Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Winning Hearts and Minds

I have been reading the news the last few days and I came across a couple of things that were interesting, but not in a good way. In any conflict, it is so easy for us to explain away the ills we commit on our side as being necessary or a mistake. I find it rare that we evaluate ourselves with as critical an eye as we do our perceived enemy. In Afghanistan, this happened just a few days ago.

Afghan officials, quoted by wires services, said a Sunday night airstrike in the town of Nijrab, north of Kabul, killed a family of nine, including several young children.

A coalition spokesman told CNN the airstrike, carried out by U.S. forces, targeted insurgents who fired rockets on a U.S. military base in Nijrab, located in Kapisa province.

No, my problem with this is not that civilians died, but that it was completely avoidable. Although I am not a fan of the concept of “collateral damage”, this case is an example of where the military will apply that term but it should not be allowed to.

The insurgents fired rockets at a US base, and then ran for cover. US soldiers saw the men run into a house and knew where they were. They did not need to call in air strikes, they could have handled in a more precise ground operation. They did in fact call in an air strike and ended up killing 9 people of one family. The US Military then blamed the insurgents for running and hiding amongst the civilians and endangering them.

The logic here escapes me. Why do we expect insurgents to behave in any other way but to save their lives? They are more than willing to put civilians at risk for at least two reasons: First, the military is less likely to attack them if they are surrounded by civilians, as they should be. Second, if in fact civilians do die, then those deaths will be attributed to the US Military and not the insurgents which will further engender support among the populace which the insurgents rely on for their cover. We have everything to gain by not attacking civilians and nothing to gain otherwise. A population living under a foreign military is not going to understand the differences we have created in our minds between civilians deaths and collateral damage. All they understand is that the US Military killed some people who had nothing to do with anything, and maybe the insurgents/militants/Taliban/terrorists are right.

This sure didn’t help our cause either:

The U.S. military is also investigating another incident on Sunday in which U.S. forces fired on people after a suicide car bombing attack on its forces near the southeastern city of Jalalabad.

Eight Afghan civilians were killed and 35 were wounded in the attack, but it was not clear if the casualties were caused by the initial explosion, by Taliban gunfire or return fire from troops in the convoy.

An Afghan Interior Ministry spokesman basically said the military became emotional after the suicide attack and started firing at the civilians fearing another car bomb. This isn’t the first time we’ve heard about our soldiers losing it after a suicide attack, and something serious needs to be done about it. These soldiers need a combination of post traumatic stress help, and clear heavy sanctions for serious violations. 35 people were wounded, that is some serious firepower that was sent out at the civilians to have caused that kinda damage. The damage will be felt greatest to our reputation.

Interestingly the US Spokesman also said this about the attack:

Accetta said the convoy's attackers "must have a blatant disregard for human life to have attacked coalition forces in a populated area."

Spells out my point clearly. Point that finger at yourself every once in a while and we’d do a much better job at winning hearts and minds.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

No glove, no love--not in this study!

Teenagers these days! Sheesh! George W., do you see why abstinence only education doesn't work?! The teens stop using condoms, which means babies and abortions and venereal diseases galore.

From Yahoo! News:
Mon Sep 4, 9:37 AM ET

REUTERS--Many teenagers and young adults fail to use condoms consistently, regardless of whether they have sex with a serious or a "casual" partner, a new study suggests.

Researchers found that among more than 1,300 15- to 21-year-olds, those with casual sex partners had unprotected sex just as often as those in serious relationships -- about 20 times over the previous three months, on average.

Those who had casual sex were more likely to use condoms at least some of the time, the study found. But because they had sex more often, they ended up having unprotected intercourse just as frequently as their peers in steady relationships.

The findings point up two different problems, according to the researchers.

"Unfortunately, this reveals that teens may overestimate the safety of using condoms most of the time with a casual partner and underestimate the risk of unprotected sex with a serious partner," lead study author Dr. Celia Lescano said in a statement.

Lescano and her colleagues at Brown Medical School in Providence, Rhode Island, report their findings in the Journal of Adolescent Health.

The study included 1,316 15- to 21-year-olds from three large U.S. cities. Overall, 65 percent said they'd had sex only with a serious partner over the past three months; the rest said they'd had at least one casual partner.

Those with casual partners said they used condoms 47 percent of the time, versus 37 percent among those in steady relationships. Still, young people in both groups had unprotected sex at about the same frequency.

For study participants in relationships, one of the problems seemed to be their perception -- correct or not -- that their partner did not want to use condoms.

It's important, Lescano's team writes, that teenagers be taught that consistent condom use is necessary, regardless of who their partner is or how long they've been in the relationship.

They say young people who worry their partner will be turned off by condoms need to be reminded that most people accept condom use -- and that consistent use lowers the risk of sexually transmitted diseases for both partners.

SOURCE: Journal of Adolescent Health, September 2006.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Hollaback India!

You know what's gross? Getting barked at while walking down the street. Mind you, this isn't by dogs, but by men--which sometimes, they do act like dogs--and they REALLY bark at you; also, sometimes they say, "Hey baby." AS IF you're supposed to answer that! Your name isn't baby! It isn't honey or sweetie either. Anyways, HollabackNYC is a blog that features New Yorkers who "holla back" to street harassers by taking their picture and posting it on their website. Likewise, The Blank Noise Project is the Indian version of it.

Oh the power of using blogging to expose assholes that bother you when you're minding your own business walking or something!

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Dubai Ports Bid: Political Gift, Pointless Debate

I’m gonna start out by saying that this is one of the very rare cases where I support President Bush’s argument that Dubai Ports World poses no more significant threat to US National Security than any other foreign company. This is a management company; all security is administered by the Coast Guard. The much more interesting thing about this whole deal is the political fallout of all this.

This is a classic battle between Hearts and Minds. The Bush Administration has consistently used fear as a motivator post Sept. 11, 2001. The Democrats have been forced to fight every argument using logic. This has been true in every aspect of security. One example of this is the current War on Terror. The Bush administration has vowed to kill or capture terrorists wherever they exist, and to keep doing it until they stop hating us. The logical argument would clearly show you that for every terrorist you kill, you produce three more, thus this is a logically flawed approach. This argument, however, always gets lost. This is basically because both sides are fighting to control fear, which most of the time thinks with its heart, and not with its head. Fear in this country has been inflamed and coveted by the Bush administration, and keeps the American people thinking with their hearts.

The problem came this week when the Bush Administration found themselves making a logically sound decision, but something that instinctively seems strange, mostly because of the general fear of the middle east that is pervasive in this country. The Democrats took this time to inflame that very fear that the Bush Administration has used in the past. Regardless of the logical arguments the Administration makes, the fearful beast they have created will not hear it. This is probably why most Republicans came out against this deal. It is only smart to come out against this deal at this point. Logical arguments will fail to convince a fearful society, when that logic goes against their preconceived notions of the world.

I doubt the Democrats actually believe what they are saying when they tout National Security concerns, but this has been a much needed political gift. They needed to show how they were more concerned about National Security than the Bush Administration in a language the American People now speak; fear. The Democrats have always been concerned about National Security, but they always used logic to bring their point to bear, today they have taken the fear tool from the Bush Administration and hit them with it.

The Bush Administration has two options: Find a safe way out, without seeming to give in to the Democrats, or stand their ground. If they give in to the Democrats, then they are conceded that they made an error in National Security, and the Democrats caught it. If they stand their ground, they continue to say that we have already done adequate checks so all this is pointless. This will also hurt the Bush Administration. They need a safe way to back out of the deal without giving Democrats any advantage.

Finally, to once again hit on why this whole debate is actually pointless, we need to take a look at the U.A.E.. They have no more terrorist connections than do Germany. Both countries had 9/11 hijackers living there, and more monetary transactions were done in Germany! To fear them because they are Arab is not very sensical. A “terrorist” is just as likely to be Black (Somalia), White (Chechnya), SE Asian (Thailand, Indonesia), S American (Columbia) as they are Arab. Right after 9/11, Khalid Sheik Mohammed, in Pakistan, planned to have Pacific Islanders take out airliners with shoe bombs. Would racial profiling have caught that mess? I think not.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

The U.S. Bridges the gap with Saddam Hussein

On March 16th 1988, 5,000 Kurds in the Iraqi city of Halabja were killed instantly when chemical weapons were used by Saddam Hussein against them. Saddam Hussein used mustard gas and the nerve agents sarin, tabun, and VX.

A chemical weapon is defined as "any chemical which through its chemical action on life processes can cause death, temporary incapacitation or permanent harm".

In March, 2005 The United States attacked Falluja to release the city of its insurgent stronghold. During the course of the battle, the United States used a chemical called White Phosphorous. Very few in the West have reported on this besides the British Media. The Guardian:

White phosphorus is fat-soluble and burns spontaneously on contact with the air.
According to globalsecurity.org: "The burns usually are multiple, deep, and
variable in size. The solid in the eye produces severe injury. The particles
continue to burn unless deprived of atmospheric oxygen... If service members are
hit by pieces of white phosphorus, it could burn right down to the bone."

This chemical has uses other than lethal such as use as a smoke screen or to light a battle field, so it has not been banned outright by the Chemical Weapons Convention. But it is pretty clear, that when this is used against people it is considered a chemical weapon.

Apparently this is not the only chemical used by the US in Iraq. When the Iraq war started, many questions were asked about whether Coalition Forces had used Napalm in Iraq. They denied it. I’m not sure if this chemical is banned, but I believe it is.

In August 2003 the Pentagon confirmed that the marines had dropped "mark 77
firebombs". Though the substance these contained was not napalm, its function,
the Pentagon's information sheet said, was "remarkably similar.
Napalm is made from a combination of petrol and polystyrene whereas the chemical component of a mark 77 firebomb is made from the combination of kerosene and polystyrene. Napalm is banned, yet this gel in mark 77s is not. The difference; petrol vs. kerosene. Now I’m not a chemical engineer, but to me the difference is marginal when it comes to the firestorm they produce. Would it be ok if they used gasoline and polystyrene? I mean seriously, why do you think Napalm was banned? Probably due to the incendiary devastation it causes on the population it lands on. So why would you think that any other incendiary device is ok?

What makes the U.S. and Saddam Hussein different? Maybe the intentional targeting of civilians. Well, no, Saddam Hussein saw the Kurds as rebels and the U.S. sees the Iraqi insurgents no different.

Maybe its different because Saddam Hussein blanket blamed the whole population for the ills of a few, whereas in Falluja the U.S. differentiated the two; the civilians of Falluja vs. the Insurgents. What if we discover that the U.S. attacked people indiscriminatingly in Falluja, anyone remaining in the city was a target, would that then make the U.S. and Saddam Hussein the same with respect to Hallabja and Falluja?

Personally, I think the use of the weapons even against any people regardless of their status is wrong, and only one question remains in my mind. Now that we know that the United States has used chemical weapons in the far past (Vietnam, WWII) and the recent past, the question remains, who will attack the United States to stop them from using chemical weapons on civilian populations? Makes you wonder doesn’t it?

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

At Least the Tsunami Victims are Helping Kashmir

Kofi Annan came forward today to publicly shame countries into giving more money for the Kashmiri Earthquake. Is this what it’s come to?? Do we just simply not care about people in need anymore? Recently, a highway bill was passed in the United States and in that bill was alot of wasteful spending. The best example: A bridge larger than the Golden Gate Bridge will now connect 50 people with a town of 8,000 at the cost of $315,000,000. If the congressman who asked for this money had any shame, he would ask for the money to be donated to the victims of this disaster.

BBC Reports:

He warned that tens of thousands of people in remote areas had received no relief, while some three million people were facing the fierce Himalayan winter with no shelter or blankets.
That’s 3,000,000 people facing one of the harshest winters around, outside!

The UN children's agency, UNICEF, has warned that a further 10,000 children could die if relief efforts are not boosted.
I know children die everyday for health, hunger and poverty reasons, and I also know the political reasons why some feel they can’t do enough to help there, but in this case, the problem is clear, it is in a defined location, and the solution is very simple. This is a problem that probably can be solved by simply throwing money at it!

The secretary general complained that the international community had only given firm commitments to fund 12% - or $37m - of the UN's appeal.
37 million?? THAT’S IT?? Why does the UN even have to appeal for this? What should further shame countries tremendously is this:

People in India's Andaman and Nicobar islands are yet to recover from last year's tsunami, but they are now helping South Asia quake victims… the first consignment of relief materials included 200 tents, over a 1,000 blankets and three tonnes of biscuits.
The people of the Anaman and Nicobar Islands had relatively little before the Tsunami, and that was pretty much destroyed after it. Yet they still have an unbelievable heart to contribute whatever they can to help others. This is the “Just World” I hope one day will come to fruition. People giving everything they can to ensure other people don’t suffer needlessly.

Record Setting Wilma

This is pretty much the worst season ever.

Hurricane Wilma, which has swelled into a dangerous Category Five storm, is the
strongest hurricane ever recorded, the US National Hurricane Center says. It says the storm's barometric pressure - a measure of its strength - was the lowest on record in the Atlantic basin. Its winds of near 175mph (280km/h) and heavy rains are threatening Cuba, Mexico and the Cayman Islands.

I know I was wrong about Rita, and I hope I’m wrong about this one, but it looks bad. The storm is currently more than 300 miles across, with 100 miles of Tropical Storm winds! Thankfully it should come down to a Catergory 4 when it makes landfall, but that would be devestating in of itself.

Friday, October 14, 2005

More on this Shady Letter

For a more intellectual discussion of the authenticity of the Al Qaeda letter captured by the United States, I refer you to Juan Cole and his discussion on why this letter is fake. Here are some excerpts:

On the Blessing to the Prophet

The very first element of the letter is the blessing on the Prophet… the phrase "salla Allahu `alayhi wa alihi wa sallam" (the blessings and peace of God be upon him and his family) is a Shiite form of the salutation…I do not believe that an Egyptian like al-Zawahiri would use this phraseology at all… Adding to the salutation… would be an insult to Zarqawi and to the hardline Sunnis in Iraq.

Al Qaeda themselves have also distanced themselves from this letter.