Sunday, January 27, 2013

Technology & Its Effect On Humanity

Human Progress

All spirits are enslaved which serve things evil. 
Percy Bysshe Shelley [1792–1822], 
English Romantic poet, Prometheus Unbound 

The real danger is not that computers will begin to think like men, 
but that men will begin to think like computers. 
Sydney J. Harris [1917-1986],  American journalist 

It has become appallingly obvious that our technology 
has exceeded our humanity. 
Albert Einstein [1879-1955], Nobel laureate in physics

When I was a student in junior college in the 1970s, which now seems like another age altogether, I was assigned a book for a humanities course called The Human Use of Human Beings (1950) by Norbert Wiener [1894-1964], a professor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Prof Wiener, a child prodigy, received his doctorate (in mathematics) from Harvard University in 1912 at age 18.

The book, first published in 1950, is a classic text on cybernetics,or the study of message transmission among people and machines. The book's central warning about automation's effects is as relevant today as it was 50 years ago when the book became popular.

Although Prof. Wiener advocated that automation would possibly relieve people of drudgery and repetitive tasks, he also warned against reliance on machinery to displace and dehumanize people. Wiener could not foresee that automation (and computerization) would in many ways introduce other drudgery or mundane work, like data entry, call centres, and low-level jobs with mind-numbing keyboarding tasks.

As for the prophetic warning about displacement and dehumanization, on that account he was prescient. Millions of people have been displaced by machines as part of technological advancement, many for good measure, some for not. Many of these people will likely never find work, as we advance further in the Digital Revolution, repeating a pattern established during the Industrial Revolution of the 1800s.

The unemployment rate in the U.S., for example, will likely remain around 10% for a while, many economists reluctantly say, including President Obama's Chief Economist, Austan Goolsbee. (So far, eight million jobs have been lost since the beginning of 2008 recession, making this the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression that started in 1929.)

Norbert Wiener [1894-1964]: Prof Wiener, an American mathematician, advocated that we must have a clear vision of the technology's purpose, which must accompany technological know-how.
Photo Credit: Konrad Jacobs,MFO
As Wiener notes, we push ahead and progress with the knowledge that we take a great risk. The myth of Prometheus is still speaking to us, although today it might only be an echo. Such might influence Wiener's and other prophets or visionaries' tragic sense of life:
The sense of tragedy is that the world is not a pleasant little nest made for our protection, but a vast and largely hostile environment, in which we can achieve great things only by defying the gods; and that this defiance inevitably brings its own punishment.
Unfortunately, the law of unintended consequences is alive and in effect. He was not alone among eminent scientists to hold such a view. A contemporary of Prof Wiener was Albert Einstein, the noted physicist and Nobel laureate, who wrote about the place of technology in human affairs:
More and more I come to value charity and love of one's fellow being above everything else... All our lauded technological progress—our very civilization—is like the axe in the hand of the pathological criminal.
For many, such words sound quaint, antiquated in an age that has become enamoured with technology and our digital age; the idea that some technologies can have a deleterious effect on humans and on human relations seems to escape most people. Even so, one can disagree with Dr. Einstein, but one cannot easily ignore him. 

The problem rests with a type of technological worship, which sees each and every advancement as progress, its adherents faithfully bowing down to the gods of productivity and efficiency—as if that were all that mattered. For companies, and not only high-tech ones, profit at all costs becomes the motto, and with technological advancement the profits have become larger, and the job losses greater. The problem is not Capitalism, just its current incarnation, led by individuals who have no inkling of what they are doing. Or perhaps they do.

Charity and love do not fit into any equation or any bottom line accounting sheet. They are, after all, the most human of emotions. So, it must be said that Prof Wiener cautions us in the name of humanity: it's not only important to develop a technology, but have an understanding and awareness of its ultimate purpose. That's a foresight that's often lost in the rush for technological advancement and excellence. The loss for humanity? Incalculable. 


This post was originally published on Perry J. Greenbaum (September 17, 2010).

Five Stories Of The Week: Ending January 26, 2013

News & Commentary

Here are five stories that shaped my world this week:

Markets Like Bibi: An article, by Shoshanna Solomon, in Bloomberg posted two days before this Israeli elections on January 22nd, notes that the financial markets favour a Binyamin Netanyahu electoral victory:
“The world perceives Israel as a well-managed state that offers investors a good deal with high returns on solid investments,” Amir Gil, chief investment officer of Tel Aviv- based Psagot Provident Funds and Pension Ltd., which manages $16 billion of assets, said on Jan. 14. “If the new government will continue the existing economic policy, Israel will continue to be a good place to invest in compared to the world.”
Polls show Netanyahu is on course to prevail in voting tomorrow. While contender Tzipi Livni accused Netanyahu’s policy of abandoning talks with Palestinians as “leading to an end of the Jewish state,” investors say the 63-year-old deserves a second-straight term for his record on the economy.
Israel’s local bonds have rallied 36 percent in dollar terms since Netanyahu took office on March 31, 2009, compared with a 22 percent increase for a global index of government debt, data compiled by Bank of America Merrill Lynch show. The shekel surged 13 percent versus the dollar, the second best-performing currency in the Europe, Middle East and Africa region. The benchmark stock index climbed 65 percent and hit a record 1,341.89 during Netanyahu’s term, in April 2011.
Now, post-election, the markets got their wish, somewhat; now, coalition talks will begin. Despite not receiving the strongest mandate from the voters, a Netanyahu-led government will likely continue for the next few years, but in weaker form and  holding less influence. It will be more centrist than rightist—contrary to what most political commentators and journalists (this one included) predicted pre-election—and its mandate will focus more on domestic issues, such as the economy and social problems, which most elections invariably are about. There is little doubt that on economic issues, the government will retain, if not increase, its conservative policies.

At least that's what the middle-class voters have said they want in giving enough votes to Yesh Atid ("There is a Future"), led by Yair Lapid, a former TV anchor, to finish second. Reuters writes: "Yesh Atid and the centre-left Labour party, which came third with 15 seats, tapped into secular middle-class resentment that tax-payers must shoulder what they see as the burden of welfare-dependent ultra-Orthodox Jews exempt from military conscription." Such is Israeli politics and a testament to its strong democratic traditions.

Mercury Limits Deal Reached: An article in Nature says that a treaty has been signed by 140 nations limiting the reduce and use of mercury in commercial and industrial operations
The new treaty, agreed to by more than 140 nations on 19 January, was named after the Japanese city Minamata, where methyl-mercury-containing industrial waste water was discharged into the sea between 1932 and 1968, seriously damaging the health of thousands of residents.
The Minamata Convention on Mercury, which is expected to come into force in 3–5 years, will require countries with artisanal and small-scale gold mining to draw up national plans to reduce and, if possible, eliminate the use of mercury in such operations. The sector accounts for the largest slice, about 37%, of mercury emissions due to human activities.
The nations have also agreed to apply the best mercury-control technologies available to them to industrial facilities, such as coal-fired power plants, metal smelters and cement factories. This will be complemented by tightening national mercury-emission regulations and stepping up monitoring programmes.The agreement also addresses mercury mining, international trade of the metal and safe storage of waste mercury. In addition, the manufacture and trade of a range of mercury-containing products — such as soaps, cosmetics, batteries, thermometers and fluorescent lamps — will be banned by 2020.
Support for developing countries is expected from the Global Environment Facility — an independent financial organization that provides grants to developing countries for environment projects — and a new programme once the convention is operational.
Mercury is a known health hazard, and any limits to is use is a welcome measure. The open question is how to enforce such measures, notably in nations that do not take such treaties seriously.

North Korea Acts Up: An article in ABC News reports that North Korea is making threats against the United States.
In a bellicose statement singling out the United States as the "sworn enemy" of the Korean people, North Korea today announced plans for a third nuclear test and continued rocket launches. The move is seen as a disappointment to those who hoped the country's new leader, Kim Jong-Un, might take a less aggressive path than his predecessor and father, Kim Jong-il.
It is also seen as a direct challenge to President Obama and South Korea's newly elected president, Park Geun-hye, who takes office next month.The statement from North Korea's National Defense Commission read: "Settling accounts with the U.S. needs to be done with force, not with words as it regards jungle law as the rule of its survival."

The renewed threats come in response to the U.S. backed resolution tightening sanctions against North Korea after its December rocket launch.
Predictably, it has also made similar threats against south Korea, the New York Times reports. That the isolated nation of North Korea is using inflammatory language is not surprising; that it will carry out such threats is unknown, although unlikely considering the devastating military consequences it will suffer.. Even so, it shows the long-term effects of a nation that has isolated itself from the international community and its lack of desire to establish normal relations. Such statements only isolate it further.

Nigeria Says Canada Must Do More In Mali: An article, by Campbell Clark, in the Globe & Mail points out what many Canadians sense is necessary: Canada must do more than it currently is doing in fighting the Islamist militants in Mali.
Mr. Maduekwe, a former Nigerian foreign affairs minister and campaign manager for President Goodluck Jonathan, warns that West Africa faces a threat – in Mali, in his country and the region – that isn’t a broad popular uprising or a battle between religions. Nigeria is sending 1,200 troops, alongside 2,500 from other West African nations. But he said they need military backing from Canada and others to succeed.
“What is required here is global political will, and global resources far beyond the capacity of African states, to see this thing as a common threat and deal with it,” Mr. Maduekwe said. “Rather than waiting for this thing to get worse, the time to deal with it is now, by a more imaginative, bolder and more creative response. An incremental approach ultimately is not the smartest thing to do. It will be more convenient for now, but more costly in the future.”
The Harper government, concerned about being dragged into a widening war, has sent a C-17 heavy-lift aircraft to ferry equipment from France to Mali. “It’s something,” Mr. Maduekwe said. “It’s not enough. A few African leaders, like Egypt’s Mohammed Morsi, have opposed the French military intervention. But West African neighbours have viewed the Islamist insurgency in Mali as a developing disaster. Niger’s ambassador to Canada, Fadjimata Sidibé, noted last week that the uprising has threatened to displace Mali’s secular government with harsh Islamist rule – a chilling thought for neighbours with both Christian and Muslim populations.
In Nigeria, an al-Qaeda affiliate has launched bloody attacks. Boko Haram, seeking to create an Islamist state, is suspected of killing 23 people in northeastern Nigeria this week – 18 hunters selling meat from animals strict Muslims do not eat, and five playing an outdoor board game. The group was linked to the killing of 600 last year alone.
Unless Canada and other western nations support the French-led military intervention in Mali, it is certain that they will be fighting this battle later on. Despite the fears of being dragged into another Afghanistan-type campaign—a valid enough fear—it still makes political sense to support the west African nations against the very real threat of militant Islamists [see herehere & here].

Little Change In Egypt: An article in Reuters points out that little has changed in Egypt; it has the same economic, political and social problems two years after the uprising that sent the Muslim Brotherhood into power:
President Mohamed Mursi's opponents plan to march to Tahrir Square on Friday to vent anger at the new Islamist leader and his Muslim Brotherhood backers, whom they accuse of betraying the goals of the January 25 revolution that galvanized Egyptians in a display of national unity that has not been seen since. "We don't see it as a celebration. This will be a new revolutionary wave that will show the Brotherhood that they are not alone - that there are other forces that can stand against them," said Ahmed Maher, founder of the April 6 - a group that helped ignite the uprising by using social media to organize.
The Brotherhood has said it will not send its supporters to Tahrir Square on Friday - a decision that at least limits the scope for more of the unrest that has compounded Egypt's economic troubles. Instead, with its eye on forthcoming parliamentary polls, the electorally savvy Brotherhood is marking the anniversary with a campaign to help the poor. With allies, it promises to send volunteers to renovate 2,000 schools, plant trees, deliver medical aid and open "charity markets" selling affordable food.
Yet that will do little good for the majority of persons who are unemployed or who are suffering poverty. Egypt's problems run much deeper than that. It will take a concerted unified effort on the part of Egypt's leaders, which includes bringing in secularists and liberals, for such problems to be addressed. It is doubtful that the current administration, with its narrow Islamist agenda, fits such a description.

& One More

Russia & Gay Rights: Aarticle, by David M. Herszenhorn, in the New York Times not only reveals what has long been known about Political Russia's cozy relationship with the Orthodox Church, but also confirms that the two now share a common view of the world. One of its campaigns of late is to promote "traditional values," and in accordance with such thinking, criminalize non-traditional ways of being and behaviour; not surprising, lawmakers overwhelmingly voted on Friday favouring legislation that would essentially make it a federal crime to promote homosexuality. Herszenhorn writes:
Inside, lawmakers voted 388-1 for the bill, which would make it a federal crime in Russia to distribute “homosexual propaganda,” with violations punishable by fines of up to $16,000. One lawmaker abstained. The bill must be approved by the lower house two more times before being sent to the upper chamber. Similar laws have been approved by a number of regions and municipalities, including St. Petersburg, where supporters of the restriction tried unsuccessfully to use it to bring charges against the pop star Madonna.
 The overwhelming vote fits with a larger pattern in recent months of the Russian government drawing closer to the Russian Orthodox Church and favoring so-called traditional values over individual liberties or behavior perceived as representing more modern, Western influences. This has included the aggressive prosecution and conviction of members of the punk band Pussy Riot for a stunt in Moscow’s main cathedral, and legislation imposing new restrictions on the Internet in the name of protecting children from pornography.
Protecting children from harm is good and necessary; yet this piece of legislation, whatever your sentiments on gays and lesbians, is worrisome and an unnecessary infringement of individual rights. Denying rights to one identifiable group opens the door to denying it to others, notably if religion and "traditional values" are used as the reason for the law's implementation. Human-rights advocates ought to be concerned.

That Russia is moving in this way (toward some form of autocratic theocracy) is not surprising given its history of anti-western bias and the need to silence dissent [see herehere & here]; that it can change course and move toward a western-style democracy is unlikely today, not under the current administration. It's going to be a long, cold Russian winter.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Democracy & The Scientific Method

Our Modern Life:

The man of science has learned to believe in justification, not by faith, but by verification.
— Thomas Henry Huxley
On the Advisableness of Improving Natural knowledge (1866).
In Collected Essays (1893) Vol. 1: 41

Philosophy is written in this grand book — I mean the universe — which stands continually open to our gaze, but it cannot be understood unless one first learns to comprehend the language in which it is written. It is written in the language of mathematics, and its characters are triangles, circles, and other geometric figures, without which it is humanly impossible to understand a single word of it; without these, one is wandering about in a dark labyrinth.
The Philosophy of the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries (1966) 
By Richard Henry Popkin

[Science] is not perfect. It can be misused. It is only a tool. But it is by far the best tool we have, self-correcting, ongoing, applicable to everything. It has two rules. First: there are no sacred truths; all assumptions must be critically examined; arguments from authority are worthless. Second: whatever is inconsistent with the facts must be discarded or revised. ... The obvious is sometimes false; the unexpected is sometimes true.
— Carl Sagan
Cosmos (1985): 277

Galileo Galilei, the 17th century Italian physicist and astronomer, is considered The Father of Modern Science. As Galileo points out: "All truths are easy to understand once they are discovered; the point is to discover them."

Often lost in the business and media-led hype about technology is how basic science informs technological innovation. And when we discuss modern science we do so in light of the Scientific Method. Modern science and the scientific method go hand in hand. Without science and its scientific methods quietly and elegantly acting as its guiding force, we would not have the Web, the Internet, search-engine technologies and social-networking sites.

When I was a young student of science and then engineering in the late 1970s and early '80s, I marveled at the advances of technology, including the advent of the desktop personal computer. It certainly made many things easier for humanity. Even so, I have taken enough science courses in math, physics and chemistry to understand the importance of certain scientific laws and principles, which greatly explain how nature operates in our world and beyond.

One of the roles that a scientist plays is detective, delving into these laws, which are at first often mysterious (think mathematical string theory and particle physics), but are necessary to our further understanding of the complexities of our world. Science helps our fundamental understanding of how the laws of nature operate, both within the confines of our world, and beyond to the extended space of the universe.

All modern science operates within the well-thought-out rules of the scientific method, which ensures that the results are based on science, and not on alchemy or magic. The scientific method is easily misunderstood, particularly by non-scientists. Yet, without it, our world fall victim to the many false claims and bad science evident today, which is not science at all.

So, we need some scientific rules and the scientific method ensures that everyone follows similar rules, as in a sporting competition. To that end, the scientific method essentially entails the collection of data by way of observation and experimentation, and the thinking and testing of hypotheses. Scientific researchers propose hypotheses to explain phenomena thay are studying, and then design experimental studies to test these hypotheses. A sound study must be be repeatable and predictable, otherwise it's not scientifically valid.

The scientific method has four basic but important steps
  1. Observation and description of a phenomenon or group of phenomena.
  2. Formulation of an hypothesis to explain the phenomena. In physics, the hypothesis often takes the form of a causal mechanism or a mathematical relation.
  3. Use of the hypothesis to predict the existence of other phenomena, or to predict quantitatively the results of new observations.
  4. Performance of experimental tests of the predictions by several independent experimenters and properly performed experiments.
If the experiments validate the hypothesis it may eventually, through repeatable and predictable results, become a theory or law of nature. If the experiments do not validate the hypothesis, it must be rejected or modified. It is often said that in science theories can never be proved, only disproved. There is always the possibility that a new observation or a new experiment will conflict with a long-standing theory. Such is the power and beauty of science and the scientific method.

The scientific method can be traced to antiquity, but its modern form took shape during the Renaissance and to Robert Grosseteste and Roger Bacon in the 13th century and William of Ockham (Ockham's razor) in the 14th century. It evolved, as others built and contributed to its intellectual foundation, including thinkers like Francis Bacon (1561-1626) and René Descartes (1596-1650).

But it took empirical scientists like  Nicolaus Copernicus (1473-1543), Johannes Kepler (1571-1630), and Galileo Galilei (1564-1642), who not only questioned the status quo but also provided hard evidence that  brought science into modernity. Although it must be said, not without strong resistance from the political and religious authorities. Of the three, most eminent scientists, including Stephen Hawking and Albert Einstein, name Galileo as the Father of Modern Science.

Johannes Kepler [1571-1630]: Frontispiece and title page of  Tabulae Rudolphinae: quibus astronomicae, 1627, or Rudolphine Tables. It celebrates the great astronomers of the past: Hipparchus, Ptolemy, Copernicus, and Tycho Brahe The Rudolphine Tables use logarithms, which Kepler developed, and provide perpetual tables for calculating planetary positions for any past or future date. For most stars, the tables have an accuracy of one arc minute.
Source: Treasures of the NOAA Library Collection Photographer: Archival Photograph by Mr. Steve Nicklas, NOS, NG
Hawking says:  "Galileo, perhaps more than any other single person, was responsible for the birth of modern science." With more clarity, Einstein writes in Ideas and Opinions:
But before mankind could be ripe for a science which takes in the whole of reality, a second fundamental truth was needed, which only became common property among philosophers with the advent of Kepler and Galileo. Pure logical thinking cannot yield us any knowledge of the empirical world; all knowledge of reality starts form experience and ends in it. Propositions arrived at by purely logical means are completely empty as regards reality. Because Galileo saw this, and particularly because he drummed it into the scientific world, he is the father of modern physics—indeed, of modern science altogether.
Galileo stands out, no doubt, because he stood fast in the face of opposition, even when his life was in peril. His work stands tall and his contributions to the Scientific Revolution are fondly remembered. It is somewhat ironic that Galileo's defense of heliocentricism was based on his interest in truth, a scientific truth on how nature operated, This truth bruised the sensibilities of the religious leaders of the time, which is somewhat ironic when one considers that the domain of religion and philosophy is the love of knowledge, notably as it leads to truth.

Obviously, something else was at stake here. Galileo was also voice fighting against conventional thinking:
Galileo had taken common knowledge and proven it wrong by testing it, or experimenting. In 1609, he would do it again when he turned a telescope to the sky and discovered that the Moon had mountains and valleys, that the sky was full of more stars than the eye could see on its own, and that planets were dots that could be objects just like the Moon and the Earth —orbited by their own moons.

Galileo’s discoveries convinced him that the Sun was the center of the solar system, a belief that put him at odds with the powerful Catholic Church. Galileo was brought to trial and forced to take back his statements that the Sun was at the center. Though he spent the rest of his life under house arrest, he continued his work and research until his death.
Of course, later on Galileo was vindicated, and within a century after his death his views became the accepted norm. The views of the Scientific Revolution took hold. We can thank Galileo for helping pave the way to modern science and democracy:
By the standards of his time, Galileo was often willing to change his views in accordance with observation. In order to perform his experiments, Galileo had to set up standards of length and time, so that measurements made on different days and in different laboratories could be compared in a reproducible fashion. This provided a reliable foundation on which to confirm mathematical laws using inductive reasoning.
As it should be on matters of science. In a letter discussing the astronomical characteristic of sunspots that Galileo wrote to Max Wesler in December 1612, before his trouble with the reigning religious authorities began, Galileo remarked that on matters scientific, the authority of politicians and religious leaders bear no relevance. "In questions of science the authority of a thousand is not worth the humble reasoning of a single individual."

Such statement describes in a pithy yet elegant manner the necessity of an impartial measure like the scientific method to guard modern science and modern society from abuse. Without its universal underpinnings, based on verifiable and observed fact, there would be no science, and by extension no technology and no democracy. It is not by fiat or by decree that decisions are made. They are made based on evidence. Such is the best form of democracy.

So, by extension, we enjoy democracy and freedom to pursue scientific discovery and innovation thanks in large part to the modern scientific method. Science doesn't hold all the answers, but it has some of them. And our understanding and way of life are richer for it. If we understand the connection, then we can understand why the scientific method remains one of the keys to our humanity.

This post was previously published on Perry J Greenbaum

Five Stories Of The Week: Ending January 19, 2013

News & Commentary

Here are five stories that shaped my world this week:

Science Informing Government: One of the many problems plaguing our society is scientific illiteracy; and this is a serious problem, chiefly since much of what we take for granted in our advancement as a civilization is due to scientific progress. An article in The Guardian, by Jeff Forshaw, is helpful in explaining why governments, which means politicians, ought to rely more on scientists when addressing complex scientific questions. It all centres on the Scientific Method:
The scientific input to a political debate can be in the form of bare facts, such as the numbers that result from measuring something. It can also be in the form of predictions about what is likely to happen, or what has happened in the past. To do this requires the construction of a model, which is an effort that often takes a good deal of technical knowledge and creative guesswork. Once we have the model, we test it against measured data. If the data agree with the predictions the model is not excluded. This process should be repeated, to test the model in a variety of different ways, and a good model is one that agrees with data spanning a wide range of disconnected phenomena.
We would be all the more convinced of a model's veracity if it also succeeds in predicting something genuinely new. Over time, a body of evidence accumulates and the quality of a model is judged against it. However, no body of evidence is utterly compelling and it remains logically possible to reject a whole mountain of it in favour of some extreme viewpoint. The process I just described is what scientists actually do and it is not complicated.
There is a huge difference between hearsay and scientific facts, between an invalidated opinion and a rigorously tested experiment. There is a tendency in a democracy to think that all opinions are equally valid; this of course is nonsense. The media is often to blame, journalists themselves often ill-equipped to understand science, seeking sensationalism and controversy over facts. As for politicians, intelligent in many areas, they often fall into the trap of saying foolish unscientific things without any understanding or knowledge they have done so. It would be better if they understood first and that's where scientists come into the picture.

Science can't address or solve all of society's ills, but they can address the scientific questions better than anyone else before an issue becomes hopelessly politicized. (The controversial issue of climate change is one recent example.) As Forshaw writes rather persuasively in the article: "In other words, scientific experts know better than anyone how nature works and we should be prepared either to develop sufficient expertise to engage in a scientific dialogue or defer to their better understanding." That makes perfect sense.

France Bombs Mali Rebels: An article in Reuters reports that France has made a determined effort to eradicate Islamist terrorists from the west African nation of Mali.
French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said France's dramatic intervention on Friday to bomb a convoy of heavily armed Islamist fighters sweeping southwards had stopped them from seizing Mali's capital Bamako within days. Western countries fear Islamists could use Mali as a base for attacks on the West, forming a link with al Qaeda militants in Yemen, Somalia and North Africa. 
Le Drian said former colonial power France was carrying out continuous bombing raids against the alliance of rebel groups, which seized the country's vast desert north in April. "There are raids going on now: there were some last night, and there will be more tomorrow," Le Drian told French television. "The president is totally determined that we must eradicate these terrorists who threaten the security of Mali, our own country and Europe."
Residents said French aircraft bombed the northern town of Gao, and a Malian rebel spokesman said they bombed targets in the towns of Lere and Douentza.
Le Drian said France was deploying a further contingent of 80 soldiers to Mali on Sunday, bring the total to 550 soldiers , split between Bamako and the town of Mopti, some 500 km (300 miles) north. State-of-the-art Rafale fighter jets would be dispatched to reinforce the operation on Sunday, he said.
No doubt this will not be a easy battle; the Islamists have already declared their intentions to strike France. Alas, such are the tactics of terrorists—to cause terror. For a recent example, look no further than the Algerian hostage crisis, where terrorists linked to al-Qaeda seized hostages at a natural gas complex in the Sahara, and the Algerian army refused to negotiate [see hereherehere & here]. But this has gone on far too long, and there are very good reasons for western nations like France to ensure the security of Mali. [see here, here & here.]. In short, the chief idea is to reduce and, if possible, completely eradicate the influence of Islamists and al Qaeda-inspired groups in Mali.

Militant Islam is not interested in reasonable dialogue; these are not reasonable people. These are people who hold medieval views and want the world to live accordingly. These are not people who hold western democratic ideals. Hardly the case. Of course the West must resist such efforts; it is in their (our) interest to do so.

It might shock the minds of some liberals to realize that force is the only language such fanatics of faith understand. It's not an ideal situation—the use of military force— but a necessary one to ensure western democracy's survival. Such explains why the United States, Canada, Britain, Denmark, and other European countries have offered at least logistical support [see here, here & here] in Mali. More might and should be expected from these western nations very soon.

India's Rape Problem: India has been cast in a harsh light the last few weeks, as the media has finally reported what has been known for long inside India. It's dangerous to be a woman in India. An article in the Globe & Mail highlights some of what ails India, including repressive societal norms, a weak judiciary and an unwillingness to see rape as a crime. Stehanie Nolen writes:
Dorothy Kamal’s first call of the week came on Wednesday night: A teenager, raped months ago by her family’s elderly tenant, turned up at a Delhi hospital miscarrying the pregnancy that resulted from the assault. Doctors called police, and the police in turn called Ms. Kamal, an advocate for survivors of sexual assault.
Ms. Kamal couldn’t head out on the case right away because the Delhi Commission for Women – which manages the rape crisis service – forbids counsellors from going out at night, lest they be attacked themselves. But come morning, she went to the young woman’s hospital bedside and explained how pressing rape charges works.
But the matronly Ms. Kamal is still not optimistic about the process, even as the police arrested six men within a day of their alleged roles in a gruesome rape and murder of a student. The police, the doctors who collect medical evidence and the legal system all stand ready to betray a woman, said Ms. Kamal, and the fight for justice can be just as hard as living through a rape.
“It’s safer for them to not report than it is to report – why would somebody want to go out and report if they will not be believed or they will be humiliated or simply told you are responsible for this or you are a woman of loose character?” said Anuja Gupta, who heads RAHI, a foundation supporting women assaulted by members of their family. The victims her team accompanies to police routinely hear all that and more, she said.
Blaming women for being raped is not only blatantly immoral but a tactic that aims to humiliate; it's out of the Dark Ages. It will solve nothing. Denying that that there is a serious malaise in India will not in any way make India safer for women. India and its leaders must do something serious to change societal norms, which will of course take time, if not a generation or two. For now, the courts must apply its laws and against all perpetrators of rape, sending a clear unequivocal message to society that rape is a serious crime that will not go unpunished. India's women deserve at least that much.

Pakistan's PM Faces Corruption Charges: Pakistan's Supreme Court has ordered Prime Minister Raja Pervaiz Ashraf to be arrested and face corruption charges, an article in The Guardian notes:
The unexpected announcement came as Tahir-ul-Qadri, an Islamic scholar who led a "million-man march" on Islamabad on Monday, addressed his supporters, railing against the electoral malpractice of Pakistan's political class. When news of the order spread, the crowd erupted in cries of "long live the supreme court".
The previous night Qadri had told those camped out on Islamabad's central avenue that the government, led by the Pakistan People's party (PPP), had lost all right to rule, declaring that the "false mandate of the rulers" was over.
For some protesters, who claimed to see the name of Allah in the clouds above Islamabad, the court's decision was a sign of divine intervention in favour of their sit-in, which began on Monday afternoon. But for many other observers the timing of the announcement increased fears of an establishment attempt to force out a civilian government in a country that has been ruled by the military for half its history.
Leading the charge against the current government is Tahir-ul-Qadri, a popular Muslim cleric who recently returned from Canada; he is considered a liberal Muslim scholar who has condemned terrorist attacks and suicide bombings, declared these acts un-Islamic. Even so, there are fears that Pakistan will eventually return to military rule.

Israel's Shift Right Not Surprising: An article in The New Yorker, by David Remnick, looks at Israel's increasing shift to the right, chiefly a result of Israelis over-all disenchantment with any possibility of genuine peace with the Palestinians. The shift is a natural by-product of Israel making concessions without any given by the Palestinians or its Arab overlords.

A rising star in Israeli politics is Naftali Bennett, a former chief of staff for Bibi Netanyahu, whose views represent the sentiment of not only the settlement movement but likely that of a good portion of the Jewish State. He might become Israel's prime minister within ten years, which says much.
Closer to his ideological core is an unswerving conviction that the Palestinian Arabs of Gaza, the West Bank, and East Jerusalem might as well relinquish their hopes for a sovereign state. The Green Line, which demarcates the occupied territories from Israel proper, “has no meaning,” he says, and only a friyer, a sucker, would think otherwise. As one of his slick campaign ads says, “There are certain things that most of us understand will never happen: ‘The Sopranos’ are not coming back for another season . . . and there will never be a peace plan with the Palestinians.” If Bennett becomes Prime Minister someday—and his ambition is as plump and glaring as a harvest moon—he intends to annex most of the West Bank and let Arab cities like Ramallah, Nablus, and Jenin be “self-governing” but “under Israeli security.”
“I will do everything in my power to make sure they never get a state,” he says of the Palestinians. No more negotiations, “no more illusions.” Let them eat crème brûlée.
Such shows that the peace movement might be dead in Israel, since as it stands there are no partners for peace: any trust or good intentions previously held by at least Israelis has been eroded over the last decade by a decided lack of good will on the side of the Palestinians. Years of patiently waiting has resulted in nothing good, nothing constructive. U.S. President Obama's recent remarks critical of Prime Minister Netanyahu ahead of the January 22nd Israel elections were not helpful in any way.

Such is the dominant view in Israel, the article points out: "The lessons that Bennett draws from recent history are familiar, and not only on the right: If Israel were to allow the establishment of a Palestinian state, what is now the West Bank would quickly become a second Gaza—a Hamas-led bastion of Islamic radicalism, a launch pad for rocket fire aimed at Tel Aviv and Ben Gurion Airport. If Israel were to sign a deal, Bennett told his audience in Tel Aviv, 'we’d get praise from the world and, two weeks later, we’ll see the first demonstrations on the Green Line.' "

History shows that whatever one thinks of the right in Israel, Naftali Bennett is not wrong. If the Palestinians and the Arab nations surrounding Israel truly want peace, it's incumbent upon them to show it.

& One More Story:

Gun Deaths in the U.S. Since Newtown: An article, by Andrew Barr, in the National Post notes:
The Slate news website and the twitter feed @GunDeaths have been collecting crowd sourced data on the number of people killed by guns. The following data is likely incomplete as some news reports probably escaped the attention of @GunDeaths and its followers. Also, suicides, estimated to make up about 60% of gun deaths, typically go unreported. But as of Jan. 15, 2013 this is the tally of dead people.
According @GunDeaths, as of January 15th, 919 people have died as as a result of firearms in the United States since the Newtown murders. There is also a graphic, it self-explanatory at []. In 2010, there were a reported 31,328 gun deaths in the U.S. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, Americans own approximately 270,000,000 guns, equivalent to 90 guns for every 100 people—that makes the U.S. the nation with the greatest number of private citizens who own guns.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Return Shortly

Some of you might have noticed that "The Greenbaum Report" has not been updated for the last few weeks. As always there are reasons. I have had a medical emergency (surgery to remove a tumor on my colon), which compelled me to take care of first things first. I am in the midst of a what is expected to be a long recovery, and once I have the required strength and presence of mind I will continue to post "The Greenbaum Report,"