At The Stonewall Columbus Pride Parade

IMG_1256It’s the weekend of the Stonewall Columbus Pride Festival, and today the Pride Parade was downtown.  Kasey and I stopped by after work this morning.  As always, the parade was a big, brassy, raucous affair, with lots of cheering and shouts as the floats and marchers wound their way through the concrete canyons of downtown Columbus.

If anything, the parade seemed bigger this year than in past years.  That’s an encouraging thing to see in the wake of the Pulse massacre in Orlando, Florida.  It’s a cliche to say that terrorists win if their brutal attacks cause us to change our behavior and fear for our safety in any public setting, but it happens to be true.  I was glad to see that those of us who believe in and support LGBT rights were out in force, showing that they weren’t intimidated and would continue to be loud and proud.

Both Eyes Blind

In the wake of the deadliest mass killing in U.S. history in which more than 50 innocent people died, in the aftermath of the terrible carnage at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida, you would think, or at least hope, that the country could come together.  But you would be wrong.  If anything, the slaughter exposes a country more fractured than ever.

At one point on the political spectrum, the attack is presented as all about guns and gun control.  At another point, it’s all about radical Islam.  But the two sides don’t connect.

pulse-orlando-shooting-001_custom-afcf8cd831a4547d9b4465462bcea412bd660ffd-s1100-c15The people who blame the NRA and gun manufacturers are seemingly unwilling to even acknowledge that there is a radical strain of Islam that not only has fomented the hate-filled, misogynistic world of ISIS, but also violently opposes the western world and the tolerant values we embody and is looking to bring the fight to our shores.  The people who focus solely on radical Islam, on the other hand, won’t concede that something is wrong when one man whose behavior has become increasingly troubling, and who was targeted in several terrorist investigations, can somehow acquire a gun that allows him, with a few squeezes of a trigger, to send out a fusillade of bullets that can kill and injure few more than 100 people in a few bloody minutes.

There’s a middle ground here, but no one seems interested in finding it.

On one side, people need to acknowledge that certain strains of radical Islam present a real problem that needs to be addressed.  If we allow concerns about political correctness to prevent us from even talking directly about the issue, if we couch our discussions in oblique terms about what “we” need to do as a society rather than focusing on the specific problem, how can we ever hope to develop a solution?  Emoticons and lighting candles aren’t going to change the paradigm.  And we need to recognize that the shackles imposed by our zeal to achieve maximal inoffensiveness come at a cost — in the form of Donald Trump, whose appeal for many is due in part to his willingness to break through the PC barriers.  Trump’s unseemly and ignorant self-congratulation in the wake of the Pulse massacre was a vintage example of his colossal ego and intrinsic bad taste, but his followers undoubtedly are nodding at the fact that their candidate at least is talking about the issue, whereas other leaders seem to be living in a kind of PC fantasy world.

On the other side, the gun ownership advocates need to acknowledge that we’ve moved beyond the self-protection and sportsman’s paradise rationales for American gun ownership, and technology has pushed the envelope even farther.  With guns available that allow a lone killer to shoot down dozens of innocent people in an incredibly short period of time — before even the speediest law enforcement agency could possibly hope to respond and intervene — the stakes for some kind of meaningful and rational approach to gun ownership are higher than ever.  No family looking to defend their home against an intruder, and no hunter out looking to take down a deer, needs to acquire a weapon that allows them to fire off dozens of shots in the space of a few blinks of an eye.

The Pulse massacre teaches us that we need to work on both of these issues — but first the two sides need to recognize that the two issues actually exist.  Don’t hold your breath.

Traveling As A Message

In the aftermath of the Brussels terrorist bombings, some of our friends have decided to cancel planned trips to Europe.

Obviously, that’s not an unreasonable decision.  They’ve confirmed that Americans were among those killed in the Belgium attacks, and police raids that have occurred following  the attacks are indicating the existence of a large terrorist network in western Europe.

Stitched PanoramaCombine those facts with the overall perception that Europe is struggling to deal with the latest flood of immigrants from the Middle East and didn’t effectively screen the incoming refugees, that Muslims in Europe are not integrated into European society, and that the European police forces haven’t done a very good job of identifying and tracking terrorists, and it’s not surprising that people are deciding that now is not the time to venture across the Atlantic.  And when you read that European police efforts are handicapped by laws that seem motivated more by political correctness than by an honest effort to promote security — like the Belgian law that prevents police raids between 9 p.m. and 5 a.m. — you could easily conclude that if the Europeans aren’t interested in effectively dealing with terrorism, why should I take the risk?

Kish and I are in the opposite camp.  She’s a rationalist who notes that, even with the recent attacks, you’re still statistically more likely to die from a bathtub fall or a traffic accident on the way to the grocery store than a terrorist bomb, and I’m a fatalist who believes that your number could called anywhere, anytime, so why not see the world a bit before your time is up.  Plus, I don’t want the terrorists to think they’ve won and achieved the broad societal terror that is their primary goal.  If no one from America travels to Europe, ISIS, al Qaeda, and their terrorist brethren will chalk one up in the win column.

We weren’t planning a visit to Europe because we’ve had several wonderful trips there and we were interested in going to some place in the southern hemisphere, because we’ve never been there and, as a bucket list item, I would one day like to see the constellations in the southern sky.  Now I’m thinking that maybe we should consider putting a trip to the Old Continent on the calendar, as a way of telling the terrorists to stick it.

Our Muslim Friends

Kish and I have friends and acquaintances who happen to be Muslims. We’ve shared meals with them and celebrated special events with them.  They live in our town, have worked with us, and are related to our friends.  They are people we know and like and trust.  We don’t fear them because Islam is their religion.

IRAQI-AMERICAN MUSLIMS CELEBRATE IN DEARBORN OUSTER OF HUSSEINI’m quite sure that we’re not unusual in knowing and working with Muslims.  America still remains a melting pot where people of different nationalities, colors, and faiths can come and pursue their dreams, without being shackled by caste systems or tribal ancestry or corrupt political systems.  In America, a person’s religious faith is just one aspect of their persona.  It doesn’t immutably define them, and it certainly shouldn’t cause them to be targeted.

That’s why comments like the one Ted Cruz made yesterday are so . . . appalling.  In the wake of the latest ISIS-supported bombings, in Brussels, Cruz said that “we need to empower law enforcement to patrol and secure Muslim neighborhoods before they become radicalized,” and that America cannot be confined by “political correctness.”   But America isn’t like Europe, where in many cities Muslim immigrants live in separate neighborhoods, never learn the language, and never become integrated.  What would define a “Muslim neighborhood” in America?  Would Hamtramck, Michigan, be one?  That’s America’s first majority Muslim city — and it also happens to be where our son Russell lives and works.  How would police patrols “secure” such “Muslim neighborhoods” and prevent them from becoming “radicalized”?  Does anyone really think that police car drive-bys or foot patrols are going to keep receptive young men and women from falling prey to the terrorist teachings of ISIS?  And while I think there are times when political correctness can run amok, it isn’t “political correctness” that prevents targeting people because of their religion — it’s basic American principles that flow from the First Amendment.

I’m as interested as anyone in defeating ISIS, but we have to focus on the terrorists, not their religion.  People are more likely to become radicalized when they are disaffected, and dividing people and targeting “Muslim neighborhoods” with a heavily armed police presence sure seems like a good recipe for creating disaffected people.  The better course, I think, is to do what America always does — accept people, welcome them, and let them pursue their dreams in a country that is free and full of opportunity for all — and then make sure that we find and crush the terrorists who are slaughtering innocents because of some sick and twisted ideology.

Empty Symbolism

I came home tonight to news of another horrific terrorist attack today, this time at the airport and train terminal in Brussels.  As with other terrorist attacks, the responsibility for this atrocity was claimed by ISIS.  And as I watched the news to catch up on what had happened, I saw stories about how other countries in Europe were “showing solidarity” with Belgium, because the Eiffel Tower and the Trevi Fountain and, probably, other European landmarks were illuminated with the colors of the Belgium flag.

56f1cf08c361881c2c8b45e3Am I the only person who has had it with this kind of empty symbolism?  I guess we’re all supposed to be deeply moved by the projection of the Belgian flag.  Hey, while we’re at it, let’s have a Facebook app that allows us to change our profile pictures to use the Belgian colors!  And maybe we can come up with a few good Twitter hashtags, too, like when the primary response to the African terrorists who were kidnapping young girls and selling them into slavery was a “freeourgirls” hashtag?  Boy, a really good hashtag will teach those ISIS guys not to mess with us!

I understand the desire to show solidarity with innocent people who have been attacked.  But at some point projected flag colors and hashtags and statements of Facebook support are pointless.  ISIS doesn’t give a flying fig what the trending hashtags are or whether the Trevi Fountain is bathed in the Belgian colors.

Are we going to try to defeat these guys, or are we just hoping we can out-symbolize them?

When Data Security Meets National Security

Syed Rizwan Farook, the male shooter in the December 2, 2015 San Bernardino terrorist attacks, carried an iPhone 5C that was owned by the county public health department, where he worked as an inspector.  After the attack, the county consented to the FBI’s search of Farook’s phone, but it runs on Apple’s iOS9 operating system, which is built with default device encryption — and, after two months of trying, the FBI hasn’t been able to break through the phone’s data security features.

The FBI believes the phone may hold data, such as in contact lists, photographs, or instant messages, that could materially assist in the investigation and potentially identify others, in the United States and overseas, who assisted Farook.  So, what to do?

apple-iphone5c-16gb-att-blue-2The FBI went to a federal magistrate judge, who ordered Apple to help the FBI unlock the iPhone by disabling the feature that wipes the data on the phone after 10 incorrect tries at entering a password.  That would allow the government to keep trying new combinations, without deleting the data.  Apple says only the phone’s user can disable that feature, but the court order requires Apple to write software that would bypass it.

Apple is resisting the court order, saying that such software would be a back door to the iPhone and is too dangerous to create.  “Once created,” Apple CEO Tim Cook said, “the technique could be used over and over again, on any number of devices. In the physical world, it would be the equivalent of a master key, capable of opening hundreds of millions of locks — from restaurants and banks to stores and homes. No reasonable person would find that acceptable.”

National security and counterterrorism specialists say Apple should be a “good corporate citizen,” comply with the court order, and help in the investigation of one of the worst terrorist attacks in U.S. history.  Privacy advocates agree with Apple that the government is overreaching, and argue that the court decision could set a precedent that would undermine the privacy, and security, of everyone’s handheld devices.  So Apple will appeal the court order, and no doubt other technology companies and interest groups will weigh in, in court and in the court of public opinion, about the propriety of the order.

We’ll have to see how the appeal plays out, but for now we can draw some conclusions.  First, Apple’s default encryption system must be pretty robust, if it can withstand two months of probes and hacking efforts by a highly motivated FBI.  Second, in the post-Edward Snowden world, there is a huge amount of mistrust for our own government and an obvious unwillingness to hand them any code, key, or software that could then be used in another mass governmental data-gathering effort.  And third, with cell phones now ubiquitous world-wide and serving as wallets, photo albums, Rolodexes, mailboxes, message centers, internet search devices, and home to countless apps, all in one handy device the size of a playing card, we’re going to see more and more of these collisions between data security and national security in the future.

Redefining “Success”

John Kirby, a spokesman for the United States Department of State, has published a “year in review” piece on the Department’s official blog.  He notes that while “the year was not without challenges,” the “United States has helped to change the world for the better” and adds:  “Our diplomats have been busy, and they have met with significant success across a range of issues.”  He then gives his “take” on them using “a great hashtag — #2015in5Words — which was recently trending on Twitter.”

One of the #2015in5Words items Kirby lists is “Bringing Peace, Security to Syria.”

syrian-refugees-opener-6151Huh?  Syria?  The Syria where a bloody civil war between the terrorist forces of ISIS and the repressive regime of Bashar al-Assad has provoked a huge refugee crisis?  The Syria where significant parts of the control are under the control of a deadly terrorist group and where fighting is going on, even now?  The Syria where every big power is flexing its muscle and where, thanks to the support of Russia and Iran, it looks like the murderous Assad might conceivably stay in power?

How does Kirby explain that the U.S. was involved in “Bringing Peace, Security to Syria”?  He doesn’t, really.  He says only that the U.S. has “stepped up to aid the Syrian people during their time of need” and that “the UN Security Council passed a U.S.-sponsored resolution that puts forward a roadmap that will facilitate a transition within Syria to a credible, inclusive, nonsectarian government that is responsive to the needs of the Syrian people.”  Americans should be proud of their traditional generosity to others, of course, but neither increased aid or the passage of a preliminary United Nations Security Council resolution can reasonably be characterized as “Bringing Peace, Security to Syria” in the face of intense ongoing fighting.

Oh, and another “success” included by Kirby is “Winning Fight Against Violent Extremists.”  It touts the “Summit on Countering Violent Terrorism” hosted by the White House in February 2015 and says “this monumental summit launched an ongoing global CVE effort now underway that reaches throughout the world and across countless nations” that ultimately will lead to the defeat of ISIS.  Seriously?  We’re supposed to count a summit meeting that barely hit the news as a success?  Only a flack could say, in the wake of the events in Paris, San Bernardino, and other locations of horrific terrorist actions in 2015, that we are “winning fight against violent extremists.”

Diplomats are supposed to have credibility, but when you’re searching for “success” and trying to present your case in 5-word hashtags that were recently trending on social media, this is what you get.  Maybe there’s a reason the Department of State’s official blog is called “Dipnote.”