Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Snap Judgment and Ricin

Oops. Last Thursday I wrote a post which assumed that an Elvis impersonator had sent poison letters to U. S. government officials. The letters really did contain ricin, but the fellow's house didn't.

That may be why charges were dropped against him.1

Meanwhile, law enforcement is searching someone else's house. Eventually, I suppose they'll find a house with ricin, and someone living there who might plausibly have sent those letters.

Then again, maybe not. Some crimes don't get solved.

It's possible that Paul Kevin Curtis really did send those letters, and had the good sense not to leave evidence lying around. Not everyone who commits crimes is sloppy, and that's another topic.

Due Process and Embarrassment

If Mr. Curtis is guilty, and if new evidence points to him, I'm fairly confident that he'll be arrested again and tried for sending potentially-lethal substances to offices in Washington. I'm no great fan of the current administration, and do no hold members of Congress in awe. However, trying to poison whoever opens letters for an elected official is at best a daft way to make a point: and is ethically unsupportable.

If Mr. Curtis is innocent, which the current lack of evidence suggests, I hope that he's able to recover from this accusation.

I'm more than a bit embarrassed about simply assuming that an accusation is true. It's not that I don't trust law enforcement: rather, I know why we have the occasionally-frustrating legal processes we do. 'Guilty until proven dead' may feel good, and is certainly easier to manage than the American judicial system: but if I'm ever accused of a crime, I won't mind having a chance to demonstrate that I am innocent.

Another, and very serious, accusation has been made against a young man who was videotaped planting explosives at the Boston Marathon. I'm more confident that he actually is guilty. In that case, there's a video recording of what he and his deceased brother did, and their anything-but-innocent behavior while killing a police officer and exchanging fire with others.

I'm quite confident that the surviving brother arranged for death and destruction at a public event. However, I also think that it's a good idea to go through the usual judicial process: even when the case seems obvious.

Related posts:
In the news:

1 Excerpts from the news:
"Charges were dropped Tuesday against the Mississippi man accused of sending ricin-laced letters to President Barack Obama and others, while authorities searched at another man's home in connection with the case.

"The surprising move was announced in a brief document filed in federal court in Oxford hours after Paul Kevin Curtis was released from custody. The charges were dismissed without prejudice, which means they could be re-instated if prosecutors so choose.

"Attorneys for Curtis have suggested he was framed, and an FBI agent testified in court this week that no evidence of ricin was found in searches of his home. At a news conference Tuesday, they declined to discuss whether they were told what new information the government had uncovered...."
(Associated Press, via FoxNews.com)
"U.S. prosecutors dropped charges on Tuesday against a Mississippi man accused of sending ricin-laced letters to President Barack Obama, a U.S. senator and a state judge, according to court documents.

"The surprise decision came hours after Paul Kevin Curtis was released from a Mississippi jail on bond.

"Prosecutors said the 'ongoing investigation has revealed new information,' but provided no additional details, according to the court order dismissing the charges.

"Curtis told reporters he respected Obama. 'I would never do anything to pose a threat to him or any other U.S. official,' he said. 'I love this country.'

"He said he had no idea what ricin was. 'I thought they said "rice," I told them I don't eat rice,' he said...."
(Robbie Ward, Reuters)

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Boston Marathon Bombing: Sincerity isn't Truth

Bombs exploded Monday afternoon, near the end of the Boston Marathon. Three people were killed. Many more were wounded, some severely. Some lost limbs.

I think killing innocent people is wrong, and that being present at the Boston Marathon is not an offense which deserves death.

Later, the FBI released images of two young men. We were told that they were suspects, presumed armed and dangerous. Not long after that I read that a substantial part of the Boston metropolitan area was under lockdown. People were advised to stay inside, and open their doors only to law enforcement officials with proper identification.

That's unusual in American cities, but this was an unusual situation.

The two suspects had been identified as brothers. The older died during an exchange of fire with law enforcement. The other was found hiding under a boat, and extracted alive.

One or the other of the brothers, or both, killed a fourth person before they were stopped: Sean Collier, a police officer at MIT.

I am confident that the suspects are responsible for killing four people and maiming others. I think we've learned from the Steven Hatfill Richard Jewel debacles. (February 15, 2011)

This doesn't seem to have been a rush to judgment based on silly evidence: and the brothers went out of their way to act like armed and dangerous fugitives.

Death and Motives

I would have preferred that nobody had decided to plant bombs at the Boston Marathon. It would have been nice if nobody had been killed.

We don't life in a 'nice' world. Sometimes people decide to to bad things.

I don't doubt that the two brothers thought they were justified in killing innocent people. It looks like their motives were sincere and intense religious beliefs. I don't doubt that, either: but sincerity doesn't guarantee truth.

I've already run into a few juicy conspiracy theories. I don't doubt that folks who are convinced that the Obama administration plotted to kill Marathon runners are sincere. But again: sincerity doesn't guarantee truth.

My guess is that someone has already claimed that the brothers are heroes because they killed:
  • Americans
  • Athletes
  • A
    • Chinese exchange student
    • Catholic
    • Cop
I don't think being at an athletic event, or merely being a member of some group, warrants death:

Defending the Innocent

I would, for several reasons, rather have both suspects alive an in custody. Information is notoriously difficult to extract from dead people, and there are other considerations.

On the other hand, I do not blame the death of the older brother on society, the police, or organizers of the Boston Marathon. In my opinion, someone who had already killed three people at a public event, shot and killed a police officer, and was both shooting at other law enforcement people and tossing explosives, is at least partly responsible for whatever happens to him.

Individuals have a responsibility to defend themselves.

I'm not always happy about how the 'Miranda' rules have been used, but think that due process is a very good idea. That includes limits on what public officials are allowed to do. That said, I am not upset that the 'Miranda rights' were suspended when questioning the surviving suspect.

That's not because I hate Muslims, Chechyans, or people whose last names start with "T."

I've read that there is a 'public safety exception' to the Miranda rules: which allows public officials to protect the innocent. So far, it hasn't been used very often: and I think this week's circumstances warranted a bit of extra caution.

If the exception gets used frequently, or appears to be used selectively against folks with unsanctioned ideas - then, I'll get upset. Not now.

"You Can Read It on the Internet"

I've known folks who really believe in conspiracy theories. Some of them pick a new one at fairly frequent intervals. The folks I know aren't dangerous: just a bit wearisome when talking about what's 'really' behind stuff they don't like.

They're sincere: but, like I said before, sincerity doesn't guarantee truth. I'm convinced that the world isn't really run by the Illuminati, Federal Reserve System, Jews, or lizard men.

I could be a dupe, a fool, or a lizard man trying to control your brain with radio waves from your toaster: but I'm not. Trust me.

It looks like the mother of the suspects believes 9/11 was a government plot to make Americans hate Muslims. I think she's wrong: but a remarkable number of folks seem to believe that 9/11 was an 'inside job.'

I think she's wrong: but like I said, I don't think lizard men are to blame, either.

Grief and Loss

The Tsarnaev brothers did their family no favors this week. I sympathize with their uncle, aunt, mother, father, and the rest of their relatives. I also think their uncle was right: they put shame on their family.

There may be an indication of what may have allowed the brothers to act as they did, in their parents' attitudes and beliefs. That does not mean that I 'blame the parents.' I also think that it's likely that the brothers were influenced by what they saw, heard, and read. That doesn't mean that I blame the Internet, Muslims, or the professor who gave them a syllabus.

I think it is prudent to remember that an individual or two is not necessarily representative of a group.

I put excerpts from news and views about the brothers at the end of this post.1 Here's a very abbreviated version:
"I say Dzhokhar, if you're alive, turn yourself in and ask for forgiveness from the victims, from the injured.

"I respect this country, I love this country. [The bombing] has nothing to do with Chechnya … He put a shame on our family, he put a shame on the entire Chechen ethnicity."

"Being losers, hatred to those who were able to settle themselves, these are the only reasons I can imagine. Anything else, anything else to do with religion is a fraud. It's a fake. We're Muslims. We're ethnic Chechyans."
Ruslan Tsarni, uncle of the two suspects
(Joshua Rhett Miller, FoxNews.com)

The boy's childhood was perfect. Their father was a loving, soft-hearted man.
An aunt of the suspects

"It's real. My son knows all about it. You can read it on the Internet."
Mother of the suspects, quoted by former customer

"She [mother of the suspects] started quoting conspiracy theories, telling me that she thought 9-11 was purposefully created by the American government to make America hate Muslims."
Former customer of the mother
(Wayne Drash, Moni Basu, Tom Watkins, CNN)

"I don't have a single American friend, I don't understand them."
Tamerlan Tsarnaev, older suspect, deceased

The suspects were "angels."

Someone is "playing with them."

"If they killed him, then all hell would break loose."
Father of the suspects
Related posts:
News and views:

1 Excerpts from news and views:
" 'We got him!' But now authorities want answers in Boston Marathon bombing"
FoxNews.com (April 20, 2013)

"Now that police have secured the second of two suspects in Monday's Boston Marathon bombing, the long and meticulous process of examining motives, methods and possible links begins.

"A Justice Department official said Friday the government is invoking a seldom-used public safety exception permitting officials to engage in a limited and focused unwarned interrogation of a suspect - in this case Dzhokhar Tsarnaev - without first reading him his typically assured Miranda rights. That official, as well as a second, both of whom spoke on the condition of anonymity, says Tsarnaev will be questioned by a special interrogation team for high-value suspects.

"The public safety exception not only permits the unwarned questioning of a suspect, but also allows the government to introduce any statement yielded by such interrogation as evidence in court. The exception is triggered when authorities have an objectively reasonable need to protect themselves or the public from a clear and present danger.

"According to media accounts, Tsarnaev and his brother, Tamerlan, were Mulsims who recently gravitated to a radical strain of Islam, going so far as to post Anti-American, jihadist videos on social-media sites...."

" 'Turn yourself in and ask for forgiveness,' angry uncle of bombing suspect demands"
Joshua Rhett Miller, FoxNews.com (April 19, 2013)

"The outraged uncle of the Boston Marathon bombing suspect currently eluding authorities called on his nephew to surrender and to ask for forgiveness from the victims of Monday's blast.

"Ruslan Tsarni, of Montgomery Village, Md., told reporters outside his home that he last saw Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarneav in 2005 and said he was ashamed of their actions.

" 'I say Dzhokhar, if you're alive, turn yourself in and ask for forgiveness from the victims, from the injured,' a visibly angry Tsarni said, adding that he would have alerted authorities if he knew of his nephews' alleged plan.

" 'I respect this country, I love this country,' the 42-year-old attorney continued. '[The bombing] has nothing to do with Chechnya … He put a shame on our family, he put a shame on the entire Chechen ethnicity.'

"Tsami said the apparently misguided radical Islamic beliefs that may have driven the brothers to kill was horribly warped. Asked what he believed provoked his nephews, Tsarni replied: 'Being losers, hatred to those who were able to settle themselves, these are the only reasons I can imagine. Anything else, anything else to do with religion is a fraud. It's a fake. We're Muslims. We're ethnic Chechyans.'..."

"Boston suspects: Immigrant dream to American nightmare"
Wayne Drash, Moni Basu, Tom Watkins, CNN (April 20, 2013)

"They might have fulfilled every immigrant's dream, fleeing a war-torn part of the world and settling into a quiet life in America, one buoyed by aspiration and a will to succeed.

"Tamerlan Tsarnaev, 26, loved to box. And he was talented. At 196 pounds, he represented New England as a heavyweight in the National Golden Gloves boxing tournament. He wanted to make it on an Olympic team.

"His younger brother, Dzhokar, 19, graduated in 2011 from Cambridge Rindge & Latin School, the alma mater of actors Matt Damon and Ben Affleck. The city awarded Dzhokar a $2,500 scholarship. And he, too, was an athlete -- a wrestler. He was named student athlete of the month and made the state playoffs.

"But something went wrong somewhere....

"It was unclear what might have motivated the brothers to commit the heinous crime they are suspected of carrying out. All day Friday, reporters sought out people who knew them, trying to understand one thing: Why?

"What unfolded was a story typical of the American immigrant narrative: A family originally from the Russian republic of Chechnya fled the brutal wars in their homeland in the 1990s. They moved to neighboring Russian republics before at last arriving in the United States.

"The youngest, Dzhokar, came first with his parents, according to his aunt, Maret Tsarnaev. The older son, Tamerlan, was initially left behind with his two sisters.

"Eventually, they were reunited -- a family of six whose American journey contained elements of a struggle to fit in and success in making a new life...."

"...Friends and acquaintances of the Tsarnaev brothers expressed disbelief. The two men were nice, friendly. Quiet. The kind of guys you'd never even notice or look at twice if you passed them on the street.

"Their aunt spoke with Canada's CTV and described the boys' childhood as perfect. Their father, Anzor, was a loving, soft-hearted man. She said he and his wife, Zubeidat, have moved back to Dagestan, which borders Chechnya.

"Dzhokar came to America on July 1, 2002, as a tourist and asked for asylum, a federal official told CNN. He was naturalized as a U.S. citizen on September 11 last year.

"There was some dispute over when his older brother arrived. The U.S. official said he came four years later on September 6, 2006, and held a permanent resident visa. But another federal official said Tamerlan first entered the United States on July 19, 2003.

"Alyssa Lindley Kilzer said she often visited the apartment at 410 Norfolk St. in Cambridge, where the Tsarnaevs lived. Kilzer used to get facials from Zubeidat at a local spa but, after she was fired, Kilzer began going to her house.

"She wrote about her experience on her Tumblr blog and said the staircase was crowded with shoes and the house was filled with the noise of arguments, cooking and other household chores. It was hardly spa-like but Kilzer thought Zubeidat gave great facials.

"But she became increasingly uncomfortable going to the apartment because of Zubeidat's growing religious fervor.

" 'She started quoting conspiracy theories, telling me that she thought 9-11 was purposefully created by the American government to make America hate Muslims,' she wrote.

"Zubeidat told her: 'It's real. My son knows all about it. You can read it on the Internet.'

"Kilzer said she only met Tamerlan once -- he wasn't friendly, she thought...."

"'I don't understand them,' bombing suspect said of Americans"
FoxNews.com (April 20, 2013)

"The brothers behind Monday's deadly bombing at the Boston Marathon are believed to have come to the U.S. from Chechnya as long as a decade ago, but apparently never fit in with the American culture.

" 'I don't have a single American friend, I don't understand them,' the older brother, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, who was killed in a shootout with police hours after the pair was identified as suspects, told a photographer in 2009....

"...The father of the suspects, reached in Makhachkala, Russia, characterized his sons as 'angels,' adding that someone is 'playing with them,' he told Fox News.

"Anzor Tsarnaev said his sons were normal young men who loved people. Earlier Friday, he called on Dzokhar to surrender peacefully, but reportedly warned the United States that 'all hell will break loose' if he['s] killed. He told ABC News that he spoke to his sons by phone earlier this week. He said his sons reassured him, saying, 'Everything is good, Daddy. Everything is very good.'

" 'Give up. Give up. You have a bright future ahead of you,' Anzor Tsarneav told ABC News. 'Come home to Russia.'

"He continued: 'If they killed him, then all hell would break loose.'..."

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Ricin Letters, Elvis Impersonators, and Lizard Men

Ricin was in letters sent to the American president and a member of Congress. It was sent by an Elvis impersonator who apparently thought he was battling a government conspiracy to bootleg human organs.1

I think it's quite likely that he did see human organs stored in a hospital where he had worked. Diseased organs are sometimes removed in operations, and they don't just vanish. They're stored and - I'm told and believe - either buried or incinerated. The presence of human organs in a hospital doesn't mean that there's a conspiracy afoot: any more than an Elvis impersonator being arrested means that all Elvis impersonators are a risk to honest citizens.

Of course, I also believe that the explosion which devastated a Texas town a few hours ago was quite likely caused by the a fire and the tons of anhydrous ammonia stored there. For folks that believe conspiracy theories, that may show that I am either a fool, a dupe: or part of the conspiracy.

Who knows, I might be one of the shape-shifting space-alien lizard-men who rule the world. Or, not.

Related posts:

1 From the news:
"Suspect arrested in connection with poison letters, tests show substance 'absolutely' ricin"
FoxNews.com (April 18, 2013)

"A Mississippi man has been arrested in connection with the mailing of three letters sent to President Obama, Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., and a Mississippi official that tested positive for ricin....

"...The testing was apparently conclusive enough to charge the suspect. The Department of Justice said Paul Kevin Curtis, 45, was arrested at his Corinth, Miss., home Wednesday afternoon following an investigation conducted by an FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force and several other agencies....

"...Curtis believed he had uncovered a conspiracy to sell human body parts on the black market and sometimes performed as an Elvis Presley impersonator, the Associated Press reported.

"The letters to Obama and Wicker said: 'To see a wrong and not expose it, is to become a silent partner to its continuance.' Both were signed, 'I am KC and I approve this message.'

"Ricky Curtis, who said he was Kevin Curtis' cousin, said the family was shocked by the news of the arrest. He described his cousin as a 'super entertainer' who impersonated Elvis and numerous other singers.

"'We're all in shock. I don't think anybody had a clue that this kind of stuff was weighing on his mind,' Ricky Curtis said in a telephone interview...."

"Texas Waco fertiliser plant blast causes many casualties"
BBC News (April 18, 2013)

"Between five and 15 people are thought to have been killed by a huge explosion at a US fertiliser plant that witnesses said was "like a tornado".

"More than 160 people were injured as dozens of homes and buildings were destroyed in the evening blast near Waco in the state of Texas.

"Emergency services are still going from home to home trying to find survivors.

"Three or four firefighters who had been tackling an earlier blaze at the site are still missing, police say....

"...Emergency services officials said ammonia may have caused the explosion.

"It has been reported the company had 54,000lbs (20 tonnes) of anhydrous ammonia on site...."

Monday, April 15, 2013

Boston Marathon Bombs

Happily, it looks like only a few folks got killed when two bombs went off near the finish of the Boston Marathon today. That's a tragic situation. I'm not at all pleased about those deaths, the dozens who were injured, and those whose injuries may be permanent or fatal.

But it could have been much worse.

I'm not looking forward to the all-but-inevitable 'this is the fault of [insert favorite bogeyman]' pronouncements.

(FoxNews.com, used w/o permission)
"Multiple casualties reported after two explosions at Boston Marathon" (FoxNews.com)

I plan to keep following news: particularly after the dust settles, literally and metaphorically, and some facts start emerging.

Related posts:
In the news:

Friday, April 5, 2013

North Korea Nuclear Attack: "Extremely Unlikely," But - - -

North Korea's new ruler may have the wisdom which told his father when to stop threatening, and accept the best available appeasement.

Or Kim Jong Un may not fully understand the power which he wields.

I don't know: and am very glad that someone else has to make 'go/no go' decisions for America's military. I'll get back to that.

Living with Uncertainty

Someone on the American president's national security staff said "it's extremely unlikely" that North Korea has a missile which could reach the United States with a nuclear warhead.1 I think he's right, but I also think a key word in the statement is "unlikely."

(from BBC News, used w/o permission)

North Korea wouldn't have to hit Los Angeles or Portland to reach the United States. Parts of Alaska and Hawaii are within range of that country's Taepodong missile.

So is quite a bit of Asia and the western Pacific, if Kim Jong Un decided to attack a "puppet group."

'Might Not,' 'May Not,' Could be,' and Experts

A missile attack needs more than a missile, though. North Korea would need a warhead: preferably, from Kim Jong Un's point of view, a nuclear weapon. His people have developed nuclear bombs: but may not have been able to make them small enough to fit in a missile.

On the other hand, maybe they have.

I'm not concerned for my immediate personal safety. I live near the center of the North American continent, well away from anything that might be a high-value target.

Besides, North Korea's long-range missiles might not be accurate enough to hit a particular target. The country may not have a nuclear bomb compact enough for a missile. Kim Jong Un could be bluffing.

That's a lot of "might not, "may not," and "could be."

What if the 'experts' are wrong?

Warm and Sunny With a Chance of Nuclear Attack

Let's say North Korea's military has a nuclear weapon which will reach Guam. It's a United States territory, not a state: but closer than Anchorage or Honolulu. It might look like a good place to punish 'imperialists.'

About 44,000 folks live in Dededo, Guam. It's got schools, libraries, and a shopping mall: hardly New York City, but ten times larger than the town I call home.

(from en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Micronesia_Mall1.JPG, used w/o permission)

Dededo covers quite a wide area, so a bomb as powerful as the one that hit Hiroshima might not kill everyone there. On the other hand, it would be an extremely unpleasant experience for survivors.

(from en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Hiroshima_Damage_Map.png, used w/o permission)

I suppose it could be argued that folks living in Dededo 'deserve' to be killed, since they are either 'imperialists' or in league with the United States.

I think that makes as much sense saying that God killed Haitians in 2010 for something (allegedly) done two centuries earlier: or that Yankee imperialists caused the quake.2

Decisions, Responsibility

As of Wednesday, April 3, a Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) missile interceptor system is on its way to Guam. It's expensive, and might not stop an incoming missile attack.

But I think deploying THAAD makes sense. Strategic and tactical considerations aside, it would be nice if folks living in Guam had a little protection.

As I've said before, this isn't a 'political' blog, in the sense that I claim one person or group is always right, and everyone who disagrees is icky. I sometimes discuss political issues, since politics is a means by which some decisions are made.

I did not vote for the current American president, but think that some decisions made during this administration were correct: like sending a THAAD system to Guam.

War, in my considered opinion, is something to avoid. But sometimes using armed force is preferable to the alternative. One of the responsibilities of national authorities is defending their nation: even when force is necessary.3

I suppose Kim Jong Un may think that he is 'defending' his territory. I think he is wrong.

"International Authority" and Looking Ahead

Today, "there is no international authority with the necessary competence and power"4 to restrain the likes of Kim Jong Un or Al Qaeda. Eventually I hope that humanity develops something like Tennyson's "Federation of the world." Until that happens, we'll have to make do with nations like the United States - and North Korea - and international organizations like the United Nations and NATO.

I've discussed some of my hopes in other blogs.

Related posts:

1 Excerpts from news and views:
"North Korea lacks means for nuclear strike on U.S., experts say"
Mark Hosenball, Phil Stewart, Reuters (April 5, 2013)

"North Korea's explicit threats this week to strike the United States with nuclear weapons are rhetorical bluster, as the isolated nation does not yet have the means to make good on them, Western officials and security experts say.

"Pyongyang has slowly and steadily improved its missile capabilities in recent years and U.S. officials say its missiles may be capable of hitting outlying U.S. territories and states, including Guam, Alaska and Hawaii.

"Some private experts say even this view is alarmist. There is no evidence, the officials say, that North Korea has tested the complex art of miniaturizing a nuclear weapon to be placed on a long-range missile, a capability the United States, Russia, China and others achieved decades ago.

"In other words, North Korea might be able to hit some part of the United States, but not the mainland and not with a nuclear weapon.

"The threats against the United States by North Korea's young leader Kim Jong-un are 'probably all bluster,' said Gary Samore, until recently the top nuclear proliferation expert on President Barack Obama's national security staff.

" 'It's extremely unlikely they have a nuclear missile which could reach the United States,' said Samore.

"The North Koreans 'are not suicidal. They know that any kind of direct attack (on the United States) would be end of their country,' said Samore, now at Harvard University's Kennedy School.

"On Wednesday, North Korea's state-run KCNA news agency said its military had 'ratified' an attack involving 'cutting-edge smaller, lighter and diversified nuclear strike means,' an apparent reference to miniaturized nuclear weapons...."

"Korea crisis: UN's Ban warns of 'serious implications' "
BBC News (April 4, 2013)

"UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has appealed to North Korea to change course, saying it has "gone too far" in its rhetoric.

"He said he was concerned any 'unwanted crisis' on the Korean peninsula would have 'very serious implications'.

"The warning came hours after South Korea's foreign minister said the North had shifted a missile with 'considerable range' to its east coast.

"Pyongyang earlier renewed threats of a nuclear strike against the US.

"However, its missiles are not believed to be capable of carrying nuclear warheads.

"White House spokesman Jay Carney described the threats as 'regrettable but familiar', adding the US was taking 'all the necessary precautions'...."

"U.S. Military to Deploy Missile Defense Battery Amid Looming Budget Cuts"
Mike Gruss, Space News, via Space.com (April 4, 2013)

"The U.S. Defense Department plans to deploy a Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) missile interceptor system to Guam in the coming weeks to defend the U.S. territory against a possible North Korean missile attack, the Pentagon announced Wednesday (April 3).

"In October, the THAAD system had its first-ever intercept of a medium-range missile. In recent weeks, North Korea has renounced the 1953 armistice that ended the Korean War, closed its borders to South Korean workers, severed a diplomatic hotline with Seoul and threatened to launch missiles at U.S. targets.

"Pyongyang has been steadily escalating its war rhetoric since a satellite launch in December and nuclear test in February drew widespread condemnation and tighter sanctions...."

2 Yes, they really said that:
3 There's a none-too-subtle distinction between indiscriminate violence and legitimate defense. As a practicing Catholic, I take Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2263-2267 and 2307-2317 seriously.

4 Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2308.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

About North Korea, Power, Risks, and Leadership

North Korea's leader says that he'll restart a nuclear reactor.1 This is particularly troublesome, since Kim Jung Un seems intent on confronting 'imperialists.'

North Korea has, at most, a handful of nuclear weapons: and a production capacity of perhaps one per year. The current Kim also has missiles which could reach parts of the United States, as well as Japan, eastern Russia, and China.

I hope that, like his ancestors, the young leader has the wisdom to know when to stop threatening: and accept the best offer presented as appeasement.

Nuclear Threats and Diplomacy

As I said yesterday, this is a serious situation: and I do not think that the United States would be North Korea's biggest concern, no matter which nation the latest Kim attacked.

The United Nations Secretary-General says that "Nuclear threats are not a game." (BBC News) In the sense that they are not trivial, I'll agree: although in a sense all diplomacy is a sort of 'game,' which can be very useful in helping nations deal with issues.

The Quality of Leadership

Finally, I think it's a mistake to regard North Korea as an 'ordinary' nation. For one thing, I don't think there is any such thing. Each nation is a unique entity, with its own history, culture, and goals.

Nations can, however, be separated into categories. Some are obvious: like "large" or "small;" "new" or "old." Others, not so much: like "democracies," a term which I think has suffered from generations of over- and mis-application.

The quality of leadership is arguably more important than whether a nation's government is organized as a constitutional republic, a hereditary monarchy, a military junta, or whatever. (December 29, 2008)

Kim Jong Un runs a 'democratic people's republic,' a one-man dictatorship whose leader uses familiar 20th-century rhetoric. Despite the somewhat shopworn trappings, I think North Korea may be more of an old-style Asian kingdom: the real thing, not the Fu Manchu and Shangri-La variety.

As I've said before, I think any form of government can work: provided that there's good leadership. In the case of North Korea, I am particularly concerned, because we've got a young ruler who may not yet understand the profound risks which come with the power he wields.

Related posts:

1 Excerpts from the news:
"North Korea says it plans to restart shuttered nuclear reactor"
Jethro Mullen, CNN April 2, 2013)

"After weeks of hurling threats at the United States and its allies, North Korea announced Tuesday it will restart a nuclear reactor it had shut more than five years ago.

"The declaration demonstrates Kim Jong Un's commitment to the country's nuclear weapons program that the international community has tried without success to persuade it to abandon.

"The North's state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported that the reclusive state's atomic energy department intends to 'readjust and restart all the nuclear facilities' at its main nuclear complex, in Yongbyon...."

"North Korea 'crisis gone too far' says UN's Ban Ki-moon"
BBC News (April 2, 2013)

"UN chief Ban Ki-moon has said the North Korea "crisis has gone too far" after Pyongyang announced plans to restart its main Yongbyon nuclear complex.

"Speaking at a news conference during a visit to Andorra, Mr Ban called for urgent talks with the North.

"The move by Pyongyang is the latest in a series of measures in the wake of its third nuclear test in February.

"North Korea has been angered by the resultant UN sanctions and joint US-South Korea annual military drills.

" 'Things must begin to calm down, there is no need for the DPRK [North Korea] to be on a collision course with the international community. Nuclear threats are not a game,' Mr Ban said.

"Earlier, a South Korean foreign ministry spokesman said that if true, the North Korean move - which includes reactivating a reactor mothballed for six years - would be 'highly regrettable'.

"Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei called for restraint from all sides to resolve the 'complex and sensitive' situation.

"Weeks of rhetoric and almost daily threats by the North have raised tensions on the Korean Peninsula to their highest levels for years...."

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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.