Personal statements, mostly about wars.

Thanks to The Wayback Machine for helping me recover these writings.


Just after the invasion of Iraq

I have reached a state of total disgust with the ongoing war in Iraq. In particular I am bothered by the fact that few people I've met understand that there have been about three times as many innocent civilian deaths in Iraq as there were on 9/11. Many of those people even fail to realise that there was no connection between the terrorist act in New York and Washington, and Iraq. Is it any surprise that much of the world considers this war to be a worse act of terrorism than the one being used as an excuse to perpetrate it? While it's too late to prevent those deaths, we should not stand for the continuation or further extension of military action, in Iraq or other targets of opportunity, by the USA and its toadies (including Australia).

I refer all readers to Iraq Body Count.

I updated this three years later to say that there was no need to update it. Again another year after that.


Late 2007 Statement

I'm writing this the day after 32 people at Virginia Tech were killed by a gunman. Today is also the day that 157 people died in bombings in Baghdad. 32 is about average for a day in Baghdad these days. Who knows how many people died in Darfur today? I don't know, but almost certainly more than 32.

But the news is full of the personal stories of the 32. Why? Do we somehow think that these people are more important than those in Iraq or Sudan? One news story seemed to attach importance to the fact that these were bright University students. In Iraq, there were 20,000 doctors and modern hospitals under Saddam Hussein's regime. There are less than 8,000 doctors left, many hospitals are in ruins, and people die because they can't get treated for normal things, let alone the results of violence. This is one reason for the discrepancies between the numbers of people who have died as a direct consequence of violence, versus the statistical measures showing that the death rate is much higher. What happened to the (presumably bright) doctors? Many were kidnapped for ransom, or killed outright, along with teachers, engineers, and other bright people. Most have simply fled the country.

We worry about terrorism in the US, but we don't even know what true terrorism is. Terrorism is worrying constantly that your house will be hit by an errant bomb, or a well-aimed one that was meant for someone who happens to look like your son. Terrorism is being forced out of the home you own, then being forced out of the vacant one you were squatting in because you don't own it (even though the people who were forced out of it are squatting in your home). Terrorism is seeing your husband and children killed, your daughters raped, your house burned, and knowing that they'll be back next week.

The Virginia Tech slaughter was terrible, don't get me wrong. But it was random violence by a psychopath, not terrorism. Terrorism isn't just a crime against Americans.


I'm writing this on the fifth anniversary of the US invasion of Iraq. The news is full of Still President George W. Bush's self-congratulatory speech about the invasion, and other articles about the cost of the war, and how the majority of Americans now feel that the invasion was a mistake.

The thing that bothers me about almost all of this reporting is the cost accounting. The articles all mention the deaths of US troops (around 4,000) and monetary cost to the US (ranging from 1-3 teradollars). There is no mention of the hundreds of thousands of Iraqis who have directly or indirectly lost their lives, health, or homes because of this invasion, or the economic cost to Iraq's citizens and government (for which I'm unable to find a reasonable estimate).

The reported fact that people are now opposed to the war carries with it the implicit assumption that they were once in favour of it. I certainly wasn't. I believe that the invasion was illegal, immoral and unjustified, and I believed that at the time. I won't lose sight of the fact that the US and its lackeys started a war of aggression without cause, and that the real victims are not the members of the "Coalition of the Willing".


Personal Statement 2010-05-05

Writing just after a failed car bomb attempt in Times Square, NY.

I wish I understood the qualitative difference between a car bomb, and a Hellfire missile. On the one hand, a car bomb is an act of terrorism. A bunch of people who are innocent get blown up at a surprising (to them) time. Or, in the case in the news today, they don't actually get blown up because the terrorist in question is incompetent. But in Pakistan, seemingly every other week, some bunch of innocent and surprised people are killed from a distance, either blown up by a hellfire missile, or shredded by gatling guns, some while attempting to aid people already wounded. Why isn't this also an act of terrorism?

Why is a car bomb "a weapon of mass destruction", but a far more effective 1000lb bomb dropped from a B-one isn't?

Is it just that we're more competent at killing people in general? Or the fact that they were not thought to be innocent at the time, although we often find out later that they were?


Personal Statement 2010-08-14

I heard (approximately) this on NPR news a few minutes ago.

"A drone killed 12 people in Pakistan today, two of them were suspected Taliban agents. It was the first drone attack since massive flooding hit the area."

So, why is it reasonable, or even acceptable, to have a five-to-one ratio of innocents killed for suspected bad guys? In a country that, at least some of the time, is allied, and that we aren't even pretending to be at war with?

And what's the connection with the massive flooding, except maybe that someone thinks they've suffered enough? I don't get it at all.


Personal Statement 2014-01-04

We're still in the middle of The Snowden Revelations. It seems that each one is more mind-boggling than the previous ones.

First let me go on record as stating that I think Edward Snowden is a hero. I hope that, in a corresponding situation, I would have done the same. But I'm not at all sure that I, or most people, would have the fortitude. Thank you, Edward.

For years, I worked on security standards for cellphones, including CALEA (lawful intercept). During the George W. Bush administration, when it was revealed that the U.S. Government was not even obeying its own laws, I was somewhat incensed. At the time, people thought I was being paranoid. Now I have to sheepishly admit that I wasn't nearly paranoid enough! And the situation has only continued to degrade under the Obama administration.

Yesterday was my last day at Qualcomm. There were many reasons, but by no means least among them is that I intend to spend more time trying to halt abuses of human rights and privacy, both through increased participation in organizations like the ACLU and hopefully developing and deploying more secure communications on a technical level.

[added 2014-01-24: I'm a signatory on an open letter from security professionals opposing mass surveillance]


Personal Statement 2015-06-25

It's a week after a racist looney assassinated a bunch of people at a church in Charleston, South Carolina. As the event happened, I was rushing to the Emergency Room at the local hospital. I didn't really rejoin the world for about three days. Actually I'm writing this from hospital, hoping to finally get out tomorrow.

Anyway, I awoke to a serious nationwide debate about whether this qualifies as an act of terrorism or not. I don't understand this debate; single looney, multiple premeditated murders. It's tragic no matter how you look at it, and completely irrelevant whether you call it terrorism or not.

I also awoke to an even bigger debate and a lot of unilateral actions to remove the confederate flag from all sorts of places, such as gun stores, museum shops, monuments, houses of state governments, Target and WalMart stores. Now I'm actually a little conflicted on this issue, because I believe in the right of free speech. I've been associated with the ACLU for some years, and we like defending everyone's rights, even people we detest.

I've never understood the US's obsession with flags. But I am seeing a lot of confused and confusing arguments that don't seem to get that a flag is a symbol -- a placeholder -- and the problem is what it is symbolic of, not the flag itself.

But here's what I didn't awake to:

  • Any discussion of the victims of this heinous crime. In fact, I had to ask my wife what was going on? Almost all details had disappeared from the media in only three days. One of the victims was a reknowned minister and state senator; the others I still know little or nothing about. Yes, I could dig and find out, but that's not my point. In 2007, one of my previous diatribes talked about a mass shooting at Virginia Tech; in that case I commented about the fact that there was so much information about the victims. I wonder what the difference is here? Oh, yeah, maybe that the victims were all black in this case.
  • Any serious discussion of racism. Clearly the crime was racially motivated. But the country seems unable to rationally discuss the many and varied issues of racial justice and immigration, and the disparity of economic opportunity behind them.
  • Any discussion at all of gun control. That's just nuts. It'll be impossible to buy a confederate flag at Target and maybe one day it'll be banned like Nazi symbols in Europe. But I can still go into the same Target store and buy the same gun this wacko used to kill 9 people.

    I like nifty technology. Guns, like it or not, are highly evolved nifty technology. I don't know the ACLU position on the Second Amendment -- I never asked. I personally believe they should be much more heavily regulated than they are currently. But let's at least have a real discussion!

    Please, let's have the important discussions.

    The people who I think are trying very hard to work on these issues are The Southern Poverty Law Center .


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