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Archive for May, 2013

Until August

Some administrivia for you, my happy reader.

I will be suspending this blog, and its newest sibling (Aries, Mork, or Tahoe) until August 2013.

This action is being taken because our family’s upcoming move to the capital city of the Land of Smiles.

Preparations for this move will take up a vast amount of time as the logistics (not to mention the bureaucracy) of a move halfway around the world are quite daunting.

Thanks for reading and I’ll see you in August.

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So what is it exactly about a president’s second term that makes them go all wobbly in the ethics department.

Richard Nixon had Watergate.

Ronald Reagan had the Iran-Contra Affair.

Bill Clinton had an affair.

George W Bush had the Valerie Plame Affair.

And now, the current occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue has Benghazi, the IRS targeting of conservative groups, and the Department of Justice’s snooping on the Associated Press all on his scandal-plate.

Maybe Jimmy Carter and George Herbert Walker Bush are happy with the fact they were one-term presidents.

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A true test of whether one’s position is based on sound principles or is simply the product of a bias is to switch the givens of a situation.

For example, if a person sides with Group A over Group B in a given situation based on a principle, then that same person should also side with Group B if the roles were reversed because the principle remains the same.

In an earlier post, I showed how a member of the Supreme Court of the United States switched principles depending on who was making the argument. Let me now expand on this idea to the world at large.

As a Jew, I take the situation regarding the existence of Israel rather personally.

In 1947, the United Nations General Assembly voted to implement a partition plan that would have created two states: one Palestinian and one Jewish.

When the British Mandate over Palestine ended on May 14, 1948, David ben Gurion declared Israel to be an independent state. The following day, neighboring Arab states invaded the Jewish State in what is now known as the 1948 Arab-Israeli War.

Shockingly, and against all the odds, Israel won.

Almost two decades later, in 1967, war broke out again. As Egyptian forces crossed UN lines and massed on Israel’s southern borders, the Israeli Air Force launched a surprise attack against Egypt starting the Six-Day War. At the end of that conflict, Israel had taken over the Sinai Peninsula (from Egypt), the West Bank (Jordan), the Gaza Strip (Egypt), and the Golan Heights (Syria).

In 1979, as part of the Camp David Accords, Israel returned the Sinai to Egypt. In 1993, as part of the Oslo Accords, some portions of the West Bank and Gaza Strip were placed under the control of the newly created Palestinian Authority. In 2005, Israeli forces left the Gaza Strip. However, to this day, the Jewish State has maintained control over portions of the West Bank and the Golan Heights.

This Israeli control over these lands once held by Arabs has not sat well with the Arab world and with the international community. The United Nations Security Council (UNSC), with its Resolution 497, calls on Israel to rescind its annexation of the Golan Heights. Reactions from the Arab street are negative when Israel builds settlements in the West Bank

So what would be the mood of the “Arab Street” (whatever that phrase means) if an Arab country annexed land belonging to a neighbor. If the Arab states were adhering to the principle that annexation, in any form, was bad, then it would be obvious that leaders from Libya to Egypt to Syria would demand that their Arab brothers return said land.

But why imagine when I can bring you a real-world case study.

Allow me to introduce you to the African area of land known as Western Sahara.

A colony of Spain in the late 19th century, the Western Sahara is bordered by Morocco to its north, Algeria on its extreme northeast, Mauritania to its east and south, and its western border is the Atlantic Ocean.

Morocco had claimed the land bound by the Western Sahara as its own since 1957. In 1975, Spain relinquished control of its colony to a joint administration run by Morocco and Mauritania. Mauritania withdrew from the joint administration in 1979 and Morocco took full control of the territory.

However, the people who originally lived in Western Sahara were not too pleased to be under anyone’s rule and the Sahrawi national liberation movement (also known as the Polisario Front) was created and it proclaimed the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) in the area known as Western Sahara.

So here you have a portion of land once run by a European party which walks away and a neighboring country takes de facto control of the land and its people. To make the comparison even more obvious, the annexing country builds a wall to contain the original inhabitants.

(For comparison, the Moroccan Wall in Western Sahara is 2,700 kilometers in length where as the Israeli West Bank wall is 700 km in length.)

So what has been the international response to this annexation by an Arab country? Has there been a UNSC resolution asking Morocco to immediately give up its claim?

Of course not.

Among the UNSC resolutions that have been adopted, there has been a resolution asking for a cease-fire to the conflict between Moroccan forces and the Polisario Front (UNSC Resolution 690) and there has been one asking for a referendum so that the people could decide (UNSC Resolution 995).

I’d like to link to any negative commentary from an Arabic news service about the annexation by Morocco of the Western Sahara, but I can’t seem to find any. If you come across any, please let me know.

So while the international news community files story after story after story after story about today being the Palestinian commemoration of Nakba (The Day of Catastrophe…otherwise known as the day Israel declared its independence in 1948), don’t expect a similar rush to criticize the conquering power when the anniversary of the annexation of the Western Sahara by Morocco comes around.

Why?

Because of الازدواجية …which is “double standard” in Arabic.

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Please file the following under: TMI

On this date, twenty-five years ago (there’s your number for the day), I lost my virginity.

On May 13, 1988, I had sex for the first time. My partner in this inaugural nocturnal endeavour was my girlfriend at the time who has since gone on to become my lovely wife.

And who says guys can’t remember an anniversary?

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There is a metaphor that has been floating around that I wish would wither and die.

Most recently with the news out of Cleveland of the three rescued kidnapped girls, the dreaded metaphor is making itself known.

It raised its head after the bombings at the Boston Marathon with the likes of CNN and Senator Lindsey Graham (R, SC) to Linda Chavez all using the same cliché.

This disdainful trope fully came into its own when folks gathered around their keyboards to discuss the failures of the intelligence communities in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. (Un)Fine examples can be seen here and here and here.

I speak, of course, of the “connect-the-dots” metaphor.

The problem with the knee-jerk criticism of “Why couldn’t XYZ connect the dots?” is that the critic has the advantage of hindsight. After the fact (e.g., attack, crime, malfeasance, etc.), it is always easy to see the clues hiding in plain sight.

Before the event, it is nearly impossible to connect the dots. The reason for this is due to the number of dots. In a true connect-the-dots picture, the dots are clearly labelled in an easy sequential order and there are no extraneous dots. As with the example below, it is child’s play to even guess the mystery image before the pencil even hits Dot#1.

Find the farm equipment

Find the farm equipment

However, law enforcement and intelligence officials – those most often criticized for failing to connect the dots – do not have the luxury of numbers dots with no extra material. What those people have to deal with is more analagous to the nighttime sky.

The better metaphor that you should have in your mind the next time you read some pundit cry and wail about some police force not connecting the dots is that of the constellations. Instead of the simple kiddie connect-the-dots above, what is below is a more accurate (albeit simplified) picture.

Now find the tractor

Now find the tractor

Look at all those dots in the simplified starchart above and multiply those dots by 100. Now try to find the picture of the tractor.

That’s what the police and people who work in agencies with three-letter acronyms have to contend with. Given that situation, the surprise is not that the legal system misses events, but that it actually does manage to find the signal in the noise.

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If it is acceptable to criticize or even mock someone for their beliefs about…

…politics (examples here and here);

…economic theory (examples here and here);

…climate change (examples here and here);

…child rearing (examples here and here);

…etc. etc. etc. for dozens of other topics, my follow-up questions is this…

Why is it not acceptable to criticize or even mock the spiritual beliefs of another?

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Before I moved on our family’s international adventure, I used to be a software tester.

Really.

One life lesson that that former employment taught me was to always test something before releasing it into the wild – or at least before the customer gets a hold of it.

When I tested software, I always strove to ensure that I would find all of the bugs so that the end user would not. In addition to uncovering all the glitches, our verification department also made sure that the program under test satisfied the requirements of the user. In other words, not only did we test to see what was wrong with the software, we also verified what was right with the application.

This was a lesson not fully embraced by a certain company and said business had its hands slapped publicly (or at least on the World Wide Web) by the United States Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

In yet another of my treks around the Internet (such as here and here), I found this news release from HHS stating that the department had revoked the certifications of two software programs designed to be part of the Medicare and Medicaid Electronic Health Record (EHR) Incentive Programs. This was done because the programs did not meet the required functionality.

That’s why you test. So your programs don’t wind up in news releases from the government.

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