Saturday, August 5, 2017

Why I Challenge Islamaphobic Claims on Social Media

This afternoon I spent a good deal of time challenging a statement made by a friend on Facebook that "The majority of Muslims in the world believe in Sharia law and want it imposed on the world." Although it was fairly easy to show that his claim was a "hasty generalization," the discussion didn't permit an explanation of why I take issue with fallacious Islamaphobic rhetoric. I thought it would be a good topic for a blog post. 

It is not disputed that we are in a conflict with radical elements of Islam, nor is it disputed that they consider us their enemy. These are real issues. But what are our objectives in dealing with this conflict? And what are their objectives? What strategies should we use to achieve our objectives? What is their strategy?

Our Objectives

We have two principal objectives: 1.) Eliminate domestic terrorism here in the US and elsewhere; and 2.) avoid a long, protracted ground war that we may not be able to win. 

We also have several secondary objective to consider: 
  • We need to minimize any military, political or economic advantage those that consider us as enemies and want to harm us may have.
  • We want to maximize our military, political and economic advantages.
  • We want to minimize wasting of resources 
  • We want to create a stable political and economic situation in the Middle East; preferably one in which our economic interests are protected.

The Radical Islamic Objectives

It would be too easy to say that the enemies' objectives are to impose Islam on the rest of the world. This may be the case, but most wars are fought for economic  and purely political reasons, and I don't think the current situation is any different. Most of radical Islam is already in areas where Islam is dominant, so we can probably rule out seeking political control, although the situation in Syria mitigates this argument. That conflict is between different factions of Islam - Sunni vs Shi'a - not directed toward the west. (Compare this to the religious wars within Christianity starting in the 15th century between Catholics and Protestants.) A similar argument applies with regard to economic resources. These are Islamic factions attempting to take control of resources from other Islamic factions. The exception here is Israel, which is an economic power in the area. 

There are, however, several strategic objectives that the radical Islamic factions could be pursuing with regard to the west: 
  • Weaken our support for Israel or the Islamic factions opposing them.
  • Weaken us economically to prevent us interfering with their plans.
  • Use the enmity as a recruiting tool to swell their rankes
  • Draw us into a protracted ground war where they have significant military advantages.
  • Tie up our economic and political resources around domestic security, impairing our ability to play on the larger stage.

The Playing Field

There are an estimated 1.5 billion Muslims in the world, with about 20% (300,000,000) of them radicalized. That's more than the entire population of the US, but it leaves 1.2 Billion Muslims non-aligned. The radicals have demonstrated that they are willing and capable of non-traditional warfare. They fight in their own countries with guerrilla tactics and use terrorism abroad. They are also capable of playing on public opinion and using propaganda to their advantage. As we have discovered in Iraq and Afghanistan, we can quickly invade and take over a country, but occupation is difficult to impossible, and very costly. The radicals have learned from that tactics Washington and the militias used against the British in the Revolutionary War, and that Ho Chi Minh used against us in Viet Nam. 

The United States has the most powerful conventional military in recorded history, but that military is nigh useless an occupation in a country where we do not have the support of the general population. going in to a country like Iraq, Afghanistan or Syria puts our forces at risk of guerrilla tactics and requires immense amounts of resources to maintain supply lines, etc. Without the support of the local population, we cannot possibly win on the ground. Meanwhile, using our powerful military at a distance provides the other side with propaganda opportunities with claims of collateral damages to civilians. 

In play here are the hearts and minds of the 1.2 billion non-aligned Muslims. The radicals would like to radicalize as many of them as they can. We, obviously, need to prevent that, and to the extent possible, move them in the other direction.


Part of the radicals strategy is to make westerners, and Americans in particular, look like enemies to those unaligned Muslims. They have two ways of doing this: The first is to use simple propaganda techniques to paint a picture of us as "the Great Satan." This works, but it isn't their most effective tool.

A much more effective tool is to manipulate us in to behaving like the Great Satan. They perpetrate a terrorist attack. This does immediate damage, but it also inflames us. In our anger we react by vilifying all of Islam; declaring them all to be our enemy. We mistreat, ostracize and discriminate against the non-aligned. In doing so, we unwittingly play into the radical's hands. Those we mistreat without just cause now have less reason to trust us and more reason to believe that we are the Great Satan. The ranks of the radicals swells and creates a bigger advantage for them. 

This is not the strategy we want to follow. Obviously.

A much better strategy is to clearly define our enemy as the radical factions as our enemy while doing everything we can to show the 1.2 billion that we are their friends and that we can be  trusted. When the radicals strike, we blame the radicals, not all of Islam. When they accuse us of things that vilify us, we respond with measured responses, we examine their charges and adjust our position toward the 1.2 billion as necessary to actually be their friend. We help those that need it, especially including those divisions within Islam that the radicals are also attacking. We provide help for refugees. Etc. I think you get the idea by now. We do everything we can to prevent creating more radicals, and everything we can to befriend those that are neutral or opposed to the radicals. We treat them fairly and equitably. 

Friday, July 22, 2016

Burdens and Standards of Proof

My sister is a Democrat. The other day, the two of us were discussing the upcoming election and I told her I could not morally support either Trump or Clinton for president. There are many reasons why I cannot support either of them politically, but the moral question comes down to the integrity and competence of the candidates. Politi-fact has given Mr. Trump more "pants on fire" ratings in the run up to the RNC Convention than any other political figure since they started fact checking, he is defending three federal class-action fraud suits, including one involving the Racketeering and Corrupt Organisations statute, for fraud, and he displays symptoms of both a Narcissistic Personality Disorder and a Histrionic Personality Disorder.

Clinton, on the other hand, has been accused of compromising classified State Department information. Both the State Department IG and the FBI Director have said that she was extremely careless. The FBI Director has said there was classified information on Clinton's personal server, that the information reached the highest levels of classification, that it was classified when sent or received, and that there are indications that many thousand emails were deleted by her lawyers - who were not cleared for the information.

My sister's position is the Clinton has been accused, but nothing has ever been proven, so Hillary Clinton is still the best candidate. But is that really the case? This brings up the question of who has the burden of proof, and the question of what standard of proof applies to determining who to vote for. The same standards apply to all candidates.

Burden of Proof

In a court of law, the prosecutor has the burden of proving that the accused defendant is guilty. This is clearly the case in any criminal prosecution of Hillary Clinton, and it is also clearly the case in the three fraud suits against Donald Trump. 

But when it comes to a job interview, the burden of proving that a candidate is qualified for the job falls to the candidate. The hiring manager doesn't have to prove anything. The hiring manager looks at the candidate's resume, his or her history, and any other relevant information that applies to the candidate's ability to do the job. The hiring manager may have a list of "must have" criteria the candidate must satisfy, and there may also be a list of "can't have" items that will immediately disqualify a candidate.  If there is an obvious hole in the must have list or a significant entry on the can't have list, the resume goes into the trash heap before the candidate even gets and interview.

As voters, we are the hiring managers that get to choose who we hire as the next President of the United States of Americal. One the "must have" list is integrity, honesty, competence, and more. On the "can't have" list we can put a history of failed projects, gross negligence, disloyalty and other disqualifiers.

It is up to Donald Trump, HIllary Clinton, Jill Stein, and Gary Johnson to prove to us that they have the qualifications necessary for the job. Not only must each prove he or she has the qualifications, thye must show that their qualification is better than the other candidates. To me, the three fraud suits of Trumps and the gross negligence of Clinton in handling classified information are on the "can't have" list. They are both disqualified for the job.

Standard of Proof

But this isn't just a normal job interview situation. This is a political election, and as such it is - unfortunately - subject to mudslinging and calumny. My sister's position is that the allegations against Hillary are something the Republicans made up. Since there haven't been any criminal charges, the allegations are completely unfounded. Donald Trump, on the other hand, accused the Federal Judge presiding over two of the lawsuits he's facing of racial bias because the suits had not been decided on "summary judgment" in his (Trump's) favor. Do we simply ignore the allegations? Or is there another way to look at them that is relevant to the decision we make as voters?

In a criminal case, the prosecutor must not only prove his case, but he must prove it to the highest standard of proof: "Beyond a reasonable doubt and to a moral certainty." This level of proof must apply to each element of the case. For example, a state statute might list elements of burglary as: (1) Unauthorized entry (2) into a building or structure (3) with the intent to commit a crime. To convict someone of burglary, the prosecutor must prove each of the three elements to beyond a reasonable doubt. 

In a civil case, such a fraud, the standard of proof is less stringent. Depending on the nature of the case, the standard might be either "clear and convincing evidence" or "to a preponderance of the evidence." Again, each element of the alleged tort or wrong doing must be proven to the standard. Fraud, which typically includes the elements (1) giving false or misleading information (2) with the intent to deceive (3) which is believed and acted upon by the victim and (4) causes damage or loss to the victim (and possibly gain to the perpetrator). The standard of proof in fraud cases is "clear and convincing evidence." (If the fraud involves theft by false pretenses, it can be a criminal offense.) 

But what standard applies to an allegation relevant to a job applicant? There are three allegations we need to consider here: 1. Did Hillary Clinton compromise classified national security information through the careless (grossly negligent) use of a personal email server, and if so, does it disqualify her for the job of President; 2. Did Donald Trump commit civil or criminal fraud in connection with any or all of the three Federal class action suits against him, and if so, does that disqualify him for the job of President? and 3.) Are the allegations against Hillary Clinton a smear campaign, and if so, is this relevant to choosing the next president? 

Hillary Clinton's supporters bear the burden of proving the third allegation. They must also prove its relevance. If they can show that the Republicans made the allegations from whole cloth with no substance, then the question is relevant. But that doesn't appear to be the case. If the Republicans are merely using the facts of Clinton's conduct as a political weapon, and there is truth to the allegations, then there is no relevance to the allegation of a Republican smear campaign. We must decide based on the answer to the first question. At best, this is a very weak defense. 

But what standard to apply to the other two questions? 

First, in our list of candidates for the job, is there another candidate that does not have these liabilities and is otherwise qualified for the job? If there is, then the standard of proof is very low. We actually don't need to address either question unless there is some overriding qualification that one of the two candidates possesses that overcomes all of the qualifications of the third candidate and the liability together. So, unless the third candidate is otherwise disqualified or ruled out, then there isn't really a reason to even consider Trump of Clinton. As hiring managers - voters - we need to ask ourselves if Gary Johnson or Jill Stein possess enough qualification to make it unnecessary to consider Trump of Clinton.

I personally think this is the case with Gary Johnson, but for the sake of this article lets continue the discussion, For those of you that think either Trump of Clinton have overriding qualifications that would make either the right choice if the allegations against them are not true, what standard of evidence do we employ? More importantly, has that standard of evidence been met?

To me, the standard is "preponderance of the evidence," but lets consider it to be "clear and convincing evidence." 

Is there clear and convincing evidence that Donald Trump and his Trump University committed fraud? Or should the question be, "is Donald Trump honest enough that we can trust him with the safety and security of the United States?"  What is the evidence:
  • There are 2 federal and one state class action lawsuits alleging fraud currently in litigation. (source: Low, et al. v Trump University; Cohen v. Donald J Trump; New York v Trump Entrepreneur Initiative LLC) 
  • The facts alleged in the complaints in all three of these suits are straight forward and can be easily verified as true
  • The third case was decided against Trump and is now in appeals (New York Court of Appeals 3/1/2016, rejecting Trump's statute of limitations claim)
  • The judge in the other have found that there are triable issues of fact in these cases, and have denied summary judgment.
  • The State of New York required Trump University to change its name as it didn't qualify to call itself a "university." (source: New York State Dept of Ed, Letter to Donald Trump 5/27/2005, etc.)
  • "During the period when Trump University appeared to be active in the marketplace, BBB received multiple customer complaints about this business. These complaints affected the Trump University BBB rating, which was as low as D- in 2010." (Source Better Business Bureau of New York) 
  • Trump has the highest number of blatantly false campaign statements (30) of any candidate since Politifact started fact checking.  (source Politifact)
Only a jury, after seeing all of the evidence and hearing all of the testimony can determine if the evidence is clear and convincing on all of the legal elements of fraud, but we can - and we must - examine the evidence of whether Trump is honest enough to be President. 
Each voter will have to make his own decision about this, and about all of the other claims Trump has made. To me, the evidence is overwhelming that he is not honest enough to be the most powerful man in the world. 

But what about Clinton? Clinton is accused of compromising highly classified information by using a personal email server. That she used such a server is fairly well proven. Both the State Department Inspector General and the FBI investigation revealed that there were in fact highly classified emails sent and received on that server. Almost every one of Clinton's claims - not marked classified when sent, classified after the fact, no classified emails, etc., have been shown by the FBI investigation to be false. The FBI's investigation also shows that there is reason to believe - or at least suspect - that there were other emails that were deleted and non-recoverable by the FBI's forensics team, that Clinton allowed her lawyers (who were not cleared for the information) to delete. 

We've already discussed the standard of proof necessary for a criminal prosecution. I won't second guess Director Comey here. The argument that other former Secretaries of State used private email servers, etc. is irrelevant. None of them are running for president. 

Another defense that Clinton's supporters like to present is denial that the compromised information amounts to anything to worry about; that it was "over classified." We do not -- and should not -- know what information was compromised, nor do we know the extent of its disclosure. The kind of information that may have been compromised could put the lives of intelligence assets at risk, could disclose military vulnerabilities, or derail diplomatic initiatives. It could even start a war under the right set of bad circumstances. Trivializing the extent of the potential damage - especially when almost every claim Mrs. Clinton has made has been proven false - is dangerous. 

Director Comey's decision not to pursue criminal charges may be either an indication that he feels the evidence doesn't reach the reasonable doubt standard, or it may be the result of a political deal. (The "chance" meeting of Attorney General Lynch and Mrs, Clinton's husband in Phoenix certainly is cause to suspect a political deal.)  Comey's reasoning that there was no evidence of "intent" to harm the United States is also a bit suspicious in that there is no intent element, merely that Clinton was grossly negligent. In any case, the question will not be put to a jury.

To answer our first question, " Did Hillary Clinton compromise classified national security information through the careless (grossly negligent) use of a personal email server, and if so, does it disqualify her for the job of President?" to the "clear and convincing evidence" standard. The evidence is clear and convincing that Clinton compromised State Department classified information. If she were to be tried and convicted on the possible criminal charge, the conviction was cause her to forfeit any government office and would bar her from holding any future office - it would disqualify her from all federal government offices requiring a security clearance. Here too, each voter will have to make their own decision, but because of the significance of the great risk involved, in my opinion, Clinton's actions disqualify her from holding the office of President. 

For that reason, I cannot morally vote for either Trump or Clinton. This is a case where the lesser evil is unacceptable. Even if we could come up with a way to define which is the lesser. 

The Third Choice

Fortunately, Trump and Clinton are not the only choices. Governor Johnson is fully qualified for the office of President of the United States. In fact, Gary Johnson and his running mate Bill Weld have more experience in government that either Trump of Clinton.

If we truly want to save the United States, and possibly the entire world, then not only is it our moral duty to not vote for Trump or Clinton, but to vote for Johnson. And it is our moral duty to convince our neighbors to do the same.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

In Memory of My Sister, Dora Maxine Wimmer Bevan Andelin

This is the eulogy I wrote for the funeral service of my eldest sister, Dora Maxine Wimmer Bevan Andelin. It isn't the exact words I spoke, but conveys the ideas behind them. (It's hard to read a prepared talk when one's eyes are filled with tears.) I'm publishing it at the request of one of my sister's grand daughters.

Dora Maxine Wimmer Bevan Andelin

January 12, 1937 - July 17, 2016
Services held July 21, 2016, Peel Mortuary, Magna, Utah

Maxine Wimmer ca 1950
From Neva Wimmer's photo album
Four score and, um, minus one, years ago, our father – and our mother… Come to think of it, Mom probably did most of the work here… brought forth into this world a new life, conceived in their love, and probably dedicated to being very cute, their first born child, a little girl.

Mom told me the story of her birthday. It was January, 1937. Dad didn’t have a car, so he had to borrow his brother, Dee’s, to take Mom to the hospital. They were living here in Magna, and the closest hospital back then was Cottonwood in Murray. It had snowed recently, and, according to Mom, the snow banks along 3500 South were piled so high that you could walk along the tops and unscrew the street lights…  I have a hard time imagining Dad ever being frantic about something, but I can certainly imagine it here.  So I guess we can give him a little credit.

 They named her Dora Maxine. Now there is some controversy over whether they named her Dora Maxine or Maxine Dora, but I always thought it was Dora Maxine, so I’m going with that – I don’t care what her Tooele Army Depot forklift license says... The clerk was probably overwhelmed by having to issue one to a woman!

In Romeo and Juliet, William Shakespeare asks, “What is in a name?” and tells us “That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”  In this case, however, there’s a lot in a name. The name Dora honors her maternal grandmother, Dora Matilda King Meyrick, and connects her with the history of our mother’s family, and with aunts and uncles and cousins.

The name Maxine, obviously, comes from Dad, Max Bryant (sorry Dad, the secret’s out – it wasn’t just an initial B), and connects her with our paternal family history, and another set of cousins, aunts and uncles. These two names connect her – as they do us -- with where we’ve come from, with the drummer boy at Monmouth Courthouse during the revolutionary war, with the young family floating down the Mississippi River, with the Scottish lass who lost her fingers to the loom and with the pioneers crossing the plains who met, fell in love and married, with our German, English, Scottish and Welch heritage. This is the legacy she carried forward.

Maxine (left) and Bonne Wimmer, ca 1940-41
 from Neva Wimmer's photo album
Her next name, Wimmer, is the name that she shares with me, and is the name that says she is my sister. This name connects her to me, and to our other sister, Bonnie, and brother, John. It is the name that makes us all part of a family. It this name that gives her the right to call me Yogi. (For the rest of you, it’s a privilege…) While I am from the same generation, being 22 years her junior, we were not always as close as we would like to be, but nevertheless,  we are connected in ways wonderful and profound that can only exist between siblings. Perhaps we haven’t said it enough to each other enough – I know I haven’t, but we all love each other very much. It is this love that makes this task so difficult.

Robert (Bob) and Maxine Bevan family,
ca 1960
Maxine (left) Johnny, Bob, Cindy, Rick, Shelly
From Neva Wimmer's photo album
The little girl grew up, fell in love, and married. She took on a new name, Bevan. With this name she gave birth to and raised four children; Shelley, Cindy, Ricky (uncle’s prerogative) and Johnny. These children, in their turn grew up and had children of their own, continuing the cycle, and connecting the little girl grown to woman with the future.  They carry the legacy forward from her.

Then, as life in this chaotic world would have it, she took on another name, Andelin, as she spent her mature years with her second husband, Pat. Through that relationship, her life impacted his children and family.

Shelley, Maxine, Juanita(?? somebody correct me...) and Bonnie
on a golf outing, December 2013.
Photo from Bonnie Holland
Finally, there are those of you here today who name her ‘friend.’ There is a line from a song from one of my favorite Broadway musicals that I think sums up what we can say about any friendship, “I don’t know if I have been changed for the better, but I have been changed for good.” I don’t know that Maxine ever saw the play Wicked, but I am sure she would have loved it. Each life that Maxine touched was changed by that touch. I think it is safe to say for those of you here today, that your presence indicates that you think that touch has changed you for the better.

And so the legacy continues, from the mists of history to the mystery of the future. Great or small, Dora Maxine Wimmer Bevan Andelin has touched us all, and that touch has changed each and every one of us. The world we live in is a different place than it would be had she not touched us, and each of us going forward after today will be a little different, or a lot different, because of that touch. The world may little note nor long remember the specifics of what she did in this life, but we cannot measure the full impact that her life has had, and will continue to have on the world around us.

We are met here today to say good bye to that precious life that began 79 years ago. Her battles in this life are done. Her struggles and worries and pain are at an end. If Bonnie’s ideas of what comes after this life are correct, she’s probably got a tee-time to play  the back nine with Dad, and several of her cousins set for around two O’clock.  I hope that’s true. But I do have to wonder… If we’re all raised to our perfect stature in heaven, do we still have a handicap? Or, perhaps she’ll go on a nice long ride on her horse through a beautiful canyon.

It is customary in a eulogy to share some membered shared event that helps to define the person’s character, but I confess that I am at a loss to tell just one or two stories that would do the task justice. First, Maxine’s character is complex, so it isn’t easy to describe.  And, as I am 22 years her junior, she was already married and had three kids before I came along, and I was too busy being a kid to pay attention to what the grown-ups were doing for the most part. Some of the memories I do have are so bitter-sweet that I don’t dare to share them. I can say though, that my sister was always there for me when I needed her to be.  And she could ride a horse…

So, rather than have me drone on and on, let’s take a moment and each of us silently bring to mind that individual memory you each have of Maxine, reflect on it, and reflect on how the event changed you. It has been said that people come into our lives so we can learn from them. Consider what cosmic lesson your association with my sister you are intended to learn, what the touch of her life on yours did. If you take that with you, then my sister, and her legacy, will live with us forever in your heart, as she will in mine.

Maxine Wimmer ca 1941
from Neva Wimmer's photo album
Maxine Wimmer ca 1948 - 50
From Neva Wimmer's photo album
Good-bye, sis. We love you, and we are going to miss you.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Response to Donald Trump, Part 2: Tactical Considerations

In my last post, I discussed the strategic ramifications of Donald Trump's proposal to halt all Muslim travel to the U.S. A good friend of mine asked, quite reasonably, how I would propose to protect Americans from terrorist attacks on American soil. Another good friend pointed out in a separate Facebook post that Reagan and Obama have both proclaimed bans on certain people entering the U.S., giving Trump's plan the appearance of precedent. These questions give rise to an analysis of the tactical measures available to combat terrorism, either here in the US or in any country.

First, let us look at the nature of recent terrorist attacks. Wikipedia has a list of all "Islamist" terrorist attacks going back to November 11, 1982.  The most recent in the US is the San Bernardino shooting, which claimed the lives of 14 Americans at a holiday party on December 2. On November 13, 137 people were killed and 368 wounded in a series of coordinated attacks in Paris.  These two attacks are the ones that were prominently featured in the news media here in the U.S. Between those two dates there were 17 other terrorist attacks in various parts of the world.

These attacks include:

  • Nov. 17:  A Malaysian national is beheaded by Abu Sayyaf in the Southern Philippines.  This is a Filipino terrorist group.
  • Nov 17: A suicide attack at a market in Yola, Nigeria, killed more than 30 people. This group is made up of mostly Nigerian nationals. They're black. The group claims allegiance to ISIL.
  • Nov 20: Bamko Hotel Attack , Bamko, Mali. 19 dead. The african Islamist group Al-Mourabitoun is believed to be responsible. They have ties to Al-Qaeda.

 Each of these attacks were carried out by "Islamists" that were not from the middle east and that don't look like middle easterners. This brings us to the first tactical problem: How do you tell if someone is a Muslim? Muslims live in Pakistan, India, Indonesia, Philippines, and several sub-saharan African countries. On the other hand, one of the oldest Christian churches is headquarterd in Syria - they look middle-eastern.

Looking at the perpetrators of the San Bernardino and Paris, and even the Boston Marathon and September 11 attackks:

  • San Bernardino: Syed Farook was American born U.S. citizen, his wife Tashfeen Malik was a Pakistani born immigrant that had been in the US for more than a year. FBI Director James Comey called the couple "homegrown violent extremists."
  • Paris: All of the known perpetrators were European Union citizens citizens. One attacker passed through Leros, Turkey with Syrian refugees, another may have. The rest appear to have been in place for some time, and some were known to French authorities as terrorists.
  • Los Angles International Airport: Perpetrator was Egyptian, and had been in the U.S. since 1992, 10 years before the attack, arriving as a tourist, but then claimed political asylum.
  • New York Police Axe Attack: Attacker was U.S. born and a U.S. Navy veteran with no links to any organized terror group.
  • Curtis Culwell Center Attack: Both attackers and their one accomplice were born and raised in the United States. 
  • Boston Marathon: The Tsarnaev family immigrated to the U.S. in 2002.
  • Fort Hood: Attacker was a U.S. Army psychiatrist, and born in the United States. Authorities were aware of suspicious emails and increasing radicalization for several years.
  • Little Rock Recruiting Office: Attacker was born Carlos Leon Bledsoe in the U.S. He converted to Islam, and visited Yemen in 2007
  • September 11 Attacks:  Planning for the attack began in 1996. The hijackers arrived in the U.S. in 2000, the last in December.

This list contains all of the attacks on U.S. soil since 9/11/2001 contained in the Wikipedia list.

The point I'm, making here is that the terrorists for each of these attacks were in place long before the attacks occurred. Several of them were American citizens. Others had been in country for 10 or more years.  Most of them are known to have visited some of the hotbeds of terrorism: Yemen Syria, Bosnia, etc. Some of them had fallen under suspicion of authorities. From a tactical point of view, shutting down Muslim travel to the United States is shutting the barn door after the terrorists are already in place. It may prevent a few terrorists from entering the country, but it does nothing to stop attacks from people that are already here.

To be effective, we need tactics that recognize that the attackers are most likely already here. These tactics will require tracking suspected terrorists and acting on that intel. It will require us to modify our domestic security to make attacks difficult to carry out and easy to defend against.  part of making them easy to defend against will mean having armed citizens that have been trained to deal with the threat. (That's the "well regulated" part of the Second Amendment... In the New York Police Axe attack, the officers killed a civilian bystander with friendly fire while taking out the perpetrator.)

Who would be in the best position to observe and provide intel about potential terrorists among the Muslim population? Well, that would probably be friendly members of the local Muslim population. A story in the new today reported that local Muslim groups raised $136,000 to help the victims of San Bernardino; there are friendly Muslims out there. It is to our tactical advantage to keep them friendly.

Meanwhile, it is believed that there are 30,000 European, U.S. (15), Canadian (130) Asian, Australian (120), and Russian (2400) nationals (a total of 81 countries, with the majority coming from Tunisia, at 6000) swelling the ranks of ISIS in Syria. They are now returning and pose a tremendous threat From a tactical point of view we need to do two things:

  1. Figure out why these people are hooking up with ISIS and take measures to counter the attraction; identify traits in the people that are attracted to the ISIS cause
  2. Find a way to recognize them when they go so we know who they are, and contain them when they come back.
Whether we look at this from a strategic or a tactical point of view, there is no advantage in restricting Muslim travel to the U.S., and it is in our interest to avoid demonizing all of Islam. It is to our advantage to do everything we can, within reason, to counter the demonizing of us that the other side is doing, rather than give them additional material to build that up with. 

Monday, December 7, 2015

A Response to Donald Trump's Call to "Shut Down all Muslim Travel to the US"

Donald Trump today called for a "complete shutdown" of Muslim travel to the US. While I can appreciate the emotional appeal of Mr. Trump's statement, it is nevertheless frightening. It is clear that Mr. Trump has no understanding whatsoever of the nature of the conflict or how to combat it. His audience can be forgiven for not understanding the military relevance of such a move. It is not forgivable in a presidential candidate-- It marks him as singularly unqualified to become "Commander-in-Chief."

It is a well know maxim that, in war, one must know one's enemy. It follows from that maxim that one must also know what the enemy's objectives are. Since Mr. Trump's comments play into the hand of he enemy and could very well hand the enemy victory, it is very clear that Mr. Trump doesn't understand the situation. Either he underestimates the threat, or he doesn't understand why it's a threat.

 Lets see if we can get to know our enemy a bit better. There are actually several Muslim factions at play here. ISIS is only one of them. None of them, or even all of the radical factions combined, has the military power to stand up to the full might of the US and NATO military might in a conventional war. They all know this. The only way they can defeat us is using guerrilla tactics and terrorism.

They have learned the lesson we should have learned in Vietnam. We lost in Vietnam because we failed to gain the friendship of the Vietnamese, which allowed the north to use guerrilla tactics against us in the areas we, supposedly, controlled. In an ironic twist, Ho Chi Minh learned this tactic from studying George Washington's tactics in the American Revolution. The idea is not to face the opposing army head on, but to nip at its heels, raising the cost of an occupation. Eventually, under such conditions, the bigger, badder army's costs become to great to bear, and they withdraw. Sound familiar?

Using terrorism - striking non-military targets outside of the theater of war - adds to the costs of the war, but it can't ever turn the tide by itself. Terrorism has another objective-- It is designed to eliminate the neutrals, and maybe even turn some enemies into either neutrals or allies. This is where Mr. Trump is going wrong. Way wrong.

Some may remember that the terrorists in Paris were found with either stolen or fake passports that attempted to make them look like Syrian refugees. (Other's might not have seen this.) Why? It wasn't to allow them to move about freely. It was to make us afraid of the refugees. Which in turn leads to us demonizing them, and from there demonizing all Muslims.

The terrorists also know (well, their leaders do anyway) that terrorist attacks result in emotional calls for us to go to war - to take the fight to them. Why would they want to do this?

Why would ISIS want us to demonize all Muslims and at the same time piss us off enough that we'd want to invade Syria?

According to a right wing panelist in a hearing on Benghazi, there are approximately 1.2 Billion Muslims in the world, with about 25% of them "radicalized." That means there are roughly 300 Million radicalized Muslims and about 900 Million that are either neutral or on our side. She used the term "Peaceful Majority." What happens to these 900 Million when we start discriminating against them? Treat them like second class people? Are they going to support our position? Provide us with intel? Fight with us if there's an invasion? Hardly..

And when we treat Muslims badly, it gives the enemy an opportunity to demonize us. "See, they really are the great Satan, like we told you,"  they'll say.

And what happens with the other already radical factions? Do they sit on the sidelines, or do they band together? I wouldn't put my money on siting on the sidelines.

Pay attention to these numbers. There are 300 Million radicalized Muslims. Right now the US Population is estimated at 326 Million. Of the 326 Million, there are about 1.4 Million active front line personnel, and another 1.1 million reserves. In the whole population, there are about 120 million that would be fit for service.  If the same ratios hold for the radicals, we're ahead on manpower, but only a little. Trying to invade and occupy - as Bush tried - would prove to be an expensive proposition even now (as we have seen in Iraq and Afghanistan). What would it be like if they turn some of the 900 Million to their side?

We also need to consider supply lines and air bases, etc. If we lose the good will of Muslim countries like Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Bahrain, or Pakistan. Would we be able to base our ships and aircraft in these countries? Even if we could, would they be safe there against radicals in those countries, Or would we have more incidents like USS Cole?

In sum, we need to recognize the enemy's strategy and objectives, and deny those objectives. We do this by continuing to take the moral high ground in how we treat Muslims. The "Golden Rule" applies here.

Oh, and Mr. Trump, you said you didn't understand why the Muslims "hate" us. It is because of the arrogance and stupidity of Americans like you.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Star Trek Continues Episode V Premier

I think it was back in the late 1960's or maybe the early 1970s that David Gerrold wrote a post mortem of the original Star Trek series. Gerrold, who wrote one of the original series most endearing episodes, "The Trouble with Tribbles" attributed the cancellation of Star Trek, at least in part to what he called a "hardening of the arteries" created by the need to have either a communicator or a transporter malfunction to prevent Scotty from beaming Kirk and the rest of the landing party back to Enterprise and prematurely ending the conflict that made an episode.

If the first five episodes of Star Trek Continues, a fan produced continuation of the original series with Vic Mignona as Kirk, Todd Haberkorn as Spock, Chuck Huber as Dr McCoy, and Christopher Doohan as Scotty, are any indication, Gerrold was wrong. In fact, he couldn't have been more wrong - There's no sign of hardening of the arteries at all. It may interest Mr. Gerrold to observe that neither the transporter nor the communicator could have changed the outcome of any of the first 5 episodes (no one actually leaves Enterprise in the first 4 episodes, and, well, they don't actually leave in episode 5 either...); yet the stories are pure Star Trek.

These new episodes are intended to continue the original series to its natural conclusion and bring the crew of Enterprise to where they appeared to be at the beginning of the first movie. The sets, costumes, and all other details of the new episodes are faithful to the original series - even down to having special fabrics made to duplicate uniforms and even the covers of the sickbay beds. The production values are higher than they were for the original. Yet amazingly, the production budget is only about half of what it cost to produce an episode in the sixties. (Of course it helps to keep costs down when the cast and crew do it for the love of their art and contribute to the show financially from their own pockets...)

I had the privilege of watching the world premier of episode V, "Divided We Stand" at the Salt Lake Comic Con this evening. True to Gene Roddenberry's vision of the series, the episode's central conflict centers around issues relevant to our world today, but set in a different time and space - a device that always provides edifying contrast which hopefully helps us to see where our true values lie.

I won't give any spoilers for those of you who may not have seen the premier tonight, but I will give you the link to the series website. The new episode should be online tomorrow (9/25/15). If you haven't seen the first four go give them a look.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Time to Rethink the State's Role in Marriage

Last Friday, Federal Judge Robert Shelby ruled that Utah's Amendment 3, defining marriage as between "one man and one woman" is unconstitutional, opening the gates for same sex marriages in Utah. Shelby and the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals denied stays on the ruling, leaving the US Supreme Court as the only, and unlikely, avenue left to halt same gender marriages. Shelby's ruling specifically found that the state had failed to show that any harm would come to the state or to the heterosexual majority by allowing same gender couples to enjoy the legal benefits of marriage.

The preceding Friday, Federal Judge Clark Waddoups ruled that the Utah polygamy statute could only apply to poly-amorous families that sought to obtain more than one marriage license, essentially saying that the state cannot regulate how, or whether, people choosing to live in such arrangements cohabit.

As I have read the news articles and the associated comments, I have come to see the arguments delving into multiple areas in which marriage is defined. Or at least, contexts in which it is viewed. These contexts overlap and cause confusion, and this confusion is amplified by misunderstanding across the contextual boundaries and the deliberate blurring of these boundaries through history and in the present day. Still more confusion is created by cultural differences between different segments of our society.

Marriage can be viewed in a legal context, an economic context, a social context, a historical context, a religious/spiritual context, an emotional context, and a sexual context, and maybe more still. Ideas of marriage vary within each context, there is not even a consensus among Christians within the religious/spiritual context. Historical views are distorted, and revisionism abounds, within other contexts, making any historical analysis difficult. Confusion is especially rampant in the religious/spiritual, social, and emotional contexts.

The legal and economic contexts are somewhat unsettled as well. Marriage law concerning procreation and rearing of children and duties of support don't seem to be working very well. Twenty-nine percent of all marriages to women between 15 and 44 end in divorce within 10 years, and extrapolating from that forecasts that 43% will fail by year 15, and half over a life time. The rate at which people get married has dropped from about 8 per 1000 to about 3.4 per 1000 over the last decade. Nearly half of children born in the US are to unwed mothers. Only 42% of custodial mothers and 34.1% of custodial fathers receive all of their ordered child support; while only 72.9% of custodial mothers and 72.9% of custodial fathers receive some of their ordered support. 1.7 million adoptions generate a $14.2 billion adoption industry; many of these children from parents who cannot, or will not, raise them. Arguments that marriage protects children cannot compel in light of such trends.

When viewed solely from the economic context with concerns of rights of inheritance, shared property, or inclusion on health insurance policies, issues of gender, sexuality or plurality are irrelevant. If marriage is to be viewed as a contract between parties for mutual support or economic benefit, and such contracts engender certain rights and benefits, then denial of those rights based on membership in a specific group should not cause the denial of those rights or benefits. We cannot say to a landlord that he can only accept female tenants because he is male. How then can we tell the same man he can only enter into a contract that creates an insurable interest with a female simply because he is male without showing that there would be significant harm to society. If we are to view "marriage" as a contract, perhaps it should be just that, a written document specifying what the terms, conditions and expectations are between the parties, and who the parties are.

Moral repugnance of particular practices is not, by itself, sufficient to show harm. The current debates center on homosexuality and polygamy. Those opposed to same gender marriage find homosexuality repugnant; those opposed to polygamy find plural marriage repugnant. In both cases, the disdain comes from implied sexuality and sexual conduct. Many of these same people also find inter-racial marriage, interfaith marriage, and non-marital sexual relations repugnant, but their views cannot be the basis of laws that would prohibit such practices.  Some find views of Biblical Patriarchal marriage, in which the man "has dominion" over his wife, repugnant, while others are repulsed by the idea of Christian egalitarian marriage, in which both parties are equal. Some folks continue believe in white supremacy and find racial integration repugnant, while others believe racial integration hasn't progressed far enough. Catholics find Protestantism repugnant,while Southern Baptists find Mormonism repugnant, and Mormons hold that all other religions are "abominations before God." Which of these views should be the basis of law?

There are two conclusions that I draw from this mess:

First, that views on what marriage is and what it should be in contexts other than the legal and economic are diverse and complex; there is little likelihood that there will ever be a consensus, regardless of context.

Second, that the  legal purpose of marriage is likely obsolete: it doesn't protect children any more or ensure their support, and the other economic purposes of marriage can as easily be handled by contract law or other legal forms.

Perhaps it is time for the state to get out of the business of issuing marriage licenses and start drafting legislation that directly addresses the issues that marriage is supposed to deal with.