Saturday, May 29, 2010

Malawi (small East African country) pardons two men from gay-related offenses

The president of Malawi has pardoned two men from convictions for anti-gay laws that would have resulted in 14-year prison sentences. The solicitor general of the country, Anthony Kamanga, announced the pardon May 29. The prosecutions had been brought after a public engagement ceremony, and the men were subjected to “medical” examinations. Homosexual acts are a crime in over 30 African countries, with recent anti-gay legislation proposed in Uganda attracting much attention.

CNN has a story today on this matter here.

The country has borders with Tanzania, Zambia, and Mozambique.

Wikipedia attribution link for Malawi-Lilongwe map

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Intelligences analysts are more concerned about Internet "recruitment", lone wolf operations, less about big cells (CNN, TWT)

The Washington Times has a cover story on Thursday May 27, on how the Internet is being used as a “tool” by radical Islam to “recruit” within the United States. The government reportedly monitors the use of English language versions of “jihadist” websites, but must follow the legal principle of “probable cause” in identifying, monitoring and pursuing specific Internet users. The detailed report in the Washington Times is by Eli Lake, with link here.

Of course, the principle of “free entry” for Internet and social media users, with often lax terms of service, may facilitate “recruitment” or might promote the use of steganography, where ordinary websites are hacked to deliver secret orders. This was more a concern right after 9/11 than it seems to be now.

Carol Cratty has a story on CNN about the number of attempted “attacks” within the US homeland on a smaller scale by “amateurs” who had become radicalized, often within the US or West, and traveled to Pakistan or Afghanistan for “training”. The trend is disturbing, and could become a more serious issue for ordinary Americans in less protected settings. The link is here.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The "cartoon controversy" indeed leads to a slippery slope

I found a link from a Facebook friend to a new Wordpress blog by “Shortshrifts”, with a very challenging perspective, “Why I am Posting Images of Muhammad on ‘Everyone Draw Muhammed Day’”. The link is here.

Yes, there are two spellings in that title. But what’s more interesting is that this is looks like a first blog post for the author, who seems not identified.

But his argument is great. The kernel of what he says is this: “Part of being a mature adult is understanding that for better or worse, not everyone accepts your religious scruples—particularly rules that don’t involve one person actively harming another. In fact, such rules can often appear rather eccentric to outsiders. If you can’t understand this and choose to become aggressively “offended” or “radicalized” when outsiders disobey, then you are part of the problem and you need to grow up. It is not our job to keep you in an artifical infancy at the cost of our own free speech.” It sounds hard to rebut this argument.

"Taking easy offense" does get to an indivisible particle in the moral mindset of some religious thought. Some people don’t respect individual “freedom” because they see it as having come at someone else’s hidden expense. They see a world of virtue which works and provides stability and “meaning” only if everybody shares the same obligations and same risks, and identifies with the social and religious structure. If that universal “meaning” is required of everyone, then the commitments demanded of everyone “make sense”.

Western society has indeed decided to emphasize individual choice and the idea that consequences should follow choices, even if that isn’t always perfectly fair or doesn’t support someone’s scripturally defined paradigm of meaning. In the world of radical Islam, the idea that the concept of a particular prophet cannot be defiled adds to meaning, but so would the idea that everyone fits into the family according to prescribed gender roles. Even more subtle but revealing is that everyone owes emotional loyalty to his or her family and “tribe” and religious value set than to his ability to think for and figure out things for himself. This mindset needs absolute measuring sticks of morality and it needs its use of shame.

Shortshrifts is certainly right in that giving into bullies on this one thing (images of Muhammad) starts a slippery slope.  The need to write about giving into bullies "sometimes" certainly sounds compelling. I remember when growing up, a quandary over whether to ignore an offense and not give it credibility, or assume that it will get worse if I don’t “hit back”. That dichotomy seemed to follow the tension between functioning as an individual and functioning as a member of a group.

All religions have to deal with this problem.

Wikipedia has a detailed explanation of the Jyllands-Posten Muhammad cartoons controversy, here.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

European economic crisis combines with demographics: early retirements, fewer workers, fewer children

In a series called “Payback Time”, Steven Erlganger provides, for the first page of the New York Times on Sunday May 23, “Europeans fear crisis threatens liberal benefits”, link here.

The thrust of the article is to map the problems of the current financial and Euro crisis (especially with the poorer or more debt-ridden countries including Greece) to changing demographics. The article has a time graph presenting the “inconvenient truth” of what the right wing calls demographic winter: the ratio of people working to people of a retirement age (64+) keeps decreasing in almost every country. Even pro-natal efforts to provide paid family leave (common in Europe at birth) and child subsidies has some limits in effectiveness in reversing the drop in population in certain groups.

The other major issue is retirement age. In Sweden and Switzerland, only 70% of people work past 50, and in France the official retirement age is still 60. Obviously this has to change, country by country.

On Monday May 24, The Washington Times offered a long commentary by Dr. Robert N. Butler and Michael W. Hodin, "Debt and the demographics of agingKeeping elderly productive is key to defusing entitlement time bomb", link here.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Taliban warps "family values" in a horrifying way in Afghanistan

Joshua Partlow has a horrifying story about civilian life in Kandahar and many parts of Afghanistan, “A city of hunters and hunted: a grisly Taliban campaign in Kandahar targets those who support U.S. efforts,” on the front page of the Washington Post, March 22, here.

The story reports about the targeting of family members (including parents and siblings) of people who work for the legitimate government or for security forces in the area. The activity sounds a lot like the drug cartel activity in border towns with Mexico. But some of the activity may relate to old family or tribal grudges.

The whole problem sounds like a warping of “family values” (or of the “natural family” concept) where “family honor” becomes and end in itself that men live for.

Remember, the "Taliban" has been implicated in the Faisal Shahzad incident, although that was supposedly the Pakistani Taliban.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

North Korea threatens war as submarine incident heats up; Pakistan bans some social media

John Sudworth has a story on BBC news “How South Korean ship was sunk”. The reporter writes “But for now, one thing seems to be beyond reasonable doubt, the Cheonan was sunk by North Korea, and South Korea has the evidence to prove it.” The link is here.

There are theories that North Korea is retaliating for earlier incidents, but on Thursday morning (May 20), North Korea was reported to be threatening all out war with South Korea, if South Korea retaliates.

During the Clinton years, the possibility of a second Korean War was one of the most important security issues, as it would have demanded many more troops than had the 1991 Persian Gulf War and lasted much longer, renewing the debate on the draft. At the time, the threat of radical Islam and Al Qaeda may not have been as prominent in national security thinking (despite the incidents in 1998). That was indeed how I thought during the time I was writing my first DADT book.

CNN’s video follows:

Also today, Pakistan is reported to have banned both Facebook and YouTube in the country, because of “insults” to Mohammed and unrest. That’s the kind of thinking that drives a more authoritarian society: don’t accept the generation of threats. See how well that holds up.

Wikipedia attribution link for NASA image of Korean peninsula.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Obama administration takes ambivalent position toward opposition in Malaysia, with trumped up anti-gay charge

The Washington Post on Wednesday May 19 has a curious editorial about the trial of Malaysian leader Anwar Ibrahim, who stands accused of consensual homosexual acts in violation of religious-based law. The link is here.

According to the editorial, it seems that the charge is trumped up by leader Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak, whom apparently the Obama administration is courting.

Anwar had been sentenced to prison for a similar charge in 1998, after which a Malaysian court said he had been coerced. He is seen as a leading exponent of democratic reform and opponent of radical Islam, and a potential resource in dealing with repressive measures from China.

When why is the Obama administration so indifferent? It’s a bit of a puzzlement, as Obama at the same time has to make progress in gay rights at home and try to overturn “don’t ask don’t tell.”

Wikipedia attribution link for map of Malaysia

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Europe will have to write a new "social contract" as part of rescue package (for Greece, etc)

Howard Schneider has a front page story in the Washington Post on May 11, “A new reality for the old world: Europe must rewrite social contract as price of $1 trillion lifeline”. The online title is kinder and gentler, “Europe rewrites its rule book in creating fund to contain financial crisis”, link here.

The article mentions the effect of unions, lifelong welfare benefits, and particularly an aging population with fewer children in some countries (although France and others have tried to beef up maternity and paternity benefits). We all know that Phillip Longman will laugh at the use of “social contract” in a newspaper headline this way, as he sees it as an obligation towards other generations that every individual shares, regardless of having children (dealing with the need for an incentive to take the risk in having children again). Even in Europe, families may have to take care of their own more again.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Lieberman proposes expatriating those who aid terrorists; sounds way overbroad

Senator Joseph Lieberman’s (I-CT) bill to take away citizenship to those who aid and abet terrorists is drawing quick criticism from constitutional scholars and from columnists, as in a piece by David Cole in the Washington Post on Saturday May 8, link here?

Some Democrats (Pelosi, Hillary Clinton) support it with lukewarm soap, and Republican Senator Scott Brown gave it an accolade. The Secretary of States (Hillary) would have the power to name the names.

One problem is that aiding and abetting could cut a wide swath, unless you restrict it to those who travel to camps overseas. I had written about this problem in my second book “Do Ask Do Tell: When Liberty Is Stressed” (2002), and gotten an angry reaction by email from one reader. He wrote a rambling rant including this comment “Saddam is a terrible man who killed hundreds of his own citizens. He used chemical weapons to kill hundreds of thousands or millions of Iranians. We have descended upon Iraq like a plague, causing the death of one in thirty-five. Is that part of the price that you are willing to pay for your security from terrorism? Would Christ say that your security was more important than peace? “

Lieberman has made some very constructive proposals, like ending "don't ask don't tell".  This is not one of them.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Legislator and mayor from France argues against a fundamental right to wear a veil in public

Jean Francois Cope, from the French National Assembly and mayor of Meaux, France, has an interesting op-ed ("Tearing Away the Veil") in the New York Times on May 5 arguing why wearing of the veil or buraq (or niqab) in public should be forbidden. The link for the op-ed is here.

He argues that the veil hides identity and therefore covers up any opportunity for “responsibility”. One can understand that there is a security issue (speak in the “royal we”). But his argument sounds a lot like the recent arguments condemning over reliance on anonymity on the Internet, as a way to shield responsibility for possible libel against others.

This is an interesting piece on “fundamental rights.”

Monday, May 3, 2010

Times Square incident is a little bit like an Alfred Hitchcock mystery film

The investigation of the attempted explosion in Times Square Saturday seems to get more bizarre, with stories about the mark van having been bought without paperwork in Connecticut; supposedly that's easy to do now. The latest CNN story is here. There seems to be a trail of camera photos both around Times Square and in CT worthy of the ABC show “Flash Forward”.

What seems interesting, or disturbing, is the ambiguity of the evidence so far. It seems like a “lone wolf” operation, possibly abetted by information from jihadist websites, except that some of the same information could probably be found in public libraries in print. There are stories, without much credibility, of Taliban groups claiming responsibility, which makes little sense since the Taliban is a local religious theocratic group, not a international combatant organization like Al Qaeda.

I had just made a one day train trip to Manhattan April 15, but was only in lower Manhattan and around the Yankee Stadium area. But I recall how Times Square had changed, to look Disney-like, when I was in the area in October 2001 (I didn’t get there for my 2004 visit either). I lived in NYC in the Village from 1974-1978.

There's no evidence that the crime used anything but "ordinary" explosives, but it's too easy to imagine a radiological dispersion device.

The incident started when a T-shirt vendor told police of his observation. "See something, say something."

Larry King Live will examine the issue of identifying the supposed suspects on CNN on Monday May 3.

Wikipedia attribution link for Times Square.

Update: May 4

MSNBC reports "Times Square bomb suspect nabbed at airport: Pakistani-born U.S. citizen was attempting to fly to Dubai from JFK", link here.

More reports came in all day May 4, indicating extensive ties for this amateur Faisal Shahzad, to Taliban or Al Qaeda groups (it's not totally clear which yet) in Pakistan, where there were more arrests. It seems that radical Islamist elements overseas may be looking for "lone wolf" type of people and working on softer targets; that seem to be a theme of the day long media coverage on both CNN and MSNBC. Some government officials at the press briefings mention the Fox show "24" in measuring the time it took to make the arrest, and also called the Times Square van a "Hurt Locker" after the Oscar-winning film.