May 032013

I was probably never going cross paths with or hear about the five-year-old boy who shot his two-year-old sister dead, nor any of her parents. Odds are, most people on the planet wouldn’t know about them had it not been for the story that hit the news.

Unbeknownst to me, I had gotten in an argument with a pro-gun who hid his affection rather well, all the while I thought we were having a casual conversation.  As tragic as this is, and as a parent I can identify with the grief of losing a child. But I cannot feel sad any more than I can understand what a parent must feel knowing it wasn’t an accident out of their control, rather it was precisely a consequence of their upbringing. “No, it’s sad. It’s very sad.” I was told. To me sad is that nearly 9 million child dies every single year of malnutrition and other trivially-curable complications or diseases, I answered. “You aren’t sad for the 9 million dying children?”

No, I’m not sad. You know what Stalin said? He said, ‘a single death is sad, millions dead is a statistic.

Yes, that was the response I got.

And before I knew it, I got the argument for guns: Cars kill more people than guns, but you don’t want to ban cars, do you?

Before we get too worked up, let’s separate these two points: Emotions developed on hearing stories of unknown individuals, as tragic as they may be, is one thing, not having good arguments to defend a position and instead repeating bad arguments is a completely different matter.

Hume Rolls in his Grave

Kentucky State Police Trooper, Billy Gregory, said “in this part of the country, it’s not uncommon for a five-year-old to have a gun or for a parent to pass one down to their kid.” Regardless of whether I am pro gun or not, I must recognize one thing: Guns are dangerous.

“Passing down” guns to a five-year-old inherently and inevitably implies taking a certain risk. The risk of the gun going off, whether intentionally or accidentally. Failing to recognize this simple fact is akin to covering one’s face when losing control of their car. There might be multiple ways to resolve a problem, but ignoring it couldn’t be one of them.

If I start drinking and gambling, I shouldn’t expect anyone to be surprised when I lose everything and end up on the streets. I shouldn’t expect anyone to feel sad for my stupidity and bad choices. They might as well laugh at my surprise at the outcome. If I hand my twelve-year-old the car keys, should I or anyone else find it odd when they crash the car and damage people and property? Should I expect pity from others if the car crashes into my house damaging and injuring me?  Similarly, guns and children do not produce an infinite output of combinations: there are very few things that we should expect to happen from the marriage and we only hope it’s going to be playground fun. But hoping is no precaution.

I find it borderline humorous that people systematically give their children guns and then the whole world is gaping at the death of a child. I find it inevitable, unless steps are taken to prevent it. Like everyone else, I have limited energy, both emotionally and otherwise, and I prefer to spend them on preventable causes that affect countless more children, equally fragile, equally lovable and equally rightful to life.

Just because we find it easier to write off millions of deaths to statistics doesn’t make it right. I’m sure Stalin had other apt utterance worthy of quoting in the light of the massacres, deportations and cold-blood killings that he sanctioned. But should we take comfort in the coldness of the indifference that we may feel at the death of millions of children who, like the victim in this case, haven’t yet seen their fifth birthday? Does Stalin’s ludicrous indifference have any bearing on how one feels or should feel?

Stalin’s quote was at once shocking and baffling to me. I didn’t know if using it was an excuse and justification for one’s feelings, or lack thereof, or it was a Freudian slip. Either way, just because something is doesn’t imply what it ought to be, morally speaking. Perhaps we should start feeling sad about these children of have-not parents. The children dying of famine have only nature and our inaction to blame. The five-year-old who killed his sister, in contrast, has his parents to blame for preferring to buy him a gun (or at least allowing him to own one) instead of a multitude other things they could have done, not least buying him a book to read and learn from in the hope of bettering himself and his society.

I cannot feel sad for the decisions of others, any more than I can prevent them from taking these decisions. However the same couldn’t be said of the children dying of malnutrition and lack of clean water. In the later case I can prevent it, and my (collectively our, really) inaction to save a single more child is sad indeed.

At least in one sense he was right, though. We cannot begin to imagine anything in the millions, but a single child with a picture in the news is readily reachable. But that only speaks of our limitations of being human, and hopefully not of our inhumanity.

Guns and Cars

I have heard many decent arguments for crazy things, including keeping slaves and leaving women out of the workforce (and typically in the kitchen) among others. Here “decent” doesn’t mean acceptable or justifiable, rather that the point in an of itself having a merit. They fail because taken in the full context of the issue, a single argument for or against something as complex as these topics doesn’t simply have enough weight.

Slavery had many benefits to slaves, not least steady income, job security and living space. And at least some women will not mind if given half a chance to be relieved of the burden of providing for oneself and their family entails. Women aren’t unique in wishing for an easier lifestyle than working forty-hour-weeks.

But these arguments fail to resolve the issue one way or the other because they are incomplete. They shed light on a single aspect and it’s a very narrow one at that as well. Cars do kill people, perhaps much more people than guns (clearly here we are ignoring wars). I’ve read numbers as high as 500,000 annual deaths from car accidents.

Do I want to ban cars for this huge loss that they cause? Yes, and in a sense we do already. The traffic and car licensing laws have evolved in response to both the dangers that are inherent in driving and the exploding number of cars and motorists. Driving under the influence of alcohol (given a certain allowance, if at all) is a grave offense in many states and countries and can be a felony if others are injured. Multiple offenses typically result in revoking the license and often sentencing to jail.

More importantly, the argument is weak and irrelevant because it appeals to one’s disposition, bias and shortcomings of undermining the perils of cars. Indeed, many of us cringe upon hearing about spiders and snakes, let alone seeing one, but may jaywalk in heavy traffic, sometimes with children.

We should avoid driving whenever we can and we should have better laws, education, responsible drivers and car owners as well as better traffic rules to minimize their risks. But we should also do the same for guns. Giving them to kids should simply be an offense no less sever than letting a minor drive your car. Having a gun gifted to a child, by maker called “My first rifle,” and then pretending that the gun will be locked in a safe is simply avoiding to see things for what they are. Children are attached to their toys and I guess that’s the point of manufacturing guns for them in the first place – they are expected to become loyal gun owners for many more years.

All this pretending that guns have benefits to society on equal footing to cars to justify their risks. I am not willing to give such a blank license to cars and will demand improving the situation to avoid unnecessary injury and loss of life from car accidents. But the onus for proving the benefits of guns to be even remotely comparable to those of cars is certainly not on me. Let alone the benefit of guns to kids.

When someone kills another with their car, they cannot claim that injury is a risk we’ve come to accept, so why prosecute them anymore than a gun owner can claim the same. But let’s not pretend that owning guns is a right without restrictions, because being responsible is all about restrictions, first to oneself before others.

We will never take responsibility if we don’t see the inherent dangers of our choices and if we don’t understand that both car and gun deaths are preventable and they are both of our choosing, and as long as we view our actions vicariously.

Evidently, the grandmother of the now-dead two-year-old has a different understanding of cause and effect than mind. “It was God’s will. It was her time to go, I guess, I just know she’s in heaven right now and I know she’s in good hands with the Lord.” She said.

I feel sorry for the five-year-old for having the parents he has, and I can only hope he will not repeat the same mistakes when the roles are reversed.

Apr 082013

Apparently there is an ongoing war between FEMEN, a feminist organization that protests topless, and a group calling themselves Muslim Women Against Femen, among others.

What is of interest to me is the rhetoric and politics at play. FEMEN is not exactly known for taking the diplomatic road to getting their voice across. Whatever their methods, whether one agrees with them or not, or whether they are effective, considering that so far they got huge backlash and won controversy more than anything, the response is certainly interesting.

The row ignited when Amina Tyler, a 19-year-old FEMEN activist, posted topless pictures of herself on FEMEN-Tunesia’s Facebook page with “Fuck your morals” in English and “My body is my own, not anyone’s honor” in Arabic. A certain preacher called Adel Almi was quoted by Tunisian newspaper Kapitalis that she deserves 80 to a 100 lashes according to the sharia law, but added that due to the gravity of her actions, which he believed may encourage other women to do the same and bring an “epidemic” and “catastrophes,” merits death by stoning.

FEMEN has reacted by protesting, as any feminist human should do. A photo of a man apparently kicking a topless FEMEN member protesting in front of the Great Mosque of Paris was posted in a piece on The Guardian‘s Comment is Free section. A video of that protest, with the man in question, is available on Vimeo.

Muslim Women Against Femen has responded with an open letter with eight-point objections of Muslimahs (Muslim women) to FEMEN. In addition, a number of women (including a child) have posted their photos on Facebook holding slogans to the same effect and interviews with supporters on The Huffington Post.

What is amazing is that between the preacher, Muslim Women Against Femen, and the women with the slogans, not a single reference is made to the young woman responsible for the debate in the first place. Amina Tyler is missing from the picture and there is good reason to fear for her life.

The Muslimahs who took to themselves the right and initiation to defend their rights and religion, some of whom are self-identified feminists, apparently forgot to do Tyler even a lip-service to denounce any harm that could be inflicted on her. Instead, they took the opportunity to first generalize and speak for all “Muslim women, women of colour and women from the Global South,” as if appointed spokespersons. Second, the opportunity to lash at “racist, imperialist, capitalist, white-supremacist, colonialists” was not missed, never mind that they are irrelevant.

Some of the slogans in the self-photos read “Do I look oppressed?” and a child of perhaps five held one that read “Shame on ‘FEMEN’ Hijab is my right!” I do not see anyone taking anyone’s rights from them, if anything the rights of Amina are the ones at risk. Least of all the rights of a child, which, I should add, beyond their welfare, health and education they can barely demand any rights that adults don’t give them. Which raises the question of who, if not her parents, gave her the “right” to wear a hijab when she clearly is in no position to choose to wear one anymore than the blue-jeans that she has on. Besides, if these women are not oppressed, they need not answer to the calling. (Although I do wonder if that will remain to be the case if and when they decide to change their outfit.)

The open-letter doesn’t offer any more wisdom from the thirteen or so university students who wrote it. Rife with ignorant accusations, misguided rhetoric, contradictions and ad-hominem attack on the protesters. If they are to be believed, “FEMEN is a colonial, racist rubbish disguised as “women’s liberation”,” and “rubbing shoulders with far-right, racist and Islamophobic groups is just ANTI-FEMINIST beyond bounds” and “EXTREMELY DANGEROUS.” And members of FEMEN “don’t really care about violence and harm being inflicted upon women, you only care about that when it is perpetrated by brown men with long beards who pray five times a day.” Which is quite interesting considering that the group had focused most of its activity to protest against “sex tourists, religious institutions, international marriage agencies, sexism and other social, national and international topics.” In fact, had the authors check their facts they would have run into FEMEN’s four-point goals on their MySpace page explicitly targets “Ukrainian women” and “Ukraine” explicitly. Not to mention that if anything Ukraine was a victim of -Russian- colonialism. (But I guess all “white” people are “racist” and “colonialist.”)

Completely oblivious to the irony that it was a Muslim (male) preacher who called for the lashing and stoning of Amina Tyler, the authors declare “we don’t have to conform to your customs of protest to emancipate ourselves. Our religion does that for us already, thank you very much.”

In a particularly off-topic and a below-the-belt swing, the epistle writers pulled a punch on the physique of the topless protesters saying that “not all of us are white, skinny, physically non-disabled [sic] and willing to whip off our tops merely for press attention.” Perhaps alluding to both being white and skinny as undesirable attributes in women (by who?). To add insult to injury, they advised them to “check yourselves before you go into the streets again.”

Perhaps of the more salient remark is that the authors “understand that it’s really hard for a lot of you white colonial ‘feminists’ to believe, but- SHOCKER! – Muslim women and women of colour can come with their own autonomy, and fight back as well!” The takeaway seems to be that while encouraging Muslim women to protest against oppression is “racist,” to say “white colonial ‘feminists'” is not. (Again, never mind that Islam is not a race, but white is.)

They advise the protesters to “Take aim at male supremacy, not Islam.” Perhaps oblivious to the fact that some male supremacists are also Muslim. They conclude the letter with the banner “SMASH THE WHITE SUPREMACIST CAPITALIST PATRIARCHY! POWER TO THE MUSLIMAHS!”

One has to wonder, what has colonialism and racism anything to do with defending the rights of a woman to post her own topless photos online without getting stoned to death?

One could give them the benefit of doubt and assume they simply didn’t understand what the issue was, had these women not been from Birmingham and other “western,” “colonial,” “capitalist” and “imperial” cities, instead of the “Global South” and the middle-east. Not only did they fail to address the subject matter, that of a teenage woman getting death threats for no other reason that posting her own photos online, but they muddled the “messed up world” that “we live in” (as they called it) even further. Silence in the face of injustice and oppression is a form of injustice and oppression. Do they really believe Amina deserves to be stoned to death? That she is a “white colonial racist” herself to be fought? Or is anyone who doesn’t agree with their ultra-conservative views is an enemy to be chased away?

Muslim Women Against Femen are not oppressed, but they wouldn’t lift a finger to support a sister under death treat. They wouldn’t recognize her right to control her body and her outfit. They wouldn’t even speak out against the preacher who is openly encouraging others to take matters into their own hands and apply the harsh law of lashing, nay, stoning her. Instead, they took to grinding the ax of “white colonialism.” Like the preacher, they feel threatened, and fear a “epidemic” of sorts.

“Nudity DOES NOT liberate me and I DO NOT need saving” read on of the slogans. Perhaps, but you aren’t implying that Amina doesn’t need or deserve saving either, are you?

What feminist ignores the need of another woman under attack by male preachers calling for her stoning? Apparently those who believe the protests of FEMEN is a “crusade.”

Meanwhile, a petition to prosecute those who threatened Amina Tyler’s life has already collected more than 110,000 signatures. At least there are still some left who differentiate between agreeing with someone’s opinion and agreeing to their right of having an opinion.

Jan 052012

Go Daddy is one of the largest, if not the largest, domain registrar. So it is that much unfortunate that they also support SOPA. The “carpet bombing” attack on piracy dubbed SOPA will most certainly wipe-out many legitimate businesses and gratis sites, not least freedom of speech and news organizations, including human, animal and consumer rights organizations that are sure to step on the toes of some giant corporations in due process. This is sure to put open-source software at risk as well. The broad brush that SOPA is will not hinder any party from unfairly claiming copyright infringement, promptly shutting down a competitor or whistle blower at an opportune time to protect their interests, leaving the receiving party scrambling in the legal-equivalent to quick sand.

I’m joining tens of thousands in boycotting Go Daddy and moving this domain to another, more freedom-loving, technology and internet friendly and, ultimately, sane registrar, at least as far as the future of the internet is concerned. I’ve already started transferring my domain to (affiliate link).

If they don’t see that SOPA will slowly, but surely, stagnate the internet, then may be the boycott will make them. If the numbers are to be believed upwards of 35,000 domains have already transferred. At a nominal $7 annual fee, that’s already a significant chunk of cash lost annually. I expect many have dozens of domains and use some of the more advanced features such as SSL certificates, which is more revenue lost by the transfers. This move could easily cost companies supporting SOPA millions of dollars in potentially long-term, recurring money.

This isn’t an emotional reaction in the name of freedom and human rights, not just. Go Daddy is known to engage in dubious activities and it might be said that they had it coming. One of the more annoying of said activities is giving customers the impression that their domain is about to expire if not immediately renewed. The spam mails start hitting the mailbox 90 days before the expiry. While the warning is fair and welcome, 90 days isn’t exactly imminent in any sense. Of course once renewed, the remaining weeks or months to the actual deadline are lost, thereby shortening the effective period for which one pays. This kind of tactics don’t make the already high prices any more appealing. To add insult to injury, they have an almost weekly promotional spam that dilutes the expiry warning’s effectiveness. I for one learnt to ignore their mail, while having a mental note of when to renew my domain.

According to ZDNet, Go Daddy has reversed its support of SOPA. But as the ZDNet reporter put it “we now know that what really mattered in Go Daddy’s shift in policy wasn’t the legal or ethical issues; it was the old bottom line.”

Well, Go Daddy no more; welcome Namecheap!

(This site might go dark for a few hours during the transfer process which I hope to complete sometime before the 10th of January. I’m working hard to minimize the outage. Apologies for any unavailability or inconvenience.)

Update: Just found out that Bob Parsons, the CEO of Go Daddy group, happens to enjoy elephant hunting! He released a video showing and justifying the barbaric act of shooting and killing a defenseless animal.

Feb 182011

Apparently there is a face that has been finally attached to the source that Colin Powell mentioned in his war-promoting speech to the UN on February 5th, 2003. Powell described Curveball, the source, as “an eye-witness, an Iraqi engineer who supervised one of these facilities.” The facilities in reference are of course the notorious Iraqi biological agent production trucks, or the labs-on-wheels as they were dubbed. Needless to say, they were fictional and now we know the man who’s imagination produced them. Meet Rafid Ahmed Alwan al-Janabi, or Curveball, the handle used by the German and US intelligence agencies.

At the UN, Colin Powell holds a model vial of ...

Image via Wikipedia

Guardian had an article Curveball’s confession: another dent in the Iraq conspiracy theory. A dent it certainly is. The confessions of al-Janabi certainly undermines the theory that evidence and reasons to invade Iraq were made up, that the war itself served to profit a few powerful elite.

A very interesting side-effect to all this is the heat CIA is getting. Apparently, the then-head of the European office of CIA, Tyler Drumheller, and the then-current CIA director, George J. Tenet, have contradictory memoirs. Drumheller insists that “we didn’t know if it was true. We knew there were real problems with it and there were inconsistencies.” According an article by the Guardian, Drumheller claims to have “warned the head of the US intelligence agency before the 2003 invasion of Iraq that Curveball might be a liar”.

Tenet, on the other hand, denies any warning or a hint of it whatsoever. On his website, Tenet reproduces a piece of his memoir where he wrote:

Drumheller had dozens of opportunities before and after the Powell speech to raise the alarm with me, yet he failed to do so. A search of my calendar between February 5, 2003, the date of the Powell speech, and July 11, 2004, the date of my stepping down as DCI, shows that Drumheller was in my office twenty-two times. And yet he seems never to have thought that it might be worth telling the boss that he had reason to believe a central pillar in the case against Saddam might have been a mirage.

It’s really hard to say who’s who in this mess. It seems that it’s fair to say that very important people dropped the ball. To me the most shocking piece of information in this story is not that they believed curveball or that they didn’t double-check his claims or the lack of any of the standard operating procedures you’d expect intelligent services to have in place. None of that is too shocking, as grave as they all are. The shocking fact is that they didn’t even have a second source or any other independent intelligence on an equal footing as what curveball provided them. For the largest economies of the world to go to war one would expect a bit more reason than the stories of a single, odd, defector-in-exile as primary evidence and reason.

The body-counts and estimates of casualties in Iraq seem to converge on a minimum of 100,000 deaths. This says nothing of the wounded which is almost certainly in the millions, although no good data exists. In addition, millions of citizens became refugees and homeless. 100s of Billions were spent by the coalition forces and the number is still in the rise as expenses for the war casualties are paid out, compensations given and law-suites settled. And all this doesn’t say a word about the destroyed and damaged infrastructure in Iraq and the lasting psychological consequences on the affected.

Perhaps it’s all worth it, considering the biggest gain: getting rid of a brutal dictator. That’s at least the Machiavellian interpretations of things. Perhaps. But if that’s all we care about, then I guess Curveball is irrelevant and Powell needn’t such intelligence to make a case for war. It should’ve been sufficient to make the purpose getting rid of Saddam Hussein. Since this wasn’t the case, I’m bound to believe that Machiavellian reasoning is not good enough to wage war and one needs to demonstrate that these horrendous costs do indeed justify the ends.

If Drumheller is to be believed, he hit the nail right on the head:

The week before the speech, I talked to the Deputy McLaughlin, and someone says to him, ‘Tyler’s worried that Curveball might be a fabricator.’ And McLaughlin said, ‘Oh, I hope not, because this is really all we have.’ And I said, and I’ve got to be honest with you, I said: ‘You’ve got to be kidding? This is all we have!’

But seriously, is curveball all they had?!

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