Category Archives: News

Unknowing the Enemy

unknowing_enemy
Seven months ago, in the Paris jihad attacks, 130 people were killed. Then there were 14 killed in the jihad attack in San Bernardino in December. In the Brussels jihad attacks, three months ago, 32 were killed. About 12 hours after at least 50 people were massacred this morning in Orlando by a man who pledged allegiance to ISIS before he began shooting, the President of the United States went on national television and said this:

Although it’s still early in the investigation, we know enough to say that this was an act of terror and an act of hate.

Is that all we know? Are those generic characterizations the best that those in charge—those with all the inside information—can come up with? Will the President go back on national television later to fill everyone in on the details once they’re certified, or are the real reasons behind this just too insignificant to trouble ourselves with?

Fifteen years ago, and about a month after the 9/11 attacks, the singer Bob Dylan (of whom I’m fond) was interviewed by Rolling Stone, as he happened to have a new album out. The interviewer asked him for his reaction to the recent events, and he said this:

Those people in charge, I’m sure they’ve read Sun-Tzu, who wrote The Art of War in the sixth century. In there he says, “If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself and not your enemy, for every victory gained you will suffer a defeat.” And he goes on to say, “If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.” Whoever’s in charge, I’m sure they would have read that.

And of-course: everyone’s read Sun Tzu. You can pick that kind of thing up for virtually nothing and impress people with your cool references and deep thinking. It’s all just too obvious to bear, isn’t it?

At the time, it seemed there was a spirit of highly serious purpose in the wake of the killing of thousands in the attacks in New York and Washington DC and Pennsylvania. The enemy was al-Qaeda, whose leaders were clearly promulgating a virulent form of Islam, sheltered by the Taliban who advocated the same ideology, and by eliminating those players and establishing democracy and freedom in Afghanistan, the enemy might be defeated. That, at least, seemed to be the plan, though concepts like “democracy” and “freedom” somehow did not vanquish all that lay before them in that part of the world.

And, the more time went by, it seemed the lines between things became less and less clear. Words are important; yet generic terms like “terror” muffled more precise characterizations. Then came the war in Iraq, and—while the military did their job with honor—more and more at the level of political leadership things became blurred in a mish-mash of goals and justifications. A new president eventually replaced the one in power on 9/11: one eager to repudiate all that had preceded him. Focusing on the precise nature and motivation of the actual enemy became, even more, something to be avoided at all costs. And, indeed, it seems that there are costs.

The dead perpetrator of this particular massacre, Omar Mir Seddique Mateen, was “on the radar” of the FBI, reportedly interviewed twice in 2013, and once in 2014. Whatever scary jihadi-like statements he had made which attracted their attention, they decided that he was not worthy of the kind of surveillance that could have prevented him from freely marching into that nightclub named “Pulse” with a variety of guns and explosives and murdering more than 50 people at his leisure.

And, after all, when you don’t know who you’re looking for, how in the world are you going to find them?

And, after all, when you don’t know who you’re looking for, how in the world are you going to find them?

Fifteen years after the 9/11 attacks, those “in charge” seem to know the enemy only dramatically less than the enemy was known even back then. It is a decidedly strange phenomenon.




This slaughter in Orlando has been the worst terrorist attack in the United States since 9/11, and the worst mass shooting ever in the United States. Yet, I doubt I’m alone in sensing a lot less of “Je suis Charlie” in the aftermath and a lot more of “J’ai l’ennui.” If so, what a conspicuous harbinger of our decline. By this, I refer not to the lack of slogans and hashtags, but rather to the absence of a willingness to even pay serious attention for more than 5 or 10 minutes to the war being waged on our increasingly sad civilization.

Gun at Robert F. Kennedy school

Karma Comes Up Short for Robert F. Kennedy School

Gun at Robert F. Kennedy school
A few years back I wrote in this space about a public school in New York City that was utilizing the Hindu concept of karma to teach good behavior to its students, as evidenced by prominent signs both outside and inside the school referring to karma and relating it to specific behaviors. That was the Robert F. Kennedy school (PS 169) on the upper east side of Manhattan. The ultimate point of my piece was to highlight the double standard inherent in this vast official employment of a Hindu religious concept in an American public school, whereas posting the Ten Commandments or the Beatitudes would have brought speedy intervention by those who are out there trying to protect young and impressionable minds from any Judeo-Christian influence. Why would the latter amount to a “state establishment of religion,” while plastering the entire school with postings about karma was regarded as entirely benign? I concluded that I didn’t really have a problem with the karma stuff, if it worked, but I did have a problem with the message implicitly being conveyed to students that Hindu religious concepts are fine to teach and follow, while the banned Judeo-Christian ones must be somehow toxic. Continue reading Karma Comes Up Short for Robert F. Kennedy School

Restaurant owner Hany Baransi

One Day in America

Restaurant owner Hany Baransi
Restaurant owner Hany Baransi
It’s all in how you look at it, isn’t it? “Oh, a few people got stabbed in Ohio. Big deal.” Or this:

In Columbus, Ohio, yesterday (Thursday) evening, a man entered a restaurant named Nazareth, armed with a machete. The restaurant serves Middle Eastern food. It is owned by a gregarious man named Hany Baransi. A short review of Mr. Baransi, based on what others say about him and what he says about himself, quickly reveals that he is a man of many loves. He loves his restaurant, and he loves making people happy with the food that he loves. He loves America, where he has lived for thirty-three years. He loves Israel, the country he came from. He loves God, specifically as a Christian (and his ethnic background is Arab). Continue reading One Day in America

Sacrifice in Afghanistan

sacrifice in afghanistan joseph lemmReading the newspaper summary of the life of Joseph Lemm—who was killed with five other American troops in Afghanistan two days ago—makes for a devastating reminder that the people we lose on these battlefields and outposts thousands of miles from home are the very best of us. We have no right to expect such people to be given to us in the first place; we certainly have no right to believe they will always be there to lay down their lives for our safety. And so we also have a duty (in which we are failing) to take care that their sacrifices are for causes that we truly cherish and will continue to defend. Continue reading Sacrifice in Afghanistan

I Wanna Be Sedated

sedated_wanna_be_babyThe harbingers of civilizational collapse and impending apocalypse have become so very common as to encourage a serious case of the old ennui. There is little to generate surprise in the latest catastrophes and the daily litany of hopeless headlines. Yet once in a long while something can come along that compels even the most jaded fatalists among us to stop, back up, and say, “Mother of the Mother of God, what have we come to?”

And that is exactly my reaction to this story in the “paper of record” today: Psychiatric Drugs Are Being Prescribed to Infants. Continue reading I Wanna Be Sedated

Tennessee Blues

Tennessee Blues

Tennessee BluesAt this point, we don’t know their names, but four U.S. Marines were shot to death today in Chattanooga, Tennessee. From a news report:

After the shooting, the Department of Homeland Security said in a statement that it was “enhancing the security posture at certain federal facilities, out of an abundance of caution.”

One of the pressing questions in the wake of this massacre is whether, out of an “abundance of caution,” the “security posture” of U.S. military installations will include the notion that these individuals who have volunteered to defend the nation, and on whom we depend to do so, will actually be permitted to carry firearms (because reports currently indicate that these murdered U.S. Marines were compelled by law to be defenseless). Continue reading Tennessee Blues

pope galileo wrong

Pope Getting It Wrong on Galileo (Again)

It’s been said both within and without the Vatican that Pope Francis’ encyclical regarding the environment and climate change is an effort to show that the Roman Catholic Church is on the side of science this time, as opposed to when, in the 17th century, scientist Galileo Galilei was accused of heresy by the Inquisition for claiming that the Earth revolved around the Sun (and was forced to deny his own science and put under house arrest for the balance of his life).

I would suggest, however, that this misses a fundamental point when it comes to comparing these two scientific and societal controversies: i.e. the relationship of the Earth to the Sun in astronomical terms versus the contemporary science of global warming a.k.a. climate change (which curiously enough some actually believe might really be about the relationship of the Earth to the Sun in climatological terms). Continue reading Pope Getting It Wrong on Galileo (Again)

hacked chinese takeaway

A Hacked World and the Chinese Takeaway

hacked chinese takeawayFollowing the revelation that private personnel data (including Social Security numbers) for 4 million federal employees was siphoned from government databases by hackers, the Director of the Federal Office of Personnel Management, Katherine Archuleta actually issued this statement:

Protecting our Federal employee data from malicious cyber incidents is of the highest priority at OPM. We take very seriously our responsibility to secure the information stored in our systems, and in coordination with our agency partners, our experienced team is constantly identifying opportunities to further protect the data with which we are entrusted.

So it is “of the highest priority,” and a responsibility taken “very seriously,” to do exactly what they utterly failed to do, and they are “constantly identifying opportunities” to do more of the same. Continue reading A Hacked World and the Chinese Takeaway

tipping via bono and les moonves

Advice on Tipping: Bono versus Les Moonves

tipping advice via bono and les moonvesBella Haig is eighty years of age, and has been a server at Canter’s Deli in Los Angeles for fifty of those years. Early last Friday morning, she reportedly received the largest tip of her career, $150, from the lead singer of rock band U2. She didn’t know who he was when he came in with some friends after U2’s performance nearby, but when she approached to take their orders he asked her to recommend an appetizer. As she told CBS LA: Continue reading Advice on Tipping: Bono versus Les Moonves