31.10.11

Palestine joins Unesco. The USA on the wrong side of history.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-15518173


Unesco meeting
The UN cultural organisation has voted strongly in favour of membership for the Palestinians - a move opposed by Israel and the United States.
Of 173 countries voting, 107 were in favour, 14 opposed and 52 abstained.
Under US law, Washington can now withdraw funding to Unesco. This would deprive the agency of some $70m (£43.7m) - more than 20% of its budget.
107 out of 173 can certainly be wrong. But not this time. It's time to get out of the way of indigenous people's legitimate right to independence, security, self-determination and protection from encroachment.
The outcome was swiftly denounced by the US and Israel.
White House spokesman Jay Carney said the Unesco vote was "premature and undermines the international community's shared goal of a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in the Middle East".
It undermines part of the international community's goals of stringing this process out as long as necessary to ensure that there is no right of return and that settlers can maximize their territorial gains in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. It's premature only if you view the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a zero-sum game where any one side winning recognition for something in some way, must mean that the other side has lost something.
...An Israeli foreign ministry statement called the vote a "unilateral Palestinian manoeuvre which will bring no change on the ground but further removes the possibility for a peace agreement".
"The Palestinian move at Unesco, as with similar such steps with other UN bodies, is tantamount to a rejection of the international community's efforts to advance the peace process," it said. 
The Israelis have been in control of the situation on the ground for a long time. They have the guns, the money and the backing of powerful allies. This will bring no change on the ground - the Palestinians have had very little ability to bring such change for a long time now, esp. with idiotic, despotic, corrupt and fanatically religious leadership - and further removes the possibility that Israel will be the sole and final arbiter of Palestine.

It is a rejection of a stalled "peace process" that's been going on for how long now? Sure Arafat screwed up when he walked away. He was a dumb-ass, a corrupt and tired old terrorist. That doesn't mean the settlers are right, or that militant religious Israeli extremists are right. They *are* right-wing, but not right. (That was a lame pun.)

It's time to get out of the way of history on this. Israel will no doubt be dragged kicking and screaming into a world that doesn't look kindly on people oppressing their neighbours - or rather, that's the settlers and extreme right-wing and some immigrants and their extremist allies in parts of the US (and many in the US Congress) - not all Israelis.

One last thing.

Consider the US fight for independence. How'd you like it if people said "No, you can't have your own independent country unless Britain approves"? Admittedly the Native Americans weren't exactly consulted. Beads, whiskey, spurious land grabs, internment camps, reservations and a face full of hot lead took care of them. And that's just wrong.


28.10.11

Making fun of ...OMG I'M OFFENDED!



Funny video. Stereotypical gay characters for comedic value, and they're doing a hell of a good job acting.

Which brings me to my point - at what point is the line crossed in making fun of a certain group or ethnicity or whatever. I don't know, but I'm fairly sure these guys didn't cross it. It's harmless fun Move on.

24.10.11

Iraqi civil war and lessening American involvement.

http://news.yahoo.com/conflicted-iraqis-face-future-without-us-troops-175816880.html

American troops will be homeward bound from Iraq soon enough.
Across the country there was a strong sense of disbelief. The Americans, having spent hundreds of billions of dollars, lost nearly 4,500 troops' lives and built up sprawling bases as big as many Iraqi cities, would never really leave, many Iraqis thought. Some celebrated the exit of foreign occupiers and the emergence of real sovereignty. But there was also an apprehension, almost a sense of resignation, that things will get worse.
Though greatly reduced from the depths of near civil war from 2006 to 2008, shooting and bombings rattle Iraqis daily. Significantly all the elements from those darkest days remain: al-Qaida militants, Shiite militias, Sunni insurgents. Resentment still simmers among the Sunni Muslim minority over domination by the Shiite majority, Kurds in the north still hold aspirations of breaking away. Despite years of promises of better government services, most of the country gets by on a few hours of electricity a day.
...The impression of the U.S. as all-powerful has always permeated Iraqi society, leaving many Iraqis assuming that the decision was purely an American one instead of an Iraqi choice.
"The withdrawal announcement is a message to the Iranians to come and take over Iraq. The Iraqis are the real losers here because they have replaced the U.S. occupation with Iranian occupation," said Adel al-Dulaimi, a Sunni from northern Baghdad. 
 The elected leadership of Iraq (or lack thereof, ho-hum) has decided to support President Bashar Al-Assad of Syria in his violent and brutal crackdown on the Syrian version of the Arab Spring of 2011. The elected leadership of Iraq has time and again frustrated American efforts at stopping the baleful influence of sectarian thugs, Iranian-tied groups and various religionist paramilitaries. What more evidence do you really need that the Iraqis need to finally stand up and hold themselves and their leaders to account? What more do you really need before you start blaming the situation in Iraq less on the current American President - who inherited the mess from his gung-ho, neo-conservative and not so smart predecessor?

Who's to blame here? Who are the real victims? Who benefited from an ill-advised invasion of Iraq to get one guy?

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Victim_playing
"Victim playing (also known as playing the victim or self-victimization) is the fabrication of victim-hood for a variety of reasons such as to justify abuse of others, to manipulate others, a coping strategy or attention seeking."
 No one wants to be responsible. Everyone wants sympathy. "We're good people doing our best. It's really beyond our control, and if it wasn't for <insert scapegoat> doing <this or that> then everything would be much better."

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cui_bono
Cui bono ("To whose benefit?", literally "as a benefit to whom?", a double dative construction), also rendered as Cui prodest, is a Latin adagethat is used either to suggest a hidden motive or to indicate that the party responsible for something may not be who it appears at first to be.
Commonly the phrase is used to suggest that the person or people guilty of committing a crime may be found among those who have something to gain, chiefly with an eye toward financial gain. The party that benefits may not always be obvious or may have successfully diverted attention to a scapegoat, for example.
Asking solely "who benefits" is a fool's errand in international politics. People make mistakes, or go to war on bad information, or due to internal domestic processes. Arguably the greatest beneficiaries of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars have been Iran, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Al-Qaeda. So therefore Iran is behind 9/11? No, sorry. Things don't work that way.

People talk. If there's a big operation then there'll be a lot of people involved. People leave traces. People talk. Word gets out. Unless you're talking very small organizations in environments where there are no electronic footprints or paper trails, like 1950's CIA, maybe. If the US can't even stop one single person from leaking 250,000 diplomatic cables, do you really thing we have what it takes to keep a massive self-inflicted 9/11 operation under wraps?

Point is this: Iran is not behind everything that happens in Iraq. Neither is anyone else. It's a huge murky political and military situation with porous borders to the East, West, South and North. You have massive fault-lines in the Sunni-Shia schism. You have racism and ancient hatred. Kurds in the North being invaded by Turkey. Problems in the West and smuggling in the East, along with various pro- or anti-Iranian establishment groups. Lack of education. 50% of the population (women) being kept out of power and more or less dis-enfranchised. Religious fanatics. Political gridlock. A system that for millennia has revolved around family, tribe and patronage.

Good luck changing that in a decade. Won't happen. You're better off expecting a huge mess getting slowly better as Facebook and Google and Twitter gradually saturate society until people start figuring out that killing each other over silly stuff is, ...well, silly.

In the meantime, how much do you want to blame the Americans? And who among the Americans? How about Codename: CURVEBALL. How about Dick Cheney, Rumsfeld and W.? None of these people are in power anymore. The UN pulled out. The Europeans are too busy cheering on Wikileaks and criticizing to put in any real re-construction work. The Chinese are just waiting for an opportune moment to make a lot of money. Al Qaeda know they have a huge propaganda victory coming, but then they'll gradually lose support as people discover different ways of thinking via open newspapers and the internet.

And how much do you want to blame the Iraqis? "It's not my fault!" is not an uncommon refrain here. People feel powerless and want to be seen as innocent, good-hearted victims. Yet after a few elections, is it really still the Americans' fault? After episodes like Iraqi police leadership buying "magic wands" for $20 million that supposedly detect explosives and contraband by "electric fields."

More see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ADE_651

At some point you have to start looking at cultural and educational and religious motivating factors for why Iraq is such a messed-up place right now, just like you can't forever go on to blame the foreign colonial powers for the Pakistan-India conflict or the situation in Africa. Sooner or later you have to accept that the indigenous culture and the choices of the people living there, does have an effect on their situation.

It's the age-old dilemma of the conservative saying life is fundamentally fair - that you are a reflection of how much work you put in, and the bleeding-heart liberal saying things are unfair and we must think of the little people - they were disadvantaged from birth and are a product of their society, they're not really at fault with the deck stacked against them.

Where's the truth? Probably somewhere in between. But the further you get away from the real serious mistakes of CURVEBALL (a shame 90% of the five people reading this won't know what that codename refers to - see Wikipedia) of W. and the WMDs and the cherry-picked intelligence reports and the neo-con old grudge-match from the previous Iraq War - the further you get from that, the closer to a "personal responsibility" model of Iraq you get. Eventually Iraq will be a reflection of the Iraqis. You make your own destiny.

Has a bunch of knob-headed Americans screwed things up for you? Sure. But don't forget to say thanks to CURVEBALL and your old man Saddam. Hey, get organized and fix your ****. We have enough of our own problems. As far as your leaders - well, you elected them. Not terribly perfect elections, but that political landscape is more fair by the year.

It's about time the Iraqis took some responsibility for the situation in their own country. Lord knows America has enough of its domestic problems, with guns and drugs rampant.

16.10.11

Gilad Shalit - 1000 Palestinian prisoners swap after "massive publicity campaign."

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-15325046
Gilad Shalit - worth a 1000 Palestinians
Gilad Shalit was a POW in a very nasty brutal conflict. His story and that of his parents and friends, is touching and tragic, but no more so than a million others in a Middle East full of war, terror, superstitious nonsense and brutal religious repression and hatred, going both ways.
Hamas poster
 Hamas, a well known terror organization with a stated goal of killing as many Israelis as possible, whether military or civilian, is now set to gain in popularity and strength. With this one soldier held captive they have achieved what years and years of negotiations have not - to bring home to their families hundreds of Palestinians held in Israeli jails, both people convicted (on presumably both solid and not-so-solid grounds) of deliberate attacks on civilians and those held in indefinite detention without charges for years.

How would you like it if you friend, brother or father was picked up at a checkpoint, thrown in jail and held without charges for years?

Some of the people going home is a good thing. Some of them are not guilty of a damn thing, other than being Muslim and having dark hair, a beard and speaking Arabic instead of Hebrew or English or Russian - and being born in the wrong place. A place overrun and occupied for fifty long years where people are treated as sub-humans.

Others coming home is not such a good thing and makes me think that this prisoner swap could turn into a Very Bad Thing(tm).
Palestinians celebrating 9/11

Key initial releases
  • Nasser Iteima
  • : Helped bomb Netanya hotel in 2002 - 30 people killed
  • Walid Anjes
  • : Helped bomb Moment cafe in Jerusalem in 2002 - 11 people killed
  • Yehia Sanwar:
  •  A founder of Hamas militant wing. Serving multiple life sentences
  • Jihad Yaghmour:
  •  Took part in execution of Israeli solder Nachson Waxman in 1994
  • Mohammed al-Sharatha
  • : A leader of the elite Hamas 101 unit. Multiple life terms
  • Nael Barguti:
  •  Arrested in April 1978 and convicted of role in death of Israeli soldier
  • Rawhi al-Mushtaha: 
  • Senior Hamas leader. Multiple life sentences
  • Amna Muna:
  •  Serving life for luring Israeli teenager to his

What you have here is a very mixed bag of results. A soldier coming home is a good thing. By all accounts Gilad Shalit does not appear to be a hardline racist or anti-Arab or be militantly against the more legitimate aspirations of the Palestinian people. He's just a kid who was born in Israel and followed his brother into the armoured corps of the Army and happened to get caught up in a nasty war. He's not a settler. But is he worth 1000 people? Is he worth the release of very solidly proven terrorists? I think not.

You now have a huge propaganda victory for Hamas. They have achieved things that moderate politicians haven't. They have proven that the only way to really get innocent, un-charged with any crime, indefinitely detained Palestinians home - is in prisoner swaps. The take-home, hard, "money" message is that Israel budges for no-one. Israel is in charge. Unless they simply cannot achieve their goals any other way. It's raw power, a zero-sum game of brinkmanship and geopolitics. Nothing matters other than force and the threat of force. If you look a little deeper you'll even find people inside Israel advocating not releasing unnecessarily detained, held-without-charges, Palestinians from jails that do not want them - just for the purpose of use as bargaining chips. Is that really the standard that Israel wants to hold itself to? Collective punishment? You hold my soldier so I will hold your hundreds of civilians?

Some of those people should never have been detained in the first place - and certainly not without right to counsel or to mount a defense against their accusations. Israel is in the wrong here, in many respects, and releasing some of these people should have been done anyway, much sooner. So them coming home is a good thing. Them coming home due to a prisoner swap - maybe not so much.

Will it lead to further taking of Israeli prisoners? Maybe. It certainly encourages it - but it's not like this wasn't a big priority of Hamas already, so it really doesn't make too much difference there. If you and your loved ones and especially the more easily captivated by the human-interest angle on this - yes, that would be many women, though certainly not all - if you're getting suckered in by a huge media push to get Gilad Shalit's face in the public dialogue, the political discourse, the media, the websites - then you're missing the point.

The point is that his story, while tragic and horrible, is one of millions. For every Gilad Shalit, how many people in the Middle East are unjustly detained and thrown in prison for years and years with no charges, or on no evidence? How many Palestinians are in Israeli jails due to the colour of their skin, their facial features, their religion, where they're from and what language they speak?

I'm guessing a lot. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Palestinian_prisoners_in_Israel

Where is the media attention for these guys? Where are the international campaigns for their release?

They're there. They're on Al-Jazeera. They're on European news once in a while. They're not in mainstream US media because that angle doesn't sell advertising or make the US and its allies look good. It's not explosive, visceral, thrilling news video. It's just business the way it's usually done in the Middle East. Hell - it's not even particularly bad compared to the standard of the rule of law (or lack thereof) in the region. Israel probably does a lot better in this regard then their neighbours to the North, South & East.

Oy vey.

EDIT:
http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/middle-east/massive-publicity-campaign-helped-secure-israeli-soldiers-release/2011/10/17/gIQAxFsOrL_story.html
JERUSALEM — Gilad Schalit’s expected release after five years in Hamas captivity owes much to a public relations campaign that turned the Israeli soldier into an icon, portraying him as the nation’s son with bumper stickers, billboards and TV ads.

PR firms and communications experts working for Schalit’s parents drove a sophisticated campaign that also enlisted celebrities, musicians and an army of thousands of volunteers. It was aimed at pressuring two Israeli prime ministers to negotiate the release of Schalit, captured in a daring cross-border raid by Gaza militants in 2006.

In the end, it was a mix of the publicity efforts and a new flexibility by both Israel and Hamas that sealed the deal, which involves swapping the soldier for 1,027 Palestinians held in Israeli prisons. The exchange was expected to take place Tuesday.

When he was captured, Schalit was an unknown 19-year-old serving in a tank unit on the Gaza border. The PR campaign made his face one of the most recognizable in the country.
The media and public opinion has always had a say in the public discourse, and perhaps in this case that is not such a bad deal. The politicians and the extreme right wing and the settlers have gotten a collective bloody nose in this case and been forced to surrender, more or less. The long-standing attitude in both Israel and perhaps to a lesser extent in Palestine (but to a greater extent when speaking of Hamas et al), that any gain for the other side is a loss to their side - was forced to give way to the idea that you simply have to take the other side's demands into account.

Now if that old corrupt terrorist Yasser Arafat hadn't walked away from the deal that the Israeli side accepted back in the day.

Could this be a new start? Certainly. Anything that changes a horrible status quo with more and more settlements being built, and Gaza and the West Bank suffering more and more - is a good thing. But if the released terrorists now turn around and are implicated in even more deeds, the whole process could easily lead to another invasion of Gaza. Here's to hoping that people on both sides of this are tired of the incessant killing and bulldozing and rockets and suicide bombs.

More at http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-15337433

13.10.11

Steve Jobs may have killed himself with alternative medicine.

http://www.quora.com/Steve-Jobs/Why-did-Steve-Jobs-choose-not-to-effectively-treat-his-cancer

Steve Jobs
Jobs was a hippie back in the day, and a conventional medicine skeptic now. His reaction to the disease gave the disease time to spread.

Many mainstream media, including CNN, stated that Mr. Jobs might have spent as long as two years without proper (conventional) treatment.http://money.cnn.com/2008/03/02/...

While Mr. Jobs was trying all sorts of alternative mumbo-jumbo I won't even bother to go through as their failure is now sadly irrefutably proven, his tumor grew, and grew, and grew...

… and then it grew beyond control.

  • Jobs waited so long before seeking normal treatment that he had to undergo a Whipple procedure, losing his pancreas and whole duodenum in 2004. This was the first alarming sign that his disease had progressed beyond a compact primary.
Now, all of this is the speculations of an expert on the type of cancer in question, who "has very strong opinions on this issue" and has not had access to Mr. Jobs' medical records. So really, we don't know. But if you are diagnosed with cancer, get checked out and start educating yourself, with a skeptic, but open mind.

Hmmm... how to accomplish that - be both a skeptic and figure out who to trust when they say "alternative medicine is a placebo" and "Western medical science is just more drugs". Hard but possible.

You could always try looking for double-blind peer-reviewed studies and evidence.

As for the rest - great man, with some flaws, who did the world a favour mostly. Good on him.

9.10.11

Half Dome survivors wish they had taken heed.

http://news.yahoo.com/half-dome-survivors-wish-had-taken-heed-150130783.html

FRESNO, Calif. (AP) — Armando Castillo knew he should not attempt the last treacherous stretch up Half Dome with storm clouds looming. But he felt he had come too far not to accomplish his goal.
Loss aversion. Not wanting to accept a loss after already sunken costs have accumulated - not willing to accept anything less than being able to go back and tell friends that you succeeded. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sunk_costs#Loss_aversion_and_the_sunk_cost_fallacy

"I've come this far, I may as well finish the job." Kind of like how we kept throwing soldiers and equipment and bombs at Vietnam (not that all kinds of issues with that war could conceivably have been surmounted and enabled a relatively clear US "victory") for a long time, unwilling to cut our losses and get out of the conflict. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Escalation_of_commitment

For background on Yosemite and accidents there see http://reasonablydoubtingnews.blogspot.com/2011/08/woman-dies-in-600ft-fall-in-yosemite.html


"About three-quarters of the way up it started hailing," he said. "There's a bunch of people and everybody just stops. Some women started crying because it was slippery and pretty scary. Then it cleared up."
While others turned back, Castillo pushed on up the park's iconic feature, making him one of Yosemite National Park's worst nightmares— the increasing number of wilderness neophytes who mistakenly think the government is obligated to save them.
"People are pushing their luck, trying to beat the weather, and their backup plan is to call for a rescue," said Mark Marschall, project manager for the Half Dome interim permit program. "They're not understanding what that means. We can't fly in that kind of weather. They're on their own."
Why do stupid people overestimate their abilities? Because they're not smart enough to realize they're making bad decisions. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dunning%E2%80%93Kruger_effect


Some callers tell the dispatcher they want to use their platinum credit card for the free helicopter ride some companies guarantee in an emergency. Park officials don't charge for rescues — nearly 1,000 rescues cost more than $2.5 million between 2007 and 2010 — but neither do they fly in dangerous weather.Castillo, with six hours of hiking behind him, made a poor choice.
The salsa dancer from Hayward, Calif., soon found himself trapped at the 8,842-foot summit in a freezing thunderstorm. Soaked and shivering, he huddled under a rock with four other terrified hikers. Then he called 911, thinking he was going to die.
I'm wet and I'm shivering and I'm really cold right now, Castillo pleaded to dispatchers.
A sign at the bottom of the cables warns hikers not to attempt Half Dome if weather threatens — and rangers try to issue verbal warnings.
But 20 people have died on Half Dome over the decades, nearly all with rain as a factor, officials say. One of the two to perish this year was a Bay Area woman who slipped in a July storm and fell 800 feet. (A total of 13 died in park mishaps this year, the most in decades — including three swept over a raging waterfall on the trail to Half Dome.)

The day after Castillo called for help, a group of 20 hikers called 911, not understanding that the very rain storm threatening their lives would also endanger a ranger.

"We have to decide 'Can we really expose rescuers to the risk that is present?'" Marschall said. "Can we commit a helicopter in the middle of a rainstorm with the potential of lightning? The answer is typically no." 
So what's the solution? More signs? Maybe. Make sure people become aware that people JUST. LIKE. YOU. ...have died in the very spot that you're getting ready to go up. A tally of "killed" and injured, maybe.

I'd rather not have my taxpayer's money go toward rescuing people who are stupid enough to go climb a mountain in bad weather. But that's just me.

Or you could just let people die, and cut back on rescue services. Make people sign a release of liability when you enter the park. But that's kind of cold-hearted. Emergencies and accidents do happen to people who take all the precautions and follow the rules and aren't dumb enough to get themselves voluntarily in a really bad spot. So keep the rescue services, publicize how much money it costs and maybe start trying to recuperate some of that cash. Or put a private pay-for-rescue insurance company into the mix.

Question: Do you really want your money to be used to rescue people who decide to walk up very dangerous terrain in bad weather?

6.10.11

Conspiracy theories.

Bush teh conspiracy genius
Number of people required to pull it off: 1000+
Number of people required to keep quiet about it: 1000+

Sorry, the people in the government are about as smart and savvy as everyone else, with some exceptions both ways (keep in mind that many people in the military are only there because the judge said it's that or you're going to jail). And back in the days when there were only a few people per operation reporting to only a few people with little oversight, yeah, maybe you could keep some things secret. But not anymore - too many people are involved. Things like torture will eventually come out, unless it's done locally and not in a real organized, authorized fashion over in places where things like that are very commonplace anyway, i.e. Iraq and Afghanistan.

5.10.11

Death of a journalist in war. José Couso.

http://www.cnn.com/2011/10/05/world/europe/spain-us-troops/index.html?hpt=wo_c2
The latest indictment... alleges that the three U.S. troops were linked to U.S. tank fire directed against the hotel, where Couso was videotaping the battle. He died from his wounds shortly afterward. 
In addition to Couso, the tank fire on April 8, 2003, also killed a Reuters cameraman, Ukrainian-born Taras Protsyuk.
Then-U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said American troops fired only after receiving hostile fire from the hotel and the matter received the highest attention, from then-President George W. Bush and then-Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar.
José Couso

You're in a city. There's bullets and bombs and missiles and RPGs flying around all over the place. You're scared. You have no idea where some of it comes from. It's hectic. People are dying and people are trying to kill you. You know there's bullets coming toward your unit. You look up and see a big tall building. You look through your scope or binoculars and see people moving around and aiming something black at you, you can't really see what but hey - it's wartime and someone is pointing something big and black at you. I'd take that shot in a heartbeat.

"Innocent" journalists got killed. That's a tragedy. Or is it? They didn't have to be there. They knew the risks. It rains - you get wet. If you want to be safe in a warzone, go talk to the people doing the fighting, and stay on the base. Or stay inside a very heavy armoured vehicle. Let's leave the word "tragedy" for people who don't go looking for war, who just get caught up in it when they have no real stake in it - they're the ones just going about their daily lives and BAM something big and explosive goes off and now their family is minus one. Or three. Let's leave the word "innocent" for people who are just going about their daily lives without actually looking for trouble. Without deliberately going to war.
Earlier in the long legal battle, a three-judge panel at the National Court in 2006 ruled that Spain had no jurisdiction in the case. The judges ruled that U.S. troops thought they were firing on Iraqis at the hotel serving as spotters for Iraqi artillery fire aimed at American troops, and that the civilian deaths were not intentional.
You're bloody retarded if you can't imagine there being both journalists and a bad guy with a cellphone on top of the same building, or on different parts of it. Or a guy with a rifle spraying bullets from the top of the building around the corner while you're on a balcony down a ways on the other side and can't even hear it amidst the noise and chaos of war. A helicopter pilot or a spotter sees the gunman, radios the tank crew a few kilometers away saying there's fire coming from the hotel. Tank crew gets report, puts a scope on the building, sees movement on a balcony and fires. You and I have no idea if there were bullets coming from that hotel that day, and we will never know unless someone comes forward.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/In-group%E2%80%93out-group_bias

People in Spain are upset that "their" journalist got killed. Their brother/father/friend was brutally murdered. Or maybe not murdered. He knew the risks and took them willingly. He went there looking for war and he sure got some war. Classic case of after-the-fact Ingroup-Outgroup Bias. These people upset right now wouldn't be upset at all if it had been an Iraqi journalist. They'd just shrug their shoulders and say "that's war." And that is war.  It's awful and dangerous and you do not need to be there if you're a journalist. You have the option to stay away. You have the option to go to the people doing the fighting and saying "hey, I'd like to take some pictures and report on this thing without too much risk and without getting killed." Or you can just do your own thing and accept that risk. And maybe get killed and now your family and friends and countrymen are screaming bloody murder about it.

Classic fallacy: We are good people. Therefore the things that we do are good.

So maybe I'm the one with fallacy - maybe the US soldiers are the ones who made the mistake. Entirely possible. In the midst of war. In a place they probably didn't want to be right then. Under conditions of stress and combat. But hey, they signed the contracts and swore to follow orders. Did they screw up? Entirely possible. Did they deliberately and with malicious intent murder people they knew to be journalists? I highly highly doubt that, but I suppose it's possible. Soldiers of all armies have deliberately murdered innocent civilians before, see Afghanistan. See World War II.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jose_Couso
Following the death of Couso, there were protests in front of the American diplomatic posts in Spain and several civil and judicial actions in order to determine the liability of the people involved. Up to now, there are still concentrations of people demanding justice on the 8th of each month in front of the United States Embassy in Madrid.
Sorry, that's just dumb. José Couso didn't have to be there. He knew the risks, and he took them willingly. It rains, and you go outside - you get wet.

I sign a contract with the military saying I'll follow orders - yep, I might get sent to war and have to accept the consequences of my actions, and the risk that that entails. War is dangerous, not as dangerous as driving a car on a freeway every day, but still.

While we're at it, let's not condemn people in the court of public opinion without letting them tell their side of the story. I see a lot of "José Couso - ASASINADO" in the media, but I don't see much investigative reporting or quotes from the people on the ground that day. Classic tabloid journalism looking to play up the drama and the "unfairness" and professional, permanent entitlement to outrage.

If you want to blame someone for his death, here's a start:

Journalists who decide to take unnecessary risks. Editors who push them to take those risks. Media consumers who buy their products and so vote with their dollar to encourage such reporting.

Saddam Hussein. Just a standard dictator with a big mouth and aspirations, but no WMDs or real threats to the US. Codename: CURVEBALL. Go ahead, Google it. I dare you. http://lmgtfy.com/?q=curveball&l=1

The neocon, extreme right wing of the GOP who just absolutely could not let a Republican Presidency slip by without once and for all putting Saddam out of business, even at the cost of 100 000 lives. Though they were probably lulled into a false sense of "hey, we can do this" by a bunch of military talk about "Shock and Awe". Intel people who felt where the wind was blowing and were more than happy to focus their efforts on finding particular pieces of dirt that, when laid out in a pattern, looked like a pattern. If I have 1000 intelligence reports in any given day, and only select 15 of them, I can make things seem like a pattern. Or I can let the political guy with an agenda to push find his own pattern and just stand there knowing full well what he's looking for. I can even tell him he's wrong, knowing that me saying that just reduces my influence on the political side of the equation. Echo chamber. Groupthink.

Blame the people of Iraq for their culture and religion and tribal hierarchical society and dictators and mullahs and cults and lack of opportunities for women. The people of Iraq allowed things to happen to them, passively letting that dictator pick a fight with his neighbours and then keep on fighting a low-grade war from there.

A US military pilot that had flown over Iraq after the war to liberate Kuwait but before the second war once told me (we were both in the MSIR program with TSU) when I said we shouldn't start another war with Iraq: "dude, we never stopped being at war with them. They're firing on us all the time."

But blame some guys for firing on a tall building that they thought contained snipers when they and their friends and co-workers were taking fire? That's a bit of a stretch. I suppose it is technically possible that they identified Mr. Couso as an unarmed journalist and just decided to murder him anyway, but somehow I doubt that, especially if he was lying down on a balcony pointing a big black video camera or telephoto lens at them. Innocent until proven guilty in a court of law with due process, in that case.

You're sitting in a comfy chair in an office. You're a journalist. You just got offered a plane ticket to what you know might soon be a warzone. You know there's a hotel there where you can hole up with a bunch of other journalists so you can all help each other. (Echo chamber. Groupthink.) You kiss your family and loved ones goodbye. They tell you to be safe and not to take any unnecessary risks. You step onto that plane. You just took an unnecessary risk. Unless you really feel that the job of a journalist is worth dying for. Once you're committed you're very unlikely to quit and give up and go home or stay behind the lines and not get any good scoops. That editor back home wants the good stuff. You want the stories to tell. You want to be the intrepid hero, the guy who gets back with the real story. Now you're dead and your family is crying. I sincerely hope you felt that it was worth it, all the way to the end.

4.10.11

Blocking Palestinian aid money. Good and bad.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/checkpoint-washington/post/wasting-no-time-in-blocking-palestinian-aid/2011/10/04/gIQA1rapKL_blog.html
Congress had threatened to withhold aid to the Palestinian Authority for 2012 if it went ahead with a bid for statehood at the United Nations. But it turns out no one’s waiting until 2012.
In recent days, lawmakers have blocked unspent portions of 2011 aid, to show their unhappiness with the Palestinian move.
It’s hard to pin down exactly how much aid is affected, since different legislators have targeted different pieces of the $500 million in annual U.S. aid. But it appears that both economic aid and support for the Palestinian security forces could be affected.
The Obama administration is holding “intensive consultations” with Congress to try to unfreeze the money, said State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland...
The Palestinian government depends heavily on foreign aid to function, so the freeze will hurt — if it continues.
Bad - the people living in Gaza and the West Bank are hurting enough as it is after half a century of occupation and fencing in and encroachment and war and Hamas and Islamic Jihad and nepotism and "reformed" terrorists like Arafat and aggressive lebensraum proponents like Ariel Sharon. Stopping the money will just hurt, and make the US look even worse with the one-two punch combination of a veto that'll be on the wrong side of history. It'll be an immoral veto. 


A veto against the legitimate needs and aspirations for self-determination by the poor, the downtrodden and the unjustly contained and corralled. Not that there's not been a more than fair share of suicide bombers targeting civilians, corrupt local politicians, extreme religious fanatics and whatnot. But that's on both sides, more or less, except on the other side it's not suicide bombers targeting civilians, it's jack-booted thugs and US-supplied warplanes and tanks and guns against ...yeah, not much at all. Snipers and some religious idiots. By all means, kill as much Hamas and Hezbollah and Islamic Jihad and people screaming for martyrs as you want - but fencing people in and encroaching on their land will just make it worse. Collective punishment doesn't work. You're just pissing off a new generation and making the recruiting easier for al-Qaeda and the Jihad boyz.


Bad - could in fact make the Palestinian Authority fall. Chaos ensues. Death and bloodshed and poverty.


Good - sets the State Dept and the Executive up as the "Good Cop" in the whole Good Cop-Bad Cop game  in negotiations with a foreign (un-)power.


Good - the Palestinian Authority falling might not be such a bad thing in the medium term. Short term chaos, long term Israeli political realization that being responsible for the well being and safety and economy of 4.5 million very pissed off people is a bloody nightmare. Annexation? Sure, that'd in fact be the objectively best thing for the Palestinians. Give them all Israeli citizenship and some freedom to move, but filled with checkpoints and anti-terror measures to contain the carnage. But they don't want that. Nationalism and pride and anti-Semitism and Muslim ideology and all that.


Good - the US Congress doing this now, could conceivably give people the idea that we can do the same with Pakistan. And the same when Israel insists on continuing the whole East Jerusalem and West Bank expansionism thing. Won't happen in the case of the settlements, though it should. 


But a little political fighting for/against overseas aid in Congress might not be such a bad thing always. It can help State and the Executive to be seen to be fighting for the people they're negotiating with overseas, i.e. "Hey man, you need to do this, this and that - or else there is no way I'll get this past the US Congress, you saw what happened to the Palestinian aid program, you gotta help me out here if you want the money. I'm on your side here, I believe you, I'm trying to get you this money, but if you don't make yourself look better for Congress there's nothing I can do, man."


Conclusion: both good and bad things here. Now if we could just use the same "power of the purse" to stop the settlements and reverse them and get Israel into the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty framework. Then you might see peace. And a whole lot less dead American soldiers, sailors and marines in the Middle East.


R.I.P. my friends Jeff Taylor and Jon Tumlison. Good guys, they were. I kinda miss them sometimes. Wish I could've been there. Might still get the chance to go over there even though I'm all messed up, we'll see.