Archive for November, 2015

A Sunday Long Read

Posted: November 15, 2015 by watsonthethird in Current Events, Terrorism
Tags: , , ,

In the wake of the tragedy in Paris, this long article, “The Other France,” by George Packer (from August) in The New Yorker is worth a read. The issue of Islamist extremism is complex, and despite the rhetoric of conservative thought leaders and Republican presidential candidates, it will sadly not be easily or quickly solved. (Another article by David Ignatius at The Atlantic traces the history of ISIS and is worth a read as well.)

The opening paragraphs of Packer’s article:

Fouad Ben Ahmed never paid much attention to Charlie Hebdo. He found the satirical magazine to be vulgar and not funny, and to him it seemed fixated on Islam, but he didn’t think that its contributors did real harm. One of its cartoonists, Stéphane Charbonnier, also drew for Le Petit Quotidien, a children’s paper to which Ben Ahmed subscribed for his two kids. On January 7th, upon hearing that two French brothers with Algerian names, Saïd and Chérif Kouachi, had executed twelve people at the Charlie Hebdo offices—including Charbonnier—in revenge for covers caricaturing Muhammad, Ben Ahmed wrote on Facebook, “My French heart bleeds, my Muslim soul weeps. Nothing, ABSOLUTELY NOTHING, can justify these barbaric acts. Don’t talk to me about media or politicians who would play such-and-such a game, because there’s no excuse for barbarism. #JeSuisCharlie.”

That night, Ben Ahmed left his house, in the suburbs outside Paris, and went into the city to join tens of thousands of people at a vigil. He is of Algerian and Tunisian descent, with dark skin, and a few white extremists spat threats at him, but Ben Ahmed ignored them—France was his country, too. On January 11th, he joined the one and a half million citizens who marched in unity from the Place de la République.

Ben Ahmed’s Facebook page became a forum for others, mostly French Muslims, to discuss the attacks. Many expressed simple grief and outrage; a few aired conspiracy theories, suggesting a plot to stigmatize Muslims. “Let the investigators shed light on this massacre,” Ben Ahmed advised. One woman wrote, “I fear for the Muslims of France. The narrow-minded or frightened are going to dig in their heels and make an amalgame”—conflate terrorists with all Muslims. Ben Ahmed agreed: “Our country is going to be more divided.” He defended his use of #JeSuisCharlie, arguing that critiques of Charlie’s content, however legitimate before the attack, had no place afterward. “If we have a debate on the editorial line, it’s like saying, ‘Yes—but,’ ” he later told me. “In these conditions, that is unthinkable.”

Ben Ahmed, who is thirty-nine, works as a liaison between residents and the local government in Bondy—a suburb, northeast of Paris, in an area called Department 93. For decades a bastion of the old working class and the Communist Party, the 93 is now known for its residents of Arab and African origin. To many Parisians, the 93 signifies decayed housing projects, crime, unemployment, and Muslims. France has all kinds of suburbs, but the word for them, banlieues, has become pejorative, meaning slums dominated by immigrants. Inside the banlieues are the cités: colossal concrete housing projects built during the postwar decades, in the Brutalist style of Le Corbusier. Conceived as utopias for workers, they have become concentrations of poverty and social isolation. The cités and their occupants are the subject of anxious and angry discussion in France. Two recent books by the eminent political scientist Gilles Kepel, “Banlieue de la République” and “Quatre-vingt-treize” (“Ninety-three”), are studies in industrial decline and growing segregation by group identity. There’s a French pejorative for that, too: communautarisme.

After the Charlie massacre—and after a third terrorist, Amedy Coulibaly, gunned down a black policewoman outside a Jewish school and four Jews at a kosher supermarket—there was a widespread feeling, in France and elsewhere, that the killings were somehow related to the banlieues. But an exact connection is not easy to establish. Although these alienated communities are increasingly prone to anti-Semitism, the profiles of French jihadists don’t track closely with class; many have come from bourgeois families. The sense of exclusion in the banlieues is an acute problem that the republic has neglected for decades, but more jobs and better housing won’t put an end to French jihadism.

Ben Ahmed has lived in the 93 his entire life. A few years ago, he and his wife, Carolina, and their two children moved into a small house near Charles de Gaulle Airport. They wanted to be near a private school that the children attend, because most public schools in the 93 are overcrowded and chaotic, and staffed by younger, less qualified teachers. Ben Ahmed spent his teens in one of the toughest suburbs, Bobigny, in a notorious cité called l’Abreuvoir. During his twenties and early thirties, Ben Ahmed was employed by the Bobigny government as a community organizer, working with troubled youth—some of them his friends and neighbors, many just out of prison or headed there. His authority on life in the cités exceeds that of any scholar.

After the attacks, Ben Ahmed wrote an open letter to President François Hollande titled “All Partly Responsible, but Not Guilty.” He identified himself as a banlieue resident who had often “seen death a few metres from me.” He wrote about the problems of joblessness, discrimination, and collective withdrawal from society. He recalled that, in October, 2001, a soccer game in Paris between France and Algeria—the first such match since Algerian independence, in 1962—had to be called off when thousands of French youths of North African origin booed the “Marseillaise” and invaded the field, some chanting, “Bin Laden, bin Laden!” The French public responded with righteous revulsion. “The problem was before our eyes,” Ben Ahmed wrote. “But instead of asking good questions, we chose stigmatization, refusal of the other.” He went on, “The split was born on that day, the feeling of rejection expressed by the political class, when we could have asked other questions: What’s wrong? What’s the problem?”

After today’s rant, my guess is that the people of Iowa are not stupid enough to vote for The Donald. Ya gotta read this account from The Washington Post describing Trump’s speech in Fort Dodge, Iowa today. The man is truly delusional.

FORT DODGE, Iowa — For an hour and 35 minutes, Republican front-runner Donald Trump vented about everything that’s wrong with this country and this election.

He said he would “bomb the s—” out of areas controlled by the Islamic State that are rich with oil and claimed to know more about the terrorist group than U.S. military generals. He ranted about how everyone else is wrong on illegal immigration and how even the “geniuses at Harvard” have now backed his way of thinking. He accused Hillary Rodham Clinton of playing the “woman’s card,” and said Marco Rubio is “weak like a baby.” He signed a book for an audience member and then threw it off the stage. He forgot to take questions like he promised. And he spent more than 10 minutes angrily attacking his chief rival, Ben Carson, at one point calling him “pathological, damaged.”

Gone was the candidate’s recent bout of composure and control on the campaign trail. As Trump ranted on and on, campaign staffers with microphones who were supposed to take questions from the audience instead took a seat, trying to cheer their boss here and there. The audience laughed at times and clapped for many of Trump’s sharp insults. But an hour and 20 minutes into the speech, people who were standing on risers on the stage behind Trump sat down. The applause came less often and less loud. As Trump skewered Carson in deeply personal language, a sense of discomfort settled on the crowd of roughly 1,500. Several people shook their heads or whispered to their neighbors.

Carson wrote in his autobiography that as a young man he had a “pathological temper” that caused him to violently attack others — going after his mother with a hammer and trying to stab a friend, only to have the blade stopped and broken by the friend’s belt buckle. In recent days, those accounts have come under scrutiny, and Carson has had to clarify or correct some of the details.

Trump said he doesn’t believe Carson is telling the truth and questioned how a belt buckle could stop a blade. He stepped away from the podium and acted out how he imagined such an attack would happen, with his own belt buckle flopping around. He asked if anyone in the audience had a knife to try out his theory. His Secret Service agents, who just joined his detail this week, stood guard.

“Carson is an enigma to me,” Trump said. “He said that he’s ‘pathological’ and that he’s got, basically, pathological disease… I don’t want a person that’s got pathological disease.”

Trump repeatedly said he doesn’t believe there’s any cure for such a disease, and he said he doesn’t believe that Carson was truly changed by divine intervention, as he writes in his book.

“If you’re a child molester — a sick puppy — a child molester, there’s no cure for that,” Trump said. “If you’re a child molester, there’s no cure. They can’t stop you. Pathological? There’s no cure.”

And yet Carson is doing well in the polls, Trump said in disbelief.

“How stupid are the people of Iowa?” Trump said. “How stupid are the people of the country to believe this crap?”

Trump started the speech looking exhausted, his voice hoarse. This was his fourth state in four days. A sense of anger built as Trump listed off everything wrong with the country and everything wrong with his rivals. His voice got louder and stronger, his hands gripping the podium. He would be a unifier, he said, a winner. Then he wondered aloud if he should just move to Iowa and buy a farm.

“I’ve really enjoyed being with you,” Trump said as he drew to a sudden but long awaited end. “It’s sad in many ways because we’re talking about so many negative topics, but in certain ways it’s beautiful. It’s beautiful.”

And there’s this from Trump’s nine-minute(!) rant against Ben Carson:

But at the same time, Trump expressed disbelief at Carson’s 50-year-old stories, including that a friend’s belt buckle somehow stopped Carson’s camping knife from sinking in. Trump reenacted a young Carson in order to mock the stories, and at one point he walked away from the podium to show how ridiculous he felt the stabbing story was.

“Give me a break, the knife broke,” he said. “The belt moves this way. It moves this way! It moves that way! He hits a belt buckle! … Believe me, it ain’t gonna to work. … But he took the knife, he went like this! And he plunged it into the belt! And amazingly, the belt stayed totally flat and the knife broke.”

And Trump discounted how Carson could have had an epiphany had he truly been as violent as his book described.

“He goes into the bathroom for a couple hours, and comes out, and now he’s religious. And the people of Iowa believe him,” he said. “Give me a break. Give me a break. It doesn’t happen that way. It doesn’t happen that way.”

He added: “Some people might not like it: ‘Oh, that’s not really nice what you say.’ Don’t be fools. Don’t be fools, OK?”

“I have never in my life witnessed a more whiny human being than this president.”
–Sean Hannity on his Fox News show, Nov. 3.

Evidently he has never listened to himself, because all he does is whine. It’s his signature characteristic.

Hannity was whining tonight about President Obama mocking the Republicans about their fear of having to respond to tough questions from debate moderators after playing a clip described below:

“Have you noticed that everyone of these candidates say, ‘Obama’s weak. Putin’s kicking sand in his face. When I talk to Putin, he’s going to straighten out,'” Obama said, impersonating a refrain among Republican candidates that he’s allowed Russian President Vladimir Putin too much leeway.

“Then it turns out they can’t handle a bunch of CNBC moderators at the debate. Let me tell you, if you can’t handle those guys, then I don’t think the Chinese and the Russians are going to be too worried about you,” Obama said.

Sean Hannity: The least self-aware human being on television.

Blogs For Victory’s Mark Edward Noonan never misses an opportunity to prove he isn’t a scientist, repeating the latest climate change denialism talking points. And this week he was true to form, dutifully repeating a canard that’s been making the rounds of conservative blogs and websites lately:

A bit of a Global Warming Climate Change update – turns out that Antarctic ice mass isn’t actually declining. There are 6.36 million cubic miles of ice in Antarctica; the average thickness of the sheet is 6,500 feet (that is well more than a mile, folks) – we’re going to have to warm up more than a degree or two by 2100 to make a real dent in that.

It’s almost as if Noonan trolls the Internet for his talking points…

Anyway, Noonan’s secondhand source is Watts Up With That, not exactly a paragon of science. And Mark Edward Noonan, being a twenty-first century conservative, uncritically accepts anything that denigrates science. After all, science is, in his mind, a grand leftist liberal conspiracy to steal money from those who earned it.

Not surprisingly, Watt’s claim relies on a faulty and incomplete interpretation of partial data that is favorable to climate deniers, which they know the Noonans of the world will eat up. (This is also the way he wrote 150 Reasons Why Barack Obama Is the Worst President In History, by the way.)

Here’s what’s actually going on, courtesy Phil Pliat at Slate:

A new study just published in the Journal of Glaciology is causing some buzz in climate circles, because it appears to claim that Antarctica—long thought to be losing ice at extremely alarming rates—is actually gaining ice.

However, note the word appears. The reality is more complicated, and in the end the important aspect of this is that the study only talks about part of Antarctica, and only used data up to 2008. Both of these points are critical.

Here’s what’s what.

The authors looked at satellite altimeter data, using that to track how much snow accumulated over a given time period. Looking at different satellites, they found that enough snow fell over some parts of the southern continent (most importantly the vast area of East Antarctica) to more than balance the ice lost via melting.

In other words, East Antarctica (and parts of West) was gaining mass. That’s interesting!

But the authors note that the accumulation rate is steady while losses are increasing. As they mention in their conclusion, this gain in mass over the regions studied can’t keep up with losses, and they’re likely to balance in about 20 years. After that, losses win.

There’s more. They looked at data going from 1992–2008. Starting right around that time, mass loss due to melting ice in Antarctica (mostly in the west) has accelerated. It’s actually been speeding up for some time, but in recent years it’s really kicked in. Every year, about 6 billion more tons of ice are lost than the year before. In the past two decades, the loss rate has doubled.

This is enough to easily outpace the mass gained by snowfall over East Antarctica. Using data taken by the Grace satellites (which measure how mass underneath them changes over time), we know that overall, Antarctica is currently losing more than 130 billion tons of ice per year, and again, that number is increasing every year. Since 2002 it’s lost about 2 trillion tons of ice.

Mind you, this isn’t including Greenland, which is losing ice at an even more staggering 280 billion tons per year, and has lost well over three trillion tons over that same time period.

So no matter how you slice it, Antarctica is losing ice, and losing it fast.

Plait goes on to say (my emphasis added):

Of course, the usual suspects in the global warming–denying noise machine are jumping all over this study, claiming triumph … but, as usual, they obfuscate, they cherry-pick, and they ignore evidence that contradicts their claims that everything is rolling along just fine.

Here’s the difference between real science and what they do: When I first read about this Antarctic study, my reaction was one of hope. Although I knew that sea levels were rising, and that this must be coming from somewhere, if Antarctica was actually gaining ice, that could provide a good buffer against catastrophic melting.

But upon further examination it became clear that this was not the case. I was happy to entertain the notion that I might be wrong in my conclusions, and I still am. But all the evidence points to the conclusion that Antarctica is still losing hundreds of billions of tons of ice per year, will lose more every year, and it’s joined (and even outpaced) by Greenland.

The world really is warming up. We really are losing ice. The sea levels really are rising. Oceans really are getting more acidic as they absorb some of the 40 billion extra tons of carbon dioxide we humans pump into the atmosphere every year.

On Saturday in Colorado Springs, a man armed with an AR-15 assault rifle shot and killed three people, apparently at random. The police surrounded and killed him minutes later. Of course, before he opened fire there wasn’t much to do about a guy walking around with an assault rifle because, hey, it’s perfectly normal in Colorado. Naomi Bettis, a neighbor who witnessed the killings, saw the gunman beforehand and thought something might be amiss.

Bettis said she recognized the gunman as her neighbor — whom she didn’t know by name — and that before the initial slaying she saw him roaming outside with a rifle. She called 911 to report the man, but a dispatcher explained that Colorado has an open carry law that allows public handling of firearms.

In other words: Nothing to see here, move along. Oh, wait…