Monthly Archives: July 2008

“War on Terror” a Failure

And other things we knew — four years ago!

Being thoroughly vindicated by history is probably small consolation for Sen. John Kerry, but perhaps he can take some degree of solace from the release earlier this week of a new report by the Rand Corporation, a think-tank that often works with the Pentagon, entitled How Terrorist Groups End – Lessons for Countering al Qaida.

The report’s analysis of 648 groups that existed between 1968 and 2006 concludes that “military force has rarely been the primary reason for the end of terrorist groups, and few groups within this time frame have achieved victory.” Indeed, Rand found that military operations against such groups are among the least effective means of success, achieving the desired effect in only 7% of the cases. Against most terrorist groups the study states that “military force is usually too blunt an instrument” also warning that “use of substantial U.S. military power against terror groups also runs a significant risk of turning the local population against the government by killing civilians.”

Well duh. Calling for a rethink of US strategy, the Rand report argues that policing and intelligence, rather than military force, should form the backbone of U.S. efforts against al Qaeda.”

Of course, some of us who were on the planet four years ago will recall that Kerry was mercilessly ridiculed by Dick Cheney along with legions of right-wing pundits and bloggers, when he suggested that the “war on terror” was a flawed construct and argued that a multinational law-enforcement-like approach would be more effective in fighting terrorists. Cheney scoffed at this notion, saying that there was a danger, should Kerry be elected, that “we’ll fall back into the pre-9/11 mind-set, if you will, that in fact these terrorist attacks are just criminal acts, and that we’re not really at war.”

Here again though, Kerry, Holbrooke and others have been vindicated. In the report, the Rand Corporation suggests the US drop the misleading term “war on terror” and simply call the effort what it is: counterterrorism. “Terrorists should be perceived and described as criminals, not holy warriors and our analysis suggests that there is no battlefield solution to terrorism,” said Seth Jones, political scientist and lead author of the study.

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Filed under War on Terra

Border Security v. “Sensitivity Training”

The Toronto Star reports this morning that the government is putting up to 500 customs officials at Pearson International Airport through “sensitivity training” so that they can “more appropriately deal with Arab and Muslim passengers.”

Normally, this kind of story would probably raise howls of outrage from the usual suspects, or at least that would most certainly have been the case had the Liberals been in office. As they’re not however and seeing as the story doesn’t afford any easy opportunities to lay blame with the previous government, I won’t be holding my breath waiting for the issue to be mentioned by any of our so-called “conservative” bloggers.

But never mind that. This initiative does raise concerns on a couple of fronts, the first being whether this kind of supposed “outreach” is appropriate in the case of our border enforcement agency. Should frontline customs officers really be adapting their inspection and interrogation techniques to accommodate the cultural and faith-based “sensitivities” of foreign travellers and returning residents just so they’re not “perceived to be discriminatory”? Personally, I’m inclined to think they shouldn’t, if indeed this is what the program entails.

Apparently, customs officers have “derided the idea that workers need sensitivity training and said that any new directives won’t go over well with officers who are already overworked and disgruntled.”

Marie-Claire Coupal, Ontario vice-president of the national Customs Excise Union, said workers have scoffed at similar courses offered at the Windsor-Detroit border crossing, where she is stationed, because they felt they were being asked to accommodate foreign and religious customs rather than having travellers “act like a Canadian.”

Looking a person straight in the eye is standard procedure for a border guard on the hunt for suspicious behaviour, but in some cases, it can be considered disrespectful to make eye contact with a Muslim woman, she said.

“A thing like this is good information to have, but I don’t think that we should – and this is very delicate because I don’t want to say that I don’t welcome these people either – but I do think that once they become a Canadian and they live among us, that they should pick up our ways and not have us picking up their ways,” she said in an interview.

She added that border officials at Pearson airport are more concerned about working conditions than sensitivity training, noting that they have been in a dispute for two years over scheduling problems.

“Giving them any kind of this training is just going to put salt in the wounds,” she said. “They’re ready to explode. … I think they’re going to laugh at (management) and say that they’re too tired to even think about this.”

Of course it would be easy to misconstrue the expression about having travellers “act like a Canadian” but that would be to get sidetracked from the point regarding whether the methodologies normally employed by customs inspectors should be somehow inhibited or curtailed by heightened concerns about “sensitivity” and “perceived discrimination.”

Mohamed Elmasry, president of the Canadian Islamic Congress, said training courses are an “excellent idea” that are in line with the seminars and speeches that he has delivered to federal employees, including with the Canadian Air Transportation Safety Authority, over the last two years.

But he still hears complaints of Muslim and Arab passengers returning from certain Middle Eastern countries like Iran and Syria being subjected to greater scrutiny than Muslims and Arabs returning from European countries.

Those travellers are also more likely to have their luggage searched, to be questioned about their activities and purchases abroad and to have their passport information taken down, Elmasry said.
“We feel that this is a type of profiling, which must cease.”

Oh really? Well, sorry if this sounds “politically incorrect” but I don’t see anything at all wrong with this sort of “profiling” and can think of no defensible reason whatsoever why it should cease. Surely, it makes perfect sense that passengers returning from Iran and Syria should be subject to increased security checks (as should those from Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, I might add — perhaps even more so). Of course, it’s an unfortunate hassle for the affected individuals, but hardly an imprudent or unexpected measure by Customs under the circumstances given the obvious connection between the countries in question and international terrorism.

Another concern is whether this kind of initiative effectively creates two different standards by which travellers are adjudged, thereby perversely setting up a situation of “reverse discrimination” against those not falling into the “Arab and Muslim” demographic? In this regard, it’s pertinent to note the impressions of a disgruntled traveler who recently wrote to the Vancouver Sun complaining about the “bad treatment” of routine visitors to Canada:

I just completed a two-year stint at a firm in the United States and had to cross the border many times. Into the U.S., I was almost invariably greeted with “welcome home, sir” (I am a Canadian citizen and green card holder). Only once in two years was there a friendly welcome to Canada and it was a breath of fresh air to be greeted by a friendly person.

The usual treatment is a series of pointless questions and wordless dismissal. When I once politely asked the purpose of being confronted with these same questions every time, I had my card stamped and spent an hour with a latex-gloved customs official examining my small carry-on bag with an alarming lack of alacrity.

I get similar feedback from visiting friends far too often and it makes me cringe. When I am confronted with the standard grim Vancouver airport immigration officer, complete with flak jacket, I wonder if there is not some devious plot to stock their ranks with the city’s misanthropes. Or does our minister of immigration think that this prisoner interrogation atmosphere actually increases our security?

Your actual mileage may vary of course, but it serves to illustrate the point that passing through Customs is rarely (and increasingly less so in these days of escalated security) an altogether pleasant or welcoming experience for anybody.

Finally, one has to wonder about the judgment of the Public Safety Minister at implementing a questionable (and presumably rather expensive) program of this nature at a time when relations between the department and the Customs & Excise Union are at low ebb — to the point where “slowdowns” have already been threatened at critical border crossings.

In addition to the two year old scheduling dispute mentioned in the article, the union has also been without a contract for almost a year, with the two sides still far apart in negotiations on salary issues and work conditions. The union has been seeking a 29% salary hike over three years (that would put them on par with police and correctional officers) but the latest offer from the CBSA was for less than 2% annually over four years.

Maybe Stockwell Day would be better advised to get his own house in order and address some of the chronic problems impeding the front line operations of CBSA at our critical commercial gateways rather than wasting time and money on possibly well-intentioned, but fundamentally boneheaded, and thoroughly counterproductive initiatives such as this.

Update: Just one “Blogging Tory” posted on this matter. The BTs are nothing if not entirely predictable. What a useless bunch of cheerleaders.

16 Comments

Filed under Federal Politics, Political Correctness

When “Liberal” Scribes Attack

In case you missed the latest bogus narrative being peddled by the pathologically dysfunctional, so-called “liberal” press corps (you know, the folks who are allegedly “in the tank” for Obama), Jonathan Weisman and Dana Milbank, two pseudo-journalists each writing similarly gruesome pieces in today’s Washington Post, were both eagerly flogging it.

The essential gist is that Obama is being “presumptuous” and “self-aggrandizing” — that he’s “beginning to believe his own hype” to use Weisman’s expression and engaging in “premature drape measuring” to quote Milbank (who snidely refers to him as “President Obama”). Too bad this is based on a clipped quote — a “real zinger” Weisman calls it — that he deceitfully unfurls this way:

Obama was waxing lyrical about last week’s trip to Europe, when he concluded, according to the meeting attendee, “this is the moment, as Nancy [Pelosi] noted, that the world is waiting for.”

The 200,000 souls who thronged to his speech in Berlin came not just for him, he told the enthralled audience of congressional representatives. “I have become a symbol of the possibility of America returning to our best traditions,” he said, according to the source.

On Wednesday morning, House leadership aides pushed back against interpretations of this comment as self-aggrandizing, saying that when the presumptive Democratic nominee said, “I have become a symbol of the possibility of America,” he was actually trying to deflect attention from himself.

No tape of the event exists and no one is denying the quote.

Well that sure sounds pretty damning! Or at least it perhaps would have if not for the inconvenient fact that Weisman’s unnamed source got his “zinger” completely wrong. Actually, it should have read:

“It has become increasingly clear in my travel, the campaign — that the crowds, the enthusiasm, 200,000 people in Berlin, is not about me at all. It’s about America. I have just become a symbol.”

Whether Weisman was aware of this and chose not to disclose the full context in favour of his preferred story-line can’t be known for sure (the piece has since been updated with the full quote now stitched onto the end of it), but of course the damage has already been done. Right-wing bloggers went berserk at the notion that Obama had described himself as “a symbol of the possibility of America returning to our best traditions” and of course the McCain campaign was exploiting it for all it was worth.

And so it goes. You can bet that long after the facts of the matter have been forgotten, the “symbolic importance” misquote will persist as grist for the “arrogance” narrative. And if the word “uppity” hasn’t already come to mind in reading those two pieces, trust me, you’re not alone.

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Filed under 2008 US Election, Media Bias

The Ugly Face of “Conservatism”

To employ a hackneyed rhetorical device frequently utilized by our friends on the Right, I can’t for the life of me seem to recall a deranged shooter murdering people owing to a deep-seated hatred of “conservatives and straights” — can you? Perhaps having Naomi Klein, Noam Chomsky and Michael Moore on one’s bookshelf doesn’t have quite the same homicidal effect on “leftards”… But then, I don’t recall “liberal” talk radio hosts like Ed Schultz or Rachel Maddow ever calling for the obliteration of an entire U.S. city like say Dallas because of its predominantly “right-wing” political culture either, nor do I think Bill Moyers ever regretted that the building housing Fox News hadn’t been leveled by maniacal terrorists simply because of their differing worldview.

Dr. Dawg has a highly commendable post on this subject from yesterday that raises some quite legitimate points about the “American conservative cult of death” as he refers to the elminationist rhetoric that pollutes the Right to an alarming degree and how the “blood on the hands of America’s conservatives” can’t easily be “washed off by bogus appeals to our sense of humour.”

It should also be mentioned that the almost unbroken collective silence of “The Blogging Tories” regarding this incident certainly hasn’t gone entirely unnoticed either. Make of that what you will. Perhaps the lives of people alleged to be “liberal” are simply too picayune for them to exercise any of their more usually evident outrage that kicks into overdrive every time there’s a killing involving a shooter that’s part of an ethnic minority group.

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Filed under Blogging Tories, Wingnuts

Gloria Kovach Isn’t a “Trained Seal”

She’s a sock-puppet.

Sheesh! Don’t recklessly besmirch the good name of seals with your “disgusting mudslinging” you horrid meanie, Steve.

In future, when striving for a comical effect, might I suggest placing a picture of Ms. Kovach in front of a backdrop riddled with bullet holes. Apparently, “Conservatives” find that kind of thing absolutely hilarious. Or, you could falsely accuse her supporters of almost anything — like say, even planting a bomb — without the slightest shred of evidence at all, and then simply brush it off saying you were “just kidding.” Although, I think you may need to have been officially “redeemed by the shed blood of the risen and eternal Lord Jesus Christ” in order to get away with that particular sort of high comedy.

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Filed under Idiot Bloggers, Wingnuts

The Story of One

Here’s another excellent documentary from Terry Jones; this time recounting the history of the world’s oldest and simplest number.

It’s interesting to note that it took almost half a millennium for Indian numbers (commonly but mistakenly called “Arabic”) to finally supplant Roman numerals in the West and the reason they finally did so — or so this particular version of events suggests — was perhaps because the renowned Florentine mathematician Leonardo Fibonacci showed Christian merchants how useful Indian numerals could be, for instance, for calculating profits.

Speaking of Fibonacci, here’s a curious bit of trivia…

Each term in the Fibonacci sequence is derived by adding the two preceding terms; i.e., 0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, and so on. Remarkably, you can use successive terms in this sequence to convert miles to kilometers. For example: 8 miles ≈ 13 kilometers, 13 miles ≈ 21 kilometers, etc. It turns out the reason this nifty little trick works is because the two units stand in φ (to within 0.5 percent of 1.6180339887, the felicitous number also known as the “golden ratio”).

Who says math is boring?

18 Comments

Filed under Arcana, History

Gone Fishin’

Time to catch some rays and work on my backlog of books.

Back next week sometime.

28 Comments

Filed under Blogging