Monday, September 27, 2010

The Oath Movie - Documentary of a Terrorist

Yesterday, I watched an astonishing film on POV, a PBS series of independent documentaries, called The Oath. It chronicles the rise of a “reformed” Al Qaeda operative Abu Jandal a.k.a. Salim Hamdan, Osama bin Laden’s former bodyguard. After leaving bin Laden's service, he was captured at the Pakistani border and became a prisoner at Guantánamo Bay facing war crimes charges. It's a little hard to follow, because it's not presented in exactly chronological order, but it ultimately leads to Osama bin Laden, the 9/11 attacks, and even the US Constitution.

Although the filmmaker was trying to show why American foreign policy creates hatred and uprisings in the middle east, and gain sympathy for them, she was much better at painting an accurate picture of why we need to take so-called “Islamic Extremists” seriously. She reveals what their thinking is, the lies they are told, and how they have no regard for anyone who doesn't think, live or believe as they do. There are also sections showing some of Al Qaeda's recruiting practices, and communications tactics.

What is most telling is the conversations Hamdan has with young militant Muslims. He acts like a mentor, or minor Imam, subtly giving them a philosophy of hatred for “infidels” and a mindset of action, all the while denying that he has ever asked them to kill Americans. What is most interesting is when he tells them to be careful, or cuts them off when they start asking questions that may be “too sensitive” and reveal these young men's connections, or aspirations, to terrorism.

While some who have seen the movie focus on the side of the story trying to humanize Salim Hamdan, and thus dismiss the film, they shouldn't. This is likely the most terrifying, and brutally truthful, look inside Al Qaeda I have ever seen. It reveals the actual war we are waging with them and other related militant groups. They see themselves as freedom fighters, as Holy Warriors. Make no mistake, there sole mission is to kill us. If the events portrayed, and the conversations recorded in this documentary doesn't wake you up to the real danger we are facing as a country, nothing will.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

US to Give $50 Million for Cookstoves

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has announced that the US is poised to donate $50 million to the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves. They area non-profit group dedicated to clean-burning cookstoves to under-developed countries that currently use open fires within their homes.
Such cooking practices create large amounts of carbon monoxide and black carbon soot that can significantly compromise a person's health. As a “foodie” and home cook, this problem is of great concern to me. What I'm confused about is why the U.S. Should be donating such a large amount of money in this down economy.

I'm also concerned about why we are donating to this specific organization in this way. It turns out that there are already many US government agencies and private companies that support this group. Why are we giving $50 million in addition to the money US taxpayers and corporations are already giving them? Other countries have pledged much less.

According to the New York Times:

Reid Detchon, vice president for energy and climate at the United Nations Foundation, one of the founding partners of the alliance, said that the plan was not simply to use donations to buy millions of new stoves and ship them out to the developing world.
Rather, he said, the group hopes to create an entrepreneurial model in which small companies manufacture or buy the stoves close to their markets, taking into account local fuel choices, food consumption patterns and methods of cooking.

There's a problem with this ideal. It turns out that one of the major manufacturers of these stoves is China. How is large scale manufacturing groups in China, who shamelessly belch out tons of greenhouse gasses, a small company model, in practice?

It also turns out that this “solution” has a built it replacement date. It's actually designed to be cheap, and break down, so it has to be replaced every few years:

“The idea is how to create a thriving global industry in cookstoves, driven by consumers’ desire to have these products at a price they can afford,” Mr. Detchon said.
“These stoves don’t have a long lifetime,” he said. “To produce low cost and high volume, you’ll have to replace them relatively frequently, perhaps every two, three or five years. You’ll need a supply chain and business model that delivers them, not on a one-time basis, but as a continuing enterprise.”

How is selling sub-standard equipment to a developing nation a good idea? This group positions itself as highly moral, wanting to help poor people. This sounds like they're taking advantage of them.

The solutions to carbon smoke and soot in the house was fixed hundreds of years ago with much simply, and in some cases less expensive, technologies and practices. While this may be a worthy cause, there are other things that can be done and many of them don't require any money at all.

Move the Stove Outside. An open flam in a closed space not only creates breathing problems, it's a major fire hazard.

Use a Chimney. Even a simple hole in the roof can help direct smoke upwards, and out of the home.

Use a Solar Oven. You can build an effective solar oven for next to nothing. Sure, there are fancy models that cost hundreds of dollars, but you can actually buy/build a cheap, but very effective ovens for much less. Solar ovens have a zero-carbon footprint, where the other cookers do not. Here's the other kicker – Secretary Clinton has known about it, and supported them, for over a year. Why change gears, now?

Photo by Sunil Lal

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Friday is Constitution Day! Just Don't Try to Celebrate in Ohio

This Friday, September 17, is the anniversary of the signing of the U.S. Constitution. That's quite a reason to celebrate, if you ask me.  According to this news article, you better not try doing it in Andover, Ohio.

Members of the recently formed Andover Tea Party had petitioned the city to allow them to hold a rally commemorating the signing of the Constitution. They were denied due to, get this, their group's political affiliation. The 1851 Center for Constitutional Law, a nonpartisan law center in Ohio, has filed a lawsuit in federal court on behalf of the Tea Party group, claiming a violation of their First Amendment rights.

Apparently, the Andover City Council is citing a local resolution that prohibits any for-profit advertising or political signs on the Andover Square.  The problem, it seems, is that the trustees believe celebrating the signing of the Constitution is a political event.

Okay. I can buy that. Under that standard, though, so is celebrating Memorial Day, Veteran's Day, and Independence Day, all of which have had events cleared by the Andover City Council. There's supposed to be a ruling on a restraining order against the Council before Friday.

File this under, “More Evidence that the World has Turned Upside Down.”

Photo from the National Archives.

Friday, September 10, 2010

9/11 - 9 Years - Never Forget

Never forget what they did to us.

Never allow them to do it again.

Never surrender your American Values and Freedoms because of fear or politics.

"These acts of mass murder were intended to frighten our nation into chaos and retreat. But they have failed; our country is strong. A great people has been moved to defend a great nation. Terrorist attacks can shake the foundations of our biggest buildings, but they cannot touch the foundation of America. These acts shattered steel, but they cannot dent the steel of American resolve. America was targeted for attack because we're the brightest beacon for freedom and opportunity in the world. And no one will keep that light from shining. - President George W. Bush, from his 9/11 address."

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Burning the Koran - Distractions and Double Standards

By now you've heard the plans of a Florida pastor to burn a copy of the Koran on 9/11. You've probably also seen the insane about of outrage in the media over it. Actors, senators, you name it - they're all pontificating about how stupid and terrible it is.

It is stupid. It's also well within the rights of this pastor and his congregation to burn them. Here's where I see another example of a double standard in our society. It's okay to spread elephant feces on a picture of the Virgin Mary in the name of art. It's okay to burn the American flag in protest over American foreign policy. Just try and burn the Koran, though, and the political pundits will call for your head.

The person I see that has the right attitude about this is Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour, "Any issue that takes peoples eye off of unemployment, job creation, economic growth, taxes, spending, deficits, debts is taking your idea off the ball."

Well said, Governor.