir, a former military officer who took power in a bloodless coup in 1989, has been indicted over allegations of war crimes by the International Criminal Court...." (14th paragraph, CNN)
Genocide? CNN didn't bring up that little matter. It's such a harsh word, anyway.

Besides, it's those Americans who claim that lots of black people dropping dead in Sudan was genocide:
"...When rebels took up arms in Darfur, he armed militias to crush the uprising, unleashing a wave of violence Washington still calls genocide -- a charge dismissed by Khartoum...."
The concentration camps? Hey, those kids were "rebels" who "took up arms" - and besides, it's the American government that's fussing about it. 'Everybody knows' what those Americas are like.

And anyway, they weren't called "concentration camps." Millions of people were displaced - a nice way of saying "forced out of their homes" - and humanitarian aid was easier to deliver if the refugees were mostly in a few places. Then, convoys carrying food and other supplies to the camps were attacked.

Genocide, Oppression, and All That

Not everybody is on the same page as the American government, when it comes to that little oopsie in Sudan. News, quoted in an earlier post, from 2008:
"Sudan President's Arrest Sought by ICC Over Darfur (Update5)"
Bloomberg (July 14, 2008)

"The International Criminal Court's prosecutor is seeking the arrest of Sudan's President Umar al- Bashir, alleging he bears 'criminal responsibility' for genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes in Darfur....

"...The ICC is the only permanent tribunal for prosecuting individuals responsible for war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity committed anywhere in the world. Its first judges were installed in 2003.

"The ICC has approved 12 arrest warrants that resulted in the custody of four people, said Dicker.

"The court was modeled on temporary tribunals set up to try war crime cases stemming from conflicts in Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia as well as the first such trials held in the German city of Nuremberg after World War II...."
CNN wasn't quite as reticent about that little matter of genocide back then:
"CNN exclusive: ICC prosecutor on Darfur charges"
CNN (July 14, 2008)

"The prosecutor of the International Criminal Court is seeking the arrest of Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir on charges of genocide in a five-year campaign of violence in the country's Darfur region. Luis Moreno-Ocampo spoke exclusively to CNN's Nic Robertson ahead of his announcement on Monday of the charges.

"Nic Robertson: What exactly are you accusing President Bashir of?

"Luis Moreno-Ocampo: We request a warrant for the crime of genocide -- 6a, b and c -- basically massive rapes and the condition of 2.5 million people -- in addition we charged him with crimes against humanity and war crimes.

"Q. For genocide though -- attempt to destroy an ethnic group in whole or in part -- which is an intent -- how do you prove intent?..."

"Sudanese president charged with genocide"
CNN (July 14, 2008)

"The chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court has filed genocide charges against Sudan's president for a five-year campaign of violence in Darfur.

"Luis Moreno-Ocampo on Monday urged a three-judge panel to issue an arrest warrant for President Omar Hassan al-Bashir to prevent the deaths of about 2.5 million people forced from their homes in the war-torn region of Darfur and who are still under attack from government-backed Janjaweed militia...."
Not everybody sees what happened in Sudan quite the same way, though:
"Arab parliament slams ICC move against Sudanese president "
Xinhua (July 15, 2008)

"The Interim Arab Parliament (IAP) on Monday criticized the plan of the International Criminal Court (ICC) to issue an arrest warrant against Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir for alleged war crimes in Darfur, the Egyptian official MENA news agency reported.

"The IAP is 'amazed and dismayed' by reports of the ICC move, which is stirring Arab nations' concern, head of the parliament Mohamed Jassem al-Saqr said in a statement.

"The ICC move raises the fear that the international court could become a tool of major world powers to intimidate smaller countries, al-Saqr was quoted as saying...."
Well, we wouldn't want those "major world powers" to get in the way of national leaders purging their lands of people they don't like, would we?

Seriously, the possibility of a judicial system used for coercive purposes is real. But I think the Interim Arab Parliament might have chosen a better paragon to defend.

Still, with Saudi Arabia setting the standard of excellence for Islamic nations - - - well, that's another topic.

Islam has No Monopoly on Whack Jobs

This would be a good time to highlight a post that's in the "related posts" section:Related posts:In the news:

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Holiday Inn Raid in Monterrey, Mexico? What Raid?

More news about the raid(s) on Monterrey, Mexico, hotels. But not all that much:I've been checking American news services, for the most part. That little affair, involving dozens of attackers and roadblocks, was reported by BBC, too, - among others.Looks like the 50 - give or take - attackers knew who their targets were, and achieved their goal. Also that this looks like another operation involving Mexico's non-legal drug industry.

So why is this raid close to being a non-event that never happened?

Drug Lord Troops Seize hotel, Not News: So, What is 'News?'

Maybe Mexican drug lords sending their troops to seize someone who has incurred their wrath isn't very interesting. Not when there are riveting events to report on, like:Sure:
  • There may be something improper about Goldman Sachs acting like an investment firm dealing with an economic downturn.
    • Or, not
  • Tornadoes are powerful and unpredictable
    • Therefore, exciting.
  • As for following in the footsteps of such luminaries as Thomas Nast and Maria Monk: well, that's natural enough, in American culture.
    • I've discussed that sort of thing in another blog. (I'm one of those Catholics, and not appropriately apologetic about my faith: so you may not want to follow that link.)
I think American news media has a tendency to be very - sensitive - about making Mexico's leadership look bad, giving the impression to American readers that Mexico is anything other than a thriving modern nation. Unless Yankee imperialism can be blamed.

Honestly, though, it looks like the new-car smell of "Yankee imperialism" has faded. We're seeing new slogans, these days:

So What?

As I wrote before, I'd be somewhat surprised to learn that the Monterrey raid(s) were directly connected to the War on Terror.

On the other hand, I think the reticent and restrained coverage of this event is a pretty good case-in-point for why it's important to study the news: not just read it.

Related post:

Friday, April 23, 2010

Boobquake! I am Not Making This Up

If the War on Terror were really a war on Islam, I think an argument could be made that it's redundant. All the infidels would have to do is stand back and let Islam shake itself apart.


Here's the start of an AP article:
"Iranian cleric: Promiscuous women cause quakes"
The Associated Press (April 20, 2010)

"A senior Iranian cleric says women who wear immodest clothing and behave promiscuously are to blame for earthquakes.

Iran is one of the world's most earthquake-prone countries, and the cleric's unusual explanation for why the earth shakes follows a prediction by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad that a quake is certain to hit Tehran and that many of its 12 million inhabitants should relocate.

"Many women who do not dress modestly ... lead young men astray, corrupt their chastity and spread adultery in society, which (consequently) increases earthquakes," Hojatoleslam Kazem Sedighi was quoted as saying by Iranian media. Sedighi is Tehran's acting Friday prayer leader.

Women in the Islamic Republic are required by law to cover from head to toe, but many, especially the young, ignore some of the more strict codes and wear tight coats and scarves pulled back that show much of the hair.

"What can we do to avoid being buried under the rubble?" Sedighi asked during a prayer sermon Friday. "There is no other solution but to take refuge in religion and to adapt our lives to Islam's moral codes."

Seismologists have warned for at least two decades that it is likely the sprawling capital will be struck by a catastrophic quake in the near future....
The AP article doesn't include the word "boobquake!" - but quite a few other news services have. In their headlines.

That's a little unfair, I suppose. The (translated, surely) quotes from Hojatoleslam Kazem Sedighi's remarks didn't mention breasts. Modesty, yes. Overheated young men, yes. Breasts, no.

Still, breasts are often an outstanding part of a woman's appearance, once she strips down to contemporary American standards of dress.

It sounds to me that the Iranian imam's Islam is a lot like Pat Robertson's Christianity: they both assume that God hurts people they don't approve of. (Apathetic Lemming of the North (January 14, 2010)) I'm a Catholic, by the way, and there are times when I feel that it may not be an entirely bad thing that many Americans assume that Catholics aren't Christian.

From the Department of Unintended Results

Reaction to Hojatoleslam Kazem Sedighi's, ah, remarkable statements about modesty and earthquakes isn't all bad news for the imam. Now, he'll be able to blame all those wicked women for the next earthquake in Iran:

Modesty is One Thing, Crazy is Another

Like I said, I'm a Catholic. Living in America. I've got a very counter-cultural view of quite a few things. Like Modesty.

For starters, I do not think that a primary function of women is to be ground under the heel of male oppressors - while decorating the public scene in as little clothing as possible. (A Catholic Citizen in America August 22, 2009, August 16, 2009)

But: wicked women cause earthquakes? That's - alternatively sane.

Related posts:Not-entirely-unrelated posts from other blogs:In the news:

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Raid on Monterrey, Mexico, Holiday Inn: Bad News, But That's about All We Know

Update (April 24, 2010)
I don't think the raid on a Holiday Inn in Monterrey is a Mexican replay of the Mumbai attack back in 2008. (December 31, 2008, for starters)

But I could be wrong.

Mexico had a rather rude wake-up call in 2008, when too many tourists were killed in Tijuana. Word got around, and gringos started avoiding the place. Can't say that I blame them: but it was bad for the tourism industry there. (April 30, 2008, comments)

The New York Times and Los Angeles Times imply that the raid - which appears to have been partly a kidnapping - is related to Mexico's drug industry. The non-legal one.

They could be right.

A snatch involving 50 men, and possibly netting the raiders seven captives, seems like a rather large-scale operation.

Details are sketchy. No surprise there: the raid apparently happened early today, and - well, Monterrey police apparently had trouble getting to the hotel. There were roadblocks.

So, right now: it's an - interesting - development. And a troubling one.

But I don't have enough information to have much of an opinion: except the obvious "something bad happened."

Related posts:In the news:

Sunday, April 18, 2010

President Lech Kaczynski's Undelivered Speech: and a Lesson to Learn

I don't, as a rule, copy my sources in their entirety.

In the case of the late Polish President, Lech Kaczynski's undelivered speech, I'll make an exception.

I've found a number of copies - and versions - of the speech's English translation. Some which seem to have been: "Edited" would be a polite euphemism.

The following copy is on the website: an English-language news site covering Poland. I checked the URL out: it's registered by an outfit in Poland:

AZ.PL Spolka Jawna (AZ.PL General Partnership)
ul. Sosnowa 6a
71-468 Szczecin
Polska (Poland)

A Polish address doesn't guarantee authenticity, of course: but this translation includes material which some non-Polish sources omitted.

Besides, I think people living and working in Poland may be somewhat more likely to understand Polish than, say, an American in Paris. They may also be a bit more interested in accurately transmitting the thoughts of their late president than foreigners would be. For these reasons, I think this translation may be a trifle closer to what the late President Kaczynski intended to say about Katyn.
"President Kaczynski's last speech"
Polskie Radio S.A. (April 12, 2010)

"Below is the text of the speech which Lech Kaczynski, who died on Saturday, was going to deliver at the 70th anniversary ceremony of the Katyn massacre."

" 'Dear Representatives of the Katyn Families. Ladies and Gentlemen. In April 1940 over twenty-one thousand Polish prisoners from the NKVD camps and prisons were killed. The genocide was committed at Stalin's will and at the Soviet Union's highest authority's command."

"The alliance between the Third Reich and the Soviet Union, the Ribbentrop-Molotov pact and the Soviet attack on Poland on 17 September 1939 reached a terrifying climax in the Katyn massacre. Not only in the Katyn forest, but also in Tver, Kcharkiv and other known, and unknown, execution sites citizens of the Second Republic of Poland, people who formed the foundation of our statehood, who adamantly served the motherland, were killed."

"At the same time families of the murdered and thousands of citizens of the eastern territory of the pre-war Poland were sent into exile deep into the Soviet Union, where their indescribable suffering marked the path of the Polish Golgotha of the East."

"The most tragic station on that path was Katyn. Polish officers, priests, officials, police officers, border and prison guards were killed without a trial or sentence. They fell victims to an unspeakable war. Their murder was a violation of the rights and conventions of the civilized world. Their dignity as soldiers, Poles and people, was insulted. Pits of death were supposed to hide the bodies of the murdered and the truth about the crime for ever."

"The world was supposed to never find out. The families of the victims were deprived of the right to mourn publicly, to proudly commemorate their relatives. Ground covered the traces of crime and the lie was supposed to erase it from people's memory."

"An attempt to hide the truth about Katyn – a result of a decision taken by those who masterminded the crime – became one of the foundations of the communists' policy in an after-war Poland: a founding lie of the People's Republic of Poland."

"It was the time when people had to pay a high price for knowing and remembering the truth about Katyn. However, the relatives of the murdered and other courageous people kept the memory, defended it and passed it on to next generations of Poles. They managed to preserve the memory of Katyn in the times of communism and spread it in the times of free and independent Poland. Therefore, we owe respect and gratitude to all of them, especially to the Katyn Families. On behalf of the Polish state, I offer sincere thanks to you, that by defending the memory of your relatives you managed to save a highly important dimension of our Polish consciousness and identity."

"Katyn became a painful wound of Polish history, which poisoned relations between Poles and Russians for decades. Let's make the Katyn wound finally heal and cicatrize. We are already on the way to do it. We, Poles, appreciate what Russians have done in the past years. We should follow the path which brings our nations closer, we should not stop or go back."

"All circumstances of the Katyn crime need to be investigated and revealed. It is important that innocence of the victims is officially confirmed and that all files concerning the crime are open so that the Katyn lie could disappear for ever. We demand it, first of all, for the sake of the memory of the victims and respect for their families' suffering. We also demand it in the name of common values, which are necessary to form a foundation of trust and partnership between the neighbouring nations in the whole Europe."

"Let's pay homage to the murdered and pray upon their bodies. Glory to the Heroes! Hail their memory!' (mg)"
[copied from April 18, 2010. Edited: blank lines between paragraphs were deleted; " ’ " replaced with " ' "]

So What?

A speech that wasn't read by a dead Pole may not seem either particularly important, or relevant to a blog about the war on terror.

I think it's both.

The speech which the late President Lech Kaczynski intended to deliver discusses an atrocity which is of great importance to Poles. The Soviet Union's decision to pretend that the Katyn massacre never happened has gotten in the way of Russia-Poland relations.

In a more general sense, the Katyn cover-up is, I think, a pretty good example of why it's a really, really bad idea to try pretending that embarrassing things didn't happened.

Aside from getting in the way of dealing with people in other countries - who may have at least an inkling of what's being concealed - suppression of inconvenient realities makes it impossible to learn from mistakes.

The American military have been known to make mistakes. When that happens - the mistakes are scrutinized, analyzed, recorded - and made part of officer's training. I think that approach makes sense. (June 30, 2008)

I think one of the strengths of America is not that we make mistakes - everybody does that. It's that, once we recognize that we've done something wrong: we make sure that generations that follow won't forget how we screwed up. Embarrassing, and occasionally over-done: but I'd rather have that, than a nice, well-run country where all the masses hear about is how wonderful their leaders are.

America isn't the only country that's learning to learn from mistakes, of course. I think it's an idea that's catching on globally.

About time, too.

Related posts:In the news:More:
A tip of the hat to deacon_jim, on Twitter, for the heads-up on the Polish president's undelivered speech. (And responding to my query about the origins of the speech on his blog (April 20, 2010))

Normally, I wouldn't copy an entire document. But with so many versions floating around, I wanted at least one copy to come from a Polish source: with links and a citation.

Besides, commercial websites sometimes remove content after it's become 'old news.' I did not want what may well be an adequate translation to disappear.

Iran's Mighty Army, President Ahmadinejad, Nuclear Weapons and History

This hasn't been a particularly slow week for news:I think this is noteworthy, too:
"Iran is so powerful today that no country would dare attack it, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Sunday during an annual army parade.

" 'Iran's army is so mighty today that no enemy can have a foul thought of invading Iran's territory,' the Iranian leader said, according to state media.

" 'Of course, Iran is a friend and brother of regional and independent nations and it wants peace, progress and security for all countries,' Ahmadinejad said.

"During the event near the mausoleum of the late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini -- who ushered the Islamic Revolution into Iran more than 30 years ago -- several models of Iran's medium- and long-range missiles, including the Shahab 3, were on display...."

"...The United States and its allies should abandon policies designed to dominate the oil-rich nations of the Middle East, Ahmadinejad said, adding that reliance on arms was a sign of a country without culture.

"Iran, he said, is prepared to do all it can to counter nuclear weapons.

" 'One of the greatest treasons by those that monopolize nuclear weapons is to equalize nukes with nuclear energy,' Ahmadinejad said. 'The way to produce weapons is totally different than nuclear energy. And they know these very well, but they plan to talk about both these things in their own monopolized way.' "
Oddly enough, I think that President Ahmadinejad has a point: although I wouldn't describe efforts at slowing down the spread of nuclear weapons as "treason."

Wouldn't it be Nice, If Nukes Didn't Exist?

Here in America, a noticeable number of people apparently think that technology makes people do things: not the other way around. Search for things like "gun laws," "gun lobby" or "gun crime," and you may see what I mean. (December 23, 2007)

It's an attractive idea: just destroy all the guns and ban gunpowder, and everything would be hunky dory. I'm quite sure that, in a 'ban firearms' scenario, "gun crimes" would disappear.

But, depending on what America's 'right sort' got scared of first, soon we'd have to ban crossbows, swords, knives, steel, iron, bronze - you get the idea. (April 6, 2010)

Iran a Threat? Yes, Obviously

I think that Iran's current leadership is a serious threat to anybody within range of its missiles. By now that includes a disturbing fraction of Eurasia and Africa. (August 4, 2009) And the Ayatollahs haven't missed too many opportunities, in my view, to make it quite clear that they believe people should agree with them: or die.

Dealing With New Technology: Been There, Done That

On the other hand, I'm fairly sure that nuclear energy - reactors and weapons systems - is a genie that won't go back into the bottle. We'd better get used to living in a world where people can, with a certain amount of effort, use - or misuse - enormous amounts of energy.

Humanity has been through this sort of thing before. There was a time when arrows were the latest thing in super-weapons. What's different about today's situation is that things tend to move faster: and more of 'the masses' have a clue about what's going on.

Ignorance may be bliss: But I'd rather live now, than in any of the 'good old days' I've heard about. Certainly not the ones I remember. "Happy Days" wasn't.

One advantage we've got, that people a thousand or ten thousand years ago didn't have, is that there are well upwards of 6,000,000,000 of us. A fair percentage of that number have access to Internet connections. Which gives them access to quite a bit of raw information - some of it reliable, some more fiction than fact. They - we - can also communicate with each other. Fast.

Welcome to the Information Age

All national leaders may not have caught on yet, that they're not the only people who have viable ideas: but I think there's there's a vague sense developing, that this isn't the 19th century any more.

That's a pretty good start.

Individual Nations Can Deal With Iran

I don't have answers: not in any detail. But, in general: I think the sort of situation represented by Iran and Korea is one that individual nations can deal with.
But That May Not be a Good Idea
Which is a bit of a problem. I said, "can deal with," not "should deal with." In my view, the United Nations is a sort of practical joke: and a screwball prototype of what humanity may develop. In a century, or a millennium. My guess is that it'll take even longer: but I've been wrong before.

We've seen, recently, what a coalition of nations can achieve. Provided that there's one or two nations in the group with leaders who are willing to take charge. Not dictate: direct.

I realize that's a radical idea: nations cooperating with each other without a U.N. agency running the whole affair. But I think it's better than the 'solo' option.

I'm not necessarily talking about America 'going it alone,' mind you. A few years ago, Russian leaders made it fairly clear that they weren't too noble and self-sacrificing to use nuclear weapons against a threat. (January 25, 2008)

Personally, I'd rather see the 'Iranian nuclear weapons' issue settled without parts of Iran becoming radioactive ash. But today's heirs of the Czars and commissars may decide to be more proactive.

Related posts:In the news:

Monday, April 12, 2010

About a New York City Fire: but Mostly About the News and Assumptions

Update/revision (April 15, 2010)

Big cities are the hub around which all that is informed, cultured, and pretty much cool revolve, right?

Actually, there's some truth there. That dense concentration of humanity in metropolitan areas has the potential for generating a lot of power: economically, artistically, philosophically, and politically.

With the possible exception of economic power, living in a big city can be sort of like being online; or corresponding with pen pals; or reading books.1

All of which can also be done if you live near telephone lines, or have a satellite dish.

But I think that it's been a long time - at least - since urbanites could count on their place of residence guaranteeing them intellectual and cultural superiority over those who lived outside the city walls.

What set me off, writing this post, was news coverage of a fire. Lots of news coverage.

[from here, except for one hideously garbled sentence, the post is as it was originally published - it's now the first 2 paragraphs after "People are People"]
First of all, I think it's completely appropriate for The New York Times to report on the fire at 283 Grand Street. And, by the time it was put out, 285 Grand Street, and then to 289 Grand. The latter is on the corner of Eldridge Street.

The New York Times not reporting on that fire would be like the Sauk Centre Herald not reporting on a major fire near the corner of Sinclair Lewis Avenue and Elm Street. That fire is big hometown news.

I also think that the fire is national news for America. New York City is a major city - the last I heard, it's the largest port city we've got on the Atlantic. What happens in the Big Apple is important to the rest of us.

Before I forget it: A video:

"250 NYC Firefighters Battle 7-alarm Fire"

AssociatedPress, YouTube (April 12, 2010)
video, 0:47

"Officials say more than a dozen people, most of them firefighters, were hurt in an early-morning fire in Chinatown that burned more than four hours. There's no word on the cause. (April 12)"

Second, I really don't think that fire has much to do with the war on terror. I suppose there could be some sort of 'butterfly effect,' eventually, where an injured firefighter isn't there to deal with a fire that damaged a warehouse that - - - You get the idea. But directly connected? No. That fire was a huge issue for the people directly involved, but I don't think it'll measurably affect the nation as a whole.

Third, and this is the reason I'm writing this post: news coverage of this Sunday night fire is a pretty good opportunity for me to discuss the relative sophistication of small town hicks and city slickers.

Dunseith, San Francisco, and People

The smallest place I've lived in was Dunseith, North Dakota. The largest, San Francisco, California. In terms of area, Dunseith is about a mile long by a half-mile wide. San Francisco is very roughly a square, seven miles on a side. Dunseith covers maybe a 0.5 square mile, San Francisco 46.7 square miles (121 square kilometers, for those who think metric).

San Francisco is much more efficiently packed, though, so around 800,000 people live there. (U.S. Census 2008, via Google) Dunseith, as of 2000, was home to 739 people. (U.S. Census Factfinder)

There are differences between the people in San Francisco and Dunseith, of course. I'm basing this on my experience in San Francisco in the seventies and Dunseith in the eighties, but I don't think either has changed all that much.

For example, pull two people at random off the streets of San Francisco, and of Dunseith: and the two from San Francisco are less likely to be related to each other than the pair from Dunseith.

That doesn't mean that people in Dunseith are inbred freaks. That sort of thing happens in those postbellum potboilers that were popular several decades back. In the real world? Not so much.

Sure, in principle you could find a small town in America that's inhabited largely by weird-looking idiots whose ancestors married first cousins too often. And, again in principle, you could find a city inhabited by killer zombies, mutated by toxic waste from a Big Corporation factory. You're not very likely to find either, though.

People are People

Living in a community, of any size, it's hard to not notice people: the loud ones, anyway.

Based on my own experiences, I think that that some people who live in small towns have a very parochial outlook. It is hard to miss the impression that they really believe that what happens in their town is the most important thing in the world.

I also think that some people who live in big cities are equally convinced that what happens in their town is the most important thing in the world.

It's great to be interested in and connected to the place where you live and its people. But it's also important to remember that folks who live elsewhere are people, too. Even if they live in some small town you never heard of.

Ignorant, Isolated, Villagers? That's So 14th Century

I think there may have been something to the notion that people who live in small towns are, well, clueless commoners. In England, it would have been folks who didn't live within walking distance of London - were isolated, ignorant villiens, with an awareness that extended as far as the village church and manor house and no farther.

Then Johannes Gensfleisch zur Laden zum Gutenberg introduced that dangerous, divisive technology we call movable type: and the world changed. Documents could be mass-produced and distributed as fast as a mounted courier could travel. Reading changed from a professional specialty to a basic skill. And those villiens had a source of information about the rest of the world.

Several massive cultural revolutions and two global wars later, many people take printed documents for granted. And some of them have been very, very upset about dangerous new technologies like cable television and the Internet.

Can't say that I blame them. Utter outsiders getting access to the sort of information that's been reserved for the 'right sort' has changed things before. I think it's changing things now.

And, as I've said, before: "Cultural Chaos! Divisiveness! I Like It!" It's not that I like chaos: but the applecart that's been pushed around America for the last several decades is long overdue for getting pushed over. In my opinion.

I've discussed this sort of thing before - if you're interested, check out "Related posts," below.

Some traditional (more or less - check out the AP YouTube video) news is listed below that.

First, though: Information-Age discussion of the Grand/Eldridge fire in New York City:Related posts:In the news:
1 Yes: reading books. It's an old information technology, but books are a sort of one-way communication from some of the best minds - and many of the mediocre ones - who've lived during the last few thousand years.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Lech Kaczynski, Franklin Ramon Chang-Diaz, Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar, Martinez and Shaair: 'Regular American' Names

Lech Kaczynski was President of Poland until a few hours ago. That's when the airplane he and about eight dozen other people were in hit the ground in Russia. Hard. No survivors.

I've written about that, earlier today.

Again, my condolences to the dead, their families and friends. And my prayers.

And Now, for Something Completely Different: Kaczynski is a 'Regular American' Name

The first association that flitted through my mind's front office, when I read about Poland's loss, was something like 'Kaczynski - that's a familiar name.' Sure, I've run into Lech Kaczynski in the news: but this memory went further back. A lot further back. Our neighbors' family name wasn't "Kaczynski" - quite - but it was close.

Fargo-Moorhead in the fifties and sixties wasn't as big as it is now, and was a bit more obviously Scandinavian-American. But the towns were in America - and 'regular American names' aren't the 'Smith/Jones/Brown' British mix. Haven't been for years. Decades. Generations.

Let's put it this way, a retired NASA astronaut's name is Dr Franklin Ramon Chang-Diaz. That's a 'regular American name.' Now. So's Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar. And around here there are a fair number of Americans with names like Martinez and Shaair.

So, what happened to the America of "Happy Days" and white picket fences? Some of it never really existed. The rest did what everything in this world does: It changed. I wouldn't mind the zoot suit (with drape shape and reet pleats) coming back for a while: but on the whole, I don't mind living in a country that isn't exactly the same as the one I grew up in.

And yes: Kaczynski is the name of Poland's former president - and the name of a fair number of Americans, too. As of 1995, at least: and I don't think we've changed that much since then.

Related post:

Polish President Lech Kaczynski Dead: Poland, Russia and Videos

You've probably heard the news by now.
"Polish President Lech Kaczynski was killed early Saturday along with his wife, several top military officials, and the head of the national bank when their plane crashed at a western Russian airport, officials said.

" 'There are no survivors,' said Sergey Antufyev, the governor of Smolensk, where the plane was trying to land when it crashed. Russian emergency officials said 97 people died. Kaczynski was 60.

"Parliament Speaker Bronislaw Komorowski took over as acting president and declared it 'a time for national mourning.'

"Prime Minister Donald Tusk said the country would hold two minutes of silence at midday Sunday for the victims. Russia has declared Monday as a day of mourning.

"World leaders pay tribute to Kaczynski

"Kaczynski had been traveling with the Polish delegation to Russia for the 70th anniversary of the massacre of Polish prisoners of war in the village of Katyn. Some 20,000 Polish officers were executed there during World War II...."
First, my condolences and prayers are with the people who died in that crash, their family and friends.

The Katyn Massacre, Poland, Russia, and a Burning Wreckage

"Katyn" is a name that quite a few Poles remember. And for good reason:
"...Of all the crimes in World War II, the most puzzling has been the massacre known as "Katyn Forest." After the defeat of Polish forces at the hands of the Nazi and Soviet forces in the autumn of 1939, the Soviet side received a majority of the Polish army's officer corps. When Germany turned against its former ally, the Germans came across mass graves in the Katyn Forest. In 1943 the Germans exhumed around 4000 corpses, and made it public as irrefutable proof of Soviet barbarity. In 1944 Soviet authorities exhumed the bodies again and thereafter steadfastly maintained that the Germans had in fact committed the crime. Not until the fall of the Soviet Union did the new leaders of Russia acknowledge that in 1940 their government had ordered the murder of 27,000 Polish officers...."
More specifically, Josef Stalin had signed the order to kill those Poles. ( Embarrassing, rather.

But, that was the Soviet Union. Russia has some new faces in leadership positions now: and seems eager for everybody to put that sort of thing behind them and accept the new Russia.

Forgiveness is a good idea, I think. On the other hand, killing 27,000 people that way is something that their surviving family and friends aren't likely to forget all that soon.

"Heavy fog & human error possible causes of Lech Kaczynski plane crash in Russia"

RussiaToday, YouTube (April 10, 2010)
video, 7:53

"The President of Poland, and his wife have died in a plane crashed in Western Russia. At this early stage, investigators say it's likely human error was the cause of the crash. For more on the story we can now cross live to our correspondents Daniel Bushell outside the Russian Foreign Minister and Katerina Azarova near the Kremlin."

'Everybody Knows' What Them Roosians are Like?

I don't know how many folks here in America will immediately assume that anything with "Russia" in the source's name is all lies. I recommend viewing - and listening to - the Russia Today video. There's a pretty good review of the Katyn Massacre in the last half. The Katyn Massacre is one of those 'non-events that never happened' - but someone neglected to have the documents shredded. Stalin's signature was on at least one of them.

A bit of an embarrassment, putting it mildly, for the worker's paradise: but that was then, this is now. I'm no big fan of the current Russian regime: but there are a few new people in leadership positions, and - stating the obvious - this isn't the 20th century any more.

I've run out of time for the moment: I plan to come back, later today, to wrap up this post.

Over Eight Dozen Killed: The Smolensk Crash Will be In News For a While

News and op-ed, of course: together with the usual mix of the two.
  • "Kaczynski: a 'combative' patriot"
    Deutsche Welle (April 10, 2010)
    • "Polish President Lech Kaczynski was a "combative European" and a patriot. Saturday’s disaster in Smolensk brought his life to an unexpected and tragic end...."
  • "Kaczynski Often a Source of Tension Within E.U."
    The New York Times (April 10, 2010)
    • "Lech Kaczynski, the president of Poland, died Saturday after his plane crashed on route to Katyn, in western Russia, where he was due to commemorate the murder 70 years ago of thousands of Polish officers, according to the Polish foreign ministry. He was 60 years old...."
The next paragraphs in The New York Times explains why the late President was a "source of tension" in the European Union:
"...Mr. Kaczynski was elected president in 2005 as his twin brother, Jaroslaw, was swept into power as leader of the nationalist-conservative Law and Justice government. This unique constellation of power, led by identical twins, often put Poland on a collision course with its European Union partners and Russia.

"As soon as he took office in the presidential headquarters in the center of Warsaw, Mr. Kaczynski forged very close relations with Ukraine and Georgia, determined to bring them closer to NATO and eventually have them admitted to the American-led military organization.

"But his staunch defense of these two countries often upset leading members of the E.U., especially Germany, which was concerned that an expanded NATO would threaten Russia, or lead to new East-West tensions...."
(The New York Times)
I see The New York Times' point. Upstart leaders of little countries that aren't part of the 'in crowd' can be annoying, when they don't know their place. So can people who don't - or won't - act the way 'their kind' is expected to. ("Barack Obama: Upstart Young Whippersnapper?" (August 26, 2008))

If Germany and other old-guard European countries seem a bit jittery about Russia, they may think they have a good reason. I suppose that the Soviet Union's habit of shooting first and asking questions later (if at all?) left a lasting impression.

Shooting down Korean Air Flights 902 (1978) and 007 (1983) may not have been a good idea, from a public relations point of view. Sure, the Soviet Union's been gone for about two decades, and there are a few new faces in leadership positions. But it takes a long time to change a reputation.

I've got more to say: but it's even more off-topic. Time to make the final edit on this post: Another news video.

"Polish president dies in crash"

NTVKenya, YouTube (April 10, 2010)

"It's is a day of mourning in Poland where the countrys president and tens of top government officials have been killed in a plane crash in Western Russia. The Polish President Lech Kaczynski, was leading the delegation to a World War commemoration event when the plane came down in thick fog.
"Gladys Mutiso reports."

The videos are scaled to fit this blog's format: I suggest following the links to the YouTube original posts, if they don't display properly.

More-or-less-related posts:More:

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

So: He Set His Shoe on Fire? Excitement on Flight 663

Updated (11:27 p.m. Central Time, April 7, 2010)
"No Explosives Found in Denver Flight Scare"
FOXNews (April 7, 2010)

"A Qatari diplomat trying to sneak a smoke in an airplane bathroom sparked a bomb scare Wednesday night on a flight from Washington to Denver, with fighter jets scrambled and law enforcement put on high alert, officials said.

"A source confirmed to Fox News that the suspect is Mohammed Al-Madadi, a diplomat in the Qatar embassy in Washington.

"No explosives were found on Al-Madadi and officials do not believe he was trying to harm anyone, according to senior law enforcement officials who spoke on condition of anonymity.

"The sources asked not to be identified because they were not authorized to discuss the ongoing investigation...."
Okay - this makes a little more sense. Except for folks who are convinced that almost everything is some sort of conspiracy.

My confidence in the BBC is a little shaken by this - although they did put 'shoe bomb' in single quotes for their headline.

The flurry of reports around the world is a pretty good reminder to study the news - and remember that reporters and editors get excited sometimes, too.
You can't make up this sort of thing, folks:
" 'Shoe bomb' attempt on US plane"
BBC (April 8, 2010) (I know: It's almost 10:00 p.m., Central - it's tomorrow on the other side of the Atlantic)

"A man has been detained after he tried to set fire to his shoes on a US flight, reports say.

"The man was subdued on United flight 663 from Washington Reagan airport to Denver, ABC news reported...."

"...AN ABC report identified the suspect as a Qatari diplomat stationed at the country's Washington embassy."
An Australian publication was a little less restrained:
"Qatari diplomat tried to light shoe bomb on US jet: report"
The Sydney Morning Herald (April 8, 2010)

"US federal air marshals have subdued a Qatari diplomat who tried to detonate a shoe bomb aboard a flight from Washington to Denver, US media reported.

"Authorities have identified the passenger as Mohammed al-Modadi, who has full diplomatic immunity as the third secretary and vice-consul of the Qatari embassy in Washington, ABC News reported...."
I'm waiting for the formal complaint at the United Nations, about the gross insensitivity of those Americans.

And an explanation that setting fire to your shoes is part of the rich cultural heritage of Qatar.

Or, not.

Seriously? My guess is that Qatar will want some sort of apology for the way their diplomat was mistreated - and may get it.

I've written about diplomatic immunity before. Including this excerpt from December 25, 2009:
"We're between news cycles right now, in terms of "diplomatic immunity." They don't come often - but I expect, in a few years, or maybe a decade or so, to start reading about shenanigans in New York City, or another major city, of diplomats who realize that they
  • "Don't have to have their chauffeurs obey the traffic and parking regulations that commoners do
  • "Can hit people if they want to:
    • "Reporters
    • "Waiters
    • "Ugly, common, unimportant people
"You get the picture.

"Not all diplomats are like that, of course. Most, I trust, understand what 'diplomatic immunity' is for: and don't use it as a sort of 'get out of jail free' card.

"But diplomats are human beings. And, some human beings are jerks.

"And a jerk with diplomatic immunity - or any sense of entitlement - gets to be a big jerk mighty fast...."
I see I didn't do much of a job, discussing what diplomatic immunity is for. Briefly, over-simplifying it: Without diplomatic immunity, diplomats would be at the mercy of whoever is running the country they're in. They could be arrested for having their ties on crooked, or wearing the wrong color shirt, or whatever. I rather hope that an American government wouldn't pull a stunt like that - but it's not inconceivable. And some other countries are not quite as picky as America is, about how they use their law enforcement. And not all police forces are just like America's. (February 19, 2010)

Diplomatic immunity isn't anything new. And, although it won't stop a petty king or goofy dictator from acting badly - it does encourage decent behavior.

Then, now and again, you get a diplomat who is a jerk. Or, possibly, this time, a wannabe martyr/terrorist.

As to why Mohammed al-Modadi set his shoe on fire? I have no idea. Maybe it really was a bomb. Maybe he thought Mickey Mouse was inside - and that it was his duty to destroy the infidel. (See "Mickey Mouse Must Die! Agent of Satan Targeted by Saudi Cleric" (September 19, 2008)) Maybe it really is a cherished Qatari custom - but I doubt it.Related posts:
A tip of the hat to ZephyrK9, on Twitter, for the heads-up on this latest bit of lunacy.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Dangerous Technology and Common Sense

Remember the Peloponnesian War?

Chemical weapons aren't all that new. Sparta employed a sort of napalm analog at Plataea, in 429 BC. Wood, pitch and sulfur don't sound all that dangerous - but they produce quite a lot of heat. And toxic fumes.

See:The Peloponnesian War almost certainly had an economic angle to it - but it was also an armed struggle between two radically different political philosophies: Athens' version of democracy, and Sparta's oligarcy.

Athens apparently didn't use the sort of (for the time) high-tech weaponry that Sparta had.

Athens lost.

Related post:

Obama Limits Nuclear Weapons: That's Nice

From today's news:
"Obama limits U.S. use of nuclear arms"
Reuters (April 6, 2010)
"The Obama administration unveiled a new policy Tuesday restricting U.S. use of nuclear weapons but sent a stern message to nuclear-defiant Iran and North Korea that they remain potential targets."
"Kicking off a hectic week for President Barack Obama's nuclear agenda, his aides rolled out a strategy review that renounced U.S. development of new atomic weapons and could herald further cuts in America's stockpile.

"The announcement, calling for reduced U.S. reliance on its nuclear deterrent, could build momentum before Obama signs a landmark arms control treaty with Russia in Prague Thursday and hosts a nuclear security summit in Washington next week.

"But Obama's revamped strategy is likely to draw criticism from conservatives who say his approach could compromise U.S. national security and disappoint liberals who wanted the president to go further on arms control.

"Under the revamped policy, the United States for the first time is forswearing use of atomic weapons against non-nuclear countries, a break with a Bush-era threat of nuclear retaliation in the event of a biological or chemical attack.

"But the new strategy comes with a major condition that the countries will be spared a U.S. nuclear response only if they are in compliance with the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. That loophole means Iran and North Korea would not be protected...."
That's very nice and civilized of President Obama.

I'm not surprised to hear Reuters opine that liberals - the contemporary American political variety, at any rate - are disappointed. Nuclear weapons are not nice. It would be nice if they didn't exist. From some points of view, anyway.

Does This Sort of - Thinking? - Sound Familiar?

For that matter, it would be nice if gunpowder didn't exist. Then those awful nasty guns wouldn't work and people wouldn't hurt each other.

Wait a minute.

Okay: we can keep assuming that technology makes people do things. Quite a lot of people were killed with steel weapons: like swords. If only there were no steel weapons, people would live in peace and harmony.

Something doesn't seem quite right here.

Maybe it isn't any particular sort of metal: it's metal itself.

That's it! Ban all metal weapons, and then we'll all be nice.

Meanwhile, in the World I'm Stuck With

I like to think that I'm a nice guy. I think it would be nice if everybody was nice.

That would be nice.

War isn't nice. Things get broken and people get killed. That isn't nice.

Quite a few things got broken, and quite a few people got killed when New York City's World Trade Center was destroyed. That wasn't nice, either.

I suppose the CIA could 'really' be the ones who blew up the WTC. They could have used radio waves from their invisible helicopters and forced those hijackers to do naughty things. Or maybe made all the people in southern Manhattan think they saw those airliners hit.

You can do quite a lot with radio waves from invisible helicopters.

Particularly if you're the shape-shifting space-alien lizard people who really run the world. (I'm not making that up.)

Terrorists Aren't Always Nice

I suppose it may be impossible for a nation to have complete control over all of its residents, and know exactly what's going on in every part of its territory.

That would explain why the (allegedly) oppressive United States government has trouble with alternatively-sensible militia groups now and again.

Let's some outfit with a name like "the Nation of United, Triumphant States" smuggled a suitcase nuke into Paris and imposed instant urban renewal on the Champs-Élysées. And that the NUTS operated mostly out of a compound in Minnesota's lake country.

That's a hypothetical situation, by the way.

I wouldn't like it at all, if the American government claimed that they couldn't do anything about the NUTS: and didn't think they were really there, anyway. I'd like it still less, if France lobbed a nuke back, and solved Washington's problem for them.

But I think I might understand France's position. Particularly if, a little later, a second nuke took out the Eiffel Tower and that warmonger Parc du Champs de Mars. (What can I say? It's named after an old god of war.)

That Would Never Happen

I like to think that the federal government I pay taxes to wouldn't be quite that suicidally inept. But you never know.

Situations like that can happen though. It looks like Pakistan's central government isn't exactly omnipotent, when it comes to places like the Swat Valley. Then there's the LeT.

Which "obviously" means that warmonger America is using wicked Pakistan to attack nice India. Or maybe it's one of the other ways around.

You want "obvious?" Read a spy novel.

Obama, Nukes, and Being Nice

As I said, I think it's nice that President Obama has changed American policy. Now, until things change again, we won't use nuclear weapons against nations that don't have them.

Or against non-governmental organizations operating within those nations.

I hope that the Taliban, Al Qaeda, and like-minded organizations are impressed, and decide to be nice, too.

Like I said: I hope so. Somehow, I don't think that's a likely outcome.

Related posts:

Monday, April 5, 2010

Ali Hussain Sibat wasn't Beheaded, Allegedly: That's Nice

Sometimes news from the desert kingdom ruled by the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques and a bunch of religious crazies is funny.

Recently, it's been anything but.

Ali Hussain Sibat was sentenced to have his head cut off last Friday. He had a fortune-telling show in Lebanon. You know: the sort of thing that American law has people label 'for entertainment purposes only.' I'm no fan to dial-a-psychic services and mediums. But executing someone? Because he's got a fortune-telling gig?? That's nuts.

Apparently, Ali Hussain Sibat wasn't beheaded Friday. I hope it's because someone with sense - and knowledge of how the rest of the world has been acting for the last thousand years or so - sat on the head of whoever was running that particular circus, and is trying to keep Saudi Arabia for making a fool of itself.


I'm a bit upset about this particular bit of cruelty. Not all that many people get hurt if religious sociopaths outlaw the color red. (I'm not making this up.) But grabbing a citizen of another country, and deciding that he should have his head cut off, is not acceptable in today's world. Unless someone's doing a remake of something like "Malice in the Palace" (1949).

I just hope that whoever's got his nose out of joint in Saudi Arabia over this Lebanese television personality can be reasoned with - or overpowered.

Related posts:In the news:

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

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

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