Monday, January 31, 2011

Turning Point?

I get chills hearing of the bravery of Egyptians facing down Mubarak, the US backed thug. This could be a historic moment. Democracy could emerge here after all these years. It's very encouraging.

Tunisia is regarded as the first Wikileaks revolution, and the Egyptian outbreak is believed to have been fueled by it as well. People are figuring out what I've known for a long time regarding Al Jazeera. It's pretty darn good and doing some amazing work here. In many ways they actually act like journalists, criticizing powerful regimes. The right wing is spinning, trying to pretend that support for Mubarak's brutal dictatorship isn't something they supported. Sure, we've given him tens of billions in military aid and protesters are being gassed and abused with US made products, but that's not indicative of anything. Here's Victor Davis Hansen's effort. No credit for Wikileaks of course. It's the internet, which apparently only recently came to Egypt and they realized they were poor finally. None of that yearning to be free stuff. He blames the people themselves for their condition, with beliefs incompatible with successful "capitalist democracy." And he looks on at this courageous display of democracy with extreme pessimism, "expecting the worst". What a joke he is. I used to read him regularly. Incidentally inequality is worse in the US than in Egypt, but I'll leave that aside for now.

The state has cut off the internet, but the people are defiant. The military says they will not fire on protesters. So the demonstrations continue and I very much hope that this results in positive things.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Making Us Safe

My friend HP is concerned that Wikileaks might make Americans less safe by making us more susceptible to terrorism. My response is if that's true at all it's true in an extremely marginal way. The reason is that there really is no terrorist threat to Americans.

In 2009 25 Americans were killed in non-combat fatalities related to terrorism. Something like 73 would die of lightning strikes. 150 people die every year from falling coconuts. Terrorism is not a serious threat to anyone in America, so if Wikileaks "increases" this nearly non-existent threat by making it twice as likely it's still insignificant.

But maybe that's just because our torture regime, surveillance state, due process free assassination program for US citizens, etc is just that effective. That's why the death toll is so low. That's what HP suggests.

I've documented over and over at this blog how our foreign policy was expected to increase violence against Americans and the data show that it has. Granted the deaths are largely combat related, not non-combat. But still these are dead Americans. For instance a lead Iraqi interrogator Matthew Alexander says that it's no exaggeration to say that half of the casualties US troops have endured are the result of people inspired by detainee abuse to fight against our military.

But just as a data point I thought I'd make an effort to tally American casualties at the hands of terrorist fighters from Islamic states through the years. I'm including sources for the data below.

9/11 was enormous from our perspective. A huge spike in American deaths. It's true that we haven't had anything like that since. But we never had anything like that before either. It's an outlier. I don't think it makes sense to give the Patriot Act a lot of credit. After all Americans are dying at a pretty fast clip these days.

Of course people in Islamic states are also dying rapidly. I made another chart that overlays Islamic death at the hands of our government over the top of American deaths at the hands of Islamic terrorists. Tallying these numbers is a little tricky. For one the death tolls are debatable. Like General Tommy Franks says "We don't do body counts." Less effort is put into determining the total number of dead, so we can't be as sure of their accuracy.

Another difficulty is that assigning responsibility can also be debatable. I started with 1980 above because the bombing of the marine barracks is sort of a real starting point for resistance amongst Middle East peoples. The Iran-Iraq War is going on along side this and I regard our government as responsible to a large degree. Our government provided the weapons, probably encouraged Saddam to invade, and probably prolonged the war. For this chart I'm giving the US government half the total death tally.

Following that war the culpability of the US government is more obvious, though the tallies remain questionable. I'm using mostly the lower end estimates for death tolls that I'm aware of. Again, sources follow at the end.

Our government's reaction seems a little extreme in light of the suffering that other victims have endured.

Sources for American casualties at the hands of Islamic terrorists:

Event Death Toll
1982 Lebanon Hostage Crisis 4
1983 US Embassy in Beiruit Bombing 17
1983 US Marine Barracks Bombing 241
1984 Beirut Bombing and Hijacking 4
1985 TWA Flight 847 1
1985 Achille Lauro 1
1985 Rome and Vienna Airport Bombings 5
1986 TWA Flight 840 4
1986 West Berlin Disco Bombing 2
1988 Pan Am Flight 103 190
1991 Gulf War 1 148
1993 World Trade Center 6
1996 Khobar Towers 19
1998 Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania 13
2000 USS Cole 17
2001 9-11 Trade Towers Attack 2992
2001-2011 Invasion of Afghanistan 1467
2003 Saudi Housing Compounds 8
2003-2001 Invasion of Iraq 3503
2009 Recruiting Center In Arkansas 2
2009 Ft. Hood 13

Total: 8644

Sources for casualties of those in the Middle East/Islamic states at the hands of the US government:

Event Death Toll
1980-1988 Iran-Iraq War 500,000
1988 Gassing of Kurds 15,000
1990-1991 Gulf War 1 205,000
1990-2002 Iraqi Sanctions 350,000
2001-2011 Invasion of Afghanistan 24,000
2003-2011 Invasion of Iraq 150,000

Total: 1,244,000

I've included the gassing of the Kurds because the weapons were American and the action was enabled by the US, but that's debatable.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Chomsky on Bush Name Calling, Hugo Chavez, and Democracy

I happened to watch a documentary called "South of the Border" which is available for instant view on Netflix, in which Hugo Chavez and other South American political leaders were interviewed. Interesting. I found this commentary from Chomsky to also be interesting, so I thought I'd share.

Bob Dutko and I Talk Wikileaks

Audio can be downloaded here or click below.

I continue to update what I regard as key Wikileaks revelations here.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

17 Giga Pixel Photo of Yosemite

I have a picture of Yosemite's Half Dome on the home page just because it happens I was able to visit this last summer. I went with two brothers. With no spouses or kids we hiked the heck out of it. Pretty exhausting, but great memories. We did manage to get to the top of half dome. It was a 17 mile, 10 hour day and a lot of soreness the next day. It was a vertical of about 5000 ft. Bill and I huffed and puffed our way up while another brother lugged all the water and still had to pause looking back at us wondering why we were so slow.

Reddit has a link to to a video of someone panning in and out of a 17 gigapixel photo from a spot where I believe I stood. It's really cool. The original photo is here. One of my own photos from this spot is below. Not quite as good. It's interesting as the video zooms to the summit of half dome and you can see people on top of it. I didn't realize that I would have seen that if I could have zoomed from this point.

Also worth checking out is Dubai at 45 gigapixels, Budapest at 70, and London at 80.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Public Support for War With Iraq

I've made the point in the past that only 33% of the American people supported the invasion of Iraq without UN authorization, and my source for that is here. The right wing war mongering American Enterprise Institute has compiled the results of various polling questions regarding the war and that is available here. It's interesting to note that the AEI basically confirms my prior claim. But the AEI has an additional question that is worth considering, which is on page 6. Would you support the invasion of Iraq without UN authorization but with the support of one or two major allies? Since of course Britain did support the invasion (despite public opposition) this question more accurately reflects what happened. The results were as follows:

Jan. 3-6, 2003 PSRA/Newsweek - Support: 47, Oppose: 45
Jan. 16-17, 2003 PSRA/Newsweek - Support: 39, Oppose: 52

As you would expect more people did support war with the support of a couple of additional states but without UN authorization than supported with the US acting alone.

But what makes this all the more remarkable is that 2/3 of the American people were under the false impression that Saddam was directly involved in the 9/11 attacks. According to the University of Maryland 69% believed this falsity. Despite this they opposed Bush's invasion when it occurred. After it commenced though the public did rally in support as the public typically does in such cases.

My memory is that Bush did not explicitly state that Saddam was responsible for 9/11 or had links to Al Qaeda. But did he intentionally conflate Saddam and OBL, such as during the 2004 debates when he "accidentally" said one when he meant the other? As is well known, Foxnews viewers are more likely to have pro-war misperceptions. They would be expected to get a more steady diet of such conflations.

Well, that's impossible to prove and speculative. But it's interesting how tepid support was despite the widespread belief that Saddam had attacked the US.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Sam Harris on Inequality

For once Sam Harris takes a break from focusing laser like on the sins of others that he can't control (Islamic terrorism) and considers problems that he can control. Here he is on inequality in the United States.

This will have to tide Darf and HP over temporarily. A sick family and crazy work schedule has me unable to dive back in to our never ending debate thread. But I'll be back.

Will I Be Forced To Admit Jesus Is Lord?

I went to lunch today with two friends. One Muslim the other Christian. Great guys. We like to do this every now and then. Have some rip roaring religious debate. There are a few other Christians a few other Muslims and a few other atheists that are often involved, but it was just the three of us this time.

We were talking about healing miracles. The Muslim tells us that he prays for good things to happen but doesn't put emphasis on healings for specific illnesses. The Christian does of course.

The Christian has a tough one for me to explain. He knows a lady. Her former husband, now deceased, in fact had died and come to life again on 3 different occasions. I offer some critical facial expressions, but my friend presses on. Here's what happened on one occasion. The man arrived at the hospital and after repeated electric shock pulses and efforts to resuscitate he was pronounced dead. Toe was tagged. They put him on the gurney and took him to a place where they could temporarily store dead bodies, like those drawers that you see in movies. 12 hours later his wife arrives at the hospital. "Where's my husband?" "I'm sorry ma'am, he's passed." "No he hasn't." "Yes, I'm afraid he has. You need to make arrangements." "No, he's not dead. Take me to the body." "OK, fine, but believe us he's dead."

So she is shown the body and speaks to her husband. "Wake up honey. There's work for you to do." Husband coughs. They pull him out. He's alive. A nurse observing faints, cuts her head, and it requires 6 stitches.

And that's not the end. The lady proceeded throughout the hospital to heal various sick people. Doctors were baffled and all converted to Christianity.

This friend of mine is very intelligent and well placed professional where I work. Confident as can be. So my response was simple. "Friend, everything you just told me is complete crap." Or words to that effect. Where's the evidence? "You're going to meet the woman herself. Her husband is passed now." "Nope. I don't care about the woman. I want to meet the doctors." "You got it. We're going to get in contact with the doctors and nurses. We're going to get the best evidence you could ever ask for. The people are right over here in Sterling Heights. So are you going to admit that Jesus is Lord if I get the doctors and nurses, etc?"

Hmm. Well technically, I told him, God might exist and perform this miracle and Jesus might not be Lord. But this is all crap.

At one point he'd pulled out a $20 bill as if we would be making a bet, but then that didn't happen, so on the way to the car I asked if he was thinking of placing a bet. Sure, he'd bet. "What do you think? $100?" "Sure, I'll bet you $100." Well that's getting weird. I don't want to take $100 from my colleague. Maybe I should have. But I said $10 will get you $100. I'll take $10 from you. Nope. He doesn't want to take my money.

So here's what we settled on. I need to wear a big blazing shirt with the words "Jesus Is Lord" every Friday for a month at work. I told him I didn't think that was acceptable per the dress code, but he says he'll clear it with management. Yeah, that's fine. And I'll also have to have a blog post entitled "Jesus Is Lord."

I'm not too worried about that.