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Outrage Over News Corp: A Tale of Two Standards

Monday, July 18th, 2011

As a rule, I eschew political news here but I think this one merits an exception.

The big story of the moment for political junkies is the illegal hacking of cell phones allegedly carried out by employees of one of Rupert Murdoch’s British tabloid newspapers. Not just any phones either, the cell phones of British VIPs, political bigwigs, celebrities and perhaps, some 9/11 victims. All of the details have not been revealed, but there are police investigations, one of News Corp’s top employees has been arrested, parliamentary inquiries and demands by Murdochs political enemies there to have the British government “dismantle his empire“.

Rupert Murdoch is not, it must be said, a cuddly public figure. He is a press baron throwback to the era of Joseph Pulitizer and William Randolph Hearst and has a reputation for ruthlessness in business and overweening ambition in politics to gain personal influence for promoting his conservative views. He is a hate figure to Democratic and liberal partisans of the intolerant kind who see political disagreement as evidence of evil and would like FOXnews, one of Murdoch’s most influential and profitable properties, to be suppressed by the FCC (though Murdoch’s right-wing views did not preclude him from trying to cozy up to China’s communist leadership). These folks are naturally celebrating Murdoch’s dilemma and hoping for a collapse – and Murdoch and his son James are in genuine jeopardy, possibly legal, certainly political and commercial.

Much indignant outrage is being heaped on Murdoch’s head now by the enlightened; I have no love for phone hacking and I definitely agree that and violating people’s privacy is a crime that ought to be punished by sending those responsible to prison. I am curious though, how this position is squared morally with the fact that the two liberal news outlets most triumphant about the News Corp scandal, The New York Times and The Guardian, themselves recently were knowing accessories to the much more serious crime of espionage.

Actually calling these papers criminal accessories is not a full picture of their behavior during the Wikileaks document dump; it is more accurate to say that they reaped corporate financial benefit from facilitating espionage, grand theft and treason, for which their editors have not faced any legal consequences. 

Yes, treason. Look up the definition.

Much unlike the nobody Army private and patsy, Bradley Manning, who is likely to face a sentence of life in prison. Good thing for  Manning that he only outed a vast array of US intelligence and diplomatic secrets and exposed ordinary, unimportant, unprotected Afghans and Iraqis to murderous retribution by Islamist degenerates. If Manning had phonehacked a Labor MP or a wealthy, airhead celebrity – you know, really important and beautiful people – the NYT and the Guardian would be calling for a death sentence. It is a most curious scale of values.

Go back and look at which partisan blowhards with columns and bylines and talking head opinion shapers thought Wikileaks was just great and defended Julian Assange and what their opinion is on phonehacking today and see if any – any at all – evidence some consistency. Or awareness of the relative magnitude of each crime – and crime is the right word, neither of these scandals are mere pranks, but one is important to national security and the other, so far, is only interesting.

There’s something amiss here in the way that partisan politics and a seamy, not too subtle, undercurrent of class entitlement have warped the perspective and sense of proportion of some people who are smart enough to know better.

Trucking: AQAP and the Zetas

Monday, May 23rd, 2011

[ by Charles Cameron — the talk & the walk, vehicles as weapons, Islamist and “narco” terror ]



Compare and contrast:


Hell, a Colombian cartel was fielding narco-subs a while back, as I recall..

What the Dickens? Symbolic details in Inspire issue 3

Sunday, November 21st, 2010

by Charles Cameron
It’s easily missed. It’s part of the “small print” that most small-format paperbacks carry on the copyright page:

The sale of this book without its cover is unauthorized. If you purchased this book without a cover, you should be aware that it was reported to the publisher as “unsold and destroyed.” Neither the author nor the publisher has received payment for the sale of this “stripped book.”

Here’s the picture that AQAP took of the copy of Dickens’ novel Great Expectations they inserted into one of their bombs recently – which they then published in issue 3 of their English language magazine Inspire:


And here’s the explanation that accompanies that photo, in a piece titled “The Objectives if Operation Hemorrhage” by their “Head of the Foreign Operations Team”:

This current battle fought by the West is not an isolated battle but is a continuation of a long history of aggression by the West against the Muslim world. In order to revive and bring back this history we listed the names of Reynald Krak and Diego Diaz as the recipients of the packages. We got the former name from Reynald de Chatillon, the lord of Krak des Chevaliers who was one of the worst and most treacherous of the Crusade’s leaders. He fell into captivity and Salahuddeen personally beheaded him. The name we used for the second package was derived from that of Don Diego Deza, the Inquisitor General of the Spanish Inquisition after the fall of Granada who along with the Spanish monarchy supervised the extermination and expulsion of the Muslim presence on the Iberian Peninsula employing the most horrific methods of torture and done in the name of God and the Church. Today we are facing a coalition of Crusaders and Zionists and we in al Qaeda of the Arabian Peninsula will never forget Palestine. How can we forget it when our motto is: “Here we start and in al-Aqsa we meet”? So we listed the address of the “Congregation Or Chadash”, a Gay and Lesbian synagogue on our one of our packages. The second package was sent to “Congregation B’nai Zion”. Both synagogues are in Chicago, Obama’s city.
We were very optimistic about the outcome of this operation. That is why we dropped into one of the boxes a novel titled, Great Expectations.

They may not have read the book or seen the movie, as Ibn Siqilli comments at the link above, but they do have long memories and/or a taste for history, and they are indeed sending signals with small details like the fictitious names of their addressees.


This is in line with one of the basic premises of Islamic thought: that the world we inhabit is a world of ayat or symbols (the singular is ayah, and the word is also used to refer to the verses of the Qur’an, each of which is viewed as a symbolic utterance). Here, for instance, is a passage from Fazlun Khalid’s paper, Islam and the Environment, from the website of Jordan’s Royal Aal al-Bayt Institute for Islamic Thought:

The Qur’an refers to creation or the natural world as the signs (ayat) of Allah, the Creator, and this is also the name given to the verses contained in the Qur’an. Ayat means signs, symbols or proofs of the divine. As the Qur’an is proof of Allah so likewise is His creation. The Qur’an also speaks of signs within the self and as Nasr explains, “… when Muslim sages referred to the cosmic or ontological Qur’an … they saw upon the face of every creature letters and words from the cosmic Qur’an … they remained fully aware of the fact that the Qur’an refers to phenomena of nature and events within the soul of man as ayat … for them forms of nature were literally ayat Allah”. As the Qur’an says, “there are certainly signs (ayat) in the earth for people with certainty; and in yourselves. Do you not then see?” (Adh-Dhariat, 51:20, 21).


BTW, I don’t think Penguin (or, for that matter, Charles Dickens) got paid for that book… whatever their expectations may have been.

Education, Books and the Digital Age

Wednesday, March 24th, 2010


In one of those “Socrates lamenting how the young folk can’t memorize and recite worth a damn because of all the time they waste reading!” moments, The New York Times hosted a debate of cultural significance. The authors are all thoughtful and reasonable in their contentions:

Do School Libraries Need Books?

Keeping traditional school libraries up to date is costly, with the constant need to acquire new books and to find space to store them. Yet for all that trouble, students roam the stacks less and less because they find it so much more efficient to work online. One school, Cushing Academy, made news last fall when it announced that it would give away most of its 20,000 books and transform its library into a digital center.

Do schools need to maintain traditional libraries? What are the educational consequences of having students read less on the printed page and more on the Web?

I spend a copious amount of time reading online with a PC, Blackberry, netbook and a Kindle but there’s something sad and sterile about the concept of a library without books. It is like calling a room with an iPod plugged into a Bose a “concert hall”.

This isn’t an antiquarian reaction. I am enthusiastic about the potential and the evolving reality of Web 2.0 as a powerful tool for learning, to set “minds on fire“, to facilitate mass collaboration in open-source  communities of practice, to lower costs and increase access to the highest quality educational experiences available and to drastically re-engineer public education. I am all for investing in “digital centers” for the “digital natives” – hell, all students should be carrying netbooks as a standard school supply! The capacity to skillfully navigate, evaluate and manipulate online information is not an esoteric accomplishment but an everyday skill for a globalized economy. Going online ought to be a normal part of a child’s school day, not a once a month or semester event.

I am also sympathetic to the economic questions facing school librarians – and not merely of cost, but of physical space. School library budgets are shrinking or nonexistent even as digital data compression and processing power follows Moore’s Law. Digital investment, especially when most vendors that specialize in k-12 educational markets feature egregiously oligopolistic, rip-off, prices, gives librarians an orders of magnitude larger “bang for the buck”.

But abandoning books entirely is not the way to go. Cognitively, reading online is likely not the same at the neuronal level as reading from a book. For literate adults, that may not matter as much as for children who are still in the complicated process of learning how to read. The key variable here may be visual attention moreso than particular cognitive subsets of reading skills, but we don’t actually know. Science cannot yet explain the wide developmental and methodological preference variation  among students who learn or fail to learn how to read using the ancient dead tree format. To quote neuroscientist, Dr. Maryanne Wolf:

….No one really knows the ultimate effects of an immersion in a digital medium on the young developing brain. We do know a great deal, however, about the formation of what we know as the expert reading brain that most of us possess to this point in history.

In brief, this brain learns to access and integrate within 300 milliseconds a vast array of visual, semantic, sound (or phonological), and conceptual processes, which allows us to decode and begin to comprehend a word. At that point, for most of us our circuit is automatic enough to allocate an additional precious 100 to 200 milliseconds to an even more sophisticated set of comprehension processes that allow us to connect the decoded words to inference, analogical reasoning, critical analysis, contextual knowledge, and finally, the apex of reading: our own thoughts that go beyond the text.

This is what Proust called the heart of reading – when we go beyond the author’s wisdom and enter the beginning of our own.

I have no doubt that the new mediums will accomplish many of the goals we have for the reading brain, particularly the motivation to learn to decode, read and experience the knowledge that is available. As a cognitive neuroscientist, however, I believe we need rigorous research about whether the reading circuit of our youngest members will be short-circuited, figuratively and physiologically.

For my greatest concern is that the young brain will never have the time (in milliseconds or in hours or in years) to learn to go deeper into the text after the first decoding, but rather will be pulled by the medium to ever more distracting information, sidebars, and now,perhaps, videos (in the new vooks).

The child’s imagination and children’s nascent sense of probity and introspection are no match for a medium that creates a sense of urgency to get to the next piece of stimulating information. The attention span of children may be one of the main reasons why an immersion in on-screen reading is so engaging, and it may also be why digital reading may ultimately prove antithetical to the long-in-development, reflective nature of the expert reading brain as we know it.

I could make a cultural argument about the tactile pleasure of book reading. Or the intrinsic role of books as the cornerstone of cultivating a “life of the mind” . Or that book-bound literacy is a two thousand year old element of Western civilization that is worth preserving for its own sake – which it is. However, such cultural arguments are not politically persuasive, because if you understand them already then they do not need to be made. And if you do not understand them from firsthand experience, then you cannot grasp the argument’s merit from a pious secondhand lecture.

Which leaves us with an appeal to utilitarianism; bookless schools might result in students who read poorly, which wastes money, time, opportunities and talent. Online mediums should be a regular part of a student’s diet of literacy but without books as a component of reading, a digital environment may not make for a literate people.

Schippert on COIN as an Exit not a Strategy

Friday, December 4th, 2009

Steve Schippert, my national security amigo from Threatswatch.org, scored an op-ed in The Washington Times. He’s not happy.

Counterinsurgency incoherence: President Obama prefers an Exit Strategy to Victory

In war, and particularly in an Afghanistan counterinsurgency effort, there are always three sides to the coin: the good, the bad and the ugly. This is especially true in President Obama’s new Afghanistan strategy, finally announced to the American public Tuesday from a West Point backdrop.

The prescribed influx of much-needed American warriors onto the battlefield is clearly and rightly the good. And the good can withstand the bad, a Taliban enemy in the absence of reliable partners in the Afghan and Pakistani governments.

But the glimmering light of the good will surely be eclipsed by the ugly, an incoherence of strategy beneath the surface sheen of a surge. The devil is always in the details.

….For a counterinsurgency effort to succeed, the willing partners aren’t in Kabul or Islamabad, no matter the demands made upon each. Rather, they reside in the villages and towns spread through the provinces of Afghanistan. Winning over the local leaders will strengthen our position and ultimately lead to the Afghan people demanding better governance from Kabul.

This requires – in both word and deed – clear demonstration of presence and resolve, not in intellectual arguments for an exit strategy. There are no exits for the Afghans we seek to defend in parallel with our own security and interests.

Read the rest here.

Arm the tribes. Where there are no tribes, create loyalist paramilitaries from whatever networks are at hand for district and village self-defense. A heavily Tajik and Uzbek Afghan National Army will never fight the Taliban half as eagerly as Pushtun villagers defending their own homes and fields.

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