Monday, June 30, 2008


In previous posts this blogger followed along as events unfolded in Zimbabwe (see Updates on June 12th; How stupid can one be? Answer: Very #7 on May 31st; Updates #1 on May 10th; and Can it be? on April 2nd; Updates #2 on June 12th; and Updates on June 20th). On June 29th Robert Gabriel Mugabe was declared the “winner” of the second round of voting, with 85.51% of the vote cast.

Seems appropriate for him to be named Gabriel, both archangel and the angel of death, given the destruction he has wrought on Zimbabwe… Many lives taken, many lives lost, the economy ruined, incredible inflation (e.g. the MDC secretary-general Tendai Biti, charged with treason, was released on bail of 1 trillion Zimbabwe dollars – less than $100 US!), and hunger making a comeback.

Robert Mugabe’s thugs shout: ‘Let’s kill the baby’

Voters hope ink-stained finger will keep them alive
Mugabe declared winner in sham poll

Defiant Mugabe sworn in as president, again

Note: Angel of death statue from the grave of the Haserot family in Ohio...

Sunday, June 29, 2008

The best is yet to come

Bill Gates’ retirement from Microsoft has resulted in an outpouring of retrospectives and articles on the meaning of his achievements. Most are plaudits, panegyrics, and encomia, interspersed with a few brickbats… This blogger will leave this topic to others to plumb, a few related links can be found below…

However, this blogger would argue that Bill Gates’ greatest contributions to the world are yet to come, in the next ‘half’ of his life. As profound a difference that the computer revolution (and thus Bill Gates) has made in the lives of hundreds of millions of people around the globe, there are huge swathes of the world where this is meaningless and where the far greater need is for basic sanitation, access to clean potable water, basic healthcare, electricity, and the most basic needs for life that most of us take for granted. In his new incarnation and working actively with his fund Bill Gates now has the opportunity to touch more people in much more fundamental ways than he ever has before!

Yes, providing technology to poor countries is important, and efforts such as OLPC are worthwhile. However, while the OLPC project reflects an abiding belief in the power of technology to change lives, its positive effects on its target countries pale into insignificance compared to the life and death issues related to basic sanitation and health care. If developing countries spent even half of the $100 OLPC cost per child they would be immensely better off than they are today. It’s here that Bill Gates has an opportunity to make his mark…

Bill Gates’ big send off
Bill Gates photo gallery
Bill Gates' Retirement: It Won't Last Long
What Does The Gates Retirement Really Mean?

Gates legacy filled with good, bad and ugly
End of an era as Bill Gates leaves Microsoft
Bill Gates’ Retirement Brings Forth End of 2 Eras
Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation - Wikipedia
Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

The Challenge of Global Health
Unintended victims of Gates Foundation generosity

Gaza - tahdi'ah & Qassams

On June 19th Israel and Hamas implemented a “truce” (tahdi'ah). A few quiet days passed, then came the violations. Despite the breaches the ceasefire is officially holding, though on life support. The U.S. denounces the Qassam rockets fired into Israel, and holds the Hamas government in Gaza responsible. Unfortunately it wasn’t Hamas that fired the rockets , but the al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades… a part of al-Fatah… One waits in vain for Secretary Rice, President Bush, or even Senators Obama (who wrote to the President calling for the United States to “continue to isolate Hamas”) or McCain to criticize that “man of peace” Mahmud Abbas…

In Gaza and Israel, a Wary Quiet
As Gaza cease-fire holds, Israel eases economic blockade
Obama letter to President Bush on Gaza
Gaza truce 'violated repeatedly'
UN: Israel violated truce 7 times in one week
Hamas: Continued rocket fire by Fatah armed group harms Palestinian interests

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Anthrax reckoning??

Over six and a half years after the anthrax attacks in the U.S. this week Steven Hatfill settled his suit with the U.S. Department of Justice. The government is to make a one-time payment to Hatfill of $2.825 million, as well as provide him an annuity that will pay him $150,000 each year for the next 20 years. No apparent progress has been made in identifying the person or persons responsible for the attacks that lead to five deaths.

The news media kept fairly quiet about this development, no doubt not wishing to remind the public of yet another occasion when the government, media, and others chasing the almighty news cycle conspired to destroy a person’s life by printing leaks, innuendo, etc. (think 1996 and Richard Jewell). No one has come out looking good in this entire imbroglio (e.g. see OPED28 from September 2002, reprinted below).

Steven Hatfill – Wikipedia
Steven J. Hatfill – NYT
U.S. to pay $5.8M to settle scientist Hatfill's anthrax suit

OPED28 Empty Suits on TV (September 2002 reprint)

Steven Hatfill has been in the news recently, as the only visible suspect in the FBI's "Amerithrax" investigation. Investigated by the FBI, he has been hounded by the press which has been egged on by leaks... Hatfill is fighting back, holding two press conferences to denounce John Ashcroft for declaring him a "person of interest", and to bitterly complain that the government has made his life a wasteland. During his second press conference Hatfill made specific allegations against the investigators e.g. blasting FBI profiling by alleging that the FBI had profiled the Unabomber as a "well-dressed, blue-collar, man," specifically alleging that 2 FBI investigators had told his girlfriend that he (Hatfill) had murdered 5 people and that the FBI had evidence of this, etc., etc. Watching the coverage on the various TV news channels it was amazing to see the vacuousness of the coverage, both by the on-air "talent" and by their "experts."

On MSNBC, expert Candace Long, a former FBI profiler, was asked about the implications of Hatfill's allegations. Rather than addressing anything substantive, this 'expert' caviled about who made the erroneous Unabomber profile (apparently it was a consultant and not a FBI profiler....), then said about Hatfill's allegations, "..until it's proven I'll have to assume it's false..."

On Fox (?) the expert was Skip Brandon, former FBI deputy assistant director for international terrorism. When asked specifically for a reaction to Hatfill's statement about what was allegedly said to his girlfriend, this "expert" also did not address the issue, preferring instead to engage in a non-sequitur, ad hominem attack on Hatfill (making a snide remark that Hatfill was trying to stretch out his 15 minutes of fame while proclaiming that he valued his privacy...). Instead of calling him on this, the "talent" volunteered his view that Hatfill was engaged in triple hearsay (".. he says that his girlfriend says that the FBI agents said...")

It's amazing how easily the news anchors shrugged off this story. Possible official malfeasance evidently is of small interest to them. And the "experts" that these channels use apparently have their own agendas. No longer active FBI, they ply their wares as "experts," but apparently have blinders on. How could any right-minded person not agree that if even some of Hatfill's allegations are true, that an investigation is called for? And that if any of them were to be corroborated, that corrective action would need to be taken? Subject to the 'ifs' being confirmed, it would seem that even ex-FBI should understand this. But apparently not, which by extension makes you wonder about the other experts, ex-generals, ex-CIA, etc. that the TV news channels trot out to explain the war on drugs, the war on terror, the coming war with Iraq, etc.

Visit the following links for a two part series in The Weekly Standard addressing the question "Why are so many people eager to believe that this man is the anthrax killer?" (one of the more balanced and comprehensive articles available), or do a Google search...

The hunting of Steven J. Hatfill - part I
The hunting of Steven J Hatfill - part II

Note: at the end of OPED28 this blogger idly wondered re the reliability of other “experts” including those opining on Iraq. Little did he know the full extent of the story, as we found out when it was revealed that many of the "retired" brass appearing as experts on Iraq were merely channeling Pentagon talking points!

Friday, June 27, 2008

On the road to extinction

As noted in OPED13 “Unnoticed victims of the Afghan wars" (written January 2002 and reprinted below), Afghanistan's flora and fauna were under pressure from the years of fighting. Now an added pressure is coming from demand from foreigners for items related to endangered species...

“Afghanistan's snow leopards have barely survived three decades of war. But now the few remaining mountain leopards left in Afghanistan face another threat -- foreigners involved in rebuilding the war-torn country.

Despite a complete hunting ban across Afghanistan since 2002, snow leopard furs regularly end up for sale on international military bases and at tourist bazaars in the capital. Foreigners have ready cash to buy the pelts as souvenirs and impoverished Afghans break poaching laws to supply them.”

Foreigners threaten endangered Afghan snow leopards

OPED 13 Unnoticed victims of the Afghan wars (Jan 2002 reprint)

Though you'd be hard-pressed to find it in the news, other things equally devastated by Afghanistan's decades of war are the flora, fauna, and the environment of the country. The problems these face have a direct impact on the future of the country, and their deterioration will complicate and hinder the recovery and rebuilding process.

Topography: Covering an area of 647,500 square mile, Afghanistan is slightly smaller than the state of Texas. It is a rough, mountainous country divided by the Pamir and HinduKush ranges. The Hindukush run across the country from north-east to south-west, with lower ranges radiating in all directions. The west and south are lowlands, while the east and southeast are foot hills to the mountains. Afghanistan's climate is influenced by the topography, with low rainfall of 23-37cm, except in the southwest where it is often less than 12cm. A major part of the precipitation is as snow. In the south and east this melts quickly, while in the mountains the snow cover lasts. Most of the precipitation usually falls between October and April. Afghanistan's rivers are fed by mountain streams. In the north is the Amu Darya, which receives water from the Pamirs, in the central part of the country is the Harirud that flows to the west/northwest to the border with Iran, and in the southwest is the Helmland river, which starts in the central Hindukush then passes through the southwest and passes into Iran. Afghanistan has a few, small lakes, and some salt marshes on the western border with Iran.

Besides the destruction of towns, villages, and infrastructure, continuous war since 1979 has also wreaked the following havoc:

  • Afghan fauna typically were animals well adapted to arid steppe or mountainous conditions. The wild asses and gazelles which roamed in herds across the steppes have been mostly exterminated. Their predators, cheetah and hyena, have thus also declined. Other predators such as the Turanian fox, the snow leopard, wolf, and lynx have almost been exterminated for their furs - not surprising in this decimated country where a single leopard fur can command $2,000 on the black market, a sum that can mean the difference between life and death. Animals in rugged and isolated areas, such as the Marco Polo sheep in the high mountains, have been slightly protected by their isolation.

  • Very large numbers of birds (the Siberian crane, flamingos, falcons, mallard, etc.) once flew through Afghanistan during their migration from Siberia to India and Africa, stopping at resting places in the Afghan lakes. Estimates are that these numbers have fallen by 85% due to the ongoing wars as they have chosen alternative migratory routes.

  • Much of Afghanistan's vegetation has been cleared for farming or destroyed in the war. Villagers and refugees have been cutting down trees for fuel for cooking and heating, others have been and are clear-cutting vast quantities of trees (pines, oak, cedar, walnut, etc.) for sale in neighboring countries. Much of south-east Afghanistan was once forested, but now less than 2% of the country is forested, and this is disappearing at an alarming rate.

  • Deforestation and the clearing of vegetation has greatly increased soil erosion by water and especially by wind. A drought that has lasted for several years has also exacerbated the situation. The small percent of good arable land has been losing its carrying capacity. Soil erosion has partially filled reservoirs with sediment, decreasing the ability to generate electricity. Existing irrigation tunnels have been damaged by bombing .

Thus we see that besides the people the very land has been ravaged by the years of war. Klaus Toepfer (Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Program - UNEP) in December '01 called for environmental issues to be part of any international recovery program for Afghanistan. As he stated so well, "A healthy environment is a prerequisite for sound and sustainable development. People can not secure real and sustainable economic development against a background of contaminated water, polluted land, and marginalized natural resources"

Mental Health Break

Frame of reference

Recently, while listening to the news and reading the papers, etc. (on the subject of offshore & ANWR drilling) this blogger was considering how people filter information based on their frame of reference, their prejudices, and their pre-conceived notions. Sometimes this results in both sides (in this case it was Obama- and McCain-supporters) talking past each other. While thinking about how this happens, this blogger suddenly remembered a small story that had occurred many, many years ago

At the time this blogger lived in Bombay (before it was renamed Mumbai). Every morning the garbage wallah would come to our front door on the fourth floor of our apartment building to pick up and physically cart away our garbage. He was a stooped and wizened figure, aged prematurely by what undoubtedly was a very harsh life. Occasionally his son, who looked to be between six and eight, would be with him - helping his father and learning the trade. The next generation of garbage wallah in the making, fated to be so by birth (see the blog entry "Caste" for some fulminations on the evils of this blight…) and by circumstance. We never really interacted in any meaningful way.

Then one day the garbage wallah rang our doorbell and hesitantly asked to speak to my father (note: he knew that my father worked for the national airline and had travelled abroad extensively). When my father arrived the garbage wallah apologized profusely for bothering him, but said that he had a very important question. With a hand trembling due to equal parts suppressed excitement and anticipation he pulled a piece of cloth out of an inner pocket, and cautiously unwrapped it to reveal a number of bills. Obviously he had found them in someone’s garbage, thought that Lady Luck had smiled upon him, and that he had hit the jackpot. He asked my father what they were worth. In vain my father tried to explain to him that this was Monopoly money, game money, play money, and not real currency. From his furrowed brow and demeanor it was obvious that he did not believe what he was hearing…. Slowly he re-wrapped the money, carefully tucked it away, and then with a final suspicious glance he left. I was left with the impression that he thought that we had tried to swindle him out of his good fortune!

The concept of ‘play money’ was not one that he could even conceive of. That some people might be so well off in life that they had ‘play money’ was something that he just couldn’t wrap his mind around, it was completely foreign to his frame of reference…

The lesson that this blogger took away from this is that one really should be well-read and well-informed, and that one should continuously strive to enlarge one’s frame of reference; and that if more people did this then perhaps we might talk to one other more often (rather than past one another).

Thursday, June 26, 2008

60 years later...

On June 26th Germans celebrated the sixtieth anniversary of "Operation Vittles" a.k.a the Berlin Airlift. When the Soviet Union blockaded West Berlin the U.S. and Britain began an airlift to supply food and fuel… Eleven months, 278,000 flights and 2.3 million tons of food later history had been made and the Soviet Union threw in the towel.

From this effort emerged many great stories and heroes, such as “Onkel Wackelflügel" (“Uncle Wiggly Wings” a.k.a. Gail Halvorsen) and the other “candy bombers.” Read the linked stories!

Gail Halvorsen – Wikipedia
Berlin Blockade - Wikipedia
The Berlin Airlift
The Berlin Airlift
Germany remembers Berlin airlift
A Firsthand Account of Post-War Berlin
Retired Col. Gail Halvorsen Berlin Airlift "Candy Bomber"
Germany remembers Berlin airlift on 60th anniversary

Wednesday, June 25, 2008


"China today consumes as much crude oil per person as the US did in 1905, before mass production of the Model-C Ford and long before the advent of the jet engine," points out Robin Batchelor, manager of BlackRock's BGF World Energy fund. "If China and India were to increase their consumption per person to current US levels, these two countries alone would require 160 million barrels per day, more than twice the world's supply of oil today."

Oil, the 21st Century boom

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Torture ok?

"A poll of 19 nations finds that in 14 of them most people favor an unequivocal rule against torture, even in the case of terrorists who have information that could save innocent lives. Four nations lean toward favoring an exception in the case of terrorists."

World Publics Reject Torture
Poll shows Turks OK with torture for terrorists

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Who (or what) is responsible for high oil prices?

There's much discussion going on re the reason for recent run up in world oil prices. At the summit in Saudi Arabia King Abdallah blamed speculators (amongst others) for the state of affairs. However, at the same summit U.S. Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman blamed the record oil prices on a lack of production. This blogger has also seen arguments by some that a significant portion of the run up in oil prices has been due to the fall in the value of the U.S. dollar. 

OK, given that the boffins and all these very smart people don’t seem to be able to articulate an explanation that is persuasive to all, this blogger certainly can’t answer the question, though he is inclined to believe that it is due to an amalgam of multiple reasons. 

The article linked below marshals arguments in support of the “speculation” theory of high oil prices. This may or may not be supported by the fact that the Presidential candidates are suddenly jumping on the “close the Enron loophole” bandwagon. Since this regulatory issue was pointed out in June of 2006 in a report (“The Role of Market Speculation in Rising Oil and Gas Prices: A Need to Put the Cop Back on the Beat”) to the United States Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations of the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, this blogger wonders why they waited until June of 2008 to show "leadership" by stating that they will (note future tense!) now do something about it. 

‘Perhaps 60% of today’s oil price is pure speculation’

Obama vows crackdown on energy speculators

Mental Health Break

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Some poll indicators

“The Angry Arab News Service” highlights a public opinion poll on leaders in Lebanon, with Nobody at 27.1 %, Hassan Nasrallah at 12%, Michel Aoun at 11.3%, Saad Hariri at 9.7%, Nabih Berri at 10.2 %, Michel Sleiman at 9.4%, Samir Geagea at 3.2, and Walid Jumblat at 2.9%.. Interesting that all of them except Berri (and Sleiman who did not figure in the earlier poll) have lost popularity from the previous poll in February 2006.

The Angry Arab News Service - Saturday, June 21, 2008

A public opinion poll conducted by the University of Maryland in conjunction with Zogby International in six countries (Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Morocco, Lebanon, and Jordan) asked questions re Iraq, Iran, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Lebanon, attitudes towards the United States, and which media they followed…

Of interest is that the most popular aspect of al-Qaeda is not its actions or even its ideology, but the mere fact that it is a force in opposition to the United States.

2008 Annual Arab Public Opinion Poll
Numbers game

Friday, June 20, 2008

Updates - Zimbabwe / Housing (Updated)

1. Zimbabwe:

This blogger commented on the situation in Zimbabwe in “Can it be?’ (April 2nd) with follow-ups in “News from this week” (April 19th, #2); “Updates” (May 10th #1); “How stupid can one be? (May 31st #7); and “Updates” (June 12th #2). The second round of elections are a week from today, June 27,th and the intimidation by the supports of the egomaniacal Mugabe continue full bore…

Zimbabwe's voters told: choose Mugabe or you face a bullet
“Only God can take away the power he has given me…” (French link)

Updated June 22nd: Morgan Tsvangirai, leader of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) announced that he is pulling out of Friday's presidential election run-off ...

Mugabe rival quits race
Tsvangirai pulls out of 'sham' Zimbabwe election
Zimbabwe poll: Key complaints

2. Housing:

This blogger also commented on the mortgage crisis in "Housing Stories" (April 5th) and "Housing Stories II" (May 6th). On June 19th The Department of Justice and Federal Bureau of Investigation announced “…today a national takedown of mortgage fraud schemes, the culmination of substantial coordinated efforts during the last three and a half months to identify, arrest and prosecute mortgage fraud violators through the United States. Operation Malicious Mortgage highlights the strong enforcement response undertaken by the Department of Justice and its law enforcement partners to combat the threat mortgage fraud poses to the U.S. housing industry and worldwide credit markets.”  

This blogger has been following the various housing-related stories via his local media (newspapers and TV), magazines, and on the web, looking for examples of the families “tricked” and “defrauded” into buying houses they could not afford, with very limited luck in finding any good examples. Presumably there are many out there, given that so many parties (“housing advocates”, politicians of all stripes, “community activists”, labor unions, etc.) keep insisting that there are all these victims out there who are losing their houses through absolutely no fault of their own. Finally, we should have some good examples, given this “operation.”

Unfortunately, having read in the region of fifty to sixty plus articles on “Operation Malicious Mortgage” this blogger couldn’t really tell if there is much “there” there. Half the articles focused on the Bear Stearns arrests although those really had nothing to do with this topic (being the garden variety “investment fund managers talking up their fund even though the fundamentals are going the wrong way”-type scam, the only connection to the mortgage crisis being that the underlying investment vehicle was subprime mortgages). Other mortgage fraud examples involved scams related to fleecing homeowners already in crisis (the bottomfeeders attempting to take advantage of folks in distress), etc. 

This blogger will keep an open mind on the subject but as of this moment is unpersuaded by the sob stories he has run across, and is still of the opinion that in cases where buyers purchased houses significantly more expensive than they could afford (via fraudulent representations of salary, etc.), the buyer should also be prosecuted for mortgage fraud along with the agents, loan originators, etc. 

Finally, some of the “victims” of the housing meltdown are showing some creativity in gaming the system, buying new homes and walking away from the old ones, thereby showing their true colors and that they are part of the problem and not part of the solution.

Housing Stories
Housing Stories II

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Campaign Finance

Senator Obama has demonstrated that he will not engage in “politics as usual” by becoming the first major party presidential candidate to opt not to take public funding in the general election, obviously in deep, deep sorrow at the fact that the current system is “broken” and manipulated by the Republicans, see “Important announcement from Barack.”

This blogger agrees that the current system needs reform. However, his suggested solution (originally formulated in March of 2002, see OPED20 Campaign Finance Reform) is probably not what most Democrats would support. Here for your reading pleasure (and please forgive this blogger from indulging in some hyperbole!), is a partial reprint:

OPED20 Campaign Finance Reform – 03/2002 (partial reprint):

Instead of fighting the "villain du jour" (today it is soft money, a few years ago it was Political Action Committees...) with restrictive and constitutionally questionable laws, we should ease restrictions on campaign financing but subject all financing to the light of day, a sort of Regulation FD for the political industry. The following is a suggested outline for a campaign reform system:

  • Raise hard money contribution limits to $20,000 per donor per phase of the election cycle (i.e. a donor could contribute up to $20,000 in the primary, and then $20,000 in the general election).
  • Cap soft money contributions at $100,000 per person or $500,000 per organization per phase of the election cycle. Thus the total amount of money an individual may contribute in aggregate would be $240,000 in a single year. There would be no exclusion for self-financed campaigns.
  • Every candidate would need to have a web site listing every contribution received with donor information. This would be the name and state of every individual donor, and the name of every organization (with industry classification and membership information, so that an organization can not be used as a front to avoid disclosing donors' names). Information for every contribution would have to be available on the web site within 24 hours of depositing donor checks. The web sites would be standardized so that they would be identical for all candidates, and would be indexed and searchable by amount, donor, state, organization, industry, etc. With immediate full disclosure, all sources of campaign funding would be fully transparent and available to interested individuals, the media, and the politicians' opponents (potentially to be used as a campaign issue...) To ensure compliance with the listing requirements, every infraction (no matter how small) would result in a $500,000 fine payable within 2 weeks. If the politician could not pay the fine within the deadline then he/she would be stricken from the poll.
  • All contributions to any post-election 'transition' activities and celebrations would be banned. While contributions to candidates can be considered 'at risk', contributions to the person who has won the election are more likely to be made to ensure 'access'. Being post-election this ban should avoid 'free speech' constitutionality problems.

NSA, DIA, CIA, and Mister MIA (updated)

Coming, courtesy of many of the same players that brought us the Military Commissions Act (parts of which were recently overruled by the SCOTUS), a one-sided “compromise” on surveillance and telecom immunity… Glenn Greenwald has the gory details of some of the worst parts of the bill, plus an expose of the Democratic leadership that has midwifed this monstrosity… Follow the links, unless you have just eaten!

George Bush's latest powers, courtesy of the Democratic Congress
Obama, telecoms and the Beltway system
Democrats Side With Republicans To Shield Telecoms 

OK, so where’s the candidate of “change”**? Perhaps he can start his quest to “end the current politics as usual”** … “by telling the truth – forcefully, repeatedly, confidently….”** with respect to this bill! This is… “a defining moment in history”,** … time to “stand up” **

Hello, hello, … ello, llo, lo, o, is anyone there? Oops, he’s MIA so far. Eventually a nicely crafted and critical statement will be forthcoming, very carefully calibrated to not contain any very strong language. Actual action? Not so much. Actually rallying the Democrats, reaching across the aisle to build coalitions with Republicans, showing real leadership? Nah, that would require him sticking his neck out!

** Note: trite and saccharine slogans copyright Obama’08

Updated June 20th:  This blogger was wrong - Senator Obama did not come out and criticize this "compromise" while doing nothing to oppose it. He criticized the compromise while saying he supports it and will work in the Senate to change the immunity portion. Don’t hold your breath!

Updated June 21st: Glenn Greenwald opines - Obama's support for the FISA "compromise"

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Real men of genius...

The State Department's Counterterrorism Center advises America's diplomats re language to use and what to avoid while discussing terrorists and terrorist acts... Language is important, and often, inadvertently, those attempting to condemn terrorism do so using language that supports the terrorist's paradigm...

Words that Work and Words that Don't: A Guide for Counterterrorism Communication

Hmm, so after more than six years (March 2008) the State Department geniuses at the CTC have figured out that the U.S. shouldn’t say things that enlarge the terrorists’ stature; that we shouldn’t appear to equate terrorism and Islam; that we should emphasize their criminal backgrounds and nature; etc. To crib an advertising jingle from Bud Light, here we have “real men of genius…”

Back in November 2001 this blogger made very similar observations, nothing amazing, just what seemed to be fairly ordinary common sense – see OPED1 reprint below:

OPED1 Hearts and Minds - the propaganda war (11/13/2001 reprint)

The war on terrorism that is under way is being fought on many fronts. Among these is the war of words or the war of ideas aimed at winning the hearts and minds of the public across the world, particularly that of the Arab "street". (Note: the term propaganda will be used through the rest of this article, to distinguish the war of words from the military action) The fundamental aims of this propaganda battle are to frame the situation as a war against terrorism, and to then gain support for the military war and the methods being employed in prosecuting the war. This propaganda war also needs to be fought on many fronts utilizing different methods depending on the context in which the engagement is taking place. For example, in Europe it is generally accepted that this is a war against terrorism so that propaganda efforts need to focus on maintaining a high level of support for the military action. Conversely, in the Muslim "street" the propaganda effort necessary is to ensure that this is seen as a war on terrorism and not a war on Islam as is argued by many enemies of the U.S.

The administration has seen the need to vigorously prosecute the propaganda battle and so has put together a team (Karen Rove, Charlotte Beers, etc.) to craft a consistent message for foreign audiences, especially in the Islamic world. Though this is a positive development improvements need to be made in the propaganda battle. This article is intended to proffer a few small suggestions as to how the propaganda war can be improved.

The first change that needs to be made involves a change in the rhetoric employed by our leaders. President Bush has been framing this as a war to save civilization. Prime Minister Blair has also been using similar apocalyptic terms. In his speech to the nation November 9th President Bush said "Our nation faces a threat to our freedoms, and the stakes could not be higher" and "We wage a war to save civilization, itself" Usama Bin Laden and his ilk are terrorists - criminals and murderers. The scope of their crimes may be immense, but they remain criminals and murderers. American civilization, Western civilization, our civilization is not threatened by their actions. To continually frame this as a war to save our civilization is to concede Usama Bin Laden a stature that he does not deserve, a stature that exists only in his fevered vision of the world. Our leaders need to stay on message - we are after criminals and mass murderers. This is how Usama Bin Laden and his Al Qaeda organization should always be referred to. Prime Minister Blair needs to stop traveling the world foolishly building up Bin Laden among the disaffected of the Islamic world by giving him the stature he aspires to. We also need to continually emphasize that while Bin Laden needs to pay for his crimes, that if his aim is to demolish our civilization his efforts are futile. Neither he, nor his organization, nor any other country or combination of countries can destroy our civilization!

Second, since we especially want the Islamic world to understand that this is a war against terrorists - criminals and murderers - and not a war against Islam we need to be sensitive to how some of our actions might appear to those inclined to this belief.

  • When members of the administration speak of terrorism and terrorists they shouldn't appear to equate terrorism only with Islam. Currently every mention of terrorism is accompanied by mention of Al Qaeda, Hamas, Hizbollah, etc., giving the incorrect impression that the US only cares about Islamic terror groups. Occasional mention of the many other terrorist groups (the LTTE, the IRA, the FARC, or any of the other dozens of groups that span the globe) that engage in criminal activities that effect the U.S. would help dispel this misconception.

  • Similarly when the FBI came out with its list of the Top 22 terrorists and the government published its first list of individual and groups whose financial assets were to be frozen these were exclusively Arab and Islamic. How hard would it have been to have a Top 25 with a few non-Islamic targets? Subsequent to the first list other non-Islamic individuals and groups have been added to the list and have had their assets frozen, why could they not have been on the initial lists?

The bottom line is that context and appearances also matter and that the propaganda war needs to be as finely calibrated as the military war.

Third, as mentioned above, the propaganda war needs to fought on many fronts. With former advertising executive and Undersecretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs Charlotte Beers having been assigned by the State Department to the task force that is coordinating communications and the propaganda war, presumably this will happen as marketing techniques (market segmentation, etc.) will be used to target the U.S. message. However, this needs to be supplemented with cultural understanding so that the message and the medium work in concert with and reinforce each other for maximum effect. An example of this would be the use of Al-Jazeera to broadcast our position to the "street". Several administration officials have appeared on Al-Jazeera shows to explain the position of the U.S. government e.g. U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, National Security Adviser Condoleeza Rice, former Ambassador to Syria Christopher Ross, etc. While to us Condoleeza Rice represents a triumph of the American spirit (first woman in this prestigious position) to the majority of the intended audience in the Middle East she represents a facet of America that they hate, hardly conducive to having the audience get beyond the messenger to listen to the message. The messenger and the message need to complement each other if either is to have an effect.

Finally, we also need to use as many non-U.S. messengers as is possible to supplement the message. Examples could include Bosnian Muslim leaders e.g. Alia Izetbegovich, Muslim Kosovar leaders, etc. who could speak to the fact that the U.S. has fought on behalf of Muslims, relatives of Muslims that were killed in the attacks on the World Trade Center, Muslim clerics that will speak against violence, etc.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008


"... Russert's death at 58 is a sad occasion. Yet is it of such importance and momentum that his network, the other networks, and newspapers should continue to salute, remember, and otherwise memorialize him?.... I wonder whether the media grievers gave a moment of thought to how this Russert torrent they produced played with viewers and readers. Did the grievers really think Russert was so important, so vital to the nation's course, and such an elevated human being that he deserved hour upon hour of tribute? I wonder whether any of the responsible journalists paused to think, Hey, this is really weird. We're using our unchecked editorial power to soak the nation with our tears about our friend, and that's unseemly!"
The Canonization of Saint Russert

HH Tekel

In April this blogger parsed Pope Benedict XVI's "apology" for the sexual abuse of children by the clergy, "Well Said?!?", and found it wanting....

Now apparently a documentary on Father Marcial Maciel looks at a particular pedophile... Quote (from The Daily Dish) "... More to the point: Maciel's abuse was known to Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI for years, and they did nothing about it. The Maciel case is important because it reveals the current and former Pope to be knowing, conscious protectors of a child abuser and shows how the sick sexual dysfunction at the heart of the Catholic hierarchy was abetted and fomented at the very, very top...."

Benedict, John Paul II, And Child Abuse

Monday, June 16, 2008


Condoleezza Rice, U.S. Secretary of State, made an unannounced stop in Lebanon today, where she let slip this profundity:

"Obviously in any compromise there are compromises"

Rice blesses Hezbollah power-sharing government


Recently an incident has raised the temperature between Washington D.C. and Islamabad. Pakistan claimed that the U.S. bombed and killed 11 of its troops at an outpost along the Afghan-Pakistani border… The U.S. denied this and claimed that those targeted and killed were Taliban fleeing into Pakistan after carrying out a cross-border raid. The Pentagon then released Predator video to “prove” their version of events. Much was made of the fact that the video was “clear that there are no military structures or outposts in the impact area...” OK, clear.

Subsequently it turns out that the Air Force's official records of combat action for the date in question say that a B-1 bomber and two F-15 fighter-bombers dropped laser- and satellite-guided bombs on "anti-coalition members in the open and in buildings in the vicinity of Asadabad." Oops. Now the Pentagon says that perhaps the Predator video is “incomplete” and a Pentagon spokesman “… conceded there may have been another strike that occurred outside the view of the drone's camera…” An investigation is ongoing.

OK, so it is understandable that mistakes happen, regrettable incidents occur, etc. Fog of war and all that. What you do is apologize, study the record to ascertain what happened and what lessons can be learned to avoid repeats, etc., etc. As has happened on multiple occasions, the Pentagon’s first reflex after any error is to deny everything, then to deny everything, then to partially admit the possibility of an error (if the evidence becomes irrefutable) while obfuscating the issue, but never to forthrightly admit that an error has been made. This is a clear pattern over many incidents over many years. OPED 21 from March 2002 went through one incident, reprinted below:

Pakistan airstrike video may be incomplete, Pentagon says

March 2002 OPED21 "Straight talk" on Hazar Qadam (reprint)

Defense Secretary Rumsfeld has the reputation of a man who tells it as it is, and has achieved an almost cult status for his daily briefings at the Pentagon. This is due to his giving the unvarnished facts e.g. "... we would really like to kill them..." However, his folksy, semi-candid delivery shouldn't be mistaken for full candor and a willingness to tell the complete story, especially when it might be embarrassing to the administration.

The DoD's first reflex after any error is to deny everything, then to deny everything, then partially admit the error (if the evidence becomes irrefutable) while obfuscating the issue, but never to forthrightly admit that an error has been made. Rumsfeld has done the same, albeit in a very entertaining manner. A prime example of this reflex is what transpired following the raid on Hazar Qadam.

  • January 23rd US forces attacked two compounds at Hazar Qadam, a district of Oruzgan town. Pentagon spokeswomen Victoria Clark said a AC-130 gunship (picture above) strafed and destroyed a cache of arms and ammunition after special forces killed 15 Taliban fighters and captured 27, including "relatively senior" Taliban. "We have been watching this facility for a while", said Admiral Stufflebeem. US forces expected to capture Al Qaeda in the raid and were surprised to find Taliban and an ammunition cache. A defense official said "That is an area where Omar (Ed note: Mullah Mohammed Omar, the leader of the Taliban) reportedly has been."
  • Within days locals were giving a different story, that those killed and captured were allies of Afghan government leader Hamid Karzai, there defending a cache of weapons surrendered by Taliban. One of the 'compounds' was a school, the other an administrative building.
  • "We take great care to ensure we are engaging confirmed Taliban or Al Qaeda facilities," Maj. Bill Harrison, an U.S. Central Command spokesman, said. "As a result of this mission, we detained 27 individuals, and believe that our forces engaged the intended target."
  • On different occasions Pentagon spokesman Major Mike Halbig said the descriptions of events by the Afghans "don't fit with any of the information we have", and that he found it hard to believe that US special forces would make this sort of mistake given the procedures they follow when undertaking operations. A Kandahar-based army spokesman said suggestions that pro-government forces were wrongly attacked are "not consistent with our intelligence".
  • Lt. Col. Jim Yonts, spokesman for the US Central Command in Tampa, said, "It doesn't add up. We don't know anything about any attack on a school. We don't have anything that supports that claim."
  • Admiral Stufflebeem said that he had seen no reports that the detainees still being held and interrogated had corroborated the locals' story. "There have been no indications that support this... assertion from the other locals."
  • Later "senior military officials" told the Associated Press that some of those killed, but not all, might have been loyal to the new government and that the individuals captured and killed including persons of mixed political loyalties.
  • February 4 DefSec Donald Rumsfeld acknowledged that "friendly" Afghan forces might have been killed during the raid.
  • February 5th Afghan interim government leader Hamid Karzai described the raid as "a mistake of sorts" resulting from "an unfortunate movement of people at the wrong time". He said that the US acknowledged the mistake and offered financial compensation. Capt. Timothy Taylor, a Pentagon spokesman, declined to comment on Karzai's remarks.
  • February 6th the detainees were handed over to officials of the Afghan interim government. Several claimed that they had been mistreated - beaten and kicked with fists and guns. Maj. Ralph Mills, a spokesman for Central Command, maintained, "The release of the detainees isn't an admission that we made a mistake."
  • Rumsfeld said that the detainees handed over to the Afghan government officials were criminals and that the Afghans had taken them into custody.
  • Pentagon officials acknowledge that an investigation had been begun. "When the people you associate with over there... bring up the question, you're obligated to look at it, so that's what we are doing," said General Richard Meyers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Rumsfeld said "it is true that there are Afghan factions... that don't get along. It is true that that people say things in ways that... they feel might advantage them." The DefSec said it was "perfectly possible to go on a raid... get shot at, shoot back, and end up having someone say 'those people were Taliban' and somebody else say that 'those were people we were engaging in our local government' and both can be true in as confused a situation as it is..."
  • Feb 21st at a DoD news briefing DefSec Rumsfeld and General Myers admitted that there was a mistake, sort of... Speaking of the compounds Rumsfeld said "They were observed, we are told, over a period of several weeks. The signature and the intelligence information that was gathered over these several weeks were persuasive and compelling." "I think the way to characterize it is that there -- it is -- it appears to the people who reported to me that in fact these individuals were not Taliban or Al Qaeda..." In response to the question "Since these people were not Al Qaeda and were not Taliban, would you say in retrospect that the raid was a mistake?" Rumsfeld answered, "I do not think it is a mistake for people to observe carefully and make a judgment about behavior on the ground, and then make a calculation that there is compelling evidence of Taliban or Al Qaeda activity, but not sufficiently compelling to use air power, instead to go in on the ground, I think that is certainly no mistake. and once going in on the ground, it seems to me no mistake at all, if you're fired on to fire back..." Q: "In your review of this, you say you're looking back for the lessons learned. Where, then, is the error in the persuasive and compelling information that you said..?" Rumsfeld: "I don't think it is an error. I think it's just a fact that circumstances on the ground in Afghanistan are difficult. It's untidy" Q: "Because there's a lot of people, then, who were innocents here that were killed. What is happening --" Rumsfeld: "Well, wait a second. They fired -- let's not call them "innocents". We don't know quite what they were. They were people who fired on our forces"
  • In a March press conference General Franks refused to admit that there had been an intelligence failure - "I am satisfied that, while unfortunate, I will not characterize it as a failure of any type."

OK, so mistakes can happen under the best of circumstances, let alone in the morass that is Afghanistan. When they do occur they need to be acknowledged and the appropriate lesson learned so that they are not repeated. The Afghans know what happened, they were there. And reportedly the CIA has apologized and paid $1,000 to each of the families who lost members in this raid. So the only people being kept in the dark by attempts to obfuscate are the U.S. public. Since the truth will eventually out, why risk diluting one's credibility? This would seem to violate one of Rumsfeld's Rules (PDF file) - 'You and the White House staff must be and be seen to be above suspicion. Set the right example.' Folksy and fun Rumsfeld's press conferences may be, but there should be a suspicion that he is not being entirely candid....

US releases captives from 'mistaken' raid

Swiss police to the rescue?!?

“NEUCHÂTEL | 10h44 La conseillère communale neuchâteloise a crié au secours depuis la fenêtre de son domicile samedi matin, victime des coups reçus de la part de son compagnon.

La police cantonale est intervenue samedi matin à Neuchâtel au domicile de la conseillère communale Valérie Garbani. Cette dernière criait à sa fenêtre en petite tenue, paniquée par les coups reçus de la part de son compagnon.

Une patrouille de police a été dépêchée sur les lieux à la suite d´un appel d´un particulier incommodé par les cris, a indiqué lundi Pascal Lüthi, porte-parole de la police cantonale. Il a confirmation les informations publiées dans les quotidiens "L´Express" et "L´Impartial".

Selon Pascal Lüthi, l´intervention policière a été brève. Les agents ont fait refermer la fenêtre et demandé à la conseillère communale de cesser de vociférer. Le conseiller d´Etat en charge de la police, Jean Studer, a été consulté sur la manière d´informer les médias.

Lors de l´intervention, les agents n´ont pas enregistré de plainte, a précisé le porte-parole. Personne n´a dénoncé le scandale public, pas plus que la conseillère communale n´a porté plainte contre l´auteur des coups. Ce dernier est le compagnon dont Valérie Garbani avait déjà évoqué le comportement violent.


"The Neuchatelois communal counselor called for help from the window of her home Saturday morning, victim of blows received from her companion.

The cantonal police intervened Saturday morning in Neuchatel at the home of communal advisor Valerie Garbani. She had been crying out at her window, panicked by blows received from her companion. A police patrol was sent to the location following the complaint of someone inconvenienced by the cries, according to Pascal Luthi, cantonal police spokesman. He confirmed information published in the dailies L’Express and L’Impartial.

According to Luthi the police intervention was very brief. The police shut the window and asked the communal advisor to stop shouting."

Apparently due to “these scandals related to her personal problems” this woman is showing herself unsuited for elected office! Unbelievable! 

La vie privée de Valérie Garbani refait du bruit

Sunday, June 15, 2008

A sovereign remedy

Highly recommended by this blogger for headaches – take a couple of ibuprofen (or aspirin, or Tylenol), slap on some balm, and things get better… Hats off to Aw Chu Kin for coming up with this product!

Zardari, Sharif, and Musharraf

Enough time has passed since the death of Benazir Bhutto that Pakistan has mostly slipped out of the limelight, with the exception of when activities flare up along the Pakistan – Afghanistan border. Not wanting Musharraf ousted the administration is content to having him hang on, even if that means not supporting the reinstatement of the judges that Musharraf ousted. The administration is in the wrong here… Rule of law, and all that...

Snake vs. Tiger!
In Pakistan, protesters stream into the capital in support of ousted judges

Good grief

Reaffirming its ban on the ordination of female priests, the secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith told Vatican Radio that the church did "not feel authorized to change the will of its founder, Jesus Christ." Per the article he also mentioned a 2,000 year tradition. Tradition, sure thing; will of Jesus Christ, huh?!?

Vatican Asserts Rule That Bars Female Priests

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Swimming "downhill"

In time for the Beijing Olympics, Speedo introduced a new swim suit in February 2008. The LZR swimsuit is a technological wonder – a high-tech light and strong fabric that molds the swimmers body to improve ‘shape’, has no seams, and greatly reduces drag – that has caused controversy for allegedly giving its users a technological advantage. However it has been approved by the sport’s governing body (FINA - the Fédération Internationale de Natation) and is being widely used e.g. of 42 world records set since February 38 have been by swimmers using the LZR. Other swimwear manufacturers are being forced to go back to the drawing board, while swimmers on national teams that can not use Speedos (for example, due to national contracts with other swimwear manufacturers e.g. the Japanese and German swimmers…) are in revolt…

"Tech doping"? How Speedo's LZR suit breaks swim records
How the Speedo LZR swim suit works

Justice, the MCA, and Boumediene

This Thursday the Supreme Court in a 5-4 decision ruled that the alleged terrorists being held at the U.S. military prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba have a constitutional right to challenge their detentions in federal courts. 

View the links for analysis. Two initial thoughts: 1) The narrow margin of the decision, 5 to 4, shows how the results of the upcoming Presidential election are so very important, since the next President will get to nominate one (or more) SCOTUS justices… 2) This is being portrayed as a defeat and rebuke to President Bush. However, the Military Commissions Act that was the subject of this ruling passed the House and Senate handily, 253-168 and 65-34 respectively. Perhaps some of the bill’s backers need to feel some electoral heat!

Boumediene et al. v. Bush et al. (Supreme Court opinion pdf)
Boumediene articles/discussions on Opinio Juris
Justices: Gitmo detainees can challenge detention in U.S. courts
Supreme Court restores habeas corpus, strikes down part of MCA
Graham: Amend Constitution to overturn court's ruling
Obama, McCain Respond to Guantanamo Bay Ruling
More SCOTUS reax

H.R. 6166: Military Commissions Act of 2006
U.S. Senate Roll Call Votes 109th Congress – S.3930

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Updates (updated 6/14)

1. How stupid can one be? Answer: Very #4 mentioned that President Bush and Nuri al-Maliki were trying to nail down a last minute “Status of Forces Agreement” on the QT… This has now run into major opposition in Iraq while in the U.S. there has been criticism from the Democrats, who insist that any agreement should be approved by the Congress. From McClatchy
“… On Capitol Hill, top Democrats and Republicans complain that Bush is rushing the negotiations to try to tie his successor's hands. A spokesman for Obama (D-Ill) said any long-term U.S. security commitment to Iraq must be subject to Congressional approval; alternatively the administration should seek an extension of the current UN mandate. Obama wants a new administration to make it "absolutely clear that the United States will not maintain permanent bases in Iraq," said spokesman Bill Burton….”
Hmm, exactly what is preventing Senator Obama from forthrightly declaring that if he is elected he will repudiate and declare null and void any last-minute agreement by President Bush, thereby rendering it moot? Oh yeah, that would require him sticking his neck out!

Iraq PM: security deal talks at dead end
Iraqi lawmakers reject security draft pact
Iraqis Condemn American Demands
SOFA down, but is it out?
SOFA update
Iraq's Grand Ayatollah warns from uprising against US security pact
Iraq officials question need for U.S. troop presence
U.S. security talks with Iraq in trouble in Baghdad and D.C.

2. In April Can It Be? wondered if there was a faint hope that the odious President Mugabe had reached the end of the road. With the second round of voting in Zimbabwe scheduled for the 27th of this month this prospect now looks bleaker. A crackdown on the opposition MDC, violence directed at those who do not support the regime, arrests of MDC leaders amid accusations of treason, NGOs being prevented from carrying out charitable works in Zimbabwe, food aid to Zimbabwe being directed only to Mugabe supporters, etc. , all of these don’t bode well for the future of the country. Meanwhile, most regional “leaders” remain quiet…

The Lion Who Didn't Roar
Mugabe warns of war if defeated
The Reign of Thuggery

Update 06/14:  "The men who pulled up in three white pickup trucks were looking for Patson Chipiro, head of the Zimbabwean opposition party in Mhondoro district. His wife, Dadirai, told them he was in Harare but would be back later in the day, and the men departed.  An hour later they were back. They grabbed Mrs Chipiro and chopped off one of her hands and both her feet. Then they threw her into her hut, locked the door and threw a petrol bomb through the window."

Robert Mugabe's militia burn opponent’s wife alive

3. Hereux anniversaire aux Schtroumpfs (50eme) noted the celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Smurfs. Apparently now “…Columbia Pictures and Sony Pictures Animation are bringing a live-action/animated "Smurfs" project to the bigscreen…”

Col, SPA send 'Smurfs' to bigscreen

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Prison planet...

"Statistics released today by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, a branch of the US Department of Justice, show that as of June 30, 2007, approximately 2.3 million persons were incarcerated in US prisons and jails, an all-time high. This represents an incarceration rate of 762 per 100,000 US residents, the highest such rate in the world. By contrast, the United Kingdom’s incarceration rate is 152 per 100,000 residents; the rate in Canada is 108; and in France it is 91."

A horrible datum point, the report says that "...the new statistics also show large racial disparities, with black males incarcerated at a per capita rate six times that of white males. Nearly 11 percent of all black men ages 30 to 34 were behind bars as of June 30, 2007." One wonders if a President Obama would start to move the dial on this?!?

Miscellaneous Obama-related items...

1. Rue89 asks why Barack Obama is considered black, (in French) see:

2. A San Francisco journalist wonders if he is "an enlightened being."

3. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-IL) hyperventilated/hyperbolized, and managed to turn what is certainly an important milestone in U.S. history into the second coming of Christ, saying "What Barack Obama has accomplished is the single most extraordinary event that has occurred in the 232 years of the nation’s political history. ... The event itself is so extraordinary that another chapter could be added to the Bible to chronicle its significance.”

Black lawmakers emotional about Obama's success

4. "Germans are intoxicated by Barack Obama's political message."

5. When this blogger received his latest Economist it had this cover:

This blogger was worried that the folks at The Economist might also have gone off the rails... They say:

"Both candidates have their flaws and their admirable points; the doughty but sometimes cranky old warrior makes a fine contrast with the inspirational but sometimes vaporous young visionary. Voters now have those five months to study them before making up their minds (and The Economist will be doing the same). But, on the face of it, this is the most impressive choice America has had for a very long time."

Aargh, how could they believe that a McCain/Obama matchup is the best the U.S. has to offer?? This blogger hopes their emphasis is on the the "very long time" modifier, that they are simply indulging in some mild hyperbole, and that they continue to put out the single best magazine available!

America at its best

6. There are some skeptics out there, see links below:

Is Obama running for the office of Chief Shaman?
The Obama Craze: Count Me Out

Saturday, June 7, 2008

To the rescue?

Annie Jacobsen,
writer about aviation security and homeland security, reports that “America is finally showing interest in adopting Israel's approach to airline safety which looks for bombers, not bombs — and won't confiscate your tiny bottles of shampoo,” see article below.

Israeli-Style Airport Security Coming to U.S.?

While, no doubt, there are lessons to be learned from Israel in this area, simply attempting to copy their methods is futile, as this blogger wrote up in 2002, see reprint below:

01/08/2002 OPED 7 Israel – Lessons to learn?

What lessons can be learned from Israel and El Al? Following 9/11 many articles have appeared in the press unfavorably comparing US airport screening and airline security with that of El Al, the Israeli airline. A similar message has been common from television pundits. It is true that that the security screening at US airports has been abysmally poor. It is also true that El Al's security is the 'best' in the business, and certain practices such as passenger profiling, the use of armed air marshals, the checking of every bag for explosives and subjecting them to decompression, the use of a professional security staff, etc. should be adopted here in the US. However, even if the will existed to adopt the same methods here in the US it is not at all obvious that it would be possible to successfully scale up El Al's security from the relatively small number of passengers that they need to screen to what would be necessary in the much larger US market. The following figures give an idea of the relative sizes of the two endeavors:

In 1999 El Al carried 1.14 million passengers worldwide, while (in 2000) US domestic airlines had some 650 million passenger emplanements. In the US in 1998 1,903 million people were screened at US airports (of whom 660 were arrested for firearms violations, and 86 for giving false information).

Thus the two tasks are magnitudes apart, something that is not addressed by any of these commentators. Additionally, given the 'hardening' of this target, terrorists wishing to strike Israel have simply shifted their terrorist actions to easier targets e.g. suicide bombers targeting discos, marketplaces, and other places where groups of people assemble.... Terrorists have penetrated Israel in spite of all the countermeasures in place. Israel's borders are 1,006 km long, the borders of the US are 12,248 km in length and in 2000 they were transited by:

489 million people (142 million by airline from overseas)
127 million passenger vehicles and 11.6 million maritime containers
11.5 million trucks and 202 million rail cars
829,000 planes and 211,000 vessels

During debate prior to the passage of the Airline Safety Act of 2001 there were differences between Democrats & Republicans, and between the House and the Senate regarding the 'federalization' of airport screening personnel. Disagreements were voiced about who could run this function most efficiently, government workers or the private sector. Unfortunately this debate was missing the point. Given the magnitude of the numbers above it is clear that while US airports and the US border need to be controlled to a greater degree than is the case at present, security can not be brought about by mere inspection but needs to be part of a larger system in depth.... Arguing back and forth about who can run this process the most efficiently is a sterile debate... unless airport and border security and screening are part of a much larger and systematic approach to security, the problems of 9/11 can happen again....

Note: Annie Jacobsen's claim to "fame" results from her claim to have witnessed a terrorist 'dry run' on Northwest flight NW 327 in 2004. Some consider her a nutjob. This blogger has no idea re what happened, but is not particularly impressed by this recent article...

The human spirit

Amazing, how in the worst of circumstances the human spirit asserts itself. A couple of examples:

1. Devastated by its civil war (that ended in 1996), Liberia's transportation system was in shambles. Most of the railways had closed and much of the track was dug up and sold as scrap. However, in a testament to the indomitable human spirit the "Make-a-way" sprung up. A NPR report from February 2002 brought the story to light… “… there’s even a union for the Makeaway employees and it pays the Make-a-way’s inventor a monthly royalty for his idea…” Amazing!

2. In Baghdad a group of guys inspired by Metallica and other bands start their own heavy metal band, Acrassicauda. A movie has been made about their story – conditions under Saddam, playing in the post-Saddam era, their flight to Syria and then Turkey…

Friday, June 6, 2008

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Hereux anniversaire aux Schtroumpfs (50eme)

“Depuis ce vendredi matin, Liège est la sixième ville européenne (après Angoulême, La Haye, Gand, Milan et Erlangen en Allemagne) à fêter le 50e anniversaire des Schtroumpfs, les célèbres personnages de bande dessinée créés en 1958 par le Bruxellois Pierre Culliford, alias Peyo.”

Effective Friday morning, Liege became the sixth European city to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Smurfs (note: “Schtroumpfs” in French), the personalities celebrated in the comic strip created in 1958 by Belgian (inhabitant of Brussels) Pierre Culliford, also known as ‘Peyo.’